Gotham Gazette Thu, 22 Mar 2018 17:39:39 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing the Public Advocate & Comptroller Debates

Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette

October 18, 2017 - Max & Murphy: Analyzing the Public Advocate and Comptroller Debates

brigid at debate nyc votesThe lone public advocate and comptroller debates of the election cycle occurred on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. Brigid Bergin of WNYC radio (pictured, middle) was one of the panelists asking questions at the comptroller debate between incumbent Democrat Scott Stringer and Republican challenger Michel Faulkner, and she joins this episode of Max & Murphy to recap and analyze that debate and the debate between incumbent Democrat Letitia James and Republican challenger J.C. Polanco in the public advocate race.

Bergin, Max, and Murphy also discussed the state of the mayoral race as we are less than three weeks before Election Day, November 7. The second and final mayoral debate is set for November 1.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy. You can hear the episode through the embedded audio below or download it wherever you get your podcasts.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing the Public Advocate & Comptroller Debates Wed, 18 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Public Advocate Debate Shows Stark Differences Between James and Polanco Tish James JC Polanco public advocate debate via nyc votes

James & Polanco at their debate (photo: @NYCVotes)

Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat running for reelection, squared off against her Republican opponent, J.C. Polanco, in a friendly yet competitive debate on Monday that highlighted substantive differences, and some shared opinions, between the two candidates on a range of policy issues. Given the race features an incumbent, the debate centered in large part on James’ record as public advocate over the last four years, especially her performance in holding the mayoral administration accountable.

Hosted at the CUNY Graduate Center in front of a small, closed audience, the debate was the first and only to be held in the public advocate race leading up to Election Day, November 7. It was held at James’ discretion -- she agreed to debate Polanco despite his failure to meet the financial thresholds to qualify for an official Campaign Finance Board-sponsored debate.

The two candidates butted heads, albeit respectfully, through the hurried hour-long debate, articulating sharp contrasting opinions on rent regulations, charter schools, criminal justice issues, and the overarching role of the public advocate’s office as an ombudsman for the city. While James touted her record, Polanco referenced his qualifications stemming from his work for the state Assembly minority conference and his past role as president of the city Board of Elections. He called himself a “common sense” Republican.

Early on, Polanco sought to paint James as a too-close ally of Mayor Bill de Blasio who has failed to stand up to the mayor and the progressive-dominated City Council, a pitch that has been at the center of his campaign along with proposals to strengthen the independence of the public advocate’s office. Polanco believes the office should have investigative and subpoena powers over city agencies, which would require a city charter revision approved by voters, as well as funding equivalent to the much larger comptroller’s office.

James, an experienced litigator, has used her legal skills to inform the core functions of her office. Over the last four years, she said she has worked “to transform the office into a vehicle for social and economic justice for all,” claiming to have resolved more than 30,000 constituent complaints and touting the passage of more legislation than all her four predecessors together. She highlighted her signature legislative achievement: a new law that bans employers from asking job candidates their salary histories, which is aimed at closing the gender pay gap.

James has sued the city 11 times, but has been bounced from several cases for lack of standing. James had to defend her approach early on in the debate when asked by moderator and NY1 anchor Errol Louis whether she sought to win those lawsuits or just make headlines by filing suits.

“I make no apologies for standing up for those without a voice,” James responded, insisting that she would continue to do so and noting that she is working with members of the City Council on a potential legislative solution to codify her ability to sue the city and its agencies. She also cited several instances where she had been victorious, including a lawsuit to make Department of Education School Leadership Team meetings open to the public and another in favor of seniors who were being denied rent increase exemptions by the city.

Polanco agreed that the public advocate should have broader standing in the right to sue the city administration, but pointed out that James would continue to fail until given the statutory authority. Himself an attorney, Polanco sharply stated that it was obvious that James did not have standing in cases. “You’ve had over two million minutes in office, I know in my first minute, as soon as I get there, that we have to work very closely on a public education campaign to get this question on the ballot so that cases stop getting thrown out of court,” he said.

It was one of the few issues the two candidates agreed on. James has called for subpoena power for the office in the past, which she repeated Monday, and said the mayor “should not hold the purse strings to the office of the public advocate.”

Both candidates disagreed with debate moderator Brian Lehrer from WNYC, when he suggested that perhaps the public advocate might be more effective if they represented a different political party than the mayor. James has been a close ally of de Blasio and endorsed him for reelection. “I stand with the mayor when I agree with him, and I oppose him when he’s wrong,” she said, pointing out instances when she has critiqued his administration, such as when the mayor opposed creating a stand-alone agency for veterans affairs or when she challenged him over the lack of air-conditioned buses for disabled school children.

“I don’t think that Tish has been as independent of the mayor as she claims,” said Polanco, stressing that he had heard little consternation from James when the mayor and his administration were embroiled in a pay-to-play scandal. “There’s a whole myriad of times where I think this public advocate has been very quiet and silent to make sure that the mayor’s on her good side and that the voters who are constantly with the mayor are with her in four years.” He said he would have no problem “going toe-to-toe with Republicans” if he were in the office.

Neither James nor Polanco supports de Blasio’s homelessness-fighting plan that includes opening 90 new shelters while halting the use of hotels and cluster site apartments. Polanco was direct, blaming the mayor’s mismanagement for the problem and insisting that new shelters would burden neighborhoods that are already inundated with shelters. “This is gonna just help two people,” Polanco said, “One, the mayor because he’s gonna get this problem off his back. And two, wealthy developers that are gonna benefit from building these new shelters.”

James, on the other hand, delivered a meandering response that delved into the need for “bold leadership” and housing bond legislation to encourage the creation of affordable housing in the city. When NY1’s Louis sought more clarity, she said, “I think at this point in time what we really need to do is look for other initiatives in the city of New York to address homelessness...what we really need to do is think bolder and we need to make sure that the two individuals, the governor and the mayor of the city of New York, two individuals with oversized egos, resolve this issue so that we don’t have countless numbers of individuals that are homeless this evening.”

