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/mark-levine 2018-09-22T03:33:25+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Johnson Makes Series of City Council Changes, But Sidelines Formal Rules Reforms 2018-06-08T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-08T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7726:johnson-makes-series-of-city-council-changes-but-sidelines-formal-rules-reforms Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cojo-cm-team.jpg" alt="cojo cm team" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson, middle, and Council members (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>In December, several City Council members jostling to become the powerful next speaker of the 51-member legislative body <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7378-rules-reform-package-supported-by-33-current-and-incoming-city-council-members" target="_blank" rel="noopener">signed on</a> to a broad platform of reforms to the Council’s rules and procedures, which can have a significant impact on city law-making and funding for communities. Both returning and newly-elected Council members, 33 of them in total, backed the proposals, which would make legislative drafting procedures more transparent, bolster staffing for prominent divisions such as land use, and tweak the Council’s internal culture in significant ways, among other more minor adjustments.</p> <p>But a deadline set in that platform for convening a public hearing on the proposals came and went as new Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who was among the signatories, has chosen instead to implement administrative changes in lieu of more formal reforms through the Council’s Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. Several Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette largely praised those measures but others expressed concern that important promises have been left unfulfilled.</p> <p>In a process somewhat similar to four years prior when Council members proposed changes ahead of the election of a new speaker, the document signed by the Council members in December of last year laid out broad areas where the Council could improve its functions, including in bill drafting, the role and operations of the 40-plus issue committees, the body’s oversight and investigations capacity, its budget negotiation process, its land use powers, and the quality of working life for members and their staff.</p> <p>“A hearing should be held in the Rules Committee on these reforms – as well as any others proposed by good government groups or members of the public – in the first quarter of 2018,” states the letter, signed by both Speaker Johnson and Council Member Karen Koslowitz, whom he appointed as chair of the rules committee. “The reforms should then be converted into a Rules Resolution, and adopted by the Council by March 2018, but no later than June 2018.”</p> <p>By this time in 2014, then-Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito had ushered in transformative rules changes that made the body more democratic, diluting some of the traditional powers of the speaker and empowering individual members. The changes were spearheaded along with Council Member Brad Lander, who she appointed to chair the rules committee and was instrumental in drafting the reforms.</p> <p>Discretionary funding -- also known as “member items” that are usually awarded by Council members to local nonprofits in their districts -- was equalized across Council districts, with additional resources allocated to poorer districts, and could no longer be a tool to punish members who might oppose the speaker, as Mark-Viverito’s predecessors had used it. A new bill drafting unit was created to aid Council members and speed up the legislative process, and other changes were made to how bills are introduced and heard in committees.</p> <p>Johnson has taken a different tack, making significant administrative changes that cover large parts of the rules reform package and were key pledges he made as he ran for speaker.</p> <p>The Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7559-fulfilling-johnson-promise-city-council-significantly-increases-its-operating-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">voted</a> to significantly increase its own annual budget to $81.3 million, up from $64 million, with the new funds pegged for staffing increases in the land use, legislative, and finance divisions. A dedicated 15-member oversight and investigations unit was created to conduct systemic analyses of city agencies and their functioning. According to a Council spokesperson, the central staff has also internally overseen improvements in bill drafting, no longer allowing indefinite delays on bill introductions and impressing on members to move their bills or release them for others. Members can now also electronically access the status of their bills in real time and there is a timely process for staff to express legal concerns with bill language. Members are provided legal memos on their bills on request, which is apparently rare. All moves meant to address major areas of frustration for some members, though key pieces of proposed changes to bill-drafting have not been implemented.</p> <p>In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Council also moved rapidly to change its rules to mandate anti-sexual harassment trainings.</p> <p>“I am proud to have taken important steps on necessary reforms in my first months as speaker, including the creation of the new Oversight and Investigations Unit that will strengthen our capacity for monitoring city agencies as mandated by the charter,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “I will continue to discuss with members what reforms should be made in the future to help better serve the people of New York.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/photobyemily.jpg" alt="photobyemily" width="181" height="141" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Council Member Koslowitz (pictured), chair of the rules committee, initially said the Council member was unfamiliar with the rules reform package that she had signed. When presented with the full list of proposals, the spokesperson declined to comment.</p> <p>By and large, Council members are appreciative of the steps Johnson has taken. Several members said their bills are moving faster and, without making any comparisons with Mark-Viverito, that Johnson is openly seeking member input on the budget and larger strategy. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The rules reform this time around, there were a lot of legitimate questions about whether or not these reforms needed to be put into the Council’s rules or they could just be effected,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, a member of the rules committee. “A lot of them had to do with resource allocation. So I don’t know if once Corey’s done with putting his administrative imprint on the body, how much of the rules reforms still need to get done. Maybe that’ll be something to assess once we get through the city budget.”</p> <p>At the same time, some members declined to comment, taking a wait-and-see approach before they evaluate Johnson’s commitment to rules reform. Others only agreed to speak anonymously, fearing what they say is increased scrutiny of public comments by the speaker’s office.</p> <p>Those members pointed out, for instance, that though there have been changes to bill drafting, the process still falls largely to the discretion of the speaker’s central staff. Under a long-standing process, Council members who made “first-in-time” legislative services requests -- Council speak for when a member asks for a bill to be drafted -- were given priority even if other members may have similar bill requests. Having a “first-in-time” request meant that members could sit on bills indefinitely, which the rules reforms would have amended with an official time-bound process.</p> <p>A Council spokesperson said that practice has ended and that members have offered positive feedback for the changes that have been made. Members are no longer allowed to sit on bills, and lose them to other members, the spokesperson said, without providing the details of how the new protocols work.</p> <p>Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government reform group, said that is perhaps the most significant item in the rules reform package. “There’s no known criteria by which they’re making that decision and that needs to change,” he said in a phone interview. “At the very least, the speaker’s office ought to declare the criteria by which they decide which bills are moved.”</p> <p>Council members who spoke to Gotham Gazette seemed to be in the dark about whether rules reforms were even being discussed. The overarching platform hasn’t been discussed in hearings though some of the issues have been raised in the Democratic conference meetings, said one member who would only speak on the condition of anonymity. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The first-in-time issues have not been changed,” the member said. “They did update the database -- truthfully, this was mostly done last term -- you can find out more quickly whether you’re first-in-time or not, but the process itself is still exactly as it was. And the legal concerns issue,” about getting legal opinions on bills in a timely manner, “is still as it was...And some of the disability and accessibility investments [for Council hearings] still need to be advanced.”</p> <p>Though the Council allocated more money for pay raises for staffers, it hasn’t implemented pay parity with other city agencies where benefits are better and salaries are higher, despite that being a priority outlined in the draft of reforms. “Yeah, I would add that to the list,” the Council member said. Nor is childcare provided to members or staffers, as called for in the reform proposal.</p> <p>The Council spokesperson noted that audio induction loops for those with hearing impairments were added last year and that language accessibility can be requested. The spokesperson also said that pay parity has been discussed with members when the Council was deciding its own budget, and ultimately members get to decide how they will use the increased funds budgeted for their offices and staff. The spokesperson also acknowledged that the Council does not currently provide childcare options but insisted that the Council is always looking at ways to expand it for all New Yorkers.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, one of Johnson’s chief rivals for the speakership, said the Council has made major improvements. “[The Speaker] has made progress on a lot of fronts,” he said, pointing to the uptick in the budget, the staffing increases, and more transparency and faster timelines on bill introductions. “It helps tremendously in managing your LS [legislative service] requests to have real-time access to that information. They’ve also staffed up pretty dramatically in the bill-drafting unit,” he said. “And it’s more equitable now. Everybody gets to identify 10 priority LSs which we want staff to work on and that evens it out a little bit more.”</p> <p>Echoing Lancman, Levine said a formal hearing wasn’t absolutely necessary. “These changes have been possible through a combination of changing internal procedure, through allocation of resources, and that really is a very big deal,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>Some members are waiting until after budget negotiations have concluded with the administration to see more changes go into effect, particularly with new funding at the Council’s disposal.</p> <p>“To date, the specifics of the rules reform stuff that we signed on to hasn’t been evidenced,” said Council Member Robert Cornegy, another current rules committee member and speaker candidate of last year. “There has been some efforts, especially in bill drafting, to make sure that bills move faster. But we’re so deep in the budget and I’m on the budget negotiation team, I can’t really see anything. I almost don’t know what’s going on around me as it relates to the legislation or the rules reform because we’re so deep in the budget.”</p> <p>Cornegy said he wants to see “a bit more latitude” for members in the drafting process so bills can move more quickly.</p> <p>Council Member Adrienne Adams, also a rules committee member, said very briefly before a Council hearing, “We’re still waiting. It’s been a while. We’re still waiting. I really don’t have anything to add right now.”</p> <p>Among other items that remain unfinished are changes to the functioning of the Council committees, which hear bills and hold oversight hearings.</p> <p>Despite being included in the proposed agenda, there’s still no protocol for committee hearing scheduling; there isn’t a standard process for members who want to switch committees midway through the term; hearings are not automatically triggered for bills with popular support; and committee staff aren’t publishing recaps of hearings that summarize testimony, requests made by members and promises made by the administration (though the full testimony from hearings continues to be readily available online.)</p> <p>It’s likely once the budget is decided, which could be as soon as the coming week, that the Council will ramp up some of the changes put in motion by Johnson and get to other delayed reforms. Yet, Council members and government reform groups say that needs to happen in a public, transparent way. “If the speaker and 32 members made a commitment to pass rules reforms,” said Camarda of Reinvent Albany, “they should honor that commitment and hold public hearings to solicit input and pass meaningful rules changes.”</p> <p>Camarda also pointed to a <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/05/12/city-council-speaker-breaks-transparency-promise-watchdog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Post report</a> from May that highlighted Johnson’s partial reversal on a promise to regularly publish his full public schedule and details of his contact with lobbyists. “We hope this isn’t the beginning of a trend that the speaker’s promises on good government issues go unfulfilled,” Camarda said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Inset Koslowitz photo by Emil Cohen</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cojo-cm-team.jpg" alt="cojo cm team" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson, middle, and Council members (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>In December, several City Council members jostling to become the powerful next speaker of the 51-member legislative body <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7378-rules-reform-package-supported-by-33-current-and-incoming-city-council-members" target="_blank" rel="noopener">signed on</a> to a broad platform of reforms to the Council’s rules and procedures, which can have a significant impact on city law-making and funding for communities. Both returning and newly-elected Council members, 33 of them in total, backed the proposals, which would make legislative drafting procedures more transparent, bolster staffing for prominent divisions such as land use, and tweak the Council’s internal culture in significant ways, among other more minor adjustments.</p> <p>But a deadline set in that platform for convening a public hearing on the proposals came and went as new Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who was among the signatories, has chosen instead to implement administrative changes in lieu of more formal reforms through the Council’s Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. Several Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette largely praised those measures but others expressed concern that important promises have been left unfulfilled.</p> <p>In a process somewhat similar to four years prior when Council members proposed changes ahead of the election of a new speaker, the document signed by the Council members in December of last year laid out broad areas where the Council could improve its functions, including in bill drafting, the role and operations of the 40-plus issue committees, the body’s oversight and investigations capacity, its budget negotiation process, its land use powers, and the quality of working life for members and their staff.</p> <p>“A hearing should be held in the Rules Committee on these reforms – as well as any others proposed by good government groups or members of the public – in the first quarter of 2018,” states the letter, signed by both Speaker Johnson and Council Member Karen Koslowitz, whom he appointed as chair of the rules committee. “The reforms should then be converted into a Rules Resolution, and adopted by the Council by March 2018, but no later than June 2018.”</p> <p>By this time in 2014, then-Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito had ushered in transformative rules changes that made the body more democratic, diluting some of the traditional powers of the speaker and empowering individual members. The changes were spearheaded along with Council Member Brad Lander, who she appointed to chair the rules committee and was instrumental in drafting the reforms.</p> <p>Discretionary funding -- also known as “member items” that are usually awarded by Council members to local nonprofits in their districts -- was equalized across Council districts, with additional resources allocated to poorer districts, and could no longer be a tool to punish members who might oppose the speaker, as Mark-Viverito’s predecessors had used it. A new bill drafting unit was created to aid Council members and speed up the legislative process, and other changes were made to how bills are introduced and heard in committees.</p> <p>Johnson has taken a different tack, making significant administrative changes that cover large parts of the rules reform package and were key pledges he made as he ran for speaker.</p> <p>The Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7559-fulfilling-johnson-promise-city-council-significantly-increases-its-operating-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">voted</a> to significantly increase its own annual budget to $81.3 million, up from $64 million, with the new funds pegged for staffing increases in the land use, legislative, and finance divisions. A dedicated 15-member oversight and investigations unit was created to conduct systemic analyses of city agencies and their functioning. According to a Council spokesperson, the central staff has also internally overseen improvements in bill drafting, no longer allowing indefinite delays on bill introductions and impressing on members to move their bills or release them for others. Members can now also electronically access the status of their bills in real time and there is a timely process for staff to express legal concerns with bill language. Members are provided legal memos on their bills on request, which is apparently rare. All moves meant to address major areas of frustration for some members, though key pieces of proposed changes to bill-drafting have not been implemented.</p> <p>In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Council also moved rapidly to change its rules to mandate anti-sexual harassment trainings.</p> <p>“I am proud to have taken important steps on necessary reforms in my first months as speaker, including the creation of the new Oversight and Investigations Unit that will strengthen our capacity for monitoring city agencies as mandated by the charter,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “I will continue to discuss with members what reforms should be made in the future to help better serve the people of New York.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/photobyemily.jpg" alt="photobyemily" width="181" height="141" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Council Member Koslowitz (pictured), chair of the rules committee, initially said the Council member was unfamiliar with the rules reform package that she had signed. When presented with the full list of proposals, the spokesperson declined to comment.</p> <p>By and large, Council members are appreciative of the steps Johnson has taken. Several members said their bills are moving faster and, without making any comparisons with Mark-Viverito, that Johnson is openly seeking member input on the budget and larger strategy. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The rules reform this time around, there were a lot of legitimate questions about whether or not these reforms needed to be put into the Council’s rules or they could just be effected,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, a member of the rules committee. “A lot of them had to do with resource allocation. So I don’t know if once Corey’s done with putting his administrative imprint on the body, how much of the rules reforms still need to get done. Maybe that’ll be something to assess once we get through the city budget.”</p> <p>At the same time, some members declined to comment, taking a wait-and-see approach before they evaluate Johnson’s commitment to rules reform. Others only agreed to speak anonymously, fearing what they say is increased scrutiny of public comments by the speaker’s office.</p> <p>Those members pointed out, for instance, that though there have been changes to bill drafting, the process still falls largely to the discretion of the speaker’s central staff. Under a long-standing process, Council members who made “first-in-time” legislative services requests -- Council speak for when a member asks for a bill to be drafted -- were given priority even if other members may have similar bill requests. Having a “first-in-time” request meant that members could sit on bills indefinitely, which the rules reforms would have amended with an official time-bound process.</p> <p>A Council spokesperson said that practice has ended and that members have offered positive feedback for the changes that have been made. Members are no longer allowed to sit on bills, and lose them to other members, the spokesperson said, without providing the details of how the new protocols work.</p> <p>Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government reform group, said that is perhaps the most significant item in the rules reform package. “There’s no known criteria by which they’re making that decision and that needs to change,” he said in a phone interview. “At the very least, the speaker’s office ought to declare the criteria by which they decide which bills are moved.”</p> <p>Council members who spoke to Gotham Gazette seemed to be in the dark about whether rules reforms were even being discussed. The overarching platform hasn’t been discussed in hearings though some of the issues have been raised in the Democratic conference meetings, said one member who would only speak on the condition of anonymity. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The first-in-time issues have not been changed,” the member said. “They did update the database -- truthfully, this was mostly done last term -- you can find out more quickly whether you’re first-in-time or not, but the process itself is still exactly as it was. And the legal concerns issue,” about getting legal opinions on bills in a timely manner, “is still as it was...And some of the disability and accessibility investments [for Council hearings] still need to be advanced.”</p> <p>Though the Council allocated more money for pay raises for staffers, it hasn’t implemented pay parity with other city agencies where benefits are better and salaries are higher, despite that being a priority outlined in the draft of reforms. “Yeah, I would add that to the list,” the Council member said. Nor is childcare provided to members or staffers, as called for in the reform proposal.</p> <p>The Council spokesperson noted that audio induction loops for those with hearing impairments were added last year and that language accessibility can be requested. The spokesperson also said that pay parity has been discussed with members when the Council was deciding its own budget, and ultimately members get to decide how they will use the increased funds budgeted for their offices and staff. The spokesperson also acknowledged that the Council does not currently provide childcare options but insisted that the Council is always looking at ways to expand it for all New Yorkers.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, one of Johnson’s chief rivals for the speakership, said the Council has made major improvements. “[The Speaker] has made progress on a lot of fronts,” he said, pointing to the uptick in the budget, the staffing increases, and more transparency and faster timelines on bill introductions. “It helps tremendously in managing your LS [legislative service] requests to have real-time access to that information. They’ve also staffed up pretty dramatically in the bill-drafting unit,” he said. “And it’s more equitable now. Everybody gets to identify 10 priority LSs which we want staff to work on and that evens it out a little bit more.”</p> <p>Echoing Lancman, Levine said a formal hearing wasn’t absolutely necessary. “These changes have been possible through a combination of changing internal procedure, through allocation of resources, and that really is a very big deal,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>Some members are waiting until after budget negotiations have concluded with the administration to see more changes go into effect, particularly with new funding at the Council’s disposal.</p> <p>“To date, the specifics of the rules reform stuff that we signed on to hasn’t been evidenced,” said Council Member Robert Cornegy, another current rules committee member and speaker candidate of last year. “There has been some efforts, especially in bill drafting, to make sure that bills move faster. But we’re so deep in the budget and I’m on the budget negotiation team, I can’t really see anything. I almost don’t know what’s going on around me as it relates to the legislation or the rules reform because we’re so deep in the budget.”</p> <p>Cornegy said he wants to see “a bit more latitude” for members in the drafting process so bills can move more quickly.</p> <p>Council Member Adrienne Adams, also a rules committee member, said very briefly before a Council hearing, “We’re still waiting. It’s been a while. We’re still waiting. I really don’t have anything to add right now.”</p> <p>Among other items that remain unfinished are changes to the functioning of the Council committees, which hear bills and hold oversight hearings.</p> <p>Despite being included in the proposed agenda, there’s still no protocol for committee hearing scheduling; there isn’t a standard process for members who want to switch committees midway through the term; hearings are not automatically triggered for bills with popular support; and committee staff aren’t publishing recaps of hearings that summarize testimony, requests made by members and promises made by the administration (though the full testimony from hearings continues to be readily available online.)</p> <p>It’s likely once the budget is decided, which could be as soon as the coming week, that the Council will ramp up some of the changes put in motion by Johnson and get to other delayed reforms. Yet, Council members and government reform groups say that needs to happen in a public, transparent way. “If the speaker and 32 members made a commitment to pass rules reforms,” said Camarda of Reinvent Albany, “they should honor that commitment and hold public hearings to solicit input and pass meaningful rules changes.”</p> <p>Camarda also pointed to a <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/05/12/city-council-speaker-breaks-transparency-promise-watchdog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Post report</a> from May that highlighted Johnson’s partial reversal on a promise to regularly publish his full public schedule and details of his contact with lobbyists. “We hope this isn’t the beginning of a trend that the speaker’s promises on good government issues go unfulfilled,” Camarda said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Inset Koslowitz photo by Emil Cohen</p>
