Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/donovan-richards 2018-01-19T03:46:14+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com New City Council Committee Chairs Have Plenty on Their Plates 2018-01-11T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-11T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7419:new-city-council-committee-chairs-have-plenty-on-their-plates Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/25610093938_e706039a14_z.jpg" alt="City Council Speaker Corey Johnson members" width="600" height="351" /></p> <p>Members of th new City Council with Speaker Johnson (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The new class of the New York City Council took greater shape on Thursday <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7418-city-council-names-new-committee-chairs-and-members" target="_blank" rel="noopener">with the appointment of chairs and members to the 40-plus committees and subcommittees</a> that oversee the broad legislative, land use, and oversight roles of the 51-member body. Most returning Council members were reassigned to lead different committees while some remained in the positions they’ve served the past four years. New Speaker Corey Johnson also chose to create a few new committees to boost staff levels in certain areas and to better address specific issues that were subsumed under broader committee purviews. </p> <p>In their new roles, many of the committee chairs will have to navigate a slate of issues, which in many cases will likely lead them into direct confrontation with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. This holds particularly true for the powerful land use and finance committees, both of which have new Council members at the helm. Speaker Johnson has also pledged broader independence from the mayor than his predecessor, indicating that members will be allowed, and even encouraged, to take the administration to task. He has pledged an enhanced oversight and investigations committee to lead the way in that regard.</p> <p>Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr. of the Bronx was appointed chair of the land use committee, which is tasked with overseeing and reviewing land use applications, zoning amendment,s and landmark preservation in the city. Since the committee has the final say on any development projects that require city government approval, it plays a prominent role in determining the success of the mayor’s affordable housing program, in particular thus far by approving comprehensive, and controversial, neighborhood rezonings in communities such as East New York and East Harlem.</p> <p>The city is exploring similar rezonings -- to create more affordable housing while also injecting economic energy and other benefits into neighborhoods -- in the Bay Street corridor on Staten Island, Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, and Flushing, Queens, among other communities. “Our city is at a crossroads, including my community in the South Bronx,” Salamanca said in a statement Thursday. The City Council, he said, “should be on the front lines on shaping the planning, development and all other land use actions in a way that listens to and addresses the concerns of all New Yorkers.” Freshman Council Member Francisco Moya is heading up the subcommittee on zoning and franchises which falls under Salamanca’s purview. </p> <p>The finance committee, led by its new chair Council Member Daniel Dromm of Queens, also has a tough task ahead as it heads into budget season. Dromm will lead the Council’s negotiations with the administration over the $86 billion-plus city budget. The mayor is expected to release his fiscal year 2019 preliminary budget proposal later this month and the administration has been bracing for cuts in federal funding, threatened by the Trump administration, and a widely expected economic slowdown after years of continuous growth.</p> <p>Last year, the Council advocated for increased savings and reduced agency inefficiencies even as they called for new funding for Council priorities. “I intend to use this position to move a progressive budget forward working closely with Speaker Corey Johnson who I thank for giving me this opportunity to serve,” Dromm said in a statement. </p> <p>The Council’s budget hearings will no doubt also touch on the city’s $96 billion capital budget. Numerous Council members called last year for increased transparency in how capital projects are funded and managed, insisting that the city needs to reduce financial waste and cut down on project delays.<br />Johnson has now gone so far as to create an entirely new subcommittee to oversee the capital budget, chaired by Council Member Vanessa Gibson. “Many members, including myself, have been frustrated by the capital process itself,” Gibson told Gotham Gazette outside the Council chambers on Thursday. She said the new committee will allow expanded oversight of capital spending, particularly by individual city agencies. “At the end of the day, we just wanna say to the public, to New Yorkers and to all of my colleagues that we are spending your money wisely,” she said. </p> <p>The transportation committee continues to be led by Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who has been a vocal supporter of the Move New York congestion pricing plan, which would impose tolls on the East River bridges to raise funds for mass transit infrastructure and reduced fare MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, while also lowering tolls on other bridges.</p> <p>De Blasio has opposed both congestion pricing and the “Fair Fares” campaign, insisting that fair fares should be funded by the state and that congestion pricing is a “regressive tax” that hurts outer borough commuters. He has instead proposed a so-called millionaires tax, which Rodriguez also supports, that would accomplish both goals - subsidized MetroCards and new transit revenue. However, like congestion pricing, the tax would have to be approved by the state Legislature where it has already been rejected by Governor Cuomo and the state Senate, portending perhaps that the fair fares fight will be fought locally yet again. Cuomo appears on the verge of pursuing some version of congestion pricing.</p> <p>In keeping with Johnson’s promise to stand up to the de Blasio administration, the Council now has an expanded Oversight and Investigations committee, led by Council Member Ritchie Torres of the Bronx. The committee is expected to have a full-time investigation staff made up of professional investigators, former prosecutors, and journalists. In an interview with the New York Times, Torres indicated a number of different issue areas he would approach for added oversight. “The abuse of placards. The use of eminent domain. The disposition of public land. Deed restriction. The disbursement of city subsidies. All of it is on the table,” he said.</p> <p>On Thursday, Torres told Gotham Gazette that the New York City Housing Authority’s lead contamination issue, which has been a black eye for the de Blasio administration, was a “continuing concern” for him. “I have not set the investigative priorities of the committee just yet, but given my former position as chairman of the public housing committee, given my interest in the subject, NYCHA is going to be figuring prominently in my oversight priorities,” he said. </p> <p>Torres’ role will crossover with the work of other committees, such as the Committee on Public Housing, which he led last term and will this term be led by Brooklyn Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel. The public housing authority needs $25 billion for infrastructure improvements, with few forthcoming state and federal funds this year. The authority’s numerous public failures continue to haunt the administration and invite criticism from the Council and community activists. And although the city has put a NYCHA overhaul plan into motion and seen some successes and promising developments, problems are not likely to abate any time soon.</p> <p>“As chair, I will ensure that critical issues are addressed, from heat, to lead, to security issues,” Ampry-Samuel said in a statement. “I look forward to visiting every housing development in the city and the opportunity to hear from the residents and the resident leaders.” </p> <p>Johnson also chose to expand the role the Council plays in scrutinizing the city’s criminal justice system. Council Member Rory Lancman of Queens was chosen to lead the newly formed Committee on the Justice System, which has oversight of city courts, district attorneys, legal service providers and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.</p> <p>Manhattan Council Member Keith Powers will be heading the Committee on Criminal Justice, which has oversight of the Department of Correction and Department of Probation. Both committees will play a prominent part in the plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex, which is contingent on reducing the city’s jail population to less than 5,000 -- it is currently just under 9,000 detainees -- while also creating borough-based jail facilities. Lancman told Gotham Gazette he expects to “aggressively oversee and try to reform” the city’s justice system. “You’ll see a very robust agenda coming out of my committee,” he said. </p> <p>Lancman and Powers’ committees were carved out of the earlier Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services and the Committee on Courts and Legal Services, which Lancman led last term. Powers, who is new to the Council like Ampry-Samuel and others, said that move “recognizes that Rikers Island and the corrections system is really its own issue that needs to be tackled in the next coming years.” </p> <p>“There are a lot of thorny issues,” Powers said of the closure of Rikers, “and I think a big part of it is really making sure that we put on the right timeline and that we make sure we manage all the different constituencies that are involved here.”</p> <p>New York City Health + Hospitals, the cash-strapped municipal hospital system, continues to be a big area of concern for the Council and in particular Johnson, who led the health committee for the last four years. Johnson created a separate Committee on Hospitals to oversee the system, appointing new Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera as chair.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, chosen to be the new health committee chair, noted a number of issues he will address, including the opioid crisis, racial disparities in health outcomes, animal rights and the threat of bioterrorism. He has promised to push for a single payer healthcare system in the city -- a priority for the speaker -- and told Gotham Gazette he expects “there will be times when the Council and the administration are on different sides of an issue,” and that its incumbent on members to advocate for the Council’s priorities. “That’s the job of a good committee chair,” he said. </p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7418-city-council-names-new-committee-chairs-and-members" target="_blank" rel="noopener">See the full list of new Council leadership, committee chairs, and committee members.</a></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/25610093938_e706039a14_z.jpg" alt="City Council Speaker Corey Johnson members" width="600" height="351" /></p> <p>Members of th new City Council with Speaker Johnson (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The new class of the New York City Council took greater shape on Thursday <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7418-city-council-names-new-committee-chairs-and-members" target="_blank" rel="noopener">with the appointment of chairs and members to the 40-plus committees and subcommittees</a> that oversee the broad legislative, land use, and oversight roles of the 51-member body. Most returning Council members were reassigned to lead different committees while some remained in the positions they’ve served the past four years. New Speaker Corey Johnson also chose to create a few new committees to boost staff levels in certain areas and to better address specific issues that were subsumed under broader committee purviews. </p> <p>In their new roles, many of the committee chairs will have to navigate a slate of issues, which in many cases will likely lead them into direct confrontation with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. This holds particularly true for the powerful land use and finance committees, both of which have new Council members at the helm. Speaker Johnson has also pledged broader independence from the mayor than his predecessor, indicating that members will be allowed, and even encouraged, to take the administration to task. He has pledged an enhanced oversight and investigations committee to lead the way in that regard.</p> <p>Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr. of the Bronx was appointed chair of the land use committee, which is tasked with overseeing and reviewing land use applications, zoning amendment,s and landmark preservation in the city. Since the committee has the final say on any development projects that require city government approval, it plays a prominent role in determining the success of the mayor’s affordable housing program, in particular thus far by approving comprehensive, and controversial, neighborhood rezonings in communities such as East New York and East Harlem.</p> <p>The city is exploring similar rezonings -- to create more affordable housing while also injecting economic energy and other benefits into neighborhoods -- in the Bay Street corridor on Staten Island, Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, and Flushing, Queens, among other communities. “Our city is at a crossroads, including my community in the South Bronx,” Salamanca said in a statement Thursday. The City Council, he said, “should be on the front lines on shaping the planning, development and all other land use actions in a way that listens to and addresses the concerns of all New Yorkers.” Freshman Council Member Francisco Moya is heading up the subcommittee on zoning and franchises which falls under Salamanca’s purview. </p> <p>The finance committee, led by its new chair Council Member Daniel Dromm of Queens, also has a tough task ahead as it heads into budget season. Dromm will lead the Council’s negotiations with the administration over the $86 billion-plus city budget. The mayor is expected to release his fiscal year 2019 preliminary budget proposal later this month and the administration has been bracing for cuts in federal funding, threatened by the Trump administration, and a widely expected economic slowdown after years of continuous growth.</p> <p>Last year, the Council advocated for increased savings and reduced agency inefficiencies even as they called for new funding for Council priorities. “I intend to use this position to move a progressive budget forward working closely with Speaker Corey Johnson who I thank for giving me this opportunity to serve,” Dromm said in a statement. </p> <p>The Council’s budget hearings will no doubt also touch on the city’s $96 billion capital budget. Numerous Council members called last year for increased transparency in how capital projects are funded and managed, insisting that the city needs to reduce financial waste and cut down on project delays.<br />Johnson has now gone so far as to create an entirely new subcommittee to oversee the capital budget, chaired by Council Member Vanessa Gibson. “Many members, including myself, have been frustrated by the capital process itself,” Gibson told Gotham Gazette outside the Council chambers on Thursday. She said the new committee will allow expanded oversight of capital spending, particularly by individual city agencies. “At the end of the day, we just wanna say to the public, to New Yorkers and to all of my colleagues that we are spending your money wisely,” she said. </p> <p>The transportation committee continues to be led by Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who has been a vocal supporter of the Move New York congestion pricing plan, which would impose tolls on the East River bridges to raise funds for mass transit infrastructure and reduced fare MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, while also lowering tolls on other bridges.</p> <p>De Blasio has opposed both congestion pricing and the “Fair Fares” campaign, insisting that fair fares should be funded by the state and that congestion pricing is a “regressive tax” that hurts outer borough commuters. He has instead proposed a so-called millionaires tax, which Rodriguez also supports, that would accomplish both goals - subsidized MetroCards and new transit revenue. However, like congestion pricing, the tax would have to be approved by the state Legislature where it has already been rejected by Governor Cuomo and the state Senate, portending perhaps that the fair fares fight will be fought locally yet again. Cuomo appears on the verge of pursuing some version of congestion pricing.</p> <p>In keeping with Johnson’s promise to stand up to the de Blasio administration, the Council now has an expanded Oversight and Investigations committee, led by Council Member Ritchie Torres of the Bronx. The committee is expected to have a full-time investigation staff made up of professional investigators, former prosecutors, and journalists. In an interview with the New York Times, Torres indicated a number of different issue areas he would approach for added oversight. “The abuse of placards. The use of eminent domain. The disposition of public land. Deed restriction. The disbursement of city subsidies. All of it is on the table,” he said.</p> <p>On Thursday, Torres told Gotham Gazette that the New York City Housing Authority’s lead contamination issue, which has been a black eye for the de Blasio administration, was a “continuing concern” for him. “I have not set the investigative priorities of the committee just yet, but given my former position as chairman of the public housing committee, given my interest in the subject, NYCHA is going to be figuring prominently in my oversight priorities,” he said. </p> <p>Torres’ role will crossover with the work of other committees, such as the Committee on Public Housing, which he led last term and will this term be led by Brooklyn Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel. The public housing authority needs $25 billion for infrastructure improvements, with few forthcoming state and federal funds this year. The authority’s numerous public failures continue to haunt the administration and invite criticism from the Council and community activists. And although the city has put a NYCHA overhaul plan into motion and seen some successes and promising developments, problems are not likely to abate any time soon.</p> <p>“As chair, I will ensure that critical issues are addressed, from heat, to lead, to security issues,” Ampry-Samuel said in a statement. “I look forward to visiting every housing development in the city and the opportunity to hear from the residents and the resident leaders.” </p> <p>Johnson also chose to expand the role the Council plays in scrutinizing the city’s criminal justice system. Council Member Rory Lancman of Queens was chosen to lead the newly formed Committee on the Justice System, which has oversight of city courts, district attorneys, legal service providers and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.</p> <p>Manhattan Council Member Keith Powers will be heading the Committee on Criminal Justice, which has oversight of the Department of Correction and Department of Probation. Both committees will play a prominent part in the plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex, which is contingent on reducing the city’s jail population to less than 5,000 -- it is currently just under 9,000 detainees -- while also creating borough-based jail facilities. Lancman told Gotham Gazette he expects to “aggressively oversee and try to reform” the city’s justice system. “You’ll see a very robust agenda coming out of my committee,” he said. </p> <p>Lancman and Powers’ committees were carved out of the earlier Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services and the Committee on Courts and Legal Services, which Lancman led last term. Powers, who is new to the Council like Ampry-Samuel and others, said that move “recognizes that Rikers Island and the corrections system is really its own issue that needs to be tackled in the next coming years.” </p> <p>“There are a lot of thorny issues,” Powers said of the closure of Rikers, “and I think a big part of it is really making sure that we put on the right timeline and that we make sure we manage all the different constituencies that are involved here.”</p> <p>New York City Health + Hospitals, the cash-strapped municipal hospital system, continues to be a big area of concern for the Council and in particular Johnson, who led the health committee for the last four years. Johnson created a separate Committee on Hospitals to oversee the system, appointing new Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera as chair.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, chosen to be the new health committee chair, noted a number of issues he will address, including the opioid crisis, racial disparities in health outcomes, animal rights and the threat of bioterrorism. He has promised to push for a single payer healthcare system in the city -- a priority for the speaker -- and told Gotham Gazette he expects “there will be times when the Council and the administration are on different sides of an issue,” and that its incumbent on members to advocate for the Council’s priorities. “That’s the job of a good committee chair,” he said. </p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7418-city-council-names-new-committee-chairs-and-members" target="_blank" rel="noopener">See the full list of new Council leadership, committee chairs, and committee members.</a></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Council Speaker Candidates Hesitant to Criticize or Reform Party-Controlled Board of Elections 2017-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7368:council-speaker-candidates-hesitant-to-criticize-or-reform-board-of-elections Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/24746697891_2461799422_z.jpg" alt="City Council chambers with members" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>photo by William Alatriste/City Council</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Board of Elections has widely been acknowledged as a dysfunctional agency in need of urgent and sweeping reform, yet the political will for modernizing and professionalizing the board has not existed, at least in part because its current structure benefits those in power.</p> <p>Its system of appointments based on political patronage has long been a source of criticism and its mismanagement of election operations has frustrated voters and been the subject of City Council oversight hearings. But, when asked, the eight men vying to become the next Speaker of the City Council recently said concerns about the BOE are misguided. To varying degrees, they indicated that the board is effective and efficient, that its failings are isolated rather than systematic, and that its current structure should be preserved.</p> <p>At a November 20 speaker candidate forum hosted by Citizens Union, other government reform groups, and New York Law School, seven speaker candidates -- Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan; Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens; and Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn -- were present and they mostly took the middle of the road when asked about the steps the City Council, which approves appointments to the BOE, could take to improve the board. The ten BOE commissioners include two -- one Republican and one Democrat -- from each borough.</p> <p>The Council members hedged their bets and praised the BOE, recognizing that any criticism could potentially be read as directed toward the county party organizations that nominate BOE commissioners and place other employees at the board -- the same county organizations whose support each candidate is seeking in order to become speaker. The eighth candidate, Ritchie Torres from the Bronx, would later give Gotham Gazette a similar response.</p> <p>None of the members were in favor of a non-partisan restructuring of the board. “That’s a tough question to ask of speaker candidates,” Williams said, to laughter from his colleagues in acknowledgement of the role of the county party machines in both picking BOE commissioners and picking the Council speaker. Williams defended the board but did acknowledge that patronage has played a role in appointments and that the Council could do more to improve it.</p> <p>“We know that we do have some issues and if we can just do some more thinking through that process and make sure that it’s not as patronage as some folks may think, we can move a lot further,” Williams said, taking the most bold position of the group. “I’m not sure if we push as hard as we can when things go wrong.”</p> <p>Other candidates spoke generally about reforming election and voting laws, a tangential subject that is mostly the prerogative of the state Legislature, and some staunchly argued in favor of the current partisan composition of the board, which they insisted maintains a balance and prevents one-party hegemony in elections.</p> <p>“I do not support non-partisan appointments to the Board of Elections,” said Johnson, one of the three perceived frontrunners in the race, along with Levine and Cornegy. “I believe that the parties play a particular role in ensuring that we make sure that any party that’s dominant at a given time cannot run roughshod over another party. If someone came up with a perfect system of a non-partisan way to handle it, maybe I’d entertain it. I’ve never heard of that system, I don’t know how you take political influence out of politics.”</p> <p>“I couldn’t agree more,” Van Bramer said in response.</p> <p>The city BOE falls under state jurisdiction, like all local boards of election, although the city gets to decide the board’s budget and not much else. The ten board commissioners are nominated by the county party machinery and appointed by the City Council. Representatives from the board testify at City Council hearings, usually during budget season, and receive recommendations and often admonitions from Council members, but are not bound to follow any Council mandates.</p> <p>The board is often seen as favoring the Democratic Party establishment, given that the vast majority of candidates for city offices are Democrats. Candidates not backed by the party machinery are often challenged in board proceedings and kicked off the ballot, though they are often first-time candidates with fewer resources and without experienced election lawyers.</p> <p>On Monday, Torres reiterated what his colleagues had said weeks ago. “I suspect you’re misdiagnosing the problem, the problem is a lack of resources,” he told Gotham Gazette at City Hall. “I suspect it’s a lack of resources more than the manner in which the appointments are made.”</p> <p>He continued, “Does the BOE have inefficiencies? Yes. It’s true of every agency in city government. There’s not a single agency in city government that’s free of inefficiency. So the notion that you would cite inefficiency as an excuse for fundamentally changing the structure of an institution is dubious.” Torres said he would oppose any measures that could weaken the party organizations’ role but conceded that the Council should “study the problem comprehensively” to determine the needs and inefficiencies of the BOE.