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/christina-greer 2017-12-12T10:23:51+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com De Blasio’s Record on Ethics and Transparency 2017-10-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7258:de-blasio-s-record-on-ethics-and-transparency Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/36293022713_309bde7089_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio City Hall " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong><em>This article is part of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a> as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>It is a source of great frustration for Mayor Bill de Blasio and hangs over his administration and reelection bid as an albatross. Observers across the political spectrum, including Democratic and Republican opponents in this year’s mayoral race, have attacked de Blasio for blurring or crossing ethical lines, and for lacking transparency.</p> <p>De Blasio rode into power promising the most transparent administration in the city’s history, but his nearly four years in office have been marked by continuing questions and controversies over both his administration’s opaqueness and ethics, highlighted by twin law enforcement investigations into fundraising practices and government favors for campaign donors. The incumbent Democratic mayor, seeking reelection this fall, has repeatedly argued that he and his associates have carried themselves ethically and that he has done more disclosure than his predecessors and other high-level officials.</p> <p>Yet, along with his electoral opponents, political observers, government reform advocates, and City Council members also say de Blasio’s rhetoric has not been backed by action and that his record on transparency and ethics has been, at best, a mixed bag.</p> <p>In endorsing him in the Democratic primary, the New York Times editorial board <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/05/opinion/editorials/mayoral-endorsement-bill-deblasio.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, “A political operative before he ran for public office, Mr. de Blasio has not shaken free of detractors’ suspicions about his ethical compass. He was subjected to both federal and state investigations into whether he presides over a pay-to-play system that favors well-heeled donors seeking favors from City Hall. Ultimately, no charges were brought against him or his aides. Though the mayor declared he had been vindicated, the Manhattan district attorney concluded that some of his fund-raising appeared to have violated “the intent and spirit” of the law. That’s a far cry from Mr. de Blasio’s claim to have been pronounced “innocent.”</p> <p>De Blasio was indeed chastised by federal and state prosecutors, who, while they did not bring charges against him or his associates, investigated their actions and outlined problematic practices, some of which led to new city laws limiting certain fundraising activities that the mayor and his team engaged in. De Blasio has claimed that he and his aides have held themselves to the highest standards, but he has regularly raised those standards when pushed.</p> <p>Part of the mayor’s pushback against criticisms has been that he and his associates have always had good motives, like expanding pre-kindergarten, and that a political nonprofit his allies ran to support his agenda disclosed more than required. Though he has been dogged by questions from members of the media, de Blasio readily points out that regular New Yorkers don’t often ask him about his fundraising practices or release of email records when they have the opportunity to question him at town halls or radio call-in segments.</p> <p>“People never bring up the issues from the investigations, because I think there was a broad understanding in the public that there was an immense amount of scrutiny that found absolutely nothing wrong,” he said in a recent <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/09/bill-de-blasio-in-conversation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Magazine</a> interview, mischaracterizing the facts given that while no charges were brought, prosecutors did indicate that the mayor and his associates had blurred or crossed ethical lines. “Everyday New Yorkers are much more concerned with kitchen-table issues. Some political insiders, maybe they’ve come to certain conclusions. But for everyday New Yorkers? They didn’t see anything wrong, and they’re right, because there wasn’t anything wrong.”</p> <p>As de Blasio asks New Yorkers for four more years, ethics and transparency will continue to be a focus of criticism from his general election opponents and others, while the mayor will defend himself and attempt to point to stronger aspects of his record. But the record of how he and his administration have conducted themselves when it comes to playing by the rules, separating political fundraising and governing, and providing the public with both ethical and transparent government is very much worth chronicling and examining as voters evaluate their choices this November.</p> <p>Mayoral spokespeople Eric Phillips and Austin Finan agreed to speak with Gotham Gazette for this story, but, other than a brief conversation to discuss the premise of the article, no comment was provided.</p> <p>The most recent Quinnipiac University public opinion poll that included a question about de Blasio's&nbsp;ethics, published at the end of July, <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">showed</a> New York City voters saying 52 to 35 percent that he is honest and trustworthy, down from 59 to 31 percent in May. Still, the 52 was up from the lowest rating de Blasio has received in a Quinnipiac poll over his four years as mayor: amid intense controversy in May 2016, 43 percent <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/images/polling/nyc/nyc07312017_trends_N79jmpp.pdf/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> he is honest and trustworthy, while 45 percent said he is not. The highest de Blasio's honesty was rated by voters eight months into his tenure, when the balance was 66 to 22 in his favor.</p> <p><strong>Selective Transparency</strong><br /> In his former role as public advocate, de Blasio championed transparency and took the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to task for its apparent lack thereof. De Blasio disclosed meetings with lobbyists and implemented tools to track Freedom of Information Law requests, while criticizing the Bloomberg administration for its lax FOIL response time.</p> <p>Fast forward nearly four years and the same official who urged increased disclosure by Bloomberg has been reticent to show the same commitment in his own operations on FOIL responsiveness speed and other things like police discipline records and emails with top non-governmental advisors. For example, as public advocate, de Blasio recommended legislation requiring the mayor to include FOIL response statistics in the annual Mayor’s Management Report, but it is not something de Blasio has done as mayor himself.</p> <p>Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, de Blasio's second-in-command, recently conceded at a New York Law School breakfast that the administration could improve it's record on FOIL requests. "I don't think we've done as good as job on that as we could have," he said, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/10/13/de-blasio-deputy-mayor-says-blaming-predecessor-is-not-productive-115038" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York reported</a>. "But I can't tell you we've gotten good enough. ... Our open data initiative has been, I think, one of the stronger ones in the country. ... Fundamentally, the more data that we can put out there so people don't have to say, 'May I,' but can do their own analytics, is the way to do."</p> <p>On August 23, at the first of two mayoral debates in the Democratic primary, de Blasio was asked by debate panelist and NY1 reporter Grace Rauh about steps he would take to improve transparency in a second term, should he be reelected, or if he considered any improvements unnecessary. As he often does, the mayor disagreed with the premise of the question, and pivoted toward touting his record on transparency. “Anytime a lobbyist lobbied me on behalf of a third party I put that up online so that people know exactly who talked to me when. I did that,” de Blasio said. “No other mayor’s done that before in our history. I’m in favor of the kind of transparency that’s gonna make life different for everyday New Yorkers like body cameras for all of our patrol officers over the next two years. This is one of the ultimate acts of transparency and accountability in government.”</p> <p>He added, “Past administrations did not disclose all sorts of things. I’ve made it a point to be open about disclosure. Some areas where I disagree specifically I do not think it was appropriate to disclose but compared to previous administrations we’ve gone a long way and a lot farther in terms of openness and disclosure and transparency....No mayor previously had that level of transparency and I’m very proud of the fact that we put that in place in the city. When it comes to tough questions, well it’s a tough job as part of what I’d expect as mayor of New York City.”</p> <p>It was a far from satisfactory answer for de Blasio’s only opponent on the debate stage, former City Council Member Sal Albanese. “I’m just incredulous,” Albanese responded. “This administration is the least transparent administration in recent history,” he added (it is not an easy comparison to make).</p> <p>“We should have a higher standard for the mayor than not being indicted,” Albanese said repeatedly during the debates and the primary campaign.</p> <p>Government watchdog groups have also found that de Blasio reneged on his campaign pledges around core good governance, though there has been acknowledgement that the administration has implemented certain policies that have enhanced transparency, including related to data generated by city government.</p> <p>For instance, the city has continued and expanded the implementation of the Open Data law, launching a redesigned <a href="https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">online portal</a> with thousands of datasets available to the public. The administration has launched <a href="https://a860-openrecords.nyc.gov" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">OpenRECORDS</a>, a centralized website to file and track FOIL requests with numerous city agencies. These advancements, while notable, do not capture the full picture of mayoral transparency, however.</p> <p>Early on in his term, the mayor began limiting interactions with the press, eschewing the daily news briefings that previous mayors had traditionally held and restricting occasions when he would take “off-topic” questions. It earned him scorn from detractors in and out of the media, and, almost cyclically, reinforced his derision for reporters who grew frustrated with the dearth of unfettered, unscripted responses to their questions.</p> <p>“There’s a Trump-like quality in his whining about the media,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, CUNY. “He’s got the same disease as the President.”</p> <p>“There’s a lot the citizenry could find praiseworthy in his record,” Muzzio added, “but the two main issues are his transparency and political ethics, and his sense of self-aggrandizement where everything is ‘historic’ and ‘transformative.’ The problem is the distance between rhetoric and reality.”</p> <p>Muzzio also noted that the administration has released a lot more data than previous mayoralties, which has been useful for analysis of city agencies. “It’s the personal transparency, rather than institutional transparency, that’s lacking,” Muzzio said of de Blasio.</p> <p>One example of rhetoric versus reality was a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-defend-boastful-video-decried-watchdogs-article-1.2926739" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">promotional video</a> put out in December 2016 by City Hall that touted the administration’s accomplishments, as it was mired in the two investigations that had captured headlines for months. Good government groups criticized the mayor at the time for effectively putting out a campaign ad shortly before the start of an election year during which government-funded advertisements would have been prohibited. The mayor fielded questions about the ad for weeks and grew frustrated by another example of what he has perceived as reporters’ fixation on trivial matters at the expense of spreading all the “good news” that is happening as a result of his policies.</p> <p>At the August 23 debate, prompted by NY1’s Rauh, de Blasio pledged that he would not set up another issue-advocacy nonprofit like the Campaign for One New York, which was at the center of one of the two investigations into his administration. It was something the mayor had previously said he didn’t plan to do and had in fact signed a new law making virtually impossible. In making the pledge, he reiterated that he faced tough questions about his ethical conduct purely because he was willing to voluntarily disclose who had donated to the nonprofit group and how much.</p> <p>“If you know you did things right you disclose,” he said. “If you’ve got something to hide, you don’t disclose. That’s what we did over and over again with donations that we did not have a legal obligation to disclose but we went ahead and disclosed anyway and I’m proud of that fact.”</p> <p>But, the mayor’s approach to disclosure has been highly selective. For the better part of two years, media outlets have pushed, and NY1 and the New York Post even sued, the administration for access to emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and unpaid outside advisors. The mayor’s team has shielded those communications, terming the advisors “agents of the city” who would not be subject to disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law that typically apply to correspondence between government officials and non-government entities. Exceptions to FOIL exist for intra-governmental communication that is part of the decision-making process, but de Blasio and his team argued that the advisors were so close to City Hall and the mayor that they were de facto members of the administration.</p> <p>Eventually, the mayor relented to an extent, and troves of emails, numbering in the thousands and many of them significantly redacted, have been released on numerous occasions, usually in Friday “news dumps.” The administration is still in court appealing the decision to release the emails, but the mayor pledged in March to release all communications going forward. The emails have not shown wrongdoing, but rather painted the administration, and the mayor particularly, in an unflattering light at times. Some showed de Blasio’s harsh treatment of underlings while others revealed his proximity and degree of access afforded to donors, including controversial ones.</p> <p>Watchdogs have pointed out that with the Campaign for One New York and the “agents of the city,” de Blasio has created his own problems by blurring lines and limiting transparency. By inviting massive donations to the nonprofit from entities with city business, de Blasio opened the door to pay-to-play allegations, and even the federal investigation. Under intense scrutiny, the mayor wound up promising extensive evidence of donors who did not get favorable treatment from city government -- a promise he eventually admitted he regretted -- but after months of delays, he produced a column on the online publishing platform Medium that left many wanting for more detail.</p> <p><strong>Big Money for the ‘Right’ Causes</strong><br /> As public advocate, de Blasio urged big corporations to adopt policies against funding political action committees and organized elected officials dedicated to that cause. He filed a legal brief in federal court arguing against the removal of limits to donations to PACs and he railed against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed untold amounts of money from undisclosed donors to flood electoral campaigns.</p> <p>“Deep-pocketed donors have turned their sights on New York and our best-in-the-nation campaign finance system,” de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/PAC" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>, in a statement on Oct. 3, 2013, when he filed the amicus brief. “They’re determined to upend protections that have safeguarded our democratic process for decades. This is about more than one election. It’s about defending the voices of everyday New Yorkers. It’s a fight we are going to win.”</p> <p>While de Blasio has continued to rail against Citizens United and call for full public campaign financing, the mayor has not aggressively pursued such a system in New York and the same politician who has long decried wealthy moneyed interests influencing government relied on them to promote his own political agenda while mayor.</p> <p>De Blasio came into office with a come-from-behind primary win and a general election landslide. He had the wind at his back and attempted to take on the world, so to speak. This led to the creation of the controversial nonprofit and a 2014 effort to swing the state Senate Democratic that got him in trouble, along with other actions that have hurt his reputation for openness and clean government.</p> <p>Within a month of the mayor’s election, his allies set up a political nonprofit group called UPKNYC, later branded The Campaign for One New York, to promote the goal of universal pre-kindergarten in the city, which in part depended on state-level approval. After achieving its initial goal -- de Blasio favored a tax on the rich to fund the proposal but settled for direct funding from the state -- the group pivoted to promoting the mayor’s affordable housing plan. All along, the 501(c)4 organization solicited unlimited donations, many from wealthy donors and labor unions that also had business with the city. The group did voluntarily disclose its finances and donors every six months.</p> <p>Scrutiny of its activities, and the mayor’s fundraising for it and possible exchange of government favors, helped trigger one of the two separate corruption investigations, a federal probe into allegations of pay-to-play at City Hall --- the second was a state-level inquiry into whether the mayor’s attempt to sway state Senate races for Democratic candidates in 2014 had violated election law by funneling big donations to candidate campaigns through local Democratic committees.</p> <p>The mayor maintained throughout that he and his associates had acted under strict legal guidance and had followed the letter of the law, and both probes eventually concluded with no charges. But the stench of scandal remained as the Manhattan U.S. attorney concluded that the mayor, though not crossing into clear criminal activity, had sought contributions from donors and then had “made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies” on behalf of those donors.</p> <p>De Blasio defended this as typical practice and even good government -- that any constituent, whether a donor or not, who brings a concern to him is directed to someone in the administration who may be able to help, but that the relevant powers make decisions based on the merits, not relationships. What has been abundantly clear, however, is that de Blasio donors have enjoyed special access to and attention from the mayor and his administration.</p> <p>De Blasio also regularly made the case that the ends justified the means, that because he was fighting for universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing, his skirting of campaign finance rules and blurring of lines was acceptable. The contradiction became especially evident when de Blasio agreed to sign legislation pushed by the City Council, notably Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a close de Blasio ally, to drastically limit political nonprofits with ties to elected officials. De Blasio would explain that it was “the right thing to do” but did lament that he felt it might hamstring progressive politicians with good intentions like himself in the ongoing fight against opposing big-money interests.</p> <p>At the second Democratic mayoral primary debate on <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzIfDLHon-c" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">September 6</a>, debate moderator Maurice DuBois of CBS-2 put the mayor on his heels with the first question, about his apparent ethical failings. “Mr. de Blasio, here’s a true story,” DuBois began. “A political leader and his associates used pay-for-play tactics...but were not charged with a crime. However, state and federal prosecutors insist those people did violate the intent and spirit of the law. While there were no criminal charges, would you want people like that working for you?”</p> <p>A defensive de Blasio again stood by his administration’s efforts and the policy goals that they achieved, and insisted that he and his associates had been vindicated by the intense scrutiny by prosecutors that nevertheless found no wrongdoing. “I look at everything that we’ve done and I’m very convinced that high standards were kept to and the results speak for themselves in terms of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we’ve improved,” he said. “That’s what I came here to do, make people’s lives better.”</p> <p>Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, said she is “torn” over the mayor’s first-term scandals. “Part of me is just wondering, ‘is this the cost of doing business as a politician in the 21st century if you’re not a billionaire?’” she said, drawing a contrast with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg who did not have to depend on donors for his own campaigns. “Part of me thinks, ‘Well if you don’t have billions to contribute on your own, do you possibly have to get that from unsavory characters and make alliances and depend on people who have resources?’ But the other part of me wonders, ‘Wow, it seems like we’re always asking about some sort of potential wrongdoing.’”</p> <p>Greer’s conflict seems to be indicative of that of at least several prominent Democrats, including officials like Comptroller Scott Stringer, who criticized the Campaign for One New York as a “slush fund” but wound up endorsing the mayor for reelection, citing his progressivism in fighting inequality. For some time, Stringer was considering a mayoral run, either against de Blasio or in the event de Blasio did not seek reelection due to results from the investigations that did not materialize.</p> <p>Greer emphasized that de Blasio’s ethics record should not be conflated with his transparency, even though the two are sometimes drawn in “concentric circles.” She noted that de Blasio’s refusal to take questions from the press simply raises more concerns about what else he isn’t being transparent about. “I genuinely do not understand why there are times that de Blasio makes life much harder for himself than he has to...He brought that on himself,” she said. She did agree that perhaps everyday New Yorkers don’t care about issues of transparency that “get into the weeds,” but said he couldn’t dismiss the concerns of those who do. “By you not wanting to answer it, you can’t wish it away by saying nobody’s interested,” she said. “Yes, we are interested.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s criticism of and condescension towards the media was on full display in the <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">column</a> he wrote on Medium, where he attempted to defend himself against pay-to-play allegations and special access for donors. The column, promised by de Blasio more than a year prior, was meant to illustrate instances of donors who sought favors from the administration but were denied. In the face of allegations and investigations, de Blasio had promised “a whole lot of evidence” of donors not getting the action they desired from the city. De Blasio provided little evidence in his Medium column, but went after the media with gusto.</p> <p>“Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City,” de Blasio wrote of the coverage of his contact with donors. “Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>The column contained few examples and no names, and largely blamed the media for over-inflating the scandals that have plagued de Blasio’s tenure. “It was a non-explanation, he gave a few examples of dubious quality,” Muzzio said with an exasperated sigh, noting how the mayor looked down his nose at the press.</p> <p>Some top Democratic elected officials have been hesitant to criticize the mayor openly, save for Stringer and a few others. Public Advocate Letitia James, de Blasio’s successor and whose office is meant to serve as a watchdog over city government, declined to comment for this article through a spokesperson. James has largely stayed away from questions about de Blasio’s ethics and transparency issues, explaining her approach as more focused on the substance of agency work and using litigation and legislation to make policy change.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, ostensibly the second-most powerful elected official in the city, deflected when asked about the mayor’s defense of the Campaign for One New York and his transparency, at a news conference on Sept. 7, when the mayor’s ethics record was being argued over both on the primary election debate stage and throughout the ongoing race for mayor.</p> <p>“We continue to have conversations in this Council and we continue to look at legislation to figure out how we can be more transparent,” she said. “That doesn’t just fall on the mayor, that falls on all of us to be more transparent in government.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito emphasized the Council’s measures to improve the Campaign Finance Board’s functioning and the laws governing campaign fundraising and spending. “Being a candidate and being an elected official is not easy,” she said. “The CFB rules are extremely complicated to follow and sometimes to keep track of and so sometimes you can get a little bit lost in them.”</p> <p>When Gotham Gazette pointed out that the mayor’s Campaign for One New York operated outside of the CFB’s purview and asked if looking back on it she felt it was still ethical for the mayor to have created the group, Mark-Viverito said, “I’m not gonna respond to that at this moment. I haven’t really focused on it as of late. Again, what we strive to do is to be accountable to our constituents and that’s what I have been doing as an elected official, that’s what we do each and everyday and I’m gonna continue to strive down that path.”</p> <p>Though she was quite reticent to weigh in on the issue when it was most relevant, Mark-Viverito did eventually spearhead the writing and passage of the legislation to rein in groups like Campaign for One New York, forcing the mayor’s hand on a measure that ensures few like it will ever exist in the future, given several new restrictions, like severe limits on what entities with city business can donate to nonprofits closely associated with an elected official. Even during that legislative process, Mark-Viverito, largely a de Blasio ally, took pains not to criticize the mayor directly, while tacitly and legislatively showing her disapproval. In signing the legislation, de Blasio refused to acknowledge that he had made any mistakes, but touted it as good legislation further reigning in money in politics.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, who is among a number of members running to be the next speaker of the Council, also gave a quasi-defense of the mayor. “I think he has to be judged by the fact that there was extensive scrutiny with considerable resources at multiple levels of government, local and federal, that left no stone unturned and determined there was not ground to charge,” he told Gotham Gazette, “and that at the end of the day is the most important standard and one that he justifiably touts, particularly in light of the months of leaks which gave him bad press for issues which ultimately were not deemed sufficient to charge on.”</p> <p>But multiple City Council members, who did not wish to be named, felt differently. Separately, they gave similar opinions to one another, criticizing the mayor’s hypocrisy on transparency, his handling of the “agents of the city” emails, and his continued arrogance over escaping an indictment.</p> <p>One Council member said the mayor was “vulnerable” on issues of transparency and that he faced “justifiable criticism” over his shielding of his emails, which did not seem at all legally defensible. The months of bad headlines, said the Council member, led to a “bunker mentality” and the mayor and his associates dug in their heels deeper. (Indeed, de Blasio has reopened himself to many more press questions since the investigations ended.)</p> <p>Two Council members said the mayor’s shielding of his emails was largely an exercise in protecting his image rather than hiding instances of corruption. “It’s clear they are well aware of who their friends are,” said one member, of the mayor’s relationship with donors. The <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/emails-reveal-another-side-of-bill-de-blasio-1466038087" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wall Street Journal</a> has reported that the contents of some of the “agents of the city” emails are especially gossipy and embarrassing.</p> <p>Another Council member commended the press as the institution, more so than the City Council, that has most held the mayor accountable, and criticized the mayor for attacking the media’s reportage. The member noted that the Council did not use its subpoena power and did not act on the Campaign for One New York until after Common Cause NY, a good government group, filed an official complaint with the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>That Council member also critiqued the mayor for not revealing who administration officials hold meetings with, an issue on which de Blasio had campaigned, and for not fully implementing the online FOIL portal. On the mayor’s Medium post, the Council member said, “It’s a little too cute to tell folks exactly who did what without using their names.”</p> <p><strong>‘Backwards on Police Transparency’</strong><br /> In April 2013, then-Public Advocate de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/foil/report" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">released</a> a “Transparency Report Card” that evaluated 18 city agencies on their response to FOIL requests. The two agencies that received a failing grade were the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the NYPD. A <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/04/11/in-de-blasios-new-york-transparency-laws-mean-nothing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Village Voice</a> analysis from April of the de Blasio administration’s handling of FOIL records showed that little had changed in more than three years. “A review of thousands of pages of FOIL records shows the city’s system for handling public information requests remains haphazard, under-resourced, and often excruciatingly slow. And the mayor’s own office is the slowest of all,” the report reads.</p> <p>The mayor’s earlier criticism of the NYPD’s opaqueness perhaps most smacks of hypocrisy to police reform advocates who say his administration has not only not made progress, but actually backtracked on transparency at the police department. The NYPD, and then de Blasio, last year contended that successive administrations had for decades misinterpreted Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Code, which protects the personnel records of police officers from public disclosure. As the department saw it, the law prevents them from releasing “personnel orders” that summarize disciplinary actions taken against officers. These orders had routinely been released until the revised policy was put in place, and the city has fought tooth and nail to uphold its reinterpretation of the law, even appealing an unfavorable judicial ruling, and has pointed to the need for the state to change the law. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The de Blasio administration has taken the city backwards on police transparency and accountability with its misuse of state law 50-a to conceal information,” said Lumumba Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocacy groups. Bandele noted that, though the mayor released a proposal to change the law in Albany, there was little evidence that the administration made it a priority in this year’s legislative session. “On policing, this administration is misusing the law as an excuse for being less transparent than those of Bloomberg and Giuliani,” she added, “allowing the NYPD to shield police abuse and corruption from public scrutiny, and failing to provide leadership to improve police accountability and transparency.”</p> <p>The notion -- that the de Blasio administration has been worse about NYPD transparency and accountability -- is one that was also echoed this year by City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is a de Blasio supporter overall.</p> <p><strong>Scrutiny and Change</strong><br /> Undoubtedly, scrutiny of the mayor’s actions led to change in his behavior. He stopped communicating with top lobbyists who were close to him and began to limit government-related interaction with outside consultants, particularly Jonathan Rosen, a confidante who was involved in the mayor’s 2013 campaign and the Campaign for One New York, and whose firm is again working on the mayor’s 2017 reelection bid. The scandals also prompted the legislation by the City Council -- which the mayor signed into law -- regulating donations to nonprofit groups affiliated with elected officials and requiring disclosure by these groups under the oversight of the Conflicts of Interest Board. And, de Blasio changed his “agency of the city” email transparency policy as he continues to battle in court to keep past emails secret.</p> <p>But it’s unclear if the mayor, who won his primary handily and is expected to coast to reelection through the general, will take substantive steps to be more transparent. “[If] he gets a second term, I can’t see him as a lame duck being more transparent, so I think that’s a concern,” said Greer.</p> <p>There’s no doubt that de Blasio’s general election opponents, chiefly Republican Nicole Malliotakis, a state Assembly member from Staten Island, will continue to make de Blasio’s ethics a focus of the campaign. The question remains, though, how much voters care. Political analysts note that most voters do not vote based on transparency and ethics issues unless there is a major scandal that has led someone to jail. Voters often vote based on “pocket book” and “kitchen table” issues like jobs, schools, and crime -- a point de Blasio himself regularly acknowledges at least tacitly.</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, who was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation regulating political nonprofits, said it was more constructive to focus on the political system that allows, and in some way encourages, reliance on wealthy donors. “If we want elected officials in New York City to live up to a higher standard of good government, then the best approach is to strengthen our own rules,” he said. “That’s more valuable than focusing on individuals.”</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>A TIMELINE of MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS RELATED to MAYOR DE BLASIO'S RECORD on ETHICS and TRANSPARENCY</p> <p>November 2013: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio gets elected mayor of New York City after running a campaign in which he promised an unprecedented level of transparency in government. As Public Advocate, de Blasio issued a “Transparency Report Card” evaluating city agencies on their response to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. He chiefly criticized the NYPD for their lax FOIL response times, giving them a failing grade in his report.</p> <p>December 2013: De Blasio’s allies set up UPKNYC, also known as the Campaign for One New York, an issue-advocacy nonprofit -- classified by the IRS as 501(c)(4)s -- that could solicit unlimited contributions and spend unlimited funds to promote the mayor’s agenda, namely promoting universal pre-kindergarten. Under law, the nonprofit was not required to disclose its donors. The mayor’s associates later set up another nonprofit called United For Affordable NYC, to promote his affordable housing plan. The Campaign for One New York eventually became the locus of two parallel investigations by federal and state prosecutors into the mayor’s fundraising practices and his effort to sway state Senate races in 2014.</p> <p>July 2014: The Campaign for One New York voluntarily discloses its fundraising and donors to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and to the public, despite not being required to do so, showing $1.76 million in donations, a lot of which came from labor unions that have been big supporters of the mayor and from groups that do business with the city. The mayor faced scrutiny for allowing doing business donors to give unlimited amounts, whereas those same donors would’ve been limited in how much they could contribute to a campaign committee. The Campaign for One New York later shifted its focus towards the mayor’s larger progressive agenda, particularly affordable housing, after having already achieved the goal of funding universal pre-kindergarten in the city.</p> <p>May 2015: De Blasio heads to Washington D.C. to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/in-washington-de-blasio-unveils-his-progressive-agenda-campaign.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">launch</a> “The Progressive Agenda,” a platform of progressive policies that he attempted to advocate for at the national level to try to influence issues in the presidential race. Another nonprofit, the Progressive Agenda Committee, is set up by October 2015 to helm the project. The group would have little to no impact before <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/07/progressive-agenda-committee-spends-418-298-but-has-no-staff-and-didnt-do-anything-103906" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">shutting down</a> within less than a year, only making headlines for an aborted attempt at holding a presidential candidate forum in Iowa in December 2015.</p> <p>The same day de Blasio was in Washington, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/group-supporting-de-blasios-agenda-is-said-to-draw-interest-of-ethics-panel.html?ref=nyregion&amp;_r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times</a> reports that the Campaign for One New York has come under scrutiny by JCOPE for not registering as a lobbying entity. In 2014, UPKNYC had registered as a lobbyist to promote universal pre-k.</p> <p>July 2015: Yet again, the Campaign for One New York discloses its fundraising, showing another $1.7 million in fundraising over a six-month period. The donations came from unions, lobbyists, wealthy donors and real estate executives. A <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2015/09/the-transactional-mayor-returns-025908" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a> analysis in September shows that 46 of 74 donors “either had business or labor contracts with City Hall or were trying to secure approval for a project when they contributed, public records show.” Over the next few months, de Blasio faces constant questioning about potential conflicts of interest and the perception of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall. The nonprofit groups also seem to slow down their operations and fundraising amid increased criticism.</p> <p>Feb 2016: Common Cause New York, a government reform advocacy group, files <a href="http://www.commoncause.org/states/new-york/press/press-releases/coib-cfb-review-of-deblasio-fundraiser.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a complaint</a> with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board, requesting investigations of the Campaign for One New York and United for Affordable NYC. “The Mayor's unprecedented use of 501(c)(4) fundraising has spawned a shadow government that raises serious questions about who has influence and access to the policymaking process,” Common Cause NY said in a statement at the time. “It has created a perpetual campaign, confusing the role of government and politics, to the detriment of the public interest.”</p> <p>March 2016: The Campaign for One New York <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/political-organization-tied-to-nyc-mayor-bill-de-blasio-is-closing-1458208801" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announces</a> plans to close down as the spectre of pay-to-play allegations begins to hound the administration. United for Affordable NYC ends operations in conjunction, but the Progressive Agenda Committee continues to exist with minimal staff.</p> <p>April 2016: Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reportedly</a> begins looking into two de Blasio donors, in connection with a separate corruption case involving the NYPD. Both donors contributed to the mayor’s campaign as well and were part of his inauguration committee. CBS2’s Marcia Kramer <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reports</a> that Bharara’s office had started focusing on the mayor’s fundraising practices. Mayor de Blasio, saying he was unaware of any federal investigation, says on April 11, “I’m not going to be speaking about this after today.”</p> <p>On April 22, the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-gamed-donation-limits-hid-names-board-elections-article-1.2611406?utm_content=buffer3ac9b&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=NYDailyNewsTw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reports on a leaked memo from the state Board of Elections regarding the mayor’s 2014 efforts to help Democrats win the state Senate. The memo alleges that de Blasio and his team circumvented campaign contribution limits to benefit three Democratic campaigns, thereby warranting criminal prosecution. (It would later emerge that the memo was released by a Republican BOE spokesperson.)</p> <p>On April 28, after de Blasio’s counsel confirms having received subpoenas in parallel state and federal investigations into the mayor’s fundraising, de Blasio maintains his innocence. “Everything we’ve done from the beginning is legal and appropriate,” he said. “There’s an investigation going on, we’re going to fully cooperate with that investigation.”</p> <p>May 2016: A lawyer for the Campaign for One New York tells JCOPE that the nonprofit would stop complying with subpoenas, suggesting that the probe into CONY has become politically motivated.</p> <p>On May 18, Mayor de Blasio promises to produce a list of donors who contributed to the Campaign for One New York but did not receive favors from City Hall, insisting that his administration makes decision based on merit and not on favoritism.</p> <p>The same month, de Blasio comes under fire for shielding his email exchanges with five unpaid outside advisers, some of whom have business with the city. The administration terms them “agents of the city” and <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/05/de-blasio-lists-advisers-he-considers-exempt-from-transparency-law-101954" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">argues</a> that they are exempt from disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law.</p> <p>June 2016: The administration releases selected emails from outside consultants to <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/06/city-hall-releases-selective-emails-with-outside-consulting-firm-102771" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a>, in response to long-pending FOIL requests.</p> <p>July 2016: The New York City Campaign Finance Board <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6426-campaign-finance-board-rules-in-mayor-s-favor-while-criticizing-him" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules</a> that the Campaign for One New York did not violate campaign finance law and that donations and spending by the group do not count towards the mayor’s 2017 reelection campaign. But, the board criticized the mayor’s fundraising practices, which they saw as circumventing the city’s strict campaign finance restrictions, and called on the City Council to pass legislation to close the loophole. &nbsp;</p> <p>“New York City’s system depends on reasonable contribution limits that reduce the appearance that influence can be bought or sold through campaign contributions,” said then-CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn. “It defies common sense that limits that work so well during the campaign should be set aside once the candidate has assumed elected office.”</p> <p>August 2016: A battle brewing in the background for months over NYPD officers’ disciplinary records came front and center as the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/exclusive-nypd-stops-releasing-cops-disciplinary-records-article-1.2764145" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reported that the department would no longer release “personnel orders” summarizing disciplinary actions against officers. Then-Commissioner Bill Bratton insisted that the city had long misinterpreted a decades-old state law -- Section 50-A of the New York State civil rights code-- that had led to the release of officer records. The law has been a particular sticking point for police reform advocates incensed over the administration’s efforts to protect the disciplinary record of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a banned chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014. Mayor de Blasio, whose administration has been fighting for well over two years to shield Pantaleo’s record, insisted his hands were tied on 50-A unless the state Legislature took action to change the provision.</p> <p>At an unrelated news conference in late August, de Blasio said he had stopped meeting with lobbyists, chiefly James Capalino, a top lobbyist and advisor to the mayor. “He, going into the mayoralty, was someone I respected as a friend and who I talked to a lot over the years,” de Blasio said. “But I do not have contact with him anymore.”</p> <p>September 2016: Two media outlets -- NY1 and the New York Post -- <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/two-media-outlets-sue-bill-de-blasio-in-freedom-of-information-case-1473375298" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sue</a> the mayor for the release of emails exchanged with Jonathan Rosen, of the consulting firm Berlin Rosen, who is one of the mayor’s “agents of the city.”</p> <p>That month, the City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6545-city-council-drafting-bills-to-regulate-political-nonprofits-like-campaign-for-one-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">begins</a> drafting legislation to regulate political nonprofits like the Campaign for One New York. Multiple bills were formulated to implement additional disclosure rules for these groups and to bring them under the purview of the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>October 2016: After weeks of criticizing the New York Post for their coverage of his administration, de Blasio repeatedly ignores Post reporter Yoav Gonen’s questions at an October 6 news conference. Gonen presses on with questions, leading to heated words from the mayor, who calls the Post a “right-wing rag” before moving on to other reporters. The incident earns the mayor widespread condemnation from local media.</p> <p>That same month, amid increasing criticism over the administration’s stance on Section 50-A, de Blasio releases a legislative proposal calling on Albany to amend the law to remove confidentiality provisions and make the full disciplinary records of officer available to the public. “Without significant changes to this statute, the city remains barred from providing New Yorkers with the transparency we deserve," the mayor <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/820-16/mayor-de-blasio-outlines-core-principles-legislation-make-disciplinary-records-law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>.</p> <p>November 2016: The Council introduces legislation to curb political nonprofits, particularly limiting contributions from entities and individuals with business before the city. Nonprofit groups would also have to disclose their donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>On November 23, the administration releases thousands of pages of emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and Jonathan Rosen, who was among those classified as “agents of the city” to prevent disclosure.</p> <p>At a November 29 news conference, de Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6643-de-blasio-limits-government-contact-with-top-outside-advisor" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">indicated</a> to the press that he had reduced contact with Rosen. “I think it’s fair to say that it’s pretty rare I’m talking to people, but each situation is individual,” he said at the time.</p> <p>December 2016: On his weekly <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2016/12/5/mondays-with-the-mayor--agents-no-more.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance on NY1</a> on December 5, de Blasio tells anchor Errol Louis that his communications with outside advisors and consultants will no longer be shielded from disclosure. &nbsp;</p> <p>On December 15, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/nyregion/bill-de-blasio-investigation.html?mcubz=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times reports</a> that two grand juries have been convened to hear testimony on the state and federal investigations into the mayor’s administration and fundraising. De Blasio continues to maintain that he and his associates acted legally and appropriately, following guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board and from campaign lawyers.</p> <p>March 2017: Federal and state prosecutors jointly <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6812-de-blasio-and-aides-won-t-face-charges-in-dual-investigations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> on March 17 that de Blasio and his aides would not face charges in the dual year-long investigations into the administration. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance criticized the mayor in a statement, saying that de Blasio and his associates violated the spirit and intent of the campaign finance law. Joon H. Kim, acting-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, noted that the investigation looked into “several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the City, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors.”</p> <p>De Blasio, at a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/158-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-holds-press-conference-the-federal-budget-city-hall" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">news conference</a> that day, said the conclusion of the investigations “simply confirms what I’ve said all along. My staff and my colleagues and I have acted in a manner that was legal and appropriate and ethical throughout. This is something I feel very strongly about in public service – that we have to comport ourselves in the proper manner and we have done that, and that has been confirmed by the results of this investigation.”</p> <p>Also in March, a Manhattan appeals court <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/city-wins-two-cases-keep-police-discipline-records-secret/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules in favor</a> of the de Blasio administration in the case of Officer Pantaleo’s disciplinary record, superseding two earlier lower court decisions that had allowed the release of some information.</p> <p>April 2017: After months of delaying his promise to provide a list of donors who did not receive favored treatment from City Hall, de Blasio partly backtracks and insists that he will pen an op-ed by the end of April that would mention certain relevant instances. (He had been hesitant to release the list earlier, citing the ongoing investigations.)</p> <p>August 2017: The de Blasio administration releases more emails that show two donors who were embroiled in a police corruption scandal had relatively easy access to the mayor. &nbsp;</p> <p>At the first Democratic mayoral primary debate on August 23, de Blasio concedes that the op-ed on donors is forthcoming and would be released before the September 12 primary. On September 1, de Blasio delivers in the form of <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a post on Medium</a>, an online publishing website. The post reads more as a screed against the media and contains only four instances involving unnamed donors to illustrate the mayor’s point. Some of those had emerged from emails released by the administration earlier in the month.</p> <p>“Media reports on these contacts fixated on their access to me and ignored the fair and transparent outcomes that followed,” the mayor writes. “Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City. Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>September 6: The second mayoral primary debate begins with a heavy focus on de Blasio’s ethics.</p> <p>September 12: De Blasio handily wins the Democratic primary for mayor.</p> <p>November 7: Election Day</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/36293022713_309bde7089_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio City Hall " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong><em>This article is part of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a> as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>It is a source of great frustration for Mayor Bill de Blasio and hangs over his administration and reelection bid as an albatross. Observers across the political spectrum, including Democratic and Republican opponents in this year’s mayoral race, have attacked de Blasio for blurring or crossing ethical lines, and for lacking transparency.</p> <p>De Blasio rode into power promising the most transparent administration in the city’s history, but his nearly four years in office have been marked by continuing questions and controversies over both his administration’s opaqueness and ethics, highlighted by twin law enforcement investigations into fundraising practices and government favors for campaign donors. The incumbent Democratic mayor, seeking reelection this fall, has repeatedly argued that he and his associates have carried themselves ethically and that he has done more disclosure than his predecessors and other high-level officials.</p> <p>Yet, along with his electoral opponents, political observers, government reform advocates, and City Council members also say de Blasio’s rhetoric has not been backed by action and that his record on transparency and ethics has been, at best, a mixed bag.</p> <p>In endorsing him in the Democratic primary, the New York Times editorial board <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/05/opinion/editorials/mayoral-endorsement-bill-deblasio.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, “A political operative before he ran for public office, Mr. de Blasio has not shaken free of detractors’ suspicions about his ethical compass. He was subjected to both federal and state investigations into whether he presides over a pay-to-play system that favors well-heeled donors seeking favors from City Hall. Ultimately, no charges were brought against him or his aides. Though the mayor declared he had been vindicated, the Manhattan district attorney concluded that some of his fund-raising appeared to have violated “the intent and spirit” of the law. That’s a far cry from Mr. de Blasio’s claim to have been pronounced “innocent.”</p> <p>De Blasio was indeed chastised by federal and state prosecutors, who, while they did not bring charges against him or his associates, investigated their actions and outlined problematic practices, some of which led to new city laws limiting certain fundraising activities that the mayor and his team engaged in. De Blasio has claimed that he and his aides have held themselves to the highest standards, but he has regularly raised those standards when pushed.