Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/241 Sat, 22 Sep 2018 03:24:54 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Former and Current Elected Officials Discuss Potential Changes to City Campaign Finance System http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7854:former-and-current-elected-officials-discuss-potential-changes-to-city-campaign-finance-system http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7854:former-and-current-elected-officials-discuss-potential-changes-to-city-campaign-finance-system nyccfb twitter

Schaffer, Ulrich, Torres, Quinn, Gotbaum, Cho (l-r) (photo: @NYCCFB)


Former and current New York City elected officials broadly praised the city’s campaign finance system at a panel at New York Law School on Wednesday, while acknowledging that it could be improved to incentivize more reliance on small donors and streamlined to encourage first-time candidates to run for office.

The panel was hosted by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) and moderated by Daniel Cho, assistant executive director for candidate guidance and policy at the CFB. The panellists included sitting City Council Members Ritchie Torres and Eric Ulrich, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who shared their divergent experiences in running for elected office, raising campaign money, and navigating the city’s campaign finance program.

The CFB administers the system and its widely lauded public matching funds program, which intends to level the playing field in elections by matching the first $175 of every qualifying contribution at a 6-to-1 ratio. The rationale is simple: It motivates candidates for local and citywide office to cast a wider net and seek smaller individual donors rather than depend on wealthy contributors giving larger donations.

But, even as other jurisdictions have begun to model programs after New York City’s, the CFB is hoping to strengthen its system, further limit the size of maximum donations, and encourage pursuit of small donors, recommending a slew of reforms for consideration by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision commission, which will soon announce the proposals it will put before voters on November’s Election Day. CFB Chair Rick Schaffer gave opening remarks before the panel, during which he outlined the history of the campaign finance program and the CFB's new recommendations.

Those reforms include drastically lowering contribution limits, increasing the matching fund ratio to 8-to-1 and the value of matchable donations to $250, changing the thresholds for qualifying for matching funds -- including the addition of a geographic requirement where a citywide candidate would have to get at least 50 donations from each borough -- and lowering the minimum qualifying contribution from $10 to $5. In the coming weeks, the charter commission will issue its final report, and the proposals it lands on will be presented to voters on the November general election ballot.

[Read: Campaign Finance Board Proposes Reforms at Charter Commission Hearing]

Council Member Ulrich, a Republican from Queens, said the matching fund system was instrumental in his special election campaign in 2009, which he ran without help from labor unions or the local party establishment. “The critical factor in me deciding to move forward and to run was in fact the campaign finance program,” he said.

Torres, a Bronx Democrat, similarly said the program gave him “sufficient resources” to run his City Council campaign in 2013, but with one caveat. “The cost of running a campaign seems to vary widely from Council district to Council district.You could win a district like mine on the sheer strength of door-to-door campaigning,” he said.

Quinn -- who is the only mayoral candidate to ever max out on public matching funds, Cho later said -- subsequently noted that rent for campaign offices in particular is one cost that can be drastically different depending on the district.

Gotbaum, who is now executive director of government reform group Citizens Union, said that when she ran for public advocate in 2001, she raised large numbers of maximum donations -- currently $5,100 for citywide candidates -- because of a crowded field and because the CFB’s matching funds tend to be doled out late in the campaign. The program does appear to serve its intended purpose better for City Council candidates as citywide candidates continue to raise a majority of their funds from large donors.

Gotbaum supports the public funds program but worries about the public reaction to the cost of public financing if the matching amounts are raised, though she also acknowledged that not enough New Yorkers even know the program exists. “I think if you put the match up terribly high, those few people that participate may start to complain...I’m just throwing that out there as a point of discussion,” she said.

The CFB gives out public funds twice in an election in most cases, for the primary and then for the general. But Ulrich pointed out that for Republicans, who tend to be involved in far fewer primaries owing to Democrats’ heavy voter enrollment advantage in the city, matching funds are usually only disbursed once. In some cases, Ulrich argued, this gives Democratic candidates advantages in terms of getting their message out to voters and attacking their Republican opponent. “So I think the board should probably look at that,” he said. “It doesn’t affect most participants but...certainly in my part of the city, it does.”

All the panellists agreed that a big challenge to ensuring ordinary voices are reflected in elections is that voter participation and engagement is far too anaemic in New York City. They not only stressed the need for more voter education but also the dire necessity of reforming the state’s antiquated voting and election laws which are widely held responsible for low voter turnout.

“The reliance at the state level is on these big donors, corporate donors in fact,” said Ulrich, who ran for state Senate in 2012 and said he received dozens of large, unsolicited donations. “I would much rather if there was any way possible for state, federal, and city candidates for public office to be participating in a matching funds program. It’s a much more transparent, fairer, and I think ethical approach to running for political office.”

Ulrich’s Republican colleagues who control the state Senate have not had the same opinion, however, as the chamber has opposed most campaign finance reforms supported by the Democratic Assembly and Governor Andrew Cuomo, as well as most voting and election reforms.

Quinn took particular issue with state election law’s LLC loophole, which allows hidden donors to legally circumvent the already high state contribution limits through multiple limited liability companies. As Council speaker, Quinn ushered in campaign finance reforms which included a prohibition against LLC donations in city elections. She also said the practice of intermediaries “bundling” donations from several contributors for a single candidate tend to be more corrupting than a single, maxed-out donation.

“That’s really where the amplification of corporate interests comes into place,” she said, urging the CFB to go beyond simply lowering contribution limits.

Torres also wanted to see “bolder” reforms. “Some of these improvements do feel incremental,” he said, pointing out the heavy reliance on large donors, particularly in the mayoral race. He wants to see a drastic reduction in the contribution limits. “I think it would create a system that is purely powered by small donations,” he said.

The Council member also noted that the recent victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- who ran on a platform opposed to corporate donors -- over Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in the June congressional primary shows a “millennial outcry” against excessive money in politics. “If the mayor’s charter commission were to radically reduce contribution limits in response to the national zeitgeist that’s taking hold, I think it would be a legacy achievement for the mayor,” he said.

The panellists also agreed that perception matters in politics, and that constituents need to be reassured that government is not for sale, with some discussion around the “doing-business” limits on donations from entities seeking or holding city contracts.

“For me, the standard is whether you contribute to the appearance of corruption,” Torres said, noting that Council members can raise substantial sums of money from industries that they regulate and that individual members also hold an almost “veto power” over land use matters that could be worth tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. “I’m not suggesting that this happens but the fact that it’s even a theoretical possibility is problematic,” he said. “A member could leverage the power you have over the [Uniform Land use Review Procedure] to extract sizable contributions. So why not foreclose that possibility.”

Ulrich blamed the negative perceptions that the public holds of New York politicians on the long and constant stream of state-level elected officials, mostly in the state Legislature, who have been convicted of corruption. “I think until Albany gets their act together and enacts some form of real and robust ethics reform and campaign finance reform,” he said, “that is going to overshadow...all the wonderful and great work that the CFB is doing.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Former and Current Elected Officials Discuss Potential Changes to City Campaign Finance System Wed, 08 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Attacks on Yeshivas Present a Dangerous Slippery Slope http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7569:attacks-on-yeshivas-present-a-dangerous-slippery-slope http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7569:attacks-on-yeshivas-present-a-dangerous-slippery-slope eric ulrich1

Eric Ulrich, the author, right, and Cardinal Dolan (photo: @eric_ulrich)


In the coming months, the city and state education departments are expected to rule on an issue that may have huge repercussions for parental school choice and religious freedom. A small group of former yeshiva graduates have alleged that religious schools in Orthodox Jewish communities are failing to provide adequate education to students. As an avid supporter of parental choice, I worry education leaders will side with these critics, posing a threat to private schools well beyond the Jewish community.

