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/melissa-mark-viverito 2017-11-23T22:34:07+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com City Council Ends Term with Flurry of Oversight Hearings 2017-11-19T05:00:00+00:00 2017-11-19T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7328:city-council-ends-term-with-flurry-of-oversight-hearings Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/mmv_hearing_john_mccarten_city_council.jpg" alt="mmv hearing john mccarten city council" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>A flurry of oversight hearings are filling the City Council calendar as the Council enters its final month of the four-year session, most notably a hearing slated to address controversies over NYCHA’s falsified lead inspection reports, a hearing to discuss the city’s progress in closing Rikers Island jails, and a hearing on integrating the city's segregated public schools.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx">More than a dozen oversight hearings</a> are slated for Council committee discussion between November 20 and December 4 as this current iteration of the Council ends its term. A new class of Council members, many of whom are current officeholders who won reelection this fall, will be sworn in just after the new year, with a new Council Speaker chosen at the first full-body “stated meeting” in early January.</p> <p>At oversight hearings, Council members typically question the relevant top officials in the mayoral administration about the topic at hand, before testimony from other stakeholders, like advocates, non-governmental experts, or members of the public. While the hearings can be informative to Council members, journalists, advocates, and the broader public, further Council action will likely be taken in the next session, when many committee chair positions will have changed hands.</p> <p>Along with the oversight hearings on the NYCHA lead controversy and initial steps being taken toward closing Rikers jails, some of the scheduled oversight hearings deal with fighting homelessness, the NYPD’s role in school safety, mental health services for military veterans, evaluating workforce development programs, “the feasibility of microgrids,” and more.</p> <p>The oversight hearing scheduled to discuss closing Rikers, set for December 4, comes on the heels of the de Blasio administration’s release of a request for proposals to assess existing jails as potential sites to accommodate additional inmates and the overall need for space across the boroughs other than State Island, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has said no new jail will be opened.</p> <p>A 10-year plan issued by the mayor’s office in June committed to reducing the city’s jail population from the now roughly 9,500 to 5,000 within this time frame, while ensuring space in four borough jails for that smaller number of detainees.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is term-limited out of office at the end of the year, has been a driving force behind the mission to close Rikers jails. At a press conference on Thursday, she told Gotham Gazette that the hearing will be important in terms of examining progress on several fronts important to the larger goal.</p> <p>“There’s already sites that exist and what we have to do is look at how we can create a modern day facility that really addresses some of the concerns that were raised and the recommendations made in the independent commission report,” she said, referring to the issue of identifying space and the RFP being put out by the city whereby a consultant will be hired to study resources and need. She also referred to the report put forth by a commission she empaneled led by former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, which crafted its own 10-year plan for closing Rikers jails.&nbsp;"There’s stuff to talk about, there’s other recommendations and action items that have to be taken, action that has to be taken and we can’t do that alone so it’s a matter of figuring out, where do we stand, what’s next to do, how quickly can we get it done,” Mark-Viverito said.</p> <p>The timeline for closing Rikers, the designation of responsibility, locations for housing detainees, the rate of population decline within the correctional facility, and a number of recent bail reform laws are topics of interest for the oversight hearing according to Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, chair of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice, which will host the hearing. Crowley will lead it, likely along with Mark-Viverito.</p> <p>“This would be the most ideal way of wrapping up the session because it’s an immense endeavor and one that clearly the Department of Corrections doesn’t have the talents right now and the ability to address,” Crowley told Gotham Gazette in an interview. “I’m hoping that we can put together recommendations for the mayor’s office to help make this plan more of a reality.”</p> <p>The NYCHA lead hearing was a recent addition to the slate, called by City Council Member Ritchie Torres, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Public Housing, in light of a Department of Investigations report revealing that NYCHA submitted false documentation of lead paint safety inspections never completed. Torres said there will be a December oversight hearing to discuss the practice and steps being taken to make things right. According to the report, NYCHA failed to perform apartment inspections in 2013, 2014 and 2015 despite not having conducted the approximate 55,000 annual inspections required to satisfy the federal rule.</p> <p>The DOI report asserted that false paperwork was submitted even after NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye learned of the department’s non-compliance with city and federal rules. Olatoye is expected to appear before the committee during the oversight hearing next month. “I want to ask the chairperson about the agency’s practice of misleading the federal government about conducting lead paint inspections. Why did those practices transpire? When did she find out those practices were happening? How long did it take her before she revealed it to the general public and revealed it to DOI?” Torres told Gotham Gazette in an interview.</p> <p>On Friday, NYCHA announced personnel and programmatic changes in response to the scandal. Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio has stated his support for Olatoye, whose departure has been called for by several people, most notably Public Advocate Letitia James.</p> <p>The Department of Investigation, Council Member Torres, and Public Advocate James, among others, have called for an independent monitor to oversee NYCHA inspections in the future. “NYCHA no longer has the credibility to monitor its own lead paint inspections. The only hope for restoring public confidence is an independent monitor,” Torres said.</p> <p>On December 7, the Council's education committee will hold an oversight hearing on "diversity in New York City schools," whereby the Council will check in on progress in reports from the Department of Education mandated by legislation co-sponsored by Council Members Brad Lander and Ritchie Torres.</p> <p>"This hearing will begin with testimony from the NYC Department of Education (DOE) about the plan they released in the spring (<a href="https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u=http%3A%2F%2Fschools.nyc.gov%2FNR%2Frdonlyres%2FD0799D8E-D4CD-45EF-A0D5-8F1DB246C2BA%2F0%2Fdiversity_final.pdf&amp;e=822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace&amp;utm_source=bradlander&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=wxy_response&amp;n=2" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fschools.nyc.gov%252FNR%252Frdonlyres%252FD0799D8E-D4CD-45EF-A0D5-8F1DB246C2BA%252F0%252Fdiversity_final.pdf%26e%3D822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace%26utm_source%3Dbradlander%26utm_medium%3Demail%26utm_campaign%3Dwxy_response%26n%3D2&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1511288945029000&amp;usg=AFQjCNGfBMLho06w-CXN2EyIlxv1Yv-KFg">“Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools”</a>), the third-annual&nbsp;<a href="https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u=http%3A%2F%2Fschools.nyc.gov%2Fcommunity%2Fcity%2Fpublicaffairs%2FDemographic%2BReports.htm&amp;e=822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace&amp;utm_source=bradlander&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=wxy_response&amp;n=3" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fschools.nyc.gov%252Fcommunity%252Fcity%252Fpublicaffairs%252FDemographic%252BReports.htm%26e%3D822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace%26utm_source%3Dbradlander%26utm_medium%3Demail%26utm_campaign%3Dwxy_response%26n%3D3&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1511288945029000&amp;usg=AFQjCNHQtfHPwaIrq96mcC5n-8qWVyAEuA">“School Diversity Accountability Act” report</a>&nbsp;(just released last week), and other efforts such as their recently-announced&nbsp;<a href="https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u=http%3A%2F%2Fschools.nyc.gov%2FOffices%2Fmediarelations%2FNewsandSpeeches%2F2017-2018%2FD1Diversity.htm&amp;e=822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace&amp;utm_source=bradlander&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=wxy_response&amp;n=4" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fschools.nyc.gov%252FOffices%252Fmediarelations%252FNewsandSpeeches%252F2017-2018%252FD1Diversity.htm%26e%3D822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace%26utm_source%3Dbradlander%26utm_medium%3Demail%26utm_campaign%3Dwxy_response%26n%3D4&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1511288945029000&amp;usg=AFQjCNGw0oqxEL7Z_kduvhxi2X0DPPokuA">plan for District 1</a>&nbsp;and the work they are beginning for District 15 middle-schools," according to an announcemnt from Lander's office.</p> <p>"After that -- and just as important -- the hearing will also provide an opportunity for the City Council to hear public testimony from students, parents, educators, and advocates working to combat school segregation and create truly integrated schools," the Lander announcement adds.</p> <p>An oversight hearing to discuss career pathways and workforce development systems is also scheduled, for November 27. New York City’s population is notably underprepared for the workforce, with more than 3.3 million residents over the age of 25 lacking an associate’s degree or other level of college education, according to July 2016 <a href="https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/newyorkcitynewyork/PST045216" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Census data</a> estimates. Those with degrees are concentrated largely within Manhattan. The city’s launch of the Career Pathways program in 2014 was an initial step in addressing the issue; committed to improving working conditions for lower-wage workers emphasizing training and education and creating connections with city employers. While the program has shown some promise in reforming and overhauling the city’s approach to skill-building programs, Career Pathways still lacks permanent funding and has yet to establish the necessary system of referrals and partnerships, according to <a href="https://nycfuture.org/research/building-the-workforce-of-the-future" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> released by Center for an Urban Future in 2016.</p> <p>The oversight hearing will likely include an update on the status of the Career Pathways program from the city’s Department of Small Business Services and testimony from Stacy Woodruff of the Workforce Professionals Training Institute on changes within the job market, according to Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., chair of the Committee on Small Business.</p> <p>“November’s small business committee hearing will be geared towards gaining a better understanding of the progress of the Career Pathways program announced in 2014. As New York’s economy continues to evolve, it is essential we understand the ways in which we can anticipate that evolution and ensure we prepare New Yorkers for the jobs that will come along with it,” said Cornegy, whose committee will co-host the hearing with the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, chaired by Council Member Daneek Miller.</p> <p>Earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio announced a new plan to use city resources to spur 100,000 new, good-paying jobs, with an emphasis on making sure that current city residents and those who have long-lived in the city are able to fill the new jobs. The Career Pathways program is seen by many in economic development and job training circles as key to this effort, but experts say that it has been underfunded by the de Blasio administration.</p> <p>Under this City Council, a bill was passed and signed by the mayor in 2016 to establish a separate Department of Veterans Affairs, outside of the Mayor’s Office. The new department has a much bigger staff and budget than the old Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs, and works to place veterans in jobs through Workforce1 centers, reduce homelessness among military veterans, connect veterans to benefits and services, including mental health care. An oversight meeting on Monday, November 20 will see discussion of the city’s progress in providing mental health services for veterans.</p> <p>The hearing will be co-hosted by the Committee on Mental Health, chaired by Council Member Andrew Cohen, and the Committee on Veterans, chaired by Council Member Eric Ulrich.</p> <p>“This is the end of the City Council session so it’s the last opportunity to check in here on the status of the newly created Department of Veterans, the overall services available to veterans. I’d like to make an inquiry into the nexus between Thrive[NYC] and our veterans, the number of veterans being serviced through Thrive and just kind of an overall taking the temperature of where we’re at in terms of connecting veterans with mental health services,” said Cohen, referring to the de Blasio administration’s large mental health care program spearheaded by First Lady Chirlane McCray.</p> <p>Also slated for the City Council calendar is an oversight meeting on Tuesday, November 21 to discuss “the feasibility of microgrids.” Local energy grids capable of disconnecting from central power sources and operating autonomously, microgrids are used to provide power when the traditional grid has been compromised by an emergency or major power outage. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which left 800,000 city residents without power, microgrids could offer an important alternative in helping deal with future storms.</p> <p>Such grids also enable greater use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, potentially allowing city residents more flexibility in their energy sources. “These types of small electricity grids have the potential to change the way we generate and consume power “ said Council Member Costa Constantinides, chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, in a statement to Gotham Gazette about the hearing, which his committee will host in conjunction with the Committee on Consumer Affairs, chaired by Council Member Rafael Espinal. “We hope to learn more about how microgrids could be implemented in our city, how consumers could save money on utility bills, and hear feedback from environmental advocacy groups,” said Constantinides.</p> <p>On Monday, November 20, the committees on housing and on general welfare will hold an oversight hearing on how the city’s housing department coordinates with the city’s homeless services department and its welfare agency “to address the homelessness crisis.”</p> <p>Other <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">scheduled</a>&nbsp;oversight hearings include: a public safety committee hearing on “NYPD’s School Safety’s Role and Efforts to Improve School Climate”; the committees on transportation and sanitation on “Private Sanitation Fleet Safety”; the committees on higher education and technology on “CUNY Tech Incubators”; the committees on health and immigration on “Immigrant Access to Healthcare”; the governmental operations committee on “DCAS’s Energy Management and Energy Efficiency Initiatives”; the economic development committee on “NYC’s Sagging Air Cargo Industry”; the recovery and resiliency committee on “Update on assisting vulnerable populations in emergency evacuations”; the juvenile justice committee on “Trauma-Informed Services in the Juvenile Justice System”; the contracts committee on “Examining Existing Supports and Needs of Underrepresented Business Owners in City Procurement”; and the aging committee on “Supporting Unpaid Caregivers.”</p> <p>(Note: be sure to re-check <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Council calendar</a> as hearings are often postponed or canceled.)</p> <p>(Note: this article has been updated with information about an additional hearing.)</p> <p>

***
by Grace Dixon for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/mmv_hearing_john_mccarten_city_council.jpg" alt="mmv hearing john mccarten city council" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>A flurry of oversight hearings are filling the City Council calendar as the Council enters its final month of the four-year session, most notably a hearing slated to address controversies over NYCHA’s falsified lead inspection reports, a hearing to discuss the city’s progress in closing Rikers Island jails, and a hearing on integrating the city's segregated public schools.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx">More than a dozen oversight hearings</a> are slated for Council committee discussion between November 20 and December 4 as this current iteration of the Council ends its term. A new class of Council members, many of whom are current officeholders who won reelection this fall, will be sworn in just after the new year, with a new Council Speaker chosen at the first full-body “stated meeting” in early January.</p> <p>At oversight hearings, Council members typically question the relevant top officials in the mayoral administration about the topic at hand, before testimony from other stakeholders, like advocates, non-governmental experts, or members of the public. While the hearings can be informative to Council members, journalists, advocates, and the broader public, further Council action will likely be taken in the next session, when many committee chair positions will have changed hands.</p> <p>Along with the oversight hearings on the NYCHA lead controversy and initial steps being taken toward closing Rikers jails, some of the scheduled oversight hearings deal with fighting homelessness, the NYPD’s role in school safety, mental health services for military veterans, evaluating workforce development programs, “the feasibility of microgrids,” and more.</p> <p>The oversight hearing scheduled to discuss closing Rikers, set for December 4, comes on the heels of the de Blasio administration’s release of a request for proposals to assess existing jails as potential sites to accommodate additional inmates and the overall need for space across the boroughs other than State Island, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has said no new jail will be opened.</p> <p>A 10-year plan issued by the mayor’s office in June committed to reducing the city’s jail population from the now roughly 9,500 to 5,000 within this time frame, while ensuring space in four borough jails for that smaller number of detainees.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is term-limited out of office at the end of the year, has been a driving force behind the mission to close Rikers jails. At a press conference on Thursday, she told Gotham Gazette that the hearing will be important in terms of examining progress on several fronts important to the larger goal.</p> <p>“There’s already sites that exist and what we have to do is look at how we can create a modern day facility that really addresses some of the concerns that were raised and the recommendations made in the independent commission report,” she said, referring to the issue of identifying space and the RFP being put out by the city whereby a consultant will be hired to study resources and need. She also referred to the report put forth by a commission she empaneled led by former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, which crafted its own 10-year plan for closing Rikers jails.&nbsp;"There’s stuff to talk about, there’s other recommendations and action items that have to be taken, action that has to be taken and we can’t do that alone so it’s a matter of figuring out, where do we stand, what’s next to do, how quickly can we get it done,” Mark-Viverito said.</p> <p>The timeline for closing Rikers, the designation of responsibility, locations for housing detainees, the rate of population decline within the correctional facility, and a number of recent bail reform laws are topics of interest for the oversight hearing according to Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, chair of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice, which will host the hearing. Crowley will lead it, likely along with Mark-Viverito.</p> <p>“This would be the most ideal way of wrapping up the session because it’s an immense endeavor and one that clearly the Department of Corrections doesn’t have the talents right now and the ability to address,” Crowley told Gotham Gazette in an interview. “I’m hoping that we can put together recommendations for the mayor’s office to help make this plan more of a reality.”</p> <p>The NYCHA lead hearing was a recent addition to the slate, called by City Council Member Ritchie Torres, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Public Housing, in light of a Department of Investigations report revealing that NYCHA submitted false documentation of lead paint safety inspections never completed. Torres said there will be a December oversight hearing to discuss the practice and steps being taken to make things right. According to the report, NYCHA failed to perform apartment inspections in 2013, 2014 and 2015 despite not having conducted the approximate 55,000 annual inspections required to satisfy the federal rule.</p> <p>The DOI report asserted that false paperwork was submitted even after NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye learned of the department’s non-compliance with city and federal rules. Olatoye is expected to appear before the committee during the oversight hearing next month. “I want to ask the chairperson about the agency’s practice of misleading the federal government about conducting lead paint inspections. Why did those practices transpire? When did she find out those practices were happening? How long did it take her before she revealed it to the general public and revealed it to DOI?” Torres told Gotham Gazette in an interview.</p> <p>On Friday, NYCHA announced personnel and programmatic changes in response to the scandal. Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio has stated his support for Olatoye, whose departure has been called for by several people, most notably Public Advocate Letitia James.</p> <p>The Department of Investigation, Council Member Torres, and Public Advocate James, among others, have called for an independent monitor to oversee NYCHA inspections in the future. “NYCHA no longer has the credibility to monitor its own lead paint inspections. The only hope for restoring public confidence is an independent monitor,” Torres said.</p> <p>On December 7, the Council's education committee will hold an oversight hearing on "diversity in New York City schools," whereby the Council will check in on progress in reports from the Department of Education mandated by legislation co-sponsored by Council Members Brad Lander and Ritchie Torres.</p> <p>"This hearing will begin with testimony from the NYC Department of Education (DOE) about the plan they released in the spring (<a href="https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u=http%3A%2F%2Fschools.nyc.gov%2FNR%2Frdonlyres%2FD0799D8E-D4CD-45EF-A0D5-8F1DB246C2BA%2F0%2Fdiversity_final.pdf&amp;e=822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace&amp;utm_source=bradlander&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=wxy_response&amp;n=2" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fschools.nyc.gov%252FNR%252Frdonlyres%252FD0799D8E-D4CD-45EF-A0D5-8F1DB246C2BA%252F0%252Fdiversity_final.pdf%26e%3D822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace%26utm_source%3Dbradlander%26utm_medium%3Demail%26utm_campaign%3Dwxy_response%26n%3D2&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1511288945029000&amp;usg=AFQjCNGfBMLho06w-CXN2EyIlxv1Yv-KFg">“Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools”</a>), the third-annual&nbsp;<a href="https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u=http%3A%2F%2Fschools.nyc.gov%2Fcommunity%2Fcity%2Fpublicaffairs%2FDemographic%2BReports.htm&amp;e=822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace&amp;utm_source=bradlander&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=wxy_response&amp;n=3" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fschools.nyc.gov%252Fcommunity%252Fcity%252Fpublicaffairs%252FDemographic%252BReports.htm%26e%3D822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace%26utm_source%3Dbradlander%26utm_medium%3Demail%26utm_campaign%3Dwxy_response%26n%3D3&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1511288945029000&amp;usg=AFQjCNHQtfHPwaIrq96mcC5n-8qWVyAEuA">“School Diversity Accountability Act” report</a>&nbsp;(just released last week), and other efforts such as their recently-announced&nbsp;<a href="https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u=http%3A%2F%2Fschools.nyc.gov%2FOffices%2Fmediarelations%2FNewsandSpeeches%2F2017-2018%2FD1Diversity.htm&amp;e=822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace&amp;utm_source=bradlander&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=wxy_response&amp;n=4" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fschools.nyc.gov%252FOffices%252Fmediarelations%252FNewsandSpeeches%252F2017-2018%252FD1Diversity.htm%26e%3D822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace%26utm_source%3Dbradlander%26utm_medium%3Demail%26utm_campaign%3Dwxy_response%26n%3D4&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1511288945029000&amp;usg=AFQjCNGw0oqxEL7Z_kduvhxi2X0DPPokuA">plan for District 1</a>&nbsp;and the work they are beginning for District 15 middle-schools," according to an announcemnt from Lander's office.</p> <p>"After that -- and just as important -- the hearing will also provide an opportunity for the City Council to hear public testimony from students, parents, educators, and advocates working to combat school segregation and create truly integrated schools," the Lander announcement adds.</p> <p>An oversight hearing to discuss career pathways and workforce development systems is also scheduled, for November 27. New York City’s population is notably underprepared for the workforce, with more than 3.3 million residents over the age of 25 lacking an associate’s degree or other level of college education, according to July 2016 <a href="https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/newyorkcitynewyork/PST045216" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Census data</a> estimates. Those with degrees are concentrated largely within Manhattan. The city’s launch of the Career Pathways program in 2014 was an initial step in addressing the issue; committed to improving working conditions for lower-wage workers emphasizing training and education and creating connections with city employers. While the program has shown some promise in reforming and overhauling the city’s approach to skill-building programs, Career Pathways still lacks permanent funding and has yet to establish the necessary system of referrals and partnerships, according to <a href="https://nycfuture.org/research/building-the-workforce-of-the-future" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> released by Center for an Urban Future in 2016.</p> <p>The oversight hearing will likely include an update on the status of the Career Pathways program from the city’s Department of Small Business Services and testimony from Stacy Woodruff of the Workforce Professionals Training Institute on changes within the job market, according to Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., chair of the Committee on Small Business.</p> <p>“November’s small business committee hearing will be geared towards gaining a better understanding of the progress of the Career Pathways program announced in 2014. As New York’s economy continues to evolve, it is essential we understand the ways in which we can anticipate that evolution and ensure we prepare New Yorkers for the jobs that will come along with it,” said Cornegy, whose committee will co-host the hearing with the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, chaired by Council Member Daneek Miller.</p> <p>Earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio announced a new plan to use city resources to spur 100,000 new, good-paying jobs, with an emphasis on making sure that current city residents and those who have long-lived in the city are able to fill the new jobs. The Career Pathways program is seen by many in economic development and job training circles as key to this effort, but experts say that it has been underfunded by the de Blasio administration.</p> <p>Under this City Council, a bill was passed and signed by the mayor in 2016 to establish a separate Department of Veterans Affairs, outside of the Mayor’s Office. The new department has a much bigger staff and budget than the old Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs, and works to place veterans in jobs through Workforce1 centers, reduce homelessness among military veterans, connect veterans to benefits and services, including mental health care. An oversight meeting on Monday, November 20 will see discussion of the city’s progress in providing mental health services for veterans.</p> <p>The hearing will be co-hosted by the Committee on Mental Health, chaired by Council Member Andrew Cohen, and the Committee on Veterans, chaired by Council Member Eric Ulrich.</p> <p>“This is the end of the City Council session so it’s the last opportunity to check in here on the status of the newly created Department of Veterans, the overall services available to veterans. I’d like to make an inquiry into the nexus between Thrive[NYC] and our veterans, the number of veterans being serviced through Thrive and just kind of an overall taking the temperature of where we’re at in terms of connecting veterans with mental health services,” said Cohen, referring to the de Blasio administration’s large mental health care program spearheaded by First Lady Chirlane McCray.</p> <p>Also slated for the City Council calendar is an oversight meeting on Tuesday, November 21 to discuss “the feasibility of microgrids.” Local energy grids capable of disconnecting from central power sources and operating autonomously, microgrids are used to provide power when the traditional grid has been compromised by an emergency or major power outage. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which left 800,000 city residents without power, microgrids could offer an important alternative in helping deal with future storms.</p> <p>Such grids also enable greater use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, potentially allowing city residents more flexibility in their energy sources. “These types of small electricity grids have the potential to change the way we generate and consume power “ said Council Member Costa Constantinides, chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, in a statement to Gotham Gazette about the hearing, which his committee will host in conjunction with the Committee on Consumer Affairs, chaired by Council Member Rafael Espinal. “We hope to learn more about how microgrids could be implemented in our city, how consumers could save money on utility bills, and hear feedback from environmental advocacy groups,” said Constantinides.</p> <p>On Monday, November 20, the committees on housing and on general welfare will hold an oversight hearing on how the city’s housing department coordinates with the city’s homeless services department and its welfare agency “to address the homelessness crisis.”</p> <p>Other <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">scheduled</a>&nbsp;oversight hearings include: a public safety committee hearing on “NYPD’s School Safety’s Role and Efforts to Improve School Climate”; the committees on transportation and sanitation on “Private Sanitation Fleet Safety”; the committees on higher education and technology on “CUNY Tech Incubators”; the committees on health and immigration on “Immigrant Access to Healthcare”; the governmental operations committee on “DCAS’s Energy Management and Energy Efficiency Initiatives”; the economic development committee on “NYC’s Sagging Air Cargo Industry”; the recovery and resiliency committee on “Update on assisting vulnerable populations in emergency evacuations”; the juvenile justice committee on “Trauma-Informed Services in the Juvenile Justice System”; the contracts committee on “Examining Existing Supports and Needs of Underrepresented Business Owners in City Procurement”; and the aging committee on “Supporting Unpaid Caregivers.”</p> <p>(Note: be sure to re-check <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Council calendar</a> as hearings are often postponed or canceled.)</p> <p>(Note: this article has been updated with information about an additional hearing.)</p> <p>

***
by Grace Dixon for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

&nbsp;</p>
The Right to Know Act and the City Council Speaker Race 2017-11-08T05:00:00+00:00 2017-11-08T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7310:the-right-to-know-act-and-the-council-speaker-race Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/jumaane-williams-rtkar.jpg" alt="jumaane williams rtkar" /></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Jumaane Williams at a Right to Know Act rally (Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</span></p> <hr /> <p>In less than two months, the current class of the New York City Council ends its term, and eight incumbents who won reelection on Tuesday are running to lead the 51-member legislative body as its next speaker. It is an internal race influenced by county party affiliates, labor unions, Mayor Bill de Blasio, himself newly reelected, and others.</p> <p>As the clock ticks on this term and the speakership of Melissa Mark-Viverito, a de Blasio ally who is term-limited out of office, a particular package of controversial legislation offers an especially delicate situation for Mark-Viverito, de Blasio, and the speaker candidates, most notably the one, Ritchie Torres, who is a prime sponsor of the bills.</p> <p>Each of the eight speaker candidates -- Council Members Torres, Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Donovan Richards, Jimmy Van Bramer, Robert Cornegy, Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams -- is a co-sponsor on the two police reform bills, collectively called the Right to Know Act, which puts them at odds with the mayor, who has ardently opposed the legislation, and with Mark-Viverito, who has refused to allow it to come to a vote. Instead, Mark-Viverito and the NYPD announced an agreement on administrative changes whereby the police department agreed to implement pieces of the bills, but without the power of law.</p> <p>As the Council readies for an expected end-of-term legislative blitz, supporters of the bills from inside and outside the Council are pushing for passage, potentially setting up the next speaker, the second-most powerful elected official in the city, to take office having already courted conflict with the mayor and potentially establishing a new dynamic between the heads of the executive and legislative branches of city government. It puts Torres in a particularly awkward position of having to possibly decide whether to buck advocates and co-sponsors or the mayor and the speaker and those members who would rather not have to vote on the measure.</p> <p>De Blasio has yet to use a veto during his four years as mayor, with virtually every contentious piece of legislation either being negotiated to agreement between the mayor and the Council or scuttled.</p> <p>The bills in question include <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1681129&amp;GUID=F650527A-AA60-49DB-8A02-97E9C4A0CBDE&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=int+182" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 182</a>, sponsored by Council Member Torres, putting him in unique position among the speaker candidates, which requires police officers to identify themselves during a street stop, and <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2015555&amp;GUID=652280A4-40A6-44C4-A6AF-8EF4717BD8D6&amp;Options=ID%7cText%7c&amp;Search=nypd" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 541</a>, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, mandating that officers inform individuals of their right to refuse consent to a search in cases that it is required and to provide audio or written proof if an individual consents to a search. Unsurprisingly, the legislation was met with strong resistance from the NYPD, whose leadership has often been critical of the City Council’s attempts to legislate its practices and believes the bills would hamper officers’ abilities to do their jobs.</p> <p>In July last year, Mark-Viverito struck a compromise with the police department to implement certain provisions of the bills, foregoing a vote, despite the fact that the bills had and continue to have support from a majority of the Council. Police reform advocates were incensed by what they saw as a backroom deal and questioned the speaker’s willingness to stand up to de Blasio.</p> <p>Six of the eight speaker candidates -- Johnson and Cornegy did not respond to requests for comment for this article -- said the speaker’s race would not affect their support for the Right to Know Act and that the legislation would likely not affect the speaker’s race. But they also agreed that any speaker must demonstrate their independence from the mayor, and supporting these police reforms can do just that.</p> <p>“I can assure you that the speaker’s race has no bearing on how I will conduct myself on the subject of the Right to Know,” said Torres, in a phone interview. “One has nothing to do with the other.” Torres and Reynoso have held off on using a discharge through committee, a procedural tool that would allow them to bypass a committee vote and bring their bills directly to the floor of the Council, despite the urging of police reform advocacy groups such as Communities United for Police Reform (CPR).</p> <p>“I never shy away from challenging authority but for me it’s more about finding the right solution,” Torres said, insisting that he would rather negotiate with the police department to amend the bills and get them passed. “There’s greater value in passing legislation with the buy-in of an agency than doing so in the face of hysterical opposition. In the end, if one side refuses to negotiate in good faith, then of course I reserve the right to discharge and I have no hesitation about exercising that right. But I will do so only when necessary.”</p> <p>When asked if, in the context of Right to Know, Speaker Mark-Viverito had been sufficiently independent of the mayor and whether the next speaker should be more independent, Torres bluntly said, “‘No’ to your first question and ‘yes’ to your second question.”</p> <p>The other speaker candidates, even as they stood for the virtues of the Right to Know Act, did not criticize Mark-Viverito, who has been noncommittal on whether the two bills are moving closer to a vote. She has insisted that the Council is continuing internal conversations with the bill sponsors and the NYPD, and that the body has been assessing the implementation of the administrative changes agreed to last year. “We have been in dialogue, very recent dialogue with advocates, with the police department, with the sponsors of the bill,” she said at a recent news conference. “There’s been a lot of conversation, so we’re still going through our process.”</p> <p>Asked if she’d encourage Torres and Reynoso to exercise their prerogative to discharge the bills, she simply said, “We’re going through the process with those bills.”</p> <p>When asked repeatedly at that press conference what specifically she and the Council were doing to monitor the administrative implementation, Mark-Viverito gave vague answers about ongoing conversations.</p> <p><a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/11/01/council-members-could-push-right-to-know-over-objections-from-de-blasio-115423" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a> reported last week that supporters of the bills are hoping to bring them to a vote by November 16, since a vote after that would leave insufficient time to override a veto by the mayor. Police reform groups have also called on the bill sponsors, Torres and Reynoso, to ensure passage or discharge the bills through committee by that deadline.</p> <p>“Our primary concern with the [next] speaker is really making sure that they’re going to be a person who supports these reforms and future reforms and make sure that New Yorkers are having interactions with police that make sense and don’t violate their rights,” said Anthonine Pierre, deputy director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, a nonprofit that is a member of the Communities United for Police Reform coalition. Advocates have been supportive of Torres and Reynoso, but appear to be reaching a point of frustration.</p> <p>As was the case with police reform advocates, many on the Council were disappointed by the speaker’s decision to strike a bargain with the NYPD in lieu of a legislative solution. But, besides Torres, most other speaker candidates defended Mark-Viverito’s record of being independent, while yet others spoke of how they would handle the speakership themselves.</p> <p>Council Member Levine believes the bills will hardly play a role in the speaker race as he expects they’ll be resolved before the end of the year. “I believe that there will be a way for the bills to move forward with buy-in from the people that will be implementing it, the [police department], and that that will be settled before we have a new speaker,” he said in a phone interview. &nbsp;</p> <p>He defended Mark-Viverito’s leadership over the process involving the Right to Know. “I think she should be given credit for working very very hard on this issue, both on the policy and legislative front,” Levine said.</p> <p>He emphasized that the Council has been independent of the mayor, pushing him on issues such as funding for 1,300 new police officers and free legal assistance in housing court, which he championed. And he noted that the speaker will be chosen only by the 51 members of the Council. “It’s just so important that the Council emerge as a totally independent body, a co-equal branch of government, and that’s definitely my vision for the speakership,” he said.