Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/196 Fri, 20 Oct 2017 08:32:49 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Planning Launches New Civic Tech Project http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7001:city-planning-launches-new-civic-tech-project http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7001:city-planning-launches-new-civic-tech-project nyc planning labs


NYC Planning Labs, a new unit in the Department of City Planning introduced on Monday, is a next step in both civic technology and city planning. Planning Labs will use open platforms that will engage people outside of city government, but largely work to provide tools to others at City Planning, so they can find solutions to the city’s planning challenges as New York continues to grow and the de Blasio administration moves ahead with its affordable housing, community development, and other initiatives.

The new effort intends to “bring civic data to life through interactive maps and visualizations, create tools to help New Yorkers better understand the built environment, and build simple web-based tools to streamline internal workflows,” according to the NYC Planning Labs website.

Open source software allows others to use it for their own purposes, which can make it easier to build websites, apps, and other products. It also creates transparency, giving anyone and everyone access. Some people will only be able to view what Planning Labs and City Planning put forth, as using and modifying certain software and data visualization projects requires skill, but the theme is more information and engagement, not less.  

Prior to the announcement, a team of urban planners from the Department of City Planning experimented with the Capital Planning Platform for a year, which was the first step toward creating “a place for planners to access the maps, data, and analytics that they need to plan for public investments in neighborhoods and collaborate with one another.”

One of the systems created during this time was the NYC Facilities Explorer, which can show exactly how many education centers, libraries, parks, public safety facilities, and health and human services are available in any given area of the five boroughs.

Equipped with a color-coded legend, this interactive map makes massive amounts of data  far easier to digest than a spreadsheet and can clearly show which communities have more or fewer resources.

NYC Planning Labs is another step toward reaching two goals that the team outlines in its charter: “to design and build modern, lightweight, sustainable, and impactful technology products that support the mission of the Department of City Planning” and “to implement and promote the use of agile methods, human-centered design, and open technology to support the above, maximizing the benefits of community-driven product development.”

Chris Whong, a civic technologist who established and heads NYC Planning Labs, stated on his blog that “We are focusing on small projects that can go from concept to shipped in 4 to 6 weeks, with our customers being the internal divisions of the agency. These can be web map explorers similar to the NYC Facilities Explorer, interactive data visualizations and animations, or simple purpose-built data tools that replace or complement our Planners’ routine workflows.”

Web map explorers can have flaws. Missing records or inaccurate data can sometimes skew the visual information, and while this is not the only type of technology NYC Planning Labs will be working with, it is an example of how even modern systems have weaknesses.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Whong also said, “We will be taking on small builds to maximize reach around the agency. These projects must have a well-defined problem and may include new interfaces for the agency's map and data products, or lightweight web tools...We are not limited just to web-based projects, and may also have hardware, IoT [Internet of Things], or design-oriented engagements with our customers.”

More details about the specific projects the team will take on are yet to be determined, but when asked how NYC Planning Labs would impact the broader community, Whong said, “Those projects that provide better or easier access to civic data can have benefit for community groups. The impact will depend on the scope and goals of individual projects, and at this early stage, we don't have a clearly-defined project pipeline.”

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City Planning Launches New Civic Tech Project Thu, 15 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
New Facility Classification Allows Better Options for City Seniors, If Built http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6432:new-facility-classification-allows-better-options-for-city-seniors-if-built http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6432:new-facility-classification-allows-better-options-for-city-seniors-if-built Hebrew Home Bronx property

Along the property of the Hebrew Home in the Bronx (Sofie Hecht)


Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council recently passed a series of amendments to the city's zoning regulations aimed, in part, at encouraging the construction and expansion of senior housing and elder care facilities. With the package, known as Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA), one goal was to address the issue of inadequate options for seniors who want to age in place. An outdated land use code has made it nearly impossible to build flexible senior care facilities, they said.

For older New Yorkers and those heading toward senior citizenship, city government’s first priority with ZQA was creating additional opportunity for building affordable housing. This was accomplished, they exclaimed, through a variety of tweaks to land use rules, including reducing requirements for parking spaces to accompany senior housing. Senior advocates in the City Council and groups like AARP-NY and LiveOn NY pushed hard for and celebrated passage of ZQA for this reason.

Less publicized was the creation, through ZQA, of a new building category called “long term care facility,” which could have significant implications for the city’s aging population and senior care.

