Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/ken-sherrill 2017-10-18T22:11:54+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Bill de Blasio Versus NIMBYism 2016-10-06T04:00:00+00:00 2016-10-06T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6563:bill-de-blasio-versus-nimbyism Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/29895751132_1e33656426_z.jpg" alt="BdB town hall queens miller" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio at a town hall (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In recent weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s policies have run up against an age-old forces of inertia and resistance in the city, especially one that springs forth in policy debates on everything from housing to bike lanes to school desegregation and even closing down Rikers Island jails. That force -- NIMBY or Not In My Back Yard-ism -- has taken distinct forms on different issues, but has been causing the de Blasio administration trouble and frustrating the mayor. At the same time, some critics of the administration say that the NIMBYism it is facing is stronger because the administration is not being a proactive, collaborative partner with communities.</p> <p dir="ltr">In some ways, the pushback is more sympathetic, like in cases where communities face real pressures of gentrification and displacement, and in others, less so, like when residents perceive even the smallest change to their neighborhood as contributing to a decline in quality of life.</p> <p dir="ltr">For de Blasio, persistent NIMBYism poses a multi-faceted challenge as he nears the final year of his first term. He has to choose at times to capitulate to demands from communities or local elected officials, and at other times, he must use unilateral but unpopular action that, in the administration&rsquo;s view, will have long-term benefits. Three recent instances, in particular, highlight this obstacle of NIMBYism to the administration&rsquo;s larger vision of equity and justice, which can be messier when being applied to neighborhoods than when explained in principle.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the last two months, two rezoning proposals that would&rsquo;ve added to the city&rsquo;s stock of affordable housing were nixed by the local Council members for their respective districts, eliciting charges of short-sighted NIMBYism by the Council members and the portion of their constituents they were listening to.</p> <p dir="ltr">The first proposal, in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, was voted down by the City Council in August after Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez opted to reject it. He had signaled support for the project, but appeared to bend to vocal community pressure as his final decision neared. Rodriguez has been an outspoken and active ally of de Blasio&rsquo;s, especially around the Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic deaths.</p> <p dir="ltr">It was the first private rezoning application before the city under the newly passed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing zoning rule. Rodriguez vetoed the proposal despite the city and the developers having reached an agreement in which half the housing would be affordable. By tradition, the full Council usually votes with the local member on land use applications, and did so with Rodriguez.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the second case, in Sunnyside, Queens, a nonprofit real estate developer withdrew a rezoning application in the face of opposition from the community and the prospect of a veto from Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer.</p> <p dir="ltr">The editorial boards of the Daily News and the Observer sharply criticized the two Council members for their &ldquo;NIMBY&rdquo; thinking. &ldquo;A developer could propose Eden and somewhere, somehow, someone&rsquo;s constituents would find it wanting,&rdquo; the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/tough-bill-anti-housing-nimby-councilmembers-article-1.2803936" target="_blank">Daily News</a>&nbsp;editorial board wrote, calling on the mayor to get tough with the Council in such instances. &ldquo;It is interesting,&rdquo; wrote <a href="http://observer.com/2016/09/end-the-nimby-veto-of-affordable-housing/" target="_blank">the Observer</a>&nbsp;editorial board, &ldquo;make that a euphemism for disheartening, to see supposedly liberal/progressive City Council members echo the call for affordable housing&mdash;except in their own districts.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">While Rodriguez defended his decision around the affordability of the proposed units and the added density to the neighborhood, Van Bramer explained his as especially related to the height of the proposed project, as well as the added density and need for related infrastructure improvements.</p> <p dir="ltr">The third example is local opposition to a City proposal to convert a Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth, Queens into a homeless shelter. Residents of the neighborhood are outraged, citing concerns about public safety and the location of the shelter. In an argument central to NIMBYism, many have even said they don&rsquo;t oppose creating shelters for the homeless, just this particular one. They have protested outside the home of Commissioner Steven Banks, head of the city&rsquo;s Human Resources Administration and <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2016/09/24/maspeth-residents-march-to-hotel-owner-s-home-to-protest--warehousing--homeless-in-their-neighborhood.html" target="_blank">marched</a> to the home of the hotel owner. De Blasio told them to protest at his home, Gracie Mansion.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I think that&rsquo;s the quandary with many policies,&rdquo; said Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University. Greer called NIMBYism the &ldquo;achilles heel of liberalism and progressive politics.&rdquo; Although many people might support policies such as those put forward by the de Blasio administration, Greer said, &ldquo;When it comes time to affect them in a personal way, these coalitions and conversations tend to fall apart.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In his weekly segment on WNYC&rsquo;s The Brian Lehrer Show <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/ask-mayor-quality-life-farewell-bratton/" target="_blank">on September 16</a>, the mayor also addressed the Maspeth controversy, saying the issue of homelessness &ldquo;brings out a lot of contradictions in people&rdquo; and said the NIMBY mindset had grown in the city over decades. &ldquo;And, as someone who&rsquo;s served here a long time, I don&rsquo;t have an illusion that we&rsquo;re going to snap our fingers and make it go away,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor added, &ldquo;I think we have to show people that we will take care of the surrounding community, but I&rsquo;m not ever going to allow folks who say, &lsquo;not in our community, put it in someone else&rsquo;s community&rsquo; &ndash; I&rsquo;m never going to buy into that. That&rsquo;s just not &ndash; that&rsquo;s not New York values. It really isn&rsquo;t.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">At a news conference on Thursday, when the mayor was asked again about Maspeth and the communication with local leaders, he admitted that the administration could do a better job. &ldquo;I would say there&rsquo;s a substantial amount of dialogue that goes on but we need to do better,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;re trying to perfect the approach that we can use everywhere in the same way, to do a better job of communicating with elected officials and other community leaders.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">He had more forceful words for the Maspeth protestors, however, which took dead aim at a NIMBY mindset. &ldquo;If they think that they can not have responsibility for a problem that&rsquo;s everyone&rsquo;s problem, they&rsquo;re wrong,&rdquo; he said, before criticizing their &ldquo;disgusting&rdquo; rhetoric and their &ldquo;reprehensible&rdquo; threats to HRA&rsquo;s Banks and his family. &ldquo;Those individuals are saying, &lsquo;There&rsquo;s a homelessness problem, some of those people come from our community and we don&rsquo;t want any of them here,&rsquo;&rdquo; de Blasio said. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t accept that. And I&rsquo;ve told them I welcome their pickets as many times as they want because I will happily stare them down. We are going to put a roof over people&rsquo;s heads.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The term NIMBY has been used in the past as a pejorative for wealthy white neighborhoods that wanted to avoid any change to their communities that they considered undesirable, including an influx of people. It&rsquo;s a loaded term that can imply class and racial biases. But, over time, the term has become more common and has evolved beyond its original meaning.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Just as the rain falls on rich and poor alike, NIMBYism is found among the rich and poor alike,&rdquo; said Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. The difference, Sherrill pointed out, is that with low-income communities, their NIMBYism is largely founded in justifiable concerns about gentrification and rising rents that contribute to displacement. That was one of the elements at play in the Inwood rezoning proposal."</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;These are forces that every mayoralty in New York City has come up against,&rdquo; said Wiley Norvell, a spokesperson for the mayor. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a durable feature of the political landscape.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">It is an undisputable fact that NIMBYism is universal and has cropped up all over the city in various policy battles. Earlier <a href="http://gothamist.com/2016/06/30/there_goes_the_neighborhood.php" target="_blank">this year</a>, proposals to expand the CitiBike program into Brooklyn faced local opposition that smacked of NIMBYism. A caller from the mayor&rsquo;s home neighborhood of Park Slope called into WNYC on Thursday morning to tell him the new bike installations there were a problem because they took away needed parking. Similar efforts in the form of lawsuits have been <a href="http://therealdeal.com/2014/03/07/judge-tosses-anti-citi-bike-suit-in-brooklyn-heights/" target="_blank">launched</a> since the city announced the CitiBike expansion in 2014.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another lawsuit, against bike lanes installed by the city in Park Slope, was <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/news/bike-hating-nimby-trolls-grudgingly-surrender-to-reality-9136252" target="_blank">withdrawn</a> just last month after stretching for six years.</p> <p dir="ltr">Especially in more controversial discussions, such as the plan to close down Rikers Island jails, NIMBYism is a significant factor. Although there is fairly <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/new-york/rikers-island-closing-plan-could-spur-communities-resistance-1.11544401" target="_blank">widespread agreement</a> on shuttering the doors of the prison complex, elected officials do not generally favor relocating inmates to community-based facilities. The Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito has a commission in motion to create a long-term plan for shutting down Rikers jails, the notion of which has already faced local backlash. Addressing affordable housing-related rezonings, Mark-Viverito recently said that the de Blasio administration needs to be more proactive in engaging with City Council members and their communities.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city&rsquo;s movement to rezone some schools with an eye on desegregating nearby schools has met NIMBY detractors in Downtown Brooklyn and the Upper West Side, though other critics say that the administration has not moved quickly or comprehensively enough on the issue overall.</p> <p dir="ltr">But in issues of land use and infrastructure, NIMBYism is perhaps most consistently pronounced, on both sides. On the one hand are more well-off neighborhoods opposing facilities that have historically saturated low-income communities, like homeless shelters and waste processing centers. On the other hand, are low-income communities resisting the march of gentrification across the city and opposing infrastructure that would put further pressure on their neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr">Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, sees a lot of NIMBYism in his line of work. His group advocates for a more even-handed distribution of burdensome city infrastructure that is often clustered in low-income communities of color. These efforts, more often than not, come up against some or another form of NIMBY opposition.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bautista pointed to a classic example exhibited on the Upper East Side last year in local objections to a marine waste transfer station. &ldquo;NIMBYism and environmental justice are polar opposites,&rdquo; he said. And the converse argument, that low-income neighborhoods are being NIMBY by refusing development, does not hold water, he emphasized. &ldquo;It can&rsquo;t apply to communities where everything is in your backyard, when your community is saturated.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Couched in Bautista&rsquo;s argument is the principle of &ldquo;fair share,&rdquo; the city policy aimed at equitable distribution of necessary city services and infrastructure across all neighborhoods. &ldquo;The fair share approach is an important principal,&rdquo; said Council Member Brad Lander. &ldquo;Some people hear &ldquo;fair share&rdquo; and hear &ldquo;NIMBYism.&rdquo; That has eroded the real argument for fair share.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Lander said the opposition in Maspeth may be the &ldquo;most strident&rdquo; example of NIMBYism and said each neighborhood has a fair share obligation to house the homeless. The administration has identified 250 homeless people whose last known address was Maspeth, but the community has no fixed shelters. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not only about not getting more than your fair share but doing your fair share,&rdquo; Lander said.</p> <p dir="ltr">On issues of land use planning, Lander - who is de Blasio&rsquo;s successor in the City Council seat representing Park Slope and nearby neighborhoods - believes the opposition may be more justifiable, &ldquo;especially at a time when rents are high, there&rsquo;s a lot of anxiety, there&rsquo;s a lot of development taking place.&rdquo; &ldquo;That is the challenge of government,&rdquo; he added. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a big challenge for Mayor de Blasio. That&rsquo;s a big challenge for the Council.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In part, that&rsquo;s also the administration&rsquo;s argument. Norvell, the mayoral spokesperson, said, &ldquo;We&rsquo;re in a moment of deep insecurity and tremendous fear of displacement.&rdquo; He chalked this up to agreements made by past administrations that were not always delivered upon. For instance the rezoning of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, where the city failed to create all the infrastructure and services that were promised. He said the failure of the rezoning proposals in Inwood and Sunnyside were par for the course. &ldquo;When you play on a field as big as we are, you&rsquo;re gonna win some, you&rsquo;re gonna lose some,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Nobody bats a thousand.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">He also sought to dispel the notion that recent &ldquo;noise&rdquo; or even past opposition were hobbling the administration&rsquo;s progress on its larger core agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">Norvell pointed to the expansion of affordable housing and CitiBike, &ldquo;both instances where the NIMBY phenomenon surfaced itself in various degrees of intensity but our policy and political goals were achieved nevertheless.