</p> <p>Part of the mayor’s pushback against criticisms has been that he and his associates have always had good motives, like expanding pre-kindergarten, and that a political nonprofit his allies ran to support his agenda disclosed more than required. Though he has been dogged by questions from members of the media, de Blasio readily points out that regular New Yorkers don’t often ask him about his fundraising practices or release of email records when they have the opportunity to question him at town halls or radio call-in segments.</p> <p>“People never bring up the issues from the investigations, because I think there was a broad understanding in the public that there was an immense amount of scrutiny that found absolutely nothing wrong,” he said in a recent <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/09/bill-de-blasio-in-conversation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Magazine</a> interview, mischaracterizing the facts given that while no charges were brought, prosecutors did indicate that the mayor and his associates had blurred or crossed ethical lines. “Everyday New Yorkers are much more concerned with kitchen-table issues. Some political insiders, maybe they’ve come to certain conclusions. But for everyday New Yorkers? They didn’t see anything wrong, and they’re right, because there wasn’t anything wrong.”</p> <p>As de Blasio asks New Yorkers for four more years, ethics and transparency will continue to be a focus of criticism from his general election opponents and others, while the mayor will defend himself and attempt to point to stronger aspects of his record. But the record of how he and his administration have conducted themselves when it comes to playing by the rules, separating political fundraising and governing, and providing the public with both ethical and transparent government is very much worth chronicling and examining as voters evaluate their choices this November.</p> <p>Mayoral spokespeople Eric Phillips and Austin Finan agreed to speak with Gotham Gazette for this story, but, other than a brief conversation to discuss the premise of the article, no comment was provided.</p> <p>The most recent Quinnipiac University public opinion poll that included a question about de Blasio's&nbsp;ethics, published at the end of July, <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">showed</a> New York City voters saying 52 to 35 percent that he is honest and trustworthy, down from 59 to 31 percent in May. Still, the 52 was up from the lowest rating de Blasio has received in a Quinnipiac poll over his four years as mayor: amid intense controversy in May 2016, 43 percent <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/images/polling/nyc/nyc07312017_trends_N79jmpp.pdf/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> he is honest and trustworthy, while 45 percent said he is not. The highest de Blasio's honesty was rated by voters eight months into his tenure, when the balance was 66 to 22 in his favor.</p> <p><strong>Selective Transparency</strong><br /> In his former role as public advocate, de Blasio championed transparency and took the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to task for its apparent lack thereof. De Blasio disclosed meetings with lobbyists and implemented tools to track Freedom of Information Law requests, while criticizing the Bloomberg administration for its lax FOIL response time.</p> <p>Fast forward nearly four years and the same official who urged increased disclosure by Bloomberg has been reticent to show the same commitment in his own operations on FOIL responsiveness speed and other things like police discipline records and emails with top non-governmental advisors. For example, as public advocate, de Blasio recommended legislation requiring the mayor to include FOIL response statistics in the annual Mayor’s Management Report, but it is not something de Blasio has done as mayor himself.</p> <p>Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, de Blasio's second-in-command, recently conceded at a New York Law School breakfast that the administration could improve it's record on FOIL requests. "I don't think we've done as good as job on that as we could have," he said, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/10/13/de-blasio-deputy-mayor-says-blaming-predecessor-is-not-productive-115038" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York reported</a>. "But I can't tell you we've gotten good enough. ... Our open data initiative has been, I think, one of the stronger ones in the country. ... Fundamentally, the more data that we can put out there so people don't have to say, 'May I,' but can do their own analytics, is the way to do."</p> <p>On August 23, at the first of two mayoral debates in the Democratic primary, de Blasio was asked by debate panelist and NY1 reporter Grace Rauh about steps he would take to improve transparency in a second term, should he be reelected, or if he considered any improvements unnecessary. As he often does, the mayor disagreed with the premise of the question, and pivoted toward touting his record on transparency. “Anytime a lobbyist lobbied me on behalf of a third party I put that up online so that people know exactly who talked to me when. I did that,” de Blasio said. “No other mayor’s done that before in our history. I’m in favor of the kind of transparency that’s gonna make life different for everyday New Yorkers like body cameras for all of our patrol officers over the next two years. This is one of the ultimate acts of transparency and accountability in government.”</p> <p>He added, “Past administrations did not disclose all sorts of things. I’ve made it a point to be open about disclosure. Some areas where I disagree specifically I do not think it was appropriate to disclose but compared to previous administrations we’ve gone a long way and a lot farther in terms of openness and disclosure and transparency....No mayor previously had that level of transparency and I’m very proud of the fact that we put that in place in the city. When it comes to tough questions, well it’s a tough job as part of what I’d expect as mayor of New York City.”</p> <p>It was a far from satisfactory answer for de Blasio’s only opponent on the debate stage, former City Council Member Sal Albanese. “I’m just incredulous,” Albanese responded. “This administration is the least transparent administration in recent history,” he added (it is not an easy comparison to make).</p> <p>“We should have a higher standard for the mayor than not being indicted,” Albanese said repeatedly during the debates and the primary campaign.</p> <p>Government watchdog groups have also found that de Blasio reneged on his campaign pledges around core good governance, though there has been acknowledgement that the administration has implemented certain policies that have enhanced transparency, including related to data generated by city government.</p> <p>For instance, the city has continued and expanded the implementation of the Open Data law, launching a redesigned <a href="https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">online portal</a> with thousands of datasets available to the public. The administration has launched <a href="https://a860-openrecords.nyc.gov" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">OpenRECORDS</a>, a centralized website to file and track FOIL requests with numerous city agencies. These advancements, while notable, do not capture the full picture of mayoral transparency, however.</p> <p>Early on in his term, the mayor began limiting interactions with the press, eschewing the daily news briefings that previous mayors had traditionally held and restricting occasions when he would take “off-topic” questions. It earned him scorn from detractors in and out of the media, and, almost cyclically, reinforced his derision for reporters who grew frustrated with the dearth of unfettered, unscripted responses to their questions.</p> <p>“There’s a Trump-like quality in his whining about the media,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, CUNY. “He’s got the same disease as the President.”</p> <p>“There’s a lot the citizenry could find praiseworthy in his record,” Muzzio added, “but the two main issues are his transparency and political ethics, and his sense of self-aggrandizement where everything is ‘historic’ and ‘transformative.’ The problem is the distance between rhetoric and reality.”</p> <p>Muzzio also noted that the administration has released a lot more data than previous mayoralties, which has been useful for analysis of city agencies. “It’s the personal transparency, rather than institutional transparency, that’s lacking,” Muzzio said of de Blasio.</p> <p>One example of rhetoric versus reality was a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-defend-boastful-video-decried-watchdogs-article-1.2926739" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">promotional video</a> put out in December 2016 by City Hall that touted the administration’s accomplishments, as it was mired in the two investigations that had captured headlines for months. Good government groups criticized the mayor at the time for effectively putting out a campaign ad shortly before the start of an election year during which government-funded advertisements would have been prohibited. The mayor fielded questions about the ad for weeks and grew frustrated by another example of what he has perceived as reporters’ fixation on trivial matters at the expense of spreading all the “good news” that is happening as a result of his policies.</p> <p>At the August 23 debate, prompted by NY1’s Rauh, de Blasio pledged that he would not set up another issue-advocacy nonprofit like the Campaign for One New York, which was at the center of one of the two investigations into his administration. It was something the mayor had previously said he didn’t plan to do and had in fact signed a new law making virtually impossible. In making the pledge, he reiterated that he faced tough questions about his ethical conduct purely because he was willing to voluntarily disclose who had donated to the nonprofit group and how much.</p> <p>“If you know you did things right you disclose,” he said. “If you’ve got something to hide, you don’t disclose. That’s what we did over and over again with donations that we did not have a legal obligation to disclose but we went ahead and disclosed anyway and I’m proud of that fact.”</p> <p>But, the mayor’s approach to disclosure has been highly selective. For the better part of two years, media outlets have pushed, and NY1 and the New York Post even sued, the administration for access to emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and unpaid outside advisors. The mayor’s team has shielded those communications, terming the advisors “agents of the city” who would not be subject to disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law that typically apply to correspondence between government officials and non-government entities. Exceptions to FOIL exist for intra-governmental communication that is part of the decision-making process, but de Blasio and his team argued that the advisors were so close to City Hall and the mayor that they were de facto members of the administration.</p> <p>Eventually, the mayor relented to an extent, and troves of emails, numbering in the thousands and many of them significantly redacted, have been released on numerous occasions, usually in Friday “news dumps.” The administration is still in court appealing the decision to release the emails, but the mayor pledged in March to release all communications going forward. The emails have not shown wrongdoing, but rather painted the administration, and the mayor particularly, in an unflattering light at times. Some showed de Blasio’s harsh treatment of underlings while others revealed his proximity and degree of access afforded to donors, including controversial ones.</p> <p>Watchdogs have pointed out that with the Campaign for One New York and the “agents of the city,” de Blasio has created his own problems by blurring lines and limiting transparency. By inviting massive donations to the nonprofit from entities with city business, de Blasio opened the door to pay-to-play allegations, and even the federal investigation. Under intense scrutiny, the mayor wound up promising extensive evidence of donors who did not get favorable treatment from city government -- a promise he eventually admitted he regretted -- but after months of delays, he produced a column on the online publishing platform Medium that left many wanting for more detail.</p> <p><strong>Big Money for the ‘Right’ Causes</strong><br /> As public advocate, de Blasio urged big corporations to adopt policies against funding political action committees and organized elected officials dedicated to that cause. He filed a legal brief in federal court arguing against the removal of limits to donations to PACs and he railed against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed untold amounts of money from undisclosed donors to flood electoral campaigns.</p> <p>“Deep-pocketed donors have turned their sights on New York and our best-in-the-nation campaign finance system,” de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/PAC" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>, in a statement on Oct. 3, 2013, when he filed the amicus brief. “They’re determined to upend protections that have safeguarded our democratic process for decades. This is about more than one election. It’s about defending the voices of everyday New Yorkers. It’s a fight we are going to win.”</p> <p>While de Blasio has continued to rail against Citizens United and call for full public campaign financing, the mayor has not aggressively pursued such a system in New York and the same politician who has long decried wealthy moneyed interests influencing government relied on them to promote his own political agenda while mayor.</p> <p>De Blasio came into office with a come-from-behind primary win and a general election landslide. He had the wind at his back and attempted to take on the world, so to speak. This led to the creation of the controversial nonprofit and a 2014 effort to swing the state Senate Democratic that got him in trouble, along with other actions that have hurt his reputation for openness and clean government.</p> <p>Within a month of the mayor’s election, his allies set up a political nonprofit group called UPKNYC, later branded The Campaign for One New York, to promote the goal of universal pre-kindergarten in the city, which in part depended on state-level approval. After achieving its initial goal -- de Blasio favored a tax on the rich to fund the proposal but settled for direct funding from the state -- the group pivoted to promoting the mayor’s affordable housing plan. All along, the 501(c)4 organization solicited unlimited donations, many from wealthy donors and labor unions that also had business with the city. The group did voluntarily disclose its finances and donors every six months.</p> <p>Scrutiny of its activities, and the mayor’s fundraising for it and possible exchange of government favors, helped trigger one of the two separate corruption investigations, a federal probe into allegations of pay-to-play at City Hall --- the second was a state-level inquiry into whether the mayor’s attempt to sway state Senate races for Democratic candidates in 2014 had violated election law by funneling big donations to candidate campaigns through local Democratic committees.</p> <p>The mayor maintained throughout that he and his associates had acted under strict legal guidance and had followed the letter of the law, and both probes eventually concluded with no charges. But the stench of scandal remained as the Manhattan U.S. attorney concluded that the mayor, though not crossing into clear criminal activity, had sought contributions from donors and then had “made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies” on behalf of those donors.</p> <p>De Blasio defended this as typical practice and even good government -- that any constituent, whether a donor or not, who brings a concern to him is directed to someone in the administration who may be able to help, but that the relevant powers make decisions based on the merits, not relationships. What has been abundantly clear, however, is that de Blasio donors have enjoyed special access to and attention from the mayor and his administration.</p> <p>De Blasio also regularly made the case that the ends justified the means, that because he was fighting for universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing, his skirting of campaign finance rules and blurring of lines was acceptable. The contradiction became especially evident when de Blasio agreed to sign legislation pushed by the City Council, notably Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a close de Blasio ally, to drastically limit political nonprofits with ties to elected officials. De Blasio would explain that it was “the right thing to do” but did lament that he felt it might hamstring progressive politicians with good intentions like himself in the ongoing fight against opposing big-money interests.</p> <p>At the second Democratic mayoral primary debate on <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzIfDLHon-c" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">September 6</a>, debate moderator Maurice DuBois of CBS-2 put the mayor on his heels with the first question, about his apparent ethical failings. “Mr. de Blasio, here’s a true story,” DuBois began. “A political leader and his associates used pay-for-play tactics...but were not charged with a crime. However, state and federal prosecutors insist those people did violate the intent and spirit of the law. While there were no criminal charges, would you want people like that working for you?”</p> <p>A defensive de Blasio again stood by his administration’s efforts and the policy goals that they achieved, and insisted that he and his associates had been vindicated by the intense scrutiny by prosecutors that nevertheless found no wrongdoing. “I look at everything that we’ve done and I’m very convinced that high standards were kept to and the results speak for themselves in terms of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we’ve improved,” he said. “That’s what I came here to do, make people’s lives better.”</p> <p>Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, said she is “torn” over the mayor’s first-term scandals. “Part of me is just wondering, ‘is this the cost of doing business as a politician in the 21st century if you’re not a billionaire?’” she said, drawing a contrast with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg who did not have to depend on donors for his own campaigns. “Part of me thinks, ‘Well if you don’t have billions to contribute on your own, do you possibly have to get that from unsavory characters and make alliances and depend on people who have resources?’ But the other part of me wonders, ‘Wow, it seems like we’re always asking about some sort of potential wrongdoing.’”</p> <p>Greer’s conflict seems to be indicative of that of at least several prominent Democrats, including officials like Comptroller Scott Stringer, who criticized the Campaign for One New York as a “slush fund” but wound up endorsing the mayor for reelection, citing his progressivism in fighting inequality. For some time, Stringer was considering a mayoral run, either against de Blasio or in the event de Blasio did not seek reelection due to results from the investigations that did not materialize.</p> <p>Greer emphasized that de Blasio’s ethics record should not be conflated with his transparency, even though the two are sometimes drawn in “concentric circles.” She noted that de Blasio’s refusal to take questions from the press simply raises more concerns about what else he isn’t being transparent about. “I genuinely do not understand why there are times that de Blasio makes life much harder for himself than he has to...He brought that on himself,” she said. She did agree that perhaps everyday New Yorkers don’t care about issues of transparency that “get into the weeds,” but said he couldn’t dismiss the concerns of those who do. “By you not wanting to answer it, you can’t wish it away by saying nobody’s interested,” she said. “Yes, we are interested.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s criticism of and condescension towards the media was on full display in the <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">column</a> he wrote on Medium, where he attempted to defend himself against pay-to-play allegations and special access for donors. The column, promised by de Blasio more than a year prior, was meant to illustrate instances of donors who sought favors from the administration but were denied. In the face of allegations and investigations, de Blasio had promised “a whole lot of evidence” of donors not getting the action they desired from the city. De Blasio provided little evidence in his Medium column, but went after the media with gusto.</p> <p>“Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City,” de Blasio wrote of the coverage of his contact with donors. “Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>The column contained few examples and no names, and largely blamed the media for over-inflating the scandals that have plagued de Blasio’s tenure. “It was a non-explanation, he gave a few examples of dubious quality,” Muzzio said with an exasperated sigh, noting how the mayor looked down his nose at the press.</p> <p>Some top Democratic elected officials have been hesitant to criticize the mayor openly, save for Stringer and a few others. Public Advocate Letitia James, de Blasio’s successor and whose office is meant to serve as a watchdog over city government, declined to comment for this article through a spokesperson. James has largely stayed away from questions about de Blasio’s ethics and transparency issues, explaining her approach as more focused on the substance of agency work and using litigation and legislation to make policy change.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, ostensibly the second-most powerful elected official in the city, deflected when asked about the mayor’s defense of the Campaign for One New York and his transparency, at a news conference on Sept. 7, when the mayor’s ethics record was being argued over both on the primary election debate stage and throughout the ongoing race for mayor.</p> <p>“We continue to have conversations in this Council and we continue to look at legislation to figure out how we can be more transparent,” she said. “That doesn’t just fall on the mayor, that falls on all of us to be more transparent in government.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito emphasized the Council’s measures to improve the Campaign Finance Board’s functioning and the laws governing campaign fundraising and spending. “Being a candidate and being an elected official is not easy,” she said. “The CFB rules are extremely complicated to follow and sometimes to keep track of and so sometimes you can get a little bit lost in them.”</p> <p>When Gotham Gazette pointed out that the mayor’s Campaign for One New York operated outside of the CFB’s purview and asked if looking back on it she felt it was still ethical for the mayor to have created the group, Mark-Viverito said, “I’m not gonna respond to that at this moment. I haven’t really focused on it as of late. Again, what we strive to do is to be accountable to our constituents and that’s what I have been doing as an elected official, that’s what we do each and everyday and I’m gonna continue to strive down that path.”</p> <p>Though she was quite reticent to weigh in on the issue when it was most relevant, Mark-Viverito did eventually spearhead the writing and passage of the legislation to rein in groups like Campaign for One New York, forcing the mayor’s hand on a measure that ensures few like it will ever exist in the future, given several new restrictions, like severe limits on what entities with city business can donate to nonprofits closely associated with an elected official. Even during that legislative process, Mark-Viverito, largely a de Blasio ally, took pains not to criticize the mayor directly, while tacitly and legislatively showing her disapproval. In signing the legislation, de Blasio refused to acknowledge that he had made any mistakes, but touted it as good legislation further reigning in money in politics.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, who is among a number of members running to be the next speaker of the Council, also gave a quasi-defense of the mayor. “I think he has to be judged by the fact that there was extensive scrutiny with considerable resources at multiple levels of government, local and federal, that left no stone unturned and determined there was not ground to charge,” he told Gotham Gazette, “and that at the end of the day is the most important standard and one that he justifiably touts, particularly in light of the months of leaks which gave him bad press for issues which ultimately were not deemed sufficient to charge on.”</p> <p>But multiple City Council members, who did not wish to be named, felt differently. Separately, they gave similar opinions to one another, criticizing the mayor’s hypocrisy on transparency, his handling of the “agents of the city” emails, and his continued arrogance over escaping an indictment.</p> <p>One Council member said the mayor was “vulnerable” on issues of transparency and that he faced “justifiable criticism” over his shielding of his emails, which did not seem at all legally defensible. The months of bad headlines, said the Council member, led to a “bunker mentality” and the mayor and his associates dug in their heels deeper. (Indeed, de Blasio has reopened himself to many more press questions since the investigations ended.)</p> <p>Two Council members said the mayor’s shielding of his emails was largely an exercise in protecting his image rather than hiding instances of corruption. “It’s clear they are well aware of who their friends are,” said one member, of the mayor’s relationship with donors. The <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/emails-reveal-another-side-of-bill-de-blasio-1466038087" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wall Street Journal</a> has reported that the contents of some of the “agents of the city” emails are especially gossipy and embarrassing.</p> <p>Another Council member commended the press as the institution, more so than the City Council, that has most held the mayor accountable, and criticized the mayor for attacking the media’s reportage. The member noted that the Council did not use its subpoena power and did not act on the Campaign for One New York until after Common Cause NY, a good government group, filed an official complaint with the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>That Council member also critiqued the mayor for not revealing who administration officials hold meetings with, an issue on which de Blasio had campaigned, and for not fully implementing the online FOIL portal. On the mayor’s Medium post, the Council member said, “It’s a little too cute to tell folks exactly who did what without using their names.”</p> <p><strong>‘Backwards on Police Transparency’</strong><br /> In April 2013, then-Public Advocate de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/foil/report" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">released</a> a “Transparency Report Card” that evaluated 18 city agencies on their response to FOIL requests. The two agencies that received a failing grade were the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the NYPD. A <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/04/11/in-de-blasios-new-york-transparency-laws-mean-nothing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Village Voice</a> analysis from April of the de Blasio administration’s handling of FOIL records showed that little had changed in more than three years. “A review of thousands of pages of FOIL records shows the city’s system for handling public information requests remains haphazard, under-resourced, and often excruciatingly slow. And the mayor’s own office is the slowest of all,” the report reads.</p> <p>The mayor’s earlier criticism of the NYPD’s opaqueness perhaps most smacks of hypocrisy to police reform advocates who say his administration has not only not made progress, but actually backtracked on transparency at the police department. The NYPD, and then de Blasio, last year contended that successive administrations had for decades misinterpreted Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Code, which protects the personnel records of police officers from public disclosure. As the department saw it, the law prevents them from releasing “personnel orders” that summarize disciplinary actions taken against officers. These orders had routinely been released until the revised policy was put in place, and the city has fought tooth and nail to uphold its reinterpretation of the law, even appealing an unfavorable judicial ruling, and has pointed to the need for the state to change the law. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The de Blasio administration has taken the city backwards on police transparency and accountability with its misuse of state law 50-a to conceal information,” said Lumumba Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocacy groups. Bandele noted that, though the mayor released a proposal to change the law in Albany, there was little evidence that the administration made it a priority in this year’s legislative session. “On policing, this administration is misusing the law as an excuse for being less transparent than those of Bloomberg and Giuliani,” she added, “allowing the NYPD to shield police abuse and corruption from public scrutiny, and failing to provide leadership to improve police accountability and transparency.”</p> <p>The notion -- that the de Blasio administration has been worse about NYPD transparency and accountability -- is one that was also echoed this year by City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is a de Blasio supporter overall.</p> <p><strong>Scrutiny and Change</strong><br /> Undoubtedly, scrutiny of the mayor’s actions led to change in his behavior. He stopped communicating with top lobbyists who were close to him and began to limit government-related interaction with outside consultants, particularly Jonathan Rosen, a confidante who was involved in the mayor’s 2013 campaign and the Campaign for One New York, and whose firm is again working on the mayor’s 2017 reelection bid. The scandals also prompted the legislation by the City Council -- which the mayor signed into law -- regulating donations to nonprofit groups affiliated with elected officials and requiring disclosure by these groups under the oversight of the Conflicts of Interest Board. And, de Blasio changed his “agency of the city” email transparency policy as he continues to battle in court to keep past emails secret.</p> <p>But it’s unclear if the mayor, who won his primary handily and is expected to coast to reelection through the general, will take substantive steps to be more transparent. “[If] he gets a second term, I can’t see him as a lame duck being more transparent, so I think that’s a concern,” said Greer.</p> <p>There’s no doubt that de Blasio’s general election opponents, chiefly Republican Nicole Malliotakis, a state Assembly member from Staten Island, will continue to make de Blasio’s ethics a focus of the campaign. The question remains, though, how much voters care. Political analysts note that most voters do not vote based on transparency and ethics issues unless there is a major scandal that has led someone to jail. Voters often vote based on “pocket book” and “kitchen table” issues like jobs, schools, and crime -- a point de Blasio himself regularly acknowledges at least tacitly.</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, who was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation regulating political nonprofits, said it was more constructive to focus on the political system that allows, and in some way encourages, reliance on wealthy donors. “If we want elected officials in New York City to live up to a higher standard of good government, then the best approach is to strengthen our own rules,” he said. “That’s more valuable than focusing on individuals.”</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>A TIMELINE of MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS RELATED to MAYOR DE BLASIO'S RECORD on ETHICS and TRANSPARENCY</p> <p>November 2013: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio gets elected mayor of New York City after running a campaign in which he promised an unprecedented level of transparency in government. As Public Advocate, de Blasio issued a “Transparency Report Card” evaluating city agencies on their response to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. He chiefly criticized the NYPD for their lax FOIL response times, giving them a failing grade in his report.</p> <p>December 2013: De Blasio’s allies set up UPKNYC, also known as the Campaign for One New York, an issue-advocacy nonprofit -- classified by the IRS as 501(c)(4)s -- that could solicit unlimited contributions and spend unlimited funds to promote the mayor’s agenda, namely promoting universal pre-kindergarten. Under law, the nonprofit was not required to disclose its donors. The mayor’s associates later set up another nonprofit called United For Affordable NYC, to promote his affordable housing plan. The Campaign for One New York eventually became the locus of two parallel investigations by federal and state prosecutors into the mayor’s fundraising practices and his effort to sway state Senate races in 2014.</p> <p>July 2014: The Campaign for One New York voluntarily discloses its fundraising and donors to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and to the public, despite not being required to do so, showing $1.76 million in donations, a lot of which came from labor unions that have been big supporters of the mayor and from groups that do business with the city. The mayor faced scrutiny for allowing doing business donors to give unlimited amounts, whereas those same donors would’ve been limited in how much they could contribute to a campaign committee. The Campaign for One New York later shifted its focus towards the mayor’s larger progressive agenda, particularly affordable housing, after having already achieved the goal of funding universal pre-kindergarten in the city.</p> <p>May 2015: De Blasio heads to Washington D.C. to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/in-washington-de-blasio-unveils-his-progressive-agenda-campaign.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">launch</a> “The Progressive Agenda,” a platform of progressive policies that he attempted to advocate for at the national level to try to influence issues in the presidential race. Another nonprofit, the Progressive Agenda Committee, is set up by October 2015 to helm the project. The group would have little to no impact before <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/07/progressive-agenda-committee-spends-418-298-but-has-no-staff-and-didnt-do-anything-103906" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">shutting down</a> within less than a year, only making headlines for an aborted attempt at holding a presidential candidate forum in Iowa in December 2015.</p> <p>The same day de Blasio was in Washington, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/group-supporting-de-blasios-agenda-is-said-to-draw-interest-of-ethics-panel.html?ref=nyregion&amp;_r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times</a> reports that the Campaign for One New York has come under scrutiny by JCOPE for not registering as a lobbying entity. In 2014, UPKNYC had registered as a lobbyist to promote universal pre-k.</p> <p>July 2015: Yet again, the Campaign for One New York discloses its fundraising, showing another $1.7 million in fundraising over a six-month period. The donations came from unions, lobbyists, wealthy donors and real estate executives. A <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2015/09/the-transactional-mayor-returns-025908" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a> analysis in September shows that 46 of 74 donors “either had business or labor contracts with City Hall or were trying to secure approval for a project when they contributed, public records show.” Over the next few months, de Blasio faces constant questioning about potential conflicts of interest and the perception of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall. The nonprofit groups also seem to slow down their operations and fundraising amid increased criticism.</p> <p>Feb 2016: Common Cause New York, a government reform advocacy group, files <a href="http://www.commoncause.org/states/new-york/press/press-releases/coib-cfb-review-of-deblasio-fundraiser.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a complaint</a> with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board, requesting investigations of the Campaign for One New York and United for Affordable NYC. “The Mayor's unprecedented use of 501(c)(4) fundraising has spawned a shadow government that raises serious questions about who has influence and access to the policymaking process,” Common Cause NY said in a statement at the time. “It has created a perpetual campaign, confusing the role of government and politics, to the detriment of the public interest.”</p> <p>March 2016: The Campaign for One New York <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/political-organization-tied-to-nyc-mayor-bill-de-blasio-is-closing-1458208801" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announces</a> plans to close down as the spectre of pay-to-play allegations begins to hound the administration. United for Affordable NYC ends operations in conjunction, but the Progressive Agenda Committee continues to exist with minimal staff.</p> <p>April 2016: Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reportedly</a> begins looking into two de Blasio donors, in connection with a separate corruption case involving the NYPD. Both donors contributed to the mayor’s campaign as well and were part of his inauguration committee. CBS2’s Marcia Kramer <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reports</a> that Bharara’s office had started focusing on the mayor’s fundraising practices. Mayor de Blasio, saying he was unaware of any federal investigation, says on April 11, “I’m not going to be speaking about this after today.”</p> <p>On April 22, the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-gamed-donation-limits-hid-names-board-elections-article-1.2611406?utm_content=buffer3ac9b&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=NYDailyNewsTw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reports on a leaked memo from the state Board of Elections regarding the mayor’s 2014 efforts to help Democrats win the state Senate. The memo alleges that de Blasio and his team circumvented campaign contribution limits to benefit three Democratic campaigns, thereby warranting criminal prosecution. (It would later emerge that the memo was released by a Republican BOE spokesperson.)</p> <p>On April 28, after de Blasio’s counsel confirms having received subpoenas in parallel state and federal investigations into the mayor’s fundraising, de Blasio maintains his innocence. “Everything we’ve done from the beginning is legal and appropriate,” he said. “There’s an investigation going on, we’re going to fully cooperate with that investigation.”</p> <p>May 2016: A lawyer for the Campaign for One New York tells JCOPE that the nonprofit would stop complying with subpoenas, suggesting that the probe into CONY has become politically motivated.</p> <p>On May 18, Mayor de Blasio promises to produce a list of donors who contributed to the Campaign for One New York but did not receive favors from City Hall, insisting that his administration makes decision based on merit and not on favoritism.</p> <p>The same month, de Blasio comes under fire for shielding his email exchanges with five unpaid outside advisers, some of whom have business with the city. The administration terms them “agents of the city” and <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/05/de-blasio-lists-advisers-he-considers-exempt-from-transparency-law-101954" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">argues</a> that they are exempt from disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law.</p> <p>June 2016: The administration releases selected emails from outside consultants to <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/06/city-hall-releases-selective-emails-with-outside-consulting-firm-102771" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a>, in response to long-pending FOIL requests.</p> <p>July 2016: The New York City Campaign Finance Board <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6426-campaign-finance-board-rules-in-mayor-s-favor-while-criticizing-him" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules</a> that the Campaign for One New York did not violate campaign finance law and that donations and spending by the group do not count towards the mayor’s 2017 reelection campaign. But, the board criticized the mayor’s fundraising practices, which they saw as circumventing the city’s strict campaign finance restrictions, and called on the City Council to pass legislation to close the loophole. &nbsp;</p> <p>“New York City’s system depends on reasonable contribution limits that reduce the appearance that influence can be bought or sold through campaign contributions,” said then-CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn. “It defies common sense that limits that work so well during the campaign should be set aside once the candidate has assumed elected office.”</p> <p>August 2016: A battle brewing in the background for months over NYPD officers’ disciplinary records came front and center as the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/exclusive-nypd-stops-releasing-cops-disciplinary-records-article-1.2764145" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reported that the department would no longer release “personnel orders” summarizing disciplinary actions against officers. Then-Commissioner Bill Bratton insisted that the city had long misinterpreted a decades-old state law -- Section 50-A of the New York State civil rights code-- that had led to the release of officer records. The law has been a particular sticking point for police reform advocates incensed over the administration’s efforts to protect the disciplinary record of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a banned chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014. Mayor de Blasio, whose administration has been fighting for well over two years to shield Pantaleo’s record, insisted his hands were tied on 50-A unless the state Legislature took action to change the provision.</p> <p>At an unrelated news conference in late August, de Blasio said he had stopped meeting with lobbyists, chiefly James Capalino, a top lobbyist and advisor to the mayor. “He, going into the mayoralty, was someone I respected as a friend and who I talked to a lot over the years,” de Blasio said. “But I do not have contact with him anymore.”</p> <p>September 2016: Two media outlets -- NY1 and the New York Post -- <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/two-media-outlets-sue-bill-de-blasio-in-freedom-of-information-case-1473375298" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sue</a> the mayor for the release of emails exchanged with Jonathan Rosen, of the consulting firm Berlin Rosen, who is one of the mayor’s “agents of the city.”</p> <p>That month, the City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6545-city-council-drafting-bills-to-regulate-political-nonprofits-like-campaign-for-one-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">begins</a> drafting legislation to regulate political nonprofits like the Campaign for One New York. Multiple bills were formulated to implement additional disclosure rules for these groups and to bring them under the purview of the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>October 2016: After weeks of criticizing the New York Post for their coverage of his administration, de Blasio repeatedly ignores Post reporter Yoav Gonen’s questions at an October 6 news conference. Gonen presses on with questions, leading to heated words from the mayor, who calls the Post a “right-wing rag” before moving on to other reporters. The incident earns the mayor widespread condemnation from local media.</p> <p>That same month, amid increasing criticism over the administration’s stance on Section 50-A, de Blasio releases a legislative proposal calling on Albany to amend the law to remove confidentiality provisions and make the full disciplinary records of officer available to the public. “Without significant changes to this statute, the city remains barred from providing New Yorkers with the transparency we deserve," the mayor <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/820-16/mayor-de-blasio-outlines-core-principles-legislation-make-disciplinary-records-law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>.</p> <p>November 2016: The Council introduces legislation to curb political nonprofits, particularly limiting contributions from entities and individuals with business before the city. Nonprofit groups would also have to disclose their donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>On November 23, the administration releases thousands of pages of emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and Jonathan Rosen, who was among those classified as “agents of the city” to prevent disclosure.</p> <p>At a November 29 news conference, de Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6643-de-blasio-limits-government-contact-with-top-outside-advisor" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">indicated</a> to the press that he had reduced contact with Rosen. “I think it’s fair to say that it’s pretty rare I’m talking to people, but each situation is individual,” he said at the time.</p> <p>December 2016: On his weekly <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2016/12/5/mondays-with-the-mayor--agents-no-more.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance on NY1</a> on December 5, de Blasio tells anchor Errol Louis that his communications with outside advisors and consultants will no longer be shielded from disclosure. &nbsp;</p> <p>On December 15, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/nyregion/bill-de-blasio-investigation.html?mcubz=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times reports</a> that two grand juries have been convened to hear testimony on the state and federal investigations into the mayor’s administration and fundraising. De Blasio continues to maintain that he and his associates acted legally and appropriately, following guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board and from campaign lawyers.</p> <p>March 2017: Federal and state prosecutors jointly <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6812-de-blasio-and-aides-won-t-face-charges-in-dual-investigations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> on March 17 that de Blasio and his aides would not face charges in the dual year-long investigations into the administration. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance criticized the mayor in a statement, saying that de Blasio and his associates violated the spirit and intent of the campaign finance law. Joon H. Kim, acting-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, noted that the investigation looked into “several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the City, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors.”</p> <p>De Blasio, at a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/158-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-holds-press-conference-the-federal-budget-city-hall" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">news conference</a> that day, said the conclusion of the investigations “simply confirms what I’ve said all along. My staff and my colleagues and I have acted in a manner that was legal and appropriate and ethical throughout. This is something I feel very strongly about in public service – that we have to comport ourselves in the proper manner and we have done that, and that has been confirmed by the results of this investigation.”</p> <p>Also in March, a Manhattan appeals court <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/city-wins-two-cases-keep-police-discipline-records-secret/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules in favor</a> of the de Blasio administration in the case of Officer Pantaleo’s disciplinary record, superseding two earlier lower court decisions that had allowed the release of some information.</p> <p>April 2017: After months of delaying his promise to provide a list of donors who did not receive favored treatment from City Hall, de Blasio partly backtracks and insists that he will pen an op-ed by the end of April that would mention certain relevant instances. (He had been hesitant to release the list earlier, citing the ongoing investigations.)</p> <p>August 2017: The de Blasio administration releases more emails that show two donors who were embroiled in a police corruption scandal had relatively easy access to the mayor. &nbsp;</p> <p>At the first Democratic mayoral primary debate on August 23, de Blasio concedes that the op-ed on donors is forthcoming and would be released before the September 12 primary. On September 1, de Blasio delivers in the form of <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a post on Medium</a>, an online publishing website. The post reads more as a screed against the media and contains only four instances involving unnamed donors to illustrate the mayor’s point. Some of those had emerged from emails released by the administration earlier in the month.</p> <p>“Media reports on these contacts fixated on their access to me and ignored the fair and transparent outcomes that followed,” the mayor writes. “Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City. Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>September 6: The second mayoral primary debate begins with a heavy focus on de Blasio’s ethics.</p> <p>September 12: De Blasio handily wins the Democratic primary for mayor.</p> <p>November 7: Election Day</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Representative vs. Substantive Representation 2017-08-15T04:00:00+00:00 2017-08-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7129:max-murphy-podcast-christina-greer-and-alexis-grenell Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/max-murphy-housing.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette</p> <hr /> <p><strong>August 15, 2017: Representative vs. Substantive Representation, with Dr. Christina Greer and Alexis Grenell</strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/podcast/grenell-max-greer-277-143.png" alt="grenell max greer" width="277" height="143" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />On this episode of the Max &amp; Murphy podcast we're without City Limits' Jarrett Murphy, who is on a much-deserved vacation, but joined by political analysts Dr. Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University, and Alexis Grenell, a Democratic strategist, founder of Pythia Public, and columnist on gender and politics.</p> <p>With our Ben Max, Greer and Grenell discussed issues commonly referred to as "identity politics" dealing with gender, race, elections, and government. The three talked about the mayoral race between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Nicole Malliotakis, the Republican nominee seeking to become the city's first female mayor; de Blasio's record on gender equity; the low number of women in the City Council and what's at stake in this year's elections; barriers to entry into politics for women; and more.</p> <p>Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a>&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/Dr_CMGreer" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@Dr_CMGreer</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/agrenell" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@agrenell</a>. You can hear the conversation&nbsp;through the embedded audio below or download it wherever you get your podcasts.</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/337981330&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/max-murphy-housing.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette</p> <hr /> <p><strong>August 15, 2017: Representative vs. Substantive Representation, with Dr. Christina Greer and Alexis Grenell</strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/podcast/grenell-max-greer-277-143.png" alt="grenell max greer" width="277" height="143" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />On this episode of the Max &amp; Murphy podcast we're without City Limits' Jarrett Murphy, who is on a much-deserved vacation, but joined by political analysts Dr. Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University, and Alexis Grenell, a Democratic strategist, founder of Pythia Public, and columnist on gender and politics.</p> <p>With our Ben Max, Greer and Grenell discussed issues commonly referred to as "identity politics" dealing with gender, race, elections, and government. The three talked about the mayoral race between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Nicole Malliotakis, the Republican nominee seeking to become the city's first female mayor; de Blasio's record on gender equity; the low number of women in the City Council and what's at stake in this year's elections; barriers to entry into politics for women; and more.</p> <p>Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a>&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/Dr_CMGreer" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@Dr_CMGreer</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/agrenell" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@agrenell</a>. You can hear the conversation&nbsp;through the embedded audio below or download it wherever you get your podcasts.</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/337981330&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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The Issues Likely to Dominate The 2017 Mayoral Race 2017-06-06T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-06T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6977:the-issues-likely-to-dominate-2017-mayoral-race Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/14507773305_fd20eda93a_z.jpg" alt="de blasio children schools" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Candidates running for mayor have begun to gather signatures to get on the ballot, bringing election season into full swing. Mayor Bill de Blasio is in a relatively comfortable position and polls show that he is likely to sail to reelection, but it is still relatively early, with September primary and November general elections on the horizon. Anything can happen in a political campaign.</p> <p>As the mayor prepares to spend the next six months asking New Yorkers to give him another four years, he will also have to defend his first term record and set out a vision for a second term. As is often the case with incumbents, the election will largely be a referendum on de Blasio’s mayoralty.</p> <p>Much of the focus of campaigns can be on polls, endorsements, and fundraising numbers, all of which have some importance. But the issues matter the most, and while there are some topics that will always be essential to a New York City mayoral election -- schools and public safety, to name two -- the particular candidates and context of an election also determine the major issues dominating the political discourse.</p> <p>Sometimes, the issues can be different as things shift from primaries to the general election. Other times, it’s simply the frame of the conversation. For example, de Blasio will have to fend off criticism from his left in the primary, then from his right in the general, assuming he wins in September -- as Republicans say de Blasio is soft on crime, his opponents on the left argue his policing policies are too harsh. “That’s politics,” said Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College. “Welcome to the profession. You can’t win.”