Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/239 Mon, 22 Apr 2019 04:26:03 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) The Power to Prevent New Infections is In Our Hands http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8436-the-power-to-prevent-new-infections-is-in-our-hands http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8436-the-power-to-prevent-new-infections-is-in-our-hands eric adams credit

Brooklyn BP Eric Adams, the author (photo: Erica Sherman/Brooklyn BP's Office)


The world of medicine has advanced significantly in the battle against many chronic diseases, including the discovery of the polio vaccine and reversing the effects of diabetes and heart disease. However, one battle continues to be fought in research labs and on the ground in communities across America and around the world — the fight to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

While New York State has been a fearless leader on a national level in the effort to end this disease, Brooklyn remains the epicenter of a persistent health crisis. To tackle this head-on, the State set an ambitious goal of ending the epidemic by 2020. Thanks to the diligent work of advocates, community-based organizations, and health care providers, the target is within reach.

Yet statistics reveal a disturbing trend that must be addressed to complete the mission. Data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) reveals that 2017 HIV diagnoses were down to a record low of 2,157 citywide. Though this progress is encouraging, the rate of reduction is slowing, from an 8.6% decline in new diagnoses in 2016 to 5.4% in 2017. Brooklyn bears a disproportionate burden of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with more than 30,000 of our neighbors living with HIV.

In 2017, our borough experienced 640 new HIV diagnoses, representing a 10.15% increase in new diagnoses from the previous year — making Brooklyn the only borough with an increase. Most alarmingly, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights are the hardest-hit neighborhoods citywide, accounting for a quarter of new diagnoses in our borough.

Today -- Wednesday, April 10 -- we recognize National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day. I continue to be concerned that each year since 2013 Brooklyn has more HIV diagnoses among youth aged 13-29 than any other borough. We owe it to our community’s young people to allow them to live in a world without AIDS.  

We cannot let the promise of an end to HIV miss the mark by neglecting our most susceptible communities that have already been neglected through generational poverty, institutional racism, and unequal access to quality health care. We have tools at our disposal to end this epidemic, particularly by expanding Medicaid Special Needs Health Plans (SNPs), which are designed to address the needs of individuals living with or at higher risk for HIV. These specialized health plans help members access treatment so that the virus becomes suppressed or “undetectable,” meaning they are unable to transmit HIV to others.

The more people we help achieve undetectable status, the closer we are to a society without HIV and AIDS. SNPs also have the expertise to connect HIV-negative individuals with effective prevention methods such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) so they can remain negative, saving $1 billion in state Medicaid costs for every 2,000 new infections.

The sectors of the population most at risk for contracting the virus are certainly those who will benefit most from an expansion of this crucial program. The State’s “Blueprint to End the HIV/AIDS Epidemic by 2020” lists include men who have sex with men (MSM), people of transgender experience, women of color, HIV-negative partners in couples in which one person is HIV negative and the other is HIV positive, and people who are intravenous drug users as populations at higher risk for HIV.

To reduce the rate of HIV in Brooklyn and reach the 2020 eradication target, we must reach these vulnerable populations and ensure they receive the culturally competent services needed to remain HIV negative. At present, of the populations identified by the State as being at higher risk, only HIV-negative transgender individuals are currently eligible to enroll in SNPs. To reach the end of this epidemic, this must change. 

Consider the clear scientific evidence that PrEP is more than 90 percent effective in preventing HIV transmission, yet the largest portion of New York State Medicaid recipients taking PrEP – 37% – are white gay and bisexual men despite black and Latino gay and bisexual men being hardest hit by the epidemic. We need to expand SNP eligibility and outreach to communities of color in the hardest-hit parts of our city to connect them to the services they need to get tested, treated, and enrolled.

We have the tools at our disposal to revolutionize the way we combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The power to prevent new infections is in our hands.

***
Eric L. Adams is the Brooklyn borough president. On Twitter @BPEricAdams.

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

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The Power to Prevent New Infections is In Our Hands Tue, 09 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Where Top Officials Stand on the SHSAT and Specialized High School Admissions http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8406-where-top-city-officials-stand-on-the-shsat-and-specialized-high-school-admissions http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8406-where-top-city-officials-stand-on-the-shsat-and-specialized-high-school-admissions de Blasio SHSAT

Mayor de Blasio announces specialized high schools plan (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)


In June of 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled out a plan to eliminate the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) for New York City’s specialized public high schools, in an effort to increase diversity, especially for black and Latino youth, at the city’s eight elite test-based institutions. Joined for a press conference in Brooklyn’s JHS 292 school by a Hunter College student, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, and a number of City Council members and State Assembly members, he hosted a rally-like announcement, where he initiated a call-and-response: “Time for change?” de Blasio asked three times. “Yes!” the audience yelled back.

“For thousands and thousands of students and neighborhoods all over New York City, the message has been these specialized schools aren’t for you,” de Blasio said in June. “So, the solution is simple: the test has to go.”

But it’s not simple. He received swift backlash from the city’s Asian-American community––especially those of low income, who comprise a significant portion of the specialized public high school student body. Though his plan was celebrated by some local politicians, as months passed, some began to shy away from their support for de Blasio’s plan and insisted on a more broadly palatable path.

De Blasio had not gotten much of the necessary buy-in to move his plan in the state Legislature -- state law dictates that the SHSAT is the sole criteria for entry into the three largest specialized high schools, Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech -- the mayor did little else to push his plan, and the discussion fizzled.

Then came the news earlier this month that of the 895 students offered admission to Stuyvesant High School, the city’s most rigorous and exclusive public school, only seven of those students were black. The controversy reenergized the debate around school admissions, the SHSAT, the city’s larger school system, and other key issues, embroiling not only city politicians, but also those who work in Albany.

The latest data for admissions to Stuyvesant and the other specialized schools set off a new round of questioning the use of the SHSAT (few if any other learning institutions at any level across the country use a single test to determine admissions) and reinvigorated interest in plans put forth by de Blasio and others to ensure more racial and ethnic diversity at the schools. While those who prefer the current system dug in.

Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed the lack of diversity at the schools is a problem and said the city should change admissions at the five schools it controls and then put pressure on state legislators to follow suit for the other three. He did not offer any specifics on what he believes to be the right admissions criteria.

Neither Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie nor Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has taken a concrete position on the SHSAT and specialized high school admissions. Heastie did say on March 8 that he wants to see “more specialized slots” and the schools "more reflective of the city's population," but he did not go further. He said the Assembly majority would take the issue up at some point.

A group of state senators called for “open dialogue and consensus-building on school diversity and admissions.” Queens Senator John Liu, who chairs the Senate’s New York City schools subcommittee, said de Blasio’s plan exacerbates racial tension, but brought together colleagues to announce a plan to hold hearings later this year.

“What we need is open-mindedness and open dialogue in order to build a consensus for a plan going forward,” Liu said. Other senators echoed Liu, decrying the city’s diversity statistics and calling for a series of community forums, but neglecting to offer any other concrete solutions.

De Blasio said he looked forward to future dialogue. A couple of weeks later, on Thursday, he acknowledged that he did not roll out his plan well, and pledged more engagement with the city’s Asian communities.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wrote an op-ed in Chalkbeat NY on Thursday in which he called for the eventual elimination of the use of the SHSAT for admissions to the city’s specialized high schools and for “additional City-designated elite high schools, separate from the eight test-based high schools governed by state law.” Johnson wrote that this process “would allow the [Department of Education] to pilot new admissions criteria that will promote diversity without needing state approval.”

Johnson also wrote that City Council will soon consider new legislation addressing diversity in specialized high schools and beyond, including a task force to determine new admissions criteria, codification of the School Diversity Advisory Group, establishing District Diversity Working Groups in each school district, and the creation of an oversight role housed in the city Human Rights Commission called a School Diversity Monitor.

"The problem with the specialized high schools’ admissions process runs much deeper than one test," said Council Member Mark Treyger, chair of the education committee, in a statement, noting that he will hold a hearing on school segregation next month. Treyger also cited an op-ed published in the New York Daily News on Wednesday by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who argued against eliminating the test and pushed for expanding gifted-and-talented programs citywide.

"I won’t support a plan that solely abolishes an exam, which was essentially the Mayor’s plan," Treyger said. "I’m open to a plan that includes revamping and expanding enrichment programs, adding more crucial seats, across all districts, particularly in communities of color. We must engage with all marginalized communities as we examine how to better integrate schools, from pre-k to high school. We need full integration, which means examining evidence-based multiple measures to enter specialized schools, and the pipeline of schools that populate them and the rest of our school system."

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams initially backed de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the use of the SHSAT and move to multiple measures for admissions to the specialized schools, even appearing at the announcement to lend his support, but he then backtracked.

