Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/carlos-menchaca 2017-10-19T10:49:13+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Incumbent Brooklyn City Council Rep Attempts to Fend Off Prominent Challengers 2017-08-31T04:00:00+00:00 2017-08-31T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7144:incumbent-brooklyn-city-council-rep-attempts-to-fend-off-prominent-challengers-menchaca Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/menchaca_via_samar.jpg" alt="Carlos Menchaca" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council Member Menchaca (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>As he runs for reelection this fall, Carlos Menchaca, the City Council member for District 38, which includes Red Hook, Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace, faces several challengers in the Democratic primary. In a rare occurrence, one of his opponents is another sitting elected official from the same party, Assemblymember Felix Ortiz.</p> <p>Though he was not an elected official at the time, Menchaca himself challenged and unseated an incumbent from the same party in a contentious 2013 primary that focused on then-Council Member Sara Gonzalez’s insufficient response to the devastation Superstorm Sandy wrought in the waterfront district. In another twist to the exceptional storyline of the 2017 race in this district, Gonzalez is back and also challenging Menchaca in the primary.</p> <p>Also among Menchaca’s primary opponents this year are Gonzalez, Delvis Valdes, an attorney and former community board member, and Chris Miao, a real estate attorney. (Carmen Hulbert is the Green Party candidate in the race, awaiting the Democratic nominee in the general election.)</p> <p>Ortiz appears to be the most dangerous threat to Menchaca, and the race between the two has become especially pointed as it nears the September 12 vote.</p> <p>In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Menchaca mostly spoke in positive terms about his candidacy and campaign, touting accomplishments related to adult literacy funding, immigrant legal services, the city’s IDNYC municipal identification card program, and new schools opening in the district, along with new city investment to spur jobs along the waterfront. He did have a few sharp words for Ortiz, though.</p> <p>“I’m the only one that has a true sense of vision that is connected to the community of the district,” Menchaca said earlier this week. “What I’ve done is not only to be incredibly visible and vocal on issues that matter to the community, but to bring resources, like five new schools, and more jobs being created in this district than anywhere in the city. This is testament to my leadership and holding the line for the community.”</p> <p>Of Ortiz he said, “This is someone who is going to challenge a sitting incumbent of his party, someone distracted from the job he was just elected to do. Voters are soon going to say, ‘Go back and do your job that we just elected you to do.’”</p> <p>When Gotham Gazette asked Ortiz why he would take on a member of his own party in a primary, he said, “The biggest motivating factor was a group of constituents across the Councilmatic district” who came to him multiple times over the past year to encourage him to run. He said constituents were frustrated with Menchaca, who they felt had been unavailable. “I listen to the constituents,” Ortiz said, “when the people ask me to do something, I listen.”</p> <p>The constituents pushing him to run were “regular, normal people, senior citizens, people who’ve lived in the community a long time...most of these people are not involved in politics,” Ortiz said on Thursday.</p> <p>Ortiz, who, like several other state legislators running this year, is seeking to leave behind the regular trips to Albany for the much better pay of the City Council (without having to risk his seat), accuses Menchaca of inflating his record. “The New York City ID was not his bill,” Ortiz said. “You’re talking about someone who lies like crazy.”</p> <p>“I’ve been in this business long enough to know not to lie,” he added.</p> <p>While Menchaca touts his role in passage of the IDNYC bill, it’s not clear that he has claimed it as his own legislation, which it was not. He did sign on to the bill as a co-sponsor and usher it through committee, though, and he was an outspoken promoter of the highly popular program in its early phases.</p> <p>Asked about other elements of the record Menchaca is running on, including the new schools, Ortiz continued to be dismissive. “The only thing I give credit to him, is to approve the budget to use the money we gave from Albany,” he said, with reference to the school funding in particular. “He can take credit, but the money came from the state.”</p> <p>Dominant issues in the district that must be tackled include immigrants’ rights and protections, jobs, affordable housing, transportation, and education. Development of city-owned land and potential private development along the waterfront are also key issues.</p> <p>Menchaca has promised to protect the waterfront, which is a key landing strip for industrial jobs and has been expanding as renovations continue to be made to the Brooklyn Army Terminal, Brooklyn Navy Yard, and South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, which is becoming a key hub in the 38th district. He knows, though, that many of his constituents are wary of development, gentrification, and displacement, which have hit some parts of the district, especially Red Hook.</p> <p>“I’ve shown time and again that I’m holding the line in preserving Sunset Park and Red Hook for what it is,” Menchaca said, adding that he says “‘no’ a lot.”</p> <p>“I’ve not just said ‘no’ to developers, I’ve said ‘yes’ to city investment,” Menchaca added. “Hundreds of millions of dollars is coming to the waterfront for our community. Countless times developers have come to me with beautiful renderings of luxury towers on the waterfront, I’ve told them basically that this is not something that resonates with our community. They’re waiting for me to leave.”</p> <p>And trying to push Menchaca out is Ortiz, the assistant speaker of the state Assembly, who has been in the Assembly since 1995, and has touted efforts such as the passage of Briana's Law, which he introduced and was signed into law last week by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The law&nbsp;requires state police and NYPD officers to receive CPR training at the police academy and every two years after that. It is named for 11-year-old Briana Ojeda who died in 2010 after suffering a severe asthma attack. Briana's mother was pulled over by an NYPD officer on the way to the hospital, but the officer was not trained in CPR and could not administer aid. &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Ortiz is also proud of having introduced legislation to create a $2 billion bond act to repair infrastructure throughout the state, which did not pass, and of his successful efforts to recover back wages for unpaid workers that had been denied by factory owners when he was a part of the Subcommittee on Sweatshops. He does not, however, have an official campaign website with a policy platform for what he hopes to accomplish should he be elected to the City Council.</p> <p>Asked by Gotham Gazette what he hopes to accomplish as a Council member or what his campaign policy agenda is, Ortiz did not offer any specific policies, but remained focused on “constituent services” as the essence of his run. “What I have done and what I will continue to do, is what the CIty Council needs at this point: someone with the knowledge, the experience, the leadership, someone who knows how to listen and to get results,” Ortiz said. “The district needs me now,” he added.</p> <p>According to information he provided to <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/nyc-votes/vgwelcome/primary-election-2017/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NYC Votes for its official voter guide</a> ahead of the primary, Ortiz's top three issues are housing, a living wage, and education. In the section of the guide where candidates are able to be more specific, Ortiz provided only a few vague sentences about "a proven record of leadership" and "a record of taking action and getting results." He did specifically cite defending "the rights of all New Yorkers from consumer fraud to Immigrant rights," but did not provide specifics.</p> <p>Among a number of endorsements, Ortiz is being backed by 1199 SEIU and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), two of the city’s biggest labor unions, and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which represents police officers. “I am very proud to be endorsed by the finest men and women of the PBA,” Ortiz said in a press release upon receiving the endorsement. “As someone that has family members in the law enforcement, I truly understand the sacrifices that they bring to the job.” He’s also received support from other uniformed unions. Menchaca is known to be among the furthest left in a City Council often not seen as supportive of police and corrections officers.</p> <p>Menchaca is doing quite well in terms of institutional endorsements himself: he’s been backed by many labor groups and elected officials, including the local union chapters for transportation, auto, and communications workers; SEIU 32BJ, RWDSU, the Teamsters Joint Council 16, the Hotel Trades Council, and others. He’s backed by Congressional Reps. Jerry Nadler and Nydia Velázquez, Assemblymembers Jo Ann Simon and Yuh-Line Niou, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, and many of his City Council colleagues.</p> <p>“Almost every union has endorsed my reelection, because they know I’ve been fighting for the working families of my neighborhood,” Menchaca told Gotham Gazette, “whether it’s day laborers or the Teamsters...or the carwasheros in the northern part of the district.” Menchaca has been a regular at labor rallies and protests in favor of workers and raising the minimum wage.</p> <p>The incumbent regularly points to a handful of key issues, including two of the main themes of this entire city election cycle: Democrats running against President Donald Trump and the issue of affordability. Of Rep. Velázquez, Menchaca said, “the congresswoman is even more committed that I stay in the Council to continue as a partner, with the local and the federal, as we see the chaos out of Washington.”</p> <p>In an immigrant-heavy district with many Chinese and Spanish speakers who have limited English proficiency, demographics will be a key piece of how the race plays out. While Ortiz does hope to win a large portion of the Latino vote, Menchaca, who is of Mexican descent, has worked to build relationships in both of the large blocs of the district: the Latino bloc and the Chinese bloc, with the latter largely based in the Sunset Park section of the district.</p> <p>Getting the district’s growing Asian community to turn out to vote will be key. Chris Miao is the only Chinese-American in the race, and while he has not been able to raise enough funds to pose a threat to Menchaca, Ortiz, or possibly even Gonzalez, he could deprive the other top candidates from earning as many Chinese votes as they may otherwise.</p> <p>Miao listed "protecting the rights of immigrants," "educating the community on politics," and "involving Chinese-Americans in politics" as his three focus issues for NYC Votes. He promises voters "passion and commitment" if elected, but does not spell out any specific proposals for the voter guide or on his campaign website.</p> <p>For the NYC Votes guide, Menchaca listed immigration reform, economic development and local jobs, and education as his three main focus issues. He touted his work on the legislation creating IDNYC and securing funding for immigrant legal defense and adult literacy services. He writes that "he has transformed the relationship between New Yorkers and city government," but does not explain how he did that. He told Gotham Gazette he is working on additional legislation around adult literacy to make sure that the increased funding is being spent as well as possible.</p> <p>Another contender in the race is Valdes, an attorney who was involved in a local business improvement district. He has never held public office before but says he has been an activist in the community for decades. He had scathing remarks about his opponents on <a href="https://www.facebook.com/ValdesforCityCouncil/posts/1356275431160286" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>: “For 4 years the councilman and for 23 years the assemblyman who I am opposing have done nothing to fix the repair problems at Red Hook and the loss affordable housing that is threatening the very survival of Sunset Park.”</p> <p>Valdes has raised a good amount of money, enough to compete and, as of the mid-August filing, put him just behind Menchaca in funds raised. He <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/08/18/brooklyn-councilman-menchaca-faces-tough-re-election-fight.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told NY1</a> that Menchaca -- who has been an outspoken Trump critic, especially on immigrant issues -- is "more concerned about national issues, and we need someone who's going to represent the people here locally." For Menchaca, federal threats to immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are serious issues for the immigrant-heavy district.</p> <p>For NYC Votes, Valdes listed "gentrification displacement of Sunset Park," "lack of repairs - NYCHA buildings," and education as his top three issues.</p> <p>For her part, Gonzalez, the former Council member, listed affordable housing, defending and supporting immigrant communities, and more public school seats as her top three issues for NYC Votes. She did not explain a more developed campaign platform in the guide space provided and does not appear to have a campaign website.</p> <p>The only non-Democratic candidate running in District 38 is Hulbert, an activist on the Green Party ticket. Hulbert told Gotham Gazette, “We want an improvement of the current transportation system we already have in place, a modernized R train and more buses, but nobody is listening.”</p> <p>Hulbert was a delegate for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaign in 2016 and is the co-founder of LatinosforBernieNYC. She has said she is championing a progressive platform and her main focus, similar to that of Sanders, is income inequality, which she thinks is the most pressing issue in the community.</p> <p>“The Democratic Party no longer represents American workers. They have become a corporate party,” she added. “Sunset Park is still uniquely a walk to work community, but high paying, stable jobs are becoming difficult to find in the neighborhood. People cannot support themselves just in a service economy with minimum wage jobs, not with rent increasing as it is throughout Red Hook and Sunset Park.”</p> <p>Hulbert will face the winner of the Democratic primary in November.</p> <p>***<br />by Ben Max, with reporting by Amanda Tukaj</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/menchaca_via_samar.jpg" alt="Carlos Menchaca" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council Member Menchaca (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>As he runs for reelection this fall, Carlos Menchaca, the City Council member for District 38, which includes Red Hook, Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace, faces several challengers in the Democratic primary. In a rare occurrence, one of his opponents is another sitting elected official from the same party, Assemblymember Felix Ortiz.</p> <p>Though he was not an elected official at the time, Menchaca himself challenged and unseated an incumbent from the same party in a contentious 2013 primary that focused on then-Council Member Sara Gonzalez’s insufficient response to the devastation Superstorm Sandy wrought in the waterfront district. In another twist to the exceptional storyline of the 2017 race in this district, Gonzalez is back and also challenging Menchaca in the primary.</p> <p>Also among Menchaca’s primary opponents this year are Gonzalez, Delvis Valdes, an attorney and former community board member, and Chris Miao, a real estate attorney. (Carmen Hulbert is the Green Party candidate in the race, awaiting the Democratic nominee in the general election.)</p> <p>Ortiz appears to be the most dangerous threat to Menchaca, and the race between the two has become especially pointed as it nears the September 12 vote.</p> <p>In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Menchaca mostly spoke in positive terms about his candidacy and campaign, touting accomplishments related to adult literacy funding, immigrant legal services, the city’s IDNYC municipal identification card program, and new schools opening in the district, along with new city investment to spur jobs along the waterfront. He did have a few sharp words for Ortiz, though.</p> <p>“I’m the only one that has a true sense of vision that is connected to the community of the district,” Menchaca said earlier this week. “What I’ve done is not only to be incredibly visible and vocal on issues that matter to the community, but to bring resources, like five new schools, and more jobs being created in this district than anywhere in the city. This is testament to my leadership and holding the line for the community.”</p> <p>Of Ortiz he said, “This is someone who is going to challenge a sitting incumbent of his party, someone distracted from the job he was just elected to do. Voters are soon going to say, ‘Go back and do your job that we just elected you to do.’”</p> <p>When Gotham Gazette asked Ortiz why he would take on a member of his own party in a primary, he said, “The biggest motivating factor was a group of constituents across the Councilmatic district” who came to him multiple times over the past year to encourage him to run. He said constituents were frustrated with Menchaca, who they felt had been unavailable. “I listen to the constituents,” Ortiz said, “when the people ask me to do something, I listen.”</p> <p>The constituents pushing him to run were “regular, normal people, senior citizens, people who’ve lived in the community a long time...most of these people are not involved in politics,” Ortiz said on Thursday.</p> <p>Ortiz, who, like several other state legislators running this year, is seeking to leave behind the regular trips to Albany for the much better pay of the City Council (without having to risk his seat), accuses Menchaca of inflating his record. “The New York City ID was not his bill,” Ortiz said. “You’re talking about someone who lies like crazy.”</p> <p>“I’ve been in this business long enough to know not to lie,” he added.</p> <p>While Menchaca touts his role in passage of the IDNYC bill, it’s not clear that he has claimed it as his own legislation, which it was not. He did sign on to the bill as a co-sponsor and usher it through committee, though, and he was an outspoken promoter of the highly popular program in its early phases.</p> <p>Asked about other elements of the record Menchaca is running on, including the new schools, Ortiz continued to be dismissive. “The only thing I give credit to him, is to approve the budget to use the money we gave from Albany,” he said, with reference to the school funding in particular. “He can take credit, but the money came from the state.”</p> <p>Dominant issues in the district that must be tackled include immigrants’ rights and protections, jobs, affordable housing, transportation, and education. Development of city-owned land and potential private development along the waterfront are also key issues.</p> <p>Menchaca has promised to protect the waterfront, which is a key landing strip for industrial jobs and has been expanding as renovations continue to be made to the Brooklyn Army Terminal, Brooklyn Navy Yard, and South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, which is becoming a key hub in the 38th district. He knows, though, that many of his constituents are wary of development, gentrification, and displacement, which have hit some parts of the district, especially Red Hook.</p> <p>“I’ve shown time and again that I’m holding the line in preserving Sunset Park and Red Hook for what it is,” Menchaca said, adding that he says “‘no’ a lot.”</p> <p>“I’ve not just said ‘no’ to developers, I’ve said ‘yes’ to city investment,” Menchaca added. “Hundreds of millions of dollars is coming to the waterfront for our community. Countless times developers have come to me with beautiful renderings of luxury towers on the waterfront, I’ve told them basically that this is not something that resonates with our community. They’re waiting for me to leave.”</p> <p>And trying to push Menchaca out is Ortiz, the assistant speaker of the state Assembly, who has been in the Assembly since 1995, and has touted efforts such as the passage of Briana's Law, which he introduced and was signed into law last week by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The law&nbsp;requires state police and NYPD officers to receive CPR training at the police academy and every two years after that. It is named for 11-year-old Briana Ojeda who died in 2010 after suffering a severe asthma attack. Briana's mother was pulled over by an NYPD officer on the way to the hospital, but the officer was not trained in CPR and could not administer aid. &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Ortiz is also proud of having introduced legislation to create a $2 billion bond act to repair infrastructure throughout the state, which did not pass, and of his successful efforts to recover back wages for unpaid workers that had been denied by factory owners when he was a part of the Subcommittee on Sweatshops. He does not, however, have an official campaign website with a policy platform for what he hopes to accomplish should he be elected to the City Council.</p> <p>Asked by Gotham Gazette what he hopes to accomplish as a Council member or what his campaign policy agenda is, Ortiz did not offer any specific policies, but remained focused on “constituent services” as the essence of his run. “What I have done and what I will continue to do, is what the CIty Council needs at this point: someone with the knowledge, the experience, the leadership, someone who knows how to listen and to get results,” Ortiz said. “The district needs me now,” he added.</p> <p>According to information he provided to <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/nyc-votes/vgwelcome/primary-election-2017/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NYC Votes for its official voter guide</a> ahead of the primary, Ortiz's top three issues are housing, a living wage, and education. In the section of the guide where candidates are able to be more specific, Ortiz provided only a few vague sentences about "a proven record of leadership" and "a record of taking action and getting results." He did specifically cite defending "the rights of all New Yorkers from consumer fraud to Immigrant rights," but did not provide specifics.</p> <p>Among a number of endorsements, Ortiz is being backed by 1199 SEIU and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), two of the city’s biggest labor unions, and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which represents police officers. “I am very proud to be endorsed by the finest men and women of the PBA,” Ortiz said in a press release upon receiving the endorsement. “As someone that has family members in the law enforcement, I truly understand the sacrifices that they bring to the job.” He’s also received support from other uniformed unions. Menchaca is known to be among the furthest left in a City Council often not seen as supportive of police and corrections officers.</p> <p>Menchaca is doing quite well in terms of institutional endorsements himself: he’s been backed by many labor groups and elected officials, including the local union chapters for transportation, auto, and communications workers; SEIU 32BJ, RWDSU, the Teamsters Joint Council 16, the Hotel Trades Council, and others. He’s backed by Congressional Reps. Jerry Nadler and Nydia Velázquez, Assemblymembers Jo Ann Simon and Yuh-Line Niou, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, and many of his City Council colleagues.</p> <p>“Almost every union has endorsed my reelection, because they know I’ve been fighting for the working families of my neighborhood,” Menchaca told Gotham Gazette, “whether it’s day laborers or the Teamsters...or the carwasheros in the northern part of the district.” Menchaca has been a regular at labor rallies and protests in favor of workers and raising the minimum wage.</p> <p>The incumbent regularly points to a handful of key issues, including two of the main themes of this entire city election cycle: Democrats running against President Donald Trump and the issue of affordability. Of Rep. Velázquez, Menchaca said, “the congresswoman is even more committed that I stay in the Council to continue as a partner, with the local and the federal, as we see the chaos out of Washington.”</p> <p>In an immigrant-heavy district with many Chinese and Spanish speakers who have limited English proficiency, demographics will be a key piece of how the race plays out. While Ortiz does hope to win a large portion of the Latino vote, Menchaca, who is of Mexican descent, has worked to build relationships in both of the large blocs of the district: the Latino bloc and the Chinese bloc, with the latter largely based in the Sunset Park section of the district.</p> <p>Getting the district’s growing Asian community to turn out to vote will be key. Chris Miao is the only Chinese-American in the race, and while he has not been able to raise enough funds to pose a threat to Menchaca, Ortiz, or possibly even Gonzalez, he could deprive the other top candidates from earning as many Chinese votes as they may otherwise.</p> <p>Miao listed "protecting the rights of immigrants," "educating the community on politics," and "involving Chinese-Americans in politics" as his three focus issues for NYC Votes. He promises voters "passion and commitment" if elected, but does not spell out any specific proposals for the voter guide or on his campaign website.</p> <p>For the NYC Votes guide, Menchaca listed immigration reform, economic development and local jobs, and education as his three main focus issues. He touted his work on the legislation creating IDNYC and securing funding for immigrant legal defense and adult literacy services. He writes that "he has transformed the relationship between New Yorkers and city government," but does not explain how he did that. He told Gotham Gazette he is working on additional legislation around adult literacy to make sure that the increased funding is being spent as well as possible.</p> <p>Another contender in the race is Valdes, an attorney who was involved in a local business improvement district. He has never held public office before but says he has been an activist in the community for decades. He had scathing remarks about his opponents on <a href="https://www.facebook.com/ValdesforCityCouncil/posts/1356275431160286" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>: “For 4 years the councilman and for 23 years the assemblyman who I am opposing have done nothing to fix the repair problems at Red Hook and the loss affordable housing that is threatening the very survival of Sunset Park.”</p> <p>Valdes has raised a good amount of money, enough to compete and, as of the mid-August filing, put him just behind Menchaca in funds raised. He <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/08/18/brooklyn-councilman-menchaca-faces-tough-re-election-fight.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told NY1</a> that Menchaca -- who has been an outspoken Trump critic, especially on immigrant issues -- is "more concerned about national issues, and we need someone who's going to represent the people here locally." For Menchaca, federal threats to immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are serious issues for the immigrant-heavy district.</p> <p>For NYC Votes, Valdes listed "gentrification displacement of Sunset Park," "lack of repairs - NYCHA buildings," and education as his top three issues.</p> <p>For her part, Gonzalez, the former Council member, listed affordable housing, defending and supporting immigrant communities, and more public school seats as her top three issues for NYC Votes. She did not explain a more developed campaign platform in the guide space provided and does not appear to have a campaign website.</p> <p>The only non-Democratic candidate running in District 38 is Hulbert, an activist on the Green Party ticket. Hulbert told Gotham Gazette, “We want an improvement of the current transportation system we already have in place, a modernized R train and more buses, but nobody is listening.”</p> <p>Hulbert was a delegate for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaign in 2016 and is the co-founder of LatinosforBernieNYC. She has said she is championing a progressive platform and her main focus, similar to that of Sanders, is income inequality, which she thinks is the most pressing issue in the community.</p> <p>“The Democratic Party no longer represents American workers. They have become a corporate party,” she added. “Sunset Park is still uniquely a walk to work community, but high paying, stable jobs are becoming difficult to find in the neighborhood. People cannot support themselves just in a service economy with minimum wage jobs, not with rent increasing as it is throughout Red Hook and Sunset Park.”</p> <p>Hulbert will face the winner of the Democratic primary in November.</p> <p>***<br />by Ben Max, with reporting by Amanda Tukaj</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Mass Mailer Loophole Gives State Legislators Advantage in City Council Races 2017-08-29T04:00:00+00:00 2017-08-29T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7163:mass-mailer-loophole-gives-state-legislators-advantage-in-city-council-races Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/ortiz_mailer_crop.png" alt="ortiz mailer crop" width="600" height="342" /></p> <p>The top of Assemblymember Felix Ortiz's recent constituent mailer</p> <hr /> <p>Members of the New York State Legislature have a key resource at their disposal to communicate with their constituents: mass mailers. Both the Senate and Assembly allow lawmakers to send public communications through different media -- chiefly employed in the form of direct printed newsletters and mailers -- to inform residents of their districts about recent legislation or special events, or to alert them of emergencies, and more. While these mailers are subject to certain restrictions in the run up to an election, differences between state rules and city regulations mean that state legislators running for City Council have a distinct advantage over their opponents at the local level.