Gotham Gazette Mon, 19 Mar 2018 12:30:38 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Can Redevelopment of the Bedford Union Armory Be Saved? bedford armory rendering

Rendering of the Bedford Union Armory via BFC Partners

A land use proposal to redevelop the 138,000-square-foot, publicly-owned Bedford Union Armory in Crown Heights to create a mix of different types of housing and a state-of-the-art recreation center has seen successive setbacks in recent months. As proposed, the project has been rejected by community advocates, the local community board, the local City Council member, Laurie Cumbo, and the borough president, Eric Adams, all of whom believe the project should include more affordable housing.

The de Blasio administration, in response, has vowed to work with local elected officials and the city-selected developer behind the project to make it acceptable, especially to Cumbo, who will have the final say in a few short weeks.

But, with any land use redevelopment, the administration must balance the resources at its disposal to achieve maximum effect, and in this case, making the project more palatable to community members calling it a harbinger of gentrification would likely mean making it less profitable for the developer and more costly for the city. As the clock ticks on negotiations and a series of essential decisions dictated by the city’s land use review process, it is unclear what steps the de Blasio administration might take to make a deal happen, advance a key project, and avoid a potentially significant political defeat.

BFC Partners is the developer selected through a competitive bidding process run by the New York City Economic Development Corporation. The initial request for proposals (RFP) was put out in October 2013, prior to Mayor Bill de Blasio taking office, and the project was awarded to BFC in December 2015. Over the next year, the project became a source of significant controversy and become a burning issue in this year’s District 35 City Council race, where Cumbo was running for reelection. It has also become a symbol of the de Blasio administration’s strategy for creating affordable housing across the city and a sore spot and political vulnerability for the mayor, a fellow Democrat who did not endorse Cumbo but sent behind-the-scenes support for her campaign.

The redevelopment proposal envisions converting the armory -- which spans an entire city block and sits defunct -- into an affordable recreation center, 330 rental housing units at various levels of affordability, and 56 condominiums to be sold.

Of the 330 rental units, 164 would be market rate while the rest would be “affordable” for low-income and middle-income families, whereby rents are capped so that tenants pay no more than 30 percent of their income to the landlord. Affordability is calculated according to the 2016 Area Median Income (AMI) of $81,600 for a family of three. The rental units would include 18 units at 40 percent AMI; 49 units at 50 percent AMI; and 99 units at 110 percent AMI, providing rent regulated apartments to households of various income levels.

AMI apartments Bedford Union Armory

Of the condos, 44 would be sold at market rate and 12 at 120 percent AMI. BFC Partners would receive a 99-year ground lease on a majority of the site, recouping its costs through sales of the condos, rents on the apartments, fees from the recreation center, and a developer fee from the city.

De Blasio has pitched the project as a much-needed community facility, similar to the Park Slope Armory recreation center, which can be kept affordable in the long-term under the current structure of the plan, with the benefit of creating affordable housing. As it stands, the project does not include any housing subsidies that the administration has used in the past to create more affordability in land use redevelopments. At a September 14 news conference, de Blasio indicated openness to adding more subsidies, though he was noncommittal as to what the city might do to sweeten the deal.

“[W]e want that to be the best possible project for the community, we're going to look at every way to improve it,” he told reporters, noting that the current plan allows for the recreation center to be affordable on an ongoing basis. “That's what we need to come out of this in the end. But we’re going to work with the Council member to see if there is a way to improve the project that would win her support and be more comfortable for the community.”

Cumbo, the Council member de Blasio referred to, recently won the primary for her reelection effort against an opponent who put the Bedford Union Armory at the core of the campaign, accusing Cumbo of being too close to real estate developers and ineffective at stemming the gentrification and displacement sweeping the changing district. Cumbo faced criticism for dithering about the project for months only to oppose it earlier this year, but came to draw a line in the sand on the project. Without her approval, the project is dead on arrival at the City Council, which traditionally votes with the local member on land use applications and will have 50 days to evaluate the deal once it is referred by the City Planning Commission, perhaps with adjustments, unless it is taken completely off the table by then.

Cumbo was not made available to comment for this article. Her spokesperson, Kristia Beaubrun, referred Gotham Gazette to the Council member’s statement in May when she came out against the proposal.

"Since the very beginning our message has been clear: We will not allow public land to be used for the purpose of luxury condominiums,” she said, calling on the mayor to “go back to the drawing board and produce a plan that meets the needs of my Brooklyn neighbors.”

Last month, Borough President Adams, as part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) required of all such proposals, rejected the project and recommended that the city increase the number of deeply affordable units and also provide more upper-tier affordable housing units to offset the costs of running the recreation center.

Adams also called for more permanent affordability -- currently, 30 percent of the units are permanently affordable -- and for 20 percent of the rental apartments to be allotted to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s “Our Space Initiative” for housing homeless families. “This is our opportunity to get this right,” he said. “This process has gone through years of debate, emotions, and public scrutiny, both for and against the development. We must ultimately come together and find the right balance that is the ideal solution for the future of Crown Heights, and for the optimal reuse of the Bedford Union Armory as a public resource.”

The proposal is currently before the City Planning Commission, which will hold a public review session on Wednesday before voting on the project later this month. The CPC can either approve the project, with or without changes, and send it to the City Council for further review, or it can reject it, although that would be shocking and especially rare.

“It’s hard for me to imagine tweaks at this stage that would address the concerns being raised,” said Emily Goldstein, senior campaign organizer at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development. Goldstein, who is not involved in the community efforts around the armory, said the administration isn’t taking full advantage of the city’s ownership of the land, which allows it to demand more benefits than it could if the project were on a privately-owned site. “There are broader concerns about wanting lasting community control,” she said.

Goldstein hits at the heart of the opposition to the project by community activists. The Our Armory Coalition, a group that includes the Crown Heights Tenant Union, New York Communities for Change, Picture the Homeless, The Black Institute, The Legal Aid Society, and others, have called for a community land trust to develop the project, rather than a private firm. That would allow community voices to drive decisions on the property in the community interest, rather than effectively giving a for-profit developer a century-long hold over public property.

“The RFP process for the Bedford Armory has been flawed and corrupt from the very start,” said the coalition, in a statement last month, calling for the project to be scrapped entirely and for the city to issue a new request for proposals. “Elected officials including Cumbo are [sic] failed to address the fact that BFC is a for profit developer, making money off our public land while not providing real affordability to the community. And that’s unacceptable.”

“I don’t see any reason it shouldn’t be explored,” said ANHD’s Goldstein of a community land trust, also insisting that it isn’t the only option available. “There are other ways to build in the idea that public land is a public resource that should remain public. I think there’s a flaw in the calculus the city is using.”

She acknowledged that deeper affordability would require more city subsidies and that BFC’s application may have been the most attractive proposal. But, she said, “It’s shortsighted to do what’s cheaper in the short term. What you lose in the long term is permanent affordability. It’s hard to start from where they are and make it more affordable.”

One housing expert said the city is trying to save as much money as possible, and any subsidies applied to the Bedford Union Armory would mean not being able to use them in other neighborhoods. “The city likes to think of itself as a negotiator on the community side but they’re really not, they’re really just a broker,” said the expert said, who requested anonymity to speak more freely and pointed out that the hurdles to the Bedford Armory project stem from the city’s “deal-by-deal approach” to development, which allows community advocates to pressure the administration with an all-or-nothing opposition rather than pushing for compromise.