The new category allows developers to build nursing homes and residential units on the same property, making it easier to build facilities called Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) in New York City. CCRCs provide seniors with increasing levels of care as they age without requiring they move. While there are currently 12 CCRCs across New York state, none exist in New York City. Though city planners and senior advocates look forward to the proliferation of CCRCs, the potential first such facility is mired in controversy.

“It is especially jarring to uproot elderly residents from homes and communities that are familiar to them and from their loved ones in order to accommodate their changing needs,” said Rachaele Raynoff, a spokesperson from the Department of City Planning. “That's why a model with a continuum of care was developed. Under ZQA, NYC zoning now recognizes this model, allowing for the development of new options for aging for our growing elderly population.”

Prior to the creation of the new zoning category, it was effectively impossible to build a CCRC in the city, according to Dan Reingold, CEO of RiverSpring Health. RiverSpring, which owns a nursing home called Hebrew Home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, plans to build the city’s first CCRC by adding a residential campus on a piece of land contiguous to the nursing home.

CCRCs are typically made up of independent living, assisted living, and health care units, which make it possible for residents to move into a CCRC and then age in place with more care and little housing change (other than on-site room shifts). These facilities allow seniors to stay in the same community as they age and make it possible for couples who need different levels of care to stay together.

While the development of CCRCs is exactly what the City Council and the de Blasio administration’s Department of City Planning hoped to encourage by adding the “long term care facility” category to the city’s building code, RiverSpring’s plan has revealed a contentious aspect of the new zoning code. CCRCs may erode zoning protections enjoyed by residents of neighborhoods zoned for low-rise residential housing (“R-1” and “R-2” in zoning parlance).

RiverSpring’s plan involves the construction of four- to six-story apartment buildings for its CCRC on land in Riverdale that is zoned for single-family housing. This is allowed under the new zoning regulations, so long as RiverSpring is able to secure special permission from the Department of City Planning. Community leaders in Riverdale, as well as City Council Member Andrew Cohen, who represents the district including Riverdale, have opposed RiverSpring’s proposal on the grounds that the apartment-style residential units of the CCRC will alter the character of the neighborhood.

“CCRCs are typically designed as apartment buildings, the form and scale of which are not compatible with the single-family homes in this neighborhood,” said Sherida Paulsen, chair of the Riverdale Nature Preservancy. The Riverdale community went through a process in 2006 to down-zone the land now owned by RiverSpring in order to protect the residential nature of the area along the river, according to Paulsen. “This change to the zoning code has opened the door to development that would be non-contextual to the property around it, and it could easily go out of business, leaving the neighborhood changed forever,” she said.

City Council Member Paul Vallone of Queens, who chairs the Council’s senior center subcommittee, opposed ZQA prior to its approval for the same reason. “These sweeping changes to zoning regulations would effectively erase many of the protections that our civic organizations and community boards have fought for years to obtain,” he said in a press release ahead of the Council’s approval of ZQA. He continues to advocate for zoning that he believes will protect the integrity of neighborhoods like Riverdale. "A balance must exist between addressing senior housing in our city and proper community engagement,” he said in a statement for this story.

The initial ZQA proposal would have allowed CCRCs to be built in residential zones as-of-right, according to Council Member Cohen, but the Council interceded. They developed criteria, outlined in ZQA, that require the new facility or expansion be "compatible with the character of the surrounding area," that it's entrance, orientation, and landscaping "create an adequate buffer between the proposed facility and nearby residences," and that the streets leading to the facility are "adequate to handle the traffic generated thereby” (ZQA section 74-901).

Proposals to build CCRCs in residential zones must go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Policy (ULURP) in order to ensure they comply with these criteria. If they are found to comply, the developer is given a special permit to build.

Prior to ZQA, RiverSpring made multiple attempts to get its proposal approved, according to Paulsen. In its first attempt, RiverSpring asked that the zoning of the land be changed so that RiverSpring would not need a special permit. When this failed, RiverSpring attempted to redefine its proposed development as a healthcare facility in its building application, but the city rejected that definition on the grounds that the facility would be primarily residential, according to Paulsen.

Bronx Community Board 8, which represents the area where the Hebrew Home campus is located, opposes the Hebrew Home expansion, as well. CB8 will get a chance to review RiverSpring’s plans as part of the ULURP process, but the City Council will have the final word on whether or not the expansion—and the construction of the city’s first continuing care retirement community—occurs.

On land use decisions, the Council defers to the local Council member, making Cohen’s opinion utmost important. “Hebrew Home, to their credit, has briefed me on their plans, and we've had frank conversations about the project, but we are in no way on the same page yet,” he said, citing RiverSpring’s disregard for the neighborhood’s residential zoning as his primary objection.

