Gotham Gazette Tue, 17 Oct 2017 20:44:26 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Public Advocate Debate Shows Stark Differences Between James and Polanco Tish James JC Polanco public advocate debate via nyc votes

James & Polanco at their debate (photo: @NYCVotes)

Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat running for reelection, squared off against her Republican opponent, J.C. Polanco, in a friendly yet competitive debate on Monday that highlighted substantive differences, and some shared opinions, between the two candidates on a range of policy issues. Given the race features an incumbent, the debate centered in large part on James’ record as public advocate over the last four years, especially her performance in holding the mayoral administration accountable.

Hosted at the CUNY Graduate Center in front of a small, closed audience, the debate was the first and only to be held in the public advocate race leading up to Election Day, November 7. It was held at James’ discretion -- she agreed to debate Polanco despite his failure to meet the financial thresholds to qualify for an official Campaign Finance Board-sponsored debate.

The two candidates butted heads, albeit respectfully, through the hurried hour-long debate, articulating sharp contrasting opinions on rent regulations, charter schools, criminal justice issues, and the overarching role of the public advocate’s office as an ombudsman for the city. While James touted her record, Polanco referenced his qualifications stemming from his work for the state Assembly minority conference and his past role as president of the city Board of Elections. He called himself a “common sense” Republican.

Early on, Polanco sought to paint James as a too-close ally of Mayor Bill de Blasio who has failed to stand up to the mayor and the progressive-dominated City Council, a pitch that has been at the center of his campaign along with proposals to strengthen the independence of the public advocate’s office. Polanco believes the office should have investigative and subpoena powers over city agencies, which would require a city charter revision approved by voters, as well as funding equivalent to the much larger comptroller’s office.

James, an experienced litigator, has used her legal skills to inform the core functions of her office. Over the last four years, she said she has worked “to transform the office into a vehicle for social and economic justice for all,” claiming to have resolved more than 30,000 constituent complaints and touting the passage of more legislation than all her four predecessors together. She highlighted her signature legislative achievement: a new law that bans employers from asking job candidates their salary histories, which is aimed at closing the gender pay gap.

James has sued the city 11 times, but has been bounced from several cases for lack of standing. James had to defend her approach early on in the debate when asked by moderator and NY1 anchor Errol Louis whether she sought to win those lawsuits or just make headlines by filing suits.

“I make no apologies for standing up for those without a voice,” James responded, insisting that she would continue to do so and noting that she is working with members of the City Council on a potential legislative solution to codify her ability to sue the city and its agencies. She also cited several instances where she had been victorious, including a lawsuit to make Department of Education School Leadership Team meetings open to the public and another in favor of seniors who were being denied rent increase exemptions by the city.

Polanco agreed that the public advocate should have broader standing in the right to sue the city administration, but pointed out that James would continue to fail until given the statutory authority. Himself an attorney, Polanco sharply stated that it was obvious that James did not have standing in cases. “You’ve had over two million minutes in office, I know in my first minute, as soon as I get there, that we have to work very closely on a public education campaign to get this question on the ballot so that cases stop getting thrown out of court,” he said.

It was one of the few issues the two candidates agreed on. James has called for subpoena power for the office in the past, which she repeated Monday, and said the mayor “should not hold the purse strings to the office of the public advocate.”

Both candidates disagreed with debate moderator Brian Lehrer from WNYC, when he suggested that perhaps the public advocate might be more effective if they represented a different political party than the mayor. James has been a close ally of de Blasio and endorsed him for reelection. “I stand with the mayor when I agree with him, and I oppose him when he’s wrong,” she said, pointing out instances when she has critiqued his administration, such as when the mayor opposed creating a stand-alone agency for veterans affairs or when she challenged him over the lack of air-conditioned buses for disabled school children.

“I don’t think that Tish has been as independent of the mayor as she claims,” said Polanco, stressing that he had heard little consternation from James when the mayor and his administration were embroiled in a pay-to-play scandal. “There’s a whole myriad of times where I think this public advocate has been very quiet and silent to make sure that the mayor’s on her good side and that the voters who are constantly with the mayor are with her in four years.” He said he would have no problem “going toe-to-toe with Republicans” if he were in the office.

Neither James nor Polanco supports de Blasio’s homelessness-fighting plan that includes opening 90 new shelters while halting the use of hotels and cluster site apartments. Polanco was direct, blaming the mayor’s mismanagement for the problem and insisting that new shelters would burden neighborhoods that are already inundated with shelters. “This is gonna just help two people,” Polanco said, “One, the mayor because he’s gonna get this problem off his back. And two, wealthy developers that are gonna benefit from building these new shelters.”

James, on the other hand, delivered a meandering response that delved into the need for “bold leadership” and housing bond legislation to encourage the creation of affordable housing in the city. When NY1’s Louis sought more clarity, she said, “I think at this point in time what we really need to do is look for other initiatives in the city of New York to address homelessness...what we really need to do is think bolder and we need to make sure that the two individuals, the governor and the mayor of the city of New York, two individuals with oversized egos, resolve this issue so that we don’t have countless numbers of individuals that are homeless this evening.”

“So I’m gonna take that as a ‘no’ on the 90 shelters,” Louis noted.

A clear distinction emerged between the two candidates on how they view the public advocate’s office as a voice in police accountability. James has been a vocal proponent of criminal justice reform and she recounted her efforts to unseal the grand jury transcripts from the Eric Garner case, touted her support for reforming the grand jury system, for releasing the disciplinary records of officers charged with misconduct, and for advocating for the NYPD’s body camera program and shot-spotter technology. She noted that she led the movement for the city’s pension funds to divest from gun retailers as well.

“It’s really critically important that we be a voice in the criminal justice system,” she said. She also said that she is still reviewing the City Council’s long-proposed Right to Know Act -- that would require officers to identify themselves during certain street stops and inform people of their right to refuse a search in some instances -- but said she supports its objectives.

Polanco sought yet again to tie James to de Blasio, critiquing the mayor for creating a hostile attitude toward the NYPD and criticizing James for standing with him. “Frankly, this city has gone through an enormous political campaign against police,” he said, “including adding all of these layers and layers of actually monitoring their job performance, which really strangles the police from active policing.” He did concede that in cases where an officer violates a person’s constitutional rights, the release of disciplinary records is warranted.

The candidates had an opportunity to cross-examine each other, which Polanco seized on to question James’ support for de Blasio despite his proximity to lobbyists and consultants with clients who had business with the city. “How could you in good conscience endorse the mayor for reelection?” he asked. James deflected, speaking of the larger issue of campaign finance reform and the need to repeal the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. (Polanco jokingly praised her masterful deflection. “That was good, how you did that,” he chuckled.)

James asked Polanco about his position on workers’ rights, and whether he would picket with the employees of Spectrum, currently in the seventh month of a strike against their parent employer Charter Communications, which owns NY1. Polanco agreed that labor unions have the right to strike, but said elected officials should stay out of this case, which involves a private union.

Asked about the rent freezes that de Blasio has repeatedly touted as one of his biggest achievements for low-income New Yorkers, Polanco called them a mistake and made a forceful argument against rent regulations and other policies, referencing what he called the city’s “army of social engineers” that he said have exacerbated problems. He said the city’s policies were disincentivizing landlords who are “hard-working people just like ourselves” and that not all of them are “evil landlords” that should be put on a list, taking a sly dig at the public advocate, whose office famously puts out the “100 Worst Landlords” list every year. “We really have to take a look at the way we’re getting involved in engineering the market to create a social outcome,” Polanco said, offering a somewhat typical conservative assessment of meddling in the free market.

While James agreed with Polanco that the city needs to reform the system of tax breaks given to luxury developers in exchange for creating affordable housing, she staunchly backed the rent freezes enacted under de Blasio’s administration. “I think it’s really critically important that we stand up and strike back against market forces and gentrification,” she said.

The issue that divided James and Polanco the most was charter schools. Earlier, the debate briefly veered into the issue when Polanco suggested James’ opposition to them was because of her partisan affiliation with the mayor. James insisted, “All I want charter schools to do is play by the same rules and to be held accountable and obviously to be accessible to all children in the city of New York.” She later criticized charter networks that have zero-tolerance discipline policies and high staff turnover, and that tend to exclude homeless and disabled students. She emphasized instead that the state should live up to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling and provide sufficient funding to all public schools.

