Gotham Gazette Mon, 23 Oct 2017 11:41:27 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Top City Electeds Skip Letter Wooing Amazon wtc orange amazon via edc

One World Trade Center lit up orange for Amazon (photo via NYC EDC)

New York is laying out the red carpet to entice online retail giant Amazon to locate its new corporate headquarters in the state. Governor Andrew Cuomo promised a slew of incentives to support four official proposals from different regions that were submitted to the company on Wednesday, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio lit up the city in orange at night as a fawning branding appeal.

New York City’s own bid -- which included four possible business districts -- was backed by about 70 elected officials that represent the city, including members of Congress, state Senators and Assembly members, City Council members, borough presidents, and Public Advocate Letitia James. But at least four notable elected officials were conspicuously absent from the letter of support sent by the mayor’s office to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, of the Bronx, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and City Council Members Corey Johnson and Donovan Richards, both contenders to become the next Speaker of the City Council, did not sign on to the letter.

“No city embodies the American traditions of innovation and creativity quite like New York City,” the letter reads. “It has transformed from a Dutch settlement, to the nation’s first capital, to a booming industrial center. It became a port of hope for millions of immigrants looking for a better life, and a model for urban revitalization. From Broadway, the Bronx Zoo and the Brooklyn Bridge, to Citi Field and the shores of Staten Island, New York City is a place where history is made every day. Our tradition of reinvention matches yours, and we invite you to join us in writing our next chapters together.”

A spokesperson for Stringer declined to comment. Multiple messages and emails sent to spokespeople for Heastie were not returned.

“We’re excited about the prospect of new businesses coming to New York City,” said Jordan Gibbons, a spokesperson for Council Member Richards, “but before we support the plan, we need more information about job standards and impact on local businesses.”

Council Member Johnson wrote in a text that he “didn’t sign on to [the] letter because I have concerns about Amazon’s labor record but also recognize 50K jobs would be good for the city.”  

As Johnson noted, Amazon’s second headquarters is expected to create 50,000 jobs and bring in roughly $5 billion in investment. One of the proposed areas for Amazon’s headquarters, Midtown West, falls in Johnson’s Manhattan district. City Council members representing other proposed sites for the headquarters signed on to the letter.

Amazon’s announcement and request for proposals triggered a mad dash by dozens of cities across the country to lure the multi-billion-dollar company. To bolster their bids, some cities and states have promised enormous tax breaks while others have pledged infrastructure investments around a potential Amazon campus. Most have hedged their bets on being able to provide the optimum balance of tech talent, affordable and ample real estate, and an appealing quality of life. One municipality in Georgia even went so far as to propose creating an entirely new city named for the online retailer.

Short of naming a new business district after Amazon, New York City’s pitch includes all those aspects. Culled from more than two dozen proposals from across the five boroughs, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, in collaboration with the Empire State Development Corporation, decided on four city areas that met Amazon’s criteria -- Midtown West, Long Island City, Lower Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Tech Triangle. The city is banking on many factors, including its pool of 2.3 million residents who hold a bachelor’s degree and above -- a number higher than the combined comparable workforce of Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

The city has 296,000 workers in the tech industry and is growing rapidly in sectors of the economy where Amazon is diversifying, including media, advertising, fashion, and manufacturing.

And the city is already an attractive destination for Amazon, which has a distribution and fulfillment center, corporate offices and retail space in the city with plans to expand in Manhattan. Amazon’s website says it has 1,000 employees in New York, plus seasonal additions around the winter holidays.

An EDC spokesperson said the city cast a wide net seeking support for the proposal. “Considering how hard it is to get New Yorkers to agree on anything, the fact that we got so many signatures in such a short time was pretty impressive and overwhelming,” the spokesperson said, expressing optimism that New York would outmatch other cities with its bid.

Asked at an unrelated Thursday news conference about his pursuit of Amazon when he has been opposed to Walmart opening in the city, de Blasio called it “apples and oranges.” “Amazon, there are some issues that need to be addressed with labor, there’s no two ways about it. But, at the same time, this is a company talking about potentially fundamentally changing the economy in New York City. Adding 50,000 jobs is a game-changer. And it’s something we need and we need more high-quality jobs for the people of New York City. So we can work on those labor issues and I’m happy to work on those labor issues, but no, I’m convinced that Amazon will be a net gain for New York City, unquestionably.”

Responding to Johnson’s concerns, the EDC spokesperson said that Amazon’s presence in New York would afford the city an opportunity to engage directly with the firm and “work with them to advance our shared values.” Pointing out that it was premature to evaluate a deal that hasn’t yet been approved, the spokesperson said the city would be able to negotiate down the line to add guarantees to ensure the number of jobs created, salary levels and that jobs go to New Yorkers. “It’s pretty clear to us that they want to build the headquarters with the community, not in the community,” the spokesperson said.

“It’s puzzling, I don’t know why you’d want to turn down a shot at 50,000 good-paying jobs,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, when asked why leaders like Stringer, Heastie, and Johnson would not sign on. He conceded that concerns about corporate subsidies are valid, but that the Amazon opportunity is too good to pass up. “It’s a big win for New York City if we can get it.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Top City Electeds Skip Letter Wooing Amazon Thu, 19 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Council Speaker Contenders Spread the Wealth to Colleagues 15418071831 7ded33d9b6 z

Speaker Mark-Viverito (center) and Council Member Johnson (r) (photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)

A number of City Council Members who are jockeying to replace Melissa Mark-Viverito as the next Speaker of the City Council seem to be stepping up efforts to curry favor with their colleagues and other elected officials through strategic campaign donations.

The latest campaign finance disclosures filed on Monday show that Council Members Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams -- all contenders for Speaker of the 51-member legislative body -- have made significant contributions to fellow Council members and candidates running for open City Council seats. Other Speaker candidates -- Council Members Donovan Richards, Jimmy Van Bramer and Robert Cornegy -- also made similar, but smaller contributions.

The speaker, perhaps the second most powerful elected official in the city, is chosen through an internal vote of the Council every four years after an election. Current Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will be term-limited out of office at the end of the year. She won the post with the help of a coalition of progressive Council members and the active involvement of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who swayed Brooklyn Democrats to support her and in the process undercut the Bronx and Queens County machinery that had decided the speaker’s race in the past.

Council Member Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat and a prolific campaigner who is seen as one of the leading Speaker candidates, has so far contributed over $50,000 to other elected officials’ campaigns, far outpacing other speaker hopefuls.

According to Campaign Finance Board (CFB) filings, Johnson’s campaign has disbursed the maximum contribution of $2,750 to 15 Council members who are running for reelection and also to two Council candidates, for a total of $46,750. Those incumbents and potential future members of the Council could determine whether Johnson holds the Speaker’s gavel next year. Johnson also made three other donations collectively worth the mayoral contribution limit of $4,950 to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and contributed $2,500 to Comptroller Scott Stringer, for a total of 19 candidates who received donations from him. All are Democrats.

