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/fernando-cabrera 2018-09-24T05:51:55+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com City Council Considers Requiring More Reporting on Required Reporting 2018-05-29T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-29T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7700:city-council-considers-requiring-more-reporting-on-required-reporting Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/40303428840_65c3c0f1a4_z.jpg" alt="City Council Cabrera Vallone" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>CMs Cabrera, left, and Vallone (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>How does the New York City Council check city government agencies without legislating agency operations, which it sometimes does not have the power to do? Reporting bills.</p> <p>The Council often passes legislation that requires an agency under the direction of the mayor to produce a report, like Local Law 47, which compels the NYPD to compile data on subway fare-beating arrests. This bill, and the NYPD’s response, quickly became another flash point in tensions between city agencies and the Council, which has mandated oversight responsibilities along with its legislative powers.</p> <p>The intention behind the bulk of reporting bills -- which, like other legislation passed by the Council, are typically signed into law by the mayor -- is more transparency into agencies that then allows both the public and Council members additional insight into government function, effectiveness, and efficiency, and indications of operational or budgetary reforms that may be needed. But, reporting bills can also be onerous, requiring valuable resources at city agencies mandated to compile information, and there are questions about how often required reports are even produced or used by the Council.</p> <p>Now, a new bill at the Council is aimed at bringing additional oversight and transparency to the totality of required reporting -- but that bill itself is the source of disagreement. A recent hearing on the bill, which is sponsored by City Council Member Fernando Cabrera and would add new requirements for an online database of all required reports, saw discussion of the bill as well as the practice of passing reporting bills. The bill would add new information about when reports are due and put public pressure on city agencies to produce required reports.</p> <p>According to <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3479566&amp;GUID=F244E6EE-7219-4FCF-B31C-6AB4F802C52E&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the listing for the bill</a> on the Council website, the bill would require the city’s Department of Records and Information Services, “which is currently required to receive and post all reports required to be produced by local law or executive order on its website, to list all required reports, when they were last received and when they are next due.” It would also require DORIS to send a request “to any agency that does not transmit a required report, and would require the posting of such request on the website in lieu of the required report until such report is received.”</p> <p>At the April 26 hearing, representatives of the mayor’s office and the Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS) testified in opposition to the bill, which also received a lukewarm public reception from some City Council members.</p> <p>The bill currently has the sponsorship of only Council Member Cabrera, who chairs the Committee on Governmental Operations, which held the hearing, at which other Council members voiced concerns over the Council’s tendency to pass reporting laws and whether or not such laws do more to inundate agencies than substantially help the Council or the public.</p> <p>If enacted, the bill -- known as Intro. 828 -- would enhance the DORIS-run digital database of reports required by local laws, executive orders, or mayoral directives. Currently, DORIS maintains the <a href="http://a860-gpp.nyc.gov/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Government Publications Portal</a>; however, the scope of this portal is limited by a mandatory keyword search engine as well as the fact that it lacks some of the most recent reports from city agencies. For example, the portal does not provide any reports from the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) past the year 2014, despite reports being published as recently as this year.</p> <p>Additionally, other recent reports by agencies such as the Department of Buildings, including those on gas utility risks or construction safety, or the Department of Criminal Justice, such as annual reports on jail population or crime rates, are similarly not accessible through the current portal.</p> <p>DORIS and the Mayor’s Office of Operations cited unnecessary burden and premature planning as to why the bill should not be passed.</p> <p>“With the continuous addition of legislated reports required of city agencies, we recognize the need to ensure strong administrative practices to support agency compliance,” said Emily Newman, the acting director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, at the hearing last month. “However, we do not believe that Intro. 828 identifies the most effective approach and that it is not in the city’s best interest to mandate a new process in advance of any relevant recommendations of the Report and Advisory Board Review Commission.”</p> <p>The Report and Advisory Board Review Commission, which reviews reporting requirements and assesses the usefulness of such reports, among other objectives, was set to reconvene this month. The last time the commission met was in 2012, despite the city charter mandating that it has annual public meetings.</p> <p>“Intro. 828, as drafted, includes requirements that would be onerous for DORIS to undertake in real-time,” Pauline Toole, the DORIS commissioner, said at the City Council hearing. “Some agencies submit reports on a weekly basis, some monthly, some quarterly, and updating the list for each submission would require extensive resources and, ultimately, not provide the public with a worthwhile service.” Toole said DORIS currently updates the site on a “regular basis.”</p> <p>Toole also cited an increase in the number of reports submitted to the government publications portal, where over 21,000 reports have been submitted to the current DORIS portal today, a jump from 7,000 reports submitted in 2014.</p> <p>Both Toole and Newman reaffirmed a desire to work on another possible solution in concert with the City Council in order to update the accessibility of all governmental reports online. Meanwhile, other concerns were additionally raised by Council members.</p> <p>“I am as big on transparency as anything, but when we make demands out of agencies to do their jobs in other ways, I do worry that we are adding in so much onto them that is unfunded,” Council Member Keith Powers said at the hearing. “You know, we don’t fund new staff for that.”</p> <p>Council Member Kalman Yeger also raised the concern of finances by considering what the potential savings would be if DORIS had a smaller annual quota for reports it must make available, which, according to Toole, currently stands at about 400 reports per year. “I’m curious to know how much we can save the taxpayers if we perhaps were to stop legislating the various agencies of this city to prepare information that is probably readily available by simply asking the agency to give the information out,” Yeger said at the hearing.</p> <p>Alex Camarda, a senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany, a government reform group focused on increased transparency, testified in support of the bill at the hearing – albeit, with some tweaks.</p> <p>While the bill currently says that DORIS would send a letter of request of transmission to agencies ten days prior to a report’s deadline, and subsequently post that request on the website until the actual report is submitted, Camarda suggested that such a letter should be sent at the beginning of the fiscal year and that a seperate column listing all the agencies that did not yet transmit a report be created. Other proposed amendments to the bill include identifying which part of the charter administrative code requires the report as well as providing a brief summary of the report in the online database.</p> <p>“We think government generally needs to move away from providing information that’s locked in static PDF reports and report data in an open, usable and dynamic form,” said Camarda.</p> <p>Council Member Cabrera’s office did not respond to multiple requests to discuss the hearing and any modifications that he might consider making to the bill.</p> <p>

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by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/40303428840_65c3c0f1a4_z.jpg" alt="City Council Cabrera Vallone" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>CMs Cabrera, left, and Vallone (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>How does the New York City Council check city government agencies without legislating agency operations, which it sometimes does not have the power to do? Reporting bills.</p> <p>The Council often passes legislation that requires an agency under the direction of the mayor to produce a report, like Local Law 47, which compels the NYPD to compile data on subway fare-beating arrests. This bill, and the NYPD’s response, quickly became another flash point in tensions between city agencies and the Council, which has mandated oversight responsibilities along with its legislative powers.</p> <p>The intention behind the bulk of reporting bills -- which, like other legislation passed by the Council, are typically signed into law by the mayor -- is more transparency into agencies that then allows both the public and Council members additional insight into government function, effectiveness, and efficiency, and indications of operational or budgetary reforms that may be needed. But, reporting bills can also be onerous, requiring valuable resources at city agencies mandated to compile information, and there are questions about how often required reports are even produced or used by the Council.</p> <p>Now, a new bill at the Council is aimed at bringing additional oversight and transparency to the totality of required reporting -- but that bill itself is the source of disagreement. A recent hearing on the bill, which is sponsored by City Council Member Fernando Cabrera and would add new requirements for an online database of all required reports, saw discussion of the bill as well as the practice of passing reporting bills. The bill would add new information about when reports are due and put public pressure on city agencies to produce required reports.</p> <p>According to <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3479566&amp;GUID=F244E6EE-7219-4FCF-B31C-6AB4F802C52E&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the listing for the bill</a> on the Council website, the bill would require the city’s Department of Records and Information Services, “which is currently required to receive and post all reports required to be produced by local law or executive order on its website, to list all required reports, when they were last received and when they are next due.” It would also require DORIS to send a request “to any agency that does not transmit a required report, and would require the posting of such request on the website in lieu of the required report until such report is received.”</p> <p>At the April 26 hearing, representatives of the mayor’s office and the Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS) testified in opposition to the bill, which also received a lukewarm public reception from some City Council members.</p> <p>The bill currently has the sponsorship of only Council Member Cabrera, who chairs the Committee on Governmental Operations, which held the hearing, at which other Council members voiced concerns over the Council’s tendency to pass reporting laws and whether or not such laws do more to inundate agencies than substantially help the Council or the public.</p> <p>If enacted, the bill -- known as Intro. 828 -- would enhance the DORIS-run digital database of reports required by local laws, executive orders, or mayoral directives. Currently, DORIS maintains the <a href="http://a860-gpp.nyc.gov/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Government Publications Portal</a>; however, the scope of this portal is limited by a mandatory keyword search engine as well as the fact that it lacks some of the most recent reports from city agencies. For example, the portal does not provide any reports from the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) past the year 2014, despite reports being published as recently as this year.</p> <p>Additionally, other recent reports by agencies such as the Department of Buildings, including those on gas utility risks or construction safety, or the Department of Criminal Justice, such as annual reports on jail population or crime rates, are similarly not accessible through the current portal.</p> <p>DORIS and the Mayor’s Office of Operations cited unnecessary burden and premature planning as to why the bill should not be passed.</p> <p>“With the continuous addition of legislated reports required of city agencies, we recognize the need to ensure strong administrative practices to support agency compliance,” said Emily Newman, the acting director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, at the hearing last month. “However, we do not believe that Intro. 828 identifies the most effective approach and that it is not in the city’s best interest to mandate a new process in advance of any relevant recommendations of the Report and Advisory Board Review Commission.”</p> <p>The Report and Advisory Board Review Commission, which reviews reporting requirements and assesses the usefulness of such reports, among other objectives, was set to reconvene this month. The last time the commission met was in 2012, despite the city charter mandating that it has annual public meetings.</p> <p>“Intro. 828, as drafted, includes requirements that would be onerous for DORIS to undertake in real-time,” Pauline Toole, the DORIS commissioner, said at the City Council hearing. “Some agencies submit reports on a weekly basis, some monthly, some quarterly, and updating the list for each submission would require extensive resources and, ultimately, not provide the public with a worthwhile service.” Toole said DORIS currently updates the site on a “regular basis.”</p> <p>Toole also cited an increase in the number of reports submitted to the government publications portal, where over 21,000 reports have been submitted to the current DORIS portal today, a jump from 7,000 reports submitted in 2014.</p> <p>Both Toole and Newman reaffirmed a desire to work on another possible solution in concert with the City Council in order to update the accessibility of all governmental reports online. Meanwhile, other concerns were additionally raised by Council members.</p> <p>“I am as big on transparency as anything, but when we make demands out of agencies to do their jobs in other ways, I do worry that we are adding in so much onto them that is unfunded,” Council Member Keith Powers said at the hearing. “You know, we don’t fund new staff for that.”</p> <p>Council Member Kalman Yeger also raised the concern of finances by considering what the potential savings would be if DORIS had a smaller annual quota for reports it must make available, which, according to Toole, currently stands at about 400 reports per year. “I’m curious to know how much we can save the taxpayers if we perhaps were to stop legislating the various agencies of this city to prepare information that is probably readily available by simply asking the agency to give the information out,” Yeger said at the hearing.</p> <p>Alex Camarda, a senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany, a government reform group focused on increased transparency, testified in support of the bill at the hearing – albeit, with some tweaks.</p> <p>While the bill currently says that DORIS would send a letter of request of transmission to agencies ten days prior to a report’s deadline, and subsequently post that request on the website until the actual report is submitted, Camarda suggested that such a letter should be sent at the beginning of the fiscal year and that a seperate column listing all the agencies that did not yet transmit a report be created. Other proposed amendments to the bill include identifying which part of the charter administrative code requires the report as well as providing a brief summary of the report in the online database.</p> <p>“We think government generally needs to move away from providing information that’s locked in static PDF reports and report data in an open, usable and dynamic form,” said Camarda.</p> <p>Council Member Cabrera’s office did not respond to multiple requests to discuss the hearing and any modifications that he might consider making to the bill.</p> <p>

***
by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Board of Elections To Roll Out ‘Electronically Assisted’ Voter Registration 2018-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 2018-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7550:board-of-elections-to-roll-out-electronically-assisted-voter-registration Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/boe_nyc_website.png" alt="boe nyc website" width="600" height="297" /></p> <p>(NYC BOE website)</p> <hr /> <p>New York’s voting and registration laws have long been derided as onerous and needlessly restrictive, falling far behind most other states that have implemented modern methods to register and cast a vote. While significant changes to state election laws are being debated in Albany ahead of a new state budget, the New York City Board of Elections may improve, albeit incrementally, people’s access to the ballot by soon providing digital aid to register to vote.</p> <p>The Board of Elections, a quasi-state agency funded by the city, is set to roll out a new website in the coming months which will provide New Yorkers with an “electronically assisted way” to fill out a voter registration form and an absentee ballot application, according to BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan, who testified at a budget hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations on Monday. The two electronic forms would still have to be printed and either mailed to the BOE or delivered in person, in accordance with current state law.</p> <p>The City Council last year passed a law mandating that the BOE implement online voter registration and, in mid-2016, mandated that the BOE create an online voter information portal where New Yorkers can track their absentee ballots, check their registration status and voting history, as well as access other voting and election resources. Both bills were sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee last Council session.</p> <p>The BOE has often been reluctant to abide by local laws, since it is governed by the state, and has either implemented common-sense measures that do not necessarily require legislation or has been pushed to do so by litigation. Ryan reiterated that fact Monday, setting aside the “mandate-no mandate argument” and laying out the BOE’s plans for this year. He also explained why the BOE had been slow to implement those measures, when Council Member Kallos sought answers about the delay.</p> <p>“Simply put, 2016 happened,” Ryan said, referring to the 2016 presidential election, during which the BOE faced widespread criticism for mishandling of election operations and settled a federal lawsuit arising from a voter purge in Brooklyn. “We had the issues, painful as it is for me to resurrect, we had the voter registration issues in Brooklyn, followed shortly after that by the cybersecurity issues that arose just prior to the presidential election.”</p> <p>The BOE was poised to launch a new website prior to the 2016 election, Ryan said, but was discouraged by its cybersecurity team, which warned that the new platform would require more “robust testing” before going public. The federal lawsuit also required the BOE to overhaul it’s software for processing election results.</p> <p>Ryan anticipates the launch of the new website in the second quarter of this calendar year, with the voter-registration assistance being mandated by the federal government. He also said the BOE’s voter information portal was “pretty far along” in development.</p> <p>The implementation delay did, however, fortuitously save the Board some effort, Ryan said. In that time, the United States Postal Service launched its own absentee ballot tracking service which they could now implement. “I would envision that since the postal service has already done it, assuming it works, and we’ve been told that it does, that we will help to advertise that so that the folks who really want to track their ballot can do it in a way that the post office can guarantee,” he said.</p> <p>Ryan’s promise of the new website came out of larger testimony about the BOE’s budget for the 2019 fiscal year, during the hearing led by Council Member Fernando Cabrera, chair of the governmental operations committee.</p> <p>As with the last few years, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget underfunds the BOE at $95.1 million. Ryan projected the Board would need at least $137.6 million to fund its operations, which include conducting two citywide elections -- the state primary in September and the general election in November (June congressional primaries will fall in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30). De Blasio has repeatedly denied employing the “budget dance” practice that agencies had to go through under previous mayors but has continued to use that tactic for the BOE and a few others. In each year under his administration, the BOE receives full funding by the time the budget is adopted.