Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/602 Tue, 12 Dec 2017 08:35:22 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) The Week That Was in New York Politics, Feb. 15-19 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6180:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-feb-15-19 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6180:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-feb-15-19 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday February 19

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio celebrates the launch of the LinkNYC wifi hubs, via The Mayor's Office; Governor Cuomo rallies to promote paid family leave, via The Governor's Office.

de blasio LINKNYC

cuomo paid family leave motion

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. Closing Rikers: City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called for a commission to study the potential of closing Rikers Island jails during her State of the City address last week, sparking discussions on what to do about the city’s notorious complex. Mayor de Blasio said closing Rikers is a “noble concept,” but unrealistic, while his wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray, called closing Rikers a “great idea.” Mark-Viverito has continued the discussion this week, explaining that the criminal justice reforms aim to reduce the number of New Yorkers who end up in Rikers, diminishing the population in the jail. [Read: Mark-Viverito 'Doubles Down' on Criminal Justice Reform in State of the City]

2. Mayor Signs Raises, Reforms: Mayor de Blasio signed a package of legislation into law today that raises the salaries of the city’s elected officials by at least 12 percent and reforms the job descriptions of City Council members, even though the raises for Council members were $10,185 higher than what he initially approved. While the Council has been praised for several good government reforms included in the bills, the lack of public input, rushed timeline, and size of the pay increase has sparked criticism. [Read: De Blasio to Sign Higher Raises for Council Than He Previously Approved]

3. Stop-and-Frisk: A report released Tuesday by a court-appointed federal monitor found that NYPD officers are still unclear about changes to stop-and-frisk rules, leading many to continue to stopping New Yorkers on the streets without providing a just cause. Stop-and-frisks have decreased from 685,000 in 2011 to 24,000 in 2015, yet according to the report, officers failed to explain the grounds on which they stopped someone to question them in more than a fourth of all stops.

4. Vacant Lots: An audit released by city Comptroller Scott Stringer criticized the city for not using vacant lots to create more affordable housing after finding that more than 1,000 city-owned lots have been sitting vacant for over 30 years. The audit faults the Department of Housing Preservation and Development for routinely failing to properly turn over land to developers. City officials have called Stringer’s report “false and misleading,” saying many of the properties lack basic infrastructure and that many others are in line for development.

5. Shelter Squalor: An audit released by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli slammed the Cuomo administration for a severe lack of oversight of homeless shelters, saying the state’s failure led to squalid living conditions, including rodent infestations, fire hazards, and mold. Auditors noted that 22 of the 47 most serious issues had previously been pointed out in annual inspections, but had never been corrected. Governor Cuomo has since conceded “the state was not aggressive enough for a period of time.”

THIS WEEK’S NUMBERS:

  • 10,000 people are currently locked up at Rikers Island, NY1’s Errol Louis writes for the Daily News.
  • 24,000 stop-and-frisk stops in 2015 - a 661,000 decrease in the number of stop-and-frisks since 2011, the Times reports.
  • 75 schools across New York City will overhaul math teaching, Chalkbeat reports.
  • 1,000 city-owned lots or more have been sitting vacant for over 30 years, according to an audit from city Comptroller Scott Stringer.
  • $47 million from the state will be spent on the development of the Empire Outlets on Staten Island as part of a “multi-pronged subsidy that increased after the developers contributed $85,000 to the governor’s campaign,” Politico reports.
  • 16 shelters with rodent and vermin infestations statewide, 18 with fire safety issues, and 8 with mold growing in residents’ rooms, an audit by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli criticizing the Cuomo administration for failing to provide adequate oversight of homeless shelters revealed.
  • 200 recommendations for improving East Harlem and informing Mayor de Blasio’s rezoning plan from a coalition of East Harlem stakeholders, Gotham Gazette reports.
  • 490,000 New Yorkers on the welfare roles over the course of 2015, with the average family of three receiving $826 per month under the system, and an individual receiving about $485, Gotham Gazette reports.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

  • It was a good week for First Lady of New York City Chirlane McCray, who made several media appearances this week to discuss the city’s mental health roadmap, which McCray spearheads, and was extensively and favorably profiled in The New York Times Magazine and in Jezebel.
  • And, it was a good week for the city’s 64 elected officials, all of whom received at least a 12 percent increase to their salaries today.
  • It was a bad week for Governor Cuomo after state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released an audit that criticized the Cuomo administration for failing to provide enough oversight of homeless shelters.

THE FLASH:

  • Around this time 65 years ago, on February 16, 1951, the City Council passed a bill barring racial discrimination in housing projects, according to NY1.
  • Around this time 63 years ago, on February 17, 1953, a New York federal court delayed the executions of Cold War spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to allow time for a final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Their appeal failed, and the two were executed in New York months later, according to NY1.

 

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

In Departure from Predecessors, De Blasio Administration Overhauls City Welfare System, by Samar Khurshid

De Blasio to Sign Higher Raises for Council Than He Previously Approved, by Meg O’Connor

To Influence Rezoning, East Harlem Stakeholders Preempt City Plan With Own, by Maggie Calmes

Eyeing 100 Schools, Will Success Academy Expand to Staten Island? by Samar Khurshid

'New York Values' in Historical Perspective, by Bruce W. Dearstyne (opinion)

'Making A Murderer' Flaws All Around Us, by Christopher Beall (opinion)

Rebuilding NYCHA: A Fresh Look, by Nicholas D. Bloom (opinion)

Goodbye to ‘First Generation’ NYCHA, by Nicholas D. Bloom and Matthew G. Lasner (opinion)

Looks Matter, Especially in Public Housing, by Nicholas D. Bloom and Matthias Altwicker (opinion)

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max and DNAinfo reporter Danielle Tcholakian discussed Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan on BRIC TV.

Council members Donovan Richards and David Greenfield spoke with NY1’s Grace Rauh about Mayor de Blasio’s city-wide rezoning plan.

Daily News reporter Greg Smith joined NY Slant’s Alexis Grenell and Nick Powell to discuss all sides of the affordable housing debate, and whether the de Blasio administration has assuaged concerns about gentrification.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito appeared on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show to discuss the criminal justice reforms proposed in her State of the City address and potentially closing Rikers Island.

Mayor de Blasio spoke with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer about the proposed federal cuts to counter-terrorism funding for New York City, the pay hikes for elected officials, the debate between Apple and the FBI, and more.

***
NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

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by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

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The Week That Was in New York Politics, Feb. 15-19 Fri, 19 Feb 2016 17:20:17 +0000
De Blasio to Sign Higher Raises for Council Than He Previously Approved http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6179:de-blasio-to-sign-higher-raises-for-council-than-he-previously-approved http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6179:de-blasio-to-sign-higher-raises-for-council-than-he-previously-approved mark-viverito de blasio background

Mayor de Blasio & Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alatriste)


On Friday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio will sign a package of legislation into law that will raise the salaries of all of the city’s elected officials, and reform the job descriptions of City Council members.