That’s the case with the Our Armory coalition. Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change and a strident critic of the administration on its housing policies, is adamant that the only way the project could be acceptable to his group is if there are no luxury condos or market-rate rental units. “They could force the developer off the project and make it 100 percent affordable since it’s on public land,” he said. “Using public land to build luxury housing is a travesty.”

Although issuing a new RFP for the project, and triggering another round of ULURP, could potentially take years, Westin said it would be worth it. “It’s better than a gentrification project that would displace the community.”

Westin also pushed back against the argument that the condos are being used to cross-subsidize the recreation center. A BFC spokesperson earlier told Gotham Gazette that the firm will make a net profit of less than $800,000 from the sale of the condos and that those funds would be put back into the recreation center. The spokesperson also said that the annual cash-flow from all the rental units, which are expensive to operate and maintain, would be around $800,000. Citing Borough President Adams’ recommendations, the spokesperson pointed out that removing the revenue-generating component of the project would require other funds to fill the gap, while noting that the original RFP for the project specified that the developer should not request any housing subsidies from the city.

“This cross-subsidization frame is what luxury developers use to justify luxury development,” Westin said. Instead, he said the city could designate the armory as a land bank and set restrictions on the land, which could then be developed by a nonprofit developer. “It’s completely feasible to do this project 100 percent affordable,” he said.

The project does have its supporters. Geoffrey Davis, a Democratic district leader from Crown Heights, emphasized that the recreation center was a necessity for the community. “Our seniors, our young people, our community will have a place to go to,” he said in a phone interview. “I say, continue to negotiate, work it out. Do not leave the table. If you say kill the deal and walk away, we’re talking about another 30 years.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Can Redevelopment of the Bedford Union Armory Be Saved? Tue, 03 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Don’t Endanger Minority Jobs in Name of Construction Safety bp eric adams

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, left, the author (photo: @BPEricAdams)

It’s good to see our city engaged in a long-overdue discussion about safety on construction sites. “Safety first” is not mere sloganeering to me; nothing should top ensuring the health and welfare of every man and woman on every worksite.

The City Council has tackled and passed a number of meaningful reforms in recent months, and there is certainly more to explore. However, New Yorkers have good reason to be concerned about a bill known as Intro. 1447, which would likely sideline many local workers of color and prevent growing minority- and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBEs) from succeeding in the construction industry.

An earlier draft of this legislation would have required apprenticeships for construction workers; the current version being considered by the Council would necessitate a training requirement well in excess of the existing federal minimum standard set by OSHA. Either of these proposals would essentially result in a union mandate. I support unions and I am a longtime union man, dating back to my 22 years of service in the NYPD. But as I have noted in the past, my union pride also carries with it a responsibility to speak out when I believe there is inequity of opportunity within the ranks of my brothers and sisters in labor. In the construction industry, this largely remains the case, with several exceptions such as Carpenters Local 926.

The reality is that while some important gains have been made, I see from my own experience that union construction sites continue to fall short in reflecting the diversity of New York City. Equally important, too many of the union workers on Brooklyn’s construction sites do not actually live in our borough, or any of the five boroughs.

While construction unions have promoted apprenticeships and additional skills training as both a path to safer worksites and a way to diversify their workforce, no independent data has been released that shows the linkages for these claims. There is still no evidence that these efforts are providing minority workers with a reliable road to long-term career advancement. While apprenticeship programs may become more diverse, the higher-paying jobs on actual union worksites still elude the minority workforce. Until that changes, we should remain wary of approving de facto union mandates on construction sites that could otherwise provide much-needed job opportunities for highly-qualified New Yorkers of color, especially those living in public housing seeking a path to the middle class.

When it comes to M/WBE contractors, Intro. 1447 would have a very damaging impact because of the extremely high cost of its arbitrary training mandate. As City Council members should know, M/WBEs in the construction industry are generally smaller and less established than their competitors. If costs were to skyrocket, many M/WBEs would likely be unable to afford the difference, making it virtually impossible to compete for the jobs they need to stay in business. We must avoid any outcome that bars these hardworking small business owners from getting a fair shot in our city.

There is a strong argument that a universal enforcement of OSHA training certification requirements would be just as effective, and in some cases more so. We have seen that projects following strict standards on OSHA training — whether they be union or non-union — maintain safer sites and have fewer injuries. This would be a substantive step forward for safety.

I have sought to reframe the union construction conversation around the idea of job creation for all. It is only worth fighting for higher construction wages and good jobs when we ensure that all workers, including those who continue to fall through the inequality gap, are sharing equally in those victories. Now we also need to do the same thing for construction safety. There is no question that we need to make worksites safer, but it must be safer for all workers — and that means we must have an industry in which workers of all backgrounds have equal opportunity to participate and prosper.

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

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Don’t Endanger Minority Jobs in Name of Construction Safety Mon, 04 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
The Smart Path Forward in Early Childhood Education adams squadron crop.jpg

the authors: Eric Adams, at podium, & Daniel Squadron, to his right (Erica Sherman/Brooklyn BP's Office)

In April, Mayor de Blasio announced a new initiative aimed at closing the gap in early childhood education, 3-K for All. The rollout, beginning in historically under-resourced communities like Brownsville and the South Bronx, is projected to provide a seat for every three-year-old living in those parts of the city by fall 2018 – some 1,800 kids. This big step on the road to expanding early childhood development programming across the city is a culmination of years of research and advocacy from civic organizations, community leaders, and think tanks.

Our city is and always has been a place of immense opportunities for academic enrichment, personal fulfillment, and prosperity. But for too long, and for too many, those possibilities have remained out of reach. Unfortunately, disparities begin early in life – and often even before birth.

Research has shown that 90 percent of physical brain development occurs in the first three years of life, and cognitive studies demonstrate the lasting impact of sustained investment in infants’ emotional, mental, and social development. There is also strong evidence that children in home visiting and early childhood programs have decreased criminal justice system involvement, teenage pregnancy rates, special education needs, and social safety net service utilization; with increased high school success and college attendance, as well as maternal employment rates and income. Not only can early childhood investments lead to decreased public expenditure on social services -- they can actually result in increased tax revenues later in life too.

In 2015, we jointly launched the Early Childhood Development Task Force. The Task Force comprised a broad coalition of advocates, community stakeholders, and local hospitals, with an aim to promote the healthy growth of Brooklyn’s youngest, along with their families, as well as help expand existing evidence-based development programs. Partners such as Healthy Families New York (HFNY), Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP), Parents-as-Teachers (PAT), and the Parent-Child Home Program (PCHP) shared crucial information, including difficulties in sharing service information and increasing utilization, especially in many target neighborhoods.

Our findings, released in February of this year, demonstrate the impact of early life interventions on school readiness, emotional and social development, family health, economic growth, and public safety. The evidence is clear: engaging mothers before they give birth through the most formative years results in positive impacts on children’s lives. But to realize the litany of benefits, increased investment and information sharing is critical.

It is crucial that all parents receive information on the availability of resources in their own communities. A multilingual campaign to empower communities with increased information, including resource guides of early childhood services available for parents and guardians and online maps and tools to provide data on nursery and pre-K seat availability in communities where there are an abundance of seats but low participation rates would all be important steps.

In addition, targeted workshops for community leaders including local clergy can help engage and inform hard-to-reach communities about resources available to parents. And, the truth is, this is one area where increased investment should be an easy sell -- since it will more than pay for itself, in lives improved and dollars saved.

3-K for All moves us in the right direction, but we must be even more ambitious about delivering comprehensive early childhood development. We must offer universal services to eligible families before a child is born -- and then continue them from birth to 3-K and onward. This is how we will make the biggest difference for families, not just in their first years of school, but all the way to college, career and beyond.

