Gotham Gazette Tue, 25 Sep 2018 09:29:51 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) New Consumer Affairs Commissioner Inherits Robust Agency and Big Challenges Salas

Salas accepting a pen from the mayor at a bill signing ceremony (photo via @NYCDCA)

When Lorelei Salas was appointed Commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs by Mayor Bill de Blasio in May, she inherited a dramatically better-funded and more heavily staffed agency than her predecessor, Julie Menin, did when she took office in 2014.

New York City’s DCA is the nation’s largest municipal consumer protection agency, tasked with licensing businesses, monitoring predatory business practices, redressing consumer grievances and enforcing various municipal benefits, among other functions that it performs. Its adopted budget has grown from $23.6 million to $40.6 million between fiscal years 2013 and 2017 and its staff has increased from 301 to 441 in the same period.

In recent months, new challenges have arisen for the agency, including a pattern of noncompliance in the retail and restaurant industries, the need to set up a new Council-mandated Office of Labor Policy and Standards, and the looming effort to educate businesses and workers about a rising minimum wage. In the face of these issues, Commissioner Salas has yet to decide whether she will use the large budget at her disposal to simply maintain Menin’s strategy or aggressively carve out a new path, like Menin did.

Menin’s time with DCA was markedly successful. Appointed commissioner in April 2014, she took the reigns of an agency that had been widely criticized under the previous administration by business owners and then-Public Advocate de Blasio himself for issuing excessive fines to businesses to generate revenue for the city.

In the two years that followed, Menin spearheaded what City Hall characterized as a “turnaround” of the department, lowering the number of violations issued from 19,888 in fiscal year 2014 to 11,923 in fiscal year 2015 while increasing consumer restitution from $3.6 million to $6.2 million in that time frame. She also oversaw the implementation of a swath of de Blasio’s signature policies, including the executive order on expanding the Living Wage Law, the Small Business Relief Package, the Paid Sick Leave Law, and the Commuter Benefits Law.

But Menin’s term was cut short in February when de Blasio appointed her Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. DCA went without a permanent commissioner until the end of May, when de Blasio appointed Lorelei Salas to head the agency. After a short training period during which Salas was debriefed by senior officials, she began acting as commissioner in late June.

Salas, an outside hire who most recently served as Director of Legal Services at Catholic Migration Services and has held senior management enforcement positions at the New York State Department of Labor, told Gotham Gazette she still needs time to learn from senior DCA officials before setting specific goals for the department. Those officials have outlined plans that largely emphasize outreach and education to adhere to de Blasio’s agenda of protection and financial equity for businesses, workers and consumers.

“I could come here with great ideas that I borrowed from someone else but the truth is that the people who are doing this work day to day understand what the challenges are,” Salas said in an interview at DCA’s office in Downtown Manhattan on June 29. “I'm hoping to learn from them first before I start saying I'd like to do this other great thing.”

For now, Salas said she is interested in expanding the agency’s financial empowerment programs for low-income New Yorkers. The first initiative of her term, known as the Collaborative for Neighborhood Financial Health, was announced Thursday and will aim to increase financial resources and education in Bedford-Stuyvesant and East Harlem.

When asked about the administration’s vision for DCA’s immediate future under Salas, a mayoral spokesperson indicated that the agency would maintain its mission established during Menin’s term — emphasizing a focus on economic empowerment.

“Under Mayor de Blasio, our consumer affairs department is working to give everyone in the marketplace the means they need to thrive - consumers, employers and employees alike,” said the spokesperson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The Administration has sharpened the department's focus on promoting economic empowerment for everyone.”

To execute the “economic empowerment” that DCA has come to prioritize in recent years, Menin, aided by annual budgetary increases throughout her term, raised funding for aggressive outreach campaigns to educate both workers and business owners. DCA’s Office of Financial Empowerment, a DCA division that offers financial services to low-income New Yorkers, also saw increased success during Menin’s term.

“As a result of a $3 million investment that the city made, we returned over $250 million back to low-income New Yorkers,” Menin said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. “That truly worked and fit within the administration's goal of increasing access and increasing equity as well.”

The Office of Financial Empowerment first received baseline budgetary funding for its Financial Empowerment Centers in 2012, following which the number of tax returns filed through centers increased from 90,000 to 150,000 within a year. Under Mayor de Blasio, OFE’s budget has grown every year, and even allowed them to hire three new employees in Fiscal 2015.

“This was a really amazing initiative that started with the need that people are not getting their earned income tax credit, which is obviously the anti-poverty initiative of our time,” OFE Executive Director Debra-Ellen Glickstein said in an interview. “This was the first time that the city put real money against this.”

In addition to an increase in outreach, the drop in fines assessed by DCA during Menin’s term was facilitated by administrative policy. Under the Small Business Relief Package, put into effect by de Blasio in 2014, DCA began issuing warnings for violations that did not pose immediate consumer harm and issuing “curable violations” for first-time offenders. The total number of violations issued by DCA dipped from 24,835 in fiscal year 2012 to 11,923 in fiscal year 2015.

This effort to decrease violations, coupled with DCA’s responsibility to implement new regulations, has made for a tension within DCA’s mission that Salas has acknowledged will require nuance to maintain. On one hand, the agency attempts to protect businesses by scaling back unnecessary investigations and forgiving violations when possible. On the other, DCA must protect workers from businesses by enforcing regulations like Paid Sick Leave and Commuter Benefits. These newer missions, heavily funded for the first time in the past two years, are in addition to the department’s longest-standing obligation: to protect consumers.

“We are in the process of figuring out how to balance the different varying needs and demands in our agency,” Salas said. “We have to assume that people will comply if they have the right tools and the right information.”

Despite an overall trend of compliance following a concerted effort by the agency to increase education in recent years, DCA officials have identified specific challenges that Salas will need to address. For example, although DCA directly educated over 400,000 businesses at more than 800 events about the Paid Sick Leave law — which requires employers to provide paid sick leave if they have five or more employees who work at least 80 hours per year — and has gathered $3.4 million in fines and restitution, officials said specific businesses still regularly fail to comply.

“We have and continue to have experience with certain industries where there's a high level of noncompliance and that includes retail, home health aides, security, restaurants,” said Nick Smithberg, executive director of Paid Sick Leave and Commuter Benefits, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “Those are kind of hot buttons. We see them again and again and again.”

Jessica Shpall Rosen, an attorney specializing in employment and labor law, told Gotham Gazette that although DCA’s education measures have been helpful, compliance with the paid sick leave law — which includes a requirement that businesses write and distribute their own paid sick leave policies to employees — is more likely to be an issue for small businesses without access to legal advice.

"It requires a deep level of technical knowledge and a direct reading of the law, and it's not easy to figure out how to deal with some of these technical requirements,” Rosen said. “But I believe the DCA could do a better job by perhaps providing various versions of samples that could be adopted by small businesses. Right now it ends up being a little bit difficult for some companies to figure out how to comply."

DCA has already taken some steps to close this gap in compliance. According to First Deputy Commissioner Alba Pico, who acted as interim commissioner until Salas took office, DCA has targeted cultural and language barriers that prevent business owners, especially of small businesses, from avoiding violations. The department now publishes inspection checklists in eight languages so that business owners “are not surprised” by laws, Pico said, and allows business owners to select the language in which their inspection will be performed.

DCA will inevitably face another major challenge later this year. As the city’s minimum wage incrementally rises for approximately 18,000 workers in keeping with de Blasio’s Living Wage executive order, Salas said the agency would help educate workers and businesses about new wages. The specifics of this effort, however, have yet to be determined. According to an agency spokesperson, DCA “is currently strategizing” about the scale of its education efforts and whether it will, in fact, help with minimum wage outreach.

The most recent point of uncertainty for the agency is the creation of the Office of Labor Standards and Policy, a subdivision of DCA mandated by a law passed by the City Council and signed by de Blasio last November. The office, slated to take over labor-facing DCA roles like worker education and enforcement of the commuter benefits and paid sick leave laws, has yet to begin operating and still has no director. The exact timeline for the office’s setup and whether it will take a different approach than DCA has in the past remain unclear.

