Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/111 Wed, 21 Feb 2018 01:23:09 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Council To Examine Government Sexual Harassment Policies http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7473:city-council-to-examine-government-sexual-harassment-policies http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7473:city-council-to-examine-government-sexual-harassment-policies City Council Helen Rosenthal

Council Member Rosenthal (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Amid a national reckoning with sexual harassment and misconduct that has led to the downfall of prominent men in media, entertainment, and politics, the New York City Council is turning an eye to its own backyard.

The City Council will convene a hearing on February 28 to examine best practices for dealing with workplace sexual harassment and the current policies in place in a city with a municipal workforce upwards of 330,000 full-time employees. The Council’s Committee on Women and the Committee on Civil and Human Rights will hear from experts and survivors on the strongest approaches to policy that encourage individuals to report instances of harassment and protect them if they do.

The committees are also seeking testimony from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration on the policies at City Hall and the city’s many agencies to determine which departments could serve as a model for a uniform city-wide policy and areas where the city needs to strengthen its rules and enforcement.

“My expectation is for the administration to come in and help us set up a baseline of what’s happening right now in terms of policy and reporting of incidents,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the women’s committee, in a phone interview on Friday.

Rosenthal said she’s looking to hear from commissioners at agencies that already have strong policies and hopes to create, over the course of several such hearings, a citywide policy by the end of the year. “And then we’ll spend the next three years monitoring the use and challenges to making them better,” she said, alluding to the four-year term for both the current Council class and the mayor.

The city does not currently have a blanket harassment policy for municipal employees and the city does not track sexual harassment claims across city agencies. But the mayor’s administration has been pressed into action in recent weeks. At an unrelated January 10 news conference, asked if the city would begin to compile statistics on the problem, de Blasio said, “We have to address this problem across the board in this city and in this country. I want New York City to do all we can do, both in terms of our own workforce and the private sector workforce. We need to figure out what that is and we obviously need to figure out what the legal requirements are, so we will have more to say on that shortly.”

The mayor also noted that a majority of women hold leadership positions in his administration and that sexual harassment “has not been a phenomenon that I have heard coming up in our administration in any significant way.” A week before that news conference, the mayor came out in support of a proposal by Governor Andrew Cuomo to require reporting on sexual harassment claims by entities that do business with the state. De Blasio said the city would look to implement similar policies.

“We’re coming out with a package of policies and protocols very soon,” said mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips in an email on Friday, when asked about what the administration would present at the Council hearing, which was originally scheduled for February 15 but was deferred.

“Our review and policy timing won’t have anything to do with the timing of their hearing, but we’re glad they’re looking into the issue,” Phillips said in a subsequent email when asked whether the policy would be ready in time for the hearing. Another spokesperson, Olivia Lapeyrolerie, said in an email Monday that representatives from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and from the New York City Commission on Human Rights would be at the hearing to testify.

City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer introduced legislation last session that would achieve that to a degree by mandating that nonprofits seeking city funding report on how they manage and resolve complaints, and by banning certain organizations with a history of misconduct complaints from receiving taxpayer dollars.

Notably, the City Council’s own representatives are not expected to testify, according to a spokesperson for Rosenthal’s office, but the hearing is meant to inform several pieces of legislation that are currently being drafted at the Council.

That may include legislation which Council Member Mark Levine requested in December, aiming to bolster the Council’s own internal processes for dealing with claims of sexual harassment. The proposal would elevate staff member complaints by requiring scrutiny from the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics as opposed to by internal Council staff, and would also require regular reporting on harassment complaints. Currently, the standards and ethics committee -- which is made up of elected City Council members and chaired by Council Member Steven Matteo -- evaluates complaints against sitting Council members, albeit in confidential meetings, and can take various punitive actions ranging from a censure to removal from office.

Although there have been few such complaints in recent years, on Monday, the committee substantiated a recent harassment complaint by a staff member against Council Member Andy King of the Bronx. King, who has denied allegations that he “paid unwelcome attention” to the staffer, will be required to undergo ethics and sensitivity training.   

Another bill proposed by Levine, which would mandate that city agencies disclose complaints twice a year, is likely to be discussed at the hearing. Rosenthal, who is working with Levine on the bills, expects that they will be introduced within two months, by the time her committee holds another hearing in April.

The Council’s efforts are also a contrast with counterparts in the state Legislature. The state Senate has come under fire over its revised sexual harassment policy, issued in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference which has a power-sharing agreement with the Senate Republicans led by Sen. John Flanagan. The policy has been criticized for being watered-down, crafted in secret and, most strongly, for including an added warning against false reporting.

[Read: State Senate’s New Sexual Harassment Policy Draws Criticism]

“Having a group of men decide what the policy will be seems unfortunate,” Rosenthal said of the Senate’s process, which was led by an outside law firm at Flanagan’s behest. “We should have input from survivors, women and experts in the field.”

The model policy, Rosenthal said, is the “policy of equity” employed by the County of Los Angeles since 2011. The policy enumerates various forms of harassment in the workplace and the consequences of those actions, and rigorously tracks complaints. In December, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors reviewed the policy to improve it further.

“Given that we have a president who is a misogynist, I think that the notion that New York City should double down to make sure our house is in good order is more than important,” Rosenthal said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated.

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City Council To Examine Government Sexual Harassment Policies Mon, 12 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 12 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7470:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-february-12 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7470:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-february-12 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio will give his 2018 State of the City address this week, on Tuesday evening. The first of his second term, de Blasio is expected to talk more about his newly branded quest to make New York City “the fairest big city in America.”

Budget hearings continue in Albany this week, and the Legislature will also hold session days to introduce and pass legislation on Monday and Tuesday, before taking its usual mid-February break. The Legislature will be back in session in Albany on February 27 and 28. Then, things will get busier as March is home to many more session days leading into the April 1 start of the new fiscal year, by which time state leaders are supposed to have a new budget worked out.

There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding that budget as Governor Andrew Cuomo continues to consider what exactly to propose in terms of overhauling the state tax system in response to the new federal tax code, which has especially significant ramifications for New York, and in terms of a congestion pricing plan for New York City. There are also top line items such as exactly how to close the state budget deficit (among other measures, Cuomo is proposing several cost-shifts and funding cuts to New York City, as well as several new taxes and fees), the structure of MTA funding responsibility, and more.

Speaking of MTA funding, Riders Alliance transit activists are leading a rally and lobby day in Albany Monday to push Governor Cuomo and legislators to pass a congestion pricing plan and fund the MTA. Several lawmakers will participate in the rally -- see below for details, and read: Transit Advocates to Storm Albany for MTA Action.

Meanwhile, in the city, the new City Council continues to hold its first committee hearings of the new term, where new chairs and members begin to hold city agencies accountable, consider legislation, and discuss important issues facing the city. There are also two full City Council “Stated Meetings” scheduled for this week, at which the Council votes on bill that have passed through committee and new bills are introduced. See details below.

And this week leads into “Caucus Weekend” in Albany, where the Black, Latino, Asian and Puerto Rican Caucus of the state Legislature hosts events and meetings, among others that will occur in the capital.

There are a variety of events to be aware of this week - see 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
At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on For-Hire Vehicles will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “TLC enforcement practices.”
--The Committee on Standards and Ethics will meet at 10:30 a.m. for a rule 10.80 hearing regarding Council Member Andy King.

At the State Legislature on Monday:
--The Senate Standing Committee on Local Government will meet at 9 a.m. in Albany to “listen to local governments, local elected officials, and local government advocacy organizations regarding shared services and discuss how Albany can better partner with localities.”
--There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal as it relates to health and Medicaid at 10 a.m.
--The Assembly Standing Committee on Real Property Taxation will meet at 11:30 a.m. in Albany for a budget implementation hearing.

The State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

On Monday, Riders Alliance, transit advocates, and elected officials will hold a rally at 12:30 p.m. and lobby day in Albany “to demand sufficient revenue to modernize subway signals and replace cars to the State budget.” Participants will include “Assembly Corporations Committee Chair Amy Paulin, Assembly Members Carmen Arroyo, Robert Carroll, Carmen De La Rosa, Michael DenDekker, Jeffrey Dinowitz, Catherine Nolan, Luis Sepulveda, and Jo Anne Simon, and Senators Leroy Comrie, Martin Malave Dilan, Michael Gianaris, other members of the Senate and Assembly, grassroots members of the Riders Alliance.” [Read: Transit Advocates to Storm Albany for MTA Action]

The New York State Board of Regents will hold its monthly board meeting on Monday and Tuesday in Albany.

At 8 a.m. Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the New York Urban League Champions of Diversity (COD) Awards Breakfast. At 11:15 a.m., Stringer will host a press conference at 111 West 115th Street in Manhattan. At 1 p.m., James wll deliver remarks at the Police Athletic League Business Luncheon Honoring Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

On Monday at 9 a.m. at City Hall, “NYC taxi drivers and taxi-base owners will hold vigil at City Hall to raise awareness about TLC’s excessive fines and abusive enforcement, and in memory of recent taxi driver deaths.” “Leaders will call for action to stop the industry-wide crisis.”

At 10 a.m. Monday, Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner David Hansell will announce the expansion of ACS’ Medical Consultation Program at the Nicholas Scoppetta Children’s Center in Kips Bay.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will outline the Women's Agenda at Mohawk Valley Council on Women and Girls Meeting in Utica. At 12:15 p.m., Hochul will discuss the FY 2019 Budget at the NYCOM Winter Legislative Meeting in Albany. At 1:15 p.m., Hochul will tour expansion plans of REDC-funded fresh produce nonprofit Capital Roots in Troy. And at 2 p.m., Hochul will tour REDC-funded Troy coworking space, Troy Innovation Garage.