</p> <p>There have been studies in the past, and each has found persistent issues.</p> <p>A <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/reports/pdf/2013/2013-12-30-BOE_Unit_Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2013 report</a> by the city’s Department of Investigations <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20131230/civic-center/nyc-board-of-elections-riddled-with-problems-dept-of-investigation-finds" target="_blank" rel="noopener">found</a> a raft of problems in elections management as well as internal board administration. In 2016, the BOE was responsible for a massive voter purge in Brooklyn during the presidential primaries, resulting in legal action by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. In November, Schneiderman announced a consent decree with the BOE that requires added oversight of the board’s voter list maintenance.</p> <p>Less than a week before this year’s general election on November 7, city Comptroller Scott Stringer also released an <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/audit-report-on-the-board-of-elections-controls-over-the-maintenance-of-voters-records-and-poll-access/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">audit</a> that excoriated the BOE’s dysfunctional election operations. At each step, the BOE has pushed back and has been resistant to change. Even when Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a $20 million incentive for the board to enact major reforms -- recommending the empaneling of a Blue Ribbon Commission to analyze the BOE, more transparency in hiring and improved poll worker training, among other measures -- its commissioners refused.</p> <p>“The Mayor believes that it is critical that we reform the Board of Elections,” said Seth Stein, a mayoral spokesperson, in a statement on Tuesday. “They have demonstrated time and again that they are unable to perform the basic functions of their office, like keeping eligible voters on the rolls. The Mayor looks forward to working with whoever the next Speaker is to encourage the Board to accept the $20 million we have offered in exchange for necessary reforms.”</p> <p>State-level BOE reforms have not progressed in Albany.</p> <p>Those who could take steps or apply pressure to improve the BOE’s abysmal record are the very people invested in the status quo, however, and the City Council, particularly its speaker, falls squarely within that dynamic. Election experts also tend to agree that the Council can pass little meaningful reform, absent legislative action at the state level, and that the bi-partisan BOE composition is appropriate. &nbsp;</p> <p>“There’s very little the City Council can do regarding the structural functioning of the agency,” said Sarah Steiner, an election lawyer. “They could maybe fund the board at a higher level so it could function better.”</p> <p>“In terms of patronage, it’s a bi-partisan agency, not a civil service agency. Unless that’s changed, the county organizations is where the commissioners and employees will come from,” she added. She insisted that most of the board’s employees are, in her experience, qualified and hard-working professionals. “As in any organization, some employees are better than others,” she said. And she warned that a civil service agency running elections could be open to political interference, while the current structure is designed to prevent just that.</p> <p>Steiner praised, in particular, the speed and accuracy with which the BOE provides election night results. But, she said, “they are less good at some of the work regarding candidates. I think the rules structure for candidates needs substantial revision.” Unlike the state BOE, the city agency doesn’t provide a public comment period for rules changes, she said, which often leaves the candidates and their campaigns unaware and unprepared. “The administrative rules are not as easy as the board thinks they are, and they’re largely a minefield,” she added.</p> <p>J.C. Polanco, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for public advocate this year, has served as &nbsp;president of the city BOE and saw the problems first hand and attempted to fix them. He campaigned this year on a platform that included BOE reform. He’s blunt about the Council speaker candidates and why they wouldn’t speak up against the agency. “Each candidate has to try not to offend the county organizations,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>Though Polanco also agrees that the BOE’s partisan structure may be necessary, he believes it can be better. “One of the things to do is to professionalize the board,” he said, “by forcing every candidate to go through the crucible of the [Council’s] investigations process required of commissioners.” He favors merit-based hiring and called for it when he worked at the board.</p> <p>“There are professionals at the board that get a bad rap for the failures of the board to modernize,” he insisted, echoing Steiner. “You can definitely have a professionalized partisan agency.” The board should post positions with qualifications online, he said, and more publicly seek employees. “It would require an enlightenment of the citizenry and the board,” Polanco said. He also speculated about giving third parties representation on the board, proportionate to their vote shares in prior elections.</p> <p>Although the Council members poised to be the next speaker may not agree, the official they are hoping to succeed believes that the BOE needs improvement. Melissa Mark-Viverito, who, in the waning days of her speakership, has waded into <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/local-politics/2017/12/09/squabble-among-manhattan-democrats-pits-council-speaker-against-county-chair" target="_blank" rel="noopener">conflict</a> with the Manhattan Democratic County Committee over a BOE commissioner appointment, said the Council has discussed reforming the BOE for years. Responding to a question from Gotham Gazette, she said, “There’s obviously a lot more work that has to be done. We’ve seen the reports issued by DOI and others with the dysfunction at the Board of Elections and there definitely has to be a lot more professionalizing of the Board of Elections and being able to implement reforms.”</p> <p>While much of the conversation around elections and voting in New York tends to revolve around the state’s antiquated laws, there have been local attempts at such reform. Council Member Ben Kallos has been a particularly vocal critic of the board and, as chair of the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, has pushed legislation that can improve elections and voting access. He has time and again urged representatives of the board to move towards merit-based hiring -- &nbsp;“I favor the civil service over the patronage appointment process,” he told Gotham Gazette on Monday. Kallos’ bill allowing online voter registration recently passed the Council. The mayor is expected to sign it into law, and it is considered valid under guidance from A.G. Schneiderman.</p> <p>We can “find meaningful alternatives that can help fix the BOE at the city level,” Kallos said. “As we learned with online voter registration, with a little bit of creativity and good attorneys, I think a lot can be possible at the local level.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency">City Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/24746697891_2461799422_z.jpg" alt="City Council chambers with members" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>photo by William Alatriste/City Council</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Board of Elections has widely been acknowledged as a dysfunctional agency in need of urgent and sweeping reform, yet the political will for modernizing and professionalizing the board has not existed, at least in part because its current structure benefits those in power.</p> <p>Its system of appointments based on political patronage has long been a source of criticism and its mismanagement of election operations has frustrated voters and been the subject of City Council oversight hearings. But, when asked, the eight men vying to become the next Speaker of the City Council recently said concerns about the BOE are misguided. To varying degrees, they indicated that the board is effective and efficient, that its failings are isolated rather than systematic, and that its current structure should be preserved.</p> <p>At a November 20 speaker candidate forum hosted by Citizens Union, other government reform groups, and New York Law School, seven speaker candidates -- Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan; Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens; and Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn -- were present and they mostly took the middle of the road when asked about the steps the City Council, which approves appointments to the BOE, could take to improve the board. The ten BOE commissioners include two -- one Republican and one Democrat -- from each borough.</p> <p>The Council members hedged their bets and praised the BOE, recognizing that any criticism could potentially be read as directed toward the county party organizations that nominate BOE commissioners and place other employees at the board -- the same county organizations whose support each candidate is seeking in order to become speaker. The eighth candidate, Ritchie Torres from the Bronx, would later give Gotham Gazette a similar response.</p> <p>None of the members were in favor of a non-partisan restructuring of the board. “That’s a tough question to ask of speaker candidates,” Williams said, to laughter from his colleagues in acknowledgement of the role of the county party machines in both picking BOE commissioners and picking the Council speaker. Williams defended the board but did acknowledge that patronage has played a role in appointments and that the Council could do more to improve it.</p> <p>“We know that we do have some issues and if we can just do some more thinking through that process and make sure that it’s not as patronage as some folks may think, we can move a lot further,” Williams said, taking the most bold position of the group. “I’m not sure if we push as hard as we can when things go wrong.”</p> <p>Other candidates spoke generally about reforming election and voting laws, a tangential subject that is mostly the prerogative of the state Legislature, and some staunchly argued in favor of the current partisan composition of the board, which they insisted maintains a balance and prevents one-party hegemony in elections.</p> <p>“I do not support non-partisan appointments to the Board of Elections,” said Johnson, one of the three perceived frontrunners in the race, along with Levine and Cornegy. “I believe that the parties play a particular role in ensuring that we make sure that any party that’s dominant at a given time cannot run roughshod over another party. If someone came up with a perfect system of a non-partisan way to handle it, maybe I’d entertain it. I’ve never heard of that system, I don’t know how you take political influence out of politics.”</p> <p>“I couldn’t agree more,” Van Bramer said in response.</p> <p>The city BOE falls under state jurisdiction, like all local boards of election, although the city gets to decide the board’s budget and not much else. The ten board commissioners are nominated by the county party machinery and appointed by the City Council. Representatives from the board testify at City Council hearings, usually during budget season, and receive recommendations and often admonitions from Council members, but are not bound to follow any Council mandates.</p> <p>The board is often seen as favoring the Democratic Party establishment, given that the vast majority of candidates for city offices are Democrats. Candidates not backed by the party machinery are often challenged in board proceedings and kicked off the ballot, though they are often first-time candidates with fewer resources and without experienced election lawyers.</p> <p>On Monday, Torres reiterated what his colleagues had said weeks ago. “I suspect you’re misdiagnosing the problem, the problem is a lack of resources,” he told Gotham Gazette at City Hall. “I suspect it’s a lack of resources more than the manner in which the appointments are made.”</p> <p>He continued, “Does the BOE have inefficiencies? Yes. It’s true of every agency in city government. There’s not a single agency in city government that’s free of inefficiency. So the notion that you would cite inefficiency as an excuse for fundamentally changing the structure of an institution is dubious.” Torres said he would oppose any measures that could weaken the party organizations’ role but conceded that the Council should “study the problem comprehensively” to determine the needs and inefficiencies of the BOE.</p> <p>There have been studies in the past, and each has found persistent issues.</p> <p>A <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/reports/pdf/2013/2013-12-30-BOE_Unit_Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2013 report</a> by the city’s Department of Investigations <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20131230/civic-center/nyc-board-of-elections-riddled-with-problems-dept-of-investigation-finds" target="_blank" rel="noopener">found</a> a raft of problems in elections management as well as internal board administration. In 2016, the BOE was responsible for a massive voter purge in Brooklyn during the presidential primaries, resulting in legal action by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. In November, Schneiderman announced a consent decree with the BOE that requires added oversight of the board’s voter list maintenance.</p> <p>Less than a week before this year’s general election on November 7, city Comptroller Scott Stringer also released an <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/audit-report-on-the-board-of-elections-controls-over-the-maintenance-of-voters-records-and-poll-access/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">audit</a> that excoriated the BOE’s dysfunctional election operations. At each step, the BOE has pushed back and has been resistant to change. Even when Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a $20 million incentive for the board to enact major reforms -- recommending the empaneling of a Blue Ribbon Commission to analyze the BOE, more transparency in hiring and improved poll worker training, among other measures -- its commissioners refused.</p> <p>“The Mayor believes that it is critical that we reform the Board of Elections,” said Seth Stein, a mayoral spokesperson, in a statement on Tuesday. “They have demonstrated time and again that they are unable to perform the basic functions of their office, like keeping eligible voters on the rolls. The Mayor looks forward to working with whoever the next Speaker is to encourage the Board to accept the $20 million we have offered in exchange for necessary reforms.”</p> <p>State-level BOE reforms have not progressed in Albany.</p> <p>Those who could take steps or apply pressure to improve the BOE’s abysmal record are the very people invested in the status quo, however, and the City Council, particularly its speaker, falls squarely within that dynamic. Election experts also tend to agree that the Council can pass little meaningful reform, absent legislative action at the state level, and that the bi-partisan BOE composition is appropriate. &nbsp;</p> <p>“There’s very little the City Council can do regarding the structural functioning of the agency,” said Sarah Steiner, an election lawyer. “They could maybe fund the board at a higher level so it could function better.”</p> <p>“In terms of patronage, it’s a bi-partisan agency, not a civil service agency. Unless that’s changed, the county organizations is where the commissioners and employees will come from,” she added. She insisted that most of the board’s employees are, in her experience, qualified and hard-working professionals. “As in any organization, some employees are better than others,” she said. And she warned that a civil service agency running elections could be open to political interference, while the current structure is designed to prevent just that.</p> <p>Steiner praised, in particular, the speed and accuracy with which the BOE provides election night results. But, she said, “they are less good at some of the work regarding candidates. I think the rules structure for candidates needs substantial revision.” Unlike the state BOE, the city agency doesn’t provide a public comment period for rules changes, she said, which often leaves the candidates and their campaigns unaware and unprepared. “The administrative rules are not as easy as the board thinks they are, and they’re largely a minefield,” she added.</p> <p>J.C. Polanco, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for public advocate this year, has served as &nbsp;president of the city BOE and saw the problems first hand and attempted to fix them. He campaigned this year on a platform that included BOE reform. He’s blunt about the Council speaker candidates and why they wouldn’t speak up against the agency. “Each candidate has to try not to offend the county organizations,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>Though Polanco also agrees that the BOE’s partisan structure may be necessary, he believes it can be better. “One of the things to do is to professionalize the board,” he said, “by forcing every candidate to go through the crucible of the [Council’s] investigations process required of commissioners.” He favors merit-based hiring and called for it when he worked at the board.</p> <p>“There are professionals at the board that get a bad rap for the failures of the board to modernize,” he insisted, echoing Steiner. “You can definitely have a professionalized partisan agency.” The board should post positions with qualifications online, he said, and more publicly seek employees. “It would require an enlightenment of the citizenry and the board,” Polanco said. He also speculated about giving third parties representation on the board, proportionate to their vote shares in prior elections.</p> <p>Although the Council members poised to be the next speaker may not agree, the official they are hoping to succeed believes that the BOE needs improvement. Melissa Mark-Viverito, who, in the waning days of her speakership, has waded into <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/local-politics/2017/12/09/squabble-among-manhattan-democrats-pits-council-speaker-against-county-chair" target="_blank" rel="noopener">conflict</a> with the Manhattan Democratic County Committee over a BOE commissioner appointment, said the Council has discussed reforming the BOE for years. Responding to a question from Gotham Gazette, she said, “There’s obviously a lot more work that has to be done. We’ve seen the reports issued by DOI and others with the dysfunction at the Board of Elections and there definitely has to be a lot more professionalizing of the Board of Elections and being able to implement reforms.”</p> <p>While much of the conversation around elections and voting in New York tends to revolve around the state’s antiquated laws, there have been local attempts at such reform. Council Member Ben Kallos has been a particularly vocal critic of the board and, as chair of the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, has pushed legislation that can improve elections and voting access. He has time and again urged representatives of the board to move towards merit-based hiring -- &nbsp;“I favor the civil service over the patronage appointment process,” he told Gotham Gazette on Monday. Kallos’ bill allowing online voter registration recently passed the Council. The mayor is expected to sign it into law, and it is considered valid under guidance from A.G. Schneiderman.</p> <p>We can “find meaningful alternatives that can help fix the BOE at the city level,” Kallos said. “As we learned with online voter registration, with a little bit of creativity and good attorneys, I think a lot can be possible at the local level.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency">City Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
City Council Speaker Candidates, All Men, Promise Gender Equity if Victorious 2017-12-08T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-08T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7359:city-council-speaker-candidates-all-men-promise-gender-equity-if-victorious Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img_8295.jpg" alt="City Council speaker candidates" width="600" height="382" /></p> <p>The City Council speaker candidates (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>At the last public forum in the race to become the next speaker of the City Council, seven of the eight men contending for the Council’s top leadership spot took turns making their argument for why they would be the right person to continue Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s legacy of protecting and promoting the cause of women, transgender, and gender non-conforming New Yorkers. Though few new ideas emerged, for nearly two hours, the seven Council members pitched their progressive credentials and promised to champion the city’s underrepresented and underserved populations.</p> <p>Hosted by a coalition of 14 organizations, at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute in Manhattan, the forum capped off a post-election month that has seen the candidates appear at more than a dozen issue-focused debates and discussions on everything from criminal justice to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency?mc_cid=5cc59c4465&amp;mc_eid=6382885063&amp;utm_source=CFB+weekly+updates&amp;utm_campaign=cf7f97599c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_745d48d7ac-cf7f97599c-290605553" target="_blank" rel="noopener">government transparency and accountability</a>. Thursday’s event was moderated by Politico New York reporter Laura Nahmias and Shatia Burks of the New York City Young Women’s Initiative. In attendance were Council Members Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, Robert Cornegy Jr., Donovan Richards, Jumaane Williams, and Jimmy Van Bramer. Ritchie Torres was the only candidate absent.</p> <p>Past was prologue as the candidates took turns briefly narrating their individual histories, giving tactful yet heartfelt answers while also lamenting the obvious irony of them all being men after 12 years of the City Council having women serve as speaker.</p> <p>Council Member Cornegy, who in recent weeks has risen to become one of the perceived frontrunners in the race, spoke as a family man, a husband and father of six. He noted his support for reproductive health bills in the Council, particularly one that created lactation rooms at city agencies that provide family services (he first opened a “lactation station” in his district office). He half-joked that he co-chairs the Council’s “men who get it” caucus.</p> <p>Johnson, another leading contender, reminded the audience that he is an openly gay man and the only openly HIV positive elected official in New York, and that issues related to transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) individuals are “deeply important” to him. He touted the passage of his bill allowing transgender New Yorkers to receive accurate birth certificates from the city.</p> <p>“The fact that the people running for Council speaker are all men reflects a failing of the political system in New York City,” said Levine, who is seen with Cornegy and Johnson as one of the three most likely to win the position when the vote takes place in January. “I think it does obligate the eight of us to reign in the hubris a little bit and do more listening than dictating.”</p> <p>Richards echoed the sentiment, saying “it is shameful that there is not a woman in this race,” while emphasizing that not only would the next speaker have to focus on women’s issues, but also ensure that women are in leadership positions.</p> <p>Rodriguez cited his experience as an immigrant, in a large family with many sisters. “Women’s issues are trans-sectional,” he said, while promising to continue Mark-Viverito’s legacy.</p> <p>Van Bramer, who is also openly gay, spoke from the experience of his own coming out. Being an LGBTQ activist meant also being “an activist for choice and a woman’s right to choose,” he said. “The two of them are inseparable.” He proudly touted his successful efforts to open the first Planned Parenthood health center in Queens, and in helping found the first Girl Scout troop for homeless girls.</p> <p>Williams, who noted early that the seven would likely respond similarly to questions, instead emphasized that he is “battle-tested to move forward” and has passed the most bills of all the candidates. His statement would ring true as there was little daylight between the candidates as they addressed the issues raised at the forum including access to reproductive health services, education, economic development and workplace sexual harassment, NYPD policy, affordable housing, city budgeting, and Council governance.</p> <p>On abortion access and so-called crisis pregnancy centers -- which NARAL Pro-choice America calls “fake health clinics” that mislead women to block access to abortions -- all seven agreed that the NYPD should play a stronger role in both protecting women from protesters outside Planned Parenthood clinics and in cracking down on predatory crisis centers. Cornegy even floated the idea of a dedicated police unit focused on these centers.</p> <p>Johnson insisted that Planned Parenthood is always a budget priority for him. He said the Council needed to do more to “reign in” CPCs while calling on the police to be more vigilant to protect women seeking abortions at clinics.</p> <p>Levine said the Council needs to fight back against the demonization of Planned Parenthood, and use its budgetary resources to provide services for women and TGNC individuals. Should the Republican-led federal government cut contraception coverage, for instance, Levine said the city should step in to fund it.</p> <p>Richards, of Queens, said there was a need to fund services where “people are living in the shadows” and expand health centers to communities like his that are underserved. And he said the Council should fund local organizations that provide those services.</p> <p>Rodriguez urged continued support for Planned Parenthood and better reproductive education in schools. Van Bramer insisted that contraceptives should be fully covered and if they’re not, the City Council should fund them. Williams, who jokingly apologized that all the candidates were men, echoed his colleagues and said he looked forward to passing his “boss bill” prohibiting discrimination by employers based on workers’ reproductive decisions.</p> <p>The candidates varied little on their perspectives on providing a quality education in city schools, particularly for those that face greater obstacles in the system including students in foster care, low-income, undocumented and LGBT and GNC students. Johnson emphasized that schools should not be punitive, but rather supportive and rehabilitative.</p> <p>Richards, Levine and Rodriguez touted the virtues of community schools that provide wraparound services to students, including physical and mental health and social services. Levine raised the spectre of school bullying and its “frequent entanglement” with anti-LGBT prejudice, which he said the school system and city leadership have failed to acknowledge and address. Rodriguez railed against school segregation, and called for the launch of an “education civil rights movement” under the next Council.