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/gustavo-rivera 2017-10-19T07:16:00+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com 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
     

Read more by this writer.

</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
     

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>
<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>
Current Providers Welcome Addition of Coming City Bail Fund 2016-07-31T04:00:00+00:00 2016-07-31T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6462:current-providers-welcome-addition-of-coming-city-bail-fund Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/MMV_council_pre-stated.jpg" alt="MMV council pre stated" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Speaker Mark-Viverito and Council members (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>Last year, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito&rsquo;s office began seeking state approval for a public bail fund to keep poor low-level offenders out of jail, with Mark-Viverito citing the costs even a short jail stay can have on both lives and city funds. Now, after almost a year-and-a-half, the convoluted process of establishing the bail fund as a charity and obtaining a state license to run it appears to be nearing an end.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito touted the program in her first State of the City address as Speaker, in February 2015.</p> <p>"[I]f you can't afford bail you will spend on average 15 days in jail," said Mark-Viverito in her speech, given Feb. 11 from a public housing facility in East Harlem. "The results are predictable: people lose their jobs, or their housing, and cannot take care of their children while they are in custody. These are people who are accused of minor offenses and are still considered innocent in the eyes of the law. This is not justice."</p> <p>The city&rsquo;s recently-passed fiscal year 2017 budget <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/budget/2017/skedc.pdf" target="_blank">includes</a> $1.4 million for The Liberty Fund, to cover operation and administration. The same amount was included in the previous year&rsquo;s budget, but not used.</p> <p>For many criminal justice advocates, Mark-Viverito, and her team, the bail fund is a key program in a larger push for criminal justice reform. It goes hand-in-hand, they say, with a variety of other efforts spurred by either the Council or the de Blasio administration: a commission chaired by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman that is looking at closing Rikers Island; reforms to the city&rsquo;s summons system and reduced penalties for low-level nonviolent offenses (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6361-city-council-passes-criminal-justice-reform-act" target="_blank">see the Council&rsquo;s Criminal Justice Reform Act</a>); increased diversionary sentencing; and reductions in the number of arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana.</p> <p>&ldquo;From passing expansive summons reform to creating a citywide bail fund to instituting a Commission to tackle injustice on Rikers Island, the New York City Council is committed to commonsense reforms that will bring more justice and proportionality to our criminal justice system,&rdquo; Mark-Viverito said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;Across the nation, cities and states are engaged in a much-needed conversation about how we approach criminal justice as a country. New York City is at the forefront of these debates, and we are unafraid to lead,&rdquo; she said.</p> <p>Some criminal justice reformers view bail funds as &ldquo;band-aids&rdquo; that don&rsquo;t actually address what they see as the core problem: charging too many people with jailable offenses. They worry bail funds could actually prevent action on larger reforms.</p> <p>The city bail fund would establish a set of criteria for whom bail would be covered. State law that allows bail funds - there are already other funds operable but none at the scale of the City Council&rsquo;s - restricts such funds to paying in misdemeanor cases where bail is less than $2,000. Members of Mark-Viverito&rsquo;s staff say they expect the Council-aligned fund will be able to cover bail for 1,000 individuals each year and hope to reach as high as 2,000 annually.</p> <p>State law allows judges to set bail as an incentive for individuals charged with a crime to return for their court dates. But many poor individuals can&rsquo;t pay and are forced to sit in jail waiting for trial - an outcome that forces the city to spend money for intake costs like transportation, beds, medical exams, and meals.</p> <p>According to a 2011 report from the Independent Budget Office, almost 40 percent of the city's then-12,000-member jail population was pretrial detainees who couldn't afford bail. The IBO estimated the cost of holding those alleged offenders at $125 million. The city&rsquo;s jail population has continued a decades-long decline and is around 10,000 now, with about three-quarters of those detainees at Riker&rsquo;s Island jail complex.</p> <p>The city has two other bail funds at the moment: The Bronx Freedom Fund and <a href="http://www.brooklynbailfund.org/" target="_blank">The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund</a>. The organizations see over 95 percent of the people they serve return for all their court dates, a number far higher than for people who actually pay bail on their own.</p> <p>&ldquo;The people we bail out have zero financial incentive to return,&rdquo; said Ezra Ritchin of <a href="http://www.thebronxfreedomfund.org/" target="_blank">The Bronx Freedom Fund</a>. &ldquo;You would imagine if the law was executed correctly people wouldn't be coming back in droves,&rdquo; Ritchin said, referring to the idea that what brings defendants back to court is the bail they put up. &ldquo;But that is not the case, we get a 96 percent return and all we&rsquo;re doing is calling people to remind them of their court dates - sending texts, letters, and calls letting them know where they have to be.&rdquo;</p> <p>Despite the success they&rsquo;ve had with bail funds, Ritchin and his colleagues at both funds don&rsquo;t totally disagree with the idea that bail funds are short-term, sub-ideal measures. &ldquo;Band-aids are helpful tools for people who have cuts,&rdquo; said Ritchin. The lives of the people they serve, he said, &ldquo;would unravel if they weren't bailed out. It&rsquo;s good to have a high-level view of policy change, but we can also help people. Hopefully bail funds do set the groundwork for policy change so that bail funds don't have to exist.&rdquo;</p> <p>Peter Goldberg, executive director of The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, said it is his hope that bail funds will act as a &ldquo;stop-gap&rdquo; effort while drawing attention to larger necessary reforms. &ldquo;We shouldn&rsquo;t be asking for money for bail from people who can&rsquo;t afford it. We need to increase diversion services.&rdquo;</p> <p>As far as the impact the city&rsquo;s other criminal justice reforms are having, Ritchin and other bail fund representatives say they have not witnessed a major reduction in clients having been arrested for minor offenses like violating open container laws or possession of small amounts of marijuana.</p> <p>&ldquo;Last year there were a quarter-million misdemeanor arrests in New York City,&rdquo; said Goldberg &ldquo;We are making additional progress in that area, but if we want to reduce the number of people we are incarcerating for short periods of times it will really require taking a look at if that number of arrests is appropriate.&rdquo;</p> <p>A member of Mark-Viverito&rsquo;s team said that ideally people committing minor offenses would not be sent to jail at all, but that change is up to the state.</p> <p>&ldquo;New York City is taking aggressive steps to ensure that people who can safely await trial in their communities are able to do so,&rdquo; said Monica Klein, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, when asked about the city&rsquo;s bail reform efforts. &ldquo;By enrolling over 1,000 New Yorkers in our supervised release program to-date, the City has avoided the money bail system for these individuals.&rdquo;</p> <p>City officials point to statistics showing that summonses and arrests for low-level offenses are less frequent than they have been in decades and that 2015 saw the lowest number of criminal summonses since 1997.</p> <p>They also say they as the Criminal Justice Reform Act is implemented they expect jail populations to further decline, given that police officers will be encouraged to issue civil summonses over criminal ones and defendants found guilty of some crimes will be allowed to complete community service rather than pay a fine.</p> <p>Both Ritchin and Goldberg stressed that they are unable to meet the overwhelming demand for their services and that they welcome the city&rsquo;s bail fund.</p> <p>With the need so great, it may be a wonder to some why it has taken so long to get it up and running. Earlier this year, Mark-Viverito <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6206-key-to-vision-of-closing-rikers-city-council-bail-fund-moves-through-state-process" target="_blank">told Gotham Gazette</a> that the bail fund as moving through the approval process at a slow pace because of state bureaucracy.</p> <p>The state only began licensing bail funds in 2012. Before then they were operating in a legal grey area. Ritchin and Goldberg say they understand why the city&rsquo;s fund <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6206-key-to-vision-of-closing-rikers-city-council-bail-fund-moves-through-state-process" target="_blank">has taken so long</a> to get licensed. From their experience the licensing process is protracted, frustrating, and perhaps not completely logical.</p> <p>Gotham Gazette has periodically checked in on the process involving the speaker&rsquo;s office and state regulators. Those check-ins showed the name, The Liberty Fund; that it is being overseen by The Doe Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to helping homeless people; and that it was officially recognized as a charity by the Attorney General&rsquo;s office in March. Since then there has been a bumpy back-and-forth application process with the state&rsquo;s Department of Financial Services, which licenses charitable bail funds.</p> <p>DFS representatives have told Gotham Gazette that they waited at least a month for relevant information after requesting it from the applicants. Gotham Gazette was told on Tuesday by a DFS official that the process is likely to last a few more weeks.</p> <p>The city bail fund will be the first of its size in the state, available to people city-wide.</p> <p>Ritchin was involved in helping the Brooklyn fund secure its license while writing a guide for other funds to get licensed. He said the process was rocky despite his past experience and that bureaucracy in general would cause some delay, but, &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not just that it takes so long but that a lot of the requirements just shouldn&rsquo;t exist,&rdquo; Ritchin said.</p> <p>&ldquo;Charitable funds face all the requirements of a for-profit business,&rdquo; Ritchin said, noting that part of the process involves licensing bondsmen and making sure the fund will take absorbetent fees. Charitable funds naturally do not take fees and do not act as bondsmen. Bondsmen require clients put up a fraction of their bail and then promise the court they will cover the full bail should a client fail to make it to court. Charitable bail funds simply pay the bail. If a client doesn&rsquo;t show the court keeps that money, just as if a client had paid bail themselves and then did not show up.</p> <p>However, bail funds put a different system in place to help ensure that clients make their court appearances. (New York City is also moving forward with its own reforms to make sure more people know about their court dates when given criminal summonses.)</p> <p>Goldberg was a corporate attorney out of powerhouse firm Cleary Gottlieb when he began working with the Brooklyn bail fund. &ldquo;I very much understand why it has taken them awhile,&rdquo; Goldberg said of the City Council fund. &ldquo;We had tremendous support forming our fund and yet it took us around two-and-a-half years before we could pay our first bail,&rdquo; Goldberg explained.</p> <p>&ldquo;We cannot charge and never would charge anyone for our services, which you would think obviates the concerns you might have in licensing commercial bail bondsmen,&rdquo; said Goldberg. &ldquo;You are dealing with an incredibly vulnerable population in court so it needs to be highly regulated, but if no money is ever going to be charged and no profit secured it is not easy to understand why the process is the same for charity funds as for-profit bondsmen.&rdquo;</p> <p>State Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, successfully advocated for <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5588-bronx-program-serves-as-inspiration-for-mark-viveritos-city-wide-bail-fund-proposal" target="_blank">licensing of bail funds</a> after a judge ordered the Bronx Fund to stop issuing bail because he said it operated in a legal grey area. Rivera told Gotham Gazette earlier this year that he would love to revisit the law and that he has been working with the Department of Financial Services to streamline the process since it became law.</p> <p>Ritchin said he believes that hitting the City Council goal of paying bail for at least 1,000 clients a year would make a big difference. However, he said &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a big problem: 45,000 people are held on bail every year. But [the city fund] may be able to make a big difference in something like reducing the temporary population at Rikers, it could lead to shutting down Rikers.&rdquo;</p> <p>Goldberg says he&rsquo;s spoken to representatives of the Mayor&rsquo;s Office and the DOE Fund about the bail fund and he welcomes it. &ldquo;I am happy the city is taking on part of this problem,&rdquo; said Goldberg, who acknowledged that even with the city fund fully operational there will still be more demand for bail services than all of the funds combined can handle.</p> <p>The fund should continue to fuel the discussion about criminal justice reform, Goldberg said. &ldquo;We very much view this as a necessary intervention. Bail funds do important work but I don't view this as the ultimate solution,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We are quite cognizant of that, and we hope the city will continue to use resources to diminish the number of people entering the system on the front end.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/MMV_council_pre-stated.jpg" alt="MMV council pre stated" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Speaker Mark-Viverito and Council members (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>Last year, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito&rsquo;s office began seeking state approval for a public bail fund to keep poor low-level offenders out of jail, with Mark-Viverito citing the costs even a short jail stay can have on both lives and city funds. Now, after almost a year-and-a-half, the convoluted process of establishing the bail fund as a charity and obtaining a state license to run it appears to be nearing an end.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito touted the program in her first State of the City address as Speaker, in February 2015.</p> <p>"[I]f you can't afford bail you will spend on average 15 days in jail," said Mark-Viverito in her speech, given Feb. 11 from a public housing facility in East Harlem. "The results are predictable: people lose their jobs, or their housing, and cannot take care of their children while they are in custody. These are people who are accused of minor offenses and are still considered innocent in the eyes of the law. This is not justice."</p> <p>The city&rsquo;s recently-passed fiscal year 2017 budget <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/budget/2017/skedc.pdf" target="_blank">includes</a> $1.4 million for The Liberty Fund, to cover operation and administration. The same amount was included in the previous year&rsquo;s budget, but not used.</p> <p>For many criminal justice advocates, Mark-Viverito, and her team, the bail fund is a key program in a larger push for criminal justice reform. It goes hand-in-hand, they say, with a variety of other efforts spurred by either the Council or the de Blasio administration: a commission chaired by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman that is looking at closing Rikers Island; reforms to the city&rsquo;s summons system and reduced penalties for low-level nonviolent offenses (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6361-city-council-passes-criminal-justice-reform-act" target="_blank">see the Council&rsquo;s Criminal Justice Reform Act</a>); increased diversionary sentencing; and reductions in the number of arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana.</p> <p>&ldquo;From passing expansive summons reform to creating a citywide bail fund to instituting a Commission to tackle injustice on Rikers Island, the New York City Council is committed to commonsense reforms that will bring more justice and proportionality to our criminal justice system,&rdquo; Mark-Viverito said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;Across the nation, cities and states are engaged in a much-needed conversation about how we approach criminal justice as a country. New York City is at the forefront of these debates, and we are unafraid to lead,&rdquo; she said.</p> <p>Some criminal justice reformers view bail funds as &ldquo;band-aids&rdquo; that don&rsquo;t actually address what they see as the core problem: charging too many people with jailable offenses. They worry bail funds could actually prevent action on larger reforms.</p> <p>The city bail fund would establish a set of criteria for whom bail would be covered. State law that allows bail funds - there are already other funds operable but none at the scale of the City Council&rsquo;s - restricts such funds to paying in misdemeanor cases where bail is less than $2,000. Members of Mark-Viverito&rsquo;s staff say they expect the Council-aligned fund will be able to cover bail for 1,000 individuals each year and hope to reach as high as 2,000 annually.</p> <p>State law allows judges to set bail as an incentive for individuals charged with a crime to return for their court dates. But many poor individuals can&rsquo;t pay and are forced to sit in jail waiting for trial - an outcome that forces the city to spend money for intake costs like transportation, beds, medical exams, and meals.</p> <p>According to a 2011 report from the Independent Budget Office, almost 40 percent of the city's then-12,000-member jail population was pretrial detainees who couldn't afford bail. The IBO estimated the cost of holding those alleged offenders at $125 million. The city&rsquo;s jail population has continued a decades-long decline and is around 10,000 now, with about three-quarters of those detainees at Riker&rsquo;s Island jail complex.</p> <p>The city has two other bail funds at the moment: The Bronx Freedom Fund and <a href="http://www.brooklynbailfund.org/" target="_blank">The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund</a>. The organizations see over 95 percent of the people they serve return for all their court dates, a number far higher than for people who actually pay bail on their own.</p> <p>&ldquo;The people we bail out have zero financial incentive to return,&rdquo; said Ezra Ritchin of <a href="http://www.thebronxfreedomfund.org/" target="_blank">The Bronx Freedom Fund</a>. &ldquo;You would imagine if the law was executed correctly people wouldn't be coming back in droves,&rdquo; Ritchin said, referring to the idea that what brings defendants back to court is the bail they put up. &ldquo;But that is not the case, we get a 96 percent return and all we&rsquo;re doing is calling people to remind them of their court dates - sending texts, letters, and calls letting them know where they have to be.&rdquo;</p> <p>Despite the success they&rsquo;ve had with bail funds, Ritchin and his colleagues at both funds don&rsquo;t totally disagree with the idea that bail funds are short-term, sub-ideal measures. &ldquo;Band-aids are helpful tools for people who have cuts,&rdquo; said Ritchin. The lives of the people they serve, he said, &ldquo;would unravel if they weren't bailed out. It&rsquo;s good to have a high-level view of policy change, but we can also help people. Hopefully bail funds do set the groundwork for policy change so that bail funds don't have to exist.&rdquo;</p> <p>Peter Goldberg, executive director of The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, said it is his hope that bail funds will act as a &ldquo;stop-gap&rdquo; effort while drawing attention to larger necessary reforms. &ldquo;We shouldn&rsquo;t be asking for money for bail from people who can&rsquo;t afford it. We need to increase diversion services.&rdquo;</p> <p>As far as the impact the city&rsquo;s other criminal justice reforms are having, Ritchin and other bail fund representatives say they have not witnessed a major reduction in clients having been arrested for minor offenses like violating open container laws or possession of small amounts of marijuana.</p> <p>&ldquo;Last year there were a quarter-million misdemeanor arrests in New York City,&rdquo; said Goldberg &ldquo;We are making additional progress in that area, but if we want to reduce the number of people we are incarcerating for short periods of times it will really require taking a look at if that number of arrests is appropriate.&rdquo;</p> <p>A member of Mark-Viverito&rsquo;s team said that ideally people committing minor offenses would not be sent to jail at all, but that change is up to the state.