&rdquo; Under the affordable housing agenda, about 53,000 units, a quarter of the goal administration&rsquo;s ten-year goal, have been financed and CitiBike is on course to double capacity, Norvell said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The moment of insecurity that both Norvell and Lander speak of may not just be for everyday New Yorkers. It&rsquo;s a challenging time for the mayor as well. He&rsquo;s fast approaching reelection and can ill-afford to make unpopular decisions. His relationship with the City Council <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/10/city-halls-progressive-alliance-sours-106081" target="_blank">has become more challenging</a>, particularly after he expressed some public dismay with Council Member Van Bramer over the Sunnyside deal (while also expressing respect for Van Bramer). Affordable housing is one of the main planks on which he has expended significant political capital, and must continue to do so in various local battles.</p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Sherrill said the new equation of power between the Council and the mayor precludes the possibility of unilateral action. &ldquo;An entire generation, 20 years, of atrophy for the Democratic political machine puts de Blasio in a position in which it is almost impossible for him to do anything that would entice members of the Council to do something he would like that is unpopular with...their districts,&rdquo; Sherrill said. &ldquo;This is not Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s problem. This is the problem of anyone who becomes Mayor now and mayors are going to have to find new ways of building relationships with neighborhoods.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">At a press conference on September 14, asked about the success of a housing proposal in the Bronx and the failure of Inwood, Speaker Mark-Viverito defended the leverage that Council members hold over land use decisions and seemed to criticize the mayor. &ldquo;The mayor and the administration need to focus on being proactive and engaged with Council members in their districts and with the communities that we represent to make sure information is being arrived at in the most transparent way about what a project is and what it seeks to do, that needs to happen,&rdquo; she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Earlier, in a late August&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6508-full-interview-council-speaker-melissa-mark-viverito" target="_blank">interview with Gotham Gazette</a>, Mark-Viverito, whose home district is largely East Harlem, leaned into a fair share argument when talking of rezoning and the siting of homeless shelters. &ldquo;I think there needs to be more equity in the way that services are distributed,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;There are literally some districts that have no shelters in them. You look at one like mine, that we have probably over 2,000, 3,000 beds...And that&rsquo;s a real challenge.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">But she also stressed that local decisions must involve dialogue and engagement with the communities that are affected, even if they don&rsquo;t agree. &ldquo;And I have found that when you really engage in that conversation and take the time to really explain the process of your thinking and why, even if people don&rsquo;t agree with you they&rsquo;ll respect that, and you can work with your constituents and navigate through that,&rdquo; she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio does seem to be taking some of these critiques to heart. He has stepped up his efforts at personally engaging with New Yorkers. Besides his weekly radio appearance, where he takes questions from callers and promises assistance to those who need it, he has hosted a number of town halls in the last few months, connecting with people more directly in all five boroughs.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;For neighborhood planning, I believe it&rsquo;s better to engage people more and sooner,&rdquo; said Council Member Lander, who thinks the administration has shown strong participation in certain proposed rezonings, including Gowanus, Bushwick, Far Rockaway, and East Harlem.</p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Greer said that she thinks de Blasio &ldquo;has to convince people that &lsquo;this is a good idea and worth doing,&rsquo; either through political pressure or logrolling. If he needs to be successful, he&rsquo;ll find a way to sweeten the deal.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Bautista praised the mayor for reframing city policy along the lines of equity, but said, &ldquo;It can&rsquo;t just be a framing and messaging conceit.&rdquo; He said the mayor has to ensure consistency in applying his governing principles and show authentic community engagement. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s a difference between having a fait accompli and coming to the community with that decision, versus a real engagement where you have a policy goal in mind,&rdquo; he said, getting at one of the repeated criticism of the de Blasio administration, that it too often presents to communities a fully-baked plan. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s crucial to minimizing NIMBY.&rdquo;</p> <p>Norvell contends the administration has made &ldquo;honest and sincere&rdquo; engagement efforts in city planning, and that the ultimate goal is to &ldquo;do the most good for the most people.&rdquo; &ldquo;At the end of the day, you can&rsquo;t make everybody happy,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/29895751132_1e33656426_z.jpg" alt="BdB town hall queens miller" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio at a town hall (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In recent weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s policies have run up against an age-old forces of inertia and resistance in the city, especially one that springs forth in policy debates on everything from housing to bike lanes to school desegregation and even closing down Rikers Island jails. That force -- NIMBY or Not In My Back Yard-ism -- has taken distinct forms on different issues, but has been causing the de Blasio administration trouble and frustrating the mayor. At the same time, some critics of the administration say that the NIMBYism it is facing is stronger because the administration is not being a proactive, collaborative partner with communities.</p> <p dir="ltr">In some ways, the pushback is more sympathetic, like in cases where communities face real pressures of gentrification and displacement, and in others, less so, like when residents perceive even the smallest change to their neighborhood as contributing to a decline in quality of life.</p> <p dir="ltr">For de Blasio, persistent NIMBYism poses a multi-faceted challenge as he nears the final year of his first term. He has to choose at times to capitulate to demands from communities or local elected officials, and at other times, he must use unilateral but unpopular action that, in the administration&rsquo;s view, will have long-term benefits. Three recent instances, in particular, highlight this obstacle of NIMBYism to the administration&rsquo;s larger vision of equity and justice, which can be messier when being applied to neighborhoods than when explained in principle.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the last two months, two rezoning proposals that would&rsquo;ve added to the city&rsquo;s stock of affordable housing were nixed by the local Council members for their respective districts, eliciting charges of short-sighted NIMBYism by the Council members and the portion of their constituents they were listening to.</p> <p dir="ltr">The first proposal, in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, was voted down by the City Council in August after Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez opted to reject it. He had signaled support for the project, but appeared to bend to vocal community pressure as his final decision neared. Rodriguez has been an outspoken and active ally of de Blasio&rsquo;s, especially around the Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic deaths.