Eric Adams currently serves as Brooklyn’s Borough President. Daniel Squadron currently serves as State Senator for the 26th District covering the Brooklyn Waterfront and Lower Manhattan. On Twitter @BPEricAdams and @DanielSquadron.

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The Smart Path Forward in Early Childhood Education Wed, 07 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Goes Local with ‘City Hall in Your Borough’ Series de Blasio Staten Island Oddo

De Blasio at a Staten Island town hall (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio will be on Staten Island this week in the first of five “City Hall in Your Borough” sojourns wherein the mayor, who is up for reelection this fall, is bringing city government local. De Blasio, many of his commissioners, top aides, and City Hall staff will work out of borough hall, hold constituent office hours and a variety of events on the island, and attempt to immerse themselves in borough issues for the week.

The mayor chose to start the initiative on Staten Island, the only borough the first-term Democrat lost in his landslide 2013 victory. De Blasio’s week will include a town hall Thursday night, but begins Monday with several events, including a morning cabinet meeting with senior staff at borough hall, a noon press conference related to neighborhood policing, and a 10 p.m. visit with a road re-paving crew.

According to the mayor’s office, de Blasio will set aside time to meet with local constituents and groups, visit at least one house of worship, and make many other stops around the borough. He is expected to hold events with each of Staten Island’s three City Council members, and to spend a good deal of time with Borough President James Oddo, a Republican whom the mayor has a close relationship with. First Lady Chirlane McCray is expected to hold events related to ThriveNYC, the mental health program she spearheads.

The mayor will be commuting to Staten Island from Gracie Mansion, his office said, not spending overnights on the island. [The Staten Island Advance acquired a draft schedule for de Blasio’s week, though it is unclear how closely his actual plan will match it. The launch of the overall initiative was first reported by The Daily News.]

De Blasio’s week on Staten Island is sure to deal with some broad citywide themes like public safety, education, affordable housing, and development, but will also have a distinctly local feel. As borough officials often say, Staten Island is more like the rest of the United States than it is the rest of New York City. Staten Island has high homeowner and driving populations compared to other boroughs, for example. Many Staten Islanders also continue to battle their way back from Superstorm Sandy and there has been a good deal of frustration about the city’s Build It Back recovery program. The borough is also dealing with the opioid addiction and overdose problem that has spread throughout communities across the country.

After Staten Island, “City Hall in Your Borough” will proceed to the other four boroughs throughout the year, all as de Blasio competes in the Democratic primary and, likely, general election in his pursuit of a second term. Asked about the initiative coinciding with election season, mayoral spokesperson Jessica Ramos said that “It's coinciding with spring” and that the administration wants New Yorkers to interact with their local government in their own neighborhoods. ‎”We'll be doing this again over following years,” she said in an email.

The mayor and his team are likely to work out of borough hall in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, according to The Daily News, but will seek uptown space in Manhattan given that City Hall and the Manhattan Borough President’s offices at 1 Centre Street are so close to each other.

Asked about the initiative, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams had praise for de Blasio, but said in a statement that while he “would welcome Mayor de Blasio and his team to Brooklyn Borough Hall with open arms for this would be even more impactful for us to work together on bringing City Hall to neighborhoods like Brownsville that have a real need of this presence. A site such as the Brownsville Recreation Center, for example, would serve as a great hyperlocal hub for this effort."

Adams said City Hall in Your Borough is “a smart concept to get government out of the austere structures that often separate it from the communities it serves.” According to his office, borough specific issues Adams wants to see City Hall focus on include affordable housing, tenant harassment, civic tech innovation, preventive health care, school tech infrastructure, among others. Adams also wants to see city agencies rethink community engagement models.

In a brief interview, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said that her team and the mayor’s have been in touch already. Asked what the focus issues should be, Brewer said her office “gets a ton of housing, housing, housing” and that people really are concerned about both residential and small business affordability. Small Business Services, NYCHA, and the Department of Buildings were three city agencies that Brewer said the mayor’s team should be ready to prioritize.

As for space, Brewer said she is the only borough president without a grand borough hall, but that she is also the only one with a storefront presence. She said her office’s uptown satellite space on West 125th Street “is not huge but it can fit 25 or 30 people at a time. So, we'd love him to join us there. We also have an office at the Harlem State Office Building, which has, obviously, huge spaces. So, either one, I think, would be fabulous, and we'd love to host the mayor.”

A spokesperson for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. declined to comment on City Hall in Your Borough or to make the borough president available for a brief interview. Diaz Jr. has been an outspoken critic of de Blasio on several issues, and was considering challenging the mayor in the Democratic primary, but now plans to run for re-election. He is the only borough president that de Blasio is not on good terms with.

A spokesperson for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz did not return a request for comment. Katz praised de Blasio at a recent town hall event in Queens for delivering on universal pre-kindergarten, though she and many in her borough want to see more from City Hall on school overcrowding and have concerns about the mayor’s homeless shelter siting.

At a January event hosted by Crain’s New York Business, the five borough presidents gave their assessments of de Blasio and offered him advice for how to improve his relationships with their boroughs.

Oddo, who will host de Blasio this week on Staten Island, said he still wants to see a culture change at city agencies where rank-and-file employees feel more urgency to complete projects and make progress. “You want to have a legacy” as a mayor, Oddo said, “you have to change the culture of these agencies, and I don’t believe that’s happening.”

“He could do a whole lot better, in my opinion, in his messaging and communication to the people of the City of New York,” Diaz Jr. said.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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De Blasio Goes Local with ‘City Hall in Your Borough’ Series Sun, 09 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Five Borough Presidents Advise, Critique De Blasio 5 borough presidents crains forum via bpericadams 1

The five BPs at Crain's forum (photo: @BPEricAdams)

Communicate better. Build more affordable housing, and faster. Streamline small business regulations. Improve transit offerings in the outer boroughs. Bust the bureaucracy to get city agencies moving more quickly.

These tips and pleas were among the guidance that the five New York City borough presidents offered Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday morning. At a forum convened by Crain’s New York Business, moderator Erik Engquist, a Crain’s editor, asked Manhattan’s Gale Brewer, Brooklyn’s Eric Adams, the Bronx’s Ruben Diaz Jr., Staten Island’s James Oddo, and Queens’ Melinda Katz a series of questions, including what advice they would give de Blasio, who has just entered his fourth year in office, which is his re-election year.

When Engquist posed the question -- if he asked you for a piece of advice, what would you offer Mayor de Blasio? -- about 20 minutes into the discussion, he got a laugh from the roughly 125 audience members by calling on Diaz Jr. first. The Bronx Borough President has been one of the most outspoken critics of the mayor and is considering whether to challenge de Blasio this year.

Once the laughter subsided, Diaz Jr. reiterated a point: that he wants the city to “hand over the keys” to the developers of the Kingsbridge Armory, a project that has been caught in limbo for some time and has been a flashpoint in the tension between Diaz Jr. and de Blasio, with some involvement from Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is much closer to Diaz Jr. than to de Blasio.

Of advice for de Blasio, Diaz Jr. then said, “Obviously homelessness is a big issue, not only in my borough, but throughout the city of New York.” He the mayor and his administration “haven’t been able to wrap their hands around” the crisis and called for more permanent affordable housing, supportive housing, and development in the Bronx, saying that the administration takes too long to make decisions.

Diaz Jr. also called for improvements to gifted and talented school program offerings and transportation expansion.

