Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/ethics 2017-12-15T02:34:25+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Dissecting Mayor De Blasio's Record As He Seeks Reelection 2017-11-01T23:26:00+00:00 2017-11-01T23:26:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7221:dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/37117856722_b1e7513769_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio Chirlane McCray City Hall Reelection Parade" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio &amp; First Lady Chirlane McCray (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As Mayor Bill de Blasio, a first-term Democrat, seeks reelection this fall, a close examination of his record is essential. De Blasio came into power promising to address inequlality in a variety of forms, including income, educational, policing, racial, and opportunity inequities he identified during his 2013 campaign. In this year's election de Blasio is running in part on his record, which is headlined by the implementation of his campaign promise to provide universal pre-kindergarten for the city's four-year-olds. But, there is much more to the mayor's record than UPK, which has clearly been <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/10/17/de-blasios-win-on-pre-k-is-making-an-easy-campaign-even-easier-115084" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his biggest success</a>.</p> <p>In this series, Gotham Gazette, with election coverage partners City Limits and WNYC radio, examines de Blasio's record on a variety of important issues. While this is not completely exhaustive, it should be helpful to voters and others seeking to evaluate de Blasio this fall. With our partners, Gotham Gazette will release articles and audio pieces on the following aspects of de Blasio's record -- those already published are linked below.</p> <p>Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.</p> <ul> <li>Ethics &amp; Transparency: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7258-de-blasio-s-record-on-ethics-and-transparency" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Ethics and Transparency</a> (Gotham Gazette, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Ben Max of GG: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/how-ethic-and-transparent-has-bill-de-blasios-term-been" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's Big Lesson: Transparency Matters</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Economy &amp; Jobs: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7270-de-blasio-s-record-on-jobs-and-the-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Jobs and The Economy</a> (Gotham Gazette, October 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Poverty &amp; Inequality: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7280-de-blasio-s-record-on-poverty-and-inequality" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Poverty and Inequality</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Budgeting &amp; Fiscal Health: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7300-de-blasio-s-record-on-budgeting-and-fiscal-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Budgeting and Fiscal Health</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>NYCHA: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7299-de-blasio-s-record-on-nycha" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on NYCHA</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Environment: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/11/02/on-the-environment-de-blasio-defied-expectations-with-bold-goals-but-now-must-deliver/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">On the Environment, De Blasio Defied Expectations with Bold Goals, But Now Must Deliver</a> (City Limits, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Policing: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/10/16/bill-de-blasios-police-reform-agenda-has-achieved-much-and-disappointed-many/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio's Police Reform Record Has Achieved Much and Disappointed Many</a> (City Limits, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Jarrett Murphy of CL: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/analyzing-bill-de-blasios-record-crime-and-policing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A Rocky Blue Line Divides De Blasio and Police</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Housing: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/10/04/bill-de-blasio-is-still-in-his-first-term-and-were-already-debating-his-housing-legacy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio is Still in His First Term and We're Already Debating His Housing Legacy</a> (City Limits, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Jarrett Murphy of CL: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/analyzing-housing-after-four-years-bill-de-blasio" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Analyzing Housing After Four De Blasio Years</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Homelessness: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/de-blasios-homelessness-struggle/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's Homelessness Struggle</a> (WNYC, October 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Transit: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6855-de-blasio-s-piecemeal-transportation-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's 'Piecemeal' Transportation Agenda</a> (Gotham Gazette, April 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Homelessness: <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/bill-de-blasios-big-homelessness-problem" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio's Big Homelessness Problem</a> (Gotham Gazette/The Daily Beast, July 2017)</li> </ul> <p>More to read/view/hear:</p> <ul> <li><a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/10/19/a-look-at-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-on-nyc-transportation" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A look at Mayor de Blasio's record on transportion</a> (NY1)&nbsp;</li> <li><a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/10/03/bill-de-blasio-record-on-crime-as-mayor-nyc-nypd" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A look at Mayor de Blasio's record on policing</a> (NY1)</li> </ul> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/37117856722_b1e7513769_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio Chirlane McCray City Hall Reelection Parade" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio &amp; First Lady Chirlane McCray (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As Mayor Bill de Blasio, a first-term Democrat, seeks reelection this fall, a close examination of his record is essential. De Blasio came into power promising to address inequlality in a variety of forms, including income, educational, policing, racial, and opportunity inequities he identified during his 2013 campaign. In this year's election de Blasio is running in part on his record, which is headlined by the implementation of his campaign promise to provide universal pre-kindergarten for the city's four-year-olds. But, there is much more to the mayor's record than UPK, which has clearly been <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/10/17/de-blasios-win-on-pre-k-is-making-an-easy-campaign-even-easier-115084" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his biggest success</a>.</p> <p>In this series, Gotham Gazette, with election coverage partners City Limits and WNYC radio, examines de Blasio's record on a variety of important issues. While this is not completely exhaustive, it should be helpful to voters and others seeking to evaluate de Blasio this fall. With our partners, Gotham Gazette will release articles and audio pieces on the following aspects of de Blasio's record -- those already published are linked below.</p> <p>Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.</p> <ul> <li>Ethics &amp; Transparency: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7258-de-blasio-s-record-on-ethics-and-transparency" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Ethics and Transparency</a> (Gotham Gazette, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Ben Max of GG: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/how-ethic-and-transparent-has-bill-de-blasios-term-been" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's Big Lesson: Transparency Matters</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Economy &amp; Jobs: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7270-de-blasio-s-record-on-jobs-and-the-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Jobs and The Economy</a> (Gotham Gazette, October 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Poverty &amp; Inequality: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7280-de-blasio-s-record-on-poverty-and-inequality" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Poverty and Inequality</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Budgeting &amp; Fiscal Health: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7300-de-blasio-s-record-on-budgeting-and-fiscal-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Budgeting and Fiscal Health</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>NYCHA: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7299-de-blasio-s-record-on-nycha" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on NYCHA</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Environment: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/11/02/on-the-environment-de-blasio-defied-expectations-with-bold-goals-but-now-must-deliver/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">On the Environment, De Blasio Defied Expectations with Bold Goals, But Now Must Deliver</a> (City Limits, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Policing: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/10/16/bill-de-blasios-police-reform-agenda-has-achieved-much-and-disappointed-many/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio's Police Reform Record Has Achieved Much and Disappointed Many</a> (City Limits, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Jarrett Murphy of CL: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/analyzing-bill-de-blasios-record-crime-and-policing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A Rocky Blue Line Divides De Blasio and Police</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Housing: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/10/04/bill-de-blasio-is-still-in-his-first-term-and-were-already-debating-his-housing-legacy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio is Still in His First Term and We're Already Debating His Housing Legacy</a> (City Limits, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Jarrett Murphy of CL: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/analyzing-housing-after-four-years-bill-de-blasio" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Analyzing Housing After Four De Blasio Years</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Homelessness: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/de-blasios-homelessness-struggle/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's Homelessness Struggle</a> (WNYC, October 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Transit: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6855-de-blasio-s-piecemeal-transportation-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's 'Piecemeal' Transportation Agenda</a> (Gotham Gazette, April 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Homelessness: <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/bill-de-blasios-big-homelessness-problem" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio's Big Homelessness Problem</a> (Gotham Gazette/The Daily Beast, July 2017)</li> </ul> <p>More to read/view/hear:</p> <ul> <li><a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/10/19/a-look-at-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-on-nyc-transportation" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A look at Mayor de Blasio's record on transportion</a> (NY1)&nbsp;</li> <li><a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/10/03/bill-de-blasio-record-on-crime-as-mayor-nyc-nypd" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A look at Mayor de Blasio's record on policing</a> (NY1)</li> </ul> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Departure of Assembly Ethics Official Prompts Calls for Broader Reforms 2017-11-02T04:00:00+00:00 2017-11-02T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7294:departure-of-assembly-ethics-official-prompts-calls-for-broader-reforms Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/36651878000_a15510bf8a_z.jpg" alt="Carl Heastie Assembly" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Carl Heastie (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>When ethics expert Jane Feldman’s departure from the New York State Assembly, and her appraisal of the experience as “as waste of money,” was <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Former-top-Assembly-ethics-official-Position-a-12296842.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> by the Times Union last week, many saw it as another blow to reform efforts in Albany.</p> <p>Feldman <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Former-top-Assembly-ethics-official-Position-a-12296842.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told the outlet</a> she she “didn’t do anything” and called her hiring as executive director of the Office of Ethics and Compliance in September 2015 a “P.R. move.” The office itself, according to Feldman, was a windowless space on the ninth floor of the Legislative Office Building with airflow problems that had been carved out of a larger conference room.</p> <p>Two years ago, the office was created by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie as part of the newly-selected speaker’s larger commitment to introduce more ethics and transparency measures to the 150-seat chamber. Promises were made, in part, to appease critics frustrated by the backroom speakership appointment process, and to signal a new era after that of infamous former Speaker Sheldon Silver.</p> <p>Heastie, a representative of the Bronx, created <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a working group</a> on rules reform, led by Assemblymembers Brian Kavanagh, of Manhattan, and Gary Pretlow, of Mount Vernon, and vowed to choose an “independent” advisor who could offer guidance to members and offer suggestions for improving Assembly processes. Feldman, who previously headed the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission for six years, was chosen by a six-person team following a nationwide search, and was seen as a fresh and independent perspective, someone from outside Albany’s long-standing and secretive power structures.</p> <p>But during her two years in Albany, Feldman says she rarely spoke to Heastie and found even members who were interested in reforming the Albany process rebuffed her suggestions.</p> <p>"There are so many things that are so entrenched,” said Feldman, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “There are a lot of good members who I think want to see ethics reforms, but when I would tell them how other states do things, the attitude was, 'well, that would never work here.'"</p> <p>Heastie’s office chalked up her experience to a misunderstanding about the job description, saying in a statement, “there was a disconnect between our expectations for the office and this individual’s view of her responsibilities.”</p> <p>But good government watchdogs say the larger problem is that no in-house advisor could make much of a dent in Albany’s ways, including how the legislative houses operate, the loophole-riddled campaign finance system, an opaque budget negotiation process, and flawed oversight structures.</p> <p>“Internal oversight is sort of an oxymoron,” said New York Public Interest Group’s Blair Horner. “The fundamental problem is you can’t really self-regulate when it comes to ethics. It’s like self-policing. An honor system only works for the honorable.”</p> <p>While it might have been helpful to have a person for members to go to for advice, Feldman’s described duties essentially duplicated the role of the Legislative Ethic Commission (LEC), a bi-partisan entity comprised of senators, Assembly members, and outside experts that provides advice to lawmakers on outside income, fundraising, and other conflict of interest queries. In at least one instance, this created a conflict, when the LEC offered one lawmaker different advice than Feldman did about whether the lawmaker could accept a speaking engagement, Feldman told the Times Union.</p> <p>It would be difficult to reconcile the two interpretations of the law given that opinions produced by the LEC are not made available to the public, and even Feldman said she could not access them. Legislative ethics advisory bodies in other states all make their opinions available to the public, and some of them even tweet out their opinions, she noted.</p> <p>Even the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which acts in an advisory role for the executive branch, and its predecessor agencies have made opinions public and publishes a bulk of information online.</p> <p>By many accounts, the Assembly has become more democratic under Heastie. The majority Democratic conference is consulted more frequently during budget negotiations, leadership opportunities are created for new members, and more hearings for legislation are held. Silver’s extremely intense grip on power has been loosened by his successor. But these strides are “infinitesimally small compared to the needs of the state, which is for radical overhaul of ethics oversight in New York,” according to Horner. “To have an office in the Assembly -- even if it doesn’t have any windows -- to sort of generate recommendations and answers to people’s questions is sort of in the chicken soup category. It doesn’t deal with the cancer of corruption that has plagued the Capitol.”</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of ReInvent Albany, said that the biggest problem plaguing state government is its rampant pay-to-play culture. But while the overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly has repeatedly passed legislation that would curb the notorious LLC loophole, which allows wealthy interests to attempt to influence lawmakers with virtually unlimited campaign donations, the bill has been blocked from consideration in the Republican-controlled Senate. Other efforts at campaign finance reform, including instituting lower caps on individual donations and a public-matching system, have also stalled.</p> <p>“If it were up to the Assembly, they would probably pass a New York City-style small donor matching campaign finance system, but that’s not the law, and they have to exist within a system that is really corrupt and just a complete swamp of money,” said Kaehny. “So the question of what exactly Jane Feldman was supposed to do is a little elusive.”</p> <p>When Heastie announced a 2016 ethics reform package -- which included a bill limiting outside income for lawmakers and closure of the LLC loophole -- Feldman said she learned about it viewing the roll-out on T.V., and it became obvious that the job was not as she felt it had been described to her during interviews with the search committee and with the Speaker.</p> <p>In a statement, Heastie spokesperson Mike Whyland said, “the office was created as a training and expertise resource for members and staff and independent of the Speaker’s office. It was never meant as a position that would craft policy and take part in negotiations, something that would obviously compromise the independent nature of the office. This is an independent, bipartisan office that serves both the majority and the minority and thus has no responsibilities to negotiate laws.”</p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to Heastie's own press release, the Feldman was supposed to be involved in "reviewing best practices in legislative ethics to make recommendations for improvements."&nbsp;</span></p> <p>But Feldman said the Assembly was resistant to changes as small as publicizing on its website the times that it would go into legislative session. She said she was told that the parties go into conference so it was impossible to predict. “To me this is kind of archaic, but the way members learned what time session would be, is they would get a phone call that said ‘session is going to be at 11.’”</p> <p>“I was told many times by people that I saw my job as much more important than it was intended to be,” said Feldman.</p> <p>In 2015, good government groups sent a series of proposals to Kavanaugh and Pretlow for how the Assembly rules could be improved. The letter, signed by Common Cause, Citizens Union, NYPIRG, ReInvent Albany, and the Brennan Center for Justice, recommended that rank-and-file members be able to independently bring legislation with majority support to the floor -- even over objection of leadership -- that allocation of resources be more equitably distributed among members, as well as other transparency and efficiency measures.</p> <p>“There was resistance to our recommendations, because they didn’t like anything that encroaches on the power of the speaker,” said Horner. “They did make some changes, but I still think there’s a long way to go.”</p> <p>The working group was criticized for not holding any public hearings and for failing to include input from members of the minority conference, but it did produce a lengthy list of <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/20160317/recommendations20160317.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommendations</a>. The fixes were technological and procedural, with an eye on more transparency and communication, such as ensuring wi-fi service throughout the Assembly chamber, increased use of text alerts for staff and members, improvements to the Assembly legislation database, and livestreaming more committee meetings. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">There were</a> a handful of notable changes to the committee process, such as one that would allow all members five opportunities to force a bill to be voted on in committee.</p> <p>“I think there were 90 suggestions that we made, some of them take a longer time than others to be addressed, and most of them were accepted by the speaker,” said Pretlow.</p> <p>But helping to craft the Assembly’s internal rules reform also, apparently, did not fall under Feldman’s purview. Pretlow said Feldman was not at all involved, adding that he did not interact with her during her time in Albany. Feldman, in an email, clarified that the working group met and had decided on recommendations shortly before she arrived in Albany.</p> <p>Whyland did not respond to a request for comment on whether any candidates have emerged to replace Feldman or whether the role would be redefined, but he told the Times Union that the Assembly is looking to fill her former post with "someone who understands New York law, truly grasps the serious responsibilities of the office and its independent and bipartisan nature, and is willing to carry out its mission in full."</p> <p><em>Clarification: The article has been updated to indicate that decisions about rules reform in the Assembly were made prior to Feldman's arrival.</em></p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/36651878000_a15510bf8a_z.jpg" alt="Carl Heastie Assembly" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Carl Heastie (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>When ethics expert Jane Feldman’s departure from the New York State Assembly, and her appraisal of the experience as “as waste of money,” was <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Former-top-Assembly-ethics-official-Position-a-12296842.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> by the Times Union last week, many saw it as another blow to reform efforts in Albany.</p> <p>Feldman <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Former-top-Assembly-ethics-official-Position-a-12296842.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told the outlet</a> she she “didn’t do anything” and called her hiring as executive director of the Office of Ethics and Compliance in September 2015 a “P.R. move.” The office itself, according to Feldman, was a windowless space on the ninth floor of the Legislative Office Building with airflow problems that had been carved out of a larger conference room.</p> <p>Two years ago, the office was created by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie as part of the newly-selected speaker’s larger commitment to introduce more ethics and transparency measures to the 150-seat chamber. Promises were made, in part, to appease critics frustrated by the backroom speakership appointment process, and to signal a new era after that of infamous former Speaker Sheldon Silver.</p> <p>Heastie, a representative of the Bronx, created <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a working group</a> on rules reform, led by Assemblymembers Brian Kavanagh, of Manhattan, and Gary Pretlow, of Mount Vernon, and vowed to choose an “independent” advisor who could offer guidance to members and offer suggestions for improving Assembly processes. Feldman, who previously headed the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission for six years, was chosen by a six-person team following a nationwide search, and was seen as a fresh and independent perspective, someone from outside Albany’s long-standing and secretive power structures.</p> <p>But during her two years in Albany, Feldman says she rarely spoke to Heastie and found even members who were interested in reforming the Albany process rebuffed her suggestions.</p> <p>"There are so many things that are so entrenched,” said Feldman, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “There are a lot of good members who I think want to see ethics reforms, but when I would tell them how other states do things, the attitude was, 'well, that would never work here.'"</p> <p>Heastie’s office chalked up her experience to a misunderstanding about the job description, saying in a statement, “there was a disconnect between our expectations for the office and this individual’s view of her responsibilities.”</p> <p>But good government watchdogs say the larger problem is that no in-house advisor could make much of a dent in Albany’s ways, including how the legislative houses operate, the loophole-riddled campaign finance system, an opaque budget negotiation process, and flawed oversight structures.</p> <p>“Internal oversight is sort of an oxymoron,” said New York Public Interest Group’s Blair Horner. “The fundamental problem is you can’t really self-regulate when it comes to ethics. It’s like self-policing. An honor system only works for the honorable.”</p> <p>While it might have been helpful to have a person for members to go to for advice, Feldman’s described duties essentially duplicated the role of the Legislative Ethic Commission (LEC), a bi-partisan entity comprised of senators, Assembly members, and outside experts that provides advice to lawmakers on outside income, fundraising, and other conflict of interest queries. In at least one instance, this created a conflict, when the LEC offered one lawmaker different advice than Feldman did about whether the lawmaker could accept a speaking engagement, Feldman told the Times Union.</p> <p>It would be difficult to reconcile the two interpretations of the law given that opinions produced by the LEC are not made available to the public, and even Feldman said she could not access them. Legislative ethics advisory bodies in other states all make their opinions available to the public, and some of them even tweet out their opinions, she noted.</p> <p>Even the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which acts in an advisory role for the executive branch, and its predecessor agencies have made opinions public and publishes a bulk of information online.</p> <p>By many accounts, the Assembly has become more democratic under Heastie. The majority Democratic conference is consulted more frequently during budget negotiations, leadership opportunities are created for new members, and more hearings for legislation are held. Silver’s extremely intense grip on power has been loosened by his successor. But these strides are “infinitesimally small compared to the needs of the state, which is for radical overhaul of ethics oversight in New York,” according to Horner. “To have an office in the Assembly -- even if it doesn’t have any windows -- to sort of generate recommendations and answers to people’s questions is sort of in the chicken soup category. It doesn’t deal with the cancer of corruption that has plagued the Capitol.”</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of ReInvent Albany, said that the biggest problem plaguing state government is its rampant pay-to-play culture. But while the overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly has repeatedly passed legislation that would curb the notorious LLC loophole, which allows wealthy interests to attempt to influence lawmakers with virtually unlimited campaign donations, the bill has been blocked from consideration in the Republican-controlled Senate. Other efforts at campaign finance reform, including instituting lower caps on individual donations and a public-matching system, have also stalled.</p> <p>“If it were up to the Assembly, they would probably pass a New York City-style small donor matching campaign finance system, but that’s not the law, and they have to exist within a system that is really corrupt and just a complete swamp of money,” said Kaehny. “So the question of what exactly Jane Feldman was supposed to do is a little elusive.”</p> <p>When Heastie announced a 2016 ethics reform package -- which included a bill limiting outside income for lawmakers and closure of the LLC loophole -- Feldman said she learned about it viewing the roll-out on T.V., and it became obvious that the job was not as she felt it had been described to her during interviews with the search committee and with the Speaker.</p> <p>In a statement, Heastie spokesperson Mike Whyland said, “the office was created as a training and expertise resource for members and staff and independent of the Speaker’s office. It was never meant as a position that would craft policy and take part in negotiations, something that would obviously compromise the independent nature of the office. This is an independent, bipartisan office that serves both the majority and the minority and thus has no responsibilities to negotiate laws.”</p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to Heastie's own press release, the Feldman was supposed to be involved in "reviewing best practices in legislative ethics to make recommendations for improvements."&nbsp;</span></p> <p>But Feldman said the Assembly was resistant to changes as small as publicizing on its website the times that it would go into legislative session. She said she was told that the parties go into conference so it was impossible to predict. “To me this is kind of archaic, but the way members learned what time session would be, is they would get a phone call that said ‘session is going to be at 11.’”</p> <p>“I was told many times by people that I saw my job as much more important than it was intended to be,” said Feldman.</p> <p>In 2015, good government groups sent a series of proposals to Kavanaugh and Pretlow for how the Assembly rules could be improved. The letter, signed by Common Cause, Citizens Union, NYPIRG, ReInvent Albany, and the Brennan Center for Justice, recommended that rank-and-file members be able to independently bring legislation with majority support to the floor -- even over objection of leadership -- that allocation of resources be more equitably distributed among members, as well as other transparency and efficiency measures.</p> <p>“There was resistance to our recommendations, because they didn’t like anything that encroaches on the power of the speaker,” said Horner. “They did make some changes, but I still think there’s a long way to go.”</p> <p>The working group was criticized for not holding any public hearings and for failing to include input from members of the minority conference, but it did produce a lengthy list of <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/20160317/recommendations20160317.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommendations</a>. The fixes were technological and procedural, with an eye on more transparency and communication, such as ensuring wi-fi service throughout the Assembly chamber, increased use of text alerts for staff and members, improvements to the Assembly legislation database, and livestreaming more committee meetings. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">There were</a> a handful of notable changes to the committee process, such as one that would allow all members five opportunities to force a bill to be voted on in committee.</p> <p>“I think there were 90 suggestions that we made, some of them take a longer time than others to be addressed, and most of them were accepted by the speaker,” said Pretlow.</p> <p>But helping to craft the Assembly’s internal rules reform also, apparently, did not fall under Feldman’s purview. Pretlow said Feldman was not at all involved, adding that he did not interact with her during her time in Albany. Feldman, in an email, clarified that the working group met and had decided on recommendations shortly before she arrived in Albany.</p> <p>Whyland did not respond to a request for comment on whether any candidates have emerged to replace Feldman or whether the role would be redefined, but he told the Times Union that the Assembly is looking to fill her former post with "someone who understands New York law, truly grasps the serious responsibilities of the office and its independent and bipartisan nature, and is willing to carry out its mission in full."</p> <p><em>Clarification: The article has been updated to indicate that decisions about rules reform in the Assembly were made prior to Feldman's arrival.