Johnson, who is not a participant in the city’s public matching funds program, has raised over $462,000 and spent about $271,000 this election cycle, making candidate contributions almost a fifth of his entire spending. He retains about $191,000 on hand. His Council donations were heavily weighted to outer-borough incumbents, with just two going to members from Manhattan. Five of Johnson’s donations went to Brooklyn members, four each to members in Queens and the Bronx, and one to a Staten Island member. Johnson has spent the last few months aggressively courting his colleagues, campaigning on their behalf in their districts. In one weekend in June, he made appearances with several Council Members across four boroughs.

[Related: Corey Johnson’s Very Busy Campaign Weekend]

Johnson also donated to State Assemblymember Francisco Moya, who is seeking to fill the Queens seat of Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who will step down at the end of the year. Ferreras-Copeland chairs the Council’s powerful finance committee and was considered one of the leading Speaker candidates before she announced she would not be running for reelection for personal reasons. Johnson’s other donation went to Carlina Rivera, a candidate for Council District 2 in Manhattan, which is currently occupied by term-limited member Rosie Mendez. Additionally, Johnson bundled almost $13,000 in donations for Rivera’s campaign. Johnson’s campaign did not respond to calls seeking comment.

The closest competitor in contributions is Council Member Mark Levine, whose campaign has given $31,000 to other candidates and colleagues. The contributions include 11 of the same incumbents and both Moya and Rivera. He also gave to Bronx Council Member Fernando Cabrera and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., for a total of 15 candidates. Levine has raised just over $376,000 in the campaign so far and has spent about $191,000, leaving him with about $185,000 on hand. He has also been actively campaigning for Speaker and is considered one of the top candidates for the position. Levine’s campaign did not respond to calls from Gotham Gazette.

Manhattan Council member Ydanis Rodriguez comes in third for his donations. His campaign has given $24,000 in 12 separate contributions of $2,000 to 11 Council incumbents and District 2 candidate Rivera. Rodriguez contributed to eight of the same Council candidates as Johnson and seven of the same candidates as Levine. His own campaign account holds about $94,000, after raising $247,000 and spending about $153,000.

Jumaane Williams personally gave $12,000 in 11 contributions, 8 of them to incumbent Council members and three to candidates, including Rivera. Williams’ contribution list differed somewhat, including four Council members that none of the other three top-contributing speaker candidates had given to.

All four gave to Council members Margaret Chin of Manhattan; Antonio Reynoso, of Brooklyn; and Rafael Salamanca, Jr., of the Bronx.

Among other speaker candidates, Donovan Richards personally gave $2,000 to two incumbents, $2,750 each to two Council candidates, including Rivera, and $500 to de Blasio, for a total of $8,000. Robert Cornegy gave $2,750 each to Moya and Queens Council member Elizabeth Crowley, plus $500 to District 41 candidate Henry Butler, for a total of $6,000. Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer gave $1,500 between two incumbents and $175 to Diana Ayala, who is running for Mark-Viverito’s seat in District 8.

The amounts involved appear to already dwarf the direct candidate contributions that current Speaker Mark-Viverito and her campaign made during the 2013 election cycle, after which she was elected speaker. According to CFB data, Mark-Viverito spent only $3,000 in candidate contributions that cycle.

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

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Council Speaker Contenders Spread the Wealth to Colleagues Fri, 21 Jul 2017 23:06:45 +0000
High Participation in Campaign Matching Funds, But Several Big Name Opt-Outs kallos council street presser

Council Member Kallos (photo: City Council)

As the September 12 primary elections approach and campaigns kick into high gear, a vast majority of candidates for the city’s elected offices will have their coffers bolstered by the Campaign Finance Board’s (CFB) public matching funds program, which matches eligible donations at a 6-to-1 ratio.

Most candidates, but not all. According to data provided by the CFB, 14 of 51 incumbents this cycle are not participating in the program, which was created by the city in 1988 in part to allow challengers to compete on a more level playing field with incumbents, who are usually better able to raise money. The deadline for certifying in the matching program was June 12, three months before primary day, September 12. There will be 51 City Council, five borough president, and three citywide seats on the ballot this fall.

While there are several prominent elected officials not participating, there is plenty of good news for the program at large. ”Overall participation rate remains very high this cycle,” said Campaign Finance Board spokesperson Matt Sollars. “In fact, it may end up higher than in 2013 when 79 percent of all registered candidates participated in the program.” Current participation stands at 82 percent of all candidates.

Supporters of the program contend that it both incentivizes political participation from potential candidates that are not independently wealthy and do not have the connections and fundraising chops of others, especially incumbents, and it incentivizes incumbents to focus their efforts on courting large numbers of possible donors from their own constituencies as opposed to going after a few big-dollar contributions.

To qualify for the matching program, candidates must hit contribution and contributor thresholds and are subject to stringent spending caps. For example, participants running for City Council must raise contributions of $10 or more from 75 donors in their district and $5,000 in the matchable portion (the first $175) of contributions from any city resident. Participants are limited to spending $49,000 in out-years – the years preceding the election year – and $182,000 for each the primary and general election. Funds spent in excess of the cap during off years are counted against the election year caps.

Gotham Gazette reported in April that 10 City Council incumbents had surpassed the out-year limits and several were not planning to participate in the matching program. Of these, eight – Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Andy King, Peter Koo, Jimmy Van Bramer, Brad Lander, David Greenfield, and Jumaane Williams – ultimately are not using the program in their reelection campaigns.

At least four of them have been open about their desire to replace term-limited Melissa Mark-Viverito as Speaker of the City Council, a separate campaign in its own right, albeit one that courts fellow Council members as opposed to district constituents. This usually involves hiring consultants and campaign staff, and occasionally making contributions to Council colleagues and other influential figures, all as part of the cycle’s overall raise and spend efforts.

Council Member Costa Constantinides surpassed the off-year spending cap, with just over $64,000 in spending, but is still a participant in the program. Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who spent over $269,000 in off-years and had been considered a front-runner in the Speaker race, announced recently that she is not running for reelection.

Told of his colleagues’ reticence to participate, Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Governmental Operations Committee and one of the matching funds program’s most steadfast defenders, expressed frustration and said he was “surprised to see so many elected officials not taking part.”

“Those public dollars are there to incentivize elected officials, perhaps more importantly than candidates, to take small-dollar donations instead of the more corrupting checks for $2,750,” he said, referencing the individual donation contribution limit for City Council races.

A Gotham Gazette analysis of campaign finance data found that the three Council candidates who have received the most max contributions of $2,750 this election cycle -- Greenfield, Van Bramer, and Johnson -- are also not participating in the program. Greenfield, who has spent a total of over $350,000 this election cycle – partly to air a weekly radio program – has received the most: 163, well over double the next highest amount of max donations to a Council candidate.