“I'm hoping that maybe within the next four weeks or so we'll be able to have more of a structure around the office,” Salas said at the June 29 interview. “We obviously are doing a lot of the work already that we have on our plate. I would love to see us up and running fully within the next couple of months.”

by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

New Consumer Affairs Commissioner Inherits Robust Agency and Big Challenges Fri, 08 Jul 2016 01:29:30 +0000
Proposals Target Closure of Gender Pay Gap powherny rally 3 

photo: @PowherNY

During a recent panel conversation at The New School, only two people in a crowd of about 50 raised their hands when the audience was asked if they were confident there is no gender pay gap in their workplace. The panel, called “Getting Even,” was organized by the Center for New York City Affairs to discuss the causes of the pay gap between men and women and the steps New York City can take to close it.

“When men go into traditionally female occupations, they get paid more. So gender is the only differentiator here,” said moderator Teresa Tritch, a member of the New York Times editorial board. “Male nurses get paid more than female nurses, male flight attendants get paid more than female flight attendants. It’s across occupations, it’s across ages, it’s across educational level.”

While many women receive lesser salaries in the same jobs as men, leading to calls for “equal pay for equal work,” the wage gap is also caused by devaluing so-called “women’s work,” the trend that keeps women in traditionally lower-paying jobs. Pay inequity has been a persistent problem in New York City, where women make up almost half of the workforce. Across sectors and jobs, a woman who works full-time in the city earns 87 cents to every dollar a man makes, according to a recently-released study by Public Advocate Letitia James, published in April. This means on average, a man in New York City makes almost $7,000 more than a woman every year.

The study also found that women working for the city government experience a pay gap that is three times larger than women in the private for-profit sector and 2.5 times larger than women in the private nonprofit sector.

Public Advocate James began looking into the gender wage gap after Local 1180 CWA, a labor union representing mostly public sector workers and some employees from private companies or nonprofit organizations, brought a lawsuit against the city under the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, claiming that administrative managers were being underpaid. At the time of the lawsuit, more than 78 percent of administrative managers in the city were women. But as women became that significant majority in these management positions, the minimum salary fell. Even women who worked for the city for 20 to 30 years made about $7,000 less each year than men with the same experience, according to a CWA statement on the case. The lawsuit was settled by the Bloomberg administration, but James continued her research and found more information on the municipal gender pay gap.

One of the driving factors in the municipal pay gap is the jobs that women typically hold in the public sector. In New York City’s municipal workforce, about 93 percent of employees are unionized, so both men and women are often locked into certain pay scales through collective bargaining.

According to the public advocate’s study, the Department of Education and the Administration for Child Services have the highest percentages of female employees. These agencies have average salaries of $69,901 and $49,606, respectively. Women also make up 70 percent of employees in the Human Resources Administration, which has an average salary of $41,401. Men represent the largest percentage of employees in uniformed workforces, like the Fire Department and the Department of Sanitation, which offer average salaries of $76,488 and $69,339, respectively. The data suggests that women are concentrated in city jobs that traditionally have lower incomes than the jobs that men dominate. Policies like work hours, promotion practices, and civil servant exams also contribute to the wage gap, which the study says should be monitored more closely as part of the effort to close the gap.  

“In order to correct this, we need to correct it first at home,” James told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview, referring to the gender pay gap generally and among city employees more specifically. “We have the ability, given our oversight and our legislative authority, to correct that which we have control over. We should start in-house first.”

The public advocate’s study includes a list of recommended actions to close the municipal wage gap. An Equitable Pay and Opportunity Task Force - made up of city officials, researchers, and political scientists - will be created by the Public Advocate’s office to provide research-based recommendations to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council. This task force will be separate from the mayor’s Commission on Gender Equity and will examine different data and industries, but James has reached out to the mayor’s office with plans to collaborate and is waiting for a response, she said.

Two essential steps to closing the public sector gap, according to James, are disclosing wage information about the public pay scale and preventing inquiries regarding salary history during hiring processes.

“When you talk about previous wage salary, you establish a floor,” said James. “And as a result of that floor, which is discriminatory in nature, you start off with a discriminatory base. So we really want to prohibit city agencies from asking about previous salary information of job applicants.”

City Council Member Ben Kallos, the only man who serves on the Council’s Committee on Women’s Issues, also believes wage disclosure will be an important tool in working towards pay equity.

“You can look up every public employee’s salary and we know what their gender is,” Kallos told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “Why can’t we do an automatic and internal audit comparing folks to their collective bargaining and make sure people are getting paid what they’re supposed to? The entire point of the civil service is supposed to be equity and treating people based on what they know, not who they know or what their gender is.”

While the public advocate’s study notes that wage disclosure and the prevention of job application questions regarding previous salary can be encouraged in the private sector, it cannot be mandated that private industries follow these practices. However, wage disclosure could be just as important for the public sector, according to “Getting Even” panelist Beverly Cooper Neufeld, the founder of advocacy group PowHer New York. At the New School event, Neufeld noted wage transparency is necessary for identifying wage gaps, holding employers accountable, and discouraging them from discrimination.

Other solutions offered by the panelists included strongly enforcing anti-discrimination laws, advocating for the right to collective bargaining and a higher minimum wage, support for government programs like universal preschool, laws for paid sick leave and paid family leave, and changing the culture of workplaces.

Some of these potential solutions have already been enacted, such as New York City’s Pre-K For All program, which helps mothers work at all or stay at work longer by providing free child care (though that is not the sole or even top purpose of pre-K, of course). The state also passed a paid family leave policy as part of the 2016-17 state budget and set a path toward a minimum wage of $15 per hour.

Commission on Gender Equity Director Azadeh Khalili, also on the wage gap panel at The New School, said New York City will look to best practices from other cities. She cited a mentor program in Boston as an example, which provides about 80,000 women training in negotiating for themselves.

On changing workplace culture, Neufeld discussed the perception of motherhood in the workplace as a significant factor in the pay gap. She referred to the unofficial “bonus” men receive when they become fathers: they are more valuable to the workforce because they are now working to provide for a family. Women, on the other hand, are devalued when they become mothers because it’s assumed they will spend less time at work and more time with their children. On average, women lose about 4 percent of their earnings every time they have a child, according to a 2014 study by Michelle J. Budig, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

However, the gender wage gap affects women regardless of parenthood, education level, or occupation.

Women also face inequity as consumers, according to a study on gender pricing published last year by the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs. The results showed women’s products cost about 7 percent more than men’s, costing women an additional $1,351 every year, on average. The price difference in products marketed to women - ones identical to men’s products aside from packaging or coloring - is most significant in personal care items, children’s toys, and clothing (for both girls and women), according to the DCA study.

“Our study showed that no matter whether you’re a baby or a senior citizen, you’re still being affected,” DCA Deputy Commissioner Alba Pico said in a phone interview. “You’re paying more than what a male would pay for your whole life.”

The gender wage gap and gender pricing are often considered “women’s issues.” But as more women enter the workforce and become the primary providers for their families, they become economic development issues.

“There are a lot of women in the city of New York who are heads of households,” said Public Advocate James. “And when you cheat them out of an equitable and fair wage, you obviously have an adverse effect on their children and on the local economy.”

by Carmen Russo, Gotham Gazette
@carmenjrusso @GothamGazette

Proposals Target Closure of Gender Pay Gap Tue, 31 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Protecting Freelancers: Policy Innovation at Work Freelancers Rally

Freelancers Union rally 

In 2012 when I started bringing cases under the New York Labor Law and the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act the hot area was "independent contractor misclassification." Employers in the "on-demand" economy were (mis)classifying their employees as independent contractors to avoid paying overtime or, in some cases, the minimum wage. Employers did not have to buy unemployment insurance, workers compensation, or pay the employer portion of payroll tax (FICA). Over the next few years, almost every player in the on-demand economy would be sued for employee misclassification.