Adams penned an op-ed in the Amsterdam News last July voicing his support for the SHSAT––with caveats. He called for “free preparatory services for every student who wants to take the SHSAT but faces economic hardship,” funded by the city, in addition to expanding middle school gifted and talented programs. Additionally, he advocated creating five new specialized high schools, one per borough, and incorporating other academic metrics like class performance into the admissions process. This week, Adams’ office told the Gotham Gazette that his position remains the same.

After de Blasio announced his plan, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. also voiced his support, calling it a “welcome step forward” and a “validation of the diligent work of so many elected officials, educators, activists and parents whose efforts have focused on this issue for years, if not decades.” Like Adams, he has since walked back his support, telling the Max & Murphy podcast this week that he favors a more holistic admissions approach that includes the SHSAT in addition to a number of other academic criteria.

Asked for her position by Gotham Gazette, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer advocated for methods of improving diversity beyond eliminating the entrance exam and also called for community forums. The city should engage in “a back and forth with students and parents about the many options to reform the admissions at these specific high schools,” she said.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer has not responded to a request for comment.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Note - This article has been updated with comment from Council Member Mark Treyger, who chairs the Committee on Education.

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Where Top Officials Stand on the SHSAT and Specialized High School Admissions Thu, 28 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
A Closer Look at ‘Vital Brooklyn,’ Cuomo’s Plan for ‘One of the Greatest Areas of Need in the Entire State’ http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8144-a-closer-look-at-vital-brooklyn-cuomo-s-plan-for-one-of-the-greatest-areas-of-need-in-the-entire-state http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8144-a-closer-look-at-vital-brooklyn-cuomo-s-plan-for-one-of-the-greatest-areas-of-need-in-the-entire-state billion vital bk

Cuomo & Vital Brooklyn (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)


In March of 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled what he described as a groundbreaking initiative to “bring health and wellness to one of the most disadvantaged parts of the state.” That place was Central Brooklyn, where roubling health indicators of all types plague residents, from diabetes rates to poverty levels to inadequate access to quality health care.

Cuomo said the plan, named Vital Brooklyn, came with $1.4 billion in state funds to pay for a long list of items across the borough, from playground renovations to job training to resiliency projects — all with the aim of fighting “entrenched pockets of poverty” in a comprehensive way, he said at the time.

“What is the area in this state that has the greatest social need? If you look at unemployment rates, food stamps, physical inactivity, number of murders, one of the greatest areas of need in the entire state is Central Brooklyn. And it’s not even close,” Cuomo said.

Since then, the governor has made nearly a dozen announcements related to Vital Brooklyn, six of them taking place from June to September in the lead-up to this year’s gubernatorial primary in which candidates for statewide offices heavily courted Central Brooklyn voters. At those events, Cuomo emphasized state funding for an oyster reef restoration project ($400,000), 22 community gardens ($3.1 million), fresh food programs ($1.8 million) and a new 407-acre state park to be named after iconic Brooklyn Congressional Rep. Shirley Chisholm — an announcement made eight days before the primary.

In total, the governor’s office says there are 8,800 projects funded under the Vital Brooklyn umbrella, funded by the $1.4 billion (a dollar amount unchanged since spring of 2017, according to the state budget office). However, it’s important to note that those touted by the governor — such as those gardens, farmers markets and state park — make up a small slice of the total funding. The much larger pieces of the pie fall into just two (albeit very big) categories: housing and health care.

In fact, nine out of every 10 dollars spent through Vital Brooklyn fall into the housing and health care columns: $578 million for subsidized housing in rapidly gentrifying areas (for example, a 2,400-unit project just announced in East New York) and $700 million, allocated in 2015, for a new health care system that aims to restructure and revive three of Brooklyn's struggling hospitals.

While some aspects of Vital Brooklyn are quickly taking shape, others will take months or years to materialize. Some officials, including several who have excitedly joined Cuomo at celebratory announcements, are lauding the investments, but critics of the project worry it’s not enough — and take issue with how Vital Brooklyn was rolled out, and how the money is divvied up.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said in a recent interview that his office wasn’t asked to give input on the project (the state instead took comments from advisory boards convened through the area’s elected state Assembly members) and he feels the funding is too small in scope and dollar amount, even if the governor’s frequent appearances make it appear otherwise.

“We have to have a re-examination of the state allocations and are we doing what’s right by Brooklyn,” he said, particularly in relation to the Bronx, which Adams feels has gotten significantly more financial help from the state; Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is a close ally of the governor.

Earlier this year, he put it more bluntly earlier in an interview on the Max & Murphy podcast.

“You can’t keep brushing off and rolling out the same billion-dollar project,” he said in May.

When asked to respond to that claim — and whether or not the Vital Brooklyn announcements were made in relation to this year’s primary — Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens’ comment was brief: “Bogus.”

“This is simple: Our significant new investment in Brooklyn is based on a multi-pronged strategy to uplift communities that have been ignored for too long,” Stevens said in an email. “We’re proud of this effort, and we will not be shy about talking to local residents about the important work we’re doing to make their neighborhoods a better place to live.”

Big Spending: Health Care
Of Vital Brooklyn’s $1.4 billion, fully half is dedicated to a new health care system for Brooklyn. That funding comes from a $700 million capital grant made through the Health Care Facilities Transformation Program included in the 2015-2016 state budget, allocated two years before it was announced as part of Vital Brooklyn.

The funding will go to One Brooklyn Health System (OBHS), a newly formed operator that will combine the management of three previously separate Central Brooklyn hospitals — Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in East Flatbush, Interfaith Medical Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center serving Brownsville and East New York — into one not-for-profit corporation.

LaRay Brown, previously the president and CEO of Interfaith, is heading up the new venture. She says she’s been pushing for years for the “incredibly impactful” amount of state funding that will support dozens of major projects throughout the new health care system.

Inside the buildings, the $700 million will pay for “boring things, but essential things,” Brown said, like replacing elevators, repairing HVAC systems and updating an outdated fire alarm system.

“I say they’re boring, but they’re critical to providing safe and comfortable patient care,” she said.

The medical centers will get major upgrades to their patient facilities, too. According to Request for Proposal documents from OBHS, Brookdale will build out a new 33-bed intensive care unit, renovate a 40-year-old operating room suite and upgrade all of the facility’s inpatient psychiatric units among others improvements. At Interfaith, the medical center’s emergency room will be upgraded and expanded, inpatient medical units will be renovated and new equipment such as MRI and x-ray machines will be installed. Major medical equipment will be replaced at Kingsbrook, as well, the documents show.

Overall, the idea for the restructuring and redesign is to merge services among the three hospitals in order to form a more streamlined organization — and hopefully, in the end, become more financially stable.

That’s according to state officials from the Public Health and Health Planning Council who approved the creation of OBHS in December of 2016. A report to the council at the time concluded that, operating separately, the hospitals require hundreds of millions of dollars in operating subsidies from the state every year “and are otherwise not financially sustainable.” (According to budget data from a PHHPC report, operating funds given to the three hospitals from the state totaled $169 million in 2015-16, then rose to $245 million in 2016-17 and $250 million in 2017-18.)

“They've come together … in an effort to try to restructure and become more efficient and reduce its dependence on specialty subsidies,” state health department official Charles Abel told the council before it approved the OBHS application.

To achieve those efficiencies, OBHS will reorganize how certain operations run within the three hospitals. For example, Brown said, Kingsbrook will no longer have inpatient medical-surgical beds and, though it will still have an emergency room, patients in need of ongoing acute or complex care will be transferred elsewhere, likely to Brookdale, which Brown said will become the system’s “center of excellence.”

LaRay Brown Brooklyn“As the inpatient acute care role diminishes at Kingsbrook, that role increases at Brookdale,” said Brown (pictured).

But Brown is careful to note the restructuring effort should not be considered a consolidation. Current assessments by OBHS show no material difference between the number of current beds and projected beds in the system, according to OBHS’ Dona Green. In the end, Brown says the quality and quantity of services will expand.

“Because these hospitals are coming together and because of the state’s commitment to invest in these hospitals, the Central Brooklyn community served by these hospitals will get more services, and not less,” Brown said.

That sentiment was echoed by Assemblymember Latrice Walker of District 55 in Brownsville, who has been waiting for years to see this funding come through for the hospital system, particularly at Brookdale, where many of her constituents go for care — and where her own brother died of gunshot wounds when he was 19, she said.

“I’m confident the services will be reinvigorated and enumerated. I don’t think we’re going to lose anything here,” she said. “Quite the contrary — we’re actually gaining.”

By the totality of the health facilities in the works under Vital Brooklyn, that appears to be the case. A chunk of the initiative’s healthcare funding — $210 million in all — is allocated to create 32 new ambulatory care facilities, or community health centers, under the OBHS umbrella. The goal there is to create more medical offices, outpatient surgical facilities and urgent care options with a more long-term goal of reducing unnecessary trips to emergency rooms.

“We need to start moving toward people having primary care physicians so that the emergency room isn’t their doctor office,” Walker said.

Cuomo put it this way when announcing some of the 32 ambulatory care locations in July of this year: “It's not just about a hospital where you go when you're very sick.”