RiverSpring submitted its plan to the Department of City Planning on April 27 and it has yet to go to CB8 or Cohen for review. Ultimately, Council Member Cohen believes the ULURP process for obtaining a special permit will protect the community’s interests. “I'm satisfied that there are a significant number of safeguards that the development on that site will be thoroughly vetted by the community,” he said. “If Hebrew Home is able to muster significant community support, then we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Charles Moerdler, president of Bronx Community Board 8, says that the board has seen at least three proposals of the Hebrew Home expansion plan since the organization bought the property in 2011. According to Moerdler, RiverSpring took many of CB8’s recommendations, such as lowering the apartment tower heights from eight to six stories and building more of the residential units on the current Hebrew Home campus, which is zoned R-4, as opposed to the new land (R-1). But the latest plan presented to the board is still not satisfactory to the majority of its members, he said.

"The issue the Board has with ZQA is not the development of CCRCs but the process by which City Planning is going about doing it," Moerdler said, despite the fact that the City Council will get final say. "ZQA undermines the opinion of the community, which has done so much to preserve the residential zoning status of this land."

Before it passed, there was a great deal of debate over ZQA in relation to it being a “one-size-fits-all” change to zoning and land use rules. The final product includes a number of neighborhood-specific tweaks inserted by the City Council, but given its potpourri nature, ZQA still has something for almost every community to take issue with. As Mayor Bill de Blasio regularly pointed out when ZQA and its companion change to city land use rules, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH), were being debated, community boards are well-known for opposing changes to the neighborhoods under their purview.

City Council Member Cohen says that while there is a significant need for senior housing in his district, options other than a new CCRC exist. “We have a full spectrum of options for seniors living in Riverdale. The ideal situation is for people to age in place, but there’s already a lot of infrastructure in Riverdale for people to do that,” he said.

One way seniors living in Riverdale and in other areas of New York City can age in place is through Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), which include publicly funded programs that help seniors stay in their own apartments by providing services like shopping and transportation assistance, on-site nursing, and social activities. NORCs are not easily formed, requiring pre-conditions and lobbying. Currently, Riverdale has one NORC in the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative, which has 1,500 units. Cohen says he is currently advocating for the creation of another NORC at the Knolls Cooperative, which has 240 units.

City Council Member Margaret Chin, who chairs the Council’s aging committee, is an advocate of NORCs as an option for seniors who want to age in place, as well. NORCs have historically received money from the state, but the city has had to provide support for them lately, according to Chin. “The state was trying to cut some of that funding last year, and we have been trying to save it,” she said.  

Ultimately, Chin is supportive of the development of CCRCs in addition to NORCs, and was an advocate for passing ZQA. “There is just not enough senior housing to go around,” she said. “I'm looking forward to seeing some integrative long term care facilities go up in New York City.”

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by Kate Groetzinger for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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New Facility Classification Allows Better Options for City Seniors, If Built Sun, 10 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Flushing’s Affordable Housing at Risk http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6311:flushing-s-affordable-housing-at-risk http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6311:flushing-s-affordable-housing-at-risk Flushing town hall


Last week, the New York City Council approved the contested East New York rezoning - the first of 15 proposed neighborhood rezonings through which Mayor de Blasio intends to advance his goal of preserving 120,000 units of affordable housing and producing 80,000 new units at below-market rents. Described by some as a rezoning taking place “under the radar,” the Department of City Planning (DCP) has been conducting a planning study and holding numerous community town halls on a ten-block area of Queens dubbed “Flushing West.”

This proposed rezoning would have a transformative impact on Flushing, a densely populated, pan-Asian immigrant neighborhood with a sizable Latino population and a small but historic African-American community. Although DCP recently postponed the April certification of the Flushing West rezoning plan (which would have initiated the uniform land use review procedure (ULURP), the plan continues to move forward and remains a key piece of the mayor’s controversial housing program.

As the rezoning of Flushing West moves forward, the existing affordable housing stock there is at risk.

After much public debate and protest, Mayor de Blasio’s mandatory inclusionary housing (MIH) plan was approved by the New York City Council in March. MIH is a citywide policy that requires residential developers in newly upzoned areas to provide some below market-rate housing, either inside a new development or somewhere off site. As MIH (and the related Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) plan) moved through ULURP, communities contested the plan on numerous grounds: it would not build enough affordable housing; the affordable housing that would be built would be too expensive for those most in need; increased density would exacerbate transportation, education, and infrastructure problems; large new buildings would alter local streetscapes; and, most importantly, the plan would spur luxury development and hasten gentrification.