</p> <p>There can always be something unforeseen that takes center stage, a crisis or scandal of some kind, a singular event that demands significant attention.</p> <p>Experts and political observers say that on a few issues, de Blasio finds his record largely unassailable, while on others he is vulnerable. How the race shapes up will depend on how challengers highlight those issues, and which concerns are likely to resonate with the electorate. Several other candidates vying to be Mayor have begun to define their campaigns on certain issues, while others are always key to the mayoral discussion.</p> <p><strong>The Democratic Primary</strong><br />In the Democratic primary, de Blasio faces a slew of candidates but only two of them, former City Council Member Sal Albanese and police reform activist Robert Gangi, seem to be raising funds to run competitive campaigns. While they’ve both been eclipsed by de Blasio’s fundraising -- the mayor has millions in his reelection account while both Gangi and Albanese have yet to break $100,000 -- the two challengers are mounting issue-focused campaigns, hoping to gain traction by criticizing the mayor from the left, perhaps appealing to some of de Blasio’s progressive supporters who are displeased by the mayor’s record.</p> <p>Albanese and Gangi are also critical of the mayor not from a political philosophy, but regarding management and ethics, two aspects of de Blasio’s record that he will have to answer to throughout the campaign, including during the primary and, if he moves on, the general.</p> <p>Gangi, a veteran activist, has based <a href="https://www.gangiformayor.com/on-the-issues/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his campaign</a> largely on criticizing the mayor’s record on police reform, saying that de Blasio has not gone far enough in reforming the NYPD and its practices. Although crime has continued to drop to historic lows under de Blasio and stop-and-frisk has been significantly curtailed, the NYPD continues to employ “Broken Windows” policing with de Blasio’s blessing, targeting low-level offenders to prevent more serious crimes. It is a practice that Gangi says he would abolish, pointing to racial disparities in arrest and summons data.</p> <p>The mayor has also been questioned when it comes to officer accountability. Of particular focus is Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner. Pantaleo is still on the force, though on modified duty. De Blasio has said the NYPD is awaiting the end of a federal inquiry into Garner’s death and that the department is ready to take disciplinary measures if no federal civil rights charges are brought. The incident is part of a larger trend where de Blasio has agreed to shield the disciplinary records of police officers, citing state law as a barrier.</p> <p>Gangi has stressed that the NYPD’s use of broken windows is abusive and discriminatory against communities of color, and has vowed to end it. He also says the NYPD uses quotas in policing, which the department has consistently denied, and proposes decriminalizing fare evasion, marijuana possession, sex work, and gravity knife possession. Gangi’s points on NYPD accountability and transparency, and de Blasio’s policing record, are symbolic of a not small group of activists who are unhappy with the mayor’s police reforms.</p> <p>“I don’t think that’s gonna resonate,” said Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, of criticism of the mayor’s police reform record. “[De Blasio] has certain constraints governing...He can only do so much and the purists are gonna say he’s never doing enough. The perfectionists, the people who are committed to certain policy positions are never gonna be happy.” It’s an argument de Blasio has made while pointing to the policies he has put in place, including neighborhood policing, retraining of the entire NYPD force in de-escalation techniques, and a body camera program that has just launched in pilot.</p> <p>A pack of issues that Gangi has been vocal about is reducing school overcrowding and class sizes, promoting desegregation of schools, and hiring more teachers. Education is always a mayoral campaign issue. While de Blasio has touted higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates, higher standardized test scores, and a wide-reaching “equity and excellence” agenda that seeks to foster more opportunity and progress across all city schools, there are still many schools that show shockingly poor results. While de Blasio has infused significant funds into his Renewal Schools program and attempted to make the most struggling schools into community schools that have wraparound services, the Renewal program has shown lackluster results. Class sizes and school overcrowding continue to plague many schools.</p> <p>Sal Albanese, a former school teacher and elected official, has also made education reform one of his top <a href="http://sal2017.com/issues/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">agenda items</a> and has proposed a number of improvements to the schools system. Among them, consolidating early childhood education programs under one agency to reduce fiscal waste and increase access, creating more early childhood programs, ensuring wage parity for early educators, improving teacher recruitment and training, and enhancing accountability for principals while affording them increased authority.</p> <p>Albanese has also pledged to expand community policing -- a citywide expansion is already underway in phases with most precincts already covered under the new Neighborhood Coordinating Officers (NCO) program -- and has vowed a more equitable distribution of resources and personnel to precincts. Albanese, who also ran in the 1997 and 2013 Democratic primaries for Mayor, regularly says that morale in the NYPD is terrible and that as Mayor he would improve it dramatically.</p> <p>Albanese has also been a fervent critic of de Blasio’s relationship with special interests, particularly the real estate industry, and has called the mayor’s a “corrupt and incompetent administration.” He cites numerous conflicts of interest, including through de Blasio’s now-shuttered Campaign for One New York, a political nonprofit that accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from entities with city business and was a focus of a federal investigation, for which the mayor and his associates were not brought up on charges.</p> <p>Albanese also criticizes the city’s public campaign finance system, which is seen as a model by many. He proposes reforming the system and establishing “democracy vouchers” that would be given to voters who can then use those vouchers to make campaign contributions to the candidate of their choice, fully eliminating private money from the process and giving each voter the same financial influence in campaigns.</p> <p>On his campaign website as of June 6, Albanese features briefly outlined plans on mass transit, housing, animal care, public safety, political reform, and education.</p> <p>One major question hanging over the Democratic primary is whether there will be any formal debates, which can be an important way for candidates to get their messages out, raise key issues, and criticize the frontrunner. The Campaign Finance Board will run two primetime, televised debates in the primary if the candidates meet the thresholds, which are different for the first and the second. The first debate requires candidates to raise and spend at least $174,225 and can also include additional criteria such as a minimum polling average.</p> <p>Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, decried a lack of a competition on the Democratic side. Saying “it doesn’t really seem like there’s gonna be a robust Democratic primary,” Greer lamented that de Blasio may not “be tested” on four issues she believes many New Yorkers, especially in the mayor’s base, are thinking about: “affordable housing, homelessness, Rikers and all the things that come underneath Rikers, and transportation.”</p> <p>Greer points out that without a competitive primary challenge, “we’re sort of leaving the mayor to rest on what I think is a pretty legitimate record, but at the same time there’s no one to push him to do and say more... And while I do think that de Blasio deserves a second term, I would like to see a competitive primary where he articulates not just what he’s done but a new vision for the next four years which, I don’t really know if we’ve heard that just yet.”</p> <p><strong>The Republican Primary</strong><br />On the Republican side, the race is shaping up as a head-to-head battle between Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis and real estate executive Paul Massey. The two candidates have taken largely similar policy positions, though Massey is running as more of a centrist, “non-political” manager who calls himself “independent-minded,” and Malliotakis is running as a more traditional Republican, even more conservative than many New York City members of the GOP. Tellingly, Malliotakis has the Conservative Party endorsement while Massey has the Independence Party endorsement.</p> <p>Neither candidate has defined themselves on any issue or set of issues. Massey has been closer, painting himself as a seasoned executive who would run the city with ideas from “across the political spectrum” a la Mayor Michael Bloomberg.</p> <p>Both GOP candidates criticize de Blasio on a wide variety of topics, a list that seems to grow by the day. They have regularly taken on the mayor’s approach to public safety, especially for reducing penalties for certain low-level nonviolent offenses, and generally raising the spectre of worsening quality of life in the city.</p> <p>Both have condemned the city’s homelessness crisis and de Blasio’s management of it. They point to the mayor’s proclivity for spending more money to get what they call meager results. Education has been a top priority, both calling for more school choice and better management of “failing” schools.</p> <p>Where they differ is on certain social issues -- Malliotakis is generally more conservative than Massey and voted against same-sex marriage in 2011 in the Assembly. Malliotakis also opposes New York’s “sanctuary city” status while Massey has called for the policy to remain as it is, pointing to the need for new federal immigration policy.</p> <p>Massey has begun releasing policy papers, including on education and public safety, while Malliotakis, who joined the race much more recently, has promised more detail in her policy plans.</p> <p>“Malliotakis and Massey, they haven’t made an impact,” Muzzio said of the Republican field thus far, in an assertion supported by recent poll numbers. “Now the Republicans are gonna say that, ‘[de Blasio’s] a wildly spending liberal, he’s giving the store away.’ You know, typical Republican critique of a Democrat.” Muzzio is correct, especially given that the mayor and City Council just announced a new budget agreement that again raises city spending. Both leading GOP candidates released statements criticizing the mayor for continuing to grow the city budget, throwing good money after bad, they say.</p> <p>Their critique of the mayor’s policing policy is also typical of the ideological right, said Muzzio. “Those people that are committed ideologically to stop-and-frisk and Broken Windows aren’t happy with him,” he said. “And they’re predicting gloom and doom. It hasn’t happened yet and it might not happen but they’re still gonna charge him with softness on crime.” Both candidates point to specific areas where crime is up, whether through de Blasio’s term or one year to another. They also point to a mostly vague sense that the city is slipping backward.</p> <p>Greer believes the Republican candidates will have to establish where they stand vis-a-vis their party’s top elected official, President Donald Trump. “They’re just gonna have to figure out how close or far away they’re going to position themselves to Trump,” she said. It’s a certainty that de Blaiso, if a winner in his primary, will seek to paint his general election GOP opponent with a Trump brush.</p> <p>Massey has repeatedly said he does not want the mayoral election to be a referendum on Trump, which he believes would play into the mayor’s hands as he uses the president as a foil. Malliotakis is a vocal Trump supporter and voted for him after supporting Marco Rubio in the GOP presidential primary. Massey has said he wrote in Michael Bloomberg for president in November.</p> <p>Greer points out that Republican arguments about rising crime are often based in “falsehoods” and says that the mismanagement critique of de Blasio may not stick, given some of his successes, like universal pre-kindergarten, and that people respond to pocketbook and kitchen table issues.</p> <p>“I think the Republicans will be jockeying to figure out their messaging as far as whether or not they’re going to double down and support the president or try and distance themselves, to try to look a little bit more moderate,” Greer said. This may take a different shape in the primary than the general election.</p> <p>Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, doesn’t believe that the Republicans will be able to make crime an issue in the general election. “I think with the crime issue, it’s hard for the Republican candidate to make a case that de blasio isn’t doing a good job on crime,” she said. “I think people feel generally safe, I think certainly compared to 15 years ago or longer than that.”</p> <p>Although Gelinas said that public safety would be an important issue in the debates, she doubted it would gain traction. “There’s always lots to criticize any mayor about policing, there’s always examples of police incompetence and corruption, there’s always crimes,” she said. “But can [Republicans] make this into a systemic crisis?...on the one hand crime hasn’t soared, on the other hand although there’s always problems of police brutality and so forth, nobody can make the case that it’s systemically gotten any worse under de Blasio and it’s probably gotten better with the number of stop-question-and-frisks having gone down. So I don’t think that’ll get very far.”</p> <p>Gelinas said the top three issues, on both sides of the aisle, “are always jobs, education and housing.”</p> <p>She pointed out that retail job growth, which recovered faster than most of the country after the recession, is slowing with a national trend, but wouldn’t be a serious issue before the September primary or the November general election. On housing, she said candidates have yet to express concrete proposals that go beyond the mayor’s stated goal of creating and preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years. For Massey, housing has been a particular priority and he is pitching his decades of experience in the real estate industry as necessary to solve it. Massey ran a commercial sales business that took a neighborhood by neighborhood approach at a very opportune time in the city’s renaissance.</p> <p>Gelinas did say that de Blasio has not been responsible with the budget and would face criticism for it. Spending under the mayor has increased by about 20 percent since Mayor Bloomberg’s last budget, with the mayor and City Council agreeing on an $85.2 billion budget just last week. It’s one of the main Republican critiques, including by Malliotakis who has called de Blasio the “tax-and-spend” mayor.</p> <p>“But it’s hard to get voters to pay attention to that when there’s not a budget crisis,” said Gelinas. “I mean Bloomberg was elected partly because of 9/11 and people thought the city is going to have a huge budget crisis and we need this business person to address it. And it’s hard to see anyone thinking that anytime before September or November.”</p> <p>On issues of quality of life, such as traffic congestion, noise and illegal construction work, Gelinas said de Blasio is vulnerable. “It’s still hard to marshall a critical mass of voters on these issues partly because people get so used to it,” she said.</p> <p><strong>The General Crisis</strong><br />What should be the main issue in the election, Gelinas said, is transit infrastructure, “because elections sometimes are driven by crises. “The last time it was the perception of the inequality crisis, the elections before that, ‘Would the city recover after 9/11?’ Before that the crime crisis and the budget crisis.”</p> <p>De Blasio is already dealing with the inequality crisis, she said, by implementing and expanding measures such as universal pre-kindergarten. But there seems to be no plan for the ever-worsening transit, particularly the city’s subway system. “This is affecting everybody’s quality of life,” she added. “If you go to work, if you go to school, if you’re looking for a job, if you’re poor, middle class or wealthier. It does hit the poor and middle classes the hardest. Because if you’re wealthy you have other options of getting around but most everybody else is stuck on the mass transit system that isn’t serving them well anymore.”</p> <p>The mayor has been at pains to emphasize that the MTA, which serves the most commuters in the city and hence draws the most ire, is controlled by a state authority and Governor Andrew Cuomo, his longtime political rival. In doing so, the mayor has also laid the transit issues at the governor’s feet, washing his hands of the problems and hence the responsibility, though he is not completely without any. The city contributes billions to the MTA capital plan, and the mayor appoints members to the MTA board. While his power is nowhere near the governor’s, many fault de Blasio for being too quick to ignore the subway woes, saying that he should be talking about it constantly, riding the subways more, and working with the governor and MTA for solutions.</p> <p>And, over the budget season, City Council members and transit advocates pressed the mayor to fund the “Fair Fares” proposal to provide discounted MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers and he repeatedly refused to do so.</p> <p>“The mayor obviously doesn’t control the MTA but he does make a capital contribution to the MTA,” Gelinas pointed out. “Should the city be making a bigger contribution to build a better signal system? Also the city does manage all of the street level transportation and that’s not being managed very well either. It doesn’t seem like the mayor walks around, understands what’s going on on the streets...I think it’s good that the mayor did the ferries but even the ferries are being overwhelmed [initially] which show you how much demand there is for transportation that’s not being met.”</p> <p>De Blasio often highlights his transportation agenda of a new ferry network, expanded Citi Bike service, and the looking Brooklyn-Queens Connector, or BQX, light-rail streetcar.</p> <p>Greer agreed that transportation in the city is in crisis, and that the mayor must take some responsibility for it, even if it’s not under his purview. “Transportation affects so many New Yorkers across class lines,” she said. “There’s a sense of frustration because the mayor and the governor can’t ever agree on anything and get along.”</p> <p>Poor New Yorkers in particular, she said, are looking to de Blasio to relieve them of this particular financial burden. “To me this is a relatively low-hanging fruit issue,” Greer said, “where he could distance himself from the governor, he could be a champion for the poor...So I think the frustration is that de Blasio’s by far the most progressive of everyone who’s running, by far the one who cares the most about poor people in New York of all the candidates. So for him to ignore the issue in the way he has is frustrating and I think should be one of the primary issues moving forward. It’s just difficult because there’s no foil for him that helps push it.”</p> <p>Of all those seeking to unseat de Blasio, Albanese has taken the most interest in the subways, riding them daily and tweeting pictures and comments. He’s said he plans to be “the transit mayor.” He blames de Blasio for not being vocal enough on the issue, while others have pointed out that de Blasio’s bad relationship with Gov. Cuomo is hurting the city on a variety of fronts.</p> <p>It is to be seen whether Albanese can galvanize activists and regular New Yorkers who are frustrated by public transit to oppose de Blasio and support his candidacy. The same goes for Gangi and the issues he’s focused on, like police reform, and the Republican candidates, Malliotakis and Massey, who are still working to define their candidacies as other than anti-de Blasio.</p> <p>“You used the term ‘race,’” said Muzzio, of Baruch, when asked about the key issues in the mayoral race. “There is no race either in the Democratic primary or the general election. So the issues will probably be understated, they won’t be widely publicized because of the nature of the competition.”</p> <p>Muzzio said de Blasio is likely to talk about his accomplishments including implementing universal pre-kindergarten, lowering crime and creating affordable housing. “He’s gonna push all the issues that surround equality,” Muzzio added. “Opponents are going to hit him for more stylistic and political reasons, you know his questionable ethics, his chronic lateness, his arrogance, et cetera.”</p> <p>As de Blasio’s campaign gathers momentum, a few of his priorities have become clear. He has already pledged a renewed effort to tackle the city’s affordability crisis, chiefly through a housing plan already underway and a new jobs plan announced in his State of the City earlier this year. Although the mayor has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6962-where-s-the-mayor-s-jobs-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">slow to reveal</a> an actual plan to create 100,000 “good-paying” jobs over the next ten years, it is likely to be a talking point that candidates on both sides of the aisle will address.</p> <p>Another pressing issue, one that de Blasio was late to, is the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex. After facing significant political pressure from City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and others, and years of consistent advocacy by criminal justice reform activists, the mayor announced his intention to close Rikers jails in ten years. However, his administration has not created a blueprint for accomplishing that goal and nor has he provided sufficient clarity on how he would achieve the alternative of setting up community jails across four boroughs (He’s already promised that no new facility would be sited on Staten Island). Still, the mayor is already touting his Rikers decision on the campaign trail.</p> <p>Other issues may also be forced upon the race by developments at the national level, including President Trump’s recent announcement of the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Accord on tackling climate change. De Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6969-republican-mayoral-candidates-noncommittal-on-de-blasio-paris-climate-order" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">signed an executive order</a> Friday for the city to voluntarily adhere to the accord’s benchmarks, not a stretch given the city’s prior commitments to larger environmental protection goals, but which thrust climate change into the city political discussion.</p> <p>A variety of other topics will at least be touched on during the mayoral campaign, such as the city’s public housing authority, NYCHA, and public hospital system, both of which are in financial crisis, and de Blasio’s plans to rezone up to 15 neighborhoods as part of his affordable housing plan. It's clear, though, that the discussion will almost always center around de Blasio, his record and his character.</p> <p>The race could also potentially be affected by the wild card candidacy of Bo Dietl, a private detective and retired NYPD officer. A brash Trumpian character, Dietl has invited controversy with his off-the-cuff, and off-color, remarks. He initially sought to run as a Democrat against de Blasio in the primary, and then attempted to get on the Republican ticket after making a mistake in his party registration. That effort failed as well when Republican county leaders refused to allow him to run on their party line (he’s still attempting to join one of the primaries, but may continue on as an independent, influencing the general election campaign). Dietl has raised most of the same issues as Massey and Malliotakis, with a focus on public safety, and has wealthy donors willing to back him, giving him the chance to play a somewhat disruptive role in the race.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/14507773305_fd20eda93a_z.jpg" alt="de blasio children schools" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Candidates running for mayor have begun to gather signatures to get on the ballot, bringing election season into full swing. Mayor Bill de Blasio is in a relatively comfortable position and polls show that he is likely to sail to reelection, but it is still relatively early, with September primary and November general elections on the horizon. Anything can happen in a political campaign.</p> <p>As the mayor prepares to spend the next six months asking New Yorkers to give him another four years, he will also have to defend his first term record and set out a vision for a second term. As is often the case with incumbents, the election will largely be a referendum on de Blasio’s mayoralty.</p> <p>Much of the focus of campaigns can be on polls, endorsements, and fundraising numbers, all of which have some importance. But the issues matter the most, and while there are some topics that will always be essential to a New York City mayoral election -- schools and public safety, to name two -- the particular candidates and context of an election also determine the major issues dominating the political discourse.</p> <p>Sometimes, the issues can be different as things shift from primaries to the general election. Other times, it’s simply the frame of the conversation. For example, de Blasio will have to fend off criticism from his left in the primary, then from his right in the general, assuming he wins in September -- as Republicans say de Blasio is soft on crime, his opponents on the left argue his policing policies are too harsh. “That’s politics,” said Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College. “Welcome to the profession. You can’t win.”</p> <p>There can always be something unforeseen that takes center stage, a crisis or scandal of some kind, a singular event that demands significant attention.</p> <p>Experts and political observers say that on a few issues, de Blasio finds his record largely unassailable, while on others he is vulnerable. How the race shapes up will depend on how challengers highlight those issues, and which concerns are likely to resonate with the electorate. Several other candidates vying to be Mayor have begun to define their campaigns on certain issues, while others are always key to the mayoral discussion.</p> <p><strong>The Democratic Primary</strong><br />In the Democratic primary, de Blasio faces a slew of candidates but only two of them, former City Council Member Sal Albanese and police reform activist Robert Gangi, seem to be raising funds to run competitive campaigns. While they’ve both been eclipsed by de Blasio’s fundraising -- the mayor has millions in his reelection account while both Gangi and Albanese have yet to break $100,000 -- the two challengers are mounting issue-focused campaigns, hoping to gain traction by criticizing the mayor from the left, perhaps appealing to some of de Blasio’s progressive supporters who are displeased by the mayor’s record.</p> <p>Albanese and Gangi are also critical of the mayor not from a political philosophy, but regarding management and ethics, two aspects of de Blasio’s record that he will have to answer to throughout the campaign, including during the primary and, if he moves on, the general.</p> <p>Gangi, a veteran activist, has based <a href="https://www.gangiformayor.com/on-the-issues/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his campaign</a> largely on criticizing the mayor’s record on police reform, saying that de Blasio has not gone far enough in reforming the NYPD and its practices. Although crime has continued to drop to historic lows under de Blasio and stop-and-frisk has been significantly curtailed, the NYPD continues to employ “Broken Windows” policing with de Blasio’s blessing, targeting low-level offenders to prevent more serious crimes. It is a practice that Gangi says he would abolish, pointing to racial disparities in arrest and summons data.</p> <p>The mayor has also been questioned when it comes to officer accountability. Of particular focus is Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner. Pantaleo is still on the force, though on modified duty. De Blasio has said the NYPD is awaiting the end of a federal inquiry into Garner’s death and that the department is ready to take disciplinary measures if no federal civil rights charges are brought. The incident is part of a larger trend where de Blasio has agreed to shield the disciplinary records of police officers, citing state law as a barrier.</p> <p>Gangi has stressed that the NYPD’s use of broken windows is abusive and discriminatory against communities of color, and has vowed to end it. He also says the NYPD uses quotas in policing, which the department has consistently denied, and proposes decriminalizing fare evasion, marijuana possession, sex work, and gravity knife possession. Gangi’s points on NYPD accountability and transparency, and de Blasio’s policing record, are symbolic of a not small group of activists who are unhappy with the mayor’s police reforms.</p> <p>“I don’t think that’s gonna resonate,” said Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, of criticism of the mayor’s police reform record. “[De Blasio] has certain constraints governing...He can only do so much and the purists are gonna say he’s never doing enough. The perfectionists, the people who are committed to certain policy positions are never gonna be happy.” It’s an argument de Blasio has made while pointing to the policies he has put in place, including neighborhood policing, retraining of the entire NYPD force in de-escalation techniques, and a body camera program that has just launched in pilot.</p> <p>A pack of issues that Gangi has been vocal about is reducing school overcrowding and class sizes, promoting desegregation of schools, and hiring more teachers. Education is always a mayoral campaign issue. While de Blasio has touted higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates, higher standardized test scores, and a wide-reaching “equity and excellence” agenda that seeks to foster more opportunity and progress across all city schools, there are still many schools that show shockingly poor results. While de Blasio has infused significant funds into his Renewal Schools program and attempted to make the most struggling schools into community schools that have wraparound services, the Renewal program has shown lackluster results. Class sizes and school overcrowding continue to plague many schools.</p> <p>Sal Albanese, a former school teacher and elected official, has also made education reform one of his top <a href="http://sal2017.com/issues/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">agenda items</a> and has proposed a number of improvements to the schools system. Among them, consolidating early childhood education programs under one agency to reduce fiscal waste and increase access, creating more early childhood programs, ensuring wage parity for early educators, improving teacher recruitment and training, and enhancing accountability for principals while affording them increased authority.</p> <p>Albanese has also pledged to expand community policing -- a citywide expansion is already underway in phases with most precincts already covered under the new Neighborhood Coordinating Officers (NCO) program -- and has vowed a more equitable distribution of resources and personnel to precincts. Albanese, who also ran in the 1997 and 2013 Democratic primaries for Mayor, regularly says that morale in the NYPD is terrible and that as Mayor he would improve it dramatically.</p> <p>Albanese has also been a fervent critic of de Blasio’s relationship with special interests, particularly the real estate industry, and has called the mayor’s a “corrupt and incompetent administration.” He cites numerous conflicts of interest, including through de Blasio’s now-shuttered Campaign for One New York, a political nonprofit that accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from entities with city business and was a focus of a federal investigation, for which the mayor and his associates were not brought up on charges.</p> <p>Albanese also criticizes the city’s public campaign finance system, which is seen as a model by many. He proposes reforming the system and establishing “democracy vouchers” that would be given to voters who can then use those vouchers to make campaign contributions to the candidate of their choice, fully eliminating private money from the process and giving each voter the same financial influence in campaigns.</p> <p>On his campaign website as of June 6, Albanese features briefly outlined plans on mass transit, housing, animal care, public safety, political reform, and education.</p> <p>One major question hanging over the Democratic primary is whether there will be any formal debates, which can be an important way for candidates to get their messages out, raise key issues, and criticize the frontrunner. The Campaign Finance Board will run two primetime, televised debates in the primary if the candidates meet the thresholds, which are different for the first and the second. The first debate requires candidates to raise and spend at least $174,225 and can also include additional criteria such as a minimum polling average.</p> <p>Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, decried a lack of a competition on the Democratic side. Saying “it doesn’t really seem like there’s gonna be a robust Democratic primary,” Greer lamented that de Blasio may not “be tested” on four issues she believes many New Yorkers, especially in the mayor’s base, are thinking about: “affordable housing, homelessness, Rikers and all the things that come underneath Rikers, and transportation.”</p> <p>Greer points out that without a competitive primary challenge, “we’re sort of leaving the mayor to rest on what I think is a pretty legitimate record, but at the same time there’s no one to push him to do and say more... And while I do think that de Blasio deserves a second term, I would like to see a competitive primary where he articulates not just what he’s done but a new vision for the next four years which, I don’t really know if we’ve heard that just yet.”</p> <p><strong>The Republican Primary</strong><br />On the Republican side, the race is shaping up as a head-to-head battle between Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis and real estate executive Paul Massey. The two candidates have taken largely similar policy positions, though Massey is running as more of a centrist, “non-political” manager who calls himself “independent-minded,” and Malliotakis is running as a more traditional Republican, even more conservative than many New York City members of the GOP. Tellingly, Malliotakis has the Conservative Party endorsement while Massey has the Independence Party endorsement.</p> <p>Neither candidate has defined themselves on any issue or set of issues. Massey has been closer, painting himself as a seasoned executive who would run the city with ideas from “across the political spectrum” a la Mayor Michael Bloomberg.</p> <p>Both GOP candidates criticize de Blasio on a wide variety of topics, a list that seems to grow by the day. They have regularly taken on the mayor’s approach to public safety, especially for reducing penalties for certain low-level nonviolent offenses, and generally raising the spectre of worsening quality of life in the city.</p> <p>Both have condemned the city’s homelessness crisis and de Blasio’s management of it. They point to the mayor’s proclivity for spending more money to get what they call meager results. Education has been a top priority, both calling for more school choice and better management of “failing” schools.</p> <p>Where they differ is on certain social issues -- Malliotakis is generally more conservative than Massey and voted against same-sex marriage in 2011 in the Assembly. Malliotakis also opposes New York’s “sanctuary city” status while Massey has called for the policy to remain as it is, pointing to the need for new federal immigration policy.</p> <p>Massey has begun releasing policy papers, including on education and public safety, while Malliotakis, who joined the race much more recently, has promised more detail in her policy plans.</p> <p>“Malliotakis and Massey, they haven’t made an impact,” Muzzio said of the Republican field thus far, in an assertion supported by recent poll numbers. “Now the Republicans are gonna say that, ‘[de Blasio’s] a wildly spending liberal, he’s giving the store away.’ You know, typical Republican critique of a Democrat.” Muzzio is correct, especially given that the mayor and City Council just announced a new budget agreement that again raises city spending. Both leading GOP candidates released statements criticizing the mayor for continuing to grow the city budget, throwing good money after bad, they say.</p> <p>Their critique of the mayor’s policing policy is also typical of the ideological right, said Muzzio. “Those people that are committed ideologically to stop-and-frisk and Broken Windows aren’t happy with him,” he said. “And they’re predicting gloom and doom. It hasn’t happened yet and it might not happen but they’re still gonna charge him with softness on crime.” Both candidates point to specific areas where crime is up, whether through de Blasio’s term or one year to another. They also point to a mostly vague sense that the city is slipping backward.</p> <p>Greer believes the Republican candidates will have to establish where they stand vis-a-vis their party’s top elected official, President Donald Trump. “They’re just gonna have to figure out how close or far away they’re going to position themselves to Trump,” she said. It’s a certainty that de Blaiso, if a winner in his primary, will seek to paint his general election GOP opponent with a Trump brush.</p> <p>Massey has repeatedly said he does not want the mayoral election to be a referendum on Trump, which he believes would play into the mayor’s hands as he uses the president as a foil. Malliotakis is a vocal Trump supporter and voted for him after supporting Marco Rubio in the GOP presidential primary. Massey has said he wrote in Michael Bloomberg for president in November.</p> <p>Greer points out that Republican arguments about rising crime are often based in “falsehoods” and says that the mismanagement critique of de Blasio may not stick, given some of his successes, like universal pre-kindergarten, and that people respond to pocketbook and kitchen table issues.</p> <p>“I think the Republicans will be jockeying to figure out their messaging as far as whether or not they’re going to double down and support the president or try and distance themselves, to try to look a little bit more moderate,” Greer said. This may take a different shape in the primary than the general election.</p> <p>Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, doesn’t believe that the Republicans will be able to make crime an issue in the general election. “I think with the crime issue, it’s hard for the Republican candidate to make a case that de blasio isn’t doing a good job on crime,” she said. “I think people feel generally safe, I think certainly compared to 15 years ago or longer than that.”</p> <p>Although Gelinas said that public safety would be an important issue in the debates, she doubted it would gain traction. “There’s always lots to criticize any mayor about policing, there’s always examples of police incompetence and corruption, there’s always crimes,” she said. “But can [Republicans] make this into a systemic crisis?...on the one hand crime hasn’t soared, on the other hand although there’s always problems of police brutality and so forth, nobody can make the case that it’s systemically gotten any worse under de Blasio and it’s probably gotten better with the number of stop-question-and-frisks having gone down. So I don’t think that’ll get very far.”</p> <p>Gelinas said the top three issues, on both sides of the aisle, “are always jobs, education and housing.”</p> <p>She pointed out that retail job growth, which recovered faster than most of the country after the recession, is slowing with a national trend, but wouldn’t be a serious issue before the September primary or the November general election. On housing, she said candidates have yet to express concrete proposals that go beyond the mayor’s stated goal of creating and preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years. For Massey, housing has been a particular priority and he is pitching his decades of experience in the real estate industry as necessary to solve it. Massey ran a commercial sales business that took a neighborhood by neighborhood approach at a very opportune time in the city’s renaissance.</p> <p>Gelinas did say that de Blasio has not been responsible with the budget and would face criticism for it. Spending under the mayor has increased by about 20 percent since Mayor Bloomberg’s last budget, with the mayor and City Council agreeing on an $85.2 billion budget just last week. It’s one of the main Republican critiques, including by Malliotakis who has called de Blasio the “tax-and-spend” mayor.</p> <p>“But it’s hard to get voters to pay attention to that when there’s not a budget crisis,” said Gelinas. “I mean Bloomberg was elected partly because of 9/11 and people thought the city is going to have a huge budget crisis and we need this business person to address it. And it’s hard to see anyone thinking that anytime before September or November.”</p> <p>On issues of quality of life, such as traffic congestion, noise and illegal construction work, Gelinas said de Blasio is vulnerable. “It’s still hard to marshall a critical mass of voters on these issues partly because people get so used to it,” she said.</p> <p><strong>The General Crisis</strong><br />What should be the main issue in the election, Gelinas said, is transit infrastructure, “because elections sometimes are driven by crises. “The last time it was the perception of the inequality crisis, the elections before that, ‘Would the city recover after 9/11?’ Before that the crime crisis and the budget crisis.”</p> <p>De Blasio is already dealing with the inequality crisis, she said, by implementing and expanding measures such as universal pre-kindergarten. But there seems to be no plan for the ever-worsening transit, particularly the city’s subway system. “This is affecting everybody’s quality of life,” she added. “If you go to work, if you go to school, if you’re looking for a job, if you’re poor, middle class or wealthier. It does hit the poor and middle classes the hardest. Because if you’re wealthy you have other options of getting around but most everybody else is stuck on the mass transit system that isn’t serving them well anymore.”</p> <p>The mayor has been at pains to emphasize that the MTA, which serves the most commuters in the city and hence draws the most ire, is controlled by a state authority and Governor Andrew Cuomo, his longtime political rival. In doing so, the mayor has also laid the transit issues at the governor’s feet, washing his hands of the problems and hence the responsibility, though he is not completely without any. The city contributes billions to the MTA capital plan, and the mayor appoints members to the MTA board. While his power is nowhere near the governor’s, many fault de Blasio for being too quick to ignore the subway woes, saying that he should be talking about it constantly, riding the subways more, and working with the governor and MTA for solutions.</p> <p>And, over the budget season, City Council members and transit advocates pressed the mayor to fund the “Fair Fares” proposal to provide discounted MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers and he repeatedly refused to do so.</p> <p>“The mayor obviously doesn’t control the MTA but he does make a capital contribution to the MTA,” Gelinas pointed out. “Should the city be making a bigger contribution to build a better signal system? Also the city does manage all of the street level transportation and that’s not being managed very well either. It doesn’t seem like the mayor walks around, understands what’s going on on the streets...I think it’s good that the mayor did the ferries but even the ferries are being overwhelmed [initially] which show you how much demand there is for transportation that’s not being met.”</p> <p>De Blasio often highlights his transportation agenda of a new ferry network, expanded Citi Bike service, and the looking Brooklyn-Queens Connector, or BQX, light-rail streetcar.</p> <p>Greer agreed that transportation in the city is in crisis, and that the mayor must take some responsibility for it, even if it’s not under his purview. “Transportation affects so many New Yorkers across class lines,” she said. “There’s a sense of frustration because the mayor and the governor can’t ever agree on anything and get along.”</p> <p>Poor New Yorkers in particular, she said, are looking to de Blasio to relieve them of this particular financial burden. “To me this is a relatively low-hanging fruit issue,” Greer said, “where he could distance himself from the governor, he could be a champion for the poor...So I think the frustration is that de Blasio’s by far the most progressive of everyone who’s running, by far the one who cares the most about poor people in New York of all the candidates. So for him to ignore the issue in the way he has is frustrating and I think should be one of the primary issues moving forward. It’s just difficult because there’s no foil for him that helps push it.”</p> <p>Of all those seeking to unseat de Blasio, Albanese has taken the most interest in the subways, riding them daily and tweeting pictures and comments. He’s said he plans to be “the transit mayor.” He blames de Blasio for not being vocal enough on the issue, while others have pointed out that de Blasio’s bad relationship with Gov. Cuomo is hurting the city on a variety of fronts.</p> <p>It is to be seen whether Albanese can galvanize activists and regular New Yorkers who are frustrated by public transit to oppose de Blasio and support his candidacy. The same goes for Gangi and the issues he’s focused on, like police reform, and the Republican candidates, Malliotakis and Massey, who are still working to define their candidacies as other than anti-de Blasio.</p> <p>“You used the term ‘race,’” said Muzzio, of Baruch, when asked about the key issues in the mayoral race. “There is no race either in the Democratic primary or the general election. So the issues will probably be understated, they won’t be widely publicized because of the nature of the competition.”</p> <p>Muzzio said de Blasio is likely to talk about his accomplishments including implementing universal pre-kindergarten, lowering crime and creating affordable housing. “He’s gonna push all the issues that surround equality,” Muzzio added. “Opponents are going to hit him for more stylistic and political reasons, you know his questionable ethics, his chronic lateness, his arrogance, et cetera.”</p> <p>As de Blasio’s campaign gathers momentum, a few of his priorities have become clear. He has already pledged a renewed effort to tackle the city’s affordability crisis, chiefly through a housing plan already underway and a new jobs plan announced in his State of the City earlier this year. Although the mayor has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6962-where-s-the-mayor-s-jobs-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">slow to reveal</a> an actual plan to create 100,000 “good-paying” jobs over the next ten years, it is likely to be a talking point that candidates on both sides of the aisle will address.</p> <p>Another pressing issue, one that de Blasio was late to, is the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex. After facing significant political pressure from City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and others, and years of consistent advocacy by criminal justice reform activists, the mayor announced his intention to close Rikers jails in ten years. However, his administration has not created a blueprint for accomplishing that goal and nor has he provided sufficient clarity on how he would achieve the alternative of setting up community jails across four boroughs (He’s already promised that no new facility would be sited on Staten Island). Still, the mayor is already touting his Rikers decision on the campaign trail.</p> <p>Other issues may also be forced upon the race by developments at the national level, including President Trump’s recent announcement of the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Accord on tackling climate change. De Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6969-republican-mayoral-candidates-noncommittal-on-de-blasio-paris-climate-order" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">signed an executive order</a> Friday for the city to voluntarily adhere to the accord’s benchmarks, not a stretch given the city’s prior commitments to larger environmental protection goals, but which thrust climate change into the city political discussion.</p> <p>A variety of other topics will at least be touched on during the mayoral campaign, such as the city’s public housing authority, NYCHA, and public hospital system, both of which are in financial crisis, and de Blasio’s plans to rezone up to 15 neighborhoods as part of his affordable housing plan. It's clear, though, that the discussion will almost always center around de Blasio, his record and his character.</p> <p>The race could also potentially be affected by the wild card candidacy of Bo Dietl, a private detective and retired NYPD officer. A brash Trumpian character, Dietl has invited controversy with his off-the-cuff, and off-color, remarks. He initially sought to run as a Democrat against de Blasio in the primary, and then attempted to get on the Republican ticket after making a mistake in his party registration. That effort failed as well when Republican county leaders refused to allow him to run on their party line (he’s still attempting to join one of the primaries, but may continue on as an independent, influencing the general election campaign). Dietl has raised most of the same issues as Massey and Malliotakis, with a focus on public safety, and has wealthy donors willing to back him, giving him the chance to play a somewhat disruptive role in the race.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Special Election for Harlem City Council Seat Kicks Off 2016-12-12T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-12T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6665:special-election-for-harlem-city-council-seat-kicks-off Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/marvin_holland_sylvia_tyler-crop.jpg" alt="marvin holland sylvia tyler" width="600" /></p> <p>Council candidate Marvin Holland, right, with Sylvia Tyler (photo via Holland on Twitter)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">It’s going to be a sprint of an election -- though it’s not clear how many candidates are running or how many voters will participate -- with ballots likely to be cast sometime in February.</p> <p dir="ltr">The election of New York City Council Member Inez Dickens to the State Assembly creates an open seat in Council District 9 in Harlem, and a number of contenders have thrown their hats in the ring. As soon as Dickens officially vacates her Council seat, Mayor Bill de Blasio will be required to call a nonpartisan special election.</p> <p dir="ltr">Among the candidates running for Dickens’ seat are union organizer Marvin Holland, State Senator Bill Perkins, community activist Charles Cooper, and Troy Outlaw, who serves on Dickens’ Council staff. Other, lesser-known candidates include Donald Fields, a local businessman and advocate, immigration advocate Mamadou Drame, and Shannette Gray. <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/40under40/2016/Benjamin">Brian Benjamin</a>, who works in real estate and is involved in the local community board, is rumored to be considering a run, but hasn’t filed paperwork yet.</p> <p dir="ltr">Many have been waiting to see if Assembly Member Keith Wright will join the race. A Democratic power-broker who Dickens is replacing, Wright declined to run for Assembly re-election after pledging not to during his attempt to win Charles Rangel’s Congressional seat. Some say that Benjamin could be Wright’s favored candidate, though the uptown establishment could support Outlaw, or another candidate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Holland, the political director of Transit Workers Union Local 100, came out of the gate fairly early. In a recent interview, he said he is confident about putting together a broad coalition. “I’m well-rooted throughout the Harlem community, with young and old members,” said Holland, who sits on the boards of a number of community organizations including the Latino Leadership Institute, the NYC Labor-Religion Coalition, the the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the NAACP, and Community Voices Heard’s solidarity board.</p> <p dir="ltr">Holland’s message is “Harlem belongs to us,” he said, stressing that investment in the neighborhood needs to benefit its residents rather than creating forces of gentrification and displacement. He wants to create jobs and infrastructure in the community, relying on his experience as a union leader to navigate the complexities of economic policy. “My first priority,” he said, “was to show people I’m a serious candidate...I’m in this race 100 percent to win it.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In a crowded race, anything can happen, but Perkins is especially formidable given his position as an elected official with at least some name recognition in the community.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I would say Bill Perkins probably has the most infrastructure and support in the district,” said Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University. Pointing to the fact that State Senator Adriano Espaillat has been elected to replace Rangel, Greer said the community may be motivated to electe a black City Council member to replace Dickens, who is black. “It’s within U.S. Congressional District 13 and because there’s no African-American representative, Perkins will resonate with some voters who want to see an African-American representative in the district,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Greer said that Perkins’ chances could change significantly if Wright were to jump into the race, though he seems hesitant to do so at this point. It’s unclear whether Wright will be involved in the District 9 race at all. He was not made available for comment for this article. Dickens’ Council office also did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p dir="ltr">In phone interviews with Gotham Gazette, Holland, Perkins, Cooper, Fields, and Drame all indicated a similar initial approach to the election, formulating coalitions across the community and drumming up support on the ground. Each mentioned several of the same issues, chiefly focusing on creating and preserving affordable housing while bringing more development and jobs to the community. Calls to the candidate committees for Outlaw and Gray went unanswered.</p> <p dir="ltr">Perkins previously held the Council seat for seven years before becoming a state Senator in 2006. He said his decision to attempt a return to city government was based largely on the opportunity to make more of an impact, which has been denied to Democrats who have been in the minority in the Senate. “I’m going to essentially be serving the same neighborhood with an opportunity to not only serve but to deliver,” Perkins said of potentially rejoining the Council, which currently has 48 Democrats and three Republicans.