</p> <p>De Blasio has had a contentious relationship with the BOE, and has been very critical of the board’s operations and management, calling for sweeping reforms to its structure and practices. While most reforms can only result from state legislation, de Blasio has had an ongoing offer of $20 million in additional funds for the BOE in exchange for several reforms to its operations. In his State of the City speech in February, de Blasio reiterated that criticism while announcing that he’d convene a Charter Revision Commission that could, among other things, “empower the city government” to handle some responsibilities of the BOE, including voter outreach.</p> <p>At Monday’s hearing, Ryan pressed a number of different needs for the agency, including more funds for cybersecurity and higher pay for poll workers, which must be approved by the state or through executive order of the mayor. He also pressed the need for electronic poll books, which 34 other states and the District of Columbia have already implemented. Without electronic poll books, Ryan said same-day voter registration is “absolutely impossible” and early voting would be “difficult to implement,” at the least. Both reforms have been considered in Albany for years with little success but leading Democrats, including Mayor de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, have reiterated their support for the proposals this year.</p> <p>Cuomo, who is currently leading state budget negotiations, put $7 million for early voting in the amendments to his executive budget plan earlier this year.</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/boe_nyc_website.png" alt="boe nyc website" width="600" height="297" /></p> <p>(NYC BOE website)</p> <hr /> <p>New York’s voting and registration laws have long been derided as onerous and needlessly restrictive, falling far behind most other states that have implemented modern methods to register and cast a vote. While significant changes to state election laws are being debated in Albany ahead of a new state budget, the New York City Board of Elections may improve, albeit incrementally, people’s access to the ballot by soon providing digital aid to register to vote.</p> <p>The Board of Elections, a quasi-state agency funded by the city, is set to roll out a new website in the coming months which will provide New Yorkers with an “electronically assisted way” to fill out a voter registration form and an absentee ballot application, according to BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan, who testified at a budget hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations on Monday. The two electronic forms would still have to be printed and either mailed to the BOE or delivered in person, in accordance with current state law.</p> <p>The City Council last year passed a law mandating that the BOE implement online voter registration and, in mid-2016, mandated that the BOE create an online voter information portal where New Yorkers can track their absentee ballots, check their registration status and voting history, as well as access other voting and election resources. Both bills were sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee last Council session.</p> <p>The BOE has often been reluctant to abide by local laws, since it is governed by the state, and has either implemented common-sense measures that do not necessarily require legislation or has been pushed to do so by litigation. Ryan reiterated that fact Monday, setting aside the “mandate-no mandate argument” and laying out the BOE’s plans for this year. He also explained why the BOE had been slow to implement those measures, when Council Member Kallos sought answers about the delay.</p> <p>“Simply put, 2016 happened,” Ryan said, referring to the 2016 presidential election, during which the BOE faced widespread criticism for mishandling of election operations and settled a federal lawsuit arising from a voter purge in Brooklyn. “We had the issues, painful as it is for me to resurrect, we had the voter registration issues in Brooklyn, followed shortly after that by the cybersecurity issues that arose just prior to the presidential election.”</p> <p>The BOE was poised to launch a new website prior to the 2016 election, Ryan said, but was discouraged by its cybersecurity team, which warned that the new platform would require more “robust testing” before going public. The federal lawsuit also required the BOE to overhaul it’s software for processing election results.</p> <p>Ryan anticipates the launch of the new website in the second quarter of this calendar year, with the voter-registration assistance being mandated by the federal government. He also said the BOE’s voter information portal was “pretty far along” in development.</p> <p>The implementation delay did, however, fortuitously save the Board some effort, Ryan said. In that time, the United States Postal Service launched its own absentee ballot tracking service which they could now implement. “I would envision that since the postal service has already done it, assuming it works, and we’ve been told that it does, that we will help to advertise that so that the folks who really want to track their ballot can do it in a way that the post office can guarantee,” he said.</p> <p>Ryan’s promise of the new website came out of larger testimony about the BOE’s budget for the 2019 fiscal year, during the hearing led by Council Member Fernando Cabrera, chair of the governmental operations committee.</p> <p>As with the last few years, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget underfunds the BOE at $95.1 million. Ryan projected the Board would need at least $137.6 million to fund its operations, which include conducting two citywide elections -- the state primary in September and the general election in November (June congressional primaries will fall in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30). De Blasio has repeatedly denied employing the “budget dance” practice that agencies had to go through under previous mayors but has continued to use that tactic for the BOE and a few others. In each year under his administration, the BOE receives full funding by the time the budget is adopted.</p> <p>De Blasio has had a contentious relationship with the BOE, and has been very critical of the board’s operations and management, calling for sweeping reforms to its structure and practices. While most reforms can only result from state legislation, de Blasio has had an ongoing offer of $20 million in additional funds for the BOE in exchange for several reforms to its operations. In his State of the City speech in February, de Blasio reiterated that criticism while announcing that he’d convene a Charter Revision Commission that could, among other things, “empower the city government” to handle some responsibilities of the BOE, including voter outreach.</p> <p>At Monday’s hearing, Ryan pressed a number of different needs for the agency, including more funds for cybersecurity and higher pay for poll workers, which must be approved by the state or through executive order of the mayor. He also pressed the need for electronic poll books, which 34 other states and the District of Columbia have already implemented. Without electronic poll books, Ryan said same-day voter registration is “absolutely impossible” and early voting would be “difficult to implement,” at the least. Both reforms have been considered in Albany for years with little success but leading Democrats, including Mayor de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, have reiterated their support for the proposals this year.</p> <p>Cuomo, who is currently leading state budget negotiations, put $7 million for early voting in the amendments to his executive budget plan earlier this year.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Hears Bill on Charter Revision Commission 2018-03-16T04:00:00+00:00 2018-03-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7547:city-council-hears-bill-on-charter-revision-commission Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/40116866614_e9e098ebc8_z.jpg" alt="Fernando Cabrera" width="600" height="416" /></p> <p>Council Member Fernando Cabrera (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>A day after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced initial appointments to a Charter Revision Commission that he is convening to examine the city’s campaign finance laws, Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer testified before the City Council on their own alternative proposal to create a Commission to examine the structure of city government.</p> <p>The Charter is the city’s seminal governing document, laying out the powers and functions of every level of city government. It is also a living document, and state law allows the mayor to create a 15-member Charter Revision Commission under his executive authority and also gives the City Council power to create one through legislation. Past mayors have availed of this power, some more than once. In February, de Blasio announced at his State of the City address that he intended to call a commission that could put proposals on the ballot for the November general election.</p> <p>On Friday, speaking before the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, James and Brewer advanced their proposal, which they had put before the Council in December and which City Council Speaker Corey Johnson recently signed on to as a lead co-sponsor. (The hearing had been on the schedule all week, perhaps explaining the timing of the mayor’s Thursday announcement.)</p> <p>As opposed to the mayor’s commission, where he appoints all 15 members, the James-Brewer bill would allow other elected officials a say in the process. The mayor would get four appointments, as would the City Council speaker. The five borough presidents, the public advocate, and the comptroller would each get to choose one member. An updated version of the bill grants the Council speaker the power to appoint the commission’s chair, a change that coincided with Johnson signing on as a co-sponsor and the Council pushing ahead with Friday’s hearing.</p> <p>James, in her opening statement, lauded the mayor’s intent in creating a commission but said it suffers from the same problems as previous commissions: “predetermined conclusions, a narrow focus on issues within Council authority, and a timeline far too tight to do the job right.” During his State of the City and since, de Blasio has indicated he wants his commission to focus on campaign finance and electoral reform, though he has acknowledged that by law the commission can look at the entirety of the charter.</p> <p>“The bill you will consider today...is a vehicle for a truly democratic and holistic process,” James said. Although both James and Brewer spoke of changes to the charter that they would be glad to see -- for instance, a stronger role for the Council in city budgeting, a greater voice for communities in land use decisions, enhanced oversight of city agencies -- they emphasized that those were not mandates that their proposed commission would be charged with. (Perhaps the only issue that James said she would not want on the table is changes to term limits for elected officials.) Rather, they would empower a commission to deliberate on the entire charter with ample time to consider the ramifications of any changes -- their commission would make proposals to go on the ballot in 2019.</p> <p>“Those discussions will not be had if the mayor simply appoints a slate of proxies and tells them what conclusions to reach,” said James, a Democrat like de Blasio, Brewer, and Johnson who is widely expected to run for mayor in 2021.</p> <p>James and Brewer also sought to dispel the notion that the commission they are proposing would competing with the mayor’s, pointing to the 2019 timeline and noting that they invited the mayor to join their effort. “This does not need to be a zero-sum game, or even a competition,” James said.</p> <p>Brewer, in particular, emphasized that past commissions had been formed by mayors to fulfil particular agendas and that appointees of the mayor were unlikely to consider proposals that could curb, in any way, the power of the mayor’s office. “I think all of our ideas would benefit from the give and take and compromise that would be necessary in a commission not controlled by any one elected official,” she said.</p> <p>Council Member Fernando Cabrera, chair of the committee, praised the bill and said he supported it because it was a “far better approach” than the mayor’s. “It will be a charter revision for everyone,” said the Bronx Democrat. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>But, Council Member Kalman Yeger, who was just elected to the Council in November, wasn’t sure about the proposal. “My perspective is that I have some discomfort with outsourcing my work, if you will, to an unelected body of 15 people,” he said, noting that though the speaker may get appointments on a commission, the other 50 Council members would not. He also raised concerns about proposing ballot referenda in 2019, an off-year in the election cycle when voter turnout is expected to be extremely low.</p> <p>James pushed back against those concerns. “I believe we should democratize this process,” she said, acknowledging that all the stakeholders in the commission would have to work hard to engage voters and generate interest in the revision process.</p> <p>Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat, also pointed out what is most ironic about the two commissions: that they are being proposed by Democrats who ardently opposed holding a Constitutional Convention to examine the state constitution, which was a question on the ballot last November. Both Brewer and James conceded that though they opposed the ConCon, as it was colloquially called, the charter revision process has sufficient checks and balances, particularly with diverse appointees on a commission.</p> <p>James also noted that one of the big fears about the ConCon was about the individuals behind the curtain who would control it, which isn’t the case with their proposed commission. “There is no Wizard of Oz in this particular process,” she said. “It’s the Manhattan borough president and Letitia James, who you both know and work with.”</p> <p>Representatives for the four other borough presidents also testified in support of the bill, as did a number of government reform groups and advocates.</p> <p>Stanley Fritz, campaigns manager at Citizen Action of New York, encouraged the Council to set aside funds for a public education campaign to engage voters in the charter revision process. The bill currently calls for the Commission to hold at least one hearing in each of the five boroughs and to conduct extensive outreach to civic and community leaders.</p> <p>Fritz also advocated for amending the bill’s prohibition on appointing lobbyists to the commission, insisting that it should ensure that only lobbyists employed by for-profit entities should be barred, and that those who advocate for non-profits should be allowed to serve. Otherwise, “it would exclude virtually the entire New York City good-government community, including the sorts of advocates who are testifying before you today,” he said.</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College's School of Public and International Affairs, has also testified before an expert panel of the 2010 Charter Revision Commission created then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. On Friday, he emphasized that any new commission should “articulate clear and compelling goals” related to broad subject areas such as governmental structure and land use, without which it would be directionless. He also said the commission should look at the unfinished business of past commissions, and “beware the unintended consequences,” though he didn’t offer specifics.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the bill was “skeletal” and should add language to ensure that staff of those elected officials making appointments should be excluded from working for the commission. She also questioned why Speaker Johnson would be allowed to appoint the chair of the proposed commission, as opposed to the commission members choosing their own leader.</p> <p>Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany, had a few prescriptions for a potential commission. He said the speaker and mayor should jointly appoint the chair of the commission; &nbsp;and stressed that the commission should abide by the state’s Freedom of information and Open Meetings laws, and should require public posting of events, materials, reports and archives.</p> <p>He also suggested that the bill include language requiring commission members and staff to solely use government emails to carry out their work and that any lobbying directed at the commission should be publicly reported. &nbsp;</p> <p>Camarda also encouraged the Council and mayor to work together on one commission, warning that two commissions could result in “conflicting policy, public confusion, excessive politicization, inefficiency, and litigation.”</p> <p>“There is no doubt two commissions convened in the same year would be unprecedented in recent memory and create a high degree of uncertainty,” he said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/40116866614_e9e098ebc8_z.jpg" alt="Fernando Cabrera" width="600" height="416" /></p> <p>Council Member Fernando Cabrera (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>A day after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced initial appointments to a Charter Revision Commission that he is convening to examine the city’s campaign finance laws, Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer testified before the City Council on their own alternative proposal to create a Commission to examine the structure of city government.</p> <p>The Charter is the city’s seminal governing document, laying out the powers and functions of every level of city government. It is also a living document, and state law allows the mayor to create a 15-member Charter Revision Commission under his executive authority and also gives the City Council power to create one through legislation. Past mayors have availed of this power, some more than once. In February, de Blasio announced at his State of the City address that he intended to call a commission that could put proposals on the ballot for the November general election.</p> <p>On Friday, speaking before the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, James and Brewer advanced their proposal, which they had put before the Council in December and which City Council Speaker Corey Johnson recently signed on to as a lead co-sponsor. (The hearing had been on the schedule all week, perhaps explaining the timing of the mayor’s Thursday announcement.)</p> <p>As opposed to the mayor’s commission, where he appoints all 15 members, the James-Brewer bill would allow other elected officials a say in the process. The mayor would get four appointments, as would the City Council speaker. The five borough presidents, the public advocate, and the comptroller would each get to choose one member. An updated version of the bill grants the Council speaker the power to appoint the commission’s chair, a change that coincided with Johnson signing on as a co-sponsor and the Council pushing ahead with Friday’s hearing.</p> <p>James, in her opening statement, lauded the mayor’s intent in creating a commission but said it suffers from the same problems as previous commissions: “predetermined conclusions, a narrow focus on issues within Council authority, and a timeline far too tight to do the job right.” During his State of the City and since, de Blasio has indicated he wants his commission to focus on campaign finance and electoral reform, though he has acknowledged that by law the commission can look at the entirety of the charter.</p> <p>“The bill you will consider today...is a vehicle for a truly democratic and holistic process,” James said. Although both James and Brewer spoke of changes to the charter that they would be glad to see -- for instance, a stronger role for the Council in city budgeting, a greater voice for communities in land use decisions, enhanced oversight of city agencies -- they emphasized that those were not mandates that their proposed commission would be charged with. (Perhaps the only issue that James said she would not want on the table is changes to term limits for elected officials.) Rather, they would empower a commission to deliberate on the entire charter with ample time to consider the ramifications of any changes -- their commission would make proposals to go on the ballot in 2019.</p> <p>“Those discussions will not be had if the mayor simply appoints a slate of proxies and tells them what conclusions to reach,” said James, a Democrat like de Blasio, Brewer, and Johnson who is widely expected to run for mayor in 2021.</p> <p>James and Brewer also sought to dispel the notion that the commission they are proposing would competing with the mayor’s, pointing to the 2019 timeline and noting that they invited the mayor to join their effort. “This does not need to be a zero-sum game, or even a competition,” James said.