Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1271 Mon, 18 Dec 2017 12:47:09 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) De Blasio’s Record on Ethics and Transparency http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7258:de-blasio-s-record-on-ethics-and-transparency http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7258:de-blasio-s-record-on-ethics-and-transparency Mayor de Blasio City Hall

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)


This article is part of a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. Find all pieces of the series here.

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It is a source of great frustration for Mayor Bill de Blasio and hangs over his administration and reelection bid as an albatross. Observers across the political spectrum, including Democratic and Republican opponents in this year’s mayoral race, have attacked de Blasio for blurring or crossing ethical lines, and for lacking transparency.

De Blasio rode into power promising the most transparent administration in the city’s history, but his nearly four years in office have been marked by continuing questions and controversies over both his administration’s opaqueness and ethics, highlighted by twin law enforcement investigations into fundraising practices and government favors for campaign donors. The incumbent Democratic mayor, seeking reelection this fall, has repeatedly argued that he and his associates have carried themselves ethically and that he has done more disclosure than his predecessors and other high-level officials.

Yet, along with his electoral opponents, political observers, government reform advocates, and City Council members also say de Blasio’s rhetoric has not been backed by action and that his record on transparency and ethics has been, at best, a mixed bag.

In endorsing him in the Democratic primary, the New York Times editorial board wrote, “A political operative before he ran for public office, Mr. de Blasio has not shaken free of detractors’ suspicions about his ethical compass. He was subjected to both federal and state investigations into whether he presides over a pay-to-play system that favors well-heeled donors seeking favors from City Hall. Ultimately, no charges were brought against him or his aides. Though the mayor declared he had been vindicated, the Manhattan district attorney concluded that some of his fund-raising appeared to have violated “the intent and spirit” of the law. That’s a far cry from Mr. de Blasio’s claim to have been pronounced “innocent.”

De Blasio was indeed chastised by federal and state prosecutors, who, while they did not bring charges against him or his associates, investigated their actions and outlined problematic practices, some of which led to new city laws limiting certain fundraising activities that the mayor and his team engaged in. De Blasio has claimed that he and his aides have held themselves to the highest standards, but he has regularly raised those standards when pushed.

Part of the mayor’s pushback against criticisms has been that he and his associates have always had good motives, like expanding pre-kindergarten, and that a political nonprofit his allies ran to support his agenda disclosed more than required. Though he has been dogged by questions from members of the media, de Blasio readily points out that regular New Yorkers don’t often ask him about his fundraising practices or release of email records when they have the opportunity to question him at town halls or radio call-in segments.

“People never bring up the issues from the investigations, because I think there was a broad understanding in the public that there was an immense amount of scrutiny that found absolutely nothing wrong,” he said in a recent New York Magazine interview, mischaracterizing the facts given that while no charges were brought, prosecutors did indicate that the mayor and his associates had blurred or crossed ethical lines. “Everyday New Yorkers are much more concerned with kitchen-table issues. Some political insiders, maybe they’ve come to certain conclusions. But for everyday New Yorkers? They didn’t see anything wrong, and they’re right, because there wasn’t anything wrong.”

As de Blasio asks New Yorkers for four more years, ethics and transparency will continue to be a focus of criticism from his general election opponents and others, while the mayor will defend himself and attempt to point to stronger aspects of his record. But the record of how he and his administration have conducted themselves when it comes to playing by the rules, separating political fundraising and governing, and providing the public with both ethical and transparent government is very much worth chronicling and examining as voters evaluate their choices this November.

Mayoral spokespeople Eric Phillips and Austin Finan agreed to speak with Gotham Gazette for this story, but, other than a brief conversation to discuss the premise of the article, no comment was provided.

The most recent Quinnipiac University public opinion poll that included a question about de Blasio's ethics, published at the end of July, showed New York City voters saying 52 to 35 percent that he is honest and trustworthy, down from 59 to 31 percent in May. Still, the 52 was up from the lowest rating de Blasio has received in a Quinnipiac poll over his four years as mayor: amid intense controversy in May 2016, 43 percent said he is honest and trustworthy, while 45 percent said he is not. The highest de Blasio's honesty was rated by voters eight months into his tenure, when the balance was 66 to 22 in his favor.

Selective Transparency
In his former role as public advocate, de Blasio championed transparency and took the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to task for its apparent lack thereof. De Blasio disclosed meetings with lobbyists and implemented tools to track Freedom of Information Law requests, while criticizing the Bloomberg administration for its lax FOIL response time.

Fast forward nearly four years and the same official who urged increased disclosure by Bloomberg has been reticent to show the same commitment in his own operations on FOIL responsiveness speed and other things like police discipline records and emails with top non-governmental advisors. For example, as public advocate, de Blasio recommended legislation requiring the mayor to include FOIL response statistics in the annual Mayor’s Management Report, but it is not something de Blasio has done as mayor himself.

Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, de Blasio's second-in-command, recently conceded at a New York Law School breakfast that the administration could improve it's record on FOIL requests. "I don't think we've done as good as job on that as we could have," he said, Politico New York reported. "But I can't tell you we've gotten good enough. ... Our open data initiative has been, I think, one of the stronger ones in the country. ... Fundamentally, the more data that we can put out there so people don't have to say, 'May I,' but can do their own analytics, is the way to do."

On August 23, at the first of two mayoral debates in the Democratic primary, de Blasio was asked by debate panelist and NY1 reporter Grace Rauh about steps he would take to improve transparency in a second term, should he be reelected, or if he considered any improvements unnecessary. As he often does, the mayor disagreed with the premise of the question, and pivoted toward touting his record on transparency. “Anytime a lobbyist lobbied me on behalf of a third party I put that up online so that people know exactly who talked to me when. I did that,” de Blasio said. “No other mayor’s done that before in our history. I’m in favor of the kind of transparency that’s gonna make life different for everyday New Yorkers like body cameras for all of our patrol officers over the next two years. This is one of the ultimate acts of transparency and accountability in government.”

He added, “Past administrations did not disclose all sorts of things. I’ve made it a point to be open about disclosure. Some areas where I disagree specifically I do not think it was appropriate to disclose but compared to previous administrations we’ve gone a long way and a lot farther in terms of openness and disclosure and transparency....No mayor previously had that level of transparency and I’m very proud of the fact that we put that in place in the city. When it comes to tough questions, well it’s a tough job as part of what I’d expect as mayor of New York City.”

It was a far from satisfactory answer for de Blasio’s only opponent on the debate stage, former City Council Member Sal Albanese. “I’m just incredulous,” Albanese responded. “This administration is the least transparent administration in recent history,” he added (it is not an easy comparison to make).

“We should have a higher standard for the mayor than not being indicted,” Albanese said repeatedly during the debates and the primary campaign.

Government watchdog groups have also found that de Blasio reneged on his campaign pledges around core good governance, though there has been acknowledgement that the administration has implemented certain policies that have enhanced transparency, including related to data generated by city government.

For instance, the city has continued and expanded the implementation of the Open Data law, launching a redesigned online portal with thousands of datasets available to the public. The administration has launched OpenRECORDS, a centralized website to file and track FOIL requests with numerous city agencies. These advancements, while notable, do not capture the full picture of mayoral transparency, however.

Early on in his term, the mayor began limiting interactions with the press, eschewing the daily news briefings that previous mayors had traditionally held and restricting occasions when he would take “off-topic” questions. It earned him scorn from detractors in and out of the media, and, almost cyclically, reinforced his derision for reporters who grew frustrated with the dearth of unfettered, unscripted responses to their questions.

“There’s a Trump-like quality in his whining about the media,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, CUNY. “He’s got the same disease as the President.”

“There’s a lot the citizenry could find praiseworthy in his record,” Muzzio added, “but the two main issues are his transparency and political ethics, and his sense of self-aggrandizement where everything is ‘historic’ and ‘transformative.’ The problem is the distance between rhetoric and reality.”

Muzzio also noted that the administration has released a lot more data than previous mayoralties, which has been useful for analysis of city agencies. “It’s the personal transparency, rather than institutional transparency, that’s lacking,” Muzzio said of de Blasio.

One example of rhetoric versus reality was a promotional video put out in December 2016 by City Hall that touted the administration’s accomplishments, as it was mired in the two investigations that had captured headlines for months. Good government groups criticized the mayor at the time for effectively putting out a campaign ad shortly before the start of an election year during which government-funded advertisements would have been prohibited. The mayor fielded questions about the ad for weeks and grew frustrated by another example of what he has perceived as reporters’ fixation on trivial matters at the expense of spreading all the “good news” that is happening as a result of his policies.

At the August 23 debate, prompted by NY1’s Rauh, de Blasio pledged that he would not set up another issue-advocacy nonprofit like the Campaign for One New York, which was at the center of one of the two investigations into his administration. It was something the mayor had previously said he didn’t plan to do and had in fact signed a new law making virtually impossible. In making the pledge, he reiterated that he faced tough questions about his ethical conduct purely because he was willing to voluntarily disclose who had donated to the nonprofit group and how much.

“If you know you did things right you disclose,” he said. “If you’ve got something to hide, you don’t disclose. That’s what we did over and over again with donations that we did not have a legal obligation to disclose but we went ahead and disclosed anyway and I’m proud of that fact.”

But, the mayor’s approach to disclosure has been highly selective. For the better part of two years, media outlets have pushed, and NY1 and the New York Post even sued, the administration for access to emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and unpaid outside advisors. The mayor’s team has shielded those communications, terming the advisors “agents of the city” who would not be subject to disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law that typically apply to correspondence between government officials and non-government entities. Exceptions to FOIL exist for intra-governmental communication that is part of the decision-making process, but de Blasio and his team argued that the advisors were so close to City Hall and the mayor that they were de facto members of the administration.

Eventually, the mayor relented to an extent, and troves of emails, numbering in the thousands and many of them significantly redacted, have been released on numerous occasions, usually in Friday “news dumps.” The administration is still in court appealing the decision to release the emails, but the mayor pledged in March to release all communications going forward. The emails have not shown wrongdoing, but rather painted the administration, and the mayor particularly, in an unflattering light at times. Some showed de Blasio’s harsh treatment of underlings while others revealed his proximity and degree of access afforded to donors, including controversial ones.

Watchdogs have pointed out that with the Campaign for One New York and the “agents of the city,” de Blasio has created his own problems by blurring lines and limiting transparency. By inviting massive donations to the nonprofit from entities with city business, de Blasio opened the door to pay-to-play allegations, and even the federal investigation. Under intense scrutiny, the mayor wound up promising extensive evidence of donors who did not get favorable treatment from city government -- a promise he eventually admitted he regretted -- but after months of delays, he produced a column on the online publishing platform Medium that left many wanting for more detail.

Big Money for the ‘Right’ Causes
As public advocate, de Blasio urged big corporations to adopt policies against funding political action committees and organized elected officials dedicated to that cause. He filed a legal brief in federal court arguing against the removal of limits to donations to PACs and he railed against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed untold amounts of money from undisclosed donors to flood electoral campaigns.

“Deep-pocketed donors have turned their sights on New York and our best-in-the-nation campaign finance system,” de Blasio said, in a statement on Oct. 3, 2013, when he filed the amicus brief. “They’re determined to upend protections that have safeguarded our democratic process for decades. This is about more than one election. It’s about defending the voices of everyday New Yorkers. It’s a fight we are going to win.”

While de Blasio has continued to rail against Citizens United and call for full public campaign financing, the mayor has not aggressively pursued such a system in New York and the same politician who has long decried wealthy moneyed interests influencing government relied on them to promote his own political agenda while mayor.

De Blasio came into office with a come-from-behind primary win and a general election landslide. He had the wind at his back and attempted to take on the world, so to speak. This led to the creation of the controversial nonprofit and a 2014 effort to swing the state Senate Democratic that got him in trouble, along with other actions that have hurt his reputation for openness and clean government.

Within a month of the mayor’s election, his allies set up a political nonprofit group called UPKNYC, later branded The Campaign for One New York, to promote the goal of universal pre-kindergarten in the city, which in part depended on state-level approval. After achieving its initial goal -- de Blasio favored a tax on the rich to fund the proposal but settled for direct funding from the state -- the group pivoted to promoting the mayor’s affordable housing plan. All along, the 501(c)4 organization solicited unlimited donations, many from wealthy donors and labor unions that also had business with the city. The group did voluntarily disclose its finances and donors every six months.

Scrutiny of its activities, and the mayor’s fundraising for it and possible exchange of government favors, helped trigger one of the two separate corruption investigations, a federal probe into allegations of pay-to-play at City Hall --- the second was a state-level inquiry into whether the mayor’s attempt to sway state Senate races for Democratic candidates in 2014 had violated election law by funneling big donations to candidate campaigns through local Democratic committees.

The mayor maintained throughout that he and his associates had acted under strict legal guidance and had followed the letter of the law, and both probes eventually concluded with no charges. But the stench of scandal remained as the Manhattan U.S. attorney concluded that the mayor, though not crossing into clear criminal activity, had sought contributions from donors and then had “made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies” on behalf of those donors.

De Blasio defended this as typical practice and even good government -- that any constituent, whether a donor or not, who brings a concern to him is directed to someone in the administration who may be able to help, but that the relevant powers make decisions based on the merits, not relationships. What has been abundantly clear, however, is that de Blasio donors have enjoyed special access to and attention from the mayor and his administration.

De Blasio also regularly made the case that the ends justified the means, that because he was fighting for universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing, his skirting of campaign finance rules and blurring of lines was acceptable. The contradiction became especially evident when de Blasio agreed to sign legislation pushed by the City Council, notably Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a close de Blasio ally, to drastically limit political nonprofits with ties to elected officials. De Blasio would explain that it was “the right thing to do” but did lament that he felt it might hamstring progressive politicians with good intentions like himself in the ongoing fight against opposing big-money interests.

At the second Democratic mayoral primary debate on September 6, debate moderator Maurice DuBois of CBS-2 put the mayor on his heels with the first question, about his apparent ethical failings. “Mr. de Blasio, here’s a true story,” DuBois began. “A political leader and his associates used pay-for-play tactics...but were not charged with a crime. However, state and federal prosecutors insist those people did violate the intent and spirit of the law. While there were no criminal charges, would you want people like that working for you?”

A defensive de Blasio again stood by his administration’s efforts and the policy goals that they achieved, and insisted that he and his associates had been vindicated by the intense scrutiny by prosecutors that nevertheless found no wrongdoing. “I look at everything that we’ve done and I’m very convinced that high standards were kept to and the results speak for themselves in terms of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we’ve improved,” he said. “That’s what I came here to do, make people’s lives better.”

Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, said she is “torn” over the mayor’s first-term scandals. “Part of me is just wondering, ‘is this the cost of doing business as a politician in the 21st century if you’re not a billionaire?’” she said, drawing a contrast with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg who did not have to depend on donors for his own campaigns. “Part of me thinks, ‘Well if you don’t have billions to contribute on your own, do you possibly have to get that from unsavory characters and make alliances and depend on people who have resources?’ But the other part of me wonders, ‘Wow, it seems like we’re always asking about some sort of potential wrongdoing.’”

Greer’s conflict seems to be indicative of that of at least several prominent Democrats, including officials like Comptroller Scott Stringer, who criticized the Campaign for One New York as a “slush fund” but wound up endorsing the mayor for reelection, citing his progressivism in fighting inequality. For some time, Stringer was considering a mayoral run, either against de Blasio or in the event de Blasio did not seek reelection due to results from the investigations that did not materialize.