At 12:30 p.m. Monday in Albany, there will be a “press conference to call on Governor Cuomo to pass progressive tax policies, invest resources to fund Assembly Member Hevesi’s proposed Home Stability Support plan and expand access to the HIV enhanced shelter allowance.” Participants who will gather at the Capitol include “members of the Albany Can End Homelessness in New York State campaign; members of the State legislature—including Assembly Members Andrew Hevesi, Michael Blake, Kimberly Jean-Pierre and others; faith leaders; and homeless New Yorkers in need of housing assistance. A crowd of about 30 will gather for this news event.”

On Monday at 3:30 p.m. in the Bronx, National Action Network is organizing a “rally at Middle School 224...where teacher was told she could not teach black history.” Participants will include “Rev. Kevin McCall, Crisis Director, National Action Network; Minister Kirsten John Foy, NE Regional Director of National Action Network; Mercedes Liriano Clarke, Teacher who was told she could not teach Black History at MS 224; National Action Network Youth Huddle; Parents and students at MS 224.

At 6 p.m. Monday, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler will hold a congressional town hall meeting at the Rosenthal Pavilion at NYU’s Kimmel Center.

On Monday evening, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will be among those to attend the Department of Education “Public Hearing on Health Careers and Science High School, George Washington Educational Campus.”

Mayor de Blasio will make his weekly Monday evening appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall with host Errol Louis during the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

Tuesday
At the City Council on Tuesday
--The Committee on Youth Services will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to runaway and homeless youth services.
--The Committee on General Welfare will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing “examining efforts to reduce hunger in New York City.”
--City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will deliver remarks at the beginning of both hearings.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday on the steps of City Hall, "NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, New York City Department of Transportation, elected officials, Car Free Day Partners, and environmental advocates will hold a press conference to officially announce the third annual Car Free Day NYC. Council Member Rodriguez will share more details about plans for Car Free Day this year."

At the State Legislature on Tuesday: There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal at it relates to mental hygiene at 9:30 a.m.

The State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

"The New York State Senate Majority will be holding a press conference tomorrow, February 13, 2018, at 10 a.m. in Room 124 of the Capitol in Albany to unveil a 2018 “Jobs and Opportunity” Agenda that would provide significant tax cuts for businesses, cut red tape, reduce regulatory burdens, invest in workforce development, and strengthen New York’s economic development programs. Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan will be joined by his colleagues in outlining the second part of the Senate’s “Blueprint for a Stronger New York,” an action plan that will guide the conference during upcoming budget negotiations."

"New York State Senator Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau) will be joined by survivors of sexual assault, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), and other legislative colleagues from both sides of the aisle for a press conference on Tuesday, February 13, 2018, at 11:30 a.m. in Room 124 of the Capitol in Albany. The event will focus on three measures currently before the houses that advance state protections and rights of sexual assault survivors: S.6428A / A.8401A- which establishes a Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights and requires unreported sexual assault evidence kits be maintained for 20 years in a secure, centralized location; S.6947A – which establishes a Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Telemedicine Pilot Program; and S.6964A – which ensures sexual assault forensic exams performed by hospitals are free of charge to the sexual assault survivor. Legislators will be joined by survivors and advocates from Rise, the Joyful Heart Foundation, and local SAFE providers."

At 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Capitol in Albany, "Senate Democrats To Announce Legislation To Reform New York’s Criminal Justice System."

"The New York State Legislature will begin the bi-partisan interview process of the New York State Board of Regents on Tuesday, February 13, 2018, at 1:30 p.m. in the Assembly Parlor, 3rd Floor Capitol, Albany."

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Corrections will meet at 9 a.m. at 125 Worth Street. [This meeting has been cancelled in light of a serious attack on a corrections officer.]

On Tuesday morning, Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the New York Immigration Coalition Annual City Legislative Breakfast, at Tribeca Grill.

At 5:45 p,m., James will deliver remarks at the New York National Association of Securities Professionals Foundation 20th Annual Wall Street Hall of Fame Gala, at UFT headquarters.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Elections will hold a commissioners’ meeting.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, "Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman will announce the takedown of a major Hudson Valley organized crime ring," at 44 South Broadway, White Plains.

At 4 p.m. Tuesday, Black Lives Matter activists will rally in front of the Department of Education to deliver a list of demands to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, which include ending zero tolerance programs, ending “black teacher pushout,” and a mandatory K-12 black history curriculum.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, TransitCenter will host “A Bid for Better Transit,” discussing the potential benefits of competitive private contracts for operating transit systems, at One Whitehall Street in Manhattan.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will deliver his 2018 State of the City Address at the Kings Theatre in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Wednesday
The full City Council is scheduled to hold a Stated Meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall. Council Speaker Corey Johnson is expected to host a press conference beforehand.

Also at the City Council on Wednesday: the Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Alphonso David, Counsel to Governor Cuomo, will join Crain’s New York Business at its “Business Breakfast Forum” at the New York Athletic Club. David will discuss “the Cuomo administration budget, legislative and regulatory priorities for 2018.”

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the Center for New York City Affairs will host “Monitoring the Minimum Wage” at the New School’s Theresa Lang Student Center, featuring local business and community leaders discussing the impacts of of the minimum wage increase and steps for stakeholders to take in adjusting. Civic Hall founder and CEO Andrew Rasiej will moderate a panel consisting of Adria Powell, President of Cooperative Home Care Associates, and Katy Gaul-Stigge, President and CEO of Goodwill Industries NYNJ.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at Spector Hall.

At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation, the Assembly Legislative Commission on Toxic Substances and Hazardous Wastes, and the Assembly Long Island Task Force will meet jointly at the William H. Rogers Building in Smithtown, Suffolk County for a public hearing to discuss the “impacts of the proposed federal offshore drilling authorization on New York.”

At noon Wednesday, Riders Alliance will hold a rally on the City Hall Steps calling on Mayor de Blasio to be the “bus mayor,” and to “make buses run faster on our streets for 2.5 million riders.”

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a public board meeting.

Thursday
The full City Council is scheduled to also hold a Stated Meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday at City Hall. Council Speaker Corey Johnson may also host a press conference beforehand.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the state Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction will meet at Pace University’s Pleasantville campus for a public hearing to “gather information and testimony regarding sober homes and existing regulations, or lack thereof.”

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Empire State Indivisible will host its monthly “What’s Happening in Albany” panel at the Fourth Universalist Society on the Upper West Side. This installment will focus on voting reform, with a panel consisting of Ari Berman, Mother Jones’ voting rights reporter, Susan Lerner of Common Cause/NY, Naila Awan of Demos, and State Senator Brian Benjamin.

Friday and the weekend
At 9 p.m. Friday, City & State and the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators will host a Caucus Weekend kickoff reception at the Albany Marriott.

Mayor de Blasio is expected to make his weekly appearance on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m. Friday.

At 8 a.m. Saturday, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will host the 47th Annual NYS Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators Conference at the Albany Capital Center. Honorees include Association chair Latrice Walker, Assembly sergeant-at-arms Wayne Jackson, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, 1199SEIU Secretary Treasurer Maria Castaneda, and Syracuse NAACP president Linda Brown Robinson.

Monday February 19 is Presidents’ Day, a federal holiday. Our next Week Ahead will be published that night (instead of on Sunday night).

***
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).

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 12 Sun, 11 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Union Square Hub, with 600 Projected Tech Jobs, Appears on Smooth Path to Reality http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7471:union-square-hub-with-600-projected-tech-jobs-appears-on-smooth-path-to-reality http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7471:union-square-hub-with-600-projected-tech-jobs-appears-on-smooth-path-to-reality union square tech hub

Union Square tech hub rendering via the mayor's office


This past week, two Manhattan Community Board 3 committees voted to approve the city's application for the proposed Union Square Training Center, also known as the Union Square tech hub, which the de Blasio administration says will create 800 construction jobs and then 600 permanent jobs in the growing technology sector. The land use and economic development committees of CB3 opted not to condition their vote in favor of the proposal on rezoning several blocks south of the proposed project as the board had considered and some preservationists and long-time community members are fighting for.

The non-binding community board vote to approve the project came on the heels of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) setting in motion the public review process, known as the Uniform Land-Use Review Procedure (ULURP), on January 29 by officially obtaining permission to move forward with the initial project design and chosen developer, RAL Companies & Affiliates LLC. The clock will continue to tick on the roughly seven-month timeline that requires approval by the City Planning Commission and the City Council before any demolition or construction can take place in Union Square.

The tech hub would serve as a state-of-the-art multi-purpose facility, with floors allocated to technology training and startup offices, as well as retail space, located on 14th Street between Third and Fourth Avenues. The building, which sits on valuable city-owned land, is currently a P.C. Richard & Son. Community board approval, and without conditions, indicates that the project is almost certain to become a reality, though there are indeed still points of contention that will be negotiated over the coming months among local stakeholders, the de Blasio administration, and elected officials, especially City Council Member Carlina Rivera, who represents the area, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

According to EDC, the 240,000-square-foot, 21-floor facility would allocate six floors to Civic Hall -- three for digital skills training center, three for the company’s own operations as a center for tech innovation  -- five for “flexible” office space, eight for larger office space, and the ground floor for retail and market space, 25 percent of which would be reserved for first-time entrepreneurs and new local businesses. EDC projects construction would cost $250 million and last 18 months, after which the building would be the third-tallest on the block, behind Zeckendorf Towers and the Consolidated Edison Building, and open for business sometime in the middle of 2020.

The project is a component to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “New York Works” plan, a decade-long initiative to create 100,000 jobs, 30,000 of them coming from the technology sector, that pay salaries north of $50,000 annually. Currently, technology is the fastest-growing sector in New York City’s economy. Increasing jobs in the field has been a point of emphasis for de Blasio, continuing the Bloomberg administration’s prioritization of creating tech jobs in New York, as evidenced by his heading the effort to bring the Cornell Technion campus to Roosevelt Island. The city also says the project will serve those that might otherwise not have access to jobs in the technology sector.

“This new hub will be the front-door for tech in New York City,” de Blasio said in a February 2017 press release announcing an outline of the project. “People searching for jobs, training or the resources to start a company will have a place to come to connect and get support. No other city in the nation has anything like it.”

