Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/joe-lhota 2017-10-19T05:41:49+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com What About the Buses? 2017-08-04T04:00:00+00:00 2017-08-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7109:what-about-the-buses Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/governorandrewcuomo-photo_by_marc_a._hermann_--_mta_new_york_city_transit-5.jpg" alt="governorandrewcuomo photo by marc a. hermann mta new york city transit" width="640" height="451" /></p> <p>(photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA)</p> <hr /> <p>Newly-minted MTA chief Joe Lhota held a press conference last week to announce a rescue plan for the city’s ailing subway system. The agenda includes signal fixes, maintenance work, new emergency response teams, and even rider communication shifts. Lhota’s blueprint comes with $800-plus million price tag, he said, which set off another round of feuding between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo about how much the city and the state will each pitch in.</p> <p>While there is a great deal of attention necessarily being paid to the state of the city’s subway system, absent from the new MTA plan was measures to improve bus service. Transit advocates, city and state elected officials have subsequently pointed to buses as an overlooked but essential factor in improving New York City’s transit system, to provide commuters more reliable options and to reach people who live outside subway zones.</p> <p>Indicative of the need for attention to buses is the fact that subway underperformance and drops in service reliability have not spawned an increased reliance on the city’s bus system. In fact, as the New York Times <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/nyregion/new-york-city-subway-ridership.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported</a> in February, bus ridership fell by approximately 1.6 percent on weekdays and 4 percent on weekends in 2016 from the year before, in keeping with a multi-year trend of falling bus usage. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Following Lhota’s announcement of the new “<a href="http://www.mtamovingforward.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NYC Subway Action Plan</a>,” State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, who chairs the Assembly committee with MTA oversight, commended Lhota for releasing an emergency subway plan, but also encouraged him to address buses in the near future.</p> <p>“While I recognize that our signals, tracks, cars, and user experience are all at the forefront of public concern and discourse, there are many New Yorkers who need improvements in other areas as well,” said the Dinowitz statement. “Accessibility concerns and bus service remain in need of attention also, and I encourage Chairman Lhota to address these issues soon,” he said. While Dinowitz’s committee has done little by way of MTA oversight in recent years, the Assembly member has put forth some of his own recommendations and took part in a two-day series of subway rides on Thursday and Friday to talk to riders directly.</p> <p>John Raskin, executive director of transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, who has written and spoken favorably of Lhota and his plan, also said he would like to see advancements on buses.</p> <p>“Focusing on bus service is a quick and affordable way to improve public transit for millions of daily riders. Implementing long-overdue bus improvements would be a great compliment to the longer, more expensive work that will be needed to overhaul subway service,” he wrote in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “In the near future, the MTA could improve bus service by switching to a system of boarding through all doors, as well as redesigning bus routes to match how people travel today,” he continued, also proposing “adding bus lanes to local routes so buses don't get caught in traffic jams.”</p> <p>The bus system, particularly bus lanes, as many transit experts point out, can be changed relatively quickly, and by the mayor, if need be. Still, the state-run MTA holds the majority of control over buses as a whole.</p> <p>There is growing consensus among experts and elected officials pointing to expanding both Select Bus Service (SBS), essentially express buses, and transit signal priority (TPS), which helps buses move more quickly through traffic light changes.</p> <p>SBS is one of the joint ventures set in motion over the past few years that has shown signs of success. Ths mode differs from traditional buses in that passengers board from all doors, speeding up the process at each stop, and the stops are less frequent on routes, making SBS something of an “express.” SBS also uses proof-of-payment, where instead of dipping a metrocard, riders buy tickets at bus stop kiosks prior to boarding (they are checked randomly).</p> <p>SBS has been deployed on 14 routes across the city; several potential routes to expand the service have been proposed as well. Prominent current examples of SBS are on 1st and 2nd Avenues in Manhattan; the newly-added crosstown 79th Street and 86th Street routes Uptown; the B41, B44 and B46 in Brooklyn; the S79, connecting Bay Ridge and Staten Island; the Q70 which goes to LaGuardia Airport; and several others.</p> <p>“Both the MTA and New York City DOT can speed up the installation of Select Bus Service, which has proven both popular and effective, making buses run faster and attracting more riders who had given up on the slow local service that came before it,” wrote Raskin. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio, for his part, often refers to SBS as a model. “That’s something we think has been a real success story -- so there are sometimes when things have been done the right way, and that’s one of them,” he said when asked about the buses by Gotham Gazette at a Thursday press conference. “Then we want to keep expanding. It’s a good news story,” he continued. “I’d put it in the same category as the other, newer types of transportation that are being developed rapidly: the ferry system, light rail, and obviously the expansion of Citi Bike -- all of these are going to be necessary to give people more options,” he said.</p> <p>“For [SBS expansion] to be achieved,” de Blasio said, “it requires cooperation between the city and the state and the MTA, and obviously investment by the city on the capital elements of each route.”</p> <p>Advocates and experts have also called for an expansion of bus service to places that are particularly distant from a subway stop and existing bus routes, such as certain parts of Brooklyn and Queens.</p> <p>With the impending closure of the L train in 2019, transit advocates have<a href="http://www.brooklyneagle.com/articles/2017/7/12/%E2%80%98summer-hell%E2%80%99-hits-brooklyn-transit-system" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> called</a> for augmented bus service during the shutdown, which former MTA chief Tom Prendergast <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/manhattan/bus-service-prove-vital-manhattan-line-shutdown-article-1.2635845" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pledged</a> to address last year.</p> <p>Last month, a coalition of eight transit advocacy groups gathered to announce a list of commitments they would like New York City lawmakers to champion and implement. Improving bus service was among the seven demands. “Unfortunately, service is often slow and unreliable, and buses are generally neglected by policymakers, at the expense of residents who already have the most punishing commutes,” the <a href="http://tstc.org/transportation-equity-agenda-2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">plan</a> states.</p> <p>The coalition of advocates is urging the city to add additional bus lanes to local routes along with expanded Select Bus Services. But new bus routes are not the only way to improve service. Stricter, even dedicated bus lanes -- through physical barriers and NYPD enforcement -- are other options in the city’s toolbox. All-door boarding, an important component to SBS, is another endeavor for the city to consider putting into place across the system.</p> <p>Asked about attention to buses as the subway system has become more unreliable and MTA Chair Lhota said more temporary subway line shutdowns would be needed, an MTA spokesperson said, "We are also focused on our bus customers and several initiatives are already in place to improve bus service. As you know, the MTA is committed to maintaining and expanding Select Bus Service, which has been successful in reducing dwell times at bus stops. Every bus in our system can be tracked with GPS and customers can access this information on the MTA Bus Time app. The same data we use for the app we use to monitor bus schedule and service to help mitigate issues that may arise on the road in real time. Installation of a new fare payment system, which is being worked on, will also speed up boarding," said Kevin Ortiz, of the MTA.</p> <p>"Additionally, we continue to work with DOT to advance the rollout of Traffic Signal Prioritization city-wide and are looking at implementing all-door boarding where it is practical to do so," Ortiz added. "However, we don’t have direct control of road conditions on city streets. We are continuing to collaborate with DOT and NYPD to prioritize bus service as they address traffic congestion, unauthorized vehicles in bus lanes, double parked cars, and other factors that have the most direct impact on bus speeds and service reliability."</p> <p>Advocates have argued in favor of expanding transit signal priority (TSP) as a way to speed up existing bus routes. “Mayor de Blasio's administration could also make a difference, by accelerating the implementation of transit signal priority, where lights turn green faster when buses are waiting,” Raskin explained.</p> <p>Along these lines, <a href="http://transitcenter.org/about/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">TransitCenter</a>, an organization of transportation experts, published a <a href="http://transitcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Waiting-for-the-light-1-2.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> on TSP. It notes that trips take longer than needed because “New Yorkers are stuck spending 21% of their bus rides stopped at red lights—but they shouldn’t be.” “Transit signal priority (TSP) can be used to extend green lights or shorten red ones when a bus is approaching, speeding up trips and improving schedule reliability,” it says.</p> <p>The report also outlines New York City shortcomings compared to buses in other major cities. “Other cities around the world aren’t waiting for the light: New York is behind peers like London and Los Angeles, which have been utilizing signal priority for nearly two decades,” the TransitCenter report notes. “There are around 260 intersections providing bus priority in New York today, versus 3200 such intersections in London and 654 in Los Angeles.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Given the fact that the city already uses TSP, and is effective along these routes -- the report cited city DOT data showing that TSP reduced travel time by 18% -- the proposal suggests that the city adopt a goal of utilizing TSP for 20 new routes by 2018.</p> <p>“Chairman Lhota and Commissioner Trottenberg should work together to prioritize transit on NYC streets by applying TSP more aggressively and more quickly,” the report reads. “Strong leadership is needed from both NYCDOT and the MTA to realize the relatively painless gains transit signal priority offers.”</p> <p>Recently, TSP has garnered more support from New York officials. “Transit Signal Priority gives a Green Light to New York City bus riders,” <a href="https://transportationtodaynews.com/news/4607-nyc-transportation-department-releases-report-transit-signal-priority-technology-used-city-buses/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> Polly Trottenberg, Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Transportation, in a recent press release. “We have seen travel time savings of 5-30 percent on the SBS routes where we installed this technology and now that the MTA is moving forward with its TSP procurement, we are pleased to announce that DOT will quadruple our installation rate, covering over 1,000 intersections total and 15 additional routes by 2020.”</p> <p>City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s transportation committee, echoed Trottenberg. “Transit signal priority is a crucial part of improving bus service across the city,” he stated in the press release. “With buses shedding riders over the past few years,” he continued, alluding to the reduction in bus ridership, “improvements like this are how we will regain their trust that buses are a fast and efficient option.”</p> <p>On the state level, in April, the Governor announced a new line of MTA buses that would be equipped with Wi-Fi and USB ports. Two thousand of these newly designed buses will be put to use in the next five years, according to the governor. Cuomo argued they will help reinvigorate the city’s bus system.</p> <p>“From opening the Second Avenue Subway, to bringing Wi-Fi and cell service to underground subway stations, we are reimagining the mass-transit experience for the metropolitan area,” Cuomo said in a press release. “These new state-of-the-art buses will better connect passengers who are on-the-go, create a stronger mass-transit system and bring New York into the 21st Century,” the statement continued.</p> <p>The high-tech bus model introduction and a late April <a href="http://www.mta.info/press-release/nyc-transit/governor-cuomo-announces-green-bus-pilot-program-new-york-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">press release</a> regarding the addition of a bus “pilot program,” an introduction of 10 new environmentally friendly buses to the existing system, were the last times the state has given buses attention. The governor has mostly spent his MTA attention on subway-related matters, alternating between celebrating the Second Avenue Subway expansion, deflecting responsibility to the city, proposing additional gubernatorial powers to appoint MTA board members, telling the city to pay more money for the system, and taking renewed control of the situation.</p> <p> </p> <p>Note: this article was updated with comment from the MTA.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/governorandrewcuomo-photo_by_marc_a._hermann_--_mta_new_york_city_transit-5.jpg" alt="governorandrewcuomo photo by marc a. hermann mta new york city transit" width="640" height="451" /></p> <p>(photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA)</p> <hr /> <p>Newly-minted MTA chief Joe Lhota held a press conference last week to announce a rescue plan for the city’s ailing subway system. The agenda includes signal fixes, maintenance work, new emergency response teams, and even rider communication shifts. Lhota’s blueprint comes with $800-plus million price tag, he said, which set off another round of feuding between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo about how much the city and the state will each pitch in.</p> <p>While there is a great deal of attention necessarily being paid to the state of the city’s subway system, absent from the new MTA plan was measures to improve bus service. Transit advocates, city and state elected officials have subsequently pointed to buses as an overlooked but essential factor in improving New York City’s transit system, to provide commuters more reliable options and to reach people who live outside subway zones.</p> <p>Indicative of the need for attention to buses is the fact that subway underperformance and drops in service reliability have not spawned an increased reliance on the city’s bus system. In fact, as the New York Times <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/nyregion/new-york-city-subway-ridership.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported</a> in February, bus ridership fell by approximately 1.6 percent on weekdays and 4 percent on weekends in 2016 from the year before, in keeping with a multi-year trend of falling bus usage. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Following Lhota’s announcement of the new “<a href="http://www.mtamovingforward.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NYC Subway Action Plan</a>,” State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, who chairs the Assembly committee with MTA oversight, commended Lhota for releasing an emergency subway plan, but also encouraged him to address buses in the near future.</p> <p>“While I recognize that our signals, tracks, cars, and user experience are all at the forefront of public concern and discourse, there are many New Yorkers who need improvements in other areas as well,” said the Dinowitz statement. “Accessibility concerns and bus service remain in need of attention also, and I encourage Chairman Lhota to address these issues soon,” he said. While Dinowitz’s committee has done little by way of MTA oversight in recent years, the Assembly member has put forth some of his own recommendations and took part in a two-day series of subway rides on Thursday and Friday to talk to riders directly.</p> <p>John Raskin, executive director of transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, who has written and spoken favorably of Lhota and his plan, also said he would like to see advancements on buses.</p> <p>“Focusing on bus service is a quick and affordable way to improve public transit for millions of daily riders. Implementing long-overdue bus improvements would be a great compliment to the longer, more expensive work that will be needed to overhaul subway service,” he wrote in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “In the near future, the MTA could improve bus service by switching to a system of boarding through all doors, as well as redesigning bus routes to match how people travel today,” he continued, also proposing “adding bus lanes to local routes so buses don't get caught in traffic jams.”</p> <p>The bus system, particularly bus lanes, as many transit experts point out, can be changed relatively quickly, and by the mayor, if need be. Still, the state-run MTA holds the majority of control over buses as a whole.</p> <p>There is growing consensus among experts and elected officials pointing to expanding both Select Bus Service (SBS), essentially express buses, and transit signal priority (TPS), which helps buses move more quickly through traffic light changes.</p> <p>SBS is one of the joint ventures set in motion over the past few years that has shown signs of success. Ths mode differs from traditional buses in that passengers board from all doors, speeding up the process at each stop, and the stops are less frequent on routes, making SBS something of an “express.” SBS also uses proof-of-payment, where instead of dipping a metrocard, riders buy tickets at bus stop kiosks prior to boarding (they are checked randomly).</p> <p>SBS has been deployed on 14 routes across the city; several potential routes to expand the service have been proposed as well. Prominent current examples of SBS are on 1st and 2nd Avenues in Manhattan; the newly-added crosstown 79th Street and 86th Street routes Uptown; the B41, B44 and B46 in Brooklyn; the S79, connecting Bay Ridge and Staten Island; the Q70 which goes to LaGuardia Airport; and several others.</p> <p>“Both the MTA and New York City DOT can speed up the installation of Select Bus Service, which has proven both popular and effective, making buses run faster and attracting more riders who had given up on the slow local service that came before it,” wrote Raskin. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio, for his part, often refers to SBS as a model. “That’s something we think has been a real success story -- so there are sometimes when things have been done the right way, and that’s one of them,” he said when asked about the buses by Gotham Gazette at a Thursday press conference. “Then we want to keep expanding. It’s a good news story,” he continued. “I’d put it in the same category as the other, newer types of transportation that are being developed rapidly: the ferry system, light rail, and obviously the expansion of Citi Bike -- all of these are going to be necessary to give people more options,” he said.</p> <p>“For [SBS expansion] to be achieved,” de Blasio said, “it requires cooperation between the city and the state and the MTA, and obviously investment by the city on the capital elements of each route.”</p> <p>Advocates and experts have also called for an expansion of bus service to places that are particularly distant from a subway stop and existing bus routes, such as certain parts of Brooklyn and Queens.</p> <p>With the impending closure of the L train in 2019, transit advocates have<a href="http://www.brooklyneagle.com/articles/2017/7/12/%E2%80%98summer-hell%E2%80%99-hits-brooklyn-transit-system" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> called</a> for augmented bus service during the shutdown, which former MTA chief Tom Prendergast <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/manhattan/bus-service-prove-vital-manhattan-line-shutdown-article-1.2635845" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pledged</a> to address last year.</p> <p>Last month, a coalition of eight transit advocacy groups gathered to announce a list of commitments they would like New York City lawmakers to champion and implement. Improving bus service was among the seven demands. “Unfortunately, service is often slow and unreliable, and buses are generally neglected by policymakers, at the expense of residents who already have the most punishing commutes,” the <a href="http://tstc.org/transportation-equity-agenda-2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">plan</a> states.</p> <p>The coalition of advocates is urging the city to add additional bus lanes to local routes along with expanded Select Bus Services. But new bus routes are not the only way to improve service. Stricter, even dedicated bus lanes -- through physical barriers and NYPD enforcement -- are other options in the city’s toolbox. All-door boarding, an important component to SBS, is another endeavor for the city to consider putting into place across the system.</p> <p>Asked about attention to buses as the subway system has become more unreliable and MTA Chair Lhota said more temporary subway line shutdowns would be needed, an MTA spokesperson said, "We are also focused on our bus customers and several initiatives are already in place to improve bus service. As you know, the MTA is committed to maintaining and expanding Select Bus Service, which has been successful in reducing dwell times at bus stops. Every bus in our system can be tracked with GPS and customers can access this information on the MTA Bus Time app. The same data we use for the app we use to monitor bus schedule and service to help mitigate issues that may arise on the road in real time. Installation of a new fare payment system, which is being worked on, will also speed up boarding," said Kevin Ortiz, of the MTA.</p> <p>"Additionally, we continue to work with DOT to advance the rollout of Traffic Signal Prioritization city-wide and are looking at implementing all-door boarding where it is practical to do so," Ortiz added. "However, we don’t have direct control of road conditions on city streets. We are continuing to collaborate with DOT and NYPD to prioritize bus service as they address traffic congestion, unauthorized vehicles in bus lanes, double parked cars, and other factors that have the most direct impact on bus speeds and service reliability."</p> <p>Advocates have argued in favor of expanding transit signal priority (TSP) as a way to speed up existing bus routes. “Mayor de Blasio's administration could also make a difference, by accelerating the implementation of transit signal priority, where lights turn green faster when buses are waiting,” Raskin explained.</p> <p>Along these lines, <a href="http://transitcenter.org/about/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">TransitCenter</a>, an organization of transportation experts, published a <a href="http://transitcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Waiting-for-the-light-1-2.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> on TSP. It notes that trips take longer than needed because “New Yorkers are stuck spending 21% of their bus rides stopped at red lights—but they shouldn’t be.” “Transit signal priority (TSP) can be used to extend green lights or shorten red ones when a bus is approaching, speeding up trips and improving schedule reliability,” it says.</p> <p>The report also outlines New York City shortcomings compared to buses in other major cities. “Other cities around the world aren’t waiting for the light: New York is behind peers like London and Los Angeles, which have been utilizing signal priority for nearly two decades,” the TransitCenter report notes. “There are around 260 intersections providing bus priority in New York today, versus 3200 such intersections in London and 654 in Los Angeles.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Given the fact that the city already uses TSP, and is effective along these routes -- the report cited city DOT data showing that TSP reduced travel time by 18% -- the proposal suggests that the city adopt a goal of utilizing TSP for 20 new routes by 2018.</p> <p>“Chairman Lhota and Commissioner Trottenberg should work together to prioritize transit on NYC streets by applying TSP more aggressively and more quickly,” the report reads. “Strong leadership is needed from both NYCDOT and the MTA to realize the relatively painless gains transit signal priority offers.”</p> <p>Recently, TSP has garnered more support from New York officials. “Transit Signal Priority gives a Green Light to New York City bus riders,” <a href="https://transportationtodaynews.com/news/4607-nyc-transportation-department-releases-report-transit-signal-priority-technology-used-city-buses/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> Polly Trottenberg, Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Transportation, in a recent press release. “We have seen travel time savings of 5-30 percent on the SBS routes where we installed this technology and now that the MTA is moving forward with its TSP procurement, we are pleased to announce that DOT will quadruple our installation rate, covering over 1,000 intersections total and 15 additional routes by 2020.”</p> <p>City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s transportation committee, echoed Trottenberg. “Transit signal priority is a crucial part of improving bus service across the city,” he stated in the press release. “With buses shedding riders over the past few years,” he continued, alluding to the reduction in bus ridership, “improvements like this are how we will regain their trust that buses are a fast and efficient option.”