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/inez-dickens 2017-12-11T07:50:09+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Adjusting to Albany: Meet NYC’s New Class of State Legislators 2017-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6818:adjusting-to-albany-meet-nyc-s-new-class-of-state-legislators Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/legislators/nyscapitolbuilding2.jpg" alt="nyscapitolbuilding2" width="600" height="456" /></p> <p>photo via @NYSCapitolTours</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">While the ethics trainings and orientation for new state legislators may have evolved over the years, one thing has remained constant: the daunting task of navigating the Capitol’s maze-like corridors during one’s first weeks of work in Albany.</p> <p dir="ltr">Orientation provides some roadmap to Albany’s byzantine legislative processes, including workshops in drafting bills, organizing a press conference, and conducting research, and legislative staffers are provided for support, but it can take a few weeks, if not months, for newly minted politicians to fully acclimate to life as a state lawmaker.</p> <p dir="ltr">In fact, much of the training happens on the job, according Assemblymember Tom McKevitt, who oversees the trainings for incoming Assembly members in the chamber’s Republican minority.</p> <p dir="ltr">“For many people they are coming to a different part of the state, they are leaving their families, leaving their hometowns, to come to a very different place,” said McKevitt, who represents part of Long Island, and has served in the Assembly for just over a decade. “New York State government is a massive operation. It really is. So we try to give them as much knowledge as possible and give them as much resources as possible to get them as productive a start to their legislative careers.”</p> <p dir="ltr">All new legislators in the Senate and the Assembly receive mandated training when they begin their legislative careers in Albany. In addition, each party conference provides training, as McKevitt indicated for the Assembly minority.</p> <p>
NEW LEGISLATORS

* AM Yuh-Line Niou
* Sen. Jamaal Bailey
* AM Robert Carroll
* AM Carmen De La Rosa
* AM Brian Barnwell
* AM Tremaine Wright
* AM Stacey Pheffer Amato
* Sen. Marisol Alcantara
* AM Clyde Vanel
* AM Inez Dickens
</p> <p dir="ltr">This year, there are 10 new state lawmakers from New York City, joining the 150-seat Assembly, which is dominated by Democrats, and the 63-seat Senate, which is narrowly controlled by Republicans. All of the new reps from the city are Democrats -- there are only a handful of New York City Republicans in the Legislature altogether, mostly from Staten Island.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gotham Gazette began interviewing each of those 10 new members in February to gauge how they are adjusting to life in the state Legislature, which is notoriously dysfunctional and insulated, and has seen its share of corruption scandals in recent years.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the first weeks of the legislative calendar leading up to one-house budgets in March are always fairly intense for new legislators, this year appears to have been more so. As with other state capitals and city halls around the country, the inauguration of President Donald Trump, followed by the unconventional president’s chaotic first two months in office, have cast a long shadow over governing in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">As the Trump administration rushes to follow through on campaign promises to scale back reproductive rights, repeal the Affordable Care Act, and ban immigrants from select countries, many legislators, especially Democrats, are feeling more uncertainty and a greater sense of urgency. Both come in part from their constituents -- New Yorkers who overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in November.</p> <p dir="ltr">Several incoming lawmakers hailing from the five boroughs are facing challenging political climates in their districts and given local political dynamics. Yuh-Line Niou, now representing Lower Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District, must deliver for a constituency accustomed to receiving an exceptionally high level of resources given that the seat had been held for decades by (now convicted) former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.</p> <p>The 31st Senate District’s new representative, Marisol Alcantara, is a member of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), at a time when the breakaway group of Democrats that forms a coalition majority with Republicans is facing some significant backlash. Meanwhile, Senator Jamaal Bailey, of the 36th Senate District, is joining the mainline Senate Democratic Conference that is struggling in the minority.</p> <p>To begin our series on new city-based state legislators, Gotham Gazette spoke with Niou, Bailey, and Brooklyn Assemblymember Robert Carroll. Read their interviews through the links below, and stay tuned for our interviews with the seven other new lawmakers from the five boroughs.&nbsp;</p> <p>
yuh line niou2
Yuh-Line Niou

Assemblymember for the 65th District
Lower Manhattan
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“This is a constituency that literally had the most service and then almost no service for a period of time. It’s been a shock to the system.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou


</p> <p>
jamaal bailey
Jamaal Bailey

State Senator for the 36th District
Parts of the Bronx and Mount Vernon
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“But a lot of the preparation, it just comes in real-time. Just seeing the bill and you have to vote on it.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Senator Jamaal Bailey


</p> <p>
robert carroll 2
Robert Carroll

Assembly Member for 44th District
Brooklyn (Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Park Slope, Flatbush)
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“I think if you are going to be in politics, you have to understand that you’re not going to win every fight, and you have to be ready to stay in the arena.” 
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assembly Member Robert Carroll


</p> <p>
Carmen for assembly
Carmen De La Rosa

Assembly Member for 72nd District
Manhattan (Harlem, Inwood, Hamilton Heights, and Washington Heights)
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“It’s definitely a great place to be, coming from the City Council, it’s sort of government on a larger scale, so it’s a welcome challenge for me.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa


</p> <p>
Brian Bramwell
Brian Barnwell

Assembly member for the 30th District
Parts of Astoria, Long Island City, Maspeth, Middle Village, and Woodside
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat
“The budget process was certainly long, but I don’t have a problem with that. In my opinion, it’s better to negotiate and negotiate and negotiate, instead of just doing the deal for the sake of doing a deal.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Brian Barnwell


</p> <p><em><strong>Coming soon, interviews with:</strong></em></p> <ul> <li>Assemblymember Tremaine Wright</li> <li>Assemblymember Stacey Pheffer Amato</li> <li>Senator Marisol Alacantra</li> <li>Assemblymember Clyde Vanel</li> <li>Assemblymember Inez Dickens</li> </ul> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/legislators/nyscapitolbuilding2.jpg" alt="nyscapitolbuilding2" width="600" height="456" /></p> <p>photo via @NYSCapitolTours</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">While the ethics trainings and orientation for new state legislators may have evolved over the years, one thing has remained constant: the daunting task of navigating the Capitol’s maze-like corridors during one’s first weeks of work in Albany.</p> <p dir="ltr">Orientation provides some roadmap to Albany’s byzantine legislative processes, including workshops in drafting bills, organizing a press conference, and conducting research, and legislative staffers are provided for support, but it can take a few weeks, if not months, for newly minted politicians to fully acclimate to life as a state lawmaker.</p> <p dir="ltr">In fact, much of the training happens on the job, according Assemblymember Tom McKevitt, who oversees the trainings for incoming Assembly members in the chamber’s Republican minority.</p> <p dir="ltr">“For many people they are coming to a different part of the state, they are leaving their families, leaving their hometowns, to come to a very different place,” said McKevitt, who represents part of Long Island, and has served in the Assembly for just over a decade. “New York State government is a massive operation. It really is. So we try to give them as much knowledge as possible and give them as much resources as possible to get them as productive a start to their legislative careers.”</p> <p dir="ltr">All new legislators in the Senate and the Assembly receive mandated training when they begin their legislative careers in Albany. In addition, each party conference provides training, as McKevitt indicated for the Assembly minority.</p> <p>
NEW LEGISLATORS

* AM Yuh-Line Niou
* Sen. Jamaal Bailey
* AM Robert Carroll
* AM Carmen De La Rosa
* AM Brian Barnwell
* AM Tremaine Wright
* AM Stacey Pheffer Amato
* Sen. Marisol Alcantara
* AM Clyde Vanel
* AM Inez Dickens
</p> <p dir="ltr">This year, there are 10 new state lawmakers from New York City, joining the 150-seat Assembly, which is dominated by Democrats, and the 63-seat Senate, which is narrowly controlled by Republicans. All of the new reps from the city are Democrats -- there are only a handful of New York City Republicans in the Legislature altogether, mostly from Staten Island.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gotham Gazette began interviewing each of those 10 new members in February to gauge how they are adjusting to life in the state Legislature, which is notoriously dysfunctional and insulated, and has seen its share of corruption scandals in recent years.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the first weeks of the legislative calendar leading up to one-house budgets in March are always fairly intense for new legislators, this year appears to have been more so. As with other state capitals and city halls around the country, the inauguration of President Donald Trump, followed by the unconventional president’s chaotic first two months in office, have cast a long shadow over governing in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">As the Trump administration rushes to follow through on campaign promises to scale back reproductive rights, repeal the Affordable Care Act, and ban immigrants from select countries, many legislators, especially Democrats, are feeling more uncertainty and a greater sense of urgency. Both come in part from their constituents -- New Yorkers who overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in November.</p> <p dir="ltr">Several incoming lawmakers hailing from the five boroughs are facing challenging political climates in their districts and given local political dynamics. Yuh-Line Niou, now representing Lower Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District, must deliver for a constituency accustomed to receiving an exceptionally high level of resources given that the seat had been held for decades by (now convicted) former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.</p> <p>The 31st Senate District’s new representative, Marisol Alcantara, is a member of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), at a time when the breakaway group of Democrats that forms a coalition majority with Republicans is facing some significant backlash. Meanwhile, Senator Jamaal Bailey, of the 36th Senate District, is joining the mainline Senate Democratic Conference that is struggling in the minority.</p> <p>To begin our series on new city-based state legislators, Gotham Gazette spoke with Niou, Bailey, and Brooklyn Assemblymember Robert Carroll. Read their interviews through the links below, and stay tuned for our interviews with the seven other new lawmakers from the five boroughs.&nbsp;</p> <p>
yuh line niou2
Yuh-Line Niou

Assemblymember for the 65th District
Lower Manhattan
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“This is a constituency that literally had the most service and then almost no service for a period of time. It’s been a shock to the system.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou


</p> <p>
jamaal bailey
Jamaal Bailey

State Senator for the 36th District
Parts of the Bronx and Mount Vernon
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“But a lot of the preparation, it just comes in real-time. Just seeing the bill and you have to vote on it.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Senator Jamaal Bailey


</p> <p>
robert carroll 2
Robert Carroll

Assembly Member for 44th District
Brooklyn (Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Park Slope, Flatbush)
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“I think if you are going to be in politics, you have to understand that you’re not going to win every fight, and you have to be ready to stay in the arena.” 
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assembly Member Robert Carroll


</p> <p>
Carmen for assembly
Carmen De La Rosa

Assembly Member for 72nd District
Manhattan (Harlem, Inwood, Hamilton Heights, and Washington Heights)
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“It’s definitely a great place to be, coming from the City Council, it’s sort of government on a larger scale, so it’s a welcome challenge for me.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa


</p> <p>
Brian Bramwell
Brian Barnwell

Assembly member for the 30th District
Parts of Astoria, Long Island City, Maspeth, Middle Village, and Woodside
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat
“The budget process was certainly long, but I don’t have a problem with that. In my opinion, it’s better to negotiate and negotiate and negotiate, instead of just doing the deal for the sake of doing a deal.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Brian Barnwell