“One of the biggest priorities for the de Blasio administration when it comes to the the economy is really ensuring that there is access to tech jobs [and] that they are accessible to New Yorkers of all neighborhoods and backgrounds,” said Anthony Hogrebe, EDC senior vice president of Public Affairs, echoing de Blasio’s pitch for the tech hub, on a call with Gotham Gazette. “One of the biggest ways you do that is improving workforce development, and by helping folks get the skills they need to qualify for those jobs.”

Hogrebe said the tech hub would “ensure tech jobs really are for all New Yorkers,” not solely for “those who have advanced degrees in computer science.”

He emphasized the centrality of the space allocated to teaching technological skills. “The cornerstone of this project is the digital skills training center. This is a place where some of the top organizations from all over the city will train New Yorkers on how to do the jobs that are in demand and give New Yorkers the skills they need,” said Hogrebe.

Most elected leaders, advocates and residents of the community are in favor of the proposal; they see it as a way to bring to the area jobs and educational opportunities that prepare people for job-rich fields. But some are pushing to include a concession in the deal: rezoning several blocks south of the hub in order to limit development.

During her 2017 City Council campaign, then-candidate Carlina Rivera said she was open to the tech hub project as long as the city implemented protective zoning measures aimed at curbing commercial and residential development in the nearby areas. The de Blasio administration, on the other hand, has generally been less likely to favor down-zonings as it seeks to add housing density, with affordability provisions, across the city. It remains to be seen how hard Rivera will push for the restrictive measures, and it is telling that the community board did not insist on them despite some loud and organized voices who call them essential to the neighborhood’s future.

In order to build the tech hub as planned, the lot in between two New York University-owned buildings -- University Hall and Palladium -- needs to be rezoned for additional height allowances. The rezoning must be approved through the five-step, roughly seven-month ULURP process. After the de Blasio administration put forward its ideas, solicited bids for the project via a request for proposals (RFP), and chose a developer, last month’s certification was the first hoop the proposal was required to jump through and this past Wednesday’s community board hearing was the second.

Next, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the Borough Board, which includes community board leaders and City Council members from across the borough, will review the proposal. While they may influence the project, the opinions of the local community board and borough board are both advisory.

However, the following steps, the City Planning Commission and the City Council, both have power to either approve or deny the tech hub project. In the coming months, the Council will hold committee hearings and subsequently vote on the matter -- the full Council approval of the project, in whatever exact form it is finalized, will likely occur around Labor Day. Usually, City Council members follow the lead of the member who represents the area home to a proposed rezoning, and there has been little to suggest this particular rezoning process will be a departure from the norm.

New City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who represents the area west of Union Square, said at a press conference on January 24 that he expects Rivera to helm negotiations with the de Blasio administration and trusts her judgement on the issue. “I defer to Council Member Rivera,” he said. “She has my full support and she knows that. She’s a pragmatic, thoughtful person who spent time on her local community board, who understands these issues, so I think she will handle this in a responsible, thoughtful way.”

Additionally, Johnson indicated that he was sympathetic to the idea of rezoning the blocks south of Union Square to limit development. “I know that area. It’s right on the border of our district,” he said. “To me, I think it makes sense, knowing that area, seeing developments going on there.”

At the Community Board 3 hearing on the matter, a slight majority of those who testified voiced support for the tech hub. They said it would bring jobs and educational opportunities to the area, though some in the pro-tech hub camp wanted confirmation from the EDC representatives in attendance that those from the local communities would reap the benefits of the new facility. Another faction, which skewed older, whiter, and included many long-time residents of the East and West Villages, expressed their concern the tech hub would spawn unwanted changes in the neighborhood if they didn’t fight for measures -- like more restrictive zoning on commercial development -- to thwart these shifts.

After the tech hub is erected, one theory goes, more residential and commercial development -- such as luxury and market-rate apartment buildings, chain stores, and hotels -- would change the community character, make the surrounding areas less affordable to small businesses and unrecognizable to long-time residents. Rezoning the area, in the skeptics’ telling, would preserve affordability by forestalling a potential wave of development adjacent to the tech hub.

Notably, many of the expressed qualms with the project sans an accompanying downzoning closely mirrored those voiced by Greenwich Village Society For Historic Preservation (GVHSP), a community nonprofit that typically opposes development. In a press release following the project’s ULURP certification and ahead of the community board hearing, GVPA executive director Andrew Berman, who made his case to the community board Wednesday night, argued that if the “surrounding predominantly residential neighborhood” is not protected, the tech hub would “accelerate the transformation of the area.”

Following over four hours of testimony and discussion, the community board committees voted 16 to 5 to approve the ULURP application without any condition.

After Wednesday’s vote, Rivera said in a statement to Gotham Gazette that she will work with the local community board, the mayor, and stakeholders to construct a “plan that satisfies and includes everyone.”

“This tech center has the potential to be a great space for the local residents who historically have not had access to the high-paying jobs of the tech industry, a field whose companies continue to grow in and around our neighborhoods,” Rivera continued.

Rivera said she will ensure the impending construction of the tech hub does not encourage excessive commercial development, which she said would adversely impact nearby residents and small businesses. “I will also continue to work towards the protections and rezoning which have broad community support that promote the development of housing and projects that are in line with our values and residential character,” she stated.    

Berman, for his part, expressed displeasure with the community board’s process and decision. “By the narrowest of votes in which several of our supporters who should have been allowed to vote but were not given the opportunity to do so, a strong resolution incorporating all of our concerns was defeated for a weaker one incorporating some but not all of our concerns,” said Berman in a statement to Patch. He vowed to “keep working” to advocate for policies that ensure the neighborhood “gets the protections it deserves and needs."

Needless to say, not all of those who participated in the hearing were disappointed with the outcome. Meghan Heintz of More New York, a group that advocates for policies that increase housing supply in the city, argued at the hearing that the tech hub was a boon to residents of nearby neighborhoods, and warned against the consequences of prohibitively restrictive zoning.

Heintz was pleased with the board’s decision to approve the ULURP application.

“Education and job training for the new economy is vital and should be accessible to people from all backgrounds and delaying it is the same as denying those benefits to New Yorkers. We staunchly oppose the exclusionary zoning proposal that NIMBYs from an adjacent neighborhood clumsily tried to tack onto the project,” she said Thursday in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

Heintz added, “If their proposal could really stand on its own merits, they wouldn't need to try to take a great project hostage to pass it.”

Along with the community advocates and stakeholders, New York University would also be impacted by the tech hub as the lot on which the new facility would be built is in between the two aforementioned NYU buildings. NYU spokesperson John Beckman said Wednesday that while the university has not had “direct involvement” in the project, the university supports “overall efforts to strengthen NYC's science, tech, and innovation economy” which includes the tech hub. “The Union Square Tech Hub is meant to advance NYC's tech economy, and that's an objective NYU supports,” he stated.

Asked to evaluate the idea to downzone areas surrounding the planned tech hub during a call Tuesday, Regional Plan Association director of community planning and design Moses Gates said that though fears of displacement are legitimate, downzoning would not advance the preservationists’ goals. Gates said the proposed rezoning would only be good news for those who “don’t want to see any change in the neighborhood.”

“I think a downzoning is not really in the community interest,” he said. “I don’t think it will release any kind of displacement pressures, which have been going on for decades at this point in the East Village.”

Instead, Gates said, the city should build more housing in the transit-rich area while ensuring that a sufficient amount of it is affordable under Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) guidelines, which require affordable housing in any area or project that is upzoned to add housing density. “We should also be looking to get some mixed-income housing in a very upper-income and increasingly exclusionary neighborhood,” he said.

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Union Square Hub, with 600 Projected Tech Jobs, Appears on Smooth Path to Reality Sun, 11 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Anti-LGBT City Council Members Given Prominent Positions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7469:anti-lgbt-city-council-members-given-prominent-positions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7469:anti-lgbt-city-council-members-given-prominent-positions Corey Johnson Fernando Cabrera City Council

Above: Corey Johnson and Fernando Cabrera (photo: William Alatriste) (photo below: John McCarten)


When new City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, the first openly gay and openly HIV-positive person to hold the powerful position, unveiled his leadership team and Council committee assignments, he appointed two anti-LGBT Council members to chair committees, and named one to senior leadership in the 51-member legislative body. The moves seemed to have raised few eyebrows despite the stark contrast with Johnson’s life story and politics, as well as the politics of the overwhelming number of Council members.

Johnson created a new committee for Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr., a conservative reverend who will chair the Committee on For-Hire Vehicles, and named Council Member Fernando Cabrera, also a socially conservative pastor known to hold anti-gay views, to lead the Committee on Governmental Operations and serve as the majority whip on Johnson’s senior leadership team.

Both members, who represent districts in the Bronx, are outliers in the largely progressive body, holding far-right stances on LGBT rights and social issues in general. Their politics seem out of place not only in the City Council but in an overwhelmingly liberal city where Republicans often nominate socially progressive candidates and vote along the same lines. Notably, the Bronx Democratic County organization was key to supporting Johnson’s winning speakership bid, and a number of Bronx members were rewarded in kind when it came to committee and leadership assignments.

Diaz Sr., a former state Senator and minister who founded the Christian Community Neighborhood Church, was the sole dissenting Democratic Senator on the state Legislature’s successful marriage equality bill passed in 2011. The bill was supported by four Republicans who were in the Senate majority. Diaz Sr. also voted against the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) last year in a Senate committee vote, is a vocal opponent of abortion and, in 2003, sued the Department of Education over plans to expand the Harvey Milk High School in Manhattan for gay students.  

Cabrera, the senior pastor at the New Life Outreach International church, has his own history of controversial statements and positions. In 2014, when he was serving his second term on the City Council, he praised the Ugandan government in a video posted online after it passed a law that criminalized homosexuality.

"Godly people are in government," Cabrera said of the country’s government, noting that gay marriage was not acceptable there and stating that the government had withstood pressure from the U.S. to allow it. “And they have stood in their place. Why? Because the Christians have assumed the place of decision-making for the nation.”