</p> <p dir="ltr">It was the first private rezoning application before the city under the newly passed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing zoning rule. Rodriguez vetoed the proposal despite the city and the developers having reached an agreement in which half the housing would be affordable. By tradition, the full Council usually votes with the local member on land use applications, and did so with Rodriguez.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the second case, in Sunnyside, Queens, a nonprofit real estate developer withdrew a rezoning application in the face of opposition from the community and the prospect of a veto from Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer.</p> <p dir="ltr">The editorial boards of the Daily News and the Observer sharply criticized the two Council members for their &ldquo;NIMBY&rdquo; thinking. &ldquo;A developer could propose Eden and somewhere, somehow, someone&rsquo;s constituents would find it wanting,&rdquo; the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/tough-bill-anti-housing-nimby-councilmembers-article-1.2803936" target="_blank">Daily News</a>&nbsp;editorial board wrote, calling on the mayor to get tough with the Council in such instances. &ldquo;It is interesting,&rdquo; wrote <a href="http://observer.com/2016/09/end-the-nimby-veto-of-affordable-housing/" target="_blank">the Observer</a>&nbsp;editorial board, &ldquo;make that a euphemism for disheartening, to see supposedly liberal/progressive City Council members echo the call for affordable housing&mdash;except in their own districts.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">While Rodriguez defended his decision around the affordability of the proposed units and the added density to the neighborhood, Van Bramer explained his as especially related to the height of the proposed project, as well as the added density and need for related infrastructure improvements.</p> <p dir="ltr">The third example is local opposition to a City proposal to convert a Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth, Queens into a homeless shelter. Residents of the neighborhood are outraged, citing concerns about public safety and the location of the shelter. In an argument central to NIMBYism, many have even said they don&rsquo;t oppose creating shelters for the homeless, just this particular one. They have protested outside the home of Commissioner Steven Banks, head of the city&rsquo;s Human Resources Administration and <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2016/09/24/maspeth-residents-march-to-hotel-owner-s-home-to-protest--warehousing--homeless-in-their-neighborhood.html" target="_blank">marched</a> to the home of the hotel owner. De Blasio told them to protest at his home, Gracie Mansion.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I think that&rsquo;s the quandary with many policies,&rdquo; said Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University. Greer called NIMBYism the &ldquo;achilles heel of liberalism and progressive politics.&rdquo; Although many people might support policies such as those put forward by the de Blasio administration, Greer said, &ldquo;When it comes time to affect them in a personal way, these coalitions and conversations tend to fall apart.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In his weekly segment on WNYC&rsquo;s The Brian Lehrer Show <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/ask-mayor-quality-life-farewell-bratton/" target="_blank">on September 16</a>, the mayor also addressed the Maspeth controversy, saying the issue of homelessness &ldquo;brings out a lot of contradictions in people&rdquo; and said the NIMBY mindset had grown in the city over decades. &ldquo;And, as someone who&rsquo;s served here a long time, I don&rsquo;t have an illusion that we&rsquo;re going to snap our fingers and make it go away,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor added, &ldquo;I think we have to show people that we will take care of the surrounding community, but I&rsquo;m not ever going to allow folks who say, &lsquo;not in our community, put it in someone else&rsquo;s community&rsquo; &ndash; I&rsquo;m never going to buy into that. That&rsquo;s just not &ndash; that&rsquo;s not New York values. It really isn&rsquo;t.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">At a news conference on Thursday, when the mayor was asked again about Maspeth and the communication with local leaders, he admitted that the administration could do a better job. &ldquo;I would say there&rsquo;s a substantial amount of dialogue that goes on but we need to do better,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;re trying to perfect the approach that we can use everywhere in the same way, to do a better job of communicating with elected officials and other community leaders.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">He had more forceful words for the Maspeth protestors, however, which took dead aim at a NIMBY mindset. &ldquo;If they think that they can not have responsibility for a problem that&rsquo;s everyone&rsquo;s problem, they&rsquo;re wrong,&rdquo; he said, before criticizing their &ldquo;disgusting&rdquo; rhetoric and their &ldquo;reprehensible&rdquo; threats to HRA&rsquo;s Banks and his family. &ldquo;Those individuals are saying, &lsquo;There&rsquo;s a homelessness problem, some of those people come from our community and we don&rsquo;t want any of them here,&rsquo;&rdquo; de Blasio said. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t accept that. And I&rsquo;ve told them I welcome their pickets as many times as they want because I will happily stare them down. We are going to put a roof over people&rsquo;s heads.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The term NIMBY has been used in the past as a pejorative for wealthy white neighborhoods that wanted to avoid any change to their communities that they considered undesirable, including an influx of people. It&rsquo;s a loaded term that can imply class and racial biases. But, over time, the term has become more common and has evolved beyond its original meaning.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Just as the rain falls on rich and poor alike, NIMBYism is found among the rich and poor alike,&rdquo; said Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. The difference, Sherrill pointed out, is that with low-income communities, their NIMBYism is largely founded in justifiable concerns about gentrification and rising rents that contribute to displacement. That was one of the elements at play in the Inwood rezoning proposal."</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;These are forces that every mayoralty in New York City has come up against,&rdquo; said Wiley Norvell, a spokesperson for the mayor. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a durable feature of the political landscape.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">It is an undisputable fact that NIMBYism is universal and has cropped up all over the city in various policy battles. Earlier <a href="http://gothamist.com/2016/06/30/there_goes_the_neighborhood.php" target="_blank">this year</a>, proposals to expand the CitiBike program into Brooklyn faced local opposition that smacked of NIMBYism. A caller from the mayor&rsquo;s home neighborhood of Park Slope called into WNYC on Thursday morning to tell him the new bike installations there were a problem because they took away needed parking. Similar efforts in the form of lawsuits have been <a href="http://therealdeal.com/2014/03/07/judge-tosses-anti-citi-bike-suit-in-brooklyn-heights/" target="_blank">launched</a> since the city announced the CitiBike expansion in 2014.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another lawsuit, against bike lanes installed by the city in Park Slope, was <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/news/bike-hating-nimby-trolls-grudgingly-surrender-to-reality-9136252" target="_blank">withdrawn</a> just last month after stretching for six years.