Greer emphasized that de Blasio’s ethics record should not be conflated with his transparency, even though the two are sometimes drawn in “concentric circles.” She noted that de Blasio’s refusal to take questions from the press simply raises more concerns about what else he isn’t being transparent about. “I genuinely do not understand why there are times that de Blasio makes life much harder for himself than he has to...He brought that on himself,” she said. She did agree that perhaps everyday New Yorkers don’t care about issues of transparency that “get into the weeds,” but said he couldn’t dismiss the concerns of those who do. “By you not wanting to answer it, you can’t wish it away by saying nobody’s interested,” she said. “Yes, we are interested.”

De Blasio’s criticism of and condescension towards the media was on full display in the column he wrote on Medium, where he attempted to defend himself against pay-to-play allegations and special access for donors. The column, promised by de Blasio more than a year prior, was meant to illustrate instances of donors who sought favors from the administration but were denied. In the face of allegations and investigations, de Blasio had promised “a whole lot of evidence” of donors not getting the action they desired from the city. De Blasio provided little evidence in his Medium column, but went after the media with gusto.

“Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City,” de Blasio wrote of the coverage of his contact with donors. “Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”

The column contained few examples and no names, and largely blamed the media for over-inflating the scandals that have plagued de Blasio’s tenure. “It was a non-explanation, he gave a few examples of dubious quality,” Muzzio said with an exasperated sigh, noting how the mayor looked down his nose at the press.

Some top Democratic elected officials have been hesitant to criticize the mayor openly, save for Stringer and a few others. Public Advocate Letitia James, de Blasio’s successor and whose office is meant to serve as a watchdog over city government, declined to comment for this article through a spokesperson. James has largely stayed away from questions about de Blasio’s ethics and transparency issues, explaining her approach as more focused on the substance of agency work and using litigation and legislation to make policy change.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, ostensibly the second-most powerful elected official in the city, deflected when asked about the mayor’s defense of the Campaign for One New York and his transparency, at a news conference on Sept. 7, when the mayor’s ethics record was being argued over both on the primary election debate stage and throughout the ongoing race for mayor.

“We continue to have conversations in this Council and we continue to look at legislation to figure out how we can be more transparent,” she said. “That doesn’t just fall on the mayor, that falls on all of us to be more transparent in government.”

Mark-Viverito emphasized the Council’s measures to improve the Campaign Finance Board’s functioning and the laws governing campaign fundraising and spending. “Being a candidate and being an elected official is not easy,” she said. “The CFB rules are extremely complicated to follow and sometimes to keep track of and so sometimes you can get a little bit lost in them.”

When Gotham Gazette pointed out that the mayor’s Campaign for One New York operated outside of the CFB’s purview and asked if looking back on it she felt it was still ethical for the mayor to have created the group, Mark-Viverito said, “I’m not gonna respond to that at this moment. I haven’t really focused on it as of late. Again, what we strive to do is to be accountable to our constituents and that’s what I have been doing as an elected official, that’s what we do each and everyday and I’m gonna continue to strive down that path.”

Though she was quite reticent to weigh in on the issue when it was most relevant, Mark-Viverito did eventually spearhead the writing and passage of the legislation to rein in groups like Campaign for One New York, forcing the mayor’s hand on a measure that ensures few like it will ever exist in the future, given several new restrictions, like severe limits on what entities with city business can donate to nonprofits closely associated with an elected official. Even during that legislative process, Mark-Viverito, largely a de Blasio ally, took pains not to criticize the mayor directly, while tacitly and legislatively showing her disapproval. In signing the legislation, de Blasio refused to acknowledge that he had made any mistakes, but touted it as good legislation further reigning in money in politics.

Council Member Mark Levine, who is among a number of members running to be the next speaker of the Council, also gave a quasi-defense of the mayor. “I think he has to be judged by the fact that there was extensive scrutiny with considerable resources at multiple levels of government, local and federal, that left no stone unturned and determined there was not ground to charge,” he told Gotham Gazette, “and that at the end of the day is the most important standard and one that he justifiably touts, particularly in light of the months of leaks which gave him bad press for issues which ultimately were not deemed sufficient to charge on.”

But multiple City Council members, who did not wish to be named, felt differently. Separately, they gave similar opinions to one another, criticizing the mayor’s hypocrisy on transparency, his handling of the “agents of the city” emails, and his continued arrogance over escaping an indictment.

One Council member said the mayor was “vulnerable” on issues of transparency and that he faced “justifiable criticism” over his shielding of his emails, which did not seem at all legally defensible. The months of bad headlines, said the Council member, led to a “bunker mentality” and the mayor and his associates dug in their heels deeper. (Indeed, de Blasio has reopened himself to many more press questions since the investigations ended.)

Two Council members said the mayor’s shielding of his emails was largely an exercise in protecting his image rather than hiding instances of corruption. “It’s clear they are well aware of who their friends are,” said one member, of the mayor’s relationship with donors. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the contents of some of the “agents of the city” emails are especially gossipy and embarrassing.

Another Council member commended the press as the institution, more so than the City Council, that has most held the mayor accountable, and criticized the mayor for attacking the media’s reportage. The member noted that the Council did not use its subpoena power and did not act on the Campaign for One New York until after Common Cause NY, a good government group, filed an official complaint with the Campaign Finance Board.

That Council member also critiqued the mayor for not revealing who administration officials hold meetings with, an issue on which de Blasio had campaigned, and for not fully implementing the online FOIL portal. On the mayor’s Medium post, the Council member said, “It’s a little too cute to tell folks exactly who did what without using their names.”

‘Backwards on Police Transparency’
In April 2013, then-Public Advocate de Blasio released a “Transparency Report Card” that evaluated 18 city agencies on their response to FOIL requests. The two agencies that received a failing grade were the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the NYPD. A Village Voice analysis from April of the de Blasio administration’s handling of FOIL records showed that little had changed in more than three years. “A review of thousands of pages of FOIL records shows the city’s system for handling public information requests remains haphazard, under-resourced, and often excruciatingly slow. And the mayor’s own office is the slowest of all,” the report reads.

The mayor’s earlier criticism of the NYPD’s opaqueness perhaps most smacks of hypocrisy to police reform advocates who say his administration has not only not made progress, but actually backtracked on transparency at the police department. The NYPD, and then de Blasio, last year contended that successive administrations had for decades misinterpreted Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Code, which protects the personnel records of police officers from public disclosure. As the department saw it, the law prevents them from releasing “personnel orders” that summarize disciplinary actions taken against officers. These orders had routinely been released until the revised policy was put in place, and the city has fought tooth and nail to uphold its reinterpretation of the law, even appealing an unfavorable judicial ruling, and has pointed to the need for the state to change the law.  

“The de Blasio administration has taken the city backwards on police transparency and accountability with its misuse of state law 50-a to conceal information,” said Lumumba Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocacy groups. Bandele noted that, though the mayor released a proposal to change the law in Albany, there was little evidence that the administration made it a priority in this year’s legislative session. “On policing, this administration is misusing the law as an excuse for being less transparent than those of Bloomberg and Giuliani,” she added, “allowing the NYPD to shield police abuse and corruption from public scrutiny, and failing to provide leadership to improve police accountability and transparency.”

The notion -- that the de Blasio administration has been worse about NYPD transparency and accountability -- is one that was also echoed this year by City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is a de Blasio supporter overall.

Scrutiny and Change
Undoubtedly, scrutiny of the mayor’s actions led to change in his behavior. He stopped communicating with top lobbyists who were close to him and began to limit government-related interaction with outside consultants, particularly Jonathan Rosen, a confidante who was involved in the mayor’s 2013 campaign and the Campaign for One New York, and whose firm is again working on the mayor’s 2017 reelection bid. The scandals also prompted the legislation by the City Council -- which the mayor signed into law -- regulating donations to nonprofit groups affiliated with elected officials and requiring disclosure by these groups under the oversight of the Conflicts of Interest Board. And, de Blasio changed his “agency of the city” email transparency policy as he continues to battle in court to keep past emails secret.

But it’s unclear if the mayor, who won his primary handily and is expected to coast to reelection through the general, will take substantive steps to be more transparent. “[If] he gets a second term, I can’t see him as a lame duck being more transparent, so I think that’s a concern,” said Greer.

There’s no doubt that de Blasio’s general election opponents, chiefly Republican Nicole Malliotakis, a state Assembly member from Staten Island, will continue to make de Blasio’s ethics a focus of the campaign. The question remains, though, how much voters care. Political analysts note that most voters do not vote based on transparency and ethics issues unless there is a major scandal that has led someone to jail. Voters often vote based on “pocket book” and “kitchen table” issues like jobs, schools, and crime -- a point de Blasio himself regularly acknowledges at least tacitly.

Council Member Brad Lander, who was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation regulating political nonprofits, said it was more constructive to focus on the political system that allows, and in some way encourages, reliance on wealthy donors. “If we want elected officials in New York City to live up to a higher standard of good government, then the best approach is to strengthen our own rules,” he said. “That’s more valuable than focusing on individuals.”

This article is part of a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. Find all pieces of the series here.

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A TIMELINE of MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS RELATED to MAYOR DE BLASIO'S RECORD on ETHICS and TRANSPARENCY

November 2013: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio gets elected mayor of New York City after running a campaign in which he promised an unprecedented level of transparency in government. As Public Advocate, de Blasio issued a “Transparency Report Card” evaluating city agencies on their response to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. He chiefly criticized the NYPD for their lax FOIL response times, giving them a failing grade in his report.

December 2013: De Blasio’s allies set up UPKNYC, also known as the Campaign for One New York, an issue-advocacy nonprofit -- classified by the IRS as 501(c)(4)s -- that could solicit unlimited contributions and spend unlimited funds to promote the mayor’s agenda, namely promoting universal pre-kindergarten. Under law, the nonprofit was not required to disclose its donors. The mayor’s associates later set up another nonprofit called United For Affordable NYC, to promote his affordable housing plan. The Campaign for One New York eventually became the locus of two parallel investigations by federal and state prosecutors into the mayor’s fundraising practices and his effort to sway state Senate races in 2014.

July 2014: The Campaign for One New York voluntarily discloses its fundraising and donors to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and to the public, despite not being required to do so, showing $1.76 million in donations, a lot of which came from labor unions that have been big supporters of the mayor and from groups that do business with the city. The mayor faced scrutiny for allowing doing business donors to give unlimited amounts, whereas those same donors would’ve been limited in how much they could contribute to a campaign committee. The Campaign for One New York later shifted its focus towards the mayor’s larger progressive agenda, particularly affordable housing, after having already achieved the goal of funding universal pre-kindergarten in the city.

May 2015: De Blasio heads to Washington D.C. to launch “The Progressive Agenda,” a platform of progressive policies that he attempted to advocate for at the national level to try to influence issues in the presidential race. Another nonprofit, the Progressive Agenda Committee, is set up by October 2015 to helm the project. The group would have little to no impact before shutting down within less than a year, only making headlines for an aborted attempt at holding a presidential candidate forum in Iowa in December 2015.

The same day de Blasio was in Washington, the New York Times reports that the Campaign for One New York has come under scrutiny by JCOPE for not registering as a lobbying entity. In 2014, UPKNYC had registered as a lobbyist to promote universal pre-k.

July 2015: Yet again, the Campaign for One New York discloses its fundraising, showing another $1.7 million in fundraising over a six-month period. The donations came from unions, lobbyists, wealthy donors and real estate executives. A Politico New York analysis in September shows that 46 of 74 donors “either had business or labor contracts with City Hall or were trying to secure approval for a project when they contributed, public records show.” Over the next few months, de Blasio faces constant questioning about potential conflicts of interest and the perception of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall. The nonprofit groups also seem to slow down their operations and fundraising amid increased criticism.

Feb 2016: Common Cause New York, a government reform advocacy group, files a complaint with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board, requesting investigations of the Campaign for One New York and United for Affordable NYC. “The Mayor's unprecedented use of 501(c)(4) fundraising has spawned a shadow government that raises serious questions about who has influence and access to the policymaking process,” Common Cause NY said in a statement at the time. “It has created a perpetual campaign, confusing the role of government and politics, to the detriment of the public interest.”

March 2016: The Campaign for One New York announces plans to close down as the spectre of pay-to-play allegations begins to hound the administration. United for Affordable NYC ends operations in conjunction, but the Progressive Agenda Committee continues to exist with minimal staff.

April 2016: Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara reportedly begins looking into two de Blasio donors, in connection with a separate corruption case involving the NYPD. Both donors contributed to the mayor’s campaign as well and were part of his inauguration committee. CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reports that Bharara’s office had started focusing on the mayor’s fundraising practices. Mayor de Blasio, saying he was unaware of any federal investigation, says on April 11, “I’m not going to be speaking about this after today.”

On April 22, the New York Daily News reports on a leaked memo from the state Board of Elections regarding the mayor’s 2014 efforts to help Democrats win the state Senate. The memo alleges that de Blasio and his team circumvented campaign contribution limits to benefit three Democratic campaigns, thereby warranting criminal prosecution. (It would later emerge that the memo was released by a Republican BOE spokesperson.)

On April 28, after de Blasio’s counsel confirms having received subpoenas in parallel state and federal investigations into the mayor’s fundraising, de Blasio maintains his innocence. “Everything we’ve done from the beginning is legal and appropriate,” he said. “There’s an investigation going on, we’re going to fully cooperate with that investigation.”

May 2016: A lawyer for the Campaign for One New York tells JCOPE that the nonprofit would stop complying with subpoenas, suggesting that the probe into CONY has become politically motivated.

On May 18, Mayor de Blasio promises to produce a list of donors who contributed to the Campaign for One New York but did not receive favors from City Hall, insisting that his administration makes decision based on merit and not on favoritism.

The same month, de Blasio comes under fire for shielding his email exchanges with five unpaid outside advisers, some of whom have business with the city. The administration terms them “agents of the city” and argues that they are exempt from disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law.

June 2016: The administration releases selected emails from outside consultants to Politico New York, in response to long-pending FOIL requests.

July 2016: The New York City Campaign Finance Board rules that the Campaign for One New York did not violate campaign finance law and that donations and spending by the group do not count towards the mayor’s 2017 reelection campaign. But, the board criticized the mayor’s fundraising practices, which they saw as circumventing the city’s strict campaign finance restrictions, and called on the City Council to pass legislation to close the loophole.  

“New York City’s system depends on reasonable contribution limits that reduce the appearance that influence can be bought or sold through campaign contributions,” said then-CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn. “It defies common sense that limits that work so well during the campaign should be set aside once the candidate has assumed elected office.”

August 2016: A battle brewing in the background for months over NYPD officers’ disciplinary records came front and center as the New York Daily News reported that the department would no longer release “personnel orders” summarizing disciplinary actions against officers. Then-Commissioner Bill Bratton insisted that the city had long misinterpreted a decades-old state law -- Section 50-A of the New York State civil rights code-- that had led to the release of officer records. The law has been a particular sticking point for police reform advocates incensed over the administration’s efforts to protect the disciplinary record of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a banned chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014. Mayor de Blasio, whose administration has been fighting for well over two years to shield Pantaleo’s record, insisted his hands were tied on 50-A unless the state Legislature took action to change the provision.