</p> <p>The issue hit home for Van Bramer, who admitted being “near-suicidal” and skipping school to avoid a constant barrage of homophobic slurs. “All of us have to make sure that that stops once and for all and all children are safe to go to school,” he said.</p> <p>Williams stressed a change in school curriculums to ensure the inclusion of people of color and LGBT and GNC people. Cornegy said school segregation and prejudice based on sexual orientation need to be tackled at the Department of Education, and he lauded the effectiveness of community schools as well.</p> <p>Given the current national climate on sexual assault and workplace harassment, it was only natural that the candidates for arguably the second-most powerful position in city government would be asked about their perspective on the model policy to deal with the endemic problem.</p> <p>Levine reiterated three proposals, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government" target="_blank" rel="noopener">which he announced earlier in the day</a>, for rooting out sexual misconduct in city government through regular disclosure of sexual harassment claims by city agencies, a evaluation of sexual harassment policy and by elevating City Council staff complaints to bring them under committee oversight. Van Bramer also released details of bills on Thursday that would evaluate sexual harassment at city contractors and embargo those organizations with a history of misconduct. Another member with pending legislation was Cornegy, whose bill would require small businesses to detail what constitutes sexual harassment and provide hotline numbers for victims.</p> <p>Richards advocated a “zero tolerance” policy and said the Council should have its own independent department or agent to monitor sexual harassment. Rodriguez called for an entire agency to do the same citywide.</p> <p>Williams expressed support for his colleagues’ legislative efforts and candidly said, “The one thing we could all do immediately is believe” women’s stories of harassment. Johnson bemoaned a culture that allows men to believe they can act and behave in any way in a public setting because of their inherent power. “We have to change that,” he said.</p> <p>On changes to NYPD policy in interactions with LGBT and GNC New Yorkers, Richards and Rodriguez both stressed that the city needs to fully implement its body camera program and strengthen community-police relationships. Richards said the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates complaints of police misconduct, needs more teeth to hold erring officers accountable. “That’s where the culture shift absolutely needs to happen,” he said.</p> <p>Williams touted his “demonstrable leadership” against the NYPD’s racially biased use of stop-and-frisk policing, and the Council’s Community Safety Act of 2013, which he co-sponsored. The act created an independent monitor for the police department and added protections against biased profiling by officers. Cornegy subsequently advanced the idea of characterizing negative police interactions with protected classes of people as hate crimes.</p> <p>Women, trans and GNC communities and domestic violence survivors are at greater risk of becoming homeless in the city, said Burks of the Young Women’s Initiative, seeking the candidates’ ideas on improving access to affordable housing. Again, there were only slight differences in the candidates’ proposals as they called for deeper affordability and more set asides for formerly homeless New Yorkers, while some emphasized increased services and resources for survivors of domestic violence.</p> <p>The 51-member Council will have only 11 women members in the next term starting January, down from 19 a few years ago, and has not had a trans member yet. In the current Council, debate moderator Nahmias noted, three women of color negotiate the city budget -- Speaker Mark-Viverito, Finance Committee chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and Council finance director Latonia McKinney. Nahmias pressed the seven candidates on how they would ensure representation of cis and trans women, and women of color in particular, in their own senior teams and in the Council’s top leadership positions, namely the powerful chairs of the land use and finance committees.</p> <p>All the candidates were strongly committed to the task of choosing women and people of color as a majority of their senior leadership, and some said their staffs already reflect that commitment, though some rued the political reality that makes such a pledge necessary. “Women are 50 percent of the workforce and none of us deserves a gold star for making sure that women are in these positions and roles,” said Van Bramer.</p> <p>“It is appalling that there are only 11 women on the Council,” said Williams. The candidates <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7324-women-s-caucus-secures-commitments-from-city-council-speaker-candidates" target="_blank" rel="noopener">all interviewed with the Council's Women's Caucus and made commitments</a> to its existing and incoming members.</p> <p>Cornegy noted that hiring of people of color in the Council central staff had doubled in Mark-Viverito’s tenure, and he vowed to build on that by including women and trans individuals in particular.</p> <p>Danced around was the fact that the winning speaker candidate will likely have earned the backing of the major Democratic political organizations of the Queens and the Bronx, which will then have a lot of say in staffing and top Council leadership decisions made by the next speaker.</p> <p>Richards was possibly the only one to acknowledge that the speaker race will be influenced heavily by forces outside of the Council, including county party chairs and the mayor. He wouldn’t say who might be the finance or land use chairs under his speakership since “we all have power brokers that we’re talking to at play,” though he did promise to advocate for women to be chosen for those positions.</p> <p>Levine stressed the need to support far more diverse candidates for the Council in the 2021 elections, when nearly 40 seats will be up for grabs. Richards said the Council’s efforts need to go further, by making sure each city agency has diverse staff, by hiring gender diversity compliance officers and ensuring that women of color and trans people move up into managerial positions.</p> <p>In a brief lightning round, all seven candidates agreed to staff their senior teams and central staff with more than 50 percent women and TGNC individuals, committed to support and expand the Young Women’s Initiative, and said they would back the “<a href="https://avp.org/solutions-struggle-survival-tgnc-policy-brief/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Solutions out of Struggle and Survival</a>” policy proposals identified by numerous TGNC advocacy groups.</p> <p>With the last of the speaker forums, the public-facing aspect of the speaker-selection process appears effectively over. Candidates will now spend much of the next few weeks in backroom negotiations and closed meetings before the next speaker will be chosen in January when the next class of the City Council convenes.</p> <p>The partner organizations for Thursday’s forum included: Girls for Gender Equity, Women of Color for Progress, Brooklyn Movement Center, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual &amp; Transgender Community Center, PowHer NY, Planned Parenthood of New York City, National Organization for Women-NYC, New Leaders Council--NYC Chapter, National Institute for Reproductive Health, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Citizens’ Committee for Children, Eleanor’s Legacy, National Association of Social Workers—NYC Chapter.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[READ: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency?mc_cid=5cc59c4465&amp;mc_eid=6382885063&amp;utm_source=CFB+weekly+updates&amp;utm_campaign=cf7f97599c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_745d48d7ac-cf7f97599c-290605553" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img_8295.jpg" alt="City Council speaker candidates" width="600" height="382" /></p> <p>The City Council speaker candidates (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>At the last public forum in the race to become the next speaker of the City Council, seven of the eight men contending for the Council’s top leadership spot took turns making their argument for why they would be the right person to continue Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s legacy of protecting and promoting the cause of women, transgender, and gender non-conforming New Yorkers. Though few new ideas emerged, for nearly two hours, the seven Council members pitched their progressive credentials and promised to champion the city’s underrepresented and underserved populations.</p> <p>Hosted by a coalition of 14 organizations, at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute in Manhattan, the forum capped off a post-election month that has seen the candidates appear at more than a dozen issue-focused debates and discussions on everything from criminal justice to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency?mc_cid=5cc59c4465&amp;mc_eid=6382885063&amp;utm_source=CFB+weekly+updates&amp;utm_campaign=cf7f97599c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_745d48d7ac-cf7f97599c-290605553" target="_blank" rel="noopener">government transparency and accountability</a>. Thursday’s event was moderated by Politico New York reporter Laura Nahmias and Shatia Burks of the New York City Young Women’s Initiative. In attendance were Council Members Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, Robert Cornegy Jr., Donovan Richards, Jumaane Williams, and Jimmy Van Bramer. Ritchie Torres was the only candidate absent.</p> <p>Past was prologue as the candidates took turns briefly narrating their individual histories, giving tactful yet heartfelt answers while also lamenting the obvious irony of them all being men after 12 years of the City Council having women serve as speaker.</p> <p>Council Member Cornegy, who in recent weeks has risen to become one of the perceived frontrunners in the race, spoke as a family man, a husband and father of six. He noted his support for reproductive health bills in the Council, particularly one that created lactation rooms at city agencies that provide family services (he first opened a “lactation station” in his district office). He half-joked that he co-chairs the Council’s “men who get it” caucus.</p> <p>Johnson, another leading contender, reminded the audience that he is an openly gay man and the only openly HIV positive elected official in New York, and that issues related to transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) individuals are “deeply important” to him. He touted the passage of his bill allowing transgender New Yorkers to receive accurate birth certificates from the city.</p> <p>“The fact that the people running for Council speaker are all men reflects a failing of the political system in New York City,” said Levine, who is seen with Cornegy and Johnson as one of the three most likely to win the position when the vote takes place in January. “I think it does obligate the eight of us to reign in the hubris a little bit and do more listening than dictating.”</p> <p>Richards echoed the sentiment, saying “it is shameful that there is not a woman in this race,” while emphasizing that not only would the next speaker have to focus on women’s issues, but also ensure that women are in leadership positions.</p> <p>Rodriguez cited his experience as an immigrant, in a large family with many sisters. “Women’s issues are trans-sectional,” he said, while promising to continue Mark-Viverito’s legacy.</p> <p>Van Bramer, who is also openly gay, spoke from the experience of his own coming out. Being an LGBTQ activist meant also being “an activist for choice and a woman’s right to choose,” he said. “The two of them are inseparable.” He proudly touted his successful efforts to open the first Planned Parenthood health center in Queens, and in helping found the first Girl Scout troop for homeless girls.</p> <p>Williams, who noted early that the seven would likely respond similarly to questions, instead emphasized that he is “battle-tested to move forward” and has passed the most bills of all the candidates. His statement would ring true as there was little daylight between the candidates as they addressed the issues raised at the forum including access to reproductive health services, education, economic development and workplace sexual harassment, NYPD policy, affordable housing, city budgeting, and Council governance.</p> <p>On abortion access and so-called crisis pregnancy centers -- which NARAL Pro-choice America calls “fake health clinics” that mislead women to block access to abortions -- all seven agreed that the NYPD should play a stronger role in both protecting women from protesters outside Planned Parenthood clinics and in cracking down on predatory crisis centers. Cornegy even floated the idea of a dedicated police unit focused on these centers.</p> <p>Johnson insisted that Planned Parenthood is always a budget priority for him. He said the Council needed to do more to “reign in” CPCs while calling on the police to be more vigilant to protect women seeking abortions at clinics.</p> <p>Levine said the Council needs to fight back against the demonization of Planned Parenthood, and use its budgetary resources to provide services for women and TGNC individuals. Should the Republican-led federal government cut contraception coverage, for instance, Levine said the city should step in to fund it.</p> <p>Richards, of Queens, said there was a need to fund services where “people are living in the shadows” and expand health centers to communities like his that are underserved. And he said the Council should fund local organizations that provide those services.</p> <p>Rodriguez urged continued support for Planned Parenthood and better reproductive education in schools. Van Bramer insisted that contraceptives should be fully covered and if they’re not, the City Council should fund them. Williams, who jokingly apologized that all the candidates were men, echoed his colleagues and said he looked forward to passing his “boss bill” prohibiting discrimination by employers based on workers’ reproductive decisions.</p> <p>The candidates varied little on their perspectives on providing a quality education in city schools, particularly for those that face greater obstacles in the system including students in foster care, low-income, undocumented and LGBT and GNC students. Johnson emphasized that schools should not be punitive, but rather supportive and rehabilitative.</p> <p>Richards, Levine and Rodriguez touted the virtues of community schools that provide wraparound services to students, including physical and mental health and social services. Levine raised the spectre of school bullying and its “frequent entanglement” with anti-LGBT prejudice, which he said the school system and city leadership have failed to acknowledge and address. Rodriguez railed against school segregation, and called for the launch of an “education civil rights movement” under the next Council.</p> <p>The issue hit home for Van Bramer, who admitted being “near-suicidal” and skipping school to avoid a constant barrage of homophobic slurs. “All of us have to make sure that that stops once and for all and all children are safe to go to school,” he said.</p> <p>Williams stressed a change in school curriculums to ensure the inclusion of people of color and LGBT and GNC people. Cornegy said school segregation and prejudice based on sexual orientation need to be tackled at the Department of Education, and he lauded the effectiveness of community schools as well.</p> <p>Given the current national climate on sexual assault and workplace harassment, it was only natural that the candidates for arguably the second-most powerful position in city government would be asked about their perspective on the model policy to deal with the endemic problem.</p> <p>Levine reiterated three proposals, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government" target="_blank" rel="noopener">which he announced earlier in the day</a>, for rooting out sexual misconduct in city government through regular disclosure of sexual harassment claims by city agencies, a evaluation of sexual harassment policy and by elevating City Council staff complaints to bring them under committee oversight. Van Bramer also released details of bills on Thursday that would evaluate sexual harassment at city contractors and embargo those organizations with a history of misconduct. Another member with pending legislation was Cornegy, whose bill would require small businesses to detail what constitutes sexual harassment and provide hotline numbers for victims.</p> <p>Richards advocated a “zero tolerance” policy and said the Council should have its own independent department or agent to monitor sexual harassment. Rodriguez called for an entire agency to do the same citywide.</p> <p>Williams expressed support for his colleagues’ legislative efforts and candidly said, “The one thing we could all do immediately is believe” women’s stories of harassment. Johnson bemoaned a culture that allows men to believe they can act and behave in any way in a public setting because of their inherent power. “We have to change that,” he said.</p> <p>On changes to NYPD policy in interactions with LGBT and GNC New Yorkers, Richards and Rodriguez both stressed that the city needs to fully implement its body camera program and strengthen community-police relationships. Richards said the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates complaints of police misconduct, needs more teeth to hold erring officers accountable. “That’s where the culture shift absolutely needs to happen,” he said.</p> <p>Williams touted his “demonstrable leadership” against the NYPD’s racially biased use of stop-and-frisk policing, and the Council’s Community Safety Act of 2013, which he co-sponsored. The act created an independent monitor for the police department and added protections against biased profiling by officers. Cornegy subsequently advanced the idea of characterizing negative police interactions with protected classes of people as hate crimes.</p> <p>Women, trans and GNC communities and domestic violence survivors are at greater risk of becoming homeless in the city, said Burks of the Young Women’s Initiative, seeking the candidates’ ideas on improving access to affordable housing. Again, there were only slight differences in the candidates’ proposals as they called for deeper affordability and more set asides for formerly homeless New Yorkers, while some emphasized increased services and resources for survivors of domestic violence.</p> <p>The 51-member Council will have only 11 women members in the next term starting January, down from 19 a few years ago, and has not had a trans member yet. In the current Council, debate moderator Nahmias noted, three women of color negotiate the city budget -- Speaker Mark-Viverito, Finance Committee chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and Council finance director Latonia McKinney. Nahmias pressed the seven candidates on how they would ensure representation of cis and trans women, and women of color in particular, in their own senior teams and in the Council’s top leadership positions, namely the powerful chairs of the land use and finance committees.</p> <p>All the candidates were strongly committed to the task of choosing women and people of color as a majority of their senior leadership, and some said their staffs already reflect that commitment, though some rued the political reality that makes such a pledge necessary. “Women are 50 percent of the workforce and none of us deserves a gold star for making sure that women are in these positions and roles,” said Van Bramer.</p> <p>“It is appalling that there are only 11 women on the Council,” said Williams. The candidates <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7324-women-s-caucus-secures-commitments-from-city-council-speaker-candidates" target="_blank" rel="noopener">all interviewed with the Council's Women's Caucus and made commitments</a> to its existing and incoming members.</p> <p>Cornegy noted that hiring of people of color in the Council central staff had doubled in Mark-Viverito’s tenure, and he vowed to build on that by including women and trans individuals in particular.</p> <p>Danced around was the fact that the winning speaker candidate will likely have earned the backing of the major Democratic political organizations of the Queens and the Bronx, which will then have a lot of say in staffing and top Council leadership decisions made by the next speaker.</p> <p>Richards was possibly the only one to acknowledge that the speaker race will be influenced heavily by forces outside of the Council, including county party chairs and the mayor. He wouldn’t say who might be the finance or land use chairs under his speakership since “we all have power brokers that we’re talking to at play,” though he did promise to advocate for women to be chosen for those positions.</p> <p>Levine stressed the need to support far more diverse candidates for the Council in the 2021 elections, when nearly 40 seats will be up for grabs. Richards said the Council’s efforts need to go further, by making sure each city agency has diverse staff, by hiring gender diversity compliance officers and ensuring that women of color and trans people move up into managerial positions.</p> <p>In a brief lightning round, all seven candidates agreed to staff their senior teams and central staff with more than 50 percent women and TGNC individuals, committed to support and expand the Young Women’s Initiative, and said they would back the “<a href="https://avp.org/solutions-struggle-survival-tgnc-policy-brief/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Solutions out of Struggle and Survival</a>” policy proposals identified by numerous TGNC advocacy groups.</p> <p>With the last of the speaker forums, the public-facing aspect of the speaker-selection process appears effectively over. Candidates will now spend much of the next few weeks in backroom negotiations and closed meetings before the next speaker will be chosen in January when the next class of the City Council convenes.</p> <p>The partner organizations for Thursday’s forum included: Girls for Gender Equity, Women of Color for Progress, Brooklyn Movement Center, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual &amp; Transgender Community Center, PowHer NY, Planned Parenthood of New York City, National Organization for Women-NYC, New Leaders Council--NYC Chapter, National Institute for Reproductive Health, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Citizens’ Committee for Children, Eleanor’s Legacy, National Association of Social Workers—NYC Chapter.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[READ: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency?mc_cid=5cc59c4465&amp;mc_eid=6382885063&amp;utm_source=CFB+weekly+updates&amp;utm_campaign=cf7f97599c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_745d48d7ac-cf7f97599c-290605553" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Inside the Fundraising and Spending of the City Council Speaker Candidates 2017-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7356:inside-the-fundraising-of-the-city-council-speaker-candidates Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img_8277.jpg" alt="city council speaker" width="600" height="406" /></p> <p>City Council Speaker candidates (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>The eight men running to become the next speaker of the City Council are all Democrats who were re-elected in November to serve a final term in the body. None of them faced a strong challenger in their respective races, either in the primaries, which are largely determinative of overall results, or in the November 7 general election. Nevertheless, a few of the candidates raised significant campaign cash and spent it just as liberally as if they were running competitive races. As Gotham Gazette has reported, several of the speaker candidates have donated heavily from their campaign accounts to those of other City Council members and candidates, in apparent effort to win favor ahead of the speaker vote, which will occur in January.</p> <p>Among the eight candidates, a few are seen as frontrunners in the race -- Council Members Robert Cornegy Jr., Corey Johnson, Mark Levine and, to a lesser degree, Ritchie Torres -- though it is a notoriously nebulous contest with shifting dynamics. Labor unions may buoy the chances of certain members while county allegiances may supersede that support. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s role remains to be determined. The other candidates -- Ydanis Rodriguez, Jimmy Van Bramer, Donovan Richards and Jumaane Williams -- are considered less likely to emerge victorious, though one or more may have an outside path to the throne.</p> <p>This week, the candidates had to final a new campaign finance report, with activity between October 24 and November 30. It is the last filing before the speaker vote, which is likely to occur January 3.</p> <p>When it comes to campaign fundraising and spending, Johnson remains at the top of the list. His run for speaker began two years ago and the Manhattan Democrat even eschewed the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program, which would have limited his expenditures. He has also been the most prolific donor to other members who ran for reelection and fresh faces that will be joining the Council come January.</p> <p>Johnson raised $505,818 over the race and spent $374,707, the latest campaign disclosures show. He has $131,111 left to spend on future races or charitable donations or supporting other electoral candidates. Of his total fundraising, $209,000 came from 76 contributions of $2,750, the maximum allowable in a City Council race. A total of $73,600 came from political action committees, while a slew of his largest donations came from individuals in the real estate, hotel, and nightlife industries. Some top donors include Barry Diller, the billionaire IAC and Expedia chairman; former Ralph Lauren Corporation CEO John Mehas; and Tony award-winning producer Daryl Roth. Much of Johnson’s spending, $126,300 to be exact, took the form of political contributions, and he spent only about $22,750 with campaign consulting firm Metropolitan Public Strategies.</p> <p>Levine, another Manhattan Democrat who also did not participate in the public funds program, raised $439,110 over the course of the election cycle. But Levine’s expenditure of $405,802 outpaced the fundraising leader, Johnson, and left just $33,308 in campaign funds at his disposal. There were 45 donors who gave Levine the maximum contribution, for a total of $118,250. He received $86,825 in total from PACs. Among his top donors were employees of real estate firms, law practices, property management companies, and at least one hedge fund. He counts George and Marian Klein of the Park Tower Group among those who gave the highest possible donation.</p> <p>Levine has been seen as the candidate perhaps most favored by the mayor, which has raised concerns about whether he can be a sufficiently independent leader, and led him to focus many of his public remarks on leading an strongly independent Council. He retained the services of Pitta Bishop &amp; Del Giorno LLP, an influential lobbying firm, to handle his strategy in running for speaker. He has spent $58,200 on campaign consultants, including Kirtzman Strategies and RKM Strategic Consulting, and another $84,985 on political contributions.