Many years ago, I attended P.S. 63, an elementary school in Queens. My mother, a single parent and devout Catholic, made the decision to transfer me to the former Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School, a Catholic elementary school. She wholeheartedly believed Catholic school was a better environment for me at the time – and it was. Appreciative of the opportunities Catholic school afforded me, I continued my religious education at Cathedral Prep Seminary High School.

As the product of both public school and Catholic school education, I recognize the importance of parental school choice. The values instilled in me through my religious upbringing and education paved the way for my career as a public servant. Attending Catholic school ignited my passion for helping people; and at one point in my life, I seriously contemplated becoming a priest. If my mother did not have the freedom to enroll me in the school of her choice, I might not have taken the path I’ve taken, which I have found extraordinary fulfilling.

During my time in office, I have visited many yeshiva schools. In each of those visits, I saw a vibrant atmosphere. It is clear to me the Orthodox community takes education seriously. The school day begins just after sunrise, and the majority of yeshiva students study long after they are dismissed. Their studies are deeply rooted in the Torah and Talmud, which encourage discussion and debate at a very young age. Their studies focus heavily upon religious and legal texts, and teachers employ a method of Socratic dialogue with students more commonly found at law schools. That may not be a familiar experience for graduates of traditional secular schools, but tens of thousands of parents choose these schools each year because yeshivas have served them – and their families – well for generations.

The narrow issue before officials is whether these yeshivas are adhering to a vague state regulation requiring private schools to provide a substantially equivalent education to that of public schools. What that means in practice is enormously subjective; private and religious schools throughout the state are awaiting the results of a looming “clarification” from the State Education Department with deep trepidation.

Government officials are being subjected to a pressure campaign by anti-yeshiva activists, who continuously attack the Orthodox Jewish community under the guise of educational quality. We must continue to protect freedom of religion and the rights of parents to send their children to religious schools – whether they are Catholic, Islamic, or Jewish. If we do not stand-up for yeshivas today, the future of other private schools may be next.

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Eric Ulrich is a City Council member representing parts of Queens. On Twitter @eric_ulrich.

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

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Attacks on Yeshivas Present a Dangerous Slippery Slope Mon, 26 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Landmarks Brooklyn Home Against Owner’s Wishes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7503:city-landmarks-brooklyn-home-against-owner-s-wishes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7503:city-landmarks-brooklyn-home-against-owner-s-wishes peter rosa huberty google earth

1019 Bushwick Avenue (via Google Maps)


In October, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to designate the Peter P. and Rosa M. Huberty House, at 1019 Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn, as a city landmark.

“The designation of the Huberty House honors both the historic character of Bushwick Avenue as it developed in the early 20th century, as well as the contributions of architect Ulrich Huberty to the borough of Brooklyn," LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said at the time. “Today's landmark designation will preserve this splendid Colonial Revival for future generations of New Yorkers to enjoy."

A little more than three months later, on February 6, the item passed the City Council’s Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses. It then passed the Council’s Land Use Committee on February 8, and finally the full City Council on February 15. The landmarking has the support of the LPC, Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents the district the house sits in, Reynoso’s predecessor, Diana Reyna, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the Historic Districts Council, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy, to name a few.

The problem: the owner of the house, Virginia Giovinco, is staunchly against it.

Giovinco testified at a January 23 meeting of the Council’s Landmarks Subcommittee, when the landmarking of the house was being considered.

“It’s a terrible burden on me,” she told the subcommittee. “I just cannot live with that idea. So I strongly oppose this designation for that moment that I don’t have control over my house.”

The home has been in Giovinco’s family since 1937, when it was purchased by her grandfather, Luciano Giovinco, a tailor who had immigrated from Italy at the beginning of the 1900s. The house, a 4,000 square foot colonial revival mansion, was originally built in 1900 by the architect Ulrich Huberty for his parents, Peter and Rosa. Huberty also designed buildings such as the landmarked Williamsburgh Savings Bank, Hotel Bossert, and the Prospect Park Boathouse.

Giovinco, now in her eighties, claimed at the hearing that the city has been attempting to landmark the house for at least 15 years. Her main worry appeared to be losing the autonomy of regular homeownership. She testified that, over the course of the Giovinco family’s 81-year ownership of the house, it had been kept in immaculate condition and any improvements had not deviated from the original colonial style of the home.

“The old-timers did not need an outside agency to tell them they should preserve the appearance of this house,” she said. “And I don’t need an outside agency either.”

Virginia Giovinco’s cousin Paul Giovinco also testified at the hearing, attesting that the house was not just within Virginia’s immediate family but rather a focal point for the entire extended family. Paul called out the city for not being supportive, saying that they had not received an offer from the city to cover a fixed portion of maintenance costs required by the landmarking.

“We’re not gonna go ahead and throw down some tar paper, and some shingles,” Paul said. “We’re gonna maintain it the same way. But I don’t see no compensation or help. So what is the landmark giving us?”

In response to testimony from the Giovincos, Council Members Daneek Miller and Mark Treyger discussed the need to strike a balance between the issues of homeowner autonomy and the need to preserve historic structures and communities through the landmarking process. Council Member Peter Koo recommended that the committee lay over the matter until further study.

At the February 15 meeting of the full City Council, Miller, Treyger, and Koo all voted to advance the landmarking.

Seven Council members voted against the designation: Joe Borelli, Ruben Diaz, Sr., Mark Gjonaj, Bob Holden, Steven Matteo, Eric Ulrich, and Kalman Yeger -- the Council’s three Republicans and several more conservative Democrats. Giovinco’s objections to the landmarking were on their mind.

“It is my understanding that the property owner was not in favor of the landmark designation,” Ulrich told Gotham Gazette. “Therefore I voted against it.”

Borelli went even further in his objections, suggesting that the landmarking is a violation of the owner’s personal liberties.

“No owner is treated fairly if their rights are taken away without compensation,” Borelli said in an email. “There is no other agency in government that has that power, only this commission that decides which buildings are more relevant than others.” Among the rights Borelli cited as being taken away by LPC include “everything from putting a new addition on; to painting it with purple polka dots; [t]o using aluminum siding; [t]o demolishing it, because the cost of maintaining it under LPC guidelines is costly.”

Borelli said the Landmarks Preservation Commission should be focusing more on landmarking buildings wherein preservation would be a public benefit, rather than simply picking “the prettiest house on the block.”

The Landmarks Preservation Commission describes itself as “the largest municipal preservation agency in the nation;” 36,000 buildings are landmarked properties in New York City. Most of those are located in larger historic districts, but there are 1,405 individually landmarked buildings, along with 120 “interior landmarks” and 10 “scenic landmarks,” which consist of city parks such as Central Park, Prospect Park, and Riverside Park. Its leadership is made up of 11 commissioners appointed by the mayor. When the LPC designates a city landmark, the designation must then be approved by the City Council’s Land Use Committee and then the full council.

Virginia Giovinco declined to comment for this story. She has been on record against the landmarking since at least 2013, when she testified at an LPC hearing with the same concerns as she has now: that landmarking the house would result in her losing autonomy over her property.

For its part, an LPC representative said that the commission has designated approximately 150 free-standing homes as landmarks, with another 2,000 being landmarked as part of a historic district. Zodet Negron, a spokesperson for the LPC, told Gotham Gazette that the LPC has designated eight single-family homes as landmarks in the past four years, receiving the support of six of the owners; in the end, the owner’s approval is not required for designation. Negron stated that the LPC had done “extensive outreach” with Giovinco and that it intended to work with her “to ensure a smooth regulatory process.”

“Our intent and approach is always to seek the cooperation of owners and establish a collaborative relationship that continues after designation,” Negron told Gotham Gazette. “Thousands of single-family homes are regulated by the Commission throughout the city, including both individual landmarks and within historic districts, and we work closely with homeowners to appropriately and expediently meet their needs.”

