Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/312 Mon, 16 Jul 2018 14:32:31 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Three City Council Members Don't Support 'Fair Fares' http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7722:three-city-council-members-don-t-support-fair-fares http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7722:three-city-council-members-don-t-support-fair-fares citycouncil cojo

Speaker Johnson on the subway (photo via City Council)


A budget proposal to provide half-priced MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers has the New York City Council’s full weight this year. Well, almost.

Only three City Council Members -- Joe Borelli, Steven Matteo, and Ruben Diaz, Sr. -- in the 51-member body have so far declined to support Fair Fares, the proposal that would cost the city about $212 million to offer discounted fares to nearly 800,000 city residents living below the federal poverty line.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has made an unprecedented push for the proposal to be funded in the next city budget, due by July 1, which will outline roughly $90 billion in spending. Johnson, his Council colleagues, and his aides have employed social media campaigns and on-the-ground outreach to convince Mayor Bill de Blasio to agree to the necessary funding. The mayor has shown nominal support for the idea but has insisted that it should be funded by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which is controlled by the state and effectively answers to Governor Andrew Cuomo, or through an added tax on high income earners.

“The Fair Fares proposal is not a representation of the needs of my constituents, who continually face the longest and costliest commutes in the city,” said Council Member Matteo from Staten Island, one of three Republicans in the Council and the minority leader, in a statement. “It is certainly not a budget priority for me.”

Matteo and fellow Staten Island Republican Council Member Joe Borelli, who is also unsupportive of Fair Fares, are among those behind a Council push -- supported by Johnson -- to convince de Blasio to fund a $400 property tax rebate to homeowners with household incomes under $150,000, another initiative the mayor has thus far spurned.

Last month, the Council organized a digital Day of Action, followed the next week with a street-level effort at subway stations across the city, to build a crescendo around Fair Fares targeted largely at an audience of one: the mayor. Of the 51 members, 47 had signalled their support for the proposal. Since then, Council Member Chaim Deutsch from Brooklyn has also signed on. In a brief phone interview, he told Gotham Gazette, “I support it 100 percent.”

Borelli was less enthused. “Where have all these ‘Fair Fares’ supporters been while my constituents pay $6.50 for a bus to Manhattan, or shell out $15 tolls to subsidize a subway system we don’t have access to?,” he said in a text message. “Do they not understand that the middle class will be on the line to pay for this subsidy?”

Politico New York reported last month that Speaker Johnson was considering cutting certain Council initiatives from the budget to fund Fair Fares, which could mean that individual members may see some of their own priorities unfunded in the final budget if the mayor doesn’t concede to the Council’s demand. Johnson has declined to confirm the report, and a new report by Politico indicated on Wednesday that the speaker appeared to be close to getting de Blasio to agree to some initial version of a Fair Fares program in an imminent budget deal.

“I’m still undecided,” said Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr., a Democrat from the Bronx and the fourth of the four Council members who didn’t sign the Fair Fares letter, when reached by phone on Wednesday. “I’m inclined to support it but I’m looking at other things to see what happens.”

When asked to elaborate on his concerns, Diaz Sr. refused. “I’m telling you as much as I can tell you,” he said.

[Read: City Council Pushes Property Tax Rebate as De Blasio Stalls Broader Reform]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Three City Council Members Don't Support 'Fair Fares' Thu, 07 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Passes Bill Mandating Public Broadcast of Citywide Debates http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7688:city-council-passes-bill-mandating-public-broadcast-of-citywide-debates http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7688:city-council-passes-bill-mandating-public-broadcast-of-citywide-debates Joe Borelli City Council

Council Member Borelli (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


The general election debates in last year’s mayoral race largely lacked substance and order, as Mayor Bill de Blasio twice faced off against two challengers -- Republican Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis and independent candidate Bo Dietl. Perhaps in part because de Blasio was not seen as vulnerable to defeat in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, the debates also lacked a wide audience. But there was another issue at play, for those debates and others mandated as part of the city’s campaign finance system: public accessibility to view them.

City Council Member Joe Borelli and his colleagues seek to expand access to televised city election debates -- which can be held for the three citywide positions in party primaries and general elections -- through a bill passed by the Council on Wednesday.

Borelli’s bill requires that all mandatory debates hosted by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, in partnership with numerous local news organizations, be publicly broadcast at no charge on a city-owned or operated television channel to reach the widest possible audience. This would be in addition to broadcast by any selected network as the CFB typically chooses a lead TV station for each debate.

The bill was prompted largely because some of the debates, including the first general election mayoral debate and the lone general election debates in the 2017 races for comptroller and public advocate, were broadcast on television on NY1 and accessible only to those with cable television packages that include the channel. (NY1 did choose to air its debates live for free on its website and social media, as did other debate sponsors, and archived footage is easily available on the Campaign Finance Board website.)

“This may not be priority one and we’re likely three years away from any city-wide debates, but the fact that we spend so much public money to increase voter turnout to then only allow a small percentage of city residents to see the debate seemed counter-productive,” Borelli said, in a statement after the passage of the bill. “I can’t believe this would have even been allowed in the first place and I’m glad I’m changing the rules.” 

He said that more than half of the city’s residents did not have access to certain debates because they either could not afford or refused to subscribe to Spectrum, NY1’s parent company. In the 2017 election cycle, the debates not televised by NY1 were broadcast on TV by CBS-2 New York, a network typically part of all basic television packages. This included the second of two general election mayoral debates.

A press release from Borelli’s office said the bill is expected to be signed by the mayor. Seth Stein, a mayoral spokesperson said in a statement, "We look forward to reviewing the final version of this bill that was passed by the Council. The Mayor supports measures to make our democratic process more open and accessible to New Yorkers."

The bill has general support from government reform groups. At an April 26 hearing of the Committee on Governmental Operations, Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, said, “Generally speaking, we encourage civic participation in our democracy through the use of modern technology.”

Camarda also urged the committee to consider webcasting debates on one or several city government-run sites. “We think that that’s advantageous, not only because it’s less expensive, it allows for archiving at much lower costs, and it can be watched on smart phones which, more and more, is what people watch their content on these days,” Camarda said. Those proposals weren’t reflected in the final legislation.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Camarda said, “It can’t hurt to expand the TV channels that debates are on but we would prefer webcasting and more modern modes of delivery be mandated.”

“Access to information is essential to make elections fair for everyone,” said Assembly Member Malliotakis, in a statement supporting the bill’s passage. “The more widespread debate coverage is, the more prepared voters will be to make an informed decision of who they want to represent them in government.”

The CFB also came out in support of the bill. Executive Director Amy Loprest said in a statement to Gotham Gazette that the agency is “committed to getting voters the information they need to cast an informed ballot on Election Day.”

“These efforts include helping all New Yorkers view the official citywide debates to learn more about candidates seeking elected office,” she added. “Today’s passage of Int. No. 14-A, requiring these debates to be simulcast on a city-owned or operated television channel, will help ensure that as many New Yorkers as possible have live access to the debates.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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City Council Passes Bill Mandating Public Broadcast of Citywide Debates Wed, 23 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Pushes Property Tax Rebate as De Blasio Continues Stall on Broader Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7671:city-council-pushes-property-tax-rebate-as-de-blasio-continues-to-stall-on-broader-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7671:city-council-pushes-property-tax-rebate-as-de-blasio-continues-to-stall-on-broader-reform Corey Johnson City Council hearing

Speaker Johnson & Council members (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


The New York City Council has been pushing for temporary relief for lower- and middle-class homeowners in this year’s budget, calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to fund a one-time $400 property tax rebate that would cost about $187 million in total. Council Members, some of whom are homeowners themselves and could potentially qualify for the rebate, say it’s a much needed measure that could help thousands of New Yorkers reduce their annual tax burden.

The Council’s proposal set a $150,000 threshold for households to qualify for the $400 rebate, which would reach roughly 467,000 homeowners, according to the Council’s finance division. The proposal is merely a stop-gap, in lieu of broader reform of the city’s property tax system, which the mayor has promised but has been slow to act on.

At least a few Council members themselves stand to benefit from the rebate, given that the City Council voted in 2016 to increase members’ salaries from $112,500 to $148,500, while at the same time limiting the outside income they can earn, meaning that individual members fall just under the Council’s income threshold for the rebate. Most Council members, like most residents of the city, are renters, but a few do own property according to the latest available disclosures filed with the city Conflicts of Interest Board.

A Council spokesperson said member income was not part of the discussion on the rebate, which would reach about 75 percent of home, coop, and condo owners.

“Middle class homeowners deserve a break, which is why the City Council proposed a $400 refund for them in this year’s budget response,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in a statement. “We know that every little bit counts and felt this refund could help people while we work on the bigger issue - reforming the broken system.”

Council Member Joseph Borelli, a Republican from Staten Island and a homeowner, says he wouldn’t qualify for the rebate since he earns about $6,000 from teaching at College of Staten Island, which he’s allowed to do under the Council’s rule change, which includes exceptions for forms of passive income and a few activities like teaching. That extra income puts him just over the top.