</p> <p>Council Member Rodriguez hopes to see movement on the bills but would only comment on “who I would be as speaker,” briefly mentioning that he would expand the oversight role of committee chairs. “The speaker should be a person that defends the independent voice of the Council,” he said.</p> <p>Council Member Van Bramer said the speaker race “is an opportunity to elevate the conversation” around Right to Know, which he said should pass on its merits regardless of the race. He said he would move the bills to a vote, given he is elected speaker, if they do not pass this year. “I think that it’s really important that the speaker be a counter-balance to the mayor,” he said. “I think the body is looking for an independent and forceful speaker who’s gonna be able to represent the members and represent the interests of the members and I think I’ve demonstrated in the past that while we certainly work together, when I disagree with the mayor, I’m not afraid to disagree with the mayor and disagree strongly.”</p> <p>Council Member Williams spoke briefly with Gotham Gazette at City Hall and only said that he was following the lead of the Right to Know sponsors. “I continue to support it, I hope it gets passed,” he said.</p> <p>Council Member Richards said Right to Know is part of a criminal justice reform discussion that would continue over the next four years, no matter who becomes the Council’s leader. “You know even as Melissa leaves, as we continue to move forward over the next four years, this issue does not die,” he said. “The need for reform is gonna be something continuous.”</p> <p>He also stressed that Right to Know has not languished because of a lack of independence either by the speaker or the Council. “I think it’s a question of trying to shape and get something done. And the Council has the ability to pass legislation whether the mayor supports it or not, but we also want to make sure that we’re doing it in a responsible fashion and we’re trying to reach a medium that is doable,” Richards said, “to make sure that, one, our community is getting the greatest benefit of transparency, but secondly also in a way that ensures that we’re not also going to harm officers’ ability to do their job as well.”</p> <p>Council Member Rory Lancman, a vocal critic of the de Blasio administration on criminal justice issues, is also a co-sponsor of the Right to Know Act which, he said, “is a good lens through which to evaluate the speaker candidates,” and their ability to stand up to the mayor.</p> <p>“The issue of are you for or against the Right to Know Act isn’t a factor in the speaker’s race because everybody’s for it,” he said. “What is an issue is whether or not you as a speaker will allow bills that make you or the administration uncomfortable come to the floor for a vote. That is an important test of the speaker candidates and I think it is the main issue that each speaker candidate has to address because philosophically, ideologically, substantively there’s not much of a difference among the eight of them in terms of what they stand for.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/jumaane-williams-rtkar.jpg" alt="jumaane williams rtkar" /></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Jumaane Williams at a Right to Know Act rally (Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</span></p> <hr /> <p>In less than two months, the current class of the New York City Council ends its term, and eight incumbents who won reelection on Tuesday are running to lead the 51-member legislative body as its next speaker. It is an internal race influenced by county party affiliates, labor unions, Mayor Bill de Blasio, himself newly reelected, and others.</p> <p>As the clock ticks on this term and the speakership of Melissa Mark-Viverito, a de Blasio ally who is term-limited out of office, a particular package of controversial legislation offers an especially delicate situation for Mark-Viverito, de Blasio, and the speaker candidates, most notably the one, Ritchie Torres, who is a prime sponsor of the bills.</p> <p>Each of the eight speaker candidates -- Council Members Torres, Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Donovan Richards, Jimmy Van Bramer, Robert Cornegy, Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams -- is a co-sponsor on the two police reform bills, collectively called the Right to Know Act, which puts them at odds with the mayor, who has ardently opposed the legislation, and with Mark-Viverito, who has refused to allow it to come to a vote. Instead, Mark-Viverito and the NYPD announced an agreement on administrative changes whereby the police department agreed to implement pieces of the bills, but without the power of law.</p> <p>As the Council readies for an expected end-of-term legislative blitz, supporters of the bills from inside and outside the Council are pushing for passage, potentially setting up the next speaker, the second-most powerful elected official in the city, to take office having already courted conflict with the mayor and potentially establishing a new dynamic between the heads of the executive and legislative branches of city government. It puts Torres in a particularly awkward position of having to possibly decide whether to buck advocates and co-sponsors or the mayor and the speaker and those members who would rather not have to vote on the measure.</p> <p>De Blasio has yet to use a veto during his four years as mayor, with virtually every contentious piece of legislation either being negotiated to agreement between the mayor and the Council or scuttled.</p> <p>The bills in question include <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1681129&amp;GUID=F650527A-AA60-49DB-8A02-97E9C4A0CBDE&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=int+182" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 182</a>, sponsored by Council Member Torres, putting him in unique position among the speaker candidates, which requires police officers to identify themselves during a street stop, and <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2015555&amp;GUID=652280A4-40A6-44C4-A6AF-8EF4717BD8D6&amp;Options=ID%7cText%7c&amp;Search=nypd" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 541</a>, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, mandating that officers inform individuals of their right to refuse consent to a search in cases that it is required and to provide audio or written proof if an individual consents to a search. Unsurprisingly, the legislation was met with strong resistance from the NYPD, whose leadership has often been critical of the City Council’s attempts to legislate its practices and believes the bills would hamper officers’ abilities to do their jobs.</p> <p>In July last year, Mark-Viverito struck a compromise with the police department to implement certain provisions of the bills, foregoing a vote, despite the fact that the bills had and continue to have support from a majority of the Council. Police reform advocates were incensed by what they saw as a backroom deal and questioned the speaker’s willingness to stand up to de Blasio.</p> <p>Six of the eight speaker candidates -- Johnson and Cornegy did not respond to requests for comment for this article -- said the speaker’s race would not affect their support for the Right to Know Act and that the legislation would likely not affect the speaker’s race. But they also agreed that any speaker must demonstrate their independence from the mayor, and supporting these police reforms can do just that.</p> <p>“I can assure you that the speaker’s race has no bearing on how I will conduct myself on the subject of the Right to Know,” said Torres, in a phone interview. “One has nothing to do with the other.” Torres and Reynoso have held off on using a discharge through committee, a procedural tool that would allow them to bypass a committee vote and bring their bills directly to the floor of the Council, despite the urging of police reform advocacy groups such as Communities United for Police Reform (CPR).</p> <p>“I never shy away from challenging authority but for me it’s more about finding the right solution,” Torres said, insisting that he would rather negotiate with the police department to amend the bills and get them passed. “There’s greater value in passing legislation with the buy-in of an agency than doing so in the face of hysterical opposition. In the end, if one side refuses to negotiate in good faith, then of course I reserve the right to discharge and I have no hesitation about exercising that right. But I will do so only when necessary.”</p> <p>When asked if, in the context of Right to Know, Speaker Mark-Viverito had been sufficiently independent of the mayor and whether the next speaker should be more independent, Torres bluntly said, “‘No’ to your first question and ‘yes’ to your second question.”</p> <p>The other speaker candidates, even as they stood for the virtues of the Right to Know Act, did not criticize Mark-Viverito, who has been noncommittal on whether the two bills are moving closer to a vote. She has insisted that the Council is continuing internal conversations with the bill sponsors and the NYPD, and that the body has been assessing the implementation of the administrative changes agreed to last year. “We have been in dialogue, very recent dialogue with advocates, with the police department, with the sponsors of the bill,” she said at a recent news conference. “There’s been a lot of conversation, so we’re still going through our process.”</p> <p>Asked if she’d encourage Torres and Reynoso to exercise their prerogative to discharge the bills, she simply said, “We’re going through the process with those bills.”</p> <p>When asked repeatedly at that press conference what specifically she and the Council were doing to monitor the administrative implementation, Mark-Viverito gave vague answers about ongoing conversations.</p> <p><a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/11/01/council-members-could-push-right-to-know-over-objections-from-de-blasio-115423" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a> reported last week that supporters of the bills are hoping to bring them to a vote by November 16, since a vote after that would leave insufficient time to override a veto by the mayor. Police reform groups have also called on the bill sponsors, Torres and Reynoso, to ensure passage or discharge the bills through committee by that deadline.</p> <p>“Our primary concern with the [next] speaker is really making sure that they’re going to be a person who supports these reforms and future reforms and make sure that New Yorkers are having interactions with police that make sense and don’t violate their rights,” said Anthonine Pierre, deputy director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, a nonprofit that is a member of the Communities United for Police Reform coalition. Advocates have been supportive of Torres and Reynoso, but appear to be reaching a point of frustration.</p> <p>As was the case with police reform advocates, many on the Council were disappointed by the speaker’s decision to strike a bargain with the NYPD in lieu of a legislative solution. But, besides Torres, most other speaker candidates defended Mark-Viverito’s record of being independent, while yet others spoke of how they would handle the speakership themselves.</p> <p>Council Member Levine believes the bills will hardly play a role in the speaker race as he expects they’ll be resolved before the end of the year. “I believe that there will be a way for the bills to move forward with buy-in from the people that will be implementing it, the [police department], and that that will be settled before we have a new speaker,” he said in a phone interview. &nbsp;</p> <p>He defended Mark-Viverito’s leadership over the process involving the Right to Know. “I think she should be given credit for working very very hard on this issue, both on the policy and legislative front,” Levine said.</p> <p>He emphasized that the Council has been independent of the mayor, pushing him on issues such as funding for 1,300 new police officers and free legal assistance in housing court, which he championed. And he noted that the speaker will be chosen only by the 51 members of the Council. “It’s just so important that the Council emerge as a totally independent body, a co-equal branch of government, and that’s definitely my vision for the speakership,” he said.</p> <p>Council Member Rodriguez hopes to see movement on the bills but would only comment on “who I would be as speaker,” briefly mentioning that he would expand the oversight role of committee chairs. “The speaker should be a person that defends the independent voice of the Council,” he said.</p> <p>Council Member Van Bramer said the speaker race “is an opportunity to elevate the conversation” around Right to Know, which he said should pass on its merits regardless of the race. He said he would move the bills to a vote, given he is elected speaker, if they do not pass this year. “I think that it’s really important that the speaker be a counter-balance to the mayor,” he said. “I think the body is looking for an independent and forceful speaker who’s gonna be able to represent the members and represent the interests of the members and I think I’ve demonstrated in the past that while we certainly work together, when I disagree with the mayor, I’m not afraid to disagree with the mayor and disagree strongly.”</p> <p>Council Member Williams spoke briefly with Gotham Gazette at City Hall and only said that he was following the lead of the Right to Know sponsors. “I continue to support it, I hope it gets passed,” he said.</p> <p>Council Member Richards said Right to Know is part of a criminal justice reform discussion that would continue over the next four years, no matter who becomes the Council’s leader. “You know even as Melissa leaves, as we continue to move forward over the next four years, this issue does not die,” he said. “The need for reform is gonna be something continuous.”</p> <p>He also stressed that Right to Know has not languished because of a lack of independence either by the speaker or the Council. “I think it’s a question of trying to shape and get something done. And the Council has the ability to pass legislation whether the mayor supports it or not, but we also want to make sure that we’re doing it in a responsible fashion and we’re trying to reach a medium that is doable,” Richards said, “to make sure that, one, our community is getting the greatest benefit of transparency, but secondly also in a way that ensures that we’re not also going to harm officers’ ability to do their job as well.”</p> <p>Council Member Rory Lancman, a vocal critic of the de Blasio administration on criminal justice issues, is also a co-sponsor of the Right to Know Act which, he said, “is a good lens through which to evaluate the speaker candidates,” and their ability to stand up to the mayor.</p> <p>“The issue of are you for or against the Right to Know Act isn’t a factor in the speaker’s race because everybody’s for it,” he said. “What is an issue is whether or not you as a speaker will allow bills that make you or the administration uncomfortable come to the floor for a vote. That is an important test of the speaker candidates and I think it is the main issue that each speaker candidate has to address because philosophically, ideologically, substantively there’s not much of a difference among the eight of them in terms of what they stand for.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Members, with Notable Exceptions, Send Letter to MTA Supporting De Blasio Tax Plan 2017-10-26T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-26T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7278:city-council-members-with-notable-exceptions-send-letter-to-mta-supporting-de-blasio-tax-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/35262821353_c6f7cf023c_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio subway tax" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>De Blasio on the train (Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Amid an ongoing feud -- between the Mayor Bill de Blasio on one side and Governor Andrew Cuomo and the MTA on the other -- over funding for mass transit infrastructure in New York City, 27 New York City Council Members on Thursday announced support for the mayor’s proposal to tax wealthy New Yorkers to raise money for subway and bus improvements.</p> <p>The mayor has pitched a tax increase on the top-most earners in the city as part of his “Fair Fix” plan, which would raise about $700 million in 2018 from 32,000 city residents, according to the de Blasio administration. That figure would rise to $820 million annually by 2022, according to city estimates, by increasing the highest income tax rate from 3.876 percent to 4.41 percent for individuals making more than $500,000 a year and couples making more than $1 million.</p> <p>The revenue would be used for the subways and buses, but also to fund the “fair fares” plan to subsidize half-priced MetroCards for the city’s lowest-income residents, something de Blasio has expressed support for in principle, but refused to fund out of city budget money while saying it should be the responsibility of the state-controlled MTA.</p> <p>More than half the 51-member City Council, including five of the seven members running to be the next speaker, backed the plan in a letter to MTA Chair Joe Lhota and the MTA board, on which the New York City Mayor has four appointees of the 14 seats (the Governor has a plurality of six and also appoints the chair). However, two leading speaker contenders did not sign, nor did current Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, though she has expressed support for de Blasio’s plan.</p> <p>“It’s called the Fair Fix because rather than ask working New Yorkers already feeling the pressure of rising fares and bad service to foot the bill on their own, we are asking the millionaires and billionaires in our city to chip in a little extra to help move our transit system that helps make them some of the wealthiest people in the world,” reads the letter, which was sent out by Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer’s office. “This plan is the right approach and it must advance without delay.”</p> <p>“We need more cost-effective capital construction for the MTA and must think of ways to generate more revenue for the exclusive purpose of bringing our mass transit system to the 21st-century,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the transportation committee, in a statement Thursday. “I am confident that Fair Fix, along with other plans proposed at the city and state levels, would raise desperately needed funds for a sustainable plan of improvements.”</p> <p>Of the new revenue raised from the mayor’s proposal, $500 million would be dedicated each year to capital infrastructure improvements and the city estimates that it would allow them to borrow about $8 billion more for upgrades. At least $250 million would help provide half-price MetroCards for 800,000 low-income New Yorkers, which is based on the “Fair Fares” proposal created by a group of transit advocates who insisted that the city fund those MetroCards in the budget this year. De Blasio refused to add Fair Fares to the budget, even eschewing a smaller pilot proposal made by the City Council, but included it later in his tax increase proposal, insisting throughout that the state should bear the burden.</p> <p>Any tax increases are seen as unlikely to move through Albany, especially during a state-level election year, which 2018 is, due to opposition from both Gov. Cuomo, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled state Senate. De Blasio and all 27 signers of the new letter are Democrats.</p> <p>The 27 Council Members who support that notion include most of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, with a few notable exceptions. Speaker Mark-Viverito did not sign the letter, nor did Council Members Corey Johnson and Mark Levine, both of whom are prominent speaker candidates. Robin Levine, a spokesperson for Mark-Viverito, said in an email, “The MTA is in need of immediate fixing and the Speaker has long supported both the millionaire’s and commuter taxes.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Council Member Johnson did not return a request for comment on why he did not sign the letter.</p> <p>“I'm fully supportive of the millionaires tax as I believe we desperately need new revenue for the transportation system, which is also why I support congestion pricing,” said Levine in an email. “I didn't sign on to the letter because Joe Lhota and the MTA board don't control the income tax rate.”</p> <p>De Blasio has been an ardent opponent of a congestion pricing scheme, some version of which Cuomo has indicated he will offer in January when he unveils his executive budget proposal and the state’s legislative session begins. Congestion pricing typically includes mechanisms to raise money for mass transit while altering the city’s toll system and implementing measures to reduce street congestion in Manhattan.</p> <p>The fate of de Blasio’s proposal is largely uncertain. It would have to be approved by the state Legislature, and Republicans who control the state Senate and have an acrimonious relationship with the progressive Democratic mayor have already thrown cold water on any tax increases. At the same time, the governor and MTA’s Lhota continue to pressure de Blasio to fund half of a $836 million emergency action plan for the city’s subways that Lhota unveiled shortly after retaking the helm at the MTA at a crisis point in subway service. De Blasio has refused, citing money that Cuomo has raided from the MTA and offering his tax plan.</p> <p>Cuomo has set up a task force to explore congestion pricing but did not initially invite de Blasio, or any other elected official from New York City, to join it. Cuomo made an invitation to de Blasio during a recent NY1 interview, which de Blasio shot down, with his spokesperson calling the task force a “charade” and the mayor saying it is set up for the governor’s own purposes. De Blasio has consistently rejected congestion pricing as a “regressive tax” that would hurt outer borough commuters, despite the facts that while the most prominent plan, Move New York, would institute tolls on the now-free East River bridges, it would also lower tolls on some bridges, and that car owners tend to be wealthier than those who solely rely on public transportation.</p> <p>“New Yorkers want real solutions and that's why they're rallying around the mayor's plan to ask the wealthiest 1% to chip in a little extra," said Austin Finan, a mayoral spokesman, in a statement when asked for a response to the City Council members’ letter.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/35262821353_c6f7cf023c_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio subway tax" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>De Blasio on the train (Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Amid an ongoing feud -- between the Mayor Bill de Blasio on one side and Governor Andrew Cuomo and the MTA on the other -- over funding for mass transit infrastructure in New York City, 27 New York City Council Members on Thursday announced support for the mayor’s proposal to tax wealthy New Yorkers to raise money for subway and bus improvements.</p> <p>The mayor has pitched a tax increase on the top-most earners in the city as part of his “Fair Fix” plan, which would raise about $700 million in 2018 from 32,000 city residents, according to the de Blasio administration. That figure would rise to $820 million annually by 2022, according to city estimates, by increasing the highest income tax rate from 3.876 percent to 4.41 percent for individuals making more than $500,000 a year and couples making more than $1 million.</p> <p>The revenue would be used for the subways and buses, but also to fund the “fair fares” plan to subsidize half-priced MetroCards for the city’s lowest-income residents, something de Blasio has expressed support for in principle, but refused to fund out of city budget money while saying it should be the responsibility of the state-controlled MTA.</p> <p>More than half the 51-member City Council, including five of the seven members running to be the next speaker, backed the plan in a letter to MTA Chair Joe Lhota and the MTA board, on which the New York City Mayor has four appointees of the 14 seats (the Governor has a plurality of six and also appoints the chair). However, two leading speaker contenders did not sign, nor did current Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, though she has expressed support for de Blasio’s plan.</p> <p>“It’s called the Fair Fix because rather than ask working New Yorkers already feeling the pressure of rising fares and bad service to foot the bill on their own, we are asking the millionaires and billionaires in our city to chip in a little extra to help move our transit system that helps make them some of the wealthiest people in the world,” reads the letter, which was sent out by Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer’s office. “This plan is the right approach and it must advance without delay.”</p> <p>“We need more cost-effective capital construction for the MTA and must think of ways to generate more revenue for the exclusive purpose of bringing our mass transit system to the 21st-century,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the transportation committee, in a statement Thursday. “I am confident that Fair Fix, along with other plans proposed at the city and state levels, would raise desperately needed funds for a sustainable plan of improvements.”</p> <p>Of the new revenue raised from the mayor’s proposal, $500 million would be dedicated each year to capital infrastructure improvements and the city estimates that it would allow them to borrow about $8 billion more for upgrades. At least $250 million would help provide half-price MetroCards for 800,000 low-income New Yorkers, which is based on the “Fair Fares” proposal created by a group of transit advocates who insisted that the city fund those MetroCards in the budget this year. De Blasio refused to add Fair Fares to the budget, even eschewing a smaller pilot proposal made by the City Council, but included it later in his tax increase proposal, insisting throughout that the state should bear the burden.</p> <p>Any tax increases are seen as unlikely to move through Albany, especially during a state-level election year, which 2018 is, due to opposition from both Gov. Cuomo, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled state Senate. De Blasio and all 27 signers of the new letter are Democrats.</p> <p>The 27 Council Members who support that notion include most of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, with a few notable exceptions. Speaker Mark-Viverito did not sign the letter, nor did Council Members Corey Johnson and Mark Levine, both of whom are prominent speaker candidates. Robin Levine, a spokesperson for Mark-Viverito, said in an email, “The MTA is in need of immediate fixing and the Speaker has long supported both the millionaire’s and commuter taxes.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Council Member Johnson did not return a request for comment on why he did not sign the letter.</p> <p>“I'm fully supportive of the millionaires tax as I believe we desperately need new revenue for the transportation system, which is also why I support congestion pricing,” said Levine in an email. “I didn't sign on to the letter because Joe Lhota and the MTA board don't control the income tax rate.”</p> <p>De Blasio has been an ardent opponent of a congestion pricing scheme, some version of which Cuomo has indicated he will offer in January when he unveils his executive budget proposal and the state’s legislative session begins. Congestion pricing typically includes mechanisms to raise money for mass transit while altering the city’s toll system and implementing measures to reduce street congestion in Manhattan.</p> <p>The fate of de Blasio’s proposal is largely uncertain. It would have to be approved by the state Legislature, and Republicans who control the state Senate and have an acrimonious relationship with the progressive Democratic mayor have already thrown cold water on any tax increases. At the same time, the governor and MTA’s Lhota continue to pressure de Blasio to fund half of a $836 million emergency action plan for the city’s subways that Lhota unveiled shortly after retaking the helm at the MTA at a crisis point in subway service. De Blasio has refused, citing money that Cuomo has raided from the MTA and offering his tax plan.</p> <p>Cuomo has set up a task force to explore congestion pricing but did not initially invite de Blasio, or any other elected official from New York City, to join it. Cuomo made an invitation to de Blasio during a recent NY1 interview, which de Blasio shot down, with his spokesperson calling the task force a “charade” and the mayor saying it is set up for the governor’s own purposes. De Blasio has consistently rejected congestion pricing as a “regressive tax” that would hurt outer borough commuters, despite the facts that while the most prominent plan, Move New York, would institute tolls on the now-free East River bridges, it would also lower tolls on some bridges, and that car owners tend to be wealthier than those who solely rely on public transportation.</p> <p>“New Yorkers want real solutions and that's why they're rallying around the mayor's plan to ask the wealthiest 1% to chip in a little extra," said Austin Finan, a mayoral spokesman, in a statement when asked for a response to the City Council members’ letter.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio’s Record on Ethics and Transparency 2017-10-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7258:de-blasio-s-record-on-ethics-and-transparency Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/36293022713_309bde7089_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio City Hall " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong><em>This article is part of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a> as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>It is a source of great frustration for Mayor Bill de Blasio and hangs over his administration and reelection bid as an albatross. Observers across the political spectrum, including Democratic and Republican opponents in this year’s mayoral race, have attacked de Blasio for blurring or crossing ethical lines, and for lacking transparency.</p> <p>De Blasio rode into power promising the most transparent administration in the city’s history, but his nearly four years in office have been marked by continuing questions and controversies over both his administration’s opaqueness and ethics, highlighted by twin law enforcement investigations into fundraising practices and government favors for campaign donors. The incumbent Democratic mayor, seeking reelection this fall, has repeatedly argued that he and his associates have carried themselves ethically and that he has done more disclosure than his predecessors and other high-level officials.</p> <p>Yet, along with his electoral opponents, political observers, government reform advocates, and City Council members also say de Blasio’s rhetoric has not been backed by action and that his record on transparency and ethics has been, at best, a mixed bag.</p> <p>In endorsing him in the Democratic primary, the New York Times editorial board <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/05/opinion/editorials/mayoral-endorsement-bill-deblasio.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, “A political operative before he ran for public office, Mr. de Blasio has not shaken free of detractors’ suspicions about his ethical compass. He was subjected to both federal and state investigations into whether he presides over a pay-to-play system that favors well-heeled donors seeking favors from City Hall. Ultimately, no charges were brought against him or his aides. Though the mayor declared he had been vindicated, the Manhattan district attorney concluded that some of his fund-raising appeared to have violated “the intent and spirit” of the law. That’s a far cry from Mr. de Blasio’s claim to have been pronounced “innocent.”</p> <p>De Blasio was indeed chastised by federal and state prosecutors, who, while they did not bring charges against him or his associates, investigated their actions and outlined problematic practices, some of which led to new city laws limiting certain fundraising activities that the mayor and his team engaged in. De Blasio has claimed that he and his aides have held themselves to the highest standards, but he has regularly raised those standards when pushed.</p> <p>Part of the mayor’s pushback against criticisms has been that he and his associates have always had good motives, like expanding pre-kindergarten, and that a political nonprofit his allies ran to support his agenda disclosed more than required. Though he has been dogged by questions from members of the media, de Blasio readily points out that regular New Yorkers don’t often ask him about his fundraising practices or release of email records when they have the opportunity to question him at town halls or radio call-in segments.</p> <p>“People never bring up the issues from the investigations, because I think there was a broad understanding in the public that there was an immense amount of scrutiny that found absolutely nothing wrong,” he said in a recent <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/09/bill-de-blasio-in-conversation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Magazine</a> interview, mischaracterizing the facts given that while no charges were brought, prosecutors did indicate that the mayor and his associates had blurred or crossed ethical lines. “Everyday New Yorkers are much more concerned with kitchen-table issues. Some political insiders, maybe they’ve come to certain conclusions. But for everyday New Yorkers? They didn’t see anything wrong, and they’re right, because there wasn’t anything wrong.”</p> <p>As de Blasio asks New Yorkers for four more years, ethics and transparency will continue to be a focus of criticism from his general election opponents and others, while the mayor will defend himself and attempt to point to stronger aspects of his record. But the record of how he and his administration have conducted themselves when it comes to playing by the rules, separating political fundraising and governing, and providing the public with both ethical and transparent government is very much worth chronicling and examining as voters evaluate their choices this November.</p> <p>Mayoral spokespeople Eric Phillips and Austin Finan agreed to speak with Gotham Gazette for this story, but, other than a brief conversation to discuss the premise of the article, no comment was provided.</p> <p>The most recent Quinnipiac University public opinion poll that included a question about de Blasio's&nbsp;ethics, published at the end of July, <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">showed</a> New York City voters saying 52 to 35 percent that he is honest and trustworthy, down from 59 to 31 percent in May. Still, the 52 was up from the lowest rating de Blasio has received in a Quinnipiac poll over his four years as mayor: amid intense controversy in May 2016, 43 percent <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/images/polling/nyc/nyc07312017_trends_N79jmpp.pdf/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> he is honest and trustworthy, while 45 percent said he is not. The highest de Blasio's honesty was rated by voters eight months into his tenure, when the balance was 66 to 22 in his favor.</p> <p><strong>Selective Transparency</strong><br /> In his former role as public advocate, de Blasio championed transparency and took the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to task for its apparent lack thereof. De Blasio disclosed meetings with lobbyists and implemented tools to track Freedom of Information Law requests, while criticizing the Bloomberg administration for its lax FOIL response time.</p> <p>Fast forward nearly four years and the same official who urged increased disclosure by Bloomberg has been reticent to show the same commitment in his own operations on FOIL responsiveness speed and other things like police discipline records and emails with top non-governmental advisors. For example, as public advocate, de Blasio recommended legislation requiring the mayor to include FOIL response statistics in the annual Mayor’s Management Report, but it is not something de Blasio has done as mayor himself.</p> <p>Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, de Blasio's second-in-command, recently conceded at a New York Law School breakfast that the administration could improve it's record on FOIL requests. "I don't think we've done as good as job on that as we could have," he said, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/10/13/de-blasio-deputy-mayor-says-blaming-predecessor-is-not-productive-115038" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York reported</a>. "But I can't tell you we've gotten good enough. ... Our open data initiative has been, I think, one of the stronger ones in the country. ... Fundamentally, the more data that we can put out there so people don't have to say, 'May I,' but can do their own analytics, is the way to do."</p> <p>On August 23, at the first of two mayoral debates in the Democratic primary, de Blasio was asked by debate panelist and NY1 reporter Grace Rauh about steps he would take to improve transparency in a second term, should he be reelected, or if he considered any improvements unnecessary. As he often does, the mayor disagreed with the premise of the question, and pivoted toward touting his record on transparency. “Anytime a lobbyist lobbied me on behalf of a third party I put that up online so that people know exactly who talked to me when. I did that,” de Blasio said. “No other mayor’s done that before in our history. I’m in favor of the kind of transparency that’s gonna make life different for everyday New Yorkers like body cameras for all of our patrol officers over the next two years. This is one of the ultimate acts of transparency and accountability in government.”</p> <p>He added, “Past administrations did not disclose all sorts of things. I’ve made it a point to be open about disclosure. Some areas where I disagree specifically I do not think it was appropriate to disclose but compared to previous administrations we’ve gone a long way and a lot farther in terms of openness and disclosure and transparency....No mayor previously had that level of transparency and I’m very proud of the fact that we put that in place in the city. When it comes to tough questions, well it’s a tough job as part of what I’d expect as mayor of New York City.”</p> <p>It was a far from satisfactory answer for de Blasio’s only opponent on the debate stage, former City Council Member Sal Albanese. “I’m just incredulous,” Albanese responded. “This administration is the least transparent administration in recent history,” he added (it is not an easy comparison to make).</p> <p>“We should have a higher standard for the mayor than not being indicted,” Albanese said repeatedly during the debates and the primary campaign.</p> <p>Government watchdog groups have also found that de Blasio reneged on his campaign pledges around core good governance, though there has been acknowledgement that the administration has implemented certain policies that have enhanced transparency, including related to data generated by city government.</p> <p>For instance, the city has continued and expanded the implementation of the Open Data law, launching a redesigned <a href="https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">online portal</a> with thousands of datasets available to the public. The administration has launched <a href="https://a860-openrecords.nyc.gov" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">OpenRECORDS</a>, a centralized website to file and track FOIL requests with numerous city agencies. These advancements, while notable, do not capture the full picture of mayoral transparency, however.</p> <p>Early on in his term, the mayor began limiting interactions with the press, eschewing the daily news briefings that previous mayors had traditionally held and restricting occasions when he would take “off-topic” questions. It earned him scorn from detractors in and out of the media, and, almost cyclically, reinforced his derision for reporters who grew frustrated with the dearth of unfettered, unscripted responses to their questions.</p> <p>“There’s a Trump-like quality in his whining about the media,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, CUNY. “He’s got the same disease as the President.”</p> <p>“There’s a lot the citizenry could find praiseworthy in his record,” Muzzio added, “but the two main issues are his transparency and political ethics, and his sense of self-aggrandizement where everything is ‘historic’ and ‘transformative.’ The problem is the distance between rhetoric and reality.”</p> <p>Muzzio also noted that the administration has released a lot more data than previous mayoralties, which has been useful for analysis of city agencies. “It’s the personal transparency, rather than institutional transparency, that’s lacking,” Muzzio said of de Blasio.</p> <p>One example of rhetoric versus reality was a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-defend-boastful-video-decried-watchdogs-article-1.2926739" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">promotional video</a> put out in December 2016 by City Hall that touted the administration’s accomplishments, as it was mired in the two investigations that had captured headlines for months. Good government groups criticized the mayor at the time for effectively putting out a campaign ad shortly before the start of an election year during which government-funded advertisements would have been prohibited. The mayor fielded questions about the ad for weeks and grew frustrated by another example of what he has perceived as reporters’ fixation on trivial matters at the expense of spreading all the “good news” that is happening as a result of his policies.</p> <p>At the August 23 debate, prompted by NY1’s Rauh, de Blasio pledged that he would not set up another issue-advocacy nonprofit like the Campaign for One New York, which was at the center of one of the two investigations into his administration. It was something the mayor had previously said he didn’t plan to do and had in fact signed a new law making virtually impossible. In making the pledge, he reiterated that he faced tough questions about his ethical conduct purely because he was willing to voluntarily disclose who had donated to the nonprofit group and how much.</p> <p>“If you know you did things right you disclose,” he said. “If you’ve got something to hide, you don’t disclose. That’s what we did over and over again with donations that we did not have a legal obligation to disclose but we went ahead and disclosed anyway and I’m proud of that fact.”