</em></p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio’s Record on Ethics and Transparency 2017-10-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7258:de-blasio-s-record-on-ethics-and-transparency Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/36293022713_309bde7089_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio City Hall " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong><em>This article is part of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a> as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>It is a source of great frustration for Mayor Bill de Blasio and hangs over his administration and reelection bid as an albatross. Observers across the political spectrum, including Democratic and Republican opponents in this year’s mayoral race, have attacked de Blasio for blurring or crossing ethical lines, and for lacking transparency.</p> <p>De Blasio rode into power promising the most transparent administration in the city’s history, but his nearly four years in office have been marked by continuing questions and controversies over both his administration’s opaqueness and ethics, highlighted by twin law enforcement investigations into fundraising practices and government favors for campaign donors. The incumbent Democratic mayor, seeking reelection this fall, has repeatedly argued that he and his associates have carried themselves ethically and that he has done more disclosure than his predecessors and other high-level officials.</p> <p>Yet, along with his electoral opponents, political observers, government reform advocates, and City Council members also say de Blasio’s rhetoric has not been backed by action and that his record on transparency and ethics has been, at best, a mixed bag.</p> <p>In endorsing him in the Democratic primary, the New York Times editorial board <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/05/opinion/editorials/mayoral-endorsement-bill-deblasio.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, “A political operative before he ran for public office, Mr. de Blasio has not shaken free of detractors’ suspicions about his ethical compass. He was subjected to both federal and state investigations into whether he presides over a pay-to-play system that favors well-heeled donors seeking favors from City Hall. Ultimately, no charges were brought against him or his aides. Though the mayor declared he had been vindicated, the Manhattan district attorney concluded that some of his fund-raising appeared to have violated “the intent and spirit” of the law. That’s a far cry from Mr. de Blasio’s claim to have been pronounced “innocent.”</p> <p>De Blasio was indeed chastised by federal and state prosecutors, who, while they did not bring charges against him or his associates, investigated their actions and outlined problematic practices, some of which led to new city laws limiting certain fundraising activities that the mayor and his team engaged in. De Blasio has claimed that he and his aides have held themselves to the highest standards, but he has regularly raised those standards when pushed.</p> <p>Part of the mayor’s pushback against criticisms has been that he and his associates have always had good motives, like expanding pre-kindergarten, and that a political nonprofit his allies ran to support his agenda disclosed more than required. Though he has been dogged by questions from members of the media, de Blasio readily points out that regular New Yorkers don’t often ask him about his fundraising practices or release of email records when they have the opportunity to question him at town halls or radio call-in segments.</p> <p>“People never bring up the issues from the investigations, because I think there was a broad understanding in the public that there was an immense amount of scrutiny that found absolutely nothing wrong,” he said in a recent <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/09/bill-de-blasio-in-conversation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Magazine</a> interview, mischaracterizing the facts given that while no charges were brought, prosecutors did indicate that the mayor and his associates had blurred or crossed ethical lines. “Everyday New Yorkers are much more concerned with kitchen-table issues. Some political insiders, maybe they’ve come to certain conclusions. But for everyday New Yorkers? They didn’t see anything wrong, and they’re right, because there wasn’t anything wrong.”</p> <p>As de Blasio asks New Yorkers for four more years, ethics and transparency will continue to be a focus of criticism from his general election opponents and others, while the mayor will defend himself and attempt to point to stronger aspects of his record. But the record of how he and his administration have conducted themselves when it comes to playing by the rules, separating political fundraising and governing, and providing the public with both ethical and transparent government is very much worth chronicling and examining as voters evaluate their choices this November.</p> <p>Mayoral spokespeople Eric Phillips and Austin Finan agreed to speak with Gotham Gazette for this story, but, other than a brief conversation to discuss the premise of the article, no comment was provided.</p> <p>The most recent Quinnipiac University public opinion poll that included a question about de Blasio's&nbsp;ethics, published at the end of July, <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">showed</a> New York City voters saying 52 to 35 percent that he is honest and trustworthy, down from 59 to 31 percent in May. Still, the 52 was up from the lowest rating de Blasio has received in a Quinnipiac poll over his four years as mayor: amid intense controversy in May 2016, 43 percent <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/images/polling/nyc/nyc07312017_trends_N79jmpp.pdf/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> he is honest and trustworthy, while 45 percent said he is not. The highest de Blasio's honesty was rated by voters eight months into his tenure, when the balance was 66 to 22 in his favor.</p> <p><strong>Selective Transparency</strong><br /> In his former role as public advocate, de Blasio championed transparency and took the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to task for its apparent lack thereof. De Blasio disclosed meetings with lobbyists and implemented tools to track Freedom of Information Law requests, while criticizing the Bloomberg administration for its lax FOIL response time.</p> <p>Fast forward nearly four years and the same official who urged increased disclosure by Bloomberg has been reticent to show the same commitment in his own operations on FOIL responsiveness speed and other things like police discipline records and emails with top non-governmental advisors. For example, as public advocate, de Blasio recommended legislation requiring the mayor to include FOIL response statistics in the annual Mayor’s Management Report, but it is not something de Blasio has done as mayor himself.</p> <p>Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, de Blasio's second-in-command, recently conceded at a New York Law School breakfast that the administration could improve it's record on FOIL requests. "I don't think we've done as good as job on that as we could have," he said, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/10/13/de-blasio-deputy-mayor-says-blaming-predecessor-is-not-productive-115038" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York reported</a>. "But I can't tell you we've gotten good enough. ... Our open data initiative has been, I think, one of the stronger ones in the country. ... Fundamentally, the more data that we can put out there so people don't have to say, 'May I,' but can do their own analytics, is the way to do."</p> <p>On August 23, at the first of two mayoral debates in the Democratic primary, de Blasio was asked by debate panelist and NY1 reporter Grace Rauh about steps he would take to improve transparency in a second term, should he be reelected, or if he considered any improvements unnecessary. As he often does, the mayor disagreed with the premise of the question, and pivoted toward touting his record on transparency. “Anytime a lobbyist lobbied me on behalf of a third party I put that up online so that people know exactly who talked to me when. I did that,” de Blasio said. “No other mayor’s done that before in our history. I’m in favor of the kind of transparency that’s gonna make life different for everyday New Yorkers like body cameras for all of our patrol officers over the next two years. This is one of the ultimate acts of transparency and accountability in government.”</p> <p>He added, “Past administrations did not disclose all sorts of things. I’ve made it a point to be open about disclosure. Some areas where I disagree specifically I do not think it was appropriate to disclose but compared to previous administrations we’ve gone a long way and a lot farther in terms of openness and disclosure and transparency....No mayor previously had that level of transparency and I’m very proud of the fact that we put that in place in the city. When it comes to tough questions, well it’s a tough job as part of what I’d expect as mayor of New York City.”</p> <p>It was a far from satisfactory answer for de Blasio’s only opponent on the debate stage, former City Council Member Sal Albanese. “I’m just incredulous,” Albanese responded. “This administration is the least transparent administration in recent history,” he added (it is not an easy comparison to make).</p> <p>“We should have a higher standard for the mayor than not being indicted,” Albanese said repeatedly during the debates and the primary campaign.</p> <p>Government watchdog groups have also found that de Blasio reneged on his campaign pledges around core good governance, though there has been acknowledgement that the administration has implemented certain policies that have enhanced transparency, including related to data generated by city government.</p> <p>For instance, the city has continued and expanded the implementation of the Open Data law, launching a redesigned <a href="https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">online portal</a> with thousands of datasets available to the public. The administration has launched <a href="https://a860-openrecords.nyc.gov" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">OpenRECORDS</a>, a centralized website to file and track FOIL requests with numerous city agencies. These advancements, while notable, do not capture the full picture of mayoral transparency, however.</p> <p>Early on in his term, the mayor began limiting interactions with the press, eschewing the daily news briefings that previous mayors had traditionally held and restricting occasions when he would take “off-topic” questions. It earned him scorn from detractors in and out of the media, and, almost cyclically, reinforced his derision for reporters who grew frustrated with the dearth of unfettered, unscripted responses to their questions.</p> <p>“There’s a Trump-like quality in his whining about the media,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, CUNY. “He’s got the same disease as the President.”</p> <p>“There’s a lot the citizenry could find praiseworthy in his record,” Muzzio added, “but the two main issues are his transparency and political ethics, and his sense of self-aggrandizement where everything is ‘historic’ and ‘transformative.’ The problem is the distance between rhetoric and reality.”</p> <p>Muzzio also noted that the administration has released a lot more data than previous mayoralties, which has been useful for analysis of city agencies. “It’s the personal transparency, rather than institutional transparency, that’s lacking,” Muzzio said of de Blasio.</p> <p>One example of rhetoric versus reality was a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-defend-boastful-video-decried-watchdogs-article-1.2926739" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">promotional video</a> put out in December 2016 by City Hall that touted the administration’s accomplishments, as it was mired in the two investigations that had captured headlines for months. Good government groups criticized the mayor at the time for effectively putting out a campaign ad shortly before the start of an election year during which government-funded advertisements would have been prohibited. The mayor fielded questions about the ad for weeks and grew frustrated by another example of what he has perceived as reporters’ fixation on trivial matters at the expense of spreading all the “good news” that is happening as a result of his policies.</p> <p>At the August 23 debate, prompted by NY1’s Rauh, de Blasio pledged that he would not set up another issue-advocacy nonprofit like the Campaign for One New York, which was at the center of one of the two investigations into his administration. It was something the mayor had previously said he didn’t plan to do and had in fact signed a new law making virtually impossible. In making the pledge, he reiterated that he faced tough questions about his ethical conduct purely because he was willing to voluntarily disclose who had donated to the nonprofit group and how much.</p> <p>“If you know you did things right you disclose,” he said. “If you’ve got something to hide, you don’t disclose. That’s what we did over and over again with donations that we did not have a legal obligation to disclose but we went ahead and disclosed anyway and I’m proud of that fact.”</p> <p>But, the mayor’s approach to disclosure has been highly selective. For the better part of two years, media outlets have pushed, and NY1 and the New York Post even sued, the administration for access to emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and unpaid outside advisors. The mayor’s team has shielded those communications, terming the advisors “agents of the city” who would not be subject to disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law that typically apply to correspondence between government officials and non-government entities. Exceptions to FOIL exist for intra-governmental communication that is part of the decision-making process, but de Blasio and his team argued that the advisors were so close to City Hall and the mayor that they were de facto members of the administration.</p> <p>Eventually, the mayor relented to an extent, and troves of emails, numbering in the thousands and many of them significantly redacted, have been released on numerous occasions, usually in Friday “news dumps.” The administration is still in court appealing the decision to release the emails, but the mayor pledged in March to release all communications going forward. The emails have not shown wrongdoing, but rather painted the administration, and the mayor particularly, in an unflattering light at times. Some showed de Blasio’s harsh treatment of underlings while others revealed his proximity and degree of access afforded to donors, including controversial ones.</p> <p>Watchdogs have pointed out that with the Campaign for One New York and the “agents of the city,” de Blasio has created his own problems by blurring lines and limiting transparency. By inviting massive donations to the nonprofit from entities with city business, de Blasio opened the door to pay-to-play allegations, and even the federal investigation. Under intense scrutiny, the mayor wound up promising extensive evidence of donors who did not get favorable treatment from city government -- a promise he eventually admitted he regretted -- but after months of delays, he produced a column on the online publishing platform Medium that left many wanting for more detail.</p> <p><strong>Big Money for the ‘Right’ Causes</strong><br /> As public advocate, de Blasio urged big corporations to adopt policies against funding political action committees and organized elected officials dedicated to that cause. He filed a legal brief in federal court arguing against the removal of limits to donations to PACs and he railed against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed untold amounts of money from undisclosed donors to flood electoral campaigns.</p> <p>“Deep-pocketed donors have turned their sights on New York and our best-in-the-nation campaign finance system,” de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/PAC" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>, in a statement on Oct. 3, 2013, when he filed the amicus brief. “They’re determined to upend protections that have safeguarded our democratic process for decades. This is about more than one election. It’s about defending the voices of everyday New Yorkers. It’s a fight we are going to win.”</p> <p>While de Blasio has continued to rail against Citizens United and call for full public campaign financing, the mayor has not aggressively pursued such a system in New York and the same politician who has long decried wealthy moneyed interests influencing government relied on them to promote his own political agenda while mayor.</p> <p>De Blasio came into office with a come-from-behind primary win and a general election landslide. He had the wind at his back and attempted to take on the world, so to speak. This led to the creation of the controversial nonprofit and a 2014 effort to swing the state Senate Democratic that got him in trouble, along with other actions that have hurt his reputation for openness and clean government.</p> <p>Within a month of the mayor’s election, his allies set up a political nonprofit group called UPKNYC, later branded The Campaign for One New York, to promote the goal of universal pre-kindergarten in the city, which in part depended on state-level approval. After achieving its initial goal -- de Blasio favored a tax on the rich to fund the proposal but settled for direct funding from the state -- the group pivoted to promoting the mayor’s affordable housing plan. All along, the 501(c)4 organization solicited unlimited donations, many from wealthy donors and labor unions that also had business with the city. The group did voluntarily disclose its finances and donors every six months.</p> <p>Scrutiny of its activities, and the mayor’s fundraising for it and possible exchange of government favors, helped trigger one of the two separate corruption investigations, a federal probe into allegations of pay-to-play at City Hall --- the second was a state-level inquiry into whether the mayor’s attempt to sway state Senate races for Democratic candidates in 2014 had violated election law by funneling big donations to candidate campaigns through local Democratic committees.</p> <p>The mayor maintained throughout that he and his associates had acted under strict legal guidance and had followed the letter of the law, and both probes eventually concluded with no charges. But the stench of scandal remained as the Manhattan U.S. attorney concluded that the mayor, though not crossing into clear criminal activity, had sought contributions from donors and then had “made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies” on behalf of those donors.</p> <p>De Blasio defended this as typical practice and even good government -- that any constituent, whether a donor or not, who brings a concern to him is directed to someone in the administration who may be able to help, but that the relevant powers make decisions based on the merits, not relationships. What has been abundantly clear, however, is that de Blasio donors have enjoyed special access to and attention from the mayor and his administration.</p> <p>De Blasio also regularly made the case that the ends justified the means, that because he was fighting for universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing, his skirting of campaign finance rules and blurring of lines was acceptable. The contradiction became especially evident when de Blasio agreed to sign legislation pushed by the City Council, notably Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a close de Blasio ally, to drastically limit political nonprofits with ties to elected officials. De Blasio would explain that it was “the right thing to do” but did lament that he felt it might hamstring progressive politicians with good intentions like himself in the ongoing fight against opposing big-money interests.</p> <p>At the second Democratic mayoral primary debate on <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzIfDLHon-c" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">September 6</a>, debate moderator Maurice DuBois of CBS-2 put the mayor on his heels with the first question, about his apparent ethical failings. “Mr. de Blasio, here’s a true story,” DuBois began. “A political leader and his associates used pay-for-play tactics...but were not charged with a crime. However, state and federal prosecutors insist those people did violate the intent and spirit of the law. While there were no criminal charges, would you want people like that working for you?”</p> <p>A defensive de Blasio again stood by his administration’s efforts and the policy goals that they achieved, and insisted that he and his associates had been vindicated by the intense scrutiny by prosecutors that nevertheless found no wrongdoing. “I look at everything that we’ve done and I’m very convinced that high standards were kept to and the results speak for themselves in terms of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we’ve improved,” he said. “That’s what I came here to do, make people’s lives better.”</p> <p>Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, said she is “torn” over the mayor’s first-term scandals. “Part of me is just wondering, ‘is this the cost of doing business as a politician in the 21st century if you’re not a billionaire?’” she said, drawing a contrast with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg who did not have to depend on donors for his own campaigns. “Part of me thinks, ‘Well if you don’t have billions to contribute on your own, do you possibly have to get that from unsavory characters and make alliances and depend on people who have resources?’ But the other part of me wonders, ‘Wow, it seems like we’re always asking about some sort of potential wrongdoing.’”</p> <p>Greer’s conflict seems to be indicative of that of at least several prominent Democrats, including officials like Comptroller Scott Stringer, who criticized the Campaign for One New York as a “slush fund” but wound up endorsing the mayor for reelection, citing his progressivism in fighting inequality. For some time, Stringer was considering a mayoral run, either against de Blasio or in the event de Blasio did not seek reelection due to results from the investigations that did not materialize.</p> <p>Greer emphasized that de Blasio’s ethics record should not be conflated with his transparency, even though the two are sometimes drawn in “concentric circles.” She noted that de Blasio’s refusal to take questions from the press simply raises more concerns about what else he isn’t being transparent about. “I genuinely do not understand why there are times that de Blasio makes life much harder for himself than he has to...He brought that on himself,” she said. She did agree that perhaps everyday New Yorkers don’t care about issues of transparency that “get into the weeds,” but said he couldn’t dismiss the concerns of those who do. “By you not wanting to answer it, you can’t wish it away by saying nobody’s interested,” she said. “Yes, we are interested.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s criticism of and condescension towards the media was on full display in the <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">column</a> he wrote on Medium, where he attempted to defend himself against pay-to-play allegations and special access for donors. The column, promised by de Blasio more than a year prior, was meant to illustrate instances of donors who sought favors from the administration but were denied. In the face of allegations and investigations, de Blasio had promised “a whole lot of evidence” of donors not getting the action they desired from the city. De Blasio provided little evidence in his Medium column, but went after the media with gusto.</p> <p>“Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City,” de Blasio wrote of the coverage of his contact with donors. “Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>The column contained few examples and no names, and largely blamed the media for over-inflating the scandals that have plagued de Blasio’s tenure. “It was a non-explanation, he gave a few examples of dubious quality,” Muzzio said with an exasperated sigh, noting how the mayor looked down his nose at the press.</p> <p>Some top Democratic elected officials have been hesitant to criticize the mayor openly, save for Stringer and a few others. Public Advocate Letitia James, de Blasio’s successor and whose office is meant to serve as a watchdog over city government, declined to comment for this article through a spokesperson. James has largely stayed away from questions about de Blasio’s ethics and transparency issues, explaining her approach as more focused on the substance of agency work and using litigation and legislation to make policy change.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, ostensibly the second-most powerful elected official in the city, deflected when asked about the mayor’s defense of the Campaign for One New York and his transparency, at a news conference on Sept. 7, when the mayor’s ethics record was being argued over both on the primary election debate stage and throughout the ongoing race for mayor.</p> <p>“We continue to have conversations in this Council and we continue to look at legislation to figure out how we can be more transparent,” she said. “That doesn’t just fall on the mayor, that falls on all of us to be more transparent in government.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito emphasized the Council’s measures to improve the Campaign Finance Board’s functioning and the laws governing campaign fundraising and spending. “Being a candidate and being an elected official is not easy,” she said. “The CFB rules are extremely complicated to follow and sometimes to keep track of and so sometimes you can get a little bit lost in them.”</p> <p>When Gotham Gazette pointed out that the mayor’s Campaign for One New York operated outside of the CFB’s purview and asked if looking back on it she felt it was still ethical for the mayor to have created the group, Mark-Viverito said, “I’m not gonna respond to that at this moment. I haven’t really focused on it as of late. Again, what we strive to do is to be accountable to our constituents and that’s what I have been doing as an elected official, that’s what we do each and everyday and I’m gonna continue to strive down that path.”</p> <p>Though she was quite reticent to weigh in on the issue when it was most relevant, Mark-Viverito did eventually spearhead the writing and passage of the legislation to rein in groups like Campaign for One New York, forcing the mayor’s hand on a measure that ensures few like it will ever exist in the future, given several new restrictions, like severe limits on what entities with city business can donate to nonprofits closely associated with an elected official. Even during that legislative process, Mark-Viverito, largely a de Blasio ally, took pains not to criticize the mayor directly, while tacitly and legislatively showing her disapproval. In signing the legislation, de Blasio refused to acknowledge that he had made any mistakes, but touted it as good legislation further reigning in money in politics.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, who is among a number of members running to be the next speaker of the Council, also gave a quasi-defense of the mayor. “I think he has to be judged by the fact that there was extensive scrutiny with considerable resources at multiple levels of government, local and federal, that left no stone unturned and determined there was not ground to charge,” he told Gotham Gazette, “and that at the end of the day is the most important standard and one that he justifiably touts, particularly in light of the months of leaks which gave him bad press for issues which ultimately were not deemed sufficient to charge on.”</p> <p>But multiple City Council members, who did not wish to be named, felt differently. Separately, they gave similar opinions to one another, criticizing the mayor’s hypocrisy on transparency, his handling of the “agents of the city” emails, and his continued arrogance over escaping an indictment.</p> <p>One Council member said the mayor was “vulnerable” on issues of transparency and that he faced “justifiable criticism” over his shielding of his emails, which did not seem at all legally defensible. The months of bad headlines, said the Council member, led to a “bunker mentality” and the mayor and his associates dug in their heels deeper. (Indeed, de Blasio has reopened himself to many more press questions since the investigations ended.)</p> <p>Two Council members said the mayor’s shielding of his emails was largely an exercise in protecting his image rather than hiding instances of corruption. “It’s clear they are well aware of who their friends are,” said one member, of the mayor’s relationship with donors. The <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/emails-reveal-another-side-of-bill-de-blasio-1466038087" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wall Street Journal</a> has reported that the contents of some of the “agents of the city” emails are especially gossipy and embarrassing.</p> <p>Another Council member commended the press as the institution, more so than the City Council, that has most held the mayor accountable, and criticized the mayor for attacking the media’s reportage. The member noted that the Council did not use its subpoena power and did not act on the Campaign for One New York until after Common Cause NY, a good government group, filed an official complaint with the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>That Council member also critiqued the mayor for not revealing who administration officials hold meetings with, an issue on which de Blasio had campaigned, and for not fully implementing the online FOIL portal. On the mayor’s Medium post, the Council member said, “It’s a little too cute to tell folks exactly who did what without using their names.”</p> <p><strong>‘Backwards on Police Transparency’</strong><br /> In April 2013, then-Public Advocate de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/foil/report" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">released</a> a “Transparency Report Card” that evaluated 18 city agencies on their response to FOIL requests. The two agencies that received a failing grade were the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the NYPD. A <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/04/11/in-de-blasios-new-york-transparency-laws-mean-nothing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Village Voice</a> analysis from April of the de Blasio administration’s handling of FOIL records showed that little had changed in more than three years. “A review of thousands of pages of FOIL records shows the city’s system for handling public information requests remains haphazard, under-resourced, and often excruciatingly slow. And the mayor’s own office is the slowest of all,” the report reads.</p> <p>The mayor’s earlier criticism of the NYPD’s opaqueness perhaps most smacks of hypocrisy to police reform advocates who say his administration has not only not made progress, but actually backtracked on transparency at the police department. The NYPD, and then de Blasio, last year contended that successive administrations had for decades misinterpreted Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Code, which protects the personnel records of police officers from public disclosure. As the department saw it, the law prevents them from releasing “personnel orders” that summarize disciplinary actions taken against officers. These orders had routinely been released until the revised policy was put in place, and the city has fought tooth and nail to uphold its reinterpretation of the law, even appealing an unfavorable judicial ruling, and has pointed to the need for the state to change the law. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The de Blasio administration has taken the city backwards on police transparency and accountability with its misuse of state law 50-a to conceal information,” said Lumumba Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocacy groups. Bandele noted that, though the mayor released a proposal to change the law in Albany, there was little evidence that the administration made it a priority in this year’s legislative session. “On policing, this administration is misusing the law as an excuse for being less transparent than those of Bloomberg and Giuliani,” she added, “allowing the NYPD to shield police abuse and corruption from public scrutiny, and failing to provide leadership to improve police accountability and transparency.”</p> <p>The notion -- that the de Blasio administration has been worse about NYPD transparency and accountability -- is one that was also echoed this year by City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is a de Blasio supporter overall.</p> <p><strong>Scrutiny and Change</strong><br /> Undoubtedly, scrutiny of the mayor’s actions led to change in his behavior. He stopped communicating with top lobbyists who were close to him and began to limit government-related interaction with outside consultants, particularly Jonathan Rosen, a confidante who was involved in the mayor’s 2013 campaign and the Campaign for One New York, and whose firm is again working on the mayor’s 2017 reelection bid. The scandals also prompted the legislation by the City Council -- which the mayor signed into law -- regulating donations to nonprofit groups affiliated with elected officials and requiring disclosure by these groups under the oversight of the Conflicts of Interest Board. And, de Blasio changed his “agency of the city” email transparency policy as he continues to battle in court to keep past emails secret.</p> <p>But it’s unclear if the mayor, who won his primary handily and is expected to coast to reelection through the general, will take substantive steps to be more transparent. “[If] he gets a second term, I can’t see him as a lame duck being more transparent, so I think that’s a concern,” said Greer.