“So I’m gonna take that as a ‘no’ on the 90 shelters,” Louis noted.

A clear distinction emerged between the two candidates on how they view the public advocate’s office as a voice in police accountability. James has been a vocal proponent of criminal justice reform and she recounted her efforts to unseal the grand jury transcripts from the Eric Garner case, touted her support for reforming the grand jury system, for releasing the disciplinary records of officers charged with misconduct, and for advocating for the NYPD’s body camera program and shot-spotter technology. She noted that she led the movement for the city’s pension funds to divest from gun retailers as well.

“It’s really critically important that we be a voice in the criminal justice system,” she said. She also said that she is still reviewing the City Council’s long-proposed Right to Know Act -- that would require officers to identify themselves during certain street stops and inform people of their right to refuse a search in some instances -- but said she supports its objectives.

Polanco sought yet again to tie James to de Blasio, critiquing the mayor for creating a hostile attitude toward the NYPD and criticizing James for standing with him. “Frankly, this city has gone through an enormous political campaign against police,” he said, “including adding all of these layers and layers of actually monitoring their job performance, which really strangles the police from active policing.” He did concede that in cases where an officer violates a person’s constitutional rights, the release of disciplinary records is warranted.

The candidates had an opportunity to cross-examine each other, which Polanco seized on to question James’ support for de Blasio despite his proximity to lobbyists and consultants with clients who had business with the city. “How could you in good conscience endorse the mayor for reelection?” he asked. James deflected, speaking of the larger issue of campaign finance reform and the need to repeal the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. (Polanco jokingly praised her masterful deflection. “That was good, how you did that,” he chuckled.)

James asked Polanco about his position on workers’ rights, and whether he would picket with the employees of Spectrum, currently in the seventh month of a strike against their parent employer Charter Communications, which owns NY1. Polanco agreed that labor unions have the right to strike, but said elected officials should stay out of this case, which involves a private union.

Asked about the rent freezes that de Blasio has repeatedly touted as one of his biggest achievements for low-income New Yorkers, Polanco called them a mistake and made a forceful argument against rent regulations and other policies, referencing what he called the city’s “army of social engineers” that he said have exacerbated problems. He said the city’s policies were disincentivizing landlords who are “hard-working people just like ourselves” and that not all of them are “evil landlords” that should be put on a list, taking a sly dig at the public advocate, whose office famously puts out the “100 Worst Landlords” list every year. “We really have to take a look at the way we’re getting involved in engineering the market to create a social outcome,” Polanco said, offering a somewhat typical conservative assessment of meddling in the free market.

While James agreed with Polanco that the city needs to reform the system of tax breaks given to luxury developers in exchange for creating affordable housing, she staunchly backed the rent freezes enacted under de Blasio’s administration. “I think it’s really critically important that we stand up and strike back against market forces and gentrification,” she said.

The issue that divided James and Polanco the most was charter schools. Earlier, the debate briefly veered into the issue when Polanco suggested James’ opposition to them was because of her partisan affiliation with the mayor. James insisted, “All I want charter schools to do is play by the same rules and to be held accountable and obviously to be accessible to all children in the city of New York.” She later criticized charter networks that have zero-tolerance discipline policies and high staff turnover, and that tend to exclude homeless and disabled students. She emphasized instead that the state should live up to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling and provide sufficient funding to all public schools.

Polanco, a long-time educator, disagreed. “This is not an issue about money, this is an issue about the culture of education in our inner cities,” he said. He decried the “ultra-left” city leadership, particularly the City Council, that he said conflates discipline with racism. Polanco promised that as public advocate he would push for a major expansion of charter schools. James said she has been supportive of some charter schools in the past and is a proponent of school choice, but that she maintains her critiques of some charter schools and networks.

There were some moments of levity at the debate, particularly during a lightning round of mostly “yes” or “no” questions near its conclusion. Polanco said that in November he will vote for a constitutional convention while James said it was “too risky.” Both were critical of district attorneys being allowed to accept campaign donations from people with business before them. James supports the legalization of small amounts of marijuana while Polanco opposes it. And while James had never voted for a member of the opposite party, Polanco said he had.

“Wanna tell us who?” Louis ventured.

“Tish!” Polanco said, with a wry smile, eliciting laughs from the entire room.

The exchange was perhaps telling of the fact that Democrats have a massive enrollment advantage in the city. Combined with her immense lead in fundraising, James is a heavy favorite to win a second term come November, though Polanco has proven a substantive and thoughtful candidate. Other public advocate candidates who will be on the ballot include Green Party nominee James Lane, Libertarian Devin Balkind, and Conservative Party nominee Michael O’Reilly.

The James-Polanco debate concluded much as it had begun, with James stressing the importance of the checks and balances provided by her office. “You can get work done and be quite effective, but you need to reimagine the office,” she said. For Polanco, winning the office itself will be a battle, in a city where there are six registered Democrats to every registered Republican. He readily acknowledged that Monday night. Everyone knows trying to win citywide office as a Republican is an uphill battle, he said, but it’s much more challenging than that. “This is climbing Mount Everest in December,” he said, “This is tough.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Public Advocate Debate Shows Stark Differences Between James and Polanco Tue, 17 Oct 2017 01:23:06 +0000
James Defends Approach to De Blasio, Outlines Second Term Priorities tish presser nycprogressives crop

Public Advocate James (photo: @NYCProgressives)

Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat running for a second term, is facing a challenge from Republican candidate J.C. Polanco, who believes James has done little to hold accountable a mayor who aligns closely with her own politics. But James, an outspoken former litigator, has her defense ready as the two move toward a televised debate on October 16.

