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/marcos-crespo 2018-09-24T23:41:25+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Brooklyn City Council Member Setting Early Foundation for Speaker Run 2018-04-12T04:00:00+00:00 2018-04-12T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7610:brooklyn-city-council-member-setting-early-foundation-for-speaker-run Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/justin_brannan_nyccouncil.jpg" alt="justin brannan city council" width="600" height="390" /></p> <p>Council Member Justin Brannan (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>City Council Member Justin Brannan is everywhere.</p> <p>He’s at the governor’s mansion <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/965376267775303682" target="_blank" rel="noopener">discussing</a> the state’s efforts to empower women- and minority-owned businesses. He’s meeting with the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council about the city’s construction industry. He’s at the Chinese-American Planning Council’s 53rd anniversary celebration, <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/966828470633484288" target="_blank" rel="noopener">posing</a> for <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/966826842966708224" target="_blank" rel="noopener">photos</a> with Congressional Rep. Grace Meng, state Assembly members Peter Abbate Jr. and Yuh-line Niou, and fellow Council members. He’s talking police-community relations with NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. He’s <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/958028916710674432" target="_blank" rel="noopener">speaking with</a> the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. He’s at union rallies, nonprofit galas, senior centers, PTA meetings and parades.</p> <p>He’s being interviewed on television and photographed at City Hall, and he’s developing more and more of a social media presence, showcasing both his travels around the city but also his focus on constituent services in his district, praising his colleagues, chronicling his subway struggles, and sharing song lyrics. And, he’s <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/977662531715108864" target="_blank" rel="noopener">campaigning</a> for Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley, the Queens Democratic Party leader with outsized influence in other parts of government.</p> <p>All that in the last two months, part of a frenetic start for a Council Member who has only been on the job since January, though he has been involved in city politics for much longer. And those activities haven’t gone unnoticed as Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat, is emerging very early on as a potential contender to be the next Speaker of the City Council.</p> <p>The Council Speaker, arguably the second-most powerful elected official in the city, is chosen internally by members every four years, in a process that is less-public facing and more backroom-dealing. In 2021, the next city election year, 36 Council members will be term-limited, portending a sea change in the 51-member legislative body and giving incumbents, who usually sail to reelection, a leg up in the speaker race. Brannan seems to be following the playbook of current Speaker Corey Johnson, who started making moves for the speakership early in his first four-year term.</p> <p>It is, of course, far too early to tell what the field of candidates will look like, which is why Council sources are reluctant to speak openly. But the buzz around the Council threw up the same names over and over. Besides Brannan, other potential contenders -- all of them Democrats -- include Bronx Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Queens Council Members Francisco Moya and Adrienne Adams, Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera, and Brooklyn Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel. The list, save for Brannan, who seems to be the most active, is the same as that <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-city/5-city-council-members-eyeing-2021-speakership.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported by City &amp; State</a> earlier this year. Some seem to have better odds, given their prominence on the Council and their relationships with the powerful Queens and Bronx Democratic county committees.</p> <p>Brannan represents District 43 in Brooklyn, covering Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach. He has a deep well of experience, as a former chief of staff to his predecessor, Council Member Vincent Gentile, and as intergovernmental affairs director at the Department of Education. He founded the Bay Ridge Democrats and served as its president. He’s also been a professional musician.</p> <p>“You can see that he’s been out there, in other Council members’ districts and all over the city, so he might be taking a cue card from Corey Johnson’s playbook,” said a Council source who wished to remain unnamed. The source noted that though it will be an “open field” of candidates in 2021, the names that are popping up early are because of their relationships with county committees. “I think people are trying to get a sense of how to play the game...so it’s early to put money on a particular candidate.”</p> <p>Another source with knowledge of Brannan’s moves noted that he has the advantage of being one of the few members who will be returning to the Council. “The fact that there’s only a handful of members coming back in four years sort of narrows the pool because...unless people would be OK with another two-term speaker, the next speaker is going to be one of the people that’s coming back,” the source said. Brannan, if reelected, would be serving his second and final term, as would the other contenders previously mentioned.</p> <p>The source also noted that Brannan has made relationships over the last few years that will be beneficial down the line. “I think Justin’s always had, whether it was through the Bay Ridge Democrats or whether through campaign work he did, he’s always had those relationships,” the source said. “When he goes to the boroughs, it’s not like he’s introducing himself for the first time.”</p> <p>Those relationships, including with Crowley and labor union leaders, will largely determine how the speaker race shakes out. The other members on the list of contenders have their own strengths and connections as well, and the speaker race often comes down to powerful stakeholders compromising in support of one candidate, taking into account a wide variety of factors.</p> <p>Council Member Salamanca chairs the powerful land use committee and is a product of the Bronx Democratic County Committee. Salamanca’s office did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Council Members Moya and Adams are closely aligned with the Queens Democratic County Committee and its powerful boss, Rep. Crowley, who played kingmaker in the election of Johnson as speaker, in partnership with others, especially state Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who heads the Bronx Democrats. Moya has the added bonus of having worked in the Assembly with Crespo.</p> <p>“I’m sure this makes for great debate among all the political junkies out there, but the speakership is more than three years away,” Moya said in a statement. He insisted his focus is on his community, particularly on affordable housing, reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, and protections for workers in the building industry. “There will be a time and place to talk about the speakership but that’s a long ways away,” he said, not denying interest.</p> <p>Stacey Yearwood, a spokesperson for Adams said the Council Member would not comment on being a speaker contender “as it is premature.”</p> <p>None of the six potential candidates denied an interest in being the next speaker of the Council.</p> <p>Council Members Rivera and Ampry-Samuel are viewed as rising stars in the Council and have have both been given prominent committees to lead -- hospitals and public housing, respectively. Rivera also received considerable support from Johnson in her election to the Council; they represent neighboring districts. Rivera declined to comment. Ampry-Samuels said in a statement, “My focus right now are the constituents of the 41st District and the residents of public housing.”</p> <p>There’s no one predictable path to the speakership. “I think it’s hard because there’s been so few speakers that to go back and look historically how a speaker gets made, it’s different every time,” said the second Council source. “There’s the wisdom that Queens and the Bronx never make their own person the speaker, that would mean that Salamanca and Moya wouldn’t be the speaker. But who knows? There’s a lot of dynamics. There’s also the demographic dynamics. If we have a white mayor, chances are Justin’s not gonna be the speaker. If we have a black mayor, maybe there’s a chance there.”</p> <p>In this last speaker’s election, there was vocal indignation that yet another white man was going be elected to a powerful seat in city government -- both Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Comptroller Scott Stringer are white men, Public Advocate Letitia James is a black woman. There were calls for electing a speaker of color, including from black and Latino Council members who were running for the seat themselves. All that could change, as the source noted, if the citywide seats aren’t occupied four years from now by mostly white men.</p> <p>Brannan is coy about his plans, even if they seem transparent to others. “It’s April 2018!,” he said with a jovial laugh, when asked outside City Hall whether he was making an early move for the speakership. “It’s barely four months into my first term and I’m just laser-focused on being a good Council member for my district. Having succeeded a guy that was in office for a long time, I’ve got a lot to prove. So that’s my number one focus.”</p> <p>He added, “It’s fun and flattering to be mentioned in that circle [of speaker potentials]. I think this new crop of my colleagues are all very talented and very smart. To be mentioned with this class is great.”</p> <p>He conceded that maybe another white man may not be the way the Council will look to go and that diverse representation is sorely lacking in the legislative body. “Bottom line is that it’s gotta be someone that’s qualified for the job...I’ve already said in my Council seat, I would love nothing more than to be succeeded by a woman. So those things are important to me too. I’m certainly not blind to those dynamics but it’s just so far away.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/justin_brannan_nyccouncil.jpg" alt="justin brannan city council" width="600" height="390" /></p> <p>Council Member Justin Brannan (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>City Council Member Justin Brannan is everywhere.</p> <p>He’s at the governor’s mansion <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/965376267775303682" target="_blank" rel="noopener">discussing</a> the state’s efforts to empower women- and minority-owned businesses. He’s meeting with the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council about the city’s construction industry. He’s at the Chinese-American Planning Council’s 53rd anniversary celebration, <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/966828470633484288" target="_blank" rel="noopener">posing</a> for <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/966826842966708224" target="_blank" rel="noopener">photos</a> with Congressional Rep. Grace Meng, state Assembly members Peter Abbate Jr. and Yuh-line Niou, and fellow Council members. He’s talking police-community relations with NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. He’s <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/958028916710674432" target="_blank" rel="noopener">speaking with</a> the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. He’s at union rallies, nonprofit galas, senior centers, PTA meetings and parades.</p> <p>He’s being interviewed on television and photographed at City Hall, and he’s developing more and more of a social media presence, showcasing both his travels around the city but also his focus on constituent services in his district, praising his colleagues, chronicling his subway struggles, and sharing song lyrics. And, he’s <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/977662531715108864" target="_blank" rel="noopener">campaigning</a> for Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley, the Queens Democratic Party leader with outsized influence in other parts of government.</p> <p>All that in the last two months, part of a frenetic start for a Council Member who has only been on the job since January, though he has been involved in city politics for much longer. And those activities haven’t gone unnoticed as Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat, is emerging very early on as a potential contender to be the next Speaker of the City Council.</p> <p>The Council Speaker, arguably the second-most powerful elected official in the city, is chosen internally by members every four years, in a process that is less-public facing and more backroom-dealing. In 2021, the next city election year, 36 Council members will be term-limited, portending a sea change in the 51-member legislative body and giving incumbents, who usually sail to reelection, a leg up in the speaker race. Brannan seems to be following the playbook of current Speaker Corey Johnson, who started making moves for the speakership early in his first four-year term.</p> <p>It is, of course, far too early to tell what the field of candidates will look like, which is why Council sources are reluctant to speak openly. But the buzz around the Council threw up the same names over and over. Besides Brannan, other potential contenders -- all of them Democrats -- include Bronx Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Queens Council Members Francisco Moya and Adrienne Adams, Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera, and Brooklyn Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel. The list, save for Brannan, who seems to be the most active, is the same as that <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-city/5-city-council-members-eyeing-2021-speakership.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported by City &amp; State</a> earlier this year. Some seem to have better odds, given their prominence on the Council and their relationships with the powerful Queens and Bronx Democratic county committees.</p> <p>Brannan represents District 43 in Brooklyn, covering Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach. He has a deep well of experience, as a former chief of staff to his predecessor, Council Member Vincent Gentile, and as intergovernmental affairs director at the Department of Education. He founded the Bay Ridge Democrats and served as its president. He’s also been a professional musician.</p> <p>“You can see that he’s been out there, in other Council members’ districts and all over the city, so he might be taking a cue card from Corey Johnson’s playbook,” said a Council source who wished to remain unnamed. The source noted that though it will be an “open field” of candidates in 2021, the names that are popping up early are because of their relationships with county committees. “I think people are trying to get a sense of how to play the game...so it’s early to put money on a particular candidate.”</p> <p>Another source with knowledge of Brannan’s moves noted that he has the advantage of being one of the few members who will be returning to the Council. “The fact that there’s only a handful of members coming back in four years sort of narrows the pool because...unless people would be OK with another two-term speaker, the next speaker is going to be one of the people that’s coming back,” the source said. Brannan, if reelected, would be serving his second and final term, as would the other contenders previously mentioned.</p> <p>The source also noted that Brannan has made relationships over the last few years that will be beneficial down the line. “I think Justin’s always had, whether it was through the Bay Ridge Democrats or whether through campaign work he did, he’s always had those relationships,” the source said. “When he goes to the boroughs, it’s not like he’s introducing himself for the first time.”</p> <p>Those relationships, including with Crowley and labor union leaders, will largely determine how the speaker race shakes out. The other members on the list of contenders have their own strengths and connections as well, and the speaker race often comes down to powerful stakeholders compromising in support of one candidate, taking into account a wide variety of factors.</p> <p>Council Member Salamanca chairs the powerful land use committee and is a product of the Bronx Democratic County Committee. Salamanca’s office did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Council Members Moya and Adams are closely aligned with the Queens Democratic County Committee and its powerful boss, Rep. Crowley, who played kingmaker in the election of Johnson as speaker, in partnership with others, especially state Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who heads the Bronx Democrats. Moya has the added bonus of having worked in the Assembly with Crespo.</p> <p>“I’m sure this makes for great debate among all the political junkies out there, but the speakership is more than three years away,” Moya said in a statement. He insisted his focus is on his community, particularly on affordable housing, reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, and protections for workers in the building industry. “There will be a time and place to talk about the speakership but that’s a long ways away,” he said, not denying interest.</p> <p>Stacey Yearwood, a spokesperson for Adams said the Council Member would not comment on being a speaker contender “as it is premature.”</p> <p>None of the six potential candidates denied an interest in being the next speaker of the Council.</p> <p>Council Members Rivera and Ampry-Samuel are viewed as rising stars in the Council and have have both been given prominent committees to lead -- hospitals and public housing, respectively. Rivera also received considerable support from Johnson in her election to the Council; they represent neighboring districts. Rivera declined to comment. Ampry-Samuels said in a statement, “My focus right now are the constituents of the 41st District and the residents of public housing.”</p> <p>There’s no one predictable path to the speakership. “I think it’s hard because there’s been so few speakers that to go back and look historically how a speaker gets made, it’s different every time,” said the second Council source. “There’s the wisdom that Queens and the Bronx never make their own person the speaker, that would mean that Salamanca and Moya wouldn’t be the speaker. But who knows? There’s a lot of dynamics. There’s also the demographic dynamics. If we have a white mayor, chances are Justin’s not gonna be the speaker. If we have a black mayor, maybe there’s a chance there.”</p> <p>In this last speaker’s election, there was vocal indignation that yet another white man was going be elected to a powerful seat in city government -- both Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Comptroller Scott Stringer are white men, Public Advocate Letitia James is a black woman. There were calls for electing a speaker of color, including from black and Latino Council members who were running for the seat themselves. All that could change, as the source noted, if the citywide seats aren’t occupied four years from now by mostly white men.</p> <p>Brannan is coy about his plans, even if they seem transparent to others. “It’s April 2018!,” he said with a jovial laugh, when asked outside City Hall whether he was making an early move for the speakership. “It’s barely four months into my first term and I’m just laser-focused on being a good Council member for my district. Having succeeded a guy that was in office for a long time, I’ve got a lot to prove. So that’s my number one focus.”