</p> <p>&ldquo;New York City is taking aggressive steps to ensure that people who can safely await trial in their communities are able to do so,&rdquo; said Monica Klein, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, when asked about the city&rsquo;s bail reform efforts. &ldquo;By enrolling over 1,000 New Yorkers in our supervised release program to-date, the City has avoided the money bail system for these individuals.&rdquo;</p> <p>City officials point to statistics showing that summonses and arrests for low-level offenses are less frequent than they have been in decades and that 2015 saw the lowest number of criminal summonses since 1997.</p> <p>They also say they as the Criminal Justice Reform Act is implemented they expect jail populations to further decline, given that police officers will be encouraged to issue civil summonses over criminal ones and defendants found guilty of some crimes will be allowed to complete community service rather than pay a fine.</p> <p>Both Ritchin and Goldberg stressed that they are unable to meet the overwhelming demand for their services and that they welcome the city&rsquo;s bail fund.</p> <p>With the need so great, it may be a wonder to some why it has taken so long to get it up and running. Earlier this year, Mark-Viverito <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6206-key-to-vision-of-closing-rikers-city-council-bail-fund-moves-through-state-process" target="_blank">told Gotham Gazette</a> that the bail fund as moving through the approval process at a slow pace because of state bureaucracy.</p> <p>The state only began licensing bail funds in 2012. Before then they were operating in a legal grey area. Ritchin and Goldberg say they understand why the city&rsquo;s fund <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6206-key-to-vision-of-closing-rikers-city-council-bail-fund-moves-through-state-process" target="_blank">has taken so long</a> to get licensed. From their experience the licensing process is protracted, frustrating, and perhaps not completely logical.</p> <p>Gotham Gazette has periodically checked in on the process involving the speaker&rsquo;s office and state regulators. Those check-ins showed the name, The Liberty Fund; that it is being overseen by The Doe Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to helping homeless people; and that it was officially recognized as a charity by the Attorney General&rsquo;s office in March. Since then there has been a bumpy back-and-forth application process with the state&rsquo;s Department of Financial Services, which licenses charitable bail funds.</p> <p>DFS representatives have told Gotham Gazette that they waited at least a month for relevant information after requesting it from the applicants. Gotham Gazette was told on Tuesday by a DFS official that the process is likely to last a few more weeks.</p> <p>The city bail fund will be the first of its size in the state, available to people city-wide.</p> <p>Ritchin was involved in helping the Brooklyn fund secure its license while writing a guide for other funds to get licensed. He said the process was rocky despite his past experience and that bureaucracy in general would cause some delay, but, &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not just that it takes so long but that a lot of the requirements just shouldn&rsquo;t exist,&rdquo; Ritchin said.</p> <p>&ldquo;Charitable funds face all the requirements of a for-profit business,&rdquo; Ritchin said, noting that part of the process involves licensing bondsmen and making sure the fund will take absorbetent fees. Charitable funds naturally do not take fees and do not act as bondsmen. Bondsmen require clients put up a fraction of their bail and then promise the court they will cover the full bail should a client fail to make it to court. Charitable bail funds simply pay the bail. If a client doesn&rsquo;t show the court keeps that money, just as if a client had paid bail themselves and then did not show up.</p> <p>However, bail funds put a different system in place to help ensure that clients make their court appearances. (New York City is also moving forward with its own reforms to make sure more people know about their court dates when given criminal summonses.)</p> <p>Goldberg was a corporate attorney out of powerhouse firm Cleary Gottlieb when he began working with the Brooklyn bail fund. &ldquo;I very much understand why it has taken them awhile,&rdquo; Goldberg said of the City Council fund. &ldquo;We had tremendous support forming our fund and yet it took us around two-and-a-half years before we could pay our first bail,&rdquo; Goldberg explained.</p> <p>&ldquo;We cannot charge and never would charge anyone for our services, which you would think obviates the concerns you might have in licensing commercial bail bondsmen,&rdquo; said Goldberg. &ldquo;You are dealing with an incredibly vulnerable population in court so it needs to be highly regulated, but if no money is ever going to be charged and no profit secured it is not easy to understand why the process is the same for charity funds as for-profit bondsmen.&rdquo;</p> <p>State Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, successfully advocated for <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5588-bronx-program-serves-as-inspiration-for-mark-viveritos-city-wide-bail-fund-proposal" target="_blank">licensing of bail funds</a> after a judge ordered the Bronx Fund to stop issuing bail because he said it operated in a legal grey area. Rivera told Gotham Gazette earlier this year that he would love to revisit the law and that he has been working with the Department of Financial Services to streamline the process since it became law.</p> <p>Ritchin said he believes that hitting the City Council goal of paying bail for at least 1,000 clients a year would make a big difference. However, he said &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a big problem: 45,000 people are held on bail every year. But [the city fund] may be able to make a big difference in something like reducing the temporary population at Rikers, it could lead to shutting down Rikers.&rdquo;</p> <p>Goldberg says he&rsquo;s spoken to representatives of the Mayor&rsquo;s Office and the DOE Fund about the bail fund and he welcomes it. &ldquo;I am happy the city is taking on part of this problem,&rdquo; said Goldberg, who acknowledged that even with the city fund fully operational there will still be more demand for bail services than all of the funds combined can handle.</p> <p>The fund should continue to fuel the discussion about criminal justice reform, Goldberg said. &ldquo;We very much view this as a necessary intervention. Bail funds do important work but I don't view this as the ultimate solution,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We are quite cognizant of that, and we hope the city will continue to use resources to diminish the number of people entering the system on the front end.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</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>
Cuomo is Keeping New York from Emulating California, De Blasio Says 2016-07-12T04:00:00+00:00 2016-07-12T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6434:cuomo-is-keeping-new-york-from-emulating-california-de-blasio-says Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/12181475174_8455aacfbb_z_1.jpg" alt="de blasio cuomo january 2014" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>De Blasio &amp; Cuomo in 2014 (photo: Rob Bennett, Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly voiced his frustration with his fellow Democrat, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who he says has worked with Senate Republicans in the state Legislature to stymie his agenda and major progressive legislation. In <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/harry-siegel-de-blasio-thinking-article-1.2687244" target="_blank">an interview with Harry Siegel of the Daily News</a> late last month, the mayor said Cuomo could have &ldquo;done a lot more to avert&rdquo; the &ldquo;divided government in Albany,&rdquo; where Democrats control the Assembly and Republicans the Senate.</p> <p>De Blasio said that New York could be more like California &ldquo;where Democrats have consolidated power and have done some remarkable things with it.&rdquo;</p> <p>The mayor&rsquo;s comments come as his allies face two investigations for improper fundraising in efforts to win the Senate for Democrats in 2014 and after a legislative session during which Cuomo worked with Senate Republicans to pass a budget containing a $15 minimum wage phase-in and a comprehensive paid family leave program. Cuomo and the Legislature also allocate hundreds of millions of dollars each year to fund de Blasio&rsquo;s signature pre-kindergarten program.</p> <p>And yet, de Blasio&rsquo;s sentiments are not unique, many Democrats feel Cuomo has empowered Senate Republicans in order to prevent the passage of a full slate of progressive legislation that could in theory alienate his moderate and conservative backers, including those upstate, on Long Island, and in New York City. The mayor and Assembly Democrats have a fairly long list of specific policy and funding grievances.</p> <p>By pointing to California, de Blasio offered up a measuring stick. At first glance it would appear that California and New York are neck-and-neck on progressive issues. Both states have passed marriage equality, a $15 minimum wage plan, and paid family leave.</p> <p>But progressive critics of the governor say he has failed to fully go to bat on reforms that would actually change how state government works, modernize voting and elections, and advance immigration and criminal justice policies opposed by conservatives. California has implemented a variety of these policies since 2010.</p> <p>Cuomo allies say criticism the governor faces on these issues is unfair and comes mainly from the sharp edge of success - that critics say because he achieved some major policy victories he should achieve them all, while also winning the Senate for Democrats.</p> <p>&ldquo;I have my real disagreements with the governor and then there's individual achievements that are absolutely progressive and very meaningful,&rdquo; de Blasio told Siegel. &ldquo;But on the question of &lsquo;Have we created a unified Democratic Party to have the maximum Democratic leadership and the maximum progressive policy of state?&rsquo; Of course not. Not even close.&rdquo;</p> <p>The de Blasio administration failed to respond to multiple inquiries about which specific policies California has enacted that he feels New York should emulate, but a number of his allies and political experts say California is in fact far ahead of New York on a number of progressive issues. These include immigration reforms like the DREAM Act and drivers&rsquo; licenses for undocumented immigrants; criminal justice reform measures like providing college education for inmates and laws to address holding police accountable for the deaths of civilians; and election reforms like independent redistricting and open primaries.</p> <p>Meanwhile, in New York, Cuomo has enacted what many progressive analysts see as austerity measures, such as strictly limiting agency spending and instituting a property tax cap for municipalities, something California Governor Jerry Brown has moved away from. The Cuomo administration declined to comment for this article without the de Blasio administration listing which policies from California the mayor wants to see in New York.</p> <p>Even beyond de Blasio, Cuomo&rsquo;s relationship with progressive Democrats remains complicated. He&rsquo;s had well-publicized roller coaster relationships with the Working Families Party and with the Legislature&rsquo;s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus. Administration officials point out that the governor has backed the DREAM Act and various criminal justice measures that are in place in California only to have Senate Republicans reject them. But de Blasio&rsquo;s point to Siegel and that of many other Democrats is that Cuomo has ensured Senate Republicans are in the position to block those bills.</p> <p>&ldquo;I think a lot of the governor&rsquo;s proposals are holograms so that he can come downstate and say &lsquo;I suggested college for inmates,&rsquo; but he can also go upstate and say &lsquo;I listened to your concerns and the bill didn&rsquo;t pass,&rsquo;&rdquo; said Dr. Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University.</p> <p>Bill Samuels, head of EffectiveNY, longtime Democratic fundraiser and Cuomo critic, said that the governor has repeatedly failed to help Democrats win the state Senate and by doing so is responsible for failed progressive policies.</p> <p>&ldquo;We are way behind states like California and Oregon,&rdquo; said Samuels. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s pathetic, if we had elected a Democratic Senate and had a different governor we would at least be considered a progressive state.There are exceptions, the governor came on strong with marriage equality, guns, and the minimum wage. So we aren&rsquo;t like Mississippi, he&rsquo;s done good things.&rdquo;</p> <p>But Samuels says one of Cuomo&rsquo;s first major moves - deciding to abandon a push to take the 2010 electoral redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature - ensured he would have Senate Republicans as governing partners for the foreseeable future. Samuels notes that the plan Cuomo signed off on allowed Republicans to gerrymander Senate districts to dilute Democratic centers upstate and in the city while creating a 63rd Senate seat that they could easily win. &ldquo;It was the most backward, bizarre redistricting in the United States,&rdquo; said Samuels.&rdquo;California took the redistricting process away from the Legislature and now they have an un-gerrymandered process.&rdquo;</p> <p>Cuomo&rsquo;s deal with the Legislature also included a promise that the Legislature would vote to amend the constitution to allow an independent commission to draw districts starting in 2020.</p> <p>California put redistricting of state-level seats in the hands of a citizens redistricting commission after a proposition vote in 2008. In 2010, Californians approved a proposition tasking <a href="http://wedrawthelines.ca.gov/commission.html" target="_blank">the commission</a> with drawing congressional districts.</p> <p>Greer noted that when evaluating de Blasio&rsquo;s and Cuomo&rsquo;s governing approaches it is important to recognize they have distinctly different constituencies. Cuomo works within the bounds created by his and is aided in doing so by having a Republican Senate, she said. &ldquo;The governor has a conservative base across the state. If you look at the electoral map the city may be progressive, but the rest of the map is still very red.&rdquo;</p> <p>Samuels said that de Blasio is right to focus on putting Democrats in charge of the Senate and that he has done more to champion progressive ideas in the state than Cuomo. &ldquo;De Blasio may have been naive and been too transparent in his [2014] bid to win a Democratic Senate,&rdquo; said Samuels. &ldquo;He should have used burner phones and emails like the Cuomo administration does, but regardless I applaud him for doing it and he was right to do it.&rdquo;</p> <p>Senate Republicans continue to use de Blasio as a boogeyman in their quest to hold their control of the Senate. &ldquo;Allowing these New York City radicals to have unchecked power over our entire state, especially in light of the U.S. Attorney and Manhattan D.A.'s investigations into the fundraising scandal they hatched two years ago, would be a disaster for the hardworking taxpayers and families who call New York home,&rdquo; Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/07/de-blasio-to-sit-out-upcoming-senate-elections-103697#ixzz4EEejjsDO" target="_blank">told Politico New York</a> for a Tuesday article about de Blasio&rsquo;s distance from this year&rsquo;s Senate contests. Democrats are hoping to swing the chamber by riding Hillary Clinton&rsquo;s voter turnout coattails and many are eager to see how involved Cuomo gets.</p> <p>Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor and associate dean at University of California Riverside, told Gotham Gazette that Gov. Brown spent his early years in office playing a fiscal conservative and threatening and delivering vetoes of bills he felt weren&rsquo;t fiscally responsible. But as the economy has flourished Brown has welcomed more progressive legislation.</p> <p>Ramakrishnan said there is no doubt that a host of progressive legislation has passed California&rsquo;s Legislature since Democrats won a supermajority in both houses in 2012 - major immigration and electoral reforms put the state far ahead of New York in those areas from a progressive standpoint - but he notes that there were other factors at play besides party control.</p> <p>Gov. Brown has made it clear that he has no higher political ambitions, he will be term-limited out of office when his current term ends, Ramakrishnan said. Cuomo, however, has no term limits and announced he plans to run for a third term; is active in national politics; and believed by many close to him to still have ambitions for the White House. &ldquo;Brown has declared he has no further political ambition so there is not much tension between him and other Democrats,&rdquo; Ramakrishnan said, noting that de Blasio might also hold broader political ambitions that may have irked Cuomo.</p> <p>Another quirk in California politics that Ramakrishnan points to as allowing for more progressive legislation is a ballot provision that passed in 2010 that did away with a previous requirement that the state budget be passed with a two-thirds majority. The ballot provision now requires a majority of legislators to support the budget. &ldquo;Removing the supermajority rule really opened things up,&rdquo; Ramakrishnan said. In the past, he said, &ldquo;The legislature had to come up with carefully crafted compromises to even pass a budget and those deals prevented other [more progressive] legislation from passing.&rdquo;</p> <p>The situation sounds similar to Albany&rsquo;s budget process where leaders trade on a host of issues and in some cases give away the chance to vote on major legislation to make sure they achieve top priorities in the budget. Having Senate Republicans on his side on certain issues during negotiations has helped Cuomo stop the Assembly&rsquo;s push for progressive legislation that he does not support.</p> <p>Another major factor Ramakrishnan points to in California&rsquo;s progressive surge is changing demographics across the state. Ramakrishnan said a number of safe Republican districts saw an influx of immigrants and Democratic voters over the last decade.</p> <p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve had the DREAM Act in since 2011, but most of the major immigration laws were passed in the last four years,&rdquo; said Ramakrishnan. &ldquo;It took a long time to build coalitions outside of the big cities like Los Angeles and it took demographic change in counties that used to be safe for Republicans.&rdquo;</p> <p>Senate Democrats have long touted demographic changes on Long Island as the key to what they see as their inevitable takeover of the chamber. Democrats recently won the Long Island seat formerly held by Republican Sen. Dean Skelos for two decades. Although Skelos&rsquo; corruption conviction likely played a major role in swaying voters, Democrats say a victory there might not have been possible if the demographics there hadn&rsquo;t been trending Democratic for years.</p> <p>Finally, Californians have the ability to put major issues before voters through ballot propositions, thereby bypassing the Legislature, which can take much longer to process an issue.</p> <p>Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, said he hopes Cuomo will be involved in campaigning for Senate Democrats this year. &ldquo;I feel the governor is our leader and as a Democrat he should step up to the plate and help us gain the majority,&rdquo; said Peralta. &ldquo;It's in his best interest to move progressive issues like immigration and affordable housing. I hope the governor will take a lead role in helping Democrats win the Senate this year just as he is making sure Hillary [Clinton] becomes President.&rdquo;</p> <p>Asked if he supported a full Democratic takeover of the Senate on Tuesday, Cuomo told reporters that it is &ldquo;too early for any political conversation about that," instead indicating he is focused on Clinton and the upcoming Democratic National Convention that he is attending, and may be speaking at. Elections determining control of the state Senate are four months away - the same day as Clinton&rsquo;s likely face-off with Republican Donald Trump.</p> <p><em><strong>A look at major progressive issues and where they stand in New York and California:</strong></em></p> <p><strong>Paid Family Leave</strong><br />This year New York passed a 12-month paid family leave program that has been praised as the most &ldquo;generous&rdquo; in the nation. The program won&rsquo;t be fully phased in until 2021.</p> <p>California passed its six-week paid family leave program in 2002 and it went into operation in 2004.</p> <p><strong>Immigration</strong><br />Cuomo touted his support for the DREAM Act, a program that would give undocumented students access to college tuition aid, during campaign stops in the city and made it part of his State of the State agenda, but he has said very little about it when the Legislature is in session and made no dramatic public push for the bill. Senate Republicans have made blocking the DREAM Act a major part of their reelection campaigns.</p> <p>Brown signed California&rsquo;s Dream Act into law in October of 2011. Since then he has signed a series of major immigration reform bills. In 2013 Brown signed a bill that allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers&rsquo; licenses. The last time a New York Governor pushed for drivers&rsquo; licenses for undocumented immigrants was in 2007, under former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. The backlash against the proposal from conservatives and even Democrats was so strong that Spitzer dropped the plan.