Polanco, a long-time educator, disagreed. “This is not an issue about money, this is an issue about the culture of education in our inner cities,” he said. He decried the “ultra-left” city leadership, particularly the City Council, that he said conflates discipline with racism. Polanco promised that as public advocate he would push for a major expansion of charter schools. James said she has been supportive of some charter schools in the past and is a proponent of school choice, but that she maintains her critiques of some charter schools and networks.

There were some moments of levity at the debate, particularly during a lightning round of mostly “yes” or “no” questions near its conclusion. Polanco said that in November he will vote for a constitutional convention while James said it was “too risky.” Both were critical of district attorneys being allowed to accept campaign donations from people with business before them. James supports the legalization of small amounts of marijuana while Polanco opposes it. And while James had never voted for a member of the opposite party, Polanco said he had.

“Wanna tell us who?” Louis ventured.

“Tish!” Polanco said, with a wry smile, eliciting laughs from the entire room.

The exchange was perhaps telling of the fact that Democrats have a massive enrollment advantage in the city. Combined with her immense lead in fundraising, James is a heavy favorite to win a second term come November, though Polanco has proven a substantive and thoughtful candidate. Other public advocate candidates who will be on the ballot include Green Party nominee James Lane, Libertarian Devin Balkind, and Conservative Party nominee Michael O’Reilly.

The James-Polanco debate concluded much as it had begun, with James stressing the importance of the checks and balances provided by her office. “You can get work done and be quite effective, but you need to reimagine the office,” she said. For Polanco, winning the office itself will be a battle, in a city where there are six registered Democrats to every registered Republican. He readily acknowledged that Monday night. Everyone knows trying to win citywide office as a Republican is an uphill battle, he said, but it’s much more challenging than that. “This is climbing Mount Everest in December,” he said, “This is tough.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Public Advocate Debate Shows Stark Differences Between James and Polanco Tue, 17 Oct 2017 01:23:06 +0000
Who will be at the second mayoral debate? nyc votes errol and audience

Debate #1 (photo: @NYCVotes)

By most accounts, the first general election mayoral debate was at best minimally helpful in providing voters a substantive exchange of ideas among the three candidates on stage, each competing to lead the city of 8.5 million people and an $85 billion budget for the next four years.

Outbursts and interruptions by audience members and candidate Bo Dietl made for a raucous and rowdy atmosphere where the policy positions of Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat seeking reelection, and Nicole Malliotakis, the Republican nominee, were often drowned out, overshadowed, or truncated.

“It was a bit of a circus,” said debate panelist and WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer, “the crowd was rowdy, the mayor’s opponents aggressive.”

Still, there was some intelligence gleaned from the debate, both in terms of the personalities of the candidates and their policy positions. A good deal of substance was present if you were able to listen closely enough or catch the debate a second time, perhaps desensitized to the lack of decorum shown by Dietl and the crowd, where most of those interfering with the discussion on stage were anti-de Blasio -- either Dietl or Malliotakis supporters or there simply to jeer the mayor.

The three candidates -- seven names will be on the November mayoral ballot, but just these three qualified for the first of two official, televised debates -- did have opportunities to discuss issues like affordable housing, criminal justice, homelessness, the city budget, mass transit funding, street congestion, school segregation, and more.

In the aftermath of a debate that left many, including, apparently, moderator and NY1 anchor Errol Louis, exasperated and frustrated, one important question is who will be on stage for the second official debate, scheduled for Wednesday, November 1 at 7 p.m., televised on CBS.

In order to qualify for that contest, known by campaign finance law as the “leading contenders” debate, one of two sets of criteria will be at play. One is simply a fundraising and spending threshold of $1 million each. The other has a much lower financial threshold ($174,225) and includes candidates attaining at least 15% in a public opinion poll that includes all of the candidates on the ballot (there are a few other minor details to it, but those are the broad strokes).

In all likelihood, the first criteria will be used to determine eligibility, which will almost-certainly again limit the field to de Blasio, Malliotakis, and Dietl. However, because Dietl is not a participant in the Campaign Finance Board public matching program, rules state that the lead sponsor, in this case CBS, has discretion whether to invite him or not. Dietl’s inclusion, or lack thereof, would have significant impact on the debate, if not the outcome of the vote on November 7.

Neither Dietl nor Malliotakis has hit the $1 million raise and spend thresholds yet, though both are fairly close, and they have until October 27 to do so. Dietl told Gotham Gazette it will not be a problem, in part because he has deep personal resources to help his campaign if needed. Reached for comment about whether CBS plans to invite Dietl, a spokesperson said the station would not weigh in on a hypothetical.

"I think they're going to invite me,” Dietl told Gotham Gazette on Wednesday. “I don't think there's too much of a debate without me. There's no entertainment value, I bring out the real facts. CBS knows that, they'll invite me."

Asked if he felt OK with how he had handled himself at the first debate -- during which he spoke almost exclusively in a yell, grunted into his microphone repeatedly, interrupted, and had his mic cut off by Louis -- Dietl indicated no regrets.

“My passion showed,” he said on Wednesday. “I feel great. I thought last night went well. A little out of control…You had to get in to say what you want to say.”

"It’s important for people to see human beings,” Dietl said, “rather than robot politicians. I got a lot of my points out. A lot of people saw Bo could be mayor of New York City against a couple of politicians."

Dietl’s presence at the first debate -- and his potential presence at the second -- hurts Malliotakis’ chances of consolidating the anti-de Blasio vote and narrowing the 40-plus-point gap in the polls. While Dietl argues he has the better chance of the two to defeat de Blasio, Malliotakis appears a more cogent candidate and has her own lead on Dietl in polling.

Asked about the debate and Dietl’s presence at a Wednesday press conference in the Bronx, Malliotakis said, “Certainly I would prefer a one-on-one debate with the mayor. I believe that I am the clear alternative to Bill de Blasio being offered in November. I would love the opportunity to debate him one-on-one, and we’ll see, maybe November 1 -- I intend to make the threshold to qualify for the CBS debate, and we’ll see what happens there.”

She said one-on-one with de Blasio would let her better make her case and allow the candidates to drill down on the issues more. “I’m very pleased with the way the debate went,” she added, saying she thought she made many of her key points and held the mayor accountable.

Along with Dietl’s presence, or that of other mayoral candidates who are suing to get on stage, the other key question about the second debate is the live audience. The crowd at Symphony Space acted more like it was an NFL game than a political debate, leading to at least one ejection and several admonishments from Louis, the moderator.

The venue for the second debate is the smaller CUNY Graduate Center auditorium, and it is not yet clear how CBS and its co-sponsors will handle ticket dissemination. They may filter tickets through sponsor organizations, as well as CUNY faculty and students, and not through the candidate campaigns.

“[W]e are reviewing what happened last night and will do what we can to keep the focus of the Nov. 1 debate on the candidates,” the CBS New York spokesperson, Rachel Ferguson, told Gotham Gazette on Wednesday.

When asked for comment on the debate, the Campaign Finance Board gave credit to Louis and his fellow questioners and pointed to crowd behavior.

“A lot of interested voters showed up at last night’s debate determined to make their voices heard,” said Amy Loprest, Executive Director of the NYC Campaign Finance Board, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “While it is regrettable that the crowd reduced the amount of time available for questions, the debate moderator and panelists did their very best to ensure the candidates addressed a wide range of issues that directly affect New Yorkers. The [Campaign Finance] Act requires these debates so that all voters can hear directly from the candidates about the issues that matter to them. As a result, the New Yorkers who tuned in to last night’s debate are better equipped to cast an informed ballot for the city they want on November 7th.”

Asked about the debate at an unrelated Thursday press conference, de Blasio expressed his own dismay, but did not offer any specific prescriptions. “It was not what the people of New York City deserved,” de Blasio said. “It was a lost opportunity.”

While the mayor’s supporters often cheered his answers and chanted “four more years” to drown out boos or jeers from others in the crowd, they appeared to take the approach more reactively, responding to the tone set early on by de Blasio detractors who interrupted the mayor’s opening statement and repeatedly heckled during his answers to questions.

Asked about whether Dietl should be invited to the second debate, a spokesperson for the mayor’s campaign, Dan Levitan, said in a statement, "Under Mayor de Blasio crime is at record lows, jobs are at record highs, and New York City is building affordable housing at a record pace. We are happy for any opportunity to talk about the Mayor’s record and we look forward to debating whoever the CFB and debate sponsors decide to include.”