“Prevent the illness in the first place,” he continued. “Have more community-based healthcare systems that are focused on wellness, and health, as opposed to waiting for a person to get sick, and then be in acute need.”

These new ambulatory centers are meant to handle a diverse slate of same-day health services, including diagnostic work, rehabilitation, or even major procedures such as hip replacements, according to Bill Hammond, the Director of Health Policy at the Empire Center think tank.

Ambulatory centers have a lot of benefits, he said. For the patient, it’s generally a more comfortable experience to avoid spending a night at a hospital, and there’s less risk of infection. For hospitals, increasing outpatient services makes a lot of financial sense.

“It’s less expensive,” he said. “Hospitals come with a lot of overhead.”

That idea is in line with a healthcare trend more generally to move patients out of traditional inpatient hospitals and toward ambulatory centers for all kinds of services, from preventative doctor visits all the way up to certain surgeries. The move from “reliance on hospital-based services” to more outpatient services “is a major policy shift,” said Brown of OBHS. And it takes place within the context of years of financial struggle, and at times closure, for many hospitals, particularly those serving low-income communities, as costs have continued to rise.

To combat that, the Vital Brooklyn plan puts a priority on the financial viability of health care projects funded under the plan. Included in guidelines for evaluating applicants to Vital Brooklyn, the state’s website says it will consider “the extent to which the proposed projects further the development of primary care and other outpatient services; the extent to which the proposed projects contribute to the long-term sustainability of the applicant or preservation of essential health services; and the extent to which the proposed projects involve partnerships with community-based health care providers,” among other criteria.

With the funding for the new 32 health facilities, the state hopes to roughly double the number of ambulatory care visits in Central Brooklyn, increasing capacity for 742,000 more visits every year, according to the governor’s office.

Exactly where all that new health care capacity will be built is unknown; all 32 locations have not yet been finalized. But Cuomo announced plans in July for renovations and the expansion of several existing health care centers, including the Bishop Walker Health Care Center in Prospect Heights, the Pierre Toussaint Health Center in Crown Heights and the Brownsville Multi-Service Center. In addition to those locations, several health care providers including the Bed-Stuy Family Health Center, Community Health Network, and ODA Primary Health Care Network have been chosen by the state to build new health centers in Brooklyn, providing both primary and specialty care.

Some of the 32 new ambulatory health centers will be built within new developments underwritten by the second largest piece of the Vital Brooklyn funding: affordable housing.

Housing on State and Hospital Sites
In all, the state will spend $578 million — or more than 40 percent of the total Vital Brooklyn package — on subsidized housing, with a goal to build 4,000 new units over several years.

The governor has repeatedly linked overall health goals of Vital Brooklyn to housing, particularly in rapidly gentrifying areas such as East New York where speculative buying and building, combined with a 2016 rezoning, has put pressure on poor residents.

“It starts in the home, having the right housing, having the right environment, having the right support. And that's where we're going to start. We need afford affordable housing because out people are being displaced. Gentrification is everywhere,” the governor said at a Vital Brooklyn event earlier this year.

How all those units will be constructed is still up in the air, but details on some of the development sites are beginning to emerge. Late last month, the state announced four winning bids to develop housing on land owned by the three OBHS hospitals or on state-controlled land, including one complex in East New York that’s set to deliver the bulk of the subsidized housing funded under Vital Brooklyn.

On Nov. 29, the state chose Westchester-based L+M Development Partners, Harlem-based construction group Apex Building, and two social services organizations — RiseBoro Community Partnership and Services for the Underserved — to bring a massive, 2,400-unit development to the site of the former Brooklyn Developmental Center, a home for developmentally delayed adults that closed in 2015. The three other chosen projects — two to be built on land owned by Interfaith hospital and another on land owned by Brookdale Hospital — will bring another 328 subsidized units to the borough.

At the same time the state announced those projects, it rolled out another set of request for proposals (RFPs) on eight state-controlled sites around the borough, including several hospital parking lots set to be replaced by new buildings. Proposals for five of the sites are due by February 28, 2019 and the three others are due by April 30, according to the RFP documents.

A majority of the affordable housing will be funded by $568 million allocated through the state’s Homes and Community Renewal agency, with a goal of creating 3,000 units. In addition, the governor said in August $15 million in federal tax credits have been allocated by the state for future housing developments on land controlled by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). In his announcement on that initiative, the governor said he hopes to support the creation of 1,000 units of housing. However, no specific sites for those developments have been announced and will be “reviewed on a rolling basis by HCR as NYCHA makes properties available through its disposition process,” according to a press release.

The need for housing is the number one priority for Brooklyn residents, Borough President Adams said, and he gave credit to Vital Brooklyn for addressing the issue. He also acknowledged the plans would bring much-needed resources — including park space and options for healthy food — to the area. But he thinks it doesn’t go far enough.

“We’re dealing with historical inequities. People who were denied food access before — OK, let’s give them more farmer’s market,” he said. “Those things are great. But if we’re going to invest, let’s be visionaries in our investment.”

He would have liked to see more funding allocated to grandparent housing, which is set aside for grandparents who are the primary caregivers to young children, and even more resources given to the hospital network, he said.

More criticism of the governor’s Vital Brooklyn plan came from the East New York district where the large Brooklyn Developmental Center site is set to be rebuilt under the initiative. The complex will have 100 percent subsidized apartments set aside for a combination of formerly homeless New Yorkers, households earning less than 50 percent of the area median income (AMI) — a federal guideline for determining the cost of affordable housing — and the rest for households earning less than 80 percent of the AMI. Currently for a family of three, 80 percent of AMI equals $62,150 a year.

That may sound like a win in a low-income area like East New York. But with the median household income of East New York at $34,512 per year (according to data from the city’s Housing Preservation and Development agency), the development doesn’t satisfy one of the neighborhood’s longtime leaders.

Assemblymember Charles Barron says his district needs even more low-cost units because only a fraction of its residents are in the 80-percent income range. And, overall, he thinks Vital Brooklyn doesn’t go far enough in a state with a $168 billion budget, and billions more in capital spending.

“You see $600, $700 million and think it’s wonderful and a lot of money,” he said. “That is peanuts.”

In particular, he wants to see more support for the healthcare system.

“It’s simply not enough money for three hospitals,” he said.

In response, Cuomo spokesperson Stevens said in a statement that the Vital Brooklyn investment is “delivering substantial resources and coordinated services to support neighborhoods that have long been neglected.”

“We believe this massive commitment is something to celebrate, not politicize with cheap attacks that are untethered to reality,” he said.

Looking for Results
The governor has often said, for him, Vital Brooklyn is a project that brings his own career full circle, from when he was working on housing in East New York as a young man, to now. In speaking about it, he says he has wanted to help turn Brooklyn around for years.

Cuomo Brooklyn“I never lost the inspiration, and the hope, and the optimism, of what you can do when you do it right,” he said in a speech on the project in April, nearly half-way through his eighth year in office. “For me, this is something special. This is something that is long overdue. It's an investment in people who desperately have needed help, and have been ignored for too long.”

But it may take quite a while to see all of the Vital Brooklyn projects come to life. Some of the smaller pieces of the puzzle, like a pilot program for youth-run food markets and construction on new playgrounds, are beginning this year and next, the governor has said. For the larger, more complicated parts, however, it could take years; for example, some of the first units of housing are estimated to come online in 2021 and others — like the East New York project — is not slated for completion until 2026, the governor’s office said.

The health center restructuring, too, will takes years to finish. When it’s finally complete, it remains to be seen whether the largest part of Vital Brooklyn — the $700 million in health care capital funding — will make a substantive difference to financially shore up the three Central Brooklyn hospitals.

Hammond of the Empire Center said if the plan is a good one that reconfigures the facilities’ operations significantly, it “could put them in a different position to succeed,” though he was hesitant to say whether he believes the restructuring will prove successful long-term.

But the health funding is not peanuts, as Barron said, nor is it a groundbreaking amount, as one may think from the governor’s announcements. The reality is somewhere in the middle.

“The state routinely spends billions and billions of dollars on health care all over the state,” both in discretionary grants and capital allocations, Hammond said. “On any given day, you could go to a different community and announce a very large-sounding dollar amount…and it would be absolutely routine.”

However, on a per-resident basis, Brooklyn is getting more than the average — while falling far below the state’s most generous allocations. Hammond found the state spent $190 per resident in capital health care spending in the last five years in New York State. In Kings County, the per-resident breakdown equaled $264 per resident, which is “significantly more than the state average,” he said. But that figure is dwarfed by another capital grant also given in 2015 to a hospital system in Oneida County, where spending totaled $1,297 per resident.

For all those funding plans, however, the dollars have not yet started to flow, according to Brown of OBHS. Before that happens, several bureaucratic steps must take place, including complying with transparency regulations approved by the state comptroller’s office. She hopes that will be complete in the new year.

