Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/712 Sun, 22 Oct 2017 13:46:37 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 4 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6260:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-april-4 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6260:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-april-4 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

We're about two weeks from New York's April 19 presidential primary vote. The three remaining Republican candidates and two remaining Democrats have been campaigning in New York, which is more in play than it has been in several cycles. Hillary Clinton is set to hold events in New York City and Albany Monday, including a rally with Gov. Cuomo and a meeting with state Assembly Democrats, and while the candidates are also paying attention to Wisconsin as the week begins, New York already has a great deal of their and the nation's focus. It should be an exciting and dramatic two weeks. As this week begins, the Clinton and Sanders campaigns continue to spar over whether there will be a Democratic debate in New York before the state votes.

All three Republican candidates - Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich - are set to attend the New York GOP's annual gala, set for April 14. The candidates are expected to campaign in New York over the next two weeks.

The day of the New York presidential primaries, April 19, is also the date of special elections in the state Legislature, including the races to replace both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Both those races appear competitive two weeks out. The Senate race is especially important given that Democrats are eyeing this year's elections as a chance to take control of the chamber - they already have a wide majority in the Assembly.

Monday will see return to a focus on the recently-passed state budget. Hillary Clinton will rally in New York City Monday with Gov. Cuomo and others to celebrate that the budget includes a path to a $15 per hour minimum wage and a paid family leave policy.

There is sure to be more analysis of the $147-plus billion budget this week, it was passed Friday after much last-minute negotiating (a deal was announced just a few hours before the midnight Thursday deadline, with voting by the Legislature taking place through Thursday evening and into Friday - the state's fiscal year begins April 1). The new budget was met with some criticism, largely over the process by which it was agreed upon and passed with little time for review by lawmakers and the public, and much celebration, especially over the minimum wage and paid family leave provisions, as well as increased funding for education, transportation infrastructure, and more. There is a lot of budget language to digest as the details have been made public.

The Legislature is due in Albany for three days of post-budget legislative session this week. Including this week, there are 27 days of session scheduled between now and its scheduled end on June 16. Issues to address include mayoral control of New York City schools, which expires at the end of June (the Senate will hold two May hearings, it recently announced, at which Mayor de Blasio is expected to testify), a property tax abatement program to spur affordable housing development (renewing or replacing the expired 421-a program), raising the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16, the Dream Act, and much more - including government ethics reform, which the governor says will be his top priority after none was included in the budget deal.

On Monday we expect the City Council's official response to Mayor Bill de Blasio's $82 billion preliminary budget plan. The Council has held a month of budget hearings and now has the state budget to consider, so it is able to give its response to the mayor, who will take it and the state budget into account as he prepares his executive budget. When de Blasio releases his updated spending plan in a few weeks, it will kick off another round of Council budget hearings as the two sides head toward a deal by the end of June and the July 1 start of the city's new fiscal year. Since major cuts in funding to the city from the state that Gov. Cuomo had in his budget plan were taken out of the final deal, there will be little drama to the city budget process the rest of the way. The biggest bone of contention appears to be whether the mayor is insisting on enough agency savings. There will also be small battles over things like levels of library funding.

Many eyes are also on East New York as the week begins. A large area of the Brooklyn community is set to be rezoned, the first of 15 neighborhoods where the de Blasio administration plans to significantly change land use rules to facilitate more housing and community improvements, but the clock is ticking as the administration and local stakeholders, led by City Council Member Rafael Espinal, negotiate the final details of the plan. There is no zoning subcommittee or land use committee vote scheduled as of Sunday evening, but one could be scheduled if a deal is reached. The parties have until the end of the month to reach and pass a deal.

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

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

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Monday in Albany.

The City Council’s preliminary budget response to Mayor de Blasio is expected on Monday.

At 11 a.m. Monday at the Javits Center in Manhattan, The Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice will hold a "victory rally for $15 minimum wage and paid family leave" - participants will include "Governor Andrew M. Cuomo; Hillary Clinton; George Gresham, President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and Chair of the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice; labor leaders; advocates and minimum wage workers." City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is expected to attend the rally, according to her schedule.

On Monday at 1 p.m. at 1 Police Plaza, "Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton will host a press conference to discuss monthly crime stats," according to the mayor's public schedule.

At the City Council on Monday:

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Transportation will meet to discuss several items, such as the provision of certain parking privileges for press vehicles, the requirement of curb extensions at certain dangerous intersections, and the establishment of Earth Day 2016 as a car-free day for private and all non-essential city vehicles.
  • 10:30 a.m., the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections will meet to discuss various candidates for appointment to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the Board of Corrections, and the City Planning Commission.
  • 1 p.m., the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet to address several land use applications.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Contracts will hold an oversight meeting on the challenges facing nonprofits in city contracting.

At 11:30 a.m. Monday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will visit "a Model Dual Language Program to make an announcement," at High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies in Manhattan.

On Monday at noon, "At a press conference Monday, the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance will release a new report on Mayor de Blasio's OneNYC Plan, his administration's blueprint for increasing the city's environmental sustainability and resiliency. The report shows that six low-income communities of color on the waterfront designated by the city as Significant Maritime and Industrial Areas (SMIAs)—the South Bronx, Sunset Park, Red Hook, Newtown Creek, Brooklyn Navy Yard, and the North Shore of Staten Island—are still the most vulnerable to the threats of climate change and not sufficiently protected by the OneNYC Plan. A number of constructive recommendations for strengthening the plan are offered in the detailed report."

At 5 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks "at 32BJ Security Contract Rally" at the Wall Street Bull. At 9 p.m., Stringer will appear on BronxTalk with Gary Axelbank (BronxNet TV or Bronxnet.org).

At 7:30 p.m. Monday in Albany, the burgeoning Museum of Political Corruption will host a roundtable discussion and public forum on political corruption following a reception and fundraiser. Speakers include Frank Anechiarico, professor of government and law at Hamilton College; Blair Horner, Executive Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group; Zephyr Teachout, Fordham Law School professor and Congressional candidate; Jimmy Vielkind, Politico NY Albany bureau chief; and Thomas Bass, SUNY Albany professor, who will moderate.

Tuesday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At 8 a.m., Bill Mulrow, secretary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo will discuss the administration’s budget goals and legislative priorities, including a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, and infrastructure projects, at a Crain’s New York Business event. Moderating the conversation will be Crain’s New York editor Erik Engquist and Ken Lovett of the Daily News.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday on the Upper East Side, the launch of LinkNYC Kiosks with free Wi-Fi and more, featuring City Council Member Ben Kallos, Assistant Commissioner Telecommunications Planning at NYC Department of Information and Technology Stanley Shor and LinkNYC General Manager Jen Hensley (86th Street and 3rd Avenue, South East Corner).

At the City Council on Tuesday: at 10 a.m., the Committee on Immigration will address a resolution calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a decision in U.S. v. Texas, which overturns the Fifth Circuit’s ruling and upholds the implementation of President Obama’s expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) programs.

At 2 p.m., a town hall meeting to discuss the 2017 referendum to hold a New York constitutional convention will be held at the University at Buffalo. The event will feature a number of experts, such as Gerald Benjamin of SUNY New Paltz and Henrik Dullea, who served as director of state operations and policy management for Governor Mario Cuomo from 1983-91, who will discuss what a constitutional convention would look like and the issues at stake in constitutional reform.

At 6 p.m., The Coalition to End Broken Windows will launch a two-day conference, Breaking Broken Windows, at the CUNY Graduate Center. Participants will evaluate, debate, and debunk Broken Windows policing theory, which “contends that policing disorder leads to reductions in serious crime.” They will also analyze the era of mass criminalization and imprisonment while working towards alternative solutions for a better future for New York City. Speakers include a variety of academics, advocates, and journalists, including Noha Arafa, of New Yorkers Against Bratton, Janine Jackson of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, and Professor Alex Vitale of Brooklyn College.

Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in Queens, "City Council "Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer and Access Queens will host a Town Hall on the 7 train with New York City Transit President Veronique "Ronnie" Hakim. At this event, 7 train riders, angry and frustrated by seemingly endless delays, overcrowding, and weekend and evening closures, will have the opportunity to ask questions and share concerns directly with the president of New York City Transit."

Wednesday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Wednesday in Albany.

The Manhattan Institute and the Fordham Institute will host a conference beginning at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to address “The Future of Charter Schools—And School Choice—In NYC,” following a recent study ranking U.S. cities on various school-choice metrics (by the Fordham Institute) finding that local political support for charters in NYC has fallen from 8th to 26th place, and the city’s overall ranking from 3rd to 12th. Speakers include Priscilla Wohlstetter, professor at Teachers College, Columbia University; James Merriman, president of the New York City Charter School Center; Michael Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute; and Charles Sahm, Director of Education Policy at the Manhattan Institute.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Public Safety will meet to address several resolutions on Nicholas’ Law, the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act, Congressional funding for gun violence research, safeguards against wrongful convictions, and opposing the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act.
  • 11 a.m., the Committee on Economic Development will hear a bill requiring a survey and study of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity among the leadership of city contractors.
  • 11 a.m., the Committee on Land Use will meet to address several issues deferred from the meeting of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises and the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Governmental Operations will meet to evaluate the structure and content of the preliminary Mayor’s Management Report.