Expanding Health Insurance Enrollment Will Help Heal New Yorkers and Our Public Hospitals 2018-05-14T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-14T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7672:expanding-health-insurance-enrollment-will-help-heal-new-yorkers-and-our-public-hospitals Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/40780493555_35de91db02_z.jpg" alt="Carlina Rivera City Council" width="600" height="404" /></p> <p>Council Member Rivera, one of the authors (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Even in an era of relentless attack on health care by the Trump administration and its allies in Congress, New York City is continuing to reap enormous benefits from the Affordable Care Act. This year alone another 80,000 city residents enrolled in health coverage through our state’s Obamacare exchange.<br /> <br />But a huge number are still being left behind: an estimated 962,000 adults in the five boroughs remain uninsured. These New Yorkers -- many of whom are living in poverty -- often receive no health care until their conditions are severe enough to land them in the emergency room.<br /> <br />The trend is not good for those New Yorkers’ health, as they should have access to preventive care, regular check-ups, and other aspects of quality health care. What’s more, the current situation is also dealing a serious financial blow to our struggling public hospital system (known as Health + Hospitals), whose vital mission it is to serve those in need, including the uninsured. For H+H to avoid financial disaster we need to close the health insurance gap in New York City.<br /> <br />H+H serves over a million patients per year in a network of 11 acute care hospitals and dozens of other facilities throughout the five boroughs. These institutions are by far our city’s largest provider of care to Medicaid recipients, mental health patients, and -- critically -- those who are uninsured.<br /> <br />For decades our public hospitals -- Bellevue, Kings County, Harlem, Elmhurst and others -- have been the ultimate safety net for New Yorkers with nowhere else to turn. H+H’s diverse and committed staff, its proximity to low-income communities, and its sliding-scale fees have helped establish it as second-to-none in serving the neediest New Yorkers.<br /> <br />But balancing the books at our public hospitals has never been easy, in part because Medicaid reimbursement rates are so low. The system’s challenges have only gotten worse in recent years as federal and state safety-net funding has shrunk. And now tectonic changes in the health sector have dealt further blows, as care rapidly moves from inpatient to outpatient services. <br /> <br />The result: H+H is confronting a $1.3 billion deficit this year, projected to balloon to $2.1 billion next year.<br /> <br />This financial strain has real implications for patients, compounding long-running problems in the system. The wait time for appointments at H+H can stretch into the months. Many of the system’s buildings are crumbling, with leaking roofs at Harlem Hospital, deteriorated plumbing at Lincoln, obsolete electric systems at Metropolitan, and elevators throughout the system that are so outdated that their replacement parts are no longer sold.<br /> <br />H+H’s new CEO, Dr. Mitchel Katz, has laid out a multi-pronged plan to address this crisis. He has set out to reduce administrative expenses, more effectively bill insurance companies, and retain more paying patients, among other efforts.<br /> <br />But there is another critical strategy needed to save H+H: New York City urgently needs to enroll more people in health insurance.<br /> <br />Our public hospitals treat over 400,000 uninsured patients each year. That represents hundreds of millions of dollars of lost insurance billing for those eligible for coverage. Providing this health care regardless of ability to pay is the moral thing to do. It also affects the health of all New Yorkers by helping us prevent the spread of communicable diseases.<br /> <br />We need to tap health insurance as a way to make this important work financially sustainable. That’s why it’s critical that we dramatically ramp up our outreach and enrollment efforts.<br /> <br />Today, most funding for ACA enrollment is provided by the State, which spends about $12 million per year on a network of community-based organizations in the five boroughs offering health insurance navigation assistance.<br /> <br />Several City agencies also have dedicated teams doing enrollment, but the numbers are small: only about 50 staff at Human Resources Administration (HRA) and 70 at Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).<br /> <br />We need an aggressive, coordinated plan to take this work to the next level. And we need to be on the ground in neighborhoods. Community-based non-profits make ideal partners for this work, because of their cultural competence and because of the trust they so often have earned in low-income communities.<br /> <br />One group of New Yorkers can’t get enrolled no matter how much we spend on outreach: undocumented immigrants. But there’s a win-win possibility for them as well. By investing in a program to provide them access to primary care we can improve health outcomes and prevent the more costly H+H emergency room admissions that would otherwise occur. <br /> <br />A twin effort to enroll more New Yorkers who are eligible for insurance and to fund access to primary care for those who are undocumented would improve the health of our people while going a long way to shore up the finances of our public hospital system.<br /> <br />That would be a giant step forward to the goal of ensuring that each and every New Yorker, regardless of income or immigration status, has access to the affordable, high-quality care they need.</p> <p>***<br />Mark Levine and Carlina Rivera are members of the New York City Council. Levine chairs the Council’s health committee, Rivera chairs its hospitals committee. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/MarkLevineNYC" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@MarkLevineNYC</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/CarlinaRivera" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@CarlinaRivera</a>.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/40780493555_35de91db02_z.jpg" alt="Carlina Rivera City Council" width="600" height="404" /></p> <p>Council Member Rivera, one of the authors (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Even in an era of relentless attack on health care by the Trump administration and its allies in Congress, New York City is continuing to reap enormous benefits from the Affordable Care Act. This year alone another 80,000 city residents enrolled in health coverage through our state’s Obamacare exchange.<br /> <br />But a huge number are still being left behind: an estimated 962,000 adults in the five boroughs remain uninsured. These New Yorkers -- many of whom are living in poverty -- often receive no health care until their conditions are severe enough to land them in the emergency room.<br /> <br />The trend is not good for those New Yorkers’ health, as they should have access to preventive care, regular check-ups, and other aspects of quality health care. What’s more, the current situation is also dealing a serious financial blow to our struggling public hospital system (known as Health + Hospitals), whose vital mission it is to serve those in need, including the uninsured. For H+H to avoid financial disaster we need to close the health insurance gap in New York City.<br /> <br />H+H serves over a million patients per year in a network of 11 acute care hospitals and dozens of other facilities throughout the five boroughs. These institutions are by far our city’s largest provider of care to Medicaid recipients, mental health patients, and -- critically -- those who are uninsured.<br /> <br />For decades our public hospitals -- Bellevue, Kings County, Harlem, Elmhurst and others -- have been the ultimate safety net for New Yorkers with nowhere else to turn. H+H’s diverse and committed staff, its proximity to low-income communities, and its sliding-scale fees have helped establish it as second-to-none in serving the neediest New Yorkers.<br /> <br />But balancing the books at our public hospitals has never been easy, in part because Medicaid reimbursement rates are so low. The system’s challenges have only gotten worse in recent years as federal and state safety-net funding has shrunk. And now tectonic changes in the health sector have dealt further blows, as care rapidly moves from inpatient to outpatient services. <br /> <br />The result: H+H is confronting a $1.3 billion deficit this year, projected to balloon to $2.1 billion next year.<br /> <br />This financial strain has real implications for patients, compounding long-running problems in the system. The wait time for appointments at H+H can stretch into the months. Many of the system’s buildings are crumbling, with leaking roofs at Harlem Hospital, deteriorated plumbing at Lincoln, obsolete electric systems at Metropolitan, and elevators throughout the system that are so outdated that their replacement parts are no longer sold.<br /> <br />H+H’s new CEO, Dr. Mitchel Katz, has laid out a multi-pronged plan to address this crisis. He has set out to reduce administrative expenses, more effectively bill insurance companies, and retain more paying patients, among other efforts.<br /> <br />But there is another critical strategy needed to save H+H: New York City urgently needs to enroll more people in health insurance.<br /> <br />Our public hospitals treat over 400,000 uninsured patients each year. That represents hundreds of millions of dollars of lost insurance billing for those eligible for coverage. Providing this health care regardless of ability to pay is the moral thing to do. It also affects the health of all New Yorkers by helping us prevent the spread of communicable diseases.<br /> <br />We need to tap health insurance as a way to make this important work financially sustainable. That’s why it’s critical that we dramatically ramp up our outreach and enrollment efforts.<br /> <br />Today, most funding for ACA enrollment is provided by the State, which spends about $12 million per year on a network of community-based organizations in the five boroughs offering health insurance navigation assistance.<br /> <br />Several City agencies also have dedicated teams doing enrollment, but the numbers are small: only about 50 staff at Human Resources Administration (HRA) and 70 at Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).<br /> <br />We need an aggressive, coordinated plan to take this work to the next level. And we need to be on the ground in neighborhoods. Community-based non-profits make ideal partners for this work, because of their cultural competence and because of the trust they so often have earned in low-income communities.<br /> <br />One group of New Yorkers can’t get enrolled no matter how much we spend on outreach: undocumented immigrants. But there’s a win-win possibility for them as well. By investing in a program to provide them access to primary care we can improve health outcomes and prevent the more costly H+H emergency room admissions that would otherwise occur. <br /> <br />A twin effort to enroll more New Yorkers who are eligible for insurance and to fund access to primary care for those who are undocumented would improve the health of our people while going a long way to shore up the finances of our public hospital system.<br /> <br />That would be a giant step forward to the goal of ensuring that each and every New Yorker, regardless of income or immigration status, has access to the affordable, high-quality care they need.</p> <p>***<br />Mark Levine and Carlina Rivera are members of the New York City Council. Levine chairs the Council’s health committee, Rivera chairs its hospitals committee. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/MarkLevineNYC" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@MarkLevineNYC</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/CarlinaRivera" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@CarlinaRivera</a>.</p> <p>

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City Council Anti-Harassment Bills Don’t Apply to the City Council 2018-03-08T05:00:00+00:00 2018-03-08T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7527:city-council-anti-harassment-bills-don-t-apply-to-the-city-council Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/28340833019_9bbc3dc1b9_z.jpg" alt="Johnson City Council staff" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson and others (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Last week, the City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7508-council-examines-city-sexual-harassment-policies-considers-new-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener">proposed</a> a legislative package aimed at confronting sexual harassment in private and government work environments. It includes 11 bills, four of which would apply to city agencies should they become law. Council members sponsoring the bills, including Speaker Corey Johnson, touted the legislation as evidence of the Council taking significant action toward preventing and punishing the type of harassment that has become the focus of a national movement. But the bills do not apply to the City Council itself.</p> <p>“All New Yorkers are entitled to a safe, respectful workplace – and this starts with sending a strong message to employers that there is no place for sexualharassment in New York City,” Johnson said in a press release. “With more and more sexual harassment cases being brought to light, it has never been more important for the government to play a role in the movement to end sexual harassment and assault.”</p> <p>There was also some confusion among the bill-sponsoring Council members and in the speaker's office as to whether the bills applied to other non-mayoral government entities such as the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, or Borough Presidents. After this article was originally published, a Council spokesperson clarified that "The legislation as it is written will cover non-mayoral government entities, including the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, or Borough Presidents. The Council will be covered through a rule that will be drafted to ensure compliance."</p> <p>Speaker Johnson, along with Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Mark Levine, and Adrienne Adams, are the primary sponsors of the bills that add requirements to city agencies’ anti-sexual harassment policies and procedures. Johnson’s bill would mandate twice-annual sexual harassment training; Adams’ bill would instruct the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and Commission on Human Rights to partner in determining risk factors “associated with sexual harassment” in city agencies; Levine’s would mandate that city agencies collect and then report sexual harassment cases; and Rosenthal’s would direct the Commission on Human Rights to administer surveys that test “general awareness and knowledge of workplace sexual harassment policies and prevention.” &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>When originally asked about the omission of the Council and other non-mayoral entities in the legislation, a City Council spokesperson said that the Council is in the beginning stages of the legislative process, the bills may change, and that the Council will adhere to the laws they pass. There was no discussion of the Council’s own policies at the hourslong hearing on the bills held February 28 at City Hall.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Women, told Gotham Gazette that the process is in its early stages, insisted the Council would comply with the practices in the new laws, and said that many of the provisions in the bevy of bills are already the Council’s policy, such as the provisions included in Johnson’s bill. &nbsp;</p> <p>A spokesperson for Adrienne Adams also said the Council was early in its process and “intended to comply” with the legislation.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Mark Levine did not respond to requests for comment. Last year, Levine announced plans to introduce legislation that would designate Council staff complaints as the purview of the Council’s Standards and Ethics Committee, which currently only has oversight of elected Council members. The proposal has yet to make it into bill form.</p> <p>For the several hundred employees of the City Council, the body’s own harassment policies and procedures are not public and Gotham Gazette is still awaiting the results of a Freedom of Information Law request for information regarding how harassment complaints are handled and how the Council’s equal employment committee (EEC) functions.</p> <p>When it comes to handling complaints at the Council, sources indicate that there is a process for making and evaluating complaints through the EEC. Elected Council members themselves, are subject to the Committee on Standards and Ethics, made up of Council members, which evaluates complaints and can adjudicate punishment, as it recently did with Council Member Andy King, who was assigned additional training after a complaint of undue attention to a staff member was substantiated.</p> <p>The bills will likely be changed before they are voted through committee and then the full Council, but to what extent remains unclear.</p> <p>It was also unclear whether the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, and Borough Presidents were aware of their inclusion in the legislation. When asked about their exclusion, working from apparently incorrect initial responses from the Council, those offices sent the following replies.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Comptroller Scott Stringer declined to comment regarding the Council leaving itself out of the legislation, but provided Gotham Gazette with the office’s policies and procedures on sexual misconduct. &nbsp;</p> <p>A spokesperson for Public Advocate Letitia James did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>In a statement, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said,&nbsp;"We have a standing EEO policy and trainings are conducted annually in coordination with DCAS. Even though the agency is not required to do so, Brooklyn Borough Hall implements the same anti-sexual harassment training that is applied in mayoral agencies. I will continue to apply the highest City standard for combating sexual harassment in the workplace, and I appreciate the City Council taking up this important issue.”</p> <p>A&nbsp;spokesperson for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. told Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;"Our office has a comprehensive sexual harassment policy that reflects the policies published by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services on the issue."</p> <p>A spokesperson for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said they had to review the legislation before commenting and that the office has existing policies in place for sexual harassment.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer declined to comment on the legislation.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Staten Island Borough President James Oddo also declined to comment on the legislation, but told Gotham Gazette the Borough President’s office follows the procedures used by city agencies and has both a male and female Citywide Diversity and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) officer.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, told Gotham Gazette that the omission of the City Council is part of a “pervasive disease of legislators.” “They like to prescribe vaccinations for everybody else but themselves,” she continued. “I have no idea what the motive is.”</p> <p> </p> <p>Note: this story has been updated in several places based on new information provided by the City Council after the story was originally published.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/28340833019_9bbc3dc1b9_z.jpg" alt="Johnson City Council staff" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson and others (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Last week, the City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7508-council-examines-city-sexual-harassment-policies-considers-new-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener">proposed</a> a legislative package aimed at confronting sexual harassment in private and government work environments. It includes 11 bills, four of which would apply to city agencies should they become law. Council members sponsoring the bills, including Speaker Corey Johnson, touted the legislation as evidence of the Council taking significant action toward preventing and punishing the type of harassment that has become the focus of a national movement. But the bills do not apply to the City Council itself.</p> <p>“All New Yorkers are entitled to a safe, respectful workplace – and this starts with sending a strong message to employers that there is no place for sexualharassment in New York City,” Johnson said in a press release. “With more and more sexual harassment cases being brought to light, it has never been more important for the government to play a role in the movement to end sexual harassment and assault.”