</p> <p>In at least three City Council races where sitting state Assemblymembers are candidates, separate complaints have been filed with the city Campaign Finance Board alleging that each of them has violated prohibitions against using government-funded mass mailers within a mandated 90-day communication blackout period before the September 12 primary. Copies of the complaints were provided to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The rules governing mass mailers are adopted by each legislative chamber, but they differ from the <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/PDF/guidance/restrictions_on_resources.pdf">rules and guidelines</a> established by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, which oversees expenditure by campaigns in the city. Each set of rules establishes ‘blackout’ periods ahead of an election, during which communications funded through government resources are prohibited unless they meet certain exceptions.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/law/charter/prohibitions-on-the-use-of-government-funds-and-resources/">New York City Charter</a> states that “public servants” may not use government funds or resources for mass mailers within 90 days of a primary or general election. (The law also prohibits officials from appearing in government-funded advertisements in an election year.)</p> <p>There are certain exceptions, for instance allowing one mailer to be sent out within 21 days of the passage of the city’s budget, and permitting communications required by law or those necessary for public safety or health emergencies, among others.</p> <p>For City Council candidates currently working for New York City -- including incumbent Council members and even community board members -- the CFB blackout period began June 15, roughly three months before the September 12 primary.</p> <p>But since the City Charter only applies to “all officials, officers and employees of the city,” state officials and legislators are out of reach of those provisions and prohibitions. The <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Rules/?sec=r5#s10">state Assembly’s</a> blackout period, in comparison, is only 30 days before a local, special or primary election and 60 days before the general. This effectively allows state legislators to use their offices to promote their image and build greater name recognition, enhancing the already-significant power of incumbency and giving them an additional leg up over their opponents who would have to rely on campaign funds to communicate with voters.</p> <p>“It’s a clear loophole,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a government reform organization. “The problem is that city law is always subordinate to state law. So the CFB cannot tell a state legislator what they can or cannot do.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/ortiz_mailer_crop.png" alt="ortiz mailer crop" width="250" height="142" style="margin-right: 8px; float: left;" />In District 38, incumbent Democratic City Council Member Carlos Menchaca is facing a slew of challengers, including sitting Assemblymember Felix Ortiz. A complaint filed with the CFB earlier this month alleged that Ortiz had violated the CFB’s blackout provisions by sending out four mailers from his government office over the summer. But these mailers, a regular function of state legislative offices, are exempt from the CFB’s purview.</p> <p>“Part of Felix’s job as an Assemblyman is to inform his constituents, whether he’s running for office or not,” said Robinson Iglesias, Ortiz’s campaign treasurer. “He has been in full compliance with the CFB and he will continue to do so.”</p> <p>“For sure, it’s unfair. For sure, it’s an advantage,” said Kaehny of the loophole. “It hasn’t been effectively exploited until now. The reality is, an incumbent already has an advantage in name identity. Using their mail privileges helps reinforce that name identity...This is a real unfairness under the law.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, the frontrunner for the District 13 seat being vacated by Council Member James Vacca, similarly sent out a legislative update to his constituents at the end of June.</p> <p>Of Gjonaj’s four opponents in the Democratic primary, John Doyle has been his most vociferous critic and lodged objections with the CFB over potential violations regarding mass mailers and government-sponsored communications. When informed that the communications were largely permitted under the Assembly’s rules, Doyle directed his ire at both the state Legislature and Gjonaj. “We have a culture of corruption in Albany that allows this,” Doyle said in a phone interview. “This is the state Legislature that can’t seem to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/gjonaj_mailer_crop.jpg" alt="gjonaj mailer crop" width="250" height="242" style="margin-right: 8px; float: left;" />Doyle also insisted that Gjonaj has ample campaign resources at his disposal to get his message out and should have eschewed the Legislature’s mass mailing resources. “He’s against public funds to augment the voice of ordinary citizens,” Doyle said, referring to Gjonaj’s decision to not participate in the CFB’s public matching funds program, “but he has no problem using public funds when it supports his interests.”</p> <p>Gjonaj’s campaign spokesperson Jennifer Blatus pushed back against Doyle’s complaint. “Let's be clear, there was no unfair advantage in the District 13 council race,” Blatus said in an email. “This is another ridiculous attempt by John Doyle to distract voters and continue his negative and divisive campaign.” Insisting that the CFB allows elected officials to conduct ordinary communications with constituents, she added, “In the final days of this election, while Mr. Doyle continues to complain over the experience Mark Gjonaj brings to this race, our campaign remains focused on the issues at hand, which is quality of life, public safety, education and transportation.”</p> <p>In District 21, where Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is stepping down at the end of her current term, two Democrats are facing off in the primary: Assemblymember Francisco Moya and Hiram Monserrate, a disgraced former state Senator and Council member who is attempting a comeback after a checkered recent past that includes separate criminal convictions on fraud and assault charges.</p> <p>Monserrate claims that Moya misused government resources to send mass email blasts within the 90-day period, including references to events Moya attended outside his district. Moya’s Assembly district overlaps with parts of Council District 21 but excludes large sections. “Moya is a liar and a fraud,” Monserrate said in a statement. “He lies about where he lives. And now we know he's committing fraud by using tax-dollars illegally to campaign.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/moya_mailer_crop.jpg" alt="moya mailer crop" width="250" height="169" style="margin-right: 8px; float: left;" />In a written response to the CFB on Monserrate’s complaint, Moya noted, correctly, that “as an Assemblymember my mail cut off deadline is different than sitting City electeds.” In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Moya had harsher words for his opponent. “My opponent is a convicted felon who has zero credibility on this or any other issue in the campaign,” he said. “He is using these baseless claims to attack my record of public service, and direct attention away from his corrupt, violent history. These charges have been easily refuted by my campaign, and simply bear no resemblance to the facts.”</p> <p>Moya went on to criticize Monserrate for his own misuse of taxpayer funds. “The questions voters are asking are, ‘Hiram, where is our money that you stole and how can we ever trust you again?’”</p> <p>The CFB and the City are mostly powerless to bridge the gap in the law. “Obviously we provide extensive guidance on how candidates should handle constituent communications in the days leading up to an election, It’s certainly something we monitor,” said Matt Sollars, a CFB spokesperson.</p> <p>Reinvent Albany’s Kaehny says closing the loophole would require the state Legislature to take action, “which it seems very unlikely to do.” In the absence of legislation, he said, “The best thing CFB could do is keep track and include as much information in their post-election report to note how much of a problem it is and bring attention to that.”</p> <p>The CFB issues a comprehensive report after each city election that includes numerous recommendations on improving the campaign finance and election system. Many of the recommendations from their 2013 report were passed into law by the City Council.</p> <p>Two other state Legislators are also running for “open” City Council seats, though no apparent complaints have been lodged against either. Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, who has also sent out mass mailers from his office, is running for the District 8 seat currently held by term-limited Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; and in District 18, state Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., famous for his constituent e-blasts, which have continued apace, is vying for the seat being vacated by term-limited Council Member Annabel Palma.</p> <p>Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, another good government group, conceded that the CFB has no authority over the state and insisted that the Legislature should increase its own communication blackout periods to undo the advantage that accrues to lawmakers.</p> <p>“Legislators wouldn’t send [mailers] out if they didn’t think it will bolster public good will,” Horner said, adding that perhaps it will fall to voters to ensure a level standard. “I think it’s fair for the public to urge state elected officials running for City Council to follow the same rules,” he said.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/ortiz_mailer_crop.png" alt="ortiz mailer crop" width="600" height="342" /></p> <p>The top of Assemblymember Felix Ortiz's recent constituent mailer</p> <hr /> <p>Members of the New York State Legislature have a key resource at their disposal to communicate with their constituents: mass mailers. Both the Senate and Assembly allow lawmakers to send public communications through different media -- chiefly employed in the form of direct printed newsletters and mailers -- to inform residents of their districts about recent legislation or special events, or to alert them of emergencies, and more. While these mailers are subject to certain restrictions in the run up to an election, differences between state rules and city regulations mean that state legislators running for City Council have a distinct advantage over their opponents at the local level.</p> <p>In at least three City Council races where sitting state Assemblymembers are candidates, separate complaints have been filed with the city Campaign Finance Board alleging that each of them has violated prohibitions against using government-funded mass mailers within a mandated 90-day communication blackout period before the September 12 primary. Copies of the complaints were provided to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The rules governing mass mailers are adopted by each legislative chamber, but they differ from the <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/PDF/guidance/restrictions_on_resources.pdf">rules and guidelines</a> established by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, which oversees expenditure by campaigns in the city. Each set of rules establishes ‘blackout’ periods ahead of an election, during which communications funded through government resources are prohibited unless they meet certain exceptions.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/law/charter/prohibitions-on-the-use-of-government-funds-and-resources/">New York City Charter</a> states that “public servants” may not use government funds or resources for mass mailers within 90 days of a primary or general election. (The law also prohibits officials from appearing in government-funded advertisements in an election year.)</p> <p>There are certain exceptions, for instance allowing one mailer to be sent out within 21 days of the passage of the city’s budget, and permitting communications required by law or those necessary for public safety or health emergencies, among others.</p> <p>For City Council candidates currently working for New York City -- including incumbent Council members and even community board members -- the CFB blackout period began June 15, roughly three months before the September 12 primary.</p> <p>But since the City Charter only applies to “all officials, officers and employees of the city,” state officials and legislators are out of reach of those provisions and prohibitions. The <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Rules/?sec=r5#s10">state Assembly’s</a> blackout period, in comparison, is only 30 days before a local, special or primary election and 60 days before the general. This effectively allows state legislators to use their offices to promote their image and build greater name recognition, enhancing the already-significant power of incumbency and giving them an additional leg up over their opponents who would have to rely on campaign funds to communicate with voters.</p> <p>“It’s a clear loophole,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a government reform organization. “The problem is that city law is always subordinate to state law. So the CFB cannot tell a state legislator what they can or cannot do.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/ortiz_mailer_crop.png" alt="ortiz mailer crop" width="250" height="142" style="margin-right: 8px; float: left;" />In District 38, incumbent Democratic City Council Member Carlos Menchaca is facing a slew of challengers, including sitting Assemblymember Felix Ortiz. A complaint filed with the CFB earlier this month alleged that Ortiz had violated the CFB’s blackout provisions by sending out four mailers from his government office over the summer. But these mailers, a regular function of state legislative offices, are exempt from the CFB’s purview.</p> <p>“Part of Felix’s job as an Assemblyman is to inform his constituents, whether he’s running for office or not,” said Robinson Iglesias, Ortiz’s campaign treasurer. “He has been in full compliance with the CFB and he will continue to do so.”</p> <p>“For sure, it’s unfair. For sure, it’s an advantage,” said Kaehny of the loophole. “It hasn’t been effectively exploited until now. The reality is, an incumbent already has an advantage in name identity. Using their mail privileges helps reinforce that name identity...This is a real unfairness under the law.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, the frontrunner for the District 13 seat being vacated by Council Member James Vacca, similarly sent out a legislative update to his constituents at the end of June.</p> <p>Of Gjonaj’s four opponents in the Democratic primary, John Doyle has been his most vociferous critic and lodged objections with the CFB over potential violations regarding mass mailers and government-sponsored communications. When informed that the communications were largely permitted under the Assembly’s rules, Doyle directed his ire at both the state Legislature and Gjonaj. “We have a culture of corruption in Albany that allows this,” Doyle said in a phone interview. “This is the state Legislature that can’t seem to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/gjonaj_mailer_crop.jpg" alt="gjonaj mailer crop" width="250" height="242" style="margin-right: 8px; float: left;" />Doyle also insisted that Gjonaj has ample campaign resources at his disposal to get his message out and should have eschewed the Legislature’s mass mailing resources. “He’s against public funds to augment the voice of ordinary citizens,” Doyle said, referring to Gjonaj’s decision to not participate in the CFB’s public matching funds program, “but he has no problem using public funds when it supports his interests.”</p> <p>Gjonaj’s campaign spokesperson Jennifer Blatus pushed back against Doyle’s complaint. “Let's be clear, there was no unfair advantage in the District 13 council race,” Blatus said in an email. “This is another ridiculous attempt by John Doyle to distract voters and continue his negative and divisive campaign.” Insisting that the CFB allows elected officials to conduct ordinary communications with constituents, she added, “In the final days of this election, while Mr. Doyle continues to complain over the experience Mark Gjonaj brings to this race, our campaign remains focused on the issues at hand, which is quality of life, public safety, education and transportation.”</p> <p>In District 21, where Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is stepping down at the end of her current term, two Democrats are facing off in the primary: Assemblymember Francisco Moya and Hiram Monserrate, a disgraced former state Senator and Council member who is attempting a comeback after a checkered recent past that includes separate criminal convictions on fraud and assault charges.</p> <p>Monserrate claims that Moya misused government resources to send mass email blasts within the 90-day period, including references to events Moya attended outside his district. Moya’s Assembly district overlaps with parts of Council District 21 but excludes large sections. “Moya is a liar and a fraud,” Monserrate said in a statement. “He lies about where he lives. And now we know he's committing fraud by using tax-dollars illegally to campaign.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/moya_mailer_crop.jpg" alt="moya mailer crop" width="250" height="169" style="margin-right: 8px; float: left;" />In a written response to the CFB on Monserrate’s complaint, Moya noted, correctly, that “as an Assemblymember my mail cut off deadline is different than sitting City electeds.” In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Moya had harsher words for his opponent. “My opponent is a convicted felon who has zero credibility on this or any other issue in the campaign,” he said. “He is using these baseless claims to attack my record of public service, and direct attention away from his corrupt, violent history. These charges have been easily refuted by my campaign, and simply bear no resemblance to the facts.”</p> <p>Moya went on to criticize Monserrate for his own misuse of taxpayer funds. “The questions voters are asking are, ‘Hiram, where is our money that you stole and how can we ever trust you again?’”</p> <p>The CFB and the City are mostly powerless to bridge the gap in the law. “Obviously we provide extensive guidance on how candidates should handle constituent communications in the days leading up to an election, It’s certainly something we monitor,” said Matt Sollars, a CFB spokesperson.</p> <p>Reinvent Albany’s Kaehny says closing the loophole would require the state Legislature to take action, “which it seems very unlikely to do.” In the absence of legislation, he said, “The best thing CFB could do is keep track and include as much information in their post-election report to note how much of a problem it is and bring attention to that.”</p> <p>The CFB issues a comprehensive report after each city election that includes numerous recommendations on improving the campaign finance and election system. Many of the recommendations from their 2013 report were passed into law by the City Council.</p> <p>Two other state Legislators are also running for “open” City Council seats, though no apparent complaints have been lodged against either. Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, who has also sent out mass mailers from his office, is running for the District 8 seat currently held by term-limited Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; and in District 18, state Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., famous for his constituent e-blasts, which have continued apace, is vying for the seat being vacated by term-limited Council Member Annabel Palma.</p> <p>Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, another good government group, conceded that the CFB has no authority over the state and insisted that the Legislature should increase its own communication blackout periods to undo the advantage that accrues to lawmakers.</p> <p>“Legislators wouldn’t send [mailers] out if they didn’t think it will bolster public good will,” Horner said, adding that perhaps it will fall to voters to ensure a level standard. “I think it’s fair for the public to urge state elected officials running for City Council to follow the same rules,” he said.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
State Electeds Insult City Criminal Justice While Reform in Albany is Minimal at Best 2017-03-28T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-28T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6837:state-electeds-insult-city-criminal-justice-while-reform-in-albany-is-minimal-at-best Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/18510331656_3d976ced4b_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo prison break" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Gov. Cuomo at Dannemora correctional facility (photo: Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Last week, State Senator Jesse Hamilton mailed <a href="https://twitter.com/stschrader1/status/845778659206205444" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a flier</a> to his constituents strongly denouncing broken windows policing. The senator, who represents Crown Heights and surrounding neighborhoods in Brooklyn, called on the city to end arrests for minor quality-of-life offenses that “are often used to police black and brown bodies.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The week before, during <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cuomo-knocks-de-blasio-rikers-island-staying-open-article-1.2997154" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a speech</a> in Manhattan, Governor Cuomo disparaged Mayor de Blasio for failing to close the notorious Rikers Island jail, accusing the mayor of “impotence.”</p> <p dir="ltr">These criticisms of the city come as the state government, led by Cuomo, struggles to make its own reforms to New York’s criminal justice system. Current state budget negotiations include a push to “raise the age” of criminal responsibility so that 16- and 17-year-olds are largely prosecuted as juveniles, not adults. But the measure, which is seeing new daylight this year, has <a href="http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/news/local/new-york/2017/03/24/raise-age-central-ny-budget-talks/99600318/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">faced strong opposition</a> from Senate Republicans for years, despite the fact that New York is now one of just two states that tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.</p> <p dir="ltr">Senate Republicans want teenagers charged with violent crimes to be tried as adults and they want all 16- and 17-year-olds tried in criminal, not family, court. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The Republican Conference holds a plurality in the Senate—and the power that comes with it—in part because Senator Hamilton and the seven other members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) do not caucus with the Democrats. Nominal “Democrat” Senator Simcha Felder caucuses with Republicans, giving the GOP a 32-seat bare majority in the 63-seat chamber.</p> <p dir="ltr">But Senator Hamilton says that far from diluting the “raise the age” effort, his position in the IDC empowers progressive reform like it. “I, along with my colleagues in the IDC, have pushed Raise the Age further than ever before in the New York State Senate,” he said. “My advocacy around broken windows policing is motivated by my support for Raise the Age.”</p> <p dir="ltr">For their part, city officials are defending their approach and pointing the finger back at the state. At a recent press conference, Mayor de Blasio was asked about Cuomo’s Rikers comments, and said, “Our job is to address this crisis [on Rikers Island]. We’ve been doing it for three straight years…The state’s job is to take care of the state prison system."</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Carlos Menchaca exchanged sharp words with Senator Hamilton <a href="https://twitter.com/SenatorHamilton/status/830561071593377792" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on Twitter</a>, asking him, “What law are you advancing at the state level to curb the impact of Broken Windows policing?”</p> <p dir="ltr">Since that exchange, Senator Hamilton has introduced a bill to make turnstile jumping -- perhaps the prototypical broken windows offense -- a violation instead of a misdemeanor. Evading the subway fare is a charge the NYPD disproportionately brings against young black and Latino New Yorkers. Since city police enforce state laws, that is one avenue state legislators could use to influence city criminal justice.</p> <p dir="ltr">Senator Hamilton, who is black, spoke of his son as a motivation for opposing broken windows policing and for supporting raising the age. “He’s at an age where ‘the talk’—about young black men, safety, and interactions with police—is not an abstraction.”</p> <p dir="ltr">If the state raises the age of criminal responsibility, it will be the first major criminal justice reform legislation since the law ending the shackling of pregnant inmates in 2015. Executive action on prison reform has also slowed recently. After closing 13 prisons in his first term, Governor Cuomo has not closed any since 2013, even while the state prison population has <a href="http://www.scoc.ny.gov/pop.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">continued to decline</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, the governor also vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have increased funding to public defenders in the state. Cuomo insists he’s open to similar legislation but that it must be done through the budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">And <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/04/nyregion/new-york-prisons-inmates-parole-race.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a New York Times report</a> about rampant racial bias in New York State’s parole system led Cuomo to launch an investigation, but no findings have been made public and the parole system is unchanged.</p> <p dir="ltr">Parole reform is on <a href="http://www.caami.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Platform-for-Challenging-Incarceration-in-NY.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the list of criminal justice changes</a> that advocates have long hoped New York State would take up. The list also includes reform to the bail system, ending the use of solitary confinement, and a bill to accelerate trials. Republican control of the Senate, aided by the IDC, makes further reforms less likely.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The speedy trial bill, Kalief’s Law, should be a no-brainer,” said gabriel sayegh*, the Co-Executive Director of Katal, an organization fighting mass incarceration. “It would reduce pre-trial detention in jails.” The bill passed the Assembly unanimously, but has stalled in the Senate. “Even common sense bills that have bi-partisan support don’t get done,” sayegh said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I don’t think it’s a problem when state folks speak out on city issues, or vice versa,” continued sayegh. “We are eager to have the governor support the speedy trial bill, which would help us close Rikers. We want to see Senator Hamilton follow through by advancing legislation at the state level that addresses disparities in policing practices and arrests. They should connect their comments to action.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />Brenden Beck is a PhD candidate in sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center researching police, suburbs, inequality, and housing. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/BrendenBeck" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@BrendenBeck</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p> <p>*sayegh spells his name with all lowercase letters</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/18510331656_3d976ced4b_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo prison break" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Gov. Cuomo at Dannemora correctional facility (photo: Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Last week, State Senator Jesse Hamilton mailed <a href="https://twitter.com/stschrader1/status/845778659206205444" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a flier</a> to his constituents strongly denouncing broken windows policing. The senator, who represents Crown Heights and surrounding neighborhoods in Brooklyn, called on the city to end arrests for minor quality-of-life offenses that “are often used to police black and brown bodies.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The week before, during <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cuomo-knocks-de-blasio-rikers-island-staying-open-article-1.2997154" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a speech</a> in Manhattan, Governor Cuomo disparaged Mayor de Blasio for failing to close the notorious Rikers Island jail, accusing the mayor of “impotence.”</p> <p dir="ltr">These criticisms of the city come as the state government, led by Cuomo, struggles to make its own reforms to New York’s criminal justice system. Current state budget negotiations include a push to “raise the age” of criminal responsibility so that 16- and 17-year-olds are largely prosecuted as juveniles, not adults. But the measure, which is seeing new daylight this year, has <a href="http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/news/local/new-york/2017/03/24/raise-age-central-ny-budget-talks/99600318/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">faced strong opposition</a> from Senate Republicans for years, despite the fact that New York is now one of just two states that tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.</p> <p dir="ltr">Senate Republicans want teenagers charged with violent crimes to be tried as adults and they want all 16- and 17-year-olds tried in criminal, not family, court. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The Republican Conference holds a plurality in the Senate—and the power that comes with it—in part because Senator Hamilton and the seven other members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) do not caucus with the Democrats. Nominal “Democrat” Senator Simcha Felder caucuses with Republicans, giving the GOP a 32-seat bare majority in the 63-seat chamber.</p> <p dir="ltr">But Senator Hamilton says that far from diluting the “raise the age” effort, his position in the IDC empowers progressive reform like it. “I, along with my colleagues in the IDC, have pushed Raise the Age further than ever before in the New York State Senate,” he said. “My advocacy around broken windows policing is motivated by my support for Raise the Age.”</p> <p dir="ltr">For their part, city officials are defending their approach and pointing the finger back at the state. At a recent press conference, Mayor de Blasio was asked about Cuomo’s Rikers comments, and said, “Our job is to address this crisis [on Rikers Island]. We’ve been doing it for three straight years…The state’s job is to take care of the state prison system."</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Carlos Menchaca exchanged sharp words with Senator Hamilton <a href="https://twitter.com/SenatorHamilton/status/830561071593377792" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on Twitter</a>, asking him, “What law are you advancing at the state level to curb the impact of Broken Windows policing?”</p> <p dir="ltr">Since that exchange, Senator Hamilton has introduced a bill to make turnstile jumping -- perhaps the prototypical broken windows offense -- a violation instead of a misdemeanor. Evading the subway fare is a charge the NYPD disproportionately brings against young black and Latino New Yorkers. Since city police enforce state laws, that is one avenue state legislators could use to influence city criminal justice.</p> <p dir="ltr">Senator Hamilton, who is black, spoke of his son as a motivation for opposing broken windows policing and for supporting raising the age. “He’s at an age where ‘the talk’—about young black men, safety, and interactions with police—is not an abstraction.”</p> <p dir="ltr">If the state raises the age of criminal responsibility, it will be the first major criminal justice reform legislation since the law ending the shackling of pregnant inmates in 2015. Executive action on prison reform has also slowed recently. After closing 13 prisons in his first term, Governor Cuomo has not closed any since 2013, even while the state prison population has <a href="http://www.scoc.ny.gov/pop.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">continued to decline</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, the governor also vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have increased funding to public defenders in the state. Cuomo insists he’s open to similar legislation but that it must be done through the budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">And <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/04/nyregion/new-york-prisons-inmates-parole-race.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a New York Times report</a> about rampant racial bias in New York State’s parole system led Cuomo to launch an investigation, but no findings have been made public and the parole system is unchanged.</p> <p dir="ltr">Parole reform is on <a href="http://www.caami.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Platform-for-Challenging-Incarceration-in-NY.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the list of criminal justice changes</a> that advocates have long hoped New York State would take up. The list also includes reform to the bail system, ending the use of solitary confinement, and a bill to accelerate trials. Republican control of the Senate, aided by the IDC, makes further reforms less likely.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The speedy trial bill, Kalief’s Law, should be a no-brainer,” said gabriel sayegh*, the Co-Executive Director of Katal, an organization fighting mass incarceration. “It would reduce pre-trial detention in jails.” The bill passed the Assembly unanimously, but has stalled in the Senate. “Even common sense bills that have bi-partisan support don’t get done,” sayegh said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I don’t think it’s a problem when state folks speak out on city issues, or vice versa,” continued sayegh. “We are eager to have the governor support the speedy trial bill, which would help us close Rikers. We want to see Senator Hamilton follow through by advancing legislation at the state level that addresses disparities in policing practices and arrests. They should connect their comments to action.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />Brenden Beck is a PhD candidate in sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center researching police, suburbs, inequality, and housing. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/BrendenBeck" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@BrendenBeck</a>.</p> <p>