“He could do a whole lot better, in my opinion, in his messaging and communication to the people of the city of New York,” Diaz Jr. added.

Asked by Gotham Gazette after the event to expand on the communication critique, Diaz Jr. said the mayor and his team should be more proactively communicative with local communities about all kinds of issues. It is a common refrain from de Blasio critics -- and some allies -- that was echoed by Queens Borough President Katz and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams as well.

Among the borough presidents, both Eric Adams and Gale Brewer are strong de Blasio allies. Adams has already endorsed de Blasio for reelection (he plans to run for Mayor himself, he said again at the Crain’s event, but not this year) and Brewer told Gotham Gazette afterward that she is supportive of de Blasio’s bid for a second term.

Still, Adams and Brewer had ‘constructive criticism’ for the mayor. Citing “quality of life” issues, Brewer said she wants the mayor to focus on noise mitigation, improving city schools, investing even more in NYCHA and affordable housing, and expanding free WiFi. Brewer credited de Blasio for crime being down and improving relationships between community members and the police, as well as the IDNYC program.

Adams also cited communication, saying that the mayor could do better showing people the improvements that have been made in the city. The Brooklyn BP then cited issues with “middle management,” saying that “the permanent bureaucracy” in city government shows a “lack of innovation, a lack of creativity.”

Adams wants the city to stop holding back businesses by continuing to reduce unnecessary fines, an area where de Blasio has made a great deal of progress, and acting more quickly at the Department of Buildings and elsewhere. “The slowest walking human being I’ve seen in my life was at the Department of Buildings,” Adams said, drawing a laugh from the crowd.

A former NYPD officer and captain, Adams gave de Blasio significant praise for improvements at the police department, especially in terms of interactions with New Yorkers. “Police are now doing something that is revolutionary,” he said, “they are saying ‘good morning.’” Adams said cops are walking the beat and talking with people, having positive interactions.

Speaking after Adams, Queens Borough President Katz said she agreed with several points made by her colleagues before her. She noted that all five borough presidents have known and worked with de Blasio for years, since all six have held other positions in government.

“As beneficial as he has been on a lot of topics, the communication part has been ineffective to a certain extent,” Katz said. She credited the mayor for universal pre-kindergarten and general progress. But, she called the “homeless crisis” “a very serious topic,” and cited issues in Queens related to use of hotels for housing homeless people and the protests that Queens residents have staged against the administration on the topic.

Katz said she wants the city to better help people stay in their homes and their communities and to enhance “economic services to help get folks back on their feet.” Communities need to be involved in decision-making, she said, at which point Engquist aptly pointed out that communities often reject homeless shelters. Katz responded that “the worst thing you can do with a community is not tell them things” and that there are ways of being more upfront and negotiating better.

Speaking last on the topic of advice for the mayor, Staten Island’s Oddo, the lone Republican among the borough presidents, said that a “sea change at the top of city government” with the election of de Blasio has not led to much change at all when it comes to the city bureaucracy that he often does battle with.

It is consistently frustrating, Oddo explained, “to have a great idea, to have the mayor of the city of New York and the mayor’s office say ‘that is a good idea,’ and then run headlong into the brick wall of city agencies, time and time again.”

“It’s the same jerks that were there in the Bloomberg years that are here now,” Oddo said, speaking of agency officials and local agency workers, especially at agencies like the Department of Transportation, Department of Buildings, and the Department of Design and Construction. “Unless you have an administration with strong deputy mayors pushing down on commissioners and making commissioners change the culture of these agencies, I hate to say it guys, I’m not sure if it really matters who’s up at the top.”

“You want to have a legacy,” Oddo said to this mayor or any, “you have to change the culture of these agencies, and I don’t believe that’s happening.” Instead of commissioners changing their agencies, Oddo said, he sees agencies changing the commissioners for the worse.

“The sea change that was promised, whether you believe in it or not, hasn’t happened,” Oddo said. At which point, Adams -- a vocal de Blasio supporter -- jumped in to echo the point, lamenting the permanent culture of “no” among civil servants who “wait out mayors...wait out commissioners and...get in the way of change.”

A spokesperson for de Blasio declined to comment on the critiques provided by the borough presidents.

Other than critiquing the mayor, at the Crain’s event the five borough presidents also discussed specific development projects in their respective boroughs, their takes on Uber and Airbnb, and broader political dynamics.

There were half-jokes about the fact that Diaz Jr. is very close with Gov. Cuomo, while Adams enjoys a closer relationship with de Blasio. Yet there were more direct words between Diaz Jr. and Adams over whether Cuomo has been strong enough in backing fellow Democrats, specifically with respect to the state Senate, which remains in Republican control. Brewer said the governor has not been enough of a Democratic champion, which Adams agreed with and Diaz Jr. denied. Adams and Diaz Jr. debated the issue for a couple of minutes.

Engquist also asked the borough presidents whether they plan to seek higher office. All five are eligible for another term in their current positions, and the four other than Diaz Jr. are definitively seeking re-election.

As for later aspirations, Adams said he wants to be Mayor eventually. Diaz Jr. said he plans to seek higher office someday, but “I don’t know when.” Brewer said she doesn’t plan to seek a higher office; Katz demurred, saying she is focused on running for re-election; and Oddo said, “No, because First Deputy Mayor is not an elected position.”

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Five Borough Presidents Advise, Critique De Blasio Tue, 24 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Bill Aims to Ensure Heat is On When It Should Be ritchie torres arms crossed pink tie

Ritchie Torres (photo: John McCarten)

City Council Member Ritchie Torres will introduce a bill on Thursday that aims to ensure landlords follow the law and keep the heat on for tenants when it should be.

Torres’ bill, being introduced in partnership with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, would require landlords of buildings with more than three units to install tamper-proof heat sensors in the living room of each unit. These “temperature reporting devices” would be monitored by tenants, landlords, and the city’s housing agency, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

The model for such a device was developed by Heat Seek, a winner of the city’s 2014 BigApps competition. With their legislation, Torres and Adams want to make sure that all tenants have heat when they are supposed to, and to create a new deterrent for landlords who might abuse heat settings as a way to drive tenants out of rent-stabilized housing.

“The bill is based on a recognition that laws governing heat and hot water, which are among the most common complaints among tenants, can be the hardest to enforce,” Torres said in an interview on Wednesday.

“It's bringing housing code enforcement into the 21st century,” Torres said. “And it’s allowing us to hold unscrupulous owners accountable, and drive down the rate of heat and hot water violations in New York City.”

Working with Heat Seek, tenants, and housing lawyers, Adams recently announced a lawsuit against one large Brooklyn landlord whose Brownsville building had a number of heat complaints.

Landlords must provide tenants with heat and hot water when the outdoor temperature falls below 55 degrees during the day and below 40 degrees at night during the October 1-May 31 “heat season.” HPD tracks violators.

“My message to landlords across New York City is that we’re watching; don’t harm your tenants’ quality of life all because of greed,” Adams said in a statement. “We are using cool technology to warm the homes of Brooklynites, while putting bad-acting landlords on the hot seat for their harassing behavior. I am proud to work with Council Member Torres, the innovative team at Heat Seek NYC, our incredible legal advocates, as well as courageous tenants who are standing up for their housing rights.”

As originally drafted, if passed by the Council and signed by the Mayor, the provisions of the bill would go into effect for January 1, 2018. It would require rules to be drafted and contract procurement by HPD (Heat Seek would not be guaranteed the contract for the devices). The bill will be heard in the Committee on Housing and Buildings, which is chaired by Council Member Jumaane Williams. Torres chairs the Committee on Public Housing, but the bill does not apply to the New York City Housing Authority, which is separate from the private landlords the bill is targeting.