According the city’s administrative code, minor work on a landmarked property typically requires a permit from the LPC, unless another city agency deems an improvement necessary for safety. Major work such as demolitions or new construction requires more permissions from LPC, including a “certificate of no effect” on “protected architectural features,” a “certificate of appropriateness,” or are otherwise authorized to proceed with the work. The code also says that owners should keep properties in “good repair” and prevent decay and deterioration. Negron said “routine maintenance” of landmarked properties typically does not require review from LPC.

City Council Member Adrienne Adams, the chair of the Landmarks Subcommittee, also told Gotham Gazette that she had met with Giovinco after the hearing.

Though Bushwick Avenue is lined with many historic properties, only one other home on the avenue has been landmarked: the Catherina Lipsius House at 670 Bushwick Ave. Other landmarks on the stretch include a church, a Brooklyn Public Library branch, a Masonic Lodge, and the Williamsburg Houses NYCHA development.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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City Landmarks Brooklyn Home Against Owner’s Wishes Thu, 01 Mar 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Election Post-Mortem with Nicole Malliotakis’ Campaign Manager http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7316:election-post-mortem-with-malliotakis-campaign-manager http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7316:election-post-mortem-with-malliotakis-campaign-manager malliotakis with people and banner

Nicole Malliotakis and company (photo: @NMalliotakis)


“I targeted 750,000 votes,” said Leticia Remauro, campaign manager for Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis’ mayoral bid, “and broke them up into about 26 Assembly Districts we needed to target.”

“To win as a Republican in New York City, you have to win Queens, Staten Island, and the Upper East Side,” Remauro told Gotham Gazette in an election post-mortem interview, with the intensity of the campaign still evident.

While some absentee and other ballots are still being counted, Malliotakis, the Republican challenger to incumbent Democrat Bill de Blasio, received just under 304,000 votes, to de Blasio’s 726,000 and change. (Malliotakis also appeared on the Conservative and “Dump de Blasio” ballot lines, while the mayor also appeared on the Working Families Party line.)

The campaign did win convincingly in Malliotakis’ home borough of Staten Island, she got 74 percent of the vote there, and did very well on the Upper East Side, while Queens was more of a mixed bag, as de Blasio won 64 percent of the vote in the borough.

In the interview, Remauro explained the long odds the Malliotakis campaign faced from the get-go, and what needed to happen for her to pull off the upset that did not transpire. She admitted no mistakes in how the campaign was run -- “I don’t think that we could have run a better campaign.” -- but did express a few regrets, and she pointed the finger at several causes of the loss.

“The reason de Blasio has been reelected has a lot do with Eric Ulrich,” Remauro said, referring to the Republican City Council member from Queens who endorsed Bo Dietl, an independent mayoral candidate who tried to run in the Democratic, then Republican primaries, but was unsuccessful in both efforts and ran on his own ballot line. Dietl raised and spent over $1 million in the race, participated in the two televised debates alongside de Blasio and Malliotakis, was the subject of a good amount of media coverage, and ultimately received 1 percent of the vote (about 10,600 votes).

Other factors Remauro pointed to included Dietl’s inclusion in the televised debates (“Bo Dietl turned those debates into an entertainment circus. I believe voters were cheated”); the rain that came down around rush hour on Election Day and she believes led some people to stay home (“Had that rain decided not to let go as people were just coming home from work you would’ve seen a higher number”); how the news media covered Malliotakis’ candidacy and the race in general; and the presence of President Donald Trump atop the Republican Party. “He caused a lot of hurt to a lot of candidates and there’s nothing anyone could have done about that,” Remauro said of Trump.

When asked about mistakes or things she wishes the campaign had done differently, Remauro said, “I would have liked to have had more money sooner. If I could turn back time it would have been good to get into the race in February, not in May or June, when we really got into it.” With more money sooner and thus public matching funds earlier, “get on the air sooner, done more mail than we did, spend earlier.”

“A young Assemblywoman from Staten Island running in a 7-to-1 Democrat city” against an incumbent, Remauro explained of the tough odds. “We had Paul Massey who had taken millions out of New York City, real estate money...and we suffered for that,” she added, referring to the real estate executive who had been the Republican mayoral frontrunner until Malliotakis got in the race and who dropped out after their first side-by-side debate a few weeks later.

“She had every disadvantage that you could imagine, and she still managed to capture a higher vote total and a higher vote percentage than Joe Lhota,” Remauro said, referring to the 2013 Republican mayoral nominee. She also explained that Lhota was more well-known and connected than Malliotakis at the times of their mayoral campaigns, explaining, for example, that he had been a deputy mayor and MTA chair, and that he was well-connected in Manhattan and had been endorsed by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Remauro, who runs The Von Agency, a public relations firm, noted that she has known Malliotakis since the Assembly member was in college, and always thought highly of her.

As for Council Member Ulrich, who at one point flirted with his own mayoral bid, and “fractured” GOP support in Queens, Remauro gave Ulrich credit given that he won his reelection handily, but expressed frustration and confusion about why he continued to back Dietl. Ulrich maintained throughout the campaign that of any candidate in the race, Dietl had the best chance to defeat de Blasio in the general election. “If he had embraced her he could have been working with a Republican mayor,” Remauro said of Ulrich and Malliotakis.

Remauro said that support for Massey, then Dietl from some leaders in Queens held Malliotakis’ campaign back (Ulrich supported Dietl throughout the campaign). While Remauro said that many district leaders and other GOP officials in Queens were helpful, “we always had to overcome the Dietl factor.”

“She was out there repeatedly, but it’s difficult to be able to get in deep in a borough unless you have the support from the district leaders in that borough and the people who are organizing in the borough, and that never manifested itself,” Remauro said. Not getting Ulrich and a few others on board “was a killer,” she added.

She drew a comparison to the Bronx, the most Democratic borough, where the Republican county party had also endorsed Massey in the early going, but then quickly embraced Malliotakis when her path to the Republican nomination became clear. “We took 16 percent in the Bronx versus Lhota’s 7 percent,” Remauro said. In 2013, Lhota received about 23 percent of the overall vote to de Blasio’s 73 percent. Malliotakis received about 28 percent to de Blasio’s 66.5 percent.

“It was difficult for us to get into Queens the way we got into the Bronx,” Remauro said. She also criticized Dietl’s inclusion in the two debates, which was at the discretion of the lead sponsors, first NY1, then CBS.

“It was always my opinion that Bo Dietl and [Reform Party nominee] Sal Albanese would take votes away from Nicole and indeed we saw that on Staten Island and elsewhere,” Remauro said.

“Press conference after press conference she put out substantive issues,” Remauro said, when asked to elaborate more on comments she made about the media’s treatment of Malliotakis’ candidacy. She listed mental illness, homelessness, education, school safety, property taxes, illegal conversions. “She held at least two press conferences a week where she presented plans, and reporters had other things on their mind, and would ask questions and ask questions until they landed on an answer they enjoyed, and everyone would write about that.”

“Up until that first debate, for whatever reason, she would get at every single press conference a question about the president. Her issues got buried,” Remauro said.

“Shame on some of the reporters, because they could have done their homework. She was out there...Too often reporters are becoming commentators and not just being reporters. And that’s what I’d say to those who say we didn’t have new ideas,” Remauro said.

“Nobody in the fourth estate wanted to talk about rape being up,” she said, touching on one of Malliotakis’ main lines of attack against de Blasio (rape reports are up slightly under de Blasio, which the mayor and NYPD officials have said is likely due to more awareness, encouragement, and willingness to report, something Remauro acknowledged as plausible).