</p> <p>This year Brown signed a bill that allows undocumented immigrants to buy health care on the state exchange created under the Affordable Care Act - making California the first state to offer that kind of coverage. New York offers undocumented immigrants emergency Medicaid and coverage for end-stage cancer and renal disease.</p> <p>&ldquo;I think it's very hard for the Governor to go into these economically depressed areas upstate and tell them he supports a bill to help immigrants that they see as undermining their already very tenuous way of life,&rdquo; said Dr. Greer, of Fordham.</p> <p>Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, said that the first step for New York to achieve what California has on immigration reform would be for Democrats to take control of the Senate. But it wouldn&rsquo;t end there. &ldquo;We would also have to move conservative Democrats on these issues, we&rsquo;d have to move the needle,&rdquo; Rivera said, adding that he thinks Senate Democrats could move the DREAM Act during a first year in the majority, but acknowledged it isn&rsquo;t a sure thing.</p> <p>Peralta agreed, saying, &ldquo;A Democratic majority gets the ball rolling in New York State.&rdquo; But he warned, &ldquo;We won&rsquo;t be able to move everything at once. There are some issues that don&rsquo;t play well in marginal districts upstate. We will have to tackle them in bite-size pieces - The DREAM Act one year, then drivers&rsquo; licenses the next.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>Minimum Wage</strong><br />The two states appeared to be locked in a race to get to $15 per hour this year as both Brown and Cuomo pushed for a minimum wage increase - the governors signed their bills on the same day, April 4. But the bills are not equal: both call for incremental increases to the wage until finally reaching $15 - in California it will be 2022 before the wage is fully implemented; in New York it depends on where you live. Residents of New York City will have a $15 minimum wage by the end of 2018; Long Island and Westchester reach $15 to start 2022; while the rest of the state will reach $12.50 by the last day of 2020, with a 2019 panel to review the economic impact and able to halt the increase.</p> <p><strong>Election Reform</strong><br />California adopted a new primary system <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/us/politics/new-rules-upend-house-re-election-races-in-california.html" target="_blank">in 2012</a> that allows the top two vote getters in primary races to move on the general election regardless of party affiliation. That move in combination with California&rsquo;s citizen redistricting commission has opened up seats once kept in a stranglehold by incumbents.</p> <p>Good government groups have pushed New York City to adopt nonpartisan primaries but there has yet to be significant movement. The idea is a nonstarter at the state level.</p> <p>In October of last year, Brown signed an automatic voter registration bill that would have citizens registered to vote during visits to the DMV for drivers&rsquo; licenses or ID cards. Cuomo proposed a similar initiative in February during his State of the State speech, but met with opposition from Democratic lawmakers who worried registration would favor suburban and rural areas of the state where there are move drivers. Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, suggested empowering other agencies to also register voters to create parity.</p> <p><strong>Criminal Justice Reform</strong><br />Cuomo called for a review of the criminal justice system in the wake of the July 2014 death of Eric Garner during an NYPD stop. That review did not come about in the Legislature. Instead of passing legislation to create a special prosecutor to review police killings of unarmed civilians Cuomo issued an executive order empowering Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to take such cases out of the hands of the local district attorney.</p> <p>Cuomo&rsquo;s move was hailed by advocates who say local DAs are biased and unwilling to prosecute members of their local police force. But many advocates are still pushing for a similar system to be made law as executive orders can be undone. Senate Republicans have refused to consider any number of criminal justice initiatives Cuomo has proposed, including raising the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 (New York is one of only two states where it is 16, with North Carolina).</p> <p>California does not have a special prosecutor system in place for police killings of civilians but last year Brown signed a law banning the use of grand juries in such cases. The move came in response to outcry that a grand jury refused to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for Garner&rsquo;s death. "The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system," state Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Democrat from Los Angeles who sponsored the bill, said in a statement at the time.</p> <p>Cuomo has tried and failed to get the Republican state Senate to act on college for inmates, something California expanded in 2015 in a partnership with a number of community colleges. Cuomo instead put forward a privately financed plan this year.</p> <p>Brown currently supports a ballot initiative that will come before voters this fall <a href="http://www.antirecidivism.org/psra_2016" target="_blank">that is designed</a> to reduce recidivism and revise how it is decided if youth are tried as adults.</p> <p><strong>Fiscal Policy</strong><br />While Brown has been considered more fiscally conservative than some of his allies in the Legislature, he did sponsor a 2012 ballot proposition that raised taxes on high-income earners. His initiative merged two other ballot initiatives - including one from the California teachers union branded a &ldquo;millionaire&rsquo;s tax&rdquo; that would have increased the personal income tax on those earning $1 million and more. Brown&rsquo;s plan created four new upper-income brackets for those making $250,000, $300,000, $500,000 and $1,000,000. The new tax rates are supposed to last seven years. The plan also increased the state sales tax. A group of unions recently introduced a new proposition that would make the tax increases of Brown&rsquo;s proposition permanent.</p> <p>New York adopted a millionaire&rsquo;s tax under Democratic Gov. David Paterson in 2009 that Cuomo partially renewed in 2011. It is now set to expire in 2017. Many unions have pushed to extend the tax as has the state Assembly.</p> <p>Cuomo has fought back against any tax increases. De Blasio insisted his universal pre-k plan be funded by a New York City income tax hike on households earning more than a million dollars a year. Cuomo delivered the cash for the plan <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2014/02/cuomo-there-already-is-a-millionaires-tax-for-pre-k/" target="_blank">and not the tax</a> - something de Blasio publicly lamented.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/12181475174_8455aacfbb_z_1.jpg" alt="de blasio cuomo january 2014" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>De Blasio &amp; Cuomo in 2014 (photo: Rob Bennett, Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly voiced his frustration with his fellow Democrat, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who he says has worked with Senate Republicans in the state Legislature to stymie his agenda and major progressive legislation. In <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/harry-siegel-de-blasio-thinking-article-1.2687244" target="_blank">an interview with Harry Siegel of the Daily News</a> late last month, the mayor said Cuomo could have &ldquo;done a lot more to avert&rdquo; the &ldquo;divided government in Albany,&rdquo; where Democrats control the Assembly and Republicans the Senate.</p> <p>De Blasio said that New York could be more like California &ldquo;where Democrats have consolidated power and have done some remarkable things with it.&rdquo;</p> <p>The mayor&rsquo;s comments come as his allies face two investigations for improper fundraising in efforts to win the Senate for Democrats in 2014 and after a legislative session during which Cuomo worked with Senate Republicans to pass a budget containing a $15 minimum wage phase-in and a comprehensive paid family leave program. Cuomo and the Legislature also allocate hundreds of millions of dollars each year to fund de Blasio&rsquo;s signature pre-kindergarten program.</p> <p>And yet, de Blasio&rsquo;s sentiments are not unique, many Democrats feel Cuomo has empowered Senate Republicans in order to prevent the passage of a full slate of progressive legislation that could in theory alienate his moderate and conservative backers, including those upstate, on Long Island, and in New York City. The mayor and Assembly Democrats have a fairly long list of specific policy and funding grievances.</p> <p>By pointing to California, de Blasio offered up a measuring stick. At first glance it would appear that California and New York are neck-and-neck on progressive issues. Both states have passed marriage equality, a $15 minimum wage plan, and paid family leave.</p> <p>But progressive critics of the governor say he has failed to fully go to bat on reforms that would actually change how state government works, modernize voting and elections, and advance immigration and criminal justice policies opposed by conservatives. California has implemented a variety of these policies since 2010.</p> <p>Cuomo allies say criticism the governor faces on these issues is unfair and comes mainly from the sharp edge of success - that critics say because he achieved some major policy victories he should achieve them all, while also winning the Senate for Democrats.</p> <p>&ldquo;I have my real disagreements with the governor and then there's individual achievements that are absolutely progressive and very meaningful,&rdquo; de Blasio told Siegel. &ldquo;But on the question of &lsquo;Have we created a unified Democratic Party to have the maximum Democratic leadership and the maximum progressive policy of state?&rsquo; Of course not. Not even close.&rdquo;</p> <p>The de Blasio administration failed to respond to multiple inquiries about which specific policies California has enacted that he feels New York should emulate, but a number of his allies and political experts say California is in fact far ahead of New York on a number of progressive issues. These include immigration reforms like the DREAM Act and drivers&rsquo; licenses for undocumented immigrants; criminal justice reform measures like providing college education for inmates and laws to address holding police accountable for the deaths of civilians; and election reforms like independent redistricting and open primaries.</p> <p>Meanwhile, in New York, Cuomo has enacted what many progressive analysts see as austerity measures, such as strictly limiting agency spending and instituting a property tax cap for municipalities, something California Governor Jerry Brown has moved away from. The Cuomo administration declined to comment for this article without the de Blasio administration listing which policies from California the mayor wants to see in New York.</p> <p>Even beyond de Blasio, Cuomo&rsquo;s relationship with progressive Democrats remains complicated. He&rsquo;s had well-publicized roller coaster relationships with the Working Families Party and with the Legislature&rsquo;s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus. Administration officials point out that the governor has backed the DREAM Act and various criminal justice measures that are in place in California only to have Senate Republicans reject them. But de Blasio&rsquo;s point to Siegel and that of many other Democrats is that Cuomo has ensured Senate Republicans are in the position to block those bills.</p> <p>&ldquo;I think a lot of the governor&rsquo;s proposals are holograms so that he can come downstate and say &lsquo;I suggested college for inmates,&rsquo; but he can also go upstate and say &lsquo;I listened to your concerns and the bill didn&rsquo;t pass,&rsquo;&rdquo; said Dr. Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University.</p> <p>Bill Samuels, head of EffectiveNY, longtime Democratic fundraiser and Cuomo critic, said that the governor has repeatedly failed to help Democrats win the state Senate and by doing so is responsible for failed progressive policies.</p> <p>&ldquo;We are way behind states like California and Oregon,&rdquo; said Samuels. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s pathetic, if we had elected a Democratic Senate and had a different governor we would at least be considered a progressive state.There are exceptions, the governor came on strong with marriage equality, guns, and the minimum wage. So we aren&rsquo;t like Mississippi, he&rsquo;s done good things.&rdquo;</p> <p>But Samuels says one of Cuomo&rsquo;s first major moves - deciding to abandon a push to take the 2010 electoral redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature - ensured he would have Senate Republicans as governing partners for the foreseeable future. Samuels notes that the plan Cuomo signed off on allowed Republicans to gerrymander Senate districts to dilute Democratic centers upstate and in the city while creating a 63rd Senate seat that they could easily win. &ldquo;It was the most backward, bizarre redistricting in the United States,&rdquo; said Samuels.&rdquo;California took the redistricting process away from the Legislature and now they have an un-gerrymandered process.&rdquo;</p> <p>Cuomo&rsquo;s deal with the Legislature also included a promise that the Legislature would vote to amend the constitution to allow an independent commission to draw districts starting in 2020.</p> <p>California put redistricting of state-level seats in the hands of a citizens redistricting commission after a proposition vote in 2008. In 2010, Californians approved a proposition tasking <a href="http://wedrawthelines.ca.gov/commission.html" target="_blank">the commission</a> with drawing congressional districts.</p> <p>Greer noted that when evaluating de Blasio&rsquo;s and Cuomo&rsquo;s governing approaches it is important to recognize they have distinctly different constituencies. Cuomo works within the bounds created by his and is aided in doing so by having a Republican Senate, she said. &ldquo;The governor has a conservative base across the state. If you look at the electoral map the city may be progressive, but the rest of the map is still very red.&rdquo;</p> <p>Samuels said that de Blasio is right to focus on putting Democrats in charge of the Senate and that he has done more to champion progressive ideas in the state than Cuomo. &ldquo;De Blasio may have been naive and been too transparent in his [2014] bid to win a Democratic Senate,&rdquo; said Samuels. &ldquo;He should have used burner phones and emails like the Cuomo administration does, but regardless I applaud him for doing it and he was right to do it.&rdquo;</p> <p>Senate Republicans continue to use de Blasio as a boogeyman in their quest to hold their control of the Senate. &ldquo;Allowing these New York City radicals to have unchecked power over our entire state, especially in light of the U.S. Attorney and Manhattan D.A.'s investigations into the fundraising scandal they hatched two years ago, would be a disaster for the hardworking taxpayers and families who call New York home,&rdquo; Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/07/de-blasio-to-sit-out-upcoming-senate-elections-103697#ixzz4EEejjsDO" target="_blank">told Politico New York</a> for a Tuesday article about de Blasio&rsquo;s distance from this year&rsquo;s Senate contests. Democrats are hoping to swing the chamber by riding Hillary Clinton&rsquo;s voter turnout coattails and many are eager to see how involved Cuomo gets.</p> <p>Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor and associate dean at University of California Riverside, told Gotham Gazette that Gov. Brown spent his early years in office playing a fiscal conservative and threatening and delivering vetoes of bills he felt weren&rsquo;t fiscally responsible. But as the economy has flourished Brown has welcomed more progressive legislation.</p> <p>Ramakrishnan said there is no doubt that a host of progressive legislation has passed California&rsquo;s Legislature since Democrats won a supermajority in both houses in 2012 - major immigration and electoral reforms put the state far ahead of New York in those areas from a progressive standpoint - but he notes that there were other factors at play besides party control.</p> <p>Gov. Brown has made it clear that he has no higher political ambitions, he will be term-limited out of office when his current term ends, Ramakrishnan said. Cuomo, however, has no term limits and announced he plans to run for a third term; is active in national politics; and believed by many close to him to still have ambitions for the White House. &ldquo;Brown has declared he has no further political ambition so there is not much tension between him and other Democrats,&rdquo; Ramakrishnan said, noting that de Blasio might also hold broader political ambitions that may have irked Cuomo.</p> <p>Another quirk in California politics that Ramakrishnan points to as allowing for more progressive legislation is a ballot provision that passed in 2010 that did away with a previous requirement that the state budget be passed with a two-thirds majority. The ballot provision now requires a majority of legislators to support the budget. &ldquo;Removing the supermajority rule really opened things up,&rdquo; Ramakrishnan said. In the past, he said, &ldquo;The legislature had to come up with carefully crafted compromises to even pass a budget and those deals prevented other [more progressive] legislation from passing.&rdquo;</p> <p>The situation sounds similar to Albany&rsquo;s budget process where leaders trade on a host of issues and in some cases give away the chance to vote on major legislation to make sure they achieve top priorities in the budget. Having Senate Republicans on his side on certain issues during negotiations has helped Cuomo stop the Assembly&rsquo;s push for progressive legislation that he does not support.</p> <p>Another major factor Ramakrishnan points to in California&rsquo;s progressive surge is changing demographics across the state. Ramakrishnan said a number of safe Republican districts saw an influx of immigrants and Democratic voters over the last decade.</p> <p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve had the DREAM Act in since 2011, but most of the major immigration laws were passed in the last four years,&rdquo; said Ramakrishnan. &ldquo;It took a long time to build coalitions outside of the big cities like Los Angeles and it took demographic change in counties that used to be safe for Republicans.&rdquo;</p> <p>Senate Democrats have long touted demographic changes on Long Island as the key to what they see as their inevitable takeover of the chamber. Democrats recently won the Long Island seat formerly held by Republican Sen. Dean Skelos for two decades. Although Skelos&rsquo; corruption conviction likely played a major role in swaying voters, Democrats say a victory there might not have been possible if the demographics there hadn&rsquo;t been trending Democratic for years.</p> <p>Finally, Californians have the ability to put major issues before voters through ballot propositions, thereby bypassing the Legislature, which can take much longer to process an issue.</p> <p>Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, said he hopes Cuomo will be involved in campaigning for Senate Democrats this year. &ldquo;I feel the governor is our leader and as a Democrat he should step up to the plate and help us gain the majority,&rdquo; said Peralta. &ldquo;It's in his best interest to move progressive issues like immigration and affordable housing. I hope the governor will take a lead role in helping Democrats win the Senate this year just as he is making sure Hillary [Clinton] becomes President.&rdquo;</p> <p>Asked if he supported a full Democratic takeover of the Senate on Tuesday, Cuomo told reporters that it is &ldquo;too early for any political conversation about that," instead indicating he is focused on Clinton and the upcoming Democratic National Convention that he is attending, and may be speaking at. Elections determining control of the state Senate are four months away - the same day as Clinton&rsquo;s likely face-off with Republican Donald Trump.</p> <p><em><strong>A look at major progressive issues and where they stand in New York and California:</strong></em></p> <p><strong>Paid Family Leave</strong><br />This year New York passed a 12-month paid family leave program that has been praised as the most &ldquo;generous&rdquo; in the nation. The program won&rsquo;t be fully phased in until 2021.</p> <p>California passed its six-week paid family leave program in 2002 and it went into operation in 2004.</p> <p><strong>Immigration</strong><br />Cuomo touted his support for the DREAM Act, a program that would give undocumented students access to college tuition aid, during campaign stops in the city and made it part of his State of the State agenda, but he has said very little about it when the Legislature is in session and made no dramatic public push for the bill. Senate Republicans have made blocking the DREAM Act a major part of their reelection campaigns.</p> <p>Brown signed California&rsquo;s Dream Act into law in October of 2011. Since then he has signed a series of major immigration reform bills. In 2013 Brown signed a bill that allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers&rsquo; licenses. The last time a New York Governor pushed for drivers&rsquo; licenses for undocumented immigrants was in 2007, under former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. The backlash against the proposal from conservatives and even Democrats was so strong that Spitzer dropped the plan.