[Related: City Council Members Still Navigating Outside Income Divestment Ahead of Deadline]

Borelli, whose district is largely homeowners and is one of the main proponents of the rebate, isn’t concerned about the optics of Council members potentially benefiting from a rebate that they’re pushing so hard, though he conceded that members could be forthcoming about qualifying for it. “It’s like saying we all receive the public benefit of a new stop sign or a new highway,” he said. “If there’s something that’s done as a public benefit to all taxpayers, if you wanna require people to disclose that they’re going to get a check for 400 bucks in the mail, I’m certainly happy to do that. Also saying I won’t qualify myself.”

He rightly predicted that even members who own property will likely pass the threshold since many file their tax returns jointly with their spouses. “It’s an interesting question, I just don’t have the answer. But it sucks that I won’t be getting it,” he half-joked. “That’s on record, too.”

[Listen: Max & Murphy Podcat: City Council Member Joe Borelli]

Borelli is among the members who were particularly disappointed by the mayor’s refusal to address property taxes in his $89 billion executive budget proposal, released late last month. A joint statement from Borelli and Council Members Justin Brannan, Steven Matteo, Paul Vallone, Barry Grodenchik, and Mark Gjonaj noted that the administration had yet to address “the glaring inequities of a property tax system that charges the owner of a modest home in our districts more than the owner of a multi-million dollar brownstone in Park Slope,” a clear reference to de Blasio’s Brooklyn homeownership, which includes two houses that he currently rents out. De Blasio would not be eligible for the rebate given his $258,750 salary.

“I know we speak for just about every property owner in the five boroughs when we say, ‘C’mon man, give us a break!,’” the Council members concluded.

“[L]ike many of his constituents, Councilman Matteo owns a home,” said Peter Spencer, a spokesperson for the minority leader, also a Staten Island Republican, in an email. “His household income fluctuates, so it would depend on the tax filing year as to whether he would meet the $150,000 threshold. He has been advocating for a property tax rebate for years for all homeowners, to alleviate the financial burden skyrocketing property taxes are having on so many families and seniors.”

The other members on the statement are all Democrats, as are de Blasio and Speaker Johnson, but they represent areas of the city with higher home ownership rates than most other Council members. Grodenchik and Vallone’s offices did not respond to voicemails requesting comment. Reginald Johnson, Gjonaj’s chief of staff, said the Council member owns property but files a joint tax return with his wife, who is a nurse, and would not qualify for the rebate.

De Blasio has repeatedly said that he would launch a commission to look at the city’s property tax system and to recommend fundamental change in how taxes are assessed. Unlike other taxes, the city does not need approval from the state Legislature to amend its property tax rates, which have remained flat over the last few years but have been evenly applied across the city with no accounting for varying property values, while assessments continue to rise, increasing tax bills virtually across the board.

“We’re going to...go at the heart of the property tax problem and have a commission, working closely with the Council to try and reform fundamentally the property tax to be more fair for everyone,” de Blasio told reporters at his executive budget presentation on April 26. “So, I would argue the best way to address the property tax question is the fix the whole system. Everyone loves a rebate, but it doesn’t fix the root cause, and most rebates are pretty small and then you never see them again. We want to get at the root cause.”

Maria Doulis, vice-president of Citizens Budget Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog, echoed that position while also pointing out that the Council’s interim approach may be flawed. “It’s a well-intentioned proposal,” she said of the rebate, “but it’s too broad a measure to address their concerns.” An umbrella threshold, she said, doesn’t capture the differences in households and property values across the city, so those with a high property tax burden would stand to receive the same benefit as those with a negligible one.

“It’s best to do it with a circuit breaker rather than a flat rebate,” she said, referring to an industry term for targeted property tax breaks based on a percentage of income. “Circuit breakers take into account your income as well as your burden. That’s a better way to do it. Given the complexity and problems with the property tax, I’m not sure adding another wrinkle is the best thing to do.”

Council Member Brannan, who has been advocating for property tax reform since his campaign for office, is a renter but he understands the effect a rebate could have. “I’m a renter, but my landlord certainly would factor that into my rent,” he said.

“Obviously it doesn’t benefit me because I’m a renter but because when I was knocking on doors for nine months in my campaign, that was one of the top things I heard about, was people getting squeezed -- renters too. It all trickles down. Coops, condos, homeowners, everything. It’s a big deal for me. I’m not gonna benefit from it but it’s a big deal,” he added. (CBC’s Doulis said it’s unclear that a temporary rebate would get passed down to renters but that wholesale reform was more likely to have that effect.)

Other homeowners identified in COIB disclosures include Council Members Peter Koo, Jumaane Williams, and Fernando Cabrera.

Cabrera and Williams did not respond to requests for comment. Scott Sieber, a spokesperson for Koo told Gotham Gazette the Council member files taxes jointly with his wife and would not qualify for the rebate. “The rebate is good for all our constituents in the city,” Koo said at City Hall last week.

Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr., a former state senator, said that he has qualified for state property tax credits in the past but has refused to apply for them. “When I was in Albany, they gave credits to property owners and I never took one and I would never apply for it until I retire,” he told Gotham Gazette in the Council chambers last week. “But there are people in the City of New York, homeowners that deserve to take a break on those things. I support the speaker.”

What if he qualified for the Council’s proposed rebate? “I won’t take it,” he said.

The City Council is in the midst of weeks of hearings on de Blasio’s executive budget, while Johnson and others continue to push their top priorities -- the property tax rebate, reduced price MetroCards for people living in poverty, and an added $500 million into reserves -- for inclusion in the adopted budget, which the two sides must agree on by the July 1 start to the new fiscal year.

On the steps of City Hall, Council Member Chaim Deutsch brushed aside any concerns about personal conflicts in pushing for a rebate. “When we’re fighting for issues, a lot of the time we fight for issues that affect us because that’s where we get the experience from, and that’s how we know sometimes how to fight for things,” he said. “Because we as New Yorkers understand sometimes when it’s difficult for a Council member to make ends meet, that we know how difficult it may be for others. So we fight for issues. So you can’t single out one thing over another.”

[Related: De Blasio, City Council Tangle Over How to Spend $1 Billion]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Council Pushes Property Tax Rebate as De Blasio Continues Stall on Broader Reform Mon, 14 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Member Joe Borelli http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7659:max-murphy-podcast-city-council-member-joe-borelli http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7659:max-murphy-podcast-city-council-member-joe-borelli

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


May 7, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Member Joe Borelli

joe borelli podcast map 277

Joseph Borelli is a City Council member, former state Assembly member, Staten Islander, conservative Republican, and outspoken Donald Trump supporter. On the podcast, Borelli discusses his district, his constituents and their concerns, the fact that he is a "proponent of secession" for Staten Island from the rest of New York City, his take on Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, President Trump, the media, and more.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy, and this week's guest is @JoeBorelliNYC. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Member Joe Borelli Mon, 07 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Marc Molinaro and The Trump Question http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7649:marc-molinaro-and-the-trump-question http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7649:marc-molinaro-and-the-trump-question marc molinaro ggbreakfast

Marc Molinaro, left, and Chris Gibson (photo: @marcmolinaro)


The presumptive Republican nominee for governor of New York did not vote for the Republican president of the United States.

One question Marc Molinaro was asked most often in the early weeks of his campaign to replace Governor Andrew Cuomo is whether he voted for Donald Trump in November 2016.

“I did not, I voted for Chris Gibson,” Molinaro told reporters in Albany on April 2, the day of his official campaign launch, naming the former Congressional representative who is now chair of Molinaro’s gubernatorial campaign. It was the second time that day Molinaro, currently Dutchess County Executive, had been asked the question, the first coming in the village of Tivoli, where he grew up, became mayor at the age of 19, and held his first launch event. Both times he answered quickly, and briefly, ready to move on to the next question.

A follow-up question, though: why didn’t you vote for Trump?

“I had significant differences at the time, I didn't vote for him, I voted for Chris Gibson, who would have made a fine president,” Molinaro said in Tivoli. “And this is what I tell people, and I believe it, for those that admire [Trump], they believe he says it the way he sees it, and so do I, but when he doesn't do what is in the best interest of New Yorkers, and New York families, I’ll say it, and when America and the federal government does something in the best interest of New Yorkers I’ll say it too.”

In several iterations of the same answer over the course of weeks, Molinaro has not explained the “significant differences” he had with Trump that led him to write in Gibson.

Molinaro has mentioned two incidents where Trump has disappointed him since taking office -- the president’s response to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and the federal tax overhaul that severely limits state and local deductions -- but has not provided details of his issues with Trump during the campaign. A Molinaro campaign spokesperson said she thought he had been clear in his answers about Trump and did not provide more detail when Gotham Gazette inquired.