Eventually, companies began to figure out they were better off correctly classifying their workers as employees rather than risking large damage awards. We got our clients a fair deal because we had statutes that provided strong protections in the New York Labor Law (NYLL) and Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

During the years I was busy with employee misclassification cases, another type of client kept trying to retain me. They were photographers, consultants, writers, website developers and many other professionals, some operating as freelancers and some with small businesses. They were not covered by the NYLL or FLSA because they were independent contractors, not employees. Yet they were the victims of wage theft, too.

Their debts were sometimes small ($500) and sometimes quite large ($25,000) but the story was always the same: the freelancer or independent contractor worked, was paid about half their fee, and then the client, sometimes giving excuses, other times just disappearing, never paid the rest. The freelancers who sought me out were not an anomaly: The Freelancers Union estimates that about half of the 54 million freelancers in America in 2014 had trouble getting paid, and that 34% of those who had trouble getting paid were never paid a dime of what they were owed.

It became apparent to me that the lack of practical remedies to freelancer wage theft contributed to the problem. Unlike the landlord, utility company, or other vendors who could simply stop service if they were unpaid, freelancers had no real recourse. As a result, they were paid last, and if money ran out, they were the ones left unpaid. Legal action was impracticable because unlike cases brought under the NYLL and the FLSA, there were no additional damages available as a penalty for non-payment, no attorney's fees, and no liability on behalf of the owner of the employer.

Lawsuits for unpaid wages under $5,000 needed to be in the Small Claims Part of the New York City Civil Court as breach of contract matters. Breach of contract cases in the civil court (up to $25,000) and in the Supreme Court (above $25,000) were subject to expensive filing and service fees, not to mention myriad requirements meant to assure procedural fairness. The freelancer also needed to enforce the judgment themselves, a time consuming and potentially expensive process. The amount of the loss rarely justified the huge legal fees required.

One innovative solution was my new company Indepayment, a comprehensive platform for freelancer debt collection. Indepayment aggregates debts owed to freelancers and independent workers to create a steady stream of cases for commercial collection attorneys and debt collectors who work on volume and collect on contingency. Indepayment operates nationally, and has been growing exponentially since we started collecting debts in June 2015. We're also working with the Freelancers Union to educate freelancers about avoiding non-payment.

The New York City Council has put forward another innovative solution, in the form of a bill, Intro. 1017. Sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander and now supported by 28 Council members, it creates a statutory remedy for freelancer wage theft that provides for double damages, attorneys' fees, and civil penalties which mirror the remedies available under FLSA and the NYLL. The bill requires that freelancers have a contract, and makes it a violation not to pay or to pay after 30 days unless otherwise agreed. If passed into law, these would be significant new protections for those in the growing freelance economy.

Causes of action under the new law could be brought in addition to breach of contract matters in Court. In addition, freelancer wage theft matters are treated as violations of the city Administrative Code adjudicated by the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). Establishing a DCA administrative process alleviates some of the procedural complexity, delays, and costs associated with bringing cases in Supreme Court and Civil Court.

In addition, because the collectability of court judgments is sometimes difficult, the city's enforcement of violations is an important feature. The administrative process and the provisions of the bill that require reporting to the city of civil actions will allow the city to keep detailed records of wage theft recidivists and understand the scope of the wage theft problem in New York City.

Although the bill could go further – for example the NYLL and FLSA have provisions that make the owners of the employers liable for wage theft – it's a great start. Intro. 1017 deserves our support because our innovative and evolving freelance workforce deserves innovative solutions to guard against wage theft and protect its livelihoods.

Jesse Strauss is an attorney based in New York City and Founder and CEO of Indepayment.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Protecting Freelancers: Policy Innovation at Work Thu, 25 Feb 2016 23:24:12 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 6 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Don't expect to see much action from the biggest political players this week. Mayor Bill de Blasio may have launched a salvo against Governor Andrew Cuomo before leaving for vacation last week but the Mayor remains somewhere in the "Southwestern and Western United States" according to his official schedule. De Blasio, First Lady Chirlane McCray, and their children Chiara and Dante are scheduled to return to the city on Wednesday. In the meantime day-to-day operations will be carried through by First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris. 

Meanwhile, Cuomo appears to be quietly recovering from a particularly nasty legislative year that saw him suffer both personal and political hardship. He did travel to Long Island this weekend to officiate the wedding of rocker Billy Joel and his girlfriend Alexis Roderick. Cuomo's official schedule puts him in New York City today. 

Don't fret about de Blasio and Cuomo's relationship - therapists tell the Daily News there is a chance they can work things out. 

Not everyone has the day off Monday. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul is set to tour the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Baldwinsville. 

And David Sweat, the surviving member of the pair of inmates who broke out of an upstate prison causing a massive manhunt and media firestorm, has officially returned to prison after recovering from two gunshots to his torso at Albany Medical Center. Senate Republicans are chomping at the bit to hold hearings on prison funding and security. Expect them to hold the issue over Cuomo and Democrats who back prison reforms. 

It's a slow week coming off the holiday weekend, but there are several items to be aware of, read our day-by-day rundown below.

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

The run of the week in detail:


The New York City Campaign Finance Board is offering a Compliance & C-SMART training session for the 2017 election cycle at 1pm Tuesday. "Compliance trainings cover campaign finance laws and CFB rules. C-SMART trainings provide an overview of the CFB's web-based application, which campaigns must use to manage and disclose financial activity. The candidate, treasurer, campaign manager or other individual with significant managerial control over the campaign is legally required to attend both a Compliance and a C-SMART training." For more information and to RSVP

There will be a double symposium on race and law enforcement on Tuesday at 6 p.m. and on Thursday, July 16 at 6 p.m. On Tuesday, among others, Susan Herman, Deputy Commissioner of Collaborative Policing for the NYPD, will be attending.

On Tuesday there will be "A Young Professionals Fundraiser" for Public Advocate, Letitia James at 6;30 p.m. Congress Member Yvette Clarke will be a featured speaker and special invited guests include State Senator Velmanette Montgomery; Assembly members Annette Robinson, Rodneyse Bichotte, Diana Richardson, Latrice Walker and Council member Laurie Cumbo.

At 6:30 p.m. there will be a Brooklyn Borough Board Meeting hosted by Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams.

At 9:30 a.m. the Department of Consumer Affairs will be hosting an "Open House Training Series: NYC's Paid Sick Leave Law."

The Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and New York City Housing Authority will host a series of town hall meetings to discuss the recently released NYCHA Next Generation Plan. There will be a town hall meeting on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Hunter College School of Social Work.

At 2 p.m. there will be access to free legal services for "Foreclosure Intervention/Prevention" provided through a partnership between Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and the Brooklyn Volunteer Lawyers Project, Inc. This occurs every second Wednesday of every month.

The de Blasio family will be returning from their vacation today.

At 2 p.m. there will be access to free legal services for "Housing and Elder Law, and Pension matters" provided through a partnership between Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and the Brooklyn Branch of Legal Services NYC. This occurs every second and fourth Thursday of every month.

At 3 p.m. Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson will partake in a Q&A as part of the "Newsmakers Series 2015" at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. 

Friday and the weekend
Friday evening at 6:30 p.m. there will be a celebration hosted at Hunter College for Carl Heastie, the first African American Assembly Speaker of New York State. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senate Democratic Conference Leader; John Flanagan, Senate Majority Leader; Joseph D. Morelle, Assembly Majority Leader, and numerous others are part of the host committee attending.

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 Erika Wang and David King

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 6 Wed, 01 Jul 2015 21:55:01 +0000
Why Don’t We Ever Hear About Commercial Rent Policy? levine small biz

Council Member Levine & co outside an evicted business (photo: @MarkLevineNYC) 

Mid-June, it was a block in Washington Heights that was poised to be the next to close up shop. The landlord, Coltown Properties, looked to evict the mostly Latino-owned stores on the street, which included a barbershop, restaurant, and income tax service. The store proprietors faced the same issue as many other small business owners in New York — there was nothing they could do.