During a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast, James rebutted critics of her first term and sought to dispel the notion that she has not stood up to Mayor Bill de Blasio. She also outlined other aspects of her record she is most proud of as she seeks reelection and put forth several areas she intends to focus on if given another term.

James told podcast hosts Ben Max, editor of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, editor of City Limits, that she has spent the last four years using her familiarity with the legal system to battle the administration on many fronts, whether it be improving school transportation for students with disabilities or fighting for rent exemptions for seniors. She has been critical of the failures of city agencies, such as the Administration for Children Services, and has called out the mayor for not supporting legislation that has been priorities for her office.

To a lesser degree, however, has she employed her bully pulpit to criticize the mayor’s own ethics and transparency, being less vocal than her fellow Democrat, Comptroller Scott Stringer, for instance. James acknowledged on the podcast that she has not taken her own more subtle approach to accountability, but said she has not been shy to disagree substantively or to sue or to criticize, citing several examples, but also said she has worked with the administration behind the scenes to create productive outcomes.

When she first researched the role of public advocate, the office was “ill-defined” with no clear objective, James said in the Max & Murphy interview. “There was a lot of room to engage on a lot of efforts on a wide range of issues that obviously I care about, but it all boils down to one issue, and that is social justice,” she said. “It’s part of who I am. It’s part of my DNA. It’s my raison d’etre.”

On taking office, she said, her priorities were to use her legal skills to litigate strategically, to “continue to engage in investigations on issues that impact low- and moderate- and middle-income families,” and to maintain strong relationships with the City Council, which has been a partner in passing progressive legislation proposed by James. She referenced the town halls she has held all over the city as fulfilling the need to hear directly from New Yorkers.

James’ opponent, Polanco, an attorney and former educator, is running on a platform of government reform, and that includes reforming the public advocate’s office to give it more teeth. “I really want to reform the office and make it an opportunity for New Yorkers to have a real watchdog to oversee what the mayor and the City Council is doing,” he said in a recent appearance on Max & Murphy, explaining several added powers he wants to see given to the public advocate, including subpoena power. Polanco emphasized the need for an independent voice to moderate the “extreme ultra-left agenda coming out of City Hall” and, while calling James herself “ethical,” took issue with her effectively enabling what he sees as the mayor’s unethical practices.

“I think that if you endorse a mayor as unethically challenged as this one, if you can see it took NY1 and The New York Post to sue City Hall to get email records that demonstrate a pay-to-play operation, if you can endorse someone like that, I am going to be very suspect as to why you’re endorsing them,” he said of James’ support for de Blasio.

James sees it differently, and is confident she’s been a tough check on the administration. “When I’ve agreed with the mayor on issues, I’ve stood by his side,” she said. “When I disagreed with the mayor, we’ve criticized the mayor.” She cited numerous instances to bolster her point.

She criticized the mayor’s reluctance to create a separate agency for veterans affairs in the city, she said, and has opposed his policies on homelessness and the administration’s use of temporary hotel shelters. She also touted the lawsuits she has filed against the administration, including one that took aim at a rule change passed by the administration that she claimed was kicking eligible seniors off the rolls of a property tax exemption. She touted a victory in opening up School Leadership Team meetings across the city to the public.

James also pointed to the New York Post editorial board’s praise for her in December last year for speaking out against the mayor over the “agents of the city” controversy, that involved the administration attempting to shield the mayor’s email exchanges with unpaid outside advisors. “Consultants, lobbyists — to me, it’s a distinction without much of a difference,” James had said at the time, part of one of the larger episodes that Polanco calls into question in terms of de Blasio’s ethics and James’ reactions.

When de Blasio’s administration was embroiled in numerous controversies, chiefly revolving around dual investigations of his fundraising practices and the work of a political nonprofit set up by his allies, James was conspicuously silent for the most part, and did not publicly condemn the mayor at news conferences as one might have expected from someone in the public advocate position. But that has been part-and-parcel of her approach to the office, she said. “I thought that as the public advocate of the City of New York and having a relationship with the mayor where we’re somewhat like-minded philosophically and politically, that I can get more done by having a conversation with him one-on-one with regards to our differences and coming to some agreement,” she said regarding the approach more broadly, not on any specific issue.

“Because we have a relationship, and because I have a relationship with a significant number of commissioners, and we are all focused on one objective, and that is a more progressive approach to legislation and a more progressive approach to dealing with these problems which appear to be intractable, we’ve achieved quite a bit in the office of public advocate,” she added, “and I would argue without any fear of contradiction that we have done more in the last four years than any previous public advocate or all public advocates combined.” De Blasio is, of course, a member of that group.

Undoubtedly, James is well-placed for a second term, with visibility among voters who are overwhelmingly registered Democrats, strong campaign finances, and near universal labor union support. And she is going into reelection with an agenda for the next four years, which includes affordable housing, criminal justice reform, property tax reform and mental health services, to name a few issues.

As she looks to talk issues, James expressed frustration that the controversy over the statue of Christopher Columbus -- which arose in the aftermath of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in August after a protest over the removal of the statue of a Confederate general -- has subsumed other more important matters. Following the incidents, Mayor de Blasio announced a commission that would study public monuments in the city to determine which ones are appropriate and which ones have a sordid history and should perhaps be removed.

“I think this is really a distraction from the major issues that we really should be focusing on,” James said on the podcast, insisting that she’d rather talk about issues like public housing, homelessness, mental health services and grand jury reform. For the record, James supports preserving the statue of Columbus and stresses that it should serve an educational purpose.

“The monument should remain, there should be a teaching opportunity where we talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of Christopher Columbus and how he exploited indigenous populations,” she said. “But I’d rather be having more a substantive conversation about what we can do to improve the lives of residents of public housing, what we can do to transform the third rail of politics, that is property tax, which is squeezing the middle class and resulting in so many senior citizens who are losing their property or liens being placed on their properties.”