Relative to the vigorous and sustained public debate on these issues, there has been little public discussion on the ways that the city’s proposed rezonings are already impacting New York City’s largest form of affordable housing: rent regulation through rent control and rent stabilization.

Rent regulation accounts for nearly all of Flushing’s affordable housing. The neighborhood’s white-hot real estate market, however, increasingly threatens these rent-stabilized apartments.  DCP’s proposed rezoning - which links the production of affordable housing with the construction of thousands of luxury units - has only increased land speculation and, therefore, landlords’ imperative to deregulate their holdings. Though the rezoning has been paired with an increase in funding for anti-eviction legal services, it has already catalyzed a number of hyper-speculative real estate transactions in downtown Flushing, including within the rezoning area.

Based on the 2014 state Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) list of rent-regulated buildings, there are 388 rent-stabilized buildings in Flushing. This list, however, includes buildings that have partially converted to co-ops, meaning some units are owned by residents. Conversion of rental buildings to cooperatives requires a minimum of 15 percent of tenants opting to purchase their apartments. DHCR lists properties as rent stabilized as long as there is at least one rent-stabilized unit in the building.

Based on a review of city Department of Finance sales data, 81 buildings, including five that converted to cooperative in the past year or so, recorded 1,198 apartment sales since 2010. In addition to the hundreds of co-op sales in rent-stabilized buildings, 42 buildings (with a combined total of 1,800 rent-stabilized apartments) were also sold during the study period of 2010 to January 2016. The sold buildings represent a sizable 11 percent of all of Flushing’s rent-stabilized buildings.

In December 2015, a massive sale of eight rent-stabilized buildings, all but one located a few blocks from Flushing’s waterfront, was covered by Crain’s New York Business. These rent-stabilized buildings, comprising 488 apartments, are clustered on Flushing’s Sanford Avenue and were sold to an investor group represented by New Jersey-based Treetop Development LLC. ACORE, a California-based investment fund established in May 2015 - only a few months before the Sanford Avenue purchases - financed the hefty $138.8 million purchase. ACORE is capitalized by a $1.6 billion commitment from Delphi Financial Group Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Tokio Marine Group, Japan’s largest publicly traded insurer.  The purchase of seven Sanford Avenue rent-stabilized buildings, financed by transnational private equity investors, illustrates how multi-family, rental properties in the outer boroughs are treated as global investment vehicles with tremendous potential profits.

In order for those profits to be realized, however, rents will have to increase substantially, and in all likelihood, the apartments will be deregulated. Although Treetop Development LLC principal Adam Mermelstein reassured, “We’re not running after tenants like some landlords do, trying to induce turnover on the apartments to get them to market rate,” their $10 million investment in “an intensive capital expenditures program” portends displacement. Treetop Development LLC plans to renovate apartments and landscape gardens in order to “remake the Flushing Portfolio into one of the premier residential addresses in Flushing, Queens.” This rebranding language underscores that so-called “major capital improvements” in rent-stabilized buildings are a primary landlord strategy to permanently raise rents and facilitate tenant turnover.

This speculative activity is not confined to privately-owned buildings. Queens College students learned from a local resident that tenants were recently evicted from 132-30 Sanford Avenue. This building is listed on two real estate websites as for sale, with one site noting that the building is currently under contract. Further research indicated the building is owned by one of Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE)’s tax-exempt organizations - Community Homes Housing Development Fund Company Inc. According to the building’s deed, AAFE purchased the building in 2008 for $3.5 million. Online realtor descriptions highlight the gap in current and potential rent revenues as a key selling point: “The average monthly rent is $1,023 month, approx. 76% of the current market value, offering tremendous upside potential.” The building is now selling for $9.8 million - a 180 percent increase in just eight years.

In October 2015, DCP completed a Draft Scope of Work for an Environmental Impact Statement, which identified 13 projected development sites and included a breakdown of anticipated outcomes based on the proposed upzoning. On these 13 sites, DCP expects the production of 2,062 residential units (excluding 1,254 units of luxury housing currently under construction at Sky View Parc) of which 516 would be affordable to households earning 60 percent of AMI ($54,360 annual income for a family of four) or 619 units affordable to households earning 80 percent AMI ($69,040 annual income for a family of four).

