Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/340 Sun, 21 Jan 2018 10:55:51 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Council Member Jumaane Williams to Explore Run for Lieutenant Governor http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7422:city-council-member-jumaane-williams-to-explore-run-for-lieutenant-governor http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7422:city-council-member-jumaane-williams-to-explore-run-for-lieutenant-governor Jumaane Williams city council

City Council Member Jumaane Williams (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


At the end of stirring and emotional remarks on Martin Luther King Day, City Council Member Jumaane Williams announced that he is exploring a run for Lieutenant Governor. Williams, who was just re-elected to a third Council term and was unsuccessful in his pursuit of the speakership of the city’s legislative body, gave the keynote address at Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Brooklyn on Monday, passionately discussing the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and explaining how it informs his activism, legislating, and possible pursuit of the state-wide position that is on the ballot this fall.

In order to become Lieutenant Governor, Williams would likely first have to prevail in the Democratic primary over incumbent Kathy Hochul, who ran on the 2014 ticket with Governor Andrew Cuomo. While Hochul is expected to again be Cuomo’s running mate, the positions of Lieutenant Governor and Governor are elected separately by statewide popular vote in the primary. If victorious in the primary, Williams and Cuomo, assuming he wins any Democratic primary he faces, would run as a connected ticket in the general election.

During his Monday remarks, Williams spoke broadly about civil rights, injustice, protest, and making government respond to the people, and made some mention of the apparent reasons he is exploring a run for the statewide post that comes with minimal statutory power and a relatively small budget. The campaign for Lieutenant Governor and holding the position if victorious would give Williams a bully pulpit to shape statewide public discourse and have some effect on policy. Most immediately, he could create significant headaches for Hochul and Cuomo, whom Williams has been critical of over the past several years on issues like affordable housing, transportation, and criminal justice.

Williams said when reflecting on King’s legacy, he often thinks about the saying, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” He discussed the importance of agitating for what is morally right, no matter the political ramifications, and how public protest moves government to act.

It takes a great deal of “energy,” more than people realize, to “move the needle,” Williams explained. “You move the needle with moral disruption to a status quo that is unjust.”

“Government does not move unless we make it move. They respond to protest,” Williams said. “I understand that because I’m in those halls seeing how my colleagues respond.”

Before announcing that he was forming “an exploratory committee” to possibly run for Lieutenant Governor, Williams pointed to some of the problems around the state that appear to be motivating his exploration. He said “we need people in government who will continue to push forward on progress” and cited “homelessness in New York City, housing in Rochester, gun violence in Brooklyn, gun violence in Syracuse, the relief of opioid crisis in Staten Island,” and more, adding, “these issues are not unique to one area.”

Williams said his job on the inside of government is to make sure his colleagues are moving on what people are bringing to their attention and what is “morally correct.”

“We need leaders will forcefully advocate for progress no matter the political winds,” Williams said, in one of several references to doing what is right over what is politically expedient.

Williams also discussed the “need for diversity in government,” echoing an argument he made during the City Council speaker race, when he insisted a person of color should be elected to the role. Williams is black. Corey Johnson, a white man, prevailed.

On Monday, Williams listed the many city, state, and federal offices in New York that are held by white people, a list that includes Cuomo and Hochul.

A challenge to Hochul by Williams would be from the left, as he would almost certainly offer a more progressive platform on the whole, and he would likely aim much of his fire at Cuomo. It is unclear who might challenge the governor from the left, but there is a good deal of unrest among progressives who see Cuomo as too centrist and enabling of a Republican-led state Senate. Williams endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.

Former state Senator Terry Gibson appears to be the only Democrat currently actively exploring a gubernatorial bid. Like Williams, Gibson has a state-level campaign account open. Now a professor at SUNY New Paltz, Gibson has been traveling the state meeting with progressive groups, spending a lot of time in the five boroughs, and trying to gauge how much initial support he can garner for a full-fledged run.

There are other potential challengers from Cuomo’s left, including former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon.

In 2014, Cuomo sought a second term and had to fend off a surprising challenge from Zephyr Teachout, a little-known, underfunded professor who embarrassed Cuomo by winning 34 percent of the primary vote. Teachout’s running mate, Lieutenant Governor candidate Tim Wu, did even better against Hochul, who was running for the post for the first time, winning 40 percent to Hochul’s 60.

Williams is likely to be at a significant financial disadvantage to Hochul, depending on how much money he can raise and how much Cuomo and his political apparatus come to Hochul’s aid. Williams’ ability to win votes in New York City could pose a major challenge to Hochul, who is from western New York. Williams’ potential candidacy is quickly going to put other Democrats like new City Council Speaker Johnson and Mayor Bill de Blasio in tricky positions. De Blasio recently declined to give an opinion when Gotham Gazette asked him if Cuomo deserved to be challenged from the left.

On Monday, Williams did not get into any details of a potential campaign, though he will have to decide relatively soon if he is going to make a full run for the position. The Council member explained that he sees his role as “a molder of consensus” like King and part of ruckus upsetting the status quo. Williams credited King for being a “disruptive, righteous agitator” and discussed the need to put in the work of activism to make the change you believe must occur in the world.

“If you don’t understand the protests of today, I suggest you keep ‘Martin Luther King’ from out of your lips,” Williams said at one point.

He cited King’s “fierce urgency of now,” and asked the church crowd to think about why society is still struggling in 2018 with the same major problems of King’s era, the 1950s and ‘60s, such as jobs, police abuses, and justice. He cited some progress, noting that there are not segregated water fountains and there are fewer lynchings.

Williams explained that he has tried to do what he can as a member of the City Council, and now believes that he may be able to take on new challenges and “do more” through the potential run for Lieutenant Governor.

Notably, the Council member clearly stated his support for LGBTQ individuals, which has been a point of contention for him as he has personally held views against marriage equality. Williams has also held a personal view against abortion, citing personal experience. But, he has repeatedly tried to argue that he does not legislate or vote to advance those personal beliefs and taken steps to show that he supports the LGBT community and women’s reproductive rights. The issues could be at the center of attacks from Hochul and Cuomo toward Williams, given that Cuomo has prided himself on passing marriage equality in New York and touts himself as a champion of women’s rights.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to clarify that the Governor and Lieutenant Governor run as a Democratic ticket in the general election, but are elected separately in the party primary.

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City Council Member Jumaane Williams to Explore Run for Lieutenant Governor Mon, 15 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Now Pursuing Diversity, New City Council Speaker Has Employed Mostly White Men http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7416:now-pursuing-diversity-new-city-council-speaker-has-employed-mostly-white-men http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7416:now-pursuing-diversity-new-city-council-speaker-has-employed-mostly-white-men Speaker Corey Johnson

Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


Corey Johnson’s ascension to speaker of the New York City Council came amid concerns by elected officials and activists that yet another white man would be in a seat of leadership in a majority-minority city where the mayor and comptroller, two of three citywide elected officials, are also white men. During his pursuit of the position against several men of color and amid citywide outcry over the gender imbalance in the City Council, Johnson promised to ensure a diverse senior leadership team and central staff, and early indications are that he is following through on that pledge.

However, before rising to speaker, on his Council staff and his reelection campaign, Johnson has seemingly surrounded himself with almost exclusively other white men, in positions from communications to chief of staff.

Before Council Member Inez Barron made an eleventh hour bid, Johnson was one of eight men running for the speakership, raising a red flag for a City Council that had female speakers for 12 years -- Christine Quinn, who led the body for two terms, followed by Melissa Mark-Viverito for one. The new speaker would also be taking the reins of a 51-member legislative body with only 11 women, down from 18 a few years ago.

As speaker, Johnson will be overseeing about 300 central Council staffers, a big leap from a rank-and-file Council office with fewer than 10 employees. In the last four years, under Mark-Viverito, the entire Council staff, including members’ aides, has seen increasing representation for women and people of color. It has been clear that people expect Johnson to build on that progress.

In the lead up to the Council speaker election, Gotham Gazette sought staff member names, titles, and salaries for each of the speaker candidates -- including frontrunners Johnson, Mark Levine, and Robert Cornegy, Jr. -- but the freedom of information law request was not returned before Johnson was chosen, and has still not been fulfilled by the Council.

Of the seven people on Johnson’s Council staff identified by Gotham Gazette, five are white and male. These include his chief of staff Erik Bottcher, deputy chief of staff for legislation, planning and budget Louis Cholden-Brown, deputy chief of staff and district director Matt Green, director of communications David Moss, and community liaison and scheduler Sean Coughlin. (Johnson’s former chief of staff, Jeffrey LeFrancois, who served him for almost all of 2014, is also a white man.)

A sixth is legislative aide Pat Comerford, who is a woman; and the seventh Johnson aide known to Gotham Gazette is CeCe Scott, an African-American woman who has been chief of district operations for the Chelsea and West Village Council district Johnson represents. A Council spokesperson did not provide full details of Johnson’s government staff composition when repeatedly requested independent of the FOIL submission, which was also reiterated several times.

According to campaign finance records, Johnson’s 2017 reelection campaign paid five individuals, all white men, including campaign manager Kevin Groh, organizing director Wyatt Frank, treasurer Matthew Bergman and campaign workers Ryan O’Neill and Jake Kern. (Johnson’s 2013 campaign was managed by R.J. Jordan, who is also white and male.)

The Manhattan district Johnson represents was home to about 174,000 people in 2010, according to the demographic data from the Census. Of those, 67.2 percent were white non-hispanic, 12.8 percent were of Hispanic origin, 12.4 percent were Asian and Pacific Islanders, and 4.7 percent were black. Gender and race are not the only measures of diversity, of course. The district is known for its rich LGBTQ history. Johnson, who is gay and HIV-positive, was preceded in the Council by former Speaker Christine Quinn, the first openly gay person to lead the Council.

It is unclear how many of Johnson's governmnet or campaign aides identify as LGBTQ. Johnson made history being elected speaker while openly HIV-positive, and while he has also said that while he knows he has experienced privilege being white, he is also from difficult socioeconomic circumstances, having grown up in public housing in Massachusetts in a family that was led by a single mother.