Her largest priority is housing, she said, whether it’s NYCHA developments or affordable housing for several demographics, including homeless people. On October 9, James will rally at City Hall with members of dozens of churches to advocate for a NYCHA infill proposal that originated in the community, she said.

James wants to build off the city’s successful universal pre-kindergarten program and expand to quality infant care in the city. She said she will push for reopening dental and health clinics in public schools, which she said she fought for when former Mayor Bloomberg closed them down. And she believes the city needs to reevaluate the numerous neighborhood rezonings that are creating widespread uncertainty and discontent in low- and middle-income communities fearing gentrification. The city needs to involve community-based organizations in the conversation, she said, and build affordable housing on unused public land.

“We need a housing bond act. We need to build over rail yards...We need more integrated housing...integrated by income,” she said. “More housing set aside for homeless, moderate-, middle-income housing. We need more work-live space in the City of New York and we really need to examine these rezonings.”

She also emphasized the need for reexamination of the 421-a property tax exemption, approved at the state level, which she believes allows developers to create luxury housing and exacerbates the need for more middle-income housing. The operative issue, however, is that would require cooperation from the state.

“I think we need a better relationship with the governor of the State of New York,” she said, “and if in fact there were improved relationships with the State of New York, which holds the lion’s share of housing subsidies, we could go a long way in addressing the crisis in affordable housing and the homelessness situation.”

James can only hope, though. For the better part of his first term, de Blasio has famously feuded with Governor Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, and the two have been reluctant to work together even when their policy goals intersect.

At a news conference on Tuesday, when Gotham Gazette asked de Blasio about James’ appeal to comity with the governor, the mayor said it was “idealistic” to expect such cooperation, sarcastically likening it to the Republican Congress offering unsolicited aid to the city. “Likewise, I’d like to see the governor focus more on actually delivering on affordable housing for New York City. There’s been some big pronouncements but I haven’t seen a lot of delivery and we need it. I don’t think it’s about relationship. I think it’s about everyone doing their job and living up to their commitments. And you know my to hold people to their commitments and be an agent of accountability when it comes to the needs of New York City.”

As for James’ call that the city take a more ambitious approach to building affordable housing, de Blasio indicated that he is always open to continuing to evaluate what can be done, but that he has set the city on its most ambitious affordable housing plan ever, at 200,000 built or preserved units over 10 years.

[Listen to the full podcast episode of Max & Murphy with Public Advocate Letitia James]

[Listen to public advocate candidate J.C. Polanco on Max & Murphy]

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

James Defends Approach to De Blasio, Outlines Second Term Priorities Wed, 04 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
James Agrees to General Election Debate in Public Advocate Race letitia james via teamsters

Public Advocate Letitia James (photo: @TeamstersJC16)

Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat seeking reelection to one of three citywide positions, has agreed to debate her Republican opponent regardless of whether the challenger, J.C. Polanco, meets the fundraising requirements to qualify for an official debate sanctioned and sponsored by the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

James, who easily won in the primary, is well ahead of Polanco, who did not face primary competition, in fundraising and name recognition. Polanco has, however, put forth detailed policy proposals and a rationale for seeking the office, while also challenging James to debate him for the good of the public electoral process. James has decided to pursue the opportunity, despite any risks debating may pose to a heavily-favored incumbent, to take the debate stage.

“The exchange of ideas and information is essential to democracy and good governance,” James said in a statement. “I welcome the opportunity to debate and discuss my key accomplishments as Public Advocate and outline my vision for supporting and empowering all New Yorkers.”

James has focused her efforts as public advocate on litigation and legislation, suing the city on several occasions and introducing and passing more legislation than her four predecessors, who include Mayor Bill de Blasio.

It is not clear how many debates James will agree to or who will sponsor any that do occur. For public advocate candidates participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching program, two formal, televised debates are required for those who meet the criteria, which include both fundraising and spending thresholds. But, James may be the only candidate in the field, which also includes the Green Party’s James Lane and others, to qualify for the debates. A campaign spokesperson did not indicate how many debates James would participate in.

Polanco, an attorney and the New York City liaison for the state Assembly minority, has promised to run a positive campaign and debate the role of the office and policy proposals. He has called James “ethical” and expressed his fondness for her as a person. He has also challenged her to debate him even though he is many thousands of dollars short of meeting the legal thresholds for the official, televised debates, which would provide him a much-needed boost in profile.

“As my opponent stated: ‘Brooklyn people don’t hide,’” James said. “I am proud of my record of standing up for New Yorkers and look forward to a spirited discussion with my Republican opponent on the issues that impact New York.”

While James is indeed a Brooklynite, and used to represent part of the borough in the City Council, Polanco is from the Bronx, where he still lives. Though Polanco has pledged a positive campaign, he has critiqued James for not speaking up more forcefully about de Blasio’s ethical lapses. Polanco is running on a platform of pushing for changes to the public advocate position itself, perhaps through a city charter revision commission, and a variety of other agenda items. Unlike James, Polanco is an outspoken proponent of expanding charter schools. He’s also advocating for allowing qualifying NYCHA residents to purchase their public housing units.

As she seeks a second term, James is especially proud of her legislation, passed through the City Council and signed into law by de Blasio, that bans employers from asking job applicants for their salary history. It is a move aimed at helping reduce the gender pay gap.

In order to qualify for public matching funds from the Campaign Finance Board, a public advocate candidate must raise at least $125,000 from 500 donors living in New York City. When matching funds are dispersed, up to $175 of eligible donations are matched six to one. Public advocate candidates are eligible for up to $2,369,350 in public matching funds for what is deemed a competitive race. Participants have a general election spending cap of $4,357,000.

As of her most recent filing, James had raised a total of $943,854. She had spent about two-thirds of it, leaving her about $325,000 in the bank, and not yet qualified for public matching funds.