</p> <p>There was also some confusion among the bill-sponsoring Council members and in the speaker's office as to whether the bills applied to other non-mayoral government entities such as the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, or Borough Presidents. After this article was originally published, a Council spokesperson clarified that "The legislation as it is written will cover non-mayoral government entities, including the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, or Borough Presidents. The Council will be covered through a rule that will be drafted to ensure compliance."</p> <p>Speaker Johnson, along with Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Mark Levine, and Adrienne Adams, are the primary sponsors of the bills that add requirements to city agencies’ anti-sexual harassment policies and procedures. Johnson’s bill would mandate twice-annual sexual harassment training; Adams’ bill would instruct the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and Commission on Human Rights to partner in determining risk factors “associated with sexual harassment” in city agencies; Levine’s would mandate that city agencies collect and then report sexual harassment cases; and Rosenthal’s would direct the Commission on Human Rights to administer surveys that test “general awareness and knowledge of workplace sexual harassment policies and prevention.” &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>When originally asked about the omission of the Council and other non-mayoral entities in the legislation, a City Council spokesperson said that the Council is in the beginning stages of the legislative process, the bills may change, and that the Council will adhere to the laws they pass. There was no discussion of the Council’s own policies at the hourslong hearing on the bills held February 28 at City Hall.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Women, told Gotham Gazette that the process is in its early stages, insisted the Council would comply with the practices in the new laws, and said that many of the provisions in the bevy of bills are already the Council’s policy, such as the provisions included in Johnson’s bill. &nbsp;</p> <p>A spokesperson for Adrienne Adams also said the Council was early in its process and “intended to comply” with the legislation.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Mark Levine did not respond to requests for comment. Last year, Levine announced plans to introduce legislation that would designate Council staff complaints as the purview of the Council’s Standards and Ethics Committee, which currently only has oversight of elected Council members. The proposal has yet to make it into bill form.</p> <p>For the several hundred employees of the City Council, the body’s own harassment policies and procedures are not public and Gotham Gazette is still awaiting the results of a Freedom of Information Law request for information regarding how harassment complaints are handled and how the Council’s equal employment committee (EEC) functions.</p> <p>When it comes to handling complaints at the Council, sources indicate that there is a process for making and evaluating complaints through the EEC. Elected Council members themselves, are subject to the Committee on Standards and Ethics, made up of Council members, which evaluates complaints and can adjudicate punishment, as it recently did with Council Member Andy King, who was assigned additional training after a complaint of undue attention to a staff member was substantiated.</p> <p>The bills will likely be changed before they are voted through committee and then the full Council, but to what extent remains unclear.</p> <p>It was also unclear whether the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, and Borough Presidents were aware of their inclusion in the legislation. When asked about their exclusion, working from apparently incorrect initial responses from the Council, those offices sent the following replies.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Comptroller Scott Stringer declined to comment regarding the Council leaving itself out of the legislation, but provided Gotham Gazette with the office’s policies and procedures on sexual misconduct. &nbsp;</p> <p>A spokesperson for Public Advocate Letitia James did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>In a statement, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said,&nbsp;"We have a standing EEO policy and trainings are conducted annually in coordination with DCAS. Even though the agency is not required to do so, Brooklyn Borough Hall implements the same anti-sexual harassment training that is applied in mayoral agencies. I will continue to apply the highest City standard for combating sexual harassment in the workplace, and I appreciate the City Council taking up this important issue.”</p> <p>A&nbsp;spokesperson for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. told Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;"Our office has a comprehensive sexual harassment policy that reflects the policies published by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services on the issue."</p> <p>A spokesperson for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said they had to review the legislation before commenting and that the office has existing policies in place for sexual harassment.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer declined to comment on the legislation.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Staten Island Borough President James Oddo also declined to comment on the legislation, but told Gotham Gazette the Borough President’s office follows the procedures used by city agencies and has both a male and female Citywide Diversity and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) officer.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, told Gotham Gazette that the omission of the City Council is part of a “pervasive disease of legislators.” “They like to prescribe vaccinations for everybody else but themselves,” she continued. “I have no idea what the motive is.”</p> <p> </p> <p>Note: this story has been updated in several places based on new information provided by the City Council after the story was originally published.</p> Under New Leadership and Oversight, City’s Hospital System in Spotlight 2018-03-04T05:00:00+00:00 2018-03-04T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7515:under-new-leadership-and-oversight-city-s-hospital-system-in-spotlight Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rivera_hospitals_hearing.jpg" alt="Carlina Rivera hospitals hearing" width="600" height="422" /></p> <p>Council Member Carlina Rivera (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>The new CEO of the city’s beleaguered Health + Hospitals (H+H) public hospital system, Dr. Mitchell Katz, testified in front of the City Council’s new hospitals committee, and its chair, Carlina Rivera, for the first time on Wednesday, discussing the progress of the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/home/downloads/pdf/reports/2016/Health-and-Hospitals-Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">“One New York”</a> plan to 'transform' and improve the system.</p> <p>H+H is a public-private corporation that manages the city’s 11 public hospitals, health centers, and municipal healthcare provider, MetroPlus.</p> <p>“Its mission is to provide quality, comprehensive health services to all New Yorkers, regardless of their ability to pay,” Rivera said. “In effect, Health + Hospitals is the default system of care for Medicaid patients, the uninsured, and other vulnerable populations, and is integral to our system of safety net hospitals.” Rivera noted that approximately 70% of H+H patients are uninsured or on Medicaid.</p> <p>H+H has faced numerous fiscal challenges over the past few years. When the original One New York report was released in 2016, its intention was to reduce an anticipated budget deficit of $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1, 2019.</p> <p>Last fiscal year, the de Blasio administration provided $1.8 billion in city aid to H+H as its interim leadership also took measures to overhaul its operations and finances, before Katz was brought in from Los Angeles to accelerate that work. (That was an increase from $607 million in fiscal year 2011, <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/lessons-la-la-land" target="_blank" rel="noopener">according to the Citizens Budget Commission.</a>)</p> <p>A recent fiscal scare originating in the federal government concerned the potential defunding of the Disproportionate Share Hospital program, which provides additional funding for hospitals that see a disproportionate number of low income patients, who may be uninsured and/or on Medicaid. The threat of cuts, which has loomed since 2014 but has become especially acute since President Donald Trump took office, was averted for the immediate future with a recent two-year extension of funding in the latest federal stopgap measure passed in February. When the cuts take effect, federal and state funding is expected to drop by approximately $800 million.</p> <p>Meanwhile, after H+H announced plans to file a lawsuit against New York state government for failing to provide $380 million in funding, Governor Andrew Cuomo relented, giving H+H $360 million of the $380 million H+H claimed it was owed in October. Cuomo had initially suggested that the city tap into its reserves to provide the funding.</p> <p>Tellingly, Katz, who assumed his current role after leading the Los Angeles County Health Agency for seven years and turning a $250 million budget deficit <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/07/nyregion/mitchell-katz-nyc-health-hospitals.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">into a $560 million budget surplus</a>, did not focus his City Council testimony on short-term revenue streams coming from Albany and Washington but rather on what he assesses are deficient practices within H+H operations and bureaucracy that are hindering its ability to collect revenue to its full potential.</p> <p>Katz outlined a seven-point plan to increase revenues without cutting vital services. It includes cutting administrative expenses, which Katz said has begun recently by eliminating outside consultants from the system to the tune of $16 million in savings, and investing in new “revenue generating positions” such as primary care doctors, pharmacists, and nurse practitioners instead of solely ER doctors, a goal Katz outlined at the beginning of his term.</p> <p>Hiring more people will also cut down on wait times, Katz said, in response to Rivera bringing up the issue. Katz described waits for appointments as “hugely variable.”</p> <p>“One of the things that I found distressing was at Bellevue, is that the wait for behavioral assessments for a kid is currently months,” Katz said. “Which, frankly, has nothing to do with money, because kids are fully insured.”</p> <p>But perhaps the more significant stabilization schemes, which were the focus of more attention at the hearing, relate to reforming H+H’s billing processes and bringing more insured patients into the system. Because H+H has a reputation as the hospital network that serves the indigent, many insured people do not use municipal hospital services. As a result, Katz said there is a substantial amount of bureaucratic waste within the system due to poor administrative skills on the part of system workers, who normally work with people who are either uninsured or on Medicaid.</p> <p>This point was hammered by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who recently became a father and described his experience as an individual with private insurance at Woodhull Hospital, an H+H hospital “across the street” from his district. Reynoso effusively praised Woodhull’s maternity ward and other services, but chastised billing procedures as inefficient.</p> <p>Katz agreed that H+H needs to develop better billing procedures, including diagnostically coding bills correctly, checking insurance cards, checking prior authorization, and better communication with insurance companies. He cited a skilled nursing facility that spends roughly $21 million on drugs but only has revenues of $5 million.</p> <p>“That’s impossible,” Katz said, “because we’re talking about skilled nursing facilities where there are almost no uninsured patients.” Katz claimed that the $21 million was a fair market value for the drugs but that the significant revenue shortfall had its roots in poor billing practices.</p> <p>The situation at the skilled nursing facility is only the tip of the iceberg. In response to a question from Rivera, H+H Chief Financial Officer Plachikkat Anantharam stated that H+H lost between $130 million and $290 million in 2017 as a result of chronic underbilling.</p> <p>Further, Katz said that H+H should not be referring patients out of the system and into the private market. Via MetroPlus insurance, H+H by proxy essentially pays private hospital operators to provide care, resulting in a significant amount of lost revenue.</p> <p>Katz also stated that H+H needs to begin offering services that are “well reimbursed.” He illustrated this point by comparing behavioral health, for which H+H is the largest provider in the city and which is “poorly reimbursed,” and angioplasties, a heart procedure that is well reimbursed by insurance companies, but is rarely performed by H+H, and only at Bellevue Hospital.</p> <p>Katz also wants, as part of his plan, to “convert uninsured people who qualify for insurance to be insured,” whether through Medicaid or MetroPlus, the government sponsored health insurance provider wholly owned by H+H that insures around a half-million New Yorkers and is offered on the Affordable Care Act exchange. Katz identified 250,000 people in the city who are uninsured but qualify for insurance coverage, out of a total of 667,000 uninsured people in the city.</p> <p>“250,000. Let’s agree we won’t get 250,000,” Katz said, in reference to not being able to insure every eligible uninsured New Yorker. “That’s a lot of people. But if you got 100,000 of the 250,000 that we believe are currently getting our services and are insurable, that would be huge.”</p> <p>Regardless, the Council members and Katz acknowledged that signing up tens of thousands of people for insurance is easier said than done. Council Member Mark Levine, chair of the Council’s health committee, asked whether it was possible to enroll patients who walk into a facility on the spot, and why this hadn’t been done in the past.</p> <p>“Is that another cultural challenge you have to overcome,” he asked. “Is that a resource issue? Or am I making it seem simpler than it really is?”</p> <p>“No, Council Member, I think you’re right, and accurate. It’s both of those things,” Katz responded.</p> <p>“I think another part of that is that there’s no -- right now, we haven’t constructed a system to make it that that’s the easiest choice for the person, right, to be able to enroll in insurance,” he continued. “We’ve kind of made it easier to pay $10, which might be the same copay that they would pay if they had insurance. But the difference between what our system and city would receive is huge.”</p> <p>Katz cited his experience in Los Angeles as evidence that the public hospitals system could be stabilized without attrition, or mass firings in other terms. Indeed, as Citizens Budget Commission noted in its analysis, <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/lessons-la-la-land" target="_blank" rel="noopener">"Lessons from La La Land,"</a> previewing Katz's takeover at H+H, "The good news was all on the revenue side."</p> <p>“When I started in Los Angeles, there was also a deficit. It was $226 million, which at the time seemed to me like a lot of money, before I came to New York City,” Katz said, eliciting laughter from the audience of healthcare advocates and professionals in the Council’s Committee room. “But when I left, not only did we have a surplus, but we had added 1,500 public sector jobs. So one thing I do know is that you have to take financial problems seriously, but you can grow out of financial problems sometimes more easily than you can shrink out of financial problems.”</p> <p>Reynoso was particularly fond of that line. “Grow out of a financial problem, that’s a great way to put it,” he said.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rivera_hospitals_hearing.jpg" alt="Carlina Rivera hospitals hearing" width="600" height="422" /></p> <p>Council Member Carlina Rivera (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>The new CEO of the city’s beleaguered Health + Hospitals (H+H) public hospital system, Dr. Mitchell Katz, testified in front of the City Council’s new hospitals committee, and its chair, Carlina Rivera, for the first time on Wednesday, discussing the progress of the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/home/downloads/pdf/reports/2016/Health-and-Hospitals-Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">“One New York”</a> plan to 'transform' and improve the system.</p> <p>H+H is a public-private corporation that manages the city’s 11 public hospitals, health centers, and municipal healthcare provider, MetroPlus.</p> <p>“Its mission is to provide quality, comprehensive health services to all New Yorkers, regardless of their ability to pay,” Rivera said. “In effect, Health + Hospitals is the default system of care for Medicaid patients, the uninsured, and other vulnerable populations, and is integral to our system of safety net hospitals.” Rivera noted that approximately 70% of H+H patients are uninsured or on Medicaid.</p> <p>H+H has faced numerous fiscal challenges over the past few years. When the original One New York report was released in 2016, its intention was to reduce an anticipated budget deficit of $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1, 2019.</p> <p>Last fiscal year, the de Blasio administration provided $1.8 billion in city aid to H+H as its interim leadership also took measures to overhaul its operations and finances, before Katz was brought in from Los Angeles to accelerate that work. (That was an increase from $607 million in fiscal year 2011, <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/lessons-la-la-land" target="_blank" rel="noopener">according to the Citizens Budget Commission.</a>)</p> <p>A recent fiscal scare originating in the federal government concerned the potential defunding of the Disproportionate Share Hospital program, which provides additional funding for hospitals that see a disproportionate number of low income patients, who may be uninsured and/or on Medicaid. The threat of cuts, which has loomed since 2014 but has become especially acute since President Donald Trump took office, was averted for the immediate future with a recent two-year extension of funding in the latest federal stopgap measure passed in February. When the cuts take effect, federal and state funding is expected to drop by approximately $800 million.</p> <p>Meanwhile, after H+H announced plans to file a lawsuit against New York state government for failing to provide $380 million in funding, Governor Andrew Cuomo relented, giving H+H $360 million of the $380 million H+H claimed it was owed in October. Cuomo had initially suggested that the city tap into its reserves to provide the funding.</p> <p>Tellingly, Katz, who assumed his current role after leading the Los Angeles County Health Agency for seven years and turning a $250 million budget deficit <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/07/nyregion/mitchell-katz-nyc-health-hospitals.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">into a $560 million budget surplus</a>, did not focus his City Council testimony on short-term revenue streams coming from Albany and Washington but rather on what he assesses are deficient practices within H+H operations and bureaucracy that are hindering its ability to collect revenue to its full potential.</p> <p>Katz outlined a seven-point plan to increase revenues without cutting vital services. It includes cutting administrative expenses, which Katz said has begun recently by eliminating outside consultants from the system to the tune of $16 million in savings, and investing in new “revenue generating positions” such as primary care doctors, pharmacists, and nurse practitioners instead of solely ER doctors, a goal Katz outlined at the beginning of his term.</p> <p>Hiring more people will also cut down on wait times, Katz said, in response to Rivera bringing up the issue. Katz described waits for appointments as “hugely variable.”</p> <p>“One of the things that I found distressing was at Bellevue, is that the wait for behavioral assessments for a kid is currently months,” Katz said. “Which, frankly, has nothing to do with money, because kids are fully insured.”</p> <p>But perhaps the more significant stabilization schemes, which were the focus of more attention at the hearing, relate to reforming H+H’s billing processes and bringing more insured patients into the system. Because H+H has a reputation as the hospital network that serves the indigent, many insured people do not use municipal hospital services. As a result, Katz said there is a substantial amount of bureaucratic waste within the system due to poor administrative skills on the part of system workers, who normally work with people who are either uninsured or on Medicaid.</p> <p>This point was hammered by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who recently became a father and described his experience as an individual with private insurance at Woodhull Hospital, an H+H hospital “across the street” from his district. Reynoso effusively praised Woodhull’s maternity ward and other services, but chastised billing procedures as inefficient.</p> <p>Katz agreed that H+H needs to develop better billing procedures, including diagnostically coding bills correctly, checking insurance cards, checking prior authorization, and better communication with insurance companies. He cited a skilled nursing facility that spends roughly $21 million on drugs but only has revenues of $5 million.</p> <p>“That’s impossible,” Katz said, “because we’re talking about skilled nursing facilities where there are almost no uninsured patients.” Katz claimed that the $21 million was a fair market value for the drugs but that the significant revenue shortfall had its roots in poor billing practices.</p> <p>The situation at the skilled nursing facility is only the tip of the iceberg. In response to a question from Rivera, H+H Chief Financial Officer Plachikkat Anantharam stated that H+H lost between $130 million and $290 million in 2017 as a result of chronic underbilling.</p> <p>Further, Katz said that H+H should not be referring patients out of the system and into the private market. Via MetroPlus insurance, H+H by proxy essentially pays private hospital operators to provide care, resulting in a significant amount of lost revenue.</p> <p>Katz also stated that H+H needs to begin offering services that are “well reimbursed.” He illustrated this point by comparing behavioral health, for which H+H is the largest provider in the city and which is “poorly reimbursed,” and angioplasties, a heart procedure that is well reimbursed by insurance companies, but is rarely performed by H+H, and only at Bellevue Hospital.</p> <p>Katz also wants, as part of his plan, to “convert uninsured people who qualify for insurance to be insured,” whether through Medicaid or MetroPlus, the government sponsored health insurance provider wholly owned by H+H that insures around a half-million New Yorkers and is offered on the Affordable Care Act exchange. Katz identified 250,000 people in the city who are uninsured but qualify for insurance coverage, out of a total of 667,000 uninsured people in the city.</p> <p>“250,000. Let’s agree we won’t get 250,000,” Katz said, in reference to not being able to insure every eligible uninsured New Yorker. “That’s a lot of people. But if you got 100,000 of the 250,000 that we believe are currently getting our services and are insurable, that would be huge.”</p> <p>Regardless, the Council members and Katz acknowledged that signing up tens of thousands of people for insurance is easier said than done. Council Member Mark Levine, chair of the Council’s health committee, asked whether it was possible to enroll patients who walk into a facility on the spot, and why this hadn’t been done in the past.</p> <p>“Is that another cultural challenge you have to overcome,” he asked. “Is that a resource issue? Or am I making it seem simpler than it really is?”</p> <p>“No, Council Member, I think you’re right, and accurate. It’s both of those things,” Katz responded.