On Wednesday at 11 a.m. in Albany, "State Senator Liz Krueger will hold a forum on modernizing sales tax collection in New York State. New York State's current system of sales tax collection has not kept up with changes in retail payment methods and technological innovation. This forum will evaluate proposals for modernizing the collection of sales tax to improve its efficiency for retailers and to reduce the potential for fraud through sales tax suppression. One tax researcher has estimated that sales tax suppression costs New York State $1.7 billion in revenue annually. A number of other states and countries have adopted or are exploring the adoption of new technologies to address these issues."

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host a panel to discuss “Moving Beyond the Rhetoric: Creating a Diverse Workplace in the 21st Century.” Panelists include professionals leading Bloomberg LP’s Diversity and Inclusion group; Kristen Titus, Founding Director of NYC Tech Talent Pipeline; Anthony Crowell, President of New York Law School; Eulas Boyd, Dean of Admissions at Brooklyn Law School; and Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs” and will discuss their experiences in building and instituting workplace diversity policies.

Thursday
At 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Columbia’s schools of International and Public Affairs and Law will host a public policy forum about policing, criminal justice reform, and public integrity. Loretta Lynch, the 83rd Attorney General of the U.S., will deliver the keynote address. Former Mayor David Dinkins, who the event is named for and is a professor at Columbia, will deliver remarks. Professor Ester Fuchs will moderate a panel on on "Criminal Justice Reform and Public Integrity" featuring Mark Peters, Commissioner, NYC Department of Investigation; Daniel C. Richman, Paul J. Keller Professor of Law, Columbia Law School; Ken Thompson, Brooklyn District Attorney; Nicholas Turner, President and Director, Vera Institute of Justice. (This event is by invitation only.)

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Finance will meet to address a land use application and introduce a bill establishing a temporary program to resolve outstanding penalties imposed by the environmental control board.
  • 1:30 p.m., the City Council will hold a full-body stated meeting, which will be prefaced as usual by a pre-stated press conference hosted by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

State Legislature hearings Thursday:

  • 10 a.m. in Albany, the Assembly Standing Committee on Insurance and the Assembly Standing Committee on Health will be hosting a public hearing to evaluate the process of modifying or enhancing health insurance coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act.
  • Noon in Oakdale, the Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction will host a public meeting to examine the issues facing communities in the wake of increased heroin abuse.

At 5 p.m. Thursday, the MTA will hold a public hearing about a proposal to restore service to the N and Q lines in connection with the opening of Phase I of the Second Avenue Subway, expected to be completed late this year.

Friday and the weekend
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech at the New York Press Association Spring Convention, which will begin at 9 a.m. Friday.

At 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Staten Island Borough President James S. Oddo will join the ROLE Call in hosting the NYC Fatherhood and Family Enrichment Conference at Port Richmond High School. This event aims to enhance Fatherhood Engagement by offering seminars and workshops in family and fatherhood services.

***
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 Kelly Fan and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

]]>
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 4 Sun, 03 Apr 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Confusion, Concern Remain as Cuomo Promises Full CUNY Funding http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6243:confusion-concern-remain-as-cuomo-promises-full-cuny-funding http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6243:confusion-concern-remain-as-cuomo-promises-full-cuny-funding cuny protest

Shirley Jackson of the CUNY Student Senate at Thursday's protest (via @PSC_CUNY)


Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget proposal to have New York City take over $485 million in funding for CUNY still has a number of legislators and advocates on edge despite the administration's repeated attempts to quell concerns. Advocates and faculty held a "die in" at Cuomo's New York City office on Thursday afternoon and a number of legislators say they remain ready to delay the state budget and vote against it should CUNY face any cuts, or cost shifts.

"The governor has said the CUNY budget won't change and I am here today to hold him to his word," Barbara Bowen, president of PSC/CUNY, the system's main labor union, told Gotham Gazette before Thursday's protest. Bowen said the administration had reached out to her and was "insistent on their message."

More than 40 protesters were eventually arrested at the rally, which was over general cost shifts, a push for increased funding, and the expired faculty union contract.

Facing backlash for the cost-shifting proposal after he unveiled it in January, Cuomo said that the state budget wouldn't "cost CUNY a penny" and that his administration would team with City Hall to find "efficiencies." However, when the time for 30-day amendments to the governor's fiscal year 2017 budget proposal rolled around, the proposed cost shift remained. The de Blasio administration has indicated it has yet to have detailed discussions about savings with the Cuomo administration. CUNY is a joint city-state system.

"It is appalling that the faculty union and for-hire political advocacy groups are knowingly misleading their members and the public to score cheap political points." Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever told Gotham Gazette. "We have said repeatedly and unequivocally that CUNY will receive its full $1.6 billion in state aid this year. Further, the Governor has urged CUNY and its faculty union to resolve their current contract negotiations. The fact that these groups are ignoring reality is alarming, irresponsible, and a flagrant disregard for the students they claim to advocate for. Rather than using unfounded and untruthful scare tactics to lie to the public, they should support the Governor's fight to direct more funding to students instead of administrative costs."

Lever did not respond to questions about whether the de Blasio administration was involved in finding efficiencies at CUNY. De Blasio's team also failed to respond to a request for comment. When asked recently, de Blasio has only said in general terms that he and his aides continue to talk with the governor and his team.

As outcry mounted earlier this month, Cuomo and State Director of Operations Jim Malatras said they will hire a management expert to find cost savings in management at CUNY and SUNY. Cuomo stressed that the administration was looking to shave administrative costs at CUNY during a press conference in Manhattan on March 17.

"These are back office savings," Cuomo said. "They have nothing to do with students in classrooms. As a matter of fact, if you reduce the money you're spending in the back office, you can do better and do more with students."

Some legislators say they have approached the administration for clarity. They have asked questions about what Cuomo's intentions are, whether the management expert precludes negotiations with the city, whether the administration is still looking for the city to pay more of a share of CUNY costs, and whether a $240 million pot of cash Cuomo put aside in his budget to help cover retroactive pay raises for CUNY staff would remain if the operating cost transfer is restored. They say they were referred to previous statements and not given any particular clarity on the situation.

When asked about the $240 million for retroactive raises administration officials said that it was "out of our hands" because CUNY is in mediation with its union. They further indicated that all interested parties are involved in looking for efficiencies at CUNY, but that the current plan is for a management expert to look for efficiencies to be included in next year's budget (fiscal year 2018).

"This year's executive budget proposal ensures that CUNY will receive full funding," said Malatras in a statement sent out on March 16. "The $1.6 billion in aid it receives has not changed, and will not change under this budget. The funding stays constant. CUNY supports hundreds of thousands of students, many of whom are new to our state or our country, or are the first in their family to attend college. The Governor's commitment to supporting those students and the institution that serves them could not be stronger, and his budget proposal reflects that reality."

The question is not necessarily whether CUNY will be fully funded, but whether the state budget will indeed shift hundreds of millions of dollars in CUNY costs onto the city. The implications of that shift are not immediately clear - the de Blasio administration insists it would be devastating.

Some rank-and-file legislators who aren't privy to the backroom budget negotiations among Cuomo and majority leaders of the two houses harbor a deep mistrust of the administration's plans. They see the proposal as an attack on the city, motivated by the governor's feud with de Blasio, as well as a negotiating tactic that gives Cuomo more leverage over Assembly Democrats.

"Actions speak louder than words. We have a document that we have to deal with that tells us CUNY is going to be cut by nearly half-a-billion dollars," Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, said of the governor's budget proposal. "It may be off the table but we don't know. They didn't take it out of the budget with 30-day amendments, so as far as we're concerned it's in play."

The Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, did not include the cost shifts in its one-house budget. The Republican-controlled Senate's budget supports Cuomo's cost shift. De Blasio opted not to include the shifts in his preliminary city budget proposal, saying that he was taking the governor at his word that the "efficiencies" wouldn't cost the city any money. The state budget is due by April 1, the city budget by July.

Malatras told The New York Times in a recent interview that the governor's proposal was a negotiating tactic to get City Hall and CUNY to take reforms seriously. "The only way you compel change sometimes is where you put financial skin in the game," Malatras said.

"You don't start a conversation by punching someone in the face." Sen. Rivera countered. "We are talking about a cut to an essential service that provides people with a future. CUNY serves 70 percent students of color and 40 percent immigrants. I'm not sure why anyone would put it in the budget. You don't start a conversation by saying 'Here you have to come up with $485 million to fund an essential service.'"

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, also a Bronx Democrat, has been adamant that the governor's proposal will not remain.

"It looks like the Cuomo administration was wishing, hoping, praying that City Hall was going to pick up the tab," said Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who has been outspoken against the cost shift. Krueger said she now believes the proposal is off the table but said, "I think people should be concerned."

Advocates and legislators say that Cuomo's proposal has created outrage and debate about education funding that they doubt the governor anticipated. "This has sparked a public conversation about CUNY," said Bowen. "But that conversation won't be adequate if all it decides is whether it will be cut and funding is restored to where it was. Because the state funding level is not adequate."

Bowen said that state funding for CUNY remains at "recession levels." She and her allies are now pushing for several budget demands. They say per-student state funding has fallen by three percent under Cuomo.