</p> <p dir="ltr">Recalling his days in activist-oriented community work, Perkins said he is focusing on galvanizing community support. “It’s a winning formula for me,” he said. “I’m not a big moneymaker..I’m going where my strengths are, with the community, with the people.” &nbsp;And he believes he has a good chance of winning the seat. “There’s nothing guaranteed but I feel that my support in the past for elected office has been encouraging,” he said. “I feel in sync with this district. They’re familiar with me over the years, they’re familiar with the work I’ve done.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Perkins and Wright are not close. Wright is the leader of the Manhattan Democratic Party and a key cog in the state’s party infrastructure. Perkins is not expected to have a lot of institutional support, whether Wright runs or not. Because it is a city-level special election, there are no traditional party lines. The winner will serve for less than a year before having to run again in the fall, when all 51 Council seats will be on the ballot, as well as borough- and city-wide posts.</p> <p dir="ltr">Perkins promised, if elected, to seek out alliances within the Council and join its Progressive Caucus. He’ll focus on affordable housing, he said, “not as it’s defined by developers but as defined by what’s in the pocket of the people in the community.” He said he’s not overly confident, stressing that the race will be competitive.</p> <p dir="ltr">Perkins’ entry into the race hasn’t discouraged Holland, who is confident, especially given his union ties and organizing experience. Holland said in an interview that he is building a broad coalition of support including unions, district leaders, activists, and tenant leaders; he officially opened his new campaign headquarters Dec. 7.</p> <p dir="ltr">For Charles Cooper, the election is an opportunity to get Harlem residents involved in community decisions. “I think oftentimes, especially in a special election, you have very low turnout which isn’t representative of the district as a whole,” he said, underscoring the need to spread awareness of the election and to get voters engaged. Special elections are notoriously low-turnout.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cooper stressed the importance of people’s involvement, particularly after the election of Donald Trump as President. “We need to focus more and more on our local politics,” he said. “The City Council has a direct impact on the resources that come to our community.” Cooper, much like his opponents, said his campaign is a district-wide coalition of groups that will highlight issues of job creation, education, public safety, and housing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Immigration advocate Mamadou Drame said he’s been planning his run for District 9 for the last two years, spurred into action by an older generation that has been more passive towards politics. He said he’s lost faith in the current crop of elected officials, who “come to the district every four years for your vote and then forget about the community.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A Senegalese immigrant who has worked for years in immigrant services, he believes he’ll get support from the African immigrant population in Harlem. He’ll appeal to millennials and seniors alike, he said, with a campaign centered on reducing unemployment and “an inclusive approach to gentrification” that helps the community. “The question is, ‘how can we embrace development?,’” he said, “We can’t always be fighting it.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“We need to forge a path of new leadership,” said candidate Donald Fields, a managing partner at Fields &amp; Associates, a consultancy, who previously worked for the city’s child welfare agency. Fields emphasized the need for new blood to replace the “old guard” that has dominated the Harlem political scene for years. Although Fields said he respects them and their work, he believes that younger leaders will be able to bring about faster change.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like Holland others, Fields is also undeterred by facing Perkins in the race. “It hasn’t slowed down my passion,” he said. “It hasn’t stopped my zeal to win or my focus on what the district needs.” His biggest priority is fighting gentrification while encouraging necessary development.</p> <p>“Whoever wins this race must have a vision for the district and must be committed to deliver that vision,” Fields said. “That cannot be tied to backroom politics and special interests.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/marvin_holland_sylvia_tyler-crop.jpg" alt="marvin holland sylvia tyler" width="600" /></p> <p>Council candidate Marvin Holland, right, with Sylvia Tyler (photo via Holland on Twitter)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">It’s going to be a sprint of an election -- though it’s not clear how many candidates are running or how many voters will participate -- with ballots likely to be cast sometime in February.</p> <p dir="ltr">The election of New York City Council Member Inez Dickens to the State Assembly creates an open seat in Council District 9 in Harlem, and a number of contenders have thrown their hats in the ring. As soon as Dickens officially vacates her Council seat, Mayor Bill de Blasio will be required to call a nonpartisan special election.</p> <p dir="ltr">Among the candidates running for Dickens’ seat are union organizer Marvin Holland, State Senator Bill Perkins, community activist Charles Cooper, and Troy Outlaw, who serves on Dickens’ Council staff. Other, lesser-known candidates include Donald Fields, a local businessman and advocate, immigration advocate Mamadou Drame, and Shannette Gray. <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/40under40/2016/Benjamin">Brian Benjamin</a>, who works in real estate and is involved in the local community board, is rumored to be considering a run, but hasn’t filed paperwork yet.</p> <p dir="ltr">Many have been waiting to see if Assembly Member Keith Wright will join the race. A Democratic power-broker who Dickens is replacing, Wright declined to run for Assembly re-election after pledging not to during his attempt to win Charles Rangel’s Congressional seat. Some say that Benjamin could be Wright’s favored candidate, though the uptown establishment could support Outlaw, or another candidate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Holland, the political director of Transit Workers Union Local 100, came out of the gate fairly early. In a recent interview, he said he is confident about putting together a broad coalition. “I’m well-rooted throughout the Harlem community, with young and old members,” said Holland, who sits on the boards of a number of community organizations including the Latino Leadership Institute, the NYC Labor-Religion Coalition, the the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the NAACP, and Community Voices Heard’s solidarity board.</p> <p dir="ltr">Holland’s message is “Harlem belongs to us,” he said, stressing that investment in the neighborhood needs to benefit its residents rather than creating forces of gentrification and displacement. He wants to create jobs and infrastructure in the community, relying on his experience as a union leader to navigate the complexities of economic policy. “My first priority,” he said, “was to show people I’m a serious candidate...I’m in this race 100 percent to win it.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In a crowded race, anything can happen, but Perkins is especially formidable given his position as an elected official with at least some name recognition in the community.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I would say Bill Perkins probably has the most infrastructure and support in the district,” said Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University. Pointing to the fact that State Senator Adriano Espaillat has been elected to replace Rangel, Greer said the community may be motivated to electe a black City Council member to replace Dickens, who is black. “It’s within U.S. Congressional District 13 and because there’s no African-American representative, Perkins will resonate with some voters who want to see an African-American representative in the district,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Greer said that Perkins’ chances could change significantly if Wright were to jump into the race, though he seems hesitant to do so at this point. It’s unclear whether Wright will be involved in the District 9 race at all. He was not made available for comment for this article. Dickens’ Council office also did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p dir="ltr">In phone interviews with Gotham Gazette, Holland, Perkins, Cooper, Fields, and Drame all indicated a similar initial approach to the election, formulating coalitions across the community and drumming up support on the ground. Each mentioned several of the same issues, chiefly focusing on creating and preserving affordable housing while bringing more development and jobs to the community. Calls to the candidate committees for Outlaw and Gray went unanswered.</p> <p dir="ltr">Perkins previously held the Council seat for seven years before becoming a state Senator in 2006. He said his decision to attempt a return to city government was based largely on the opportunity to make more of an impact, which has been denied to Democrats who have been in the minority in the Senate. “I’m going to essentially be serving the same neighborhood with an opportunity to not only serve but to deliver,” Perkins said of potentially rejoining the Council, which currently has 48 Democrats and three Republicans.</p> <p dir="ltr">Recalling his days in activist-oriented community work, Perkins said he is focusing on galvanizing community support. “It’s a winning formula for me,” he said. “I’m not a big moneymaker..I’m going where my strengths are, with the community, with the people.” &nbsp;And he believes he has a good chance of winning the seat. “There’s nothing guaranteed but I feel that my support in the past for elected office has been encouraging,” he said. “I feel in sync with this district. They’re familiar with me over the years, they’re familiar with the work I’ve done.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Perkins and Wright are not close. Wright is the leader of the Manhattan Democratic Party and a key cog in the state’s party infrastructure. Perkins is not expected to have a lot of institutional support, whether Wright runs or not. Because it is a city-level special election, there are no traditional party lines. The winner will serve for less than a year before having to run again in the fall, when all 51 Council seats will be on the ballot, as well as borough- and city-wide posts.</p> <p dir="ltr">Perkins promised, if elected, to seek out alliances within the Council and join its Progressive Caucus. He’ll focus on affordable housing, he said, “not as it’s defined by developers but as defined by what’s in the pocket of the people in the community.” He said he’s not overly confident, stressing that the race will be competitive.</p> <p dir="ltr">Perkins’ entry into the race hasn’t discouraged Holland, who is confident, especially given his union ties and organizing experience. Holland said in an interview that he is building a broad coalition of support including unions, district leaders, activists, and tenant leaders; he officially opened his new campaign headquarters Dec. 7.</p> <p dir="ltr">For Charles Cooper, the election is an opportunity to get Harlem residents involved in community decisions. “I think oftentimes, especially in a special election, you have very low turnout which isn’t representative of the district as a whole,” he said, underscoring the need to spread awareness of the election and to get voters engaged. Special elections are notoriously low-turnout.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cooper stressed the importance of people’s involvement, particularly after the election of Donald Trump as President. “We need to focus more and more on our local politics,” he said. “The City Council has a direct impact on the resources that come to our community.” Cooper, much like his opponents, said his campaign is a district-wide coalition of groups that will highlight issues of job creation, education, public safety, and housing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Immigration advocate Mamadou Drame said he’s been planning his run for District 9 for the last two years, spurred into action by an older generation that has been more passive towards politics. He said he’s lost faith in the current crop of elected officials, who “come to the district every four years for your vote and then forget about the community.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A Senegalese immigrant who has worked for years in immigrant services, he believes he’ll get support from the African immigrant population in Harlem. He’ll appeal to millennials and seniors alike, he said, with a campaign centered on reducing unemployment and “an inclusive approach to gentrification” that helps the community. “The question is, ‘how can we embrace development?,’” he said, “We can’t always be fighting it.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“We need to forge a path of new leadership,” said candidate Donald Fields, a managing partner at Fields &amp; Associates, a consultancy, who previously worked for the city’s child welfare agency. Fields emphasized the need for new blood to replace the “old guard” that has dominated the Harlem political scene for years. Although Fields said he respects them and their work, he believes that younger leaders will be able to bring about faster change.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like Holland others, Fields is also undeterred by facing Perkins in the race. “It hasn’t slowed down my passion,” he said. “It hasn’t stopped my zeal to win or my focus on what the district needs.” His biggest priority is fighting gentrification while encouraging necessary development.</p> <p>“Whoever wins this race must have a vision for the district and must be committed to deliver that vision,” Fields said. “That cannot be tied to backroom politics and special interests.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Undermines Own ‘Highest Standards' Claim 2016-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6655:de-blasio-undermines-own-claim-of-highest-standards Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/30273519456_42bc0e6616_z.jpg" alt="de blasio panel mayors" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In a surprise move on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared during a <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2016/12/5/mondays-with-the-mayor--agents-no-more.html" target="_blank">NY1 television appearance</a> that going forward his communications with five outside advisors would be subject to public disclosure. In doing so, the mayor betrayed his own rhetoric from a week prior when he vigorously defended his actions in keeping those communications confidential and maintained that “the highest standards were adhered to” in his dealings with unpaid consultants, some of whom have clients with city business.</p> <p dir="ltr">For the last several months, the mayor has pushed back against allegations of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall stemming from his close relationships with multiple consultants that have clients with city business and the mayor’s political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, for which some of those consultants also worked. Much of de Blasio’s explanation around the Campaign for One New York and his relationship with outside consultants has indicated a bare adherence to legal and ethical guidelines, not to the “highest standards.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Campaign for One New York, which de Blasio has repeatedly said was OK’d by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, raised unlimited funds from wealthy donors who have business with the city, including labor unions and real estate developers. The now-defunct group, which voluntarily disclosed its donors, is under federal and state investigation to determine whether donors were offered or received political favors from City Hall. No one has been charged with wrongdoing and the mayor has insisted that he and his allies sought proper guidance and conducted themselves ethically and legally. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The administration has sought to keep the communications with his unpaid consultants, termed “agents of the city,” exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Law, inviting a lawsuit from the New York Post and NY1 for their release. Two weeks ago, the day before Thanksgiving, the administration released some of those communications, just over 1,500 emails dating back three years, exchanged with one of the consultants, Jonathan Rosen of the BerlinRosen firm.</p> <p dir="ltr">At an unrelated <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJPc9toffYg" target="_blank">news conference</a> on November 29, de Blasio argued that his exchanges with Rosen were appropriate and did not present conflicts of interest. “I’m absolutely convinced that the highest standards were adhered to,” he told reporters. “Everything we did – I said it last night, I’ll say it again. Everything we did, we did with legal clearance for the way to approach things – in the case of Campaign for One New York, with pre-clearance from the Conflict of Interest Board. I am convinced everything was done appropriately.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But the mayor’s argument has not swayed good government groups who would like to see a higher standard of conduct and more transparency from a mayor who campaigned on that very promise.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It's common sense that you can't serve two masters,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, in an email. “The Mayor's closest advisors, so called “Agents of the City,” represent private interests with business before the city, and they're not accountable to anyone other than their clients. They should not also have a prominent role in public policy.”</p> <p dir="ltr">On Monday, the mayor sought to make a move towards more openness, telling anchor Errol Louis on NY1’s Inside City Hall that he would no longer shield communications on government matters with outside consultants. He described the move as necessary since the email issue had “obviously become a distraction” to his administration, but in doing so, he effectively acknowledged a higher standard to follow.</p> <p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, earlier communications with those “agents” are still being held confidential and the lawsuit continues.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s hardly the highest standard when the response of the administration, in my opinion, is inconsistent with law,” said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, which provides guidance on the state’s Freedom of Information law. “A consultant according to the state’s highest court refers to persons or entities retained by the city,” he added, pointing out that the mayor’s advisors are private citizens who are not on the city’s payroll, which is the basic requirement for shielding communications.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio similarly undermined his own argument about high standards when he shifted the policy of including Rosen in high-level government cabinet meetings, with a spokesperson telling Gotham Gazette Rosen is no longer attending such meetings (BerlinRosen is again running communications for de Blasio’s campaign) after de Blasio himself told Gotham Gazette at the Nov. 29 news conference that he is rarely talking with those termed “agents of the city.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, faults de Blasio for not matching his lofty rhetoric, but believes he hasn’t done anything untoward. “He should probably refrain from using superlatives in explaining what he’s done,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s been illegal or detrimental.” If there was any illegal conduct, Greer is confident that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is investigating the Campaign for One New York, would have found it by now.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though de Blasio never admitted that the Campaign for One New York was a mistake, he had it shuttered when it too had become a significant distraction. He said it had accomplished its goals, chiefly helping to secure state funding for pre-Kindergarten.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think [de Blasio] has an Obama problem,” Greer said. “He cares about the city, he has time constraints, and in his expedience to try and implement policy, he doesn’t necessarily explain how or why.” She said that approach creates two negative consequences: constituents are unaware of the positive changes the mayor is making and, because of the lack of transparency, they are skeptical of whether the mayor’s actions are “above board.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But the mayor’s bigger problem, Greer said, is that he faces different pressures than his predecessor, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “I really do wonder if this is just the cost of doing business for someone who is not a billionaire and can’t finance his own projects,” she said, insisting that the mayor has to be able to make deals. “If he doesn’t get in bed with wealthy capitalists, how is he going to help poor people. That’s the question for American politics,” Greer said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Back when de Blasio was public advocate, he made a show of calling out city agencies for their lack of transparency. He issued a “<a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/foil/report" target="_blank">Transparency Report Card</a>” in which he gave failing grades to agencies that consistently failed to comply with the law. “The City is inviting waste and corruption by blocking information that belongs to the public,” de Blasio said, in April 2013. “That’s the last thing New York City can afford right now. We have to start holding government accountable when it refuses to turn over public records to citizens and taxpayers.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio is a far cry from that public advocate when it comes to transparency. “We’d like to believe that he is holding himself and others to the highest standard, but we don’t have any independent verification of that,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “When one is devising his own rules to shield people from public information, it raises questions about the validity of such claims. He cannot be the arbiter of whether he is doing so or not particularly when it involves protecting his closest associates.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/30273519456_42bc0e6616_z.jpg" alt="de blasio panel mayors" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In a surprise move on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared during a <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2016/12/5/mondays-with-the-mayor--agents-no-more.html" target="_blank">NY1 television appearance</a> that going forward his communications with five outside advisors would be subject to public disclosure. In doing so, the mayor betrayed his own rhetoric from a week prior when he vigorously defended his actions in keeping those communications confidential and maintained that “the highest standards were adhered to” in his dealings with unpaid consultants, some of whom have clients with city business.</p> <p dir="ltr">For the last several months, the mayor has pushed back against allegations of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall stemming from his close relationships with multiple consultants that have clients with city business and the mayor’s political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, for which some of those consultants also worked. Much of de Blasio’s explanation around the Campaign for One New York and his relationship with outside consultants has indicated a bare adherence to legal and ethical guidelines, not to the “highest standards.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Campaign for One New York, which de Blasio has repeatedly said was OK’d by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, raised unlimited funds from wealthy donors who have business with the city, including labor unions and real estate developers. The now-defunct group, which voluntarily disclosed its donors, is under federal and state investigation to determine whether donors were offered or received political favors from City Hall. No one has been charged with wrongdoing and the mayor has insisted that he and his allies sought proper guidance and conducted themselves ethically and legally. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The administration has sought to keep the communications with his unpaid consultants, termed “agents of the city,” exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Law, inviting a lawsuit from the New York Post and NY1 for their release. Two weeks ago, the day before Thanksgiving, the administration released some of those communications, just over 1,500 emails dating back three years, exchanged with one of the consultants, Jonathan Rosen of the BerlinRosen firm.</p> <p dir="ltr">At an unrelated <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJPc9toffYg" target="_blank">news conference</a> on November 29, de Blasio argued that his exchanges with Rosen were appropriate and did not present conflicts of interest. “I’m absolutely convinced that the highest standards were adhered to,” he told reporters. “Everything we did – I said it last night, I’ll say it again. Everything we did, we did with legal clearance for the way to approach things – in the case of Campaign for One New York, with pre-clearance from the Conflict of Interest Board. I am convinced everything was done appropriately.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But the mayor’s argument has not swayed good government groups who would like to see a higher standard of conduct and more transparency from a mayor who campaigned on that very promise.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It's common sense that you can't serve two masters,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, in an email. “The Mayor's closest advisors, so called “Agents of the City,” represent private interests with business before the city, and they're not accountable to anyone other than their clients. They should not also have a prominent role in public policy.”</p> <p dir="ltr">On Monday, the mayor sought to make a move towards more openness, telling anchor Errol Louis on NY1’s Inside City Hall that he would no longer shield communications on government matters with outside consultants. He described the move as necessary since the email issue had “obviously become a distraction” to his administration, but in doing so, he effectively acknowledged a higher standard to follow.</p> <p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, earlier communications with those “agents” are still being held confidential and the lawsuit continues.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s hardly the highest standard when the response of the administration, in my opinion, is inconsistent with law,” said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, which provides guidance on the state’s Freedom of Information law. “A consultant according to the state’s highest court refers to persons or entities retained by the city,” he added, pointing out that the mayor’s advisors are private citizens who are not on the city’s payroll, which is the basic requirement for shielding communications.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio similarly undermined his own argument about high standards when he shifted the policy of including Rosen in high-level government cabinet meetings, with a spokesperson telling Gotham Gazette Rosen is no longer attending such meetings (BerlinRosen is again running communications for de Blasio’s campaign) after de Blasio himself told Gotham Gazette at the Nov. 29 news conference that he is rarely talking with those termed “agents of the city.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, faults de Blasio for not matching his lofty rhetoric, but believes he hasn’t done anything untoward. “He should probably refrain from using superlatives in explaining what he’s done,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s been illegal or detrimental.” If there was any illegal conduct, Greer is confident that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is investigating the Campaign for One New York, would have found it by now.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though de Blasio never admitted that the Campaign for One New York was a mistake, he had it shuttered when it too had become a significant distraction. He said it had accomplished its goals, chiefly helping to secure state funding for pre-Kindergarten.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think [de Blasio] has an Obama problem,” Greer said. “He cares about the city, he has time constraints, and in his expedience to try and implement policy, he doesn’t necessarily explain how or why.” She said that approach creates two negative consequences: constituents are unaware of the positive changes the mayor is making and, because of the lack of transparency, they are skeptical of whether the mayor’s actions are “above board.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But the mayor’s bigger problem, Greer said, is that he faces different pressures than his predecessor, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “I really do wonder if this is just the cost of doing business for someone who is not a billionaire and can’t finance his own projects,” she said, insisting that the mayor has to be able to make deals. “If he doesn’t get in bed with wealthy capitalists, how is he going to help poor people. That’s the question for American politics,” Greer said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Back when de Blasio was public advocate, he made a show of calling out city agencies for their lack of transparency. He issued a “<a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/foil/report" target="_blank">Transparency Report Card</a>” in which he gave failing grades to agencies that consistently failed to comply with the law. “The City is inviting waste and corruption by blocking information that belongs to the public,” de Blasio said, in April 2013. “That’s the last thing New York City can afford right now. We have to start holding government accountable when it refuses to turn over public records to citizens and taxpayers.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio is a far cry from that public advocate when it comes to transparency. “We’d like to believe that he is holding himself and others to the highest standard, but we don’t have any independent verification of that,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “When one is devising his own rules to shield people from public information, it raises questions about the validity of such claims. He cannot be the arbiter of whether he is doing so or not particularly when it involves protecting his closest associates.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
Bill de Blasio Versus NIMBYism 2016-10-06T04:00:00+00:00 2016-10-06T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6563:bill-de-blasio-versus-nimbyism Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/29895751132_1e33656426_z.jpg" alt="BdB town hall queens miller" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio at a town hall (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In recent weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s policies have run up against an age-old forces of inertia and resistance in the city, especially one that springs forth in policy debates on everything from housing to bike lanes to school desegregation and even closing down Rikers Island jails. That force -- NIMBY or Not In My Back Yard-ism -- has taken distinct forms on different issues, but has been causing the de Blasio administration trouble and frustrating the mayor. At the same time, some critics of the administration say that the NIMBYism it is facing is stronger because the administration is not being a proactive, collaborative partner with communities.</p> <p dir="ltr">In some ways, the pushback is more sympathetic, like in cases where communities face real pressures of gentrification and displacement, and in others, less so, like when residents perceive even the smallest change to their neighborhood as contributing to a decline in quality of life.</p> <p dir="ltr">For de Blasio, persistent NIMBYism poses a multi-faceted challenge as he nears the final year of his first term. He has to choose at times to capitulate to demands from communities or local elected officials, and at other times, he must use unilateral but unpopular action that, in the administration&rsquo;s view, will have long-term benefits. Three recent instances, in particular, highlight this obstacle of NIMBYism to the administration&rsquo;s larger vision of equity and justice, which can be messier when being applied to neighborhoods than when explained in principle.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the last two months, two rezoning proposals that would&rsquo;ve added to the city&rsquo;s stock of affordable housing were nixed by the local Council members for their respective districts, eliciting charges of short-sighted NIMBYism by the Council members and the portion of their constituents they were listening to.</p> <p dir="ltr">The first proposal, in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, was voted down by the City Council in August after Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez opted to reject it. He had signaled support for the project, but appeared to bend to vocal community pressure as his final decision neared. Rodriguez has been an outspoken and active ally of de Blasio&rsquo;s, especially around the Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic deaths.</p> <p dir="ltr">It was the first private rezoning application before the city under the newly passed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing zoning rule. Rodriguez vetoed the proposal despite the city and the developers having reached an agreement in which half the housing would be affordable. By tradition, the full Council usually votes with the local member on land use applications, and did so with Rodriguez.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the second case, in Sunnyside, Queens, a nonprofit real estate developer withdrew a rezoning application in the face of opposition from the community and the prospect of a veto from Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer.</p> <p dir="ltr">The editorial boards of the Daily News and the Observer sharply criticized the two Council members for their &ldquo;NIMBY&rdquo; thinking. &ldquo;A developer could propose Eden and somewhere, somehow, someone&rsquo;s constituents would find it wanting,&rdquo; the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/tough-bill-anti-housing-nimby-councilmembers-article-1.2803936" target="_blank">Daily News</a>&nbsp;editorial board wrote, calling on the mayor to get tough with the Council in such instances. &ldquo;It is interesting,&rdquo; wrote <a href="http://observer.com/2016/09/end-the-nimby-veto-of-affordable-housing/" target="_blank">the Observer</a>&nbsp;editorial board, &ldquo;make that a euphemism for disheartening, to see supposedly liberal/progressive City Council members echo the call for affordable housing&mdash;except in their own districts.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">While Rodriguez defended his decision around the affordability of the proposed units and the added density to the neighborhood, Van Bramer explained his as especially related to the height of the proposed project, as well as the added density and need for related infrastructure improvements.</p> <p dir="ltr">The third example is local opposition to a City proposal to convert a Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth, Queens into a homeless shelter. Residents of the neighborhood are outraged, citing concerns about public safety and the location of the shelter. In an argument central to NIMBYism, many have even said they don&rsquo;t oppose creating shelters for the homeless, just this particular one. They have protested outside the home of Commissioner Steven Banks, head of the city&rsquo;s Human Resources Administration and <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2016/09/24/maspeth-residents-march-to-hotel-owner-s-home-to-protest--warehousing--homeless-in-their-neighborhood.html" target="_blank">marched</a> to the home of the hotel owner. De Blasio told them to protest at his home, Gracie Mansion.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I think that&rsquo;s the quandary with many policies,&rdquo; said Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University. Greer called NIMBYism the &ldquo;achilles heel of liberalism and progressive politics.&rdquo; Although many people might support policies such as those put forward by the de Blasio administration, Greer said, &ldquo;When it comes time to affect them in a personal way, these coalitions and conversations tend to fall apart.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In his weekly segment on WNYC&rsquo;s The Brian Lehrer Show <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/ask-mayor-quality-life-farewell-bratton/" target="_blank">on September 16</a>, the mayor also addressed the Maspeth controversy, saying the issue of homelessness &ldquo;brings out a lot of contradictions in people&rdquo; and said the NIMBY mindset had grown in the city over decades. &ldquo;And, as someone who&rsquo;s served here a long time, I don&rsquo;t have an illusion that we&rsquo;re going to snap our fingers and make it go away,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor added, &ldquo;I think we have to show people that we will take care of the surrounding community, but I&rsquo;m not ever going to allow folks who say, &lsquo;not in our community, put it in someone else&rsquo;s community&rsquo; &ndash; I&rsquo;m never going to buy into that. That&rsquo;s just not &ndash; that&rsquo;s not New York values. It really isn&rsquo;t.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">At a news conference on Thursday, when the mayor was asked again about Maspeth and the communication with local leaders, he admitted that the administration could do a better job. &ldquo;I would say there&rsquo;s a substantial amount of dialogue that goes on but we need to do better,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;re trying to perfect the approach that we can use everywhere in the same way, to do a better job of communicating with elected officials and other community leaders.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">He had more forceful words for the Maspeth protestors, however, which took dead aim at a NIMBY mindset. &ldquo;If they think that they can not have responsibility for a problem that&rsquo;s everyone&rsquo;s problem, they&rsquo;re wrong,&rdquo; he said, before criticizing their &ldquo;disgusting&rdquo; rhetoric and their &ldquo;reprehensible&rdquo; threats to HRA&rsquo;s Banks and his family. &ldquo;Those individuals are saying, &lsquo;There&rsquo;s a homelessness problem, some of those people come from our community and we don&rsquo;t want any of them here,&rsquo;&rdquo; de Blasio said. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t accept that. And I&rsquo;ve told them I welcome their pickets as many times as they want because I will happily stare them down. We are going to put a roof over people&rsquo;s heads.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The term NIMBY has been used in the past as a pejorative for wealthy white neighborhoods that wanted to avoid any change to their communities that they considered undesirable, including an influx of people. It&rsquo;s a loaded term that can imply class and racial biases. But, over time, the term has become more common and has evolved beyond its original meaning.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Just as the rain falls on rich and poor alike, NIMBYism is found among the rich and poor alike,&rdquo; said Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. The difference, Sherrill pointed out, is that with low-income communities, their NIMBYism is largely founded in justifiable concerns about gentrification and rising rents that contribute to displacement. That was one of the elements at play in the Inwood rezoning proposal."</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;These are forces that every mayoralty in New York City has come up against,&rdquo; said Wiley Norvell, a spokesperson for the mayor. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a durable feature of the political landscape.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">It is an undisputable fact that NIMBYism is universal and has cropped up all over the city in various policy battles. Earlier <a href="http://gothamist.com/2016/06/30/there_goes_the_neighborhood.php" target="_blank">this year</a>, proposals to expand the CitiBike program into Brooklyn faced local opposition that smacked of NIMBYism. A caller from the mayor&rsquo;s home neighborhood of Park Slope called into WNYC on Thursday morning to tell him the new bike installations there were a problem because they took away needed parking. Similar efforts in the form of lawsuits have been <a href="http://therealdeal.com/2014/03/07/judge-tosses-anti-citi-bike-suit-in-brooklyn-heights/" target="_blank">launched</a> since the city announced the CitiBike expansion in 2014.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another lawsuit, against bike lanes installed by the city in Park Slope, was <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/news/bike-hating-nimby-trolls-grudgingly-surrender-to-reality-9136252" target="_blank">withdrawn</a> just last month after stretching for six years.</p> <p dir="ltr">Especially in more controversial discussions, such as the plan to close down Rikers Island jails, NIMBYism is a significant factor. Although there is fairly <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/new-york/rikers-island-closing-plan-could-spur-communities-resistance-1.11544401" target="_blank">widespread agreement</a> on shuttering the doors of the prison complex, elected officials do not generally favor relocating inmates to community-based facilities. The Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito has a commission in motion to create a long-term plan for shutting down Rikers jails, the notion of which has already faced local backlash. Addressing affordable housing-related rezonings, Mark-Viverito recently said that the de Blasio administration needs to be more proactive in engaging with City Council members and their communities.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city&rsquo;s movement to rezone some schools with an eye on desegregating nearby schools has met NIMBY detractors in Downtown Brooklyn and the Upper West Side, though other critics say that the administration has not moved quickly or comprehensively enough on the issue overall.</p> <p dir="ltr">But in issues of land use and infrastructure, NIMBYism is perhaps most consistently pronounced, on both sides. On the one hand are more well-off neighborhoods opposing facilities that have historically saturated low-income communities, like homeless shelters and waste processing centers. On the other hand, are low-income communities resisting the march of gentrification across the city and opposing infrastructure that would put further pressure on their neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr">Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, sees a lot of NIMBYism in his line of work. His group advocates for a more even-handed distribution of burdensome city infrastructure that is often clustered in low-income communities of color. These efforts, more often than not, come up against some or another form of NIMBY opposition.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bautista pointed to a classic example exhibited on the Upper East Side last year in local objections to a marine waste transfer station. &ldquo;NIMBYism and environmental justice are polar opposites,&rdquo; he said. And the converse argument, that low-income neighborhoods are being NIMBY by refusing development, does not hold water, he emphasized. &ldquo;It can&rsquo;t apply to communities where everything is in your backyard, when your community is saturated.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Couched in Bautista&rsquo;s argument is the principle of &ldquo;fair share,&rdquo; the city policy aimed at equitable distribution of necessary city services and infrastructure across all neighborhoods. &ldquo;The fair share approach is an important principal,&rdquo; said Council Member Brad Lander. &ldquo;Some people hear &ldquo;fair share&rdquo; and hear &ldquo;NIMBYism.&rdquo; That has eroded the real argument for fair share.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Lander said the opposition in Maspeth may be the &ldquo;most strident&rdquo; example of NIMBYism and said each neighborhood has a fair share obligation to house the homeless. The administration has identified 250 homeless people whose last known address was Maspeth, but the community has no fixed shelters. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not only about not getting more than your fair share but doing your fair share,&rdquo; Lander said.</p> <p dir="ltr">On issues of land use planning, Lander - who is de Blasio&rsquo;s successor in the City Council seat representing Park Slope and nearby neighborhoods - believes the opposition may be more justifiable, &ldquo;especially at a time when rents are high, there&rsquo;s a lot of anxiety, there&rsquo;s a lot of development taking place.&rdquo; &ldquo;That is the challenge of government,&rdquo; he added. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a big challenge for Mayor de Blasio. That&rsquo;s a big challenge for the Council.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In part, that&rsquo;s also the administration&rsquo;s argument. Norvell, the mayoral spokesperson, said, &ldquo;We&rsquo;re in a moment of deep insecurity and tremendous fear of displacement.&rdquo; He chalked this up to agreements made by past administrations that were not always delivered upon. For instance the rezoning of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, where the city failed to create all the infrastructure and services that were promised. He said the failure of the rezoning proposals in Inwood and Sunnyside were par for the course. &ldquo;When you play on a field as big as we are, you&rsquo;re gonna win some, you&rsquo;re gonna lose some,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Nobody bats a thousand.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">He also sought to dispel the notion that recent &ldquo;noise&rdquo; or even past opposition were hobbling the administration&rsquo;s progress on its larger core agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">Norvell pointed to the expansion of affordable housing and CitiBike, &ldquo;both instances where the NIMBY phenomenon surfaced itself in various degrees of intensity but our policy and political goals were achieved nevertheless.&rdquo; Under the affordable housing agenda, about 53,000 units, a quarter of the goal administration&rsquo;s ten-year goal, have been financed and CitiBike is on course to double capacity, Norvell said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The moment of insecurity that both Norvell and Lander speak of may not just be for everyday New Yorkers. It&rsquo;s a challenging time for the mayor as well. He&rsquo;s fast approaching reelection and can ill-afford to make unpopular decisions. His relationship with the City Council <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/10/city-halls-progressive-alliance-sours-106081" target="_blank">has become more challenging</a>, particularly after he expressed some public dismay with Council Member Van Bramer over the Sunnyside deal (while also expressing respect for Van Bramer). Affordable housing is one of the main planks on which he has expended significant political capital, and must continue to do so in various local battles.</p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Sherrill said the new equation of power between the Council and the mayor precludes the possibility of unilateral action. &ldquo;An entire generation, 20 years, of atrophy for the Democratic political machine puts de Blasio in a position in which it is almost impossible for him to do anything that would entice members of the Council to do something he would like that is unpopular with...their districts,&rdquo; Sherrill said. &ldquo;This is not Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s problem. This is the problem of anyone who becomes Mayor now and mayors are going to have to find new ways of building relationships with neighborhoods.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">At a press conference on September 14, asked about the success of a housing proposal in the Bronx and the failure of Inwood, Speaker Mark-Viverito defended the leverage that Council members hold over land use decisions and seemed to criticize the mayor. &ldquo;The mayor and the administration need to focus on being proactive and engaged with Council members in their districts and with the communities that we represent to make sure information is being arrived at in the most transparent way about what a project is and what it seeks to do, that needs to happen,&rdquo; she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Earlier, in a late August&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6508-full-interview-council-speaker-melissa-mark-viverito" target="_blank">interview with Gotham Gazette</a>, Mark-Viverito, whose home district is largely East Harlem, leaned into a fair share argument when talking of rezoning and the siting of homeless shelters. &ldquo;I think there needs to be more equity in the way that services are distributed,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;There are literally some districts that have no shelters in them. You look at one like mine, that we have probably over 2,000, 3,000 beds...And that&rsquo;s a real challenge.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">But she also stressed that local decisions must involve dialogue and engagement with the communities that are affected, even if they don&rsquo;t agree. &ldquo;And I have found that when you really engage in that conversation and take the time to really explain the process of your thinking and why, even if people don&rsquo;t agree with you they&rsquo;ll respect that, and you can work with your constituents and navigate through that,&rdquo; she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio does seem to be taking some of these critiques to heart. He has stepped up his efforts at personally engaging with New Yorkers. Besides his weekly radio appearance, where he takes questions from callers and promises assistance to those who need it, he has hosted a number of town halls in the last few months, connecting with people more directly in all five boroughs.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;For neighborhood planning, I believe it&rsquo;s better to engage people more and sooner,&rdquo; said Council Member Lander, who thinks the administration has shown strong participation in certain proposed rezonings, including Gowanus, Bushwick, Far Rockaway, and East Harlem.</p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Greer said that she thinks de Blasio &ldquo;has to convince people that &lsquo;this is a good idea and worth doing,&rsquo; either through political pressure or logrolling. If he needs to be successful, he&rsquo;ll find a way to sweeten the deal.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Bautista praised the mayor for reframing city policy along the lines of equity, but said, &ldquo;It can&rsquo;t just be a framing and messaging conceit.&rdquo; He said the mayor has to ensure consistency in applying his governing principles and show authentic community engagement. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s a difference between having a fait accompli and coming to the community with that decision, versus a real engagement where you have a policy goal in mind,&rdquo; he said, getting at one of the repeated criticism of the de Blasio administration, that it too often presents to communities a fully-baked plan. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s crucial to minimizing NIMBY.&rdquo;</p> <p>Norvell contends the administration has made &ldquo;honest and sincere&rdquo; engagement efforts in city planning, and that the ultimate goal is to &ldquo;do the most good for the most people.&rdquo; &ldquo;At the end of the day, you can&rsquo;t make everybody happy,&rdquo; 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/graphics/2016/29895751132_1e33656426_z.jpg" alt="BdB town hall queens miller" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio at a town hall (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In recent weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s policies have run up against an age-old forces of inertia and resistance in the city, especially one that springs forth in policy debates on everything from housing to bike lanes to school desegregation and even closing down Rikers Island jails. That force -- NIMBY or Not In My Back Yard-ism -- has taken distinct forms on different issues, but has been causing the de Blasio administration trouble and frustrating the mayor. At the same time, some critics of the administration say that the NIMBYism it is facing is stronger because the administration is not being a proactive, collaborative partner with communities.</p> <p dir="ltr">In some ways, the pushback is more sympathetic, like in cases where communities face real pressures of gentrification and displacement, and in others, less so, like when residents perceive even the smallest change to their neighborhood as contributing to a decline in quality of life.</p> <p dir="ltr">For de Blasio, persistent NIMBYism poses a multi-faceted challenge as he nears the final year of his first term. He has to choose at times to capitulate to demands from communities or local elected officials, and at other times, he must use unilateral but unpopular action that, in the administration&rsquo;s view, will have long-term benefits. Three recent instances, in particular, highlight this obstacle of NIMBYism to the administration&rsquo;s larger vision of equity and justice, which can be messier when being applied to neighborhoods than when explained in principle.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the last two months, two rezoning proposals that would&rsquo;ve added to the city&rsquo;s stock of affordable housing were nixed by the local Council members for their respective districts, eliciting charges of short-sighted NIMBYism by the Council members and the portion of their constituents they were listening to.</p> <p dir="ltr">The first proposal, in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, was voted down by the City Council in August after Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez opted to reject it. He had signaled support for the project, but appeared to bend to vocal community pressure as his final decision neared. Rodriguez has been an outspoken and active ally of de Blasio&rsquo;s, especially around the Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic deaths.</p> <p dir="ltr">It was the first private rezoning application before the city under the newly passed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing zoning rule. Rodriguez vetoed the proposal despite the city and the developers having reached an agreement in which half the housing would be affordable. By tradition, the full Council usually votes with the local member on land use applications, and did so with Rodriguez.