At an unrelated news conference in late August, de Blasio said he had stopped meeting with lobbyists, chiefly James Capalino, a top lobbyist and advisor to the mayor. “He, going into the mayoralty, was someone I respected as a friend and who I talked to a lot over the years,” de Blasio said. “But I do not have contact with him anymore.”

September 2016: Two media outlets -- NY1 and the New York Post -- sue the mayor for the release of emails exchanged with Jonathan Rosen, of the consulting firm Berlin Rosen, who is one of the mayor’s “agents of the city.”

That month, the City Council begins drafting legislation to regulate political nonprofits like the Campaign for One New York. Multiple bills were formulated to implement additional disclosure rules for these groups and to bring them under the purview of the Conflicts of Interest Board.

October 2016: After weeks of criticizing the New York Post for their coverage of his administration, de Blasio repeatedly ignores Post reporter Yoav Gonen’s questions at an October 6 news conference. Gonen presses on with questions, leading to heated words from the mayor, who calls the Post a “right-wing rag” before moving on to other reporters. The incident earns the mayor widespread condemnation from local media.

That same month, amid increasing criticism over the administration’s stance on Section 50-A, de Blasio releases a legislative proposal calling on Albany to amend the law to remove confidentiality provisions and make the full disciplinary records of officer available to the public. “Without significant changes to this statute, the city remains barred from providing New Yorkers with the transparency we deserve," the mayor said.

November 2016: The Council introduces legislation to curb political nonprofits, particularly limiting contributions from entities and individuals with business before the city. Nonprofit groups would also have to disclose their donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.

On November 23, the administration releases thousands of pages of emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and Jonathan Rosen, who was among those classified as “agents of the city” to prevent disclosure.

At a November 29 news conference, de Blasio indicated to the press that he had reduced contact with Rosen. “I think it’s fair to say that it’s pretty rare I’m talking to people, but each situation is individual,” he said at the time.

December 2016: On his weekly appearance on NY1 on December 5, de Blasio tells anchor Errol Louis that his communications with outside advisors and consultants will no longer be shielded from disclosure.  

On December 15, the New York Times reports that two grand juries have been convened to hear testimony on the state and federal investigations into the mayor’s administration and fundraising. De Blasio continues to maintain that he and his associates acted legally and appropriately, following guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board and from campaign lawyers.

March 2017: Federal and state prosecutors jointly announced on March 17 that de Blasio and his aides would not face charges in the dual year-long investigations into the administration. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance criticized the mayor in a statement, saying that de Blasio and his associates violated the spirit and intent of the campaign finance law. Joon H. Kim, acting-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, noted that the investigation looked into “several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the City, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors.”

De Blasio, at a news conference that day, said the conclusion of the investigations “simply confirms what I’ve said all along. My staff and my colleagues and I have acted in a manner that was legal and appropriate and ethical throughout. This is something I feel very strongly about in public service – that we have to comport ourselves in the proper manner and we have done that, and that has been confirmed by the results of this investigation.”

Also in March, a Manhattan appeals court rules in favor of the de Blasio administration in the case of Officer Pantaleo’s disciplinary record, superseding two earlier lower court decisions that had allowed the release of some information.

April 2017: After months of delaying his promise to provide a list of donors who did not receive favored treatment from City Hall, de Blasio partly backtracks and insists that he will pen an op-ed by the end of April that would mention certain relevant instances. (He had been hesitant to release the list earlier, citing the ongoing investigations.)

August 2017: The de Blasio administration releases more emails that show two donors who were embroiled in a police corruption scandal had relatively easy access to the mayor.  

At the first Democratic mayoral primary debate on August 23, de Blasio concedes that the op-ed on donors is forthcoming and would be released before the September 12 primary. On September 1, de Blasio delivers in the form of a post on Medium, an online publishing website. The post reads more as a screed against the media and contains only four instances involving unnamed donors to illustrate the mayor’s point. Some of those had emerged from emails released by the administration earlier in the month.

“Media reports on these contacts fixated on their access to me and ignored the fair and transparent outcomes that followed,” the mayor writes. “Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City. Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”

September 6: The second mayoral primary debate begins with a heavy focus on de Blasio’s ethics.

September 12: De Blasio handily wins the Democratic primary for mayor.

November 7: Election Day

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This article is part of a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. Find all pieces of the series here.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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De Blasio’s Record on Ethics and Transparency Sun, 22 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Risks and Rewards in De Blasio’s Bevy of City Council Endorsements http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7187:risks-and-rewards-in-de-blasio-s-bevvy-of-city-council-endorsements http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7187:risks-and-rewards-in-de-blasio-s-bevvy-of-city-council-endorsements ayala de blasio

City Council candidate Diana Ayala (photo: @DianaAyala2017)


Mayor Bill de Blasio is a heavy favorite heading into Tuesday's primary election, which includes numerous races across the city for which the Democratic primary is determinative of the next officeholder. In certain City Council races, de Blasio has endorsed candidates for the primary, including a small flurry of support just a few days before voters head to the polls, in what could be a sign that the mayor and his allies are concerned about turnout.

But it’s unclear what effect, if any, the mayor’s endorsement will have on Council races and what victories, or losses, by his preferred candidates will mean for the incumbent mayor’s likely second term. Like any mayor, de Blasio must work with the City Council to pass key priorities, whether legislation or land use projects. The mayor takes some measure of risk by getting involved in contentious primaries, but may also reap the reward of having supported the next City Council member.

De Blasio has pledged his support in numerous competitive Council races. Among others, in “open” seats he has endorsed Carlina Rivera for District 2, Diana Ayala for District 8, Assemblymember Francisco Moya for District 21, and Alicka Samuel for District 41. For reelection, he has endorsed, among others, Council Members Bill Perkins for District 9, Rafael Salamanca Jr. for District 17, Antonio Reynoso for District 34, Mathieu Eugene for District 40, and Debi Rose for District 49. The mayor also appears to be supportive of other candidates, especially Council Member Laurie Cumbo, without making a formal endorsement.

“The Mayor is proud to endorse Councilmembers and candidates across the City who have been progressive champions for their communities,” said Dan Levitan, a de Blasio campaign spokesperson, in an email. Levitan did not respond specifically to Gotham Gazette’s questions about how the mayor decided in which races to endorse.

“It all depends on the district,” said Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College, CUNY, of the effect the mayor’s support will have. “His endorsement in some districts will be fatal and in others, it will be a net-positive.”

“It’ll be a test to see what kinds of coattails he has, particularly in what portends to be a very low turnout election,” Muzzio said, acknowledging he hadn’t studied closely de Blasio’s Council endorsements. Samuel, for example, is running in a crowded primary in central Brooklyn, and de Blasio was on the campaign trail with her this weekend. He also campaigned with Ayala, who is locked in a tough head-to-head with Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez.

Muzzio said that endorsements “don’t really mean much” and that voters are more likely to be swayed by the campaign’s get out the vote efforts. “The mayor and the candidate feel that there’s a value in being endorsed by the mayor. It’s sort of a tautology,” he said. “It’s true because it’s true.” And if a preferred candidate loses, Muzzio said, it can be spun negatively against the mayor. “The mayor’s got no clout” could be one argument or “The voters reject his agenda,” could be another, he said.

One prominent Democratic strategist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that de Blasio’s Council endorsements signal something about the mayor’s campaign. "The mayor's last second endorsement blitz overlaps very strongly with his base areas - it could mean they are a little worried about driving out their voters,” the strategist said. “It's a smart move by the mayor because these candidates winning or losing does not matter much in the end to the mayor and he's going to be able to significantly amplify his election day field operation."

Indeed, de Blasio himself and his campaign representatives have indicated they expect a very low turnout election. The mayor has implored Democrats to get out to vote. His main primary opponent, former City Council Member Sal Albanese, has expressed optimism about Tuesday’s results.

There’s no reliable metric to gauge the effect of an endorsement, said George Arzt, a longtime Democratic political consultant who is only involved in the District 38 Council race where de Blasio has not intervened. Short of conducting costly exit polling, it’s hard to tell if the mayor’s endorsement has any effect, he said. “I’ve never found there is a strong transferral when someone endorses,” he said.

He noted the clear risks and rewards that could accrue for the mayor. “The risks are that the person who he didn’t support wins and votes against him on issues of concern,” Arzt said. “The reward is that you get a friend who will vote for you for major issues.”

Arzt also emphasized the resulting spin from the results, because “you don’t know who’s gonna win.” And he doesn’t expect all of the mayor’s favored candidates to be victorious. “That’s never the case and will never be the case,” he said.

De Blasio did not choose to endorse candidates in many competitive races taking place across the city. For instance, in District 35, where Council Member Cumbo is facing a strong primary challenge from Ede Fox, the mayor did not make an endorsement, but his team at City Hall has lent material support to Cumbo’s campaign. The race has increasingly become a referendum on the mayor’s affordable housing and rezoning policies, revolving around the proposed redevelopment of the Bedford Union Armory, and closer association with de Blasio could mean a death knell for Cumbo’s reelection.

Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran political consultant, said the mayor’s endorsements could be helpful, particularly in districts with large populations of middle-aged black women, who Sheinkopf termed “the perfect voter” or those most likely to turn out to vote. It’s a demographic that continues to support de Blasio. “You could argue that in Caribbean-American, African-American neighborhoods, his endorsement will have value,” Sheinkopf said.

He noted though that in District 35, a potential mayoral endorsement “cuts both ways.” His support would encourage turnout by black voters, he said, but would also hurt Cumbo’s chances.

But Sheinkopf emphasized that issues on which the mayor is not well-liked -- affordable housing, homelessness, quality-of-life -- differ from district to district. In areas where affordable housing is being built, for instance, the mayor’s endorsement may help. And in areas where homeless shelter siting has become an issue, it would undoubtedly be a negative. “In order for an endorsement to work, it has to be specific to the district,” he said.

Mayoral endorsements work in places “where people will have an emotional bond for the mayor,” he said, otherwise it’s simply a “pro forma gesture.”

In certain races, the mayor’s involvement could also mean upheaval. De Blasio has not weighed in on the Brooklyn District Attorney’s race, which is one of the most important races in the city this year. The race, where Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez is considered the frontrunner, has revolved around reforming the DA’s office rather than stronger enforcement of crimes. Most of the candidates have sought to show more leniency in enforcement of low-level offenses, particularly in cases involving communities of color.

“What’s playing there is that white ethnics don’t like the mayor and whoever he endorses, they would turnout against,” Sheinkopf said. “So staying out of it was smart.” The mayor’s intervention, he said, would also lead to larger discussions about stop-and-frisk policing, quality-of-life offenses such as public urination -- which was decriminalized under this administration -- and the safety of NYPD police officers. “Whoever he would try to help would be hurt by it,” Sheinkopf added.

One possible outcome of de Blasio’s involvement in City Council races is what sway he has in helping to choose the next Speaker of the City Council. The position will be filled in January by the next class of Council members. In 2013 into 2014, de Blasio had significant pull as he was at the height of his prowess after dominating the election, and he helped install Melissa Mark-Viverito to the powerful post. Council members backed by de Blasio in tough elections this fall may be more easily persuaded to back a de Blasio-preferred speaker candidate come January. The opposite could also very well be true, of course.

In District 49, Democratic primary candidate Kamillah Payne-Hanks didn’t seem perturbed by the mayor’s endorsement of Council Member Debi Rose. “It wasn’t surprising,” she said. “I think it’s expected and it doesn’t change what we have to do. It’s up to the voters.”

She stressed that she has run a positive campaign focused on her priorities, which include workforce development and middle-class housing in the proposed Bay Street corridor rezoning. “People have some issues with [the mayor] but they’re not my issues,” she said. “Whether or not there’s enough of those people remains to be seen. I think I ran a good race.”

Pia Raymond, who is challenging Council Member Mathieu Eugene in District 40, believes the mayor’s endorsement will not swing voters one way or the other. “I’m confident that the voice of the community will resonate, I’m confident in our democracy,” she said.

“The beautiful thing is our community is independent minded,” she added, stressing the ethnic, racial, and class diversity of the district. “I’m confident they will vote on their experience within this community. I don’t think their experience can be influenced by one person.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Risks and Rewards in De Blasio’s Bevy of City Council Endorsements Mon, 11 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
The Issues Likely to Dominate The 2017 Mayoral Race http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6977:the-issues-likely-to-dominate-2017-mayoral-race http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6977:the-issues-likely-to-dominate-2017-mayoral-race de blasio children schools

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Candidates running for mayor have begun to gather signatures to get on the ballot, bringing election season into full swing. Mayor Bill de Blasio is in a relatively comfortable position and polls show that he is likely to sail to reelection, but it is still relatively early, with September primary and November general elections on the horizon. Anything can happen in a political campaign.

As the mayor prepares to spend the next six months asking New Yorkers to give him another four years, he will also have to defend his first term record and set out a vision for a second term. As is often the case with incumbents, the election will largely be a referendum on de Blasio’s mayoralty.

Much of the focus of campaigns can be on polls, endorsements, and fundraising numbers, all of which have some importance. But the issues matter the most, and while there are some topics that will always be essential to a New York City mayoral election -- schools and public safety, to name two -- the particular candidates and context of an election also determine the major issues dominating the political discourse.

Sometimes, the issues can be different as things shift from primaries to the general election. Other times, it’s simply the frame of the conversation. For example, de Blasio will have to fend off criticism from his left in the primary, then from his right in the general, assuming he wins in September -- as Republicans say de Blasio is soft on crime, his opponents on the left argue his policing policies are too harsh. “That’s politics,” said Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College. “Welcome to the profession. You can’t win.”

There can always be something unforeseen that takes center stage, a crisis or scandal of some kind, a singular event that demands significant attention.

Experts and political observers say that on a few issues, de Blasio finds his record largely unassailable, while on others he is vulnerable. How the race shapes up will depend on how challengers highlight those issues, and which concerns are likely to resonate with the electorate. Several other candidates vying to be Mayor have begun to define their campaigns on certain issues, while others are always key to the mayoral discussion.

The Democratic Primary
In the Democratic primary, de Blasio faces a slew of candidates but only two of them, former City Council Member Sal Albanese and police reform activist Robert Gangi, seem to be raising funds to run competitive campaigns. While they’ve both been eclipsed by de Blasio’s fundraising -- the mayor has millions in his reelection account while both Gangi and Albanese have yet to break $100,000 -- the two challengers are mounting issue-focused campaigns, hoping to gain traction by criticizing the mayor from the left, perhaps appealing to some of de Blasio’s progressive supporters who are displeased by the mayor’s record.

Albanese and Gangi are also critical of the mayor not from a political philosophy, but regarding management and ethics, two aspects of de Blasio’s record that he will have to answer to throughout the campaign, including during the primary and, if he moves on, the general.

Gangi, a veteran activist, has based his campaign largely on criticizing the mayor’s record on police reform, saying that de Blasio has not gone far enough in reforming the NYPD and its practices. Although crime has continued to drop to historic lows under de Blasio and stop-and-frisk has been significantly curtailed, the NYPD continues to employ “Broken Windows” policing with de Blasio’s blessing, targeting low-level offenders to prevent more serious crimes. It is a practice that Gangi says he would abolish, pointing to racial disparities in arrest and summons data.