It’s early in Johnson’s transition into the speakership and he has already announced that he will retain some of the top aides at the Council, including people of color, who served under Mark-Viverito.

At a news conference shortly after being elected speaker, when asked about his efforts to ensure diversity, Johnson said he would bring Scott, “an incredible African-American woman,” to City Hall. He will also be keeping Ramon Martinez, the powerful chief of staff to the Council speaker, who is Latino, in his current role. The Council’s finance division director Latonia McKinney, who is African-American, and land use division director Raju Mann, who is of South Asian descent, may also be staying on -- Johnson mentioned and praised each but did not discuss their continued employment in the same definitive terms. The Council's communications director Robin Levine, a white woman, informed Gotham Gazette that she will continue on in her role.

“So I think many of the top jobs are already represented by people of color and women,” Johnson said, while conceding that “we have to do a better job at all levels of government and we have to do a better job here in the Council.”

Over the course of running for speaker, Johnson has promised that he will commit to diversity in staff and leadership positions. At a speaker forum, he pledged that at least 50 percent of his senior team and central staff would be women, transgender and non-conforming individuals. The Council’s Women’s Caucus also extracted numerous promises from all the speaker candidates and intends on holding Johnson to account for his commitments, which include funding a full-time staff person for the caucus. Johnson appears set to name Council Member Laurie Cumbo, an African-American woman, as Majority Leader, and a diverse group of members to top committee chair posts, including Rafael Salamanca to lead the land use committee.

[Related: Women's Caucus Secures Commitments from City Council Speaker Candidates]

A spokesperson for the speaker emphasized that it was too soon to tell what the entire staff composition would look like. Johnson has yet to make any new hires and has just begun the process of meeting and interviewing candidates, the spokesperson said.  

“I think we need to look at our own staff,” Johnson said at the news conference. “It needs to be better, but I actually think that compared to other agencies and bodies in the city of New York, we’re actually more diverse, when it comes to staff positions, than other agencies in the city.”

The Department of Citywide Administrative Services’ latest city workforce report, through Fiscal Year 2016 which ended July 2017, showed promise as far as diversity is concerned. Of the 721 employees of the Council -- 318 full-time and 403 part-time -- 49 percent were female and 57 percent people of color. Members of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus praised that progress in December, crediting Mark-Viverito for putting in practices that prioritized diverse hiring.

“In order to build a democracy that accurately reflects our City’s diverse communities, we need reflective representation at all levels of government and all forms of public service,” said Council Member Margaret Chin, co-vice chair of the caucus, in a statement issued December 13. “While our work for a more inclusive democracy continues, especially in the efforts to increase language access for immigrant communities, we are more than ready to continue this legacy.”

The BLA Caucus also called in December for the next speaker to be a person of color, insisting that the city should “continue to be served by leaders who reflect our city's values, vision, and demographics.” But, the caucus did not rally around one candidate.

Council Member Jumaane Williams, a member of the BLAC who ran for speaker, did not want to prejudge Johnson’s dedication to diversity but is encouraged by conversations he’s had with the speaker about “equity in government” in the last week. “I’m assuming they’re gonna produce some good results, I have no reason to expect it won’t happen,” he said in a phone interview.

[Related: City Council Speaker Candidates, All Men, Promise Gender Equity if Victorious]

Williams was one of two speaker candidates, the other being Council Member Robert Cornegy, Jr., who initially refused to concede to Johnson when it became apparent that Johnson had the vote locked up. The two protested the county choice of a Council member who was not a person of color. Cornegy went on to concede days before the speaker vote, while Williams did so only the morning of. In the meantime, Council Member Barron jumped into the race, also arguing that it was time the Council had its first black speaker.

“If the City Council wants to be a beacon for progressive government, we obviously have to start here,” Williams said on Tuesday. “Any place there’s diversity, everybody benefits...Without diversity, resources don’t flow equitably to communities.”

Williams seemed reassured by Johnson’s promises to empower members and the body as a whole. “It’s easier to do that when everybody feels represented,” he said. And he had a simple word of caution should the speaker not follow through. “There are a lot of people watching,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that Pat Comerford is a woman, not a man as originally stated. 

Note: this article has been updated to note that Robin Levine will continue to serve as the Council communications director. 

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Now Pursuing Diversity, New City Council Speaker Has Employed Mostly White Men Wed, 10 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Why Does Crime Keep Falling in New York City? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7410:why-does-crime-keep-falling-in-new-york-city http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7410:why-does-crime-keep-falling-in-new-york-city de Blasio Bratton O'Neill NYPD

James O'Neill, Bill Bratton, Bill de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York Police Department have much cause for celebration. Last year was undoubtedly the safest year on record in decades, setting new benchmarks for crime reduction across most major categories, according to the latest crime data released by the NYPD on Friday.

The total number of major felony crimes fell below 100,000 for the first time ever, no small feat for a city now home to more than 8.5 million residents. The city also set a record for fewest murders in the modern data-tracking era, and fewest since the early 1950s, when the city had far fewer residents, and fewest shooting incidents.

The mayor and police commissioner, James O’Neill, are proudly touting the success of the department’s practices, especially reforms of the last few years, with numerous initiatives that they say have shown immense success. The neighborhood policing program is rebuilding trust with communities, targeted policing of gangs in trouble spots across the city is nipping crime in the bud, and preventative programs are reducing gun violence, they say. Officers are being re-trained in new policing tactics, especially de-escalation, while also being equipped with improved technology and safety gear. Complaints about police officers are also at new lows, while the number of arrests has plummeted, and a body camera program is being rolled out.

Meanwhile, the mayor and police officials still believe that broken windows policing, with its acute attention to keeping social order and enforcing low-level crimes in an effort to prevent larger ones, and its use, however evolved, is still seen as essential.

Though it may be easy, and tempting, to draw the simple conclusion that crime is at historic lows because of the work of the NYPD and this mayor’s administration, experts say that would be a mistake. Crime has been falling for decades across the nation and even the entire world, and New York City, the “safest big city in America,” is not unique.

“None of this happened by accident,” said Commissioner O’Neill, at a news conference on Friday with other top NYPD brass, Mayor de Blasio, the newly elected City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “I’d call it incredible were it not for the very credible reasons why it’s all happening,” O’Neill said as de Blasio nodded in agreement.

Neighborhood policing, now in 56 of 77 precincts and in nine Housing Bureau areas, is a “game changer,” O’Neill insisted, creating a greater sense of shared responsibility towards public safety between police and communities. Coordination with state and federal law enforcement in “precision policing” is helping build stronger cases against the “real drivers of crime,” he said, and community partners are playing a strong role. “As far as violence being reduced in society, that’s a little bit above my pay grade,” he conceded, when asked about broader trends. “But I know what’s happening in the NYPD, I know what’s happening in the city, and I know it’s happening with the way we are working with communities around the city and it’s all playing a big part in reducing crime.”

“This is a new day in New York City, a different reality, and it’s working,” said de Blasio subsequently, also crediting the Cure Violence program, which is led by local leaders, including former gang members, and seeks to prevent and diffuse conflicts at the community level, preempting crime before it is carried out. De Blasio insisted that stop-and-frisk policing had been “holding us back” and that it’s reduction had made the city safer.

“I think when you see this kind of intensive, fast reduction, I think it does come back to neighborhood policing, precision policing, stronger ties to the community, community allies making a big impact, and different strategies right down to the example of taking something as difficult and painful as domestic violence and treating it as a moment for intensified engagement,” the mayor said. “Not just answer the call and that’s it, but constantly coming back. That’s a very hands-on, proactive approach that is newer to the NYPD. I think that makes a big impact.”

Two areas of serious crime that the city has not seen significant reductions in of late are domestic violence and rape reports, which NYPD officials attribute to more reporting, not more actual incidences, the willingness of victims to come forward, a changing culture, and victims’ belief that they will be heard and helped by the police department. Domestic violence reports were down about 6 percent in 2017 compared to 2016; the number of rape reports were nearly the same.

There were 290 murders in 2017, down from 335 in 2013, the year before de Blasio took office (the prior record low was 333 in 2014). In that same time, the number of “index” crimes -- seven major felony offenses -- fell to 96,517 from 111,335. It’s part of a larger trend that has continued for decades, said Alex Vitale, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College. “The drop can’t possibly correlate with any policy changes in New York City. It began in the Dinkins administration,” Vitale said. “Our best minds have tried to figure out what’s causing this long-term international phenomenon and we just don’t understand.”

The overall body of research on crime reduction is inconclusive and often rife with partisan interpretations, which is why Vitale cautioned against broadly crediting the NYPD for the drop in crime, which runs the risk that, when issues arise, the city will simply throw more officers at the problem. “When all you have is hammers, everything looks like a nail,” he said, of the assumption that policing is the only solution to public safety. Rather, the city should be guided by considerations of “justice, racial politics and democracy,” said Vitale, who is a liberal.

“What I would say to the mayor is that he needs to continue to aggressively pursue ways of improving quality of life that don’t rely on the criminal justice system,” Vitale said. He did acknowledge the steps the city has taken -- reducing stop-and-frisk policing, targeted enforcement and anti-violence prevention programs -- but, at the same time, he said the city must also better address issues such as gentrification, homelessness, and lack of access to healthcare for low-income New Yorkers.

Among the major steps the city has taken was the addition of 1,300 more officers to the force in 2015, at the behest of the City Council under former Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Corey Johnson’s predecessor. In recent days, Johnson has also floated the idea of adding more police officers to bolster community policing and give officers more time on the beat than responding to radio calls. It’s what Vitale warns against. “We start with the premise that because it’s a community problem, we need the police to figure it out,” he said. “But where’s their expertise?”

Vitale has long advocated for more city investment in social services to deal with community issues, rather than the overuse of policing, which he believes should be focused on the most serious crimes.

The neighborhood policing program that the administration swears by has slowly evolved from other paradigms of broken windows policing. This philosophy and practice have the mayor’s support and broken windows is the mantra of former police commissioner Bill Bratton, who continues to defend the practice as the key driver of crime reduction even as police reform advocates criticize its adverse impact on communities of color.