</p> <p>Brewer, in particular, emphasized that past commissions had been formed by mayors to fulfil particular agendas and that appointees of the mayor were unlikely to consider proposals that could curb, in any way, the power of the mayor’s office. “I think all of our ideas would benefit from the give and take and compromise that would be necessary in a commission not controlled by any one elected official,” she said.</p> <p>Council Member Fernando Cabrera, chair of the committee, praised the bill and said he supported it because it was a “far better approach” than the mayor’s. “It will be a charter revision for everyone,” said the Bronx Democrat. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>But, Council Member Kalman Yeger, who was just elected to the Council in November, wasn’t sure about the proposal. “My perspective is that I have some discomfort with outsourcing my work, if you will, to an unelected body of 15 people,” he said, noting that though the speaker may get appointments on a commission, the other 50 Council members would not. He also raised concerns about proposing ballot referenda in 2019, an off-year in the election cycle when voter turnout is expected to be extremely low.</p> <p>James pushed back against those concerns. “I believe we should democratize this process,” she said, acknowledging that all the stakeholders in the commission would have to work hard to engage voters and generate interest in the revision process.</p> <p>Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat, also pointed out what is most ironic about the two commissions: that they are being proposed by Democrats who ardently opposed holding a Constitutional Convention to examine the state constitution, which was a question on the ballot last November. Both Brewer and James conceded that though they opposed the ConCon, as it was colloquially called, the charter revision process has sufficient checks and balances, particularly with diverse appointees on a commission.</p> <p>James also noted that one of the big fears about the ConCon was about the individuals behind the curtain who would control it, which isn’t the case with their proposed commission. “There is no Wizard of Oz in this particular process,” she said. “It’s the Manhattan borough president and Letitia James, who you both know and work with.”</p> <p>Representatives for the four other borough presidents also testified in support of the bill, as did a number of government reform groups and advocates.</p> <p>Stanley Fritz, campaigns manager at Citizen Action of New York, encouraged the Council to set aside funds for a public education campaign to engage voters in the charter revision process. The bill currently calls for the Commission to hold at least one hearing in each of the five boroughs and to conduct extensive outreach to civic and community leaders.</p> <p>Fritz also advocated for amending the bill’s prohibition on appointing lobbyists to the commission, insisting that it should ensure that only lobbyists employed by for-profit entities should be barred, and that those who advocate for non-profits should be allowed to serve. Otherwise, “it would exclude virtually the entire New York City good-government community, including the sorts of advocates who are testifying before you today,” he said.</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College's School of Public and International Affairs, has also testified before an expert panel of the 2010 Charter Revision Commission created then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. On Friday, he emphasized that any new commission should “articulate clear and compelling goals” related to broad subject areas such as governmental structure and land use, without which it would be directionless. He also said the commission should look at the unfinished business of past commissions, and “beware the unintended consequences,” though he didn’t offer specifics.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the bill was “skeletal” and should add language to ensure that staff of those elected officials making appointments should be excluded from working for the commission. She also questioned why Speaker Johnson would be allowed to appoint the chair of the proposed commission, as opposed to the commission members choosing their own leader.</p> <p>Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany, had a few prescriptions for a potential commission. He said the speaker and mayor should jointly appoint the chair of the commission; &nbsp;and stressed that the commission should abide by the state’s Freedom of information and Open Meetings laws, and should require public posting of events, materials, reports and archives.</p> <p>He also suggested that the bill include language requiring commission members and staff to solely use government emails to carry out their work and that any lobbying directed at the commission should be publicly reported. &nbsp;</p> <p>Camarda also encouraged the Council and mayor to work together on one commission, warning that two commissions could result in “conflicting policy, public confusion, excessive politicization, inefficiency, and litigation.”</p> <p>“There is no doubt two commissions convened in the same year would be unprecedented in recent memory and create a high degree of uncertainty,” he said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Anti-LGBT City Council Members Given Prominent Positions 2018-02-08T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-08T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7469:anti-lgbt-city-council-members-given-prominent-positions Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/39073524394_703a8340cb_z.jpg" alt="Corey Johnson Fernando Cabrera City Council" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Above: Corey Johnson and Fernando Cabrera (photo: William Alatriste) (photo below: John McCarten)</p> <hr /> <p>When new City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, the first openly gay and openly HIV-positive person to hold the powerful position, unveiled his leadership team and Council committee assignments, he appointed two anti-LGBT Council members to chair committees, and named one to senior leadership in the 51-member legislative body. The moves seemed to have raised few eyebrows despite the stark contrast with Johnson’s life story and politics, as well as the politics of the overwhelming number of Council members.</p> <p>Johnson created a new committee for Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr., a conservative reverend who will chair the Committee on For-Hire Vehicles, and named Council Member Fernando Cabrera, also a socially conservative pastor known to hold anti-gay views, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7452-favorable-to-the-bronx-council-committee-shuffle-also-seen-as-retribution" target="_blank" rel="noopener">to lead the Committee on Governmental Operations</a> and serve as the majority whip on Johnson’s senior leadership team.</p> <p>Both members, who represent districts in the Bronx, are outliers in the largely progressive body, holding far-right stances on LGBT rights and social issues in general. Their politics seem out of place not only in the City Council but in an overwhelmingly liberal city where Republicans often nominate socially progressive candidates and vote along the same lines. Notably, the Bronx Democratic County organization was key to supporting Johnson’s winning speakership bid, and a number of Bronx members were rewarded in kind when it came to committee and leadership assignments.</p> <p>Diaz Sr., a former state Senator and minister who founded the Christian Community Neighborhood Church, was the sole dissenting Democratic Senator on the state Legislature’s successful marriage equality bill <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/25/nyregion/gay-marriage-approved-by-new-york-senate.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">passed</a> in 2011. The bill was supported by four Republicans who were in the Senate majority. Diaz Sr. also voted against the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) last year in a Senate committee vote, is a vocal opponent of abortion and, in 2003, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/16/nyregion/lawsuit-opposes-expansion-of-school-for-gay-students.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">sued</a> the Department of Education over plans to expand the Harvey Milk High School in Manhattan for gay students. &nbsp;</p> <p>Cabrera, the senior pastor at the New Life Outreach International church, has his own history of controversial statements and positions. In 2014, when he was serving his second term on the City Council, he praised the Ugandan government in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSs8UQQgOVc" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a video</a> posted online after it passed a law that criminalized homosexuality.</p> <p>"Godly people are in government," Cabrera said of the country’s government, noting that gay marriage was not acceptable there and stating that the government had withstood pressure from the U.S. to allow it. “And they have stood in their place. Why? Because the Christians have assumed the place of decision-making for the nation.”</p> <p>Following a furor over his remarks in 2014, he later insisted, “I do not support the persecution of gays and lesbians anywhere, whether it's in Uganda or right here in New York State.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7418-city-council-names-new-committee-chairs-and-members" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City Council Names New Leadership, Committee Chairs and Members</a>]</p> <p>For people familiar with Speaker Johnson’s personal history, which he wears on his sleeve, the move to empower the two conservative Council members could easily trigger a degree of cognitive dissonance. Johnson became famous as a teenager when he came out as gay while the captain of his high school football team in Massachusetts, and has often approached politics and legislation from the lens of his own lived experience. He represents a Manhattan district including Chelsea and the West Village, home to the gay rights movement and many of its leaders, including former State Senator Tom Duane, who Johnson has called a role model and mentor.</p> <p>“For decades, the gay activist community has fought to keep people like Ruben Diaz Sr. and Fernando Cabrera out of positions of power,” said Allen Roskoff, a gay activist and president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, in a phone interview. “I find this shocking and cringeworthy.”</p> <p>Several activists and elected officials were hesitant to criticize Johnson, whose election was celebrated by the LGBT community. But, Roskoff was not alone in his displeasure.</p> <p>"Of course it's a big deal," said an LGBT Democratic insider, who requested anonymity to speak freely. "You have hate emanating from Washington on a daily basis; on the ground in New York City, bias attacks are happening more often; and to put two vocally anti-LGBT people in places where they have a bigger platform is really worrying and not something we want to see in a progressive body."</p> <p>The insider also pointed out that Diaz Sr.'s and Cabrera's neighborhoods are where LGBT youth have long felt especially unsafe and unaccepted, and that those same young people need elected officials to be leaders for them, not spreading anti-LGBT sentiment that makes them less safe.</p> <p>Assemblymember Deborah Glick, New York State’s first openly gay legislator, was similarly disappointed, though she said she did not want to “second guess” Johnson’s decisions as speaker.</p> <p>“I was pleased to have Reverend Diaz removed from the Senate Democrats because his anti-choice and his anti-LGBT attitude and aggressive rhetoric was destructive and unpleasant,” she said. “I’m sorry they’re in elected office. Just as I would not want to spend time and energy seeing that people who are actively homophobic are not elected to seats in other parts of the country, I’m not happy to see them in elected office here. You would have to ask the speaker what went into his thinking in giving them prominent positions.”</p> <p>Gotham Gazette did ask Johnson about the decision on January 11, shortly after the new committee chairs were approved by the full Council. Though he insisted that he disagrees with Diaz Sr.’s and Cabrera’s positions on LGBT issues, he said that just as he does with certain Republican Council members and those within his own Democratic caucus, his new position as speaker requires him to treat each member equally.</p> <p>“I’m gonna treat every member of this body with respect...Everyone knows where I stand on LGBT equality. No one can question my credentials on LGBT equality and I’m the Speaker of the Council and we’re going to push the envelope to expand protections for all New Yorkers, transgender New Yorkers, LGBT new Yorkers, undocumented immigrants, Muslims, people of different religious faiths and beliefs,” he said. “That’s where I stand. I don’t agree with every member on everything but I’m still going to work collegially with every member of this body because that is part of my job now as Speaker of this Council.”</p> <p>He also said that Cabrera’s view didn’t necessary align with his votes. Indeed, Cabrera voted in favor of a bill last year that banned gay conversion therapy in the city and supported a bill requiring the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to create a plan to provide behavioral health services to LGBT individuals. Durign the race to become Speaker, Johnson caught some flack for visiting Diaz Sr. in the hospital, a visit that Diaz Sr. referenced on the day Johnson was officially elected Speaker.</p> <p>Fellow Council members -- including LGBT members such as Ritchie Torres, Jimmy Van Bramer and Carlos Menchaca -- also came to Johnson’s defense, insisting that conservative members would hardly have an effect on the larger policy agenda or leanings of the Council as a whole. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The foundation of this body requires us to listen to all sides of every issue and that’s what we’re going to be committed to this next session,” said Council Member Menchaca in a brief interview outside City Hall last week.</p> <p>Council Member Van Bramer similarly said, “There’s good things that can come out of appointing a leadership team that is diverse and has opinions that contradict your own.”</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, not a member of the LGBT caucus, echoed the view. “As long as the policies that we pursue represent the progressive values that [Speaker Johnson] articulated, that he continues to articulate, then I think it’s great to have a diverse leadership team in many ways,” he said.</p> <p>Council Member Torres, from the Bronx, called Gotham Gazette upon hearing of the reporting of this article to show support for the speaker. The two members in question, he said, represent some of poorest districts in the city where it is a “particular imperative” to show equal representation. “I think it’s unreasonable to expect the Speaker of the Council to deny resources to lower-income districts simply because he rejects the social views of those who represent them. It’s unfair to begrudge the speaker for his obligation to represent everyone equally,” he said.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/39073522554_89beb687db_z.jpg" alt="Ruben Diaz Sr. City Council" width="300" height="201" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />Torres also refuted the possibility that the two members were rewarded for their support for Johnson’s ascension to the speakership, which owed to the backing from the Bronx and Queens County Democrats, as well as other members whose support Johnson had secured. Council members from both counties were handed the most powerful Council committees, with the land use committee going to Council Member Rafael Salamanca of the Bronx and finance to Queens Council Member Daniel Dromm, who is a member of the LGBT caucus.</p> <p>“I think [Speaker Johnson’s] magnanimity transcends the normal transactions of the speaker race,” Torres said, noting that even though he also ran for speaker, he was given a plum position as chair of the newly empowered oversight and investigations committee. “I would do exactly what he’s doing as speaker,” he added.</p> <p>“Winning coalitions reward their members,” observed one Council Member, who asked to remain unnamed.</p> <p>Assemblymember Glick conceded that the speakership is a complicated position that requires keeping numerous stakeholders satisfied. “I’ve been in politics a long time and I understand that people in positions of authority have a very tough balancing act,” she said. “By the same token, I’m not happy about seeing people who have engaged in hateful rhetoric being given what in political terms would be seen as a reward.”</p> <p>Regardless, she said, “I’m very proud of Corey. I consider him a friend and I will do whatever I can to make his tenure a successful and positive one.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>(picture inset: Ruben Diaz Sr.; photo by John McCarten)</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated to clarify that Diaz Sr. was the sole Democratic Senator, not the only Democratic legislator, to oppose the state's marriage equality bill.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/39073524394_703a8340cb_z.jpg" alt="Corey Johnson Fernando Cabrera City Council" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Above: Corey Johnson and Fernando Cabrera (photo: William Alatriste) (photo below: John McCarten)</p> <hr /> <p>When new City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, the first openly gay and openly HIV-positive person to hold the powerful position, unveiled his leadership team and Council committee assignments, he appointed two anti-LGBT Council members to chair committees, and named one to senior leadership in the 51-member legislative body. The moves seemed to have raised few eyebrows despite the stark contrast with Johnson’s life story and politics, as well as the politics of the overwhelming number of Council members.</p> <p>Johnson created a new committee for Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr., a conservative reverend who will chair the Committee on For-Hire Vehicles, and named Council Member Fernando Cabrera, also a socially conservative pastor known to hold anti-gay views, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7452-favorable-to-the-bronx-council-committee-shuffle-also-seen-as-retribution" target="_blank" rel="noopener">to lead the Committee on Governmental Operations</a> and serve as the majority whip on Johnson’s senior leadership team.</p> <p>Both members, who represent districts in the Bronx, are outliers in the largely progressive body, holding far-right stances on LGBT rights and social issues in general. Their politics seem out of place not only in the City Council but in an overwhelmingly liberal city where Republicans often nominate socially progressive candidates and vote along the same lines. Notably, the Bronx Democratic County organization was key to supporting Johnson’s winning speakership bid, and a number of Bronx members were rewarded in kind when it came to committee and leadership assignments.</p> <p>Diaz Sr., a former state Senator and minister who founded the Christian Community Neighborhood Church, was the sole dissenting Democratic Senator on the state Legislature’s successful marriage equality bill <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/25/nyregion/gay-marriage-approved-by-new-york-senate.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">passed</a> in 2011. The bill was supported by four Republicans who were in the Senate majority. Diaz Sr. also voted against the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) last year in a Senate committee vote, is a vocal opponent of abortion and, in 2003, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/16/nyregion/lawsuit-opposes-expansion-of-school-for-gay-students.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">sued</a> the Department of Education over plans to expand the Harvey Milk High School in Manhattan for gay students. &nbsp;</p> <p>Cabrera, the senior pastor at the New Life Outreach International church, has his own history of controversial statements and positions. In 2014, when he was serving his second term on the City Council, he praised the Ugandan government in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSs8UQQgOVc" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a video</a> posted online after it passed a law that criminalized homosexuality.</p> <p>"Godly people are in government," Cabrera said of the country’s government, noting that gay marriage was not acceptable there and stating that the government had withstood pressure from the U.S. to allow it. “And they have stood in their place. Why? Because the Christians have assumed the place of decision-making for the nation.”</p> <p>Following a furor over his remarks in 2014, he later insisted, “I do not support the persecution of gays and lesbians anywhere, whether it's in Uganda or right here in New York State.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7418-city-council-names-new-committee-chairs-and-members" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City Council Names New Leadership, Committee Chairs and Members</a>]</p> <p>For people familiar with Speaker Johnson’s personal history, which he wears on his sleeve, the move to empower the two conservative Council members could easily trigger a degree of cognitive dissonance. Johnson became famous as a teenager when he came out as gay while the captain of his high school football team in Massachusetts, and has often approached politics and legislation from the lens of his own lived experience. He represents a Manhattan district including Chelsea and the West Village, home to the gay rights movement and many of its leaders, including former State Senator Tom Duane, who Johnson has called a role model and mentor.