</p> <p>But, the mayor’s approach to disclosure has been highly selective. For the better part of two years, media outlets have pushed, and NY1 and the New York Post even sued, the administration for access to emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and unpaid outside advisors. The mayor’s team has shielded those communications, terming the advisors “agents of the city” who would not be subject to disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law that typically apply to correspondence between government officials and non-government entities. Exceptions to FOIL exist for intra-governmental communication that is part of the decision-making process, but de Blasio and his team argued that the advisors were so close to City Hall and the mayor that they were de facto members of the administration.</p> <p>Eventually, the mayor relented to an extent, and troves of emails, numbering in the thousands and many of them significantly redacted, have been released on numerous occasions, usually in Friday “news dumps.” The administration is still in court appealing the decision to release the emails, but the mayor pledged in March to release all communications going forward. The emails have not shown wrongdoing, but rather painted the administration, and the mayor particularly, in an unflattering light at times. Some showed de Blasio’s harsh treatment of underlings while others revealed his proximity and degree of access afforded to donors, including controversial ones.</p> <p>Watchdogs have pointed out that with the Campaign for One New York and the “agents of the city,” de Blasio has created his own problems by blurring lines and limiting transparency. By inviting massive donations to the nonprofit from entities with city business, de Blasio opened the door to pay-to-play allegations, and even the federal investigation. Under intense scrutiny, the mayor wound up promising extensive evidence of donors who did not get favorable treatment from city government -- a promise he eventually admitted he regretted -- but after months of delays, he produced a column on the online publishing platform Medium that left many wanting for more detail.</p> <p><strong>Big Money for the ‘Right’ Causes</strong><br /> As public advocate, de Blasio urged big corporations to adopt policies against funding political action committees and organized elected officials dedicated to that cause. He filed a legal brief in federal court arguing against the removal of limits to donations to PACs and he railed against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed untold amounts of money from undisclosed donors to flood electoral campaigns.</p> <p>“Deep-pocketed donors have turned their sights on New York and our best-in-the-nation campaign finance system,” de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/PAC" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>, in a statement on Oct. 3, 2013, when he filed the amicus brief. “They’re determined to upend protections that have safeguarded our democratic process for decades. This is about more than one election. It’s about defending the voices of everyday New Yorkers. It’s a fight we are going to win.”</p> <p>While de Blasio has continued to rail against Citizens United and call for full public campaign financing, the mayor has not aggressively pursued such a system in New York and the same politician who has long decried wealthy moneyed interests influencing government relied on them to promote his own political agenda while mayor.</p> <p>De Blasio came into office with a come-from-behind primary win and a general election landslide. He had the wind at his back and attempted to take on the world, so to speak. This led to the creation of the controversial nonprofit and a 2014 effort to swing the state Senate Democratic that got him in trouble, along with other actions that have hurt his reputation for openness and clean government.</p> <p>Within a month of the mayor’s election, his allies set up a political nonprofit group called UPKNYC, later branded The Campaign for One New York, to promote the goal of universal pre-kindergarten in the city, which in part depended on state-level approval. After achieving its initial goal -- de Blasio favored a tax on the rich to fund the proposal but settled for direct funding from the state -- the group pivoted to promoting the mayor’s affordable housing plan. All along, the 501(c)4 organization solicited unlimited donations, many from wealthy donors and labor unions that also had business with the city. The group did voluntarily disclose its finances and donors every six months.</p> <p>Scrutiny of its activities, and the mayor’s fundraising for it and possible exchange of government favors, helped trigger one of the two separate corruption investigations, a federal probe into allegations of pay-to-play at City Hall --- the second was a state-level inquiry into whether the mayor’s attempt to sway state Senate races for Democratic candidates in 2014 had violated election law by funneling big donations to candidate campaigns through local Democratic committees.</p> <p>The mayor maintained throughout that he and his associates had acted under strict legal guidance and had followed the letter of the law, and both probes eventually concluded with no charges. But the stench of scandal remained as the Manhattan U.S. attorney concluded that the mayor, though not crossing into clear criminal activity, had sought contributions from donors and then had “made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies” on behalf of those donors.</p> <p>De Blasio defended this as typical practice and even good government -- that any constituent, whether a donor or not, who brings a concern to him is directed to someone in the administration who may be able to help, but that the relevant powers make decisions based on the merits, not relationships. What has been abundantly clear, however, is that de Blasio donors have enjoyed special access to and attention from the mayor and his administration.</p> <p>De Blasio also regularly made the case that the ends justified the means, that because he was fighting for universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing, his skirting of campaign finance rules and blurring of lines was acceptable. The contradiction became especially evident when de Blasio agreed to sign legislation pushed by the City Council, notably Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a close de Blasio ally, to drastically limit political nonprofits with ties to elected officials. De Blasio would explain that it was “the right thing to do” but did lament that he felt it might hamstring progressive politicians with good intentions like himself in the ongoing fight against opposing big-money interests.</p> <p>At the second Democratic mayoral primary debate on <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzIfDLHon-c" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">September 6</a>, debate moderator Maurice DuBois of CBS-2 put the mayor on his heels with the first question, about his apparent ethical failings. “Mr. de Blasio, here’s a true story,” DuBois began. “A political leader and his associates used pay-for-play tactics...but were not charged with a crime. However, state and federal prosecutors insist those people did violate the intent and spirit of the law. While there were no criminal charges, would you want people like that working for you?”</p> <p>A defensive de Blasio again stood by his administration’s efforts and the policy goals that they achieved, and insisted that he and his associates had been vindicated by the intense scrutiny by prosecutors that nevertheless found no wrongdoing. “I look at everything that we’ve done and I’m very convinced that high standards were kept to and the results speak for themselves in terms of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we’ve improved,” he said. “That’s what I came here to do, make people’s lives better.”</p> <p>Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, said she is “torn” over the mayor’s first-term scandals. “Part of me is just wondering, ‘is this the cost of doing business as a politician in the 21st century if you’re not a billionaire?’” she said, drawing a contrast with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg who did not have to depend on donors for his own campaigns. “Part of me thinks, ‘Well if you don’t have billions to contribute on your own, do you possibly have to get that from unsavory characters and make alliances and depend on people who have resources?’ But the other part of me wonders, ‘Wow, it seems like we’re always asking about some sort of potential wrongdoing.’”</p> <p>Greer’s conflict seems to be indicative of that of at least several prominent Democrats, including officials like Comptroller Scott Stringer, who criticized the Campaign for One New York as a “slush fund” but wound up endorsing the mayor for reelection, citing his progressivism in fighting inequality. For some time, Stringer was considering a mayoral run, either against de Blasio or in the event de Blasio did not seek reelection due to results from the investigations that did not materialize.</p> <p>Greer emphasized that de Blasio’s ethics record should not be conflated with his transparency, even though the two are sometimes drawn in “concentric circles.” She noted that de Blasio’s refusal to take questions from the press simply raises more concerns about what else he isn’t being transparent about. “I genuinely do not understand why there are times that de Blasio makes life much harder for himself than he has to...He brought that on himself,” she said. She did agree that perhaps everyday New Yorkers don’t care about issues of transparency that “get into the weeds,” but said he couldn’t dismiss the concerns of those who do. “By you not wanting to answer it, you can’t wish it away by saying nobody’s interested,” she said. “Yes, we are interested.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s criticism of and condescension towards the media was on full display in the <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">column</a> he wrote on Medium, where he attempted to defend himself against pay-to-play allegations and special access for donors. The column, promised by de Blasio more than a year prior, was meant to illustrate instances of donors who sought favors from the administration but were denied. In the face of allegations and investigations, de Blasio had promised “a whole lot of evidence” of donors not getting the action they desired from the city. De Blasio provided little evidence in his Medium column, but went after the media with gusto.</p> <p>“Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City,” de Blasio wrote of the coverage of his contact with donors. “Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>The column contained few examples and no names, and largely blamed the media for over-inflating the scandals that have plagued de Blasio’s tenure. “It was a non-explanation, he gave a few examples of dubious quality,” Muzzio said with an exasperated sigh, noting how the mayor looked down his nose at the press.</p> <p>Some top Democratic elected officials have been hesitant to criticize the mayor openly, save for Stringer and a few others. Public Advocate Letitia James, de Blasio’s successor and whose office is meant to serve as a watchdog over city government, declined to comment for this article through a spokesperson. James has largely stayed away from questions about de Blasio’s ethics and transparency issues, explaining her approach as more focused on the substance of agency work and using litigation and legislation to make policy change.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, ostensibly the second-most powerful elected official in the city, deflected when asked about the mayor’s defense of the Campaign for One New York and his transparency, at a news conference on Sept. 7, when the mayor’s ethics record was being argued over both on the primary election debate stage and throughout the ongoing race for mayor.</p> <p>“We continue to have conversations in this Council and we continue to look at legislation to figure out how we can be more transparent,” she said. “That doesn’t just fall on the mayor, that falls on all of us to be more transparent in government.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito emphasized the Council’s measures to improve the Campaign Finance Board’s functioning and the laws governing campaign fundraising and spending. “Being a candidate and being an elected official is not easy,” she said. “The CFB rules are extremely complicated to follow and sometimes to keep track of and so sometimes you can get a little bit lost in them.”</p> <p>When Gotham Gazette pointed out that the mayor’s Campaign for One New York operated outside of the CFB’s purview and asked if looking back on it she felt it was still ethical for the mayor to have created the group, Mark-Viverito said, “I’m not gonna respond to that at this moment. I haven’t really focused on it as of late. Again, what we strive to do is to be accountable to our constituents and that’s what I have been doing as an elected official, that’s what we do each and everyday and I’m gonna continue to strive down that path.”</p> <p>Though she was quite reticent to weigh in on the issue when it was most relevant, Mark-Viverito did eventually spearhead the writing and passage of the legislation to rein in groups like Campaign for One New York, forcing the mayor’s hand on a measure that ensures few like it will ever exist in the future, given several new restrictions, like severe limits on what entities with city business can donate to nonprofits closely associated with an elected official. Even during that legislative process, Mark-Viverito, largely a de Blasio ally, took pains not to criticize the mayor directly, while tacitly and legislatively showing her disapproval. In signing the legislation, de Blasio refused to acknowledge that he had made any mistakes, but touted it as good legislation further reigning in money in politics.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, who is among a number of members running to be the next speaker of the Council, also gave a quasi-defense of the mayor. “I think he has to be judged by the fact that there was extensive scrutiny with considerable resources at multiple levels of government, local and federal, that left no stone unturned and determined there was not ground to charge,” he told Gotham Gazette, “and that at the end of the day is the most important standard and one that he justifiably touts, particularly in light of the months of leaks which gave him bad press for issues which ultimately were not deemed sufficient to charge on.”</p> <p>But multiple City Council members, who did not wish to be named, felt differently. Separately, they gave similar opinions to one another, criticizing the mayor’s hypocrisy on transparency, his handling of the “agents of the city” emails, and his continued arrogance over escaping an indictment.</p> <p>One Council member said the mayor was “vulnerable” on issues of transparency and that he faced “justifiable criticism” over his shielding of his emails, which did not seem at all legally defensible. The months of bad headlines, said the Council member, led to a “bunker mentality” and the mayor and his associates dug in their heels deeper. (Indeed, de Blasio has reopened himself to many more press questions since the investigations ended.)</p> <p>Two Council members said the mayor’s shielding of his emails was largely an exercise in protecting his image rather than hiding instances of corruption. “It’s clear they are well aware of who their friends are,” said one member, of the mayor’s relationship with donors. The <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/emails-reveal-another-side-of-bill-de-blasio-1466038087" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wall Street Journal</a> has reported that the contents of some of the “agents of the city” emails are especially gossipy and embarrassing.</p> <p>Another Council member commended the press as the institution, more so than the City Council, that has most held the mayor accountable, and criticized the mayor for attacking the media’s reportage. The member noted that the Council did not use its subpoena power and did not act on the Campaign for One New York until after Common Cause NY, a good government group, filed an official complaint with the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>That Council member also critiqued the mayor for not revealing who administration officials hold meetings with, an issue on which de Blasio had campaigned, and for not fully implementing the online FOIL portal. On the mayor’s Medium post, the Council member said, “It’s a little too cute to tell folks exactly who did what without using their names.”</p> <p><strong>‘Backwards on Police Transparency’</strong><br /> In April 2013, then-Public Advocate de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/foil/report" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">released</a> a “Transparency Report Card” that evaluated 18 city agencies on their response to FOIL requests. The two agencies that received a failing grade were the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the NYPD. A <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/04/11/in-de-blasios-new-york-transparency-laws-mean-nothing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Village Voice</a> analysis from April of the de Blasio administration’s handling of FOIL records showed that little had changed in more than three years. “A review of thousands of pages of FOIL records shows the city’s system for handling public information requests remains haphazard, under-resourced, and often excruciatingly slow. And the mayor’s own office is the slowest of all,” the report reads.</p> <p>The mayor’s earlier criticism of the NYPD’s opaqueness perhaps most smacks of hypocrisy to police reform advocates who say his administration has not only not made progress, but actually backtracked on transparency at the police department. The NYPD, and then de Blasio, last year contended that successive administrations had for decades misinterpreted Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Code, which protects the personnel records of police officers from public disclosure. As the department saw it, the law prevents them from releasing “personnel orders” that summarize disciplinary actions taken against officers. These orders had routinely been released until the revised policy was put in place, and the city has fought tooth and nail to uphold its reinterpretation of the law, even appealing an unfavorable judicial ruling, and has pointed to the need for the state to change the law. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The de Blasio administration has taken the city backwards on police transparency and accountability with its misuse of state law 50-a to conceal information,” said Lumumba Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocacy groups. Bandele noted that, though the mayor released a proposal to change the law in Albany, there was little evidence that the administration made it a priority in this year’s legislative session. “On policing, this administration is misusing the law as an excuse for being less transparent than those of Bloomberg and Giuliani,” she added, “allowing the NYPD to shield police abuse and corruption from public scrutiny, and failing to provide leadership to improve police accountability and transparency.”</p> <p>The notion -- that the de Blasio administration has been worse about NYPD transparency and accountability -- is one that was also echoed this year by City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is a de Blasio supporter overall.</p> <p><strong>Scrutiny and Change</strong><br /> Undoubtedly, scrutiny of the mayor’s actions led to change in his behavior. He stopped communicating with top lobbyists who were close to him and began to limit government-related interaction with outside consultants, particularly Jonathan Rosen, a confidante who was involved in the mayor’s 2013 campaign and the Campaign for One New York, and whose firm is again working on the mayor’s 2017 reelection bid. The scandals also prompted the legislation by the City Council -- which the mayor signed into law -- regulating donations to nonprofit groups affiliated with elected officials and requiring disclosure by these groups under the oversight of the Conflicts of Interest Board. And, de Blasio changed his “agency of the city” email transparency policy as he continues to battle in court to keep past emails secret.</p> <p>But it’s unclear if the mayor, who won his primary handily and is expected to coast to reelection through the general, will take substantive steps to be more transparent. “[If] he gets a second term, I can’t see him as a lame duck being more transparent, so I think that’s a concern,” said Greer.</p> <p>There’s no doubt that de Blasio’s general election opponents, chiefly Republican Nicole Malliotakis, a state Assembly member from Staten Island, will continue to make de Blasio’s ethics a focus of the campaign. The question remains, though, how much voters care. Political analysts note that most voters do not vote based on transparency and ethics issues unless there is a major scandal that has led someone to jail. Voters often vote based on “pocket book” and “kitchen table” issues like jobs, schools, and crime -- a point de Blasio himself regularly acknowledges at least tacitly.</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, who was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation regulating political nonprofits, said it was more constructive to focus on the political system that allows, and in some way encourages, reliance on wealthy donors. “If we want elected officials in New York City to live up to a higher standard of good government, then the best approach is to strengthen our own rules,” he said. “That’s more valuable than focusing on individuals.”</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>A TIMELINE of MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS RELATED to MAYOR DE BLASIO'S RECORD on ETHICS and TRANSPARENCY</p> <p>November 2013: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio gets elected mayor of New York City after running a campaign in which he promised an unprecedented level of transparency in government. As Public Advocate, de Blasio issued a “Transparency Report Card” evaluating city agencies on their response to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. He chiefly criticized the NYPD for their lax FOIL response times, giving them a failing grade in his report.</p> <p>December 2013: De Blasio’s allies set up UPKNYC, also known as the Campaign for One New York, an issue-advocacy nonprofit -- classified by the IRS as 501(c)(4)s -- that could solicit unlimited contributions and spend unlimited funds to promote the mayor’s agenda, namely promoting universal pre-kindergarten. Under law, the nonprofit was not required to disclose its donors. The mayor’s associates later set up another nonprofit called United For Affordable NYC, to promote his affordable housing plan. The Campaign for One New York eventually became the locus of two parallel investigations by federal and state prosecutors into the mayor’s fundraising practices and his effort to sway state Senate races in 2014.</p> <p>July 2014: The Campaign for One New York voluntarily discloses its fundraising and donors to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and to the public, despite not being required to do so, showing $1.76 million in donations, a lot of which came from labor unions that have been big supporters of the mayor and from groups that do business with the city. The mayor faced scrutiny for allowing doing business donors to give unlimited amounts, whereas those same donors would’ve been limited in how much they could contribute to a campaign committee. The Campaign for One New York later shifted its focus towards the mayor’s larger progressive agenda, particularly affordable housing, after having already achieved the goal of funding universal pre-kindergarten in the city.</p> <p>May 2015: De Blasio heads to Washington D.C. to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/in-washington-de-blasio-unveils-his-progressive-agenda-campaign.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">launch</a> “The Progressive Agenda,” a platform of progressive policies that he attempted to advocate for at the national level to try to influence issues in the presidential race. Another nonprofit, the Progressive Agenda Committee, is set up by October 2015 to helm the project. The group would have little to no impact before <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/07/progressive-agenda-committee-spends-418-298-but-has-no-staff-and-didnt-do-anything-103906" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">shutting down</a> within less than a year, only making headlines for an aborted attempt at holding a presidential candidate forum in Iowa in December 2015.</p> <p>The same day de Blasio was in Washington, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/group-supporting-de-blasios-agenda-is-said-to-draw-interest-of-ethics-panel.html?ref=nyregion&amp;_r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times</a> reports that the Campaign for One New York has come under scrutiny by JCOPE for not registering as a lobbying entity. In 2014, UPKNYC had registered as a lobbyist to promote universal pre-k.</p> <p>July 2015: Yet again, the Campaign for One New York discloses its fundraising, showing another $1.7 million in fundraising over a six-month period. The donations came from unions, lobbyists, wealthy donors and real estate executives. A <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2015/09/the-transactional-mayor-returns-025908" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a> analysis in September shows that 46 of 74 donors “either had business or labor contracts with City Hall or were trying to secure approval for a project when they contributed, public records show.” Over the next few months, de Blasio faces constant questioning about potential conflicts of interest and the perception of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall. The nonprofit groups also seem to slow down their operations and fundraising amid increased criticism.</p> <p>Feb 2016: Common Cause New York, a government reform advocacy group, files <a href="http://www.commoncause.org/states/new-york/press/press-releases/coib-cfb-review-of-deblasio-fundraiser.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a complaint</a> with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board, requesting investigations of the Campaign for One New York and United for Affordable NYC. “The Mayor's unprecedented use of 501(c)(4) fundraising has spawned a shadow government that raises serious questions about who has influence and access to the policymaking process,” Common Cause NY said in a statement at the time. “It has created a perpetual campaign, confusing the role of government and politics, to the detriment of the public interest.”</p> <p>March 2016: The Campaign for One New York <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/political-organization-tied-to-nyc-mayor-bill-de-blasio-is-closing-1458208801" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announces</a> plans to close down as the spectre of pay-to-play allegations begins to hound the administration. United for Affordable NYC ends operations in conjunction, but the Progressive Agenda Committee continues to exist with minimal staff.</p> <p>April 2016: Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reportedly</a> begins looking into two de Blasio donors, in connection with a separate corruption case involving the NYPD. Both donors contributed to the mayor’s campaign as well and were part of his inauguration committee. CBS2’s Marcia Kramer <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reports</a> that Bharara’s office had started focusing on the mayor’s fundraising practices. Mayor de Blasio, saying he was unaware of any federal investigation, says on April 11, “I’m not going to be speaking about this after today.”</p> <p>On April 22, the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-gamed-donation-limits-hid-names-board-elections-article-1.2611406?utm_content=buffer3ac9b&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=NYDailyNewsTw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reports on a leaked memo from the state Board of Elections regarding the mayor’s 2014 efforts to help Democrats win the state Senate. The memo alleges that de Blasio and his team circumvented campaign contribution limits to benefit three Democratic campaigns, thereby warranting criminal prosecution. (It would later emerge that the memo was released by a Republican BOE spokesperson.)</p> <p>On April 28, after de Blasio’s counsel confirms having received subpoenas in parallel state and federal investigations into the mayor’s fundraising, de Blasio maintains his innocence. “Everything we’ve done from the beginning is legal and appropriate,” he said. “There’s an investigation going on, we’re going to fully cooperate with that investigation.”</p> <p>May 2016: A lawyer for the Campaign for One New York tells JCOPE that the nonprofit would stop complying with subpoenas, suggesting that the probe into CONY has become politically motivated.</p> <p>On May 18, Mayor de Blasio promises to produce a list of donors who contributed to the Campaign for One New York but did not receive favors from City Hall, insisting that his administration makes decision based on merit and not on favoritism.</p> <p>The same month, de Blasio comes under fire for shielding his email exchanges with five unpaid outside advisers, some of whom have business with the city. The administration terms them “agents of the city” and <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/05/de-blasio-lists-advisers-he-considers-exempt-from-transparency-law-101954" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">argues</a> that they are exempt from disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law.</p> <p>June 2016: The administration releases selected emails from outside consultants to <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/06/city-hall-releases-selective-emails-with-outside-consulting-firm-102771" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a>, in response to long-pending FOIL requests.</p> <p>July 2016: The New York City Campaign Finance Board <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6426-campaign-finance-board-rules-in-mayor-s-favor-while-criticizing-him" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules</a> that the Campaign for One New York did not violate campaign finance law and that donations and spending by the group do not count towards the mayor’s 2017 reelection campaign. But, the board criticized the mayor’s fundraising practices, which they saw as circumventing the city’s strict campaign finance restrictions, and called on the City Council to pass legislation to close the loophole. &nbsp;</p> <p>“New York City’s system depends on reasonable contribution limits that reduce the appearance that influence can be bought or sold through campaign contributions,” said then-CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn. “It defies common sense that limits that work so well during the campaign should be set aside once the candidate has assumed elected office.”</p> <p>August 2016: A battle brewing in the background for months over NYPD officers’ disciplinary records came front and center as the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/exclusive-nypd-stops-releasing-cops-disciplinary-records-article-1.2764145" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reported that the department would no longer release “personnel orders” summarizing disciplinary actions against officers. Then-Commissioner Bill Bratton insisted that the city had long misinterpreted a decades-old state law -- Section 50-A of the New York State civil rights code-- that had led to the release of officer records. The law has been a particular sticking point for police reform advocates incensed over the administration’s efforts to protect the disciplinary record of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a banned chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014. Mayor de Blasio, whose administration has been fighting for well over two years to shield Pantaleo’s record, insisted his hands were tied on 50-A unless the state Legislature took action to change the provision.</p> <p>At an unrelated news conference in late August, de Blasio said he had stopped meeting with lobbyists, chiefly James Capalino, a top lobbyist and advisor to the mayor. “He, going into the mayoralty, was someone I respected as a friend and who I talked to a lot over the years,” de Blasio said. “But I do not have contact with him anymore.”</p> <p>September 2016: Two media outlets -- NY1 and the New York Post -- <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/two-media-outlets-sue-bill-de-blasio-in-freedom-of-information-case-1473375298" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sue</a> the mayor for the release of emails exchanged with Jonathan Rosen, of the consulting firm Berlin Rosen, who is one of the mayor’s “agents of the city.”</p> <p>That month, the City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6545-city-council-drafting-bills-to-regulate-political-nonprofits-like-campaign-for-one-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">begins</a> drafting legislation to regulate political nonprofits like the Campaign for One New York. Multiple bills were formulated to implement additional disclosure rules for these groups and to bring them under the purview of the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>October 2016: After weeks of criticizing the New York Post for their coverage of his administration, de Blasio repeatedly ignores Post reporter Yoav Gonen’s questions at an October 6 news conference. Gonen presses on with questions, leading to heated words from the mayor, who calls the Post a “right-wing rag” before moving on to other reporters. The incident earns the mayor widespread condemnation from local media.</p> <p>That same month, amid increasing criticism over the administration’s stance on Section 50-A, de Blasio releases a legislative proposal calling on Albany to amend the law to remove confidentiality provisions and make the full disciplinary records of officer available to the public. “Without significant changes to this statute, the city remains barred from providing New Yorkers with the transparency we deserve," the mayor <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/820-16/mayor-de-blasio-outlines-core-principles-legislation-make-disciplinary-records-law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>.</p> <p>November 2016: The Council introduces legislation to curb political nonprofits, particularly limiting contributions from entities and individuals with business before the city. Nonprofit groups would also have to disclose their donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>On November 23, the administration releases thousands of pages of emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and Jonathan Rosen, who was among those classified as “agents of the city” to prevent disclosure.</p> <p>At a November 29 news conference, de Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6643-de-blasio-limits-government-contact-with-top-outside-advisor" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">indicated</a> to the press that he had reduced contact with Rosen. “I think it’s fair to say that it’s pretty rare I’m talking to people, but each situation is individual,” he said at the time.</p> <p>December 2016: On his weekly <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2016/12/5/mondays-with-the-mayor--agents-no-more.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance on NY1</a> on December 5, de Blasio tells anchor Errol Louis that his communications with outside advisors and consultants will no longer be shielded from disclosure. &nbsp;</p> <p>On December 15, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/nyregion/bill-de-blasio-investigation.html?mcubz=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times reports</a> that two grand juries have been convened to hear testimony on the state and federal investigations into the mayor’s administration and fundraising. De Blasio continues to maintain that he and his associates acted legally and appropriately, following guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board and from campaign lawyers.</p> <p>March 2017: Federal and state prosecutors jointly <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6812-de-blasio-and-aides-won-t-face-charges-in-dual-investigations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> on March 17 that de Blasio and his aides would not face charges in the dual year-long investigations into the administration. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance criticized the mayor in a statement, saying that de Blasio and his associates violated the spirit and intent of the campaign finance law. Joon H. Kim, acting-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, noted that the investigation looked into “several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the City, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors.”</p> <p>De Blasio, at a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/158-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-holds-press-conference-the-federal-budget-city-hall" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">news conference</a> that day, said the conclusion of the investigations “simply confirms what I’ve said all along. My staff and my colleagues and I have acted in a manner that was legal and appropriate and ethical throughout. This is something I feel very strongly about in public service – that we have to comport ourselves in the proper manner and we have done that, and that has been confirmed by the results of this investigation.”</p> <p>Also in March, a Manhattan appeals court <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/city-wins-two-cases-keep-police-discipline-records-secret/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules in favor</a> of the de Blasio administration in the case of Officer Pantaleo’s disciplinary record, superseding two earlier lower court decisions that had allowed the release of some information.</p> <p>April 2017: After months of delaying his promise to provide a list of donors who did not receive favored treatment from City Hall, de Blasio partly backtracks and insists that he will pen an op-ed by the end of April that would mention certain relevant instances. (He had been hesitant to release the list earlier, citing the ongoing investigations.)</p> <p>August 2017: The de Blasio administration releases more emails that show two donors who were embroiled in a police corruption scandal had relatively easy access to the mayor. &nbsp;</p> <p>At the first Democratic mayoral primary debate on August 23, de Blasio concedes that the op-ed on donors is forthcoming and would be released before the September 12 primary. On September 1, de Blasio delivers in the form of <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a post on Medium</a>, an online publishing website. The post reads more as a screed against the media and contains only four instances involving unnamed donors to illustrate the mayor’s point. Some of those had emerged from emails released by the administration earlier in the month.</p> <p>“Media reports on these contacts fixated on their access to me and ignored the fair and transparent outcomes that followed,” the mayor writes. “Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City. Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>September 6: The second mayoral primary debate begins with a heavy focus on de Blasio’s ethics.</p> <p>September 12: De Blasio handily wins the Democratic primary for mayor.</p> <p>November 7: Election Day</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/36293022713_309bde7089_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio City Hall " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong><em>This article is part of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a> as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>It is a source of great frustration for Mayor Bill de Blasio and hangs over his administration and reelection bid as an albatross. Observers across the political spectrum, including Democratic and Republican opponents in this year’s mayoral race, have attacked de Blasio for blurring or crossing ethical lines, and for lacking transparency.</p> <p>De Blasio rode into power promising the most transparent administration in the city’s history, but his nearly four years in office have been marked by continuing questions and controversies over both his administration’s opaqueness and ethics, highlighted by twin law enforcement investigations into fundraising practices and government favors for campaign donors. The incumbent Democratic mayor, seeking reelection this fall, has repeatedly argued that he and his associates have carried themselves ethically and that he has done more disclosure than his predecessors and other high-level officials.</p> <p>Yet, along with his electoral opponents, political observers, government reform advocates, and City Council members also say de Blasio’s rhetoric has not been backed by action and that his record on transparency and ethics has been, at best, a mixed bag.</p> <p>In endorsing him in the Democratic primary, the New York Times editorial board <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/05/opinion/editorials/mayoral-endorsement-bill-deblasio.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, “A political operative before he ran for public office, Mr. de Blasio has not shaken free of detractors’ suspicions about his ethical compass. He was subjected to both federal and state investigations into whether he presides over a pay-to-play system that favors well-heeled donors seeking favors from City Hall. Ultimately, no charges were brought against him or his aides. Though the mayor declared he had been vindicated, the Manhattan district attorney concluded that some of his fund-raising appeared to have violated “the intent and spirit” of the law. That’s a far cry from Mr. de Blasio’s claim to have been pronounced “innocent.”</p> <p>De Blasio was indeed chastised by federal and state prosecutors, who, while they did not bring charges against him or his associates, investigated their actions and outlined problematic practices, some of which led to new city laws limiting certain fundraising activities that the mayor and his team engaged in. De Blasio has claimed that he and his aides have held themselves to the highest standards, but he has regularly raised those standards when pushed.</p> <p>Part of the mayor’s pushback against criticisms has been that he and his associates have always had good motives, like expanding pre-kindergarten, and that a political nonprofit his allies ran to support his agenda disclosed more than required. Though he has been dogged by questions from members of the media, de Blasio readily points out that regular New Yorkers don’t often ask him about his fundraising practices or release of email records when they have the opportunity to question him at town halls or radio call-in segments.