</p> <p dir="ltr">Especially in more controversial discussions, such as the plan to close down Rikers Island jails, NIMBYism is a significant factor. Although there is fairly <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/new-york/rikers-island-closing-plan-could-spur-communities-resistance-1.11544401" target="_blank">widespread agreement</a> on shuttering the doors of the prison complex, elected officials do not generally favor relocating inmates to community-based facilities. The Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito has a commission in motion to create a long-term plan for shutting down Rikers jails, the notion of which has already faced local backlash. Addressing affordable housing-related rezonings, Mark-Viverito recently said that the de Blasio administration needs to be more proactive in engaging with City Council members and their communities.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city&rsquo;s movement to rezone some schools with an eye on desegregating nearby schools has met NIMBY detractors in Downtown Brooklyn and the Upper West Side, though other critics say that the administration has not moved quickly or comprehensively enough on the issue overall.</p> <p dir="ltr">But in issues of land use and infrastructure, NIMBYism is perhaps most consistently pronounced, on both sides. On the one hand are more well-off neighborhoods opposing facilities that have historically saturated low-income communities, like homeless shelters and waste processing centers. On the other hand, are low-income communities resisting the march of gentrification across the city and opposing infrastructure that would put further pressure on their neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr">Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, sees a lot of NIMBYism in his line of work. His group advocates for a more even-handed distribution of burdensome city infrastructure that is often clustered in low-income communities of color. These efforts, more often than not, come up against some or another form of NIMBY opposition.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bautista pointed to a classic example exhibited on the Upper East Side last year in local objections to a marine waste transfer station. &ldquo;NIMBYism and environmental justice are polar opposites,&rdquo; he said. And the converse argument, that low-income neighborhoods are being NIMBY by refusing development, does not hold water, he emphasized. &ldquo;It can&rsquo;t apply to communities where everything is in your backyard, when your community is saturated.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Couched in Bautista&rsquo;s argument is the principle of &ldquo;fair share,&rdquo; the city policy aimed at equitable distribution of necessary city services and infrastructure across all neighborhoods. &ldquo;The fair share approach is an important principal,&rdquo; said Council Member Brad Lander. &ldquo;Some people hear &ldquo;fair share&rdquo; and hear &ldquo;NIMBYism.&rdquo; That has eroded the real argument for fair share.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Lander said the opposition in Maspeth may be the &ldquo;most strident&rdquo; example of NIMBYism and said each neighborhood has a fair share obligation to house the homeless. The administration has identified 250 homeless people whose last known address was Maspeth, but the community has no fixed shelters. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not only about not getting more than your fair share but doing your fair share,&rdquo; Lander said.</p> <p dir="ltr">On issues of land use planning, Lander - who is de Blasio&rsquo;s successor in the City Council seat representing Park Slope and nearby neighborhoods - believes the opposition may be more justifiable, &ldquo;especially at a time when rents are high, there&rsquo;s a lot of anxiety, there&rsquo;s a lot of development taking place.&rdquo; &ldquo;That is the challenge of government,&rdquo; he added. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a big challenge for Mayor de Blasio. That&rsquo;s a big challenge for the Council.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In part, that&rsquo;s also the administration&rsquo;s argument. Norvell, the mayoral spokesperson, said, &ldquo;We&rsquo;re in a moment of deep insecurity and tremendous fear of displacement.&rdquo; He chalked this up to agreements made by past administrations that were not always delivered upon. For instance the rezoning of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, where the city failed to create all the infrastructure and services that were promised. He said the failure of the rezoning proposals in Inwood and Sunnyside were par for the course. &ldquo;When you play on a field as big as we are, you&rsquo;re gonna win some, you&rsquo;re gonna lose some,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Nobody bats a thousand.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">He also sought to dispel the notion that recent &ldquo;noise&rdquo; or even past opposition were hobbling the administration&rsquo;s progress on its larger core agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">Norvell pointed to the expansion of affordable housing and CitiBike, &ldquo;both instances where the NIMBY phenomenon surfaced itself in various degrees of intensity but our policy and political goals were achieved nevertheless.&rdquo; Under the affordable housing agenda, about 53,000 units, a quarter of the goal administration&rsquo;s ten-year goal, have been financed and CitiBike is on course to double capacity, Norvell said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The moment of insecurity that both Norvell and Lander speak of may not just be for everyday New Yorkers. It&rsquo;s a challenging time for the mayor as well. He&rsquo;s fast approaching reelection and can ill-afford to make unpopular decisions. His relationship with the City Council <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/10/city-halls-progressive-alliance-sours-106081" target="_blank">has become more challenging</a>, particularly after he expressed some public dismay with Council Member Van Bramer over the Sunnyside deal (while also expressing respect for Van Bramer). Affordable housing is one of the main planks on which he has expended significant political capital, and must continue to do so in various local battles.</p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Sherrill said the new equation of power between the Council and the mayor precludes the possibility of unilateral action. &ldquo;An entire generation, 20 years, of atrophy for the Democratic political machine puts de Blasio in a position in which it is almost impossible for him to do anything that would entice members of the Council to do something he would like that is unpopular with...their districts,&rdquo; Sherrill said. &ldquo;This is not Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s problem. This is the problem of anyone who becomes Mayor now and mayors are going to have to find new ways of building relationships with neighborhoods.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">At a press conference on September 14, asked about the success of a housing proposal in the Bronx and the failure of Inwood, Speaker Mark-Viverito defended the leverage that Council members hold over land use decisions and seemed to criticize the mayor. &ldquo;The mayor and the administration need to focus on being proactive and engaged with Council members in their districts and with the communities that we represent to make sure information is being arrived at in the most transparent way about what a project is and what it seeks to do, that needs to happen,&rdquo; she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Earlier, in a late August&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6508-full-interview-council-speaker-melissa-mark-viverito" target="_blank">interview with Gotham Gazette</a>, Mark-Viverito, whose home district is largely East Harlem, leaned into a fair share argument when talking of rezoning and the siting of homeless shelters. &ldquo;I think there needs to be more equity in the way that services are distributed,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;There are literally some districts that have no shelters in them. You look at one like mine, that we have probably over 2,000, 3,000 beds...And that&rsquo;s a real challenge.