"I hope to see a final enacted budget with no cost shift," Bowen said, "that also includes at least $240 million for retroactive raises, that freezes tuition, and has provision that will have state funding increase every year to be constant with inflation."

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Confusion, Concern Remain as Cuomo Promises Full CUNY Funding Thu, 24 Mar 2016 23:30:22 +0000
AARP Emerges as Key De Blasio Ally http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6233:aarp-emerges-as-key-de-blasio-ally http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6233:aarp-emerges-as-key-de-blasio-ally aarp ny

AARP members pack City Council chambers (photo via @aarpny)


There are about 800,000 AARP members in New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio has been arm-in-arm with them of late. The organization has come out in strong support of key pieces of de Blasio's affordable housing agenda and his plan to create a city-run retirement savings program for private sector workers.

De Blasio has sought and embraced the support, frequently engaging with AARP members and regularly citing AARP's endorsement as validation for his housing plan, specifically controversial changes to the city's zoning rules that he is negotiating through the City Council. On Tuesday, the Council will pass changes to the zoning code that AARP supports as essential to creating more affordable housing for seniors.

Not only is AARP helpful in the near-term as de Blasio builds support for his policies, but older voters are also an important bloc as de Blasio heads toward a 2017 re-election bid. There are more than 2 million registered voters in New York City over the age of 50, which is the threshold for AARP membership, and 72 percent, or 1.5 million, are Democrats, according to Steve Romalewski, Director of CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research/The Graduate Center.

Older people are known to vote in higher percentages than other age groups, and that is the case in New York City. According to Romalewski, in the 2013 mayoral election, which saw very low overall turnout as de Blasio cruised to a landslide, about 38% of the one million-plus registered voters 65 and older voted, compared to 12% of the one million-plus registered voters 35 or younger.

While AARP has become a key ally for the mayor, the group does not officially endorse candidates. Still, de Blasio's attention to issues of concern for older people and their regular exposure to him as a champion of their causes certainly appear to have created a mutually beneficial dynamic. AARP support for de Blasio's zoning changes became loud during a tough time for the mayor as community boards and others around the city criticized the plan.

On Monday evening, de Blasio held his fourth tele-town hall with AARP-NY in the last nine months, during which he has discussed affordable housing and other issues with thousands of older constituents. According to AARP, 12,800 people participated over the course of an hour-long tele-town hall in February.

During Monday's call, de Blasio struck a celebratory tone on the eve of the City Council voting through the zoning changes. Saying that Tuesday is "going to be a great day for New York City," de Blasio thanked AARP members for "the decisive support you have provided for our affordable housing plan." The "historic" day, de Blasio said, will usher in new policies "to open up a lot of different places where we can create the affordable housing seniors need." De Blasio told call participants that there will be a celebratory rally in Foley Square at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

Over the past two months, AARP also figured significantly in two de Blasio-led rallies at City Hall - one on his housing policies, one on his new retirement savings plan - and helped coordinate an in-person town hall meeting de Blasio held on senior housing in Manhattan.

"AARP is an extraordinary force for good," de Blasio said during one of the tele-town halls, "looking out for the needs of our seniors, making sure their rights are respected, and building a more fair society."

In response to de Blasio's affordable housing plans outlined in his 2015 State of the City speech, AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel said in a statement, "Mayor de Blasio outlined a bold initiative to help make New York City more affordable...AARP looks forward to working with Mayor de Blasio and the City Council to address a primary concern of so many New Yorkers - the cost of living here - and continuing to make New York a great place to live, work and play for all age groups."

AARP has followed up on that pledge, especially as the debate over de Blasio's key senior housing-related proposal, known as Zoning for Quality and Affordability, recently came toward a vote in the City Council. AARP has encouraged its members to call their City Council representatives and conducted a targeted social media campaign to lobby Council members. It also purchased radio ads in support of the mayor's plan and sent mailings. (Another advocacy group for older New Yorkers, LiveOn NY, has also been a vocal supporter of ZQA.)

In a Friday interview with WNYC, de Blasio said that as he and his administration engaged more people on his zoning proposals and larger housing plan, more came to support it. "[A]s this legislation moved forward," de Blasio told WNYC's Brigid Bergin, "crucial organizations like AARP got involved and they spoke powerfully to seniors about why this would help create more senior housing. And that brought in a lot of support." He also referenced the support of a variety of labor unions.

A nonpartisan advocacy group, AARP does not endorse candidates or make campaign contributions. It does, however, support policies, and it has put significant resources behind de Blasio's zoning changes. AARP has also committed to full-throated support for the retirement savings program, which the group's representatives say is a major national priority.

Still, AARP representatives are firm that the organization does not endorse, donate to campaigns, or promote candidates through independent expenditures. In response to a tweet from Gotham Gazette in which this reporter speculated that AARP could be a formidable source of election support for de Blasio, AARP Associate State Director for New York City Chris Widelo tweeted back, "we are strictly non-partisan and do not endorse...but our members do vote!"

During a phone interview Monday afternoon, Widelo explained more about AARP's approach to issue advocacy versus candidate campaigns. "If it were an election, I think our tone would be different," Widelo said. He added that AARP has been behind the mayor's housing plan with such energy because it is a key priority, but he stressed that the organization will not be supporting de Blasio's reelection campaign. "Next year, you'll probably notice AARP, we have a hard deadline when candidates file paperwork and become a candidate in our eyes, even if they are a sitting elected official, and we adjust how we may coordinate." Widelo said that the deadline is in the summer, but that AARP will judge the political landscape.

AARP has also done tele-town halls with Governor Andrew Cuomo and Public Advocate Letitia James, Widelo noted. "It just so happens that our priorities have lined up with the mayor's and others here in the city," Widelo said. "We're happy to have the mayor of the largest city in the country on our tele-town hall, for sure," he added, "but for us, it's more important to tell [members] the story about what this policy is...it's educational."

While AARP is appreciative of the mayor's attention to issues older New Yorkers care about, de Blasio is certainly happy to have the group's support.

At a March 9 rally outside City Hall to support his housing agenda, de Blasio was surrounded by representatives from AARP and several labor unions, each of which he thanked. "I have to say, there are so many great organizations," de Blasio yelled through a megaphone, "but one that has done absolutely awesome work has been AARP."

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
AARP Emerges as Key De Blasio Ally Tue, 22 Mar 2016 01:13:02 +0000
No Surprise Uber Drivers Are Protesting http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6188:no-surprise-uber-drivers-are-protesting http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6188:no-surprise-uber-drivers-are-protesting taxi TLC

photo via the NYC TLC


Uber’s New York City drivers continued to rally against the company last week at City Hall — and it was no coincidence that recent reports show most Uber drivers don’t like their jobs.

In a new survey of Uber drivers published this month, less than half said they enjoy driving for Uber. Almost 40 percent of the drivers said they “strongly disagreed” or “disagreed” with the survey’s question about whether they were satisfied with Uber.

That survey included drivers from big cities across the country, but we know the major reason why New York Uber drivers are angry — 15 percent fare cuts that have made it impossible for them to make ends meet. Angry drivers here in the city have also called on Uber to stop taking a huge 20 to 25 percent cut of all their fares and add a tipping option to the app.

One might assume that a company that cares about its working-class drivers would take all these concerns seriously and address them immediately.

But Uber has shown its true colors by responding with a PR campaign aimed at convincing drivers that fare cuts are great and they should be happy with what they get.

That kind of callousness should offend all New Yorkers. We have all seen what it’s like to work for a rich company that cares more about the bottom line than the welfare of its workers. Uber’s disregard for its workers should also serve as an important reminder of why numerous driver protections — including strong wage protections — already exist in New York City’s taxi industry.

The fact is that industry regulations — developed over many years by government officials and medallion owners — ensure that taxi drivers never have to face the problems that are forcing Uber’s New York City drivers to protest and even go on strike.

No one can reduce a taxi driver’s fare because that is illegal. The government cannot take up to 25 percent of a taxi driver’s fares because that is illegal.

Additionally, the taxi industry encourages riders to tip generously by offering suggested tip amounts through the payment system mandated within each cab.

Taxi regulations are simple and straightforward. No one can blame Uber drivers for wanting the same protections in the workplace. But who should be blamed for the fact that those protections don’t exist?

The blame should really be shared between Uber and the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission - the latter has failed to address this and many other double standards that exist between Uber and the taxi industry.

Since Uber has shown it is unwilling to respect its working-class drivers, even as they continue to protest, the TLC has a moral and legislative duty to act by imposing real regulations that create parity between Uber and the taxi industry.

The TLC was created not only to protect the general public but all of its stakeholders, and over the past several years the TLC has vastly increased driver protections throughout the industry — except when Uber is involved. Uber continues to receive a pass from the TLC in avoiding all of its regulations, including fares, accessibility, driver protections, vehicle choice, branding of cars for public protection, paying a state tax to support the MTA, surge pricing, and more.

Until the TLC creates an even playing field for drivers, the public, and the rest of the for-hire industry, Uber drivers will continue to be dissatisfied and struggle to earn the money they need to support themselves. That’s no longer a claim — it’s a fact.

