Gotham Gazette Wed, 24 Jan 2018 00:15:17 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Max & Murphy Podcast: New City Council Members Justin Brannan & Carlina Rivera

Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette

January 10, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: New City Council Members Justin Brannan & Carlina Rivera

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Justin Brannan and Carlina Rivera are two of the City Council's new members, elected last year and inaugurated at the start of this year. Each succeeded a term-limited Council member that they worked for as an aide, so they know city government well. But, there's nothing like being the elected official yourself, as they explain on this episode of the podcast. The two new Council members, both Democrats, discuss the transition process, their top priorities, and this political moment in New York City.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy, with guests @JustinBrannan and @CarlinaRivera. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: New City Council Members Justin Brannan & Carlina Rivera Wed, 10 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Looking Back, and Ahead, with Women Who Lost City Council Races pia raymond

Pia Raymond at the West Indian Day Parade (photo: @piaraymondnyc)

This fall, in races around the city, several qualified female candidates ran in hotly-contested Democratic primaries for open seats being left by term-limited City Council members, while others attempted to unseat incumbents seeking reelection. The September votes -- largely determinative in an overwhelmingly Democratic city -- took place against the backdrop of new and intense attention on the gender imbalance in the City Council, where men greatly outnumber women.

Elections results signal that the January City Council roster will likely include 12 female members, a drop from the current 13, in the 51-seat legislative body. The 13 seats currently held by women already shows a drop from 18 in recent years. In response to this growing imbalance, a report released by the City Council Women’s Caucus in August warned, “The New York City Council is currently in a crisis concerning its gender composition.”

In several cases, including that of Diana Ayala, Carlina Rivera and Alicka Ampry-Samuel, female candidates were successful in September and appear set to join the City Council. In others, as with Pia Raymond, Marjorie Velazquez, and Amanda Farias, they were not victorious.

While the winners celebrate and wage the far less competitive general election, those who lost have been left with questions about their campaigns, and about what to do next. In conversations with Gotham Gazette, Raymond, Velazquez, and Farias each reflected on their electoral effort and looked ahead.

In a close race in the Bronx, in District 13, Marjorie Velazquez faced Mark Gjonaj, a sitting state Assembly member, among others. Velazquez won 34.17 percent of the vote, a close second to Gjonaj’s 38.46 percent in the five-person primary. Gjonaj spent over $1 million, an unheard of sum for a City Council race; while Velazquez spent about one quarter of that, around $225,000.

Gjonaj’s Assembly district boundaries overlap significantly with the Council district, where Velazquez had the backing of outgoing Council Member James Vacca, but Gjonaj had the advantages of name recognition and a massive war chest to spend from. These two factors likely pushed the Assembly member ahead, according to Velazquez. “He’s a sitting Assembly member for the area that basically he won out of, which was the 80th Assembly district,” said Velazquez. “Ultimately when you have a million dollars he was able to get many more resources than we were.”

In the past, District 13 has been home to few female candidates, a pattern Velazquez hopes her run will help reverse. “Women are definitely held to a double standard every which way when running a race and when women see that it can be done, when women see that they have an example, they are more comfortable doing this,” she said.

Velazquez, who has served on Community Board 10 in the past, emphasized the importance of participation below the City Council level. “Women need to understand that we need them on community boards, we need them on community education councils. We need women representing every way that they can,” said Velazquez.

She will appear on the Working Families Party line in the general election, on the heels of her loss in the Democratic primary, but she is not actively campaigning. When discussing potential bids in the future, Velazquez was unequivocal about her intention to campaign again. “Would I ever run again? Most definitely,” she said.

In the fight for District 18, life-time Bronx resident Amanda Farias faced another state legislator-turned-City Council candidate; state Senator Rubén Diaz, Sr. In a crowded race, the candidates faced off for an open seat being left by term-limited Council Member Annabel Palma. The senator won with 42 percent of the vote; Farias finished second at 21 percent. Like with Gjonaj, most primary voters did not choose Diaz, Sr., though the state lawmakers each won with a plurality.

Farias attributes her loss in the South Bronx district to a number of advantages benefitting Diaz, Sr. “Name recognition, having a similar name as our borough president for example, these are things that definitely played a large role in the folks that came out and either weren’t touched enough or came out to vote and didn’t get enough information on anyone in the race,” said Farias, in reference to Diaz, Sr.’s son, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.  

According to Farias, women working within city government roles need to better organize other women to run and hold people accountable in order to counter disparities in representation. As for her own plans, another bid is on the horizon. “I am already planning on running again,” said Farias, “I’m just in the planning phases now, trying to make sure that I stay visible and I stay in tune with what the Bronx Democratic Party is going to be doing within our communities and I’m there to at least represent the community’s and residents’ needs.”

Farias did not disclose which race she may be considering.

She also argued that the push for greater female representation is not a responsibility that lies solely with women. “It’s not only identifying women and providing them with training, it’s being able to push back and hold men accountable in that they also need to be supportive or they need to take their own back seat as well as ensuring that there’s money being funded to women,” said Farias.

For Pia Raymond, the decision to challenge incumbent Mathieu Eugene in Brooklyn’s District 40 Democratic primary created an uphill battle from the start. Raymond also had to compete with another strong challenger, Brian Cunningham, who has worked as an aide to multiple City Council members. Eugene, the incumbent of ten years, garnered 40.15 percent of the vote while Raymond came in third with 22.39 percent. While it was perhaps telling that 60 percent of Democratic primary voters did not choose Eugene, Raymond and Cunningham split the opposition vote (Cunningham is continuing his battle to unseat Eugene in the general, as he has the Reform Party ballot line).

Raymond characterized her campaign as a response to unmet needs caused by growth, displacement, and rising rents across the district. Little more than a month after her primary loss, she was clear about her intentions for 2021, when Eugene will be ineligible to run again if he wins this year. “I definitely intend to run,” said Raymond.

Raymond attested to disparities in treatment between men and women throughout the race, particularly her experiences with media coverage focused on physical appearance. “Despite perhaps having interviews for an hour long, they would start off an article with my appearance or attractiveness or that I’m lovely instead of discussing any of my qualifications, passion, experience, leadership in the community that’s longstanding,” said Raymond.

Like Raymond, Farias, and Velazquez, other women attempted to win City Council seats for the first time and performed well, but were not victorious. Others included Marti Speranza, who came in second in the crowded Democratic primary for the "open" District 4 seat and Alison Tan got nearly 42 percent of the vote trying to unseat Council Member Peter Koo. Meanwhile, among the first-time winners, in addition to Ayala, Rivera, and Ampry-Samuel, there was Adrienne Adams. All four primary winners are heavily favored to win the November general election. They are likely to join several incumbent female Council members who are on the path to reelection, including Women's Caucus co-chairs Helen Rosenthal and Laurie Cumbo, along with Elizabeth Crowley, Vanessa Gibson, Karen Koslowitz, Inez Barron, and Deborah Rose. Council Member Margaret Chin barely staved off defeat to Christopher Marte in the Democratic primary, and is now facing Marte in the general as he runs on a different ballot line.

Low percentages of female electeds within the New York City Council reflects a national trend of systemic underrepresentation within legislative bodies. Nationally, women hold 24.9 percent of state legislative seats, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, a number that has seen little change over the last decade. Representation disparities within Congress are even more stark, women account for 21 percent of Senators and 19.4 percent of Representatives.