</p> <p>Cornegy Jr., the only candidate who isn’t a member of the Council’s progressive caucus, was once viewed as an unlikely next speaker, having done little to cultivate a viable candidacy, spending little money or time helping others campaign, and having a low-key presence at the Council. But with the backing of the Brooklyn county party apparatus and, more recently, support from prominent voices that can influence the race, including U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, he is seen as having better chances of prevailing. Cornegy did participate in the CFB’s public funds program, which meant he had to abide by a strict spending limit of $182,000 for each of the primary and general elections. He ended up raising a total of $184,730, and spent all but $1,722. He received $71,500 from maxed-out donations, and political action committees contributed a total of $40,650 to his reelection. Billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis donated to Cornegy’s campaign, as did Soly and David Bawabeh, prominent real estate developers in the city. Campaign consultations accounted for $67,450 in Cornegy’s campaign spending, most of which went to Mercury Public Affairs, a well-known consulting firm. He also doled out $35,750 in political contributions.</p> <p>Torres, a Bronx Democrat and the youngest candidate in the race for speaker, raised $264,819 this election cycle, but he was also a public funds participant and ended up spending $108,851 for his reelection. He has $155,968 in cash on hand. His campaign got $69,400 from PACs and he received less than a dozen maxed-out donations, including one from Council Member Johnson’s campaign.</p> <p>Torres’ prospects depend largely on support from the Bronx county machine, which will likely negotiate with the Queens county establishment to determine how plum Council committee chair positions are distributed. U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, who chairs the Queens Democrats, is expected to play an outsize role in the entire process this year. The two counties were sidelined in 2014 when the Council’s newly empowered progressive caucus, influential labor unions, de Blasio, and Brooklyn Democratic County chair Frank Seddio collaborated to anoint Melissa Mark-Viverito as speaker.</p> <p>Queens Council Member Van Bramer, another public funds non-participant, raised $539,560 and spent $278,587, for a balance of $260,973. He received 68 contributions of the max $2,750, equalling $170,500 of his total fundraising. About $66,000 of his total came from PAC donations. Van Bramer has attempted to make public and private overtures to Crowley but is not expected to receive the county backing. Currently majority leader of the Council, Van Bramer could wind up with another top leadership or committee post.</p> <p>Richards, whose district spans parts of Brooklyn and Queens, participated in the public funds program and raised $171,598, including $39,700 from PACs, and spent $150,948. He has only $20,650 left in his account. Richards is seen as having long odds in the race but was for a time expected to be the mayor’s preferred candidate after Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland announced she would not be running for reelection. She was widely regarded as a strong contender for the speakership and her exit from the Council left the speaker race dominated by men.</p> <p>Rodriguez was a public funds participant but he had two primary opponents, explaining his expenditure of $242,365 from his total fundraising of $255,423. He has $13,058 in his campaign account. He received $45,175 in PAC money.</p> <p>Williams, who some say could be a potential primary opponent to Governor Andrew Cuomo next year, or a lieutenant governor candidate as part of a ticket, opted out of the public funds program and raised $226,784 for his reelection to the Council, including $66,100 in PAC donations. He also had a non-competitive primary but he spent nearly all of his campaign cash, leaving just $660 in his account.</p> <p>The next and final campaign finance disclosures are due January 16.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img_8277.jpg" alt="city council speaker" width="600" height="406" /></p> <p>City Council Speaker candidates (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>The eight men running to become the next speaker of the City Council are all Democrats who were re-elected in November to serve a final term in the body. None of them faced a strong challenger in their respective races, either in the primaries, which are largely determinative of overall results, or in the November 7 general election. Nevertheless, a few of the candidates raised significant campaign cash and spent it just as liberally as if they were running competitive races. As Gotham Gazette has reported, several of the speaker candidates have donated heavily from their campaign accounts to those of other City Council members and candidates, in apparent effort to win favor ahead of the speaker vote, which will occur in January.</p> <p>Among the eight candidates, a few are seen as frontrunners in the race -- Council Members Robert Cornegy Jr., Corey Johnson, Mark Levine and, to a lesser degree, Ritchie Torres -- though it is a notoriously nebulous contest with shifting dynamics. Labor unions may buoy the chances of certain members while county allegiances may supersede that support. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s role remains to be determined. The other candidates -- Ydanis Rodriguez, Jimmy Van Bramer, Donovan Richards and Jumaane Williams -- are considered less likely to emerge victorious, though one or more may have an outside path to the throne.</p> <p>This week, the candidates had to final a new campaign finance report, with activity between October 24 and November 30. It is the last filing before the speaker vote, which is likely to occur January 3.</p> <p>When it comes to campaign fundraising and spending, Johnson remains at the top of the list. His run for speaker began two years ago and the Manhattan Democrat even eschewed the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program, which would have limited his expenditures. He has also been the most prolific donor to other members who ran for reelection and fresh faces that will be joining the Council come January.</p> <p>Johnson raised $505,818 over the race and spent $374,707, the latest campaign disclosures show. He has $131,111 left to spend on future races or charitable donations or supporting other electoral candidates. Of his total fundraising, $209,000 came from 76 contributions of $2,750, the maximum allowable in a City Council race. A total of $73,600 came from political action committees, while a slew of his largest donations came from individuals in the real estate, hotel, and nightlife industries. Some top donors include Barry Diller, the billionaire IAC and Expedia chairman; former Ralph Lauren Corporation CEO John Mehas; and Tony award-winning producer Daryl Roth. Much of Johnson’s spending, $126,300 to be exact, took the form of political contributions, and he spent only about $22,750 with campaign consulting firm Metropolitan Public Strategies.</p> <p>Levine, another Manhattan Democrat who also did not participate in the public funds program, raised $439,110 over the course of the election cycle. But Levine’s expenditure of $405,802 outpaced the fundraising leader, Johnson, and left just $33,308 in campaign funds at his disposal. There were 45 donors who gave Levine the maximum contribution, for a total of $118,250. He received $86,825 in total from PACs. Among his top donors were employees of real estate firms, law practices, property management companies, and at least one hedge fund. He counts George and Marian Klein of the Park Tower Group among those who gave the highest possible donation.</p> <p>Levine has been seen as the candidate perhaps most favored by the mayor, which has raised concerns about whether he can be a sufficiently independent leader, and led him to focus many of his public remarks on leading an strongly independent Council. He retained the services of Pitta Bishop &amp; Del Giorno LLP, an influential lobbying firm, to handle his strategy in running for speaker. He has spent $58,200 on campaign consultants, including Kirtzman Strategies and RKM Strategic Consulting, and another $84,985 on political contributions.</p> <p>Cornegy Jr., the only candidate who isn’t a member of the Council’s progressive caucus, was once viewed as an unlikely next speaker, having done little to cultivate a viable candidacy, spending little money or time helping others campaign, and having a low-key presence at the Council. But with the backing of the Brooklyn county party apparatus and, more recently, support from prominent voices that can influence the race, including U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, he is seen as having better chances of prevailing. Cornegy did participate in the CFB’s public funds program, which meant he had to abide by a strict spending limit of $182,000 for each of the primary and general elections. He ended up raising a total of $184,730, and spent all but $1,722. He received $71,500 from maxed-out donations, and political action committees contributed a total of $40,650 to his reelection. Billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis donated to Cornegy’s campaign, as did Soly and David Bawabeh, prominent real estate developers in the city. Campaign consultations accounted for $67,450 in Cornegy’s campaign spending, most of which went to Mercury Public Affairs, a well-known consulting firm. He also doled out $35,750 in political contributions.</p> <p>Torres, a Bronx Democrat and the youngest candidate in the race for speaker, raised $264,819 this election cycle, but he was also a public funds participant and ended up spending $108,851 for his reelection. He has $155,968 in cash on hand. His campaign got $69,400 from PACs and he received less than a dozen maxed-out donations, including one from Council Member Johnson’s campaign.</p> <p>Torres’ prospects depend largely on support from the Bronx county machine, which will likely negotiate with the Queens county establishment to determine how plum Council committee chair positions are distributed. U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, who chairs the Queens Democrats, is expected to play an outsize role in the entire process this year. The two counties were sidelined in 2014 when the Council’s newly empowered progressive caucus, influential labor unions, de Blasio, and Brooklyn Democratic County chair Frank Seddio collaborated to anoint Melissa Mark-Viverito as speaker.</p> <p>Queens Council Member Van Bramer, another public funds non-participant, raised $539,560 and spent $278,587, for a balance of $260,973. He received 68 contributions of the max $2,750, equalling $170,500 of his total fundraising. About $66,000 of his total came from PAC donations. Van Bramer has attempted to make public and private overtures to Crowley but is not expected to receive the county backing. Currently majority leader of the Council, Van Bramer could wind up with another top leadership or committee post.</p> <p>Richards, whose district spans parts of Brooklyn and Queens, participated in the public funds program and raised $171,598, including $39,700 from PACs, and spent $150,948. He has only $20,650 left in his account. Richards is seen as having long odds in the race but was for a time expected to be the mayor’s preferred candidate after Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland announced she would not be running for reelection. She was widely regarded as a strong contender for the speakership and her exit from the Council left the speaker race dominated by men.</p> <p>Rodriguez was a public funds participant but he had two primary opponents, explaining his expenditure of $242,365 from his total fundraising of $255,423. He has $13,058 in his campaign account. He received $45,175 in PAC money.</p> <p>Williams, who some say could be a potential primary opponent to Governor Andrew Cuomo next year, or a lieutenant governor candidate as part of a ticket, opted out of the public funds program and raised $226,784 for his reelection to the Council, including $66,100 in PAC donations. He also had a non-competitive primary but he spent nearly all of his campaign cash, leaving just $660 in his account.</p> <p>The next and final campaign finance disclosures are due January 16.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Council Speaker Candidates Give Generously to Colleagues 2017-11-30T05:00:00+00:00 2017-11-30T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7343:council-speaker-candidates-give-generously-to-colleagues Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/johnson-moya-crowley-c2.jpg" alt="johnson moya crowley c2" width="600" /></p> <p>Corey Johnson, Francisco Moya, Joe Crowley (photo via @CoreyinNYC)</p> <hr /> <p>The eight City Council members, all Democrats, who are competing to lead the 51-member legislative body as speaker for the next four years must convince numerous constituencies of their viability, including some combination of county party leaders, labor unions, the mayor, and other influential politicos. But, when the new Council class convenes in January, the vote will come down to the 51 Council members, and they are not without agency. The speaker candidates, all men, have for months been seeking to curry favor with their colleagues, employing a variety of methods. One such tactic is to donate campaign funds to current and incoming members of the City Council.</p> <p>All eight candidates -- Council Members Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, Robert Cornegy Jr., Ritchie Torres, Donovan Richards, Jumaane Williams, and Jimmy Van Bramer -- have made large political contributions from their reelection campaigns, according to an analysis of campaign finance filings by the New York City Campaign Finance Board at Gotham Gazette’s request, though the amounts to vary widely.</p> <p>Numbers reflect disclosures filed through November 7, the day of general election and the most recent filing deadline. The next deadline is Monday, December 4.</p> <p>The speaker candidates used money from their campaign accounts to spend on a variety of political causes, but most of their political giving went to other members running for reelection or Council candidates running to replace term-limited members.</p> <p>Council Member Johnson’s lobbying largesse far outpaces the rest of the members, with $126,300 in political contributions, of which $84,875 went to other current or incoming members. Johnson, who has been aggressively campaigning for the Council’s top spot long before others jumped into the fray, also gave to local Democratic clubs and Democratic county organizations. He made the maximum allowable contribution of $2,750 to 26 candidates (including Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, who was unsuccessful in her reelection bid).</p> <p>Levine, who along with Johnson and Cornegy is seen as a frontrunner in the race, has been second with $84,185 in political contributions, including $69,375 to his colleagues.</p> <p>Most of the recipients of campaign cash from the speaker candidates has overlapped.</p> <p>In third place is Rodriguez, whose political contributions to colleagues were $52,750, out of a total $57,761 spent from his campaign account on political donations.</p> <p>The rest of the members spent far less to build support and help colleagues. Torres only gave $35,000 out of $59,117 in political contributions. Richards contributed $31,500 out of $37,465. Cornegy’s donations were only $27,500, Van Bramer’s were $24,675 and Williams gave just $13,000.</p> <p>In total, there were 42 Council candidates from across the city who received a political contribution from another candidate, including both sitting Council members and those running for open seats. Among the 42 were a few who were unsuccessful as well as 11 new incoming members of the City Council.</p> <p>The biggest beneficiary of the political giving was Adrienne Adams, a Democrat who was elected to the District 28 seat in Queens, which was empty following the expulsion of Council Member Ruben Wills after his conviction on corruption charges. Adams received $26,750 from Council colleagues, of which $18,000 was from seven speaker candidates. Cornegy was the only one who did not donate to her. Adams could not be reached for comment. In her run she had the backing of the Queens Democratic Party machine, which is seen as the most influential county party in the speaker race, with Rep. Joe Crowley at its head.</p> <p>Justin Brannan, another Democrat who won the District 43 seat in Bay Ridge, collectively received $12,250 from five speaker candidates. “Having been a staffer in the Council and a Democratic organizer for many years, throughout my primary and general elections, I was grateful to have the support of many of the members I now look forward to calling colleagues and one of which we will elect as our leader,” Brannan said in a statement. “Personally, I'm looking for a speaker who will empower the members and consider the many diverse voices that make up the body.” He did not say who he would vote for.</p> <p>As Brannan indicated, it’s not unusual for Council Members to bolster Council staffers’ bids for City Council. This was the case for Carlina Rivera, the former legislative director to outgoing Council Member Rosie Mendez. Rivera won Mendez’s Council District 2 seat in Manhattan. In a statement, Rivera said she was “thankful” for the support from Council members, who gave her $14,483 in total. All but $150 came from speaker candidates, but Rivera insisted that would not affect her vote. She declined to indicate which speaker candidate she may be leaning towards. “My decision on the next Speaker will be made like any other -- with careful consideration of each candidate’s record and policies,” she said. “It won’t be easy given the strength of each candidate, but I look forward to casting my vote based on these merits.”</p> <p>Even as the speaker candidates’ political giving is tallied, some have helped raise money for their colleagues without raising it directly or bundling it as an intermediary. Some also raised money for or donated to Mayor de Blasio’s reelection bid, even as they attempt to sell their colleagues and others on promises of standing up to the mayor as the next speaker. Speaker candidates, to varying degrees, also went to campaign with members and candidates in their districts. Johnson and Levine were the most active in this respect, too, helping candidates to collect ballot petition signatures, knock on doors, and greet voters.</p> <p>In Midtown Manhattan’s District 4, Keith Powers was elected to the seat being vacated by term-limited Council Member Dan Garodnick. Powers received the maximum $2,750 contribution from five speaker candidates. “I’ve known all the candidates for more than a few years,” said the former lobbyist who ran on a good government platform, in a phone interview, “and I’ve worked with them and I think they know I’ll be a good addition to the City Council. I think that’s why they supported me.”</p> <p>The donations are not considerations in the race for speaker, Powers said, insisting he does not have a preferred candidate yet. “I think for everybody, it’s about the person’s ability to lead the Council, to keep the Council independent of the mayor,” he said. “I think [Council members] choose a speaker based on what’s best for their district and the issues they work on, and someone who shares their values.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/johnson-moya-crowley-c2.jpg" alt="johnson moya crowley c2" width="600" /></p> <p>Corey Johnson, Francisco Moya, Joe Crowley (photo via @CoreyinNYC)</p> <hr /> <p>The eight City Council members, all Democrats, who are competing to lead the 51-member legislative body as speaker for the next four years must convince numerous constituencies of their viability, including some combination of county party leaders, labor unions, the mayor, and other influential politicos. But, when the new Council class convenes in January, the vote will come down to the 51 Council members, and they are not without agency. The speaker candidates, all men, have for months been seeking to curry favor with their colleagues, employing a variety of methods. One such tactic is to donate campaign funds to current and incoming members of the City Council.</p> <p>All eight candidates -- Council Members Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, Robert Cornegy Jr., Ritchie Torres, Donovan Richards, Jumaane Williams, and Jimmy Van Bramer -- have made large political contributions from their reelection campaigns, according to an analysis of campaign finance filings by the New York City Campaign Finance Board at Gotham Gazette’s request, though the amounts to vary widely.</p> <p>Numbers reflect disclosures filed through November 7, the day of general election and the most recent filing deadline. The next deadline is Monday, December 4.</p> <p>The speaker candidates used money from their campaign accounts to spend on a variety of political causes, but most of their political giving went to other members running for reelection or Council candidates running to replace term-limited members.</p> <p>Council Member Johnson’s lobbying largesse far outpaces the rest of the members, with $126,300 in political contributions, of which $84,875 went to other current or incoming members. Johnson, who has been aggressively campaigning for the Council’s top spot long before others jumped into the fray, also gave to local Democratic clubs and Democratic county organizations. He made the maximum allowable contribution of $2,750 to 26 candidates (including Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, who was unsuccessful in her reelection bid).</p> <p>Levine, who along with Johnson and Cornegy is seen as a frontrunner in the race, has been second with $84,185 in political contributions, including $69,375 to his colleagues.</p> <p>Most of the recipients of campaign cash from the speaker candidates has overlapped.</p> <p>In third place is Rodriguez, whose political contributions to colleagues were $52,750, out of a total $57,761 spent from his campaign account on political donations.</p> <p>The rest of the members spent far less to build support and help colleagues. Torres only gave $35,000 out of $59,117 in political contributions. Richards contributed $31,500 out of $37,465. Cornegy’s donations were only $27,500, Van Bramer’s were $24,675 and Williams gave just $13,000.</p> <p>In total, there were 42 Council candidates from across the city who received a political contribution from another candidate, including both sitting Council members and those running for open seats. Among the 42 were a few who were unsuccessful as well as 11 new incoming members of the City Council.</p> <p>The biggest beneficiary of the political giving was Adrienne Adams, a Democrat who was elected to the District 28 seat in Queens, which was empty following the expulsion of Council Member Ruben Wills after his conviction on corruption charges. Adams received $26,750 from Council colleagues, of which $18,000 was from seven speaker candidates. Cornegy was the only one who did not donate to her. Adams could not be reached for comment. In her run she had the backing of the Queens Democratic Party machine, which is seen as the most influential county party in the speaker race, with Rep. Joe Crowley at its head.</p> <p>Justin Brannan, another Democrat who won the District 43 seat in Bay Ridge, collectively received $12,250 from five speaker candidates. “Having been a staffer in the Council and a Democratic organizer for many years, throughout my primary and general elections, I was grateful to have the support of many of the members I now look forward to calling colleagues and one of which we will elect as our leader,” Brannan said in a statement. “Personally, I'm looking for a speaker who will empower the members and consider the many diverse voices that make up the body.” He did not say who he would vote for.</p> <p>As Brannan indicated, it’s not unusual for Council Members to bolster Council staffers’ bids for City Council. This was the case for Carlina Rivera, the former legislative director to outgoing Council Member Rosie Mendez. Rivera won Mendez’s Council District 2 seat in Manhattan. In a statement, Rivera said she was “thankful” for the support from Council members, who gave her $14,483 in total. All but $150 came from speaker candidates, but Rivera insisted that would not affect her vote. She declined to indicate which speaker candidate she may be leaning towards. “My decision on the next Speaker will be made like any other -- with careful consideration of each candidate’s record and policies,” she said. “It won’t be easy given the strength of each candidate, but I look forward to casting my vote based on these merits.”</p> <p>Even as the speaker candidates’ political giving is tallied, some have helped raise money for their colleagues without raising it directly or bundling it as an intermediary. Some also raised money for or donated to Mayor de Blasio’s reelection bid, even as they attempt to sell their colleagues and others on promises of standing up to the mayor as the next speaker. Speaker candidates, to varying degrees, also went to campaign with members and candidates in their districts. Johnson and Levine were the most active in this respect, too, helping candidates to collect ballot petition signatures, knock on doors, and greet voters.</p> <p>In Midtown Manhattan’s District 4, Keith Powers was elected to the seat being vacated by term-limited Council Member Dan Garodnick. Powers received the maximum $2,750 contribution from five speaker candidates. “I’ve known all the candidates for more than a few years,” said the former lobbyist who ran on a good government platform, in a phone interview, “and I’ve worked with them and I think they know I’ll be a good addition to the City Council. I think that’s why they supported me.”</p> <p>The donations are not considerations in the race for speaker, Powers said, insisting he does not have a preferred candidate yet. “I think for everybody, it’s about the person’s ability to lead the Council, to keep the Council independent of the mayor,” he said. “I think [Council members] choose a speaker based on what’s best for their district and the issues they work on, and someone who shares their values.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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City Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency 2017-11-20T05:00:00+00:00 2017-11-20T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7331:city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/city-spe-canidates.jpg" alt="city spe canidates" width="600" height="382" /></p> <p>the City Council Speaker candidates at a prior forum (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>Seven of the eight candidates vying to become the next Speaker of the New York City Council convened at New York Law School on Monday night for a forum focused on government reform, running the Council, transparency, ethics, voting, and elections.</p> <p>The candidates made their cases for their leadership prowess, and discussed extending term limits for Council members, greater transparency around lobbying, key questions about campaign finance reform in the city, and much more.</p> <p>With the city’s election season over, all eyes are now turned toward the race for who will replace Melissa Mark-Viverito as Speaker in what is arguably the second most powerful position in city government behind the Mayor. Mark-Viverito is term-limited out of office and eight men, all fellow Democrats, are in the running to replace her. The next Speaker will be chosen by the 51 members of the Council at the first meeting of the next Council class in January, though a great deal of jockeying is already going on, including influential outside forces, and a deal might be struck before the end of the year.