And as long as Uber ignores drivers and the TLC fails to solve the problem, there is always another option for angry Uber drivers. We would be happy to have them join the taxi industry and gain the same wage protections that yellow cab drivers have enjoyed for so many years.

It looks like the door to Uber’s front office is closed to workers. Ours is open.

***
David Beier is the President of the Committee for Taxi Safety. On Twitter @CommTaxiSafety.

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

]]>
No Surprise Uber Drivers Are Protesting Tue, 23 Feb 2016 05:00:00 +0000
To Meet Staten Island Needs, Borough President Focuses on Beating Bureaucracy http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6078:to-meet-staten-island-needs-borough-president-focuses-on-beating-bureaucracy http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6078:to-meet-staten-island-needs-borough-president-focuses-on-beating-bureaucracy oddo torres springer meeting

SIBP Oddo, right, & Maria Torres-Springer of the de Blasio admin (photo from Oddo's Twitter) 


Staten Island has the highest rate of homeownership of any city borough, residents largely use cars to get around, since mass transit options are severely lacking, and despite being the city’s third largest borough in terms of square miles, Staten Island is home to just under 500,000 out of more than 8 million New Yorkers. There are a unique set of concerns on Staten Island, to say the least of the often strained relationship between the borough and City Hall.

Staten Island Borough President James Oddo and the borough’s other elected representatives often feel as though they have to scratch and claw to get their constituents due attention and resources. While Mayor Bill de Blasio has been paying more attention to Staten Island than some may have expected considering it was the only borough he lost in his 2013 election, there is still a sense among many Islanders that the administration does not pay enough mind to their concerns.

In sending out an end-of-year message and in a subsequent interview, Oddo indicated the special circumstances of his borough, described an ongoing battle with “the bureaucracy,” and outlined the needs of Staten Islanders, progress made in 2015, and what to expect in 2016.

“For far too much of the last two years my staff and I have engaged in a full-fledged steel cage match with the bureaucracy, attempting to get City government to bring long planned projects to fruition,” Oddo said in an end-of-year message. “We have fought so that Borough Hall’s new visions and initiatives might take root, and wrestled with city agencies to work in conjunction with us to efficiently and effectively resolve the daily quality of life issues facing Staten Islanders.”

That “steel cage match” does not involve the mayor, Oddo explained in an interview with Gotham Gazette, but rather “middle managers or bureaucrats - folks that hold onto the status quo like grim death…deputy commissioner-level folks who have been in those city agencies” long before Mayor de Blasio or Oddo were elected to their current positions (the two were City Council colleagues at one point).

“I’m very pleased with the level of communication I have with the mayor himself, and with the deputy mayors. I think the frustration I’ve felt in the last two years is referring to individual agencies,” Oddo clarified, adding that he finds it “curious that there have been many instances over the last two years where it's been borough hall and the mayor's office versus their own agencies.”

Oddo has been particularly consumed with Sandy recovery, health and wellness, transit options, and road repaving.

To the borough president and his constituents, Staten Island’s lack of mass transit options and related severe traffic congestion are pressing issues that have a big impact on residents’ day-to-day lives, adding hours to their daily commutes. Yet that sense of urgency is not shared by some officials within city agencies, Oddo says, and as a result, issues go unresolved for long periods of time.

“I get the sense that for some long-standing agency officials, whether the project is completed in fiscal year ’19 or fiscal year ’29, it really doesn’t matter to them,” Oddo said.

The biggest issue to tackle in 2016, Oddo explained, is getting the city to help figure out a way to improve the commute on Staten Island. Staten Islanders spend more time and money on their commutes than the average New Yorker: Staten Island to Manhattan via express bus costs commuters about $57 each week, and while ferry service (the only other mass transit option that connects Staten Island to Manhattan) is free, the boat ride takes almost half an hour, and getting to the ferry can take between ten minutes and an hour-and-a-half for those relying on mass transit.

There is only one train on Staten Island, and that train runs exclusively along the east side of the borough, leaving a majority of those who need to use mass transit to get around Staten Island stuck waiting for the notoriously unreliable buses.

The initial draft report of the MTA’s comprehensive study of all existing bus routes on Staten Island (some of which were designed 40 or 50 years ago) should be received in 2016, Oddo said, and while “no one has any delusions that the MTA is going to come in with this unending source of capital money, we believe we can restructure these routes and find a great deal of efficiency. I really expect some improvements. That’ll be big in 2016.”

Oddo said that he hopes to “improve to some degree the commutes that are worsening by the day. It’s literally robbing hours of your life - it’s two to four hours on top of your workday.”

Though 2015 has seen progress toward improving Staten Island’s current mass transit options, with movement on the MTA study and Mayor de Blasio investing nearly $5 million a year to ensure the ferry runs every half-hour 24-hours a day, progress toward providing Staten Islanders with more transit options has been less than ideal.

“I’m not so happy with the progress that has not been made with the fast ferry,” Oddo said, referring to a new ferry program he’s advocated for. “We still have lots of work to do to make it a reality.”

Ideally, a fast ferry service would run from transit-starved areas of the borough which are far from the island’s existing north shore ferry location to areas with docks for ferries in Manhattan or Brooklyn.

Mayor de Blasio did put forward a fast ferry plan last year, and funding from the city has been set, but the plan adds just one fast ferry location to the island, in Stapleton - a mere six minute drive away from the existing ferry terminal in Saint George.

In 2015, Oddo got a fast ferry service to conduct test runs from more remote locations on Staten Island, like Prince’s Bay, to lower Manhattan and midtown in an effort to prove the service would be a viable option for such locations.

The ferry from Prince’s Bay (which is at least a 45-minute bus/train ride away from the Staten Island ferry terminal) to lower Manhattan took 47 minutes during Oddo’s test runs.

Though the Stapleton fast ferry is arguably not what Staten Islanders looking to save time on their commutes need, given the city’s plans for economic development in the Bay Street Corridor/Stapleton area, the fast ferry could be helpful in the future, Oddo told the Staten Island Advance last year.

“There’s more to be done, and we’re going to keep working on expanding options,” Mayor de Blasio said when asked about the lack of mass transit options on Staten Island during a Jan. 4 press conference to promote the city’s new commuter benefits law.

While improving the commute for Staten Island residents is something Oddo says still “needs the city’s help in advancing,” the borough president says he is “happy with some of the progress that we’ve made with our health and wellness program, the tech hub [that will be created on Staten Island’s North Shore], and the “Too Good for Drugs” program that the mayor came out to announce.”

Oddo said out of all the initiatives that progressed in 2015, he is most proud of “Too Good for Drugs,” as Staten Island’s “epidemic in terms of opioid abuse” is a matter of “life and death.”

The educational anti-drug program for students, which started last year in fifth-grade classrooms in five Staten Island schools, “came out of Borough Hall, we’re very proud of it, and the feedback has been fantastic,” Oddo said.

“The folks at City Hall believe in it and it's one of several fronts that we need” to reduce substance abuse and drug overdose deaths, he added. Oddo said treatment programs are also needed, but preventing substance abuse by teaching “the notion of making smart decisions at as early as an age as possible” is seen as an important first step by Oddo.

Expanding “Too Good for Drugs” is one of the items on Oddo’s agenda for 2016, with the program set to expand to 47 schools after receiving $70,000 in the city budget.

Mayor de Blasio and his administration have made an effort to show City Hall remembers the “forgotten borough.” The mayor made several trips to Staten Island in 2015: he vowed to complete all repairs and construction still needed for Staten Island residents whose homes were ruined by Hurricane Sandy by 2016; he broke ground on Staten Island’s first Family Justice Center for domestic violence prevention and response; and announced his administration’s comprehensive effort to reduce opioid misuse and overdose deaths, among others.

“There will be a lot of town halls in 2016, including Staten Island,” de Blasio said during the Jan. 4 press conference when asked about doing a Q&A session on the island.

Besides continuing to fight that “steel cage match with the bureaucracy” to make the commute better for Staten Islanders and repaving the borough’s roads, 2016 will also “bring a new economic development campaign to entice businesses who are being priced out of other boroughs to think of Staten Island instead of New Jersey,” according to Oddo’s year-end message.

Oddo did not get into specifics in terms of his thinking about the ongoing development of the New York Wheel or the accompanying Empire Outlets expected to be constructed near the ferry terminal within the next few years as he spoke about different aspects of economic development, and had a clear focus on quality of life issues.

Other initiatives, he said, include “a new program to match Staten Island high school students with mentors in their areas of interest, and out-of-the-box ideas to help tackle North Shore traffic issues.”

***
by Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette, @MegOConnor13

]]>
To Meet Staten Island Needs, Borough President Focuses on Beating Bureaucracy Sun, 10 Jan 2016 20:45:56 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 30 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6013:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-november-30 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6013:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-november-30 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

After a quiet Thanksgiving weekend, New York politics springs back into action Monday. As the week gets going we're watching as discussions continue around the mayor's rezoning policies, which have been seeing some significant pushback from community and borough boards. The mayor has acknowledged that pushback, saying it has not been unexpected and that tweaks will be made to the plans before they head to the City Council early in 2016. The Manhattan Borough Board votes Monday, the Brooklyn Borough Board, Tuesday (Queens and the Bronx have both voted against the plans, Staten Island has not scheduled a vote yet). Community and borough board votes are advisory.