</p> <p>There’s no doubt that de Blasio’s general election opponents, chiefly Republican Nicole Malliotakis, a state Assembly member from Staten Island, will continue to make de Blasio’s ethics a focus of the campaign. The question remains, though, how much voters care. Political analysts note that most voters do not vote based on transparency and ethics issues unless there is a major scandal that has led someone to jail. Voters often vote based on “pocket book” and “kitchen table” issues like jobs, schools, and crime -- a point de Blasio himself regularly acknowledges at least tacitly.</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, who was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation regulating political nonprofits, said it was more constructive to focus on the political system that allows, and in some way encourages, reliance on wealthy donors. “If we want elected officials in New York City to live up to a higher standard of good government, then the best approach is to strengthen our own rules,” he said. “That’s more valuable than focusing on individuals.”</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>A TIMELINE of MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS RELATED to MAYOR DE BLASIO'S RECORD on ETHICS and TRANSPARENCY</p> <p>November 2013: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio gets elected mayor of New York City after running a campaign in which he promised an unprecedented level of transparency in government. As Public Advocate, de Blasio issued a “Transparency Report Card” evaluating city agencies on their response to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. He chiefly criticized the NYPD for their lax FOIL response times, giving them a failing grade in his report.</p> <p>December 2013: De Blasio’s allies set up UPKNYC, also known as the Campaign for One New York, an issue-advocacy nonprofit -- classified by the IRS as 501(c)(4)s -- that could solicit unlimited contributions and spend unlimited funds to promote the mayor’s agenda, namely promoting universal pre-kindergarten. Under law, the nonprofit was not required to disclose its donors. The mayor’s associates later set up another nonprofit called United For Affordable NYC, to promote his affordable housing plan. The Campaign for One New York eventually became the locus of two parallel investigations by federal and state prosecutors into the mayor’s fundraising practices and his effort to sway state Senate races in 2014.</p> <p>July 2014: The Campaign for One New York voluntarily discloses its fundraising and donors to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and to the public, despite not being required to do so, showing $1.76 million in donations, a lot of which came from labor unions that have been big supporters of the mayor and from groups that do business with the city. The mayor faced scrutiny for allowing doing business donors to give unlimited amounts, whereas those same donors would’ve been limited in how much they could contribute to a campaign committee. The Campaign for One New York later shifted its focus towards the mayor’s larger progressive agenda, particularly affordable housing, after having already achieved the goal of funding universal pre-kindergarten in the city.</p> <p>May 2015: De Blasio heads to Washington D.C. to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/in-washington-de-blasio-unveils-his-progressive-agenda-campaign.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">launch</a> “The Progressive Agenda,” a platform of progressive policies that he attempted to advocate for at the national level to try to influence issues in the presidential race. Another nonprofit, the Progressive Agenda Committee, is set up by October 2015 to helm the project. The group would have little to no impact before <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/07/progressive-agenda-committee-spends-418-298-but-has-no-staff-and-didnt-do-anything-103906" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">shutting down</a> within less than a year, only making headlines for an aborted attempt at holding a presidential candidate forum in Iowa in December 2015.</p> <p>The same day de Blasio was in Washington, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/group-supporting-de-blasios-agenda-is-said-to-draw-interest-of-ethics-panel.html?ref=nyregion&amp;_r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times</a> reports that the Campaign for One New York has come under scrutiny by JCOPE for not registering as a lobbying entity. In 2014, UPKNYC had registered as a lobbyist to promote universal pre-k.</p> <p>July 2015: Yet again, the Campaign for One New York discloses its fundraising, showing another $1.7 million in fundraising over a six-month period. The donations came from unions, lobbyists, wealthy donors and real estate executives. A <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2015/09/the-transactional-mayor-returns-025908" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a> analysis in September shows that 46 of 74 donors “either had business or labor contracts with City Hall or were trying to secure approval for a project when they contributed, public records show.” Over the next few months, de Blasio faces constant questioning about potential conflicts of interest and the perception of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall. The nonprofit groups also seem to slow down their operations and fundraising amid increased criticism.</p> <p>Feb 2016: Common Cause New York, a government reform advocacy group, files <a href="http://www.commoncause.org/states/new-york/press/press-releases/coib-cfb-review-of-deblasio-fundraiser.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a complaint</a> with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board, requesting investigations of the Campaign for One New York and United for Affordable NYC. “The Mayor's unprecedented use of 501(c)(4) fundraising has spawned a shadow government that raises serious questions about who has influence and access to the policymaking process,” Common Cause NY said in a statement at the time. “It has created a perpetual campaign, confusing the role of government and politics, to the detriment of the public interest.”</p> <p>March 2016: The Campaign for One New York <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/political-organization-tied-to-nyc-mayor-bill-de-blasio-is-closing-1458208801" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announces</a> plans to close down as the spectre of pay-to-play allegations begins to hound the administration. United for Affordable NYC ends operations in conjunction, but the Progressive Agenda Committee continues to exist with minimal staff.</p> <p>April 2016: Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reportedly</a> begins looking into two de Blasio donors, in connection with a separate corruption case involving the NYPD. Both donors contributed to the mayor’s campaign as well and were part of his inauguration committee. CBS2’s Marcia Kramer <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reports</a> that Bharara’s office had started focusing on the mayor’s fundraising practices. Mayor de Blasio, saying he was unaware of any federal investigation, says on April 11, “I’m not going to be speaking about this after today.”</p> <p>On April 22, the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-gamed-donation-limits-hid-names-board-elections-article-1.2611406?utm_content=buffer3ac9b&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=NYDailyNewsTw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reports on a leaked memo from the state Board of Elections regarding the mayor’s 2014 efforts to help Democrats win the state Senate. The memo alleges that de Blasio and his team circumvented campaign contribution limits to benefit three Democratic campaigns, thereby warranting criminal prosecution. (It would later emerge that the memo was released by a Republican BOE spokesperson.)</p> <p>On April 28, after de Blasio’s counsel confirms having received subpoenas in parallel state and federal investigations into the mayor’s fundraising, de Blasio maintains his innocence. “Everything we’ve done from the beginning is legal and appropriate,” he said. “There’s an investigation going on, we’re going to fully cooperate with that investigation.”</p> <p>May 2016: A lawyer for the Campaign for One New York tells JCOPE that the nonprofit would stop complying with subpoenas, suggesting that the probe into CONY has become politically motivated.</p> <p>On May 18, Mayor de Blasio promises to produce a list of donors who contributed to the Campaign for One New York but did not receive favors from City Hall, insisting that his administration makes decision based on merit and not on favoritism.</p> <p>The same month, de Blasio comes under fire for shielding his email exchanges with five unpaid outside advisers, some of whom have business with the city. The administration terms them “agents of the city” and <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/05/de-blasio-lists-advisers-he-considers-exempt-from-transparency-law-101954" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">argues</a> that they are exempt from disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law.</p> <p>June 2016: The administration releases selected emails from outside consultants to <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/06/city-hall-releases-selective-emails-with-outside-consulting-firm-102771" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a>, in response to long-pending FOIL requests.</p> <p>July 2016: The New York City Campaign Finance Board <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6426-campaign-finance-board-rules-in-mayor-s-favor-while-criticizing-him" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules</a> that the Campaign for One New York did not violate campaign finance law and that donations and spending by the group do not count towards the mayor’s 2017 reelection campaign. But, the board criticized the mayor’s fundraising practices, which they saw as circumventing the city’s strict campaign finance restrictions, and called on the City Council to pass legislation to close the loophole. &nbsp;</p> <p>“New York City’s system depends on reasonable contribution limits that reduce the appearance that influence can be bought or sold through campaign contributions,” said then-CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn. “It defies common sense that limits that work so well during the campaign should be set aside once the candidate has assumed elected office.”</p> <p>August 2016: A battle brewing in the background for months over NYPD officers’ disciplinary records came front and center as the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/exclusive-nypd-stops-releasing-cops-disciplinary-records-article-1.2764145" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reported that the department would no longer release “personnel orders” summarizing disciplinary actions against officers. Then-Commissioner Bill Bratton insisted that the city had long misinterpreted a decades-old state law -- Section 50-A of the New York State civil rights code-- that had led to the release of officer records. The law has been a particular sticking point for police reform advocates incensed over the administration’s efforts to protect the disciplinary record of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a banned chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014. Mayor de Blasio, whose administration has been fighting for well over two years to shield Pantaleo’s record, insisted his hands were tied on 50-A unless the state Legislature took action to change the provision.</p> <p>At an unrelated news conference in late August, de Blasio said he had stopped meeting with lobbyists, chiefly James Capalino, a top lobbyist and advisor to the mayor. “He, going into the mayoralty, was someone I respected as a friend and who I talked to a lot over the years,” de Blasio said. “But I do not have contact with him anymore.”</p> <p>September 2016: Two media outlets -- NY1 and the New York Post -- <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/two-media-outlets-sue-bill-de-blasio-in-freedom-of-information-case-1473375298" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sue</a> the mayor for the release of emails exchanged with Jonathan Rosen, of the consulting firm Berlin Rosen, who is one of the mayor’s “agents of the city.”</p> <p>That month, the City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6545-city-council-drafting-bills-to-regulate-political-nonprofits-like-campaign-for-one-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">begins</a> drafting legislation to regulate political nonprofits like the Campaign for One New York. Multiple bills were formulated to implement additional disclosure rules for these groups and to bring them under the purview of the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>October 2016: After weeks of criticizing the New York Post for their coverage of his administration, de Blasio repeatedly ignores Post reporter Yoav Gonen’s questions at an October 6 news conference. Gonen presses on with questions, leading to heated words from the mayor, who calls the Post a “right-wing rag” before moving on to other reporters. The incident earns the mayor widespread condemnation from local media.</p> <p>That same month, amid increasing criticism over the administration’s stance on Section 50-A, de Blasio releases a legislative proposal calling on Albany to amend the law to remove confidentiality provisions and make the full disciplinary records of officer available to the public. “Without significant changes to this statute, the city remains barred from providing New Yorkers with the transparency we deserve," the mayor <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/820-16/mayor-de-blasio-outlines-core-principles-legislation-make-disciplinary-records-law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>.</p> <p>November 2016: The Council introduces legislation to curb political nonprofits, particularly limiting contributions from entities and individuals with business before the city. Nonprofit groups would also have to disclose their donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>On November 23, the administration releases thousands of pages of emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and Jonathan Rosen, who was among those classified as “agents of the city” to prevent disclosure.</p> <p>At a November 29 news conference, de Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6643-de-blasio-limits-government-contact-with-top-outside-advisor" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">indicated</a> to the press that he had reduced contact with Rosen. “I think it’s fair to say that it’s pretty rare I’m talking to people, but each situation is individual,” he said at the time.</p> <p>December 2016: On his weekly <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2016/12/5/mondays-with-the-mayor--agents-no-more.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance on NY1</a> on December 5, de Blasio tells anchor Errol Louis that his communications with outside advisors and consultants will no longer be shielded from disclosure. &nbsp;</p> <p>On December 15, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/nyregion/bill-de-blasio-investigation.html?mcubz=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times reports</a> that two grand juries have been convened to hear testimony on the state and federal investigations into the mayor’s administration and fundraising. De Blasio continues to maintain that he and his associates acted legally and appropriately, following guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board and from campaign lawyers.</p> <p>March 2017: Federal and state prosecutors jointly <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6812-de-blasio-and-aides-won-t-face-charges-in-dual-investigations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> on March 17 that de Blasio and his aides would not face charges in the dual year-long investigations into the administration. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance criticized the mayor in a statement, saying that de Blasio and his associates violated the spirit and intent of the campaign finance law. Joon H. Kim, acting-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, noted that the investigation looked into “several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the City, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors.”</p> <p>De Blasio, at a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/158-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-holds-press-conference-the-federal-budget-city-hall" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">news conference</a> that day, said the conclusion of the investigations “simply confirms what I’ve said all along. My staff and my colleagues and I have acted in a manner that was legal and appropriate and ethical throughout. This is something I feel very strongly about in public service – that we have to comport ourselves in the proper manner and we have done that, and that has been confirmed by the results of this investigation.”</p> <p>Also in March, a Manhattan appeals court <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/city-wins-two-cases-keep-police-discipline-records-secret/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules in favor</a> of the de Blasio administration in the case of Officer Pantaleo’s disciplinary record, superseding two earlier lower court decisions that had allowed the release of some information.</p> <p>April 2017: After months of delaying his promise to provide a list of donors who did not receive favored treatment from City Hall, de Blasio partly backtracks and insists that he will pen an op-ed by the end of April that would mention certain relevant instances. (He had been hesitant to release the list earlier, citing the ongoing investigations.)</p> <p>August 2017: The de Blasio administration releases more emails that show two donors who were embroiled in a police corruption scandal had relatively easy access to the mayor. &nbsp;</p> <p>At the first Democratic mayoral primary debate on August 23, de Blasio concedes that the op-ed on donors is forthcoming and would be released before the September 12 primary. On September 1, de Blasio delivers in the form of <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a post on Medium</a>, an online publishing website. The post reads more as a screed against the media and contains only four instances involving unnamed donors to illustrate the mayor’s point. Some of those had emerged from emails released by the administration earlier in the month.</p> <p>“Media reports on these contacts fixated on their access to me and ignored the fair and transparent outcomes that followed,” the mayor writes. “Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City. Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>September 6: The second mayoral primary debate begins with a heavy focus on de Blasio’s ethics.</p> <p>September 12: De Blasio handily wins the Democratic primary for mayor.</p> <p>November 7: Election Day</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/36293022713_309bde7089_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio City Hall " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong><em>This article is part of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a> as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>It is a source of great frustration for Mayor Bill de Blasio and hangs over his administration and reelection bid as an albatross. Observers across the political spectrum, including Democratic and Republican opponents in this year’s mayoral race, have attacked de Blasio for blurring or crossing ethical lines, and for lacking transparency.</p> <p>De Blasio rode into power promising the most transparent administration in the city’s history, but his nearly four years in office have been marked by continuing questions and controversies over both his administration’s opaqueness and ethics, highlighted by twin law enforcement investigations into fundraising practices and government favors for campaign donors. The incumbent Democratic mayor, seeking reelection this fall, has repeatedly argued that he and his associates have carried themselves ethically and that he has done more disclosure than his predecessors and other high-level officials.</p> <p>Yet, along with his electoral opponents, political observers, government reform advocates, and City Council members also say de Blasio’s rhetoric has not been backed by action and that his record on transparency and ethics has been, at best, a mixed bag.</p> <p>In endorsing him in the Democratic primary, the New York Times editorial board <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/05/opinion/editorials/mayoral-endorsement-bill-deblasio.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, “A political operative before he ran for public office, Mr. de Blasio has not shaken free of detractors’ suspicions about his ethical compass. He was subjected to both federal and state investigations into whether he presides over a pay-to-play system that favors well-heeled donors seeking favors from City Hall. Ultimately, no charges were brought against him or his aides. Though the mayor declared he had been vindicated, the Manhattan district attorney concluded that some of his fund-raising appeared to have violated “the intent and spirit” of the law. That’s a far cry from Mr. de Blasio’s claim to have been pronounced “innocent.”</p> <p>De Blasio was indeed chastised by federal and state prosecutors, who, while they did not bring charges against him or his associates, investigated their actions and outlined problematic practices, some of which led to new city laws limiting certain fundraising activities that the mayor and his team engaged in. De Blasio has claimed that he and his aides have held themselves to the highest standards, but he has regularly raised those standards when pushed.</p> <p>Part of the mayor’s pushback against criticisms has been that he and his associates have always had good motives, like expanding pre-kindergarten, and that a political nonprofit his allies ran to support his agenda disclosed more than required. Though he has been dogged by questions from members of the media, de Blasio readily points out that regular New Yorkers don’t often ask him about his fundraising practices or release of email records when they have the opportunity to question him at town halls or radio call-in segments.</p> <p>“People never bring up the issues from the investigations, because I think there was a broad understanding in the public that there was an immense amount of scrutiny that found absolutely nothing wrong,” he said in a recent <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/09/bill-de-blasio-in-conversation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Magazine</a> interview, mischaracterizing the facts given that while no charges were brought, prosecutors did indicate that the mayor and his associates had blurred or crossed ethical lines. “Everyday New Yorkers are much more concerned with kitchen-table issues. Some political insiders, maybe they’ve come to certain conclusions. But for everyday New Yorkers? They didn’t see anything wrong, and they’re right, because there wasn’t anything wrong.”</p> <p>As de Blasio asks New Yorkers for four more years, ethics and transparency will continue to be a focus of criticism from his general election opponents and others, while the mayor will defend himself and attempt to point to stronger aspects of his record. But the record of how he and his administration have conducted themselves when it comes to playing by the rules, separating political fundraising and governing, and providing the public with both ethical and transparent government is very much worth chronicling and examining as voters evaluate their choices this November.</p> <p>Mayoral spokespeople Eric Phillips and Austin Finan agreed to speak with Gotham Gazette for this story, but, other than a brief conversation to discuss the premise of the article, no comment was provided.</p> <p>The most recent Quinnipiac University public opinion poll that included a question about de Blasio's&nbsp;ethics, published at the end of July, <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">showed</a> New York City voters saying 52 to 35 percent that he is honest and trustworthy, down from 59 to 31 percent in May. Still, the 52 was up from the lowest rating de Blasio has received in a Quinnipiac poll over his four years as mayor: amid intense controversy in May 2016, 43 percent <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/images/polling/nyc/nyc07312017_trends_N79jmpp.pdf/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> he is honest and trustworthy, while 45 percent said he is not. The highest de Blasio's honesty was rated by voters eight months into his tenure, when the balance was 66 to 22 in his favor.</p> <p><strong>Selective Transparency</strong><br /> In his former role as public advocate, de Blasio championed transparency and took the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to task for its apparent lack thereof. De Blasio disclosed meetings with lobbyists and implemented tools to track Freedom of Information Law requests, while criticizing the Bloomberg administration for its lax FOIL response time.</p> <p>Fast forward nearly four years and the same official who urged increased disclosure by Bloomberg has been reticent to show the same commitment in his own operations on FOIL responsiveness speed and other things like police discipline records and emails with top non-governmental advisors. For example, as public advocate, de Blasio recommended legislation requiring the mayor to include FOIL response statistics in the annual Mayor’s Management Report, but it is not something de Blasio has done as mayor himself.</p> <p>Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, de Blasio's second-in-command, recently conceded at a New York Law School breakfast that the administration could improve it's record on FOIL requests. "I don't think we've done as good as job on that as we could have," he said, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/10/13/de-blasio-deputy-mayor-says-blaming-predecessor-is-not-productive-115038" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York reported</a>. "But I can't tell you we've gotten good enough. ... Our open data initiative has been, I think, one of the stronger ones in the country. ... Fundamentally, the more data that we can put out there so people don't have to say, 'May I,' but can do their own analytics, is the way to do."</p> <p>On August 23, at the first of two mayoral debates in the Democratic primary, de Blasio was asked by debate panelist and NY1 reporter Grace Rauh about steps he would take to improve transparency in a second term, should he be reelected, or if he considered any improvements unnecessary. As he often does, the mayor disagreed with the premise of the question, and pivoted toward touting his record on transparency. “Anytime a lobbyist lobbied me on behalf of a third party I put that up online so that people know exactly who talked to me when. I did that,” de Blasio said. “No other mayor’s done that before in our history. I’m in favor of the kind of transparency that’s gonna make life different for everyday New Yorkers like body cameras for all of our patrol officers over the next two years. This is one of the ultimate acts of transparency and accountability in government.”</p> <p>He added, “Past administrations did not disclose all sorts of things. I’ve made it a point to be open about disclosure. Some areas where I disagree specifically I do not think it was appropriate to disclose but compared to previous administrations we’ve gone a long way and a lot farther in terms of openness and disclosure and transparency....No mayor previously had that level of transparency and I’m very proud of the fact that we put that in place in the city. When it comes to tough questions, well it’s a tough job as part of what I’d expect as mayor of New York City.”</p> <p>It was a far from satisfactory answer for de Blasio’s only opponent on the debate stage, former City Council Member Sal Albanese. “I’m just incredulous,” Albanese responded. “This administration is the least transparent administration in recent history,” he added (it is not an easy comparison to make).</p> <p>“We should have a higher standard for the mayor than not being indicted,” Albanese said repeatedly during the debates and the primary campaign.</p> <p>Government watchdog groups have also found that de Blasio reneged on his campaign pledges around core good governance, though there has been acknowledgement that the administration has implemented certain policies that have enhanced transparency, including related to data generated by city government.</p> <p>For instance, the city has continued and expanded the implementation of the Open Data law, launching a redesigned <a href="https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">online portal</a> with thousands of datasets available to the public. The administration has launched <a href="https://a860-openrecords.nyc.gov" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">OpenRECORDS</a>, a centralized website to file and track FOIL requests with numerous city agencies. These advancements, while notable, do not capture the full picture of mayoral transparency, however.</p> <p>Early on in his term, the mayor began limiting interactions with the press, eschewing the daily news briefings that previous mayors had traditionally held and restricting occasions when he would take “off-topic” questions. It earned him scorn from detractors in and out of the media, and, almost cyclically, reinforced his derision for reporters who grew frustrated with the dearth of unfettered, unscripted responses to their questions.</p> <p>“There’s a Trump-like quality in his whining about the media,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, CUNY. “He’s got the same disease as the President.”</p> <p>“There’s a lot the citizenry could find praiseworthy in his record,” Muzzio added, “but the two main issues are his transparency and political ethics, and his sense of self-aggrandizement where everything is ‘historic’ and ‘transformative.’ The problem is the distance between rhetoric and reality.”</p> <p>Muzzio also noted that the administration has released a lot more data than previous mayoralties, which has been useful for analysis of city agencies. “It’s the personal transparency, rather than institutional transparency, that’s lacking,” Muzzio said of de Blasio.</p> <p>One example of rhetoric versus reality was a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-defend-boastful-video-decried-watchdogs-article-1.2926739" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">promotional video</a> put out in December 2016 by City Hall that touted the administration’s accomplishments, as it was mired in the two investigations that had captured headlines for months. Good government groups criticized the mayor at the time for effectively putting out a campaign ad shortly before the start of an election year during which government-funded advertisements would have been prohibited. The mayor fielded questions about the ad for weeks and grew frustrated by another example of what he has perceived as reporters’ fixation on trivial matters at the expense of spreading all the “good news” that is happening as a result of his policies.</p> <p>At the August 23 debate, prompted by NY1’s Rauh, de Blasio pledged that he would not set up another issue-advocacy nonprofit like the Campaign for One New York, which was at the center of one of the two investigations into his administration. It was something the mayor had previously said he didn’t plan to do and had in fact signed a new law making virtually impossible. In making the pledge, he reiterated that he faced tough questions about his ethical conduct purely because he was willing to voluntarily disclose who had donated to the nonprofit group and how much.</p> <p>“If you know you did things right you disclose,” he said. “If you’ve got something to hide, you don’t disclose. That’s what we did over and over again with donations that we did not have a legal obligation to disclose but we went ahead and disclosed anyway and I’m proud of that fact.”</p> <p>But, the mayor’s approach to disclosure has been highly selective. For the better part of two years, media outlets have pushed, and NY1 and the New York Post even sued, the administration for access to emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and unpaid outside advisors. The mayor’s team has shielded those communications, terming the advisors “agents of the city” who would not be subject to disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law that typically apply to correspondence between government officials and non-government entities. Exceptions to FOIL exist for intra-governmental communication that is part of the decision-making process, but de Blasio and his team argued that the advisors were so close to City Hall and the mayor that they were de facto members of the administration.</p> <p>Eventually, the mayor relented to an extent, and troves of emails, numbering in the thousands and many of them significantly redacted, have been released on numerous occasions, usually in Friday “news dumps.” The administration is still in court appealing the decision to release the emails, but the mayor pledged in March to release all communications going forward. The emails have not shown wrongdoing, but rather painted the administration, and the mayor particularly, in an unflattering light at times. Some showed de Blasio’s harsh treatment of underlings while others revealed his proximity and degree of access afforded to donors, including controversial ones.</p> <p>Watchdogs have pointed out that with the Campaign for One New York and the “agents of the city,” de Blasio has created his own problems by blurring lines and limiting transparency. By inviting massive donations to the nonprofit from entities with city business, de Blasio opened the door to pay-to-play allegations, and even the federal investigation. Under intense scrutiny, the mayor wound up promising extensive evidence of donors who did not get favorable treatment from city government -- a promise he eventually admitted he regretted -- but after months of delays, he produced a column on the online publishing platform Medium that left many wanting for more detail.