</p> <p>He added, “It’s fun and flattering to be mentioned in that circle [of speaker potentials]. I think this new crop of my colleagues are all very talented and very smart. To be mentioned with this class is great.”</p> <p>He conceded that maybe another white man may not be the way the Council will look to go and that diverse representation is sorely lacking in the legislative body. “Bottom line is that it’s gotta be someone that’s qualified for the job...I’ve already said in my Council seat, I would love nothing more than to be succeeded by a woman. So those things are important to me too. I’m certainly not blind to those dynamics but it’s just so far away.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Bronx Electeds, Residents Cry Foul as Mayor and Council Announce Jail Site 2018-02-20T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-20T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7486:bronx-electeds-residents-cry-foul-as-mayor-and-council-announce-jail-site Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_1.jpg" alt="Bronx jail site NYPD tow pound" width="600" height="310" /></p> <p>Planned Bronx jail site (photos: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>When Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced last week that they’d reached a deal to speed up the closure of Rikers Island by creating or expanding jail facilities in every borough except Staten Island, it seemed to be a clear sign of a productive partnership between the administration and local elected officials.</p> <p>The mayor and speaker made the announcement at a news conference at City Hall, alongside four Council members -- Diana Ayala, Karen Koslowitz, Stephen Levin, and Margaret Chin -- willing to accept the political risk of a new or expanded jail in their districts. The city will launch a unified land use review application for all four jails, the mayor and speaker said, combining the arduous and lengthy multi-stage approval process for siting certain municipal facilities.</p> <p>But the proposal to build the Bronx jail -- the only one of the four that is not either a current or former jail facility -- immediately raised the hackles of elected officials from the borough other than Ayala, a newly elected Council member whose districts spans East Harlem and part of the South Bronx.</p> <p>“Look the site in the Bronx is a site owned by the City of New York. It is a very smart site in terms of its closeness to the courthouses,” de Blasio explained at the news conference, when asked about a critical statement put out by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who had not been kept in the loop by the administration or the Council. “There is going to be a full community process, but let's be clear, we're going to talk to everyone, we're going to listen to everyone, we're going to try in every way possible address community needs and address other benefits that communities need.”</p> <p>De Blasio emphasized, “That being said, up here are the people who ultimately have to make the decision – the Council, represented by the Speaker, the members who represent those individual districts, and me and my administration.”</p> <p>Ayala was aware of the criticism she may face for supporting a site in her district. “We all know that this siting process is bound to be controversial,” she said. “In the Bronx in particular, we are not repurposing an existing detention center but instead building a brand new facility that will require additional careful thought, serious consideration and robust community engagement, and I really wanna underline that…We also know that in the Bronx, too often we see a concentration of city facilities in our borough and there is rightfully some resistance to that. But we in the Bronx also understand the urgent need for criminal justice reform.”</p> <p>Top Bronx officials were taken aback that this was the first they were hearing of a new jail intended for their backyard. Any consultations that had happened had excluded Borough President Diaz Jr.; Assemblymember Michael Blake, whose district neighbors the one where the proposed site is located at 320 Concord Avenue, currently an NYPD tow pound; and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, the Democratic Bronx County party leader whose support helped Johnson win the speakership.</p> <p>“I was surprised to learn that the administration has already selected a site for a new jail in The Bronx,” said Diaz Jr. in a statement that preceded the mayor and speaker’s Wednesday news conference. The proposed site had been first revealed by the <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-mayor-bill-de-blasio-to-build-jail-in-the-bronx-1518565743?mod=WSJ_NY_LEFTTopStories&amp;tesla=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Wall Street Journal</a> the previous night, just after de Blasio delivered his State of the City address. “I hope that, going forward, this lack of outreach is not a harbinger of the amount of community input the people of my borough will have in this process,” Diaz Jr. said. (At the news conference, Johnson showed some contrition immediately, apologizing to Diaz Jr. and promising a “robust, meaningful” community engagement process.)</p> <p>“It is simply disrespectful that a decision of this magnitude of proposing to open a new jail in the South Bronx was made behind closed doors, without engaging the broader Bronx community,” said Assemblymember Blake, in a statement released Wednesday night.</p> <p>Crespo, the Democratic Bronx county boss, took to Twitter, calling out the mayor and speaker. “We spent so much time talking the last few months how did this rikers plan in my district never come up?” he wondered.</p> <p>“I think we were all caught off guard with how far ahead the city seems to be when no one in the Bronx was informed of the process,” Crespo later elaborated, in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. “Once you decide on a site, that’s gonna have an impact for generations.”</p> <p>Crespo and the other electeds aren’t opposed to the administration’s goal: building capacity in the boroughs so that Rikers can close. But, he said the Concord Avenue site is not the best option, and the city should explore alternatives. The community and the borough already host their fair share of municipal facilities, Crespo insisted, echoing widespread criticism that the city has long chosen to place seemingly undesirable facilities such as jails, homeless shelters, and waste treatment plants in low-income communities of color. “Make no mistake about it, this borough has been handling an unfair share already for a long time,” he said.</p> <p>“There’s major investments and their success would also be endangered,” he said of the Mott Haven neighborhood, where new development is underway literally across the road from where the jail would be situated.</p> <p>The rapid outpouring of criticism didn’t seem lost on Speaker Johnson, who quickly seemed to equivocate on the Bronx site. “I am committed to facilities in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan,” Johnson <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/bronx/politics/2018/02/16/council-speaker-says-he-is-not-wedded-to-specific-locations-for-new-jails" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told NY1</a>. "We are not wedded to an individual location. If there is a better location I am happy to have that conversation."</p> <p>Responding to an assertion that he was backpedaling, Johnson said in a subsequent tweet that he is “not at all” backing away from the site, but reiterated that the main goal is closing the jails on Rikers Island and that he is “not wedded” to one location. “If there's a better one,” <a href="https://twitter.com/CoreyinNYC/status/964309861688336384" target="_blank" rel="noopener">he wrote</a>, “I'm all ears. No other location has been presented.”</p> <p>If the Bronx elected officials were stunned by the announcement, it’s little wonder that those who live in the neighborhood around the proposed site were likewise surprised and offended to learn of the plan.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_2.jpg" alt="bx jail site 2" width="325" height="187" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />The site is located in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, north of the Harlem River, with large industrial and manufacturing spaces running between the waterfront and the Major Deegan Expressway.</p> <p>Residents and others expressed a mix of astonishment, resignation, anger, and resentment as Gotham Gazette told them on Friday that the city intended to build a jail within blocks of their homes and places of work.</p> <p>“I thought they were gonna do a mall,” said Jesus Ortiz, 50, who runs an auto-repair shop across the street from the NYPD tow pound that occupies the block.</p> <p>The site is sandwiched between East 141st and 142nd Streets, next to Bruckner Boulevard, in a neighborhood with a mix of housing and commercial properties. Enclosed by metal sheet walls, the tow pound is almost a hill overlooking its neighbors, with impounded cars visible from the street through a peripheral treeline that is leafless in February.</p> <p>“They’re trying to rebuild the South Bronx to make it nice,” said Ortiz, “That’s not the way to rebuild, by putting a jail here.” Having worked there 15 years, Ortiz said he’s seen rapid development in recent times. Even the building that houses his auto shop was recently bought out, he said, and the landlords gave him a one-year lease till 2019. He’ll soon be gone from the neighborhood too.</p> <p>“They’re buying all around,” he said.</p> <p>Adam Bele, 40, loads containers at the lumber supply warehouse that sits behind 320 Concord. “Nobody wants to be near a jail,” he said. His biggest concern, one that others shared as well, is for the children that attend the several schools in the neighborhood.</p> <p>“You don’t want children hanging around a jail,” said the father of two infants who will likely attend one of those schools, he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>As with other residents, Bele was wary of the process for choosing the site. “It’s like they know it’s gonna be unpopular so they tried to hide it and do it quick, quick, quick,” he said. He had a simple piece of advice for the mayor. “Be transparent. Listen to this community, and take our recommendations into consideration.”</p> <p>But Bele empathizes with the city’s rationale that detainees deserve to be housed closer to their families in humane and modern facilities, and that Rikers needs to close. “You don’t want them treated like animals, they’re human like us,” he said. The mayor and speaker have promised to seek community feedback on the proposed site and, as required by the city’s land use review process, community boards will get an opportunity to hold votes, albeit nonbinding, to approve or reject the proposal. Borough presidents also get to weigh in with advisory opinions.</p> <p>Along Concord Avenue, in what could eventually be the shadow of a new jail, sit rowhouses, a few of them old and abandoned and showing signs of disrepair. “For Sale” signs hung in a few windows.</p> <p>In one of those houses lives Nereida Chavez, 38, a stay-at-home mom with four kids. “Oh my god!” she exclaimed on hearing that her biggest neighbor could one day be a jail.</p> <p>“I don’t like the idea of having a jail here,” she said. “It’s just scary.”</p> <p>She worried that a jail could mean more traffic along a little-traversed street. “We have our kids and they love to play out here with their bikes,” she said. And, it might also mean that parking, which has become an issue already owing to the large lumber and oil and gas companies around them, might worsen. “We hardly have any parking here. It’ll be even more complicated if they put a jail here,” she said.</p> <p>But Chavez was more concerned that she hardly had an opportunity to be heard on an issue that quite directly would affect her. “It makes me worried that things happen around us and we don’t know anything,” she said. “They also put shelters around us. They don’t let us know until it’s there.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_3.jpg" alt="bx jail site 3" width="325" height="161" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />At a bodega on East 141st Street, Mel McKenzie, 33, was buying milk. Gotham Gazette asked if the homemaker knew about the city’s plan to build a jail, three blocks from her home.</p> <p>“For real?” she said.</p> <p>“I’m not with it,” she frowned. “It should stay an impound lot....[A jail] won’t bring the community together. It’ll probably make us scared. And it’s too close to home.”</p> <p>Another shopper, Nancy Lopez, 43, chimed in. “Why move it so close when there’s other areas where they could put it?” she wondered. “Put it across Bruckner where it’s more industrial. There’s kids that walk by everyday on Concord.”</p> <p>The city’s plan to close Rikers and replace some of its capacity in borough facilities near courthouses entails building for about 6,000 inmates, with the goal of getting the jail population down to about 5,000, according to the mayor.</p> <p>McKenzie acknowledged that its a laudable objective to help detainees, most of whom are pre-trial and not convicted of any crime, remain connected to their communities. “That makes sense,” she said, but she also expressed concern about what school-going children would take away from it. “That’s the message they’re sending? You’re gonna be close to home if you get locked up.”</p> <p>“What happens if a prisoner escapes?” said Lopez, who said she is on disability and lives on Concord Avenue in the same row as Nereida Chavez. Instead, she proposed a “positive” alternative. “Why don’t they build affordable housing?”</p> <p>Both women had one shared concern, however, that neither of them had received an opportunity to weigh in. “They should notify the public,” McKenzie said.</p> <p>“As it’s happening, not when it’s already decided,” added Lopez. The city will present plans to the public, particularly through the community board, when the site is set for its place in the land use review process. It may be up to local residents to seek out opportunities to hear more and provide their feedback.</p> <p>Presenting the site as a “fait accompli” would undermine the process, said the Bronx borough president in his statement, but it’s what one resident seemed to expect from the administration. “The city does whatever it wants,” said Hector Camilo, 55. “It doesn’t matter. You can’t argue with the city.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been corrected to note that Assembly Member Michael Blake does not represent the district where the proposed jail site at 320 Concord Avenue is located. He represents a neighboring district.&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_1.jpg" alt="Bronx jail site NYPD tow pound" width="600" height="310" /></p> <p>Planned Bronx jail site (photos: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>When Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced last week that they’d reached a deal to speed up the closure of Rikers Island by creating or expanding jail facilities in every borough except Staten Island, it seemed to be a clear sign of a productive partnership between the administration and local elected officials.</p> <p>The mayor and speaker made the announcement at a news conference at City Hall, alongside four Council members -- Diana Ayala, Karen Koslowitz, Stephen Levin, and Margaret Chin -- willing to accept the political risk of a new or expanded jail in their districts. The city will launch a unified land use review application for all four jails, the mayor and speaker said, combining the arduous and lengthy multi-stage approval process for siting certain municipal facilities.</p> <p>But the proposal to build the Bronx jail -- the only one of the four that is not either a current or former jail facility -- immediately raised the hackles of elected officials from the borough other than Ayala, a newly elected Council member whose districts spans East Harlem and part of the South Bronx.</p> <p>“Look the site in the Bronx is a site owned by the City of New York. It is a very smart site in terms of its closeness to the courthouses,” de Blasio explained at the news conference, when asked about a critical statement put out by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who had not been kept in the loop by the administration or the Council. “There is going to be a full community process, but let's be clear, we're going to talk to everyone, we're going to listen to everyone, we're going to try in every way possible address community needs and address other benefits that communities need.”</p> <p>De Blasio emphasized, “That being said, up here are the people who ultimately have to make the decision – the Council, represented by the Speaker, the members who represent those individual districts, and me and my administration.”</p> <p>Ayala was aware of the criticism she may face for supporting a site in her district. “We all know that this siting process is bound to be controversial,” she said. “In the Bronx in particular, we are not repurposing an existing detention center but instead building a brand new facility that will require additional careful thought, serious consideration and robust community engagement, and I really wanna underline that…We also know that in the Bronx, too often we see a concentration of city facilities in our borough and there is rightfully some resistance to that. But we in the Bronx also understand the urgent need for criminal justice reform.”</p> <p>Top Bronx officials were taken aback that this was the first they were hearing of a new jail intended for their backyard. Any consultations that had happened had excluded Borough President Diaz Jr.; Assemblymember Michael Blake, whose district neighbors the one where the proposed site is located at 320 Concord Avenue, currently an NYPD tow pound; and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, the Democratic Bronx County party leader whose support helped Johnson win the speakership.</p> <p>“I was surprised to learn that the administration has already selected a site for a new jail in The Bronx,” said Diaz Jr. in a statement that preceded the mayor and speaker’s Wednesday news conference. The proposed site had been first revealed by the <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-mayor-bill-de-blasio-to-build-jail-in-the-bronx-1518565743?mod=WSJ_NY_LEFTTopStories&amp;tesla=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Wall Street Journal</a> the previous night, just after de Blasio delivered his State of the City address. “I hope that, going forward, this lack of outreach is not a harbinger of the amount of community input the people of my borough will have in this process,” Diaz Jr. said. (At the news conference, Johnson showed some contrition immediately, apologizing to Diaz Jr. and promising a “robust, meaningful” community engagement process.)</p> <p>“It is simply disrespectful that a decision of this magnitude of proposing to open a new jail in the South Bronx was made behind closed doors, without engaging the broader Bronx community,” said Assemblymember Blake, in a statement released Wednesday night.</p> <p>Crespo, the Democratic Bronx county boss, took to Twitter, calling out the mayor and speaker. “We spent so much time talking the last few months how did this rikers plan in my district never come up?” he wondered.</p> <p>“I think we were all caught off guard with how far ahead the city seems to be when no one in the Bronx was informed of the process,” Crespo later elaborated, in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. “Once you decide on a site, that’s gonna have an impact for generations.”</p> <p>Crespo and the other electeds aren’t opposed to the administration’s goal: building capacity in the boroughs so that Rikers can close. But, he said the Concord Avenue site is not the best option, and the city should explore alternatives. The community and the borough already host their fair share of municipal facilities, Crespo insisted, echoing widespread criticism that the city has long chosen to place seemingly undesirable facilities such as jails, homeless shelters, and waste treatment plants in low-income communities of color. “Make no mistake about it, this borough has been handling an unfair share already for a long time,” he said.