We're also watching for the latest fallout in the de Blasio-Cuomo feud, which has continued to escalate recently. It's just over a month until Governor Cuomo delivers his January 6 State of the State speech, which will outline his priorities and policy plans for 2016. After de Blasio said he couldn't wait for the state any longer and announced his own supportive housing plan, Cuomo and his team have criticized the mayor's management of the city's homelessness crisis and indicated Cuomo will include related plans in his State of the State. For his part, de Blasio has pointed to the state and the city, then under Mayor Mike Bloomberg, cutting rental subsidy programs in 2011 as integral to the increase in homelessness seen since.

We're awaiting word from the trial of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, which is in jury deliberations, and the trial of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, which continues to see the prosecution present its case against Skelos and his son, Adam. [Read our new look at the top moments from the two trials thus far]

At 11 a.m. Monday, Mayor de Blasio will host a bill-signing ceremony at City Hall (details below). At 12:30 p.m., "the Mayor will deliver remarks at the Department of Transportation Recognition Ceremony for FDR re-paving crews, who are completing the first full resurfacing of the FDR since it was first built." On Tuesday, de Blasio will participate in a tele-town hall around climate change, which coincides with the Paris climate conference, at which de Blasio's recovery and resiliency director, Daniel Zarrilli, is participating.

Also, Thursday is the one-year anniversary of the grand jury decision not to indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner. Black Lives Matter activists plan a series of events, "Actions will take place in Manhattan & Staten Island," according to a Facebook event page.

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

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

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
On Monday at 9 a.m., Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will host a Manhattan Borough Board vote on the de Blasio administration's proposed zoning changes: Zoning for Quality & Affordability and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.

Read about those zoning changes and the controversy around them through our coverage:
Mayor & Speaker: Rezoning Plans Will Change Before Council Vote
East Harlem Tenants Group Rejects De Blasio Housing Plan, Offers Its Own
De Blasio Housing Chief Looks to Allay Fears, Build Support for Rezonings
Rezoning Discussion Shifts to Food Access

At 11 a.m. at City Hall, "Mayor de Blasio will hold public hearings for and sign Intros 898-A, 890-A, 900-A, 914-A, and 915-A, which strengthen and modify existing requirements related to open government data; Intro. 743-A, creating an Office of Labor Standards; Intro. 783-A, related to interest rates on emergency repair bills for residential buildings; Intro. 956-A, extending the Biotechnology Tax Credit; and Intro. 982-A, extending the current rate of hotel room taxes. The Mayor will also hold a public hearing for Intro. 314-A, related to establishing the Department of Veterans Services." Then, at 12:30 p.m., the Mayor will speak at the aforementioned FDR repaving ceremony.

At 10 a.m. Monday, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, the Reverend Al Sharpton, Congressional Reps. Jeffries and Rangel, and Assembly Member Wright will hold a press conference announcing anti-gun violence initiatives.

Monday at 10:30 a.m. at Applebee's in Times Square, city Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett will make a "sodium warning label announcement."

On Monday at the City Council:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Youth Services will hold a hearing on Introduction 554-2014, in relation to training for certain employees of the city of New York on runaway and homeless youth and sexually exploited children, and Introduction 993-2015, in relation to changing the date of an annual report related to sexually exploited children.
  • At 10 a.m. at Johnson Community Center in Manhattan, "The Committee on Public Housing will hold an oversight hearing examining the Mayor's plan to address violent crime in public housing." City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito is set to participate.
  • At 10 a.m., "The Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations and the Subcommittee on Libraries will hold a joint oversight hearing on six day service at public libraries." [Read our preview of the hearing with a lot of key info: Assessing City Library Expansion After Budget Boost]
  • At 1 p.m., "The Committee on Recovery and Resiliency will hold an oversight hearing on the resiliency of New York City's electricity transmission and distribution systems."

At 12:45 p.m. Monday, Whoopi Goldberg, George Takei, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Corey Johnson, and the Council's LGBT Caucus will acknowledge this year's World AIDS Day by "flipping the switch" to light the Empire State Building in red in honor of World AIDS Day.

At 6 p.m. Monday Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will host a workshop at the Queens Borough Parents Advisory Meeting about how to be more supportive of schools.

Tuesday
On Tuesday the Brooklyn Borough Board, led by Borough President Eric Adams, will vote on the de Blasio administration's two rezoning proposals.

On Tuesday at noon, Joe Domanick of John Jay College will speak about his new book Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing, which details NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton's work transforming "the police department of America's second largest city—a period which saw Los Angeles's violent crime rate, including homicides, drop by double-digits" 2002-2009. The event is hosted by the Manhattan Institute.

At the City Council on Tuesday: at 1 p.m. the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the City Council will host a Diwali celebration - Diwali is the Indian festival of light.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio, City Hall representatives, and activists on climate change will take part in a tele-town hall on sustainability. Participants will include Nilda Mesa, Director, Mayor's Office of Sustainability; Bill Lipton, State Director, New York Working Families Party; and Eddie Bautista, Executive Director, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday: "Bail Reform - Federal and State Courts Wrestle with Options for Change" will be hosted by the New York City Bar's Criminal Advocacy Committee. Panelists include: Karen Friedman Agnifilo, Chief Assistant District Attorney, New York County District Attorney's Office; Elizabeth Glazer, Director, Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice; Scott Hechinger, Staff Attorney, Brooklyn Defender Services; Joan Loughnane, Chief Counsel to the United States Attorney, Southern District of New York; Jerold McElroy, Executive Director, New York City Criminal Justice Agency, Inc.; Marika Meis, Legal Director, Criminal Defense Practice, The Bronx Defenders.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Riders Alliance will host "Discount Fares for Low-Income NYers: A Conversation."

Wednesday
At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Economic Development will meet on "Community planning boards receive an annual report submitted to the mayor with regard to projected and actual jobs created and retained in connection with projects undertaken by a certain contracted entity."
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Transportation will meet to discuss a number of bills regarding bicycle safety in the city, including founding a bicycle safety task force, seizure of abandoned vehicles, and a number of bills on walking away from and not reporting incidents and accidents.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will meet to discuss a bill that would exempt licensed plumbers from registering with the business integrity commission.

At the State Legislature on Wednesday: an 11 a.m. meeting of the Assembly Standing Committee on Correction for "Oversight and Investigations of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision."

On Wednesday at 8 a.m., City & State NY will host an event on the impact of raising the minimum wage. Speakers will include state Senator Jack M. Martins, Chair of the Labor Committee; E.J. McMahon, President at the Empire Center for Public Policy; and Hector Figueroa, President of 32BJ.

On Wednesday at 6 p.m., Open Society Foundations and Vera Institute of Justice will hold "Policing and Public Health: Advancing Harm Reduction Strategies in Law Enforcement Practices," bringing together health specialists and law enforcement representatives for a discussion on how to "protect the rights and foster the health of the most vulnerable members of society."

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, the Cannabis and Hemp Association will host "Open for Business," a panel discussion on the subject of medical marijuana in New York City. State Senator Diane Savino and Dr. Julie Netherland, Deputy State Director for Drug Policy, are among those who will speak.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet.
  • At 11 a.m. the Committee on Land Use will meet.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services will meet for an oversight hearing on alcohol abuse in New York City.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Community Development will meet to discuss establishing an urban agriculture advisory board.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet: "Oversight - An Examination of the City's Parks Without Borders Initiative."

At the State Legislature on Thursday: a 10 a.m. meeting of the Assembly Standing Committee on Transportation to discuss the Department of Transportation two year capital program.

On Thursday the New York Justice League and Black Lives Matter will hold "#ChokeHoldOnTheCity," remembering the one-year anniversary of the decision by a Staten Island grand jury not to indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner and continuing the push for policing reform and accountability. "Actions will take place in Manhattan & Staten Island."

At 4 p.m. Thursday the Center for Bronx Non-Profits and South Bronx Rising Together will host "Voter Engagement in the South Bronx," a panel discussion on non-partisan attempts to increase civic participation, a discussion of tools and ways to involve the populace in shaping policies that they feel are important.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer will host a town hall event for New Yorkers to discuss concerns and learn about what the Comptroller's Office can do to help.

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday: the Committee on Courts and Legal Services will meet at 1 p.m. on "Client satisfaction surveys for city-funded indigent legal services."

At the State Legislature on Friday: a 10:30 a.m. hearing of the Assembly Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions jointly with the Assembly Standing Committee on Energy and the Assembly Subcommittee on Infrastructure to evaluate natural gas safety efforts by utilities.

At noon Friday, Crain's New York Business will hold its annual "Best Places to Work in New York City Awards" luncheon.

At 9 a.m. Saturday, BetaNYC will hold "Hack for Heat" in response to the fact that 230,000 heating complaints were filed by New Yorkers because their landlords would not turn on the heat.