</p> <p>“For decades, the gay activist community has fought to keep people like Ruben Diaz Sr. and Fernando Cabrera out of positions of power,” said Allen Roskoff, a gay activist and president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, in a phone interview. “I find this shocking and cringeworthy.”</p> <p>Several activists and elected officials were hesitant to criticize Johnson, whose election was celebrated by the LGBT community. But, Roskoff was not alone in his displeasure.</p> <p>"Of course it's a big deal," said an LGBT Democratic insider, who requested anonymity to speak freely. "You have hate emanating from Washington on a daily basis; on the ground in New York City, bias attacks are happening more often; and to put two vocally anti-LGBT people in places where they have a bigger platform is really worrying and not something we want to see in a progressive body."</p> <p>The insider also pointed out that Diaz Sr.'s and Cabrera's neighborhoods are where LGBT youth have long felt especially unsafe and unaccepted, and that those same young people need elected officials to be leaders for them, not spreading anti-LGBT sentiment that makes them less safe.</p> <p>Assemblymember Deborah Glick, New York State’s first openly gay legislator, was similarly disappointed, though she said she did not want to “second guess” Johnson’s decisions as speaker.</p> <p>“I was pleased to have Reverend Diaz removed from the Senate Democrats because his anti-choice and his anti-LGBT attitude and aggressive rhetoric was destructive and unpleasant,” she said. “I’m sorry they’re in elected office. Just as I would not want to spend time and energy seeing that people who are actively homophobic are not elected to seats in other parts of the country, I’m not happy to see them in elected office here. You would have to ask the speaker what went into his thinking in giving them prominent positions.”</p> <p>Gotham Gazette did ask Johnson about the decision on January 11, shortly after the new committee chairs were approved by the full Council. Though he insisted that he disagrees with Diaz Sr.’s and Cabrera’s positions on LGBT issues, he said that just as he does with certain Republican Council members and those within his own Democratic caucus, his new position as speaker requires him to treat each member equally.</p> <p>“I’m gonna treat every member of this body with respect...Everyone knows where I stand on LGBT equality. No one can question my credentials on LGBT equality and I’m the Speaker of the Council and we’re going to push the envelope to expand protections for all New Yorkers, transgender New Yorkers, LGBT new Yorkers, undocumented immigrants, Muslims, people of different religious faiths and beliefs,” he said. “That’s where I stand. I don’t agree with every member on everything but I’m still going to work collegially with every member of this body because that is part of my job now as Speaker of this Council.”</p> <p>He also said that Cabrera’s view didn’t necessary align with his votes. Indeed, Cabrera voted in favor of a bill last year that banned gay conversion therapy in the city and supported a bill requiring the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to create a plan to provide behavioral health services to LGBT individuals. Durign the race to become Speaker, Johnson caught some flack for visiting Diaz Sr. in the hospital, a visit that Diaz Sr. referenced on the day Johnson was officially elected Speaker.</p> <p>Fellow Council members -- including LGBT members such as Ritchie Torres, Jimmy Van Bramer and Carlos Menchaca -- also came to Johnson’s defense, insisting that conservative members would hardly have an effect on the larger policy agenda or leanings of the Council as a whole. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The foundation of this body requires us to listen to all sides of every issue and that’s what we’re going to be committed to this next session,” said Council Member Menchaca in a brief interview outside City Hall last week.</p> <p>Council Member Van Bramer similarly said, “There’s good things that can come out of appointing a leadership team that is diverse and has opinions that contradict your own.”</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, not a member of the LGBT caucus, echoed the view. “As long as the policies that we pursue represent the progressive values that [Speaker Johnson] articulated, that he continues to articulate, then I think it’s great to have a diverse leadership team in many ways,” he said.</p> <p>Council Member Torres, from the Bronx, called Gotham Gazette upon hearing of the reporting of this article to show support for the speaker. The two members in question, he said, represent some of poorest districts in the city where it is a “particular imperative” to show equal representation. “I think it’s unreasonable to expect the Speaker of the Council to deny resources to lower-income districts simply because he rejects the social views of those who represent them. It’s unfair to begrudge the speaker for his obligation to represent everyone equally,” he said.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/39073522554_89beb687db_z.jpg" alt="Ruben Diaz Sr. City Council" width="300" height="201" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />Torres also refuted the possibility that the two members were rewarded for their support for Johnson’s ascension to the speakership, which owed to the backing from the Bronx and Queens County Democrats, as well as other members whose support Johnson had secured. Council members from both counties were handed the most powerful Council committees, with the land use committee going to Council Member Rafael Salamanca of the Bronx and finance to Queens Council Member Daniel Dromm, who is a member of the LGBT caucus.</p> <p>“I think [Speaker Johnson’s] magnanimity transcends the normal transactions of the speaker race,” Torres said, noting that even though he also ran for speaker, he was given a plum position as chair of the newly empowered oversight and investigations committee. “I would do exactly what he’s doing as speaker,” he added.</p> <p>“Winning coalitions reward their members,” observed one Council Member, who asked to remain unnamed.</p> <p>Assemblymember Glick conceded that the speakership is a complicated position that requires keeping numerous stakeholders satisfied. “I’ve been in politics a long time and I understand that people in positions of authority have a very tough balancing act,” she said. “By the same token, I’m not happy about seeing people who have engaged in hateful rhetoric being given what in political terms would be seen as a reward.”</p> <p>Regardless, she said, “I’m very proud of Corey. I consider him a friend and I will do whatever I can to make his tenure a successful and positive one.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>(picture inset: Ruben Diaz Sr.; photo by John McCarten)</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated to clarify that Diaz Sr. was the sole Democratic Senator, not the only Democratic legislator, to oppose the state's marriage equality bill.</p>
Favorable to The Bronx, Council Committee Shuffle Also Seen as Retribution 2018-01-29T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-29T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7452:favorable-to-the-bronx-council-committee-shuffle-also-seen-as-retribution Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/39017821735_d3657cee54_z.jpg" alt="Kallos Salamanca City Council" width="600" height="407" /></p> <p>Council Members Ben Kallos, left, and Rafael Salamanca (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>When new City Council Speaker Corey Johnson reshuffled committee portfolios earlier this month, Council Member Ben Kallos lost his position as chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations. Sources say the move was punishment for Kallos’ approach to Board of Elections commissioner nominations and because of his support for one of Johnson’s opponents in the speaker race.</p> <p>By virtually all accounts, Kallos had done an exceptional job chairing the governmental operations committee during last legislative session, from 2014 through 2017. He led the way on a slew of reforms to campaign financing, government transparency and accountability, and was viewed by good government advocates as a valuable partner on the Council. He was praised by many, and snickered at by some, for his independence.</p> <p>But, with the election of Johnson as speaker, committee portfolios would be changed, with significant influence from the Queens and Bronx Democratic county organizations, which gave Johnson the backing he needed to ascend to what is arguably the second-most powerful position in city government behind the mayor.</p> <p>Kallos, who multiple sources say wanted to keep chairing the committee, was among a small number of members left out in the cold. His committee chair position went to another member, Council Member Fernando Cabrera of the Bronx, and Kallos was instead assigned to lead the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions, which falls under the land use committee. He was named as a member of the governmental operations committee, among others.</p> <p>Kallos declined multiple requests to comment for this article.</p> <p>The Committee on Governmental Operations has a broad purview, overseeing several city agencies including the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the Campaign Finance Board, the city Board of Elections, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and the Law Department, among others. The committee also has oversight of the city’s 59 community boards.</p> <p>Government reform groups generally praise Kallos’ leadership of the committee. “He raised a lot of good government issues that otherwise wouldn’t have seen the light of day, and he raised them on the merits,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, in a phone interview. “Maybe that miffed people at times but they were important issues to be raised and I don’t think that warrants removal from the chairmanship.”</p> <p>As chair, one of Kallos’ priorities was to reduce patronage hires at city agencies, particularly the Board of Elections, a bipartisan body where positions are filled by the county organizations for both parties. Patronage, Kallos said, invariably leads to conflicts of interests and the appointment of subpar employees. The BOE’s ten commissioners -- one from each party in each borough -- are nominated by the county committees and confirmed by the Council. The commissioners play a crucial role in deciding who gets to be on the ballot in elections and in interpreting state election law.</p> <p>In 2016, Kallos was among those members who rankled the Bronx Democratic County Committee, led by Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, by insisting that a nominee for Democratic commissioner from the Bronx be required to give up her registration as a lobbyist in order to be confirmed as an elections commissioner. The nominee, Rosanna Vargas, initially refused but later relented. Vargas is now the president of the Board of Elections.</p> <p>“The Queens and Bronx county committees felt that Council Member Kallos wasn’t a team player with regards to BOE appointments,” said one source with knowledge of internal county party dynamics, when asked about Kallos losing his committee chairmanship, and speaking only on the condition of anonymity.</p> <p>Council Member Cabrera told Gotham Gazette that while he did not push to chair the governmental operations committee, he was “excited” to be offered it. “There were different options that were being put forth, but as soon as it was presented to me, I said that I was very eager to do so,” he said at City Hall recently. Cabrera did not serve on the committee in the last term but was co-sponsor of a few bills under its purview.</p> <p>Cabrera said he would pursue legislation to improve the city’s campaign finance system, which is centered around public matching of low-dollar contributions and is held up as a national model, and would look to expand voter engagement in a city known for low turnout in the last few elections. “I’m a team player,” he said, insisting he will approach legislation and oversight collaboratively with his colleagues, “and so this is not a solo dance that we’re going to be doing here. Working with the administration as well, we want collaboration.”</p> <p>He said he sees “eye-to-eye” with Kallos. Asked if Kallos was punished for opposing the Bronx County’s BOE pick in 2016, Cabrera pleaded ignorance. “To be honest with you, I have no knowledge, I don’t even know what you’re really referring to, honestly,” he said.</p> <p>“I do know he did well,” Cabrera added. “I have to tell you he got, and I spoke to him, he got a very good committee. It’s a committee you can do a whole lot with. Anything related to finance. It’s one that has influence and can bring systemic change.”</p> <p>The subcommittee Kallos now chairs feeds the land use committee now being chaired by Council Member Rafael Salamanca of the Bronx, an appointment by Johnson perhaps most indicative of the rewards provided to the county for its support of his speaker bid.</p> <p>Kallos was a known supporter of Council Member Mark Levine’s bid for the speakership of the Council. Levine was among the frontrunners for the post, but was unsuccessful after the Bronx and Queens County Democrats coalesced around Johnson, who gained the backing of those vote-rich counties in part because he had also secured individual support from about ten other Council members, according to Johnson.</p> <p>“A land use subcommittee is as important or more important than a lot of full committees, honestly,” Levine told Gotham Gazette at City Hall earlier this month. He refused to speculate on why Kallos lost his chair position but said that Kallos was “amazing” as chair of the committee. “I think reshuffling of committees is a standard practice in any new term. Very few people continued in the same committee...the movement is natural.” he said. “I’ll tell you this about Ben Kallos, he’s going to be a leader in this body, no matter what portfolio he’s handed. He’s one of the smartest and most effective legislators I know. So he’s going to be impactful without a doubt in the next four years.”</p> <p>Asked about the decision to give the chair position to Cabrera, Council communications director Robin Levine referred Gotham Gazette to Johnson’s remarks at a January 11 news conference immediately after the new committee chairs were voted on by the full Council. She did not address a question about whether Crespo wanted Kallos removed from the position.</p> <p>At the news conference, in response to a question from Gotham Gazette, Johnson emphasized that the committee appointments were a complicated task. “Every decision that was made...when you moved one piece around, it affected the rest of the matrix,” he said. “So that’s why we spent the whole weekend here. That’s why I met with every individual member. That’s why we were in conversations, of course, with the county leaders.”</p> <p>“The process was a consultative process that, number one, involved the members,” he continued. “Number two, involved of course having conversations with the county leaders, with the mayor -- he wanted to understand who would be chairing certain committees -- with certain labor unions who played a role in this process, with members of Congress, with members of the Assembly, with members of the state Senate. There were over a hundred people who were calling every day for a week wanting to try and ensure that certain people got certain things.”</p> <p>“I was really trying to make everyone as happy as I could, by being as flexible as I could, by being as creative as I could and to try and give different people avenues for leadership and avenues to work on issues that matter to them,” Johnson said.</p> <p>In a statement through a spokesperson, Crespo did not directly respond to a question on whether he pushed for Kallos’ ouster. “As it has been in the past, City Council committee chairs frequently change at the start of new legislative terms,” Crespo said. “Our focus is to always advocate for our members in the Bronx delegation of the City Council and in doing so, providing the city and our constituents sound and steady leadership. The primary focus should be on the fact that an important committee now continues to have strong leadership with Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera as chair.”</p> <p>One Council member, who asked to remain anonymous to speak freely about the committee appointments, said Kallos was a victim of a combination of factors. “I think it was an accumulation of the running into the counties on BOE, running up against Corey in the speaker’s race, and he’s also got some very complicated land use stuff in his district as well. Probably didn’t help this matter either, he’s seen as very anti-development,” the Council member said.</p> <p>But, the Council member added, “He could have fared worse.” Indeed, some other Council members who opposed Johnson’s bid or supported his opponents appeared to come away with less. Among those were Council Members Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, neither of whom was given a committee chair position after having led the rules committee and the housing and buildings committee, respectively, in the last term. Lander did retain his position as Deputy Leader for Policy.</p> <p>“Is everyone 100 percent happy? No. Are some people happier than others? Yes,” Johnson said at the January 11 hearing where the new committee chairs were confirmed. “I did my best...There was no level of vindictiveness towards any member of this body from me, there was no level of vindictiveness, there was no score-settling, there was no keeping track of what happened during the Speaker’s race.”</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/2017/39017821735_d3657cee54_z.jpg" alt="Kallos Salamanca City Council" width="600" height="407" /></p> <p>Council Members Ben Kallos, left, and Rafael Salamanca (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>When new City Council Speaker Corey Johnson reshuffled committee portfolios earlier this month, Council Member Ben Kallos lost his position as chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations. Sources say the move was punishment for Kallos’ approach to Board of Elections commissioner nominations and because of his support for one of Johnson’s opponents in the speaker race.</p> <p>By virtually all accounts, Kallos had done an exceptional job chairing the governmental operations committee during last legislative session, from 2014 through 2017. He led the way on a slew of reforms to campaign financing, government transparency and accountability, and was viewed by good government advocates as a valuable partner on the Council. He was praised by many, and snickered at by some, for his independence.</p> <p>But, with the election of Johnson as speaker, committee portfolios would be changed, with significant influence from the Queens and Bronx Democratic county organizations, which gave Johnson the backing he needed to ascend to what is arguably the second-most powerful position in city government behind the mayor.</p> <p>Kallos, who multiple sources say wanted to keep chairing the committee, was among a small number of members left out in the cold. His committee chair position went to another member, Council Member Fernando Cabrera of the Bronx, and Kallos was instead assigned to lead the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions, which falls under the land use committee. He was named as a member of the governmental operations committee, among others.</p> <p>Kallos declined multiple requests to comment for this article.</p> <p>The Committee on Governmental Operations has a broad purview, overseeing several city agencies including the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the Campaign Finance Board, the city Board of Elections, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and the Law Department, among others. The committee also has oversight of the city’s 59 community boards.</p> <p>Government reform groups generally praise Kallos’ leadership of the committee. “He raised a lot of good government issues that otherwise wouldn’t have seen the light of day, and he raised them on the merits,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, in a phone interview. “Maybe that miffed people at times but they were important issues to be raised and I don’t think that warrants removal from the chairmanship.”</p> <p>As chair, one of Kallos’ priorities was to reduce patronage hires at city agencies, particularly the Board of Elections, a bipartisan body where positions are filled by the county organizations for both parties. Patronage, Kallos said, invariably leads to conflicts of interests and the appointment of subpar employees. The BOE’s ten commissioners -- one from each party in each borough -- are nominated by the county committees and confirmed by the Council. The commissioners play a crucial role in deciding who gets to be on the ballot in elections and in interpreting state election law.</p> <p>In 2016, Kallos was among those members who rankled the Bronx Democratic County Committee, led by Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, by insisting that a nominee for Democratic commissioner from the Bronx be required to give up her registration as a lobbyist in order to be confirmed as an elections commissioner. The nominee, Rosanna Vargas, initially refused but later relented. Vargas is now the president of the Board of Elections.