</p> <p>“There’s major investments and their success would also be endangered,” he said of the Mott Haven neighborhood, where new development is underway literally across the road from where the jail would be situated.</p> <p>The rapid outpouring of criticism didn’t seem lost on Speaker Johnson, who quickly seemed to equivocate on the Bronx site. “I am committed to facilities in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan,” Johnson <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/bronx/politics/2018/02/16/council-speaker-says-he-is-not-wedded-to-specific-locations-for-new-jails" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told NY1</a>. "We are not wedded to an individual location. If there is a better location I am happy to have that conversation."</p> <p>Responding to an assertion that he was backpedaling, Johnson said in a subsequent tweet that he is “not at all” backing away from the site, but reiterated that the main goal is closing the jails on Rikers Island and that he is “not wedded” to one location. “If there's a better one,” <a href="https://twitter.com/CoreyinNYC/status/964309861688336384" target="_blank" rel="noopener">he wrote</a>, “I'm all ears. No other location has been presented.”</p> <p>If the Bronx elected officials were stunned by the announcement, it’s little wonder that those who live in the neighborhood around the proposed site were likewise surprised and offended to learn of the plan.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_2.jpg" alt="bx jail site 2" width="325" height="187" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />The site is located in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, north of the Harlem River, with large industrial and manufacturing spaces running between the waterfront and the Major Deegan Expressway.</p> <p>Residents and others expressed a mix of astonishment, resignation, anger, and resentment as Gotham Gazette told them on Friday that the city intended to build a jail within blocks of their homes and places of work.</p> <p>“I thought they were gonna do a mall,” said Jesus Ortiz, 50, who runs an auto-repair shop across the street from the NYPD tow pound that occupies the block.</p> <p>The site is sandwiched between East 141st and 142nd Streets, next to Bruckner Boulevard, in a neighborhood with a mix of housing and commercial properties. Enclosed by metal sheet walls, the tow pound is almost a hill overlooking its neighbors, with impounded cars visible from the street through a peripheral treeline that is leafless in February.</p> <p>“They’re trying to rebuild the South Bronx to make it nice,” said Ortiz, “That’s not the way to rebuild, by putting a jail here.” Having worked there 15 years, Ortiz said he’s seen rapid development in recent times. Even the building that houses his auto shop was recently bought out, he said, and the landlords gave him a one-year lease till 2019. He’ll soon be gone from the neighborhood too.</p> <p>“They’re buying all around,” he said.</p> <p>Adam Bele, 40, loads containers at the lumber supply warehouse that sits behind 320 Concord. “Nobody wants to be near a jail,” he said. His biggest concern, one that others shared as well, is for the children that attend the several schools in the neighborhood.</p> <p>“You don’t want children hanging around a jail,” said the father of two infants who will likely attend one of those schools, he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>As with other residents, Bele was wary of the process for choosing the site. “It’s like they know it’s gonna be unpopular so they tried to hide it and do it quick, quick, quick,” he said. He had a simple piece of advice for the mayor. “Be transparent. Listen to this community, and take our recommendations into consideration.”</p> <p>But Bele empathizes with the city’s rationale that detainees deserve to be housed closer to their families in humane and modern facilities, and that Rikers needs to close. “You don’t want them treated like animals, they’re human like us,” he said. The mayor and speaker have promised to seek community feedback on the proposed site and, as required by the city’s land use review process, community boards will get an opportunity to hold votes, albeit nonbinding, to approve or reject the proposal. Borough presidents also get to weigh in with advisory opinions.</p> <p>Along Concord Avenue, in what could eventually be the shadow of a new jail, sit rowhouses, a few of them old and abandoned and showing signs of disrepair. “For Sale” signs hung in a few windows.</p> <p>In one of those houses lives Nereida Chavez, 38, a stay-at-home mom with four kids. “Oh my god!” she exclaimed on hearing that her biggest neighbor could one day be a jail.</p> <p>“I don’t like the idea of having a jail here,” she said. “It’s just scary.”</p> <p>She worried that a jail could mean more traffic along a little-traversed street. “We have our kids and they love to play out here with their bikes,” she said. And, it might also mean that parking, which has become an issue already owing to the large lumber and oil and gas companies around them, might worsen. “We hardly have any parking here. It’ll be even more complicated if they put a jail here,” she said.</p> <p>But Chavez was more concerned that she hardly had an opportunity to be heard on an issue that quite directly would affect her. “It makes me worried that things happen around us and we don’t know anything,” she said. “They also put shelters around us. They don’t let us know until it’s there.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_3.jpg" alt="bx jail site 3" width="325" height="161" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />At a bodega on East 141st Street, Mel McKenzie, 33, was buying milk. Gotham Gazette asked if the homemaker knew about the city’s plan to build a jail, three blocks from her home.</p> <p>“For real?” she said.</p> <p>“I’m not with it,” she frowned. “It should stay an impound lot....[A jail] won’t bring the community together. It’ll probably make us scared. And it’s too close to home.”</p> <p>Another shopper, Nancy Lopez, 43, chimed in. “Why move it so close when there’s other areas where they could put it?” she wondered. “Put it across Bruckner where it’s more industrial. There’s kids that walk by everyday on Concord.”</p> <p>The city’s plan to close Rikers and replace some of its capacity in borough facilities near courthouses entails building for about 6,000 inmates, with the goal of getting the jail population down to about 5,000, according to the mayor.</p> <p>McKenzie acknowledged that its a laudable objective to help detainees, most of whom are pre-trial and not convicted of any crime, remain connected to their communities. “That makes sense,” she said, but she also expressed concern about what school-going children would take away from it. “That’s the message they’re sending? You’re gonna be close to home if you get locked up.”</p> <p>“What happens if a prisoner escapes?” said Lopez, who said she is on disability and lives on Concord Avenue in the same row as Nereida Chavez. Instead, she proposed a “positive” alternative. “Why don’t they build affordable housing?”</p> <p>Both women had one shared concern, however, that neither of them had received an opportunity to weigh in. “They should notify the public,” McKenzie said.</p> <p>“As it’s happening, not when it’s already decided,” added Lopez. The city will present plans to the public, particularly through the community board, when the site is set for its place in the land use review process. It may be up to local residents to seek out opportunities to hear more and provide their feedback.</p> <p>Presenting the site as a “fait accompli” would undermine the process, said the Bronx borough president in his statement, but it’s what one resident seemed to expect from the administration. “The city does whatever it wants,” said Hector Camilo, 55. “It doesn’t matter. You can’t argue with the city.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been corrected to note that Assembly Member Michael Blake does not represent the district where the proposed jail site at 320 Concord Avenue is located. He represents a neighboring district.&nbsp;</p>
Favorable to The Bronx, Council Committee Shuffle Also Seen as Retribution 2018-01-29T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-29T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7452:favorable-to-the-bronx-council-committee-shuffle-also-seen-as-retribution Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/39017821735_d3657cee54_z.jpg" alt="Kallos Salamanca City Council" width="600" height="407" /></p> <p>Council Members Ben Kallos, left, and Rafael Salamanca (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>When new City Council Speaker Corey Johnson reshuffled committee portfolios earlier this month, Council Member Ben Kallos lost his position as chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations. Sources say the move was punishment for Kallos’ approach to Board of Elections commissioner nominations and because of his support for one of Johnson’s opponents in the speaker race.</p> <p>By virtually all accounts, Kallos had done an exceptional job chairing the governmental operations committee during last legislative session, from 2014 through 2017. He led the way on a slew of reforms to campaign financing, government transparency and accountability, and was viewed by good government advocates as a valuable partner on the Council. He was praised by many, and snickered at by some, for his independence.</p> <p>But, with the election of Johnson as speaker, committee portfolios would be changed, with significant influence from the Queens and Bronx Democratic county organizations, which gave Johnson the backing he needed to ascend to what is arguably the second-most powerful position in city government behind the mayor.</p> <p>Kallos, who multiple sources say wanted to keep chairing the committee, was among a small number of members left out in the cold. His committee chair position went to another member, Council Member Fernando Cabrera of the Bronx, and Kallos was instead assigned to lead the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions, which falls under the land use committee. He was named as a member of the governmental operations committee, among others.</p> <p>Kallos declined multiple requests to comment for this article.</p> <p>The Committee on Governmental Operations has a broad purview, overseeing several city agencies including the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the Campaign Finance Board, the city Board of Elections, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and the Law Department, among others. The committee also has oversight of the city’s 59 community boards.</p> <p>Government reform groups generally praise Kallos’ leadership of the committee. “He raised a lot of good government issues that otherwise wouldn’t have seen the light of day, and he raised them on the merits,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, in a phone interview. “Maybe that miffed people at times but they were important issues to be raised and I don’t think that warrants removal from the chairmanship.”</p> <p>As chair, one of Kallos’ priorities was to reduce patronage hires at city agencies, particularly the Board of Elections, a bipartisan body where positions are filled by the county organizations for both parties. Patronage, Kallos said, invariably leads to conflicts of interests and the appointment of subpar employees. The BOE’s ten commissioners -- one from each party in each borough -- are nominated by the county committees and confirmed by the Council. The commissioners play a crucial role in deciding who gets to be on the ballot in elections and in interpreting state election law.</p> <p>In 2016, Kallos was among those members who rankled the Bronx Democratic County Committee, led by Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, by insisting that a nominee for Democratic commissioner from the Bronx be required to give up her registration as a lobbyist in order to be confirmed as an elections commissioner. The nominee, Rosanna Vargas, initially refused but later relented. Vargas is now the president of the Board of Elections.</p> <p>“The Queens and Bronx county committees felt that Council Member Kallos wasn’t a team player with regards to BOE appointments,” said one source with knowledge of internal county party dynamics, when asked about Kallos losing his committee chairmanship, and speaking only on the condition of anonymity.</p> <p>Council Member Cabrera told Gotham Gazette that while he did not push to chair the governmental operations committee, he was “excited” to be offered it. “There were different options that were being put forth, but as soon as it was presented to me, I said that I was very eager to do so,” he said at City Hall recently. Cabrera did not serve on the committee in the last term but was co-sponsor of a few bills under its purview.</p> <p>Cabrera said he would pursue legislation to improve the city’s campaign finance system, which is centered around public matching of low-dollar contributions and is held up as a national model, and would look to expand voter engagement in a city known for low turnout in the last few elections. “I’m a team player,” he said, insisting he will approach legislation and oversight collaboratively with his colleagues, “and so this is not a solo dance that we’re going to be doing here. Working with the administration as well, we want collaboration.”</p> <p>He said he sees “eye-to-eye” with Kallos. Asked if Kallos was punished for opposing the Bronx County’s BOE pick in 2016, Cabrera pleaded ignorance. “To be honest with you, I have no knowledge, I don’t even know what you’re really referring to, honestly,” he said.</p> <p>“I do know he did well,” Cabrera added. “I have to tell you he got, and I spoke to him, he got a very good committee. It’s a committee you can do a whole lot with. Anything related to finance. It’s one that has influence and can bring systemic change.”</p> <p>The subcommittee Kallos now chairs feeds the land use committee now being chaired by Council Member Rafael Salamanca of the Bronx, an appointment by Johnson perhaps most indicative of the rewards provided to the county for its support of his speaker bid.</p> <p>Kallos was a known supporter of Council Member Mark Levine’s bid for the speakership of the Council. Levine was among the frontrunners for the post, but was unsuccessful after the Bronx and Queens County Democrats coalesced around Johnson, who gained the backing of those vote-rich counties in part because he had also secured individual support from about ten other Council members, according to Johnson.</p> <p>“A land use subcommittee is as important or more important than a lot of full committees, honestly,” Levine told Gotham Gazette at City Hall earlier this month. He refused to speculate on why Kallos lost his chair position but said that Kallos was “amazing” as chair of the committee. “I think reshuffling of committees is a standard practice in any new term. Very few people continued in the same committee...the movement is natural.” he said. “I’ll tell you this about Ben Kallos, he’s going to be a leader in this body, no matter what portfolio he’s handed. He’s one of the smartest and most effective legislators I know. So he’s going to be impactful without a doubt in the next four years.”</p> <p>Asked about the decision to give the chair position to Cabrera, Council communications director Robin Levine referred Gotham Gazette to Johnson’s remarks at a January 11 news conference immediately after the new committee chairs were voted on by the full Council. She did not address a question about whether Crespo wanted Kallos removed from the position.</p> <p>At the news conference, in response to a question from Gotham Gazette, Johnson emphasized that the committee appointments were a complicated task. “Every decision that was made...when you moved one piece around, it affected the rest of the matrix,” he said. “So that’s why we spent the whole weekend here. That’s why I met with every individual member. That’s why we were in conversations, of course, with the county leaders.”</p> <p>“The process was a consultative process that, number one, involved the members,” he continued. “Number two, involved of course having conversations with the county leaders, with the mayor -- he wanted to understand who would be chairing certain committees -- with certain labor unions who played a role in this process, with members of Congress, with members of the Assembly, with members of the state Senate. There were over a hundred people who were calling every day for a week wanting to try and ensure that certain people got certain things.”</p> <p>“I was really trying to make everyone as happy as I could, by being as flexible as I could, by being as creative as I could and to try and give different people avenues for leadership and avenues to work on issues that matter to them,” Johnson said.</p> <p>In a statement through a spokesperson, Crespo did not directly respond to a question on whether he pushed for Kallos’ ouster. “As it has been in the past, City Council committee chairs frequently change at the start of new legislative terms,” Crespo said. “Our focus is to always advocate for our members in the Bronx delegation of the City Council and in doing so, providing the city and our constituents sound and steady leadership. The primary focus should be on the fact that an important committee now continues to have strong leadership with Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera as chair.”</p> <p>One Council member, who asked to remain anonymous to speak freely about the committee appointments, said Kallos was a victim of a combination of factors. “I think it was an accumulation of the running into the counties on BOE, running up against Corey in the speaker’s race, and he’s also got some very complicated land use stuff in his district as well. Probably didn’t help this matter either, he’s seen as very anti-development,” the Council member said.</p> <p>But, the Council member added, “He could have fared worse.” Indeed, some other Council members who opposed Johnson’s bid or supported his opponents appeared to come away with less. Among those were Council Members Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, neither of whom was given a committee chair position after having led the rules committee and the housing and buildings committee, respectively, in the last term. Lander did retain his position as Deputy Leader for Policy.</p> <p>“Is everyone 100 percent happy? No. Are some people happier than others? Yes,” Johnson said at the January 11 hearing where the new committee chairs were confirmed. “I did my best...There was no level of vindictiveness towards any member of this body from me, there was no level of vindictiveness, there was no score-settling, there was no keeping track of what happened during the Speaker’s race.”</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/2017/39017821735_d3657cee54_z.jpg" alt="Kallos Salamanca City Council" width="600" height="407" /></p> <p>Council Members Ben Kallos, left, and Rafael Salamanca (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>When new City Council Speaker Corey Johnson reshuffled committee portfolios earlier this month, Council Member Ben Kallos lost his position as chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations. Sources say the move was punishment for Kallos’ approach to Board of Elections commissioner nominations and because of his support for one of Johnson’s opponents in the speaker race.</p> <p>By virtually all accounts, Kallos had done an exceptional job chairing the governmental operations committee during last legislative session, from 2014 through 2017. He led the way on a slew of reforms to campaign financing, government transparency and accountability, and was viewed by good government advocates as a valuable partner on the Council. He was praised by many, and snickered at by some, for his independence.