Following a furor over his remarks in 2014, he later insisted, “I do not support the persecution of gays and lesbians anywhere, whether it's in Uganda or right here in New York State.”

[Read: City Council Names New Leadership, Committee Chairs and Members]

For people familiar with Speaker Johnson’s personal history, which he wears on his sleeve, the move to empower the two conservative Council members could easily trigger a degree of cognitive dissonance. Johnson became famous as a teenager when he came out as gay while the captain of his high school football team in Massachusetts, and has often approached politics and legislation from the lens of his own lived experience. He represents a Manhattan district including Chelsea and the West Village, home to the gay rights movement and many of its leaders, including former State Senator Tom Duane, who Johnson has called a role model and mentor.

“For decades, the gay activist community has fought to keep people like Ruben Diaz Sr. and Fernando Cabrera out of positions of power,” said Allen Roskoff, a gay activist and president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, in a phone interview. “I find this shocking and cringeworthy.”

Several activists and elected officials were hesitant to criticize Johnson, whose election was celebrated by the LGBT community. But, Roskoff was not alone in his displeasure.

"Of course it's a big deal," said an LGBT Democratic insider, who requested anonymity to speak freely. "You have hate emanating from Washington on a daily basis; on the ground in New York City, bias attacks are happening more often; and to put two vocally anti-LGBT people in places where they have a bigger platform is really worrying and not something we want to see in a progressive body."

The insider also pointed out that Diaz Sr.'s and Cabrera's neighborhoods are where LGBT youth have long felt especially unsafe and unaccepted, and that those same young people need elected officials to be leaders for them, not spreading anti-LGBT sentiment that makes them less safe.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick, New York State’s first openly gay legislator, was similarly disappointed, though she said she did not want to “second guess” Johnson’s decisions as speaker.

“I was pleased to have Reverend Diaz removed from the Senate Democrats because his anti-choice and his anti-LGBT attitude and aggressive rhetoric was destructive and unpleasant,” she said. “I’m sorry they’re in elected office. Just as I would not want to spend time and energy seeing that people who are actively homophobic are not elected to seats in other parts of the country, I’m not happy to see them in elected office here. You would have to ask the speaker what went into his thinking in giving them prominent positions.”

Gotham Gazette did ask Johnson about the decision on January 11, shortly after the new committee chairs were approved by the full Council. Though he insisted that he disagrees with Diaz Sr.’s and Cabrera’s positions on LGBT issues, he said that just as he does with certain Republican Council members and those within his own Democratic caucus, his new position as speaker requires him to treat each member equally.

“I’m gonna treat every member of this body with respect...Everyone knows where I stand on LGBT equality. No one can question my credentials on LGBT equality and I’m the Speaker of the Council and we’re going to push the envelope to expand protections for all New Yorkers, transgender New Yorkers, LGBT new Yorkers, undocumented immigrants, Muslims, people of different religious faiths and beliefs,” he said. “That’s where I stand. I don’t agree with every member on everything but I’m still going to work collegially with every member of this body because that is part of my job now as Speaker of this Council.”

He also said that Cabrera’s view didn’t necessary align with his votes. Indeed, Cabrera voted in favor of a bill last year that banned gay conversion therapy in the city and supported a bill requiring the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to create a plan to provide behavioral health services to LGBT individuals. Durign the race to become Speaker, Johnson caught some flack for visiting Diaz Sr. in the hospital, a visit that Diaz Sr. referenced on the day Johnson was officially elected Speaker.

Fellow Council members -- including LGBT members such as Ritchie Torres, Jimmy Van Bramer and Carlos Menchaca -- also came to Johnson’s defense, insisting that conservative members would hardly have an effect on the larger policy agenda or leanings of the Council as a whole.  

“The foundation of this body requires us to listen to all sides of every issue and that’s what we’re going to be committed to this next session,” said Council Member Menchaca in a brief interview outside City Hall last week.

Council Member Van Bramer similarly said, “There’s good things that can come out of appointing a leadership team that is diverse and has opinions that contradict your own.”

Council Member Brad Lander, not a member of the LGBT caucus, echoed the view. “As long as the policies that we pursue represent the progressive values that [Speaker Johnson] articulated, that he continues to articulate, then I think it’s great to have a diverse leadership team in many ways,” he said.

Council Member Torres, from the Bronx, called Gotham Gazette upon hearing of the reporting of this article to show support for the speaker. The two members in question, he said, represent some of poorest districts in the city where it is a “particular imperative” to show equal representation. “I think it’s unreasonable to expect the Speaker of the Council to deny resources to lower-income districts simply because he rejects the social views of those who represent them. It’s unfair to begrudge the speaker for his obligation to represent everyone equally,” he said.

Ruben Diaz Sr. City CouncilTorres also refuted the possibility that the two members were rewarded for their support for Johnson’s ascension to the speakership, which owed to the backing from the Bronx and Queens County Democrats, as well as other members whose support Johnson had secured. Council members from both counties were handed the most powerful Council committees, with the land use committee going to Council Member Rafael Salamanca of the Bronx and finance to Queens Council Member Daniel Dromm, who is a member of the LGBT caucus.

“I think [Speaker Johnson’s] magnanimity transcends the normal transactions of the speaker race,” Torres said, noting that even though he also ran for speaker, he was given a plum position as chair of the newly empowered oversight and investigations committee. “I would do exactly what he’s doing as speaker,” he added.

“Winning coalitions reward their members,” observed one Council Member, who asked to remain unnamed.

Assemblymember Glick conceded that the speakership is a complicated position that requires keeping numerous stakeholders satisfied. “I’ve been in politics a long time and I understand that people in positions of authority have a very tough balancing act,” she said. “By the same token, I’m not happy about seeing people who have engaged in hateful rhetoric being given what in political terms would be seen as a reward.”

Regardless, she said, “I’m very proud of Corey. I consider him a friend and I will do whatever I can to make his tenure a successful and positive one.”

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

Read more by this writer.

(picture inset: Ruben Diaz Sr.; photo by John McCarten)

Note - this article has been updated to clarify that Diaz Sr. was the sole Democratic Senator, not the only Democratic legislator, to oppose the state's marriage equality bill.

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Anti-LGBT City Council Members Given Prominent Positions Thu, 08 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 5 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7457:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-february-5 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7457:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-february-5 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will start off with a bang as Mayor Bill de Blasio makes his annual journey to Albany to testify at a legislative budget hearing. De Blasio has several issues with the executive budget proposal put forth in January by Governor Andrew Cuomo, his fellow Democrat and frequent sparring partner. De Blasio will make clear his state legislative and budget priorities for the year, and answers questions from members of the Senate and Assembly about those priorities, his record, city use of state funds, and whatever other matters they choose to raise.

De Blasio is expected to reiterate at least some of the priorities he outlined early this year, while also pushing back against Cuomo's budget proposals to cut certain funding to the city, provide less-than-expected education aid to the city, shift certain costs to the city, and require the city pay more for the MTA. The mayor discussed some of those budget issues when he released his own preliminary budget on Thursday of this past week. De Blasio is expected to either address outright or be asked about congestion pricing and where he stands on the recommendations put forth by Cuomo's "Fix NYC" panel, which the mayor has given a warmer reception than the general concept of congestion pricing in comments prior to the panel's report.

The Legislature will hold four days of budget hearings this week in Albany, while the two houses will hold legislative session on only Monday and Tuesday.

On Tuesday in the city, the newly empowered City Council Committee on Oversight and Investigation will hold its first hearing under new Speaker Corey Johnson and new committe Chair Ritchie Torres. The subject will be NYCHA, with a focus on heat for tenants. Council Member Alicka Samuel, the chair of the Council's public housing committee, which Torres chaired last term, will also lead the hearing. Johnson, Torres, Samuel, and others Council members are expected to heavily criticize NYCHA leadership and demand more answers about rcent heat outages and how NYCHA is responding to tenants' conditions. [Hear Torres talk about his new role in this recent episode of the Max & Murphy Podcast]

As always, there's a number of events to be aware of this week - see 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 State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

At the State Legislature on Monday, there will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to local governments at 10 a.m. Mayor de Blasio will be among those testifying, and he will appear first. [Read: De Blasio Lays Out Initial 2018 Albany Priorities]

Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will also testify at the state budget hearing.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Johnson will speak at the Helen Hayes Theatre ribbon cutting ceremony on West 44th Street.

On Monday, VOCAL-NY will host its 2018 “Hepatitis C Elimination Legislative Awareness Day” in Albany.

At 9 a.m. Monday, U.S. Reps. Joe Crowley, Carolyn Maloney, and Ro Khanna will deliver remarks at a tech training session hosted by Google and Goodwill at the Goodwill facility in Astoria.

On Monday "at 11:30 AM, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will join New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) tenants impacted by the citywide heating crisis that left thousands in the cold this winter, as he calls on NYCHA to take actions to address challenges facing its underfunded capital program, namely a commitment to spend its recent and future fuel cost savings on emergency boiler repairs and conversions. According to a Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) study, NYCHA utility costs fell by $48 million from 2013 to 2016, largely due to lower natural gas prices as buildings were converted from oil to natural gas heating systems. Borough President Adams will advocate for this revenue stream to go directly toward more conversions so this cost savings can increase, creating a virtuous cycle of support for NYCHA."

At 1 p.m. Monday at the State Capitol, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will hold a “press conference regarding the DREAM Act. He will be joined by members of the Assembly Majority and advocates,” in the Speaker's Conference Room.

At 1:30 p.m. Monday in the State Capitol, "advocates, community leaders, and elected officials will gather to unveil a progressive revenue package that would raise $16 billion for New York. They will call on Governor Cuomo and the state legislature to pass this revenue package, and discuss how and why it will benefit all New Yorkers. The progressive revenue package would raise enough to close the current budget deficit, offset looming federal budget cuts from Washington, and fund major new investments in jobs and infrastructure, including the MTA." Participants will include "members of labor unions, community groups, and advocacy organizations; elected officials from the state legislature, including Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry."