The campaign spokesperson also declined to answer repeated questions about who Molinaro voted for during the Republican presidential primary in New York, in April 2016. Gibson, meanwhile, has been a fairly outspoken critic of Trump, though he said he did vote for the Republican nominee over Clinton because he thought Trump was more likely to clean up Washington, D.C. Gibson has told the Albany Times Union, however, that Trump has not lived up to his promise to “drain the swamp.”

In August 2017, Gibson condemned Trump’s “both sides” response to the Charlottesville rally and counter-protest, writing in the Poughkeepsie Journal, “In moments like these, leadership can make all the difference. We were all counting on President Donald Trump to help us understand what happened, condemn by name the racist organizations involved, mourn the losses, and bring us together to heal. He utterly failed us.”

Molinaro’s lukewarm approach to the president does not seem to have had an impact on his ability to garner the support of key New York Republican leaders in his bid to earn the party nomination and take on the winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary, where Cuomo is being challenged from the left by actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, both painting themselves as essential anti-Trump forces.

The Trump question could continue to prove tricky for Molinaro, who appears to want to discuss virtually anything else. There is no question that his Democratic opponent will attempt to tie him to the president and members of the media will want to know what he thinks of various Trump actions.

On the day Molinaro entered the race, Cuomo said, "They want to run a Trump mini-me in New York -- good luck.”

That same day, Geoff Berman, the executive director of the New York State Democratic Committee, released a statement saying, “it's clear that the New York GOP is intent on pushing an ultra-conservative Trump agenda, and a candidate that has the same positions as Trump with a different hair color.”

While he didn’t vote for Trump, Molinaro is loathe to explain why and hesitant to criticize the president. While Trump is deeply unpopular in New York overall, he retains strong support from Republicans in the state (Democrats hold a significant voter enrollment advantage across New York). Trump, a New York City businessman and television star, won 46 of 62 New York counties in his election against former New York Senator Hillary Clinton, though Clinton still won the state handily, 59 to 36.5 percent, thanks to dominating the population centers, including New York City.

A February Quinnipiac poll showed Trump underwater in New York at 30 percent approval and 65 percent disapproval, though it was actually a slight increase in approval for the president. Within those numbers, though, Trump had a 79-15 percent approval rating among Republicans, and a 5-93 percent among Democrats.

It looks as though Molinaro will not be forced into the difficult task of having to hug Trump in a Republican primary to then distance himself in a general election, where he almost certainly will need to win over many independents and some Democrats to win.

The Dutchess County Executive, who has held a handful of different government positions over more than 20 years in elected office, appears to have secured both the Republican and Conservative Party nominations, and their ballot lines in November. Throughout the process of seeking the backing of different county chairs of each of the two parties, Molinaro has had to answer the Trump question in public and in private.

Asked if he supports the president on the Joe Piscopo Show on AM970 radio, Molinaro said, “I support America, and when the president does something good, I’m going to stand up and say it. A lot of people say this about him and that is, he says it the way he sees it, well so do I. So when he does or says something that I can’t stand for, I have to say it as well. I did that when he spoke out, I think inappropriately, after Charlottesville. I didn’t vote for him last November, but my position is that we need America to succeed and we need New York to succeed.”

He then pivoted to criticizing Cuomo, whom Molinaro has repeatedly said “displays the very attributes he demonizes,” as he tweeted recently about Cuomo and Trump, pulling up just shy of criticizing the president while still being able to take a shot at Cuomo as a hypocrite.

Despite his coolness toward the bombastic president, the seemingly even-tempered Molinaro -- who is basing his run in part on the quality of his character, his ethics, values, and willingness to work across the aisle -- has continued to gain support from Trump backers.

“The bottom line is that I would have preferred him to vote for Donald Trump,” said Mike Long, state chair of the Conservative Party. “Marcus Molinaro’s positions on the issues are in sync with conservative Republicans, and therefore I overlooked it.”

Long said he’s spoken with Molinaro about his lack of support for Trump. “What I found out was: number one, father of young children, he at the time, what was going on in the campaign, he wasn’t comfortable voting for Donald Trump, and he felt his vote in New York wouldn’t make a difference in the outcome here,” Long said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

“The meter is different, but on the issues they mostly see eye to eye,” Long said of Trump and Molinaro, who says that as governor he would lower taxes, rein in state spending, return more power to localities, clean up rampant corruption in state government, and improve management at the MTA. While he holds many conservative positions, Molinaro has also expressed some more moderate stances on immigration and campaign finance reform.

“Marcus is refreshing, he’s energetic, and I think he can give New York a fresh start,” Long said. “Some people may be disappointed he didn’t vote for Trump, but they’re not going to vote for Cuomo.”

New York City Council Member Joseph Borelli, a Republican from Staten Island, was an early endorser of Trump in the presidential race and continues to strongly back the president. He is also vehemently behind Molinaro for governor.

“He is a pragmatic executive, willing to work with all sides, and has a reputation as a problem-solver,” Borelli said in a statement endorsing Molinaro. “Most importantly, he has good character and a strong moral compass that guides his decisions.”

“New York City could benefit from someone like him at the helm of our state,” Borelli also said.

On whether he thinks Trump will be involved in the race personally, Long said he doubts it. “I don’t see the president getting involved at any part of the campaign. I don’t see any need for that happening. The president has his hands full dealing with the anti-Trumpers around the country,” Long said.

“Would he help Marcus? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think it’s necessary that the president get involved.”

[Read: In Run for Governor, Marc Molinaro Will Make a Character Argument]

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Marc Molinaro and The Trump Question Tue, 01 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
In Run for Governor, Marc Molinaro Will Make a Character Argument http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7581:in-run-for-governor-marc-molinaro-will-make-a-character-argument http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7581:in-run-for-governor-marc-molinaro-will-make-a-character-argument molinaro w dollar unfundated mandates

Marc Molinaro (photo: @MarcMolinaro)


Marc Molinaro wants you to believe in government again. In order to do so, he will argue, you must elect him to be the next governor of New York, eschewing the cutthroat, divisive, corrupt politics of Andrew Cuomo and opting for unity, dignity, and bipartisan problem-solving.

The 42-year-old Republican is in his second term as Dutchess County Executive; on Monday he will officially launch his gubernatorial campaign from the town of Tivoli, where he grew up and was elected mayor at 18, in 1994. In part, he is going to run for governor on the concept that Andrew Cuomo is a bad guy and that he, Marc Molinaro, is a good guy -- a man with good values, good character, and the right approach to government. Many will vouch for him; and loud will be the chorus decrying Cuomo, who, despite not being particularly well-liked by people in politics, has many of his own advantages as he seeks a third term.

While Molinaro has been a declared gubernatorial candidate for weeks now -- appearing at candidate forums, racking up endorsements from party leaders across the state, and emerging as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination -- Monday will mark a new beginning, setting off a seven-month push to become the first Republican elected statewide since Gov. George Pataki won a third term in 2002.

“We’ve elected state leaders who don’t understand how government is supposed to function,” Molinaro said in an interview earlier this year, “who don’t think they are truly responsible and accountable and ought to be accessible to the voters. And I have done all of that.” In order to inspire more confidence in government, Molinaro will argue, leadership must be more worthy of respect, more attentive, and more competent.

“[W]hen you look to Albany and Washington, you realize all of a sudden that they have one thing in common: they’re divided,” Molinaro says in the campaign video he released last week. “[T[he politics of today seems to be focused on tearing others down instead of lifting up the people we serve. We seek to bring people together, to work together, to overcome our challenges, and I know that the people working together can solve any problem, confront any challenge, and overcome any obstacle."

Though there will be plenty of lofty rhetoric, Molinaro will not be running a purely positive campaign, as he has already fired off acerbic attacks on Cuomo, the Democratic incumbent who must survive his own primary challenge before worrying about the Republican nominee. Molinaro is the heavy favorite to leave his party’s May convention as the nominee -- Republicans are aiming to avoid a contentious primary, while Cuomo is likely to have to battle actor and activist Cynthia Nixon through the September 13 Democratic vote in what is shaping up to be a scorched-earth contest.

Part of the reason Molinaro is favored by many of his partymates is that he is something of an Albany outsider -- though he did spend five years in the state Assembly minority -- who is able to run on executive and legislative experience and a believable platform of changing the way business is done in a state capital known for secretive negotiations, pay-to-play politics, and other legal and illegal ethical breaches. Molinaro’s main competition for the nomination is state Senator John DeFrancisco, the deputy majority leader who has been in the Senate since 1992.

Molinaro is folksy but assertive. He is self-deprecating -- “my mom still thinks I should get a real job” -- with a honed sense of himself and ready ability to talk about what he sees as the strengths of his record, having spent virtually his entire adult life in elected office. He talks about his family a lot - he has three young children, including one with special needs, which has helped inform one of his focus areas as county executive. He talks about growing up with a single mother, eating free lunch at school -- “we struggled quite a bit” -- and is quick to show empathy. He is a people-person; Andrew Cuomo is not.

“I wasn’t born into politics,” Molinaro said in the interview, “nobody anointed me anything.”