<br /> <br />On Tuesday night, the attending candidates were Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan; Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens; and Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn. Bronx Council Member Ritchie Torres, also vying for the Speakership, was not in attendance due to a district event. The forum was sponsored by Citizens Union along with other good government groups Reinvent Albany, League of Women Voters of New York City, and NYPIRG. Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max served as moderator.</p> <p>To start the event the candidates were asked how they think their Council colleagues think of them.</p> <p>Levine, the first to speak, said that he is an effective member who gets things done, citing his work with Council Member Vanessa Gibson to pass a right-to-counsel in housing court that Mayor Bill de Blasio had initially pushed back against. Richards, after saying his colleagues think he’s “beautiful,” discussed his even temperament and ability to work with other members. He said he doesn’t think his colleagues would have a negative word to say about him.</p> <p>Rodriguez cited his work on the transportation committee and having been an advocate for immigrants. Johnson said he has been a leader and that the consistent theme of his tenure has been helping marginalized populations such as transgender people and victims of domestic violence. Williams said he hoped his colleagues thought he was honest, and saw himself as an activist who has guided conversations such as for the Community Safety Act. And Cornegy, who initially joked that his colleagues see the 6’10” Council member as “head and shoulders above the rest,” discussed his “temperament” and having passed bills through five separate committees.</p> <p>The candidates were then asked a question they didn’t seem to have thought much about: what is the Speaker’s role in terms of oversight of how the other 50 members are doing their jobs? The candidates mostly answered by discussing ways in which to empower members. None addressed issues raised by the moderator around what the Speaker should do about a Council member who isn’t performing well in terms constituent services or attendance at hearings.</p> <p>At one point, Rodriguez reiterated his call that all Council members be allowed three four-year terms. In 2008, the City Council voted to temporarily extend term limits for the Mayor, the other citywide positions, and City Council members to three terms. The move was done despite multiple public votes for the two-term limit.</p> <p>All of the other candidates, save for Richards, agreed with the notion of extending term limits for Council members, permanently going to three terms for the legislative posts, while keeping citywide and borough-wide positions to two four-year terms. Some asserted that it should only be done through a public referendum, though, not simply through legislation. Candidates argued that large turnovers at once, as will happen through the 2021 elections when about three-quarters of the Council will be term-limited out, is bad for the city. (Richards <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/city-councilmen-support-extending-council-term-limits-article-1.3647331" target="_blank" rel="noopener">later told The Daily News</a> he also supports the measure.)</p> <p>“One, I think it’s unfair that some of us had a third term and some colleagues didn’t,” Williams said. “Two, as good government, it doesn’t fully make sense that you want us to provide a balance to the mayor, but the entire city government is gonna be up at the same time. Two-thirds of the Council will be up at the same time as the mayor. We have to think about the impact that’s gonna have on how we want the government to function.”</p> <p>On the issue of the city Board of Elections, a notoriously dysfunctional organization rife with political patronage and undue allegiance to county parties, the candidates mostly avoided calling for major changes to how BOE commissioners are appointed (there is one Republican and one Democratic commissioner from each borough, nominated by the political party establishments and approved by the City Council). Williams was most clear in acknowledging that the BOE has a patronage problem, and said he would be open to non-partisan appointments to the board.</p> <p>Williams and Cornegy both praised John Flateau, the Board of Elections Democratic commissioner from their borough of Brooklyn.</p> <p>Other candidates shifted the conversation away from reforming the board and towards New York’s substandard voting laws. Candidates called for early voting and same-day voter registration, avoiding discussion of the makeup of the BOE as they continue to seek support from the same party apparatuses that control current BOE appointments. Johnson veered to an even larger topic, home rule, whereby the state controls numerous major city issues, before disagreeing with the premise of a non-partisan board.</p> <p>“I do not support non-partisan appointments to the Board of Elections,” Johnson said. “I believe that the parties play a particular role in ensuring that we make sure that any party that’s dominant at a given time cannot run roughshod over another party. If someone came up with a perfect system of a non-partisan way to handle it, maybe I’d entertain it. I’ve never heard of that system, I don’t know how you take political influence out of politics.”</p> <p>Levine took a similar stance to Johnson, referring to elections as the “ultimate partisan battlefield,” not acknowledging that the BOE is supposed to be a fair arbiter and election administrator. Levine said that the partisan nature of the Board of Elections, and its Democratic-Republican balance, ensures parity between the parties and doesn’t allow one to dominate.</p> <p>The candidates further refrained from criticizing county party organizations and particularly the party chairs, who are often seen as deciding the speaker’s race in the city. Richards and Van Bramer, both of Queens, praised Queens Democratic Party Chair Joe Crowley, with Van Bramer in particular singling out the congressman for praise.</p> <p>“In Queens,” Van Bramer said, “we are fortunate to have a terrific leader. And I’ve said that Congressman Crowley would be a great Speaker of the House of Representatives, and I stand by that. Obviously, being a Sunnyside/Woodside guy, we have a lot of local pride in a Woodsider potentially being the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”</p> <p>Rodriguez, who is not a member of the Queens Democratic delegation, also had words of praise for Crowley, who is seen this year as the top “kingmaker” in the speaker process because of his ability to control the votes of many Queens Council members.</p> <p>“I will be working shoulder to shoulder with County Leader Joe Crowley for immigrants’ rights,” Rodriguez said. “As a leader nationwide, if I become the speaker he will have an ally, and I know that I will count him as an ally.” Rodriguez also said he would be working with Bronx Democratic Leader Marcos Crespo; both Crowley and Crespo are known to run machine-style party organizations within their respective boroughs and together they are seen to control a bloc of speaker votes close to the 25 needed to get a candidate, along with their own singular vote, the majority needed.</p> <p>None of the candidates acknowledged that part of the deal to crown the next Speaker may include choices of top leadership posts like Majority Leader and chairs of the most powerful Council committees, finance and land use. Given the vote for the next Speaker is still several weeks away, specific discussions of this nature may not have occurred yet, but they are known to have occurred in the past.</p> <p>All of the candidates argued for greater transparency in lobbying and in general, to some degree. Johnson said that Council members should be required to post their schedules online to allow the public to see who they are meeting with. Van Bramer said that people can get Council members’ schedules through Freedom of Information Law requests (FOILs), but acknowledged that it should not necessarily take such an effort.</p> <p>Opinions about lobbyists themselves varied. Williams joked that he would be Speaker already if he had built a tunnel to allow members to escape from them; meanwhile, Rodriguez said that many lobbyists represent good people and shouldn’t be universally panned. Williams and Rodriguez were the only two candidates on the stage who said they have not hired a political consultant for the speaker’s race. Other members defended the practice, noting how time-consuming and complicated it has become to run for the post. Levine said it may make sense to examine if there are ways to regulate the speaker’s race in the future. When asked, none of the candidates indicated they would need to take any special steps to ensure that their consultants don’t have undue influence over them if they become the Speaker.</p> <p>When it came time for the “lightning round” of quick questions-and-answers, it was clear that there were more substantive differences among the candidates. Though all candidates said that the current $4,950 campaign contribution limit to citywide candidates is good and that ranked-choice voting should be adopted to avoid runoffs, the candidates disagreed other items.</p> <p>Richards broke with the pack to oppose non-citizen voting in municipal elections, explaining that he had “trepidation” with the Trump administration, possibly a reference to the possibility of federal officials being able to obtain new information about those in the country illegally. The others were all in support of the concept to varying degrees, with some saying it should be restricted to legal permanent residents and others not attaching conditions.</p> <p>The question that most split the field was the question of whether city elections should take the form of open primaries, which would allow any registered voter to cast a vote in the party primary of their choice. Richards, Rodriguez, and Williams all affirmed their support for open primaries, while Cornegy, Levine, and Van Bramer stated their opposition to the concept. Van Bramer said that partisan primaries are the “good government position,” despite many good government groups actively opposing closed partisan primaries. Johnson said that political party affiliation matters, but didn’t firmly answer either way.</p> <p>Members were also split on whether the Council should have fewer committees (there are currently more than 40 issue committees run in the 51-member body). Surprisingly, Rodriguez said that there should be more committees, so that every member could chair one. Johnson, meanwhile, said that some committees should be folded together but others, such as Fire and Criminal Justice Services, should be separated. Williams said that the reason there were so many committees was because of the attached stipends, which were recently eliminated as part of reforms to the Council member position, including salary raises, and called for an increased use of task forces, like on gun violence.</p> <p>None of the candidates wanted to answer one lightning round question: who would you back for Speaker if you couldn’t vote for yourself? Johnson, by luck of the draw, was asked first and took a long pause before attempting a roundabout answer without naming anyone. It soon became clear that none of the seven wanted to answer the question, and the round moved on with some laughter from the crowd and the candidates.</p> <p>When asked for a single idea on how to make city government more transparent, the candidates all gave different answers.</p> <p>Richards called for strengthening the Council’s investigations and oversight committee to hold agencies more accountable; Rodriguez called for greater transparency in Council discretionary spending; Johnson called for putting the budget online for people to easily find out where money is being spent; Van Bramer called for “gender and race audits” of the Council and city agencies to ensure parity; Williams called for the committee hearing process, and how it’s presented to the public, to be reformed; Cornegy called for city contractors to disclose the demographics of their workforce; and Levine called for greater transparency in budget appropriations.</p> <p>To close the event the candidates were asked how they would seek to improve Council oversight of the mayoral administration. In their remarks, each candidate answered the question while also mixing in something of a closing argument for their candidacy. Several candidates offered a number of specific reforms they want to push if elected Speaker.</p> <p>All candidates advocated for a stronger, independent Council, with Williams stating that the lack of any use of a veto in de Blasio’s term may mean the Council hasn’t pushed the envelope enough. Cornegy said that the Council hadn’t exercised its strength given by the dissolution of the Board of Estimate, and that budget issues would continue to be an issue in that regard. Richards once again called for strengthening the oversight committee, while Johnson called for increasing the Council’s central budget to be more in line with city agencies. Levine said the Council should delve into budget issues beyond the marquee items, Van Bramer said the Council should utilize its subpoena power, and Rodriguez pledged to maintain the body’s independence but work with the mayor when possible.</p> <p><em>Full video of the forum:</em></p> <p><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/iffxxdh7Ls0" width="600" height="320" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/city-spe-canidates.jpg" alt="city spe canidates" width="600" height="382" /></p> <p>the City Council Speaker candidates at a prior forum (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>Seven of the eight candidates vying to become the next Speaker of the New York City Council convened at New York Law School on Monday night for a forum focused on government reform, running the Council, transparency, ethics, voting, and elections.</p> <p>The candidates made their cases for their leadership prowess, and discussed extending term limits for Council members, greater transparency around lobbying, key questions about campaign finance reform in the city, and much more.</p> <p>With the city’s election season over, all eyes are now turned toward the race for who will replace Melissa Mark-Viverito as Speaker in what is arguably the second most powerful position in city government behind the Mayor. Mark-Viverito is term-limited out of office and eight men, all fellow Democrats, are in the running to replace her. The next Speaker will be chosen by the 51 members of the Council at the first meeting of the next Council class in January, though a great deal of jockeying is already going on, including influential outside forces, and a deal might be struck before the end of the year.<br /> <br />On Tuesday night, the attending candidates were Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan; Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens; and Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn. Bronx Council Member Ritchie Torres, also vying for the Speakership, was not in attendance due to a district event. The forum was sponsored by Citizens Union along with other good government groups Reinvent Albany, League of Women Voters of New York City, and NYPIRG. Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max served as moderator.</p> <p>To start the event the candidates were asked how they think their Council colleagues think of them.</p> <p>Levine, the first to speak, said that he is an effective member who gets things done, citing his work with Council Member Vanessa Gibson to pass a right-to-counsel in housing court that Mayor Bill de Blasio had initially pushed back against. Richards, after saying his colleagues think he’s “beautiful,” discussed his even temperament and ability to work with other members. He said he doesn’t think his colleagues would have a negative word to say about him.</p> <p>Rodriguez cited his work on the transportation committee and having been an advocate for immigrants. Johnson said he has been a leader and that the consistent theme of his tenure has been helping marginalized populations such as transgender people and victims of domestic violence. Williams said he hoped his colleagues thought he was honest, and saw himself as an activist who has guided conversations such as for the Community Safety Act. And Cornegy, who initially joked that his colleagues see the 6’10” Council member as “head and shoulders above the rest,” discussed his “temperament” and having passed bills through five separate committees.</p> <p>The candidates were then asked a question they didn’t seem to have thought much about: what is the Speaker’s role in terms of oversight of how the other 50 members are doing their jobs? The candidates mostly answered by discussing ways in which to empower members. None addressed issues raised by the moderator around what the Speaker should do about a Council member who isn’t performing well in terms constituent services or attendance at hearings.</p> <p>At one point, Rodriguez reiterated his call that all Council members be allowed three four-year terms. In 2008, the City Council voted to temporarily extend term limits for the Mayor, the other citywide positions, and City Council members to three terms. The move was done despite multiple public votes for the two-term limit.</p> <p>All of the other candidates, save for Richards, agreed with the notion of extending term limits for Council members, permanently going to three terms for the legislative posts, while keeping citywide and borough-wide positions to two four-year terms. Some asserted that it should only be done through a public referendum, though, not simply through legislation. Candidates argued that large turnovers at once, as will happen through the 2021 elections when about three-quarters of the Council will be term-limited out, is bad for the city. (Richards <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/city-councilmen-support-extending-council-term-limits-article-1.3647331" target="_blank" rel="noopener">later told The Daily News</a> he also supports the measure.)</p> <p>“One, I think it’s unfair that some of us had a third term and some colleagues didn’t,” Williams said. “Two, as good government, it doesn’t fully make sense that you want us to provide a balance to the mayor, but the entire city government is gonna be up at the same time. Two-thirds of the Council will be up at the same time as the mayor. We have to think about the impact that’s gonna have on how we want the government to function.”</p> <p>On the issue of the city Board of Elections, a notoriously dysfunctional organization rife with political patronage and undue allegiance to county parties, the candidates mostly avoided calling for major changes to how BOE commissioners are appointed (there is one Republican and one Democratic commissioner from each borough, nominated by the political party establishments and approved by the City Council). Williams was most clear in acknowledging that the BOE has a patronage problem, and said he would be open to non-partisan appointments to the board.</p> <p>Williams and Cornegy both praised John Flateau, the Board of Elections Democratic commissioner from their borough of Brooklyn.</p> <p>Other candidates shifted the conversation away from reforming the board and towards New York’s substandard voting laws. Candidates called for early voting and same-day voter registration, avoiding discussion of the makeup of the BOE as they continue to seek support from the same party apparatuses that control current BOE appointments. Johnson veered to an even larger topic, home rule, whereby the state controls numerous major city issues, before disagreeing with the premise of a non-partisan board.</p> <p>“I do not support non-partisan appointments to the Board of Elections,” Johnson said. “I believe that the parties play a particular role in ensuring that we make sure that any party that’s dominant at a given time cannot run roughshod over another party. If someone came up with a perfect system of a non-partisan way to handle it, maybe I’d entertain it. I’ve never heard of that system, I don’t know how you take political influence out of politics.”</p> <p>Levine took a similar stance to Johnson, referring to elections as the “ultimate partisan battlefield,” not acknowledging that the BOE is supposed to be a fair arbiter and election administrator. Levine said that the partisan nature of the Board of Elections, and its Democratic-Republican balance, ensures parity between the parties and doesn’t allow one to dominate.</p> <p>The candidates further refrained from criticizing county party organizations and particularly the party chairs, who are often seen as deciding the speaker’s race in the city. Richards and Van Bramer, both of Queens, praised Queens Democratic Party Chair Joe Crowley, with Van Bramer in particular singling out the congressman for praise.</p> <p>“In Queens,” Van Bramer said, “we are fortunate to have a terrific leader. And I’ve said that Congressman Crowley would be a great Speaker of the House of Representatives, and I stand by that. Obviously, being a Sunnyside/Woodside guy, we have a lot of local pride in a Woodsider potentially being the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”</p> <p>Rodriguez, who is not a member of the Queens Democratic delegation, also had words of praise for Crowley, who is seen this year as the top “kingmaker” in the speaker process because of his ability to control the votes of many Queens Council members.</p> <p>“I will be working shoulder to shoulder with County Leader Joe Crowley for immigrants’ rights,” Rodriguez said. “As a leader nationwide, if I become the speaker he will have an ally, and I know that I will count him as an ally.” Rodriguez also said he would be working with Bronx Democratic Leader Marcos Crespo; both Crowley and Crespo are known to run machine-style party organizations within their respective boroughs and together they are seen to control a bloc of speaker votes close to the 25 needed to get a candidate, along with their own singular vote, the majority needed.</p> <p>None of the candidates acknowledged that part of the deal to crown the next Speaker may include choices of top leadership posts like Majority Leader and chairs of the most powerful Council committees, finance and land use. Given the vote for the next Speaker is still several weeks away, specific discussions of this nature may not have occurred yet, but they are known to have occurred in the past.</p> <p>All of the candidates argued for greater transparency in lobbying and in general, to some degree. Johnson said that Council members should be required to post their schedules online to allow the public to see who they are meeting with. Van Bramer said that people can get Council members’ schedules through Freedom of Information Law requests (FOILs), but acknowledged that it should not necessarily take such an effort.</p> <p>Opinions about lobbyists themselves varied. Williams joked that he would be Speaker already if he had built a tunnel to allow members to escape from them; meanwhile, Rodriguez said that many lobbyists represent good people and shouldn’t be universally panned. Williams and Rodriguez were the only two candidates on the stage who said they have not hired a political consultant for the speaker’s race. Other members defended the practice, noting how time-consuming and complicated it has become to run for the post. Levine said it may make sense to examine if there are ways to regulate the speaker’s race in the future. When asked, none of the candidates indicated they would need to take any special steps to ensure that their consultants don’t have undue influence over them if they become the Speaker.</p> <p>When it came time for the “lightning round” of quick questions-and-answers, it was clear that there were more substantive differences among the candidates. Though all candidates said that the current $4,950 campaign contribution limit to citywide candidates is good and that ranked-choice voting should be adopted to avoid runoffs, the candidates disagreed other items.</p> <p>Richards broke with the pack to oppose non-citizen voting in municipal elections, explaining that he had “trepidation” with the Trump administration, possibly a reference to the possibility of federal officials being able to obtain new information about those in the country illegally. The others were all in support of the concept to varying degrees, with some saying it should be restricted to legal permanent residents and others not attaching conditions.</p> <p>The question that most split the field was the question of whether city elections should take the form of open primaries, which would allow any registered voter to cast a vote in the party primary of their choice. Richards, Rodriguez, and Williams all affirmed their support for open primaries, while Cornegy, Levine, and Van Bramer stated their opposition to the concept. Van Bramer said that partisan primaries are the “good government position,” despite many good government groups actively opposing closed partisan primaries. Johnson said that political party affiliation matters, but didn’t firmly answer either way.</p> <p>Members were also split on whether the Council should have fewer committees (there are currently more than 40 issue committees run in the 51-member body). Surprisingly, Rodriguez said that there should be more committees, so that every member could chair one. Johnson, meanwhile, said that some committees should be folded together but others, such as Fire and Criminal Justice Services, should be separated. Williams said that the reason there were so many committees was because of the attached stipends, which were recently eliminated as part of reforms to the Council member position, including salary raises, and called for an increased use of task forces, like on gun violence.</p> <p>None of the candidates wanted to answer one lightning round question: who would you back for Speaker if you couldn’t vote for yourself? Johnson, by luck of the draw, was asked first and took a long pause before attempting a roundabout answer without naming anyone. It soon became clear that none of the seven wanted to answer the question, and the round moved on with some laughter from the crowd and the candidates.</p> <p>When asked for a single idea on how to make city government more transparent, the candidates all gave different answers.</p> <p>Richards called for strengthening the Council’s investigations and oversight committee to hold agencies more accountable; Rodriguez called for greater transparency in Council discretionary spending; Johnson called for putting the budget online for people to easily find out where money is being spent; Van Bramer called for “gender and race audits” of the Council and city agencies to ensure parity; Williams called for the committee hearing process, and how it’s presented to the public, to be reformed; Cornegy called for city contractors to disclose the demographics of their workforce; and Levine called for greater transparency in budget appropriations.</p> <p>To close the event the candidates were asked how they would seek to improve Council oversight of the mayoral administration. In their remarks, each candidate answered the question while also mixing in something of a closing argument for their candidacy. Several candidates offered a number of specific reforms they want to push if elected Speaker.</p> <p>All candidates advocated for a stronger, independent Council, with Williams stating that the lack of any use of a veto in de Blasio’s term may mean the Council hasn’t pushed the envelope enough. Cornegy said that the Council hadn’t exercised its strength given by the dissolution of the Board of Estimate, and that budget issues would continue to be an issue in that regard. Richards once again called for strengthening the oversight committee, while Johnson called for increasing the Council’s central budget to be more in line with city agencies. Levine said the Council should delve into budget issues beyond the marquee items, Van Bramer said the Council should utilize its subpoena power, and Rodriguez pledged to maintain the body’s independence but work with the mayor when possible.</p> <p><em>Full video of the forum:</em></p> <p><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/iffxxdh7Ls0" width="600" height="320" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