At 9 a.m. Saturday, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson is hosting another "Begin Again" event, allowing New Yorkers with outstanding summons warrants to resolve them without being arrested. [Read our look at the efforts by DAs, led by Thompson, to hold such events, including pledges from two incoming DAs, elected in early November, to hold them and the declaration by Queens DA Richard Brown's office that he does not intend to join the movement]

***
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 Konstantine Beridze and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

]]>
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 30 Sun, 29 Nov 2015 23:11:53 +0000
Two New Reps Join the City Council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5999:two-new-reps-set-to-join-the-city-council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5999:two-new-reps-set-to-join-the-city-council borelli grodenchik council

CMs Borelli, right, & Grodenchik are sworn in next to the Speaker (photo by William Alatriste) 


The New York City Council has two new members, each with prior experience in elected office and bringing to the 51-member body the perspective of New Yorkers living in the city's outer-reaches. Both districts being represented by new members are populated by many car- and single-family-home-owners.

One new representative - Barry Grodenchik of Queens - brings a fairly moderate Democratic viewpoint to the Council's majority, while the other new Council member - Joseph Borelli of Staten Island - brings an outspoken style to the Republican minority. Both Grodenchik and Borelli were sworn in on Tuesday, November 24, and participated in their first official Council business at that afternoon's "Stated Meeting."

Earlier this month, the two former Assembly members were chosen through special elections to fill Council vacancies created by members who resigned to take other jobs: Mark Weprin left to work for Governor Andrew Cuomo and Vincent Ignizio to lead Staten Island Catholic Charities.

The New York City Board of Elections counted all absentee and military ballots and officially certified the elections, and the two members took office. They were given a standing round of applause by their colleagues when they were announced into Council Chambers at City Hall.

Grodenchik, most recently a deputy Queens borough president after his time in the Assembly, prevailed in a crowded Democratic primary and went on to defeat his Republican opponent, retired police captain Joseph Concannon. Grodenchik will now serve the remainder of Weprin's term through 2017.

No stranger to elected office and political work, Grodenchik says he's ready to hit the ground running: "My learning curve is much shorter than a new Council member's would usually be," he said. "I bring experience in government. This is what we campaigned on and obviously people responded to that."

While Grodenchik says he's excited to work with his new colleagues, many of whom he knows well, and about the progressive direction of the Council, he also represents a district that largely differs on some of the policies of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, many Council members, and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Borelli, meanwhile, represents a district whose residents have even less affinity for the progressive direction the city is heading and the people leading that charge, starting with the mayor. Borelli is expected to bring a strong dissenting voice to the Council as he joins what will be a three-member Republican minority led by his Staten Island neighbor Steven Matteo and also includes Queens Council Member Eric Ulrich.

Coming from the Assembly minority, though, Borelli may actually have more opportunity to influence the policy discussions in the Council.

"I think it's a great time to be a member of the City Council because the spectrum of opinion is so wide," Borelli told Gotham Gazette. "I'm excited from a policy advocacy standpoint just to be able to present my opinion."

Besides their obvious disadvantage, he said the Republican minority is "a small but stalwart band."

Both Borelli and Grodenchik plan to make an impact over the next two years, as they described to Gotham Gazette in recent interviews, and will then be up for reelection in 2017, when the entire Council is on the ballot, including 11 seats where the current members are term-limited - chief among those being the speaker.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Mark-Viverito said, "Council Members-elect Barry Grodenchik and Joseph Borelli staunchly represented Queens and Staten Island in the New York State Assembly and now bring their strong records of public service to the City Council. I look forward to working with our incoming members to deliver results for New Yorkers across the five boroughs."

Gotham Gazette spoke at some length with both incoming Council members, Grodenchik and Borelli, about their experience and their priorities:

Barry Grodenchik, Queens Democrat, District 23
"I knocked on close to 5,000 doors in the course of the campaign. The two complaints that I heard over and over was water and sewer rates and property taxes going up each year," Grodenchik told Gotham Gazette. "Taxes on condos and co-ops are unfair. There's no question about it. That's something I'm going to gauge my colleagues on," he added.

Along with these issues of home ownership and affordability, Grodenchik cited transportation as a key concern. Situated on the edge of Queens, District 23 lacks much of the mass transit infrastructure in other parts of the city. There are no subway or Long Island Rail Road stops. "We live in what has been rightly called a mass transit desert," he said. "It can take an awfully long time to get from my district to the downtown business district," he said.

While he did not say he has any specific legislation in mind, Grodenchik is gathering a policy agenda and continuing to talk with constituents. He's been attending community and private meetings across the district, which covers Queens Village, Bayside, Douglaston, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, New Hyde Park and Little Neck. One week this month he had more than a dozen meetings with representatives from community boards, civic, and cultural organizations, he said.

Grodenchik also has plans to visit every public school in his district over the next few months to familiarize himself with school officials and parent-teacher associations to "make sure they're getting what they need to be the best schools in the city," he said.

As a "good Democrat," Grodenchik has a strong contingent of progressive colleagues, some of whom he has known for years. He admires the progressive direction that the Council has taken in the last two years and says he will likely see eye-to-eye with them on most issues, but not all. "I think people can disagree without being disagreeable," he said, stating his ardent opposition to congestion pricing proposals as an example. "I see it as a tax, particularly for people in Queens. It's a non-starter as far as I'm concerned," he said.

But he looks forward to being a part of a Council that has become more equitable, he said, under current Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, with resources allotted to members and districts in a clear, fair fashion.

Grodenchik has a long history of serving Queens. He worked under Queens Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn; he was Chief Administrative Officer for Borough President Claire Shulman for more than ten years. He was also a deputy borough president under Helen Marshall. In 2002, he was elected to the New York State Assembly where he served till 2014 (Grodenchik ran an abbreviated campaign for Queens BP in 2013 before dropping out of the race during the primary - he went on to become eventual winner Melinda Katz's director of community boards.)

Government, at any level, is complicated, Grodenchik says, but "You have to be able to come to the table with people you like and people you don't like to craft a solution that works for both community and the city...to move the city forward in the best possible way."

Joseph Borelli, Staten Island Republican, District 51
Borelli, a state Assembly member, ran unopposed for District 51 on Staten Island, winning the seat formerly held by Vincent Ignizio. The district covers the southern end of the borough including neighborhoods such as Arden Heights, Bay Terrace, Oakwood, Great Kills, Richmond Valley, Huguenot and Princes Bay. Like Grodenchik's, it is also seen as a transportation desert.

For Borelli, the transition to the City Council is relatively easy. "The district is pretty much the same so I'm just sort of moving my bullseye over a bit," he said. With a strong idea of the work ahead, Borelli is making the rounds of the district. He has spent time during the last two weeks in meetings with his predecessor about issues to pursue and with city agencies to discuss capital projects in the district.

In setting his agenda, Borelli already has a few concrete priorities. "There are some major land use issues here that are especially important to us," he said of the construction of an outlet mall in Rossville at a massive liquefied natural gas storage site.

"These are big projects in this, some would say, backwater of New York City that require the same attention from the city planning and building department as some of the higher-profile projects in Brooklyn or Manhattan," he said.

He also hopes to improve the city's solid waste plan for e-waste which, he said, seems to work better in areas with high-rise buildings than it does in his community. "Why should it be more difficult for my community to get rid of a TV?"

A Republican, Borelli is not particularly on board with the Council's liberal bent, expressing his concern for many of the proposals recently put forward such as those to reform the NYPD and Riker's Island, and the decriminalization of minor offenses like public urination and open container violations.

"Some of the new proposals don't jive well with a bedroom community like Staten Island," he said, citing a bill recently introduced by Council Member Mark Levine which would prohibit credit checks for renters.

Borelli believes that "progressivism" doesn't speak to many people who live in the outer boroughs, who aren't represented by "these squeaky-wheel groups" who lobby the Council on issues and who feel the movement has lost touch with middle class New Yorkers.

"What group out there hopes for more public urination?" he asked rhetorically. "I'm against progressivism and in favor of restoring some rational thought to policies like that."

In doing so, he firmly believes he has his community's support. "My constituents really have my back," he said, "and it's very empowering when you feel like that."

***
by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

This article has been updated to reflect the two new members officially taking office - it had originally been published in the lead up to their formally joining the Council.

]]>
Two New Reps Join the City Council Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:51:10 +0000
Labor Leaders Declare State of Unions Strong, At Least in New York http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5981:labor-leaders-declare-state-of-unions-strong-at-least-in-new-york http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5981:labor-leaders-declare-state-of-unions-strong-at-least-in-new-york de blasio uft

Mayor de Blasio at a UFT conference (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


Four of New York's top labor leaders assembled recently to give a state of their unions, and to assess the broader union climate in New York and elsewhere.

Each sounding like a determined boxer in the middle rounds of a grueling fight, they decried attacks on unions across the country, but indicated that they are pleased with the strength of the labor movement in New York. They credited intra- and inter-union solidarity for much of the movement's staying power, at times referencing the importance of relationships with community groups and City Hall - making sure to acknowledge the new, more union-friendly occupant of the mayor's office.

While unions have taken legal and membership hits across the country in recent years, labor has indeed remained relatively strong in New York. City union leaders speaking to this phenomenon alternate between sounding hesitantly triumphant and passionately defiant. Never far from their minds, it seems, is that what the labor movement has fought for could slip away any time.