There are a variety of clear reasons why Molinaro was recruited to run, even after he said in early January that he had decided against it, leading him to change his mind and answer the call from fellow Republicans. But, he’ll face some daunting challenges if he does indeed win his party nomination and face the incumbent in the general election: raising money, especially enough to compete with Cuomo, who has shown tremendous skill at exploiting New York’s porous campaign finance rules to accumulate a massive $30 million war chest; building name recognition across the state; and appealing to the more conservative Republican base as well as moderates from both major parties and independents.

“There are real people in the State of New York of all backgrounds who I think do want a competent, capable, caring leader, and who are willing to cross party lines to be supportive,” Molinaro said.

Alongside character, he’ll have to compete with Cuomo’s record, which boasts a number of high-profile accomplishments, and the support for the incumbent from the Democratic establishment, including many labor unions, and, perhaps, an activist base that decides Cuomo is preferable to anyone with an “R” next to their name, especially in the Donald Trump era.

New York is a blue state, with a significant Democratic enrollment advantage, and November is expected to usher in the full impact of a blue wave building across the country, including in New York. But, there are many parts of the state that lean Republican and some signs of Cuomo fatigue. Seeking a third term in 2018 may be like seeking a fourth term in earlier eras that didn’t have today’s news cycles and social media. Mario Cuomo, Andrew’s father, lost his attempt at a fourth term to Pataki in 1994.

Andrew Cuomo is likely to be damaged by what is already a bruising primary challenge from Nixon, who, if she doesn’t win, is cutting powerful ads for use against the incumbent in the general. While Nixon is challenging Cuomo from the left flank, her criticisms of him as “corrupt Cuomo,” “Andrew the bully,” a poor steward of the MTA, and more, are all ones that will be tenets of any Republican campaign against the governor.

Though polls and campaign accounts show Cuomo in good position as the campaign season gets moving, and he is a famously crafty political operative, the amount of apparent vitriol from the governor’s left and right should not be underestimated. Nixon launched her campaign less than two weeks ago, many prominent Democrats have sidestepped questions about endorsing the party’s most powerful New York player, and anti-Trump and anti-Senate Independent Democratic Conference fervor may take major bites out of Cuomo’s margins in the primary.

As the calendar turns to April and Nixon throws haymakers, enter Molinaro.

The county executive will talk “purpose” and “service” a lot, he’ll talk about civic responsibility, shared values across political lines, family, and opportunity. He will continue to criticize Cuomo on ethical, management, and leadership lines. He will point to the struggling economies of upstate towns, the floundering New York City subway system, the high property taxes and unfunded mandates on localities, the corruption trials of top Cuomo aides, the secretive Albany budget negotiations, and the vengeful nature of an incumbent with few friends but many allies.

That will take him only so far.

Molinaro will need a clear platform, and his positions on a variety of issues will be vetted carefully. He’ll need to secure votes across upstate New York and break through in the suburban counties surrounding New York City, including the areas around his own home in Dutchess and onto Long Island. He’ll have to make himself exempt from the apparent suburban revolt against Trump’s Republican Party.

Votes from the five boroughs would also be helpful, if not essential -- can he secure the Giuliani and Bloomberg Democrats and independents and hit the “magic 30 percent” that Republicans believe they need in the city to win statewide?

How will Molinaro tailor his campaign in the different regions of the state? How will he talk about Trump? Who will be his lieutenant governor candidate running mate?

As he seeks to mostly take the high road, Molinaro has been critical of the tone and tenor of the 2016 presidential campaign, and said at a recent candidate forum in Manhattan that he will support Trump when he works to help the middle class, but speak up when he disagrees with the president. “You’ll always hear me say it the way I see it, just like I think many people admire the way he says it the way he sees it,” Molinaro said.

Molinaro has said he did not vote for Trump in 2016, instead writing in former Congressional Rep. Chris Gibson, who at one time was many New York Republicans’ hope to challenge Cuomo this year. Gibson decided against running. Molinaro’s opposition to Trump has not stopped many Republican leaders from supporting him.

While some Republicans throughout the state will want to hear Molinaro back Trump’s presidency, Democrats will surely use the president against whoever the GOP nominee is, especially in the state’s large cities and suburbs around New York City.

When asked by Gotham Gazette if he calls himself a moderate, Molinaro said no.

“I have some strongly held beliefs,” he said. “I have had to vote on them from time to time. You could consider me a communitarian. I know it’s not a real term, but it was one. Everyone who has a stake in the game, everyone who has something to win or lose deserves a seat at the table and the leader needs to set the tone. In this case, a governor, a mayor, or a county executive sets the tone that gets people who may be on opposite sides of the issue to find some commonality so that we solve the problem, confront the challenge, and provide the outcome.”

“We have to come to conclusions that don't divide people,” he added. “This governor is often too happy to divide people. If you're too far right, you don't deserve to live in the state of New York. If you’re too far left well then, he suggests, I don’t have to listen to you. The truth of the matter is, everybody who calls the state home has to know that their leader is listening to them.”

Molinaro said he has friends and colleagues who will vouch for him who are Democrats and Republicans. In Dutchess, he said with a laugh, “most of the Democratic leaders hate that they like me.” He said that he would work better with Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio than Cuomo has.

Molinaro is a fiscal conservative, promising job growth based on smart development, lower taxes, fewer regulations, and tighter government spending. “Driving down the costs of doing business and the cost of living is, I think, paramount,” he said.

He will have his record to run on. “Under Marc's leadership, [Dutchess] County saw a transformation into a community where businesses and families thrive,” said New York City Council Member Joe Borelli, a former Assembly colleague of Molinaro’s who lived in Dutchess for several years and knows Molinaro well. “He is a pragmatic executive, willing to work with all sides, and has a reputation as a problem-solver. Most importantly, he has good character and a strong moral compass that guides his decisions.”

In the interview with Gotham Gazette, Molinaro expressed concerns about the minimum wage hike that Cuomo orchestrated in 2016, which will see the wage hit $15 in many parts of the state over the course of several years. He said that especially outside of New York City, “I don't necessarily think it was a smart move and certainly hasn’t produced, I think, the outcomes outside of the city. I didn’t support it at the time. I’m all for indexing a minimum wage to growth, but I think that frankly it was a decision defined by political expediency. It is not necessarily defined by molding consensus and trying to come up with a policy that was in the best interest of taxpayers and employers and of people struggling to find any job.”

Molinaro believes in targeted support for industries or sectors to help encourage growth, saying that power has become too concentrated in Albany and he wants to return much of it to counties, cities, and towns. Molinaro noted his endorsement from The Sierra Club, saying he was one of the “few Republicans in the state Assembly” to earn the environmental group’s backing. He stressed that he’s not easily labeled.

He promises to make education a priority if elected governor. “I think a wholesale look and review as to how we fund education and how we distribute funding,” he said, adding, “it’s important that we look at the delivery of special education in the state.”

Molinaro may face challenges establishing broad-based appeal on social issues. He appears poised to run with a moderate, inclusive message on immigration, but on gun regulations, LGBT rights, and women’s reproductive freedoms he may struggle to find the constituency needed to win in New York, especially given the attacks that Cuomo would level against him on those issues.

“When I was in the Assembly I did vote against same-sex marriage,” he said of the 2011 vote that moved through what is perhaps Cuomo’s signature policy achievement of his tenure. “I think that we’ve moved along. Everyone now enjoys and has the right to enjoy marriage. To celebrate whoever, with whomever they love. I accept that and as an elected official it’s my job to uphold the laws of the state of New York. I don’t have any reservations about the vote. I also accept that time has passed. As a society we’ve moved forward.”

On abortion rights Molinaro said somewhat similarly. He believes in “preserving life,” he said, “but I accept that there are certain situations where individuals need to be able to make that decision, but I also accept that this is settled law in the state.”

“I’d like us to work as a society, as a community, to reduce the numbers and times that abortion is chosen,” he added. “It’s not something that I could support personally, and I don’t, but I acknowledge that as a society we need to do our very best to help people make as many responsible decisions as possible and there are certain situations, obviously, where women are put into a position having to make that decision. As a government we need to be sure that individuals have access to affordable healthcare to ensure that they’re as safe and healthy as possible.”

On gun regulations, Molinaro echoed what many Republicans across New York believe: “Frankly, I do have concerns with how aggressive this governor has been. I think in some ways irresponsibly ignoring those that do support, as I do, the Second Amendment and forcing legislation without having the kind of local robust conversation necessary. I believe the constitution is as it’s written.” Molinaro is a regular at Friends of NRA events, something Cuomo -- who pushed through the SAFE Act gun regulations in early 2013 -- would likely seek to use against him.

Molinaro has been a steady critic of Cuomo’s ethics, and been among many asking questions about a pay-to-play culture where campaign donors appear to be favored and massive amounts of cash flow into the governor’s coffers from entities that have or hope to win state business. These issues were brought into sharp relief during the recent corruption trial of Cuomo’s top former aide, Joseph Percoco, and others. They will again be on display during another trial set to begin in June that features Cuomo allies, projects, and donors.

