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/helen-rosenthal 2017-12-14T04:17:40+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Council Members Announce Legislation to Root Out Sexual Misconduct in City Government 2017-12-07T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-07T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7357:council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/rosenthal_levine_sexual_harassment_legislation.jpg" alt="rosenthal levine sexual harassment legislation" width="600" height="369" /></p> <p>Council Members Rosenthal and Levine (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Amid a national outcry against sexual assault and sexual harassment, including in the workplace -- intensified by numerous accusations against sitting members of Congress that have resulted in two resignations thus far -- members of the New York City Council are stepping up to combat, prevent and expose any cases of sexual misconduct within their own ranks and that of the gargantuan city government.</p> <p>A series of bills proposed on Thursday by two Council members aim to bring to light any instances of sexual harassment at the City Council, city agencies, and even at organizations that contract with the city or receive city funds.</p> <p>“This moment has the potential to be a turning point, but it will only stick if policy makers seize this opportunity to not just punish individual abusers but reform the system that enabled that abuse,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, co-chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus, at a news conference at City Hall. Rosenthal was appearing with Council Member Mark Levine, who requested the new legislation on sexual harassment policies. “Institutions like the City Council must step up and interrupt the power dynamics that have allowed abuses to exist just under the surface for far too long,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>Levine, a Manhattan Democrat who is running to be the Council’s next speaker, has requested that bills be drafted to strengthen the City Council’s policies on sexual harassment, requiring that complaints by Council staffers be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics rather than the Council central staff, as is the case right now. The committee currently only investigates complaints against the elected members of the Council and has the power to discipline them through an official censure, fine, removal from a committee or expulsion from the body. The Council would also have to regularly report the status of complaints to those bringing the claims.</p> <p>Levine’s proposals are not limited to internal Council practices. He also asked for bills mandating twice yearly disclosure of sexual harassment claims at all city agencies, and has proposed creating a task force to assess agency policies to improve reporting standards and to make it easier for those subjected to harassment to come forward.</p> <p>“At a time of something of a national awakening to the epidemic of sexual harassment and abuse of power by men in the workplace, in industries like Hollywood, in newsrooms, in the halls of Congress...it would be dangerously naive of us to think that we’re not facing a similar epidemic in the workforce of this city,” Levine said. “It would also be naive for us to assume that in the City Council with its staff of about 300 that we are immune from this epidemic.” <br /> <br />Separately, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer from Queens, another speaker candidate, has proposed two bills that would mandate reporting of sexual harassment policies -- how complaints are resolved, disciplinary and training practices -- from organizations that apply for city funding and would impose a minimum five-year ban from receiving city funds on organizations with multiple complaints. “The #MeToo movement is about exposing systematic workplace sexual harassment and assault, but it's up to lawmakers now to push forward solutions to address it,” Van Bramer said in a statement.</p> <p>At Thursday’s news conference, which included advocates and Council Members Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Jumaane Williams, who is also running for speaker, Levine said he was not aware of instances of harassment that had occurred at the Council in the last few years, either involving Council members or their staff. When asked by Gotham Gazette if he would ask the current speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and the current staff to make public any possible instances, he said, “Our bill is not retroactive...I certainly would encourage that but our bill is only effective from the day it passes.”</p> <p>Levine also acknowledged that with the Council’s busy end-of-term schedule and with only two more full-Council meetings on the docket to close out the year and the term, the bills are unlikely to become law this year. “It’s almost certainly too late to pass before the end of the session but this will be a top priority of mine in whatever role I happen to be occupying come January,” he said. “We want to be proactive.”</p> <p>Members of women’s advocacy organizations praised the reforms proposed Thursday. Ella Mae Estrada, associate dean and chief diversity officer of New York Law School, also announced at the news conference that the School would be partnering with the City Council and Assemblymember Charles Lavine to bring together elected officials, activists and academics for the National Conference on Sexual Harassment in the Government Workplace. “We are all part of an overdue and needed conversation in this country about sexual harassment and we all have an obligation in creating workplaces that are safe and respectful for all of our employees,” Estrada said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/rosenthal_levine_sexual_harassment_legislation.jpg" alt="rosenthal levine sexual harassment legislation" width="600" height="369" /></p> <p>Council Members Rosenthal and Levine (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Amid a national outcry against sexual assault and sexual harassment, including in the workplace -- intensified by numerous accusations against sitting members of Congress that have resulted in two resignations thus far -- members of the New York City Council are stepping up to combat, prevent and expose any cases of sexual misconduct within their own ranks and that of the gargantuan city government.</p> <p>A series of bills proposed on Thursday by two Council members aim to bring to light any instances of sexual harassment at the City Council, city agencies, and even at organizations that contract with the city or receive city funds.</p> <p>“This moment has the potential to be a turning point, but it will only stick if policy makers seize this opportunity to not just punish individual abusers but reform the system that enabled that abuse,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, co-chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus, at a news conference at City Hall. Rosenthal was appearing with Council Member Mark Levine, who requested the new legislation on sexual harassment policies. “Institutions like the City Council must step up and interrupt the power dynamics that have allowed abuses to exist just under the surface for far too long,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>Levine, a Manhattan Democrat who is running to be the Council’s next speaker, has requested that bills be drafted to strengthen the City Council’s policies on sexual harassment, requiring that complaints by Council staffers be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics rather than the Council central staff, as is the case right now. The committee currently only investigates complaints against the elected members of the Council and has the power to discipline them through an official censure, fine, removal from a committee or expulsion from the body. The Council would also have to regularly report the status of complaints to those bringing the claims.</p> <p>Levine’s proposals are not limited to internal Council practices. He also asked for bills mandating twice yearly disclosure of sexual harassment claims at all city agencies, and has proposed creating a task force to assess agency policies to improve reporting standards and to make it easier for those subjected to harassment to come forward.</p> <p>“At a time of something of a national awakening to the epidemic of sexual harassment and abuse of power by men in the workplace, in industries like Hollywood, in newsrooms, in the halls of Congress...it would be dangerously naive of us to think that we’re not facing a similar epidemic in the workforce of this city,” Levine said. “It would also be naive for us to assume that in the City Council with its staff of about 300 that we are immune from this epidemic.” <br /> <br />Separately, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer from Queens, another speaker candidate, has proposed two bills that would mandate reporting of sexual harassment policies -- how complaints are resolved, disciplinary and training practices -- from organizations that apply for city funding and would impose a minimum five-year ban from receiving city funds on organizations with multiple complaints. “The #MeToo movement is about exposing systematic workplace sexual harassment and assault, but it's up to lawmakers now to push forward solutions to address it,” Van Bramer said in a statement.</p> <p>At Thursday’s news conference, which included advocates and Council Members Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Jumaane Williams, who is also running for speaker, Levine said he was not aware of instances of harassment that had occurred at the Council in the last few years, either involving Council members or their staff. When asked by Gotham Gazette if he would ask the current speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and the current staff to make public any possible instances, he said, “Our bill is not retroactive...I certainly would encourage that but our bill is only effective from the day it passes.”</p> <p>Levine also acknowledged that with the Council’s busy end-of-term schedule and with only two more full-Council meetings on the docket to close out the year and the term, the bills are unlikely to become law this year. “It’s almost certainly too late to pass before the end of the session but this will be a top priority of mine in whatever role I happen to be occupying come January,” he said. “We want to be proactive.”</p> <p>Members of women’s advocacy organizations praised the reforms proposed Thursday. Ella Mae Estrada, associate dean and chief diversity officer of New York Law School, also announced at the news conference that the School would be partnering with the City Council and Assemblymember Charles Lavine to bring together elected officials, activists and academics for the National Conference on Sexual Harassment in the Government Workplace. “We are all part of an overdue and needed conversation in this country about sexual harassment and we all have an obligation in creating workplaces that are safe and respectful for all of our employees,” Estrada said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
'Open Budget,' Economic Development Transparency Bills Become Law 2017-12-01T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-01T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7346:open-budget-economic-development-transparency-bills-become-law Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/34230498096_8f776460b1_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio public hearing City Council bills" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>De Blasio at a public hearing (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Four government transparency bills that were passed by the City Council on October 31 aged into law on Friday, having gone 30 days without any action in favor or against them by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The bills all relate to increased disclosure by the administration of billions in city government spending and have been praised by good government advocates.</p> <p>Among the bills was one that <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2709949&amp;GUID=A23CF8CE-1F3D-45FA-8C20-7A787B22EEE8&amp;Options=&amp;Search=">requires</a> the administration to publish annual budget documents in a user-friendly, machine-readable format to the city’s online Open Data Portal, allowing the public easier access to information that is currently listed in thousands of line items in the $86 billion city budget. The bill’s lead sponsor was Council Member Ben Kallos.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7284-city-council-to-pass-bills-expanding-oversight-of-economic-development-spending" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The three other bills</a> -- with lead sponsors Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Dan Garodnick, and Corey Johnson -- formed a package aimed at improving transparency at the Economic Development Corporation, a city-run entity that manages and promotes the administration’s job-creation and business-development initiatives. The bills allow the City Council added oversight of EDC, which provides many millions of dollars in financial benefits to projects and businesses each year and also handles the sale and lease of city-owned land. They mandate that EDC provide fiscal impact statements and job creation estimates for projects receiving financial assistance; require EDC to detail their efforts to clawback funds from those agreements that fail to meet their goals; and allow the City Council time to review and comment on proposed economic development agreements.</p> <p>“These new City laws will make it much easier to understand both the big picture of how the City is spending money and the specifics of hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidy deals the City makes with businesses,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a good government group, in a statement Friday. “It will be much easier to see if the taxpayer is getting a good deal. These new laws are a blueprint for what the state should do.”</p> <p>The City Charter provides that if the mayor takes no action on a bill after it is approved by the City Council, within 30 days, it automatically becomes law. In fact, it’s “pretty common” for bills to age into law without the mayor’s signature, said mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, in an email on Friday. She added that if the mayor signed every bill, “we’d be doing bill signings like every day.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Goldstein noted that out of the 25 bills passed by the Council on October 31, all but one aged into law. The only one the mayor signed was Council Member Rafael Espinal’s bill to repeal the city’s antiquated Cabaret Law, which used to require establishments to obtain licences from the city to allow dancing. De Blasio signed the bill on November 27 at Elsewhere, a popular nightclub in Brooklyn.</p> <p>Often, the mayor holds bill-signing ceremonies at City Hall, affixing his signature to numerous bills at a time. At one such ceremony on October 16, for instance, de Blasio signed a dozen bills into law. “It’s really just a timing thing,” Goldstein said in a later email, estimating that perhaps close to 100 bills have similarly lapsed into law in de Blasio’s first term.</p> <p>City Council spokesperson Robin Levine declined to comment for this article.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/34230498096_8f776460b1_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio public hearing City Council bills" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>De Blasio at a public hearing (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Four government transparency bills that were passed by the City Council on October 31 aged into law on Friday, having gone 30 days without any action in favor or against them by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The bills all relate to increased disclosure by the administration of billions in city government spending and have been praised by good government advocates.</p> <p>Among the bills was one that <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2709949&amp;GUID=A23CF8CE-1F3D-45FA-8C20-7A787B22EEE8&amp;Options=&amp;Search=">requires</a> the administration to publish annual budget documents in a user-friendly, machine-readable format to the city’s online Open Data Portal, allowing the public easier access to information that is currently listed in thousands of line items in the $86 billion city budget. The bill’s lead sponsor was Council Member Ben Kallos.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7284-city-council-to-pass-bills-expanding-oversight-of-economic-development-spending" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The three other bills</a> -- with lead sponsors Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Dan Garodnick, and Corey Johnson -- formed a package aimed at improving transparency at the Economic Development Corporation, a city-run entity that manages and promotes the administration’s job-creation and business-development initiatives. The bills allow the City Council added oversight of EDC, which provides many millions of dollars in financial benefits to projects and businesses each year and also handles the sale and lease of city-owned land. They mandate that EDC provide fiscal impact statements and job creation estimates for projects receiving financial assistance; require EDC to detail their efforts to clawback funds from those agreements that fail to meet their goals; and allow the City Council time to review and comment on proposed economic development agreements.</p> <p>“These new City laws will make it much easier to understand both the big picture of how the City is spending money and the specifics of hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidy deals the City makes with businesses,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a good government group, in a statement Friday. “It will be much easier to see if the taxpayer is getting a good deal. These new laws are a blueprint for what the state should do.”</p> <p>The City Charter provides that if the mayor takes no action on a bill after it is approved by the City Council, within 30 days, it automatically becomes law. In fact, it’s “pretty common” for bills to age into law without the mayor’s signature, said mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, in an email on Friday. She added that if the mayor signed every bill, “we’d be doing bill signings like every day.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Goldstein noted that out of the 25 bills passed by the Council on October 31, all but one aged into law. The only one the mayor signed was Council Member Rafael Espinal’s bill to repeal the city’s antiquated Cabaret Law, which used to require establishments to obtain licences from the city to allow dancing. De Blasio signed the bill on November 27 at Elsewhere, a popular nightclub in Brooklyn.</p> <p>Often, the mayor holds bill-signing ceremonies at City Hall, affixing his signature to numerous bills at a time. At one such ceremony on October 16, for instance, de Blasio signed a dozen bills into law. “It’s really just a timing thing,” Goldstein said in a later email, estimating that perhaps close to 100 bills have similarly lapsed into law in de Blasio’s first term.</p> <p>City Council spokesperson Robin Levine declined to comment for this article.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Women's Caucus Secures Commitments from City Council Speaker Candidates 2017-11-16T05:00:00+00:00 2017-11-16T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7324:women-s-caucus-secures-commitments-from-city-council-speaker-candidates Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/12958724994_0891bdd89c_z.jpg" alt="Helen Rosenthal City Council Speaker" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Helen Rosenthal among Speaker hopefuls Cornegy, Levine, Johnson (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>The Women’s Caucus of the City Council recently interviewed the eight candidates -- all men -- seeking to become the next Speaker of the Council, arguably the second most powerful position in city government. While the Women’s Caucus will not be endorsing a speaker candidate ahead of the January vote, according to caucus co-chair Helen Rosenthal, it did secure important commitments from each candidate and the process, which also included a questionnaire, was informative in helping the female members of the next Council class decide who to support.</p> <p>When inaugurated in January, next Council of 51 members will include only 11 women, a gender imbalance that has been the focus of a good deal of recent attention, in the media and from the Women’s Caucus itself, which issued <a href="http://helenrosenthal.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Final-Womens-Caucus-Making-It-Here-Report-Web.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a report</a> detailing the declining number of women in the Council, causes of the trend, and ideas for what to do to reverse it.</p> <p>According to Council Member Rosenthal, all eight speaker candidates committed to funding through the speaker’s office a staff person for the Women’s Caucus, something that is currently only afforded to the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus (BLAC). Rosenthal called it “an incredibly important achievement” since it will allow the caucus to be more active in terms of releasing press statements and substantive reports, and more.