The City Council held only one public hearing on the bills and approved them without change two days later, just one week after first announcing the proposed legislation. While the Council is being praised for several good government reforms included, the lack of public input, rushed timeline, and size of the pay increase sparked criticism.

The salary increase for Council members goes beyond what an advisory commission recommended and what the mayor initially approved, yet de Blasio will still sign the bills. In the two weeks since the City Council’s vote, de Blasio has repeatedly side-stepped questions of the raises or process by pointing to the reforms included in the bills.

“As I’ve said, what the quadrennial commission proposed was some of the most profound reforms in terms of the City Council that we’ve seen in decades,” de Blasio said during an unrelated press conference Thursday. “This is the first time these reforms are actually going to be achieved,” he said. “I look forward to signing the bill.”

The reforms, which include making the position of Council member full-time and banning stipends for chairing committees, have earned the praise of good government advocates and elected officials, and even go a step further than what was recommended by the advisory commission that de Blasio empaneled last year as required by law.

However, both the legislative process and the higher-than-recommended salary bump for Council members have raised eyebrows.

When asked about the increase at a Thursday event held by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY School of Journalism, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said, “The commission did not take into account the value to the outside income [which the Council is virtually banning]. And that is why we went above the $138,000 recommendation to $148,000. We gave it a modest 10,000 value.” (Technically, the recommendation was $138,315, which the Council increased to $148,500.)

Yet, only three Council members currently earn significant outside income, and they will be grandfathered in until the end of their current term, while all Council members will get retroactive raises.

During the Feb. 3 City Council hearing on the raises and reforms, Fritz Schwarz, Jr., chief counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice and chair of the advisory commission, testified that the commission “did not recommend any additional bump in pay [for significantly limiting outside income]…considering the fact that only very few of the members here have an income that would be banned under the new law, and the grandfathering…no present City Council person is adversely affected by the change until the end of this term.”

The three-member advisory commission applauded the Council for choosing to enact reforms long sought by good government advocates, but said in their written testimony that at the time of the hearing, “the Council has not yet made its case for the proposed additional raise.”

Mark-Viverito also reiterated that she is proud of the reforms the City Council has chosen to implement, adding that the salary increases are naturally “going to jar people because...it’s been over eleven years” since a commission to review the salaries of elected officials has been convened. New York City law requires a commission be appointed every four years, yet until now, the salaries went unchanged since 2006. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to call a commission after 2006, citing the Great Recession.

When asked by WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Jan. 29 whether he would sign a bill “with this little opportunity for public debate,” Mayor de Blasio did not give a direct answer, but instead said the bills are the result of a “very extensive process” with the advisory commission, and said he was “waiting to see all the details” of the Council’s proposal.

Though at that point, information regarding the package of legislation had already been sent out and the Mayor went on to describe the reforms, calling it “one of the biggest reform packages in terms of the City Council that we’ve ever seen.”

Lehrer then asked the Mayor if he would urge the City Council to make the raises take effect next term, something which good government advocates have called for in order to eliminate Council members’ ability to vote on their own raises.

“The commission did think it was appropriate for the pay raise to take effect this year - because it’s been almost ten years since this was dealt with,” Mayor de Blasio responded.

The raises - all at least 12 percent - for the city’s elected officials apply to the mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough presidents, district attorneys, and City Council members. They will be retroactive effective Jan. 1 of this year. Yet, part of the reforms being passed include changing the process so that in the future, raises will go into effect the following term. Mayor de Blasio has promised not to accept a raise this term.

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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De Blasio to Sign Higher Raises for Council Than He Previously Approved Fri, 19 Feb 2016 02:10:31 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, Feb. 1-5 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6149:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-feb-1-5 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6149:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-feb-1-5 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday February 5, 2016

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: In Iowa, Mayor de Blasio makes calls on behalf of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, via @Chirlane; De Blasio delivers his State of the City address, via Michael Appleton, Mayor's Office; De Blasio tours the downtown Manhattan site of a crane collapse, via Ed Reed, Mayor's Office.

bdb calls iowa

bdb state of the city

bdb crane collapse

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. State of the City: Mayor de Blasio emphasized building strong neighborhoods and city management during his third State of the City address on Thursday, and focused on acknowledging the work of everyday New Yorkers and the city’s uniformed workforce, and improving conditions across the five boroughs. New initiatives highlighted during the speech include a streetcar running along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, development on Governor’s Island, a new private sector employee retirement fund, and a $91 million investment to revitalize Far Rockaway. [Read: De Blasio Stresses Neighborhood Health in 'One City' Vision & Muslim Immigrant Family of NYPD Captain to Lead Pledge of Allegiance at State of the City]

2. Council Votes on Raises, Reforms: On Friday, the City Council approved a package of legislation to raise the salaries of all the the city’s elected officials and reform how Council members are compensated. The reforms, including eliminating stipends for chairing committees and making the position full time, have been praised, yet the higher than recommended salary increase the Council is seeking and the timing of the vote have been criticized. [Read: Questions Remain as City Council Moves Ahead with Pay Raises, Reforms]

3. Critical Time for Housing Plan: On Wednesday, the City Planning Commission passed two major components of Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan, sending them to the City Council, which will hold two hearings on the proposals next week. The two proposals - Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability - have received mixed reactions and aim to adjust the city’s zoning codes to allow what the administration says will be more responsible development. At the same time on the state level, calls for Governor Cuomo to move on new program to incentivize affordable housing production continue. [Read: Planning Commission Sends Mayor's Zoning Proposals to City Council & Calls for Public Discussion of New Affordable Housing Incentive Program]

4. Horse Carriage Deal Collapses: Mayor de Blasio’s controversial plan to shrink the horse carriage industry collapsed after facing intense criticism from several sides, including the horse-carriage drivers, pedicab drivers, park advocates, Council members, union leaders, animal-rights activists, and more. After the Teamsters union withdrew its support for the deal, the City Council cancelled its scheduled vote on the plan.

5. Subway Slashings: In the wake of several separate slashings in the subways in January, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced Wednesday that the NYPD will now wake up sleeping straphangers. Transit crime was up 36 percent in January, according to Bratton. Speaking on Hot 97 radio, Mayor de Blasio said there is no pattern to the random attacks and pointed to an overall downward trend in crime.

THIS WEEK’S NUMBERS:
$148,500 is the new salary for City Council members, up from $112,500, and $10,185 higher than the $138,315 salary a commission tasked with reviewing the compensation levels of elected officials recommended, Gotham Gazette reports. (The salaries of the Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, Borough Presidents, and District Attorneys will all increase too)

21,401 open code violations at homeless shelters around the city at the end of 2015, an overdue report released by Mayor de Blasio shows.

6.4% increase in the number of jobs in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx from the end of 2013 through the middle of 2015, the Daily News reports.