</p> <p><em><strong>Coming soon, interviews with:</strong></em></p> <ul> <li>Assemblymember Tremaine Wright</li> <li>Assemblymember Stacey Pheffer Amato</li> <li>Senator Marisol Alacantra</li> <li>Assemblymember Clyde Vanel</li> <li>Assemblymember Inez Dickens</li> </ul> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Holland to Challenge Perkins in Primary for Harlem Council Seat 2017-02-16T22:59:09+00:00 2017-02-16T22:59:09+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6761:holland-to-challenge-perkins-in-september-primary-for-harlem-council-seat Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/holland_pic.jpg" alt="holland pic" width="600" height="396" /></p> <p>Marvin Holland (Photo via Holland's campaign)</p> <hr /> <p>Union organizer Marvin Holland, the runner up in Tuesday’s special election for the District 9 City Council seat, has confirmed to Gotham Gazette that he will mount a challenge against the winner Bill Perkins when the seat is up for grabs again later this year.</p> <p>The District 9 seat in Harlem was recently vacated by Inez Dickens, who was elected to the state Assembly, leaving just one year left in the term. A nonpartisan special election for the seat was held on Feb. 14 with nine candidates on the ballot. State Senator Bill Perkins, who held the District 9 seat between 1998 and 2005, won with 3750 votes, about 34 percent of the 11,149 votes cast, according to the New York City Board of Elections’ unofficial results (Final results are certified two weeks after the election). Perkins will serve the rest of Dickens’ term and will have to run for reelection, which will involve a Democratic primary in September.</p> <p>Holland, who came second in the race with 2073 votes, believes that he can build more support and name recognition to pose a stronger challenge in the September primary. “In a few short months, we built a strong, diverse coalition amongst the people most under attack from Trump’s policies, and beat all expectations while highlighting some very important issues facing our community,” Holland said, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “With this race, the foundation has been laid for a new political future for Harlem.”</p> <p>As political director of Transit Workers Union Local 100, Holland built a coalition of labor and community support and his vote totals even surpassed Larry Scott Blackmon, the favored candidate of the Harlem old guard. Blackmon, a FreshDirect executive, came in fourth in the race with 1,324 votes, despite being endorsed by Dickens and former Assemblymember Keith Wright, who chairs the Manhattan Democratic Party.</p> <p>Holland’s campaign pointed out that 66 percent of the voters didn’t choose Perkins, despite his long history representing the neighborhood and his familiarity in the community. “So, their vote could have been an anti-Perkins choice,” said Jon Greenfield, a spokesperson for Holland, in an email.</p> <p>Greenfield said the race ultimately hinged on name recognition and that Holland can spend the next six months building his own. “Marvin can hold his showing in the East Harlem portion of the district (Assembly District 68), build name recognition in central Harlem over the next months, and gather anti-Perkins, anti-establishment votes,” he said.</p> <p>Holland will also continue to consolidate labor support and reach out to Dickens and Wright for their support. “Harlem deserves elected officials accountable to them,” Holland said. “I intend to keep the promises made to the people during this campaign, and will continue the work we have begun to be their candidate in the September primary for City Council.”</p> <p>The race will still be an uphill challenge for Holland. Perkins received endorsements from Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council’s progressive caucus in the special election. He’s confident that he will be reelected and hopes to do as well in September as he did in the Tuesday special. “I have every reason to believe I’ll do even better,” he said, in a phone interview.</p> <p>He wasn’t surprised to hear Holland will run against him, and even welcomed the challenge. “I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the other candidates that participated in the election are considering the same thing,” he said, insisting that he doesn’t take his frontrunner status for granted. Only one other candidate, Shannette Gray, has officially declared a run for the District 9 seat with the Campaign Finance Board. She did not participate in the special election.</p> <p>“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Perkins said of the election. “We just ran the first mile.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/holland_pic.jpg" alt="holland pic" width="600" height="396" /></p> <p>Marvin Holland (Photo via Holland's campaign)</p> <hr /> <p>Union organizer Marvin Holland, the runner up in Tuesday’s special election for the District 9 City Council seat, has confirmed to Gotham Gazette that he will mount a challenge against the winner Bill Perkins when the seat is up for grabs again later this year.</p> <p>The District 9 seat in Harlem was recently vacated by Inez Dickens, who was elected to the state Assembly, leaving just one year left in the term. A nonpartisan special election for the seat was held on Feb. 14 with nine candidates on the ballot. State Senator Bill Perkins, who held the District 9 seat between 1998 and 2005, won with 3750 votes, about 34 percent of the 11,149 votes cast, according to the New York City Board of Elections’ unofficial results (Final results are certified two weeks after the election). Perkins will serve the rest of Dickens’ term and will have to run for reelection, which will involve a Democratic primary in September.</p> <p>Holland, who came second in the race with 2073 votes, believes that he can build more support and name recognition to pose a stronger challenge in the September primary. “In a few short months, we built a strong, diverse coalition amongst the people most under attack from Trump’s policies, and beat all expectations while highlighting some very important issues facing our community,” Holland said, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “With this race, the foundation has been laid for a new political future for Harlem.”</p> <p>As political director of Transit Workers Union Local 100, Holland built a coalition of labor and community support and his vote totals even surpassed Larry Scott Blackmon, the favored candidate of the Harlem old guard. Blackmon, a FreshDirect executive, came in fourth in the race with 1,324 votes, despite being endorsed by Dickens and former Assemblymember Keith Wright, who chairs the Manhattan Democratic Party.</p> <p>Holland’s campaign pointed out that 66 percent of the voters didn’t choose Perkins, despite his long history representing the neighborhood and his familiarity in the community. “So, their vote could have been an anti-Perkins choice,” said Jon Greenfield, a spokesperson for Holland, in an email.</p> <p>Greenfield said the race ultimately hinged on name recognition and that Holland can spend the next six months building his own. “Marvin can hold his showing in the East Harlem portion of the district (Assembly District 68), build name recognition in central Harlem over the next months, and gather anti-Perkins, anti-establishment votes,” he said.</p> <p>Holland will also continue to consolidate labor support and reach out to Dickens and Wright for their support. “Harlem deserves elected officials accountable to them,” Holland said. “I intend to keep the promises made to the people during this campaign, and will continue the work we have begun to be their candidate in the September primary for City Council.”</p> <p>The race will still be an uphill challenge for Holland. Perkins received endorsements from Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council’s progressive caucus in the special election. He’s confident that he will be reelected and hopes to do as well in September as he did in the Tuesday special. “I have every reason to believe I’ll do even better,” he said, in a phone interview.</p> <p>He wasn’t surprised to hear Holland will run against him, and even welcomed the challenge. “I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the other candidates that participated in the election are considering the same thing,” he said, insisting that he doesn’t take his frontrunner status for granted. Only one other candidate, Shannette Gray, has officially declared a run for the District 9 seat with the Campaign Finance Board. She did not participate in the special election.</p> <p>“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Perkins said of the election. “We just ran the first mile.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated.</p>
Special Election for Harlem City Council Seat Kicks Off 2016-12-12T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-12T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6665:special-election-for-harlem-city-council-seat-kicks-off Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/marvin_holland_sylvia_tyler-crop.jpg" alt="marvin holland sylvia tyler" width="600" /></p> <p>Council candidate Marvin Holland, right, with Sylvia Tyler (photo via Holland on Twitter)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">It’s going to be a sprint of an election -- though it’s not clear how many candidates are running or how many voters will participate -- with ballots likely to be cast sometime in February.</p> <p dir="ltr">The election of New York City Council Member Inez Dickens to the State Assembly creates an open seat in Council District 9 in Harlem, and a number of contenders have thrown their hats in the ring. As soon as Dickens officially vacates her Council seat, Mayor Bill de Blasio will be required to call a nonpartisan special election.</p> <p dir="ltr">Among the candidates running for Dickens’ seat are union organizer Marvin Holland, State Senator Bill Perkins, community activist Charles Cooper, and Troy Outlaw, who serves on Dickens’ Council staff. Other, lesser-known candidates include Donald Fields, a local businessman and advocate, immigration advocate Mamadou Drame, and Shannette Gray. <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/40under40/2016/Benjamin">Brian Benjamin</a>, who works in real estate and is involved in the local community board, is rumored to be considering a run, but hasn’t filed paperwork yet.</p> <p dir="ltr">Many have been waiting to see if Assembly Member Keith Wright will join the race. A Democratic power-broker who Dickens is replacing, Wright declined to run for Assembly re-election after pledging not to during his attempt to win Charles Rangel’s Congressional seat. Some say that Benjamin could be Wright’s favored candidate, though the uptown establishment could support Outlaw, or another candidate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Holland, the political director of Transit Workers Union Local 100, came out of the gate fairly early. In a recent interview, he said he is confident about putting together a broad coalition. “I’m well-rooted throughout the Harlem community, with young and old members,” said Holland, who sits on the boards of a number of community organizations including the Latino Leadership Institute, the NYC Labor-Religion Coalition, the the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the NAACP, and Community Voices Heard’s solidarity board.</p> <p dir="ltr">Holland’s message is “Harlem belongs to us,” he said, stressing that investment in the neighborhood needs to benefit its residents rather than creating forces of gentrification and displacement. He wants to create jobs and infrastructure in the community, relying on his experience as a union leader to navigate the complexities of economic policy. “My first priority,” he said, “was to show people I’m a serious candidate...I’m in this race 100 percent to win it.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In a crowded race, anything can happen, but Perkins is especially formidable given his position as an elected official with at least some name recognition in the community.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I would say Bill Perkins probably has the most infrastructure and support in the district,” said Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University. Pointing to the fact that State Senator Adriano Espaillat has been elected to replace Rangel, Greer said the community may be motivated to electe a black City Council member to replace Dickens, who is black. “It’s within U.S. Congressional District 13 and because there’s no African-American representative, Perkins will resonate with some voters who want to see an African-American representative in the district,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Greer said that Perkins’ chances could change significantly if Wright were to jump into the race, though he seems hesitant to do so at this point. It’s unclear whether Wright will be involved in the District 9 race at all. He was not made available for comment for this article. Dickens’ Council office also did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p dir="ltr">In phone interviews with Gotham Gazette, Holland, Perkins, Cooper, Fields, and Drame all indicated a similar initial approach to the election, formulating coalitions across the community and drumming up support on the ground. Each mentioned several of the same issues, chiefly focusing on creating and preserving affordable housing while bringing more development and jobs to the community. Calls to the candidate committees for Outlaw and Gray went unanswered.</p> <p dir="ltr">Perkins previously held the Council seat for seven years before becoming a state Senator in 2006. He said his decision to attempt a return to city government was based largely on the opportunity to make more of an impact, which has been denied to Democrats who have been in the minority in the Senate. “I’m going to essentially be serving the same neighborhood with an opportunity to not only serve but to deliver,” Perkins said of potentially rejoining the Council, which currently has 48 Democrats and three Republicans.