These trends can be attributed to a number of causes including a backlash against female advancements in legislative representation and a hesitation across the board to become involved in the current partisan political environment, according to Susannah Wellford, president of Running Start, an organization that seeks to involve women in politics at an early age. Regardless of the reason, the disparity is a troubling trend, as gender balance not only boosts issues of importance to women, which can include anything, but also is shown to lead to better overall legislative outcomes for constituents.

“When we don’t have women in power then the issues that women care about don’t make it to the table, they don’t make it into the discussion at all,” said Wellford.

by Grace Dixon for Gotham Gazette

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Looking Back, and Ahead, with Women Who Lost City Council Races Sun, 22 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
On the Lower East Side, Carlina Rivera Dominates Primary Day carlina river handshake by felipe

Carlina Rivera (photo: Felipe De La Hoz)

As the sun rose over the brick facades of the East Village, Carlina Rivera stood on the corner of 1st avenue and 10th street with a handful of flyers. It was 6:30 a.m. and the first-time candidate for elected office was petting dogs, telling children to stay in school, and asking voters to make her the next City Council member representing District 2. 

“I just got a text from my mom. She's voting for me,” Rivera said between greetings.

About 15 minutes after Rivera had arrived at her first campaign stop of the day, near a 1st Avenue polling station, she was blending campaigning and constituent services -- 52-year-old Robyn Bolden asked Rivera about her problems with receiving disability. A long-time aide to outgoing City Council Member Rosie Mendez, Rivera entered Tuesday’s primary election day as the favorite in a crowded Democratic field, the winner of which would be virtually assured the seat given the district’s Democratic tilt. Rivera had Mendez’s endorsement and primary day support.

A police car rolled down its window; the officer inside leaned out and shouted “Good luck!” Another man approached Rivera, cellphone in hand. “My nephew went to school with you,” the man said, adding that the nephew had texted him to vote for her.

Several people stopped to shake the candidate's hand, give words of encouragement, or ask her about her candidacy. Other passersby didn’t stop, some muttered something about not voting, and a couple told her they were voting for a competitor. Rivera shrugged and smiled.

“Well, 6,000 votes to go!” she said cheerily as she climbed back into her car at 8 a.m., headed to the polling site outside NYU’s Palladium Hall. She would ultimately receive more than 8,000 votes.

There, Rivera and her team contended with a steady stream of apathetic students wearing earbuds. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, stumping for Rivera before heading off to help the campaign of District 4 candidate Keith Powers, remarked that he had been retail campaigning so long he could still remember when the Sony Walkman disrupted efforts to woo voters near subway stops.

A couple of people recognized Rivera from the ubiquitous posters with her likeness in businesses around the village. City Council Member Corey Johnson, a Council Speaker hopeful with no primary challenge as he cruises to reelection, dropped by to help with the glad-handing. One of Rivera’s opponents, the former Obama administration staffer Ronnie Cho, walked by, with actor and fellow Obama alumnus Kal Penn in tow. The two candidates exchanged greetings.

After NYU, the next stop was the Masaryk houses, where Rivera was welcomed with a series of hugs and words of encouragement in Spanish from well-wishers, many of whom knew her personally; she’d grown up only a couple of blocks away. A few had known her since Rivera, now 33, was a child. “Where is it, where do I vote?” a middle-aged man asked as he walked by. Rivera pointed him to the polling place.

This stop brought into sharp focus one of the key refrains from the day on the campaign trail: a sense of neighborhood belonging. On multiple occasions Rivera or her staff assured wary voters, who felt burned and bewildered by developers and other interlopers, that she had in fact grown up in the community. The message was conveyed in English, Spanish, and Chinese to young men on skateboards and senior citizens with walkers alike. They were worried about the mixed-used development that had sprung up in what seemed like a week running down the south side of 14th street, about the indifferent newcomers in a gentrifying Manhattan area, about the vanishing bodegas.

Rivera and her staff and volunteers were more than happy to brave the promise of a grueling day due to an acute feeling of high stakes. In what is a mayor-centric system of government, New York City Council members do have an extraordinary amount of weight when it comes to matters of land use in their districts. They also have influence in the budget process, in oversight of city agencies, and opportunity to bring discretionary funding to local nonprofits, parks, and schools in their districts.

As the day wore on and the fatigue set in, at stop after stop, as the candidate and her devotees competed with jobs and phones and the M14D crosstown bus for voters’ attention, the thought of becoming the next guardians for the Lower East Side kept their resolve. The district is full of small businesses going under and people being priced out of their homes.

In Rivera, who is of Puerto Rican descent and grew up walking the very streets she had now campaigned on for months – “I loved going to Stromboli’s as a kid!” she told a volunteer of the pizza place on St. Mark’s – some saw familiarity, and with it, comfort. Several people could remember her specifically giving them a hand while she was working at Good Old Lower East Side, a nonprofit, or as a Council staffer under Mendez, who joined Rivera at several polling places.

Most of the conversations that Rivera had with various potential constituents related to housing. One man said his landlord was now courting exclusively NYU students. “They think it’s a dorm,” he said, and asked Rivera to help when she was elected. She wrote her number down on a campaign flyer and handed it to the man.

Outside the complex, a middle-aged woman led another woman by the hand towards Rivera and said, in Spanish, “I brought a friend to vote for you!” As the group walked back toward their car, a man shouted that he had tried to vote for Rivera but he hadn’t been allowed to. “I’m a Republican,” he explained.

The importance of a sense of neighborhood fellowship didn’t always work to Rivera’s favor. A couple of times, she was asked about a recent New York Post story that called into question her longtime residence in a Stanton Street apartment using the federal Section 8 subsidy for lower-income people, while her husband, Community Board 3 Chair Jamie Rogers, owns an apartment in the Lower East Side. At the NYU Palladium poll site, she spent a few minutes arguing with a white-haired man who repeatedly said “that housing is for working families.”

“The Post didn’t get their facts right,” Rivera retorted, and told the man she would move out of Section 8 if she won the election, adding that if she didn’t, “you can be the first to call me out.” As a Council member Rivera’s salary would jump to $148,000 a year. Outside P.S. 34 on 12th Street, an older woman told Rivera that, although her habitation of the apartment was legal, there was a “moral and ethical component” she was flouting. Rivera spent several minutes calmly addressing the issue; 10 minutes later, the same woman walked by and winked. “You got my vote,” she said.

Rivera meandered over to the corner with Avenue D, where a volunteer for rival candidate, Jorge Vasquez, was standing with a handful of flyers. “Hey, good luck. It’s a long day, huh?” she told the volunteer, who nodded in agreement. They spent a couple of minutes sympathizing about the strain of a long day of campaigning. Soon, she was joined by Public Advocate Letitia James, herself running for reelection (she won the Democratic primary), whose buoyant personality brought several passersby to laughter.

When she went to cast her own ballot, Rivera voted for herself, and for incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio, she said, at P.S. 140, where she also chatted with Council Member Mark Levine, another speaker candidate who helped her woo voters. De Blasio and Rivera had previously endorsed each other. Asked by a voter later what she thought of the mayor, Carlina was cautious, touting the mayor’s accomplishments – she mentioned the IDNYC municipal ID and his ambitious affordable housing proposals – while maintaining that the mayor could do better.