</p> <p>“I think another part of that is that there’s no -- right now, we haven’t constructed a system to make it that that’s the easiest choice for the person, right, to be able to enroll in insurance,” he continued. “We’ve kind of made it easier to pay $10, which might be the same copay that they would pay if they had insurance. But the difference between what our system and city would receive is huge.”</p> <p>Katz cited his experience in Los Angeles as evidence that the public hospitals system could be stabilized without attrition, or mass firings in other terms. Indeed, as Citizens Budget Commission noted in its analysis, <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/lessons-la-la-land" target="_blank" rel="noopener">"Lessons from La La Land,"</a> previewing Katz's takeover at H+H, "The good news was all on the revenue side."</p> <p>“When I started in Los Angeles, there was also a deficit. It was $226 million, which at the time seemed to me like a lot of money, before I came to New York City,” Katz said, eliciting laughter from the audience of healthcare advocates and professionals in the Council’s Committee room. “But when I left, not only did we have a surplus, but we had added 1,500 public sector jobs. So one thing I do know is that you have to take financial problems seriously, but you can grow out of financial problems sometimes more easily than you can shrink out of financial problems.”</p> <p>Reynoso was particularly fond of that line. “Grow out of a financial problem, that’s a great way to put it,” he said.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</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>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/39017821735_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>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Johnson Hands Over Council Health Portfolio, Including Hospital Crisis, to New Committee Chairs 2018-01-24T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-24T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7441:johnson-hands-over-council-health-portfolio-including-hospital-crisis-to-new-committee-chairs Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/johnson_health_care_rally.jpg" alt="Corey Johnson health hospitals " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Corey Johnson at a rally (photo: City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Before being elected Speaker of the City Council, Council Member Corey Johnson led the Committee on Health for four years. Drawing from his own personal experience as an openly gay, HIV-positive man who has struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and tobacco use, he pushed a raft of legislation to improve healthcare services and outcomes for many of New York’s most underserved populations. In his early days as Speaker, Johnson has indicated that health and healthcare issues will continue to be one of his main priorities over the next four years.</p> <p>At the same time, though, as he takes on his larger role Johnson has in some ways passed the torch to other Council members who will lead relevant committees related to health and oversee the city’s public hospital system, which is in the midst of a financial crisis that Johnson has been tasked with helping to monitor over the past four years and will now, as speaker, have even greater responsibility for as he negotiates the city budget with Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>Among the first steps that Johnson took upon assuming his new leadership position was to create a new committee, chaired by Council Member Carlina Rivera, dedicated to hospitals, especially New York City Health + Hospitals, the city’s municipal hospital system that has long suffered from budgetary difficulties and struggled to remain afloat even as the de Blasio administration has sought to overhaul its finances. Johnson’s move was a clear recognition of the H+H crisis, one that Council members, the mayoral administration, and healthcare advocates agree must be addressed amid threats of federal funding cuts to the city.</p> <p>The move to make the new committee also comes in conjunction with the beefing up of the Council’s oversight committee, now led by Council Member Ritchie Torres, and a repositioning of the health committee, under new chair Council Member Mark Levine. Levine, taking over the health committee from Johnson, will be able to focus his efforts closely on oversight of the city’s health services and to advance legislation expanding equitable access to healthcare for New Yorkers. There is some discussion among the parties of a city-run single-payer health care system, but it is unclear how far down this road Johnson, Levine, and others may go.</p> <p>In a recent <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2018/01/02/corey-johnson-ny1-exclusive-interview-courtney-gross-says-he-will-be-independent" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NY1 interview</a>, shortly before his election as speaker, Johnson indicated his continued interest in pursuing it. “My goal is for this city to be a laboratory for potential ideas that we could achieve,” he said, citing San Francisco’s implementation of a municipal single-payer system as a potential model albeit for a population a tenth of the size of New York City. “This would be a legacy item, it would be a big seismic thing to do,” he added, “but it’s gonna take a lot of work, it’s gonna take cooperation from the governor and from the state insurance superintendent and other folks that are gonna have a say in this. But it’s something that I want us to look at.”</p> <p>Over the four-year course of the last Council session, Johnson’s committee held 62 hearings, passing 34 bills that became law. Johnson was the prime sponsor on 11 of those bills, which included new regulations on tobacco products and electronic cigarettes, mandated air quality surveys by the city, new animal safety protections, required reporting on health services in city jails, and allowing individuals to change their gender designation on their birth certificates.</p> <p>The committee also conducted broad oversight of the city’s hospital system, healthcare services provided by city agencies, and the city’s efforts to enroll people under the Affordable Care Act. Naturally, Johnson raised many of the same issues during separate Council hearings to examine de Blasio’s budget proposals over the years. His advocacy also extended beyond the Council’s work: he was arrested in Washington D.C. in July of last year while protesting the Republican-led Congress’ (so-far unsuccessful) efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.</p> <p>“He believes really strongly in universal health access and he talks a lot about the importance of single-payer,” said Claudia Calhoon, director of health policy at the New York Immigration Coalition, discussing Johnson’s record as health committee chair. Johnson’s support of implementing a single-payer healthcare system in the city could only be achieved through collaboration with the state, as Calhoon noted. “It’s really great to have leadership talking about that when you’re trying to advocate for closing gaps and trying to engage the city in doing the work to close the gaps as they are able,” Calhoon said.</p> <p>In particular, Calhoon praised Johnson’s efforts to create the Access Health NYC initiative, which, starting in 2016, provided funding to community-based organizations for health education and outreach efforts, particularly for underserved communities. “I think he has a very good vision for equity which flows into a lot of different areas,” Calhoon said.</p> <p>Johnson has spoken openly about coming of age in the 1990s and watching how treatment of the AIDS-HIV epidemic was handled, and about discovering his HIV-positive status and the need for medication and good health care. He represents a district largely made up of Chelsea and the West Village that was and continues to be home to much of LGBT activism, including around equitable health care.</p> <p>Elizabeth Adams, director of government relations at Planned Parenthood of New York City, praised Johnson’s work in holding city agencies accountable for sexual and reproductive health services, particularly abortion access for young New Yorkers, and to expand health care to immigrants. “During a time of increased federal attacks on abortion and rollbacks of funding for healthcare, it’s really really critical that New York City is examining its own care options and leads the nation in accessible and affordable health care, including abortion,” Adams said in a phone interview.</p> <p>Taking over the health committee, Council Member Levine has expressed support for issues that Johnson has championed, but he has yet to lay out an agenda of his own. “We are still in the midst of reviewing all the policy issues before the committee, still in the midst of forming our legislative priorities,” he told Gotham Gazette at City Hall last week, not long after being named to chair the committee.</p> <p>“[Speaker Johnson] did a lot,” as chair of the committee, Levine said. “We look to build on that.” Among broader items, Levine has said he will pursue a single-payer municipal health system, tackle the city’s opioid epidemic, address racial inequities in health outcomes, assess bioterrorism threats, and promote animal protections. “I think all of us need to step up on Health + Hospitals,” said Levine. “It is a crisis and it ultimately could affect every hospital in the city and effect the health of New Yorkers in profound ways and it’s gotta be a higher priority for all of us in this term.”</p> <p>As Levine noted, perhaps the most significant area of oversight for the health committee has now largely fallen to the newly created Committee on Hospitals, under Council Member Rivera. “Health + Hospitals, it can’t be overstated how important it is to the fabric of the city,” said NYIC’s Calhoon. The system -- comprised of 11 hospitals, six neighborhood health centers, five nursing facilities and more than 60 community and school-based health centers -- mostly treats patients on Medicaid or who are uninsured, including many undocumented immigrants.</p> <p>In fiscal year 2017, the system treated more than 1.1 million patients according to the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/operations/downloads/pdf/mmr2017/hhc.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Mayor’s Management Report</a>, of which nearly 415,000 were uninsured. But the system faces a projected budget gap of $1.8 billion by 2020. In the current fiscal year ending June 30, the de Blasio administration expects to spend $897 million on the system, of which $784 million will come from the city’s coffers and the rest from state and federal funds. Those costs are only expected to grow over the next few yearsn. Johnson, Levine, Rivera, and other Council members, including new finance chair Danny Dromm, will now lead budget negotiations with the administration.</p> <p>While the de Blasio administration has put in place a plan to reinvigorate the municipal hospital system, any progress that has been made is threatened by federal funding cuts. The city, and state, have long braced for reductions in Disproportionate Share Hospital payments from the federal government, which help reimburse hospitals for providing healthcare to low-income and uninsured patients. The DSH cuts went into effect in October last year, further exacerbating a trend of decreasing investment from the federal government that city officials have repeatedly cited.</p> <p>First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan, at a forum hosted by Citizens Budget Commission on Wednesday, said those cuts amounted to about $300 million in lost funding, placing “an additional and unnecessary strain on our hospitals.” And he warned of the larger implications of the federal budget. “[E]very major proposal that’s come out of either the [House of Representative] or the president has had dramatically huge cuts to New York City,” he said. “We’re going to have to balance all of this and be very careful how we proceed.”</p> <p>At the same time, Mayor de Blasio has repeatedly promised that the city will not shut down any municipal hospitals. “The hospital facilities are going to stay open. We’re also going to constantly look at how to use them better because the previous uses in many cases weren’t working and a lot of them were outmoded,” he said at an unrelated <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/758-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-move-convert-cluster-buildings-permanent-affordable" target="_blank" rel="noopener">December 12</a> news conference. In that vein, the new president of Health &amp; Hospitals, Dr. Mitchell Katz, who took over earlier this month, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/07/nyregion/mitchell-katz-nyc-health-hospitals.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has said</a> he will focus the hospital system more closely on primary care while implementing certain cost-saving and efficiency measures.</p> <p>Rivera recognizes the responsibility handed to her. “This is probably the most important public system in the city,” she told Gotham Gazette at City Hall last week. Looking back at Johnson’s leadership of the health committee, she said, “I think he was doing as much as he could in trying to cover as many health topics and issues as there are. He passed some great legislation, he worked on policy, and he took some of those issues very personally, which I appreciate in terms of his openness.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Rivera agreed that the creation of her committee “does lend an urgency to the issue,” a point echoed by advocates.</p> <p>In a statement on Tuesday, Rivera noted the numerous challenges that H+H faces, including “closing Health + Hospitals’ growing budget deficit and updating hospital facilities for modern usage, to increasing access and support to community-based clinics."</p> <p>“We as advocates are really trying to change the narrative around the value of Health + Hospitals,” said Calhoon, “and think about it less in terms of a crisis and think about it more in terms of ‘how do we keep this tremendous resource we have and make it stronger?’” Although she did not fault anyone in particular, she said “it certainly would’ve been better to have that conversation happen early.”</p> <p>Planned Parenthood’s Adams acknowledged that though Johnson had worked to ensure adequate oversight and accountability at public hospital facilities, that much remained to be done. “It’s really exciting to see this committee be formed and really dig into how to strengthen and support healthcare options and availability of health options to all New Yorkers, regardless of income or immigration status,” she said.</p> <p>Beyond Health and Hospitals, however, Adams and Calhoon noted a number of policy areas where they hoped to see renewed energy from the Council. Both said the city needs to expand support for community health organizations through Access Health NYC.</p> <p>Adams said the city needs to prioritize abortion access at H+H, expand free-of-cost contraceptive coverage, and improve sexual health education in city schools along with ensuring that school-based health centers have the resources to provide comprehensive care to students. “Given all the public attention to sexual assault and sexual harassment, and bullying of LGBT students, we’re in a moment where we need to really be examining our health education program and putting in place comprehensive K-12 sexuality education,” Adams said.</p> <p>Calhoon stressed that all stakeholders need to work to provide better care to uninsured New Yorkers, particularly ensuring quality behavioral and mental health services for immigrants. “That is something that I think there is going to be a really important role for both the Council and the administration, and I do think all entities -- advocates, the Council, the administration -- are gonna have to work together and collaborate to figure out what’s going to happen,” she said, “because we’re obviously in a moment of crisis in terms of the impact that changes at the federal level, the impact its having on immigrant communities.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/johnson_health_care_rally.jpg" alt="Corey Johnson health hospitals " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Corey Johnson at a rally (photo: City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Before being elected Speaker of the City Council, Council Member Corey Johnson led the Committee on Health for four years. Drawing from his own personal experience as an openly gay, HIV-positive man who has struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and tobacco use, he pushed a raft of legislation to improve healthcare services and outcomes for many of New York’s most underserved populations. In his early days as Speaker, Johnson has indicated that health and healthcare issues will continue to be one of his main priorities over the next four years.</p> <p>At the same time, though, as he takes on his larger role Johnson has in some ways passed the torch to other Council members who will lead relevant committees related to health and oversee the city’s public hospital system, which is in the midst of a financial crisis that Johnson has been tasked with helping to monitor over the past four years and will now, as speaker, have even greater responsibility for as he negotiates the city budget with Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>Among the first steps that Johnson took upon assuming his new leadership position was to create a new committee, chaired by Council Member Carlina Rivera, dedicated to hospitals, especially New York City Health + Hospitals, the city’s municipal hospital system that has long suffered from budgetary difficulties and struggled to remain afloat even as the de Blasio administration has sought to overhaul its finances. Johnson’s move was a clear recognition of the H+H crisis, one that Council members, the mayoral administration, and healthcare advocates agree must be addressed amid threats of federal funding cuts to the city.</p> <p>The move to make the new committee also comes in conjunction with the beefing up of the Council’s oversight committee, now led by Council Member Ritchie Torres, and a repositioning of the health committee, under new chair Council Member Mark Levine. Levine, taking over the health committee from Johnson, will be able to focus his efforts closely on oversight of the city’s health services and to advance legislation expanding equitable access to healthcare for New Yorkers. There is some discussion among the parties of a city-run single-payer health care system, but it is unclear how far down this road Johnson, Levine, and others may go.</p> <p>In a recent <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2018/01/02/corey-johnson-ny1-exclusive-interview-courtney-gross-says-he-will-be-independent" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NY1 interview</a>, shortly before his election as speaker, Johnson indicated his continued interest in pursuing it. “My goal is for this city to be a laboratory for potential ideas that we could achieve,” he said, citing San Francisco’s implementation of a municipal single-payer system as a potential model albeit for a population a tenth of the size of New York City. “This would be a legacy item, it would be a big seismic thing to do,” he added, “but it’s gonna take a lot of work, it’s gonna take cooperation from the governor and from the state insurance superintendent and other folks that are gonna have a say in this. But it’s something that I want us to look at.”</p> <p>Over the four-year course of the last Council session, Johnson’s committee held 62 hearings, passing 34 bills that became law. Johnson was the prime sponsor on 11 of those bills, which included new regulations on tobacco products and electronic cigarettes, mandated air quality surveys by the city, new animal safety protections, required reporting on health services in city jails, and allowing individuals to change their gender designation on their birth certificates.</p> <p>The committee also conducted broad oversight of the city’s hospital system, healthcare services provided by city agencies, and the city’s efforts to enroll people under the Affordable Care Act. Naturally, Johnson raised many of the same issues during separate Council hearings to examine de Blasio’s budget proposals over the years. His advocacy also extended beyond the Council’s work: he was arrested in Washington D.C. in July of last year while protesting the Republican-led Congress’ (so-far unsuccessful) efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.</p> <p>“He believes really strongly in universal health access and he talks a lot about the importance of single-payer,” said Claudia Calhoon, director of health policy at the New York Immigration Coalition, discussing Johnson’s record as health committee chair. Johnson’s support of implementing a single-payer healthcare system in the city could only be achieved through collaboration with the state, as Calhoon noted. “It’s really great to have leadership talking about that when you’re trying to advocate for closing gaps and trying to engage the city in doing the work to close the gaps as they are able,” Calhoon said.</p> <p>In particular, Calhoon praised Johnson’s efforts to create the Access Health NYC initiative, which, starting in 2016, provided funding to community-based organizations for health education and outreach efforts, particularly for underserved communities. “I think he has a very good vision for equity which flows into a lot of different areas,” Calhoon said.</p> <p>Johnson has spoken openly about coming of age in the 1990s and watching how treatment of the AIDS-HIV epidemic was handled, and about discovering his HIV-positive status and the need for medication and good health care. He represents a district largely made up of Chelsea and the West Village that was and continues to be home to much of LGBT activism, including around equitable health care.</p> <p>Elizabeth Adams, director of government relations at Planned Parenthood of New York City, praised Johnson’s work in holding city agencies accountable for sexual and reproductive health services, particularly abortion access for young New Yorkers, and to expand health care to immigrants. “During a time of increased federal attacks on abortion and rollbacks of funding for healthcare, it’s really really critical that New York City is examining its own care options and leads the nation in accessible and affordable health care, including abortion,” Adams said in a phone interview.</p> <p>Taking over the health committee, Council Member Levine has expressed support for issues that Johnson has championed, but he has yet to lay out an agenda of his own. “We are still in the midst of reviewing all the policy issues before the committee, still in the midst of forming our legislative priorities,” he told Gotham Gazette at City Hall last week, not long after being named to chair the committee.</p> <p>“[Speaker Johnson] did a lot,” as chair of the committee, Levine said. “We look to build on that.” Among broader items, Levine has said he will pursue a single-payer municipal health system, tackle the city’s opioid epidemic, address racial inequities in health outcomes, assess bioterrorism threats, and promote animal protections. “I think all of us need to step up on Health + Hospitals,” said Levine. “It is a crisis and it ultimately could affect every hospital in the city and effect the health of New Yorkers in profound ways and it’s gotta be a higher priority for all of us in this term.”</p> <p>As Levine noted, perhaps the most significant area of oversight for the health committee has now largely fallen to the newly created Committee on Hospitals, under Council Member Rivera. “Health + Hospitals, it can’t be overstated how important it is to the fabric of the city,” said NYIC’s Calhoon. The system -- comprised of 11 hospitals, six neighborhood health centers, five nursing facilities and more than 60 community and school-based health centers -- mostly treats patients on Medicaid or who are uninsured, including many undocumented immigrants.</p> <p>In fiscal year 2017, the system treated more than 1.1 million patients according to the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/operations/downloads/pdf/mmr2017/hhc.