“Everyone is endeavouring to get [approval]…by early 2019,” she said, while emphasizing it’s hard to make an exact estimate, as she and her team are figuring out the complexities of the project as they go along.

“We’re all entering a new journey here,” she said.

***
by Rachel Holliday Smith for Gotham Gazette
@rachelholliday
@GothamGazette

All photos via the Governor's Office on flickr.

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A Closer Look at ‘Vital Brooklyn,’ Cuomo’s Plan for ‘One of the Greatest Areas of Need in the Entire State’ Thu, 13 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Prominent Elected Officials Oppose De Blasio Charter Revision Proposals http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8026-prominent-elected-officials-oppose-de-blasio-charter-revision-proposals http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8026-prominent-elected-officials-oppose-de-blasio-charter-revision-proposals Mayor de Blasio

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


Mayor Bill de Blasio is seeking to make a lasting impact on city governance through a charter revision commission that would transform the city’s campaign finance system, promote greater civic involvement in city affairs, and inject new blood into local community boards. But prominent elected officials, most of whom are Democrats like de Blasio, don’t agree with the proposals the mayor’s commission has put on the November 6 ballot and are urging New Yorkers to reject them.

The mayor’s commission put three questions on the ballot for voter approval through a simple majority. The first would significantly reduce individual campaign contribution limits and expand the city’s public matching funds program; the second would create a civic engagement commission with appointments mostly by the mayor to coordinate citywide participatory budgeting and other initiatives such as interpreting services at polling sites; and the third would impose term limits on community board members and alter how those members are recruited and appointed to ensure greater diversity.

Though the mayor appointed the commission and announced its areas of focus, he was not to have direct say over its final report or proposals, but he did announce support for all three and is now campaigning to see them approved by voters.

“These reforms will go a long way toward strengthening our democracy and limiting the influence of big money in our elections,” he said in a September statement, when the proposals were released. “There's no doubt in my mind that these measures will help us build a more fair and equitable city.” On Sunday, de Blasio spoke at two churches in Manhattan, urging congregants to flip their ballot and decide on the three questions. “[V]ote yes, yes, yes. So we can open up the doors of democracy wide and make this an even greater city,” he said at Bethel Gospel Assembly.

Other elected officials, however, are not so certain, and are expressing somewhat mixed reviews, though many are opposed to community board term limits.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, for instance, supports lowering contribution limits and creating a civic engagement commission, but not term limits for community board members. “I don’t think term limits are necessary,” Johnson, a former community boar chair, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “These aren’t lifetime appointments. They must be reappointed by elected officials who are term limited. I think that provides enough checks and balances to our community boards, while allowing us to keep the good members with experience and wisdom. It is also our job as elected officials to always be looking to appoint new civic minded leaders who are interested in serving.”

It’s an argument that’s also been advanced by four of the five borough presidents -- only Brooklyn’s Eric Adams supports the term limits question.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, in fact, led the creation of an independent expenditure committee to oppose both term limits and the civic engagement commission, an effort in which she was joined by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, and Staten Island Borough President James Oddo (Oddo is the lone Republican in the group). “These proposals would be a real—and in some cases dangerous—disruption to the way Community Boards protect our communities,” Brewer wrote in an email to supporters earlier this month, arguing that it could lead to a drain in institutional wisdom and give real estate interests and lobbyists a leg up in discussions about community development. The proposal does include a provision whereby individuals term-limited off of community boards are eligible to serve again after a one-term, two-year “cooling off period.”

“Our community boards are the eyes and ears of our neighborhoods and are often the first line of defense against unwanted projects as well as the initial point of contact between city agencies and our neighbors,” said Diaz Jr. “We should be working to strengthen their role, not strip them of the knowledge and historical focus that makes them so important in the first place.”

Katz said the current appointment process allows “ample opportunity” to pick diverse candidates “for a dynamic mix of talent,” while Oddo worried that the “one-size-fits-all solution” could have unintended consequences.

Adams, however, has argued, “While institutional knowledge is valuable, a reasonable term limit for Community Board members will allow the best of both worlds: institutional knowledge and new voices.”

On expanding the campaign finance system, however, only Adams and Oddo have publicly opposed the question among the borough presidents, though for different reasons. “[Brooklyn BP Adams] opposes the campaign finance reform measure because it doesn’t go far enough as he believes in 100 percent public financing,” said an Adams spokesperson. Oddo, on the other hand, has been a staunch opponent of public financing and simply said, “Hell no!” about proposal one.

Spokespeople for Katz and Diaz Jr. did not respond to requests for comment about the campaign finance reform proposal.

[Read: Brewer Creates Committee to Oppose Charter Revision Proposals]

Comptroller Scott Stringer also opposes the second and third questions while supporting the first on campaign finance reform. “The City must take a serious look at our Charter — it’s critical to tackling the important issues facing New Yorkers,” he said in a statement. Stringer has laid out his own exhaustive plan of charter proposals to the 2019 charter commission, a separate one from the mayor’s that was created through City Council legislation that is taking a far broader look at the city’s governing principles. 

Stringer added, “I support the first initiative because we need a campaign finance system that does everything it can to engage New Yorkers and help people run for office. I oppose proposals 2 and 3 which will weaken communities’ voices in shaping their own development.”

At an October 31 news conference at City Hall, Gotham Gazette asked Speaker Johnson if he would urge the 2019 commission to reverse community board term limits if they should pass. Johnson said he would not. "I think it's important to lice by the will of the voters," he said.  

A spokesperson for Public Advocate Letitia James did not provide her stances despite multiple requests for comment, one of which was acknowledged.

Among a few rank-and-file City Council Members, reception of the proposals seems to be mixed. Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, for example, supports all three proposals and has in particular been advocating for the creation of the civic engagement commission -- Lander had proposed the idea through legislation and presented it to the commission.

“I truly believe these ballot proposals give us an opportunity to do something important to strengthen our local democracy: To improve our campaign finance rules. To turbo-charge civic engagement. To expand participatory budgeting city-wide,” he said in an email blast to supporters, calling on New Yorkers to pledge their support.

Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos, also a Democrat, is backing all the proposals as well. Kallos has been a staunch campaign finance reform advocate and the first question would partially achieve what he has in the past tried to do through legislation, to expand the amount of public funds given to candidates running for office. “Democracy in New York City will finally get better,” he said in a September 6 statement, if the first question is passed, “reducing contribution limits and making small dollars more valuable by matching more of them with a greater multiplier.”

City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, a Queens Democrat, is also urging a "yes" vote on all three proposals. City Council Member Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat, has expressed support for the campaign finance proposal, but a spokesperson did not respond to a request for his positions on the other two.

On the other end, there’s Council Member Helen Rosenthal, again a Manhattan Democrat, who opposes all three measures. “The spirit of the first two proposals is positive and some of the substance is even promising, but each raises significant concerns to the point where I cannot support them,” she said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Also noting a criticism that was raised when the mayor first announced his commission, she added, “Of course, all three proposals could be implemented through the current legislative process.”

Even government reform groups appear somewhat split on the ballot proposals. Reinvent Albany is advocating for all three. “Reinvent Albany believes a YES vote on these ballot measures will collectively amplify the voice of everyday New Yorkers and create new opportunities for injecting fresh perspectives into the public debate over how to make our city better for everyone,” the group said in an email blast on Monday.

Citizens Union, another good government advocacy organization opposes the proposal for a civic engagement commission, supports community board term limits, and has not taken a position on the campaign finance question.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - This article has been updated with additional comment from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Jumaane Williams.   

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Prominent Elected Officials Oppose De Blasio Charter Revision Proposals Mon, 29 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Brewer Creates Committee to Oppose Charter Revision Proposals http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8000-brewer-creates-committee-to-oppose-charter-revision-proposals http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8000-brewer-creates-committee-to-oppose-charter-revision-proposals brewer de blasio bill signing

Mayor de Blasio & BP Brewer (photo: Brewer's office)


Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is forming an independent expenditure committee to try to defeat two public referenda on the November general election ballot that would impose term limits on community board members and create a new citywide civic engagement agency under the control of the mayor’s office.

Last month, the charter revision commission created by Mayor Bill de Blasio approved three ballot questions to present to voters on November 6. The first would significantly reduce campaign contribution limits and make small but significant enhancements to the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program, which incentivizes small-dollar fundraising. Brewer has not taken a position on that proposal.

[Read: Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Puts Three Questions on November Ballot]

On the other two questions, however, the Manhattan borough president is ardently opposed, and is mobilizing people and money to persuade New York City voters to defeat them.

Question two creates a centralized Civic Engagement Commission, with a majority of members appointed by the mayor, to coordinate citywide efforts on participatory budgeting, community engagement, and to provide technical assistance to the city’s 59 community boards.

Question three, the most controversial of the proposals, would limit the number of terms community board members can serve while also reforming the recruitment and appointment process that borough presidents use to fill board rosters.

Brewer insists both those questions are misguided, and is forming a committee called “Vote No on 2 & 3” to campaign against them. 