</p> <p dir="ltr">Recalling his days in activist-oriented community work, Perkins said he is focusing on galvanizing community support. “It’s a winning formula for me,” he said. “I’m not a big moneymaker..I’m going where my strengths are, with the community, with the people.” &nbsp;And he believes he has a good chance of winning the seat. “There’s nothing guaranteed but I feel that my support in the past for elected office has been encouraging,” he said. “I feel in sync with this district. They’re familiar with me over the years, they’re familiar with the work I’ve done.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Perkins and Wright are not close. Wright is the leader of the Manhattan Democratic Party and a key cog in the state’s party infrastructure. Perkins is not expected to have a lot of institutional support, whether Wright runs or not. Because it is a city-level special election, there are no traditional party lines. The winner will serve for less than a year before having to run again in the fall, when all 51 Council seats will be on the ballot, as well as borough- and city-wide posts.</p> <p dir="ltr">Perkins promised, if elected, to seek out alliances within the Council and join its Progressive Caucus. He’ll focus on affordable housing, he said, “not as it’s defined by developers but as defined by what’s in the pocket of the people in the community.” He said he’s not overly confident, stressing that the race will be competitive.</p> <p dir="ltr">Perkins’ entry into the race hasn’t discouraged Holland, who is confident, especially given his union ties and organizing experience. Holland said in an interview that he is building a broad coalition of support including unions, district leaders, activists, and tenant leaders; he officially opened his new campaign headquarters Dec. 7.</p> <p dir="ltr">For Charles Cooper, the election is an opportunity to get Harlem residents involved in community decisions. “I think oftentimes, especially in a special election, you have very low turnout which isn’t representative of the district as a whole,” he said, underscoring the need to spread awareness of the election and to get voters engaged. Special elections are notoriously low-turnout.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cooper stressed the importance of people’s involvement, particularly after the election of Donald Trump as President. “We need to focus more and more on our local politics,” he said. “The City Council has a direct impact on the resources that come to our community.” Cooper, much like his opponents, said his campaign is a district-wide coalition of groups that will highlight issues of job creation, education, public safety, and housing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Immigration advocate Mamadou Drame said he’s been planning his run for District 9 for the last two years, spurred into action by an older generation that has been more passive towards politics. He said he’s lost faith in the current crop of elected officials, who “come to the district every four years for your vote and then forget about the community.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A Senegalese immigrant who has worked for years in immigrant services, he believes he’ll get support from the African immigrant population in Harlem. He’ll appeal to millennials and seniors alike, he said, with a campaign centered on reducing unemployment and “an inclusive approach to gentrification” that helps the community. “The question is, ‘how can we embrace development?,’” he said, “We can’t always be fighting it.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“We need to forge a path of new leadership,” said candidate Donald Fields, a managing partner at Fields &amp; Associates, a consultancy, who previously worked for the city’s child welfare agency. Fields emphasized the need for new blood to replace the “old guard” that has dominated the Harlem political scene for years. Although Fields said he respects them and their work, he believes that younger leaders will be able to bring about faster change.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like Holland others, Fields is also undeterred by facing Perkins in the race. “It hasn’t slowed down my passion,” he said. “It hasn’t stopped my zeal to win or my focus on what the district needs.” His biggest priority is fighting gentrification while encouraging necessary development.</p> <p>“Whoever wins this race must have a vision for the district and must be committed to deliver that vision,” Fields said. “That cannot be tied to backroom politics and special interests.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/marvin_holland_sylvia_tyler-crop.jpg" alt="marvin holland sylvia tyler" width="600" /></p> <p>Council candidate Marvin Holland, right, with Sylvia Tyler (photo via Holland on Twitter)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">It’s going to be a sprint of an election -- though it’s not clear how many candidates are running or how many voters will participate -- with ballots likely to be cast sometime in February.</p> <p dir="ltr">The election of New York City Council Member Inez Dickens to the State Assembly creates an open seat in Council District 9 in Harlem, and a number of contenders have thrown their hats in the ring. As soon as Dickens officially vacates her Council seat, Mayor Bill de Blasio will be required to call a nonpartisan special election.</p> <p dir="ltr">Among the candidates running for Dickens’ seat are union organizer Marvin Holland, State Senator Bill Perkins, community activist Charles Cooper, and Troy Outlaw, who serves on Dickens’ Council staff. Other, lesser-known candidates include Donald Fields, a local businessman and advocate, immigration advocate Mamadou Drame, and Shannette Gray. <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/40under40/2016/Benjamin">Brian Benjamin</a>, who works in real estate and is involved in the local community board, is rumored to be considering a run, but hasn’t filed paperwork yet.</p> <p dir="ltr">Many have been waiting to see if Assembly Member Keith Wright will join the race. A Democratic power-broker who Dickens is replacing, Wright declined to run for Assembly re-election after pledging not to during his attempt to win Charles Rangel’s Congressional seat. Some say that Benjamin could be Wright’s favored candidate, though the uptown establishment could support Outlaw, or another candidate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Holland, the political director of Transit Workers Union Local 100, came out of the gate fairly early. In a recent interview, he said he is confident about putting together a broad coalition. “I’m well-rooted throughout the Harlem community, with young and old members,” said Holland, who sits on the boards of a number of community organizations including the Latino Leadership Institute, the NYC Labor-Religion Coalition, the the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the NAACP, and Community Voices Heard’s solidarity board.</p> <p dir="ltr">Holland’s message is “Harlem belongs to us,” he said, stressing that investment in the neighborhood needs to benefit its residents rather than creating forces of gentrification and displacement. He wants to create jobs and infrastructure in the community, relying on his experience as a union leader to navigate the complexities of economic policy. “My first priority,” he said, “was to show people I’m a serious candidate...I’m in this race 100 percent to win it.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In a crowded race, anything can happen, but Perkins is especially formidable given his position as an elected official with at least some name recognition in the community.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I would say Bill Perkins probably has the most infrastructure and support in the district,” said Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University. Pointing to the fact that State Senator Adriano Espaillat has been elected to replace Rangel, Greer said the community may be motivated to electe a black City Council member to replace Dickens, who is black. “It’s within U.S. Congressional District 13 and because there’s no African-American representative, Perkins will resonate with some voters who want to see an African-American representative in the district,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Greer said that Perkins’ chances could change significantly if Wright were to jump into the race, though he seems hesitant to do so at this point. It’s unclear whether Wright will be involved in the District 9 race at all. He was not made available for comment for this article. Dickens’ Council office also did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p dir="ltr">In phone interviews with Gotham Gazette, Holland, Perkins, Cooper, Fields, and Drame all indicated a similar initial approach to the election, formulating coalitions across the community and drumming up support on the ground. Each mentioned several of the same issues, chiefly focusing on creating and preserving affordable housing while bringing more development and jobs to the community. Calls to the candidate committees for Outlaw and Gray went unanswered.</p> <p dir="ltr">Perkins previously held the Council seat for seven years before becoming a state Senator in 2006. He said his decision to attempt a return to city government was based largely on the opportunity to make more of an impact, which has been denied to Democrats who have been in the minority in the Senate. “I’m going to essentially be serving the same neighborhood with an opportunity to not only serve but to deliver,” Perkins said of potentially rejoining the Council, which currently has 48 Democrats and three Republicans.</p> <p dir="ltr">Recalling his days in activist-oriented community work, Perkins said he is focusing on galvanizing community support. “It’s a winning formula for me,” he said. “I’m not a big moneymaker..I’m going where my strengths are, with the community, with the people.” &nbsp;And he believes he has a good chance of winning the seat. “There’s nothing guaranteed but I feel that my support in the past for elected office has been encouraging,” he said. “I feel in sync with this district. They’re familiar with me over the years, they’re familiar with the work I’ve done.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Perkins and Wright are not close. Wright is the leader of the Manhattan Democratic Party and a key cog in the state’s party infrastructure. Perkins is not expected to have a lot of institutional support, whether Wright runs or not. Because it is a city-level special election, there are no traditional party lines. The winner will serve for less than a year before having to run again in the fall, when all 51 Council seats will be on the ballot, as well as borough- and city-wide posts.</p> <p dir="ltr">Perkins promised, if elected, to seek out alliances within the Council and join its Progressive Caucus. He’ll focus on affordable housing, he said, “not as it’s defined by developers but as defined by what’s in the pocket of the people in the community.” He said he’s not overly confident, stressing that the race will be competitive.</p> <p dir="ltr">Perkins’ entry into the race hasn’t discouraged Holland, who is confident, especially given his union ties and organizing experience. Holland said in an interview that he is building a broad coalition of support including unions, district leaders, activists, and tenant leaders; he officially opened his new campaign headquarters Dec. 7.</p> <p dir="ltr">For Charles Cooper, the election is an opportunity to get Harlem residents involved in community decisions. “I think oftentimes, especially in a special election, you have very low turnout which isn’t representative of the district as a whole,” he said, underscoring the need to spread awareness of the election and to get voters engaged. Special elections are notoriously low-turnout.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cooper stressed the importance of people’s involvement, particularly after the election of Donald Trump as President. “We need to focus more and more on our local politics,” he said. “The City Council has a direct impact on the resources that come to our community.” Cooper, much like his opponents, said his campaign is a district-wide coalition of groups that will highlight issues of job creation, education, public safety, and housing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Immigration advocate Mamadou Drame said he’s been planning his run for District 9 for the last two years, spurred into action by an older generation that has been more passive towards politics. He said he’s lost faith in the current crop of elected officials, who “come to the district every four years for your vote and then forget about the community.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A Senegalese immigrant who has worked for years in immigrant services, he believes he’ll get support from the African immigrant population in Harlem. He’ll appeal to millennials and seniors alike, he said, with a campaign centered on reducing unemployment and “an inclusive approach to gentrification” that helps the community. “The question is, ‘how can we embrace development?,’” he said, “We can’t always be fighting it.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“We need to forge a path of new leadership,” said candidate Donald Fields, a managing partner at Fields &amp; Associates, a consultancy, who previously worked for the city’s child welfare agency. Fields emphasized the need for new blood to replace the “old guard” that has dominated the Harlem political scene for years. Although Fields said he respects them and their work, he believes that younger leaders will be able to bring about faster change.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like Holland others, Fields is also undeterred by facing Perkins in the race. “It hasn’t slowed down my passion,” he said. “It hasn’t stopped my zeal to win or my focus on what the district needs.” His biggest priority is fighting gentrification while encouraging necessary development.</p> <p>“Whoever wins this race must have a vision for the district and must be committed to deliver that vision,” Fields said. “That cannot be tied to backroom politics and special interests.”</p> <p>