There are already amendments to the bill being discussed. Most significantly, according to Torres’ office, the bill is likely to be changed so that the temperature monitors are required of landlords with repeated violations related to providing heat, not of all landlords. The idea will be to identify when there has been “willful deprivation of heat and hot water” so that HPD can then monitor it and ensure that landlords are not repeatedly violating the law or driving out tenants. At times, landlords are accused of not providing heat but then raise the heat for HPD inspections. Sensors would allow for regular detection.

Torres' office is looking at perhaps coordinating with the Public Advocate' "worst landlord" list that is released each year as those involved seek to identify negligent landlords or landlords that harass tenants.

According to data provided by Torres’ office from HPD, last heat season HPD inspectors attempted 117,767 heat-related inspections and wrote 7,548 heat-related violations. HPD completed $2.7 million in heat-related emergency repairs that was charged to building owners and filed 3,151 heat cases in court, collecting $1.7 million in civil penalties against more than 3,100 properties.

Heat Seek is looking forward to expanding its work. In a statement, the company said, “Heat Seek is grateful for Councilman Torres’s and President Adams’s forward-thinking approach to solving problems experienced by many New Yorkers. We know that underheated apartments are too common for our neighbors, and we believe that sensor technology has the capacity to change the way landlords provide services for their tenants and how our city enforces the Housing Code."

Tenants are encouraged to call 311 to report issues with their heat and their landlords. Some tenants have taken to keeping a "heat log" but the tamper-proof devices from Heat Seek can provide more indisputable evidence.

“I think most landlords make good effort to comply with the law,” Torres said, but it will be important to monitor and punish “actors who have a consistent pattern of heat and hot water violations.”

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Bill Aims to Ensure Heat is On When It Should Be Wed, 14 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
The Urban Agenda Our Growing Cities Demand eric adams home conversions

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the author (photo via @BPEricAdams)

Communities like what we have in Brooklyn represent the future of the United States — vibrant places where people from around the world come to achieve their ambitions.

After many years in which many of our great cities declined in stature, young professionals and couples now want to build their careers and start families in urban America, and older adults want to enjoy their golden years in cities as well. I often say that there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who live in Brooklyn and those who wish they could. The numbers bear that out: our borough now has its highest population in history, representing what would be the fourth-largest city in the country — standing apart from the rest of New York City — with more than 2.6 million residents and growing.

As every teenager experiences a few growing pains, the rapid growth of cities from coast to coast has created some challenges. Many families that have lived in Brooklyn for generations now fear that their income will not support a middle-class life, with rents in some neighborhoods increasing by double digit percentages every year. Our subway platforms have become a crush of elbows and shoulders as commuters struggle to pack themselves into trains during rush hour. And even as crime has declined in New York City, the safest big city in America, there are communities where violence is a persistent threat, where parents are afraid to let their children play outside and the sound of gunshots still punctuates the dark of night.

The Republican National Convention came to a close in Cleveland with nary a word on the fundamental concerns of cities. While the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia touched on some of these matters through the party platform, we need to ask — better yet, demand — that leaders in both parties go deeper in reflecting on the problems of cities and offering solutions that will allow this country to remain preeminent in an era of continued urbanization. The federal government has the capacity and the duty to step up with this critical assistance, and should do so in the following areas:

Every day, commuters living in the greatest city in the world enter subway stations that are more than a century old to crowd into trains that have been in service for decades, some since 1964. Most subway lines still lack countdown clocks. People riding city buses travel at an average rate of 7 MPH (about jogging speed). Our parkways resemble parking lots.

The federal government just adopted a five-year, $305 billion transportation plan known as the FAST Act. Unfortunately, this bill spends nearly 80 percent of its funds on roads with the remainder devoted to mass transit. This allocation fails to account for either the needs of urban commuters who depend on subways, buses, and ferries, or the declining percentage of people throughout the United States who travel by car. A more flexible program that allows individual states to focus their resources on the areas of greatest need would provide New York and other cities with additional resources to build modern mass transit systems.

The federal government must establish a long-term source of revenue for the Highway Trust Fund, which now remains in operation only as a result of gimmicks in the budget that will expire in a few years. Many mass transit projects require several years (or even decades) to complete. A guaranteed investment would eliminate the uncertainty that now exists, which prevents cities and states from developing regional transportation plans to prepare for the needs of future generations.

In addition, commuters should have more flexibility with their transit tax benefits, which allow for pre-tax payments for commuter rail, subway, buses, and parking. There are many people who drive their car to a subway station, then ride the train to work, or alternate on different days, and who should have the option of allocating their payments as desired. Commuters who travel by bicycle also deserve to have the full monthly benefit of the program ($250 rather than $20).

Affordable Housing
The rapid gentrification of New York City has contributed to an affordable housing crisis in which more than half of the families who rent their homes are considered “rent-burdened,” paying more than one-third of their income in rent. There are almost 60,000 people sleeping in homeless shelters each night in New York City — the most since the Great Depression — and many more families living in substandard apartments.

Yet most federal spending on housing primarily benefits high-income homeowners in suburban areas, with the mortgage interest deduction, the property tax deduction, and the partial exclusion of capital gains from the sale of a home. None of these investments are necessarily unwise, but the federal government should consider the two-thirds of New York City residents who rent their homes, the rising number of senior citizens with low to very low incomes, and the increasing number of young people who are renting nationwide. If we are serious about addressing homelessness and the societal challenges that rising housing costs pose to urban America, then Washington’s priorities need to reflect real reform.

It is well past time for the federal government to restore and expand funds to the critical Section 8 rental subsidy. In New York City, the program has not been accepting new applications since 2009, resulting in a scramble for those in need to benefit from the “recycling” of vouchers and forcing many participants to relocate to small apartments that often require a parent and child or unrelated members of a household to share a bedroom. Beyond Section 8 and Section 202 (designated for affordable senior housing), our city’s public housing residents depend on adequate funding to keep their developments maintained to a livable standard. The Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) initiative has allowed agencies like NYCHA to leverage their debt and equity for reinvestment in their capital renovations, and it will be up to the next administration to advance this forward.

Going further, we need to jumpstart efforts that would connect the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit to more households through the income averaging reform bill currently stalled in Congress, a measure that would bring needed flexibility to a housing market like New York City’s as well as vital financial resources to keep roofs over the heads of hard-working families without crippling rent burdens.

We also need a Justice Department that actively prosecutes housing discrimination, which has contributed to the crisis. This includes combating rampant tenant harassment by unscrupulous landlords looking to game the system. Some zoning regulations effectively prevent the development of affordable housing that would allow a diverse community to flourish, and the federal government should consider the disparate impact of these restrictions. DOJ should additionally work to prevent discrimination in mortgage lending — in which people of color are offered loans with higher interest rates — that has contributed to many foreclosures.

Gun Violence
The deadly consequences of gun violence continue to threaten families and children in Brooklyn. In neighborhoods such as Brownsville and East New York, homicides and other violent crimes are still disproportionately high. Other cities such as Baltimore and Chicago have, this year, experienced substantial increases in violent crime, which threatens the public safety.

The tide of violence has been swelled by a flood of illegal guns into New York City, which (with New York State), has some of the most restrictive laws in the nation, preventing individuals who present a threat to themselves or other people from owning handguns. Most of the guns used in violent crimes in New York City were purchased in other states and illegally trafficked here, through an “Iron Pipeline” that stretches from Georgia to Virginia and other states that allow gun sales even without identification. Chicago has a similar problem with guns sold in Indiana.