</p> <p><strong>Big Money for the ‘Right’ Causes</strong><br /> As public advocate, de Blasio urged big corporations to adopt policies against funding political action committees and organized elected officials dedicated to that cause. He filed a legal brief in federal court arguing against the removal of limits to donations to PACs and he railed against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed untold amounts of money from undisclosed donors to flood electoral campaigns.</p> <p>“Deep-pocketed donors have turned their sights on New York and our best-in-the-nation campaign finance system,” de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/PAC" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>, in a statement on Oct. 3, 2013, when he filed the amicus brief. “They’re determined to upend protections that have safeguarded our democratic process for decades. This is about more than one election. It’s about defending the voices of everyday New Yorkers. It’s a fight we are going to win.”</p> <p>While de Blasio has continued to rail against Citizens United and call for full public campaign financing, the mayor has not aggressively pursued such a system in New York and the same politician who has long decried wealthy moneyed interests influencing government relied on them to promote his own political agenda while mayor.</p> <p>De Blasio came into office with a come-from-behind primary win and a general election landslide. He had the wind at his back and attempted to take on the world, so to speak. This led to the creation of the controversial nonprofit and a 2014 effort to swing the state Senate Democratic that got him in trouble, along with other actions that have hurt his reputation for openness and clean government.</p> <p>Within a month of the mayor’s election, his allies set up a political nonprofit group called UPKNYC, later branded The Campaign for One New York, to promote the goal of universal pre-kindergarten in the city, which in part depended on state-level approval. After achieving its initial goal -- de Blasio favored a tax on the rich to fund the proposal but settled for direct funding from the state -- the group pivoted to promoting the mayor’s affordable housing plan. All along, the 501(c)4 organization solicited unlimited donations, many from wealthy donors and labor unions that also had business with the city. The group did voluntarily disclose its finances and donors every six months.</p> <p>Scrutiny of its activities, and the mayor’s fundraising for it and possible exchange of government favors, helped trigger one of the two separate corruption investigations, a federal probe into allegations of pay-to-play at City Hall --- the second was a state-level inquiry into whether the mayor’s attempt to sway state Senate races for Democratic candidates in 2014 had violated election law by funneling big donations to candidate campaigns through local Democratic committees.</p> <p>The mayor maintained throughout that he and his associates had acted under strict legal guidance and had followed the letter of the law, and both probes eventually concluded with no charges. But the stench of scandal remained as the Manhattan U.S. attorney concluded that the mayor, though not crossing into clear criminal activity, had sought contributions from donors and then had “made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies” on behalf of those donors.</p> <p>De Blasio defended this as typical practice and even good government -- that any constituent, whether a donor or not, who brings a concern to him is directed to someone in the administration who may be able to help, but that the relevant powers make decisions based on the merits, not relationships. What has been abundantly clear, however, is that de Blasio donors have enjoyed special access to and attention from the mayor and his administration.</p> <p>De Blasio also regularly made the case that the ends justified the means, that because he was fighting for universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing, his skirting of campaign finance rules and blurring of lines was acceptable. The contradiction became especially evident when de Blasio agreed to sign legislation pushed by the City Council, notably Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a close de Blasio ally, to drastically limit political nonprofits with ties to elected officials. De Blasio would explain that it was “the right thing to do” but did lament that he felt it might hamstring progressive politicians with good intentions like himself in the ongoing fight against opposing big-money interests.</p> <p>At the second Democratic mayoral primary debate on <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzIfDLHon-c" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">September 6</a>, debate moderator Maurice DuBois of CBS-2 put the mayor on his heels with the first question, about his apparent ethical failings. “Mr. de Blasio, here’s a true story,” DuBois began. “A political leader and his associates used pay-for-play tactics...but were not charged with a crime. However, state and federal prosecutors insist those people did violate the intent and spirit of the law. While there were no criminal charges, would you want people like that working for you?”</p> <p>A defensive de Blasio again stood by his administration’s efforts and the policy goals that they achieved, and insisted that he and his associates had been vindicated by the intense scrutiny by prosecutors that nevertheless found no wrongdoing. “I look at everything that we’ve done and I’m very convinced that high standards were kept to and the results speak for themselves in terms of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we’ve improved,” he said. “That’s what I came here to do, make people’s lives better.”</p> <p>Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, said she is “torn” over the mayor’s first-term scandals. “Part of me is just wondering, ‘is this the cost of doing business as a politician in the 21st century if you’re not a billionaire?’” she said, drawing a contrast with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg who did not have to depend on donors for his own campaigns. “Part of me thinks, ‘Well if you don’t have billions to contribute on your own, do you possibly have to get that from unsavory characters and make alliances and depend on people who have resources?’ But the other part of me wonders, ‘Wow, it seems like we’re always asking about some sort of potential wrongdoing.’”</p> <p>Greer’s conflict seems to be indicative of that of at least several prominent Democrats, including officials like Comptroller Scott Stringer, who criticized the Campaign for One New York as a “slush fund” but wound up endorsing the mayor for reelection, citing his progressivism in fighting inequality. For some time, Stringer was considering a mayoral run, either against de Blasio or in the event de Blasio did not seek reelection due to results from the investigations that did not materialize.</p> <p>Greer emphasized that de Blasio’s ethics record should not be conflated with his transparency, even though the two are sometimes drawn in “concentric circles.” She noted that de Blasio’s refusal to take questions from the press simply raises more concerns about what else he isn’t being transparent about. “I genuinely do not understand why there are times that de Blasio makes life much harder for himself than he has to...He brought that on himself,” she said. She did agree that perhaps everyday New Yorkers don’t care about issues of transparency that “get into the weeds,” but said he couldn’t dismiss the concerns of those who do. “By you not wanting to answer it, you can’t wish it away by saying nobody’s interested,” she said. “Yes, we are interested.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s criticism of and condescension towards the media was on full display in the <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">column</a> he wrote on Medium, where he attempted to defend himself against pay-to-play allegations and special access for donors. The column, promised by de Blasio more than a year prior, was meant to illustrate instances of donors who sought favors from the administration but were denied. In the face of allegations and investigations, de Blasio had promised “a whole lot of evidence” of donors not getting the action they desired from the city. De Blasio provided little evidence in his Medium column, but went after the media with gusto.</p> <p>“Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City,” de Blasio wrote of the coverage of his contact with donors. “Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>The column contained few examples and no names, and largely blamed the media for over-inflating the scandals that have plagued de Blasio’s tenure. “It was a non-explanation, he gave a few examples of dubious quality,” Muzzio said with an exasperated sigh, noting how the mayor looked down his nose at the press.</p> <p>Some top Democratic elected officials have been hesitant to criticize the mayor openly, save for Stringer and a few others. Public Advocate Letitia James, de Blasio’s successor and whose office is meant to serve as a watchdog over city government, declined to comment for this article through a spokesperson. James has largely stayed away from questions about de Blasio’s ethics and transparency issues, explaining her approach as more focused on the substance of agency work and using litigation and legislation to make policy change.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, ostensibly the second-most powerful elected official in the city, deflected when asked about the mayor’s defense of the Campaign for One New York and his transparency, at a news conference on Sept. 7, when the mayor’s ethics record was being argued over both on the primary election debate stage and throughout the ongoing race for mayor.</p> <p>“We continue to have conversations in this Council and we continue to look at legislation to figure out how we can be more transparent,” she said. “That doesn’t just fall on the mayor, that falls on all of us to be more transparent in government.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito emphasized the Council’s measures to improve the Campaign Finance Board’s functioning and the laws governing campaign fundraising and spending. “Being a candidate and being an elected official is not easy,” she said. “The CFB rules are extremely complicated to follow and sometimes to keep track of and so sometimes you can get a little bit lost in them.”</p> <p>When Gotham Gazette pointed out that the mayor’s Campaign for One New York operated outside of the CFB’s purview and asked if looking back on it she felt it was still ethical for the mayor to have created the group, Mark-Viverito said, “I’m not gonna respond to that at this moment. I haven’t really focused on it as of late. Again, what we strive to do is to be accountable to our constituents and that’s what I have been doing as an elected official, that’s what we do each and everyday and I’m gonna continue to strive down that path.”</p> <p>Though she was quite reticent to weigh in on the issue when it was most relevant, Mark-Viverito did eventually spearhead the writing and passage of the legislation to rein in groups like Campaign for One New York, forcing the mayor’s hand on a measure that ensures few like it will ever exist in the future, given several new restrictions, like severe limits on what entities with city business can donate to nonprofits closely associated with an elected official. Even during that legislative process, Mark-Viverito, largely a de Blasio ally, took pains not to criticize the mayor directly, while tacitly and legislatively showing her disapproval. In signing the legislation, de Blasio refused to acknowledge that he had made any mistakes, but touted it as good legislation further reigning in money in politics.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, who is among a number of members running to be the next speaker of the Council, also gave a quasi-defense of the mayor. “I think he has to be judged by the fact that there was extensive scrutiny with considerable resources at multiple levels of government, local and federal, that left no stone unturned and determined there was not ground to charge,” he told Gotham Gazette, “and that at the end of the day is the most important standard and one that he justifiably touts, particularly in light of the months of leaks which gave him bad press for issues which ultimately were not deemed sufficient to charge on.”</p> <p>But multiple City Council members, who did not wish to be named, felt differently. Separately, they gave similar opinions to one another, criticizing the mayor’s hypocrisy on transparency, his handling of the “agents of the city” emails, and his continued arrogance over escaping an indictment.</p> <p>One Council member said the mayor was “vulnerable” on issues of transparency and that he faced “justifiable criticism” over his shielding of his emails, which did not seem at all legally defensible. The months of bad headlines, said the Council member, led to a “bunker mentality” and the mayor and his associates dug in their heels deeper. (Indeed, de Blasio has reopened himself to many more press questions since the investigations ended.)</p> <p>Two Council members said the mayor’s shielding of his emails was largely an exercise in protecting his image rather than hiding instances of corruption. “It’s clear they are well aware of who their friends are,” said one member, of the mayor’s relationship with donors. The <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/emails-reveal-another-side-of-bill-de-blasio-1466038087" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wall Street Journal</a> has reported that the contents of some of the “agents of the city” emails are especially gossipy and embarrassing.</p> <p>Another Council member commended the press as the institution, more so than the City Council, that has most held the mayor accountable, and criticized the mayor for attacking the media’s reportage. The member noted that the Council did not use its subpoena power and did not act on the Campaign for One New York until after Common Cause NY, a good government group, filed an official complaint with the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>That Council member also critiqued the mayor for not revealing who administration officials hold meetings with, an issue on which de Blasio had campaigned, and for not fully implementing the online FOIL portal. On the mayor’s Medium post, the Council member said, “It’s a little too cute to tell folks exactly who did what without using their names.”</p> <p><strong>‘Backwards on Police Transparency’</strong><br /> In April 2013, then-Public Advocate de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/foil/report" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">released</a> a “Transparency Report Card” that evaluated 18 city agencies on their response to FOIL requests. The two agencies that received a failing grade were the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the NYPD. A <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/04/11/in-de-blasios-new-york-transparency-laws-mean-nothing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Village Voice</a> analysis from April of the de Blasio administration’s handling of FOIL records showed that little had changed in more than three years. “A review of thousands of pages of FOIL records shows the city’s system for handling public information requests remains haphazard, under-resourced, and often excruciatingly slow. And the mayor’s own office is the slowest of all,” the report reads.</p> <p>The mayor’s earlier criticism of the NYPD’s opaqueness perhaps most smacks of hypocrisy to police reform advocates who say his administration has not only not made progress, but actually backtracked on transparency at the police department. The NYPD, and then de Blasio, last year contended that successive administrations had for decades misinterpreted Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Code, which protects the personnel records of police officers from public disclosure. As the department saw it, the law prevents them from releasing “personnel orders” that summarize disciplinary actions taken against officers. These orders had routinely been released until the revised policy was put in place, and the city has fought tooth and nail to uphold its reinterpretation of the law, even appealing an unfavorable judicial ruling, and has pointed to the need for the state to change the law. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The de Blasio administration has taken the city backwards on police transparency and accountability with its misuse of state law 50-a to conceal information,” said Lumumba Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocacy groups. Bandele noted that, though the mayor released a proposal to change the law in Albany, there was little evidence that the administration made it a priority in this year’s legislative session. “On policing, this administration is misusing the law as an excuse for being less transparent than those of Bloomberg and Giuliani,” she added, “allowing the NYPD to shield police abuse and corruption from public scrutiny, and failing to provide leadership to improve police accountability and transparency.”</p> <p>The notion -- that the de Blasio administration has been worse about NYPD transparency and accountability -- is one that was also echoed this year by City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is a de Blasio supporter overall.</p> <p><strong>Scrutiny and Change</strong><br /> Undoubtedly, scrutiny of the mayor’s actions led to change in his behavior. He stopped communicating with top lobbyists who were close to him and began to limit government-related interaction with outside consultants, particularly Jonathan Rosen, a confidante who was involved in the mayor’s 2013 campaign and the Campaign for One New York, and whose firm is again working on the mayor’s 2017 reelection bid. The scandals also prompted the legislation by the City Council -- which the mayor signed into law -- regulating donations to nonprofit groups affiliated with elected officials and requiring disclosure by these groups under the oversight of the Conflicts of Interest Board. And, de Blasio changed his “agency of the city” email transparency policy as he continues to battle in court to keep past emails secret.</p> <p>But it’s unclear if the mayor, who won his primary handily and is expected to coast to reelection through the general, will take substantive steps to be more transparent. “[If] he gets a second term, I can’t see him as a lame duck being more transparent, so I think that’s a concern,” said Greer.</p> <p>There’s no doubt that de Blasio’s general election opponents, chiefly Republican Nicole Malliotakis, a state Assembly member from Staten Island, will continue to make de Blasio’s ethics a focus of the campaign. The question remains, though, how much voters care. Political analysts note that most voters do not vote based on transparency and ethics issues unless there is a major scandal that has led someone to jail. Voters often vote based on “pocket book” and “kitchen table” issues like jobs, schools, and crime -- a point de Blasio himself regularly acknowledges at least tacitly.</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, who was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation regulating political nonprofits, said it was more constructive to focus on the political system that allows, and in some way encourages, reliance on wealthy donors. “If we want elected officials in New York City to live up to a higher standard of good government, then the best approach is to strengthen our own rules,” he said. “That’s more valuable than focusing on individuals.”</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>A TIMELINE of MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS RELATED to MAYOR DE BLASIO'S RECORD on ETHICS and TRANSPARENCY</p> <p>November 2013: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio gets elected mayor of New York City after running a campaign in which he promised an unprecedented level of transparency in government. As Public Advocate, de Blasio issued a “Transparency Report Card” evaluating city agencies on their response to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. He chiefly criticized the NYPD for their lax FOIL response times, giving them a failing grade in his report.</p> <p>December 2013: De Blasio’s allies set up UPKNYC, also known as the Campaign for One New York, an issue-advocacy nonprofit -- classified by the IRS as 501(c)(4)s -- that could solicit unlimited contributions and spend unlimited funds to promote the mayor’s agenda, namely promoting universal pre-kindergarten. Under law, the nonprofit was not required to disclose its donors. The mayor’s associates later set up another nonprofit called United For Affordable NYC, to promote his affordable housing plan. The Campaign for One New York eventually became the locus of two parallel investigations by federal and state prosecutors into the mayor’s fundraising practices and his effort to sway state Senate races in 2014.</p> <p>July 2014: The Campaign for One New York voluntarily discloses its fundraising and donors to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and to the public, despite not being required to do so, showing $1.76 million in donations, a lot of which came from labor unions that have been big supporters of the mayor and from groups that do business with the city. The mayor faced scrutiny for allowing doing business donors to give unlimited amounts, whereas those same donors would’ve been limited in how much they could contribute to a campaign committee. The Campaign for One New York later shifted its focus towards the mayor’s larger progressive agenda, particularly affordable housing, after having already achieved the goal of funding universal pre-kindergarten in the city.</p> <p>May 2015: De Blasio heads to Washington D.C. to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/in-washington-de-blasio-unveils-his-progressive-agenda-campaign.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">launch</a> “The Progressive Agenda,” a platform of progressive policies that he attempted to advocate for at the national level to try to influence issues in the presidential race. Another nonprofit, the Progressive Agenda Committee, is set up by October 2015 to helm the project. The group would have little to no impact before <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/07/progressive-agenda-committee-spends-418-298-but-has-no-staff-and-didnt-do-anything-103906" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">shutting down</a> within less than a year, only making headlines for an aborted attempt at holding a presidential candidate forum in Iowa in December 2015.</p> <p>The same day de Blasio was in Washington, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/group-supporting-de-blasios-agenda-is-said-to-draw-interest-of-ethics-panel.html?ref=nyregion&amp;_r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times</a> reports that the Campaign for One New York has come under scrutiny by JCOPE for not registering as a lobbying entity. In 2014, UPKNYC had registered as a lobbyist to promote universal pre-k.</p> <p>July 2015: Yet again, the Campaign for One New York discloses its fundraising, showing another $1.7 million in fundraising over a six-month period. The donations came from unions, lobbyists, wealthy donors and real estate executives. A <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2015/09/the-transactional-mayor-returns-025908" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a> analysis in September shows that 46 of 74 donors “either had business or labor contracts with City Hall or were trying to secure approval for a project when they contributed, public records show.” Over the next few months, de Blasio faces constant questioning about potential conflicts of interest and the perception of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall. The nonprofit groups also seem to slow down their operations and fundraising amid increased criticism.</p> <p>Feb 2016: Common Cause New York, a government reform advocacy group, files <a href="http://www.commoncause.org/states/new-york/press/press-releases/coib-cfb-review-of-deblasio-fundraiser.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a complaint</a> with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board, requesting investigations of the Campaign for One New York and United for Affordable NYC. “The Mayor's unprecedented use of 501(c)(4) fundraising has spawned a shadow government that raises serious questions about who has influence and access to the policymaking process,” Common Cause NY said in a statement at the time. “It has created a perpetual campaign, confusing the role of government and politics, to the detriment of the public interest.”</p> <p>March 2016: The Campaign for One New York <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/political-organization-tied-to-nyc-mayor-bill-de-blasio-is-closing-1458208801" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announces</a> plans to close down as the spectre of pay-to-play allegations begins to hound the administration. United for Affordable NYC ends operations in conjunction, but the Progressive Agenda Committee continues to exist with minimal staff.</p> <p>April 2016: Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reportedly</a> begins looking into two de Blasio donors, in connection with a separate corruption case involving the NYPD. Both donors contributed to the mayor’s campaign as well and were part of his inauguration committee. CBS2’s Marcia Kramer <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reports</a> that Bharara’s office had started focusing on the mayor’s fundraising practices. Mayor de Blasio, saying he was unaware of any federal investigation, says on April 11, “I’m not going to be speaking about this after today.”</p> <p>On April 22, the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-gamed-donation-limits-hid-names-board-elections-article-1.2611406?utm_content=buffer3ac9b&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=NYDailyNewsTw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reports on a leaked memo from the state Board of Elections regarding the mayor’s 2014 efforts to help Democrats win the state Senate. The memo alleges that de Blasio and his team circumvented campaign contribution limits to benefit three Democratic campaigns, thereby warranting criminal prosecution. (It would later emerge that the memo was released by a Republican BOE spokesperson.)</p> <p>On April 28, after de Blasio’s counsel confirms having received subpoenas in parallel state and federal investigations into the mayor’s fundraising, de Blasio maintains his innocence. “Everything we’ve done from the beginning is legal and appropriate,” he said. “There’s an investigation going on, we’re going to fully cooperate with that investigation.”</p> <p>May 2016: A lawyer for the Campaign for One New York tells JCOPE that the nonprofit would stop complying with subpoenas, suggesting that the probe into CONY has become politically motivated.</p> <p>On May 18, Mayor de Blasio promises to produce a list of donors who contributed to the Campaign for One New York but did not receive favors from City Hall, insisting that his administration makes decision based on merit and not on favoritism.</p> <p>The same month, de Blasio comes under fire for shielding his email exchanges with five unpaid outside advisers, some of whom have business with the city. The administration terms them “agents of the city” and <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/05/de-blasio-lists-advisers-he-considers-exempt-from-transparency-law-101954" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">argues</a> that they are exempt from disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law.</p> <p>June 2016: The administration releases selected emails from outside consultants to <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/06/city-hall-releases-selective-emails-with-outside-consulting-firm-102771" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a>, in response to long-pending FOIL requests.</p> <p>July 2016: The New York City Campaign Finance Board <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6426-campaign-finance-board-rules-in-mayor-s-favor-while-criticizing-him" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules</a> that the Campaign for One New York did not violate campaign finance law and that donations and spending by the group do not count towards the mayor’s 2017 reelection campaign. But, the board criticized the mayor’s fundraising practices, which they saw as circumventing the city’s strict campaign finance restrictions, and called on the City Council to pass legislation to close the loophole. &nbsp;</p> <p>“New York City’s system depends on reasonable contribution limits that reduce the appearance that influence can be bought or sold through campaign contributions,” said then-CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn. “It defies common sense that limits that work so well during the campaign should be set aside once the candidate has assumed elected office.”</p> <p>August 2016: A battle brewing in the background for months over NYPD officers’ disciplinary records came front and center as the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/exclusive-nypd-stops-releasing-cops-disciplinary-records-article-1.2764145" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reported that the department would no longer release “personnel orders” summarizing disciplinary actions against officers. Then-Commissioner Bill Bratton insisted that the city had long misinterpreted a decades-old state law -- Section 50-A of the New York State civil rights code-- that had led to the release of officer records. The law has been a particular sticking point for police reform advocates incensed over the administration’s efforts to protect the disciplinary record of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a banned chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014. Mayor de Blasio, whose administration has been fighting for well over two years to shield Pantaleo’s record, insisted his hands were tied on 50-A unless the state Legislature took action to change the provision.</p> <p>At an unrelated news conference in late August, de Blasio said he had stopped meeting with lobbyists, chiefly James Capalino, a top lobbyist and advisor to the mayor. “He, going into the mayoralty, was someone I respected as a friend and who I talked to a lot over the years,” de Blasio said. “But I do not have contact with him anymore.”</p> <p>September 2016: Two media outlets -- NY1 and the New York Post -- <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/two-media-outlets-sue-bill-de-blasio-in-freedom-of-information-case-1473375298" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sue</a> the mayor for the release of emails exchanged with Jonathan Rosen, of the consulting firm Berlin Rosen, who is one of the mayor’s “agents of the city.”</p> <p>That month, the City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6545-city-council-drafting-bills-to-regulate-political-nonprofits-like-campaign-for-one-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">begins</a> drafting legislation to regulate political nonprofits like the Campaign for One New York. Multiple bills were formulated to implement additional disclosure rules for these groups and to bring them under the purview of the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>October 2016: After weeks of criticizing the New York Post for their coverage of his administration, de Blasio repeatedly ignores Post reporter Yoav Gonen’s questions at an October 6 news conference. Gonen presses on with questions, leading to heated words from the mayor, who calls the Post a “right-wing rag” before moving on to other reporters. The incident earns the mayor widespread condemnation from local media.</p> <p>That same month, amid increasing criticism over the administration’s stance on Section 50-A, de Blasio releases a legislative proposal calling on Albany to amend the law to remove confidentiality provisions and make the full disciplinary records of officer available to the public. “Without significant changes to this statute, the city remains barred from providing New Yorkers with the transparency we deserve," the mayor <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/820-16/mayor-de-blasio-outlines-core-principles-legislation-make-disciplinary-records-law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>.</p> <p>November 2016: The Council introduces legislation to curb political nonprofits, particularly limiting contributions from entities and individuals with business before the city. Nonprofit groups would also have to disclose their donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>On November 23, the administration releases thousands of pages of emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and Jonathan Rosen, who was among those classified as “agents of the city” to prevent disclosure.</p> <p>At a November 29 news conference, de Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6643-de-blasio-limits-government-contact-with-top-outside-advisor" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">indicated</a> to the press that he had reduced contact with Rosen. “I think it’s fair to say that it’s pretty rare I’m talking to people, but each situation is individual,” he said at the time.</p> <p>December 2016: On his weekly <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2016/12/5/mondays-with-the-mayor--agents-no-more.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance on NY1</a> on December 5, de Blasio tells anchor Errol Louis that his communications with outside advisors and consultants will no longer be shielded from disclosure. &nbsp;</p> <p>On December 15, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/nyregion/bill-de-blasio-investigation.html?mcubz=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times reports</a> that two grand juries have been convened to hear testimony on the state and federal investigations into the mayor’s administration and fundraising. De Blasio continues to maintain that he and his associates acted legally and appropriately, following guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board and from campaign lawyers.