The mayor has also been questioned when it comes to officer accountability. Of particular focus is Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner. Pantaleo is still on the force, though on modified duty. De Blasio has said the NYPD is awaiting the end of a federal inquiry into Garner’s death and that the department is ready to take disciplinary measures if no federal civil rights charges are brought. The incident is part of a larger trend where de Blasio has agreed to shield the disciplinary records of police officers, citing state law as a barrier.

Gangi has stressed that the NYPD’s use of broken windows is abusive and discriminatory against communities of color, and has vowed to end it. He also says the NYPD uses quotas in policing, which the department has consistently denied, and proposes decriminalizing fare evasion, marijuana possession, sex work, and gravity knife possession. Gangi’s points on NYPD accountability and transparency, and de Blasio’s policing record, are symbolic of a not small group of activists who are unhappy with the mayor’s police reforms.

“I don’t think that’s gonna resonate,” said Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, of criticism of the mayor’s police reform record. “[De Blasio] has certain constraints governing...He can only do so much and the purists are gonna say he’s never doing enough. The perfectionists, the people who are committed to certain policy positions are never gonna be happy.” It’s an argument de Blasio has made while pointing to the policies he has put in place, including neighborhood policing, retraining of the entire NYPD force in de-escalation techniques, and a body camera program that has just launched in pilot.

A pack of issues that Gangi has been vocal about is reducing school overcrowding and class sizes, promoting desegregation of schools, and hiring more teachers. Education is always a mayoral campaign issue. While de Blasio has touted higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates, higher standardized test scores, and a wide-reaching “equity and excellence” agenda that seeks to foster more opportunity and progress across all city schools, there are still many schools that show shockingly poor results. While de Blasio has infused significant funds into his Renewal Schools program and attempted to make the most struggling schools into community schools that have wraparound services, the Renewal program has shown lackluster results. Class sizes and school overcrowding continue to plague many schools.

Sal Albanese, a former school teacher and elected official, has also made education reform one of his top agenda items and has proposed a number of improvements to the schools system. Among them, consolidating early childhood education programs under one agency to reduce fiscal waste and increase access, creating more early childhood programs, ensuring wage parity for early educators, improving teacher recruitment and training, and enhancing accountability for principals while affording them increased authority.

Albanese has also pledged to expand community policing -- a citywide expansion is already underway in phases with most precincts already covered under the new Neighborhood Coordinating Officers (NCO) program -- and has vowed a more equitable distribution of resources and personnel to precincts. Albanese, who also ran in the 1997 and 2013 Democratic primaries for Mayor, regularly says that morale in the NYPD is terrible and that as Mayor he would improve it dramatically.

Albanese has also been a fervent critic of de Blasio’s relationship with special interests, particularly the real estate industry, and has called the mayor’s a “corrupt and incompetent administration.” He cites numerous conflicts of interest, including through de Blasio’s now-shuttered Campaign for One New York, a political nonprofit that accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from entities with city business and was a focus of a federal investigation, for which the mayor and his associates were not brought up on charges.

Albanese also criticizes the city’s public campaign finance system, which is seen as a model by many. He proposes reforming the system and establishing “democracy vouchers” that would be given to voters who can then use those vouchers to make campaign contributions to the candidate of their choice, fully eliminating private money from the process and giving each voter the same financial influence in campaigns.

On his campaign website as of June 6, Albanese features briefly outlined plans on mass transit, housing, animal care, public safety, political reform, and education.

One major question hanging over the Democratic primary is whether there will be any formal debates, which can be an important way for candidates to get their messages out, raise key issues, and criticize the frontrunner. The Campaign Finance Board will run two primetime, televised debates in the primary if the candidates meet the thresholds, which are different for the first and the second. The first debate requires candidates to raise and spend at least $174,225 and can also include additional criteria such as a minimum polling average.

Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, decried a lack of a competition on the Democratic side. Saying “it doesn’t really seem like there’s gonna be a robust Democratic primary,” Greer lamented that de Blasio may not “be tested” on four issues she believes many New Yorkers, especially in the mayor’s base, are thinking about: “affordable housing, homelessness, Rikers and all the things that come underneath Rikers, and transportation.”

Greer points out that without a competitive primary challenge, “we’re sort of leaving the mayor to rest on what I think is a pretty legitimate record, but at the same time there’s no one to push him to do and say more... And while I do think that de Blasio deserves a second term, I would like to see a competitive primary where he articulates not just what he’s done but a new vision for the next four years which, I don’t really know if we’ve heard that just yet.”

The Republican Primary
On the Republican side, the race is shaping up as a head-to-head battle between Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis and real estate executive Paul Massey. The two candidates have taken largely similar policy positions, though Massey is running as more of a centrist, “non-political” manager who calls himself “independent-minded,” and Malliotakis is running as a more traditional Republican, even more conservative than many New York City members of the GOP. Tellingly, Malliotakis has the Conservative Party endorsement while Massey has the Independence Party endorsement.

Neither candidate has defined themselves on any issue or set of issues. Massey has been closer, painting himself as a seasoned executive who would run the city with ideas from “across the political spectrum” a la Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Both GOP candidates criticize de Blasio on a wide variety of topics, a list that seems to grow by the day. They have regularly taken on the mayor’s approach to public safety, especially for reducing penalties for certain low-level nonviolent offenses, and generally raising the spectre of worsening quality of life in the city.

Both have condemned the city’s homelessness crisis and de Blasio’s management of it. They point to the mayor’s proclivity for spending more money to get what they call meager results. Education has been a top priority, both calling for more school choice and better management of “failing” schools.

Where they differ is on certain social issues -- Malliotakis is generally more conservative than Massey and voted against same-sex marriage in 2011 in the Assembly. Malliotakis also opposes New York’s “sanctuary city” status while Massey has called for the policy to remain as it is, pointing to the need for new federal immigration policy.

Massey has begun releasing policy papers, including on education and public safety, while Malliotakis, who joined the race much more recently, has promised more detail in her policy plans.

“Malliotakis and Massey, they haven’t made an impact,” Muzzio said of the Republican field thus far, in an assertion supported by recent poll numbers. “Now the Republicans are gonna say that, ‘[de Blasio’s] a wildly spending liberal, he’s giving the store away.’ You know, typical Republican critique of a Democrat.” Muzzio is correct, especially given that the mayor and City Council just announced a new budget agreement that again raises city spending. Both leading GOP candidates released statements criticizing the mayor for continuing to grow the city budget, throwing good money after bad, they say.

Their critique of the mayor’s policing policy is also typical of the ideological right, said Muzzio. “Those people that are committed ideologically to stop-and-frisk and Broken Windows aren’t happy with him,” he said. “And they’re predicting gloom and doom. It hasn’t happened yet and it might not happen but they’re still gonna charge him with softness on crime.” Both candidates point to specific areas where crime is up, whether through de Blasio’s term or one year to another. They also point to a mostly vague sense that the city is slipping backward.

Greer believes the Republican candidates will have to establish where they stand vis-a-vis their party’s top elected official, President Donald Trump. “They’re just gonna have to figure out how close or far away they’re going to position themselves to Trump,” she said. It’s a certainty that de Blaiso, if a winner in his primary, will seek to paint his general election GOP opponent with a Trump brush.

Massey has repeatedly said he does not want the mayoral election to be a referendum on Trump, which he believes would play into the mayor’s hands as he uses the president as a foil. Malliotakis is a vocal Trump supporter and voted for him after supporting Marco Rubio in the GOP presidential primary. Massey has said he wrote in Michael Bloomberg for president in November.

Greer points out that Republican arguments about rising crime are often based in “falsehoods” and says that the mismanagement critique of de Blasio may not stick, given some of his successes, like universal pre-kindergarten, and that people respond to pocketbook and kitchen table issues.

“I think the Republicans will be jockeying to figure out their messaging as far as whether or not they’re going to double down and support the president or try and distance themselves, to try to look a little bit more moderate,” Greer said. This may take a different shape in the primary than the general election.

Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, doesn’t believe that the Republicans will be able to make crime an issue in the general election. “I think with the crime issue, it’s hard for the Republican candidate to make a case that de blasio isn’t doing a good job on crime,” she said. “I think people feel generally safe, I think certainly compared to 15 years ago or longer than that.”

Although Gelinas said that public safety would be an important issue in the debates, she doubted it would gain traction. “There’s always lots to criticize any mayor about policing, there’s always examples of police incompetence and corruption, there’s always crimes,” she said. “But can [Republicans] make this into a systemic crisis?...on the one hand crime hasn’t soared, on the other hand although there’s always problems of police brutality and so forth, nobody can make the case that it’s systemically gotten any worse under de Blasio and it’s probably gotten better with the number of stop-question-and-frisks having gone down. So I don’t think that’ll get very far.”

Gelinas said the top three issues, on both sides of the aisle, “are always jobs, education and housing.”

She pointed out that retail job growth, which recovered faster than most of the country after the recession, is slowing with a national trend, but wouldn’t be a serious issue before the September primary or the November general election. On housing, she said candidates have yet to express concrete proposals that go beyond the mayor’s stated goal of creating and preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years. For Massey, housing has been a particular priority and he is pitching his decades of experience in the real estate industry as necessary to solve it. Massey ran a commercial sales business that took a neighborhood by neighborhood approach at a very opportune time in the city’s renaissance.

Gelinas did say that de Blasio has not been responsible with the budget and would face criticism for it. Spending under the mayor has increased by about 20 percent since Mayor Bloomberg’s last budget, with the mayor and City Council agreeing on an $85.2 billion budget just last week. It’s one of the main Republican critiques, including by Malliotakis who has called de Blasio the “tax-and-spend” mayor.

“But it’s hard to get voters to pay attention to that when there’s not a budget crisis,” said Gelinas. “I mean Bloomberg was elected partly because of 9/11 and people thought the city is going to have a huge budget crisis and we need this business person to address it. And it’s hard to see anyone thinking that anytime before September or November.”

On issues of quality of life, such as traffic congestion, noise and illegal construction work, Gelinas said de Blasio is vulnerable. “It’s still hard to marshall a critical mass of voters on these issues partly because people get so used to it,” she said.

The General Crisis
What should be the main issue in the election, Gelinas said, is transit infrastructure, “because elections sometimes are driven by crises. “The last time it was the perception of the inequality crisis, the elections before that, ‘Would the city recover after 9/11?’ Before that the crime crisis and the budget crisis.”

De Blasio is already dealing with the inequality crisis, she said, by implementing and expanding measures such as universal pre-kindergarten. But there seems to be no plan for the ever-worsening transit, particularly the city’s subway system. “This is affecting everybody’s quality of life,” she added. “If you go to work, if you go to school, if you’re looking for a job, if you’re poor, middle class or wealthier. It does hit the poor and middle classes the hardest. Because if you’re wealthy you have other options of getting around but most everybody else is stuck on the mass transit system that isn’t serving them well anymore.”

The mayor has been at pains to emphasize that the MTA, which serves the most commuters in the city and hence draws the most ire, is controlled by a state authority and Governor Andrew Cuomo, his longtime political rival. In doing so, the mayor has also laid the transit issues at the governor’s feet, washing his hands of the problems and hence the responsibility, though he is not completely without any. The city contributes billions to the MTA capital plan, and the mayor appoints members to the MTA board. While his power is nowhere near the governor’s, many fault de Blasio for being too quick to ignore the subway woes, saying that he should be talking about it constantly, riding the subways more, and working with the governor and MTA for solutions.

And, over the budget season, City Council members and transit advocates pressed the mayor to fund the “Fair Fares” proposal to provide discounted MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers and he repeatedly refused to do so.

“The mayor obviously doesn’t control the MTA but he does make a capital contribution to the MTA,” Gelinas pointed out. “Should the city be making a bigger contribution to build a better signal system? Also the city does manage all of the street level transportation and that’s not being managed very well either. It doesn’t seem like the mayor walks around, understands what’s going on on the streets...I think it’s good that the mayor did the ferries but even the ferries are being overwhelmed [initially] which show you how much demand there is for transportation that’s not being met.”

De Blasio often highlights his transportation agenda of a new ferry network, expanded Citi Bike service, and the looking Brooklyn-Queens Connector, or BQX, light-rail streetcar.

Greer agreed that transportation in the city is in crisis, and that the mayor must take some responsibility for it, even if it’s not under his purview. “Transportation affects so many New Yorkers across class lines,” she said. “There’s a sense of frustration because the mayor and the governor can’t ever agree on anything and get along.”

Poor New Yorkers in particular, she said, are looking to de Blasio to relieve them of this particular financial burden. “To me this is a relatively low-hanging fruit issue,” Greer said, “where he could distance himself from the governor, he could be a champion for the poor...So I think the frustration is that de Blasio’s by far the most progressive of everyone who’s running, by far the one who cares the most about poor people in New York of all the candidates. So for him to ignore the issue in the way he has is frustrating and I think should be one of the primary issues moving forward. It’s just difficult because there’s no foil for him that helps push it.”

Of all those seeking to unseat de Blasio, Albanese has taken the most interest in the subways, riding them daily and tweeting pictures and comments. He’s said he plans to be “the transit mayor.” He blames de Blasio for not being vocal enough on the issue, while others have pointed out that de Blasio’s bad relationship with Gov. Cuomo is hurting the city on a variety of fronts.

It is to be seen whether Albanese can galvanize activists and regular New Yorkers who are frustrated by public transit to oppose de Blasio and support his candidacy. The same goes for Gangi and the issues he’s focused on, like police reform, and the Republican candidates, Malliotakis and Massey, who are still working to define their candidacies as other than anti-de Blasio.

“You used the term ‘race,’” said Muzzio, of Baruch, when asked about the key issues in the mayoral race. “There is no race either in the Democratic primary or the general election. So the issues will probably be understated, they won’t be widely publicized because of the nature of the competition.”

Muzzio said de Blasio is likely to talk about his accomplishments including implementing universal pre-kindergarten, lowering crime and creating affordable housing. “He’s gonna push all the issues that surround equality,” Muzzio added. “Opponents are going to hit him for more stylistic and political reasons, you know his questionable ethics, his chronic lateness, his arrogance, et cetera.”

As de Blasio’s campaign gathers momentum, a few of his priorities have become clear. He has already pledged a renewed effort to tackle the city’s affordability crisis, chiefly through a housing plan already underway and a new jobs plan announced in his State of the City earlier this year. Although the mayor has been slow to reveal an actual plan to create 100,000 “good-paying” jobs over the next ten years, it is likely to be a talking point that candidates on both sides of the aisle will address.

Another pressing issue, one that de Blasio was late to, is the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex. After facing significant political pressure from City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and others, and years of consistent advocacy by criminal justice reform activists, the mayor announced his intention to close Rikers jails in ten years. However, his administration has not created a blueprint for accomplishing that goal and nor has he provided sufficient clarity on how he would achieve the alternative of setting up community jails across four boroughs (He’s already promised that no new facility would be sited on Staten Island). Still, the mayor is already touting his Rikers decision on the campaign trail.

Other issues may also be forced upon the race by developments at the national level, including President Trump’s recent announcement of the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Accord on tackling climate change. De Blasio signed an executive order Friday for the city to voluntarily adhere to the accord’s benchmarks, not a stretch given the city’s prior commitments to larger environmental protection goals, but which thrust climate change into the city political discussion.