***
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</p> <p>*sayegh spells his name with all lowercase letters</p>
New York: A Sanctuary City with A Plan 2016-12-08T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-08T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6660:new-york-a-sanctuary-city-with-a-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/13528878_1124384977604978_3045454797811728480_n_1.jpg" alt="ferreras-copeland menchaca press conference" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>The authors: Council Members Menchaca, left, &amp; Ferreras-Copeland, center</p> <hr /> <p>New York’s immigrant families are waking up terrified as President-elect Trump, his supporters and growing administration spew hate. In spite of his new stance to “work something out” for Dreamers, Trump’s words are met with lack of trust. As the children of immigrants, we take attacks from Trump and his supporters personally and are filled with the courage needed to fight harder and smarter than ever to protect the rights and freedoms of diverse immigrant communities throughout New York City.</p> <p>To this end, the New York City Council passed a resolution this week affirming our commitment to remain a sanctuary city for immigrants, and we personally delivered it hours later to Trump Tower. Our resolution codifies past commitments to sanctuary while signaling to everyone that we will invest the time, energy, and resources required to make good on our promises.<br />Our resolve is clear: we are here to stay.</p> <p>Our City Council, like those in municipalities across the country, will play a lead role in this fight by redoubling our efforts to keep New York City a true sanctuary city. With the support of our Council colleagues, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mayor Bill de Blasio, fierce advocates, and brave New York families, we commit to immigrants that this city will remain a safe home.</p> <p>This week’s sanctuary city resolution memorialized our commitment, and we will ensure it through, in part, the following:</p> <p>First, we will defend our victories by preserving existing policies, initiatives, and programs that protect immigrants.</p> <p>Detainer Law: The Council’s 2014 detainer discretion law has protected between 3,000 and 4,000 New Yorkers per year from deportation. The law draws a bright line between municipal law enforcement and overly aggressive federal immigration enforcement. All New Yorkers are safer when there is trust between immigrants and the NYPD because crimes are more likely to be reported and witnesses feel safer. Under the Trump Administration, we commit to gear up for legal challenges to this law, and we expect to prevail.</p> <p>The New York Immigrant Family Unity Program (NYIFUP): NYIFUP provides legal services for New Yorkers who are detained and facing deportation. It has been highly successful and serves as a blueprint for other progressive municipalities. Continued funding for NYIFUP is not guaranteed by the city. The de Blasio administration must increase NYIFUP funding and make it permanent.</p> <p>CUNY Citizenship Now!: Since 1996, the City University of New York lawyers, paralegals, and volunteers have assisted hundreds of thousands of immigrants with legal advice, representation, and referrals. Programs like this are worthy of celebration and require our continuing support.</p> <p>IDNYC: IDNYC is the largest municipal ID program in the country with over 900,000 subscribers. It promotes civic participation, the economy, and public safety. We will ensure it continues to thrive. We call on the de Blasio administration to do everything in its power to protect the personal data of IDNYC cardholders. Entities like the NYPD, banks, and cultural institutions must continue to honor this government-issued ID. We will do our part in the Council, and in conversations with the mayor, to protect and defend the privacy of current and future IDNYC cardholders.</p> <p>Second, we must expand protections and investment for New York City immigrants.</p> <p>We are committed to building upon our victories, expanding existing initiatives, and creating new services, through efforts such as:</p> <p>Expanding Funding for Immigration Legal Services: Today, NYIFUP is limited to individuals who are detained and do not have a prior order of removal. In anticipation of the Trump administration, the program should be expanded to provide representation to other classes of immigrants facing deportation. The City Council and the de Blasio administration have also recently invested in legal representation in complex immigration cases. The demand for this type of representation will likely expand under a Trump presidency, requiring increased funding for these services, as well. We commit to fighting for these increases in funding for immigration legal services in the fiscal year 2018 budget negotiation process.</p> <p>Right to Immigration Counsel Law: A right to immigration counsel enshrined in law would help ensure that all individuals going through immigration court proceedings are represented by competent lawyers. While this might be expensive, we cannot let that deter us from doing what is right. We commit to working with our colleagues in the Council and the mayor to further assess the feasibility of a Right to Immigration Counsel Law.</p> <p>Protection from Notario and Immigration Attorney Fraud: One of the clearest ways to protect immigrant families is to ensure they are not victimized by unethical “notarios” (notaries who present themselves as immigration legal service providers) and incompetent or sham attorneys. Notario and attorney fraud harms vulnerable New Yorkers seeking immigration assistance. Our constituents encounter fake lawyers, scams, inflated fees, and predatory providers daily. Often, in addition to bilking families out of thousands of dollars, these bad actors cause serious harm to their legitimate immigration cases. We commit to working with the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and advocates on continuing to protect immigrants from notario and immigration attorney fraud.</p> <p>Expanding Participatory Budgeting: Each year, through Participatory Budgeting (PB), Council members voluntarily cede capital budget allocation decisions to residents of their districts who collaborate to decide which projects best serve their communities. We have repeatedly seen an overwhelming number of PB ballots in languages other than English, which demonstrates the engagement of immigrants in this process. This also indicates to us that while many immigrants cannot vote in other types of elections due to their immigration status, many are eager to participate in our city’s democratic process. The city all immigrants and other residents love, contribute to, and call home should welcome civic participation. We commit to strengthening PB in our districts and supporting its growth across the city.</p> <p>We are prepared for a Trump era during which immigrant communities will likely be under attack. New York City will stand as a beacon of welcome, hope, and protection for immigrants.</p> <p>In the New York City Council, we commit to defending our history of hard-won victories, while also expanding protections for immigrants. We know cities will need to hold the line against Trump administration attacks. As New Yorkers, we embrace that challenge together.</p> <p>***<br />Carlos Menchaca is the City Council Member for District 38 in Brooklyn and Chair of the Committee on Immigration.<br />Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is the City Council Member for District 21 in Queens and Chair of the Committee on Finance.<br />Follow them on Twitter: <a href="https://twitter.com/cmenchaca" target="_blank">@cmenchaca</a>&nbsp;&amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/JulissaFerreras" target="_blank">@julissaferreras</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/13528878_1124384977604978_3045454797811728480_n_1.jpg" alt="ferreras-copeland menchaca press conference" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>The authors: Council Members Menchaca, left, &amp; Ferreras-Copeland, center</p> <hr /> <p>New York’s immigrant families are waking up terrified as President-elect Trump, his supporters and growing administration spew hate. In spite of his new stance to “work something out” for Dreamers, Trump’s words are met with lack of trust. As the children of immigrants, we take attacks from Trump and his supporters personally and are filled with the courage needed to fight harder and smarter than ever to protect the rights and freedoms of diverse immigrant communities throughout New York City.</p> <p>To this end, the New York City Council passed a resolution this week affirming our commitment to remain a sanctuary city for immigrants, and we personally delivered it hours later to Trump Tower. Our resolution codifies past commitments to sanctuary while signaling to everyone that we will invest the time, energy, and resources required to make good on our promises.<br />Our resolve is clear: we are here to stay.</p> <p>Our City Council, like those in municipalities across the country, will play a lead role in this fight by redoubling our efforts to keep New York City a true sanctuary city. With the support of our Council colleagues, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mayor Bill de Blasio, fierce advocates, and brave New York families, we commit to immigrants that this city will remain a safe home.</p> <p>This week’s sanctuary city resolution memorialized our commitment, and we will ensure it through, in part, the following:</p> <p>First, we will defend our victories by preserving existing policies, initiatives, and programs that protect immigrants.</p> <p>Detainer Law: The Council’s 2014 detainer discretion law has protected between 3,000 and 4,000 New Yorkers per year from deportation. The law draws a bright line between municipal law enforcement and overly aggressive federal immigration enforcement. All New Yorkers are safer when there is trust between immigrants and the NYPD because crimes are more likely to be reported and witnesses feel safer. Under the Trump Administration, we commit to gear up for legal challenges to this law, and we expect to prevail.</p> <p>The New York Immigrant Family Unity Program (NYIFUP): NYIFUP provides legal services for New Yorkers who are detained and facing deportation. It has been highly successful and serves as a blueprint for other progressive municipalities. Continued funding for NYIFUP is not guaranteed by the city. The de Blasio administration must increase NYIFUP funding and make it permanent.</p> <p>CUNY Citizenship Now!: Since 1996, the City University of New York lawyers, paralegals, and volunteers have assisted hundreds of thousands of immigrants with legal advice, representation, and referrals. Programs like this are worthy of celebration and require our continuing support.</p> <p>IDNYC: IDNYC is the largest municipal ID program in the country with over 900,000 subscribers. It promotes civic participation, the economy, and public safety. We will ensure it continues to thrive. We call on the de Blasio administration to do everything in its power to protect the personal data of IDNYC cardholders. Entities like the NYPD, banks, and cultural institutions must continue to honor this government-issued ID. We will do our part in the Council, and in conversations with the mayor, to protect and defend the privacy of current and future IDNYC cardholders.</p> <p>Second, we must expand protections and investment for New York City immigrants.</p> <p>We are committed to building upon our victories, expanding existing initiatives, and creating new services, through efforts such as:</p> <p>Expanding Funding for Immigration Legal Services: Today, NYIFUP is limited to individuals who are detained and do not have a prior order of removal. In anticipation of the Trump administration, the program should be expanded to provide representation to other classes of immigrants facing deportation. The City Council and the de Blasio administration have also recently invested in legal representation in complex immigration cases. The demand for this type of representation will likely expand under a Trump presidency, requiring increased funding for these services, as well. We commit to fighting for these increases in funding for immigration legal services in the fiscal year 2018 budget negotiation process.</p> <p>Right to Immigration Counsel Law: A right to immigration counsel enshrined in law would help ensure that all individuals going through immigration court proceedings are represented by competent lawyers. While this might be expensive, we cannot let that deter us from doing what is right. We commit to working with our colleagues in the Council and the mayor to further assess the feasibility of a Right to Immigration Counsel Law.</p> <p>Protection from Notario and Immigration Attorney Fraud: One of the clearest ways to protect immigrant families is to ensure they are not victimized by unethical “notarios” (notaries who present themselves as immigration legal service providers) and incompetent or sham attorneys. Notario and attorney fraud harms vulnerable New Yorkers seeking immigration assistance. Our constituents encounter fake lawyers, scams, inflated fees, and predatory providers daily. Often, in addition to bilking families out of thousands of dollars, these bad actors cause serious harm to their legitimate immigration cases. We commit to working with the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and advocates on continuing to protect immigrants from notario and immigration attorney fraud.</p> <p>Expanding Participatory Budgeting: Each year, through Participatory Budgeting (PB), Council members voluntarily cede capital budget allocation decisions to residents of their districts who collaborate to decide which projects best serve their communities. We have repeatedly seen an overwhelming number of PB ballots in languages other than English, which demonstrates the engagement of immigrants in this process. This also indicates to us that while many immigrants cannot vote in other types of elections due to their immigration status, many are eager to participate in our city’s democratic process. The city all immigrants and other residents love, contribute to, and call home should welcome civic participation. We commit to strengthening PB in our districts and supporting its growth across the city.</p> <p>We are prepared for a Trump era during which immigrant communities will likely be under attack. New York City will stand as a beacon of welcome, hope, and protection for immigrants.</p> <p>In the New York City Council, we commit to defending our history of hard-won victories, while also expanding protections for immigrants. We know cities will need to hold the line against Trump administration attacks. As New Yorkers, we embrace that challenge together.</p> <p>***<br />Carlos Menchaca is the City Council Member for District 38 in Brooklyn and Chair of the Committee on Immigration.<br />Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is the City Council Member for District 21 in Queens and Chair of the Committee on Finance.<br />Follow them on Twitter: <a href="https://twitter.com/cmenchaca" target="_blank">@cmenchaca</a>&nbsp;&amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/JulissaFerreras" target="_blank">@julissaferreras</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
A Closer Look at BQX Funding Plans 2016-05-10T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-10T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6325:a-closer-look-at-bqx-funding-plans Ben Max <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bqx_presser_bdb.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="bqx presser bdb" /></p> <p>photo via nyc.gov</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In his State of the City address on February 4, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a major new transportation project: a “state-of-the-art” streetcar that will run the waterfront on a 16-mile route between Sunset Park in Brooklyn and Astoria in Queens. This Brooklyn-Queens Connector, or the BQX, has drawn a somewhat mixed response. The de Blasio administration quickly publicized support from a variety of business and civic leaders, elected officials, and several transportation advocates. Some transportation experts and residents of the neighborhoods where the BQX will run remain skeptical.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio hailed it as another key step in fighting inequality by offering more mass transportation to underserved New Yorkers, especially those in the public housing complexes near the route. It would also be a project the city would control itself, unlike the MTA, a state agency that runs the trains and buses. One immediate question, of course, was ‘who’s going to pay for it?’</p> <p dir="ltr">On February 16, the administration offered up more details in a media release that included the line “Self-financed streetcar line would generate 28,000 jobs and over $25 billion in wages and economic activity for New Yorkers.” A key phrase being “self-financed.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The project is estimated to cost about $2.5 billion, which the city will raise through a method of value capture and creation unlike the usual procedure of financing capital projects. Instead of selling municipal bonds to borrow money and paying those off from city revenues, as is done for capital funds, the city will create a non-profit entity -- likely a Local Development Corporation (LDC) -- which will then issue tax-exempt bonds to raise funds. This debt will be paid by “capturing” the increases in property taxes of existing real estate and new developments along the streetcar corridor. In effect, the plan is that BQX will pay for itself with the revenue it creates.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although LDCs are non-profit entities that are usually set up by private individuals and businesses interested in developing their communities, the city can also set up LDCs like the Hudson Yards Infrastructure Corporation (HYIC) and give them bond-issuing authority to raise funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">Private LDCs often receive support from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a city-run nonprofit organization that promotes businesses and economic growth. For instance, the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center LDC has received more than $4.4 million since 2014 from the City Council and the Brooklyn Borough President through EDC to convert an auto parts warehouse into a multi-tenant manufacturing center.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city is nowhere near setting up the nonprofit -- officials are currently <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2016/04/8597483/city-gives-new-bqx-streetcar-details-and-revs-outreach-plan" target="_blank">courting public opinion</a> and further assessing the BQX proposal -- but a similar structure was used under Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the redevelopment of Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side. HYIC was set up in 2005 to raise funds by issuing $3 billion in bonds for projects including the extension of the 7-train subway line and building green spaces from West 30th to 42nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. This is an analogous example of how the BQX will be funded and built.</p> <p dir="ltr">“As imagined, there would be no new taxes,” said an official from EDC. “This project will make it so that value of properties will go up so property taxes will go up nominally. Property taxes sliced off the top would be funnelled towards debt service.” In other words, increased property tax revenue is used to pay back the bonds.</p> <p dir="ltr">The EDC official added that there will be revenue through property taxes on new development along the corridor.</p> <p dir="ltr">Two key mechanisms of value capture are tax increment financing (TIF), which seems to be planned for BQX, and payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT). TIF is formulaic while PILOT is discounted payments negotiated with developers instead of regular property taxes. The administration has not clarified yet whether they will use both tools.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the case of Hudson Yards, HYIC garners revenue chiefly through PILOT, Tax Equivalency Payments (TEP), which are property taxes collected by the city from new development in the area, and District Improvement Bonuses paid by private developers for the right to build additional density, among other sources.</p> <p dir="ltr">City officials have not yet provided a detailed funding plan or fully explained why they are choosing value capture, which may have advantages in that it doesn’t add to existing capital debt, but also risks leading to higher costs that take longer to pay off. This was apparent in the years after the Hudson Yards project began. By 2014, the city had paid <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/west-side-commercial-development-costs-taxpayers-650m-article-1.2015834" target="_blank">about $439 million</a> to service HYIC debt owing to shortfalls in projected revenue. That’s added onto the millions in cost overruns that the city also had to bear. The city had signed an Interest Support Agreement to service HYIC debt in the case of revenue shortfall.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There can be risks,” said George Sweeting, deputy director of the Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan publicly-funded budget watchdog. Sweeting pointed out the disconnect between when the investment is made and when the city can start capturing value and making payments, since development doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why, in the case of Hudson Yards, the city agreed to pay off part of the debt directly from its general fund in the form of interest support payments and HYIC raised additional revenue by selling developers the right to create additional density.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It depends on how fast you think development will occur,” Sweeting said. “Some of where the [streetcar] is going has significant development already,” he added, noting that land along the waterfront has already become more valuable in recent years. “You might not be able to attribute [further growth] to the BQX.”</p> <p dir="ltr">With the traditional model of capital funding, Sweeting said, the city can “cross-subsidize” using other resources to pay off debt. That’s not necessarily the case with a dedicated value-capture scheme. “It can take longer to pay back,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bridget Fisher, associate director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at The New School, highlighted many of the risks in value capture funding in <a href="http://www.economicpolicyresearch.org/images/docs/research/political_economy/Bridget_Fisher_WP_2015-4_final.pdf" target="_blank">a report</a> from July. Looking at the Hudson Yards redevelopment project, she sought to dispel the “myths” of self-financing.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Like Hudson Yards, describing these projects as self-financing is a rhetorical tool that can be misleading,” Fisher told Gotham Gazette. “There’s nothing magical about value capture. It’s still debt and it’s still expensive. It’s a decision to go outside the municipal bond market that adds cost, but the city’s still on the hook for the cost.”</p> <p dir="ltr">These bonds, issued by a nonprofit rather than the city directly, are also in a “legal limbo,” she said, since they’re not backed by the city but by an entity created by it. Adding to that, bond buyers receive higher interest rates because the bonds are not directly backed by the city, but still have the security of knowing the city will pay them back. “It does pay for itself,” Fisher said, “but all capital projects pay for themselves. They’re paid for with debt and debt is paid back with profits.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“The question to me is, why choose a route that’s more expensive when you have the capacity to do it through the normal city capital budget, which also has democratic checks and balances?” Fisher added.</p> <p dir="ltr">There is an advantage to the mechanism, depending on your budgeting perspective. The city has a constitutionally mandated debt limit and value capture funding does not add to it. “It preserves the general obligation debt capacity for other important projects,” Sweeting said.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to <a href="http://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/CAPDEBT2015.pdf" target="_blank">a report</a> by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, the city’s debt limit in fiscal 2016 was $85.18 billion. As of July 1, 2015 (start of the 2016 fiscal year), the city’s outstanding debt counted towards the debt limit was $57.43 billion, leaving $27.76 billion in debt-incurring power for the city. For fiscal 2017, the city’s debt is about $72 billion, owing to capital plan additions in this year’s budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The only pro,” said Fisher, “is that in an environment hypersensitive to spending, local officials can provide growth opportunities and still maintain a rhetoric of fiscal discipline.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“There is no absolute right or wrong,” said IBO’s Sweeting. “There are a lot of considerations to take into account -- how much new development there will be, the time between when you make investments and development will occur, and how you structure the value capture.” &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">For the City Council members whose districts will be served by the BQX, funding is just one of the many concerns about the project. Council Member Carlos Menchaca represents Sunset Park, at one end of the line, and Council Member Costa Constantinides represents the other end, Astoria.</p> <p dir="ltr">“As we get more thoroughly through the process, there’s a lot of questions that have to be answered in my mind both on financing and the actual route and how it’s going to affect the communities,” Constantinides told Gotham Gazette shortly before an unrelated hearing at City Hall.