</p> <p>“People never bring up the issues from the investigations, because I think there was a broad understanding in the public that there was an immense amount of scrutiny that found absolutely nothing wrong,” he said in a recent <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/09/bill-de-blasio-in-conversation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Magazine</a> interview, mischaracterizing the facts given that while no charges were brought, prosecutors did indicate that the mayor and his associates had blurred or crossed ethical lines. “Everyday New Yorkers are much more concerned with kitchen-table issues. Some political insiders, maybe they’ve come to certain conclusions. But for everyday New Yorkers? They didn’t see anything wrong, and they’re right, because there wasn’t anything wrong.”</p> <p>As de Blasio asks New Yorkers for four more years, ethics and transparency will continue to be a focus of criticism from his general election opponents and others, while the mayor will defend himself and attempt to point to stronger aspects of his record. But the record of how he and his administration have conducted themselves when it comes to playing by the rules, separating political fundraising and governing, and providing the public with both ethical and transparent government is very much worth chronicling and examining as voters evaluate their choices this November.</p> <p>Mayoral spokespeople Eric Phillips and Austin Finan agreed to speak with Gotham Gazette for this story, but, other than a brief conversation to discuss the premise of the article, no comment was provided.</p> <p>The most recent Quinnipiac University public opinion poll that included a question about de Blasio's&nbsp;ethics, published at the end of July, <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">showed</a> New York City voters saying 52 to 35 percent that he is honest and trustworthy, down from 59 to 31 percent in May. Still, the 52 was up from the lowest rating de Blasio has received in a Quinnipiac poll over his four years as mayor: amid intense controversy in May 2016, 43 percent <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/images/polling/nyc/nyc07312017_trends_N79jmpp.pdf/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> he is honest and trustworthy, while 45 percent said he is not. The highest de Blasio's honesty was rated by voters eight months into his tenure, when the balance was 66 to 22 in his favor.</p> <p><strong>Selective Transparency</strong><br /> In his former role as public advocate, de Blasio championed transparency and took the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to task for its apparent lack thereof. De Blasio disclosed meetings with lobbyists and implemented tools to track Freedom of Information Law requests, while criticizing the Bloomberg administration for its lax FOIL response time.</p> <p>Fast forward nearly four years and the same official who urged increased disclosure by Bloomberg has been reticent to show the same commitment in his own operations on FOIL responsiveness speed and other things like police discipline records and emails with top non-governmental advisors. For example, as public advocate, de Blasio recommended legislation requiring the mayor to include FOIL response statistics in the annual Mayor’s Management Report, but it is not something de Blasio has done as mayor himself.</p> <p>Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, de Blasio's second-in-command, recently conceded at a New York Law School breakfast that the administration could improve it's record on FOIL requests. "I don't think we've done as good as job on that as we could have," he said, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/10/13/de-blasio-deputy-mayor-says-blaming-predecessor-is-not-productive-115038" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York reported</a>. "But I can't tell you we've gotten good enough. ... Our open data initiative has been, I think, one of the stronger ones in the country. ... Fundamentally, the more data that we can put out there so people don't have to say, 'May I,' but can do their own analytics, is the way to do."</p> <p>On August 23, at the first of two mayoral debates in the Democratic primary, de Blasio was asked by debate panelist and NY1 reporter Grace Rauh about steps he would take to improve transparency in a second term, should he be reelected, or if he considered any improvements unnecessary. As he often does, the mayor disagreed with the premise of the question, and pivoted toward touting his record on transparency. “Anytime a lobbyist lobbied me on behalf of a third party I put that up online so that people know exactly who talked to me when. I did that,” de Blasio said. “No other mayor’s done that before in our history. I’m in favor of the kind of transparency that’s gonna make life different for everyday New Yorkers like body cameras for all of our patrol officers over the next two years. This is one of the ultimate acts of transparency and accountability in government.”</p> <p>He added, “Past administrations did not disclose all sorts of things. I’ve made it a point to be open about disclosure. Some areas where I disagree specifically I do not think it was appropriate to disclose but compared to previous administrations we’ve gone a long way and a lot farther in terms of openness and disclosure and transparency....No mayor previously had that level of transparency and I’m very proud of the fact that we put that in place in the city. When it comes to tough questions, well it’s a tough job as part of what I’d expect as mayor of New York City.”</p> <p>It was a far from satisfactory answer for de Blasio’s only opponent on the debate stage, former City Council Member Sal Albanese. “I’m just incredulous,” Albanese responded. “This administration is the least transparent administration in recent history,” he added (it is not an easy comparison to make).</p> <p>“We should have a higher standard for the mayor than not being indicted,” Albanese said repeatedly during the debates and the primary campaign.</p> <p>Government watchdog groups have also found that de Blasio reneged on his campaign pledges around core good governance, though there has been acknowledgement that the administration has implemented certain policies that have enhanced transparency, including related to data generated by city government.</p> <p>For instance, the city has continued and expanded the implementation of the Open Data law, launching a redesigned <a href="https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">online portal</a> with thousands of datasets available to the public. The administration has launched <a href="https://a860-openrecords.nyc.gov" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">OpenRECORDS</a>, a centralized website to file and track FOIL requests with numerous city agencies. These advancements, while notable, do not capture the full picture of mayoral transparency, however.</p> <p>Early on in his term, the mayor began limiting interactions with the press, eschewing the daily news briefings that previous mayors had traditionally held and restricting occasions when he would take “off-topic” questions. It earned him scorn from detractors in and out of the media, and, almost cyclically, reinforced his derision for reporters who grew frustrated with the dearth of unfettered, unscripted responses to their questions.</p> <p>“There’s a Trump-like quality in his whining about the media,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, CUNY. “He’s got the same disease as the President.”</p> <p>“There’s a lot the citizenry could find praiseworthy in his record,” Muzzio added, “but the two main issues are his transparency and political ethics, and his sense of self-aggrandizement where everything is ‘historic’ and ‘transformative.’ The problem is the distance between rhetoric and reality.”</p> <p>Muzzio also noted that the administration has released a lot more data than previous mayoralties, which has been useful for analysis of city agencies. “It’s the personal transparency, rather than institutional transparency, that’s lacking,” Muzzio said of de Blasio.</p> <p>One example of rhetoric versus reality was a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-defend-boastful-video-decried-watchdogs-article-1.2926739" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">promotional video</a> put out in December 2016 by City Hall that touted the administration’s accomplishments, as it was mired in the two investigations that had captured headlines for months. Good government groups criticized the mayor at the time for effectively putting out a campaign ad shortly before the start of an election year during which government-funded advertisements would have been prohibited. The mayor fielded questions about the ad for weeks and grew frustrated by another example of what he has perceived as reporters’ fixation on trivial matters at the expense of spreading all the “good news” that is happening as a result of his policies.</p> <p>At the August 23 debate, prompted by NY1’s Rauh, de Blasio pledged that he would not set up another issue-advocacy nonprofit like the Campaign for One New York, which was at the center of one of the two investigations into his administration. It was something the mayor had previously said he didn’t plan to do and had in fact signed a new law making virtually impossible. In making the pledge, he reiterated that he faced tough questions about his ethical conduct purely because he was willing to voluntarily disclose who had donated to the nonprofit group and how much.</p> <p>“If you know you did things right you disclose,” he said. “If you’ve got something to hide, you don’t disclose. That’s what we did over and over again with donations that we did not have a legal obligation to disclose but we went ahead and disclosed anyway and I’m proud of that fact.”</p> <p>But, the mayor’s approach to disclosure has been highly selective. For the better part of two years, media outlets have pushed, and NY1 and the New York Post even sued, the administration for access to emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and unpaid outside advisors. The mayor’s team has shielded those communications, terming the advisors “agents of the city” who would not be subject to disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law that typically apply to correspondence between government officials and non-government entities. Exceptions to FOIL exist for intra-governmental communication that is part of the decision-making process, but de Blasio and his team argued that the advisors were so close to City Hall and the mayor that they were de facto members of the administration.</p> <p>Eventually, the mayor relented to an extent, and troves of emails, numbering in the thousands and many of them significantly redacted, have been released on numerous occasions, usually in Friday “news dumps.” The administration is still in court appealing the decision to release the emails, but the mayor pledged in March to release all communications going forward. The emails have not shown wrongdoing, but rather painted the administration, and the mayor particularly, in an unflattering light at times. Some showed de Blasio’s harsh treatment of underlings while others revealed his proximity and degree of access afforded to donors, including controversial ones.</p> <p>Watchdogs have pointed out that with the Campaign for One New York and the “agents of the city,” de Blasio has created his own problems by blurring lines and limiting transparency. By inviting massive donations to the nonprofit from entities with city business, de Blasio opened the door to pay-to-play allegations, and even the federal investigation. Under intense scrutiny, the mayor wound up promising extensive evidence of donors who did not get favorable treatment from city government -- a promise he eventually admitted he regretted -- but after months of delays, he produced a column on the online publishing platform Medium that left many wanting for more detail.</p> <p><strong>Big Money for the ‘Right’ Causes</strong><br /> As public advocate, de Blasio urged big corporations to adopt policies against funding political action committees and organized elected officials dedicated to that cause. He filed a legal brief in federal court arguing against the removal of limits to donations to PACs and he railed against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed untold amounts of money from undisclosed donors to flood electoral campaigns.</p> <p>“Deep-pocketed donors have turned their sights on New York and our best-in-the-nation campaign finance system,” de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/PAC" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>, in a statement on Oct. 3, 2013, when he filed the amicus brief. “They’re determined to upend protections that have safeguarded our democratic process for decades. This is about more than one election. It’s about defending the voices of everyday New Yorkers. It’s a fight we are going to win.”</p> <p>While de Blasio has continued to rail against Citizens United and call for full public campaign financing, the mayor has not aggressively pursued such a system in New York and the same politician who has long decried wealthy moneyed interests influencing government relied on them to promote his own political agenda while mayor.</p> <p>De Blasio came into office with a come-from-behind primary win and a general election landslide. He had the wind at his back and attempted to take on the world, so to speak. This led to the creation of the controversial nonprofit and a 2014 effort to swing the state Senate Democratic that got him in trouble, along with other actions that have hurt his reputation for openness and clean government.</p> <p>Within a month of the mayor’s election, his allies set up a political nonprofit group called UPKNYC, later branded The Campaign for One New York, to promote the goal of universal pre-kindergarten in the city, which in part depended on state-level approval. After achieving its initial goal -- de Blasio favored a tax on the rich to fund the proposal but settled for direct funding from the state -- the group pivoted to promoting the mayor’s affordable housing plan. All along, the 501(c)4 organization solicited unlimited donations, many from wealthy donors and labor unions that also had business with the city. The group did voluntarily disclose its finances and donors every six months.</p> <p>Scrutiny of its activities, and the mayor’s fundraising for it and possible exchange of government favors, helped trigger one of the two separate corruption investigations, a federal probe into allegations of pay-to-play at City Hall --- the second was a state-level inquiry into whether the mayor’s attempt to sway state Senate races for Democratic candidates in 2014 had violated election law by funneling big donations to candidate campaigns through local Democratic committees.</p> <p>The mayor maintained throughout that he and his associates had acted under strict legal guidance and had followed the letter of the law, and both probes eventually concluded with no charges. But the stench of scandal remained as the Manhattan U.S. attorney concluded that the mayor, though not crossing into clear criminal activity, had sought contributions from donors and then had “made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies” on behalf of those donors.</p> <p>De Blasio defended this as typical practice and even good government -- that any constituent, whether a donor or not, who brings a concern to him is directed to someone in the administration who may be able to help, but that the relevant powers make decisions based on the merits, not relationships. What has been abundantly clear, however, is that de Blasio donors have enjoyed special access to and attention from the mayor and his administration.</p> <p>De Blasio also regularly made the case that the ends justified the means, that because he was fighting for universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing, his skirting of campaign finance rules and blurring of lines was acceptable. The contradiction became especially evident when de Blasio agreed to sign legislation pushed by the City Council, notably Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a close de Blasio ally, to drastically limit political nonprofits with ties to elected officials. De Blasio would explain that it was “the right thing to do” but did lament that he felt it might hamstring progressive politicians with good intentions like himself in the ongoing fight against opposing big-money interests.</p> <p>At the second Democratic mayoral primary debate on <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzIfDLHon-c" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">September 6</a>, debate moderator Maurice DuBois of CBS-2 put the mayor on his heels with the first question, about his apparent ethical failings. “Mr. de Blasio, here’s a true story,” DuBois began. “A political leader and his associates used pay-for-play tactics...but were not charged with a crime. However, state and federal prosecutors insist those people did violate the intent and spirit of the law. While there were no criminal charges, would you want people like that working for you?”</p> <p>A defensive de Blasio again stood by his administration’s efforts and the policy goals that they achieved, and insisted that he and his associates had been vindicated by the intense scrutiny by prosecutors that nevertheless found no wrongdoing. “I look at everything that we’ve done and I’m very convinced that high standards were kept to and the results speak for themselves in terms of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we’ve improved,” he said. “That’s what I came here to do, make people’s lives better.”</p> <p>Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, said she is “torn” over the mayor’s first-term scandals. “Part of me is just wondering, ‘is this the cost of doing business as a politician in the 21st century if you’re not a billionaire?’” she said, drawing a contrast with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg who did not have to depend on donors for his own campaigns. “Part of me thinks, ‘Well if you don’t have billions to contribute on your own, do you possibly have to get that from unsavory characters and make alliances and depend on people who have resources?’ But the other part of me wonders, ‘Wow, it seems like we’re always asking about some sort of potential wrongdoing.’”</p> <p>Greer’s conflict seems to be indicative of that of at least several prominent Democrats, including officials like Comptroller Scott Stringer, who criticized the Campaign for One New York as a “slush fund” but wound up endorsing the mayor for reelection, citing his progressivism in fighting inequality. For some time, Stringer was considering a mayoral run, either against de Blasio or in the event de Blasio did not seek reelection due to results from the investigations that did not materialize.</p> <p>Greer emphasized that de Blasio’s ethics record should not be conflated with his transparency, even though the two are sometimes drawn in “concentric circles.” She noted that de Blasio’s refusal to take questions from the press simply raises more concerns about what else he isn’t being transparent about. “I genuinely do not understand why there are times that de Blasio makes life much harder for himself than he has to...He brought that on himself,” she said. She did agree that perhaps everyday New Yorkers don’t care about issues of transparency that “get into the weeds,” but said he couldn’t dismiss the concerns of those who do. “By you not wanting to answer it, you can’t wish it away by saying nobody’s interested,” she said. “Yes, we are interested.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s criticism of and condescension towards the media was on full display in the <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">column</a> he wrote on Medium, where he attempted to defend himself against pay-to-play allegations and special access for donors. The column, promised by de Blasio more than a year prior, was meant to illustrate instances of donors who sought favors from the administration but were denied. In the face of allegations and investigations, de Blasio had promised “a whole lot of evidence” of donors not getting the action they desired from the city. De Blasio provided little evidence in his Medium column, but went after the media with gusto.</p> <p>“Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City,” de Blasio wrote of the coverage of his contact with donors. “Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>The column contained few examples and no names, and largely blamed the media for over-inflating the scandals that have plagued de Blasio’s tenure. “It was a non-explanation, he gave a few examples of dubious quality,” Muzzio said with an exasperated sigh, noting how the mayor looked down his nose at the press.</p> <p>Some top Democratic elected officials have been hesitant to criticize the mayor openly, save for Stringer and a few others. Public Advocate Letitia James, de Blasio’s successor and whose office is meant to serve as a watchdog over city government, declined to comment for this article through a spokesperson. James has largely stayed away from questions about de Blasio’s ethics and transparency issues, explaining her approach as more focused on the substance of agency work and using litigation and legislation to make policy change.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, ostensibly the second-most powerful elected official in the city, deflected when asked about the mayor’s defense of the Campaign for One New York and his transparency, at a news conference on Sept. 7, when the mayor’s ethics record was being argued over both on the primary election debate stage and throughout the ongoing race for mayor.</p> <p>“We continue to have conversations in this Council and we continue to look at legislation to figure out how we can be more transparent,” she said. “That doesn’t just fall on the mayor, that falls on all of us to be more transparent in government.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito emphasized the Council’s measures to improve the Campaign Finance Board’s functioning and the laws governing campaign fundraising and spending. “Being a candidate and being an elected official is not easy,” she said. “The CFB rules are extremely complicated to follow and sometimes to keep track of and so sometimes you can get a little bit lost in them.”</p> <p>When Gotham Gazette pointed out that the mayor’s Campaign for One New York operated outside of the CFB’s purview and asked if looking back on it she felt it was still ethical for the mayor to have created the group, Mark-Viverito said, “I’m not gonna respond to that at this moment. I haven’t really focused on it as of late. Again, what we strive to do is to be accountable to our constituents and that’s what I have been doing as an elected official, that’s what we do each and everyday and I’m gonna continue to strive down that path.”</p> <p>Though she was quite reticent to weigh in on the issue when it was most relevant, Mark-Viverito did eventually spearhead the writing and passage of the legislation to rein in groups like Campaign for One New York, forcing the mayor’s hand on a measure that ensures few like it will ever exist in the future, given several new restrictions, like severe limits on what entities with city business can donate to nonprofits closely associated with an elected official. Even during that legislative process, Mark-Viverito, largely a de Blasio ally, took pains not to criticize the mayor directly, while tacitly and legislatively showing her disapproval. In signing the legislation, de Blasio refused to acknowledge that he had made any mistakes, but touted it as good legislation further reigning in money in politics.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, who is among a number of members running to be the next speaker of the Council, also gave a quasi-defense of the mayor. “I think he has to be judged by the fact that there was extensive scrutiny with considerable resources at multiple levels of government, local and federal, that left no stone unturned and determined there was not ground to charge,” he told Gotham Gazette, “and that at the end of the day is the most important standard and one that he justifiably touts, particularly in light of the months of leaks which gave him bad press for issues which ultimately were not deemed sufficient to charge on.”</p> <p>But multiple City Council members, who did not wish to be named, felt differently. Separately, they gave similar opinions to one another, criticizing the mayor’s hypocrisy on transparency, his handling of the “agents of the city” emails, and his continued arrogance over escaping an indictment.</p> <p>One Council member said the mayor was “vulnerable” on issues of transparency and that he faced “justifiable criticism” over his shielding of his emails, which did not seem at all legally defensible. The months of bad headlines, said the Council member, led to a “bunker mentality” and the mayor and his associates dug in their heels deeper. (Indeed, de Blasio has reopened himself to many more press questions since the investigations ended.)</p> <p>Two Council members said the mayor’s shielding of his emails was largely an exercise in protecting his image rather than hiding instances of corruption. “It’s clear they are well aware of who their friends are,” said one member, of the mayor’s relationship with donors. The <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/emails-reveal-another-side-of-bill-de-blasio-1466038087" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wall Street Journal</a> has reported that the contents of some of the “agents of the city” emails are especially gossipy and embarrassing.</p> <p>Another Council member commended the press as the institution, more so than the City Council, that has most held the mayor accountable, and criticized the mayor for attacking the media’s reportage. The member noted that the Council did not use its subpoena power and did not act on the Campaign for One New York until after Common Cause NY, a good government group, filed an official complaint with the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>That Council member also critiqued the mayor for not revealing who administration officials hold meetings with, an issue on which de Blasio had campaigned, and for not fully implementing the online FOIL portal. On the mayor’s Medium post, the Council member said, “It’s a little too cute to tell folks exactly who did what without using their names.”</p> <p><strong>‘Backwards on Police Transparency’</strong><br /> In April 2013, then-Public Advocate de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/foil/report" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">released</a> a “Transparency Report Card” that evaluated 18 city agencies on their response to FOIL requests. The two agencies that received a failing grade were the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the NYPD. A <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/04/11/in-de-blasios-new-york-transparency-laws-mean-nothing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Village Voice</a> analysis from April of the de Blasio administration’s handling of FOIL records showed that little had changed in more than three years. “A review of thousands of pages of FOIL records shows the city’s system for handling public information requests remains haphazard, under-resourced, and often excruciatingly slow. And the mayor’s own office is the slowest of all,” the report reads.</p> <p>The mayor’s earlier criticism of the NYPD’s opaqueness perhaps most smacks of hypocrisy to police reform advocates who say his administration has not only not made progress, but actually backtracked on transparency at the police department. The NYPD, and then de Blasio, last year contended that successive administrations had for decades misinterpreted Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Code, which protects the personnel records of police officers from public disclosure. As the department saw it, the law prevents them from releasing “personnel orders” that summarize disciplinary actions taken against officers. These orders had routinely been released until the revised policy was put in place, and the city has fought tooth and nail to uphold its reinterpretation of the law, even appealing an unfavorable judicial ruling, and has pointed to the need for the state to change the law. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The de Blasio administration has taken the city backwards on police transparency and accountability with its misuse of state law 50-a to conceal information,” said Lumumba Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocacy groups. Bandele noted that, though the mayor released a proposal to change the law in Albany, there was little evidence that the administration made it a priority in this year’s legislative session. “On policing, this administration is misusing the law as an excuse for being less transparent than those of Bloomberg and Giuliani,” she added, “allowing the NYPD to shield police abuse and corruption from public scrutiny, and failing to provide leadership to improve police accountability and transparency.”</p> <p>The notion -- that the de Blasio administration has been worse about NYPD transparency and accountability -- is one that was also echoed this year by City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is a de Blasio supporter overall.</p> <p><strong>Scrutiny and Change</strong><br /> Undoubtedly, scrutiny of the mayor’s actions led to change in his behavior. He stopped communicating with top lobbyists who were close to him and began to limit government-related interaction with outside consultants, particularly Jonathan Rosen, a confidante who was involved in the mayor’s 2013 campaign and the Campaign for One New York, and whose firm is again working on the mayor’s 2017 reelection bid. The scandals also prompted the legislation by the City Council -- which the mayor signed into law -- regulating donations to nonprofit groups affiliated with elected officials and requiring disclosure by these groups under the oversight of the Conflicts of Interest Board. And, de Blasio changed his “agency of the city” email transparency policy as he continues to battle in court to keep past emails secret.</p> <p>But it’s unclear if the mayor, who won his primary handily and is expected to coast to reelection through the general, will take substantive steps to be more transparent. “[If] he gets a second term, I can’t see him as a lame duck being more transparent, so I think that’s a concern,” said Greer.</p> <p>There’s no doubt that de Blasio’s general election opponents, chiefly Republican Nicole Malliotakis, a state Assembly member from Staten Island, will continue to make de Blasio’s ethics a focus of the campaign. The question remains, though, how much voters care. Political analysts note that most voters do not vote based on transparency and ethics issues unless there is a major scandal that has led someone to jail. Voters often vote based on “pocket book” and “kitchen table” issues like jobs, schools, and crime -- a point de Blasio himself regularly acknowledges at least tacitly.</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, who was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation regulating political nonprofits, said it was more constructive to focus on the political system that allows, and in some way encourages, reliance on wealthy donors. “If we want elected officials in New York City to live up to a higher standard of good government, then the best approach is to strengthen our own rules,” he said. “That’s more valuable than focusing on individuals.”</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>A TIMELINE of MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS RELATED to MAYOR DE BLASIO'S RECORD on ETHICS and TRANSPARENCY</p> <p>November 2013: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio gets elected mayor of New York City after running a campaign in which he promised an unprecedented level of transparency in government. As Public Advocate, de Blasio issued a “Transparency Report Card” evaluating city agencies on their response to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. He chiefly criticized the NYPD for their lax FOIL response times, giving them a failing grade in his report.</p> <p>December 2013: De Blasio’s allies set up UPKNYC, also known as the Campaign for One New York, an issue-advocacy nonprofit -- classified by the IRS as 501(c)(4)s -- that could solicit unlimited contributions and spend unlimited funds to promote the mayor’s agenda, namely promoting universal pre-kindergarten. Under law, the nonprofit was not required to disclose its donors. The mayor’s associates later set up another nonprofit called United For Affordable NYC, to promote his affordable housing plan. The Campaign for One New York eventually became the locus of two parallel investigations by federal and state prosecutors into the mayor’s fundraising practices and his effort to sway state Senate races in 2014.</p> <p>July 2014: The Campaign for One New York voluntarily discloses its fundraising and donors to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and to the public, despite not being required to do so, showing $1.76 million in donations, a lot of which came from labor unions that have been big supporters of the mayor and from groups that do business with the city. The mayor faced scrutiny for allowing doing business donors to give unlimited amounts, whereas those same donors would’ve been limited in how much they could contribute to a campaign committee. The Campaign for One New York later shifted its focus towards the mayor’s larger progressive agenda, particularly affordable housing, after having already achieved the goal of funding universal pre-kindergarten in the city.</p> <p>May 2015: De Blasio heads to Washington D.C. to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/in-washington-de-blasio-unveils-his-progressive-agenda-campaign.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">launch</a> “The Progressive Agenda,” a platform of progressive policies that he attempted to advocate for at the national level to try to influence issues in the presidential race. Another nonprofit, the Progressive Agenda Committee, is set up by October 2015 to helm the project. The group would have little to no impact before <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/07/progressive-agenda-committee-spends-418-298-but-has-no-staff-and-didnt-do-anything-103906" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">shutting down</a> within less than a year, only making headlines for an aborted attempt at holding a presidential candidate forum in Iowa in December 2015.</p> <p>The same day de Blasio was in Washington, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/group-supporting-de-blasios-agenda-is-said-to-draw-interest-of-ethics-panel.html?ref=nyregion&amp;_r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times</a> reports that the Campaign for One New York has come under scrutiny by JCOPE for not registering as a lobbying entity. In 2014, UPKNYC had registered as a lobbyist to promote universal pre-k.</p> <p>July 2015: Yet again, the Campaign for One New York discloses its fundraising, showing another $1.7 million in fundraising over a six-month period. The donations came from unions, lobbyists, wealthy donors and real estate executives. A <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2015/09/the-transactional-mayor-returns-025908" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a> analysis in September shows that 46 of 74 donors “either had business or labor contracts with City Hall or were trying to secure approval for a project when they contributed, public records show.” Over the next few months, de Blasio faces constant questioning about potential conflicts of interest and the perception of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall. The nonprofit groups also seem to slow down their operations and fundraising amid increased criticism.</p> <p>Feb 2016: Common Cause New York, a government reform advocacy group, files <a href="http://www.commoncause.org/states/new-york/press/press-releases/coib-cfb-review-of-deblasio-fundraiser.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a complaint</a> with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board, requesting investigations of the Campaign for One New York and United for Affordable NYC. “The Mayor's unprecedented use of 501(c)(4) fundraising has spawned a shadow government that raises serious questions about who has influence and access to the policymaking process,” Common Cause NY said in a statement at the time. “It has created a perpetual campaign, confusing the role of government and politics, to the detriment of the public interest.”</p> <p>March 2016: The Campaign for One New York <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/political-organization-tied-to-nyc-mayor-bill-de-blasio-is-closing-1458208801" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announces</a> plans to close down as the spectre of pay-to-play allegations begins to hound the administration. United for Affordable NYC ends operations in conjunction, but the Progressive Agenda Committee continues to exist with minimal staff.</p> <p>April 2016: Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reportedly</a> begins looking into two de Blasio donors, in connection with a separate corruption case involving the NYPD. Both donors contributed to the mayor’s campaign as well and were part of his inauguration committee. CBS2’s Marcia Kramer <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reports</a> that Bharara’s office had started focusing on the mayor’s fundraising practices. Mayor de Blasio, saying he was unaware of any federal investigation, says on April 11, “I’m not going to be speaking about this after today.”</p> <p>On April 22, the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-gamed-donation-limits-hid-names-board-elections-article-1.2611406?utm_content=buffer3ac9b&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=NYDailyNewsTw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reports on a leaked memo from the state Board of Elections regarding the mayor’s 2014 efforts to help Democrats win the state Senate. The memo alleges that de Blasio and his team circumvented campaign contribution limits to benefit three Democratic campaigns, thereby warranting criminal prosecution. (It would later emerge that the memo was released by a Republican BOE spokesperson.)</p> <p>On April 28, after de Blasio’s counsel confirms having received subpoenas in parallel state and federal investigations into the mayor’s fundraising, de Blasio maintains his innocence. “Everything we’ve done from the beginning is legal and appropriate,” he said. “There’s an investigation going on, we’re going to fully cooperate with that investigation.”</p> <p>May 2016: A lawyer for the Campaign for One New York tells JCOPE that the nonprofit would stop complying with subpoenas, suggesting that the probe into CONY has become politically motivated.</p> <p>On May 18, Mayor de Blasio promises to produce a list of donors who contributed to the Campaign for One New York but did not receive favors from City Hall, insisting that his administration makes decision based on merit and not on favoritism.</p> <p>The same month, de Blasio comes under fire for shielding his email exchanges with five unpaid outside advisers, some of whom have business with the city. The administration terms them “agents of the city” and <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/05/de-blasio-lists-advisers-he-considers-exempt-from-transparency-law-101954" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">argues</a> that they are exempt from disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law.</p> <p>June 2016: The administration releases selected emails from outside consultants to <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/06/city-hall-releases-selective-emails-with-outside-consulting-firm-102771" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a>, in response to long-pending FOIL requests.</p> <p>July 2016: The New York City Campaign Finance Board <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6426-campaign-finance-board-rules-in-mayor-s-favor-while-criticizing-him" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules</a> that the Campaign for One New York did not violate campaign finance law and that donations and spending by the group do not count towards the mayor’s 2017 reelection campaign. But, the board criticized the mayor’s fundraising practices, which they saw as circumventing the city’s strict campaign finance restrictions, and called on the City Council to pass legislation to close the loophole. &nbsp;</p> <p>“New York City’s system depends on reasonable contribution limits that reduce the appearance that influence can be bought or sold through campaign contributions,” said then-CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn. “It defies common sense that limits that work so well during the campaign should be set aside once the candidate has assumed elected office.”</p> <p>August 2016: A battle brewing in the background for months over NYPD officers’ disciplinary records came front and center as the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/exclusive-nypd-stops-releasing-cops-disciplinary-records-article-1.2764145" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reported that the department would no longer release “personnel orders” summarizing disciplinary actions against officers. Then-Commissioner Bill Bratton insisted that the city had long misinterpreted a decades-old state law -- Section 50-A of the New York State civil rights code-- that had led to the release of officer records. The law has been a particular sticking point for police reform advocates incensed over the administration’s efforts to protect the disciplinary record of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a banned chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014. Mayor de Blasio, whose administration has been fighting for well over two years to shield Pantaleo’s record, insisted his hands were tied on 50-A unless the state Legislature took action to change the provision.</p> <p>At an unrelated news conference in late August, de Blasio said he had stopped meeting with lobbyists, chiefly James Capalino, a top lobbyist and advisor to the mayor. “He, going into the mayoralty, was someone I respected as a friend and who I talked to a lot over the years,” de Blasio said. “But I do not have contact with him anymore.”</p> <p>September 2016: Two media outlets -- NY1 and the New York Post -- <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/two-media-outlets-sue-bill-de-blasio-in-freedom-of-information-case-1473375298" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sue</a> the mayor for the release of emails exchanged with Jonathan Rosen, of the consulting firm Berlin Rosen, who is one of the mayor’s “agents of the city.”