Another candidate, Michael Tolkin, has repeatedly met financial thresholds by giving his own campaign money and has not been invited to debate, either in the Democratic primary, where he came in a distant third to de Blasio and Sal Albanese, or in the general, where he is running on his self-created Smart Cities ballot line.

Albanese, too, is running again in the general, on the Reform Party line. He came in a distant second to de Blasio in the primary, but showed fairly well, at about 15%, given the substantial disadvantages he faced. Despite limited financial resources (Albanese barely qualified for the two primary debates where he faced de Blasio one-on-one), Albanese did poll better than Dietl in one recent general election survey, leading to cries of injustice from Albanese about his exclusion from the debate.

Both Albanese and Tolkin are suing to be included in the debate. Therefore, there’s a chance that the second debate, on CBS, could include up to five candidates.

The other two candidates who will be on the November ballot are Akeem Browder of the Green Party and Libertarian candidate Aaron Commey.

As for Dietl, he said he thinks the debate gave new life to his campaign, citing his performance, the overall response, and media interest the day after. Calling the debate “a real turning point,” Dietl said, "let's wait and see what the next poll says. I think you'll be surprised."

For her part, Malliotakis also said Wednesday that she believes the race is closer than the polls from Marist College and Quinnipiac University show, citing her campaign’s internal polling and the response she gets all over the city. “This is a race,” she said.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Who will be at the second mayoral debate? Thu, 12 Oct 2017 20:43:24 +0000
Debate Showcases Sharp Differences Among Mayoral Candidates on Transit, Congestion de Blasio subway

De Blasio on the subway (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

The first general election mayoral debate, held Tuesday, was often devoid of substance amid repeated interruptions of a restive audience and candidates who seemed more interested in scoring political points than talking policy. Mayor Bill de Blasio regularly retreated to stump speech talking points as his opponents, Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis and retired NYPD detective Bo Dietl, attacked him over and over again. Malliotakis offered up a few policy proposals while Dietl largely blustered and ranted through his time, at times overshadowing any policy ideas he was putting forth.

On the issues of mass transit and street congestion, however, none of the candidates, including de Blasio, seemed to have immediate solutions for the city’s problems with its deteriorating subways and clogged roadways.

Earlier this year, de Blasio faced ample criticism for a seemingly lax attitude over problems in the subway system, which cascaded into a full-blown crisis this summer with repeated train breakdowns, derailments, and unrelenting delays. He was dragged by transit activists and political opponents to ride the subways more and to use his bully pulpit to advocate for increased funding and immediate action by the state, which controls the MTA and bears most responsibility for the subways.

After MTA Chair Joe Lhota put forth an emergency subway action plan and asked the city and state to split the $836 million price tag, Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed and de Blasio balked, saying the city should not be on the hook for any more funds and insisting that the state repay money it had raided from the MTA -- ironically, the same $456 million figure now being asked of the city.

De Blasio pitched a millionaire’s tax proposal to fund MTA repairs as well as subsidized fares for low-income New Yorkers, addressing another area of significant criticism, his unwillingness to fund the “Fair Fares” campaign. His proposal was immediately panned as having little hope for passage in Albany and as lacking immediacy. The mayor pointed back to the state, and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

At Tuesday’s debate, both Malliotakis and Dietl agreed that the city bears significant responsibility for the MTA, where the mayor has four of 14 board appointees, and should contribute its fair share.

“If my kids are riding on a school bus and the school bus needs brakes and I have the money to fix that, I’m gonna fix it,” responded Dietl, to a question from debate panellist Gloria Pazmino, a Politico New York reporter, about whether the candidates would fund half the MTA emergency action plan and support a potential congestion pricing proposal. “This mayor over here says it’s not his responsibility. He’s the mayor of New York, it is his responsibility,” Dietl added, shouting. Dietl veered into incomprehension before seeming to say that regarding congestion, the de Blasio administration’s issuance of thousands of parking placards to “flunkies” is a major factor in the problem.

“I absolutely do believe that the city has a responsibility, the mayor has a responsibility to make sure that his constituents can get to and from work,” said a more measured Malliotakis. She emphasized the role the mayor’s appointees to the MTA board could play, in seeking more capital investment from the state for necessary infrastructure upgrades. And she vowed to work with the governor to solve the crisis, before snarkily turning to de Blasio and challenging him, “Are you afraid of Governor Cuomo?”

Although, Malliotakis did not directly answer either part of the question -- whether she would agree to fund half of the MTA emergency plan and whether she favors a congestion pricing scheme -- she has publicly said before that the city could use funds set aside in reserves for the MTA emergency action plan. "On congestion pricing she has said she likes the Sam Schwartz plan but, remains open minded regarding other plans,” campaign spokesperson Rob Ryan clarified in an email on Wednesday. Schwartz is a renowned traffic engineer and the proposal Ryan referenced is Move New York, which involves reducing tolls at bridges with less traffic and increasing them in higher traffic areas, variable pricing for peak and off-peak hours, and adding tolls to the East River bridges, among other ideas. It is a popular plan aimed at both fighting congestion and raising revenue to create a city with improved mass transit and better flowing roads. 

Malliotakis has also supported converting all traffic signals into Smart Lights that use sensors and artificial intelligence to control the flow of traffic and reduce congestion, while also preventing accidents and cutting down on vehicle emissions. The assemblymember's plan would prioritize communities with high vehicle ownership in Queens and Staten Island, and envisions a total cost of about $1 billion to replace every traffic light in the city.   

De Blasio does not support the Move New York plan, and has called congestion pricing a “regressive tax,” instead proposing his own tax on wealthy New Yorkers. “The solution is a millionaires tax...Millionaires and billionaires can pay a little more in this city so the rest of us can get around,” he said at the debate.

The mayor did not acknowledge the existence of the Move New York plan, instead appearing to again reference the fact that Cuomo -- who has said it is time to reconsider congestion pricing and is expected to unveil his own proposal in January -- has not yet outlined his own proposal.

De Blasio repeated his assertion that the state should bear the costs of MTA fixes, pointing out as he has done before that the state diverted about $456 million in city money away from the transit authority. “That was earmarked money for the MTA that the governor and the Legislature diverted away from the MTA that would be right now available,” he said. “It is right now available in state surplus to address the problems of the MTA. By the way, the Assembly member voted to divert those funds away.”

What de Blasio did not fully acknowledge, even when pushed by Pazmino, was the timeline for his proposed millionaire’s tax. The tax must be approved by the state Legislature, which will not meet until next year, and there is already opposition to it, particularly from Republicans who control the state Senate. “The millionaires tax is very, very popular,” de Blasio insisted, pointing to support in a recent public poll. “If Governor Cuomo would support it and put the energy you’ve seen put into some other things, it could be achieved in Albany. We don’t have an alternative plan right now.”

De Blasio offered no plans or ideas for reducing street congestion.

Malliotakis rebutted the mayor, insisting that she had supported lockbox legislation to preserve the MTA’s budget, and she was quick to pounce on the mayor’s omission of a plan to address current needs. The millionaire’s tax is a “cockamamie plan,” she said.

“It’s an emergency plan,” she said of the MTA’s current strategy. “It needs to be done now.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note - This article has been updated.

Debate Showcases Sharp Differences Among Mayoral Candidates on Transit, Congestion Wed, 11 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing the First General Election Mayoral Debate

Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette

October 11, 2017 - Max & Murphy: Analyzing the First General Election Mayoral Debate

debate stage277The morning after the first mayoral debate of the general election -- featuring candidates Bill de Blasio, Nicole Malliotakis, and Bo Dietl -- Max & Murphy discuss how each candidate performed, the issues discussed, answers, non-answers, strategy, and more.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy. You can hear the episode through the embedded audio below or download it wherever you get your podcasts.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing the First General Election Mayoral Debate Wed, 11 Oct 2017 04:00:23 +0000
Post-Debate, Malliotakis Clarifies Some Stances, Promises Plans to Come malliotakis at presser

Assemblymember Malliotakis (photo: @NMalliotakis)

During the first general election mayoral debate on Tuesday night, the substance was often overshadowed by the yelling, whether from the crowd or the candidates, especially Bo Dietl. Nevertheless, there were a series of policy-oriented questions posed to the candidates and multiple instances where responses from Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat seeking re-election, and Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican Assembly member, were vague or significantly insufficient.

On issues like school segregation, mass transit funding, and street congestion, de Blasio gave answers he’s been giving that are each lacking in different ways. There is much about the mayor’s stances on issues, reelection platform, and debate answers that needs further discussion.