“These proposals would be a real—and in some cases dangerous—disruption to the way Community Boards protect our communities,” she wrote in an email blast to supporters from her personal email account, soliciting funds for the incipient committee and urging recipients to spread the word. (Elected officials are not allowed to advocate for or against ballot proposals in their official capacity under state law and per guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board.)

Though the committee does not yet seem to be registered with the state Board of Elections, a sign-up web page declares that it is “an official NYS independent expenditure committee, made up of volunteers, some belonging to Community Boards and some not, who think Proposals 2 & 3 are bad news for neighborhoods and a giveaway to developers and City Hall.” Asked for clarification, a spokesperson for the committee did not respond.

Brewer argues, as have other opponents, that community board term limits would lead to a brain drain of experienced and engaged community board members to the benefit of lobbyists and developers looking to exploit communities without facing pushback. In particular, she said, community board members with know-how on complicated land use and zoning issues would be kicked out.

“It would have the effect of allowing developers and their lawyers—who are never term limited!—to dominate development negotiations, because those long-time members will be gone,” Brewer wrote. “And on long-term city projects like street redesign or sustainability, newly-appointed community board members would have little influence over long-term projects. Every Board’s institutional memory would be wiped out.”

In a statement, Matt Gewolb, executive director of the charter commission, emphasized the testimony received from across the five boroughs, urging the commission to make community boards more diverse, reflective of the neighborhoods they serve, and to give them additional resources. “The Commission's proposals are designed in response to this community input,” he said. “As the Commission has described in its reports, the proposal seeks to strike a reasonable balance between retaining valuable institutional knowledge and providing opportunities for new voices to have a seat at the table.”

Brewer, however, insisted that the proposal is “redundant” since the borough presidents and City Council members that apppoint community board members are themselves limited to serving two terms each. She also took issue with the proposed duties that the Civic Engagement Commission would have in assisting community boards, seeing it as an encroachment on the powers of the borough presidents who currently perform those roles.

The Manhattan borough president isn’t alone in her opposition. Of the five borough presidents, only Brooklyn’s Eric Adams has come out in support of community board term limits, which supporters say would diversify the boards, providing more representation for younger people and people of color. The other three -- Ruben Diaz Jr. in the Bronx, Melinda Katz in Queens, and Staten Island’s James Oddo -- all oppose the second and third questions.

In a statement through a spokesperson, Adams said, “This is what democracy is all about. I applaud my colleague and friend Borough President Brewer for making her voice heard.”

Brewer ended her appeal by urging supporters to vote against the two proposals and also to testify against them at several forums scheduled over the next week by the charter commission to educate voters. Last month, she also took her message to the 2019 charter revision commission, urging it to reverse the mayor’s commission’s proposals if they are approved by voters. “Community Boards are our first line of offense in promoting neighborhood planning and our first line of defense in protecting neighborhoods from developers who seek only maximum profit from their work in our communities,” she said at the September 27 hearing of the commission that will put proposals on next year’s general election ballot, and on which she appointed one member as part of a process created by legislation she and Public Advocate Letitia James moved through the City Council.

Asked last week about the possibility that the 2019 commission could negate the mayor’s commission’s work, mayoral spokesperson Seth Stein said in an email, “We’re not going to predict what the Council Commission will do, and will review any proposals.”

[Read: Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Puts Three Questions on November Ballot]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated. 

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Brewer Creates Committee to Oppose Charter Revision Proposals Tue, 16 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
As Senator Faces Tough Primary, He’s Spending $1 Million in Public Funds from Brooklyn Borough President http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7862-adams-allocates-1-million-in-government-funding-as-hamilton-attempts-to-fend-off-primary-challenger http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7862-adams-allocates-1-million-in-government-funding-as-hamilton-attempts-to-fend-off-primary-challenger cd2a0nexeaa1wgl

Senator Jesse Hamilton with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, center (photo: @BPEricAdams)


Amid a heated Democratic primary race in central Brooklyn’s state Senate District 20, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is making $1 million of government money available for spending in the district through a process run by Senator Jesse Hamilton, his handpicked, newly-embattled successor in the state Legislature.

Hamilton is a former member of the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight Democratic state senators who formed a coalition with the Senate Republican conference from 2011 to earlier this year, bolstering the Republicans’ slim legislative majority in the upper house of the state Legislature. After being elected to replace Adams in the Senate in 2014, just after Adams was elected borough president the year before, Hamilton announced he was joining the IDC in November 2016 right before being reelected.

Now, this election year, every former IDC member faces a progressive primary challenger, with the votes set for September 13. Hamilton’s challenger, Zellnor Myrie, is receiving widespread institutional support, including the recent endorsements of four Brooklyn members of Congress—Yvette Clarke, Nydia Velázquez, Jerry Nadler, and Hakeem Jeffries—and Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others. Adams, though, seems firmly in support of Hamilton: campaign finance records show that he donated $5,000 on January 12, 2018, to Friends of Jesse Hamilton, the senator’s election committee, though Adams has not yet offered a formal endorsement of his protege.

The two have a long-lasting and well-documented relationship. Adams represented District 20, which includes parts of Brownsville, Crown Heights, Park Slope, and East Flatbush, in the state Senate for four terms, from 2006 until just after his election to the borough presidency in late 2013. After Adams vacated his seat, Hamilton, then an attorney and elected district leader, competed against Department of Education administrator Rubain Dorancy in a 2014 race widely seen at the time as a proxy battle between Adams, supporting Hamilton, and Hakeem Jeffries, who’d backed Dorancy.

After Hamilton won the nomination to the seat by a wide margin, Adams reportedly shouted at a victory party, “We showed them who the real kingmaker in Brooklyn is.”

The two have partnered frequently since Hamilton’s election, the senator’s director of communications Ean Fullerton told Gotham Gazette in an email, pointing to past immigration forums, health fairs, and cultural events in Brooklyn.

Two terms and four years after his succession of Adams, Hamilton is again battling for his party’s nomination in Senate District 20, after no Democrat contested his renomination in 2016. Concurrently, he is asking his constituents how they’d like to spend the $1 million that Adams recently funded for participatory budgeting in Senate District 20. The borough president made no such allocation available in any other senate district.

Participatory budgeting is a process that allows constituents to decide how to spend a portion of the public budget. Community members submit proposals for capital projects, like school and park improvements, which are then put to a vote among residents in the relevant geographic area. In New York, this typically occurs in a City Council district—this year, 31 of 51 City Council members participated, using a portion of the capital funding they receive each year through the larger Council budget process—though Adams has taken up participatory budgeting using the funds at his disposal as borough president.

In New York City, representatives who opt to participate in participatory budgeting must allocate at least $1 million of their district’s budget to the process. Senate District 20 is the site of the first participatory budgeting conducted by a New York state legislator, a landmark made especially noteworthy by the fact that the funds arrived from a borough president. The timing is also exceptional, given its alignment with the election calendar. The senator’s spokesperson said Hamilton and Adams had discussed a participatory budgeting proposal “some time ago” and have been working to launch it “as soon as we were ready.”

“Sen. Hamilton believes this initiative can serve as an example for more state leaders to pursue [participatory budgeting] on the state level,” he added.

ddvioltvaaaad9mThe process began this past May 22 with an announcement from Senator Hamilton’s office that framed the participatory budgeting as “in partnership with Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams.” Proposals were due, atypically, only 12 days later, on June 4, though on that day Hamilton extended the deadline to June 8. The proposed PB projects in District 20 would upgrade school facilities, repave streets and sidewalks, install security cameras, and improve green space in the district. Residents aged 11 and up could vote on the proposals between August 6 and August 12, and Hamilton’s office, in partnership with the Bridge Street Development Corporation, launched a get-out-the-vote effort replete with "mailers to the district, email blasts, robocalls, text messages, flyering at subway stations, and community meetings," according to a handout from a May 23 neighborhood assembly on the topic in Crown Heights.

All proposed projects must be located within Senate District 20, and flyers and mailers publicizing the initiative prominently feature Hamilton’s face and name. (They also come alongside a series of other mailers that Hamilton has sent to constituents using state funds allocated to his office for communications with district residents, a perk state legislators have long taken advantage of during election years.)

The New York City Charter allows the five borough presidents to allocate funds towards capital projects in their boroughs, and Adams was the first elected official in New York City beyond the City Council to fund participatory budgeting, said Stefan Ringel, Adams’ communications director. Adams has funded projects in various Brooklyn Council districts to the tune of $1 million a year for the past three years.

Hamilton approached Adams in March 2016 about setting up participatory budgeting in his Senate district, Ringel told Gotham Gazette. Adams obliged, doubling his annual allocation of PB funds in the borough to $2 million, setting aside half of that sum for Hamilton’s district, one of nine Senate districts that include at least parts of the borough.

Through his communications director, Adams emphasized that the district includes Brownsville, Brooklyn’s poorest neighborhood, where he was born and where he “has committed to reverse decades of underinvestment.”