</p> <p>The speaker candidates -- Council Members Robert Cornegy, Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Donovan Richards, Ydanis Rodriguez, Ritchie Torres, Jimmy Van Bramer, and Jumaane Williams -- also committed to ensuring that about half of their leadership team would be women if they are elected speaker, Rosenthal said. In this context “leadership” was defined as the majority leader and deputy leaders that the next speaker names, but Rosenthal said the Women’s Caucus also pushed the candidates on committing to strong female representation as chairs of Council committees.</p> <p>“The speaker candidate interviews went really well,” Rosenthal said in an interview. “All of the candidates were extremely engaged in the process.”</p> <p>Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat who co-chairs the caucus with Brooklyn Democratic Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who is currently on maternity leave, explained that soon after Election Day, current and incoming members of the Women’s Caucus held interviews with each of the eight speaker candidates over the course of two days, with each interview lasting about 15 minutes. The interviews came after the candidates were asked to fill out a questionnaire (see below). Some of the in-person questions were follow-ups from questionnaire answers, while others were asked to all of the candidates.</p> <p>“We asked questions like ‘What’s a women's issue?’” Rosenthal said. “It was telling. There were a few people who went right to domestic violence and child care, but the vast majority said ‘All issues are women’s issues,’ and that was revealing.”</p> <p>Rosenthal said that caucus members agreed not to talk in specifics about individual speaker candidates and how they answered questions. (She is backing Levine, who represents a neighboring district, but in the interview she did not discuss that support relative to the Women’s Caucus process.)</p> <p>“What has become clear in this whole exercise is that having a female speaker has somewhat masked over the importance in this loss of women in the Council,” Rosenthal said, referring to the fact that the Council has had a female speaker for the past 12 years, with Melissa Mark-Viverito for four and Christine Quinn for the eight before that. Mark-Viverito is term-limited out of office at the end of this year. The number of women in the Council has decreased from 18 elected in 2009 to 11 after this year’s elections.</p> <p>“If you look at what Melissa’s done with the staff in the Council -- roughly half of the staff are women,” Rosenthal said. “And we wanted to know what [the speaker candidates] would do in terms of leadership positions, committee chair positions, and also staff in the Council.”</p> <p>“We really wanted a clear answer. ‘You say you want women on your team, but what are your staffing levels in your own office?’ Again, there were actual differences,” Rosenthal added, noting that one speaker candidate was caught in an uncomfortable situation due to a lack of women on his current staff.</p> <p>Returning female members of the Council include Rosenthal and Cumbo, as well as Margaret Chin, Vanessa Gibson, Deborah Rose, Inez Barron, and Karen Koslowitz.</p> <p>“The new women coming in were in the room,” Rosenthal said of incoming Council members who were just elected. She said some of those women -- Council Members-Elect Carlina Rivera, Diana Ayala, Alick Ampry-Samuel, and Adrienne Adams -- were present over the two days of interviews. “The whole dynamic was great,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>Rosenthal said there were frank discussions about why it is important to have women in the room and asking candidates things like, “What’s your vision for amplifying women’s voices?”</p> <p>Heading into the race to be the next speaker, a woman was thought to be the frontrunner, but Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland announced earlier this year that she would not seek reelection and would be moving to Maryland for family reasons.</p> <p>Asked why there were no other women who sought the speakership, Rosenthal said she couldn’t speak for others. “I know why I didn’t,” she said. “Certainly Julissa did. You would have to ask each woman, and my guess is, it’s personal. If there were more women in the Council, you’d see a different outcome.”</p> <p>As for her own decision, Rosenthal said, “It’s because to do the job well, I don’t think I could manage having a family life and being speaker. That’s personal to me. I’m at a stage in my life where any down-time I have, which is very little, I need to be with my family. The thought of having no down-time weighs on me personally. It doesn’t mean I’m not ambitious, I certainly am. It doesn’t mean I play the traditional woman’s role in my family -- my husband and I are equal partners, and he’s stepped up during this experience.”</p> <p>Ferreras-Copeland is currently chair of the finance committee, one of the Council’s two most powerful committees along with land use. Rosenthal is currently chair of the contracts committee, while Cumbo chairs the women’s issues committee, Gibson chairs public safety, Chin chairs aging, Barron chairs the higher education committee, and Koslowitz chairs the state and federal legislative committee. Choices for committee chair positions, especially finance and land use, are often part of the process of selecting the speaker, which is greatly influenced by the Democratic county machines, especially those in Queens and the Bronx.</p> <p>Asked if she hoped one of the big two committees would be chaired by a woman in the next Council, Rosenthal said, “Sure, I hope both are. Both and majority leader.” Does she want one of the two? “No, not necessarily,” she said. “I would like to be part of the leadership team.”</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/womens-caucus-sc-questionaire-1000b.jpg" target="_blank" type="image/jpeg" class="jcepopup" data-mediabox="1"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/womens-caucus-sc-questionaire-600b.jpg" alt="womens caucus sc questionaire 600b" width="600" height="343" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/12958724994_0891bdd89c_z.jpg" alt="Helen Rosenthal City Council Speaker" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Helen Rosenthal among Speaker hopefuls Cornegy, Levine, Johnson (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>The Women’s Caucus of the City Council recently interviewed the eight candidates -- all men -- seeking to become the next Speaker of the Council, arguably the second most powerful position in city government. While the Women’s Caucus will not be endorsing a speaker candidate ahead of the January vote, according to caucus co-chair Helen Rosenthal, it did secure important commitments from each candidate and the process, which also included a questionnaire, was informative in helping the female members of the next Council class decide who to support.</p> <p>When inaugurated in January, next Council of 51 members will include only 11 women, a gender imbalance that has been the focus of a good deal of recent attention, in the media and from the Women’s Caucus itself, which issued <a href="http://helenrosenthal.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Final-Womens-Caucus-Making-It-Here-Report-Web.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a report</a> detailing the declining number of women in the Council, causes of the trend, and ideas for what to do to reverse it.</p> <p>According to Council Member Rosenthal, all eight speaker candidates committed to funding through the speaker’s office a staff person for the Women’s Caucus, something that is currently only afforded to the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus (BLAC). Rosenthal called it “an incredibly important achievement” since it will allow the caucus to be more active in terms of releasing press statements and substantive reports, and more.</p> <p>The speaker candidates -- Council Members Robert Cornegy, Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Donovan Richards, Ydanis Rodriguez, Ritchie Torres, Jimmy Van Bramer, and Jumaane Williams -- also committed to ensuring that about half of their leadership team would be women if they are elected speaker, Rosenthal said. In this context “leadership” was defined as the majority leader and deputy leaders that the next speaker names, but Rosenthal said the Women’s Caucus also pushed the candidates on committing to strong female representation as chairs of Council committees.</p> <p>“The speaker candidate interviews went really well,” Rosenthal said in an interview. “All of the candidates were extremely engaged in the process.”</p> <p>Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat who co-chairs the caucus with Brooklyn Democratic Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who is currently on maternity leave, explained that soon after Election Day, current and incoming members of the Women’s Caucus held interviews with each of the eight speaker candidates over the course of two days, with each interview lasting about 15 minutes. The interviews came after the candidates were asked to fill out a questionnaire (see below). Some of the in-person questions were follow-ups from questionnaire answers, while others were asked to all of the candidates.</p> <p>“We asked questions like ‘What’s a women's issue?’” Rosenthal said. “It was telling. There were a few people who went right to domestic violence and child care, but the vast majority said ‘All issues are women’s issues,’ and that was revealing.”</p> <p>Rosenthal said that caucus members agreed not to talk in specifics about individual speaker candidates and how they answered questions. (She is backing Levine, who represents a neighboring district, but in the interview she did not discuss that support relative to the Women’s Caucus process.)</p> <p>“What has become clear in this whole exercise is that having a female speaker has somewhat masked over the importance in this loss of women in the Council,” Rosenthal said, referring to the fact that the Council has had a female speaker for the past 12 years, with Melissa Mark-Viverito for four and Christine Quinn for the eight before that. Mark-Viverito is term-limited out of office at the end of this year. The number of women in the Council has decreased from 18 elected in 2009 to 11 after this year’s elections.</p> <p>“If you look at what Melissa’s done with the staff in the Council -- roughly half of the staff are women,” Rosenthal said. “And we wanted to know what [the speaker candidates] would do in terms of leadership positions, committee chair positions, and also staff in the Council.”</p> <p>“We really wanted a clear answer. ‘You say you want women on your team, but what are your staffing levels in your own office?’ Again, there were actual differences,” Rosenthal added, noting that one speaker candidate was caught in an uncomfortable situation due to a lack of women on his current staff.</p> <p>Returning female members of the Council include Rosenthal and Cumbo, as well as Margaret Chin, Vanessa Gibson, Deborah Rose, Inez Barron, and Karen Koslowitz.</p> <p>“The new women coming in were in the room,” Rosenthal said of incoming Council members who were just elected. She said some of those women -- Council Members-Elect Carlina Rivera, Diana Ayala, Alick Ampry-Samuel, and Adrienne Adams -- were present over the two days of interviews. “The whole dynamic was great,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>Rosenthal said there were frank discussions about why it is important to have women in the room and asking candidates things like, “What’s your vision for amplifying women’s voices?”</p> <p>Heading into the race to be the next speaker, a woman was thought to be the frontrunner, but Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland announced earlier this year that she would not seek reelection and would be moving to Maryland for family reasons.</p> <p>Asked why there were no other women who sought the speakership, Rosenthal said she couldn’t speak for others. “I know why I didn’t,” she said. “Certainly Julissa did. You would have to ask each woman, and my guess is, it’s personal. If there were more women in the Council, you’d see a different outcome.”</p> <p>As for her own decision, Rosenthal said, “It’s because to do the job well, I don’t think I could manage having a family life and being speaker. That’s personal to me. I’m at a stage in my life where any down-time I have, which is very little, I need to be with my family. The thought of having no down-time weighs on me personally. It doesn’t mean I’m not ambitious, I certainly am. It doesn’t mean I play the traditional woman’s role in my family -- my husband and I are equal partners, and he’s stepped up during this experience.”</p> <p>Ferreras-Copeland is currently chair of the finance committee, one of the Council’s two most powerful committees along with land use. Rosenthal is currently chair of the contracts committee, while Cumbo chairs the women’s issues committee, Gibson chairs public safety, Chin chairs aging, Barron chairs the higher education committee, and Koslowitz chairs the state and federal legislative committee. Choices for committee chair positions, especially finance and land use, are often part of the process of selecting the speaker, which is greatly influenced by the Democratic county machines, especially those in Queens and the Bronx.</p> <p>Asked if she hoped one of the big two committees would be chaired by a woman in the next Council, Rosenthal said, “Sure, I hope both are. Both and majority leader.” Does she want one of the two? “No, not necessarily,” she said. “I would like to be part of the leadership team.”</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/womens-caucus-sc-questionaire-1000b.jpg" target="_blank" type="image/jpeg" class="jcepopup" data-mediabox="1"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/womens-caucus-sc-questionaire-600b.jpg" alt="womens caucus sc questionaire 600b" width="600" height="343" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Passes Bills Expanding Oversight of Economic Development Spending 2017-10-30T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-30T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7284:city-council-to-pass-bills-expanding-oversight-of-economic-development-spending Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/dmw7vyeuqaayxfq.jpg-large.jpeg" alt="dmw7vyeuqaayxfq.jpg large" width="600" height="354" /></p> <p>CM Garodnick speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony (photo via @DanGarodnick)</p> <hr /> <p><em>[editor's note: the bills discussed in this story have passed the Council since its publish; the headline has been tweaked to indicate that fact, but the story remains unchanged from its publish]</em></p> <p>The New York City Council is set to pass a package of three bills that will expand its oversight of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, a city-affiliated non-profit that is instrumental in the city’s efforts to stimulate business and create jobs.</p> <p>The EDC handles a wide array of projects and initiatives from infrastructure and real estate development to cultural projects and parks and public spaces. The organization’s work is at the center of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to create 100,000 jobs over ten years that pay $50,000 annually, and it recently led the process for the city’s bid to host the second headquarters of retail giant Amazon. Hundreds of projects receive financial assistance each year from the city through EDC in the form of tax benefits, loans, grants, and even energy benefits</p> <p>But as of now, EDC is required to report little publicly about its operations and the benefits of its work to the city and New Yorkers. The City Council bills being passed this week, which are expected to be signed into law by the mayor, seek to increase those reporting requirements to add a layer of accountability and transparency to EDC’s work.</p> <p>“We spend an extraordinary sum every year on economic development and the goals are laudable: creation of jobs, the expansion of affordable housing or even the refurbishing of important cultural or historical sites,” said City Council Member Daniel Garodnick, chair of the economic development committee and prime sponsor of one of the three bills in the package, in a phone interview. “But, unfortunately it’s not always clear whether these dollars achieve their intended objectives.”</p> <p>Garodnick’s <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2867851&amp;GUID=FBAD71D2-798D-4D08-9650-B9786389121A&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> would require the EDC to provide fiscal impact statements for projects it sponsors, including estimates of the number of jobs being created. Another <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2867854&amp;GUID=9F91E653-ED3B-40EF-B20B-9FE099116853&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a>, sponsored by Council Member Corey Johnson, would require EDC to report on its efforts to recover funds from any third party that received financial assistance but failed to live up to an economic development agreement. The <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2867876&amp;GUID=94241FF8-9F73-42A7-97B5-65380D2E7E6E&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">third bill</a>, sponsored by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, would give the City Council an opportunity to comment on proposed economic development agreements by mandating that EDC provide project descriptions and budgets to the Council at least 30 days before the agreement is finalized. &nbsp;</p> <p>The three bills build on Garodnick’s efforts that he began in 2014 to improve oversight of EDC and how it utilizes taxpayer money. Last year, Garodnick and Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, the Council’s finance chair, led a task force to examine the city’s economic development tax expenditures. The task force issued 10 <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/f/?id=00000157-4f76-dc77-a5ff-cfffa4040001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommendations</a> including instituting regular reviews of tax expenditures and improved oversight. The three bills being passed on Wednesday were an outcome of those recommendations.</p> <p>“Through these bills, EDC will provide comprehensive fiscal impact statements and enhanced compliance reports for projects that receive our financial assistance,” said Shavone Williams, an EDC spokesperson, in a statement. “We look forward to this collaboration with the City Council as part of our larger efforts to remain as transparent as possible to the communities we serve.”</p> <p>Support from EDC indicates the mayor will sign into laws the bills, which have passed through Garodnick’s committee and will be voted on by the full City Council on Tuesday.</p> <p>Garodnick did acknowledge that EDC has improved its processes and that it already provides some information annually on its projects as required under city and state law. EDC puts out an Annual Investments Projects Report, in three volumes, on projects that receive financial assistance and details of the sales and leases of city-land. The <a href="https://www.nycedc.com/sites/default/files/filemanager/CityCharter_2016_Vol_I.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">last report</a>, issued January 30, notes that EDC provided some form of financial assistance to 554 projects in fiscal year 2016. The report included information on 46 sales of city-land that brought in $536.1 million and 89 leases of city-owned land with rents worth $126.1 million.</p> <p>The 554 projects accounted for 5.9 percent of the total private employment in the city; about $36.1 billion in private investment; they cost the city about $138 million in fiscal year 2016 (totalling $1.8 billion over the life of the projects) and brought in $5.2 billion in tax revenue (estimated to grow to $50.3 billion over the life of the projects).</p> <p>“I felt that more could be done to ensure that the public has a handle on how we are spending our money here and we want to give the public better access to this information,” said Garodnick, who is leaving the Council at the end of the year due to term limits. “We want to go further and be able to measure the upfront goals with the outcomes.”</p> <p>Indeed, in the context of numerous neighborhood rezonings proposed by the de Blasio administration across the city, advocacy groups have consistently called for more rigorous scrutiny of promises made by the city and keeping developers accountable if they receive any benefits from the administration. This also applies to singular projects, including the prominent example of the Bedford Union Armory redevelopment, a process that was spearheaded by EDC. The project is on city land but proposes a long-term lease to a private developer, raising concerns among community advocates.</p> <p>“There is a natural tension here between the need to activate economic development measures and local community perspectives,” Garodnick said, when Gotham Gazette ventured whether increased oversight was necessary in the aftermath of the Bloomberg years, when development went largely unchecked. “And part of this is ensuring that local needs are considered and that’s really what the Rosenthal bill is about. This is a very important agency that spends an extraordinary amount of money which does a lot of good work. We want to add these oversight measures to ensure the greatest transparency of taxpayer dollars.”