“Beginning in 1990, the New York City police department returned to a mission that was focused on not only dealing with serious crime, but also began to focus on disorder, which had not been addressed at all in the '70s and '80s,” Bratton said in a recent interview with National Public Radio, on the causes for dropping crime, “and disorder is described as broken windows, quality of life, minor offenses. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.”

As Bratton explains it, broken windows policing has taken different forms in different eras, responding to conditions at the time. For example, intense law enforcement in the subway system in the 1990s, a decade that saw Bratton's first stint as NYPD commissioner and the implementation of strict, proactive policing by Mayor Rudy Giuliani's police department. The more recent iteration was in the overuse of stop-and-frisk policing, which increased significantly under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly as they sought to take guns off the streets, triggering massive protests and a federal lawsuit.

But there’s no clear evidence that broken window policing has caused the drop in crime. The relatively new Office of Inspector General of the NYPD concluded in 2016 that there was “no empirical evidence demonstrating a clear and direct link between an increase in summons and misdemeanor arrest activity and a related drop in felony crime.” The administration and NYPD top brass, including de Blasio and Bratton themselves, pushed back against the report, claiming it was “deeply flawed,” but largely using corollary and experiential takeaways to justify their claims. Meanwhile, crime numbers continue to trend down even as the NYPD has arrested tens of thousands fewer people. Bratton and others would argue that the city has only tweaked the formula, not abandoned broken windows in any discernible way.

A November 2017 report on proactive policing initiatives by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine also found that broken windows has little impact on crime while stop-and-frisk has mixed results. Hot spots policing and problem-oriented tactics lead to short-term reductions, the report found, while focused deterrence has both short- and long-term impacts on crime control.

De Blasio’s NYPD has combined most, if not all, of those measures. Ames Grawert, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, cited the report to illustrate how tough it is to draw concrete conclusions about the city’s crime numbers. “I think [de Blasio’s] right to credit community policing, but that’s a very broad term...any initiative that’s targeted at repairing trust between police and communities fits under that umbrella,” Grawert said, “so it kicks down the road the question of which types are community policing and which aren’t. But I think those are broadly successful anti-crime measures.”

Yet, crime was trending down over decades before de Blasio implemented his neighborhood policing program, which is still in its infancy. Grawert had a simple prescription for the NYPD. “Keep following the data to figure out where police resources are needed and how to apply them, and keep engaging the community to keep and increase their trust in the police,” he said.

The city’s approach goes beyond just responding to crime, seeking to prevent it in the first place. This work has taken different forms over decades. Now, New York City is the largest Cure Violence site in the country, with 18 communities where “violence interrupters,” as they are called, operate to work with high-risk individuals and diffuse conflict. It’s a health-based approach, said Charles Ransford, director of science and policy at Cure Violence, looking at crime as a “problem of contagion.” “When you recognize that, you take those most exposed to violence...and work with them,” he said. “Police can only do so much. Policing matters but it’s something that should be a last resort.”

Ransford said New York City is doing far more than other cities to prevent violence at the front end, and studies bear out the effectiveness of the approach. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation Center found that between 2014 and 2016, there was a 50 percent decrease in gun injuries in East New York, Brooklyn and a 37 percent reduction in the South Bronx, two communities where Cure Violence has been implemented. “We have to make sure that we look at the whole picture,” Ransford said. “This was a very deliberate decision and effort by Mayor de Blasio and the City Council together to take a chance on Cure Violence and fund it to such a level. They deserve a lot of credit for that.”

The administration and the Council together put $22.5 million towards the Cure Violence program in fiscal year 2017 through the newly created Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence, up from $12.7 million in fiscal year 2015.

City Council Member Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn said it was one of the things that New York City was doing differently in reducing crime, and credited the mayor for his support. “I think there are a variety of factors and I think there’s not one answer to this...I think there’s a better understanding that public safety is not just for the police and they can’t be the only people responsible for all of the issues that lead to some of these crimes,” he said. In particular, he praised “how we’re dealing with gun violence and the community approach that we’ve found to work, and actually putting money behind it, real money, that has always been missing...there was a real belief and real resources put behind it.”  

Noting that numerous metrics were trending downwards -- murders, shootings, instances of officers firing their weapons, arrests, complaints against officers -- Williams said, “We need to continue in that direction. We need to make sure that we’re continuing not to see summonses and arrests as the only way to deal with issues in communities.”

Williams did have some criticism for the administration and the police department, arguing that with regards to accountability and transparency, the city has stood still and even fallen behind. He noted, in particular, statute 50-a of the state civil rights code that protects officers’ disciplinary records from public disclosure. The mayor has called for a repeal of the statute and he reiterated, when asked by Gotham Gazette on Friday, that it’s one of his legislative priorities in Albany this year.

There are larger forces at work as well. Shifting demographics and gentrification have changed the face of neighborhoods across the city. The economy is riding a wave of unprecedented prosperity and unemployment is at an all-time low. “The number one thing that cuts violent crime arrests in half is a job,” said Williams, noting that the city has expanded the Summer Youth Employment Program in the past three years from roughly 25,000-30,000 slots to 70,000 slots. “I think [President] Donald Trump and [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions should look at what’s happening in New York City and pay attention to what’s happening here as opposed to pushing cockamamie ideas that take us backwards,” he added.

That crime has decreased as the administration moves towards full implementation of neighborhood policing is correlation without causation, as there is no measurable data on the program. De Blasio himself admits that his proof lies in anecdotal evidence. At a December 29 news conference, when asked how he quantified success, he said, “Because I’ve talked to so many neighborhood policing officers and community leaders who have given me numerous examples of information they’ve gotten that has helped them to fight crime and have made clear this was information they often didn’t get in the past.” He acknowledged that his administration would have to release objective analyses of the program “to help people understand just how big an impact there has been.”

Police reform advocate Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, believes it’s a dubious claim. “Crime was going down before quote-unquote neighborhood policing,” he said. “I don’t see how [de Blasio] starts drawing this direct line between that and the reduction of crime. I don’t believe it passes the smell test.”

Advocates like Griffith were vindicated when the city curtailed the unconstitutional and unchecked use of stop-and-frisk policing, proliferated under Bloomberg and Kelly, and crime continued to fall. De Blasio has also claimed validation, as he ran for mayor on a pledge to scale back stop-and-frisk and repair police-community relationships.

To Griffith and others, the continued drops in crime has been proof that aggressive policing does not work and that more police officers on the street is not the solution. “The police can no longer use this narrative of our neighborhoods being unruly and undisciplined and prone to violence as an excuse to use abusive policing,” Griffith said. “I think this is now the moment to see how we can have both worlds. We can have low crime and we can have an accountable police force that is not abusive, not discriminatory and is not aggressive.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Why Does Crime Keep Falling in New York City? Sun, 07 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
City Council to Pass Bills Mandating Assessment of Vacant Lots http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7373:city-council-to-pass-bills-mandating-assessment-of-vacant-lots http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7373:city-council-to-pass-bills-mandating-assessment-of-vacant-lots vacant bldg via hpd

(photo via @NYCHousing)


Two years ago, Public Advocate Letitia James and City Council Members Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez each introduced a bill under a set called the Housing Not Warehousing Act, a package aimed at reducing homelessness and increasing the city’s affordable housing stock. The bills seek to mandate an annual tally of the number of vacant lots and buildings in the city, determining which of those under city jurisdiction could be developed for affordable housing, while also requiring landlords with vacant properties to register them with the city.

Two of those bills, sponsored by the Council members, are set to be voted on by the Committee on Housing and Buildings, chaired by Williams, at a hearing on Monday. Following that, the bills are expected to head to the Council floor for a vote and approval on Tuesday at the last full meeting of the body in the current four-year session. They would then head to the desk of Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose administration has not supported the legislation.

The bills have strong support from housing advocates who have decried rising homelessness in the city as buildings remain unoccupied and lots remain undeveloped. The de Blasio administration continues to insist the city is doing everything in its power to utilize city-owned vacant lots for affordable housing, and have pushed back against a February 2016 report by City Comptroller Scott Stringer that indicated more than 1,100 lots that the city owns but were vacant.

[Related: Key to Affordable Housing Development, Vacant Lots Remain Source of Controversy]

Rodriguez’s bill would require the city to conduct an annual census and compile a list of vacant properties in the city, coordinating with numerous city agencies and departments, while Williams’ bill would mandate reporting by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) on the vacant lots and buildings under its jurisdiction, along with the potential for those properties to be used for creating affordable housing.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Williams said he was “proud” of his tenure as committee chair, “and what better way to end this term than by passing this legislation which puts in place additional tools we need to combat the urgent affordable housing and homelessness crisis we face in this city.” Williams also thanked James, Rodriguez, and “all of the activists who helped get us to this pivotal moment of progress.”

Rodriguez, in a statement, called the act an "important step" in tackling the city's affordable housing crisis. "By identifying vacant properties, we can turn them into permanent affordable housing units for our working families and our neediest New Yorkers, and prevent homelessness." he said.

James’ bill, which is not on the schedule for Monday’s hearing, takes aim at private landlords and the property they keep empty. The bill would have required landlords to register with the city buildings that have been vacant longer than a year. It mandates fines - between $100 and $500 every week - for those landlords that fail to renew those registrations every year.

Williams did not address the exclusion of the public advocate’s bill from the package, but Kevin Fagan, a spokesperson for the Council member, said it was a “pretty common situation” for a bill to be left out of a legislative package when it goes to a vote. All three of the bills have at least 30 sponsors in the 51-seat Council. Fagan pointed to the recent Construction Safety Act, also sponsored by Williams, as an instance where bills in the final approved package did not all pass at the same time.

“While we're disappointed the entire Housing Not Warehousing Act will not be voted upon, it is promising that two bills that seek to address our affordable crisis are coming to the floor for a vote,” said James, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We must leave no stone unturned when it comes to building affordable housing, and that includes utilizing our vacant lots and properties. We are hopeful that Int. 1034 will pass quickly in the next session.”