</p> <p dir="ltr">He intends to be a strong voice throughout the process, he said, and wants to be part of the LDC when it is set up. So far, he believes the city is taking the right approach to community outreach and seeking input on the project - EDC held its first BQX visioning session in Astoria <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160510/astoria/astoria-weighs-on-citys-streetcar-plan-first-public-meeting" target="_blank">on Monday night</a>. “That is a welcome change from when we used to have a mayoralty that would dictate to us how things were going and we’d have to respond,” Constantinides said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Council member sees the potential in value capture funding, but also the risks. “I just wouldn’t want to see residents that are further away from the site…One, two, three-family homeowners that live two blocks from where this would potentially be...to see them get crushed by some sort of increase in their taxes would just not be where I was at,” he said. For homeowners, additional property value can be a great thing, but if you do not intend to sell in the near term, making larger property tax payments based on new assessments can be challenging.</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca reiterated these concerns. “I want to make sure that residents of affected neighborhoods like Sunset Park and Red Hook have a leading voice at the beginning of the process and in a way that determines the exact details and impact of the project,” he said in a statement. He emphasized that the BQX could provide relief to “transit deserts” like Red Hook and create better mass-transit for the growing manufacturing zone in Sunset Park. But he recognizes that it could also contribute to gentrification and displace existing residential and commercial tenants.</p> <p>“We've all seen ‘it will pay of itself’ projects fail to live up to expectations or have unintended consequences,” he added. “The impact of BQX – including the financial impact – must be studied carefully in public with residents at the center of the conversation.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bqx_presser_bdb.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="bqx presser bdb" /></p> <p>photo via nyc.gov</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In his State of the City address on February 4, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a major new transportation project: a “state-of-the-art” streetcar that will run the waterfront on a 16-mile route between Sunset Park in Brooklyn and Astoria in Queens. This Brooklyn-Queens Connector, or the BQX, has drawn a somewhat mixed response. The de Blasio administration quickly publicized support from a variety of business and civic leaders, elected officials, and several transportation advocates. Some transportation experts and residents of the neighborhoods where the BQX will run remain skeptical.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio hailed it as another key step in fighting inequality by offering more mass transportation to underserved New Yorkers, especially those in the public housing complexes near the route. It would also be a project the city would control itself, unlike the MTA, a state agency that runs the trains and buses. One immediate question, of course, was ‘who’s going to pay for it?’</p> <p dir="ltr">On February 16, the administration offered up more details in a media release that included the line “Self-financed streetcar line would generate 28,000 jobs and over $25 billion in wages and economic activity for New Yorkers.” A key phrase being “self-financed.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The project is estimated to cost about $2.5 billion, which the city will raise through a method of value capture and creation unlike the usual procedure of financing capital projects. Instead of selling municipal bonds to borrow money and paying those off from city revenues, as is done for capital funds, the city will create a non-profit entity -- likely a Local Development Corporation (LDC) -- which will then issue tax-exempt bonds to raise funds. This debt will be paid by “capturing” the increases in property taxes of existing real estate and new developments along the streetcar corridor. In effect, the plan is that BQX will pay for itself with the revenue it creates.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although LDCs are non-profit entities that are usually set up by private individuals and businesses interested in developing their communities, the city can also set up LDCs like the Hudson Yards Infrastructure Corporation (HYIC) and give them bond-issuing authority to raise funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">Private LDCs often receive support from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a city-run nonprofit organization that promotes businesses and economic growth. For instance, the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center LDC has received more than $4.4 million since 2014 from the City Council and the Brooklyn Borough President through EDC to convert an auto parts warehouse into a multi-tenant manufacturing center.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city is nowhere near setting up the nonprofit -- officials are currently <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2016/04/8597483/city-gives-new-bqx-streetcar-details-and-revs-outreach-plan" target="_blank">courting public opinion</a> and further assessing the BQX proposal -- but a similar structure was used under Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the redevelopment of Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side. HYIC was set up in 2005 to raise funds by issuing $3 billion in bonds for projects including the extension of the 7-train subway line and building green spaces from West 30th to 42nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. This is an analogous example of how the BQX will be funded and built.</p> <p dir="ltr">“As imagined, there would be no new taxes,” said an official from EDC. “This project will make it so that value of properties will go up so property taxes will go up nominally. Property taxes sliced off the top would be funnelled towards debt service.” In other words, increased property tax revenue is used to pay back the bonds.</p> <p dir="ltr">The EDC official added that there will be revenue through property taxes on new development along the corridor.</p> <p dir="ltr">Two key mechanisms of value capture are tax increment financing (TIF), which seems to be planned for BQX, and payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT). TIF is formulaic while PILOT is discounted payments negotiated with developers instead of regular property taxes. The administration has not clarified yet whether they will use both tools.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the case of Hudson Yards, HYIC garners revenue chiefly through PILOT, Tax Equivalency Payments (TEP), which are property taxes collected by the city from new development in the area, and District Improvement Bonuses paid by private developers for the right to build additional density, among other sources.</p> <p dir="ltr">City officials have not yet provided a detailed funding plan or fully explained why they are choosing value capture, which may have advantages in that it doesn’t add to existing capital debt, but also risks leading to higher costs that take longer to pay off. This was apparent in the years after the Hudson Yards project began. By 2014, the city had paid <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/west-side-commercial-development-costs-taxpayers-650m-article-1.2015834" target="_blank">about $439 million</a> to service HYIC debt owing to shortfalls in projected revenue. That’s added onto the millions in cost overruns that the city also had to bear. The city had signed an Interest Support Agreement to service HYIC debt in the case of revenue shortfall.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There can be risks,” said George Sweeting, deputy director of the Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan publicly-funded budget watchdog. Sweeting pointed out the disconnect between when the investment is made and when the city can start capturing value and making payments, since development doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why, in the case of Hudson Yards, the city agreed to pay off part of the debt directly from its general fund in the form of interest support payments and HYIC raised additional revenue by selling developers the right to create additional density.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It depends on how fast you think development will occur,” Sweeting said. “Some of where the [streetcar] is going has significant development already,” he added, noting that land along the waterfront has already become more valuable in recent years. “You might not be able to attribute [further growth] to the BQX.”</p> <p dir="ltr">With the traditional model of capital funding, Sweeting said, the city can “cross-subsidize” using other resources to pay off debt. That’s not necessarily the case with a dedicated value-capture scheme. “It can take longer to pay back,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bridget Fisher, associate director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at The New School, highlighted many of the risks in value capture funding in <a href="http://www.economicpolicyresearch.org/images/docs/research/political_economy/Bridget_Fisher_WP_2015-4_final.pdf" target="_blank">a report</a> from July. Looking at the Hudson Yards redevelopment project, she sought to dispel the “myths” of self-financing.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Like Hudson Yards, describing these projects as self-financing is a rhetorical tool that can be misleading,” Fisher told Gotham Gazette. “There’s nothing magical about value capture. It’s still debt and it’s still expensive. It’s a decision to go outside the municipal bond market that adds cost, but the city’s still on the hook for the cost.”</p> <p dir="ltr">These bonds, issued by a nonprofit rather than the city directly, are also in a “legal limbo,” she said, since they’re not backed by the city but by an entity created by it. Adding to that, bond buyers receive higher interest rates because the bonds are not directly backed by the city, but still have the security of knowing the city will pay them back. “It does pay for itself,” Fisher said, “but all capital projects pay for themselves. They’re paid for with debt and debt is paid back with profits.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“The question to me is, why choose a route that’s more expensive when you have the capacity to do it through the normal city capital budget, which also has democratic checks and balances?” Fisher added.</p> <p dir="ltr">There is an advantage to the mechanism, depending on your budgeting perspective. The city has a constitutionally mandated debt limit and value capture funding does not add to it. “It preserves the general obligation debt capacity for other important projects,” Sweeting said.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to <a href="http://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/CAPDEBT2015.pdf" target="_blank">a report</a> by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, the city’s debt limit in fiscal 2016 was $85.18 billion. As of July 1, 2015 (start of the 2016 fiscal year), the city’s outstanding debt counted towards the debt limit was $57.43 billion, leaving $27.76 billion in debt-incurring power for the city. For fiscal 2017, the city’s debt is about $72 billion, owing to capital plan additions in this year’s budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The only pro,” said Fisher, “is that in an environment hypersensitive to spending, local officials can provide growth opportunities and still maintain a rhetoric of fiscal discipline.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“There is no absolute right or wrong,” said IBO’s Sweeting. “There are a lot of considerations to take into account -- how much new development there will be, the time between when you make investments and development will occur, and how you structure the value capture.” &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">For the City Council members whose districts will be served by the BQX, funding is just one of the many concerns about the project. Council Member Carlos Menchaca represents Sunset Park, at one end of the line, and Council Member Costa Constantinides represents the other end, Astoria.</p> <p dir="ltr">“As we get more thoroughly through the process, there’s a lot of questions that have to be answered in my mind both on financing and the actual route and how it’s going to affect the communities,” Constantinides told Gotham Gazette shortly before an unrelated hearing at City Hall.</p> <p dir="ltr">He intends to be a strong voice throughout the process, he said, and wants to be part of the LDC when it is set up. So far, he believes the city is taking the right approach to community outreach and seeking input on the project - EDC held its first BQX visioning session in Astoria <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160510/astoria/astoria-weighs-on-citys-streetcar-plan-first-public-meeting" target="_blank">on Monday night</a>. “That is a welcome change from when we used to have a mayoralty that would dictate to us how things were going and we’d have to respond,” Constantinides said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Council member sees the potential in value capture funding, but also the risks. “I just wouldn’t want to see residents that are further away from the site…One, two, three-family homeowners that live two blocks from where this would potentially be...to see them get crushed by some sort of increase in their taxes would just not be where I was at,” he said. For homeowners, additional property value can be a great thing, but if you do not intend to sell in the near term, making larger property tax payments based on new assessments can be challenging.</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca reiterated these concerns. “I want to make sure that residents of affected neighborhoods like Sunset Park and Red Hook have a leading voice at the beginning of the process and in a way that determines the exact details and impact of the project,” he said in a statement. He emphasized that the BQX could provide relief to “transit deserts” like Red Hook and create better mass-transit for the growing manufacturing zone in Sunset Park. But he recognizes that it could also contribute to gentrification and displace existing residential and commercial tenants.</p> <p>“We've all seen ‘it will pay of itself’ projects fail to live up to expectations or have unintended consequences,” he added. “The impact of BQX – including the financial impact – must be studied carefully in public with residents at the center of the conversation.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Community Engagement Prized by Participatory Budgeting Proponents 2016-04-07T18:47:38+00:00 2016-04-07T18:47:38+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6269:community-engagement-prized-by-participatory-budgeting-proponents Super User <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25700400915_2985da0461_z.jpg" alt="menchaca constituent" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Menchaca with a constituent (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>For City Council Member Carlos Menchaca and his staff, the Participatory Budgeting Vote Week that just ended was the culmination of a year-long effort to encourage project proposals and votes from communities that are traditionally excluded from politics. Through PB, community members decide how $1-2 million in funding is allocated toward neighborhood improvements. Menchaca’s district, which includes immigrant-rich Brooklyn neighborhoods of Sunset Park and Red Hook, is one of 28 districts running the program in the 51-member City Council, but it is the most active.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, Menchaca’s constituents recorded the city’s highest number of participatory budgeting (PB) votes, a total of 6,299. Although this is double the amount of voters from the prior year’s cycle, it is still only a fraction of eligible voters, as the district has a population of 164,230 — about 80% of which is over the PB voting age of 14, according to the 2010 <a href="http://nyc.pediacities.com/Resource/CityCouncil/38" target="_blank">census</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, two-thirds of the votes from those who chose to participate were on non-English ballots and almost one-quarter were from people who couldn’t vote in regular elections, such as people under the age of 18 and immigrants without U.S. citizenship. These data give Menchaca and other supporters of PB energy to push forward despite criticism of the program.</p> <p dir="ltr">“What we’re doing with PB is removing as many obstacles as possible to get every voice in the community connected to a decision, like a community project,” Menchaca told Gotham Gazette in an interview during vote week, which was March 26-April 3.</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca and other Council members typically begin the PB outreach process in September, when workshops are held for residents to come together and share ideas about what should be improved or changed in their communities. This year in Menchaca’s district, fully translated workshops were held in Spanish and Chinese. Throughout the year, regular updates on scheduled events are sent through more traditional methods like phone calls, text messages, and emails. Residents are also updated via social media outlets like Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter.</p> <p dir="ltr">A voting site at the Red Hook Initiative community center, run by volunteers from local high schools, forecasted some success for Menchaca’s community outreach efforts as excited teenagers encouraged their friends to vote. These youth organizers had also been working throughout the year by attending training sessions, collecting project proposals, and organizing mobile voting locations. When they set up their Red Hook Initiative site, they were determined to collect 1,000 ballots by the following day.</p> <p dir="ltr">The majority of volunteers and voters at the vote week event would not have been eligible to participate in a regular election because of their age, but PB votes are open to residents as young as 14. Tea Cruz, a 16-year-old student, voted with her younger family members in mind. She wanted the local playgrounds to be renovated so that the equipment isn’t rusty and broken when her newborn cousin is old enough to play there. She was also concerned about her younger sister’s middle school, where the library is too outdated for the students to find their books easily.</p> <p dir="ltr">Along with playground renovations and new library technology, there were 11 other projects on the <a href="http://labs.council.nyc/districts/38/" target="_blank">District 38 ballot</a> this year. Other school improvement proposals included air conditioning installations, lockers for students who are currently required to carry their belongings with them throughout the day, and repairs to auditoriums, bathrooms, and science labs. Brooklyn Community Boards 6 and 7 called for street repairs, including filling potholes and repainting lines. There were also two district-wide proposals for new trees throughout each neighborhood and electronic signs at bus stops with the location and arrival time of each bus.</p> <p dir="ltr">PB projects are only for these types of physical investments in a neighborhood, known as capital projects. Critics of PB say that many these are projects that city agencies are supposed to take care of through the normal city budgeting process, and that the role for Council members it is to be a liaison between their communities and city agencies, while also influencing the overall city budget. Still, Council members do receive funds to disburse in their communities and many members are now allowing their constituents control over a portion of those funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Menchaca’s district, each voter could support up to five different projects. Informational expos were held before and throughout vote week for residents to learn about each proposal. At the Red Hook Initiative site, a room in the community center was filled with colorful science-fair style posters made by young volunteers, detailing the potential benefits and costs of each project. Voters were encouraged to read all the information before handing in their ballots. Many of the teen-aged voters lingered in front of the posters, questioning details of each project.</p> <p dir="ltr">Youth Council Member Frank Edwin Guzman, Jr., who is mentored by Menchaca, thinks that the perspectives of his peers are an important part of improving the community. After entering the New York City Youth Council program, his goal is to eventually be the youngest Council member in the city (Menchaca is currently among the youngest). In the near future, Guzman would also like to see every City Council member running PB.</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca also hopes to see more City Council participation. Although 28 districts in New York City already run PB, the system still faces some criticism, both from within and outside the Council. In a recent <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/political-itch/2016/03/25/ny1-itch--i-don-t-want-to-participate.html" target="_blank">column</a>, NY1 Political Director Bob Hardt argued that PB places too much of the Council member’s responsibility on residents and hurts the poorer parts of districts that aren’t usually politically involved. Menchaca finds that PB has the potential to do the opposite if the right effort is made.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The people who are going to eventually become participants in PB are the people that you invite to the table,” Menchaca said, emphasizing “invite.” “If you only invite rich, engaged people then you’re only going to get rich, engaged people,” he continued. “It’s not an accident that two-thirds of the votes coming in are in Spanish and Chinese. It won’t be an accident if only rich, privileged people come out and vote for PB. It’s a direct reflection of the leadership that you place in power to engage the people.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca also responded to the criticism that PB takes power away from Council members.</p> <p dir="ltr">“What we’re trying to do is not consolidate power for one person to make decisions or go out and find solutions, but what we’re doing is actually increasing power within the community to develop leaders who are knowledgeable of city agency processes to help make a collective decision about where to place dollars,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Other critics point out that the entire PB process might be unnecessary. In a recent <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/errol-louis-nyc-budget-ain-amateurs-article-1.2588397" target="_blank">column</a> for the New York Daily News, NY1 political anchor Errol Louis pointed out that PB only makes up 0.04% of the city’s budget, labeling the process as “painfully low-stakes.” He argues that if it were really the great process participating Council members promote it to be, residents would be allowed to vote on billion-dollar decisions, rather than where to allocate $1 million or $2 million. Louis also echoes Hardt’s point about putting decision-making responsibilities into the wrong hands.</p> <p dir="ltr">“And if a budget decision goes wrong — if, say, events prove we should have bought NYPD cameras instead of renovating the senior center — participatory budgeting scatters the responsibility, letting the Council member off the hook,” he wrote.</p> <p dir="ltr">In an <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5946-participatory-budgeting-grows-in-nyc-why-isnt-every-council-member-doing-it" target="_blank">article</a> published here last year, Council members not running PB in their districts cited the heavy commitment as a deterrent.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Participatory budgeting takes an extraordinary amount of office time and resources for no discernible improvement in outcomes over working through the existing vast civic infrastructure for public participation,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, who represents District 24 in Queens.</p> <p dir="ltr">A press secretary for Council Member Inez Dickens, representative of District 9 in Harlem, explained that local community boards are the most practical way for residents to express the same opinions, concerns or proposal ideas that PB encourages. This was a point raised by Louis in his recent column.</p> <p dir="ltr">As more City Council members decide whether or not to run PB, Menchaca thinks that the future of the program lies in more funding. Last year, a project for increased Wi-Fi throughout the NYCHA public housing developments in Red Hook couldn’t receive PB funding even though it garnered more than 3,000 votes. Menchaca had already allocated all of his available funds to winning projects such as district-wide technology updates, playground lighting, bathroom renovations, and outdoor fitness equipment in Sunset Park. He went to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who was able to <a href="http://brooklyn-usa.org/bp-adams-announces-brooklyn-wide-expansion-of-participatory-budgeting/" target="_blank">expand</a> PB this year with a commitment of an extra $100,000 to 10 different districts, for a total of $1 million, to support winning projects. Adams is the first borough president to make such a funding decision.</p> <p dir="ltr">“PB is a revolutionary approach to growing democracy from the ground up, and this partnership with the City Council will cultivate that growth even further, funding more capital projects and engaging more potential voters,” Adams wrote in the press release.</p> <p dir="ltr">Along with the continued support of the borough president, Menchaca would also like to encourage the mayor’s office and more city agencies, such as the Parks Department, the School Construction Authority, and the Department of Transportation, to look to PB votes for ideas about how to spend their own money. He believes that PB could be a valuable resource for the mayor’s office and its agencies by showing the city government what residents really want and need, therefore creating a more direct relationship between city agencies and residents. If the city were to directly increase PB funding, it could help improve outreach efforts, according to Menchaca.</p> <p>“It takes money to engage the communities we’re engaging,” he said. “Especially when they don’t speak the language and there’s low literacy rates, for example, and you have to translate everything. I think the city can understand that gap of resources and bring us more translation, more literacy classes in our communities, bring us more money to teach people how to organize.”</p> <p>***<br />by Carmen Russo, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a>&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/carmenjrusso" target="_blank">@carmenjrusso</a></p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25700400915_2985da0461_z.jpg" alt="menchaca constituent" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Menchaca with a constituent (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>For City Council Member Carlos Menchaca and his staff, the Participatory Budgeting Vote Week that just ended was the culmination of a year-long effort to encourage project proposals and votes from communities that are traditionally excluded from politics. Through PB, community members decide how $1-2 million in funding is allocated toward neighborhood improvements. Menchaca’s district, which includes immigrant-rich Brooklyn neighborhoods of Sunset Park and Red Hook, is one of 28 districts running the program in the 51-member City Council, but it is the most active.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, Menchaca’s constituents recorded the city’s highest number of participatory budgeting (PB) votes, a total of 6,299. Although this is double the amount of voters from the prior year’s cycle, it is still only a fraction of eligible voters, as the district has a population of 164,230 — about 80% of which is over the PB voting age of 14, according to the 2010 <a href="http://nyc.pediacities.com/Resource/CityCouncil/38" target="_blank">census</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, two-thirds of the votes from those who chose to participate were on non-English ballots and almost one-quarter were from people who couldn’t vote in regular elections, such as people under the age of 18 and immigrants without U.S. citizenship. These data give Menchaca and other supporters of PB energy to push forward despite criticism of the program.</p> <p dir="ltr">“What we’re doing with PB is removing as many obstacles as possible to get every voice in the community connected to a decision, like a community project,” Menchaca told Gotham Gazette in an interview during vote week, which was March 26-April 3.</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca and other Council members typically begin the PB outreach process in September, when workshops are held for residents to come together and share ideas about what should be improved or changed in their communities. This year in Menchaca’s district, fully translated workshops were held in Spanish and Chinese. Throughout the year, regular updates on scheduled events are sent through more traditional methods like phone calls, text messages, and emails. Residents are also updated via social media outlets like Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter.</p> <p dir="ltr">A voting site at the Red Hook Initiative community center, run by volunteers from local high schools, forecasted some success for Menchaca’s community outreach efforts as excited teenagers encouraged their friends to vote. These youth organizers had also been working throughout the year by attending training sessions, collecting project proposals, and organizing mobile voting locations. When they set up their Red Hook Initiative site, they were determined to collect 1,000 ballots by the following day.</p> <p dir="ltr">The majority of volunteers and voters at the vote week event would not have been eligible to participate in a regular election because of their age, but PB votes are open to residents as young as 14. Tea Cruz, a 16-year-old student, voted with her younger family members in mind. She wanted the local playgrounds to be renovated so that the equipment isn’t rusty and broken when her newborn cousin is old enough to play there. She was also concerned about her younger sister’s middle school, where the library is too outdated for the students to find their books easily.