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the second case, in Sunnyside, Queens, a nonprofit real estate developer withdrew a rezoning application in the face of opposition from the community and the prospect of a veto from Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer.</p> <p dir="ltr">The editorial boards of the Daily News and the Observer sharply criticized the two Council members for their &ldquo;NIMBY&rdquo; thinking. &ldquo;A developer could propose Eden and somewhere, somehow, someone&rsquo;s constituents would find it wanting,&rdquo; the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/tough-bill-anti-housing-nimby-councilmembers-article-1.2803936" target="_blank">Daily News</a>&nbsp;editorial board wrote, calling on the mayor to get tough with the Council in such instances. &ldquo;It is interesting,&rdquo; wrote <a href="http://observer.com/2016/09/end-the-nimby-veto-of-affordable-housing/" target="_blank">the Observer</a>&nbsp;editorial board, &ldquo;make that a euphemism for disheartening, to see supposedly liberal/progressive City Council members echo the call for affordable housing&mdash;except in their own districts.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">While Rodriguez defended his decision around the affordability of the proposed units and the added density to the neighborhood, Van Bramer explained his as especially related to the height of the proposed project, as well as the added density and need for related infrastructure improvements.</p> <p dir="ltr">The third example is local opposition to a City proposal to convert a Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth, Queens into a homeless shelter. Residents of the neighborhood are outraged, citing concerns about public safety and the location of the shelter. In an argument central to NIMBYism, many have even said they don&rsquo;t oppose creating shelters for the homeless, just this particular one. They have protested outside the home of Commissioner Steven Banks, head of the city&rsquo;s Human Resources Administration and <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2016/09/24/maspeth-residents-march-to-hotel-owner-s-home-to-protest--warehousing--homeless-in-their-neighborhood.html" target="_blank">marched</a> to the home of the hotel owner. De Blasio told them to protest at his home, Gracie Mansion.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I think that&rsquo;s the quandary with many policies,&rdquo; said Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University. Greer called NIMBYism the &ldquo;achilles heel of liberalism and progressive politics.&rdquo; Although many people might support policies such as those put forward by the de Blasio administration, Greer said, &ldquo;When it comes time to affect them in a personal way, these coalitions and conversations tend to fall apart.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In his weekly segment on WNYC&rsquo;s The Brian Lehrer Show <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/ask-mayor-quality-life-farewell-bratton/" target="_blank">on September 16</a>, the mayor also addressed the Maspeth controversy, saying the issue of homelessness &ldquo;brings out a lot of contradictions in people&rdquo; and said the NIMBY mindset had grown in the city over decades. &ldquo;And, as someone who&rsquo;s served here a long time, I don&rsquo;t have an illusion that we&rsquo;re going to snap our fingers and make it go away,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor added, &ldquo;I think we have to show people that we will take care of the surrounding community, but I&rsquo;m not ever going to allow folks who say, &lsquo;not in our community, put it in someone else&rsquo;s community&rsquo; &ndash; I&rsquo;m never going to buy into that. That&rsquo;s just not &ndash; that&rsquo;s not New York values. It really isn&rsquo;t.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">At a news conference on Thursday, when the mayor was asked again about Maspeth and the communication with local leaders, he admitted that the administration could do a better job. &ldquo;I would say there&rsquo;s a substantial amount of dialogue that goes on but we need to do better,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;re trying to perfect the approach that we can use everywhere in the same way, to do a better job of communicating with elected officials and other community leaders.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">He had more forceful words for the Maspeth protestors, however, which took dead aim at a NIMBY mindset. &ldquo;If they think that they can not have responsibility for a problem that&rsquo;s everyone&rsquo;s problem, they&rsquo;re wrong,&rdquo; he said, before criticizing their &ldquo;disgusting&rdquo; rhetoric and their &ldquo;reprehensible&rdquo; threats to HRA&rsquo;s Banks and his family. &ldquo;Those individuals are saying, &lsquo;There&rsquo;s a homelessness problem, some of those people come from our community and we don&rsquo;t want any of them here,&rsquo;&rdquo; de Blasio said. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t accept that. And I&rsquo;ve told them I welcome their pickets as many times as they want because I will happily stare them down. We are going to put a roof over people&rsquo;s heads.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The term NIMBY has been used in the past as a pejorative for wealthy white neighborhoods that wanted to avoid any change to their communities that they considered undesirable, including an influx of people. It&rsquo;s a loaded term that can imply class and racial biases. But, over time, the term has become more common and has evolved beyond its original meaning.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Just as the rain falls on rich and poor alike, NIMBYism is found among the rich and poor alike,&rdquo; said Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. The difference, Sherrill pointed out, is that with low-income communities, their NIMBYism is largely founded in justifiable concerns about gentrification and rising rents that contribute to displacement. That was one of the elements at play in the Inwood rezoning proposal."</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;These are forces that every mayoralty in New York City has come up against,&rdquo; said Wiley Norvell, a spokesperson for the mayor. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a durable feature of the political landscape.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">It is an undisputable fact that NIMBYism is universal and has cropped up all over the city in various policy battles. Earlier <a href="http://gothamist.com/2016/06/30/there_goes_the_neighborhood.php" target="_blank">this year</a>, proposals to expand the CitiBike program into Brooklyn faced local opposition that smacked of NIMBYism. A caller from the mayor&rsquo;s home neighborhood of Park Slope called into WNYC on Thursday morning to tell him the new bike installations there were a problem because they took away needed parking. Similar efforts in the form of lawsuits have been <a href="http://therealdeal.com/2014/03/07/judge-tosses-anti-citi-bike-suit-in-brooklyn-heights/" target="_blank">launched</a> since the city announced the CitiBike expansion in 2014.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another lawsuit, against bike lanes installed by the city in Park Slope, was <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/news/bike-hating-nimby-trolls-grudgingly-surrender-to-reality-9136252" target="_blank">withdrawn</a> just last month after stretching for six years.</p> <p dir="ltr">Especially in more controversial discussions, such as the plan to close down Rikers Island jails, NIMBYism is a significant factor. Although there is fairly <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/new-york/rikers-island-closing-plan-could-spur-communities-resistance-1.11544401" target="_blank">widespread agreement</a> on shuttering the doors of the prison complex, elected officials do not generally favor relocating inmates to community-based facilities. The Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito has a commission in motion to create a long-term plan for shutting down Rikers jails, the notion of which has already faced local backlash. Addressing affordable housing-related rezonings, Mark-Viverito recently said that the de Blasio administration needs to be more proactive in engaging with City Council members and their communities.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city&rsquo;s movement to rezone some schools with an eye on desegregating nearby schools has met NIMBY detractors in Downtown Brooklyn and the Upper West Side, though other critics say that the administration has not moved quickly or comprehensively enough on the issue overall.</p> <p dir="ltr">But in issues of land use and infrastructure, NIMBYism is perhaps most consistently pronounced, on both sides. On the one hand are more well-off neighborhoods opposing facilities that have historically saturated low-income communities, like homeless shelters and waste processing centers. On the other hand, are low-income communities resisting the march of gentrification across the city and opposing infrastructure that would put further pressure on their neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr">Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, sees a lot of NIMBYism in his line of work. His group advocates for a more even-handed distribution of burdensome city infrastructure that is often clustered in low-income communities of color. These efforts, more often than not, come up against some or another form of NIMBY opposition.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bautista pointed to a classic example exhibited on the Upper East Side last year in local objections to a marine waste transfer station. &ldquo;NIMBYism and environmental justice are polar opposites,&rdquo; he said. And the converse argument, that low-income neighborhoods are being NIMBY by refusing development, does not hold water, he emphasized. &ldquo;It can&rsquo;t apply to communities where everything is in your backyard, when your community is saturated.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Couched in Bautista&rsquo;s argument is the principle of &ldquo;fair share,&rdquo; the city policy aimed at equitable distribution of necessary city services and infrastructure across all neighborhoods. &ldquo;The fair share approach is an important principal,&rdquo; said Council Member Brad Lander. &ldquo;Some people hear &ldquo;fair share&rdquo; and hear &ldquo;NIMBYism.&rdquo; That has eroded the real argument for fair share.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Lander said the opposition in Maspeth may be the &ldquo;most strident&rdquo; example of NIMBYism and said each neighborhood has a fair share obligation to house the homeless. The administration has identified 250 homeless people whose last known address was Maspeth, but the community has no fixed shelters. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not only about not getting more than your fair share but doing your fair share,&rdquo; Lander said.</p> <p dir="ltr">On issues of land use planning, Lander - who is de Blasio&rsquo;s successor in the City Council seat representing Park Slope and nearby neighborhoods - believes the opposition may be more justifiable, &ldquo;especially at a time when rents are high, there&rsquo;s a lot of anxiety, there&rsquo;s a lot of development taking place.&rdquo; &ldquo;That is the challenge of government,&rdquo; he added. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a big challenge for Mayor de Blasio. That&rsquo;s a big challenge for the Council.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In part, that&rsquo;s also the administration&rsquo;s argument. Norvell, the mayoral spokesperson, said, &ldquo;We&rsquo;re in a moment of deep insecurity and tremendous fear of displacement.&rdquo; He chalked this up to agreements made by past administrations that were not always delivered upon. For instance the rezoning of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, where the city failed to create all the infrastructure and services that were promised. He said the failure of the rezoning proposals in Inwood and Sunnyside were par for the course. &ldquo;When you play on a field as big as we are, you&rsquo;re gonna win some, you&rsquo;re gonna lose some,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Nobody bats a thousand.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">He also sought to dispel the notion that recent &ldquo;noise&rdquo; or even past opposition were hobbling the administration&rsquo;s progress on its larger core agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">Norvell pointed to the expansion of affordable housing and CitiBike, &ldquo;both instances where the NIMBY phenomenon surfaced itself in various degrees of intensity but our policy and political goals were achieved nevertheless.&rdquo; Under the affordable housing agenda, about 53,000 units, a quarter of the goal administration&rsquo;s ten-year goal, have been financed and CitiBike is on course to double capacity, Norvell said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The moment of insecurity that both Norvell and Lander speak of may not just be for everyday New Yorkers. It&rsquo;s a challenging time for the mayor as well. He&rsquo;s fast approaching reelection and can ill-afford to make unpopular decisions. His relationship with the City Council <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/10/city-halls-progressive-alliance-sours-106081" target="_blank">has become more challenging</a>, particularly after he expressed some public dismay with Council Member Van Bramer over the Sunnyside deal (while also expressing respect for Van Bramer). Affordable housing is one of the main planks on which he has expended significant political capital, and must continue to do so in various local battles.</p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Sherrill said the new equation of power between the Council and the mayor precludes the possibility of unilateral action. &ldquo;An entire generation, 20 years, of atrophy for the Democratic political machine puts de Blasio in a position in which it is almost impossible for him to do anything that would entice members of the Council to do something he would like that is unpopular with...their districts,&rdquo; Sherrill said. &ldquo;This is not Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s problem. This is the problem of anyone who becomes Mayor now and mayors are going to have to find new ways of building relationships with neighborhoods.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">At a press conference on September 14, asked about the success of a housing proposal in the Bronx and the failure of Inwood, Speaker Mark-Viverito defended the leverage that Council members hold over land use decisions and seemed to criticize the mayor. &ldquo;The mayor and the administration need to focus on being proactive and engaged with Council members in their districts and with the communities that we represent to make sure information is being arrived at in the most transparent way about what a project is and what it seeks to do, that needs to happen,&rdquo; she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Earlier, in a late August&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6508-full-interview-council-speaker-melissa-mark-viverito" target="_blank">interview with Gotham Gazette</a>, Mark-Viverito, whose home district is largely East Harlem, leaned into a fair share argument when talking of rezoning and the siting of homeless shelters. &ldquo;I think there needs to be more equity in the way that services are distributed,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;There are literally some districts that have no shelters in them. You look at one like mine, that we have probably over 2,000, 3,000 beds...And that&rsquo;s a real challenge.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">But she also stressed that local decisions must involve dialogue and engagement with the communities that are affected, even if they don&rsquo;t agree. &ldquo;And I have found that when you really engage in that conversation and take the time to really explain the process of your thinking and why, even if people don&rsquo;t agree with you they&rsquo;ll respect that, and you can work with your constituents and navigate through that,&rdquo; she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio does seem to be taking some of these critiques to heart. He has stepped up his efforts at personally engaging with New Yorkers. Besides his weekly radio appearance, where he takes questions from callers and promises assistance to those who need it, he has hosted a number of town halls in the last few months, connecting with people more directly in all five boroughs.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;For neighborhood planning, I believe it&rsquo;s better to engage people more and sooner,&rdquo; said Council Member Lander, who thinks the administration has shown strong participation in certain proposed rezonings, including Gowanus, Bushwick, Far Rockaway, and East Harlem.</p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Greer said that she thinks de Blasio &ldquo;has to convince people that &lsquo;this is a good idea and worth doing,&rsquo; either through political pressure or logrolling. If he needs to be successful, he&rsquo;ll find a way to sweeten the deal.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Bautista praised the mayor for reframing city policy along the lines of equity, but said, &ldquo;It can&rsquo;t just be a framing and messaging conceit.&rdquo; He said the mayor has to ensure consistency in applying his governing principles and show authentic community engagement. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s a difference between having a fait accompli and coming to the community with that decision, versus a real engagement where you have a policy goal in mind,&rdquo; he said, getting at one of the repeated criticism of the de Blasio administration, that it too often presents to communities a fully-baked plan. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s crucial to minimizing NIMBY.&rdquo;</p> <p>Norvell contends the administration has made &ldquo;honest and sincere&rdquo; engagement efforts in city planning, and that the ultimate goal is to &ldquo;do the most good for the most people.&rdquo; &ldquo;At the end of the day, you can&rsquo;t make everybody happy,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
2016 Again Highlights New York ‘Incumbency Protection Machine’ 2016-09-19T04:00:00+00:00 2016-09-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6536:2016-again-highlights-new-york-incumbency-protection-machine Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/NYC_BOE_photo_voting_machines_cropped.png" alt="NYC BOE photo voting machines cropped" width="600" height="419" /></p> <p>(photo via NYC Board of Elections)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">New York City residents are represented in the state Legislature by a total of 91 seats, 26 in the state Senate and 65 in the state Assembly. Among them, 60 are held by incumbents who were uncontested in their party primary elections that took place Tuesday, September 13.</p> <p dir="ltr">In these just-completed primaries, 66 percent -- or about two-thirds -- of the city&rsquo;s state legislative seats saw no intra-party competition. Twenty-four New York City-based legislators did face primary challengers this month, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6526-new-york-state-legislative-primary-results" target="_blank">three of whom</a> lost.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, there were seven already-vacant seats or seats where the current officeholder is not seeking re-election -- most of these seats saw competitive primaries, but City Council Member Inez Dickens <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6534-keith-wright-weighs-options-amid-uptown-power-shifts" target="_blank">ran unopposed</a> for the Assembly seat <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6534-keith-wright-weighs-options-amid-uptown-power-shifts" target="_blank">being vacated</a> by Keith Wright in Harlem.</p> <p>In total, there are 150 Assembly seats and 63 Senate seats in the state Legislature. There are no term limits for state legislators in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of the 60 New York City-based incumbents who were uncontested from within their parties this cycle, 58 are Democrats, including State Senator Simcha Felder, who caucuses with Republicans in Albany and has both the Democrat and Republican lines on the ballot this year. In most, if not all, of these districts, Board of Elections voter enrollment data show registered Democrats outnumbering registered Republican voters 4-to-1, or more in some cases.</p> <p dir="ltr">The single party dominance in many districts renders general election competition virtually meaningless and allows incumbents to be re-elected without lifting a finger. In some districts, the opposing party isn&rsquo;t running a general election candidate at all. As many as 23 state legislators across the city will face neither a primary nor general election opponent this election cycle.</p> <p dir="ltr">For example, Queens Democratic Assemblymember Michael DenDekker is running unopposed in the general election after facing no challenger in the primary. Elected into office in 2008, DenDekker has never faced a primary or general election challenger, <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_DenDekker" target="_blank">according to Ballotpedia</a>. Like with many other legislative races, especially so for uncontested votes, a small percentage of registered voters cast ballots for DenDekker and other uncontested incumbents, though numbers do rise when there is a presidential contest the same day.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the 2010 general election, not a presidential year, just 10,117 people -- 1-in-5 registered voters in Assembly District 34 -- selected DenDekker&rsquo;s name at the polls. New York State Assembly members each represent an average of 129,089 district residents, while state Senators have larger districts and represent roughly 307,356 residents, <a href="http://www.latfor.state.ny.us/faqs/" target="_blank">according to</a> the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographics and Reapportionment.</p> <p>Senator Felder of Brooklyn, who has been instrumental in maintaining a narrow Republican majority in the state Senate, will appear on the Democratic, Republican and Conservative ballot lines in District 17 for the general election. Felder won his first state Senate election in 2012. In that first <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/elections/2012/General/SD_07292013.pdf" target="_blank">general election</a> he defeated incumbent Republican David Storobin. He hasn&rsquo;t faced a primary or general election challenger since.</p> <p dir="ltr">Repeatedly uncontested primaries and general elections has become the norm for many seats across New York City and at least partially explains dismally low voter turnout in legislative elections around the city and state.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the <a href="http://nyenr.elections.state.ny.us/home.aspx" target="_blank">2016 primary elections</a>, 115,819 New Yorkers cast a ballot for state Senator out of nearly 1.1 million active voters within the districts where elections were held -- just 11 percent of the active voting population in those districts.</p> <p dir="ltr">With so few New Yorkers casting ballots and so little competition, state legislators are more likely to listen less to their constituents and more to the people and interest groups who fund their campaigns, political consultants, and lobbyists. Elected officials become indebted to these power brokers for maintaining their office as big donors could just as easily funnel their money to a primary challenger should their interests go unheard.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;That&rsquo;s not good enough, people should be made aware of that,&rdquo; said Olateju &ldquo;Remi&rdquo; Ogunremi, 54, a civil servant who has lived in Brooklyn for ten years, when told that his local Assembly member is running unopposed and fits a larger pattern. Residing in Crown Heights, Remi is represented in the state Assembly by Walter Mosley, a Democrat who is uncontested in his primary and general election this year. &ldquo;There should be a competitor to make it more democratic,&rdquo; Remi said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Without a public campaign finance system that matches private donations and encourages small-dollar contributions, outsider legislative candidates have little to no chance of raising enough cash to stage a significant challenge without strong name recognition or support of established organizations, unions, and local political figures. Once elected, incumbents have helped redraw their own districts to their and their party&rsquo;s advantage and regularly pass legislation benefiting the people and interest groups that help them stay in office (redistricting will be done differently in New York next time thanks to a constitutional amendment <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2014/11/voters-approve-all-three-ballot-propositions-017202" target="_blank">passed at the ballot by voters in 2014</a>).</p> <p dir="ltr">Without term limits in place, state legislators get comfortable. The average tenure in Albany is over a decade long, according to a <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2014/12/average-tenure-in-albany-more-than-a-decade-018476" target="_blank">2015 report by Politico New York</a>. State lawmakers have also been at the center of a rash of corruption schemes and convictions, including recent leaders of each house.</p> <p dir="ltr">As discontent and disapproval of state government grows, so does a lack of interest and involvement in the political system - less voting by those who are eligible; fewer aspirants willing to run for office. With loyal incumbents securely in office and fewer competitive races for which to distribute resources, campaign donors are free to hone their attention on strategic districts where they seek to broaden their influence and push their agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s very difficult for newcomers to unseat incumbents,&rdquo; said Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University. &ldquo;Once you&rsquo;re in office it&rsquo;s much easier to stay in and protect that office, so a lot of people see it as a David versus Goliath situation and choose not to engage in trying to break into the political system.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Greer paints a striking picture of the situation: &ldquo;If you are from a very Democratic district and won your primary, then you&rsquo;re probably not going to have a credible Republican challenger when you&rsquo;re on the ballot in November. You&rsquo;re going to Albany with 4,000 votes. You&rsquo;re going to be in charge of a budget that&rsquo;s larger than most countries on the planet. You&rsquo;re going to be able to control children&rsquo;s education, what happens to a woman&rsquo;s body, prisons, drug use, punishment, marriage equality-- and you&rsquo;re being sent there with 4,000 votes.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Representing District 57, Assemblymember Mosley has no electoral competition this year. He was first elected to an open seat in 2012 when he faced challengers in both the primary and general election.</p> <p dir="ltr">District 57 -- representing large portions of Brooklyn neighborhoods like Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant -- is one of many districts that is overwhelmingly dominated by the Democratic Party to the point that general election contests are virtually meaningless. Any serious candidate, liberal or conservative, would be smart to run as a Democrat in the district if they expect to stand a chance.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2012, 47,844 votes were cast in District 57 for the Assembly general election, which Mosley handily won with 98 percent of the vote. Occurring at the same time as the Presidential vote with Barack Obama seeking re-election against Mitt Romney, over half of the registered voters in AD57 went to the polls for the general. But, many missed the actual Assembly race that took place months before.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the AD57 Democratic primary that year, out of 72,380 registered Democrats in the district, just 7,268 cast a ballot -- about 10 percent. Mosley won with 4,565 votes, or 1-in-16 registered Democrats in a district representing over 129,000 residents.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;People are not enthusiastic, they are not willing to come out and vote,&rdquo; said Remi in a conversation with Gotham Gazette outside of the Franklin Avenue subway station on Eastern Parkway. &ldquo;People need to be aware of which contestant they need to fight for.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD57 fits a pattern.</p> <p dir="ltr">Multiple forces produce the current system of so many uncontested elections. On one hand, there are the natural incumbency advantages of name recognition and access to financial means, but there is more to it than that.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One, is the gerrymandering that occurs allowing lawmakers to draw their own district lines&hellip;[two is] a disgraceful campaign finance system that allows them to hit up special interests for ridiculous amounts of money,&rdquo; said Blair Horner, executive director at the New York Public Interest Research Group, referring to a lack of &ldquo;pay-to-play&rdquo; restrictions on campaign donors with government business. &ldquo;You overlay that with the lousy system of running elections in general -- which is, voter registration laws are cumbersome, we have a closed primary system, getting on the ballot is difficult -- and as a result New York has anemic voter turnout, one of the worst in the country.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I think the voting public increasingly believes that they will not see competitive elections by and large, and it&rsquo;s a reflection of a system that is designed to be an incumbency protection machine,&rdquo; said Horner. This is a self-perpetuating problem Horner calls a &ldquo;democracy death spiral.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One of the reasons I think the public is so unhappy with Albany is to some extent a reflection of policies that have emerged that are also not in the public&rsquo;s interest,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;As the public gets more turned off you can see it in the voter turnout numbers, interest groups wield more clout, which further alienates the voting public.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">This lack of competition has a negative impact on voter turnout, and as Greer also points out, it&rsquo;s not limited to New York City. &ldquo;Think about places in the deep south that are very red where we&rsquo;re seeing a dismal turnout among Republicans,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not just a Democratic problem, it&rsquo;s an elected official problem.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Horner agrees that incumbent dominance to the point of mass uncontested elections is not unique to the Democratic Party&rsquo;s control in New York City. &ldquo;What you&rsquo;ve found in New York City sadly is the case across the state,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;New York has always had a twisted system like this&hellip;and as the stakes get higher, more and more money comes in, it too often crowds out the public&rsquo;s interest.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">With such a history of one party dominance in New York City and decades of policies that have favored incumbents, mitigating this problem is a daunting task.</p> <p dir="ltr">One place to look for possible solutions is New York City itself. With one of the most highly regarded public campaign financing systems and term limits, City Council elections have been opened up for candidates of modest means to run, and sometimes win.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;A system of public financing allows individuals who are not beholden to any groups to actually run significant campaigns for public office,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;You see that in New York and you don&rsquo;t see it at the state level because you have the highest campaign contribution limits of any state that has limits in the country, coupled with a rigged system of redistricting and the normal powers of incumbency.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The state Legislature could pass a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">variety of measures</a> that would make elections more democratic. There are advocates for the general idea of more open and fair elections throughout both the state Senate and Assembly, though most of the relevant legislation has failed to come up in each passing session, often in the Republican-controlled Senate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another avenue of reform could be through improved civics education programs. &ldquo;I worry that we&rsquo;re just creating more and more generations of people who are disaffected and non-participatory,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;I wish we could figure out a way in which we could better educate the public about these offices, but I don&rsquo;t really know how to solve that. Obviously the literature that we&rsquo;re sending out to voters isn&rsquo;t resonating in a way, [and] it&rsquo;s not being taught in schools where students are actually retaining the information.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Voters can be among those who see it as a shared responsibility. &ldquo;Everyone has their own role to play; Republicans, Democrats, and the Board of Elections needs to generate more awareness, they need to distribute more information into the grassroots,&rdquo; said Remi. &ldquo;I mean, a grassroots election is the most important election, but having nobody to contest with, that means we&rsquo;re going to be getting the same ideas and nothing is going to change.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Others Unchallenged</strong></p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Queens</strong><br />Democratic Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Aravella_Simotas" target="_blank">Aravella Simotas</a> (AD36) has held her seat in Queens since winning an open seat election in 2010. She ran uncontested in both the <a href="http://elections.nytimes.com/2010/results/new-york/state-legislature" target="_blank">Democratic primary</a> and <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/elections/2010/general/2010AssemblyRecertified09122012.pdf" target="_blank">general election</a> that year despite there being no incumbent in the race. In 2012, Simontas handily defeated Republican Julia Haich in the general election. She has run unopposed since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_Simanowitz" target="_blank">Michael Simanowitz</a>, an elected Democrat who also appears on the Republican and Conservative ballot lines, is running unopposed in both the Democratic primary and the general election for Assembly District 27. In 2011, Simanowitz won a special election against Republican Marco Desena. He&rsquo;s been unchallenged in the primaries and general elections since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrew_Hevesi" target="_blank">Andrew Hevesi</a> is a Democrat representing Assembly District 28 in Queens since he was first elected in 2005. The last general election fight Hevesi faced was in 2010. He was also challenged in the Democratic primary that year. He&rsquo;s run unopposed in all primaries and general elections since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>Assemblymember Michelle Titus represents District 31 in Queens and is facing neither a Democratic primary opponent or any general election competition. Titus, who was first elected 2002, ran unchallenged in the primary even that year, and has never faced a primary opponent. She faced a general eleciton opponent in 2002, 2004, and 2006; while in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014, Titus faced no opponents whatsoever, al according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Jeffrion_Aubry" target="_blank">Jeffrion Aubry</a> has served in the state Assembly since he was first elected in a 1992 special election for District 35. The veteran Democrat has run unopposed in at least five straight election cycles including the current one, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Veteran Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Catherine_Nolan" target="_blank">Catherine Nolan</a> of Queens, a Democrat, has served residents of District 37 since 1984. She has not faced a primary competitor in the last five election cycles. John Kevin Wilson challenged Nolan as a Republican in 2012 and as a Libertarian in the 2014 general elections, which Nolan easily won. In the 2014 general election, Nolan defeated Wilson with just 10,336 votes, or one-in-six register voters, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Francisco_Moya" target="_blank">Francisco Moya</a> is a Democrat representing District 39 in Queens since he was first elected in 2010. He is running uncontested in the general election this November after running uncontested in the Democratic primary. The 2008 election cycle was the last time Moya faced a primary or general election opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p>SD11 - Democratic State Senator Tony Avella;<br />SD12 - Democratic State Senator Michael Gianaris;<br />SD13 - Democratic State Senator Jose Peralta;<br />SD14 - Democratic State Senator Leroy Comrie; and<br />SD15 - Democratic State Senator Joe Addabbo;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD24 - Democratic State Assemblymember David Weprin;<br />AD25 - Democratic State Assemblymember Nily Rozic;<br />AD26 - Democratic State Assemblymember Edward Braunstein;<br />AD38 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Miller; and<br />AD40 - Democratic State Assemblymember Ron Kim</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Brooklyn</strong><br />Republican State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Martin_Golden" target="_blank">Martin Golden</a> has held the District 22 seat since he was first elected in 2002. He was uncontested for the Republican nomination this year and will not face a challenger in November either, despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans 2-to-1 in the district, which largely covers Southern Brooklyn. Registered voters with no party affiliation also outnumber Republicans in the 22nd District. Golden faced a serious challenger each of the past two general elections, though Democrats are not putting up a fight this cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 43, State Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Diana_Richardson" target="_blank">Diana Richardson</a> has held office since winning a 2015 special election in which she won 49% of the vote as a Working Families and Green Party candidate. Now an incumbent Democrat, Richardson was unchallenged in 2016 party primary, nor will she face a general election opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Dov_Hikind" target="_blank">Dov Hikind</a>, a Democrat, has served Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 48 since 1983. There is no one challenging Hikind this election cycle. In 2012, Mitchell Tischler challenged Hikind for his seat in both the Democratic primary and in the general election as a School Choice Party candidate. In 2014, Hikind ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and defeated Nachman Caller in the general election. In a solidly Democratic district, Caller was able to achieve over 20 percent of the total vote count. Hikind won his re-election against a serious Republican challenger with just 12,317 votes, or one-in-four registered voters in the district, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Democrat <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Joseph_Lentol" target="_blank">Joseph Lentol</a> has served in the State Assembly representing Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 50 since he was first elected in 1972. He is running unopposed in both the Democratic primary and general election this election cycle. In 2014, Lentol faced Republican challenger William Davidson and won with 9,789 votes -- one-in-eight registered voters cast a ballot for their Assembly member in a District representing over 129,000 residents, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Assembly District 53, Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Maritza_Davila" target="_blank">Maritza Davila</a> has represented Brooklyn since winning a special election in 2013. She ran uncontested in the Democratic primary this year and will run unchallenged in the general election, as was the case in the 2014 election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="https://ballotpedia.org/N._Nick_Perry" target="_blank">Nick Perry</a> has served as the Assemblymember for District 58 in Brooklyn since he was first elected in 1992. He will be running unopposed in the general election this year after facing no challenger in the Democratic primary either. In the last five election cycles, Perry has only faced one primary opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Brooklyn incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p dir="ltr">SD20 - Democratic State Senator Jesse Hamilton; and<br />SD21 - Democratic State Senator Kevin Parker;</p> <p>AD41 - Democratic State Assemblymember Helene Weinstein;<br />AD45 - Democratic State Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz;<br />AD47 - Democratic State Assemblymember William Colton;<br />AD49 - Democratic State Assemblymember Peter Abbate;<br />AD51 - Democratic State Assemblymember Felix Ortiz;<br />AD52 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon;<br />AD54 - Democratic State Assemblymember Erik Dilan;<br />AD59 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jaime Williams; and<br />AD60 - Democratic State Assemblymember Charles Barron</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Staten Island</strong><br />Democratic State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Diane_Savino" target="_blank">Diane Savino</a> is part of the five-member Independent Democratic Conference and incumbent for District 23 on Staten Island and in parts of Brooklyn. She has held her seat since she was first elected in 2004. The IDC has helped Republicans maintain a majority in the State Senate. In 2014 multiple IDC members were challenged in the Democratic primary, though not Savino, who was again unopposed in the Democratic primary this year (other IDC members were not challenged this year either.) Savino is also running unopposed in the general election. She has never faced a primary challenger; she faced a general election opponent two cycles ago, in 2012, in Lisa Grey, who Savino handily defeated. One-in-three registered voters in District 23 cast a vote in that general election, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Senate District 24, also on Staten Island, Republican State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrew_Lanza" target="_blank">Andrew Lanza</a> has held his seat since winning in 2006. The district is home to many more Republicans than most New York City districts, though they are still outnumbered by registered Democrats in the district. Lanza has never faced a Republican primary challenger. He handily defeated Democrat Gary Carsel in the 2012 and 2014 general elections. Carsel nor any other Democrat has staged a campaign against Lanza this election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Matthew_Titone" target="_blank">Matthew Titone</a> of Staten Island ran unopposed in the District 61 Democratic Primary and will not face a challenger in the general election either. Titone won a special election in 2007 that gained him the seat. He has never faced a primary opponent though he has handily defeated several general election contestants. He ran totally unopposed in the previous election cycle of 2014, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_Cusick" target="_blank">Michael Cusick</a> is a Staten Island Democratic Assemblymember who won his first District 63 election in 2002. Cusick has run unopposed in the past five Democratic primaries, though he has faced a general election contestant every year up until now. He&rsquo;s running unopposed in the general election, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Republican Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Nicole_Malliotakis" target="_blank">Nicole Malliotakis</a> has represented the people of District 64 on Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn since first winning the seat in 2010. Previously she represented District 60 in the State Assembly. The Democrats have ran campaigns against Malliotakis in the last three general elections, while she has ran unopposed in the Republican Primaries. This election cycle Malliotakis will not face an opponent in the general election in addition to the primary, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Manhattan</strong><br />In Senate District 27 of Manhattan, Democrat State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Brad_M._Hoylman" target="_blank">Brad Hoylman</a> has held office since he was first elected in 2012. This election cycle he faces no Republican opposition in winning back his seat. During the 2012 open seat election, Hoylman came through the Democratic primary, then won an uncontested general election in which 93,469 registered voters cast a ballot for him. In the primary of that year, Hoylman split the vote with two other Democratic contenders, with only 13,051 Democrats voting, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>State Senator Daniel Squadron, a Democrat who represents District 26, which encompasses downtown Manhattan and part of downtown Brooklyn, is running unoppposed in the general after facing no primary opponent either. Squadron was elected in 2008, but did not face a primary opponent then and has not faced one since.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are nine other Manhattan legislators listed below who did not face a primary challenger this year. On the other hand, Sheldon Silver&rsquo;s replacement Alice Cancel (AD65) and Guillermo Linares (AD72) lost their seats, while Sen. Adriano Espaillat&rsquo;s chosen successor Marisol Alcantara (SD31) won her election.</p> <p dir="ltr">On the Upper East Side, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6497-manhattan-gop-sees-hope-on-upper-east-side" target="_blank">Republicans</a> are seeing hope in gaining more support for general elections in the Assembly.</p> <p dir="ltr">Manhattan incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p dir="ltr">SD28 - Democratic State Senator Liz Krueger;<br />SD29 - Democratic State Senator Jose Serrano;<br />SD30 - Democratic State Senator Bill Perkins;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD68 - Democratic State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez;<br />AD71 - Democratic State Assemblymember Herman Farrell;<br />AD73 - Democratic State Assemblymember Dan Quart;<br />AD74 - Democratic State Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh;<br />AD75 - Democratic State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried; and<br />AD76 - Democratic State Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>The Bronx</strong><br />Senate Minority Leader <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrea_Stewart-Cousins" target="_blank">Andrea Stewart-Cousins</a> (SD35) has represented residents north of the Bronx in Westchester County since 2006. She has never faced a Democratic primary challenger as she previously served as the vice-chair of the Westchester County Democratic Party and in the Westchester County Legislature from 1996 and until she was elected to the state Senate. Stewart-Cousins will not face a challenger in the general election this year, as was the case in the 2012 election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>Bronx State Senator Jeff Klein, a Democrat who leads the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, had to primary opponent, unlike in 2014 when mainline Democrats tried to unseat him. He is also facing no Republican challenger in November. Klein's IDC has formed a ruling coalition with Republicans in the Senate for the past two sessions. Klein represents the 34th Senate District.</p> <p dir="ltr">And finally, Democratic Speaker of the Assembly <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Carl_Heastie" target="_blank">Carl Heastie</a> -- of the Bronx&rsquo;s 83rd Assembly District -- was first elected to the chamber in 2000. He is not facing a competition in his general election contest after running uncontested in the Democratic primary. Heastie ran unopposed in the last five Democratic primaries, while he defeated general election challengers in those election cycles with upwards of 95 percent of the vote, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bronx incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p>AD77 - Democratic State Assemblymember Latoya Joyner;<br />AD79 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Blake;<br />AD80 - Democratic State Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj;<br />AD81 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz; and<br />AD82 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Benedetto</p> <p dir="ltr">Many of the incumbents without a primary challenge will see an opponent from another party in the general election. That said, given that New York City voters are overwhelmingly Democrats, general election competition is often symbolic.</p> <p>&ldquo;Oftentimes for so many districts across the country, the primary is the election for all intents and purposes,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;In either strong Republican or Democratic districts, if you win your primary you essentially don&rsquo;t even face anyone in November, and if you do it&rsquo;s almost a joke.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by William Fowler for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>*note: as stated, many of the references to past elections are based on aggregation done by <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/" target="_blank">Ballotpedia</a>.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/NYC_BOE_photo_voting_machines_cropped.png" alt="NYC BOE photo voting machines cropped" width="600" height="419" /></p> <p>(photo via NYC Board of Elections)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">New York City residents are represented in the state Legislature by a total of 91 seats, 26 in the state Senate and 65 in the state Assembly. Among them, 60 are held by incumbents who were uncontested in their party primary elections that took place Tuesday, September 13.</p> <p dir="ltr">In these just-completed primaries, 66 percent -- or about two-thirds -- of the city&rsquo;s state legislative seats saw no intra-party competition. Twenty-four New York City-based legislators did face primary challengers this month, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6526-new-york-state-legislative-primary-results" target="_blank">three of whom</a> lost.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, there were seven already-vacant seats or seats where the current officeholder is not seeking re-election -- most of these seats saw competitive primaries, but City Council Member Inez Dickens <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6534-keith-wright-weighs-options-amid-uptown-power-shifts" target="_blank">ran unopposed</a> for the Assembly seat <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6534-keith-wright-weighs-options-amid-uptown-power-shifts" target="_blank">being vacated</a> by Keith Wright in Harlem.</p> <p>In total, there are 150 Assembly seats and 63 Senate seats in the state Legislature. There are no term limits for state legislators in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of the 60 New York City-based incumbents who were uncontested from within their parties this cycle, 58 are Democrats, including State Senator Simcha Felder, who caucuses with Republicans in Albany and has both the Democrat and Republican lines on the ballot this year. In most, if not all, of these districts, Board of Elections voter enrollment data show registered Democrats outnumbering registered Republican voters 4-to-1, or more in some cases.</p> <p dir="ltr">The single party dominance in many districts renders general election competition virtually meaningless and allows incumbents to be re-elected without lifting a finger. In some districts, the opposing party isn&rsquo;t running a general election candidate at all. As many as 23 state legislators across the city will face neither a primary nor general election opponent this election cycle.</p> <p dir="ltr">For example, Queens Democratic Assemblymember Michael DenDekker is running unopposed in the general election after facing no challenger in the primary. Elected into office in 2008, DenDekker has never faced a primary or general election challenger, <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_DenDekker" target="_blank">according to Ballotpedia</a>. Like with many other legislative races, especially so for uncontested votes, a small percentage of registered voters cast ballots for DenDekker and other uncontested incumbents, though numbers do rise when there is a presidential contest the same day.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the 2010 general election, not a presidential year, just 10,117 people -- 1-in-5 registered voters in Assembly District 34 -- selected DenDekker&rsquo;s name at the polls. New York State Assembly members each represent an average of 129,089 district residents, while state Senators have larger districts and represent roughly 307,356 residents, <a href="http://www.latfor.state.ny.us/faqs/" target="_blank">according to</a> the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographics and Reapportionment.</p> <p>Senator Felder of Brooklyn, who has been instrumental in maintaining a narrow Republican majority in the state Senate, will appear on the Democratic, Republican and Conservative ballot lines in District 17 for the general election. Felder won his first state Senate election in 2012. In that first <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/elections/2012/General/SD_07292013.pdf" target="_blank">general election</a> he defeated incumbent Republican David Storobin. He hasn&rsquo;t faced a primary or general election challenger since.</p> <p dir="ltr">Repeatedly uncontested primaries and general elections has become the norm for many seats across New York City and at least partially explains dismally low voter turnout in legislative elections around the city and state.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the <a href="http://nyenr.elections.state.ny.us/home.aspx" target="_blank">2016 primary elections</a>, 115,819 New Yorkers cast a ballot for state Senator out of nearly 1.1 million active voters within the districts where elections were held -- just 11 percent of the active voting population in those districts.</p> <p dir="ltr">With so few New Yorkers casting ballots and so little competition, state legislators are more likely to listen less to their constituents and more to the people and interest groups who fund their campaigns, political consultants, and lobbyists. Elected officials become indebted to these power brokers for maintaining their office as big donors could just as easily funnel their money to a primary challenger should their interests go unheard.