But for Malliotakis, widely seen as de Blasio’s main challenger, especially given the dynamics at play during the three-way debate on Tuesday, the televised contest was her opportunity to introduce herself to more voters, make an impact, and gain new momentum in a race that is seen by many as a foregone conclusion of four more years for de Blasio. Early polling indicates that the mayor is indeed gliding toward a second and final term.

Malliotakis, a boxer who strapped on the gloves in her first campaign ad, landed a significant number of body blows to the mayor during the debate, as she has throughout her campaign, though de Blasio has not shown signs of wobbling as of yet. Where Malliotakis has been less than impressive and was again at the debate, however, is in presenting her own ideas and policy plans for where she will take the city if elected.

In that vein, several of her debate statements required follow-ups.

Malliotakis showed at the debate that she does not have plans in four major areas: school desegregation, property tax reform, slicing the city’s ballooning budget, and affordable housing. The first does not appear to be on her radar, but she has long made property tax reform and budget growth areas of focus in her attacks on the man she’s pitching to replace. Malliotakis regularly calls the property tax system inequitable and has criticized de Blasio for not addressing it (he has indeed been delinquent on this topic, promising to tackle it in a potential term two), while she has also beat the spending drum over and over, but can only name a drop in the $85 billion bucket for what she would cut: some of the “special assistants” de Blasio has hired so many of during his term.

And, perhaps the most exasperating for those looking for policy proposals from her, affordable housing, recognized by many, including the candidate herself, as a crisis in the city, yet one she has only railed about, without offering much beyond a call for doing more city business with nonprofit affordable housing developers.

Gotham Gazette sent a series of post-debate clarifying questions to the Malliotakis campaign on Wednesday. Several interesting answers, and two telling non-answers, were provided.

A spokesperson for Malliotakis said that she will be releasing an affordable housing plan before the election and that she will be having a “property tax news conference” on Thursday, October 26. (Malliotakis has called for a cap on property tax increases, and voted for one in Albany, though it has not passed her chamber, which is controlled by Democrats.)

On budget cuts, the campaign did not offer a response.

As for school desegregation, Malliotakis addressed a question from moderator Errol Louis of NY1 by discussing the need for metal detectors in schools and her support for charter schools. Asked on Wednesday if Malliotakis believes anything should be done to desegregate the city’s highly racially segregated schools, the campaign offered no response.

Malliotakis has more clear proposals on mass transit funding and fighting congestion than she made clear at the debate, possibly because she was either interrupted by Dietl and audience members or somewhat thrown off by the general course of the debate. Either way, she did not make clear that she wants the city to commit half of the funding for the MTA emergency subway action plan and if she supports moving toward some version of congestion pricing. But, she has in the past expressed support for using some of the city’s surplus funds to provide the MTA with that money, which de Blasio has refused to do, and for the Move New York congestion-fighting plan. Her campaign confirmed these positions on Wednesday. On the Move New York plan, her campaign said she likes it, but is “keeping an open mind.” Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to put forth his own version of a congestion pricing plan in January.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Post-Debate, Malliotakis Clarifies Some Stances, Promises Plans to Come Wed, 11 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio, Malliotakis & Dietl Engage in Raucous Mayoral Debate general election debate

the first general election mayoral debate (photo: @NYCVotes)

The first mayoral debate of the general election verged on the brink of chaos for the better part of 90 minutes as Mayor Bill de Blasio faced challengers Nicole Malliotakis and Bo Dietl in front of a raucous, disruptive audience at the Symphony Space on Manhattan’s Upper West Side on Tuesday.

While attacks flew throughout the night, largely from Malliotakis and Dietl toward de Blasio, on more substantive matters, the debate was largely a two-person contest, between de Blasio and Malliotakis, a sitting Republican state Assembly member. Dietl, a former NYPD detective running on his own party line, largely shouted during his opportunities to speak, while also grunting into his microphone and regularly interrupting others. Within minutes of the start of the debate, the audience -- which appeared to include groups of supporters of each of the three candidates -- howled and heckled, drowning out the candidates and drawing sharp rebukes from debate moderator and NY1 anchor Errol Louis.

Throughout much of the debate, substantive policy discussion took a back seat to yelling and interrupting, whether by Dietl and Malliotakis or their supporters in the crowd. With varying degrees of success, the challengers took turns lambasting de Blasio, the progressive Democratic incumbent, who defended his policies and his first-term record while criticizing both his opponents as “right-wing Republicans” who voted for President Donald Trump.

Malliotakis fared far better in both critiquing and responding to de Blasio, offering certain policy alternatives and pointed criticisms of his administration. On the other hand, Dietl struggled to articulate cogent responses to specific policy questions and veered off into tangential arguments and ad hominem attacks. At one point he had his microphone cut-off by the debate moderator for repeatedly interrupting.

As she has been on the campaign trail for months, Malliotakis offered sharp attacks on de Blasio over his leadership, budgeting, stewardship of the school system, and more. “We have so many issues that are plaguing our city,” she said at one point, arguing that with record-high spending, de Blasio is not showing enough results.

De Blasio stuck to his regular campaign arguments about his accomplishments, including universal pre-kindergarten, falling crime, efforts to prevent evictions, rising graduation rates, and more.

The candidates faced questions on the city’s homelessness crisis, income inequality, budgeting and fiscal responsibility, the MTA, Rikers Island, public safety, school segregation, and dealing with real estate developers to grow affordable housing.

As expected, Dietl’s and Malliotakis’ positions hewed close to each other, with de Blasio playing the foil. Both challengers critiqued the decriminalization of low-level “quality-of-life” offenses such as public urination; they were both in favor of modernizing Rikers Island jails rather than shutting them down; they both called for more fiscal restraint in city budgeting; and they both supported dedicating more city funds to fix mass transit problems. Neither of them offered a viable affordable housing plan or a strategy for desegregating city schools. And both distanced themselves from Donald Trump, while embracing certain aspects of the Trump aesthetic.

When asked what they would do differently on tackling homelessness, both Malliotakis and Dietl attacked de Blasio for what is possibly his most prominent failing. Malliotakis insisted the city needs to invest more in vocational training and in supportive housing, and also critiqued the mayor for inadequate services for mentally ill New Yorkers, especially those with the most severe illnesses. De Blasio has “turned homelessness into a business,” she said, noting the city’s use of emergency hotel shelters and the plan to open 90 new homeless shelters. “This mayor’s done nothing for the homeless and I wanna do something,” said Dietl, briefly floating the idea of creating “homeless centers” on Ward’s Island and Randall’s Island without elaborating what those would entail.

De Blasio pointed out that his administration is aiming to reduce the shelter footprint by stopping the use of hotels and cluster sites as new shelters are built. He pointed to the city’s targeted outreach efforts to aid homeless people, the comprehensive ThriveNYC mental health program, and the investment in legal aid for tenants in housing court to help them avoid evictions. “These are the kinds of things that are necessary to ultimately fight and win the battle over homelessness,” he said, conceding that it will be a long, tough battle again a problem growing over decades.

On de Blasio’s core campaign agenda of tackling income inequality, both Malliotakis and Dietl said he has failed. She said the real “tale of two cities,” coopting de Blasio’s 2013 campaign line, was that the mayor’s friends and donors have benefited in the last four years while the city has suffered. Dietl echoed the argument.

De Blasio, in response, touted universal pre-kindergarten among the successful measures that will have helped 281,000 New Yorkers out of poverty by the end of the year. He also mentioned 3-K for all, his plan to extend preschool to three-year-olds over the next several years.

The mayor also faced criticism for the large increase in the city’s budget under his watch, though he defended himself by pointing out that the city has settled 99 percent of municipal labor contracts, all of which were expired when he took office, and put away a historic amount of funding in reserves. Major investments, such as hiring 2,000 new police officers and thousands of pre-K teachers, had added to the budget but were necessary for improving the city, he said. Malliotakis, a conservative, vowed to bring spending under control and said she would, among other things, cut from the hundreds of special assistants that de Blasio has hired at City Hall. She has not offered other areas of the $85 billion budget she would cut, however.

Dietl, meanwhile, found himself defending his own financial acuity, having had a history of unpaid taxes that made headlines earlier this year. In responding, Dietl said he has addressed the back taxes and is moving along with a payment plan. He explained he has been successful in private business and said he made $1.8 million last year.