$91 million will be invested to revitalize Far Rockaway, DNAinfo reports.

$2.5 billion is the estimated pricetag for a new streetcar that will run between Brooklyn and Queens along the East River, the Times reports.

89% of New Yorkers say corruption in the state government in Albany is a serious problem, according to the a Siena poll.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:
It was a good week for New York City’s elected officials, all of whom will receive at least a 12 percent salary increase after the City Council approves a package of legislation Friday that will enact the raises (although Mayor de Blasio will not accept a raise for the duration of his term).

It was a bad week for City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who has been widely criticized after he called the $36,000 raise he and other Council members are about to get a “big compromise,” and insisted that they “deserved” to make $175,000. Rodriguez was also the sponsor of the horse carriage bill, which fell apart this week and has also been the source of much controversy.

THE FLASH:
Around this time 103 years ago, on February 2, 1913, about 150,000 people visited Grand Central Terminal for its opening day. Now, about 750,000 people visit Grand Central every day for travel, dining or shopping.

Around this time 4 years ago, on February 2, 2012, 18-year-old Ramarley Graham was shot and killed by police officers in the bathroom of the apartment Graham lived in with his family. The officers followed Graham into his home from a bodega after they thought they saw Graham with a gun. No gun was found, and the officer who shot Graham had the manslaughter charges against him dropped. On the anniversary of Graham’s death, his parents delivered a letter to City Hall officials urging Mayor de Blasio to fire the NYPD officer who shot Graham.

Around this time 52 years ago, on February 3, 1964, 460,000 students refused to go to school in order to protest the segregation of New York City’s schools. Students gathered and chanted “Jim Crow must go!” in front of the Board of Education building, calling for immediate action to be taken to desegregate the schools.

Around this time 17 years ago, on February 4, 1999, West African immigrant Amadou Diallo was killed by police officers in the entrance of his Bronx apartment building after the officers mistakenly believed Diallo was the serial rapist they were searching for, and that he was reaching for a gun. Diallo, 23, had no gun and was in fact reaching for his wallet when four NYPD officers fired 41 shots, hitting him 19 times. His death sparked demonstrations against racial profiling and unfair treatment by the police. The four officers involved were eventually acquitted of all charges.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK

De Blasio Stresses Neighborhood Health in 'One City' Vision, by Ben Max

Planning Commission Sends Mayor's Zoning Proposals to City Council, by Maggie Calmes

Calls for Public Discussion of New Affordable Housing Incentive Program, by David Howard King

After Iowa: Debates & Voting Dates Until New York, by Ben Max

Muslim Immigrant Family of NYPD Captain to Lead Pledge of Allegiance at State of the City, by Samar Khurshid

Questions Remain as City Council Moves Ahead with Pay Raises, Reforms, by Meg O'Connor

Planning Commission Vote Will Send Zoning Proposals to City Council, Ben Max

As Council Begins Oversight, McCray Reports Progress in Mental Health Roadmap Implementation, by Meg O'Connor

What To Do When the L Train Closes, by Alex Armlovich (opinion)

As Federal Aid System Advances, Our Outdated Way Leaves New York Students Behind, by Sue Mead and Kevin Stump (opinion)

The City's Next Steps to Ensure Vibrant, Creative Communities, by Adam Forman (opinion)

A Good Deal for Horses, by Allie Feldman (opinion)

Reducing Organic Waste Without Increasing Costs, by Carol Kellermann (opinion)

To Eradicate Sex Trafficking, Prosecute the Pimps and Buyers, by Lauren Hersh (opinion)

Four Decades of Dedication: City Limits’ Story, by Jarrett Murphy ( City Limits)

Homeless Young Adults Can Fall through a Crack in Shelter System, by Genia Gould (City Limits)

40 Stories, 40 Years: City Limits and the History of Today's New York City, by Jarrett Murphy (City Limits)

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:
Council Member Brad Lander spoke with Errol Louis on NY1 to explain raising Council members' salaries and to discuss the controversy surrounding it.

Dick Dadey, executive director of the government watchdog group Citizens Union, spoke with Brian Lehrer on WNYC about the package of legislation the City Council voted on Friday that will raise the salaries of all of New York City’s elected officials for the first time since 2006, as well as the controversy surrounding the larger-than-recommended salary increase for Council members and the timing of the vote.

Mayor de Blasio appeared on Hot 97 radio to talk about the presidential race, violence in the subway, the newly announced streetcar line that will run between Brooklyn and Queens, running for re-election, and legalizing marijuana.

Current and former New York Daily News columnists Harry Siegel and Bill Hammond joined Alexis Grenell and Nick Powell on the NYSlant podcast to discuss JCOPE’s controversial lobbying decision, and the equally controversial pay raise proposals from the City Council.

***
NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

***
by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

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The Week That Was in New York Politics, Feb. 1-5 Fri, 05 Feb 2016 20:37:57 +0000
Questions Remain as City Council Moves Ahead with Pay Raises, Reforms http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6144:questions-remain-as-city-council-moves-ahead-with-pay-raises-reforms http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6144:questions-remain-as-city-council-moves-ahead-with-pay-raises-reforms lander mmv kallos

Council Members Lander, Mark-Viverito, Kallos (l-r) (photo: William Alatriste) 


At the first and only City Council hearing on a package of legislation that will raise the salaries of all the city’s elected officials and reform how Council members are compensated, the Council was roundly praised for accepting several reforms long sought by good government groups, but criticized both for raising their salaries higher than recommended and for the the timing of the vote.

The proposed legislation was first announced late last Thursday, and the vote will take place two days after Wednesday's hearing, during an usual Friday session. The raises are retroactive to Jan. 1, regardless of when the bills are passed.

Asking that the Council delay the vote in order to allow more public input, Dick Dadey, executive director of the good government group Citizens Union, testified, “not delaying denies the public sufficient input on a matter that they will pay for and from which you personally benefit.” Dadey and Citizens Union had previously expressed criticism of the Council crafting its plan without a public hearing first.

The four bills largely adhere to the recommendations made by an independent advisory commission tasked with reviewing the compensation levels of the city’s elected officials, including eliminating stipends for chairing committees, making the Council member position full time, and raising the salaries of the Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, Borough Presidents, and District Attorneys to the amount outlined by the commission.

Other reforms, like mandating that financial disclosure forms be published online, banning almost all outside income, and making future raises prospective, go a step further than the commission’s report had recommended. These changes are earning the Council praise from good government advocates.

Significantly, the Council’s proposed legislation will raise Council member salaries from $112,500 to $148,500 - $10,185 higher than the $138,315 salary the commission had recommended. This, Council members say, is to compensate for the fact that they will ban almost all forms of outside income.

Yet, only three Council members currently earn significant outside income, and they will be grandfathered in until the end of their current term.