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">But she also stressed that local decisions must involve dialogue and engagement with the communities that are affected, even if they don&rsquo;t agree. &ldquo;And I have found that when you really engage in that conversation and take the time to really explain the process of your thinking and why, even if people don&rsquo;t agree with you they&rsquo;ll respect that, and you can work with your constituents and navigate through that,&rdquo; she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio does seem to be taking some of these critiques to heart. He has stepped up his efforts at personally engaging with New Yorkers. Besides his weekly radio appearance, where he takes questions from callers and promises assistance to those who need it, he has hosted a number of town halls in the last few months, connecting with people more directly in all five boroughs.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;For neighborhood planning, I believe it&rsquo;s better to engage people more and sooner,&rdquo; said Council Member Lander, who thinks the administration has shown strong participation in certain proposed rezonings, including Gowanus, Bushwick, Far Rockaway, and East Harlem.</p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Greer said that she thinks de Blasio &ldquo;has to convince people that &lsquo;this is a good idea and worth doing,&rsquo; either through political pressure or logrolling. If he needs to be successful, he&rsquo;ll find a way to sweeten the deal.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Bautista praised the mayor for reframing city policy along the lines of equity, but said, &ldquo;It can&rsquo;t just be a framing and messaging conceit.&rdquo; He said the mayor has to ensure consistency in applying his governing principles and show authentic community engagement. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s a difference between having a fait accompli and coming to the community with that decision, versus a real engagement where you have a policy goal in mind,&rdquo; he said, getting at one of the repeated criticism of the de Blasio administration, that it too often presents to communities a fully-baked plan. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s crucial to minimizing NIMBY.&rdquo;</p> <p>Norvell contends the administration has made &ldquo;honest and sincere&rdquo; engagement efforts in city planning, and that the ultimate goal is to &ldquo;do the most good for the most people.&rdquo; &ldquo;At the end of the day, you can&rsquo;t make everybody happy,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Investigations Paint Picture of City Hall Mismanagement 2016-08-08T04:00:00+00:00 2016-08-08T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6471:investigations-paint-picture-of-city-hall-mismanagement Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/BdB_Shorris_NYCTransition.jpg" alt="BdB Shorris NYCTransition" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio &amp; First Deputy Mayor Shorris in 2013 (photo: @NYCTransition)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Two recent reports on City Hall&rsquo;s role in the questionable lifting of deed restrictions on a nursing home property issued scathing indictments of both process and personnel in the de Blasio administration. They revealed mismanagement and miscommunication that belies Mayor Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s own attempts to portray City Hall and its agencies as well-oiled machines that deliver swift and efficient services to the people of New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">The reports, one by the Department of Investigation and one by Comptroller Scott Stringer, paint a picture of dysfunction and raise significant questions about oversight by First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris. De Blasio has acknowledged gaps in communication while defending Shorris unequivocally.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Department of Investigation report, released July 14, found &ldquo;a complete lack of accountability within City government regarding deed restriction removals and significant communication failures between and within City Hall and DCAS.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Comptroller Stringer&rsquo;s report, released August 1, stated that Rivington House, the nursing home property, &ldquo;was allowed to slip away not so much because of poor City processes, but because of poor execution of those processes in a manner that undermined both public input and the interests of the City&hellip;[S]enior City officials required agency commissioners to prepare weekly reports but then chose not to read them...decisions were made but never communicated to subordinates, and...a lack of vigilance allowed a single individual to gain control of a valued community resource.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The deal in question involved Rivington House, a nursing home on the Lower East Side that was restricted to use as a non-profit health care facility until last year when the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) allowed two deed restrictions on the property to be lifted. The owner, the Allure Group, paid the city $16 million to lift the deed restrictions, and then quickly sold the property to a luxury condominium developer for a $72 million profit.</p> <p dir="ltr">In March, after <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/manhattan-land-deal-is-examined-1458694201" target="_blank">the Wall Street Journal</a> first reported that Stringer was looking into the Rivington House deal, the mayor said in a subsequent <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/310-16/transcript-mayor-bill-de-blasio-holds-media-availability-following-anti-terror-tabletop" target="_blank">news conference</a> that it was the first time he had heard of the problematic deal. Acknowledging that agency officials had made mistakes, the mayor promised to overhaul procedures at DCAS and at City Hall. He said that if he had been notified of what was going on he would have put a stop to it and that the moves did not represent the values of his administration. He also laid blame on the Allure Group for misleading city officials.</p> <p dir="ltr">It later emerged that the Department of Investigation (DOI) was already looking into the transaction, referred to it by DCAS Commissioner Lisette Camilo in consultation with the Mayor&rsquo;s Office. The deal also drew the attention of the state Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, whose office has yet to conclude its investigation.</p> <p dir="ltr">On July 14, DOI issued its investigative <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2016/July%202016/pr22rivington_71416.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, which was critical of the role that DCAS, the Law Department, and the Mayor&rsquo;s Office of Contract Services (MOCS) played in letting the deal go through without adequate analysis of whether it was in the best interests of the city. The investigation found that top officials at City Hall and DCAS were well aware of the deal and did not raise any objections or attempt to ensure the property would continue to serve a purpose for the community. It also pointed out that DCAS employees were aware that the Allure Group was considering selling the property to a private developer.</p> <p dir="ltr">The investigation was also clouded by controversy. DOI revealed that the mayor&rsquo;s office had withheld information from investigators, ultimately hampering their findings. De Blasio has <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/mayor-lies-keeping-info-doi-rivington-house-probe-article-1.2731644" target="_blank">persistently denied</a> these allegations, while admitting that some paperwork had been redacted and pointing to natural tension between the Law Department and DOI.</p> <p dir="ltr">In <a href="http://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-releases-investigative-report-on-removal-of-deed-restrictions-at-rivington-house/" target="_blank">his report</a>, Comptroller Stringer echoed many DOI findings. He pointed to failures of communication at multiple points between City Hall and DCAS and said the officials involved were at fault, not the process itself. This contradicted most of de Blasio&rsquo;s focus on the need to update the deed restriction removal process as a result of the incident. While Stringer said updated procedures area &nbsp;good idea, it was poor management and &ldquo;information flow&rdquo; that led to the mistaken deal on Rivington House.