A spokesperson for Greenfield said, in an emailed statement, “the out-year limits make it impossible for elected officials in leadership positions in the Council, including over a dozen Council Members seeking re-election, to participate.” While Greenfield is chair of the powerful Committee on Land Use, it is not clear why it was necessary to spend over six times the off-year limit, a limit adhered to by, for example, Deputy Leaders Deborah Rose and Ritchie Torres, who are both running for reelection.

Five Council incumbents – Andrew Cohen, Rafael Salamanca, Jr., Rory Lancman, Daniel Dromm, and Rafael Espinal – did not hit their spending caps but still opted not to participate in the program. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams similarly did not hit his off-year spending cap – which for borough president races is $146,000 – but did not opt in to the program.

A Gotham Gazette analysis of campaign finance data, based on the zip codes of the neighborhoods that the Council members represent, found that Cohen and Salamanca do not appear to have yet hit the district contributor threshold of 75 individual donors in this election cycle. Matt Sollars, a spokesperson for the CFB, stressed that the threshold does not need to be met as of yet, but until the candidates begin receiving public payments in August, after the ballot is set.

Lander, Cohen, and Dromm do not have registered opponents. While payouts from the program require candidates to have an opponent on the ballot, candidates can still join in anticipation of incoming challengers.

According to Kallos, any step back in participation is “a side effect of not having proper incentives.”

To create some of these incentives, last year he introduced a bill, Int. 1130, that would increase the public funds disbursement cap, currently 55 percent of the spending limit, to the full amount of the spending limit. This would mean that if a candidate raised enough funds from their constituency, they could receive matching funds that would bring them to the full spending limits for the primary and general elections – $182,000 each for Council candidates, more for borough and citywide offices. The bill is currently in committee – if it were to pass it would not be in effect for this city election cycle.

No candidates have yet hit election year spending caps for program participation; the Council incumbent closest to the cap is Corey Johnson, who has spent $121,174 so far this year, but he is not a participant in the program.

Council Member Williams defended opting out of the program, saying that he didn’t need the funds and “you don’t always want to spend the public’s money if you don’t have to.” He also drew attention to his candidacy to the Speaker role, and argued that part of the problem was “no allotment for that,” and mentioned the possibility of a legislative fix.

According to Sollars of the CFB, participants in the program can elect to turn away payments if they don’t feel that they need them, a strategy that was employed by several officials in the last cycle.

“I don’t intend to spend more than the cap anyway,” Williams said, adding “I fully intend to make sure I have the small donor amounts that I would have if I was taking public funds.”

One source familiar with the Council and the CFB system who spoke on the condition of anonymity pointed to a bill passed last year by the Council, Local Law 189, as a potential dissuasive force to candidates entering the program. The law standardizes a process for transferring campaign funds between "political" and "principal" committees, essentially allowing candidates to roll campaign funds from one election into the next and effectively enabling them to build up large campaign war chests over time.

Aside from Brooklyn's Adams, the other four borough presidents, all also seeking reelection, have opted in. As have the three incumbent citywide elected officials: Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Public Advocate Letitia James. Republicans seeking those positions, even some who have criticized the public campaign finance system in the past, are also participating.

The CFB, for its part, is happy with the overall triumph of its initiative. “This outstanding participation rate demonstrates the strength of New York City's small-donor matching program to encourage more fair and equitable city elections,” said Executive Director Amy Loprest in a statement.

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

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High Participation in Campaign Matching Funds, But Several Big Name Opt-Outs Wed, 28 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Corey Johnson’s Very Busy Campaign Weekend corey carlina

Council Member Johnson with Council hopeful Carlina Rivera (photo: @CoreyinNYC)

Corey Johnson wants to be the next Speaker of the City Council. In his pursuit of the position, Johnson is aggressively traveling the city, as evidenced by his just-concluded weekend. Johnson was in at least four boroughs this weekend, helping colleagues and potential colleagues campaign in their districts.

The Speaker position is voted on internally by City Council members every four years, with a vote coming up in January after elections for all 51 Council seats take place this fall. Johnson is running for re-election to his West Village seat, which he will easily win, and his sights are set on what is possibly the second most powerful position in city government, behind the Mayor.

While it’s early in the process, Johnson is seen as a leading contender in what is a crowded field including Council Members Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, Robert Cornegy, Jimmy Van Bramer, Donovan Richards, Jumaane Williams, and possibly others. Julissa Ferreras-Copeland was seen as top contender, but she recently surprised the New York political world by announcing that she is not seeking reelection, instead moving to Maryland for family reasons.

For months, Johnson has been the most aggressive of the Speaker candidates, keeping a busy schedule of visits to members’ districts and meetings with borough Democratic Party leaders, who hold some sway in the Speaker selection process.

If this weekend is any indication, Johnson has kicked his campaigning into a new gear. And he’s not being shy about it.

According to his posts on Twitter, Johnson campaigned all over the city this weekend, appearing with City Council Members Debi Rose (Staten Island), Elizabeth Crowley (Queens), and Carlos Menchaca (Brooklyn), and Council hopefuls Carlina Rivera (Manhattan) and Francisco Moya, an Assembly member seeking to replace Ferreras-Copeland in Queens. Johnson also made several other event appearances over the weekend, including at an annual ceremony put on by Congressional Rep. Yvette Clarke, at which City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, among others, was present.

The weekend prior, Johnson attended Council Member Ritchie Torres’ reelection campaign launch in the Bronx, the one borough he doesn’t appear to have campaigned in this weekend. Johnson's increased activity not only comes as September's primary day approaches, but also during ballot petitioning, when candidates must get hundreds of signatures to make the ballot.

Council Members Levine and Richards were also spotted campaigning this weekend with Council Member Crowley in Queens.

As election season continues, Johnson, Levine, and other Speaker candidates are likely to start donating campaign money to some of their colleagues and potential colleagues, especially in tight races, like those for the eight "open" seats where there is no incumbent running. There are also several incumbents, including Cumbo, facing tough primary challenges.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is also a factor in the race. De Blasio, who is expected to win a second term this fall, was instrumental in helping the current Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, attain the necessary support in the Council. De Blasio recently said he won't shy away from getting involved again, given how important it is to his agenda to have an ally as Speaker. All of the Speaker candidates are Democrats like de Blasio, with varying closeness to the mayor.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Corey Johnson’s Very Busy Campaign Weekend Sun, 18 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Members Opt Out of Campaign Finance Program Lander Council members

City Council members, with Brad Lander center (photo: William Alatriste)

A first-time entrant into the New York City electoral system stands almost as much a chance of running a solid campaign as long-time political insiders and incumbents. That’s because the New York City campaign finance system includes a public matching funds program, which helps levels the playing field by incentivizing local small-dollar contributions, matching them at a 6-to-1 ratio. In doing so, it also reduces the influence of special interests in elections and helps prevent conflicts of interest or pay-to-play arrangements. The program, run by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, is seen as a national model.