</p> <p>Garodnick also agreed that there’s a need to ensure that the mayor’s plan to invest in burgeoning economic sectors to directly create 100,000 jobs receives the appropriate scrutiny. “This would always be important but with the commitment that is being made to find ways to create economic opportunities, this is even more important,” he said.</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/dmw7vyeuqaayxfq.jpg-large.jpeg" alt="dmw7vyeuqaayxfq.jpg large" width="600" height="354" /></p> <p>CM Garodnick speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony (photo via @DanGarodnick)</p> <hr /> <p><em>[editor's note: the bills discussed in this story have passed the Council since its publish; the headline has been tweaked to indicate that fact, but the story remains unchanged from its publish]</em></p> <p>The New York City Council is set to pass a package of three bills that will expand its oversight of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, a city-affiliated non-profit that is instrumental in the city’s efforts to stimulate business and create jobs.</p> <p>The EDC handles a wide array of projects and initiatives from infrastructure and real estate development to cultural projects and parks and public spaces. The organization’s work is at the center of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to create 100,000 jobs over ten years that pay $50,000 annually, and it recently led the process for the city’s bid to host the second headquarters of retail giant Amazon. Hundreds of projects receive financial assistance each year from the city through EDC in the form of tax benefits, loans, grants, and even energy benefits</p> <p>But as of now, EDC is required to report little publicly about its operations and the benefits of its work to the city and New Yorkers. The City Council bills being passed this week, which are expected to be signed into law by the mayor, seek to increase those reporting requirements to add a layer of accountability and transparency to EDC’s work.</p> <p>“We spend an extraordinary sum every year on economic development and the goals are laudable: creation of jobs, the expansion of affordable housing or even the refurbishing of important cultural or historical sites,” said City Council Member Daniel Garodnick, chair of the economic development committee and prime sponsor of one of the three bills in the package, in a phone interview. “But, unfortunately it’s not always clear whether these dollars achieve their intended objectives.”</p> <p>Garodnick’s <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2867851&amp;GUID=FBAD71D2-798D-4D08-9650-B9786389121A&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> would require the EDC to provide fiscal impact statements for projects it sponsors, including estimates of the number of jobs being created. Another <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2867854&amp;GUID=9F91E653-ED3B-40EF-B20B-9FE099116853&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a>, sponsored by Council Member Corey Johnson, would require EDC to report on its efforts to recover funds from any third party that received financial assistance but failed to live up to an economic development agreement. The <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2867876&amp;GUID=94241FF8-9F73-42A7-97B5-65380D2E7E6E&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">third bill</a>, sponsored by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, would give the City Council an opportunity to comment on proposed economic development agreements by mandating that EDC provide project descriptions and budgets to the Council at least 30 days before the agreement is finalized. &nbsp;</p> <p>The three bills build on Garodnick’s efforts that he began in 2014 to improve oversight of EDC and how it utilizes taxpayer money. Last year, Garodnick and Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, the Council’s finance chair, led a task force to examine the city’s economic development tax expenditures. The task force issued 10 <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/f/?id=00000157-4f76-dc77-a5ff-cfffa4040001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommendations</a> including instituting regular reviews of tax expenditures and improved oversight. The three bills being passed on Wednesday were an outcome of those recommendations.</p> <p>“Through these bills, EDC will provide comprehensive fiscal impact statements and enhanced compliance reports for projects that receive our financial assistance,” said Shavone Williams, an EDC spokesperson, in a statement. “We look forward to this collaboration with the City Council as part of our larger efforts to remain as transparent as possible to the communities we serve.”</p> <p>Support from EDC indicates the mayor will sign into laws the bills, which have passed through Garodnick’s committee and will be voted on by the full City Council on Tuesday.</p> <p>Garodnick did acknowledge that EDC has improved its processes and that it already provides some information annually on its projects as required under city and state law. EDC puts out an Annual Investments Projects Report, in three volumes, on projects that receive financial assistance and details of the sales and leases of city-land. The <a href="https://www.nycedc.com/sites/default/files/filemanager/CityCharter_2016_Vol_I.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">last report</a>, issued January 30, notes that EDC provided some form of financial assistance to 554 projects in fiscal year 2016. The report included information on 46 sales of city-land that brought in $536.1 million and 89 leases of city-owned land with rents worth $126.1 million.</p> <p>The 554 projects accounted for 5.9 percent of the total private employment in the city; about $36.1 billion in private investment; they cost the city about $138 million in fiscal year 2016 (totalling $1.8 billion over the life of the projects) and brought in $5.2 billion in tax revenue (estimated to grow to $50.3 billion over the life of the projects).</p> <p>“I felt that more could be done to ensure that the public has a handle on how we are spending our money here and we want to give the public better access to this information,” said Garodnick, who is leaving the Council at the end of the year due to term limits. “We want to go further and be able to measure the upfront goals with the outcomes.”</p> <p>Indeed, in the context of numerous neighborhood rezonings proposed by the de Blasio administration across the city, advocacy groups have consistently called for more rigorous scrutiny of promises made by the city and keeping developers accountable if they receive any benefits from the administration. This also applies to singular projects, including the prominent example of the Bedford Union Armory redevelopment, a process that was spearheaded by EDC. The project is on city land but proposes a long-term lease to a private developer, raising concerns among community advocates.</p> <p>“There is a natural tension here between the need to activate economic development measures and local community perspectives,” Garodnick said, when Gotham Gazette ventured whether increased oversight was necessary in the aftermath of the Bloomberg years, when development went largely unchecked. “And part of this is ensuring that local needs are considered and that’s really what the Rosenthal bill is about. This is a very important agency that spends an extraordinary amount of money which does a lot of good work. We want to add these oversight measures to ensure the greatest transparency of taxpayer dollars.”</p> <p>Garodnick also agreed that there’s a need to ensure that the mayor’s plan to invest in burgeoning economic sectors to directly create 100,000 jobs receives the appropriate scrutiny. “This would always be important but with the commitment that is being made to find ways to create economic opportunities, this is even more important,” he said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
At the City Council, Better Gender Balance Among Chiefs of Staff 2017-09-19T04:00:00+00:00 2017-09-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7205:at-the-city-council-better-gender-balance-among-chiefs-of-staff Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/aya_keefe_and_cm_mark_levine_crop.jpg" alt="aya keefe and cm mark levine crop" width="600" height="425" /></p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine &amp; his Chief of Staff, Aya Keefe (photo: Levine's office)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council, a 51-member body, currently includes only 13 women, down from 18 in 2009, and that number is likely to soon fall to 12 when the next Council is seated in January, if this year’s elections continue as expected. There has been widespread recent attention given to the City Council gender imbalance, in part because the Council’s Women’s Caucus released a report on the subject, and there are efforts underway to improve female representation in the Council through future elections.</p> <p>But, at one level at least, the Council is faring much better in gender balance. Of the 50 sitting Council members, 24 have women serving as their chiefs of staff, the highest ranking aide, buoying hopes among members, aides, and advocates that these positions can serve to further the political careers of numerous qualified and experienced women in city government. For men and women alike, being a top aide to a City Council member is often a path to elected office, as evidence by the victory in last Tuesday’s primary election by Diana Ayala, the former deputy chief of staff to outgoing City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is term-limited.</p> <p>Ayala, seen as an underdog against sitting Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, secured a narrow victory in the primary, with Mark-Viverito’s help, and is expected to easily win the general election in November.</p> <p>Chiefs of staff play vital roles in Council members’ offices, overseeing their legislative headquarters near City Hall and their local district offices where staffers provide constituent services. It’a role that involves liaising with other Council members’ staff, advocates, and others, and can require a working knowledge of priorities and policy proposals of nearly the entire Council. Most significantly, it can serve as a foundation for political careers. Many Council staffers, particularly chiefs of staff, go on to run for elected office, often to fill seats left vacant when their bosses are either term-limited or leave office for other reasons.</p> <p>“As the saying goes, ‘If you wanna get something done, ask a woman to do it,’” said Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who is co-chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus and whose chief of staff is a woman, in a phone interview from a restaurant. “Women are awesome, dynamic multitaskers,” Cumbo said, chuckling that she was talking to a reporter, ordering food and breastfeeding at the same time. Cumbo was pregnant on the campaign trail as she ran for reelection, and recently gave birth to her son. She won a tough primary battle on September 12 and is expected to easily beat two opponents on November 7.</p> <p>Cumbo stressed that the role of a chief of staff involves “really wearing multiple hats at the same time,” being able to understand the issues a Council member is focused on and being able to troubleshoot problems before they arise. And, as much as she said she hates stereotypes, “Women are able to do that well,” Cumbo said.</p> <p>In a city government so heavily dominated by men -- the mayor, the comptroller and most of the City Council are men, while the public advocate is Letitia James, the first woman of color to hold citywide office -- having women serve in top positions helps inform policy and the legislative process, Cumbo said. And chiefs of staff bring that valuable perspective to the table. “I think it’s something that happens by nature, because of staffers eating, breathing, and sleeping this work,” she said.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the second woman and first Latina to hold that powerful seat, has made it a future priority to increase the number of women elected to the City Council. She is spearheading the “21 in ’21” movement, which aims to elect 21 women in 2021, when more than 30 Council seats will be up for grabs along with incumbents seeking reelection. The speaker also launched the Young Women’s Initiative to provide enhanced services to girls and women, particularly those of color, between the ages of 12 and 24.</p> <p>Monica Abend, Cumbo’s chief of staff, said her position gives her the opportunity to “participate in contributing ideas to legislation, to policy and contributing to progressive legislation for a progressive city that is a frontrunner in many of those policy areas.”</p> <p>“To be able to wear that chief of staff role positions you in a wonderful arena to understand local government,” she said. It’s on-the-job training in the legislative process and in understanding how the city changes at the local level, she said. “While our communities change on a constant basis, a lot of the work stays the same,” she added.</p> <p>Abend doesn’t envision running for office any time soon but she did agree that working for a Council member provides the skills to do so. “Maybe one day in the future,” she said.</p> <p>Under the de Blasio administration and the largely progressive City Council, led by Mark-Viverito, the city has increased its focus on issues of gender equity. The mayor established the Commission on Gender Equity in 2015 through an executive order, and also banned city agencies from inquiring about salary history, a step towards ensuring pay equity for women.</p> <p>The Council has passed and the mayor has signed numerous bills related to empowering and aiding women across all walks of life. These include legislation to enhance support for caregivers, who are largely immigrant women of color; establishing public lactation stations; increasing access to feminine hygiene products in shelters, jails and schools; improving contracting opportunities for women- and minority-owned businesses; enhancing protections for victims of domestic violence; among other measures. A bill from Public Advocate James to ban inquiries about salary history in the private sector was passed and signed earlier this year.</p> <p>The Women’s Caucus also released <a href="http://helenrosenthal.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Final-Womens-Caucus-Making-It-Here-Report-Web.pdf?siteplayer=true&amp;dl=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">its report</a> last month that examines the cultural and institutional barriers to women’s representation in New York politics.</p> <p>“I think that the City Council is really a great place for women to work and take on leadership positions and express themselves, and advocate for policies that benefit all New Yorkers,” said Aya Keefe, chief of staff to Council Member Mark Levine. She noted that Levine’s director of constituent services and budget and legislative director are also women. “It’s a powerful statement for our office,” she said. “We’re very much a partnership-driven office. There’s a strong female style of management, not necessarily being hierarchical but collaborative. And that works really well on legislation. Ultimately, you have to bring a lot of interests to the table and women are uniquely positioned to do that.”</p> <p>Keefe personally has no intention of running for office, she said. “But I definitely think that chief of staff gives you great insight into the ins and outs of working in government,” she said. She also noted, as did others, that there should be a push to translate the gender balance at the staff level into elected positions.</p> <p>Alexis Grenell, a Democratic political consultant and writer on gender issues, cautioned against being overly celebratory about the number of women chiefs of staff, saying it meets the “baseline expectation” since women represent half the population. “Women make up more than 50 percent of many graduate degree programs, making them arguably more qualified than their male counterparts,” she said.</p> <p>She argued that it’s more important for women to receive support in their aspirations for elected office, pointing to the “crisis in women’s leadership” in the City Council, where the next speaker is likely to be a man for the first time in 12 years. “Empirical data shows that gender balance directly results in better outcomes,” she said. “This is true for corporate boards, and for legislation. That is undeniably the case.”</p> <p>She did agree that chief of staff is a pipeline to the Council, with outgoing Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland being a prominent example. She also pointed to two Council staffers -- Ayala and Carlina Rivera -- who ran for City Council this year to replace the term-limited Council members who they worked for. Ayala was deputy chief of staff to Mark-Viverito before leaving to run for the speaker’s seat in District 8. Rivera, who served as legislative director to outgoing Council Member Rosie Mendez, handily won the primary for Mendez’s District 2 seat on the Lower East Side. “These are women who served in the Council for two terms and backed their staffers to replace them,” Grenell said, in the hope that other Council members do the same for their own staff.</p> <p>While Ferreras-Copeland, who decided not to seek another term due to family considerations and a move to another state, is being replaced by a man, term-limited Council Member Darlene Mealy will be replaced by a woman, Alicka Samuel, who won a crowded primary in District 41. And while term-limited Annabel Palma is being replaced by a man, Adrienne Adams won the competitive primary to replace Ruben Wills, who had recently vacated the seat due to a corruption charge.</p> <p>Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women of New York, also hoped that the Council’s “abysmal” record of women’s representation would improve. “The good news is that while there are less than 25 percent of women in the City Council, a 50 percent rate of women chiefs of staff says to me that there’s a lot of potential,” she said. “They know the community well, they know the job.”</p> <p>She agreed that women add a diversity of opinion that is necessary for good policy. “But we need a representation of leaders that reflects our community,” she said.</p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal, co-chair of the Women’s Caucus, whose chief of staff is also a woman, said the numbers were “heartening” but was cautious of drawing any conclusions. “I think that sounds normal to me,” she said of the nearly 50 percent representation. “It doesn’t necessarily reflect in what people are submitting legislation about or doing in their districts.”</p> <p>“To the extent that there aren’t barriers to having chiefs of staff, it is an equalizer,” she acknowledged. But she wondered about the larger questions it raises about the entire city government. She also recognized that the Council as a body should perhaps do more to support women. “Should we have a daycare?” she said, for instance. “I think that’s something we should talk about.”</p> <p>Council staffers also don’t have set pay ranges with titles, so it’s hard to gauge whether there is pay parity across the Council. “It’s not something I’ve explored,” Rosenthal said. “It’s a great question. Every Council member has their own fiefdom. Council members can choose to pay staff whatever they want. We’re not given a range and perhaps we should.”</p> <p>“I’m lucky to have strong women leadership in the office and I benefit from it every day,” said Council Member Levine. “I think we certainly strive to be accommodating to women,” he said of the City Council, adding that he would support extending maternity leave. “We can do more,” he said, “there’s no doubt about it.”</p> <p>Keefe, Levine’s chief of staff, also said the Council should do more to accommodate women. “I think we should have a better maternity leave policy, that sets the example for businesses and nonprofits across the city,” she said. She did note that when she gave birth last year, she received three months leave, but that that isn’t the standard policy across the Council.</p> <p>Abend, from Cumbo’s office, said, “There’s always room for improvement,” but insisted that “this has been an incredible time to be a woman in local city government.”</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/aya_keefe_and_cm_mark_levine_crop.jpg" alt="aya keefe and cm mark levine crop" width="600" height="425" /></p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine &amp; his Chief of Staff, Aya Keefe (photo: Levine's office)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council, a 51-member body, currently includes only 13 women, down from 18 in 2009, and that number is likely to soon fall to 12 when the next Council is seated in January, if this year’s elections continue as expected. There has been widespread recent attention given to the City Council gender imbalance, in part because the Council’s Women’s Caucus released a report on the subject, and there are efforts underway to improve female representation in the Council through future elections.