</p> <p>On the state level, in April, the Governor announced a new line of MTA buses that would be equipped with Wi-Fi and USB ports. Two thousand of these newly designed buses will be put to use in the next five years, according to the governor. Cuomo argued they will help reinvigorate the city’s bus system.</p> <p>“From opening the Second Avenue Subway, to bringing Wi-Fi and cell service to underground subway stations, we are reimagining the mass-transit experience for the metropolitan area,” Cuomo said in a press release. “These new state-of-the-art buses will better connect passengers who are on-the-go, create a stronger mass-transit system and bring New York into the 21st Century,” the statement continued.</p> <p>The high-tech bus model introduction and a late April <a href="http://www.mta.info/press-release/nyc-transit/governor-cuomo-announces-green-bus-pilot-program-new-york-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">press release</a> regarding the addition of a bus “pilot program,” an introduction of 10 new environmentally friendly buses to the existing system, were the last times the state has given buses attention. The governor has mostly spent his MTA attention on subway-related matters, alternating between celebrating the Second Avenue Subway expansion, deflecting responsibility to the city, proposing additional gubernatorial powers to appoint MTA board members, telling the city to pay more money for the system, and taking renewed control of the situation.</p> <p> </p> <p>Note: this article was updated with comment from the MTA.</p> Calls For Long-Term Solutions As City Transit Crisis Worsens 2017-07-19T05:25:19+00:00 2017-07-19T05:25:19+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7072:calls-for-solutions-as-city-transit-crisis-worsens Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/8146324848_d93a71e4cd_k-2.jpg" alt="8146324848 d93a71e4cd k 2" width="600" height="465" /></p> <p>Governor Cuomo with MTA Chair Joe Lhota (photo: Governor's Office/Flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>Two separate subway track fires on Monday, in the morning and evening, that led to stoppages on multiple lines and delays across the system were just the latest incidents that put the spotlight on problems with New York City’s subways. The last few weeks have seen c<span style="font-weight: 400;">hronic delays, a recent A-train&nbsp;</span><a href="http://www.amny.com/transit/a-train-derailment-in-harlem-caused-by-human-error-mta-says-1.13768866"><span style="font-weight: 400;">derailment</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, and&nbsp;</span><span style="font-weight: 400;">passengers trapped on an F Train for nearly an hour without running air or power.</span>&nbsp;Although issues with the subway system have long been apparent, and only increasing in severity, the official response has widely been deemed insufficient. Transit and infrastructure experts agree that the city and state must act now, and act together, to deal with the system’s overcrowding, aging trains and archaic signal mechanisms, and there seems to be broad consensus among them on policies and proposals that could solve the city’s transit crisis.</p> <p>The problems with the city’s subways have been decades in the making, stemming from chronic underinvestment in mass transit infrastructure. Earlier this month, in a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/03/opinion/rahm-emanuel-chicago-l-mass-transit.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times op-ed</a>, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel contrasted New York City’s system with Chicago’s own, pointing out that the key to his city’s transit successes was prioritization of maintenance and direct accountability of local officials. “[F]irst, we put reliability ahead of expansion,” he wrote. “We focused relentlessly on modernizing tracks, signals, switches, stations and cars before extending lines to new destinations.”</p> <p>Although the editorial drew a harsh rebuke from elected officials and New York’s tabloids, Emmanuel’s criticisms were not entirely off the mark. The MTA has largely failed to maintain and modernize the analog signal system in New York, which dates back to before World War II and is one of the key factors in system breakdowns. Although improvements are underway, at the rate the MTA is progressing, a system-wide upgrade is expected to take 50 years.</p> <p>Official accountability has also been lacking. Mayor Bill de Blasio has faced increased pressure from constituents, activists and political opponents to address the MTA’s poor performance, though he does not in fact control the state agency. The mayor has sought to distance himself from those issues, laying the problems at the feet of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has authority and control over the MTA’s day-to-day operations.</p> <p>Cuomo, however, has argued that he has insufficient control of the agency despite appointing a plurality of the MTA’s board members and its chair. He recently proposed increasing the number of gubernatorial MTA appointees, declared a state of emergency for the MTA to ease procurement rules, and appointed Joe Lhota, who has previously served as MTA chair, to lead the agency yet again. Cuomo also pledged another $1 billion to the MTA capital plan.</p> <p>"If suspending procurement rules is a good idea, why is it only being done for $1 billion? Why isn't the governor pressing for more fundamental reform?” wondered Stephen Smith, an urban and transit policy expert who runs the popular Twitter account <a href="https://twitter.com/MarketUrbanism" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Market Urbanism</a>. Smith, along with other transit experts, are skeptical that throwing more money at the problem will work unless officials implement multi-faceted solutions that address existing infrastructure, spending efficiency, management and capital project completion, to name a few.</p> <p><strong>Fixing signals and reducing crowds</strong><br />One of the main ailments affecting subway infrastructure is the old and neglected signal system, which the MTA has acknowledged is one of its most important challenges. The state has already allocated $2.1 billion, of the MTA’s total $29.5 billion capital plan, for signal improvements. “We’re undergoing a top-to-bottom review, but make no mistake, we must do maintenance and system expansion to underserved communities at the same time,” said MTA Chair Lhota in a statement earlier this month to the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/chicago-mayor-rahm-emanuel-takes-big-dig-nyc-subway-crisis-article-1.3298095" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a>, responding to Emmanuel’s op-ed.</p> <p>On a recent <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7048-what-s-the-data-point-with-janno-lieber-mta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">episode</a> of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/podcasts/what-s-the-data-point" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">What’s the [Data] Point?</a>, a joint podcast hosted by Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, Janno Lieber, the MTA's new chief development officer pointed towards expanding use of Communications-based train control (CBTC), a signal system that would allow trains to move in closer proximity to one another due to more precise tracking of trains. According to Lieber, CBTC improves service by allowing more cars to run on a particular lines while reducing the delays and danger that often come with crowded tracks. The upgrade is currently in use on on the 7 and L lines, with plans to implement them in the E, F, M and R lines as well.</p> <p>But the slow pace of upgrading the system stems from the balancing act that the MTA and State have to strike in implementing physical infrastructure improvements. The MTA’s modus operandi has generally been to shut trains down for nights or weekends at a time in order to make repairs and upgrades, allowing trains to run during high-use periods. But that work is time consuming and less efficient, driving many in the transit world to lean towards avoiding stop-and-go style fixes. “Full shut downs of subway lines get work done faster,” said Ben Kabak, editor of the New York City-centric transit news blog, Second Avenue Sagas. “At some point, that's going to have to be the conversation we’re going to have.”</p> <p>Kabak supports the MTA’s plan to effect repairs on the L Train, which will involve a complete shutdown of the line starting in 2019. This option, though understandably unpopular with commuters, results in faster and less costly repairs.</p> <p>David Jones, a de Blasio appointee on the MTA board and long-time transit advocate, echoed Kabak. “I was convinced by the arguments they made that to do this in a piecemeal fashion would have led to chronic delays and lasted a much longer period of time,” he said of the planned L Train shutdown. “I don’t think this is going to be pleasant,” he added, though conceding that it is the best approach to a less-than-ideal situation.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7052-seven-transit-commitments-advocates-want-from-candidates" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">7 Transit Commitments Advocates Want From Candidates This Year</a>]</p> <p>A prime factor that causes a majority of subway delays is overcrowding. In a sense, the MTA is a victim of its own success and, since the 1990’s, has seen ridership <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/28/nyregion/subway-delays-overcrowding.html?mtrref=www.nytimes.com&amp;_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rise</a> from four to six million daily riders. Unfortunately, in that time, the system has added less than 30 new train cars, leading to trains running at peak capacity. As a result, overcrowding is now responsible for more than one-third of the 75,000 subway delays each month, according to MTA data.</p> <p>“The only truly effective way to address crowding on the subway is to run more trains,” John Raskin, Executive Director of Riders Alliance, a transit advocacy group, told the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/28/nyregion/subway-delays-overcrowding.html?mtrref=www.nytimes.com&amp;_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times</a> in January. “It’s not a cheap or quick solution.”</p> <p>An effort to add more miles of track would also improve service. This is evident from the launch of the Second Avenue subway line, which, in its first month, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/nyregion/second-avenue-subway-relieves-crowding-on-neighboring-lines.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduced ridership</a> on the busy Lexington Avenue line by 27 percent between 42nd and 110th streets. But Smith is not optimistic that Governor Cuomo will launch large subway expansion projects to reach underserved neighborhoods. “Andrew Cuomo is very focused on the 2020 election, which is why he’s focused on rebuilding bridges,” he said. He doesn’t expect Cuomo to show a similar commitment to mass transit. “I don’t have much hope,” he said.</p> <p><strong>More bang for the MTA’s buck</strong> <br />It’s widely acknowledged that the MTA has lacked for investment for years, and elected officials and advocates have proposed numerous options to fund repairs. Fare hikes have been used in the past but are unpopular, for obvious reasons. The Empire Center’s E.J McMahon <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/06/26/heres-a-few-billions-cuomo-can-send-to-the-mta-right-now/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suggested</a> in June the State should use 40 percent of the over $10 billion from banking fines and penalty money in the last three years to finance subway improvements. Recently, State Assembly Member Robert Carroll proposed increasing the city’s 50-cent taxi surcharge to one dollar, and expanding this tax towards black cars and ride-hailing services. A coalition of eight transit advocacy groups have also <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7052-seven-transit-commitments-advocates-want-from-candidates" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proposed</a> taxing the property value added through real estate upzonings to finance investment in transportation.</p> <p>But experts told Gotham Gazette that it’s not a lack of funds, but rather the manner in which they are put to use which is the more significant. Costs for long-term transit projects in the city tend to balloon over time, owing to delays in construction and increasing labor costs. Transportation writer Alon Levy <a href="https://pedestrianobservations.com/2011/05/16/us-rail-construction-costs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated</a> that New York City’s cost per mile of subway construction astronomically outpaces what other major cities such as Madrid, London and Paris spend. The first phase of the Second Avenue Subway first phase, for example, cost $4.5 billion -- $1.7 billion per kilometer, or just under two-thirds of a mile. In comparison, London’s Jubilee Line Extension, Amsterdam’s North-South Line and and Berlin’s U55 cost $450 million, $410 million and $250 million per kilometer respectively. The cost of the Second Avenue Subway, about four times as much as the equivalent in Paris, was not an aberration. The 7 line extension has cost near as much per kilometer of construction and the East Side Access is even projected to surpass the cost of the Second Avenue line.</p> <p>Smith and Levy agree that until officials figure out how to get more bang for their buck for both tune-ups and new construction, the city’s transit troubles will likely continue. For them, the discourse on the issue features an outsized emphasis on raising revenue while ignoring the soaring costs. “It’s difficult to ask people for more money when they’re not getting much for it,” Smith said.</p> <p>Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, echoed that argument. “The problem is we’ve implemented a new tax for the capital plans but we’ve never dealt with the cost side,” she said, attributing the bulk of costs to labor. “Labor is 40 percent of the costs, 40 percent materials and then 20 percent overhead and white collar,” she said, referring to <a href="https://www.empirecenter.org/publications/prevailing-waste/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report</a> released in April by the Empire Center for Public Policy. Those labor costs are “25 percent higher than they should be,” she said. Smith concurred, suggesting that high labor costs and a “mind-boggling amount of waste” are the likely culprits.</p> <p>MTA’s Lieber conceded as much on the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7048-what-s-the-data-point-with-janno-lieber-mta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gotham Gazette-CBC podcast</a>, pointing out that the agency has not been sufficiently scrupulous in its procurement and project coordination, leading to costly labor. Lieber, who previously worked for Silverstein Properties as president of World Trade Center Properties, believes the MTA can take lessons from the private sector to lower costs. “You have to have design process that is going to resolve all the design questions and then not reopen them,” he said, contending that continuous arguing and haggling over design often delays and increases project costs. To do this, the parties involved need “close collaboration on design, so you don’t have change,” he said, insisting that the agency needs to ensure efficient and timely construction work.</p> <p>Another factor behind high prices is the premiums that contractors place on construction when faced with uncertainty going into a project, Lieber said. “Sometimes we say to the contractor, ‘take all these risks about conditions that you don’t know about and throw a huge premium on it,’” he said. He suggested that hiring outside contractors may not be the best approach. “We’d probably be better off letting the public sector own and manage those risks and try to eliminate them,” said Lieber, “rather than having the contractor in effect charge you...much, much higher price for risks that he or she doesn’t really understand or can’t envision.”</p> <p>Lieber also noted that builders often squander money on excessive last-minute repairs to completed projects, which adds to the final price tag. In his new role, Lieber said he’d enact measures to tackle these inefficiencies and improve how the MTA conducts its business.</p> <p><strong>Opportunities for the City</strong><br />In the absence of state action, experts agree that there are initiatives de Blasio can take on his own. Earlier this month, a coalition of transit advocates <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7052-seven-transit-commitments-advocates-want-from-candidates" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rallied</a> around seven transit initiatives they want City Hall, and any candidate running for elected office in the city, to adopt. These include discounted MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, alternatives for when the L Train shuts down, and enhancing bike and bus lanes.</p> <p>For his part, the mayor has touted the expansion of the express Select Bus Service and the New York City Ferries as examples of incremental improvements his administration has made. And, more ambitiously, his administration is exploring the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) proposal, a streetcar that would run along the waterfront from Sunset Park in Brooklyn to Astoria, Queens. Similar to the procedure with which former Mayor Michael Bloomberg expanded the 7 train to the West Side, the de Blasio administration hopes to finance the project with value capture funding, which collects the value of increased property taxes in the neighborhoods along the route.</p> <p>Other than the Select Bus Service, transit experts are skeptical about de Blasio’s ideas and priorities. Ferries, while useful for some, have a relatively limited capacity. And the BQX draws mostly harsh reviews from transit experts, who say it would neither serve a currently popular and overcrowded route nor a necessary one with demand. Smith called it a “terrible idea’ and “a solution in search of a problem.”</p> <p>Kabak concurred. “Their plan is suspect from a transit routing perspective and the plan is suspect from a financial perspective.” He argued that real estate interests were the driving motivator behind the misbegotten idea. Kabak suggested what he believes to be better alternatives to the BQX route, that the mayor can work on without state cooperation. He pointed to the Triboro RX proposal, a proposed route that would run from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn through Queens to Co-op City in the Bronx. It would serve an “unmet demand” for trains in areas such as Flatbush and Flushing, he said.</p> <p>Smith favors more significant structural and jurisdictional reforms. “My personal opinion is that the city needs to take back the NYC Transit Authority for it to ever really be fixed,” he emailed. “Leaving it in the governor's hands is just a recipe for political unaccountability, since the vast majority of voters in New York State do not ride the subway or buses and don't care about their fate.”</p> <p>He said Mayor de Blasio should take steps towards getting mayoral control of the MTA, starting with buses. “They're much lower-stakes – lower ridership, less capital funding – and the governor might be more willing to give them, and, of course, their funding, back to the city,” Smith said. “And if the city shows that it can be a better steward of the buses than the state was, I think the case for taking back the big prize – the subway – becomes a lot more convincing.”</p> <p>He continued, “This would have the effect of both fixing the substantive and the jurisdictional unaccountability problems by making the powers-that-be that manage the city’s mass transit more responsive to the cohort that uses it.”</p> <p><strong>Easing congestion</strong> <br />Coinciding with mass-transit troubles, and partly because of them, New Yorkers have also experienced an uptick in traffic congestion, and continued subway dysfunction is likely to make matters worse. Gelinas said this is an area where de Blasio can take small steps such as making the streets safer for bicycles and improving street management. “When you look at the streets, the streets are just complete chaos, so you can understand why people don’t want to ride bikes,” she said. Along these lines, the City Council has discussed pushing the NYPD to increase bus lane enforcement and crack down on placard abuse, as well as adding bus and bike lanes.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6975-calls-for-small-large-fixes-to-city-congestion-transit-woes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Calls for Small &amp; Large Fixes to City Congestion, Transit Woes</a>]</p> <p>A more ambitious measure requires encouraging ridership from the outer parts of Queens via the Long Island Rail Road. In fact, as transit experts are quick to note, one of the few advantages of gubernatorial control of all New York public transportation agencies is the ability to integrate different modes of transportation.</p> <p>Levy argued that the LIRR, though passing through decidedly urban parts of Queens, better serves suburban commuters. He recommended that the LIRR be integrated, like the subways and buses. This would reduce E train ridership and take drivers off the road, he argued. He also proposed matching subway schedules with the LIRR to allow for quicker commutes from Queens. <br /> <br />In Kabak’s view, the most impactful option available to lawmakers is congestion pricing, with strategically increased tolls to discourage driving on busy roads. “I think the only real way to get these cars off the road is to price traffic accordingly,” he said. “It’s a tough sell because people who drive have a loud political voice but until you’re willing to say this traffic comes at a price that the rest of us are paying, as opposed to the drivers, then you’ll have traffic.”</p> <p>Jones, the MTA board member, voiced support for gas taxes and congestion pricing to discourage driving. These measures would, however, need the backing of the governor and the state legislature. Governor Cuomo <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/06/29/albanys-extraordinary-session-ends-with-ordinary-dysfunction/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has said</a> congestion pricing is a “nice idea” but insists that the legislature, which has rejected it in the past, still lacks the appetite for it. Mayor de Blasio similarly has insisted that congestion pricing is contingent on state action, and has shown little interest in pushing the issue.</p> <p>Instead of redirecting responsibility and kicking the can down the road, Jones hopes that Cuomo and de Blasio can work together to push these fixes as commuters desperately await action. “The public doesn’t really care about the dispute between the mayor and the governor,” he said. “They just want to be able to get to work on time.”</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/8146324848_d93a71e4cd_k-2.jpg" alt="8146324848 d93a71e4cd k 2" width="600" height="465" /></p> <p>Governor Cuomo with MTA Chair Joe Lhota (photo: Governor's Office/Flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>Two separate subway track fires on Monday, in the morning and evening, that led to stoppages on multiple lines and delays across the system were just the latest incidents that put the spotlight on problems with New York City’s subways. The last few weeks have seen c<span style="font-weight: 400;">hronic delays, a recent A-train&nbsp;</span><a href="http://www.amny.com/transit/a-train-derailment-in-harlem-caused-by-human-error-mta-says-1.13768866"><span style="font-weight: 400;">derailment</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, and&nbsp;</span><span style="font-weight: 400;">passengers trapped on an F Train for nearly an hour without running air or power.</span>&nbsp;Although issues with the subway system have long been apparent, and only increasing in severity, the official response has widely been deemed insufficient. Transit and infrastructure experts agree that the city and state must act now, and act together, to deal with the system’s overcrowding, aging trains and archaic signal mechanisms, and there seems to be broad consensus among them on policies and proposals that could solve the city’s transit crisis.</p> <p>The problems with the city’s subways have been decades in the making, stemming from chronic underinvestment in mass transit infrastructure. Earlier this month, in a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/03/opinion/rahm-emanuel-chicago-l-mass-transit.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times op-ed</a>, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel contrasted New York City’s system with Chicago’s own, pointing out that the key to his city’s transit successes was prioritization of maintenance and direct accountability of local officials. “[F]irst, we put reliability ahead of expansion,” he wrote. “We focused relentlessly on modernizing tracks, signals, switches, stations and cars before extending lines to new destinations.”</p> <p>Although the editorial drew a harsh rebuke from elected officials and New York’s tabloids, Emmanuel’s criticisms were not entirely off the mark. The MTA has largely failed to maintain and modernize the analog signal system in New York, which dates back to before World War II and is one of the key factors in system breakdowns. Although improvements are underway, at the rate the MTA is progressing, a system-wide upgrade is expected to take 50 years.</p> <p>Official accountability has also been lacking. Mayor Bill de Blasio has faced increased pressure from constituents, activists and political opponents to address the MTA’s poor performance, though he does not in fact control the state agency. The mayor has sought to distance himself from those issues, laying the problems at the feet of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has authority and control over the MTA’s day-to-day operations.</p> <p>Cuomo, however, has argued that he has insufficient control of the agency despite appointing a plurality of the MTA’s board members and its chair. He recently proposed increasing the number of gubernatorial MTA appointees, declared a state of emergency for the MTA to ease procurement rules, and appointed Joe Lhota, who has previously served as MTA chair, to lead the agency yet again. Cuomo also pledged another $1 billion to the MTA capital plan.