</p> <p>“The Queens and Bronx county committees felt that Council Member Kallos wasn’t a team player with regards to BOE appointments,” said one source with knowledge of internal county party dynamics, when asked about Kallos losing his committee chairmanship, and speaking only on the condition of anonymity.</p> <p>Council Member Cabrera told Gotham Gazette that while he did not push to chair the governmental operations committee, he was “excited” to be offered it. “There were different options that were being put forth, but as soon as it was presented to me, I said that I was very eager to do so,” he said at City Hall recently. Cabrera did not serve on the committee in the last term but was co-sponsor of a few bills under its purview.</p> <p>Cabrera said he would pursue legislation to improve the city’s campaign finance system, which is centered around public matching of low-dollar contributions and is held up as a national model, and would look to expand voter engagement in a city known for low turnout in the last few elections. “I’m a team player,” he said, insisting he will approach legislation and oversight collaboratively with his colleagues, “and so this is not a solo dance that we’re going to be doing here. Working with the administration as well, we want collaboration.”</p> <p>He said he sees “eye-to-eye” with Kallos. Asked if Kallos was punished for opposing the Bronx County’s BOE pick in 2016, Cabrera pleaded ignorance. “To be honest with you, I have no knowledge, I don’t even know what you’re really referring to, honestly,” he said.</p> <p>“I do know he did well,” Cabrera added. “I have to tell you he got, and I spoke to him, he got a very good committee. It’s a committee you can do a whole lot with. Anything related to finance. It’s one that has influence and can bring systemic change.”</p> <p>The subcommittee Kallos now chairs feeds the land use committee now being chaired by Council Member Rafael Salamanca of the Bronx, an appointment by Johnson perhaps most indicative of the rewards provided to the county for its support of his speaker bid.</p> <p>Kallos was a known supporter of Council Member Mark Levine’s bid for the speakership of the Council. Levine was among the frontrunners for the post, but was unsuccessful after the Bronx and Queens County Democrats coalesced around Johnson, who gained the backing of those vote-rich counties in part because he had also secured individual support from about ten other Council members, according to Johnson.</p> <p>“A land use subcommittee is as important or more important than a lot of full committees, honestly,” Levine told Gotham Gazette at City Hall earlier this month. He refused to speculate on why Kallos lost his chair position but said that Kallos was “amazing” as chair of the committee. “I think reshuffling of committees is a standard practice in any new term. Very few people continued in the same committee...the movement is natural.” he said. “I’ll tell you this about Ben Kallos, he’s going to be a leader in this body, no matter what portfolio he’s handed. He’s one of the smartest and most effective legislators I know. So he’s going to be impactful without a doubt in the next four years.”</p> <p>Asked about the decision to give the chair position to Cabrera, Council communications director Robin Levine referred Gotham Gazette to Johnson’s remarks at a January 11 news conference immediately after the new committee chairs were voted on by the full Council. She did not address a question about whether Crespo wanted Kallos removed from the position.</p> <p>At the news conference, in response to a question from Gotham Gazette, Johnson emphasized that the committee appointments were a complicated task. “Every decision that was made...when you moved one piece around, it affected the rest of the matrix,” he said. “So that’s why we spent the whole weekend here. That’s why I met with every individual member. That’s why we were in conversations, of course, with the county leaders.”</p> <p>“The process was a consultative process that, number one, involved the members,” he continued. “Number two, involved of course having conversations with the county leaders, with the mayor -- he wanted to understand who would be chairing certain committees -- with certain labor unions who played a role in this process, with members of Congress, with members of the Assembly, with members of the state Senate. There were over a hundred people who were calling every day for a week wanting to try and ensure that certain people got certain things.”</p> <p>“I was really trying to make everyone as happy as I could, by being as flexible as I could, by being as creative as I could and to try and give different people avenues for leadership and avenues to work on issues that matter to them,” Johnson said.</p> <p>In a statement through a spokesperson, Crespo did not directly respond to a question on whether he pushed for Kallos’ ouster. “As it has been in the past, City Council committee chairs frequently change at the start of new legislative terms,” Crespo said. “Our focus is to always advocate for our members in the Bronx delegation of the City Council and in doing so, providing the city and our constituents sound and steady leadership. The primary focus should be on the fact that an important committee now continues to have strong leadership with Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera as chair.”</p> <p>One Council member, who asked to remain anonymous to speak freely about the committee appointments, said Kallos was a victim of a combination of factors. “I think it was an accumulation of the running into the counties on BOE, running up against Corey in the speaker’s race, and he’s also got some very complicated land use stuff in his district as well. Probably didn’t help this matter either, he’s seen as very anti-development,” the Council member said.</p> <p>But, the Council member added, “He could have fared worse.” Indeed, some other Council members who opposed Johnson’s bid or supported his opponents appeared to come away with less. Among those were Council Members Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, neither of whom was given a committee chair position after having led the rules committee and the housing and buildings committee, respectively, in the last term. Lander did retain his position as Deputy Leader for Policy.</p> <p>“Is everyone 100 percent happy? No. Are some people happier than others? Yes,” Johnson said at the January 11 hearing where the new committee chairs were confirmed. “I did my best...There was no level of vindictiveness towards any member of this body from me, there was no level of vindictiveness, there was no score-settling, there was no keeping track of what happened during the Speaker’s race.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Bronx Rezoning Moves to City Council as Negotiations Enter Final Stages 2018-01-28T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-28T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7446:bronx-rezoning-moves-to-city-council-as-negotiations-enter-final-stages Ben Max <img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/jerome-ave-aerial.jpg" alt="jerome ave aerial" width="600" height="394" /> <p>Jerome Ave corridor rezoning, via City Planning</p> <hr /> <p>The City Planning Commission voted January 17 to approve a comprehensive rezoning plan for the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, putting the proposal before the City Council for scrutiny in the final stretch of the lengthy land use review process. The rezoning would follow four others ushered through by the de Blasio administration as it somewhat controversially seeks to add housing density, including thousands of new affordable units, and make other investments in mostly low-income communities across the five boroughs.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/jerome-ave/jerome-ave-updates.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Jerome Avenue Neighborhood Plan</a> put forth by the administration with local input envisions changing land use regulations in a 92-block area along Jerome Avenue, from East 165th Street to 184th Street, which currently comprises a mix of commercial, industrial, and residential space. The proposed plan would allow mixed-use development along the corridor with the intent of creating more affordable housing, while also funding new infrastructure, quality-of-life improvements, job creation, and economic development initiatives for the community. &nbsp;</p> <p>While a deal appears imminent and the clock is ticking, negotiations are ongoing between the administration and City Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Cabrera, whose districts span the proposed rezoning and who will have the final say in whether the rezoning is approved. Gibson, Cabrera, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. met recently to discuss the changes to the plan that they want to see before it is passed by the Council.</p> <p>The City Planning Commission’s approval of the plan started the 50-day clock for the Council to accept or reject the proposal. The entire body typically votes with the local Council member(s) on land use issues and has rarely overridden a member’s position. The Council’s subcommittee on zoning and franchises is expected to hold a public hearing on the rezoning on Wednesday, February 7. &nbsp;</p> <p>“It is and has been very fruitful,” Gibson said of the negotiation process, in a phone interview on Thursday. But there remain a few big ticket items that have yet to be resolved, she said, including preserving more affordable housing and expanding school capacity to deal with the expected increase in population from new housing created under the plan.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/jerome_ave_vertical.png" alt="jerome ave vertical" width="320" height="412" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />The city has promised to create 4,000 new housing units in the rezoned area, which will include affordable units set aside for different income bands under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy. The administration is also planning a Certificate of No Harassment pilot program to prevent tenant harassment and displacement, and will guarantee that half of new housing units created by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will go to existing residents. Additionally, it has committed millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements -- including $4.6 million to revamp Corporal Fischer Park; $4 million to rebuild the Morton Playground; sidewalk lighting; and security upgrades -- and jobs and business development plans through the Department of Small Business Services</p> <p>As is, the plan will also preserve 1,500 affordable units, a number that Gibson wants to see increased to 2,500 to cope with the gentrification pressures that neighborhoods targeted for rezoning have come to expect. She emphasized that many affordable units currently in those neighborhoods will see their city rent subsidies expire in less than a decade, and that the administration should take preemptive action.</p> <p>“The city has a very good opportunity to engage those landlords on new programs and tax incentives so they can remain in the affordability program and access some of our resources for the next 30 or 40 years,” she said. “Now if we go over 2,500, I’m not mad. But I think 2,500 should be the floor.”</p> <p>As with other rezonings that have been approved in the last three years, Gibson expressed larger concerns about displacement of existing residents as zoning changes bring additional density and improvements to the communities along Jerome Avenue. But she maintained that, unlike other areas that have seen luxury developers quickly move in to capitalize on a proposed rezoning, Jerome Avenue will likely not see market-rate housing being built in the short term.</p> <p>“People are fearful, they have a right to be fearful, but the market in Jerome does not propel luxury housing right now,” she said.</p> <p>Gibson predicted that recent increases in the minimum wage and residents getting prevailing-wage and union-wage jobs will eventually lead them to be ineligible for deeply affordable housing as they start to earn more than 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), a federal measure that includes surrounding suburban counties and the city. The New York City region’s AMI in 2017 was $85,900 for a family of three. Gibson insisted that the MIH set-asides should therefore include additional moderate and middle-income housing.</p> <p>“It has to be a diverse mixture of incomes, obviously with the majority of those incomes being on the lower end at 30 and 40 percent of AMI as well as set asides for formerly homeless families coming directly from the shelter,” she said.</p> <p>Jerome Avenue is the latest proving ground for the administration’s neighborhood rezoning efforts, which are part of achieving the mayor’s target of creating and preserving 300,000 units of affordable housing across the city by 2026. The first such rezoning, in East New York, largely set the tone, with the local Council Member, Rafael Espinal, having <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6287-east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings">extracted</a> a slew of concessions from the administration including a new 1,000-seat school and about $267 million in capital investments. Diaz Jr. and the two Bronx Council members are working off of a similar script, as was the case with rezonings in East Harlem and Far Rockaway.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. signed off on the city’s plan in November, granted the city meet certain conditions that he laid out in his non-binding <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/plans-studies/jerome-ave/bronx-president-recommendation.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">formal approval</a> in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a multi-step process that also involves non-binding votes by the affected community boards, which also approved it with conditions.</p> <p>The borough president said in his response that the city had “acted in good faith” in listening to the community’s concerns. But he maintained, “There is still more work to be done.” He called on the city to put in place a minimum of their monetary commitments before the rezoning is approved, an increase in the number of affordable housing units preserved to at least 2,000, enhanced enforcement of housing codes, the establishment of a new community center in Highbridge, and additional funding for improvement of parks and transit infrastructure.</p> <p>Jerome Avenue is also home to a large automotive industry, and Diaz Jr. urged the city to identify locations where displaced facilities could relocate as well as fund relocation, training, and certification for those businesses. Gibson has made similar demands. The city’s plan would only retain about 20 percent of the 151 auto businesses in the neighborhood, she recently told Gotham Gazette at City Hall, and she is pushing to retain at least 50 percent. &nbsp;</p> <p>Diaz Jr. also insisted that the city must address the school seat shortage in the district -- roughly 3,248 seats -- by identifying potential sites for new facilities. That is one of the biggest priorities for Gibson and Cabrera as well. Gibson said she and her Council colleague are pushing for two new elementary schools in school districts 9 and 10.</p> <p>“The challenge we face is we don’t have large parcels of city-owned land,” she said, emphasizing that the administration will have to work with private landowners to find suitable locations for new schools, while also expanding capacity at existing facilities that can bear it.</p> <p>“A school that we build of 500 seats is going to help us now but it wont help us in the future if we’re looking at potentially 4,000 units of housing,” she said. “So there has to be some give and take.”</p> <p>Gibson is confident about securing that pledge from the city before the Council votes on the project. “We’ve been very consistent on what our priorities are and, at the end of the day, we are working as hard as we can to achieve that. I do know that the admin in the past typically waits until the very end to make all of their commitments and announcements and to the best extent that I can, I’m trying to avoid that because I don’t like to operate last minute.”</p> <p>Asked about the final stages of negotiations, a&nbsp;spokesperson for the Department of City Planning said in a statement, "We continue to work hand-in-hand with local elected officials and community leaders to build and protect affordable housing while also boosting economic vitality along the Jerome corridor."</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/jerome-ave-aerial.jpg" alt="jerome ave aerial" width="600" height="394" /> <p>Jerome Ave corridor rezoning, via City Planning</p> <hr /> <p>The City Planning Commission voted January 17 to approve a comprehensive rezoning plan for the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, putting the proposal before the City Council for scrutiny in the final stretch of the lengthy land use review process. The rezoning would follow four others ushered through by the de Blasio administration as it somewhat controversially seeks to add housing density, including thousands of new affordable units, and make other investments in mostly low-income communities across the five boroughs.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/jerome-ave/jerome-ave-updates.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Jerome Avenue Neighborhood Plan</a> put forth by the administration with local input envisions changing land use regulations in a 92-block area along Jerome Avenue, from East 165th Street to 184th Street, which currently comprises a mix of commercial, industrial, and residential space. The proposed plan would allow mixed-use development along the corridor with the intent of creating more affordable housing, while also funding new infrastructure, quality-of-life improvements, job creation, and economic development initiatives for the community. &nbsp;</p> <p>While a deal appears imminent and the clock is ticking, negotiations are ongoing between the administration and City Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Cabrera, whose districts span the proposed rezoning and who will have the final say in whether the rezoning is approved. Gibson, Cabrera, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. met recently to discuss the changes to the plan that they want to see before it is passed by the Council.</p> <p>The City Planning Commission’s approval of the plan started the 50-day clock for the Council to accept or reject the proposal. The entire body typically votes with the local Council member(s) on land use issues and has rarely overridden a member’s position. The Council’s subcommittee on zoning and franchises is expected to hold a public hearing on the rezoning on Wednesday, February 7. &nbsp;</p> <p>“It is and has been very fruitful,” Gibson said of the negotiation process, in a phone interview on Thursday. But there remain a few big ticket items that have yet to be resolved, she said, including preserving more affordable housing and expanding school capacity to deal with the expected increase in population from new housing created under the plan.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/jerome_ave_vertical.png" alt="jerome ave vertical" width="320" height="412" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />The city has promised to create 4,000 new housing units in the rezoned area, which will include affordable units set aside for different income bands under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy. The administration is also planning a Certificate of No Harassment pilot program to prevent tenant harassment and displacement, and will guarantee that half of new housing units created by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will go to existing residents. Additionally, it has committed millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements -- including $4.6 million to revamp Corporal Fischer Park; $4 million to rebuild the Morton Playground; sidewalk lighting; and security upgrades -- and jobs and business development plans through the Department of Small Business Services</p> <p>As is, the plan will also preserve 1,500 affordable units, a number that Gibson wants to see increased to 2,500 to cope with the gentrification pressures that neighborhoods targeted for rezoning have come to expect. She emphasized that many affordable units currently in those neighborhoods will see their city rent subsidies expire in less than a decade, and that the administration should take preemptive action.</p> <p>“The city has a very good opportunity to engage those landlords on new programs and tax incentives so they can remain in the affordability program and access some of our resources for the next 30 or 40 years,” she said. “Now if we go over 2,500, I’m not mad. But I think 2,500 should be the floor.”</p> <p>As with other rezonings that have been approved in the last three years, Gibson expressed larger concerns about displacement of existing residents as zoning changes bring additional density and improvements to the communities along Jerome Avenue. But she maintained that, unlike other areas that have seen luxury developers quickly move in to capitalize on a proposed rezoning, Jerome Avenue will likely not see market-rate housing being built in the short term.