</p> <p>But, at one level at least, the Council is faring much better in gender balance. Of the 50 sitting Council members, 24 have women serving as their chiefs of staff, the highest ranking aide, buoying hopes among members, aides, and advocates that these positions can serve to further the political careers of numerous qualified and experienced women in city government. For men and women alike, being a top aide to a City Council member is often a path to elected office, as evidence by the victory in last Tuesday’s primary election by Diana Ayala, the former deputy chief of staff to outgoing City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is term-limited.</p> <p>Ayala, seen as an underdog against sitting Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, secured a narrow victory in the primary, with Mark-Viverito’s help, and is expected to easily win the general election in November.</p> <p>Chiefs of staff play vital roles in Council members’ offices, overseeing their legislative headquarters near City Hall and their local district offices where staffers provide constituent services. It’a role that involves liaising with other Council members’ staff, advocates, and others, and can require a working knowledge of priorities and policy proposals of nearly the entire Council. Most significantly, it can serve as a foundation for political careers. Many Council staffers, particularly chiefs of staff, go on to run for elected office, often to fill seats left vacant when their bosses are either term-limited or leave office for other reasons.</p> <p>“As the saying goes, ‘If you wanna get something done, ask a woman to do it,’” said Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who is co-chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus and whose chief of staff is a woman, in a phone interview from a restaurant. “Women are awesome, dynamic multitaskers,” Cumbo said, chuckling that she was talking to a reporter, ordering food and breastfeeding at the same time. Cumbo was pregnant on the campaign trail as she ran for reelection, and recently gave birth to her son. She won a tough primary battle on September 12 and is expected to easily beat two opponents on November 7.</p> <p>Cumbo stressed that the role of a chief of staff involves “really wearing multiple hats at the same time,” being able to understand the issues a Council member is focused on and being able to troubleshoot problems before they arise. And, as much as she said she hates stereotypes, “Women are able to do that well,” Cumbo said.</p> <p>In a city government so heavily dominated by men -- the mayor, the comptroller and most of the City Council are men, while the public advocate is Letitia James, the first woman of color to hold citywide office -- having women serve in top positions helps inform policy and the legislative process, Cumbo said. And chiefs of staff bring that valuable perspective to the table. “I think it’s something that happens by nature, because of staffers eating, breathing, and sleeping this work,” she said.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the second woman and first Latina to hold that powerful seat, has made it a future priority to increase the number of women elected to the City Council. She is spearheading the “21 in ’21” movement, which aims to elect 21 women in 2021, when more than 30 Council seats will be up for grabs along with incumbents seeking reelection. The speaker also launched the Young Women’s Initiative to provide enhanced services to girls and women, particularly those of color, between the ages of 12 and 24.</p> <p>Monica Abend, Cumbo’s chief of staff, said her position gives her the opportunity to “participate in contributing ideas to legislation, to policy and contributing to progressive legislation for a progressive city that is a frontrunner in many of those policy areas.”</p> <p>“To be able to wear that chief of staff role positions you in a wonderful arena to understand local government,” she said. It’s on-the-job training in the legislative process and in understanding how the city changes at the local level, she said. “While our communities change on a constant basis, a lot of the work stays the same,” she added.</p> <p>Abend doesn’t envision running for office any time soon but she did agree that working for a Council member provides the skills to do so. “Maybe one day in the future,” she said.</p> <p>Under the de Blasio administration and the largely progressive City Council, led by Mark-Viverito, the city has increased its focus on issues of gender equity. The mayor established the Commission on Gender Equity in 2015 through an executive order, and also banned city agencies from inquiring about salary history, a step towards ensuring pay equity for women.</p> <p>The Council has passed and the mayor has signed numerous bills related to empowering and aiding women across all walks of life. These include legislation to enhance support for caregivers, who are largely immigrant women of color; establishing public lactation stations; increasing access to feminine hygiene products in shelters, jails and schools; improving contracting opportunities for women- and minority-owned businesses; enhancing protections for victims of domestic violence; among other measures. A bill from Public Advocate James to ban inquiries about salary history in the private sector was passed and signed earlier this year.</p> <p>The Women’s Caucus also released <a href="http://helenrosenthal.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Final-Womens-Caucus-Making-It-Here-Report-Web.pdf?siteplayer=true&amp;dl=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">its report</a> last month that examines the cultural and institutional barriers to women’s representation in New York politics.</p> <p>“I think that the City Council is really a great place for women to work and take on leadership positions and express themselves, and advocate for policies that benefit all New Yorkers,” said Aya Keefe, chief of staff to Council Member Mark Levine. She noted that Levine’s director of constituent services and budget and legislative director are also women. “It’s a powerful statement for our office,” she said. “We’re very much a partnership-driven office. There’s a strong female style of management, not necessarily being hierarchical but collaborative. And that works really well on legislation. Ultimately, you have to bring a lot of interests to the table and women are uniquely positioned to do that.”</p> <p>Keefe personally has no intention of running for office, she said. “But I definitely think that chief of staff gives you great insight into the ins and outs of working in government,” she said. She also noted, as did others, that there should be a push to translate the gender balance at the staff level into elected positions.</p> <p>Alexis Grenell, a Democratic political consultant and writer on gender issues, cautioned against being overly celebratory about the number of women chiefs of staff, saying it meets the “baseline expectation” since women represent half the population. “Women make up more than 50 percent of many graduate degree programs, making them arguably more qualified than their male counterparts,” she said.</p> <p>She argued that it’s more important for women to receive support in their aspirations for elected office, pointing to the “crisis in women’s leadership” in the City Council, where the next speaker is likely to be a man for the first time in 12 years. “Empirical data shows that gender balance directly results in better outcomes,” she said. “This is true for corporate boards, and for legislation. That is undeniably the case.”</p> <p>She did agree that chief of staff is a pipeline to the Council, with outgoing Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland being a prominent example. She also pointed to two Council staffers -- Ayala and Carlina Rivera -- who ran for City Council this year to replace the term-limited Council members who they worked for. Ayala was deputy chief of staff to Mark-Viverito before leaving to run for the speaker’s seat in District 8. Rivera, who served as legislative director to outgoing Council Member Rosie Mendez, handily won the primary for Mendez’s District 2 seat on the Lower East Side. “These are women who served in the Council for two terms and backed their staffers to replace them,” Grenell said, in the hope that other Council members do the same for their own staff.</p> <p>While Ferreras-Copeland, who decided not to seek another term due to family considerations and a move to another state, is being replaced by a man, term-limited Council Member Darlene Mealy will be replaced by a woman, Alicka Samuel, who won a crowded primary in District 41. And while term-limited Annabel Palma is being replaced by a man, Adrienne Adams won the competitive primary to replace Ruben Wills, who had recently vacated the seat due to a corruption charge.</p> <p>Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women of New York, also hoped that the Council’s “abysmal” record of women’s representation would improve. “The good news is that while there are less than 25 percent of women in the City Council, a 50 percent rate of women chiefs of staff says to me that there’s a lot of potential,” she said. “They know the community well, they know the job.”</p> <p>She agreed that women add a diversity of opinion that is necessary for good policy. “But we need a representation of leaders that reflects our community,” she said.</p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal, co-chair of the Women’s Caucus, whose chief of staff is also a woman, said the numbers were “heartening” but was cautious of drawing any conclusions. “I think that sounds normal to me,” she said of the nearly 50 percent representation. “It doesn’t necessarily reflect in what people are submitting legislation about or doing in their districts.”</p> <p>“To the extent that there aren’t barriers to having chiefs of staff, it is an equalizer,” she acknowledged. But she wondered about the larger questions it raises about the entire city government. She also recognized that the Council as a body should perhaps do more to support women. “Should we have a daycare?” she said, for instance. “I think that’s something we should talk about.”</p> <p>Council staffers also don’t have set pay ranges with titles, so it’s hard to gauge whether there is pay parity across the Council. “It’s not something I’ve explored,” Rosenthal said. “It’s a great question. Every Council member has their own fiefdom. Council members can choose to pay staff whatever they want. We’re not given a range and perhaps we should.”</p> <p>“I’m lucky to have strong women leadership in the office and I benefit from it every day,” said Council Member Levine. “I think we certainly strive to be accommodating to women,” he said of the City Council, adding that he would support extending maternity leave. “We can do more,” he said, “there’s no doubt about it.”</p> <p>Keefe, Levine’s chief of staff, also said the Council should do more to accommodate women. “I think we should have a better maternity leave policy, that sets the example for businesses and nonprofits across the city,” she said. She did note that when she gave birth last year, she received three months leave, but that that isn’t the standard policy across the Council.</p> <p>Abend, from Cumbo’s office, said, “There’s always room for improvement,” but insisted that “this has been an incredible time to be a woman in local city government.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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As Incident Reports Rise, City Officials Seek New Answers to Combat Domestic Violence 2017-09-17T04:00:00+00:00 2017-09-17T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7203:as-incident-reports-rise-officials-seek-new-answers-to-combat-domestic-violence Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/30466521602_58101664d7_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio McCray Ferreras domestic violence" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>De Blasio &amp; others announce new measures (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Increases in reports of domestic violence have gotten the attention New York City officials, from Mayor Bill de Blasio to the NYPD to members of the City Council. The de Blasio administration has taken a series of steps to address the problem and is promising more; while new legislation is expected to soon pass in the City Council.</p> <p>On Monday, the Council’s Committee on Courts and Legal Services will hold an oversight hearing on New York’s Domestic Violence Courts and Integrated Domestic Violence Courts, which dedicate specific judges, counselors, and other resources to domestic violence cases. The committee, chaired by Council Member Rory Lancman, has indicated the hearing comes “as the number of domestic violence crimes in New York City continue to rise and domestic violence has become the leading cause of homelessness in the City.”</p> <p>In 2016, there were&nbsp;76,237 domestic violence incident reports in New York City, up from 75,241 in 2015. There were 59 intimate partner homicides in New York City in 2016, up from 49 in 2015, according to the mayor's office.</p> <p>In November 2016, de Blasio launched a domestic violence task force, noting that while the city’s homicide rate has dropped 82% over 25 years, domestic violence homicides have remained stagnant, and the mayor received <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/ocdv/downloads/pdf/DVTF-2017-Recommendations.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">its report</a> in May of this year, promising “$7 million to better apprehend abusers [and] ensure support for survivors.”</p> <p>In August, Bea Hanson started as executive director of the Domestic Violence Task Force, according to a City Hall spokesperson, and she is working with First Lady Chirlane McCray and NYPD officials, including Commissioner Jimmy O’Neil, to implement task force recommendations. More will be announced next month, in October, which is domestic violence awareness month, according to the spokesperson.</p> <p>The spokesperson added that the city is working to develop a better coordinated criminal justice and social service response to incidences of domestic violence. As the city’s overall crime rate has dropped significantly, domestic violence incidents have become an increasingly high proportion of violent crime.</p> <p>“It’s a good thing that we’re hearing more and more,” said City Council Member Helen Rosenthal of Manhattan, a member of the Council’s Committee on Women’s Issues and co-chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus. “That means that people trust the police enough to call more and more.”</p> <p>One initiative in place to combat domestic violence, started by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, is the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, which runs New York City Family Justice Centers, which serve nearly 3,000 victims and their families every month. The Family Justice Centers, now located in every borough, offer both civil and criminal legal aid, healthy relationship training for youth, as well as social services, and are a “one stop shop” for information and resources related to domestic violence, sex trafficking, and even elder abuse, according to Elizabeth Dank, a deputy commissioner at the Office to Combat Domestic Violence (OCDV).</p> <p>“One of the biggest programs out of our office [are] the New York City Family Justice Centers,” said Dank. “The first Family Justice Center was launched in Brooklyn in 2005, and it was the first one in the city and it was actually one of the first ones in the country. We have the largest network of Family Justice Centers in the country per municipality.”</p> <p>According to Dank, the OCDV was one of the first government agencies in the country to be devoted to domestic violence, and it tries to do as much outreach as possible to remain a cutting-edge force in preventing and prioritizing domestic violence.</p> <p>“We also have [partners] who help with benefits and economic empowerment classes, financial literacy classes, computer skills, and job training classes, so really the goal is that victims can come to one location and receive all of the services they need instead of having to jump around government agencies to get the services they need,” said Dank. “We do also do a lot of work around training.”</p> <p>Training initiatives include the healthy relationship training, which focuses on raising awareness among young people about dating and sexual violence among. The OCDV also helps train advocacy groups, and works closely with the Domestic Violence Task Force, which is tasked with finding innovative ways to combat domestic violence.</p> <p>In the Domestic Violence Initiative Report from October 2016, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office calls domestic violence “one of the most underreported crimes in the United States” with reporting rates of less than 30 percent, primarily due victims’ fear of retaliation by abusers, fear of losing child custody, fear of losing financial resources, or the belief that a report to the police will not change their situation. For domestic violence involving one or more immigrants, fear of deportation is also prevalent.</p> <p>“One issue [people] have been focusing on is financial abuse and economic barriers to independence,” said Jae Young Kim, supervising attorney for the Domestic Violence Legal Education and Advocacy Program at the Urban Resource Institute, which is host to six victim shelters and offers legal aid to victims. “Even though we’re not in the 2008 recession anymore, the economy is still not great. I think when you’re dealing with [survivors] especially, economic stability is often times one of the top issues when people are deciding whether to leave a relationship or not.”</p> <p>A large part of obtaining and maintaining financial independence for victims includes being able to leave their residence and find a new place to live, but according to Kim, the state law allowing victims to leave, RPL 227-c, is “completely unworkable.”</p> <p>Diane Johnston, a staff attorney for Legal Aid Society, agrees, stating in her testimony at a hearing held by the City Council’s Committee on Women’s Issues that “While well-intentioned, the current law is unduly burdensome and effectively bars countless survivors from obtaining the intended relief,” citing the often difficult eligibility requirements as the problem.</p> <p>“It required someone to be current on their rent, have an order of protection, and then they would reach out to the landlord and say, ‘I need to terminate my lease for my safety,’ [then] notify their co-tenant, and if the landlord chose not to terminate based on that written request, then they’d be able to go to court to file [asking] the landlord to terminate their lease,” said Kim.</p> <p>The process could take several months, during which the victim must remain current on their rent, even though they would not be living in their apartment anymore, thus severely limiting their options.</p> <p>“Most people can’t afford to pay rent on two apartments,” said Kim. “This is New York City!”</p> <p>The report also mentions that leaving an abuser “is no guarantee of safety” as “victims are at the greatest risk of homicide, severe physical and sexual assault, stalking, and menacing in the first few months after attempting to or succeeding in leaving an abuser.”</p> <p>Kim confirmed this, and said that she has seen it happen while representing victims in court.</p> <p>“You’re going to a place, usually once every six weeks for a year, and you’re safe in the courthouse but eventually you have to leave,” said Kim. “You have to go home, and it’s always a potential spot where an abuser can follow you, can stalk you, and I’ve seen that...It’s not safe.”</p> <p>According to Kim, despite an often overwhelming police and legal presence, batterers will sometimes ignore protection orders and attempt to approach victims after court proceedings, even following them all the way back to her office.</p> <p>The City Council Committee on Women’s Issues’ hearing, in late June, was in response to some of these concerns, and an attempt to try to improve the system and to provide more justice to domestic violence victims by making their process of breaking a lease easier.</p> <p>At the hearing, the committee introduced two bills, Intros. 1610 and 1496, which would, respectively, , add “at least one hour of training biennially to persons licensed to practice cosmetology,” so that hairdressers can better spot domestic violence victims, and change the term “chronic offender” to include perpetrators who had “been identified in more than one domestic incident report” in order to identify those who are batterers in multiple relationships, and a resolution, Res. 1292, which calls for modifications to the state law, 227-c, to make it easier for victims to move out of their residences.</p> <p>The change to current state law being sought would make it that the only thing needed from victims to break their lease would be a relevant police report. Police reports would be considered adequate on a case by case basis, crimes must be related to domestic violence to qualify.</p> <p>“That’s the toughest one to get through, because this is an area the state regulates, and the state would have to pass legislation that will make it easier for people to break their leases,” said Rosenthal. “What the city will do, what we’ll do, is pass a resolution in support of specific ideas that will make it easier for people to break their leases. But it’s the state that has the power on this one. They will have to amend the Real Property Law to do that.”</p> <p>Rosenthal stressed that the City Council will be working with state colleagues to get the legislation pushed through.