“We did not recommend any additional bump in pay [for eliminating outside income]…considering the fact that only very few of the members here have an income that would be banned under the new law, and the grandfathering…no present City Council person is adversely affected by the change until the end of this term,” Fritz Schwarz, Jr., chief counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice and chair of the advisory commission said during his testimony.

Dadey and Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, also took issue with the bonus for banning outside income, and suggested that particular increase should only be effective after the ban on outside income affects all members, on Jan. 1, 2018.

Of the three members of the Council earning significant outside income who will get the new salary nonetheless, Lerner said, “for the next year and a half, they are also going to be collecting that outside income. So that double-dipping doesn’t really make any sense to us.”

“These raises, the first in almost a decade, are well deserved,” Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said, starting off the hearing. Saying that the Council was adopting most of the commission’s recommendations, she said, “We diverged in one area: compensation for becoming full time and giving up the potential for outside income. The commission recommended no increase for this important reform. We disagree, and have proposed a modest increase to account for it.”

Some Council members were asking for an even larger salary increase, like Ydanis Rodriguez, who used the few minutes allotted for asking the panel questions to instead talk about how hard Council members work.

“We work more than 60 hours a week,” Rodriguez said. “For me, this is a big compromise that we’re doing…Our salaries should be $175,000.”

“That, I’m not in agreement with,” Mark-Viverito said to reporters when asked about Rodriguez’s remark.

Council members, commissioners, good government groups, and members of the Conflicts of Interest Board were all in agreement that Council members work hard, yet several Council members seemed defensive about the amount of work the position comes with. Council Member Chin added that the job is “more than full time.”

“Can we agree that the commission recognizes that the Council member works more than full time?” Rodriguez asked.

“We never received time sheets, so I can’t answer specifically, but in general, it was our impression…that absolutely you are working long periods of time,” commissioner Paul Quintero replied.

Speaking with press after his testimony, Schwarz expressed frustration with the fact that, though Council members spoke passionately of their need for better compensation and the hard work that they do during the hearing, not a single one had expressed that to the commission during its two public hearings.

“We invited all elected officials to come [testify at the two public hearings] and none of them did," Schwarz said, though he noted that Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was the only one of the city’s 64 elected officials to testify before the commission.

“It would be far better for the public, for us, and for them, if they’d come to testify,” Schwarz added.

Dadey echoed that sentiment, telling members of the press after his testimony, “This is the problem with the process - there are a lot of legitimate questions to be asked of the Council and how they arrived at the numbers. And to get a committee report two days before the vote…this is being rushed way too fast.”

The timing of the vote has raised eyebrows, as the Council rescheduled its stated meeting to Friday to vote on the legislation, at which point it will also vote on controversial legislation regarding Mayor de Blasio’s plan to shrink the horse-carriage industry. [Note: the vote on the horse-carriage deal was postponed when union support for the legislation fell through on Thursday]

When asked about the rush to vote on the salary legislation, Mark-Viverito first said, “The timing is something we cannot control…I didn’t think delaying it any further was a good thing to do.”

After members of the press pointed out that it is entirely within the Council’s control to decide when to vote on legislation, Mark-Viverito added, “Based on conversations with members there is an interest to move on this issue.” It was a sentiment echoed by Council Members Brad Lander and Ben Kallos, who co-chaired the hearing and defended the Council's plans, citing the unprecedented reforms and the value in raising Council salaries so as to attract strong people to run for office.

Dadey, however, said he has “talked to many Council members and [has] not heard any of them say they wanted it to be rushed. Many of them have a problem with the quick process.”

Two other issues that were raised several times during the hearing were whether most outside income should be banned entirely or if there should be a cap on the amount of outside income Council members can earn; and the low pay of Council staffers. Aides to Council members often make salaries between $30,000 and $50,000, with Council members deciding to hire additional people rather than pay a smaller staff more per person.

Council Member David Greenfield, who gave up practicing law and the outside income he earned from it months ago, said he is “concerned” about limiting types of outside income, saying it “may dissuade people from going into government” and asked if the commission would support a cap on outside income.

Schwarz said the commission is against a cap, adding “every other city official since 1937 have not been able to earn outside income.”

There is a possibility that some last minute amendments may be added to the package of bills on the floor of the Council during Friday’s full-body meeting. Some Council members seemed to be expecting to put amendments forward.

Good government groups have urged the Council not to accept a raise until their next term in office, if re-elected. Mayor de Blasio will not take a raise this term. As Dadey pointed out, 37 Council members said, in response to a Citizens Union questionnaire, that they think pay raises should be prospective.

Yet it seems highly unlikely that the Council will follow through on that, as both the commission and the Council support the rationale that, since it has been almost a decade since the salaries of elected officials have changed, accepting a raise this term would be fair. The Council is changing the process for the future, though, so that raises are put into effect for the next class of Council members. The timeline in part relies on the Mayor calling a compensation review commission every four years as he or she is supposed to.

While questions remain, this round of pay increases and the connected reforms move forward. As Council Member Greenfield pointed out Wednesday, “Prior councils have taken the raises, but have never done the reforms. This is a big deal…for the first time ever we’re actually taking the raises but also making the reforms, and that’s huge.”

"Just to be fair,” Greenfield said, emphasizing the desire for credit that several Council members expressed, “the Council can do whatever it wants.”

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

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Questions Remain as City Council Moves Ahead with Pay Raises, Reforms Thu, 04 Feb 2016 04:24:12 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 1 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6130:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-february-1 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6130:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-february-1 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio is in Iowa, where he has been since Friday and remains until Tuesday, campaigning for Hillary Clinton.

In New York, the big weekend news was that Democratic Assembly Member Todd Kaminsky, of Long Island, officially declared his bid for state Senate. Kaminsky, who was immediately endorsed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is running for the seat vacated by former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who was forced from office after he was convicted on federal corruption charges.

As the week begins, joint legislative budget hearings continue in Albany. In New York City, we're anticipating several key developments this week:

There will be a hearing Wednesday of the City Planning Commission, at which it is expected to pass Mayor de Blasio's two citywide zoning changes, with tweaks, and send them to the City Council. The Council will hold hearings on Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) next week, on Feb. 9 and 10.

Also Wednesday, the Council will hold a hearing on its plan to raise pay for the city's elected officials and reform some Council rules, like making the position full-time and eliminating bonuses for chairing issue committees. There is some controversy involved, though, because the Council did not have a public hearing before drafting its plan, and its plan includes bigger raises than those recommended by an independent compensation commission.

On Thursday, Mayor de Blasio will deliver his State of the City address - in the evening this year, he recently announced, so that more members of the public are able to tune in.

And on Friday, the City Council is expected to vote through those pay raises for themselves and other elected officials, while also voting on the mayor's plan to limit the carriage horse industry.

It's going to be a busy week! As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
The New York State Legislature is in session on Monday, each house will hold session, and there will be a joint legislative budget hearing about housing at 10 a.m.

On Monday, members of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration will present his "Built to Lead" agenda at a variety of events around the state.