The county executive said he’d “like to engage in a comprehensive reform of campaign finance.” He said he’s in favor of closing the LLC loophole, but only in combination with other reforms.

Calling for “wholesale review and reform of campaign finance in the state” that is informed by many perspectives, he said, “I’m one of the people that only thinks people should be able to contribute money.”

“[T]hose are individual rights, those rights extend to individuals,” he said, raising questions about donations from businesses and labor. “[U]nions have a great deal of influence, corporations have a great deal of influence; the state contribution limits are astronomically out of line to other states, independent expenditure opportunities are pretty broad in the state. There are a lot of those reforms that I think should go hand-in-hand,” he said.

The endorsements of Molinaro that have steadily flowed in over the past few weeks speak to faith in him as a leader and as a person.

J.C. Polanco, a Bronxite who works for the Assembly minority and has known Molinaro for over a decade, believes he is the type of candidate Republicans need to run more in New York. “His youth and moderate positions on immigration, criminal justice, taxes and widening the tent of our party is one of the main reasons I'm excited to support my friend Marc,” said Polanco, who unsuccessfully ran for New York City Public Advocate last year. “At a time when many moderate Republicans like me feel unwelcomed he's one of the few guys that has made it a point to include me and others like me into the conversation.”

Many of those offering their backing cite different reasons, namely reigning in state spending, improving the economy, lowering taxes, and leading a more ethical government.

In his endorsement of Molinaro, Suffolk County Republican Committee Chair John J. LaValle called him “a proven leader” who “has both the executive and legislative experience, together with the energy and enthusiasm to lead our ticket to victory this November.”

LaValle said that New Yorkers “are desperate for a Governor that is truly committed to cleaning up our government and fighting for our overburdened taxpayers. It's time to replace the Governor who has led New York to the bottom of virtually every economic category, while focusing on self-promotion.”

As he formally launches his campaign, Molinaro will have to start proving that he can raise the money to compete, and that he has a sense of the path to victory. Much will depend on who emerges from the Democratic primary, but Cuomo is the obvious favorite at this point, no matter the state of the New York City subways, the recent corruption conviction of his former top aide, or the upcoming trial of his former economic development czar.

Molinaro’s campaign believes that the stage is set for a competitive race, though, in large part because of those corruption trials, which have helped sink Cuomo’s standing in and around Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rochester, and the primary challenge from Nixon, which could damage Cuomo badly downstate.

“I’ve thought about what a roadmap looks like and how one as a Republican in this state can win,” Molinaro said. “We know it takes a lot of messaging and action in New York City to allay fear.” To find a Republican governor acceptable, he said, would mean building trust in and around the five boroughs, but that he would be aided by the fact that Cuomo has “eroded” a significant portion of the progressive base of the party.

“And frankly upstate it’s community by community,” Molinaro said. “It just is. You have to be willing to commit every day until Election Day to go to, to get to the VFWs and fire houses and the community organizations, and as many voters as possible and make that connection.”

“I'm not naive, I've worked on campaigns, I've run for office, it’s a lot of work,” he said. “[O]utside of the city it’s district by district. It’s neighborhood by neighborhood. Building the network to send your message over and over again so that we not only, not only earn the support but get the turnout.”

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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In Run for Governor, Marc Molinaro Will Make a Character Argument Fri, 30 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Landmarks Brooklyn Home Against Owner’s Wishes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7503:city-landmarks-brooklyn-home-against-owner-s-wishes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7503:city-landmarks-brooklyn-home-against-owner-s-wishes peter rosa huberty google earth

1019 Bushwick Avenue (via Google Maps)


In October, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to designate the Peter P. and Rosa M. Huberty House, at 1019 Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn, as a city landmark.

“The designation of the Huberty House honors both the historic character of Bushwick Avenue as it developed in the early 20th century, as well as the contributions of architect Ulrich Huberty to the borough of Brooklyn," LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said at the time. “Today's landmark designation will preserve this splendid Colonial Revival for future generations of New Yorkers to enjoy."

A little more than three months later, on February 6, the item passed the City Council’s Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses. It then passed the Council’s Land Use Committee on February 8, and finally the full City Council on February 15. The landmarking has the support of the LPC, Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents the district the house sits in, Reynoso’s predecessor, Diana Reyna, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the Historic Districts Council, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy, to name a few.

The problem: the owner of the house, Virginia Giovinco, is staunchly against it.

Giovinco testified at a January 23 meeting of the Council’s Landmarks Subcommittee, when the landmarking of the house was being considered.

“It’s a terrible burden on me,” she told the subcommittee. “I just cannot live with that idea. So I strongly oppose this designation for that moment that I don’t have control over my house.”

The home has been in Giovinco’s family since 1937, when it was purchased by her grandfather, Luciano Giovinco, a tailor who had immigrated from Italy at the beginning of the 1900s. The house, a 4,000 square foot colonial revival mansion, was originally built in 1900 by the architect Ulrich Huberty for his parents, Peter and Rosa. Huberty also designed buildings such as the landmarked Williamsburgh Savings Bank, Hotel Bossert, and the Prospect Park Boathouse.

Giovinco, now in her eighties, claimed at the hearing that the city has been attempting to landmark the house for at least 15 years. Her main worry appeared to be losing the autonomy of regular homeownership. She testified that, over the course of the Giovinco family’s 81-year ownership of the house, it had been kept in immaculate condition and any improvements had not deviated from the original colonial style of the home.

“The old-timers did not need an outside agency to tell them they should preserve the appearance of this house,” she said. “And I don’t need an outside agency either.”

Virginia Giovinco’s cousin Paul Giovinco also testified at the hearing, attesting that the house was not just within Virginia’s immediate family but rather a focal point for the entire extended family. Paul called out the city for not being supportive, saying that they had not received an offer from the city to cover a fixed portion of maintenance costs required by the landmarking.

“We’re not gonna go ahead and throw down some tar paper, and some shingles,” Paul said. “We’re gonna maintain it the same way. But I don’t see no compensation or help. So what is the landmark giving us?”

In response to testimony from the Giovincos, Council Members Daneek Miller and Mark Treyger discussed the need to strike a balance between the issues of homeowner autonomy and the need to preserve historic structures and communities through the landmarking process. Council Member Peter Koo recommended that the committee lay over the matter until further study.

At the February 15 meeting of the full City Council, Miller, Treyger, and Koo all voted to advance the landmarking.

Seven Council members voted against the designation: Joe Borelli, Ruben Diaz, Sr., Mark Gjonaj, Bob Holden, Steven Matteo, Eric Ulrich, and Kalman Yeger -- the Council’s three Republicans and several more conservative Democrats. Giovinco’s objections to the landmarking were on their mind.

“It is my understanding that the property owner was not in favor of the landmark designation,” Ulrich told Gotham Gazette. “Therefore I voted against it.”

Borelli went even further in his objections, suggesting that the landmarking is a violation of the owner’s personal liberties.

“No owner is treated fairly if their rights are taken away without compensation,” Borelli said in an email. “There is no other agency in government that has that power, only this commission that decides which buildings are more relevant than others.” Among the rights Borelli cited as being taken away by LPC include “everything from putting a new addition on; to painting it with purple polka dots; [t]o using aluminum siding; [t]o demolishing it, because the cost of maintaining it under LPC guidelines is costly.”

Borelli said the Landmarks Preservation Commission should be focusing more on landmarking buildings wherein preservation would be a public benefit, rather than simply picking “the prettiest house on the block.”

The Landmarks Preservation Commission describes itself as “the largest municipal preservation agency in the nation;” 36,000 buildings are landmarked properties in New York City. Most of those are located in larger historic districts, but there are 1,405 individually landmarked buildings, along with 120 “interior landmarks” and 10 “scenic landmarks,” which consist of city parks such as Central Park, Prospect Park, and Riverside Park. Its leadership is made up of 11 commissioners appointed by the mayor. When the LPC designates a city landmark, the designation must then be approved by the City Council’s Land Use Committee and then the full council.

Virginia Giovinco declined to comment for this story. She has been on record against the landmarking since at least 2013, when she testified at an LPC hearing with the same concerns as she has now: that landmarking the house would result in her losing autonomy over her property.

For its part, an LPC representative said that the commission has designated approximately 150 free-standing homes as landmarks, with another 2,000 being landmarked as part of a historic district. Zodet Negron, a spokesperson for the LPC, told Gotham Gazette that the LPC has designated eight single-family homes as landmarks in the past four years, receiving the support of six of the owners; in the end, the owner’s approval is not required for designation. Negron stated that the LPC had done “extensive outreach” with Giovinco and that it intended to work with her “to ensure a smooth regulatory process.”

“Our intent and approach is always to seek the cooperation of owners and establish a collaborative relationship that continues after designation,” Negron told Gotham Gazette. “Thousands of single-family homes are regulated by the Commission throughout the city, including both individual landmarks and within historic districts, and we work closely with homeowners to appropriately and expediently meet their needs.”