The borough president “would welcome other legislators and agencies who wish to partner on any further expansions,” said Ringel. But, for now, he’s allocated $1 million only to District 20, as insurgency threatens his hand-picked successor there.

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by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated to clarify that Sen. Hamilton is running the participatory budgeting process, not spending the money himself, and that he approached Borough President Adams about participatory budgeting in March 2016, not March 2017.   

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As Senator Faces Tough Primary, He’s Spending $1 Million in Public Funds from Brooklyn Borough President Tue, 14 Aug 2018 00:34:43 +0000
Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Campaign Finance Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7744-mayor-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-campaign-finance-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7744-mayor-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-campaign-finance-reform charter comm rev2

The Charter Revision Commission


The Charter Revision Commission empaneled by Mayor Bill de Blasio met on Thursday at NYU for the second of four expert advisory issue forums, discussing what could be the marquee issue for this year’s commission: changing the city’s campaign finance system. The first meeting, held Tuesday, focused on voting and election reform.

Like the first hearing, Thursday’s saw the commission hear from invited experts on the topic at hand, and was broken into two sections. For campaign finance, the first panel discussed context and perspective of the city’s system from politicians and experts, and the second provided recommendations.

The commission, consisting of 15 members appointed by de Blasio, including Chair Cesar Perales, will finalize a list of proposed changes to the city Charter by early September that will then appear on the general election ballot in November for voters to approve or disapprove.

Representatives from the city’s nonpartisan Campaign Finance Board provided five recommendations to the commission for improving the city’s public campaign finance system and its centerpiece, the public matching funds program. The board recommends:

  1. Lowering individual contribution limits from $5,100 to $2,250 for citywide offices, from $3,950 to $1,750 for boroughwide offices, and from $2,850 to $1,250 for City Council seats.

  2. Increase the matching funds rate from 6-to-1 (for every dollar under $175 raised via an individual contribution, the city disburses $6) to 8-to-1. This would be coupled with an increase of the maximum matchable amount, from $175 to $250.

  3. Increase the cap on public funds as a percentage of a campaign’s total spending limit from 55 percent to 65 percent.

  4. Lower the threshold to qualify for matching funds for citywide races, from $250,000 from 1,000 eligible contributors for mayor and $125,000 from 500 contributors for public advocate and comptroller, to $125,000 and $75,000 respectively with the same number of contributors.

  5. Lower the minimum individual contribution counted toward the public match threshold, from $10 to $5.

Others, including advocates, elected officials, and academics, also provided recommendations to the commission, with some differing from the CFB and others in line with it.

The city’s public election financing system, whereby donations to candidates of up to $175 are matched by public dollars at a rate of 6 to 1, has been cited as a model nationwide for placing more power in elections in the hands of the average voter. City Council Member Carlos Menchaca testified to the committee that he never would have been able to mount an insurgent campaign without the system, and that it also allowed him to spend more time with voters rather than donors from out of the district.

“What the system allowed me to do was to have a conversation with donors at $5, $10, and my branded experience of $38 for the 38th District, about the campaign finance,” Menchaca said. “That was my beginning part of my conversation with everyone, that their dollars would multiply by six. That allowed folks to feel empowered in a challenger, and for people that were not entrenched in the system, which is where I had to go build my political support, became possible.” Menchaca said his average contribution amount for his 2013 campaign, in which he pulled off the rare feat of unseating an incumbent, was “around $100.”

The public matching program came into being in 1989, after a wave of corruption scandals in city, state, and federal government led to the passage of Local Law 8, which established a 1:1 match. The match was increased to 4:1 through the 1998 Charter Revision Commission, and was increased again to the current 6:1 in 2007.

The system has significantly lowered candidate reliance on political action committee (PAC) money and other “big money” donations found at other levels of elected government, including state-level elections in New York. The CFB presented data comparing an unnamed City Council member’s finances with that of a member of Congress and of the state Senate. The member of Congress raised 77 percent of their money from PACs and 0.6 percent from small contributions of $200 or less. The state senator raised 89 percent from PACs and 7 percent from small contributions. The City Council member, on the other hand, raised 25 percent from PACs, and 62 percent from small contributions when matching fund allocations were taken into account.

However, for citywide offices, the contribution percentages can be a red herring. In 2017, while 73 percent of contributions to mayoral candidates participating in the public match program came from donors who contributed under $175, 45 percent of the actual dollar value of the total contributions came from 650 individuals who donated the maximum for the 2017 election, which was $4,950 (it has since risen automatically, per law, to $5,100). For the City Council, the distribution is more equal, and in fact, Council candidates as a whole received more money in 2017 from small donors than from contributors of the maximum amount allowed by the program.

Non-participants in the program can take the form of a rich self-funder like Michael Bloomberg, but can also take the form of an incumbent without serious competition not wanting to use taxpayer funds for a formality election or interested in looser restrictions on their spending. Non-participation in competitive races is fairly rare, though. According to the CFB’s Assistant Executive Director for Public Affairs, Eric Friedman, 28 out of 64 non-participants in the public finance system in 2017 reported raising $0.

Others who testified were largely in line with the CFB on raising the match rate and reducing the maximum allowable contribution by about half. Advocates broke with the CFB on the issue of the match cap: while the CFB recommended that the cap be lifted to 65 percent, Alex Camarda of Reinvent Albany and Michael Malbin of SUNY Albany’s Campaign Finance Institute recommended that the cap be eliminated entirely, which would have the city provide more public funds relative to the spending limit.

“I don’t see what purpose that serves,” Malbin said of the matching cap. Camarda and Malbin both endorsed raising the rate of matching funds rate above 6-to-1, but did not recommend a specific rate.

For the 2021 election, the spending limit for a City Council candidate is set at $190,000, and the maximum public funds disbursement is $104,500, or 55 percent of the spending limit. Eliminating the cap would mean that a candidate could spend up to 85 percent of the spending limit using public funds. City Council Member Ben Kallos recently re-introduced a bill that would eliminate the matching funds cap.

CFB representatives were asked by Commissioner Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at NYU’s Brennan Center, why the board is endorsing a 65 percent cap instead of elimination. CFB Executive Director Amy Loprest said that raising it to 85 percent would be impractical.

“We make public funds payments to candidates who are on the ballot and who are opposed on the ballot, therefore we can only make those payments once the ballot has been set,” said Loprest. She noted that according to state election law, ballots could only be set after the end of petitioning. “The ballot is set roughly at the end of July, beginning of August. Which means that we make our first public funds payments at the beginning of August, which leaves about five weeks before the primary.” She noted that this would cause campaigns to be constrained to spending most of their money in the five weeks before the primary.

Camarda agreed in part.

“I think that in citywide races, 65 percent is plenty because citywide candidates don’t often hit the cap,” he said. “Our concern would be for City Council, because as I mentioned, 30 percent of the candidates in 2013 actually hit the cap.” The CFB stated that it wouldn’t oppose eliminating the cap, but that it was not its first preference.

The commissioners, including Chair Perales, a former Secretary of State under Governor Andrew Cuomo, appeared receptive to the changes proposed by the CFB and the other testifiers, for the most part. Most lines of questioning were of an inquisitive rather than adversarial tone. The commissioner who was most skeptical and critical of the proposed changes was John Siegal, an attorney and a de Blasio appointee to the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

“The reason, clearly, that mayoral candidates rely more on big contributions is because it takes a lot of money to run an effective mayoral campaign,” said Siegal, who donated $4,500 to de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign. “And while it sounds good and feels good to say ‘let’s lower the contribution limit,’ that is going to have consequences. Candidates are going to have to work way harder to raise money. They’re going to have to spend a lot more time raising money.” He noted that there is an “efficiency to getting on the phone and getting 500 people to give $4,500 or $5,100 that is going to be lost here.”

The CFB’s Chair, Frederick Schaffer, said that he would agree with Siegal if the only recommendation made by the Board was to lower the contribution limit.

“That’s why we want to increase the match for citywide officials from 6-to-1 to 8-to-1, and increase the actual amount from $175 to $250,” Schaffer said. “We crunched those numbers precisely with this problem in mind, and we think that the overall effect of those three things together meets the concern that you have just expressed.”

Siegal was also critical of a proposed “geographical requirement” for citywide candidates, which would force them to fundraise around the city. Malbin’s presentation to the commission noted that most money raised for citywide contests comes from only five City Council districts, representing Manhattan around Central Park and Brownstone Brooklyn. For citywide candidates, Malbin recommended that they must show a minimum number of contributors in 20 of 51 Council districts to qualify for public matching funds. The CFB suggested that citywide candidates raise 50 contributions from each borough.

Siegal called this a “fundamentally different requirement than we’ve ever had in the system,” saying that previous campaign finance law was limiting the money candidates can raise rather than explicitly saying who it must be raised from, which he said would set a bad precedent, “engineering campaign fundraising.”