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Mayor’s Management Report</a>, of which nearly 415,000 were uninsured. But the system faces a projected budget gap of $1.8 billion by 2020. In the current fiscal year ending June 30, the de Blasio administration expects to spend $897 million on the system, of which $784 million will come from the city’s coffers and the rest from state and federal funds. Those costs are only expected to grow over the next few yearsn. Johnson, Levine, Rivera, and other Council members, including new finance chair Danny Dromm, will now lead budget negotiations with the administration.</p> <p>While the de Blasio administration has put in place a plan to reinvigorate the municipal hospital system, any progress that has been made is threatened by federal funding cuts. The city, and state, have long braced for reductions in Disproportionate Share Hospital payments from the federal government, which help reimburse hospitals for providing healthcare to low-income and uninsured patients. The DSH cuts went into effect in October last year, further exacerbating a trend of decreasing investment from the federal government that city officials have repeatedly cited.</p> <p>First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan, at a forum hosted by Citizens Budget Commission on Wednesday, said those cuts amounted to about $300 million in lost funding, placing “an additional and unnecessary strain on our hospitals.” And he warned of the larger implications of the federal budget. “[E]very major proposal that’s come out of either the [House of Representative] or the president has had dramatically huge cuts to New York City,” he said. “We’re going to have to balance all of this and be very careful how we proceed.”</p> <p>At the same time, Mayor de Blasio has repeatedly promised that the city will not shut down any municipal hospitals. “The hospital facilities are going to stay open. We’re also going to constantly look at how to use them better because the previous uses in many cases weren’t working and a lot of them were outmoded,” he said at an unrelated <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/758-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-move-convert-cluster-buildings-permanent-affordable" target="_blank" rel="noopener">December 12</a> news conference. In that vein, the new president of Health &amp; Hospitals, Dr. Mitchell Katz, who took over earlier this month, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/07/nyregion/mitchell-katz-nyc-health-hospitals.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has said</a> he will focus the hospital system more closely on primary care while implementing certain cost-saving and efficiency measures.</p> <p>Rivera recognizes the responsibility handed to her. “This is probably the most important public system in the city,” she told Gotham Gazette at City Hall last week. Looking back at Johnson’s leadership of the health committee, she said, “I think he was doing as much as he could in trying to cover as many health topics and issues as there are. He passed some great legislation, he worked on policy, and he took some of those issues very personally, which I appreciate in terms of his openness.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Rivera agreed that the creation of her committee “does lend an urgency to the issue,” a point echoed by advocates.</p> <p>In a statement on Tuesday, Rivera noted the numerous challenges that H+H faces, including “closing Health + Hospitals’ growing budget deficit and updating hospital facilities for modern usage, to increasing access and support to community-based clinics."</p> <p>“We as advocates are really trying to change the narrative around the value of Health + Hospitals,” said Calhoon, “and think about it less in terms of a crisis and think about it more in terms of ‘how do we keep this tremendous resource we have and make it stronger?’” Although she did not fault anyone in particular, she said “it certainly would’ve been better to have that conversation happen early.”</p> <p>Planned Parenthood’s Adams acknowledged that though Johnson had worked to ensure adequate oversight and accountability at public hospital facilities, that much remained to be done. “It’s really exciting to see this committee be formed and really dig into how to strengthen and support healthcare options and availability of health options to all New Yorkers, regardless of income or immigration status,” she said.</p> <p>Beyond Health and Hospitals, however, Adams and Calhoon noted a number of policy areas where they hoped to see renewed energy from the Council. Both said the city needs to expand support for community health organizations through Access Health NYC.</p> <p>Adams said the city needs to prioritize abortion access at H+H, expand free-of-cost contraceptive coverage, and improve sexual health education in city schools along with ensuring that school-based health centers have the resources to provide comprehensive care to students. “Given all the public attention to sexual assault and sexual harassment, and bullying of LGBT students, we’re in a moment where we need to really be examining our health education program and putting in place comprehensive K-12 sexuality education,” Adams said.</p> <p>Calhoon stressed that all stakeholders need to work to provide better care to uninsured New Yorkers, particularly ensuring quality behavioral and mental health services for immigrants. “That is something that I think there is going to be a really important role for both the Council and the administration, and I do think all entities -- advocates, the Council, the administration -- are gonna have to work together and collaborate to figure out what’s going to happen,” she said, “because we’re obviously in a moment of crisis in terms of the impact that changes at the federal level, the impact its having on immigrant communities.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Members Outline Priorities for New Term 2018-01-23T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-23T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7436:city-council-members-outline-priorities-for-new-term Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/38866913345_afd4b05a3e_z.jpg" alt="38866913345 afd4b05a3e z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council members (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council is gearing up for a new agenda under Speaker Corey Johnson, with several newly created committees and fresh faces in the legislative body. As the Council begins to schedule its first committee hearings and readies for the reintroduction of legislation from the last session, there are a number of priorities that Council members are planning to pursue. Returning members say they want to pass bills that have been pending and build on their work from the last four years, while new members are eager to follow through on the policy platforms that got them elected.</p> <p>New issue committee chairs appear ready to steer those committees in new directions, while Johnson has promised a robust agenda and is taking steps to beef up the Council’s oversight powers, expand its land use division, and increase its scrutiny of the mayor’s budget. Many of the committees, new and old, under his watch will take on greater responsibilities and are expected to tackle a slew of contentious policy issues, legislation, and oversight matters. Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette indicated a broad list of priorities, with some agenda items that will have citywide ramifications and others more parochial, district-level in their scope.</p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal, in her new role as chair of the women’s committee, said she will pursue legislative and public policy solutions to combat sexual harassment in the public and private sectors, to end the gender pay gap for municipal workers, and advance criminal justice reforms to protect sexual assault and domestic violence survivors.</p> <p>“We are seeking to empower women at every level -- in the workplace, in the economic arena, in social interactions, and in politics,” Rosenthal said. In December, Rosenthal stood with Council Member Mark Levine to announce a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government" target="_blank" rel="noopener">request</a> for drafting legislation that would require complaints by Council staffers to be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics, as is currently the case for complaints against elected Council members, and would also mandate that city agencies report on sexual harassment claims twice a year. &nbsp;</p> <p>Rosenthal also wants to see through the full implementation of her legislation, signed by the mayor in September last year, to create an Office of the Tenant Advocate within the Department of Buildings. Among her other priorities are protections for small businesses in her Upper West Side district, seniors’ needs, and the city’s social safety net. Formerly chair of the contracts committee, which will now be led by new Council Member Justin Brannan, Rosenthal said her guiding philosophy in approaching priority issues will still be “fiscal responsibility.”</p> <p>Council Member Levine said he hopes to follow up on unfinished business from the last session, including the implementation of Right to Counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court, which was a bill he sponsored and waged a years-long campaign to win support from the mayor. Now chairing the health committee (he had parks last term), Levine will also focus on expanding healthcare coverage and addressing racial inequities in health outcomes across the city. One priority he has expressed support for is single-payer healthcare, an issue that Speaker Johnson has been vocal about pursuing.</p> <p>After chairing the public safety committee last term, Council Member Vanessa Gibson is chairing the new Subcommittee on Capital Budgets, which will be tasked with analysing the city’s now $96 billion capital budget. The subcommittee will assess the procurement process at city agencies and how agencies spend their capital dollars. Gibson said she is “looking to create better capital spending oversight and ensure there is a consistent process for capital projects so that we can truly realize meaningful investment in New York’s aging infrastructure.”</p> <p>Gibson also said she will continue to advocate for bail reform, an issue that Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to put his weight behind this year. Gibson will also have to navigate complicated land use issues as she tackles the proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning in her Bronx district. The project is moving forward quickly and will come through the land use committee now being chaired by Gibson’s Bronx colleague Council Member Rafael Salamanca.</p> <p>Council Member Ritchie Torres, another Bronx Democrat, is overseeing the newly empowered Committee on Oversight and Investigations, which will comprise a dedicated investigative unit of former prosecutors, professional investigators, and former journalists. While the division is staffing up, Torres’ first public task will be a joint oversight hearing on February 6 with the Committee on Public Housing, which he chaired last term, concerning heat and hot water failures in NYCHA housing. The new chair of the public housing committee is newly-elected Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who formerly worked at the public housing authority, NYCHA.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7419-new-city-council-committee-chairs-have-plenty-on-their-plates">New City Council Committee Chairs Have Plenty on Their Plates</a>]</p> <p>The new chair of the Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections, Council Member Karen Koslowitz, said last week she was still formulating her agenda for 2018. Her committee is expected to lead the way on a package of internal rules reforms that a majority of the Council, including Speaker Johnson, have endorsed.</p> <p>Koslowitz, of Queens, also spoke of extending traffic safety laws to bicycle riders, saying that she would “like to see them be registered, licensed.”</p> <p>Council Member Mark Treyger, a former teacher who has taken over as chair of the education committee, spoke at length about the issues plaguing public school infrastructure. “I come from a district that some of our schools were built with money from the New Deal, and haven't seen upgrades since the New Deal,” he said of his southern Brooklyn community, also emphasizing the need for additional school aid.</p> <p>Treyger also wants to advance two bills he proposed in the last session: one requiring the city to station licensed social workers in all police precincts, and another to make it illegal for police officers to engage in sexual activity with a person in their custody. The second bill was prompted by a recent case in which an 18-year-old woman accused two officers of rape while she was in their custody. The officers claimed the act was consensual, leading to public outcry over the loophole in the law that does not automatically categorize it as custodial rape. Legal proceedings continue in the matter. &nbsp;</p> <p>Council Member Fernando Cabrera, the new chair of the governmental operations committee, said he will push campaign finance reforms over the next few years since his committee has oversight of the Campaign Finance Board, which administers the city’s public matching funds program to incentivize small-dollar donations in elections. “The whole idea of the campaign finance [program] was to equalize the playing field,” he said. “Whenever you have policies that don’t… [that] puts a candidate at a disadvantage, I have issues with that,” he added, without going into specifics.</p> <p>In his role, Cabrera will also oversee the city Board of Elections, the Law Department, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, among other agencies. The BOE will administer at least three election days this year, in June, September, and November, with a fourth likely in some districts if Cuomo calls for special elections to fill several currently vacant state legislative seats.</p> <p>Council Member Steven Matteo, the Republican minority leader, said he plans to prioritize property tax relief this year, something he has long advocated for. “Last year we had the veterans property tax that we passed here, my bill. I want to expand on that this year, too, do some real property tax relief for everyone else,” he said. Matteo, one of three Republicans in the Council, was appointed by Johnson to chair the Committee on Standards &amp; Ethics, which, if new legislation on workplace sexual harassment is passed by the Council, will likely see its role expand this session. The committee is currently <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx-city-councilman-andy-king-accused-sexual-harassment-article-1.3698395" target="_blank" rel="noopener">investigating</a> an allegation of sexual harassment against Council Member Andy King.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio has promised to take up property tax reform this term, which Matteo intends to hold him to. The Council had announced plans for a property tax reform task force last term, but it never came to be.</p> <p>Council Member Brannan also hopes to tackle property tax reform, he said, hoping that he will be able to sit on the proposed commission “to really take a deep dive into it.” As a former employee of the Department of Education, Brannan also said the Council has an opportunity to increase its oversight of DOE operations. “I think, it’s a couple areas where I think we can get a little more aggressive,” the contracts chair said. DOE contracts to outside vendors have been a point of contention for years, an area Brannan may be able to meld his prior experience and new responsibilities.</p> <p>Council Member Carlina Rivera, also newly-elected, will have her hands full chairing the Committee on Hospitals, newly created to oversee the city’s municipal hospital system, which is in financial crisis. But she also has local concerns she wants to address, she told Gotham Gazette, including reforms to city rules that allow construction in the early mornings, evenings, and weekends, an issue leftover from her predecessor, former Council Member Rosie Mendez.</p> <p>Some of Rivera’s other priorities concern land use and infrastructure projects, particularly the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, an integrated coastal protection initiative aimed at reducing flood risk due to coastal storms and sea level rise. She also intends to focus on NYCHA’s infrastructure woes, citing the numerous developments in her district and the issues of heat and hot water in NYCHA housing, and she must negotiate a major land use deal in her district related to a proposed Union Square tech hub that the de Blasio administration wants to build.</p> <p>Council Member Diana Ayala, another rookie lawmaker, is chairing the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services. She said she expects some examination of safe injection sites coming to New York City, which advocates argue would reduce drug users’ risk of overdose, transmitting diseases, and death. Speaker Johnson has said he is in favor of exploring the possibility.&nbsp;"The safe injection sites I know are going to be a big issue," Ayala told Gotham Gazette. "There's been a lot of conversation around bringing those to New York."</p> <p>Ayala also suggested that she will be looking into how New York City’s criminal justice system deals with the issue of domestic violence.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>When asked about her policy priorities, new Council Member Adrienne Adams emphasized immigrant protections and homelessness. Adams expressed deep concern about the policies coming out of &nbsp;Washington, D.C. under the Republican-led Congress and President Donald Trump. Under former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council passed a number of immigrant-friendly laws and curbed the city’s cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities. “My district is extremely diverse and with the policies coming from Washington these days, they’re affecting my district and the entire city of New York tremendously,” said Adams, of southeast Queens.</p> <p>Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr., of the Bronx, who joined the Council from the state Senate, is the first chair of the Council’s new Committee on For-Hire Vehicles. When asked about his priorities, Diaz Sr. simply said, “Taxis.”</p> <p><em>Samar Khurshid contributed to this article.</em></p> <p>

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by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to better clarify Diana Ayala's comments on safe injection sites.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/38866913345_afd4b05a3e_z.jpg" alt="38866913345 afd4b05a3e z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council members (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council is gearing up for a new agenda under Speaker Corey Johnson, with several newly created committees and fresh faces in the legislative body. As the Council begins to schedule its first committee hearings and readies for the reintroduction of legislation from the last session, there are a number of priorities that Council members are planning to pursue. Returning members say they want to pass bills that have been pending and build on their work from the last four years, while new members are eager to follow through on the policy platforms that got them elected.</p> <p>New issue committee chairs appear ready to steer those committees in new directions, while Johnson has promised a robust agenda and is taking steps to beef up the Council’s oversight powers, expand its land use division, and increase its scrutiny of the mayor’s budget. Many of the committees, new and old, under his watch will take on greater responsibilities and are expected to tackle a slew of contentious policy issues, legislation, and oversight matters. Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette indicated a broad list of priorities, with some agenda items that will have citywide ramifications and others more parochial, district-level in their scope.</p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal, in her new role as chair of the women’s committee, said she will pursue legislative and public policy solutions to combat sexual harassment in the public and private sectors, to end the gender pay gap for municipal workers, and advance criminal justice reforms to protect sexual assault and domestic violence survivors.</p> <p>“We are seeking to empower women at every level -- in the workplace, in the economic arena, in social interactions, and in politics,” Rosenthal said. In December, Rosenthal stood with Council Member Mark Levine to announce a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government" target="_blank" rel="noopener">request</a> for drafting legislation that would require complaints by Council staffers to be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics, as is currently the case for complaints against elected Council members, and would also mandate that city agencies report on sexual harassment claims twice a year. &nbsp;</p> <p>Rosenthal also wants to see through the full implementation of her legislation, signed by the mayor in September last year, to create an Office of the Tenant Advocate within the Department of Buildings. Among her other priorities are protections for small businesses in her Upper West Side district, seniors’ needs, and the city’s social safety net. Formerly chair of the contracts committee, which will now be led by new Council Member Justin Brannan, Rosenthal said her guiding philosophy in approaching priority issues will still be “fiscal responsibility.”</p> <p>Council Member Levine said he hopes to follow up on unfinished business from the last session, including the implementation of Right to Counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court, which was a bill he sponsored and waged a years-long campaign to win support from the mayor. Now chairing the health committee (he had parks last term), Levine will also focus on expanding healthcare coverage and addressing racial inequities in health outcomes across the city. One priority he has expressed support for is single-payer healthcare, an issue that Speaker Johnson has been vocal about pursuing.</p> <p>After chairing the public safety committee last term, Council Member Vanessa Gibson is chairing the new Subcommittee on Capital Budgets, which will be tasked with analysing the city’s now $96 billion capital budget. The subcommittee will assess the procurement process at city agencies and how agencies spend their capital dollars. Gibson said she is “looking to create better capital spending oversight and ensure there is a consistent process for capital projects so that we can truly realize meaningful investment in New York’s aging infrastructure.”</p> <p>Gibson also said she will continue to advocate for bail reform, an issue that Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to put his weight behind this year. Gibson will also have to navigate complicated land use issues as she tackles the proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning in her Bronx district. The project is moving forward quickly and will come through the land use committee now being chaired by Gibson’s Bronx colleague Council Member Rafael Salamanca.</p> <p>Council Member Ritchie Torres, another Bronx Democrat, is overseeing the newly empowered Committee on Oversight and Investigations, which will comprise a dedicated investigative unit of former prosecutors, professional investigators, and former journalists. While the division is staffing up, Torres’ first public task will be a joint oversight hearing on February 6 with the Committee on Public Housing, which he chaired last term, concerning heat and hot water failures in NYCHA housing. The new chair of the public housing committee is newly-elected Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who formerly worked at the public housing authority, NYCHA.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7419-new-city-council-committee-chairs-have-plenty-on-their-plates">New City Council Committee Chairs Have Plenty on Their Plates</a>]</p> <p>The new chair of the Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections, Council Member Karen Koslowitz, said last week she was still formulating her agenda for 2018. Her committee is expected to lead the way on a package of internal rules reforms that a majority of the Council, including Speaker Johnson, have endorsed.</p> <p>Koslowitz, of Queens, also spoke of extending traffic safety laws to bicycle riders, saying that she would “like to see them be registered, licensed.”