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host “Urban Health, Urban Parks,” discussing “the positive impact of city parks on the health of urban dwellers.” Panelists will include Prospect Park Alliance president Sue Donoghue, New York Times columnist Jane Brody, and author Florence Williams. CityLab’s Laura Bliss will moderate.

Mayor de Blasio will make his weekly appearance on NY1's Inside City Hall Monday evening in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours. He'll also appear on the upstate Capitol Tonight news progam in the 8 p.m. hour.

Tuesday
The State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At the State Legislature on Tuesday
--There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to human services at 10 a.m.
--The Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction will meet at 5 p.m. at Binghamton University’s Innovative Technologies Complex to “examine the issues facing communities in the wake of increased heroin abuse.”

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committees on Public Housing and Oversight & Investigations will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “chronic heat and water failures in NYCHA housing.” Council Speaker Corey Johnson has pledged to participate in the entire hearing.
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at noon.
--The Committee on Economic Development will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “NYCEDC 2018 and Beyond: Borough-by-Borough in the Next Four Years.”
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 2 p.m.

On Tuesday the New York City Charter School Center and the Northeast Charter Schools Network will host a lobbying day in Albany at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center, demanding “funding equity for all public school students, and the elimination of the arbitrary cap on charter schools in New York.”

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, TransitCenter will host “Is It Rigged” at One Whitehall Street in Lower Manhattan, discussing the highly-inflated cost of transit construction in New York as compared to other cities. The panel will feature Brian Rosenthal of the New York Times, Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute, Rich Barone of the Regional Plan Association, and Chris Ward of Metro NY.

Wednesday
At the State Legislature on Wednesday, there will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to environmental conservation at 9:30 a.m.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Standards and Ethics will meet at 11 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “section 10.80 of the Council Rules.”
--The Committee on Public Safety will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing “examining NYPD crowd control and protest procedures.”

On Wednesday, WE ACT for Environmental Justice will hold a lobbying day in Albany “to demand Governor Cuomo commits to 100% renewables and a fee on corporate climate polluters.”

Thursday
At the State Legislature on Thursday, there will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to taxes at 9:30 a.m.

At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Higher Education will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “hiring a new chancellor and college president at the City University of New York.”
--The Committee on Fire and Emergency Management will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “diversity in the FDNY.”
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.

“The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) will be held on Thursday, February 8, at 10:00 AM.”

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the Association for a Better New York will host Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor, for a “What’s On Tap” talk at the Anheuser-Busch offices in Chelsea.

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio is expected to make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday morning at 10 a.m.

***
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).

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 5 Sun, 04 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
400 Old and New Bills Introduced at City Council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7456:400-old-and-new-bills-introduced-at-city-council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7456:400-old-and-new-bills-introduced-at-city-council Johnson podium stated meeting

Speaker Johnson (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


After weeks of mostly procedural activity to start its new four-year term, the New York City Council convened Wednesday afternoon for its first legislation-focused 2018 meeting, which included discussion and reintroduction of bills from the previous session that had not passed, as well as the introduction of new bills.

Some of the 408 pieces of legislation reintroduced deal with tenant protection, zoning and scaffolding regulations, and a bill to prohibit people who have been found guilty of a specific set of felonies from holding office.

Following roughly five minutes of formalities, new City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced that immigration activist Ravi Ragbir, who a federal judge ruled had been wrongfully detained by ICE on January 11, was in the chamber. Johnson called his detention “brutal” and “unjust;” Ragbir was greeted with a standing ovation from the majority of those in attendance. Earlier, activists and Council members gathered to support him at a press conference on the City Council steps. Two Council members, Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams, had been arrested protesting Ragbir’s detainment.

Johnson then led the Council through its vote on legislation that had moved through committee, mostly land use items, outlining two Manhattan locations to be given property tax exemptions, one on West 28th Street, located in District 3, which he represents. “It’s going to create 37 units of supportive housing, which I am really happy about,” he said.

The other building proposed to be granted a property tax exemption is in District 1, represented by Council Member Margaret Chin, which aims to preserve 198 units of affordable housing in the Two Bridges neighborhood. In addition, Johnson briefly mentioned a rezoning along Bedford Avenue.

Council Member Ben Kallos of Manhattan’s Upper East Side re-introduced a pair of bills, Intro. 85 and 86, aimed at ensuring people who have had cases heard in housing court do not face discrimination from landlords. “[The bill] would require tenant screening companies who make these so-called “tenant blacklists” to provide fair and complete information. Landlords would no longer be able to discriminate against tenants,” he said. “No one should face homelessness suddenly because they’ve been to housing court.”

In a similar vein, Chin introduced a tenant protection measure of her own, Intro. 30. This bill, she said, would mandate that landlords, in the event that residents needed to be vacated, could not put relocation expenses on the city's dime. “We need to continue holding bad landlords accountable for their actions,” she said. “Or in this case, inaction.”

Kallos, who announced his wife is imminently due to give birth and that he is slated to begin paid parental leave until March, spoke about the importance of fathers taking their paid leave and re-introduced a bill designed to limit how long scaffolding could remain in place. “Some scaffolding is almost old enough to vote,” he quipped.

While not discussed during the session, one notable bill reintroduced this week was Intro. 374, which was sparked by former State Senator and former City Council Member Hiram Monserrate, who was convicted for domestic violence, launched an ultimately unsuccessful bid for City Council last summer, which was met with condemnation from elected officeholders and many others.

Asked about the scaffolding bill at a press conference after the Council session, Johnson said he is receptive to the idea of reducing the amount of time scaffolding remains in place, though he did not explicitly state his position on it. “We have to make sure the public is safe, while at the same time not allowing scaffolding to remain up longer than needs to,” he said.

“I don’t know enough about the nitty gritty on the bill itself, but there was an issue yesterday, I believe the Republican House did something to invalidate our scaffolding laws” he added, presumably referencing H.R. 3808, the Infrastructure Expansion Act, designed to undermine New York’s “Scaffold Law,” which is meant to protect workers by placing legal responsibility on property owners when they incur injuries. He went on to label scaffolding a “blight” and “eyesore.”

Johnson was asked about allegations related to Mayor de Blasio allowing a pay-to-play climate to fester in his government. “Every New Yorker, regardless of if you gave money to an elected official or you’re a random person that calls someone’s office or shows up outside City Hall, your local elected official should be responsive to you,” Johnson said.

Asked if mayor de Blasio acts in this spirit, Johnson said, “He says he does that.”

He added, “I don’t know what it’s like for any New Yorker who stops him on the street, but you have to make sure that government is responsive to everyone.”

Johnson was also asked to comment on NYCHA, which has come under fire in recent months for issues ranging from lead paint to malfunctioning boilers, the topic of a hearing set for Tuesday, February 6.

“I’m going to be there the whole time,” he said of the hearing. “Four hours, five hours, however long the meeting goes.”

The speaker had harsh words for management of the authority, but stopped short of calling for the chair, Shola Olatoye, to step down. The problems at NYCHA, he said, could not be blamed solely on Olatoye. “If she left tomorrow, the issues would still exist,” said Johnson.

“This is a long-term issue. It’s taken a lot of time for the neglect that NYCHA has faced to get in this situation,” he explained. “We’re not going to get all the money overnight, we’re not going to fix the developments overnight.”

To that end, Johnson vowed to use the city budget process to ensure NYCHA receives more funding.

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400 Old and New Bills Introduced at City Council Thu, 01 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Favorable to The Bronx, Council Committee Shuffle Also Seen as Retribution http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7452:favorable-to-the-bronx-council-committee-shuffle-also-seen-as-retribution http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7452:favorable-to-the-bronx-council-committee-shuffle-also-seen-as-retribution Kallos Salamanca City Council

Council Members Ben Kallos, left, and Rafael Salamanca (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


When new City Council Speaker Corey Johnson reshuffled committee portfolios earlier this month, Council Member Ben Kallos lost his position as chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations. Sources say the move was punishment for Kallos’ approach to Board of Elections commissioner nominations and because of his support for one of Johnson’s opponents in the speaker race.

By virtually all accounts, Kallos had done an exceptional job chairing the governmental operations committee during last legislative session, from 2014 through 2017. He led the way on a slew of reforms to campaign financing, government transparency and accountability, and was viewed by good government advocates as a valuable partner on the Council. He was praised by many, and snickered at by some, for his independence.

But, with the election of Johnson as speaker, committee portfolios would be changed, with significant influence from the Queens and Bronx Democratic county organizations, which gave Johnson the backing he needed to ascend to what is arguably the second-most powerful position in city government behind the mayor.

Kallos, who multiple sources say wanted to keep chairing the committee, was among a small number of members left out in the cold. His committee chair position went to another member, Council Member Fernando Cabrera of the Bronx, and Kallos was instead assigned to lead the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions, which falls under the land use committee. He was named as a member of the governmental operations committee, among others.

Kallos declined multiple requests to comment for this article.

The Committee on Governmental Operations has a broad purview, overseeing several city agencies including the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the Campaign Finance Board, the city Board of Elections, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and the Law Department, among others. The committee also has oversight of the city’s 59 community boards.

Government reform groups generally praise Kallos’ leadership of the committee. “He raised a lot of good government issues that otherwise wouldn’t have seen the light of day, and he raised them on the merits,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, in a phone interview. “Maybe that miffed people at times but they were important issues to be raised and I don’t think that warrants removal from the chairmanship.”

As chair, one of Kallos’ priorities was to reduce patronage hires at city agencies, particularly the Board of Elections, a bipartisan body where positions are filled by the county organizations for both parties. Patronage, Kallos said, invariably leads to conflicts of interests and the appointment of subpar employees. The BOE’s ten commissioners -- one from each party in each borough -- are nominated by the county committees and confirmed by the Council. The commissioners play a crucial role in deciding who gets to be on the ballot in elections and in interpreting state election law.