</p> <p>That month, the City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6545-city-council-drafting-bills-to-regulate-political-nonprofits-like-campaign-for-one-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">begins</a> drafting legislation to regulate political nonprofits like the Campaign for One New York. Multiple bills were formulated to implement additional disclosure rules for these groups and to bring them under the purview of the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>October 2016: After weeks of criticizing the New York Post for their coverage of his administration, de Blasio repeatedly ignores Post reporter Yoav Gonen’s questions at an October 6 news conference. Gonen presses on with questions, leading to heated words from the mayor, who calls the Post a “right-wing rag” before moving on to other reporters. The incident earns the mayor widespread condemnation from local media.</p> <p>That same month, amid increasing criticism over the administration’s stance on Section 50-A, de Blasio releases a legislative proposal calling on Albany to amend the law to remove confidentiality provisions and make the full disciplinary records of officer available to the public. “Without significant changes to this statute, the city remains barred from providing New Yorkers with the transparency we deserve," the mayor <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/820-16/mayor-de-blasio-outlines-core-principles-legislation-make-disciplinary-records-law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>.</p> <p>November 2016: The Council introduces legislation to curb political nonprofits, particularly limiting contributions from entities and individuals with business before the city. Nonprofit groups would also have to disclose their donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>On November 23, the administration releases thousands of pages of emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and Jonathan Rosen, who was among those classified as “agents of the city” to prevent disclosure.</p> <p>At a November 29 news conference, de Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6643-de-blasio-limits-government-contact-with-top-outside-advisor" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">indicated</a> to the press that he had reduced contact with Rosen. “I think it’s fair to say that it’s pretty rare I’m talking to people, but each situation is individual,” he said at the time.</p> <p>December 2016: On his weekly <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2016/12/5/mondays-with-the-mayor--agents-no-more.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance on NY1</a> on December 5, de Blasio tells anchor Errol Louis that his communications with outside advisors and consultants will no longer be shielded from disclosure. &nbsp;</p> <p>On December 15, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/nyregion/bill-de-blasio-investigation.html?mcubz=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times reports</a> that two grand juries have been convened to hear testimony on the state and federal investigations into the mayor’s administration and fundraising. De Blasio continues to maintain that he and his associates acted legally and appropriately, following guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board and from campaign lawyers.</p> <p>March 2017: Federal and state prosecutors jointly <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6812-de-blasio-and-aides-won-t-face-charges-in-dual-investigations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> on March 17 that de Blasio and his aides would not face charges in the dual year-long investigations into the administration. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance criticized the mayor in a statement, saying that de Blasio and his associates violated the spirit and intent of the campaign finance law. Joon H. Kim, acting-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, noted that the investigation looked into “several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the City, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors.”</p> <p>De Blasio, at a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/158-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-holds-press-conference-the-federal-budget-city-hall" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">news conference</a> that day, said the conclusion of the investigations “simply confirms what I’ve said all along. My staff and my colleagues and I have acted in a manner that was legal and appropriate and ethical throughout. This is something I feel very strongly about in public service – that we have to comport ourselves in the proper manner and we have done that, and that has been confirmed by the results of this investigation.”</p> <p>Also in March, a Manhattan appeals court <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/city-wins-two-cases-keep-police-discipline-records-secret/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules in favor</a> of the de Blasio administration in the case of Officer Pantaleo’s disciplinary record, superseding two earlier lower court decisions that had allowed the release of some information.</p> <p>April 2017: After months of delaying his promise to provide a list of donors who did not receive favored treatment from City Hall, de Blasio partly backtracks and insists that he will pen an op-ed by the end of April that would mention certain relevant instances. (He had been hesitant to release the list earlier, citing the ongoing investigations.)</p> <p>August 2017: The de Blasio administration releases more emails that show two donors who were embroiled in a police corruption scandal had relatively easy access to the mayor. &nbsp;</p> <p>At the first Democratic mayoral primary debate on August 23, de Blasio concedes that the op-ed on donors is forthcoming and would be released before the September 12 primary. On September 1, de Blasio delivers in the form of <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a post on Medium</a>, an online publishing website. The post reads more as a screed against the media and contains only four instances involving unnamed donors to illustrate the mayor’s point. Some of those had emerged from emails released by the administration earlier in the month.</p> <p>“Media reports on these contacts fixated on their access to me and ignored the fair and transparent outcomes that followed,” the mayor writes. “Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City. Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>September 6: The second mayoral primary debate begins with a heavy focus on de Blasio’s ethics.</p> <p>September 12: De Blasio handily wins the Democratic primary for mayor.</p> <p>November 7: Election Day</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
At the City Council, Better Gender Balance Among Chiefs of Staff 2017-09-19T04:00:00+00:00 2017-09-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7205:at-the-city-council-better-gender-balance-among-chiefs-of-staff Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/aya_keefe_and_cm_mark_levine_crop.jpg" alt="aya keefe and cm mark levine crop" width="600" height="425" /></p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine &amp; his Chief of Staff, Aya Keefe (photo: Levine's office)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council, a 51-member body, currently includes only 13 women, down from 18 in 2009, and that number is likely to soon fall to 12 when the next Council is seated in January, if this year’s elections continue as expected. There has been widespread recent attention given to the City Council gender imbalance, in part because the Council’s Women’s Caucus released a report on the subject, and there are efforts underway to improve female representation in the Council through future elections.</p> <p>But, at one level at least, the Council is faring much better in gender balance. Of the 50 sitting Council members, 24 have women serving as their chiefs of staff, the highest ranking aide, buoying hopes among members, aides, and advocates that these positions can serve to further the political careers of numerous qualified and experienced women in city government. For men and women alike, being a top aide to a City Council member is often a path to elected office, as evidence by the victory in last Tuesday’s primary election by Diana Ayala, the former deputy chief of staff to outgoing City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is term-limited.</p> <p>Ayala, seen as an underdog against sitting Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, secured a narrow victory in the primary, with Mark-Viverito’s help, and is expected to easily win the general election in November.</p> <p>Chiefs of staff play vital roles in Council members’ offices, overseeing their legislative headquarters near City Hall and their local district offices where staffers provide constituent services. It’a role that involves liaising with other Council members’ staff, advocates, and others, and can require a working knowledge of priorities and policy proposals of nearly the entire Council. Most significantly, it can serve as a foundation for political careers. Many Council staffers, particularly chiefs of staff, go on to run for elected office, often to fill seats left vacant when their bosses are either term-limited or leave office for other reasons.</p> <p>“As the saying goes, ‘If you wanna get something done, ask a woman to do it,’” said Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who is co-chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus and whose chief of staff is a woman, in a phone interview from a restaurant. “Women are awesome, dynamic multitaskers,” Cumbo said, chuckling that she was talking to a reporter, ordering food and breastfeeding at the same time. Cumbo was pregnant on the campaign trail as she ran for reelection, and recently gave birth to her son. She won a tough primary battle on September 12 and is expected to easily beat two opponents on November 7.</p> <p>Cumbo stressed that the role of a chief of staff involves “really wearing multiple hats at the same time,” being able to understand the issues a Council member is focused on and being able to troubleshoot problems before they arise. And, as much as she said she hates stereotypes, “Women are able to do that well,” Cumbo said.</p> <p>In a city government so heavily dominated by men -- the mayor, the comptroller and most of the City Council are men, while the public advocate is Letitia James, the first woman of color to hold citywide office -- having women serve in top positions helps inform policy and the legislative process, Cumbo said. And chiefs of staff bring that valuable perspective to the table. “I think it’s something that happens by nature, because of staffers eating, breathing, and sleeping this work,” she said.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the second woman and first Latina to hold that powerful seat, has made it a future priority to increase the number of women elected to the City Council. She is spearheading the “21 in ’21” movement, which aims to elect 21 women in 2021, when more than 30 Council seats will be up for grabs along with incumbents seeking reelection. The speaker also launched the Young Women’s Initiative to provide enhanced services to girls and women, particularly those of color, between the ages of 12 and 24.</p> <p>Monica Abend, Cumbo’s chief of staff, said her position gives her the opportunity to “participate in contributing ideas to legislation, to policy and contributing to progressive legislation for a progressive city that is a frontrunner in many of those policy areas.”</p> <p>“To be able to wear that chief of staff role positions you in a wonderful arena to understand local government,” she said. It’s on-the-job training in the legislative process and in understanding how the city changes at the local level, she said. “While our communities change on a constant basis, a lot of the work stays the same,” she added.</p> <p>Abend doesn’t envision running for office any time soon but she did agree that working for a Council member provides the skills to do so. “Maybe one day in the future,” she said.</p> <p>Under the de Blasio administration and the largely progressive City Council, led by Mark-Viverito, the city has increased its focus on issues of gender equity. The mayor established the Commission on Gender Equity in 2015 through an executive order, and also banned city agencies from inquiring about salary history, a step towards ensuring pay equity for women.</p> <p>The Council has passed and the mayor has signed numerous bills related to empowering and aiding women across all walks of life. These include legislation to enhance support for caregivers, who are largely immigrant women of color; establishing public lactation stations; increasing access to feminine hygiene products in shelters, jails and schools; improving contracting opportunities for women- and minority-owned businesses; enhancing protections for victims of domestic violence; among other measures. A bill from Public Advocate James to ban inquiries about salary history in the private sector was passed and signed earlier this year.</p> <p>The Women’s Caucus also released <a href="http://helenrosenthal.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Final-Womens-Caucus-Making-It-Here-Report-Web.pdf?siteplayer=true&amp;dl=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">its report</a> last month that examines the cultural and institutional barriers to women’s representation in New York politics.</p> <p>“I think that the City Council is really a great place for women to work and take on leadership positions and express themselves, and advocate for policies that benefit all New Yorkers,” said Aya Keefe, chief of staff to Council Member Mark Levine. She noted that Levine’s director of constituent services and budget and legislative director are also women. “It’s a powerful statement for our office,” she said. “We’re very much a partnership-driven office. There’s a strong female style of management, not necessarily being hierarchical but collaborative. And that works really well on legislation. Ultimately, you have to bring a lot of interests to the table and women are uniquely positioned to do that.”</p> <p>Keefe personally has no intention of running for office, she said. “But I definitely think that chief of staff gives you great insight into the ins and outs of working in government,” she said. She also noted, as did others, that there should be a push to translate the gender balance at the staff level into elected positions.</p> <p>Alexis Grenell, a Democratic political consultant and writer on gender issues, cautioned against being overly celebratory about the number of women chiefs of staff, saying it meets the “baseline expectation” since women represent half the population. “Women make up more than 50 percent of many graduate degree programs, making them arguably more qualified than their male counterparts,” she said.</p> <p>She argued that it’s more important for women to receive support in their aspirations for elected office, pointing to the “crisis in women’s leadership” in the City Council, where the next speaker is likely to be a man for the first time in 12 years. “Empirical data shows that gender balance directly results in better outcomes,” she said. “This is true for corporate boards, and for legislation. That is undeniably the case.”</p> <p>She did agree that chief of staff is a pipeline to the Council, with outgoing Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland being a prominent example. She also pointed to two Council staffers -- Ayala and Carlina Rivera -- who ran for City Council this year to replace the term-limited Council members who they worked for. Ayala was deputy chief of staff to Mark-Viverito before leaving to run for the speaker’s seat in District 8. Rivera, who served as legislative director to outgoing Council Member Rosie Mendez, handily won the primary for Mendez’s District 2 seat on the Lower East Side. “These are women who served in the Council for two terms and backed their staffers to replace them,” Grenell said, in the hope that other Council members do the same for their own staff.</p> <p>While Ferreras-Copeland, who decided not to seek another term due to family considerations and a move to another state, is being replaced by a man, term-limited Council Member Darlene Mealy will be replaced by a woman, Alicka Samuel, who won a crowded primary in District 41. And while term-limited Annabel Palma is being replaced by a man, Adrienne Adams won the competitive primary to replace Ruben Wills, who had recently vacated the seat due to a corruption charge.</p> <p>Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women of New York, also hoped that the Council’s “abysmal” record of women’s representation would improve. “The good news is that while there are less than 25 percent of women in the City Council, a 50 percent rate of women chiefs of staff says to me that there’s a lot of potential,” she said. “They know the community well, they know the job.”</p> <p>She agreed that women add a diversity of opinion that is necessary for good policy. “But we need a representation of leaders that reflects our community,” she said.</p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal, co-chair of the Women’s Caucus, whose chief of staff is also a woman, said the numbers were “heartening” but was cautious of drawing any conclusions. “I think that sounds normal to me,” she said of the nearly 50 percent representation. “It doesn’t necessarily reflect in what people are submitting legislation about or doing in their districts.”</p> <p>“To the extent that there aren’t barriers to having chiefs of staff, it is an equalizer,” she acknowledged. But she wondered about the larger questions it raises about the entire city government. She also recognized that the Council as a body should perhaps do more to support women. “Should we have a daycare?” she said, for instance. “I think that’s something we should talk about.”</p> <p>Council staffers also don’t have set pay ranges with titles, so it’s hard to gauge whether there is pay parity across the Council. “It’s not something I’ve explored,” Rosenthal said. “It’s a great question. Every Council member has their own fiefdom. Council members can choose to pay staff whatever they want. We’re not given a range and perhaps we should.”</p> <p>“I’m lucky to have strong women leadership in the office and I benefit from it every day,” said Council Member Levine. “I think we certainly strive to be accommodating to women,” he said of the City Council, adding that he would support extending maternity leave. “We can do more,” he said, “there’s no doubt about it.”</p> <p>Keefe, Levine’s chief of staff, also said the Council should do more to accommodate women. “I think we should have a better maternity leave policy, that sets the example for businesses and nonprofits across the city,” she said. She did note that when she gave birth last year, she received three months leave, but that that isn’t the standard policy across the Council.</p> <p>Abend, from Cumbo’s office, said, “There’s always room for improvement,” but insisted that “this has been an incredible time to be a woman in local city government.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/aya_keefe_and_cm_mark_levine_crop.jpg" alt="aya keefe and cm mark levine crop" width="600" height="425" /></p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine &amp; his Chief of Staff, Aya Keefe (photo: Levine's office)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council, a 51-member body, currently includes only 13 women, down from 18 in 2009, and that number is likely to soon fall to 12 when the next Council is seated in January, if this year’s elections continue as expected. There has been widespread recent attention given to the City Council gender imbalance, in part because the Council’s Women’s Caucus released a report on the subject, and there are efforts underway to improve female representation in the Council through future elections.</p> <p>But, at one level at least, the Council is faring much better in gender balance. Of the 50 sitting Council members, 24 have women serving as their chiefs of staff, the highest ranking aide, buoying hopes among members, aides, and advocates that these positions can serve to further the political careers of numerous qualified and experienced women in city government. For men and women alike, being a top aide to a City Council member is often a path to elected office, as evidence by the victory in last Tuesday’s primary election by Diana Ayala, the former deputy chief of staff to outgoing City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is term-limited.</p> <p>Ayala, seen as an underdog against sitting Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, secured a narrow victory in the primary, with Mark-Viverito’s help, and is expected to easily win the general election in November.</p> <p>Chiefs of staff play vital roles in Council members’ offices, overseeing their legislative headquarters near City Hall and their local district offices where staffers provide constituent services. It’a role that involves liaising with other Council members’ staff, advocates, and others, and can require a working knowledge of priorities and policy proposals of nearly the entire Council. Most significantly, it can serve as a foundation for political careers. Many Council staffers, particularly chiefs of staff, go on to run for elected office, often to fill seats left vacant when their bosses are either term-limited or leave office for other reasons.</p> <p>“As the saying goes, ‘If you wanna get something done, ask a woman to do it,’” said Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who is co-chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus and whose chief of staff is a woman, in a phone interview from a restaurant. “Women are awesome, dynamic multitaskers,” Cumbo said, chuckling that she was talking to a reporter, ordering food and breastfeeding at the same time. Cumbo was pregnant on the campaign trail as she ran for reelection, and recently gave birth to her son. She won a tough primary battle on September 12 and is expected to easily beat two opponents on November 7.</p> <p>Cumbo stressed that the role of a chief of staff involves “really wearing multiple hats at the same time,” being able to understand the issues a Council member is focused on and being able to troubleshoot problems before they arise. And, as much as she said she hates stereotypes, “Women are able to do that well,” Cumbo said.</p> <p>In a city government so heavily dominated by men -- the mayor, the comptroller and most of the City Council are men, while the public advocate is Letitia James, the first woman of color to hold citywide office -- having women serve in top positions helps inform policy and the legislative process, Cumbo said. And chiefs of staff bring that valuable perspective to the table. “I think it’s something that happens by nature, because of staffers eating, breathing, and sleeping this work,” she said.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the second woman and first Latina to hold that powerful seat, has made it a future priority to increase the number of women elected to the City Council. She is spearheading the “21 in ’21” movement, which aims to elect 21 women in 2021, when more than 30 Council seats will be up for grabs along with incumbents seeking reelection. The speaker also launched the Young Women’s Initiative to provide enhanced services to girls and women, particularly those of color, between the ages of 12 and 24.</p> <p>Monica Abend, Cumbo’s chief of staff, said her position gives her the opportunity to “participate in contributing ideas to legislation, to policy and contributing to progressive legislation for a progressive city that is a frontrunner in many of those policy areas.”</p> <p>“To be able to wear that chief of staff role positions you in a wonderful arena to understand local government,” she said. It’s on-the-job training in the legislative process and in understanding how the city changes at the local level, she said. “While our communities change on a constant basis, a lot of the work stays the same,” she added.</p> <p>Abend doesn’t envision running for office any time soon but she did agree that working for a Council member provides the skills to do so. “Maybe one day in the future,” she said.</p> <p>Under the de Blasio administration and the largely progressive City Council, led by Mark-Viverito, the city has increased its focus on issues of gender equity. The mayor established the Commission on Gender Equity in 2015 through an executive order, and also banned city agencies from inquiring about salary history, a step towards ensuring pay equity for women.</p> <p>The Council has passed and the mayor has signed numerous bills related to empowering and aiding women across all walks of life. These include legislation to enhance support for caregivers, who are largely immigrant women of color; establishing public lactation stations; increasing access to feminine hygiene products in shelters, jails and schools; improving contracting opportunities for women- and minority-owned businesses; enhancing protections for victims of domestic violence; among other measures. A bill from Public Advocate James to ban inquiries about salary history in the private sector was passed and signed earlier this year.</p> <p>The Women’s Caucus also released <a href="http://helenrosenthal.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Final-Womens-Caucus-Making-It-Here-Report-Web.pdf?siteplayer=true&amp;dl=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">its report</a> last month that examines the cultural and institutional barriers to women’s representation in New York politics.</p> <p>“I think that the City Council is really a great place for women to work and take on leadership positions and express themselves, and advocate for policies that benefit all New Yorkers,” said Aya Keefe, chief of staff to Council Member Mark Levine. She noted that Levine’s director of constituent services and budget and legislative director are also women. “It’s a powerful statement for our office,” she said. “We’re very much a partnership-driven office. There’s a strong female style of management, not necessarily being hierarchical but collaborative. And that works really well on legislation. Ultimately, you have to bring a lot of interests to the table and women are uniquely positioned to do that.”</p> <p>Keefe personally has no intention of running for office, she said. “But I definitely think that chief of staff gives you great insight into the ins and outs of working in government,” she said. She also noted, as did others, that there should be a push to translate the gender balance at the staff level into elected positions.</p> <p>Alexis Grenell, a Democratic political consultant and writer on gender issues, cautioned against being overly celebratory about the number of women chiefs of staff, saying it meets the “baseline expectation” since women represent half the population. “Women make up more than 50 percent of many graduate degree programs, making them arguably more qualified than their male counterparts,” she said.</p> <p>She argued that it’s more important for women to receive support in their aspirations for elected office, pointing to the “crisis in women’s leadership” in the City Council, where the next speaker is likely to be a man for the first time in 12 years. “Empirical data shows that gender balance directly results in better outcomes,” she said. “This is true for corporate boards, and for legislation. That is undeniably the case.”</p> <p>She did agree that chief of staff is a pipeline to the Council, with outgoing Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland being a prominent example. She also pointed to two Council staffers -- Ayala and Carlina Rivera -- who ran for City Council this year to replace the term-limited Council members who they worked for. Ayala was deputy chief of staff to Mark-Viverito before leaving to run for the speaker’s seat in District 8. Rivera, who served as legislative director to outgoing Council Member Rosie Mendez, handily won the primary for Mendez’s District 2 seat on the Lower East Side. “These are women who served in the Council for two terms and backed their staffers to replace them,” Grenell said, in the hope that other Council members do the same for their own staff.</p> <p>While Ferreras-Copeland, who decided not to seek another term due to family considerations and a move to another state, is being replaced by a man, term-limited Council Member Darlene Mealy will be replaced by a woman, Alicka Samuel, who won a crowded primary in District 41. And while term-limited Annabel Palma is being replaced by a man, Adrienne Adams won the competitive primary to replace Ruben Wills, who had recently vacated the seat due to a corruption charge.</p> <p>Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women of New York, also hoped that the Council’s “abysmal” record of women’s representation would improve. “The good news is that while there are less than 25 percent of women in the City Council, a 50 percent rate of women chiefs of staff says to me that there’s a lot of potential,” she said. “They know the community well, they know the job.”</p> <p>She agreed that women add a diversity of opinion that is necessary for good policy. “But we need a representation of leaders that reflects our community,” she said.</p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal, co-chair of the Women’s Caucus, whose chief of staff is also a woman, said the numbers were “heartening” but was cautious of drawing any conclusions. “I think that sounds normal to me,” she said of the nearly 50 percent representation. “It doesn’t necessarily reflect in what people are submitting legislation about or doing in their districts.”</p> <p>“To the extent that there aren’t barriers to having chiefs of staff, it is an equalizer,” she acknowledged. But she wondered about the larger questions it raises about the entire city government. She also recognized that the Council as a body should perhaps do more to support women. “Should we have a daycare?” she said, for instance. “I think that’s something we should talk about.”</p> <p>Council staffers also don’t have set pay ranges with titles, so it’s hard to gauge whether there is pay parity across the Council. “It’s not something I’ve explored,” Rosenthal said. “It’s a great question. Every Council member has their own fiefdom. Council members can choose to pay staff whatever they want. We’re not given a range and perhaps we should.”</p> <p>“I’m lucky to have strong women leadership in the office and I benefit from it every day,” said Council Member Levine. “I think we certainly strive to be accommodating to women,” he said of the City Council, adding that he would support extending maternity leave. “We can do more,” he said, “there’s no doubt about it.”</p> <p>Keefe, Levine’s chief of staff, also said the Council should do more to accommodate women. “I think we should have a better maternity leave policy, that sets the example for businesses and nonprofits across the city,” she said. She did note that when she gave birth last year, she received three months leave, but that that isn’t the standard policy across the Council.</p> <p>Abend, from Cumbo’s office, said, “There’s always room for improvement,” but insisted that “this has been an incredible time to be a woman in local city government.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
In Surprise to Some, Diana Ayala Victorious in Tight Primary 2017-09-14T04:00:00+00:00 2017-09-14T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7197:in-surprise-to-some-diana-ayala-appears-on-verge-of-victory Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/mmv-ayala.jpg" alt="mmv ayala" width="600" height="356" /></p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito with Diana Ayala (photo: Samar Khurshid/GothamGazette)</p> <hr /> <p>The primary election on Tuesday saw incumbents retain power across most of the city and few upsets in contested races. But in one of the most competitive races of the day, a first-time candidate prevailed over a long-time elected official, overcoming an expected gap in name recognition and other deficits, in a City Council district struggling with concerns for its future and looking for its next local leader to advocate for its interests.</p> <p>District 8, which covers East Harlem and the South Bronx, is the constituency of current City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who faces term limits and cannot run for reelection. Four Democratic candidates ran in Tuesday’s primary to replace her: Diana Ayala, Mark-Viverito’s former deputy chief of staff and preferred successor; sitting state Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez; community activist Tamika Mapp; and former state Assemblymember Israel Martinez.</p> <p>As soon as the field of candidates was clear, it was evident that it would be a race between Ayala and Rodriguez, with the sitting elected official coming into the race with distinct advantages, including in terms of raising funds.</p> <p>After months of tense campaigning, split establishment allegiances, and some mudslinging, it all came down to primary day, September 12, where -- like in most districts across the city -- the outcome would determine the next officeholder given the overwhelming Democratic advantage.</p> <p>A grueling day of crisscrossing the district to canvas for votes, with polls open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., culminated with a race that was too close to call once most of the returns were in. Yet, Ayala claimed victory with a margin of just 122 votes in a race that saw only 8,471 ballots cast. She received 3,705 votes, or 43.7 percent, to Rodriguez’s 3,583, good for 42.3 percent. Mapp took 814 votes and Martinez took 369.&nbsp;</p> <p>While Ayala declared victory from Harley’s Smokeshack at 11:20 p.m. to a room full of allies and supporters, including Mark-Viverito, Rodriguez soon put out a public statement saying that every vote needed to be counted, given the possibility of affidavit and absentee ballots perhaps yet tallied. One week later, on September 19, all the ballots had been accounted for and Ayala still came out on top. "With all vote counting complete, I am proud to declare victory today," she said in a statement.&nbsp;</p> <p>"El Barrio and the South Bronx are at a crossroads, like so many other communities in our City," she added. "I will fight tirelessly to ensure that we do everything to protect the lives and provide affordability for those who have grown up, are raising their families, or are retiring here." Rodriguez, who will continue to serve in the state Assembly, conceded defeat on Tuesday. "I offer my congrats to Diana Ayala, and I hope she can fulfill the promises she made," he said in a statement.&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 14 hours before she declared victory on primary day, Ayala was standing at the corner of East 109th Street and 2nd Avenue, asking residents for their votes.</p> <p>“My legs are starting to get numb,” said Ayala, around 8:30 a.m., already more than two hours into her time there, as the sun was beginning to warm the crisp morning air. Ayala shifted on her feet as she stood, arms folded at the waist, surveying the scene, as if steadying herself for the long day ahead. It was the first of many stops she would make.</p> <p>Campaign volunteer Joe Taranto, a top government aide to Mark-Viverito, passed out campaign literature as Ayala greeted each voter. “I feel good, I’m excited to see what the results will be,” she said, with a composure that she wouldn’t betray until she was saying she had won, holding back tears with a beaming smile on her face.</p> <p>Around 8:45 a.m., a campaign barker walked by across the street, yelling, “Vote for Robert Rodriguez for City Council, Robert Rodriguez for City Council!!” He had come from the 110th Street subway station where he had been spotted earlier.</p> <p>Ayala has worked for Mark-Viverito for nearly 12 years and, as her director of constituent services, she has been in direct contact with members of the community, hearing residents’ problems firsthand and seeking to help them as she could. It’s one of the reasons she expected that people would vote for her. “They know me personally, they know my work ethic,” she said. “They know I deliver.” It explains why voters recognize her on the street, why some stopped to hug her and wish her good luck.</p> <p>“The best team in the world! That’s my girl!,” exclaimed one voter, Susan Rodriguez, walking down the street seeing Ayala at the corner. Rodriguez, the founding director of Sisterhood Mobilized for AIDS/HIV Research &amp; Treatment, a nonprofit, said Ayala had personally assisted her when the nonprofit faced an office space issue. “She’s been a champion of the community,” Rodriguez said. “She goes out of the way to help people. She’s always been accessible. She loves this community and you know that.”</p> <p>Seeing Ayala’s name on the ballot gave her “goosebumps,” Susan Rodriguez said. “She doesn’t need to put her name all over the place, We know her.”</p> <p>“Diana’s been a rock for our community and we’d be blessed and privileged to have her in the Council,” she added. “We love Melissa [Mark-Viverito] and she’s passing the torch to Diana, who will continue her legacy and build her own.”</p> <p>What about her main opponent, Robert Rodriguez? “I only hear about him when he’s running for something,” she said.</p> <p>Another voter, 95-year-old Josephine Surita had just walked out of PS/JHS 117 after voting for Ayala. “Diana la gana! Diana la gana!” she yelled in Spanish. “Diana will win! Diana will win!”</p> <p>It was 9 a.m. and time to head to PS 206, Ayala’s polling site. Ayala and Taranto hopped into her Toyota RAV4 and headed west. First, a quick stop at her favorite coffee cart at the corner of Lexington and 116th, where she gets a cup everyday. Ayala had been up since 2 a.m., she said, tossing and turning in bed, but not out of apprehension, she explained. “I tried to go to sleep early, but I only slept for four hours,” she said. “I didn’t feel nervous, though; maybe subconsciously.”</p> <p>Standing in line for coffee, Ayala recounted how four years ago she’d worked, as part of Mark-Viverito’s staff, with the city to help find a suitable location for that very coffee vendor. The owner had faced harassment from a local business across the street where it was located earlier. Throughout the day, Ayala relayed similar anecdotes, pulled from her decade-plus working in the community. “Who are you gonna vote for?” the cart’s owner asked Ayala as she handed her two steaming cups. “I don’t know, I haven’t made up my mind,” Ayala chuckled.</p> <p>At the polling site, Ayala’s two adult children and her mother were already waiting. First she had to pick up 11-year-old Isaiah, the youngest of her four children, from the East River North apartments where she lives with her parents. “He’s my baby. He refuses to stop growing,” said the proud mother, who also has three grandchildren from her only daughter. “We measure the amount of time I’ve worked for Melissa by looking at him, because when I started working for her, he was born.”</p> <p>By 9:40 a.m., the entire clan was at PS 206 and soon they had cast their votes. Seeing her own name on the ballot “was a little surreal,” Ayala said with excitement.</p> <p>“She takes care of everybody,” said Abraham, 27, Ayala’s oldest son, thrilled after having just voted for his mom. “She’s always been for the community. She’s been about family, everybody’s her family. She’s just the best candidate. She’ll make sure she does what she has to do to make sure that everybody in the community will thrive and survive.”</p> <p>For Ayala, perhaps the hardest part of running for office, ostensibly a full-time commitment, was the time away from her children and grandchildren. And, at the same time, keeping them removed from what can sometimes be a nasty affair. She spoke of the time an independent group plastered the neighborhood with flyers that depicted her on all fours like a dog, and how she had to explain that to her children. “This is very new to them,” she said. “It can get pretty dirty out there and I didn’t want them tainted by that.”</p> <p>Her children played no small part in her decision to run for office. “If you had asked me three years ago, I would’ve said never,” she said of jumping headlong into a City Council campaign. Her kids were younger and needed their mother, and her infirm parents had also moved in with her. Her family has been supportive, and her youngest also appeared in a campaign ad for her. “They don’t need me anymore, they’re OK without me,” she said, with her typical chuckle. “It’s mama that misses them.”</p> <p>What drove her decision was term limits and the Speaker’s entreaties. The one-time term limit extension passed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg had allowed Mark-Viverito to serve a third four-year term on the Council. “Because of term limits, it allowed us four more years, so a lot of things kinda settled,” Ayala said, “in a way that made it possible for me to consider this an option.”</p> <p>Her decision was made over time, in conversations with the speaker, who prodded Ayala to run. “I had never really thought about it,” Ayala said. “I don’t come from a political background. I consider myself more of a social services person. I wanna know the issues. I wanna know people. Even though I have an appreciation for politics, it does tend to get in the way of doing the work sometimes.”</p> <p>It was the realization, she said, that there were so few women on the City Council that pushed her across the line. “I figured, ‘If not me, then who?’ You don’t have to be a politician to run for office,” she said. The term that ends this year includes 13 women in the 51-seat Council. “We’re regular people with life experiences that have shaped who we are,” Ayala continue. “I think that my life experiences allow me some insight into my own community because a lot of the issues that I help constituents navigate through have been my issues.”</p> <p>Ayala regularly talks openly about her life experiences, which led her directly into public service. At the age of 17, she had her first child, whose father died a victim of gun violence earlier that year. She struggled with postpartum depression, and conflict at home with her mother meant that she couldn’t cope with the grief. She emancipated herself, and lived for a time in a homeless shelter on the Lower East Side before moving to an apartment in the Bronx. She personally knows the difficulties of navigating the bureaucracy of public assistance offices.</p> <p>“Those kinds of interactions with social service providers that were not always positive left me with an interest of wanting to be helpful and doing it the right way,” she said. Alaya consistently talks on the campaign trail about how she sees the residents of the district through her lived experience. “A lot of people helped me and I just wanna give back,” she said.