Remauro went on to say that she feels good about the fact that the Malliotakis campaign clearly got de Blasio’s attention and pushed him on issues like sex crimes against women, homelessness, and property taxes that he will have to continue to work to address, possibly collaborating with Malliotakis in some way, she said, referring to a phone call the two had on Wednesday. She praised de Blasio as being “a good guy, a nice guy -- he wants to help the city.”

Other than a potential Assembly reelection bid in 2018, Remauro did not have anything specific to say in terms of what Malliotakis might do next, but said “the world is her oyster.” Malliotakis is “so intelligent, and she has great communication skills -- she can do whatever she wants,” Remauro added.

“If anyone can become the Republican mayor in my lifetime, it would be her,” she said of Malliotakis. “She has a lot of opportunity ahead of her. Her phone has been ringing.”

As for this mayoral bid that just ended, Remauro ultimately noted that Malliotakis “took votes from the mayor...she damaged him.”

“What could we have done differently?” she said, “Nothing. We did exactly what we could do.”

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that Joe Lhota does not live in Manhattan, but is well-connected in the borough. Lhota lives in downtown Brooklyn.

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Election Post-Mortem with Nicole Malliotakis’ Campaign Manager Fri, 10 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
An End-of-Term Agenda for the City Council Veterans Committee http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7238:an-end-of-term-agenda-for-the-city-council-veterans-committee http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7238:an-end-of-term-agenda-for-the-city-council-veterans-committee City Council Ulrich hearing

Council Member Ulrich (photo: John McCarten)


In early 2014, City Council Member Eric Ulrich was appointed chair the veterans committee by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. At that time I wrote that no one within the veterans community knew what to expect, and as one of a few Republicans in a largely Democratic City Council, there were some who opposed Ulrich’s selection.

Fast forward nearly four years and the majority of the veterans community agrees that without his leadership and guidance, there would not have been a renewed conversation and there certainly wouldn’t have been many legislative accomplishments, particularly the creation of the Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS).  I dare say that Ulrich’s record of accomplishments, along with Council Member Paul Vallone and the other veterans committee members, has been the greatest within the Council since I started as an advocate back in 1995.

With the general election coming next month and the race for the next Speaker already hot, there are some who believe that if re-elected, Ulrich may be moved to chair a new committee by the next Speaker. There are many moving part to this equation, but given the final three months of this Council’s term are upon us, there is some important veterans business to take care of.

The veterans committee held a hearing earlier this week, and with that and the ticking clock in mind, there are several topics the committee should consider holding hearings on over the coming months.

Department of Veterans’ Services: This week the veterans committee held an oversight hearing on DVS. This hearing focused on the growth and accomplishments of the agency since it came online in April 2016.

Overall, many agree that there have been a number of successes, but growing pains and confounding issues as well. While DVS leadership touted the department’s work and successes, particularly with its integrative health model (VetsThriveNYC), its work regarding housing homeless veterans, its Public Artist in Resident program, and its information and technology, many items remain.

Procurement of its VetsConnectNYC program, an online platform that will connect veterans with service providers, is still being negotiated. Veterans are concerned about information missing on DVS’ website, its lack of inclusion in the Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), which DVS reps acknowledged will be in the next report, and the functions and actual outreach of the Community Outreach Specialists.

Lastly, many veteran organizations receiving money from the City through the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) have stated that DVS needs to have autonomous control over contracts to speed up the contracting processing and disbursement of funds, particularly for those veteran organizations that have unique contracting situations. This issue should be considered for a separate hearing with the Council’s finance committee.

Veteran Treatment Courts: Almost two years ago the committee held a hearing regarding Veteran Treatment Courts throughout the city; as well as Council Member Rory Lancman’s proposed legislation calling for the creation of a Veterans Legal Task Force to study veterans’ access to legal services and resources within the city’s criminal justice system. Unfortunately, that bill, Intro. 793, didn’t make it out of committee, however with Congressional Rep. Dan Donovan’s recent announcement of grants for Veteran Treatment Courts; and the Manhattan veterans court up and running, the time is right to revisit this issue to see what the courts are doing, learning, learning from each other, and how they have evolved in helping veterans from all eras.

Veteran Homelessness: In 2009 there were roughly 3,700 homeless veterans in New York City.  At the end of 2015 the federal government announced that New York City had ended chronic veteran homelessness, meaning veterans homeless for long periods of time or repeatedly. That is a major accomplish that could not have taken place without a coordinated approach from federal, state and city agencies.

In November 2015, the Council’s veterans committee, in conjunction with the general welfare committee held a hearing on what the city was doing to provide services to veterans, especially those experiencing homelessness. With the recent announced reductions of SSVF providers last month, along with the city not reaching “functional zero” and the federal VA dropping that goal recently, an update is needed in regards to what the veterans homeless population looks like, where the dity is in maintaining the end of “chronic homelessness” for veterans and what the plans are to address any future changes that may come from the federal government. This hearing also needs to solicit input from non-profits that are working on the ground with this population.

Veteran Small Business and Entrepreneurship: Almost three years ago, the veterans committee, along with the small business committee, held a hearing on supporting veteran-owned businesses. This was based on Local Law 144 of 2013, which required the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) to study veteran-owned business enterprises and determine the need for a city veteran-procurement program.

In December 2014, SBS, the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS), and the then-Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs (MOVA) published a report of their findings, which the committees examined at a January 2015 hearing. The report contained seven recommendations, which included increasing outreach to veterans, better training veteran business owners (VBOs) on how to do business with the city, and creating a designation for VBOs who wish to be potential vendors with the city.

There was also discussion of supporting the development of a veterans business enterprise program (VEB) through executive fiat (as a pilot program) or by working with the City Council to create legislation for the program. With the rise of veteran entrepreneurs over the last couple of years, there needs to be a hearing to update what has changed and where DVS and SBS are with this issue.  

Lastly, the committee should also consider follow-up hearings regarding the City University of New York (CUNY); as well as from DVS regarding its new public-private partnership “Veterans on Campus-NYC.”  The committee should consider holding a hearing on the overall veterans population in New York City and should hold a hearing in the Bronx, as Council Member Ulrich promised to Council Member Fernando Cabrera earlier this year.

This is a fairly hefty agenda and some issues will certainly get left off the table. However, if Council Member Ulrich and the committee members continue to approach veterans’ issues with the diligence they’ve shown over the past three and a half years, they will have a busy and productive next few months, and leave the committee in a much better place for whoever follows.

***
Joe Bello served 11 years in the U.S. Navy/Naval Reserve and has been a veterans advocate in New York City for over two decades. He is a member of the City’s Veterans Advisory Board and the founder of NY MetroVets.

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

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An End-of-Term Agenda for the City Council Veterans Committee Thu, 05 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
4 Interesting Participatory Budgeting Project Winners http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6949:4-interesting-participatory-budgeting-project-winners http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6949:4-interesting-participatory-budgeting-project-winners pb vote via lander

(photo: Council Member Lander's office)


After an 11-day window in which over 100,000 residents of pertinent districts cast ballots, the City Council recently announced the winners of the 2016-17 participatory budgeting cycle. Thirty-one of 51 Council districts participated this year, leading to $34 million in capital funds going towards hyper-local projects chosen directly by the districts’ voters.

A total of 138 projects received funding in this cycle, with most districts backing three to five projects. Some districts awarded funding for many more projects -- District 38, which includes Sunset Park, Red Hook, and Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn and is represented by Democrat Carlos Menchaca, is funding 10 projects. Many project proposals were represented in multiple districts, such as laptops or air conditioning in schools and security cameras for places such as parks, schools, and police precincts, but many were more unique to the respective districts. While participatory budgeting funds are all for capital projects, like equipment or some kind of small construction work, and often show a lot of similarity to each other and to those funded in past cycles, a handful of winning projects stand out this year.