Polanco had raised just $21,675. He has explained how much of a challenge fundraising has been given that New York City Republicans have a major registration deficit and most attention for any hope of a citywide victory is given to the mayoral race. Polanco has also said that his opposition to President Donald Trump has hurt him among GOP establishment figures and potential donors.

When informed that James had agreed to debate him, Polanco said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, "I am glad my opponent has taken up my challenge for a spirited debate on the issues. I took on the Herculean challenge so that New Yorkers have choice. I believe we are best served as a democracy when we compete for votes. I look forward to discussing my plans to push for charter school expansion, fixing the MTA train delays, keeping jails out of our neighborhoods, protecting kids from the horrors we have seen at ACS and standing up to a mayor regardless of party."

Part of James’ calculation in agreeing to debate may have to do with being granted matching funds. A campaign spokesperson did not reply to a question about the subject.

Earlier this year, the Campaign Finance Board and its debate sponsors scheduled the two televised public advocate general election debates for Monday, October 16 and Saturday October 24.

“The CFB’s debate program aims to give New York City voters the opportunity to compare candidates side by side in preparation for Election Day. The law was enacted to ensure that candidates in the public matching funds program debate their opponents, and we are excited that the Public Advocate debates will continue as planned. We will do everything we can to support and promote a vigorous debate,” said Katrina Shakarian, public relations officer at the Campaign Finance Board, in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated with a statement from Polanco, a statement from the CFB, and other additional information.

Note: this article has removed incorrect information about Comptroller Stringer being in a similar position to James. Stringer's Republican opponent, Michel Faulkner, has met the fundraising threshold to qualify for a CFB-sanctioned debate.

James Agrees to General Election Debate in Public Advocate Race Sun, 24 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate JC Polanco

Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette

September 18, 2017 - Max & Murphy with Public Advocate Candidate JC Polanco

jcpolanco 277JC Polanco, a Republican running for Public Advocate, joined Max & Murphy to discuss his candidacy, explaining a variety of policy proposals and his overall mission to reform the position itself to give it more power, funding, and teeth. Polanco is attempting to run a campaign on issues and policy, like his proposals to allow some NYCHA residents the opportunity to buy their apartments and expand charter schools, but he is also criticizing incumbent Letitia James, a Democrat seeking reelection, for not being a tough enough voice in holding Mayor de Blasio and the City Council accountable.

Discussing his attempts to unseat James in a very Democratic city where it is challenging to get people to even pay attention to the race for public advocate, Polanco explained that "this is not uphill, this is Mount Everest," and again acknoweldged how hard it is to raise money, in part because he is "not your average, run of the mill Republican" and has not been a supporter of Donald Trump.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy. You can hear the episode through the embedded audio below or download it wherever you get your podcasts.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate JC Polanco Mon, 18 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Public Advocate Candidate Outlines Election Reform Agenda polanco bronxnet

JC Polanco on BronxNet

With candidates vying for votes ahead of New York City’s September primary and November general elections, many in and around campaigns know that the state’s antiquated election laws will, in part, ensure that a small percentage of potential voters will cast ballots among limited choices.

One candidate, Juan Carlos Polanco, known as J.C., is currently the presumptive Republican nominee for Public Advocate and has released an extensive package of proposed reforms to New York voting laws.

As a former member of the New York City Board of Elections (BOE), Polanco has had personal experience with the system that certifies candidates and runs elections. In a document provided to Gotham Gazette and subsequent phone conversation, Polanco outlined plans he believes will update, improve, and secure elections in New York through a combination of legislative changes, ballot referendums, and even changes to the state constitution.

“We have to really take a look at our election system and we have to modernize it,” said Polanco, who is eyeing a likely general election matchup with incumbent Letitia James, a Democrat.

Polanco is putting forward 10 proposals, some of which – like expanding the BOE’s reporting in the twice-yearly Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), which details performance of city agencies based on delivery of services – would be relatively easy shifts, and others – like instituting nonpartisan elections and starting a statewide voter identification program – would be fundamental reexaminations of voting in New York that would be very difficult to enact.

Among the former group, in addition to the MMR initiative, Polanco calls for forwarding of voter death and new address data to the BOE from city and state agencies, a new procedure for a nationwide search of the board’s executive director, and an increased budget for the agency to help it run the expanded programs.

The latter group are likely to be much more controversial; chief among them a proposal from Polanco for a statewide “free and fair voter identification program,” which the candidate framed as a compromise for including early voting and and no-fault absentee voting.

Polanco explained that free identifications would be arranged by the BOE using its central voter registration database and then be distributed through municipalities for free to voters who did not otherwise have a valid ID. He could not provide a cost estimate, and when asked why such a program was necessary when research has shown that voter fraud is almost nonexistent, he said there were two schools of thought on voter fraud.

“One is the [President Donald Trump] school, that 3 million people voted illegally in the election. Absolutely not. That’s an extreme view. Then we have the other extreme that no voter fraud happens. And that’s ridiculous,” Polanco said. He insisted that voters who turned up without IDs would not be disenfranchised, as they could fill out affidavit ballots – currently used by voters who arrive at polls to find they’re not on the rolls – that would be counted later if valid.

Another proposed change for voters would be the early voting provisions, which would have to be approved in the unsympathetic Republican-controlled state Senate. The plan would allow New York City residents to vote one week before the election, and to vote absentee without having to prove inability to vote in person, which is currently required for absentee ballots.

Polanco wants to change not only how New Yorkers vote but who they can vote for, by providing free legal counsel to candidates participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program who raise less than $10,000, and easing restrictions on ballot access for candidates.

“Candidates are getting kicked off the ballot after spending all summer campaigning and collecting petitions, and they’re getting kicked off for the most ridiculous reasons,” said Polanco, citing issues like having a slightly incorrect petition number listed on a cover sheet. Indeed, various candidates have been kept off or taken off the ballot for multiple city races this cycle, including one of two final candidates for the Republican mayoral nomination.