</p> <p>Just after 10 a.m., Ayala headed to PS 57, where she was met by Mark-Viverito, who had been stumping all morning for her preferred successor. Mark-Viverito’s popularity in the district is distinct. For many voters, she’s immediately recognizable and her opinion carries weight. “I’m not running for reelection so I need you to vote for Diana,” she told residents who passed the two at the corner. Several members of her staff volunteered for Ayala’s campaign. A few, including Taranto, took the day off to help drum up support.</p> <p>“I think that there’s a different level of energy that surrounds her campaign versus the opponent’s campaign,” Mark-Viverito told Gotham Gazette, confident of Ayala’s chances. “People are very excited and motivated and have a reason to vote for her...and I don’t get that same sense from the opposing side.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito emphasized that the race would hinge on the Ayala campaign’s ground game, which was extensive. Ayala said she had personally knocked on more than 2,000 doors over the course of the campaign and had a team of about 70 volunteers out on the streets on Tuesday, most of them women, urging voters to support her.</p> <p>For Mark-Viverito, Ayala’s campaign also carried the promise of fighting greater gender imbalance on the City Council. The 51-member body had 18 women in 2009, but is down to 13 and was at risk of dropping to single digits. The speaker has been spearheading a movement to improve women’s representation on the legislative body, aiming ultimately to elect more women in 2021 when more than 30 seats will be up for grabs -- the goal is 21 women on the Council through the next cycle. Mark-Viverito called the current gender imbalance “appalling” and pointed to other City Council races where she has tried to support women candidates to ensure what is the best-case scenario given the current situation. “If we work hard, maybe we’ll be able to make it stay the same, that’s my hope at least,” she said, “I would love to gain a little bit...Right now, to stay at least treading water is what we need to do.”</p> <p>Around 11:30 a.m., it was time for the operation to move across the river to the South Bronx, home to half the Council district. Ayala went north, but just blocks away, Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez would arrive with his wife and son about two hours later to vote at his poll site at PS 102 (That also happens to be where Mark-Viverito voted that morning and where the Ayala campaign would later call it a day). Comptroller Scott Stringer, who endorsed Rodriguez, made an appearance and the two greeted voters together.</p> <p>Rodriguez, with his young son atop his shoulders, seemed confident of a victory. “I think voters are responding well,” he said as his son absent-mindedly played with his father’s hair. “I’m looking forward to good results and I think the message about our success and our track record and our experience has begun to resonate.”</p> <p>Stringer also spoke to Rodriguez’s experience, having worked with him in the past as Manhattan borough president. “I want members of the City Council who are able to also see beyond their street corner, that they can see the big picture, which is how we’re gonna create a city that everyone can live in,” he said. “And there’s no question that in El Barrio today there are people who built this community who are now being forced out. So we need to have leaders like Robert Rodriguez who understand land use and zoning, who understand community planning.”</p> <p>Ayala recognizes that gentrification has been rapid in East Harlem and is creeping into the South Bronx. “I think that voters are concerned, they would like to see the next Council member is cognizant of the fact that they are afraid, that they have real life fears that they will be displaced,” she said at one point on primary day. Mark-Viverito, Ayala and Rodriguez have stood against a de Blasio administration proposal for a comprehensive rezoning of East Harlem, and have emphasized the need for community input to inform the process.</p> <p>An alternate community-based proposal called the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan -- an effort led by Mark-Viverito, with help from Ayala -- included community priorities but was largely ignored by the administration. The rezoning is likely to be voted on under the current Council, but on Tuesday, it was one of the issues that voters took to the polls. Although some who spoke to Gotham Gazette felt that current leadership had been unable to protect them from displacement, and saw Ayala as a continuation in that direction, others believed Ayala’s close ties to the community would mean she would fight that much harder for them.</p> <p>Ayala’s ties to Mark-Viverito, in that sense, are a double-edged sword, even if one edge is sharper than the other. “Some people say, ‘I don’t know you, but if the Speaker says you’re good enough, you’re good enough for me,’” Ayala said, outside Betances Houses on St. Ann’s Avenue in the Bronx. It was about 2:30 p.m. and schools were letting out. Hoards of little children rushed to a snow cone vendor at the corner and Ayala tried to catch their parents and a few more votes. Joe Pressley, another Mark-Viverito staffer volunteering for the campaign, had taken Taranto’s place and was Ayala’s sidekick for the rest of the afternoon.</p> <p>Ayala realizes that she’ll have to forge her own path, independent of Mark-Viverito. “Those are big shoes to fill,” she said. “I’m not trying to fill her shoes, I’m trying to find my own role, find my own position and how I fit in, how my experiences can benefit this community, both parts of it. I’m not in a competition with the speaker.”</p> <p>Could she fill those shoes? “One day, one day,” she said.</p> <p>By late afternoon, Ayala was running on fumes and lunch was long overdue. “One piece of advice I’d give people is definitely get in shape,” she joked, about running for Council. “Because it’s a lot of walking around and door knocking. She needed “some pep in my step” for the next stop. After a quick roast chicken lunch at Peruvian restaurant Pio Pio, Ayala and Pressley headed for the Mitchell Community Center on Alexander Avenue where they were met around 4:30 p.m. by another campaign ally, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>The charismatic Diaz Jr.’s energy was almost infectious, and no voter that passed by escaped his grip. At least three cars stopped to greet the popular Democrat, who was also on the ballot Tuesday (he easily fought off two primary challengers). Diaz Jr. said Ayala’s advantage over Rodriguez was her familiarity with both the Harlem and Bronx sides of the district. Rodriguez’s Assembly district falls entirely south of the Harlem River and the Bronx Kill. “I think both sides of the river are familiar with Diana and the work that she’s done, working with Mark-Viverito, but also being the face of the office, being the face of constituent services,” Diaz Jr. said.</p> <p>“People just want services, people want someone who can identify with them,” Diaz Jr. continued. “People want someone who is sincere, who is hardworking, and she’s exhibited and shown all of those qualities without the title...I think Diana just represents that everyday constituent, that everyday citizen that people are yearning for.”</p> <p>Diaz Jr. didn’t discount Rodriguez but preferred him to remain in the Assembly. “I respect him,” he said, adding with a slight chuckle, “I think that he’s done a great job in Albany and he should stay in Albany. He’s actually shown to be an involved and intelligent legislator and we certainly need that.”</p> <p>Having popular leaders like Diaz Jr. and Mark-Viverito on her side helped offset the establishment support that went in Rodriguez’s favor, Ayala said. Rodriguez was endorsed by the Bronx County machine, including Bronx Democratic Party Chair and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, and by Governor Andrew Cuomo and other local, state, and federal elected officials. For her part, Ayala also had the backing of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, the Working Families Party, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, prominent unions including 32BJ SEIU, the Hotel Trades Council, and DC37, and activist group Make the Road New York.</p> <p>Another hour, another stop. It was almost rush hour and Ayala began to head back across the river to 103rd Street and Lexington Avenue, to grab the dozens of potential voters exiting the 6 Train. On the way, she witnessed a Rodriguez volunteer -- the same man who had been shouting across the street that morning -- yelling at one of her own campaign volunteers, a young woman. She was familiar with the man, having seen him around in previous campaigns, and said he had a history of being menacing and aggressive. She immediately directed Pressley to call campaign headquarters. “Call and send someone there. She shouldn’t be alone,” she told him.</p> <p>At 5:45 p.m., Ayala pulled over at the corner of 103rd, converging with Mark-Viverito who was already at the bustling intersection. A large blue truck, emblazoned with Assemblymember Rodriguez’s face, intermittently blared support for him between pop songs that drowned out the street traffic. The truck, and about a dozen or so individuals, represented 700 Strong, a group purportedly made up of residents of public housing, people living in homeless shelters, and those living near public housing, and even philanthropists. The group handed out dozens of fliers, including disparaging ones that showed Mark-Viverito as a puppetmaster controlling Ayala and John Ruiz, a candidate running for District Leader. Ayala picked up the phone. “This corner is all Robert Rodriguez,” she told someone at her 116th street campaign headquarters, calling for backup. “This is when anxiety starts to peek in,” she turned and said. “People tend to get tense and aggressive.”</p> <p>The volunteers for 700 Strong were either unaware or would not say who leads the group, which is not registered with the New York City Campaign Finance Board as is required of any independent expenditure group that engages in electioneering. Kimesha Alvarado, one volunteer, said they were out there to support Rodriguez because he “is more connected to the people, more accessible and community oriented,” while dismissing Ayala, with no hint of irony, as a “part of the establishment” that had allowed gentrification in the district to go unchecked.</p> <p>The group also encouraged residents to vote for Kelmy Rodriguez, a candidate running for District Leader against John Ruiz. Kelmy Rodriguez was on the scene and denied any knowledge of who had organized the fliers and campaigners, while acknowledging that he was a member of 700 Strong. Mark-Viverito speculated that the group was illegally coordinating its efforts with Ayala’s opponent.</p> <p>Amid the chaos of rush hour commuters, traffic and campaign teams, Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez arrived, an hour after Ayala had already been there. The two candidates were barely seven feet apart, but did not acknowledge each other. Volunteers from both campaigns tried to shout over their counterparts, devolving into a barely comprehensible white noise assailing those stepping out of the subway station.</p> <p>Barely 10 minutes later, the Assembly member started to rush away. Asked what prompted him to show up, he said, “Well, you know, sometimes you can’t concede any street corners and 103rd Street is where my family grew up and I wanna make sure that on election day, they have a choice and understand that the choice should be Rodriguez. I wanna make sure that an alternative is presented this evening.” He also denied knowing anything about 700 Strong, but said he was grateful for their support.</p> <p>Having finished the last frenetic push of the day, just one stop remained for Ayala: PS 102, Mark-Viverito’s poll site. The entrance to the site had been shifted, confusing voters who had showed up there for years, including the speaker herself. She realized it would be a good place to stake out for the last leg of the race, to catch the later voters and nudge them to the ballot and towards an Ayala vote.</p> <p>“Diana is the kind of person who doesn’t mind coming to the community,” said Mildred Santiago, 56, a retired special education teacher who had just exited the poll site. “She visits the seniors, she visits the disabled, she sees what they need...she follows up on cases. She calls you directly. She doesn’t say, ‘Oh I’ll send someone,’ like other people. She says, ‘I’ll be in charge.’ So she knows how to manage issues.”</p> <p>For voters like Santiago, Tuesday was a bittersweet election because it also meant that Mark-Viverito was that much closer to leaving office. (Mark-Viverito also won the position of District Leader that day, which she says will keep her involved in the community.) “I’ll miss Melissa,” Santiago said, “but if she goes to Congress, I’m gonna be so happy.” Mark-Viverito heard Santiago and laughed. She has been rumored as a potential replacement for U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano, who is said to be considering retirement, but she wouldn’t say if she had considered a run for Congress.</p> <p>It was late, just after 8 o’clock and the polls would be closing in about an hour. Ayala had literally walked a hole into her beige ballet flats. “I didn’t take them off because they’re my lucky shoes,” she said, and she needed every bit of luck she could get. The campaign had done all it could do and now there was only the wait for results.</p> <p>Back at the campaign headquarters, there was an air of “nervous excitement” as the campaign team took a breather in the large back office, where the walls were plastered with maps of the district. At about 9 p.m., when voting was done for the day, they would head two doors down to Harley’s Smokeshack, a local barbecue joint advertising a Tuesday Tacos and Tequila special. The campaign team, including dozens of union workers from LiUNA Local 78, crowded in front of the bar as a screen switched to NY1, which was broadcasting the primary results.</p> <p>Ayala betrayed no emotion. “I’ve put everything I’ve had into it, and if it’s for me, it’s for me,” she had said earlier. “And if it isn’t, then there’s a lot of lessons to learn. It’s a new experience for me and one should never be afraid to challenge themselves and to take chances.”</p> <p>At the bar, the first precincts had begun to report. Ayala was leading and the crowd erupted into whoops and cheers. “Diana! Diana! Diana!,” they roared. The next two hours would be an emotional rollercoaster as Ayala continued to lead through the night but Rodriguez inched closer and closer. At 9:30 p.m. Ayala had a five point lead. By 10 p.m., with about 85 percent of precincts counted, that lead had whittled down to three points, and then two. The race had become a nail-biter, as the numbers then stayed frozen for well over an hour. “I’m so nervous,” exclaimed Alicia, Ayala’s 25-year-old daughter.</p> <p>“It’s a little annoying that they’re not moving,” Ayala said, before retreating outside to sidebar with Mark-Viverito and her core campaign team. They repeatedly huddled outside, with anxious faces, as the ballots crawled up. Most other races had already been called and District 8 was one of only two City Council races that remained undecided.</p> <p>At 11:20 p.m., Ayala and Mark-Viverito walked back in. More than 96 percent of precincts were reporting and Ayala led by 122 votes. Mark-Viverito signalled to the bartender to kill the music and stepped up on a barstool, hushing the supporters. “I wanna introduce our next Council member,” she said smiling, declaring triumph to a roaring response.</p> <p>Ayala gingerly climbed up after her. “As a woman, and as a minority, it was not an easy decision” to run for office, she said. “Many of the women that are represented in this room, we do all of the work in the background, we do it all and we don’t ask for credit, we just ask for decency...It wasn’t until this woman said to me that I have the potential to do this, that I believed in myself,” she said, tearing up and pointing to Mark-Viverito. “I thank all of you!”</p> <p>“It was a very close race but this is a huge victory. We won against an incumbent,” she added. Supporters rushed to hug Ayala as Celebration by Kool &amp; The Gang blasted through the speakers.</p> <p>“This is a community victory, this is amazing,” Mark-Viverito said to Gotham Gazette afterwards. “I didn’t doubt it. Obviously we knew it was gonna be close. It reminds me of my first election.”</p> <p>“I think Diana was the right candidate for the moment, the right candidate for the community,” said Edison Severino, business manager of Local 78. “Diana is a person that is not a politician per se, but is a daughter of these streets...She’s real, she’s us. And we feel that people like that are the people we need representing us.”</p> <p>Rodriguez had not conceded the race, however, noting that affidavit ballots and absentee ballots will still have to be counted. “This race is far too close to call right now, and it is premature for anyone to declare a victory,” he said in a statement released just before midnight. “There are still ballots left to be counted, and we want to make sure each voter has their voice heard.”</p> <p>But Ayala’s team was confident it had the votes. “I feel great,” Ayala said. “I was really calm through all of it. I just had faith that the system was gonna work in my favor and that people were gonna turn out...It is a dream come true, for me and for a lot of little girls that come from communities of color, and I hope that I’m an inspiration to those women and that they feel that they see in me an opportunity to do what I’m doing, one day.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/mmv-ayala.jpg" alt="mmv ayala" width="600" height="356" /></p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito with Diana Ayala (photo: Samar Khurshid/GothamGazette)</p> <hr /> <p>The primary election on Tuesday saw incumbents retain power across most of the city and few upsets in contested races. But in one of the most competitive races of the day, a first-time candidate prevailed over a long-time elected official, overcoming an expected gap in name recognition and other deficits, in a City Council district struggling with concerns for its future and looking for its next local leader to advocate for its interests.</p> <p>District 8, which covers East Harlem and the South Bronx, is the constituency of current City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who faces term limits and cannot run for reelection. Four Democratic candidates ran in Tuesday’s primary to replace her: Diana Ayala, Mark-Viverito’s former deputy chief of staff and preferred successor; sitting state Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez; community activist Tamika Mapp; and former state Assemblymember Israel Martinez.</p> <p>As soon as the field of candidates was clear, it was evident that it would be a race between Ayala and Rodriguez, with the sitting elected official coming into the race with distinct advantages, including in terms of raising funds.</p> <p>After months of tense campaigning, split establishment allegiances, and some mudslinging, it all came down to primary day, September 12, where -- like in most districts across the city -- the outcome would determine the next officeholder given the overwhelming Democratic advantage.</p> <p>A grueling day of crisscrossing the district to canvas for votes, with polls open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., culminated with a race that was too close to call once most of the returns were in. Yet, Ayala claimed victory with a margin of just 122 votes in a race that saw only 8,471 ballots cast. She received 3,705 votes, or 43.7 percent, to Rodriguez’s 3,583, good for 42.3 percent. Mapp took 814 votes and Martinez took 369.&nbsp;</p> <p>While Ayala declared victory from Harley’s Smokeshack at 11:20 p.m. to a room full of allies and supporters, including Mark-Viverito, Rodriguez soon put out a public statement saying that every vote needed to be counted, given the possibility of affidavit and absentee ballots perhaps yet tallied. One week later, on September 19, all the ballots had been accounted for and Ayala still came out on top. "With all vote counting complete, I am proud to declare victory today," she said in a statement.&nbsp;</p> <p>"El Barrio and the South Bronx are at a crossroads, like so many other communities in our City," she added. "I will fight tirelessly to ensure that we do everything to protect the lives and provide affordability for those who have grown up, are raising their families, or are retiring here." Rodriguez, who will continue to serve in the state Assembly, conceded defeat on Tuesday. "I offer my congrats to Diana Ayala, and I hope she can fulfill the promises she made," he said in a statement.&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 14 hours before she declared victory on primary day, Ayala was standing at the corner of East 109th Street and 2nd Avenue, asking residents for their votes.</p> <p>“My legs are starting to get numb,” said Ayala, around 8:30 a.m., already more than two hours into her time there, as the sun was beginning to warm the crisp morning air. Ayala shifted on her feet as she stood, arms folded at the waist, surveying the scene, as if steadying herself for the long day ahead. It was the first of many stops she would make.</p> <p>Campaign volunteer Joe Taranto, a top government aide to Mark-Viverito, passed out campaign literature as Ayala greeted each voter. “I feel good, I’m excited to see what the results will be,” she said, with a composure that she wouldn’t betray until she was saying she had won, holding back tears with a beaming smile on her face.</p> <p>Around 8:45 a.m., a campaign barker walked by across the street, yelling, “Vote for Robert Rodriguez for City Council, Robert Rodriguez for City Council!!” He had come from the 110th Street subway station where he had been spotted earlier.</p> <p>Ayala has worked for Mark-Viverito for nearly 12 years and, as her director of constituent services, she has been in direct contact with members of the community, hearing residents’ problems firsthand and seeking to help them as she could. It’s one of the reasons she expected that people would vote for her. “They know me personally, they know my work ethic,” she said. “They know I deliver.” It explains why voters recognize her on the street, why some stopped to hug her and wish her good luck.</p> <p>“The best team in the world! That’s my girl!,” exclaimed one voter, Susan Rodriguez, walking down the street seeing Ayala at the corner. Rodriguez, the founding director of Sisterhood Mobilized for AIDS/HIV Research &amp; Treatment, a nonprofit, said Ayala had personally assisted her when the nonprofit faced an office space issue. “She’s been a champion of the community,” Rodriguez said. “She goes out of the way to help people. She’s always been accessible. She loves this community and you know that.”</p> <p>Seeing Ayala’s name on the ballot gave her “goosebumps,” Susan Rodriguez said. “She doesn’t need to put her name all over the place, We know her.”</p> <p>“Diana’s been a rock for our community and we’d be blessed and privileged to have her in the Council,” she added. “We love Melissa [Mark-Viverito] and she’s passing the torch to Diana, who will continue her legacy and build her own.”</p> <p>What about her main opponent, Robert Rodriguez? “I only hear about him when he’s running for something,” she said.</p> <p>Another voter, 95-year-old Josephine Surita had just walked out of PS/JHS 117 after voting for Ayala. “Diana la gana! Diana la gana!” she yelled in Spanish. “Diana will win! Diana will win!”</p> <p>It was 9 a.m. and time to head to PS 206, Ayala’s polling site. Ayala and Taranto hopped into her Toyota RAV4 and headed west. First, a quick stop at her favorite coffee cart at the corner of Lexington and 116th, where she gets a cup everyday. Ayala had been up since 2 a.m., she said, tossing and turning in bed, but not out of apprehension, she explained. “I tried to go to sleep early, but I only slept for four hours,” she said. “I didn’t feel nervous, though; maybe subconsciously.”</p> <p>Standing in line for coffee, Ayala recounted how four years ago she’d worked, as part of Mark-Viverito’s staff, with the city to help find a suitable location for that very coffee vendor. The owner had faced harassment from a local business across the street where it was located earlier. Throughout the day, Ayala relayed similar anecdotes, pulled from her decade-plus working in the community. “Who are you gonna vote for?” the cart’s owner asked Ayala as she handed her two steaming cups. “I don’t know, I haven’t made up my mind,” Ayala chuckled.</p> <p>At the polling site, Ayala’s two adult children and her mother were already waiting. First she had to pick up 11-year-old Isaiah, the youngest of her four children, from the East River North apartments where she lives with her parents. “He’s my baby. He refuses to stop growing,” said the proud mother, who also has three grandchildren from her only daughter. “We measure the amount of time I’ve worked for Melissa by looking at him, because when I started working for her, he was born.”</p> <p>By 9:40 a.m., the entire clan was at PS 206 and soon they had cast their votes. Seeing her own name on the ballot “was a little surreal,” Ayala said with excitement.</p> <p>“She takes care of everybody,” said Abraham, 27, Ayala’s oldest son, thrilled after having just voted for his mom. “She’s always been for the community. She’s been about family, everybody’s her family. She’s just the best candidate. She’ll make sure she does what she has to do to make sure that everybody in the community will thrive and survive.”</p> <p>For Ayala, perhaps the hardest part of running for office, ostensibly a full-time commitment, was the time away from her children and grandchildren. And, at the same time, keeping them removed from what can sometimes be a nasty affair. She spoke of the time an independent group plastered the neighborhood with flyers that depicted her on all fours like a dog, and how she had to explain that to her children. “This is very new to them,” she said. “It can get pretty dirty out there and I didn’t want them tainted by that.”</p> <p>Her children played no small part in her decision to run for office. “If you had asked me three years ago, I would’ve said never,” she said of jumping headlong into a City Council campaign. Her kids were younger and needed their mother, and her infirm parents had also moved in with her. Her family has been supportive, and her youngest also appeared in a campaign ad for her. “They don’t need me anymore, they’re OK without me,” she said, with her typical chuckle. “It’s mama that misses them.”</p> <p>What drove her decision was term limits and the Speaker’s entreaties. The one-time term limit extension passed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg had allowed Mark-Viverito to serve a third four-year term on the Council. “Because of term limits, it allowed us four more years, so a lot of things kinda settled,” Ayala said, “in a way that made it possible for me to consider this an option.”</p> <p>Her decision was made over time, in conversations with the speaker, who prodded Ayala to run. “I had never really thought about it,” Ayala said. “I don’t come from a political background. I consider myself more of a social services person. I wanna know the issues. I wanna know people. Even though I have an appreciation for politics, it does tend to get in the way of doing the work sometimes.”</p> <p>It was the realization, she said, that there were so few women on the City Council that pushed her across the line. “I figured, ‘If not me, then who?’ You don’t have to be a politician to run for office,” she said. The term that ends this year includes 13 women in the 51-seat Council. “We’re regular people with life experiences that have shaped who we are,” Ayala continue. “I think that my life experiences allow me some insight into my own community because a lot of the issues that I help constituents navigate through have been my issues.”</p> <p>Ayala regularly talks openly about her life experiences, which led her directly into public service. At the age of 17, she had her first child, whose father died a victim of gun violence earlier that year. She struggled with postpartum depression, and conflict at home with her mother meant that she couldn’t cope with the grief. She emancipated herself, and lived for a time in a homeless shelter on the Lower East Side before moving to an apartment in the Bronx. She personally knows the difficulties of navigating the bureaucracy of public assistance offices.</p> <p>“Those kinds of interactions with social service providers that were not always positive left me with an interest of wanting to be helpful and doing it the right way,” she said. Alaya consistently talks on the campaign trail about how she sees the residents of the district through her lived experience. “A lot of people helped me and I just wanna give back,” she said.</p> <p>Just after 10 a.m., Ayala headed to PS 57, where she was met by Mark-Viverito, who had been stumping all morning for her preferred successor. Mark-Viverito’s popularity in the district is distinct. For many voters, she’s immediately recognizable and her opinion carries weight. “I’m not running for reelection so I need you to vote for Diana,” she told residents who passed the two at the corner. Several members of her staff volunteered for Ayala’s campaign. A few, including Taranto, took the day off to help drum up support.</p> <p>“I think that there’s a different level of energy that surrounds her campaign versus the opponent’s campaign,” Mark-Viverito told Gotham Gazette, confident of Ayala’s chances. “People are very excited and motivated and have a reason to vote for her...and I don’t get that same sense from the opposing side.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito emphasized that the race would hinge on the Ayala campaign’s ground game, which was extensive. Ayala said she had personally knocked on more than 2,000 doors over the course of the campaign and had a team of about 70 volunteers out on the streets on Tuesday, most of them women, urging voters to support her.</p> <p>For Mark-Viverito, Ayala’s campaign also carried the promise of fighting greater gender imbalance on the City Council. The 51-member body had 18 women in 2009, but is down to 13 and was at risk of dropping to single digits. The speaker has been spearheading a movement to improve women’s representation on the legislative body, aiming ultimately to elect more women in 2021 when more than 30 seats will be up for grabs -- the goal is 21 women on the Council through the next cycle. Mark-Viverito called the current gender imbalance “appalling” and pointed to other City Council races where she has tried to support women candidates to ensure what is the best-case scenario given the current situation. “If we work hard, maybe we’ll be able to make it stay the same, that’s my hope at least,” she said, “I would love to gain a little bit...Right now, to stay at least treading water is what we need to do.”</p> <p>Around 11:30 a.m., it was time for the operation to move across the river to the South Bronx, home to half the Council district. Ayala went north, but just blocks away, Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez would arrive with his wife and son about two hours later to vote at his poll site at PS 102 (That also happens to be where Mark-Viverito voted that morning and where the Ayala campaign would later call it a day). Comptroller Scott Stringer, who endorsed Rodriguez, made an appearance and the two greeted voters together.</p> <p>Rodriguez, with his young son atop his shoulders, seemed confident of a victory. “I think voters are responding well,” he said as his son absent-mindedly played with his father’s hair. “I’m looking forward to good results and I think the message about our success and our track record and our experience has begun to resonate.”</p> <p>Stringer also spoke to Rodriguez’s experience, having worked with him in the past as Manhattan borough president. “I want members of the City Council who are able to also see beyond their street corner, that they can see the big picture, which is how we’re gonna create a city that everyone can live in,” he said. “And there’s no question that in El Barrio today there are people who built this community who are now being forced out. So we need to have leaders like Robert Rodriguez who understand land use and zoning, who understand community planning.”</p> <p>Ayala recognizes that gentrification has been rapid in East Harlem and is creeping into the South Bronx. “I think that voters are concerned, they would like to see the next Council member is cognizant of the fact that they are afraid, that they have real life fears that they will be displaced,” she said at one point on primary day. Mark-Viverito, Ayala and Rodriguez have stood against a de Blasio administration proposal for a comprehensive rezoning of East Harlem, and have emphasized the need for community input to inform the process.</p> <p>An alternate community-based proposal called the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan -- an effort led by Mark-Viverito, with help from Ayala -- included community priorities but was largely ignored by the administration. The rezoning is likely to be voted on under the current Council, but on Tuesday, it was one of the issues that voters took to the polls. Although some who spoke to Gotham Gazette felt that current leadership had been unable to protect them from displacement, and saw Ayala as a continuation in that direction, others believed Ayala’s close ties to the community would mean she would fight that much harder for them.</p> <p>Ayala’s ties to Mark-Viverito, in that sense, are a double-edged sword, even if one edge is sharper than the other. “Some people say, ‘I don’t know you, but if the Speaker says you’re good enough, you’re good enough for me,’” Ayala said, outside Betances Houses on St. Ann’s Avenue in the Bronx. It was about 2:30 p.m. and schools were letting out. Hoards of little children rushed to a snow cone vendor at the corner and Ayala tried to catch their parents and a few more votes. Joe Pressley, another Mark-Viverito staffer volunteering for the campaign, had taken Taranto’s place and was Ayala’s sidekick for the rest of the afternoon.</p> <p>Ayala realizes that she’ll have to forge her own path, independent of Mark-Viverito. “Those are big shoes to fill,” she said. “I’m not trying to fill her shoes, I’m trying to find my own role, find my own position and how I fit in, how my experiences can benefit this community, both parts of it. I’m not in a competition with the speaker.”</p> <p>Could she fill those shoes? “One day, one day,” she said.</p> <p>By late afternoon, Ayala was running on fumes and lunch was long overdue. “One piece of advice I’d give people is definitely get in shape,” she joked, about running for Council. “Because it’s a lot of walking around and door knocking. She needed “some pep in my step” for the next stop. After a quick roast chicken lunch at Peruvian restaurant Pio Pio, Ayala and Pressley headed for the Mitchell Community Center on Alexander Avenue where they were met around 4:30 p.m. by another campaign ally, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>The charismatic Diaz Jr.’s energy was almost infectious, and no voter that passed by escaped his grip. At least three cars stopped to greet the popular Democrat, who was also on the ballot Tuesday (he easily fought off two primary challengers). Diaz Jr. said Ayala’s advantage over Rodriguez was her familiarity with both the Harlem and Bronx sides of the district. Rodriguez’s Assembly district falls entirely south of the Harlem River and the Bronx Kill. “I think both sides of the river are familiar with Diana and the work that she’s done, working with Mark-Viverito, but also being the face of the office, being the face of constituent services,” Diaz Jr. said.</p> <p>“People just want services, people want someone who can identify with them,” Diaz Jr. continued. “People want someone who is sincere, who is hardworking, and she’s exhibited and shown all of those qualities without the title...I think Diana just represents that everyday constituent, that everyday citizen that people are yearning for.”</p> <p>Diaz Jr. didn’t discount Rodriguez but preferred him to remain in the Assembly. “I respect him,” he said, adding with a slight chuckle, “I think that he’s done a great job in Albany and he should stay in Albany. He’s actually shown to be an involved and intelligent legislator and we certainly need that.”</p> <p>Having popular leaders like Diaz Jr. and Mark-Viverito on her side helped offset the establishment support that went in Rodriguez’s favor, Ayala said. Rodriguez was endorsed by the Bronx County machine, including Bronx Democratic Party Chair and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, and by Governor Andrew Cuomo and other local, state, and federal elected officials. For her part, Ayala also had the backing of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, the Working Families Party, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, prominent unions including 32BJ SEIU, the Hotel Trades Council, and DC37, and activist group Make the Road New York.</p> <p>Another hour, another stop. It was almost rush hour and Ayala began to head back across the river to 103rd Street and Lexington Avenue, to grab the dozens of potential voters exiting the 6 Train. On the way, she witnessed a Rodriguez volunteer -- the same man who had been shouting across the street that morning -- yelling at one of her own campaign volunteers, a young woman. She was familiar with the man, having seen him around in previous campaigns, and said he had a history of being menacing and aggressive. She immediately directed Pressley to call campaign headquarters. “Call and send someone there. She shouldn’t be alone,” she told him.</p> <p>At 5:45 p.m., Ayala pulled over at the corner of 103rd, converging with Mark-Viverito who was already at the bustling intersection. A large blue truck, emblazoned with Assemblymember Rodriguez’s face, intermittently blared support for him between pop songs that drowned out the street traffic. The truck, and about a dozen or so individuals, represented 700 Strong, a group purportedly made up of residents of public housing, people living in homeless shelters, and those living near public housing, and even philanthropists. The group handed out dozens of fliers, including disparaging ones that showed Mark-Viverito as a puppetmaster controlling Ayala and John Ruiz, a candidate running for District Leader. Ayala picked up the phone. “This corner is all Robert Rodriguez,” she told someone at her 116th street campaign headquarters, calling for backup. “This is when anxiety starts to peek in,” she turned and said. “People tend to get tense and aggressive.”</p> <p>The volunteers for 700 Strong were either unaware or would not say who leads the group, which is not registered with the New York City Campaign Finance Board as is required of any independent expenditure group that engages in electioneering. Kimesha Alvarado, one volunteer, said they were out there to support Rodriguez because he “is more connected to the people, more accessible and community oriented,” while dismissing Ayala, with no hint of irony, as a “part of the establishment” that had allowed gentrification in the district to go unchecked.</p> <p>The group also encouraged residents to vote for Kelmy Rodriguez, a candidate running for District Leader against John Ruiz. Kelmy Rodriguez was on the scene and denied any knowledge of who had organized the fliers and campaigners, while acknowledging that he was a member of 700 Strong. Mark-Viverito speculated that the group was illegally coordinating its efforts with Ayala’s opponent.</p> <p>Amid the chaos of rush hour commuters, traffic and campaign teams, Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez arrived, an hour after Ayala had already been there. The two candidates were barely seven feet apart, but did not acknowledge each other. Volunteers from both campaigns tried to shout over their counterparts, devolving into a barely comprehensible white noise assailing those stepping out of the subway station.</p> <p>Barely 10 minutes later, the Assembly member started to rush away. Asked what prompted him to show up, he said, “Well, you know, sometimes you can’t concede any street corners and 103rd Street is where my family grew up and I wanna make sure that on election day, they have a choice and understand that the choice should be Rodriguez. I wanna make sure that an alternative is presented this evening.” He also denied knowing anything about 700 Strong, but said he was grateful for their support.</p> <p>Having finished the last frenetic push of the day, just one stop remained for Ayala: PS 102, Mark-Viverito’s poll site. The entrance to the site had been shifted, confusing voters who had showed up there for years, including the speaker herself. She realized it would be a good place to stake out for the last leg of the race, to catch the later voters and nudge them to the ballot and towards an Ayala vote.</p> <p>“Diana is the kind of person who doesn’t mind coming to the community,” said Mildred Santiago, 56, a retired special education teacher who had just exited the poll site. “She visits the seniors, she visits the disabled, she sees what they need...she follows up on cases. She calls you directly. She doesn’t say, ‘Oh I’ll send someone,’ like other people. She says, ‘I’ll be in charge.’ So she knows how to manage issues.”</p> <p>For voters like Santiago, Tuesday was a bittersweet election because it also meant that Mark-Viverito was that much closer to leaving office. (Mark-Viverito also won the position of District Leader that day, which she says will keep her involved in the community.) “I’ll miss Melissa,” Santiago said, “but if she goes to Congress, I’m gonna be so happy.” Mark-Viverito heard Santiago and laughed. She has been rumored as a potential replacement for U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano, who is said to be considering retirement, but she wouldn’t say if she had considered a run for Congress.</p> <p>It was late, just after 8 o’clock and the polls would be closing in about an hour. Ayala had literally walked a hole into her beige ballet flats. “I didn’t take them off because they’re my lucky shoes,” she said, and she needed every bit of luck she could get. The campaign had done all it could do and now there was only the wait for results.</p> <p>Back at the campaign headquarters, there was an air of “nervous excitement” as the campaign team took a breather in the large back office, where the walls were plastered with maps of the district. At about 9 p.m., when voting was done for the day, they would head two doors down to Harley’s Smokeshack, a local barbecue joint advertising a Tuesday Tacos and Tequila special. The campaign team, including dozens of union workers from LiUNA Local 78, crowded in front of the bar as a screen switched to NY1, which was broadcasting the primary results.</p> <p>Ayala betrayed no emotion. “I’ve put everything I’ve had into it, and if it’s for me, it’s for me,” she had said earlier. “And if it isn’t, then there’s a lot of lessons to learn. It’s a new experience for me and one should never be afraid to challenge themselves and to take chances.”</p> <p>At the bar, the first precincts had begun to report. Ayala was leading and the crowd erupted into whoops and cheers. “Diana! Diana! Diana!,” they roared. The next two hours would be an emotional rollercoaster as Ayala continued to lead through the night but Rodriguez inched closer and closer. At 9:30 p.m. Ayala had a five point lead. By 10 p.m., with about 85 percent of precincts counted, that lead had whittled down to three points, and then two. The race had become a nail-biter, as the numbers then stayed frozen for well over an hour. “I’m so nervous,” exclaimed Alicia, Ayala’s 25-year-old daughter.</p> <p>“It’s a little annoying that they’re not moving,” Ayala said, before retreating outside to sidebar with Mark-Viverito and her core campaign team. They repeatedly huddled outside, with anxious faces, as the ballots crawled up. Most other races had already been called and District 8 was one of only two City Council races that remained undecided.</p> <p>At 11:20 p.m., Ayala and Mark-Viverito walked back in. More than 96 percent of precincts were reporting and Ayala led by 122 votes. Mark-Viverito signalled to the bartender to kill the music and stepped up on a barstool, hushing the supporters. “I wanna introduce our next Council member,” she said smiling, declaring triumph to a roaring response.</p> <p>Ayala gingerly climbed up after her. “As a woman, and as a minority, it was not an easy decision” to run for office, she said. “Many of the women that are represented in this room, we do all of the work in the background, we do it all and we don’t ask for credit, we just ask for decency...It wasn’t until this woman said to me that I have the potential to do this, that I believed in myself,” she said, tearing up and pointing to Mark-Viverito. “I thank all of you!”</p> <p>“It was a very close race but this is a huge victory. We won against an incumbent,” she added. Supporters rushed to hug Ayala as Celebration by Kool &amp; The Gang blasted through the speakers.</p> <p>“This is a community victory, this is amazing,” Mark-Viverito said to Gotham Gazette afterwards. “I didn’t doubt it. Obviously we knew it was gonna be close. It reminds me of my first election.”</p> <p>“I think Diana was the right candidate for the moment, the right candidate for the community,” said Edison Severino, business manager of Local 78. “Diana is a person that is not a politician per se, but is a daughter of these streets...She’s real, she’s us. And we feel that people like that are the people we need representing us.”</p> <p>Rodriguez had not conceded the race, however, noting that affidavit ballots and absentee ballots will still have to be counted. “This race is far too close to call right now, and it is premature for anyone to declare a victory,” he said in a statement released just before midnight. “There are still ballots left to be counted, and we want to make sure each voter has their voice heard.”</p> <p>But Ayala’s team was confident it had the votes. “I feel great,” Ayala said. “I was really calm through all of it. I just had faith that the system was gonna work in my favor and that people were gonna turn out...It is a dream come true, for me and for a lot of little girls that come from communities of color, and I hope that I’m an inspiration to those women and that they feel that they see in me an opportunity to do what I’m doing, one day.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