At the City Council on Monday:

  • At 11 a.m., the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections will meet “on the appointment of Shin-pei Tsay to the New York City Art Commission.”
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Finance will meet for an oversight hearing about “The City’s Efforts to Combat Real Property Deed Fraud.”
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Technology will meet on two bills related to information security and another related to city agencies disposal of electronics.

The New York Association of Counties will kick off its three-day 2016 Legislative Conference at Albany’s Desmond Hotel and Conference Center on Monday. At the conference, “matters ranging from the State budget and its impact on local government, renewable energy, the heroin epidemic, Uber and Airbnb” and other issues will be discussed. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and other officials are featured speakers.

At 9:30 a.m. Monday in Long Island City, City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, NYC DOT, and NYC DDC will announce the Long Island City/Hunters Point $30 Million Reconstruction Project as part of the City’s Vision Zero Initiative.

At 11 a.m. Monday at her Manhattan office, “Public Advocate Letitia James will announce a lawsuit against the NYC Department of Education (DOE) for failing to provide children with disabilities a free and appropriate public education. This is the second lawsuit Public Advocate James has filed against the DOE regarding students with disabilities.”

Also at 11 a.m. Monday, there will be a World Hijab Day press conference at City Hall, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will participate.

At noon Monday at City Hall, "Communities United for Police Reform, advocacy and community organizations, and community members and New Yorkers" will hold a press conference to announce a request for an official investigaiton into the NYPD.

At 6 p.m., the New York City Bar Association will host a program called “How to Get on the Ballot in NYC” with former state Senate Minority Leader and private election law practitioner Martin E. Connor; Sarah K. Steiner, Chair of City Bar Election Law Committee and private election law practitioner; Jerry Goldfeder, private election law practitioner and chair of City Bar NYC Affairs Committee; and Steven Richman, general counsel at the NYC Board of Elections.

At 6 p.m., the School of Visual Arts will host a symposium about “health inequalities in East Harlem” with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Arnhold Global health Institute Director Dr. Prabhjot Singh, East Harlem tenants’ activist Carmen Quinones, Strive co-founder Rob Carmona and community leader Clyde Williams. It will be moderated by Cheryl Heller, Chair of Design for Social Innovation at SVA.

At 7 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Lunar New Year Celebration.

On Monday evening, several elected officials and many others will attend the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts 50th Anniversary Gala.

Tuesday
The New York State Legislature is in session on Tuesday and will also have two joint legislative budget hearings: a 9:30 a.m. joint legislative budget hearing on taxes and a 1 p.m. joint legislative budget hearing on economic development.

At 8 a.m., de Blasio administration officials will give an information session about the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability zoning amendments at the Bronx Chamber of Commerce.

At noon, City Council Member Dan Garodnick will discuss “Midtown East Rezoning: What’s Next?” at the Cornell Club for the B’nai B’rith Real Estate luncheon.

New York City charter school staff and parents will head to Albany on Tuesday for “Advocacy Day 2016.”

Wednesday
At the City Council on Wednesday: At 10 a.m., the Committees on Governmental Operations and Rules, Privileges and Elections will meet on four bills and two resolutions. The first bill will give pay raises to Council members, the mayor and other city elected officials. The other three bills and the resolutions are also related to compensation. [Read: City Council Announces Bill to Raise Pay, Reform Position]

The New York State Legislature will have joint legislative budget hearings on Wednesday: a 9:30 a.m. hearing on mental hygiene and a 1 p.m. hearing on workforce development.

At 8 a.m., a policy forum about “Green Preservation of Multi-Family Affordable Housing” will be hosted by the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, NYU Wagner and Enterprise Community Partners at 295 Lafayette Street.

The City Planning Commission will have a public meeting at 10 a.m. at 22 Reade Street in Manhattan, at which it is expected to pass the mayor’s zoning amendments, called Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, with their tweaks, and send them to the City Council.

Thursday
The New York State Legislature will have a joint legislative budget hearing on “Public Protection” at 9:30 a.m.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will have an oversight hearing: “Update Concerning Local Law 77 of 2013, Which Created a Curbside Organics Collection Pilot Program.”
  • At 1 p.m., the Committees on General Welfare and Education will have a joint oversight hearing on “DOE’s Support for Students who are Homeless or in Temporary Housing.”

At 6 p.m., the Center for New York City law is hosting “Police Use Of Force: A Discussion of NYPD’s New Policy”, which it is co-sponsoring with the Impact Center for Public Interest Law and the Criminal Justice Project. Representatives from the NYPD, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Civilian Complaint Review board will speak.

At 7 p.m., Mayor de Blasio will deliver his State of the City address at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx. The address was “moved to the evening to ensure that more New Yorkers will be able to watch and engage.”

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday: The Council will have a full-bodied Stated Meeting at noon.

At a gala on Saturday, the Human Rights Campaign will be honoring Gov. Cuomo and actress Sigourney Weaver at the Waldorf Astoria. Cuomo is receiving the organization’s National Equality Award.

[Read: Concerns of 'Voter Fatigue' as New York Schedules Four Election Days]

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Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

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by Ryan Brady and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 1 Mon, 01 Feb 2016 01:29:50 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, Jan. 25-29 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6125:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-jan-25-29 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6125:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-jan-25-29 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday January 29

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio and others during last weekend's blizzard, via The Mayor's Office on flickr; De Blasio testifies in Albany, also via The Mayor's Office;

de blasio blizzard others

bdb testifying albany clock

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:
1. De Blasio in Albany:
Mayor de Blasio was in Albany on Tuesday to testify before the state legislature on Governor Cuomo’s proposed state budget and to lay out New York City’s financial priorities. Yet the mayor wasn’t able to focus much of his nearly five-hour testimony on issues with the governor’s budget proposals or affordable housing, mayoral control of schools, or other issues important to him, and instead was left to defend the city’s spending, tax policies, and his refusal to agree to a property tax cap. [Read: De Blasio Heads to Albany to Fund Agenda, Fight Cuts & In Albany, State Senators Ambush De Blasio on Property Tax Reform]

2. Pay Raise and Reforms for City Council: On Wednesday, February 3, the City Council will hold a hearing on legislation outlining salary increases for all of the city’s elected officials, as well as several good government reforms related to how Council members operate and are compensated. Details of the package were announced late Thursday evening, and the Council intends to raise their salary even higher than the commission tasked with reviewing the compensation levels of electeds recommended. [Read: City Council Announces Bill to Increase Pay, Reform Position]

3. Education Testimony: Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña made the case for long-term extension of mayoral control of schools once again as she testified before state lawmakers on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia testified for a streamlined statewide pre-k program, professional development, and full and fair funding of public schools, reminded lawmakers that Governor Cuomo’s budget is $1.4 billion short of what the Board of Regents requested, and said that this year’s state standardized tests for 3-8 graders will not be timed.