</p> <p dir="ltr">Along with playground renovations and new library technology, there were 11 other projects on the <a href="http://labs.council.nyc/districts/38/" target="_blank">District 38 ballot</a> this year. Other school improvement proposals included air conditioning installations, lockers for students who are currently required to carry their belongings with them throughout the day, and repairs to auditoriums, bathrooms, and science labs. Brooklyn Community Boards 6 and 7 called for street repairs, including filling potholes and repainting lines. There were also two district-wide proposals for new trees throughout each neighborhood and electronic signs at bus stops with the location and arrival time of each bus.</p> <p dir="ltr">PB projects are only for these types of physical investments in a neighborhood, known as capital projects. Critics of PB say that many these are projects that city agencies are supposed to take care of through the normal city budgeting process, and that the role for Council members it is to be a liaison between their communities and city agencies, while also influencing the overall city budget. Still, Council members do receive funds to disburse in their communities and many members are now allowing their constituents control over a portion of those funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Menchaca’s district, each voter could support up to five different projects. Informational expos were held before and throughout vote week for residents to learn about each proposal. At the Red Hook Initiative site, a room in the community center was filled with colorful science-fair style posters made by young volunteers, detailing the potential benefits and costs of each project. Voters were encouraged to read all the information before handing in their ballots. Many of the teen-aged voters lingered in front of the posters, questioning details of each project.</p> <p dir="ltr">Youth Council Member Frank Edwin Guzman, Jr., who is mentored by Menchaca, thinks that the perspectives of his peers are an important part of improving the community. After entering the New York City Youth Council program, his goal is to eventually be the youngest Council member in the city (Menchaca is currently among the youngest). In the near future, Guzman would also like to see every City Council member running PB.</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca also hopes to see more City Council participation. Although 28 districts in New York City already run PB, the system still faces some criticism, both from within and outside the Council. In a recent <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/political-itch/2016/03/25/ny1-itch--i-don-t-want-to-participate.html" target="_blank">column</a>, NY1 Political Director Bob Hardt argued that PB places too much of the Council member’s responsibility on residents and hurts the poorer parts of districts that aren’t usually politically involved. Menchaca finds that PB has the potential to do the opposite if the right effort is made.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The people who are going to eventually become participants in PB are the people that you invite to the table,” Menchaca said, emphasizing “invite.” “If you only invite rich, engaged people then you’re only going to get rich, engaged people,” he continued. “It’s not an accident that two-thirds of the votes coming in are in Spanish and Chinese. It won’t be an accident if only rich, privileged people come out and vote for PB. It’s a direct reflection of the leadership that you place in power to engage the people.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca also responded to the criticism that PB takes power away from Council members.</p> <p dir="ltr">“What we’re trying to do is not consolidate power for one person to make decisions or go out and find solutions, but what we’re doing is actually increasing power within the community to develop leaders who are knowledgeable of city agency processes to help make a collective decision about where to place dollars,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Other critics point out that the entire PB process might be unnecessary. In a recent <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/errol-louis-nyc-budget-ain-amateurs-article-1.2588397" target="_blank">column</a> for the New York Daily News, NY1 political anchor Errol Louis pointed out that PB only makes up 0.04% of the city’s budget, labeling the process as “painfully low-stakes.” He argues that if it were really the great process participating Council members promote it to be, residents would be allowed to vote on billion-dollar decisions, rather than where to allocate $1 million or $2 million. Louis also echoes Hardt’s point about putting decision-making responsibilities into the wrong hands.</p> <p dir="ltr">“And if a budget decision goes wrong — if, say, events prove we should have bought NYPD cameras instead of renovating the senior center — participatory budgeting scatters the responsibility, letting the Council member off the hook,” he wrote.</p> <p dir="ltr">In an <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5946-participatory-budgeting-grows-in-nyc-why-isnt-every-council-member-doing-it" target="_blank">article</a> published here last year, Council members not running PB in their districts cited the heavy commitment as a deterrent.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Participatory budgeting takes an extraordinary amount of office time and resources for no discernible improvement in outcomes over working through the existing vast civic infrastructure for public participation,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, who represents District 24 in Queens.</p> <p dir="ltr">A press secretary for Council Member Inez Dickens, representative of District 9 in Harlem, explained that local community boards are the most practical way for residents to express the same opinions, concerns or proposal ideas that PB encourages. This was a point raised by Louis in his recent column.</p> <p dir="ltr">As more City Council members decide whether or not to run PB, Menchaca thinks that the future of the program lies in more funding. Last year, a project for increased Wi-Fi throughout the NYCHA public housing developments in Red Hook couldn’t receive PB funding even though it garnered more than 3,000 votes. Menchaca had already allocated all of his available funds to winning projects such as district-wide technology updates, playground lighting, bathroom renovations, and outdoor fitness equipment in Sunset Park. He went to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who was able to <a href="http://brooklyn-usa.org/bp-adams-announces-brooklyn-wide-expansion-of-participatory-budgeting/" target="_blank">expand</a> PB this year with a commitment of an extra $100,000 to 10 different districts, for a total of $1 million, to support winning projects. Adams is the first borough president to make such a funding decision.</p> <p dir="ltr">“PB is a revolutionary approach to growing democracy from the ground up, and this partnership with the City Council will cultivate that growth even further, funding more capital projects and engaging more potential voters,” Adams wrote in the press release.</p> <p dir="ltr">Along with the continued support of the borough president, Menchaca would also like to encourage the mayor’s office and more city agencies, such as the Parks Department, the School Construction Authority, and the Department of Transportation, to look to PB votes for ideas about how to spend their own money. He believes that PB could be a valuable resource for the mayor’s office and its agencies by showing the city government what residents really want and need, therefore creating a more direct relationship between city agencies and residents. If the city were to directly increase PB funding, it could help improve outreach efforts, according to Menchaca.</p> <p>“It takes money to engage the communities we’re engaging,” he said. “Especially when they don’t speak the language and there’s low literacy rates, for example, and you have to translate everything. I think the city can understand that gap of resources and bring us more translation, more literacy classes in our communities, bring us more money to teach people how to organize.”</p> <p>***<br />by Carmen Russo, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a>&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/carmenjrusso" target="_blank">@carmenjrusso</a></p> Council to Examine City Support for Ethnic Media 2016-01-26T04:54:20+00:00 2016-01-26T04:54:20+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6115:council-to-examine-city-support-for-ethnic-media Carmen Russo <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/18486805868_f8e5a0ce42_z.jpg" alt="menchaca idnyc staff" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p>Council Member Menchaca (photo: William Alatriste)&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>When City Council member Carlos Menchaca heard the recent <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/spanish-language-newspaper-struggles-for-survival_us_568fec9de4b0cad15e64837c" target="_blank">news</a> of layoffs at El Diario, the country’s oldest Spanish-language daily newspaper, he was troubled to say the least. Menchaca, who represents Sunset Park and Red Hook, penned <a href="http://www.eldiariony.com/2016/01/18/defendiendo-la-voz-de-los-neoyorquinos/" target="_blank">an editorial</a> (reproduced <a href="http://www.nyguild.org/el-diario-news-details/items/preserving-a-voice-for-all-new-yorkers-an-editorial-from-new-york-city-councilman-carlos-menchaca.html" target="_blank">here</a> in English) for the newspaper in which he pledged his support for ethnic media outlets that serve local communities and announced an upcoming hearing of the Council’s immigration committee, which he chairs, to look at ways the city can provide support.</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca hopes the oversight hearing, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=457020&amp;GUID=86EAFA96-5AF9-459F-9B67-3F3D5188EA4D&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">scheduled</a> for Wednesday morning, will explore an oft-overlooked but large section of the city’s news industry. New York City is home to 95 ethnic newspapers with a circulation of nearly 3 million people, more than a third of the city’s population. (According to <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/10/rise-of-new-yorks-foreign-language-newspapers.html" target="_blank">a report</a> by New York Magazine in 2014, that surpasses the combined print audience of the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Daily News, and the New York Post.)</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re at a pivotal point in the history of our city and we need to have this discussion,” Menchaca told Gotham Gazette. The hearing will feature testimony from community newspapers, non-profit groups, academics, and Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Nisha Agarwal. This testimony, Menchaca hopes, will lay the foundation for the city’s “fact finding mission.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“We need the press,” he said, “to be able to talk about how we’re opening the doors of government to different communities.” He stressed that the hearing is about the city’s relationship with ethnic media and about ensuring the outlets are well represented by city government. “I don’t believe in silos. I believe in symbiotic relationships. It’s not about telling the media what to do and how to do it,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">An important stakeholder at the hearing will be the the NewsGuild of New York, a union which represents around 3,000 employees of New York-based organizations including the New York Times, The Daily Beast, Amsterdam News, and El Diario. The guild will also host a rally on the steps of City Hall shortly before the hearing. “We’re very glad the Council is taking an interest in how immigrant communities are being served by the press,” said NewsGuild president Peter Szekely.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although they have a horse in this particular race -- the recently laid off El Diario reporters -- they also believe it’s a matter of public interest. “This is about journalism,” said NewsGuild staffer Jesus Sanchez. “This is about making sure that the news gets to the community.” Voice of NY, a publication of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism published <a href="http://voicesofny.org/2016/01/a-dying-newspaper-writes-its-final-pages/#.VqbxRYNqny4.twitter" target="_blank">a closer look</a> at El Diario's struggles on Monday, noting its shrinking staff and bleak outlook.</p> <p dir="ltr">Other local journalists also welcome the City Council hearing, which they feel will bring attention to their woes as an industry.</p> <p dir="ltr">For Milton Allimadi, publisher and CEO of <a href="http://www.blackstarnews.com/" target="_blank">Black Star News</a>, the hearing is about more than just ethnic media. “The city of New York doesn't support any businesses when it comes to people of color, period. It's not just ethnic media,” he said in an email, citing Comptroller Scott Stringer’s 'Making The Grade' <a href="http://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/making-the-grade/" target="_blank">report</a> on the city’s investment in Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprises. Stringer’s annual reports have indicated what he has called less than satisfactory contracting by the city with MWBEs.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We are really overlooked by the city,” said Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor-in-chief of <a href="http://amsterdamnews.com/" target="_blank">New York Amsterdam News</a>, the city’s oldest and largest black newspaper. “Ethnic media plays a huge role in New York. We’ve got people who speak directly to these communities and the mainstream press is not able to do that.” She said the city should increase its advertising with ethnic media, pointing out that many city initiatives are specifically geared towards immigrant communities and communities of color.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s a business decision and it’s a good decision, if they’re trying to reach ethnic communities, to use ethnic media,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">A 2013 <a href="http://cdn.journalism.cuny.edu/blogs.dir/601/files/2013/03/CCEMAdvertisingReport.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at CUNY J-School found that the city spent nearly $18 million in fiscal year 2012 on public messaging and that 82 percent of the city’s advertising budget went to mainstream publications through two contracted advertising agencies. This was before Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure, of course, and under the new administration, outreach for large city initiatives has been geared for multiple languages and platforms. The City Council, under the leadership of its first Latino Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, has also pushed for increased reliance on ethnic media.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The de Blasio administration is committed to reaching communities across the city through ethnic and community media,” said a city official in a statement to Gotham Gazette. The official cited the city’s 2014 multilingual campaign for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, calling it “the first time the City has had a mass marketing campaign targeted to immigrant communities.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The campaigns for several city initiatives, including <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6085-new-data-indicates-idnyc-popularity-among-immigrants" target="_blank">the new municipal identification card program</a> (IDNYC), paid sick leave, and universal pre-K, “made significant and deliberate investments in community and ethnic media, and in multilingual outreach, to ensure that immigrant New Yorkers can connect to crucial city programs,” the official added.</p> <p dir="ltr">Seemingly in line with the city’s commitment, Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña is hosting a roundtable on Tuesday morning specifically with members of ethnic and community media.</p> <p dir="ltr">Allimadi, of Black Star News, recommends the city establish a "Deputy Mayor of Diversity," whom he said should oversee city spending with ethnic media, among other responsibilities.</p> <p dir="ltr">Wednesday’s City Council hearing will likely shed new light on how far the city has come in the last couple of years on this front and help Council Member Menchaca and his colleagues begin to build policy recommendations for how the city can support these outlets. “You can’t have solutions,” Menchaca said, “without first having a discussion.”</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6085-new-data-indicates-idnyc-popularity-among-immigrants" target="_blank">New Data Indicates IDNYC Popularity Among Immigrants</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/samarkhurshid" target="_blank">@samarkhurshid</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/18486805868_f8e5a0ce42_z.jpg" alt="menchaca idnyc staff" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p>Council Member Menchaca (photo: William Alatriste)&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>When City Council member Carlos Menchaca heard the recent <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/spanish-language-newspaper-struggles-for-survival_us_568fec9de4b0cad15e64837c" target="_blank">news</a> of layoffs at El Diario, the country’s oldest Spanish-language daily newspaper, he was troubled to say the least. Menchaca, who represents Sunset Park and Red Hook, penned <a href="http://www.eldiariony.com/2016/01/18/defendiendo-la-voz-de-los-neoyorquinos/" target="_blank">an editorial</a> (reproduced <a href="http://www.nyguild.org/el-diario-news-details/items/preserving-a-voice-for-all-new-yorkers-an-editorial-from-new-york-city-councilman-carlos-menchaca.html" target="_blank">here</a> in English) for the newspaper in which he pledged his support for ethnic media outlets that serve local communities and announced an upcoming hearing of the Council’s immigration committee, which he chairs, to look at ways the city can provide support.</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca hopes the oversight hearing, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=457020&amp;GUID=86EAFA96-5AF9-459F-9B67-3F3D5188EA4D&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">scheduled</a> for Wednesday morning, will explore an oft-overlooked but large section of the city’s news industry. New York City is home to 95 ethnic newspapers with a circulation of nearly 3 million people, more than a third of the city’s population. (According to <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/10/rise-of-new-yorks-foreign-language-newspapers.html" target="_blank">a report</a> by New York Magazine in 2014, that surpasses the combined print audience of the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Daily News, and the New York Post.)</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re at a pivotal point in the history of our city and we need to have this discussion,” Menchaca told Gotham Gazette. The hearing will feature testimony from community newspapers, non-profit groups, academics, and Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Nisha Agarwal. This testimony, Menchaca hopes, will lay the foundation for the city’s “fact finding mission.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“We need the press,” he said, “to be able to talk about how we’re opening the doors of government to different communities.” He stressed that the hearing is about the city’s relationship with ethnic media and about ensuring the outlets are well represented by city government. “I don’t believe in silos. I believe in symbiotic relationships. It’s not about telling the media what to do and how to do it,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">An important stakeholder at the hearing will be the the NewsGuild of New York, a union which represents around 3,000 employees of New York-based organizations including the New York Times, The Daily Beast, Amsterdam News, and El Diario. The guild will also host a rally on the steps of City Hall shortly before the hearing. “We’re very glad the Council is taking an interest in how immigrant communities are being served by the press,” said NewsGuild president Peter Szekely.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although they have a horse in this particular race -- the recently laid off El Diario reporters -- they also believe it’s a matter of public interest. “This is about journalism,” said NewsGuild staffer Jesus Sanchez. “This is about making sure that the news gets to the community.” Voice of NY, a publication of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism published <a href="http://voicesofny.org/2016/01/a-dying-newspaper-writes-its-final-pages/#.VqbxRYNqny4.twitter" target="_blank">a closer look</a> at El Diario's struggles on Monday, noting its shrinking staff and bleak outlook.</p> <p dir="ltr">Other local journalists also welcome the City Council hearing, which they feel will bring attention to their woes as an industry.</p> <p dir="ltr">For Milton Allimadi, publisher and CEO of <a href="http://www.blackstarnews.com/" target="_blank">Black Star News</a>, the hearing is about more than just ethnic media. “The city of New York doesn't support any businesses when it comes to people of color, period. It's not just ethnic media,” he said in an email, citing Comptroller Scott Stringer’s 'Making The Grade' <a href="http://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/making-the-grade/" target="_blank">report</a> on the city’s investment in Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprises. Stringer’s annual reports have indicated what he has called less than satisfactory contracting by the city with MWBEs.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We are really overlooked by the city,” said Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor-in-chief of <a href="http://amsterdamnews.com/" target="_blank">New York Amsterdam News</a>, the city’s oldest and largest black newspaper. “Ethnic media plays a huge role in New York. We’ve got people who speak directly to these communities and the mainstream press is not able to do that.” She said the city should increase its advertising with ethnic media, pointing out that many city initiatives are specifically geared towards immigrant communities and communities of color.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s a business decision and it’s a good decision, if they’re trying to reach ethnic communities, to use ethnic media,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">A 2013 <a href="http://cdn.journalism.cuny.edu/blogs.dir/601/files/2013/03/CCEMAdvertisingReport.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at CUNY J-School found that the city spent nearly $18 million in fiscal year 2012 on public messaging and that 82 percent of the city’s advertising budget went to mainstream publications through two contracted advertising agencies. This was before Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure, of course, and under the new administration, outreach for large city initiatives has been geared for multiple languages and platforms. The City Council, under the leadership of its first Latino Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, has also pushed for increased reliance on ethnic media.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The de Blasio administration is committed to reaching communities across the city through ethnic and community media,” said a city official in a statement to Gotham Gazette. The official cited the city’s 2014 multilingual campaign for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, calling it “the first time the City has had a mass marketing campaign targeted to immigrant communities.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The campaigns for several city initiatives, including <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6085-new-data-indicates-idnyc-popularity-among-immigrants" target="_blank">the new municipal identification card program</a> (IDNYC), paid sick leave, and universal pre-K, “made significant and deliberate investments in community and ethnic media, and in multilingual outreach, to ensure that immigrant New Yorkers can connect to crucial city programs,” the official added.</p> <p dir="ltr">Seemingly in line with the city’s commitment, Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña is hosting a roundtable on Tuesday morning specifically with members of ethnic and community media.</p> <p dir="ltr">Allimadi, of Black Star News, recommends the city establish a "Deputy Mayor of Diversity," whom he said should oversee city spending with ethnic media, among other responsibilities.</p> <p dir="ltr">Wednesday’s City Council hearing will likely shed new light on how far the city has come in the last couple of years on this front and help Council Member Menchaca and his colleagues begin to build policy recommendations for how the city can support these outlets. “You can’t have solutions,” Menchaca said, “without first having a discussion.”</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6085-new-data-indicates-idnyc-popularity-among-immigrants" target="_blank">New Data Indicates IDNYC Popularity Among Immigrants</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/samarkhurshid" target="_blank">@samarkhurshid</a></p> In New De Blasio Heath Care Plan, Limited Coverage for Undocumented Immigrants 2015-11-03T03:26:57+00:00 2015-11-03T03:26:57+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5965:in-new-de-blasio-heath-care-plan-limited-coverage-for-undocumented-immigrants Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bdb_mmv_idnyc_alatriste.jpg" alt="bdb mmv idnyc alatriste" width="600" height="418" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio holds his IDNYC (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>According to a recent report from Mayor Bill de Blasio's office, there are 345,507 undocumented immigrants in New York City who do not have health insurance. The Mayor's Task Force on Immigrant Health Care Access seeks to provide coverage next year to 1,000 of those individuals.</p> <p><img src="https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/oES5saltVgdFIbukucCckkyc4z1WOUchUVvEv0N7eRAloPI1C7yKCm9V9DnRlEP4iFqer2tEijAJyzwt4eUWUXNTiS47WSNPdvPC2PiKKCkU09L2TxqD4U3krODPs6isCRhDwBdq" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" width="NaN" height="275px;" /></p> <p>A new plan from the de Blasio administration, <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/701-15/mayor-de-blasio-plan-improve-immigrant-access-health-care-services" target="_blank">called Direct Access</a>, is intended to expand health care to New Yorkers who do not have it and diminish the mounting number of undocumented immigrants without insurance. Direct Access is lauded by Task Force members, whose work led to the plan, but has critics and immigrants wondering if it is enough.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Direct Access program will launch in the Spring of 2016 as a year-long pilot, coordinating access for 1,000 uninsured, undocumented immigrant New Yorkers, while accomplishing other goals. The launch is intended to be a preliminary step to collect data to design a larger citywide model. The estimated cost of the pilot is $6 million, paid for by a mix of public and private funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">Dr. Ramin Asgary, professor of population health at the NYU School of Medicine, is skeptical. “The thinking is right, but it is nothing and close to a joke,” he said of the plan and its affect on the overall population of uninsured undocumented New Yorkers. “On paper they can say we are doing something, but it is a drop in a bucket in the ocean.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Nancy Berlinger of the Hastings Center for Bioethics and Public Policy defended the number. “You don’t want to launch a citywide program and then realize you don’t have enough doctors, social workers, and nurses,” she said. “You make a commitment to people when you promise ‘direct access.’” The Hastings Center co-released a report on immigrant health care access with the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) in March with recommendations for the mayor’s office.</p> <p dir="ltr">Uninsured undocumented immigrants in New York City have a handful of insurance options, but all come with hurdles in an increasingly complex health system.</p> <p dir="ltr">For instance, the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is not an option. The healthcare legislation from 2009 shut out undocumented immigrants, and made them ineligible for federal Medicaid. As a result of few options, 64 percent of undocumented immigrants in New York City go uninsured.</p> <p dir="ltr">In emergencies, older immigrants use safety net health insurance at some hospitals. The <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5939-as-healthcare-landscape-changes-city-hospital-authority-charts-new-path" target="_blank">New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation</a> (HHC) and community health centers are the primary safety-net providers that care for uninsured New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">However, some undocumented people find the cost of care prohibitive, and have major gaps in referrals to specialists for chronic conditions, according to the Hastings Center and NYIC report. Community centers and hospitals do not have access to the same specialists, so health providers often find themselves at a loss for where they can send their patients in situations of chronic conditions like diabetes and arthritis.</p> <p dir="ltr">Young people are the select few with the opportunity to apply for help through Medicaid, but only on a state level, and only after applying for the protected status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). While the program’s participants are not eligible for the Affordable Care Act at the national level, five states, including New York, offer health insurance to low-income youth granted DACA.</p> <p dir="ltr">Direct Access, Mayor de Blasio’s plan, aims to address four issues for the undocumented uninsured: language barriers; coordination shortfalls between health centers and hospitals; lack of education of healthcare options; and the mountain of high-priced services.