According the city’s administrative code, minor work on a landmarked property typically requires a permit from the LPC, unless another city agency deems an improvement necessary for safety. Major work such as demolitions or new construction requires more permissions from LPC, including a “certificate of no effect” on “protected architectural features,” a “certificate of appropriateness,” or are otherwise authorized to proceed with the work. The code also says that owners should keep properties in “good repair” and prevent decay and deterioration. Negron said “routine maintenance” of landmarked properties typically does not require review from LPC.

City Council Member Adrienne Adams, the chair of the Landmarks Subcommittee, also told Gotham Gazette that she had met with Giovinco after the hearing.

Though Bushwick Avenue is lined with many historic properties, only one other home on the avenue has been landmarked: the Catherina Lipsius House at 670 Bushwick Ave. Other landmarks on the stretch include a church, a Brooklyn Public Library branch, a Masonic Lodge, and the Williamsburg Houses NYCHA development.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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City Landmarks Brooklyn Home Against Owner’s Wishes Thu, 01 Mar 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Mayor-Made Speaker, Sought a Member-Driven Legacy http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7394:melissa-mark-viverito-a-mayor-made-speaker-who-sought-a-member-driven-legacy http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7394:melissa-mark-viverito-a-mayor-made-speaker-who-sought-a-member-driven-legacy Mayor de Blasio Speaker Mark-Viverito

(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


Melissa Mark-Viverito, the first Latina to preside over the 51-member New York City Council, leaves office having shepherded a progressive shift in the city’s direction, in conjunction with fellow Democrat Mayor Bill de Blasio, a philosophically aligned partner in government who was the deciding factor in her winning the powerful speaker position four years ago.

As arguably the second most powerful elected official in the city, Mark-Viverito oversaw an agenda of progressivism that significantly moved the needle for causes of social justice, especially related to immigrants, workers, and the criminal justice system, many of which were close to her heart and supported by a Council dominated by progressive members. But when the needle didn’t move fast enough, there were those that said Mark-Viverito too often carried the mayor’s water. It’s a charge she disputes, as do numerous Council members that served under her as they look back at her four years at the helm.

Members broadly agree that she followed through on a promise to give rank-and-file Council members the freedom to pursue their priorities while standing firm against the mayoral administration when it mattered, and that some capitulation to the administration’s priorities was part of the high-wire balancing act that defines the speakership. While they worked together far more often than they were in opposition, it was not always clear to what extent Mark-Viverito and her members, on one hand, and de Blasio, on the other, disagreed, given that the Council speaker often kept negotiations close to the vest and declined to comment in detail as the legislative process unfolded.

Mark-Viverito and her members also rarely aired internal conflict publicly, while members appeared to know that their speaker would support them, even as she very much pursued her own policy priorities and kept a tight grip on what legislation made its way to the Council floor for a vote.

The outgoing speaker made careful decisions about when and how to criticize the mayor, preferring to hold oversight hearings than to make splashy headlines with a sharp quote. She regularly declined to comment about de Blasio’s ethics and transparency problems, instead pursuing legislation to address certain issues or allowing others more willing to be oppositional to fill the space. She mostly stayed out of de Blasio’s feud with Governor Andrew Cuomo, another fellow Democrat, though she herself has been part of some tense intra-party political battles with officials like former Assemblymember and current Manhattan Democratic Party leader Keith Wright.

Mark-Viverito assumed the speakership in January 2014 with support from an ascendant mayor, strong labor unions, and a newly empowered Progressive Caucus, bucking the traditional county party-dominated process for selecting a new speaker. The new dynamic led some to be wary of whether Mark-Viverito would be a speaker for the members of the Council or for the mayor, whose politics so closely resembled her own. After taking office, she quickly advanced internal changes at the Council that were meant to empower members, particularly the chairs of the 40-odd committees, while also maintaining sufficient control within the speaker’s office.

“The considerable thing about my leadership is that I made it a member-focused legislative body,” Mark-Viverito said, in a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast hosted by Gotham Gazette and City Limits. “It wasn’t about me centralizing the power, just pushing what my agenda was…[it was about] having the members really have much more of a functional role and ownership for this institution. It belongs to all of us, it doesn’t just belong to the speaker.”

Mark-Viverito beefed up the Council staff to support members’ legislative priorities, she said, which led to greater output. Over the four years, the Council passed 714 bills under her leadership, more than any Council class before it. “I was being respectful to member priorities and the vision that they had and working with them on that...and I think that’s the way a legislative body should function,” she said.

[Listen: Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito]

The first two years of Mark-Viverito’s speakership proceeded amicably with the mayor for the most part. The Council played its part in supporting the mayor’s agenda that included universal pre-kindergarten and expanding the paid sick leave law. City spending ramped up with little opposition from the Council, which also advocated for increased spending on its own policy priorities.

“I think that from the start the speaker was a forward thinking, independent leader,” said outgoing Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, a Queens Democrat. “She brought real fairness and transparency to the Council and made the Council a better place to work, from someone who had been in the Council for five years prior to her leadership.”

An early area of disagreement was Mark-Viverito’s call for an increase in the NYPD’s headcount, which struck many as peculiar given her criticisms of police practices and the larger criminal justice system. She unsuccessfully pressed the issue in 2014, and then renewed her efforts in 2015, eventually convincing a hesitant de Blasio to back the expensive idea. The department ended up adding 1,300 new officers, a compromise among the Council, the mayor, and the NYPD.

Also in 2015, in the city’s fight against the ride-hailing service Uber, Mark-Viverito publicly chastised the mayor for presuming that the Council would do his bidding. The mayor, after giving up his effort to cap the number of new cars run by Uber and its competitors, threatened that a cap was still a tool available to him, even though it would have to be approved by the Council first. “I’m not going to allow anyone to attempt to save face at the expense of this Council,” she said at a news conference at City Hall, raising many eyebrows. “This Council decides what bills we need to discuss, what debates we will have, what will be taken off the table, what will be put on the table. No one else leads that discussion, no one else influences that discussion.”

Higher profile battles would occur later still, as de Blasio’s first term wore on towards a potential second and as the speaker’s final term wound to a close. (Mark-Viverito was early to endorse de Blasio for reelection, but, over the following months, she seemed to show more willingness to resist his politics and policies.)    

“I think first and foremost, she’s been her speaker,” said Council Member Brad Lander, in a phone interview, on whether Mark-Viverito had been the members’ speaker or the mayor’s. “She’s got a strong vision for the city and for the Council and that’s what I think has guided her. I think it’s been a really productive and fair and highly consequential and progressive speakership.”

De Blasio Mark-Viverito City Hall handshake Ed Reed Mayor's OfficeLander, who was a leading proponent for Mark-Viverito to become the speaker and was named chair of the Council’s rules committee by her, praised the internal reforms that Mark-Viverito implemented early on, which he helped write. The reforms made the Council “a more equal and inclusive body in which every member can zealously represent their community and their values, even when those are different, without fear or favor,” Lander said. Perhaps most notably, Mark-Viverito and her colleagues changed the system by which members are provided discretionary funds to disperse to nonprofits, rationalizing a process that had often been used by previous speakers to reward and punish members.

On particular issues, Lander said, Mark-Viverito facilitated legislation championed by members, such as the right to counsel for tenants in housing court, fair work-week legislation, and certain freelancer protections. The most impactful, in Lander’s view, was her successful advocacy for the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex. Mark-Viverito convened an independent commission to recommend a raft of criminal justice reforms and particularly to look at Rikers. De Blasio, who did not support the closure at first, seemed to begrudgingly accept the inevitable and announced his support just before the commission issued its report. “I believe Rikers is on a path to closure,” Lander said, “and I don’t think that would be true if [Mark-Viverito] had not been elected speaker four years ago.”

Lander noted that while the speaker often agreed and collaborated with the mayor, she was not hesitant to oppose him or break with him when her members dictated she should. For instance, when she pulled a bill she supported from consideration by the full Council that would have curbed the city’s horse carriage industry. It was a prominent campaign issue in the 2013 mayoral race and de Blasio had advocated for and promised a complete ban. But, amid discontent from members on potential compromise legislation in early 2016, the speaker stood with her colleagues.

“I think she’s been independent,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, a vocal critic of the de Blasio administration, in a November interview at City Hall. “Each speaker, just like each member, has their own political relationship with the other side of the building here. And no speaker’s going to be completely independent from the mayor or the governor or any other political actor that has influence.”

As the process to select the next speaker of the City Council has played out in the final months and weeks of 2017, de Blasio has repeatedly said how well he thinks his involvement in Mark-Viverito’s victory turned out. De Blasio captured his overall feelings in June, when announcing a final budget deal with Mark-Viverito, saying of the speaker:

“[S]he has been an extraordinary partner over the last four years. We knew each other well before we each assumed these roles. We knew that we had a lot of respect and trust for each other. We knew that we shared values. We didn’t know what it would be like to play these roles. We didn’t know what the times ahead would be or what the issues we’d face would be. But there was a core belief that if you share values, a lot of good things can happen. And many, many conversations over many years – mostly in agreement, sometimes not, but we always found a way to get to a good outcome, and with great support from all our colleagues. So from me, I can tell you I’ll be sorry when these four years are over because it has been such a great and positive partnership. As a progressive, I want to thank Melissa Mark-Viverito for helping to move this city in a new progressive direction. And the things she has championed are going to have a huge impact on this city for many years to come.”