</p> <p>"If suspending procurement rules is a good idea, why is it only being done for $1 billion? Why isn't the governor pressing for more fundamental reform?” wondered Stephen Smith, an urban and transit policy expert who runs the popular Twitter account <a href="https://twitter.com/MarketUrbanism" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Market Urbanism</a>. Smith, along with other transit experts, are skeptical that throwing more money at the problem will work unless officials implement multi-faceted solutions that address existing infrastructure, spending efficiency, management and capital project completion, to name a few.</p> <p><strong>Fixing signals and reducing crowds</strong><br />One of the main ailments affecting subway infrastructure is the old and neglected signal system, which the MTA has acknowledged is one of its most important challenges. The state has already allocated $2.1 billion, of the MTA’s total $29.5 billion capital plan, for signal improvements. “We’re undergoing a top-to-bottom review, but make no mistake, we must do maintenance and system expansion to underserved communities at the same time,” said MTA Chair Lhota in a statement earlier this month to the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/chicago-mayor-rahm-emanuel-takes-big-dig-nyc-subway-crisis-article-1.3298095" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a>, responding to Emmanuel’s op-ed.</p> <p>On a recent <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7048-what-s-the-data-point-with-janno-lieber-mta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">episode</a> of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/podcasts/what-s-the-data-point" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">What’s the [Data] Point?</a>, a joint podcast hosted by Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, Janno Lieber, the MTA's new chief development officer pointed towards expanding use of Communications-based train control (CBTC), a signal system that would allow trains to move in closer proximity to one another due to more precise tracking of trains. According to Lieber, CBTC improves service by allowing more cars to run on a particular lines while reducing the delays and danger that often come with crowded tracks. The upgrade is currently in use on on the 7 and L lines, with plans to implement them in the E, F, M and R lines as well.</p> <p>But the slow pace of upgrading the system stems from the balancing act that the MTA and State have to strike in implementing physical infrastructure improvements. The MTA’s modus operandi has generally been to shut trains down for nights or weekends at a time in order to make repairs and upgrades, allowing trains to run during high-use periods. But that work is time consuming and less efficient, driving many in the transit world to lean towards avoiding stop-and-go style fixes. “Full shut downs of subway lines get work done faster,” said Ben Kabak, editor of the New York City-centric transit news blog, Second Avenue Sagas. “At some point, that's going to have to be the conversation we’re going to have.”</p> <p>Kabak supports the MTA’s plan to effect repairs on the L Train, which will involve a complete shutdown of the line starting in 2019. This option, though understandably unpopular with commuters, results in faster and less costly repairs.</p> <p>David Jones, a de Blasio appointee on the MTA board and long-time transit advocate, echoed Kabak. “I was convinced by the arguments they made that to do this in a piecemeal fashion would have led to chronic delays and lasted a much longer period of time,” he said of the planned L Train shutdown. “I don’t think this is going to be pleasant,” he added, though conceding that it is the best approach to a less-than-ideal situation.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7052-seven-transit-commitments-advocates-want-from-candidates" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">7 Transit Commitments Advocates Want From Candidates This Year</a>]</p> <p>A prime factor that causes a majority of subway delays is overcrowding. In a sense, the MTA is a victim of its own success and, since the 1990’s, has seen ridership <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/28/nyregion/subway-delays-overcrowding.html?mtrref=www.nytimes.com&amp;_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rise</a> from four to six million daily riders. Unfortunately, in that time, the system has added less than 30 new train cars, leading to trains running at peak capacity. As a result, overcrowding is now responsible for more than one-third of the 75,000 subway delays each month, according to MTA data.</p> <p>“The only truly effective way to address crowding on the subway is to run more trains,” John Raskin, Executive Director of Riders Alliance, a transit advocacy group, told the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/28/nyregion/subway-delays-overcrowding.html?mtrref=www.nytimes.com&amp;_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times</a> in January. “It’s not a cheap or quick solution.”</p> <p>An effort to add more miles of track would also improve service. This is evident from the launch of the Second Avenue subway line, which, in its first month, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/nyregion/second-avenue-subway-relieves-crowding-on-neighboring-lines.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduced ridership</a> on the busy Lexington Avenue line by 27 percent between 42nd and 110th streets. But Smith is not optimistic that Governor Cuomo will launch large subway expansion projects to reach underserved neighborhoods. “Andrew Cuomo is very focused on the 2020 election, which is why he’s focused on rebuilding bridges,” he said. He doesn’t expect Cuomo to show a similar commitment to mass transit. “I don’t have much hope,” he said.</p> <p><strong>More bang for the MTA’s buck</strong> <br />It’s widely acknowledged that the MTA has lacked for investment for years, and elected officials and advocates have proposed numerous options to fund repairs. Fare hikes have been used in the past but are unpopular, for obvious reasons. The Empire Center’s E.J McMahon <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/06/26/heres-a-few-billions-cuomo-can-send-to-the-mta-right-now/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suggested</a> in June the State should use 40 percent of the over $10 billion from banking fines and penalty money in the last three years to finance subway improvements. Recently, State Assembly Member Robert Carroll proposed increasing the city’s 50-cent taxi surcharge to one dollar, and expanding this tax towards black cars and ride-hailing services. A coalition of eight transit advocacy groups have also <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7052-seven-transit-commitments-advocates-want-from-candidates" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proposed</a> taxing the property value added through real estate upzonings to finance investment in transportation.</p> <p>But experts told Gotham Gazette that it’s not a lack of funds, but rather the manner in which they are put to use which is the more significant. Costs for long-term transit projects in the city tend to balloon over time, owing to delays in construction and increasing labor costs. Transportation writer Alon Levy <a href="https://pedestrianobservations.com/2011/05/16/us-rail-construction-costs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated</a> that New York City’s cost per mile of subway construction astronomically outpaces what other major cities such as Madrid, London and Paris spend. The first phase of the Second Avenue Subway first phase, for example, cost $4.5 billion -- $1.7 billion per kilometer, or just under two-thirds of a mile. In comparison, London’s Jubilee Line Extension, Amsterdam’s North-South Line and and Berlin’s U55 cost $450 million, $410 million and $250 million per kilometer respectively. The cost of the Second Avenue Subway, about four times as much as the equivalent in Paris, was not an aberration. The 7 line extension has cost near as much per kilometer of construction and the East Side Access is even projected to surpass the cost of the Second Avenue line.</p> <p>Smith and Levy agree that until officials figure out how to get more bang for their buck for both tune-ups and new construction, the city’s transit troubles will likely continue. For them, the discourse on the issue features an outsized emphasis on raising revenue while ignoring the soaring costs. “It’s difficult to ask people for more money when they’re not getting much for it,” Smith said.</p> <p>Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, echoed that argument. “The problem is we’ve implemented a new tax for the capital plans but we’ve never dealt with the cost side,” she said, attributing the bulk of costs to labor. “Labor is 40 percent of the costs, 40 percent materials and then 20 percent overhead and white collar,” she said, referring to <a href="https://www.empirecenter.org/publications/prevailing-waste/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report</a> released in April by the Empire Center for Public Policy. Those labor costs are “25 percent higher than they should be,” she said. Smith concurred, suggesting that high labor costs and a “mind-boggling amount of waste” are the likely culprits.</p> <p>MTA’s Lieber conceded as much on the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7048-what-s-the-data-point-with-janno-lieber-mta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gotham Gazette-CBC podcast</a>, pointing out that the agency has not been sufficiently scrupulous in its procurement and project coordination, leading to costly labor. Lieber, who previously worked for Silverstein Properties as president of World Trade Center Properties, believes the MTA can take lessons from the private sector to lower costs. “You have to have design process that is going to resolve all the design questions and then not reopen them,” he said, contending that continuous arguing and haggling over design often delays and increases project costs. To do this, the parties involved need “close collaboration on design, so you don’t have change,” he said, insisting that the agency needs to ensure efficient and timely construction work.</p> <p>Another factor behind high prices is the premiums that contractors place on construction when faced with uncertainty going into a project, Lieber said. “Sometimes we say to the contractor, ‘take all these risks about conditions that you don’t know about and throw a huge premium on it,’” he said. He suggested that hiring outside contractors may not be the best approach. “We’d probably be better off letting the public sector own and manage those risks and try to eliminate them,” said Lieber, “rather than having the contractor in effect charge you...much, much higher price for risks that he or she doesn’t really understand or can’t envision.”</p> <p>Lieber also noted that builders often squander money on excessive last-minute repairs to completed projects, which adds to the final price tag. In his new role, Lieber said he’d enact measures to tackle these inefficiencies and improve how the MTA conducts its business.</p> <p><strong>Opportunities for the City</strong><br />In the absence of state action, experts agree that there are initiatives de Blasio can take on his own. Earlier this month, a coalition of transit advocates <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7052-seven-transit-commitments-advocates-want-from-candidates" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rallied</a> around seven transit initiatives they want City Hall, and any candidate running for elected office in the city, to adopt. These include discounted MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, alternatives for when the L Train shuts down, and enhancing bike and bus lanes.</p> <p>For his part, the mayor has touted the expansion of the express Select Bus Service and the New York City Ferries as examples of incremental improvements his administration has made. And, more ambitiously, his administration is exploring the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) proposal, a streetcar that would run along the waterfront from Sunset Park in Brooklyn to Astoria, Queens. Similar to the procedure with which former Mayor Michael Bloomberg expanded the 7 train to the West Side, the de Blasio administration hopes to finance the project with value capture funding, which collects the value of increased property taxes in the neighborhoods along the route.</p> <p>Other than the Select Bus Service, transit experts are skeptical about de Blasio’s ideas and priorities. Ferries, while useful for some, have a relatively limited capacity. And the BQX draws mostly harsh reviews from transit experts, who say it would neither serve a currently popular and overcrowded route nor a necessary one with demand. Smith called it a “terrible idea’ and “a solution in search of a problem.”</p> <p>Kabak concurred. “Their plan is suspect from a transit routing perspective and the plan is suspect from a financial perspective.” He argued that real estate interests were the driving motivator behind the misbegotten idea. Kabak suggested what he believes to be better alternatives to the BQX route, that the mayor can work on without state cooperation. He pointed to the Triboro RX proposal, a proposed route that would run from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn through Queens to Co-op City in the Bronx. It would serve an “unmet demand” for trains in areas such as Flatbush and Flushing, he said.</p> <p>Smith favors more significant structural and jurisdictional reforms. “My personal opinion is that the city needs to take back the NYC Transit Authority for it to ever really be fixed,” he emailed. “Leaving it in the governor's hands is just a recipe for political unaccountability, since the vast majority of voters in New York State do not ride the subway or buses and don't care about their fate.”</p> <p>He said Mayor de Blasio should take steps towards getting mayoral control of the MTA, starting with buses. “They're much lower-stakes – lower ridership, less capital funding – and the governor might be more willing to give them, and, of course, their funding, back to the city,” Smith said. “And if the city shows that it can be a better steward of the buses than the state was, I think the case for taking back the big prize – the subway – becomes a lot more convincing.”</p> <p>He continued, “This would have the effect of both fixing the substantive and the jurisdictional unaccountability problems by making the powers-that-be that manage the city’s mass transit more responsive to the cohort that uses it.”</p> <p><strong>Easing congestion</strong> <br />Coinciding with mass-transit troubles, and partly because of them, New Yorkers have also experienced an uptick in traffic congestion, and continued subway dysfunction is likely to make matters worse. Gelinas said this is an area where de Blasio can take small steps such as making the streets safer for bicycles and improving street management. “When you look at the streets, the streets are just complete chaos, so you can understand why people don’t want to ride bikes,” she said. Along these lines, the City Council has discussed pushing the NYPD to increase bus lane enforcement and crack down on placard abuse, as well as adding bus and bike lanes.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6975-calls-for-small-large-fixes-to-city-congestion-transit-woes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Calls for Small &amp; Large Fixes to City Congestion, Transit Woes</a>]</p> <p>A more ambitious measure requires encouraging ridership from the outer parts of Queens via the Long Island Rail Road. In fact, as transit experts are quick to note, one of the few advantages of gubernatorial control of all New York public transportation agencies is the ability to integrate different modes of transportation.</p> <p>Levy argued that the LIRR, though passing through decidedly urban parts of Queens, better serves suburban commuters. He recommended that the LIRR be integrated, like the subways and buses. This would reduce E train ridership and take drivers off the road, he argued. He also proposed matching subway schedules with the LIRR to allow for quicker commutes from Queens. <br /> <br />In Kabak’s view, the most impactful option available to lawmakers is congestion pricing, with strategically increased tolls to discourage driving on busy roads. “I think the only real way to get these cars off the road is to price traffic accordingly,” he said. “It’s a tough sell because people who drive have a loud political voice but until you’re willing to say this traffic comes at a price that the rest of us are paying, as opposed to the drivers, then you’ll have traffic.”</p> <p>Jones, the MTA board member, voiced support for gas taxes and congestion pricing to discourage driving. These measures would, however, need the backing of the governor and the state legislature. Governor Cuomo <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/06/29/albanys-extraordinary-session-ends-with-ordinary-dysfunction/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has said</a> congestion pricing is a “nice idea” but insists that the legislature, which has rejected it in the past, still lacks the appetite for it. Mayor de Blasio similarly has insisted that congestion pricing is contingent on state action, and has shown little interest in pushing the issue.</p> <p>Instead of redirecting responsibility and kicking the can down the road, Jones hopes that Cuomo and de Blasio can work together to push these fixes as commuters desperately await action. “The public doesn’t really care about the dispute between the mayor and the governor,” he said. “They just want to be able to get to work on time.”</p> <p> </p> Despite Record Low Crime, Massey Attempts to Make Public Safety a Campaign Issue 2017-03-29T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-29T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6840:despite-record-low-crime-massey-attempts-to-make-public-safety-a-campaign-issue Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32191074974_a6abcc880d_z.jpg" alt="Massey City Hall presser" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Paul Massey (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Real estate executive Paul Massey, a leading Republican mayoral contender, held a week-long campaign launch earlier this month, concluding with a focus on community policing. Having visited each borough with a daily theme, Massey said in an email blast on March 17, “I’ve heard many concerns in my discussions with city residents this week and one that stands out is that our city feels less safe.”</p> <p dir="ltr">It wasn’t the first time Massey made the claim, and it wasn’t the last, as he takes to the campaign trail attempting to paint Mayor Bill de Blasio as an ineffectual and corrupt leader who has presided over declining quality of life in the city. Massey has repeatedly pointed to cherry-picked statistics that show certain crimes are up in the city, or in certain geographic areas, contributing, he says, to unease among New Yorkers about their safety. In doing so, Massey is attempting to make a campaign issue out of one of de Blasio’s strongest overall metrics -- in reality, major crime has declined over the last three years and the city continues to hit historic lows in crime rates virtually each month.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio, a first-term Democrat, has already positioned himself to run on declining crime. The mayor has taken to holding monthly press conferences with NYPD leaders to tout new crime numbers, while also arguing that he has reformed the police department to improve police-community relations. The mayor’s campaign often recycles a statement for news stories about the mayoral race that includes “crime is at historic lows” in summarizing de Blasio’s record.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Massey and his team see an opening. The first-time political candidate, who recently moved to the city from Westchester in order to run for mayor, ran a real estate business throughout the five boroughs for decades. While his campaign has been focused on critiquing de Blasio, Massey must first win the Republican primary (though he has already secured the Independence Party line).</p> <p dir="ltr">In its early stages, Massey’s campaign identified what it saw as a few major areas of failure for de Blasio: housing, jobs, quality of life, and schools. Each issue presents a debate de Blasio and his supporters are seemingly ready to have. Yet, Massey has struck the chord on several points of substantive criticism of the mayor that have more supporting evidence than claiming rising crime -- homelessness, the administration’s top-down approach to rezoning neighborhoods, crumbling infrastructure in public housing, and long-struggling public schools, for instance.</p> <p dir="ltr">Massey has also decided to take on the mayor’s record on public safety, arguably the most important job for the Mayor of the City of New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We will maintain public safety and fight terrorism by providing the resources, support, and leadership our police officers need and deserve,” Massey’s campaign account said in a tweet on March 17. Another refrain of his campaign is that NYPD members “feel like they can’t do their job because the mayor doesn’t have their back.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked for further explanation of those points, Mollie Fullington, a spokesperson for the campaign, said in an email to Gotham Gazette, “Perhaps it goes without saying that men and women in uniform do not feel [de Blasio] has their backs for a variety of reasons, and we also know our public spaces feel less safe, with random slashing attacks targeting pedestrians, commuters being pushed in front of subway cars, and a 55% increase in hate crimes and bias attacks.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Fullington also pointed to a 32 percent <a href="http://m.qchron.com/mobile/editions/queenswide/crime-in-city-parks-jumps-by-percent/article_06756696-b0aa-5547-810e-c215b0a2a1bf.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increase</a> in crime in city parks, a 4 percent increase in crime at public housing, and 14 percent increase in crimes in a <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170111/mott-haven/40th-precinct-2016-crime-statistics" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">South Bronx precinct</a> last year. She added, “The Mayor has failed to maintain the counter terror capabilities of the NYPD, resulting in the first major terror attack in New York since 9/11,” seemingly referring to the bombing in Chelsea last year.</p> <p dir="ltr">Those numbers are countered by the fact that major felony, or “index,” crimes tracked by the NYPD have decreased overall by about 9 percent between 2013 and 2016 under de Blasio, according to year-end statistics released by the NYPD in January. The number of murders, 335, was the same as three years ago after having seen slight fluctuation each year, and rapes and felony assaults did increase from 2013 to 2016, by 4.2 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively. But, overall, 2016 was the city's safest year on record -- robberies were down 19 percent, burglaries were down by 25.5 percent, grand larceny was down by 2.4 percent. Gun violence also decreased significantly - there were 998 shooting incidents in 2016, the first time that number was below 1,100 in the decades of modern data-tracking.</p> <p dir="ltr">Massey’s campaign appears to be the first and only entity to attribute the jump in hate crimes, widely seen as having been sparked by forces in and around Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, to a failure by the de Blasio administration, which includes the NYPD.</p> <p dir="ltr">Massey may have difficulty gaining traction on public safety as a campaign issue, though he will certainly not fall on deaf ears. Voters are divided along demographic and party lines on the mayor’s handling of crime, with the city’s lopsided enrollment tilting things heavily in de Blasio’s favor (Democrats outnumber Republicans six-to-one in New York City voter rolls; there are also over 1 million unaffiliated voters Massey is hoping to woo). At the same time, Massey and other Republicans have pointed largely to the perception that crime is getting worse, even if the numbers look good.</p> <p dir="ltr">The latest <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2434" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Quinnipiac University Poll</a> from March 1 shows 54 percent of voters approve of the way de Blasio is handling crime while 39 percent disapprove. Along party lines, the difference is stark -- 69 percent of Democrats approved of the mayor’s handling of crime while 17 percent of Republicans felt the same. The polling also shows racial differences -- 73 percent of black voters approve and 56 percent of Hispanics approve, while 44 percent of white New Yorkers gave the mayor a thumbs up on crime. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">“The truth of the matter is, whether [Massey] likes it or not, crime is down,” said Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University. “By saying that crime is up and everything’s violent, he’s trying to tap into the white fear that [former New York City Mayor] Rudy Giuliani and [President] Donald Trump consistently tap into.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Greer believes that Massey could get some amount of support by hammering home his message on crime. “But the type of people who believe that,” she said, “are people who aren’t interested in looking at the data.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Before de Blasio came to office and early in his term, there were those who worried about his rhetoric concerning the NYPD and its tactics, and warned that he would oversee a rise in historically low crime from the Bloomberg era. De Blasio stringently opposed the overuse of stop-and-frisk policing, and his opponents pounced on that to paint him as anti-police. Over much of the last three years, he has been at pains to correct that impression, portraying himself as a strong ally of the police department, especially after his mayoralty hit a low point in late 2014 and early 2015 when two police officers were killed and others publicly turned their backs on the mayor.