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

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Keith Wright Weighs Options Amid Uptown Power Shifts 2016-09-18T04:00:00+00:00 2016-09-18T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6534:keith-wright-weighs-options-amid-uptown-power-shifts Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/dickens_wright.jpg" alt="dickens wright" width="600" height="434" /></p> <p>Keith Wright and Inez Dickens (photo via Wright's Assembly <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/mem/Keith-L-T-Wright/photos/" target="_blank">page</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>Before Assemblymember Keith Wright had conceded to Sen. Adriano Espaillat in their congressional race, speculation had already begun about which seat Wright would seek next if not victorious. Wright eliminated one option when he pledged in the heat of the race to replace retiring Rep. Charles Rangel that he would not seek reelection to the Assembly seat he has held since 1992. Wright challenged Espaillat to do the same as the state senator had repeatedly run for Congress only to return to the state Senate. Espaillat ignored the challenge.</p> <p>On congressional primary day in June, Espaillat claimed a narrow victory, leaving Wright calling for a recount, but soon community leaders brought pressure on Wright to move on and accept defeat, which he did. No political observer believed the pledge would keep Wright, a close ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and one of the state&rsquo;s most powerful Democrats and most prolific fundraisers, from seeking public office again.</p> <p>Now that state legislative primaries are over, another Wright ally, City Council Member Inez Dickens, appears set to replace him in the Assembly. She ran unopposed among Democrats for Wright&rsquo;s seat, raising a few eyebrows given that seats being vacated often attract multiple candidates.</p> <p>While initial rumors focused on Wright running for the State Senate or Dickens&rsquo; City Council seat, The New York Post <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/09/13/democratic-assemblyman-keith-wright-weighing-mayoral-run/" target="_blank">recently reported</a> that Wright associate Charlie King is trying to gauge reaction and garner support for a Wright mayoral bid. Wright&rsquo;s office didn&rsquo;t do much to downplay the possibility of a challenge to fellow Democrat Bill de Blasio, who is poised to run for re-election in 2017.</p> <p>Although Wright wasn&rsquo;t made available for an interview, spokesperson Emma Forbes sent a statement to Gotham Gazette implicitly confirming his interest in the mayoralty.</p> <p>&ldquo;Keith's always been an advocate for all New Yorkers, and especially for Communities of Color,&rdquo; Forbes wrote. &ldquo;I think that when you look around today and see many shared concerns and challenges left unaddressed, it makes you consider the role you have in fixing things in government, be it appointed or elected, city or state, big or small."</p> <p>Dan Levitan, spokesperson for de Blasio&rsquo;s campaign, responded with the same statement he gave to The Post: &ldquo;Under Mayor de Blasio, Crime just hit another all-time low, jobs are at record highs, the City is building and preserving affordable housing at a record pace, while graduation rates and test scores continue to improve. We are happy to match that record against anyone.&rdquo;</p> <p>As chair of the Manhattan County Democrats, Wright wields significant power and influence, and many observers believe he could easily clear the Democratic field in a special election to replace Dickens in the City Council. And if he wasn&rsquo;t able to intimidate or convince all other potential candidates from running, Wright has access to the forces he would need to quickly raise money and marshall overwhelming turnout for the special election, which would likely take place in March. Wright has brought his power to bear on past elections; in <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20150908/central-harlem/harlem-district-leader-insurgent-candidates-face-intimidation-threats" target="_blank">some cases</a> he has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5873-candidates-allege-wright-unfairly-influences-elections" target="_blank">accused of unfairly influencing certain contests</a>.</p> <p>While a mayoral run is probably less likely than a City Council one, the speculation does not end there. Wright is also touted as a possible replacement to Sen. Bill Perkins, who in such a scenario would run for and win Dickens&rsquo; Council seat, leaving his seat open for Wright. Perkins did not return calls for comment.</p> <p>Concerning speculation about Wright&rsquo;s legislative ambitions, Forbes said in a statement, "All options remain on the table, and the Assemblyman is carefully considering the best way to continue positively impacting the community that he loves."</p> <p>Council Member Dickens is on board if Wright decides to run to replace her. &ldquo;I will support him if he decides to run,&rdquo; Dickens told Gotham Gazette in an interview. &ldquo;I have not publically stated that, but I would be very interested in supporting him. He has done a phenomenal job in the Assembly.&rdquo;</p> <p>Dickens said that she knows Wright is weighing his options and that he has not made a decision yet. She told Gotham Gazette that she had no deal in place with Wright to clear the field for either of their seats or to swap positions. &ldquo;I did not in anyway have a deal with him other than to ask him if he was going to seek this seat and he said &ldquo;no,&rdquo; so I ran for it.&rdquo;</p> <p>Dickens noted that she will be term-limited out of the Council at the end of next year. She speculated that she faced no Democratic challengers for Wright&rsquo;s seat - which is centered in Harlem and represents almost exclusively Democrats - because of a number of factors, including the trips Assembly members must make to Albany, the last-minute nature of the opening, and what she said was insufficient pay for state legislators.</p> <p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re asking young people to go to college, get degrees, have bills they have to pay for it after they come out of school, have a family, have children that they have to take care of properly, and then tell them they have to live on $79,000 a year. The idea of free public service is over,&rdquo; Dickens told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>At this point in the process it appears there are a variety of contenders considering a run Dickens&rsquo; Council seat. As of July, four candidates had registered with the city Campaign Finance Board. One of those registered candidates, Charles Cooper, a businessman from Harlem, told Gotham Gazette that he expects a crowded field.</p> <p>&ldquo;This is a Democracy and I welcome everyone. I am going to focus on uniting the community,&rdquo; Cooper said. Asked if he was concerned about the prospect of Wright entering the race, Cooper said he respects Wright, but that it wouldn&rsquo;t impact his plans.</p> <p>Other registered candidates include Marvin Holland, an organizer for the Transportation Workers United union; Donald Fields, a businessman and advocate; and Shanette M. Gray. Fields is the only registered candidate to report any fundraising, but he&rsquo;d raised $165 as of July.</p> <p>A number of other names are being bandied about as potential candidates. They include Clyde Williams, who also ran to replace Rangel this Spring; Afua Atta-Mensah, a lawyer and former district leader candidate; and Sen. Perkins&rsquo; chief of staff Cordell Cleare.</p> <p>When Dickens officially wins the Assembly seat in November, she&rsquo;ll be set to replace Wright come January, and the machinations for a special City Council election will begin.</p> <p>Espaillat and his allies are paying close attention to Wright&rsquo;s moves as they hope to curtail any major challenges to his newly-won seat before they happen. Espaillat will be up for re-election in 2018.</p> <p>A number of Wright&rsquo;s allies insist he is still weighing whether to enter the private sector and spending time with his family, They say there is no bigger master plan at this point. To launch a campaign for any of the seats being mentioned, Wright would need to kick his fundraising apparatus into high gear quickly, although it would likely be far easier for him to raise the funds needed for a Council or state Senate run than a mayoral bid.</p> <p>Wright&rsquo;s Assembly campaign committee filed &ldquo;no activity&rdquo; statements with the state Board of Elections in January and July. Wright raised a total of $934,138 for his congressional bid, compared to Espaillat&rsquo;s $628,000. There is little doubt among political experts that Wright could secure the cash he needs to run a well-financed legislative campaign.</p> <p>&ldquo;I don't know really know what Keith&rsquo;s plans are at this point,&rdquo; Dickens told Gotham Gazette during the September 14 interview at City Hall. &ldquo;He had very difficult race, outraised all of his challengers, and it was a was fight to the finish. Keith worked very hard and it's difficult for any of us when you lose, so he's needed time to think and space to be with his family, who suffered a lot.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/dickens_wright.jpg" alt="dickens wright" width="600" height="434" /></p> <p>Keith Wright and Inez Dickens (photo via Wright's Assembly <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/mem/Keith-L-T-Wright/photos/" target="_blank">page</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>Before Assemblymember Keith Wright had conceded to Sen. Adriano Espaillat in their congressional race, speculation had already begun about which seat Wright would seek next if not victorious. Wright eliminated one option when he pledged in the heat of the race to replace retiring Rep. Charles Rangel that he would not seek reelection to the Assembly seat he has held since 1992. Wright challenged Espaillat to do the same as the state senator had repeatedly run for Congress only to return to the state Senate. Espaillat ignored the challenge.</p> <p>On congressional primary day in June, Espaillat claimed a narrow victory, leaving Wright calling for a recount, but soon community leaders brought pressure on Wright to move on and accept defeat, which he did. No political observer believed the pledge would keep Wright, a close ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and one of the state&rsquo;s most powerful Democrats and most prolific fundraisers, from seeking public office again.</p> <p>Now that state legislative primaries are over, another Wright ally, City Council Member Inez Dickens, appears set to replace him in the Assembly. She ran unopposed among Democrats for Wright&rsquo;s seat, raising a few eyebrows given that seats being vacated often attract multiple candidates.</p> <p>While initial rumors focused on Wright running for the State Senate or Dickens&rsquo; City Council seat, The New York Post <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/09/13/democratic-assemblyman-keith-wright-weighing-mayoral-run/" target="_blank">recently reported</a> that Wright associate Charlie King is trying to gauge reaction and garner support for a Wright mayoral bid. Wright&rsquo;s office didn&rsquo;t do much to downplay the possibility of a challenge to fellow Democrat Bill de Blasio, who is poised to run for re-election in 2017.</p> <p>Although Wright wasn&rsquo;t made available for an interview, spokesperson Emma Forbes sent a statement to Gotham Gazette implicitly confirming his interest in the mayoralty.</p> <p>&ldquo;Keith's always been an advocate for all New Yorkers, and especially for Communities of Color,&rdquo; Forbes wrote. &ldquo;I think that when you look around today and see many shared concerns and challenges left unaddressed, it makes you consider the role you have in fixing things in government, be it appointed or elected, city or state, big or small."</p> <p>Dan Levitan, spokesperson for de Blasio&rsquo;s campaign, responded with the same statement he gave to The Post: &ldquo;Under Mayor de Blasio, Crime just hit another all-time low, jobs are at record highs, the City is building and preserving affordable housing at a record pace, while graduation rates and test scores continue to improve. We are happy to match that record against anyone.&rdquo;</p> <p>As chair of the Manhattan County Democrats, Wright wields significant power and influence, and many observers believe he could easily clear the Democratic field in a special election to replace Dickens in the City Council. And if he wasn&rsquo;t able to intimidate or convince all other potential candidates from running, Wright has access to the forces he would need to quickly raise money and marshall overwhelming turnout for the special election, which would likely take place in March. Wright has brought his power to bear on past elections; in <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20150908/central-harlem/harlem-district-leader-insurgent-candidates-face-intimidation-threats" target="_blank">some cases</a> he has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5873-candidates-allege-wright-unfairly-influences-elections" target="_blank">accused of unfairly influencing certain contests</a>.</p> <p>While a mayoral run is probably less likely than a City Council one, the speculation does not end there. Wright is also touted as a possible replacement to Sen. Bill Perkins, who in such a scenario would run for and win Dickens&rsquo; Council seat, leaving his seat open for Wright. Perkins did not return calls for comment.</p> <p>Concerning speculation about Wright&rsquo;s legislative ambitions, Forbes said in a statement, "All options remain on the table, and the Assemblyman is carefully considering the best way to continue positively impacting the community that he loves."</p> <p>Council Member Dickens is on board if Wright decides to run to replace her. &ldquo;I will support him if he decides to run,&rdquo; Dickens told Gotham Gazette in an interview. &ldquo;I have not publically stated that, but I would be very interested in supporting him. He has done a phenomenal job in the Assembly.&rdquo;</p> <p>Dickens said that she knows Wright is weighing his options and that he has not made a decision yet. She told Gotham Gazette that she had no deal in place with Wright to clear the field for either of their seats or to swap positions. &ldquo;I did not in anyway have a deal with him other than to ask him if he was going to seek this seat and he said &ldquo;no,&rdquo; so I ran for it.&rdquo;</p> <p>Dickens noted that she will be term-limited out of the Council at the end of next year. She speculated that she faced no Democratic challengers for Wright&rsquo;s seat - which is centered in Harlem and represents almost exclusively Democrats - because of a number of factors, including the trips Assembly members must make to Albany, the last-minute nature of the opening, and what she said was insufficient pay for state legislators.</p> <p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re asking young people to go to college, get degrees, have bills they have to pay for it after they come out of school, have a family, have children that they have to take care of properly, and then tell them they have to live on $79,000 a year. The idea of free public service is over,&rdquo; Dickens told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>At this point in the process it appears there are a variety of contenders considering a run Dickens&rsquo; Council seat. As of July, four candidates had registered with the city Campaign Finance Board. One of those registered candidates, Charles Cooper, a businessman from Harlem, told Gotham Gazette that he expects a crowded field.</p> <p>&ldquo;This is a Democracy and I welcome everyone. I am going to focus on uniting the community,&rdquo; Cooper said. Asked if he was concerned about the prospect of Wright entering the race, Cooper said he respects Wright, but that it wouldn&rsquo;t impact his plans.</p> <p>Other registered candidates include Marvin Holland, an organizer for the Transportation Workers United union; Donald Fields, a businessman and advocate; and Shanette M. Gray. Fields is the only registered candidate to report any fundraising, but he&rsquo;d raised $165 as of July.</p> <p>A number of other names are being bandied about as potential candidates. They include Clyde Williams, who also ran to replace Rangel this Spring; Afua Atta-Mensah, a lawyer and former district leader candidate; and Sen. Perkins&rsquo; chief of staff Cordell Cleare.</p> <p>When Dickens officially wins the Assembly seat in November, she&rsquo;ll be set to replace Wright come January, and the machinations for a special City Council election will begin.</p> <p>Espaillat and his allies are paying close attention to Wright&rsquo;s moves as they hope to curtail any major challenges to his newly-won seat before they happen. Espaillat will be up for re-election in 2018.</p> <p>A number of Wright&rsquo;s allies insist he is still weighing whether to enter the private sector and spending time with his family, They say there is no bigger master plan at this point. To launch a campaign for any of the seats being mentioned, Wright would need to kick his fundraising apparatus into high gear quickly, although it would likely be far easier for him to raise the funds needed for a Council or state Senate run than a mayoral bid.</p> <p>Wright&rsquo;s Assembly campaign committee filed &ldquo;no activity&rdquo; statements with the state Board of Elections in January and July. Wright raised a total of $934,138 for his congressional bid, compared to Espaillat&rsquo;s $628,000. There is little doubt among political experts that Wright could secure the cash he needs to run a well-financed legislative campaign.</p> <p>&ldquo;I don't know really know what Keith&rsquo;s plans are at this point,&rdquo; Dickens told Gotham Gazette during the September 14 interview at City Hall. &ldquo;He had very difficult race, outraised all of his challengers, and it was a was fight to the finish. Keith worked very hard and it's difficult for any of us when you lose, so he's needed time to think and space to be with his family, who suffered a lot.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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