</p> <p>This year Brown signed a bill that allows undocumented immigrants to buy health care on the state exchange created under the Affordable Care Act - making California the first state to offer that kind of coverage. New York offers undocumented immigrants emergency Medicaid and coverage for end-stage cancer and renal disease.</p> <p>&ldquo;I think it's very hard for the Governor to go into these economically depressed areas upstate and tell them he supports a bill to help immigrants that they see as undermining their already very tenuous way of life,&rdquo; said Dr. Greer, of Fordham.</p> <p>Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, said that the first step for New York to achieve what California has on immigration reform would be for Democrats to take control of the Senate. But it wouldn&rsquo;t end there. &ldquo;We would also have to move conservative Democrats on these issues, we&rsquo;d have to move the needle,&rdquo; Rivera said, adding that he thinks Senate Democrats could move the DREAM Act during a first year in the majority, but acknowledged it isn&rsquo;t a sure thing.</p> <p>Peralta agreed, saying, &ldquo;A Democratic majority gets the ball rolling in New York State.&rdquo; But he warned, &ldquo;We won&rsquo;t be able to move everything at once. There are some issues that don&rsquo;t play well in marginal districts upstate. We will have to tackle them in bite-size pieces - The DREAM Act one year, then drivers&rsquo; licenses the next.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>Minimum Wage</strong><br />The two states appeared to be locked in a race to get to $15 per hour this year as both Brown and Cuomo pushed for a minimum wage increase - the governors signed their bills on the same day, April 4. But the bills are not equal: both call for incremental increases to the wage until finally reaching $15 - in California it will be 2022 before the wage is fully implemented; in New York it depends on where you live. Residents of New York City will have a $15 minimum wage by the end of 2018; Long Island and Westchester reach $15 to start 2022; while the rest of the state will reach $12.50 by the last day of 2020, with a 2019 panel to review the economic impact and able to halt the increase.</p> <p><strong>Election Reform</strong><br />California adopted a new primary system <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/us/politics/new-rules-upend-house-re-election-races-in-california.html" target="_blank">in 2012</a> that allows the top two vote getters in primary races to move on the general election regardless of party affiliation. That move in combination with California&rsquo;s citizen redistricting commission has opened up seats once kept in a stranglehold by incumbents.</p> <p>Good government groups have pushed New York City to adopt nonpartisan primaries but there has yet to be significant movement. The idea is a nonstarter at the state level.</p> <p>In October of last year, Brown signed an automatic voter registration bill that would have citizens registered to vote during visits to the DMV for drivers&rsquo; licenses or ID cards. Cuomo proposed a similar initiative in February during his State of the State speech, but met with opposition from Democratic lawmakers who worried registration would favor suburban and rural areas of the state where there are move drivers. Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, suggested empowering other agencies to also register voters to create parity.</p> <p><strong>Criminal Justice Reform</strong><br />Cuomo called for a review of the criminal justice system in the wake of the July 2014 death of Eric Garner during an NYPD stop. That review did not come about in the Legislature. Instead of passing legislation to create a special prosecutor to review police killings of unarmed civilians Cuomo issued an executive order empowering Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to take such cases out of the hands of the local district attorney.</p> <p>Cuomo&rsquo;s move was hailed by advocates who say local DAs are biased and unwilling to prosecute members of their local police force. But many advocates are still pushing for a similar system to be made law as executive orders can be undone. Senate Republicans have refused to consider any number of criminal justice initiatives Cuomo has proposed, including raising the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 (New York is one of only two states where it is 16, with North Carolina).</p> <p>California does not have a special prosecutor system in place for police killings of civilians but last year Brown signed a law banning the use of grand juries in such cases. The move came in response to outcry that a grand jury refused to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for Garner&rsquo;s death. "The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system," state Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Democrat from Los Angeles who sponsored the bill, said in a statement at the time.</p> <p>Cuomo has tried and failed to get the Republican state Senate to act on college for inmates, something California expanded in 2015 in a partnership with a number of community colleges. Cuomo instead put forward a privately financed plan this year.</p> <p>Brown currently supports a ballot initiative that will come before voters this fall <a href="http://www.antirecidivism.org/psra_2016" target="_blank">that is designed</a> to reduce recidivism and revise how it is decided if youth are tried as adults.</p> <p><strong>Fiscal Policy</strong><br />While Brown has been considered more fiscally conservative than some of his allies in the Legislature, he did sponsor a 2012 ballot proposition that raised taxes on high-income earners. His initiative merged two other ballot initiatives - including one from the California teachers union branded a &ldquo;millionaire&rsquo;s tax&rdquo; that would have increased the personal income tax on those earning $1 million and more. Brown&rsquo;s plan created four new upper-income brackets for those making $250,000, $300,000, $500,000 and $1,000,000. The new tax rates are supposed to last seven years. The plan also increased the state sales tax. A group of unions recently introduced a new proposition that would make the tax increases of Brown&rsquo;s proposition permanent.</p> <p>New York adopted a millionaire&rsquo;s tax under Democratic Gov. David Paterson in 2009 that Cuomo partially renewed in 2011. It is now set to expire in 2017. Many unions have pushed to extend the tax as has the state Assembly.</p> <p>Cuomo has fought back against any tax increases. De Blasio insisted his universal pre-k plan be funded by a New York City income tax hike on households earning more than a million dollars a year. Cuomo delivered the cash for the plan <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2014/02/cuomo-there-already-is-a-millionaires-tax-for-pre-k/" target="_blank">and not the tax</a> - something de Blasio publicly lamented.</p> <p>

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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</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>

***
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>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Key to Vision of Closing Rikers, City Council Bail Fund Moves Through State Process 2016-03-03T21:28:32+00:00 2016-03-03T21:28:32+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6206:key-to-vision-of-closing-rikers-city-council-bail-fund-moves-through-state-process kfan <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/24339210493_21fa58928c_z.jpg" alt="MMV SOTC bail fund story" height="393" width="600" /></p> <p>Mark-Viverito delivers her State of the City (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>Last year, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito unveiled <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5588-bronx-program-serves-as-inspiration-for-mark-viveritos-city-wide-bail-fund-proposal" target="_blank">her plan</a> for a fund that would cover bail for poor individuals charged with low-level criminal offenses who would otherwise be forced to wait in a city jail for their court date. The Council dedicated $1.4 million of budget funds to back the project, which is nearing launch.</p> <p>The program, if successful, could not only keep hundreds of individuals from staying in jail because they can't afford bail, but also lead to the expansion of state law that oversees and licenses bail funds, allowing for more criminal charges to be covered and higher bails paid.</p> <p>The Council bail fund is going through a fairly lengthy process to get up and running, with no clear start date more than a year after the initiative was announced. Mark-Viverito recently said she expects it to be functional in the coming months, but that the bureaucratic process of getting licensed by state overseers takes time. The fund has just been approved as a not-for-profit charity by the state attorney general's office, the second in four key steps. A heightened sense of urgency around the bail plan has emerged after Mark-Viverito <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6164-mark-viverito-doubles-down-on-criminal-justice-reform-in-state-of-the-city" target="_blank">announced this year</a> that she hopes it will be a key element of actualizing "the dream" of closing Rikers Island jails.&nbsp;</p> <p>About 10,000 people are currently held in Rikers Island and other city jails, most awaiting a court appearance after being arrested for a low-level, non-violent offense. Some have been in jail for weeks or months because they can't afford bail and the criminal justice system moves at a snail's pace. It is a situation that many, including Mark-Viverito, have decried with increasing intensity over the past two years.</p> <p>"We need to take a comprehensive approach to criminal justice reform that ensures a fairer system, improves police community relations, and addresses the fact that far too many of our young people – mostly low-income black and Latino males – are locked up at Rikers," Mark-Viverito said during her 2015 State of the City address.</p> <p>She continued: "For instance, if you are accused of jumping a turnstile or committing other minor offenses in New York City, you may be locked up. And if you can't afford bail you will spend on average 15 days in jail. The results are predictable: people lose their jobs, or their housing, and cannot take care of their children while they are in custody. These are people who are accused of minor offenses and are still considered innocent in the eyes of the law. This is not justice."</p> <p>During this year's State of the City address, on Feb. 11, the speaker said that she wants to see "the population of Rikers to be so small that the dream of shutting it down becomes a reality." She announced a new criminal justice commission, led by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, that will make recommendations for how to improve the criminal justice system.</p> <p>Last week while discussing her belief that Rikers Island should eventually be closed, Mark-Viverito cited her bail fund as something that will reduce the population over time. Asked when she expected the bail fund to start, Mark-Viverito said she is waiting to be licensed by the state.</p> <p>"We're waiting for the state, unfortunately, there's some state authorizations you need...some sort of licensure is needed," Mark-Viverito told reporters. "We needed, initially, a federal authorization, we've received that, we're waiting for the state, once that's done, we're ready to roll out. It's just we can't...without that authorization. So hopefully within the next months. It's just a normal process, obviously we are on top of it, but it's a normal process, it's bureaucratic."</p> <p>In follow-up conversation with Gotham Gazette, representatives of Mark-Viverito's office stressed the process is going well, is not an undue burden, and that the hope is to launch the program in a few months. The office said the process to incorporate the program began officially in July 2015. The first step involved registering as a non-profit on the federal level; the second, attorney general approval as a charity. With that second step complete, the application will go to the state Department of Financial Services, which licenses charitable bail funds.</p> <p>As approved by the AG, the fund shows "Initial directors" George McDonald, of The Doe Fund and David Howard, and Alphonso Wyatt, who were previously associated with the the fund. According to its bylaws, "The sole member of the Corporation shall be The Doe&nbsp;Fund, Inc., a New York not-for-profit corporation." McDonald is the founder and CEO of <a href="http://www.doe.org/" target="_blank">The Doe Fund</a>, which has worked for decades to employ, house, and train homeless New Yorkers to help them stabilize their lives.</p> <p>According to the filing, "the purpose" of the new organization will be "to assist indigent defendents charged with low-level crimes avoid the experience, complications and related hardships of pretrial detention caused by their inability to afford bail." Once it becomes a bail fund, it will "provide bail assistance" and "research, analyze and document the effectiveness and social impact of" its activities.</p> <p>Before 2012 Mark-Viverito's bail fund wouldn't have needed state approval because charitable bail funds operated in a legal gray area. That year, Bronx state Senator Gustavo Rivera successfully advocated for a state law to oversee bail funds after a judge ordered an organization in his district to stop covering bail.</p> <p>Now, as bail funds grow in popularity, Rivera said he is working with the state Department of Financial Services to smooth the application process and guide smaller groups that are interested in opening funds. Rivera said that as the evidence of the efficacy of such programs grows he hopes to expand the law that now only covers misdemeanor offenses and has a cap of $2,000 bail.</p> <p>Rivera was approached by the Bronx Defenders (a nonprofit legal defense group) in 2010 shortly after he defeated disgraced then-Sen. Pedro Espada for his seat. When the bill passed in 2012, the Bronx Freedom Fund became the state's first licensed charitable bail fund.</p> <p>Since then the group has shown promising results, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5588-bronx-program-serves-as-inspiration-for-mark-viveritos-city-wide-bail-fund-proposal" target="_blank">which Mark-Viverito and others have noticed</a>. It released a study last year showing that 97 percent of its clients returned to all their court appearances - some to more than 15 dates in a row. The group says that 27 times its bail money was returned even before the conclusion of a case. Out of 188 cases, 62 percent ended in a dismissal of all charges, 22 percent in a violation that carries no record, and 12 percent with a misdemeanor plea and no jail time.</p> <p>The fund has $100,000 to pay bail and it is periodically replenished when their clients fulfill their court obligations. Individuals are interviewed by the fund to determine their eligibility. Alyssa Work, former director of the Freedom Fund, told Gotham Gazette last year that the application process involved a defendant filling out a form, and her checking to see if they have family and community ties or steady employment. She also would evaluate their criminal record.</p> <p>Rivera has held a two roundtables on bail funds and has heard some concerns from interested groups. "We've been tweaking the paperwork you have to go through to get people licensed as bondsmen," said Rivera. "We've been discussing having the application fee waived for certain smaller organizations that aren't flush with cash, some folks have found it difficult to find someone at [Department of Financial Services] to answer questions. But the most important thing is that we've been working with DFS on this all along and they've been very helpful."</p> <p>Organizations wishing to start a bail fund have to complete four major steps: register as a non-profit under federal tax laws; register as a charity under New York State law through the AG's office; obtain a charitable bail license from the state DFS; and, finally, obtain an individual bail bond license from DFS.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito's office is now on to the third step.</p> <p>Obtaining a charitable bail organization license from DFS requires a detailed <a href="http://www.dfs.ny.gov/insurance/licensing/applications/cb_org.pdf" target="_blank">application</a>, a fee of $1,000, and the fingerprinting of all officers, directors, trustees, and executive personnel.</p> <p>Rivera said that while he intends to keep working with DFS on the application process, he does "hope to eventually introduce legislation that expands the legal parameters of bail funds." Rivera continued, "Right now the cap on bail is $2,000, we might want to move that. There is a small list of offenses currently covered and we may want to expand that list. We know we are helping people whose only crime is being poor, who can't afford bail, allowing them to be able to fight for their freedom, when they otherwise might be sitting in Rikers or somewhere else."</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Mark-Viverito said, "New York City is proud to lead the way in reforming a broken bail system that unjustly subjected our young people of color to senseless violence and abuse. By approaching this issue thoughtfully and deliberatively, we hope that our proposal for a citywide bail fund can serve as a model for other cities and municipalities seeking to change the way poverty and the criminal justice system intersect."</p> <p>Like Mark-Viverito, Sen. Rivera supports closing Rikers. Mayor Bill de Blasio called the idea&nbsp;"noble," but has said he doubts it is achievable. "My job is to level with the people of New York City," de Blasio recently told reporters. "This would cost billions and billions of dollars, be logistically very difficult, and we don't have the space right now."</p> <p>De Blasio has, however, also focused on bail reform, calling the current system unfair, with a burden that keeps the poor in jail for crimes they haven't been tried for, much less convicted of.</p> <p>De Blasio has a supervised release program scheduled to begin March 1. Funded by asset forfeiture funds from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and the City Tax Levy, the program will provide judges with the option of sending those charged with misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies to supervised release programs overseen by agencies run in each of the five boroughs, rather than setting bail. The plan is expected to eventually serve 3,000 defendants.</p> <p>"There is a very real human cost to how our criminal justice system treats people while they wait for trial," de Blasio said <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/471-15/mayor-de-blasio-17-8-million-reduce-unnecessary-jail-time-people-waiting-trial" target="_blank">in a July statement</a> announcing the program. "Money bail is a problem because – as the system currently operates in New York – some people are being detained based on the size of their bank account, not the risk they pose. This is unacceptable. If people can be safely supervised in the community, they should be allowed to remain there regardless of their ability to pay."</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/24339210493_21fa58928c_z.jpg" alt="MMV SOTC bail fund story" height="393" width="600" /></p> <p>Mark-Viverito delivers her State of the City (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>Last year, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito unveiled <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5588-bronx-program-serves-as-inspiration-for-mark-viveritos-city-wide-bail-fund-proposal" target="_blank">her plan</a> for a fund that would cover bail for poor individuals charged with low-level criminal offenses who would otherwise be forced to wait in a city jail for their court date. The Council dedicated $1.4 million of budget funds to back the project, which is nearing launch.</p> <p>The program, if successful, could not only keep hundreds of individuals from staying in jail because they can't afford bail, but also lead to the expansion of state law that oversees and licenses bail funds, allowing for more criminal charges to be covered and higher bails paid.</p> <p>The Council bail fund is going through a fairly lengthy process to get up and running, with no clear start date more than a year after the initiative was announced. Mark-Viverito recently said she expects it to be functional in the coming months, but that the bureaucratic process of getting licensed by state overseers takes time. The fund has just been approved as a not-for-profit charity by the state attorney general's office, the second in four key steps. A heightened sense of urgency around the bail plan has emerged after Mark-Viverito <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6164-mark-viverito-doubles-down-on-criminal-justice-reform-in-state-of-the-city" target="_blank">announced this year</a> that she hopes it will be a key element of actualizing "the dream" of closing Rikers Island jails.&nbsp;</p> <p>About 10,000 people are currently held in Rikers Island and other city jails, most awaiting a court appearance after being arrested for a low-level, non-violent offense. Some have been in jail for weeks or months because they can't afford bail and the criminal justice system moves at a snail's pace. It is a situation that many, including Mark-Viverito, have decried with increasing intensity over the past two years.</p> <p>"We need to take a comprehensive approach to criminal justice reform that ensures a fairer system, improves police community relations, and addresses the fact that far too many of our young people – mostly low-income black and Latino males – are locked up at Rikers," Mark-Viverito said during her 2015 State of the City address.