</p> <p>March 2017: Federal and state prosecutors jointly <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6812-de-blasio-and-aides-won-t-face-charges-in-dual-investigations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> on March 17 that de Blasio and his aides would not face charges in the dual year-long investigations into the administration. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance criticized the mayor in a statement, saying that de Blasio and his associates violated the spirit and intent of the campaign finance law. Joon H. Kim, acting-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, noted that the investigation looked into “several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the City, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors.”</p> <p>De Blasio, at a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/158-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-holds-press-conference-the-federal-budget-city-hall" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">news conference</a> that day, said the conclusion of the investigations “simply confirms what I’ve said all along. My staff and my colleagues and I have acted in a manner that was legal and appropriate and ethical throughout. This is something I feel very strongly about in public service – that we have to comport ourselves in the proper manner and we have done that, and that has been confirmed by the results of this investigation.”</p> <p>Also in March, a Manhattan appeals court <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/city-wins-two-cases-keep-police-discipline-records-secret/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules in favor</a> of the de Blasio administration in the case of Officer Pantaleo’s disciplinary record, superseding two earlier lower court decisions that had allowed the release of some information.</p> <p>April 2017: After months of delaying his promise to provide a list of donors who did not receive favored treatment from City Hall, de Blasio partly backtracks and insists that he will pen an op-ed by the end of April that would mention certain relevant instances. (He had been hesitant to release the list earlier, citing the ongoing investigations.)</p> <p>August 2017: The de Blasio administration releases more emails that show two donors who were embroiled in a police corruption scandal had relatively easy access to the mayor. &nbsp;</p> <p>At the first Democratic mayoral primary debate on August 23, de Blasio concedes that the op-ed on donors is forthcoming and would be released before the September 12 primary. On September 1, de Blasio delivers in the form of <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a post on Medium</a>, an online publishing website. The post reads more as a screed against the media and contains only four instances involving unnamed donors to illustrate the mayor’s point. Some of those had emerged from emails released by the administration earlier in the month.</p> <p>“Media reports on these contacts fixated on their access to me and ignored the fair and transparent outcomes that followed,” the mayor writes. “Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City. Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>September 6: The second mayoral primary debate begins with a heavy focus on de Blasio’s ethics.</p> <p>September 12: De Blasio handily wins the Democratic primary for mayor.</p> <p>November 7: Election Day</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Reform Will Only Happen Through a State Constitutional Convention 2017-06-26T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-26T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7025:reform-will-only-happen-through-a-state-constitutional-convention Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/6884229748_f99b0d300e_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Silver Skelos ethics reform" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Albany ended the legislative session without any government ethics reform and without any voting reform. Although there have been fewer arrests for corruption this session than last, no legislator should take this as a sign of improvement. And New York State voters should accept the truth that the Legislature itself will never seriously vote against its members’ self-interest to make progress on ethics or electoral reform.</p> <p>The only opportunity for New Yorkers for real reform is on the ballot on November 7, 2017, where we will be able to vote “yes” for a State Constitutional Convention.</p> <p>This year, some state legislators talked about passing voting reforms in our archaic, closed system, such as early voting, reducing the time required to switch parties, and same-day registration, but none happened. This legislative session we heard calls for closing the LLC loophole, fixing pay-to-play allowances, and eliminating “lulus” -- stipends that go to legislators, sometimes for work they don’t actually do.</p> <p>The response to the news that almost all State Senators receive these lulus, or extra committee or conference leadership stipends, regardless of whether they are actually leading any committee, has been lackluster. The State Senate, for the first time in eight years, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/15/nyregion/state-senate-ethics-committee.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convened its ethics committee on June 15</a>, less than a week before the end of the legislative session. It decided to table the lulu issue, who knows until when.</p> <p>There will be a chance to make constitutional reform on the ballot this year aside from the Con Con. The one reform voters have the opportunity to enact is to revoke the pensions of legislators convicted of a crime, and that’s only because it was the singular outcome of legislators responding to the anger of voters over the corruption scandals that took down two legislative leaders in one year and have plagued the capital for decades.</p> <p>One worthwhile result with a slew of problems brewing should not be taken as sufficient for voters in the state. Voters should enact the pension-stripping measure and also vote for a Constitutional Convention.</p> <p>To be sure, a Constitutional Convention should not be a second way to legislate. Many different interest groups will try to use the Constitutional Convention to effect their legislative goals, such as the legalization of recreational marijuana, banning abortion, or creating a road to upstate secession. However, the one problem that a majority of constitutional delegates and eventually New York voters can agree on is that the years of legislative sclerosis are a systemic problem that the State Constitution could fix. Moreover, legislators themselves will not legislate their way into solving those problems, even if there is a switch in partisan power.</p> <p>Saying yes to a Constitutional Convention is worth the fight. The delegates could draft a new and improved version of the state’s democratic system, which would then be put to the voters. New York voters are smart enough to reject changes that merely reinforce the status quo or do damage to our civil rights. The opportunity to vote yes for a Constitutional Convention every 20 years is a deliberate acknowledgment from the state Constitutional framers that politics will sometimes overwhelm the legislative process. The lawmakers will not fix the problems on their own, the people must do it.</p> <p>On November 7, vote “yes” for a Constitutional Convention.</p> <p>***<br />Richard Semegram is tenant lawyer based in Brooklyn. On Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/richagram" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@richagram</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/6884229748_f99b0d300e_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Silver Skelos ethics reform" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Albany ended the legislative session without any government ethics reform and without any voting reform. Although there have been fewer arrests for corruption this session than last, no legislator should take this as a sign of improvement. And New York State voters should accept the truth that the Legislature itself will never seriously vote against its members’ self-interest to make progress on ethics or electoral reform.</p> <p>The only opportunity for New Yorkers for real reform is on the ballot on November 7, 2017, where we will be able to vote “yes” for a State Constitutional Convention.</p> <p>This year, some state legislators talked about passing voting reforms in our archaic, closed system, such as early voting, reducing the time required to switch parties, and same-day registration, but none happened. This legislative session we heard calls for closing the LLC loophole, fixing pay-to-play allowances, and eliminating “lulus” -- stipends that go to legislators, sometimes for work they don’t actually do.</p> <p>The response to the news that almost all State Senators receive these lulus, or extra committee or conference leadership stipends, regardless of whether they are actually leading any committee, has been lackluster. The State Senate, for the first time in eight years, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/15/nyregion/state-senate-ethics-committee.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convened its ethics committee on June 15</a>, less than a week before the end of the legislative session. It decided to table the lulu issue, who knows until when.</p> <p>There will be a chance to make constitutional reform on the ballot this year aside from the Con Con. The one reform voters have the opportunity to enact is to revoke the pensions of legislators convicted of a crime, and that’s only because it was the singular outcome of legislators responding to the anger of voters over the corruption scandals that took down two legislative leaders in one year and have plagued the capital for decades.</p> <p>One worthwhile result with a slew of problems brewing should not be taken as sufficient for voters in the state. Voters should enact the pension-stripping measure and also vote for a Constitutional Convention.</p> <p>To be sure, a Constitutional Convention should not be a second way to legislate. Many different interest groups will try to use the Constitutional Convention to effect their legislative goals, such as the legalization of recreational marijuana, banning abortion, or creating a road to upstate secession. However, the one problem that a majority of constitutional delegates and eventually New York voters can agree on is that the years of legislative sclerosis are a systemic problem that the State Constitution could fix. Moreover, legislators themselves will not legislate their way into solving those problems, even if there is a switch in partisan power.</p> <p>Saying yes to a Constitutional Convention is worth the fight. The delegates could draft a new and improved version of the state’s democratic system, which would then be put to the voters. New York voters are smart enough to reject changes that merely reinforce the status quo or do damage to our civil rights. The opportunity to vote yes for a Constitutional Convention every 20 years is a deliberate acknowledgment from the state Constitutional framers that politics will sometimes overwhelm the legislative process. The lawmakers will not fix the problems on their own, the people must do it.</p> <p>On November 7, vote “yes” for a Constitutional Convention.</p> <p>***<br />Richard Semegram is tenant lawyer based in Brooklyn. On Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/richagram" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@richagram</a>.</p> <p>

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

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For Cuomo, Ethics Reform Forgotten as Budget Lurches 2017-04-06T04:00:00+00:00 2017-04-06T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6859:for-cuomo-ethics-reform-forgotten-as-budget-lurches Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/33052018723_4d2a943db1_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="Cuomo Mujica David budget" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo, middle, with two top aides (photo:&nbsp;Philip Kamrass/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo forgot about government ethics reform. At a press conference Wednesday, the governor explained to reporters that state budget talks had fallen apart over a few core issues. He pointed out with pride, though, that virtually everything he had proposed earlier this year he had gotten the Legislature to agree on, other than two major sticking points related to criminal justice and affordable housing. Cuomo had to be reminded by his budget director, sitting to the governor’s right, that Cuomo’s ethics reform agenda was another item without agreement.</p> <p>In fact, it appears that Cuomo’s government ethics, campaign finance, and voting reform platform, which he unveiled in January along with the rest of his 2017 policy agenda and budget outline, is the only entire category of proposals completely off the table as budget negotiations continue.</p> <p>It is not surprising that government ethics was not top of mind for Cuomo, who is trying to negotiate a $160 billion state budget under challenging conditions. The state is already a week into its new fiscal year, operating under a budget “extender” in order to keep state government functioning. That extender was passed Monday and is good through May 31, but Cuomo and legislative leaders had continued to negotiate in hopes of passing a full fiscal year budget before legislators left the capital for their customary two-week April break. Cuomo announced Wednesday evening that there was no deal, speaking to reporters during a press conference in the Capitol’s Red Room and flanked by his budget director and lead counsel.</p> <p>The governor gave a nearly 20-minute explanation of budget negotiations and his take on where things should head, then took questions from reporters, repeatedly stressing all that he had gotten legislators to come to terms on. Virtually all of his proposals, the governor said, had been accepted in some form, other than raising the age of adult criminal responsibility and a new property tax abatement program meant to spur affordable housing development in New York City. Cuomo then asked his budget director for confirmation. “Ethics reform,” Robert Mujica reminded him; “and ethics reform,” Cuomo repeated, adding it as a footnote to the conversation.</p> <p>Through his omission and then recognition that ethics reform was nowhere to be found, Cuomo acknowledged that even with negotiations set to continue, his lengthy set of “good government and ethics reform” proposals would not pass the Legislature any time soon. The agenda includes closing the infamous LLC loophole, creating a public campaign financing system, instituting early voting, and more.</p> <p>The lack of movement on these reform measures comes despite the fact that a recent <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-state/release-detail?ReleaseID=2446" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">public opinion poll</a> by Quinnipiac showed that 80 percent of New York voters said state government corruption is a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem. And, after major corruption scandals brought down both recent leaders of the two houses of the state Legislature and several close associates of and donors to Governor Andrew Cuomo were indicted on corruption charges. On Thursday, a federal court judge set a trial date of October 30 in the case against former Cuomo aides and donors for bid-rigging, bribes, and kickbacks related to the governor’s signature economic development programs.</p> <p>The lack of movement also comes after New York ranked 41st in voter turnout among states in the 2016 presidential election.</p> <p>As Cuomo highlighted Wednesday night, many compromises have been reached through negotiation, including billions more funding for the governor’s economic development programs. “We have an agreement on many items,” Cuomo said. “We have agreement on the Millionaire’s Tax, on the middle-class tax cut, on the water program that’s actually passed, on ride sharing, on college affordability, on workers’ comp, on property tax reform and citizen empowerment to get people involved in their state and local taxes...we have agreed on a prescription drug program, which is the first-in-the-nation, on a opioid program, which is a very aggressive program – so, we’ve done a lot of good work.”</p> <p>But, there has been no movement on the <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/executive/eBudget1718/fy18artVIIbills/GGERArticleVII.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">14-plank reform agenda</a> that Cuomo included in his executive budget, which was released in January just after he concluded his six-stop State of the State speaking tour in Albany with reform measures as a key piece of his final speech.</p> <p>“State government must do more to restore the public trust because as public servants we earn the trust of the people we serve. Unfortunately, in Albany there have been a series of breaches of that trust,” Cuomo said in January. “We must take action to show the people of this state that we get it, and that when someone does something wrong, they are punished to the full extent of the law and we have a system that is going to catch them.”</p> <p>Nor has there been any movement on adding new oversight measures to Cuomo’s economic development spending, such as renewed contract vetting powers for the state Comptroller.</p> <p>“[I]t doesn't look like the issue of procurement reform or much of the other reforms that people have been pushing for seem to be included [in the budget],” Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli told Capitol Pressroom host Susan Arbetter on her show Wednesday morning, “so let's hope that that means that those issues will be dealt with post-budget. They're very important issues.”</p> <p>“We need to tighten up our procurement procedures,” DiNapoli continued, adding that while economic development is important, “more checks and balance, more oversight, is appropriate.”</p> <p>Those who watch state government closely see that in many cases, Senate Republicans, who control that chamber, form the blockade to proposed reforms. But, it is also evident that Cuomo appears to put little priority in seeing major reforms through. Known for his ability to get passed what he prioritizes, including controversial measures like same-sex marriage to gun control to minimum wage hikes, Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6814-since-state-of-the-state-cuomo-silent-on-ethics-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has been notably silent</a> on ethics and voting reform since his January State of the State.</p> <p>One exception being when Cuomo was asked by a WNYC radio reporter about moving voting reforms through the budget and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6823-cuomo-punts-voting-reform-to-after-the-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">he replied</a> that he was going to try, but they weren’t really budget matters and could be taken up in the legislative session to follow a budget agreement.</p> <p>On Tuesday, Cuomo told reporters that raising the age of adult criminal responsibility should be done in the budget because it has financial aspects to it. The same could be said for early voting, which would require polling places to be open leading up to Election Day.</p> <p>In the Quinnipiac poll from late March, voters were split on whether the governor and Legislature would address government corruption: 44 percent said they would, 43 said they won’t. Meanwhile, 43 percent of those polled said Cuomo is "part of the problem of ethics in government" and 44 percent said he's "part of the solution."</p> <p>Cuomo’s office did not respond to two requests for comment about the governor’s “good government and ethics reform” agenda being fully absent from the budget.</p> <p>It is important to note that some of that agenda called for more power for Cuomo, including governor-appointed inspectors general for the Port Authority and the State Education Department, as well as expanded power for already existing, governor-appointed inspectors general of the CUNY and SUNY systems.</p> <p>While the Legislature did not go along with these proposals, it also failed to adopt measures Cuomo included that would apply more broadly, like closing the LLC loophole -- which the governor has benefited the most from -- and instituting public campaign financing, and a measure that would expand the state’s freedom of information law to include the Legislature.</p> <p>On the other hand, the Legislature was seeking more transparency from the members of Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils through financial disclosures, in part to examine if REDC members had any business stakes in projects related to their volunteer work on the councils, which help dole out millions of state grants. Cuomo strongly objected to this proposal and it also appears to be out of the budget.</p> <p>New Yorkers won’t know final details until a full 2017-2018 fiscal year state budget deal is reached.</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/33052018723_4d2a943db1_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="Cuomo Mujica David budget" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo, middle, with two top aides (photo:&nbsp;Philip Kamrass/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo forgot about government ethics reform. At a press conference Wednesday, the governor explained to reporters that state budget talks had fallen apart over a few core issues. He pointed out with pride, though, that virtually everything he had proposed earlier this year he had gotten the Legislature to agree on, other than two major sticking points related to criminal justice and affordable housing. Cuomo had to be reminded by his budget director, sitting to the governor’s right, that Cuomo’s ethics reform agenda was another item without agreement.</p> <p>In fact, it appears that Cuomo’s government ethics, campaign finance, and voting reform platform, which he unveiled in January along with the rest of his 2017 policy agenda and budget outline, is the only entire category of proposals completely off the table as budget negotiations continue.</p> <p>It is not surprising that government ethics was not top of mind for Cuomo, who is trying to negotiate a $160 billion state budget under challenging conditions. The state is already a week into its new fiscal year, operating under a budget “extender” in order to keep state government functioning. That extender was passed Monday and is good through May 31, but Cuomo and legislative leaders had continued to negotiate in hopes of passing a full fiscal year budget before legislators left the capital for their customary two-week April break. Cuomo announced Wednesday evening that there was no deal, speaking to reporters during a press conference in the Capitol’s Red Room and flanked by his budget director and lead counsel.</p> <p>The governor gave a nearly 20-minute explanation of budget negotiations and his take on where things should head, then took questions from reporters, repeatedly stressing all that he had gotten legislators to come to terms on. Virtually all of his proposals, the governor said, had been accepted in some form, other than raising the age of adult criminal responsibility and a new property tax abatement program meant to spur affordable housing development in New York City. Cuomo then asked his budget director for confirmation. “Ethics reform,” Robert Mujica reminded him; “and ethics reform,” Cuomo repeated, adding it as a footnote to the conversation.</p> <p>Through his omission and then recognition that ethics reform was nowhere to be found, Cuomo acknowledged that even with negotiations set to continue, his lengthy set of “good government and ethics reform” proposals would not pass the Legislature any time soon. The agenda includes closing the infamous LLC loophole, creating a public campaign financing system, instituting early voting, and more.</p> <p>The lack of movement on these reform measures comes despite the fact that a recent <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-state/release-detail?ReleaseID=2446" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">public opinion poll</a> by Quinnipiac showed that 80 percent of New York voters said state government corruption is a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem. And, after major corruption scandals brought down both recent leaders of the two houses of the state Legislature and several close associates of and donors to Governor Andrew Cuomo were indicted on corruption charges. On Thursday, a federal court judge set a trial date of October 30 in the case against former Cuomo aides and donors for bid-rigging, bribes, and kickbacks related to the governor’s signature economic development programs.</p> <p>The lack of movement also comes after New York ranked 41st in voter turnout among states in the 2016 presidential election.</p> <p>As Cuomo highlighted Wednesday night, many compromises have been reached through negotiation, including billions more funding for the governor’s economic development programs. “We have an agreement on many items,” Cuomo said. “We have agreement on the Millionaire’s Tax, on the middle-class tax cut, on the water program that’s actually passed, on ride sharing, on college affordability, on workers’ comp, on property tax reform and citizen empowerment to get people involved in their state and local taxes...we have agreed on a prescription drug program, which is the first-in-the-nation, on a opioid program, which is a very aggressive program – so, we’ve done a lot of good work.”</p> <p>But, there has been no movement on the <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/executive/eBudget1718/fy18artVIIbills/GGERArticleVII.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">14-plank reform agenda</a> that Cuomo included in his executive budget, which was released in January just after he concluded his six-stop State of the State speaking tour in Albany with reform measures as a key piece of his final speech.</p> <p>“State government must do more to restore the public trust because as public servants we earn the trust of the people we serve. Unfortunately, in Albany there have been a series of breaches of that trust,” Cuomo said in January. “We must take action to show the people of this state that we get it, and that when someone does something wrong, they are punished to the full extent of the law and we have a system that is going to catch them.”</p> <p>Nor has there been any movement on adding new oversight measures to Cuomo’s economic development spending, such as renewed contract vetting powers for the state Comptroller.</p> <p>“[I]t doesn't look like the issue of procurement reform or much of the other reforms that people have been pushing for seem to be included [in the budget],” Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli told Capitol Pressroom host Susan Arbetter on her show Wednesday morning, “so let's hope that that means that those issues will be dealt with post-budget. They're very important issues.”</p> <p>“We need to tighten up our procurement procedures,” DiNapoli continued, adding that while economic development is important, “more checks and balance, more oversight, is appropriate.”</p> <p>Those who watch state government closely see that in many cases, Senate Republicans, who control that chamber, form the blockade to proposed reforms. But, it is also evident that Cuomo appears to put little priority in seeing major reforms through. Known for his ability to get passed what he prioritizes, including controversial measures like same-sex marriage to gun control to minimum wage hikes, Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6814-since-state-of-the-state-cuomo-silent-on-ethics-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has been notably silent</a> on ethics and voting reform since his January State of the State.</p> <p>One exception being when Cuomo was asked by a WNYC radio reporter about moving voting reforms through the budget and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6823-cuomo-punts-voting-reform-to-after-the-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">he replied</a> that he was going to try, but they weren’t really budget matters and could be taken up in the legislative session to follow a budget agreement.</p> <p>On Tuesday, Cuomo told reporters that raising the age of adult criminal responsibility should be done in the budget because it has financial aspects to it. The same could be said for early voting, which would require polling places to be open leading up to Election Day.</p> <p>In the Quinnipiac poll from late March, voters were split on whether the governor and Legislature would address government corruption: 44 percent said they would, 43 said they won’t. Meanwhile, 43 percent of those polled said Cuomo is "part of the problem of ethics in government" and 44 percent said he's "part of the solution."</p> <p>Cuomo’s office did not respond to two requests for comment about the governor’s “good government and ethics reform” agenda being fully absent from the budget.</p> <p>It is important to note that some of that agenda called for more power for Cuomo, including governor-appointed inspectors general for the Port Authority and the State Education Department, as well as expanded power for already existing, governor-appointed inspectors general of the CUNY and SUNY systems.</p> <p>While the Legislature did not go along with these proposals, it also failed to adopt measures Cuomo included that would apply more broadly, like closing the LLC loophole -- which the governor has benefited the most from -- and instituting public campaign financing, and a measure that would expand the state’s freedom of information law to include the Legislature.</p> <p>On the other hand, the Legislature was seeking more transparency from the members of Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils through financial disclosures, in part to examine if REDC members had any business stakes in projects related to their volunteer work on the councils, which help dole out millions of state grants. Cuomo strongly objected to this proposal and it also appears to be out of the budget.</p> <p>New Yorkers won’t know final details until a full 2017-2018 fiscal year state budget deal is reached.</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Largely Inactive Senate Ethics Committee Restructures 2017-01-18T05:00:00+00:00 2017-01-18T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6718:largely-inactive-senate-ethics-committee-restructures Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/gianaris_state_senate_site.jpg" alt="gianaris state senate site" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Sen. Gianaris (photo: State Senate)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">New York state government has had no shortage of ethics scandals, but has had a deficiency in active, effective bodies to prevent, punish, and root out bad behavior among elected and appointed officials.</p> <p dir="ltr">When the new legislative session began in Albany earlier this month, there was an immediate shake-up of the long-dormant state Senate ethics committee, throwing the always-simmering chamber to a quick boil.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Senate ethics committee, as well as a parallel committee in the New York State Assembly, in theory, are places where lawmakers review and make recommendations on Senate policies, including travel expenses, time and attendance, sexual harassment, and other aspects of workplace ethics. Like other issue committees, the ethics committee should consider ways within its purview to improve governance, such as limiting legislators’ outside income or requiring greater disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet, even with much to do, the committees’ actual function is unclear: despite the fact that committee chairs in both chambers earn an additional $12,500 stipend per year, legislative ethics committees have rarely met over the last two decades, allowing misdeeds to go unaddressed in-house.</p> <p dir="ltr">As the rules were being adopted for the new Senate class that will govern for 2017 and 2018, the majority coalition of Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference -- a seven-member group of breakaway Democrats -- included changes to the ethics committee.</p> <p dir="ltr">After a brouhaha over how the committee would be structured, how the political parties and conferences would be represented on it, and, essentially, what it means to be a Democrat in the New York State Senate, the committee’s new shape was established. It will grow by one member, to nine, and will give the IDC significant power to determine what business, if any, the committee takes up.</p> <p dir="ltr">Initially, Senator Thomas Croci, a Long Island Republican and the previous ethics committee chair, proposed that, at eight members, the committee be split evenly by representatives of the two major political parties, rather than by majority and minority conference, as was previously the case. Ostensibly, this would have meant that the committee could feature four Republicans and four IDC members.</p> <p dir="ltr">The motion was challenged by Democratic Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6700-tensions-high-as-state-legislature-returns-to-session" target="_blank">on the first day of the session</a>, January 4, pushed for the body’s continued split between the two major conferences, or three ways among mainline Democrats, Republicans, and the IDC.</p> <p dir="ltr">Croci argued that an equal split by political party would create parity with a similar body in the New York State Assembly, while Gianaris questioned how committee members would be selected and whether such a makeup would equate to a GOP/IDC power-grab.