DCP’s Draft Scope of Work was completed before the City Council added the option of 20 percent of units affordable at 40 percent AMI, which would mean the Flushing West rezoning may result in 412 units affordable to a family of four with an annual income of $36,240. The Flushing Rezoning Community Alliance, a coalition of nonprofits, unions, and churches, fought hard for this option because the median household income for downtown Flushing residents is just $34,428. The final Flushing plan may also include additional HPD subsidies toward deeper affordability, but the extent, quantity, and longevity of those subsidies is yet to be determined.

With Flushing’s remaining rent-regulated apartments at stake, it is important to look at the balance of what is being offered now: the proposed rezoning will produce thousands of market-rate, luxury housing units; a mere 412 apartments will be affordable to average Flushing residents (and then only if the local City Council member and developers choose the newly added option); and nothing at all will be built for families making below-median wages.

The neighborhood’s wholesale transformation, which has already begun in expectation of an upzoning, would sweep rent-regulated housing up in its wake and trigger even more harassment, rent hikes, and evictions than the neighborhood has already seen. This scenario demonstrates that Mayor de Blasio’s MIH program is less about preserving neighborhood affordability than turning working-class spaces into luxury enclaves, with small pockets for the middle class.

In Flushing’s overheated real estate market, where even nonprofits enrich themselves by selling rent-stabilized buildings for enormous profits, this planned rezoning is already adding fuel to fires of gentrification and displacement. The addition of a few hundred units of affordable housing could not possibly stem the transformative effects of global finance and commercial real estate speculation, and the preservation program the city is currently pursuing will do little to protect rent-regulated apartments.

City planners must stop acting as if the negative consequences of upzonings on rent-regulated housing will be mitigated by the paltry provision of new quasi-affordable units, or by increased investments in legal services (though the latter are, of course, important). Instead, we need to prioritize the preservation of rent-stabilized apartments and the production of truly affordable housing, decoupled from market-rate development and its attendant impacts on neighborhood land markets.

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Tarry Hum is a Professor at the City University of New York and author of Making a Global Immigrant Neighborhood: Brooklyn's Sunset Park.

Samuel Stein is a PhD student in Geography at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

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

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Flushing’s Affordable Housing at Risk Sun, 01 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Candidates Allege Wright Unfairly Influences Elections http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5873:candidates-allege-wright-unfairly-influences-elections http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5873:candidates-allege-wright-unfairly-influences-elections Keith Wright parade

Keith Wright at the Puerto Rican Day Parade (photo: @KeithWright2016)


Afua Atta-Mensah, candidate for female district leader in Harlem's 70th Assembly District, had no illusions that running for office for the first time would be easy. But after campaigning against the entrenched Harlem political machine all summer she wonders if she would do it again. "Any newcomer is not taken kindly when they are running against the machine," said Atta-Mensah, a public defender who decided to run for the unpaid position because the job allows you to work for candidates at the grassroots level.

Her feeling is echoed by a number of candidates, including some already elected to district leader positions, but who are not supported by the County party. They say Assemblymember Keith Wright - who serves as the chair of the New York County Democratic Party and is head of the powerful Assembly Housing committee while representing the 70th AD - is unfairly using his influence and well-placed allies to tip the scales in his favor.

Wright, it is alleged, has brought political pressure for them to drop out of the little-watched races and has even used his allies at the Board of Elections to move polling places in a bid to reduce the Latino vote and ensure his loyalists are in place for what is expected to be a heated battle to replace Rep. Charles Rangel against one or more strong Latino candidates.

Since declaring for the office, Atta-Mensah has run up against the traditional roadblocks faced by new candidates, like fundraising and a lack of party apparatus and campaign network.

"These block parties they have, there is nothing like having Charlie Rangel campaign for you," said Atta-Mensah. "No matter what you think of him, he is simply a legend." But there have been additional obstacles for Atta-Mensah and other candidates for district leader and judicial delegate positions, including what they say amounts to drastic voter suppression that is meant to subvert the democratic process.

Recently the Board of Elections changed the locations of a number of polling places in Harlem adding to the confusion of a primary day that will be the first in recent memory to be held on a Thursday (September 10 - it was moved by the State to miss Rosh Hashanah). Turnout is expected to be miniscule at best and polling place changes are likely to further reduce the number of those who actually cast their votes.

A number of district leader incumbents and new candidates say the relocations are politically motivated and orchestrated by Assemblymember Wright's ally, Board of Elections clerk William Allen.