At a panel discussion titled "What is the future of organized labor in New York?" hosted by the government relations practice group of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, the assembled union heads were Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers; Harry Nespoli, President of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association; Gregory Floyd, President of Local 237 Teamsters; and Vincent Alvarez, President of New York City Central Labor Council. They were questioned by two moderators, both Stroock attorneys: Alan M. Klinger and Robert Abrams, who is also former New York State Attorney General.

"The state of unions in New York City is strong," said Mulgrew, of the teachers union, citing "the relationships of the union leaders" as essential to the survival and success of labor.

Time and again, Mulgrew and others referenced the fight that is often characteristic of union work, with the UFT president at one point describing a 20-year "war" with City Hall, referencing his union's relationship with Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg. He also noted that public opinion of unions is on the upswing after some decline, saying that the broader population has come to appreciate unions more as they realize corporations and many government officials do not have workers' best interest at heart.

At the Stroock event, the labor leaders referred to lobbyists and corporate interests as out for union demise, with Mulgrew saying, "there's a group who are advocating for what they want for their industries or for their own bottom lines. They want more profit and they don't care what they have to do to get it. And if that is to leverage a state or a local municipality to get breaks the way they want, they'll do it."

Mulgrew's city chapter has been part of a larger, ongoing teachers union feud with Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has aligned himself with an education reform movement that is highly critical of the teachers unions and is supported by wealthy donors. Cuomo has said he intends to break the teachers union "monopoly" on public education.

"I said it, and I'll say it again," said Nespoli of the sanitation workers union, in one of his several segments of animated commentary, "New York, we're the last of the Mohicans. If you look throughout the country, what they did to unions is a disgrace; what they did to the middle class."

The data on union membership and wages support Nespoli's point. Nationwide, about 11 percent of workers belong to a union, indicative of a steady, decades-long decline according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1973, the national rate was 24 percent - which is about New York's current rate. Still, New York's union rate was 35.5 percent in 1964. New York has historically been a place of labor union strength and continues to be so, though union leaders note without prompting that unions continue to feel under threat and in a perpetual fight to survive.

For evidence, union bosses, especially Mulgrew, need look no further than the ongoing legal challenge to teacher tenure laws. A case in New York is modeled after a successful California case (set to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court) alleging that tenure rules violate students' civil rights because they lead to weaker teachers with strong job protection in disadvantaged schools.

There are currently about 2 million union workers in New York State, with about 877,000 union members in New York City, according to the Joseph Murphy Institute at CUNY Graduate Center. New York City has about 25 percent union membership, about the same as the state overall. Albany has the highest metro area union membership rate in the state, about 36 percent of the capital's workforce is union. In the city, about 70 percent of government employees are union; whereas private sector workers are about 18 percent unionized.

More than 100,000 of the city's union workers are UFT members (the union also has many thousands of members who are retired, of course). Mulgrew said that 40 years of attacks on unions did some damage, but that things are trending up. "We're part of the solution," Mulgrew said, "I know that the teacher unions, the city and state teacher unions, are trusted more than the elected officials. When's the last time that happened?"

Key to this trend, he said, is partnership with community-based groups. Unions, Mulgrew asserted, were in the past too myopic, only focusing on their members and their issues. It is essential, he said - and others agreed - that individual unions support each other, while also partnering with community and advocacy groups. "That's what makes New York different, the fact that we communicate with each other," Nespoli said of leaders of different unions.

Floyd said, "Well, it's important for us to understand that we not only represent our members, but we represent the community. Because, without the labor movement, there would be no middle class."

A different approach has produced results.

"It starts in New York City," Mulgrew told Gotham Gazette after the panel, "I mean, for my union, you could just see in all the polls - when it was us against Bloomberg, by the end [the public] trusted us much more than they trusted the mayor. Now, the same thing's happening with the governor." Adding that it is on education issues, but also throughout the city and state, "the whole idea of unions is trending upwards."

Indeed, a September Quinnipiac poll found that "voters statewide trust the teachers' unions more than Gov. Andrew Cuomo to improve education in New York State 54 - 31 percent." Quinnipiac did note, though, that that margin was slimmer in New York City (47 - 43 percent).

There has been a stark contrast between public sector unions' relationship with Mayor de Blasio and with Gov. Cuomo. But the disparity in positivity has been shrinking as Cuomo has championed a higher minimum wage.

"And let's not make any mistakes about it, the $15 an hour wage increase that the governor has put forth is because the union movement had it on its agenda," Floyd said of union impact on public policy.

As much as de Blasio and Mulgrew have praised each other, coming to a much-needed new contract for city teachers that also set the bargaining pattern for others, it is not all rosy between labor and city government, of course.

The Policemen's Benevolent Association, which represents rank-and-file NYPD officers, did not agree to the pattern the de Blasio administration established with the UFT and then uniformed unions, and is now in arbitration with the city. The proceedings are not going well for the PBA and it may come around to accept what other unions have gone with. (The UFT contract announced May 1, 2014 covers nine years, some retroactive, expiring October 31, 2018. The PBA may be able to pursue a deal akin to what firefighters have inked with City Hall, more in line with the uniformed worker pattern that is slightly different from the non-uniform one.)

Some have called the union deals inked by de Blasio too generous. Meanwhile, Nespoli is among those who think that those contracts were not as good for labor as they could or should have been. At the Stroock panel, he said the public should know that labor made concessions.

"We sat down, we made adjustments and we got the contract done and we saved a ton of money," Nespoli said. "This city right now is in great shape financially. Don't ever let anybody tell you they're not because they're all full of it. They have the money. They have it. And thank God that the tourists are still coming in here. And that's thanks to the city workers that actually take care of this city to make it safe, clean, and teachers, and custodians and sanitation workers, police, fire - that's the backbone here."

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@TweetBenMax

]]>
Labor Leaders Declare State of Unions Strong, At Least in New York Wed, 11 Nov 2015 21:09:13 +0000
Combatting New York's Enduring Quality-of-Life Problem: Litter http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5905:litter-new-yorks-enduring-quality-of-life-problem http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5905:litter-new-yorks-enduring-quality-of-life-problem garcia sanitation

DSNY Commissioner Garcia (photo: @NYCSanitation)


New York is safer and more prosperous than it's been in years, but the city still can't figure out how to stop people from trashing streets with litter.

Despite a focus on quality of life issues, City Hall has made limited progress in dealing with a problem that has plagued mayors since the days when animals roamed Broadway. Even a small army of workers from the Department of Sanitation (DSNY), business improvement districts, and the Doe Fund still can't fully police 6,000 miles of city streets and more than 27,000 public waste and recycling baskets on a daily basis.

Two bills discussed at a recent hearing held by the City Council's sanitation committee aim to increase penalties for littering and illegal dumping, by doubling them or more in some cases, in an effort to curb bad behavior.

"It's not a cure-all for littering. It's not going to solve the littering problem that we have on Staten Island and our city. But it's part of a multi-pronged approach that my office and this Council has taken to combat littering," said Council Member Steven Matteo, Republican Minority Leader from Staten Island, at the hearing. "Littering is out of control in our city and it's out of control because we're doing it to ourselves."

The city still receives high cleanliness scores, as determined by the Mayor's Office of Operations, though the proportion of streets considered "acceptably clean" has slowly declined to 92.7 percent - though even those numbers have been challenged. With tourism and population growing every year, stray takeout containers and over-stuffed wastebaskets have become common sights. According to a Council briefing report, monthly 311 complaints about dirty sidewalks have nearly doubled from approximately 700 in July 2010 to 1,200 in April 2015.

One bill -- introduced by Matteo with four other sponsors -- would increase the fines for littering from $50 to $250 for a first violation and up to $450 for a third or subsequent one.

Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia supports the bill, but warns about enforcement. Garcia said it would still be difficult for DSNY agents to issue tickets due to a lack of authority. A ticket can only be written if the offender is witnessed littering and agrees to provide their name. Sanitation agents aren't allowed to pull over drivers witnessed littering either. Because of this, DSNY issued just 746 littering violations from July 2014 through June 2015 (fiscal year 2015).

Garcia said that if littering was reclassified as a criminal offense it would fall under the purview of the NYPD, which has larger issues to worry about. DSNY plans to begin sending stern letters to drivers caught in the act this fall, though Council members agreed that was unlikely to be a successful deterrent.

Another bill -- introduced by Council Member Karen Koslowitz, a Queens Democrat, with eight other sponsors -- would increase fines for illegally dumping residential or commercial waste inside public baskets from $100 to $200 for a first violation and up to $600 for a third or subsequent violation. DSNY supports the bill, but wants it to also include penalties for illegal dumping next to baskets.

A 2005 DSNY study showed illegal dumping accounting for 20 percent of all waste in public baskets. Due to some confusion over the state's new e-waste ban, TVs and computer parts have also begun showing up on street corners.

After the Council hearing, Garcia told Gotham Gazette that the city is always looking for ways to make waste disposal easier by installing new types of baskets and increasing education. She said that DSNY plans to continue fighting litter based in part on the "broken windows" theory often cited by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton.

"If people see one gum wrapper, they think nothing of adding their fourth and fifth gum wrapper," she said. "So we really try and stay ahead of it."

While some New Yorkers don't seem to care about keeping their streets clean, multiple Quinnipiac polls show that others are bothered by the issue.