</p> <p>“I think the important thing here…is the distinction between using something in the criminal justice system in order to break a lease, versus something that requires less criminal justice intervention,” said Rosenthal. “It may be the case that getting a court order is not something [a victim] can do, so what we’re asking the state to do is make it easier.”</p> <p>In addition to the lease legislation, the additional prevention and identification measure of requiring hairdressers to take a course on how to spot signs of domestic violence among clients was also introduced. Rosenthal was inspired both by a similar bill passed in Illinois, and by a conversation she had with a woman doing her nails while on vacation, who said that even though she often sees signs of domestic violence from clients, she didn’t know who to turn to.</p> <p>“The conversation was fascinating…and as [it] went on, she said that she was a victim of domestic violence herself,” said Rosenthal. “That conversation was an eye-opener for me, and I’m really glad we’re trying to find a way to have similar legislation here in New York City.”</p> <p>“Our goal is to have the legislation pass in October, which is domestic violence awareness month,” Rosenthal said this summer. “I think [it will pass] -- our conversations have been very constructive.”</p> <p>Another measure that could pass next month is the “paid safe leave” legislation introduced by City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland in conjunction with the de Blasio administration, which would amend the city’s paid sick leave law to allow domestic violence victims to use paid sick leave when seeking help, refuge, or justice.</p> <p>When Ferreras-Copeland and de Blasio announced the legislation, last October during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, de Blasio noted that in 2015, “the NYPD received on average one domestic violence report every two minutes.” In June of this year, NYPD statistics <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/nypd/stats/reports-analysis/domestic-violence.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">show</a> over 16,000 police responses to domestic violence related calls. At a press conference earlier this year, NYPD officials responded a question from Gotham Gazette with a frank assessment of how challenging it is to drive down instances of domestic violence. Top NYPD leaders indicated that they are constantly assessing patterns and ways to work with partners to prevent domestic violence and bring abusers to justice, but that they are among the most complicated and delicate crimes.</p> <p>Meanwhile, <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/ocdv/downloads/pdf/DVTF-2017-Recommendations.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the report</a> from de Blasio’s task force, published earlier this year, includes its own series of recommendations, all part of accomplishing four broad goals: “prevent violence and abusive behavior before it happens; increase early reporting and engagement by survivors; enhance the response of the criminal justice system; and create strategies for long-term violence reduction and innovative practices to hold offenders accountable.”</p> <p>The recommendations also fit four broad categories: “Expanding child and youth prevention and intervention; Enhancing criminal justice system responses; Strengthening New York City communities; and Improving citywide coordination to maximize resources.”</p> <p>The recommendations range from standardizing domestic violence data collection and reporting across city agencies to “OCDV will introduce evening hours one day per week at the three NYC Family Justice Centers (FJCs) with the highest client flow.” The city is also looking to integrate more services with those that are part of First Lady Chirlane McCray's ThriveNYC mental health care program.</p> <p>Another example of a specific recommendation is expanding “Child Trauma Response Teams,” which provide “a coordinated, immediate, trauma-focused response to children and their family members who are exposed to domestic violence.” This recommendation comes, in part, because of the fact that “children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to become involved in an abusive relationship in their teens or as an adult.”</p> <p>***<br />by Jynn Schubert and Ben Max</p> <p>

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by Jynn Schubert for Gotham Gazette
@JynnWasHere  @GothamGazette

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</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected with accurate data on domestic violence reports in 2016 and 2015; and data for 2014 and 2013 was removed.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/30466521602_58101664d7_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio McCray Ferreras domestic violence" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>De Blasio &amp; others announce new measures (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Increases in reports of domestic violence have gotten the attention New York City officials, from Mayor Bill de Blasio to the NYPD to members of the City Council. The de Blasio administration has taken a series of steps to address the problem and is promising more; while new legislation is expected to soon pass in the City Council.</p> <p>On Monday, the Council’s Committee on Courts and Legal Services will hold an oversight hearing on New York’s Domestic Violence Courts and Integrated Domestic Violence Courts, which dedicate specific judges, counselors, and other resources to domestic violence cases. The committee, chaired by Council Member Rory Lancman, has indicated the hearing comes “as the number of domestic violence crimes in New York City continue to rise and domestic violence has become the leading cause of homelessness in the City.”</p> <p>In 2016, there were&nbsp;76,237 domestic violence incident reports in New York City, up from 75,241 in 2015. There were 59 intimate partner homicides in New York City in 2016, up from 49 in 2015, according to the mayor's office.</p> <p>In November 2016, de Blasio launched a domestic violence task force, noting that while the city’s homicide rate has dropped 82% over 25 years, domestic violence homicides have remained stagnant, and the mayor received <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/ocdv/downloads/pdf/DVTF-2017-Recommendations.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">its report</a> in May of this year, promising “$7 million to better apprehend abusers [and] ensure support for survivors.”</p> <p>In August, Bea Hanson started as executive director of the Domestic Violence Task Force, according to a City Hall spokesperson, and she is working with First Lady Chirlane McCray and NYPD officials, including Commissioner Jimmy O’Neil, to implement task force recommendations. More will be announced next month, in October, which is domestic violence awareness month, according to the spokesperson.</p> <p>The spokesperson added that the city is working to develop a better coordinated criminal justice and social service response to incidences of domestic violence. As the city’s overall crime rate has dropped significantly, domestic violence incidents have become an increasingly high proportion of violent crime.</p> <p>“It’s a good thing that we’re hearing more and more,” said City Council Member Helen Rosenthal of Manhattan, a member of the Council’s Committee on Women’s Issues and co-chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus. “That means that people trust the police enough to call more and more.”</p> <p>One initiative in place to combat domestic violence, started by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, is the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, which runs New York City Family Justice Centers, which serve nearly 3,000 victims and their families every month. The Family Justice Centers, now located in every borough, offer both civil and criminal legal aid, healthy relationship training for youth, as well as social services, and are a “one stop shop” for information and resources related to domestic violence, sex trafficking, and even elder abuse, according to Elizabeth Dank, a deputy commissioner at the Office to Combat Domestic Violence (OCDV).</p> <p>“One of the biggest programs out of our office [are] the New York City Family Justice Centers,” said Dank. “The first Family Justice Center was launched in Brooklyn in 2005, and it was the first one in the city and it was actually one of the first ones in the country. We have the largest network of Family Justice Centers in the country per municipality.”</p> <p>According to Dank, the OCDV was one of the first government agencies in the country to be devoted to domestic violence, and it tries to do as much outreach as possible to remain a cutting-edge force in preventing and prioritizing domestic violence.</p> <p>“We also have [partners] who help with benefits and economic empowerment classes, financial literacy classes, computer skills, and job training classes, so really the goal is that victims can come to one location and receive all of the services they need instead of having to jump around government agencies to get the services they need,” said Dank. “We do also do a lot of work around training.”</p> <p>Training initiatives include the healthy relationship training, which focuses on raising awareness among young people about dating and sexual violence among. The OCDV also helps train advocacy groups, and works closely with the Domestic Violence Task Force, which is tasked with finding innovative ways to combat domestic violence.</p> <p>In the Domestic Violence Initiative Report from October 2016, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office calls domestic violence “one of the most underreported crimes in the United States” with reporting rates of less than 30 percent, primarily due victims’ fear of retaliation by abusers, fear of losing child custody, fear of losing financial resources, or the belief that a report to the police will not change their situation. For domestic violence involving one or more immigrants, fear of deportation is also prevalent.</p> <p>“One issue [people] have been focusing on is financial abuse and economic barriers to independence,” said Jae Young Kim, supervising attorney for the Domestic Violence Legal Education and Advocacy Program at the Urban Resource Institute, which is host to six victim shelters and offers legal aid to victims. “Even though we’re not in the 2008 recession anymore, the economy is still not great. I think when you’re dealing with [survivors] especially, economic stability is often times one of the top issues when people are deciding whether to leave a relationship or not.”</p> <p>A large part of obtaining and maintaining financial independence for victims includes being able to leave their residence and find a new place to live, but according to Kim, the state law allowing victims to leave, RPL 227-c, is “completely unworkable.”</p> <p>Diane Johnston, a staff attorney for Legal Aid Society, agrees, stating in her testimony at a hearing held by the City Council’s Committee on Women’s Issues that “While well-intentioned, the current law is unduly burdensome and effectively bars countless survivors from obtaining the intended relief,” citing the often difficult eligibility requirements as the problem.</p> <p>“It required someone to be current on their rent, have an order of protection, and then they would reach out to the landlord and say, ‘I need to terminate my lease for my safety,’ [then] notify their co-tenant, and if the landlord chose not to terminate based on that written request, then they’d be able to go to court to file [asking] the landlord to terminate their lease,” said Kim.</p> <p>The process could take several months, during which the victim must remain current on their rent, even though they would not be living in their apartment anymore, thus severely limiting their options.</p> <p>“Most people can’t afford to pay rent on two apartments,” said Kim. “This is New York City!”</p> <p>The report also mentions that leaving an abuser “is no guarantee of safety” as “victims are at the greatest risk of homicide, severe physical and sexual assault, stalking, and menacing in the first few months after attempting to or succeeding in leaving an abuser.”</p> <p>Kim confirmed this, and said that she has seen it happen while representing victims in court.</p> <p>“You’re going to a place, usually once every six weeks for a year, and you’re safe in the courthouse but eventually you have to leave,” said Kim. “You have to go home, and it’s always a potential spot where an abuser can follow you, can stalk you, and I’ve seen that...It’s not safe.”</p> <p>According to Kim, despite an often overwhelming police and legal presence, batterers will sometimes ignore protection orders and attempt to approach victims after court proceedings, even following them all the way back to her office.</p> <p>The City Council Committee on Women’s Issues’ hearing, in late June, was in response to some of these concerns, and an attempt to try to improve the system and to provide more justice to domestic violence victims by making their process of breaking a lease easier.</p> <p>At the hearing, the committee introduced two bills, Intros. 1610 and 1496, which would, respectively, , add “at least one hour of training biennially to persons licensed to practice cosmetology,” so that hairdressers can better spot domestic violence victims, and change the term “chronic offender” to include perpetrators who had “been identified in more than one domestic incident report” in order to identify those who are batterers in multiple relationships, and a resolution, Res. 1292, which calls for modifications to the state law, 227-c, to make it easier for victims to move out of their residences.</p> <p>The change to current state law being sought would make it that the only thing needed from victims to break their lease would be a relevant police report. Police reports would be considered adequate on a case by case basis, crimes must be related to domestic violence to qualify.</p> <p>“That’s the toughest one to get through, because this is an area the state regulates, and the state would have to pass legislation that will make it easier for people to break their leases,” said Rosenthal. “What the city will do, what we’ll do, is pass a resolution in support of specific ideas that will make it easier for people to break their leases. But it’s the state that has the power on this one. They will have to amend the Real Property Law to do that.”</p> <p>Rosenthal stressed that the City Council will be working with state colleagues to get the legislation pushed through.</p> <p>“I think the important thing here…is the distinction between using something in the criminal justice system in order to break a lease, versus something that requires less criminal justice intervention,” said Rosenthal. “It may be the case that getting a court order is not something [a victim] can do, so what we’re asking the state to do is make it easier.”</p> <p>In addition to the lease legislation, the additional prevention and identification measure of requiring hairdressers to take a course on how to spot signs of domestic violence among clients was also introduced. Rosenthal was inspired both by a similar bill passed in Illinois, and by a conversation she had with a woman doing her nails while on vacation, who said that even though she often sees signs of domestic violence from clients, she didn’t know who to turn to.</p> <p>“The conversation was fascinating…and as [it] went on, she said that she was a victim of domestic violence herself,” said Rosenthal. “That conversation was an eye-opener for me, and I’m really glad we’re trying to find a way to have similar legislation here in New York City.”</p> <p>“Our goal is to have the legislation pass in October, which is domestic violence awareness month,” Rosenthal said this summer. “I think [it will pass] -- our conversations have been very constructive.”</p> <p>Another measure that could pass next month is the “paid safe leave” legislation introduced by City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland in conjunction with the de Blasio administration, which would amend the city’s paid sick leave law to allow domestic violence victims to use paid sick leave when seeking help, refuge, or justice.</p> <p>When Ferreras-Copeland and de Blasio announced the legislation, last October during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, de Blasio noted that in 2015, “the NYPD received on average one domestic violence report every two minutes.” In June of this year, NYPD statistics <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/nypd/stats/reports-analysis/domestic-violence.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">show</a> over 16,000 police responses to domestic violence related calls. At a press conference earlier this year, NYPD officials responded a question from Gotham Gazette with a frank assessment of how challenging it is to drive down instances of domestic violence. Top NYPD leaders indicated that they are constantly assessing patterns and ways to work with partners to prevent domestic violence and bring abusers to justice, but that they are among the most complicated and delicate crimes.</p> <p>Meanwhile, <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/ocdv/downloads/pdf/DVTF-2017-Recommendations.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the report</a> from de Blasio’s task force, published earlier this year, includes its own series of recommendations, all part of accomplishing four broad goals: “prevent violence and abusive behavior before it happens; increase early reporting and engagement by survivors; enhance the response of the criminal justice system; and create strategies for long-term violence reduction and innovative practices to hold offenders accountable.”</p> <p>The recommendations also fit four broad categories: “Expanding child and youth prevention and intervention; Enhancing criminal justice system responses; Strengthening New York City communities; and Improving citywide coordination to maximize resources.”</p> <p>The recommendations range from standardizing domestic violence data collection and reporting across city agencies to “OCDV will introduce evening hours one day per week at the three NYC Family Justice Centers (FJCs) with the highest client flow.” The city is also looking to integrate more services with those that are part of First Lady Chirlane McCray's ThriveNYC mental health care program.</p> <p>Another example of a specific recommendation is expanding “Child Trauma Response Teams,” which provide “a coordinated, immediate, trauma-focused response to children and their family members who are exposed to domestic violence.” This recommendation comes, in part, because of the fact that “children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to become involved in an abusive relationship in their teens or as an adult.”</p> <p>***<br />by Jynn Schubert and Ben Max</p> <p>

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by Jynn Schubert for Gotham Gazette
@JynnWasHere  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected with accurate data on domestic violence reports in 2016 and 2015; and data for 2014 and 2013 was removed.</p>