Charmel Lucas, a member of Picture the Homeless, an advocacy group that has pushed for these bills, said in a statement that the group was glad the two bills will be voted on and that the group would continue to work with the public advocate to help pass her bill in 2018. “We're grateful to all the council members who had our back on bringing this important issue to a vote, including the current speaker candidates,” Lucas said. “These bills will help homeless people get the housing they need. By identifying vacant property that landlords are sitting on for decades, we can take steps to develop them into extremely-low-income housing."

There was some good news for the public advocate, however. A separate bill she sponsors -- requiring HPD to provide more information on owners of buildings and the violations and complaints they face -- will be approved at the same Monday committee hearing. “Transparency is critical for New Yorkers seeking to hold unscrupulous landlords accountable,” James said, touting the Worst Landlords Watchlist published by her office every year. “This bill will create an easy-to-use database that allows tenants to identify patterns of abuse and harassment by landlords across buildings, further empowering and protecting tenants.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to include comment from Council Member Rodriguez and to clarify Fagan's comments on the Construction Safety bill. 

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City Council to Pass Bills Mandating Assessment of Vacant Lots Fri, 15 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Council Speaker Candidates Hesitant to Criticize or Reform Party-Controlled Board of Elections http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7368:council-speaker-candidates-hesitant-to-criticize-or-reform-board-of-elections http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7368:council-speaker-candidates-hesitant-to-criticize-or-reform-board-of-elections City Council chambers with members

photo by William Alatriste/City Council


The New York City Board of Elections has widely been acknowledged as a dysfunctional agency in need of urgent and sweeping reform, yet the political will for modernizing and professionalizing the board has not existed, at least in part because its current structure benefits those in power.

Its system of appointments based on political patronage has long been a source of criticism and its mismanagement of election operations has frustrated voters and been the subject of City Council oversight hearings. But, when asked, the eight men vying to become the next Speaker of the City Council recently said concerns about the BOE are misguided. To varying degrees, they indicated that the board is effective and efficient, that its failings are isolated rather than systematic, and that its current structure should be preserved.

At a November 20 speaker candidate forum hosted by Citizens Union, other government reform groups, and New York Law School, seven speaker candidates -- Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan; Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens; and Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn -- were present and they mostly took the middle of the road when asked about the steps the City Council, which approves appointments to the BOE, could take to improve the board. The ten BOE commissioners include two -- one Republican and one Democrat -- from each borough.

The Council members hedged their bets and praised the BOE, recognizing that any criticism could potentially be read as directed toward the county party organizations that nominate BOE commissioners and place other employees at the board -- the same county organizations whose support each candidate is seeking in order to become speaker. The eighth candidate, Ritchie Torres from the Bronx, would later give Gotham Gazette a similar response.

None of the members were in favor of a non-partisan restructuring of the board. “That’s a tough question to ask of speaker candidates,” Williams said, to laughter from his colleagues in acknowledgement of the role of the county party machines in both picking BOE commissioners and picking the Council speaker. Williams defended the board but did acknowledge that patronage has played a role in appointments and that the Council could do more to improve it.

“We know that we do have some issues and if we can just do some more thinking through that process and make sure that it’s not as patronage as some folks may think, we can move a lot further,” Williams said, taking the most bold position of the group. “I’m not sure if we push as hard as we can when things go wrong.”

Other candidates spoke generally about reforming election and voting laws, a tangential subject that is mostly the prerogative of the state Legislature, and some staunchly argued in favor of the current partisan composition of the board, which they insisted maintains a balance and prevents one-party hegemony in elections.

“I do not support non-partisan appointments to the Board of Elections,” said Johnson, one of the three perceived frontrunners in the race, along with Levine and Cornegy. “I believe that the parties play a particular role in ensuring that we make sure that any party that’s dominant at a given time cannot run roughshod over another party. If someone came up with a perfect system of a non-partisan way to handle it, maybe I’d entertain it. I’ve never heard of that system, I don’t know how you take political influence out of politics.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Van Bramer said in response.

The city BOE falls under state jurisdiction, like all local boards of election, although the city gets to decide the board’s budget and not much else. The ten board commissioners are nominated by the county party machinery and appointed by the City Council. Representatives from the board testify at City Council hearings, usually during budget season, and receive recommendations and often admonitions from Council members, but are not bound to follow any Council mandates.

The board is often seen as favoring the Democratic Party establishment, given that the vast majority of candidates for city offices are Democrats. Candidates not backed by the party machinery are often challenged in board proceedings and kicked off the ballot, though they are often first-time candidates with fewer resources and without experienced election lawyers.

On Monday, Torres reiterated what his colleagues had said weeks ago. “I suspect you’re misdiagnosing the problem, the problem is a lack of resources,” he told Gotham Gazette at City Hall. “I suspect it’s a lack of resources more than the manner in which the appointments are made.”

He continued, “Does the BOE have inefficiencies? Yes. It’s true of every agency in city government. There’s not a single agency in city government that’s free of inefficiency. So the notion that you would cite inefficiency as an excuse for fundamentally changing the structure of an institution is dubious.” Torres said he would oppose any measures that could weaken the party organizations’ role but conceded that the Council should “study the problem comprehensively” to determine the needs and inefficiencies of the BOE.

There have been studies in the past, and each has found persistent issues.

A 2013 report by the city’s Department of Investigations found a raft of problems in elections management as well as internal board administration. In 2016, the BOE was responsible for a massive voter purge in Brooklyn during the presidential primaries, resulting in legal action by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. In November, Schneiderman announced a consent decree with the BOE that requires added oversight of the board’s voter list maintenance.

Less than a week before this year’s general election on November 7, city Comptroller Scott Stringer also released an audit that excoriated the BOE’s dysfunctional election operations. At each step, the BOE has pushed back and has been resistant to change. Even when Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a $20 million incentive for the board to enact major reforms -- recommending the empaneling of a Blue Ribbon Commission to analyze the BOE, more transparency in hiring and improved poll worker training, among other measures -- its commissioners refused.

“The Mayor believes that it is critical that we reform the Board of Elections,” said Seth Stein, a mayoral spokesperson, in a statement on Tuesday. “They have demonstrated time and again that they are unable to perform the basic functions of their office, like keeping eligible voters on the rolls. The Mayor looks forward to working with whoever the next Speaker is to encourage the Board to accept the $20 million we have offered in exchange for necessary reforms.”

State-level BOE reforms have not progressed in Albany.

Those who could take steps or apply pressure to improve the BOE’s abysmal record are the very people invested in the status quo, however, and the City Council, particularly its speaker, falls squarely within that dynamic. Election experts also tend to agree that the Council can pass little meaningful reform, absent legislative action at the state level, and that the bi-partisan BOE composition is appropriate.  

“There’s very little the City Council can do regarding the structural functioning of the agency,” said Sarah Steiner, an election lawyer. “They could maybe fund the board at a higher level so it could function better.”

“In terms of patronage, it’s a bi-partisan agency, not a civil service agency. Unless that’s changed, the county organizations is where the commissioners and employees will come from,” she added. She insisted that most of the board’s employees are, in her experience, qualified and hard-working professionals. “As in any organization, some employees are better than others,” she said. And she warned that a civil service agency running elections could be open to political interference, while the current structure is designed to prevent just that.

Steiner praised, in particular, the speed and accuracy with which the BOE provides election night results. But, she said, “they are less good at some of the work regarding candidates. I think the rules structure for candidates needs substantial revision.” Unlike the state BOE, the city agency doesn’t provide a public comment period for rules changes, she said, which often leaves the candidates and their campaigns unaware and unprepared. “The administrative rules are not as easy as the board thinks they are, and they’re largely a minefield,” she added.

J.C. Polanco, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for public advocate this year, has served as  president of the city BOE and saw the problems first hand and attempted to fix them. He campaigned this year on a platform that included BOE reform. He’s blunt about the Council speaker candidates and why they wouldn’t speak up against the agency. “Each candidate has to try not to offend the county organizations,” he said.  

Though Polanco also agrees that the BOE’s partisan structure may be necessary, he believes it can be better. “One of the things to do is to professionalize the board,” he said, “by forcing every candidate to go through the crucible of the [Council’s] investigations process required of commissioners.” He favors merit-based hiring and called for it when he worked at the board.

“There are professionals at the board that get a bad rap for the failures of the board to modernize,” he insisted, echoing Steiner. “You can definitely have a professionalized partisan agency.” The board should post positions with qualifications online, he said, and more publicly seek employees. “It would require an enlightenment of the citizenry and the board,” Polanco said. He also speculated about giving third parties representation on the board, proportionate to their vote shares in prior elections.

Although the Council members poised to be the next speaker may not agree, the official they are hoping to succeed believes that the BOE needs improvement. Melissa Mark-Viverito, who, in the waning days of her speakership, has waded into conflict with the Manhattan Democratic County Committee over a BOE commissioner appointment, said the Council has discussed reforming the BOE for years. Responding to a question from Gotham Gazette, she said, “There’s obviously a lot more work that has to be done. We’ve seen the reports issued by DOI and others with the dysfunction at the Board of Elections and there definitely has to be a lot more professionalizing of the Board of Elections and being able to implement reforms.”

While much of the conversation around elections and voting in New York tends to revolve around the state’s antiquated laws, there have been local attempts at such reform. Council Member Ben Kallos has been a particularly vocal critic of the board and, as chair of the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, has pushed legislation that can improve elections and voting access. He has time and again urged representatives of the board to move towards merit-based hiring --  “I favor the civil service over the patronage appointment process,” he told Gotham Gazette on Monday. Kallos’ bill allowing online voter registration recently passed the Council. The mayor is expected to sign it into law, and it is considered valid under guidance from A.G. Schneiderman.

We can “find meaningful alternatives that can help fix the BOE at the city level,” Kallos said. “As we learned with online voter registration, with a little bit of creativity and good attorneys, I think a lot can be possible at the local level.”