</p> <p>But, with the election of Johnson as speaker, committee portfolios would be changed, with significant influence from the Queens and Bronx Democratic county organizations, which gave Johnson the backing he needed to ascend to what is arguably the second-most powerful position in city government behind the mayor.</p> <p>Kallos, who multiple sources say wanted to keep chairing the committee, was among a small number of members left out in the cold. His committee chair position went to another member, Council Member Fernando Cabrera of the Bronx, and Kallos was instead assigned to lead the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions, which falls under the land use committee. He was named as a member of the governmental operations committee, among others.</p> <p>Kallos declined multiple requests to comment for this article.</p> <p>The Committee on Governmental Operations has a broad purview, overseeing several city agencies including the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the Campaign Finance Board, the city Board of Elections, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and the Law Department, among others. The committee also has oversight of the city’s 59 community boards.</p> <p>Government reform groups generally praise Kallos’ leadership of the committee. “He raised a lot of good government issues that otherwise wouldn’t have seen the light of day, and he raised them on the merits,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, in a phone interview. “Maybe that miffed people at times but they were important issues to be raised and I don’t think that warrants removal from the chairmanship.”</p> <p>As chair, one of Kallos’ priorities was to reduce patronage hires at city agencies, particularly the Board of Elections, a bipartisan body where positions are filled by the county organizations for both parties. Patronage, Kallos said, invariably leads to conflicts of interests and the appointment of subpar employees. The BOE’s ten commissioners -- one from each party in each borough -- are nominated by the county committees and confirmed by the Council. The commissioners play a crucial role in deciding who gets to be on the ballot in elections and in interpreting state election law.</p> <p>In 2016, Kallos was among those members who rankled the Bronx Democratic County Committee, led by Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, by insisting that a nominee for Democratic commissioner from the Bronx be required to give up her registration as a lobbyist in order to be confirmed as an elections commissioner. The nominee, Rosanna Vargas, initially refused but later relented. Vargas is now the president of the Board of Elections.</p> <p>“The Queens and Bronx county committees felt that Council Member Kallos wasn’t a team player with regards to BOE appointments,” said one source with knowledge of internal county party dynamics, when asked about Kallos losing his committee chairmanship, and speaking only on the condition of anonymity.</p> <p>Council Member Cabrera told Gotham Gazette that while he did not push to chair the governmental operations committee, he was “excited” to be offered it. “There were different options that were being put forth, but as soon as it was presented to me, I said that I was very eager to do so,” he said at City Hall recently. Cabrera did not serve on the committee in the last term but was co-sponsor of a few bills under its purview.</p> <p>Cabrera said he would pursue legislation to improve the city’s campaign finance system, which is centered around public matching of low-dollar contributions and is held up as a national model, and would look to expand voter engagement in a city known for low turnout in the last few elections. “I’m a team player,” he said, insisting he will approach legislation and oversight collaboratively with his colleagues, “and so this is not a solo dance that we’re going to be doing here. Working with the administration as well, we want collaboration.”</p> <p>He said he sees “eye-to-eye” with Kallos. Asked if Kallos was punished for opposing the Bronx County’s BOE pick in 2016, Cabrera pleaded ignorance. “To be honest with you, I have no knowledge, I don’t even know what you’re really referring to, honestly,” he said.</p> <p>“I do know he did well,” Cabrera added. “I have to tell you he got, and I spoke to him, he got a very good committee. It’s a committee you can do a whole lot with. Anything related to finance. It’s one that has influence and can bring systemic change.”</p> <p>The subcommittee Kallos now chairs feeds the land use committee now being chaired by Council Member Rafael Salamanca of the Bronx, an appointment by Johnson perhaps most indicative of the rewards provided to the county for its support of his speaker bid.</p> <p>Kallos was a known supporter of Council Member Mark Levine’s bid for the speakership of the Council. Levine was among the frontrunners for the post, but was unsuccessful after the Bronx and Queens County Democrats coalesced around Johnson, who gained the backing of those vote-rich counties in part because he had also secured individual support from about ten other Council members, according to Johnson.</p> <p>“A land use subcommittee is as important or more important than a lot of full committees, honestly,” Levine told Gotham Gazette at City Hall earlier this month. He refused to speculate on why Kallos lost his chair position but said that Kallos was “amazing” as chair of the committee. “I think reshuffling of committees is a standard practice in any new term. Very few people continued in the same committee...the movement is natural.” he said. “I’ll tell you this about Ben Kallos, he’s going to be a leader in this body, no matter what portfolio he’s handed. He’s one of the smartest and most effective legislators I know. So he’s going to be impactful without a doubt in the next four years.”</p> <p>Asked about the decision to give the chair position to Cabrera, Council communications director Robin Levine referred Gotham Gazette to Johnson’s remarks at a January 11 news conference immediately after the new committee chairs were voted on by the full Council. She did not address a question about whether Crespo wanted Kallos removed from the position.</p> <p>At the news conference, in response to a question from Gotham Gazette, Johnson emphasized that the committee appointments were a complicated task. “Every decision that was made...when you moved one piece around, it affected the rest of the matrix,” he said. “So that’s why we spent the whole weekend here. That’s why I met with every individual member. That’s why we were in conversations, of course, with the county leaders.”</p> <p>“The process was a consultative process that, number one, involved the members,” he continued. “Number two, involved of course having conversations with the county leaders, with the mayor -- he wanted to understand who would be chairing certain committees -- with certain labor unions who played a role in this process, with members of Congress, with members of the Assembly, with members of the state Senate. There were over a hundred people who were calling every day for a week wanting to try and ensure that certain people got certain things.”</p> <p>“I was really trying to make everyone as happy as I could, by being as flexible as I could, by being as creative as I could and to try and give different people avenues for leadership and avenues to work on issues that matter to them,” Johnson said.</p> <p>In a statement through a spokesperson, Crespo did not directly respond to a question on whether he pushed for Kallos’ ouster. “As it has been in the past, City Council committee chairs frequently change at the start of new legislative terms,” Crespo said. “Our focus is to always advocate for our members in the Bronx delegation of the City Council and in doing so, providing the city and our constituents sound and steady leadership. The primary focus should be on the fact that an important committee now continues to have strong leadership with Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera as chair.”</p> <p>One Council member, who asked to remain anonymous to speak freely about the committee appointments, said Kallos was a victim of a combination of factors. “I think it was an accumulation of the running into the counties on BOE, running up against Corey in the speaker’s race, and he’s also got some very complicated land use stuff in his district as well. Probably didn’t help this matter either, he’s seen as very anti-development,” the Council member said.</p> <p>But, the Council member added, “He could have fared worse.” Indeed, some other Council members who opposed Johnson’s bid or supported his opponents appeared to come away with less. Among those were Council Members Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, neither of whom was given a committee chair position after having led the rules committee and the housing and buildings committee, respectively, in the last term. Lander did retain his position as Deputy Leader for Policy.</p> <p>“Is everyone 100 percent happy? No. Are some people happier than others? Yes,” Johnson said at the January 11 hearing where the new committee chairs were confirmed. “I did my best...There was no level of vindictiveness towards any member of this body from me, there was no level of vindictiveness, there was no score-settling, there was no keeping track of what happened during the Speaker’s race.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Corey Johnson Elected Speaker of the City Council 2018-01-03T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-03T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7401:corey-johnson-elected-speaker-of-the-city-council Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/podcast/corey-johnson-moments-after-being-elected-speaker-of-the-city-council-cfredit-william-alatriste.jpg" alt="corey johnson moments after being elected speaker of the city council cfredit william alatriste" width="600" height="357" /></p> <p>Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>City Council Member Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, was elected speaker of the New York City Council with near unanimous support on Wednesday, becoming the first leader of the 51-member legislative body who is an openly gay man and openly HIV-positive.</p> <p>Johnson took the helm at the first charter meeting of the new Council class, after a vote that saw little drama and 48 votes in his favor. Council members, including those who had attempted to run for speaker themselves, took their turns singing Johnson’s praises as prominent elected officials and political influencers from across the five boroughs looked on from the balcony of the Council chambers. Johnson’s mother was there, too, having driven from Massachusetts to see him rise to the Council’s top leadership position.</p> <p>In an emotional acceptance speech, Johnson spoke about the importance of his mother in his life and some of the tough times they had faced. He spoke fondly of his predecessors and the city’s progress in the last four years under Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. But he warned of challenges of “historic proportions” that lay ahead: an affordability crisis that is pushing out residents of the city, an “overflowing” shelter system with thousands of homeless families, struggling mom and pop businesses, a mass transit crisis owing from years of government neglect, continued racial disparities across the city, and potential funding cuts from the state and federal governments. “These problems are incredibly complex and entrenched,” he said. “But the future of our city depends on our ability to confront them. And confront them we will.”</p> <p>In alluding to the many thorny issues that plagued the first term of the de Blasio administration, he promised to tackle them with increased independence from the mayor. “There has never been a more important time to ensure that our city has a strong, unified and independent Council to take on these challenges,” he said, with an emphasis on the word independent. He pledged unending support to his 50 constituents and promised to lead by consensus.</p> <p>Johnson emerged at the top of a crowded field of candidates who had sought the speakership but all of whom dropped out of the race and conceded to Johnson in the days leading up to the vote, after it emerged that he had the support of the Queens and Bronx Democratic county organizations, led by Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley and Assembly Member Marcos Crespo, respectively. But, in a city where people of color make a majority and that is already led by a white male mayor, there was some criticism around Johnson’s selection to what is considered the second-most powerful position in city government.</p> <p>Numerous Council members representing the Black, Asian and Latino Caucus had insisted that the next speaker should be a person of color. That included Council Member Inez Barron, who attempted a last-minute protest candidacy and voted for herself on Wednesday. “It’s time for a paradigm shift and that’s what I’m here to call for,” Barron had said at a news conference on the steps of City Hall shortly before the vote. “We’ve gotta put an end to the system that has deals that arrange for the speaker to be selected on behalf of what it is that county bosses and district leaders and other powerful players and other rich developers want to see happen here.” Her husband, Assembly Member (and former Council Member) Charles Barron, said, “The process is fraudulent, the process is racist, and the process is corrupt and its been that way for a long time.”</p> <p>Another speaker candidate, Council Member Jumaane Williams, who only conceded the race Wednesday morning, opted for skipping the vote entirely and instead attended Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address in Albany, which was scheduled for around the same time (Williams is toying with a bid for governor or lieutenant governor, saying that Cuomo is not a true progressive). Williams had held out longer than most of the other speaker candidates, saying that the next speaker should be a person of color.</p> <p>In a Wednesday statement, Williams criticized the lack of diversity in leadership positions in city government even as he looked forward to working with Johnson. “Equity must be an issue of highest priority to the next Speaker of the City Council,” he said. “Having spoken at length with Council Member Johnson, he is acutely aware of those concerns, and has agreed, in a tangible and accountable way, to work alongside me on issues of equity, both in government and citywide, for people of diverse backgrounds across race, gender, sexual orientation, and more.”</p> <p>Williams and Council Member Debi Rose were the only two absences on Wednesday, meaning Johnson received 48 of the 49 votes cast. In his first remarks from the speaker’s podium on the Council chambers floor, Johnson also nominated members and a chair of the rules committee, which will help establish the new Council’s rules and the chairs and members of the other 40-plus issue committees. Johnson named Council Member Rory Lancman to chair the committee, and the speaker himself will be a member of it, as is customary. Johnson is <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7378-rules-reform-package-supported-by-33-current-and-incoming-city-council-members" target="_blank" rel="noopener">one of 33 members who had signed on to a draft package of rules reforms that are expected to move ahead in some form</a>.</p> <p>The newly elected speaker has not expressed any particular legislative priorities yet, though he has had a focus on public health as a Council member who chaired the health committee. He’s focused more of his public comments on bolstering the Council and how he would lead the body. He again said on Wednesday that he wants to add to the Council’s land use staff, recreate an investigations division, and offer Council members the opportunity to pursue their interests and priorities.</p> <p>Speaking with members of the media during a brief press conference after the formal proceedings, Johnson said he will seek a diverse staff, and said that Council Chief of Staff Ramon Martinez has been asked to stay on. He also said that he will look to female members and members of color to speak and lead on issues that he may not have direct experience with. Johnson said he will be talking with each member to see which committees they are interested in chairing or joining and would do his best to make as much of it work as possible. He is sure to also be guided by Crowley and Crespo, as well as other political heavyweights that helped him win the post, like the leaders of the hotel workers union and the firefighters union.</p> <p>And though many expect him to adopt a more top-down style of leadership than Mark-Viverito, he has insisted that he will sit down with individual members to gauge the needs of their district while formulating a larger agenda for the Council. On the Council floor, he named each member individually, telling them, “I want you to know that in good times and in bad, through thick and thin, I will always have your back. Those of you who supported me, those who didn’t support me, those who ran for speaker and those who have been here in this body and those who are new, I will have your back.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7398-corey-johnson-s-record-and-promises" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Corey Johnson’s Record and Promises</a>]</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/2017/podcast/corey-johnson-moments-after-being-elected-speaker-of-the-city-council-cfredit-william-alatriste.jpg" alt="corey johnson moments after being elected speaker of the city council cfredit william alatriste" width="600" height="357" /></p> <p>Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>City Council Member Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, was elected speaker of the New York City Council with near unanimous support on Wednesday, becoming the first leader of the 51-member legislative body who is an openly gay man and openly HIV-positive.</p> <p>Johnson took the helm at the first charter meeting of the new Council class, after a vote that saw little drama and 48 votes in his favor. Council members, including those who had attempted to run for speaker themselves, took their turns singing Johnson’s praises as prominent elected officials and political influencers from across the five boroughs looked on from the balcony of the Council chambers. Johnson’s mother was there, too, having driven from Massachusetts to see him rise to the Council’s top leadership position.</p> <p>In an emotional acceptance speech, Johnson spoke about the importance of his mother in his life and some of the tough times they had faced. He spoke fondly of his predecessors and the city’s progress in the last four years under Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. But he warned of challenges of “historic proportions” that lay ahead: an affordability crisis that is pushing out residents of the city, an “overflowing” shelter system with thousands of homeless families, struggling mom and pop businesses, a mass transit crisis owing from years of government neglect, continued racial disparities across the city, and potential funding cuts from the state and federal governments. “These problems are incredibly complex and entrenched,” he said. “But the future of our city depends on our ability to confront them. And confront them we will.”</p> <p>In alluding to the many thorny issues that plagued the first term of the de Blasio administration, he promised to tackle them with increased independence from the mayor. “There has never been a more important time to ensure that our city has a strong, unified and independent Council to take on these challenges,” he said, with an emphasis on the word independent. He pledged unending support to his 50 constituents and promised to lead by consensus.