The participatory budgeting movement, which began in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 as a means of decentralizing budgetary authority and handing power to the people, has since spread to numerous municipalities worldwide. It reached New York City in 2011, when City Council Members Brad Lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Eric Ulrich, and Jumaane Williams launched participatory budgeting projects in their respective districts, dedicating about $1 million of the funds at their disposal to a community process.

While it’s not required of all Council districts, and it hasn’t been implemented citywide, the movement is clearly growing at a rapid pace in the city. Districts participating in participatory budgeting set aside, at minimum, $1 million of their capital budget allocation for public determination.

Participatory budgeting allows issues unique to each community to gain both attention and funding from a city budget process that may have overlooked them without direct citizen input. For instance, one out of four public school classrooms in the city lack air conditioning, which can become not only a health hazard for both students and teachers, but also an impediment to effective learning in the later months of the school term, which ends on June 28 this year.

Several districts voted to allocate participatory budgeting funds toward putting air conditioning in classrooms devoid of it. As it turns out, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that his executive budget proposal, unveiled last month, includes almost $29 million to put air conditioning in every public school classroom in the city within five years. Another long-requested but never-delivered service, bus countdown clocks, also won funding in numerous districts. The countdown clocks have a lurid history, with the MTA removing physical clocks from some stops upon the development of a BusTime app by the Authority, which can alienate low-income New Yorkers who don’t possess smartphones.

“This is democracy in action,” City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito said in a statement announcing the results of the cycle, getting at the essence of participatory budgeting, at least for its proponents.

While those like Mark-Viverito, dozens of other Council members, a variety of community groups, and many residents are pleased with participatory budgeting, some critics say that it is a waste of time and Council staff resources (it is a labor heavy program for aides to Council members) and that the projects funded are ones that should really be taken into consideration in the regular budget process. Critics say that Council members are supposed to be gauging their constituents’ needs year-round anyway and influencing the larger budget process and allocating their member item funding accordingly.

The City Council won the Roy and Lila Ash Innovation Award for Public Engagement for participatory budgeting in 2015 from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, winning $100,000 as a means of “replication and dissemination of their innovations.”

This year’s participatory budgeting winners include many typical projects, but a few others stand out.

The highest number of votes for any project in the city went to a proposal in District 39, represented by Democrat Brad Lander, who has been a vocal proponent of PB since he was one of the original four to pilot it in the city. The votes were for providing mobile showers for homeless people. The project received 5,293 votes. The program is administered by CHiPS, a homeless services non-profit that runs a soup kitchen and a residency program, and will be stationed in front of its soup kitchen in Park Slope.

District 39, which includes parts of Park Slope and Gowanus, has a relatively low number of homeless shelter beds. It is one of 18 City Council districts without any family shelter units, but does have nearly 300 adult single shelter beds. Mayor Bill de Blasio may soon change these numbers given that his new homeless shelter plan includes opening 90 new shelters of various types across the city. He has promised more beds for Park Slope, where he used to live and was the City Council member before being elected Public Advocate, then Mayor.

Another winning project is the addition of a courtroom for Benjamin Cardozo High School in District 23, represented by Barry Grodenchik; the school is known for its Mentor Law and Humanities program. All students in the program must participate in either mock trial or model UN in their sophomore year. The courtroom will not be the first in a Queens high school; Maspeth High School opened a student courtroom in February of last year.

In District 22, represented by Democrat Costa Constantinides, the Steinway Branch of the Queens Library will be fitted with solar panels after receiving over 1,000 votes in the district’s cycle. The library will join several other public library branches in the city that have adopted solar energy.

The total votes in Constantinides’ district more than doubled since last year. Constantinides said this shows “that neighborhood residents care about our public and community spaces.”

And in District 32, represented by Republican Eric Ulrich (the only one of three Republican Council districts participating in the program), Shore Front Parkway will be the site of new adult exercise equipment “adjacent to the boardwalk” as well as a “labyrinth/yoga/meditation area.” Projects in Ulrich’s district received the fewest votes of any district participating in the program this year; only 858 votes were cast in total.

The full list of winners of New York City’s 2016-17 Participatory Budgeting Cycle can be found here.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: the article has been clarified to better explain the homeless shelter beds currently in District 39.

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4 Interesting Participatory Budgeting Project Winners Tue, 23 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
In GOP Mayoral Primary, Lopsided Fundraising Numbers & One Big Question http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6813:in-the-gop-mayoral-primary-lopsided-fundraising-numbers-one-big-question http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6813:in-the-gop-mayoral-primary-lopsided-fundraising-numbers-one-big-question Massey city hall

Paul Massey (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


With just six months until the primaries in this year’s city elections, declared candidates for the Republican mayoral nomination have begun to step up fundraising and campaigning. Meanwhile, two potential GOP mayoral candidates are still exploring a run, and the entrance of one or both could shake up a race that is off to a seemingly lopsided start.

Midnight on Wednesday was the deadline for the latest round of campaign finance disclosures, covering a two-month period from January to March. Three candidates have officially declared their runs for the Republican nomination -- real estate executive Paul Massey; Harlem pastor Michel Faulkner; and disability rights activist Darren Aquino.

Two others have also been flirting with the idea of running -- Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich, one of three Republicans in the legislative body; and billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, who lost in the GOP mayoral primary in 2013. While Ulrich’s fundraising picture may prevent him from launching a campaign -- plus he could run for another term in the Council; Catsimatidis would self-fund if he runs and has the resources to mount a robust campaign.

Massey is far ahead of the fundraising pack, having raised $865,000 in the last two months from 983 contributions. But, he also spent about $1.09 million in the same period. His campaign’s contributions to date total $2.48 million and his expenditure is about $3.3 million. He has also personally loaned his campaign about $1.97 million, leaving a balance of $1.16 million in his campaign account as of this week’s mid-March filing with the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

In an email blast on Wednesday, Massey touted his recent “fundraising record” which was more than double Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $394,000 raised in the last two months. “This is a significant indicator of what we have known all along – de Blasio is vulnerable and beatable,” the email read. De Blasio, however, has raised much more overall and spent far less, and has $2.32 million in his own campaign coffers. Unlike Massey, the mayor is also participating in the city’s public matching program.

At this point, fundraising comparisons between Massey and de Blasio are limited in value considering that each much emerge from their party primary before they would face off in the general as the two major party candidates. (Massey has secured the Independence Party line, so he is already assured a place in the general election.)

Massey, who officially launched his campaign in Queens on Monday, has emphasized the mayor’s vulnerability based on the two corruption investigations into the administration. He continued to harp on the controversy, even after federal and state prosecutors announced Thursday that they would not be bringing criminal charges against the mayor or his aides.

Massey is also not participating in the city’s public matching funds program -- which gives candidates 6-to-1 matching funds for every qualifying contribution up to $175 -- but boasted the strength of small dollar donors to his campaign. “[W]e almost doubled our donor base and almost half of that was from donors under $175, which proves the other thing we’ve known all along -- the more voters hear our message of integrity and leadership, the more they want to get involved,” the Wednesday campaign email read.

Faulkner’s fundraising haul pales in comparison. He has raised a total of $64,514 in contributions and has loans to his campaign worth $152,875, most of which was his own money. His campaign spending, about $268,000 outpaces his total fundraising, putting him just over $50,000 in the red. Between January and March, he raised $13,300 but spent $82,177.

Faulkner fashions himself as a candidate who will appeal broadly to Republicans and moderate Democrats, but that is at odds with his vocal support for President Donald Trump, who was soundly rejected by New York City voters in the presidential election. Faulkner has echoed some Trump policies, and opposes New York’s “sanctuary city” status. Like other Republicans, he has criticized the mayor for presiding over a decline in the quality of life in the city, citing an explosion in homelessness and the perception that the streets are unsafe, even though crime is at historic lows.