Forecasting the Upcoming City Council Gender Imbalance 2017-09-06T04:00:00+00:00 2017-09-06T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7180:forecasting-the-upcoming-city-council-gender-imbalance Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rose__rosenthal__chin.jpg" alt="rose rosenthal chin" width="600" height="393" /></p> <p>CMs Chin, left; Rose, center; &amp; Rosenthal, center right (photo: Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>There are currently only 13 women in the 51-seat New York City Council, a troubling 25 percent. The number is down from 18 women in the Council a few years ago. With the city’s quadrennial elections upon us, a new Council class will be inaugurated in January, with the September 12 primaries largely determining who will fill the city’s legislative body for the next four years in this very Democratic city.</p> <p>Most would agree that gender balance in the City Council improves the legislative, oversight, and constituent services provided to the public. The dynamics of this year’s elections are not promising for improving the Council gender balance: five of the Council’s 13 women are not running for reelection, four of them due to term limits. Notably, all five are women of color: Rosie Mendez, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Annabel Palma, and Darlene Mealy are all term-limited and Julissa Ferreras-Copeland has decided not to seek reelection.</p> <p>Ferreras-Copeland is certain to be replaced by a man, as the race to replace her is between two men; while the other four could be as well, though there are women running competitively for each seat.</p> <p>There are five other “open” seats this cycle where the incumbent male Council member is not running for reelection, in three cases -- Dan Garodnick, James Vacca and Vincent Gentile -- due to term limits. While Gentile is almost certain to be replaced by a man, for Garodnick’s seat and Vacca’s seat there are competitive races that include female candidates with a solid shot at victory. The fourth case is David Greenfield, who will be replaced by one of the two men seeking his seat. And the fifth case is Ruben Wills, removed from office after a recent corruption conviction, who is likely to be replaced by a woman, Adrienne Adams, the favorite in the race.</p> <p>Additionally, there are a handful of incumbent female Council members being challenged by men in their reelection bids and two incumbent male Council members facing significant challenges by female candidates.</p> <p>All told, the number of women in the Council could realistically dip as low as six. It could realistically increase to as many as 16. Both extremes are unlikely, but plausible.</p> <p>The City Council’s Women’s Caucus, which is chaired by Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Laurie Cumbo, each of whom is facing a tough primary challenge this year (Rosenthal from a transgender man, Cumbo from a woman), recently released <a href="http://helenrosenthal.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Final-Womens-Caucus-Making-It-Here-Report-Web.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report</a> on the gender imbalance in the Council. It notes barriers to office-seeking for women, especially “structural barriers and issues of perception” that “create a “political ambition gap.””</p> <p>“Traditional gender roles force women to choose between careers and family, limiting the potential pool of female candidates,” the report states. “Electoral gatekeepers then fail to reach out to and support women. Women also underestimate their own qualifications and overestimate the challenges they will face in electoral politics.”</p> <p>The report recommends “more aggressive recruitment of female candidates and stronger mentoring efforts.” (It notes that the number of women in the Council “is projected to decrease even further, to as low as 9 for the upcoming term ending in 2021.” The problem is even more potentially dire than the report indicates. It appears its authors did not consider Ferreras-Copeland’s departure or that incumbent female members could be ousted by male challengers.)</p> <p>The current City Council Speaker, the aforementioned Melissa Mark-Viverito, previously helped launch a nonprofit, 21 in 21, which seeks the election of 21 women to the City Council through the 2021 city election cycle. Due to the tinkering done to term limits by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council, there will be more than 30 “open” seats in the 2021 cycle, making for a lot of opportunity to address the Council gender balance.</p> <p>But there are also opportunities this year, and little seems to be in motion in terms of major collective efforts by the Democratic establishment to see more women elected through the 2017 voting cycle (48 of the 51 Council members elected in 2013 are Democrats).</p> <p>Mark-Viverito is doing a great deal to see her preferred successor, Diana Ayala, defeat Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez in one of the races to replace a female Council member that could go either way. Given his status as an elected official, Rodriguez is at least a slight favorite in this race to represent East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx.</p> <p>For Mendez’s seat, which represents parts of the Lower East Side, her preferred successor is Carlina Rivera, who has received a good deal of establishment support and is considered the favorite, though she has tough competition from Mary Silver and Ronnie Cho.</p> <p>Alicka Ampry-Samuel has a lot of establishment support to keep Mealy’s central Brooklyn seat represented by a woman. But, she is in a tough race with several male candidates, most notably Henry Butler and Cory Provost.</p> <p>For Garodnick’s East Side seat, a very crowded primary includes several strong female candidates. The favorite in the race, however, is Keith Powers. Still, Marti Speranza could quite plausibly prevail, which would flip this seat from male to female. Bessie Schachter, Vanessa Aronson, Rachel Honig, and Maria Castro are also running, with varying less likely paths to victory. Garodnick has not endorsed in the race. Of the unions, elected officials, political clubs, newspaper editorial boards, and others that have, Powers and Speranza have each received a lot of support.</p> <p>For Vacca’s seat in the Bronx, he is backing Marjorie Velazquez, but she is facing a significantly uphill race against sitting Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj. There’s been no groundswell behind Velazquez.</p> <p>There’s a similar situation for Palma’s Bronx seat: Amanda Farias is a strong candidate, but she is likely to lose to State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. and little seems to be happening to rally behind her candidacy.</p> <p>The Queens establishment and other members of the Democratic political elite are behind Adrienne Adams for Ruben Wills’ empty seat. But, Rich David is also running and could pull off an upset.</p> <p>As previously stated, Ferreras-Copeland will be replaced by a man, either Assemblymember Francisco Moya or former State Senator Hiram Monserrate, who has been convicted for both assaulting his girlfriend and illegal use of city money. Greenfield will be replaced by either his preferred successor, Kalman Yeger, or by Yoni Hikind, both men. And the crowded competition for Gentile’s seat is almost all men, including the most likely winners, led by Justin Brannan (this Southern Brooklyn race is actually one where a Republican could win the seat, though Brannan, a Democrat, is generally seen as having the upper hand, both in a tough primary and the eventual competitive general).</p> <p>There are also competitive incumbent primaries where the Council gender balance is at play. As mentioned, Rosenthal is facing a tough primary, from Mel Wymore, on the Upper West Side, though Rosenthal is likely to prevail. Wymore is seeking to become the first transgender member of the City Council, and has not lived what we may think of as a typical male life. Council Members Margaret Chin in downtown Manhattan and Elizabeth Crowley in Queens are also facing competitive challenges from male candidates, though both are favored to be reelected.</p> <p>The female incumbents either certain or nearly sure to win reelection are Vanessa Gibson, Inez Barron, and Karen Koslowitz. As mentioned, Laurie Cumbo could lose to another woman, Ede Fox, though Cumbo has significant advantages of incumbency. And, Council Member Debi Rose, of Staten Island, is facing a tough challenge from another woman, Kamillah Hanks.</p> <p>In the other direction, Council Member Peter Koo is facing a tough challenge from Alison Tan, and Council Member Mathieu Eugene is facing formidable opposition from Pia Raymond, a woman, as well as from Brian Cunningham.</p> <p>We’ll know a lot more on Tuesday night when the primary results come in.</p> <p>In <a href="http://helenrosenthal.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Final-Womens-Caucus-Making-It-Here-Report-Web.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">its report</a>, the Women’s Caucus explains why it is important to elect more women and have gender balance in government. It says, in part:</p> <p>“Women legislators bring with them lived experiences and crucial viewpoints that allow them to identify and take on the unique challenges that women face. As a result, women legislators have been shown to introduce more legislation directly affecting women, children, and families. Additionally, women have been shown to introduce more legislation overall, and are also more likely to work across party lines.”</p> <p>One of the “strategies for the future” that the report identifies is: “Party leaders, advocacy organizations, and other political groups also need to make an active effort to reach out to individual women about running for seats. The women in City Council should make an effort to encourage politically active women in their circles to run for of×ce, as current or former Council Members have a unique ability to address many of the factors that discourage women from running.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rose__rosenthal__chin.jpg" alt="rose rosenthal chin" width="600" height="393" /></p> <p>CMs Chin, left; Rose, center; &amp; Rosenthal, center right (photo: Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>There are currently only 13 women in the 51-seat New York City Council, a troubling 25 percent. The number is down from 18 women in the Council a few years ago. With the city’s quadrennial elections upon us, a new Council class will be inaugurated in January, with the September 12 primaries largely determining who will fill the city’s legislative body for the next four years in this very Democratic city.</p> <p>Most would agree that gender balance in the City Council improves the legislative, oversight, and constituent services provided to the public. The dynamics of this year’s elections are not promising for improving the Council gender balance: five of the Council’s 13 women are not running for reelection, four of them due to term limits. Notably, all five are women of color: Rosie Mendez, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Annabel Palma, and Darlene Mealy are all term-limited and Julissa Ferreras-Copeland has decided not to seek reelection.</p> <p>Ferreras-Copeland is certain to be replaced by a man, as the race to replace her is between two men; while the other four could be as well, though there are women running competitively for each seat.</p> <p>There are five other “open” seats this cycle where the incumbent male Council member is not running for reelection, in three cases -- Dan Garodnick, James Vacca and Vincent Gentile -- due to term limits. While Gentile is almost certain to be replaced by a man, for Garodnick’s seat and Vacca’s seat there are competitive races that include female candidates with a solid shot at victory. The fourth case is David Greenfield, who will be replaced by one of the two men seeking his seat. And the fifth case is Ruben Wills, removed from office after a recent corruption conviction, who is likely to be replaced by a woman, Adrienne Adams, the favorite in the race.</p> <p>Additionally, there are a handful of incumbent female Council members being challenged by men in their reelection bids and two incumbent male Council members facing significant challenges by female candidates.</p> <p>All told, the number of women in the Council could realistically dip as low as six. It could realistically increase to as many as 16. Both extremes are unlikely, but plausible.</p> <p>The City Council’s Women’s Caucus, which is chaired by Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Laurie Cumbo, each of whom is facing a tough primary challenge this year (Rosenthal from a transgender man, Cumbo from a woman), recently released <a href="http://helenrosenthal.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Final-Womens-Caucus-Making-It-Here-Report-Web.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report</a> on the gender imbalance in the Council. It notes barriers to office-seeking for women, especially “structural barriers and issues of perception” that “create a “political ambition gap.””</p> <p>“Traditional gender roles force women to choose between careers and family, limiting the potential pool of female candidates,” the report states. “Electoral gatekeepers then fail to reach out to and support women. Women also underestimate their own qualifications and overestimate the challenges they will face in electoral politics.”</p> <p>The report recommends “more aggressive recruitment of female candidates and stronger mentoring efforts.” (It notes that the number of women in the Council “is projected to decrease even further, to as low as 9 for the upcoming term ending in 2021.” The problem is even more potentially dire than the report indicates. It appears its authors did not consider Ferreras-Copeland’s departure or that incumbent female members could be ousted by male challengers.)</p> <p>The current City Council Speaker, the aforementioned Melissa Mark-Viverito, previously helped launch a nonprofit, 21 in 21, which seeks the election of 21 women to the City Council through the 2021 city election cycle. Due to the tinkering done to term limits by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council, there will be more than 30 “open” seats in the 2021 cycle, making for a lot of opportunity to address the Council gender balance.</p> <p>But there are also opportunities this year, and little seems to be in motion in terms of major collective efforts by the Democratic establishment to see more women elected through the 2017 voting cycle (48 of the 51 Council members elected in 2013 are Democrats).</p> <p>Mark-Viverito is doing a great deal to see her preferred successor, Diana Ayala, defeat Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez in one of the races to replace a female Council member that could go either way. Given his status as an elected official, Rodriguez is at least a slight favorite in this race to represent East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx.</p> <p>For Mendez’s seat, which represents parts of the Lower East Side, her preferred successor is Carlina Rivera, who has received a good deal of establishment support and is considered the favorite, though she has tough competition from Mary Silver and Ronnie Cho.</p> <p>Alicka Ampry-Samuel has a lot of establishment support to keep Mealy’s central Brooklyn seat represented by a woman. But, she is in a tough race with several male candidates, most notably Henry Butler and Cory Provost.</p> <p>For Garodnick’s East Side seat, a very crowded primary includes several strong female candidates. The favorite in the race, however, is Keith Powers. Still, Marti Speranza could quite plausibly prevail, which would flip this seat from male to female. Bessie Schachter, Vanessa Aronson, Rachel Honig, and Maria Castro are also running, with varying less likely paths to victory. Garodnick has not endorsed in the race. Of the unions, elected officials, political clubs, newspaper editorial boards, and others that have, Powers and Speranza have each received a lot of support.</p> <p>For Vacca’s seat in the Bronx, he is backing Marjorie Velazquez, but she is facing a significantly uphill race against sitting Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj. There’s been no groundswell behind Velazquez.</p> <p>There’s a similar situation for Palma’s Bronx seat: Amanda Farias is a strong candidate, but she is likely to lose to State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. and little seems to be happening to rally behind her candidacy.</p> <p>The Queens establishment and other members of the Democratic political elite are behind Adrienne Adams for Ruben Wills’ empty seat. But, Rich David is also running and could pull off an upset.</p> <p>As previously stated, Ferreras-Copeland will be replaced by a man, either Assemblymember Francisco Moya or former State Senator Hiram Monserrate, who has been convicted for both assaulting his girlfriend and illegal use of city money. Greenfield will be replaced by either his preferred successor, Kalman Yeger, or by Yoni Hikind, both men. And the crowded competition for Gentile’s seat is almost all men, including the most likely winners, led by Justin Brannan (this Southern Brooklyn race is actually one where a Republican could win the seat, though Brannan, a Democrat, is generally seen as having the upper hand, both in a tough primary and the eventual competitive general).</p> <p>There are also competitive incumbent primaries where the Council gender balance is at play. As mentioned, Rosenthal is facing a tough primary, from Mel Wymore, on the Upper West Side, though Rosenthal is likely to prevail. Wymore is seeking to become the first transgender member of the City Council, and has not lived what we may think of as a typical male life. Council Members Margaret Chin in downtown Manhattan and Elizabeth Crowley in Queens are also facing competitive challenges from male candidates, though both are favored to be reelected.</p> <p>The female incumbents either certain or nearly sure to win reelection are Vanessa Gibson, Inez Barron, and Karen Koslowitz. As mentioned, Laurie Cumbo could lose to another woman, Ede Fox, though Cumbo has significant advantages of incumbency. And, Council Member Debi Rose, of Staten Island, is facing a tough challenge from another woman, Kamillah Hanks.</p> <p>In the other direction, Council Member Peter Koo is facing a tough challenge from Alison Tan, and Council Member Mathieu Eugene is facing formidable opposition from Pia Raymond, a woman, as well as from Brian Cunningham.</p> <p>We’ll know a lot more on Tuesday night when the primary results come in.</p> <p>In <a href="http://helenrosenthal.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Final-Womens-Caucus-Making-It-Here-Report-Web.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">its report</a>, the Women’s Caucus explains why it is important to elect more women and have gender balance in government. It says, in part:</p> <p>“Women legislators bring with them lived experiences and crucial viewpoints that allow them to identify and take on the unique challenges that women face. As a result, women legislators have been shown to introduce more legislation directly affecting women, children, and families. Additionally, women have been shown to introduce more legislation overall, and are also more likely to work across party lines.”</p> <p>One of the “strategies for the future” that the report identifies is: “Party leaders, advocacy organizations, and other political groups also need to make an active effort to reach out to individual women about running for seats. The women in City Council should make an effort to encourage politically active women in their circles to run for of×ce, as current or former Council Members have a unique ability to address many of the factors that discourage women from running.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Protecting Tenants from Construction Harassment 2017-07-30T04:00:00+00:00 2017-07-30T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7096:protecting-tenants-from-construction-harassment Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/sts_op-ed.jpg" alt="sts op ed" width="600" height="380" /></p> <p>photo, including three of the authors, via the Progressive Caucus</p> <hr /> <p>We’ve seen it in our districts. A new landlord takes ownership of a building and starts a construction project that never finishes in order to evict long-term residents. They may turn off the cooking gas indefinitely; they may even knock out the boiler with no explanation.</p> <p>For too many New Yorkers, this nightmare is their reality. The stories are plentiful: heat and gas shutoffs in the middle of winter, jackhammering causing cracks in apartment walls, loss of power, and lead dust in the air lasting for months on end. For years, city and borough officials and community advocates have encountered a critical mass of stories like these, detailing the unscrupulous conduct of landlords as well as the insufficient response from the City of New York.</p> <p>We, as members of the City Council members and its Progressive Caucus, see the writing on the walls: our city needs more protections in place for tenants facing construction harassment.</p> <p>Understanding the need to strengthen the ability of the Department of Buildings (DOB) to protect tenants from construction as harassment, the grassroots Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition (STS) has partnered with the Progressive Caucus to put forth a package of legislation aimed at achieving just that.</p> <p>These 12 STS bills, most of which are sponsored by members of the Progressive Caucus, with strong support in the Council, will put in place much tougher penalties against abusive landlords for illegal construction practices and enact preventative measures to help tenants protect their homes. &nbsp;</p> <p>The goal is to change the way DOB handles construction harassment so that the agency is empowered to become more proactive with regard to issuing construction permits and facilitating communication among tenants, landlords, and city agencies. Such renewed tenant protections are intended to quicken and fortify the City’s response to construction harassment so vulnerable residents in rapidly changing neighborhoods are able to stay in their homes and communities.</p> <p>As policymakers, we know that construction harassment by unscrupulous landlords only exacerbates the affordable housing crisis already facing residents of New York City. In recent years, the average rents in some city neighborhoods have risen by 20%; in such neighborhoods especially, unethical landlords can use construction as a way of cashing in on rising rents instead of protecting the existing tenants. Calls the City has been receiving from New Yorkers reflect this; construction-related complaints number in the thousands each year.</p> <p>Even as preserving and creating affordable housing has remained a focus of both the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the myriad loopholes landlords use in existing laws allow the number of rent-regulated apartments to dwindle. With both the cost of living in the city and rent continuing to rise, protecting the health and safety of tenants through legislation is the minimum of what can be done, the least of how this city can maintain a fair and just society. With the city losing affordable housing every year, we cannot afford to ignore any way in which tenants are threatened by eviction from their homes.