</p> <p dir="ltr">Many who warned that curtailing the use of stop-and-frisk would lead to a spike in crime citywide were proved wrong, and some admitted so. The New York Daily News Editorial Board, which was strongly critical of de Blasio’s position on the policing tactic, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/wrong-ending-stop-frisk-not-stopping-crime-article-1.2740157" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">published a mea culpa</a> in August. “We are delighted to say that we were wrong,” the editorial read, admitting that the increase in murders that they foresaw never occurred while crime hit record lows.</p> <p dir="ltr">Even de Blasio’s harshest critics have conceded that he’s kept the city secure. “Keeping the streets safe is one thing de Blasio has managed fairly well, by avoiding too much political interference with the NYPD, the best police force in America,” wrote the editorial board of the <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/12/20/cuomos-campaign-to-bigfoot-de-blasio-is-starting-to-backfire/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Post</a> in December. (The Post and de Blasio are frequent targets of each other’s ire, with de Blasio famously feuding with the tabloid last year, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/07/nyregion/de-blasio-snubs-new-york-post.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">refusing</a> to take questions at a news conference from one of its reporters and calling the paper a “right-wing rag.”)</p> <p dir="ltr">But crime is an “emotive topic,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and state prosecutor who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “I think that public safety never goes away as an issue,” he said. “It may appear to be taking a holiday, but every mayor knows you’re never more than one day away from public safety catapulting to the top of the list.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Poll numbers bear this out. The March 1 Quinnipiac poll shows that 82 percent of voters said crime is a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem, compared to 17 percent who said it is “not very serious” or “not a problem at all.” O’Donnell said a single incident -- like the recent terror attack in London or the murder of a black man in midtown by a white supremacist from Maryland -- could easily dominate the conversation. “Emotion can quickly eclipse statistics,” O’Donnell said. “New York City is provably super safe,” he added. “The difference between perception and reality can change quickly.”</p> <p dir="ltr">O’Donnell did acknowledge that public safety would resonate as an issue in the mayoral primary, particularly with the Republican base in the city, but it will be “daunting” for Massey to venture beyond that group. It also smacks of the irony in the public safety conversation, as O’Donnell points out. “A lack of safety mostly affects minorities. White New York has generally been safe but they’re the ones that are fearful,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Former Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, de Blasio’s main general election opponent in 2013, said that crime and quality of life issues “are always high on the agenda.” “Some people are more worried about street cleanliness than they are about crime and vice versa, but crime is an issue because it’s the quality-of-life nature of it,” he said. In 2013, Lhota’s campaign argued that de Blasio was a risk to public safety. (Some of the consultants who worked on that campaign are working for Massey, who has raised and spent about $2 million.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Although he couldn’t speculate whether public safety will gain traction as the race progresses, and he gives credit to de Blasio and the NYPD for continuing reductions in crime, Lhota echoed O’Donnell’s point that singular events could change that. “Campaigns are a function of things that happen in the city and in the world,” he said. “Events take control of elections, events take control of campaigns.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But Lhota reiterated that there is indeed anxiety among New Yorkers about crime. “Polling is showing people still have a sense of fear. So another question is, how do you eradicate that fear and is it [eradicable]? I’m not sure.”</p> <p dir="ltr">He added, “The argument will be, ‘People don’t feel safe’ and the mayor’s argument’s gonna be, ‘But the numbers say that they are safe.’ And so where does that debate go? What’s the next question? What is your policy on homelessness? What are you going to do about reducing the rate of growth in the budget in the city of New York? Those issues could become more important. Homelessness could be, sanitation pickups could be. That’s where I’m saying events can take over. An opponent will talk about the feeling of crime and the mayor will have the ability to stand behind his record on crime.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Perhaps the one constituency that Massey may be able to spotlight is rank-and-file law enforcement, which has had an adversarial relationship with the mayor since before he took power. Although de Blasio has taken many opportunities to try to repair that dynamic, especially over the past two years, there are few signals that much has changed.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, an internal survey by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents more than 24,000 rank-and-file officers in the NYPD, found that morale among its members had bottomed out under de Blasio. About 96 percent disapproved of the mayor’s policies on public safety and policing, and 95 percent said they felt “less safe” on duty. This has become one of Massey’s consistent talking points.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Nothing’s changed,” said Albert O’Leary, PBA communications director, of officer sentiment towards de Blasio. “He’s still mayor, he’s still perceived as a supporter of anti-police segments of our society. He’s viewed as anti-police by police.”</p> <p dir="ltr">O’Leary also indicated that the recent settlement of the PBA contract with the city, which de Blasio and PBA President Patrick Lynch announced in a rare joint appearance, had done little to assuage those sentiments.</p> <p dir="ltr">Using this relationship as a foil, Massey has emphasized that he will show the NYPD the support he says the mayor has failed to display. “I will always stand with police and work with the police commissioner to fully empower and fund the NYPD’s community policing,” he said in the March 17 statement. It is not clear what additional empowerment or funding the NYPD needs for community policing given what de Blasio has invested in the effort that is one of his hallmarks, including adding 1,300 officers to the force.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio is now fighting for NYPD funding in terms of $110 million in federal anti-terror funds that are currently under threat from the Trump administration. Greer, from Fordham, said this actually works in the mayor’s favor. “I think that relationship is on the mend,” she said of de Blasio and the police, “and the mayor’s in a good position because Trump’s trying to defund the NYPD.” Greer also said Trump, with his proposed cuts to NYCHA, the NYPD, and elsewhere, has inserted himself into the mayoral race and that any Republican candidate would have to address that. Massey has repeatedly said he will not make the mayoral race a “referendum” on President Trump as he thinks de Blasio is trying to do.</p> <p dir="ltr">At a November 29 news conference, when asked about morale in the police department, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said, “There are ebbs and flows with morale depending on what goes on around the city and what the sense of appreciation that the police feel from the residents of the city. I think we’re in a good place now. It can always be improved, but we look constantly to make things better for our police officers.”</p> <p dir="ltr">He continued, “And the number one thing that I do is that I respect that the work that they do, and they know that because I’ve come up through the ranks. So, I think that having a police commissioner that’s come up through the ranks, I think that’s appreciated by the vast majority of the members of the New York City Police Department who continue to do an outstanding job every day.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio then added, “There’s tremendous appreciation for how the NYPD protects people from any terror threat. I hear that from the public all the time and I hear it from the officers that I talk to that they get those thank-yous and they appreciate those thank-yous.”</p> <p dir="ltr">He also said that the department’s new neighborhood policing model is improving relationships between cops and communities. “There’s a lot of mutual respect and a lot of appreciation and it’s stated quite frequently. I know our officers appreciate that. And I agree that having a leader who came up through the ranks means a lot to our officers. I’ve also heard that from many officers that they really appreciate that their leader experienced everything that they experience, and they know that Commissioner O’Neill has their back.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio quickly named O’Neill, who had been chief of department, as commissioner after former Commissioner Bill Bratton announced his intended retirement from the NYPD last year. De Blasio has stressed that O’Neill is the architect of neighborhood policing and, in announcing the new PBA contract, focused on the agreement that all officers will wear body cameras within three years. This has become a campaign talking point for the mayor as he seeks to assure his base he is a reformer who is improving accountability at the NYPD. Some see de Blasio as more vulnerable on policing from the left than the right -- activists have questioned the scale of de Blasio's reform of the NYPD, attacked him <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6690-bill-de-blasio-s-police-accountability-problem" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">for a lack of transparency and accountability at the NYPD</a>, and long-time policing reformer Robert Gangi, executive director of Police Reform Organizing Project, has <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/03/broken-windows-critic-to-run-for-mayor-in-democratic-primary-110697" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">declared his candidacy</a> in the Democratic mayoral primary.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor’s campaign is scarcely worried about Massey’s attacks. A Quinnipiac poll from Feb. 28 showed de Blasio handily beating Massey in a head-to-head contest, winning 59 percent of the vote over Massey’s 25 percent (with about 15 percent undecided). Massey’s campaign has spun the poll as a positive, stating that voters have begun to recognize their previously unknown candidate and winning approval from one-fourth of voters this early in the race is a promising sign.</p> <p dir="ltr">Massey’s campaign is also set to roll out detailed policy positions over the next few weeks. At his first official news conference in February, Massey had little to say on policy and said he hadn’t “established an answer” yet on stop-and-frisk, the controversial policing tactic that dominated much of the 2013 election cycle. At subsequent events Massey said that the NYPD is “currently using stop-question-and-frisk and I believe it’s one of the necessary tools and that there are many that we need to have for our police.” He stressed the importance of the Mayor supporting the police and said, “They will never turn their back on me because I will never turn my back on them."</p> <p dir="ltr">Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for de Blasio’s campaign was confident when asked about Massey’s public safety positions. “Mayor de Blasio ended the overuse of stop-and-frisk and brought crime to record lows while improving relations between police and the communities they serve,” Levitan said in an email. “That’s a record we are happy to compare with anyone.”</p> <p>As Lhota also said, “[Crime] won’t be the only issue in the campaign I guarantee you. Will it be an issue? Yes. Will it be the issue that makes the difference? Probably not.”</p> <p><em>Note: this article has been updated to provide more specific felony crime data for 2013 to 2016.</em></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32191074974_a6abcc880d_z.jpg" alt="Massey City Hall presser" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Paul Massey (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Real estate executive Paul Massey, a leading Republican mayoral contender, held a week-long campaign launch earlier this month, concluding with a focus on community policing. Having visited each borough with a daily theme, Massey said in an email blast on March 17, “I’ve heard many concerns in my discussions with city residents this week and one that stands out is that our city feels less safe.”</p> <p dir="ltr">It wasn’t the first time Massey made the claim, and it wasn’t the last, as he takes to the campaign trail attempting to paint Mayor Bill de Blasio as an ineffectual and corrupt leader who has presided over declining quality of life in the city. Massey has repeatedly pointed to cherry-picked statistics that show certain crimes are up in the city, or in certain geographic areas, contributing, he says, to unease among New Yorkers about their safety. In doing so, Massey is attempting to make a campaign issue out of one of de Blasio’s strongest overall metrics -- in reality, major crime has declined over the last three years and the city continues to hit historic lows in crime rates virtually each month.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio, a first-term Democrat, has already positioned himself to run on declining crime. The mayor has taken to holding monthly press conferences with NYPD leaders to tout new crime numbers, while also arguing that he has reformed the police department to improve police-community relations. The mayor’s campaign often recycles a statement for news stories about the mayoral race that includes “crime is at historic lows” in summarizing de Blasio’s record.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Massey and his team see an opening. The first-time political candidate, who recently moved to the city from Westchester in order to run for mayor, ran a real estate business throughout the five boroughs for decades. While his campaign has been focused on critiquing de Blasio, Massey must first win the Republican primary (though he has already secured the Independence Party line).</p> <p dir="ltr">In its early stages, Massey’s campaign identified what it saw as a few major areas of failure for de Blasio: housing, jobs, quality of life, and schools. Each issue presents a debate de Blasio and his supporters are seemingly ready to have. Yet, Massey has struck the chord on several points of substantive criticism of the mayor that have more supporting evidence than claiming rising crime -- homelessness, the administration’s top-down approach to rezoning neighborhoods, crumbling infrastructure in public housing, and long-struggling public schools, for instance.</p> <p dir="ltr">Massey has also decided to take on the mayor’s record on public safety, arguably the most important job for the Mayor of the City of New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We will maintain public safety and fight terrorism by providing the resources, support, and leadership our police officers need and deserve,” Massey’s campaign account said in a tweet on March 17. Another refrain of his campaign is that NYPD members “feel like they can’t do their job because the mayor doesn’t have their back.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked for further explanation of those points, Mollie Fullington, a spokesperson for the campaign, said in an email to Gotham Gazette, “Perhaps it goes without saying that men and women in uniform do not feel [de Blasio] has their backs for a variety of reasons, and we also know our public spaces feel less safe, with random slashing attacks targeting pedestrians, commuters being pushed in front of subway cars, and a 55% increase in hate crimes and bias attacks.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Fullington also pointed to a 32 percent <a href="http://m.qchron.com/mobile/editions/queenswide/crime-in-city-parks-jumps-by-percent/article_06756696-b0aa-5547-810e-c215b0a2a1bf.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increase</a> in crime in city parks, a 4 percent increase in crime at public housing, and 14 percent increase in crimes in a <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170111/mott-haven/40th-precinct-2016-crime-statistics" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">South Bronx precinct</a> last year. She added, “The Mayor has failed to maintain the counter terror capabilities of the NYPD, resulting in the first major terror attack in New York since 9/11,” seemingly referring to the bombing in Chelsea last year.</p> <p dir="ltr">Those numbers are countered by the fact that major felony, or “index,” crimes tracked by the NYPD have decreased overall by about 9 percent between 2013 and 2016 under de Blasio, according to year-end statistics released by the NYPD in January. The number of murders, 335, was the same as three years ago after having seen slight fluctuation each year, and rapes and felony assaults did increase from 2013 to 2016, by 4.2 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively. But, overall, 2016 was the city's safest year on record -- robberies were down 19 percent, burglaries were down by 25.5 percent, grand larceny was down by 2.4 percent. Gun violence also decreased significantly - there were 998 shooting incidents in 2016, the first time that number was below 1,100 in the decades of modern data-tracking.</p> <p dir="ltr">Massey’s campaign appears to be the first and only entity to attribute the jump in hate crimes, widely seen as having been sparked by forces in and around Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, to a failure by the de Blasio administration, which includes the NYPD.</p> <p dir="ltr">Massey may have difficulty gaining traction on public safety as a campaign issue, though he will certainly not fall on deaf ears. Voters are divided along demographic and party lines on the mayor’s handling of crime, with the city’s lopsided enrollment tilting things heavily in de Blasio’s favor (Democrats outnumber Republicans six-to-one in New York City voter rolls; there are also over 1 million unaffiliated voters Massey is hoping to woo). At the same time, Massey and other Republicans have pointed largely to the perception that crime is getting worse, even if the numbers look good.</p> <p dir="ltr">The latest <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2434" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Quinnipiac University Poll</a> from March 1 shows 54 percent of voters approve of the way de Blasio is handling crime while 39 percent disapprove. Along party lines, the difference is stark -- 69 percent of Democrats approved of the mayor’s handling of crime while 17 percent of Republicans felt the same. The polling also shows racial differences -- 73 percent of black voters approve and 56 percent of Hispanics approve, while 44 percent of white New Yorkers gave the mayor a thumbs up on crime. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">“The truth of the matter is, whether [Massey] likes it or not, crime is down,” said Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University. “By saying that crime is up and everything’s violent, he’s trying to tap into the white fear that [former New York City Mayor] Rudy Giuliani and [President] Donald Trump consistently tap into.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Greer believes that Massey could get some amount of support by hammering home his message on crime. “But the type of people who believe that,” she said, “are people who aren’t interested in looking at the data.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Before de Blasio came to office and early in his term, there were those who worried about his rhetoric concerning the NYPD and its tactics, and warned that he would oversee a rise in historically low crime from the Bloomberg era. De Blasio stringently opposed the overuse of stop-and-frisk policing, and his opponents pounced on that to paint him as anti-police. Over much of the last three years, he has been at pains to correct that impression, portraying himself as a strong ally of the police department, especially after his mayoralty hit a low point in late 2014 and early 2015 when two police officers were killed and others publicly turned their backs on the mayor.</p> <p dir="ltr">Many who warned that curtailing the use of stop-and-frisk would lead to a spike in crime citywide were proved wrong, and some admitted so. The New York Daily News Editorial Board, which was strongly critical of de Blasio’s position on the policing tactic, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/wrong-ending-stop-frisk-not-stopping-crime-article-1.2740157" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">published a mea culpa</a> in August. “We are delighted to say that we were wrong,” the editorial read, admitting that the increase in murders that they foresaw never occurred while crime hit record lows.</p> <p dir="ltr">Even de Blasio’s harshest critics have conceded that he’s kept the city secure. “Keeping the streets safe is one thing de Blasio has managed fairly well, by avoiding too much political interference with the NYPD, the best police force in America,” wrote the editorial board of the <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/12/20/cuomos-campaign-to-bigfoot-de-blasio-is-starting-to-backfire/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Post</a> in December. (The Post and de Blasio are frequent targets of each other’s ire, with de Blasio famously feuding with the tabloid last year, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/07/nyregion/de-blasio-snubs-new-york-post.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">refusing</a> to take questions at a news conference from one of its reporters and calling the paper a “right-wing rag.”)</p> <p dir="ltr">But crime is an “emotive topic,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and state prosecutor who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “I think that public safety never goes away as an issue,” he said. “It may appear to be taking a holiday, but every mayor knows you’re never more than one day away from public safety catapulting to the top of the list.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Poll numbers bear this out. The March 1 Quinnipiac poll shows that 82 percent of voters said crime is a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem, compared to 17 percent who said it is “not very serious” or “not a problem at all.” O’Donnell said a single incident -- like the recent terror attack in London or the murder of a black man in midtown by a white supremacist from Maryland -- could easily dominate the conversation. “Emotion can quickly eclipse statistics,” O’Donnell said. “New York City is provably super safe,” he added. “The difference between perception and reality can change quickly.”</p> <p dir="ltr">O’Donnell did acknowledge that public safety would resonate as an issue in the mayoral primary, particularly with the Republican base in the city, but it will be “daunting” for Massey to venture beyond that group. It also smacks of the irony in the public safety conversation, as O’Donnell points out. “A lack of safety mostly affects minorities. White New York has generally been safe but they’re the ones that are fearful,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Former Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, de Blasio’s main general election opponent in 2013, said that crime and quality of life issues “are always high on the agenda.” “Some people are more worried about street cleanliness than they are about crime and vice versa, but crime is an issue because it’s the quality-of-life nature of it,” he said. In 2013, Lhota’s campaign argued that de Blasio was a risk to public safety. (Some of the consultants who worked on that campaign are working for Massey, who has raised and spent about $2 million.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Although he couldn’t speculate whether public safety will gain traction as the race progresses, and he gives credit to de Blasio and the NYPD for continuing reductions in crime, Lhota echoed O’Donnell’s point that singular events could change that. “Campaigns are a function of things that happen in the city and in the world,” he said. “Events take control of elections, events take control of campaigns.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But Lhota reiterated that there is indeed anxiety among New Yorkers about crime. “Polling is showing people still have a sense of fear. So another question is, how do you eradicate that fear and is it [eradicable]? I’m not sure.”</p> <p dir="ltr">He added, “The argument will be, ‘People don’t feel safe’ and the mayor’s argument’s gonna be, ‘But the numbers say that they are safe.’ And so where does that debate go? What’s the next question? What is your policy on homelessness? What are you going to do about reducing the rate of growth in the budget in the city of New York? Those issues could become more important. Homelessness could be, sanitation pickups could be. That’s where I’m saying events can take over. An opponent will talk about the feeling of crime and the mayor will have the ability to stand behind his record on crime.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Perhaps the one constituency that Massey may be able to spotlight is rank-and-file law enforcement, which has had an adversarial relationship with the mayor since before he took power. Although de Blasio has taken many opportunities to try to repair that dynamic, especially over the past two years, there are few signals that much has changed.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, an internal survey by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents more than 24,000 rank-and-file officers in the NYPD, found that morale among its members had bottomed out under de Blasio. About 96 percent disapproved of the mayor’s policies on public safety and policing, and 95 percent said they felt “less safe” on duty. This has become one of Massey’s consistent talking points.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Nothing’s changed,” said Albert O’Leary, PBA communications director, of officer sentiment towards de Blasio. “He’s still mayor, he’s still perceived as a supporter of anti-police segments of our society. He’s viewed as anti-police by police.”