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Ethics committees have always been treated differently, regardless of makeup of bodies, because of their very sensitive nature and the possibility of using an ethics overview committee for political reasons,” Gianaris said on the Senate floor.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though Croci’s resolution passed at that January 4 session, last week Senate Republicans agreed to revisit the issue. They hammered out an agreement with Democrats that satisfied members of all three conferences. The new committee will include nine members — three Republicans, three mainline Democrats, and three IDC members.</p> <p dir="ltr">Committee members are to be appointed by leaders of the three conferences. While the new structure disproportionately represents members of the Republican-IDC coalition, any investigation proposed by the body must have the approval of one member from each conference to move forward, according to the new rules. Effectively, it remains easy for a conference to kill an internal ethics investigation into one of its members.</p> <p dir="ltr">The full list of ethics committee members were revealed during legislative session on Tuesday, with Elaine Phillips, a freshman Republican from Long Island, replacing Croci as chair, while former chairs Croci and Andrew Lanza, of Staten Island, remained on the body as Republican committee members. Senators David Valesky, Staten Island’s Diane Savino, and David Carlucci of the IDC also joined the committee, and three mainline Democratic seats will be filled by Gianaris, Brooklyn’s Roxanne Persaud, and Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx.</p> <p dir="ltr">An aide to Croci said the senator never intended to politicize the committee’s structure, but that he believed strongly that the body should mirror the Assembly’s structure. A spokesperson for Senate Democrats said that Republicans were eager to find a solution at this Tuesday’s session that is satisfactory to all parties.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We are pleased with the final composition of the Senate Ethics Committee and thank the Senate Republicans for working with us to achieve equal representation for all Senate Conferences,” said Mike Murphy, communications director for Senate Democrats, who are led by Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p dir="ltr">IDC Leader Jeff Klein, who has been mostly silent on the issue so far, issued a statement through spokesperson Candice Giove: "The original intention of the Ethics Committee makeup was never to be unfair to any Senate conference, but in its new configuration I expect all appointees from each of the Senate's three conferences will carry out their work just the same -- in a fair and ethical manner."</p> <p dir="ltr">Political affiliations aside, the ethics committees in both legislative chambers have been repeatedly criticized for failing to police their own houses or put forward any ethics reforms. Instead, critics say, they have been focused on protecting lawmakers from scrutiny, despite pervasive corruption and major ethical lapses. There has been a long parade of state legislators who have left office due to corruption scandal, including, recently, the two legislative leaders, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos.</p> <p dir="ltr">Blair Horner, executive director at NYPIRG, a government reform group, said this move sets an unusual precedent for legislative standing committees, but said ultimately internal ethics committees are no substitute for meaningful independent oversight.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s understandable where they are going, if that’s how they want to enforce their own rules, but what New York needs is independent oversight, and no one -- except [United State Attorney] <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5360-with-smirk-bharara-diagnoses-new-york-corruption-problem" target="_blank">Preet Bharara</a> -- is talking about that,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Senate ethics committee has not met since 2009, when Senator John Sampson was chair, according to <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/committees/ethics" target="_blank">the Senate website</a>. Sampson, ironically, was convicted in 2016 on charges of obstructing justice and lying in relation to a federal investigation into whether he had embezzled state funds, and is <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/10/13/ex-state-senator-john-sampson-to-finally-be-sentenced-in-january/" target="_blank">expected to be</a> sentenced shortly.</p> <p dir="ltr">U. S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has overseen the convictions of more than a dozen state lawmakers, including former Senate Majority Leader Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Silver, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/20/nyregion/in-albany-those-who-might-address-ethics-meet-rarely-and-offer-less.html?_r=0" target="_blank">told the New York Times</a> that the ethics committee’s blank calendar reveals how ineffectual these bodies are.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The idea that the chair of the ethics committee has never had the opportunity to mark up a bill, has never had the opportunity to hold a hearing tells you everything you need to know about the enabling nature of all the people in the State Legislature who may not have been convicted of crimes, but seem not to care that they’re going on,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Senator Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat and former committee chair, testified at Skelos’ 2015 corruption trial, that he was surprised to learn that Senate had never referred a bill to the committee and no bill has ever been produced by the committee for a vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">“You’d think the standing committee would have the ability to have bills referred to it,” Avella told the Times last year. “I think it would be important, for anything that has to do with ethics reform, that it should go to the Ethics Committee.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But when Avella tried to call a meeting to try to address some ethical issues plaguing the legislature, he told outlets the meeting was canceled over budget negotiations and was never recalled.</p> <p>Whether this latest restructuring indicates a sign of life from the defunct committee, or results in yet another year of inaction -- one absent of hearings, bills, or proposed reforms &nbsp;-- remains to be seen.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/gianaris_state_senate_site.jpg" alt="gianaris state senate site" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Sen. Gianaris (photo: State Senate)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">New York state government has had no shortage of ethics scandals, but has had a deficiency in active, effective bodies to prevent, punish, and root out bad behavior among elected and appointed officials.</p> <p dir="ltr">When the new legislative session began in Albany earlier this month, there was an immediate shake-up of the long-dormant state Senate ethics committee, throwing the always-simmering chamber to a quick boil.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Senate ethics committee, as well as a parallel committee in the New York State Assembly, in theory, are places where lawmakers review and make recommendations on Senate policies, including travel expenses, time and attendance, sexual harassment, and other aspects of workplace ethics. Like other issue committees, the ethics committee should consider ways within its purview to improve governance, such as limiting legislators’ outside income or requiring greater disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet, even with much to do, the committees’ actual function is unclear: despite the fact that committee chairs in both chambers earn an additional $12,500 stipend per year, legislative ethics committees have rarely met over the last two decades, allowing misdeeds to go unaddressed in-house.</p> <p dir="ltr">As the rules were being adopted for the new Senate class that will govern for 2017 and 2018, the majority coalition of Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference -- a seven-member group of breakaway Democrats -- included changes to the ethics committee.</p> <p dir="ltr">After a brouhaha over how the committee would be structured, how the political parties and conferences would be represented on it, and, essentially, what it means to be a Democrat in the New York State Senate, the committee’s new shape was established. It will grow by one member, to nine, and will give the IDC significant power to determine what business, if any, the committee takes up.</p> <p dir="ltr">Initially, Senator Thomas Croci, a Long Island Republican and the previous ethics committee chair, proposed that, at eight members, the committee be split evenly by representatives of the two major political parties, rather than by majority and minority conference, as was previously the case. Ostensibly, this would have meant that the committee could feature four Republicans and four IDC members.</p> <p dir="ltr">The motion was challenged by Democratic Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6700-tensions-high-as-state-legislature-returns-to-session" target="_blank">on the first day of the session</a>, January 4, pushed for the body’s continued split between the two major conferences, or three ways among mainline Democrats, Republicans, and the IDC.</p> <p dir="ltr">Croci argued that an equal split by political party would create parity with a similar body in the New York State Assembly, while Gianaris questioned how committee members would be selected and whether such a makeup would equate to a GOP/IDC power-grab.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Ethics committees have always been treated differently, regardless of makeup of bodies, because of their very sensitive nature and the possibility of using an ethics overview committee for political reasons,” Gianaris said on the Senate floor.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though Croci’s resolution passed at that January 4 session, last week Senate Republicans agreed to revisit the issue. They hammered out an agreement with Democrats that satisfied members of all three conferences. The new committee will include nine members — three Republicans, three mainline Democrats, and three IDC members.</p> <p dir="ltr">Committee members are to be appointed by leaders of the three conferences. While the new structure disproportionately represents members of the Republican-IDC coalition, any investigation proposed by the body must have the approval of one member from each conference to move forward, according to the new rules. Effectively, it remains easy for a conference to kill an internal ethics investigation into one of its members.</p> <p dir="ltr">The full list of ethics committee members were revealed during legislative session on Tuesday, with Elaine Phillips, a freshman Republican from Long Island, replacing Croci as chair, while former chairs Croci and Andrew Lanza, of Staten Island, remained on the body as Republican committee members. Senators David Valesky, Staten Island’s Diane Savino, and David Carlucci of the IDC also joined the committee, and three mainline Democratic seats will be filled by Gianaris, Brooklyn’s Roxanne Persaud, and Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx.</p> <p dir="ltr">An aide to Croci said the senator never intended to politicize the committee’s structure, but that he believed strongly that the body should mirror the Assembly’s structure. A spokesperson for Senate Democrats said that Republicans were eager to find a solution at this Tuesday’s session that is satisfactory to all parties.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We are pleased with the final composition of the Senate Ethics Committee and thank the Senate Republicans for working with us to achieve equal representation for all Senate Conferences,” said Mike Murphy, communications director for Senate Democrats, who are led by Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p dir="ltr">IDC Leader Jeff Klein, who has been mostly silent on the issue so far, issued a statement through spokesperson Candice Giove: "The original intention of the Ethics Committee makeup was never to be unfair to any Senate conference, but in its new configuration I expect all appointees from each of the Senate's three conferences will carry out their work just the same -- in a fair and ethical manner."</p> <p dir="ltr">Political affiliations aside, the ethics committees in both legislative chambers have been repeatedly criticized for failing to police their own houses or put forward any ethics reforms. Instead, critics say, they have been focused on protecting lawmakers from scrutiny, despite pervasive corruption and major ethical lapses. There has been a long parade of state legislators who have left office due to corruption scandal, including, recently, the two legislative leaders, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos.</p> <p dir="ltr">Blair Horner, executive director at NYPIRG, a government reform group, said this move sets an unusual precedent for legislative standing committees, but said ultimately internal ethics committees are no substitute for meaningful independent oversight.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s understandable where they are going, if that’s how they want to enforce their own rules, but what New York needs is independent oversight, and no one -- except [United State Attorney] <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5360-with-smirk-bharara-diagnoses-new-york-corruption-problem" target="_blank">Preet Bharara</a> -- is talking about that,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Senate ethics committee has not met since 2009, when Senator John Sampson was chair, according to <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/committees/ethics" target="_blank">the Senate website</a>. Sampson, ironically, was convicted in 2016 on charges of obstructing justice and lying in relation to a federal investigation into whether he had embezzled state funds, and is <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/10/13/ex-state-senator-john-sampson-to-finally-be-sentenced-in-january/" target="_blank">expected to be</a> sentenced shortly.</p> <p dir="ltr">U. S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has overseen the convictions of more than a dozen state lawmakers, including former Senate Majority Leader Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Silver, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/20/nyregion/in-albany-those-who-might-address-ethics-meet-rarely-and-offer-less.html?_r=0" target="_blank">told the New York Times</a> that the ethics committee’s blank calendar reveals how ineffectual these bodies are.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The idea that the chair of the ethics committee has never had the opportunity to mark up a bill, has never had the opportunity to hold a hearing tells you everything you need to know about the enabling nature of all the people in the State Legislature who may not have been convicted of crimes, but seem not to care that they’re going on,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Senator Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat and former committee chair, testified at Skelos’ 2015 corruption trial, that he was surprised to learn that Senate had never referred a bill to the committee and no bill has ever been produced by the committee for a vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">“You’d think the standing committee would have the ability to have bills referred to it,” Avella told the Times last year. “I think it would be important, for anything that has to do with ethics reform, that it should go to the Ethics Committee.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But when Avella tried to call a meeting to try to address some ethical issues plaguing the legislature, he told outlets the meeting was canceled over budget negotiations and was never recalled.</p> <p>Whether this latest restructuring indicates a sign of life from the defunct committee, or results in yet another year of inaction -- one absent of hearings, bills, or proposed reforms &nbsp;-- remains to be seen.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Now a Lobbyist, Democratic Power Broker Faces Restrictions in New Job 2017-01-05T05:00:00+00:00 2017-01-05T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6702:now-a-lobbyist-democratic-power-broker-faces-restrictions-in-new-job Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25090668205_33a25be8b3_z.jpg" alt="Keith Wright Governor Cuomo" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Keith Wright, left, &amp; Gov. Cuomo photo:&nbsp;(Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">A Democratic power broker from Harlem has been hired by a prominent lobbying firm to join its efforts to influence city and state government. Formerly state Democratic Party chair and a member of the state Assembly, Keith Wright is joining Davidoff Hutcher &amp; Citron LLP, but under state law he must avoid matters before both chambers of the state Legislature for two years after leaving office.</p> <p dir="ltr">Wright, who has been involved in New York politics for several decades, is currently chair of the Manhattan Democratic Party. He had been rumored as a City Council or state Senate candidate after he lost in a June Congressional primary and subsequently vacated his Assembly seat after declining to seek reelection. Wright’s move to Davidoff Hutcher &amp; Citron LLP was <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/01/keith-wright-joins-davidoff-hutcher-citron-108429" target="_blank">first reported</a> by Politico New York on Wednesday morning.</p> <p dir="ltr">The former legislator will “immediately take on a leadership role” in the firm’s lobbying at the state and city levels, according to a press release posted on <a href="http://dhclegal.com/former-assemblyman-keith-l-t-wright-joins-government-relations-practice-davidoff-hutcher-citron-llp/" target="_blank">the DHC website</a>. A partner told Gotham Gazette that Wright's exact role is still being defined.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under New York State’s <a href="http://www.jcope.ny.gov/about/ethc/PUBLIC%20OFFICERS%20LAW%2073.pdf" target="_blank">Public Officers Law</a>, however, Wright would be barred from lobbying before the state Legislature for two years. Without commenting specifically on Wright’s case, Walter McClure, director of communications for the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics, said in an email that restrictions under Section 8(a)(iii) apply to former legislators. That section of the law prohibits a former member of the Senate or Assembly from receiving compensation for “any services on behalf of any person, firm, corporation or association to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the passage of bills or resolutions by either house of the legislature.”</p> <p dir="ltr">McClure clarified though that a former legislator “could appear before other local, state (such as agencies and/or the Executive Chamber), or federal bodies.” &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Wright has been figuring out his next step since his unsuccessful attempt for retiring Congressional Rep. Charles Rangel’s seat. Wright lost to fellow Democrat Adriano Espaillat in that June primary.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Keith Wright’s only career has been in government and he’s a valuable commodity because of his public service as an elected official,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “He needs to do what he knows and he knows how government functions very well so he is doing what I think anyone would do in his position.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Dadey said Wright is “an honorable guy” and he should be careful not to come in contact with the state Legislature, but, “everything else is fair game” if he follows the law.</p> <p dir="ltr">Wright’s move comes as budget negotiations will soon begin in Albany. The former Assembly member and Democratic leader has a close relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo -- as chair of the state party, Wright strongly advocated for the governor’s reelection in 2014. He’s also held crucial positions in the Assembly majority, chairing key committees like housing, and heads the New York County Democratic Party Committee.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’ve known Keith for a lot of years,” said Charles Capetanakis, partner at DHC and member of the firm’s management committee. Capetanakis said Wright would be part of the government relations team but could not specify in what capacity. “His role and involvement is yet to be determined,” he said, noting the prohibitions that Wright will face under state law. Wright was not made available for comment.</p> <p>In the announcement of his hire, Wright said, “While I will always cherish my time as a New York State Assemblyman, I am ready for a new challenge."</p> <p>DHC's&nbsp;"team of lobbyists" is "led by Sid Davidoff in New York City and Steve Malito in Albany," <a href="http://dhclegal.com/former-assemblyman-keith-l-t-wright-joins-government-relations-practice-davidoff-hutcher-citron-llp/" target="_blank">according to the firm</a>,&nbsp;and "DHC Government Relations clients have included Fortune 500 companies, major cultural institutions, land developers, government contractors, educational institutions, municipalities, public authorities, community interest groups, labor and professional organizations, non-profit corporations, and charities. We have seen success in local, state, and federal advocacy efforts in all of these areas."</p> <p dir="ltr">Government watchdogs do warn that Wright must tread carefully in his new role on the other side of the fence. “[Wright] has to be very careful in the ethically charged political environment in Albany,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “My advice to the assemblyman is to follow the spirit, not just the letter of the law in terms of how he deals with government.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Although Horner acknowledged that Wright’s new employment opportunity is “perfectly allowed” under state law and is “a well-tried path” for many lawmakers, he said his organization would instead like to see a more comprehensive ban on lobbying across the state Legislature and the Executive.</p> <p>Citizens Union’s Dadey said, “There is a bright line there that can be followed and [Wright] needs to make sure he follows it, between the Executive and the Legislature. He can influence what the Executive branch presents and decides on the budget but he can’t come anywhere near any legislative activity. There are two halves to this budget process and he needs to make sure he stays in only one half.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6665-special-election-for-harlem-city-council-seat-kicks-off" target="_blank">Special Election for Harlem City Council Seat Kicks Off</a>]</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25090668205_33a25be8b3_z.jpg" alt="Keith Wright Governor Cuomo" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Keith Wright, left, &amp; Gov. Cuomo photo:&nbsp;(Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">A Democratic power broker from Harlem has been hired by a prominent lobbying firm to join its efforts to influence city and state government. Formerly state Democratic Party chair and a member of the state Assembly, Keith Wright is joining Davidoff Hutcher &amp; Citron LLP, but under state law he must avoid matters before both chambers of the state Legislature for two years after leaving office.</p> <p dir="ltr">Wright, who has been involved in New York politics for several decades, is currently chair of the Manhattan Democratic Party. He had been rumored as a City Council or state Senate candidate after he lost in a June Congressional primary and subsequently vacated his Assembly seat after declining to seek reelection. Wright’s move to Davidoff Hutcher &amp; Citron LLP was <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/01/keith-wright-joins-davidoff-hutcher-citron-108429" target="_blank">first reported</a> by Politico New York on Wednesday morning.</p> <p dir="ltr">The former legislator will “immediately take on a leadership role” in the firm’s lobbying at the state and city levels, according to a press release posted on <a href="http://dhclegal.com/former-assemblyman-keith-l-t-wright-joins-government-relations-practice-davidoff-hutcher-citron-llp/" target="_blank">the DHC website</a>. A partner told Gotham Gazette that Wright's exact role is still being defined.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under New York State’s <a href="http://www.jcope.ny.gov/about/ethc/PUBLIC%20OFFICERS%20LAW%2073.pdf" target="_blank">Public Officers Law</a>, however, Wright would be barred from lobbying before the state Legislature for two years. Without commenting specifically on Wright’s case, Walter McClure, director of communications for the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics, said in an email that restrictions under Section 8(a)(iii) apply to former legislators. That section of the law prohibits a former member of the Senate or Assembly from receiving compensation for “any services on behalf of any person, firm, corporation or association to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the passage of bills or resolutions by either house of the legislature.”</p> <p dir="ltr">McClure clarified though that a former legislator “could appear before other local, state (such as agencies and/or the Executive Chamber), or federal bodies.” &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Wright has been figuring out his next step since his unsuccessful attempt for retiring Congressional Rep. Charles Rangel’s seat. Wright lost to fellow Democrat Adriano Espaillat in that June primary.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Keith Wright’s only career has been in government and he’s a valuable commodity because of his public service as an elected official,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “He needs to do what he knows and he knows how government functions very well so he is doing what I think anyone would do in his position.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Dadey said Wright is “an honorable guy” and he should be careful not to come in contact with the state Legislature, but, “everything else is fair game” if he follows the law.</p> <p dir="ltr">Wright’s move comes as budget negotiations will soon begin in Albany. The former Assembly member and Democratic leader has a close relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo -- as chair of the state party, Wright strongly advocated for the governor’s reelection in 2014. He’s also held crucial positions in the Assembly majority, chairing key committees like housing, and heads the New York County Democratic Party Committee.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’ve known Keith for a lot of years,” said Charles Capetanakis, partner at DHC and member of the firm’s management committee. Capetanakis said Wright would be part of the government relations team but could not specify in what capacity. “His role and involvement is yet to be determined,” he said, noting the prohibitions that Wright will face under state law. Wright was not made available for comment.</p> <p>In the announcement of his hire, Wright said, “While I will always cherish my time as a New York State Assemblyman, I am ready for a new challenge."</p> <p>DHC's&nbsp;"team of lobbyists" is "led by Sid Davidoff in New York City and Steve Malito in Albany," <a href="http://dhclegal.com/former-assemblyman-keith-l-t-wright-joins-government-relations-practice-davidoff-hutcher-citron-llp/" target="_blank">according to the firm</a>,&nbsp;and "DHC Government Relations clients have included Fortune 500 companies, major cultural institutions, land developers, government contractors, educational institutions, municipalities, public authorities, community interest groups, labor and professional organizations, non-profit corporations, and charities. We have seen success in local, state, and federal advocacy efforts in all of these areas."</p> <p dir="ltr">Government watchdogs do warn that Wright must tread carefully in his new role on the other side of the fence. “[Wright] has to be very careful in the ethically charged political environment in Albany,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “My advice to the assemblyman is to follow the spirit, not just the letter of the law in terms of how he deals with government.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Although Horner acknowledged that Wright’s new employment opportunity is “perfectly allowed” under state law and is “a well-tried path” for many lawmakers, he said his organization would instead like to see a more comprehensive ban on lobbying across the state Legislature and the Executive.</p> <p>Citizens Union’s Dadey said, “There is a bright line there that can be followed and [Wright] needs to make sure he follows it, between the Executive and the Legislature. He can influence what the Executive branch presents and decides on the budget but he can’t come anywhere near any legislative activity. There are two halves to this budget process and he needs to make sure he stays in only one half.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6665-special-election-for-harlem-city-council-seat-kicks-off" target="_blank">Special Election for Harlem City Council Seat Kicks Off</a>]</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