</p> <p>As the clock ticks toward the end of the current City Council session, we need the Council to pass this Stand for Tenant Safety package of legislation as soon as possible. The New York City Council just made history by passing the city’s first ever Right to Counsel legislation, which will provide legal assistance to tenants facing eviction in housing court. We urgently need to continue making progress on tenant rights in New York City by strengthening preventative measures that will help keep tenants from facing eviction in the first place.</p> <p>It is time that the City renew its commitment, through strengthening the enforcement power of the Department of Buildings, to standing up for residents living under adverse conditions and protect our communities from abusive, unethical landlords. As long as economic inequality and hazardous building conditions threaten health and safety, the City must continue to strengthen every person’s opportunity for a livable and affordable place to call home. As progressive City Council members, we hope our colleagues and the de Blasio administration will work together with us to ensure that our city’s most vulnerable tenants are protected.</p> <p>***<br />Antonio Reynoso, Donovan Richards, Helen Rosenthal &amp; Ben Kallos are all members of the City Council and leaders of its Progressive Caucus. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/CMReynoso34" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@CMReynoso34</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/DRichards13" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@DRichards13</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/HelenRosenthal" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@HelenRosenthal</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/BenKallos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@BenKallos</a>, &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCProgressives" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@NYCProgressives</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/sts_op-ed.jpg" alt="sts op ed" width="600" height="380" /></p> <p>photo, including three of the authors, via the Progressive Caucus</p> <hr /> <p>We’ve seen it in our districts. A new landlord takes ownership of a building and starts a construction project that never finishes in order to evict long-term residents. They may turn off the cooking gas indefinitely; they may even knock out the boiler with no explanation.</p> <p>For too many New Yorkers, this nightmare is their reality. The stories are plentiful: heat and gas shutoffs in the middle of winter, jackhammering causing cracks in apartment walls, loss of power, and lead dust in the air lasting for months on end. For years, city and borough officials and community advocates have encountered a critical mass of stories like these, detailing the unscrupulous conduct of landlords as well as the insufficient response from the City of New York.</p> <p>We, as members of the City Council members and its Progressive Caucus, see the writing on the walls: our city needs more protections in place for tenants facing construction harassment.</p> <p>Understanding the need to strengthen the ability of the Department of Buildings (DOB) to protect tenants from construction as harassment, the grassroots Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition (STS) has partnered with the Progressive Caucus to put forth a package of legislation aimed at achieving just that.</p> <p>These 12 STS bills, most of which are sponsored by members of the Progressive Caucus, with strong support in the Council, will put in place much tougher penalties against abusive landlords for illegal construction practices and enact preventative measures to help tenants protect their homes. &nbsp;</p> <p>The goal is to change the way DOB handles construction harassment so that the agency is empowered to become more proactive with regard to issuing construction permits and facilitating communication among tenants, landlords, and city agencies. Such renewed tenant protections are intended to quicken and fortify the City’s response to construction harassment so vulnerable residents in rapidly changing neighborhoods are able to stay in their homes and communities.</p> <p>As policymakers, we know that construction harassment by unscrupulous landlords only exacerbates the affordable housing crisis already facing residents of New York City. In recent years, the average rents in some city neighborhoods have risen by 20%; in such neighborhoods especially, unethical landlords can use construction as a way of cashing in on rising rents instead of protecting the existing tenants. Calls the City has been receiving from New Yorkers reflect this; construction-related complaints number in the thousands each year.</p> <p>Even as preserving and creating affordable housing has remained a focus of both the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the myriad loopholes landlords use in existing laws allow the number of rent-regulated apartments to dwindle. With both the cost of living in the city and rent continuing to rise, protecting the health and safety of tenants through legislation is the minimum of what can be done, the least of how this city can maintain a fair and just society. With the city losing affordable housing every year, we cannot afford to ignore any way in which tenants are threatened by eviction from their homes.</p> <p>As the clock ticks toward the end of the current City Council session, we need the Council to pass this Stand for Tenant Safety package of legislation as soon as possible. The New York City Council just made history by passing the city’s first ever Right to Counsel legislation, which will provide legal assistance to tenants facing eviction in housing court. We urgently need to continue making progress on tenant rights in New York City by strengthening preventative measures that will help keep tenants from facing eviction in the first place.</p> <p>It is time that the City renew its commitment, through strengthening the enforcement power of the Department of Buildings, to standing up for residents living under adverse conditions and protect our communities from abusive, unethical landlords. As long as economic inequality and hazardous building conditions threaten health and safety, the City must continue to strengthen every person’s opportunity for a livable and affordable place to call home. As progressive City Council members, we hope our colleagues and the de Blasio administration will work together with us to ensure that our city’s most vulnerable tenants are protected.</p> <p>***<br />Antonio Reynoso, Donovan Richards, Helen Rosenthal &amp; Ben Kallos are all members of the City Council and leaders of its Progressive Caucus. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/CMReynoso34" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@CMReynoso34</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/DRichards13" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@DRichards13</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/HelenRosenthal" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@HelenRosenthal</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/BenKallos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@BenKallos</a>, &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCProgressives" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@NYCProgressives</a>.</p> <p>

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Mayoral Control or Not, Calls Continue for Contracting Reform at City Department of Education 2017-06-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7021:mayoral-control-or-not-calls-continue-for-contracting-reform-at-city-department-of-education Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/34245950295_dc5da482b5_z.jpg" alt="34245950295 dc5da482b5 z" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City elected officials and independent watchdogs continue to voice concerns about the Department of Education’s transparency and contract procurement process. The issue became a flashpoint in the debate over mayoral control of New York City schools, which Albany lawmakers have yet to extend despite a June 30 expiration date. Like other powers over the schools, education-related contracting -- totaling billions of dollars per year -- has been centralized under the Mayor and the DOE through the mayoral control model of school governance.</p> <p>In the recently adopted city budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, about one-third of the $85.2 billion of operating funding is allocated to the DOE. Most of that funding goes to personnel, but there is a significant sum, about $7 billion, which will be devoted to outside contracts. While there have been no major recent scandals, the process by which the DOE awards those contracts, as well as the availability of information about the contracts, continues to draw criticism.</p> <p>Chief among those critics have been Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Contracts. They are joined by nonprofit leaders who have scrutinized DOE practices for years, including under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who first won mayoral control of city schools in 2002, ending the old Board of Education system. While there have been multiple high-profile contracting scandals, recently the concern has been a constant stream of smaller-scale, everyday contracts awarded without proper processes, critics say.</p> <p>Stringer has repeatedly and publicly pressured the DOE to disclose more information and clean up its procurement practices. Most recently, Stringer did so in testimony to the City Council as the new budget was being debated. In part, Stringer said that as revenue growth to the city is slowing, there is heightened need for the DOE to be sufficiently scrupulous.</p> <p>According to Stringer, the Department still does not pay enough attention to ensuring the DOE’s billions in contract funding is spent efficiently. “Time and time again, my office finds that current departmental processes are inadequate,” Stringer stated in his testimony, citing $6.7 billion for fiscal year 2018. “Whether it is through an audit of DOE or a review of DOE’s contracts, we find a lack of transparency and a lack of detail that is frightening when you are talking about billions of dollars earmarked for our children.”</p> <p>“The DOE claims to have a system of checks and balances,” Stringer continued, “but if you dig into the details you will find a lack of independent review, a lack of accountability and whole lot of rubber stamps.”</p> <p>Stringer also called the DOE “one of the least transparent agencies in the government,” adding he felt the DOE would “rather hide everything than open up their books." (Stringer’s statements were quickly used by state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, against Mayor Bill de Blasio in the mayoral control debate. The comptroller quickly reiterated his support for mayoral control in no uncertain terms.)</p> <p>When pressed for specifics, a spokesperson for Stringer pointed to wasted funds on technology initiatives, failure to detect collusion to drive up prices by food suppliers, late release of 70% pre-kindergarten contract information prior to the 2014 school year, and overpaying on custodial supplies, which Stringer has pointed out over the last three-plus years since he took office as Comptroller and de Blasio became Mayor.</p> <p>Along with these examples, there have been several other instances in which improper contracting practices have cost the city and harmed the DOE’s reputation. In 2008, the city Special Commission of Investigation (SCI) found the DOE had squandered $437,000 on payments to DynTek, a vendor for the DOE’s Department of Instructional and Information Technology which had been paying computer consultants employed by ERS Systems without the DOE’s authorization. “ERS billed DynTek for these services and DynTek, in turn, marked up these costs before billing the DOE,” according to the SCI. Three years later, a consultant Willard (Ross) Lanham was charged with funneling $3.6 million of DOE funds into his own pockets.</p> <p>In 2015, Custom Computer Specialists, a contractor the DOE considered, almost received a $1.1 billion deal to provide hardware and software to schools despite questions about the size of the contract and process involved, as well as the firm's indirect connection to an overbilling scheme. Outcry, led by education activist Leonie Haimson and Council Member Rosenthal, killed the potential deal. Most recently, in May, the Comptroller’s office released an analysis that revealed that after spending over $347 million on upgrading internet services, 45 percent of teachers said their schools’ internet quality “did not meet their instructional needs,” a survey of middle school teachers found.</p> <p>At a May City Council hearing regarding the 2018 budget, Rosenthal asked if the city Office of Management and Budget has unearthed similar problems to the ones in 2015, such as approval of “specious contracts.” “I would like to know that the OMB is doing a regular audit of its contracts,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>“I would want to know that the DOE is regularly being investigated,” said Rosenthal. “If we were to do that more systematically then we would have more available to us to spend on things we so desperately need.”</p> <p>Rosenthal, who chairs the contracts committee and sits on the education committee, credits Haimson with calling attention to chronic DOE contracting deficiencies. As a response to Haimson bringing awareness to the issue, she has headed efforts to ignite change in the Department. Rosenthal, however, declined to explicitly comment on Stringer’s testimony, and separated herself from the Comptroller's narrative. The Manhattan Council member believes that the DOE has actually improved considerably of late in contracting and openness, especially since she's undertaken efforts to bend the department toward better practices.</p> <p>“I do thank you for what’s been done,” Rosenthal said to Dean Fuleihan, Director of the OMB. She framed the situation by contending the previous mayoral administration had “dug a hole,” and the current one is in the process of getting New York City public education out of it.</p> <p>"What I’ve seen is positive steps that have allowed for more oversight and transparency,” Rosenthal said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The Upper West Side lawmaker emphasized that, in her view, DOE has allowed City Hall to both scrutinize the Department and collaborate with it. "They have made the contracting process more transparent...they have improved, I think, the oversight relationship with the city agencies,“ she said. Rosenthal noted that if capital and service contract costs rise, that information is now relayed to the City Council. "That's a big change.”</p> <p>According to Rosenthal, contracting practice woes have been ameliorated and their details brought into the limelight in recent years, as evidenced by the Department beginning to post contract information online.</p> <p>Still, while Rosenthal was clear that the DOE has progressed, there is room for improvement. "Is it perfect yet? Of course not,” she said. “But is it much better? Absolutely.” Rosenthal was optimistic about the prospect of additional improvements. She said the City Council and DOE have a “good constructive relationship moving forward.”</p> <p>Nonetheless, Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit advocacy group, is not as satisfied with the DOE as Rosenthal. “The budget is still increasing with little or no transparency," Haimson said in an email to Gotham Gazette. By phone, Haimson expressed skepticism about how the DOE manages its enormous budget and its forthrightness in doing so.</p> <p>“I am very disappointed in the whole process because we’ve been sounding the alarm for years now about the lack of transparency with these huge contracts that go through the PEP [Panel for Educational Policy],” she said.</p> <p>The PEP is a body consisting of 13 members appointed by elected officials, predominantly by the Mayor. Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the Panel to replace the Board of Education after the city gained mayoral control of schools. The PEP is designed to conduct independent oversight of the Department of Education but has not necessarily functioned in that manner.</p> <p>As the <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/05/08/school-spending-panel-doe-bullies-us-to-side-with-de-blasio/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Post</a> reported last summer, one former PEP member alleges the group is comprised of members who were not equipped to properly review the budget and were pressured into doing the Mayor’s bidding. And, in Haimson’s opinion, the PEP still does not properly vet contracts, allowing the DOE to act with impunity. "I don't think it’s ever turned down a contract in its existence,” Haimson said, referring to the reputation the PEP has as a rubber stamp, both on policy and contracting. "It hasn't gotten better in some ways and in many ways it has gotten worse," she said of the DOE overall.</p> <p>The DOE engaging in sloppy, questionable dealings in secret is not new, said Haimson, who has worked as an education activist since the early aughts. Like Rosenthal, she alleges these problems became rampant under Mayor Bloomberg. “[A]s the budget rose dramatically and the oversight was more critical, Bloomberg didn't want any more scrutiny,” she said.</p> <p>However, unlike Rosenthal, Haimson says the DOE’s forthcomingness has gotten worse, not better, with de Blasio at the helm. “Under Bloomberg, I was able to go to OMB meetings,” she said, alleging she had been barred from these meetings in recent years. "The fact that the Mayor’s Office has more oversight may be good. [But] [w]e don't even know," Haimson said. “There doesn't seem to be anyone looking over their shoulders," she said, adding that providing ample DOE oversight would necessitate an independent commission.</p> <p>The Department of Education disputes claims that it is not careful or candid in its contracting processes. “Our procurement process is transparent and has strong oversight mechanisms, while delivering essential services to students and schools,” a DOE spokesperson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Though not related to contracting practices, Council Member Ben Kallos <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/27/nyregion/nyc-public-schools.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">introduced</a> a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2962029&amp;GUID=DB5A6F41-42F2-4EC8-9AC9-3DD4F67004CE&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=Education" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> in February that would require the DOE to more thoroughly disclose information about applications and enrollment to New York City public schools. The bill was pre-considered, and a hearing was held on it before it was introduced.&nbsp;</p> <p>"The bill has received some internal support, it has had its hearing and negotiations are ongoing to possibly move it forward," said a spokesperson for Kallos regarding the bill’s status.</p> <p>A representative for City Council Member Daniel Dromm, who chairs the Committee on Education, did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the status of the Kallos legislation, along with inquiries pertaining to DOE transparency and contracting practices.</p> <p>“We have our own issue with DOE," Kallos’ spokesperson said. "Obviously Council Member Kallos wouldn’t have released the bill if [the DOE] was a model of transparency.”</p> <p> </p> <p>Note: This article has been updated to clarify the status of the bill introduced by Council Member Ben Kallos.<br />Note: This article has been updated to more accurately depict the situation involving Custom Computer Specialists and a potential contract it was being considered for.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/34245950295_dc5da482b5_z.jpg" alt="34245950295 dc5da482b5 z" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City elected officials and independent watchdogs continue to voice concerns about the Department of Education’s transparency and contract procurement process. The issue became a flashpoint in the debate over mayoral control of New York City schools, which Albany lawmakers have yet to extend despite a June 30 expiration date. Like other powers over the schools, education-related contracting -- totaling billions of dollars per year -- has been centralized under the Mayor and the DOE through the mayoral control model of school governance.</p> <p>In the recently adopted city budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, about one-third of the $85.2 billion of operating funding is allocated to the DOE. Most of that funding goes to personnel, but there is a significant sum, about $7 billion, which will be devoted to outside contracts. While there have been no major recent scandals, the process by which the DOE awards those contracts, as well as the availability of information about the contracts, continues to draw criticism.</p> <p>Chief among those critics have been Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Contracts. They are joined by nonprofit leaders who have scrutinized DOE practices for years, including under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who first won mayoral control of city schools in 2002, ending the old Board of Education system. While there have been multiple high-profile contracting scandals, recently the concern has been a constant stream of smaller-scale, everyday contracts awarded without proper processes, critics say.