“Collectively, the businesses on this block have been in operation for over 80 years,” local City Council Member Mark Levine said at a press conference on 162nd Street and Broadway. “At a time when unemployment rates in our neighborhood are disproportionately high, these businesses are vital to the economic livelihood of this area.” Levine’s office is partnering with Legal Aid Society to provide legal assistance to small businesses in his district.

This is New York today, the plight of the city’s small businesses is grumpily accepted like a late train. It’s perceived by many New Yorkers as a part of the city grind, the dog-eat-dog, if-you-can-afford-it-here-you-can-afford-it-anywhere reality of a town teeming with opportunity, but becoming evermore competitive - and expensive.

Echoing all too quietly in the halls of both city and state government, the average retail rent in Manhattan has risen 22 percent over the past decade, causing a sprawl of small businesses to relocate or simply close. It is a disease that’s spread to Brooklyn too.

As news and debate over residential rent regulation dominated Albany and New York City over the past several months, what happens on a daily basis to small businesses throughout the city tends to fall by the wayside. Commercial tenants have far less protection against sudden rent increases than residents do, and now, that deficit is playing out in pockets of the city at an increasingly rapid pace. In comes another Chase, next to the new Duane Reade.

Depending on who you ask, the reasons vary as to why elected officials in New York and Albany have acted — or, to some advocates, failed — on reforming commercial rent policy.

“No one is lobbying the state Legislature for commercial rent control, so obviously legislators are not thinking about the issue,” Michael McKee, the treasurer of Tenants PAC, says. “I am not even aware that there is a bill that would provide protections to small businesses.”

As it stands, the only bill in the New York State government that pertains to commercial rent in New York City is the “Small Business Survival Act,” first proposed by Senator Tony Avella of Queens in 2013. It aims to level the playing field between tenant and landlord by mandating arbitration privileges to small businesses. Landlords must follow certain criteria when setting a lease, and the commercial tenant has more time in negotiations. “The current commercial rental market results in unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive leases for the payment of rent for commercial space in New York City,” the bill reads. As of this legislative session, it has not seen a vote.

The more common small business bills that do exist are like the resources offered by the city and state’s economic development agencies: they seek to provide clarity with forms, regulations, and other bureaucratic nuances that come attached to opening and operating a small business in a tax- and rule-heavy state. The same situation stands in the Business Council, the most prominent lobby for businesses in Albany. Providing commercial tenants with some sort of leverage in lease negotiations did not make its 2015 ‘Top Ten Objectives’ list, or the webpage for its subdivision of small businesses. Rejecting a higher minimum wage did, though.

“If there is ever to be any movement on this issue, folks have to organize,” McKee said, talking with Gotham Gazette while he was in the midst of yet another major push to influence tenant rent regulations being set by lawmakers in Albany and the city’s rent guidelines board.

As many can attest, it is especially tough to compete against what is, without a doubt, the most powerful force in New York politics: real estate. This is a business community that spends millions every year on political campaigns; the contributions of one of its biggest entities, the Real Estate Board, made up a tenth of the entire state’s campaign money last election cycle. And that’s just one group.

To James Parrott, the deputy director and chief economist of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, that wealth of influence explains the radio silence both down- and up-state, among Democrats and Republicans, on an issue that directly threatens real estate hegemony. Reasoning seems to be that if small businesses had more protections against space-seeking developers, it would cut into the pace and profits of the city’s longstanding natural order. Landlords either want to charge more for commercial space or developers want tenants out so they can sell or demolish and build anew.

“The real estate community has always been aggressive in campaign contributions,” Parrott explains. “And, by doing so, they’ve successfully prevented anything that would restrict them.”

This, of course, includes commercial tenant rights. Parrott makes a key point: in a state government where the recently former Speaker of the Assembly and Majority Leader of the State Senate are both indicted for crimes involving real estate’s influence, it’s hard to believe a bill called the Small Business Survival Act would even last a day. Not to mention the probe into the abrupt closing of the Moreland Commission by Governor Andrew Cuomo; an investigation that is specifically looking into tax breaks for huge developers.

City government is not excluded, either, Parrott argues.

The tale of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (better known as the SBJSA) in the City Council is a long yet uneventful one. Basically, the bill — which, in structure, is very similar to its upstate counterpart — has been floating around the chambers of City Hall since 2008. (Last year, Gotham Gazette dove into its reintroduction.) It would let commercial tenants have the right to lease renewal ten years or more. If a landlord wants to raise rent, mediation with the tenant would be mandated, and, if the parties don’t come to an agreement, an arbitrator would make the final decision.

In essence, it is a flexing of New York City’s municipal home rule, which allows the Council to bypass Albany and regulate commercial code on its own turf. Similar proposals have existed in the Council for decades now, but all have met the same fate: failure. No surprise, Parrott says: the power of real estate is as strong in the city as it is upstate, if not stronger. Also, past mayors and council speakers have strongly sided with that community, meaning any bill is unlikely to ever see a vote, and even if passed by Council, likely vetoed.

But, to tenant advocates, this time around offers hope. Finally, they argue, a legislative body and a mayor progressive enough to actually take up the issue. At least on paper.

“Historically, the deference to Albany has served as a smokescreen/distraction for elected city officials to validate their appalling inaction on issues that they, in all actuality, have complete control over,” Kirsten Theodos, a spokesperson for Take Back NYC, a grassroots advocacy group for tenants and subset of the larger group Save NYC, told Gotham Gazette.

Right now, the SBJSA has 19 City Council sponsors in a 51-member boday. Seeing the bill heard at a committee hearing and then brought to a vote is unlikely, and would probably first require a number of additional sponors signing on (Council members can support a bill without co-sponsoring, but sponsorship levels show strength). To land those additional sponsors, Theodos hopes that situations like the eviction of businesses in Washington Heights will shed light on the issue. When asked if Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who endorsed the bill before becoming speaker, would support the bill now, a spokesperson pointed to remarks made by Mark-Viverito to The Villager in late May. She did not provide an endorsement of the bill then, but mentioned an argument that has been repeatedly made by the real estate community in the past: that the SBJSA is illegal.

“The bill gets introduced once the [Council] staff do their due diligence,” the Speaker said. “Then there are hearings to hear from all sides. And then we figure out what the next steps will be — because sometimes options are being explored that legally we don’t have the ability to implement as a city or as a legislative council.”

Last year, in Gotham Gazette, the president of the Real Estate Board, Steven Spinola, called the bill an “unconstitutional intrusion” on property owners. A spokesperson for the Board told me this position hasn’t changed. Essentially, the board believes it is not in the Council’s jurisdiction to regulate commercial tenants. Home rule doesn’t apply here, they say.

Theodos stresses that this is not true; SBJSA would target the negotiations process, she says, and not install commercial rent control. The legal counsel to the Small Business Congress, a coalition of tenant advocates, supported this argument last year, citing Supreme Court decisions that enable local autonomy.

As a member of the City Council, Mayor Bill de Blasio supported the SBJSA, but he has remained relatively mum on the bill since entering his current office. For many advocates, the hope is that he’ll extend the drive that he has recently demonstrated around housing rent regulations in Albany to the parallel issue for small businesses. However, although he was elected on a ‘helping the little guy’ message and a promise to embrace them, small business owners and their allies also worry that his tendency to meet with representatives from the Real Estate Board and other commercial heavyweights threatens his adherence to their cause. Holding an office that naturally attracts real estate interests, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito has also met with REBNY heads. While neither de Blasio nor Mark-Viverito appears especially cozy with real estate titans, neither has pushed directly on the commerical rent issue either.

That isn’t to say nothing has been done by the de Blasio administration to help small business owners since he took office in January of 2014, though. His office’s Department of Small Business Services (SBS) is spending upwards of $27 million to streamline and defuse the regulatory process and, with the Department of Consumer Affairs, made sure that fewer fines are handed out to small businesses that can barely afford rent. More importantly, SBS has rolled out initiatives aimed at providing pro bono legal services to small businesses in lease negotiations; a policy which will soon expand, SBS spokesperson Merideth Weber told Gotham Gazette.