“He’s learning a lot of very good lessons,” she said, and affirmed that she intended to work with him to deepen housing affordability.

Along with Cho and Vazquez, Rivera was competing with Mary Silver and Jasmin Sanchez. Silver and Cho were expected to be her biggest obstacles to victory. Rivera ran her campaign based on her experience as an aide to Mendez and her other work in the district. In debates, she showed commanding knowledge of district issue, legislation, and key processes involved in a Council member’s job, such as those related to moving bills or land use projects. She had the backing of many elected officials, labor unions, and political clubs.

Throughout the day, Rivera was upbeat and easygoing, joking with voters and volunteers. She took very few breaks; the day was about the work. On multiple stops she was joined by her husband, Jamie.

At one of the candidate’s last stops, at around 5 p.m. near the P.S. 47 polling station on 23rd Street, she linked up with one of her more effective surrogates: her mother, Maria Ortiz, a civilian employee of the NYPD, who everyone in the neighborhood seemed to know. Over the next two hours, at several other stops, Ortiz led voters, often by the hand, to meet her daughter. “All the seniors are out for Carlina,” she said.

After 15 hours on the ground, the campaign’s staff and volunteers gathered at sideBAR, on Irving Place, to eat, drink, and watch the results come in on NY1 starting after polls had closed at 9 p.m.

As early results started coming in, the crowd of some forty or fifty cheered every time the screens displayed Rivera’s commanding lead. It would not dissipate; Rivera ended the night the winner of the Democratic primary, with almost 61% of the vote, well ahead of any rival. She received about 8,140 of the roughly 13,000 votes cast in the district. Silver finished second with just under 2,200 votes.

Rivera is almost certain to win the general election on November 7, but she does have to defeat her opposition. If victorious she will keep one of the 13 seats in the 51-member City Council that are currently held by women.

In an interview after her win, Rivera seemed equal parts excited and exhausted. “The first issue is affordable housing. I have proposals for NYCHA, tenant protections,” she said. She said she looked forward to working with all of her fellow incoming new Council members, and all the rest.

Holding a microphone and standing before the crowd of people that had worked days and nights and weekends to get her elected, Rivera thanked Mendez, who stood beside her. “What I’ve learned from Rosie,” she said, “is to value experience, and passion, and to never, ever back down.”

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

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On the Lower East Side, Carlina Rivera Dominates Primary Day Thu, 14 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
‘Fair Share’ Reform – An Essential Step to Solving the City’s Homelessness Crisis Carlina Rivera

Carlina Rivera, the author (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)

Repairing the subways, closing Rikers, rescuing failing schools – it can seem like New York’s most insurmountable crises are always being dealt with by cutting corners and taking the path of least resistance. This isn’t how it’s always been in our city. When the city passed the historic Fair Share Criteria in 1989, officials finally said enough to the inequitable distribution of city facilities and called for investment in a long-term plan for facility siting in the future.

These rules were supposed to require the city to place facilities in a thought-out, deliberative process that factored in their potential effectiveness as well as the input of the community. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case.

Over the years, the original Fair Share Criteria have been found to be non-transparent and filled with loopholes that city officials and agencies continue to exploit to this day, particularly when it comes to homeless shelter siting.

The city’s new homelessness plan shows this disregard for Fair Share, with officials looking to place shelters in the easiest-to-build locations in order to satisfy the plan's goal of building 90 new shelters. Sadly, this means that overburdened communities are once again seeing shelters open just blocks away from existing shelters, while nearby neighborhoods continue with few or no shelters at all. This is a clear misallocation of resources that will only help to exacerbate difficulties around existing shelters.

Want a real example of how Fair Share isn’t being factored into the city’s homelessness response? One of the newest facilities in the city, a 28-unit shelter that is set to open soon in on East 17th Street in Gramercy, perfectly illustrates the current situation. This shelter is exactly what the city needs – its small size will create a safer, more comfortable environment for its residents, and the facility will have access to the programs that can get New Yorkers back on their feet.

But this shelter’s innovations quickly end when it comes to its location. The site was quietly chosen largely because it was a former treatment center and easy to develop, even though the community already has nearly 1000 beds within walking distance at the 30th Street Men’s Shelter. With such a large population and a lack of individualized supportive services, this shelter has been a disappointment for many who reside in it and a continued complaint of local residents who see hundreds of men outside each day with seemingly no path to housing stability.

I want our district to be a role model for the rest of the city, where we each accept the same, equal responsibility to help. When I am elected to the City Council, passing the recently announced Fair Share reform package will be one of my first legislative goals.

I also understand that new shelters such as the one on 17th Street will be a real resource for our community’s most vulnerable residents. However, we also must be fair and recognize the terrible situation occurring at large, less-effective shelters such as 30th Street, and couple any new shelter openings with a reduction of beds at larger or failing shelters. This would bring shelters like 30th Street more in line with the smarter, smaller shelters we need in this city.

For years the city favored quick fixes over a long-term solution to homelessness. But homelessness has never been an issue that can just be swept under the rug and forgot about, or dealt with by warehousing people. It requires a forward-thinking strategy that looks at each level of the homelessness support structure and honestly asks if we can do better.

A better Fair Share is the first step in this process, and it won’t be easy. But our city’s biggest accomplishments have always emerged from the most visionary ideas. We know what needs to be done – now we just need the courage to follow through with it.

Carlina Rivera is a candidate for New York City Council’s District 2, which covers the East Village, Gramercy Park, Kips Bay, Flatiron, Lower East Side, Murray Hill, Rose Hill. On Twitter @CarlinaRivera.

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‘Fair Share’ Reform – An Essential Step to Solving the City’s Homelessness Crisis Mon, 28 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Lower East Side City Council Candidates Make Their Case in Debate City Council District 2 candidates

The CD2 Democratic candidates at Manhattan Neighborhood Network

There are five candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the race to replace term-limited Rosie Mendez as the City Council representative for District 2, which includes the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The candidates -- Carlina Rivera, Ronnie Cho, Mary Silver, Jasmin Sanchez, and Jorge Vasquez -- gathered recently at the Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) for a debate to be televised by the station.

The debate, moderated by Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max, focused on issues such as affordable housing, small businesses, education, and development within the district, as well as the performance of Mendez, a Democrat, and of Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat seeking a second term this fall.

Along with discussing those topics, and more, the candidates also attempted to explain to viewers and District 2 voters why they are the right person to represent the district moving forward. Each candidate discussed his or her background and qualifications in public service.

Rivera is a former legislative director for Mendez and has the outgoing Council member’s support; Cho worked on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and became his administration's millennial outreach director before moving to New York and working at MTV; Vasquez is a housing attorney; Sanchez is a nonprofit director and former community liaison for State Senator Daniel Squadron; and Silver is a community board member and attorney with a background in education.

The winner of the Democratic primary among the five is all but certain to win in November’s general election, when he or she will face Jimmy McMillan, of the Rent is Too Damn High party, who is also running as a Republican, and Libertarian nominee Donald Garrity.