</p> <p>Council Member Mark Treyger, a former teacher who has taken over as chair of the education committee, spoke at length about the issues plaguing public school infrastructure. “I come from a district that some of our schools were built with money from the New Deal, and haven't seen upgrades since the New Deal,” he said of his southern Brooklyn community, also emphasizing the need for additional school aid.</p> <p>Treyger also wants to advance two bills he proposed in the last session: one requiring the city to station licensed social workers in all police precincts, and another to make it illegal for police officers to engage in sexual activity with a person in their custody. The second bill was prompted by a recent case in which an 18-year-old woman accused two officers of rape while she was in their custody. The officers claimed the act was consensual, leading to public outcry over the loophole in the law that does not automatically categorize it as custodial rape. Legal proceedings continue in the matter. &nbsp;</p> <p>Council Member Fernando Cabrera, the new chair of the governmental operations committee, said he will push campaign finance reforms over the next few years since his committee has oversight of the Campaign Finance Board, which administers the city’s public matching funds program to incentivize small-dollar donations in elections. “The whole idea of the campaign finance [program] was to equalize the playing field,” he said. “Whenever you have policies that don’t… [that] puts a candidate at a disadvantage, I have issues with that,” he added, without going into specifics.</p> <p>In his role, Cabrera will also oversee the city Board of Elections, the Law Department, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, among other agencies. The BOE will administer at least three election days this year, in June, September, and November, with a fourth likely in some districts if Cuomo calls for special elections to fill several currently vacant state legislative seats.</p> <p>Council Member Steven Matteo, the Republican minority leader, said he plans to prioritize property tax relief this year, something he has long advocated for. “Last year we had the veterans property tax that we passed here, my bill. I want to expand on that this year, too, do some real property tax relief for everyone else,” he said. Matteo, one of three Republicans in the Council, was appointed by Johnson to chair the Committee on Standards &amp; Ethics, which, if new legislation on workplace sexual harassment is passed by the Council, will likely see its role expand this session. The committee is currently <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx-city-councilman-andy-king-accused-sexual-harassment-article-1.3698395" target="_blank" rel="noopener">investigating</a> an allegation of sexual harassment against Council Member Andy King.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio has promised to take up property tax reform this term, which Matteo intends to hold him to. The Council had announced plans for a property tax reform task force last term, but it never came to be.</p> <p>Council Member Brannan also hopes to tackle property tax reform, he said, hoping that he will be able to sit on the proposed commission “to really take a deep dive into it.” As a former employee of the Department of Education, Brannan also said the Council has an opportunity to increase its oversight of DOE operations. “I think, it’s a couple areas where I think we can get a little more aggressive,” the contracts chair said. DOE contracts to outside vendors have been a point of contention for years, an area Brannan may be able to meld his prior experience and new responsibilities.</p> <p>Council Member Carlina Rivera, also newly-elected, will have her hands full chairing the Committee on Hospitals, newly created to oversee the city’s municipal hospital system, which is in financial crisis. But she also has local concerns she wants to address, she told Gotham Gazette, including reforms to city rules that allow construction in the early mornings, evenings, and weekends, an issue leftover from her predecessor, former Council Member Rosie Mendez.</p> <p>Some of Rivera’s other priorities concern land use and infrastructure projects, particularly the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, an integrated coastal protection initiative aimed at reducing flood risk due to coastal storms and sea level rise. She also intends to focus on NYCHA’s infrastructure woes, citing the numerous developments in her district and the issues of heat and hot water in NYCHA housing, and she must negotiate a major land use deal in her district related to a proposed Union Square tech hub that the de Blasio administration wants to build.</p> <p>Council Member Diana Ayala, another rookie lawmaker, is chairing the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services. She said she expects some examination of safe injection sites coming to New York City, which advocates argue would reduce drug users’ risk of overdose, transmitting diseases, and death. Speaker Johnson has said he is in favor of exploring the possibility.&nbsp;"The safe injection sites I know are going to be a big issue," Ayala told Gotham Gazette. "There's been a lot of conversation around bringing those to New York."</p> <p>Ayala also suggested that she will be looking into how New York City’s criminal justice system deals with the issue of domestic violence.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>When asked about her policy priorities, new Council Member Adrienne Adams emphasized immigrant protections and homelessness. Adams expressed deep concern about the policies coming out of &nbsp;Washington, D.C. under the Republican-led Congress and President Donald Trump. Under former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council passed a number of immigrant-friendly laws and curbed the city’s cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities. “My district is extremely diverse and with the policies coming from Washington these days, they’re affecting my district and the entire city of New York tremendously,” said Adams, of southeast Queens.</p> <p>Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr., of the Bronx, who joined the Council from the state Senate, is the first chair of the Council’s new Committee on For-Hire Vehicles. When asked about his priorities, Diaz Sr. simply said, “Taxis.”</p> <p><em>Samar Khurshid contributed to this article.</em></p> <p>

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by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to better clarify Diana Ayala's comments on safe injection sites.</p>
Council Speaker Candidates Hesitant to Criticize or Reform Party-Controlled Board of Elections 2017-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7368:council-speaker-candidates-hesitant-to-criticize-or-reform-board-of-elections Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/24746697891_2461799422_z.jpg" alt="City Council chambers with members" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>photo by William Alatriste/City Council</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Board of Elections has widely been acknowledged as a dysfunctional agency in need of urgent and sweeping reform, yet the political will for modernizing and professionalizing the board has not existed, at least in part because its current structure benefits those in power.</p> <p>Its system of appointments based on political patronage has long been a source of criticism and its mismanagement of election operations has frustrated voters and been the subject of City Council oversight hearings. But, when asked, the eight men vying to become the next Speaker of the City Council recently said concerns about the BOE are misguided. To varying degrees, they indicated that the board is effective and efficient, that its failings are isolated rather than systematic, and that its current structure should be preserved.</p> <p>At a November 20 speaker candidate forum hosted by Citizens Union, other government reform groups, and New York Law School, seven speaker candidates -- Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan; Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens; and Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn -- were present and they mostly took the middle of the road when asked about the steps the City Council, which approves appointments to the BOE, could take to improve the board. The ten BOE commissioners include two -- one Republican and one Democrat -- from each borough.</p> <p>The Council members hedged their bets and praised the BOE, recognizing that any criticism could potentially be read as directed toward the county party organizations that nominate BOE commissioners and place other employees at the board -- the same county organizations whose support each candidate is seeking in order to become speaker. The eighth candidate, Ritchie Torres from the Bronx, would later give Gotham Gazette a similar response.</p> <p>None of the members were in favor of a non-partisan restructuring of the board. “That’s a tough question to ask of speaker candidates,” Williams said, to laughter from his colleagues in acknowledgement of the role of the county party machines in both picking BOE commissioners and picking the Council speaker. Williams defended the board but did acknowledge that patronage has played a role in appointments and that the Council could do more to improve it.</p> <p>“We know that we do have some issues and if we can just do some more thinking through that process and make sure that it’s not as patronage as some folks may think, we can move a lot further,” Williams said, taking the most bold position of the group. “I’m not sure if we push as hard as we can when things go wrong.”</p> <p>Other candidates spoke generally about reforming election and voting laws, a tangential subject that is mostly the prerogative of the state Legislature, and some staunchly argued in favor of the current partisan composition of the board, which they insisted maintains a balance and prevents one-party hegemony in elections.</p> <p>“I do not support non-partisan appointments to the Board of Elections,” said Johnson, one of the three perceived frontrunners in the race, along with Levine and Cornegy. “I believe that the parties play a particular role in ensuring that we make sure that any party that’s dominant at a given time cannot run roughshod over another party. If someone came up with a perfect system of a non-partisan way to handle it, maybe I’d entertain it. I’ve never heard of that system, I don’t know how you take political influence out of politics.”</p> <p>“I couldn’t agree more,” Van Bramer said in response.</p> <p>The city BOE falls under state jurisdiction, like all local boards of election, although the city gets to decide the board’s budget and not much else. The ten board commissioners are nominated by the county party machinery and appointed by the City Council. Representatives from the board testify at City Council hearings, usually during budget season, and receive recommendations and often admonitions from Council members, but are not bound to follow any Council mandates.</p> <p>The board is often seen as favoring the Democratic Party establishment, given that the vast majority of candidates for city offices are Democrats. Candidates not backed by the party machinery are often challenged in board proceedings and kicked off the ballot, though they are often first-time candidates with fewer resources and without experienced election lawyers.</p> <p>On Monday, Torres reiterated what his colleagues had said weeks ago. “I suspect you’re misdiagnosing the problem, the problem is a lack of resources,” he told Gotham Gazette at City Hall. “I suspect it’s a lack of resources more than the manner in which the appointments are made.”</p> <p>He continued, “Does the BOE have inefficiencies? Yes. It’s true of every agency in city government. There’s not a single agency in city government that’s free of inefficiency. So the notion that you would cite inefficiency as an excuse for fundamentally changing the structure of an institution is dubious.” Torres said he would oppose any measures that could weaken the party organizations’ role but conceded that the Council should “study the problem comprehensively” to determine the needs and inefficiencies of the BOE.</p> <p>There have been studies in the past, and each has found persistent issues.</p> <p>A <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/reports/pdf/2013/2013-12-30-BOE_Unit_Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2013 report</a> by the city’s Department of Investigations <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20131230/civic-center/nyc-board-of-elections-riddled-with-problems-dept-of-investigation-finds" target="_blank" rel="noopener">found</a> a raft of problems in elections management as well as internal board administration. In 2016, the BOE was responsible for a massive voter purge in Brooklyn during the presidential primaries, resulting in legal action by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. In November, Schneiderman announced a consent decree with the BOE that requires added oversight of the board’s voter list maintenance.</p> <p>Less than a week before this year’s general election on November 7, city Comptroller Scott Stringer also released an <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/audit-report-on-the-board-of-elections-controls-over-the-maintenance-of-voters-records-and-poll-access/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">audit</a> that excoriated the BOE’s dysfunctional election operations. At each step, the BOE has pushed back and has been resistant to change. Even when Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a $20 million incentive for the board to enact major reforms -- recommending the empaneling of a Blue Ribbon Commission to analyze the BOE, more transparency in hiring and improved poll worker training, among other measures -- its commissioners refused.</p> <p>“The Mayor believes that it is critical that we reform the Board of Elections,” said Seth Stein, a mayoral spokesperson, in a statement on Tuesday. “They have demonstrated time and again that they are unable to perform the basic functions of their office, like keeping eligible voters on the rolls. The Mayor looks forward to working with whoever the next Speaker is to encourage the Board to accept the $20 million we have offered in exchange for necessary reforms.”</p> <p>State-level BOE reforms have not progressed in Albany.</p> <p>Those who could take steps or apply pressure to improve the BOE’s abysmal record are the very people invested in the status quo, however, and the City Council, particularly its speaker, falls squarely within that dynamic. Election experts also tend to agree that the Council can pass little meaningful reform, absent legislative action at the state level, and that the bi-partisan BOE composition is appropriate. &nbsp;</p> <p>“There’s very little the City Council can do regarding the structural functioning of the agency,” said Sarah Steiner, an election lawyer. “They could maybe fund the board at a higher level so it could function better.”</p> <p>“In terms of patronage, it’s a bi-partisan agency, not a civil service agency. Unless that’s changed, the county organizations is where the commissioners and employees will come from,” she added. She insisted that most of the board’s employees are, in her experience, qualified and hard-working professionals. “As in any organization, some employees are better than others,” she said. And she warned that a civil service agency running elections could be open to political interference, while the current structure is designed to prevent just that.</p> <p>Steiner praised, in particular, the speed and accuracy with which the BOE provides election night results. But, she said, “they are less good at some of the work regarding candidates. I think the rules structure for candidates needs substantial revision.” Unlike the state BOE, the city agency doesn’t provide a public comment period for rules changes, she said, which often leaves the candidates and their campaigns unaware and unprepared. “The administrative rules are not as easy as the board thinks they are, and they’re largely a minefield,” she added.</p> <p>J.C. Polanco, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for public advocate this year, has served as &nbsp;president of the city BOE and saw the problems first hand and attempted to fix them. He campaigned this year on a platform that included BOE reform. He’s blunt about the Council speaker candidates and why they wouldn’t speak up against the agency. “Each candidate has to try not to offend the county organizations,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>Though Polanco also agrees that the BOE’s partisan structure may be necessary, he believes it can be better. “One of the things to do is to professionalize the board,” he said, “by forcing every candidate to go through the crucible of the [Council’s] investigations process required of commissioners.” He favors merit-based hiring and called for it when he worked at the board.</p> <p>“There are professionals at the board that get a bad rap for the failures of the board to modernize,” he insisted, echoing Steiner. “You can definitely have a professionalized partisan agency.” The board should post positions with qualifications online, he said, and more publicly seek employees. “It would require an enlightenment of the citizenry and the board,” Polanco said. He also speculated about giving third parties representation on the board, proportionate to their vote shares in prior elections.</p> <p>Although the Council members poised to be the next speaker may not agree, the official they are hoping to succeed believes that the BOE needs improvement. Melissa Mark-Viverito, who, in the waning days of her speakership, has waded into <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/local-politics/2017/12/09/squabble-among-manhattan-democrats-pits-council-speaker-against-county-chair" target="_blank" rel="noopener">conflict</a> with the Manhattan Democratic County Committee over a BOE commissioner appointment, said the Council has discussed reforming the BOE for years. Responding to a question from Gotham Gazette, she said, “There’s obviously a lot more work that has to be done. We’ve seen the reports issued by DOI and others with the dysfunction at the Board of Elections and there definitely has to be a lot more professionalizing of the Board of Elections and being able to implement reforms.”</p> <p>While much of the conversation around elections and voting in New York tends to revolve around the state’s antiquated laws, there have been local attempts at such reform. Council Member Ben Kallos has been a particularly vocal critic of the board and, as chair of the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, has pushed legislation that can improve elections and voting access. He has time and again urged representatives of the board to move towards merit-based hiring -- &nbsp;“I favor the civil service over the patronage appointment process,” he told Gotham Gazette on Monday. Kallos’ bill allowing online voter registration recently passed the Council. The mayor is expected to sign it into law, and it is considered valid under guidance from A.G. Schneiderman.</p> <p>We can “find meaningful alternatives that can help fix the BOE at the city level,” Kallos said. “As we learned with online voter registration, with a little bit of creativity and good attorneys, I think a lot can be possible at the local level.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency">City Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/24746697891_2461799422_z.jpg" alt="City Council chambers with members" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>photo by William Alatriste/City Council</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Board of Elections has widely been acknowledged as a dysfunctional agency in need of urgent and sweeping reform, yet the political will for modernizing and professionalizing the board has not existed, at least in part because its current structure benefits those in power.</p> <p>Its system of appointments based on political patronage has long been a source of criticism and its mismanagement of election operations has frustrated voters and been the subject of City Council oversight hearings. But, when asked, the eight men vying to become the next Speaker of the City Council recently said concerns about the BOE are misguided. To varying degrees, they indicated that the board is effective and efficient, that its failings are isolated rather than systematic, and that its current structure should be preserved.</p> <p>At a November 20 speaker candidate forum hosted by Citizens Union, other government reform groups, and New York Law School, seven speaker candidates -- Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan; Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens; and Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn -- were present and they mostly took the middle of the road when asked about the steps the City Council, which approves appointments to the BOE, could take to improve the board. The ten BOE commissioners include two -- one Republican and one Democrat -- from each borough.</p> <p>The Council members hedged their bets and praised the BOE, recognizing that any criticism could potentially be read as directed toward the county party organizations that nominate BOE commissioners and place other employees at the board -- the same county organizations whose support each candidate is seeking in order to become speaker. The eighth candidate, Ritchie Torres from the Bronx, would later give Gotham Gazette a similar response.</p> <p>None of the members were in favor of a non-partisan restructuring of the board. “That’s a tough question to ask of speaker candidates,” Williams said, to laughter from his colleagues in acknowledgement of the role of the county party machines in both picking BOE commissioners and picking the Council speaker. Williams defended the board but did acknowledge that patronage has played a role in appointments and that the Council could do more to improve it.</p> <p>“We know that we do have some issues and if we can just do some more thinking through that process and make sure that it’s not as patronage as some folks may think, we can move a lot further,” Williams said, taking the most bold position of the group. “I’m not sure if we push as hard as we can when things go wrong.”</p> <p>Other candidates spoke generally about reforming election and voting laws, a tangential subject that is mostly the prerogative of the state Legislature, and some staunchly argued in favor of the current partisan composition of the board, which they insisted maintains a balance and prevents one-party hegemony in elections.</p> <p>“I do not support non-partisan appointments to the Board of Elections,” said Johnson, one of the three perceived frontrunners in the race, along with Levine and Cornegy. “I believe that the parties play a particular role in ensuring that we make sure that any party that’s dominant at a given time cannot run roughshod over another party. If someone came up with a perfect system of a non-partisan way to handle it, maybe I’d entertain it. I’ve never heard of that system, I don’t know how you take political influence out of politics.”</p> <p>“I couldn’t agree more,” Van Bramer said in response.</p> <p>The city BOE falls under state jurisdiction, like all local boards of election, although the city gets to decide the board’s budget and not much else. The ten board commissioners are nominated by the county party machinery and appointed by the City Council. Representatives from the board testify at City Council hearings, usually during budget season, and receive recommendations and often admonitions from Council members, but are not bound to follow any Council mandates.</p> <p>The board is often seen as favoring the Democratic Party establishment, given that the vast majority of candidates for city offices are Democrats. Candidates not backed by the party machinery are often challenged in board proceedings and kicked off the ballot, though they are often first-time candidates with fewer resources and without experienced election lawyers.</p> <p>On Monday, Torres reiterated what his colleagues had said weeks ago. “I suspect you’re misdiagnosing the problem, the problem is a lack of resources,” he told Gotham Gazette at City Hall. “I suspect it’s a lack of resources more than the manner in which the appointments are made.”