“We are working to roll out additional programs that span the range of supports we can provide including education, assistance, and tools that can help businesses avoid pitfalls in leases, and make the retail market more transparent,” Weber said in a statement.

When asked if the mayor supports SBJSA, Weber responded, “We’re reviewing the bill and this administration is working on a comprehensive plan to ensure that small businesses have the tools and resources they need to compete in an ever-changing marketplace.”

Still, tenant advocates argue that these measures dance around the main issue: that small businesses have no legal powers against immediate evictions or rent gouging. In a hyper-developing environment reaching further into several boroughs, small business owners are often defenseless. With a state government not inclined to act on commercial rent policy in New York City, and a city bill that, for now at least, is on the back burner of the Council agenda, the urgency stressed by owners and advocates doesn’t seem to be resonating here nor there.

Council Member Mark Levine, who spoke out against the eviction of the small businesses on a block in Washington Heights, in his district, says that there are other options that can help stem the tide of closing small businesses. And these, he said, do not necessarily require either a dying bill or a dead government. “Albany is not acting in any domain, really,” he quickly noted.

The city government, Levina argues, could set an example by not renting out its own real estate to chain stores. Also, zoning laws can be regulated in order to prevent chains and encourage small businesses — a policy that Columbia University has undertaken in Morningside Heights, Levine said. He added that the city should look into preventing developers who receive city subsidies from renting out to chains.

One of the 19 sponsors of the SBJSA, Levine argues that the city needs to set out a structure in which commercial tenants can have enough time whereby they are properly notified of a lease change. He also referred to a bill recently introduced by Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Dan Garodnick that would raise the commercial rent tax exemption in Manhattan (below 96th Street) from $250,000 to $500,000 per year. As of now, the bill has 16 sponsors.

In terms of Albany attention, residential tenants supersede their commercial counterparts in numbers, Levine says, and the politics involved are different. But still, the council member describes challenges faced by small businesses in New York right now as a “crisis;” one that is perhaps even more alarming than the affordable housing problem, given the conditions. “There’s not much a tenant can do,” he says. “Therefore, we’re seeing dramatic changes in our streetscapes, and the scale of the problem is great.”

“It is the mom and pop stores that make this city,” Levine said. “And the city government should be doing much, much more to protect them.”

John Surico is a freelance journalist. His reporting can be seen in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Village Voice, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn.

Why Don’t We Ever Hear About Commercial Rent Policy? Wed, 01 Jul 2015 05:01:01 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 20 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

As the week begins, Governor Andrew Cuomo is heading to Cuba on a trade mission, leaving Monday and returning Tuesday evening - "the first Governor-led state trade mission to Cuba since President Obama began the process to normalize diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba," the governor is quick to point out. "In addition to the Governor and members of his administration, the delegation includes Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, and business leaders representing a number of important sectors and industries in New York's economy."

Meanwhile, get ready for an intense post-budget legislative session in Albany, set to begin Tuesday and extend through mid-June. There's a lot of policy on the table as the budget wound up not including quite a bit (minimum wage, mayoral control of schools, raise the age, etc.) that had been part of the initial conversations on the spending plan. Lawmakers are due in Albany on Tuesday through Thursday this week.

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke about income inequality and progressive policy to address it in Nebraska and Iowa last week (he'll be back on the road spreading his gospel this coming weekend, in Wisconsin (see below for details)). De Blasio returned to New York City on Friday and spent part of Saturday on Staten Island, helping kick off little league season and participating in a pre-K "day of action." Also on Saturday, "de Blasio attended the Office of Immigrant Affairs Stakeholders' Roundtable at City Hall this afternoon as part of the Administration's ongoing efforts to deepen coordination and collaboration with advocates across the City," according to his office. The mayor starts his week with one public event, a bill signing ceremony at 4 p.m. at City Hall, during which he'll sign into law "Intro. 421-A, in relation to increased reporting by the Human Rights Commission; Intro. 689-A, in relation to establishing a housing discrimination testing program; Intro. 690-A, in relation to establishing an employment discrimination testing program; Intro. 656, in relation to the establishment of the South Shore business improvement district; and Intro. 497-B, in relation to the interest rate and discount percentage recommendations provided by the New York City Banking Commission."

Comptroller Scott Stringer released a new audit on Sunday: "Animal Care & Control (AC&C) of New York City does not ensure the safety of drugs and vaccines it administers, fails to track them efficiently, operates an overcrowded shelter in Manhattan, and potentially unsafe facilities, according to an audit released today by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer...AC&C, a non-profit corporation, has a 5-year, $51.9 million contract with the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to provide shelter, examine, test, treat, spay, neuter and assure the humane care and disposition of animals in shelters located in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island, along with drop-off centers in Queens and the Bronx." Stringer begins his week with one public event: delivering the "keynote address at the Municipal Forum of New York Luncheon" at The Union League Club, 1 p.m.

Public Advocate Letitia James also has one public event on her Monday schedule: she "co-hosts Healthy Teen Relationships Forum with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Helen Rosenthal" at MacCaulay Honors College.

It's another busy week at the City Council, see below for the day-by-day schedule. Meanwhile, behind the scenes budget negotiations continue between the Council and the mayor after the Council released its preliminary budget response last week and the mayor prepares his executive budget, due out in early May. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito spent the end of the week in Phoenix, where she was sharing information about the city's new municipal identifcation program. Mark-Viverito then returned to the city to vote in her district's participatory budgeting process, which was wrapping up there and in 23 other districts around the city (on Saturday, Mayor de Blasio voted in his home Brooklyn district, represented by Council Member Brad Lander). Mark-Viverito starts her week making an announcement at Baruch College at 11 a.m. on Monday along with reps from Microsoft, CUNY, and Partnership for New York City. She'll also be in Queens with Council Members Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer touring a "Green Workforce Training Lab."

Wednesday is Earth Day. Expect action and announcements and op-eds and more related to environmental issues all week. The City is due to releases its PlaNYC update on Wednesday. We take an in-depth look at the City's relience planning here, and focus in on Staten Island's situation here. Governor Cuomo has declared it "Earth Week" in New York; and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has done the same in his borough.

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, see below for our day-by-day overview.

***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:

"2015 Pulitzer Prizewinners and Nominated Finalists will be announced Monday, April 20, 2015, at Columbia University in New York City. The announcement will take place at 3:00 pm eastern daylight time."

On Monday at 10 a.m. "to mark the first anniversary of the Ventanilla de Asesoría Financiera, the Mexican Consulate of New York, the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, and Citi will announce the expansion of the Ventanilla to other Mexican Consulates across the US. The celebration will be the first of several events taking place at the Mexican Consulate as part of Financial Education Week 2015."

At 11 a.m. at 250 Broadway, Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, AARP representatives, and others will make an announcement about the CARE Act, legislation aimed at helping New York's caregivers.

Monday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Technology to discuss new bills relating to the translation feature on city websites and requiring that local government websites are accessible to persons with disabilities; a meeting of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations to consider a bill on the community engagement process in the percent for art law;  a join meeting of the Committee on Women’s Issues and the Committee on Civil Service and Labor to consider a bill to "prohibit employers from preventing their employees from discussing salary information" and a bill to create an Office of Labor Standards, as well as resolutions to "grant NYC the authority to enfore State worker protection laws"; support the Wage Theft Prevention Act; support the Paid Family Leave Act; and in support of a bill to prohibit pay differential based on gender.

Monday at noon, the New York State Republican Party will host a lunch with special guest Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

On Monday afternoon in Brooklyn, "Boro Park JCC Executive Director Rabbi Yeruchim Silber and Borough President Adams will present the Belvedere Assisted Living Center with $3,500 in rental assistance to ensure that Rabbi [Mordechai] Simcha can live in a safe and dignified home. A 108-year-old Borough Park resident, with deteriorating health and a fixed income, Rabbi Simcha has struggled to cover his rent..." Simcha is a Holocaust survivor.

Monday evening at Civic Hall, Lawrence Lessig, Van Jones, Zephyr Teachout and will host a talk on political corruption and why Elizabeth Warren should run for president.