Use of Abstentions Varies Widely Among City Council Members 2016-06-22T04:00:00+00:00 2016-06-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6410:use-of-abstentions-varies-widely-among-city-council-members Amanda Sherwin <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/27083071523_4affcb6e87_z.jpg" alt="27083071523 4affcb6e87 z" width="640" height="428" /><br />City Council chambers (Sofie Hecht for Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Hundreds of times a year, City Council members vote on pieces of legislation, including the city&rsquo;s budget, land use matters, and a wide variety of bills and resolutions. Members almost always vote &ldquo;yes&rdquo; or &ldquo;no.&rdquo; But sometimes, Council members choose to abstain, actively deciding not to declare they are for or against what is in front of them, and in the 51-seat City Council, abstentions are used by members to widely varying degrees.</p> <p>In the New York State Assembly, lawmakers <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/research/ethics/50-state-table-voting-recusal-provisions.aspx" target="_blank">may only abstain</a> from a vote when doing so would constitute a conflict of interest. In the New York City Council, however, lawmakers must abstain from a vote if there is a legitimate conflict of interest, but may abstain for other personal or political reasons as well. This leeway has led to some interesting voting patterns. Of the Council&rsquo;s current 51 members, 34 did not abstain from a vote during this iteration of the Council, which began in January of 2014, through May 12, 2016. The other 17 Council members have abstained between one and 103 times.</p> <p>At Gotham Gazette&rsquo;s request, data on all votes from the current Council session -- January 2014 to May 12, 2016 -- was scraped from the City Council website by <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/" target="_blank">NYC Councilmatic</a> and DataMade, a civic technology company.</p> <p>City Council Member Ruben Wills, who has been <a href="http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-comptroller-dinapoli-announce-indictment-nyc-councilman-ruben-wills" target="_blank">indicted</a> on corruption charges and also dealing with health issues, has abstained 103 times. Wills, who has also been declared absent for many votes, which is different from abstaining, declined to comment when contacted. The second most abstentions over the two year-plus period was by Council Member Jumaane Williams, who abstained 36 times. Council Members Andy King and Inez Barron abstained 21 times each, and Council Member Rosie Mendez abstained 14 times.</p> <p>The other 13 Council members who abstained during the tabulated time period did so between one and four times.</p> <p>(Note: some Council members abstained on the same bill or issue brought up at different times, like in committee and at the full Council. Bills must pass through committee, then the full Council to go to the Mayor&rsquo;s desk.)</p> <p>Two-thirds of Council members did not abstain from a single vote during the period studied. Two of those Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette expressed similar opinions about the importance of voting, citing conflict-of-interest as the lone justifiable exception for abstaining. Council members who have abstained gave a variety of explanations when asked.</p> <p>&ldquo;I have one job. That job is to vote,&rdquo; said City Council Member Ben Kallos, who has not abstained on a vote since joining the Council in 2014. &ldquo;It is the one power, the one privilege that I have that no one else has and I take it seriously, and come to a decision every time. I was elected by the people to vote and for constituents to know where I stand on these issues.&rdquo;</p> <p>Nine Council members who have abstained on at least one vote gave reasons to Gotham Gazette, including: being supportive of part of but not the whole bill, and believing the bill needs more work, but not opposed to the concept enough to warrant a &ldquo;no&rdquo; vote; concern about the unintended consequences of a bill; needing additional time to review the legislation and/or gather feedback from constituents; deference to colleagues; and avoiding making a politically unwise move.</p> <p>&ldquo;I imagine there are three reasons for abstaining,&rdquo; said Council Member Ritchie Torres, who has not abstained since joining the Council in 2014. &ldquo;You might abstain out of ethics: you have a conflict of interest. Or you might abstain out of politics: you wish to avoid making a politically inexpedient vote. Or you might abstain out of ambivalence about the merits of the vote in question.&rdquo;</p> <p>Of those three, Torres continued, &ldquo;the only sensible justification is ethics,&rdquo; the other two are &ldquo;insufficient justifications for abstaining.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES</strong><br />Council Members Mark Treyger and Alan Maisel have both abstained only once, on a 2014 <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-253-2014/" target="_blank">bill </a>that eventually resulted in the creation of the city&rsquo;s IDNYC municipal identification card program. Treyger and Maisel, both former educators, were supportive of the policy, but had concerns about the way the data gathered to create ID cards for potentially undocumented immigrants would be stored, and who might have access to that data.</p> <p>During a hearing on the bill, &ldquo;Maisel and I asked about the security and the storage of the names of the applicants when they apply for the card, who holds it, who stores it, and is this information accessible by the Department of Homeland Security,&rdquo; Treyger told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;The answer was &lsquo;yes,&rsquo; we were told they have to store the information for a number of years, and it can get turned over to the [federal] government.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;I quite frankly did not feel comfortable with these answers, so I abstained as a sign of a lack of confidence with the security and protection of the names, but I didn&rsquo;t reject it as a whole, because I did advocate for resident discount cards for New Yorkers,&rdquo; Treyger added.</p> <p>Both Maisel and Treyger said that their previous experience as educators had shown them that some immigrant parents were deeply concerned about sharing information, and the two Council members were worried that information gathered for IDNYC cards could end up in the wrong hands.</p> <p>&ldquo;For example,&rdquo; Maisel said, they would essentially end up creating a list for &ldquo;a certain presidential candidate who could possibly become elected president, and we know where he stands on people who are undocumented,&rdquo; in obvious reference to Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee who has talked about rounding up undocumented immigrants for deportation.</p> <p><strong>POLITICAL MOTIVATIONS</strong><br />Five Council Members abstained on a <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-1109-2016/" target="_blank">recent bill</a> to limit the space in which costumed characters and other performers can operate in Times Square. The five members who abstained on the bill are all members of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus: Andy King, Rosie Mendez, Inez Barron, Vanessa Gibson, and Antonio Reynoso (Robert Cornegy Jr., also a member of the BLAC, was the lone &ldquo;no&rdquo; vote on the bill).</p> <p>Mendez and King said that they chose not to vote &ldquo;yes&rdquo; or &ldquo;no&rdquo; on the bill because King had introduced a similar bill back in 2014, yet neither King nor his bill were included in the drafting and passage of the new bill, introduced by Council Member Corey Johnson.</p> <p>&ldquo;When multiple Council members have ideas for the same or similar legislation, they will combine the Council members,&rdquo; Mendez said. King had proposed the legislation years ago, Mendez said, but &ldquo;King was never asked, never told anything, and his bill was disregarded.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;When I didn&rsquo;t see Andy&rsquo;s name on it, I decided to abstain,&rdquo; Mendez continued, adding that she did not have a chance to compare Johnson&rsquo;s bill against King&rsquo;s bill to see how similar or dissimilar they were. &ldquo;At the end of the day I had real concern about..the role of community boards not being included in the legislation.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;It got a little personal, so I chose not to vote on it, because I believed still more work needed to be done,&rdquo; King said of <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2597317&amp;GUID=56AB0593-7AB9-4595-BED3-FB292E6E1FC6&amp;FullText=1" target="_blank">Intro-1109</a>, the pedestrian plaza bill, which is now law.</p> <p>&ldquo;As you know, I started this conversation in 2014,&rdquo; King continued, &ldquo;and I thought it didn&rsquo;t play well in the Council for other Council members to pass something without inclusion of legislation that was already in the queue to address that&hellip;I chose not to participate rather than saying &ldquo;no&rdquo; to this one, I wanted to work to put more teeth in it.&rdquo;</p> <p>A spokesperson for Council Member Antonio Reynoso said that he abstained (his only abstention over the two-plus year period examined for this article) due to concern about &ldquo;potential unintended consequences of the bill. However, many members and advocates that we work with regularly and whose judgment we trust were for it, so he didn&rsquo;t want to go against it either. Instead he opted not to take a formal position.&rdquo;</p> <p>Council Members Gibson and Barron were not made available for comment, despite numerous requests.</p> <p><strong>NOT THE WHOLE PACKAGE</strong><br />Occasionally, Council members will abstain from voting on a bill because they do not entirely approve of it (whether it is due to what they see as potential unintended consequences or simply falling short of what would be ideal for their constituents).</p> <p>For example, Mendez abstained on one of two controversial changes to city land use rules (Zoning for Quality and Affordability, or ZQA) in committee because she felt that &ldquo;recent contextual rezoning that happened in the last ten years should've been kept intact.&rdquo;</p> <p>Yet, Council members &ldquo;made changes, so I didn't feel it merited a &ldquo;no&rdquo; vote,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;But they didn't make enough changes to get me to a &ldquo;yes.&rdquo; So I abstained&hellip;.it wasn&rsquo;t completely wrong, it wasn&rsquo;t completely right, so I felt like that was the appropriate vote.&rdquo;</p> <p>To Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, occasionally abstaining on a vote because some elements of the bill warrant a positive vote, but some warrant a negative vote &ldquo;makes a great deal of sense.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;But,&rdquo; Muzzio continued, &ldquo;Ruben Wills abstaining 103 times indicates that he&rsquo;s a very confused Council member, and a very conflicted Council member.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;An excessive amount of abstentions,&rdquo; Muzzio said, suggests &ldquo;that he doesn&rsquo;t have very clear ideas in his mind of how to asses a policy so he takes the easy way out, which is abstaining.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>DEFERENCE/LAND USE</strong><br />At other times, Council members may choose to abstain, as King puts it, &ldquo;as a professional courtesy to my colleagues, as opposed to saying that we&rsquo;re not all on the same page.&rdquo; &ldquo;Unless it&rsquo;s something that has a really, really devastating impact on my constituents,&rdquo; King added.</p> <p>Abstaining out of deference seems to occur more often in the context of a vote on land use items, where the Council is known to defer to the local member whose district is directly involved. &ldquo;I have abstained usually land use items that are in a particular member's&rsquo; district,&rdquo; Mendez said. &ldquo;I would have otherwise voted &ldquo;no,&rdquo; but in deference to the Council member of that district I will abstain.&rdquo;</p> <p>This is because, as Mendez puts it, &ldquo;I really feel like I know my district better than anyone else&hellip;Likewise, I&rsquo;m not sitting in on all the minutiae of what [another Council member is] trying to negotiate for their district.&rdquo;</p> <p>But as Torres sees it, &ldquo;land use is the only context which a rank-and-file Council member can emerge as a counterweight to the Mayor&rsquo;s Office,&rdquo; and abstaining in land use out of deference to another Council member means those members who abstain &ldquo;are enjoying the benefits of local deference themselves while denying the benefit to everyone else. There&rsquo;s a word for this - parasitic.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;As far as I&rsquo;m concerned, it&rsquo;s parasitic,&rdquo; Torres continued. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not inaction, you are actively undermining the Council as an institution and&hellip;reaping the benefit of local deference to yourself while denying it to your colleagues.&rdquo; For Torres, the only valid reason for choosing not to vote &ldquo;should be ethics.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>NOT ENOUGH TIME</strong><br />On April 14, Council Member Jumaane Williams <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=479372&amp;GUID=32A5DF60-4B24-4DD0-8DF1-56C930581430&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">abstained</a> on a vote on the East New York rezoning plan in subcommittee, only to <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=479373&amp;GUID=E1C0D395-6B5B-4490-AFA2-7E4913F00F35&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">change his vote to a &ldquo;yes&rdquo;</a> when the same bill was heard in the Land Use committee less than an hour later.</p> <p>&ldquo;I just got the final plan this morning. I want to make sure to review it properly,&rdquo; Williams said at the time when asked by Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;At first glance, it looks good. I&rsquo;m still a little concerned about MIH [Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, the companion land use change to ZQA], but there wasn&rsquo;t much more you could ask him [Council Member Rafael Espinal] to do. That&rsquo;s why I changed my vote to a &ldquo;yes&rdquo; in Land Use.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;I will vote &ldquo;yes&rdquo; on the floor,&rdquo; Williams said, and did. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s obviously people left out of the plan. We have to figure out how to address that. But with the tools at his disposal, I think [Espinal] did the best that he could.&rdquo;</p> <p>According to Travis Lamprecht, a spokesperson for Council Member Vincent Gentile (who has abstained four times), the Council Member &ldquo;will choose to do so when he needs additional time to gather feedback from his district in order to make an educated decision for his constituents.&rdquo; Gentile has abstained twice on land use matters; once on Williams&rsquo; 2014 <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-318-2014/" target="_blank">bill</a> to prohibit discrimination when hiring based on a person&rsquo;s arrest record; and once on Council Member Helen Rosenthal&rsquo;s 2014 <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-171-2014/" target="_blank">bill</a> in relation to traffic violations and serious crashes and license suspension.</p> <p><strong>EXPLAINING ON THE FLOOR</strong><br />Council Members Brad Lander and Helen Rosenthal, both of whom have not abstained in the aggregated period, declined to comment for this story. Council Members Vanessa Gibson (four abstentions), Inez Barron (21), Robert Cornegy (four), Andrew Cohen (four), I. Daneek Miller (two), Eric Ulrich (two), Chaim Deutsch (two), Darlene Mealy (one), and Paul Vallone (one) all were not made available for comment, despite numerous attempts.</p> <p>It should be noted that abstaining is different from &ldquo;non-voting,&rdquo; which can occur when a Council member is not present for the vote. Council members may also be marked as &ldquo;excused&rdquo; from voting for medical reasons, or for jury duty, parental leave, and bereavement.</p> <p>Vallone&rsquo;s only abstention was on <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2560152&amp;GUID=52D3026A-7111-4C0A-B8B6-4215192147E9&amp;FullText=1" target="_blank">legislation</a> prohibiting Council members from <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6179-de-blasio-to-sign-higher-raises-for-council-than-he-previously-approved" target="_blank">earning most forms of outside income</a> and making the position of Council member full-time (one of Deutsch&rsquo;s two abstentions was also for this legislation).</p> <p>Ulrich's two abstentions were on bills introduced by Brad Lander requiring the NYC Commission on Human rights to perform an <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-690-2015/" target="_blank">employment</a> discrimination investigation and a <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-689-2015/" target="_blank">housing</a> discrimination investigation.</p> <p>Three of Gibson's four abstentions occurred on April 7, 2016 (on the <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-1109-2016/" target="_blank">pedestrian plaza bill</a>, on a bill to <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-1095-2016/" target="_blank">increase penalties</a> for illegal street hails at the city's airports and other designated areas, and on a bill to create a <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-1095-2016/" target="_blank">universal license</a> for taxicab and for-hire vehicle drivers and require that English language proficiency not be assessed through a written exam).</p> <p>&ldquo;Abstaining can mean several things,&rdquo; as Muzzio said, but &ldquo;one should always explain an abstention, because in a sense, it&rsquo;s a chicken[expletive] vote, meaning it&rsquo;s a way to evade a hard choice.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;Ultimately,&rdquo; says Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, &ldquo;the voters are the judge, because their interest is what is supposed to be represented.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;City Council members are accountable to the people who elect them, and it&rsquo;s important for the public to know if a Council member chooses not to vote on an issue that a constituent thinks is important,&rdquo; Horner said. &ldquo;The Council member should have to explain it.&rdquo;</p> <p>When abstaining, Council members occasionally give a brief explanation for their vote.</p> <p>&ldquo;We are giving Department of Transportation the authority to justify the complete removal of costumed characters from Times Square,&rdquo; Reynoso said during an April vote on the pedestrian plaza bill. &ldquo;Should it lead to unintended consequences...we would be left with little recourse outside of legislation to undo any action,&rdquo; he added, expressing concern over the potential tension and competition that could arise should the costumed characters in Times Square be &ldquo;corralled&rdquo; into the proposed spaces, and he abstained.</p> <p>&ldquo;This has been a very important process, not perfect, but better than when it started,&rdquo; Mendez said during the March vote on rezoning plans. &ldquo;I think some of the Voluntary Inclusionary Zones could have been made mandatory&hellip;And I'm not happy with the fact that we are getting some height increases in the non-contextual zones,&rdquo; but, Mendez continued, &ldquo;since some work was done on this, and I feel that it is important to have a mandate inclusionary housing, I will be voting &ldquo;yes&rdquo;&rdquo; on two pieces of legislation and &ldquo;abstaining on LU 335 and the accompanying Reso 1023.&rdquo;</p> <p><em>ABSTENTION DATA, provided by Councilmatic and DataMade</em><br />Council members and number of abstentions from the current session, January 2014 to May 12, 2016<br /><br />Ruben Wills 103<br />Jumaane Williams 36<br />Inez Barron 21<br />Andy King 21<br />Rosie Mendez 14<br />Andrew Cohen 4<br />Vincent Gentile 4<br />Robert Cornegy 4<br />Vanessa Gibson 4<br />Chaim Deutsch 2<br />Eric Ulrich 2<br />I. Daneek Miller 2<br />Mark Treyger 1<br />Paul Vallone 1<br />Alan Maisel 1<br />Darlene Mealy 1<br />Antonio Reynoso 1</p> <p>Ben Kallos 0<br />Ritchie Torres 0<br />Brad Lander 0<br />Helen Rosenthal 0<br />Steven Matteo 0<br />Margaret Chin 0<br />Peter Koo 0<br />Fernando Cabrera 0<br />Costa Constantinides 0<br />Elizabeth Crowley 0<br />Laurie Cumbo 0<br />Inez Dickens 0<br />Daniel Dromm 0<br />Rafael Espinal 0<br />Mathieu Eugene 0<br />Julissa Ferreras-Copeland 0<br />Dan Garodnick 0<br />Barry Grodenchik 0<br />Karen Koslowitz 0<br />Stephen Levin 0<br />Mark Levine 0<br />Melissa Mark-Viverito 0<br />Carlos Menchaca 0<br />Annabel Palma 0<br />Ydanis Rodriguez 0<br />Donovan Richards 0<br />Deborah Rose 0<br />James Vacca 0<br />Jimmy Van Bramer 0<br />Joe Borelli 0<br />Rafael Salamanca - 0</p> <p>*Maria Carmen del Arroyo, Vincent Ignizio, and Mark Weprin also served as Council Members during this session before resigning and being replaced by Salamanca, Borelli, and Grodenchik, respectively, though none of the three abstained on any vote during the aggregated period.</p> <p>

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/27083071523_4affcb6e87_z.jpg" alt="27083071523 4affcb6e87 z" width="640" height="428" /><br />City Council chambers (Sofie Hecht for Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Hundreds of times a year, City Council members vote on pieces of legislation, including the city&rsquo;s budget, land use matters, and a wide variety of bills and resolutions. Members almost always vote &ldquo;yes&rdquo; or &ldquo;no.&rdquo; But sometimes, Council members choose to abstain, actively deciding not to declare they are for or against what is in front of them, and in the 51-seat City Council, abstentions are used by members to widely varying degrees.</p> <p>In the New York State Assembly, lawmakers <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/research/ethics/50-state-table-voting-recusal-provisions.aspx" target="_blank">may only abstain</a> from a vote when doing so would constitute a conflict of interest. In the New York City Council, however, lawmakers must abstain from a vote if there is a legitimate conflict of interest, but may abstain for other personal or political reasons as well. This leeway has led to some interesting voting patterns. Of the Council&rsquo;s current 51 members, 34 did not abstain from a vote during this iteration of the Council, which began in January of 2014, through May 12, 2016. The other 17 Council members have abstained between one and 103 times.</p> <p>At Gotham Gazette&rsquo;s request, data on all votes from the current Council session -- January 2014 to May 12, 2016 -- was scraped from the City Council website by <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/" target="_blank">NYC Councilmatic</a> and DataMade, a civic technology company.</p> <p>City Council Member Ruben Wills, who has been <a href="http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-comptroller-dinapoli-announce-indictment-nyc-councilman-ruben-wills" target="_blank">indicted</a> on corruption charges and also dealing with health issues, has abstained 103 times. Wills, who has also been declared absent for many votes, which is different from abstaining, declined to comment when contacted. The second most abstentions over the two year-plus period was by Council Member Jumaane Williams, who abstained 36 times. Council Members Andy King and Inez Barron abstained 21 times each, and Council Member Rosie Mendez abstained 14 times.</p> <p>The other 13 Council members who abstained during the tabulated time period did so between one and four times.</p> <p>(Note: some Council members abstained on the same bill or issue brought up at different times, like in committee and at the full Council. Bills must pass through committee, then the full Council to go to the Mayor&rsquo;s desk.)</p> <p>Two-thirds of Council members did not abstain from a single vote during the period studied. Two of those Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette expressed similar opinions about the importance of voting, citing conflict-of-interest as the lone justifiable exception for abstaining. Council members who have abstained gave a variety of explanations when asked.</p> <p>&ldquo;I have one job. That job is to vote,&rdquo; said City Council Member Ben Kallos, who has not abstained on a vote since joining the Council in 2014. &ldquo;It is the one power, the one privilege that I have that no one else has and I take it seriously, and come to a decision every time. I was elected by the people to vote and for constituents to know where I stand on these issues.&rdquo;</p> <p>Nine Council members who have abstained on at least one vote gave reasons to Gotham Gazette, including: being supportive of part of but not the whole bill, and believing the bill needs more work, but not opposed to the concept enough to warrant a &ldquo;no&rdquo; vote; concern about the unintended consequences of a bill; needing additional time to review the legislation and/or gather feedback from constituents; deference to colleagues; and avoiding making a politically unwise move.</p> <p>&ldquo;I imagine there are three reasons for abstaining,&rdquo; said Council Member Ritchie Torres, who has not abstained since joining the Council in 2014. &ldquo;You might abstain out of ethics: you have a conflict of interest. Or you might abstain out of politics: you wish to avoid making a politically inexpedient vote. Or you might abstain out of ambivalence about the merits of the vote in question.&rdquo;</p> <p>Of those three, Torres continued, &ldquo;the only sensible justification is ethics,&rdquo; the other two are &ldquo;insufficient justifications for abstaining.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES</strong><br />Council Members Mark Treyger and Alan Maisel have both abstained only once, on a 2014 <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-253-2014/" target="_blank">bill </a>that eventually resulted in the creation of the city&rsquo;s IDNYC municipal identification card program. Treyger and Maisel, both former educators, were supportive of the policy, but had concerns about the way the data gathered to create ID cards for potentially undocumented immigrants would be stored, and who might have access to that data.</p> <p>During a hearing on the bill, &ldquo;Maisel and I asked about the security and the storage of the names of the applicants when they apply for the card, who holds it, who stores it, and is this information accessible by the Department of Homeland Security,&rdquo; Treyger told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;The answer was &lsquo;yes,&rsquo; we were told they have to store the information for a number of years, and it can get turned over to the [federal] government.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;I quite frankly did not feel comfortable with these answers, so I abstained as a sign of a lack of confidence with the security and protection of the names, but I didn&rsquo;t reject it as a whole, because I did advocate for resident discount cards for New Yorkers,&rdquo; Treyger added.</p> <p>Both Maisel and Treyger said that their previous experience as educators had shown them that some immigrant parents were deeply concerned about sharing information, and the two Council members were worried that information gathered for IDNYC cards could end up in the wrong hands.</p> <p>&ldquo;For example,&rdquo; Maisel said, they would essentially end up creating a list for &ldquo;a certain presidential candidate who could possibly become elected president, and we know where he stands on people who are undocumented,&rdquo; in obvious reference to Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee who has talked about rounding up undocumented immigrants for deportation.</p> <p><strong>POLITICAL MOTIVATIONS</strong><br />Five Council Members abstained on a <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-1109-2016/" target="_blank">recent bill</a> to limit the space in which costumed characters and other performers can operate in Times Square. The five members who abstained on the bill are all members of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus: Andy King, Rosie Mendez, Inez Barron, Vanessa Gibson, and Antonio Reynoso (Robert Cornegy Jr., also a member of the BLAC, was the lone &ldquo;no&rdquo; vote on the bill).</p> <p>Mendez and King said that they chose not to vote &ldquo;yes&rdquo; or &ldquo;no&rdquo; on the bill because King had introduced a similar bill back in 2014, yet neither King nor his bill were included in the drafting and passage of the new bill, introduced by Council Member Corey Johnson.</p> <p>&ldquo;When multiple Council members have ideas for the same or similar legislation, they will combine the Council members,&rdquo; Mendez said. King had proposed the legislation years ago, Mendez said, but &ldquo;King was never asked, never told anything, and his bill was disregarded.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;When I didn&rsquo;t see Andy&rsquo;s name on it, I decided to abstain,&rdquo; Mendez continued, adding that she did not have a chance to compare Johnson&rsquo;s bill against King&rsquo;s bill to see how similar or dissimilar they were. &ldquo;At the end of the day I had real concern about..the role of community boards not being included in the legislation.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;It got a little personal, so I chose not to vote on it, because I believed still more work needed to be done,&rdquo; King said of <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2597317&amp;GUID=56AB0593-7AB9-4595-BED3-FB292E6E1FC6&amp;FullText=1" target="_blank">Intro-1109</a>, the pedestrian plaza bill, which is now law.</p> <p>&ldquo;As you know, I started this conversation in 2014,&rdquo; King continued, &ldquo;and I thought it didn&rsquo;t play well in the Council for other Council members to pass something without inclusion of legislation that was already in the queue to address that&hellip;I chose not to participate rather than saying &ldquo;no&rdquo; to this one, I wanted to work to put more teeth in it.&rdquo;</p> <p>A spokesperson for Council Member Antonio Reynoso said that he abstained (his only abstention over the two-plus year period examined for this article) due to concern about &ldquo;potential unintended consequences of the bill. However, many members and advocates that we work with regularly and whose judgment we trust were for it, so he didn&rsquo;t want to go against it either. Instead he opted not to take a formal position.&rdquo;</p> <p>Council Members Gibson and Barron were not made available for comment, despite numerous requests.</p> <p><strong>NOT THE WHOLE PACKAGE</strong><br />Occasionally, Council members will abstain from voting on a bill because they do not entirely approve of it (whether it is due to what they see as potential unintended consequences or simply falling short of what would be ideal for their constituents).</p> <p>For example, Mendez abstained on one of two controversial changes to city land use rules (Zoning for Quality and Affordability, or ZQA) in committee because she felt that &ldquo;recent contextual rezoning that happened in the last ten years should've been kept intact.&rdquo;</p> <p>Yet, Council members &ldquo;made changes, so I didn't feel it merited a &ldquo;no&rdquo; vote,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;But they didn't make enough changes to get me to a &ldquo;yes.&rdquo; So I abstained&hellip;.it wasn&rsquo;t completely wrong, it wasn&rsquo;t completely right, so I felt like that was the appropriate vote.&rdquo;</p> <p>To Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, occasionally abstaining on a vote because some elements of the bill warrant a positive vote, but some warrant a negative vote &ldquo;makes a great deal of sense.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;But,&rdquo; Muzzio continued, &ldquo;Ruben Wills abstaining 103 times indicates that he&rsquo;s a very confused Council member, and a very conflicted Council member.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;An excessive amount of abstentions,&rdquo; Muzzio said, suggests &ldquo;that he doesn&rsquo;t have very clear ideas in his mind of how to asses a policy so he takes the easy way out, which is abstaining.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>DEFERENCE/LAND USE</strong><br />At other times, Council members may choose to abstain, as King puts it, &ldquo;as a professional courtesy to my colleagues, as opposed to saying that we&rsquo;re not all on the same page.&rdquo; &ldquo;Unless it&rsquo;s something that has a really, really devastating impact on my constituents,&rdquo; King added.</p> <p>Abstaining out of deference seems to occur more often in the context of a vote on land use items, where the Council is known to defer to the local member whose district is directly involved. &ldquo;I have abstained usually land use items that are in a particular member's&rsquo; district,&rdquo; Mendez said. &ldquo;I would have otherwise voted &ldquo;no,&rdquo; but in deference to the Council member of that district I will abstain.&rdquo;</p> <p>This is because, as Mendez puts it, &ldquo;I really feel like I know my district better than anyone else&hellip;Likewise, I&rsquo;m not sitting in on all the minutiae of what [another Council member is] trying to negotiate for their district.&rdquo;</p> <p>But as Torres sees it, &ldquo;land use is the only context which a rank-and-file Council member can emerge as a counterweight to the Mayor&rsquo;s Office,&rdquo; and abstaining in land use out of deference to another Council member means those members who abstain &ldquo;are enjoying the benefits of local deference themselves while denying the benefit to everyone else. There&rsquo;s a word for this - parasitic.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;As far as I&rsquo;m concerned, it&rsquo;s parasitic,&rdquo; Torres continued. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not inaction, you are actively undermining the Council as an institution and&hellip;reaping the benefit of local deference to yourself while denying it to your colleagues.&rdquo; For Torres, the only valid reason for choosing not to vote &ldquo;should be ethics.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>NOT ENOUGH TIME</strong><br />On April 14, Council Member Jumaane Williams <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=479372&amp;GUID=32A5DF60-4B24-4DD0-8DF1-56C930581430&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">abstained</a> on a vote on the East New York rezoning plan in subcommittee, only to <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=479373&amp;GUID=E1C0D395-6B5B-4490-AFA2-7E4913F00F35&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">change his vote to a &ldquo;yes&rdquo;</a> when the same bill was heard in the Land Use committee less than an hour later.</p> <p>&ldquo;I just got the final plan this morning. I want to make sure to review it properly,&rdquo; Williams said at the time when asked by Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;At first glance, it looks good. I&rsquo;m still a little concerned about MIH [Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, the companion land use change to ZQA], but there wasn&rsquo;t much more you could ask him [Council Member Rafael Espinal] to do. That&rsquo;s why I changed my vote to a &ldquo;yes&rdquo; in Land Use.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;I will vote &ldquo;yes&rdquo; on the floor,&rdquo; Williams said, and did. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s obviously people left out of the plan. We have to figure out how to address that. But with the tools at his disposal, I think [Espinal] did the best that he could.&rdquo;</p> <p>According to Travis Lamprecht, a spokesperson for Council Member Vincent Gentile (who has abstained four times), the Council Member &ldquo;will choose to do so when he needs additional time to gather feedback from his district in order to make an educated decision for his constituents.&rdquo; Gentile has abstained twice on land use matters; once on Williams&rsquo; 2014 <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-318-2014/" target="_blank">bill</a> to prohibit discrimination when hiring based on a person&rsquo;s arrest record; and once on Council Member Helen Rosenthal&rsquo;s 2014 <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-171-2014/" target="_blank">bill</a> in relation to traffic violations and serious crashes and license suspension.</p> <p><strong>EXPLAINING ON THE FLOOR</strong><br />Council Members Brad Lander and Helen Rosenthal, both of whom have not abstained in the aggregated period, declined to comment for this story. Council Members Vanessa Gibson (four abstentions), Inez Barron (21), Robert Cornegy (four), Andrew Cohen (four), I. Daneek Miller (two), Eric Ulrich (two), Chaim Deutsch (two), Darlene Mealy (one), and Paul Vallone (one) all were not made available for comment, despite numerous attempts.</p> <p>It should be noted that abstaining is different from &ldquo;non-voting,&rdquo; which can occur when a Council member is not present for the vote. Council members may also be marked as &ldquo;excused&rdquo; from voting for medical reasons, or for jury duty, parental leave, and bereavement.</p> <p>Vallone&rsquo;s only abstention was on <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2560152&amp;GUID=52D3026A-7111-4C0A-B8B6-4215192147E9&amp;FullText=1" target="_blank">legislation</a> prohibiting Council members from <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6179-de-blasio-to-sign-higher-raises-for-council-than-he-previously-approved" target="_blank">earning most forms of outside income</a> and making the position of Council member full-time (one of Deutsch&rsquo;s two abstentions was also for this legislation).</p> <p>Ulrich's two abstentions were on bills introduced by Brad Lander requiring the NYC Commission on Human rights to perform an <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-690-2015/" target="_blank">employment</a> discrimination investigation and a <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-689-2015/" target="_blank">housing</a> discrimination investigation.</p> <p>Three of Gibson's four abstentions occurred on April 7, 2016 (on the <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-1109-2016/" target="_blank">pedestrian plaza bill</a>, on a bill to <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-1095-2016/" target="_blank">increase penalties</a> for illegal street hails at the city's airports and other designated areas, and on a bill to create a <a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/int-1095-2016/" target="_blank">universal license</a> for taxicab and for-hire vehicle drivers and require that English language proficiency not be assessed through a written exam).</p> <p>&ldquo;Abstaining can mean several things,&rdquo; as Muzzio said, but &ldquo;one should always explain an abstention, because in a sense, it&rsquo;s a chicken[expletive] vote, meaning it&rsquo;s a way to evade a hard choice.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;Ultimately,&rdquo; says Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, &ldquo;the voters are the judge, because their interest is what is supposed to be represented.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;City Council members are accountable to the people who elect them, and it&rsquo;s important for the public to know if a Council member chooses not to vote on an issue that a constituent thinks is important,&rdquo; Horner said. &ldquo;The Council member should have to explain it.&rdquo;</p> <p>When abstaining, Council members occasionally give a brief explanation for their vote.</p> <p>&ldquo;We are giving Department of Transportation the authority to justify the complete removal of costumed characters from Times Square,&rdquo; Reynoso said during an April vote on the pedestrian plaza bill. &ldquo;Should it lead to unintended consequences...we would be left with little recourse outside of legislation to undo any action,&rdquo; he added, expressing concern over the potential tension and competition that could arise should the costumed characters in Times Square be &ldquo;corralled&rdquo; into the proposed spaces, and he abstained.</p> <p>&ldquo;This has been a very important process, not perfect, but better than when it started,&rdquo; Mendez said during the March vote on rezoning plans. &ldquo;I think some of the Voluntary Inclusionary Zones could have been made mandatory&hellip;And I'm not happy with the fact that we are getting some height increases in the non-contextual zones,&rdquo; but, Mendez continued, &ldquo;since some work was done on this, and I feel that it is important to have a mandate inclusionary housing, I will be voting &ldquo;yes&rdquo;&rdquo; on two pieces of legislation and &ldquo;abstaining on LU 335 and the accompanying Reso 1023.&rdquo;</p> <p><em>ABSTENTION DATA, provided by Councilmatic and DataMade</em><br />Council members and number of abstentions from the current session, January 2014 to May 12, 2016<br /><br />Ruben Wills 103<br />Jumaane Williams 36<br />Inez Barron 21<br />Andy King 21<br />Rosie Mendez 14<br />Andrew Cohen 4<br />Vincent Gentile 4<br />Robert Cornegy 4<br />Vanessa Gibson 4<br />Chaim Deutsch 2<br />Eric Ulrich 2<br />I. Daneek Miller 2<br />Mark Treyger 1<br />Paul Vallone 1<br />Alan Maisel 1<br />Darlene Mealy 1<br />Antonio Reynoso 1</p> <p>Ben Kallos 0<br />Ritchie Torres 0<br />Brad Lander 0<br />Helen Rosenthal 0<br />Steven Matteo 0<br />Margaret Chin 0<br />Peter Koo 0<br />Fernando Cabrera 0<br />Costa Constantinides 0<br />Elizabeth Crowley 0<br />Laurie Cumbo 0<br />Inez Dickens 0<br />Daniel Dromm 0<br />Rafael Espinal 0<br />Mathieu Eugene 0<br />Julissa Ferreras-Copeland 0<br />Dan Garodnick 0<br />Barry Grodenchik 0<br />Karen Koslowitz 0<br />Stephen Levin 0<br />Mark Levine 0<br />Melissa Mark-Viverito 0<br />Carlos Menchaca 0<br />Annabel Palma 0<br />Ydanis Rodriguez 0<br />Donovan Richards 0<br />Deborah Rose 0<br />James Vacca 0<br />Jimmy Van Bramer 0<br />Joe Borelli 0<br />Rafael Salamanca - 0</p> <p>*Maria Carmen del Arroyo, Vincent Ignizio, and Mark Weprin also served as Council Members during this session before resigning and being replaced by Salamanca, Borelli, and Grodenchik, respectively, though none of the three abstained on any vote during the aggregated period.</p> <p>