</p> <p>Johnson emerged at the top of a crowded field of candidates who had sought the speakership but all of whom dropped out of the race and conceded to Johnson in the days leading up to the vote, after it emerged that he had the support of the Queens and Bronx Democratic county organizations, led by Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley and Assembly Member Marcos Crespo, respectively. But, in a city where people of color make a majority and that is already led by a white male mayor, there was some criticism around Johnson’s selection to what is considered the second-most powerful position in city government.</p> <p>Numerous Council members representing the Black, Asian and Latino Caucus had insisted that the next speaker should be a person of color. That included Council Member Inez Barron, who attempted a last-minute protest candidacy and voted for herself on Wednesday. “It’s time for a paradigm shift and that’s what I’m here to call for,” Barron had said at a news conference on the steps of City Hall shortly before the vote. “We’ve gotta put an end to the system that has deals that arrange for the speaker to be selected on behalf of what it is that county bosses and district leaders and other powerful players and other rich developers want to see happen here.” Her husband, Assembly Member (and former Council Member) Charles Barron, said, “The process is fraudulent, the process is racist, and the process is corrupt and its been that way for a long time.”</p> <p>Another speaker candidate, Council Member Jumaane Williams, who only conceded the race Wednesday morning, opted for skipping the vote entirely and instead attended Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address in Albany, which was scheduled for around the same time (Williams is toying with a bid for governor or lieutenant governor, saying that Cuomo is not a true progressive). Williams had held out longer than most of the other speaker candidates, saying that the next speaker should be a person of color.</p> <p>In a Wednesday statement, Williams criticized the lack of diversity in leadership positions in city government even as he looked forward to working with Johnson. “Equity must be an issue of highest priority to the next Speaker of the City Council,” he said. “Having spoken at length with Council Member Johnson, he is acutely aware of those concerns, and has agreed, in a tangible and accountable way, to work alongside me on issues of equity, both in government and citywide, for people of diverse backgrounds across race, gender, sexual orientation, and more.”</p> <p>Williams and Council Member Debi Rose were the only two absences on Wednesday, meaning Johnson received 48 of the 49 votes cast. In his first remarks from the speaker’s podium on the Council chambers floor, Johnson also nominated members and a chair of the rules committee, which will help establish the new Council’s rules and the chairs and members of the other 40-plus issue committees. Johnson named Council Member Rory Lancman to chair the committee, and the speaker himself will be a member of it, as is customary. Johnson is <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7378-rules-reform-package-supported-by-33-current-and-incoming-city-council-members" target="_blank" rel="noopener">one of 33 members who had signed on to a draft package of rules reforms that are expected to move ahead in some form</a>.</p> <p>The newly elected speaker has not expressed any particular legislative priorities yet, though he has had a focus on public health as a Council member who chaired the health committee. He’s focused more of his public comments on bolstering the Council and how he would lead the body. He again said on Wednesday that he wants to add to the Council’s land use staff, recreate an investigations division, and offer Council members the opportunity to pursue their interests and priorities.</p> <p>Speaking with members of the media during a brief press conference after the formal proceedings, Johnson said he will seek a diverse staff, and said that Council Chief of Staff Ramon Martinez has been asked to stay on. He also said that he will look to female members and members of color to speak and lead on issues that he may not have direct experience with. Johnson said he will be talking with each member to see which committees they are interested in chairing or joining and would do his best to make as much of it work as possible. He is sure to also be guided by Crowley and Crespo, as well as other political heavyweights that helped him win the post, like the leaders of the hotel workers union and the firefighters union.</p> <p>And though many expect him to adopt a more top-down style of leadership than Mark-Viverito, he has insisted that he will sit down with individual members to gauge the needs of their district while formulating a larger agenda for the Council. On the Council floor, he named each member individually, telling them, “I want you to know that in good times and in bad, through thick and thin, I will always have your back. Those of you who supported me, those who didn’t support me, those who ran for speaker and those who have been here in this body and those who are new, I will have your back.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7398-corey-johnson-s-record-and-promises" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Corey Johnson’s Record and Promises</a>]</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Former Informant, Out; Candidate Indicted on Voter Fraud, In 2016-07-13T04:00:00+00:00 2016-07-13T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6436:former-informant-out-candidate-indicted-on-voter-fraud-in Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/Hector_Ramirez_petitioning.jpg" alt="Hector Ramirez petitioning" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>Hector Ramirez petitioning in the Bronx (photo <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1156003124439040&amp;set=a.332382103467817.73262.100000880915756&amp;type=3&amp;theater" target="_blank">via Facebook</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>Bronx Assemblymember Victor Pichardo will no longer be facing former Assemblymember Nelson Castro, a onetime federal informant who helped dig up dirt on fellow electeds in an attempt to reduce charges he was facing for election-related perjury, in the upcoming Democratic primary.</p> <p>Instead, Pichardo will again be opposed by Bronx activist Hector Ramirez, who is facing a 242-count indictment for voter fraud in relation to his activities in his last race against Pichardo.</p> <p>According to the Bronx District Attorney&rsquo;s office Ramirez has a date in court before Bronx Supreme Court Justice Steven Barrett on September 13, the day of the Democratic primary.</p> <p>While Castro has dropped <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6383-former-government-informant-to-run-for-old-assembly-seat" target="_blank">his plans to run</a>, Ramirez presents a stiffer challenge to the incumbent as the former districts leader&rsquo;s name has appeared on ballots in the Bronx for over 20 years and he recently challenged Pichardo in the special election to replace Castro in 2013 and during the Democratic primary in 2014.</p> <p>Ramirez&rsquo;s entrance into the race is another chapter for the 86th Assembly District, which has been rocked by scandal and infighting <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/4521-the-castro-legacy-corruption-haunts-assembly-district-race" target="_blank">for years</a>. Castro served two terms in the Assembly while also working as an informant before abruptly resigning in April 2013. Ramirez announced his candidacy in a press release on Tuesday night touting that he had filed three times the required signatures to get on the ballot.</p> <p>Pichardo&rsquo;s camp is expected to challenge Ramirez&rsquo;s petitions, with the possibility of knocking him off the ballot.</p> <p>Castro told Gotham Gazette that he decided to bow out of the race after collecting 2,300 signatures petitioning because it was difficult to raise money. He said he now expects to back Ramirez. &ldquo;I decided to stay out, but I think I will be endorsing Hector Ramirez,&rdquo; Castro said. Asked if the indictment against Ramirez concerns him at all, Castro replied: &ldquo;I haven&rsquo;t endorsed yet. He&rsquo;s not guilty until proven guilty in a court of law.&rdquo;</p> <p>Ramirez, who has clashed with county Democrats, is positioning himself as a man of the people running against Pichardo, who he has labeled the establishment candidate and an outsider. "[T]he first step in having our voice and concerns heard in Albany is allowing the people of the district to exercise their constitutional right of electing whomever they want fighting for them in Albany, not a poppet [sic] imposed by politicians," Ramirez said in the statement.</p> <p>Pichardo reacted to Ramirez&rsquo;s announcement by requesting the Department of Justice monitor the contest. "This announcement is yet another example of both Hector Ramirez&rsquo;s contempt for the law and his lack of respect for the voters of the 86th Assembly district,&rdquo; Pichardo said in a statement.</p> <p>In 2014, dozens of witnesses <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/bronx-politician-hector-ramirez-busted-fraud-charges-article-1.2229187" target="_blank">told the Bronx DA</a> office that Ramirez and his staffers duped them into handing over their absentee ballots - some of which Ramirez&rsquo;s staff then filed as votes for their candidate. After the first tally Ramirez led Pichardo by 11 votes out of over 3,500 ballots cast. A hand recount put Pichardo ahead by only two votes.</p> <p><a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx/machine-politics-fraud-filled-bronx-race-article-1.1454279" target="_blank">At the time</a>, Ramirez accused Pichardo of election fraud because Pichardo&rsquo;s mother was active as a poll worker in the district. Further, Ramirez and other candidates complained that levers were missing on voting machines making it impossible to cast a ballot for Ramirez. The Board of Elections said that anyone who encountered a problem was offered a paper ballot.</p> <p>Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, chair of the Bronx County Democrats, said he believes Pichardo will defeat any challenge because &ldquo;Victor brings integrity to the job.&rdquo; He said, &ldquo;The Bronx deserves better than this continual parade of candidates with clouds around them.&rdquo;</p> <p>Crespo added that he thinks candidates should wait to run until &ldquo;their legal issues are behind them.&rdquo;</p> <p>Ramirez was not immediately made available for an interview for this story.</p> <p>Castro said he feels Pichardo and Ramirez have something to settle. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a matter of principle. Hector won those elections but apparently after they counted paper ballots Pichardo won by two votes. I decided to stay out to let them duke it out. They have something there to work out.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/Hector_Ramirez_petitioning.jpg" alt="Hector Ramirez petitioning" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>Hector Ramirez petitioning in the Bronx (photo <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1156003124439040&amp;set=a.332382103467817.73262.100000880915756&amp;type=3&amp;theater" target="_blank">via Facebook</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>Bronx Assemblymember Victor Pichardo will no longer be facing former Assemblymember Nelson Castro, a onetime federal informant who helped dig up dirt on fellow electeds in an attempt to reduce charges he was facing for election-related perjury, in the upcoming Democratic primary.</p> <p>Instead, Pichardo will again be opposed by Bronx activist Hector Ramirez, who is facing a 242-count indictment for voter fraud in relation to his activities in his last race against Pichardo.</p> <p>According to the Bronx District Attorney&rsquo;s office Ramirez has a date in court before Bronx Supreme Court Justice Steven Barrett on September 13, the day of the Democratic primary.</p> <p>While Castro has dropped <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6383-former-government-informant-to-run-for-old-assembly-seat" target="_blank">his plans to run</a>, Ramirez presents a stiffer challenge to the incumbent as the former districts leader&rsquo;s name has appeared on ballots in the Bronx for over 20 years and he recently challenged Pichardo in the special election to replace Castro in 2013 and during the Democratic primary in 2014.</p> <p>Ramirez&rsquo;s entrance into the race is another chapter for the 86th Assembly District, which has been rocked by scandal and infighting <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/4521-the-castro-legacy-corruption-haunts-assembly-district-race" target="_blank">for years</a>. Castro served two terms in the Assembly while also working as an informant before abruptly resigning in April 2013. Ramirez announced his candidacy in a press release on Tuesday night touting that he had filed three times the required signatures to get on the ballot.</p> <p>Pichardo&rsquo;s camp is expected to challenge Ramirez&rsquo;s petitions, with the possibility of knocking him off the ballot.</p> <p>Castro told Gotham Gazette that he decided to bow out of the race after collecting 2,300 signatures petitioning because it was difficult to raise money. He said he now expects to back Ramirez. &ldquo;I decided to stay out, but I think I will be endorsing Hector Ramirez,&rdquo; Castro said. Asked if the indictment against Ramirez concerns him at all, Castro replied: &ldquo;I haven&rsquo;t endorsed yet. He&rsquo;s not guilty until proven guilty in a court of law.&rdquo;</p> <p>Ramirez, who has clashed with county Democrats, is positioning himself as a man of the people running against Pichardo, who he has labeled the establishment candidate and an outsider. "[T]he first step in having our voice and concerns heard in Albany is allowing the people of the district to exercise their constitutional right of electing whomever they want fighting for them in Albany, not a poppet [sic] imposed by politicians," Ramirez said in the statement.</p> <p>Pichardo reacted to Ramirez&rsquo;s announcement by requesting the Department of Justice monitor the contest. "This announcement is yet another example of both Hector Ramirez&rsquo;s contempt for the law and his lack of respect for the voters of the 86th Assembly district,&rdquo; Pichardo said in a statement.</p> <p>In 2014, dozens of witnesses <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/bronx-politician-hector-ramirez-busted-fraud-charges-article-1.2229187" target="_blank">told the Bronx DA</a> office that Ramirez and his staffers duped them into handing over their absentee ballots - some of which Ramirez&rsquo;s staff then filed as votes for their candidate. After the first tally Ramirez led Pichardo by 11 votes out of over 3,500 ballots cast. A hand recount put Pichardo ahead by only two votes.</p> <p><a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx/machine-politics-fraud-filled-bronx-race-article-1.1454279" target="_blank">At the time</a>, Ramirez accused Pichardo of election fraud because Pichardo&rsquo;s mother was active as a poll worker in the district. Further, Ramirez and other candidates complained that levers were missing on voting machines making it impossible to cast a ballot for Ramirez. The Board of Elections said that anyone who encountered a problem was offered a paper ballot.</p> <p>Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, chair of the Bronx County Democrats, said he believes Pichardo will defeat any challenge because &ldquo;Victor brings integrity to the job.&rdquo; He said, &ldquo;The Bronx deserves better than this continual parade of candidates with clouds around them.&rdquo;</p> <p>Crespo added that he thinks candidates should wait to run until &ldquo;their legal issues are behind them.&rdquo;</p> <p>Ramirez was not immediately made available for an interview for this story.</p> <p>Castro said he feels Pichardo and Ramirez have something to settle. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a matter of principle. Hector won those elections but apparently after they counted paper ballots Pichardo won by two votes. I decided to stay out to let them duke it out. They have something there to work out.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Bronx Council Member Preparing to Again Challenge Incumbent State Senator 2016-06-09T00:00:00+00:00 2016-06-09T00:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6386:bronx-council-member-preparing-to-again-challenge-incumbent-state-senator Amanda Sherwin <p><img alt="16005101264 d25557eee7 z" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2015/16005101264_d25557eee7_z.jpg" height="427" width="640" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 14.6667px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">City Council Member Cabrera (photo: William Alatriste)<a target="_blank" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/nyccouncil/16005101264/in/photolist-qojjZN-ri14fb-r3SVjT-ri14eu-r3SVxi-r3KPts-r3SVxt-r3SVkp-qowHex-noMQYc-j6yoaj-ifVoWb-ifV5tt-ifVxsN-b8D3RZ-b8EH6i-b8D45D-b8EDzz-9C4U9Y-b8D4hc-b8EHmt-b8EGQp-b8D4TT-b8EJ1T-b8D4ri-9C21Wx-9C228K-9C23wr-9C21EH-9C4VSE-9C21gr-9C4XUs-9C1ZBc-9C4VdL-9C4VEj-9C21rn-9C4Um3-9C4YJQ-9C214T-9C5mVN-9patVu-9yknA7-9iL87C-7DJrjk-9p7sz4-9yhpmt-9paueY-9p7rsv-9p7sde-9iL9ef"><br /></a></span></p> <hr /> <p>City Council Member Fernando Cabrera is preparing for a rematch with incumbent State Senator Gustavo Rivera in the 33rd Senate District in the Bronx, according to sources familiar with Cabrera’s intentions.</p> <p>Cabrera did not have an easy go of things when he first challenged Rivera in the 2014 Democratic primary. Reports by various publications <a target="_blank" href="http://observer.com/2014/06/fernando-cabrera-draws-fire-for-ties-to-hate-group/">highlighted</a> Cabrera’s connections to extreme anti-gay groups like The Family Research Council, his praise of Ugandan anti-gay laws, and his <a target="_blank" href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5138-cabrera-conservative-credentials-klein-litmus-test-idc">conservative voting record</a>.</p> <p>Cabrera lost the 2014 primary by 20 points. He <a target="_blank" href="http://observer.com/2014/09/fernando-cabrera-blames-liberal-media-for-senate-loss/">told The Observer</a> that he believed his loss was due to “the liberal media.”&nbsp;</p> <p>“He had the mayor, he had the borough president, he had county, he had all the unions, he had liberal media, he had the LGBT community–what was left?” Cabrera said, according to The Observer. “It was absolutely unfair. I think [the media] was very biased. It was clear, every time we tried to put our message out, it was not being put forth correctly or misrepresented.”</p> <p>According to five sources familiar with his intentions, Cabrera plans to again challenge Rivera this year - a move that is causing tension with the Bronx Democratic County Committee, whose leaders were hoping to maintain peace between their elected Council member and senator.</p> <p>Cabrera and his office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. He is in the midst of his second four-year term as a Council member and can run for one more in 2017. State Senators serve two-year terms and have no term limits.</p> <p>“Whatever decision [Cabrera] makes the results from the last election are what they are, and I’m not sure they could be any different,” said Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who heads the Bronx County Democratic Committee.</p> <p>Asked whether he shares concerns voiced by other insiders that the time and resources of both elected officials, Cabrera and Rivera, would be better spent representing their shared constituents rather than battling each other, Crespo replied; “I would agree with that statement.”</p> <p>Rivera said that while he welcomed all challengers he is taken aback by Cabrera’s candidacy because he thinks Cabrera’s beliefs fly in the face of those of Senate Democrats.