The NYC Bar Association will host a panel discussion on the Child-Parent Security Act. Panelists will include State Senator Brad Hoylman, lead sponsor of the Child-Parent Security Act in the New York Senate; Carol Buell, partner at Weiss, Buell & Bell; Nina Rumbold, partner at Rumbold & Seidelman; and Nathan Schaefer, executive director at Empire State Pride Agenda.

Also Monday evening, the City's Immigrant Heritage Week will include “A discussion on the current status of executive action rollout and the programmatic and advocacy work being done at the local, state, and federal level.” Panelists will include Nisha Agarwal, commissioner at Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; Jorge Moncalvo, director at NYS Office for New Americans; and Jojo Annobil, Attorney-in-charge of the Immigration Law Unit at Legal Aid Society.

Riders Alliance is hosting an event, "How to Move a Pro-Transit Agenda in Albany," featuring Assembly Members Erik Dilan, Robert Rodriguez, and Nily Rozic.

And also on Monday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is attending Central Park Conservancy's ceremonial "First Mow" at 11 a.m. and co-hosting the aforementioned "forum on teen dating violence and promoting healthy relationships with Public Advocate Letitia James and Council Member Helen Rosenthal" at 6 p.m.

Tuesday morning, The Center for New York City Affairs will host Juvenile Justice: Successes and Failures of Close to Home: “Two years ago, New York City launched Close to Home, a groundbreaking juvenile justice reform. Its goal: Providing group home-like detention for juvenile offenders instead of sending them to scandal-plagued Upstate facilities. Is Close to Home living up to its promise? Join us for this installment of the de Blasio series: A conversation with the experts on juvenile justice reform.”

Tuesday’s City Council schedule includes a meeting of the Committee on Health to consider posting of information and warnings regarding anabolic steroids and human growth hormone in locker rooms, and technical changes to certain pet shop requirements; a meeting of the Committee on Economic Development for an oversight hearing regarding the economic impact of the Federal Export-Import Bank in New York City; a meeting of the Committee on Contracts, jointly with the Committee on Housing and Buildings, for an oversight hearing regarding the “Mayor’s Housing Plan: Contractor Employment Practices and Accountability.”

Tuesday afternoon, the state Legislature returns to Albany for the start of the post-budget legislative session.

On Tuesday afternoon, "In honor of the 50th anniversary of the New York City Landmarks Law, members of the press are invited to take a complimentary tour with Borough President Melinda Katz to several prominent Queens landmarks throughout the borough on Tuesday, April 21st. The press tour van will depart the Queens Museum at 2:45 p.m. for the following landmarks (not necessarily in order): Louis Armstrong House in Corona; Kingsland Homestead in Flushing; Quaker Meeting House in Flushing; King Manor in Jamaica; and Addisleigh Park Historic District in St. Albans."

Tuesday evening, “The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York State, will be Food Bank For New York City’s special guest speaker at the 13th Annual Can Do Awards Dinner, presented by Bank of America, at Cipriani Wall Street.  Food Bank For New York City — the city’s major hunger-relief organization working to end food poverty throughout the five boroughs — will honor its partners in the fight against hunger — Tom Colicchio and Lori Silverbush, Stavros Niarchos Foundation and Sandra Lee-Simply Living Publishing.”

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Right to Counsel in Eviction Proceedings will hold its Manhattan Town Hall: “Did you know approximately 300,000 New Yorkers have to go to Housing Court to fight eviction every year? Did you know that while 90% of landlords have attorneys representing them about 90% of tenants do not? Join us to learn about legislation that will give New Yorkers the right to legal representation in NYC’s Housing Courts!”

Also Tuesday evening, Immigrant Heritage Week will include Tenement Talks, “a conversation about impact and legacy of the 1965 Immigration Act.”

Council Member Andy King will host another NYCHA residents “Constituent Services Night” at the Eastchester Gardens Community Center.

And on Tuesday evening at 6 p.m., Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is hosting a "Tenant Protection 101" session at Trinity Lutheran Church.

Wednesday is Earth Day. The de Blasio administration will release its update to PlaNYC, the city's long-term environmental, resilience-planning outline. We preview that release here.

Wednesday at 10 a.m. at City Hall, "City Council Member Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) calls for passage of Res. 375, which calls on New York State to include climate change in the K-12 curriculum." He'll be joined by EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck, Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Attorney Eric Goldstein, Global Kids Executive Director Evie Hantzopoulos, Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) Program Manager Maayan Cohen, and others.

And at 2 p.m. in Manhattan: CUNY Divest Earth Day press conference, including City Council Member Steve Levin, Chris Fici of GreenFaith, the Union Theological Seminary, Professor of Finance Charles Allison, The New School, and many others.

Earlier, at 10 a.m., the state Senate Standing Committee on Banks will meet to examine “Predatory Lending Practices within the sub-prime auto loan and auto title loan industry.”

Wednesday, "NYC Votes will hold its second annual #VoteBetterNY Advocacy Day for Election Reform in Albany...NYC Votes will lead a group of nearly 100 concerned citizens urging state legislators to modernize New York's voting system. This year's #VoteBetterNY agenda includes three key reform proposals: Online voter registration; Better ballot design; Early Voting."

At 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Center for an Urban Future and NYATEP will present Making New York’s Workforce Development System More Accountable: how wage reporting data can help the state measure the success of its workforce development system. Featured panelists include Assembly Member Nily Rozic and representatives of several key stakeholders in government, education, and civic life.

The only scheduled City Council meeting for Wednesday will be a hearing of the Committee on Parks and Recreation to discuss a bill regarding the length of the season for city beaches and pools: “this bill would keep public beaches and pools under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department (DPR) open on each weekday until the day before the beginning of each school year and open throughout each weekend until September 30 of each year.”

Wednesday evening, Tina Brown Live Media in association with The New York Times will present The Sixth Annual Women in the World Summit: “The struggles and triumphs of women and girls around the globe come to life in this dynamic three-day summit. World leaders, industry icons, movie stars, and CEOs convene with artists, rebels, peacemakers and activists to tell their stories and share their plans of action. Join the women who have shattered glass ceilings everywhere! More participants to be announced.” Participants will include Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton - Clinton will speak Thursday evening.

City Council Member and congressional candidate (Democrat in NY-11) Vincent Gentile will be participating in a candidates debate on senior issues, at Ft. Hamilton Senior Center in Bay Ridge.

Also Wednesday evening, "Stories of Genocide, Lessons of Tolerance" at the Museum of Tolerance, hosted by City Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Elizabeth Crowley, Mark Levine, and others.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Digital NYC Five Borough Tour will hit Harlem. Panelists will include Clayton Banks, Co-­Founder at Silicon Harlem; Ofo Ezeugwu, CEO & President at; and Sam Sia, Co-Founder at Harlem Biospace.

Wednesday evening, Coro New York Leadership Center will celebrate at its annual gala, this year marking "30 Years of Visionary Leaders," and honoring several including City Council Member Ritchie Torres.

Also Wednesday evening, Vanguard Independent Democratic Association Presents: Young Professionals Networking Mixer "Balancing the Scales of The Criminal Justice System," with guest speaker Public Advocate Letitia James.

Wednesday night, NY Environment Report will celebrate its launch at Maxwell’s Bar & Restaurant in Manhattan. Council Members Donovan Richards and Mark Treyger will join the celebration and deliver remarks: "...they will speak briefly about the release that day of the City's progress report on PlaNYC, and other environmental issues of importance to our city.” Read our latest joint article with NY Environment Report, on the City's preparations for the next big storm(s): Assessing Resilience Planning: Is the City Preparing Smartly for the Rising Risks of Climate Change?

Thursday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises;  a meeting of the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services jointly with the Committee on Transportation and the Committee on Aging for an oversight hearing regarding “transportation services for seniors and people with disabilities in New York City” and to consider a resolution “recognizing this and every April as Autism Awareness Month in the City of New York”; a meeting of the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses; a meeting of the Committee on Contracts; and a meeting of the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions.