</p> <p>“People are fearful, they have a right to be fearful, but the market in Jerome does not propel luxury housing right now,” she said.</p> <p>Gibson predicted that recent increases in the minimum wage and residents getting prevailing-wage and union-wage jobs will eventually lead them to be ineligible for deeply affordable housing as they start to earn more than 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), a federal measure that includes surrounding suburban counties and the city. The New York City region’s AMI in 2017 was $85,900 for a family of three. Gibson insisted that the MIH set-asides should therefore include additional moderate and middle-income housing.</p> <p>“It has to be a diverse mixture of incomes, obviously with the majority of those incomes being on the lower end at 30 and 40 percent of AMI as well as set asides for formerly homeless families coming directly from the shelter,” she said.</p> <p>Jerome Avenue is the latest proving ground for the administration’s neighborhood rezoning efforts, which are part of achieving the mayor’s target of creating and preserving 300,000 units of affordable housing across the city by 2026. The first such rezoning, in East New York, largely set the tone, with the local Council Member, Rafael Espinal, having <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6287-east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings">extracted</a> a slew of concessions from the administration including a new 1,000-seat school and about $267 million in capital investments. Diaz Jr. and the two Bronx Council members are working off of a similar script, as was the case with rezonings in East Harlem and Far Rockaway.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. signed off on the city’s plan in November, granted the city meet certain conditions that he laid out in his non-binding <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/plans-studies/jerome-ave/bronx-president-recommendation.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">formal approval</a> in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a multi-step process that also involves non-binding votes by the affected community boards, which also approved it with conditions.</p> <p>The borough president said in his response that the city had “acted in good faith” in listening to the community’s concerns. But he maintained, “There is still more work to be done.” He called on the city to put in place a minimum of their monetary commitments before the rezoning is approved, an increase in the number of affordable housing units preserved to at least 2,000, enhanced enforcement of housing codes, the establishment of a new community center in Highbridge, and additional funding for improvement of parks and transit infrastructure.</p> <p>Jerome Avenue is also home to a large automotive industry, and Diaz Jr. urged the city to identify locations where displaced facilities could relocate as well as fund relocation, training, and certification for those businesses. Gibson has made similar demands. The city’s plan would only retain about 20 percent of the 151 auto businesses in the neighborhood, she recently told Gotham Gazette at City Hall, and she is pushing to retain at least 50 percent. &nbsp;</p> <p>Diaz Jr. also insisted that the city must address the school seat shortage in the district -- roughly 3,248 seats -- by identifying potential sites for new facilities. That is one of the biggest priorities for Gibson and Cabrera as well. Gibson said she and her Council colleague are pushing for two new elementary schools in school districts 9 and 10.</p> <p>“The challenge we face is we don’t have large parcels of city-owned land,” she said, emphasizing that the administration will have to work with private landowners to find suitable locations for new schools, while also expanding capacity at existing facilities that can bear it.</p> <p>“A school that we build of 500 seats is going to help us now but it wont help us in the future if we’re looking at potentially 4,000 units of housing,” she said. “So there has to be some give and take.”</p> <p>Gibson is confident about securing that pledge from the city before the Council votes on the project. “We’ve been very consistent on what our priorities are and, at the end of the day, we are working as hard as we can to achieve that. I do know that the admin in the past typically waits until the very end to make all of their commitments and announcements and to the best extent that I can, I’m trying to avoid that because I don’t like to operate last minute.”</p> <p>Asked about the final stages of negotiations, a&nbsp;spokesperson for the Department of City Planning said in a statement, "We continue to work hand-in-hand with local elected officials and community leaders to build and protect affordable housing while also boosting economic vitality along the Jerome corridor."</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
State Senator Calls for Investigation of Opponent's Campaign Finances 2017-03-06T05:00:00+00:00 2017-03-06T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6792:state-senator-calls-for-investigation-of-opponent-s-campaign-finances Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/5690246359_56519ab424_z.jpg" alt="Rivera" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Senator Gustavo Rivera (photo: Senate Democrats)</p> <hr /> <p>A state Senator from the Bronx is calling on the state Board of Elections to investigate a former opponent’s campaign finances for violations.</p> <p>Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Democrat, alleges that the Senate campaign of Fernando Cabrera, a New York City Council Member, committed multiple violations in the Democratic primary for the District 33 Senate seat last year. In a Feb. 28 letter to the state Board of Elections, Rivera’s campaign attorney, Sarah Steiner, noted the alleged violations and asked for updates on the status of three previous requests the campaign has made to look into earlier alleged violations.</p> <p>In the letter, which was addressed to state BOE chief enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman and was made available to Gotham Gazette by the campaign, Steiner identified the new alleged violations by Cabrera’s Senate campaign, including a failure to file a 10-day post primary disclosure and a January periodic report with the BOE.</p> <p>The letter also alleges that Cabrera’s City Council campaign filed necessary disclosures with the New York City Campaign Finance Board but not with the state BOE; and that Cabrera’s Council campaign committee transferred $11,000 to his Senate campaign committee, which Steiner alleges exceeds the $7,000 limit for contributions to a state Senate primary campaign. However, that last allegation seems to be dubious since transfers by a candidate from one authorized political committee to another do not count as contributions, according to state election law.</p> <p>Steiner also referred to earlier requests made to the BOE to investigate whether Cabrera’s campaign had illegally coordinated independent expenditures with New Yorkers for Independent Action (NYFIA), a political action committee that was involved in four Democratic primary races last year.</p> <p>“This person has a history of violating campaign finance laws and skirting ethical boundaries left and right,” said Sen. Rivera, in a phone interview, of Council Member Cabrera. Cabrera has unsuccessfully challenged Rivera in two straight election cycles, in 2014 and 2016. Rivera’s move was prompted by the recent news, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-board-elections-flags-cases-prosecution-article-1.2983131" target="_blank">reported by the Daily News</a>, that the BOE had recommended criminal prosecutions in five cases last year. Although it’s unknown which specific campaigns were involved, Sugarman told the Daily News that they covered “a more wide-ranging group of violations” than the nine prosecution referrals she made in 2015.</p> <p>BOE’s Sugarman declined to comment for this article.</p> <p>That Rivera has chosen to publicly call out his opponent is not surprising. The primary race for District 33 turned bitter at times, particularly with NYFIA criticizing Rivera’s record and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6450-super-pac-begins-flyering-bronx-senate-race" target="_blank">seeking to link him with the culture of corruption in Albany</a>. Rivera, for his part, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6386-bronx-council-member-preparing-to-again-challenge-incumbent-state-senator" target="_blank">criticized Cabrera</a> as a political opportunist and blasted his conservative leanings on issues such as abortion and marriage equality.</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Cabrera refuted the allegations in Steiner’s letter. “My campaign meticulously complied with all rules and requirements established by the New York State Board of Elections,” he said, adding that his campaign was notified that they were in full compliance of election law. “I am disappointed that Senator Rivera continues to invest time and energy in negative campaign tactics post-election, rather than devoting his resources to serving his constituents,” he added. “It’s time for Senator Rivera to get to work and start doing his job.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/5690246359_56519ab424_z.jpg" alt="Rivera" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Senator Gustavo Rivera (photo: Senate Democrats)</p> <hr /> <p>A state Senator from the Bronx is calling on the state Board of Elections to investigate a former opponent’s campaign finances for violations.</p> <p>Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Democrat, alleges that the Senate campaign of Fernando Cabrera, a New York City Council Member, committed multiple violations in the Democratic primary for the District 33 Senate seat last year. In a Feb. 28 letter to the state Board of Elections, Rivera’s campaign attorney, Sarah Steiner, noted the alleged violations and asked for updates on the status of three previous requests the campaign has made to look into earlier alleged violations.</p> <p>In the letter, which was addressed to state BOE chief enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman and was made available to Gotham Gazette by the campaign, Steiner identified the new alleged violations by Cabrera’s Senate campaign, including a failure to file a 10-day post primary disclosure and a January periodic report with the BOE.</p> <p>The letter also alleges that Cabrera’s City Council campaign filed necessary disclosures with the New York City Campaign Finance Board but not with the state BOE; and that Cabrera’s Council campaign committee transferred $11,000 to his Senate campaign committee, which Steiner alleges exceeds the $7,000 limit for contributions to a state Senate primary campaign. However, that last allegation seems to be dubious since transfers by a candidate from one authorized political committee to another do not count as contributions, according to state election law.</p> <p>Steiner also referred to earlier requests made to the BOE to investigate whether Cabrera’s campaign had illegally coordinated independent expenditures with New Yorkers for Independent Action (NYFIA), a political action committee that was involved in four Democratic primary races last year.</p> <p>“This person has a history of violating campaign finance laws and skirting ethical boundaries left and right,” said Sen. Rivera, in a phone interview, of Council Member Cabrera. Cabrera has unsuccessfully challenged Rivera in two straight election cycles, in 2014 and 2016. Rivera’s move was prompted by the recent news, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-board-elections-flags-cases-prosecution-article-1.2983131" target="_blank">reported by the Daily News</a>, that the BOE had recommended criminal prosecutions in five cases last year. Although it’s unknown which specific campaigns were involved, Sugarman told the Daily News that they covered “a more wide-ranging group of violations” than the nine prosecution referrals she made in 2015.</p> <p>BOE’s Sugarman declined to comment for this article.</p> <p>That Rivera has chosen to publicly call out his opponent is not surprising. The primary race for District 33 turned bitter at times, particularly with NYFIA criticizing Rivera’s record and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6450-super-pac-begins-flyering-bronx-senate-race" target="_blank">seeking to link him with the culture of corruption in Albany</a>. Rivera, for his part, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6386-bronx-council-member-preparing-to-again-challenge-incumbent-state-senator" target="_blank">criticized Cabrera</a> as a political opportunist and blasted his conservative leanings on issues such as abortion and marriage equality.</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Cabrera refuted the allegations in Steiner’s letter. “My campaign meticulously complied with all rules and requirements established by the New York State Board of Elections,” he said, adding that his campaign was notified that they were in full compliance of election law. “I am disappointed that Senator Rivera continues to invest time and energy in negative campaign tactics post-election, rather than devoting his resources to serving his constituents,” he added. “It’s time for Senator Rivera to get to work and start doing his job.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Education-Focused Super PAC Spends on Additional Legislative Races 2016-08-31T04:00:00+00:00 2016-08-31T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6505:education-focused-super-pac-spends-on-additional-legislative-races Milka Nissinen <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/Cabrera_Rivera_NY1_screenshot_2.png" alt="Cabrera Rivera NY1 screenshot 2" width="600" height="354" /></p> <p>screenshot of CM Cabrera, left, &amp; Sen. Rivera from NY1</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">A Super PAC backed by the education reform lobby and a number of wealthy out-of-state donors has earned the enmity of establishment Democrats by pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into races in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Long Island in an effort to unseat Democrat incumbents. The group, New Yorkers for Independent Action, now appears to be adjusting its strategy by supporting some incumbents.</p> <p dir="ltr">The PAC is at least partially focused on passing an education tax credit proposal through Albany that would provide tax breaks to those who donate to private and charter schools. It is currently spending, largely in mailings - some of which attack candidates and some that are supportive of candidates - six state Assembly and Senate races. Opposed by the majority in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, the education tax credit proposal has been stuck in Albany despite prior lobbying efforts.<br /><br />&ldquo;This group and its funders are sadly mistaken if they think this will do anything to further their issue,&rdquo; said Michael Whyland, spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. A number of Heastie&rsquo;s allies in the Bronx have been targeted by the PAC&rsquo;s spending.</p> <p dir="ltr">New Yorkers for Independent Action has been attacked by liberal activist groups and incumbent Democrats as the work of hedge-fund profiteers looking to advance their agenda by involving themselves in local races they have no real investment in or knowledge of. Teachers unions decry the measure as siphoning tax dollars away from public schools to reward wealthy donors, who it is assumed will monopolize the tax breaks by donating large sums to applicable private institutions. The PAC of the state teachers union has upped its spending in response to that of New Yorkers for Independent Action.<br /><br />The group initially targeted for defeat Bronx Sen. Gustavo Rivera, Assemblymember Phil Ramos of Long Island, and Assemblymembers Latrice Walker and Pamela Harris of Brooklyn, all Democrats. Now, it is spending in support of Sen. Roxanne Persaud of Brooklyn and Assemblymember Victor Pichardo of the Bronx, both incumbent Democrats.</p> <p dir="ltr">Recent filings show that in late June the group allocated $2,000 a piece to support Persaud and Pichardo. Those expenditures pale in comparison, though, to what the PAC has spent on mailers and canvassers in other races. It is unclear exactly what the $2,000 went towards as it is unlikely it could have funded the kinds of district-wide mailers that have popped up in the Rivera, Ramos, Harris, and Walker races. <br /><br />Future disclosures will show how committed the PAC is to those races, but the spending is meant to influence the outcomes of the quickly-approaching September 13 primaries for all state legislative seats. As of mid-July, New Yorkers for Independent Action reported spending $1,295,672 and raising $2,780,000.<br /><br />NYFIA&rsquo;s treasurer, Thomas Carroll, is former president of The Foundation for Education Reform &amp; Accountability, did not return requests for comment.</p> <p dir="ltr">The money spent so far by New Yorkers for Independent Action has mainly gone in large sums to help four candidates, each of whom has seen at least $300,000 spent by the PAC in their race. Council Member Fernando Cabrera is being aided in his rematch with Sen. Gustavo Rivera; Council Member Darlene Mealy is getting support in her challenge to Assemblymember &nbsp;Latrice Walker; Giovanni Mata is being backed in his second challenge to Assemblymember Phil Ramos and Kate Cucco is being bolstered in her bid to oust Assemblymember Pamela Harris.</p> <p dir="ltr">While NYFIA spends big money to defeat Rivera, backing his challenger, City Council Member Fernando Cabrera, in a twist, it is now spending to buoy Pichardo, who previously worked as director of community affairs for Rivera and won his Assembly seat with major guidance from Rivera and his allies.</p> <p dir="ltr">The PAC has already spent over $356,000 to back Cabrera, with flyers attacking Rivera, others boosting Cabrera, and teams of canvassers carrying the literature.</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked about NYFIA&rsquo;s support during a <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/albany-newsmakers/2016/08/30/ny1-online--rivera-and-cabrera-square-off-in-contentious-democratic-primary-debate-for-33rd-state-senate-district.html?cid=twitter_InsideCityHall" target="_blank">debate</a> on NY1&rsquo;s Inside City Hall on Tuesday night, Cabrera pointed out that Rivera had endorsed Pichardo and Assemblymember Jose Rivera, who both back the EITC, and said that Rivera had a &ldquo;double standard.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Cabrera went on to say, &ldquo;With this PAC we are working to pass the educational tax credit.&rdquo; He added that he felt it was &ldquo;fair to provide this tax credit to parents.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Rivera responded that the PAC is supported by people who are &ldquo;anti-choice, anti-gay and anti-labor.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">It is illegal for candidates to coordinate with Super PACs.</p> <p dir="ltr">Pichardo&rsquo;s office did not return requests for comment; it is unclear if his re-election campaign welcomes the independent spending on his behalf.</p> <p dir="ltr">Karen Scharff, head of Citizen Action NY, is also part of the anti-hedge-fund group Hedge Clippers, which often <a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/321913433/Hedge-Clippers-Report-on-Hedge-Funds-and-Private-Equity-Manipulating-NY-Elections-August-23-2016#from_embed" target="_blank">criticizes</a> the education reform movement and its wealthy backers. Scharff said that Super PAC spending of this type in primaries is a new development, and she fears it is just a preview of the kind of outside spending that will occur in the general election when control of the State Senate will be contested.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The problem with this flood of cash from outside billionaires is that it impacts who gets elected in these communities that billionaires have no interest in. It is doubly disempowering the community, because they lose their voice in local matters and then have electeds who are more dedicated and accountable to the billionaires who elected them.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Most of the candidates targeted by New Yorkers for Independent Action are not going unaided. Fund for Great Public Schools, a Super PAC controlled by Andrew Pollotta, the vice president of the New York State United Teachers union (NYSUT), was recently aided by a $4 million transfer from New Yorkers For a Brighter Future. The group has begun spending on mailers and advertisements to support Ramos, Walker, Rivera, and Harris, and attacking their opponents. &nbsp;As of the last <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/ind_exp_report?filerID_in=A21662&amp;type_in=E&amp;e_year_in=2016" target="_blank">campaign filing report</a>, on August 26, they appear to have spent a little over $80,000 on the four candidates.