In 2009, when streets were rated at their peak cleanliness levels, 42 percent of registered voters said the city wasn't doing enough about "quality of life offenses" such as littering and loud music. In 1998, when streets were rated slightly dirtier than today, 51 percent of residents said they considered littering to be a "very serious problem."

Robin Nagle, an NYU anthropology professor who specializes in "discard studies," said the city has been trying to tackle this issue for a very long time. Under George Waring, a prominent sanitation commissioner during the 1890s, nearly 1,000 young children were enrolled in Juvenile Street Cleaning Leagues to police the streets and raise awareness by writing fake tickets.

Nagle doesn't think such an effort would be successful today, but said there needs to be a greater sense of shared responsibility. She said that other countries have already found ways to crack down on littering and wondered if society's attitude toward it will someday shift similar to smoking.

"How do we help people be a little less selfish without telling them that they are selfish?" she asked. "When you're on the street you're sharing a commons. You're sharing a place that is not only yours, but is ours."

Anti-littering messages from government agencies are posted on bus stops, subways, trash cans and DSNY vehicles. They range from the annual summer environmental appeal of "Clean Streets = Clean Beaches" to the MTA's subway announcement about trash-related track fires causing delays.

Recently, elected officials and community members have decided to address the problem on a more local level. For the second year in a row, the City Council funded a $3.5 million clean-up initiative in Fiscal Year 2015 to help district efforts. Other officials have also taken up the cause.

Staten Island Borough President James Oddo's "Operation Clean Sweep" is responsible for cleaning 120 locations since April. His office has partnered with local businesses to create public service announcements and help maintain their areas through programs such as the city's "Adopt-a-Basket." In April, Oddo also announced a public-private partnership between the Institute of Scrap Recycling, Jason Learning, and multiple city agencies to create a pro-recycling/anti-litter curriculum in 10 local schools.

"Litter is a problem that is created by a small number of people, but one that affects everyone. All of us have to deal with the filth that collects on the side of the road, making our community look uninviting and run down," said Jennifer Sammartino, Oddo's communications director, in an emailed statement. "The more litter we have on our streets the more it becomes an accepted part of life."

A group of frustrated citizens working with the Greenpoint Chamber of Commerce have taken on the problem in Brooklyn with a project called "Curb Your Litter: Greenpoint." Funded by $570,000 obtained from a state settlement with ExxonMobil over a local oil spill, the project will spend three years studying the sources and types of litter with the help of cutting-edge sustainable planning firm Closed Loops. They will also work with local businesses, create educational material and soon launch an interactive website for the community to have input about new baskets.

The project's director, Caroline Bauer, said that so far volunteers have picked up nearly 1,500 pounds of trash on 135 blocks this year. She supports the two new City Council bills, which may be voted on at an upcoming committee hearing, but said that ultimately it's up to New Yorkers to come together over what should be a simple issue.

"Litter is something that nobody enjoys," said Bauer. "It really erodes the way that you think of the community and your neighborhood."

***
by Cole Rosengren for Gotham Gazette
@ColeRosengrenNY
@GothamGazette

]]>
Combatting New York's Enduring Quality-of-Life Problem: Litter Thu, 24 Sep 2015 22:44:21 +0000
Map Launched to Bring Greater Accountability to Capital Spending http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5863:map-launched-to-bring-greater-accountability-to-capital-spending http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5863:map-launched-to-bring-greater-accountability-to-capital-spending Lander map

A screenshot of the new map launched by Council Member Brad Lander


They are notoriously over-budget and late. Capital projects - infrastructure investments in things like transportation, parks, libraries, and schools - regularly leave members of the public wondering if their elected officials are competent or honest.

On a large-scale, think 2nd Avenue Subway, 7-line extension, and East Side Access. But, there are also many, many smaller capital projects all over the city.

As participatory budgeting has taken hold in about two dozen New York City Council districts, residents can see capital spending and project progress on a small-scale, down-the-block basis from the very start. One of the keys to the “PB” process is that district residents themselves get to design and decide where government money gets spent in their neighborhoods. Still, it is not always easy to keep track of these projects, which can often take longer than residents would like.

Now, New Yorkers of the city’s 39th council district have a new government accountability tool at their disposal. And, it is one that could be a model to bring greater transparency and urgency to capital projects across the city. Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander has published a new comprehensive map of ongoing capital projects in his district, which stretches from Cobble Hill to Park Slope to Kensington.

The interactive map, now available on the council member’s website, designates projects both in progress and completed, and whether or not they were funded through participatory budgeting. By simply clicking an icon on the map, users can find out more detail about each project in particular, including what year it was funded, the amount allocated to the project, and its current completion status.

Lander map zoom in on project

The tool, a Google Maps embed created by Pratt Institute summer intern Annie Levers (and a feasible project for anyone with a gmail account) is not being billed as the next big, highfalutin tech solution, but rather a simple common-sense step towards improving accountability in the city’s capital contracts.

The idea comes from desire for more transparency in the way that the city handles its capital projects. Discussing the tool and larger issue at hand, Lander points to the Parks Capital Tracker, introduced last year by the city Parks Department, as a good first step toward setting a new standard of transparency, but noted that council member-funded capital projects were still not included in discretionary funding information publicly provided the City Council.

Ideally, Lander considers the map a step toward a larger, more robust citywide system for tracking the ways in which public money is spent. Even though overhead costs were minimal and the data accessible to all council members, Lander does not expect his colleagues to follow suit and publish maps of their own.

“I think the long term answer is for the City of New York to provide a portal for all capital projects,” Lander told Gotham Gazette. “I am developing legislation that would require the city to provide something like this -- or the Parks Capital Tracker -- for all city capital projects, whether funded by an agency, City Hall, or by the Council.”

“I don't think the long-term answer is every council member developing their own map and database,” Lander said. Rather, “the long-term answer is a citywide system that tracks all capital projects.”

Such a system, Lander hopes, would be a resource for both individuals seeking information about a particular project in their neighborhood and for more formal research purposes, including the city’s own efforts to increase efficiency and accountability.

For instance, Lander offers that “it may be that a particular contractor works for three or four different agencies, but if you track it over time, you see that that contractor is persistently late or persistently coming in over budget. So there's a value in systems efficiency, there's value in meeting questions of equity: how's the number being spent in between neighborhoods; evaluating different priorities.”

This effort runs parallel to a broader theme within the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, Lander’s predecessor in the Council: simplifying and streamlining the city’s capital investments.

“I think [improved accountability] has been a theme in the de Blasio administration on the capital budget side,” says Adam Forman, of the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank. City Comptroller Scott Stringer released a report in February looking at the rates at which capital projects are begun in the fiscal year they are supposed to, showing some of the inefficiencies in capital processes over the past ten years.

Meanwhile, Forman adds that due to the time that it takes to design contracts, bid them out, and finally get shovels in the ground, the City Council often authorizes some $15 billion of capital spending a year, “knowing full well” that only some $8-10 billion will actually be contracted out.

Simply opening up the details of capital contracts to public scrutiny could contribute more pressure towards a model where, as Forman puts it, “the money that we authorize to spend, let's actually spend it in that fiscal year.”

Bolstering a sense of public stewardship
A second goal of the map will be more difficult to quantify than improved contracting accountability. Lander hopes that making information more available, and importantly, more digestible will help bolster a sense of public stewardship in capital projects around his district.

Although increased accountability will be a main selling point when presenting legislation to the Council, the map was originally born out of a desire to merely better present updates about ongoing participatory budgeting projects within the district.

Lander map various

Lander says that a key value add of participatory budgeting, currently in its fifth year in the 39th District, is that it “enables people to feel like stewards of pieces of the public realm. They develop the ideas for them, they lobby for them, and so they feel a stronger sense of stewardship around the projects that they voted and advocated for, so that they're eager to know their status.”

“Because people voted on them, we felt a responsibility to provide updates on where these projects are,” Lander said. “And until now, we just had a big [Microsoft] Word-like webpage, where you have to scroll down and you see each year's project and which ones won, and look at it, and there it is. Now that we're in year five, we realized that's not the best way to keep people updated.” Thus, the new interactive map.

Constituent Julie Bero, a Windsor Terrace resident and member of the District Committee for Participatory Budgeting, agrees that the map has a deeper potential as a tool for public education. “Just a few years into the process, I think the effectiveness of PB is not quickly clear because many of the projects are not yet complete,” said Bero.

The PB process is largely run as a volunteer effort, where delays and bureaucratic holdups can present a challenge to recruiting and retaining volunteers, and winning over skeptics. Bero explains that “so much in our culture is about instant gratification and some people have expressed frustration that projects that won funding early on aren't already done.”

Bero thinks that tools such as the mapping project could compensate for the lack of feedback for many projects so far. Bero hopes that in several years, when a variety of PB projects finally are really bearing fruit, that a sense of communal stewardship and accomplishment may be more visible. “But in the meantime, this map can help residents of our district to understand the progress that's already been made and look forward to what's on the horizon.”

***
by Brit Byrd, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

]]>
Map Launched to Bring Greater Accountability to Capital Spending Sun, 30 Aug 2015 14:37:30 +0000