4. Council Considers Decriminalization: A package of bills was introduced in the City Council on Monday which would change the way the city deals with low-level, quality-of-life offenses, such a public urination and littering. The move would encourage civil penalties, rather than arrests or criminal summonses for certain low-level, nonviolent offenses.

5. Snow Storm Scrutiny: Blizzard Jonas dumped 26.8 inches of snow in New York City over the weekend, leading Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to declare a state of emergency and (separately) impose travel bans during the worst hours of the storm. De Blasio’s handling of the storm was generally met with praise, though some Queens residents and elected officials criticized the city for under-plowing streets in certain areas of the borough.

THIS WEEK’S NUMBERS:
26.8 inches of snow fell in Central Park during snowstorm Jonas, making it the biggest storm since 1869, the New York Times reports.

32% salary increase for Council members, up to $148,500 from 112,500, outlined in legislation announced by the Council Thursday evening, Gotham Gazette reports.

4 days will be spent campaigning for Hillary Clinton in Iowa by Mayor de Blasio this weekend, the Daily News reports.

6 minutes after a neighbor called 911, Officer Liang radioed for help following the shooting of Akai Gurley in the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project, the New York Times reports.

8.875% sales tax on feminine hygiene products like tampons and pads could be scrapped, as the City Council will soon pass a resolution calling on the state to pass a bill introduced in the Assembly to eliminate the so-called ‘tampon tax,’ Gotham Gazette reports

95 ethnic newspapers in New York have a combined circulation of about 2.9 million people, more than one-third of the city’s population, yet little of the city’s advertising budget goes to ethnic media, Gotham Gazette reports.

200-plus educators received erroneous scores from New York State on a measurement that ties how well their students do on tests to their performances, the New York Times reports.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:
It was a good week for
new State Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Catharine Young, who is providing over legislative budget hearings and led an especially tough grilling of Mayor de Blasio.

It was a bad week for City Council members, who are facing criticism for both the size of the raises and the timing of the vote on the legislation that will give them that raise, with some saying it seems Council members have agreed to back de Blasio’s controversial plan to limit the horse-carriage industry in exchange for his approval of their larger raises.

THE FLASH:
Around this time 41 years ago
, on January 24, 1975, four people were killed when a bomb exploded outside historic Fraunces Tavern in downtown Manhattan.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK
City Council Announces Bill to Increase Pay, Reform Position, by Ben Max

City Council Members Move to Improve Tampon Access, by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

Just Ahead of Oversight Hearing, City Announces Ethnic Media Plan, by Samar Khurshid

Council to Examine City Support for Ethnic Media, by Samar Khurshid

In Albany, State Senators Ambush De Blasio on Property Tax Reform, by David Howard King

De Blasio Heads to Albany to Fund Agenda, Fight Cuts, by Ben Max

Green Jobs Gone Missing, by Jarrett Murphy (City Limits)

The Numbers on NYC's Property Tax Non-Problem, by Jarrett Murphy (City Limits)

Time to Support New York Students with Billions Still Owed from Campaign for Fiscal Equity, by Council Member Daniel Dromm (opinion)

Criminal Justice Reform Act is No Alternative to Broken Windows Policing, by Alex S. Vitale (opinion)

Common Core Mistakes Worth Not Repeating, by Stephen Sigmund and Denise Toscano (opinion)

Give New York Manufacturers the Space They Need, by Matthew Rigney (opinion)

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:
Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Ben Max appeared on Inside City Hall along with Politico New York’s Gloria Pazmino, DNA Info’s Jeff Mays, and Ginia Bellafante from the New York Times to speak with Errol Louis about the horse-carriage deal and the mayor’s preliminary budget.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito appeared on WNYC on Thursday to speak with Brian Lehrer about the proposed Criminal Justice Reform Act, which will encourage officers to issue civil offenses, rather than criminal offenses, for some low-level quality-of-life violations.

Mayor de Blasio spoke with Brian Lehrer on WNYC Friday about his plans to campaign for Hillary Clinton over the weekend, housing plans, pedicab drivers, crime, and the Council’s legislation to reform their position and raise the salaries of all of New York City’s elected officials.

Chair of the Committee on Public Safety Vanessa Gibson and chair of the Committee on Courts and Legal Services Rory Lancman joined Errol Louis on Inside City Hall to discuss reforms being in considered in the Council to change the way low-level offenses are handled by the NYPD. 

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NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

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by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

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The Week That Was in New York Politics, Jan. 25-29 Fri, 29 Jan 2016 19:21:05 +0000
Do New York Elected Officials Deserve A Raise? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5915:do-new-york-elected-officials-deserve-a-raise http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5915:do-new-york-elected-officials-deserve-a-raise BdB parade august

Mayor de Blasio along the parade route (photo: @BilldeBlasio)


What should the mayor of New York City be paid each year? How much should City Council members be paid? Do elected officials deserve incremental raises each year?

Or, maybe elected officials are overpaid as it is?

Some, like New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, think higher government salaries would entice “better” people into public service, meaning smarter and more honest officials.

A host of questions have popped up in New York of late as controversy swirls over corruption in Albany and the pay of state legislators - with some, like Schneiderman, calling for pay increases in order to help prevent corruption. Meanwhile, in New York City, these questions are again relevant as Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a move required by law, has called a pay commission to evaluate city elected officials’ salaries.

“Lawmakers need to come up with adequate compensation where you don’t detract people from running for office because salaries are too low, but on the flip side, not too high that the taxpayers who pay those salaries are incensed,” Blair Horner, Legislative Director at the New York Public Interest Research Group, told Gotham Gazette.

De Blasio appears to have called the commission reluctantly, as it is always tough public relations for politicians to move toward giving themselves and their colleagues raises. In the announcement of the three-person panel, de Blasio’s only statement is to praise the commissioners. The mayor currently makes $225,000 per year.

Pay dynamics at the city and state levels are very different in New York, though members of the state Legislature and City Council are all considered part-time and able to earn outside income. There are no term-limits at the state level, while there are in New York City. The mayor is required to call a compensation commission, yet the state is only just moving to such a framework in 2016. Thus, city officials last received a pay raise in 2006, while state officials haven’t seen one in over 15 years.

Pay is higher in New York City than at the state level (the governor makes $179,000 annually), though the cost of living is, of course, higher in the city than any other place in the state. This discrepancy doesn’t help state legislators who live in the five boroughs, of course, which is part of the reason we often see state Assembly members seek City Council seats (and earn money from a second job). Members of the state legislature currently earn $79,500 per year, while a City Council member earns $112,500 annually.

As always, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many New Yorkers calling for increasing the salaries of elected politicians. With wages stagnant or too low to get by on for so many, elected officials are also reluctant to pursue pay increases, as exemplified by de Blasio’s delay in calling the pay commission he recently assembled and the mayor’s pledge to not accept any recommended increase until his second term, if he is re-elected.