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor’s task force brought together 25 agencies and nonprofits beginning in June of 2014. The plan, released in early October, estimated the large number of undocumented immigrants who are uninsured, a higher figure than the previous estimate of 250,000 in Beringer’s 2015 report. The NYC Center for Economic Opportunity's Poverty Research Unit worked with the task force to develop a model to estimate the number of uninsured undocumented immigrants in New York City based on information contained in the Census Bureau's American Community Survey data.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Young Adults Struggle through a Two-Step Process</strong><br />Applying for DACA is no easy task.</p> <p dir="ltr">The initial deferred action application requires applicants to prove their age; that they arrived to the U.S. before their 16th birthday; have continuously resided in the US since 2007; were physically present on June 15, 2012 - the date of the president's announcement; are currently in educational programs (school, vocational training, etc.) or graduated from high school/have a GED; and haven't been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors.</p> <p dir="ltr">Many of the above are difficult for people who did not keep records, don't have a bank account, cannot speak English, or were not enrolled in school. Limited DACA enrollment keeps undocumented youth from accessing Medicaid, and creates more need for a program like de Blasio’s Direct Access.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cesar Andrade is a 23-year-old deferred action holder interested in becoming a physician in order to address the very problem he endured— lack of access to vital services for undocumented immigrants. Andrade was insured through the Children's Health Insurance Program, which expired when he was 19. He was uninsured between the ages of 19 and 22, while he was attending CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I always had to be cautious,” Cesar explained, “If you play soccer and tear your ACL, that’s a lot of physical therapy. Once I got insurance, there was a sense of relief. I got glasses and got treatment for an autoimmune disorder.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In the meantime, CUNY was able to offer him clinic check-ups, which cost $20 each. Cesar became insured last year through Medicaid after DACA made him eligible.</p> <p dir="ltr">Deferred action applications are seven-page forms, and must be mailed to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services along with a $465 fee. Cesar said it was straightforward if you know English, but what gets most people, other than any language barrier, is the evidence one must submit.</p> <p dir="ltr">Claudia Calhoon, director of health advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition said, “The take home is really that given how tough it is for you and me to understand, you can imagine how this is for an immigrant with low-English proficiency, who may be new to navigating the U.S. healthcare system.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As DACA enrollment continues, the number of enrollees in Medicaid will increase. According to the New York State Statistical Handbook, the average monthly number of Medicaid beneficiaries in New York has increased, with approximately 424,740 new enrollees in 2013. Sixty-three percent of the recipients lived in New York City. An unspecified number were new DACA holders and thus undocumented immigrants.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kinsey Dinan, acting deputy commissioner of the city’s Human Resources Administration’s Office of Evaluation and Research said in an email, “We do not have the ability to specifically identify DACA clients in our Medicaid data.”</p> <p dir="ltr">An unknown number of DACA recipients are accessing an already existing healthcare option. One of the plans for the Direct Access program is to educate uninsured immigrants on the options they may have if they have a protected status like DACA. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Harvard Professor Roberto Gonzales is working on an initiative, the National UnDACAmented Research Project, which is a study to assess the effects DACA access has among undocumented young adults.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gonzales and the American Immigration Council published a report in 2014 that announces preliminary findings where over 21 percent of survey participants obtained health care since receiving the benefit. Although the number of applicants to health insurance is low, he thinks there are reasonable explanations for this.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The more likely option is that some DACA beneficiaries are acquiring health care coverage through work and college. Our survey was carried out in late 2013, 16 months after the initiation of deferred action. I suspect that since then more of our respondents have acquired health insurance.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Medicaid for deferred action recipients only addresses a small percentage of the 345,000 uninsured immigrants in New York City.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Can Community Health Centers and HHC serve the rest of the population?</strong><br />Community health centers do not ask for documentation for patient treatment, so undocumented immigrants often go to these centers for emergency procedures. Over 400,000 of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5939-as-healthcare-landscape-changes-city-hospital-authority-charts-new-path" target="_blank">1.4 million annual patients</a> are uninsured.</p> <p dir="ltr">For those earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, these patients are offered a sliding scale for HHC health care services, including prescription drugs. However, patients and taxpayers often fall under tremendous financial burdens from copayments and subsidized care.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If they are undocumented and don’t have financial resources, they aren't going to be able to pay the bill. The government will have to pay the bill. It is a cost effective perspective that is idiotic not to address,” said Dr. Asgary, of NYU Medical.</p> <p dir="ltr">Asgary also mentioned that most undocumented immigrants do not have preventative care options that accompany being insured. “Imagine if someone has diabetes or heart problems, and doesn’t see a doctor in ten years. If they have kidney failure or an emergency, society has to pay for dialysis or surgery. One single night in a CCU in a public hospital will cost [taxpayers] $6,000. Five nights in a hospital will cost 20-30K, and they will need follow-up care. Forget just being a decent human being. There are a lot of costs on the line.”</p> <p dir="ltr">An official statement from the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene mentioned the expansion of current safety net services as outlined in the task force plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The Direct Access program will build on New York City’s strong safety-net health care system. It will help make our safety net system more coordinated, will focus on prevention and primary care by providing “primary care homes” and will improve coordination of care while still preserving federal and state funds,” a representative from DOHMH wrote.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>The Plan</strong><br />Launching in the Spring of 2016, the initial $6 million cost of the plan will be partially funded by the Robin Hood Foundation through the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. The New York City Council has also committed $2.5 million toward related education and outreach efforts, including a recommended medical interpreter training program to address language barrier issues in immigrant health care access.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a statement, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs expanded on the details: “The Direct Access program will provide predictable costs, provide a primary care home, and increase coordination of care. By providing a defined network and package of health services, set eligibility criteria and predictable fees, we will be enhancing the existing system for the uninsured in our city.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The hope is that the program will expand access to health care, and coordinate many independent efforts throughout the city, including the new Caring Neighborhoods initiative, recently announced by Mayor de Blasio. Caring Neighborhoods, &nbsp;a new program led by HHC and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), will expand community health centers in all five boroughs, so that 100,000 new patients will be able to receive care. The City is dedicating $20 million over two years to cover costs for new health centers.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the de Blasio administration press release on Caring Neighborhoods, the initiative will complement the Direct Access plan for immigrant New Yorkers by expanding services at Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in neighborhoods with high concentrations of immigrants.</p> <p dir="ltr">There is also hope that the recently launched municipal identification card program, IDNYC, will play into removing the paperwork barrier for the undocumented. The Direct Access program will require a verification of identity and residency in New York. The program will allow use of IDNYC to verify both, and as a participant ID card that will expedite access to care.</p> <p dir="ltr">Berlinger, of the Hastings Center, is hopeful that the plan will bring together private and public health providers who do not typically work together. “You have to figure out how they share information, how they work together, how they share patient info. Then you have to figure out what it is a better way to reach the population,” she explained.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Enough?</strong><br />Not everyone is satisfied with the plan as it stands. The Task Force report shows that in the neighborhood of Flushing, 14-37 percent are uninsured non-citizens.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/OaebPaaUOU6kFFadygJve3JGszZd0_miXYa5zRKecyWejTeVqfmL95fR0WSZV-n8Sc-JXQ8C7dbvi5xEfNHefPwxEDbCdeNYyW7Ez_yedzeeoco2UVMIQ_iVtHMq0_5xjKRhl9o1" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" width="NaN" height="425px;" /></p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Peter Koo, of Flushing, is aware of the high population of uninsured undocumented immigrants, and has held community meetings that promote the use of MetroPlus Health Plan, the insurance plan of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation.</p> <p dir="ltr">A recent Monday afternoon meeting had 75 attendees. Koo’s Chief of Staff, Elaine Cheung, said, “In terms of the Mayor’s Task Force report, Councilman Koo believes that there will be a huge demand for these services and we would like to see the number of participants expanded, especially in an community such as Flushing.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In Brooklyn, 14-37 percent residents in Sunset Park are also uninsured non-citizens. City Council Member Carlos Menchaca addressed the issue in a statement: “The inaccessibility of care for immigrant communities in our City continues to be of great concern for me, and for the City Council as a whole. In the Council, we’ve allocated millions of dollars in the last year alone to help bridge some of the information and access gaps that exist on this front.” The Caring Neighborhoods Initiative recently announced that two of the community health expansion sites would be in Sunset Park and Queens.</p> <p dir="ltr">Asgary recommends the pilot target senior citizens. “I would target the elderly undocumented. In terms of cost saving, it should be directed toward elderly. They are equally neglected as children. This program moves in the right direction but needs to be expanded.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Direct Access plan is modeled after assessments of several other cities’ health plans for immigrants. The plan, with adjustments, is based on Los Angeles’ My Health LA, a no-cost program for low-income residents regardless of immigration status. It offers care through 164 community clinics, and incorporates a preventative health approach.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of the estimated 400,000 remaining uninsured in Los Angeles County, 280,000 are being served through the plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Sarah Betancourt for Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p dir="ltr">Note: this article has been corrected to note that the Hastings estimate for undocumented uninsured New Yorkers is 250,000, not 150,000; to remove mention of use of passport for DACA age verification; and to clarify City Council funding toward relevant initiatives and rates of non-citizens who are uninsured in certain neighborhoods.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bdb_mmv_idnyc_alatriste.jpg" alt="bdb mmv idnyc alatriste" width="600" height="418" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio holds his IDNYC (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>According to a recent report from Mayor Bill de Blasio's office, there are 345,507 undocumented immigrants in New York City who do not have health insurance. The Mayor's Task Force on Immigrant Health Care Access seeks to provide coverage next year to 1,000 of those individuals.</p> <p><img src="https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/oES5saltVgdFIbukucCckkyc4z1WOUchUVvEv0N7eRAloPI1C7yKCm9V9DnRlEP4iFqer2tEijAJyzwt4eUWUXNTiS47WSNPdvPC2PiKKCkU09L2TxqD4U3krODPs6isCRhDwBdq" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" width="NaN" height="275px;" /></p> <p>A new plan from the de Blasio administration, <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/701-15/mayor-de-blasio-plan-improve-immigrant-access-health-care-services" target="_blank">called Direct Access</a>, is intended to expand health care to New Yorkers who do not have it and diminish the mounting number of undocumented immigrants without insurance. Direct Access is lauded by Task Force members, whose work led to the plan, but has critics and immigrants wondering if it is enough.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Direct Access program will launch in the Spring of 2016 as a year-long pilot, coordinating access for 1,000 uninsured, undocumented immigrant New Yorkers, while accomplishing other goals. The launch is intended to be a preliminary step to collect data to design a larger citywide model. The estimated cost of the pilot is $6 million, paid for by a mix of public and private funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">Dr. Ramin Asgary, professor of population health at the NYU School of Medicine, is skeptical. “The thinking is right, but it is nothing and close to a joke,” he said of the plan and its affect on the overall population of uninsured undocumented New Yorkers. “On paper they can say we are doing something, but it is a drop in a bucket in the ocean.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Nancy Berlinger of the Hastings Center for Bioethics and Public Policy defended the number. “You don’t want to launch a citywide program and then realize you don’t have enough doctors, social workers, and nurses,” she said. “You make a commitment to people when you promise ‘direct access.’” The Hastings Center co-released a report on immigrant health care access with the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) in March with recommendations for the mayor’s office.</p> <p dir="ltr">Uninsured undocumented immigrants in New York City have a handful of insurance options, but all come with hurdles in an increasingly complex health system.</p> <p dir="ltr">For instance, the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is not an option. The healthcare legislation from 2009 shut out undocumented immigrants, and made them ineligible for federal Medicaid. As a result of few options, 64 percent of undocumented immigrants in New York City go uninsured.</p> <p dir="ltr">In emergencies, older immigrants use safety net health insurance at some hospitals. The <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5939-as-healthcare-landscape-changes-city-hospital-authority-charts-new-path" target="_blank">New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation</a> (HHC) and community health centers are the primary safety-net providers that care for uninsured New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">However, some undocumented people find the cost of care prohibitive, and have major gaps in referrals to specialists for chronic conditions, according to the Hastings Center and NYIC report. Community centers and hospitals do not have access to the same specialists, so health providers often find themselves at a loss for where they can send their patients in situations of chronic conditions like diabetes and arthritis.</p> <p dir="ltr">Young people are the select few with the opportunity to apply for help through Medicaid, but only on a state level, and only after applying for the protected status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). While the program’s participants are not eligible for the Affordable Care Act at the national level, five states, including New York, offer health insurance to low-income youth granted DACA.</p> <p dir="ltr">Direct Access, Mayor de Blasio’s plan, aims to address four issues for the undocumented uninsured: language barriers; coordination shortfalls between health centers and hospitals; lack of education of healthcare options; and the mountain of high-priced services.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor’s task force brought together 25 agencies and nonprofits beginning in June of 2014. The plan, released in early October, estimated the large number of undocumented immigrants who are uninsured, a higher figure than the previous estimate of 250,000 in Beringer’s 2015 report. The NYC Center for Economic Opportunity's Poverty Research Unit worked with the task force to develop a model to estimate the number of uninsured undocumented immigrants in New York City based on information contained in the Census Bureau's American Community Survey data.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Young Adults Struggle through a Two-Step Process</strong><br />Applying for DACA is no easy task.</p> <p dir="ltr">The initial deferred action application requires applicants to prove their age; that they arrived to the U.S. before their 16th birthday; have continuously resided in the US since 2007; were physically present on June 15, 2012 - the date of the president's announcement; are currently in educational programs (school, vocational training, etc.) or graduated from high school/have a GED; and haven't been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors.</p> <p dir="ltr">Many of the above are difficult for people who did not keep records, don't have a bank account, cannot speak English, or were not enrolled in school. Limited DACA enrollment keeps undocumented youth from accessing Medicaid, and creates more need for a program like de Blasio’s Direct Access.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cesar Andrade is a 23-year-old deferred action holder interested in becoming a physician in order to address the very problem he endured— lack of access to vital services for undocumented immigrants. Andrade was insured through the Children's Health Insurance Program, which expired when he was 19. He was uninsured between the ages of 19 and 22, while he was attending CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I always had to be cautious,” Cesar explained, “If you play soccer and tear your ACL, that’s a lot of physical therapy. Once I got insurance, there was a sense of relief. I got glasses and got treatment for an autoimmune disorder.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In the meantime, CUNY was able to offer him clinic check-ups, which cost $20 each. Cesar became insured last year through Medicaid after DACA made him eligible.</p> <p dir="ltr">Deferred action applications are seven-page forms, and must be mailed to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services along with a $465 fee. Cesar said it was straightforward if you know English, but what gets most people, other than any language barrier, is the evidence one must submit.</p> <p dir="ltr">Claudia Calhoon, director of health advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition said, “The take home is really that given how tough it is for you and me to understand, you can imagine how this is for an immigrant with low-English proficiency, who may be new to navigating the U.S. healthcare system.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As DACA enrollment continues, the number of enrollees in Medicaid will increase. According to the New York State Statistical Handbook, the average monthly number of Medicaid beneficiaries in New York has increased, with approximately 424,740 new enrollees in 2013. Sixty-three percent of the recipients lived in New York City. An unspecified number were new DACA holders and thus undocumented immigrants.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kinsey Dinan, acting deputy commissioner of the city’s Human Resources Administration’s Office of Evaluation and Research said in an email, “We do not have the ability to specifically identify DACA clients in our Medicaid data.”</p> <p dir="ltr">An unknown number of DACA recipients are accessing an already existing healthcare option. One of the plans for the Direct Access program is to educate uninsured immigrants on the options they may have if they have a protected status like DACA. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Harvard Professor Roberto Gonzales is working on an initiative, the National UnDACAmented Research Project, which is a study to assess the effects DACA access has among undocumented young adults.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gonzales and the American Immigration Council published a report in 2014 that announces preliminary findings where over 21 percent of survey participants obtained health care since receiving the benefit. Although the number of applicants to health insurance is low, he thinks there are reasonable explanations for this.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The more likely option is that some DACA beneficiaries are acquiring health care coverage through work and college. Our survey was carried out in late 2013, 16 months after the initiation of deferred action. I suspect that since then more of our respondents have acquired health insurance.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Medicaid for deferred action recipients only addresses a small percentage of the 345,000 uninsured immigrants in New York City.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Can Community Health Centers and HHC serve the rest of the population?</strong><br />Community health centers do not ask for documentation for patient treatment, so undocumented immigrants often go to these centers for emergency procedures. Over 400,000 of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5939-as-healthcare-landscape-changes-city-hospital-authority-charts-new-path" target="_blank">1.4 million annual patients</a> are uninsured.</p> <p dir="ltr">For those earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, these patients are offered a sliding scale for HHC health care services, including prescription drugs. However, patients and taxpayers often fall under tremendous financial burdens from copayments and subsidized care.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If they are undocumented and don’t have financial resources, they aren't going to be able to pay the bill. The government will have to pay the bill. It is a cost effective perspective that is idiotic not to address,” said Dr. Asgary, of NYU Medical.</p> <p dir="ltr">Asgary also mentioned that most undocumented immigrants do not have preventative care options that accompany being insured. “Imagine if someone has diabetes or heart problems, and doesn’t see a doctor in ten years. If they have kidney failure or an emergency, society has to pay for dialysis or surgery. One single night in a CCU in a public hospital will cost [taxpayers] $6,000. Five nights in a hospital will cost 20-30K, and they will need follow-up care. Forget just being a decent human being. There are a lot of costs on the line.”</p> <p dir="ltr">An official statement from the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene mentioned the expansion of current safety net services as outlined in the task force plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The Direct Access program will build on New York City’s strong safety-net health care system. It will help make our safety net system more coordinated, will focus on prevention and primary care by providing “primary care homes” and will improve coordination of care while still preserving federal and state funds,” a representative from DOHMH wrote.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>The Plan</strong><br />Launching in the Spring of 2016, the initial $6 million cost of the plan will be partially funded by the Robin Hood Foundation through the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. The New York City Council has also committed $2.5 million toward related education and outreach efforts, including a recommended medical interpreter training program to address language barrier issues in immigrant health care access.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a statement, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs expanded on the details: “The Direct Access program will provide predictable costs, provide a primary care home, and increase coordination of care. By providing a defined network and package of health services, set eligibility criteria and predictable fees, we will be enhancing the existing system for the uninsured in our city.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The hope is that the program will expand access to health care, and coordinate many independent efforts throughout the city, including the new Caring Neighborhoods initiative, recently announced by Mayor de Blasio. Caring Neighborhoods, &nbsp;a new program led by HHC and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), will expand community health centers in all five boroughs, so that 100,000 new patients will be able to receive care. The City is dedicating $20 million over two years to cover costs for new health centers.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the de Blasio administration press release on Caring Neighborhoods, the initiative will complement the Direct Access plan for immigrant New Yorkers by expanding services at Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in neighborhoods with high concentrations of immigrants.</p> <p dir="ltr">There is also hope that the recently launched municipal identification card program, IDNYC, will play into removing the paperwork barrier for the undocumented. The Direct Access program will require a verification of identity and residency in New York. The program will allow use of IDNYC to verify both, and as a participant ID card that will expedite access to care.</p> <p dir="ltr">Berlinger, of the Hastings Center, is hopeful that the plan will bring together private and public health providers who do not typically work together. “You have to figure out how they share information, how they work together, how they share patient info. Then you have to figure out what it is a better way to reach the population,” she explained.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Enough?</strong><br />Not everyone is satisfied with the plan as it stands. The Task Force report shows that in the neighborhood of Flushing, 14-37 percent are uninsured non-citizens.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/OaebPaaUOU6kFFadygJve3JGszZd0_miXYa5zRKecyWejTeVqfmL95fR0WSZV-n8Sc-JXQ8C7dbvi5xEfNHefPwxEDbCdeNYyW7Ez_yedzeeoco2UVMIQ_iVtHMq0_5xjKRhl9o1" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" width="NaN" height="425px;" /></p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Peter Koo, of Flushing, is aware of the high population of uninsured undocumented immigrants, and has held community meetings that promote the use of MetroPlus Health Plan, the insurance plan of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation.</p> <p dir="ltr">A recent Monday afternoon meeting had 75 attendees. Koo’s Chief of Staff, Elaine Cheung, said, “In terms of the Mayor’s Task Force report, Councilman Koo believes that there will be a huge demand for these services and we would like to see the number of participants expanded, especially in an community such as Flushing.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In Brooklyn, 14-37 percent residents in Sunset Park are also uninsured non-citizens. City Council Member Carlos Menchaca addressed the issue in a statement: “The inaccessibility of care for immigrant communities in our City continues to be of great concern for me, and for the City Council as a whole. In the Council, we’ve allocated millions of dollars in the last year alone to help bridge some of the information and access gaps that exist on this front.” The Caring Neighborhoods Initiative recently announced that two of the community health expansion sites would be in Sunset Park and Queens.</p> <p dir="ltr">Asgary recommends the pilot target senior citizens. “I would target the elderly undocumented. In terms of cost saving, it should be directed toward elderly. They are equally neglected as children. This program moves in the right direction but needs to be expanded.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Direct Access plan is modeled after assessments of several other cities’ health plans for immigrants. The plan, with adjustments, is based on Los Angeles’ My Health LA, a no-cost program for low-income residents regardless of immigration status. It offers care through 164 community clinics, and incorporates a preventative health approach.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of the estimated 400,000 remaining uninsured in Los Angeles County, 280,000 are being served through the plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Sarah Betancourt for Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p dir="ltr">Note: this article has been corrected to note that the Hastings estimate for undocumented uninsured New Yorkers is 250,000, not 150,000; to remove mention of use of passport for DACA age verification; and to clarify City Council funding toward relevant initiatives and rates of non-citizens who are uninsured in certain neighborhoods.