This year, with few competitive races in the 2017 city election cycle, a number of sitting City Council members seem to be eschewing the program, with some having spent significant sums in the past three years and others having already raised more than they could legally spend if they participated. The level of non-participation may to some degree undermine the overall system, though the vast majority of candidates will still participate, and raises questions about those Council members choosing not to opt in. A potential wave, however small, of Council members not participating also drew a rebuke from Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday.

Those who opt to participate in the CFB’s public matching funds program must meet two fundraising thresholds -- a minimum number of contributions from the district or other geographic area covered by the office they seek, and a minimum amount of matchable contributions. For instance, City Council candidates who opt in to the program must receive at least 75 contributions from residents of their district, and contributions up to $175 are matchable with public funds.

The CFB usually issues matching funds the month before the primary, which is on September 12 this year. It also matches a maximum of 55 percent of the spending cap for the seat. For the City Council, the spending cap for candidates who participate in the system is $182,000 each for the primary and general elections. Candidates who do not have an opponent do not receive public funds.

In the 51-seat City Council, more than 40 members are seeking reelection this year in something of a quirk given that some members are pursuing their third term, grandfathered in through the term-limit extension passed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council in 2008.

At least 10 Council members have already surpassed the out-year (the years prior to election year) limit of $49,000 on campaign spending for participants in the program, campaign finance filings show. If any of them were to participate in the program, their over-the-limit spending would be deducted from the election year spending cap.

Certain Council members, such as Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and David Greenfield, have even spent more than the primary limit already and are effectively precluded from participating in the matching funds program since they then would have zero dollars to spend on the first leg of the race. In out-years, Ferreras-Copeland, who is pursuing the position of City Council Speaker, which is elected among Council members in January, spent more than $277,000. Her total spending is $318,000. Greenfield spent nearly $308,000 in out-years, with a total spending of $326,000, largely to air the Council member’s radio program. Greenfield’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

[Related: Council Member Airs Weekly Radio Show Through Campaign Funds]

“Councilwoman Ferreras is not participating because the Councilwoman has successfully raised enough money to communicate effectively with voters,” said a campaign spokesperson in an email, insisting that her choice to not participate in the program “in no way means that she doesn't support it. Quite the contrary. By voting for a stronger program it shows a commitment to increasing participation in the electoral process for challengers regardless of the effect it may have on her own election.”

The public funds program, adopted in 1988, has consistently encouraged competition and allowed candidates with a lack of access to deep pockets, either their own or their donors, to run against wealthier ones. Participation in the program has been overwhelming in the last few cycles. In 2013, 92 percent of candidates in the primary were participants, and 54 of the 59 city elected officials participated. In 2009, participation was 93 percent, and 56 of 59 officials were participants.

It’s currently unclear which members may or may not opt in -- only Council Members Stephen Levin and Robert Cornegy Jr. have officially indicated to the CFB that they will participate. The official deadline for opting in is June 12, less than two months away.

Incumbent Council members who won’t be participating presented varying rationale for their decisions, even as they all acknowledged the public funds program as a model for campaign finance systems nationwide.

“I can raise money without the matching funds,” said Queens Council Member Peter Koo. “Why use public funding if I can do it privately?”

Koo praised the program as an equaliser for first-time candidates. “It’s good, for some people it’s necessary,” he said. “Especially for newcomers, they want to try politics. Their ability to raise funds is not as good as some businesspeople. The system is good as long as they use it fairly and they obey all the rules.”

Council Member Brad Lander doesn’t envision taking matching funds, he said, and has spent $228,000, with just over $219,000 in out-years. But he said he would voluntarily commit to the $182,000 spending cap that applies to participants. “It is a great system and it makes it much more possible for people to run,” he said of the matching funds program, “and if an opponent runs against me in the primary or general election, this system will make sure that they can run against me on an equal playing field.”

“It’s not as simple as participating and not participating,” added Lander, who said he has spent the bulk of his money for “useful, pedestrian public purposes.” Campaign filings show that he has paid at least $80,000 to one firm for fundraising services. “By voluntarily committing to the funding cap, I’m making sure that my race will be fair and competitive and that any opponent who participates in the matching system will be able to utilize it and spend the same amount that I am.”

Last year, the Council moved through a robust set of reforms to the campaign finance system, some of which were prompted by complaints by Council members and candidates who have participated. Some of the nearly two dozen reforms, on the other hand, were those asked for by the Campaign Finance Board after its analysis of the 2013 election cycle and championed by good government groups.

[Related: City Council Rushes Through Campaign Finance Bills]

Lander was one member at the forefront of Council hearings on the proposals, insisting that the reforms would encourage participation and make it easier to run for elected office. Asked if that push for reforms was at odds with his decision to not participate, Lander said, “I don’t think so. I think by committing to the election-year spending cap, I’m fully honoring not just the spirit but the entire goal of the system, [which] is to enable challengers to run against incumbents, everybody to participate on a level playing field. All of that exists in my race.”

A few reasons can explain why Council members may spend significant amounts of money and not participate in the public funds program. It is no coincidence that of the 10 Council members who have passed the outyear limits, at least five have indicated their interest in running for Speaker of the City Council next year. For others, a lack of an opponent might mean that participation is irrelevant.

“Over the years, a number of incumbents who did not face significant opposition have opted not to participate in the program,” said Matt Sollars, a CFB spokesperson, in an email. “Other incumbents join the Program, but decline public funds. But almost every member of the Council has experience with the program; of the 51 members of the City Council, 50 were first elected as program participants.”

Council Member Corey Johnson is one of the members running for Speaker and he conceded that if he faces a primary opponent, he would be hard pressed to participate in the matching funds program because of his $136,000 in spending, with $78,000 of it in the out-years. He also hasn’t thought of whether he will voluntarily abide by the spending cap. “I don’t know at this point,” he said in a brief phone interview.

Johnson also defended the bills passed by the Council last year that tweaked the campaign finance system, some of which seemed to a number of observers, including good government groups, as potentially self-serving. “I think they were smart bills,” he said, “responding to concerns not only raised by incumbent Council members but also by candidates and elected officials who are no longer in office but participated in the program.”

Among the reforms were new restrictions and monitoring mechanisms for nonprofits affiliated with elected officials; elimination of matching funds for contributions bundled by those who do business with the city; greater disclosure requirements for entities with city business; earlier disbursement of public matching funds; and prohibitions on contributions from non-registered political committees to candidates who don’t join the public funds program.

The City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, which has oversight of the CFB, is set to hear a bill on April 27 that would raise the cap on matching funds from 55 percent of the spending cap to a full match of the cap. The bill is sponsored by the committee’s chair, Council Member Ben Kallos, who is a participant in the public funds program and has spearheaded campaign finance reform in the Council. Kallos had reservations about some of the bills that were expedited through the Council late last year and believes his bill will significantly shift the election landscape.