In their opening and closing statements, the candidates made the case for their candidacies and indicated how they are framing their qualifications for the job. Rivera presented herself as having ample government experience given her time as Mendez’s legislative director, allowing her to swiftly enter the Council without a learning window and immediately start working for her constituents. She also namechecked Donald Trump more than the other candidates, stating that she would be best prepared to resist the president’s agenda on the local level.

Cho presented himself as someone who has seen how government works at its highest levels, and therefore wants to take the lessons he’s learned and apply them in the city. He also presented himself as an outsider to city politics, and repeatedly called for a “new generation of leadership.”

Silver distinguished herself by her education background, having been a PTA president and a community board member, and stating that working in politics on the “other side of the Council” allows her to know what it’s like being a constituent who’s been ignored by her elected official.

Vasquez called for unifying the district and ensuring representation of everyone at the table in the Council, and also described himself as uniquely qualified to represent the district due to having worked as a litigator and for a judge on issues relevant to his potential constituents.

Sanchez discussed her roots in the district, at the Baruch Houses, and also stated that her background in the nonprofit sector has given her important experience in constituent services. Sanchez also singled out two important projects for her as a Council member: redeveloping the Baruch Bath Houses, and CHARAS.

Rivera has received the lion’s share of endorsements from elected officials, including Congressional Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who represents the Lower East Side, as well as unions and advocacy groups. Because of this and her work for Mendez, which came up several times at the debate, Rivera is seen by many as the “status quo” or establishment choice. This led her opponents, especially Cho, to tie her to the alleged shortcomings of Mendez’s tenure and to advocate themselves as a change in leadership style.

Cho has raised the second largest amount of money in the race, behind Rivera, and was particularly critical of the perceived frontrunner. When asked about particular community issues the district needs solved, Cho repeatedly took the opportunity to bring up what he considers Mendez’s lack of attention to the community, and at times referenced Rivera in doing so.

For example, Mendez failed to vote for a bill to end on-call scheduling for workers, which was passed through the Council and signed by the mayor. Cho wondered why members of Mendez’s staff, particularly her legislative director (Rivera) didn’t stress the importance of voting for the bill, and called absenteeism in leadership “the biggest problem we have.” When asked by the moderator, Rivera stated that she would have voted for the bill if she was in the Council.

“I think that it’s a very important bill,” Rivera said. “I think on-call scheduling is a big problem in retail, amongst other industries. And I will say that, you know, Council Member Mendez is her own person, and that I was actually endorsed by the labor organizations that championed that bill, including RWDSU,” referencing the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union.

Cho was not convinced, questioning Rivera’s faculties as a “legislative director who can’t get her member to vote for a piece of legislation.”

It was the most pointed moment of a mostly calm, collegial, and forward-looking debate. The candidates mostly answered the moderator’s questions and spoke to the audience watching the televised debate, which will also be available online through MNN’s website.

Like in most Council districts, the issue that is dominating the race is affordability, particularly in regards to housing, but also regarding local businesses.

All five candidates on the debate dais indicated support for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), which aims to level the playing field in commercial rent renewals between landlords and small business owners, but has been stalled in the Council for decades, despite majority support and the support of Mayor de Blasio and Public Advocate Tish James during their election campaigns in 2013 and of Speaker Mark-Viverito when she was a rank-and-file Council member.

Cho questioned the continuing inaction on the legislation.

“I’m just tired of hearing people say how much they, ra ra, about small businesses and these community pillars,” he said. “But at the end of the day, where’s the actual action? Where are we delivering for people?” When asked what he would do as a Council member to ensure the passage of the act, he said “I think we need to hold the mayor accountable, I think we need coalitions of Democrats across the city, and actually ask the mayor, ‘why aren’t you in support of this? Why won’t you sign this bill? And let him explain himself.” It was pointed out to Cho that he would have to help get the bill through the Council whether the mayor was supportive or not.

Silver suggested that the reason the act has stalled is because of politicians putting the interests of developers before those of their constituents.

“This has been investigated, researched by attorneys. There was a commission set up for this. There’s no legality issues, let’s get on with it,” Silver said, referring to one of the oft-offered reasons that electeds have balked on the SBJSA, the question of whether a version of commercial rent control is legal. “The truth is, this has to do with real estate developers and this has to do with greedy landlords, and it has to do with the fact that they’re the ones who fund campaign committees and elections across the board.” Silver further stated that excessive city fees are also hampering small businesses in the district, though these fees have drastically receded under de Blasio.

The candidates were also in agreement on reforming the commercial rent tax, which has widespread support in the Council, but where no action has taken place to move the bill through committee and beyond. The reform would raise the threshold at which the tax, which affects businesses below 96th Street in Manhattan, is levied. The bill, sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick, who is also term-limited this year, would raise the amount of rent paid in a year required for the tax to be levied from $250,000 to $500,000. The bill has 41 sponsors in the 51-seat Council.

Rivera, Sanchez, and Vasquez called for small business owners and families affected by the commercial rent tax to testify at the City Council as to the effect of the tax. Sanchez also called for the creation of a Business Improvement District, or BID, on the Lower East Side bound by Avenue A, Avenue D, 14th Street, and Houston Street.

On housing, a plank in the NextGen NYCHA initiative to allow development of market-rate apartments on vacant NYCHA land was sharply rebuked by most of the prospective Council members. Rivera stated that NYCHA must begin to be looked at as a part of the city’s infrastructure, akin to the MTA, and called for a reform of the authority’s repair system.

The subject of housing was where the most disagreement came to the fore during the debate. Cho signaled a more pro-development stance than his colleagues, saying that to be pro-affordable housing but anti-development doesn’t “square up.”

Sanchez, meanwhile, staked her position less on new development and rather on preserving the existing housing stock. “In regards to affordable housing, the preservation of it is really important,” Sanchez said. “And I think one way of doing so is declaring certain areas historical districts. Therefore, there’s no way of building NYCHA towers if it’s a historical district, because I am completely against the privatization of public lands.” She also discussed the sorry state of affairs regarding repairs in NYCHA, and discussed a lack of accountability regarding people being added to leases in NYCHA, echoing a point made by Vasquez.

“The first thing we need to do is transparency,” Vasquez said, regarding his course of action on NYCHA as a Council member. He believes it should be easier for young adult children of NYCHA residents to be added to apartment leases. “There’s no documentation of who asks to be put on the lease. How many people who asked to be added onto something, right? We know how many people applied to NYCHA, but we don’t know how many people applied to be added onto an existing account. And that’s important, because we’re throwing away resources, we’re throwing away money. We’re throwing away the affordability and the fabric of our city, especially within District 2.”

Specific new developments or neighborhood rezonings, and related community opposition, can often serve as a cudgel for a local legislative race. This is being seen in Council races this year in District 8, with the East Harlem rezoning; and District 35, with the Bedford Union Armory redevelopment, among others.

The only specific new development that served as a discussion point during the District 2 debate for MNN was the development of a new tech hub in Union Square, slated to be built on city-owned land. The candidates were largely in agreement that the development would be a net positive for the community, bringing in new jobs, particularly in STEM, but that the community must get something in return, such as the ability to use the space rather than it serving as simply a tech hub for what Cho described as white, wealthy men from or in the mold of Silicon Valley.