All three were asked whether they would support closing Rikers jails or keeping it open. The mayor has supported a somewhat vague plan to shut down the problem-ridden jail complex in ten years, a solution contingent on continually reducing crime in the city and creating four borough-based jail facilities, although he has yet to lay out further details.

“Rikers Island, a jail on an island, that makes sense,” said Dietl, adding that “we’ve gotta fix what we’ve got.” Dietl favors reforming Rikers and investing heavily in rehabilitating inmates. Malliotakis, similarly, insists the city needs to retrofit the buildings and make them more humane and safer for both inmates and corrections officers. The mayor’s plan for borough-based jails, she said, would be “heavily rejected” by neighborhoods.

“I actually think that people of this city are much more willing to take on these tough choices,” de Blasio retorted, citing the fact that several Queens City Council members recently expressed support for reopening a detention facility near the courthouse in that borough.

De Blasio was asked a particularly pointed question about school segregation, particularly why he hasn’t moved more aggressively to integrate schools over arguing that his programs improve opportunities for all students whatever school they may attend. The mayor insisted on Tuesday that it’s a problem rooted in larger societal inequality and long history, and pitched an all-round “rising tide” approach through his Equity and Excellence program. He also said there is progress being made as individual school districts approach rezonings to desegregate schools.

Malliotakis, who earlier criticized the high percentage of high school graduates who require remedial courses for college readiness, said the Department of Education needs a complete overhaul. She was particularly critical of the DOE’s contracting processes and costly construction projects. Dietl said he would ban cell phones from classes and use a CompStat-like approach -- based on the NYPD’s crime statistics tracking system -- to target underperforming schools.

Since Malliotakis jumped into the mayoral race, de Blasio has sought to tie her to President Trump, while Dietl’s connections and resemblance to the offensive and irreverent President are all too obvious. On Tuesday, however, Dietl insisted that he is no right-wing Republican. “I’m a registered Democrat and I do not like Donald Trump and I do not like what he’s done…so I take exception to that,” he said of de Blasio’s remarks, but added that he did indeed vote for Trump last November.

Malliotakis, who also voted for Trump and has opposed certain policies of the president while supporting others, had a sharp retort about her stance toward the president. She told de Blasio her approach to the president was the same as the mayor’s to Governor Andrew Cuomo, his fellow Democrat. “When I disagree with President Trump, I’m going to say so,” she said, admitting that there are other times that she agrees with him.

Due to candidates talking over one another and the rowdy crowd -- at one point Louis had an audience member removed by security -- the debate was ended without closing statements.

Four other mayoral candidate who will be on the November ballot were not at the debate: Sal Albanese, of the Reform Party; Mike Tolkin, running on his Smart Cities ballot line; Green Party nominee Akeem Browder; and Libertarian nominee Aaron Commey.

The second “leading contenders” debate is scheduled for November 1 and it remains to be seen if Dietl -- who is not automatically included in the debate since he is not a participant in the CFB’s public matching funds program -- will be invited by the debate sponsors. For Malliotakis, there might be an opportunity to go head-to-head with de Blasio less than one week before voters go to the polls on November 7.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

De Blasio, Malliotakis & Dietl Engage in Raucous Mayoral Debate Tue, 10 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
5 Things to Watch at The First General Election Mayoral Debate de blasio stage

(Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

Get the popcorn. There’s a general election debate in the race for Mayor of New York City on Tuesday night. It promises to be a spirited affair with competing ideas, styles, and personalities among the three candidates participating.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, and two of his six challengers -- Republican Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis and independent Bo Dietl -- will debate at 7 p.m. Tuesday, the first of two such televised contests between now and Election Day, November 7. The debate will be aired on NY1 television and WNYC radio.

Recent polling shows that Malliotakis and Dietl face an especially uphill battle and need to make a splash. It’s likely that they are competing for much of the same base of support, and each seems to be keeping the other from narrowing the wide gap with de Blasio. Tuesday night will offer an opportunity for Malliotakis and Dietl to introduce themselves to more voters, critique the sitting mayor, and showcase their message for why they should replace de Blasio atop city government. As each indicated in an interview with Gotham Gazette, a goal for the debate is to give the sense that it is really a race between him- or her-self and de Blasio.

It promises to be a lively debate among three candidates who do not shy away from an argument and who have different ideas for the direction the city should go.

While Malliotakis and Dietl have both been far more active on the candidate forum circuit than de Blasio has, the mayor did have two televised primary election debates against Sal Albanese to help prepare for the general election events. In the debates against Albanese, de Blasio handled himself fairly well, on the way to winning nearly 75% of the vote, though he often sparred with his challenger, rarely allowing an attack to go by that he did not feel the need to respond to.

Albanese is among those who will be on the general election ballot but not able to debate Tuesday, having fallen short of the requirements, including a fundraising and spending threshold of $500,000 in both directions. Albanese has sued to get on the debate stage, but the outcome of the litigation is not yet clear. He actually registered better than Dietl in one of two recent polls of the mayoral race.

Another of de Blasio’s Democratic primary opponents who is also on the general election ballot, Michael Tolkin, met the financial requirements, but because he is not a participant in the Campaign Finance Board matching program, his debate participation was left up to the sponsors, and lead sponsor NY1 declined to invite him.

The other two candidates who will be on the November ballot are Green Party nominee Akeem Browder and Libertarian nominee Aaron Commey. Neither has raised much money or had a significant campaign presence.

Tuesday will mark exactly four weeks until Election Day and the first debate will give voters plenty to think about. Here are five things to watch:

1. Is Nicole Malliotakis ready for prime time?
On the biggest stage of her career, can Nicole Malliotakis deliver? Will she be able to sharply articulate both her critiques of de Blasio and her vision for leading the city? Can she describe problems with the city that resonate with the voters who matter most to her chances at building a winning coalition, especially moderate Democrats and those unaffiliated with a party? Can she spark a new media narrative and several days of positive coverage about her performance?

“A lot of people will be meeting me for the first time when they turn on that television,” Malliotakis told Gotham Gazette on Monday morning. “I’ve been all over the five boroughs, and getting a great reception, but polls show a lot of people don’t know me. It’s an opportunity for me to introduce myself to those individuals for the first time.”

“We’ve spent quite a few hours doing debate prep,” Malliotakis said, though she provided few specifics beyond saying that she has been “studying issues” and de Blasio’s primary debates versus Albanese. She’s done mock debating, she said, but wouldn’t get into details in terms of who was playing the mayor or Dietl. “We’ve been spending time discussing various topics that may come up,” she said, “and solidifying answers - basic debate prep.”

“The other goal is to make it clear this is a race between Bill de Blasio and I,” Malliotakis added, in apparent reference to Dietl, of whom, when asked, she said, “He’s just there. I don’t believe that Bo has offered anything. I don’t even know why Bo is in the debate. He’s there to promote his upcoming movie, where he plays being mayor. People are going to realize this is an election between Bill de Blasio and me as the clear alternative. We are the serious contenders in this election and there’s a stark contrast between us.”

It’s essential for Malliotakis to rise above Dietl, said William O’Reilly, a Republican strategist. “Nicole’s mission is fairly simple: make it a two-way race. That’s ultimately the goal of this debate, is to completely shut out Bo Dietl, show him as a publicity stunt and no more,” he said. O’Reilly added that while “she has to put a crack into the mayor” and “there’s gotta be some excitement coming out of the debate,” it can’t be that Dietl was the most interesting aspect of the debate.

Malliotakis’ goal, O’Reilly said, must be the “takeaway is that there’s a real race between Nicole Malliotakis and Bill de Blasio.” He suggested she even use body language in ignoring Dietl, “almost to the point of rudeness.”

“It’s gotta be interesting to the press,” O’Reilly said of the debate overall, agreeing that if there are debate moments that lead to multiple days of stories and questions for the mayor, that Malliotakis will have been successful.

While Malliotakis has been honing her attacks on de Blasio in dozens of media appearances, public events, and press conferences, the face-to-face nature of the debate offers a new and special opportunity for her. O’Reilly said she must continue to hammer de Blasio on the key points she’s been making about his work ethic, focus, budgeting, and ineffectiveness on certain issues, like homelessness, and argue convincingly that the city is heading in the wrong direction. She must also present herself as a viable alternative, and show that she has ideas and command of the issues. It's a popular opinion among those watching closely that she would do well to unveil at least one or two signature policy proposals that capture her campaign -- either at the debate or soon thereafter. Regardless, de Blasio will remain in her crosshairs, and should.