A former Council member, who asked to remain anonymous to speak freely, served under both Mark-Viverito and former speaker Christine Quinn and said the process of Mark-Viverito’s election as speaker hampered her ability to distance herself from de Blasio. “Melissa started at a very great disadvantage, the fact that the mayor picked her to be the speaker and only because of him,” the former member said. “He made her. That hurt the whole body and it hurt her ability to really appear to be independent...because people perceived that the City Council is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the mayor. Right off the bat, that’s a bad start.”

This former member did credit Mark-Viverito for giving more leeway than Quinn to Council members to push legislation and pursue their individual agendas, while also breaking with the mayor on controversial items. But even then, the member said, there was a degree of deference. “I think Melissa did check with the mayor on everything, and even when they broke, I think they probably checked with the mayor before they broke. So I think it was a real problem,” the former member said.

On no other issue has that dynamic played out more strongly than criminal justice reform and the Council’s attempts to legislate, and regulate, the city’s police force. Two police reform bills to regulate officers’ interactions with people, collectively named The Right to Know Act, progressed slowly through the legislative process over the years despite having overwhelming support from Council members and progressive advocates. Tensions reached a head in mid-2016 when Mark-Viverito reached a compromise on administrative implementation by the NYPD of partial measures, in lieu of a full Council vote to codify the provisions into law. Advocates saw it as a backroom deal while Council members fumed over the concession to the administration and the police department.

Amended versions of the bills would ultimately pass in a divisive vote at the final full meeting of the Council on December 19, 2017, with numerous Council members and hundreds of community groups coming out in opposition to one bill sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres that had been, in their view, diluted to appease the NYPD and the mayor, who said he’d sign the bill given it had struck the right balance despite his skepticism about too much legislating of NYPD protocols.

Monifa Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, an advocacy coalition, said in a statement that it was “disappointing,” particularly given Mark-Viverito’s progressive credentials on police reform and accountability. “While [Mark-Viverito] was a champion on Closing Rikers, she did not show the same willingness to fight for front-end police reforms that hold the NYPD accountable and systemically change racial disparities in policing and what feeds the criminal justice system,” Bandele said. “She spent three to four years blocking the Right to Know Act, and then helped the de Blasio administration undermine the half of the legislative package of which Council Member Torres was lead sponsor.” Bandele also criticized the speaker’s push to increase the headcount of the NYPD, which Mark-Viverito had argued would help with reforms and implementation of community policing.

Council Member Torres also criticized the administrative compromise in 2016 and he told Gotham Gazette in November that Mark-Viverito had not been sufficiently independent of the mayor in that case. In a separate interview after a November 1 Crain’s New York Business breakfast forum, Torres indicated, amid praise, some dissatisfaction with the speaker’s record. “I support Melissa, I love Melissa as a person and as a speaker. I thought she has struck the right balance between decentralizing greater power to the members while at the same time maintaining the power of the speaker’s office,” he said. “There are a few moments when I felt we were excessively deferential to the mayor and I said so at the time of those controversies.”

Torres had said at the Crain’s forum -- part of his bid to become Mark-Viverito’s successor as speaker -- that the Council was prone to sideshow distractions. “Oscar Lopez, Christopher Columbus, what’s the latest sensation of the week,” he elaborated in the interview afterward. “The Health and Hospitals Corporation could disappear within the next five years. NYCHA has $17 billion worth of capital needs. Those are the things that matter, those are the things that we should be discussing.”

Torres later changed his tune somewhat, perhaps showcasing some of the mixed feelings Council members have about Mark-Viverito’s tenure and her relationships with de Blasio and her members. “She has been responsive to the needs of the members, there’s no question about it. As a member, I could not be more satisfied with the leadership that she’s given me,” Torres recently told Gotham Gazette at City Hall.

As to his earlier comments on her independence, Torres said, “I think it’s a matter of degree. We could always be more effective, we could always be more independent. But has she fundamentally been representative of the needs of the members of the institution? The answer is yes. Not perfect, but fundamentally.” When the Right to Know Act headed to a vote and many of Torres’ colleagues criticized his bill, Mark-Viverito was one of his fiercest defenders, though a number of Council members felt that Torres and Mark-Viverito had capitulated too much to the de Blasio administration. Torres’ bill did pass.

On the Max & Murphy podcast, Mark-Viverito addressed working with de Blasio, and the Council negotiating hundreds of bills with the administration, along with land use deals, budgets, and more. “I can safely say that we’ve had a good partnership and I think that there are a lot of things that I was able to move them on and they had conversations with us and maybe there’s things that they [moved] us on,” she said December 20. “But definitely it was a very productive relationship in that way. And I think that in areas where they may have had concerns about pieces of legislation, really engaging with them and talking to them and exerting ourselves, we were able to get some reconsideration on those items. And that’s in consultation with colleagues...I’m not regretful of anything.”

Mark-Viverito is leaving office proud of the way she led the Council, and not ruling out her own run for mayor down the line. It’s no surprise that even though she is term-limited she did not challenge a sitting mayor of her own party who she is largely aligned with and who helped her reach the height of her power. She’s leaving office having not only ushered in significant changes to city law, but having altered the way the Council functions and how members expect to be treated by their leader.

“Anyone that has to deal with a thousand bills over the course of a tenure is going to have to work to be tremendously balanced when you’re leading a legislative body against, at times, or in conjunction with the mayor’s administration,” said Staten Island Council Member Joe Borelli, one of only three Republicans on the City Council who, more often than not, vote against the types of progressive legislation championed by Mark-Viverito.

“I don’t think you can box her in as being either/or [the members’ speaker or the mayor’s speaker]. I’m sure her critics will say that she’s both at times when it suits their narrative,” Borelli continued. “She’s someone who wore her progressive banner very proudly and that’s certainly going to be her legacy and I think people over the next few years will view her as someone who carried the football for progressive causes a bit further, and people like me and those I represent will see her tenure in the speakership as slightly different.”

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

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

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Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Mayor-Made Speaker, Sought a Member-Driven Legacy Fri, 29 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy on Politics - Podcast http://www.gothamgazette.com/podcasts/max-murphy-on-politics http://www.gothamgazette.com/podcasts/max-murphy-on-politics

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


Max & Murphy on Politics is a podcast hosted by Ben Max of Gotham Gazette and Jarrett Murphy of City Limits. It began in 2016 focused on housing policy and politics when those issues were front and center to city and state politics and government, but it has expanded since. Now, in 2017, we are focused on the city election cycle, heading toward the September primary and November general elections. Find episodes through the links below, or find Max & Murphy wherever you get your podcasts: iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, etc.

Our election coverage began with an overview and preview episode June 1. Then we started to talk with mayoral candidates, with Democrat Bob Gangi on June 12 and Republican Paul Massey June 19. We're following those with Democrat Sal Albanese June 26 and we'll continue from there, also featuring episodes with other political figures and candidates for other offices. Have feedback? Find us on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy.

zephyr teachout 400 Attorney General Candidate Zephyr Teachout — July 9, 2018
 
rosenthal holtzman pod 400 The Long Fight for New City Sexual Harassment Laws — June 25, 2018
 
gelinas 477 A New Era at The MTA? with Nicole Gelinas — June 21, 2018
 
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul — June 14, 2018
 
fortune society reps for 400 Criminal Justice Reform in New York — June 5, 2018
 
Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins — June 1, 2018
 
placeholder State Party Conventions & Nominations — May 25, 2018
 
pod steph miner 400 163 Stephanie Miner — May 15, 2018
 
joe borelli podcast map 400 City Council Member Joe Borelli — May 7, 2018
 
eric adams m m pod 400px Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams — May 1, 2018
 
Stanley fritz citizen action 400px Political Purity Tests in New York — April 25, 2018
 
susan lerner cc ny 400px Reforming Special Elections & More in Albany — April 17, 2018
 
suing nycha 400 Suing NYCHA — April 10, 2018
 
Marc Molinaro Launches Campaign for Governor Molinaro Launches Campaign for Governor — April 2, 2018
 
Chirlane McCray First Lady Chirlane McCray — March 26, 2018
 
michelle de la uz 400 City Planning Commissioner Michelle de la Uz — March 19, 2018
 
ross barkan senate A Journalist Runs for State Senate — March 13, 2018
 
De Blasio's Progress Fighting Homelessness De Blasio's Progress Fighting Homelessness — March 5, 2018
 
ramos jackson podcast IDC Challengers Robert Jackson & Jessica Ramos — February 26, 2018
 