</p> <p>She continued: "For instance, if you are accused of jumping a turnstile or committing other minor offenses in New York City, you may be locked up. And if you can't afford bail you will spend on average 15 days in jail. The results are predictable: people lose their jobs, or their housing, and cannot take care of their children while they are in custody. These are people who are accused of minor offenses and are still considered innocent in the eyes of the law. This is not justice."</p> <p>During this year's State of the City address, on Feb. 11, the speaker said that she wants to see "the population of Rikers to be so small that the dream of shutting it down becomes a reality." She announced a new criminal justice commission, led by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, that will make recommendations for how to improve the criminal justice system.</p> <p>Last week while discussing her belief that Rikers Island should eventually be closed, Mark-Viverito cited her bail fund as something that will reduce the population over time. Asked when she expected the bail fund to start, Mark-Viverito said she is waiting to be licensed by the state.</p> <p>"We're waiting for the state, unfortunately, there's some state authorizations you need...some sort of licensure is needed," Mark-Viverito told reporters. "We needed, initially, a federal authorization, we've received that, we're waiting for the state, once that's done, we're ready to roll out. It's just we can't...without that authorization. So hopefully within the next months. It's just a normal process, obviously we are on top of it, but it's a normal process, it's bureaucratic."</p> <p>In follow-up conversation with Gotham Gazette, representatives of Mark-Viverito's office stressed the process is going well, is not an undue burden, and that the hope is to launch the program in a few months. The office said the process to incorporate the program began officially in July 2015. The first step involved registering as a non-profit on the federal level; the second, attorney general approval as a charity. With that second step complete, the application will go to the state Department of Financial Services, which licenses charitable bail funds.</p> <p>As approved by the AG, the fund shows "Initial directors" George McDonald, of The Doe Fund and David Howard, and Alphonso Wyatt, who were previously associated with the the fund. According to its bylaws, "The sole member of the Corporation shall be The Doe&nbsp;Fund, Inc., a New York not-for-profit corporation." McDonald is the founder and CEO of <a href="http://www.doe.org/" target="_blank">The Doe Fund</a>, which has worked for decades to employ, house, and train homeless New Yorkers to help them stabilize their lives.</p> <p>According to the filing, "the purpose" of the new organization will be "to assist indigent defendents charged with low-level crimes avoid the experience, complications and related hardships of pretrial detention caused by their inability to afford bail." Once it becomes a bail fund, it will "provide bail assistance" and "research, analyze and document the effectiveness and social impact of" its activities.</p> <p>Before 2012 Mark-Viverito's bail fund wouldn't have needed state approval because charitable bail funds operated in a legal gray area. That year, Bronx state Senator Gustavo Rivera successfully advocated for a state law to oversee bail funds after a judge ordered an organization in his district to stop covering bail.</p> <p>Now, as bail funds grow in popularity, Rivera said he is working with the state Department of Financial Services to smooth the application process and guide smaller groups that are interested in opening funds. Rivera said that as the evidence of the efficacy of such programs grows he hopes to expand the law that now only covers misdemeanor offenses and has a cap of $2,000 bail.</p> <p>Rivera was approached by the Bronx Defenders (a nonprofit legal defense group) in 2010 shortly after he defeated disgraced then-Sen. Pedro Espada for his seat. When the bill passed in 2012, the Bronx Freedom Fund became the state's first licensed charitable bail fund.</p> <p>Since then the group has shown promising results, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5588-bronx-program-serves-as-inspiration-for-mark-viveritos-city-wide-bail-fund-proposal" target="_blank">which Mark-Viverito and others have noticed</a>. It released a study last year showing that 97 percent of its clients returned to all their court appearances - some to more than 15 dates in a row. The group says that 27 times its bail money was returned even before the conclusion of a case. Out of 188 cases, 62 percent ended in a dismissal of all charges, 22 percent in a violation that carries no record, and 12 percent with a misdemeanor plea and no jail time.</p> <p>The fund has $100,000 to pay bail and it is periodically replenished when their clients fulfill their court obligations. Individuals are interviewed by the fund to determine their eligibility. Alyssa Work, former director of the Freedom Fund, told Gotham Gazette last year that the application process involved a defendant filling out a form, and her checking to see if they have family and community ties or steady employment. She also would evaluate their criminal record.</p> <p>Rivera has held a two roundtables on bail funds and has heard some concerns from interested groups. "We've been tweaking the paperwork you have to go through to get people licensed as bondsmen," said Rivera. "We've been discussing having the application fee waived for certain smaller organizations that aren't flush with cash, some folks have found it difficult to find someone at [Department of Financial Services] to answer questions. But the most important thing is that we've been working with DFS on this all along and they've been very helpful."</p> <p>Organizations wishing to start a bail fund have to complete four major steps: register as a non-profit under federal tax laws; register as a charity under New York State law through the AG's office; obtain a charitable bail license from the state DFS; and, finally, obtain an individual bail bond license from DFS.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito's office is now on to the third step.</p> <p>Obtaining a charitable bail organization license from DFS requires a detailed <a href="http://www.dfs.ny.gov/insurance/licensing/applications/cb_org.pdf" target="_blank">application</a>, a fee of $1,000, and the fingerprinting of all officers, directors, trustees, and executive personnel.</p> <p>Rivera said that while he intends to keep working with DFS on the application process, he does "hope to eventually introduce legislation that expands the legal parameters of bail funds." Rivera continued, "Right now the cap on bail is $2,000, we might want to move that. There is a small list of offenses currently covered and we may want to expand that list. We know we are helping people whose only crime is being poor, who can't afford bail, allowing them to be able to fight for their freedom, when they otherwise might be sitting in Rikers or somewhere else."</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Mark-Viverito said, "New York City is proud to lead the way in reforming a broken bail system that unjustly subjected our young people of color to senseless violence and abuse. By approaching this issue thoughtfully and deliberatively, we hope that our proposal for a citywide bail fund can serve as a model for other cities and municipalities seeking to change the way poverty and the criminal justice system intersect."</p> <p>Like Mark-Viverito, Sen. Rivera supports closing Rikers. Mayor Bill de Blasio called the idea&nbsp;"noble," but has said he doubts it is achievable. "My job is to level with the people of New York City," de Blasio recently told reporters. "This would cost billions and billions of dollars, be logistically very difficult, and we don't have the space right now."</p> <p>De Blasio has, however, also focused on bail reform, calling the current system unfair, with a burden that keeps the poor in jail for crimes they haven't been tried for, much less convicted of.</p> <p>De Blasio has a supervised release program scheduled to begin March 1. Funded by asset forfeiture funds from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and the City Tax Levy, the program will provide judges with the option of sending those charged with misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies to supervised release programs overseen by agencies run in each of the five boroughs, rather than setting bail. The plan is expected to eventually serve 3,000 defendants.</p> <p>"There is a very real human cost to how our criminal justice system treats people while they wait for trial," de Blasio said <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/471-15/mayor-de-blasio-17-8-million-reduce-unnecessary-jail-time-people-waiting-trial" target="_blank">in a July statement</a> announcing the program. "Money bail is a problem because – as the system currently operates in New York – some people are being detained based on the size of their bank account, not the risk they pose. This is unacceptable. If people can be safely supervised in the community, they should be allowed to remain there regardless of their ability to pay."</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
'Dangerousness' Aspect of Cuomo's Bail Plan Troubles Reformers 2016-01-22T00:06:24+00:00 2016-01-22T00:06:24+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6106:dangerousness-aspect-of-cuomos-bail-plan-troubles-reformers kfan <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24066622920_97bf7ec09c_z.jpg" alt="cuomo sots solo" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo delivers his State of the State</p> <hr /> <p>In his recently-released policy agenda for 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a plan to reform the state's bail system. While it has not been fully fleshed out yet, Cuomo's proposal dictates that judges would use a scientific assessment tool to determine an individual's "risk to public safety" while setting bail, a proposal similar to one Mayor Bill de Blasio recently made, with both coming under fire from criminal justice reformers.</p> <p>De Blasio made <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/10/8580623/shifting-tone-de-blasio-proposes-tougher-bail-plan" target="_blank">his call</a> on the state to reform bail laws in the wake of the shooting of NYPD Officer Randolph Holder by an alleged assailant with a long rap sheet of drug-related arrests. The mayor and others attacked the judge who put the alleged shooter into a diversion program instead of setting a high bail and effectively holding him in jail.</p> <p>The plan was criticized by public defenders and criminal justice reform groups as a step in the wrong direction. Groups like Legal Aid Society are concerned adding 'dangerousness' to a judge's evaluation of an individual could lead to preemptive detention and institutionalized racism, see people charged with nonviolent crimes hit with disproportionate bail because they are deemed to be a threat, and lead to even more jail overcrowding as judges feel the need to remand an increasing number of defendants out of the fear of political blow back.</p> <p>The same groups are now surprised and concerned to see Cuomo is running with the idea.</p> <p>"I think this could make things terribly worse," said Jonathan Gradess, executive director of the New York State Defenders Association. "I think the mayor made a mistake when he called for this. I understand it was after a shooting of a police officer but it's wrongheaded and the governor is wrongheaded in now proposing the same thing the mayor did. We'd be giving a legal protection to the racism that already exists in the system."</p> <p>Advocates for criminal justice reform and a number of Democratic legislators were surprised when presented with Cuomo's bail reform plan given that most of the criminal justice priorities contained in his address and other recent action lined up with major progressive reform agenda items. These include Cuomo's push to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 and to expand alternatives to incarceration programs.</p> <p>Cuomo's budget book lists the bail plan under the "Fairness For All" section, along with increasing "opportunities for families to stay close during incarceration" and "reward[ing] success after release," among other planks.</p> <p>The governor appears to be making the same argument that de Blasio made, which is that there needs to be more leniency for non-violent offenders, but harsher discipline for those who commit the gravest crimes - or who may commit them.</p> <p>The Cuomo administration intends to utilize a risk-assessment program like <a href="http://www.arnoldfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/LJAF-research-summary_PSA-Court_4_1.pdf" target="_blank">the one</a> developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, an organization that looks to use a fact-based approach to combating societal problems. The program aims to gauge an individual's risk of reoffense by evaluating factors including age, criminal record, and previous failures to appear in court. The foundation has touted the predictive tool as a way to remove biases from the process of setting bail. Criminal justice reformers and public defenders worry it will have the opposite impact.</p> <p>Members of the Cuomo administration stressed that they have yet to settle on a plan, or develop a program bill with the parameters for the program and that any judgement by outside groups is simply uninformed.</p> <p>"Bail reform, when combined with an assessment tool, has the opposite effect of what they are suggesting," Alphonso David, counsel to Governor Cuomo told Gotham Gazette of critics. "What we've seen when it has been implemented in areas of Kentucky and in the city of Chicago is a decrease in crime, a decrease in reoffending, and a decrease in jail population."</p> <p>Nevertheless, advocates are concerned that an impersonal evaluation tool will make it easier for judges to rationalize denying bail.</p> <p>"Over the last couple of years we've been heartened to see an incredible amount of attention paid to the problems with our bail system -- people languishing in jail for years who have not been convicted of anything, who simply can't pay the price for their freedom and how our bail system disproportionately impacts people of color," said Justine Olderman of The Bronx Defenders.</p> <p>"Policy makers have vowed to fix these problems," Olderman said. "Yet at the same time, they call for including dangerousness in the bail statute which will expand the reasons that a person who is presumed innocent can be held in jail. They seem to do so without any recognition that including dangerousness will undermine their bail reform efforts and will only exacerbate our current bail crisis."</p> <p>Lately, the conversation about bail has focused on preventing the poor from disproportionately <a href="http://www.vice.com/video/inside-americas-for-profit-bail-system" target="_blank">having to serve jail time</a> when they can't afford to pay even small amounts of bail for minor crimes. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito first announced plans to back a bail fund, then de Blasio followed suit with a public bail fund, followed by Democratic state Senator Michael Gianaris introducing legislation that would <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/n-y-lawmaker-proposes-eliminating-bail-1443662459" target="_blank">eliminate</a> cash bail for certain individuals.</p> <p>Gianaris said that he hopes there will be room for discussion of his plan given that the governor put the concept of bail reform in his 2016 agenda. "The debate is long overdue," said Gianaris. "The bail system has no rational basis. It just imprisons poor people who have not been convicted, the rich simply pay bail."</p> <p>Gianaris acknowledged that the concept of basing bail on dangerousness has split progressives in the past. "This has been an ongoing debate with progressives falling on different sides of it. My bill doesn't change what a judge considers. It just does away with the financial component of bail."</p> <p>Advocates say Cuomo's proposal simply doesn't jive with the rest of his progressive criminal justice agenda.</p> <p>"I was surprised to see this in the same agenda with 'raise the age' and other criminal justice reforms," said Justine Luongo, who is the attorney in charge of Legal Aid Society's legal practice. "I understand why you would go this route: you want to prevent terrible tragedies, but this leads us down the wrong path."</p> <p>Cuomo's 2016&nbsp;<a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/2016_State_of_the_State_Book.pdf" target="_blank">policy book</a> states that New York is one of four states that do not require judges to consider public safety when setting bail and that the current "approach means that people in New York who do not present a risk to public safety are detained while people who may present a risk to public safety are able to post bail and gain release."</p> <p>The policy book goes on to say: "Governor Cuomo will introduce legislation to require judges to consider public safety when making release and bail decisions. The legislation will also permit judges to use research-based, accepted risk assessments when considering a defendant's threat to public safety. Other states and cities are using these risk assessments with good results: more people are released from jail before trial, without any attendant rise in crime."</p> <p>The New York Times <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/27/us/turning-the-granting-of-bail-into-a-science.html?_r=0" target="_blank">reported</a> in June that a North Carolina precinct that has implemented the Arnold Foundation's assessment tool has seen its jail population drop by 20 percent.</p> <p>State Senator Gustavo Rivera, who said he was very pleased by the majority of Cuomo's criminal justice agenda, was taken aback by the bail proposal. "As far as the bail proposal and my current understanding of it, I am deeply concerned that it might be going toward preventive detention," Rivera, who has backed a bail fund in the Bronx, told Gotham Gazette. "The state moved away from that, it rejected that in the past."</p> <p>The state legislature has periodically debated having judges consider dangerousness since the 1970s, but in the end has decided against it.</p> <p>"I think conceptually most people support judges being able to consider public safety when setting bail," said David, Cuomo's counsel.</p> <p>Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has advocated for this particular change to the state's criminal justice law. "My Office has long supported a change to the state's antiquated law that only permits us to take an individual's risk of flight into account when setting bail," Vance said in a statement in July that was issued as part of an announcement touting a $17.8 million commitment from de Blasio to supervise 3,000 defendants as part of a community release program designed to avoid bail or jail time before trial.</p> <p>"Today, I'm calling on Albany to amend that law to enable prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys to also evaluate dangerousness and risk of re-offending when making bail determinations, as is the practice in nearly every other state in this country," Vance's July statement continued. "The use of an updated science-driven risk assessment tool will help actors in the criminal justice system better understand who can safely be released and supervised in the community while awaiting their day in court."</p> <p>Reform advocates and a number of public defenders said they've seen no proof that states that consider dangerousness are actually preventing crime. They insist that only a small portion of those released on bail actually go on to be rearrested while awaiting trial.</p> <p>"I have not come across any empirical data that New York has greater rearrest rates than any community with a dangerous statute," said Olderman.</p> <p>Advocates fear the assessment tool will be used to jail a larger swath of people who haven't been found guilty of any crime, that judges will tend toward remanding defendants rather than posting bail for fear that there could be political backlash should someone out on bail is accused of another crime.</p> <p>"We are very concerned there will be findings of dangerousness by this assessment tool in cases where there is no nexus with violence," said Luongo. She said that a youth with a history of non-violent misdemeanors could be deemed dangerous because of assessment criteria.</p> <p>"In the current system a number of factors are already taken into account when setting bail, in domestic violence cases for example. We have registries for gun offenders and domestic violence, a judge can already take dangerousness into account," said Luongo. "Our concern is here that we are talking about predictive, preventative detention. It is troubling that the governor is not talking about striking a balance, doing away with bail in misdemeanor cases as former Chief Judge Lippman has suggested."</p> <p>Jonathan Lippman, who was forced into retirement recently due to age restrictions on his position, has long pushed the legislature to overhaul the state's bail system as he has argued it disproportionately impacts the poor, forcing those unable to pay even the smallest bail to serve long jail terms before trial and thereby destroying any chance they have at a normal life. However, Lippman has advocated the state to move on the bail reform de Blasio and Cuomo are pushing for. In August, Lippman defended de Blasio's stance in <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8581379/politico-new-york%E2%80%99s-public-law-report-lippman-backs-de-blasio-bail-si" target="_blank">an interview</a> with Politico New York in October.