“When you’re running against an incumbent, you need to snatch the office from underneath them. You have to remain critical,” O’Reilly said.

Republican City Council Member Eric Ulrich of Queens, who has been behind Dietl for months, told this weekend that he likes Malliotakis and thinks “she does a great job as an Assemblywoman on Staten Island,” but that she wasn’t the best choice as the GOP mayoral candidate. Citing “lackluster” fundraising and minimal name recognition, Ulrich said, “I don’t think Nicole’s campaign has been able to gain any traction or catch fire...I don’t think she was ready for prime time.”

Tuesday night, in prime time, is an opportunity for Malliotakis to catch fire.

2. Which Bo Dietl shows up?
Dietl is something of a performer -- and he is actually a TV and film actor -- and it is not exactly clear which version, or versions, of the former NYPD detective will participate in Tuesday’s debate.

When Gotham Gazette spoke with Dietl on Friday afternoon, he said he was just “going over statistics...misstatements from the current mayor.” Dietl mentioned key issues of education, subways, affordable housing, and homelessness.

Asked what he’s doing to prepare for the debate, Dietl said he was “reverifying some of the lies [de Blasio’s] telling.” “I’m the only non-politician,” he added, “I’m not doing this mock sh-t -- I’m mocking him,” Dietl said, in apparent reference to the mock debates that campaigns sometimes hold in preparation.

Dietl said he had watched the de Blasio-Albanese primary debates. “I didn’t like the way he treated Sal. I’m not gonna take it,” Dietl said. “I’m not going to be nice to him because I don’t have any respect for him.”

“I want people to see a clear-cut choice,” Dietl said of his goal for the debate. “It’s a chance for people to say ‘wow, that Bo is refreshing.’”

“I don’t believe in polls, first of all, but the way they are, I want people to see, this is a guy I believe in,” Dietl added.

“I want to show people they do have another choice,” Dietl said, “certainly not the Republican candidate, her voting record stands for itself.” He mentioned Malliotakis’ opposition to marriage equality (which she has said she regrets) and to minimum wage increases. “She’s out of the equation,” Dietl said, “I’m only debating one person, and that’s de Blasio. Unless she comes after me, I’m going to act like she’s not even there, she’s not my competition.”

Dietl said de Blasio has transparency problems and that the schools aren’t being run properly. He said “there’s a fear factor back in New York,” and that, as a former NYPD detective, he’s the right person to put in charge. The city “needs a mayor it can cheer,” Dietl added.

“He’s a very unliked person,” Dietl said of de Blasio, citing the incumbent’s “condescending attitude, like he’s the king or something -- he doesn’t realize, he’s an elected official.”

“Bo Dietl being in the debate is a gift for de Blasio,” said Dr. Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University. “He’ll be a distraction, and he’ll get to talk up to a third of the time, maybe more.” Dietl may also help de Blasio by attacking Malliotakis, Greer noted. “I’m sure Dietl will supply the gaffes,” she said, “he’s going to look erratic.”

“There’s going to be a big surprise on Tuesday,” Dietl told Gotham Gazette. “I said ‘no ‘wild man Bo,’’ we don’t know about that.”

3. What’s de Blasio’s approach?
The mayor positioned himself as fact-checker-in-chief during his two primary debates with Albanese, regularly saying that Albanese was getting his facts wrong and at one point accusing him of being in a “fact-free zone.”

De Blasio will surely be attacked a great deal by Malliotakis and Dietl -- how will the mayor respond?

Odds are de Blasio insists on correcting the record, or defending himself, whatever the case may be, and that he is a willing sparring partner with his opponents. One thing de Blasio does fairly well, though, is pivot into his talking points once he has engaged in some defensiveness. The mayor is practiced in the stagecraft, regularly speaking directly to camera so that he has the appearance of talking with viewers, not addressing his opponent or even the moderator.

“He has to watch the condescending tone,” said Greer, with particular regard to how he talks to and about Malliotakis. “Watch the mansplaining, starting sentences with ‘well, actually,’” Greer added. It helped the mayor that he had to debate Albanese, Greer said, given that “otherwise he’s been in the government phase.”

“Hopefully he’s looked at the tapes” of the primary debates, Greer said, and “hopefully he’s smart enough to have polished up some things.”

“I expect him to be his usual arrogant self,” Malliotakis said when asked what she expects from de Blasio Tuesday night. “He’ll be saying how wonderful and great everything is, which is not what the average New Yorker feels or thinks. I think the mayor wants New Yorkers to believe everything is wonderful because he says it is.”

As the incumbent seeking reelection, it reasons that much of the debate will be about de Blasio’s record, including some of the areas he’s most vulnerable, like ethics and transparency, and homelessness. Questions around the speed of progress in the city’s schools and in building affordable housing may also be raised, by the journalists asking the questions, the candidates, or both.

It will be interesting to see whether de Blasio has any new lines or new policy proposals. There’s a chance he has a practiced zinger or two for one or both of his opponents; he may also have some opposition ammunition regarding Malliotakis’ record in the Assembly or Dietl’s career as a private investigator. It’s more likely the mayor goes after Malliotakis than Dietl, but he has to be careful in terms of coming across as a mud-slinger or patriarchal toward his female opponent.

“It’s clear we’ve been mismanaged for the last few years,” Malliotakis said of de Blasio’s mayoralty. The debate will be a chance to explain how and to showcase her record, she said. “The time I’ve spent in the Legislature putting forward ideas for making New York City better has prepared me to make the case.” On the other hand, the mayor may be able to use Malliotakis’ resume against her, given the conservative nature of her legislative record and limits to what one rank-and-file Assembly member can accomplish, especially when in the minority conference.

The mayor and his team have been defensive about the extent to which de Blasio has put forth a second term agenda, with a number of press stories noting that he’s mostly made either vague, far-off promises, like closing Rikers Island jails in ten years, or pledged continuations of his current policies -- pre-K for all is supposed to become 3-K for all if the mayor is given another term, for example.

Expect de Blasio to attempt to articulate more sharply his second term agenda, but an interesting question will be whether he’s ready with a new proposal or two that hasn’t been announced before. Debates aren’t necessarily a typical venue for such an announcement, but de Blasio could potentially steal a lot of the spotlight if he were to put something new and exciting on the table.

"We are looking forward to discussing the Mayor's record of achievement, his vision for making New York City more affordable, creating 100,000 jobs and continuing to improve our schools, and how important it is for New Yorkers to turn out to vote for a Mayor who will stand up to Donald Trump,” said Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for de Blasio’s campaign, in a statement.

The incumbent has plenty to boast about -- he's followed through on a number of his promises and the city is doing well in many respects -- and de Blasio must be able to present his accomplishments while also recognizing that many New Yorkers are struggling on a daily basis.

Greer pointed to a slightly different balancing act de Blasio must peform, related to getting his supporters out to vote. “The mayor has to present that this campaign is important for you to turn out to vote, but without being alarmist,” she said, ‘Things are going well, the ship is steady, but I still need you to come out and vote.’”

4. The fourth politician on stage
Sal Albanese, the Reform Party nominee who came in second to de Blasio in the Democratic primary, is suing to be on the debate stage, but his case won’t be decided until after Tuesday. Mike Tolkin, running on his own Smart Cities ballot line and the third place finisher in the Democratic primary, qualified for the debate financially, through his own gifts to his campaign, but was not invited by NY1, and went on a hunger strike to demand inclusion.

But more so than Albanese or Tolkin, the fourth politician likely to be on stage Tuesday night is President Donald Trump, whom de Blasio will attempt to tie Malliotakis to, as he has done throughout the campaign. While Malliotakis voted for Trump last November, she had been a supporter of Senator Marco Rubio in the Republican presidential primary and has voiced several areas of disagreement with Trump. Dietl also has his own ties to Trump, though he too has attempted to distance himself from the president.

How much de Blasio is able to make Trump a presence at the debate may factor into how well he comes across to New York City voters overall. Malliotakis often has a hard time finding the balance of being a conservative who voted for Trump and a Republican who often disagrees with the president and is open to being a bipartisan mayor.

“She’s had some fluidity on the campaign trail,” said Greer, of Fordham University, about Malliotakis’ attempts to discuss the president. “Trump is going to come up, and I don’t think it’s unfair that he does, actually. A lot of New Yorkers want to know. We’re at a moment of needing protection from the federal government, not just needing to work with the federal government.”