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</p>
Rangel’s Replacement Decided, Other Uptown Races Take Shape 2016-06-30T04:00:00+00:00 2016-06-30T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6423:with-rangel-s-replacement-decided-other-uptown-races-take-shape Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/espaillat_wright_presser_june_30_2016.jpg" alt="espaillat wright presser june 30 2016" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>Espaillat &amp; co at unity press conference (photo via @EspaillatNY)</p> <hr /> <p>After 46 years and 23 terms, voters in the 13th Congressional District in Harlem have chosen someone other than Rep. Charles Rangel to represent them. The retiring 86-year-old, a legendary figure in Harlem&rsquo;s political scene, appeared to want to extend his legacy by keeping the seat he had held for decades in the hands of an experienced politician of his choosing, but changing community demographics, a 2012 redistricting, and a crowded 2016 Democratic primary field seem to have thwarted his efforts.</p> <p>State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who lost to Rangel in the 2012 and 2014 Democratic primaries, appears to have edged out a 1,200-vote win over his closest challenger and Rangel&rsquo;s prefered successor, Assemblymember Keith Wright. After initially refusing to concede, calling for every vote to be counted, and demanding a federal investigation into voter suppression, Wright declared Espaillat the winner on Thursday. Rangel, Espaillat, and Wright held a unity meeting and press conference, with Espaillat saying he expected to have Rangel as a mentor.</p> <p>Espaillat would be the first Dominican and the first formerly undocumented member of Congress. His win gives a boon to Hispanic political power, in New York City and elsewhere, while also showing a decline the strength of black political power in Harlem and nearby. In this heavily Democratic district, the winner of the party primary is a lock to win the November general.</p> <p>The outcome has other implications, too, especially around the state Legislature, with a game of musical chairs appearing to commence.</p> <p>While every vote in the NY-13 race is indeed counted, Espaillat&rsquo;s apparent congressional victory lends clarity to the race for his state Senate seat and raises questions about Wright&rsquo;s political future.</p> <p>Wright, who chairs the powerful Assembly housing committee, pledged in early June not to seek reelection to his Assembly seat should he lose and challenged Espaillat to promise not to run for his Senate seat should his bid fall short. Espaillat&rsquo;s camp dismissed the pledge as &ldquo;desperate.&rdquo; State legislative primaries are in September.</p> <p>Contenders have lined up for both seats. Micah Lasher, a former chief of staff to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, launched a campaign last month with the caveat that he would drop out if Espaillat lost his congressional bid and sought reelection to the Senate. With Espaillat&rsquo;s victory Lasher now seems locked in for a primary battle against former City Council Member Robert Jackson, who challenged Espaillat in 2014. Jackson endorsed Wright in the congressional primary and attended Thursday&rsquo;s press conference.</p> <p>So far that race has featured Jackson <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/micah-lasher-hit-ties-pro-charter-group-blog-entry-1.2613159" target="_blank">attacking Lasher</a> for his previous work for education reform group StudentsFirstNY, a pro-charter school group that has campaigned against Senate Democrats. Lasher&rsquo;s camp has in turn pointed out that Lasher has personally supported Democratic candidates. Lasher has been consolidating support among many elected Democrats, though the race will gain even more clarity now that Espaillat's future is clear.</p> <p>Less clear is the future of Wright&rsquo;s Assembly seat. Wright endorsed City Council Member Inez Dickens to replace him (she was also at Thursday&rsquo;s press conference), but with his loss many Harlem insiders wonder if Wright could renege on his promise. Wright may decide, though, to run for the Council seat Dickens is said to be leaving. There is plenty of chatter about Wright positioning himself to challenge Espaillat in two years, especially if he can work to ensure that there are fewer other black candidates in the running.</p> <p>On Wednesday, Wright&rsquo;s campaign invited reporters to an event featuring Wright and Rev. Al Sharpton, who had held a fiery rally condemning Wright&rsquo;s opponents last weekend. Wright didn&rsquo;t appear at the event and Sharpton struck a conciliatory tone, asking the district to come together to support Espaillat - which is what happened on Thursday.</p> <p>&ldquo;We need to have a climate of coming together, and not of acrimony and rancor that pits communities against communities inside the district,&rdquo; Sharpton told reporters. Espaillat&rsquo;s statement on Wednesday echoed Sharpton&rsquo;s pleas for unity. &ldquo;To those who voted for one of my worthy opponents - I pledge to work my heart out to represent you, knowing that our district is not a Latino or black or Asian district. It's a district that belongs to all of us, and we simply cannot succeed unless all of us are moving forward together," Espaillat said.</p> <p><a href="http://observer.com/2016/06/after-weekend-race-rant-al-sharpton-wants-coming-together-in-rangels-district/" target="_blank">According to The Observer</a>, Charlie King, Wright&rsquo;s top advisor, who did attend the event on Wednesday, appeared to dismiss the possibility of Wright positioning himself for a future congressional run. &ldquo;I either see him in Congress, or I see him hanging out with me in the private sector, having fun and going to the beach,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I would anticipate that whoever wins this race will likely hold the seat for years to come.&rdquo;</p> <p>What Wright does about his Assembly seat is the next shoe to drop as the Lasher-Jackson Senate race heats up. Dickens was an active supporter of Wright&rsquo;s congressional campaign and appears keen to move to the Assembly. She will be term-limited out of the Council at the end of 2017. There are no term limits for state legislators, Wright has served in the Assembly since 1992. Neither Wright&rsquo;s nor Dickens&rsquo; representatives responded to requests for comment for this story.</p> <p>The practice of trading City Council and state legislative seats is fairly common and easily achievable due to the facts that almost all races in New York City are decided during the Democratic primary and city and state elections do not occur in the same years. Current Council Member Inez Barron ran for her husband Charles Barron&rsquo;s Council seat after he was term-limited out of office - he then successfully ran for her Assembly seat the following year.</p> <p>The practice has an extremely high success rate because the Democratic County Committees have major sway in who runs and gets political and financial backing. Wright is the head of the Manhattan Democrats and would likely be able to maneuver himself into an easily winnable race should he choose to do so.</p> <p>If he does indeed decline to seek re-election, his replacement will be chosen in September&rsquo;s primary (agian, by virtue of the fact that there is virtually no Republican presence in Upper Manhattan). If Dickens were to win the seat, she would leave the Council and Wright could then run in the special election to replace her.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/espaillat_wright_presser_june_30_2016.jpg" alt="espaillat wright presser june 30 2016" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>Espaillat &amp; co at unity press conference (photo via @EspaillatNY)</p> <hr /> <p>After 46 years and 23 terms, voters in the 13th Congressional District in Harlem have chosen someone other than Rep. Charles Rangel to represent them. The retiring 86-year-old, a legendary figure in Harlem&rsquo;s political scene, appeared to want to extend his legacy by keeping the seat he had held for decades in the hands of an experienced politician of his choosing, but changing community demographics, a 2012 redistricting, and a crowded 2016 Democratic primary field seem to have thwarted his efforts.</p> <p>State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who lost to Rangel in the 2012 and 2014 Democratic primaries, appears to have edged out a 1,200-vote win over his closest challenger and Rangel&rsquo;s prefered successor, Assemblymember Keith Wright. After initially refusing to concede, calling for every vote to be counted, and demanding a federal investigation into voter suppression, Wright declared Espaillat the winner on Thursday. Rangel, Espaillat, and Wright held a unity meeting and press conference, with Espaillat saying he expected to have Rangel as a mentor.</p> <p>Espaillat would be the first Dominican and the first formerly undocumented member of Congress. His win gives a boon to Hispanic political power, in New York City and elsewhere, while also showing a decline the strength of black political power in Harlem and nearby. In this heavily Democratic district, the winner of the party primary is a lock to win the November general.</p> <p>The outcome has other implications, too, especially around the state Legislature, with a game of musical chairs appearing to commence.</p> <p>While every vote in the NY-13 race is indeed counted, Espaillat&rsquo;s apparent congressional victory lends clarity to the race for his state Senate seat and raises questions about Wright&rsquo;s political future.</p> <p>Wright, who chairs the powerful Assembly housing committee, pledged in early June not to seek reelection to his Assembly seat should he lose and challenged Espaillat to promise not to run for his Senate seat should his bid fall short. Espaillat&rsquo;s camp dismissed the pledge as &ldquo;desperate.&rdquo; State legislative primaries are in September.</p> <p>Contenders have lined up for both seats. Micah Lasher, a former chief of staff to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, launched a campaign last month with the caveat that he would drop out if Espaillat lost his congressional bid and sought reelection to the Senate. With Espaillat&rsquo;s victory Lasher now seems locked in for a primary battle against former City Council Member Robert Jackson, who challenged Espaillat in 2014. Jackson endorsed Wright in the congressional primary and attended Thursday&rsquo;s press conference.</p> <p>So far that race has featured Jackson <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/micah-lasher-hit-ties-pro-charter-group-blog-entry-1.2613159" target="_blank">attacking Lasher</a> for his previous work for education reform group StudentsFirstNY, a pro-charter school group that has campaigned against Senate Democrats. Lasher&rsquo;s camp has in turn pointed out that Lasher has personally supported Democratic candidates. Lasher has been consolidating support among many elected Democrats, though the race will gain even more clarity now that Espaillat's future is clear.</p> <p>Less clear is the future of Wright&rsquo;s Assembly seat. Wright endorsed City Council Member Inez Dickens to replace him (she was also at Thursday&rsquo;s press conference), but with his loss many Harlem insiders wonder if Wright could renege on his promise. Wright may decide, though, to run for the Council seat Dickens is said to be leaving. There is plenty of chatter about Wright positioning himself to challenge Espaillat in two years, especially if he can work to ensure that there are fewer other black candidates in the running.</p> <p>On Wednesday, Wright&rsquo;s campaign invited reporters to an event featuring Wright and Rev. Al Sharpton, who had held a fiery rally condemning Wright&rsquo;s opponents last weekend. Wright didn&rsquo;t appear at the event and Sharpton struck a conciliatory tone, asking the district to come together to support Espaillat - which is what happened on Thursday.</p> <p>&ldquo;We need to have a climate of coming together, and not of acrimony and rancor that pits communities against communities inside the district,&rdquo; Sharpton told reporters. Espaillat&rsquo;s statement on Wednesday echoed Sharpton&rsquo;s pleas for unity. &ldquo;To those who voted for one of my worthy opponents - I pledge to work my heart out to represent you, knowing that our district is not a Latino or black or Asian district. It's a district that belongs to all of us, and we simply cannot succeed unless all of us are moving forward together," Espaillat said.</p> <p><a href="http://observer.com/2016/06/after-weekend-race-rant-al-sharpton-wants-coming-together-in-rangels-district/" target="_blank">According to The Observer</a>, Charlie King, Wright&rsquo;s top advisor, who did attend the event on Wednesday, appeared to dismiss the possibility of Wright positioning himself for a future congressional run. &ldquo;I either see him in Congress, or I see him hanging out with me in the private sector, having fun and going to the beach,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I would anticipate that whoever wins this race will likely hold the seat for years to come.&rdquo;</p> <p>What Wright does about his Assembly seat is the next shoe to drop as the Lasher-Jackson Senate race heats up. Dickens was an active supporter of Wright&rsquo;s congressional campaign and appears keen to move to the Assembly. She will be term-limited out of the Council at the end of 2017. There are no term limits for state legislators, Wright has served in the Assembly since 1992. Neither Wright&rsquo;s nor Dickens&rsquo; representatives responded to requests for comment for this story.</p> <p>The practice of trading City Council and state legislative seats is fairly common and easily achievable due to the facts that almost all races in New York City are decided during the Democratic primary and city and state elections do not occur in the same years. Current Council Member Inez Barron ran for her husband Charles Barron&rsquo;s Council seat after he was term-limited out of office - he then successfully ran for her Assembly seat the following year.</p> <p>The practice has an extremely high success rate because the Democratic County Committees have major sway in who runs and gets political and financial backing. Wright is the head of the Manhattan Democrats and would likely be able to maneuver himself into an easily winnable race should he choose to do so.</p> <p>If he does indeed decline to seek re-election, his replacement will be chosen in September&rsquo;s primary (agian, by virtue of the fact that there is virtually no Republican presence in Upper Manhattan). If Dickens were to win the seat, she would leave the Council and Wright could then run in the special election to replace her.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Community Engagement Prized by Participatory Budgeting Proponents 2016-04-07T18:47:38+00:00 2016-04-07T18:47:38+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6269:community-engagement-prized-by-participatory-budgeting-proponents Super User <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25700400915_2985da0461_z.jpg" alt="menchaca constituent" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Menchaca with a constituent (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>For City Council Member Carlos Menchaca and his staff, the Participatory Budgeting Vote Week that just ended was the culmination of a year-long effort to encourage project proposals and votes from communities that are traditionally excluded from politics. Through PB, community members decide how $1-2 million in funding is allocated toward neighborhood improvements. Menchaca’s district, which includes immigrant-rich Brooklyn neighborhoods of Sunset Park and Red Hook, is one of 28 districts running the program in the 51-member City Council, but it is the most active.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, Menchaca’s constituents recorded the city’s highest number of participatory budgeting (PB) votes, a total of 6,299. Although this is double the amount of voters from the prior year’s cycle, it is still only a fraction of eligible voters, as the district has a population of 164,230 — about 80% of which is over the PB voting age of 14, according to the 2010 <a href="http://nyc.pediacities.com/Resource/CityCouncil/38" target="_blank">census</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, two-thirds of the votes from those who chose to participate were on non-English ballots and almost one-quarter were from people who couldn’t vote in regular elections, such as people under the age of 18 and immigrants without U.S. citizenship. These data give Menchaca and other supporters of PB energy to push forward despite criticism of the program.</p> <p dir="ltr">“What we’re doing with PB is removing as many obstacles as possible to get every voice in the community connected to a decision, like a community project,” Menchaca told Gotham Gazette in an interview during vote week, which was March 26-April 3.</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca and other Council members typically begin the PB outreach process in September, when workshops are held for residents to come together and share ideas about what should be improved or changed in their communities. This year in Menchaca’s district, fully translated workshops were held in Spanish and Chinese. Throughout the year, regular updates on scheduled events are sent through more traditional methods like phone calls, text messages, and emails. Residents are also updated via social media outlets like Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter.</p> <p dir="ltr">A voting site at the Red Hook Initiative community center, run by volunteers from local high schools, forecasted some success for Menchaca’s community outreach efforts as excited teenagers encouraged their friends to vote. These youth organizers had also been working throughout the year by attending training sessions, collecting project proposals, and organizing mobile voting locations. When they set up their Red Hook Initiative site, they were determined to collect 1,000 ballots by the following day.</p> <p dir="ltr">The majority of volunteers and voters at the vote week event would not have been eligible to participate in a regular election because of their age, but PB votes are open to residents as young as 14. Tea Cruz, a 16-year-old student, voted with her younger family members in mind. She wanted the local playgrounds to be renovated so that the equipment isn’t rusty and broken when her newborn cousin is old enough to play there. She was also concerned about her younger sister’s middle school, where the library is too outdated for the students to find their books easily.</p> <p dir="ltr">Along with playground renovations and new library technology, there were 11 other projects on the <a href="http://labs.council.nyc/districts/38/" target="_blank">District 38 ballot</a> this year. Other school improvement proposals included air conditioning installations, lockers for students who are currently required to carry their belongings with them throughout the day, and repairs to auditoriums, bathrooms, and science labs. Brooklyn Community Boards 6 and 7 called for street repairs, including filling potholes and repainting lines. There were also two district-wide proposals for new trees throughout each neighborhood and electronic signs at bus stops with the location and arrival time of each bus.</p> <p dir="ltr">PB projects are only for these types of physical investments in a neighborhood, known as capital projects. Critics of PB say that many these are projects that city agencies are supposed to take care of through the normal city budgeting process, and that the role for Council members it is to be a liaison between their communities and city agencies, while also influencing the overall city budget. Still, Council members do receive funds to disburse in their communities and many members are now allowing their constituents control over a portion of those funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Menchaca’s district, each voter could support up to five different projects. Informational expos were held before and throughout vote week for residents to learn about each proposal. At the Red Hook Initiative site, a room in the community center was filled with colorful science-fair style posters made by young volunteers, detailing the potential benefits and costs of each project. Voters were encouraged to read all the information before handing in their ballots. Many of the teen-aged voters lingered in front of the posters, questioning details of each project.