Not long ago, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman, took $1 a year to run the city for twelve years. Bloomberg was also reluctant to call a pay commission, which he did leading to the 2006 raises, but refused to do again while in office.

Where do the wages of New York electeds stand now, how do city salaries stack up to those of officials elsewhere, and where may they be heading?

New York City Analysis & Background
The salaries of the mayor, Council members, district attorneys, and other elected officials have not been changed since 2006. Since the cost of living in the city has increased by about 18 percent since then, the commission is all but certain to recommend increases.

One of the factors the commission will take into consideration is what similar positions in the private sector pay. By that standard, many elected officials may be considered underpaid – for example, the average salary for first-year associates at private law firms in New York City is $160,000, while New York City’s five district attorneys each make $190,000.

Elected officials can reject salary increases, and the acceptance or rejection of the commission’s recommendations typically takes into account the state of the city’s economy and budget at the time. While the city’s revenues are quite strong and the budget has been growing rapidly, Mayor de Blasio and many other elected officials have decried income inequality and may be reluctant to exacerbate differences between their salaries and the earnings of lower-income constituents.

In 1991, as reported by The New York Times, both Mayor David Dinkins and City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. agreed that elected officials should not receive pay increases due to the city’s budget crisis.

In 1995, everyone except Public Advocate Mark Green accepted the raises that were approved by the Council and the mayor. Green said that he could not “in good conscience accept a large salary increase” at a time when he was being forced to fire members of his staff and cut services for those in need.

Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire from his private sector success, accepted just $1 a year during his time as mayor of New York City, 2002-2013. De Blasio is of much more modest means than Bloomberg, and has two children in college and two mortgages. According to The New York Post, when asked whether Mayor de Blasio believes raises are justified, a spokesperson said he would “decline” accepting any pay hike “for the duration” of his current term.

Other Cities
At $225,000 a year, the mayor’s salary is more than four times greater than median household income in New York City, which is $52,259.

According to the City of Los Angeles salary database, the title of highest-paid mayor in the country belongs to LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, who makes $239,993 annually. Although Mayor Garcetti makes roughly $15,000 more per year than Mayor de Blasio, he is responsible for approximately 4.6 million fewer people. (2014 Census estimates put the population of New York City at 8.5 million, and Los Angeles at 3.9 million.)

In New York, City Council members currently make $112,500, plus stipends, with salaries part of the regular commission review. In Chicago, council members – called aldermen – make approximately $115,000 annually, and their salaries have been pegged to changes to the cost of living for the past eight years. Since aldermen can reject taking a salary increase (or decrease, should the cost of living go down), there is an $11,000 difference between the highest and lowest salaries of Chicago’s 50 aldermen. (Though they are paid similarly, each of those 50 aldermen are responsible for far fewer constituents than New York’s 51 City Council members, given population differences.)

In Los Angeles, the salary for Council members is higher – at $184,610, Council members make a little over four times the $49,497 median household income in LA. However, members of LA’s City Council are not allowed to earn income from outside jobs, nor do they receive stipends.

On the state level, meanwhile, at $79,500 New York state lawmakers have the third-highest salaries in the country compared to their peers. Lawmakers in California earn the most with a salary of $90,526 annually, while Pennsylvania’s legislators make $84,012 per year. Still, state legislators, especially many from New York City, are seeking an increase as the cost of living increases.

De Blasio’s Commission
Albeit a bit late, Mayor Bill de Blasio recently followed the law and appointed an advisory commission to review the compensation levels of elected officials, including mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough presidents, City Council members, and district attorneys. The three-person commission will recommend changes to those compensation levels, if warranted, in November.

The salaries of elected officials in New York City have not been reviewed since 2006; former Mayor Mike Bloomberg declined to appoint a commission in 2011. The appointment of an advisory commission in 2006 was itself the result of postponement, since a commission was supposed to be appointed in 2003, but Bloomberg opted to delay appointing a commission since the city was already facing budget cuts.

The 2006 commission’s recommendations resulted in a salary increase of 25 percent for Council members, bumping their compensation levels from $90,000 to $112,500, and increased the mayor’s salary by 15.4 percent, from $195,000 to $225,000.

New York City law requires the salaries of elected officials to be reviewed every four years by a trio of private citizens who are generally recognized for their knowledge of management and compensation. This year, the commission includes Fritz Schwarz, Jr., the Chief Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, who will chair the Commission; Jill Bright, Chief Administrative Officer at Condé Nast; and Paul Quintero, Chief Executive Office at ACCION EAST, Inc., a nonprofit that works to empower low- to moderate-income business owners with access to capital and financial education.

According to §3-601 of the New York City code, in making its recommendations, the commission will take into consideration: “the duties and responsibilities of each position; the current salary of the position and the length of time since the last change; any change in the cost of living; compression of salary levels for other officers and employees of the city; and salaries and salary trends for positions with analogous duties and responsibilities both within government and in the private sector.”

Requiring regular commissions and placing the responsibility for recommending salary increases on private citizens are means to quell discontent around the inherently contentious issue of raising the pay of elected officials. Ultimately, the mayor may accept, reject, or amend the findings of the commission, and the City Council votes on any new salaries to approve them into law.

State Level Compensation and Corruption
In April, the state Assembly included the creation of a commission on legislative, judicial, and executive compensation in a budget bill. It calls for a commission to review the compensation levels of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches to be established every four years. The first, though, will be convened in 2016, and pay raise recommendations could be passed that would go into effect for the new class of legislators come 2017.

The commission will consist of seven members: three appointed by the governor; one appointed by the Senate majority leader; one appointed by the speaker of the Assembly; and two appointed by the chief judge of the Court of Appeals.

Previously, a special commission on compensation had to be empanelled when agreed upon.

However, given the overwhelming unpopularity of any mention of potentially increasing the salaries of government officials, especially given the consistent parade of corruption cases coming out of Albany, their salaries often go unchanged for long periods of time. New York state-level officials have not had their salaries increased since 1999 – a duration that would be uncommon in the private sector and in many public-sector jobs.

A 2014 Quinnipiac University poll found that a vast majority of New York State voters (82 percent) oppose a pay raise for state legislators. Yet, many experts agree a review of the compensation levels of elected officials is much needed, not only because good compensation levels are necessary to attract skilled people to the positions, but also because it may help deter corruption.

“Compensation, of course, affects the recruitment pool,” said Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science and director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz. “You want to attract and retain people of ability, and honest people, therefore the whole compensation question is linked to the corruption question. ‘Why are you stealing from your campaign fund?’ ‘Well, I’m not paid enough.’ If we want to have greater probity we also have to consider greater compensation.”

Former state Assemblymember William Scarborough, a Democrat from Queens, was recently sentenced to thirteen months in prison for submitting at least $40,000 in fraudulent state travel vouchers for days he had not actually traveled to Albany. In a statement, Scarborough, who was first elected in 1994, apologized for his actions, blamed “severe financial problems,” and pointed out that state legislators had not received a raise in sixteen years.