“Have you actually looked at how many Republicans raise 50 matching contributions in [the] Bronx? Or how many Democrats actually raise 50 contributions in Staten Island? And do we really want to tell candidates that they have to go out and introduce themselves to communities where they have no background and no ties, and the first thing they have to do is go ask for money. That doesn’t seem to me that it’s getting money out of politics, it seems to me like it’s pushing the fundraising race into places for other reasons,” he added.

Schaffer dismissed the notion that 50 contributions per borough was unattainable for a seeker of citywide office.

“We’re trying to identify people who are reasonably likely to be real candidates, and so we thought the number 50 was really quite minimal, even for a Democrat in Staten Island or a Republican in the Bronx,” Schaffer said. There are currently three citywide elected offices: Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller.

Other commissioners also had questions and concerns. Dale Ho, of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, questioned whether it was appropriate to put such specific numbers, limits, and thresholds into the city charter, which he characterized as difficult to change and rarely brought up for debate, versus the easier-to-change city code.

“As you can see from all this machinery here, [the charter] is quite difficult to amend,” Ho said. “If it turns out that the number should change over time, maybe the limits need to be reduced even more, maybe the match numbers need to go up even higher, maybe we miscalibrate something and we need to adjust something. If these changes are in the city charter, that kind of ties the hands of the city in a way that if they’re in the code, maybe they’re a little easier to adjust.”

Schaffer, a former top appointee in the office of the city’s Corporation Counsel, its top lawyer, said he believed that the City Council can amend the charter “just like ordinary legislation,” which Perales agreed with.

Other issues beyond those encompassed by the CFB’s recommendations also arose.

Government reform group Citizens Union remained neutral on increasing public funds disbursement to candidates, but gave suggestions for transparency measures if the commission decided to increase the disbursement. Rachel Bloom, Citizens Union’s director of public policy, called on the commission to prohibit public funds disbursed to candidates to be used to pay consultants that also lobby the city, subject candidate coordination with union members to campaign finance regulations, tighten Local Law 181, which regulates the nonprofits of elected officials, restrict the transfer of campaign funds running for one office to another office, and to transfer lobbying reporting and enforcement to the CFB.

When asked by Siegal if the CFB was interested in regulating lobbying, Loprest was ambivalent on whether the organization’s independence lent itself to being a watchdog on lobbying.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams advocated for eliminating money from politics entirely and moving to a 100 percent publicly funded system. Adams said that candidacies receiving public funding could be gauged by petition signatures, or by reaching a threshold through $1 donations that would end up in the public finance system. He also suggested that the members of the commission, none of whom have held elected office, were not fully equipped to know what raising money as a politician is like, and that they should hold a “mock election” to gain fuller experience.

“I think a good mock exercise is for everyone at CFB, everyone who’s making these decisions, to run a mock election,” Adams said. “Those who have never felt what what you go through to run an election can never really understand. I think to run a mock election, give them the task of calling people and giving them $500, if ever you want people to lose your number, try to raise that $500.”

Adams has already made his own appointee to the charter revision commission empaneled through City Council legislation, which will begin its business soon and put forth recommendations next year. Adams has chosen former City Council Member Sal Albanese, who has been a proponent for campaign finance reform, organizing much of his 2017 mayoral run around the “democracy vouchers” program that has been implemented in Seattle.

“Money is the enemy,” Adams said. “It is always going to be the enemy. We are always going to have a problem with corruption until we get money out of campaigns.”

The mayoral charter revision commission will meet twice more next week, on Tuesday and Thursday, to hear expert testimony on community boards and land use, then civic engagement and independent redistricting.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Campaign Finance Reform Fri, 15 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Eric Adams Previews Vision for Becoming City’s CEO http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7652-eric-adams-previews-vision-for-becoming-city-s-ceo http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7652-eric-adams-previews-vision-for-becoming-city-s-ceo bpericadams twitter 2

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (photo: @bpericadams)


“I’m working towards City Hall,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said on Tuesday, explaining during a wide-ranging interview that he has begun planning his run for mayor.

It’s no secret that Adams, 57, who was elected borough president in 2013 and reelected last year, wants to succeed Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat who will be term-limited out of office at the end of 2021 -- he has made that clear for years. But on Tuesday, during an appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, Adams for the first time publicly offered insight into his vision for running the city and what part of his campaign pitch will be.

“What we’ve been able to do here in Brooklyn, and my perception of where I believe the city needs to go, I think it’s different from all the candidates who are running and thinking about running,” he said, sitting in the vast conference room of Brooklyn Borough Hall.         

That difference comes in part from Adams’ background in policing. For 22 years, the borough president was a member of the NYPD. In the early 1990s, he said on Tuesday, he was active in developing the management system CompStat under Police Commissioner Bill Bratton — a system that has been credited for helping to drastically reduce crime and, according to Adams, “changed the culture of policing not only for New York but for the rest of America.”

“When the police department made this change, every agency should have followed,” Adams said, pivoting toward his vision for managing the city’s immense bureaucracy and dozens of agencies. “We have enough money, the right agencies, and the right people in place, but the systems are broken.”

A CompStat approach across all agencies, Adams said, would include technology to inspect and track progress in “real time.” “I’m going to professionalize our agencies so...we can start seeing our results not yearly, but daily. CompStat would be a model that would be used in every agency.”

CompStat is known for its data-driven approach and tough culture of accountability on NYPD leaders, such as precinct commanders. “Commissioner Bratton came in and said, ‘We have to change the culture’, and he had to move people out of the way who couldn’t understand that change,” Adams said, adding there must be clear goals that relevant agencies are working together to achieve, efforts that today are too disjointed.

Adams is typically supportive of de Blasio — even applauding the mayor during the podcast for “doing a good job” in improving access to after-school care and reducing both the use of stop-and-frisk policing as well as crime, among other positives he cited. But the borough president also noted problems with education, healthcare, police accountability, and affordability in the city, saying: “when you look at it, either we’re going downwards or we’re flat-lining, we don’t see any improvements.”

Using the example of unemployment (which was at a near-record low of 4.2 percent in March 2018, down from 8.3 percent when de Blasio first took office in January 2014) Adams said government agencies must work together more coherently.

“I want to create a clear mission for the city that means every agency, although they have their individual portion of the mission, they should be all moving towards that vision. If the goal is to improve unemployment numbers, then we cannot have agencies that are in the way of allowing companies to open and do business in the city,” he said.

“Yes, your mission might be to ensure buildings are safe, but that mission should also feed into the overall mission of the city. It should not take a year to grant a building permit.”

Though there’s a ways to go until Adams presents voters his promises ahead of the 2021 mayoral election -- where he is expected to face Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and possibly others in the Democratic primary -- the Brooklyn borough president is clearly thinking about how he will make his pitch and what would separate him from the crowd.

During the podcast, Adams touched on other aspects of current policy debates that may come into play during a future campaign, but are already playing out now.

Most notably, Adams said he wants to examine whether the city should “tear down” and rebuild public housing developments. With crises plaguing the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and many billions of dollars in infrastructure needs across its portfolio, Adams said the “only way to change the problem narrative is to think outside of the box.”

“We’re asking Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to do a real analysis of repairs and the cost of going in and doing these repairs,” he said. “We need to have a conversation: do we tear down NYCHA and rebuild it at the quality level it needs to be?”

“I say we must be committed to zero displacement: the current tenants are guaranteed to remain there,” he continued. “But there are old pipes, old roofs, and old wiring. What is it going to cost us to make NYCHA housing sustainable for the future?”

Adams is also critical of politicians who treat NYCHA like a pony show to garner media attention and boost voter confidence, making apparent reference to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent interest in public housing. Adams recently stepped further into the politics surrounding NYCHA by inviting Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent in this year’s election to tour NYCHA with him -- an offer Cynthia Nixon quickly took him up on, touring Albany Houses in Crown Heights with the borough president.

Adams said the way some politicians treat NYCHA has created an “angry and distrustful” community of residents who are living in such impoverished conditions “they’ve given up.”

“Folks have finally discovered there is a NYCHA and they’re walking through it, I don’t know where they’ve been all these years, the NYCHA problem did not start now,” Adams said.

During the conversation with Gotham Gazette and City Limits, Adams also touched on other areas where he wants to usher in change.

A top priority for Adams is campaign finance reform, with the borough president saying the current system means candidates are spending more time in affluent areas, away from where they need to be.

“There is no reason we shouldn’t have a public-funded system,” he said. “People are not going to NYCHA or South Bronx or South Jamaica, Queens. They are going to affluent zip codes and focusing on finding donors in those areas.”

At the moment, the city’s public financing program matches contributions up to $175 from locals at a six-to-one rate, with several requisite thresholds. As Adams puts it: “If I live in an affluent area, I don’t care what amount you lower [the donation limit to] it’s easier for me to call a hundred friends and say, ‘Hey, on your way to The Hamptons can you get 1,000 of your friends to donate $175?’ I can’t call someone from the Pink House and say, ‘Hey, you’re on your way to Coney Island Beach, can you give $175?’ It’s not going to happen.”