Darren Aquino’s fundraising and presence in the campaign has been almost negligible. He has raised just $1,800 total, and spent half of it. He has also made no media appearances other than participating in a March 9 mayoral candidate forum alongside Massey and Faulkner at Columbia University.

Council Member Ulrich was also on stage at that forum, organized by the Columbia University College Republicans, but not as a declared candidate. Ulrich has been hesitant to jump into the race and may be even more so now that the mayor has been cleared in the two investigations. His fundraising numbers also don’t indicate that he’s readying a run. He has raised just over $57,000 and spent about $16,000, leaving him $41,000 in his campaign account. In the last two months, he raised $5,455 and spent $791.

The second-term Council member, who recently became the subject of a reality television show pilot, said after the forum last week, “I haven’t made a decision yet. I’m very close to making a decision and I should have an announcement soon, but I’m still considering a run for mayor because I’m concerned about the future of the city and because I do believe that Bill de Blasio can be beaten.”

Appearing on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Tuesday, Ulrich criticized Mayor de Blasio while also putting on display his anti-Trump bonafides. Ulrich supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the Republican presidential primary last year, and Kasich has fundraised for Ulrich’s potential mayoral candidacy. When Ulrich began exploring a mayoral campaign last year, he told Gotham Gazette in October that he would not run if he was going to be embarrassed, and that a key piece of running a viable campaign is fundraising.

Then there is Catsimatidis, who lost the 2013 Republican nomination to Joe Lhota and wants to run one more time, he has said. Catsimatidis has been noncommittal and has not even registered a committee with the campaign finance board. But, he can rely on his deep pockets to self-fund his campaign, and poses potentially the biggest threat to the fundraising frontrunner Massey. At the very least, Catsimatidis may force Massey to spend even more money during the primary.

At a St. Patrick’s Day event on March 11, the Observer reported, Catsimatidis dropped hints about a mayoral run while appealing to his own Democratic side. “Look, Bill de Blasio’s a friend of mine and it’s all about—it’s not running as a Democrat or Republican, it’s running as a New Yorker,” he said. “About running for mayor,” he said later, “we haven’t made up our mind.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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In GOP Mayoral Primary, Lopsided Fundraising Numbers & One Big Question Thu, 16 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Budget Hearing Shows Veterans Department Settling into Agency Status http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6793:budget-hearing-shows-veterans-department-settling-into-agency-status http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6793:budget-hearing-shows-veterans-department-settling-into-agency-status ulrich flags

Council Member Ulrich (photo: William Alatriste)


The City Council Committee on Veterans held a preliminary budget hearing Monday, hearing testimony from the Department of Veterans Services and advocates for military veterans in New York City.

Council members, led by committee Chair Eric Ulrich, heard from Loree Sutton, the commissioner of the Department of Veterans Services, and others in assessing the department’s budgetary needs for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Formerly the Mayor’s Office of Veteran’s Affairs, DVS was established as a stand-alone agency in 2015 to provide more support for the city’s military veteran community. This includes more staff and a bigger budget, as well as more oversight from the Council.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $84.67 billion preliminary budget, unveiled January 24, surprised some veterans advocates with its $318,000 funding decrease for DVS from the current fiscal year’s adopted budget. As previously reported by Gotham Gazette, this proposal was initially met with outrage from members of the Council’s veterans committee and other elected officials, who joined veterans advocates to protest the proposed reduction outside City Hall last month.

A few days later, the mayor’s office announced it was adding money to the DVS budget for fiscal 2018 to keep one position that had been federally funded and was not slated to be kept and for other services.

Thus, outrage was largely absent from Monday’s hearing. Despite DVS receiving $3.84 million in the adopted budget for the current fiscal year, Commissioner Sutton and Council Member Ulrich seemed at peace with the $3.63 million (plus the to-be-seen additions) in proposed funding for DVS in fiscal year 2018. The city's November budget modification had the DVS budget at $3.95 million, but projected $3.63 million for the next fiscal year, and that is what de Blasio wound up budgeting. State and federal funding may also play a role in the next adopted DVS budget, though.

In her testimony, Sutton framed the decrease as a natural reduction for a second-year agency. Referring to DVS as “truly a ‘start-up’ entity,” Sutton explained that the budget decrease is due to one-time costs associated with forming a new agency that were included for the current year and are unnecessary next year. “Part of the inaugural agency budget was assigned to staffing, as well as certain non-recurring start-up costs such as the purchase of computers, office equipment, supplies, and furniture.”

Following Sutton’s testimony, Ulrich praised Sutton for keeping operational costs down. “Commissioner Sutton is probably one of the few agency heads who doesn’t come to the City Council saying ‘we need more money,’ so I’m very impressed with her level of austerity - she’s doing so much with the limited resources she has. If she needed more money I’m sure she would ask for it and the Council would be obliged to give it to [DVS].”

Sutton’s testimony also provided an overview of DVS operations. She outlined the progress made on housing, health services, and employment programs for the city’s 210,000 military veterans. According to Sutton, DVS “led the nation in its response to homelessness by connecting 1,600 homeless veterans with permanent, affordable housing this past year.” Sutton also reported that, in an effort to increase accessibility, DVS is establishing satellite offices in all five boroughs “to serve as a direct link between the community in each borough and DVS.”

A DVS spokesperson, Alexis Wichowski, had previously told Gotham Gazette that the agency had hired 33 of its 35-person budgeted staff. “We are almost at full capacity, that’s a huge milestone,” she said. “Getting people on board and getting them trained has been the focus for the last few months.”

Though neither Sutton nor Ulrich called the mayor’s preliminary budget lacking in DVS funding, that position was not unanimous Monday. The committee also heard from the NYC Veterans Alliance, represented by Kristen Rouse, who testified to the need for an increase in DVS funding, arguing that her organization is still overwhelmed with the number of requests it receives from veterans and their families.

“I would love for a day when we don’t get phone calls and emails from distressed people saying ‘we need help,’” Rouse said, before officially calling on the administration to increase DVS funding. “DVS was created because of the enormity of the need and the urgency of helping veterans and their families in New York City...Funding must go up, not be reduced,” Rouse told the committee.

Though Ulrich could not commit to securing such an increase in the final budget - the deadline for which is June 30 - he did conclude the hearing by remarking that DVS represents a vast improvement to the city’s former veteran care and policy-making process. It was a push by Ulrich and groundswell in the Council that led to the creation of the department over the initial objections of de Blasio. “Prior to DVS...The budget [for veterans affairs] was whatever the Mayor wanted it to be and the Council really had no formal role it that process...I think it was incredibly important that people feel a sense of accountability. Now we have that and we’re very grateful for that.”

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by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

Note: this article has been updated with additional information.

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Budget Hearing Shows Veterans Department Settling into Agency Status Mon, 06 Mar 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Planned Change to Veterans Department Budget Causes Stir http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6739:proposed-budget-cut-to-veterans-department-causes-stir http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6739:proposed-budget-cut-to-veterans-department-causes-stir bdb vets via nycveterans

photo: @nycveterans


Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget, released January 24, proposes nearly $1 billion in increased spending for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. But a conspicuous, albeit infinitesimal, reduction for one agency has irked elected officials and advocates.

The mayor’s spending plan, which will be evaluated by and negotiated with the City Council, includes a $318,000 decrease in the budget for the newly-minted Department of Veterans Services, which was created last year as an agency outside of the Mayor’s Office and given a significant budget boost. The DVS budget for the current fiscal year is $3.95 million, but de Blasio has $3.63 million budgeted for fiscal year 2018.