</p> Participatory Budgeting Grows in NYC - Why Isn’t Every Council Member Doing It? 2015-10-22T19:36:43+00:00 2015-10-22T19:36:43+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5946:participatory-budgeting-grows-in-nyc-why-isnt-every-council-member-doing-it Super User <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/PB_NYC_East_Harlem.jpg" alt="PB NYC East Harlem" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p dir="ltr">PB voting in East Harlem, photo <a href="http://pbnyc.org/blog/15" target="_blank">via PB NYC</a></p> <hr /> <p>In four years participatory budgeting has exploded from four to 27 New York City Council districts. With over 51,000 voters casting ballots last cycle to allocate a total of $32 million dollars to projects across the city, New York‘s experiment in direct democracy has quickly become the largest of its kind in North America.</p> <p dir="ltr">"This is the biggest year of participatory budgeting yet, with 27 Council members asking their constituents to decide how to spend at least $1 million on improvements in their communities...this is truly what democracy is about,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, an early PB adopter, said at a recent conference on advancing the city’s progressive agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Monday, October 26, Mark-Viverito and her colleagues will be recognized for their efforts at a ceremony in Manhattan where they will be presented with an innovation award and corresponding $100,000 prize. Last month, Harvard University‘s John F. Kennedy School of Government recognized the growth and impact of participatory budgeting in New York City by <a href="http://ash.harvard.edu/news/new-york-san-francisco-named-winners-harvards-2015-innovation-american-government-award" target="_blank">awarding</a> the Council the Roy and Lila Ash Innovation Award for Public Engagement in Government.</p> <p dir="ltr">The award “spotlights...programs that engage all citizens, particularly those from overlooked communities, and that serve as effective models of participatory democracy for other communities throughout the United States,” says Stephen Goldsmith, the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and the Director of the Ash Center’s Government Innovation Program.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council members decide individually whether to run participatory budgeting in their home districts, and exactly how much of their capital budget allocation to devote to public determination, with $1 million the minimum. Capital projects are infrastructure items, like playgrounds, dog runs, and neighborhood benches. They can also include technology for schools, like laptops.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under Mark-Viverito, who became Speaker in early 2014, the Council has promoted PB expansion and provided greater support through its central staff to those Council members opting in.</p> <p dir="ltr">With more than half of the City Council’s 51 members now running the program - and much fanfare around it - it is curious to some why all members haven’t adopted the program. In the latest PB cycle, <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/pb/districts.shtml" target="_blank">the city's fifth</a>, which began this fall, only three additional Council members signed on, increasing participation slightly from the 24 who ran the program last year, when there was a major jump after an election that saw many new, young, and progressive candidates elected.</p> <p dir="ltr">What’s holding the remaining Council members back? Gotham Gazette sent emails to representatives of six Council members not running PB, only two of whom responded: representatives of Council Members Rory Lancman, of Queens, and Inez Dickens, of Manhattan (both Democrats), explained their rationale.</p> <p dir="ltr">One common theme in the two responses is that participatory budgeting provides superfluous community input. There are already sufficient avenues of constituent-Council member interaction, and it is already up to Council members to take constituent opinions into consideration when allocating the funding they have to work with.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Local community boards, which are composed by local residents and constituents, submit to their local council members their capital priorities, projects, and concerns,” wrote Council Member Dickens’ press secretary, Frances Escano. “As the collective voice of the community, their expressed views on the capital projects that need funding provide a significant input on what needs must be addressed.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Lancman‘s reply gets at a concern expressed by other Council members Gotham Gazette has spoken to: the significant staff time and energy that PB requires. "Participatory budgeting takes an extraordinary amount of office time and resources for no discernible improvement in outcomes over working through the existing vast civic infrastructure for public participation,” Lancman said in a statement. “My district does not lack for opportunities and vehicles for community engagement, which I'm proud to say my constituents take ample advantage of."</p> <p dir="ltr">These responses seem to miss the point, says David Beasley, Communications Director for the Participatory Budgeting Project, the nonprofit that helps run the program. “Participatory budgeting should not replicate the existing power structures,“ he asserted in an interview with Gotham Gazette, “that‘s not what PB is for.“</p> <p dir="ltr">According to a press release from Speaker Mark-Viverito’s office, the <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/pr/052015pb.shtml" target="_blank">voter demographics</a> from the most recent PB vote (ballots were cast in April at the end of the 2014-2015 cycle) serve as a shining example of this ideal. Nearly 60 percent of PB voters identified as people of color; approximately one in ten were under 18; nearly 30 percent reported an annual household income of $25,000 or below; more than a quarter were born outside of the U.S.; nearly a quarter reported a barrier to voting in regular elections, with one in ten reporting they were not U.S. citizens; and 63 percent identified as female.</p> <p dir="ltr">Participatory budgeting allows votes from anyone living in the City Council district at hand, with the exception, in most cases, of those younger than 16. Some Council members have allowed those as young as 14 to vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">In their 2014-2015 <a href="https://cdp.urbanjustice.org/sites/default/files/CDP.WEB.doc_Report_PBNYC_cycle4findings_20151021.pdf" target="_blank">Participatory Budgeting Report,</a> released Tuesday, October 20, the Urban Justice Center and PBNYC showcase another telling statistic: 51 percent of PB voters, “were not part of a community group or organization.“ That is to say, it is many voices not present on community boards, PTAs, neighborhood civic associations, et. al. that participatory budgeting incorporates into public discourse. In Council Member Carlos Menchaca‘s Brooklyn district, to give one example, more monolingual, non-English speakers voted for a PB project than did in the general election when Menchaca was chosen in 2013.</p> <p dir="ltr">The direct democracy, ability to shape one’s neighborhood, and low barrier to entry seem to be the cause of the participation outlined above.</p> <p dir="ltr">Through a series of public assemblies, residents work with elected officials over a period of eight months to identify neighborhood concerns, create projects to address them, and put the ones with the most interest to a vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">The practice culminates when district residents fill out ballots to allocate at least $1 million in capital funding toward proposals developed by the community to meet local needs. Absent much of the typical bureaucracy of community politics, participatory budgeting lures previously dormant New Yorkers into the public sphere.</p> <p dir="ltr">PBNYC, the umbrella organization uniting the City Council, the Participatory Budgeting Project, the outreach nonprofit Community Voices Heard, and 63 community-based organizations across the city, oversees the entire operation; and the coalition continues to launch new ways to wrangle more participants. The organization‘s recently launched “Ideas Map“ is one of their major additions for the just-started 2015-2016 cycle. Anybody who wants to can go online and submit their capital funding idea for their district, specifying the project’s location on the digital outline of NYC. (A tip: participating PB Council districts are lit up, but eager residents can post suggestions in non-PB districts as well. Perhaps a nudge toward more Council enrollment.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn let on in an interview with Gotham Gazette that Council members‘ decisions to not run PB may be about more than already getting “significant input” from their constituents. Confining community recommendations to established local channels is a way for Council Members to retain their power, Williams said. While legislators can largely choose to reject suggestions from community boards, participatory budgeting completely cedes a portion of a Council member‘s budget to popular vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">"It's one thing to receive input, it's another thing for someone to actually vote on it and for it to be a binding decision," said Williams, whose district 45 residents last year <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/d45/html/members/pb45.shtml" target="_blank">elected to spend</a> over $300,000 on schools including classroom computers, smartboards, and renovated bathrooms.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/19844312434_608ca41ee7_z.jpg" alt="Jumaane Williams" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" width="400" height="267" /><span style="text-align: center;">(CM Williams - photo: William Alatriste)</span></p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Menchaca - whose district 38 constituents cast over 6,000 ballots last year, <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/d38/html/members/pb38.shtml" target="_blank">also allocating</a>&nbsp;funds for a litany of school upgrades in addition to outdoor fitness equipment for Sunset Park - takes Williams' point a step further. Menchaca sees resistance to PB as stemming from an overly cautious, controlling, and outdated form of governing.</p> <p dir="ltr">“One of the main things that I get in resistance from members or other people...is the fallacy that I am relinquishing power,” Menchaca says, “because I got elected to make these decisions - what am I doing giving it back to the people?...I think that‘s just an old-school way of understanding the role of government and the role of people and the role of democracy, a true participatory democracy that empowers people in decision making.“</p> <p dir="ltr">While Menchaca is clearly a true-believer, and puts his money where his mouth is, other Council members run the program, but to a more limited degree.</p> <p dir="ltr">“You may miss some very good projects...if there is no other way to get some things funded,” says Williams, acknowledging that not everything on a PB ballot will get funded.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lancman‘s other reason for not participating in PB--that it requires “an extraordinary amount of office time and resources for no discernible improvement in outcomes“--may hold the most weight. It is something that other Council members have expressed concerns about in off-the-record conversations.</p> <p dir="ltr">The $32 million spent last year on participatory budgeting projects represents just .4 percent of the average $7.9 billion spent on city capital projects annually (2003-2012), according to an <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/IBOCBG.pdf" target="_blank">IBO report</a>. Yet implementing a robust and dedicated PB program drains Council members of a significant amount of effort and resources - during the height of PB season, Council members often have to dedicate one staff member (of units that usually only run about five deep) to PB full-time, with others chipping in part of their time.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It is a commitment,” says Williams, “there’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You jump in, you can’t really jump partially in...It touches most of my staff in different ways.“</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca also acknowledges the effort required. “This has to be your priority,” he says, “Everything is built around PB in [my] office. It is at the core of what I do.” Even with this type of attention the council member says, he needs more resources. “I could use another five people to help staff the PB portion of my operations.“</p> <p dir="ltr">Budget info, as seen in the IBO report, shows that over the course of three years from 2013-2016, Council members are committed to spending $1.765 billion in capital funds. Divided by 51 Council members (though the money is not evenly divided), this comes out to about $34.6 million each over the course of those four fiscal years, or $8.65 million per Council member per year. In that context, $1-2 million toward participatory budgeting in a given year is fairly significant.</p> <p dir="ltr">The benefits of participatory budgeting also extend outside of its explicit function. The most notable of these benefits, according to the Urban Justice Center report, include better informed policy decisions, increased resident trust in government, and more cohesive community bonds.</p> <p dir="ltr">On a practical level, needs revealed by the participatory budgeting process can inform and direct further non-PB government spending. In its 2013-2014 <a href="https://cdp.urbanjustice.org/sites/default/files/CDP.WEB.doc_Report_PBNYC-cycle3-FullReport_20141030.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, the Urban Justice Center found that seven out of ten Council members running PB programs used their capital expense funds left over from the PB process to implement projects suggested during PB that did not garner enough support to be selected by constituents.</p> <p dir="ltr">The same report also suggests how participatory budgeting has the power to affect city-wide change. Following a flood of PB proposals to renovate decrepit school bathrooms, the DOE elected to dedicate $100 million to repair deteriorated lavatories - $50 million more than it had promised. The increase in funding came out to three times the amount spent on all PB-designated capital projects that year.</p> <p dir="ltr">On top of this, Council members acquire valuable, new community contacts through participatory budgeting. “I‘m developing social networks that didn‘t exist before...and...I‘m utilizing the networks that I‘m building here to deal with the other issues outside of PB,” says Menchaca.</p> <p dir="ltr">As an example, he cites a recently-made connection with an employee of BioBAT, a bio-tech incubator, “maybe I can get her involved in organizing small-businesses if there is an infrastructure issue,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18486805868_f8e5a0ce42_z.jpg" alt="Menchaca" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" width="400" height="267" />(CM Menchaca, left - photo: William Alatriste)</p> <p dir="ltr">The benefits of these new networks go both ways, too, as the Urban Justice Center report found that by working with Council members and city agencies to create and implement capital projects, community members develop greater trust in government. Confident that Council members will be responsive to their input, residents feel free to reach out to their representatives if an issue comes up - even outside PB.</p> <p dir="ltr">In one case detailed by Beasley, of the Participatory Budgeting Project, this past year Council Member Menchaca was considering a large development project in the middle of a local park. Community members caught wind of the project and pushed back hard. They insisted it would cost too much money. According to Beasley, Menchaca paused, reevaluated the project and said 'I think you‘re right. We have this money in the budget; what should we spend it on to make this park better?'</p> <p dir="ltr">It is this type of empowerment that Council Member Williams was seeking when he first started his PB program five years ago. “The most important thing that I do is probably pass the budget and that’s the thing that my constituents understand the least,” Williams told Gotham Gazette. “[Participatory Budgeting] was a good meld of empowering and allowing people to get involved in the budget process. It allows them to get their hands dirty.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Increased public awareness of discretionary funds is something the city could use too. Also known as “member items,“ discretionary funds have historically been one of the most abused pots of <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/br-guest-participatory-budgeting-tool-corruption-article-1.1323640?localLinksEnabled=false" target="_blank">City</a> <a href="http://nypost.com/2013/07/09/mayoral-hopefuls-roast-council-pork/" target="_blank">Council</a> <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/280438-participatory-budgeting-and-member-items/" target="_blank">money</a>. It was no coincidence that Speaker Mark-Viverito‘s decision to provide centralized funding to PB came in conjunction with several rules making discretionary funds more equitable and <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2014/05/8545406/mark-viverito-cements-victory-rules-reform" target="_blank">transparent</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">This summer, Council Member Brad Lander of Brooklyn, also an early PB adopter, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5863-map-launched-to-bring-greater-accountability-to-capital-spending" target="_blank">launched an interactive map</a> that tracks capital projects in his district, including those funded through PB and not. Lander <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5863-map-launched-to-bring-greater-accountability-to-capital-spending" target="_blank">told Gotham Gazette</a> that "the long-term answers is a citywide system that tracks all capital projects" so that constituents can see the progress of government-funded efforts.</p> <p dir="ltr">The first years of PBNYC saw expansion by just a few districts per year after the initial class of four. It was only in the fourth year, when, after an election and under Mark-Viverito, the City Council dedicated centralized resources to PB and the number jumped by 14.</p> <p dir="ltr">In this sense, though, David Beasley doesn‘t see this year’s three district growth as anything abnormal.</p> <p dir="ltr">Participatory Budgeting, “hasn’t had time to stabilize and really set in,” he said. “It is still almost brand new...For some people PB is an obvious answer, for others they want to see that it works.“</p> <p dir="ltr">He‘s quick to add, “we think it‘s been proven through the evaluations from the Urban Justice Center...but we‘ll see how the reports continue to go.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Menchaca is convinced and sees the growth of PB as inevitable, but that it might take just a couple more years. “I think we need to elect new people,” Menchaca said regarding those who don't run the program in their districts, “[PB] becomes a political strategy for empowerment.“</p> <p dir="ltr">Gensis-Muelens Dixon, a 13-year-old from the Flatbush area and a constituent of Council Member Williams, is feeling empowered. Together with his mother Taja Dixon, Co-Chair of District 45 Participatory Budgeting, he wants to secure funding to turn an empty plot of land into a community garden.</p> <p>The pair proposed their idea at Williams' inaugural PB assembly, which Gotham Gazette attended. Their project aims to supply fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as foster the same community spirit the two have come to appreciate through participatory budgeting. As the meeting came to an end, Gensis gave a quick word to Gotham Gazette about his experience in the two years he and his mother have been participating in PB.</p> <p>"It is really amazing how much people think about their community," he said. "Usually, in this area at least, you would think that some people just don't care and to see that this many people care about these little things in their community is inspiring."&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Colin O’Connor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/PB_NYC_East_Harlem.jpg" alt="PB NYC East Harlem" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p dir="ltr">PB voting in East Harlem, photo <a href="http://pbnyc.org/blog/15" target="_blank">via PB NYC</a></p> <hr /> <p>In four years participatory budgeting has exploded from four to 27 New York City Council districts. With over 51,000 voters casting ballots last cycle to allocate a total of $32 million dollars to projects across the city, New York‘s experiment in direct democracy has quickly become the largest of its kind in North America.</p> <p dir="ltr">"This is the biggest year of participatory budgeting yet, with 27 Council members asking their constituents to decide how to spend at least $1 million on improvements in their communities...this is truly what democracy is about,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, an early PB adopter, said at a recent conference on advancing the city’s progressive agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Monday, October 26, Mark-Viverito and her colleagues will be recognized for their efforts at a ceremony in Manhattan where they will be presented with an innovation award and corresponding $100,000 prize. Last month, Harvard University‘s John F. Kennedy School of Government recognized the growth and impact of participatory budgeting in New York City by <a href="http://ash.harvard.edu/news/new-york-san-francisco-named-winners-harvards-2015-innovation-american-government-award" target="_blank">awarding</a> the Council the Roy and Lila Ash Innovation Award for Public Engagement in Government.</p> <p dir="ltr">The award “spotlights...programs that engage all citizens, particularly those from overlooked communities, and that serve as effective models of participatory democracy for other communities throughout the United States,” says Stephen Goldsmith, the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and the Director of the Ash Center’s Government Innovation Program.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council members decide individually whether to run participatory budgeting in their home districts, and exactly how much of their capital budget allocation to devote to public determination, with $1 million the minimum. Capital projects are infrastructure items, like playgrounds, dog runs, and neighborhood benches. They can also include technology for schools, like laptops.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under Mark-Viverito, who became Speaker in early 2014, the Council has promoted PB expansion and provided greater support through its central staff to those Council members opting in.</p> <p dir="ltr">With more than half of the City Council’s 51 members now running the program - and much fanfare around it - it is curious to some why all members haven’t adopted the program. In the latest PB cycle, <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/pb/districts.shtml" target="_blank">the city's fifth</a>, which began this fall, only three additional Council members signed on, increasing participation slightly from the 24 who ran the program last year, when there was a major jump after an election that saw many new, young, and progressive candidates elected.</p> <p dir="ltr">What’s holding the remaining Council members back? Gotham Gazette sent emails to representatives of six Council members not running PB, only two of whom responded: representatives of Council Members Rory Lancman, of Queens, and Inez Dickens, of Manhattan (both Democrats), explained their rationale.</p> <p dir="ltr">One common theme in the two responses is that participatory budgeting provides superfluous community input. There are already sufficient avenues of constituent-Council member interaction, and it is already up to Council members to take constituent opinions into consideration when allocating the funding they have to work with.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Local community boards, which are composed by local residents and constituents, submit to their local council members their capital priorities, projects, and concerns,” wrote Council Member Dickens’ press secretary, Frances Escano. “As the collective voice of the community, their expressed views on the capital projects that need funding provide a significant input on what needs must be addressed.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Lancman‘s reply gets at a concern expressed by other Council members Gotham Gazette has spoken to: the significant staff time and energy that PB requires. "Participatory budgeting takes an extraordinary amount of office time and resources for no discernible improvement in outcomes over working through the existing vast civic infrastructure for public participation,” Lancman said in a statement. “My district does not lack for opportunities and vehicles for community engagement, which I'm proud to say my constituents take ample advantage of."</p> <p dir="ltr">These responses seem to miss the point, says David Beasley, Communications Director for the Participatory Budgeting Project, the nonprofit that helps run the program. “Participatory budgeting should not replicate the existing power structures,“ he asserted in an interview with Gotham Gazette, “that‘s not what PB is for.“</p> <p dir="ltr">According to a press release from Speaker Mark-Viverito’s office, the <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/pr/052015pb.shtml" target="_blank">voter demographics</a> from the most recent PB vote (ballots were cast in April at the end of the 2014-2015 cycle) serve as a shining example of this ideal. Nearly 60 percent of PB voters identified as people of color; approximately one in ten were under 18; nearly 30 percent reported an annual household income of $25,000 or below; more than a quarter were born outside of the U.S.; nearly a quarter reported a barrier to voting in regular elections, with one in ten reporting they were not U.S. citizens; and 63 percent identified as female.</p> <p dir="ltr">Participatory budgeting allows votes from anyone living in the City Council district at hand, with the exception, in most cases, of those younger than 16. Some Council members have allowed those as young as 14 to vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">In their 2014-2015 <a href="https://cdp.urbanjustice.org/sites/default/files/CDP.WEB.doc_Report_PBNYC_cycle4findings_20151021.pdf" target="_blank">Participatory Budgeting Report,</a> released Tuesday, October 20, the Urban Justice Center and PBNYC showcase another telling statistic: 51 percent of PB voters, “were not part of a community group or organization.“ That is to say, it is many voices not present on community boards, PTAs, neighborhood civic associations, et. al. that participatory budgeting incorporates into public discourse. In Council Member Carlos Menchaca‘s Brooklyn district, to give one example, more monolingual, non-English speakers voted for a PB project than did in the general election when Menchaca was chosen in 2013.</p> <p dir="ltr">The direct democracy, ability to shape one’s neighborhood, and low barrier to entry seem to be the cause of the participation outlined above.</p> <p dir="ltr">Through a series of public assemblies, residents work with elected officials over a period of eight months to identify neighborhood concerns, create projects to address them, and put the ones with the most interest to a vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">The practice culminates when district residents fill out ballots to allocate at least $1 million in capital funding toward proposals developed by the community to meet local needs. Absent much of the typical bureaucracy of community politics, participatory budgeting lures previously dormant New Yorkers into the public sphere.</p> <p dir="ltr">PBNYC, the umbrella organization uniting the City Council, the Participatory Budgeting Project, the outreach nonprofit Community Voices Heard, and 63 community-based organizations across the city, oversees the entire operation; and the coalition continues to launch new ways to wrangle more participants. The organization‘s recently launched “Ideas Map“ is one of their major additions for the just-started 2015-2016 cycle. Anybody who wants to can go online and submit their capital funding idea for their district, specifying the project’s location on the digital outline of NYC. (A tip: participating PB Council districts are lit up, but eager residents can post suggestions in non-PB districts as well. Perhaps a nudge toward more Council enrollment.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn let on in an interview with Gotham Gazette that Council members‘ decisions to not run PB may be about more than already getting “significant input” from their constituents. Confining community recommendations to established local channels is a way for Council Members to retain their power, Williams said. While legislators can largely choose to reject suggestions from community boards, participatory budgeting completely cedes a portion of a Council member‘s budget to popular vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">"It's one thing to receive input, it's another thing for someone to actually vote on it and for it to be a binding decision," said Williams, whose district 45 residents last year <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/d45/html/members/pb45.shtml" target="_blank">elected to spend</a> over $300,000 on schools including classroom computers, smartboards, and renovated bathrooms.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/19844312434_608ca41ee7_z.jpg" alt="Jumaane Williams" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" width="400" height="267" /><span style="text-align: center;">(CM Williams - photo: William Alatriste)</span></p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Menchaca - whose district 38 constituents cast over 6,000 ballots last year, <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/d38/html/members/pb38.shtml" target="_blank">also allocating</a>&nbsp;funds for a litany of school upgrades in addition to outdoor fitness equipment for Sunset Park - takes Williams' point a step further. Menchaca sees resistance to PB as stemming from an overly cautious, controlling, and outdated form of governing.