“I was concerned with recent amendments and their impact on the campaign finance system,” he said, “and as we get closer to the June deadline for opting in or out of the system, we will learn just what impact that legislation had and whether it improves participation in the system or actually discourages it. And whatever the results, I hope to create new incentives for people to participate.” The CFB is reviewing Kallos’ proposal and will testify at the hearing.

Government reform advocate Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, expressed concern about incumbents relying heavily on large private donations, instead of public funds. “The city’s campaign finance program with public funds was put in place not just for challengers but for incumbents so that there was not any kind of advantage given to either,” he said. “The fact that some incumbents are also going to abide by the spending limits is a good thing but the source of money is always a concern. Public money lessens the risk of undue influence and corruption. More private money increases that risk.”

Citizens Union was among those that questioned the rationale behind some of the campaign finance reforms that were pushed through the Council, such as allowing non-public campaign funds to be used for broader purposes supporting an elected official’s public duties, and another that prohibits CFB staff from being present in adjudications of campaign violations. Many of these supposed complaints seemed novel and presented solutions to problems that weren’t entirely apparent, critics said.

“That some of these Council members pushed changes to make the program more candidate friendly and then they did not participate when it was accomplished, makes me wonder why they pushed these changes so aggressively if they weren’t going to participate themselves,” Dadey said.

Council Member Mark Levine, another contender for Council Speaker has spent nearly $100,000, and feels comfortable that he is well below the combined out-year and election year spending limit of $231,000 for participants of the program. His participation in the program, he said, “depends on what kind of race I have. I would not take matching funds if I have something less than a viable opponent so I’m waiting to see how the field shapes up.”

He added, “If someone has only a token opponent and takes taxpayer money, I don’t think that’s appropriate and that’s the standard I’m gonna hold myself to.”

At an unrelated news conference on Wednesday, Gotham Gazette asked Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is a proud participant in the public matching funds system, about Council members choosing not to opt in to the program. “I would discourage it,” he said. “I think it’s a mistake. One of the best campaign finance systems in the country. I’ve said many times that one of the reasons I’m mayor is because of that system. I would never have been able to raise the kind of money my competitors were able to raise. Only because of matching funds am I here. I believe it is a tremendous reform. I believe it’s democratizing and everyone should participate in it.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.]]>
City Council Members Opt Out of Campaign Finance Program Wed, 19 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
10 Key Data Points from Social Services Budget Hearing Corey Johnson hearing

City Council Member Corey Johnson (photo: William Alatriste)

The City Council General Welfare Committee conducted a budget hearing Monday to evaluate the programs, expenditures, and needs of the Human Resource Administration (HRA) and Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Steven Banks, Commissioner of the Department of Social Services (DSS), which oversees both HRA and DHS, provided testimony for the two agencies before taking questions from concerned Council members.

Though HRA provides a wide variety of services -- including job training and emergency food assistance -- the committee’s questioning focused almost exclusively on the city’s homelessness crisis and the lack of progress that has been made by the de Blasio administration.

“Is this something that New Yorkers are going to have to accept as a new norm?” asked Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the committee. “Are we to look ahead to future years and future generations and accept that the reality is that there are going to be 50,000 individuals and families living in our shelter system?”

There are currently about 60,000 New Yorkers living in homeless shelters, and Mayor Bill de Blasio recently outlined the goal of reducing the population to about 57,500 over five years. While the mayor has admitted that his administration has not made enough progress reducing homelessness, he argues that the population would be around 70,000 if not for the rent subsidy and anti-eviction measures his team, led by Banks, has implemented.

Responding to Levin and committee members, most of whom were late to the hearing, Banks provided a comprehensive rundown of the investments DSS and the de Blasio administration have instituted, such as voucher programs and legal assistance to tenants facing unwarranted eviction.

He also discussed the HOME-STAT initiative, which has doubled the number of outreach workers on city streets in order to bring people into shelter. Though the committee acknowledged its support for these measures and conceded that significant investment has been made, they nevertheless stressed their dissatisfaction -- often bordering on outrage -- with the lack of progress, especially considering the concentration of resources targeted at homelessness. Expenditures for HRA and DHS have ballooned under de Blasio, and the mayor is proposing more money for the fiscal year 2018 budget, which is due by July 1.

In his $84.67 billion preliminary budget proposal, 18 cents of every dollar goes to social services, the second largest portion behind education. The mayor has allocated $7.5 billion for the Department of Social Services and $772 million for the Department of Homeless Services, though both numbers are likely lower than the adopted budget will show at the end of June. 

At Monday's hearing, Council Members Barry Grodenchik, Corey Johnson, and Brad Lander were particularly critical of the administration’s efforts.

“It seems to me that this city has committed an immense amount of resources doesn’t seem like we’re getting value for our dollars,” Grodenchik told Banks, questioning both the effectiveness and scope of the administration’s plan to stop using 360 cluster apartment and commercial hotel locations and open 90 new homeless shelters throughout the city. “It seems to me that the goal is not as ambitious as it needs to be.”

Banks defended “a concrete and realistic goal.”

Lander expressed frustration that is shared by de Blasio, his predecessor on the Council, and other stakeholders. “On the one hand I appreciate being realistic, on the other I appreciate that this is an absolute crisis and we need to do more,” Lander said, before proceeding to recommend that Banks and his team focus on “getting families into affordable, permanent public housing.”

The notion of placing more homeless families into public housing, through NYCHA, is something that some elected officials and advocates have long-called for, but that Banks and de Blasio have said is not the right approach. The mayor has cited the already-long NYCHA wait-lists.

“It’s disturbing to walk down the streets everyday and to see homeless people on nearly every block...even after all these efforts at homelessness prevention, it still feels like we are not being successful,” added Council Member Johnson, who represents Chelsea and Greenwich Village.

Banks’ testimony touched on other important DSS initiatives, in addition to homelessness, and provided updated data points on a variety of key topics:

--The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps feed 1.7 million New Yorkers, including more than 650,000 children, added 8,371 participants in the last year. Asked about the future of SNAP in New York City, given the uncertain prospects for federal funding under the Trump administration, Banks said that he and the mayor would be working with Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to retain SNAP funding for New York City recipients.

--According to Banks’ testimony, HRA provided rental assistance to 58,100 households in 2016 at a cost of $214 million. Asked about the widespread problem of landlords refusing to honor rental assistance programs and vouchers, Banks provided a phone number that residents can now call if they experience such refusal. Banks said HRA is determined to identify non-compliant landlords and compile a database of these individuals.

--Banks’ testimony also explained that HRA has eliminated the Work Experience Programs (WEP) in favor of Job Training Program slots at NYPD, Parks Department, Department of Sanitation, and Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). The programs will serve up to 210 cash assistance participants annually.