While it is a tiny fraction of the $84.7 billion preliminary budget plan, stakeholders argue that it is a step back for an administration that just last year made the major commitment to expanding veteran services by establishing a stand-alone agency after much lobbying by City Council members and advocates. The city, however, explains that the budget reduction is because one-time department start-up costs are coming off the books.

“It’s pretty sad that the Mayor of the city of New York decided to cut the department’s budget,” said state Senator Marty Golden, a Republican who represents Bay Ridge and sits on the Senate’s Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs. “It’s cutting case management for veterans, it’s cutting healthcare for veterans, it’s cutting homelessness services for veterans.”

Golden has organized a rally outside City Hall on Wednesday afternoon to protest the budget change as well as call for additional tax relief for veterans. He’ll be joined by the City Council’s three Republican members -- Steven Matteo, Joe Borelli and Eric Ulrich, who chairs the council’s veterans committee --  as well as mayoral candidates Michel Faulkner, Paul Massey, and Richard "Bo" Dietl, and veterans advocates. Council Member Ulrich, the leading governmental force behind the creation of the Department of Veterans Services, did not respond to requests for comment.

“This is a bad signal to send to veterans and to the homeless,” Golden said of the budget change. “I’m hoping [Mayor de Blasio] reevaluates and he redirects that money.”

Mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein explained in an email that the funding decrease is primarily due to one-time costs incurred in setting up the new agency last year, including fees paid to a consultant, costs for office equipment, and the non-renewal of a one-year position funded by a private grant. That funding runs through the end of the 2017 calendar year and is not reflected in the fiscal 2018 budget, according to a DVS spokesperson. A spokesperson for the mayor said that like other funding elements, the position could be negotiated back in over the course of the coming months.

In an office of about 30, the loss of that one position, related to homelessness prevention, would be “significant,” said Kristen Rouse, an Army veteran and president and founding director of NYC Veterans Alliance, an advocacy organization. The group will hold its own rally on February 14. “I completely understand that there were one-time costs, but they should be expanding regardless,” she said. “The trajectory needs to be an upward motion, not a downward one. Funding directly reflects that.”

Rouse pointed out that homelessness prevention is the biggest challenge for the department and said it should be part of a broader strategy of ensuring access to affordable housing for veterans. “There’s hundreds of veterans in shelter,” she said. “That’s important progress but that’s not a victory.”

The city ended chronic veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 and has set up an effective pipeline for getting veterans off the street. According to DVS spokesperson Alexis Wichowski, the latest count from January showed about 35 military veterans remain homeless and not in shelter. She also pointed out that the median stay for veterans in homeless shelters is about 79 days, compared to 355 for single adults, per the Mayor’s Management Report.

Wichowski said the budget changes were not a matter of concern and were always part of the plan in setting up the agency. “We are almost at full capacity, that’s a huge milestone,” she said. The agency has hired 33 of its 35-person budgeted staff and is set to embark on a number of projects and programs. “Getting people on board and getting them trained has been the focus for the last few months,” Wichowski said.

Under the direction of Commissioner Loree Sutton, the department now also has satellite offices in the Bronx and Queens and two on Staten Island, and is in the process of establishing agreements for offices in Manhattan and Brooklyn. DVS primarily offers help so that the 210,000 military veterans living in New York City can access services and benefits available to them.

City Council Member Borelli, a member of the veterans committee, was surprised and disappointed by the budget reduction. “It’s a question of the mayor’s long-term commitment to supporting the veterans agency,” he said. He critiqued the mayor for funding other items at comparable levels of the cuts, particularly $500,000 for speed cameras. “We can’t be blinded by the desire to see certain policy goals met while we abandon commitments we’ve already made,” he said.

At Wednesday’s rally, Borelli said the budget shift wouldn’t be the only item they will push. A key proposal, one promoted by veteran advocacy organizations for years, is the expansion of an alternative property tax exemption for veterans, which the NYC Veterans Alliance estimates would cost the city about $40 million at a time when the city’s assessed property tax value increased by $17.6 billion. It is a measure of much-needed housing affordability, several advocates and elected officials agree.

“The budget is about outlining priorities through a document,” Borelli said. “This is just saying that [DVS is] less pressing than other priorities.”

Next month, the City Council will begin to examine the mayor’s budget and issue its formal response, after which the mayor will release his executive budget, a revised spending plan. Following another round of Council hearings, the Council and mayor will move to closed-door negotiations before agreeing to a final budget for the next fiscal year by the June 30 deadline.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Planned Change to Veterans Department Budget Causes Stir Tue, 31 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
To Defeat De Blasio, Republicans Attempt Early Rally Behind One Candidate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6735:to-defeat-de-blasio-republicans-look-for-early-rally-behind-one-candidate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6735:to-defeat-de-blasio-republicans-look-for-early-rally-behind-one-candidate massey mayor

GOP mayoral candidate Paul Massey, right (photo: @MasseyforMayor)


In hopes of denying Mayor Bill de Blasio a second term, some New York City Republican leaders intend to rally around a single candidate to avoid a contentious primary and present a stronger challenge in the general election.

Starting this week, Republican Party leaders and members will begin the process of vetting candidates who have declared their intention to run for mayor or are exploring a mayoral bid. Party organizations will host public meetings where each candidate will have the opportunity to present their ideas to party voters and functionaries. When it fielded Joe Lhota in 2013 after a primary battle, the GOP lost in a landslide to de Blasio, but with the mayor’s poll numbers showing some vulnerability ahead of this fall’s vote, Republicans hope to identify one candidate to throw their weight behind.

One issue with the strategy at this point, though, is that at least two potential Republican mayoral candidates have not decided whether they will run or not: Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich and businessman John Catsimatidis, who lost in the 2013 primary to Lhota.

So far, two Republicans have officially filed papers to run: real estate developer Paul Massey and Harlem pastor Michel Faulkner. Massey, who has raised and spent well over a million dollars in his campaign so far and is contributing some of his own vast wealth to the effort, is seen as the frontrunner at this point. He’s also been endorsed by the state Independence Party, which backed Mayor Michael Bloomberg twice for reelection.  

Massey is scheduled to speak on Monday evening at the Manhattan Republican Party headquarters, a building which holds about 200 people. An e-blast advertising the event told Manhattan GOP subscribers, “We need to unite this year in the mission of making Bill de Blasio a one term Mayor...We plan to endorse a candidate around April 1 and we hope to prevent a primary by working with the other Republican county chairs in that effort.”

Also scheduled to speak at Manhattan GOP headquarters next week, on Thursday, is Council Member Ulrich, one of three Republicans on the Council, who has been exploring a mayoral run but has yet to officially declare his candidacy.

Republican county leaders say they will weigh each candidate’s platform and the strength of their campaign before they make their decision in the next few months. “We’re going to screen all the candidates,” said Adele Malpass, chair of the Manhattan Republican Party. “We’d like to hear everyone’s vision for New York.”

Malpass said the general intent is to back a single candidate after an open and transparent process that involves all stakeholders -- voters, district leaders, county committee members. “It’s evolving, but I think all five [county chairs] are in agreement that if we can avoid a primary, we’ll go into the general much stronger,” she told Gotham Gazette.

In the 2013 mayoral election, Lhota, former chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and a deputy mayor under Rudolph Giuliani, lost to then-Public Advocate de Blasio, receiving just 24.3 percent of vote to de Blasio’s 73.3 percent. Lhota, currently senior vice president and chief of staff at NYU Langone Medical Center, declined to comment for this article through a spokesperson.

Lhota’s grasp of the 2013 Republican nomination did come at a price. This, with the electoral deck already stacked against him due to New York City’s heavy Democratic enrollment. Lhota was pitted against Catsimatidis, a billionaire who spent heavily in mounting his campaign, leading to an at-times acrimonious primary battle accented by attack ads. After he won the nomination, Lhota promised, “It is time to unify our party, strengthen it and prepare it for victory in November.”