[Read: City Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Council Speaker Candidates Hesitant to Criticize or Reform Party-Controlled Board of Elections Wed, 13 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Speaker Candidates, All Men, Promise Gender Equity if Victorious http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7359:city-council-speaker-candidates-all-men-promise-gender-equity-if-victorious http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7359:city-council-speaker-candidates-all-men-promise-gender-equity-if-victorious City Council speaker candidates

The City Council speaker candidates (photo: William Alatriste)


At the last public forum in the race to become the next speaker of the City Council, seven of the eight men contending for the Council’s top leadership spot took turns making their argument for why they would be the right person to continue Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s legacy of protecting and promoting the cause of women, transgender, and gender non-conforming New Yorkers. Though few new ideas emerged, for nearly two hours, the seven Council members pitched their progressive credentials and promised to champion the city’s underrepresented and underserved populations.

Hosted by a coalition of 14 organizations, at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute in Manhattan, the forum capped off a post-election month that has seen the candidates appear at more than a dozen issue-focused debates and discussions on everything from criminal justice to government transparency and accountability. Thursday’s event was moderated by Politico New York reporter Laura Nahmias and Shatia Burks of the New York City Young Women’s Initiative. In attendance were Council Members Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, Robert Cornegy Jr., Donovan Richards, Jumaane Williams, and Jimmy Van Bramer. Ritchie Torres was the only candidate absent.

Past was prologue as the candidates took turns briefly narrating their individual histories, giving tactful yet heartfelt answers while also lamenting the obvious irony of them all being men after 12 years of the City Council having women serve as speaker.

Council Member Cornegy, who in recent weeks has risen to become one of the perceived frontrunners in the race, spoke as a family man, a husband and father of six. He noted his support for reproductive health bills in the Council, particularly one that created lactation rooms at city agencies that provide family services (he first opened a “lactation station” in his district office). He half-joked that he co-chairs the Council’s “men who get it” caucus.

Johnson, another leading contender, reminded the audience that he is an openly gay man and the only openly HIV positive elected official in New York, and that issues related to transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) individuals are “deeply important” to him. He touted the passage of his bill allowing transgender New Yorkers to receive accurate birth certificates from the city.

“The fact that the people running for Council speaker are all men reflects a failing of the political system in New York City,” said Levine, who is seen with Cornegy and Johnson as one of the three most likely to win the position when the vote takes place in January. “I think it does obligate the eight of us to reign in the hubris a little bit and do more listening than dictating.”

Richards echoed the sentiment, saying “it is shameful that there is not a woman in this race,” while emphasizing that not only would the next speaker have to focus on women’s issues, but also ensure that women are in leadership positions.

Rodriguez cited his experience as an immigrant, in a large family with many sisters. “Women’s issues are trans-sectional,” he said, while promising to continue Mark-Viverito’s legacy.

Van Bramer, who is also openly gay, spoke from the experience of his own coming out. Being an LGBTQ activist meant also being “an activist for choice and a woman’s right to choose,” he said. “The two of them are inseparable.” He proudly touted his successful efforts to open the first Planned Parenthood health center in Queens, and in helping found the first Girl Scout troop for homeless girls.

Williams, who noted early that the seven would likely respond similarly to questions, instead emphasized that he is “battle-tested to move forward” and has passed the most bills of all the candidates. His statement would ring true as there was little daylight between the candidates as they addressed the issues raised at the forum including access to reproductive health services, education, economic development and workplace sexual harassment, NYPD policy, affordable housing, city budgeting, and Council governance.

On abortion access and so-called crisis pregnancy centers -- which NARAL Pro-choice America calls “fake health clinics” that mislead women to block access to abortions -- all seven agreed that the NYPD should play a stronger role in both protecting women from protesters outside Planned Parenthood clinics and in cracking down on predatory crisis centers. Cornegy even floated the idea of a dedicated police unit focused on these centers.

Johnson insisted that Planned Parenthood is always a budget priority for him. He said the Council needed to do more to “reign in” CPCs while calling on the police to be more vigilant to protect women seeking abortions at clinics.

Levine said the Council needs to fight back against the demonization of Planned Parenthood, and use its budgetary resources to provide services for women and TGNC individuals. Should the Republican-led federal government cut contraception coverage, for instance, Levine said the city should step in to fund it.

Richards, of Queens, said there was a need to fund services where “people are living in the shadows” and expand health centers to communities like his that are underserved. And he said the Council should fund local organizations that provide those services.

Rodriguez urged continued support for Planned Parenthood and better reproductive education in schools. Van Bramer insisted that contraceptives should be fully covered and if they’re not, the City Council should fund them. Williams, who jokingly apologized that all the candidates were men, echoed his colleagues and said he looked forward to passing his “boss bill” prohibiting discrimination by employers based on workers’ reproductive decisions.

The candidates varied little on their perspectives on providing a quality education in city schools, particularly for those that face greater obstacles in the system including students in foster care, low-income, undocumented and LGBT and GNC students. Johnson emphasized that schools should not be punitive, but rather supportive and rehabilitative.

Richards, Levine and Rodriguez touted the virtues of community schools that provide wraparound services to students, including physical and mental health and social services. Levine raised the spectre of school bullying and its “frequent entanglement” with anti-LGBT prejudice, which he said the school system and city leadership have failed to acknowledge and address. Rodriguez railed against school segregation, and called for the launch of an “education civil rights movement” under the next Council.

The issue hit home for Van Bramer, who admitted being “near-suicidal” and skipping school to avoid a constant barrage of homophobic slurs. “All of us have to make sure that that stops once and for all and all children are safe to go to school,” he said.

Williams stressed a change in school curriculums to ensure the inclusion of people of color and LGBT and GNC people. Cornegy said school segregation and prejudice based on sexual orientation need to be tackled at the Department of Education, and he lauded the effectiveness of community schools as well.

Given the current national climate on sexual assault and workplace harassment, it was only natural that the candidates for arguably the second-most powerful position in city government would be asked about their perspective on the model policy to deal with the endemic problem.

Levine reiterated three proposals, which he announced earlier in the day, for rooting out sexual misconduct in city government through regular disclosure of sexual harassment claims by city agencies, a evaluation of sexual harassment policy and by elevating City Council staff complaints to bring them under committee oversight. Van Bramer also released details of bills on Thursday that would evaluate sexual harassment at city contractors and embargo those organizations with a history of misconduct. Another member with pending legislation was Cornegy, whose bill would require small businesses to detail what constitutes sexual harassment and provide hotline numbers for victims.

Richards advocated a “zero tolerance” policy and said the Council should have its own independent department or agent to monitor sexual harassment. Rodriguez called for an entire agency to do the same citywide.

Williams expressed support for his colleagues’ legislative efforts and candidly said, “The one thing we could all do immediately is believe” women’s stories of harassment. Johnson bemoaned a culture that allows men to believe they can act and behave in any way in a public setting because of their inherent power. “We have to change that,” he said.

On changes to NYPD policy in interactions with LGBT and GNC New Yorkers, Richards and Rodriguez both stressed that the city needs to fully implement its body camera program and strengthen community-police relationships. Richards said the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates complaints of police misconduct, needs more teeth to hold erring officers accountable. “That’s where the culture shift absolutely needs to happen,” he said.

Williams touted his “demonstrable leadership” against the NYPD’s racially biased use of stop-and-frisk policing, and the Council’s Community Safety Act of 2013, which he co-sponsored. The act created an independent monitor for the police department and added protections against biased profiling by officers. Cornegy subsequently advanced the idea of characterizing negative police interactions with protected classes of people as hate crimes.

Women, trans and GNC communities and domestic violence survivors are at greater risk of becoming homeless in the city, said Burks of the Young Women’s Initiative, seeking the candidates’ ideas on improving access to affordable housing. Again, there were only slight differences in the candidates’ proposals as they called for deeper affordability and more set asides for formerly homeless New Yorkers, while some emphasized increased services and resources for survivors of domestic violence.

The 51-member Council will have only 11 women members in the next term starting January, down from 19 a few years ago, and has not had a trans member yet. In the current Council, debate moderator Nahmias noted, three women of color negotiate the city budget -- Speaker Mark-Viverito, Finance Committee chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and Council finance director Latonia McKinney. Nahmias pressed the seven candidates on how they would ensure representation of cis and trans women, and women of color in particular, in their own senior teams and in the Council’s top leadership positions, namely the powerful chairs of the land use and finance committees.

All the candidates were strongly committed to the task of choosing women and people of color as a majority of their senior leadership, and some said their staffs already reflect that commitment, though some rued the political reality that makes such a pledge necessary. “Women are 50 percent of the workforce and none of us deserves a gold star for making sure that women are in these positions and roles,” said Van Bramer.

“It is appalling that there are only 11 women on the Council,” said Williams. The candidates all interviewed with the Council's Women's Caucus and made commitments to its existing and incoming members.

Cornegy noted that hiring of people of color in the Council central staff had doubled in Mark-Viverito’s tenure, and he vowed to build on that by including women and trans individuals in particular.

Danced around was the fact that the winning speaker candidate will likely have earned the backing of the major Democratic political organizations of the Queens and the Bronx, which will then have a lot of say in staffing and top Council leadership decisions made by the next speaker.

Richards was possibly the only one to acknowledge that the speaker race will be influenced heavily by forces outside of the Council, including county party chairs and the mayor. He wouldn’t say who might be the finance or land use chairs under his speakership since “we all have power brokers that we’re talking to at play,” though he did promise to advocate for women to be chosen for those positions.

Levine stressed the need to support far more diverse candidates for the Council in the 2021 elections, when nearly 40 seats will be up for grabs. Richards said the Council’s efforts need to go further, by making sure each city agency has diverse staff, by hiring gender diversity compliance officers and ensuring that women of color and trans people move up into managerial positions.

In a brief lightning round, all seven candidates agreed to staff their senior teams and central staff with more than 50 percent women and TGNC individuals, committed to support and expand the Young Women’s Initiative, and said they would back the “Solutions out of Struggle and Survival” policy proposals identified by numerous TGNC advocacy groups.

With the last of the speaker forums, the public-facing aspect of the speaker-selection process appears effectively over. Candidates will now spend much of the next few weeks in backroom negotiations and closed meetings before the next speaker will be chosen in January when the next class of the City Council convenes.