</p> <p dir="ltr">O’Leary also indicated that the recent settlement of the PBA contract with the city, which de Blasio and PBA President Patrick Lynch announced in a rare joint appearance, had done little to assuage those sentiments.</p> <p dir="ltr">Using this relationship as a foil, Massey has emphasized that he will show the NYPD the support he says the mayor has failed to display. “I will always stand with police and work with the police commissioner to fully empower and fund the NYPD’s community policing,” he said in the March 17 statement. It is not clear what additional empowerment or funding the NYPD needs for community policing given what de Blasio has invested in the effort that is one of his hallmarks, including adding 1,300 officers to the force.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio is now fighting for NYPD funding in terms of $110 million in federal anti-terror funds that are currently under threat from the Trump administration. Greer, from Fordham, said this actually works in the mayor’s favor. “I think that relationship is on the mend,” she said of de Blasio and the police, “and the mayor’s in a good position because Trump’s trying to defund the NYPD.” Greer also said Trump, with his proposed cuts to NYCHA, the NYPD, and elsewhere, has inserted himself into the mayoral race and that any Republican candidate would have to address that. Massey has repeatedly said he will not make the mayoral race a “referendum” on President Trump as he thinks de Blasio is trying to do.</p> <p dir="ltr">At a November 29 news conference, when asked about morale in the police department, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said, “There are ebbs and flows with morale depending on what goes on around the city and what the sense of appreciation that the police feel from the residents of the city. I think we’re in a good place now. It can always be improved, but we look constantly to make things better for our police officers.”</p> <p dir="ltr">He continued, “And the number one thing that I do is that I respect that the work that they do, and they know that because I’ve come up through the ranks. So, I think that having a police commissioner that’s come up through the ranks, I think that’s appreciated by the vast majority of the members of the New York City Police Department who continue to do an outstanding job every day.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio then added, “There’s tremendous appreciation for how the NYPD protects people from any terror threat. I hear that from the public all the time and I hear it from the officers that I talk to that they get those thank-yous and they appreciate those thank-yous.”</p> <p dir="ltr">He also said that the department’s new neighborhood policing model is improving relationships between cops and communities. “There’s a lot of mutual respect and a lot of appreciation and it’s stated quite frequently. I know our officers appreciate that. And I agree that having a leader who came up through the ranks means a lot to our officers. I’ve also heard that from many officers that they really appreciate that their leader experienced everything that they experience, and they know that Commissioner O’Neill has their back.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio quickly named O’Neill, who had been chief of department, as commissioner after former Commissioner Bill Bratton announced his intended retirement from the NYPD last year. De Blasio has stressed that O’Neill is the architect of neighborhood policing and, in announcing the new PBA contract, focused on the agreement that all officers will wear body cameras within three years. This has become a campaign talking point for the mayor as he seeks to assure his base he is a reformer who is improving accountability at the NYPD. Some see de Blasio as more vulnerable on policing from the left than the right -- activists have questioned the scale of de Blasio's reform of the NYPD, attacked him <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6690-bill-de-blasio-s-police-accountability-problem" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">for a lack of transparency and accountability at the NYPD</a>, and long-time policing reformer Robert Gangi, executive director of Police Reform Organizing Project, has <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/03/broken-windows-critic-to-run-for-mayor-in-democratic-primary-110697" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">declared his candidacy</a> in the Democratic mayoral primary.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor’s campaign is scarcely worried about Massey’s attacks. A Quinnipiac poll from Feb. 28 showed de Blasio handily beating Massey in a head-to-head contest, winning 59 percent of the vote over Massey’s 25 percent (with about 15 percent undecided). Massey’s campaign has spun the poll as a positive, stating that voters have begun to recognize their previously unknown candidate and winning approval from one-fourth of voters this early in the race is a promising sign.</p> <p dir="ltr">Massey’s campaign is also set to roll out detailed policy positions over the next few weeks. At his first official news conference in February, Massey had little to say on policy and said he hadn’t “established an answer” yet on stop-and-frisk, the controversial policing tactic that dominated much of the 2013 election cycle. At subsequent events Massey said that the NYPD is “currently using stop-question-and-frisk and I believe it’s one of the necessary tools and that there are many that we need to have for our police.” He stressed the importance of the Mayor supporting the police and said, “They will never turn their back on me because I will never turn my back on them."</p> <p dir="ltr">Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for de Blasio’s campaign was confident when asked about Massey’s public safety positions. “Mayor de Blasio ended the overuse of stop-and-frisk and brought crime to record lows while improving relations between police and the communities they serve,” Levitan said in an email. “That’s a record we are happy to compare with anyone.”</p> <p>As Lhota also said, “[Crime] won’t be the only issue in the campaign I guarantee you. Will it be an issue? Yes. Will it be the issue that makes the difference? Probably not.”</p> <p><em>Note: this article has been updated to provide more specific felony crime data for 2013 to 2016.</em></p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
With De Blasio Appearing Vulnerable, Heightened Examination of Paths to Defeat Him 2016-08-14T04:00:00+00:00 2016-08-14T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6480:with-de-blasio-appearing-vulnerable-heightened-examination-of-paths-to-defeat-him Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/28132525604_33be991e32_z.jpg" alt="de blasio balcony" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed, Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Mayor Bill de Blasio often says he doesn&rsquo;t put much stock in public opinion polls; he believes they&rsquo;re about as accurate as weather predictions. When asked, he didn&rsquo;t express much concern after a <a href="https://www.qu.edu/news-and-events/quinnipiac-university-poll/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2369" target="_blank">Quinnipiac University poll</a> released August 1 showed that 51 percent of New York City voters don&rsquo;t think he deserves to be re-elected in 2017. But even if de Blasio didn&rsquo;t care, his critics and potential opponents surely did, and are likely buoyed in their belief that there is a way to beat an incumbent Democrat who has been arguably the most progressive mayor in the city&rsquo;s history and overseen dropping crime, growing jobs, and a record tourism.</p> <p dir="ltr">As polls show de Blasio&rsquo;s relative weakness, some voices have grown louder calling for his ouster, and potential opponents weigh jumping into the race, one key question is the best path to defeating him. In an overwhelmingly Democratic city that saw 20 years of Republican dominance of the mayoralty before his election, it&rsquo;s not immediately clear where de Blasio is most vulnerable.</p> <p dir="ltr">As can be expected, political consultants are divided on the prospect of de Blasio&rsquo;s re-election. Republican consultants believe he can be beaten if an opponent uses the right strategy, aptly highlighting the mayor&rsquo;s weaknesses, while many Democrats are certain the chances of that are negligible at best.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;[De Blasio&rsquo;s opponents] need to make it a referendum on his competence and his management,&rdquo; said Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist. &ldquo;That includes Democrats, especially in the primaries.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;An incompetent mayor can lose,&rdquo; he added.</p> <p dir="ltr">It is the competence argument that is already being made by the loudest voice to thus far openly declare intention to defeat de Blasio in 2017 - that of consultant Bradley Tusk, who ran former Mayor Michael Bloomberg&rsquo;s third successful mayoral campaign, in 2009. Tusk has said, though, that he believes the most likely path to defeating de Blasio in 2017 is through the Democratic primary. He&rsquo;s currently waging a public relations campaign to damage the mayor while he attempts to recruit the strongest candidate possible.</p> <p dir="ltr">As Tusk and others, even Republicans, acknowledge, the voter registration numbers don&rsquo;t lie. They also see that while de Blasio&rsquo;s approval rating is low, he still has fairly strong support among Democrats, especially African-Americans.</p> <p dir="ltr">In order to beat de Blasio, &ldquo;Republicans and independents will have to appeal to disaffected Democrats and have to bring in pretty much every constituency,&rdquo; said Siegfried. &ldquo;Bill de Blasio is absolutely beatable only if you run a good and strong campaign with a solid candidate...They should aim to peel off the pork from where de Blasio is strong, particularly the African-American community.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">On the Republican end, there are already a few candidates who&rsquo;ve indicated they may run against the mayor, including Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich; billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis, who lost in the 2013 Republican primary; real estate developer Paul Massey; and former professional football player and Harlem pastor Michel Faulkner. The latter two have officially declared their runs.</p> <p dir="ltr">Republican campaign consultant Jessica Proud of The November Team, who is working for Massey&rsquo;s campaign, believes there is a path to victory against the incumbent mayor. &ldquo;Clearly de Blasio has not been able to inspire the confidence of voters,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;He has not shown himself to be a good manager of the city.&rdquo; Proud said Massey&rsquo;s appeal is that he&rsquo;s not a politician. &ldquo;He&rsquo;s not an ideologue, his approach would be one of good management,&rdquo; she said, with an implicit nod toward a Bloomberg-esque technocrat and citing Massey&rsquo;s top priorities in the campaign: public safety and quality of life issues, housing, and improving city schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">The management issue is a common refrain and relates directly to competence. Even though crime is down, Republican consultants point to polls that show the perception of crime remains skewed. Many people believe other quality of life issues, like street cleanliness, are getting worse even if there is evidence to the contrary. The Quinnipiac poll released August 1 showed that 49 percent of New York City voters disapproved of how the mayor is handling crime, compared to 42 percent who approved.</p> <p dir="ltr">George Arzt, a Democratic consultant, said, &ldquo;[De Blasio is] vulnerable to a challenge but not from a Republican.&rdquo; He said that contenders like Massey or Catsimatidis don&rsquo;t have the same level of resources as Bloomberg did, and that they definitely don&rsquo;t have the political skills or organization. &ldquo;There were circumstances that cannot be duplicated as we see now,&rdquo; he said of Bloomberg&rsquo;s election as a Republican candidate. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s doubtful that anyone even with money can make a go of it.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Another Democratic strategist, Hank Sheinkopf, said a Republican candidate could only be elected if the city were to undergo a serious crisis, say a crime wave, massive corruption, or another recession. De Blasio's administration and campaign allies are being investigated on multiple fronts by state and federal law enforcement officials - the results of those investigations could shift political dynamics drastically, of course. Short of major indictments, Sheinkopf did point out early indicators of problems -- certain crimes have increased, like rape, but overall the crime rate is at historic lows; school test scores may be improving but the schools are underperforming in general; violence in the city&rsquo;s jails; and future budget deficits despite the city being flush with cash.</p> <p dir="ltr">Even with those considerations, Sheinkopf said, &ldquo;A fusion candidate will have a better chance,&rdquo; &nbsp;referring to a candidate who runs on multiple party lines. &ldquo;They have the Republican line and other lines which makes it easier for people to vote for them.&rdquo; An effective Republican challenger would have to draw crossover votes from traditionally Democratic voting sections of the population, as Siegfried also suggested and any Republican candidate or consultant must understand.</p> <p dir="ltr">Democrats&rsquo; immense voter registration advantage is simply a reality that all involved in New York City political campaigns must recognize. However, one caveat to the voter registration numbers are the voter turnout numbers, which are often quite low. If a certain candidate, incumbent or otherwise, can motivate more people to vote in a significant mass, an election can be swung.</p> <p dir="ltr">As of April 1, there are more than 4 million <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/enrollment/county/county_apr16.pdf" target="_blank">active registered voters</a> in the city, of which 2.75 million are Democrats and only 414,478 are Republicans. However, that advantage isn&rsquo;t necessarily borne out by history, a fact pointed to by Steven Romalewski, director of the mapping service at the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center. In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Romalewski said, &ldquo;The enrollment advantage doesn&rsquo;t necessarily tell you much. It matters less than personality of the candidates and the issues. If everyone turned out to vote who is registered to vote and voted the party line, a Democrat would win. But that doesn&rsquo;t always happen.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Romalewski noted that a 2013 general election analysis showed that in certain districts, de Blasio received fewer Democratic votes than the total votes cast by registered Democrats, indicating that some may have voted for his Republican opponent, Joe Lhota. In other districts, de Blasio received more votes than the total Democratic votes cast, meaning he had support from outside the Democratic party as well. There were six major qualified parties and 14 minor parties on the general election ballot, with de Blasio holding the Democratic and Working Families Party lines.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city also has nearly 800,000 unaffiliated voters, often called &ldquo;independents,&rdquo; which adds another facet to the Democrat-Republican enrollment imbalance.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;In 2017, I think the same kind of analysis holds,&rdquo; Romalewski said in an email. &ldquo;If none or just a small number of Democrats vote for de Blasio's opponent, he'll do ok. &nbsp;But if his challenger can persuade enough Dems to "defect," he'll be in trouble.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">But de Blasio&rsquo;s great strength, as Romalewski pointed out, is that he &ldquo;not only did well and much better than the prior three Democratic candidates [for mayor] but also did well in areas where Bloomberg did well. He kinda combined the traditional Democratic base -- Black and Hispanic areas -- with liberal white areas.&rdquo; De Blasio won a dominant 73 percent of the general election vote against Lhota in 2013.</p> <p dir="ltr">Critics point to the fact that only 26 percent of registered voters cast ballots in that election, which indicates some combination of apathy, recognition that de Blasio had a huge polling advantage heading toward Election Day, and limited enthusiasm for Lhota from Republicans and independents.</p> <p dir="ltr">A Republican would have to have a &ldquo;cache&rdquo; of progressive politics combined with the skills of a good manager, Romalewski said, to cut into de Blasio&rsquo;s voter base. &ldquo;The conventional wisdom is that it&rsquo;s unlikely [de Blasio will] have effective challengers,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Most observers assume that the mayor will only face a stiff challenge in the Democratic primary, due to the aforementioned factors and no obvious other big name Republican or independent waiting in the wings. And a tough Democratic primary is only possible, some say, if a single strong candidate runs against de Blasio instead of multiple candidates who could split the anti-de Blasio vote. &ldquo;If two or three Democrats challenge the mayor, he&rsquo;s going to win,&rdquo; said Bill Cunningham, managing director at DKC and former communications director for Bloomberg. &ldquo;If only one runs, there&rsquo;s a chance to coalesce the people who view [de Blasio] unfavorably and give them a place to go vote.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">One other path some experts float would be for a strong African-American candidate to enter the race - someone like Congressional Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, for example - who would chip away at de Blasio&rsquo;s deep African-American base, and one strong white candidate - someone like Comptroller Scott Stringer - who could pick up as many other disaffected Democrats as possible.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cunningham said for a competitive race, &ldquo;You need a message, a messenger and you need to be able to deliver that to the public. There&rsquo;s no mystery to what the recipe is. The trick is finding a candidate who is intelligent and can campaign effectively and has the money to deliver the message to the voters.&rdquo; Bloomberg had those qualities, he pointed out, but the current crop of contenders don&rsquo;t. Along with Stringer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is currently seen as the other most likely Democratic challenger to the mayor.</p> <p dir="ltr">When asked about potential opponents, de Blasio has repeatedly said he&rsquo;s ready to take on all comers, at times mentioning the pillars of his term: universal pre-kindergarten, affordable housing, and low crime. At one point last year de Blasio discussed his "record of achievement" and said of potential 2017 opponents, "come one, come all."</p> <p dir="ltr">A spokesperson for de Blasio&rsquo;s campaign, Dan Levitan, emailed a statement about the prospects for 2017, saying, &ldquo;Crime just hit another all-time low, jobs are at record highs, the City is building and preserving affordable housing at a record pace, while graduation rates and test scores continue to improve. That is Mayor de Blasio's record and that is what next year's election will be about.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Even Tusk, who is arguably de Blasio&rsquo;s most vocal opponent right now, acknowledges that he&rsquo;ll be hard pressed to find a candidate who fits the bill of a Democrat with appeal among Republican voters. He recently indicated to the <a href="http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/08/11/nyregion/weakened-de-blasio-may-be-vulnerable-to-3rd-party-bid-by-a-democrat.html?partner=rss&amp;emc=rss&amp;utm_source=dlvr.it&amp;utm_medium=twitter" target="_blank">New York Times</a> that a successful candidate could run on a third-party line in the general even if they lost the Democratic primary; or a candidate could possibly skip the Democratic primary altogether and run on an independent line.</p> <p dir="ltr">As CUNY&rsquo;s Romalewski notes, in the 2009 general, Bloomberg did well in areas where he consistently won votes in the prior two elections -- much of Queens, the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Downtown Manhattan, South Brooklyn, and almost all of Staten Island. His Democratic opponent at the time, Bill Thompson, made it a close race, losing by less than five points. Thompson, who is black, won large blocks in Southeast Queens, Central Brooklyn, Harlem, and the Bronx. Unfortunately for him, though, turnout wasn&rsquo;t as high in these areas as he needed for a victory. De Blasio upended the pattern in 2013, pulling votes from constituencies that voted for both Bloomberg and Thompson in &lsquo;09.</p> <p dir="ltr">Romalewski&rsquo;s analysis of the 2013 election also notes areas de Blasio lost to Lhota, including the traditionally Republican-leaning Upper East Side, Middle Village and other areas in northeast Queens, a few orthodox Jewish communities in Southern Brooklyn, and most of Staten Island. In general, these areas were dominated by white New Yorkers who have been increasingly critical of de Blasio. The mayor overwhelmingly won communities dominated by African-Americans and Hispanics, who continue to support him. The Quinnipiac poll noted as much, finding that in hypothetical match-ups whites largely favored Comptroller Scott Stringer and former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn over de Blasio, who maintained huge margins among African-Americans and Hispanics. (The poll did not include possible Republican candidates.)</p> <p dir="ltr">In terms of approval rating, 63 percent of black voters and 50 percent of Hispanic voters approve of de Blasio&rsquo;s handling of the job, while only 25 percent of white voters felt the same. The Democrat-Republican divide is even greater, with 55 percent of Democrats giving de Blasio a thumbs up and only 9 percent of Republicans doing so. Among independents, 30 percent approved of the mayor.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Tusk&rsquo;s &ldquo;NYC Deserves Better&rdquo; <a href="http://www.nycdeservesbetter.com/blog/2016/8/12/new-podcast-bradley-tusk-with-jefrey-pollock" target="_blank">podcast</a>, Democratic consultant and pollster Jefrey Pollock pointed out that despite the mayor&rsquo;s weakening numbers, he has enough support among African-Americans and Hispanics for a strong showing in the Democratic primary. Pollock noted, and Tusk reiterated, that popular adage that almost every political expert and consultant says of the mayoral race -- &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t beat somebody with nobody.&rdquo; Pollock said independent groups support an opponent of de Blasio, if an effective one were to emerge.</p> <p>&ldquo;That is the great challenge,&rdquo; Tusk said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/28132525604_33be991e32_z.jpg" alt="de blasio balcony" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed, Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Mayor Bill de Blasio often says he doesn&rsquo;t put much stock in public opinion polls; he believes they&rsquo;re about as accurate as weather predictions. When asked, he didn&rsquo;t express much concern after a <a href="https://www.qu.edu/news-and-events/quinnipiac-university-poll/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2369" target="_blank">Quinnipiac University poll</a> released August 1 showed that 51 percent of New York City voters don&rsquo;t think he deserves to be re-elected in 2017. But even if de Blasio didn&rsquo;t care, his critics and potential opponents surely did, and are likely buoyed in their belief that there is a way to beat an incumbent Democrat who has been arguably the most progressive mayor in the city&rsquo;s history and overseen dropping crime, growing jobs, and a record tourism.</p> <p dir="ltr">As polls show de Blasio&rsquo;s relative weakness, some voices have grown louder calling for his ouster, and potential opponents weigh jumping into the race, one key question is the best path to defeating him. In an overwhelmingly Democratic city that saw 20 years of Republican dominance of the mayoralty before his election, it&rsquo;s not immediately clear where de Blasio is most vulnerable.</p> <p dir="ltr">As can be expected, political consultants are divided on the prospect of de Blasio&rsquo;s re-election. Republican consultants believe he can be beaten if an opponent uses the right strategy, aptly highlighting the mayor&rsquo;s weaknesses, while many Democrats are certain the chances of that are negligible at best.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;[De Blasio&rsquo;s opponents] need to make it a referendum on his competence and his management,&rdquo; said Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist. &ldquo;That includes Democrats, especially in the primaries.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;An incompetent mayor can lose,&rdquo; he added.</p> <p dir="ltr">It is the competence argument that is already being made by the loudest voice to thus far openly declare intention to defeat de Blasio in 2017 - that of consultant Bradley Tusk, who ran former Mayor Michael Bloomberg&rsquo;s third successful mayoral campaign, in 2009. Tusk has said, though, that he believes the most likely path to defeating de Blasio in 2017 is through the Democratic primary. He&rsquo;s currently waging a public relations campaign to damage the mayor while he attempts to recruit the strongest candidate possible.</p> <p dir="ltr">As Tusk and others, even Republicans, acknowledge, the voter registration numbers don&rsquo;t lie. They also see that while de Blasio&rsquo;s approval rating is low, he still has fairly strong support among Democrats, especially African-Americans.</p> <p dir="ltr">In order to beat de Blasio, &ldquo;Republicans and independents will have to appeal to disaffected Democrats and have to bring in pretty much every constituency,&rdquo; said Siegfried. &ldquo;Bill de Blasio is absolutely beatable only if you run a good and strong campaign with a solid candidate...They should aim to peel off the pork from where de Blasio is strong, particularly the African-American community.