Assemblymember Rodriguez Would Have to Give Up Outside Income If Elected to City Council 2017-08-25T19:46:36+00:00 2017-08-25T19:46:36+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7156:assemblymember-rodriguez-would-have-to-give-up-outside-income-if-elected-to-city-council Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/5486053310_233801dbac_z.jpg" alt="5486053310 233801dbac z" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Assembly member Robert Rodriguez (photo: Elbert Garcia/Former Rep. Charles Rangel's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, a Democrat from East Harlem running for the City Council, has a second job at an asset management and financial consulting firm that has earned him hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last few years. But, if Rodriguez wins the Council seat, which will be vacated by term-limited Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at the end of the year, he would have to give up his position at the firm under new rules passed by the Council last year. &nbsp;</p> <p>The New York City Council voted to give its members hefty <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6179-de-blasio-to-sign-higher-raises-for-council-than-he-previously-approved" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pay raises</a> in February 2016 and simultaneously imposed a ban on certain forms of outside income, effectively making the job of City Council member a full-time position. The outside income restriction justified, in part, the salary increase from $112,500 to $148,500 a year, Council members and others in support of the move argued. In comparison, salaries in the state Legislature are far lower -- base salaries are $79,500 and have not changed in nearly 20 years -- but the position is part-time, and has almost no restrictions on outside income.</p> <p>Rodriguez, first elected to the Assembly in 2010, is among a number of state legislators running for City Council this year, but he is the only one with significant outside income. The Assemblymember currently serves as director of PFM Financial Advisors LLC, an asset management and financial consulting firm that is considered an industry leader. He joined the company when it acquired A.C. Advisory, Inc., a firm where Rodriguez previously served as vice president, earning a lucrative paycheck and bonuses atop his salary as a state legislator.</p> <p>Rodriguez is running in a competitive primary against Mark-Viverito’s former deputy chief of staff Diana Ayala, whom the speaker has endorsed for the seat, to represent the district that also includes parts of the South Bronx. The two candidates have split support from the local Democratic party machines and elected officials, and have overshadowed two other Democrats on the primary ballot, community activist Tamika Mapp and former State Assemblymember Israel Martinez.</p> <p>"If elected to the City Council Robert Rodriguez is ready and willing to vacate his position at PFM in order to serve as a full-time Council Member for District 8,” said Jennifer Blatus, a spokesperson for Rodriguez, in a statement. “He is excited for the opportunity to continue the work he has done in the State Assembly on a local level.”</p> <p>Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7143-for-mark-viverito-s-seat-leading-candidates-with-long-community-resumes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">For Mark-Viverito’s Seat: Leading Candidates with Long Community Resumes</a></p> <p>State legislators are required to declare any outside sources of income on annual financial disclosures submitted to the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). For the last four years, Rodriguez’s filings show that his positions at PFM and A.C. Advisory were profitable. In 2016, for instance, he <a href="http://www.jcope.ny.gov/elected%20officials/2016/assembly/Assemblymember-Rodriguez%20R_2016_with_addendum.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">earned</a> between $50,000-75,000 from his work at A.C. Advisory and between $5,000-20,000 from PFM. In 2015, he earned between $75,000-100,000 from A.C. Advisory, and in 2014 his salary and bonus at the company totalled between $100,000 - $150,000.</p> <p>For 2012 and 2013, Rodriguez listed his position at A.C. on his JCOPE filings but initially declared no income from the job. It was only in June 2015 that he filed amendments to his earlier disclosures, declaring that he earned between $50,000-$75,000 in 2013 and between $100,000-$150,000 in 2012. A spokesperson for JCOPE said it was not uncommon for legislators to file such amendments.&nbsp;</p> <p>Both A.C. Advisory and PFM have had business dealings with state and city entities. Prior to its acquisition by PFM, A.C. Advisory’s clients included the City of New York, the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, the New York City Educational Construction Fund and the Battery Park City Authority.</p> <p>From 2004 till 2016, A.C. Advisory had contracts with New York City to provide financial advisory services in changing capacities to the Comptroller’s office and the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. According to the Comptroller’s office, fewer than half a dozen financial advisory firms across the country have the capacity to fulfill the contract, based on responses to requests for proposals.</p> <p>The latest contract was awarded jointly to A.C. Advisory with another firm in <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/nyw/pdf/nywpr_08_06_15.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">August 2015</a>, and when A.C. was bought out, PFM inherited the contract and also A.C. Advisory’s employees, including Rodriguez. “This contract was the result of a thorough RFP process and eventually awarded jointly with the Comptroller,” said Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office who deals with budget matters, in an email. “The City awards contracts to whichever vendor is best suited for the job. That’s all there is to it.”</p> <p>Rodriguez was earlier listed as the point person on the contract, but has since taken a step back after moving to PFM, according to his campaign spokesperson. He does not manage the contract and is not listed on the city’s <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doingbiz/home.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Doing Business Database</a> -- which tracks individuals and entities with city business -- although PFM and it’s top brass are on the database.</p> <p>As a member of the state Legislature, where there are no limits on outside income, Rodriguez’s outside position is not uncommon.</p> <p>Numerous state lawmakers have other jobs and sources of income, although these have been a perennial source of controversy. Government reform advocates insist that outside employment creates real and perceived conflicts of interests. The most infamous example from recent history is the corruption conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who faced charges stemming from actions he took relating to his non-government job. The conviction was later overturned based on new standards established by the Supreme Court, but is likely to be retried.</p> <p>“We have long thought that state legislators should not have significant outside income because it creates potential conflicts of interest,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a good government advocacy. “It certainly raises in the minds of the public concerns about conflicts of interest.”</p> <p>Horner said elected officials should make every effort to follow the letter of the law, but emphasized that the law itself is the problem and that the state Legislature has not done away with it. “What really matters is the policy that allows lawmakers to moonlight,” he said. As noted, the City Council did away with such leeway last year.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/5486053310_233801dbac_z.jpg" alt="5486053310 233801dbac z" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Assembly member Robert Rodriguez (photo: Elbert Garcia/Former Rep. Charles Rangel's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, a Democrat from East Harlem running for the City Council, has a second job at an asset management and financial consulting firm that has earned him hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last few years. But, if Rodriguez wins the Council seat, which will be vacated by term-limited Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at the end of the year, he would have to give up his position at the firm under new rules passed by the Council last year. &nbsp;</p> <p>The New York City Council voted to give its members hefty <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6179-de-blasio-to-sign-higher-raises-for-council-than-he-previously-approved" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pay raises</a> in February 2016 and simultaneously imposed a ban on certain forms of outside income, effectively making the job of City Council member a full-time position. The outside income restriction justified, in part, the salary increase from $112,500 to $148,500 a year, Council members and others in support of the move argued. In comparison, salaries in the state Legislature are far lower -- base salaries are $79,500 and have not changed in nearly 20 years -- but the position is part-time, and has almost no restrictions on outside income.</p> <p>Rodriguez, first elected to the Assembly in 2010, is among a number of state legislators running for City Council this year, but he is the only one with significant outside income. The Assemblymember currently serves as director of PFM Financial Advisors LLC, an asset management and financial consulting firm that is considered an industry leader. He joined the company when it acquired A.C. Advisory, Inc., a firm where Rodriguez previously served as vice president, earning a lucrative paycheck and bonuses atop his salary as a state legislator.</p> <p>Rodriguez is running in a competitive primary against Mark-Viverito’s former deputy chief of staff Diana Ayala, whom the speaker has endorsed for the seat, to represent the district that also includes parts of the South Bronx. The two candidates have split support from the local Democratic party machines and elected officials, and have overshadowed two other Democrats on the primary ballot, community activist Tamika Mapp and former State Assemblymember Israel Martinez.</p> <p>"If elected to the City Council Robert Rodriguez is ready and willing to vacate his position at PFM in order to serve as a full-time Council Member for District 8,” said Jennifer Blatus, a spokesperson for Rodriguez, in a statement. “He is excited for the opportunity to continue the work he has done in the State Assembly on a local level.”</p> <p>Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7143-for-mark-viverito-s-seat-leading-candidates-with-long-community-resumes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">For Mark-Viverito’s Seat: Leading Candidates with Long Community Resumes</a></p> <p>State legislators are required to declare any outside sources of income on annual financial disclosures submitted to the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). For the last four years, Rodriguez’s filings show that his positions at PFM and A.C. Advisory were profitable. In 2016, for instance, he <a href="http://www.jcope.ny.gov/elected%20officials/2016/assembly/Assemblymember-Rodriguez%20R_2016_with_addendum.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">earned</a> between $50,000-75,000 from his work at A.C. Advisory and between $5,000-20,000 from PFM. In 2015, he earned between $75,000-100,000 from A.C. Advisory, and in 2014 his salary and bonus at the company totalled between $100,000 - $150,000.</p> <p>For 2012 and 2013, Rodriguez listed his position at A.C. on his JCOPE filings but initially declared no income from the job. It was only in June 2015 that he filed amendments to his earlier disclosures, declaring that he earned between $50,000-$75,000 in 2013 and between $100,000-$150,000 in 2012. A spokesperson for JCOPE said it was not uncommon for legislators to file such amendments.&nbsp;</p> <p>Both A.C. Advisory and PFM have had business dealings with state and city entities. Prior to its acquisition by PFM, A.C. Advisory’s clients included the City of New York, the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, the New York City Educational Construction Fund and the Battery Park City Authority.</p> <p>From 2004 till 2016, A.C. Advisory had contracts with New York City to provide financial advisory services in changing capacities to the Comptroller’s office and the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. According to the Comptroller’s office, fewer than half a dozen financial advisory firms across the country have the capacity to fulfill the contract, based on responses to requests for proposals.</p> <p>The latest contract was awarded jointly to A.C. Advisory with another firm in <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/nyw/pdf/nywpr_08_06_15.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">August 2015</a>, and when A.C. was bought out, PFM inherited the contract and also A.C. Advisory’s employees, including Rodriguez. “This contract was the result of a thorough RFP process and eventually awarded jointly with the Comptroller,” said Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office who deals with budget matters, in an email. “The City awards contracts to whichever vendor is best suited for the job. That’s all there is to it.”</p> <p>Rodriguez was earlier listed as the point person on the contract, but has since taken a step back after moving to PFM, according to his campaign spokesperson. He does not manage the contract and is not listed on the city’s <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doingbiz/home.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Doing Business Database</a> -- which tracks individuals and entities with city business -- although PFM and it’s top brass are on the database.</p> <p>As a member of the state Legislature, where there are no limits on outside income, Rodriguez’s outside position is not uncommon.</p> <p>Numerous state lawmakers have other jobs and sources of income, although these have been a perennial source of controversy. Government reform advocates insist that outside employment creates real and perceived conflicts of interests. The most infamous example from recent history is the corruption conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who faced charges stemming from actions he took relating to his non-government job. The conviction was later overturned based on new standards established by the Supreme Court, but is likely to be retried.</p> <p>“We have long thought that state legislators should not have significant outside income because it creates potential conflicts of interest,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a good government advocacy. “It certainly raises in the minds of the public concerns about conflicts of interest.”</p> <p>Horner said elected officials should make every effort to follow the letter of the law, but emphasized that the law itself is the problem and that the state Legislature has not done away with it. “What really matters is the policy that allows lawmakers to moonlight,” he said. As noted, the City Council did away with such leeway last year.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
For Mark-Viverito’s Seat: Leading Candidates with Long Community Resumes 2017-08-21T20:27:12+00:00 2017-08-21T20:27:12+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7143:for-mark-viverito-s-seat-leading-candidates-with-long-community-resumes Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/diaz_jr_ayala_mmv.jpg" alt="diaz jr ayala mmv" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>Ruben Diaz Jr. introduces Diana Ayala, alongside Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: @jtaranto)</p> <hr /> <p>Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Speaker of the City Council, is term-limited and leaving office at the end of this year, which, aside from indicating that there will be a new leader of the Council, means her position representing the Council’s 8th District is “open.”</p> <p>Since 2005, Mark-Viverito has represented the district, which includes East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx. New York State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, whose district encompasses much of District 8, and Diana Ayala, a former Mark-Viverito staffer who the speaker has endorsed as her preferred successor, are in a highly competetive race for the seat.</p> <p>Ayala, 43, has appeared at multiple campaign events alongside her former boss, for whom she was constituent services director and deputy chief of staff. Mark-Viverito has also been door-knocking in the district with Ayala, attempting to use her name recognition to boost Ayala’s, which is far behind Rodriguez’s given his stature as an elected official.</p> <p>Several other electeds from the area have endorsed Ayala, too. These include Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Congressional Rep. Adrian Espaillat, and City Council Members Rafael Salamanca, Ritchie Torres, and Annabel Palma of the Bronx. Ayala is hardly running away with the endorsements competition, though. The 41-year-old Rodriguez has support from Congressional Rep. Jose Serrano, who campaigned alongside Rodriguez at a recent family day gathering at Johnson Houses, and State Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who is Bronx Democratic Party Chair, among others.</p> <p>While the two can perhaps call it even in backing from key politicians, Ayala had significantly more money than Rodriguez for the remainder of the campaign, at least as of the most recent filings with Campaign Finance Board. As of that mid-August filing, Rodriguez had a bit under $34,000 left after raising $140,000 over the course of the campaign, while Ayala has raised over $77,000, boosted by $95,095 of public matching funds, to leave her campaign with $110,415 to spend. Rodriguez has not yet received any public matching funds.</p> <p>And, though Ayala has the endorsement of the City Council Progressive Caucus and other progressive groups, the two candidates have few disagreements on the key policy issues in the race -- the two top contenders posit themselves similarly on charter schools and the East Harlem rezoning, along with affordable housing, generally.</p> <p>Also on the primary ballot will be community activist Tamika Mapp, who ran against Rodriguez for his Assembly seat in the 2014 primary, and former State Assemblymember Israel Martinez.</p> <p>Ahead of the Democratic primary on September 12, the candidates have been making their pitches to voters during campaign forums, door-knocking excursions, and community events in the district, revealing two distinct styles reflective of their backgrounds. Gotham Gazette spent time on the campaign trail with both Ayala and Rodriguez, including during retail campaigning and at candidate forums.</p> <p><strong>Candidate Messaging</strong><br />Rodriguez, the son of a former Assembly member for the same district, speaks predominantly about his achievements in Albany, particularly as they relate to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), on the campaign trail. “You sent me up to Albany to fight for NYCHA,” Rodriguez said in his opening statement at a campaign forum in July. “Before I got there, there was no state contribution to New York City public housing. Not one dollar! Since then, in the fight to makes sure that the State meets its responsibility to NYCHA, we now have $300 million committed toward capital for New York City public housing,” Rodriguez said.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rodriguez-raskin.jpg" alt="rodriguez raskin" width="250" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />First elected to the Assembly in 2010, Rodriguez is a former member of Community Board 11. He went on to call attention to his other achievements as a state legislator. “You sent me to Albany to make sure we got a Second Avenue Subway that comes from 96th street to 125th street,” Rodriguez continued. “When there were dangers of taking it out of the budget, which is still being talked about, you sent me up there to be a champion. And today we have $2.2 billion in the MTA plan to move the subway up to 125th street,” he said. “You sent me there to fight for affordable housing to fund the Mitchell-Lamas we have in our community. We have $75 million in the budget to fight for our Mitchell-Lamas to keep them [affordable],” he said, sparking applause from an audience of just short of 200 in an East Harlem school. “Those are the things that you sent me to Albany that have given me the experience to be able to serve you in the City Council.”</p> <p>Like several other state legislators, Rodriguez is making a run this year for City Council, attempting to leave behind the many commutes to Albany and to boost his base salary by nearly 100%, from the $79,500 of a state legislator to the $148,000 of a City Council member. Rodriguez will not lose his Assembly seat if he is not victorious, since state legislative elections are in even years.</p> <p>Campaigning in East Harlem Saturday, August 12, Rodriguez struck familiar points, molding his pitch slightly to the audience inside Jefferson Houses. “I grew up understanding that NYCHA is the only way that low-income people can raise their families and aspire for better,” he said. “So when we got to the Legislature...the State gave no money to public housing. Not one dollar,” he said. “We had to change that. So we made the fight and over the last three years we’ve got $300 million to go to New York City public housing.”</p> <p>“Now that’s not enough,” he continued. ”I’m not saying the job is done; it’s just the beginning. But we know that that put cameras here in Jefferson, and there are more projects that we have to do across NYCHA to help make things better and safer for all our residents,” he said. “Just know that I’ll keep up that fight wherever you let me go.”</p> <p>For her part, Ayala often talks of her own life experiences as making her uniquely suited to represent the district. “I have always been at the table and I have worked with the community to try to figure out the solutions to the issues that are all before us,” Ayala said at the August campaign forum. “And I think that’s what makes me a qualified candidate, coupled with the fact that a lot of the issues that came before us, or have come before the office of the Speaker, have been my issues,” she said. “I have been homeless, I have been hungry, I have been the victim of domestic violence, I have been a single mother, I have been a teenage mother,” she told the audience. “So these issues allow me a different perspective on the way that we legislate in the City Council.”</p> <p>Ayala sees her strength as a candidate in her ability to be in tune with her community’s needs, rather than having particular policy expertise. Asked about her differences with Rodriguez, she took the opportunity to draw a distinction regarding community knowledge and relationships.</p> <p>“In order for you to create common sense legislation you need to be engaged with what’s happening in your community,” she said. “And if not, how do you? This is where policy is born, right?” she said. “And it’s deeply-rooted in the community and things that are happening on a day-to-day basis and it’s really important that we be active participants,” she continued.</p> <p>During her time in Mark-Viverito’s office, Ayala, in addition to building her relationship with residents of the 8th district, grew to admire respect her boss. When they were asked in a July debate to grade the Speaker’s performance, Ayala graded her with an “A” while Rodriguez, noting he respects how hard her job is as an elected official himself, gave her a B or B minus, adding, “[t]here needs to be someone with experience to pick up the banner.” Ayala, who remains loyal to her former boss and has spent time with her while campaigning, is hesitant to put any daylight between herself and her former boss. “The Right to Know Act, I probably would have acted a little bit more swiftly,” she said. “But,” she quickly said, “I understand that she felt like the need to be legislated and there needs to be an opportunity for discussion first.”</p> <p>When asked about the disagreement between Mark-Viverito and de Blasio over legal funding for immigrants that have been convicted of certain crimes, Ayala balked at taking a stance. “I don’t really feel comfortable taking a position on that yet,” she said. “I haven’t really been actively involved in that.”<br /> <br />Despite her loyalty to Mark-Viverito, Ayala has not been able to carry over all of her institutional support. The city’s healthcare workers union, 1199 SEIU, which is a strong force in city and state politics and has been a close ally (and former employer of) Mark-Viverito, endorsed Rodriguez last week.</p> <p>Indeed, one of the most interesting and determinative aspects of the race to replace her will be what kind of pull Mark-Viverito has among her constituents to choose her successor.</p> <p><strong>Differentiating Themselves</strong> <br />Throughout interviews, forums and other events, the candidates repeatedly underscored their campaign identities: Ayala as the on-the-ground community member and liaison who knows everyone in the neighborhood and what they need, and Rodriguez, the policy guy who’s worked in Albany to help the district largely from afar.</p> <p>When Gotham Gazette asked Ayala if Rodriguez comes up on the campaign trail, Ayala said it’s a rarity but when he does constituents tell her Rodriguez is is seen to be out of touch with the district. “He rarely comes up, but when he does come up, people say ‘where is he? I don’t see him. He’s not in this district. I’m not voting for him.’”</p> <p>Ayala’s campaign is clearly seeking to capitalize on the issue of district presence and constituent services. While going door-to-door in an East Harlem senior NYCHA development, Ayala knew well over half of the people at the doors.</p> <p>“I saw that it was your birthday,” Ayala said in an upbeat tone to one registered Democrat in the building, noting she knew of the birthday from Facebook. At other doors, she stopped to inquire about renovations in the apartments, gave instruction on how best to go about getting things fixed, cleaned, or replaced to residents with home issues and politely inquired about certain tenants’ health if she knew they had been ill.</p> <p>Ayala’s relationships with community members are not exclusively from her years as constituent services director for Mark-Viverito. Before her tenure in the City Council office, Ayala worked in senior services for 20 years, which she credits with lending her familiarity with many in the district.</p> <p>At the August 12 campaign event in East Harlem, Rodriguez spoke comfortably with members of the community. He, like Ayala, transitioned seamlessly between Spanish and English.</p> <p>After his brief speech, Gotham Gazette asked Rodriguez how he differs from Ayala. Like her, he draws on experience, not particular ideological or policy differences between the two, to make the case. Rodriguez argues that the problems are known and thus political skill is what is needed to improve quality of life for District 8 residents. “Policy-wise, on some of the issues...there may not be a difference but execution and experiences I think is where there’s huge difference there,” Rodriguez said.</p> <p>“Having served in the Legislature and understanding the challenges around finding funding, bringing funding into the district, and recognizing that you have to make some difficult decisions and prioritize,” said Rodriguez. “Someone who has that experience, I think, has the advantage in terms of being able to better represent this district and address the issues that are really at crisis levels in the East Harlem and South Bronx,” he added. “I think I can bring a unique set of experiences to do that.”</p> <p><strong>Affordable Housing</strong><br />In an interview in Ayala’s campaign office just a few blocks south of Jefferson Houses following her voter outreach, she again highlighted housing as the most important part of the campaign. “Housing is always going to be the centerpiece of everything,” she said. “Housing continues to be an issue for a lot of reasons. We have a large public housing stock that’s...in pretty dilapidated condition.”</p> <p>Ayala remembered that NYCHA units had declined over the years. “I grew up in public housing. It was really nice and people don’t believe it, but it was,” she said. “They used to paint your house every five years, they would change your cabinets, they would clean the grounds, there was all types of stuff -- they didn’t have rats. Seeing a mouse in public housing was unheard of,” she recalled.</p> <p>This deterioration, she estimates, happened about a decade or two ago. Ayala did not offer specific plans for addressing the problems.</p> <p>Beyond NYCHA, Ayala said affordable housing no longer fits people’s budgets, a major problem in the district. “We have people that are in rent-stabilized units that are paying upward of $2,000 [per month]. So you have families that are overcrowded in these apartments because, even though they’re rent-stabilized...they stopped being affordable,” she said. “We lose almost 400 units a year to rent destabilization and we’re not making them up fast enough, so there’s more going out than coming in,” said Ayala. “And that’s a problem, because that’s how the community stops becoming El Barrio.”</p> <p>This dynamic comes into play regarding East Harlem rezoning in Ayala’s telling. When asked about why she was opposed to the city’s plan, Ayala said that many in the community “fear that they’re going to be pushed out” if the city’s version of East Harlem rezoning is enacted. “And,” she continued, “they fear that y’know we’re going to have all these luxury tall buildings that are going to change the character of the community and the culture is going to evaporate, [and it’s] not going to be Harlem anymore.”</p> <p><strong>Public Safety</strong><br />After housing, public safety is the next most important issue in the campaign, according to Ayala. “I have several members of my family that have been killed in gun violence,” she said. “My cousin was shot when he was 16 years old at a party when he was minding his business because he accidentally stepped on someone's sneaker and the guy pulled out a shotgun and killed him. My boyfriend was shot when I was 15,” Ayala said. “So..that’s something that continues to plague our community. I spend a lot of time in the community and people are afraid. Our seniors are afraid to sit on the benches, parents are afraid to take their children to the park because we’ve had shootouts in the park in the local playground,” Ayala said.</p> <p>Rodriguez has been endorsed by the Patrolmen’s Benevolence Association (PBA) and received a $1,000 campaign donation from the police officers union in January. Rodriguez says he favors <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/nyregion/to-stem-juvenile-robberies-police-trail-youths-before-the-crime.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">J-RIP</a>, formally known as Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program. “It really helped with some of the gang issues we’re having in our community and that has to continue,” he said of the program, a paternalistic anti-crime <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/nyregion/to-stem-juvenile-robberies-police-trail-youths-before-the-crime.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">method</a> in which police officers track and intervene in the lives of teenagers authorities deem most likely to commit crimes. He also lamented the high turnover rate in the NYPD, which he regards as a problem of not allowing officers to establish relationships with the communities they serve.</p> <p>Ayala said she did not see the PBA’s stamp of approval as something she would seek, citing differing on issues such as the <a href="http://www.amny.com/news/right-to-know-act-pushed-by-council-members-protesters-in-front-of-city-hall-1.11717618" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Right to Know Act</a> and Closing Rikers Island jails. “I am a supporter of several pieces of legislation in the City Council that, you know, that the PBA is not in favor of, and so I didn’t feel like it was an endorsement that I should pursue,” she said. “I think if you’re being stopped by anyone you should know why you’re being stopped,” she said, referring to one provision of the Right to Know Act, which would mandate more communication from officers during street stops where a crime is not evidently being committed.</p> <p>“I have a great relationship with all of the precincts and community affairs officers, commanding officers,” Ayala said. “I understand that they have a really tough job. But I’m also a parent of a 27-year-old who happens to have dark skin and who happens to, in his teens, be stopped every single day. I think that I have not only a responsibility to teach my son to be respectful of law enforcement, but also to teach law enforcement to be respectful of the community,” she said. “And I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. And I work very closely with the police department too so that they understand the perspective of the young people who live in these communities and I think that we’ve been very fortunate that the precinct in the district have been slowly coming along and that relations have improved significantly.”</p> <p><strong>The Campaign’s Defining Issue</strong><br />But housing, and related topics like gentrification and neighborhood character, more so than public safety, jobs, or anything else, has dominated the discourse around the race. At a July campaign forum, Ayala assured the audience that she was in tune with their anxiety about the signs of gentrification, putting her signature personal spin on the matter.</p> <p>“Where I come from,” she said, “it hasn’t always been a positive thing. I grew up on the Lower East Side and we were gentrified and we didn’t know that we were being gentrified because we lived in public housing and nothing really changed for us except for the fact that several years into it, we lost all of our delis, we lost the local pharmacist, we lost the pediatrician that has seen me, my kids my neighbors children,” Ayala said. “And all of these mom and pop stores were replaced by all these sheek bars.”</p> <p>“We have people that move into the community and complain about the many festivals that we have or they complain about the marketa music being too loud, being the type of music they don’t enjoy,” she said. “When we talk about gentrification we want to make sure that if you’re coming into this community, we’ll welcome you, but you need to accept us the way that we are,” said Ayala, speaking to the divide between long-time residents of the neighborhood and some new-coming gentrifiers.</p> <p>At the forum, Rodriguez framed the phenomenon of neighborhood change in a different manner. “East Harlem is still a community of immigrants,” he said. “Let’s not forget our history here. People come from different places far and wide into our community,” Rodriguez said adding that new people moving in “should not be something that we are afraid of.”</p> <p>“I’m open to new people coming in. I’m open to new business. That’s what makes New York City great,” Rodriguez added. Rodriguez also spoke to people’s anxieties about the lack of affordable housing. “Now that being said, we deserve to stay here,” he said. “The housing should reflect what we can afford.”</p> <p>Rodriguez emphasized affordable housing as the “number one issue” in the campaign. “There are concerns that your developments, if it’s something like a Mitchell-Lama, may one day not be affordable,” he said, referring to a type of subsidized housing set aside for middle-income New Yorkers. “They may opt out of a program and they may become market-rate,” said Rodriguez of landlords. “That is what everyone’s concern is when you’re looking at affordable housing units.”</p> <p>He went on to note that affordable housing is a term that is unique to everyone’s needs based on their income and family size. “That’s why, years ago, when I was the chair of the community board, we set affordable housing guidelines that defend what we need as a community so that the city is on notice,” he said. “There are $17 billion of capital needs in NYCHA. Whatever numbers we’re talking about need a significant intervention.” Rodriguez said. “This is a crisis that we have.”</p> <p>But Rodriguez does not welcome all opportunities to build new affordable housing. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7132-crucial-weeks-ahead-for-potential-rezoning-of-east-harlem" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The East Harlem rezoning plan</a> has loomed in the background of the race. As it stands, Rodriguez is against the city’s East Harlem rezoning proposal, as are Ayala, Mark-Viverito, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.</p> <p>“I’m against it and I support the conditions that were included by the Community Board,” Rodriguez said. “Some of the concerns about the benefits -- are they extending some of those benefits to those that are earning below 30% of AMI (Area Median Income)? How do we increase that? I raised additional concerns about what happens to small businesses and smaller commercial spaces as we start to increase density. Where do the small mom and pop stores go?” he said.</p> <p>Rodriguez, formerly a member of Community Board 11, voiced his respect for the process and disappointment the community’s input wasn’t incorporated sufficiently in the de Blasio administration’s plan. “There’s been a significant amount of community dialogue and I think that the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan is pretty comprehensive at covering some of those issues and concerns and I think that didn’t all materialize in terms of the City Planning proposal,” he said of the plan put forth by the community, in conjunction with Mark-Viverito’s office. Still, all hope is not loss for the prospect of East Harlem rezoning and getting the additional affordable housing that it is aimed at spurring. “[A]t this point in the process, ultimately, it falls on the City Council to either approve it or reject it and try to make as many changes as possible before they get to that place,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not voted upon yet so there’s alway room and opportunity for change.”</p> <p><strong>Charter Schools</strong><br />The two leading candidates’ divergent frames is also evident when they speak about charter schools, which both feel have advantages and drawbacks. “My children are public school students,” Ayala said, prefacing her opinion on the issue. “As a parent, I don’t want anyone to tell me where I can and cannot enroll my children,” she said. “I want to have options. That having been said, there have been issues” with charters. “The reality is, when we meet with parents -- we meet with parents all the time -- and we talk about the whole charter school issues, a lot of the concerns are lack of space,” she explained.</p> <p>Ayala added that many charter schools take up extracurricular activity space used by traditional public school students and lack special education programing, which gives her a less favorable opinion on charter schools. “These are things that are all as important as reading and writing and math,” Ayala said.