A variety of other topics will at least be touched on during the mayoral campaign, such as the city’s public housing authority, NYCHA, and public hospital system, both of which are in financial crisis, and de Blasio’s plans to rezone up to 15 neighborhoods as part of his affordable housing plan. It's clear, though, that the discussion will almost always center around de Blasio, his record and his character.

The race could also potentially be affected by the wild card candidacy of Bo Dietl, a private detective and retired NYPD officer. A brash Trumpian character, Dietl has invited controversy with his off-the-cuff, and off-color, remarks. He initially sought to run as a Democrat against de Blasio in the primary, and then attempted to get on the Republican ticket after making a mistake in his party registration. That effort failed as well when Republican county leaders refused to allow him to run on their party line (he’s still attempting to join one of the primaries, but may continue on as an independent, influencing the general election campaign). Dietl has raised most of the same issues as Massey and Malliotakis, with a focus on public safety, and has wealthy donors willing to back him, giving him the chance to play a somewhat disruptive role in the race.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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The Issues Likely to Dominate The 2017 Mayoral Race Tue, 06 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Trump Could Tip Key Races for State Senate Control http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6482:trump-could-tip-key-races-for-state-senate-control http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6482:trump-could-tip-key-races-for-state-senate-control Trump NY GOP

photo: @NewYorkGOP


New York State Senate Democrats have picked up seats in every presidential year in the past two decades. They’ve been chomping at the bit for Hillary Clinton, a former New York Senator, to head the presidential ticket, telling anyone who would listen that she would bolster turnout for them and win them swing districts, thereby securing them control of the chamber, perhaps for good.

What the Senate minority didn’t count on was the Republican presidential candidate being toxic to black and Hispanic voters and alienating a significant portion of his own base, giving even greater hope to Democrats for a takeover of the only lasting Republican stronghold in New York State government.

According to recent polls, that is exactly the situation Senate Democrats are in, and their optimism is running high. With less than three months until Election Day a Siena University poll released Monday found that in a two-way race, New York voters prefer Clinton to Donald Trump 57-27 percent.

Worse for Senate Republicans who hope to hold off Democrats in key races on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley is that Trump trails Clinton in both the suburbs and upstate by 11 and 8 points, respectively. “The top of the ticket has always had a major impact for us,” Democratic State Senator Mike Gianaris of Queens told Gotham Gazette, referring to the fact that more Democrats vote in presidential years than non-presidential years. “I think the top of the ticket is going to be a real problem for Senate Republicans.”

Scott Reif, spokesperson for Senate Republicans, sent Gotham Gazette the following statement: "Rather than hope and change, the entire campaign strategy of the Senate Democrats this year seems to be hope and hope. They hope that the Republican presidential candidate is a drag on the bottom of the ticket. They hope that Hillary Clinton has long enough coattails to sweep them into office. The Senate Democrats don't stand for anything and they have no vision for where they want to lead this state. We're going to grow our majority because we have delivered for hard working New Yorkers, starting with a $4.2 billion income tax cut that will slash middle-class taxes by 20 percent and a record level of support for education, including complete elimination of the GEA."

Mike Murphy, spokesperson for Senate Democrats, responded: “The GOP are getting desperate. This year will be a historic year for Democrats. The people are sick and tired of the Republican Conference that has blocked women's health choices, stood up for special interests and elected corrupt leader after corrupt leader.”

There are currently 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans in the chamber but Republicans maintain control with the help of Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder, who caucuses with Republicans, and the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, which has a governing coalition agreement with Republicans. The IDC appears to be in the process of strengthening its position and attempting to expand its membership in anticipation of Democratic victories. Meanwhile, leading Senate Democrats met with Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this month to discuss efforts to win the chamber, as first reported by Politico New York.

Cuomo has historically allied himself with Senate Republicans, at times promising support to Senate Democrats that never appeared. Some insiders insist the meeting shows that Cuomo sees the writing on the wall and that he will look to keep his influence in the chamber by utilizing the IDC. Several Senate Democrats said that Cuomo has shown more interest in supporting Democrats this year than he has since he was elected in 2010. Still, Senate Democrats say as much as they would like his support, they aren’t counting on it.

According to Democrats, political experts, and polls, Trump is driving away parts of the Republican base. The GOP nominee’s rhetoric appears to be energizing pockets of new voters who want to see him defeated. Eighty-five percent of black voters surveyed said they would vote for Clinton if the contest was “held today,” with only 8 percent saying they would vote for Trump. Seventy-six percent of Latinos surveyed said they would vote for Clinton if the race was “held today,” while 10 percent said they would vote for Trump.

African-Americans and Hispanics are two voting blocs that will have major impact in races on Long Island. Senate Democrats have policies that appeal to many voters of color, including criminal justice reform measures and the DREAM Act, which provides financial aid to children of undocumented immigrants. Senate Republicans have blocked these reforms in Albany.

Republicans charge that Democrats have been bad for the economy, namely for small businesses and job creation, and point to an MTA tax put in place while the Democrats controlled the Senate from 2009 to 2010.

Senate Democrats have recent precedent on their side as their candidate, now Senator Todd Kaminsky, won the highly contested special election for the 9th Senate District in April to replace former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Skelos was forced from office after being convicted on multiple federal corruption charges.

“We had a test run where people thought Trump would be a draw and what we found is more Democrats turned out,” said Sen. Gianaris, who runs the Senate Democrats’ campaign efforts and noted the special election took place when Trump was riding high on primary victories and had yet to begin to self destruct.

Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, noted that Trump’s impact on down ballot races is hard to gauge at this point given his nontraditional candidacy. “The question is, ‘Can he motivate people to go to the polls who haven't voted before, who have not been polled?’ And then you have to factor in that the more people know about Trump, the less likely they are to vote for him”

However, Muzzio said that it is impossible for Republicans to ignore the results of the special election. “Kaminsky was still a test case and the results mean they are in trouble,” Muzzio told Gotham Gazette.

Evan Thies, founder of Brooklyn Strategies, a political consultancy used by Kaminsky, said that the trend he is fascinated by in current polls is the declining support of registered Republicans for their own party. “The biggest problem Trump created is not for himself but for the Republican Party. The favorability for the party itself has plummeted,” Thies told Gotham Gazette.

Thies said that since Trump won the nomination polls have shown more Republicans dissatisfied and disconnected from their party while Democrats’ favor for their own party has grown.

“If the election was held tomorrow, Trump could depress Republican turnout,” said Thies. “You could begin to see a concerted effort for down ballot Republicans to disassociate themselves with Trump and create a local brand.”

The Siena poll shows that in a head-to-head matchup 81 percent of Democrats surveyed said they would vote for Clinton, while only 55 percent of Republicans say they will vote for Trump. Meanwhile only 24 percent of voters surveyed saw Trump favorably with 72 percent saying they saw him unfavorably. Meanwhile, 52 percent of Republicans surveyed favored Trump with 46 percent saying they saw him unfavorably.

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan gave a full-throated endorsement of Trump at the Republican National Convention in July. According to State of Politics he told the New York delegation: "I’m going to make this unequivocally clear: I’m supporting Donald Trump for President. I’m going to do so with grace, with diplomacy, with passion and with fervor, and I’m going to do it with New York style.”

KEY RACES
Like Flanagan and Kaminsky, Senator Jack Martins represents part of Long Island. Martins decided, however, to forgo attempting reelection to run for an open Congressional seat. He has not endorsed Trump, something many Democrats see as a significant indication of Republicans’ fear of Trump’s impact on important Long Island races. The race to replace Martins in the 7th Senate District is one of the top races in the battle for Senate control.

Martins discussed his decision on Effective Radio with Bill Samuels on Sunday, saying, “Thankfully, I’ve always run as an individual. I’ve had the opportunity through elective office to take stances on different things and people know who I am, so I’ve been able to use that and show through experience that I listen, I work across the aisle, I get things done,” Martins said.

Seeking to replace Martins are Democrat Adam Haber, a businessman, and Republican Elaine Phillips, who is the mayor of Flower Hill. Haber, who unsuccessfully challenged Martins in 2014, is leading in fundraising. Democrats have a 20,000 voter enrollment advantage in the district and held the seat from 2007 to 2010. As in other swing districts, turnout will be key, and that is where Clinton and Trump may factor in decisively.

Sen. Kaminsky will again face Republican opponent Chris McGrath. Running as an Assembly member, Kaminsky won the special election by about 1,000 votes. Democrats think Kaminsky will perform even better as the incumbent and with Republican turnout suppressed by Trump’s performance. Republicans hope independents, who couldn’t vote in the Republican presidential primary, may now vote for McGrath when they come out to vote in November. But the recent Siena poll shows independent New York voters favor Clinton by about 10 percentage points, though it is not clear how Long Island independents feel.

Longtime Republican incumbent Senator Kemp Hannon of Garden City, the 6th Senate District, is battle tested, having dispatched a number of strong Democratic challenges. But this year he again faces Democrat Ryan Cronin, who he narrowly defeated in 2012. Hannon’s district has seen steady growth in Democratic registration and he could be in danger if Trump depresses Republican turnout.

Republican Senator Bill Larkin of the Hudson Valley’s 39th Senate District also faces a rematch against his 2012 challenger, Chris Eachus, who he defeated by five points. Many observers wondered whether the 88-year-old Larkin would run for reelection as he has kept an extremely low profile in the district. Democratic registration has also grown in this district with registered Democrats now outnumbering Republicans 62,824 to 50,130 amongst active voters.

Thies said that one key trend to watch in Long Island races is whether Trump’s position moves the needle on black and Latino turnout. “African-American and Latino voter numbers should give Democrats a big advantage in key races on Long Island,” said Thies, “but in previous years turnout didn't match registration. Trump has now poked a very big bear. If we see even a marginal uptick amongst African-American and Latino voters Republicans could face a major challenge.”

Democrats are hoping to unseat Republican Senator George Amedore, of the 46th Senate District, who soundly defeated Democratic incumbent Cecilia Tkaczyk in 2014. But in this case, as in many others, Democrats are hopeful that their candidate’s performance in past presidential election years is a sign of things to come. Amedore’s district was tailor-made for him in the 2010 redistricting process, but Tkaczyk narrowly won it in 2012, when President Obama was re-elected. The district continues to grow more Democratic and the challenger, Sara Niccoli, has out fundraised him. Democrats outnumber active Republican voters in the district 61,976 to 51,850.

Some Democratic operatives expect that Trump’s cratering poll numbers and controversial positions could put dark horse races in play - races that Senate Democrats haven’t invested in as of yet.

One of those races is for Senator Kathy Marchione’s 43rd district seat, where Republicans lead Democrats 62,268 to 53,650 in voter registration. The district is home to about 15,000 registered voters unaffiliated with a party, known as independents. It may now be in play thanks to Marchione’s botched reaction to water poisoning in the small town of Hoosick Falls.

Marchione, a Republican, flip-flopped on whether it was necessary to hold legislative oversight hearings on the state response to the Hoosick Falls crisis, and at one point introduced an amendment to her own bill designed to help residents sue companies for water poisoning that would have basically killed any chance of it passing both houses. Marchione then reversed herself after major backlash from residents and environmentalists. The Senate is now scheduled to hold hearings into Hoosick Falls at the end of August.

Marchione’s Democratic opponent, Shaun Francis, said he isn’t concerned about how his race plays into the larger political picture, whether it be Senate control or the presidential race. “Having poisoned water isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue,” Francis said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “The incumbent’s actions in session really opened a lot of eyes in the district of people who were concerned for their health. Regardless of whether they were Republican or Democrat people in the district saw that she is incapable of doing her job.” Marchione’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Republican Senator Hugh Farley, 83 years old, has represented the 49th district that is comprised of Schenectady, Fulton, Herkimer and Saratoga Counties since 1977 and will not seek reelection. Pundits see his hand-picked successor, Assemblymember Jim Tedisco, as a sinch for the seat, but Tedisco lost a 2009 Congressional bid to Democrat Scott Murphy despite running in a district with Republican registration advantage and having significantly better name recognition. Republicans currently hold a 67,924 to 53,012 active voter registration advantage in the district. Democratic challenger Chad Putman holds little name recognition in the district but depressed Republican turnout could make the race closer than expected.

Muzzio said he expects to see some Senate Republicans “disavow Trump” in the coming weeks if his current trajectory continues, but in Upstate districts Muzzio said he isn’t sure Trump will actually be a hinderance. “I expect in some Upstate districts we will see turnout for Trump higher than for Democrats,” said Muzzio. He also warned that the presidential race has already been so volatile that he wouldn’t be surprised to see the dynamics shifted by an outside force, like more damaging documents leaked about Clinton, or revelations from investigations into her use of the Clinton Foundation or of her home-made email system.

Thies said that despite the good news Democrats see in Trump’s recent poll numbers they are aware that there is more at play and more to do in the battle for Senate control. “Their position is looking good, but they still have to get their message out to voters,” he said of Democrats. “You will not see anyone taking their foot off the gas pedal because the stakes are too high and you could very well see down ballot Republicans utilizing an effective vote-local message.”

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Trump Could Tip Key Races for State Senate Control Tue, 16 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Investigations Paint Picture of City Hall Mismanagement http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6471:investigations-paint-picture-of-city-hall-mismanagement http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6471:investigations-paint-picture-of-city-hall-mismanagement BdB Shorris NYCTransition

Mayor de Blasio & First Deputy Mayor Shorris in 2013 (photo: @NYCTransition)


Two recent reports on City Hall’s role in the questionable lifting of deed restrictions on a nursing home property issued scathing indictments of both process and personnel in the de Blasio administration. They revealed mismanagement and miscommunication that belies Mayor Bill de Blasio’s own attempts to portray City Hall and its agencies as well-oiled machines that deliver swift and efficient services to the people of New York.

The reports, one by the Department of Investigation and one by Comptroller Scott Stringer, paint a picture of dysfunction and raise significant questions about oversight by First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris. De Blasio has acknowledged gaps in communication while defending Shorris unequivocally.

The Department of Investigation report, released July 14, found “a complete lack of accountability within City government regarding deed restriction removals and significant communication failures between and within City Hall and DCAS.”

Comptroller Stringer’s report, released August 1, stated that Rivington House, the nursing home property, “was allowed to slip away not so much because of poor City processes, but because of poor execution of those processes in a manner that undermined both public input and the interests of the City…[S]enior City officials required agency commissioners to prepare weekly reports but then chose not to read them...decisions were made but never communicated to subordinates, and...a lack of vigilance allowed a single individual to gain control of a valued community resource.”

The deal in question involved Rivington House, a nursing home on the Lower East Side that was restricted to use as a non-profit health care facility until last year when the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) allowed two deed restrictions on the property to be lifted. The owner, the Allure Group, paid the city $16 million to lift the deed restrictions, and then quickly sold the property to a luxury condominium developer for a $72 million profit.

In March, after the Wall Street Journal first reported that Stringer was looking into the Rivington House deal, the mayor said in a subsequent news conference that it was the first time he had heard of the problematic deal. Acknowledging that agency officials had made mistakes, the mayor promised to overhaul procedures at DCAS and at City Hall. He said that if he had been notified of what was going on he would have put a stop to it and that the moves did not represent the values of his administration. He also laid blame on the Allure Group for misleading city officials.

It later emerged that the Department of Investigation (DOI) was already looking into the transaction, referred to it by DCAS Commissioner Lisette Camilo in consultation with the Mayor’s Office. The deal also drew the attention of the state Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, whose office has yet to conclude its investigation.