</p> <p dir="ltr">Stringer&rsquo;s report notes that more than 40 officials were involved in the deal, including three agency heads and three deputy mayors, but no red flags were raised. It also criticizes DCAS for undervaluing the property in its appraisal and stated that the efforts to solicit public input on the deal were inadequate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Neither report directly faults Mayor Bill de Blasio, who maintains he had no knowledge of the proceedings until after the fact. There is one key email that was sent to de Blasio that the mayor says he did not read.</p> <p dir="ltr">The comptroller&rsquo;s report also placed individual blame; first on Joel Landau, Allure Group principal, for exploiting the system and misrepresenting the company&rsquo;s intentions; and secondly, but more importantly, on First Deputy Mayor Shorris for ignoring memos about the Rivington deal sent to him by the DCAS commissioner and not ensuring adequate internal systems.</p> <p dir="ltr">Despite the clear failings of his top functionaries, the mayor has presented a full-throated defense of his administration, blaming flawed procedures inherited from earlier administrations and the bad actor that deceived the city in this particular case. De Blasio has admitted that mistakes were made by his administration, but has been loathe to hold anyone to account.</p> <p dir="ltr">At an unrelated <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/630-16/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-police-commissioner-william-bratton-host-press-conference" target="_blank">news conference on July 25</a>, in response to a question from Gotham Gazette about Shorris&rsquo; role in the deed change, the mayor said, &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t have a concern. I think Tony Shorris is one of the finest public servants I&rsquo;ve ever worked with, and he has an immense amount of material he has to deal with. I think he deals with it very well in a very organized fashion.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor reiterated that the city&rsquo;s policies on deed restrictions needed to be reevaluated and, taking full responsibility, he said, &ldquo;[W]e should&rsquo;ve understood that the underlying policy did not represent our values.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Later that week, on <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/askthemayor-about-dnc" target="_blank">WNYC&rsquo;s The Brian Lehrer Show</a>, the mayor said he had &ldquo;total confidence&rdquo; in Shorris, who &ldquo;probably has the most on his plate&rdquo; of anyone in the administration. &ldquo;A deed restriction change &ndash; you can understand &ndash; might not be on the top of anyone&rsquo;s list on a given day,&rdquo; he added. Both investigative reports noted that Shorris was given updates of the Rivington deal at multiple occasions, receiving weekly memos which he did not read. Neither Shorris nor other top city officials thought that Rivington House was an important matter.</p> <p dir="ltr">This was an unsatisfactory explanation for Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College&rsquo;s School of Public and International Affairs, who believes Shorris dropped the ball. &ldquo;He&rsquo;s doing a million things,&rdquo; Muzzio said of Shorris, &ldquo;but that doesn&rsquo;t absolve him of a management and communications error.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">What irks Muzzio most about the Rivington House situation was how the administration dealt with the fallout. &ldquo;In and of itself, the Rivington case isn&rsquo;t a major deal,&rdquo; said Muzzio. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s the sidestepping and stonewalling, the half-truths, untruths, and sophistry,&rdquo; which are. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s part of this administration&rsquo;s DNA,&rdquo; he added.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One could argue it was a minor deal and people gave it perfunctory attention,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;but it shows that, after the fact, communication was lousy.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">At the July 25 news conference, de Blasio said of Shorris, &ldquo;I think if you look across the whole range of issues he deals with&hellip;this is one of the only things you can say like this. It&rsquo;s a pretty damn good batting average on his part.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College, called the selling of Rivington House to a condo developer a &ldquo;civic tragedy&rdquo; considering the historical importance of the building as a home for HIV/AIDS patients. But Sherrill doesn&rsquo;t believe there was any intentional wrongdoing or gross incompetence. &ldquo;What ended up seeming to be massive incompetence could&rsquo;ve been the cumulative effect of a lot of small mistakes,&rdquo; he said in phone interview.</p> <p>Sherrill said the administration was on its back foot once the news broke that the deal was being scrutinized. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s very difficult to get ahead of this kind of story once it&rsquo;s broken so City Hall was playing catch up,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/BdB_Shorris_NYCTransition.jpg" alt="BdB Shorris NYCTransition" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio &amp; First Deputy Mayor Shorris in 2013 (photo: @NYCTransition)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Two recent reports on City Hall&rsquo;s role in the questionable lifting of deed restrictions on a nursing home property issued scathing indictments of both process and personnel in the de Blasio administration. They revealed mismanagement and miscommunication that belies Mayor Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s own attempts to portray City Hall and its agencies as well-oiled machines that deliver swift and efficient services to the people of New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">The reports, one by the Department of Investigation and one by Comptroller Scott Stringer, paint a picture of dysfunction and raise significant questions about oversight by First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris. De Blasio has acknowledged gaps in communication while defending Shorris unequivocally.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Department of Investigation report, released July 14, found &ldquo;a complete lack of accountability within City government regarding deed restriction removals and significant communication failures between and within City Hall and DCAS.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Comptroller Stringer&rsquo;s report, released August 1, stated that Rivington House, the nursing home property, &ldquo;was allowed to slip away not so much because of poor City processes, but because of poor execution of those processes in a manner that undermined both public input and the interests of the City&hellip;[S]enior City officials required agency commissioners to prepare weekly reports but then chose not to read them...decisions were made but never communicated to subordinates, and...a lack of vigilance allowed a single individual to gain control of a valued community resource.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The deal in question involved Rivington House, a nursing home on the Lower East Side that was restricted to use as a non-profit health care facility until last year when the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) allowed two deed restrictions on the property to be lifted. The owner, the Allure Group, paid the city $16 million to lift the deed restrictions, and then quickly sold the property to a luxury condominium developer for a $72 million profit.