Malliotakis’ “biggest vulnerability is getting stuck in-between on the Trump conversation,” said O’Reilly, the Republican strategist, who runs The November Team. She must “stay true to her convictions but appeal to Democrats at the same time,” he added, which is not an easy task. Malliotakis has been peppered with Trump questions throughout the campaign and has showed some frustration with it. She insists this isn’t a race about Trump, however much de Blasio might like it to be, and that she is “not trying to fight an ideological war.”

Asked about how she’ll approach the mayor’s attempts to tie her to Trump, Malliotakis said Monday that she’s “going to be prepared,” but didn’t want to divulge specifics.

“Throughout the whole campaign the mayor has spoken more about Trump than he has about homelessness or transit or our public schools,” she said. “He’s trying to deflect from his failures as mayor. I anticipate he’ll do it again. It’s all he’s got.”

Malliotakis needs to get beyond the Trump conversation to broaden her appeal, O’Reilly said. “She has to break through with Democrats,” he said, noting the massive Democratic advantage in New York City. Malliotakis needs a Giuliani- or Bloomberg-type coalition to win, which includes a good number of moderate Democrats and party-unaffiliated voters, as well as many of the city’s half-million registered Republicans. There are well over 3 million registered Democrats in the city.

5. Who has momentum?
Many in the city see the election as a foregone conclusion, that de Blasio, with his major fundraising, name recognition, and voter enrollment advantages, is virtually unbeatable. Are the debates a formality? Can Malliotakis or Dietl make enough headway that she or he is taken more seriously and has the city buzzing for a few days?

With the second debate on November 1, just six days before the election, the first debate is a can’t-miss opportunity for the two challengers, who both need a new influx of campaign cash, along with increased media buzz and a sense of momentum.

In a weekend interview with, Dietl said he believes “there’s going to be a lot of people coming on board after Tuesday night,” indicating he expects an influx of support and funds after his debate performance.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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5 Things to Watch at The First General Election Mayoral Debate Mon, 09 Oct 2017 19:18:00 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 10 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

As this shortened holiday week begins all eyes are on Tuesday night's mayoral debate, the first general election televised debate as part of the city's campaign finance system and debate program, which will feature Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, Republican Nicole Malliotakis, and independent Bo Dietl. The debate will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday on NY1 television and WNYC radio. We'll have coverage of the debate at Gotham Gazette soon after it finishes and on Wednesday. [Read: 5 Things to Watch at First General Election Mayoral Debate]

There are other events to be aware of this week -- see our day-by-day rundown below.

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

The run of the week in detail:

Monday is Columbus Day.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will host his annual Polish Heritage Breakfast.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will be at George Washington Educational Campus in Manhattan to make an announcement about Advance Placement.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “safe time for victims of family offense matters, sexual offenses, stalking and human trafficking, and their family members.”
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

At 3 p.m. Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo will make an announcement in Syracuse.

At 4 p.m. Tuesday, the state Senate Standing Committees on Environmental Protection and Agriculture will hold a public hearing “to hear from stakeholders on the implementation of Plan 2014” and on related topics. The hearing will take place in the town of Mexico in Oswego County.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, NY1 and WNYC will broadcast the first mayoral debate of the general election cycle. NY1’s Errol Louis will moderate a debate among incumbent Democrat Bill de Blasio, Republican Nicole Malliotakis, and independent Bo Dietl at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side. Debate sponsors also include Politico New York, Civic Hall, Citizens Union, and others.

"AARP New York will host a watch party for the first general election mayoral candidate debate" at Dark Horse NYC.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Move Forward Staten Island will host a panel discussion on the Constitutional Convention at the College of Staten Island. Panelists will include convention opponents Erika Lorshbough of NYCLU and John Soldini of UFT, as well as convention supporters Morgan Pehme of Effective NY and Thomas Bergdall of Citizens Union.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Small Business will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to “access to online business supports,” “a workforce redevelopment plan for small business,” and “a state of small business survey.”
--The Committees on Education and General Welfare will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “support for homeless students,” as well as to discuss proposed laws relating to the topic.
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at noon
--The Committee on Recovery and Resiliency will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed Hurricane Sandy Recovery Task Force.
--The Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss the nomination of Robert L. Cohen for reappointment to the Board of Correction.

At noon Wednesday, Justice League NYC will hold a rally at City Hall Park to demand that the City Council pass the Right to Know Act.

At 2:15 p.m. Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will hold a Facebook Town Hall meeting on New York’s opioid crisis.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a board meeting at 100 Church Street.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Community Service Society will host a “Health Equity Panel Discussion,” discussing the disparity in health outcomes between white people and people of color, and possible remedies to that inequity. David Sandman, President of the NYS Health Foundation, will moderate a panel consisting of Mary Bassett, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Sinsi Hernandez-Cancio, Director of Health Equity at Families USA; and Elisabeth Benjamin, Vice President of Health Initiatives at the CSS.

On Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Market Hotel in Brooklyn, City Council Member Rafael Espinal will participate "in “What Should NYC’s Night Mayor Do?” A Town Hall organized by the New York City Artist Coalition to discuss how the City’s new Office of Nightlife can serve small diverse spaces."

At 8 a.m. Thursday, City & State will host “State of NY Health” at the New York Academy of Sciences. The forum will “convene leaders in government, public policy, and industry, to discuss all forms of health care issues in New York.” Maria Vullo, Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, will deliver keynote remarks. Afterwards, several panels made up of leaders in government, business, and media will convene.

At 11 a.m. Thursday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Agriculture will hold a public oversight hearing in Albany regarding “the SFY 2017-2018 State Budget for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.”

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at the Island School on the Lower East Side with City Council member Rosie Mendez, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh.

On Thursday at 8 p.m. at Jazz at Lincoln Center, "Reverend Al Sharpton and the National Action Network (NAN) will hold the 8th Annual Triumph Awards, celebrating distinguished individuals who utilize their talents and resources to help those within disadvantaged communities. This year’s awards recognizes honorees from the arts and sciences who have made a positive impact upon society, including Emmy award-winning actress Cynthia Nixon, Legendary Recording Artist and Songwriter Valerie Simpson, and Best-Selling author and Physician Dr. Ian Smith."

Friday and the weekend
At 8:15 a.m. Friday, the Center for New York City Law will host First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris as part of its ongoing CityLaw Breakfast Series. The event will take place at the New York Law School.

At 10 a.m. Friday, the Campaign Finance Board will hold a public board meeting at 100 Church Street.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez will deliver his “State of the District” address at the Salome Urena Educational Campus in Inwood.

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: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 10 Mon, 09 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Good News and Bad News for Malliotakis' Mayoral Campaign malliotakis senior handshake via facebook

Nicole Malliotakis (via Facebook)

It’s been a bittersweet week for Republican mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis, a sitting Assemblymember from Staten Island, who is seeking to unseat Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio.

While Malliotakis will have a major infusion of funds to get her message out and build her low name recognition across the five boroughs, she will also have to compete, at least for one important night, with the louder voice of a third mayoral candidate who threatens to debilitate Malliotakis’ chances of pulling off the long-shot upset of de Blasio, an incumbent with significant advantages in the race.

On Wednesday, independent mayoral candidate Bo Dietl, a brash former NYPD detective running on his own “Dump the Mayor” ballot line, announced that he had been invited to the first of two official mayoral debates ahead of the November 7 general election. Not only will Dietl pose a challenge to Malliotakis’ debate prospects in terms of positioning her opposition to de Blasio, but his inclusion immediately means more media attention and legitimacy for Dietl’s campaign.

The debate, scheduled for Tuesday, October 10 is organized by the New York City Campaign Finance Board and was mandatory for those participating in the CFB’s public matching funds program, which matches qualifying small-dollar contributions up to $175 at a 6-to-1 ratio. Malliotakis and de Blasio are participants in the program and Dietl is not, but he met the $500,000 debate threshold for campaign fundraising and spending and was also included in recent polling by NBC 4 New York/Marist.  

“While Dietl is not enrolled in the campaign finance program, we have decided to invite him based on his showing in a recent poll and his regular presence on the campaign trail,” said a spokesperson for Charter Communications, a debate sponsor and parent company of NY1, which will air the debate, also hosted by WNYC radio and other partners.