</p> <p dir="ltr">Youth Council Member Frank Edwin Guzman, Jr., who is mentored by Menchaca, thinks that the perspectives of his peers are an important part of improving the community. After entering the New York City Youth Council program, his goal is to eventually be the youngest Council member in the city (Menchaca is currently among the youngest). In the near future, Guzman would also like to see every City Council member running PB.</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca also hopes to see more City Council participation. Although 28 districts in New York City already run PB, the system still faces some criticism, both from within and outside the Council. In a recent <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/political-itch/2016/03/25/ny1-itch--i-don-t-want-to-participate.html" target="_blank">column</a>, NY1 Political Director Bob Hardt argued that PB places too much of the Council member’s responsibility on residents and hurts the poorer parts of districts that aren’t usually politically involved. Menchaca finds that PB has the potential to do the opposite if the right effort is made.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The people who are going to eventually become participants in PB are the people that you invite to the table,” Menchaca said, emphasizing “invite.” “If you only invite rich, engaged people then you’re only going to get rich, engaged people,” he continued. “It’s not an accident that two-thirds of the votes coming in are in Spanish and Chinese. It won’t be an accident if only rich, privileged people come out and vote for PB. It’s a direct reflection of the leadership that you place in power to engage the people.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca also responded to the criticism that PB takes power away from Council members.</p> <p dir="ltr">“What we’re trying to do is not consolidate power for one person to make decisions or go out and find solutions, but what we’re doing is actually increasing power within the community to develop leaders who are knowledgeable of city agency processes to help make a collective decision about where to place dollars,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Other critics point out that the entire PB process might be unnecessary. In a recent <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/errol-louis-nyc-budget-ain-amateurs-article-1.2588397" target="_blank">column</a> for the New York Daily News, NY1 political anchor Errol Louis pointed out that PB only makes up 0.04% of the city’s budget, labeling the process as “painfully low-stakes.” He argues that if it were really the great process participating Council members promote it to be, residents would be allowed to vote on billion-dollar decisions, rather than where to allocate $1 million or $2 million. Louis also echoes Hardt’s point about putting decision-making responsibilities into the wrong hands.</p> <p dir="ltr">“And if a budget decision goes wrong — if, say, events prove we should have bought NYPD cameras instead of renovating the senior center — participatory budgeting scatters the responsibility, letting the Council member off the hook,” he wrote.</p> <p dir="ltr">In an <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5946-participatory-budgeting-grows-in-nyc-why-isnt-every-council-member-doing-it" target="_blank">article</a> published here last year, Council members not running PB in their districts cited the heavy commitment as a deterrent.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Participatory budgeting takes an extraordinary amount of office time and resources for no discernible improvement in outcomes over working through the existing vast civic infrastructure for public participation,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, who represents District 24 in Queens.</p> <p dir="ltr">A press secretary for Council Member Inez Dickens, representative of District 9 in Harlem, explained that local community boards are the most practical way for residents to express the same opinions, concerns or proposal ideas that PB encourages. This was a point raised by Louis in his recent column.</p> <p dir="ltr">As more City Council members decide whether or not to run PB, Menchaca thinks that the future of the program lies in more funding. Last year, a project for increased Wi-Fi throughout the NYCHA public housing developments in Red Hook couldn’t receive PB funding even though it garnered more than 3,000 votes. Menchaca had already allocated all of his available funds to winning projects such as district-wide technology updates, playground lighting, bathroom renovations, and outdoor fitness equipment in Sunset Park. He went to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who was able to <a href="http://brooklyn-usa.org/bp-adams-announces-brooklyn-wide-expansion-of-participatory-budgeting/" target="_blank">expand</a> PB this year with a commitment of an extra $100,000 to 10 different districts, for a total of $1 million, to support winning projects. Adams is the first borough president to make such a funding decision.</p> <p dir="ltr">“PB is a revolutionary approach to growing democracy from the ground up, and this partnership with the City Council will cultivate that growth even further, funding more capital projects and engaging more potential voters,” Adams wrote in the press release.</p> <p dir="ltr">Along with the continued support of the borough president, Menchaca would also like to encourage the mayor’s office and more city agencies, such as the Parks Department, the School Construction Authority, and the Department of Transportation, to look to PB votes for ideas about how to spend their own money. He believes that PB could be a valuable resource for the mayor’s office and its agencies by showing the city government what residents really want and need, therefore creating a more direct relationship between city agencies and residents. If the city were to directly increase PB funding, it could help improve outreach efforts, according to Menchaca.</p> <p>“It takes money to engage the communities we’re engaging,” he said. “Especially when they don’t speak the language and there’s low literacy rates, for example, and you have to translate everything. I think the city can understand that gap of resources and bring us more translation, more literacy classes in our communities, bring us more money to teach people how to organize.”</p> <p>***<br />by Carmen Russo, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a>&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/carmenjrusso" target="_blank">@carmenjrusso</a></p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25700400915_2985da0461_z.jpg" alt="menchaca constituent" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Menchaca with a constituent (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>For City Council Member Carlos Menchaca and his staff, the Participatory Budgeting Vote Week that just ended was the culmination of a year-long effort to encourage project proposals and votes from communities that are traditionally excluded from politics. Through PB, community members decide how $1-2 million in funding is allocated toward neighborhood improvements. Menchaca’s district, which includes immigrant-rich Brooklyn neighborhoods of Sunset Park and Red Hook, is one of 28 districts running the program in the 51-member City Council, but it is the most active.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, Menchaca’s constituents recorded the city’s highest number of participatory budgeting (PB) votes, a total of 6,299. Although this is double the amount of voters from the prior year’s cycle, it is still only a fraction of eligible voters, as the district has a population of 164,230 — about 80% of which is over the PB voting age of 14, according to the 2010 <a href="http://nyc.pediacities.com/Resource/CityCouncil/38" target="_blank">census</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, two-thirds of the votes from those who chose to participate were on non-English ballots and almost one-quarter were from people who couldn’t vote in regular elections, such as people under the age of 18 and immigrants without U.S. citizenship. These data give Menchaca and other supporters of PB energy to push forward despite criticism of the program.</p> <p dir="ltr">“What we’re doing with PB is removing as many obstacles as possible to get every voice in the community connected to a decision, like a community project,” Menchaca told Gotham Gazette in an interview during vote week, which was March 26-April 3.</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca and other Council members typically begin the PB outreach process in September, when workshops are held for residents to come together and share ideas about what should be improved or changed in their communities. This year in Menchaca’s district, fully translated workshops were held in Spanish and Chinese. Throughout the year, regular updates on scheduled events are sent through more traditional methods like phone calls, text messages, and emails. Residents are also updated via social media outlets like Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter.</p> <p dir="ltr">A voting site at the Red Hook Initiative community center, run by volunteers from local high schools, forecasted some success for Menchaca’s community outreach efforts as excited teenagers encouraged their friends to vote. These youth organizers had also been working throughout the year by attending training sessions, collecting project proposals, and organizing mobile voting locations. When they set up their Red Hook Initiative site, they were determined to collect 1,000 ballots by the following day.</p> <p dir="ltr">The majority of volunteers and voters at the vote week event would not have been eligible to participate in a regular election because of their age, but PB votes are open to residents as young as 14. Tea Cruz, a 16-year-old student, voted with her younger family members in mind. She wanted the local playgrounds to be renovated so that the equipment isn’t rusty and broken when her newborn cousin is old enough to play there. She was also concerned about her younger sister’s middle school, where the library is too outdated for the students to find their books easily.</p> <p dir="ltr">Along with playground renovations and new library technology, there were 11 other projects on the <a href="http://labs.council.nyc/districts/38/" target="_blank">District 38 ballot</a> this year. Other school improvement proposals included air conditioning installations, lockers for students who are currently required to carry their belongings with them throughout the day, and repairs to auditoriums, bathrooms, and science labs. Brooklyn Community Boards 6 and 7 called for street repairs, including filling potholes and repainting lines. There were also two district-wide proposals for new trees throughout each neighborhood and electronic signs at bus stops with the location and arrival time of each bus.</p> <p dir="ltr">PB projects are only for these types of physical investments in a neighborhood, known as capital projects. Critics of PB say that many these are projects that city agencies are supposed to take care of through the normal city budgeting process, and that the role for Council members it is to be a liaison between their communities and city agencies, while also influencing the overall city budget. Still, Council members do receive funds to disburse in their communities and many members are now allowing their constituents control over a portion of those funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Menchaca’s district, each voter could support up to five different projects. Informational expos were held before and throughout vote week for residents to learn about each proposal. At the Red Hook Initiative site, a room in the community center was filled with colorful science-fair style posters made by young volunteers, detailing the potential benefits and costs of each project. Voters were encouraged to read all the information before handing in their ballots. Many of the teen-aged voters lingered in front of the posters, questioning details of each project.</p> <p dir="ltr">Youth Council Member Frank Edwin Guzman, Jr., who is mentored by Menchaca, thinks that the perspectives of his peers are an important part of improving the community. After entering the New York City Youth Council program, his goal is to eventually be the youngest Council member in the city (Menchaca is currently among the youngest). In the near future, Guzman would also like to see every City Council member running PB.</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca also hopes to see more City Council participation. Although 28 districts in New York City already run PB, the system still faces some criticism, both from within and outside the Council. In a recent <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/political-itch/2016/03/25/ny1-itch--i-don-t-want-to-participate.html" target="_blank">column</a>, NY1 Political Director Bob Hardt argued that PB places too much of the Council member’s responsibility on residents and hurts the poorer parts of districts that aren’t usually politically involved. Menchaca finds that PB has the potential to do the opposite if the right effort is made.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The people who are going to eventually become participants in PB are the people that you invite to the table,” Menchaca said, emphasizing “invite.” “If you only invite rich, engaged people then you’re only going to get rich, engaged people,” he continued. “It’s not an accident that two-thirds of the votes coming in are in Spanish and Chinese. It won’t be an accident if only rich, privileged people come out and vote for PB. It’s a direct reflection of the leadership that you place in power to engage the people.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca also responded to the criticism that PB takes power away from Council members.</p> <p dir="ltr">“What we’re trying to do is not consolidate power for one person to make decisions or go out and find solutions, but what we’re doing is actually increasing power within the community to develop leaders who are knowledgeable of city agency processes to help make a collective decision about where to place dollars,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Other critics point out that the entire PB process might be unnecessary. In a recent <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/errol-louis-nyc-budget-ain-amateurs-article-1.2588397" target="_blank">column</a> for the New York Daily News, NY1 political anchor Errol Louis pointed out that PB only makes up 0.04% of the city’s budget, labeling the process as “painfully low-stakes.” He argues that if it were really the great process participating Council members promote it to be, residents would be allowed to vote on billion-dollar decisions, rather than where to allocate $1 million or $2 million. Louis also echoes Hardt’s point about putting decision-making responsibilities into the wrong hands.</p> <p dir="ltr">“And if a budget decision goes wrong — if, say, events prove we should have bought NYPD cameras instead of renovating the senior center — participatory budgeting scatters the responsibility, letting the Council member off the hook,” he wrote.</p> <p dir="ltr">In an <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5946-participatory-budgeting-grows-in-nyc-why-isnt-every-council-member-doing-it" target="_blank">article</a> published here last year, Council members not running PB in their districts cited the heavy commitment as a deterrent.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Participatory budgeting takes an extraordinary amount of office time and resources for no discernible improvement in outcomes over working through the existing vast civic infrastructure for public participation,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, who represents District 24 in Queens.</p> <p dir="ltr">A press secretary for Council Member Inez Dickens, representative of District 9 in Harlem, explained that local community boards are the most practical way for residents to express the same opinions, concerns or proposal ideas that PB encourages. This was a point raised by Louis in his recent column.</p> <p dir="ltr">As more City Council members decide whether or not to run PB, Menchaca thinks that the future of the program lies in more funding. Last year, a project for increased Wi-Fi throughout the NYCHA public housing developments in Red Hook couldn’t receive PB funding even though it garnered more than 3,000 votes. Menchaca had already allocated all of his available funds to winning projects such as district-wide technology updates, playground lighting, bathroom renovations, and outdoor fitness equipment in Sunset Park. He went to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who was able to <a href="http://brooklyn-usa.org/bp-adams-announces-brooklyn-wide-expansion-of-participatory-budgeting/" target="_blank">expand</a> PB this year with a commitment of an extra $100,000 to 10 different districts, for a total of $1 million, to support winning projects. Adams is the first borough president to make such a funding decision.</p> <p dir="ltr">“PB is a revolutionary approach to growing democracy from the ground up, and this partnership with the City Council will cultivate that growth even further, funding more capital projects and engaging more potential voters,” Adams wrote in the press release.</p> <p dir="ltr">Along with the continued support of the borough president, Menchaca would also like to encourage the mayor’s office and more city agencies, such as the Parks Department, the School Construction Authority, and the Department of Transportation, to look to PB votes for ideas about how to spend their own money. He believes that PB could be a valuable resource for the mayor’s office and its agencies by showing the city government what residents really want and need, therefore creating a more direct relationship between city agencies and residents. If the city were to directly increase PB funding, it could help improve outreach efforts, according to Menchaca.</p> <p>“It takes money to engage the communities we’re engaging,” he said. “Especially when they don’t speak the language and there’s low literacy rates, for example, and you have to translate everything. I think the city can understand that gap of resources and bring us more translation, more literacy classes in our communities, bring us more money to teach people how to organize.”</p> <p>***<br />by Carmen Russo, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a>&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/carmenjrusso" target="_blank">@carmenjrusso</a></p> Participatory Budgeting Grows in NYC - Why Isn’t Every Council Member Doing It? 2015-10-22T19:36:43+00:00 2015-10-22T19:36:43+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5946:participatory-budgeting-grows-in-nyc-why-isnt-every-council-member-doing-it Super User <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/PB_NYC_East_Harlem.jpg" alt="PB NYC East Harlem" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p dir="ltr">PB voting in East Harlem, photo <a href="http://pbnyc.org/blog/15" target="_blank">via PB NYC</a></p> <hr /> <p>In four years participatory budgeting has exploded from four to 27 New York City Council districts. With over 51,000 voters casting ballots last cycle to allocate a total of $32 million dollars to projects across the city, New York‘s experiment in direct democracy has quickly become the largest of its kind in North America.