--The HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) accepted 3,444 new clients from August 2016 through January 2017, which is 1,410 more than the same period from the previous year. This was result of an HIV expansion program that allowed “all financially-eligible New York City residents with HIV to seek and obtain HASA services.” Applicants previously had to have developed AIDS or be “symptomatic” to be eligible. Council Member Johnson, who chairs the health committee, spoke about the success of HASA as a key achievement.

--Banks’ testimony also announced a DHS plan to add 10,000 affordable apartments specifically for seniors, veterans, and New Yorkers earning less than $40,000 per household. DHS also has plans to institute an Elder Rental Assistance program, to be funded through the mayor’s “mansion tax,” to help more than 25,000 seniors with monthly rental assistance of up to $1,300. The mansion tax is unlikely to be approved in Albany, though.

--In 2016, DHS placed 3,153 homeless veterans in permanent housing.

--30% of families with children in a DHS shelter have a history of domestic violence. The Fiscal Year 2017 budget included $217 million for DHS security purposes.

--Banks also referenced the 24% drop in evictions citywide since the institution of free legal assistance programs for many New Yorkers facing eviction. More than 40,000 residents avoided eviction in 2015 and 2016. The mayor and the City Council recently agreed to expand such assistance further.

--Banks provided figures to demonstrate why the city has struggled to contain its homelessness problem. Between 2000 and 2014, Banks testified, median rent has increased 19%, while household income decreased by 6.3% over the same period.

--360,000 New Yorkers now spend more than 50% of their income on rent and utilities. Another 140,000 spend more than 30%.

--All in all, homelessness has increased by 115% over the past two decades. In 1994, 23,868 New Yorkers were homeless, by 2014, when Mayor de Blasio took office, that number was 51,470. It is now around 60,000.

Banks' testimony was followed by the General Welfare Committee's examination of the Administration for Children's Services.

by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

10 Key Data Points from Social Services Budget Hearing Mon, 27 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Fighting Back in the Trump Era corey johnson rally via city council

Corey Johnson, the author (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

January 20 marked the beginning of a dangerous new era for our country. For the first time in many of our lives, we now have a president who rose to office on the power of racist, sexist, classist, and xenophobic campaign promises. These are promises he is already working to keep.

Of course, Donald Trump's agenda does not truly represent our nation. The day after his inauguration, millions of people marched in cities around the world to reject Trump’s divisive ideology.

The Women’s Marches on Saturday sent a clear message about where we stand as a people. But speaking truth to power is only the start. We must now organize our communities and engage with our democracy in unprecedented ways. The fates of our economy, our health care system, our environment, our national security, and our most vulnerable populations depend on it.

We can start by creating change right here at home in New York.

As Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently put it, “When they go low, we go local.” Indeed, there’s an enormous opportunity to create change at the local level and ensure that our City and our State remain on a progressive course.

We have made great strides here in New York, from a rising minimum wage to a strong health care marketplace, and we will have to fight hard not to be taken backwards in the Trump era.

That is why I call on all New Yorkers to get engaged, get involved, and make sure that when local elections take place in 2017 and 2018, we choose representatives who are committed to executing your vision for our City and state. The New York State Senate, for example, is still controlled by Republicans, despite the fact that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one. This should not be.

Nationally, 2018 will present us with an opportunity to elect federal representatives who can stand up to Trump in the halls of Congress. New Yorkers need not look very far for seats we can flip – a third of New York’s 27 members of Congress are Republicans!

It will take nothing short of an all-out blitz to turn many of these seats from red to blue, and we need to start organizing now. As the Women’s Marches showed, there is nothing like action. It is time for everyone who cares to be engaged.

While we act locally, we must demand that our representatives in Washington, D.C. cede no ground to Trump and his extreme agenda. As New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler says, we must not normalize his extreme views on issues like immigration, religious freedom, women’s rights, and climate change. Keep the heat on your federal representatives to ensure that they do not buckle in the face of pressure. Anyone who compromises on our essential values should not be re-elected.

Let your federal representatives know how you feel. As an elected official, I can tell you that these calls really do matter.

So step up and be heard. Take your rightful place at the forefront of our democracy. The election may be over, but it’s never too late for passionate and dedicated individuals to put our country back on the right path.

Corey Johnson represents District 3 in the New York City Council, which covers the neighborhoods of Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, the West Village, and parts of Flatiron, SoHo and the Upper West Side.‎ On Twitter @CoreyinNYC.

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Fighting Back in the Trump Era Wed, 25 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Council Member Johnson to Chair Fundraiser for De Blasio Corey Johnson and Bill de Blasio

Council Member Corey Johnson (photo: William Alatriste)

City Council Member Corey Johnson, a top contender to become the next Speaker of the City Council, will chair a fundraiser for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s reelection campaign on Wednesday evening.

Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, has not publicly endorsed the mayor for reelection. Still, he is listed as one of four chairs for the fundraising event being held at the Ronald Feldman Gallery in Lower Manhattan. The event, dubbed “Cocktails in support of Mayor de Blasio” on a campaign webpage, will be headlined by Hollywood stars Mark Ruffalo and Steve Buscemi. The two actors have lent their celebrity to the mayor’s fundraising, soliciting small-dollar donations in email blasts sent out by the campaign.

The other three chairs of the event include prominent trial lawyer Nick Gravante, and Anne Hess and Craig Kaplan, a married couple who have supported Democratic candidates in the past, including U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and New York State Senator Liz Krueger. Wednesday’s event comes ahead of a midnight deadline for the campaign to raise any new money ahead of an upcoming filing deadline with the New York City Campaign Finance Board. The CFB will then vet the contributions to provide public matching funds for qualifying donations.

Johnson, who chairs the Council’s health committee, represents Council District 3, which includes all or parts of Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, the West Village and parts of SoHo, the Flatiron district and the Upper West Side. He has been complimentary of de Blasio in public appearances like press conferences and bill-signings, and worked closely with de Blasio, the mayor’s team, and the NYPD in the aftermath of a terrorist bombing in Chelsea in September.

While he’s participating as a chair of the fundraising event, Johnson declined to comment for this article or offer an explanation of his support for the mayor.

Just last month, seven other City Council Members publicly endorsed de Blasio: Ritchie Torres, Ydanis Rodriguez, Donovan Richards, Margaret Chin, Brad Lander, Stephen Levin, and Helen Rosenthal. Of those seven, Richards, Rosenthal and Rodriguez have hosted fundraising events for the mayor. The seven Council members, all part of the Progressive Caucus, which Johnson is also part of, gave glowing comments about the mayor for a press release from de Blasio’s campaign. Torres and Rodriguez then appeared with de Blasio for a campaign event in the Bronx.