Unlike other populous cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, New York has a partisan election system where only voters registered to a particular party may vote in that party’s closed primary; that arrangement generally means that viable candidates tend to be selected only by the city’s registered partisans with one of the two major parties. Polanco wants to shift to a nonpartisan system, where rounds of voting, as opposed to primaries, would whittle down the candidate field.

“If you look at our city, it’s become much more of a nonpartisan city,” he said, adding that independent, or party unaffiliated, voters “are not participating.” While unaffiliated voter enrollment has indeed grown in the city over the past five years, nonpartisan voters still represent a minority (17.6%) of all registered voters. As Polanco looks ahead to the general election, he knows that there are many more unaffiliated registered voters in the city than those registered with the Republican Party (about 10.4% of all registered voters). It is those types of “independents” who helped Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg win their mayoral terms.

Finally, Polanco wants to address the undemocratic trend of elected officials stepping down from campaigns after ballot petitions have already been filed, allowing partisan county committees to pick their candidates and denying voters the opportunity to vote in an open primary. “They take it out of the hands of the voters and into the backrooms,” said Polanco of the practice. He said he would like to see, if not his ultimate goal of a nonpartisan election, then at least a mandated primary for special elections.

Polanco suggests that gerrymandering – the practice of drawing districts to maximize or minimize a particular class of voters – is partly responsible for ensuring that Democratic candidates routinely win special elections, though in general city districts are not considered to be gerrymandered.

Polanco acknowledged that in order to enact such an agenda, the Public Advocate – a largely ceremonial citywide elected position with little direct authority – needs to heavily rely on the bully pulpit and organizing, as opposed to hard power. Easier said than done. Polanco would be far from the first person to go to Albany seeking voting reforms. With the Senate controlled by his GOP party-mates through a power-sharing agreement with breakaway Democrats, there has been virtually no appetite for election reform.

He could have some ways around that, he said, such as getting proposals into a referendum to be voted on directly by voters. If the upcoming November vote on whether the state will hold a constitutional convention is approved, Polanco said he would support trying to enshrine some voting reform measures into the updated constitution.

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Public Advocate Candidate Outlines Election Reform Agenda Thu, 24 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Republican Citywide Candidates Hopeful Despite Slow Fundraising Faulkner

GOP Comptroller candidate Michel Faulkner

Ahead of the citywide elections, Republican candidates for Comptroller and Public Advocate -- Michel Faulkner and J.C. Polanco, respectively -- have struggled to raise funds for their campaigns, trailing their respective opponents by large sums.

With just over three months before Election Day, both Faulkner and Polanco need to significantly increase their fundraising prowess to run competitive races against Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James, both Democrats.

Faulkner, a former New York Jet and reverend, has over $91,000 cash-on-hand as of the latest filing. Over the course of his campaign, he has received $157,875 in loans, $126,800 of which is his own money. Notably, former Republican candidate for mayor Paul Massey and his wife both donated $4,950 to his campaign in May, the maximum amount that is legally permitted. Massey and Faulkner had endorsed each other before Massey dropped out of the race.

A political consultant and aide in the state Assembly minority, Polanco has even less in the bank, with only $10,386 on-hand, though he only recently entered the race. Public Advocate James, meanwhile, has $309,720 cash-on-hand.

Similarly, Comptroller Stringer holds $1,663,140 in the vault as of the July filing, far surpassing Faulkner.

Polanco and Faulkner are both energetic campaigners, but it is unclear if they will be able to pick up the fundraising pace. In order to have a chance, they must be able to fund campaign activities, meet the Campaign Finance Board’s threshold to receive public matching funds, and qualify for the debates.

In a heavily Democratic town -- roughly 80% of New York City voters voted for Hillary Clinton this past Fall -- gaining traction as a Republican is always difficult. Still, the Faulkner and Polanco totals are particularly low, according to George Arzt, a long-time New York City journalism and communications professional. “That’s dreadful,” he said, reacting to a reading of the candidates’ fundraising totals. Arzt is a Democrat who worked for Mayor Ed Koch.

Their struggle raising money, particularly from Republican and Conservative groups and individuals, comes as no surprise to Arzt, though. “Would you put money into their campaigns knowing that they have about under a 5 percent chance of winning?” he asked rhetorically. “Would you waste your money if you were the organization?”

However, in interviews with Gotham Gazette, both Faulkner and Polanco expressed optimism about their campaign’s ability to gain traction in the coming months. Both candidates believe they have a crossover message that doesn’t fit neatly into a typical Republican box. (They also have significant differences, given that Faulkner is a strong proponent of President Donald Trump, while Polanco is a longtime critic of Trump.)

Faulkner pointed to his heterodox message on social services: “People ask me, ‘well are you going to cut services?’ The answer is no, we need more services.” And on unions: “I’m not a union buster, I believe in labor, I was a member of the Teamsters union.” He also sports a more conventional urban conservative message backing charter schools and on policing. “My biggest challenge is my party affiliation,” he said.

More true to the job of comptroller, Faulkner has a harsh assessment of his opponent’s history holding Mayor de Blasio accountable. “He’s a tame, weak watchdog, who’s only watching. He’s not barking, he’s not biting, he’s not growling,” Faulkner said of Stringer, who has been tough on de Blasio but did endorse the mayor for a second term. “He’s part of the problem,” Faulkner said, insisting Stringer is too complacent with an unacceptable status quo. “The reason I’m becoming concerned about Stringer is he campaigned as an activist,” he said. However, Faulkner alleged Stringer “has become complicit in everything that's wrong with government.” “He’s a government bureaucrat who’s worse than de Blasio,” he added.