“The number of calls you make to raise money is taking away from the quality time you should be spending doing your job,” he said. Adams wants a fully public system, whereby candidates don’t have to raise private money. He said that he wants an upcoming City Charter Revision Commission, on which he will have one of 15 appointees, to pursue such a change.

That commission -- organized through City Council legislation at the behest of Public Advocate James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (himself another possible 2021 mayoral candidate) -- will soon be formed, working toward proposals for the 2018 general election ballot. Mayor de Blasio has already formed his own Charter Revision Commission that just began its work, with a mandate to look closely at campaign finance reform.

Adams is also particularly concerned with public health. He believes city schools shouldn’t be feeding students processed meat, and he regularly references the World Health Organization’s 2015 report that found “processed meat is carcinogenic to humans” — meaning it causes cancer.

His concern for public health is personal, too. Adams completely changed his lifestyle upon receiving a Type Two Diabetes diagnosis in 2016. By changing his diet to vegan and increasing his exercise regimen, Adams’ blood sugar levels had returned to normal six months on from the diagnosis and he says he completely reversed the disease.

“We are so dysfunctional as a city when you stop to think about it,” he said. “We have a schizophrenic healthcare philosophy. In one area we say that childhood obesity is an issue, asthma is an issue, yet we feed the children food that cause the diseases. There’s a disconnect.”

These are just a few of the issues that are central to Adams’ work now, and could be central to his mayoral campaign.

Yet before the 2021 city elections, there is the 2018 New York gubernatorial race and Adams is giving no indication of the candidate he’s planning to endorse in the Democratic primary, choosing between Cuomo, who he’s “disappointed in,” and Nixon (at least one other name is likely to be on the ballot, perennial candidate Randy Credico).

“I have not kept it a secret that I’m extremely disappointed in the treatment of Brooklyn in comparison to other boroughs, particularly the Bronx,” Adams said when asked about Cuomo, who has a long, close relationship with Diaz, Jr. “We’re looking at all the candidates to determine which way we’re going to go.”

“I think the primaries allow us to hear the voices of those who are running. It’s going to an exciting time,” Adams said. He also spoke about possibly backing Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is running for Lieutenant Governor in the primary against incumbent Kathy Hochul and Adams knows well.

Also on the podcast, Adams spoke about plans for redevelopment in Brooklyn; his reaction to the April shooting of Brooklyn resident Saheed Vassell by police; the mayor’s recent budget proposal; and de Blasio’s record more broadly.

Listen to Eric Adams on the Max & Murphy podcast here, or find it wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

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Eric Adams Previews Vision for Becoming City’s CEO Wed, 02 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7648-max-murphy-podcast-brooklyn-borough-president-eric-adams http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7648-max-murphy-podcast-brooklyn-borough-president-eric-adams mxm logo

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


May 1, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams

eric adams m m pod 277px

Eric Adams is planning to be the next Mayor of New York City. Right now, though, he is in his second and last term as Brooklyn Borough President. On this episode of the podcast, Adams discusses key issues facing Brooklyn and the city, including the crises at NYCHA and much more, as well as his political ambitions, how he plans to separate himself from the pack in the upcoming mayoral race, and how he is approaching any endorsements in this year's elections for Governor and Lieutenant Governor.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy and guest Eric Adams (@BPEricAdams). You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams Tue, 01 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Elected Officials, Advocates Push for Instant Runoff Voting http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7650-elected-officials-advocates-push-for-instant-runoff-voting http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7650-elected-officials-advocates-push-for-instant-runoff-voting fair vote sam

Tuesday's press conference (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


Several prominent Democratic elected officials and voting reform advocates on Tuesday assembled outside City Hall to call for instant runoff voting in citywide primary elections. Specifically, they said that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission, which just began a series of public hearings across the city, should include it among the proposals it puts before voters on the ballot this November.

Instant runoff voting, also known as ranked-choice voting, allows voters to rank primary candidates in order of preference so that if one candidate does not cross the required threshold for victory, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and the votes are redistributed based on the second choice selected by voters who had selected the eliminated candidate first, and so on until a winner emerges. The system prevents what can be costly and labor-intensive runoff elections, such as the one held in the 2013 primary election for public advocate.

Runoffs are currently only required in the three citywide races, for Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller, and occur among the top two vote-getters if no candidate hits 40 percent in the first round of the primary.

Though prior instant runoff proposals originating in the City Council have failed, the group of electeds and advocates sought to seize on an opportunity presented by the mayor’s creation of the Charter Revision Commission. The commission, which is holding hearings across the five boroughs to solicit public input as to what its agenda should be, can consider any proposal presented to it, though de Blasio charged its members with particularly looking at voting access and campaign finance reform. Its recommendations will take the form of ballot referenda to be offered to voters in this year’s general election.

“I am the face of instant runoff, let me remind you,” said Public Advocate Letitia James at Tuesday’s news conference, on the steps of City Hall. The 2013 public advocate runoff -- which James won over then-State Senator Daniel Squadron -- cost an estimated $13 million to taxpayers, surpassing the office’s combined budget for James’ entire first four-year term. James said Tuesday that instant runoffs are the “least expensive and more democratic option” for the city.

“It forces you to appeal to all voters as opposed to one Democratic base,” James added. “And this means more engagement, and less polarization and more democracy. It means listening to people you might not usually listen to and a freer exchange of ideas and is consistent with our principle of democracy and free elections,” James added. She later also suggested that if the mayor’s commission failed to take up the proposal, a separate Charter Revision Commission being created by the City Council, through a bill co-sponsored by James, could step in.  

Also in attendance Tuesday were Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and City Council Members Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso, and Ben Kallos, all Democrats. James, Stringer, and Adams are all widely considered to be contenders for the 2021 mayoral race and share overlapping bases of supporters. It’s unclear, though, whether a runoff, instant or otherwise, will come into play in that race and who might benefit from which format. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is a fourth likely Democratic mayoral candidate, and several others may also jump into the race, creating a crowded field more apt to produce a runoff.

The 2013 Democratic mayoral primary narrowly avoided a runoff, with eventual winner Bill de Blasio earning just above the 40 percent threshold. There was a Democratic runoff in the 2009 primary for public advocate, which de Blasio won. The 2001 Democratic mayoral primary was also settled through a runoff.

“Cities that have adopted instant runoff voting to eliminate runoffs have not only saved millions of dollars but have also improved their democracies by making sure that we are electing our leaders in an election where the most voters, the most diverse voters, are at the polls at one time,” said Grace Ramsey, deputy outreach director for FairVote, a nonpartisan advocacy group, at the news conference. Ramsey noted that 15 cities across the country have already implemented instant runoffs. A FairVote analysis of the 2013 public advocate runoff also showed that the Democratic primary runoff electorate was older, whiter, and wealthier than Democrats overall, and only reflected a 7 percent turnout. It occured on Tuesday, October 1, 2013.

Critiquing the state’s arcane election laws, Stringer said instant runoffs are a “progressive leap” that would allow elections to be decided quickly and efficiently, and he said the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission affords the city a prime opportunity to pursue the policy. “We don’t have to go to Albany and deal with that political dysfunction in order to get this electoral reform,” he said, an apparent reference to that fact that many other voting and election laws are dictated by the state.

In December, Douglas Kellner, the Democratic co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, testified before the City Council on the 2017 elections and warned them that they had “dodged a bullet” by narrowly avoiding a runoff in the mayoral primary for the Reform Party line. Kellner said at the news conference Tuesday that the state already has the technology and capability to implement instant runoff voting, and reiterated the cost savings associated with implementing the system.  

“We cannot continue to have an 8-track method in an iPhone age,” said Adams, the Brooklyn borough president. “It is time to ensure that the process encourages people to come out. We live in real time, we live in instant time...Let’s make sure runoff elections are a thing of the past and let’s do it in the right way.”

The proposal put forward on Tuesday was not the first attempt at eliminating runoff elections. In 2014, Council Member Lander sponsored a bill to call a referendum on the issue. Mayor de Blasio didn’t support it at the time and has since been lukewarm on the proposal. Asked Tuesday by a reporter if there was any opposition to the proposal, Lander said, “I think it’s just an issue that it’s change and change is not always easy. This is a change to our electoral processes and that’s not something we’re always ready to do.”

As the group was gathered at City Hall, a parallel voting reform effort was being advanced in the state capital as well. The state Senate Democrats, led by Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, unveiled a new report highlighting the shortcomings of the state’s election system that led to an abysmally low voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election. They also released an accompanying package of bills to address voter access and participation. The conference is in the minority, though, and there is limited likelihood that the Republican majority will advance the reforms being sought, such as early voting.

[Read: State Board of Elections Official Says City Must Move to Instant Runoff Voting]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Elected Officials, Advocates Push for Instant Runoff Voting Tue, 01 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000