The partner organizations for Thursday’s forum included: Girls for Gender Equity, Women of Color for Progress, Brooklyn Movement Center, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, PowHer NY, Planned Parenthood of New York City, National Organization for Women-NYC, New Leaders Council--NYC Chapter, National Institute for Reproductive Health, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Citizens’ Committee for Children, Eleanor’s Legacy, National Association of Social Workers—NYC Chapter.

[READ: Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Council Speaker Candidates, All Men, Promise Gender Equity if Victorious Fri, 08 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Inside the Fundraising and Spending of the City Council Speaker Candidates http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7356:inside-the-fundraising-of-the-city-council-speaker-candidates http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7356:inside-the-fundraising-of-the-city-council-speaker-candidates city council speaker

City Council Speaker candidates (photo: William Alatriste)


The eight men running to become the next speaker of the City Council are all Democrats who were re-elected in November to serve a final term in the body. None of them faced a strong challenger in their respective races, either in the primaries, which are largely determinative of overall results, or in the November 7 general election. Nevertheless, a few of the candidates raised significant campaign cash and spent it just as liberally as if they were running competitive races. As Gotham Gazette has reported, several of the speaker candidates have donated heavily from their campaign accounts to those of other City Council members and candidates, in apparent effort to win favor ahead of the speaker vote, which will occur in January.

Among the eight candidates, a few are seen as frontrunners in the race -- Council Members Robert Cornegy Jr., Corey Johnson, Mark Levine and, to a lesser degree, Ritchie Torres -- though it is a notoriously nebulous contest with shifting dynamics. Labor unions may buoy the chances of certain members while county allegiances may supersede that support. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s role remains to be determined. The other candidates -- Ydanis Rodriguez, Jimmy Van Bramer, Donovan Richards and Jumaane Williams -- are considered less likely to emerge victorious, though one or more may have an outside path to the throne.

This week, the candidates had to final a new campaign finance report, with activity between October 24 and November 30. It is the last filing before the speaker vote, which is likely to occur January 3.

When it comes to campaign fundraising and spending, Johnson remains at the top of the list. His run for speaker began two years ago and the Manhattan Democrat even eschewed the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program, which would have limited his expenditures. He has also been the most prolific donor to other members who ran for reelection and fresh faces that will be joining the Council come January.

Johnson raised $505,818 over the race and spent $374,707, the latest campaign disclosures show. He has $131,111 left to spend on future races or charitable donations or supporting other electoral candidates. Of his total fundraising, $209,000 came from 76 contributions of $2,750, the maximum allowable in a City Council race. A total of $73,600 came from political action committees, while a slew of his largest donations came from individuals in the real estate, hotel, and nightlife industries. Some top donors include Barry Diller, the billionaire IAC and Expedia chairman; former Ralph Lauren Corporation CEO John Mehas; and Tony award-winning producer Daryl Roth. Much of Johnson’s spending, $126,300 to be exact, took the form of political contributions, and he spent only about $22,750 with campaign consulting firm Metropolitan Public Strategies.

Levine, another Manhattan Democrat who also did not participate in the public funds program, raised $439,110 over the course of the election cycle. But Levine’s expenditure of $405,802 outpaced the fundraising leader, Johnson, and left just $33,308 in campaign funds at his disposal. There were 45 donors who gave Levine the maximum contribution, for a total of $118,250. He received $86,825 in total from PACs. Among his top donors were employees of real estate firms, law practices, property management companies, and at least one hedge fund. He counts George and Marian Klein of the Park Tower Group among those who gave the highest possible donation.

Levine has been seen as the candidate perhaps most favored by the mayor, which has raised concerns about whether he can be a sufficiently independent leader, and led him to focus many of his public remarks on leading an strongly independent Council. He retained the services of Pitta Bishop & Del Giorno LLP, an influential lobbying firm, to handle his strategy in running for speaker. He has spent $58,200 on campaign consultants, including Kirtzman Strategies and RKM Strategic Consulting, and another $84,985 on political contributions.

Cornegy Jr., the only candidate who isn’t a member of the Council’s progressive caucus, was once viewed as an unlikely next speaker, having done little to cultivate a viable candidacy, spending little money or time helping others campaign, and having a low-key presence at the Council. But with the backing of the Brooklyn county party apparatus and, more recently, support from prominent voices that can influence the race, including U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, he is seen as having better chances of prevailing. Cornegy did participate in the CFB’s public funds program, which meant he had to abide by a strict spending limit of $182,000 for each of the primary and general elections. He ended up raising a total of $184,730, and spent all but $1,722. He received $71,500 from maxed-out donations, and political action committees contributed a total of $40,650 to his reelection. Billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis donated to Cornegy’s campaign, as did Soly and David Bawabeh, prominent real estate developers in the city. Campaign consultations accounted for $67,450 in Cornegy’s campaign spending, most of which went to Mercury Public Affairs, a well-known consulting firm. He also doled out $35,750 in political contributions.

Torres, a Bronx Democrat and the youngest candidate in the race for speaker, raised $264,819 this election cycle, but he was also a public funds participant and ended up spending $108,851 for his reelection. He has $155,968 in cash on hand. His campaign got $69,400 from PACs and he received less than a dozen maxed-out donations, including one from Council Member Johnson’s campaign.

Torres’ prospects depend largely on support from the Bronx county machine, which will likely negotiate with the Queens county establishment to determine how plum Council committee chair positions are distributed. U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, who chairs the Queens Democrats, is expected to play an outsize role in the entire process this year. The two counties were sidelined in 2014 when the Council’s newly empowered progressive caucus, influential labor unions, de Blasio, and Brooklyn Democratic County chair Frank Seddio collaborated to anoint Melissa Mark-Viverito as speaker.

Queens Council Member Van Bramer, another public funds non-participant, raised $539,560 and spent $278,587, for a balance of $260,973. He received 68 contributions of the max $2,750, equalling $170,500 of his total fundraising. About $66,000 of his total came from PAC donations. Van Bramer has attempted to make public and private overtures to Crowley but is not expected to receive the county backing. Currently majority leader of the Council, Van Bramer could wind up with another top leadership or committee post.

Richards, whose district spans parts of Brooklyn and Queens, participated in the public funds program and raised $171,598, including $39,700 from PACs, and spent $150,948. He has only $20,650 left in his account. Richards is seen as having long odds in the race but was for a time expected to be the mayor’s preferred candidate after Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland announced she would not be running for reelection. She was widely regarded as a strong contender for the speakership and her exit from the Council left the speaker race dominated by men.

Rodriguez was a public funds participant but he had two primary opponents, explaining his expenditure of $242,365 from his total fundraising of $255,423. He has $13,058 in his campaign account. He received $45,175 in PAC money.

Williams, who some say could be a potential primary opponent to Governor Andrew Cuomo next year, or a lieutenant governor candidate as part of a ticket, opted out of the public funds program and raised $226,784 for his reelection to the Council, including $66,100 in PAC donations. He also had a non-competitive primary but he spent nearly all of his campaign cash, leaving just $660 in his account.

The next and final campaign finance disclosures are due January 16.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Inside the Fundraising and Spending of the City Council Speaker Candidates Wed, 06 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Council Speaker Candidates Give Generously to Colleagues http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7343:council-speaker-candidates-give-generously-to-colleagues http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7343:council-speaker-candidates-give-generously-to-colleagues johnson moya crowley c2

Corey Johnson, Francisco Moya, Joe Crowley (photo via @CoreyinNYC)


The eight City Council members, all Democrats, who are competing to lead the 51-member legislative body as speaker for the next four years must convince numerous constituencies of their viability, including some combination of county party leaders, labor unions, the mayor, and other influential politicos. But, when the new Council class convenes in January, the vote will come down to the 51 Council members, and they are not without agency. The speaker candidates, all men, have for months been seeking to curry favor with their colleagues, employing a variety of methods. One such tactic is to donate campaign funds to current and incoming members of the City Council.

All eight candidates -- Council Members Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, Robert Cornegy Jr., Ritchie Torres, Donovan Richards, Jumaane Williams, and Jimmy Van Bramer -- have made large political contributions from their reelection campaigns, according to an analysis of campaign finance filings by the New York City Campaign Finance Board at Gotham Gazette’s request, though the amounts to vary widely.

Numbers reflect disclosures filed through November 7, the day of general election and the most recent filing deadline. The next deadline is Monday, December 4.

The speaker candidates used money from their campaign accounts to spend on a variety of political causes, but most of their political giving went to other members running for reelection or Council candidates running to replace term-limited members.

Council Member Johnson’s lobbying largesse far outpaces the rest of the members, with $126,300 in political contributions, of which $84,875 went to other current or incoming members. Johnson, who has been aggressively campaigning for the Council’s top spot long before others jumped into the fray, also gave to local Democratic clubs and Democratic county organizations. He made the maximum allowable contribution of $2,750 to 26 candidates (including Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, who was unsuccessful in her reelection bid).

Levine, who along with Johnson and Cornegy is seen as a frontrunner in the race, has been second with $84,185 in political contributions, including $69,375 to his colleagues.

Most of the recipients of campaign cash from the speaker candidates has overlapped.

In third place is Rodriguez, whose political contributions to colleagues were $52,750, out of a total $57,761 spent from his campaign account on political donations.

The rest of the members spent far less to build support and help colleagues. Torres only gave $35,000 out of $59,117 in political contributions. Richards contributed $31,500 out of $37,465. Cornegy’s donations were only $27,500, Van Bramer’s were $24,675 and Williams gave just $13,000.

In total, there were 42 Council candidates from across the city who received a political contribution from another candidate, including both sitting Council members and those running for open seats. Among the 42 were a few who were unsuccessful as well as 11 new incoming members of the City Council.

The biggest beneficiary of the political giving was Adrienne Adams, a Democrat who was elected to the District 28 seat in Queens, which was empty following the expulsion of Council Member Ruben Wills after his conviction on corruption charges. Adams received $26,750 from Council colleagues, of which $18,000 was from seven speaker candidates. Cornegy was the only one who did not donate to her. Adams could not be reached for comment. In her run she had the backing of the Queens Democratic Party machine, which is seen as the most influential county party in the speaker race, with Rep. Joe Crowley at its head.