Top City Electeds Skip Letter Wooing Amazon 2017-10-19T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7266:top-city-electeds-skip-letter-wooing-amazon Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/wtc-orange-amazon-via-edc.jpg" alt="wtc orange amazon via edc" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>One World Trade Center lit up orange for Amazon (photo via NYC EDC)</p> <hr /> <p>New York is laying out the red carpet to entice online retail giant Amazon to locate its new corporate headquarters in the state. Governor Andrew Cuomo promised a slew of incentives to support four official proposals from different regions that were submitted to the company on Wednesday, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio lit up the city in orange at night as a fawning branding appeal.</p> <p>New York City’s own <a href="https://www.dropbox.com/s/omgt5ywmgzundkv/Amazon%20Deck%20for%20Press%20-%2010.18.2017.pdf?dl=0&amp;utm_source=Press+Release&amp;utm_campaign=5db591fe9c-2017_10_18_NYC_Submits_Amazon_Proposal_PA&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_b804b7ba34-5db591fe9c-102476565" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bid</a> -- which included four possible business districts -- was backed by about 70 elected officials that represent the city, including members of Congress, state Senators and Assembly members, City Council members, borough presidents, and Public Advocate Letitia James. But at least four notable elected officials were conspicuously absent from the letter of support sent by the mayor’s office to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.</p> <p>Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, of the Bronx, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and City Council Members Corey Johnson and Donovan Richards, both contenders to become the next Speaker of the City Council, did not sign on to the letter.</p> <p>“No city embodies the American traditions of innovation and creativity quite like New York City,” <a href="https://www.dropbox.com/s/fa1bvw2m82molqv/Amazon%20Elected%20Letter.pdf?dl=0&amp;utm_source=Press+Release&amp;utm_campaign=5db591fe9c-2017_10_18_NYC_Submits_Amazon_Proposal_PA&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_b804b7ba34-5db591fe9c-102476565" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the letter</a> reads. “It has transformed from a Dutch settlement, to the nation’s first capital, to a booming industrial center. It became a port of hope for millions of immigrants looking for a better life, and a model for urban revitalization. From Broadway, the Bronx Zoo and the Brooklyn Bridge, to Citi Field and the shores of Staten Island, New York City is a place where history is made every day. Our tradition of reinvention matches yours, and we invite you to join us in writing our next chapters together.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Stringer declined to comment. Multiple messages and emails sent to spokespeople for Heastie were not returned.</p> <p>“We’re excited about the prospect of new businesses coming to New York City,” said Jordan Gibbons, a spokesperson for Council Member Richards, “but before we support the plan, we need more information about job standards and impact on local businesses.”</p> <p>Council Member Johnson wrote in a text that he “didn’t sign on to [the] letter because I have concerns about Amazon’s labor record but also recognize 50K jobs would be good for the city.” &nbsp;</p> <p>As Johnson noted, Amazon’s second headquarters is expected to create 50,000 jobs and bring in roughly $5 billion in investment. One of the proposed areas for Amazon’s headquarters, Midtown West, falls in Johnson’s Manhattan district. City Council members representing other proposed sites for the headquarters signed on to the letter.</p> <p>Amazon’s announcement and request for proposals triggered a mad dash by dozens of cities across the country to lure the multi-billion-dollar company. To bolster their bids, some cities and states have promised enormous tax breaks while others have pledged infrastructure investments around a potential Amazon campus. Most have hedged their bets on being able to provide the optimum balance of tech talent, affordable and ample real estate, and an appealing quality of life. One municipality in Georgia even went so far as to <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2017/10/03/city-aims-name-new-town-company-amazon-georgia/727765001/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">propose</a> creating an entirely new city named for the online retailer.</p> <p>Short of naming a new business district after Amazon, New York City’s pitch includes all those aspects. Culled from more than two dozen proposals from across the five boroughs, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, in collaboration with the Empire State Development Corporation, decided on four city areas that met Amazon’s criteria -- Midtown West, Long Island City, Lower Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Tech Triangle. The city is banking on many factors, including its pool of 2.3 million residents who hold a bachelor’s degree and above -- a number higher than the combined comparable workforce of Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.</p> <p>The city has 296,000 workers in the tech industry and is growing rapidly in sectors of the economy where Amazon is diversifying, including media, advertising, fashion, and manufacturing.</p> <p>And the city is already an attractive destination for Amazon, which has a distribution and fulfillment center, corporate offices and retail space in the city with plans to expand in Manhattan. Amazon’s website says it has 1,000 employees in New York, plus seasonal additions around the winter holidays.</p> <p>An EDC spokesperson said the city cast a wide net seeking support for the proposal. “Considering how hard it is to get New Yorkers to agree on anything, the fact that we got so many signatures in such a short time was pretty impressive and overwhelming,” the spokesperson said, expressing optimism that New York would outmatch other cities with its bid.</p> <p>Asked at an unrelated Thursday news conference about his pursuit of Amazon when he has been opposed to Walmart opening in the city, de Blasio called it “apples and oranges.” “Amazon, there are some issues that need to be addressed with labor, there’s no two ways about it. But, at the same time, this is a company talking about potentially fundamentally changing the economy in New York City. Adding 50,000 jobs is a game-changer. And it’s something we need and we need more high-quality jobs for the people of New York City. So we can work on those labor issues and I’m happy to work on those labor issues, but no, I’m convinced that Amazon will be a net gain for New York City, unquestionably.”</p> <p>Responding to Johnson’s concerns, the EDC spokesperson said that Amazon’s presence in New York would afford the city an opportunity to engage directly with the firm and “work with them to advance our shared values.” Pointing out that it was premature to evaluate a deal that hasn’t yet been approved, the spokesperson said the city would be able to negotiate down the line to add guarantees to ensure the number of jobs created, salary levels and that jobs go to New Yorkers. “It’s pretty clear to us that they want to build the headquarters with the community, not in the community,” the spokesperson said.</p> <p>“It’s puzzling, I don’t know why you’d want to turn down a shot at 50,000 good-paying jobs,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, when asked why leaders like Stringer, Heastie, and Johnson would not sign on. He conceded that concerns about corporate subsidies are valid, but that the Amazon opportunity is too good to pass up. “It’s a big win for New York City if we can get it.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/wtc-orange-amazon-via-edc.jpg" alt="wtc orange amazon via edc" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>One World Trade Center lit up orange for Amazon (photo via NYC EDC)</p> <hr /> <p>New York is laying out the red carpet to entice online retail giant Amazon to locate its new corporate headquarters in the state. Governor Andrew Cuomo promised a slew of incentives to support four official proposals from different regions that were submitted to the company on Wednesday, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio lit up the city in orange at night as a fawning branding appeal.</p> <p>New York City’s own <a href="https://www.dropbox.com/s/omgt5ywmgzundkv/Amazon%20Deck%20for%20Press%20-%2010.18.2017.pdf?dl=0&amp;utm_source=Press+Release&amp;utm_campaign=5db591fe9c-2017_10_18_NYC_Submits_Amazon_Proposal_PA&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_b804b7ba34-5db591fe9c-102476565" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bid</a> -- which included four possible business districts -- was backed by about 70 elected officials that represent the city, including members of Congress, state Senators and Assembly members, City Council members, borough presidents, and Public Advocate Letitia James. But at least four notable elected officials were conspicuously absent from the letter of support sent by the mayor’s office to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.</p> <p>Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, of the Bronx, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and City Council Members Corey Johnson and Donovan Richards, both contenders to become the next Speaker of the City Council, did not sign on to the letter.</p> <p>“No city embodies the American traditions of innovation and creativity quite like New York City,” <a href="https://www.dropbox.com/s/fa1bvw2m82molqv/Amazon%20Elected%20Letter.pdf?dl=0&amp;utm_source=Press+Release&amp;utm_campaign=5db591fe9c-2017_10_18_NYC_Submits_Amazon_Proposal_PA&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_b804b7ba34-5db591fe9c-102476565" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the letter</a> reads. “It has transformed from a Dutch settlement, to the nation’s first capital, to a booming industrial center. It became a port of hope for millions of immigrants looking for a better life, and a model for urban revitalization. From Broadway, the Bronx Zoo and the Brooklyn Bridge, to Citi Field and the shores of Staten Island, New York City is a place where history is made every day. Our tradition of reinvention matches yours, and we invite you to join us in writing our next chapters together.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Stringer declined to comment. Multiple messages and emails sent to spokespeople for Heastie were not returned.</p> <p>“We’re excited about the prospect of new businesses coming to New York City,” said Jordan Gibbons, a spokesperson for Council Member Richards, “but before we support the plan, we need more information about job standards and impact on local businesses.”</p> <p>Council Member Johnson wrote in a text that he “didn’t sign on to [the] letter because I have concerns about Amazon’s labor record but also recognize 50K jobs would be good for the city.” &nbsp;</p> <p>As Johnson noted, Amazon’s second headquarters is expected to create 50,000 jobs and bring in roughly $5 billion in investment. One of the proposed areas for Amazon’s headquarters, Midtown West, falls in Johnson’s Manhattan district. City Council members representing other proposed sites for the headquarters signed on to the letter.</p> <p>Amazon’s announcement and request for proposals triggered a mad dash by dozens of cities across the country to lure the multi-billion-dollar company. To bolster their bids, some cities and states have promised enormous tax breaks while others have pledged infrastructure investments around a potential Amazon campus. Most have hedged their bets on being able to provide the optimum balance of tech talent, affordable and ample real estate, and an appealing quality of life. One municipality in Georgia even went so far as to <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2017/10/03/city-aims-name-new-town-company-amazon-georgia/727765001/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">propose</a> creating an entirely new city named for the online retailer.</p> <p>Short of naming a new business district after Amazon, New York City’s pitch includes all those aspects. Culled from more than two dozen proposals from across the five boroughs, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, in collaboration with the Empire State Development Corporation, decided on four city areas that met Amazon’s criteria -- Midtown West, Long Island City, Lower Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Tech Triangle. The city is banking on many factors, including its pool of 2.3 million residents who hold a bachelor’s degree and above -- a number higher than the combined comparable workforce of Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.</p> <p>The city has 296,000 workers in the tech industry and is growing rapidly in sectors of the economy where Amazon is diversifying, including media, advertising, fashion, and manufacturing.</p> <p>And the city is already an attractive destination for Amazon, which has a distribution and fulfillment center, corporate offices and retail space in the city with plans to expand in Manhattan. Amazon’s website says it has 1,000 employees in New York, plus seasonal additions around the winter holidays.</p> <p>An EDC spokesperson said the city cast a wide net seeking support for the proposal. “Considering how hard it is to get New Yorkers to agree on anything, the fact that we got so many signatures in such a short time was pretty impressive and overwhelming,” the spokesperson said, expressing optimism that New York would outmatch other cities with its bid.</p> <p>Asked at an unrelated Thursday news conference about his pursuit of Amazon when he has been opposed to Walmart opening in the city, de Blasio called it “apples and oranges.” “Amazon, there are some issues that need to be addressed with labor, there’s no two ways about it. But, at the same time, this is a company talking about potentially fundamentally changing the economy in New York City. Adding 50,000 jobs is a game-changer. And it’s something we need and we need more high-quality jobs for the people of New York City. So we can work on those labor issues and I’m happy to work on those labor issues, but no, I’m convinced that Amazon will be a net gain for New York City, unquestionably.”</p> <p>Responding to Johnson’s concerns, the EDC spokesperson said that Amazon’s presence in New York would afford the city an opportunity to engage directly with the firm and “work with them to advance our shared values.” Pointing out that it was premature to evaluate a deal that hasn’t yet been approved, the spokesperson said the city would be able to negotiate down the line to add guarantees to ensure the number of jobs created, salary levels and that jobs go to New Yorkers. “It’s pretty clear to us that they want to build the headquarters with the community, not in the community,” the spokesperson said.</p> <p>“It’s puzzling, I don’t know why you’d want to turn down a shot at 50,000 good-paying jobs,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, when asked why leaders like Stringer, Heastie, and Johnson would not sign on. He conceded that concerns about corporate subsidies are valid, but that the Amazon opportunity is too good to pass up. “It’s a big win for New York City if we can get it.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Protecting Tenants from Construction Harassment 2017-07-30T04:00:00+00:00 2017-07-30T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7096:protecting-tenants-from-construction-harassment Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/sts_op-ed.jpg" alt="sts op ed" width="600" height="380" /></p> <p>photo, including three of the authors, via the Progressive Caucus</p> <hr /> <p>We’ve seen it in our districts. A new landlord takes ownership of a building and starts a construction project that never finishes in order to evict long-term residents. They may turn off the cooking gas indefinitely; they may even knock out the boiler with no explanation.</p> <p>For too many New Yorkers, this nightmare is their reality. The stories are plentiful: heat and gas shutoffs in the middle of winter, jackhammering causing cracks in apartment walls, loss of power, and lead dust in the air lasting for months on end. For years, city and borough officials and community advocates have encountered a critical mass of stories like these, detailing the unscrupulous conduct of landlords as well as the insufficient response from the City of New York.</p> <p>We, as members of the City Council members and its Progressive Caucus, see the writing on the walls: our city needs more protections in place for tenants facing construction harassment.</p> <p>Understanding the need to strengthen the ability of the Department of Buildings (DOB) to protect tenants from construction as harassment, the grassroots Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition (STS) has partnered with the Progressive Caucus to put forth a package of legislation aimed at achieving just that.</p> <p>These 12 STS bills, most of which are sponsored by members of the Progressive Caucus, with strong support in the Council, will put in place much tougher penalties against abusive landlords for illegal construction practices and enact preventative measures to help tenants protect their homes. &nbsp;</p> <p>The goal is to change the way DOB handles construction harassment so that the agency is empowered to become more proactive with regard to issuing construction permits and facilitating communication among tenants, landlords, and city agencies. Such renewed tenant protections are intended to quicken and fortify the City’s response to construction harassment so vulnerable residents in rapidly changing neighborhoods are able to stay in their homes and communities.</p> <p>As policymakers, we know that construction harassment by unscrupulous landlords only exacerbates the affordable housing crisis already facing residents of New York City. In recent years, the average rents in some city neighborhoods have risen by 20%; in such neighborhoods especially, unethical landlords can use construction as a way of cashing in on rising rents instead of protecting the existing tenants. Calls the City has been receiving from New Yorkers reflect this; construction-related complaints number in the thousands each year.</p> <p>Even as preserving and creating affordable housing has remained a focus of both the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the myriad loopholes landlords use in existing laws allow the number of rent-regulated apartments to dwindle. With both the cost of living in the city and rent continuing to rise, protecting the health and safety of tenants through legislation is the minimum of what can be done, the least of how this city can maintain a fair and just society. With the city losing affordable housing every year, we cannot afford to ignore any way in which tenants are threatened by eviction from their homes.</p> <p>As the clock ticks toward the end of the current City Council session, we need the Council to pass this Stand for Tenant Safety package of legislation as soon as possible. The New York City Council just made history by passing the city’s first ever Right to Counsel legislation, which will provide legal assistance to tenants facing eviction in housing court. We urgently need to continue making progress on tenant rights in New York City by strengthening preventative measures that will help keep tenants from facing eviction in the first place.</p> <p>It is time that the City renew its commitment, through strengthening the enforcement power of the Department of Buildings, to standing up for residents living under adverse conditions and protect our communities from abusive, unethical landlords. As long as economic inequality and hazardous building conditions threaten health and safety, the City must continue to strengthen every person’s opportunity for a livable and affordable place to call home. As progressive City Council members, we hope our colleagues and the de Blasio administration will work together with us to ensure that our city’s most vulnerable tenants are protected.</p> <p>***<br />Antonio Reynoso, Donovan Richards, Helen Rosenthal &amp; Ben Kallos are all members of the City Council and leaders of its Progressive Caucus. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/CMReynoso34" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@CMReynoso34</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/DRichards13" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@DRichards13</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/HelenRosenthal" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@HelenRosenthal</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/BenKallos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@BenKallos</a>, &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCProgressives" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@NYCProgressives</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/sts_op-ed.jpg" alt="sts op ed" width="600" height="380" /></p> <p>photo, including three of the authors, via the Progressive Caucus</p> <hr /> <p>We’ve seen it in our districts. A new landlord takes ownership of a building and starts a construction project that never finishes in order to evict long-term residents. They may turn off the cooking gas indefinitely; they may even knock out the boiler with no explanation.</p> <p>For too many New Yorkers, this nightmare is their reality. The stories are plentiful: heat and gas shutoffs in the middle of winter, jackhammering causing cracks in apartment walls, loss of power, and lead dust in the air lasting for months on end. For years, city and borough officials and community advocates have encountered a critical mass of stories like these, detailing the unscrupulous conduct of landlords as well as the insufficient response from the City of New York.</p> <p>We, as members of the City Council members and its Progressive Caucus, see the writing on the walls: our city needs more protections in place for tenants facing construction harassment.</p> <p>Understanding the need to strengthen the ability of the Department of Buildings (DOB) to protect tenants from construction as harassment, the grassroots Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition (STS) has partnered with the Progressive Caucus to put forth a package of legislation aimed at achieving just that.</p> <p>These 12 STS bills, most of which are sponsored by members of the Progressive Caucus, with strong support in the Council, will put in place much tougher penalties against abusive landlords for illegal construction practices and enact preventative measures to help tenants protect their homes. &nbsp;</p> <p>The goal is to change the way DOB handles construction harassment so that the agency is empowered to become more proactive with regard to issuing construction permits and facilitating communication among tenants, landlords, and city agencies. Such renewed tenant protections are intended to quicken and fortify the City’s response to construction harassment so vulnerable residents in rapidly changing neighborhoods are able to stay in their homes and communities.</p> <p>As policymakers, we know that construction harassment by unscrupulous landlords only exacerbates the affordable housing crisis already facing residents of New York City. In recent years, the average rents in some city neighborhoods have risen by 20%; in such neighborhoods especially, unethical landlords can use construction as a way of cashing in on rising rents instead of protecting the existing tenants. Calls the City has been receiving from New Yorkers reflect this; construction-related complaints number in the thousands each year.</p> <p>Even as preserving and creating affordable housing has remained a focus of both the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the myriad loopholes landlords use in existing laws allow the number of rent-regulated apartments to dwindle. With both the cost of living in the city and rent continuing to rise, protecting the health and safety of tenants through legislation is the minimum of what can be done, the least of how this city can maintain a fair and just society. With the city losing affordable housing every year, we cannot afford to ignore any way in which tenants are threatened by eviction from their homes.</p> <p>As the clock ticks toward the end of the current City Council session, we need the Council to pass this Stand for Tenant Safety package of legislation as soon as possible. The New York City Council just made history by passing the city’s first ever Right to Counsel legislation, which will provide legal assistance to tenants facing eviction in housing court. We urgently need to continue making progress on tenant rights in New York City by strengthening preventative measures that will help keep tenants from facing eviction in the first place.</p> <p>It is time that the City renew its commitment, through strengthening the enforcement power of the Department of Buildings, to standing up for residents living under adverse conditions and protect our communities from abusive, unethical landlords. As long as economic inequality and hazardous building conditions threaten health and safety, the City must continue to strengthen every person’s opportunity for a livable and affordable place to call home. As progressive City Council members, we hope our colleagues and the de Blasio administration will work together with us to ensure that our city’s most vulnerable tenants are protected.</p> <p>***<br />Antonio Reynoso, Donovan Richards, Helen Rosenthal &amp; Ben Kallos are all members of the City Council and leaders of its Progressive Caucus. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/CMReynoso34" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@CMReynoso34</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/DRichards13" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@DRichards13</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/HelenRosenthal" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@HelenRosenthal</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/BenKallos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@BenKallos</a>, &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCProgressives" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@NYCProgressives</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