</p> <p dir="ltr">“One of the main things that I get in resistance from members or other people...is the fallacy that I am relinquishing power,” Menchaca says, “because I got elected to make these decisions - what am I doing giving it back to the people?...I think that‘s just an old-school way of understanding the role of government and the role of people and the role of democracy, a true participatory democracy that empowers people in decision making.“</p> <p dir="ltr">While Menchaca is clearly a true-believer, and puts his money where his mouth is, other Council members run the program, but to a more limited degree.</p> <p dir="ltr">“You may miss some very good projects...if there is no other way to get some things funded,” says Williams, acknowledging that not everything on a PB ballot will get funded.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lancman‘s other reason for not participating in PB--that it requires “an extraordinary amount of office time and resources for no discernible improvement in outcomes“--may hold the most weight. It is something that other Council members have expressed concerns about in off-the-record conversations.</p> <p dir="ltr">The $32 million spent last year on participatory budgeting projects represents just .4 percent of the average $7.9 billion spent on city capital projects annually (2003-2012), according to an <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/IBOCBG.pdf" target="_blank">IBO report</a>. Yet implementing a robust and dedicated PB program drains Council members of a significant amount of effort and resources - during the height of PB season, Council members often have to dedicate one staff member (of units that usually only run about five deep) to PB full-time, with others chipping in part of their time.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It is a commitment,” says Williams, “there’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You jump in, you can’t really jump partially in...It touches most of my staff in different ways.“</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca also acknowledges the effort required. “This has to be your priority,” he says, “Everything is built around PB in [my] office. It is at the core of what I do.” Even with this type of attention the council member says, he needs more resources. “I could use another five people to help staff the PB portion of my operations.“</p> <p dir="ltr">Budget info, as seen in the IBO report, shows that over the course of three years from 2013-2016, Council members are committed to spending $1.765 billion in capital funds. Divided by 51 Council members (though the money is not evenly divided), this comes out to about $34.6 million each over the course of those four fiscal years, or $8.65 million per Council member per year. In that context, $1-2 million toward participatory budgeting in a given year is fairly significant.</p> <p dir="ltr">The benefits of participatory budgeting also extend outside of its explicit function. The most notable of these benefits, according to the Urban Justice Center report, include better informed policy decisions, increased resident trust in government, and more cohesive community bonds.</p> <p dir="ltr">On a practical level, needs revealed by the participatory budgeting process can inform and direct further non-PB government spending. In its 2013-2014 <a href="https://cdp.urbanjustice.org/sites/default/files/CDP.WEB.doc_Report_PBNYC-cycle3-FullReport_20141030.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, the Urban Justice Center found that seven out of ten Council members running PB programs used their capital expense funds left over from the PB process to implement projects suggested during PB that did not garner enough support to be selected by constituents.</p> <p dir="ltr">The same report also suggests how participatory budgeting has the power to affect city-wide change. Following a flood of PB proposals to renovate decrepit school bathrooms, the DOE elected to dedicate $100 million to repair deteriorated lavatories - $50 million more than it had promised. The increase in funding came out to three times the amount spent on all PB-designated capital projects that year.</p> <p dir="ltr">On top of this, Council members acquire valuable, new community contacts through participatory budgeting. “I‘m developing social networks that didn‘t exist before...and...I‘m utilizing the networks that I‘m building here to deal with the other issues outside of PB,” says Menchaca.</p> <p dir="ltr">As an example, he cites a recently-made connection with an employee of BioBAT, a bio-tech incubator, “maybe I can get her involved in organizing small-businesses if there is an infrastructure issue,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18486805868_f8e5a0ce42_z.jpg" alt="Menchaca" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" width="400" height="267" />(CM Menchaca, left - photo: William Alatriste)</p> <p dir="ltr">The benefits of these new networks go both ways, too, as the Urban Justice Center report found that by working with Council members and city agencies to create and implement capital projects, community members develop greater trust in government. Confident that Council members will be responsive to their input, residents feel free to reach out to their representatives if an issue comes up - even outside PB.</p> <p dir="ltr">In one case detailed by Beasley, of the Participatory Budgeting Project, this past year Council Member Menchaca was considering a large development project in the middle of a local park. Community members caught wind of the project and pushed back hard. They insisted it would cost too much money. According to Beasley, Menchaca paused, reevaluated the project and said 'I think you‘re right. We have this money in the budget; what should we spend it on to make this park better?'</p> <p dir="ltr">It is this type of empowerment that Council Member Williams was seeking when he first started his PB program five years ago. “The most important thing that I do is probably pass the budget and that’s the thing that my constituents understand the least,” Williams told Gotham Gazette. “[Participatory Budgeting] was a good meld of empowering and allowing people to get involved in the budget process. It allows them to get their hands dirty.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Increased public awareness of discretionary funds is something the city could use too. Also known as “member items,“ discretionary funds have historically been one of the most abused pots of <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/br-guest-participatory-budgeting-tool-corruption-article-1.1323640?localLinksEnabled=false" target="_blank">City</a> <a href="http://nypost.com/2013/07/09/mayoral-hopefuls-roast-council-pork/" target="_blank">Council</a> <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/280438-participatory-budgeting-and-member-items/" target="_blank">money</a>. It was no coincidence that Speaker Mark-Viverito‘s decision to provide centralized funding to PB came in conjunction with several rules making discretionary funds more equitable and <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2014/05/8545406/mark-viverito-cements-victory-rules-reform" target="_blank">transparent</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">This summer, Council Member Brad Lander of Brooklyn, also an early PB adopter, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5863-map-launched-to-bring-greater-accountability-to-capital-spending" target="_blank">launched an interactive map</a> that tracks capital projects in his district, including those funded through PB and not. Lander <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5863-map-launched-to-bring-greater-accountability-to-capital-spending" target="_blank">told Gotham Gazette</a> that "the long-term answers is a citywide system that tracks all capital projects" so that constituents can see the progress of government-funded efforts.</p> <p dir="ltr">The first years of PBNYC saw expansion by just a few districts per year after the initial class of four. It was only in the fourth year, when, after an election and under Mark-Viverito, the City Council dedicated centralized resources to PB and the number jumped by 14.</p> <p dir="ltr">In this sense, though, David Beasley doesn‘t see this year’s three district growth as anything abnormal.</p> <p dir="ltr">Participatory Budgeting, “hasn’t had time to stabilize and really set in,” he said. “It is still almost brand new...For some people PB is an obvious answer, for others they want to see that it works.“</p> <p dir="ltr">He‘s quick to add, “we think it‘s been proven through the evaluations from the Urban Justice Center...but we‘ll see how the reports continue to go.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Menchaca is convinced and sees the growth of PB as inevitable, but that it might take just a couple more years. “I think we need to elect new people,” Menchaca said regarding those who don't run the program in their districts, “[PB] becomes a political strategy for empowerment.“</p> <p dir="ltr">Gensis-Muelens Dixon, a 13-year-old from the Flatbush area and a constituent of Council Member Williams, is feeling empowered. Together with his mother Taja Dixon, Co-Chair of District 45 Participatory Budgeting, he wants to secure funding to turn an empty plot of land into a community garden.</p> <p>The pair proposed their idea at Williams' inaugural PB assembly, which Gotham Gazette attended. Their project aims to supply fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as foster the same community spirit the two have come to appreciate through participatory budgeting. As the meeting came to an end, Gensis gave a quick word to Gotham Gazette about his experience in the two years he and his mother have been participating in PB.</p> <p>"It is really amazing how much people think about their community," he said. "Usually, in this area at least, you would think that some people just don't care and to see that this many people care about these little things in their community is inspiring."&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Colin O’Connor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> Cautious Optimism Ahead of Hearing on Citywide Ferry Plan 2015-09-18T15:51:58+00:00 2015-09-18T15:51:58+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5892:cautious-optimism-ahead-of-hearing-on-citywide-ferry-plan Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/ferry_DOT_.jpg" alt="ferry DOT " height="450" width="600" /></p> <p>(images: NYC DOT/EDC)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio's proposed expansion of the city's ferry system, announced in February, appears to be one of the least politically controversial initiatives of his term. Ahead of a City Council hearing on the topic scheduled for Monday, no Council member has publicly opposed the plan, while some have loudly praised it.</p> <p>But this support comes despite concerns from transit advocates that ferries may not be the most cost-effective form of transportation for New Yorkers and that other investments in buses or bike lanes should not be overlooked. Meanwhile, others like Staten Island Borough President James Oddo want the system expanded further.</p> <p>The five planned ferry routes, connecting 21 locations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens, will be rolled out in two phases in 2017 and 2018, <a href="http://www.nycedc.com/project/citywide-ferry-service" target="_blank">according to</a> the city's Economic Development Corporation (EDC). A sixth route to Staten Island is "proposed" but not part of the two phases or included in cost estimates. De Blasio said in February that rides would cost $2.75—the same as a subway or bus swipe, though MetroCards won't be accepted for payment—and that the system would bring residents of far-flung waterfront neighborhoods "closer to the opportunities they need."</p> <p>"Beyond connecting residents to jobs in Manhattan, our new citywide ferry system will spur the development of new commercial corridors throughout the outer boroughs," de Blasio said during his State of the City speech.</p> <p>One reason why the ferry plan is uncontroversial may be its relatively small size: its estimated 4.6 million riders per year by 2018 is less than the subway's average daily weekday ridership of nearly 5.6 million in 2014 (with 1.75 billion subway rides for the year). The boats' estimated $55 million price tag and $10 to $20 million annual operating subsidies are also a fraction of the city's $78.5 billion budget for the 2016 fiscal year.</p> <p>"Because it's cheap, politicians can say they're pro-transit," Nicole Gelinas, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute think tank, said. "I think the bigger danger is neglecting other transit."</p> <p><strong>Few Concerns</strong><br />Council members interviewed by Gotham Gazette were all supportive of the plan, which they say will provide a convenient mode of transportation in neighborhoods poorly served by subways.</p> <p>"We are in a city with an existing transportation infrastructure that is at capacity...So we need additional alternatives," Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens said. His district includes Long Island City, which has seen tremendous residential development in recent years and will be served by one of the new stops.</p> <p>At Monday's Council hearing, Van Bramer said he wants to "get a timeline on just when we can expect the landings to be sited, and when we can start service."</p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos of Manhattan's Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island said making sure the three stations planned for his district are moving forward is a "high priority."</p> <p>The few concerns expressed about the current plan are oriented around the locations of landings. Residents at a recent community meeting in Long Island City were divided over where the neighborhood's stop should be: at Center Boulevard, close to waterfront high-rises, or at 44th Drive, less pedestrian-friendly but also less disruptive for a nearby boathouse.</p> <p>Council Member Carlos Menchaca of Brooklyn said EDC should try to offer solutions to siting concerns as it implements the project. Menchaca represents the busy waterway neighborhood of Red Hook.</p> <p>Ydanis Rodriguez, Council member for Washington Heights and Inwood and chair of the City Council transportation committee, said that he is looking forward to hearing more details about the plan from EDC—as well as promoting his own proposal for a ferry route along the west side of Manhattan.</p> <p>"I believe ferries play an important role when it comes to identifying different modes of transportation," Rodriguez said in an interview with the Gotham Gazette. "I hope that in the near future, all the areas not included in the present plan will be included." Rodriguez will co-chair Monday's Council oversight hearing, dubbed "Evaluating the Plan for a Citywide Ferry System" <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=430704&amp;GUID=103BA8C4-0394-4534-B01F-C94F3449318E&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">on the Council website</a>.</p> <p>Staten Island Borough President James Oddo is also aboard the ferry plan, even though the first two phases of the plan will not reach his island and a sixth route has only been proposed for Stapleton, near the Staten Island Ferry's St. George terminal. Oddo said he's working to see if some sort of public or private service can one day reach other parts of the island.</p> <p>"To me, it [ferries] doesn't take a great deal of capital investment in our borough," he said. "It's the quickest avenue Staten Islanders have to getting some help to their commutes."</p> <p>Traffic engineer and former traffic commissioner "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz said that some of the issues he wants discussed at the Council include more details on expected ferry ridership, operating costs and fares, and integration with other forms of transit.</p> <p>"I think it would be a mistake not to have as robust a ferry system as possible...as well as improving transit, bus, and rail," Schwartz told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p><strong>Cost and Control</strong><br />Gelinas, of the Manhattan Institute, says an important question Council members should ask is how heavily the city should subsidize the ferry routes—especially if Mayor de Blasio sticks to his promise that each ride will cost the same as a MetroCard swipe.</p> <p>"It really has to come down to a cost-benefit analysis of how many New Yorkers will benefit at what cost," Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said. "Ferries are a great option, but it's an option that should only be considered after rail and bus options have become untenable." White's group advocates for expanding bike lanes and mass transit projects like Select Bus Service, or express bus lines.</p> <p>A 2011 EDC study showed a subsidy-per-trip of $5.95 for the fare-free Staten Island Ferry and $21.22 for <a href="http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/05/ferry-service-for-6-from-far-rockaway/?_r=0" target="_blank">a pilot</a> Rockaway ferry service launched in 2008.</p> <p>"Some subsidy is reasonable," Gelinas said. "It will also depend on how much development we get [along the waterfront]...The more people you have, the lower the subsidy."</p> <p>Manhattan Council Member Dan Garodnick, who will also co-chair Monday's meeting, said that officials from EDC will have to answer questions about the status of the project, costs, community input, and integration with the rest of the city's transit system. He said he wants riders to be able to use MetroCards for boat fares—something EDC <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20150821/red-hook/citywide-ferry-plan-will-not-integrate-with-mtas-metrocard-for-transfers" target="_blank">has ruled out</a>, saying the 23-year-old card will be soon phased out.</p> <p>"Many of us are extremely enthusiastic about growing our ferry system," Garodnick said. "At the same time, we want to understand its cost and long-term viability."</p> <p>Other Council members were more optimistic about ferry finances.</p> <p>"This is another piece to the puzzle," Kallos said. "Despite initially low projected ridership, when you are speaking about the infrastructure we're building, and the cost of it...This is providing a lot more service to four or five boroughs, and it's improving people's commutes."</p> <p>EDC representatives are expected to testify Monday and say that the plans for the ferry system are on track. The agency is currently reviewing responses to a request for proposals for a ferry operator and plans to integrate the East River Ferry operator into the new larger ferry system. Officials point to the successes of the East River Ferry as they imagine expansion of ferry service.</p> <p>Rodriguez said that ferries are also particularly effective when natural disasters hit—a route between Manhattan and the Rockaways was established within days after Hurricane Sandy knocked out subway service to the neighborhood in 2012. He and Kallos also pointed that the ferry system would be completely under the city's control—unlike the MTA, which is state-run.</p> <p>"Investing in our waterfronts and our ferry system is a way for our city to have strong accountability and control over our infrastructure," Kallos said.</p> <p>Gelinas and White said that there are ways for the city to invest in transit without relying on the state. The 7 train's new 34th Street-Hudson Yards station, for example, was funded primarily by city tax bonds.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/proposed_ferry_network.jpg" alt="proposed ferry network" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="448" width="350" /></p> <p><strong>Waves Ahead?</strong><br />Schwartz said political opposition to ferries may emerge as waterfront dwellers start to complain about the noise and pollution boats generate. Residents of Battery Park City have long complained about ferry horns in the early morning hours—required by Coast Guard regulations.</p> <p>Noise was one of several concerns expressed by Long Island City residents at a recent community meeting on the ferry plan. But even there, most speakers said they want even more ferries to more destinations, not fewer.</p> <p>With the current plan, "you're only serving part of the community," resident Rebecca Olinger said. "I think it's foolish to put something in that serves such a small part of the neighborhood."</p> <p>***<br />by Christian Zhang, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/ChristiZhang" target="_blank">@ChristiZhang</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/ferry_DOT_.jpg" alt="ferry DOT " height="450" width="600" /></p> <p>(images: NYC DOT/EDC)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio's proposed expansion of the city's ferry system, announced in February, appears to be one of the least politically controversial initiatives of his term. Ahead of a City Council hearing on the topic scheduled for Monday, no Council member has publicly opposed the plan, while some have loudly praised it.</p> <p>But this support comes despite concerns from transit advocates that ferries may not be the most cost-effective form of transportation for New Yorkers and that other investments in buses or bike lanes should not be overlooked. Meanwhile, others like Staten Island Borough President James Oddo want the system expanded further.</p> <p>The five planned ferry routes, connecting 21 locations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens, will be rolled out in two phases in 2017 and 2018, <a href="http://www.nycedc.com/project/citywide-ferry-service" target="_blank">according to</a> the city's Economic Development Corporation (EDC). A sixth route to Staten Island is "proposed" but not part of the two phases or included in cost estimates. De Blasio said in February that rides would cost $2.75—the same as a subway or bus swipe, though MetroCards won't be accepted for payment—and that the system would bring residents of far-flung waterfront neighborhoods "closer to the opportunities they need."</p> <p>"Beyond connecting residents to jobs in Manhattan, our new citywide ferry system will spur the development of new commercial corridors throughout the outer boroughs," de Blasio said during his State of the City speech.</p> <p>One reason why the ferry plan is uncontroversial may be its relatively small size: its estimated 4.6 million riders per year by 2018 is less than the subway's average daily weekday ridership of nearly 5.6 million in 2014 (with 1.75 billion subway rides for the year). The boats' estimated $55 million price tag and $10 to $20 million annual operating subsidies are also a fraction of the city's $78.5 billion budget for the 2016 fiscal year.</p> <p>"Because it's cheap, politicians can say they're pro-transit," Nicole Gelinas, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute think tank, said. "I think the bigger danger is neglecting other transit."</p> <p><strong>Few Concerns</strong><br />Council members interviewed by Gotham Gazette were all supportive of the plan, which they say will provide a convenient mode of transportation in neighborhoods poorly served by subways.</p> <p>"We are in a city with an existing transportation infrastructure that is at capacity...So we need additional alternatives," Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens said. His district includes Long Island City, which has seen tremendous residential development in recent years and will be served by one of the new stops.</p> <p>At Monday's Council hearing, Van Bramer said he wants to "get a timeline on just when we can expect the landings to be sited, and when we can start service."</p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos of Manhattan's Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island said making sure the three stations planned for his district are moving forward is a "high priority."</p> <p>The few concerns expressed about the current plan are oriented around the locations of landings. Residents at a recent community meeting in Long Island City were divided over where the neighborhood's stop should be: at Center Boulevard, close to waterfront high-rises, or at 44th Drive, less pedestrian-friendly but also less disruptive for a nearby boathouse.</p> <p>Council Member Carlos Menchaca of Brooklyn said EDC should try to offer solutions to siting concerns as it implements the project. Menchaca represents the busy waterway neighborhood of Red Hook.</p> <p>Ydanis Rodriguez, Council member for Washington Heights and Inwood and chair of the City Council transportation committee, said that he is looking forward to hearing more details about the plan from EDC—as well as promoting his own proposal for a ferry route along the west side of Manhattan.</p> <p>"I believe ferries play an important role when it comes to identifying different modes of transportation," Rodriguez said in an interview with the Gotham Gazette. "I hope that in the near future, all the areas not included in the present plan will be included." Rodriguez will co-chair Monday's Council oversight hearing, dubbed "Evaluating the Plan for a Citywide Ferry System" <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=430704&amp;GUID=103BA8C4-0394-4534-B01F-C94F3449318E&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">on the Council website</a>.</p> <p>Staten Island Borough President James Oddo is also aboard the ferry plan, even though the first two phases of the plan will not reach his island and a sixth route has only been proposed for Stapleton, near the Staten Island Ferry's St. George terminal. Oddo said he's working to see if some sort of public or private service can one day reach other parts of the island.</p> <p>"To me, it [ferries] doesn't take a great deal of capital investment in our borough," he said. "It's the quickest avenue Staten Islanders have to getting some help to their commutes."</p> <p>Traffic engineer and former traffic commissioner "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz said that some of the issues he wants discussed at the Council include more details on expected ferry ridership, operating costs and fares, and integration with other forms of transit.</p> <p>"I think it would be a mistake not to have as robust a ferry system as possible...as well as improving transit, bus, and rail," Schwartz told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p><strong>Cost and Control</strong><br />Gelinas, of the Manhattan Institute, says an important question Council members should ask is how heavily the city should subsidize the ferry routes—especially if Mayor de Blasio sticks to his promise that each ride will cost the same as a MetroCard swipe.</p> <p>"It really has to come down to a cost-benefit analysis of how many New Yorkers will benefit at what cost," Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said. "Ferries are a great option, but it's an option that should only be considered after rail and bus options have become untenable." White's group advocates for expanding bike lanes and mass transit projects like Select Bus Service, or express bus lines.</p> <p>A 2011 EDC study showed a subsidy-per-trip of $5.95 for the fare-free Staten Island Ferry and $21.22 for <a href="http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/05/ferry-service-for-6-from-far-rockaway/?_r=0" target="_blank">a pilot</a> Rockaway ferry service launched in 2008.</p> <p>"Some subsidy is reasonable," Gelinas said. "It will also depend on how much development we get [along the waterfront]...The more people you have, the lower the subsidy."</p> <p>Manhattan Council Member Dan Garodnick, who will also co-chair Monday's meeting, said that officials from EDC will have to answer questions about the status of the project, costs, community input, and integration with the rest of the city's transit system. He said he wants riders to be able to use MetroCards for boat fares—something EDC <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20150821/red-hook/citywide-ferry-plan-will-not-integrate-with-mtas-metrocard-for-transfers" target="_blank">has ruled out</a>, saying the 23-year-old card will be soon phased out.</p> <p>"Many of us are extremely enthusiastic about growing our ferry system," Garodnick said. "At the same time, we want to understand its cost and long-term viability."</p> <p>Other Council members were more optimistic about ferry finances.</p> <p>"This is another piece to the puzzle," Kallos said. "Despite initially low projected ridership, when you are speaking about the infrastructure we're building, and the cost of it...This is providing a lot more service to four or five boroughs, and it's improving people's commutes."</p> <p>EDC representatives are expected to testify Monday and say that the plans for the ferry system are on track. The agency is currently reviewing responses to a request for proposals for a ferry operator and plans to integrate the East River Ferry operator into the new larger ferry system. Officials point to the successes of the East River Ferry as they imagine expansion of ferry service.</p> <p>Rodriguez said that ferries are also particularly effective when natural disasters hit—a route between Manhattan and the Rockaways was established within days after Hurricane Sandy knocked out subway service to the neighborhood in 2012. He and Kallos also pointed that the ferry system would be completely under the city's control—unlike the MTA, which is state-run.</p> <p>"Investing in our waterfronts and our ferry system is a way for our city to have strong accountability and control over our infrastructure," Kallos said.</p> <p>Gelinas and White said that there are ways for the city to invest in transit without relying on the state. The 7 train's new 34th Street-Hudson Yards station, for example, was funded primarily by city tax bonds.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/proposed_ferry_network.jpg" alt="proposed ferry network" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="448" width="350" /></p> <p><strong>Waves Ahead?</strong><br />Schwartz said political opposition to ferries may emerge as waterfront dwellers start to complain about the noise and pollution boats generate. Residents of Battery Park City have long complained about ferry horns in the early morning hours—required by Coast Guard regulations.</p> <p>Noise was one of several concerns expressed by Long Island City residents at a recent community meeting on the ferry plan. But even there, most speakers said they want even more ferries to more destinations, not fewer.</p> <p>With the current plan, "you're only serving part of the community," resident Rebecca Olinger said. "I think it's foolish to put something in that serves such a small part of the neighborhood."</p> <p>***<br />by Christian Zhang, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/ChristiZhang" target="_blank">@ChristiZhang</a></p>