Thursday starting at 10 a.m., it's TechDay New York hosting TechDay 2015, “the world’s largest startup event.”

Women in the World will continue its 6th annual summit, which starts Wednesday in New York City, where Hillary Rodham Clinton is set to speak Thursday evening.

There will be another candidates forum in the NY-11 congressional race on Thursday evening: "The Federal Budget and 'Front Burner' Domestic Issues" at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Brooklyn: "With only a few weeks to go until election day on May 5th, it's vital that we raise awareness about the election, the candidates and their positions on the issues." Sponsoring organizations include Communications Workers of America, Locals 1102, 1109; Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign; New York State Nurses Association; MoveOn; among others.

Starting Thursday,, the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School will host a three-day conference named Global Cities: Joining Forces Against Corruption. Among other experts, advocates, and academics, speakers will include the mayors of Mexico City and Athens; New York City Department of Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters; and Executive Director of Citizens Union Dick Dadey. “CAPI's Global Cities conference will bring together high-level integrity officials from cities worldwide to discuss the challenges of fighting municipal corruption and share successful strategies and best practices. City delegations include: Athens, Barcelona, Chicago, Lima, Lviv, Mexico City, Nairobi, New Orleans, New York City, Perth, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Venice.”

Friday and the weekend
Friday, US Attorney Preet Bharara is scheduled to give a keynote address at the Regional Plan Association’s Annual Assembly: “At RPA's 2015 Assembly, we will be holding a series of debates with leading policy makers and innovative thinkers on some difficult policy choices facing our region. Join us on April 24 and weigh in as experts discuss issues that RPA is exploring in our work on the Fourth Regional Plan, a multiyear initiative to plot the course for the region's shared prosperity, sustainability and good governance.”

Also Friday, Fordham Law School will host Sharing Economy, Sharing City: Urban Law and the New Economy, with a keynote by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman: “Trends in the sharing economy have spurred complex legal and regulatory issues that have moved to the center of urban policy debates, from Berlin to Seoul to New York City. As web-based, peer-to-peer companies challenge traditional regulatory paradigms, state and local governments are trying to respond creatively to rapidly changing digital and economic landscapes. This conference will explore the relationship between the sharing (or “peer-to-peer”) economy and economic and community development, consumption, ownership, mobility, and a shifting urban workforce. It will investigate diverse approaches to legal and regulatory issues facing city governments, entrepreneurs, workers, consumers, and residents in today’s dynamic technological and built environments.”

On Saturday morning, the Murphy Institute will host a Political Action Training.

Saturday evening, Mayor Bill de Blasio will deliver a keynote address at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin Annual Founders' Day Gala 2015, at the Milwaukee Athletic Club.

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 Rati Mukhuradze, Marco Poggio, and Ben Max

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 20 Sun, 19 Apr 2015 19:59:22 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 30 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

March madness in Albany has been quite a ride, and word Sunday night is that a fiscal year 2016 budget agreement is in place. At about 9:30 p.m., the governor's office announced that Cuomo is now five for five in on-time budgets as governor - not a small feat: "The Budget agreement includes landmark education reforms and investment, an ethics package with the nation's strongest disclosure laws for legislators with outside income, and new investments in rebuilding and growing the state's economy, including $1.5 billion for the Upstate Revitalization Initiative and $500 million to make New York the first in the nation to have statewide broadband. The Budget agreement holds spending growth below two percent for the fifth consecutive year, continuing a record of fiscal discipline that has reversed decades of state budgets where spending grew at a higher rate than inflation or personal income growth." Full details will be released on Monday.

As negotiations continued the governor has admitted that more and more of the policies that he attempted to include in the budget were being pushed to the legislative session to follow - which has frustrated some fellow Democrats. Policies the governor has said he included in his budget but will be taken up in the legislative session (which runs until mid-June) include the Dream Act, an education tax credit, and 'Raise the Age' juvenile justice reform. Also likely: minimum wage. Education policy and ethics reforms continue to be the big ticket items that the governor has said he is committed to movement on. Over the weekend many rallied outside the governor's New York City office in protest of his education policy reforms; while others rallied at City Hall in support.

In quite the well-timed release, a new unauthorized biography of Cuomo is due out on Tuesday: Michael Shnayerson's "The Contender."

Meanwhile, in New York City, the City Council has just wrapped its month of preliminary budget hearings, calling in city agencies to discuss expenditures, policies, and needs. Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council members are eagerly awaiting a final deal in Albany, of course, to see how state policy and funding decisions will impact the city. A city budget is due by July 1. [Read our new look at how the City Council defines "women's issues" when it comes ot the budget and otherwise]

Mayor de Blasio begins his week with a 3 p.m. event: "On Monday, Mayor de Blasio will hold public hearings for and sign Intro. 685, in relation to extending rent stabilization laws; Intro. 435-A, in relation to reporting of special education services provided by the Department of Education; and Intro. 485-A, in relation to requiring the Department of Consumer Affairs to provide outreach and education for young adults."

May 5 is not so far away. It is the date of the special election for New York's 11th Congressional District (and the 43rd State Assembly District). The race in NY-11 between Democrat Vincent Gentile and Republican Dan Donovan is heating up, and the two will meet Tuesday night for a debate in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, along with Green Party candidate James Lane. See below for details.

There's a great deal happening at the City Council this week, including a full-body Stated meeting on Tuesday; and plenty of events all over the city, see our day-by-day run 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:

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito's public schedule on Monday includes preparing and distributing kosher for Passover meals with other Council Members, Masbia Soup Kitchen, Queens; and remarks at the Council's Women's History Month celebration.

At 8:15 Monday morning, City Comptroller Scott Stringer will appear live on 91.1 FM's "JM in the AM."

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will be a guest on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show this morning, discussing help for small business owners.

Monday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor calling upon the United States Congress to pass, and the President to sign the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act; a meeting of the Committee on Civil Rights to discuss the powers and duties of the Commission on Human Rights, as well as establishing a housing discrimination testing program and an employment discrimination testing program; a meeting of the Committee on Education on a resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to reject any attempt to raise the cap on the number of charter schools, a resolution calling upon the Department of Education to amend its Parent’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities to include information about opting out of high-stakes testing and distribute this document at the beginning of every school year, to every family, in every grade, and a resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to fully implement the education funding requirements for New York City resulting from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity v State of New York case.

At 11 a.m., Attorney General Eric Schneiderman "will detail his agreement with retail giant GNC to implement landmark reforms in the authentication, testing and public information and transparency of herbal supplements," from his Manhattan office.

Also Monday morning at 11 a.m., "as part of the city's unprecedented tax season outreach cmapaign," an event in Flushing "to promote free tax filing" is being put on by the Department of Consumer Affairs, Rep. Grace Meng, Community Tax Aid, and the Flushing YMCA. DCA Commissioner Julie Menin, Meng and others "are hosting Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Awareness Day to promote free tax preparation services available in Flushing."

On Monday at noon, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña "launches literacy program in 20 Family Shelters with DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor" from HELP Bronx Crotona Park North.

Monday afternoon at 2 p.m., U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries will speak at New York Law School: “Jeffries will speak about innovation in New York and his work in Washington developing policies to further innovation nationally.”

Also at 2 p.m. Monday, Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen and city Economic Development Corporation President Kyle Kimball announce two major initiatives to further New York City’s life sciences sector, at Rockefeller University - according to City & State NY.

At 3 p.m. Mayor de Blasio will hold his aforementioned bill-signing event.

On Monday at 4:30, "Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer will host a Technology & Education Mixer at Civic Hall, the newly-opened community for civic technology...bringing public school principals seeking partnerships with technology organizations..." Brewer: "With passage of the New York State Smart Schools Bond Act, as well as recent changes to E-Rate funding streams at the federal level, New York City schools stand to receive significant capital funds to invest in education technology. Our event will help both tech organizations and schools prepare." Present will be Hal Friedlander, Chief Information Officer, NYC Dept of Education; over 40 Manhattan Public School principals and staff; Civic & Educational Technology organizations, including Citizen Schools, The LAMP, and others.