Faulkner said he is unfazed by Stringer’s fundraising advantage. “He has more money, but he doesn't have a fundraising advantage because he doesn’t have Michel Faulkner’s heart,” he said. “I don’t need his money; I need enough money,” Faulkner said. “I don’t need as much as he needs to run a campaign. I don’t have to, I’m a whole different breed of cat.”

Still, Faulkner acknowledged he needs to get the ball rolling with his fundraising efforts. “Do I have enough money now? No, but I believe I will have enough.”

He went on to explain why he has gotten off to a slow start in fundraising, pointing to his short-lived mayoral campaign, which he ended to run for comptroller, where there was no Republican candidate. “To say that it’s been a challenge is a real understatement,” he said. “Because I tried so much stuff for the mayoral campaign, the pivot is very difficult to getting back on track.” Faulkner said he is going to add more “call times,” periods spent on the phone talking to potential donors.

“We actually had a very exciting call [recently] and Ed Cox is helping,” Faulkner said of the New York State Republican Party Chair. “The county leaders are going to get behind us and work with us, we’re putting the pedal to the metal,” Faulkner said.

Polanco, a self-described “Never Trump Republican” who strives to be an independent voice willing to speak out against wrongdoing regardless of party, is focusing his campaign on political and ethics reform. He also promises to be a stronger watchdog of the mayor than the current officeholder he is seeking to unseat.

In the interview, Polanco described how difficult the fundraising component has been for him during his short campaign. “There's no question that fundraising is the toughest part of this campaign,” Polanco said. “The two hardest things to do are losing weight and getting financial contributions for a public advocate’s race. I’m convinced of those two things” he said in his typical upbeat tone. “But I’m working at it.”

“When I got into the race,” he continued of his early June launch, “I had to go through all this paperwork so that I could qualify to be able to fund-raise. From the moment I got the OK to the moment of the first [campaign finance] filing was only about three weeks. I’m continuously calling to try to make it happen, to generate excitement so that I could have a respectable race and show some credible fundraising numbers.”

Polanco expects the bulk of his donations to come from small-dollar donors and cited complications with getting large dollars from the Republican Party apparatus. In a prior interview with Gotham Gazette, around the time of his campaign launch, Polanco said he wouldn’t be campaigning full-time for a while, given the need to support his family.

“That's exactly what you want to be doing is focusing on individual, small-dollar donations to qualify for the match program,” said Republican consultant and communications professional Jessica Proud. “For the city, the mayor’s race tends to get the focus of the attention when it comes to earned media,” she said. “J.C [Polanco] got into the race a little bit late so I think he’s just getting started now.”

“It takes a little time to build up an organization,” Proud added. “It's not like you’re flipping the switch and they give you a big check,” she said of the matching funds program, wherein the public money supplements small-dollar donations to political campaigns.

Arzt argues it is not good timing for Republicans to win citywide, including mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis, a Staten Island Assembly member and the presumptive GOP nominee. While Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg had success running city-wide, times have changed, according to Arzt. He noted that Giuliani succeeded a troubled Dinkins administration and Bloomberg came in just after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The current Republican candidates, he said, currently lack any evident “catastrophic event that could propel them into office,” though one could occur at any time. “Its tough to go up against an incumbent unless the incumbent is tainted by scandal or misjudgement,” Arzt added.  

Proud, who does communications for Cox and the state GOP, expressed support for Polanco and Faulkner, and their non-ideological positioning. “There's no Democrat or Republican way to pick up the trash,” she said. “And I think that's the kind of positioning you need to have as a Republican in New York City.”

Republican Citywide Candidates Hopeful Despite Slow Fundraising Thu, 27 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Planning to Lure Democrats, Polanco Jumps Into Public Advocate Race jc polanco ny1

JC Polanco (screenshot via NY1)

 After receiving endorsements from several Republican clubs and organizations, J.C. Polanco, a Bronx native who is currently the New York City Regional Director for Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, officially jumped into the race for Public Advocate last week.

“I had to travel the city and try to get enough support from my party to get the nomination,” Polanco said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “Now I’m going to start moving from meeting party leaders, county leaders to talk with groups across the city.”

Acknowledging the challenge of running citywide as a Republican given the significant registration advantage held by Democrats, especially considering the incumbent, Democrat Letitia James, is seeking reelection, Polanco said, “I’m a New York Republican, I’m very different.” He cited his focus on economic development, NYCHA residents, and charter schools. Polanco has also been critical of Donald Trump, the unpopular president Democrats across the city (and country) are looking to tie Republican candidates to in most elections.

“The odds are not in my favor given the daunting party registration numbers. But I’m up for the challenge,” Polanco said. “Competition is good.” It’s now about running an energetic campaign and talking to people all over the city about his agenda, he added.

And what’s on that agenda? “At the top is to reform city government, including the public advocate position,” he said. “It’s an important position, it’s supposed to be the watchdog, but it’s been watered down.” Polanco wants to empower the public advocate through a city charter amendment giving it “investigatory powers.”

Even without those powers, he said James has not been forceful enough in checking Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat who James is close with and has endorsed for reelection (de Blasio is sure to return the favor). While James has focused her tenure on passing legislation and filing lawsuits against the city to enact change, she has not been critical of the mayor on several major items, including questionable ethical choices.

Polanco, a former president of the City Board of Elections and a one-time challenger of state Senator Jeff Klein when Klein was in the Assembly, enters the race all but assured of an easy path to the general election. He joined Errol Louis on NY1’s Road to City Hall June 6 to formally announce his bid.

“The far left have a monopoly on the conversation in New York City, and I could just not sit back and watch this happen for another election cycle,” Polanco told Louis. “And I saw the Public Advocate position as a perfect vehicle. I think the Public Advocate position is the perfect place for a visionary like myself to come in and talk to voters and talk to the city and get things done and have a conversation about important things that are not being discussed today.”