Jumaane Williams Lieutenant Governor Candidate Jumaane Williams — February 23, 2018
 
feb14 podcast Analyzing De Blasio's State of the City Address — February 14, 2018
 
Deconstructing De Blasio's Visit to Albany Deconstructing De Blasio's Visit to Albany — January 30, 2018
 
bdb mayor hearing 400px De Blasio's 2nd Term Focus on Education — January 30, 2018
 
alex matthiessen move ny 400 Congestion Pricing with Alex Matthiessen of Move New York — January 22, 2018
 
ritchie torres 400px City Council Member Ritchie Torres on The New Council & His New Role — January 17, 2018
 
rivera brannan 400x167 New City Council Members Justin Brannan & Carlina Rivera — January 10, 2018
 
bdb400px Big Political News to Start 2018 — January 3, 2018
 
melissa mark viverito alatriste podium400 City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito — December 15, 2017
 
eric koch 400 Eric Koch, former City Council communications director — December 15, 2017
 
Shola Olayote NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye — December 7, 2017
 
liz crowley podcast 400 City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley — December 5, 2017
 
bill de blasio 2nd term 400px Previewing de Blasio's 2nd term — November 27, 2017
 
bdb voting sign in 400 Analyzing the 2017 Election Results — November 9, 2017
 
mayor bdb 400 10 Things to Think About on Election Day — November 7, 2017
 
mayoral candidates 400 Resetting the Mayoral Race after the Final Debate — November 3, 2017
 
3 mayors stream Akeem Browder, Aaron Commey & Mike Tolkin are Running for Mayor — October 23, 2017
 
brigid at debate nyc votesstream Analyzing the Public Advocate & Comptroller Debates — October 19, 2017
 
debate stage400 Analyzing the First General Election Mayoral Debate — October 11, 2017
 
tish james400 Public Advocate Letitia James — October 2, 2017
 
Michel faulkner Comptroller candidate Michel Faulkner — September 29, 2017
 
jcpolanco 400 Public Advocate Candidate JC Polanco — September 18, 2017
 
gifford miller city council 400px Gifford Miller, former Speaker of the City Council and mayoral candidate — September 11, 2017
 
brigid bergin and ben max400px Brigid Bergin of WNYC radio — September 5, 2017
 
Joseph Viteritti De Blasio Author Joseph Viteritti — August 30, 2017
 
Public advocate Candidate David Eisenbach Public advocate Candidate David Eisenbach — August 28, 2017
 
azi paybarah tv 400px167px Azi Paybarah — August 17, 2017
 
Dr. Christina Greer and Alexis Grenell Representative vs. Substantive Representation, with Dr. Christina Greer and Alexis Grenell — August 15, 2017
 
max murphy katz fullington res The Mayoral Race with Top Political Strategists — July 31, 2017
 
bo dietl Mayoral Candidate Bo Dietl — July 24, 2017
 
nicole malliotakis Republican Mayoral Candidate Nicole Malliotaki — July 13, 2017
 
eric phillips Eric Phillips, press secretary to Mayor Bill de Blasio — July 5, 2017
 
sal albanese Democratic Mayoral Candidate Sal Albanese — June 26, 2017
 
paul massey 

Republican Mayoral Candidate Paul Massey — June 19, 2017 (note: Paul Massey dropped out of the mayoral race on June 28, though the episode is still worth listening to)

 
bob gangi Democratic Mayoral Candidate Bob Gangi — June 12, 2017
 
placeholder Election Season is Here! — June 1, 2017
 


A variety of earlier episodes of the Max & Murphy Podcast, through the archive, often focused on New York housing policy and politics — see all episodes from the start February 12, 2016 to May 25, 2017

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Max & Murphy on Politics - Podcast Sun, 25 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Planned Change to Veterans Department Budget Causes Stir http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6739:proposed-budget-cut-to-veterans-department-causes-stir http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6739:proposed-budget-cut-to-veterans-department-causes-stir bdb vets via nycveterans

photo: @nycveterans


Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget, released January 24, proposes nearly $1 billion in increased spending for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. But a conspicuous, albeit infinitesimal, reduction for one agency has irked elected officials and advocates.

The mayor’s spending plan, which will be evaluated by and negotiated with the City Council, includes a $318,000 decrease in the budget for the newly-minted Department of Veterans Services, which was created last year as an agency outside of the Mayor’s Office and given a significant budget boost. The DVS budget for the current fiscal year is $3.95 million, but de Blasio has $3.63 million budgeted for fiscal year 2018.

While it is a tiny fraction of the $84.7 billion preliminary budget plan, stakeholders argue that it is a step back for an administration that just last year made the major commitment to expanding veteran services by establishing a stand-alone agency after much lobbying by City Council members and advocates. The city, however, explains that the budget reduction is because one-time department start-up costs are coming off the books.

“It’s pretty sad that the Mayor of the city of New York decided to cut the department’s budget,” said state Senator Marty Golden, a Republican who represents Bay Ridge and sits on the Senate’s Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs. “It’s cutting case management for veterans, it’s cutting healthcare for veterans, it’s cutting homelessness services for veterans.”

Golden has organized a rally outside City Hall on Wednesday afternoon to protest the budget change as well as call for additional tax relief for veterans. He’ll be joined by the City Council’s three Republican members -- Steven Matteo, Joe Borelli and Eric Ulrich, who chairs the council’s veterans committee --  as well as mayoral candidates Michel Faulkner, Paul Massey, and Richard "Bo" Dietl, and veterans advocates. Council Member Ulrich, the leading governmental force behind the creation of the Department of Veterans Services, did not respond to requests for comment.

“This is a bad signal to send to veterans and to the homeless,” Golden said of the budget change. “I’m hoping [Mayor de Blasio] reevaluates and he redirects that money.”

Mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein explained in an email that the funding decrease is primarily due to one-time costs incurred in setting up the new agency last year, including fees paid to a consultant, costs for office equipment, and the non-renewal of a one-year position funded by a private grant. That funding runs through the end of the 2017 calendar year and is not reflected in the fiscal 2018 budget, according to a DVS spokesperson. A spokesperson for the mayor said that like other funding elements, the position could be negotiated back in over the course of the coming months.

In an office of about 30, the loss of that one position, related to homelessness prevention, would be “significant,” said Kristen Rouse, an Army veteran and president and founding director of NYC Veterans Alliance, an advocacy organization. The group will hold its own rally on February 14. “I completely understand that there were one-time costs, but they should be expanding regardless,” she said. “The trajectory needs to be an upward motion, not a downward one. Funding directly reflects that.”

Rouse pointed out that homelessness prevention is the biggest challenge for the department and said it should be part of a broader strategy of ensuring access to affordable housing for veterans. “There’s hundreds of veterans in shelter,” she said. “That’s important progress but that’s not a victory.”

The city ended chronic veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 and has set up an effective pipeline for getting veterans off the street. According to DVS spokesperson Alexis Wichowski, the latest count from January showed about 35 military veterans remain homeless and not in shelter. She also pointed out that the median stay for veterans in homeless shelters is about 79 days, compared to 355 for single adults, per the Mayor’s Management Report.

Wichowski said the budget changes were not a matter of concern and were always part of the plan in setting up the agency. “We are almost at full capacity, that’s a huge milestone,” she said. The agency has hired 33 of its 35-person budgeted staff and is set to embark on a number of projects and programs. “Getting people on board and getting them trained has been the focus for the last few months,” Wichowski said.

Under the direction of Commissioner Loree Sutton, the department now also has satellite offices in the Bronx and Queens and two on Staten Island, and is in the process of establishing agreements for offices in Manhattan and Brooklyn. DVS primarily offers help so that the 210,000 military veterans living in New York City can access services and benefits available to them.

City Council Member Borelli, a member of the veterans committee, was surprised and disappointed by the budget reduction. “It’s a question of the mayor’s long-term commitment to supporting the veterans agency,” he said. He critiqued the mayor for funding other items at comparable levels of the cuts, particularly $500,000 for speed cameras. “We can’t be blinded by the desire to see certain policy goals met while we abandon commitments we’ve already made,” he said.

At Wednesday’s rally, Borelli said the budget shift wouldn’t be the only item they will push. A key proposal, one promoted by veteran advocacy organizations for years, is the expansion of an alternative property tax exemption for veterans, which the NYC Veterans Alliance estimates would cost the city about $40 million at a time when the city’s assessed property tax value increased by $17.6 billion. It is a measure of much-needed housing affordability, several advocates and elected officials agree.

“The budget is about outlining priorities through a document,” Borelli said. “This is just saying that [DVS is] less pressing than other priorities.”

Next month, the City Council will begin to examine the mayor’s budget and issue its formal response, after which the mayor will release his executive budget, a revised spending plan. Following another round of Council hearings, the Council and mayor will move to closed-door negotiations before agreeing to a final budget for the next fiscal year by the June 30 deadline.

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

Read more by this writer.

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Planned Change to Veterans Department Budget Causes Stir Tue, 31 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000