</p> <p>“Since I defeated Pedro Espada in 2010 I’ve been working consistently to return the Democrats to the Senate Majority, I’ve been fighting for my constituents, for tenants rights, for equality. We saw before how the Democratic majority was undone by a backroom deal,” Rivera said. “My opponent is someone who changed registration from Republican to Democrat, is anti-choice, anti-women, has dangerous views on the LGBT community, and has taken major donations from landlords while the rent laws are up [for reauthorization] next year.”</p> <p>Rivera said he feels that Cabrera is the kind of politician who could jeopardize a Democratic majority, which the party is hoping for through this fall’s elections.</p> <p>“We want to make sure when we get to the majority we can can do the right thing, and this endangers that,” Rivera said of Cabrera’s challenge.</p> <p>Rivera is seen by many as an outsider to the Bronx County Democrats. He has openly clashed with Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., who holds conservative views similar to Cabrera’s, and has warred with Independent Democratic Conference leader Sen. Jeff Klein over Klein’s decision to split from mainline Democrats and essentially give Republicans rule over the chamber (even after Democrats won a numerical majority).</p> <p>Rivera was further seen to have rankled the county machine when he supported his chief of staff, Katrina Asante, in the race to replace Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, who was recently hired by the Cuomo administration, creating an open seat. County Democrats have rallied behind District Leader Jamaal Bailey, who is seen as a protege of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who has endorsed him. Asante officially dropped her bid on Wednesday.</p> <p>Norwood News <a target="_blank" href="http://www.norwoodnews.org/id=20957&amp;story=announcement-of-senate-candidacy-in-the-bronx-doubles-as-endorsement/">reported</a> in April that some involved in Bronx politics see Hassell-Thompson’s hiring and Heastie’s endorsement of Bailey as an undemocratic conspiracy parallel to&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5891-rumored-scheme-brings-scrutiny-to-bronx-political-machine">the backroom maneuvering</a> that allowed Bronx County Democrats to replace former Bronx County District Attorney Robert Johnson on the ballot with Darcel Clark, a Heastie ally.</p> <p>Crespo refuted the idea, <a target="_blank" href="http://www.norwoodnews.org/id=20957&amp;story=announcement-of-senate-candidacy-in-the-bronx-doubles-as-endorsement/">telling Norwood News</a>, “The notion that the only way Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson could get something is by somebody asking, that’s nonsense. People either have too much fun believing somehow running strings everywhere."</p> <p>While some insiders say Asante faced trouble raising funds due to Heastie’s support of Bailey, most insiders Gotham Gazette spoke to said they see Cabrera’s planned challenge to Rivera as unrelated.</p> <p>During his last run for Senate, Cabrera voiced interest in joining Klein in the IDC and appeared to benefit from many of Klein’s donors. This year, with control of the Senate extremely tenuous, it appears unlikely the IDC will get involved in the race.</p> <p>Gary Axelbank, a political observer and host of BronxTalk, said that he sees Cabrera’s run against Rivera as a boon for constituents. “When two elected officials from one district oppose each other, it's very healthy for constituents to have that sort of high-level choice. It speaks to the best of our participatory democracy.”</p> <p>However, Axelbank noted that Cabrera turned down his invitation to a televised debate with Rivera in 2014. “We invited Councilman Cabrera to participate in a debate the last time these two ran against each other, but he declined to participate, which we found to be very disappointing. We plan to invite both the candidates to debate again this summer and we hope and expect that Councilman Cabrera will join us so that the voters have the best chance to make their choice."</p> <p>Meanwhile, Rivera is not hiding the fact that he takes Cabrera’s challenge as an affront to not only his work but the work done by all elected Senate Democrats to win back the majority from Senate Republicans.</p> <p>“It's more than a little offensive that this person is more interested in his political future than serving our constituents,” Rivera said.</p> <p>

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img alt="16005101264 d25557eee7 z" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2015/16005101264_d25557eee7_z.jpg" height="427" width="640" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 14.6667px; font-family: Arial; color: #000000; background-color: transparent; font-weight: 400; font-style: normal; font-variant: normal; text-decoration: none; vertical-align: baseline;">City Council Member Cabrera (photo: William Alatriste)<a target="_blank" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/nyccouncil/16005101264/in/photolist-qojjZN-ri14fb-r3SVjT-ri14eu-r3SVxi-r3KPts-r3SVxt-r3SVkp-qowHex-noMQYc-j6yoaj-ifVoWb-ifV5tt-ifVxsN-b8D3RZ-b8EH6i-b8D45D-b8EDzz-9C4U9Y-b8D4hc-b8EHmt-b8EGQp-b8D4TT-b8EJ1T-b8D4ri-9C21Wx-9C228K-9C23wr-9C21EH-9C4VSE-9C21gr-9C4XUs-9C1ZBc-9C4VdL-9C4VEj-9C21rn-9C4Um3-9C4YJQ-9C214T-9C5mVN-9patVu-9yknA7-9iL87C-7DJrjk-9p7sz4-9yhpmt-9paueY-9p7rsv-9p7sde-9iL9ef"><br /></a></span></p> <hr /> <p>City Council Member Fernando Cabrera is preparing for a rematch with incumbent State Senator Gustavo Rivera in the 33rd Senate District in the Bronx, according to sources familiar with Cabrera’s intentions.</p> <p>Cabrera did not have an easy go of things when he first challenged Rivera in the 2014 Democratic primary. Reports by various publications <a target="_blank" href="http://observer.com/2014/06/fernando-cabrera-draws-fire-for-ties-to-hate-group/">highlighted</a> Cabrera’s connections to extreme anti-gay groups like The Family Research Council, his praise of Ugandan anti-gay laws, and his <a target="_blank" href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5138-cabrera-conservative-credentials-klein-litmus-test-idc">conservative voting record</a>.</p> <p>Cabrera lost the 2014 primary by 20 points. He <a target="_blank" href="http://observer.com/2014/09/fernando-cabrera-blames-liberal-media-for-senate-loss/">told The Observer</a> that he believed his loss was due to “the liberal media.”&nbsp;</p> <p>“He had the mayor, he had the borough president, he had county, he had all the unions, he had liberal media, he had the LGBT community–what was left?” Cabrera said, according to The Observer. “It was absolutely unfair. I think [the media] was very biased. It was clear, every time we tried to put our message out, it was not being put forth correctly or misrepresented.”</p> <p>According to five sources familiar with his intentions, Cabrera plans to again challenge Rivera this year - a move that is causing tension with the Bronx Democratic County Committee, whose leaders were hoping to maintain peace between their elected Council member and senator.</p> <p>Cabrera and his office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. He is in the midst of his second four-year term as a Council member and can run for one more in 2017. State Senators serve two-year terms and have no term limits.</p> <p>“Whatever decision [Cabrera] makes the results from the last election are what they are, and I’m not sure they could be any different,” said Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who heads the Bronx County Democratic Committee.</p> <p>Asked whether he shares concerns voiced by other insiders that the time and resources of both elected officials, Cabrera and Rivera, would be better spent representing their shared constituents rather than battling each other, Crespo replied; “I would agree with that statement.”</p> <p>Rivera said that while he welcomed all challengers he is taken aback by Cabrera’s candidacy because he thinks Cabrera’s beliefs fly in the face of those of Senate Democrats.</p> <p>“Since I defeated Pedro Espada in 2010 I’ve been working consistently to return the Democrats to the Senate Majority, I’ve been fighting for my constituents, for tenants rights, for equality. We saw before how the Democratic majority was undone by a backroom deal,” Rivera said. “My opponent is someone who changed registration from Republican to Democrat, is anti-choice, anti-women, has dangerous views on the LGBT community, and has taken major donations from landlords while the rent laws are up [for reauthorization] next year.”</p> <p>Rivera said he feels that Cabrera is the kind of politician who could jeopardize a Democratic majority, which the party is hoping for through this fall’s elections.</p> <p>“We want to make sure when we get to the majority we can can do the right thing, and this endangers that,” Rivera said of Cabrera’s challenge.</p> <p>Rivera is seen by many as an outsider to the Bronx County Democrats. He has openly clashed with Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., who holds conservative views similar to Cabrera’s, and has warred with Independent Democratic Conference leader Sen. Jeff Klein over Klein’s decision to split from mainline Democrats and essentially give Republicans rule over the chamber (even after Democrats won a numerical majority).</p> <p>Rivera was further seen to have rankled the county machine when he supported his chief of staff, Katrina Asante, in the race to replace Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, who was recently hired by the Cuomo administration, creating an open seat. County Democrats have rallied behind District Leader Jamaal Bailey, who is seen as a protege of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who has endorsed him. Asante officially dropped her bid on Wednesday.</p> <p>Norwood News <a target="_blank" href="http://www.norwoodnews.org/id=20957&amp;story=announcement-of-senate-candidacy-in-the-bronx-doubles-as-endorsement/">reported</a> in April that some involved in Bronx politics see Hassell-Thompson’s hiring and Heastie’s endorsement of Bailey as an undemocratic conspiracy parallel to&nbsp;<a target="_blank" href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5891-rumored-scheme-brings-scrutiny-to-bronx-political-machine">the backroom maneuvering</a> that allowed Bronx County Democrats to replace former Bronx County District Attorney Robert Johnson on the ballot with Darcel Clark, a Heastie ally.</p> <p>Crespo refuted the idea, <a target="_blank" href="http://www.norwoodnews.org/id=20957&amp;story=announcement-of-senate-candidacy-in-the-bronx-doubles-as-endorsement/">telling Norwood News</a>, “The notion that the only way Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson could get something is by somebody asking, that’s nonsense. People either have too much fun believing somehow running strings everywhere."</p> <p>While some insiders say Asante faced trouble raising funds due to Heastie’s support of Bailey, most insiders Gotham Gazette spoke to said they see Cabrera’s planned challenge to Rivera as unrelated.</p> <p>During his last run for Senate, Cabrera voiced interest in joining Klein in the IDC and appeared to benefit from many of Klein’s donors. This year, with control of the Senate extremely tenuous, it appears unlikely the IDC will get involved in the race.</p> <p>Gary Axelbank, a political observer and host of BronxTalk, said that he sees Cabrera’s run against Rivera as a boon for constituents. “When two elected officials from one district oppose each other, it's very healthy for constituents to have that sort of high-level choice. It speaks to the best of our participatory democracy.”</p> <p>However, Axelbank noted that Cabrera turned down his invitation to a televised debate with Rivera in 2014. “We invited Councilman Cabrera to participate in a debate the last time these two ran against each other, but he declined to participate, which we found to be very disappointing. We plan to invite both the candidates to debate again this summer and we hope and expect that Councilman Cabrera will join us so that the voters have the best chance to make their choice."</p> <p>Meanwhile, Rivera is not hiding the fact that he takes Cabrera’s challenge as an affront to not only his work but the work done by all elected Senate Democrats to win back the majority from Senate Republicans.</p> <p>“It's more than a little offensive that this person is more interested in his political future than serving our constituents,” Rivera said.</p> <p>

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Special Election Spotlights Machine Politics in The Bronx 2016-01-15T01:19:10+00:00 2016-01-15T01:19:10+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6091:special-election-spotlights-machine-politics-in-the-bronx Carmen Russo <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/heastie_diaz_jr_crespo.jpg" alt="heastie diaz jr crespo" height="473" width="600" /></p> <p>Heastie, Diaz Jr., Crespo (l-r)</p> <hr /> <p>By the time Julio Pabón got called in for his interview with the Bronx Democratic County Committee, he had heard all the chatter. Political insiders were saying that party leadership had already chosen a candidate. What's more, Pabón had seen a telling flyer for a Christmas event to be held at a local public school. It had been emailed, on Dec. 8, from the state Senate account of Ruben Diaz Sr. At the head of the flyer were portraits of New York Republican Party Chair Ed Cox and the senator himself, alongside a relatively unknown community board manager—Rafael Salamanca—the rumored choice of the county organization in the upcoming special election for the District 17 City Council seat, from which Maria del Carmen Arroyo recently resigned.</p> <p>Present at the interview, conducted on Dec. 11 at the Bronx Democratic County Committee headquarters, were a handful of elected officials, including Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, the committee chair, Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, City Council Member Annabel Palma, along with other committee members and Democratic club members. Stanley Schlein, a Bronx attorney and long-time Democratic operative, made an appearance toward the end of the interview, according to Pabón.</p> <p>In Pabón's retelling, Crespo opened the interview with an assurance that, contrary to what he may have heard, the committee was yet to settle on a candidate. It was how the interview ended, however, that further cemented Pabón's belief that the opposite was in fact true. Crespo asked him, Pabón recalled to Gotham Gazette, whether he would step aside if the committee chose to support another candidate.</p> <table style="width: 600px;" align="center" border="0" cellpadding="5" cellspacing="5"> <tbody> <tr> <td><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/BX_Christmas_Cox_Diaz_Sr_Salamanca_Flyer.jpg" alt="BX Christmas Cox Diaz Sr Salamanca Flyer" style="text-align: justify;" height="325" width="250" /></td> <td><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/BX_Three_Kings_flyer_Salamanca_Crespo_others.jpg" alt="BX Three Kings flyer Salamanca Crespo others" style="text-align: justify;" height="325" width="252" /></td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p>One week later, on Dec. 18, at a holiday event hosted by party leaders in the Bronx, Diaz Sr. and Crespo all but endorsed Salamanca, whose candidacy was still unofficial, before the assembled crowd. Pabón, in the meantime, got word from an influential stakeholder that the county chair had called to solicit support for the district manager. On Dec. 29, Diaz Sr. sent another flyer, this one for a Three Kings Day event, with Rafael Salamanca alongside the senator, Crespo, and Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda.&nbsp;</p> <p>Salamanca, who was officially endorsed by the county committee on Jan. 6, told Gotham Gazette that he received no preferential treatment.</p> <p>"I put in work to get to where I'm at," the Community Board 2 district manager said. "And I'm pretty sure...I went through the interview process just as everyone else went through the interview process, and I had to wait to get a phone call to tell me, 'Hey Raf, the committee has met and decided that you are the best-qualified individual for the seat.' I was home sweating like, 'Oh my God, what's going on?'"</p> <p>For Pabón, however, there was never any suspense. Earlier in the year, he had met Crespo for lunch to discuss his interest in running for the District 17 seat in 2017, when Arroyo would have been term-limited. During that meeting, Pabón told Gotham Gazette, the newly minted Democratic chair asked him: "What would happen if we were to endorse you and you have a different position than the borough president or my own?"</p> <p>"They are totally afraid of differences," said Pabón (pictured below), a community activist and entrepreneur who, in 2013, challenged the incumbent Arroyo in the Democratic primary for the District 17 seat. "They want a candidate they can easily mold, rather than one who thinks independently. They think their plan for the Bronx can only happen if they have total control."</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/ourownjuliopabon-org.jpg" alt="pabon" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="323" width="400" /></p> <p>Assemblymember Crespo did not respond to a request for comment about the interview process for the vacant District 17 seat.&nbsp;Given the advantages in resources they normally enjoy, county-backed candidates rarely lose local elections—and institutional support can prove even more critical in expedited special elections, which are typically marked by low voter turnout.</p> <p>In the Bronx, concerns around open democracy, which have been present for decades, surfaced anew last November, when Democratic county leadership was widely criticized for orchestrating a backroom deal to replace then-District Attorney Robert Johnson. With Johnson resigning from the ballot after he had won the district attorney primary, Democratic leaders were allowed to handpick a candidate to replace him on the ballot. Current DA Darcel Clark was added to the district attorney ballot while Johnson landed in a judge's seat in the state Supreme Court.</p> <p>"My contention has always been that it's a facade," Pabón said. "County leadership is trying to show that they are different from past organizations, which were all about exclusion and nepotism. But where else do you have a borough that is essentially run by four families? Where are the reformers in the Bronx?"</p> <p>The current leadership took control of the Bronx Democratic organization in a 2008 insurgency that came to be known as the "Rainbow" rebellion. The overthrow of former party chairman, Assemblymember José Rivera, would give rise to a new era of party politics, so the new leaders claimed—one more committed to inclusion and welcoming of diversity.</p> <p>Yet numerous sources interviewed for this article see that promise as unfulfilled. "For the most part, there has not been a major change in terms of how inclusive the whole process is," Angelo Falcón, a political scientist and founder of the Institute for Puerto Rican Policy, told Gotham Gazette. "It's not necessarily a process of democratization, but more a transition from one set of elites to another. You have a certain disruption: new players come in, old players move out."</p> <p>"In the Bronx," Falcón added, "you still have a relatively small number of politicians controlling everything, and mechanisms like community boards are not very strong."</p> <p>Critics of the Bronx establishment argue that community boards serve as rubber stamps for the borough president, currently Ruben Diaz Jr. "Salamanca is, in essence, already an employee," said Aubrey-Eric Smith, vice president of the South Bronx Community Association, who is advising the Pabón campaign. "[Salamanca] serves at the pleasure of the borough president."