The five were hesitant to praise Mayor de Blasio. Asked to give a letter grade to his mayoralty and whether they would vote for him in November, Rivera and Vasquez gave him a “B” while Cho and Sanchez each gave a “C”; Silver, a former educator, gave an “incomplete.”

Cho and Silver said they would vote for de Blasio this fall over his Republican opponent, Staten Island Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis; Sanchez said she wouldn’t, and Vasquez and Rivera said they are undecided. Universal pre-K was praised as an ameliorative effort to address the “tale of two cities” that de Blasio campaigned on; however, the continuing rise in the cost of living led the candidates to lower their marks for the mayor, some said. Vasquez also criticized the mayor for claiming support of SBJSA but then backtracking upon entering the mayoralty.

Watch the full CD2 MNN debate:

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Lower East Side City Council Candidates Make Their Case in Debate Thu, 24 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
On the Lower East Side, Council Contenders Seek to Upend Favorite for Open Seat Carlina Rivera City Council

Carlina Rivera (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)

One of the 10 “open” City Council seat races is taking place on the East Side of Manhattan, in District 2, currently represented by Rosie Mendez, who is term-limited out of office. Several candidates, including Mendez’s preferred successor, Carlina Rivera, are competing in the Democratic primary, which will determine who holds the seat next given it is a staunchly Democratic district.

Rivera, Mendez’s former legislative director, has a good deal of momentum and support from the Democratic establishment. She has received endorsements of numerous elected officials, such as Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Congressional Rep. Nydia Velazquez, State Senators Brad Hoylman and Daniel Squadron, and others, as well as endorsements from unions and advocacy organizations. She has released a broad campaign platform touching on issues including housing, education, immigration, and criminal justice, putting down progressive markers on each.

But Rivera is facing serious competition from other candidates, including Ronnie Cho, a strong fund-raiser, in the district that is largely made up of the Lower East Side. The seat has long been considered a Puerto Rican stronghold, given representation by former Council Member Margarita Lopez and Mendez, along with U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez, but like many others across the city, the district has seen demographic shifts. Rivera is also Puerto Rican.

According to the most recent campaign finance filings, from mid-July, Rivera has raised the most money in the race. However, Cho, a former aide in the Obama administration, is not far behind. Rivera raised $143,412 and Cho about $132,931, while Cho has spent more of his money than Rivera has -- and Cho has actually spent $136,528, leaving him with a negative balance of $3,597. Rivera has spent $90,248, leaving her with a balance of $53,164 as the race heads toward the September 12 primary vote.

In late July and into August, candidates typically raise and spend funds at a feverish pace leading to primary day. The next filing will make clear whether Cho was able to replenish his coffers and continue to try to get his message out. Candidates are also now receiving public matching funds through the city’s robust campaign finance system, though Cho is the only candidate in the race who is not taking public matching funds, allowing him to abide by fewer rules on spending, but putting him at a disadvantage.

Other candidates running in the Democratic primary include Mary Silver, an attorney and Community Board member; Erin Hussein, a lawyer; Juan Pagan, a community activist who challenged Mendez in 2009; Jasmin Sanchez, founder of the Ana Luisa Garcia Community Center and former community liaison for Senator Squadron; and Jorge Vasquez, an attorney who has worked with Legal Services NYC and the Commission on Human Rights.

Perennial candidate Jimmy McMillan, who initially stated that he was again running for mayor, is running for the District 2 Council seat under the Republican and Rent Is Too Damn High umbrellas. The Libertarian line is occupied by Donald Garrity. They will face the winner of the crowded Democratic primary.

Rivera, like many prospective Council members across the city, sees affordability as the most pressing issue facing her potential constituents.

“From Kips Bay to the Lower East Side, we have seen tremendous changes in just the last 10-20 years,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. “And this has created a lot of strain for longtime residents both in access to affordable housing and their ability to open or maintain a small business, or even find affordable options for food and other basic needs. In addition, we see a troubling increase in the number of people in our community who are either homeless or are at risk of losing their home.”

Indicative of the job of a City Council member -- which blends constituent services with legislative and oversight responsibilities -- there was a recent crisis for Lower East Side residents at Masaryk Towers, a Mitchell-Lama public housing apartment complex. Building management abruptly told residents that the 1,100-unit complex would go without gas for six weeks. The building did not provide hot plates or meal credits, leaving residents forced to eat out, which many can’t afford on a routine basis.

Rivera says that the situation requires more direct communication between building management and tenants, as well as services like meal delivery. However, she also took a harder line against situations where this is done deliberately.

“In separate cases where service is intentionally cut to force tenants out, we need to use every tool available to hold management companies and owners accountable through either the State Public Service Commission or the Attorney General's office,” she said. “There is also a bill I support currently before the Council that would create a watch list for predatory landlords and the lenders they use to finance these tactics.”

Rivera worked on a bill that requires gas service operators to notify the Department of Buildings 24 hours in advance of a shutoff, which was signed in December by Mayor Bill de Blasio as part of a legislative package on gas safety.

Rivera’s status as the frontrunner has opened her up to criticism from some other candidates. Sanchez, who has the backing of the Liberal Party, has called Rivera a party-line politician.

“Rivera is considered the establishment candidate because she was hand picked like a puppet by the party machinery,” Sanchez told Gotham Gazette. “They are more comfortable with a candidate that supports the status quo as opposed to someone who will challenge and defend the needs of our district.” She further stated that she will “never owe anyone anything.” She did not provide specifics about how she would seek to shift the status quo.

While Cho has brought in large amounts of campaign money, much of it comes from outside the city, per filings. Obama advisor and CNN personality David Axelrod headlined a recent fundraiser for Cho, and Cho has received backing from other former Obama staff such as former Education Secretary Arne Duncan and actor-turned-public engagement director Kal Penn.

Despite high profile boosters, Cho says he intends to energize the grassroots of the district to overcome a rival with larger local institutional support and a district network. He says that his conversations with his neighbors have led him to the conclusion that “institutional, establishment politics is not serving them very well,” drawing a contrast with Rivera and Mendez, the current officeholder.

A source close to Rivera disagreed, saying that the claim of Rivera being the establishment candidate doesn’t hold up when put against those backing Cho, the so-called “creme de la creme Democratic establishment.”

Cho claims that his experience working in the federal government, specifically in voter outreach, has prepared him to serve as a local legislator.

“I’ve learned from the very best on how government should interact with its people,” Cho told Gotham Gazette, highlighting Obama’s insistence that government be a “force for good in people’s lives.” He also claims that seeing the Affordable Care Act passed while dealing with a hostile Congress has prepared him to challenge Mayor de Blasio when necessary if he is a member of the city’s legislative body.

Like Rivera, Cho admonished the situation at Masaryk Towers as a failure of leadership, characterizing the gas shutoff as emblematic of people’s declining trust in government, and of the city failing to deliver and live up to its progressive reputation.

“It’s insane to me that six weeks is something that they would even think is acceptable in any way,” he said. “This is what happens when you don’t have people who are willing to stand up against these interests and these groups and these powerful entities. So they think ‘oh, six weeks? Let’s do it. Nothing’s gonna happen, they haven’t punished us before, they’ve never challenged us before, so we can get away with that.’ And that just feeds into, I think, the hopelessness that people have around who’s looking out for them. Who’s fighting for me? Is there anyone that actually cares and who’s going to push back and make sure this doesn’t happen again? And right now we have a historic high in terms of lack of faith in institutions. This kind of stuff does not change the trendline.”