</p> <p>Stringer has repeatedly and publicly pressured the DOE to disclose more information and clean up its procurement practices. Most recently, Stringer did so in testimony to the City Council as the new budget was being debated. In part, Stringer said that as revenue growth to the city is slowing, there is heightened need for the DOE to be sufficiently scrupulous.</p> <p>According to Stringer, the Department still does not pay enough attention to ensuring the DOE’s billions in contract funding is spent efficiently. “Time and time again, my office finds that current departmental processes are inadequate,” Stringer stated in his testimony, citing $6.7 billion for fiscal year 2018. “Whether it is through an audit of DOE or a review of DOE’s contracts, we find a lack of transparency and a lack of detail that is frightening when you are talking about billions of dollars earmarked for our children.”</p> <p>“The DOE claims to have a system of checks and balances,” Stringer continued, “but if you dig into the details you will find a lack of independent review, a lack of accountability and whole lot of rubber stamps.”</p> <p>Stringer also called the DOE “one of the least transparent agencies in the government,” adding he felt the DOE would “rather hide everything than open up their books." (Stringer’s statements were quickly used by state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, against Mayor Bill de Blasio in the mayoral control debate. The comptroller quickly reiterated his support for mayoral control in no uncertain terms.)</p> <p>When pressed for specifics, a spokesperson for Stringer pointed to wasted funds on technology initiatives, failure to detect collusion to drive up prices by food suppliers, late release of 70% pre-kindergarten contract information prior to the 2014 school year, and overpaying on custodial supplies, which Stringer has pointed out over the last three-plus years since he took office as Comptroller and de Blasio became Mayor.</p> <p>Along with these examples, there have been several other instances in which improper contracting practices have cost the city and harmed the DOE’s reputation. In 2008, the city Special Commission of Investigation (SCI) found the DOE had squandered $437,000 on payments to DynTek, a vendor for the DOE’s Department of Instructional and Information Technology which had been paying computer consultants employed by ERS Systems without the DOE’s authorization. “ERS billed DynTek for these services and DynTek, in turn, marked up these costs before billing the DOE,” according to the SCI. Three years later, a consultant Willard (Ross) Lanham was charged with funneling $3.6 million of DOE funds into his own pockets.</p> <p>In 2015, Custom Computer Specialists, a contractor the DOE considered, almost received a $1.1 billion deal to provide hardware and software to schools despite questions about the size of the contract and process involved, as well as the firm's indirect connection to an overbilling scheme. Outcry, led by education activist Leonie Haimson and Council Member Rosenthal, killed the potential deal. Most recently, in May, the Comptroller’s office released an analysis that revealed that after spending over $347 million on upgrading internet services, 45 percent of teachers said their schools’ internet quality “did not meet their instructional needs,” a survey of middle school teachers found.</p> <p>At a May City Council hearing regarding the 2018 budget, Rosenthal asked if the city Office of Management and Budget has unearthed similar problems to the ones in 2015, such as approval of “specious contracts.” “I would like to know that the OMB is doing a regular audit of its contracts,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>“I would want to know that the DOE is regularly being investigated,” said Rosenthal. “If we were to do that more systematically then we would have more available to us to spend on things we so desperately need.”</p> <p>Rosenthal, who chairs the contracts committee and sits on the education committee, credits Haimson with calling attention to chronic DOE contracting deficiencies. As a response to Haimson bringing awareness to the issue, she has headed efforts to ignite change in the Department. Rosenthal, however, declined to explicitly comment on Stringer’s testimony, and separated herself from the Comptroller's narrative. The Manhattan Council member believes that the DOE has actually improved considerably of late in contracting and openness, especially since she's undertaken efforts to bend the department toward better practices.</p> <p>“I do thank you for what’s been done,” Rosenthal said to Dean Fuleihan, Director of the OMB. She framed the situation by contending the previous mayoral administration had “dug a hole,” and the current one is in the process of getting New York City public education out of it.</p> <p>"What I’ve seen is positive steps that have allowed for more oversight and transparency,” Rosenthal said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The Upper West Side lawmaker emphasized that, in her view, DOE has allowed City Hall to both scrutinize the Department and collaborate with it. "They have made the contracting process more transparent...they have improved, I think, the oversight relationship with the city agencies,“ she said. Rosenthal noted that if capital and service contract costs rise, that information is now relayed to the City Council. "That's a big change.”</p> <p>According to Rosenthal, contracting practice woes have been ameliorated and their details brought into the limelight in recent years, as evidenced by the Department beginning to post contract information online.</p> <p>Still, while Rosenthal was clear that the DOE has progressed, there is room for improvement. "Is it perfect yet? Of course not,” she said. “But is it much better? Absolutely.” Rosenthal was optimistic about the prospect of additional improvements. She said the City Council and DOE have a “good constructive relationship moving forward.”</p> <p>Nonetheless, Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit advocacy group, is not as satisfied with the DOE as Rosenthal. “The budget is still increasing with little or no transparency," Haimson said in an email to Gotham Gazette. By phone, Haimson expressed skepticism about how the DOE manages its enormous budget and its forthrightness in doing so.</p> <p>“I am very disappointed in the whole process because we’ve been sounding the alarm for years now about the lack of transparency with these huge contracts that go through the PEP [Panel for Educational Policy],” she said.</p> <p>The PEP is a body consisting of 13 members appointed by elected officials, predominantly by the Mayor. Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the Panel to replace the Board of Education after the city gained mayoral control of schools. The PEP is designed to conduct independent oversight of the Department of Education but has not necessarily functioned in that manner.</p> <p>As the <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/05/08/school-spending-panel-doe-bullies-us-to-side-with-de-blasio/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Post</a> reported last summer, one former PEP member alleges the group is comprised of members who were not equipped to properly review the budget and were pressured into doing the Mayor’s bidding. And, in Haimson’s opinion, the PEP still does not properly vet contracts, allowing the DOE to act with impunity. "I don't think it’s ever turned down a contract in its existence,” Haimson said, referring to the reputation the PEP has as a rubber stamp, both on policy and contracting. "It hasn't gotten better in some ways and in many ways it has gotten worse," she said of the DOE overall.</p> <p>The DOE engaging in sloppy, questionable dealings in secret is not new, said Haimson, who has worked as an education activist since the early aughts. Like Rosenthal, she alleges these problems became rampant under Mayor Bloomberg. “[A]s the budget rose dramatically and the oversight was more critical, Bloomberg didn't want any more scrutiny,” she said.</p> <p>However, unlike Rosenthal, Haimson says the DOE’s forthcomingness has gotten worse, not better, with de Blasio at the helm. “Under Bloomberg, I was able to go to OMB meetings,” she said, alleging she had been barred from these meetings in recent years. "The fact that the Mayor’s Office has more oversight may be good. [But] [w]e don't even know," Haimson said. “There doesn't seem to be anyone looking over their shoulders," she said, adding that providing ample DOE oversight would necessitate an independent commission.</p> <p>The Department of Education disputes claims that it is not careful or candid in its contracting processes. “Our procurement process is transparent and has strong oversight mechanisms, while delivering essential services to students and schools,” a DOE spokesperson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Though not related to contracting practices, Council Member Ben Kallos <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/27/nyregion/nyc-public-schools.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">introduced</a> a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2962029&amp;GUID=DB5A6F41-42F2-4EC8-9AC9-3DD4F67004CE&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=Education" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> in February that would require the DOE to more thoroughly disclose information about applications and enrollment to New York City public schools. The bill was pre-considered, and a hearing was held on it before it was introduced.&nbsp;</p> <p>"The bill has received some internal support, it has had its hearing and negotiations are ongoing to possibly move it forward," said a spokesperson for Kallos regarding the bill’s status.</p> <p>A representative for City Council Member Daniel Dromm, who chairs the Committee on Education, did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the status of the Kallos legislation, along with inquiries pertaining to DOE transparency and contracting practices.</p> <p>“We have our own issue with DOE," Kallos’ spokesperson said. "Obviously Council Member Kallos wouldn’t have released the bill if [the DOE] was a model of transparency.”</p> <p> </p> <p>Note: This article has been updated to clarify the status of the bill introduced by Council Member Ben Kallos.<br />Note: This article has been updated to more accurately depict the situation involving Custom Computer Specialists and a potential contract it was being considered for.</p> City Council Considers Subcontractors Bill of Rights 2017-06-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7022:council-considers-bill-of-rights-for-subcontractors Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/12331075774_34a53d8c6d_z.jpg" alt="12331075774 34a53d8c6d z" width="600" height="411" /></p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal (photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council’s Committee on Economic Development and the Committee on Contracts held a joint hearing on Thursday to discuss proposed legislation that would create a bill of rights for subcontractors working with the city.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3055671&amp;GUID=B9076E52-649D-4461-A4B1-0A057750D97F&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro.1615</a>, sponsored by Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Robert Cornegy, Jr., and Helen Rosenthal, would require the Department of Small Business Services to create a bill of rights that clearly lays out expectations for prime contractors and subcontractors, and makes it easier for subcontractors to find out what services and resources are available to them should they have a problem or concern with their contract. The legislation would apply to any contracts worth more than $100,000.</p> <p>“[Contracting] is the heart of so much of what we do here -- construction of public infrastructure and affordable housing, a whole range of human services from pre-K all the way up to senior services,” said Rosenthal, chair of the contracts committee, in her opening statement. “The contracting process is an essential part of how New York City government works.”</p> <p>The city has registered 12,949 expense contracts worth $20.3 billion in the 2017 fiscal year, which runs through June 30, and subcontractors accounted for $558 million of that sum, according to data available on the comptroller’s <a href="http://www.checkbooknyc.com/contracts_landing/status/A/yeartype/B/year/118/dashboard/ss" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Checkbook NYC</a> website. These subcontractors often face a number of hurdles including a lack of access to adequate legal representation to navigate contracts, receiving late payments, and not being able to apply for loans. This is especially true for subcontractors working in human services.</p> <p>“Contractors often pay subcontractors late because they cannot disburse government funds prior to completion of the service they are paying for, and they themselves are paid late,” explained Tracie Robinson, a senior policy analyst at the Human Services Council of New York, in her testimony. HSC represents thousands of nonprofits in New York and advocates for human services providers as a whole. “[Subcontractors] operate in the context of a broken contracting system. Only if we address the underlying causes of subcontractor instability -- problems at the government-contractor level -- will we be able to set prime contractors and subcontractors alike up for success.”</p> <p>Many subcontractors are nonprofit organizations and small businesses that are overshadowed by larger entities and do not have the same access to credit and fundraising. Intro. 1615 would make sure that subcontractors get an overview of the payment process, know the points of contact between government agencies, and can get the appropriate documents necessary to get the information and assistance they need.</p> <p>“Many smaller nonprofit organizations do not have in-house attorneys or staff with experience understanding and administering government contracts,” said Laura Abel, senior policy counsel for Lawyers Alliance for New York, a provider of business and legal services for nonprofits. “City contracts are long, dense, and full of legalese. As a result, nonprofit organizations may take on obligations that they do not understand and cannot fulfill.”</p> <p>Abel also added, “I have asked clients dealing with an unexpected development what their contract says about that issue, only to hear, ‘Oh, it’s all boilerplate, it’s no help.’ A subcontractor bill of rights can help by encouraging subcontractors to consult counsel before entering into a contract, and whenever they have questions during the life of the contract.”</p> <p>In addition, subcontractors are frequently minority- and women-owned businesses, commonly referred to as M/WBEs. The city has been trying to encourage the growth and development of M/WBEs to ensure a more equitable distribution of city money. M/WBEs also tend to be more familiar with local community needs compared to larger contractors. M/WBEs accounted for $245.8 million in subcontracts registered in fiscal 2017. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">OneNYC plan</a> includes a commitment to award at least 30 percent of city contract dollars to M/WBEs by 2021 and to award $16 billion in city contracts to M/WBEs by 2025.</p> <p>Michael Owh, director of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services and the city’s chief procurement officer, said the de Blasio administration supports the bill and that it “is a step in the right direction toward providing information to businesses and connecting them with resources.”</p> <p>When asked by Council Member Daniel Garodnick, the chair of the Committee on Economic Development, if the bill warranted any changes or edits, Owh emphasized that it would need input from all the stakeholders. “[We] want to make sure that we get enough feedback from not just our agencies but also the community, the contracting community, as well as the subcontracting community to make sure that we are able to take in all of the various factors,” Owh said.</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/12331075774_34a53d8c6d_z.jpg" alt="12331075774 34a53d8c6d z" width="600" height="411" /></p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal (photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council’s Committee on Economic Development and the Committee on Contracts held a joint hearing on Thursday to discuss proposed legislation that would create a bill of rights for subcontractors working with the city.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3055671&amp;GUID=B9076E52-649D-4461-A4B1-0A057750D97F&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro.1615</a>, sponsored by Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Robert Cornegy, Jr., and Helen Rosenthal, would require the Department of Small Business Services to create a bill of rights that clearly lays out expectations for prime contractors and subcontractors, and makes it easier for subcontractors to find out what services and resources are available to them should they have a problem or concern with their contract. The legislation would apply to any contracts worth more than $100,000.</p> <p>“[Contracting] is the heart of so much of what we do here -- construction of public infrastructure and affordable housing, a whole range of human services from pre-K all the way up to senior services,” said Rosenthal, chair of the contracts committee, in her opening statement. “The contracting process is an essential part of how New York City government works.”</p> <p>The city has registered 12,949 expense contracts worth $20.3 billion in the 2017 fiscal year, which runs through June 30, and subcontractors accounted for $558 million of that sum, according to data available on the comptroller’s <a href="http://www.checkbooknyc.com/contracts_landing/status/A/yeartype/B/year/118/dashboard/ss" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Checkbook NYC</a> website. These subcontractors often face a number of hurdles including a lack of access to adequate legal representation to navigate contracts, receiving late payments, and not being able to apply for loans. This is especially true for subcontractors working in human services.</p> <p>“Contractors often pay subcontractors late because they cannot disburse government funds prior to completion of the service they are paying for, and they themselves are paid late,” explained Tracie Robinson, a senior policy analyst at the Human Services Council of New York, in her testimony. HSC represents thousands of nonprofits in New York and advocates for human services providers as a whole. “[Subcontractors] operate in the context of a broken contracting system. Only if we address the underlying causes of subcontractor instability -- problems at the government-contractor level -- will we be able to set prime contractors and subcontractors alike up for success.”</p> <p>Many subcontractors are nonprofit organizations and small businesses that are overshadowed by larger entities and do not have the same access to credit and fundraising. Intro. 1615 would make sure that subcontractors get an overview of the payment process, know the points of contact between government agencies, and can get the appropriate documents necessary to get the information and assistance they need.</p> <p>“Many smaller nonprofit organizations do not have in-house attorneys or staff with experience understanding and administering government contracts,” said Laura Abel, senior policy counsel for Lawyers Alliance for New York, a provider of business and legal services for nonprofits. “City contracts are long, dense, and full of legalese. As a result, nonprofit organizations may take on obligations that they do not understand and cannot fulfill.”</p> <p>Abel also added, “I have asked clients dealing with an unexpected development what their contract says about that issue, only to hear, ‘Oh, it’s all boilerplate, it’s no help.’ A subcontractor bill of rights can help by encouraging subcontractors to consult counsel before entering into a contract, and whenever they have questions during the life of the contract.”</p> <p>In addition, subcontractors are frequently minority- and women-owned businesses, commonly referred to as M/WBEs. The city has been trying to encourage the growth and development of M/WBEs to ensure a more equitable distribution of city money. M/WBEs also tend to be more familiar with local community needs compared to larger contractors. M/WBEs accounted for $245.8 million in subcontracts registered in fiscal 2017. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">OneNYC plan</a> includes a commitment to award at least 30 percent of city contract dollars to M/WBEs by 2021 and to award $16 billion in city contracts to M/WBEs by 2025.</p> <p>Michael Owh, director of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services and the city’s chief procurement officer, said the de Blasio administration supports the bill and that it “is a step in the right direction toward providing information to businesses and connecting them with resources.”</p> <p>When asked by Council Member Daniel Garodnick, the chair of the Committee on Economic Development, if the bill warranted any changes or edits, Owh emphasized that it would need input from all the stakeholders. “[We] want to make sure that we get enough feedback from not just our agencies but also the community, the contracting community, as well as the subcontracting community to make sure that we are able to take in all of the various factors,” Owh said.</p> <p> </p>