</p> <p>"I think they're fearful of this idea of preventive detention, but at some point you have to have confidence in judges and their judgement — that's what judges are there for — and you have to have a balanced bail statute that makes some sense and keeps violent people in, and there's a presumption that people who are not violent, and won't hurt anybody, are at their job and with their families and out on the street," Lippman said of Legal Aid Society criticism, <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8581379/politico-new-york%E2%80%99s-public-law-report-lippman-backs-de-blasio-bail-si" target="_blank">according to Politico New York</a>.</p> <p>Legal Aid Society is also concerned that once a judge labels someone "dangerous" it could become very difficult to lose the label even in the face of facts. Luongo said that facts in cases can quickly change as seen in the recent highly-publicized Brownsville group rape case. "If one judge finds a defendant "dangerous," who is going to be willing to reverse that? Are judges going to be willing to step on another judge's toes?"</p> <p>Robyn Pangi of The District Attorneys Association of New York told Gotham Gazette that her organization had not yet seen any specifics of Cuomo's plan. "District Attorneys would like to be involved in conversations regarding changes to the current bail system, particularly a proposal that takes into account the dangerousness of a defendant when setting bail," Pangi said in a statement. "DAs are interested in different mechanisms of pretrial detention, but stress that any sound proposal must take into account public safety and allow for prosecutorial appeal of the judge's decision in cases where the DA feels that public safety has not been given sufficient consideration."</p> <p>There may not be much room for debate on the proposal this year as many important Democratic legislators are opposed to the idea from the get-go.</p> <p>"I think this is a non-starter," said Gradess, of New York State Defenders Association.</p> <p>Albany can be a place of trade-offs, though, and Cuomo could work to convince initial opponents to agree to a full package of bail reforms that also satisfy what they would see as progress.</p> <p>Cuomo's counsel, Alphonso David, told Gotham Gazette that he would be surprised to see opposition to the plan once the administration releases its full bill. "We can't be driven by fears, we have to be driven by data," said David. "We don't legislate based on fear, we legislate based on data."</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24066622920_97bf7ec09c_z.jpg" alt="cuomo sots solo" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo delivers his State of the State</p> <hr /> <p>In his recently-released policy agenda for 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a plan to reform the state's bail system. While it has not been fully fleshed out yet, Cuomo's proposal dictates that judges would use a scientific assessment tool to determine an individual's "risk to public safety" while setting bail, a proposal similar to one Mayor Bill de Blasio recently made, with both coming under fire from criminal justice reformers.</p> <p>De Blasio made <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/10/8580623/shifting-tone-de-blasio-proposes-tougher-bail-plan" target="_blank">his call</a> on the state to reform bail laws in the wake of the shooting of NYPD Officer Randolph Holder by an alleged assailant with a long rap sheet of drug-related arrests. The mayor and others attacked the judge who put the alleged shooter into a diversion program instead of setting a high bail and effectively holding him in jail.</p> <p>The plan was criticized by public defenders and criminal justice reform groups as a step in the wrong direction. Groups like Legal Aid Society are concerned adding 'dangerousness' to a judge's evaluation of an individual could lead to preemptive detention and institutionalized racism, see people charged with nonviolent crimes hit with disproportionate bail because they are deemed to be a threat, and lead to even more jail overcrowding as judges feel the need to remand an increasing number of defendants out of the fear of political blow back.</p> <p>The same groups are now surprised and concerned to see Cuomo is running with the idea.</p> <p>"I think this could make things terribly worse," said Jonathan Gradess, executive director of the New York State Defenders Association. "I think the mayor made a mistake when he called for this. I understand it was after a shooting of a police officer but it's wrongheaded and the governor is wrongheaded in now proposing the same thing the mayor did. We'd be giving a legal protection to the racism that already exists in the system."</p> <p>Advocates for criminal justice reform and a number of Democratic legislators were surprised when presented with Cuomo's bail reform plan given that most of the criminal justice priorities contained in his address and other recent action lined up with major progressive reform agenda items. These include Cuomo's push to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 and to expand alternatives to incarceration programs.</p> <p>Cuomo's budget book lists the bail plan under the "Fairness For All" section, along with increasing "opportunities for families to stay close during incarceration" and "reward[ing] success after release," among other planks.</p> <p>The governor appears to be making the same argument that de Blasio made, which is that there needs to be more leniency for non-violent offenders, but harsher discipline for those who commit the gravest crimes - or who may commit them.</p> <p>The Cuomo administration intends to utilize a risk-assessment program like <a href="http://www.arnoldfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/LJAF-research-summary_PSA-Court_4_1.pdf" target="_blank">the one</a> developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, an organization that looks to use a fact-based approach to combating societal problems. The program aims to gauge an individual's risk of reoffense by evaluating factors including age, criminal record, and previous failures to appear in court. The foundation has touted the predictive tool as a way to remove biases from the process of setting bail. Criminal justice reformers and public defenders worry it will have the opposite impact.</p> <p>Members of the Cuomo administration stressed that they have yet to settle on a plan, or develop a program bill with the parameters for the program and that any judgement by outside groups is simply uninformed.</p> <p>"Bail reform, when combined with an assessment tool, has the opposite effect of what they are suggesting," Alphonso David, counsel to Governor Cuomo told Gotham Gazette of critics. "What we've seen when it has been implemented in areas of Kentucky and in the city of Chicago is a decrease in crime, a decrease in reoffending, and a decrease in jail population."</p> <p>Nevertheless, advocates are concerned that an impersonal evaluation tool will make it easier for judges to rationalize denying bail.</p> <p>"Over the last couple of years we've been heartened to see an incredible amount of attention paid to the problems with our bail system -- people languishing in jail for years who have not been convicted of anything, who simply can't pay the price for their freedom and how our bail system disproportionately impacts people of color," said Justine Olderman of The Bronx Defenders.</p> <p>"Policy makers have vowed to fix these problems," Olderman said. "Yet at the same time, they call for including dangerousness in the bail statute which will expand the reasons that a person who is presumed innocent can be held in jail. They seem to do so without any recognition that including dangerousness will undermine their bail reform efforts and will only exacerbate our current bail crisis."</p> <p>Lately, the conversation about bail has focused on preventing the poor from disproportionately <a href="http://www.vice.com/video/inside-americas-for-profit-bail-system" target="_blank">having to serve jail time</a> when they can't afford to pay even small amounts of bail for minor crimes. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito first announced plans to back a bail fund, then de Blasio followed suit with a public bail fund, followed by Democratic state Senator Michael Gianaris introducing legislation that would <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/n-y-lawmaker-proposes-eliminating-bail-1443662459" target="_blank">eliminate</a> cash bail for certain individuals.</p> <p>Gianaris said that he hopes there will be room for discussion of his plan given that the governor put the concept of bail reform in his 2016 agenda. "The debate is long overdue," said Gianaris. "The bail system has no rational basis. It just imprisons poor people who have not been convicted, the rich simply pay bail."</p> <p>Gianaris acknowledged that the concept of basing bail on dangerousness has split progressives in the past. "This has been an ongoing debate with progressives falling on different sides of it. My bill doesn't change what a judge considers. It just does away with the financial component of bail."</p> <p>Advocates say Cuomo's proposal simply doesn't jive with the rest of his progressive criminal justice agenda.</p> <p>"I was surprised to see this in the same agenda with 'raise the age' and other criminal justice reforms," said Justine Luongo, who is the attorney in charge of Legal Aid Society's legal practice. "I understand why you would go this route: you want to prevent terrible tragedies, but this leads us down the wrong path."</p> <p>Cuomo's 2016&nbsp;<a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/2016_State_of_the_State_Book.pdf" target="_blank">policy book</a> states that New York is one of four states that do not require judges to consider public safety when setting bail and that the current "approach means that people in New York who do not present a risk to public safety are detained while people who may present a risk to public safety are able to post bail and gain release."</p> <p>The policy book goes on to say: "Governor Cuomo will introduce legislation to require judges to consider public safety when making release and bail decisions. The legislation will also permit judges to use research-based, accepted risk assessments when considering a defendant's threat to public safety. Other states and cities are using these risk assessments with good results: more people are released from jail before trial, without any attendant rise in crime."</p> <p>The New York Times <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/27/us/turning-the-granting-of-bail-into-a-science.html?_r=0" target="_blank">reported</a> in June that a North Carolina precinct that has implemented the Arnold Foundation's assessment tool has seen its jail population drop by 20 percent.</p> <p>State Senator Gustavo Rivera, who said he was very pleased by the majority of Cuomo's criminal justice agenda, was taken aback by the bail proposal. "As far as the bail proposal and my current understanding of it, I am deeply concerned that it might be going toward preventive detention," Rivera, who has backed a bail fund in the Bronx, told Gotham Gazette. "The state moved away from that, it rejected that in the past."</p> <p>The state legislature has periodically debated having judges consider dangerousness since the 1970s, but in the end has decided against it.</p> <p>"I think conceptually most people support judges being able to consider public safety when setting bail," said David, Cuomo's counsel.</p> <p>Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has advocated for this particular change to the state's criminal justice law. "My Office has long supported a change to the state's antiquated law that only permits us to take an individual's risk of flight into account when setting bail," Vance said in a statement in July that was issued as part of an announcement touting a $17.8 million commitment from de Blasio to supervise 3,000 defendants as part of a community release program designed to avoid bail or jail time before trial.</p> <p>"Today, I'm calling on Albany to amend that law to enable prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys to also evaluate dangerousness and risk of re-offending when making bail determinations, as is the practice in nearly every other state in this country," Vance's July statement continued. "The use of an updated science-driven risk assessment tool will help actors in the criminal justice system better understand who can safely be released and supervised in the community while awaiting their day in court."</p> <p>Reform advocates and a number of public defenders said they've seen no proof that states that consider dangerousness are actually preventing crime. They insist that only a small portion of those released on bail actually go on to be rearrested while awaiting trial.</p> <p>"I have not come across any empirical data that New York has greater rearrest rates than any community with a dangerous statute," said Olderman.</p> <p>Advocates fear the assessment tool will be used to jail a larger swath of people who haven't been found guilty of any crime, that judges will tend toward remanding defendants rather than posting bail for fear that there could be political backlash should someone out on bail is accused of another crime.</p> <p>"We are very concerned there will be findings of dangerousness by this assessment tool in cases where there is no nexus with violence," said Luongo. She said that a youth with a history of non-violent misdemeanors could be deemed dangerous because of assessment criteria.</p> <p>"In the current system a number of factors are already taken into account when setting bail, in domestic violence cases for example. We have registries for gun offenders and domestic violence, a judge can already take dangerousness into account," said Luongo. "Our concern is here that we are talking about predictive, preventative detention. It is troubling that the governor is not talking about striking a balance, doing away with bail in misdemeanor cases as former Chief Judge Lippman has suggested."</p> <p>Jonathan Lippman, who was forced into retirement recently due to age restrictions on his position, has long pushed the legislature to overhaul the state's bail system as he has argued it disproportionately impacts the poor, forcing those unable to pay even the smallest bail to serve long jail terms before trial and thereby destroying any chance they have at a normal life. However, Lippman has advocated the state to move on the bail reform de Blasio and Cuomo are pushing for. In August, Lippman defended de Blasio's stance in <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8581379/politico-new-york%E2%80%99s-public-law-report-lippman-backs-de-blasio-bail-si" target="_blank">an interview</a> with Politico New York in October.</p> <p>"I think they're fearful of this idea of preventive detention, but at some point you have to have confidence in judges and their judgement — that's what judges are there for — and you have to have a balanced bail statute that makes some sense and keeps violent people in, and there's a presumption that people who are not violent, and won't hurt anybody, are at their job and with their families and out on the street," Lippman said of Legal Aid Society criticism, <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8581379/politico-new-york%E2%80%99s-public-law-report-lippman-backs-de-blasio-bail-si" target="_blank">according to Politico New York</a>.</p> <p>Legal Aid Society is also concerned that once a judge labels someone "dangerous" it could become very difficult to lose the label even in the face of facts. Luongo said that facts in cases can quickly change as seen in the recent highly-publicized Brownsville group rape case. "If one judge finds a defendant "dangerous," who is going to be willing to reverse that? Are judges going to be willing to step on another judge's toes?"</p> <p>Robyn Pangi of The District Attorneys Association of New York told Gotham Gazette that her organization had not yet seen any specifics of Cuomo's plan. "District Attorneys would like to be involved in conversations regarding changes to the current bail system, particularly a proposal that takes into account the dangerousness of a defendant when setting bail," Pangi said in a statement. "DAs are interested in different mechanisms of pretrial detention, but stress that any sound proposal must take into account public safety and allow for prosecutorial appeal of the judge's decision in cases where the DA feels that public safety has not been given sufficient consideration."</p> <p>There may not be much room for debate on the proposal this year as many important Democratic legislators are opposed to the idea from the get-go.</p> <p>"I think this is a non-starter," said Gradess, of New York State Defenders Association.</p> <p>Albany can be a place of trade-offs, though, and Cuomo could work to convince initial opponents to agree to a full package of bail reforms that also satisfy what they would see as progress.</p> <p>Cuomo's counsel, Alphonso David, told Gotham Gazette that he would be surprised to see opposition to the plan once the administration releases its full bill. "We can't be driven by fears, we have to be driven by data," said David. "We don't legislate based on fear, we legislate based on data."</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> Black, Hispanic & Asian Caucus Faces Growing Pains, Tense Relationship with Cuomo 2015-07-20T18:04:50+00:00 2015-07-20T18:04:50+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5817:black-hispanic-a-asian-caucus-faces-growing-pains-tense-relationship-with-cuomo Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/19344759678_8663ecdfb3_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Schneiderman presser" height="367" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">At the special prosecutor announcement (photo: Governor's Office <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/governorandrewcuomo/19344759678/in/album-72157653298437664/" target="_blank">via flickr</a>)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Gov. Andrew Cuomo was beaming. Touting the historical significance of the executive order he had just signed to give Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the authority to act as a special prosecutor in cases where police kill unarmed civilians, Cuomo smiled for photos. Often rivals, Cuomo and Schneiderman, who are both white, sat smiling at the July 7 press conference. They were surrounded first by a group of mothers who had lost their black and Hispanic sons to police violence, then by a group of legislators, all people of color. The cameras snapped and then the smiles faded.</p> <p>It was indeed momentous, real movement after years of work by advocates and legislators pushing for a special prosecutor to investigate such police shootings. But, the order by the governor, aimed at what he called a "crisis of confidence in the criminal justice system," does not wipe away another trust divide. Despite support for and appreciation of the special prosecutor mandate, Cuomo himself faces a crisis of trust from many members of the state legislature's Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus.</p> <p>Many advocates and legislators say it was a gargantuan effort to keep up enough pressure to make it politically impossible for Cuomo not to sign the order after there was no legislative deal before lawmakers ended their spring session in Albany. Just the day before the order-signing, victims' families had met with Cuomo to express concerns that the order would not go far enough.</p> <p>While many give intense gratitude to Cuomo for taking the action, they also resent that it took so much time and energy to get him there when the issue has been such a prominent one for years.</p> <p>Members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus - 33 in the 150-member Assembly and 14 in the 63-member Senate - have experienced a roller coaster ride for the past five years <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5378-the-cuomo-record-immigration-and-civil-rights" target="_blank">since Cuomo came into office</a>.</p> <p>It goes something like this: the governor announces that he shares some of their major priorities in his State of the State speech, they move to back him, and then they watch as their top agenda items are <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5654-democrats-frustrated-by-governor-backing-off-partys-issues" target="_blank">thrown out</a> of the budget when a deal is reached. They build up hope again after the budget is passed, seeking inclusion of the same issues in the typical end-of-session "Big Ugly" deal. They rally, publicly express certainty that Cuomo will deliver for them, that he is in fact on their side and the side of their constituents, all while privately wondering if he is only paying them lip service when he says he continues to be committed to their issues.</p> <p>And then the session ends.</p> <p>No DREAM Act, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/4889-cuomo-proposal-sparks-debate-over-college-behind-bars" target="_blank">no college for inmates</a>, no reduced punishment for possession of small amounts of marijuana. And this year no legislative action on either criminal justice reform efforts sparked by the rash of police killings of unarmed civilians or the governor's own 'Raise the Age' proposal. While Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5797-cuomos-executive-action-on-raise-the-age-prompts-questions" target="_blank">has promised executive action</a> removing them from adult prisons, New York remains one of just two states that tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.</p> <p>There was heightened internal tension in the caucus this year as the new and old guards struggled to direct the group. Younger members are pushing for more forceful action on issues important to their communities while veteran members urge caution and warn that major bills in Albany can take a lot of time.