The only other candidate who has raised funds in the ballpark of Rivera and Cho is Silver, a member of Community Board 6 and an attorney, who has raised a little over $90,000 per the latest campaign filing with the CFB. Like her opponents, she couched criticism of Rivera into her acknowledgement of the tough road ahead.

Vasquez has raised about $41,000, with public matching funds expected on top of that, and told Gotham Gazette that he acquired four times the required petition signatures.

“No one has been able to do what I’ve done, and the majority of my money is all New York City. A lot of it is in-district,” Vasquez told Gotham Gazette in an interview, referring to the large proportion of donations to other candidates that came from outside the district and the city. Vasquez said that in the Council, he wouldn’t necessarily take on the role of writing new legislation, but rather “using the legislation that we already have” to advocate on behalf of his constituents. He has made disability rights a centerpiece of his campaign, arguing that inadequate facilities for those with disabilities are blocking them from such things as affordable housing and even the right to vote.

Silver was also optimistic. “I knew when I joined this race that it would be a challenge,” Silver told Gotham Gazette. “Incumbents and political staffers are often heavily favored in City Council races.” She pointed out that most of the “open” seat City Council races, where the officeholder is term-limited, include at least one political staffer in the running. Silver still believes that she can win the election.

Silver, like the other candidates, told Gotham Gazette that affordability is the “overarching” issue in the district, but she has also made strengthening public education a centerpiece of her campaign. She says that “teachers and principals have asked me to run because our public schools need a champion in City Hall.” She identifies herself as an education advocate, citing having “raised over $3 million for New York City public schools, identified new school sites to ease overcrowding, and championed equity and excellence in our schools.”

Rivera responded to the criticisms of being the “establishment” candidate in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

“As the youngest person running in this race, I bring a fresh perspective to the Council that is informed by the generations of organizers before me. My track record and the experience I gained working with Council Member Mendez has helped me build strong relationships at all levels of government that will allow me to get right to work in the Council. If this is establishment, then I thank them for recognizing my work.”

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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On the Lower East Side, Council Contenders Seek to Upend Favorite for Open Seat Mon, 07 Aug 2017 19:38:08 +0000
Council Speaker Contenders Spread the Wealth to Colleagues 15418071831 7ded33d9b6 z

Speaker Mark-Viverito (center) and Council Member Johnson (r) (photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)

A number of City Council Members who are jockeying to replace Melissa Mark-Viverito as the next Speaker of the City Council seem to be stepping up efforts to curry favor with their colleagues and other elected officials through strategic campaign donations.

The latest campaign finance disclosures filed on Monday show that Council Members Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams -- all contenders for Speaker of the 51-member legislative body -- have made significant contributions to fellow Council members and candidates running for open City Council seats. Other Speaker candidates -- Council Members Donovan Richards, Jimmy Van Bramer and Robert Cornegy -- also made similar, but smaller contributions.

The speaker, perhaps the second most powerful elected official in the city, is chosen through an internal vote of the Council every four years after an election. Current Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will be term-limited out of office at the end of the year. She won the post with the help of a coalition of progressive Council members and the active involvement of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who swayed Brooklyn Democrats to support her and in the process undercut the Bronx and Queens County machinery that had decided the speaker’s race in the past.

Council Member Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat and a prolific campaigner who is seen as one of the leading Speaker candidates, has so far contributed over $50,000 to other elected officials’ campaigns, far outpacing other speaker hopefuls.

According to Campaign Finance Board (CFB) filings, Johnson’s campaign has disbursed the maximum contribution of $2,750 to 15 Council members who are running for reelection and also to two Council candidates, for a total of $46,750. Those incumbents and potential future members of the Council could determine whether Johnson holds the Speaker’s gavel next year. Johnson also made three other donations collectively worth the mayoral contribution limit of $4,950 to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and contributed $2,500 to Comptroller Scott Stringer, for a total of 19 candidates who received donations from him. All are Democrats.

Johnson, who is not a participant in the city’s public matching funds program, has raised over $462,000 and spent about $271,000 this election cycle, making candidate contributions almost a fifth of his entire spending. He retains about $191,000 on hand. His Council donations were heavily weighted to outer-borough incumbents, with just two going to members from Manhattan. Five of Johnson’s donations went to Brooklyn members, four each to members in Queens and the Bronx, and one to a Staten Island member. Johnson has spent the last few months aggressively courting his colleagues, campaigning on their behalf in their districts. In one weekend in June, he made appearances with several Council Members across four boroughs.

[Related: Corey Johnson’s Very Busy Campaign Weekend]

Johnson also donated to State Assemblymember Francisco Moya, who is seeking to fill the Queens seat of Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who will step down at the end of the year. Ferreras-Copeland chairs the Council’s powerful finance committee and was considered one of the leading Speaker candidates before she announced she would not be running for reelection for personal reasons. Johnson’s other donation went to Carlina Rivera, a candidate for Council District 2 in Manhattan, which is currently occupied by term-limited member Rosie Mendez. Additionally, Johnson bundled almost $13,000 in donations for Rivera’s campaign. Johnson’s campaign did not respond to calls seeking comment.

The closest competitor in contributions is Council Member Mark Levine, whose campaign has given $31,000 to other candidates and colleagues. The contributions include 11 of the same incumbents and both Moya and Rivera. He also gave to Bronx Council Member Fernando Cabrera and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., for a total of 15 candidates. Levine has raised just over $376,000 in the campaign so far and has spent about $191,000, leaving him with about $185,000 on hand. He has also been actively campaigning for Speaker and is considered one of the top candidates for the position. Levine’s campaign did not respond to calls from Gotham Gazette.

Manhattan Council member Ydanis Rodriguez comes in third for his donations. His campaign has given $24,000 in 12 separate contributions of $2,000 to 11 Council incumbents and District 2 candidate Rivera. Rodriguez contributed to eight of the same Council candidates as Johnson and seven of the same candidates as Levine. His own campaign account holds about $94,000, after raising $247,000 and spending about $153,000.

Jumaane Williams personally gave $12,000 in 11 contributions, 8 of them to incumbent Council members and three to candidates, including Rivera. Williams’ contribution list differed somewhat, including four Council members that none of the other three top-contributing speaker candidates had given to.

All four gave to Council members Margaret Chin of Manhattan; Antonio Reynoso, of Brooklyn; and Rafael Salamanca, Jr., of the Bronx.

Among other speaker candidates, Donovan Richards personally gave $2,000 to two incumbents, $2,750 each to two Council candidates, including Rivera, and $500 to de Blasio, for a total of $8,000. Robert Cornegy gave $2,750 each to Moya and Queens Council member Elizabeth Crowley, plus $500 to District 41 candidate Henry Butler, for a total of $6,000. Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer gave $1,500 between two incumbents and $175 to Diana Ayala, who is running for Mark-Viverito’s seat in District 8.

The amounts involved appear to already dwarf the direct candidate contributions that current Speaker Mark-Viverito and her campaign made during the 2013 election cycle, after which she was elected speaker. According to CFB data, Mark-Viverito spent only $3,000 in candidate contributions that cycle.