Members of the Senate and Assembly currently make a base government salary of $79,500 per year. (The positions are considered part-time, though, and many legislators make outside income.) The governor of New York makes $179,000, the attorney general and the comptroller each make $151,500.

In January, then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who has been in office for several decades, was charged with five counts of fraud and corruption. Federal investigators allege Silver exploited his position to rake in millions in bribes and kickbacks. And in May, then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican from Long Island, was indicted on charges of wire fraud, extortion, conspiracy, and bribe solicitation. Both face trial beginning in November.

Aside from major, and even minor, corruption scandals, there is a perpetual flow of questions about campaign donations, pay-to-play dynamics, and legislators earning outside income and how their non-governmental work may affect their work for the state.

These ongoing questions and the recent spate of corruption in Albany prompted Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to propose a sweeping ethics reform bill, the End New York Corruption Now Act, which seeks to drastically lower and restrict campaign contribution limits, end outside employment income for legislators, expand terms to four years, and increase legislators’ salaries to $174,000 annually.

Yet the final legislative package at the end of the 2015 session came and went without including any of Schneiderman’s reforms.

Some good government organizations, like the New York Public Interest Research Group, don’t agree with all of Schneiderman’s propositions. Horner told Gotham Gazette, “We have not endorsed the Attorney General’s proposal that state legislators should get the same pay as city lawmakers. Our view is, there’s a process. Their salaries should be determined by independent people using basic objective measurements as much as possible, making independent determinations on what is an adequate compensation level for elected officials.”

City v State
Two major differences between New York City law and state law are that in New York City, both the mayor and the City Council need to approve the recommendations made by the compensation commission in order for any raises to go into effect. This means that the Council and the mayor are effectively voting to increase their own salaries, since the raises can be retroactive to the date of recommendations. Mayor de Blasio, however, has promised not to take a salary increase until the start of his second term, if he is re-elected to one.

Whereas in the state, the pay commission’s recommendations for legislative pay raises will automatically become law and go into effect for the next class of lawmakers, on January 1, 2017, unless the Legislature specifically votes against the increases. The commission’s recommendations are due November 15, 2016. To be sure, many of the same officials will be in office in January of 2017 as are in office now, but it is still a difference.

While city officials are not supposed to have control of the regular establishment of a compensation commission, they are able to vote in retroactive salary increases, an ability that has raised eyebrows. In its report, the 2006 quadrennial advisory commission suggested “limiting the ability of government officials to raise their own salaries and receive them immediately would improve the integrity of the government and public confidence in it.”

Lulus
The compensation levels of New York City Council members in particular has been hotly debated, since Council members can earn an additional $5,000 to $25,000 a year in stipends, or “lulus,” for leadership positions, including heading committees and subcommittees. What’s more, Council members are the only elected city officials among those included in the commission review that are considered part-time and allowed to earn outside income from another job.

The Speaker of the Council controls the amount and distribution of lulus, which can result in lulus being used to “reward allies and enforce discipline,” as former Council Member Walter McCaffrey stated before the 2006 Quadrennial Commission.

In its report, the 2006 Commission called lulus “ripe for reform,” and recommended that either a future Charter Revision Commission or the Council should consider reforming the practice of awarding extra stipends to Council members.

“There's no question that lulus should be done away with. Lulus are a terrible idea.,” Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, told Gotham Gazette. “People should be paid an appropriate base salary, and there should not be increases or stipends or special favors given out at the discretion of the speaker. It's a politicized situation and it has all too frequently been used in the past as a way of punishment and reward. It has another negative aspect, which is the creation of committees unnecessarily. It interferes with the well thought out committee structure. We see that in a much worse way in Albany.”

According to The New York Times, the 2006 advisory commission found that “Outside of New York, almost no other city council or state legislature distributes such stipends.” Even in Congress, every representative earns the same pay regardless of responsibility or seniority.

In 2014, $376,000 in stipends was doled out to Council members. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito received $25,000, while Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer was awarded $20,000 (though he turned it down).

Ten council members were offered $15,000 apiece and thirty-four others $8,000 each. Eleven council members have refused to accept the money this year (including Van Bramer), according to the Daily News editorial board, which continues its own ongoing crusade against the lulus.

Upon Mayor de Blasio’s recent announcement of a new compensation commission, Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, told The New York Post that he supports elected officials getting raises since “eight years is a long time to go without one,” but pointed out that “the real question isn’t whether they get raises, it’s the size of the raises and whether the commission will look at limiting [elected officials’] outside income and banning ‘lulus.’”

The controversy surrounding stipends for elected officials in New York is not specific to the city, as Horner told Gotham Gazette: “At state level, there are a lot of stipends being divied out, many for positions for which there's not obvious work being done. The stipends are increasingly being used as a way to reward loyalty and seniority and are less about the workload. We don’t object to a stipend being offered if somebody has to do real additional work, but we think there should be a limit on it.”

Professor Benjamin told Gotham Gazette, “Regarding additional compensation, lulus in Albany, I think that this process grew up to compensate leaders in part to make salary adjustments. So, in a small body like the Senate you can give every committee chair something more. In the Assembly, you can reward a lot of people, but not all people. There should be some increment of compensation for leadership positions, but I prefer to have salary equity and less in the way of special payments, with periodic salary adjustments, which would be fair and better.”

Next Steps
Blair Horner, of NYPIRG, told Gotham Gazette that pegging salaries to cost-of-living changes could “unnecessarily exacerbate public citizens. They don’t get to choose if their salaries go up and down. And if what they see in their lives is that their salaries are stagnant but elected officials are going up, they’re going to resent that. It's hard to do that because it's a politically charged topic. If you’re going to make changes, it needs to be done in a delicate matter. One way to do that is to maximize independence of who makes the call and focus on publicly defensible metrics.”

Professor Benjamin, who is also currently part of a compensation commission in Ulster County, expressed a similar point of view: “I think having a commission is a good idea.” Benjamin believes, though, that it is important that “sometimes the commission says ‘we won’t increase the pay.’ In my current commission in Ulster County, because the positions are part-time, I advocated for the legislature giving up its health insurance coverage for a significant salary increase. And the effect of that was to link the consideration to the total compensation package.”

“Simple constitutionality requires that policy-makers make the decision about things that government spends, and one of the things that government spends is on their salaries,” Benjamin added.

This year’s New York City advisory commission will report back with its recommendations in November. While it’s clear that the compensation levels of elected officials need to be reviewed from time to time, the announcement of a review commission is generally seen as unfavorable – in this case prompting the New York Post to print a headline declaring, “Bill de Blasio moves to give himself a raise.”

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
@MegOconnor13
@GothamGazette

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Do New York Elected Officials Deserve A Raise? Wed, 30 Sep 2015 22:30:32 +0000