</p> <p>"We need continued pressure on these issues from the caucus and the governor because communities of color cannot feel their issues are second because they are harder to achieve," said Bronx Assembly Member Michael Blake, a freshman legislator and veteran of the Obama Administration.</p> <p>Brooklyn Assembly Member Nick Perry became caucus chair this year and has served for over 20 years as a state legislator. He acknowledges he is in a particularly tough position after the results of this year's legislative session. Perry's rival for the position, vacated when Karim Camara resigned to take a job in Cuomo's administration, Walter Mosley, was thought to be the choice of the younger members of the caucus but <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2015/06/new-caucus-leadership/" target="_blank">his candidacy collapsed</a> after he took a controversial position on a bill dealing with the East Ramapo School District.</p> <p>"We had a number of enthusiastic, young freshmen who wanted to bring home their bills but they met with the frustration that is Albany," Perry told Gotham Gazette. "They had a rude awakening," he added, saying that frustration is something he has gotten used to after spending so much time in the state legislature. Perry said that he hopes to marshall the caucus to focus on what is achievable. "We have so many votes that we can achieve so much if we work together. You have to realize you aren't going to win every time and we must pool our efforts into what is possible."</p> <p>Bronx Sen. Gustavo Rivera agrees with Perry. "I think as a caucus we are not as effective as we should be considering our numbers but I am committed to working with them to enact a progressive agenda," Rivera said.</p> <p>Despite having been in the Senate for five years, this was the first year Rivera really felt like he was in the minority, he says, as he was unable to impact some of the most important issues facing his community. "This is the first time I really felt it," said Rivera, who added that the caucus will be in control of its destiny if Democrats take control of the Senate in the 2016 elections.</p> <p>It's a sentiment shared by Perry, who said he expects most of the caucus' agenda will have to wait until 2017, indicating he hopes the presidential election <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5686-state-senate-democrats-poised-to-ride-hillary-clinton-wave" target="_blank">will attract a surge of Democratic voters</a>. "I would bet that the presidential year will bring a wave of working class voters much larger than last year and that the seats Republicans hold narrowly will become Democratic," said Perry.</p> <p>Perry sees 2016 as intensely difficult for the caucus' issues because of the pressure Republicans will feel to keep their seats.</p> <p>"We have to realize on issues like the DREAM Act that if some of these Republicans go against the grain they will eventually get blown away," said Perry. "We have to be realistic about the political realities Republicans face in their districts and it is our duty to convince them that there is enough support across the state."</p> <p>Blake, however, is not content to wait until 2017 on issues of criminal justice reform, or a minimum wage increase. "For me this is not about waiting for 2017," Blake told Gotham Gazette. "Communities of color are not interested in waiting for the next presidential election to move on these issues. Kalief Browder was my constituent. Kalief Browder's parents don't want to hear that we couldn't do 'raise the age' because we don't have the Senate Majority. They are thinking he is dead because we didn't have 'raise the age.'"</p> <p>Caucus members want to see Cuomo go to bat for their issues with the conviction he's shown in previous legislative victories, but they are conflicted about how much public pressure to put on him. Most members agree that it was their constituencies that delivered for Cuomo during last year's election and that Cuomo needs to be mindful to actually deliver for those voters and not get completely distracted by the upstate economy.</p> <p>"The problem we have is that at the the end of session what is on the table for black and Latino voters simply hasn't been enough," said Perry. "We were there for the governor during his elections. Something like 77 percent of black voters supported the governor so it is fair for us to expect him to be with us on our issues."</p> <p>This year discontent with Cuomo among Democrats has exploded into the open as many city legislators feel he failed to go to bat on city issues and in some cases decided to ally with Senate Republicans and wealthy campaign donors over Democratic interests. Cuomo ran on delivering The DREAM Act, an increased minimum wage, campaign finance reform, and the Gender Non-Discrimination Act (or GENDA), but none of those issues ever appeared to be seriously in play in the post-budget session.</p> <p>Instead Cuomo put his real political muscle into controversial school reforms, the equally controversial education tax credit, and to a lesser extent, 'Raise the Age.' Cuomo also took executive action toward increasing the minimum wage for fast food workers by convening the state wage board and resolved to manage compromises over rent regulations and mayoral control of city schools.</p> <p>A number of caucus members told Gotham Gazette on the condition of anonymity that they simply no longer believe any of Cuomo's promises and they expect the only way they can hope for him to deliver on their issues is to make it politically impossible for him not to. "Yeah, he got off his ass on the special prosecutor but it's because we dragged him there kicking and screaming," said one caucus member. They are well aware that Cuomo is being attacked by district attorneys and police organizations for signing the order and many of them are concerned he may do away with it if it begins to impact him politically.</p> <p>Perry said he is certain that Cuomo acted on the special prosecutor order because it is something he fully believes in but he was miffed that Cuomo didn't act sooner. "The special prosecutor was an extremely important move and I believe there is no turning back now - we will have legislation on it next year. The only thing that I don't understand is why the governor didn't do it much earlier. He supported it when we talked about these issues even before he was governor. So, I think when he took this action, it was something he truly believed in."</p> <p>Adding to the frustration was the departure of Camara as caucus chair. The former Assembly member joined the Cuomo administration to head the newly-created Office of Faith-Based Community Development.</p> <p>As was made clear by that appointment, Camara has had an extremely close relationship with the administration, was known to stay in contact with the governor and to often be polled by administration representatives before the executive branch took action. Now many members say they've never actually heard from the governor except perhaps in passing at an event.</p> <p>"This was clearly a transition year for the caucus," said Rivera. "We had a lot of new members who need to adjust to the reality of Albany and we had Karim step off and a new Assembly Speaker added to the reality of us not being in majority [in the Senate]."</p> <p>It is important to note that the new Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie, is a member of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Caucus and the first person of color to lead the chamber.</p> <p>Although the dance between the Cuomo administration and the caucus has become a familiar one the situation is particularly nettlesome after Mayor Bill de Blasio openly lambasted Cuomo's transactional style of politics and what he actually delivered for the city this year. "I don't believe the Assembly had a real working partner in the governor or the Senate in terms of getting things done for the people of this city and in many cases the people of this state," de Blasio told reporters on June 30.</p> <p>"The governor has developed a relationship with Senate Republicans that could be beneficial to the Democratic agenda," said new caucus head Perry, who represents part of Brooklyn. "So I plan on working with him rather than attacking him for the relationship, as some have."</p> <p>Sen. Rivera said he is thankful that the governor issued his executive order regarding police killings but he plans to keep up the pressure. "I congratulate the governor on taking such a bold step but we need it in statute and to extend it to all police misconduct. I've been carrying a bill that would do that for the past five years but it hasn't seen the light of day in the Senate."</p> <p>Assembly Member Blake said he is committed to working to educate Senate Republicans on major caucus issues - especially criminal justice reform - but he said more pressure to act has to be applied on Cuomo.</p> <p>"We've seen in the history of the civil rights movement that sometimes it takes someone willing to risk their political career to enact important change," said Blake.</p> <p>When asked if he was discouraged or caught off guard by the political gridlock in Albany, he laughed. "No," he said. "The reality is we made changes, we didn't get everything but this was not a rude awakening. I was at the White House when we were fighting for health care, when we were dealing with the 'death panel' nonsense. One thing I remember was the president talking to David Axelrod and Rahm [Emanuel] and telling them 'if it means me being a one-term president to do the right thing, then so be it, I'm committed to that.'"</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/19344759678_8663ecdfb3_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Schneiderman presser" height="367" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">At the special prosecutor announcement (photo: Governor's Office <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/governorandrewcuomo/19344759678/in/album-72157653298437664/" target="_blank">via flickr</a>)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Gov. Andrew Cuomo was beaming. Touting the historical significance of the executive order he had just signed to give Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the authority to act as a special prosecutor in cases where police kill unarmed civilians, Cuomo smiled for photos. Often rivals, Cuomo and Schneiderman, who are both white, sat smiling at the July 7 press conference. They were surrounded first by a group of mothers who had lost their black and Hispanic sons to police violence, then by a group of legislators, all people of color. The cameras snapped and then the smiles faded.</p> <p>It was indeed momentous, real movement after years of work by advocates and legislators pushing for a special prosecutor to investigate such police shootings. But, the order by the governor, aimed at what he called a "crisis of confidence in the criminal justice system," does not wipe away another trust divide. Despite support for and appreciation of the special prosecutor mandate, Cuomo himself faces a crisis of trust from many members of the state legislature's Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus.</p> <p>Many advocates and legislators say it was a gargantuan effort to keep up enough pressure to make it politically impossible for Cuomo not to sign the order after there was no legislative deal before lawmakers ended their spring session in Albany. Just the day before the order-signing, victims' families had met with Cuomo to express concerns that the order would not go far enough.</p> <p>While many give intense gratitude to Cuomo for taking the action, they also resent that it took so much time and energy to get him there when the issue has been such a prominent one for years.</p> <p>Members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus - 33 in the 150-member Assembly and 14 in the 63-member Senate - have experienced a roller coaster ride for the past five years <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5378-the-cuomo-record-immigration-and-civil-rights" target="_blank">since Cuomo came into office</a>.</p> <p>It goes something like this: the governor announces that he shares some of their major priorities in his State of the State speech, they move to back him, and then they watch as their top agenda items are <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5654-democrats-frustrated-by-governor-backing-off-partys-issues" target="_blank">thrown out</a> of the budget when a deal is reached. They build up hope again after the budget is passed, seeking inclusion of the same issues in the typical end-of-session "Big Ugly" deal. They rally, publicly express certainty that Cuomo will deliver for them, that he is in fact on their side and the side of their constituents, all while privately wondering if he is only paying them lip service when he says he continues to be committed to their issues.</p> <p>And then the session ends.</p> <p>No DREAM Act, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/4889-cuomo-proposal-sparks-debate-over-college-behind-bars" target="_blank">no college for inmates</a>, no reduced punishment for possession of small amounts of marijuana. And this year no legislative action on either criminal justice reform efforts sparked by the rash of police killings of unarmed civilians or the governor's own 'Raise the Age' proposal. While Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5797-cuomos-executive-action-on-raise-the-age-prompts-questions" target="_blank">has promised executive action</a> removing them from adult prisons, New York remains one of just two states that tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.</p> <p>There was heightened internal tension in the caucus this year as the new and old guards struggled to direct the group. Younger members are pushing for more forceful action on issues important to their communities while veteran members urge caution and warn that major bills in Albany can take a lot of time.</p> <p>"We need continued pressure on these issues from the caucus and the governor because communities of color cannot feel their issues are second because they are harder to achieve," said Bronx Assembly Member Michael Blake, a freshman legislator and veteran of the Obama Administration.</p> <p>Brooklyn Assembly Member Nick Perry became caucus chair this year and has served for over 20 years as a state legislator. He acknowledges he is in a particularly tough position after the results of this year's legislative session. Perry's rival for the position, vacated when Karim Camara resigned to take a job in Cuomo's administration, Walter Mosley, was thought to be the choice of the younger members of the caucus but <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2015/06/new-caucus-leadership/" target="_blank">his candidacy collapsed</a> after he took a controversial position on a bill dealing with the East Ramapo School District.</p> <p>"We had a number of enthusiastic, young freshmen who wanted to bring home their bills but they met with the frustration that is Albany," Perry told Gotham Gazette. "They had a rude awakening," he added, saying that frustration is something he has gotten used to after spending so much time in the state legislature. Perry said that he hopes to marshall the caucus to focus on what is achievable. "We have so many votes that we can achieve so much if we work together. You have to realize you aren't going to win every time and we must pool our efforts into what is possible."</p> <p>Bronx Sen. Gustavo Rivera agrees with Perry. "I think as a caucus we are not as effective as we should be considering our numbers but I am committed to working with them to enact a progressive agenda," Rivera said.</p> <p>Despite having been in the Senate for five years, this was the first year Rivera really felt like he was in the minority, he says, as he was unable to impact some of the most important issues facing his community. "This is the first time I really felt it," said Rivera, who added that the caucus will be in control of its destiny if Democrats take control of the Senate in the 2016 elections.</p> <p>It's a sentiment shared by Perry, who said he expects most of the caucus' agenda will have to wait until 2017, indicating he hopes the presidential election <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5686-state-senate-democrats-poised-to-ride-hillary-clinton-wave" target="_blank">will attract a surge of Democratic voters</a>. "I would bet that the presidential year will bring a wave of working class voters much larger than last year and that the seats Republicans hold narrowly will become Democratic," said Perry.</p> <p>Perry sees 2016 as intensely difficult for the caucus' issues because of the pressure Republicans will feel to keep their seats.</p> <p>"We have to realize on issues like the DREAM Act that if some of these Republicans go against the grain they will eventually get blown away," said Perry. "We have to be realistic about the political realities Republicans face in their districts and it is our duty to convince them that there is enough support across the state."</p> <p>Blake, however, is not content to wait until 2017 on issues of criminal justice reform, or a minimum wage increase. "For me this is not about waiting for 2017," Blake told Gotham Gazette. "Communities of color are not interested in waiting for the next presidential election to move on these issues. Kalief Browder was my constituent. Kalief Browder's parents don't want to hear that we couldn't do 'raise the age' because we don't have the Senate Majority. They are thinking he is dead because we didn't have 'raise the age.'"</p> <p>Caucus members want to see Cuomo go to bat for their issues with the conviction he's shown in previous legislative victories, but they are conflicted about how much public pressure to put on him. Most members agree that it was their constituencies that delivered for Cuomo during last year's election and that Cuomo needs to be mindful to actually deliver for those voters and not get completely distracted by the upstate economy.</p> <p>"The problem we have is that at the the end of session what is on the table for black and Latino voters simply hasn't been enough," said Perry. "We were there for the governor during his elections. Something like 77 percent of black voters supported the governor so it is fair for us to expect him to be with us on our issues."</p> <p>This year discontent with Cuomo among Democrats has exploded into the open as many city legislators feel he failed to go to bat on city issues and in some cases decided to ally with Senate Republicans and wealthy campaign donors over Democratic interests. Cuomo ran on delivering The DREAM Act, an increased minimum wage, campaign finance reform, and the Gender Non-Discrimination Act (or GENDA), but none of those issues ever appeared to be seriously in play in the post-budget session.</p> <p>Instead Cuomo put his real political muscle into controversial school reforms, the equally controversial education tax credit, and to a lesser extent, 'Raise the Age.' Cuomo also took executive action toward increasing the minimum wage for fast food workers by convening the state wage board and resolved to manage compromises over rent regulations and mayoral control of city schools.</p> <p>A number of caucus members told Gotham Gazette on the condition of anonymity that they simply no longer believe any of Cuomo's promises and they expect the only way they can hope for him to deliver on their issues is to make it politically impossible for him not to. "Yeah, he got off his ass on the special prosecutor but it's because we dragged him there kicking and screaming," said one caucus member. They are well aware that Cuomo is being attacked by district attorneys and police organizations for signing the order and many of them are concerned he may do away with it if it begins to impact him politically.</p> <p>Perry said he is certain that Cuomo acted on the special prosecutor order because it is something he fully believes in but he was miffed that Cuomo didn't act sooner. "The special prosecutor was an extremely important move and I believe there is no turning back now - we will have legislation on it next year. The only thing that I don't understand is why the governor didn't do it much earlier. He supported it when we talked about these issues even before he was governor. So, I think when he took this action, it was something he truly believed in."</p> <p>Adding to the frustration was the departure of Camara as caucus chair. The former Assembly member joined the Cuomo administration to head the newly-created Office of Faith-Based Community Development.</p> <p>As was made clear by that appointment, Camara has had an extremely close relationship with the administration, was known to stay in contact with the governor and to often be polled by administration representatives before the executive branch took action. Now many members say they've never actually heard from the governor except perhaps in passing at an event.</p> <p>"This was clearly a transition year for the caucus," said Rivera. "We had a lot of new members who need to adjust to the reality of Albany and we had Karim step off and a new Assembly Speaker added to the reality of us not being in majority [in the Senate]."</p> <p>It is important to note that the new Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie, is a member of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Caucus and the first person of color to lead the chamber.</p> <p>Although the dance between the Cuomo administration and the caucus has become a familiar one the situation is particularly nettlesome after Mayor Bill de Blasio openly lambasted Cuomo's transactional style of politics and what he actually delivered for the city this year. "I don't believe the Assembly had a real working partner in the governor or the Senate in terms of getting things done for the people of this city and in many cases the people of this state," de Blasio told reporters on June 30.</p> <p>"The governor has developed a relationship with Senate Republicans that could be beneficial to the Democratic agenda," said new caucus head Perry, who represents part of Brooklyn. "So I plan on working with him rather than attacking him for the relationship, as some have."