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

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Council Speaker Contenders Spread the Wealth to Colleagues Fri, 21 Jul 2017 23:06:45 +0000
The Early Money Race in ‘Open’ City Council Seats City Council chambers

City Council chambers (photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)

With seven sitting New York City Council members facing term limits and one having left the Council to join the state Assembly, this year’s municipal elections will feature a number of competitive open races and will bring fresh blood into the city’s legislative body.

While the vast majority of those in the Council’s 51 seats can run for another term this year, and most are, the open seats will see the bulk of the electoral competition for the City Council.

Come January, the Council will have at least eight new members. Through the September primaries and November general election, seven term-limited members will be replaced: Rosie Mendez (District 2), Dan Garodnick (District 4), Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8), James Vacca (District 13), Annabel Palma (District 18), Darlene Mealy (District 41) and Vincent Gentile (District 43).

Another Council seat is currently vacant following Council Member Inez Dickens’ election to the Assembly. A nonpartisan special election is scheduled for February 14 for her seat in District 9 in Harlem. There are 11 candidates vying for the seat and the winner will serve through the rest of Dickens’ term, meaning its final year, and will have to run for reelection later this year. Two candidates, Todd Stevens and Larry Blackmon, are leading the race in fundraising, having qualified for public funds under the campaign finance system's matching funds program. Stevens has $46,871 in his account and Blackmon has $44,954. The closest other candidate is Marvin Holland with $26,325. Holland raised the most private contributions but, along with most other candidates in the race, did not meet the thresholds for public matching funds by a January 17 deadline for campaign finance disclosure. The rest of the candidates' accounts range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, with the most being Athena Moore's $5,005 and the least being Caprice Alves' $86. The next disclosures are due by Friday, February 3, based on which additional candidates may qualify for public funds.

Open seats invite numerous candidates for each race and the campaign finance system’s public matching funds program tends to help level the playing field for participants. Across all eight “open seat” races, candidates have been furiously reaching out to constituents and community groups, and, in the case of many first-timers, building their profiles and name recognition.

In some races, community activists are hoping to defeat political veterans from Albany -- state lawmakers representing New York City often look to switch to the City Council, where the pay is better and the trips to Albany fewer. Several state legislators are still exploring whether to pursue Council seats, with decisions imminent as the September primary is just over six months away.

In multiple races, female candidates are striving to strengthen the gender balance on the Council, a male-dominated body.

All of the eight “open seats” were most recently or are currently held by Democrats, and are likely to stay in Democratic hands. The Council currently has 47 Democrats and three Republicans, with the one empty seat (Dickens’). The Democratic primary is often determinative of the final outcome in City Council races.

In most of the “open seat” contests this year, there are candidates who have already posted significant fundraising numbers according to the latest campaign finance disclosures filed before a key January deadline with the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Fundraising can make or break a campaign, and early numbers are often predictive of what kind of campaign a candidate can run and how a candidate will do. Thanks to the city's public matching system, City Council candidates can often raise relatively modest amounts of money, qualify for matching funds, and run serious campaigns.

In Manhattan’s District 2, which stretches from Murray Hill down to the Lower East Side, Carlina Rivera leads the race, having raised $77,125 and spent $19,408, leaving her a balance of $57,717 in her campaign account as of mid-January. Rivera is a district leader and currently serves as legislative director for Council Member Rosie Mendez, a position she’s held since August 2015. Mendez has endorsed Rivera to be her successor in the seat. According to a campaign spokesperson, Rivera is a participant in the public matching funds program.

Running against Rivera is Mary Silver, a local attorney, education advocate and member of Community Board 6. Silver has a campaign balance of $30,523, having raised $38,725 and spent $8,202. A third candidate, Jasmin Sanchez, has posted no campaign contributions or expenditures.

District 4, which covers much of the east side of Manhattan, has six contenders for Council Member Garodnick’s seat. Two of them, Maria Castro and Diane Grayson, have empty campaign accounts. The early fundraising leader is Marti Speranza, a Democratic State Committeewoman and member of Community Board 5. Speranza is the former director of Women Entrepreneurs NYC, a city initiative, and has served as director of strategic initiatives for the Department of Consumer Affairs. She has just over $126,000 in her campaign account, having raised nearly $176,000 and spent about $50,000.

One of the benefits of running for an open seat, Speranza said in an interview, is that the city’s public matching funds program “has really levelled the playing field” and ensured that voters will have multiple choices. “It means we’re competing on our ideas and our platforms,” she said.

Keith Powers is also expected to run a strong campaign to replace Garodnick, and has raised $81,485 and spent $24,771, leaving him $56,714 as of mid-January. Powers, currently at Constantinople & Vallone LLC, a consulting firm, worked as chief of staff for former state Assembly Member Jonathan Bing for four years.

Powers pointed out that most of his campaign contributions are in small dollar amounts and came from district residents. “At the end of the day, fundraising matters, but the most important thing is having a motivated base of supporters in the district and having a record of accomplishment,” he told Gotham Gazette.

Also in the race are Jeffrey Mailman, who has a campaign balance of $32,916; Bessie Schachter with $19,732; and Melissa Jane Kronfeld with $4,138.

In East Harlem’s District 8, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has endorsed her deputy chief of staff Diana Ayala for her seat. Ayala has campaign contributions of $26,173, of which she has spent $1,733. Other candidates in the race have barely scratched the fundraising surface as of mid-January. Edward Gibbs has a balance of $5,884 while Edward Santos has $1,803. A fourth candidate, Tamika Mapp, has $25.

That race appears to be Ayala’s to lose, but it is still somewhat early.

Bronx Council Member James Vacca’s District 13 will likely be home to a competitive race, with six candidates running relatively close in fundraising. State Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj is in front, having raised $103,730. With expenditures of $19,276, he has a balance of $84,454. He also has the name recognition and political relationships that come with already being an elected official.

Second in the money race is Marjorie Velazquez, a Democratic district leader who Vacca has endorsed for the seat. Velazquez raised $64,715 and has spent $9,055, leaving her $55,660 as of mid-January. She sees this election as an important milestone to push for women’s representation in the Council, she said. “For a newcomer like myself, it’s been really empowering,” Velazquez said, adding that her initial fundraising haul “really solidified things for me.”

Local Bronx organizer John Doyle, who served for five years as community affairs director for state Senator Jeff Klein, is third in money with $42,987 left after raising $59,135 and spending $16,148.

District 18 in the South Bronx, currently represented by Council Member Annabel Palma, has only two candidates officially running, and neither has shown significant fundraising. Elvin Garcia, former Bronx borough director for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s community affairs unit, has $29,279 in his account. Amanda Farias has about half that, with $15,102. Farias has years of experience with the City Council, having managed the Council’s Women’s Caucus and served as the director for participatory budgeting for Council District 30.

Many, including Garcia and Farias, are eager to see if State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. jumps into the race to succeed Palma, which is he rumored to be considering.

The race for Darlene Mealy’s seat in District 41 in Brooklyn seems low-key at the moment. Five candidates have declared their intentions to run but none have raised funds for a formidable campaign. The biggest haul belongs to Deidre Olivera, who brought in $4,902 and spent $3,776, leaving her $1,126. Moreen King raised $2,000and spent $380, for a balance of $1,620.