Since losing funding under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council, the public advocate’s office has “become more of a press mill, a place where you just issue press releases and take positions,” Polanco said. He wants the position to have investigatory and subpoena powers so it can demand information from City Hall.

Also on Polanco’s early policy agenda is a renewed push for nonpartisan elections, an effort that failed under Bloomberg. It’s widely believed that nonpartisan elections, wherein any registered voter could vote in an open primary system, would favor Republicans looking for crossover appeal.

Polanco also said he would push for more charter schools in New York City, and with the help of Eva Moskowitz, the lightning rod CEO of the Success Academy charter network and a former member of the City Council. Moskowitz has had an antagonistic relationship with de Blasio.

Further, Polanco wants to see public housing tenants have the chance to own their units. He claims that this would unlock the “American Dream” for these residents, and would reduce crime in housing authorities.

At age 25, Polanco attempted in 2002 to unseat Klein, but was unsuccessful despite endorsements from then-Mayor Bloomberg and then-Governor George Pataki. Klein later won his Senate seat, and is now one of the most powerful people in New York as the leader of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).

Polanco was later appointed Bronx Commissioner of the Board of Elections, and selected to be the city’s Board of Elections President. He is currently a professor of Latino studies and history at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and a political consultant, along with his job for the Assembly minority.

While Public Advocate James is seen as a heavy favorite to win reelection, it has been unclear whether she would see serious competition -- Polanco’s entry into the race has Republicans excited. During his exploratory phase, he received several endorsements for the race from county party organizations, and he now has the backing of the Republican Party affiliates of all five boroughs. He has also been endorsed by the Reform Party and is seeking to get on the Independence Party line as well.

Asked for a response to Polanco’s entrance to the race and some of his early campaign arguments, James’ reelection campaign sent a statement saying the public advocate “has been a powerful champion for working families and the most vulnerable New Yorkers,” and touting her accomplishments. “Tish has passed historic wage equity legislation to ban the use of salary history in the hiring process; successfully championed NYPD body cameras; led the fight for universal school lunch; and used the Worst Landlords List, legislation, and litigation to hold bad landlords accountable,” the statement says.

“We support everyone's right to run for office and welcome them to put their ideas forward,” the campaign statement says. “We're especially glad that J.C. Polanco is joining Tish's efforts to further empower the office through measures like a charter revision."

Polanco is an ally of Republican mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis, having donated $50 to her campaign and speaking fondly of her in comparison to her main primary rival, Paul Massey. Polanco told Gotham Gazette in May that Malliotakis “brings this across-the-city sort of understanding of New York City Republicanism” to the race for mayor, while Massey, on the other hand, is “someone that has the experience in business, that is raising enormous amounts of money and is also making the rounds, something that many New York Republicans are used to: the businessman Republican. So you’re gonna have a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party in New York City.”

In the interview after announcing his candidacy, Polanco told Gotham Gazette that he is endorsing Malliotakis for mayor. “I’ve known her for a long time, worked closely with her,” Polanco said of Malliotakis, who is a member of the Assembly minority where Polanco works. “I don’t know Massey.” He said he also does not know Republican candidate for comptroller Michel Faulkner, but will get to know him. (Massey and Faulkner have endorsed each other.)

Malliotakis has been endorsed by the Brooklyn and Staten Island GOP, while Massey has been endorsed by the Queens and Bronx GOP (Manhattan split its vote and did not endorse). They have quickly become locked in a heated contest that looks like it will be a battle until primary day.

Speaking to the Queens Village Republican Club recently, Polanco argued that the public advocate’s role should be expanded.

“You need to be a visionary for this role because quite frankly, they’re very limited in powers,” he said, according to a video by, arguing for a charter revision to empower the advocate “to have standing to sue this mayor in court.” He then cited NY1 and the New York Post for having sued City Hall for access to emails of Mayor de Blasio’s with outside consultants, supposedly revealing a “pay-to-play” scheme, which he repeatedly referred to as “nefarious.” He claimed that the public advocate should be empowered to do what journalists ended up having to do.

Asked by Gotham Gazette about the fact that James has been an active litigant against the city, he mentioned that she has been kicked off of several lawsuits due to a lack of standing.

“Now, he may have escaped an indictment, but he’s been indicted and convicted in the court of public opinion in my book,” Polanco said of de Blasio in Queens. “And we as Republicans have a shot.”

Polanco told Gotham Gazette he wants to end “pay to play” in the city and that as public advocate he would create a website, “,” where the public could see who has donated to whom, who has hired what lobbyists, what projects lobbyists are working on, and so forth -- connecting all the dots of money, politics, and policy in the city. “Shed sunlight into city government,” he said of his plans.

(The city does already have a “doing-business” database, which affects how much individuals can give to candidates -- if listed as doing business, campaign contributions are capped at $400 to each campaign.)

Polanco, early on in his Queens Village speech, advocated for easier access to handguns, an uncommon policy stance in New York. He claimed that residents have to “run through a labyrinth” to access handguns. He argued that these restrictions significantly hamper the ability to practice second amendment rights and protect one’s home, and he would “do something” about gun laws to ease the restrictions. Polanco explained to Gotham Gazette that he had been responding to an audience question and that expanding gun ownership is not necessarily a top priority, though he does believe in it.

Polanco says he can win as a Republican in the heavily Democratic city by running as a reformer and building a broad coalition.

“I think a lot of New Yorkers will welcome a message of reform. I may be a Republican but I’m a New Yorker,” Polanco said on NY1, “and I think that if we were to carry our message of Republicanism, reform through parts of the city where my party has disregarded in the past, we will experience victory in November.”

“I expect support from everybody,” he told Gotham Gazette. “I hope to bring in some of those Democrats who have voted Republican in the past -- voting Republican is not that foreign to many Democrats.”

by Ben Brachfeld & Ben Max

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Planning to Lure Democrats, Polanco Jumps Into Public Advocate Race Tue, 13 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000