</p> <p>In a Jan. 7 phone interview, Gotham Gazette asked Salamanca whether he had ever been in disagreement, philosophically or on a particular project, with the borough president. "I can tell you what I disagreed with the mayor on," Salamanca responded. "That I can speak on."</p> <p>Salamanca, who cited affordable housing and public safety as centerpieces of his platform, did not provide any instances of past disagreement with Diaz Jr.</p> <p>Since the "Rainbow" rebellion, the leaders of the Bronx Democratic party have catapulted to the fore of city and state politics. Assemblymember Carl Heastie, Crespo's predecessor as county chair, is currently the speaker of the Assembly, and Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate. Ruben Diaz Jr., the borough president, is seen by some as a potential mayoral candidate. As the leaders of the "Rainbow" coalition have grown in stature, a handful of their candidates have been elected into public office, further strengthening the base from which they were able to take control of the party apparatus.</p> <p>County leadership, many believe, is looking to solidify its base and consolidate all the players in the Bronx, to control policy and programming, and in preparation for a future Diaz Jr. run for higher office.</p> <p>"They need to have as many individuals beholden to them as possible," Smith said.</p> <p>In the 2013 primary for the same City Council seat, Pabón, the only Democratic challenger to the county-backed Arroyo, received some 2,000 primary votes—slightly over 30 percent of the total. That race is mostly remembered, however, for drama that played out in the courts, when the Pabón campaign challenged thousands of Arroyo nominating petitions, which included fraudulent signatures of "Derek Jeter" and "Kate Moss," among other public figures.</p> <p>Pabón succeeded in invalidating more than half of Arroyo's 3,200 petition signatures as forgeries committed by three campaign employees (including an Arroyo nephew), two of whom had worked for the candidate and her Assemblymember mother in previous elections. Pabón's attorney at the time argued that the extent of the forgery should have been enough to knock the incumbent off the ballot based on "permeation of fraud," and his campaign maintains that the legal fight, which ultimately went to the Appellate Court for the First Department, raised questions about the independence of the borough's Board of Elections, as well as the separation of its legislative and judiciary branches.</p> <p>"You're not going to beat a county-backed candidate in court," Aubrey-Eric Smith said. "The judiciary is not set up to make upsets of incumbents."</p> <p>"The DA [Robert Johnson] could have gone after Ms. Arroyo, or investigated someone other than just the three low-level individuals," Donald Dunn, Pabón's attorney in 2013, told Gotham Gazette. "I think what they did was more of a dog and pony show than any real investigation."<br />With the Council seat now vacant, a handful of candidates have thrown their hats in the ring. One contender, Amanda Septimo, is district director for Congressional Rep. José Serrano. Septimo, whose age, 25, has grabbed attention, told Gotham Gazette that environmental and social justice are signature issues of her campaign. According to political insiders, a friendly office holder in District 17 could help buttress the increasingly vulnerable congressman against a primary challenge.</p> <p>"Serrano hasn't had any real challenge in a long time, and if you look at his finances, he's gotten himself reelected with around $30,000, so it's very little money," Angelo Falcón said. "He could be at his weakest politically at this point. He's had for a long time an understanding with the political machine, and they haven't really gone after him, but there have been some threats."</p> <p>Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. has in the past called on the long-serving congressman to step aside and, more recently, Council Member Palma contemplated her own challenge, but according to some insiders a more serious threat could emerge in the form of the borough president himself. Rep. Serrano reportedly ran afoul of Diaz Jr. for opposing $3.5 million in subsidies for the FreshDirect move to the Bronx.</p> <p>At the time, the congressman expressed "deep misgivings about this project because of its impact on the health of Bronx residents."</p> <p>(Septimo told Gotham Gazette that she has no position on the FreshDirect deal.)</p> <p>Another Council contender, George Alvarez, held his own in a three-way 2014 Assembly race against the eventual winner, former White House staffer Michael Blake, and a candidate endorsed by the Democratic county committee, Marsha Michaels. Alvarez won nearly 1,200 votes, nearly as many as Michaels, and proved himself capable as a fundraiser. Alvarez is expected to garner support among the growing Dominican-American population in this predominantly Hispanic, though traditionally Puerto Rican, district.</p> <p>Joann Otero, the long-time chief of staff to former Council Member Arroyo, is another leading contender for the District 17 seat. According to sources, Arroyo's first-choice successor was a Cablevision executive whose potential candidacy came against resistance from party leadership. Otero, who believes she is the candidate most able to "hit the ground running" in the middle of budget season, and touted her personal relationship with stakeholders in the district, confirmed to Gotham Gazette that she has not received the endorsement of her former boss. The candidate claimed that instead of succeeding her as a Council member, Arroyo proposed a "Let's go make cookies plan."</p> <p>"We never really discussed it," Otero explained, "other than that we were going to do something else. With all the knowledge and skills that I've obtained from both the nonprofit and government sector, she said that makes me a very marketable individual to do just about anything."</p> <p>Arroyo announced her resignation from the Council late last year, citing "pressing family needs," and has since joined the nonprofit Acacia Network. For the time being, it is unclear whether the former Council member will remain on the sidelines throughout the special election.</p> <p>One of many unfolding subplots of the race is the role of 1199 SEIU. Montefiore health care network, whose employees are represented by 1199, is the largest employer in the Bronx. One declared candidate, Helen Foreman-Hines, was a political project director at the union, but resigned from 1199 after announcing her intention to enter the race. According to sources, Hines is no lock for support of the union that could prove decisive in this special election, to be held on Feb. 23.</p> <p>As a nonpartisan special election, the District 17 race will last just 45 days in total. Many see the election as the first real test of Assemblymember Crespo's leadership in the Bronx Democratic party. The new chair is a protégé and close ally of the borough president. A defeat to a grassroots insurgent or other outsider could serve, some political insiders believe, as a symbolic blow to county leadership.</p> <p>"Generally, the machine has the control in a special election, because there's very low voter turnout," Falcón said. "When you have control of the basic machinery, the petitioning process; when you have control even of the judges that rule on the petitions and all that stuff—that's a lot to go up against."</p> <p>According to Falcón, political change in the Bronx has typically come in the wake of scandal, such as Gustavo Rivera's 2010 electoral victory over the subsequently convicted Pedro Espada Jr. "You need something extraordinary," he said. And even if a grassroots candidate were to buck history, and prevail in a special election, Falcón cautioned that the battle is not over.</p> <p>"Once you are in, the problem is there are a lot of ways they can control you," he said, "No matter how old you are, you really need to have an independent base."&nbsp;</p> <p>***<br />by Gabe Ponce de León for Gotham Gazette. Ponce de León is a freelance journalist covering politics and policy in New York.<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/heastie_diaz_jr_crespo.jpg" alt="heastie diaz jr crespo" height="473" width="600" /></p> <p>Heastie, Diaz Jr., Crespo (l-r)</p> <hr /> <p>By the time Julio Pabón got called in for his interview with the Bronx Democratic County Committee, he had heard all the chatter. Political insiders were saying that party leadership had already chosen a candidate. What's more, Pabón had seen a telling flyer for a Christmas event to be held at a local public school. It had been emailed, on Dec. 8, from the state Senate account of Ruben Diaz Sr. At the head of the flyer were portraits of New York Republican Party Chair Ed Cox and the senator himself, alongside a relatively unknown community board manager—Rafael Salamanca—the rumored choice of the county organization in the upcoming special election for the District 17 City Council seat, from which Maria del Carmen Arroyo recently resigned.</p> <p>Present at the interview, conducted on Dec. 11 at the Bronx Democratic County Committee headquarters, were a handful of elected officials, including Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, the committee chair, Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, City Council Member Annabel Palma, along with other committee members and Democratic club members. Stanley Schlein, a Bronx attorney and long-time Democratic operative, made an appearance toward the end of the interview, according to Pabón.</p> <p>In Pabón's retelling, Crespo opened the interview with an assurance that, contrary to what he may have heard, the committee was yet to settle on a candidate. It was how the interview ended, however, that further cemented Pabón's belief that the opposite was in fact true. Crespo asked him, Pabón recalled to Gotham Gazette, whether he would step aside if the committee chose to support another candidate.</p> <table style="width: 600px;" align="center" border="0" cellpadding="5" cellspacing="5"> <tbody> <tr> <td><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/BX_Christmas_Cox_Diaz_Sr_Salamanca_Flyer.jpg" alt="BX Christmas Cox Diaz Sr Salamanca Flyer" style="text-align: justify;" height="325" width="250" /></td> <td><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/BX_Three_Kings_flyer_Salamanca_Crespo_others.jpg" alt="BX Three Kings flyer Salamanca Crespo others" style="text-align: justify;" height="325" width="252" /></td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p>One week later, on Dec. 18, at a holiday event hosted by party leaders in the Bronx, Diaz Sr. and Crespo all but endorsed Salamanca, whose candidacy was still unofficial, before the assembled crowd. Pabón, in the meantime, got word from an influential stakeholder that the county chair had called to solicit support for the district manager. On Dec. 29, Diaz Sr. sent another flyer, this one for a Three Kings Day event, with Rafael Salamanca alongside the senator, Crespo, and Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda.&nbsp;</p> <p>Salamanca, who was officially endorsed by the county committee on Jan. 6, told Gotham Gazette that he received no preferential treatment.</p> <p>"I put in work to get to where I'm at," the Community Board 2 district manager said. "And I'm pretty sure...I went through the interview process just as everyone else went through the interview process, and I had to wait to get a phone call to tell me, 'Hey Raf, the committee has met and decided that you are the best-qualified individual for the seat.' I was home sweating like, 'Oh my God, what's going on?'"</p> <p>For Pabón, however, there was never any suspense. Earlier in the year, he had met Crespo for lunch to discuss his interest in running for the District 17 seat in 2017, when Arroyo would have been term-limited. During that meeting, Pabón told Gotham Gazette, the newly minted Democratic chair asked him: "What would happen if we were to endorse you and you have a different position than the borough president or my own?"</p> <p>"They are totally afraid of differences," said Pabón (pictured below), a community activist and entrepreneur who, in 2013, challenged the incumbent Arroyo in the Democratic primary for the District 17 seat. "They want a candidate they can easily mold, rather than one who thinks independently. They think their plan for the Bronx can only happen if they have total control."</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/ourownjuliopabon-org.jpg" alt="pabon" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="323" width="400" /></p> <p>Assemblymember Crespo did not respond to a request for comment about the interview process for the vacant District 17 seat.&nbsp;Given the advantages in resources they normally enjoy, county-backed candidates rarely lose local elections—and institutional support can prove even more critical in expedited special elections, which are typically marked by low voter turnout.</p> <p>In the Bronx, concerns around open democracy, which have been present for decades, surfaced anew last November, when Democratic county leadership was widely criticized for orchestrating a backroom deal to replace then-District Attorney Robert Johnson. With Johnson resigning from the ballot after he had won the district attorney primary, Democratic leaders were allowed to handpick a candidate to replace him on the ballot. Current DA Darcel Clark was added to the district attorney ballot while Johnson landed in a judge's seat in the state Supreme Court.</p> <p>"My contention has always been that it's a facade," Pabón said. "County leadership is trying to show that they are different from past organizations, which were all about exclusion and nepotism. But where else do you have a borough that is essentially run by four families? Where are the reformers in the Bronx?"</p> <p>The current leadership took control of the Bronx Democratic organization in a 2008 insurgency that came to be known as the "Rainbow" rebellion. The overthrow of former party chairman, Assemblymember José Rivera, would give rise to a new era of party politics, so the new leaders claimed—one more committed to inclusion and welcoming of diversity.</p> <p>Yet numerous sources interviewed for this article see that promise as unfulfilled. "For the most part, there has not been a major change in terms of how inclusive the whole process is," Angelo Falcón, a political scientist and founder of the Institute for Puerto Rican Policy, told Gotham Gazette. "It's not necessarily a process of democratization, but more a transition from one set of elites to another. You have a certain disruption: new players come in, old players move out."</p> <p>"In the Bronx," Falcón added, "you still have a relatively small number of politicians controlling everything, and mechanisms like community boards are not very strong."</p> <p>Critics of the Bronx establishment argue that community boards serve as rubber stamps for the borough president, currently Ruben Diaz Jr. "Salamanca is, in essence, already an employee," said Aubrey-Eric Smith, vice president of the South Bronx Community Association, who is advising the Pabón campaign. "[Salamanca] serves at the pleasure of the borough president."</p> <p>In a Jan. 7 phone interview, Gotham Gazette asked Salamanca whether he had ever been in disagreement, philosophically or on a particular project, with the borough president. "I can tell you what I disagreed with the mayor on," Salamanca responded. "That I can speak on."</p> <p>Salamanca, who cited affordable housing and public safety as centerpieces of his platform, did not provide any instances of past disagreement with Diaz Jr.</p> <p>Since the "Rainbow" rebellion, the leaders of the Bronx Democratic party have catapulted to the fore of city and state politics. Assemblymember Carl Heastie, Crespo's predecessor as county chair, is currently the speaker of the Assembly, and Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate. Ruben Diaz Jr., the borough president, is seen by some as a potential mayoral candidate. As the leaders of the "Rainbow" coalition have grown in stature, a handful of their candidates have been elected into public office, further strengthening the base from which they were able to take control of the party apparatus.</p> <p>County leadership, many believe, is looking to solidify its base and consolidate all the players in the Bronx, to control policy and programming, and in preparation for a future Diaz Jr. run for higher office.</p> <p>"They need to have as many individuals beholden to them as possible," Smith said.</p> <p>In the 2013 primary for the same City Council seat, Pabón, the only Democratic challenger to the county-backed Arroyo, received some 2,000 primary votes—slightly over 30 percent of the total. That race is mostly remembered, however, for drama that played out in the courts, when the Pabón campaign challenged thousands of Arroyo nominating petitions, which included fraudulent signatures of "Derek Jeter" and "Kate Moss," among other public figures.</p> <p>Pabón succeeded in invalidating more than half of Arroyo's 3,200 petition signatures as forgeries committed by three campaign employees (including an Arroyo nephew), two of whom had worked for the candidate and her Assemblymember mother in previous elections. Pabón's attorney at the time argued that the extent of the forgery should have been enough to knock the incumbent off the ballot based on "permeation of fraud," and his campaign maintains that the legal fight, which ultimately went to the Appellate Court for the First Department, raised questions about the independence of the borough's Board of Elections, as well as the separation of its legislative and judiciary branches.</p> <p>"You're not going to beat a county-backed candidate in court," Aubrey-Eric Smith said. "The judiciary is not set up to make upsets of incumbents."</p> <p>"The DA [Robert Johnson] could have gone after Ms. Arroyo, or investigated someone other than just the three low-level individuals," Donald Dunn, Pabón's attorney in 2013, told Gotham Gazette. "I think what they did was more of a dog and pony show than any real investigation."<br />With the Council seat now vacant, a handful of candidates have thrown their hats in the ring. One contender, Amanda Septimo, is district director for Congressional Rep. José Serrano. Septimo, whose age, 25, has grabbed attention, told Gotham Gazette that environmental and social justice are signature issues of her campaign. According to political insiders, a friendly office holder in District 17 could help buttress the increasingly vulnerable congressman against a primary challenge.</p> <p>"Serrano hasn't had any real challenge in a long time, and if you look at his finances, he's gotten himself reelected with around $30,000, so it's very little money," Angelo Falcón said. "He could be at his weakest politically at this point. He's had for a long time an understanding with the political machine, and they haven't really gone after him, but there have been some threats."</p> <p>Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. has in the past called on the long-serving congressman to step aside and, more recently, Council Member Palma contemplated her own challenge, but according to some insiders a more serious threat could emerge in the form of the borough president himself. Rep. Serrano reportedly ran afoul of Diaz Jr. for opposing $3.5 million in subsidies for the FreshDirect move to the Bronx.</p> <p>At the time, the congressman expressed "deep misgivings about this project because of its impact on the health of Bronx residents."</p> <p>(Septimo told Gotham Gazette that she has no position on the FreshDirect deal.)</p> <p>Another Council contender, George Alvarez, held his own in a three-way 2014 Assembly race against the eventual winner, former White House staffer Michael Blake, and a candidate endorsed by the Democratic county committee, Marsha Michaels. Alvarez won nearly 1,200 votes, nearly as many as Michaels, and proved himself capable as a fundraiser. Alvarez is expected to garner support among the growing Dominican-American population in this predominantly Hispanic, though traditionally Puerto Rican, district.