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;That&rsquo;s not good enough, people should be made aware of that,&rdquo; said Olateju &ldquo;Remi&rdquo; Ogunremi, 54, a civil servant who has lived in Brooklyn for ten years, when told that his local Assembly member is running unopposed and fits a larger pattern. Residing in Crown Heights, Remi is represented in the state Assembly by Walter Mosley, a Democrat who is uncontested in his primary and general election this year. &ldquo;There should be a competitor to make it more democratic,&rdquo; Remi said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Without a public campaign finance system that matches private donations and encourages small-dollar contributions, outsider legislative candidates have little to no chance of raising enough cash to stage a significant challenge without strong name recognition or support of established organizations, unions, and local political figures. Once elected, incumbents have helped redraw their own districts to their and their party&rsquo;s advantage and regularly pass legislation benefiting the people and interest groups that help them stay in office (redistricting will be done differently in New York next time thanks to a constitutional amendment <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2014/11/voters-approve-all-three-ballot-propositions-017202" target="_blank">passed at the ballot by voters in 2014</a>).</p> <p dir="ltr">Without term limits in place, state legislators get comfortable. The average tenure in Albany is over a decade long, according to a <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2014/12/average-tenure-in-albany-more-than-a-decade-018476" target="_blank">2015 report by Politico New York</a>. State lawmakers have also been at the center of a rash of corruption schemes and convictions, including recent leaders of each house.</p> <p dir="ltr">As discontent and disapproval of state government grows, so does a lack of interest and involvement in the political system - less voting by those who are eligible; fewer aspirants willing to run for office. With loyal incumbents securely in office and fewer competitive races for which to distribute resources, campaign donors are free to hone their attention on strategic districts where they seek to broaden their influence and push their agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s very difficult for newcomers to unseat incumbents,&rdquo; said Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University. &ldquo;Once you&rsquo;re in office it&rsquo;s much easier to stay in and protect that office, so a lot of people see it as a David versus Goliath situation and choose not to engage in trying to break into the political system.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Greer paints a striking picture of the situation: &ldquo;If you are from a very Democratic district and won your primary, then you&rsquo;re probably not going to have a credible Republican challenger when you&rsquo;re on the ballot in November. You&rsquo;re going to Albany with 4,000 votes. You&rsquo;re going to be in charge of a budget that&rsquo;s larger than most countries on the planet. You&rsquo;re going to be able to control children&rsquo;s education, what happens to a woman&rsquo;s body, prisons, drug use, punishment, marriage equality-- and you&rsquo;re being sent there with 4,000 votes.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Representing District 57, Assemblymember Mosley has no electoral competition this year. He was first elected to an open seat in 2012 when he faced challengers in both the primary and general election.</p> <p dir="ltr">District 57 -- representing large portions of Brooklyn neighborhoods like Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant -- is one of many districts that is overwhelmingly dominated by the Democratic Party to the point that general election contests are virtually meaningless. Any serious candidate, liberal or conservative, would be smart to run as a Democrat in the district if they expect to stand a chance.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2012, 47,844 votes were cast in District 57 for the Assembly general election, which Mosley handily won with 98 percent of the vote. Occurring at the same time as the Presidential vote with Barack Obama seeking re-election against Mitt Romney, over half of the registered voters in AD57 went to the polls for the general. But, many missed the actual Assembly race that took place months before.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the AD57 Democratic primary that year, out of 72,380 registered Democrats in the district, just 7,268 cast a ballot -- about 10 percent. Mosley won with 4,565 votes, or 1-in-16 registered Democrats in a district representing over 129,000 residents.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;People are not enthusiastic, they are not willing to come out and vote,&rdquo; said Remi in a conversation with Gotham Gazette outside of the Franklin Avenue subway station on Eastern Parkway. &ldquo;People need to be aware of which contestant they need to fight for.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD57 fits a pattern.</p> <p dir="ltr">Multiple forces produce the current system of so many uncontested elections. On one hand, there are the natural incumbency advantages of name recognition and access to financial means, but there is more to it than that.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One, is the gerrymandering that occurs allowing lawmakers to draw their own district lines&hellip;[two is] a disgraceful campaign finance system that allows them to hit up special interests for ridiculous amounts of money,&rdquo; said Blair Horner, executive director at the New York Public Interest Research Group, referring to a lack of &ldquo;pay-to-play&rdquo; restrictions on campaign donors with government business. &ldquo;You overlay that with the lousy system of running elections in general -- which is, voter registration laws are cumbersome, we have a closed primary system, getting on the ballot is difficult -- and as a result New York has anemic voter turnout, one of the worst in the country.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I think the voting public increasingly believes that they will not see competitive elections by and large, and it&rsquo;s a reflection of a system that is designed to be an incumbency protection machine,&rdquo; said Horner. This is a self-perpetuating problem Horner calls a &ldquo;democracy death spiral.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One of the reasons I think the public is so unhappy with Albany is to some extent a reflection of policies that have emerged that are also not in the public&rsquo;s interest,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;As the public gets more turned off you can see it in the voter turnout numbers, interest groups wield more clout, which further alienates the voting public.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">This lack of competition has a negative impact on voter turnout, and as Greer also points out, it&rsquo;s not limited to New York City. &ldquo;Think about places in the deep south that are very red where we&rsquo;re seeing a dismal turnout among Republicans,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not just a Democratic problem, it&rsquo;s an elected official problem.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Horner agrees that incumbent dominance to the point of mass uncontested elections is not unique to the Democratic Party&rsquo;s control in New York City. &ldquo;What you&rsquo;ve found in New York City sadly is the case across the state,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;New York has always had a twisted system like this&hellip;and as the stakes get higher, more and more money comes in, it too often crowds out the public&rsquo;s interest.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">With such a history of one party dominance in New York City and decades of policies that have favored incumbents, mitigating this problem is a daunting task.</p> <p dir="ltr">One place to look for possible solutions is New York City itself. With one of the most highly regarded public campaign financing systems and term limits, City Council elections have been opened up for candidates of modest means to run, and sometimes win.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;A system of public financing allows individuals who are not beholden to any groups to actually run significant campaigns for public office,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;You see that in New York and you don&rsquo;t see it at the state level because you have the highest campaign contribution limits of any state that has limits in the country, coupled with a rigged system of redistricting and the normal powers of incumbency.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The state Legislature could pass a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">variety of measures</a> that would make elections more democratic. There are advocates for the general idea of more open and fair elections throughout both the state Senate and Assembly, though most of the relevant legislation has failed to come up in each passing session, often in the Republican-controlled Senate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another avenue of reform could be through improved civics education programs. &ldquo;I worry that we&rsquo;re just creating more and more generations of people who are disaffected and non-participatory,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;I wish we could figure out a way in which we could better educate the public about these offices, but I don&rsquo;t really know how to solve that. Obviously the literature that we&rsquo;re sending out to voters isn&rsquo;t resonating in a way, [and] it&rsquo;s not being taught in schools where students are actually retaining the information.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Voters can be among those who see it as a shared responsibility. &ldquo;Everyone has their own role to play; Republicans, Democrats, and the Board of Elections needs to generate more awareness, they need to distribute more information into the grassroots,&rdquo; said Remi. &ldquo;I mean, a grassroots election is the most important election, but having nobody to contest with, that means we&rsquo;re going to be getting the same ideas and nothing is going to change.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Others Unchallenged</strong></p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Queens</strong><br />Democratic Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Aravella_Simotas" target="_blank">Aravella Simotas</a> (AD36) has held her seat in Queens since winning an open seat election in 2010. She ran uncontested in both the <a href="http://elections.nytimes.com/2010/results/new-york/state-legislature" target="_blank">Democratic primary</a> and <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/elections/2010/general/2010AssemblyRecertified09122012.pdf" target="_blank">general election</a> that year despite there being no incumbent in the race. In 2012, Simontas handily defeated Republican Julia Haich in the general election. She has run unopposed since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_Simanowitz" target="_blank">Michael Simanowitz</a>, an elected Democrat who also appears on the Republican and Conservative ballot lines, is running unopposed in both the Democratic primary and the general election for Assembly District 27. In 2011, Simanowitz won a special election against Republican Marco Desena. He&rsquo;s been unchallenged in the primaries and general elections since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrew_Hevesi" target="_blank">Andrew Hevesi</a> is a Democrat representing Assembly District 28 in Queens since he was first elected in 2005. The last general election fight Hevesi faced was in 2010. He was also challenged in the Democratic primary that year. He&rsquo;s run unopposed in all primaries and general elections since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>Assemblymember Michelle Titus represents District 31 in Queens and is facing neither a Democratic primary opponent or any general election competition. Titus, who was first elected 2002, ran unchallenged in the primary even that year, and has never faced a primary opponent. She faced a general eleciton opponent in 2002, 2004, and 2006; while in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014, Titus faced no opponents whatsoever, al according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Jeffrion_Aubry" target="_blank">Jeffrion Aubry</a> has served in the state Assembly since he was first elected in a 1992 special election for District 35. The veteran Democrat has run unopposed in at least five straight election cycles including the current one, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Veteran Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Catherine_Nolan" target="_blank">Catherine Nolan</a> of Queens, a Democrat, has served residents of District 37 since 1984. She has not faced a primary competitor in the last five election cycles. John Kevin Wilson challenged Nolan as a Republican in 2012 and as a Libertarian in the 2014 general elections, which Nolan easily won. In the 2014 general election, Nolan defeated Wilson with just 10,336 votes, or one-in-six register voters, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Francisco_Moya" target="_blank">Francisco Moya</a> is a Democrat representing District 39 in Queens since he was first elected in 2010. He is running uncontested in the general election this November after running uncontested in the Democratic primary. The 2008 election cycle was the last time Moya faced a primary or general election opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p>SD11 - Democratic State Senator Tony Avella;<br />SD12 - Democratic State Senator Michael Gianaris;<br />SD13 - Democratic State Senator Jose Peralta;<br />SD14 - Democratic State Senator Leroy Comrie; and<br />SD15 - Democratic State Senator Joe Addabbo;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD24 - Democratic State Assemblymember David Weprin;<br />AD25 - Democratic State Assemblymember Nily Rozic;<br />AD26 - Democratic State Assemblymember Edward Braunstein;<br />AD38 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Miller; and<br />AD40 - Democratic State Assemblymember Ron Kim</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Brooklyn</strong><br />Republican State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Martin_Golden" target="_blank">Martin Golden</a> has held the District 22 seat since he was first elected in 2002. He was uncontested for the Republican nomination this year and will not face a challenger in November either, despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans 2-to-1 in the district, which largely covers Southern Brooklyn. Registered voters with no party affiliation also outnumber Republicans in the 22nd District. Golden faced a serious challenger each of the past two general elections, though Democrats are not putting up a fight this cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 43, State Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Diana_Richardson" target="_blank">Diana Richardson</a> has held office since winning a 2015 special election in which she won 49% of the vote as a Working Families and Green Party candidate. Now an incumbent Democrat, Richardson was unchallenged in 2016 party primary, nor will she face a general election opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Dov_Hikind" target="_blank">Dov Hikind</a>, a Democrat, has served Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 48 since 1983. There is no one challenging Hikind this election cycle. In 2012, Mitchell Tischler challenged Hikind for his seat in both the Democratic primary and in the general election as a School Choice Party candidate. In 2014, Hikind ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and defeated Nachman Caller in the general election. In a solidly Democratic district, Caller was able to achieve over 20 percent of the total vote count. Hikind won his re-election against a serious Republican challenger with just 12,317 votes, or one-in-four registered voters in the district, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Democrat <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Joseph_Lentol" target="_blank">Joseph Lentol</a> has served in the State Assembly representing Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 50 since he was first elected in 1972. He is running unopposed in both the Democratic primary and general election this election cycle. In 2014, Lentol faced Republican challenger William Davidson and won with 9,789 votes -- one-in-eight registered voters cast a ballot for their Assembly member in a District representing over 129,000 residents, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Assembly District 53, Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Maritza_Davila" target="_blank">Maritza Davila</a> has represented Brooklyn since winning a special election in 2013. She ran uncontested in the Democratic primary this year and will run unchallenged in the general election, as was the case in the 2014 election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="https://ballotpedia.org/N._Nick_Perry" target="_blank">Nick Perry</a> has served as the Assemblymember for District 58 in Brooklyn since he was first elected in 1992. He will be running unopposed in the general election this year after facing no challenger in the Democratic primary either. In the last five election cycles, Perry has only faced one primary opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Brooklyn incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p dir="ltr">SD20 - Democratic State Senator Jesse Hamilton; and<br />SD21 - Democratic State Senator Kevin Parker;</p> <p>AD41 - Democratic State Assemblymember Helene Weinstein;<br />AD45 - Democratic State Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz;<br />AD47 - Democratic State Assemblymember William Colton;<br />AD49 - Democratic State Assemblymember Peter Abbate;<br />AD51 - Democratic State Assemblymember Felix Ortiz;<br />AD52 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon;<br />AD54 - Democratic State Assemblymember Erik Dilan;<br />AD59 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jaime Williams; and<br />AD60 - Democratic State Assemblymember Charles Barron</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Staten Island</strong><br />Democratic State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Diane_Savino" target="_blank">Diane Savino</a> is part of the five-member Independent Democratic Conference and incumbent for District 23 on Staten Island and in parts of Brooklyn. She has held her seat since she was first elected in 2004. The IDC has helped Republicans maintain a majority in the State Senate. In 2014 multiple IDC members were challenged in the Democratic primary, though not Savino, who was again unopposed in the Democratic primary this year (other IDC members were not challenged this year either.) Savino is also running unopposed in the general election. She has never faced a primary challenger; she faced a general election opponent two cycles ago, in 2012, in Lisa Grey, who Savino handily defeated. One-in-three registered voters in District 23 cast a vote in that general election, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Senate District 24, also on Staten Island, Republican State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrew_Lanza" target="_blank">Andrew Lanza</a> has held his seat since winning in 2006. The district is home to many more Republicans than most New York City districts, though they are still outnumbered by registered Democrats in the district. Lanza has never faced a Republican primary challenger. He handily defeated Democrat Gary Carsel in the 2012 and 2014 general elections. Carsel nor any other Democrat has staged a campaign against Lanza this election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Matthew_Titone" target="_blank">Matthew Titone</a> of Staten Island ran unopposed in the District 61 Democratic Primary and will not face a challenger in the general election either. Titone won a special election in 2007 that gained him the seat. He has never faced a primary opponent though he has handily defeated several general election contestants. He ran totally unopposed in the previous election cycle of 2014, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_Cusick" target="_blank">Michael Cusick</a> is a Staten Island Democratic Assemblymember who won his first District 63 election in 2002. Cusick has run unopposed in the past five Democratic primaries, though he has faced a general election contestant every year up until now. He&rsquo;s running unopposed in the general election, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Republican Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Nicole_Malliotakis" target="_blank">Nicole Malliotakis</a> has represented the people of District 64 on Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn since first winning the seat in 2010. Previously she represented District 60 in the State Assembly. The Democrats have ran campaigns against Malliotakis in the last three general elections, while she has ran unopposed in the Republican Primaries. This election cycle Malliotakis will not face an opponent in the general election in addition to the primary, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Manhattan</strong><br />In Senate District 27 of Manhattan, Democrat State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Brad_M._Hoylman" target="_blank">Brad Hoylman</a> has held office since he was first elected in 2012. This election cycle he faces no Republican opposition in winning back his seat. During the 2012 open seat election, Hoylman came through the Democratic primary, then won an uncontested general election in which 93,469 registered voters cast a ballot for him. In the primary of that year, Hoylman split the vote with two other Democratic contenders, with only 13,051 Democrats voting, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>State Senator Daniel Squadron, a Democrat who represents District 26, which encompasses downtown Manhattan and part of downtown Brooklyn, is running unoppposed in the general after facing no primary opponent either. Squadron was elected in 2008, but did not face a primary opponent then and has not faced one since.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are nine other Manhattan legislators listed below who did not face a primary challenger this year. On the other hand, Sheldon Silver&rsquo;s replacement Alice Cancel (AD65) and Guillermo Linares (AD72) lost their seats, while Sen. Adriano Espaillat&rsquo;s chosen successor Marisol Alcantara (SD31) won her election.</p> <p dir="ltr">On the Upper East Side, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6497-manhattan-gop-sees-hope-on-upper-east-side" target="_blank">Republicans</a> are seeing hope in gaining more support for general elections in the Assembly.</p> <p dir="ltr">Manhattan incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p dir="ltr">SD28 - Democratic State Senator Liz Krueger;<br />SD29 - Democratic State Senator Jose Serrano;<br />SD30 - Democratic State Senator Bill Perkins;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD68 - Democratic State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez;<br />AD71 - Democratic State Assemblymember Herman Farrell;<br />AD73 - Democratic State Assemblymember Dan Quart;<br />AD74 - Democratic State Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh;<br />AD75 - Democratic State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried; and<br />AD76 - Democratic State Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>The Bronx</strong><br />Senate Minority Leader <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrea_Stewart-Cousins" target="_blank">Andrea Stewart-Cousins</a> (SD35) has represented residents north of the Bronx in Westchester County since 2006. She has never faced a Democratic primary challenger as she previously served as the vice-chair of the Westchester County Democratic Party and in the Westchester County Legislature from 1996 and until she was elected to the state Senate. Stewart-Cousins will not face a challenger in the general election this year, as was the case in the 2012 election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>Bronx State Senator Jeff Klein, a Democrat who leads the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, had to primary opponent, unlike in 2014 when mainline Democrats tried to unseat him. He is also facing no Republican challenger in November. Klein's IDC has formed a ruling coalition with Republicans in the Senate for the past two sessions. Klein represents the 34th Senate District.</p> <p dir="ltr">And finally, Democratic Speaker of the Assembly <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Carl_Heastie" target="_blank">Carl Heastie</a> -- of the Bronx&rsquo;s 83rd Assembly District -- was first elected to the chamber in 2000. He is not facing a competition in his general election contest after running uncontested in the Democratic primary. Heastie ran unopposed in the last five Democratic primaries, while he defeated general election challengers in those election cycles with upwards of 95 percent of the vote, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bronx incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p>AD77 - Democratic State Assemblymember Latoya Joyner;<br />AD79 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Blake;<br />AD80 - Democratic State Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj;<br />AD81 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz; and<br />AD82 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Benedetto</p> <p dir="ltr">Many of the incumbents without a primary challenge will see an opponent from another party in the general election. That said, given that New York City voters are overwhelmingly Democrats, general election competition is often symbolic.</p> <p>&ldquo;Oftentimes for so many districts across the country, the primary is the election for all intents and purposes,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;In either strong Republican or Democratic districts, if you win your primary you essentially don&rsquo;t even face anyone in November, and if you do it&rsquo;s almost a joke.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by William Fowler for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>*note: as stated, many of the references to past elections are based on aggregation done by <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/" target="_blank">Ballotpedia</a>.</p>
Change of Commissioner Spotlights De Blasio’s Record on Police Reform 2016-08-04T04:00:00+00:00 2016-08-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6467:change-of-commissioner-spotlights-de-blasio-s-record-on-police-reform Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/28767436295_62ca4e4d61_z.jpg" width="600" height="401" alt="de blasio nypd tucker bratton oneil et al" /></p> <p dir="ltr">photo:&nbsp;Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Many believe that the biggest responsibility of the Mayor of New York City is to keep people safe and Bill de Blasio has largely done that, in no small part by letting his lightning-rod police commissioner, Bill Bratton, call the shots on public safety policy. The mayor has focused on pre-kindergarten and affordable housing while Bratton has governed the streets, helping bring crime down to historic lows. At the same time, Bratton has led an evolution of sorts in how his force polices the city, adjusting practices toward the fairer, more equal city de Blasio promised.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think any of us could have predicted this much reduction in crime and this much improvement in relationship between police and community simultaneously,&rdquo; de Blasio said in a recent <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/de-blasio-dnc-future-democratic-party/">WNYC radio interview</a>, succinctly making his case and indicating the tough balancing act on safety and reform that he and Bratton have been attempting.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Thursday, de Blasio and NYPD officials announced that through July, there have been the fewest number of felony crimes, including murders and shootings, and the fewest number of overall arrests, in 20 years.</p> <p dir="ltr">For some, though, the pace and quality of change has not been nearly enough, and not what critics say de Blasio promised as a candidate for Mayor, when he pledged to &ldquo;end the stop-and-frisk era,&rdquo; as his son Dante famously said in a prominent TV ad, and ensure that policing is fair and constitutional in all neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some point to his decision to hire Bratton, the architect of Broken Windows policing, as a long-ago sign the mayor was not serious about what they call real NYPD reform. On the other side of the ledger, some who saw crime in New York City drop precipitously over the past two decades have sounded the alarm over the reforms that have been instituted under de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Bratton in the commissioner&rsquo;s second stint as the city&rsquo;s top cop after a &lsquo;90s run.</p> <p dir="ltr">Throughout his term, de Blasio has been hit from the right and the left over police reform, or the lack thereof. To the right, de Blasio has had strong crime data and Bratton himself, an idol to many more moderate and conservative New Yorkers, to help bat back criticism or warnings of a return of &ldquo;the bad old days.&rdquo; To the left, de Blasio has pointed to policy changes and a different set of data, with the mayor and the police commissioner attempting to sell the &ldquo;evolution&rdquo; of &ldquo;proactive policing,&rdquo; even citing a &ldquo;peace dividend&rdquo; of reduced &ldquo;negative interactions.&rdquo; The number of arrests for lower-level crimes has dropped by the tens of thousands.</p> <p dir="ltr">As de Blasio faces re-election next year, he&rsquo;ll be judged on both how safe the city is and his record as a policing reformer. He and his allies call results in both areas outstanding, while some critics say he&rsquo;s playing with fire on reform and others say he&rsquo;s barely tinkered. De Blasio is likely to run in 2017 as both a crime-stopping mayor and a police reformer.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Tuesday, a major curveball was thrown into the mix. The legendary, polarizing commissioner <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6465-bratton-announces-retirement-from-nypd-to-be-replaced-by-o-neill">announced that he will retire</a> next month. At a City Hall press conference, de Blasio heaped praise on Bratton while announcing that he will be replaced by Chief of Department James O&rsquo;Neill, a veteran officer and &ldquo;architect&rdquo; of the NYPD&rsquo;s new neighborhood policing program.</p> <p dir="ltr">O&rsquo;Neill, like de Blasio, is a Broken Windows policing disciple - both true believers in Bratton&rsquo;s brand of tough, rigid enforcement of low-level offenses in order to prevent more serious crimes that is the controversial fulcrum of the debate over policing in New York. All three - de Blasio, Bratton, and O&rsquo;Neill - see Broken Windows as evolving and say that the NYPD is changing for the better all the time.</p> <p dir="ltr">Whether de Blasio is the policing reformer he claims to be is a key piece of the discussion as O&rsquo;Neill begins his tenure in September and will be a source of debate through next November&rsquo;s Election Day.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>De Blasio&rsquo;s Case for Reform</strong><br />&ldquo;[C]hanges in the police department now are rapid and extraordinary,&rdquo; de Blasio said at a recent press conference. He was speaking in defense of an agreement between the City Council and his administration, namely the NYPD, to institute changes to the department&rsquo;s patrol guide instead of passing police reform legislation with broad support. Many City Council members and police reform advocates blasted the compromise, calling into question de Blasio&rsquo;s commitment to changing the NYPD and putting de Blasio and Mark-Viverito on the defensive.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor took the opportunity to downplay the criticism and make his case as a reformer: &ldquo;The retraining of all the officers, the neighborhood policing program, the de-escalation techniques that are being taught, the implicit bias training &ndash; all of this is happening at once,&rdquo; de Blasio said. &ldquo;And because of the [City] Council now, there&rsquo;s going to be a whole new way to approach a number of these situations,&rdquo; he added, referring to changes being brought about with respect to police stops of civilians and communication during those encounters.</p> <p dir="ltr">Alongside the aforementioned numbers of shootings and murders, de Blasio has several other data points to make his reform case: all 34,000 police officers are being trained in de-escalation tactics and will be taught to recognize implicit biases; between 2013 and 2015, marijuana <a href="http://www.justice-data.nyc/historical-trends/">arrests fell</a> from 28,649 to 16,030 and criminal summonses decreased from 424,850 to 297,413; stop-and-frisk incidents dropped from 191,558 to just 22,939; complaints made to the Civilian Complaint Review Board that evaluates allegations of officer misconduct also <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ccrb/downloads/pdf/monthlystats_201607.pdf">decreased</a> from 5,388 new complaints in 2013 to 4,460 in 2015 (and there have been 2,347 complaints in 2016 through June).</p> <p dir="ltr">Arrests for the most serious crimes, felonies like shootings and murders, are up, while arrests for lower-level crimes are down by tens of thousands. At the Thursday press conference to discuss crime numbers for 2016 through July, NYPD officials explained that they continue to heighten their use of precision policing to avoid unnecessary arrests and Bratton reiterated that notion of the &ldquo;peace dividend,&rdquo; whereby for minor offenses officers are relying on arrests as a last resort. They ask people to move along from a stoop or corner, encourage them to not to sleep across several seats on the subway, and so on.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Not Enough to Critics</strong><br />To some City Council members, police reform advocates, and community groups, the mayor&rsquo;s words ring hollow. Many who focus on the NYPD and have long-called for changes to what they say are discriminatory practices are in agreement that this mayor, who has universally stood behind Bratton and Broken Windows policing, has not lived up to his 2013 platform of police reform. De Blasio, critics say, ceded public safety policy to Bratton, who over-polices communities of color, and that the mayor is a hypocritical politician who would rather appease and compromise than implement wholesale, meaningful reform of the police department.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bratton says his officers go where the crime is and cites the number of 911 and 311 calls that come from communities of color, including many public housing complexes. Reformers say that behaviors that have been virtually decriminalized in predominantly white communities, like riding a bike on the sidewalk, are still being heavily policed in communities of color.</p> <p dir="ltr">For advocates across many organizations, such as Communities United for Police Reform and the Police Reform Organizing Project, and other reformers, including some elected officials, meaningful reform is not only fair enforcement in all communities and decriminalization of most low-level non-violent behaviors, but increased accountability for officers who abuse their powers. Systemic change is needed, they say, to pull policing policy out of the vicissitudes of institutional racism, protecting people&rsquo;s rights in interactions with police and holding the NYPD to a higher standard.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are calls for defunding the NYPD in order to better fund community outreach and social workers, social services, and education and employment opportunities. De Blasio has significantly increased the NYPD budget, including by adding 1,300 new officers to the force, but he has also devoted millions toward homeless outreach, mental health care, and other services to move away from arrests in many typical street encounters.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio&rsquo;s focus has been on training over punishment for officers, wherein he has said that with better-trained officers, there will be far fewer bad actors to hold accountable. He acknowledges that a history of structural racism plagued the NYPD and insists that his administration has taken steps to combat it. &ldquo;I am looking for the tangible, specific things that we can do to make things better,&rdquo; he said in a <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/askthemayor-policing-your-neighborhood">Thursday appearance</a> on WNYC&rsquo;s The Brian Lehrer Show, citing new methods of training and recruitment and giving police officers &ldquo;a different model of policing to overcome some of the history.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">At a recent press conference, de Blasio his focus on &ldquo;how you build a different kind of policing &ndash; different relationship between police and community paradigm shift, culture change.&rdquo; He said that &ldquo;other folks are focused more on accountability&rdquo; and that &ldquo;the accountability discussion is real and it&rsquo;s not only important substantively, it obviously comes with tremendous emotional meaning because there has been so much pain.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Both have to happen and both have to give the public confidence in the rule of law,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;But the one that will have by far the greater impact is the former, not the latter.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Many outside the administration say he should indeed focus on both training and punishment. The City Council recently passed and de Blasio&rsquo;s signed into law new NYPD use-of-force reporting guidelines. Still, NYPD watchdogs and critics say that officers are not disciplined for bad behavior as often as or to the extent necessary. Complaints to the Civilian Complaint Review Board about officer misconduct are indeed down under de Blasio and Bratton despite a time of heightened awareness about police misconduct.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are those, including Bratton, who believe that the NYPD is better off without interference from outside quarters and that the City Council regularly oversteps its jurisdiction. At a <a href="http://nypdnews.com/2015/11/police-commissioner-bratton-addresses-citizens-budget-commission/">Nov. 17 Citizens Budget Commission breakfast briefing</a>, Bratton said, &ldquo;The City Council...depending on the day of the week, is supportive and helpful or obstructive and destructive.&rdquo; Referring to a number of reform bills that were under consideration by the Council at the time, Bratton said a majority of them were &ldquo;unnecessary, intrusive and self-serving on the part of particular members of the Council.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Pushback from the commissioner has slowed some reform efforts and watered down others.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bratton insists it is better to find common ground on policy changes rather than pass more laws, while Council members bristle at the pushback against their legislative and oversight responsibilities and the power the commissioner wields within the de Blasio administration.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor has made the argument that the new policies that he and Bratton are implementing will create a culture change in the city&rsquo;s police department and a seismic shift in police-community relations. He has also stressed a strong collaborative effort with the City Council, which has made a significant push for criminal justice and police reform under Mark-Viverito. Even those moves, which include shifting a good deal of low-level non-violent law enforcement from the criminal to civil justice system, are often called insufficient by people who want to see an entirely new policing paradigm in New York. Still, even those reformers almost always acknowledge some progress in the moves being made.</p> <p dir="ltr">As the mayor heads into his 2017 re-election campaign, he has some opportunity to redefine policing under incoming Commissioner O&rsquo;Neill and bridge the gap in trust between police and community members that de Blasio, O&rsquo;Neill, and Bratton all acknowledge continues to exist, though they say they are making strides already. At the center of this is the neighborhood policing initiative that Bratton championed, de Blasio agreed to, and O&rsquo;Neill has been implementing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Just after announcing that Bratton would be retiring and O&rsquo;Neill promoted, de Blasio and the two announced that the neighborhood policing program is expanding further. With 12 more precincts beginning implementation in October, the program will cover a total of 51 percent of citywide commands and 100 percent of housing commands.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Hiring Bratton and Broken Windows</strong><br />When de Blasio ran for mayor, he was Public Advocate, the elected citywide official tasked with speaking on behalf of New Yorkers who government is not properly serving. He forcefully criticized the NYPD and its over-reliance on the practice of stop-question-and-frisk, which earned him significant goodwill with communities of color and activists who saw an opportunity for change.</p> <p dir="ltr">The way the NYPD was practicing stop-and-frisk was deemed unconstitutional <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/12/stop-and-frisk-landmark-ruling">in a federal lawsuit</a> in August 2013. In part, de Blasio rode a wave of displeasure with the NYPD under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to victory in the 2013 Democratic primary, then general election for Mayor.</p> <p dir="ltr">But much of the goodwill de Blasio cultivated began to wither when he hired Bratton to be commissioner of the police department.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t understand how the mayor&rsquo;s primary agenda was to end stop-and-frisk and then he hires the architect of stop-and-frisk,&rdquo; said Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University. For some, Bratton&rsquo;s appointment was a key indicator that de Blasio wasn&rsquo;t going to flip the script on policing, but would instead write a new chapter in a mostly congruent story.</p> <p dir="ltr">While stop-and-frisks began to drop dramatically under Bloomberg given the federal case and heightened scrutiny, a significant reduction has indeed continued under de Blasio. The <a href="http://www.nyclu.org/content/stop-and-frisk-data">number</a> of stops fell from a high of 684,330 in 2011 to 191,558 in 2013, to just 22,939 in 2015. The easing of the practice was seen as a necessary way to let air out of the ballooning tensions between the NYPD and communities of color.</p> <p dir="ltr">Importantly, de Blasio moved to drop the appeal to the stop-and-frisk lawsuit and implement the reforms ordered by the judge, including <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/nypd-wrapping-up-body-camera-pilot-program-1456916402">instituting</a> a police body camera program. The Department of Investigation also appointed an independent Inspector General for the NYPD in March 2014, mandated by a City Council bill that passed over a Bloomberg veto the previous year. In September 2015, the NYPD also <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/nypd-debuts-stop-and-frisk-receipts-new-rules-cops-article-1.2374455">introduced</a> official receipts for stops that don&rsquo;t result in arrests.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The NYPD has been reformed as an institution in a lot of good ways,&rdquo; said Eugene O&rsquo;Donnell, a former NYPD officer, now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. &ldquo;Notably the easing up of quota-driven policing, and the level of enforcement for enforcement&rsquo;s sake has been curtailed.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">But even now, those stopped-and-frisked are still overwhelmingly people of color, disproportionate to their numbers in the city population. &ldquo;Even though stop-and-frisks are down, they haven&rsquo;t gone away,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s better but that doesn&rsquo;t mean it&rsquo;s good or great.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">A February 2016 report by a federal monitor, appointed by the judge in her ruling, found that many police officers remained ignorant of the new stop-and-frisk reforms and <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/stop-and-frisk-continues-cops-don-reforms-article-1.2533429">continued</a> to engage in unconstitutional stops.</p> <p dir="ltr">Criticism of policing in the city goes well beyond the practice of stop-and-frisk, stretching to the overarching policy of Broken Windows. It is a controversial approach proudly pioneered by Bratton, who previously served as the city&rsquo;s top cop under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani from 1994 to 1996 and was credited with drastically reducing crime across the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">Both de Blasio and Bratton regularly stress the evolving nature of Broken Windows, pointing to the current &ldquo;peace dividend&rdquo; that yields far fewer arrests and negative interactions between police and civilians, fostering greater trust with communities. When a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/oignypd/downloads/pdf/Quality-of-Life-Report-2010-2015.pdf">recent report</a> by the NYPD Inspector General found no direct correlation between increased quality-of-life enforcement and reduced felony crime, many interpreted it as an indictment of Broken Windows even though the report categorically stated otherwise. Bratton aggressively criticized the report and the mayor largely agreed, though in much more delicate terms.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Quality-of-life enforcement, or Broken Windows as it&rsquo;s sometimes referred to, is an essential component of policing,&rdquo; Bratton said at a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/556-16/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-police-commissioner-bratton-nyc-pride-march-public-safety">June 23</a> news conference where he addressed the report&rsquo;s findings. &ldquo;Its essentiality, however, is dependent on how it is implemented. And the mayor and I have made a great deal of effort over these two-and-a-half years to modify it to reflect the changed city.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">As he has done before, Bratton drew a doctor-patient analogy of the NYPD&rsquo;s role in the city, saying that the &ldquo;patient&rdquo; is not as sick as before and that allows him to use &ldquo;less threatening medicines&rdquo; to treat the problem.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a July 26 <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/de-blasio-dnc-future-democratic-party/">interview with WNYC</a> on the sidelines of the Democratic National Convention, de Blasio confirmed that he would continue Broken Windows policing even after Bratton&rsquo;s tenure, while indicating that it must continue to evolve. &ldquo;There is no room in that strategy for disparate treatment of communities,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;There is no room in that strategy, from my point of view, to leave it stale. It has to be constantly updated in terms of the training of our officers.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Citing the one million fewer encounters between the police and the community, de Blasio indicated that there was a disconnect between public perception and actual results. &ldquo;I think a lot of the critique is being answered on the ground by real work, but I think the public debate hasn&rsquo;t caught up with that fully,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">It&rsquo;s not a convincing enough argument for proponents of reform, such as Bob Gangi, director of the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), who criticized the mayor for hiring &ldquo;the author of Broken Windows,&rdquo; a system that Gangi sees as encouraging &ldquo;quota driven&rdquo; policing. He said the mayor has only made superficial changes to the NYPD instead of substantive reform that recognizes institutional, racially biased police practices.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Broken Windows was introduced by Bratton in 1994,&rdquo; Gangi said. &ldquo;It continued under a different philosophical framework under Giuliani and Bloomberg, and de Blasio and Bratton have kept their foot on the pedal. It targets mostly people of color for minor infractions that have basically been decriminalized in wealthy communities.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Kowtowing to the Commissioner</strong><br />Perhaps the biggest critique of the mayor has been the extent to which he allowed Bratton to drive policing policy, his unwavering loyalty to Bratton, and his willingness to stand behind the commissioner even in controversy.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;There is no question that the mayor has ceded public safety policy to the police commissioner to an unprecedented degree,&rdquo; said City Council Member Rory Lancman, another member of the public safety committee and a frequent critic of the mayor, &ldquo;and it is unhealthy and it is inconsistent with the agenda that the mayor promised to New Yorkers he was going to deliver on when he ran.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Even if de Blasio claims that Bratton&rsquo;s policies fall squarely within his own mayoral vision for the police department, their incongruent views at times betrayed differing approaches. The mayor has often been placed in the awkward position of trying to explain the disconnect between Bratton&rsquo;s rhetoric and his own words. For instance, when Bratton referred to rap artists as &ldquo;basically thugs&rdquo; following a fatal shooting at a hip hop concert in the city; the time he said women need to use the buddy system to avoid rape; or when he <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2014/12/bratton-killings-were-spin-off-of-demonstrations-018393">suggested</a> that the killings of two police officers in Dec. 2014 were a &ldquo;direct spin-off&rdquo; of protests against police-involved deaths of unarmed black men. Bratton practically <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/07/bratton-protesters-focus-on-nypd-is-bigotry.html">doubled down</a> on the last claim recently, following the assassination of five police officers by a lone gunman in Dallas, Texas, by characterizing the Black Lives Matter movement as practicing a &ldquo;different kind of bigotry&rdquo; which portrayed all police officers as racist.</p> <p dir="ltr">At each occasion, de Blasio demurred or gave slight clarifying comments through his own view, while being careful not to criticize Bratton. The mayor often pushes back again against critics, time and again saying that Bratton is a reformer who has overseen significant changes in policing, including the new de-escalation training for officers and <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/nypd-stop-arrests-low-level-marijuana-charges-source-article-1.2005222">stopping</a> arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana.</p> <p dir="ltr">Dr. Greer said Bratton has been the mayor&rsquo;s &ldquo;Achilles Heel.&rdquo; &ldquo;I think as long as we have someone like Bratton in charge, [the NYPD] can only be reformed so much,&rdquo; she said in an interview just before the announcement of Bratton&rsquo;s departure. &ldquo;This is someone who&rsquo;s consistently used racialized and what I might argue is incendiary language referring to blacks and Latinos in New York City. The most high-ranking NYPD official has his own preconceived notions of particular racial groups.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/bdb_bratton_oneill_tucker_nypd.jpg" alt="bdb bratton oneill tucker nypd" width="300" height="200" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />With O&rsquo;Neill, Greer said in a follow-up interview that there may be an opportunity, both for the mayor and the new commissioner, to start fresh. &ldquo;[O&rsquo;Neill] is not coming in with the same baggage as Bratton did,&rdquo; said Greer. She said Bratton&rsquo;s departure was not necessarily a &ldquo;negative break&rdquo; and that O&rsquo;Neill should make efforts to establish a positive tone at the start of his tenure. &ldquo;He doesn&rsquo;t want to come in and just be Bratton 2.0,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;He has to think critically of what he wants to do in relation to the mayor, the City Council and the community, and what he wants to say and how he wants to say it.&rdquo; She also said that the mayor now had a chance assert himself instead of deferring to his commissioner.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Lancman agrees with that sentiment. He has in the past criticized the pattern of diverging messages from the mayor and Bratton, particularly in light of their recent comments on Black Lives Matter. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m beginning to wonder,&rdquo; he said a few weeks before Bratton&rsquo;s resignation, &ldquo;whether it&rsquo;s just some kind of cynical good cop-bad cop, pardon the metaphor, where the mayor is trying to please both sides of New York by the commissioner taking a more right-leaning view of things and the mayor taking a more left-leaning view of things. But it&rsquo;s unacceptable. It should be one administration. And the mayor promised policies that are not being effectuated and it is in large part because he seems to not have control over his own police department.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In the wake of Bratton&rsquo;s announcement on Tuesday, Lancman told Gotham Gazette the city has an opportunity to talk about real police reform, which Bratton often stifled despite his many accomplishments.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Chief O&rsquo;Neill now has to establish his own identity and vision and whether or not he is willing to confront issues of over-policing and unequal policing in communities of color,&rdquo; Lancman said. &ldquo;And the mayor has to now take ownership of public safety policy in a way that he hasn&rsquo;t in the last two-and-a-half years.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Lancman also sees a particular opportunity for the City Council to push forward an agenda of police reform, including passing the Right to Know Act and his bill making chokeholds illegal, &ldquo;which were blocked by Commissioner Bratton&rsquo;s obstinate refusal to engage in meaningful dialogue on these issues.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>New Contract with the Community</strong><br />In June 2015, de Blasio and Bratton <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/440-15/mayor-de-blasio-commissioner-bratton-new-groundbreaking-neighborhood-policing-vision#/0">unveiled</a> a new vision for the police department, &ldquo;<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/html/home/poa.shtml">One City: Safe and Fair - Everywhere</a>. The plan focused heavily on a model of neighborhood policing, interchangeably called community policing, that would create better relationships while also helping to reduce crime.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;This is a modern, advanced, sophisticated approach to neighborhood policing,&rdquo; said de Blasio, at the announcement. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s going to mean the cop on the beat knows community leaders, knows the clergy, knows the rhythms of the community, the needs of the community, where the problems are. And the community is going to know that officer. And they&rsquo;re each going to feel a tremendous sense of connection and that they&rsquo;re in it together.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The plan involved putting more officers on the street, and on the force, made possible by the hiring of 1,300 new police officers at the behest of the City Council. Council Member Jumaane Williams, an outspoken proponent of police reform who sits on the Council&rsquo;s Committee on Public Safety, agrees with the model and said he&rsquo;s seen &ldquo;tangible positive changes&rdquo; in the department. But he said the city has yet to address the issue of accountability for erring police officers.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I am happy that at least this administration is talking to us in a way that didn&rsquo;t happen before,&rdquo; &nbsp;he told Gotham Gazette at a recent Council hearing. &ldquo;That in itself is a plus. But there&rsquo;s still this notion that any discussion around police reform means you&rsquo;re anti-police, means you want to somehow handcuff the police and make communities less safe. The people who represent these communities and put these reforms forward are not stupid, they&rsquo;re not devoid of the pain that&rsquo;s going on. But I think we&rsquo;re viewed as people who don&rsquo;t understand the violence that&rsquo;s going on there.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The need for increased accountability is one that others have also expressed. &ldquo;I support community policing, but to do it cosmetically and still be unaccountable, that&rsquo;s not changing anything,&rdquo; said William Burnett, a board member of Picture the Homeless (PTH), an advocacy organization. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s just changing appearances, changing optics.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Burnett believes de Blasio isn&rsquo;t the reformer he first appeared to be. &ldquo;I think rhetorically he&rsquo;s a reformer, but in terms of substantive action, the administration is blocking reform,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Rhetoric doesn&rsquo;t have any meaningful impact on people&rsquo;s lives.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">While he praised the mayor for dedicating substantial resources to dealing with mentally ill people, particularly among the city&rsquo;s homeless population, Burnett is wary of creating any additional justification for police interactions with homeless people on the streets. He said such interactions have drastically increased and &ldquo;it has gotten worse.&rdquo; On May 26, Picture the Homeless and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the New York City Human Rights Commission alleging that the NYPD had violated the Community Safety Act, which forbids bias-based profiling, by profiling people based on their housing status.</p> <p dir="ltr">Dr. Greer, of Fordham, said one of de Blasio&rsquo;s biggest accomplishments is his ability to compromise, and the community policing model was a product of that but also a &ldquo;missed opportunity.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Couldn&rsquo;t we build community relationships without people carrying weapons walking the neighborhood?&rdquo; she wondered. &ldquo;And in communities that feel hyper-surveilled already.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Resisting the City Council</strong><br />City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has made criminal justice reform a top priority. Council members have proposed wide-ranging legislation to introduce more transparency, scrutiny, and accountability of the police department while also reforming the punitive side of the criminal justice system.</p> <p dir="ltr">It was the City Council that pushed the mayor and commissioner to add 1,300 new police officers to the force, enabling them to put into effect the new neighborhood policing program. The Council <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/city-approves-police-reform-bills-rules-force-article-1.2711991">recently passed</a> three bills requiring quarterly reports on use-of-force by officers across the city, which members say will be important transparency tools that aid in oversight and accountability. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6381-city-council-to-hear-one-of-two-police-accountability-bills">Two other bills</a>, which would create an early warning system for overly aggressive police officers, have yet to pass.</p> <p dir="ltr">Perhaps the most significant criminal justice victory for the Council was a package of bills, named the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which provides for the prosecution of low-level offenses in civil court, in effect preventing thousands of people from getting a criminal record each year and virtually decriminalizing behaviors like having an open container of alcohol that have led to many thousands of criminal summonses and outstanding arrest warrants. The NYPD will, however, retain discretion in applying civil or criminal enforcement in those cases, which was a result of pushback from Bratton.</p> <p dir="ltr">As evidenced by the use-of-force warning system bills, the chokehold bill, the CJRA, and more, de Blasio and Bratton have either stalled or diluted legislation that would create increased oversight of the police department or change law enforcement practices.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The commissioner has declared dead on arrival every police reform bill that the Council has in its hoppers,&rdquo; said Lancman, &ldquo;and the mayor is seemingly giving the commissioner a veto on administration policy as it relates to working with the City Council on police reform.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Even reforms that have been achieved, like the CJRA, Lancman said, owed to the Council &ldquo;dragging and forcing&rdquo; the mayor and commissioner to a point of agreement. (Lancman also criticized the mayor&rsquo;s opposition to his chokehold bill, which would make the practice illegal except in life-threatening situations. The administration instead chose to adopt the bill&rsquo;s definition of chokeholds but in effect <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/30/nyregion/police-department-to-redefine-chokehold-to-match-city-council-bill.html">rolled back</a> an existing departmental restriction on the practice, Lancman says, by making it easier for officers to justify their use.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Chaim Deutsch, who has been among a minority of Council members to oppose many of the criminal justice reforms passed through the Council, including the CJRA and the recently passed use-of-force reporting bills, said he was nevertheless discouraged that members of the public safety committee have rarely had a chance to meet with the commissioner to engage in constructive dialogue on police reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I think the mayor&rsquo;s trying very hard to reform and I think a lot of it should be done through collaboration with the members of the City Council and the police commissioner and the community without forcing any type of legislation,&rdquo; Deutsch told Gotham Gazette. He said, though, that he has repeatedly asked for a one-on-one meeting with Commissioner Bratton to no avail.</p> <p dir="ltr">John Jay&rsquo;s O&rsquo;Donnell also decried the Council&rsquo;s multiple attempts to push legislation, which he sees as counterproductive to police performance and ultimately recruitment of talented officers. &ldquo;The sum total of all the people critiquing, second guessing, and demonizing the cops is going to absolutely depress the interests of the best people in going into the department,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, believes the process has been more collaborative between the Council and NYPD. &ldquo;I think sometimes what a lot of New Yorkers don&rsquo;t always understand is that they&rsquo;re our partners,&rdquo; she told reporters at a recent hearing. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t always agree, but I will say that under this administration, under the leadership of our speaker, we&rsquo;ve had an incredible amount of cooperation.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In the wake of the Bratton and O&rsquo;Neill announcement, though, Gibson did say that she is looking forward to the shift because she knows O&rsquo;Neill well and believes that he better understands the Council&rsquo;s legislative role.</p> <p dir="ltr">The intricacies of the dynamics among the City Council, the mayor and Bratton&rsquo;s police department were on display around the Right to Know Act, and the agreement between Bratton and Mark-Viverito that would table a vote on the legislation in exchange for changes to the NYPD patrol guide. The details of this ongoing saga are instructive of the larger question around de Blasio as a police reformer.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Right to Know Act is aimed directly at the type of issues de Blasio promised to address as a candidate: street stops of civilians by police and the relationships between the two groups. The bills would mandate police officers identify themselves by name, rank, and command when a street stop doesn&rsquo;t result in an arrest and to get consent from a person before searching them during a street stop without probable cause. Officers would also have to inform a person that they have the right to refuse in such instances.</p> <p dir="ltr">The bills go one step further toward ending unconstitutional stop-and-frisks and are reflective of guidelines put forth last year by President Obama&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/taskforce/TaskForce_FinalReport.pdf">Task Force on 21st Century Policing</a>. Bratton publicly derided the bills as another attempt by the Council to meddle in everyday NYPD function. De Blasio cautiously hedged. &ldquo;There will be a legislative process,&rdquo; he said at a Nov. 2014 news conference. &ldquo;In the past, I have raised concerns about that legislation because I want to make sure that we don&rsquo;t inadvertently undermine the ability of law enforcement to do its job. But there will be a legislative process, for sure.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">That legislative process was pre-empted by compromise and the promise of a revised patrol guide that lays out the rules for consent searches: officers will be retrained to obtain consent for the search of a person, home or vehicle and will be required to provide business cards to people after a search. The deal does not come with the weight of law and the speaker&rsquo;s decision was seen by many as a backroom deal that not only betrayed the public but also her own members, a majority of whom were in favor of the bills. Advocates directed their ire towards both the speaker and the mayor for undercutting a crucial measure of accountability.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The recent administration workaround to go around the Right to Know Act shows that [Mayor de Blasio is] committed to a cosmetic fix but not necessarily accountability at the root causes of issues with policing,&rdquo; said Anthonine Pierre, lead community organizer at the Brooklyn Movement Center, a member organization of Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition that includes dozens of community advocacy groups.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Bill de Blasio needs to work with the City Council to get stronger legislation and accountability, to actually make reform that affects people&rsquo;s lives, not just &ldquo;reforms&rdquo; that are politically advantageous to him,&rdquo; Pierre added.</p> <p dir="ltr">Yul-San Liem, co-director of Communities United for Police Reform&rsquo;s justice committee, said the mayor has been &ldquo;acting like a hypocrite&rdquo; when it comes to police reform. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ve seen no meaningful police reform legislation that&rsquo;s been passed,&rdquo; she told Gotham Gazette, shortly after a rally on July 13 outside City Hall to call for a vote on the Right to Know Act. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ve seen a bunch of statements from City Hall and from the NYPD saying that things are changed but for those of us that are working in communities that are directly impacted, we know that change is not happening on the ground.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>The Police and the Mayor</strong><br />The irony in the debate is that while many reform advocates feel the mayor hasn&rsquo;t acted enough, there are those who feel he&rsquo;s overstepped.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Patrolmen&rsquo;s Benevolent Association (PBA), the union of rank-and-file police officers, has targeted him for not being supportive enough of the police force and for creating increasingly dangerous conditions for officers on the ground.</p> <p dir="ltr">It&rsquo;s a view shared by Heather Mac Donald, the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Mac Donald rejected the notion that the NYPD is in need of reform and said it is already under multiple levels of civilian oversight. &ldquo;[The NYPD] is regarded as a paragon across the world of professional, accountable policing,&rdquo; she said. She insisted that the mayor has &ldquo;made things a heck of a lot worse,&rdquo; and characterized his comments regarding a history of racism in policing as &ldquo;outrageous and ignorant.&rdquo; She also said the reduction in stop-and-frisk couldn&rsquo;t be attributed to his policies but were a result of media scrutiny and the federal ruling.</p> <p dir="ltr">The PBA has multiple problems with the mayor, including ongoing contract negotiations. De Blasio entered office with none of the municipal labor unions working under current contracts and his administration has reached deals with 98% of the workforce. The PBA has not agreed to the same deals the de Blasio administration reached with other uniformed unions, firefighters, sanitation workers, and corrections officers.</p> <p dir="ltr">Police union leadership and many officers were skeptical of de Blasio when he came into office due to his campaign rhetoric, which many saw as vilifying the police. De Blasio and his allies say the mayor was criticizing departmental policy as dictated by former Mayor Bloomberg and former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, not insulting the members of the department. Nevertheless, de Blasio was seen as more sympathetic to protesters than police after the death of Eric Garner, a black man killed in a chokehold by a white police officer in July 2014, and as offensive when he explained having to &ldquo;train&rdquo; his own biracial son to be especially careful in interactions with the police.</p> <p dir="ltr">When two NYPD officers were murdered in December 2014, not long after de Blasio made the comments about training his son when a grand jury had declined to indict the officer who put Garner in the chokehold, things reached their boiling point. NYPD members turned their backs on de Blasio at the hospital where Detectives Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were taken and at their funerals. The PBA president, Pat Lynch, said de Blasio had blood on his hands and officers engaged in what amounted to a (possibly illegal) work stoppage for several weeks.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bratton has perhaps been the glue holding things together. The outgoing commissioner has defended de Blasio at every turn even while admitting to low officer morale and a &ldquo;dislike&rdquo; for de Blasio among cops. In <a href="https://charlierose.com/videos/28545">a Thursday interview</a> with Charlie Rose, Bratton acknowledged the &ldquo;gulf that still exists between my mayor and my cops,&rdquo; and said it was a source of major frustration for him as he departs the administration.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>'Tomorrow is too late'</strong><br />&ldquo;Tomorrow is too late,&rdquo; said Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, at the July 13 Right to Know Act rally at City Hall, just a few days before the two-year anniversary of her son&rsquo;s death.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Garner case, perhaps more than other instances of police-involved deaths of people of color, is emblematic the problems people have with police accountability. The officer who placed Garner in the chokehold, Daniel Pantaleo, was not indicted by a Staten Island grand jury and, two years on, is still the subject of a federal civil rights investigation. He has not been disciplined by the NYPD other than to modify his duty. Commissioner Bratton has said the department&rsquo;s internal investigation into Pantaleo&rsquo;s behavior is complete, but that the NYPD is waiting to release its findings and any accompanying consequences until the Justice Department has completed its process. Fingers have been pointed at de Blasio and Bratton for not taking more quick action in the case as well as others involving police use of force.</p> <p dir="ltr">Those who spoke at the Right to Know Act rally yelled in outrage, questioning whether they could trust the NYPD to implement provisions of the bills through its patrol guide, the same guide that has banned since 1993 the chokehold that killed Garner. &ldquo;The sense is that if the NYPD says they want to make internal changes in lieu of the City Council passing any laws, they&rsquo;re just trying to evade accountability,&rdquo; said Burnett, from Picture the Homeless, also a member of Communities United for Police Reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">Fordham University&rsquo;s Greer said the city needs to be &ldquo;much more swift and severe&rdquo; when it comes to bad actors in the force, and in training and recruiting officers.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Deutsch said change needs to &ldquo;start from the top&rdquo; of the police department, through department-led change in policy instead of Council-led legislation. Council Member Gibson called it &ldquo;a big circle that has to work together&rdquo; on issues of accountability, practices, procedures, and technology.</p> <p dir="ltr">All agree that the city, the mayor, and the police department have a long way to go in bridging the trust deficit between police and communities. According to public opinion polls, de Blasio&rsquo;s support among African-Americans remains strong, though many calling for more assertive police reform are people of color. Backing during his re-election bid will in part come down to who the mayor is facing and what their police reform platform entails.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio and his allies say they are well on their way to making real, lasting police reform progress. Faced with a series of questions over the past two-plus years, de Blasio has repeatedly outlined the steps his administration is taking and said he understands that advocates always want more.</p> <p dir="ltr">This is true. And strident police reformers are largely disillusioned with the mayor.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;When the city elected de Blasio, a lot of reformers were encouraged given his progressive bonafides and the campaign that he ran,&rdquo; said PROP director Gangi. &ldquo;To say that he&rsquo;s fallen short is a kind characterization.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/28767436295_62ca4e4d61_z.jpg" width="600" height="401" alt="de blasio nypd tucker bratton oneil et al" /></p> <p dir="ltr">photo:&nbsp;Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Many believe that the biggest responsibility of the Mayor of New York City is to keep people safe and Bill de Blasio has largely done that, in no small part by letting his lightning-rod police commissioner, Bill Bratton, call the shots on public safety policy. The mayor has focused on pre-kindergarten and affordable housing while Bratton has governed the streets, helping bring crime down to historic lows. At the same time, Bratton has led an evolution of sorts in how his force polices the city, adjusting practices toward the fairer, more equal city de Blasio promised.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think any of us could have predicted this much reduction in crime and this much improvement in relationship between police and community simultaneously,&rdquo; de Blasio said in a recent <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/de-blasio-dnc-future-democratic-party/">WNYC radio interview</a>, succinctly making his case and indicating the tough balancing act on safety and reform that he and Bratton have been attempting.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Thursday, de Blasio and NYPD officials announced that through July, there have been the fewest number of felony crimes, including murders and shootings, and the fewest number of overall arrests, in 20 years.</p> <p dir="ltr">For some, though, the pace and quality of change has not been nearly enough, and not what critics say de Blasio promised as a candidate for Mayor, when he pledged to &ldquo;end the stop-and-frisk era,&rdquo; as his son Dante famously said in a prominent TV ad, and ensure that policing is fair and constitutional in all neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some point to his decision to hire Bratton, the architect of Broken Windows policing, as a long-ago sign the mayor was not serious about what they call real NYPD reform. On the other side of the ledger, some who saw crime in New York City drop precipitously over the past two decades have sounded the alarm over the reforms that have been instituted under de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Bratton in the commissioner&rsquo;s second stint as the city&rsquo;s top cop after a &lsquo;90s run.</p> <p dir="ltr">Throughout his term, de Blasio has been hit from the right and the left over police reform, or the lack thereof. To the right, de Blasio has had strong crime data and Bratton himself, an idol to many more moderate and conservative New Yorkers, to help bat back criticism or warnings of a return of &ldquo;the bad old days.&rdquo; To the left, de Blasio has pointed to policy changes and a different set of data, with the mayor and the police commissioner attempting to sell the &ldquo;evolution&rdquo; of &ldquo;proactive policing,&rdquo; even citing a &ldquo;peace dividend&rdquo; of reduced &ldquo;negative interactions.&rdquo; The number of arrests for lower-level crimes has dropped by the tens of thousands.</p> <p dir="ltr">As de Blasio faces re-election next year, he&rsquo;ll be judged on both how safe the city is and his record as a policing reformer. He and his allies call results in both areas outstanding, while some critics say he&rsquo;s playing with fire on reform and others say he&rsquo;s barely tinkered. De Blasio is likely to run in 2017 as both a crime-stopping mayor and a police reformer.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Tuesday, a major curveball was thrown into the mix. The legendary, polarizing commissioner <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6465-bratton-announces-retirement-from-nypd-to-be-replaced-by-o-neill">announced that he will retire</a> next month. At a City Hall press conference, de Blasio heaped praise on Bratton while announcing that he will be replaced by Chief of Department James O&rsquo;Neill, a veteran officer and &ldquo;architect&rdquo; of the NYPD&rsquo;s new neighborhood policing program.</p> <p dir="ltr">O&rsquo;Neill, like de Blasio, is a Broken Windows policing disciple - both true believers in Bratton&rsquo;s brand of tough, rigid enforcement of low-level offenses in order to prevent more serious crimes that is the controversial fulcrum of the debate over policing in New York. All three - de Blasio, Bratton, and O&rsquo;Neill - see Broken Windows as evolving and say that the NYPD is changing for the better all the time.</p> <p dir="ltr">Whether de Blasio is the policing reformer he claims to be is a key piece of the discussion as O&rsquo;Neill begins his tenure in September and will be a source of debate through next November&rsquo;s Election Day.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>De Blasio&rsquo;s Case for Reform</strong><br />&ldquo;[C]hanges in the police department now are rapid and extraordinary,&rdquo; de Blasio said at a recent press conference. He was speaking in defense of an agreement between the City Council and his administration, namely the NYPD, to institute changes to the department&rsquo;s patrol guide instead of passing police reform legislation with broad support. Many City Council members and police reform advocates blasted the compromise, calling into question de Blasio&rsquo;s commitment to changing the NYPD and putting de Blasio and Mark-Viverito on the defensive.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor took the opportunity to downplay the criticism and make his case as a reformer: &ldquo;The retraining of all the officers, the neighborhood policing program, the de-escalation techniques that are being taught, the implicit bias training &ndash; all of this is happening at once,&rdquo; de Blasio said. &ldquo;And because of the [City] Council now, there&rsquo;s going to be a whole new way to approach a number of these situations,&rdquo; he added, referring to changes being brought about with respect to police stops of civilians and communication during those encounters.</p> <p dir="ltr">Alongside the aforementioned numbers of shootings and murders, de Blasio has several other data points to make his reform case: all 34,000 police officers are being trained in de-escalation tactics and will be taught to recognize implicit biases; between 2013 and 2015, marijuana <a href="http://www.justice-data.nyc/historical-trends/">arrests fell</a> from 28,649 to 16,030 and criminal summonses decreased from 424,850 to 297,413; stop-and-frisk incidents dropped from 191,558 to just 22,939; complaints made to the Civilian Complaint Review Board that evaluates allegations of officer misconduct also <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/ccrb/downloads/pdf/monthlystats_201607.pdf">decreased</a> from 5,388 new complaints in 2013 to 4,460 in 2015 (and there have been 2,347 complaints in 2016 through June).</p> <p dir="ltr">Arrests for the most serious crimes, felonies like shootings and murders, are up, while arrests for lower-level crimes are down by tens of thousands. At the Thursday press conference to discuss crime numbers for 2016 through July, NYPD officials explained that they continue to heighten their use of precision policing to avoid unnecessary arrests and Bratton reiterated that notion of the &ldquo;peace dividend,&rdquo; whereby for minor offenses officers are relying on arrests as a last resort. They ask people to move along from a stoop or corner, encourage them to not to sleep across several seats on the subway, and so on.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Not Enough to Critics</strong><br />To some City Council members, police reform advocates, and community groups, the mayor&rsquo;s words ring hollow. Many who focus on the NYPD and have long-called for changes to what they say are discriminatory practices are in agreement that this mayor, who has universally stood behind Bratton and Broken Windows policing, has not lived up to his 2013 platform of police reform. De Blasio, critics say, ceded public safety policy to Bratton, who over-polices communities of color, and that the mayor is a hypocritical politician who would rather appease and compromise than implement wholesale, meaningful reform of the police department.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bratton says his officers go where the crime is and cites the number of 911 and 311 calls that come from communities of color, including many public housing complexes. Reformers say that behaviors that have been virtually decriminalized in predominantly white communities, like riding a bike on the sidewalk, are still being heavily policed in communities of color.</p> <p dir="ltr">For advocates across many organizations, such as Communities United for Police Reform and the Police Reform Organizing Project, and other reformers, including some elected officials, meaningful reform is not only fair enforcement in all communities and decriminalization of most low-level non-violent behaviors, but increased accountability for officers who abuse their powers. Systemic change is needed, they say, to pull policing policy out of the vicissitudes of institutional racism, protecting people&rsquo;s rights in interactions with police and holding the NYPD to a higher standard.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are calls for defunding the NYPD in order to better fund community outreach and social workers, social services, and education and employment opportunities. De Blasio has significantly increased the NYPD budget, including by adding 1,300 new officers to the force, but he has also devoted millions toward homeless outreach, mental health care, and other services to move away from arrests in many typical street encounters.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio&rsquo;s focus has been on training over punishment for officers, wherein he has said that with better-trained officers, there will be far fewer bad actors to hold accountable. He acknowledges that a history of structural racism plagued the NYPD and insists that his administration has taken steps to combat it. &ldquo;I am looking for the tangible, specific things that we can do to make things better,&rdquo; he said in a <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/askthemayor-policing-your-neighborhood">Thursday appearance</a> on WNYC&rsquo;s The Brian Lehrer Show, citing new methods of training and recruitment and giving police officers &ldquo;a different model of policing to overcome some of the history.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">At a recent press conference, de Blasio his focus on &ldquo;how you build a different kind of policing &ndash; different relationship between police and community paradigm shift, culture change.&rdquo; He said that &ldquo;other folks are focused more on accountability&rdquo; and that &ldquo;the accountability discussion is real and it&rsquo;s not only important substantively, it obviously comes with tremendous emotional meaning because there has been so much pain.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Both have to happen and both have to give the public confidence in the rule of law,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;But the one that will have by far the greater impact is the former, not the latter.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Many outside the administration say he should indeed focus on both training and punishment. The City Council recently passed and de Blasio&rsquo;s signed into law new NYPD use-of-force reporting guidelines. Still, NYPD watchdogs and critics say that officers are not disciplined for bad behavior as often as or to the extent necessary. Complaints to the Civilian Complaint Review Board about officer misconduct are indeed down under de Blasio and Bratton despite a time of heightened awareness about police misconduct.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are those, including Bratton, who believe that the NYPD is better off without interference from outside quarters and that the City Council regularly oversteps its jurisdiction. At a <a href="http://nypdnews.com/2015/11/police-commissioner-bratton-addresses-citizens-budget-commission/">Nov. 17 Citizens Budget Commission breakfast briefing</a>, Bratton said, &ldquo;The City Council...depending on the day of the week, is supportive and helpful or obstructive and destructive.&rdquo; Referring to a number of reform bills that were under consideration by the Council at the time, Bratton said a majority of them were &ldquo;unnecessary, intrusive and self-serving on the part of particular members of the Council.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Pushback from the commissioner has slowed some reform efforts and watered down others.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bratton insists it is better to find common ground on policy changes rather than pass more laws, while Council members bristle at the pushback against their legislative and oversight responsibilities and the power the commissioner wields within the de Blasio administration.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor has made the argument that the new policies that he and Bratton are implementing will create a culture change in the city&rsquo;s police department and a seismic shift in police-community relations. He has also stressed a strong collaborative effort with the City Council, which has made a significant push for criminal justice and police reform under Mark-Viverito. Even those moves, which include shifting a good deal of low-level non-violent law enforcement from the criminal to civil justice system, are often called insufficient by people who want to see an entirely new policing paradigm in New York. Still, even those reformers almost always acknowledge some progress in the moves being made.</p> <p dir="ltr">As the mayor heads into his 2017 re-election campaign, he has some opportunity to redefine policing under incoming Commissioner O&rsquo;Neill and bridge the gap in trust between police and community members that de Blasio, O&rsquo;Neill, and Bratton all acknowledge continues to exist, though they say they are making strides already. At the center of this is the neighborhood policing initiative that Bratton championed, de Blasio agreed to, and O&rsquo;Neill has been implementing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Just after announcing that Bratton would be retiring and O&rsquo;Neill promoted, de Blasio and the two announced that the neighborhood policing program is expanding further. With 12 more precincts beginning implementation in October, the program will cover a total of 51 percent of citywide commands and 100 percent of housing commands.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Hiring Bratton and Broken Windows</strong><br />When de Blasio ran for mayor, he was Public Advocate, the elected citywide official tasked with speaking on behalf of New Yorkers who government is not properly serving. He forcefully criticized the NYPD and its over-reliance on the practice of stop-question-and-frisk, which earned him significant goodwill with communities of color and activists who saw an opportunity for change.</p> <p dir="ltr">The way the NYPD was practicing stop-and-frisk was deemed unconstitutional <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/12/stop-and-frisk-landmark-ruling">in a federal lawsuit</a> in August 2013. In part, de Blasio rode a wave of displeasure with the NYPD under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to victory in the 2013 Democratic primary, then general election for Mayor.</p> <p dir="ltr">But much of the goodwill de Blasio cultivated began to wither when he hired Bratton to be commissioner of the police department.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t understand how the mayor&rsquo;s primary agenda was to end stop-and-frisk and then he hires the architect of stop-and-frisk,&rdquo; said Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University. For some, Bratton&rsquo;s appointment was a key indicator that de Blasio wasn&rsquo;t going to flip the script on policing, but would instead write a new chapter in a mostly congruent story.</p> <p dir="ltr">While stop-and-frisks began to drop dramatically under Bloomberg given the federal case and heightened scrutiny, a significant reduction has indeed continued under de Blasio. The <a href="http://www.nyclu.org/content/stop-and-frisk-data">number</a> of stops fell from a high of 684,330 in 2011 to 191,558 in 2013, to just 22,939 in 2015. The easing of the practice was seen as a necessary way to let air out of the ballooning tensions between the NYPD and communities of color.</p> <p dir="ltr">Importantly, de Blasio moved to drop the appeal to the stop-and-frisk lawsuit and implement the reforms ordered by the judge, including <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/nypd-wrapping-up-body-camera-pilot-program-1456916402">instituting</a> a police body camera program. The Department of Investigation also appointed an independent Inspector General for the NYPD in March 2014, mandated by a City Council bill that passed over a Bloomberg veto the previous year. In September 2015, the NYPD also <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/nypd-debuts-stop-and-frisk-receipts-new-rules-cops-article-1.2374455">introduced</a> official receipts for stops that don&rsquo;t result in arrests.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The NYPD has been reformed as an institution in a lot of good ways,&rdquo; said Eugene O&rsquo;Donnell, a former NYPD officer, now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. &ldquo;Notably the easing up of quota-driven policing, and the level of enforcement for enforcement&rsquo;s sake has been curtailed.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">But even now, those stopped-and-frisked are still overwhelmingly people of color, disproportionate to their numbers in the city population. &ldquo;Even though stop-and-frisks are down, they haven&rsquo;t gone away,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s better but that doesn&rsquo;t mean it&rsquo;s good or great.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">A February 2016 report by a federal monitor, appointed by the judge in her ruling, found that many police officers remained ignorant of the new stop-and-frisk reforms and <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/stop-and-frisk-continues-cops-don-reforms-article-1.2533429">continued</a> to engage in unconstitutional stops.</p> <p dir="ltr">Criticism of policing in the city goes well beyond the practice of stop-and-frisk, stretching to the overarching policy of Broken Windows. It is a controversial approach proudly pioneered by Bratton, who previously served as the city&rsquo;s top cop under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani from 1994 to 1996 and was credited with drastically reducing crime across the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">Both de Blasio and Bratton regularly stress the evolving nature of Broken Windows, pointing to the current &ldquo;peace dividend&rdquo; that yields far fewer arrests and negative interactions between police and civilians, fostering greater trust with communities. When a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/oignypd/downloads/pdf/Quality-of-Life-Report-2010-2015.pdf">recent report</a> by the NYPD Inspector General found no direct correlation between increased quality-of-life enforcement and reduced felony crime, many interpreted it as an indictment of Broken Windows even though the report categorically stated otherwise. Bratton aggressively criticized the report and the mayor largely agreed, though in much more delicate terms.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Quality-of-life enforcement, or Broken Windows as it&rsquo;s sometimes referred to, is an essential component of policing,&rdquo; Bratton said at a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/556-16/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-police-commissioner-bratton-nyc-pride-march-public-safety">June 23</a> news conference where he addressed the report&rsquo;s findings. &ldquo;Its essentiality, however, is dependent on how it is implemented. And the mayor and I have made a great deal of effort over these two-and-a-half years to modify it to reflect the changed city.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">As he has done before, Bratton drew a doctor-patient analogy of the NYPD&rsquo;s role in the city, saying that the &ldquo;patient&rdquo; is not as sick as before and that allows him to use &ldquo;less threatening medicines&rdquo; to treat the problem.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a July 26 <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/de-blasio-dnc-future-democratic-party/">interview with WNYC</a> on the sidelines of the Democratic National Convention, de Blasio confirmed that he would continue Broken Windows policing even after Bratton&rsquo;s tenure, while indicating that it must continue to evolve. &ldquo;There is no room in that strategy for disparate treatment of communities,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;There is no room in that strategy, from my point of view, to leave it stale. It has to be constantly updated in terms of the training of our officers.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Citing the one million fewer encounters between the police and the community, de Blasio indicated that there was a disconnect between public perception and actual results. &ldquo;I think a lot of the critique is being answered on the ground by real work, but I think the public debate hasn&rsquo;t caught up with that fully,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">It&rsquo;s not a convincing enough argument for proponents of reform, such as Bob Gangi, director of the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), who criticized the mayor for hiring &ldquo;the author of Broken Windows,&rdquo; a system that Gangi sees as encouraging &ldquo;quota driven&rdquo; policing. He said the mayor has only made superficial changes to the NYPD instead of substantive reform that recognizes institutional, racially biased police practices.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Broken Windows was introduced by Bratton in 1994,&rdquo; Gangi said. &ldquo;It continued under a different philosophical framework under Giuliani and Bloomberg, and de Blasio and Bratton have kept their foot on the pedal. It targets mostly people of color for minor infractions that have basically been decriminalized in wealthy communities.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Kowtowing to the Commissioner</strong><br />Perhaps the biggest critique of the mayor has been the extent to which he allowed Bratton to drive policing policy, his unwavering loyalty to Bratton, and his willingness to stand behind the commissioner even in controversy.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;There is no question that the mayor has ceded public safety policy to the police commissioner to an unprecedented degree,&rdquo; said City Council Member Rory Lancman, another member of the public safety committee and a frequent critic of the mayor, &ldquo;and it is unhealthy and it is inconsistent with the agenda that the mayor promised to New Yorkers he was going to deliver on when he ran.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Even if de Blasio claims that Bratton&rsquo;s policies fall squarely within his own mayoral vision for the police department, their incongruent views at times betrayed differing approaches. The mayor has often been placed in the awkward position of trying to explain the disconnect between Bratton&rsquo;s rhetoric and his own words. For instance, when Bratton referred to rap artists as &ldquo;basically thugs&rdquo; following a fatal shooting at a hip hop concert in the city; the time he said women need to use the buddy system to avoid rape; or when he <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2014/12/bratton-killings-were-spin-off-of-demonstrations-018393">suggested</a> that the killings of two police officers in Dec. 2014 were a &ldquo;direct spin-off&rdquo; of protests against police-involved deaths of unarmed black men. Bratton practically <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/07/bratton-protesters-focus-on-nypd-is-bigotry.html">doubled down</a> on the last claim recently, following the assassination of five police officers by a lone gunman in Dallas, Texas, by characterizing the Black Lives Matter movement as practicing a &ldquo;different kind of bigotry&rdquo; which portrayed all police officers as racist.</p> <p dir="ltr">At each occasion, de Blasio demurred or gave slight clarifying comments through his own view, while being careful not to criticize Bratton. The mayor often pushes back again against critics, time and again saying that Bratton is a reformer who has overseen significant changes in policing, including the new de-escalation training for officers and <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/nypd-stop-arrests-low-level-marijuana-charges-source-article-1.2005222">stopping</a> arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana.</p> <p dir="ltr">Dr. Greer said Bratton has been the mayor&rsquo;s &ldquo;Achilles Heel.&rdquo; &ldquo;I think as long as we have someone like Bratton in charge, [the NYPD] can only be reformed so much,&rdquo; she said in an interview just before the announcement of Bratton&rsquo;s departure. &ldquo;This is someone who&rsquo;s consistently used racialized and what I might argue is incendiary language referring to blacks and Latinos in New York City. The most high-ranking NYPD official has his own preconceived notions of particular racial groups.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/bdb_bratton_oneill_tucker_nypd.jpg" alt="bdb bratton oneill tucker nypd" width="300" height="200" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />With O&rsquo;Neill, Greer said in a follow-up interview that there may be an opportunity, both for the mayor and the new commissioner, to start fresh. &ldquo;[O&rsquo;Neill] is not coming in with the same baggage as Bratton did,&rdquo; said Greer. She said Bratton&rsquo;s departure was not necessarily a &ldquo;negative break&rdquo; and that O&rsquo;Neill should make efforts to establish a positive tone at the start of his tenure. &ldquo;He doesn&rsquo;t want to come in and just be Bratton 2.0,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;He has to think critically of what he wants to do in relation to the mayor, the City Council and the community, and what he wants to say and how he wants to say it.&rdquo; She also said that the mayor now had a chance assert himself instead of deferring to his commissioner.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Lancman agrees with that sentiment. He has in the past criticized the pattern of diverging messages from the mayor and Bratton, particularly in light of their recent comments on Black Lives Matter. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m beginning to wonder,&rdquo; he said a few weeks before Bratton&rsquo;s resignation, &ldquo;whether it&rsquo;s just some kind of cynical good cop-bad cop, pardon the metaphor, where the mayor is trying to please both sides of New York by the commissioner taking a more right-leaning view of things and the mayor taking a more left-leaning view of things. But it&rsquo;s unacceptable. It should be one administration. And the mayor promised policies that are not being effectuated and it is in large part because he seems to not have control over his own police department.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In the wake of Bratton&rsquo;s announcement on Tuesday, Lancman told Gotham Gazette the city has an opportunity to talk about real police reform, which Bratton often stifled despite his many accomplishments.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Chief O&rsquo;Neill now has to establish his own identity and vision and whether or not he is willing to confront issues of over-policing and unequal policing in communities of color,&rdquo; Lancman said. &ldquo;And the mayor has to now take ownership of public safety policy in a way that he hasn&rsquo;t in the last two-and-a-half years.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Lancman also sees a particular opportunity for the City Council to push forward an agenda of police reform, including passing the Right to Know Act and his bill making chokeholds illegal, &ldquo;which were blocked by Commissioner Bratton&rsquo;s obstinate refusal to engage in meaningful dialogue on these issues.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>New Contract with the Community</strong><br />In June 2015, de Blasio and Bratton <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/440-15/mayor-de-blasio-commissioner-bratton-new-groundbreaking-neighborhood-policing-vision#/0">unveiled</a> a new vision for the police department, &ldquo;<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/html/home/poa.shtml">One City: Safe and Fair - Everywhere</a>. The plan focused heavily on a model of neighborhood policing, interchangeably called community policing, that would create better relationships while also helping to reduce crime.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;This is a modern, advanced, sophisticated approach to neighborhood policing,&rdquo; said de Blasio, at the announcement. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s going to mean the cop on the beat knows community leaders, knows the clergy, knows the rhythms of the community, the needs of the community, where the problems are. And the community is going to know that officer. And they&rsquo;re each going to feel a tremendous sense of connection and that they&rsquo;re in it together.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The plan involved putting more officers on the street, and on the force, made possible by the hiring of 1,300 new police officers at the behest of the City Council. Council Member Jumaane Williams, an outspoken proponent of police reform who sits on the Council&rsquo;s Committee on Public Safety, agrees with the model and said he&rsquo;s seen &ldquo;tangible positive changes&rdquo; in the department. But he said the city has yet to address the issue of accountability for erring police officers.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I am happy that at least this administration is talking to us in a way that didn&rsquo;t happen before,&rdquo; &nbsp;he told Gotham Gazette at a recent Council hearing. &ldquo;That in itself is a plus. But there&rsquo;s still this notion that any discussion around police reform means you&rsquo;re anti-police, means you want to somehow handcuff the police and make communities less safe. The people who represent these communities and put these reforms forward are not stupid, they&rsquo;re not devoid of the pain that&rsquo;s going on. But I think we&rsquo;re viewed as people who don&rsquo;t understand the violence that&rsquo;s going on there.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The need for increased accountability is one that others have also expressed. &ldquo;I support community policing, but to do it cosmetically and still be unaccountable, that&rsquo;s not changing anything,&rdquo; said William Burnett, a board member of Picture the Homeless (PTH), an advocacy organization. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s just changing appearances, changing optics.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Burnett believes de Blasio isn&rsquo;t the reformer he first appeared to be. &ldquo;I think rhetorically he&rsquo;s a reformer, but in terms of substantive action, the administration is blocking reform,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Rhetoric doesn&rsquo;t have any meaningful impact on people&rsquo;s lives.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">While he praised the mayor for dedicating substantial resources to dealing with mentally ill people, particularly among the city&rsquo;s homeless population, Burnett is wary of creating any additional justification for police interactions with homeless people on the streets. He said such interactions have drastically increased and &ldquo;it has gotten worse.&rdquo; On May 26, Picture the Homeless and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the New York City Human Rights Commission alleging that the NYPD had violated the Community Safety Act, which forbids bias-based profiling, by profiling people based on their housing status.</p> <p dir="ltr">Dr. Greer, of Fordham, said one of de Blasio&rsquo;s biggest accomplishments is his ability to compromise, and the community policing model was a product of that but also a &ldquo;missed opportunity.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Couldn&rsquo;t we build community relationships without people carrying weapons walking the neighborhood?&rdquo; she wondered. &ldquo;And in communities that feel hyper-surveilled already.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Resisting the City Council</strong><br />City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has made criminal justice reform a top priority. Council members have proposed wide-ranging legislation to introduce more transparency, scrutiny, and accountability of the police department while also reforming the punitive side of the criminal justice system.</p> <p dir="ltr">It was the City Council that pushed the mayor and commissioner to add 1,300 new police officers to the force, enabling them to put into effect the new neighborhood policing program. The Council <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/city-approves-police-reform-bills-rules-force-article-1.2711991">recently passed</a> three bills requiring quarterly reports on use-of-force by officers across the city, which members say will be important transparency tools that aid in oversight and accountability. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6381-city-council-to-hear-one-of-two-police-accountability-bills">Two other bills</a>, which would create an early warning system for overly aggressive police officers, have yet to pass.</p> <p dir="ltr">Perhaps the most significant criminal justice victory for the Council was a package of bills, named the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which provides for the prosecution of low-level offenses in civil court, in effect preventing thousands of people from getting a criminal record each year and virtually decriminalizing behaviors like having an open container of alcohol that have led to many thousands of criminal summonses and outstanding arrest warrants. The NYPD will, however, retain discretion in applying civil or criminal enforcement in those cases, which was a result of pushback from Bratton.</p> <p dir="ltr">As evidenced by the use-of-force warning system bills, the chokehold bill, the CJRA, and more, de Blasio and Bratton have either stalled or diluted legislation that would create increased oversight of the police department or change law enforcement practices.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The commissioner has declared dead on arrival every police reform bill that the Council has in its hoppers,&rdquo; said Lancman, &ldquo;and the mayor is seemingly giving the commissioner a veto on administration policy as it relates to working with the City Council on police reform.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Even reforms that have been achieved, like the CJRA, Lancman said, owed to the Council &ldquo;dragging and forcing&rdquo; the mayor and commissioner to a point of agreement. (Lancman also criticized the mayor&rsquo;s opposition to his chokehold bill, which would make the practice illegal except in life-threatening situations. The administration instead chose to adopt the bill&rsquo;s definition of chokeholds but in effect <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/30/nyregion/police-department-to-redefine-chokehold-to-match-city-council-bill.html">rolled back</a> an existing departmental restriction on the practice, Lancman says, by making it easier for officers to justify their use.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Chaim Deutsch, who has been among a minority of Council members to oppose many of the criminal justice reforms passed through the Council, including the CJRA and the recently passed use-of-force reporting bills, said he was nevertheless discouraged that members of the public safety committee have rarely had a chance to meet with the commissioner to engage in constructive dialogue on police reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I think the mayor&rsquo;s trying very hard to reform and I think a lot of it should be done through collaboration with the members of the City Council and the police commissioner and the community without forcing any type of legislation,&rdquo; Deutsch told Gotham Gazette. He said, though, that he has repeatedly asked for a one-on-one meeting with Commissioner Bratton to no avail.