</p> <p>Sen. Rivera said he is thankful that the governor issued his executive order regarding police killings but he plans to keep up the pressure. "I congratulate the governor on taking such a bold step but we need it in statute and to extend it to all police misconduct. I've been carrying a bill that would do that for the past five years but it hasn't seen the light of day in the Senate."</p> <p>Assembly Member Blake said he is committed to working to educate Senate Republicans on major caucus issues - especially criminal justice reform - but he said more pressure to act has to be applied on Cuomo.</p> <p>"We've seen in the history of the civil rights movement that sometimes it takes someone willing to risk their political career to enact important change," said Blake.</p> <p>When asked if he was discouraged or caught off guard by the political gridlock in Albany, he laughed. "No," he said. "The reality is we made changes, we didn't get everything but this was not a rude awakening. I was at the White House when we were fighting for health care, when we were dealing with the 'death panel' nonsense. One thing I remember was the president talking to David Axelrod and Rahm [Emanuel] and telling them 'if it means me being a one-term president to do the right thing, then so be it, I'm committed to that.'"</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> Scott Shooting May Help Reignite New York Criminal Justice Debate 2015-04-10T08:36:34+00:00 2015-04-10T08:36:34+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5677:scott-shooting-may-help-reignite-new-york-criminal-justice-debate Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/peralta_nypd.jpg" alt="peralta nypd" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Sen. Jose Peralta with NYPD officers (photo: @SenatorPeralta)</span></p> <hr /> <p>A video of South Carolina Police Officer Michael Slager fatally shooting Walter Scott as he ran away appears to have relit the debate over criminal justice reform in New York.</p> <p>The graphic <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/08/us/south-carolina-officer-is-charged-with-murder-in-black-mans-death.html?_r=0" target="_blank">video</a> has reminded many advocates and legislators of the video that brought attention to the death of Eric Garner while he was being arrested by members of the NYPD on Staten Island in July. Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who could be seen in the video placing Garner in a chokehold, was not indicted by a grand jury.</p> <p>Legislators say they expect reforms proposed earlier this year to be front and center when the Legislature returns from spring vacation later in April. Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens who has championed a number of criminal justice reforms, said that he was struck by how quickly South Carolina officials reacted to the video of the shooting.</p> <p>"It makes me wonder why it took New York so long to act," Peralta told Gotham Gazette. "The South Carolina system acted immediately - they fired the officer and filed charges. Here it took a while for anyone to do anything. It took outcry. What better case to show the discrepancy between the criminal justice system of a supposedly progressive state like New York and a more conservative state."</p> <p>Video of Garner's July 17 death circulated widely as many officials resisted passing judgement on whether Garner was murdered. His death was ruled a homicide by the city's medical examiner August 1. On August 19, Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan announced a grand jury would hear charges against Pantaleo. The grand jury began hearing evidence September 29 and decided not to charge Pantaleo December 3.</p> <p>In South Carolina, Slager shot walker on April 4; he was arrested and charged with murder <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/08/us/south-carolina-officer-is-charged-with-murder-in-black-mans-death.html?_r=0" target="_blank">April 7</a>; and he was fired April 8.</p> <p>After the grand jury decision in the Pantaleo case, protesters took to the streets across the country, especially in New York City, and an anti-police brutality, criminal justice reform movement continued to build in the aftermath of the deaths of Garner and Michael Brown, who was killed in Ferguson, MO.</p> <p>New York politicians took notice.</p> <p>Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised a "soup-to-nuts" review of the justice system and met with prominent leaders of the criminal justice reform movement, including Jay-Z and Russell Simmons. Simmons said Cuomo had promised to issue an executive order putting a special prosecutor in charge of cases where police kill unarmed civilians, Cuomo's office insisted the governor had simply promised to push for legislation to that effect. (On April 9, Simmons wrote <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/russell-simmons/governor-cuomo-weve-had-e_b_7037522.html" target="_blank">an open letter</a> to Cuomo expressing frustration over a lack of action.)</p> <p>In the weeks that followed Cuomo's December promise of a review, hearings were held, some led by Democrats, others by Republicans; bills were proposed, and lines were drawn. And then a sort-of vortex opened up and swallowed the issue: Christmas, then former Gov. Mario Cuomo passed away on January 1 and Cuomo postponed his State of the State Address until later in January; the indictment of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver soon followed and Albany was thrown into chaos. Budget negotiations were on hold, set to heat up when the Assembly replaced Silver with Carl Heastie in February. Some of the proposed criminal justice reforms were included in ensuing budget negotiations but eventually dropped for expediency's sake.</p> <p>"I was hopeful because of the dialogue we were having that New York would be a national leader on criminal justice reform," said Justine Luongo of The Legal Aid Society. "But I can't say I was surprised it didn't happen [in the budget] because so many critical reforms are needed."</p> <p>Exactly why criminal justice reforms were dropped appears up for interpretation. Sen. Diane Savino, who has championed a bill that would create more transparency in grand jury deliberations, told Gotham Gazette that items were dropped from the budget where consensus already existed to save time. "I think there is a future for all of them," Savino said when asked what criminal justice reforms she thought would be in play when legislators return to session. "It will all be dealt with along with mayoral control and the minimum wage and everything else." Savino's <a href="http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S1828-2015" target="_blank">bill</a> was referred to the Senate's codes committee on January 15 and has seen no action since.</p> <p>Luongo said she expects the debate over <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5583-with-raise-the-age-cuomo-continues-push-to-reform-juvenile-justice" target="_blank">raising the age</a> teens can be tried as adults in New York to be settled fairly quickly. Cuomo included the policy in the budget but it was dropped after concerns were raised about how it would be implemented. While policy must be negotiated, funding for the program did remain in the budget.</p> <p>"Clearly we can't wait any longer," said Luongo. "The time must be right to make sure the system treats everyone fairly." Luongo noted that New York and North Carolina are the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5583-with-raise-the-age-cuomo-continues-push-to-reform-juvenile-justice" target="_blank">only two states</a> that try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.</p> <p>"The promise of equal justice is a New York promise and it is an American promise. We are currently in the midst of a national problem where people are questioning our justice system," Cuomo said during his State of the State speech in January. "And they're questioning whether the justice system really is fairness for all. And whether the justice system really is colorblind. And that's not just New York, it's a problem all across the country."</p> <p>In the speech, Cuomo proposed a fairly balanced <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/2015-opportunity-agenda-ensuring-justice-perception-and-reality" target="_blank">set of policies</a>, with some intended to please those concerned with police safety following the murder of two NYPD officers and with public safety in general. Those policies include creating a statewide commission on police and community relations, helping police departments hire more people of color, providing funding for bullet-proof glass and vests, allowing district attorneys to issue reports on what happened in closed-door grand juries involving police killings and allowing the governor to appoint an independent monitor to oversee the findings in such cases and then be able to appoint a special prosecutor.</p> <p>Appointing a special prosecutors to such cases may be the most contentious issue regarding criminal justice reform. Advocates including The Legal Aid Society and a number of Democratic legislators have asked Cuomo to name Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as an independent monitor. That appears unlikely as Cuomo and Schneiderman <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5634-schneiderman-unveils-ethics-plan-to-cure-the-disease" target="_blank">are rivals</a>, with Cuomo actually working to weaken the AG's reach since becoming governor. On December 8, Schneiderman asked Cuomo to issue an interim executive order allowing the AG's office to investigate and, if necessary, appoint a special prosecutor in cases where police kill unarmed civilians. "While several worthy legislative reforms have been proposed, the Governor has the power to act today to solve this problem," Schneiderman <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/%20http:/www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-requests-executive-order-restore-public-confidence-criminal-justice" target="_blank">wrote</a>. "I strongly encourage him to take action now."</p> <p>Sen. Gustavo Rivera has said he plans to use parliamentary procedure in the Senate to force a vote on his bill that would put the AG in charge of cases where police kill unarmed civilians. Rivera requested committee consideration of the bill on March 20. Even if <a href="http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S716-2015" target="_blank">the bill</a> comes to a vote it isn't clear Senate Republicans would go for it as many of them favor keeping local DAs in charge of the cases. The bill is much more likely to pass in teh Assmebly, where it has major support. Assembly Member Keith Wright is the bill's sponsor in that house.</p> <p>A number of Democratic legislators said that they expect some form of special prosecutor legislation to get done but they aren't quite sure what it will look like in the end. Senate Republicans are looking to deliver on tax breaks and are facing major pressure on the education tax credit from religious groups who have even threatened to primary legislators if the bill doesn't get done. That could give Democrats some leverage when it comes time to negotiate criminal justice reforms - but, there are so many other major issues at stake for Democrats including a minimum wage increase, renewing mayoral control of schools, the sunset of rent laws, and The DREAM Act, that there is a chance that the debate could be overshadowed yet again.</p> <p>"We really had a perfect storm that kept a lot of these issues in at bay," said Peralta "We had an overly ambitious executive budget and a lot of important things fell out, but now we have three months to get it all done. Its time to get to work."</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/peralta_nypd.jpg" alt="peralta nypd" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Sen. Jose Peralta with NYPD officers (photo: @SenatorPeralta)</span></p> <hr /> <p>A video of South Carolina Police Officer Michael Slager fatally shooting Walter Scott as he ran away appears to have relit the debate over criminal justice reform in New York.</p> <p>The graphic <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/08/us/south-carolina-officer-is-charged-with-murder-in-black-mans-death.html?_r=0" target="_blank">video</a> has reminded many advocates and legislators of the video that brought attention to the death of Eric Garner while he was being arrested by members of the NYPD on Staten Island in July. Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who could be seen in the video placing Garner in a chokehold, was not indicted by a grand jury.</p> <p>Legislators say they expect reforms proposed earlier this year to be front and center when the Legislature returns from spring vacation later in April. Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens who has championed a number of criminal justice reforms, said that he was struck by how quickly South Carolina officials reacted to the video of the shooting.</p> <p>"It makes me wonder why it took New York so long to act," Peralta told Gotham Gazette. "The South Carolina system acted immediately - they fired the officer and filed charges. Here it took a while for anyone to do anything. It took outcry. What better case to show the discrepancy between the criminal justice system of a supposedly progressive state like New York and a more conservative state."</p> <p>Video of Garner's July 17 death circulated widely as many officials resisted passing judgement on whether Garner was murdered. His death was ruled a homicide by the city's medical examiner August 1. On August 19, Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan announced a grand jury would hear charges against Pantaleo. The grand jury began hearing evidence September 29 and decided not to charge Pantaleo December 3.</p> <p>In South Carolina, Slager shot walker on April 4; he was arrested and charged with murder <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/08/us/south-carolina-officer-is-charged-with-murder-in-black-mans-death.html?_r=0" target="_blank">April 7</a>; and he was fired April 8.</p> <p>After the grand jury decision in the Pantaleo case, protesters took to the streets across the country, especially in New York City, and an anti-police brutality, criminal justice reform movement continued to build in the aftermath of the deaths of Garner and Michael Brown, who was killed in Ferguson, MO.</p> <p>New York politicians took notice.</p> <p>Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised a "soup-to-nuts" review of the justice system and met with prominent leaders of the criminal justice reform movement, including Jay-Z and Russell Simmons. Simmons said Cuomo had promised to issue an executive order putting a special prosecutor in charge of cases where police kill unarmed civilians, Cuomo's office insisted the governor had simply promised to push for legislation to that effect. (On April 9, Simmons wrote <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/russell-simmons/governor-cuomo-weve-had-e_b_7037522.html" target="_blank">an open letter</a> to Cuomo expressing frustration over a lack of action.)</p> <p>In the weeks that followed Cuomo's December promise of a review, hearings were held, some led by Democrats, others by Republicans; bills were proposed, and lines were drawn. And then a sort-of vortex opened up and swallowed the issue: Christmas, then former Gov. Mario Cuomo passed away on January 1 and Cuomo postponed his State of the State Address until later in January; the indictment of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver soon followed and Albany was thrown into chaos. Budget negotiations were on hold, set to heat up when the Assembly replaced Silver with Carl Heastie in February. Some of the proposed criminal justice reforms were included in ensuing budget negotiations but eventually dropped for expediency's sake.</p> <p>"I was hopeful because of the dialogue we were having that New York would be a national leader on criminal justice reform," said Justine Luongo of The Legal Aid Society. "But I can't say I was surprised it didn't happen [in the budget] because so many critical reforms are needed."</p> <p>Exactly why criminal justice reforms were dropped appears up for interpretation. Sen. Diane Savino, who has championed a bill that would create more transparency in grand jury deliberations, told Gotham Gazette that items were dropped from the budget where consensus already existed to save time. "I think there is a future for all of them," Savino said when asked what criminal justice reforms she thought would be in play when legislators return to session. "It will all be dealt with along with mayoral control and the minimum wage and everything else." Savino's <a href="http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S1828-2015" target="_blank">bill</a> was referred to the Senate's codes committee on January 15 and has seen no action since.</p> <p>Luongo said she expects the debate over <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5583-with-raise-the-age-cuomo-continues-push-to-reform-juvenile-justice" target="_blank">raising the age</a> teens can be tried as adults in New York to be settled fairly quickly. Cuomo included the policy in the budget but it was dropped after concerns were raised about how it would be implemented. While policy must be negotiated, funding for the program did remain in the budget.</p> <p>"Clearly we can't wait any longer," said Luongo. "The time must be right to make sure the system treats everyone fairly." Luongo noted that New York and North Carolina are the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5583-with-raise-the-age-cuomo-continues-push-to-reform-juvenile-justice" target="_blank">only two states</a> that try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.</p> <p>"The promise of equal justice is a New York promise and it is an American promise. We are currently in the midst of a national problem where people are questioning our justice system," Cuomo said during his State of the State speech in January. "And they're questioning whether the justice system really is fairness for all. And whether the justice system really is colorblind. And that's not just New York, it's a problem all across the country."</p> <p>In the speech, Cuomo proposed a fairly balanced <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/2015-opportunity-agenda-ensuring-justice-perception-and-reality" target="_blank">set of policies</a>, with some intended to please those concerned with police safety following the murder of two NYPD officers and with public safety in general. Those policies include creating a statewide commission on police and community relations, helping police departments hire more people of color, providing funding for bullet-proof glass and vests, allowing district attorneys to issue reports on what happened in closed-door grand juries involving police killings and allowing the governor to appoint an independent monitor to oversee the findings in such cases and then be able to appoint a special prosecutor.</p> <p>Appointing a special prosecutors to such cases may be the most contentious issue regarding criminal justice reform. Advocates including The Legal Aid Society and a number of Democratic legislators have asked Cuomo to name Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as an independent monitor. That appears unlikely as Cuomo and Schneiderman <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5634-schneiderman-unveils-ethics-plan-to-cure-the-disease" target="_blank">are rivals</a>, with Cuomo actually working to weaken the AG's reach since becoming governor. On December 8, Schneiderman asked Cuomo to issue an interim executive order allowing the AG's office to investigate and, if necessary, appoint a special prosecutor in cases where police kill unarmed civilians. "While several worthy legislative reforms have been proposed, the Governor has the power to act today to solve this problem," Schneiderman <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/%20http:/www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-requests-executive-order-restore-public-confidence-criminal-justice" target="_blank">wrote</a>. "I strongly encourage him to take action now."</p> <p>Sen. Gustavo Rivera has said he plans to use parliamentary procedure in the Senate to force a vote on his bill that would put the AG in charge of cases where police kill unarmed civilians. Rivera requested committee consideration of the bill on March 20. Even if <a href="http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S716-2015" target="_blank">the bill</a> comes to a vote it isn't clear Senate Republicans would go for it as many of them favor keeping local DAs in charge of the cases. The bill is much more likely to pass in teh Assmebly, where it has major support. Assembly Member Keith Wright is the bill's sponsor in that house.</p> <p>A number of Democratic legislators said that they expect some form of special prosecutor legislation to get done but they aren't quite sure what it will look like in the end. Senate Republicans are looking to deliver on tax breaks and are facing major pressure on the education tax credit from religious groups who have even threatened to primary legislators if the bill doesn't get done. That could give Democrats some leverage when it comes time to negotiate criminal justice reforms - but, there are so many other major issues at stake for Democrats including a minimum wage increase, renewing mayoral control of schools, the sunset of rent laws, and The DREAM Act, that there is a chance that the debate could be overshadowed yet again.</p> <p>"We really had a perfect storm that kept a lot of these issues in at bay," said Peralta "We had an overly ambitious executive budget and a lot of important things fell out, but now we have three months to get it all done. Its time to get to work."</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p>