</p> <p>Joann Otero, the long-time chief of staff to former Council Member Arroyo, is another leading contender for the District 17 seat. According to sources, Arroyo's first-choice successor was a Cablevision executive whose potential candidacy came against resistance from party leadership. Otero, who believes she is the candidate most able to "hit the ground running" in the middle of budget season, and touted her personal relationship with stakeholders in the district, confirmed to Gotham Gazette that she has not received the endorsement of her former boss. The candidate claimed that instead of succeeding her as a Council member, Arroyo proposed a "Let's go make cookies plan."</p> <p>"We never really discussed it," Otero explained, "other than that we were going to do something else. With all the knowledge and skills that I've obtained from both the nonprofit and government sector, she said that makes me a very marketable individual to do just about anything."</p> <p>Arroyo announced her resignation from the Council late last year, citing "pressing family needs," and has since joined the nonprofit Acacia Network. For the time being, it is unclear whether the former Council member will remain on the sidelines throughout the special election.</p> <p>One of many unfolding subplots of the race is the role of 1199 SEIU. Montefiore health care network, whose employees are represented by 1199, is the largest employer in the Bronx. One declared candidate, Helen Foreman-Hines, was a political project director at the union, but resigned from 1199 after announcing her intention to enter the race. According to sources, Hines is no lock for support of the union that could prove decisive in this special election, to be held on Feb. 23.</p> <p>As a nonpartisan special election, the District 17 race will last just 45 days in total. Many see the election as the first real test of Assemblymember Crespo's leadership in the Bronx Democratic party. The new chair is a protégé and close ally of the borough president. A defeat to a grassroots insurgent or other outsider could serve, some political insiders believe, as a symbolic blow to county leadership.</p> <p>"Generally, the machine has the control in a special election, because there's very low voter turnout," Falcón said. "When you have control of the basic machinery, the petitioning process; when you have control even of the judges that rule on the petitions and all that stuff—that's a lot to go up against."</p> <p>According to Falcón, political change in the Bronx has typically come in the wake of scandal, such as Gustavo Rivera's 2010 electoral victory over the subsequently convicted Pedro Espada Jr. "You need something extraordinary," he said. And even if a grassroots candidate were to buck history, and prevail in a special election, Falcón cautioned that the battle is not over.</p> <p>"Once you are in, the problem is there are a lot of ways they can control you," he said, "No matter how old you are, you really need to have an independent base."&nbsp;</p> <p>***<br />by Gabe Ponce de León for Gotham Gazette. Ponce de León is a freelance journalist covering politics and policy in New York.<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> Rumored Scheme Brings Scrutiny to Bronx Political Machine 2015-09-17T23:24:55+00:00 2015-09-17T23:24:55+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5891:rumored-scheme-brings-scrutiny-to-bronx-political-machine Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/daiz_jr_heastie_crespo.jpg" alt="diaz jr heastie crespo" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p>Diaz Jr., Heastie, Crespo (l-r) (<a href="https://twitter.com/CarlHeastie/status/641564040783876097" target="_blank">photo</a>: @rubendiazjr)</p> <hr /> <p>By all reasonable indicators, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5845-progress-elusive-as-bronx-da-cruises-toward-reelection" target="_blank">should cruise to reelection</a> this November despite his low conviction rate, notoriously slow pace in filing charges, and apparent lack of serious fundraising. But many are watching closely to see if Johnson drops off the ballot this month and makes himself eligible to be appointed to a judgeship--thereby allowing the Bronx County Democrats to name his replacement.</p> <p>As rumors and suspicions swirl, the notion of Johnson and other longtime Bronx party leaders manipulating the electoral system to their advantage comes as little surprise to those who've seen the Bronx machine at work. But, with powerful Bronx elected officials newly more prominent, the risks of such machinations are greater than in the past.</p> <p>District Attorney Johnson has been in a unique situation for decades. Thanks to the support of the Bronx County Democratic Party, he has faced few serious political challenges since taking office in 1989 and is running this year on the Democratic, Conservative, and Republican ballot lines.</p> <p>Bronx insiders are convinced that Bronx County Democratic Chair Marcos Crespo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (Crespo's predecessor as county chair) have decided to appoint Johnson to a judgeship and then replace him on the ticket with one of their allies, thereby subverting the democratic process.</p> <p>The technique that could be used to replace Johnson isn't unique; it has been used time and time again across the city to, basically, gift seats to party-friendly candidates. The Bronx has long been a haven for the workings of the County Democratic machine, but with Heastie's ascent to one of the post powerful positions in the state and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.'s rising profile, it appears it will be much more difficult to pull off such maneuvers without paying a price.</p> <p>Actions in the Bronx are now linked to the larger political aspirations of these rising stars and they've earned the attention of good government groups and media outside the borough.</p> <p>What is particularly concerning to reformers inside and outside of government is that Crespo, Heastie, and Diaz would essentially be appointing the person who is, in part, supposed to police their actions. Johnson's record on corruption busting is suspicious to many. He has pursued cases against former Assemblymember Nelson Castro and former Senator Pedro Espada, but at the time both men were out of the county party's good graces. In fact, they were known for causing Bronx Democrats nasty headaches.</p> <p>With Heastie, who this year replaced the indicted Sheldon Silver as speaker, pledging transparency and reform in the Assembly, some observers wonder if he isn't trying to avoid future embarrassment by being directly responsible for appointing the new district attorney.</p> <p>"The bottom line is that it is always nice to have your derriere covered by a prosecutor that owes you their job," said Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College.</p> <p>Johnson's office has refused to comment for this story. Heastie has told other reporters that he gave up decision-making abilities as the chair of the Bronx County Democrats when he became Assembly speaker. And Assemblymember Crespo has avoided responding to queries from numerous outlets, including Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>It stands to reason that Bronx Borough president Ruben Diaz, Jr., who would also have a say in the matter given his relationship with Heastie and his quest to run, eventually, for mayor. Diaz Jr.'s office also ignored requests for comment.</p> <p>The scenario has been further complicated by Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda, who has made it no secret that he is interested the district attorney position. Sepulveda is said to have informed Johnson he would be challenging him down the road, even while helping him collect petitions for his reelection this summer.</p> <p>Bob Kappstatter, a prolific Bronx journalist who currently works as a political consultant and counts Sepulveda as a client, took to Facebook to decry the behind-the-scenes machinations that may be afoot.</p> <p>"We can count on one hand how many Bronx politicians Rob Johnson has gone after, with most of those being County's enemies. Meanwhile the feds have vacuumed the borough ALMOST clean," Kappstatter wrote on Facebook. "Carl [Heastie], whom we hear didn't expect all this heat from the media and good government groups, has dumped the deal in the lap of new County Leader Marcos Crespo, an honest, decent guy who will have to take the heat if it goes through. Marcos is already looking like Heastie's puppet, diminishing his power among the city's four other Dem county leaders while Carl still pulls County's strings."</p> <p>Sepulveda's interest in the DA position has angered the Bronx County Democrats. Earlier this month the Daily News ran a story detailing how Sepulveda's estranged wife sought an order of protection from him earlier this summer. Both Luis and his wife told the Daily News that she withdrew the request. Insiders see it as retaliation from County for his interest in Johnson's job.</p> <p>Exposing any deal among Johnson and other officials could benefit Sepulveda, because outside pressure might lead to Johnson stepping down after the election rather than before.</p> <p>The process Bronx County Democrats could use to replace Johnson is particularly effective because Democratic enrollment in the borough greatly eclipses that of all other parties.</p> <p>Democratic voters decide the election during the September primary, with the November election essentially being a formality - not that Johnson was challenged in the primary. If Johnson steps down before Election Day, his county-picked replacement would move into office with all the benefits of incumbency and the backing of the establishment. Any future primary challenger would face a well-known, well-financed incumbent who hadn't actually been elected by a significant number of voters.</p> <p>"This is a fairly common practice in New York politics," said Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz. "It is anti-competitive and it allows the newly appointed incumbent to use that incumbency to defeat their next challenger."</p> <p>"As a general principle of government, it stinks," said Gene Russianoff of The New York Public Interest Research Group. "The primary election process might not be perfect but at least it offers hope. Forgoing it is a thumb in the eye to voters."</p> <p>Johnson would have to submit a letter to the Board of Elections asking to be removed from the ballot by Monday, September 21.</p> <p>If Johnson resigns after he is elected in November, Gov. Andrew Cuomo could name an interim district attorney and would eventually set a date for a special election. This would likely allow Sepulveda and other hopefuls a chance to actually vie for the seat.</p> <p>Professor Benjamin said that voters should be especially concerned about the machinations involved in Johnson's possible replacement and appointment to a judgeship given what The New York Times described as "an unusual string of legal lapses" that allowed Heastie to keep a home his mother purchased with embezzled funds.</p> <p>Heastie agreed to sell the house as part of a deal that allowed Heastie's mother to avoid jail time. His mother died three weeks after being sentenced and Heastie stopped trying to sell the home. He sold it six years later at a profit of $200,000.</p> <p>"Carelessness of those involved in the case could be to blame, or something more questionable could have occurred, given the Bronx Democratic Party's influence on the court system and its long history of back-room deal-making," <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/21/nyregion/carl-heastie-new-york-assembly-speaker-benefited-from-mothers-embezzling.html" target="_blank">wrote the Times</a>.</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/daiz_jr_heastie_crespo.jpg" alt="diaz jr heastie crespo" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p>Diaz Jr., Heastie, Crespo (l-r) (<a href="https://twitter.com/CarlHeastie/status/641564040783876097" target="_blank">photo</a>: @rubendiazjr)</p> <hr /> <p>By all reasonable indicators, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5845-progress-elusive-as-bronx-da-cruises-toward-reelection" target="_blank">should cruise to reelection</a> this November despite his low conviction rate, notoriously slow pace in filing charges, and apparent lack of serious fundraising. But many are watching closely to see if Johnson drops off the ballot this month and makes himself eligible to be appointed to a judgeship--thereby allowing the Bronx County Democrats to name his replacement.</p> <p>As rumors and suspicions swirl, the notion of Johnson and other longtime Bronx party leaders manipulating the electoral system to their advantage comes as little surprise to those who've seen the Bronx machine at work. But, with powerful Bronx elected officials newly more prominent, the risks of such machinations are greater than in the past.</p> <p>District Attorney Johnson has been in a unique situation for decades. Thanks to the support of the Bronx County Democratic Party, he has faced few serious political challenges since taking office in 1989 and is running this year on the Democratic, Conservative, and Republican ballot lines.</p> <p>Bronx insiders are convinced that Bronx County Democratic Chair Marcos Crespo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (Crespo's predecessor as county chair) have decided to appoint Johnson to a judgeship and then replace him on the ticket with one of their allies, thereby subverting the democratic process.</p> <p>The technique that could be used to replace Johnson isn't unique; it has been used time and time again across the city to, basically, gift seats to party-friendly candidates. The Bronx has long been a haven for the workings of the County Democratic machine, but with Heastie's ascent to one of the post powerful positions in the state and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.'s rising profile, it appears it will be much more difficult to pull off such maneuvers without paying a price.</p> <p>Actions in the Bronx are now linked to the larger political aspirations of these rising stars and they've earned the attention of good government groups and media outside the borough.</p> <p>What is particularly concerning to reformers inside and outside of government is that Crespo, Heastie, and Diaz would essentially be appointing the person who is, in part, supposed to police their actions. Johnson's record on corruption busting is suspicious to many. He has pursued cases against former Assemblymember Nelson Castro and former Senator Pedro Espada, but at the time both men were out of the county party's good graces. In fact, they were known for causing Bronx Democrats nasty headaches.</p> <p>With Heastie, who this year replaced the indicted Sheldon Silver as speaker, pledging transparency and reform in the Assembly, some observers wonder if he isn't trying to avoid future embarrassment by being directly responsible for appointing the new district attorney.</p> <p>"The bottom line is that it is always nice to have your derriere covered by a prosecutor that owes you their job," said Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College.</p> <p>Johnson's office has refused to comment for this story. Heastie has told other reporters that he gave up decision-making abilities as the chair of the Bronx County Democrats when he became Assembly speaker. And Assemblymember Crespo has avoided responding to queries from numerous outlets, including Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>It stands to reason that Bronx Borough president Ruben Diaz, Jr., who would also have a say in the matter given his relationship with Heastie and his quest to run, eventually, for mayor. Diaz Jr.'s office also ignored requests for comment.</p> <p>The scenario has been further complicated by Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda, who has made it no secret that he is interested the district attorney position. Sepulveda is said to have informed Johnson he would be challenging him down the road, even while helping him collect petitions for his reelection this summer.</p> <p>Bob Kappstatter, a prolific Bronx journalist who currently works as a political consultant and counts Sepulveda as a client, took to Facebook to decry the behind-the-scenes machinations that may be afoot.</p> <p>"We can count on one hand how many Bronx politicians Rob Johnson has gone after, with most of those being County's enemies. Meanwhile the feds have vacuumed the borough ALMOST clean," Kappstatter wrote on Facebook. "Carl [Heastie], whom we hear didn't expect all this heat from the media and good government groups, has dumped the deal in the lap of new County Leader Marcos Crespo, an honest, decent guy who will have to take the heat if it goes through. Marcos is already looking like Heastie's puppet, diminishing his power among the city's four other Dem county leaders while Carl still pulls County's strings."</p> <p>Sepulveda's interest in the DA position has angered the Bronx County Democrats. Earlier this month the Daily News ran a story detailing how Sepulveda's estranged wife sought an order of protection from him earlier this summer. Both Luis and his wife told the Daily News that she withdrew the request. Insiders see it as retaliation from County for his interest in Johnson's job.</p> <p>Exposing any deal among Johnson and other officials could benefit Sepulveda, because outside pressure might lead to Johnson stepping down after the election rather than before.</p> <p>The process Bronx County Democrats could use to replace Johnson is particularly effective because Democratic enrollment in the borough greatly eclipses that of all other parties.</p> <p>Democratic voters decide the election during the September primary, with the November election essentially being a formality - not that Johnson was challenged in the primary. If Johnson steps down before Election Day, his county-picked replacement would move into office with all the benefits of incumbency and the backing of the establishment. Any future primary challenger would face a well-known, well-financed incumbent who hadn't actually been elected by a significant number of voters.</p> <p>"This is a fairly common practice in New York politics," said Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz. "It is anti-competitive and it allows the newly appointed incumbent to use that incumbency to defeat their next challenger."</p> <p>"As a general principle of government, it stinks," said Gene Russianoff of The New York Public Interest Research Group. "The primary election process might not be perfect but at least it offers hope. Forgoing it is a thumb in the eye to voters."</p> <p>Johnson would have to submit a letter to the Board of Elections asking to be removed from the ballot by Monday, September 21.</p> <p>If Johnson resigns after he is elected in November, Gov. Andrew Cuomo could name an interim district attorney and would eventually set a date for a special election. This would likely allow Sepulveda and other hopefuls a chance to actually vie for the seat.</p> <p>Professor Benjamin said that voters should be especially concerned about the machinations involved in Johnson's possible replacement and appointment to a judgeship given what The New York Times described as "an unusual string of legal lapses" that allowed Heastie to keep a home his mother purchased with embezzled funds.</p> <p>Heastie agreed to sell the house as part of a deal that allowed Heastie's mother to avoid jail time. His mother died three weeks after being sentenced and Heastie stopped trying to sell the home. He sold it six years later at a profit of $200,000.</p> <p>"Carelessness of those involved in the case could be to blame, or something more questionable could have occurred, given the Bronx Democratic Party's influence on the court system and its long history of back-room deal-making," <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/21/nyregion/carl-heastie-new-york-assembly-speaker-benefited-from-mothers-embezzling.html" target="_blank">wrote the Times</a>.</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p>