Justin Brannan, another Democrat who won the District 43 seat in Bay Ridge, collectively received $12,250 from five speaker candidates. “Having been a staffer in the Council and a Democratic organizer for many years, throughout my primary and general elections, I was grateful to have the support of many of the members I now look forward to calling colleagues and one of which we will elect as our leader,” Brannan said in a statement. “Personally, I'm looking for a speaker who will empower the members and consider the many diverse voices that make up the body.” He did not say who he would vote for.

As Brannan indicated, it’s not unusual for Council Members to bolster Council staffers’ bids for City Council. This was the case for Carlina Rivera, the former legislative director to outgoing Council Member Rosie Mendez. Rivera won Mendez’s Council District 2 seat in Manhattan. In a statement, Rivera said she was “thankful” for the support from Council members, who gave her $14,483 in total. All but $150 came from speaker candidates, but Rivera insisted that would not affect her vote. She declined to indicate which speaker candidate she may be leaning towards. “My decision on the next Speaker will be made like any other -- with careful consideration of each candidate’s record and policies,” she said. “It won’t be easy given the strength of each candidate, but I look forward to casting my vote based on these merits.”

Even as the speaker candidates’ political giving is tallied, some have helped raise money for their colleagues without raising it directly or bundling it as an intermediary. Some also raised money for or donated to Mayor de Blasio’s reelection bid, even as they attempt to sell their colleagues and others on promises of standing up to the mayor as the next speaker. Speaker candidates, to varying degrees, also went to campaign with members and candidates in their districts. Johnson and Levine were the most active in this respect, too, helping candidates to collect ballot petition signatures, knock on doors, and greet voters.

In Midtown Manhattan’s District 4, Keith Powers was elected to the seat being vacated by term-limited Council Member Dan Garodnick. Powers received the maximum $2,750 contribution from five speaker candidates. “I’ve known all the candidates for more than a few years,” said the former lobbyist who ran on a good government platform, in a phone interview, “and I’ve worked with them and I think they know I’ll be a good addition to the City Council. I think that’s why they supported me.”

The donations are not considerations in the race for speaker, Powers said, insisting he does not have a preferred candidate yet. “I think for everybody, it’s about the person’s ability to lead the Council, to keep the Council independent of the mayor,” he said. “I think [Council members] choose a speaker based on what’s best for their district and the issues they work on, and someone who shares their values.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Council Speaker Candidates Give Generously to Colleagues Thu, 30 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7331:city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7331:city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency city spe canidates

the City Council Speaker candidates at a prior forum (photo: William Alatriste)


Seven of the eight candidates vying to become the next Speaker of the New York City Council convened at New York Law School on Monday night for a forum focused on government reform, running the Council, transparency, ethics, voting, and elections.

The candidates made their cases for their leadership prowess, and discussed extending term limits for Council members, greater transparency around lobbying, key questions about campaign finance reform in the city, and much more.

With the city’s election season over, all eyes are now turned toward the race for who will replace Melissa Mark-Viverito as Speaker in what is arguably the second most powerful position in city government behind the Mayor. Mark-Viverito is term-limited out of office and eight men, all fellow Democrats, are in the running to replace her. The next Speaker will be chosen by the 51 members of the Council at the first meeting of the next Council class in January, though a great deal of jockeying is already going on, including influential outside forces, and a deal might be struck before the end of the year.

On Tuesday night, the attending candidates were Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan; Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens; and Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn. Bronx Council Member Ritchie Torres, also vying for the Speakership, was not in attendance due to a district event. The forum was sponsored by Citizens Union along with other good government groups Reinvent Albany, League of Women Voters of New York City, and NYPIRG. Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max served as moderator.

To start the event the candidates were asked how they think their Council colleagues think of them.

Levine, the first to speak, said that he is an effective member who gets things done, citing his work with Council Member Vanessa Gibson to pass a right-to-counsel in housing court that Mayor Bill de Blasio had initially pushed back against. Richards, after saying his colleagues think he’s “beautiful,” discussed his even temperament and ability to work with other members. He said he doesn’t think his colleagues would have a negative word to say about him.

Rodriguez cited his work on the transportation committee and having been an advocate for immigrants. Johnson said he has been a leader and that the consistent theme of his tenure has been helping marginalized populations such as transgender people and victims of domestic violence. Williams said he hoped his colleagues thought he was honest, and saw himself as an activist who has guided conversations such as for the Community Safety Act. And Cornegy, who initially joked that his colleagues see the 6’10” Council member as “head and shoulders above the rest,” discussed his “temperament” and having passed bills through five separate committees.

The candidates were then asked a question they didn’t seem to have thought much about: what is the Speaker’s role in terms of oversight of how the other 50 members are doing their jobs? The candidates mostly answered by discussing ways in which to empower members. None addressed issues raised by the moderator around what the Speaker should do about a Council member who isn’t performing well in terms constituent services or attendance at hearings.

At one point, Rodriguez reiterated his call that all Council members be allowed three four-year terms. In 2008, the City Council voted to temporarily extend term limits for the Mayor, the other citywide positions, and City Council members to three terms. The move was done despite multiple public votes for the two-term limit.

All of the other candidates, save for Richards, agreed with the notion of extending term limits for Council members, permanently going to three terms for the legislative posts, while keeping citywide and borough-wide positions to two four-year terms. Some asserted that it should only be done through a public referendum, though, not simply through legislation. Candidates argued that large turnovers at once, as will happen through the 2021 elections when about three-quarters of the Council will be term-limited out, is bad for the city. (Richards later told The Daily News he also supports the measure.)

“One, I think it’s unfair that some of us had a third term and some colleagues didn’t,” Williams said. “Two, as good government, it doesn’t fully make sense that you want us to provide a balance to the mayor, but the entire city government is gonna be up at the same time. Two-thirds of the Council will be up at the same time as the mayor. We have to think about the impact that’s gonna have on how we want the government to function.”

On the issue of the city Board of Elections, a notoriously dysfunctional organization rife with political patronage and undue allegiance to county parties, the candidates mostly avoided calling for major changes to how BOE commissioners are appointed (there is one Republican and one Democratic commissioner from each borough, nominated by the political party establishments and approved by the City Council). Williams was most clear in acknowledging that the BOE has a patronage problem, and said he would be open to non-partisan appointments to the board.

Williams and Cornegy both praised John Flateau, the Board of Elections Democratic commissioner from their borough of Brooklyn.

Other candidates shifted the conversation away from reforming the board and towards New York’s substandard voting laws. Candidates called for early voting and same-day voter registration, avoiding discussion of the makeup of the BOE as they continue to seek support from the same party apparatuses that control current BOE appointments. Johnson veered to an even larger topic, home rule, whereby the state controls numerous major city issues, before disagreeing with the premise of a non-partisan board.

“I do not support non-partisan appointments to the Board of Elections,” Johnson said. “I believe that the parties play a particular role in ensuring that we make sure that any party that’s dominant at a given time cannot run roughshod over another party. If someone came up with a perfect system of a non-partisan way to handle it, maybe I’d entertain it. I’ve never heard of that system, I don’t know how you take political influence out of politics.”

Levine took a similar stance to Johnson, referring to elections as the “ultimate partisan battlefield,” not acknowledging that the BOE is supposed to be a fair arbiter and election administrator. Levine said that the partisan nature of the Board of Elections, and its Democratic-Republican balance, ensures parity between the parties and doesn’t allow one to dominate.

The candidates further refrained from criticizing county party organizations and particularly the party chairs, who are often seen as deciding the speaker’s race in the city. Richards and Van Bramer, both of Queens, praised Queens Democratic Party Chair Joe Crowley, with Van Bramer in particular singling out the congressman for praise.

“In Queens,” Van Bramer said, “we are fortunate to have a terrific leader. And I’ve said that Congressman Crowley would be a great Speaker of the House of Representatives, and I stand by that. Obviously, being a Sunnyside/Woodside guy, we have a lot of local pride in a Woodsider potentially being the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”

Rodriguez, who is not a member of the Queens Democratic delegation, also had words of praise for Crowley, who is seen this year as the top “kingmaker” in the speaker process because of his ability to control the votes of many Queens Council members.

“I will be working shoulder to shoulder with County Leader Joe Crowley for immigrants’ rights,” Rodriguez said. “As a leader nationwide, if I become the speaker he will have an ally, and I know that I will count him as an ally.” Rodriguez also said he would be working with Bronx Democratic Leader Marcos Crespo; both Crowley and Crespo are known to run machine-style party organizations within their respective boroughs and together they are seen to control a bloc of speaker votes close to the 25 needed to get a candidate, along with their own singular vote, the majority needed.

None of the candidates acknowledged that part of the deal to crown the next Speaker may include choices of top leadership posts like Majority Leader and chairs of the most powerful Council committees, finance and land use. Given the vote for the next Speaker is still several weeks away, specific discussions of this nature may not have occurred yet, but they are known to have occurred in the past.

All of the candidates argued for greater transparency in lobbying and in general, to some degree. Johnson said that Council members should be required to post their schedules online to allow the public to see who they are meeting with. Van Bramer said that people can get Council members’ schedules through Freedom of Information Law requests (FOILs), but acknowledged that it should not necessarily take such an effort.

Opinions about lobbyists themselves varied. Williams joked that he would be Speaker already if he had built a tunnel to allow members to escape from them; meanwhile, Rodriguez said that many lobbyists represent good people and shouldn’t be universally panned. Williams and Rodriguez were the only two candidates on the stage who said they have not hired a political consultant for the speaker’s race. Other members defended the practice, noting how time-consuming and complicated it has become to run for the post. Levine said it may make sense to examine if there are ways to regulate the speaker’s race in the future. When asked, none of the candidates indicated they would need to take any special steps to ensure that their consultants don’t have undue influence over them if they become the Speaker.

When it came time for the “lightning round” of quick questions-and-answers, it was clear that there were more substantive differences among the candidates. Though all candidates said that the current $4,950 campaign contribution limit to citywide candidates is good and that ranked-choice voting should be adopted to avoid runoffs, the candidates disagreed other items.