In 2016, Kallos was among those members who rankled the Bronx Democratic County Committee, led by Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, by insisting that a nominee for Democratic commissioner from the Bronx be required to give up her registration as a lobbyist in order to be confirmed as an elections commissioner. The nominee, Rosanna Vargas, initially refused but later relented. Vargas is now the president of the Board of Elections.

“The Queens and Bronx county committees felt that Council Member Kallos wasn’t a team player with regards to BOE appointments,” said one source with knowledge of internal county party dynamics, when asked about Kallos losing his committee chairmanship, and speaking only on the condition of anonymity.

Council Member Cabrera told Gotham Gazette that while he did not push to chair the governmental operations committee, he was “excited” to be offered it. “There were different options that were being put forth, but as soon as it was presented to me, I said that I was very eager to do so,” he said at City Hall recently. Cabrera did not serve on the committee in the last term but was co-sponsor of a few bills under its purview.

Cabrera said he would pursue legislation to improve the city’s campaign finance system, which is centered around public matching of low-dollar contributions and is held up as a national model, and would look to expand voter engagement in a city known for low turnout in the last few elections. “I’m a team player,” he said, insisting he will approach legislation and oversight collaboratively with his colleagues, “and so this is not a solo dance that we’re going to be doing here. Working with the administration as well, we want collaboration.”

He said he sees “eye-to-eye” with Kallos. Asked if Kallos was punished for opposing the Bronx County’s BOE pick in 2016, Cabrera pleaded ignorance. “To be honest with you, I have no knowledge, I don’t even know what you’re really referring to, honestly,” he said.

“I do know he did well,” Cabrera added. “I have to tell you he got, and I spoke to him, he got a very good committee. It’s a committee you can do a whole lot with. Anything related to finance. It’s one that has influence and can bring systemic change.”

The subcommittee Kallos now chairs feeds the land use committee now being chaired by Council Member Rafael Salamanca of the Bronx, an appointment by Johnson perhaps most indicative of the rewards provided to the county for its support of his speaker bid.

Kallos was a known supporter of Council Member Mark Levine’s bid for the speakership of the Council. Levine was among the frontrunners for the post, but was unsuccessful after the Bronx and Queens County Democrats coalesced around Johnson, who gained the backing of those vote-rich counties in part because he had also secured individual support from about ten other Council members, according to Johnson.

“A land use subcommittee is as important or more important than a lot of full committees, honestly,” Levine told Gotham Gazette at City Hall earlier this month. He refused to speculate on why Kallos lost his chair position but said that Kallos was “amazing” as chair of the committee. “I think reshuffling of committees is a standard practice in any new term. Very few people continued in the same committee...the movement is natural.” he said. “I’ll tell you this about Ben Kallos, he’s going to be a leader in this body, no matter what portfolio he’s handed. He’s one of the smartest and most effective legislators I know. So he’s going to be impactful without a doubt in the next four years.”

Asked about the decision to give the chair position to Cabrera, Council communications director Robin Levine referred Gotham Gazette to Johnson’s remarks at a January 11 news conference immediately after the new committee chairs were voted on by the full Council. She did not address a question about whether Crespo wanted Kallos removed from the position.

At the news conference, in response to a question from Gotham Gazette, Johnson emphasized that the committee appointments were a complicated task. “Every decision that was made...when you moved one piece around, it affected the rest of the matrix,” he said. “So that’s why we spent the whole weekend here. That’s why I met with every individual member. That’s why we were in conversations, of course, with the county leaders.”

“The process was a consultative process that, number one, involved the members,” he continued. “Number two, involved of course having conversations with the county leaders, with the mayor -- he wanted to understand who would be chairing certain committees -- with certain labor unions who played a role in this process, with members of Congress, with members of the Assembly, with members of the state Senate. There were over a hundred people who were calling every day for a week wanting to try and ensure that certain people got certain things.”

“I was really trying to make everyone as happy as I could, by being as flexible as I could, by being as creative as I could and to try and give different people avenues for leadership and avenues to work on issues that matter to them,” Johnson said.

In a statement through a spokesperson, Crespo did not directly respond to a question on whether he pushed for Kallos’ ouster. “As it has been in the past, City Council committee chairs frequently change at the start of new legislative terms,” Crespo said. “Our focus is to always advocate for our members in the Bronx delegation of the City Council and in doing so, providing the city and our constituents sound and steady leadership. The primary focus should be on the fact that an important committee now continues to have strong leadership with Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera as chair.”

One Council member, who asked to remain anonymous to speak freely about the committee appointments, said Kallos was a victim of a combination of factors. “I think it was an accumulation of the running into the counties on BOE, running up against Corey in the speaker’s race, and he’s also got some very complicated land use stuff in his district as well. Probably didn’t help this matter either, he’s seen as very anti-development,” the Council member said.

But, the Council member added, “He could have fared worse.” Indeed, some other Council members who opposed Johnson’s bid or supported his opponents appeared to come away with less. Among those were Council Members Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, neither of whom was given a committee chair position after having led the rules committee and the housing and buildings committee, respectively, in the last term. Lander did retain his position as Deputy Leader for Policy.

“Is everyone 100 percent happy? No. Are some people happier than others? Yes,” Johnson said at the January 11 hearing where the new committee chairs were confirmed. “I did my best...There was no level of vindictiveness towards any member of this body from me, there was no level of vindictiveness, there was no score-settling, there was no keeping track of what happened during the Speaker’s race.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Favorable to The Bronx, Council Committee Shuffle Also Seen as Retribution Mon, 29 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Bronx Rezoning Moves to City Council as Negotiations Enter Final Stages http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7446:bronx-rezoning-moves-to-city-council-as-negotiations-enter-final-stages http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7446:bronx-rezoning-moves-to-city-council-as-negotiations-enter-final-stages

Jerome Ave corridor rezoning, via City Planning


The City Planning Commission voted January 17 to approve a comprehensive rezoning plan for the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, putting the proposal before the City Council for scrutiny in the final stretch of the lengthy land use review process. The rezoning would follow four others ushered through by the de Blasio administration as it somewhat controversially seeks to add housing density, including thousands of new affordable units, and make other investments in mostly low-income communities across the five boroughs.

The Jerome Avenue Neighborhood Plan put forth by the administration with local input envisions changing land use regulations in a 92-block area along Jerome Avenue, from East 165th Street to 184th Street, which currently comprises a mix of commercial, industrial, and residential space. The proposed plan would allow mixed-use development along the corridor with the intent of creating more affordable housing, while also funding new infrastructure, quality-of-life improvements, job creation, and economic development initiatives for the community.  

While a deal appears imminent and the clock is ticking, negotiations are ongoing between the administration and City Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Cabrera, whose districts span the proposed rezoning and who will have the final say in whether the rezoning is approved. Gibson, Cabrera, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. met recently to discuss the changes to the plan that they want to see before it is passed by the Council.

The City Planning Commission’s approval of the plan started the 50-day clock for the Council to accept or reject the proposal. The entire body typically votes with the local Council member(s) on land use issues and has rarely overridden a member’s position. The Council’s subcommittee on zoning and franchises is expected to hold a public hearing on the rezoning on Wednesday, February 7.  

“It is and has been very fruitful,” Gibson said of the negotiation process, in a phone interview on Thursday. But there remain a few big ticket items that have yet to be resolved, she said, including preserving more affordable housing and expanding school capacity to deal with the expected increase in population from new housing created under the plan.

jerome ave verticalThe city has promised to create 4,000 new housing units in the rezoned area, which will include affordable units set aside for different income bands under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy. The administration is also planning a Certificate of No Harassment pilot program to prevent tenant harassment and displacement, and will guarantee that half of new housing units created by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will go to existing residents. Additionally, it has committed millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements -- including $4.6 million to revamp Corporal Fischer Park; $4 million to rebuild the Morton Playground; sidewalk lighting; and security upgrades -- and jobs and business development plans through the Department of Small Business Services

As is, the plan will also preserve 1,500 affordable units, a number that Gibson wants to see increased to 2,500 to cope with the gentrification pressures that neighborhoods targeted for rezoning have come to expect. She emphasized that many affordable units currently in those neighborhoods will see their city rent subsidies expire in less than a decade, and that the administration should take preemptive action.

“The city has a very good opportunity to engage those landlords on new programs and tax incentives so they can remain in the affordability program and access some of our resources for the next 30 or 40 years,” she said. “Now if we go over 2,500, I’m not mad. But I think 2,500 should be the floor.”

As with other rezonings that have been approved in the last three years, Gibson expressed larger concerns about displacement of existing residents as zoning changes bring additional density and improvements to the communities along Jerome Avenue. But she maintained that, unlike other areas that have seen luxury developers quickly move in to capitalize on a proposed rezoning, Jerome Avenue will likely not see market-rate housing being built in the short term.

“People are fearful, they have a right to be fearful, but the market in Jerome does not propel luxury housing right now,” she said.

Gibson predicted that recent increases in the minimum wage and residents getting prevailing-wage and union-wage jobs will eventually lead them to be ineligible for deeply affordable housing as they start to earn more than 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), a federal measure that includes surrounding suburban counties and the city. The New York City region’s AMI in 2017 was $85,900 for a family of three. Gibson insisted that the MIH set-asides should therefore include additional moderate and middle-income housing.

“It has to be a diverse mixture of incomes, obviously with the majority of those incomes being on the lower end at 30 and 40 percent of AMI as well as set asides for formerly homeless families coming directly from the shelter,” she said.

Jerome Avenue is the latest proving ground for the administration’s neighborhood rezoning efforts, which are part of achieving the mayor’s target of creating and preserving 300,000 units of affordable housing across the city by 2026. The first such rezoning, in East New York, largely set the tone, with the local Council Member, Rafael Espinal, having extracted a slew of concessions from the administration including a new 1,000-seat school and about $267 million in capital investments. Diaz Jr. and the two Bronx Council members are working off of a similar script, as was the case with rezonings in East Harlem and Far Rockaway.