On July 14, DOI issued its investigative report, which was critical of the role that DCAS, the Law Department, and the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS) played in letting the deal go through without adequate analysis of whether it was in the best interests of the city. The investigation found that top officials at City Hall and DCAS were well aware of the deal and did not raise any objections or attempt to ensure the property would continue to serve a purpose for the community. It also pointed out that DCAS employees were aware that the Allure Group was considering selling the property to a private developer.

The investigation was also clouded by controversy. DOI revealed that the mayor’s office had withheld information from investigators, ultimately hampering their findings. De Blasio has persistently denied these allegations, while admitting that some paperwork had been redacted and pointing to natural tension between the Law Department and DOI.

In his report, Comptroller Stringer echoed many DOI findings. He pointed to failures of communication at multiple points between City Hall and DCAS and said the officials involved were at fault, not the process itself. This contradicted most of de Blasio’s focus on the need to update the deed restriction removal process as a result of the incident. While Stringer said updated procedures area  good idea, it was poor management and “information flow” that led to the mistaken deal on Rivington House.

Stringer’s report notes that more than 40 officials were involved in the deal, including three agency heads and three deputy mayors, but no red flags were raised. It also criticizes DCAS for undervaluing the property in its appraisal and stated that the efforts to solicit public input on the deal were inadequate.

Neither report directly faults Mayor Bill de Blasio, who maintains he had no knowledge of the proceedings until after the fact. There is one key email that was sent to de Blasio that the mayor says he did not read.

The comptroller’s report also placed individual blame; first on Joel Landau, Allure Group principal, for exploiting the system and misrepresenting the company’s intentions; and secondly, but more importantly, on First Deputy Mayor Shorris for ignoring memos about the Rivington deal sent to him by the DCAS commissioner and not ensuring adequate internal systems.

Despite the clear failings of his top functionaries, the mayor has presented a full-throated defense of his administration, blaming flawed procedures inherited from earlier administrations and the bad actor that deceived the city in this particular case. De Blasio has admitted that mistakes were made by his administration, but has been loathe to hold anyone to account.

At an unrelated news conference on July 25, in response to a question from Gotham Gazette about Shorris’ role in the deed change, the mayor said, “I don’t have a concern. I think Tony Shorris is one of the finest public servants I’ve ever worked with, and he has an immense amount of material he has to deal with. I think he deals with it very well in a very organized fashion.”

The mayor reiterated that the city’s policies on deed restrictions needed to be reevaluated and, taking full responsibility, he said, “[W]e should’ve understood that the underlying policy did not represent our values.”

Later that week, on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, the mayor said he had “total confidence” in Shorris, who “probably has the most on his plate” of anyone in the administration. “A deed restriction change – you can understand – might not be on the top of anyone’s list on a given day,” he added. Both investigative reports noted that Shorris was given updates of the Rivington deal at multiple occasions, receiving weekly memos which he did not read. Neither Shorris nor other top city officials thought that Rivington House was an important matter.

This was an unsatisfactory explanation for Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College’s School of Public and International Affairs, who believes Shorris dropped the ball. “He’s doing a million things,” Muzzio said of Shorris, “but that doesn’t absolve him of a management and communications error.”

What irks Muzzio most about the Rivington House situation was how the administration dealt with the fallout. “In and of itself, the Rivington case isn’t a major deal,” said Muzzio. “It’s the sidestepping and stonewalling, the half-truths, untruths, and sophistry,” which are. “It’s part of this administration’s DNA,” he added.

“One could argue it was a minor deal and people gave it perfunctory attention,” he said, “but it shows that, after the fact, communication was lousy.”

At the July 25 news conference, de Blasio said of Shorris, “I think if you look across the whole range of issues he deals with…this is one of the only things you can say like this. It’s a pretty damn good batting average on his part.”

Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College, called the selling of Rivington House to a condo developer a “civic tragedy” considering the historical importance of the building as a home for HIV/AIDS patients. But Sherrill doesn’t believe there was any intentional wrongdoing or gross incompetence. “What ended up seeming to be massive incompetence could’ve been the cumulative effect of a lot of small mistakes,” he said in phone interview.

Sherrill said the administration was on its back foot once the news broke that the deal was being scrutinized. “It’s very difficult to get ahead of this kind of story once it’s broken so City Hall was playing catch up,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Investigations Paint Picture of City Hall Mismanagement Mon, 08 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Use of Abstentions Varies Widely Among City Council Members http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6410:use-of-abstentions-varies-widely-among-city-council-members http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6410:use-of-abstentions-varies-widely-among-city-council-members 27083071523 4affcb6e87 z
City Council chambers (Sofie Hecht for Gotham Gazette)


Hundreds of times a year, City Council members vote on pieces of legislation, including the city’s budget, land use matters, and a wide variety of bills and resolutions. Members almost always vote “yes” or “no.” But sometimes, Council members choose to abstain, actively deciding not to declare they are for or against what is in front of them, and in the 51-seat City Council, abstentions are used by members to widely varying degrees.

In the New York State Assembly, lawmakers may only abstain from a vote when doing so would constitute a conflict of interest. In the New York City Council, however, lawmakers must abstain from a vote if there is a legitimate conflict of interest, but may abstain for other personal or political reasons as well. This leeway has led to some interesting voting patterns. Of the Council’s current 51 members, 34 did not abstain from a vote during this iteration of the Council, which began in January of 2014, through May 12, 2016. The other 17 Council members have abstained between one and 103 times.

At Gotham Gazette’s request, data on all votes from the current Council session -- January 2014 to May 12, 2016 -- was scraped from the City Council website by NYC Councilmatic and DataMade, a civic technology company.

City Council Member Ruben Wills, who has been indicted on corruption charges and also dealing with health issues, has abstained 103 times. Wills, who has also been declared absent for many votes, which is different from abstaining, declined to comment when contacted. The second most abstentions over the two year-plus period was by Council Member Jumaane Williams, who abstained 36 times. Council Members Andy King and Inez Barron abstained 21 times each, and Council Member Rosie Mendez abstained 14 times.

The other 13 Council members who abstained during the tabulated time period did so between one and four times.

(Note: some Council members abstained on the same bill or issue brought up at different times, like in committee and at the full Council. Bills must pass through committee, then the full Council to go to the Mayor’s desk.)

Two-thirds of Council members did not abstain from a single vote during the period studied. Two of those Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette expressed similar opinions about the importance of voting, citing conflict-of-interest as the lone justifiable exception for abstaining. Council members who have abstained gave a variety of explanations when asked.

“I have one job. That job is to vote,” said City Council Member Ben Kallos, who has not abstained on a vote since joining the Council in 2014. “It is the one power, the one privilege that I have that no one else has and I take it seriously, and come to a decision every time. I was elected by the people to vote and for constituents to know where I stand on these issues.”

Nine Council members who have abstained on at least one vote gave reasons to Gotham Gazette, including: being supportive of part of but not the whole bill, and believing the bill needs more work, but not opposed to the concept enough to warrant a “no” vote; concern about the unintended consequences of a bill; needing additional time to review the legislation and/or gather feedback from constituents; deference to colleagues; and avoiding making a politically unwise move.

“I imagine there are three reasons for abstaining,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres, who has not abstained since joining the Council in 2014. “You might abstain out of ethics: you have a conflict of interest. Or you might abstain out of politics: you wish to avoid making a politically inexpedient vote. Or you might abstain out of ambivalence about the merits of the vote in question.”

Of those three, Torres continued, “the only sensible justification is ethics,” the other two are “insufficient justifications for abstaining.”

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
Council Members Mark Treyger and Alan Maisel have both abstained only once, on a 2014 bill that eventually resulted in the creation of the city’s IDNYC municipal identification card program. Treyger and Maisel, both former educators, were supportive of the policy, but had concerns about the way the data gathered to create ID cards for potentially undocumented immigrants would be stored, and who might have access to that data.

During a hearing on the bill, “Maisel and I asked about the security and the storage of the names of the applicants when they apply for the card, who holds it, who stores it, and is this information accessible by the Department of Homeland Security,” Treyger told Gotham Gazette. “The answer was ‘yes,’ we were told they have to store the information for a number of years, and it can get turned over to the [federal] government.”

“I quite frankly did not feel comfortable with these answers, so I abstained as a sign of a lack of confidence with the security and protection of the names, but I didn’t reject it as a whole, because I did advocate for resident discount cards for New Yorkers,” Treyger added.

Both Maisel and Treyger said that their previous experience as educators had shown them that some immigrant parents were deeply concerned about sharing information, and the two Council members were worried that information gathered for IDNYC cards could end up in the wrong hands.

“For example,” Maisel said, they would essentially end up creating a list for “a certain presidential candidate who could possibly become elected president, and we know where he stands on people who are undocumented,” in obvious reference to Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee who has talked about rounding up undocumented immigrants for deportation.

POLITICAL MOTIVATIONS
Five Council Members abstained on a recent bill to limit the space in which costumed characters and other performers can operate in Times Square. The five members who abstained on the bill are all members of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus: Andy King, Rosie Mendez, Inez Barron, Vanessa Gibson, and Antonio Reynoso (Robert Cornegy Jr., also a member of the BLAC, was the lone “no” vote on the bill).

Mendez and King said that they chose not to vote “yes” or “no” on the bill because King had introduced a similar bill back in 2014, yet neither King nor his bill were included in the drafting and passage of the new bill, introduced by Council Member Corey Johnson.

“When multiple Council members have ideas for the same or similar legislation, they will combine the Council members,” Mendez said. King had proposed the legislation years ago, Mendez said, but “King was never asked, never told anything, and his bill was disregarded.”

“When I didn’t see Andy’s name on it, I decided to abstain,” Mendez continued, adding that she did not have a chance to compare Johnson’s bill against King’s bill to see how similar or dissimilar they were. “At the end of the day I had real concern about..the role of community boards not being included in the legislation.”

“It got a little personal, so I chose not to vote on it, because I believed still more work needed to be done,” King said of Intro-1109, the pedestrian plaza bill, which is now law.

“As you know, I started this conversation in 2014,” King continued, “and I thought it didn’t play well in the Council for other Council members to pass something without inclusion of legislation that was already in the queue to address that…I chose not to participate rather than saying “no” to this one, I wanted to work to put more teeth in it.”

A spokesperson for Council Member Antonio Reynoso said that he abstained (his only abstention over the two-plus year period examined for this article) due to concern about “potential unintended consequences of the bill. However, many members and advocates that we work with regularly and whose judgment we trust were for it, so he didn’t want to go against it either. Instead he opted not to take a formal position.”

Council Members Gibson and Barron were not made available for comment, despite numerous requests.

NOT THE WHOLE PACKAGE
Occasionally, Council members will abstain from voting on a bill because they do not entirely approve of it (whether it is due to what they see as potential unintended consequences or simply falling short of what would be ideal for their constituents).

For example, Mendez abstained on one of two controversial changes to city land use rules (Zoning for Quality and Affordability, or ZQA) in committee because she felt that “recent contextual rezoning that happened in the last ten years should've been kept intact.”

Yet, Council members “made changes, so I didn't feel it merited a “no” vote,” she said. “But they didn't make enough changes to get me to a “yes.” So I abstained….it wasn’t completely wrong, it wasn’t completely right, so I felt like that was the appropriate vote.”

To Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, occasionally abstaining on a vote because some elements of the bill warrant a positive vote, but some warrant a negative vote “makes a great deal of sense.”

“But,” Muzzio continued, “Ruben Wills abstaining 103 times indicates that he’s a very confused Council member, and a very conflicted Council member.”

“An excessive amount of abstentions,” Muzzio said, suggests “that he doesn’t have very clear ideas in his mind of how to asses a policy so he takes the easy way out, which is abstaining.”

DEFERENCE/LAND USE
At other times, Council members may choose to abstain, as King puts it, “as a professional courtesy to my colleagues, as opposed to saying that we’re not all on the same page.” “Unless it’s something that has a really, really devastating impact on my constituents,” King added.

Abstaining out of deference seems to occur more often in the context of a vote on land use items, where the Council is known to defer to the local member whose district is directly involved. “I have abstained usually land use items that are in a particular member's’ district,” Mendez said. “I would have otherwise voted “no,” but in deference to the Council member of that district I will abstain.”

This is because, as Mendez puts it, “I really feel like I know my district better than anyone else…Likewise, I’m not sitting in on all the minutiae of what [another Council member is] trying to negotiate for their district.”

But as Torres sees it, “land use is the only context which a rank-and-file Council member can emerge as a counterweight to the Mayor’s Office,” and abstaining in land use out of deference to another Council member means those members who abstain “are enjoying the benefits of local deference themselves while denying the benefit to everyone else. There’s a word for this - parasitic.”

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s parasitic,” Torres continued. “It’s not inaction, you are actively undermining the Council as an institution and…reaping the benefit of local deference to yourself while denying it to your colleagues.” For Torres, the only valid reason for choosing not to vote “should be ethics.”

NOT ENOUGH TIME
On April 14, Council Member Jumaane Williams abstained on a vote on the East New York rezoning plan in subcommittee, only to change his vote to a “yes” when the same bill was heard in the Land Use committee less than an hour later.

“I just got the final plan this morning. I want to make sure to review it properly,” Williams said at the time when asked by Gotham Gazette. “At first glance, it looks good. I’m still a little concerned about MIH [Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, the companion land use change to ZQA], but there wasn’t much more you could ask him [Council Member Rafael Espinal] to do. That’s why I changed my vote to a “yes” in Land Use.”

“I will vote “yes” on the floor,” Williams said, and did. “There’s obviously people left out of the plan. We have to figure out how to address that. But with the tools at his disposal, I think [Espinal] did the best that he could.”

According to Travis Lamprecht, a spokesperson for Council Member Vincent Gentile (who has abstained four times), the Council Member “will choose to do so when he needs additional time to gather feedback from his district in order to make an educated decision for his constituents.” Gentile has abstained twice on land use matters; once on Williams’ 2014 bill to prohibit discrimination when hiring based on a person’s arrest record; and once on Council Member Helen Rosenthal’s 2014 bill in relation to traffic violations and serious crashes and license suspension.

EXPLAINING ON THE FLOOR
Council Members Brad Lander and Helen Rosenthal, both of whom have not abstained in the aggregated period, declined to comment for this story. Council Members Vanessa Gibson (four abstentions), Inez Barron (21), Robert Cornegy (four), Andrew Cohen (four), I. Daneek Miller (two), Eric Ulrich (two), Chaim Deutsch (two), Darlene Mealy (one), and Paul Vallone (one) all were not made available for comment, despite numerous attempts.

It should be noted that abstaining is different from “non-voting,” which can occur when a Council member is not present for the vote. Council members may also be marked as “excused” from voting for medical reasons, or for jury duty, parental leave, and bereavement.

Vallone’s only abstention was on legislation prohibiting Council members from earning most forms of outside income and making the position of Council member full-time (one of Deutsch’s two abstentions was also for this legislation).

Ulrich's two abstentions were on bills introduced by Brad Lander requiring the NYC Commission on Human rights to perform an employment discrimination investigation and a housing discrimination investigation.

Three of Gibson's four abstentions occurred on April 7, 2016 (on the pedestrian plaza bill, on a bill to increase penalties for illegal street hails at the city's airports and other designated areas, and on a bill to create a universal license for taxicab and for-hire vehicle drivers and require that English language proficiency not be assessed through a written exam).