Monday afternoon, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; Public Advocate Letitia James; Council Women’s Issues Committee Chair Laurie Cumbo; and the City Council Women’s Caucus will host The Second Annual Women’s Herstory Month Celebration at the Council Chambers in City Hall: “This year we recognize Women With Vision, trail blazers who embody the entrepreneurial spirit in pursuit of greatness in the public, political, or private sectors by harnessing opportunities through their vision that transform all of our lives for the better.”

At Brooklyn Borough Hall there will be a Women's History Month celebration hosted by Borough President Eric Adams and Council Member Laurie Cumbo. It will feature an expo of women-owned businesses and then an awards ceremony. Rikki Klieman is the highlighted guest speaker.

Council Member Andy King will hold a “Town Hall” meeting in Eastchester Heights: “New York City Council Member Andy King will be speaking at the meeting as a part of an ongoing series to bring constituent services directly to 12th Council District residents, listen to concerns and answer questions from members of the community.”

Also Monday evening, the Queens Library will host an open budget hearing in Flushing: “The public is invited to find out what the library's funding priorities are, and to give the library their input.”

On Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will attend the Council of Institutional Investors 2015 Spring Conference and 30th Anniversary Celebration in Washington D.C.

As mentioned, Michael Shnayerson’s Andrew Cuomo biography “The Contender,” is slated for release Tuesday.

Tuesday is the last day of the state's 2015 fiscal year. A new fiscal year 2016 budget is due by midnight.

Tuesday morning at 8 a.m., City & State will host Real Estate, Construction & Housing Awards Breakfast to “honor outstanding professionals from New York’s Real Estate, Construction and Housing Industries.” Attendees will include Adolfo Carrion, Executive VP of Stagg Group, former Bronx Borough President; Alicia Glen, Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development; and others.

Also Tuesday morning, there will be a Crain's New York Business breakfast forum with New York City Council Members Julissa Ferreras, Brad Lander, Mark Levine, and Jumaane Williams. The council members will discuss how the Council is changing the playing field for businesses, land-use priorities in their districts and citywide, and what they would like from the de Blasio and Cuomo administrations.

Tuesday at 9 a.m., Chalkbeat will present a community schools conversation with Nancy Zimpher and Jeff Edmondson, moderated by Motoko Rich of the New York Times: “SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and Jeff Edmunson, co-authors of "Strive Together" about their work in developing community schools in Cincinnati, discuss early lessons for other cities hoping to replicate the model.”

Tuesday’s City Council schedule will include a 10 a.m. meeting of the Committee on Finance to review a resolution calling on the New York State Legislature to pass a law that would provide a property tax exemption for privately-owned vacant land while such property is being used for the public benefit; and a City Council Stated Meeting at 1:30 p.m. It's the Council's second full-budy Stated meeting of the month. Bills will be introduced and others previously introduced will be voted on - one that will be introduced is from Council Member Dan Garodnick and would require the NYPD to publish its patrol guide.

Tuesday evening, Educators for Excellence will host Manhattan Policy Roundtable: Teacher Evaluation and Tenure.

Also Tuesday evening, Queens College will host Women in Leadership: Economic Justice in ‘UnBankable’ Communities: “Shared Interest, a non-profit social investment fund, provides access to credit and mentorship for microenterprise and small business owners, farmers and cooperative members. The majority of these business owners are women, who would otherwise be considered ‘unbankable.’Donna Katzin, Executive Director of Shared Interest, will highlight themes related to community and international development, impact investing, women’s leadership, and strategies to promote social and economic justice.”

Tuesday at 5 p.m., NYU Wagner and NYU’s Leadership Initiative will host All Things Being Equal: Reflections of a Social Justice Leader: “Join us for a fascinating discussion with one of America’s most influential public service leaders, Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation. Melody Barnes, NYU’s Vice Provost for Global Student Leadership Initiatives and Senior Fellow at NYU Wagner, will engage him in discussion about his journey in leadership - from his birth in a charity hospital in Louisiana to becoming President of the second largest philanthropy in the United States.”

Tuesday evening, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence will host its spring meeting: “You’ll get an update from Executive Director Leah Gunn Barrett and others about pending state and federal legislation and other NYAGV activities and find out how you can help advocate to reduce gun violence.” [Read a recent op-ed by Barrett on the need to pass Nicholas' Law]

Tuesday at 6 p.m., The Center For New York City Affairs at New School will host Low-Down on Pre-K from Insideschools: “If your child turns 4 this year, he or she is eligible for free pre-kindergarten, either in a public school or at a site run by a community organization. The de Blasio administration gets an A for effort in its rapid expansion of pre-kindergarten, with more than 30,000 new seats last fall and another 20,000 planned for this coming fall. But what is the quality of these new programs?”

There will be a meeting of the National Women's Political Caucus New York City chapter, at which Manhattan BP Brewer will speak.

And also Tuesday evening, a debate in the 11th Congressional District race: 8:15 PM at Guild for Exceptional Children's headquarters in Brooklyn. Staten Island Advance: "Republican District Attorney Daniel Donovan, Democratic Councilman Vincent Gentile and Green Party candidate James Lane will debate on March 31 at an event held by the Bay Ridge Community Council. The three men are facing off in a special election on May 5 for the vacant seat in Congress, left empty by Michael Grimm's resignation in January."

[Read the latest reporting from Gotham Gazette on New York City and State politics and policy]

Wednesday is the first day of the New York State 2016 fiscal year.

Wednesday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Housing and Buildings; a meeting of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor jointly with the Committee on Finance for an oversight hearing regarding examining health care savings under recent collective bargaining agreements; a meeting of the Committee on General Welfare jointly with the Committee on Health for an oversight hearing on examining health and safety at ACS-funded Head Start Programs; a meeting of the Committee on Waterfronts jointly with the Committee on Environmental Protection to discuss a resolution calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to veto the application by Liberty Natural Gas, LLC to construct the Port Ambrose liquefied natural gas terminal off the coast of New York.

Wednesday at 1 p.m., School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University will present Dean’s Seminar Series On Race and Policy: At the Intersection of Tech and Social Impact: “Benjamin Jealous, former president and CEO of the NAACP and current partner at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, will discuss technology and its relevance to social policy.”

Also at Columbia University mid-day Wednesday, Manhattan BP Brewer will speak at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs "One Billion Rising" event raising awareness to end violence against women.

Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., BetaNYC will present NYC Department of Transportation Open Data Forum: “We're joining up with our friends at NYC's Department of Transportation for the third open data forum. Join NYC DOT staff for a town hall-style meeting to discuss open data formatting and access. Bring your questions about DOT's data!!”

Also Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., City Council Members Costa Constantinides and Paul Vallone, in conjunction with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, will celebrate the anniversary of Greek Independence: “The celebration will honor Greek-Americans who have dedicated themselves to serving their communities.”

Thursday evening, Big Apple Coffee Party, Common Cause/NY, Public Citizen and Occupy Wall Street Special Projects Affinity Group  will hold a Rally to Shine a Light on Corruption in Our Democracy: “Join a national campaign to encourage President Obama to sign an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to disclose their campaign activities and contributions.”

Also Thursday evening, the Digital NYC Five Borough Tour will return to Manhattan for a session in partnership with General Assembly and Flatiron BID. Panelists will include Jake Schwartz, Co-Founder & CEO of General Assembly, Hagos Mehreteab, Senior Director of Talent Acquisition at AppNexus, Madison (“Maddy”) Maxie, Creative Technologist, and Kristen Titus, Founding Director at NYC Tech Talent Pipeline.

Friday and the weekend
Friday is Good Friday and Passover begins at sundown on Friday, so things will be quiet at the end of the week and into the weekend - we think, at least.

***Read some of the latest original content from Gotham Gazette - explore our stories or recent op-eds***

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 Rati Mukhuradze, Marco Poggio, and Ben Max

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 30 Sun, 29 Mar 2015 05:00:00 +0000