We need common sense reform that only the federal government can provide. Cities are depending on Congress to prohibit gun traffickers from buying large quantities of guns and ammunition to sell in our streets, as well as to institute universal background checks that would prevent criminals from entering the arms trade. Moreover, we need dedicated federal prosecutors who will work with local district attorneys and law enforcement agencies to end the epidemic of gun violence, as well as the ability for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to require that guns include safety features to prevent accidents or unauthorized uses.

According to the most recent Census, more than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, a figure that is continuing to climb upward. As the importance of cities grows, so does the need for a proper debate between leaders of the major political parties about the best way to address the challenges facing urban America and the possibilities that exist when the federal government works in cooperation with its municipal partners.

Eric L. Adams is Brooklyn Borough President. On Twitter @BPEricAdams.

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

The Urban Agenda Our Growing Cities Demand Sun, 31 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Time to Say and Do More for Women's Health Eric Adams Brooklyn women's health

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams

Tampons. Periods. Breastfeeding. Hot flashes.

These terms, and others relevant to women’s health, have traditionally been considered taboo — inappropriate for polite conversation and therefore left unmentioned. That silence has had serious consequences for women and girls, who are denied access to feminine hygiene products, charged more at the cash register for “women’s” versions of household items, and made to feel ashamed about their bodies.

This taboo extends to sexual health, with terrible costs for young adults who have been denied information about reproduction, contraception, and healthy relationships. As a result, the United States has disproportionately high rates of unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and domestic violence.

The lack of healthy dialogue on these matters has delivered unhealthy results. Thankfully, strong leaders are stepping up and speaking out, and we’re beginning to see the benefits. Through the leadership of elected officials such as State Senator Sue Serino and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, with support from Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, the New York State Legislature recently voted to eliminate the sales tax on tampons, sanitary napkins, and other feminine hygiene products. (Governor Andrew Cuomo has pledged to sign the bill).

Just as we provide an exemption from the sales tax for necessities such as groceries and clothing, feminine hygiene products will be properly defined as necessities for women who menstruate, not luxuries. The exemption will particularly assist low-income New Yorkers who have had to choose between or ration such basic necessities due to their limited resources.

New York City now has an opportunity to build on the momentum from this achievement. The City Council is preparing to hold a hearing on a critical proposal by Council Member Ferreras-Copeland and Speaker Mark-Viverito to offer feminine hygiene products for free in public schools, homeless shelters, and correctional facilities.

This is a logical extension of our shared interest in promoting common-sense public health measures, both physical and psychological. Consider that a girl in school who has her period but is not carrying tampons or pads must visit a guidance counselor or the school nurse and explain her situation, often needing to negotiate hall passes and having to wait to be seen - the entire experience seems to have been intended to maximize embarrassment and class time missed. In jail, each woman receives a very limited supply of feminine hygiene products each month while additional supplies are sold for extortionate prices at the commissary; many must improvise with rolled-up toilet paper, a humiliating and unhealthy situation. Any woman or girl who is forced to use menstrual items for long stretches of time, due to issues of access or affordability, is put at higher risk for cervical cancer, toxic shock syndrome, and other concerns resulting from product overuse.

We need action at all levels of government. In homeless shelters, many women and girls simply cannot afford to buy feminine hygiene products, as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and flexible spending accounts disallow such purchases. Legislation such as the Fund Essential Menstruation (FEM) Products Act of 2015 from Representative Grace Meng, which would reclassify feminine hygiene products to allow for purchase with flexible spending accounts, is essential to move forward and should be a bipartisan priority. For starters, we should ensure that every member of the New York State congressional delegation gets behind the bill.

These initiatives are critical to eliminating inequities that undermine the position of women in our civil society. A recent report from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), for example, documented that products sold to women cost seven percent more on average than nearly identical products sold to men. This includes basic hygiene products such as shaving razors. We have a shared responsibility, men and women alike, to demand that these disparities end now. Companies that continue this behavior need to be called out in the public arena and pressured to answer for these discrepancies.

We must continue to drive the conversation about gender equity, especially around women’s health, to break the silence and remove the taboos. When I became Brooklyn borough president, I was deeply concerned that women who have recently had children are often ostracized for breastfeeding and pumping milk at work or in public areas, despite the fact that the law protects their right to this practice. I was proud to open our lactation lounge at Brooklyn Borough Hall last year, as part of the Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone initiative by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), so women in Downtown Brooklyn have a comfortable lounge in which to breastfeed or pump milk. And, we are able to raise awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding and to celebrate the practice.

I am now pressing forward with City Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Robert Cornegy, Jr., and Corey Johnson (the latter are two of the standout male leaders in the fight for advancing women’s health) on a proposal to require the City to create dedicated space for nursing moms in a range of municipal government offices that serve the public, such as New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) job centers and New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) borough offices.

This conversation should include the entirety of women’s lives. Our society has often avoided discussion of menopause, depriving many women of information about the symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and an awareness of available treatments. In our celebration of Women’s History Month this past March, Council Member Cumbo and I organized a day of panel discussions and workshops to speak with women about every stage of life and to start a conversation surrounding the natural changes that occur in life, not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. For some, it was the first time anyone had engaged them on these topics. We ask businesses and other institutions to follow suit and to reasonably accommodate these life transitions.

The days of relegating women’s health to second-class status or worse are over, and our laws and policies must reflect that for every stage of a woman’s life. Men, who still write most of those laws and policies, have a responsibility to join in this conversation and to insist on fairness and equality.

Eric Adams is the president of Brooklyn. On Twitter @BPEricAdams.

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Time to Say and Do More for Women's Health Wed, 01 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 18 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will be a fun one as New York votes in consequential presidential primaries on Tuesday. Expect a whole lot of last-minute campaigning and getting out the vote. All five major party presidential candidates are focused on New York, with Tuesday's results sure to have a significant impact on the races thereafter. Also Tuesday, several special elections for vacant seats in the state Legislature. Most importantly, the Long Island state Senate race to replace Dean Skelos, which will significantly affect control of the chamber now held by Republicans. There are also three New York City-based vacancies in the Assembly being filled, including Sheldon Silver's old seat.

Polls are open in New York City 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday. You can look up your voter registration status and poll site here.

This week we're also watching for Mayor Bill de Blasio's first Staten Island town hall, set for Wednesday evening. And, any new information that may surface around the issues that have been dogging de Blasio and his administration of late: investigations into the handling of a deed restriction removal on a Lower East Side property; bribery of NYPD officials; and the mayor's fundraising.

And, it's Earth Week, leading up to Friday's Earth Day, watch for a variety of environment-related events and announcements.

As always, there's a great deal happening at the City Council and all over the city, with many events to be aware of. See below for our day-by-day rundown.

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

The run of the week in detail:

On Monday, Mayor de Blasio will appear on Hot 97’s Ebro in the Morning to discuss the presidential primary at 9:30 a.m. At 1:30 p.m. "the Mayor will host a press conference related to the mosquito season and Zika preparedness...Prior to the press conference, the Mayor will tour a mosquito lab at the Public Health Lab." And at 5 p.m. the Mayor will appear on PIX 11 News to discuss the presidential primary.

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will appear at two phone-bank kick-off rallies in support of Hillary Clinton for President. At both events, one in Buffalo and one in Rochester, Cuomo will join former President Bill Clinton.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will attend an 11 a.m. Verizon workers strike march and rally, 230 West 36th Street. At noon, Mark-Viverito will present an award at a Girl Be Heard luncheon at One Time Warner Center.