The September to November general election campaign never really took off for Lhota and the GOP, with polls quickly showing de Blasio at a significant advantage, lackluster debates, and no significant outside spending to damage de Blasio and promote Lhota.

This time around, the party may be taking Lhota’s 2013 call for unity to heart. “After seeing the results in 2013, most Republicans realized that a joint effort would lead to more favorable results,” said City Council Member Joe Borelli, the newest Republican to join the Council. “But it’s easier said than done.”

Borelli, who represents part of Staten Island -- the lone borough that went for Lhota -- and was a prominent Donald Trump supporter in the presidential race, hasn’t yet endorsed a candidate, but looks forward to doing so when the party rallies around one.

So far, Borelli said, the only candidates that could prove to be effective are Massey and Ulrich. “I think Paul Massey’s substantial haul of $1.6 million sent the right kind of message to the GOP leaders and potential candidates that it’s time to start campaigning and raising money or time to get out of the race,” Borelli said, referring to Massey’s campaign fundraising from the last six months that he declared this month. “With the exception of a sitting elected official like Eric Ulrich, it would be difficult for another candidate to enter the race...Eric has a much better built media platform and ability to generate anti-de Blasio press. I can’t see other candidates generating much buzz.”

And although Borelli said Faulkner is “such a genuine guy,” he added, “I just think it’s such an uphill fight for him, lacking the infrastructure and funding.”

Ulrich has started speaking out against de Blasio more, has held meetings with key political figures, and has done some fundraising on the message of taking on the incumbent, but his exploration of a run has remained fairly quiet. Lhota, though not seemingly active in party politics, has encouraged Ulrich to run. The Council member has also started filming a possible reality show following his mayoral campaign.

In part by default, Massey is currently the frontrunner in the race, having raised the $1.6 million and having also personally loaned his campaign another $1.2 million, per the latest disclosures filed with the Campaign Finance Board. His expenditures of $1.8 million through early January and a few outstanding liabilities leave him with a current balance of about $937,000. Among several consultancies, Massey has retained the November Team, a firm that handled Lhota’s 2013 campaign communications and also represents the State Republican Party.

Faulkner and Ulrich are far behind in money. Faulkner had contributions of $206,000, including about $152,000 in loans, for his campaign. But his expenditures of $213,000 surpassed that, leaving him with a negative balance of $6,900. Ulrich has raised $48,396 and spent $15,027, leaving $33,369 in his campaign account. He is eligible to run for another term on the Council, and may do so -- he said he’ll only run for mayor if he can run a viable campaign, which in large part starts with fundraising.

As Borelli said, the choice may not be as simple as picking the candidate with the most funds, though. Meanwhile, the Republican primary is more complex than relying on the choices of county leaders. Each borough of the city represents a different county and each county committee has dozens of members. Then there are district leaders whose opinions must be sought, and any candidate who can get the petition signatures to appear on the ballot can run.

“I think we’re all going in the same direction but we haven’t put all the pieces together yet,” said Robert Turner, former U.S. Representative and chair of the Queens County Republican Party. “The plan would be to look at the candidates and their positions and if someone has a clear lead, we would like to coalesce around that candidate,” he added.

Although he admitted that a primary “is not a disaster” and may help with drumming up recognition for unknown candidates, in general, he said, “Life would be easier without a primary.” Lamenting the lack of organization in 2013, he hopes this cycle will be different. “We had a very capable candidate,” Turner said of Lhota. “The organization was not as cohesive and thought-out as it needed to be and I’m hoping it can be a lot better.”

There’s wide agreement that primary infighting among Republicans would serve to strengthen de Blasio, who Republicans believe is beatable with the right combination of candidate, message, spending, and strategy. The oft-repeated stand taken by the party and candidates is that quality of life in the city has declined, especially with regard to the city’s homelessness crisis; income inequality has remained relatively unchanged; and crime is on the rise (though statistics show that, overall, crime has declined under de Blasio).

There are also the state and federal investigations into the mayor, his administration and allies, which have given fodder to his opponents, even in his own party. De Blasio is facing a few primary challengers himself, though none appears to be mounting a formidable campaign at this point. Other potential Democratic challengers, like Scott Stringer and Ruben Diaz Jr., are waiting to see the results of the investigations. De Blasio maintains that he and his associates did nothing wrong, and no one has been charged with a crime.

“We want to rally around a candidate and take on Bill de Blasio, and Paul Massey is that candidate,” said Evan Siegfried, a Republican consultant who is unaffiliated with Massey’s campaign. “What we have to avoid is a long drawn-out primary process, which only helps Bill de Blasio’s reelection chances.”

Brooklyn Republican Chair Ted Ghorra told Politico New York, "If there is a primary, I don’t think it would be in anyone’s interest to have the kind of primary that was conducted in 2013." Ulrich told Politico that there are strong potential candidates and, in apparent acknowledgement that h expects a tough GOP nominating contest, "I’m confident the party will unite behind our candidate after the primary."

Siegfried said that Massey’s lack of name recognition would not be an issue, and that he could do better if he actually avoided a primary battle and instead focused on reaching out to voters.  “And when he does that in conjunction with highlighting de Blasio’s utter inability to manage the city -- his presiding over the reduction in quality of life and explosion in homelessness, which [de Blasio] ignores -- then New Yorkers of all stripes will be willing to meet Massey and give him a fair hearing,” Siegfried said. “Many New Yorkers including liberal Democrats are very upset that Bill de Blasio did not continue the 20 years of progress that preceded his taking office.”

De Blasio is the first Democratic mayor of New York City to face a reelection since David Dinkins, who lost to Rudy Giuliani in 1993. But de Blasio doesn’t face the same obstacles. Under Dinkins, unemployment was skyrocketing and people felt unsafe. Under de Blasio, crime has largely decreased and employment has grown for the last three years. It’s a refrain of his campaign, one that spokesperson Dan Levitan repeated when asked about the Republican Party’s effort to avoid a primary. “Under Mayor de Blasio, crime just hit another all-time low, jobs are at record highs, the city is building and preserving affordable housing at a record pace, while graduation rates and test scores continue to improve,” Levitan wrote in an email. “We are happy to match that record against anyone.”

The most recent Quinnipiac University public opinion poll, from January 18, shows support for the mayor almost split down the middle. Overall, 45 percent of respondents said they approve of the way de Blasio is handling his job while 46 percent disapproved. As can be expected, his support comes overwhelmingly from Democrats, 59 percent of whom gave him a thumbs up while only 17 percent of Republicans felt the same. His reelection numbers are marginally lower than his approval ratings, however. Only 42 percent said he deserves to be reelected while 48 percent said he doesn’t. Thirteen percent of Republicans want to see him get a second term compared to 52 percent of Democrats.

At this point, de Blasio is quite likely to win in the Democratic primary and would go into the general election a heavy favorite, especially due to New York City’s significant Democratic voter enrollment advantage. But, anything can happen, and the primary is still more than seven months away.

Not all the potential or declared Republican candidates have said whether they’ll support the party’s final decision and avoid a primary. Requests for comment to Ulrich and to Massey’s campaign went unanswered. Faulkner, however, believes “it’s a great idea.” “I understand that it’s in the best interest of the party,” he said. When Gotham Gazette asked what he would do if the chosen candidate isn’t him, he said, “I have supported every Republican candidate that has run in New York City. I’ve been loyal to the Republican Party for nearly 30 years and I don’t think that will change.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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To Defeat De Blasio, Republicans Attempt Early Rally Behind One Candidate Sun, 29 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000