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">On the Republican end, there are already a few candidates who&rsquo;ve indicated they may run against the mayor, including Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich; billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis, who lost in the 2013 Republican primary; real estate developer Paul Massey; and former professional football player and Harlem pastor Michel Faulkner. The latter two have officially declared their runs.</p> <p dir="ltr">Republican campaign consultant Jessica Proud of The November Team, who is working for Massey&rsquo;s campaign, believes there is a path to victory against the incumbent mayor. &ldquo;Clearly de Blasio has not been able to inspire the confidence of voters,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;He has not shown himself to be a good manager of the city.&rdquo; Proud said Massey&rsquo;s appeal is that he&rsquo;s not a politician. &ldquo;He&rsquo;s not an ideologue, his approach would be one of good management,&rdquo; she said, with an implicit nod toward a Bloomberg-esque technocrat and citing Massey&rsquo;s top priorities in the campaign: public safety and quality of life issues, housing, and improving city schools.</p> <p dir="ltr">The management issue is a common refrain and relates directly to competence. Even though crime is down, Republican consultants point to polls that show the perception of crime remains skewed. Many people believe other quality of life issues, like street cleanliness, are getting worse even if there is evidence to the contrary. The Quinnipiac poll released August 1 showed that 49 percent of New York City voters disapproved of how the mayor is handling crime, compared to 42 percent who approved.</p> <p dir="ltr">George Arzt, a Democratic consultant, said, &ldquo;[De Blasio is] vulnerable to a challenge but not from a Republican.&rdquo; He said that contenders like Massey or Catsimatidis don&rsquo;t have the same level of resources as Bloomberg did, and that they definitely don&rsquo;t have the political skills or organization. &ldquo;There were circumstances that cannot be duplicated as we see now,&rdquo; he said of Bloomberg&rsquo;s election as a Republican candidate. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s doubtful that anyone even with money can make a go of it.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Another Democratic strategist, Hank Sheinkopf, said a Republican candidate could only be elected if the city were to undergo a serious crisis, say a crime wave, massive corruption, or another recession. De Blasio's administration and campaign allies are being investigated on multiple fronts by state and federal law enforcement officials - the results of those investigations could shift political dynamics drastically, of course. Short of major indictments, Sheinkopf did point out early indicators of problems -- certain crimes have increased, like rape, but overall the crime rate is at historic lows; school test scores may be improving but the schools are underperforming in general; violence in the city&rsquo;s jails; and future budget deficits despite the city being flush with cash.</p> <p dir="ltr">Even with those considerations, Sheinkopf said, &ldquo;A fusion candidate will have a better chance,&rdquo; &nbsp;referring to a candidate who runs on multiple party lines. &ldquo;They have the Republican line and other lines which makes it easier for people to vote for them.&rdquo; An effective Republican challenger would have to draw crossover votes from traditionally Democratic voting sections of the population, as Siegfried also suggested and any Republican candidate or consultant must understand.</p> <p dir="ltr">Democrats&rsquo; immense voter registration advantage is simply a reality that all involved in New York City political campaigns must recognize. However, one caveat to the voter registration numbers are the voter turnout numbers, which are often quite low. If a certain candidate, incumbent or otherwise, can motivate more people to vote in a significant mass, an election can be swung.</p> <p dir="ltr">As of April 1, there are more than 4 million <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/enrollment/county/county_apr16.pdf" target="_blank">active registered voters</a> in the city, of which 2.75 million are Democrats and only 414,478 are Republicans. However, that advantage isn&rsquo;t necessarily borne out by history, a fact pointed to by Steven Romalewski, director of the mapping service at the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center. In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Romalewski said, &ldquo;The enrollment advantage doesn&rsquo;t necessarily tell you much. It matters less than personality of the candidates and the issues. If everyone turned out to vote who is registered to vote and voted the party line, a Democrat would win. But that doesn&rsquo;t always happen.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Romalewski noted that a 2013 general election analysis showed that in certain districts, de Blasio received fewer Democratic votes than the total votes cast by registered Democrats, indicating that some may have voted for his Republican opponent, Joe Lhota. In other districts, de Blasio received more votes than the total Democratic votes cast, meaning he had support from outside the Democratic party as well. There were six major qualified parties and 14 minor parties on the general election ballot, with de Blasio holding the Democratic and Working Families Party lines.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city also has nearly 800,000 unaffiliated voters, often called &ldquo;independents,&rdquo; which adds another facet to the Democrat-Republican enrollment imbalance.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;In 2017, I think the same kind of analysis holds,&rdquo; Romalewski said in an email. &ldquo;If none or just a small number of Democrats vote for de Blasio's opponent, he'll do ok. &nbsp;But if his challenger can persuade enough Dems to "defect," he'll be in trouble.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">But de Blasio&rsquo;s great strength, as Romalewski pointed out, is that he &ldquo;not only did well and much better than the prior three Democratic candidates [for mayor] but also did well in areas where Bloomberg did well. He kinda combined the traditional Democratic base -- Black and Hispanic areas -- with liberal white areas.&rdquo; De Blasio won a dominant 73 percent of the general election vote against Lhota in 2013.</p> <p dir="ltr">Critics point to the fact that only 26 percent of registered voters cast ballots in that election, which indicates some combination of apathy, recognition that de Blasio had a huge polling advantage heading toward Election Day, and limited enthusiasm for Lhota from Republicans and independents.</p> <p dir="ltr">A Republican would have to have a &ldquo;cache&rdquo; of progressive politics combined with the skills of a good manager, Romalewski said, to cut into de Blasio&rsquo;s voter base. &ldquo;The conventional wisdom is that it&rsquo;s unlikely [de Blasio will] have effective challengers,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Most observers assume that the mayor will only face a stiff challenge in the Democratic primary, due to the aforementioned factors and no obvious other big name Republican or independent waiting in the wings. And a tough Democratic primary is only possible, some say, if a single strong candidate runs against de Blasio instead of multiple candidates who could split the anti-de Blasio vote. &ldquo;If two or three Democrats challenge the mayor, he&rsquo;s going to win,&rdquo; said Bill Cunningham, managing director at DKC and former communications director for Bloomberg. &ldquo;If only one runs, there&rsquo;s a chance to coalesce the people who view [de Blasio] unfavorably and give them a place to go vote.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">One other path some experts float would be for a strong African-American candidate to enter the race - someone like Congressional Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, for example - who would chip away at de Blasio&rsquo;s deep African-American base, and one strong white candidate - someone like Comptroller Scott Stringer - who could pick up as many other disaffected Democrats as possible.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cunningham said for a competitive race, &ldquo;You need a message, a messenger and you need to be able to deliver that to the public. There&rsquo;s no mystery to what the recipe is. The trick is finding a candidate who is intelligent and can campaign effectively and has the money to deliver the message to the voters.&rdquo; Bloomberg had those qualities, he pointed out, but the current crop of contenders don&rsquo;t. Along with Stringer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is currently seen as the other most likely Democratic challenger to the mayor.</p> <p dir="ltr">When asked about potential opponents, de Blasio has repeatedly said he&rsquo;s ready to take on all comers, at times mentioning the pillars of his term: universal pre-kindergarten, affordable housing, and low crime. At one point last year de Blasio discussed his "record of achievement" and said of potential 2017 opponents, "come one, come all."</p> <p dir="ltr">A spokesperson for de Blasio&rsquo;s campaign, Dan Levitan, emailed a statement about the prospects for 2017, saying, &ldquo;Crime just hit another all-time low, jobs are at record highs, the City is building and preserving affordable housing at a record pace, while graduation rates and test scores continue to improve. That is Mayor de Blasio's record and that is what next year's election will be about.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Even Tusk, who is arguably de Blasio&rsquo;s most vocal opponent right now, acknowledges that he&rsquo;ll be hard pressed to find a candidate who fits the bill of a Democrat with appeal among Republican voters. He recently indicated to the <a href="http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/08/11/nyregion/weakened-de-blasio-may-be-vulnerable-to-3rd-party-bid-by-a-democrat.html?partner=rss&amp;emc=rss&amp;utm_source=dlvr.it&amp;utm_medium=twitter" target="_blank">New York Times</a> that a successful candidate could run on a third-party line in the general even if they lost the Democratic primary; or a candidate could possibly skip the Democratic primary altogether and run on an independent line.</p> <p dir="ltr">As CUNY&rsquo;s Romalewski notes, in the 2009 general, Bloomberg did well in areas where he consistently won votes in the prior two elections -- much of Queens, the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Downtown Manhattan, South Brooklyn, and almost all of Staten Island. His Democratic opponent at the time, Bill Thompson, made it a close race, losing by less than five points. Thompson, who is black, won large blocks in Southeast Queens, Central Brooklyn, Harlem, and the Bronx. Unfortunately for him, though, turnout wasn&rsquo;t as high in these areas as he needed for a victory. De Blasio upended the pattern in 2013, pulling votes from constituencies that voted for both Bloomberg and Thompson in &lsquo;09.</p> <p dir="ltr">Romalewski&rsquo;s analysis of the 2013 election also notes areas de Blasio lost to Lhota, including the traditionally Republican-leaning Upper East Side, Middle Village and other areas in northeast Queens, a few orthodox Jewish communities in Southern Brooklyn, and most of Staten Island. In general, these areas were dominated by white New Yorkers who have been increasingly critical of de Blasio. The mayor overwhelmingly won communities dominated by African-Americans and Hispanics, who continue to support him. The Quinnipiac poll noted as much, finding that in hypothetical match-ups whites largely favored Comptroller Scott Stringer and former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn over de Blasio, who maintained huge margins among African-Americans and Hispanics. (The poll did not include possible Republican candidates.)</p> <p dir="ltr">In terms of approval rating, 63 percent of black voters and 50 percent of Hispanic voters approve of de Blasio&rsquo;s handling of the job, while only 25 percent of white voters felt the same. The Democrat-Republican divide is even greater, with 55 percent of Democrats giving de Blasio a thumbs up and only 9 percent of Republicans doing so. Among independents, 30 percent approved of the mayor.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Tusk&rsquo;s &ldquo;NYC Deserves Better&rdquo; <a href="http://www.nycdeservesbetter.com/blog/2016/8/12/new-podcast-bradley-tusk-with-jefrey-pollock" target="_blank">podcast</a>, Democratic consultant and pollster Jefrey Pollock pointed out that despite the mayor&rsquo;s weakening numbers, he has enough support among African-Americans and Hispanics for a strong showing in the Democratic primary. Pollock noted, and Tusk reiterated, that popular adage that almost every political expert and consultant says of the mayoral race -- &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t beat somebody with nobody.&rdquo; Pollock said independent groups support an opponent of de Blasio, if an effective one were to emerge.</p> <p>&ldquo;That is the great challenge,&rdquo; Tusk said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Does Staten Island Get Its Fair Share? 2015-08-14T05:00:00+00:00 2015-08-14T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5849:does-staten-island-get-its-fair-share Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/si_wheel.jpg" alt="si wheel" height="394" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Rendering of proposed New York Wheel on Staten Island. (Perkins Eastman <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/09/nyregion/betting-on-the-new-york-ferris-wheel-to-elevate-staten-islands-fortunes.html?ref=nyregion&amp;_r=2" target="_blank">via NY Times</a>)</span></p> <hr /> <p>There may be no other borough that has the local pride and identity felt by Staten Islanders. To be a Staten Islander often means to be of New York City and to be disconnected from New York City. It often means to know your family, but wonder if you were switched at birth.</p> <p dir="ltr">Since New York City adopted its outer boroughs in 1898, Staten Island has always been the odd child out. Even for a city of islands, Staten Island seems, and is, far away. It is the enigma of New York City in virtually every aspect - at least most of it is, as the stereotypes of Staten Island sometimes belie its diversity.</p> <p dir="ltr">Stand Island sits apart, though. Even the island accent is a bit more bombastic — more expressive, even — than the standard New York intonation. It’s important to have your voice stand out when you’re struggling to be heard.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Staten Island existence has been, and continues to be, in some part dominated by its uneasy relationship with the larger city it is a part of, and the ongoing struggle its residents and elected representatives engage in to ensure that “the forgotten borough” gets its fair share.</p> <p dir="ltr">Perhaps it’s fitting that Staten Island is the size of a key at the bottom left of the MTA subway map, which, of course, shows few lines cutting through the borough. It is a borough geographically far from the others, and population-wise, nowhere near a fifth of New York, with just under 500,000 residents in a city of over eight million. While much of the city is chasing rent, Staten Island has higher home ownership than any other borough, and its residents rely heavily on cars. For the most part, Islanders are big supporters of law enforcement, and it is a suburbia to many current and retired uniforms.</p> <p dir="ltr">This is not to say that Staten Island is homogenous, of course. It is not.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Island, aka Richmond County, looks more like America than the rest of New York City. Or, as Joe Borelli, one of only four Staten Islanders who serve in the 150-seat New York State Assembly, told Gotham Gazette, “New York looks at Staten Island weird, but it’s the rest of the country who’s looking at New York weird.”</p> <p dir="ltr">It is the only borough with <a href="http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36/36085.html" target="_blank">a clear white majority</a>, at 77 percent of the population, compared to 12 percent African-American and 18 percent Latino, according to recent census figures. And the racial divide is stark: the North Shore is far more ethnically diverse and less wealthy than the South Shore and much of Mid-Island, with a reliance on public housing and apartment complexes to accommodate booming immigration populations. Staten Island has <a href="http://www1.cuny.edu/mu/forum/2015/03/02/new-gc-maps-reveal-potential-electoral-strength-of-democrats-in-staten-island/" target="_blank">more registered Democrats</a>, but most of its elected officials are Republican. This ruling conservatism makes it an outlier.</p> <p dir="ltr">There’s been a longstanding feeling of disconnect, both figuratively and literally, between the residents of Staten Island and City Hall — pleas unheard, problems ignored. There is an ongoing sense on Staten Island that things simply aren’t fair.</p> <p dir="ltr">It is the only borough <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#v=onepage&amp;q=staten%20island%20no%20public%20hospital%20city&amp;f=false" target="_blank">without</a> a full-service public hospital. Its transportation system, as many residents will tell you, is abysmal: besides the ferry, there is no direct route to Manhattan. Commuters are left with the more expensive buses that route through Brooklyn, and the always congested, pricey Verrazano Bridge, whose toll now stands at $5.50 each way (at the resident discount). The only intra-borough train in existence is the SI Rail, while no train operates from east to west. And the borough has been left with spots of land that are widely <a href="http://web.mta.info/nyct/maps/bussi.pdf" target="_blank">inaccessible</a> by public transit.</p> <p dir="ltr">The discontent is about funding, for sure, but not just about the money. It’s simply often part of what it means to be a Staten Islander - a sense of otherness, of not being understood or served by the public servants who are supposed to represent the *entire* city. But the question is: has the borough really been shortchanged? Under Mayor de Blasio or anyone else. That’s up for debate.</p> <p dir="ltr">And Gotham Gazette is not the only entity looking for answers. Last week, the College of Staten Island <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2015/08/staten_island_city_services_study.html" target="_blank">announced</a> that a $20,000 study will be conducted into whether or not the “forgotten borough” is truly forgotten. Pushed by City Council Member Steven Matteo and his predecessor as Minority Leader, Vincent Ignizio, the Council-funded research will essentially evaluate city services to see if Staten Island is getting its fair share. So, next time its delegates negotiate the city budget or other upcoming policy, the island will have a better idea of where it stands.</p> <p>Well before that study gets underway, we set out to assess how much of its due Staten Island receives.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">*****</p> <p dir="ltr">As is the case with the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, Staten Island often votes against the city grain — it was the only borough de Blasio lost in his landslide 2013 victory over Republican Joe Lhota. In the City Council, Staten Island has three seats of the 51, which are allotted by population. Brooklyn has 16. “We have less representatives in the Council and Albany, which puts us at a disadvantage,” Borelli argued.</p> <p dir="ltr">So, in late July, the small City Council delegation from Staten Island — Council Members Debi Rose, former Council Minority Leader Vincent Ignizio, and Steven Matteo — held a press conference alongside elected officials to announce big news for the borough: $30 million of Council funding in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget for capital and expense projects across the island.</p> <p dir="ltr">The new infusion of cash would be pooled by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s office, the Staten Island council member delegation, and the Borough President’s office. Causes from libraries and school lunches to the Snug Harbor Cultural Center were getting a financial boost. A Council spokesperson also pointed out efforts in last year’s budget to increase ferry service and establish business improvement districts.</p> <p dir="ltr">“This Council recognizes the important contributions of Staten Island and is thrilled to invest back into the borough in order to strengthen New York City as a whole,” Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito noted.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I thank Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and my colleagues in the Staten Island delegation for being partners in crafting a budget that responds to the real needs of Staten Islanders,” Council Member Rose added. Rose is the lone Democrat representing Staten Island in the Council, she is African-American and hails from the North Shore.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the grand scheme of things, though, the $30 million jackpot is due more nuanced analysis. The new city <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5799-breaking-down-the-city-budget-de-blasio-nyc-council" target="_blank">budget</a> includes a total of $78.6 billion for expenses. Then there’s $13.9 billion for capital projects across the city. Much of the full picture of what Staten Island receives is buried deep in those amounts, through mayoral agencies and city operations. This fogs up how the $30 million factors into a larger total, and what it means on the local level.</p> <p dir="ltr">Take, for example, the funds for the borough presidents. James Oddo, Staten Island borough president and former member of the City Council, received the smallest BP allotment, $4.2 million, while Eric Adams, of Brooklyn, has $5.8 million to work with. Yet, per capita, Oddo has more money than any other BP. Adams has $5.8 million to spend on 2.6 million people, about five times the population of its somewhat distant neighbor.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/ignizio_oddo_si_heynowjo.jpg" alt="ignizio oddo si heynowjo" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="233" width="350" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size: 8pt;">(former SI Council Members Ignizio, foreground, &amp; Oddo)</span></p> <p dir="ltr">Generally, it’s quite difficult to break the city budget down borough-by-borough, so much so that the College of Staten Island needs a well-resourced study to get to the bottom of this. You cannot flip open city budget documents to see a full accounting of what resources are devoted to each borough - it’s just not so easy to decipher how much of FDNY or Department of Health expenses are going to serve Staten Islanders, though estimates are surely possible.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, there’s the concept of insurance, that as part of the larger city, Staten Islanders can believe that there are virtually unlimited resources available were they to need them. Though, one need not look further than Superstorm Sandy to see the complicated nature of such a point.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are many complicating factors to really trying to suss out how the city allocates resources.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Let’s say a nonprofit agency based in Manhattan provides some of its services in the Bronx. The value of the contract for the work in the Bronx would show up in the Manhattan district where the agency is located,” Doug Turetsky, a spokesperson for the Independent Budget Office, told Gotham Gazette. “Another problem with these statements, or assigning dollars to a particular location, comes up with NYPD. An officer may be assigned to a particular precinct and that’s where he or she gets paid from, but on any given day that officer may be working in any part of the city.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Turetsky was referring to what are known as <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/hra/downloads/pdf/facts/drs/drs_hra_2014_2015.pdf" target="_blank">District Resource Statements</a>, which are provided by the Office of Management and Budget. These show analyses of the funds dedicated to the districts in every borough by each agency - but, as Turetsky explained, they don’t necessarily give the full picture of what Staten Island is getting, or, perhaps, not getting from the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">Instead, Turetsky pointed to Community Board Geographic Reports, which are also OMB documents. This is a fuller borough-by-borough breakdown of the major agencies in the city (e.g. Parks and Recreation, Sanitation, NYPD). So, to get an idea of how Staten Island stacks up, looking at an agency like Parks and Recreation can be helpful.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the latest <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/omb/downloads/pdf/cbgeo6_15.pdf" target="_blank">Community Board Geographic Report</a>, for FY 2016, which began July 1, the funds for Staten Island borough-wide parks and rec total upwards of $1.8 million, with 27 full-time park employee positions. Queens, meanwhile, has $3.9 million allocated for borough-wide recreation, with 47 full-time positions. Around the same budget increase is set to occur next year for both boroughs: $55,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">Staten Island parks see about half the funding of Queens’ while the borough has more park land, but many fewer residents. The island boasts the title of “<a href="http://www.silive.com/guide/index.ssf/2010/04/parks_staten_island_is_the_greenest_borough.html" target="_blank">Greenest Borough</a>,” having 113 city parks, which, with state parks included, constitute a <a href="http://www.visitstatenisland.com/parks/" target="_blank">third</a> of the island’s land mass, 12,400 acres in total. Queens has more parks, but covering fewer total acres: 284 parks, 7,000 acres. Queens, though, has 2.3 million residents, while Staten Island has just over 500,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">It is no surprise that in every category for the Department of Sanitation, meanwhile, Staten Island ranks lowest out of the boroughs — less people, less garbage.