Diaz Jr. signed off on the city’s plan in November, granted the city meet certain conditions that he laid out in his non-binding formal approval in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a multi-step process that also involves non-binding votes by the affected community boards, which also approved it with conditions.

The borough president said in his response that the city had “acted in good faith” in listening to the community’s concerns. But he maintained, “There is still more work to be done.” He called on the city to put in place a minimum of their monetary commitments before the rezoning is approved, an increase in the number of affordable housing units preserved to at least 2,000, enhanced enforcement of housing codes, the establishment of a new community center in Highbridge, and additional funding for improvement of parks and transit infrastructure.

Jerome Avenue is also home to a large automotive industry, and Diaz Jr. urged the city to identify locations where displaced facilities could relocate as well as fund relocation, training, and certification for those businesses. Gibson has made similar demands. The city’s plan would only retain about 20 percent of the 151 auto businesses in the neighborhood, she recently told Gotham Gazette at City Hall, and she is pushing to retain at least 50 percent.  

Diaz Jr. also insisted that the city must address the school seat shortage in the district -- roughly 3,248 seats -- by identifying potential sites for new facilities. That is one of the biggest priorities for Gibson and Cabrera as well. Gibson said she and her Council colleague are pushing for two new elementary schools in school districts 9 and 10.

“The challenge we face is we don’t have large parcels of city-owned land,” she said, emphasizing that the administration will have to work with private landowners to find suitable locations for new schools, while also expanding capacity at existing facilities that can bear it.

“A school that we build of 500 seats is going to help us now but it wont help us in the future if we’re looking at potentially 4,000 units of housing,” she said. “So there has to be some give and take.”

Gibson is confident about securing that pledge from the city before the Council votes on the project. “We’ve been very consistent on what our priorities are and, at the end of the day, we are working as hard as we can to achieve that. I do know that the admin in the past typically waits until the very end to make all of their commitments and announcements and to the best extent that I can, I’m trying to avoid that because I don’t like to operate last minute.”

Asked about the final stages of negotiations, a spokesperson for the Department of City Planning said in a statement, "We continue to work hand-in-hand with local elected officials and community leaders to build and protect affordable housing while also boosting economic vitality along the Jerome corridor."

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Bronx Rezoning Moves to City Council as Negotiations Enter Final Stages Sun, 28 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Members Outline Priorities for New Term http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7436:city-council-members-outline-priorities-for-new-term http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7436:city-council-members-outline-priorities-for-new-term 38866913345 afd4b05a3e z

City Council members (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


The New York City Council is gearing up for a new agenda under Speaker Corey Johnson, with several newly created committees and fresh faces in the legislative body. As the Council begins to schedule its first committee hearings and readies for the reintroduction of legislation from the last session, there are a number of priorities that Council members are planning to pursue. Returning members say they want to pass bills that have been pending and build on their work from the last four years, while new members are eager to follow through on the policy platforms that got them elected.

New issue committee chairs appear ready to steer those committees in new directions, while Johnson has promised a robust agenda and is taking steps to beef up the Council’s oversight powers, expand its land use division, and increase its scrutiny of the mayor’s budget. Many of the committees, new and old, under his watch will take on greater responsibilities and are expected to tackle a slew of contentious policy issues, legislation, and oversight matters. Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette indicated a broad list of priorities, with some agenda items that will have citywide ramifications and others more parochial, district-level in their scope.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal, in her new role as chair of the women’s committee, said she will pursue legislative and public policy solutions to combat sexual harassment in the public and private sectors, to end the gender pay gap for municipal workers, and advance criminal justice reforms to protect sexual assault and domestic violence survivors.

“We are seeking to empower women at every level -- in the workplace, in the economic arena, in social interactions, and in politics,” Rosenthal said. In December, Rosenthal stood with Council Member Mark Levine to announce a request for drafting legislation that would require complaints by Council staffers to be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics, as is currently the case for complaints against elected Council members, and would also mandate that city agencies report on sexual harassment claims twice a year.  

Rosenthal also wants to see through the full implementation of her legislation, signed by the mayor in September last year, to create an Office of the Tenant Advocate within the Department of Buildings. Among her other priorities are protections for small businesses in her Upper West Side district, seniors’ needs, and the city’s social safety net. Formerly chair of the contracts committee, which will now be led by new Council Member Justin Brannan, Rosenthal said her guiding philosophy in approaching priority issues will still be “fiscal responsibility.”

Council Member Levine said he hopes to follow up on unfinished business from the last session, including the implementation of Right to Counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court, which was a bill he sponsored and waged a years-long campaign to win support from the mayor. Now chairing the health committee (he had parks last term), Levine will also focus on expanding healthcare coverage and addressing racial inequities in health outcomes across the city. One priority he has expressed support for is single-payer healthcare, an issue that Speaker Johnson has been vocal about pursuing.

After chairing the public safety committee last term, Council Member Vanessa Gibson is chairing the new Subcommittee on Capital Budgets, which will be tasked with analysing the city’s now $96 billion capital budget. The subcommittee will assess the procurement process at city agencies and how agencies spend their capital dollars. Gibson said she is “looking to create better capital spending oversight and ensure there is a consistent process for capital projects so that we can truly realize meaningful investment in New York’s aging infrastructure.”

Gibson also said she will continue to advocate for bail reform, an issue that Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to put his weight behind this year. Gibson will also have to navigate complicated land use issues as she tackles the proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning in her Bronx district. The project is moving forward quickly and will come through the land use committee now being chaired by Gibson’s Bronx colleague Council Member Rafael Salamanca.

Council Member Ritchie Torres, another Bronx Democrat, is overseeing the newly empowered Committee on Oversight and Investigations, which will comprise a dedicated investigative unit of former prosecutors, professional investigators, and former journalists. While the division is staffing up, Torres’ first public task will be a joint oversight hearing on February 6 with the Committee on Public Housing, which he chaired last term, concerning heat and hot water failures in NYCHA housing. The new chair of the public housing committee is newly-elected Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who formerly worked at the public housing authority, NYCHA.

[Related: New City Council Committee Chairs Have Plenty on Their Plates]

The new chair of the Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections, Council Member Karen Koslowitz, said last week she was still formulating her agenda for 2018. Her committee is expected to lead the way on a package of internal rules reforms that a majority of the Council, including Speaker Johnson, have endorsed.

Koslowitz, of Queens, also spoke of extending traffic safety laws to bicycle riders, saying that she would “like to see them be registered, licensed.”

Council Member Mark Treyger, a former teacher who has taken over as chair of the education committee, spoke at length about the issues plaguing public school infrastructure. “I come from a district that some of our schools were built with money from the New Deal, and haven't seen upgrades since the New Deal,” he said of his southern Brooklyn community, also emphasizing the need for additional school aid.

Treyger also wants to advance two bills he proposed in the last session: one requiring the city to station licensed social workers in all police precincts, and another to make it illegal for police officers to engage in sexual activity with a person in their custody. The second bill was prompted by a recent case in which an 18-year-old woman accused two officers of rape while she was in their custody. The officers claimed the act was consensual, leading to public outcry over the loophole in the law that does not automatically categorize it as custodial rape. Legal proceedings continue in the matter.  

Council Member Fernando Cabrera, the new chair of the governmental operations committee, said he will push campaign finance reforms over the next few years since his committee has oversight of the Campaign Finance Board, which administers the city’s public matching funds program to incentivize small-dollar donations in elections. “The whole idea of the campaign finance [program] was to equalize the playing field,” he said. “Whenever you have policies that don’t… [that] puts a candidate at a disadvantage, I have issues with that,” he added, without going into specifics.

In his role, Cabrera will also oversee the city Board of Elections, the Law Department, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, among other agencies. The BOE will administer at least three election days this year, in June, September, and November, with a fourth likely in some districts if Cuomo calls for special elections to fill several currently vacant state legislative seats.

Council Member Steven Matteo, the Republican minority leader, said he plans to prioritize property tax relief this year, something he has long advocated for. “Last year we had the veterans property tax that we passed here, my bill. I want to expand on that this year, too, do some real property tax relief for everyone else,” he said. Matteo, one of three Republicans in the Council, was appointed by Johnson to chair the Committee on Standards & Ethics, which, if new legislation on workplace sexual harassment is passed by the Council, will likely see its role expand this session. The committee is currently investigating an allegation of sexual harassment against Council Member Andy King.

Mayor de Blasio has promised to take up property tax reform this term, which Matteo intends to hold him to. The Council had announced plans for a property tax reform task force last term, but it never came to be.

Council Member Brannan also hopes to tackle property tax reform, he said, hoping that he will be able to sit on the proposed commission “to really take a deep dive into it.” As a former employee of the Department of Education, Brannan also said the Council has an opportunity to increase its oversight of DOE operations. “I think, it’s a couple areas where I think we can get a little more aggressive,” the contracts chair said. DOE contracts to outside vendors have been a point of contention for years, an area Brannan may be able to meld his prior experience and new responsibilities.

Council Member Carlina Rivera, also newly-elected, will have her hands full chairing the Committee on Hospitals, newly created to oversee the city’s municipal hospital system, which is in financial crisis. But she also has local concerns she wants to address, she told Gotham Gazette, including reforms to city rules that allow construction in the early mornings, evenings, and weekends, an issue leftover from her predecessor, former Council Member Rosie Mendez.

Some of Rivera’s other priorities concern land use and infrastructure projects, particularly the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, an integrated coastal protection initiative aimed at reducing flood risk due to coastal storms and sea level rise. She also intends to focus on NYCHA’s infrastructure woes, citing the numerous developments in her district and the issues of heat and hot water in NYCHA housing, and she must negotiate a major land use deal in her district related to a proposed Union Square tech hub that the de Blasio administration wants to build.