In Bay Ridge, the District 43 race may be one of the few City Council elections with a competitive Republican versus Democrat general election. The only two candidates who have raised money in the race are Justin Brannan, a Democrat who used to work for current and term-limited Council Member Gentile, and Robert Capano, a Republican who has served under top elected officials from both parties. Brannan has received $57,385 in contributions and has $2,306 in expenditures, through mid-January. His $55,079 balance far outpaces Capano, who has $5,688 remaining after spending $5,679 from his $11,367 in campaign funds.

This is another race where the possible entrance of a state legislator could shift dynamics greatly: Democratic Assembly Member Peter Abbate is said to be considering a run. Even if he was to enter the race, he would face tough competition in Brannan, who is president of a local Democratic club and a long-time community activist in the area, as well as a former Gentile aide.

For his part, Capano said that he has been raising seed money thus far and that his fundraising operation will officially launch soon. “I think this is going to be one of the most competitive races in this election,” he said. “This is one seat that Republicans can win.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: This article has been updated to include fundraising numbers from the Council District 9 special election and to clarify that Marti Speranza is a Democratic State Committeewoman, not a district leader. 

The Early Money Race in ‘Open’ City Council Seats Wed, 01 Feb 2017 05:00:00 +0000
In Unexplored Territory, City Council Members Bundle Campaign Donations greenfield city hall alatriste

Council Member Greenfield and colleagues at City Hall (photo: William Alatriste)

The bundling of campaign contributions by elected officials for fellow candidates in New York City is not new or illegal, but it raises questions about an unexplored area of campaign finance law, especially as the City considers updates to the rules of its heralded campaign finance system.

In New York City electoral campaigns, individuals often lump together contributions from multiple donors to show their support for a single candidate. These bundlers, or intermediaries, as they are termed by the Campaign Finance Board, are monitored to ensure that they comply with the strict disclosure requirements. The act of bundling itself is recognized as a method of potential influence or a means to curry favor with a candidate. It’s not surprising to see real estate developers and lobbyists in the CFB’s bundler database.

Included among the bundlers, though, are even elected officials themselves. City Council members and members of the State Assembly have, in the past and in the current election cycle, bundled donations, throwing up questions about the city’s campaign finance framework that haven't been dealt with in the past.

Council members can bundle donations from others, donate their own personal money, or donate from their campaign accounts to other city campaigns. Members use these tactics to support current or potential colleagues, at times in apparent interest of advancing their prospects for the prized position of being elected Speaker of the City Council by fellow members.

For the still-young 2017 election cycle, two City Council Members have bundled contributions for other members and candidates. Brooklyn Council Member David Greenfield has collected $16,250 in total for four other candidates, all of whom are currently members of the City Council -- Karen Koslowitz, Mark Levine, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and Dan Garodnick. Garodnick is term-limited next year, but has raised money, it seems, for a potential future run for another position. Council Member Corey Johnson has also bundled nearly $15,000 for Carlina Rivera, legislative director to term-limited Council Member Rosie Mendez. Rivera is running for the seat Mendez will vacate, which neighbors Johnson’s seat in Manhattan.

“Councilman Greenfield is proud to support outstanding colleagues in government and believes it's appropriate to do so in the most transparent manner,” said Stephen Snowder, Greenfield’s communications director, in an email. Council Member Johnson was not made available for comment.

Greenfield and Johnson’s bundling is not novel. In the 2013 cycle, a number of elected officials were bundlers, although the practice is not widespread. For instance, in the last cycle Garodnick bundled $7,250 for Scott Stringer’s campaign for Comptroller and $1,500 for City Council Member Andrew Cohen’s campaign; then-State Assembly Member (now Congresswoman) Grace Meng bundled $4,000 for then-Comptroller John Liu’s mayoral campaign; there were other smaller bundles for as little as $75 for a candidate. In the 2009 elections, then-City Council Member (now State Senator) Simcha Felder was a prolific bundler, raising as much as $30,000 for six City Council candidates.

(CFB records show Greenfield has bundled before, when he was head of the Sephardic Community Federation, a few years before joining the City Council in 2010.)

The city’s campaign finance rules don’t cover the scenario of elected officials bundling funds for candidates; it is perfectly permissable. A CFB spokesperson declined comment but said the agency would consider the issue.

City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations, was unsure of where bundling by elected officials would potentially fall in the city’s legal or ethical statutes. “It’s an area we haven’t legislated or really dug into,” he told Gotham Gazette. “Ultimately I think what’s most important is that people are able to see who is bundling, for whom, how much, and are able to see the influence that might come from that.” Legislation related to campaign finance falls under the purview of Kallos’ committee.

There is currently a package of eight such bills under consideration, including one that would prevent contributions bundled by those who do business with the city from being matched with public funds -- though it is unclear if City Council members or other city electeds would be classified as "doing business" entities. “I think that anytime there’s bundling, regardless of who it is, we don’t want to match that with public dollars,” said Kallos, who also indicated that those bills, which have been dormant for some time, might soon be voted upon by the committee, which would pave the way for a full Council vote and movement into law -- perhaps in time for the 2017 election cycle.

When asked if elected official bundling might be an area that needs to be examined from an ethical standpoint, Kallos responded, “I’ve been pretty cautious with my campaign account and I’ve always been concerned with how campaign accounts are used. On the state level they’re used for criminal defense, they’ve been used to pay for personal items, for personal trips, for vehicles. Ultimately I believe that campaign contributions and campaign funds should be used for electoral purposes.” 

From a good government perspective, while the practice is legal, it is questionable. “While I may find it somewhat problematic that they are currying favor with colleagues and/or other elected officials by becoming a bundler, there’s nothing inherently illegal or wrong about it,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “That elected officials are doing this now seems a bit unseemly because it’s really about amassing power in front of another elected official,” he added.

Council members eyeing the speakership of the City Council do use campaign funds to contribute to other candidates, as well as bundle for current or prospective colleagues. The City Council Speaker is elected by his or her fellow Council members. Council Members Levine, Ferreras-Copeland, and Johnson are all being discussed, among others, as candidates to be the next Speaker, which will be decided in January 2018, after the 2017 elections. It is unclear if Greenfield has his eyes on the speakership, though he is already a power broker in the Council as chair of the land use committee.

Dadey said it may be a simple show of support among colleagues in government and politics, and that they shouldn’t necessarily be treated any differently than private citizens. “In regulating this business, we have to be careful not to overregulate and solve a problem that may not necessarily exist,” he said. “This is an example where we’re assuming improper motives when there may not be any.”

But, Dadey does worry about the use of bundling to “curry favor” for a speakership bid. “I would like to think that the Speaker is going to be chosen not on the basis of who has raised the most money but who has the capacity, the talents and the insight to do it.

“No one raises money for a candidate for office without some understanding that they will be there when the fund-raiser needs them,” Dadey said.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

Note: this article has been updated to clarify some of the language around bundling and to remove reference to Anthony Weiner, whose inclusion was related to a time before his scandals of the past several years, which nonetheless color any mention of the former Congressman.

In Unexplored Territory, City Council Members Bundle Campaign Donations Tue, 01 Nov 2016 04:00:00 +0000