Richards broke with the pack to oppose non-citizen voting in municipal elections, explaining that he had “trepidation” with the Trump administration, possibly a reference to the possibility of federal officials being able to obtain new information about those in the country illegally. The others were all in support of the concept to varying degrees, with some saying it should be restricted to legal permanent residents and others not attaching conditions.

The question that most split the field was the question of whether city elections should take the form of open primaries, which would allow any registered voter to cast a vote in the party primary of their choice. Richards, Rodriguez, and Williams all affirmed their support for open primaries, while Cornegy, Levine, and Van Bramer stated their opposition to the concept. Van Bramer said that partisan primaries are the “good government position,” despite many good government groups actively opposing closed partisan primaries. Johnson said that political party affiliation matters, but didn’t firmly answer either way.

Members were also split on whether the Council should have fewer committees (there are currently more than 40 issue committees run in the 51-member body). Surprisingly, Rodriguez said that there should be more committees, so that every member could chair one. Johnson, meanwhile, said that some committees should be folded together but others, such as Fire and Criminal Justice Services, should be separated. Williams said that the reason there were so many committees was because of the attached stipends, which were recently eliminated as part of reforms to the Council member position, including salary raises, and called for an increased use of task forces, like on gun violence.

None of the candidates wanted to answer one lightning round question: who would you back for Speaker if you couldn’t vote for yourself? Johnson, by luck of the draw, was asked first and took a long pause before attempting a roundabout answer without naming anyone. It soon became clear that none of the seven wanted to answer the question, and the round moved on with some laughter from the crowd and the candidates.

When asked for a single idea on how to make city government more transparent, the candidates all gave different answers.

Richards called for strengthening the Council’s investigations and oversight committee to hold agencies more accountable; Rodriguez called for greater transparency in Council discretionary spending; Johnson called for putting the budget online for people to easily find out where money is being spent; Van Bramer called for “gender and race audits” of the Council and city agencies to ensure parity; Williams called for the committee hearing process, and how it’s presented to the public, to be reformed; Cornegy called for city contractors to disclose the demographics of their workforce; and Levine called for greater transparency in budget appropriations.

To close the event the candidates were asked how they would seek to improve Council oversight of the mayoral administration. In their remarks, each candidate answered the question while also mixing in something of a closing argument for their candidacy. Several candidates offered a number of specific reforms they want to push if elected Speaker.

All candidates advocated for a stronger, independent Council, with Williams stating that the lack of any use of a veto in de Blasio’s term may mean the Council hasn’t pushed the envelope enough. Cornegy said that the Council hadn’t exercised its strength given by the dissolution of the Board of Estimate, and that budget issues would continue to be an issue in that regard. Richards once again called for strengthening the oversight committee, while Johnson called for increasing the Council’s central budget to be more in line with city agencies. Levine said the Council should delve into budget issues beyond the marquee items, Van Bramer said the Council should utilize its subpoena power, and Rodriguez pledged to maintain the body’s independence but work with the mayor when possible.

Full video of the forum:

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
City Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency Mon, 20 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Evaluates Progress of NYPD Inspector General http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7325:city-council-examines-progress-under-nypd-inspector-general http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7325:city-council-examines-progress-under-nypd-inspector-general Mark Peters DOI City Council

DOI Commissioner Mark Peters (photo: William Alatriste)


Four years ago, over the veto of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the City Council passed the Community Safety Act, a landmark piece of legislation relating to policing in New York City. One of the law’s most prominent planks was the creation of the NYPD Inspector General, an independent police department watchdog that would audit NYPD practices and operations and make recommendations on improvements.

With the nation on edge over widely disseminated videos of black men being shot by officers and reform activists continuously criticizing the NYPD’s broken windows policing model and the use of stop-and-frisk as racist, the Community Safety Act aimed to increase the department’s accountability to the public and increase the public’s confidence in the department. In 2014, after Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI) appointed Philip Eure, the former head of Washington D.C.’s Office of Police Complaints, to be the first NYPD Inspector General.

On Wednesday, the City Council’s Committees on Public Safety and Oversight and Investigations held a joint oversight hearing to see how, nearly four years down the line, the NYPD Inspector General is accomplishing its stated goals.

The IG’s goals for improving the NYPD were repeated several times throughout the hearing, which saw initial testimony from Eure and his supervisor, DOI Commissioner Mark Peters. Among those doing the questioning were City Council Members Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, who were the lead sponsors of the Community Safety Act.

“The IG’s mission is to enhance the effectiveness of the police department, increase public safety, protect civil liberties and civil rights, and increase the public’s confidence in the police force, thereby building stronger police-community relations,” Eure said at the hearing. “We believe that we have made important strides towards accomplishing all of these goals in the last four years, and we look forward to continuing to build upon that work in the years to come.”

Since its first publicly released report in January 2015, concerning police chokeholds, the IG has released nine reports on various NYPD practices that have resulted in some significant policy changes, but have also occasionally resulted in no changes. When the IG releases recommendations, the NYPD is pressured but not required to adopt reforms to operations and practices; if the NYPD refuses to take up a reform voluntarily, the City Council can pass legislation to mandate it.

The IG has released reports on NYPD practices such as chokeholds, de-escalation and use of force, quality of life summonses, responding to emotionally disturbed people, body camera use, investigations of political activity, and, most recently, handling of U visa requests for undocumented immigrants who were the victims of a crime.

Although the NYPD has often refused to implement recommended policies, some significant reforms have been voluntarily taken up by the department. For instance, the NYPD's Intelligence Bureau has formalized tracking measures for investigations into political activity, particularly with regard to investigative deadlines that were often ignored by the department's investigators.

However, in a large number of areas, the NYPD has simply ignored the recommendations of the IG, at times displaying open hostility toward the IG’s office. In January, IG’s office released a report showing that the NYPD is not adequately coordinating Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for officers, crucial when responding to calls involving an emotionally disturbed person (EDP).

At Wednesday’s hearing, Council Member Lander asked Eure and Peters what could be done to ensure NYPD compliance with recommendations, highlighting the NYPD’s refusal to streamline and improve its coordination of trained officers responding to the scene of calls regarding EDPs.

Peters urged the Council to step up efforts to codify into law certain recommendations that the NYPD refuses to implement.

“The NYPD has accepted far more recommendations than they have not,” Peters said. “And that’s great. And then the job for us, the DOI, is to follow up and to make sure that they’re implementing that.”

Peters later said that instances where the NYPD refuses to comply are the most crucial places that the IG’s office and the Council must partner.

“At the end of the day, that is the place where it’s most important for us to be partnering with the Council,” Peters said. “Because you have that report, we present that report to the mayor, we present that to the Council. And so the Council has the opportunity to read that report if you have questions.”

Council Member Williams, who represents the district where an NYPD officer recently shot and killed Dwayne Jeune, an emotionally disturbed man, questioned when a task force would be created to investigate and determine best practices for the NYPD in responding to EDP calls. Four officers responded to the Jeune call; Jeune was killed by the only responding officer who did not receive CIT training.

Mayor Bill de Blasio initially refused to set up a task force after Jeune’s death in July, but relented after prodding from the Council, according to Williams.

Although Eure and Peters had earlier said that they shared reports with the NYPD and City Hall before releasing them to the public in order to glean potentially overlooked facts, Peters said that IG is not involved with the task force.

"I think, obviously, it is an important idea. What I would say, the task force is important, but I believe there are already some things that we know need to be done," Peters said.

The IG’s office will also soon be releasing its first report related to Williams’ recently passed bill, Intro 119, requiring compilation of litigation data against officers and for the IG to use that to develop recommendations. The IG will be releasing the report in April, which Williams said he looks forward to.

Williams proudly proclaimed that things are going well, despite the NYPD and pundits saying that the creation of the NYPD Inspector General would "destroy the city, the sky would literally crack open, and brown and black young people were gonna wreak havoc on this city, and the inspector general in particular was going to confuse all police officers, they would have no idea who to listen to: the inspector general or the commissioner."

Crime has continued to fall while the NYPD has adopted some, but not all, of the reforms proposed by the IG. All 23,000 foot patrol officers are scheduled to do their jobs with body cameras on their person by 2019.

And, according to Eure, the NYPD has issued tighter guidelines on use of force as a result of the Inspector General's reports.

"Approximately eight months after this office published its first report on use of force by NYPD, the department released a set of revised policies that more precisely define the use of force, as well as a more detailed tracking form," Eure said. "All uniformed officers are now required to use a 'Threat, Resistance, or Injury Form" (TRI) whenever they use force or witness another officer using force at the scene." Last year, the City Council passed a law requiring the NYPD to publicly report use of force metrics derived from TRI data, and Eure stated that the IG’s office will soon release a report on the NYPD’s compliance with TRI.

Eure also boasted of a 2016 report that found no increase in felony crime concurrent with a dramatic decrease in enforcement of quality-of-life offenses, better known as broken windows offenses. While the NYPD continues to utilize broken windows policing that data shows disproportionately impacts communities of color, arrests and summonses have continued to drop, as has crime.

After Peters and Eure, advocates and service providers testified, offering some ideas for further scrutiny by the IG. According to testimony from Brooklyn Defender Services’ Debora Silberman, 86% of the almost 61,000 low-level marijuana arrests in New York City were of African-Americans or Latinos, despite whites using marijuana at an approximately equivalent rate.

Silberman also criticized the common NYPD practice of “testilying,” better known as police perjury, and the NYPD IG’s failure to address an apparent culture of officers lying on the stand. Recently, The New York Times reported that a Brooklyn judge warned the city that a court hearing on police perjury was imminent.

“As a public defender, I can assure you that such lying is prevalent and the NYPD has made no recognizable efforts to meaningfully address it,” Silberman said. “Likewise, the imbalance of power in the criminal legal system that pressures defendants to accept plea deals rather than go to trial also enables prosecutors to provide cover for police perjury, or ‘testilying,’ by making offers that defendants all-but-cannot refuse.”

Although the NYPD has decided not to comply with many recommendations, the department has not been outright dismissive of the IG. Peters said that, to date, the Inspector General has not had to issue a subpoena to the NYPD for documents related to an investigation.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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City Council Evaluates Progress of NYPD Inspector General Wed, 15 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000