At the City Council on Monday:

  • 9:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and and Franchises will meet to address two land use applications.
  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Transportation will meet to examine the City’s actions taken toward reducing vehicle emissions, to consider a bill requiring that the Department of Transportation establish a pilot program for street parking electric vehicle charging stations, and to vote on a (non-binding) resolution to make Earth Day 2016 car-free for private and all non-essential city vehicles.
  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet to consider seven bills, including a bill to alter permit filing fees for new buildings and alterations, a bill to create a real-time enforcement unit in the Department of Buildings responsible for enforcing construction codes, a bill imposing additional penalties for performing construction work without a permit, and others.
  • 11 a.m., the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections will meet to receive several communications from the Mayor regarding the appointment of individuals to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Art Commission, and the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Civil Rights will meet to vote on a resolution recognizing March 5 as the official annual “Three-Fifths Clause Awareness Day” and a resolution calling upon Congress to amend Article 1, Section two, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution of the United States, known as the “three-fifths clause.”  
  • 1 p.m., the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet to address several land use applications.

At 8 a.m. Monday, “Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will lead local leaders and dozens of Brooklynites on his second annual Bike-to-Work ride, as he kicks off Earth Week celebrations in and around the borough. The event will highlight the positive impact that New Yorkers can have on their local environment by using pedal power to get around the city.”

At noon, Borough President Adams “will cut the ribbon on a free legal services clinic operated in collaboration with the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer's Project, Brooklyn Legal Services, the Veteran Advocacy Project and the Domestic Violence Project of the Urban Justice Center, and Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT) at Brooklyn Borough Hall.”

At noon on the steps of City Hall, City Council Member Andy King will lead a rally calling on the City Council to pass the aforementioned resolution calling on the federal government to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution negating the Three-Fifths Compromise. Participating organizations will include the NAACP, the National Action Network, the Justice League, The Black Institute, and others.

On Monday at 1 p.m., schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will visit a literacy pilot program for students with print-based disabilities at PS 57 on Staten Island. At 6:15 p.m., Fariña will deliver brief remarks at AP Para Todos family event at George Washington Educational Campus in Manhattan.

Also at 1 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at Communications Workers of America Verizon strike rally and march, at Verizon Wireless, 125 West 42nd Street.

At 5:30 p.m. Monday, the Queens Borough Board, chaired by Borough President Melinda Katz, will review details and vote on whether to recommend approval of the creation of the JFK Industrial Business Improvement District, which would support the many air cargo and service-related business near John F. Kennedy International Airport. Also present at the event will be Kris Goddard, executive director of the Neighborhood Development Division at the Department of Small Business Services, Barbara Cohen, consultant to the JFK IBID, and Dennis Walcott, president and CEO of the Queens Library.

At 6:00 p.m., City & State will be recognizing 50 of New York’s most prominent leaders in government, business, and media over the age of 50 during a reception and dinner at Federal Hall. The ceremony will be moderated by Betsy Gotbaum, former Public Advocate.

At 6 p.m., Council Member Helen Rosenthal will hold her third annual Town Hall, featuring representatives from over a dozen city agencies who will be available to answer questions from the public. Council Member Rosenthal will also announce the year’s winning Participatory Budget project at this event.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, Fordham University will host “What Is Happening? Part II: A Discussion of the 2016 Primaries” with Alexis Grenell, political strategist and City and State columnist, Jessica Proud, Republican strategist and partner at the November Team, and Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham, who is organizing and moderating the discussion.

Tuesday is presidential primary day in New York. Registered Democratic and Republican votes, who registered by certain deadlines, are able to vote in their party primary.

Also, Tuesday will see several special elections - open general election votes for registered voters in the relevant districts - in the races to replace both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (downtown Manhattan) and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (Long Island) will take place on Tuesday. There are also two other New York City-based special elections for vacant Assembly seats.

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Health will meet on a bill requiring the City to provide defibrillators at youth-league baseball fields on City-owned land at no cost.
  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Youth Services will hold an oversight meeting for elementary and middle school summer programs.
  • 11 a.m., the Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet on a bill amending the 2002 Displaced Building Services Worker Protection Act, so that it includes a broader set of employees protected under the law. The law requires that employers evaluate and retain eligible employees of a building that has just been sold.
  • 11 a.m., the Committee on land use will meet.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet on three bills requiring that the Department of Consumer Affairs provide outreach and education on consumer protection issues for women, seniors, and immigrants.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services will meet jointly with the Committee on Education to conduct an oversight meeting addressing the needs of students with dyslexia and related learning disabilities, to vote on a resolution requiring the Department of Education to include climate change lessons in K-12 schools’ curriculum, and to vote on a resolution requiring the certification of teachers, administrators, and instructors in the area of dyslexia and related disorders.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will hold an oversight hearing addressing the reduction of food waste in New York City.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, NYC Human Resources Administration Chief of Staff Jennifer Yeaw will host a panel of community respondents to discuss HRA’s efforts to improve ease of access for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during one in a series of CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute spring 2016 forums. Speakers include Brady Koch, COO of the Food Bank for New York City, and Maureen Lane, co-director of the Welfare Rights Initiative at Hunter College; the moderator will be Jan Poppendieck, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Hunter College and Senior Faculty Fellow, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Urban Democracy Lab will host an event, “Insights into Housing New York: A Five-Borough, Ten-Year Plan” with Daniel Hernandez, Deputy Commissioner for Neighborhood Strategies at the Department of Housing, Preservation, and Development. The event will discuss Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan, and Hernandez will be joined by Michael Ralph, Director of Metropolitan Studies at NYU.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jarrett Murphy, Executive Editor of City Limits, will be moderating a Brooklyn Historical Society panel of experts on “The Changing Face of Brooklyn’s Latino Community,” featuring Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; Laird Bergad, Executive Director of CUNY’s Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies; and Javiér Valdes, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road NY.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Finance will vote on a resolution approving designation changes of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget.
  • 1:30 p.m., the City Council will meet for a full-body Stated Meeting, which, as usual, will be prefaced by Speaker Mark-Viverito’s pre-stated press conference.

Starting at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, City and State NY, Albany Law School, and Rockefeller College host a one-day government ethics conference and training seminar. The event will give executive training for professionals and government officials on the theory and practice of ethics in state government, and will feature Richard Ravitch, former Lieutenant Governor of New York; Alphonso David, counsel to the governor; Eleanor Randolph, veteran New York Times editorial writer; Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr.; Blair Horner, New York Public Interest Research Group; and others.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Department of Education will host a public meeting for the Panel for Educational Policy.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Fordham University will host a discussion, “Should there be Quotas for Female Representation,” featuring Mary Wilson, founder and president of Ms. Foundation for Women and The White House Project; Zenaida Mendez, director of the MNN El Barrio Firehouse Community Media Center; Alexis Grenell, political strategist and City and State columnist; and Dr. Christina Greer, Fordham political science professor and organizer and moderator of the event.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio will be holding a town hall on Staten Island, at PS 48 in Concord. It will be a “Working for Our Neighborhoods” town hall, open to all local concerns.

On Thursday morning, "New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia will address a breakfast meeting of Trustees of the Citizens Budget Commission" (CBC). "She will discuss her priorities for the Department of Sanitation, including improving waste management, recycling, and environmental impact."