“Mayor de Blasio has paved the way for a more fair and inclusive New York City through Universal Pre-K, paid family leave, the largest increase in affordable housing in decades and safer streets across all boroughs," said Council Member Donovan Richards, in his endorsement. “We still have more work to do and that's why I am endorsing him for a second term as Mayor. The City is heading in the right direction, so we need to continue this push to provide more opportunities for working families and the middle class.”

Johnson’s involvement, with little apparent fanfare, is an expansion of efforts by the mayor’s campaign to curry favor among progressive Council members and boost its fundraising. The campaign is also seeking to discourage high-profile Democrats like city Comptroller Scott Stringer from entering the mayoral primary.

Following the seven Council member endorsements last month, Politico New York reported that workers at 32BJ, an influential union allied with the mayor, had reached out to some of the Council members to ask for their support. There was clear enthusiasm, however. “I was asked if I’d be willing to endorse — I didn’t even have to wait a heartbeat to answer with a yes," Council Member Levin told Politico New York. “I was actually kind of honored to be asked.”

Other Council members brushed off questions about endorsing de Blasio despite the fact that there are two grand juries hearing evidence from investigations into behavior by the mayor and his allies.

Johnson is a likely supporter for the mayor, though his bid to become the next Council Speaker could complicate things. His views largely align with de Blasio’s and he has worked closely with the de Blasio administration on a number of health-related efforts, including responses to disease outbreaks and preventative legislation. Johnson is also an effective fundraiser, having secured more than $264,000 for his own reelection campaign through the most recent filing, in July.

On the other hand, City Council members may be looking for their next Speaker to be more of a check on de Blasio after four years with a very close relationship between de Blasio and Melissa Mark-Viverito, the current Speaker who is term-limited out of office at the end of 2017 and was de Blasio’s choice to lead the Council.

More Council independence may be a selling point in the Speaker’s race, as Johnson competes with other members including Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Mark Levine. However, many Council members agree with de Blasio on most policy.

The next class of City Council members will vote for a Speaker in January of 2018, after the city elections this fall. More than 40 of the Council’s 51 members are incumbents seeking reelection this year.

Complicating any potential endorsement of the mayor are the multiple controversies surrounding de Blasio’s administration, which are currently the subject of two separate grand jury deliberations. The uncertainty involved may be giving pause to Johnson and other elected officials, like Public Advocate Letitia James, who recently hedged in her support for the mayor’s reelection after having given de Blasio her unequivocal backing in August.

Although the seven Council members who endorsed de Blasio last month did so in spite of the scandals -- praising the mayor for his record on affordable housing, universal pre-kindergarten and policing, among other successes -- the same might not hold true for other members, especially as they face reelection this year and may not want to find themselves associated with a mayor mired in legal and ethical questions.

De Blasio campaign spokesperson Dan Levitan declined to comment for this article.

Council Member Johnson had high praise for the mayor after the Chelsea bombing, telling the New York Times,“I actually think some of his best moments as mayor have been in moments of crisis. He’s good at communicating real-time information in a calm and measured manner.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Council Member Johnson to Chair Fundraiser for De Blasio Tue, 10 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
In Unexplored Territory, City Council Members Bundle Campaign Donations greenfield city hall alatriste

Council Member Greenfield and colleagues at City Hall (photo: William Alatriste)

The bundling of campaign contributions by elected officials for fellow candidates in New York City is not new or illegal, but it raises questions about an unexplored area of campaign finance law, especially as the City considers updates to the rules of its heralded campaign finance system.

In New York City electoral campaigns, individuals often lump together contributions from multiple donors to show their support for a single candidate. These bundlers, or intermediaries, as they are termed by the Campaign Finance Board, are monitored to ensure that they comply with the strict disclosure requirements. The act of bundling itself is recognized as a method of potential influence or a means to curry favor with a candidate. It’s not surprising to see real estate developers and lobbyists in the CFB’s bundler database.

Included among the bundlers, though, are even elected officials themselves. City Council members and members of the State Assembly have, in the past and in the current election cycle, bundled donations, throwing up questions about the city’s campaign finance framework that haven't been dealt with in the past.

Council members can bundle donations from others, donate their own personal money, or donate from their campaign accounts to other city campaigns. Members use these tactics to support current or potential colleagues, at times in apparent interest of advancing their prospects for the prized position of being elected Speaker of the City Council by fellow members.

For the still-young 2017 election cycle, two City Council Members have bundled contributions for other members and candidates. Brooklyn Council Member David Greenfield has collected $16,250 in total for four other candidates, all of whom are currently members of the City Council -- Karen Koslowitz, Mark Levine, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and Dan Garodnick. Garodnick is term-limited next year, but has raised money, it seems, for a potential future run for another position. Council Member Corey Johnson has also bundled nearly $15,000 for Carlina Rivera, legislative director to term-limited Council Member Rosie Mendez. Rivera is running for the seat Mendez will vacate, which neighbors Johnson’s seat in Manhattan.

“Councilman Greenfield is proud to support outstanding colleagues in government and believes it's appropriate to do so in the most transparent manner,” said Stephen Snowder, Greenfield’s communications director, in an email. Council Member Johnson was not made available for comment.

Greenfield and Johnson’s bundling is not novel. In the 2013 cycle, a number of elected officials were bundlers, although the practice is not widespread. For instance, in the last cycle Garodnick bundled $7,250 for Scott Stringer’s campaign for Comptroller and $1,500 for City Council Member Andrew Cohen’s campaign; then-State Assembly Member (now Congresswoman) Grace Meng bundled $4,000 for then-Comptroller John Liu’s mayoral campaign; there were other smaller bundles for as little as $75 for a candidate. In the 2009 elections, then-City Council Member (now State Senator) Simcha Felder was a prolific bundler, raising as much as $30,000 for six City Council candidates.

(CFB records show Greenfield has bundled before, when he was head of the Sephardic Community Federation, a few years before joining the City Council in 2010.)

The city’s campaign finance rules don’t cover the scenario of elected officials bundling funds for candidates; it is perfectly permissable. A CFB spokesperson declined comment but said the agency would consider the issue.

City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations, was unsure of where bundling by elected officials would potentially fall in the city’s legal or ethical statutes. “It’s an area we haven’t legislated or really dug into,” he told Gotham Gazette. “Ultimately I think what’s most important is that people are able to see who is bundling, for whom, how much, and are able to see the influence that might come from that.” Legislation related to campaign finance falls under the purview of Kallos’ committee.

There is currently a package of eight such bills under consideration, including one that would prevent contributions bundled by those who do business with the city from being matched with public funds -- though it is unclear if City Council members or other city electeds would be classified as "doing business" entities. “I think that anytime there’s bundling, regardless of who it is, we don’t want to match that with public dollars,” said Kallos, who also indicated that those bills, which have been dormant for some time, might soon be voted upon by the committee, which would pave the way for a full Council vote and movement into law -- perhaps in time for the 2017 election cycle.