</p> <p dir="ltr">That’s the main obstacle in comparing Staten Island, in general, with the rest of the city: the demands are completely different. Brooklyn, for comparison, serves nearly 300,000 students in its public schools, while Staten Island has <a href="http://schools.nyc.gov/AboutUs/schools/data/stats/default.htm" target="_blank">60,000 students</a>. Speaking with Joseph Viteritti, the chair of the Urban Affairs and Planning Department at CUNY Hunter, about this, Gotham Gazette asked him how to sort through this reality and analyze any discrepancies. “It’s very hard to answer that,” he responded. “You can’t do a straight budget analysis, because the budget is driven by demand.”</p> <p dir="ltr">And it’s not all about population, of course. Yes, Staten Island police districts may have smaller budgets, but if areas in Brooklyn have higher concentrations of violent crime, then it makes sense that Brooklyn precincts receive a bigger piece of the pie. The same applies to schools, sanitation, parks, and so on. Think about Manhattan, Viteritti said. Even with the smallest land mass of the five boroughs, it is home to Wall Street, countless skyscrapers, Central Park, and 1.6 million people; not to mention the hordes upon hordes of tourists.</p> <p>“Of course Manhattan gets more money from the city [than Staten Island],” he explained. “How can you even compare the two?”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">*****</p> <p>Joe Borelli, the Assembly member set to soon replace Ignizio in the City Council, says Staten Island’s blues arise from its uniqueness. He says the problems faced by residents are unlike those anywhere else in New York. “Since as far back as the American Revolution,” Borelli muses, “Station Island was different, and disconnected.”</p> <p dir="ltr">And though there are sections of Queens and other boroughs that resemble large swaths of Staten Island, there’s nowhere in the city with the combination of characteristics of the island, including its remoteness, limited public transportation, and more.</p> <p dir="ltr">As a result of “the failures of urban liberalism” in the 1960s and 1970s, Borelli argues, his home island served as a refuge for white flight as crime skyrocketed elsewhere. This is why on the island, “everyone you know is related to a cop,” Borelli added. Yet, after Manhattan and other parts of the city regained social stability, many of the developments achieved over the past decade-plus have failed to make it across the Verrazano.</p> <p dir="ltr">For example, the ferries that now ride up and down the East River, servicing the re-emergence of neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Long Island City. Albeit suspended until 2017, even Rockaway Beach, at the far southeast corner of Queens, had some sort of ferry service (in addition to the A train). Residents on the South Shore of Staten Island, on the other hand, are still <a href="http://observer.com/2015/02/de-blasio-announces-plan-for-fast-ferries-with-a-more-manageable-price-tag/" target="_blank">waiting</a> to be picked up.</p> <p dir="ltr">Then there’s bikes. While Mayor Michael Bloomberg peppered the city with bike lanes and pedestrian plazas throughout the 2000s, Staten Island watched from the sidelines: the borough is more car-dependent than any other, with a far distance between the North and South shores. Hylan Boulevard, which is arguably the busiest thoroughfare in the whole borough, has rows of perpetually <a href="http://www.silive.com/eastshore/index.ssf/2011/04/hylan_boulevard_bike_rack_plan.html" target="_blank">empty bike racks</a>, which the city spent $60,000 to build, because a solid portion of the avenue has no lane dedicated to cyclists.</p> <p dir="ltr">Whether Staten Islanders wanted bike racks—or lanes, for that matter—is up for debate. But the situation, Borelli explained, demonstrates this “general distaste” of residents towards the city’s larger urban planning ideas, of which they’ve been largely left out of. It is this uneven growth that has driven Borelli’s current (and <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20150728/tottenville/staten-island-election-one-horse-race-as-single-candidate-runs" target="_blank">unopposed</a>) campaign to fill the empty seat left by Ignizio, who recently became the CEO of Catholic Charities on Staten Island. "Somebody has to speak for the millions of outer-borough, middle class homeowners that are lately placed on the back burner of city policy,” Borelli told DNAinfo, referring to more than just Staten Island woes.</p> <p dir="ltr">When asked about the stark differences — population, size, demand — between Staten Island and the other boroughs, Borelli said that, yes, those things are true, but shouldn’t be the reasoning behind neglect. He then listed conundrums that could happen few places in the city but Staten Island. Parks built without sidewalks leading to them. Bike lanes <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2007/12/a_perilous_place_for_bike_ride.html" target="_blank">delayed</a> because of too much brush blocking them. Nearly $5 million <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20130714/ECONOMY/307149974/staten-islands-300000-tree" target="_blank">spent</a> on replacing trees.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We have a lot of resources, but they’re left vacant or without funding,” Borelli argued. “We have more parkland than any other borough, and somehow have less of the Parks budget than everyone else. Where else can you ride an ATV in the city?”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Find me a property anywhere else where the city builds a park but doesn’t put sidewalks in,” he continued. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”</p> <p dir="ltr">This frustration, as expressed by Borelli, is part of the Staten Island id. In 1993, it came to a boiling point when Staten Island attempted to secede from New York City. The referendum effort, led by State Senator John Marchi, was, of course, a culmination of built-up emotions, but the immediate catalyst was the approval of <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1989/11/08/nyregion/1989-elections-charter-overhaul-new-york-city-charter-approved-polls-show.html" target="_blank">a new City Charter</a> in 1989, which did away with the Board of Estimate. Instead of having one vote of five, like every other borough, Staten Island now had just three City Council members to represent its interests across the Narrows. The borough arose in protest.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the time, Joe Viteritti was the staff director of a commission that looked into the economic self-sustainability of Staten Island, or if an island with the population of a small city could manage alone without the help of sister boroughs and City Hall. The studies showed that it was feasible, Viteritto says, but his team also found that, in 1993, the cost of Staten Island to the city outpaced the revenue it generated by about $200 million. In other words, the city was putting more into Staten Island than it was receiving.</p> <p dir="ltr">“These analyses point to the surprising conclusion that separation of Staten Island from New York would actually provide budget relief for the city,” he <a href="http://www.city-journal.org/story.php?id=1519" target="_blank">wrote</a> then, in City Journal. “From a strictly economic perspective, the other four boroughs would come out ahead.”</p> <p dir="ltr">This didn’t convince either Mayor Ed Koch or Mayor David Dinkins, both of whom strongly opposed the referendum. When Governor Mario Cuomo let the legislation proceed in Albany, Koch <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1989/12/16/nyregion/cuomo-approves-a-secession-vote-for-staten-island.html" target="_blank">said</a> the Democratic leader was “plunging a dagger into the city’s heart.” But it wasn’t up to him.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Honestly, the only reason secession didn’t go through is that the legislation needed approval in the State Assembly, and it didn’t get it,” Viteritti told Gotham Gazette. “Cuomo, and then Pataki, were ready to sign it. [Former Assembly Speaker from Manhattan] Sheldon Silver bears sole responsibility for why Staten Island is not its own independent city right now.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Now, over twenty years later, Viteritti doesn’t know if things are the same on Staten Island. The most immediate demands of the secession movement were met, and, in many ways, that’s why everyone Gotham Gazette spoke with for this article said Rudy Giuliani is still the most popular mayor on the island, by far.</p> <p dir="ltr">Giuliani, a Republican, had a 1994 platform aimed at addressing the island’s two main grievances: making the Staten Island ferry free and closing the Fresh Kills dump (both were eventually accomplished). “To think, what was more symbolic to Staten Islanders than a place where the city can leave all of its garbage?” Doug Muzzio quipped.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the time, Muzzio, a political scientist at CUNY Baruch and longtime city expert, was tasked with polling Staten Island residents. He said a “victim narrative” existed, in which residents felt their input surpassed the output (later found to be untrue) and, in return, they got the city’s garbage. While their transportation issues are “legitimate” reasons to be angry, Muzzio added, “Staten Islanders have always thought they were forgotten, and if they did get city services, they were ill-timed,” he said. This is part of the island’s “mythology” - too little, too late.</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet, to Muzzio, Giuliani fit the Staten Island mold. His last name sounded like it was cut from the borough’s fabric. He was <a href="http://blog.silive.com/politics/2012/10/oddo_rudy_giuliani_guy_molinar.html" target="_blank">close</a> with the renowned Borough President then, Guy Molinari. He was incredibly pro-NYPD, and he was a Republican. Staten Islanders still reminisce about the Giuliani days as a time when the island was truly a part of the city. In a recent <a href="https://twitter.com/HeyNowJO/status/629047154330476544" target="_blank">tweet</a>, James Oddo, the current BP, named the Giuliani Years as one of the few times in its history when “Staten Island was treated better than fairly.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The same can almost be said about Bloomberg. Once again, a Republican, if only in his early mayoral years, and very close with the law enforcement base. To Staten Islanders, Bloomberg’s reign was praised for lower crime rates, much-needed rezoning and development, and finally, a focus on fixing their vast parkland. His property tax hike wasn’t received well, but, like with the rest of New Yorkers, maybe it will be down the line.</p> <p dir="ltr">"I think his legacy is not fully baked,” now former Council Member Ignizio <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2013/12/parks_to_property_taxes_bloomb.html" target="_blank">said</a> when Bloomberg left office. “I think coming from Rudy Giuliani, who was wildly popular on Staten Island...following that act was tough.”</p> <p dir="ltr">More controversially, Bloomberg was mayor during Superstorm Sandy, a storm that devastated Staten Island, perhaps more so than any other borough. It left millions of dollars worth of damages, and still, to this day, has residents rebuilding their homes. Bloomberg’s attention to the disaster was received well, but his funding program — Build It Back — was not. The initiative, which was meant to siphon federal funds to those not insured, hadn’t issued a single check or broke ground on any related construction programs when he left office.</p> <p dir="ltr">It was an utter failure in Staten Islanders’ eyes. And one that was saved by an unlikely, if quite unpopular, new figure who Islanders did not want elected and are still coming to terms with.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">*****</p> <p dir="ltr">There were all the ingredients for Staten Island scorn: a persecuted policeman, a progressive mayor the borough didn’t vote for, and a publicly drawn-out war that put the hometown base and new city leader on opposite sides. Not to mention that it happened just minutes from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, and for all the world to see. The death of Eric Garner at the hands of Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo set off what had already been a begrudged populace. Within a year of his mayoralty, de Blasio had lost any goodwill many Staten Islanders had extended him, largely because of his comments in the aftermath of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Pantaleo.</p> <p dir="ltr">Since then, his administration has made efforts to make it clear that City Hall does care about the mid-Island and South Shore constituency, with more visits, more funds for extensive capital projects, and a continued <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2015/04/build_it_back_audit_finds_flaw.html" target="_blank">overhaul</a> of Build it Back that finally has the program up and running - though many still find the pace too slow. Even with a 19 percent <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2015/08/staten_island_city_services_study.html" target="_blank">approval rating</a> amongst Islanders, de Blasio seems set on establishing some island credentials, even against all odds. A progressive Democrat, from Brooklyn; at least he has the Italian last name.</p> <p dir="ltr">"Mayor de Blasio has invested nearly $5 million a year to deliver 24/7 half-hour Staten Island ferry service, added over $240 million to improve road conditions, brought faster [snow] plowing to Staten Island residential streets, and improved the Build it Back program so residents are finally receiving checks and rebuilding their homes,” Monica Klein, a deputy press secretary for de Blasio, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “showing time and again that he is committed to improving the lives of Staten Islanders and giving the borough the attention it deserves.”</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: justify;">For the announcement on the repaving efforts, de Blasio made a trip to Staten Island after mounting <a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/now-national-spotlight-nyc-mayor-de-blasio-forgetting-city/" target="_blank">criticism</a> that he had zigzagged the country while spending little time in the “forgotten borough.” But praise was in the air from Staten Island officials. “Mayor de Blasio heard our pleas for help and delivered, and we are thankful for his commitment to improving our roads,” BP Oddo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#/0" target="_blank">said</a>, alongside the mayor, and a large "pave baby pave" sign from the borough president's office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/pave_baby_pave_heynowjo.jpg" alt="pave baby pave heynowjo" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="413" width="250" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size: 10pt;">(via BP Oddo)</span></p> <p dir="ltr">Still, many car-owning Islanders happy about new investments in roads may continue to point to de Blasio’s handling of the Eric Garner saga and a perceived lack of support for the NYPD. They are likely to pin any upticks in crime or perceived quality-of-life issues to the mayor’s legacy; a sentiment that is true across the city, but most acute on Staten Island. But regardless of what happens between the mayor and Islanders, there are strong forces at work that could drastically change just about everything on and about the island.</p> <p dir="ltr">In April, the New York Times beat the gentrification drum with a headline that <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/realestate/an-islands-turning-point.html" target="_blank">read</a>, “Staten Island’s Turning Point?” The writer, C.J. Hughes, pointed out major developments that will mark the island coast in the near future: the New York Wheel (a massive London-Eye-esque ferris wheel), Empire Outlets (a huge mall complex), and numerous stores, coffee shops, and breweries. Not to mention a condo complex called Lighthouse Point and another called URL Staten Island, which, along with the Wheel and outlets, have been <a href="http://therealdeal.com/issues_articles/the-forgotten-borough-gets-noticed/" target="_blank">deemed</a> the “core four” by The Real Deal, a development-focused publication.</p> <p dir="ltr">While some are excited and see jobs afoot, others are skeptical. One resident remarked, “I like the small-town vibe, and I don’t mind that there’s a little bit of grit.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Linda Baran, the director of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, says that the impending development is a conversation that the borough has yet to have. What will it do if thousands of New Yorkers start to move in, once again escaping the mainland, this time because of high rents, not crime? The spike in prices is something that “resonates through every conversation,” she said. Is Staten Island really ready for that?</p> <p dir="ltr">“There is no dialogue about how the borough should receive the people coming in,” Baran told Gotham Gazette. “Now the idea is to bring new businesses here so people don’t have to leave.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Baran argued that development could solve one of the main issues the island faces, and has always faced: vacancy. The shore, she said, is lined with empty industrial lots, which are not only a blight on the islandscape, but bad for business. She’s hoping that development will bring more attention to major borough-wide concerns, like infrastructure and healthcare, as it has in Brooklyn and Queens.</p> <p dir="ltr">She added that the de Blasio administration has done a fine job of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5792-why-dont-we-ever-hear-about-commercial-rent-policy" target="_blank">cutting red tape</a> for small businesses, but other City Council-backed measures, like paid sick leave and ‘ban the box’ legislation disallowing background checks, are “good initiatives,” but have left Staten Island owners weary of City Hall intrusion. “I think the city has talked about fixing the business community here,” she told me. “But the businesses aren’t seeing that just yet.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Baran touched upon what could be a new chapter in the Staten Island mystique. After feeling forgotten for decades, this could be the future the island has longed for; one where it is on an equal playing field, both economically and culturally, with its borough brethren. There is a fear — or irony — that the borough could be on its way to getting more than it bargained for, with high-rise condos and public attractions threatening the Staten Island way of life, causing more traffic. Be careful what you ask for, some seem to be saying.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We were always used to being last on the totem pole,” Baran said. “We were an escape for everyone. And now, the boroughs are saturated, and growth is a good thing.”</p> <p dir="ltr">She paused, then said, “Things are changing.”</p> <p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"><span style="font-size: 14.6666666666667px; font-family: Arial; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap; background-color: transparent;">***</span></p> <p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"><span style="font-size: 14.6666666666667px; font-family: Arial; font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap; background-color: transparent;">John Surico is a freelance metro reporter. His reporting has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and here, on Gotham Gazette. He lives in Queens. Find him on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JohnSurico" target="_blank">@JohnSurico</a></span></p> <p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank"><span style="font-size: 14.6666666666667px; font-family: Arial; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap; background-color: transparent;">@GothamGazette</span></a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/si_wheel.jpg" alt="si wheel" height="394" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Rendering of proposed New York Wheel on Staten Island. (Perkins Eastman <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/09/nyregion/betting-on-the-new-york-ferris-wheel-to-elevate-staten-islands-fortunes.html?ref=nyregion&amp;_r=2" target="_blank">via NY Times</a>)</span></p> <hr /> <p>There may be no other borough that has the local pride and identity felt by Staten Islanders. To be a Staten Islander often means to be of New York City and to be disconnected from New York City. It often means to know your family, but wonder if you were switched at birth.</p> <p dir="ltr">Since New York City adopted its outer boroughs in 1898, Staten Island has always been the odd child out. Even for a city of islands, Staten Island seems, and is, far away. It is the enigma of New York City in virtually every aspect - at least most of it is, as the stereotypes of Staten Island sometimes belie its diversity.</p> <p dir="ltr">Stand Island sits apart, though. Even the island accent is a bit more bombastic — more expressive, even — than the standard New York intonation. It’s important to have your voice stand out when you’re struggling to be heard.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Staten Island existence has been, and continues to be, in some part dominated by its uneasy relationship with the larger city it is a part of, and the ongoing struggle its residents and elected representatives engage in to ensure that “the forgotten borough” gets its fair share.</p> <p dir="ltr">Perhaps it’s fitting that Staten Island is the size of a key at the bottom left of the MTA subway map, which, of course, shows few lines cutting through the borough. It is a borough geographically far from the others, and population-wise, nowhere near a fifth of New York, with just under 500,000 residents in a city of over eight million. While much of the city is chasing rent, Staten Island has higher home ownership than any other borough, and its residents rely heavily on cars. For the most part, Islanders are big supporters of law enforcement, and it is a suburbia to many current and retired uniforms.</p> <p dir="ltr">This is not to say that Staten Island is homogenous, of course. It is not.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Island, aka Richmond County, looks more like America than the rest of New York City. Or, as Joe Borelli, one of only four Staten Islanders who serve in the 150-seat New York State Assembly, told Gotham Gazette, “New York looks at Staten Island weird, but it’s the rest of the country who’s looking at New York weird.”</p> <p dir="ltr">It is the only borough with <a href="http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36/36085.html" target="_blank">a clear white majority</a>, at 77 percent of the population, compared to 12 percent African-American and 18 percent Latino, according to recent census figures. And the racial divide is stark: the North Shore is far more ethnically diverse and less wealthy than the South Shore and much of Mid-Island, with a reliance on public housing and apartment complexes to accommodate booming immigration populations. Staten Island has <a href="http://www1.cuny.edu/mu/forum/2015/03/02/new-gc-maps-reveal-potential-electoral-strength-of-democrats-in-staten-island/" target="_blank">more registered Democrats</a>, but most of its elected officials are Republican. This ruling conservatism makes it an outlier.</p> <p dir="ltr">There’s been a longstanding feeling of disconnect, both figuratively and literally, between the residents of Staten Island and City Hall — pleas unheard, problems ignored. There is an ongoing sense on Staten Island that things simply aren’t fair.</p> <p dir="ltr">It is the only borough <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#v=onepage&amp;q=staten%20island%20no%20public%20hospital%20city&amp;f=false" target="_blank">without</a> a full-service public hospital. Its transportation system, as many residents will tell you, is abysmal: besides the ferry, there is no direct route to Manhattan. Commuters are left with the more expensive buses that route through Brooklyn, and the always congested, pricey Verrazano Bridge, whose toll now stands at $5.50 each way (at the resident discount). The only intra-borough train in existence is the SI Rail, while no train operates from east to west. And the borough has been left with spots of land that are widely <a href="http://web.mta.info/nyct/maps/bussi.pdf" target="_blank">inaccessible</a> by public transit.</p> <p dir="ltr">The discontent is about funding, for sure, but not just about the money. It’s simply often part of what it means to be a Staten Islander - a sense of otherness, of not being understood or served by the public servants who are supposed to represent the *entire* city. But the question is: has the borough really been shortchanged? Under Mayor de Blasio or anyone else. That’s up for debate.</p> <p dir="ltr">And Gotham Gazette is not the only entity looking for answers. Last week, the College of Staten Island <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2015/08/staten_island_city_services_study.html" target="_blank">announced</a> that a $20,000 study will be conducted into whether or not the “forgotten borough” is truly forgotten. Pushed by City Council Member Steven Matteo and his predecessor as Minority Leader, Vincent Ignizio, the Council-funded research will essentially evaluate city services to see if Staten Island is getting its fair share. So, next time its delegates negotiate the city budget or other upcoming policy, the island will have a better idea of where it stands.</p> <p>Well before that study gets underway, we set out to assess how much of its due Staten Island receives.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">*****</p> <p dir="ltr">As is the case with the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, Staten Island often votes against the city grain — it was the only borough de Blasio lost in his landslide 2013 victory over Republican Joe Lhota. In the City Council, Staten Island has three seats of the 51, which are allotted by population. Brooklyn has 16. “We have less representatives in the Council and Albany, which puts us at a disadvantage,” Borelli argued.</p> <p dir="ltr">So, in late July, the small City Council delegation from Staten Island — Council Members Debi Rose, former Council Minority Leader Vincent Ignizio, and Steven Matteo — held a press conference alongside elected officials to announce big news for the borough: $30 million of Council funding in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget for capital and expense projects across the island.