</p> <p dir="ltr">In March, after <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/manhattan-land-deal-is-examined-1458694201" target="_blank">the Wall Street Journal</a> first reported that Stringer was looking into the Rivington House deal, the mayor said in a subsequent <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/310-16/transcript-mayor-bill-de-blasio-holds-media-availability-following-anti-terror-tabletop" target="_blank">news conference</a> that it was the first time he had heard of the problematic deal. Acknowledging that agency officials had made mistakes, the mayor promised to overhaul procedures at DCAS and at City Hall. He said that if he had been notified of what was going on he would have put a stop to it and that the moves did not represent the values of his administration. He also laid blame on the Allure Group for misleading city officials.</p> <p dir="ltr">It later emerged that the Department of Investigation (DOI) was already looking into the transaction, referred to it by DCAS Commissioner Lisette Camilo in consultation with the Mayor&rsquo;s Office. The deal also drew the attention of the state Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, whose office has yet to conclude its investigation.</p> <p dir="ltr">On July 14, DOI issued its investigative <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2016/July%202016/pr22rivington_71416.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, which was critical of the role that DCAS, the Law Department, and the Mayor&rsquo;s Office of Contract Services (MOCS) played in letting the deal go through without adequate analysis of whether it was in the best interests of the city. The investigation found that top officials at City Hall and DCAS were well aware of the deal and did not raise any objections or attempt to ensure the property would continue to serve a purpose for the community. It also pointed out that DCAS employees were aware that the Allure Group was considering selling the property to a private developer.</p> <p dir="ltr">The investigation was also clouded by controversy. DOI revealed that the mayor&rsquo;s office had withheld information from investigators, ultimately hampering their findings. De Blasio has <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/mayor-lies-keeping-info-doi-rivington-house-probe-article-1.2731644" target="_blank">persistently denied</a> these allegations, while admitting that some paperwork had been redacted and pointing to natural tension between the Law Department and DOI.</p> <p dir="ltr">In <a href="http://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-releases-investigative-report-on-removal-of-deed-restrictions-at-rivington-house/" target="_blank">his report</a>, Comptroller Stringer echoed many DOI findings. He pointed to failures of communication at multiple points between City Hall and DCAS and said the officials involved were at fault, not the process itself. This contradicted most of de Blasio&rsquo;s focus on the need to update the deed restriction removal process as a result of the incident. While Stringer said updated procedures area &nbsp;good idea, it was poor management and &ldquo;information flow&rdquo; that led to the mistaken deal on Rivington House.</p> <p dir="ltr">Stringer&rsquo;s report notes that more than 40 officials were involved in the deal, including three agency heads and three deputy mayors, but no red flags were raised. It also criticizes DCAS for undervaluing the property in its appraisal and stated that the efforts to solicit public input on the deal were inadequate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Neither report directly faults Mayor Bill de Blasio, who maintains he had no knowledge of the proceedings until after the fact. There is one key email that was sent to de Blasio that the mayor says he did not read.</p> <p dir="ltr">The comptroller&rsquo;s report also placed individual blame; first on Joel Landau, Allure Group principal, for exploiting the system and misrepresenting the company&rsquo;s intentions; and secondly, but more importantly, on First Deputy Mayor Shorris for ignoring memos about the Rivington deal sent to him by the DCAS commissioner and not ensuring adequate internal systems.</p> <p dir="ltr">Despite the clear failings of his top functionaries, the mayor has presented a full-throated defense of his administration, blaming flawed procedures inherited from earlier administrations and the bad actor that deceived the city in this particular case. De Blasio has admitted that mistakes were made by his administration, but has been loathe to hold anyone to account.</p> <p dir="ltr">At an unrelated <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/630-16/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-police-commissioner-william-bratton-host-press-conference" target="_blank">news conference on July 25</a>, in response to a question from Gotham Gazette about Shorris&rsquo; role in the deed change, the mayor said, &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t have a concern. I think Tony Shorris is one of the finest public servants I&rsquo;ve ever worked with, and he has an immense amount of material he has to deal with. I think he deals with it very well in a very organized fashion.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor reiterated that the city&rsquo;s policies on deed restrictions needed to be reevaluated and, taking full responsibility, he said, &ldquo;[W]e should&rsquo;ve understood that the underlying policy did not represent our values.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Later that week, on <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/askthemayor-about-dnc" target="_blank">WNYC&rsquo;s The Brian Lehrer Show</a>, the mayor said he had &ldquo;total confidence&rdquo; in Shorris, who &ldquo;probably has the most on his plate&rdquo; of anyone in the administration. &ldquo;A deed restriction change &ndash; you can understand &ndash; might not be on the top of anyone&rsquo;s list on a given day,&rdquo; he added. Both investigative reports noted that Shorris was given updates of the Rivington deal at multiple occasions, receiving weekly memos which he did not read. Neither Shorris nor other top city officials thought that Rivington House was an important matter.</p> <p dir="ltr">This was an unsatisfactory explanation for Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College&rsquo;s School of Public and International Affairs, who believes Shorris dropped the ball. &ldquo;He&rsquo;s doing a million things,&rdquo; Muzzio said of Shorris, &ldquo;but that doesn&rsquo;t absolve him of a management and communications error.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">What irks Muzzio most about the Rivington House situation was how the administration dealt with the fallout. &ldquo;In and of itself, the Rivington case isn&rsquo;t a major deal,&rdquo; said Muzzio. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s the sidestepping and stonewalling, the half-truths, untruths, and sophistry,&rdquo; which are. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s part of this administration&rsquo;s DNA,&rdquo; he added.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One could argue it was a minor deal and people gave it perfunctory attention,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;but it shows that, after the fact, communication was lousy.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">At the July 25 news conference, de Blasio said of Shorris, &ldquo;I think if you look across the whole range of issues he deals with&hellip;this is one of the only things you can say like this. It&rsquo;s a pretty damn good batting average on his part.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College, called the selling of Rivington House to a condo developer a &ldquo;civic tragedy&rdquo; considering the historical importance of the building as a home for HIV/AIDS patients. But Sherrill doesn&rsquo;t believe there was any intentional wrongdoing or gross incompetence. &ldquo;What ended up seeming to be massive incompetence could&rsquo;ve been the cumulative effect of a lot of small mistakes,&rdquo; he said in phone interview.</p> <p>Sherrill said the administration was on its back foot once the news broke that the deal was being scrutinized. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s very difficult to get ahead of this kind of story once it&rsquo;s broken so City Hall was playing catch up,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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