“Abstaining can mean several things,” as Muzzio said, but “one should always explain an abstention, because in a sense, it’s a chicken[expletive] vote, meaning it’s a way to evade a hard choice.”

“Ultimately,” says Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, “the voters are the judge, because their interest is what is supposed to be represented.”

“City Council members are accountable to the people who elect them, and it’s important for the public to know if a Council member chooses not to vote on an issue that a constituent thinks is important,” Horner said. “The Council member should have to explain it.”

When abstaining, Council members occasionally give a brief explanation for their vote.

“We are giving Department of Transportation the authority to justify the complete removal of costumed characters from Times Square,” Reynoso said during an April vote on the pedestrian plaza bill. “Should it lead to unintended consequences...we would be left with little recourse outside of legislation to undo any action,” he added, expressing concern over the potential tension and competition that could arise should the costumed characters in Times Square be “corralled” into the proposed spaces, and he abstained.

“This has been a very important process, not perfect, but better than when it started,” Mendez said during the March vote on rezoning plans. “I think some of the Voluntary Inclusionary Zones could have been made mandatory…And I'm not happy with the fact that we are getting some height increases in the non-contextual zones,” but, Mendez continued, “since some work was done on this, and I feel that it is important to have a mandate inclusionary housing, I will be voting “yes”” on two pieces of legislation and “abstaining on LU 335 and the accompanying Reso 1023.”

ABSTENTION DATA, provided by Councilmatic and DataMade
Council members and number of abstentions from the current session, January 2014 to May 12, 2016

Ruben Wills 103
Jumaane Williams 36
Inez Barron 21
Andy King 21
Rosie Mendez 14
Andrew Cohen 4
Vincent Gentile 4
Robert Cornegy 4
Vanessa Gibson 4
Chaim Deutsch 2
Eric Ulrich 2
I. Daneek Miller 2
Mark Treyger 1
Paul Vallone 1
Alan Maisel 1
Darlene Mealy 1
Antonio Reynoso 1

Ben Kallos 0
Ritchie Torres 0
Brad Lander 0
Helen Rosenthal 0
Steven Matteo 0
Margaret Chin 0
Peter Koo 0
Fernando Cabrera 0
Costa Constantinides 0
Elizabeth Crowley 0
Laurie Cumbo 0
Inez Dickens 0
Daniel Dromm 0
Rafael Espinal 0
Mathieu Eugene 0
Julissa Ferreras-Copeland 0
Dan Garodnick 0
Barry Grodenchik 0
Karen Koslowitz 0
Stephen Levin 0
Mark Levine 0
Melissa Mark-Viverito 0
Carlos Menchaca 0
Annabel Palma 0
Ydanis Rodriguez 0
Donovan Richards 0
Deborah Rose 0
James Vacca 0
Jimmy Van Bramer 0
Joe Borelli 0
Rafael Salamanca - 0

*Maria Carmen del Arroyo, Vincent Ignizio, and Mark Weprin also served as Council Members during this session before resigning and being replaced by Salamanca, Borelli, and Grodenchik, respectively, though none of the three abstained on any vote during the aggregated period.

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Use of Abstentions Varies Widely Among City Council Members Wed, 22 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Special Election Results Buoy Hopes for Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6291:special-election-results-buoy-hopes-for-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6291:special-election-results-buoy-hopes-for-reform kaminsky voting april 2016

Todd Kaminsky votes for himself Tuesday (photo via @toddkaminsky)


The polls may be closed but the heated race to replace convicted former Republican Senator Dean Skelos is far from over. Late Tuesday night Assemblymember Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat, declared victory while Republican candidate Chris McGrath refused to concede, saying the race would be decided by absentee ballots. Only 780 votes separate Kaminsky from McGrath and there are over 2,000 outstanding ballots to be counted. Regardless of the results the pair may face off again in November when the seat will be up for grabs again.

Despite the unresolved nature of the affair, good government groups and legislators who back major ethics reforms, have been buoyed by Kaminsky’s performance. A former federal prosecutor, Kaminsky ran with cleaning up government corruption at the top of his agenda.

"Whatever the outcome, the race shows the power of the ethics reform message,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the non-partisan New York State Public Interest Research Group. “Continuing to ignore the public's demand for Albany to clean up its act will only lead to incumbents putting themselves in political peril."

Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch, said he believes a Kaminsky win could in fact spark major reform. “If Kaminsky wins it’s a real signal voters were upset about indictments. Republicans held that seat forever,” said Muzzio. “A Kaminsky win could signal a larger rebellion against the establishment and endanger the Republican [Senate] majority. Of course he could win now and lose in November.”

Kaminsky campaigned in part by condemning the culture that led to the convictions of Skelos and his counterpart, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat whose seat was also being filled Tuesday night. The Kaminsky campaign sought to tie his opponent to the disgraced Skelos.

McGrath, on the other hand, remained silent on major reform initiatives and Skelos’ conviction. His campaign focused on tying Kaminsky to Mayor Bill de Blasio and a progressive agenda favoring New York City over Long Island. Nassau County, a former Republican stronghold, has seen a surge in Democratic voter registration over the past few years.

“Reform won tonight and corruption lost,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, as Kaminsky declared victory. “Kaminsky championed reform and won, McGrath was silent on reform and lost.”

That take on the race was echoed by a spokesperson for Senate Democrats: “Kaminsky ran on a platform of cleaning up Albany and won their former leader’s seat. Senate Republicans should get the message, stop stalling, and work with the Senate Democrats to enact ethics reforms to better the public trust.”

As ethics reform efforts have stalled in Albany even in the wake of the Skelos and Silver convictions, many have pointed to Senate Republicans’ limited support for enacting new laws to prevent and punish corruption. Some, however, say that even though Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his fellow Democrats who control the Assembly have put forth more robust ethics reform platforms, lawmakers of both parties are largely disinterested in actually enacting them.

Democratic control of the Senate would change the conversation.

A long recount and/or lawsuit could prevent either Kaminsky or McGrath from being seated before November, but if Kaminsky does come out as a clear winner, Democrats will technically have the majority. In the 63-seat Senate, Republicans currently hold a majority through 31 elected Republicans and Democrat Simcha Felder, who caucuses with them. They have also partnered with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference to keep the majority in the past.

Now, Democrats are confident the numbers add up in their favor and that a recount will be brief and any legal action would simply be forestalling the inevitable. Senate Republicans did launch a lawsuit that drew out the seating of former Sen. Cecelia Tkaczyk in 2012 when she narrowly defeated now-incumbent Republican Senator George Amedore. (Amedore took the seat in 2014.)

Kaminsky has sought to make his election about both Long Island issues and reform, while pushing back against attacks tying him to de Blasio and even in some cases his role as someone who would shift control of the Senate.

During an April 13 interview with Brian Lehrer of WNYC, Kaminsky stressed his work as a federal prosecutor under now U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, where he said he took a bipartisan approach to prosecuting corruption and noted he spent two years on the prosecution of former Democratic Sen. Pedro Espada. “People are fed up. They’re absolutely sick of their government. They blame both parties. They know something stinks,” Kaminsky told Lehrer.

When Lehrer asked Kaminsky if he was running for Democratic control of the Senate Kaminsky demurred. “I try not to look at it that way. I don't think anybody knows what happens. There certainly are a group of Democrats who caucus with Republicans. I try not to look at the chessboard,” Kaminsky said.

Dadey said he sees Kaminsky as standing out from the party fray.

“This victory is Kaminsky’s, not the Democrats’,” said Dadey. “Kaminsky is seen as a serious person with purpose, that's what voters supported.”

Leaders of both the mainline Democrats and the IDC issued statements congratulating Kaminsky on his victory.

The race may rank as one of the costliest senate contests in state history with the United Federation of Teachers spending heavily on independent expenditures for Kaminsky while McGrath was supported by a pro-charter school PAC that spent nearly $1 million.

Government reform groups have struggled to get any traction this legislative session. Cuomo’s ethics package, outlined during his January State of the State address, was quickly removed from budget negotiations and since then the Legislature and governor have been preoccupied by the presidential primary and the special elections.

Many assume the Legislature is looking to run out the clock on the post-budget session and return to their districts to prep for the upcoming elections where all legislative seats will be up for grabs.

Reformers hope that the special election results will force legislative leaders to take some action on ethics to prevent public backlash in November.

The Manhattan special election to replace Silver would on its face seem not to hold any encouraging news for those looking for a repudiation of politics of usual. Silver’s chosen successor, Alice Cancel, won the race with just over 40 percent of the vote - her closest challenger, Working Families Party-backed Yuh-Line Niou won about 35 percent.

However, reformers do see some bright spots in the results. “Sixty percent of those who voted, voted against the handpicked candidate of Sheldon Silver,” said Dadey. A Republican candidate, Lester Chang, got about 25 percent of the vote.

Muzzio noted that Cancel’s victory was sealed when Silver’s allies helped her win the Democratic line. “People just aren't used to voting Working Families or Republican,” said Muzzio of the lower Manhattan district.

Cancel will head into the fall election as the incumbent, but she is likely to face a number of challengers in the Democratic primary. Niou indicated in a post-election announcement that she plans to stay involved in the district and perhaps run again, and district leader Paul Newell announced Tuesday night that he plans to run in the primary. A number of other Democrats have expressed interest in the seat.

Niou enjoyed the backing of a number of elected Democratic officials, some of whom expressed great distaste for how Silver supporters orchestrated Cancel’s candidacy. It isn’t clear if those same electeds will look to oust Cancel in the fall.

But the fairly narrow margin of her victory combined with Kaminsky’s apparent victory have energized reformers and could lead to a larger push for ethics-minded candidates in the fall.

“I think this sends a big message that the status quo is not to be tolerated,” said Dadey. “This is a repudiation of Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver...voters supported change.”

[Related: Legislative Days Quickly Dwindle, Intensifying Worry Over Ethics]

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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

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Special Election Results Buoy Hopes for Reform Wed, 20 Apr 2016 19:17:15 +0000
Cuomo's Public Schedules Offer Little Information http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6234:cuomos-public-schedules-offer-little-information http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6234:cuomos-public-schedules-offer-little-information cuomo reporters

Cuomo gives a press briefing in Tarrytown (Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was facing pressure from the press, local officials, and the public to make his first appearance in Hoosick Falls, a small town near the Vermont border. Residents of the town were told in December that their drinking water was unsafe for consumption due to contamination from a toxic chemical that may lead to cancer. Cuomo, whose administration has been accused of mishandling reports about water contamination in the town since 2014, had been conspicuously absent.

On Sunday, March 13 at about 7:30 a.m. reporters received an updated public schedule for Cuomo announcing that at 10:15 a.m the governor would give a press briefing in Hoosick Falls. Assembly Member Steve McLaughlin, a Republican who represents the area and has been a consistent critic of the Democratic governor, said he learned of the visit from members of the press who contacted him to see if he planned to attend. McLaughlin was not contacted by the Cuomo administration, he said, nor were a host of other elected officials from the area. Some local reporters had been told specifically the governor would not be visiting the town that weekend.

"I had been there a day before for the St. Patrick's Day Parade and I said then, 'Leaders lead, they show up when people are hurting, they don't show up for a photo op,'" McLaughlin told Gotham Gazette. "I will contend the reason [Cuomo] didn't show up for 109 days is because this situation is politically damaging to him - it isn't a situation where he's hooking up and towing someone and taking a picture; people are hurting here."

The situation was typical of how the administration often handles Cuomo's public schedules - most days, no matter what the governor might actually be doing, his public schedules, emailed to the press the night before, put him in Albany, New York City, or the New York City area, with no additional information.

Occasionally the administration will issue an update about an appearance or an event with varying amounts of lead time. Sometimes a few hours, often less. Events the governor attends are regularly ones that appear unlikely to be last-minute decision. One such update was issued on January 21 at 5:29 p.m. to announce Cuomo was attending a 6 p.m. gala held by the Real Estate Board of New York, whose members include large Cuomo donors.

Other events Cuomo attends, such as fundraisers or gatherings with legislators at the Executive Mansion, are left off his schedule. Some of these events, for candidate campaigns, should be left off of the governor's official government schedule. Yet, strangely, on March 9, Cuomo held a ceremony to honor former New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza and no notice was given, though the administration later gave members of the press an account of the proceedings.

Administration officials paint last-minute updates and omissions as the result of minding the schedule of a very busy governor, but the pattern has rankled the press, annoyed legislators who feel the governor should notify them when he visits their districts, and stymied issue advocates and protesters. It has a growing number of critics saying that the administration shares little with the press and the public as a political strategy to protect Cuomo from unwanted coverage.

Cuomo's schedules also come in stark contrast of those of other major New York elected officials - senators, members of Congress, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and others mostly issue detailed daily schedules full of events, whether the press is invited or not. They also often send their schedules earlier than the governor's office does. Case in point: on Monday evening, de Blasio's Tuesday schedule, with two public events, was sent to members of the media at about 5:30 p.m.; Gov. Cuomo's, also with two public events, was emailed at a little after 10 p.m.

"It is highly unusual for officials to play this kind of game," said Douglas Muzzio professor of political science at Baruch. "The governor is truly unique in this regard compared to other electeds. It throws everyone off, prevents people from covering things, seeing him, meeting him. It keeps everybody on edge."

The Cuomo administration flatly denied that the governor's schedules are designed to reduce interaction with the press or voters. "People have all kinds of opinions, it's just not true," Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi told Gotham Gazette.

"There is a clear difference in style and substance between this governor and people who are willing to go into the lion's den and deal with it and take not only the accolades, but the criticism head on," said Assembly Member McLaughlin. Cuomo has made a habit of "ducking, covering, and avoiding and misdirecting," McLaughlin added, saying that Cuomo has had "the hypocrisy" of saying he would run the most transparent administration in history. "People are waking up to it," he said, "The answer to it is to stop doing what you're doing, but his answer will be to double down and do more of what got him in trouble to begin with."

The situation is particularly pointed this year as budget negotiations again play out almost entirely behind closed doors. Unlike his two immediate predecessors, Cuomo has not held public leaders meetings to discuss budget priorities.

Meanwhile, Cuomo hasn't held a traditional media availability on the second floor of the Capitol since June of last year. While the governor has taken press questions after events at a variety of locations around the state, he has eschewed a traditional Albany press conference for well over 200 days.

A recent Freedom of Information Law request for any email communications sent by Cuomo, filed by Gannett's John Campbell, resulted in no information. An administration official told Campbell that Cuomo has no state-issued email account or Blackberry device.

"Do you get the impression this governor doesn't want coverage, doesn't want to answer any questions?" asked Barbara Bartoletti of The League of Women Voters. "Wasn't this the governor who said he would have the most transparent administration in history? Well it hasn't turned out that way. He doesn't seem to let people know he is going to be somewhere unless he is handing out money or responding to a disaster."

John Kaehny, of Reinvent Albany, said that from his perspective the governor's office has been ahead of the game on releasing the governor's schedules when compared to other elected officials, albeit months after the fact. Kaehny points to the administration's information portal that is updated every few months with the governor's past schedules, including the names of groups and people he meets with. "We're happy to have more complete schedules later, rather than faster, less specific schedules right now," said Kaehny, who acknowledged it might be different for the press.