Council Member Diana Ayala, another rookie lawmaker, is chairing the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services. She said she expects some examination of safe injection sites coming to New York City, which advocates argue would reduce drug users’ risk of overdose, transmitting diseases, and death. Speaker Johnson has said he is in favor of exploring the possibility. "The safe injection sites I know are going to be a big issue," Ayala told Gotham Gazette. "There's been a lot of conversation around bringing those to New York."

Ayala also suggested that she will be looking into how New York City’s criminal justice system deals with the issue of domestic violence.  

When asked about her policy priorities, new Council Member Adrienne Adams emphasized immigrant protections and homelessness. Adams expressed deep concern about the policies coming out of  Washington, D.C. under the Republican-led Congress and President Donald Trump. Under former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council passed a number of immigrant-friendly laws and curbed the city’s cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities. “My district is extremely diverse and with the policies coming from Washington these days, they’re affecting my district and the entire city of New York tremendously,” said Adams, of southeast Queens.

Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr., of the Bronx, who joined the Council from the state Senate, is the first chair of the Council’s new Committee on For-Hire Vehicles. When asked about his priorities, Diaz Sr. simply said, “Taxis.”

Samar Khurshid contributed to this article.

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by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated to better clarify Diana Ayala's comments on safe injection sites.

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City Council Members Outline Priorities for New Term Tue, 23 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, January 22 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7431:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-january-22 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7431:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-january-22 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week, all eyes are on Washington D.C. as the federal government shut down Saturday after Democrats and Republicans failed to come to an agreement over government spending. The key issue in the shutdown fight is immigration reform and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that allows undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to avoid deportation and to receive work permits. Democrats are advocating for an extension of the program, which was abruptly ended by President Donald Trump, while Republicans have sought more funding for border security and refuse to discuss DACA until the government reopens. No deal was reached between the two sides as of Sunday evening.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo reached a deal with federal authorities to reopen the Statue of Liberty which had closed down on Saturday amid the shutdown. Many other sites that fall under the jurisdiction of the National Parks Service remained closed, however. 

In Albany this week, the New York state legislature will continue to deal with the governor's 2018 agenda as they pick apart the $168.2 billion executive budget proposal that he released last week. Prominent items on the agenda include a congestion pricing proposal, details of which were put forward on Friday by a state task force convened by Cuomo, and proposed changes to the state taxation system to deal with the federal tax overhaul passed in December. There's likely to be heavy scrutiny of the governor's proposals to close a $4.4 billion budget gap faced by the state.  

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will likely be watching the state budget closely as he readies to release his own preliminary budget proposal for the 2019 fiscal year, which is due by February 1. The mayor is scheduled to testify at a budget hearing of the state Legislature on February 5. On Monday, de Blasio will attend a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Recording Academy's New York office and will appear on NY1's Inside City Hall in the evening. 

Also on Monday, the corruption trial of Joseph Percoco, a top Cuomo aide, along with three others is set to begin in federal court in Manhattan. Percoco and his co-defendants face charges of bribery and bid-rigging in relation to upstate economic development contracts awarded by the state. Their trial is expected to last between four and six weeks. Although Cuomo himself has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the case, the trial will put the spotlight on his administration at a time when he is headed into a reelection this year and is seen as positioning himself for a potential presidential run in 2020.   

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - see 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
Mayor de Blasio will attend and deliver remarks at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Recording Academy’s New York office at 10 a.m. Monday in Manhattan. In the 7 and 10 p.m. hours, de Blasio will appear on NY1’s Inside City Hall.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

The New York State Board of Regents will meet on Monday and Tuesday.

At noon Monday, the New York State Board of Elections will hold a commissioners’ meeting in Albany.

At 12:30 p.m. Monday, Civic Hall and Streetlives will welcome RDJ Refugee Shelter and immigrant community partners for “a discussion on homelessness and housing from the perspective of refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers.”

On Monday afternoon, Governor Cuomo "will travel to Park City, Utah to attend a screening of RX Early Breast Cancer Detection. He will leave to return to the New York City area in the evening."

At 2 p.m. Monday, the New York City Tax Commission, Center for New York City Law, and Center for Real Estate Studies will host a workshop on 2018 property taxes in New York at New York Law School. Tax Commission President Ellen Hoffmann will deliver remarks.

At 6 p.m. Monday, U.S. Rep Jerrold Nadler will hold a congressional town hall meeting at NYU’s Vanderbilt Hall in Greenwich Village.

At 6 p.m. Monday, U.S. Rep Tom Reed will hold a congressional town hall meeting at the Middlesex Fire House in Middlesex, Yates County.

At 6 p.m. Monday, the Business Council of New York State will host its 2018 “Legislators’ Reception” at the Albany Capital Center, allowing Business Council members a chance to “mingle with members of the New York State Legislature and top New York State government officials.”

At 6 p.m. Monday, the New York City Bar Association will host “Rebuilding Puerto Rico: Strategies, Partners, and the Role of the Oversight Board,” discussing how Puerto Rico can rebuild after the devastating hurricane and protracted fiscal crisis that have affected the island.

Monday night is the annual "HOPE" count of homeless people on New York City streets.

Tuesday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At the State Legislature on Tuesday: There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal as it relates to higher education at 9:30 a.m.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
- The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
- The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 11 a.m.
- The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

Tuesday is Let NY Vote’s “Albany Action Day.” Proponents of election reform will gather at the State Capitol at noon for a rally demanding reforms such as early voting, followed by “lobby visits.”

On Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., Comptroller Scott Stringer will host a "Manhattan Workforce Forum" at Strive International, on East 122nd Street. At 6:30 p.m., Stringer will receive "“Honorary Haitian Award” at Hatian Roundtable 2018 Haitian Independence Reception and Special Recognition Awards."

At 10 a.m. Tuesday in Albany, state Senate Democrats will "announce legislation to protect and expand New Yorkers’ voting rights." The press conference will be led by Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator Brian Kavanagh, ranking member on the Senate Elections Committee, and members of the New York State Senate Democratic Conference.

On Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. outside of Tweed Courthouse, "leaders of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council (CPAC), representing all the PTAs and Parent Associations at NYC public schools, along with the leaders of the Education Council Consortium, representing the elected and appointed members of the Community and Citywide Education Councils, will speak and release letters to Mayor de Blasio, demanding that he give parents a voice in the selection of a new Chancellor, as he promised to do when he first ran for Mayor."

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals will hold a public hearing at Spector Hall.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, "Mayor de Blasio and First Lady McCray will make an announcement about the opioid epidemic" at the Latino Pastoral Action Center on 170th Street in the Bronx. The mayor will take press questions.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Elections will hold a commissioners’ meeting.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, U.S. Rep Hakeem Jeffries will deliver his 2018 State of the District speech for the New York’s 8th Congressional District at Brooklyn Technical High School. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is among those who will attend.

Wednesday
At 8 a.m. Wednesday, the Citizens Budget Commission and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism will host “How Bad Is It? Implications of the Federal Tax Bill for New York” at the CUNY J-School in Midtown. Robert Mujica, Director of the New York State Division of the Budget, and Dean Fuleihan, First Deputy Mayor of New York, will deliver opening remarks. Following these remarks, two panels consisting of government officials, advocates, and business leaders will convene to discuss the fiscal impacts on the state and the best responses at the state and local level.

At the State Legislature on Wednesday:
- There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal as it relates to housing at 9:30 a.m.
- The Senate Standing Committee on Racing, Gaming, and Wagering will meet at 11 a.m. in Albany to “discuss the potential of sports betting in New York State.”
- There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal as it relates to workforce development at 2:30 p.m.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the MTA will hold its monthly board meeting. Committees will meet on Monday.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Panel for Educational Policy will hold a public meeting at P.S. 20 in Manhattan.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Museum of the City of New York will host a screening of Chisholm ‘72: Unbought & Unbossed, detailing the presidential campaign of the first black woman to run, Shirley Chisholm. Afterwards, the film’s director, Shola Lynch, will discuss “Chisholm’s lasting legacy” with former DNC Chair Donna Brazile and U.S. Rep Yvette Clarke, who currently holds the seat Chisholm once held.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, U.S. Rep Tom Suozzi will host a town hall meeting for the third congressional district at the Dix Hills Jewish Center in Dix Hills, Suffolk County.

At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, NYCLU will host “Flights and Rights -- Voting Rights” at the Flatiron Lounge in Manhattan, discussing the 2018 elections from a framing of civil and voting rights. The discussion will be led by NYCLU’s Erika Lorshbough.

Thursday
At the State Legislature on Thursday: There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal as it relates to transportation at 9:30 a.m.

At the City Council on Thursday: The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Crain’s New York Business will host State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan at its first 2018 “Business Breakfast Forum,” at the New York Athletic Club. Flanagan “will discuss senate politics, fixing the transit system, and his priorities for the legislative session” with moderators Erik Engquist of Crain’s and Ken Lovett of the New York Daily News.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the New York City Bar Association will host “Wiping the Slate Clean: New York’s New Law on Sealing Criminal Records,” discussing the effects of the new state law allowing people to have state conviction records sealed in certain circumstances. Panelists will include Marta Nelson, Executive Director of the New York State Council on Community Reentry and Reintregration; Emma Goodman, of the Legal Aid Society; and Wesley Caines, of the Bronx Defenders. The panel will be moderated by Judith Whiting of the Community Service Society.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Civic Hall, NYC Open Data Team, HPD, and the Department of Buildings will host a workshop on city buildings.

On Thursday evening, City Council Member Debi Rose will deliver a state of the district address on Staten Island.

Friday and the weekend
At 10 a.m. Friday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will deliver her 2018 State of the Borough address at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts High School in Astoria.

At noon Sunday, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou will hold a town hall meeting at the Manny Cantor Center on the Lower East Side.

At noon Sunday, Staten Island Borough President Jimmy Oddo will host “Direct Connect Sunday” at the Petrides School in Todt Hill, Staten Island.

At 1 p.m. Sunday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will be inaugurated in a ceremony at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Chelsea.

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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 Ben Brachfeld and Samar Khurshid
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, January 22 Sun, 21 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000