Allen, it happens, is also currently one incumbent male district leader in Assembly District 70. However, Board of Elections chair Michael Ryan told Gotham Gazette that he had Allen removed from making any decisions regarding the the 70th AD in accordance with his policy regarding anyone who is a candidate and a BOE employee.

"We have a policy in the agency in respect to political positions," Ryan told Gotham Gazette on Friday. "If an employee is a candidate and has an opponent we remove them from decision making. If they don't have an opponent it's not an issue. On July 17 I directed William Allen to refrain from activity in the 70th Assembly District."

Ryan added that no one had approached him about any possible conflict of interest before holding a Thursday press conference on the matter.

At that press conference at City Hall, several district leader candidates called this a major conflict of interest and said that Allen should step down from one of the two positions. They also said that it is all too easy for Wright and Allen to exert undue influence over poll workers, trained and hired by the BOE, and their efforts.

The uproar over the district races comes as Wright is set to run to replace Rangel against state Sen. Adriano Espaillat in a district notorious for political strife between black and Latino voters.

Joshua Bauchner, a judicial delegate on Atta-Mensah's ticket, said that he faced direct pressure from Wright's office to drop out of the race. He says Wright staffer Cathleen McCadden called him and told him his candidacy was an affront to the Assemblymember and that Wright intended to appoint the position.

"Cathleen told me these were appointed positions and asked me to withdraw," Bauchner told Gotham Gazette. "I told her I was extremely disappointed and that Wright should be encouraging debate. She asked what I would do. I said I intended to stay in because I thought there needed to be robust debate and that as County chair, Keith's job is to find people to run and increase voter involvement. She told me it would be an interesting summer."

McCadden denied the charge when reached by phone at Wright's district office, saying simply, "That's not the case," before insisting she would have to defer to Wright's press person. Gotham Gazette has not heard back from Wright's office since.

While Bauchner was the only subject willing to go on record, a number of other candidates and canvassers alleged to Gotham Gazette that Wright's office also pressured them to drop their bids for district leader or judicial delegate, or to stop working for certain campaigns. A few of these people say Wright called them personally and invoked his considerable influence both as County chair or head of the Assembly housing committee.

Bauchner said he was deeply disappointed by the call because the race is already expected to be low turnout and citing his proud involvement in politics, saying he's hosted candidates like Scott Stringer, Bill de Blasio, and even Wright at his home to boost voter education and involvement.

"Harlem is the last bastion of Tammany Hall," said Bauchner. "Keith and his generation of colleagues all suffered from the system in that they had to wait their turn for someone to turn 80-something before they could move up the ladder. I would think Keith Would support a robust election instead of a selection."

On Thursday, a group of district leaders and candidates held a press conference at City Hall to call for William Allen to resign his position as BOE clerk because of his connections to Wright. Marisol Alcantara, a District Leader in AD 70, told Gotham Gazette the polling site changes would make voting more difficult for Latino residents.

"We believe that the reason these voting sites were changed is to weaken new Americans, specifically in Northern Manhattan, from coming out to vote. And we believe that William Allen should do the honorable thing and step down," said Alcantara.

Alcantara says that she and other sitting district leaders are seeing County-backed challengers on the ballot, along with shifting poll sites. Alcantara has been honored by Espaillat for her work in the past.

John Ruiz, a District Leader for Assembly District 68, said he was concerned the polling place reshuffling will make it hard for his older constituents and those with health issues like asthma from making it to the polling place.

Maria Morillo, another uptown district leader, agreed with Ruiz. "People are telling me, 'I'm not going to vote, it's only district leader and it's too far to travel.' The polling site where I live, we have a lot of senior citizens, and a lot of them might not come out and vote. From 182 and Bennett, people have to travel seven blocks now to vote."

BOE head Michael Ryan told Gotham Gazette that politics had nothing to do with poll site moves, but instead, they were the result of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by a number of disabled voters concerned with poll site access.

Ryan did say that the BOE plans to review the changes to make sure they aren't actually creating a hardship. That review won't likely be complete until next May, and any other changes would have to be agreed upon and approved by a court. "What we are attempting to do now is to set up meetings with the plaintiffs to take a holistic look if some of the fixes created more of a burden. But so far the analysis has been done by an expert, but it hasn't included a look at distance or the terrain traversed that could have made it worse than it was before."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing 

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Candidates Allege Wright Unfairly Influences Elections Fri, 04 Sep 2015 16:45:43 +0000