</p> <p dir="ltr">John Jay&rsquo;s O&rsquo;Donnell also decried the Council&rsquo;s multiple attempts to push legislation, which he sees as counterproductive to police performance and ultimately recruitment of talented officers. &ldquo;The sum total of all the people critiquing, second guessing, and demonizing the cops is going to absolutely depress the interests of the best people in going into the department,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, believes the process has been more collaborative between the Council and NYPD. &ldquo;I think sometimes what a lot of New Yorkers don&rsquo;t always understand is that they&rsquo;re our partners,&rdquo; she told reporters at a recent hearing. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t always agree, but I will say that under this administration, under the leadership of our speaker, we&rsquo;ve had an incredible amount of cooperation.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In the wake of the Bratton and O&rsquo;Neill announcement, though, Gibson did say that she is looking forward to the shift because she knows O&rsquo;Neill well and believes that he better understands the Council&rsquo;s legislative role.</p> <p dir="ltr">The intricacies of the dynamics among the City Council, the mayor and Bratton&rsquo;s police department were on display around the Right to Know Act, and the agreement between Bratton and Mark-Viverito that would table a vote on the legislation in exchange for changes to the NYPD patrol guide. The details of this ongoing saga are instructive of the larger question around de Blasio as a police reformer.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Right to Know Act is aimed directly at the type of issues de Blasio promised to address as a candidate: street stops of civilians by police and the relationships between the two groups. The bills would mandate police officers identify themselves by name, rank, and command when a street stop doesn&rsquo;t result in an arrest and to get consent from a person before searching them during a street stop without probable cause. Officers would also have to inform a person that they have the right to refuse in such instances.</p> <p dir="ltr">The bills go one step further toward ending unconstitutional stop-and-frisks and are reflective of guidelines put forth last year by President Obama&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/taskforce/TaskForce_FinalReport.pdf">Task Force on 21st Century Policing</a>. Bratton publicly derided the bills as another attempt by the Council to meddle in everyday NYPD function. De Blasio cautiously hedged. &ldquo;There will be a legislative process,&rdquo; he said at a Nov. 2014 news conference. &ldquo;In the past, I have raised concerns about that legislation because I want to make sure that we don&rsquo;t inadvertently undermine the ability of law enforcement to do its job. But there will be a legislative process, for sure.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">That legislative process was pre-empted by compromise and the promise of a revised patrol guide that lays out the rules for consent searches: officers will be retrained to obtain consent for the search of a person, home or vehicle and will be required to provide business cards to people after a search. The deal does not come with the weight of law and the speaker&rsquo;s decision was seen by many as a backroom deal that not only betrayed the public but also her own members, a majority of whom were in favor of the bills. Advocates directed their ire towards both the speaker and the mayor for undercutting a crucial measure of accountability.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The recent administration workaround to go around the Right to Know Act shows that [Mayor de Blasio is] committed to a cosmetic fix but not necessarily accountability at the root causes of issues with policing,&rdquo; said Anthonine Pierre, lead community organizer at the Brooklyn Movement Center, a member organization of Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition that includes dozens of community advocacy groups.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Bill de Blasio needs to work with the City Council to get stronger legislation and accountability, to actually make reform that affects people&rsquo;s lives, not just &ldquo;reforms&rdquo; that are politically advantageous to him,&rdquo; Pierre added.</p> <p dir="ltr">Yul-San Liem, co-director of Communities United for Police Reform&rsquo;s justice committee, said the mayor has been &ldquo;acting like a hypocrite&rdquo; when it comes to police reform. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ve seen no meaningful police reform legislation that&rsquo;s been passed,&rdquo; she told Gotham Gazette, shortly after a rally on July 13 outside City Hall to call for a vote on the Right to Know Act. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ve seen a bunch of statements from City Hall and from the NYPD saying that things are changed but for those of us that are working in communities that are directly impacted, we know that change is not happening on the ground.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>The Police and the Mayor</strong><br />The irony in the debate is that while many reform advocates feel the mayor hasn&rsquo;t acted enough, there are those who feel he&rsquo;s overstepped.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Patrolmen&rsquo;s Benevolent Association (PBA), the union of rank-and-file police officers, has targeted him for not being supportive enough of the police force and for creating increasingly dangerous conditions for officers on the ground.</p> <p dir="ltr">It&rsquo;s a view shared by Heather Mac Donald, the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Mac Donald rejected the notion that the NYPD is in need of reform and said it is already under multiple levels of civilian oversight. &ldquo;[The NYPD] is regarded as a paragon across the world of professional, accountable policing,&rdquo; she said. She insisted that the mayor has &ldquo;made things a heck of a lot worse,&rdquo; and characterized his comments regarding a history of racism in policing as &ldquo;outrageous and ignorant.&rdquo; She also said the reduction in stop-and-frisk couldn&rsquo;t be attributed to his policies but were a result of media scrutiny and the federal ruling.</p> <p dir="ltr">The PBA has multiple problems with the mayor, including ongoing contract negotiations. De Blasio entered office with none of the municipal labor unions working under current contracts and his administration has reached deals with 98% of the workforce. The PBA has not agreed to the same deals the de Blasio administration reached with other uniformed unions, firefighters, sanitation workers, and corrections officers.</p> <p dir="ltr">Police union leadership and many officers were skeptical of de Blasio when he came into office due to his campaign rhetoric, which many saw as vilifying the police. De Blasio and his allies say the mayor was criticizing departmental policy as dictated by former Mayor Bloomberg and former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, not insulting the members of the department. Nevertheless, de Blasio was seen as more sympathetic to protesters than police after the death of Eric Garner, a black man killed in a chokehold by a white police officer in July 2014, and as offensive when he explained having to &ldquo;train&rdquo; his own biracial son to be especially careful in interactions with the police.</p> <p dir="ltr">When two NYPD officers were murdered in December 2014, not long after de Blasio made the comments about training his son when a grand jury had declined to indict the officer who put Garner in the chokehold, things reached their boiling point. NYPD members turned their backs on de Blasio at the hospital where Detectives Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were taken and at their funerals. The PBA president, Pat Lynch, said de Blasio had blood on his hands and officers engaged in what amounted to a (possibly illegal) work stoppage for several weeks.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bratton has perhaps been the glue holding things together. The outgoing commissioner has defended de Blasio at every turn even while admitting to low officer morale and a &ldquo;dislike&rdquo; for de Blasio among cops. In <a href="https://charlierose.com/videos/28545">a Thursday interview</a> with Charlie Rose, Bratton acknowledged the &ldquo;gulf that still exists between my mayor and my cops,&rdquo; and said it was a source of major frustration for him as he departs the administration.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>'Tomorrow is too late'</strong><br />&ldquo;Tomorrow is too late,&rdquo; said Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, at the July 13 Right to Know Act rally at City Hall, just a few days before the two-year anniversary of her son&rsquo;s death.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Garner case, perhaps more than other instances of police-involved deaths of people of color, is emblematic the problems people have with police accountability. The officer who placed Garner in the chokehold, Daniel Pantaleo, was not indicted by a Staten Island grand jury and, two years on, is still the subject of a federal civil rights investigation. He has not been disciplined by the NYPD other than to modify his duty. Commissioner Bratton has said the department&rsquo;s internal investigation into Pantaleo&rsquo;s behavior is complete, but that the NYPD is waiting to release its findings and any accompanying consequences until the Justice Department has completed its process. Fingers have been pointed at de Blasio and Bratton for not taking more quick action in the case as well as others involving police use of force.</p> <p dir="ltr">Those who spoke at the Right to Know Act rally yelled in outrage, questioning whether they could trust the NYPD to implement provisions of the bills through its patrol guide, the same guide that has banned since 1993 the chokehold that killed Garner. &ldquo;The sense is that if the NYPD says they want to make internal changes in lieu of the City Council passing any laws, they&rsquo;re just trying to evade accountability,&rdquo; said Burnett, from Picture the Homeless, also a member of Communities United for Police Reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">Fordham University&rsquo;s Greer said the city needs to be &ldquo;much more swift and severe&rdquo; when it comes to bad actors in the force, and in training and recruiting officers.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Deutsch said change needs to &ldquo;start from the top&rdquo; of the police department, through department-led change in policy instead of Council-led legislation. Council Member Gibson called it &ldquo;a big circle that has to work together&rdquo; on issues of accountability, practices, procedures, and technology.</p> <p dir="ltr">All agree that the city, the mayor, and the police department have a long way to go in bridging the trust deficit between police and communities. According to public opinion polls, de Blasio&rsquo;s support among African-Americans remains strong, though many calling for more assertive police reform are people of color. Backing during his re-election bid will in part come down to who the mayor is facing and what their police reform platform entails.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio and his allies say they are well on their way to making real, lasting police reform progress. Faced with a series of questions over the past two-plus years, de Blasio has repeatedly outlined the steps his administration is taking and said he understands that advocates always want more.</p> <p dir="ltr">This is true. And strident police reformers are largely disillusioned with the mayor.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;When the city elected de Blasio, a lot of reformers were encouraged given his progressive bonafides and the campaign that he ran,&rdquo; said PROP director Gangi. &ldquo;To say that he&rsquo;s fallen short is a kind characterization.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Cuomo is Keeping New York from Emulating California, De Blasio Says 2016-07-12T04:00:00+00:00 2016-07-12T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6434:cuomo-is-keeping-new-york-from-emulating-california-de-blasio-says Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/12181475174_8455aacfbb_z_1.jpg" alt="de blasio cuomo january 2014" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>De Blasio &amp; Cuomo in 2014 (photo: Rob Bennett, Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly voiced his frustration with his fellow Democrat, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who he says has worked with Senate Republicans in the state Legislature to stymie his agenda and major progressive legislation. In <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/harry-siegel-de-blasio-thinking-article-1.2687244" target="_blank">an interview with Harry Siegel of the Daily News</a> late last month, the mayor said Cuomo could have &ldquo;done a lot more to avert&rdquo; the &ldquo;divided government in Albany,&rdquo; where Democrats control the Assembly and Republicans the Senate.</p> <p>De Blasio said that New York could be more like California &ldquo;where Democrats have consolidated power and have done some remarkable things with it.&rdquo;</p> <p>The mayor&rsquo;s comments come as his allies face two investigations for improper fundraising in efforts to win the Senate for Democrats in 2014 and after a legislative session during which Cuomo worked with Senate Republicans to pass a budget containing a $15 minimum wage phase-in and a comprehensive paid family leave program. Cuomo and the Legislature also allocate hundreds of millions of dollars each year to fund de Blasio&rsquo;s signature pre-kindergarten program.</p> <p>And yet, de Blasio&rsquo;s sentiments are not unique, many Democrats feel Cuomo has empowered Senate Republicans in order to prevent the passage of a full slate of progressive legislation that could in theory alienate his moderate and conservative backers, including those upstate, on Long Island, and in New York City. The mayor and Assembly Democrats have a fairly long list of specific policy and funding grievances.</p> <p>By pointing to California, de Blasio offered up a measuring stick. At first glance it would appear that California and New York are neck-and-neck on progressive issues. Both states have passed marriage equality, a $15 minimum wage plan, and paid family leave.</p> <p>But progressive critics of the governor say he has failed to fully go to bat on reforms that would actually change how state government works, modernize voting and elections, and advance immigration and criminal justice policies opposed by conservatives. California has implemented a variety of these policies since 2010.</p> <p>Cuomo allies say criticism the governor faces on these issues is unfair and comes mainly from the sharp edge of success - that critics say because he achieved some major policy victories he should achieve them all, while also winning the Senate for Democrats.</p> <p>&ldquo;I have my real disagreements with the governor and then there's individual achievements that are absolutely progressive and very meaningful,&rdquo; de Blasio told Siegel. &ldquo;But on the question of &lsquo;Have we created a unified Democratic Party to have the maximum Democratic leadership and the maximum progressive policy of state?&rsquo; Of course not. Not even close.&rdquo;</p> <p>The de Blasio administration failed to respond to multiple inquiries about which specific policies California has enacted that he feels New York should emulate, but a number of his allies and political experts say California is in fact far ahead of New York on a number of progressive issues. These include immigration reforms like the DREAM Act and drivers&rsquo; licenses for undocumented immigrants; criminal justice reform measures like providing college education for inmates and laws to address holding police accountable for the deaths of civilians; and election reforms like independent redistricting and open primaries.</p> <p>Meanwhile, in New York, Cuomo has enacted what many progressive analysts see as austerity measures, such as strictly limiting agency spending and instituting a property tax cap for municipalities, something California Governor Jerry Brown has moved away from. The Cuomo administration declined to comment for this article without the de Blasio administration listing which policies from California the mayor wants to see in New York.</p> <p>Even beyond de Blasio, Cuomo&rsquo;s relationship with progressive Democrats remains complicated. He&rsquo;s had well-publicized roller coaster relationships with the Working Families Party and with the Legislature&rsquo;s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus. Administration officials point out that the governor has backed the DREAM Act and various criminal justice measures that are in place in California only to have Senate Republicans reject them. But de Blasio&rsquo;s point to Siegel and that of many other Democrats is that Cuomo has ensured Senate Republicans are in the position to block those bills.</p> <p>&ldquo;I think a lot of the governor&rsquo;s proposals are holograms so that he can come downstate and say &lsquo;I suggested college for inmates,&rsquo; but he can also go upstate and say &lsquo;I listened to your concerns and the bill didn&rsquo;t pass,&rsquo;&rdquo; said Dr. Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University.</p> <p>Bill Samuels, head of EffectiveNY, longtime Democratic fundraiser and Cuomo critic, said that the governor has repeatedly failed to help Democrats win the state Senate and by doing so is responsible for failed progressive policies.</p> <p>&ldquo;We are way behind states like California and Oregon,&rdquo; said Samuels. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s pathetic, if we had elected a Democratic Senate and had a different governor we would at least be considered a progressive state.There are exceptions, the governor came on strong with marriage equality, guns, and the minimum wage. So we aren&rsquo;t like Mississippi, he&rsquo;s done good things.&rdquo;</p> <p>But Samuels says one of Cuomo&rsquo;s first major moves - deciding to abandon a push to take the 2010 electoral redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature - ensured he would have Senate Republicans as governing partners for the foreseeable future. Samuels notes that the plan Cuomo signed off on allowed Republicans to gerrymander Senate districts to dilute Democratic centers upstate and in the city while creating a 63rd Senate seat that they could easily win. &ldquo;It was the most backward, bizarre redistricting in the United States,&rdquo; said Samuels.&rdquo;California took the redistricting process away from the Legislature and now they have an un-gerrymandered process.&rdquo;</p> <p>Cuomo&rsquo;s deal with the Legislature also included a promise that the Legislature would vote to amend the constitution to allow an independent commission to draw districts starting in 2020.</p> <p>California put redistricting of state-level seats in the hands of a citizens redistricting commission after a proposition vote in 2008. In 2010, Californians approved a proposition tasking <a href="http://wedrawthelines.ca.gov/commission.html" target="_blank">the commission</a> with drawing congressional districts.</p> <p>Greer noted that when evaluating de Blasio&rsquo;s and Cuomo&rsquo;s governing approaches it is important to recognize they have distinctly different constituencies. Cuomo works within the bounds created by his and is aided in doing so by having a Republican Senate, she said. &ldquo;The governor has a conservative base across the state. If you look at the electoral map the city may be progressive, but the rest of the map is still very red.&rdquo;</p> <p>Samuels said that de Blasio is right to focus on putting Democrats in charge of the Senate and that he has done more to champion progressive ideas in the state than Cuomo. &ldquo;De Blasio may have been naive and been too transparent in his [2014] bid to win a Democratic Senate,&rdquo; said Samuels. &ldquo;He should have used burner phones and emails like the Cuomo administration does, but regardless I applaud him for doing it and he was right to do it.&rdquo;</p> <p>Senate Republicans continue to use de Blasio as a boogeyman in their quest to hold their control of the Senate. &ldquo;Allowing these New York City radicals to have unchecked power over our entire state, especially in light of the U.S. Attorney and Manhattan D.A.'s investigations into the fundraising scandal they hatched two years ago, would be a disaster for the hardworking taxpayers and families who call New York home,&rdquo; Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/07/de-blasio-to-sit-out-upcoming-senate-elections-103697#ixzz4EEejjsDO" target="_blank">told Politico New York</a> for a Tuesday article about de Blasio&rsquo;s distance from this year&rsquo;s Senate contests. Democrats are hoping to swing the chamber by riding Hillary Clinton&rsquo;s voter turnout coattails and many are eager to see how involved Cuomo gets.</p> <p>Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor and associate dean at University of California Riverside, told Gotham Gazette that Gov. Brown spent his early years in office playing a fiscal conservative and threatening and delivering vetoes of bills he felt weren&rsquo;t fiscally responsible. But as the economy has flourished Brown has welcomed more progressive legislation.</p> <p>Ramakrishnan said there is no doubt that a host of progressive legislation has passed California&rsquo;s Legislature since Democrats won a supermajority in both houses in 2012 - major immigration and electoral reforms put the state far ahead of New York in those areas from a progressive standpoint - but he notes that there were other factors at play besides party control.</p> <p>Gov. Brown has made it clear that he has no higher political ambitions, he will be term-limited out of office when his current term ends, Ramakrishnan said. Cuomo, however, has no term limits and announced he plans to run for a third term; is active in national politics; and believed by many close to him to still have ambitions for the White House. &ldquo;Brown has declared he has no further political ambition so there is not much tension between him and other Democrats,&rdquo; Ramakrishnan said, noting that de Blasio might also hold broader political ambitions that may have irked Cuomo.</p> <p>Another quirk in California politics that Ramakrishnan points to as allowing for more progressive legislation is a ballot provision that passed in 2010 that did away with a previous requirement that the state budget be passed with a two-thirds majority. The ballot provision now requires a majority of legislators to support the budget. &ldquo;Removing the supermajority rule really opened things up,&rdquo; Ramakrishnan said. In the past, he said, &ldquo;The legislature had to come up with carefully crafted compromises to even pass a budget and those deals prevented other [more progressive] legislation from passing.&rdquo;</p> <p>The situation sounds similar to Albany&rsquo;s budget process where leaders trade on a host of issues and in some cases give away the chance to vote on major legislation to make sure they achieve top priorities in the budget. Having Senate Republicans on his side on certain issues during negotiations has helped Cuomo stop the Assembly&rsquo;s push for progressive legislation that he does not support.</p> <p>Another major factor Ramakrishnan points to in California&rsquo;s progressive surge is changing demographics across the state. Ramakrishnan said a number of safe Republican districts saw an influx of immigrants and Democratic voters over the last decade.</p> <p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve had the DREAM Act in since 2011, but most of the major immigration laws were passed in the last four years,&rdquo; said Ramakrishnan. &ldquo;It took a long time to build coalitions outside of the big cities like Los Angeles and it took demographic change in counties that used to be safe for Republicans.&rdquo;</p> <p>Senate Democrats have long touted demographic changes on Long Island as the key to what they see as their inevitable takeover of the chamber. Democrats recently won the Long Island seat formerly held by Republican Sen. Dean Skelos for two decades. Although Skelos&rsquo; corruption conviction likely played a major role in swaying voters, Democrats say a victory there might not have been possible if the demographics there hadn&rsquo;t been trending Democratic for years.</p> <p>Finally, Californians have the ability to put major issues before voters through ballot propositions, thereby bypassing the Legislature, which can take much longer to process an issue.</p> <p>Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, said he hopes Cuomo will be involved in campaigning for Senate Democrats this year. &ldquo;I feel the governor is our leader and as a Democrat he should step up to the plate and help us gain the majority,&rdquo; said Peralta. &ldquo;It's in his best interest to move progressive issues like immigration and affordable housing. I hope the governor will take a lead role in helping Democrats win the Senate this year just as he is making sure Hillary [Clinton] becomes President.&rdquo;</p> <p>Asked if he supported a full Democratic takeover of the Senate on Tuesday, Cuomo told reporters that it is &ldquo;too early for any political conversation about that," instead indicating he is focused on Clinton and the upcoming Democratic National Convention that he is attending, and may be speaking at. Elections determining control of the state Senate are four months away - the same day as Clinton&rsquo;s likely face-off with Republican Donald Trump.</p> <p><em><strong>A look at major progressive issues and where they stand in New York and California:</strong></em></p> <p><strong>Paid Family Leave</strong><br />This year New York passed a 12-month paid family leave program that has been praised as the most &ldquo;generous&rdquo; in the nation. The program won&rsquo;t be fully phased in until 2021.</p> <p>California passed its six-week paid family leave program in 2002 and it went into operation in 2004.</p> <p><strong>Immigration</strong><br />Cuomo touted his support for the DREAM Act, a program that would give undocumented students access to college tuition aid, during campaign stops in the city and made it part of his State of the State agenda, but he has said very little about it when the Legislature is in session and made no dramatic public push for the bill. Senate Republicans have made blocking the DREAM Act a major part of their reelection campaigns.</p> <p>Brown signed California&rsquo;s Dream Act into law in October of 2011. Since then he has signed a series of major immigration reform bills. In 2013 Brown signed a bill that allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers&rsquo; licenses. The last time a New York Governor pushed for drivers&rsquo; licenses for undocumented immigrants was in 2007, under former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. The backlash against the proposal from conservatives and even Democrats was so strong that Spitzer dropped the plan.</p> <p>This year Brown signed a bill that allows undocumented immigrants to buy health care on the state exchange created under the Affordable Care Act - making California the first state to offer that kind of coverage. New York offers undocumented immigrants emergency Medicaid and coverage for end-stage cancer and renal disease.</p> <p>&ldquo;I think it's very hard for the Governor to go into these economically depressed areas upstate and tell them he supports a bill to help immigrants that they see as undermining their already very tenuous way of life,&rdquo; said Dr. Greer, of Fordham.</p> <p>Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, said that the first step for New York to achieve what California has on immigration reform would be for Democrats to take control of the Senate. But it wouldn&rsquo;t end there. &ldquo;We would also have to move conservative Democrats on these issues, we&rsquo;d have to move the needle,&rdquo; Rivera said, adding that he thinks Senate Democrats could move the DREAM Act during a first year in the majority, but acknowledged it isn&rsquo;t a sure thing.</p> <p>Peralta agreed, saying, &ldquo;A Democratic majority gets the ball rolling in New York State.&rdquo; But he warned, &ldquo;We won&rsquo;t be able to move everything at once. There are some issues that don&rsquo;t play well in marginal districts upstate. We will have to tackle them in bite-size pieces - The DREAM Act one year, then drivers&rsquo; licenses the next.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>Minimum Wage</strong><br />The two states appeared to be locked in a race to get to $15 per hour this year as both Brown and Cuomo pushed for a minimum wage increase - the governors signed their bills on the same day, April 4. But the bills are not equal: both call for incremental increases to the wage until finally reaching $15 - in California it will be 2022 before the wage is fully implemented; in New York it depends on where you live. Residents of New York City will have a $15 minimum wage by the end of 2018; Long Island and Westchester reach $15 to start 2022; while the rest of the state will reach $12.50 by the last day of 2020, with a 2019 panel to review the economic impact and able to halt the increase.</p> <p><strong>Election Reform</strong><br />California adopted a new primary system <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/us/politics/new-rules-upend-house-re-election-races-in-california.html" target="_blank">in 2012</a> that allows the top two vote getters in primary races to move on the general election regardless of party affiliation. That move in combination with California&rsquo;s citizen redistricting commission has opened up seats once kept in a stranglehold by incumbents.</p> <p>Good government groups have pushed New York City to adopt nonpartisan primaries but there has yet to be significant movement. The idea is a nonstarter at the state level.</p> <p>In October of last year, Brown signed an automatic voter registration bill that would have citizens registered to vote during visits to the DMV for drivers&rsquo; licenses or ID cards. Cuomo proposed a similar initiative in February during his State of the State speech, but met with opposition from Democratic lawmakers who worried registration would favor suburban and rural areas of the state where there are move drivers. Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, suggested empowering other agencies to also register voters to create parity.</p> <p><strong>Criminal Justice Reform</strong><br />Cuomo called for a review of the criminal justice system in the wake of the July 2014 death of Eric Garner during an NYPD stop. That review did not come about in the Legislature. Instead of passing legislation to create a special prosecutor to review police killings of unarmed civilians Cuomo issued an executive order empowering Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to take such cases out of the hands of the local district attorney.</p> <p>Cuomo&rsquo;s move was hailed by advocates who say local DAs are biased and unwilling to prosecute members of their local police force. But many advocates are still pushing for a similar system to be made law as executive orders can be undone. Senate Republicans have refused to consider any number of criminal justice initiatives Cuomo has proposed, including raising the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 (New York is one of only two states where it is 16, with North Carolina).</p> <p>California does not have a special prosecutor system in place for police killings of civilians but last year Brown signed a law banning the use of grand juries in such cases. The move came in response to outcry that a grand jury refused to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for Garner&rsquo;s death. "The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system," state Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Democrat from Los Angeles who sponsored the bill, said in a statement at the time.</p> <p>Cuomo has tried and failed to get the Republican state Senate to act on college for inmates, something California expanded in 2015 in a partnership with a number of community colleges. Cuomo instead put forward a privately financed plan this year.</p> <p>Brown currently supports a ballot initiative that will come before voters this fall <a href="http://www.antirecidivism.org/psra_2016" target="_blank">that is designed</a> to reduce recidivism and revise how it is decided if youth are tried as adults.</p> <p><strong>Fiscal Policy</strong><br />While Brown has been considered more fiscally conservative than some of his allies in the Legislature, he did sponsor a 2012 ballot proposition that raised taxes on high-income earners. His initiative merged two other ballot initiatives - including one from the California teachers union branded a &ldquo;millionaire&rsquo;s tax&rdquo; that would have increased the personal income tax on those earning $1 million and more. Brown&rsquo;s plan created four new upper-income brackets for those making $250,000, $300,000, $500,000 and $1,000,000. The new tax rates are supposed to last seven years. The plan also increased the state sales tax. A group of unions recently introduced a new proposition that would make the tax increases of Brown&rsquo;s proposition permanent.</p> <p>New York adopted a millionaire&rsquo;s tax under Democratic Gov. David Paterson in 2009 that Cuomo partially renewed in 2011. It is now set to expire in 2017. Many unions have pushed to extend the tax as has the state Assembly.</p> <p>Cuomo has fought back against any tax increases. De Blasio insisted his universal pre-k plan be funded by a New York City income tax hike on households earning more than a million dollars a year. Cuomo delivered the cash for the plan <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2014/02/cuomo-there-already-is-a-millionaires-tax-for-pre-k/" target="_blank">and not the tax</a> - something de Blasio publicly lamented.</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/12181475174_8455aacfbb_z_1.jpg" alt="de blasio cuomo january 2014" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>De Blasio &amp; Cuomo in 2014 (photo: Rob Bennett, Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly voiced his frustration with his fellow Democrat, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who he says has worked with Senate Republicans in the state Legislature to stymie his agenda and major progressive legislation. In <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/harry-siegel-de-blasio-thinking-article-1.2687244" target="_blank">an interview with Harry Siegel of the Daily News</a> late last month, the mayor said Cuomo could have &ldquo;done a lot more to avert&rdquo; the &ldquo;divided government in Albany,&rdquo; where Democrats control the Assembly and Republicans the Senate.</p> <p>De Blasio said that New York could be more like California &ldquo;where Democrats have consolidated power and have done some remarkable things with it.&rdquo;</p> <p>The mayor&rsquo;s comments come as his allies face two investigations for improper fundraising in efforts to win the Senate for Democrats in 2014 and after a legislative session during which Cuomo worked with Senate Republicans to pass a budget containing a $15 minimum wage phase-in and a comprehensive paid family leave program. Cuomo and the Legislature also allocate hundreds of millions of dollars each year to fund de Blasio&rsquo;s signature pre-kindergarten program.</p> <p>And yet, de Blasio&rsquo;s sentiments are not unique, many Democrats feel Cuomo has empowered Senate Republicans in order to prevent the passage of a full slate of progressive legislation that could in theory alienate his moderate and conservative backers, including those upstate, on Long Island, and in New York City. The mayor and Assembly Democrats have a fairly long list of specific policy and funding grievances.</p> <p>By pointing to California, de Blasio offered up a measuring stick. At first glance it would appear that California and New York are neck-and-neck on progressive issues. Both states have passed marriage equality, a $15 minimum wage plan, and paid family leave.</p> <p>But progressive critics of the governor say he has failed to fully go to bat on reforms that would actually change how state government works, modernize voting and elections, and advance immigration and criminal justice policies opposed by conservatives. California has implemented a variety of these policies since 2010.</p> <p>Cuomo allies say criticism the governor faces on these issues is unfair and comes mainly from the sharp edge of success - that critics say because he achieved some major policy victories he should achieve them all, while also winning the Senate for Democrats.</p> <p>&ldquo;I have my real disagreements with the governor and then there's individual achievements that are absolutely progressive and very meaningful,&rdquo; de Blasio told Siegel. &ldquo;But on the question of &lsquo;Have we created a unified Democratic Party to have the maximum Democratic leadership and the maximum progressive policy of state?&rsquo; Of course not. Not even close.&rdquo;</p> <p>The de Blasio administration failed to respond to multiple inquiries about which specific policies California has enacted that he feels New York should emulate, but a number of his allies and political experts say California is in fact far ahead of New York on a number of progressive issues. These include immigration reforms like the DREAM Act and drivers&rsquo; licenses for undocumented immigrants; criminal justice reform measures like providing college education for inmates and laws to address holding police accountable for the deaths of civilians; and election reforms like independent redistricting and open primaries.</p> <p>Meanwhile, in New York, Cuomo has enacted what many progressive analysts see as austerity measures, such as strictly limiting agency spending and instituting a property tax cap for municipalities, something California Governor Jerry Brown has moved away from. The Cuomo administration declined to comment for this article without the de Blasio administration listing which policies from California the mayor wants to see in New York.</p> <p>Even beyond de Blasio, Cuomo&rsquo;s relationship with progressive Democrats remains complicated. He&rsquo;s had well-publicized roller coaster relationships with the Working Families Party and with the Legislature&rsquo;s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus. Administration officials point out that the governor has backed the DREAM Act and various criminal justice measures that are in place in California only to have Senate Republicans reject them. But de Blasio&rsquo;s point to Siegel and that of many other Democrats is that Cuomo has ensured Senate Republicans are in the position to block those bills.</p> <p>&ldquo;I think a lot of the governor&rsquo;s proposals are holograms so that he can come downstate and say &lsquo;I suggested college for inmates,&rsquo; but he can also go upstate and say &lsquo;I listened to your concerns and the bill didn&rsquo;t pass,&rsquo;&rdquo; said Dr. Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University.</p> <p>Bill Samuels, head of EffectiveNY, longtime Democratic fundraiser and Cuomo critic, said that the governor has repeatedly failed to help Democrats win the state Senate and by doing so is responsible for failed progressive policies.</p> <p>&ldquo;We are way behind states like California and Oregon,&rdquo; said Samuels. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s pathetic, if we had elected a Democratic Senate and had a different governor we would at least be considered a progressive state.There are exceptions, the governor came on strong with marriage equality, guns, and the minimum wage. So we aren&rsquo;t like Mississippi, he&rsquo;s done good things.&rdquo;</p> <p>But Samuels says one of Cuomo&rsquo;s first major moves - deciding to abandon a push to take the 2010 electoral redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature - ensured he would have Senate Republicans as governing partners for the foreseeable future. Samuels notes that the plan Cuomo signed off on allowed Republicans to gerrymander Senate districts to dilute Democratic centers upstate and in the city while creating a 63rd Senate seat that they could easily win. &ldquo;It was the most backward, bizarre redistricting in the United States,&rdquo; said Samuels.&rdquo;California took the redistricting process away from the Legislature and now they have an un-gerrymandered process.&rdquo;</p> <p>Cuomo&rsquo;s deal with the Legislature also included a promise that the Legislature would vote to amend the constitution to allow an independent commission to draw districts starting in 2020.</p> <p>California put redistricting of state-level seats in the hands of a citizens redistricting commission after a proposition vote in 2008. In 2010, Californians approved a proposition tasking <a href="http://wedrawthelines.ca.gov/commission.html" target="_blank">the commission</a> with drawing congressional districts.</p> <p>Greer noted that when evaluating de Blasio&rsquo;s and Cuomo&rsquo;s governing approaches it is important to recognize they have distinctly different constituencies. Cuomo works within the bounds created by his and is aided in doing so by having a Republican Senate, she said. &ldquo;The governor has a conservative base across the state. If you look at the electoral map the city may be progressive, but the rest of the map is still very red.&rdquo;</p> <p>Samuels said that de Blasio is right to focus on putting Democrats in charge of the Senate and that he has done more to champion progressive ideas in the state than Cuomo. &ldquo;De Blasio may have been naive and been too transparent in his [2014] bid to win a Democratic Senate,&rdquo; said Samuels. &ldquo;He should have used burner phones and emails like the Cuomo administration does, but regardless I applaud him for doing it and he was right to do it.&rdquo;</p> <p>Senate Republicans continue to use de Blasio as a boogeyman in their quest to hold their control of the Senate. &ldquo;Allowing these New York City radicals to have unchecked power over our entire state, especially in light of the U.S. Attorney and Manhattan D.A.'s investigations into the fundraising scandal they hatched two years ago, would be a disaster for the hardworking taxpayers and families who call New York home,&rdquo; Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/07/de-blasio-to-sit-out-upcoming-senate-elections-103697#ixzz4EEejjsDO" target="_blank">told Politico New York</a> for a Tuesday article about de Blasio&rsquo;s distance from this year&rsquo;s Senate contests. Democrats are hoping to swing the chamber by riding Hillary Clinton&rsquo;s voter turnout coattails and many are eager to see how involved Cuomo gets.</p> <p>Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor and associate dean at University of California Riverside, told Gotham Gazette that Gov. Brown spent his early years in office playing a fiscal conservative and threatening and delivering vetoes of bills he felt weren&rsquo;t fiscally responsible. But as the economy has flourished Brown has welcomed more progressive legislation.</p> <p>Ramakrishnan said there is no doubt that a host of progressive legislation has passed California&rsquo;s Legislature since Democrats won a supermajority in both houses in 2012 - major immigration and electoral reforms put the state far ahead of New York in those areas from a progressive standpoint - but he notes that there were other factors at play besides party control.</p> <p>Gov. Brown has made it clear that he has no higher political ambitions, he will be term-limited out of office when his current term ends, Ramakrishnan said. Cuomo, however, has no term limits and announced he plans to run for a third term; is active in national politics; and believed by many close to him to still have ambitions for the White House. &ldquo;Brown has declared he has no further political ambition so there is not much tension between him and other Democrats,&rdquo; Ramakrishnan said, noting that de Blasio might also hold broader political ambitions that may have irked Cuomo.</p> <p>Another quirk in California politics that Ramakrishnan points to as allowing for more progressive legislation is a ballot provision that passed in 2010 that did away with a previous requirement that the state budget be passed with a two-thirds majority. The ballot provision now requires a majority of legislators to support the budget. &ldquo;Removing the supermajority rule really opened things up,&rdquo; Ramakrishnan said. In the past, he said, &ldquo;The legislature had to come up with carefully crafted compromises to even pass a budget and those deals prevented other [more progressive] legislation from passing.&rdquo;</p> <p>The situation sounds similar to Albany&rsquo;s budget process where leaders trade on a host of issues and in some cases give away the chance to vote on major legislation to make sure they achieve top priorities in the budget. Having Senate Republicans on his side on certain issues during negotiations has helped Cuomo stop the Assembly&rsquo;s push for progressive legislation that he does not support.</p> <p>Another major factor Ramakrishnan points to in California&rsquo;s progressive surge is changing demographics across the state. Ramakrishnan said a number of safe Republican districts saw an influx of immigrants and Democratic voters over the last decade.</p> <p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve had the DREAM Act in since 2011, but most of the major immigration laws were passed in the last four years,&rdquo; said Ramakrishnan. &ldquo;It took a long time to build coalitions outside of the big cities like Los Angeles and it took demographic change in counties that used to be safe for Republicans.&rdquo;</p> <p>Senate Democrats have long touted demographic changes on Long Island as the key to what they see as their inevitable takeover of the chamber. Democrats recently won the Long Island seat formerly held by Republican Sen. Dean Skelos for two decades. Although Skelos&rsquo; corruption conviction likely played a major role in swaying voters, Democrats say a victory there might not have been possible if the demographics there hadn&rsquo;t been trending Democratic for years.</p> <p>Finally, Californians have the ability to put major issues before voters through ballot propositions, thereby bypassing the Legislature, which can take much longer to process an issue.</p> <p>Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, said he hopes Cuomo will be involved in campaigning for Senate Democrats this year. &ldquo;I feel the governor is our leader and as a Democrat he should step up to the plate and help us gain the majority,&rdquo; said Peralta. &ldquo;It's in his best interest to move progressive issues like immigration and affordable housing. I hope the governor will take a lead role in helping Democrats win the Senate this year just as he is making sure Hillary [Clinton] becomes President.&rdquo;</p> <p>Asked if he supported a full Democratic takeover of the Senate on Tuesday, Cuomo told reporters that it is &ldquo;too early for any political conversation about that," instead indicating he is focused on Clinton and the upcoming Democratic National Convention that he is attending, and may be speaking at. Elections determining control of the state Senate are four months away - the same day as Clinton&rsquo;s likely face-off with Republican Donald Trump.</p> <p><em><strong>A look at major progressive issues and where they stand in New York and California:</strong></em></p> <p><strong>Paid Family Leave</strong><br />This year New York passed a 12-month paid family leave program that has been praised as the most &ldquo;generous&rdquo; in the nation. The program won&rsquo;t be fully phased in until 2021.</p> <p>California passed its six-week paid family leave program in 2002 and it went into operation in 2004.</p> <p><strong>Immigration</strong><br />Cuomo touted his support for the DREAM Act, a program that would give undocumented students access to college tuition aid, during campaign stops in the city and made it part of his State of the State agenda, but he has said very little about it when the Legislature is in session and made no dramatic public push for the bill. Senate Republicans have made blocking the DREAM Act a major part of their reelection campaigns.</p> <p>Brown signed California&rsquo;s Dream Act into law in October of 2011. Since then he has signed a series of major immigration reform bills. In 2013 Brown signed a bill that allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers&rsquo; licenses. The last time a New York Governor pushed for drivers&rsquo; licenses for undocumented immigrants was in 2007, under former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. The backlash against the proposal from conservatives and even Democrats was so strong that Spitzer dropped the plan.</p> <p>This year Brown signed a bill that allows undocumented immigrants to buy health care on the state exchange created under the Affordable Care Act - making California the first state to offer that kind of coverage. New York offers undocumented immigrants emergency Medicaid and coverage for end-stage cancer and renal disease.</p> <p>&ldquo;I think it's very hard for the Governor to go into these economically depressed areas upstate and tell them he supports a bill to help immigrants that they see as undermining their already very tenuous way of life,&rdquo; said Dr. Greer, of Fordham.</p> <p>Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, said that the first step for New York to achieve what California has on immigration reform would be for Democrats to take control of the Senate. But it wouldn&rsquo;t end there. &ldquo;We would also have to move conservative Democrats on these issues, we&rsquo;d have to move the needle,&rdquo; Rivera said, adding that he thinks Senate Democrats could move the DREAM Act during a first year in the majority, but acknowledged it isn&rsquo;t a sure thing.</p> <p>Peralta agreed, saying, &ldquo;A Democratic majority gets the ball rolling in New York State.&rdquo; But he warned, &ldquo;We won&rsquo;t be able to move everything at once. There are some issues that don&rsquo;t play well in marginal districts upstate. We will have to tackle them in bite-size pieces - The DREAM Act one year, then drivers&rsquo; licenses the next.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>Minimum Wage</strong><br />The two states appeared to be locked in a race to get to $15 per hour this year as both Brown and Cuomo pushed for a minimum wage increase - the governors signed their bills on the same day, April 4. But the bills are not equal: both call for incremental increases to the wage until finally reaching $15 - in California it will be 2022 before the wage is fully implemented; in New York it depends on where you live. Residents of New York City will have a $15 minimum wage by the end of 2018; Long Island and Westchester reach $15 to start 2022; while the rest of the state will reach $12.50 by the last day of 2020, with a 2019 panel to review the economic impact and able to halt the increase.</p> <p><strong>Election Reform</strong><br />California adopted a new primary system <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/us/politics/new-rules-upend-house-re-election-races-in-california.html" target="_blank">in 2012</a> that allows the top two vote getters in primary races to move on the general election regardless of party affiliation. That move in combination with California&rsquo;s citizen redistricting commission has opened up seats once kept in a stranglehold by incumbents.</p> <p>Good government groups have pushed New York City to adopt nonpartisan primaries but there has yet to be significant movement. The idea is a nonstarter at the state level.</p> <p>In October of last year, Brown signed an automatic voter registration bill that would have citizens registered to vote during visits to the DMV for drivers&rsquo; licenses or ID cards. Cuomo proposed a similar initiative in February during his State of the State speech, but met with opposition from Democratic lawmakers who worried registration would favor suburban and rural areas of the state where there are move drivers. Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, suggested empowering other agencies to also register voters to create parity.</p> <p><strong>Criminal Justice Reform</strong><br />Cuomo called for a review of the criminal justice system in the wake of the July 2014 death of Eric Garner during an NYPD stop. That review did not come about in the Legislature. Instead of passing legislation to create a special prosecutor to review police killings of unarmed civilians Cuomo issued an executive order empowering Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to take such cases out of the hands of the local district attorney.</p> <p>Cuomo&rsquo;s move was hailed by advocates who say local DAs are biased and unwilling to prosecute members of their local police force. But many advocates are still pushing for a similar system to be made law as executive orders can be undone. Senate Republicans have refused to consider any number of criminal justice initiatives Cuomo has proposed, including raising the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 (New York is one of only two states where it is 16, with North Carolina).</p> <p>California does not have a special prosecutor system in place for police killings of civilians but last year Brown signed a law banning the use of grand juries in such cases. The move came in response to outcry that a grand jury refused to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for Garner&rsquo;s death. "The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system," state Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Democrat from Los Angeles who sponsored the bill, said in a statement at the time.</p> <p>Cuomo has tried and failed to get the Republican state Senate to act on college for inmates, something California expanded in 2015 in a partnership with a number of community colleges. Cuomo instead put forward a privately financed plan this year.</p> <p>Brown currently supports a ballot initiative that will come before voters this fall <a href="http://www.antirecidivism.org/psra_2016" target="_blank">that is designed</a> to reduce recidivism and revise how it is decided if youth are tried as adults.</p> <p><strong>Fiscal Policy</strong><br />While Brown has been considered more fiscally conservative than some of his allies in the Legislature, he did sponsor a 2012 ballot proposition that raised taxes on high-income earners. His initiative merged two other ballot initiatives - including one from the California teachers union branded a &ldquo;millionaire&rsquo;s tax&rdquo; that would have increased the personal income tax on those earning $1 million and more. Brown&rsquo;s plan created four new upper-income brackets for those making $250,000, $300,000, $500,000 and $1,000,000. The new tax rates are supposed to last seven years. The plan also increased the state sales tax. A group of unions recently introduced a new proposition that would make the tax increases of Brown&rsquo;s proposition permanent.</p> <p>New York adopted a millionaire&rsquo;s tax under Democratic Gov. David Paterson in 2009 that Cuomo partially renewed in 2011. It is now set to expire in 2017. Many unions have pushed to extend the tax as has the state Assembly.</p> <p>Cuomo has fought back against any tax increases. De Blasio insisted his universal pre-k plan be funded by a New York City income tax hike on households earning more than a million dollars a year. Cuomo delivered the cash for the plan <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2014/02/cuomo-there-already-is-a-millionaires-tax-for-pre-k/" target="_blank">and not the tax</a> - something de Blasio publicly lamented.</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>