"The state website allows searches by name so you can see what meetings they've had with the governor," explained Kaehny. "That isn't comparable to anything [Mayor de Blasio] has at the moment. It's extremely useful."

Azzopardi touted Cuomo's transparency website in a statement to Gotham Gazette: "This administration has proactively made more documents and data publicly available than any other in recent memory. The governor's final schedules are publicly posted on CitizenConnects and have been since the beginning of this administration."

Cuomo's schedules have been shown to have at least a hole or two. In 2012 The Wall Street Journal reported that Cuomo's schedules did not show an October fundraiser where the Governor was pitched on a massive casino project by Genting, a group that had given millions to a lobbying group created at the governor's behest. Administration officials said the omission was a mistake.

Blair Horner, of the New York Public Interest Research Group, noted that compared to Albany standards where the leaders rarely announce their plans to the public, Cuomo's scheduling isn't particularly concerning.

For others however, it is concerning that the governor who pledged utmost transparency appears to only be interested in interacting with the public of his choosing and has limited his press interaction.

"Is he afraid of the press or does he think New Yorkers aren't interested in what their governor is doing?" asked Bartoletti. "I don't know why he wouldn't want to be more visible."

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo's Public Schedules Offer Little Information Tue, 22 Mar 2016 03:06:14 +0000
As Sheldon Silver Heads to Trial, A Democratic Challenger is Poised to Run http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5955:as-sheldon-silver-heads-to-trial-a-democratic-challenger-is-poised-to-run http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5955:as-sheldon-silver-heads-to-trial-a-democratic-challenger-is-poised-to-run Paul Newell Sheldon Silver

Paul Newell at a housing rally (via @NewellNYC)


Manhattan District Leader Paul Newell is gearing up for his second bid to replace Assemblymember Sheldon Silver. Newell told Gotham Gazette that he has started fundraising and is "close to running." A political lifetime ago, in 2008, Newell ran a grassroots campaign to unseat Silver, who was then at the height of his power.

Things have changed since then. Silver was indicted on multiple corruption charges earlier this year and then deposed from the Assembly speakership that he held for 21 years. His trial starts November 2, almost exactly one year before Election Day, though Newell would be challenging Silver in the September 2016 Democratic primary. That is if Silver is still in office and decides to run for reelection.

Silver has already pleaded not guilty to charges that he hid what amounted to political kickbacks, traded state funds for referrals to his law firm, and influenced real estate companies to do business with his law firm. "This is going to trial and I hope, I'm confident I will be vindicated after a full hearing," Silver told reporters earlier this year. Silver will remain in office unless he is convicted.

According to the state Board of Elections website, Newell has raised a little over $46,000 this year through his Friends of Paul Newell committee and has a little over $47,000 on hand.

Newell ran in 2008 as an anti-Albany candidate, pushing ethics reforms and calling out Silver as an impediment to real reform in Albany. The stance won him the endorsement of the New York Times, whose editorial board wrote:

"[T]here are two Democratic races in New York City that offer a chance to make a change in Albany or, at least make a strong statement about how badly change is needed. The most important of these races is in Lower Manhattan, where Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, one of the most powerful people in the state, is facing his first real challenge in decades. It is still an uphill fight for any opponent, but the race has already made one difference. It has brought the ever-secretive Mr. Silver out to meet voters and campaign for his job."

Silver faced Republican challenger Maureen Koetz in 2014. She ran on Silver's mishandling of a number of sexual harassment suits against his members, but Silver won easily. Generally Silver has escaped facing any well-funded challengers thanks to his immense power and connections.

Newell said Silver's very public fall from grace this year has residents of lower Manhattan's 65th Assembly District excited for new representation.

"Mr. Silver has the right to a trial, but there is no question the era of Sheldon Silver is over," Newell told Gotham Gazette. "Lower Manhattanites are aware of that. We are going to have new representation whether it is now or two years from now. We have a representative who no one wants their photo taken with, someone who can not actively represent our community, not because he is distracted, but because he no longer has the capacity to build the type of coalitions you need to help the district."

Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, said that should Silver survive his trial and run for reelection, Newell could easily find himself the underdog again. "The bottom line is you can't beat somebody with nobody even though Silver is clearly weakened," said Muzzio.

Newell, who has served as district leader since 2009, is a community organizer who currently consults for a number of non-profit organizations. He's used his non-paid role as district leader to raise his profile, and this year there have been more opportunities as his district faces the reality that their representative, who was once arguably the most powerful man in Albany, will no longer be bringing millions of dollars in funding to community organizations. Newell has been outspoken about the need for local service organizations to reduce redundancy and work together in what are sure to be leaner times.

Newell also said Silver's replacement has to focus on reform of social service funding in the state "so that it isn't based on who sits where in Albany." He said going forward Silver's replacement, whoever it may be whenever it might be, will have to work at "building coalitions statewide" and working with the new leadership in the Assembly and Senate.

In the wake of Silver's arrest, Newell quickly took to The Daily News to write an op-ed expressing disappointment in Silver on behalf of the community and outlining the need for reform in Albany. He also explained his on-the-ground role as a district leader.

It is unlikely Newell will be the only one looking to either challenge or replace Silver. Another district leader, Jenifer Rajkumar, is also rumored to be interested in the seat. Rajkumar was defeated by incumbent City Council Member Margaret Chin, a Silver ally, in a 2013 bid for the Council. Rajkumar did not return Gotham Gazette's calls at publication of this story.

A number of other potential challengers appear to be waiting for the outcome of Silver's trial before committing to a run. Many observers expect that if Silver doesn't run, he will certainly have a horse in the race.

"If he gets convicted everybody and his mother is going to jump in," said Muzzio.

No matter how many candidates run, it's virtually certain the race will focus on Silver, Albany, and ethics.

The attention on the race could boost voter turnout. In 2008 only five percent of the district's 127,000 residents voted in the primary contest between Silver, Newell, and Luke Henry. Silver won 68 percent of the vote with 6,743 in his favor. Newell received 23 percent with 2,301 votes and Henry received 879 votes.

Newell said that regardless of the outcome of the trial anyone who challenges Silver next year is not likely to face the same resistance he did in his unsuccessful 2008 bid.

"It's unlikely you will have 25 members of the Assembly standing with [Silver] on Grand Street like I did in 2008," said Newell.

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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As Sheldon Silver Heads to Trial, A Democratic Challenger is Poised to Run Tue, 27 Oct 2015 21:48:09 +0000
Did Bill De Blasio's Tirade Help Andrew Cuomo Get His Groove Back? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5886:did-bill-de-blasios-tirade-help-andrew-cuomo-get-his-groove-back http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5886:did-bill-de-blasios-tirade-help-andrew-cuomo-get-his-groove-back Cuomo labor day parade

Gov. Cuomo at the Labor Day parade (photo: The Governor's Office via flickr)


On Thursday Governor Andrew Cuomo, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, held a rally to announce a campaign to make New York the first state in the nation with a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

"So Mr. Vice President, today I announce that I will propose to the New York state legislature not just $15 for fast-food workers, because a fast-food worker deserves $15 an hour, construction workers deserve $15 an hour, and home healthcare aides deserve $15 an hour, and taxi-cab drivers deserve $15 an hour, and every working man and woman in the State of New York deserves $15 an hour as a minimum wage - and we are not going to stop until we get it done!" Cuomo said, his voice rising.

It was a triumphant moment for the governor, and for unions and progressive groups who have worked for the last year to get Cuomo on board with a $15 hourly minimum wage. It is being called a major about-face by many watchers, including some who note that Cuomo now supports a policy his rival, Mayor Bill de Blasio, has been pushing for quite some time and that Cuomo had previously dismissed.

The move, along with other recent Cuomo plays, is in striking contrast to the Cuomo of last spring, who some confidants and legislators describe as aimless, distracted, and maybe a little bit bored.

Now, though, any such perception has dissipated, perhaps in large part thanks to de Blasio's exasperated June tirade against the governor, which came at the end of this year's legislative session. Harsh, damning words from the mayor may have been the challenge Cuomo needed in order to reinvigorate.

De Blasio pulled no punches, boldly saying Cuomo had made promises he didn't intend to keep, is vindictive, and backed policies that were harmful to New York City. "And what I believe here is the governor worked with the Senate in some cases to inhibit the work of the Assembly, to inhibit the agenda that New York City put forward," de Blasio told NY1 anchor Errol Louis in a June interview, before sitting down with City Hall reporters to reiterate his message.

Cuomo had used de Blasio as a punching bag for months before de Blasio's explosion, even apparently giving publications blind quotes attacking the mayor. But with the feud spilling out into the open, observers say Cuomo was freed in a way, even given a gift--a political opponent to war with in the open.

The mayor's declaration of war was something pundits and sources close to the Cuomo administration say the governor desperately needed. "The governor is at his best when he has someone to duel in the political arena," one Albany insider told Gotham Gazette. "It is also when he is apt to make mistakes, but he comes alive when he is going for the kill."

For some Democrats, de Blasio's tirade was a breath of fresh air - someone, they said, had finally called out the bully. Others, including members of the Cuomo administration saw it much differently. They heard it as the younger brother finally crying "Uncle!" because he had no other means of retaliation.

Sources within the Cuomo administration say they saw de Blasio's "tantrum" as an admission that he had failed at moving his agenda and was giving up any hope of future success in Albany. That appears to have left an opening for Cuomo to reassert himself on progressive issues - like minimum wage - that de Blasio has staked out.

Not very long ago, Cuomo was advocating a plan that would eventually raise the minimum wage to $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 elsewhere in the state. He appeared to scoff at the Assembly's proposal that would have raised the minimum wage across the state to $15 by the end of 2018. "God bless them — shoot for the stars," Cuomo said, dismissively, in March at a stop in Rochester. The governor has repeatedly cited the Republican-controlled state Senate as a place where such progressive proposals go to die.

If Cuomo had made a major announcement on a $15 minimum wage a year ago, it would have appeared as though he had been dragged to the position kicking and screaming by The Working Families Party and de Blasio, who brokered a deal between the two to prevent a WFP-backed primary challenge to Cuomo in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

At the time, Cuomo appeared to agree to back the mayor's proposal to allow the city to raise its minimum wage up to 30 percent higher than the state's (as well as other WFP-backed policies and a Democratic takeover of the state Senate). But this year Cuomo presented his own plan, which did not include giving the city a say over its wage, and was still short of what activists on the left were calling for.

But now, Cuomo has swooped in to champion the $15 wage, albeit on an extended phase-in timeline that would implement $15 per hour in New York City at the end of 2018 and state-wide in the middle of 2021.

Cuomo is notorious for refusing to move on proposals that he won't receive absolute credit for enacting into law. With de Blasio all but slain in Albany after a rough 2015 legislative session, Cuomo was freed to move on minimum wage and other progressive initiatives, knowing he could charge in and pick up the baton that he had knocked out of de Blasio's hands.

Meanwhile, Cuomo enjoys the benefits of being de Blasio's enemy, which boosts his standing with conservatives and moderates (and even some liberals) across the state. Cuomo's favorability ratings dropped to all-time lows this summer, but de Blasio's poll numbers are even lower.

"I'm not buying de Blasio gave him an overarching focus, because clearly the governor used the mayor for a punching bag from the very beginning of the administration, whether it be on the millionaire's tax or charter schools," said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College. "It certainly did exacerbate the relationship and gave Cuomo the opportunity to strike out at a perceived tormentor."

Cuomo and de Blasio have appeared to go out of their way to avoid each other at public events, though they did speak in person at a September 11th commemoration on Friday. Cuomo has either not invited the mayor to several, like his recent solidarity mission to Puerto Rico, or de Blasio has not appeared interested in attending, like for the governor's announcement of a new LaGuardia Airport.

Cuomo has appeared to jab at de Blasio when reporters ask why the two are not meeting at events, which have included several parades. He's also made efforts to strengthen relationships with sometime de Blasio antagonists like Comptroller Scott Stringer and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and de Blasio ally City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Last Thursday, Cuomo was honored as "Man of the Year" by the city's largest police union, which is headed by de Blasio nemesis Patrick Lynch. "You deserve to be paid for the job you do," Cuomo told the officers, hinting at their dispute with the city over pay raises. Someone in the back of the room shouted back: "Tell de Blasio!"

Cuomo's feud with de Blasio appears to be helping insulate him from backlash he has faced from police unions for signing an executive order giving the Attorney General the ability to act as special prosecutor in cases where police kill unarmed civilians.

"De Blasio has served as a foil for the governor with some groups," said Muzzio. "This conflict certainly enhances his influence with certain interests, especially with the Republican-controlled Senate."

Cuomo's moves on progressive issues may risk some of his goodwill with Republicans, but nevertheless, the governor has shown a renewed sense of urgency. It is energy that Cuomo has also been putting into efforts not easily labeled as progressive, such as Upstate economic development.

Pundits say they feel the Cuomo of the past few months is a stark contrast to the Cuomo of this legislative session, who shied away from public and media appearances for weeks at a time.

It's fairly easy to see why Cuomo may have been off his game.

His reelection bid was complicated by rebellious progressives and unions who felt Cuomo had delivered more on conservative causes than on Democratic ones. The governor was also reeling from the backlash he faced from shuttering the Moreland Commission. His campaign strategy to ignore his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, might have been more effective if Fordham professor Zephyr Teachout hadn't joined the Democratic primary. Her campaign quickly made Cuomo appear detached from voters, and at times exposed his tendencies as a bully.

Cuomo moved from a closer-than-expected election to face the death of his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and the federal indictments of then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. He appeared ready to end the legislative session early after securing a number of education reforms that were fought tooth-and-nail by teachers unions (and opposed by de Blasio). But the pressure mounted on the governor to deliver deals on rent regulations, mayoral control of New York City schools, and other big-ticket items, all while the legislature remained in turmoil thanks to their leadership crises.

Virtually all of the deals reached were less than desired as far as de Blasio was concerned, with the one-year extension of mayoral control of schools an especially bitter pill - and perhaps the final nudge over the edge.

With session over and his legislative opponents out of town, Cuomo leaped into action, issuing an executive order to create a special prosecutor for police killings. This not only ingratiated Cuomo to many on his left, but also brought one of his main rivals - and a natural de Blasio ally - AG Eric Schneiderman, closer to Cuomo's hip.

A flurry of executive activity was capped off by the finding of his fast food wage board that workers in the industry should be paid a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Cuomo was lauded by union leaders and progressive elected officials; his achievements made for evidence in the effort to disprove de Blasio's accusations that the governor was hamstringing the progressive agenda.

And, they allowed the governor to demonstrate one of his favorite points: that he gets things done regardless of political ideology.

On Thursday, de Blasio's office quickly shot out a statement praising Cuomo's decision to advocate a $15 minimum wage but laced with language highlighting that Cuomo is late to the party the mayor's been leading.

"Nothing would do more to lift New Yorkers out of poverty and move our economy forward than raising the wage...We welcome the Governor's support for a $15 minimum wage – and New York City stands ready to help make it a reality," de Blasio's statement reads. "We have been doing all we can here in the city: affordable housing, Pre-K for All, increasing and expanding the living wage, and much more. But combating income inequality requires bold action on all levels of government. I urge Albany to act quickly."

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Did Bill De Blasio's Tirade Help Andrew Cuomo Get His Groove Back? Sun, 13 Sep 2015 05:00:00 +0000