Council Member Richards to Host Fundraiser for Mayor De Blasio 2016-10-21T04:00:00+00:00 2016-10-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6587:council-member-richards-to-host-fundraiser-for-mayor-de-blasio Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/27721107935_51d3aab214_z.jpg" alt="de blasio richards town hall queens" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Richards, right, &amp; de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>On Tuesday, November 15, City Council Member Donovan Richards will host a re-election campaign fundraiser for Mayor Bill de Blasio in Rosedale, Queens. Richards, who has been one of de Blasio’s staunchest supporters in the Council, where some of the mayor’s goodwill has frayed, said that he’s generally supportive of de Blasio, appreciates what the mayor is doing for his district, and wants to give locals a chance to support de Blasio at a small-dollar event.</p> <p>“I think the mayor, for my particular district, he delivered for my community,” Richards told Gotham Gazette by phone on Friday. Richards said that while he’s not yet making an “official endorsement,” he plans to vote for de Blasio next year and that he is hosting the fundraiser because of the good work the mayor has done and to give his community the opportunity to show its support.</p> <p>“He got a great reception here,” Richards said of the mayor’s appearance at a town hall meeting in June, “because he's finally paying attention to our community -- for decades we couldn't get people to pay attention. The mayor has been consistent in paying attention to Southeast Queens.”</p> <p>In one major example, the de Blasio administration has pledged $91 million toward <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6570-a-big-bet-on-downtown-revitalization" target="_blank">the “revitalization” of Downtown Far Rockaway</a>.</p> <p>“I talk to my constituents all the time and they are happy with the progress they see,” Richards added, “more affordable housing, more commercial opportunities, more streets being paved, more investment, infrastructure being put in. These are things we look for in a Mayor."</p> <p>The mayor is “not perfect,” Richards said, but “when you're looking to support any candidate, you look at their values, and you look at where their mission is going -- am I happy with the direction this administration is taking."</p> <p>The event, Richards said, will be an opportunity for him to further gauge the support de Blasio has in the area, but also for him to show his constituents that he’s behind the mayor’s re-election. “Doing a fundraiser for the mayor signals this is someone I think highly of,” Richards said, “and the community is going to listen closely to where I stand and my take on what the mayor has done, particularly for this district." Several other City Council members, including Helen Rosenthal and Ydanis Rodriguez, have hosted fundraisers for de Blasio as the mayor’s campaign has kicked into gear.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/60B5F549-842F-41AC-83E3-3F34F228B382.JPG" alt="de blasio fundraiser invite richards" width="225" height="291" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />According to an invitation for Richards’ event, which the Council member said he just started to circulate, to be listed as a “Host” requires a $500 donation. A “Supporter” kicks in $175; a “Friend,” $100; and a “Guest,” $25. Checks should be made out to “de Blasio 2017,” the invitation (left) says. The event will be at Pa-Nash Restaurant and Lounge. Under the city’s public matching campaign finance system, donations up to $175 or the first $175 of a larger donation are matched six-to-one by the city. The maximum individual contribution to a mayoral candidate is $4,950.</p> <p>Asked how much he plans to donate to the mayor, Richards laughed and said “I'm not saying that, I've got a kid!" Richards, who became a first-time father earlier this year, added, "We'll see as we get closer, we're being supportive of the mayor, I'll say that. Hosting itself is being helpful!"</p> <p>"I'm not bundling," he said, when asked.</p> <p>Richards and the de Blasio administration have worked closely on two major initiatives over the past three years, including <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6570-a-big-bet-on-downtown-revitalization" target="_blank">the Downtown Far Rockaway revitalization plan</a> and the passage of two significant changes to the city’s zoning rules that moved through the subcommittee that Richards chairs in the Council. The changes are essential to de Blasio’s larger affordable housing plan.</p> <p>“We’re grateful and proud to have his support, and we’re looking forward to the event,” said Dan Levitan, spokesperson for de Blasio’s campaign, of Richards, who said that he expects other Queens elected officials at the fundraiser.</p> <p>The event comes as de Blasio’s relationship with the City Council and its individual members has hit a choppier stretch. There’s frustration among a number of members that the mayor is not as communicative as they think he should be and there are at times issues around credit-taking. Meanwhile, as is inevitable, over the nearly three years de Blasio has been mayor, a variety of local issues and battles have popped up, most recently around affordable housing projects and the siting of homeless shelters.</p> <p>De Blasio maintains many allies in the Council. Even though she has her frustrations and disagreements with the mayor, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito remains one; and the most important one at that. Mark-Viverito <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6508-full-interview-council-speaker-melissa-mark-viverito" target="_blank">told Gotham Gazette in August</a> that the mayor deserves to be re-elected, and she <a href="https://twitter.com/MMViverito/status/730913562571485184" target="_blank">attended</a> a May fundraiser for the mayor in Brooklyn that was headlined by comedian Louis CK.</p> <p>Some critics in the Council, however, have become louder over time, and some of de Blasio's relationships have frayed, such as that with Queens Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. In May, when de Blasio was under fire on several fronts, including around law enforcement investigations, Richards and City Council Member Antonio Reynoso -- who co-chair the Council's Progressive Caucus -- were among the Council members who came to the mayor's defense: Richards and Reynoso co-authored <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/6344-top-10-accomplishments-of-progressive-leadership-the-need-to-protectprogress" target="_blank">an op-ed that appeared in Gotham Gazette</a> outlining the progress achieved under de Blasio and the current City Council. It was part of what Politico New York <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/05/asked-to-defend-de-blasio-council-responds-cautiously-102051" target="_blank">reported at the time</a> as a rallying of the troops behind the mayor.</p> <p>“I can't speak for every member,” Richards said on Friday. “Is the Mayor perfect? No. Generally speaking, for me, I can say that many of the issues - whether they're dealt with in perfection or not - affordable housing, community development, fair share - are things important to me. But in my eyes they're moving in the right direction. Still a lot of work to do, but I also don't expect them to fix all the city's ills so quick."</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/27721107935_51d3aab214_z.jpg" alt="de blasio richards town hall queens" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Richards, right, &amp; de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>On Tuesday, November 15, City Council Member Donovan Richards will host a re-election campaign fundraiser for Mayor Bill de Blasio in Rosedale, Queens. Richards, who has been one of de Blasio’s staunchest supporters in the Council, where some of the mayor’s goodwill has frayed, said that he’s generally supportive of de Blasio, appreciates what the mayor is doing for his district, and wants to give locals a chance to support de Blasio at a small-dollar event.</p> <p>“I think the mayor, for my particular district, he delivered for my community,” Richards told Gotham Gazette by phone on Friday. Richards said that while he’s not yet making an “official endorsement,” he plans to vote for de Blasio next year and that he is hosting the fundraiser because of the good work the mayor has done and to give his community the opportunity to show its support.</p> <p>“He got a great reception here,” Richards said of the mayor’s appearance at a town hall meeting in June, “because he's finally paying attention to our community -- for decades we couldn't get people to pay attention. The mayor has been consistent in paying attention to Southeast Queens.”</p> <p>In one major example, the de Blasio administration has pledged $91 million toward <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6570-a-big-bet-on-downtown-revitalization" target="_blank">the “revitalization” of Downtown Far Rockaway</a>.</p> <p>“I talk to my constituents all the time and they are happy with the progress they see,” Richards added, “more affordable housing, more commercial opportunities, more streets being paved, more investment, infrastructure being put in. These are things we look for in a Mayor."</p> <p>The mayor is “not perfect,” Richards said, but “when you're looking to support any candidate, you look at their values, and you look at where their mission is going -- am I happy with the direction this administration is taking."</p> <p>The event, Richards said, will be an opportunity for him to further gauge the support de Blasio has in the area, but also for him to show his constituents that he’s behind the mayor’s re-election. “Doing a fundraiser for the mayor signals this is someone I think highly of,” Richards said, “and the community is going to listen closely to where I stand and my take on what the mayor has done, particularly for this district." Several other City Council members, including Helen Rosenthal and Ydanis Rodriguez, have hosted fundraisers for de Blasio as the mayor’s campaign has kicked into gear.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/60B5F549-842F-41AC-83E3-3F34F228B382.JPG" alt="de blasio fundraiser invite richards" width="225" height="291" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />According to an invitation for Richards’ event, which the Council member said he just started to circulate, to be listed as a “Host” requires a $500 donation. A “Supporter” kicks in $175; a “Friend,” $100; and a “Guest,” $25. Checks should be made out to “de Blasio 2017,” the invitation (left) says. The event will be at Pa-Nash Restaurant and Lounge. Under the city’s public matching campaign finance system, donations up to $175 or the first $175 of a larger donation are matched six-to-one by the city. The maximum individual contribution to a mayoral candidate is $4,950.</p> <p>Asked how much he plans to donate to the mayor, Richards laughed and said “I'm not saying that, I've got a kid!" Richards, who became a first-time father earlier this year, added, "We'll see as we get closer, we're being supportive of the mayor, I'll say that. Hosting itself is being helpful!"</p> <p>"I'm not bundling," he said, when asked.</p> <p>Richards and the de Blasio administration have worked closely on two major initiatives over the past three years, including <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6570-a-big-bet-on-downtown-revitalization" target="_blank">the Downtown Far Rockaway revitalization plan</a> and the passage of two significant changes to the city’s zoning rules that moved through the subcommittee that Richards chairs in the Council. The changes are essential to de Blasio’s larger affordable housing plan.</p> <p>“We’re grateful and proud to have his support, and we’re looking forward to the event,” said Dan Levitan, spokesperson for de Blasio’s campaign, of Richards, who said that he expects other Queens elected officials at the fundraiser.</p> <p>The event comes as de Blasio’s relationship with the City Council and its individual members has hit a choppier stretch. There’s frustration among a number of members that the mayor is not as communicative as they think he should be and there are at times issues around credit-taking. Meanwhile, as is inevitable, over the nearly three years de Blasio has been mayor, a variety of local issues and battles have popped up, most recently around affordable housing projects and the siting of homeless shelters.</p> <p>De Blasio maintains many allies in the Council. Even though she has her frustrations and disagreements with the mayor, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito remains one; and the most important one at that. Mark-Viverito <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6508-full-interview-council-speaker-melissa-mark-viverito" target="_blank">told Gotham Gazette in August</a> that the mayor deserves to be re-elected, and she <a href="https://twitter.com/MMViverito/status/730913562571485184" target="_blank">attended</a> a May fundraiser for the mayor in Brooklyn that was headlined by comedian Louis CK.</p> <p>Some critics in the Council, however, have become louder over time, and some of de Blasio's relationships have frayed, such as that with Queens Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. In May, when de Blasio was under fire on several fronts, including around law enforcement investigations, Richards and City Council Member Antonio Reynoso -- who co-chair the Council's Progressive Caucus -- were among the Council members who came to the mayor's defense: Richards and Reynoso co-authored <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/6344-top-10-accomplishments-of-progressive-leadership-the-need-to-protectprogress" target="_blank">an op-ed that appeared in Gotham Gazette</a> outlining the progress achieved under de Blasio and the current City Council. It was part of what Politico New York <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/05/asked-to-defend-de-blasio-council-responds-cautiously-102051" target="_blank">reported at the time</a> as a rallying of the troops behind the mayor.</p> <p>“I can't speak for every member,” Richards said on Friday. “Is the Mayor perfect? No. Generally speaking, for me, I can say that many of the issues - whether they're dealt with in perfection or not - affordable housing, community development, fair share - are things important to me. But in my eyes they're moving in the right direction. Still a lot of work to do, but I also don't expect them to fix all the city's ills so quick."</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
A Big Bet on 'Revitalizing Downtown' 2016-10-12T04:00:00+00:00 2016-10-12T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6570:a-big-bet-on-downtown-revitalization Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/far_rockaway_richards.jpg" alt="far rockaway richards" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Officials announce the Far Rockaway plan (photo: @DRichards13)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">With individuals constantly moving in and out of the state, New York&rsquo;s population remains one of the most dynamic in the <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/census-new-york-s-population-rises-remains-fourth-in-u-s-1.11255076" target="_blank">country</a>. This fluidity changes the makeup of communities and the character of neighborhoods - lately, more people are leaving New York than coming, even leading the state to <a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/11/22/1444508/-Which-states-will-gain-seats-in-Congress-come-2020-and-which-will-lose-Here-s-a-very-early-look" target="_blank">lose clout in Congress</a>. Often related to economic forces, especially job opportunity, New York has seen a number of its once-bustling cities, towns, and communities economically devastated in recent years.</p> <p dir="ltr">City and state governments consistently grapple with these changes in economics, demographics, and vitality. Policymakers sometimes decide to invest in stimulating a local economy, by luring a company to move in, offering an existing company incentives to stay, or by other means. &ldquo;Downtown revitalization&rdquo; has become a popular term in both New York City and at the state level. As part of his <a href="http://www.dos.ny.gov/opd/programs/Downtown%20Revitalization%20Initiative_%20Program_Information_Criteria.pdf" target="_blank">Downtown Revitalization Initiative</a>, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration recently allocated a series of grants based to local communities selected by the state&rsquo;s Regional Economic Development Councils.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a statement about the development grants, Cuomo explained the initiative: &ldquo;A thriving downtown can provide a tremendous boost to the local economy. This initiative will transform selected downtown neighborhoods into vibrant places for people to live, work and raise a family.&rdquo; Under this initiative, the Cuomo administration awarded <a href="https://www.ny.gov/programs/downtown-revitalization-initiative">10 communities,</a> nine in Upstate and one in the city, $10 million each. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">These grants are different from, though in the same vein as, the massive state economic development programs that recently came under intense criticism due to federal criminal charges that were brought against nine individuals involved.</p> <p dir="ltr">Through downtown revitalization projects, whether city or state, public tax dollars are allocated toward improving infrastructure, creating amenities like park space, and constructing new mixed-use buildings to make an area more attractive for incoming residents and businesses. While the state awarded most grants to downtrodden communities outside New York City and much of the city is bustling with commerce and jobs, there are spots where neighborhood economic development and commercial activity lag -- and in Jamaica, Queens, at least one &ldquo;downtown,&rdquo; the city is infusing significant revitalization funding.</p> <p dir="ltr">An active governmental role in stimulating a local economy is not a new phenomenon, especially in New York City. Since the beginning of the<a href="https://www.innovations.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/hpd_1102_hoffman.pdf" target="_blank"> 20th century</a>, all five boroughs have undergone major revitalization projects. New Yorkers have seen significant infrastructural changes in places like <a href="http://www.nycedc.com/program/long-island-city" target="_blank">Long Island City</a>,<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/351-14/investing-downtown-brooklyn-de-blasio-administration-next-wave-projects-spur" target="_blank"> Downtown Brooklyn</a> and <a href="http://www.nycedc.com/project/125th-street-revitalization" target="_blank">East Harlem</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">When the government invests large sums of public dollars into redeveloping neighborhoods, tensions often arise between officials and the residents of the communities. To give residents a voice, government agencies and officials hold public information sessions and zoning hearings to explain revitalization plans and listen to concerns. The extent of the tension usually relates to how much community engagement is done in forming plans in the first place.</p> <p dir="ltr">Unsurprisingly, most residents welcome changes that would bring more jobs, improved transportation, and more facilities for families and youth. However, when the plan involves building new housing units, residents often become concerned with issues of affordability, high density, and the aesthetics of new, tall buildings.</p> <p dir="ltr">In his February <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/state-of-our-city-2016-future-plans.page" target="_blank">State of the City</a> address, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised $91 million to revitalize Downtown Far Rockaway in Queens. In August, the city <a href="http://www.nycedc.com/press-release/nycedc-council-member-richards-local-elected-officials-and-city-commissioners" target="_blank">announced</a> a &ldquo;Roadmap for Action, an expansive, interagency plan to re-establish Downtown Far Rockaway as the commercial hub of the Rockaway peninsula.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In his address, de Blasio explained some of what the revitalization would entail: &ldquo;We&rsquo;ll help businesses in commercial corridors like Beach 20th Street. Parents will be able to attend job training workshops while their kids play a pickup game at the greatly improved Sorrentino Recreation Center. And the whole community will enjoy the new, state-of-the-art Downtown Far Rockaway Library.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">It is largely welcome news for a community that has been seeking similar city assistance for nearly half of a century. The interagency effort, led by the city&rsquo;s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and City Council Member Donovan Richards, to spur economic development and guarantee permanent affordable housing on the peninsula has been met with mostly positive feedback. Yet, some residents fear the uncertain effects of these major developmental changes, especially when it comes to new housing, created at least in part by government.</p> <p dir="ltr">For over 30 years, a shopping center at the intersection of Mott and Central Avenues in Downtown Far Rockaway sat nearly vacant. When a Dunkin&rsquo; Donuts opened there <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20150806/far-rockaway/dunkin-donuts-open-long-vacant-rockaway-shopping-center" target="_blank">last summer</a>, it became one of just three stores opened over decades in 30 possible storefronts. Now, a year later, the community will undergo substantial change after the EDC, the City Planning Commission, the Department of Housing and Preservation, other agencies, and state and local public officials promised to spur economic development in the area following de Blasio&rsquo;s decision to invest there.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Richards, who <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/d31/html/members/home.shtml" target="_blank">represents</a> Far Rockaway in Council District 31 and chairs the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, spearheaded efforts to acquire funding from the city for the project.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a press release announcing the project, Richards said, &ldquo;Disinvestment, lack of open space, lack of local employment options, lack of infrastructure, and poor pedestrian circulation, created not only a recipe for disaster, but hopelessness in this community.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">He added, &ldquo;But today, we begin the steps in righting these wrongs by paying our moral and</p> <p dir="ltr">economic debt owed to this community. The bounced checks of promises written out to this community in the past are long gone. The historic $91 million investment that the de Blasio administration has made will go a long way in providing economic justice to this community.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Richards, a City Council member since March 2013, said the project will focus on making Far Rockaway a commercial hub again, especially making it easier to travel to and within the neighborhood.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Right now, when you get off the A train, it feels like you&rsquo;re not even in the country,&rdquo; he said in an interview with Gotham Gazette, referencing the baron nature of the downtown area so desperately in need of new life. &ldquo;You feel like you&rsquo;re in a third-world country.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor first spoke about Far Rockaway&rsquo;s potential in his 2015 State of the City <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/04/nyregion/new-york-mayor-bill-de-blasios-state-of-the-city-address.html" target="_blank">address</a>. Then, in part as a response to a February 2016 <a href="https://www.nycedc.com/system/files/files/project/2016.02.01_Downtown%20Far%20Rockaway%20Recommendations%20Letter.pdf" target="_blank">letter</a> of recommendations written by Richards and the Downtown Far Rockaway Working Group, a task force made up of local businesses and stakeholders created in November of last year, the mayor outlined his plan to invest in the community in his 2016 State of the City <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/state-of-our-city-2016-future-plans.page" target="_blank">address</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Richards said he met with residents who asked for improved access to transportation services, new youth and family facilities and more job opportunities. According to Richards, community participation has been vital in getting the mayor&rsquo;s attention.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Government sometimes is top-down heavy,&rdquo; Richards said. &ldquo;Any projects that come into my district, I don&rsquo;t care how small it is, I always want the community to be aware of what&rsquo;s going on.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The letter from the group to de Blasio, written on stationery from Richards&rsquo; office, begins with: &ldquo;GOAL 1: Re-establish Downtown Far Rockaway as the commercial and transportation hub of the Rockaway peninsula,&rdquo; and follows with several other goals, each with a set of specific recommendations -- many of which were adopted by the City.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under that first goal, the Downtown Far Rockaway Working Group&rsquo;s recommendations point to the specifics of &ldquo;downtown revitalization&rdquo;: &ldquo;Redevelop the shopping center site at the heart of Downtown with mixed-income housing, commercial and community facility space,&rdquo; one reads.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Reinvigorate Mott Avenue, Central Avenue, Beach 20th Street, and Cornaga Avenue by attracting more diverse retail offerings with a balance of local, regional, and national businesses and restaurants that foster a walkable environment&rdquo; is number two, &ldquo;Create destinations to draw residents as well as visitors, including family and youth recreation and entertainment&rdquo; is three, and &ldquo;Highlight Downtown&rsquo;s unique character and history, including as a music and entertainment destination, by fostering a &ldquo;Main Street&rdquo; feeling in Downtown with storefront improvements, traffic calming, lighting, and free wifi,&rdquo; is four. These are followed by a recommendation to push the state-run MTA for increased A-train service and other transportation improvements.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although the city&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.nycedc.com/system/files/files/project/Downtown%20Far%20Rockaway%20Roadmap%20for%20Action.PDF" target="_blank">&ldquo;Roadmap to Action&rdquo;</a> plan, which outlines the major goals of the project, elicited a positive response from residents, some remain hesitant about parts of the project, especially the housing element.</p> <p dir="ltr">As <a href="http://citylimits.org/2016/09/28/some-confusion-over-prospect-eminent-domain-in-rockaways/" target="_blank">reported by City Limits</a>, a Far Rockaway law firm, specializing in eminent domain law, sent notices to a number of residents detailing the city&rsquo;s plan to acquire their properties. When this was addressed by many upset residents at a scoping hearing in September, the City explained that the potential urban renewal area is still being studied. If approved, the city said, it would affect about a dozen property owners. While the law firm made a mistake by sending these notices to many residents whose properties would not be affected, it left lasting concerns for residents about the city&rsquo;s proposal. The possibility is still in the planning phases.