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Cuomo Appears to Give Up on Legislature Closing LLC Loophole 2016-06-21T04:00:00+00:00 2016-06-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6409:cuomo-appears-to-give-up-on-legislature-closing-llc-loophole Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/25889995980_b337036ff1_z.jpg" alt="cuomo budget mujica" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo &amp; his budget director, Robert Mujica (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears to have given up on the state Legislature taking action to close the notorious LLC loophole, which allows wealthy donors to subvert campaign finance laws by creating multiple limited liability corporations that can each give more than $60,000 to a candidate&rsquo;s campaign.</p> <p>According to The New York Times, Cuomo said this weekend that it would be up to the public to close the loophole through a constitutional convention.</p> <p>In January, the governor made closing the LLC loophole a key plank of his government ethics reform package. He and his representatives have said repeatedly that Cuomo wants the loophole closed. In late May, after months without mentioning the loophole unless prompted by reporters, the governor unveiled &ldquo;a menu&rdquo; of eight bills that would partially close the loophole for various combinations of campaigns for elected positions -- all of the bills would have impacted gubernatorial candidates, including the incumbent governor, who has been the biggest beneficiary of LLC giving.</p> <p>&ldquo;The people of New York are demanding change and it&rsquo;s time we took action to restore the public trust by closing the LLC loophole and bringing fairness to our campaign finance system,&rdquo; Cuomo said in the May 24 statement announcing his <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/05/cuomo-proposes-a-la-carte-menu-of-llc-loophole-bills-102117" target="_blank">bill menu</a> aimed at closing the loophole that has allowed <a href="http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/state/big-money-flows-to-politicians-through-states-llc-loophole-20150323" target="_blank">tens of millions of dollars</a> into campaign accounts. &ldquo;For years, I have proposed closing the LLC loophole &ndash; one of the most egregious flaws in our campaign finance system &ndash; and every year the bill has stalled.&rdquo;</p> <p>According to Cuomo, Senate Republicans are unwilling to act on the loophole because they rely on corporate money. The legislative session ended with what many reform advocates see as minimal ethics reforms, highlighted by a move toward stripping pensions from officials convicted of corruption. In his first post-session remarks, the governor told The Times that there is no path to closing the LLC loophole through the Legislature and that it must be done through a constitutional convention.</p> <p>&ldquo;There has to be a dose of reality in the assessment,&rdquo; Cuomo <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/20/nyregion/some-call-legislative-session-a-letdown-cuomo-sees-it-far-differently.html?_r=0" target="_blank">told The Times</a>. &ldquo;It is tantamount to political suicide for the Republican Party in this state because they believe it ends corporate money, and only union money would come into the system, which would help the Democrats.&rdquo;</p> <p>He added: &ldquo;The people are going to have to do it,&rdquo; referring, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/20/nyregion/some-call-legislative-session-a-letdown-cuomo-sees-it-far-differently.html?_r=0" target="_blank">according to The Times</a>, to a constitutional convention.</p> <p>A number of reform advocates and legislators who support closing the loophole were taken aback by Cuomo&rsquo;s comments and their meaning in terms of his pursuit of reform. Cuomo made little public effort to move the multi-faceted reform agenda he proposed in January and instead appeared to move the goalposts for reform toward the end of session <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6384-cuomo-launches-end-of-session-addition-to-stagnant-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">when he announced</a> he wanted to tackle independent expenditure campaigns, something Senate Republicans found much more appealing than restricting legislators&rsquo; outside income or closing the LLC loophole.</p> <p>&ldquo;It sounds like the governor is saying he can't get it done,&rdquo; said Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan, who is party to a lawsuit brought by reform groups and current and former legislators against the State Board of Elections to close the loophole. &ldquo;It sounds like the governor is saying &lsquo;I'm incapable of reforming Albany and we have to leave it up to a constitutional convention,&rsquo; and I don't know that he is wrong.&rdquo;</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of government reform group Citizens Union, said he is unwilling to wait for a convention to address the loophole. &ldquo;His comments personify his frustration not being able close the loophole and point to a goal too far in the future to accept,&rdquo; said Dadey. &ldquo;We can&rsquo;t rely on a convention that we don&rsquo;t know will be called.&rdquo;</p> <p>Voters have the ability to approve a constitutional convention every 20 years. The next vote is scheduled for November 2017. If voters were to approve it, they would vote again the following November to select delegates to represent them at the convention, which would <a href="http://www.newyorkconcon.info/" target="_blank">actually get underway</a> in April 2019. Delegates would meet to debate reforms to the constitution that could focus on anything from money in politics to the state&rsquo;s civil rights mandates. Voters wouldn&rsquo;t get to vote on proposed changes from the convention until November 2019.</p> <p>There is no guarantee that closing the LLC loophole would come up during a constitutional convention or make it to a final vote.</p> <p>&ldquo;The Board of Elections created this loophole and they can fix it,&rdquo; said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, referring to the state BOE&rsquo;s 1996 ruling that opened the loophole. &ldquo;These LLCs have been at the center of major corruption scandals so it isn't like this is an academic problem,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a real problem.&rdquo;</p> <p>Not only does Cuomo&rsquo;s suggestion that a constitutional convention is the only way to close the loophole discount the lawsuit Krueger is involved in and mean that change couldn&rsquo;t possibly occur until November of 2019, but it also appears to fail to factor in the possibility of Democrats winning the Senate majority from Republicans this fall. Democrats in the Senate and Assembly both claim to support closing the LLC loophole. The Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, has voted a number of times to close the loophole while some Senate Democrats have tried to force a vote on closing the loophole in their chamber to no avail.</p> <p>&ldquo;I guess seeing the Senate Democrats take control of the Senate isn't a way he sees to get things done,&rdquo; said Krueger. Cuomo, a Democrat, has been criticized over several years for not doing enough to help Democrats take the chamber and for being too close to Republicans. Cuomo has touted his ability to productively work across the aisle.</p> <p>Mike Murphy, spokesperson for Senate Democrats, said closing the LLC loophole is at the top of their agenda. &ldquo;Senate Democrats have been fighting to close this loophole for years only to be rebuffed by our Republican colleagues. When we take the majority this will be one of the first things we pass. The people of New York deserve a government that they can trust.&rdquo;</p> <p>John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany said at the most basic levels he sees Cuomo&rsquo;s comments as the governor giving up on reform, but he also sees it as Cuomo letting Senate Republicans off the hook on an issue that could be used to help Senate Democrats win control of the chamber.</p> <p>&ldquo;It means the governor is not going to use the LLC loophole as a campaign issue against Senate Republicans. He could beat the Republicans over the head with the LLC loophole because the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate Democrats support closing the loophole, as do all of the watchdog groups and independent experts and editorial boards,&rdquo; said Kaehny.</p> <p>Cuomo&rsquo;s office did not respond to requests for comment around whether Cuomo did indeed mean that closing the LLC loophole would require a constitutional convention and whether he was discounting the possibility of Democratic control of the Senate.</p> <p>Many believe Cuomo prefers governing, as his father did, with a Democratic Assembly and Republican Senate, allowing him to pass more conservative fiscal measures when necessary.</p> <p>Dadey agreed that Cuomo&rsquo;s comments appear to ignore the possibility of change in the Legislature. &ldquo;The Governor&rsquo;s position does not take into account Senate control,&rdquo; said Dadey. &ldquo;This lets the Legislature off the hook.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/25889995980_b337036ff1_z.jpg" alt="cuomo budget mujica" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo &amp; his budget director, Robert Mujica (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears to have given up on the state Legislature taking action to close the notorious LLC loophole, which allows wealthy donors to subvert campaign finance laws by creating multiple limited liability corporations that can each give more than $60,000 to a candidate&rsquo;s campaign.</p> <p>According to The New York Times, Cuomo said this weekend that it would be up to the public to close the loophole through a constitutional convention.</p> <p>In January, the governor made closing the LLC loophole a key plank of his government ethics reform package. He and his representatives have said repeatedly that Cuomo wants the loophole closed. In late May, after months without mentioning the loophole unless prompted by reporters, the governor unveiled &ldquo;a menu&rdquo; of eight bills that would partially close the loophole for various combinations of campaigns for elected positions -- all of the bills would have impacted gubernatorial candidates, including the incumbent governor, who has been the biggest beneficiary of LLC giving.</p> <p>&ldquo;The people of New York are demanding change and it&rsquo;s time we took action to restore the public trust by closing the LLC loophole and bringing fairness to our campaign finance system,&rdquo; Cuomo said in the May 24 statement announcing his <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/05/cuomo-proposes-a-la-carte-menu-of-llc-loophole-bills-102117" target="_blank">bill menu</a> aimed at closing the loophole that has allowed <a href="http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/state/big-money-flows-to-politicians-through-states-llc-loophole-20150323" target="_blank">tens of millions of dollars</a> into campaign accounts. &ldquo;For years, I have proposed closing the LLC loophole &ndash; one of the most egregious flaws in our campaign finance system &ndash; and every year the bill has stalled.&rdquo;</p> <p>According to Cuomo, Senate Republicans are unwilling to act on the loophole because they rely on corporate money. The legislative session ended with what many reform advocates see as minimal ethics reforms, highlighted by a move toward stripping pensions from officials convicted of corruption. In his first post-session remarks, the governor told The Times that there is no path to closing the LLC loophole through the Legislature and that it must be done through a constitutional convention.</p> <p>&ldquo;There has to be a dose of reality in the assessment,&rdquo; Cuomo <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/20/nyregion/some-call-legislative-session-a-letdown-cuomo-sees-it-far-differently.html?_r=0" target="_blank">told The Times</a>. &ldquo;It is tantamount to political suicide for the Republican Party in this state because they believe it ends corporate money, and only union money would come into the system, which would help the Democrats.&rdquo;</p> <p>He added: &ldquo;The people are going to have to do it,&rdquo; referring, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/20/nyregion/some-call-legislative-session-a-letdown-cuomo-sees-it-far-differently.html?_r=0" target="_blank">according to The Times</a>, to a constitutional convention.</p> <p>A number of reform advocates and legislators who support closing the loophole were taken aback by Cuomo&rsquo;s comments and their meaning in terms of his pursuit of reform. Cuomo made little public effort to move the multi-faceted reform agenda he proposed in January and instead appeared to move the goalposts for reform toward the end of session <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6384-cuomo-launches-end-of-session-addition-to-stagnant-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">when he announced</a> he wanted to tackle independent expenditure campaigns, something Senate Republicans found much more appealing than restricting legislators&rsquo; outside income or closing the LLC loophole.</p> <p>&ldquo;It sounds like the governor is saying he can't get it done,&rdquo; said Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan, who is party to a lawsuit brought by reform groups and current and former legislators against the State Board of Elections to close the loophole. &ldquo;It sounds like the governor is saying &lsquo;I'm incapable of reforming Albany and we have to leave it up to a constitutional convention,&rsquo; and I don't know that he is wrong.&rdquo;</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of government reform group Citizens Union, said he is unwilling to wait for a convention to address the loophole. &ldquo;His comments personify his frustration not being able close the loophole and point to a goal too far in the future to accept,&rdquo; said Dadey. &ldquo;We can&rsquo;t rely on a convention that we don&rsquo;t know will be called.&rdquo;</p> <p>Voters have the ability to approve a constitutional convention every 20 years. The next vote is scheduled for November 2017. If voters were to approve it, they would vote again the following November to select delegates to represent them at the convention, which would <a href="http://www.newyorkconcon.info/" target="_blank">actually get underway</a> in April 2019. Delegates would meet to debate reforms to the constitution that could focus on anything from money in politics to the state&rsquo;s civil rights mandates. Voters wouldn&rsquo;t get to vote on proposed changes from the convention until November 2019.</p> <p>There is no guarantee that closing the LLC loophole would come up during a constitutional convention or make it to a final vote.</p> <p>&ldquo;The Board of Elections created this loophole and they can fix it,&rdquo; said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, referring to the state BOE&rsquo;s 1996 ruling that opened the loophole. &ldquo;These LLCs have been at the center of major corruption scandals so it isn't like this is an academic problem,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a real problem.&rdquo;</p> <p>Not only does Cuomo&rsquo;s suggestion that a constitutional convention is the only way to close the loophole discount the lawsuit Krueger is involved in and mean that change couldn&rsquo;t possibly occur until November of 2019, but it also appears to fail to factor in the possibility of Democrats winning the Senate majority from Republicans this fall. Democrats in the Senate and Assembly both claim to support closing the LLC loophole. The Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, has voted a number of times to close the loophole while some Senate Democrats have tried to force a vote on closing the loophole in their chamber to no avail.</p> <p>&ldquo;I guess seeing the Senate Democrats take control of the Senate isn't a way he sees to get things done,&rdquo; said Krueger. Cuomo, a Democrat, has been criticized over several years for not doing enough to help Democrats take the chamber and for being too close to Republicans. Cuomo has touted his ability to productively work across the aisle.</p> <p>Mike Murphy, spokesperson for Senate Democrats, said closing the LLC loophole is at the top of their agenda. &ldquo;Senate Democrats have been fighting to close this loophole for years only to be rebuffed by our Republican colleagues. When we take the majority this will be one of the first things we pass. The people of New York deserve a government that they can trust.&rdquo;</p> <p>John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany said at the most basic levels he sees Cuomo&rsquo;s comments as the governor giving up on reform, but he also sees it as Cuomo letting Senate Republicans off the hook on an issue that could be used to help Senate Democrats win control of the chamber.</p> <p>&ldquo;It means the governor is not going to use the LLC loophole as a campaign issue against Senate Republicans. He could beat the Republicans over the head with the LLC loophole because the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate Democrats support closing the loophole, as do all of the watchdog groups and independent experts and editorial boards,&rdquo; said Kaehny.</p> <p>Cuomo&rsquo;s office did not respond to requests for comment around whether Cuomo did indeed mean that closing the LLC loophole would require a constitutional convention and whether he was discounting the possibility of Democratic control of the Senate.</p> <p>Many believe Cuomo prefers governing, as his father did, with a Democratic Assembly and Republican Senate, allowing him to pass more conservative fiscal measures when necessary.</p> <p>Dadey agreed that Cuomo&rsquo;s comments appear to ignore the possibility of change in the Legislature. &ldquo;The Governor&rsquo;s position does not take into account Senate control,&rdquo; said Dadey. &ldquo;This lets the Legislature off the hook.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>
Mayor Pledges to Re-Examine Conflicts of Interest Board Funding 2016-05-18T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-18T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6343:mayor-pledges-to-re-examine-conflicts-of-interest-board-funding Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/26943073876_f133abd079_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="de blasio prek visit green" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday said he would take another look at funding of the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) for the fiscal year 2017 budget. At its March City Council preliminary budget hearing, COIB representatives explained underfunding of the agency resulting in its inability to carry out its mandated training of city employees around conflict of interest rules and its inability to retain employees. They also said that the city’s budget office had denied repeated requests for increased funding.</p> <p>At a press conference on Wednesday where the mayor again referenced the work of the Conflicts of Interest Board in ensuring ethical government, Gotham Gazette outlined the underfunding of COIB and the agency’s budget testimony. The mayor replied, “That’s news to me, but your timing’s impeccable. There’s still more time ahead in the budget process and we will now put this on the agenda and see if something more needs to be done.”</p> <p>De Blasio recently presented his $82.2 billion executive budget and the City Council is holding another round of hearings. However, there is no executive budget hearing scheduled for the Committee on Standards and Ethics, which has oversight of COIB. This and the mayor's lack of awareness about COIB funding issues may be because COIB wrote a letter to the city budget office requesting about $26,000 in additional funds for its most "critical budgetary needs," mostly staff raises, which was met. A copy of the letter, sent by COIB Executive Director Carolyn Lisa Miller, was provided to Gotham Gazette by the mayor's office on Thursday.</p> <p>At the start of the March 10 letter, COIB writes, "At the Preliminary Budget and Annual Oversight Hearing held at the City Council on March 8, 2016, the Committee on Standards and Ethics and the Committee on Finance recognized that the Conflicts of Interest Board was impeded in fulfilling its mission due to budgetary limitations and requested that the Board memorialize in writing those specific issues. While the Board continues to believe that its overall salary structure needs to be evaluated, below reflects the most significant budgetary issues currently facing the Board."</p> <p>After prior requests for additional funding were denied, COIB appears to have requested what it saw as the minimum in additional funding. COIB representatives did not return a request for comment. At its preliminary budget hearing, COIB representatives explained that the agency had had three 2015 requests for additional funding denied by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).</p> <p>The mayor’s executive budget, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6304-de-blasio-releases-new-82b-budget-with-targeted-investments-and-additional-savings" target="_blank">released April 26</a>, includes $2.32 million for COIB, about $30,000 more than what was included in this year's preliminary budget and $90,000 more than last year’s adopted budget. The agency is small, with 22 employees (and a five-member board) and is tasked with training city employees and providing guidance about potential conflicts of interest. City employees can call COIB for advice about possible ethical concerns.</p> <p>In recent weeks, the mayor has consistently touted the COIB as one of the robust pillars of ethics and legality in city government and his administration. With several investigations into the actions of him and his allies, including around fundraising for an aligned political nonprofit, de Blasio has repeatedly said that he sought and followed COIB guidance. It was a point he reiterated several times on Wednesday as reporters asked him many questions about his fundraising for the Campaign for One New York, now shuttered, which accepted large donations from entities with city business.</p> <p>The mayor also uses outside consultants who advise him while they also represent clients who have business with the city. The mayor insists that these advisers do not bring up their clients when giving the mayor advice and that if they do talk with him about their clients’ business, the conversations are disclosed.</p> <p>Asked by Gotham Gazette if he should have known about COIB’s budget issues, de Blasio said not necessarily. “It’s a very large government and it’s a very detailed budget process,” he said. “Every single agency says they don’t have enough resources. Every agency at preliminary and executive always says they need more money. So that doesn’t get reported to me. That’s not breaking news but what should be reported is when OMB comes to the conclusion that there is a valid need...or, if it’s a jump ball, OMB says, ‘look this is a debatable point, we have questions but we still think it’s important that you hear this perspective.’ I would never be told generically that an agency wants more money.”</p> <p>At its preliminary budget hearing in March, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/126-city/6215-underfunded-conflicts-of-interest-board-struggles-to-meet-mandates" target="_blank">COIB officials testified</a> that they were struggling to retain staff because of low salaries and limited resources to give raises, and that they were unable to fully carry out mandated ethics trainings for city employees. Three separate requests made to the Office of Management and Budget, totaling $200,000 in additional funding, had been rejected in 2015, they said. City Council members said they wanted to see funding increase, but it has not been a significant priority.</p> <p>A budget deal between the Mayor and the Council is due by the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated with further detail from the mayor's office, including details about COIB's March budget letter.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/26943073876_f133abd079_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="de blasio prek visit green" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday said he would take another look at funding of the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) for the fiscal year 2017 budget. At its March City Council preliminary budget hearing, COIB representatives explained underfunding of the agency resulting in its inability to carry out its mandated training of city employees around conflict of interest rules and its inability to retain employees. They also said that the city’s budget office had denied repeated requests for increased funding.</p> <p>At a press conference on Wednesday where the mayor again referenced the work of the Conflicts of Interest Board in ensuring ethical government, Gotham Gazette outlined the underfunding of COIB and the agency’s budget testimony. The mayor replied, “That’s news to me, but your timing’s impeccable. There’s still more time ahead in the budget process and we will now put this on the agenda and see if something more needs to be done.”</p> <p>De Blasio recently presented his $82.2 billion executive budget and the City Council is holding another round of hearings. However, there is no executive budget hearing scheduled for the Committee on Standards and Ethics, which has oversight of COIB. This and the mayor's lack of awareness about COIB funding issues may be because COIB wrote a letter to the city budget office requesting about $26,000 in additional funds for its most "critical budgetary needs," mostly staff raises, which was met. A copy of the letter, sent by COIB Executive Director Carolyn Lisa Miller, was provided to Gotham Gazette by the mayor's office on Thursday.</p> <p>At the start of the March 10 letter, COIB writes, "At the Preliminary Budget and Annual Oversight Hearing held at the City Council on March 8, 2016, the Committee on Standards and Ethics and the Committee on Finance recognized that the Conflicts of Interest Board was impeded in fulfilling its mission due to budgetary limitations and requested that the Board memorialize in writing those specific issues. While the Board continues to believe that its overall salary structure needs to be evaluated, below reflects the most significant budgetary issues currently facing the Board."</p> <p>After prior requests for additional funding were denied, COIB appears to have requested what it saw as the minimum in additional funding. COIB representatives did not return a request for comment. At its preliminary budget hearing, COIB representatives explained that the agency had had three 2015 requests for additional funding denied by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).</p> <p>The mayor’s executive budget, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6304-de-blasio-releases-new-82b-budget-with-targeted-investments-and-additional-savings" target="_blank">released April 26</a>, includes $2.32 million for COIB, about $30,000 more than what was included in this year's preliminary budget and $90,000 more than last year’s adopted budget. The agency is small, with 22 employees (and a five-member board) and is tasked with training city employees and providing guidance about potential conflicts of interest. City employees can call COIB for advice about possible ethical concerns.</p> <p>In recent weeks, the mayor has consistently touted the COIB as one of the robust pillars of ethics and legality in city government and his administration. With several investigations into the actions of him and his allies, including around fundraising for an aligned political nonprofit, de Blasio has repeatedly said that he sought and followed COIB guidance. It was a point he reiterated several times on Wednesday as reporters asked him many questions about his fundraising for the Campaign for One New York, now shuttered, which accepted large donations from entities with city business.</p> <p>The mayor also uses outside consultants who advise him while they also represent clients who have business with the city. The mayor insists that these advisers do not bring up their clients when giving the mayor advice and that if they do talk with him about their clients’ business, the conversations are disclosed.</p> <p>Asked by Gotham Gazette if he should have known about COIB’s budget issues, de Blasio said not necessarily. “It’s a very large government and it’s a very detailed budget process,” he said. “Every single agency says they don’t have enough resources. Every agency at preliminary and executive always says they need more money. So that doesn’t get reported to me. That’s not breaking news but what should be reported is when OMB comes to the conclusion that there is a valid need...or, if it’s a jump ball, OMB says, ‘look this is a debatable point, we have questions but we still think it’s important that you hear this perspective.’ I would never be told generically that an agency wants more money.”</p> <p>At its preliminary budget hearing in March, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/126-city/6215-underfunded-conflicts-of-interest-board-struggles-to-meet-mandates" target="_blank">COIB officials testified</a> that they were struggling to retain staff because of low salaries and limited resources to give raises, and that they were unable to fully carry out mandated ethics trainings for city employees. Three separate requests made to the Office of Management and Budget, totaling $200,000 in additional funding, had been rejected in 2015, they said. City Council members said they wanted to see funding increase, but it has not been a significant priority.</p> <p>A budget deal between the Mayor and the Council is due by the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated with further detail from the mayor's office, including details about COIB's March budget letter.</p>