When asked if elected official bundling might be an area that needs to be examined from an ethical standpoint, Kallos responded, “I’ve been pretty cautious with my campaign account and I’ve always been concerned with how campaign accounts are used. On the state level they’re used for criminal defense, they’ve been used to pay for personal items, for personal trips, for vehicles. Ultimately I believe that campaign contributions and campaign funds should be used for electoral purposes.” 

From a good government perspective, while the practice is legal, it is questionable. “While I may find it somewhat problematic that they are currying favor with colleagues and/or other elected officials by becoming a bundler, there’s nothing inherently illegal or wrong about it,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “That elected officials are doing this now seems a bit unseemly because it’s really about amassing power in front of another elected official,” he added.

Council members eyeing the speakership of the City Council do use campaign funds to contribute to other candidates, as well as bundle for current or prospective colleagues. The City Council Speaker is elected by his or her fellow Council members. Council Members Levine, Ferreras-Copeland, and Johnson are all being discussed, among others, as candidates to be the next Speaker, which will be decided in January 2018, after the 2017 elections. It is unclear if Greenfield has his eyes on the speakership, though he is already a power broker in the Council as chair of the land use committee.

Dadey said it may be a simple show of support among colleagues in government and politics, and that they shouldn’t necessarily be treated any differently than private citizens. “In regulating this business, we have to be careful not to overregulate and solve a problem that may not necessarily exist,” he said. “This is an example where we’re assuming improper motives when there may not be any.”

But, Dadey does worry about the use of bundling to “curry favor” for a speakership bid. “I would like to think that the Speaker is going to be chosen not on the basis of who has raised the most money but who has the capacity, the talents and the insight to do it.

“No one raises money for a candidate for office without some understanding that they will be there when the fund-raiser needs them,” Dadey said.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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

Note: this article has been updated to clarify some of the language around bundling and to remove reference to Anthony Weiner, whose inclusion was related to a time before his scandals of the past several years, which nonetheless color any mention of the former Congressman.

In Unexplored Territory, City Council Members Bundle Campaign Donations Tue, 01 Nov 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Time to Say and Do More for Women's Health Eric Adams Brooklyn women's health

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams

Tampons. Periods. Breastfeeding. Hot flashes.

These terms, and others relevant to women’s health, have traditionally been considered taboo — inappropriate for polite conversation and therefore left unmentioned. That silence has had serious consequences for women and girls, who are denied access to feminine hygiene products, charged more at the cash register for “women’s” versions of household items, and made to feel ashamed about their bodies.

This taboo extends to sexual health, with terrible costs for young adults who have been denied information about reproduction, contraception, and healthy relationships. As a result, the United States has disproportionately high rates of unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and domestic violence.

The lack of healthy dialogue on these matters has delivered unhealthy results. Thankfully, strong leaders are stepping up and speaking out, and we’re beginning to see the benefits. Through the leadership of elected officials such as State Senator Sue Serino and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, with support from Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, the New York State Legislature recently voted to eliminate the sales tax on tampons, sanitary napkins, and other feminine hygiene products. (Governor Andrew Cuomo has pledged to sign the bill).

Just as we provide an exemption from the sales tax for necessities such as groceries and clothing, feminine hygiene products will be properly defined as necessities for women who menstruate, not luxuries. The exemption will particularly assist low-income New Yorkers who have had to choose between or ration such basic necessities due to their limited resources.

New York City now has an opportunity to build on the momentum from this achievement. The City Council is preparing to hold a hearing on a critical proposal by Council Member Ferreras-Copeland and Speaker Mark-Viverito to offer feminine hygiene products for free in public schools, homeless shelters, and correctional facilities.

This is a logical extension of our shared interest in promoting common-sense public health measures, both physical and psychological. Consider that a girl in school who has her period but is not carrying tampons or pads must visit a guidance counselor or the school nurse and explain her situation, often needing to negotiate hall passes and having to wait to be seen - the entire experience seems to have been intended to maximize embarrassment and class time missed. In jail, each woman receives a very limited supply of feminine hygiene products each month while additional supplies are sold for extortionate prices at the commissary; many must improvise with rolled-up toilet paper, a humiliating and unhealthy situation. Any woman or girl who is forced to use menstrual items for long stretches of time, due to issues of access or affordability, is put at higher risk for cervical cancer, toxic shock syndrome, and other concerns resulting from product overuse.

We need action at all levels of government. In homeless shelters, many women and girls simply cannot afford to buy feminine hygiene products, as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and flexible spending accounts disallow such purchases. Legislation such as the Fund Essential Menstruation (FEM) Products Act of 2015 from Representative Grace Meng, which would reclassify feminine hygiene products to allow for purchase with flexible spending accounts, is essential to move forward and should be a bipartisan priority. For starters, we should ensure that every member of the New York State congressional delegation gets behind the bill.

These initiatives are critical to eliminating inequities that undermine the position of women in our civil society. A recent report from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), for example, documented that products sold to women cost seven percent more on average than nearly identical products sold to men. This includes basic hygiene products such as shaving razors. We have a shared responsibility, men and women alike, to demand that these disparities end now. Companies that continue this behavior need to be called out in the public arena and pressured to answer for these discrepancies.

We must continue to drive the conversation about gender equity, especially around women’s health, to break the silence and remove the taboos. When I became Brooklyn borough president, I was deeply concerned that women who have recently had children are often ostracized for breastfeeding and pumping milk at work or in public areas, despite the fact that the law protects their right to this practice. I was proud to open our lactation lounge at Brooklyn Borough Hall last year, as part of the Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone initiative by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), so women in Downtown Brooklyn have a comfortable lounge in which to breastfeed or pump milk. And, we are able to raise awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding and to celebrate the practice.

I am now pressing forward with City Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Robert Cornegy, Jr., and Corey Johnson (the latter are two of the standout male leaders in the fight for advancing women’s health) on a proposal to require the City to create dedicated space for nursing moms in a range of municipal government offices that serve the public, such as New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) job centers and New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) borough offices.

This conversation should include the entirety of women’s lives. Our society has often avoided discussion of menopause, depriving many women of information about the symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and an awareness of available treatments. In our celebration of Women’s History Month this past March, Council Member Cumbo and I organized a day of panel discussions and workshops to speak with women about every stage of life and to start a conversation surrounding the natural changes that occur in life, not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. For some, it was the first time anyone had engaged them on these topics. We ask businesses and other institutions to follow suit and to reasonably accommodate these life transitions.

The days of relegating women’s health to second-class status or worse are over, and our laws and policies must reflect that for every stage of a woman’s life. Men, who still write most of those laws and policies, have a responsibility to join in this conversation and to insist on fairness and equality.

Eric Adams is the president of Brooklyn. On Twitter @BPEricAdams.

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Time to Say and Do More for Women's Health Wed, 01 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000