</p> <p dir="ltr">The new infusion of cash would be pooled by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s office, the Staten Island council member delegation, and the Borough President’s office. Causes from libraries and school lunches to the Snug Harbor Cultural Center were getting a financial boost. A Council spokesperson also pointed out efforts in last year’s budget to increase ferry service and establish business improvement districts.</p> <p dir="ltr">“This Council recognizes the important contributions of Staten Island and is thrilled to invest back into the borough in order to strengthen New York City as a whole,” Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito noted.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I thank Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and my colleagues in the Staten Island delegation for being partners in crafting a budget that responds to the real needs of Staten Islanders,” Council Member Rose added. Rose is the lone Democrat representing Staten Island in the Council, she is African-American and hails from the North Shore.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the grand scheme of things, though, the $30 million jackpot is due more nuanced analysis. The new city <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5799-breaking-down-the-city-budget-de-blasio-nyc-council" target="_blank">budget</a> includes a total of $78.6 billion for expenses. Then there’s $13.9 billion for capital projects across the city. Much of the full picture of what Staten Island receives is buried deep in those amounts, through mayoral agencies and city operations. This fogs up how the $30 million factors into a larger total, and what it means on the local level.</p> <p dir="ltr">Take, for example, the funds for the borough presidents. James Oddo, Staten Island borough president and former member of the City Council, received the smallest BP allotment, $4.2 million, while Eric Adams, of Brooklyn, has $5.8 million to work with. Yet, per capita, Oddo has more money than any other BP. Adams has $5.8 million to spend on 2.6 million people, about five times the population of its somewhat distant neighbor.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/ignizio_oddo_si_heynowjo.jpg" alt="ignizio oddo si heynowjo" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="233" width="350" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size: 8pt;">(former SI Council Members Ignizio, foreground, &amp; Oddo)</span></p> <p dir="ltr">Generally, it’s quite difficult to break the city budget down borough-by-borough, so much so that the College of Staten Island needs a well-resourced study to get to the bottom of this. You cannot flip open city budget documents to see a full accounting of what resources are devoted to each borough - it’s just not so easy to decipher how much of FDNY or Department of Health expenses are going to serve Staten Islanders, though estimates are surely possible.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, there’s the concept of insurance, that as part of the larger city, Staten Islanders can believe that there are virtually unlimited resources available were they to need them. Though, one need not look further than Superstorm Sandy to see the complicated nature of such a point.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are many complicating factors to really trying to suss out how the city allocates resources.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Let’s say a nonprofit agency based in Manhattan provides some of its services in the Bronx. The value of the contract for the work in the Bronx would show up in the Manhattan district where the agency is located,” Doug Turetsky, a spokesperson for the Independent Budget Office, told Gotham Gazette. “Another problem with these statements, or assigning dollars to a particular location, comes up with NYPD. An officer may be assigned to a particular precinct and that’s where he or she gets paid from, but on any given day that officer may be working in any part of the city.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Turetsky was referring to what are known as <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/hra/downloads/pdf/facts/drs/drs_hra_2014_2015.pdf" target="_blank">District Resource Statements</a>, which are provided by the Office of Management and Budget. These show analyses of the funds dedicated to the districts in every borough by each agency - but, as Turetsky explained, they don’t necessarily give the full picture of what Staten Island is getting, or, perhaps, not getting from the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">Instead, Turetsky pointed to Community Board Geographic Reports, which are also OMB documents. This is a fuller borough-by-borough breakdown of the major agencies in the city (e.g. Parks and Recreation, Sanitation, NYPD). So, to get an idea of how Staten Island stacks up, looking at an agency like Parks and Recreation can be helpful.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the latest <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/omb/downloads/pdf/cbgeo6_15.pdf" target="_blank">Community Board Geographic Report</a>, for FY 2016, which began July 1, the funds for Staten Island borough-wide parks and rec total upwards of $1.8 million, with 27 full-time park employee positions. Queens, meanwhile, has $3.9 million allocated for borough-wide recreation, with 47 full-time positions. Around the same budget increase is set to occur next year for both boroughs: $55,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">Staten Island parks see about half the funding of Queens’ while the borough has more park land, but many fewer residents. The island boasts the title of “<a href="http://www.silive.com/guide/index.ssf/2010/04/parks_staten_island_is_the_greenest_borough.html" target="_blank">Greenest Borough</a>,” having 113 city parks, which, with state parks included, constitute a <a href="http://www.visitstatenisland.com/parks/" target="_blank">third</a> of the island’s land mass, 12,400 acres in total. Queens has more parks, but covering fewer total acres: 284 parks, 7,000 acres. Queens, though, has 2.3 million residents, while Staten Island has just over 500,000.</p> <p dir="ltr">It is no surprise that in every category for the Department of Sanitation, meanwhile, Staten Island ranks lowest out of the boroughs — less people, less garbage.</p> <p dir="ltr">That’s the main obstacle in comparing Staten Island, in general, with the rest of the city: the demands are completely different. Brooklyn, for comparison, serves nearly 300,000 students in its public schools, while Staten Island has <a href="http://schools.nyc.gov/AboutUs/schools/data/stats/default.htm" target="_blank">60,000 students</a>. Speaking with Joseph Viteritti, the chair of the Urban Affairs and Planning Department at CUNY Hunter, about this, Gotham Gazette asked him how to sort through this reality and analyze any discrepancies. “It’s very hard to answer that,” he responded. “You can’t do a straight budget analysis, because the budget is driven by demand.”</p> <p dir="ltr">And it’s not all about population, of course. Yes, Staten Island police districts may have smaller budgets, but if areas in Brooklyn have higher concentrations of violent crime, then it makes sense that Brooklyn precincts receive a bigger piece of the pie. The same applies to schools, sanitation, parks, and so on. Think about Manhattan, Viteritti said. Even with the smallest land mass of the five boroughs, it is home to Wall Street, countless skyscrapers, Central Park, and 1.6 million people; not to mention the hordes upon hordes of tourists.</p> <p>“Of course Manhattan gets more money from the city [than Staten Island],” he explained. “How can you even compare the two?”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">*****</p> <p>Joe Borelli, the Assembly member set to soon replace Ignizio in the City Council, says Staten Island’s blues arise from its uniqueness. He says the problems faced by residents are unlike those anywhere else in New York. “Since as far back as the American Revolution,” Borelli muses, “Station Island was different, and disconnected.”</p> <p dir="ltr">And though there are sections of Queens and other boroughs that resemble large swaths of Staten Island, there’s nowhere in the city with the combination of characteristics of the island, including its remoteness, limited public transportation, and more.</p> <p dir="ltr">As a result of “the failures of urban liberalism” in the 1960s and 1970s, Borelli argues, his home island served as a refuge for white flight as crime skyrocketed elsewhere. This is why on the island, “everyone you know is related to a cop,” Borelli added. Yet, after Manhattan and other parts of the city regained social stability, many of the developments achieved over the past decade-plus have failed to make it across the Verrazano.</p> <p dir="ltr">For example, the ferries that now ride up and down the East River, servicing the re-emergence of neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Long Island City. Albeit suspended until 2017, even Rockaway Beach, at the far southeast corner of Queens, had some sort of ferry service (in addition to the A train). Residents on the South Shore of Staten Island, on the other hand, are still <a href="http://observer.com/2015/02/de-blasio-announces-plan-for-fast-ferries-with-a-more-manageable-price-tag/" target="_blank">waiting</a> to be picked up.</p> <p dir="ltr">Then there’s bikes. While Mayor Michael Bloomberg peppered the city with bike lanes and pedestrian plazas throughout the 2000s, Staten Island watched from the sidelines: the borough is more car-dependent than any other, with a far distance between the North and South shores. Hylan Boulevard, which is arguably the busiest thoroughfare in the whole borough, has rows of perpetually <a href="http://www.silive.com/eastshore/index.ssf/2011/04/hylan_boulevard_bike_rack_plan.html" target="_blank">empty bike racks</a>, which the city spent $60,000 to build, because a solid portion of the avenue has no lane dedicated to cyclists.</p> <p dir="ltr">Whether Staten Islanders wanted bike racks—or lanes, for that matter—is up for debate. But the situation, Borelli explained, demonstrates this “general distaste” of residents towards the city’s larger urban planning ideas, of which they’ve been largely left out of. It is this uneven growth that has driven Borelli’s current (and <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20150728/tottenville/staten-island-election-one-horse-race-as-single-candidate-runs" target="_blank">unopposed</a>) campaign to fill the empty seat left by Ignizio, who recently became the CEO of Catholic Charities on Staten Island. "Somebody has to speak for the millions of outer-borough, middle class homeowners that are lately placed on the back burner of city policy,” Borelli told DNAinfo, referring to more than just Staten Island woes.</p> <p dir="ltr">When asked about the stark differences — population, size, demand — between Staten Island and the other boroughs, Borelli said that, yes, those things are true, but shouldn’t be the reasoning behind neglect. He then listed conundrums that could happen few places in the city but Staten Island. Parks built without sidewalks leading to them. Bike lanes <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2007/12/a_perilous_place_for_bike_ride.html" target="_blank">delayed</a> because of too much brush blocking them. Nearly $5 million <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20130714/ECONOMY/307149974/staten-islands-300000-tree" target="_blank">spent</a> on replacing trees.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We have a lot of resources, but they’re left vacant or without funding,” Borelli argued. “We have more parkland than any other borough, and somehow have less of the Parks budget than everyone else. Where else can you ride an ATV in the city?”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Find me a property anywhere else where the city builds a park but doesn’t put sidewalks in,” he continued. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”</p> <p dir="ltr">This frustration, as expressed by Borelli, is part of the Staten Island id. In 1993, it came to a boiling point when Staten Island attempted to secede from New York City. The referendum effort, led by State Senator John Marchi, was, of course, a culmination of built-up emotions, but the immediate catalyst was the approval of <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1989/11/08/nyregion/1989-elections-charter-overhaul-new-york-city-charter-approved-polls-show.html" target="_blank">a new City Charter</a> in 1989, which did away with the Board of Estimate. Instead of having one vote of five, like every other borough, Staten Island now had just three City Council members to represent its interests across the Narrows. The borough arose in protest.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the time, Joe Viteritti was the staff director of a commission that looked into the economic self-sustainability of Staten Island, or if an island with the population of a small city could manage alone without the help of sister boroughs and City Hall. The studies showed that it was feasible, Viteritto says, but his team also found that, in 1993, the cost of Staten Island to the city outpaced the revenue it generated by about $200 million. In other words, the city was putting more into Staten Island than it was receiving.</p> <p dir="ltr">“These analyses point to the surprising conclusion that separation of Staten Island from New York would actually provide budget relief for the city,” he <a href="http://www.city-journal.org/story.php?id=1519" target="_blank">wrote</a> then, in City Journal. “From a strictly economic perspective, the other four boroughs would come out ahead.”</p> <p dir="ltr">This didn’t convince either Mayor Ed Koch or Mayor David Dinkins, both of whom strongly opposed the referendum. When Governor Mario Cuomo let the legislation proceed in Albany, Koch <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1989/12/16/nyregion/cuomo-approves-a-secession-vote-for-staten-island.html" target="_blank">said</a> the Democratic leader was “plunging a dagger into the city’s heart.” But it wasn’t up to him.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Honestly, the only reason secession didn’t go through is that the legislation needed approval in the State Assembly, and it didn’t get it,” Viteritti told Gotham Gazette. “Cuomo, and then Pataki, were ready to sign it. [Former Assembly Speaker from Manhattan] Sheldon Silver bears sole responsibility for why Staten Island is not its own independent city right now.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Now, over twenty years later, Viteritti doesn’t know if things are the same on Staten Island. The most immediate demands of the secession movement were met, and, in many ways, that’s why everyone Gotham Gazette spoke with for this article said Rudy Giuliani is still the most popular mayor on the island, by far.</p> <p dir="ltr">Giuliani, a Republican, had a 1994 platform aimed at addressing the island’s two main grievances: making the Staten Island ferry free and closing the Fresh Kills dump (both were eventually accomplished). “To think, what was more symbolic to Staten Islanders than a place where the city can leave all of its garbage?” Doug Muzzio quipped.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the time, Muzzio, a political scientist at CUNY Baruch and longtime city expert, was tasked with polling Staten Island residents. He said a “victim narrative” existed, in which residents felt their input surpassed the output (later found to be untrue) and, in return, they got the city’s garbage. While their transportation issues are “legitimate” reasons to be angry, Muzzio added, “Staten Islanders have always thought they were forgotten, and if they did get city services, they were ill-timed,” he said. This is part of the island’s “mythology” - too little, too late.</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet, to Muzzio, Giuliani fit the Staten Island mold. His last name sounded like it was cut from the borough’s fabric. He was <a href="http://blog.silive.com/politics/2012/10/oddo_rudy_giuliani_guy_molinar.html" target="_blank">close</a> with the renowned Borough President then, Guy Molinari. He was incredibly pro-NYPD, and he was a Republican. Staten Islanders still reminisce about the Giuliani days as a time when the island was truly a part of the city. In a recent <a href="https://twitter.com/HeyNowJO/status/629047154330476544" target="_blank">tweet</a>, James Oddo, the current BP, named the Giuliani Years as one of the few times in its history when “Staten Island was treated better than fairly.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The same can almost be said about Bloomberg. Once again, a Republican, if only in his early mayoral years, and very close with the law enforcement base. To Staten Islanders, Bloomberg’s reign was praised for lower crime rates, much-needed rezoning and development, and finally, a focus on fixing their vast parkland. His property tax hike wasn’t received well, but, like with the rest of New Yorkers, maybe it will be down the line.</p> <p dir="ltr">"I think his legacy is not fully baked,” now former Council Member Ignizio <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2013/12/parks_to_property_taxes_bloomb.html" target="_blank">said</a> when Bloomberg left office. “I think coming from Rudy Giuliani, who was wildly popular on Staten Island...following that act was tough.”</p> <p dir="ltr">More controversially, Bloomberg was mayor during Superstorm Sandy, a storm that devastated Staten Island, perhaps more so than any other borough. It left millions of dollars worth of damages, and still, to this day, has residents rebuilding their homes. Bloomberg’s attention to the disaster was received well, but his funding program — Build It Back — was not. The initiative, which was meant to siphon federal funds to those not insured, hadn’t issued a single check or broke ground on any related construction programs when he left office.</p> <p dir="ltr">It was an utter failure in Staten Islanders’ eyes. And one that was saved by an unlikely, if quite unpopular, new figure who Islanders did not want elected and are still coming to terms with.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">*****</p> <p dir="ltr">There were all the ingredients for Staten Island scorn: a persecuted policeman, a progressive mayor the borough didn’t vote for, and a publicly drawn-out war that put the hometown base and new city leader on opposite sides. Not to mention that it happened just minutes from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, and for all the world to see. The death of Eric Garner at the hands of Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo set off what had already been a begrudged populace. Within a year of his mayoralty, de Blasio had lost any goodwill many Staten Islanders had extended him, largely because of his comments in the aftermath of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Pantaleo.</p> <p dir="ltr">Since then, his administration has made efforts to make it clear that City Hall does care about the mid-Island and South Shore constituency, with more visits, more funds for extensive capital projects, and a continued <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2015/04/build_it_back_audit_finds_flaw.html" target="_blank">overhaul</a> of Build it Back that finally has the program up and running - though many still find the pace too slow. Even with a 19 percent <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2015/08/staten_island_city_services_study.html" target="_blank">approval rating</a> amongst Islanders, de Blasio seems set on establishing some island credentials, even against all odds. A progressive Democrat, from Brooklyn; at least he has the Italian last name.</p> <p dir="ltr">"Mayor de Blasio has invested nearly $5 million a year to deliver 24/7 half-hour Staten Island ferry service, added over $240 million to improve road conditions, brought faster [snow] plowing to Staten Island residential streets, and improved the Build it Back program so residents are finally receiving checks and rebuilding their homes,” Monica Klein, a deputy press secretary for de Blasio, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “showing time and again that he is committed to improving the lives of Staten Islanders and giving the borough the attention it deserves.”</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: justify;">For the announcement on the repaving efforts, de Blasio made a trip to Staten Island after mounting <a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/now-national-spotlight-nyc-mayor-de-blasio-forgetting-city/" target="_blank">criticism</a> that he had zigzagged the country while spending little time in the “forgotten borough.” But praise was in the air from Staten Island officials. “Mayor de Blasio heard our pleas for help and delivered, and we are thankful for his commitment to improving our roads,” BP Oddo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#/0" target="_blank">said</a>, alongside the mayor, and a large "pave baby pave" sign from the borough president's office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/pave_baby_pave_heynowjo.jpg" alt="pave baby pave heynowjo" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="413" width="250" /></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size: 10pt;">(via BP Oddo)</span></p> <p dir="ltr">Still, many car-owning Islanders happy about new investments in roads may continue to point to de Blasio’s handling of the Eric Garner saga and a perceived lack of support for the NYPD. They are likely to pin any upticks in crime or perceived quality-of-life issues to the mayor’s legacy; a sentiment that is true across the city, but most acute on Staten Island. But regardless of what happens between the mayor and Islanders, there are strong forces at work that could drastically change just about everything on and about the island.</p> <p dir="ltr">In April, the New York Times beat the gentrification drum with a headline that <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/realestate/an-islands-turning-point.html" target="_blank">read</a>, “Staten Island’s Turning Point?” The writer, C.J. Hughes, pointed out major developments that will mark the island coast in the near future: the New York Wheel (a massive London-Eye-esque ferris wheel), Empire Outlets (a huge mall complex), and numerous stores, coffee shops, and breweries. Not to mention a condo complex called Lighthouse Point and another called URL Staten Island, which, along with the Wheel and outlets, have been <a href="http://therealdeal.com/issues_articles/the-forgotten-borough-gets-noticed/" target="_blank">deemed</a> the “core four” by The Real Deal, a development-focused publication.</p> <p dir="ltr">While some are excited and see jobs afoot, others are skeptical. One resident remarked, “I like the small-town vibe, and I don’t mind that there’s a little bit of grit.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Linda Baran, the director of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, says that the impending development is a conversation that the borough has yet to have. What will it do if thousands of New Yorkers start to move in, once again escaping the mainland, this time because of high rents, not crime? The spike in prices is something that “resonates through every conversation,” she said. Is Staten Island really ready for that?</p> <p dir="ltr">“There is no dialogue about how the borough should receive the people coming in,” Baran told Gotham Gazette. “Now the idea is to bring new businesses here so people don’t have to leave.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Baran argued that development could solve one of the main issues the island faces, and has always faced: vacancy. The shore, she said, is lined with empty industrial lots, which are not only a blight on the islandscape, but bad for business. She’s hoping that development will bring more attention to major borough-wide concerns, like infrastructure and healthcare, as it has in Brooklyn and Queens.</p> <p dir="ltr">She added that the de Blasio administration has done a fine job of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5792-why-dont-we-ever-hear-about-commercial-rent-policy" target="_blank">cutting red tape</a> for small businesses, but other City Council-backed measures, like paid sick leave and ‘ban the box’ legislation disallowing background checks, are “good initiatives,” but have left Staten Island owners weary of City Hall intrusion. “I think the city has talked about fixing the business community here,” she told me. “But the businesses aren’t seeing that just yet.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Baran touched upon what could be a new chapter in the Staten Island mystique. After feeling forgotten for decades, this could be the future the island has longed for; one where it is on an equal playing field, both economically and culturally, with its borough brethren. There is a fear — or irony — that the borough could be on its way to getting more than it bargained for, with high-rise condos and public attractions threatening the Staten Island way of life, causing more traffic. Be careful what you ask for, some seem to be saying.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We were always used to being last on the totem pole,” Baran said. “We were an escape for everyone. And now, the boroughs are saturated, and growth is a good thing.”</p> <p dir="ltr">She paused, then said, “Things are changing.”</p> <p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"><span style="font-size: 14.6666666666667px; font-family: Arial; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap; background-color: transparent;">***</span></p> <p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"><span style="font-size: 14.6666666666667px; font-family: Arial; font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap; background-color: transparent;">John Surico is a freelance metro reporter. His reporting has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and here, on Gotham Gazette. He lives in Queens. Find him on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JohnSurico" target="_blank">@JohnSurico</a></span></p> <p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank"><span style="font-size: 14.6666666666667px; font-family: Arial; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap; background-color: transparent;">@GothamGazette</span></a></p>