Dietl’s presence derails Malliotakis’ chances of a one-on-one, substantive debate with de Blasio -- he is a pugnacious, unpredictable character in the vein of Donald Trump -- but also threatens to further cut into votes that Malliotakis hopes to win. The two candidates share similar views and likely voters on a variety of issues, and their criticisms of the mayor are largely indistinguishable on many fronts. Both are significantly more conservative than de Blasio on most issues.

As it stands, in a city with six registered Democratic voters for each registered Republican, a conservative candidate has a limited constituency from which they can draw support and Dietl and Malliotakis have all along both been endangered by the likelihood of splitting anti-de Blasio votes. There is a significant number of party-unaffiliated voters to woo as well as moderate Democrats and Republicans, but most of the votes in play for Dietl or Malliotakis are largely out of the de Blasio target area to begin with.

Recently, Dietl has gone after Malliotakis, accusing her of filing fraudulent ballot petition signatures and insulting her at debates. Either purposely or not, he regularly mispronounce her name or refers to her in dismissive terms. Dietl argues that he is the only viable candidate who can defeat de Blasio and has called on Malliotakis to drop out of the race, which is is very unlikely to do.

“We’re surprised that the Bo Dietl traveling circus is included in the first debate,” said Rob Ryan, a Malliotakis campaign spokesperson, in a statement. “Nevertheless, Assemblywoman Malliotakis will hold Bill de Blasio accountable for his failure to solve the homeless crisis, fix our broken subway system and educate and keep our kids safe in our schools. She’s ready to take on Bill de Blasio and demand answers, it will be a great debate.”

While Dietl will continue to be a headache for Malliotakis and a distraction from her mission, the GOP standard bearer did receive some much more positive news this week.

On Thursday, the CFB approved a $1.52 million in public funds to be paid to Malliotakis’ campaign, bolstering her campaign coffers which held only $162,950, giving her a much-needed boost ahead of the debate and the final six weeks of the general election.

The added funds and the first debate may both help Malliotakis build much needed name recognition, including by spending more on advertising, and can also lead to the ability to bring in more money as the campaign continues -- a necessity if she is to run a viable campaign and make a stronger showing than Republican Joe Lhota made in 2013 against de Blasio, when Lhota received 24 percent of the vote to de Blasio’s 73 percent. In fact, on Friday Malliotakis' campaign announced her second video advertisement, attacking de Blasio on the issue of the subways, which the mayor does not control.

Malliotakis jumped into the mayoral race relatively late, in April, at a time when a well-funded candidate, millionaire real estate executive Paul Massey, was considered the frontrunner. After Massey dropped out, and other candidates failed to make an impression, Malliotakis quickly emerged at the front of the pack. But the three-term Assemblymember has struggled to raise her profile outside of her home borough of Staten Island and, somewhat relatedly, has not been able to raise especially significant funds for her campaign. Overall, she has raised $734,412 and spent $571,462.

Dietl, on the other hand, has relied on a network of wealthy allies to raise about $1 million, and has spent about $800,000.

Neither of them have come close to de Blasio, who has raised more than $5.25 million for his reelection and has received nearly $3 million in public funds. He has spent $5.78 million so far.

De Blasio’s campaign spokesperson, Dan Levitan, did not appear worked up by the news of Dietl’s inclusion in the first debate. “We are looking forward to discussing the Mayor's record of achievement, his vision for making New York City more affordable, creating 100,000 jobs and continuing to improve our schools, and how important it is for New Yorkers to turn out to vote for a Mayor who will stand up to Donald Trump,” Levitan said in a statement.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Good News and Bad News for Malliotakis' Mayoral Campaign Fri, 29 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
James Agrees to General Election Debate in Public Advocate Race letitia james via teamsters

Public Advocate Letitia James (photo: @TeamstersJC16)

Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat seeking reelection to one of three citywide positions, has agreed to debate her Republican opponent regardless of whether the challenger, J.C. Polanco, meets the fundraising requirements to qualify for an official debate sanctioned and sponsored by the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

James, who easily won in the primary, is well ahead of Polanco, who did not face primary competition, in fundraising and name recognition. Polanco has, however, put forth detailed policy proposals and a rationale for seeking the office, while also challenging James to debate him for the good of the public electoral process. James has decided to pursue the opportunity, despite any risks debating may pose to a heavily-favored incumbent, to take the debate stage.

“The exchange of ideas and information is essential to democracy and good governance,” James said in a statement. “I welcome the opportunity to debate and discuss my key accomplishments as Public Advocate and outline my vision for supporting and empowering all New Yorkers.”

James has focused her efforts as public advocate on litigation and legislation, suing the city on several occasions and introducing and passing more legislation than her four predecessors, who include Mayor Bill de Blasio.

It is not clear how many debates James will agree to or who will sponsor any that do occur. For public advocate candidates participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching program, two formal, televised debates are required for those who meet the criteria, which include both fundraising and spending thresholds. But, James may be the only candidate in the field, which also includes the Green Party’s James Lane and others, to qualify for the debates. A campaign spokesperson did not indicate how many debates James would participate in.

Polanco, an attorney and the New York City liaison for the state Assembly minority, has promised to run a positive campaign and debate the role of the office and policy proposals. He has called James “ethical” and expressed his fondness for her as a person. He has also challenged her to debate him even though he is many thousands of dollars short of meeting the legal thresholds for the official, televised debates, which would provide him a much-needed boost in profile.

“As my opponent stated: ‘Brooklyn people don’t hide,’” James said. “I am proud of my record of standing up for New Yorkers and look forward to a spirited discussion with my Republican opponent on the issues that impact New York.”

While James is indeed a Brooklynite, and used to represent part of the borough in the City Council, Polanco is from the Bronx, where he still lives. Though Polanco has pledged a positive campaign, he has critiqued James for not speaking up more forcefully about de Blasio’s ethical lapses. Polanco is running on a platform of pushing for changes to the public advocate position itself, perhaps through a city charter revision commission, and a variety of other agenda items. Unlike James, Polanco is an outspoken proponent of expanding charter schools. He’s also advocating for allowing qualifying NYCHA residents to purchase their public housing units.

As she seeks a second term, James is especially proud of her legislation, passed through the City Council and signed into law by de Blasio, that bans employers from asking job applicants for their salary history. It is a move aimed at helping reduce the gender pay gap.

In order to qualify for public matching funds from the Campaign Finance Board, a public advocate candidate must raise at least $125,000 from 500 donors living in New York City. When matching funds are dispersed, up to $175 of eligible donations are matched six to one. Public advocate candidates are eligible for up to $2,369,350 in public matching funds for what is deemed a competitive race. Participants have a general election spending cap of $4,357,000.

As of her most recent filing, James had raised a total of $943,854. She had spent about two-thirds of it, leaving her about $325,000 in the bank, and not yet qualified for public matching funds.

Polanco had raised just $21,675. He has explained how much of a challenge fundraising has been given that New York City Republicans have a major registration deficit and most attention for any hope of a citywide victory is given to the mayoral race. Polanco has also said that his opposition to President Donald Trump has hurt him among GOP establishment figures and potential donors.

When informed that James had agreed to debate him, Polanco said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, "I am glad my opponent has taken up my challenge for a spirited debate on the issues. I took on the Herculean challenge so that New Yorkers have choice. I believe we are best served as a democracy when we compete for votes. I look forward to discussing my plans to push for charter school expansion, fixing the MTA train delays, keeping jails out of our neighborhoods, protecting kids from the horrors we have seen at ACS and standing up to a mayor regardless of party."

Part of James’ calculation in agreeing to debate may have to do with being granted matching funds. A campaign spokesperson did not reply to a question about the subject.

Earlier this year, the Campaign Finance Board and its debate sponsors scheduled the two televised public advocate general election debates for Monday, October 16 and Saturday October 24.

“The CFB’s debate program aims to give New York City voters the opportunity to compare candidates side by side in preparation for Election Day. The law was enacted to ensure that candidates in the public matching funds program debate their opponents, and we are excited that the Public Advocate debates will continue as planned. We will do everything we can to support and promote a vigorous debate,” said Katrina Shakarian, public relations officer at the Campaign Finance Board, in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Note: this article has been updated with a statement from Polanco, a statement from the CFB, and other additional information.

Note: this article has removed incorrect information about Comptroller Stringer being in a similar position to James. Stringer's Republican opponent, Michel Faulkner, has met the fundraising threshold to qualify for a CFB-sanctioned debate.

James Agrees to General Election Debate in Public Advocate Race Sun, 24 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000