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the 46th Assembly District, Kate Cucco, a former Assembly aide, is challenging Harris. Residents of the Southern Brooklyn district have been bombarded with flyers and polls from both independent groups. The race feels to many to be a proxy war for the education reform and union movements. <br /><br />Asked whether Cucco supports the involvement of New Yorkers for Independent Action in her race, a spokesperson sent Gotham Gazette a statement: &nbsp;<br /><br />"Kate Cucco has long been on record urging for the overturn of Citizen's [sic] United and has been a staunch advocate for major reforms to campaign finance laws. Kate is in favor of public financing of campaigns that put hard limits of the amount of money a candidate can raise/spend, she is in favor of closing the LLC loophole, increasing the disclaimer requirements so voters know exactly who paid for campaign ads, as well as easing barriers to voting such as having one primary in June, allowing mail in voting, same day voter registration, and allowing for party enrollment changes right up until 60 days before an election."<br /><br />Cucco is a supporter of a version of the Education Investment Tax Credit that NYFIA wants to see passed. <br /><br />The PAC has used a similar theme for some of its mailers; in both the Rivera and Ramos races the mailer focuses on a New York Times editorial that accuses legislative leaders of failing to act on ethics reform in the wake of major scandals. Neither Ramos nor Rivera were at the center of the negotiations surrounding ethics reforms. There appear to have been about seven or eight mailers sent out in both districts, with varying themes.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a statement, Assemblymember Ramos decried NYFIA, describing its donors as &ldquo;millionaires and billionaires from Manhattan&rsquo;s Upper East Side.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Why are they investing so heavily in a Brentwood Central Islip and Bay Shore Assembly race?&rdquo; the statement says. &ldquo;Because I stood up for my community and said NO to a million dollar tax break that they are pitching as an education opportunity for poor kids. I will stand up and fight anyone who tries to exploit our community. We deserve better.&rdquo; Ramos also said that the Super PAC has &ldquo;no grassroots&rdquo; and that &ldquo;Anyone that actually lives here knows we can't be bought. That's why I'm confident this multi-million dollar plan will fail, I trust my neighbors and they trust me."<br /><br />Some candidates insist that NYFIA is interested only in passing the EITC and has no further political agenda. Scharff scoffs at the idea, pointing out that billionaire non-New Yorkers like Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heir and Arkansas resident, and some donors who have traditionally given to conservative Christian causes have donated heavily to the PAC. <br /><br />Hedge Clippers has also highlighted that the incumbents targeted by NYFIA were major advocates for a $15 minimum wage and other progressive issues.<br /><br />&ldquo;The problem with this kind of money being poured into these districts by billionaires is that it drowns out the voices of voters,&rdquo; said Scharff. She said she expects a number of progressive issues to be at the center of the next legislative session and that those issues will be in jeopardy if NYFIA gets its candidates in place. &ldquo;If this spending continues into the general election it really could shift balance of power.&rdquo; <br /><br />This is how New Yorkers for Independent Action has allocated its <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/reports/rwservlet?cmdkey=efs_sch_report+p_filer_id=A21080+p_e_year=2016+p_freport_id=K+p_transaction_code=R" target="_blank">spending</a> on candidates through its July 11 filing: <br />$302,878.91 to support Giovanni Mata, who is challenging Assemblymember Phil Ramos. <br />$358,235.33 to support City Council Member Fernando Cabrera in his second attempt to defeat Sen. Gustavo Rivera. <br />$309,404.25 on Kate Cucco, who is challenging Assemblymember Pamela Harris.<br />$321,153.54 on City Council Member Darlene Mealy, who is challenging Assemblymember Latrice Walker.<br />$2,000 on Sen. Roxanne Persaud, who is facing a challenge from Mercedes Narcisse.<br />$2,000 on Assemblymember Victor Pichardo, who is engaged in a rematch with Hector Ramirez.</p> <p>

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to accurately reflect Thomas Carroll's former position as past president of The Foundation for Education Reform &amp; Accountability, not president of The Center for Education Reform as was stated.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/Cabrera_Rivera_NY1_screenshot_2.png" alt="Cabrera Rivera NY1 screenshot 2" width="600" height="354" /></p> <p>screenshot of CM Cabrera, left, &amp; Sen. Rivera from NY1</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">A Super PAC backed by the education reform lobby and a number of wealthy out-of-state donors has earned the enmity of establishment Democrats by pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into races in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Long Island in an effort to unseat Democrat incumbents. The group, New Yorkers for Independent Action, now appears to be adjusting its strategy by supporting some incumbents.</p> <p dir="ltr">The PAC is at least partially focused on passing an education tax credit proposal through Albany that would provide tax breaks to those who donate to private and charter schools. It is currently spending, largely in mailings - some of which attack candidates and some that are supportive of candidates - six state Assembly and Senate races. Opposed by the majority in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, the education tax credit proposal has been stuck in Albany despite prior lobbying efforts.<br /><br />&ldquo;This group and its funders are sadly mistaken if they think this will do anything to further their issue,&rdquo; said Michael Whyland, spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. A number of Heastie&rsquo;s allies in the Bronx have been targeted by the PAC&rsquo;s spending.</p> <p dir="ltr">New Yorkers for Independent Action has been attacked by liberal activist groups and incumbent Democrats as the work of hedge-fund profiteers looking to advance their agenda by involving themselves in local races they have no real investment in or knowledge of. Teachers unions decry the measure as siphoning tax dollars away from public schools to reward wealthy donors, who it is assumed will monopolize the tax breaks by donating large sums to applicable private institutions. The PAC of the state teachers union has upped its spending in response to that of New Yorkers for Independent Action.<br /><br />The group initially targeted for defeat Bronx Sen. Gustavo Rivera, Assemblymember Phil Ramos of Long Island, and Assemblymembers Latrice Walker and Pamela Harris of Brooklyn, all Democrats. Now, it is spending in support of Sen. Roxanne Persaud of Brooklyn and Assemblymember Victor Pichardo of the Bronx, both incumbent Democrats.</p> <p dir="ltr">Recent filings show that in late June the group allocated $2,000 a piece to support Persaud and Pichardo. Those expenditures pale in comparison, though, to what the PAC has spent on mailers and canvassers in other races. It is unclear exactly what the $2,000 went towards as it is unlikely it could have funded the kinds of district-wide mailers that have popped up in the Rivera, Ramos, Harris, and Walker races. <br /><br />Future disclosures will show how committed the PAC is to those races, but the spending is meant to influence the outcomes of the quickly-approaching September 13 primaries for all state legislative seats. As of mid-July, New Yorkers for Independent Action reported spending $1,295,672 and raising $2,780,000.<br /><br />NYFIA&rsquo;s treasurer, Thomas Carroll, is former president of The Foundation for Education Reform &amp; Accountability, did not return requests for comment.</p> <p dir="ltr">The money spent so far by New Yorkers for Independent Action has mainly gone in large sums to help four candidates, each of whom has seen at least $300,000 spent by the PAC in their race. Council Member Fernando Cabrera is being aided in his rematch with Sen. Gustavo Rivera; Council Member Darlene Mealy is getting support in her challenge to Assemblymember &nbsp;Latrice Walker; Giovanni Mata is being backed in his second challenge to Assemblymember Phil Ramos and Kate Cucco is being bolstered in her bid to oust Assemblymember Pamela Harris.</p> <p dir="ltr">While NYFIA spends big money to defeat Rivera, backing his challenger, City Council Member Fernando Cabrera, in a twist, it is now spending to buoy Pichardo, who previously worked as director of community affairs for Rivera and won his Assembly seat with major guidance from Rivera and his allies.</p> <p dir="ltr">The PAC has already spent over $356,000 to back Cabrera, with flyers attacking Rivera, others boosting Cabrera, and teams of canvassers carrying the literature.</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked about NYFIA&rsquo;s support during a <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/albany-newsmakers/2016/08/30/ny1-online--rivera-and-cabrera-square-off-in-contentious-democratic-primary-debate-for-33rd-state-senate-district.html?cid=twitter_InsideCityHall" target="_blank">debate</a> on NY1&rsquo;s Inside City Hall on Tuesday night, Cabrera pointed out that Rivera had endorsed Pichardo and Assemblymember Jose Rivera, who both back the EITC, and said that Rivera had a &ldquo;double standard.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Cabrera went on to say, &ldquo;With this PAC we are working to pass the educational tax credit.&rdquo; He added that he felt it was &ldquo;fair to provide this tax credit to parents.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Rivera responded that the PAC is supported by people who are &ldquo;anti-choice, anti-gay and anti-labor.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">It is illegal for candidates to coordinate with Super PACs.</p> <p dir="ltr">Pichardo&rsquo;s office did not return requests for comment; it is unclear if his re-election campaign welcomes the independent spending on his behalf.</p> <p dir="ltr">Karen Scharff, head of Citizen Action NY, is also part of the anti-hedge-fund group Hedge Clippers, which often <a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/321913433/Hedge-Clippers-Report-on-Hedge-Funds-and-Private-Equity-Manipulating-NY-Elections-August-23-2016#from_embed" target="_blank">criticizes</a> the education reform movement and its wealthy backers. Scharff said that Super PAC spending of this type in primaries is a new development, and she fears it is just a preview of the kind of outside spending that will occur in the general election when control of the State Senate will be contested.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The problem with this flood of cash from outside billionaires is that it impacts who gets elected in these communities that billionaires have no interest in. It is doubly disempowering the community, because they lose their voice in local matters and then have electeds who are more dedicated and accountable to the billionaires who elected them.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Most of the candidates targeted by New Yorkers for Independent Action are not going unaided. Fund for Great Public Schools, a Super PAC controlled by Andrew Pollotta, the vice president of the New York State United Teachers union (NYSUT), was recently aided by a $4 million transfer from New Yorkers For a Brighter Future. The group has begun spending on mailers and advertisements to support Ramos, Walker, Rivera, and Harris, and attacking their opponents. &nbsp;As of the last <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/ind_exp_report?filerID_in=A21662&amp;type_in=E&amp;e_year_in=2016" target="_blank">campaign filing report</a>, on August 26, they appear to have spent a little over $80,000 on the four candidates.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the 46th Assembly District, Kate Cucco, a former Assembly aide, is challenging Harris. Residents of the Southern Brooklyn district have been bombarded with flyers and polls from both independent groups. The race feels to many to be a proxy war for the education reform and union movements. <br /><br />Asked whether Cucco supports the involvement of New Yorkers for Independent Action in her race, a spokesperson sent Gotham Gazette a statement: &nbsp;<br /><br />"Kate Cucco has long been on record urging for the overturn of Citizen's [sic] United and has been a staunch advocate for major reforms to campaign finance laws. Kate is in favor of public financing of campaigns that put hard limits of the amount of money a candidate can raise/spend, she is in favor of closing the LLC loophole, increasing the disclaimer requirements so voters know exactly who paid for campaign ads, as well as easing barriers to voting such as having one primary in June, allowing mail in voting, same day voter registration, and allowing for party enrollment changes right up until 60 days before an election."<br /><br />Cucco is a supporter of a version of the Education Investment Tax Credit that NYFIA wants to see passed. <br /><br />The PAC has used a similar theme for some of its mailers; in both the Rivera and Ramos races the mailer focuses on a New York Times editorial that accuses legislative leaders of failing to act on ethics reform in the wake of major scandals. Neither Ramos nor Rivera were at the center of the negotiations surrounding ethics reforms. There appear to have been about seven or eight mailers sent out in both districts, with varying themes.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a statement, Assemblymember Ramos decried NYFIA, describing its donors as &ldquo;millionaires and billionaires from Manhattan&rsquo;s Upper East Side.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Why are they investing so heavily in a Brentwood Central Islip and Bay Shore Assembly race?&rdquo; the statement says. &ldquo;Because I stood up for my community and said NO to a million dollar tax break that they are pitching as an education opportunity for poor kids. I will stand up and fight anyone who tries to exploit our community. We deserve better.&rdquo; Ramos also said that the Super PAC has &ldquo;no grassroots&rdquo; and that &ldquo;Anyone that actually lives here knows we can't be bought. That's why I'm confident this multi-million dollar plan will fail, I trust my neighbors and they trust me."<br /><br />Some candidates insist that NYFIA is interested only in passing the EITC and has no further political agenda. Scharff scoffs at the idea, pointing out that billionaire non-New Yorkers like Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heir and Arkansas resident, and some donors who have traditionally given to conservative Christian causes have donated heavily to the PAC. <br /><br />Hedge Clippers has also highlighted that the incumbents targeted by NYFIA were major advocates for a $15 minimum wage and other progressive issues.<br /><br />&ldquo;The problem with this kind of money being poured into these districts by billionaires is that it drowns out the voices of voters,&rdquo; said Scharff. She said she expects a number of progressive issues to be at the center of the next legislative session and that those issues will be in jeopardy if NYFIA gets its candidates in place. &ldquo;If this spending continues into the general election it really could shift balance of power.&rdquo; <br /><br />This is how New Yorkers for Independent Action has allocated its <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/reports/rwservlet?cmdkey=efs_sch_report+p_filer_id=A21080+p_e_year=2016+p_freport_id=K+p_transaction_code=R" target="_blank">spending</a> on candidates through its July 11 filing: <br />$302,878.91 to support Giovanni Mata, who is challenging Assemblymember Phil Ramos. <br />$358,235.33 to support City Council Member Fernando Cabrera in his second attempt to defeat Sen. Gustavo Rivera. <br />$309,404.25 on Kate Cucco, who is challenging Assemblymember Pamela Harris.<br />$321,153.54 on City Council Member Darlene Mealy, who is challenging Assemblymember Latrice Walker.<br />$2,000 on Sen. Roxanne Persaud, who is facing a challenge from Mercedes Narcisse.<br />$2,000 on Assemblymember Victor Pichardo, who is engaged in a rematch with Hector Ramirez.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to accurately reflect Thomas Carroll's former position as past president of The Foundation for Education Reform &amp; Accountability, not president of The Center for Education Reform as was stated.</p>
Super PAC Begins Flyering Bronx Senate Race 2016-07-22T04:00:00+00:00 2016-07-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6450:super-pac-begins-flyering-bronx-senate-race Ben Max <p>&nbsp;<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/riveraflyer2_1.jpg" alt="riveraflyer2 1" width="600" height="331" /></p> <hr /> <p>A super PAC has started to blanket the 33rd Senate District in the Bronx with mailers attacking incumbent Democratic state Senator Gustavo Rivera and praising his challenger, Democratic City Council Member Fernando Cabrera. A flyer sent to voters last week praises Cabrera for standing up for family values and for knowing that &ldquo;single women, mothers and our wives need protection.&rdquo;</p> <p>Flyers sent this week accuse Rivera of &ldquo;Playing Us For Fools&rdquo; and excerpts heavily from the June 21 New York Times editorial, &ldquo;<a href="http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/06/21/opinion/the-old-albany-hustle.html?_r=0" target="_blank">The Old Albany Hustle</a>,&rdquo; which criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders for failing to enact any meaningful ethics reforms this year.</p> <p>Rivera has advocated for the very ethics reforms the editorial accuses the governor and majority leaders of avoiding and Rivera is part of the Democratic minority in the Senate that has no power at the negotiating table. Cabrera and Rivera <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6386-bronx-council-member-preparing-to-again-challenge-incumbent-state-senator" target="_blank">will face off for the second consecutive cycle</a> during the September 13 primary.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/riveraflyer1.jpg" alt="riveraflyer1" width="300" height="159" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />&ldquo;I think it's ridiculous and laughable on its face,&rdquo; Rivera told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;But it is a deceiving piece. The New York Times article does not have my name in it, but it is an editorial I agree with 100 percent. We should have done more on ethics. Ethics reform is the reason I came to the Senate, it is the reason I ran against a corrupt senator. I&rsquo;ve been fighting for reform since the second I got to Albany.&rdquo;</p> <p>New Yorkers For Independent Action, the PAC paying for the mailers, is advocating for the education tax credit that would see the state give tax rebates to individuals and companies who donate to private, religious, and charter schools. Teachers unions say the measure basically acts as a backdoor to vouchers and will be taken advantage of by companies and the wealthy; while proponents say it boosts educational choice.</p> <p>Cabrera lost his primary challenge to Rivera two years ago by 20 points and according to a number of sources he promised members of the Bronx Democratic Committee not to run again and to work with Rivera. However, many Democrats see the financial backing of NYIA as the impetus for <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6386-bronx-council-member-preparing-to-again-challenge-incumbent-state-senator" target="_blank">the repeat challenge</a>.</p> <p>The PAC has reported taking in $2.7 million since its creation and has spent over $1 million on polls and research on different races. The New York Daily News <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/education-reform-pac-targets-4-nys-legislative-dems-article-1.2706490" target="_blank">reported</a> earlier this month that the PAC is targeting Rivera as well as Assembly Democratic incumbents Pamela Harris of Brooklyn, Phil Ramos of Suffolk County, and Latrice Harris of Brooklyn.</p> <p>Major donors include Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, who gave $450,000, and Peter Grauer of Bloomberg L.P., who gave $75,000. The PAC also has major support from Catholic activists.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/cabreraflyer2.jpg" alt="cabreraflyer2" width="300" height="171" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />Cabrera has proven a controversial figure in the City Council for his support of Ugandan anti-gay laws and his association with anti-gay group The Family Research Council. Cabrera&rsquo;s run is not insignificant in a year when Senate Democrats are banking on the presidential election to help them <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6447-senate-republicans-face-departures-with-battle-for-control-looming" target="_blank">seize the majority from Senate Republicans</a>. Rivera, who would have otherwise spent the summer campaigning for other Democrats, is now forced into a costly primary.</p> <p>Cabrera reported raising $72,015 in his July filing with the state campaign finance board and spending $47,549 -- he now has $24,315 to spend. Many of his donations came from the real estate industry. Rivera reported raising $139,486, while spending $79,299; he has $114,012 to spend. Rivera took a significant number of contributions from beer distributors.</p> <p>Rivera said he expects to see mailers every week from the PAC until the September primary. &ldquo;He wouldn&rsquo;t have been able to afford this kind of campaign on his own,&rdquo; Rivera said of Cabrera, questioning whether Cabrera knew of the PAC&rsquo;s involvement in advance. Cabrera's office did not return requests for comment for this story.