</p> <p>He continued, “Does the BOE have inefficiencies? Yes. It’s true of every agency in city government. There’s not a single agency in city government that’s free of inefficiency. So the notion that you would cite inefficiency as an excuse for fundamentally changing the structure of an institution is dubious.” Torres said he would oppose any measures that could weaken the party organizations’ role but conceded that the Council should “study the problem comprehensively” to determine the needs and inefficiencies of the BOE.</p> <p>There have been studies in the past, and each has found persistent issues.</p> <p>A <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/reports/pdf/2013/2013-12-30-BOE_Unit_Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2013 report</a> by the city’s Department of Investigations <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20131230/civic-center/nyc-board-of-elections-riddled-with-problems-dept-of-investigation-finds" target="_blank" rel="noopener">found</a> a raft of problems in elections management as well as internal board administration. In 2016, the BOE was responsible for a massive voter purge in Brooklyn during the presidential primaries, resulting in legal action by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. In November, Schneiderman announced a consent decree with the BOE that requires added oversight of the board’s voter list maintenance.</p> <p>Less than a week before this year’s general election on November 7, city Comptroller Scott Stringer also released an <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/audit-report-on-the-board-of-elections-controls-over-the-maintenance-of-voters-records-and-poll-access/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">audit</a> that excoriated the BOE’s dysfunctional election operations. At each step, the BOE has pushed back and has been resistant to change. Even when Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a $20 million incentive for the board to enact major reforms -- recommending the empaneling of a Blue Ribbon Commission to analyze the BOE, more transparency in hiring and improved poll worker training, among other measures -- its commissioners refused.</p> <p>“The Mayor believes that it is critical that we reform the Board of Elections,” said Seth Stein, a mayoral spokesperson, in a statement on Tuesday. “They have demonstrated time and again that they are unable to perform the basic functions of their office, like keeping eligible voters on the rolls. The Mayor looks forward to working with whoever the next Speaker is to encourage the Board to accept the $20 million we have offered in exchange for necessary reforms.”</p> <p>State-level BOE reforms have not progressed in Albany.</p> <p>Those who could take steps or apply pressure to improve the BOE’s abysmal record are the very people invested in the status quo, however, and the City Council, particularly its speaker, falls squarely within that dynamic. Election experts also tend to agree that the Council can pass little meaningful reform, absent legislative action at the state level, and that the bi-partisan BOE composition is appropriate. &nbsp;</p> <p>“There’s very little the City Council can do regarding the structural functioning of the agency,” said Sarah Steiner, an election lawyer. “They could maybe fund the board at a higher level so it could function better.”</p> <p>“In terms of patronage, it’s a bi-partisan agency, not a civil service agency. Unless that’s changed, the county organizations is where the commissioners and employees will come from,” she added. She insisted that most of the board’s employees are, in her experience, qualified and hard-working professionals. “As in any organization, some employees are better than others,” she said. And she warned that a civil service agency running elections could be open to political interference, while the current structure is designed to prevent just that.</p> <p>Steiner praised, in particular, the speed and accuracy with which the BOE provides election night results. But, she said, “they are less good at some of the work regarding candidates. I think the rules structure for candidates needs substantial revision.” Unlike the state BOE, the city agency doesn’t provide a public comment period for rules changes, she said, which often leaves the candidates and their campaigns unaware and unprepared. “The administrative rules are not as easy as the board thinks they are, and they’re largely a minefield,” she added.</p> <p>J.C. Polanco, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for public advocate this year, has served as &nbsp;president of the city BOE and saw the problems first hand and attempted to fix them. He campaigned this year on a platform that included BOE reform. He’s blunt about the Council speaker candidates and why they wouldn’t speak up against the agency. “Each candidate has to try not to offend the county organizations,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>Though Polanco also agrees that the BOE’s partisan structure may be necessary, he believes it can be better. “One of the things to do is to professionalize the board,” he said, “by forcing every candidate to go through the crucible of the [Council’s] investigations process required of commissioners.” He favors merit-based hiring and called for it when he worked at the board.</p> <p>“There are professionals at the board that get a bad rap for the failures of the board to modernize,” he insisted, echoing Steiner. “You can definitely have a professionalized partisan agency.” The board should post positions with qualifications online, he said, and more publicly seek employees. “It would require an enlightenment of the citizenry and the board,” Polanco said. He also speculated about giving third parties representation on the board, proportionate to their vote shares in prior elections.</p> <p>Although the Council members poised to be the next speaker may not agree, the official they are hoping to succeed believes that the BOE needs improvement. Melissa Mark-Viverito, who, in the waning days of her speakership, has waded into <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/local-politics/2017/12/09/squabble-among-manhattan-democrats-pits-council-speaker-against-county-chair" target="_blank" rel="noopener">conflict</a> with the Manhattan Democratic County Committee over a BOE commissioner appointment, said the Council has discussed reforming the BOE for years. Responding to a question from Gotham Gazette, she said, “There’s obviously a lot more work that has to be done. We’ve seen the reports issued by DOI and others with the dysfunction at the Board of Elections and there definitely has to be a lot more professionalizing of the Board of Elections and being able to implement reforms.”</p> <p>While much of the conversation around elections and voting in New York tends to revolve around the state’s antiquated laws, there have been local attempts at such reform. Council Member Ben Kallos has been a particularly vocal critic of the board and, as chair of the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, has pushed legislation that can improve elections and voting access. He has time and again urged representatives of the board to move towards merit-based hiring -- &nbsp;“I favor the civil service over the patronage appointment process,” he told Gotham Gazette on Monday. Kallos’ bill allowing online voter registration recently passed the Council. The mayor is expected to sign it into law, and it is considered valid under guidance from A.G. Schneiderman.</p> <p>We can “find meaningful alternatives that can help fix the BOE at the city level,” Kallos said. “As we learned with online voter registration, with a little bit of creativity and good attorneys, I think a lot can be possible at the local level.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency">City Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency</a>]</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Speaker Candidates, All Men, Promise Gender Equity if Victorious 2017-12-08T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-08T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7359:city-council-speaker-candidates-all-men-promise-gender-equity-if-victorious Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img_8295.jpg" alt="City Council speaker candidates" width="600" height="382" /></p> <p>The City Council speaker candidates (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>At the last public forum in the race to become the next speaker of the City Council, seven of the eight men contending for the Council’s top leadership spot took turns making their argument for why they would be the right person to continue Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s legacy of protecting and promoting the cause of women, transgender, and gender non-conforming New Yorkers. Though few new ideas emerged, for nearly two hours, the seven Council members pitched their progressive credentials and promised to champion the city’s underrepresented and underserved populations.</p> <p>Hosted by a coalition of 14 organizations, at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute in Manhattan, the forum capped off a post-election month that has seen the candidates appear at more than a dozen issue-focused debates and discussions on everything from criminal justice to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency?mc_cid=5cc59c4465&amp;mc_eid=6382885063&amp;utm_source=CFB+weekly+updates&amp;utm_campaign=cf7f97599c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_745d48d7ac-cf7f97599c-290605553" target="_blank" rel="noopener">government transparency and accountability</a>. Thursday’s event was moderated by Politico New York reporter Laura Nahmias and Shatia Burks of the New York City Young Women’s Initiative. In attendance were Council Members Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, Robert Cornegy Jr., Donovan Richards, Jumaane Williams, and Jimmy Van Bramer. Ritchie Torres was the only candidate absent.</p> <p>Past was prologue as the candidates took turns briefly narrating their individual histories, giving tactful yet heartfelt answers while also lamenting the obvious irony of them all being men after 12 years of the City Council having women serve as speaker.</p> <p>Council Member Cornegy, who in recent weeks has risen to become one of the perceived frontrunners in the race, spoke as a family man, a husband and father of six. He noted his support for reproductive health bills in the Council, particularly one that created lactation rooms at city agencies that provide family services (he first opened a “lactation station” in his district office). He half-joked that he co-chairs the Council’s “men who get it” caucus.</p> <p>Johnson, another leading contender, reminded the audience that he is an openly gay man and the only openly HIV positive elected official in New York, and that issues related to transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) individuals are “deeply important” to him. He touted the passage of his bill allowing transgender New Yorkers to receive accurate birth certificates from the city.</p> <p>“The fact that the people running for Council speaker are all men reflects a failing of the political system in New York City,” said Levine, who is seen with Cornegy and Johnson as one of the three most likely to win the position when the vote takes place in January. “I think it does obligate the eight of us to reign in the hubris a little bit and do more listening than dictating.”</p> <p>Richards echoed the sentiment, saying “it is shameful that there is not a woman in this race,” while emphasizing that not only would the next speaker have to focus on women’s issues, but also ensure that women are in leadership positions.</p> <p>Rodriguez cited his experience as an immigrant, in a large family with many sisters. “Women’s issues are trans-sectional,” he said, while promising to continue Mark-Viverito’s legacy.</p> <p>Van Bramer, who is also openly gay, spoke from the experience of his own coming out. Being an LGBTQ activist meant also being “an activist for choice and a woman’s right to choose,” he said. “The two of them are inseparable.” He proudly touted his successful efforts to open the first Planned Parenthood health center in Queens, and in helping found the first Girl Scout troop for homeless girls.</p> <p>Williams, who noted early that the seven would likely respond similarly to questions, instead emphasized that he is “battle-tested to move forward” and has passed the most bills of all the candidates. His statement would ring true as there was little daylight between the candidates as they addressed the issues raised at the forum including access to reproductive health services, education, economic development and workplace sexual harassment, NYPD policy, affordable housing, city budgeting, and Council governance.</p> <p>On abortion access and so-called crisis pregnancy centers -- which NARAL Pro-choice America calls “fake health clinics” that mislead women to block access to abortions -- all seven agreed that the NYPD should play a stronger role in both protecting women from protesters outside Planned Parenthood clinics and in cracking down on predatory crisis centers. Cornegy even floated the idea of a dedicated police unit focused on these centers.</p> <p>Johnson insisted that Planned Parenthood is always a budget priority for him. He said the Council needed to do more to “reign in” CPCs while calling on the police to be more vigilant to protect women seeking abortions at clinics.</p> <p>Levine said the Council needs to fight back against the demonization of Planned Parenthood, and use its budgetary resources to provide services for women and TGNC individuals. Should the Republican-led federal government cut contraception coverage, for instance, Levine said the city should step in to fund it.</p> <p>Richards, of Queens, said there was a need to fund services where “people are living in the shadows” and expand health centers to communities like his that are underserved. And he said the Council should fund local organizations that provide those services.</p> <p>Rodriguez urged continued support for Planned Parenthood and better reproductive education in schools. Van Bramer insisted that contraceptives should be fully covered and if they’re not, the City Council should fund them. Williams, who jokingly apologized that all the candidates were men, echoed his colleagues and said he looked forward to passing his “boss bill” prohibiting discrimination by employers based on workers’ reproductive decisions.</p> <p>The candidates varied little on their perspectives on providing a quality education in city schools, particularly for those that face greater obstacles in the system including students in foster care, low-income, undocumented and LGBT and GNC students. Johnson emphasized that schools should not be punitive, but rather supportive and rehabilitative.</p> <p>Richards, Levine and Rodriguez touted the virtues of community schools that provide wraparound services to students, including physical and mental health and social services. Levine raised the spectre of school bullying and its “frequent entanglement” with anti-LGBT prejudice, which he said the school system and city leadership have failed to acknowledge and address. Rodriguez railed against school segregation, and called for the launch of an “education civil rights movement” under the next Council.</p> <p>The issue hit home for Van Bramer, who admitted being “near-suicidal” and skipping school to avoid a constant barrage of homophobic slurs. “All of us have to make sure that that stops once and for all and all children are safe to go to school,” he said.</p> <p>Williams stressed a change in school curriculums to ensure the inclusion of people of color and LGBT and GNC people. Cornegy said school segregation and prejudice based on sexual orientation need to be tackled at the Department of Education, and he lauded the effectiveness of community schools as well.</p> <p>Given the current national climate on sexual assault and workplace harassment, it was only natural that the candidates for arguably the second-most powerful position in city government would be asked about their perspective on the model policy to deal with the endemic problem.</p> <p>Levine reiterated three proposals, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government" target="_blank" rel="noopener">which he announced earlier in the day</a>, for rooting out sexual misconduct in city government through regular disclosure of sexual harassment claims by city agencies, a evaluation of sexual harassment policy and by elevating City Council staff complaints to bring them under committee oversight. Van Bramer also released details of bills on Thursday that would evaluate sexual harassment at city contractors and embargo those organizations with a history of misconduct. Another member with pending legislation was Cornegy, whose bill would require small businesses to detail what constitutes sexual harassment and provide hotline numbers for victims.</p> <p>Richards advocated a “zero tolerance” policy and said the Council should have its own independent department or agent to monitor sexual harassment. Rodriguez called for an entire agency to do the same citywide.</p> <p>Williams expressed support for his colleagues’ legislative efforts and candidly said, “The one thing we could all do immediately is believe” women’s stories of harassment. Johnson bemoaned a culture that allows men to believe they can act and behave in any way in a public setting because of their inherent power. “We have to change that,” he said.</p> <p>On changes to NYPD policy in interactions with LGBT and GNC New Yorkers, Richards and Rodriguez both stressed that the city needs to fully implement its body camera program and strengthen community-police relationships. Richards said the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates complaints of police misconduct, needs more teeth to hold erring officers accountable. “That’s where the culture shift absolutely needs to happen,” he said.</p> <p>Williams touted his “demonstrable leadership” against the NYPD’s racially biased use of stop-and-frisk policing, and the Council’s Community Safety Act of 2013, which he co-sponsored. The act created an independent monitor for the police department and added protections against biased profiling by officers. Cornegy subsequently advanced the idea of characterizing negative police interactions with protected classes of people as hate crimes.</p> <p>Women, trans and GNC communities and domestic violence survivors are at greater risk of becoming homeless in the city, said Burks of the Young Women’s Initiative, seeking the candidates’ ideas on improving access to affordable housing. Again, there were only slight differences in the candidates’ proposals as they called for deeper affordability and more set asides for formerly homeless New Yorkers, while some emphasized increased services and resources for survivors of domestic violence.</p> <p>The 51-member Council will have only 11 women members in the next term starting January, down from 19 a few years ago, and has not had a trans member yet. In the current Council, debate moderator Nahmias noted, three women of color negotiate the city budget -- Speaker Mark-Viverito, Finance Committee chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and Council finance director Latonia McKinney. Nahmias pressed the seven candidates on how they would ensure representation of cis and trans women, and women of color in particular, in their own senior teams and in the Council’s top leadership positions, namely the powerful chairs of the land use and finance committees.</p> <p>All the candidates were strongly committed to the task of choosing women and people of color as a majority of their senior leadership, and some said their staffs already reflect that commitment, though some rued the political reality that makes such a pledge necessary. “Women are 50 percent of the workforce and none of us deserves a gold star for making sure that women are in these positions and roles,” said Van Bramer.</p> <p>“It is appalling that there are only 11 women on the Council,” said Williams. The candidates <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7324-women-s-caucus-secures-commitments-from-city-council-speaker-candidates" target="_blank" rel="noopener">all interviewed with the Council's Women's Caucus and made commitments</a> to its existing and incoming members.</p> <p>Cornegy noted that hiring of people of color in the Council central staff had doubled in Mark-Viverito’s tenure, and he vowed to build on that by including women and trans individuals in particular.</p> <p>Danced around was the fact that the winning speaker candidate will likely have earned the backing of the major Democratic political organizations of the Queens and the Bronx, which will then have a lot of say in staffing and top Council leadership decisions made by the next speaker.</p> <p>Richards was possibly the only one to acknowledge that the speaker race will be influenced heavily by forces outside of the Council, including county party chairs and the mayor. He wouldn’t say who might be the finance or land use chairs under his speakership since “we all have power brokers that we’re talking to at play,” though he did promise to advocate for women to be chosen for those positions.</p> <p>Levine stressed the need to support far more diverse candidates for the Council in the 2021 elections, when nearly 40 seats will be up for grabs. Richards said the Council’s efforts need to go further, by making sure each city agency has diverse staff, by hiring gender diversity compliance officers and ensuring that women of color and trans people move up into managerial positions.</p> <p>In a brief lightning round, all seven candidates agreed to staff their senior teams and central staff with more than 50 percent women and TGNC individuals, committed to support and expand the Young Women’s Initiative, and said they would back the “<a href="https://avp.org/solutions-struggle-survival-tgnc-policy-brief/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Solutions out of Struggle and Survival</a>” policy proposals identified by numerous TGNC advocacy groups.</p> <p>With the last of the speaker forums, the public-facing aspect of the speaker-selection process appears effectively over. Candidates will now spend much of the next few weeks in backroom negotiations and closed meetings before the next speaker will be chosen in January when the next class of the City Council convenes.</p> <p>The partner organizations for Thursday’s forum included: Girls for Gender Equity, Women of Color for Progress, Brooklyn Movement Center, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual &amp; Transgender Community Center, PowHer NY, Planned Parenthood of New York City, National Organization for Women-NYC, New Leaders Council--NYC Chapter, National Institute for Reproductive Health, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Citizens’ Committee for Children, Eleanor’s Legacy, National Association of Social Workers—NYC Chapter.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[READ: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency?mc_cid=5cc59c4465&amp;mc_eid=6382885063&amp;utm_source=CFB+weekly+updates&amp;utm_campaign=cf7f97599c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_745d48d7ac-cf7f97599c-290605553" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img_8295.jpg" alt="City Council speaker candidates" width="600" height="382" /></p> <p>The City Council speaker candidates (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>At the last public forum in the race to become the next speaker of the City Council, seven of the eight men contending for the Council’s top leadership spot took turns making their argument for why they would be the right person to continue Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s legacy of protecting and promoting the cause of women, transgender, and gender non-conforming New Yorkers. Though few new ideas emerged, for nearly two hours, the seven Council members pitched their progressive credentials and promised to champion the city’s underrepresented and underserved populations.</p> <p>Hosted by a coalition of 14 organizations, at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute in Manhattan, the forum capped off a post-election month that has seen the candidates appear at more than a dozen issue-focused debates and discussions on everything from criminal justice to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency?mc_cid=5cc59c4465&amp;mc_eid=6382885063&amp;utm_source=CFB+weekly+updates&amp;utm_campaign=cf7f97599c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_745d48d7ac-cf7f97599c-290605553" target="_blank" rel="noopener">government transparency and accountability</a>. Thursday’s event was moderated by Politico New York reporter Laura Nahmias and Shatia Burks of the New York City Young Women’s Initiative. In attendance were Council Members Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, Robert Cornegy Jr., Donovan Richards, Jumaane Williams, and Jimmy Van Bramer. Ritchie Torres was the only candidate absent.