</p> <p dir="ltr">"This is the biggest year of participatory budgeting yet, with 27 Council members asking their constituents to decide how to spend at least $1 million on improvements in their communities...this is truly what democracy is about,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, an early PB adopter, said at a recent conference on advancing the city’s progressive agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Monday, October 26, Mark-Viverito and her colleagues will be recognized for their efforts at a ceremony in Manhattan where they will be presented with an innovation award and corresponding $100,000 prize. Last month, Harvard University‘s John F. Kennedy School of Government recognized the growth and impact of participatory budgeting in New York City by <a href="http://ash.harvard.edu/news/new-york-san-francisco-named-winners-harvards-2015-innovation-american-government-award" target="_blank">awarding</a> the Council the Roy and Lila Ash Innovation Award for Public Engagement in Government.</p> <p dir="ltr">The award “spotlights...programs that engage all citizens, particularly those from overlooked communities, and that serve as effective models of participatory democracy for other communities throughout the United States,” says Stephen Goldsmith, the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and the Director of the Ash Center’s Government Innovation Program.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council members decide individually whether to run participatory budgeting in their home districts, and exactly how much of their capital budget allocation to devote to public determination, with $1 million the minimum. Capital projects are infrastructure items, like playgrounds, dog runs, and neighborhood benches. They can also include technology for schools, like laptops.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under Mark-Viverito, who became Speaker in early 2014, the Council has promoted PB expansion and provided greater support through its central staff to those Council members opting in.</p> <p dir="ltr">With more than half of the City Council’s 51 members now running the program - and much fanfare around it - it is curious to some why all members haven’t adopted the program. In the latest PB cycle, <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/pb/districts.shtml" target="_blank">the city's fifth</a>, which began this fall, only three additional Council members signed on, increasing participation slightly from the 24 who ran the program last year, when there was a major jump after an election that saw many new, young, and progressive candidates elected.</p> <p dir="ltr">What’s holding the remaining Council members back? Gotham Gazette sent emails to representatives of six Council members not running PB, only two of whom responded: representatives of Council Members Rory Lancman, of Queens, and Inez Dickens, of Manhattan (both Democrats), explained their rationale.</p> <p dir="ltr">One common theme in the two responses is that participatory budgeting provides superfluous community input. There are already sufficient avenues of constituent-Council member interaction, and it is already up to Council members to take constituent opinions into consideration when allocating the funding they have to work with.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Local community boards, which are composed by local residents and constituents, submit to their local council members their capital priorities, projects, and concerns,” wrote Council Member Dickens’ press secretary, Frances Escano. “As the collective voice of the community, their expressed views on the capital projects that need funding provide a significant input on what needs must be addressed.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Lancman‘s reply gets at a concern expressed by other Council members Gotham Gazette has spoken to: the significant staff time and energy that PB requires. "Participatory budgeting takes an extraordinary amount of office time and resources for no discernible improvement in outcomes over working through the existing vast civic infrastructure for public participation,” Lancman said in a statement. “My district does not lack for opportunities and vehicles for community engagement, which I'm proud to say my constituents take ample advantage of."</p> <p dir="ltr">These responses seem to miss the point, says David Beasley, Communications Director for the Participatory Budgeting Project, the nonprofit that helps run the program. “Participatory budgeting should not replicate the existing power structures,“ he asserted in an interview with Gotham Gazette, “that‘s not what PB is for.“</p> <p dir="ltr">According to a press release from Speaker Mark-Viverito’s office, the <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/pr/052015pb.shtml" target="_blank">voter demographics</a> from the most recent PB vote (ballots were cast in April at the end of the 2014-2015 cycle) serve as a shining example of this ideal. Nearly 60 percent of PB voters identified as people of color; approximately one in ten were under 18; nearly 30 percent reported an annual household income of $25,000 or below; more than a quarter were born outside of the U.S.; nearly a quarter reported a barrier to voting in regular elections, with one in ten reporting they were not U.S. citizens; and 63 percent identified as female.</p> <p dir="ltr">Participatory budgeting allows votes from anyone living in the City Council district at hand, with the exception, in most cases, of those younger than 16. Some Council members have allowed those as young as 14 to vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">In their 2014-2015 <a href="https://cdp.urbanjustice.org/sites/default/files/CDP.WEB.doc_Report_PBNYC_cycle4findings_20151021.pdf" target="_blank">Participatory Budgeting Report,</a> released Tuesday, October 20, the Urban Justice Center and PBNYC showcase another telling statistic: 51 percent of PB voters, “were not part of a community group or organization.“ That is to say, it is many voices not present on community boards, PTAs, neighborhood civic associations, et. al. that participatory budgeting incorporates into public discourse. In Council Member Carlos Menchaca‘s Brooklyn district, to give one example, more monolingual, non-English speakers voted for a PB project than did in the general election when Menchaca was chosen in 2013.</p> <p dir="ltr">The direct democracy, ability to shape one’s neighborhood, and low barrier to entry seem to be the cause of the participation outlined above.</p> <p dir="ltr">Through a series of public assemblies, residents work with elected officials over a period of eight months to identify neighborhood concerns, create projects to address them, and put the ones with the most interest to a vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">The practice culminates when district residents fill out ballots to allocate at least $1 million in capital funding toward proposals developed by the community to meet local needs. Absent much of the typical bureaucracy of community politics, participatory budgeting lures previously dormant New Yorkers into the public sphere.</p> <p dir="ltr">PBNYC, the umbrella organization uniting the City Council, the Participatory Budgeting Project, the outreach nonprofit Community Voices Heard, and 63 community-based organizations across the city, oversees the entire operation; and the coalition continues to launch new ways to wrangle more participants. The organization‘s recently launched “Ideas Map“ is one of their major additions for the just-started 2015-2016 cycle. Anybody who wants to can go online and submit their capital funding idea for their district, specifying the project’s location on the digital outline of NYC. (A tip: participating PB Council districts are lit up, but eager residents can post suggestions in non-PB districts as well. Perhaps a nudge toward more Council enrollment.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn let on in an interview with Gotham Gazette that Council members‘ decisions to not run PB may be about more than already getting “significant input” from their constituents. Confining community recommendations to established local channels is a way for Council Members to retain their power, Williams said. While legislators can largely choose to reject suggestions from community boards, participatory budgeting completely cedes a portion of a Council member‘s budget to popular vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">"It's one thing to receive input, it's another thing for someone to actually vote on it and for it to be a binding decision," said Williams, whose district 45 residents last year <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/d45/html/members/pb45.shtml" target="_blank">elected to spend</a> over $300,000 on schools including classroom computers, smartboards, and renovated bathrooms.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/19844312434_608ca41ee7_z.jpg" alt="Jumaane Williams" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" width="400" height="267" /><span style="text-align: center;">(CM Williams - photo: William Alatriste)</span></p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Menchaca - whose district 38 constituents cast over 6,000 ballots last year, <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/d38/html/members/pb38.shtml" target="_blank">also allocating</a>&nbsp;funds for a litany of school upgrades in addition to outdoor fitness equipment for Sunset Park - takes Williams' point a step further. Menchaca sees resistance to PB as stemming from an overly cautious, controlling, and outdated form of governing.</p> <p dir="ltr">“One of the main things that I get in resistance from members or other people...is the fallacy that I am relinquishing power,” Menchaca says, “because I got elected to make these decisions - what am I doing giving it back to the people?...I think that‘s just an old-school way of understanding the role of government and the role of people and the role of democracy, a true participatory democracy that empowers people in decision making.“</p> <p dir="ltr">While Menchaca is clearly a true-believer, and puts his money where his mouth is, other Council members run the program, but to a more limited degree.</p> <p dir="ltr">“You may miss some very good projects...if there is no other way to get some things funded,” says Williams, acknowledging that not everything on a PB ballot will get funded.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lancman‘s other reason for not participating in PB--that it requires “an extraordinary amount of office time and resources for no discernible improvement in outcomes“--may hold the most weight. It is something that other Council members have expressed concerns about in off-the-record conversations.</p> <p dir="ltr">The $32 million spent last year on participatory budgeting projects represents just .4 percent of the average $7.9 billion spent on city capital projects annually (2003-2012), according to an <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/IBOCBG.pdf" target="_blank">IBO report</a>. Yet implementing a robust and dedicated PB program drains Council members of a significant amount of effort and resources - during the height of PB season, Council members often have to dedicate one staff member (of units that usually only run about five deep) to PB full-time, with others chipping in part of their time.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It is a commitment,” says Williams, “there’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You jump in, you can’t really jump partially in...It touches most of my staff in different ways.“</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca also acknowledges the effort required. “This has to be your priority,” he says, “Everything is built around PB in [my] office. It is at the core of what I do.” Even with this type of attention the council member says, he needs more resources. “I could use another five people to help staff the PB portion of my operations.“</p> <p dir="ltr">Budget info, as seen in the IBO report, shows that over the course of three years from 2013-2016, Council members are committed to spending $1.765 billion in capital funds. Divided by 51 Council members (though the money is not evenly divided), this comes out to about $34.6 million each over the course of those four fiscal years, or $8.65 million per Council member per year. In that context, $1-2 million toward participatory budgeting in a given year is fairly significant.</p> <p dir="ltr">The benefits of participatory budgeting also extend outside of its explicit function. The most notable of these benefits, according to the Urban Justice Center report, include better informed policy decisions, increased resident trust in government, and more cohesive community bonds.</p> <p dir="ltr">On a practical level, needs revealed by the participatory budgeting process can inform and direct further non-PB government spending. In its 2013-2014 <a href="https://cdp.urbanjustice.org/sites/default/files/CDP.WEB.doc_Report_PBNYC-cycle3-FullReport_20141030.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, the Urban Justice Center found that seven out of ten Council members running PB programs used their capital expense funds left over from the PB process to implement projects suggested during PB that did not garner enough support to be selected by constituents.</p> <p dir="ltr">The same report also suggests how participatory budgeting has the power to affect city-wide change. Following a flood of PB proposals to renovate decrepit school bathrooms, the DOE elected to dedicate $100 million to repair deteriorated lavatories - $50 million more than it had promised. The increase in funding came out to three times the amount spent on all PB-designated capital projects that year.</p> <p dir="ltr">On top of this, Council members acquire valuable, new community contacts through participatory budgeting. “I‘m developing social networks that didn‘t exist before...and...I‘m utilizing the networks that I‘m building here to deal with the other issues outside of PB,” says Menchaca.</p> <p dir="ltr">As an example, he cites a recently-made connection with an employee of BioBAT, a bio-tech incubator, “maybe I can get her involved in organizing small-businesses if there is an infrastructure issue,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18486805868_f8e5a0ce42_z.jpg" alt="Menchaca" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" width="400" height="267" />(CM Menchaca, left - photo: William Alatriste)</p> <p dir="ltr">The benefits of these new networks go both ways, too, as the Urban Justice Center report found that by working with Council members and city agencies to create and implement capital projects, community members develop greater trust in government. Confident that Council members will be responsive to their input, residents feel free to reach out to their representatives if an issue comes up - even outside PB.</p> <p dir="ltr">In one case detailed by Beasley, of the Participatory Budgeting Project, this past year Council Member Menchaca was considering a large development project in the middle of a local park. Community members caught wind of the project and pushed back hard. They insisted it would cost too much money. According to Beasley, Menchaca paused, reevaluated the project and said 'I think you‘re right. We have this money in the budget; what should we spend it on to make this park better?'</p> <p dir="ltr">It is this type of empowerment that Council Member Williams was seeking when he first started his PB program five years ago. “The most important thing that I do is probably pass the budget and that’s the thing that my constituents understand the least,” Williams told Gotham Gazette. “[Participatory Budgeting] was a good meld of empowering and allowing people to get involved in the budget process. It allows them to get their hands dirty.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Increased public awareness of discretionary funds is something the city could use too. Also known as “member items,“ discretionary funds have historically been one of the most abused pots of <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/br-guest-participatory-budgeting-tool-corruption-article-1.1323640?localLinksEnabled=false" target="_blank">City</a> <a href="http://nypost.com/2013/07/09/mayoral-hopefuls-roast-council-pork/" target="_blank">Council</a> <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/280438-participatory-budgeting-and-member-items/" target="_blank">money</a>. It was no coincidence that Speaker Mark-Viverito‘s decision to provide centralized funding to PB came in conjunction with several rules making discretionary funds more equitable and <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2014/05/8545406/mark-viverito-cements-victory-rules-reform" target="_blank">transparent</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">This summer, Council Member Brad Lander of Brooklyn, also an early PB adopter, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5863-map-launched-to-bring-greater-accountability-to-capital-spending" target="_blank">launched an interactive map</a> that tracks capital projects in his district, including those funded through PB and not. Lander <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5863-map-launched-to-bring-greater-accountability-to-capital-spending" target="_blank">told Gotham Gazette</a> that "the long-term answers is a citywide system that tracks all capital projects" so that constituents can see the progress of government-funded efforts.</p> <p dir="ltr">The first years of PBNYC saw expansion by just a few districts per year after the initial class of four. It was only in the fourth year, when, after an election and under Mark-Viverito, the City Council dedicated centralized resources to PB and the number jumped by 14.</p> <p dir="ltr">In this sense, though, David Beasley doesn‘t see this year’s three district growth as anything abnormal.</p> <p dir="ltr">Participatory Budgeting, “hasn’t had time to stabilize and really set in,” he said. “It is still almost brand new...For some people PB is an obvious answer, for others they want to see that it works.“</p> <p dir="ltr">He‘s quick to add, “we think it‘s been proven through the evaluations from the Urban Justice Center...but we‘ll see how the reports continue to go.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Menchaca is convinced and sees the growth of PB as inevitable, but that it might take just a couple more years. “I think we need to elect new people,” Menchaca said regarding those who don't run the program in their districts, “[PB] becomes a political strategy for empowerment.“</p> <p dir="ltr">Gensis-Muelens Dixon, a 13-year-old from the Flatbush area and a constituent of Council Member Williams, is feeling empowered. Together with his mother Taja Dixon, Co-Chair of District 45 Participatory Budgeting, he wants to secure funding to turn an empty plot of land into a community garden.</p> <p>The pair proposed their idea at Williams' inaugural PB assembly, which Gotham Gazette attended. Their project aims to supply fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as foster the same community spirit the two have come to appreciate through participatory budgeting. As the meeting came to an end, Gensis gave a quick word to Gotham Gazette about his experience in the two years he and his mother have been participating in PB.</p> <p>"It is really amazing how much people think about their community," he said. "Usually, in this area at least, you would think that some people just don't care and to see that this many people care about these little things in their community is inspiring."&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Colin O’Connor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/PB_NYC_East_Harlem.jpg" alt="PB NYC East Harlem" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p dir="ltr">PB voting in East Harlem, photo <a href="http://pbnyc.org/blog/15" target="_blank">via PB NYC</a></p> <hr /> <p>In four years participatory budgeting has exploded from four to 27 New York City Council districts. With over 51,000 voters casting ballots last cycle to allocate a total of $32 million dollars to projects across the city, New York‘s experiment in direct democracy has quickly become the largest of its kind in North America.