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • 9:30 a.m., the Committee on General Welfare will hold an oversight hearing on the Department of Homeless Services’s 90-day review.
  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Higher Education, jointly with the Committee on Health, will hold an oversight hearing to review the status of nursing programs at the City University of New York (CUNY).
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Public Housing, jointly with the Committee on Environmental Protection, will hold an oversight hearing examining NYCHA’s record in removing mold from public housing, and on a bill establishing a local licensing requirement for workers who do work on mold removal.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Veterans will vote on a resolution calling on Congress to pass, and the President to sign into law, the Toxic Exposure Research Act, which would establish in the Department of Veterans Affairs a national center for research on the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions of the descendants of veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service in the Armed Forces.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Economic Development will hold an oversight hearing evaluating opportunities for women entrepreneurs in New York City.

At noon, the New York Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups will rally at City Hall in support of the Right to Know Act, which would require NYPD officers to identify themselves and would aim to protect New Yorkers against unconstitutional searches.

Friday and the weekend
Friday is Earth Day, and includes the Car Free Day initiative led by City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez.

At 8 a.m. Friday, NACOLE and John Jay College will host "Building Public Trust: Generating Evidence to Enhance Police Accountability and Legitimacy", which will feature research in the area of civilian-led law enforcement accountability, place scholars in conversation with practitioners and funders, and begin a conversation about the use of law enforcement data now becoming publicly available. NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure will be offering commentary on the civilian-led accountability field, among others speaking.

At 8 a.m. Friday, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer will be speaking at the Innovation Breakfast Series, hosted by Civic Hall and NY Tech Meetup. The series offers prominent New Yorkers working in technology, civic and social innovation an opportunity to hear from leaders in government and industry.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? Email Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Kelly Fan and Ben Max

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 18 Sun, 17 Apr 2016 23:32:28 +0000
Top Ten Corruption Quotes from Silver, Skelos Trials cuomo silver skelos

Happier times: Silver, Cuomo, Skelos in 2011 (l-r) photo via Governor's Office on flickr 

Two former leaders of their respective houses of the New York state legislature are on trial concurrently. In separate cases brought by the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, each is accused of using his office for private gain, among other charges. While the case against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was sent to jury deliberation on Tuesday, Nov. 24; the case against former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, continues on.

No matter the outcome of the two cases, the underbelly of New York state politics has been further exposed through the two trials.

As good government groups and fellow reformers call for sweeping changes to the way business is done in Albany and around the state, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and others throw their hands up and say you can't legislate morality, that there will always be bad actors.

The Silver and Skelos trials have provided significant insight into the ways in which legislators use their power and influence for personal gain - and, especially in Skelos' case, the ways in which scheming politicians talk about their "work." While one or both may be found not guilty, there have been a number of comments made or heard during the trials that relate to corruption, whether of the legal or illegal kind.

We bring you top moments of the two trials thus far:

1. "It makes some people uncomfortable, but that is the system New York State has chosen, and it is not a crime," Silver's defense attorney Steven Molo said on Nov. 3 during opening statements. "The prosecutors are trying to make it a crime, but it's not." Molo insisting that prosecutors are trying to criminalize a part-time legislature and lawmakers holding outside employment.

Reform Issues: lawyers as legislators, full-time legislature, quid pro quo

2. "It's OK to be motivated by the money," Steven Molo, defense attorney for Sheldon Silver said during closing arguments on November 23. "Our legislators in the state of New York are part-time. They're able to work and have other jobs."

Issues: part-time legislature, lawyer legislators, conflicts of interest

3. "At the beginning of our relationship, I asked Mr. Silver if he would convince his company to donate funds to [cancer research] and he asked for referrals. That was the pattern," Dr. Robert Taub told jurors on Nov. 4.

Issues: Lawyers legislators, public officers law/self-dealing

4. "You have my cellphone number. It's a privilege to have that number. Now, if you want to utilize my f–king reach and business opportunity, then you call me and I'll set up a meeting," Adam Skelos told a member of a diner association, exploiting the sense of power he felt as his father's son, as captured through federal wiretap Dec. 22nd, 2014.

Issue: public officers law

5. "Let's stop pretending. Guys like you aren't fit to shine my shoes. And if you talk to me like that again, I'll smash your [expletive] head in," Adam Skelos said to his "boss," the head of a medical malpractice insurance firm. Prosecutors contend Skelos was only hired by the firm as a favor to his father.

Issue: public officers law

6. "I was uncomfortable with the arraignment," Richard Runes, lobbyist for Glenwood Management - a real estate firm that is also the state's largest donor to political campaigns (including the governor's) and is involved in the corruption cases against Silver and Skelos - speaking about removing Silver's name from what would have been a publicly disclosed document revealing a fee-sharing arrangement between Silver and a law firm employed by Glenwood. Runes further testified he "did not want to sign a retainer that listed Mr. Silver as one of the attorneys."

Issues: disclosure of outside income, lawyers as legislators, LLC loophole, public officers law

7. "You've been nodding your head up and down and back and forth in what looks like a signal to the witness," Judge Kimba Wood scolded a Senate staffer on Nov. 23 during testimony by an ex-councilman from North Hempstead who testified he gave Adam Skelos a $20,000 referral fee on behalf of Glenwood Management. Wood was addressing Senate staffer Welquis Lopez, a friend of Dean Skelos who remains on the Senate payroll.

"If you nod your head one more time, I'm going to have court security escort you out of the courtroom," Wood added.

Issue: corruption

8."Keep them separate and fighting and hating each other," Dean Skelos said, explaining why he empowered state Senator Jeff Klein, head of the Independent Democratic Conference, during a wiretapped phone call captured Dec. 22, 2014. "It's worked for six years...Keeping them at each other's throat."

The younger Skelos protested giving Klein any role at all. "I can't afford [Sen.] Bill Larkin having a heart attack," Dean Skelos said, referring to an elderly Republican senator and the slim Republican margin in the Senate.

"When your enemy is in a weak state, you don't back off. You destroy them," Adam Skelos said, referring to Klein. "It's going to be co-coalition leader. It means nothing," Dean Skelos responded.

Issues: political control of the Senate; 'Three men in a room'

9. "Ahhh! This day sucks," Adam Skelos said during a phone call with his father, then Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on December 17, 2014. The Cuomo administration had decided not to move ahead with hydrofracking and the prosecution in the trial where both father and son are defendants contends that the younger Skelos used his father's connections to win no-show jobs with companies that stood to benefit from his father's actions. Adam Skelos was employed with AbTech, a group that manufactures water filters that are used in the fracking process. Prosecutors say he stood to gain $1 for each barrel of waste created in the fracking process on top of his $10,000-a-month salary. Skelos and his Senate Republican majority strongly promoted fracking for the state.

Issue: public officers law/self-dealing

10. "I represent only claimants, individual claimants, in personal injury actions," Silver told a reporter during a recorded interview played during the trial. "My clients are little people. I don't represent any corporations," he told another reporter. "I don't represent any entities that are involved in the legislative process." The prosecution provided witnesses and documentation showing that Silver's income came exclusively from referrals set up through his law firm - not from working with clients - referrals he is accused of earning through quid-pro-quo relationships with real estate interests and Dr. Taub.

Issues: outside income, income disclosure, conflict of interest, lawyers as legislators

Silver jury deliberations and the Skelos trial will continue Monday, November 30. All defendents are innocent until proven guilty.

[Related: Good Government Groups Point to New Evidence of Need for Sweeping Reforms]

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Top Ten Corruption Quotes from Silver, Skelos Trials Sun, 29 Nov 2015 05:00:00 +0000