</p> <p>Past was prologue as the candidates took turns briefly narrating their individual histories, giving tactful yet heartfelt answers while also lamenting the obvious irony of them all being men after 12 years of the City Council having women serve as speaker.</p> <p>Council Member Cornegy, who in recent weeks has risen to become one of the perceived frontrunners in the race, spoke as a family man, a husband and father of six. He noted his support for reproductive health bills in the Council, particularly one that created lactation rooms at city agencies that provide family services (he first opened a “lactation station” in his district office). He half-joked that he co-chairs the Council’s “men who get it” caucus.</p> <p>Johnson, another leading contender, reminded the audience that he is an openly gay man and the only openly HIV positive elected official in New York, and that issues related to transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) individuals are “deeply important” to him. He touted the passage of his bill allowing transgender New Yorkers to receive accurate birth certificates from the city.</p> <p>“The fact that the people running for Council speaker are all men reflects a failing of the political system in New York City,” said Levine, who is seen with Cornegy and Johnson as one of the three most likely to win the position when the vote takes place in January. “I think it does obligate the eight of us to reign in the hubris a little bit and do more listening than dictating.”</p> <p>Richards echoed the sentiment, saying “it is shameful that there is not a woman in this race,” while emphasizing that not only would the next speaker have to focus on women’s issues, but also ensure that women are in leadership positions.</p> <p>Rodriguez cited his experience as an immigrant, in a large family with many sisters. “Women’s issues are trans-sectional,” he said, while promising to continue Mark-Viverito’s legacy.</p> <p>Van Bramer, who is also openly gay, spoke from the experience of his own coming out. Being an LGBTQ activist meant also being “an activist for choice and a woman’s right to choose,” he said. “The two of them are inseparable.” He proudly touted his successful efforts to open the first Planned Parenthood health center in Queens, and in helping found the first Girl Scout troop for homeless girls.</p> <p>Williams, who noted early that the seven would likely respond similarly to questions, instead emphasized that he is “battle-tested to move forward” and has passed the most bills of all the candidates. His statement would ring true as there was little daylight between the candidates as they addressed the issues raised at the forum including access to reproductive health services, education, economic development and workplace sexual harassment, NYPD policy, affordable housing, city budgeting, and Council governance.</p> <p>On abortion access and so-called crisis pregnancy centers -- which NARAL Pro-choice America calls “fake health clinics” that mislead women to block access to abortions -- all seven agreed that the NYPD should play a stronger role in both protecting women from protesters outside Planned Parenthood clinics and in cracking down on predatory crisis centers. Cornegy even floated the idea of a dedicated police unit focused on these centers.</p> <p>Johnson insisted that Planned Parenthood is always a budget priority for him. He said the Council needed to do more to “reign in” CPCs while calling on the police to be more vigilant to protect women seeking abortions at clinics.</p> <p>Levine said the Council needs to fight back against the demonization of Planned Parenthood, and use its budgetary resources to provide services for women and TGNC individuals. Should the Republican-led federal government cut contraception coverage, for instance, Levine said the city should step in to fund it.</p> <p>Richards, of Queens, said there was a need to fund services where “people are living in the shadows” and expand health centers to communities like his that are underserved. And he said the Council should fund local organizations that provide those services.</p> <p>Rodriguez urged continued support for Planned Parenthood and better reproductive education in schools. Van Bramer insisted that contraceptives should be fully covered and if they’re not, the City Council should fund them. Williams, who jokingly apologized that all the candidates were men, echoed his colleagues and said he looked forward to passing his “boss bill” prohibiting discrimination by employers based on workers’ reproductive decisions.</p> <p>The candidates varied little on their perspectives on providing a quality education in city schools, particularly for those that face greater obstacles in the system including students in foster care, low-income, undocumented and LGBT and GNC students. Johnson emphasized that schools should not be punitive, but rather supportive and rehabilitative.</p> <p>Richards, Levine and Rodriguez touted the virtues of community schools that provide wraparound services to students, including physical and mental health and social services. Levine raised the spectre of school bullying and its “frequent entanglement” with anti-LGBT prejudice, which he said the school system and city leadership have failed to acknowledge and address. Rodriguez railed against school segregation, and called for the launch of an “education civil rights movement” under the next Council.</p> <p>The issue hit home for Van Bramer, who admitted being “near-suicidal” and skipping school to avoid a constant barrage of homophobic slurs. “All of us have to make sure that that stops once and for all and all children are safe to go to school,” he said.</p> <p>Williams stressed a change in school curriculums to ensure the inclusion of people of color and LGBT and GNC people. Cornegy said school segregation and prejudice based on sexual orientation need to be tackled at the Department of Education, and he lauded the effectiveness of community schools as well.</p> <p>Given the current national climate on sexual assault and workplace harassment, it was only natural that the candidates for arguably the second-most powerful position in city government would be asked about their perspective on the model policy to deal with the endemic problem.</p> <p>Levine reiterated three proposals, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government" target="_blank" rel="noopener">which he announced earlier in the day</a>, for rooting out sexual misconduct in city government through regular disclosure of sexual harassment claims by city agencies, a evaluation of sexual harassment policy and by elevating City Council staff complaints to bring them under committee oversight. Van Bramer also released details of bills on Thursday that would evaluate sexual harassment at city contractors and embargo those organizations with a history of misconduct. Another member with pending legislation was Cornegy, whose bill would require small businesses to detail what constitutes sexual harassment and provide hotline numbers for victims.</p> <p>Richards advocated a “zero tolerance” policy and said the Council should have its own independent department or agent to monitor sexual harassment. Rodriguez called for an entire agency to do the same citywide.</p> <p>Williams expressed support for his colleagues’ legislative efforts and candidly said, “The one thing we could all do immediately is believe” women’s stories of harassment. Johnson bemoaned a culture that allows men to believe they can act and behave in any way in a public setting because of their inherent power. “We have to change that,” he said.</p> <p>On changes to NYPD policy in interactions with LGBT and GNC New Yorkers, Richards and Rodriguez both stressed that the city needs to fully implement its body camera program and strengthen community-police relationships. Richards said the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates complaints of police misconduct, needs more teeth to hold erring officers accountable. “That’s where the culture shift absolutely needs to happen,” he said.</p> <p>Williams touted his “demonstrable leadership” against the NYPD’s racially biased use of stop-and-frisk policing, and the Council’s Community Safety Act of 2013, which he co-sponsored. The act created an independent monitor for the police department and added protections against biased profiling by officers. Cornegy subsequently advanced the idea of characterizing negative police interactions with protected classes of people as hate crimes.</p> <p>Women, trans and GNC communities and domestic violence survivors are at greater risk of becoming homeless in the city, said Burks of the Young Women’s Initiative, seeking the candidates’ ideas on improving access to affordable housing. Again, there were only slight differences in the candidates’ proposals as they called for deeper affordability and more set asides for formerly homeless New Yorkers, while some emphasized increased services and resources for survivors of domestic violence.</p> <p>The 51-member Council will have only 11 women members in the next term starting January, down from 19 a few years ago, and has not had a trans member yet. In the current Council, debate moderator Nahmias noted, three women of color negotiate the city budget -- Speaker Mark-Viverito, Finance Committee chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and Council finance director Latonia McKinney. Nahmias pressed the seven candidates on how they would ensure representation of cis and trans women, and women of color in particular, in their own senior teams and in the Council’s top leadership positions, namely the powerful chairs of the land use and finance committees.</p> <p>All the candidates were strongly committed to the task of choosing women and people of color as a majority of their senior leadership, and some said their staffs already reflect that commitment, though some rued the political reality that makes such a pledge necessary. “Women are 50 percent of the workforce and none of us deserves a gold star for making sure that women are in these positions and roles,” said Van Bramer.</p> <p>“It is appalling that there are only 11 women on the Council,” said Williams. The candidates <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7324-women-s-caucus-secures-commitments-from-city-council-speaker-candidates" target="_blank" rel="noopener">all interviewed with the Council's Women's Caucus and made commitments</a> to its existing and incoming members.</p> <p>Cornegy noted that hiring of people of color in the Council central staff had doubled in Mark-Viverito’s tenure, and he vowed to build on that by including women and trans individuals in particular.</p> <p>Danced around was the fact that the winning speaker candidate will likely have earned the backing of the major Democratic political organizations of the Queens and the Bronx, which will then have a lot of say in staffing and top Council leadership decisions made by the next speaker.</p> <p>Richards was possibly the only one to acknowledge that the speaker race will be influenced heavily by forces outside of the Council, including county party chairs and the mayor. He wouldn’t say who might be the finance or land use chairs under his speakership since “we all have power brokers that we’re talking to at play,” though he did promise to advocate for women to be chosen for those positions.</p> <p>Levine stressed the need to support far more diverse candidates for the Council in the 2021 elections, when nearly 40 seats will be up for grabs. Richards said the Council’s efforts need to go further, by making sure each city agency has diverse staff, by hiring gender diversity compliance officers and ensuring that women of color and trans people move up into managerial positions.</p> <p>In a brief lightning round, all seven candidates agreed to staff their senior teams and central staff with more than 50 percent women and TGNC individuals, committed to support and expand the Young Women’s Initiative, and said they would back the “<a href="https://avp.org/solutions-struggle-survival-tgnc-policy-brief/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Solutions out of Struggle and Survival</a>” policy proposals identified by numerous TGNC advocacy groups.</p> <p>With the last of the speaker forums, the public-facing aspect of the speaker-selection process appears effectively over. Candidates will now spend much of the next few weeks in backroom negotiations and closed meetings before the next speaker will be chosen in January when the next class of the City Council convenes.</p> <p>The partner organizations for Thursday’s forum included: Girls for Gender Equity, Women of Color for Progress, Brooklyn Movement Center, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual &amp; Transgender Community Center, PowHer NY, Planned Parenthood of New York City, National Organization for Women-NYC, New Leaders Council--NYC Chapter, National Institute for Reproductive Health, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Citizens’ Committee for Children, Eleanor’s Legacy, National Association of Social Workers—NYC Chapter.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[READ: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency?mc_cid=5cc59c4465&amp;mc_eid=6382885063&amp;utm_source=CFB+weekly+updates&amp;utm_campaign=cf7f97599c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_745d48d7ac-cf7f97599c-290605553" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Council Members Announce Legislation to Root Out Sexual Misconduct in City Government 2017-12-07T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-07T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7357:council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/rosenthal_levine_sexual_harassment_legislation.jpg" alt="rosenthal levine sexual harassment legislation" width="600" height="369" /></p> <p>Council Members Rosenthal and Levine (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Amid a national outcry against sexual assault and sexual harassment, including in the workplace -- intensified by numerous accusations against sitting members of Congress that have resulted in two resignations thus far -- members of the New York City Council are stepping up to combat, prevent and expose any cases of sexual misconduct within their own ranks and that of the gargantuan city government.</p> <p>A series of bills proposed on Thursday by two Council members aim to bring to light any instances of sexual harassment at the City Council, city agencies, and even at organizations that contract with the city or receive city funds.</p> <p>“This moment has the potential to be a turning point, but it will only stick if policy makers seize this opportunity to not just punish individual abusers but reform the system that enabled that abuse,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, co-chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus, at a news conference at City Hall. Rosenthal was appearing with Council Member Mark Levine, who requested the new legislation on sexual harassment policies. “Institutions like the City Council must step up and interrupt the power dynamics that have allowed abuses to exist just under the surface for far too long,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>Levine, a Manhattan Democrat who is running to be the Council’s next speaker, has requested that bills be drafted to strengthen the City Council’s policies on sexual harassment, requiring that complaints by Council staffers be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics rather than the Council central staff, as is the case right now. The committee currently only investigates complaints against the elected members of the Council and has the power to discipline them through an official censure, fine, removal from a committee or expulsion from the body. The Council would also have to regularly report the status of complaints to those bringing the claims.</p> <p>Levine’s proposals are not limited to internal Council practices. He also asked for bills mandating twice yearly disclosure of sexual harassment claims at all city agencies, and has proposed creating a task force to assess agency policies to improve reporting standards and to make it easier for those subjected to harassment to come forward.</p> <p>“At a time of something of a national awakening to the epidemic of sexual harassment and abuse of power by men in the workplace, in industries like Hollywood, in newsrooms, in the halls of Congress...it would be dangerously naive of us to think that we’re not facing a similar epidemic in the workforce of this city,” Levine said. “It would also be naive for us to assume that in the City Council with its staff of about 300 that we are immune from this epidemic.” <br /> <br />Separately, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer from Queens, another speaker candidate, has proposed two bills that would mandate reporting of sexual harassment policies -- how complaints are resolved, disciplinary and training practices -- from organizations that apply for city funding and would impose a minimum five-year ban from receiving city funds on organizations with multiple complaints. “The #MeToo movement is about exposing systematic workplace sexual harassment and assault, but it's up to lawmakers now to push forward solutions to address it,” Van Bramer said in a statement.</p> <p>At Thursday’s news conference, which included advocates and Council Members Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Jumaane Williams, who is also running for speaker, Levine said he was not aware of instances of harassment that had occurred at the Council in the last few years, either involving Council members or their staff. When asked by Gotham Gazette if he would ask the current speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and the current staff to make public any possible instances, he said, “Our bill is not retroactive...I certainly would encourage that but our bill is only effective from the day it passes.”</p> <p>Levine also acknowledged that with the Council’s busy end-of-term schedule and with only two more full-Council meetings on the docket to close out the year and the term, the bills are unlikely to become law this year. “It’s almost certainly too late to pass before the end of the session but this will be a top priority of mine in whatever role I happen to be occupying come January,” he said. “We want to be proactive.”</p> <p>Members of women’s advocacy organizations praised the reforms proposed Thursday. Ella Mae Estrada, associate dean and chief diversity officer of New York Law School, also announced at the news conference that the School would be partnering with the City Council and Assemblymember Charles Lavine to bring together elected officials, activists and academics for the National Conference on Sexual Harassment in the Government Workplace. “We are all part of an overdue and needed conversation in this country about sexual harassment and we all have an obligation in creating workplaces that are safe and respectful for all of our employees,” Estrada said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/rosenthal_levine_sexual_harassment_legislation.jpg" alt="rosenthal levine sexual harassment legislation" width="600" height="369" /></p> <p>Council Members Rosenthal and Levine (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Amid a national outcry against sexual assault and sexual harassment, including in the workplace -- intensified by numerous accusations against sitting members of Congress that have resulted in two resignations thus far -- members of the New York City Council are stepping up to combat, prevent and expose any cases of sexual misconduct within their own ranks and that of the gargantuan city government.</p> <p>A series of bills proposed on Thursday by two Council members aim to bring to light any instances of sexual harassment at the City Council, city agencies, and even at organizations that contract with the city or receive city funds.</p> <p>“This moment has the potential to be a turning point, but it will only stick if policy makers seize this opportunity to not just punish individual abusers but reform the system that enabled that abuse,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, co-chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus, at a news conference at City Hall. Rosenthal was appearing with Council Member Mark Levine, who requested the new legislation on sexual harassment policies. “Institutions like the City Council must step up and interrupt the power dynamics that have allowed abuses to exist just under the surface for far too long,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>Levine, a Manhattan Democrat who is running to be the Council’s next speaker, has requested that bills be drafted to strengthen the City Council’s policies on sexual harassment, requiring that complaints by Council staffers be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics rather than the Council central staff, as is the case right now. The committee currently only investigates complaints against the elected members of the Council and has the power to discipline them through an official censure, fine, removal from a committee or expulsion from the body. The Council would also have to regularly report the status of complaints to those bringing the claims.</p> <p>Levine’s proposals are not limited to internal Council practices. He also asked for bills mandating twice yearly disclosure of sexual harassment claims at all city agencies, and has proposed creating a task force to assess agency policies to improve reporting standards and to make it easier for those subjected to harassment to come forward.</p> <p>“At a time of something of a national awakening to the epidemic of sexual harassment and abuse of power by men in the workplace, in industries like Hollywood, in newsrooms, in the halls of Congress...it would be dangerously naive of us to think that we’re not facing a similar epidemic in the workforce of this city,” Levine said. “It would also be naive for us to assume that in the City Council with its staff of about 300 that we are immune from this epidemic.” <br /> <br />Separately, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer from Queens, another speaker candidate, has proposed two bills that would mandate reporting of sexual harassment policies -- how complaints are resolved, disciplinary and training practices -- from organizations that apply for city funding and would impose a minimum five-year ban from receiving city funds on organizations with multiple complaints. “The #MeToo movement is about exposing systematic workplace sexual harassment and assault, but it's up to lawmakers now to push forward solutions to address it,” Van Bramer said in a statement.</p> <p>At Thursday’s news conference, which included advocates and Council Members Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Jumaane Williams, who is also running for speaker, Levine said he was not aware of instances of harassment that had occurred at the Council in the last few years, either involving Council members or their staff. When asked by Gotham Gazette if he would ask the current speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and the current staff to make public any possible instances, he said, “Our bill is not retroactive...I certainly would encourage that but our bill is only effective from the day it passes.”</p> <p>Levine also acknowledged that with the Council’s busy end-of-term schedule and with only two more full-Council meetings on the docket to close out the year and the term, the bills are unlikely to become law this year. “It’s almost certainly too late to pass before the end of the session but this will be a top priority of mine in whatever role I happen to be occupying come January,” he said. “We want to be proactive.”</p> <p>Members of women’s advocacy organizations praised the reforms proposed Thursday. Ella Mae Estrada, associate dean and chief diversity officer of New York Law School, also announced at the news conference that the School would be partnering with the City Council and Assemblymember Charles Lavine to bring together elected officials, activists and academics for the National Conference on Sexual Harassment in the Government Workplace. “We are all part of an overdue and needed conversation in this country about sexual harassment and we all have an obligation in creating workplaces that are safe and respectful for all of our employees,” Estrada said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>