</p> <p dir="ltr">"This is the biggest year of participatory budgeting yet, with 27 Council members asking their constituents to decide how to spend at least $1 million on improvements in their communities...this is truly what democracy is about,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, an early PB adopter, said at a recent conference on advancing the city’s progressive agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Monday, October 26, Mark-Viverito and her colleagues will be recognized for their efforts at a ceremony in Manhattan where they will be presented with an innovation award and corresponding $100,000 prize. Last month, Harvard University‘s John F. Kennedy School of Government recognized the growth and impact of participatory budgeting in New York City by <a href="http://ash.harvard.edu/news/new-york-san-francisco-named-winners-harvards-2015-innovation-american-government-award" target="_blank">awarding</a> the Council the Roy and Lila Ash Innovation Award for Public Engagement in Government.</p> <p dir="ltr">The award “spotlights...programs that engage all citizens, particularly those from overlooked communities, and that serve as effective models of participatory democracy for other communities throughout the United States,” says Stephen Goldsmith, the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and the Director of the Ash Center’s Government Innovation Program.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council members decide individually whether to run participatory budgeting in their home districts, and exactly how much of their capital budget allocation to devote to public determination, with $1 million the minimum. Capital projects are infrastructure items, like playgrounds, dog runs, and neighborhood benches. They can also include technology for schools, like laptops.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under Mark-Viverito, who became Speaker in early 2014, the Council has promoted PB expansion and provided greater support through its central staff to those Council members opting in.</p> <p dir="ltr">With more than half of the City Council’s 51 members now running the program - and much fanfare around it - it is curious to some why all members haven’t adopted the program. In the latest PB cycle, <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/pb/districts.shtml" target="_blank">the city's fifth</a>, which began this fall, only three additional Council members signed on, increasing participation slightly from the 24 who ran the program last year, when there was a major jump after an election that saw many new, young, and progressive candidates elected.</p> <p dir="ltr">What’s holding the remaining Council members back? Gotham Gazette sent emails to representatives of six Council members not running PB, only two of whom responded: representatives of Council Members Rory Lancman, of Queens, and Inez Dickens, of Manhattan (both Democrats), explained their rationale.</p> <p dir="ltr">One common theme in the two responses is that participatory budgeting provides superfluous community input. There are already sufficient avenues of constituent-Council member interaction, and it is already up to Council members to take constituent opinions into consideration when allocating the funding they have to work with.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Local community boards, which are composed by local residents and constituents, submit to their local council members their capital priorities, projects, and concerns,” wrote Council Member Dickens’ press secretary, Frances Escano. “As the collective voice of the community, their expressed views on the capital projects that need funding provide a significant input on what needs must be addressed.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Lancman‘s reply gets at a concern expressed by other Council members Gotham Gazette has spoken to: the significant staff time and energy that PB requires. "Participatory budgeting takes an extraordinary amount of office time and resources for no discernible improvement in outcomes over working through the existing vast civic infrastructure for public participation,” Lancman said in a statement. “My district does not lack for opportunities and vehicles for community engagement, which I'm proud to say my constituents take ample advantage of."</p> <p dir="ltr">These responses seem to miss the point, says David Beasley, Communications Director for the Participatory Budgeting Project, the nonprofit that helps run the program. “Participatory budgeting should not replicate the existing power structures,“ he asserted in an interview with Gotham Gazette, “that‘s not what PB is for.“</p> <p dir="ltr">According to a press release from Speaker Mark-Viverito’s office, the <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/pr/052015pb.shtml" target="_blank">voter demographics</a> from the most recent PB vote (ballots were cast in April at the end of the 2014-2015 cycle) serve as a shining example of this ideal. Nearly 60 percent of PB voters identified as people of color; approximately one in ten were under 18; nearly 30 percent reported an annual household income of $25,000 or below; more than a quarter were born outside of the U.S.; nearly a quarter reported a barrier to voting in regular elections, with one in ten reporting they were not U.S. citizens; and 63 percent identified as female.</p> <p dir="ltr">Participatory budgeting allows votes from anyone living in the City Council district at hand, with the exception, in most cases, of those younger than 16. Some Council members have allowed those as young as 14 to vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">In their 2014-2015 <a href="https://cdp.urbanjustice.org/sites/default/files/CDP.WEB.doc_Report_PBNYC_cycle4findings_20151021.pdf" target="_blank">Participatory Budgeting Report,</a> released Tuesday, October 20, the Urban Justice Center and PBNYC showcase another telling statistic: 51 percent of PB voters, “were not part of a community group or organization.“ That is to say, it is many voices not present on community boards, PTAs, neighborhood civic associations, et. al. that participatory budgeting incorporates into public discourse. In Council Member Carlos Menchaca‘s Brooklyn district, to give one example, more monolingual, non-English speakers voted for a PB project than did in the general election when Menchaca was chosen in 2013.</p> <p dir="ltr">The direct democracy, ability to shape one’s neighborhood, and low barrier to entry seem to be the cause of the participation outlined above.</p> <p dir="ltr">Through a series of public assemblies, residents work with elected officials over a period of eight months to identify neighborhood concerns, create projects to address them, and put the ones with the most interest to a vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">The practice culminates when district residents fill out ballots to allocate at least $1 million in capital funding toward proposals developed by the community to meet local needs. Absent much of the typical bureaucracy of community politics, participatory budgeting lures previously dormant New Yorkers into the public sphere.</p> <p dir="ltr">PBNYC, the umbrella organization uniting the City Council, the Participatory Budgeting Project, the outreach nonprofit Community Voices Heard, and 63 community-based organizations across the city, oversees the entire operation; and the coalition continues to launch new ways to wrangle more participants. The organization‘s recently launched “Ideas Map“ is one of their major additions for the just-started 2015-2016 cycle. Anybody who wants to can go online and submit their capital funding idea for their district, specifying the project’s location on the digital outline of NYC. (A tip: participating PB Council districts are lit up, but eager residents can post suggestions in non-PB districts as well. Perhaps a nudge toward more Council enrollment.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn let on in an interview with Gotham Gazette that Council members‘ decisions to not run PB may be about more than already getting “significant input” from their constituents. Confining community recommendations to established local channels is a way for Council Members to retain their power, Williams said. While legislators can largely choose to reject suggestions from community boards, participatory budgeting completely cedes a portion of a Council member‘s budget to popular vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">"It's one thing to receive input, it's another thing for someone to actually vote on it and for it to be a binding decision," said Williams, whose district 45 residents last year <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/d45/html/members/pb45.shtml" target="_blank">elected to spend</a> over $300,000 on schools including classroom computers, smartboards, and renovated bathrooms.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/19844312434_608ca41ee7_z.jpg" alt="Jumaane Williams" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" width="400" height="267" /><span style="text-align: center;">(CM Williams - photo: William Alatriste)</span></p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Menchaca - whose district 38 constituents cast over 6,000 ballots last year, <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/d38/html/members/pb38.shtml" target="_blank">also allocating</a>&nbsp;funds for a litany of school upgrades in addition to outdoor fitness equipment for Sunset Park - takes Williams' point a step further. Menchaca sees resistance to PB as stemming from an overly cautious, controlling, and outdated form of governing.</p> <p dir="ltr">“One of the main things that I get in resistance from members or other people...is the fallacy that I am relinquishing power,” Menchaca says, “because I got elected to make these decisions - what am I doing giving it back to the people?...I think that‘s just an old-school way of understanding the role of government and the role of people and the role of democracy, a true participatory democracy that empowers people in decision making.“</p> <p dir="ltr">While Menchaca is clearly a true-believer, and puts his money where his mouth is, other Council members run the program, but to a more limited degree.</p> <p dir="ltr">“You may miss some very good projects...if there is no other way to get some things funded,” says Williams, acknowledging that not everything on a PB ballot will get funded.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lancman‘s other reason for not participating in PB--that it requires “an extraordinary amount of office time and resources for no discernible improvement in outcomes“--may hold the most weight. It is something that other Council members have expressed concerns about in off-the-record conversations.</p> <p dir="ltr">The $32 million spent last year on participatory budgeting projects represents just .4 percent of the average $7.9 billion spent on city capital projects annually (2003-2012), according to an <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/IBOCBG.pdf" target="_blank">IBO report</a>. Yet implementing a robust and dedicated PB program drains Council members of a significant amount of effort and resources - during the height of PB season, Council members often have to dedicate one staff member (of units that usually only run about five deep) to PB full-time, with others chipping in part of their time.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It is a commitment,” says Williams, “there’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You jump in, you can’t really jump partially in...It touches most of my staff in different ways.“</p> <p dir="ltr">Menchaca also acknowledges the effort required. “This has to be your priority,” he says, “Everything is built around PB in [my] office. It is at the core of what I do.” Even with this type of attention the council member says, he needs more resources. “I could use another five people to help staff the PB portion of my operations.“</p> <p dir="ltr">Budget info, as seen in the IBO report, shows that over the course of three years from 2013-2016, Council members are committed to spending $1.765 billion in capital funds. Divided by 51 Council members (though the money is not evenly divided), this comes out to about $34.6 million each over the course of those four fiscal years, or $8.65 million per Council member per year. In that context, $1-2 million toward participatory budgeting in a given year is fairly significant.</p> <p dir="ltr">The benefits of participatory budgeting also extend outside of its explicit function. The most notable of these benefits, according to the Urban Justice Center report, include better informed policy decisions, increased resident trust in government, and more cohesive community bonds.</p> <p dir="ltr">On a practical level, needs revealed by the participatory budgeting process can inform and direct further non-PB government spending. In its 2013-2014 <a href="https://cdp.urbanjustice.org/sites/default/files/CDP.WEB.doc_Report_PBNYC-cycle3-FullReport_20141030.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, the Urban Justice Center found that seven out of ten Council members running PB programs used their capital expense funds left over from the PB process to implement projects suggested during PB that did not garner enough support to be selected by constituents.</p> <p dir="ltr">The same report also suggests how participatory budgeting has the power to affect city-wide change. Following a flood of PB proposals to renovate decrepit school bathrooms, the DOE elected to dedicate $100 million to repair deteriorated lavatories - $50 million more than it had promised. The increase in funding came out to three times the amount spent on all PB-designated capital projects that year.</p> <p dir="ltr">On top of this, Council members acquire valuable, new community contacts through participatory budgeting. “I‘m developing social networks that didn‘t exist before...and...I‘m utilizing the networks that I‘m building here to deal with the other issues outside of PB,” says Menchaca.</p> <p dir="ltr">As an example, he cites a recently-made connection with an employee of BioBAT, a bio-tech incubator, “maybe I can get her involved in organizing small-businesses if there is an infrastructure issue,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18486805868_f8e5a0ce42_z.jpg" alt="Menchaca" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" width="400" height="267" />(CM Menchaca, left - photo: William Alatriste)</p> <p dir="ltr">The benefits of these new networks go both ways, too, as the Urban Justice Center report found that by working with Council members and city agencies to create and implement capital projects, community members develop greater trust in government. Confident that Council members will be responsive to their input, residents feel free to reach out to their representatives if an issue comes up - even outside PB.</p> <p dir="ltr">In one case detailed by Beasley, of the Participatory Budgeting Project, this past year Council Member Menchaca was considering a large development project in the middle of a local park. Community members caught wind of the project and pushed back hard. They insisted it would cost too much money. According to Beasley, Menchaca paused, reevaluated the project and said 'I think you‘re right. We have this money in the budget; what should we spend it on to make this park better?'</p> <p dir="ltr">It is this type of empowerment that Council Member Williams was seeking when he first started his PB program five years ago. “The most important thing that I do is probably pass the budget and that’s the thing that my constituents understand the least,” Williams told Gotham Gazette. “[Participatory Budgeting] was a good meld of empowering and allowing people to get involved in the budget process. It allows them to get their hands dirty.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Increased public awareness of discretionary funds is something the city could use too. Also known as “member items,“ discretionary funds have historically been one of the most abused pots of <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/br-guest-participatory-budgeting-tool-corruption-article-1.1323640?localLinksEnabled=false" target="_blank">City</a> <a href="http://nypost.com/2013/07/09/mayoral-hopefuls-roast-council-pork/" target="_blank">Council</a> <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/280438-participatory-budgeting-and-member-items/" target="_blank">money</a>. It was no coincidence that Speaker Mark-Viverito‘s decision to provide centralized funding to PB came in conjunction with several rules making discretionary funds more equitable and <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2014/05/8545406/mark-viverito-cements-victory-rules-reform" target="_blank">transparent</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">This summer, Council Member Brad Lander of Brooklyn, also an early PB adopter, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5863-map-launched-to-bring-greater-accountability-to-capital-spending" target="_blank">launched an interactive map</a> that tracks capital projects in his district, including those funded through PB and not. Lander <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5863-map-launched-to-bring-greater-accountability-to-capital-spending" target="_blank">told Gotham Gazette</a> that "the long-term answers is a citywide system that tracks all capital projects" so that constituents can see the progress of government-funded efforts.</p> <p dir="ltr">The first years of PBNYC saw expansion by just a few districts per year after the initial class of four. It was only in the fourth year, when, after an election and under Mark-Viverito, the City Council dedicated centralized resources to PB and the number jumped by 14.</p> <p dir="ltr">In this sense, though, David Beasley doesn‘t see this year’s three district growth as anything abnormal.</p> <p dir="ltr">Participatory Budgeting, “hasn’t had time to stabilize and really set in,” he said. “It is still almost brand new...For some people PB is an obvious answer, for others they want to see that it works.“</p> <p dir="ltr">He‘s quick to add, “we think it‘s been proven through the evaluations from the Urban Justice Center...but we‘ll see how the reports continue to go.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Menchaca is convinced and sees the growth of PB as inevitable, but that it might take just a couple more years. “I think we need to elect new people,” Menchaca said regarding those who don't run the program in their districts, “[PB] becomes a political strategy for empowerment.“</p> <p dir="ltr">Gensis-Muelens Dixon, a 13-year-old from the Flatbush area and a constituent of Council Member Williams, is feeling empowered. Together with his mother Taja Dixon, Co-Chair of District 45 Participatory Budgeting, he wants to secure funding to turn an empty plot of land into a community garden.</p> <p>The pair proposed their idea at Williams' inaugural PB assembly, which Gotham Gazette attended. Their project aims to supply fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as foster the same community spirit the two have come to appreciate through participatory budgeting. As the meeting came to an end, Gensis gave a quick word to Gotham Gazette about his experience in the two years he and his mother have been participating in PB.</p> <p>"It is really amazing how much people think about their community," he said. "Usually, in this area at least, you would think that some people just don't care and to see that this many people care about these little things in their community is inspiring."&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Colin O’Connor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p>