</p> <p>&ldquo;Knowing you are going to have this kind of money behind you gives you a pretty good reason to run,&rdquo; Rivera said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p>&nbsp;<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/riveraflyer2_1.jpg" alt="riveraflyer2 1" width="600" height="331" /></p> <hr /> <p>A super PAC has started to blanket the 33rd Senate District in the Bronx with mailers attacking incumbent Democratic state Senator Gustavo Rivera and praising his challenger, Democratic City Council Member Fernando Cabrera. A flyer sent to voters last week praises Cabrera for standing up for family values and for knowing that &ldquo;single women, mothers and our wives need protection.&rdquo;</p> <p>Flyers sent this week accuse Rivera of &ldquo;Playing Us For Fools&rdquo; and excerpts heavily from the June 21 New York Times editorial, &ldquo;<a href="http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/06/21/opinion/the-old-albany-hustle.html?_r=0" target="_blank">The Old Albany Hustle</a>,&rdquo; which criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders for failing to enact any meaningful ethics reforms this year.</p> <p>Rivera has advocated for the very ethics reforms the editorial accuses the governor and majority leaders of avoiding and Rivera is part of the Democratic minority in the Senate that has no power at the negotiating table. Cabrera and Rivera <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6386-bronx-council-member-preparing-to-again-challenge-incumbent-state-senator" target="_blank">will face off for the second consecutive cycle</a> during the September 13 primary.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/riveraflyer1.jpg" alt="riveraflyer1" width="300" height="159" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />&ldquo;I think it's ridiculous and laughable on its face,&rdquo; Rivera told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;But it is a deceiving piece. The New York Times article does not have my name in it, but it is an editorial I agree with 100 percent. We should have done more on ethics. Ethics reform is the reason I came to the Senate, it is the reason I ran against a corrupt senator. I&rsquo;ve been fighting for reform since the second I got to Albany.&rdquo;</p> <p>New Yorkers For Independent Action, the PAC paying for the mailers, is advocating for the education tax credit that would see the state give tax rebates to individuals and companies who donate to private, religious, and charter schools. Teachers unions say the measure basically acts as a backdoor to vouchers and will be taken advantage of by companies and the wealthy; while proponents say it boosts educational choice.</p> <p>Cabrera lost his primary challenge to Rivera two years ago by 20 points and according to a number of sources he promised members of the Bronx Democratic Committee not to run again and to work with Rivera. However, many Democrats see the financial backing of NYIA as the impetus for <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6386-bronx-council-member-preparing-to-again-challenge-incumbent-state-senator" target="_blank">the repeat challenge</a>.</p> <p>The PAC has reported taking in $2.7 million since its creation and has spent over $1 million on polls and research on different races. The New York Daily News <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/education-reform-pac-targets-4-nys-legislative-dems-article-1.2706490" target="_blank">reported</a> earlier this month that the PAC is targeting Rivera as well as Assembly Democratic incumbents Pamela Harris of Brooklyn, Phil Ramos of Suffolk County, and Latrice Harris of Brooklyn.</p> <p>Major donors include Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, who gave $450,000, and Peter Grauer of Bloomberg L.P., who gave $75,000. The PAC also has major support from Catholic activists.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/cabreraflyer2.jpg" alt="cabreraflyer2" width="300" height="171" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />Cabrera has proven a controversial figure in the City Council for his support of Ugandan anti-gay laws and his association with anti-gay group The Family Research Council. Cabrera&rsquo;s run is not insignificant in a year when Senate Democrats are banking on the presidential election to help them <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6447-senate-republicans-face-departures-with-battle-for-control-looming" target="_blank">seize the majority from Senate Republicans</a>. Rivera, who would have otherwise spent the summer campaigning for other Democrats, is now forced into a costly primary.</p> <p>Cabrera reported raising $72,015 in his July filing with the state campaign finance board and spending $47,549 -- he now has $24,315 to spend. Many of his donations came from the real estate industry. Rivera reported raising $139,486, while spending $79,299; he has $114,012 to spend. Rivera took a significant number of contributions from beer distributors.</p> <p>Rivera said he expects to see mailers every week from the PAC until the September primary. &ldquo;He wouldn&rsquo;t have been able to afford this kind of campaign on his own,&rdquo; Rivera said of Cabrera, questioning whether Cabrera knew of the PAC&rsquo;s involvement in advance. Cabrera's office did not return requests for comment for this story.</p> <p>&ldquo;Knowing you are going to have this kind of money behind you gives you a pretty good reason to run,&rdquo; Rivera said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Bronx Council Member Preparing to Again Challenge Incumbent State Senator 2016-06-09T00:00:00+00:00 2016-06-09T00:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6386:bronx-council-member-preparing-to-again-challenge-incumbent-state-senator Amanda Sherwin <p><img alt="16005101264 d25557eee7 z" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2015/16005101264_d25557eee7_z.jpg" height="427" width="640" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 14.6667px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">City Council Member Cabrera (photo: William Alatriste)<a target="_blank" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/nyccouncil/16005101264/in/photolist-qojjZN-ri14fb-r3SVjT-ri14eu-r3SVxi-r3KPts-r3SVxt-r3SVkp-qowHex-noMQYc-j6yoaj-ifVoWb-ifV5tt-ifVxsN-b8D3RZ-b8EH6i-b8D45D-b8EDzz-9C4U9Y-b8D4hc-b8EHmt-b8EGQp-b8D4TT-b8EJ1T-b8D4ri-9C21Wx-9C228K-9C23wr-9C21EH-9C4VSE-9C21gr-9C4XUs-9C1ZBc-9C4VdL-9C4VEj-9C21rn-9C4Um3-9C4YJQ-9C214T-9C5mVN-9patVu-9yknA7-9iL87C-7DJrjk-9p7sz4-9yhpmt-9paueY-9p7rsv-9p7sde-9iL9ef"><br /></a></span></p> <hr /> <p>City Council Member Fernando Cabrera is preparing for a rematch with incumbent State Senator Gustavo Rivera in the 33rd Senate District in the Bronx, according to sources familiar with Cabrera’s intentions.</p> <p>Cabrera did not have an easy go of things when he first challenged Rivera in the 2014 Democratic primary. Reports by various publications <a target="_blank" href="http://observer.com/2014/06/fernando-cabrera-draws-fire-for-ties-to-hate-group/">highlighted</a> Cabrera’s connections to extreme anti-gay groups like The Family Research Council, his praise of Ugandan anti-gay laws, and his <a target="_blank" href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5138-cabrera-conservative-credentials-klein-litmus-test-idc">conservative voting record</a>.</p> <p>Cabrera lost the 2014 primary by 20 points. He <a target="_blank" href="http://observer.com/2014/09/fernando-cabrera-blames-liberal-media-for-senate-loss/">told The Observer</a> that he believed his loss was due to “the liberal media.”&nbsp;</p> <p>“He had the mayor, he had the borough president, he had county, he had all the unions, he had liberal media, he had the LGBT community–what was left?” Cabrera said, according to The Observer. “It was absolutely unfair. I think [the media] was very biased. It was clear, every time we tried to put our message out, it was not being put forth correctly or misrepresented.”</p> <p>According to five sources familiar with his intentions, Cabrera plans to again challenge Rivera this year - a move that is causing tension with the Bronx Democratic County Committee, whose leaders were hoping to maintain peace between their elected Council member and senator.</p> <p>Cabrera and his office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. He is in the midst of his second four-year term as a Council member and can run for one more in 2017. State Senators serve two-year terms and have no term limits.</p> <p>“Whatever decision [Cabrera] makes the results from the last election are what they are, and I’m not sure they could be any different,” said Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who heads the Bronx County Democratic Committee.</p> <p>Asked whether he shares concerns voiced by other insiders that the time and resources of both elected officials, Cabrera and Rivera, would be better spent representing their shared constituents rather than battling each other, Crespo replied; “I would agree with that statement.”</p> <p>Rivera said that while he welcomed all challengers he is taken aback by Cabrera’s candidacy because he thinks Cabrera’s beliefs fly in the face of those of Senate Democrats.</p> <p>“Since I defeated Pedro Espada in 2010 I’ve been working consistently to return the Democrats to the Senate Majority, I’ve been fighting for my constituents, for tenants rights, for equality. We saw before how the Democratic majority was undone by a backroom deal,” Rivera said. “My opponent is someone who changed registration from Republican to Democrat, is anti-choice, anti-women, has dangerous views on the LGBT community, and has taken major donations from landlords while the rent laws are up [for reauthorization] next year.”</p> <p>Rivera said he feels that Cabrera is the kind of politician who could jeopardize a Democratic majority, which the party is hoping for through this fall’s elections.</p> <p>“We want to make sure when we get to the majority we can can do the right thing, and this endangers that,” Rivera said of Cabrera’s challenge.</p> <p>Rivera is seen by many as an outsider to the Bronx County Democrats. He has openly clashed with Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., who holds conservative views similar to Cabrera’s, and has warred with Independent Democratic Conference leader Sen. Jeff Klein over Klein’s decision to split from mainline Democrats and essentially give Republicans rule over the chamber (even after Democrats won a numerical majority).</p> <p>Rivera was further seen to have rankled the county machine when he supported his chief of staff, Katrina Asante, in the race to replace Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, who was recently hired by the Cuomo administration, creating an open seat. County Democrats have rallied behind District Leader Jamaal Bailey, who is seen as a protege of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who has endorsed him. Asante officially dropped her bid on Wednesday.</p> <p>Norwood News <a target="_blank" href="http://www.norwoodnews.org/id=20957&amp;story=announcement-of-senate-candidacy-in-the-bronx-doubles-as-endorsement/">reported</a> in April that some involved in Bronx politics see Hassell-Thompson’s hiring and Heastie’s endorsement of Bailey as an undemocratic conspiracy parallel to&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5891-rumored-scheme-brings-scrutiny-to-bronx-political-machine">the backroom maneuvering</a> that allowed Bronx County Democrats to replace former Bronx County District Attorney Robert Johnson on the ballot with Darcel Clark, a Heastie ally.</p> <p>Crespo refuted the idea, <a target="_blank" href="http://www.norwoodnews.org/id=20957&amp;story=announcement-of-senate-candidacy-in-the-bronx-doubles-as-endorsement/">telling Norwood News</a>, “The notion that the only way Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson could get something is by somebody asking, that’s nonsense. People either have too much fun believing somehow running strings everywhere."</p> <p>While some insiders say Asante faced trouble raising funds due to Heastie’s support of Bailey, most insiders Gotham Gazette spoke to said they see Cabrera’s planned challenge to Rivera as unrelated.</p> <p>During his last run for Senate, Cabrera voiced interest in joining Klein in the IDC and appeared to benefit from many of Klein’s donors. This year, with control of the Senate extremely tenuous, it appears unlikely the IDC will get involved in the race.</p> <p>Gary Axelbank, a political observer and host of BronxTalk, said that he sees Cabrera’s run against Rivera as a boon for constituents. “When two elected officials from one district oppose each other, it's very healthy for constituents to have that sort of high-level choice. It speaks to the best of our participatory democracy.”</p> <p>However, Axelbank noted that Cabrera turned down his invitation to a televised debate with Rivera in 2014. “We invited Councilman Cabrera to participate in a debate the last time these two ran against each other, but he declined to participate, which we found to be very disappointing. We plan to invite both the candidates to debate again this summer and we hope and expect that Councilman Cabrera will join us so that the voters have the best chance to make their choice."</p> <p>Meanwhile, Rivera is not hiding the fact that he takes Cabrera’s challenge as an affront to not only his work but the work done by all elected Senate Democrats to win back the majority from Senate Republicans.</p> <p>“It's more than a little offensive that this person is more interested in his political future than serving our constituents,” Rivera said.</p> <p>

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img alt="16005101264 d25557eee7 z" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2015/16005101264_d25557eee7_z.jpg" height="427" width="640" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 14.6667px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">City Council Member Cabrera (photo: William Alatriste)<a target="_blank" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/nyccouncil/16005101264/in/photolist-qojjZN-ri14fb-r3SVjT-ri14eu-r3SVxi-r3KPts-r3SVxt-r3SVkp-qowHex-noMQYc-j6yoaj-ifVoWb-ifV5tt-ifVxsN-b8D3RZ-b8EH6i-b8D45D-b8EDzz-9C4U9Y-b8D4hc-b8EHmt-b8EGQp-b8D4TT-b8EJ1T-b8D4ri-9C21Wx-9C228K-9C23wr-9C21EH-9C4VSE-9C21gr-9C4XUs-9C1ZBc-9C4VdL-9C4VEj-9C21rn-9C4Um3-9C4YJQ-9C214T-9C5mVN-9patVu-9yknA7-9iL87C-7DJrjk-9p7sz4-9yhpmt-9paueY-9p7rsv-9p7sde-9iL9ef"><br /></a></span></p> <hr /> <p>City Council Member Fernando Cabrera is preparing for a rematch with incumbent State Senator Gustavo Rivera in the 33rd Senate District in the Bronx, according to sources familiar with Cabrera’s intentions.</p> <p>Cabrera did not have an easy go of things when he first challenged Rivera in the 2014 Democratic primary. Reports by various publications <a target="_blank" href="http://observer.com/2014/06/fernando-cabrera-draws-fire-for-ties-to-hate-group/">highlighted</a> Cabrera’s connections to extreme anti-gay groups like The Family Research Council, his praise of Ugandan anti-gay laws, and his <a target="_blank" href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5138-cabrera-conservative-credentials-klein-litmus-test-idc">conservative voting record</a>.</p> <p>Cabrera lost the 2014 primary by 20 points. He <a target="_blank" href="http://observer.com/2014/09/fernando-cabrera-blames-liberal-media-for-senate-loss/">told The Observer</a> that he believed his loss was due to “the liberal media.”&nbsp;</p> <p>“He had the mayor, he had the borough president, he had county, he had all the unions, he had liberal media, he had the LGBT community–what was left?” Cabrera said, according to The Observer. “It was absolutely unfair. I think [the media] was very biased. It was clear, every time we tried to put our message out, it was not being put forth correctly or misrepresented.”</p> <p>According to five sources familiar with his intentions, Cabrera plans to again challenge Rivera this year - a move that is causing tension with the Bronx Democratic County Committee, whose leaders were hoping to maintain peace between their elected Council member and senator.</p> <p>Cabrera and his office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. He is in the midst of his second four-year term as a Council member and can run for one more in 2017. State Senators serve two-year terms and have no term limits.</p> <p>“Whatever decision [Cabrera] makes the results from the last election are what they are, and I’m not sure they could be any different,” said Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who heads the Bronx County Democratic Committee.</p> <p>Asked whether he shares concerns voiced by other insiders that the time and resources of both elected officials, Cabrera and Rivera, would be better spent representing their shared constituents rather than battling each other, Crespo replied; “I would agree with that statement.”</p> <p>Rivera said that while he welcomed all challengers he is taken aback by Cabrera’s candidacy because he thinks Cabrera’s beliefs fly in the face of those of Senate Democrats.</p> <p>“Since I defeated Pedro Espada in 2010 I’ve been working consistently to return the Democrats to the Senate Majority, I’ve been fighting for my constituents, for tenants rights, for equality. We saw before how the Democratic majority was undone by a backroom deal,” Rivera said. “My opponent is someone who changed registration from Republican to Democrat, is anti-choice, anti-women, has dangerous views on the LGBT community, and has taken major donations from landlords while the rent laws are up [for reauthorization] next year.”</p> <p>Rivera said he feels that Cabrera is the kind of politician who could jeopardize a Democratic majority, which the party is hoping for through this fall’s elections.</p> <p>“We want to make sure when we get to the majority we can can do the right thing, and this endangers that,” Rivera said of Cabrera’s challenge.</p> <p>Rivera is seen by many as an outsider to the Bronx County Democrats. He has openly clashed with Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., who holds conservative views similar to Cabrera’s, and has warred with Independent Democratic Conference leader Sen. Jeff Klein over Klein’s decision to split from mainline Democrats and essentially give Republicans rule over the chamber (even after Democrats won a numerical majority).</p> <p>Rivera was further seen to have rankled the county machine when he supported his chief of staff, Katrina Asante, in the race to replace Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, who was recently hired by the Cuomo administration, creating an open seat. County Democrats have rallied behind District Leader Jamaal Bailey, who is seen as a protege of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who has endorsed him. Asante officially dropped her bid on Wednesday.</p> <p>Norwood News <a target="_blank" href="http://www.norwoodnews.org/id=20957&amp;story=announcement-of-senate-candidacy-in-the-bronx-doubles-as-endorsement/">reported</a> in April that some involved in Bronx politics see Hassell-Thompson’s hiring and Heastie’s endorsement of Bailey as an undemocratic conspiracy parallel to&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5891-rumored-scheme-brings-scrutiny-to-bronx-political-machine">the backroom maneuvering</a> that allowed Bronx County Democrats to replace former Bronx County District Attorney Robert Johnson on the ballot with Darcel Clark, a Heastie ally.</p> <p>Crespo refuted the idea, <a target="_blank" href="http://www.norwoodnews.org/id=20957&amp;story=announcement-of-senate-candidacy-in-the-bronx-doubles-as-endorsement/">telling Norwood News</a>, “The notion that the only way Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson could get something is by somebody asking, that’s nonsense. People either have too much fun believing somehow running strings everywhere."</p> <p>While some insiders say Asante faced trouble raising funds due to Heastie’s support of Bailey, most insiders Gotham Gazette spoke to said they see Cabrera’s planned challenge to Rivera as unrelated.</p> <p>During his last run for Senate, Cabrera voiced interest in joining Klein in the IDC and appeared to benefit from many of Klein’s donors. This year, with control of the Senate extremely tenuous, it appears unlikely the IDC will get involved in the race.</p> <p>Gary Axelbank, a political observer and host of BronxTalk, said that he sees Cabrera’s run against Rivera as a boon for constituents. “When two elected officials from one district oppose each other, it's very healthy for constituents to have that sort of high-level choice. It speaks to the best of our participatory democracy.”</p> <p>However, Axelbank noted that Cabrera turned down his invitation to a televised debate with Rivera in 2014. “We invited Councilman Cabrera to participate in a debate the last time these two ran against each other, but he declined to participate, which we found to be very disappointing. We plan to invite both the candidates to debate again this summer and we hope and expect that Councilman Cabrera will join us so that the voters have the best chance to make their choice."</p> <p>Meanwhile, Rivera is not hiding the fact that he takes Cabrera’s challenge as an affront to not only his work but the work done by all elected Senate Democrats to win back the majority from Senate Republicans.</p> <p>“It's more than a little offensive that this person is more interested in his political future than serving our constituents,” Rivera said.</p> <p>

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>