</p> <p dir="ltr">As with other rezonings the de Blasio administration is moving forward, there are concerns about levels of affordability in housing, gentrification, and whether new development will be out of scale with the current, mostly low-rise residential community.</p> <p dir="ltr">Jonathan Gaska, in his 28th year as district manager of Community Board 14 in Queens which includes Far Rockaway, said a lot of residents worry that new 10- to 15-story residential units would take away from the character of Downtown Far Rockaway.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The fear is they&rsquo;re going to build it like Long Island City,&rdquo; Gaska said. &ldquo;Not that Long Island City is a bad place, but it&rsquo;s all big buildings. It&rsquo;s more Manhattan. And I don&rsquo;t think this community wants to be Manhattan.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Gaska said after Hurricane Sandy left Rockaway in wreckage, the city finally paid attention to the citizens&rsquo; grievances of the past five decades. When asked why it took so long for government to step in, Gaska said he thinks officials never saw it as a neighborhood worth investing millions of dollars to improve until Council Member Richards, who Gaska said has a &ldquo;good working relationship with the mayor,&rdquo; became its champion.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Rockaway has been the Siberia of New York City government,&rdquo; Gaska said. &ldquo;Whenever the city had a problem, and to this day, really, they send it to Rockaway. I think that they just didn&rsquo;t see this as place that could ever improve.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The plan in Far Rockaway would implement the mayor&rsquo;s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/plans-studies/mih/mih-summanry-adopted.pdf" target="_blank">program</a> (MIH), approved by the City Council in March, which requires new construction to include permanently affordable housing. In exchange for the ability to build more units, developers <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/mih/mandatory-inclusionary-housing.page" target="_blank">must maintain affordable housing</a> for a certain percentage of units at specific affordability rates (rental caps based on income levels and family sizes). The numbers vary based on which combination of units and incomes the local City Council member selects.</p> <p dir="ltr">Richards said he understands one of the biggest challenges about this rezoning and downtown development project remains preserving the character of the community while infusing a large amount of government resources into the area. But current zoning, according to Richards, is not working to spur growth.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We understand that the zoning we have now has not activated the public realm,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It has not activated better commercial and better amenities for Far Rockaway.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">However, Richards added: &ldquo;We want to ensure that whatever the residential homes are, we want to keep the scale low,&rdquo; Richards said. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t want to have towers towering over our two areas. Even as we develop, we want responsible development.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Governor Cuomo is also in on the revitalization efforts in Queens. Cuomo&rsquo;s <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-launches-100-million-downtown-revitalization-initiative" target="_blank">Downtown Revitalization Initiative</a> awarded one of its ten $10 million grants to Downtown Jamaica, in Queens.</p> <p dir="ltr">As he awarded Jamaica the investment, Cuomo said in his August announcement, &ldquo;Queens has all sorts of assets, but Queens needs a partner. You can have all the assets but you need that start-up capital to make those assets really come together.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Cuomo&rsquo;s Regional Council&rsquo;s chose where to provide these assets by looking at neighborhoods both in need and with the potential to develop. Queens has now seen investment from the city and state in Far Rockaway and Jamaica as both Astoria and Long Island City have become bustling residential and commercial hubs. However, as new housing and businesses come on the market, concerns have been raised about long-time residents and businesses being pushed out by increased rent prices.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mark Winston-Griffith, executive director of the <a href="http://brooklynmovementcenter.org/" target="_blank">Brooklyn Movement Center</a>, a multi-issue community organizing group focused on issues related to rapid neighborhood change and gentrification, said despite the city&rsquo;s possible good intentions behind economic development projects, current residents lose some control over their neighborhood during the revitalization process.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Once you raise property values,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;At the point you make it easier for people to not only get there, but to stay, then you inevitably make it more difficult for the people who are there now to remain.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">According to a <a href="http://furmancenter.org/files/sotc/NYUFurmanCenter_SOCin2015_9JUNE2016.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> on the state of housing in New York City written by New York University&rsquo;s Furman Center, newly developed housing units in gentrifying neighborhoods become younger, more educated and more likely to be labeled as a non-family household (as in, occupied by single people). The study found that in 2015, only incomes of those in gentrifying neighborhoods increased.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Furman Center study found the &ldquo;share of the population that identified as black also declined in gentrifying neighborhoods between 1990 and 2010 (37.9 percent to 30.9 percent), but the share of population that identified as white increased (18.8 percent to 20.6 percent).&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Winston-Griffith said there continues to be a legitimate fight for the right of low-income black New Yorkers to continue to live and thrive in the neighborhoods where they have lived for years. It is an issue that Council Member RIchards has raised and focused on when his committee was considering - and tweaking - the mayor&rsquo;s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program.</p> <p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s always that tension that comes with development, particularly in New York City,&rdquo; Winston-Griffith said. &ldquo;In this moment, when residential and commercial prices seem to know no limit, we see entire neighborhoods being transformed in front of our eyes.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by Devin Gannon for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/far_rockaway_richards.jpg" alt="far rockaway richards" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Officials announce the Far Rockaway plan (photo: @DRichards13)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">With individuals constantly moving in and out of the state, New York&rsquo;s population remains one of the most dynamic in the <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/census-new-york-s-population-rises-remains-fourth-in-u-s-1.11255076" target="_blank">country</a>. This fluidity changes the makeup of communities and the character of neighborhoods - lately, more people are leaving New York than coming, even leading the state to <a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/11/22/1444508/-Which-states-will-gain-seats-in-Congress-come-2020-and-which-will-lose-Here-s-a-very-early-look" target="_blank">lose clout in Congress</a>. Often related to economic forces, especially job opportunity, New York has seen a number of its once-bustling cities, towns, and communities economically devastated in recent years.</p> <p dir="ltr">City and state governments consistently grapple with these changes in economics, demographics, and vitality. Policymakers sometimes decide to invest in stimulating a local economy, by luring a company to move in, offering an existing company incentives to stay, or by other means. &ldquo;Downtown revitalization&rdquo; has become a popular term in both New York City and at the state level. As part of his <a href="http://www.dos.ny.gov/opd/programs/Downtown%20Revitalization%20Initiative_%20Program_Information_Criteria.pdf" target="_blank">Downtown Revitalization Initiative</a>, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration recently allocated a series of grants based to local communities selected by the state&rsquo;s Regional Economic Development Councils.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a statement about the development grants, Cuomo explained the initiative: &ldquo;A thriving downtown can provide a tremendous boost to the local economy. This initiative will transform selected downtown neighborhoods into vibrant places for people to live, work and raise a family.&rdquo; Under this initiative, the Cuomo administration awarded <a href="https://www.ny.gov/programs/downtown-revitalization-initiative">10 communities,</a> nine in Upstate and one in the city, $10 million each. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">These grants are different from, though in the same vein as, the massive state economic development programs that recently came under intense criticism due to federal criminal charges that were brought against nine individuals involved.</p> <p dir="ltr">Through downtown revitalization projects, whether city or state, public tax dollars are allocated toward improving infrastructure, creating amenities like park space, and constructing new mixed-use buildings to make an area more attractive for incoming residents and businesses. While the state awarded most grants to downtrodden communities outside New York City and much of the city is bustling with commerce and jobs, there are spots where neighborhood economic development and commercial activity lag -- and in Jamaica, Queens, at least one &ldquo;downtown,&rdquo; the city is infusing significant revitalization funding.</p> <p dir="ltr">An active governmental role in stimulating a local economy is not a new phenomenon, especially in New York City. Since the beginning of the<a href="https://www.innovations.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/hpd_1102_hoffman.pdf" target="_blank"> 20th century</a>, all five boroughs have undergone major revitalization projects. New Yorkers have seen significant infrastructural changes in places like <a href="http://www.nycedc.com/program/long-island-city" target="_blank">Long Island City</a>,<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/351-14/investing-downtown-brooklyn-de-blasio-administration-next-wave-projects-spur" target="_blank"> Downtown Brooklyn</a> and <a href="http://www.nycedc.com/project/125th-street-revitalization" target="_blank">East Harlem</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">When the government invests large sums of public dollars into redeveloping neighborhoods, tensions often arise between officials and the residents of the communities. To give residents a voice, government agencies and officials hold public information sessions and zoning hearings to explain revitalization plans and listen to concerns. The extent of the tension usually relates to how much community engagement is done in forming plans in the first place.</p> <p dir="ltr">Unsurprisingly, most residents welcome changes that would bring more jobs, improved transportation, and more facilities for families and youth. However, when the plan involves building new housing units, residents often become concerned with issues of affordability, high density, and the aesthetics of new, tall buildings.</p> <p dir="ltr">In his February <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/state-of-our-city-2016-future-plans.page" target="_blank">State of the City</a> address, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised $91 million to revitalize Downtown Far Rockaway in Queens. In August, the city <a href="http://www.nycedc.com/press-release/nycedc-council-member-richards-local-elected-officials-and-city-commissioners" target="_blank">announced</a> a &ldquo;Roadmap for Action, an expansive, interagency plan to re-establish Downtown Far Rockaway as the commercial hub of the Rockaway peninsula.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In his address, de Blasio explained some of what the revitalization would entail: &ldquo;We&rsquo;ll help businesses in commercial corridors like Beach 20th Street. Parents will be able to attend job training workshops while their kids play a pickup game at the greatly improved Sorrentino Recreation Center. And the whole community will enjoy the new, state-of-the-art Downtown Far Rockaway Library.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">It is largely welcome news for a community that has been seeking similar city assistance for nearly half of a century. The interagency effort, led by the city&rsquo;s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and City Council Member Donovan Richards, to spur economic development and guarantee permanent affordable housing on the peninsula has been met with mostly positive feedback. Yet, some residents fear the uncertain effects of these major developmental changes, especially when it comes to new housing, created at least in part by government.</p> <p dir="ltr">For over 30 years, a shopping center at the intersection of Mott and Central Avenues in Downtown Far Rockaway sat nearly vacant. When a Dunkin&rsquo; Donuts opened there <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20150806/far-rockaway/dunkin-donuts-open-long-vacant-rockaway-shopping-center" target="_blank">last summer</a>, it became one of just three stores opened over decades in 30 possible storefronts. Now, a year later, the community will undergo substantial change after the EDC, the City Planning Commission, the Department of Housing and Preservation, other agencies, and state and local public officials promised to spur economic development in the area following de Blasio&rsquo;s decision to invest there.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Richards, who <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/d31/html/members/home.shtml" target="_blank">represents</a> Far Rockaway in Council District 31 and chairs the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, spearheaded efforts to acquire funding from the city for the project.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a press release announcing the project, Richards said, &ldquo;Disinvestment, lack of open space, lack of local employment options, lack of infrastructure, and poor pedestrian circulation, created not only a recipe for disaster, but hopelessness in this community.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">He added, &ldquo;But today, we begin the steps in righting these wrongs by paying our moral and</p> <p dir="ltr">economic debt owed to this community. The bounced checks of promises written out to this community in the past are long gone. The historic $91 million investment that the de Blasio administration has made will go a long way in providing economic justice to this community.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Richards, a City Council member since March 2013, said the project will focus on making Far Rockaway a commercial hub again, especially making it easier to travel to and within the neighborhood.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Right now, when you get off the A train, it feels like you&rsquo;re not even in the country,&rdquo; he said in an interview with Gotham Gazette, referencing the baron nature of the downtown area so desperately in need of new life. &ldquo;You feel like you&rsquo;re in a third-world country.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor first spoke about Far Rockaway&rsquo;s potential in his 2015 State of the City <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/04/nyregion/new-york-mayor-bill-de-blasios-state-of-the-city-address.html" target="_blank">address</a>. Then, in part as a response to a February 2016 <a href="https://www.nycedc.com/system/files/files/project/2016.02.01_Downtown%20Far%20Rockaway%20Recommendations%20Letter.pdf" target="_blank">letter</a> of recommendations written by Richards and the Downtown Far Rockaway Working Group, a task force made up of local businesses and stakeholders created in November of last year, the mayor outlined his plan to invest in the community in his 2016 State of the City <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/state-of-our-city-2016-future-plans.page" target="_blank">address</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Richards said he met with residents who asked for improved access to transportation services, new youth and family facilities and more job opportunities. According to Richards, community participation has been vital in getting the mayor&rsquo;s attention.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Government sometimes is top-down heavy,&rdquo; Richards said. &ldquo;Any projects that come into my district, I don&rsquo;t care how small it is, I always want the community to be aware of what&rsquo;s going on.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The letter from the group to de Blasio, written on stationery from Richards&rsquo; office, begins with: &ldquo;GOAL 1: Re-establish Downtown Far Rockaway as the commercial and transportation hub of the Rockaway peninsula,&rdquo; and follows with several other goals, each with a set of specific recommendations -- many of which were adopted by the City.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under that first goal, the Downtown Far Rockaway Working Group&rsquo;s recommendations point to the specifics of &ldquo;downtown revitalization&rdquo;: &ldquo;Redevelop the shopping center site at the heart of Downtown with mixed-income housing, commercial and community facility space,&rdquo; one reads.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Reinvigorate Mott Avenue, Central Avenue, Beach 20th Street, and Cornaga Avenue by attracting more diverse retail offerings with a balance of local, regional, and national businesses and restaurants that foster a walkable environment&rdquo; is number two, &ldquo;Create destinations to draw residents as well as visitors, including family and youth recreation and entertainment&rdquo; is three, and &ldquo;Highlight Downtown&rsquo;s unique character and history, including as a music and entertainment destination, by fostering a &ldquo;Main Street&rdquo; feeling in Downtown with storefront improvements, traffic calming, lighting, and free wifi,&rdquo; is four. These are followed by a recommendation to push the state-run MTA for increased A-train service and other transportation improvements.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although the city&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.nycedc.com/system/files/files/project/Downtown%20Far%20Rockaway%20Roadmap%20for%20Action.PDF" target="_blank">&ldquo;Roadmap to Action&rdquo;</a> plan, which outlines the major goals of the project, elicited a positive response from residents, some remain hesitant about parts of the project, especially the housing element.</p> <p dir="ltr">As <a href="http://citylimits.org/2016/09/28/some-confusion-over-prospect-eminent-domain-in-rockaways/" target="_blank">reported by City Limits</a>, a Far Rockaway law firm, specializing in eminent domain law, sent notices to a number of residents detailing the city&rsquo;s plan to acquire their properties. When this was addressed by many upset residents at a scoping hearing in September, the City explained that the potential urban renewal area is still being studied. If approved, the city said, it would affect about a dozen property owners. While the law firm made a mistake by sending these notices to many residents whose properties would not be affected, it left lasting concerns for residents about the city&rsquo;s proposal. The possibility is still in the planning phases.</p> <p dir="ltr">As with other rezonings the de Blasio administration is moving forward, there are concerns about levels of affordability in housing, gentrification, and whether new development will be out of scale with the current, mostly low-rise residential community.</p> <p dir="ltr">Jonathan Gaska, in his 28th year as district manager of Community Board 14 in Queens which includes Far Rockaway, said a lot of residents worry that new 10- to 15-story residential units would take away from the character of Downtown Far Rockaway.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The fear is they&rsquo;re going to build it like Long Island City,&rdquo; Gaska said. &ldquo;Not that Long Island City is a bad place, but it&rsquo;s all big buildings. It&rsquo;s more Manhattan. And I don&rsquo;t think this community wants to be Manhattan.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Gaska said after Hurricane Sandy left Rockaway in wreckage, the city finally paid attention to the citizens&rsquo; grievances of the past five decades. When asked why it took so long for government to step in, Gaska said he thinks officials never saw it as a neighborhood worth investing millions of dollars to improve until Council Member Richards, who Gaska said has a &ldquo;good working relationship with the mayor,&rdquo; became its champion.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Rockaway has been the Siberia of New York City government,&rdquo; Gaska said. &ldquo;Whenever the city had a problem, and to this day, really, they send it to Rockaway. I think that they just didn&rsquo;t see this as place that could ever improve.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The plan in Far Rockaway would implement the mayor&rsquo;s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/plans-studies/mih/mih-summanry-adopted.pdf" target="_blank">program</a> (MIH), approved by the City Council in March, which requires new construction to include permanently affordable housing. In exchange for the ability to build more units, developers <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/mih/mandatory-inclusionary-housing.page" target="_blank">must maintain affordable housing</a> for a certain percentage of units at specific affordability rates (rental caps based on income levels and family sizes). The numbers vary based on which combination of units and incomes the local City Council member selects.</p> <p dir="ltr">Richards said he understands one of the biggest challenges about this rezoning and downtown development project remains preserving the character of the community while infusing a large amount of government resources into the area. But current zoning, according to Richards, is not working to spur growth.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We understand that the zoning we have now has not activated the public realm,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It has not activated better commercial and better amenities for Far Rockaway.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">However, Richards added: &ldquo;We want to ensure that whatever the residential homes are, we want to keep the scale low,&rdquo; Richards said. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t want to have towers towering over our two areas. Even as we develop, we want responsible development.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Governor Cuomo is also in on the revitalization efforts in Queens. Cuomo&rsquo;s <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-launches-100-million-downtown-revitalization-initiative" target="_blank">Downtown Revitalization Initiative</a> awarded one of its ten $10 million grants to Downtown Jamaica, in Queens.</p> <p dir="ltr">As he awarded Jamaica the investment, Cuomo said in his August announcement, &ldquo;Queens has all sorts of assets, but Queens needs a partner. You can have all the assets but you need that start-up capital to make those assets really come together.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Cuomo&rsquo;s Regional Council&rsquo;s chose where to provide these assets by looking at neighborhoods both in need and with the potential to develop. Queens has now seen investment from the city and state in Far Rockaway and Jamaica as both Astoria and Long Island City have become bustling residential and commercial hubs. However, as new housing and businesses come on the market, concerns have been raised about long-time residents and businesses being pushed out by increased rent prices.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mark Winston-Griffith, executive director of the <a href="http://brooklynmovementcenter.org/" target="_blank">Brooklyn Movement Center</a>, a multi-issue community organizing group focused on issues related to rapid neighborhood change and gentrification, said despite the city&rsquo;s possible good intentions behind economic development projects, current residents lose some control over their neighborhood during the revitalization process.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Once you raise property values,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;At the point you make it easier for people to not only get there, but to stay, then you inevitably make it more difficult for the people who are there now to remain.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">According to a <a href="http://furmancenter.org/files/sotc/NYUFurmanCenter_SOCin2015_9JUNE2016.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> on the state of housing in New York City written by New York University&rsquo;s Furman Center, newly developed housing units in gentrifying neighborhoods become younger, more educated and more likely to be labeled as a non-family household (as in, occupied by single people). The study found that in 2015, only incomes of those in gentrifying neighborhoods increased.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Furman Center study found the &ldquo;share of the population that identified as black also declined in gentrifying neighborhoods between 1990 and 2010 (37.9 percent to 30.9 percent), but the share of population that identified as white increased (18.8 percent to 20.6 percent).&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Winston-Griffith said there continues to be a legitimate fight for the right of low-income black New Yorkers to continue to live and thrive in the neighborhoods where they have lived for years. It is an issue that Council Member RIchards has raised and focused on when his committee was considering - and tweaking - the mayor&rsquo;s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program.</p> <p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s always that tension that comes with development, particularly in New York City,&rdquo; Winston-Griffith said. &ldquo;In this moment, when residential and commercial prices seem to know no limit, we see entire neighborhoods being transformed in front of our eyes.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by Devin Gannon for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>