</p> <p>Rodriguez spoke about many of the same issues as Ayala when asked about the role of charter schools in an interview, adding the criticism that some charters churn out students that do not meet certain education standards or hurt test scores, and are not welcoming</p> <p>“We have different experience with the charters. We have community charters that are doing great work, and we have some that get a lot of criticisms for practices that are not necessarily reflective of what public schools should be doing,” Rodriguez told Gotham Gazette. He quickly pivoted from any problems with charter schools to the agenda he hopes to help implement in the Council. Funding regular public schools, not charter school policies, would top his list of educational priorities should he be elected, he said. “So my priority on the City Council will be to pick away at some of these issues that are administered locally by the Board of Education and figure out why we’re not getting our fair share.”</p> <p><strong>Purpose</strong><br />During the interview, when Rodriguez was asked for a short summation of his campaign’s central purpose, he talked about what he would do in the City Council. “The elevator pitch is, how can we make differences for our community? And one thing we haven’t talked about is parks and waters,” he said. “One of the things we haven’t talked about is the The East River Esplanade and the South Bronx waterfront,” he said. Rodriguez went on to lament the sorry state of the conditions by the two areas.</p> <p>“There’s no reason why our community, which happens to be low income but are changing rapidly, shouldn’t have world-class parks and open space on their waterfront and that’s something I’d like to fight for,” he said. “I’ve raised the issue, I’ve gotten some state funding. But this is clearly one of those times that it’s clearly a New York City issue that can only be changed by, hopefully, being elected to the City Council and bringing that vision there,” he said. “That’s just one example of many things that can dramatically improve the lives of residents here, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”.</p> <p>At the campaign forum, Rodriguez summed things up more broadly in his closing statement. “If you’re a working mom, if you’re a working family, those are the thing that at the government is supposed to be able to provide some support for,” said Rodriguez. “That’s the job that you sent me to Albany to do,” he said. “So I have the experience and the track record just because you have given me that chance. I want to be able to take the experience and bring it to bear on the city council to meet your needs every day.”</p> <p>As for Ayala, she again struck the tone of personal experience informing her public service when asked about the purpose of her candidacy. “I’m a regular person. I’m a mom. I’m a constituent of this district. I love my community,” she said. “I’m motivated by the needs of my community that are also my needs,” said Ayala. “So when people talk about gentrification and people being pushed out, these are my people that are being pushed out,” Ayala said. “These are my kids that are being pushed out.”</p> <p>”Am I an expert on all things? I am not,” Ayala said at the July campaign forum. “But I have always been at the table and I have worked with the community to try to figure out the solutions to the issues that are before us.”</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/diaz_jr_ayala_mmv.jpg" alt="diaz jr ayala mmv" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>Ruben Diaz Jr. introduces Diana Ayala, alongside Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: @jtaranto)</p> <hr /> <p>Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Speaker of the City Council, is term-limited and leaving office at the end of this year, which, aside from indicating that there will be a new leader of the Council, means her position representing the Council’s 8th District is “open.”</p> <p>Since 2005, Mark-Viverito has represented the district, which includes East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx. New York State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, whose district encompasses much of District 8, and Diana Ayala, a former Mark-Viverito staffer who the speaker has endorsed as her preferred successor, are in a highly competetive race for the seat.</p> <p>Ayala, 43, has appeared at multiple campaign events alongside her former boss, for whom she was constituent services director and deputy chief of staff. Mark-Viverito has also been door-knocking in the district with Ayala, attempting to use her name recognition to boost Ayala’s, which is far behind Rodriguez’s given his stature as an elected official.</p> <p>Several other electeds from the area have endorsed Ayala, too. These include Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Congressional Rep. Adrian Espaillat, and City Council Members Rafael Salamanca, Ritchie Torres, and Annabel Palma of the Bronx. Ayala is hardly running away with the endorsements competition, though. The 41-year-old Rodriguez has support from Congressional Rep. Jose Serrano, who campaigned alongside Rodriguez at a recent family day gathering at Johnson Houses, and State Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who is Bronx Democratic Party Chair, among others.</p> <p>While the two can perhaps call it even in backing from key politicians, Ayala had significantly more money than Rodriguez for the remainder of the campaign, at least as of the most recent filings with Campaign Finance Board. As of that mid-August filing, Rodriguez had a bit under $34,000 left after raising $140,000 over the course of the campaign, while Ayala has raised over $77,000, boosted by $95,095 of public matching funds, to leave her campaign with $110,415 to spend. Rodriguez has not yet received any public matching funds.</p> <p>And, though Ayala has the endorsement of the City Council Progressive Caucus and other progressive groups, the two candidates have few disagreements on the key policy issues in the race -- the two top contenders posit themselves similarly on charter schools and the East Harlem rezoning, along with affordable housing, generally.</p> <p>Also on the primary ballot will be community activist Tamika Mapp, who ran against Rodriguez for his Assembly seat in the 2014 primary, and former State Assemblymember Israel Martinez.</p> <p>Ahead of the Democratic primary on September 12, the candidates have been making their pitches to voters during campaign forums, door-knocking excursions, and community events in the district, revealing two distinct styles reflective of their backgrounds. Gotham Gazette spent time on the campaign trail with both Ayala and Rodriguez, including during retail campaigning and at candidate forums.</p> <p><strong>Candidate Messaging</strong><br />Rodriguez, the son of a former Assembly member for the same district, speaks predominantly about his achievements in Albany, particularly as they relate to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), on the campaign trail. “You sent me up to Albany to fight for NYCHA,” Rodriguez said in his opening statement at a campaign forum in July. “Before I got there, there was no state contribution to New York City public housing. Not one dollar! Since then, in the fight to makes sure that the State meets its responsibility to NYCHA, we now have $300 million committed toward capital for New York City public housing,” Rodriguez said.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rodriguez-raskin.jpg" alt="rodriguez raskin" width="250" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />First elected to the Assembly in 2010, Rodriguez is a former member of Community Board 11. He went on to call attention to his other achievements as a state legislator. “You sent me to Albany to make sure we got a Second Avenue Subway that comes from 96th street to 125th street,” Rodriguez continued. “When there were dangers of taking it out of the budget, which is still being talked about, you sent me up there to be a champion. And today we have $2.2 billion in the MTA plan to move the subway up to 125th street,” he said. “You sent me there to fight for affordable housing to fund the Mitchell-Lamas we have in our community. We have $75 million in the budget to fight for our Mitchell-Lamas to keep them [affordable],” he said, sparking applause from an audience of just short of 200 in an East Harlem school. “Those are the things that you sent me to Albany that have given me the experience to be able to serve you in the City Council.”</p> <p>Like several other state legislators, Rodriguez is making a run this year for City Council, attempting to leave behind the many commutes to Albany and to boost his base salary by nearly 100%, from the $79,500 of a state legislator to the $148,000 of a City Council member. Rodriguez will not lose his Assembly seat if he is not victorious, since state legislative elections are in even years.</p> <p>Campaigning in East Harlem Saturday, August 12, Rodriguez struck familiar points, molding his pitch slightly to the audience inside Jefferson Houses. “I grew up understanding that NYCHA is the only way that low-income people can raise their families and aspire for better,” he said. “So when we got to the Legislature...the State gave no money to public housing. Not one dollar,” he said. “We had to change that. So we made the fight and over the last three years we’ve got $300 million to go to New York City public housing.”</p> <p>“Now that’s not enough,” he continued. ”I’m not saying the job is done; it’s just the beginning. But we know that that put cameras here in Jefferson, and there are more projects that we have to do across NYCHA to help make things better and safer for all our residents,” he said. “Just know that I’ll keep up that fight wherever you let me go.”</p> <p>For her part, Ayala often talks of her own life experiences as making her uniquely suited to represent the district. “I have always been at the table and I have worked with the community to try to figure out the solutions to the issues that are all before us,” Ayala said at the August campaign forum. “And I think that’s what makes me a qualified candidate, coupled with the fact that a lot of the issues that came before us, or have come before the office of the Speaker, have been my issues,” she said. “I have been homeless, I have been hungry, I have been the victim of domestic violence, I have been a single mother, I have been a teenage mother,” she told the audience. “So these issues allow me a different perspective on the way that we legislate in the City Council.”</p> <p>Ayala sees her strength as a candidate in her ability to be in tune with her community’s needs, rather than having particular policy expertise. Asked about her differences with Rodriguez, she took the opportunity to draw a distinction regarding community knowledge and relationships.</p> <p>“In order for you to create common sense legislation you need to be engaged with what’s happening in your community,” she said. “And if not, how do you? This is where policy is born, right?” she said. “And it’s deeply-rooted in the community and things that are happening on a day-to-day basis and it’s really important that we be active participants,” she continued.</p> <p>During her time in Mark-Viverito’s office, Ayala, in addition to building her relationship with residents of the 8th district, grew to admire respect her boss. When they were asked in a July debate to grade the Speaker’s performance, Ayala graded her with an “A” while Rodriguez, noting he respects how hard her job is as an elected official himself, gave her a B or B minus, adding, “[t]here needs to be someone with experience to pick up the banner.” Ayala, who remains loyal to her former boss and has spent time with her while campaigning, is hesitant to put any daylight between herself and her former boss. “The Right to Know Act, I probably would have acted a little bit more swiftly,” she said. “But,” she quickly said, “I understand that she felt like the need to be legislated and there needs to be an opportunity for discussion first.”</p> <p>When asked about the disagreement between Mark-Viverito and de Blasio over legal funding for immigrants that have been convicted of certain crimes, Ayala balked at taking a stance. “I don’t really feel comfortable taking a position on that yet,” she said. “I haven’t really been actively involved in that.”<br /> <br />Despite her loyalty to Mark-Viverito, Ayala has not been able to carry over all of her institutional support. The city’s healthcare workers union, 1199 SEIU, which is a strong force in city and state politics and has been a close ally (and former employer of) Mark-Viverito, endorsed Rodriguez last week.</p> <p>Indeed, one of the most interesting and determinative aspects of the race to replace her will be what kind of pull Mark-Viverito has among her constituents to choose her successor.</p> <p><strong>Differentiating Themselves</strong> <br />Throughout interviews, forums and other events, the candidates repeatedly underscored their campaign identities: Ayala as the on-the-ground community member and liaison who knows everyone in the neighborhood and what they need, and Rodriguez, the policy guy who’s worked in Albany to help the district largely from afar.</p> <p>When Gotham Gazette asked Ayala if Rodriguez comes up on the campaign trail, Ayala said it’s a rarity but when he does constituents tell her Rodriguez is is seen to be out of touch with the district. “He rarely comes up, but when he does come up, people say ‘where is he? I don’t see him. He’s not in this district. I’m not voting for him.’”</p> <p>Ayala’s campaign is clearly seeking to capitalize on the issue of district presence and constituent services. While going door-to-door in an East Harlem senior NYCHA development, Ayala knew well over half of the people at the doors.</p> <p>“I saw that it was your birthday,” Ayala said in an upbeat tone to one registered Democrat in the building, noting she knew of the birthday from Facebook. At other doors, she stopped to inquire about renovations in the apartments, gave instruction on how best to go about getting things fixed, cleaned, or replaced to residents with home issues and politely inquired about certain tenants’ health if she knew they had been ill.</p> <p>Ayala’s relationships with community members are not exclusively from her years as constituent services director for Mark-Viverito. Before her tenure in the City Council office, Ayala worked in senior services for 20 years, which she credits with lending her familiarity with many in the district.</p> <p>At the August 12 campaign event in East Harlem, Rodriguez spoke comfortably with members of the community. He, like Ayala, transitioned seamlessly between Spanish and English.</p> <p>After his brief speech, Gotham Gazette asked Rodriguez how he differs from Ayala. Like her, he draws on experience, not particular ideological or policy differences between the two, to make the case. Rodriguez argues that the problems are known and thus political skill is what is needed to improve quality of life for District 8 residents. “Policy-wise, on some of the issues...there may not be a difference but execution and experiences I think is where there’s huge difference there,” Rodriguez said.</p> <p>“Having served in the Legislature and understanding the challenges around finding funding, bringing funding into the district, and recognizing that you have to make some difficult decisions and prioritize,” said Rodriguez. “Someone who has that experience, I think, has the advantage in terms of being able to better represent this district and address the issues that are really at crisis levels in the East Harlem and South Bronx,” he added. “I think I can bring a unique set of experiences to do that.”</p> <p><strong>Affordable Housing</strong><br />In an interview in Ayala’s campaign office just a few blocks south of Jefferson Houses following her voter outreach, she again highlighted housing as the most important part of the campaign. “Housing is always going to be the centerpiece of everything,” she said. “Housing continues to be an issue for a lot of reasons. We have a large public housing stock that’s...in pretty dilapidated condition.”</p> <p>Ayala remembered that NYCHA units had declined over the years. “I grew up in public housing. It was really nice and people don’t believe it, but it was,” she said. “They used to paint your house every five years, they would change your cabinets, they would clean the grounds, there was all types of stuff -- they didn’t have rats. Seeing a mouse in public housing was unheard of,” she recalled.</p> <p>This deterioration, she estimates, happened about a decade or two ago. Ayala did not offer specific plans for addressing the problems.</p> <p>Beyond NYCHA, Ayala said affordable housing no longer fits people’s budgets, a major problem in the district. “We have people that are in rent-stabilized units that are paying upward of $2,000 [per month]. So you have families that are overcrowded in these apartments because, even though they’re rent-stabilized...they stopped being affordable,” she said. “We lose almost 400 units a year to rent destabilization and we’re not making them up fast enough, so there’s more going out than coming in,” said Ayala. “And that’s a problem, because that’s how the community stops becoming El Barrio.”</p> <p>This dynamic comes into play regarding East Harlem rezoning in Ayala’s telling. When asked about why she was opposed to the city’s plan, Ayala said that many in the community “fear that they’re going to be pushed out” if the city’s version of East Harlem rezoning is enacted. “And,” she continued, “they fear that y’know we’re going to have all these luxury tall buildings that are going to change the character of the community and the culture is going to evaporate, [and it’s] not going to be Harlem anymore.”</p> <p><strong>Public Safety</strong><br />After housing, public safety is the next most important issue in the campaign, according to Ayala. “I have several members of my family that have been killed in gun violence,” she said. “My cousin was shot when he was 16 years old at a party when he was minding his business because he accidentally stepped on someone's sneaker and the guy pulled out a shotgun and killed him. My boyfriend was shot when I was 15,” Ayala said. “So..that’s something that continues to plague our community. I spend a lot of time in the community and people are afraid. Our seniors are afraid to sit on the benches, parents are afraid to take their children to the park because we’ve had shootouts in the park in the local playground,” Ayala said.</p> <p>Rodriguez has been endorsed by the Patrolmen’s Benevolence Association (PBA) and received a $1,000 campaign donation from the police officers union in January. Rodriguez says he favors <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/nyregion/to-stem-juvenile-robberies-police-trail-youths-before-the-crime.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">J-RIP</a>, formally known as Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program. “It really helped with some of the gang issues we’re having in our community and that has to continue,” he said of the program, a paternalistic anti-crime <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/nyregion/to-stem-juvenile-robberies-police-trail-youths-before-the-crime.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">method</a> in which police officers track and intervene in the lives of teenagers authorities deem most likely to commit crimes. He also lamented the high turnover rate in the NYPD, which he regards as a problem of not allowing officers to establish relationships with the communities they serve.</p> <p>Ayala said she did not see the PBA’s stamp of approval as something she would seek, citing differing on issues such as the <a href="http://www.amny.com/news/right-to-know-act-pushed-by-council-members-protesters-in-front-of-city-hall-1.11717618" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Right to Know Act</a> and Closing Rikers Island jails. “I am a supporter of several pieces of legislation in the City Council that, you know, that the PBA is not in favor of, and so I didn’t feel like it was an endorsement that I should pursue,” she said. “I think if you’re being stopped by anyone you should know why you’re being stopped,” she said, referring to one provision of the Right to Know Act, which would mandate more communication from officers during street stops where a crime is not evidently being committed.</p> <p>“I have a great relationship with all of the precincts and community affairs officers, commanding officers,” Ayala said. “I understand that they have a really tough job. But I’m also a parent of a 27-year-old who happens to have dark skin and who happens to, in his teens, be stopped every single day. I think that I have not only a responsibility to teach my son to be respectful of law enforcement, but also to teach law enforcement to be respectful of the community,” she said. “And I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. And I work very closely with the police department too so that they understand the perspective of the young people who live in these communities and I think that we’ve been very fortunate that the precinct in the district have been slowly coming along and that relations have improved significantly.”</p> <p><strong>The Campaign’s Defining Issue</strong><br />But housing, and related topics like gentrification and neighborhood character, more so than public safety, jobs, or anything else, has dominated the discourse around the race. At a July campaign forum, Ayala assured the audience that she was in tune with their anxiety about the signs of gentrification, putting her signature personal spin on the matter.</p> <p>“Where I come from,” she said, “it hasn’t always been a positive thing. I grew up on the Lower East Side and we were gentrified and we didn’t know that we were being gentrified because we lived in public housing and nothing really changed for us except for the fact that several years into it, we lost all of our delis, we lost the local pharmacist, we lost the pediatrician that has seen me, my kids my neighbors children,” Ayala said. “And all of these mom and pop stores were replaced by all these sheek bars.”</p> <p>“We have people that move into the community and complain about the many festivals that we have or they complain about the marketa music being too loud, being the type of music they don’t enjoy,” she said. “When we talk about gentrification we want to make sure that if you’re coming into this community, we’ll welcome you, but you need to accept us the way that we are,” said Ayala, speaking to the divide between long-time residents of the neighborhood and some new-coming gentrifiers.</p> <p>At the forum, Rodriguez framed the phenomenon of neighborhood change in a different manner. “East Harlem is still a community of immigrants,” he said. “Let’s not forget our history here. People come from different places far and wide into our community,” Rodriguez said adding that new people moving in “should not be something that we are afraid of.”</p> <p>“I’m open to new people coming in. I’m open to new business. That’s what makes New York City great,” Rodriguez added. Rodriguez also spoke to people’s anxieties about the lack of affordable housing. “Now that being said, we deserve to stay here,” he said. “The housing should reflect what we can afford.”</p> <p>Rodriguez emphasized affordable housing as the “number one issue” in the campaign. “There are concerns that your developments, if it’s something like a Mitchell-Lama, may one day not be affordable,” he said, referring to a type of subsidized housing set aside for middle-income New Yorkers. “They may opt out of a program and they may become market-rate,” said Rodriguez of landlords. “That is what everyone’s concern is when you’re looking at affordable housing units.”</p> <p>He went on to note that affordable housing is a term that is unique to everyone’s needs based on their income and family size. “That’s why, years ago, when I was the chair of the community board, we set affordable housing guidelines that defend what we need as a community so that the city is on notice,” he said. “There are $17 billion of capital needs in NYCHA. Whatever numbers we’re talking about need a significant intervention.” Rodriguez said. “This is a crisis that we have.”</p> <p>But Rodriguez does not welcome all opportunities to build new affordable housing. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7132-crucial-weeks-ahead-for-potential-rezoning-of-east-harlem" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The East Harlem rezoning plan</a> has loomed in the background of the race. As it stands, Rodriguez is against the city’s East Harlem rezoning proposal, as are Ayala, Mark-Viverito, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.</p> <p>“I’m against it and I support the conditions that were included by the Community Board,” Rodriguez said. “Some of the concerns about the benefits -- are they extending some of those benefits to those that are earning below 30% of AMI (Area Median Income)? How do we increase that? I raised additional concerns about what happens to small businesses and smaller commercial spaces as we start to increase density. Where do the small mom and pop stores go?” he said.</p> <p>Rodriguez, formerly a member of Community Board 11, voiced his respect for the process and disappointment the community’s input wasn’t incorporated sufficiently in the de Blasio administration’s plan. “There’s been a significant amount of community dialogue and I think that the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan is pretty comprehensive at covering some of those issues and concerns and I think that didn’t all materialize in terms of the City Planning proposal,” he said of the plan put forth by the community, in conjunction with Mark-Viverito’s office. Still, all hope is not loss for the prospect of East Harlem rezoning and getting the additional affordable housing that it is aimed at spurring. “[A]t this point in the process, ultimately, it falls on the City Council to either approve it or reject it and try to make as many changes as possible before they get to that place,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not voted upon yet so there’s alway room and opportunity for change.”</p> <p><strong>Charter Schools</strong><br />The two leading candidates’ divergent frames is also evident when they speak about charter schools, which both feel have advantages and drawbacks. “My children are public school students,” Ayala said, prefacing her opinion on the issue. “As a parent, I don’t want anyone to tell me where I can and cannot enroll my children,” she said. “I want to have options. That having been said, there have been issues” with charters. “The reality is, when we meet with parents -- we meet with parents all the time -- and we talk about the whole charter school issues, a lot of the concerns are lack of space,” she explained.</p> <p>Ayala added that many charter schools take up extracurricular activity space used by traditional public school students and lack special education programing, which gives her a less favorable opinion on charter schools. “These are things that are all as important as reading and writing and math,” Ayala said.</p> <p>Rodriguez spoke about many of the same issues as Ayala when asked about the role of charter schools in an interview, adding the criticism that some charters churn out students that do not meet certain education standards or hurt test scores, and are not welcoming</p> <p>“We have different experience with the charters. We have community charters that are doing great work, and we have some that get a lot of criticisms for practices that are not necessarily reflective of what public schools should be doing,” Rodriguez told Gotham Gazette. He quickly pivoted from any problems with charter schools to the agenda he hopes to help implement in the Council. Funding regular public schools, not charter school policies, would top his list of educational priorities should he be elected, he said. “So my priority on the City Council will be to pick away at some of these issues that are administered locally by the Board of Education and figure out why we’re not getting our fair share.”</p> <p><strong>Purpose</strong><br />During the interview, when Rodriguez was asked for a short summation of his campaign’s central purpose, he talked about what he would do in the City Council. “The elevator pitch is, how can we make differences for our community? And one thing we haven’t talked about is parks and waters,” he said. “One of the things we haven’t talked about is the The East River Esplanade and the South Bronx waterfront,” he said. Rodriguez went on to lament the sorry state of the conditions by the two areas.</p> <p>“There’s no reason why our community, which happens to be low income but are changing rapidly, shouldn’t have world-class parks and open space on their waterfront and that’s something I’d like to fight for,” he said. “I’ve raised the issue, I’ve gotten some state funding. But this is clearly one of those times that it’s clearly a New York City issue that can only be changed by, hopefully, being elected to the City Council and bringing that vision there,” he said. “That’s just one example of many things that can dramatically improve the lives of residents here, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”.</p> <p>At the campaign forum, Rodriguez summed things up more broadly in his closing statement. “If you’re a working mom, if you’re a working family, those are the thing that at the government is supposed to be able to provide some support for,” said Rodriguez. “That’s the job that you sent me to Albany to do,” he said. “So I have the experience and the track record just because you have given me that chance. I want to be able to take the experience and bring it to bear on the city council to meet your needs every day.”</p> <p>As for Ayala, she again struck the tone of personal experience informing her public service when asked about the purpose of her candidacy. “I’m a regular person. I’m a mom. I’m a constituent of this district. I love my community,” she said. “I’m motivated by the needs of my community that are also my needs,” said Ayala. “So when people talk about gentrification and people being pushed out, these are my people that are being pushed out,” Ayala said. “These are my kids that are being pushed out.”</p> <p>”Am I an expert on all things? I am not,” Ayala said at the July campaign forum. “But I have always been at the table and I have worked with the community to try to figure out the solutions to the issues that are before us.”</p> <p> </p> City Council Bail Fund Begins Operations 2017-08-17T18:29:54+00:00 2017-08-17T18:29:54+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7136:city-council-bail-fund-begins-operations Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mmv_police.jpg" alt="Melissa Mark-Viverito police reform bail" width="600" height="419" /></p> <p>Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council’s bail fund, a signature project of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, has officially launched operations and is actively taking on cases in Manhattan and Brooklyn.</p> <p>“We had a very soft rollout in June and July,” said Dave Long, executive director of The Liberty Fund, the official name of the fund, which provides bail to low-level offenders facing misdemeanor charges who cannot afford to post bail. The most common misdemeanor charges in Brooklyn, for instance, are for marijuana possession, trespassing, petit larceny, turnstile jumping, low-level drug possession, and driving with a suspended license, according to the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, another charitable bail fund in the city.</p> <p>The fund began operating in Manhattan on August 7 and in Brooklyn a week later.</p> <p>Although the fund was <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5588-bronx-program-serves-as-inspiration-for-mark-viveritos-city-wide-bail-fund-proposal" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> by Mark-Viverito in her first State of the City address in February 2015, its launch has taken longer than expected, in part delayed by the state’s arduous bureaucratic procedure for approving charitable bail funds and their agents. The Liberty Fund currently has one full-time licensed bail agent and another part-time agent who works for the Doe Fund, the nonprofit that is overseeing its operations.</p> <p>The fund is awaiting approval for nine other applications, including one for Long himself, which he expects will be approved in the coming weeks, allowing them to launch operations in the Bronx and Queens.</p> <p>“This is one of the longest processes I’ve seen in all my years,” said Long, an attorney and 30-year veteran of city government, who was hired in March to run the bail fund. “To get someone licensed, it shouldn’t take so long.”</p> <p>The bail fund is an important part of Mark-Viverito’s legacy and her lengthy criminal justice agenda, and is also key to the long-term plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex.</p> <p>“No one should be shipped off to Rikers Island simply because they are too poor to post bail,” Mark-Viverito said, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “That’s why the City Council is proud to support the mission of the Liberty Fund as they conduct important work to level the playing field and reduce pre-trial incarceration rates.”</p> <p>The speaker also touted other initiatives the Council has passed under her leadership, including making bail payments easier; passing the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which created civil penalties for certain low-level crimes; and establishing the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, which issued a comprehensive <a href="http://www.morejustnyc.com/the-reports/#the-commissions-report" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> in April.</p> <p>Long and his associates have been busy for months, setting up borough offices, hiring employees, and meeting with court staff to make their presence known. “The court staff have been very receptive and very helpful,” he said. “I think we’re a welcome addition to the court process. We’ve done our best to blend in.”</p> <p>Once fully operational, the fund aims to assist between 1,000 and 2,000 low-level offenders each year who cannot afford to pay bail, which can sometimes be as low as $250. Charitable bails funds, under state law, are only permitted to aid individuals facing misdemeanor charges with bail set below $2000. “We come into play when nobody else can pay bail,” Long said, although insisting that it is a last resort for people who may otherwise end up heading to Rikers Island. “This isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. We’ve said “no” to some cases too.”</p> <p>The City Council has provided $1.4 million in operational funds for The Liberty Fund while an anonymous private foundation has promised $400,000 for the actual bail payments. That seed funding will help the fund operate for years, Long estimated. Currently, the account holds $20,000, which is a “revolving” figure since 85-90 percent of that funding would return to the account as clients make their appearances in court. Charitable bail funds, of which there are two others operating in the city -- the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund and the Bronx Freedom Fund -- have shown a very high rate of return in terms of clients who make their court appearances.</p> <p>Beyond keeping clients out of jail, the fund will also provide “wraparound services,” Long said. His staff is comprised of people with experience in court operations and case management, and even a licensed social worker. Together, they create a voluntary social services plan for clients that includes housing, employment, substance abuse and mental health services. “There’s two sides to the coin here,” Long said. “We hope to never have this person return to court again, except for scheduled court appearances.”</p> <p>“We spent a lot of time preparing for this so we can do it right,” he said.</p> <p>For certain criminal justice reform advocates, the bail fund is something of a band-aid absent substantive systemic reform. “The city is trying to mitigate a situation that in a just world would not exist,” said Nick Malinowski, civil rights campaigns director at VOCAL-NY, in an email. “Prosecutors and judges should not be permitted to ask for or set bail in amounts that people cannot afford.”</p> <p>Malinowski wants to see measures for more accountability for the NYPD, district attorneys, and judges, but the idea of the elimination of cash bail for low-level offenders is being discussed by state legislators. In the meantime, the Liberty Fund is seeking to keep more people from entering city jails, missing work, school, and family, and avoiding the snowballing effect that often occurs from even a short jail stay.</p> <p>Rachel Foran, managing director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, echoed Malinowski’s comments about wanting to see more criminal justice reform from the city. “We see the work of community-funded bail funds like us and others across the state and country as an important, but temporary intervention to prevent the unjust and unnecessary pretrial jailing of people caged purely for the inability to afford bail,” she also said. “We ultimately want to see the elimination of the cash bail system entirely.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mmv_police.jpg" alt="Melissa Mark-Viverito police reform bail" width="600" height="419" /></p> <p>Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council’s bail fund, a signature project of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, has officially launched operations and is actively taking on cases in Manhattan and Brooklyn.</p> <p>“We had a very soft rollout in June and July,” said Dave Long, executive director of The Liberty Fund, the official name of the fund, which provides bail to low-level offenders facing misdemeanor charges who cannot afford to post bail. The most common misdemeanor charges in Brooklyn, for instance, are for marijuana possession, trespassing, petit larceny, turnstile jumping, low-level drug possession, and driving with a suspended license, according to the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, another charitable bail fund in the city.</p> <p>The fund began operating in Manhattan on August 7 and in Brooklyn a week later.</p> <p>Although the fund was <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5588-bronx-program-serves-as-inspiration-for-mark-viveritos-city-wide-bail-fund-proposal" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> by Mark-Viverito in her first State of the City address in February 2015, its launch has taken longer than expected, in part delayed by the state’s arduous bureaucratic procedure for approving charitable bail funds and their agents. The Liberty Fund currently has one full-time licensed bail agent and another part-time agent who works for the Doe Fund, the nonprofit that is overseeing its operations.</p> <p>The fund is awaiting approval for nine other applications, including one for Long himself, which he expects will be approved in the coming weeks, allowing them to launch operations in the Bronx and Queens.</p> <p>“This is one of the longest processes I’ve seen in all my years,” said Long, an attorney and 30-year veteran of city government, who was hired in March to run the bail fund. “To get someone licensed, it shouldn’t take so long.”</p> <p>The bail fund is an important part of Mark-Viverito’s legacy and her lengthy criminal justice agenda, and is also key to the long-term plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex.</p> <p>“No one should be shipped off to Rikers Island simply because they are too poor to post bail,” Mark-Viverito said, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “That’s why the City Council is proud to support the mission of the Liberty Fund as they conduct important work to level the playing field and reduce pre-trial incarceration rates.”</p> <p>The speaker also touted other initiatives the Council has passed under her leadership, including making bail payments easier; passing the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which created civil penalties for certain low-level crimes; and establishing the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, which issued a comprehensive <a href="http://www.morejustnyc.com/the-reports/#the-commissions-report" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> in April.</p> <p>Long and his associates have been busy for months, setting up borough offices, hiring employees, and meeting with court staff to make their presence known. “The court staff have been very receptive and very helpful,” he said. “I think we’re a welcome addition to the court process. We’ve done our best to blend in.”</p> <p>Once fully operational, the fund aims to assist between 1,000 and 2,000 low-level offenders each year who cannot afford to pay bail, which can sometimes be as low as $250. Charitable bails funds, under state law, are only permitted to aid individuals facing misdemeanor charges with bail set below $2000. “We come into play when nobody else can pay bail,” Long said, although insisting that it is a last resort for people who may otherwise end up heading to Rikers Island. “This isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. We’ve said “no” to some cases too.”</p> <p>The City Council has provided $1.4 million in operational funds for The Liberty Fund while an anonymous private foundation has promised $400,000 for the actual bail payments. That seed funding will help the fund operate for years, Long estimated. Currently, the account holds $20,000, which is a “revolving” figure since 85-90 percent of that funding would return to the account as clients make their appearances in court. Charitable bail funds, of which there are two others operating in the city -- the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund and the Bronx Freedom Fund -- have shown a very high rate of return in terms of clients who make their court appearances.</p> <p>Beyond keeping clients out of jail, the fund will also provide “wraparound services,” Long said. His staff is comprised of people with experience in court operations and case management, and even a licensed social worker. Together, they create a voluntary social services plan for clients that includes housing, employment, substance abuse and mental health services. “There’s two sides to the coin here,” Long said. “We hope to never have this person return to court again, except for scheduled court appearances.”</p> <p>“We spent a lot of time preparing for this so we can do it right,” he said.</p> <p>For certain criminal justice reform advocates, the bail fund is something of a band-aid absent substantive systemic reform. “The city is trying to mitigate a situation that in a just world would not exist,” said Nick Malinowski, civil rights campaigns director at VOCAL-NY, in an email. “Prosecutors and judges should not be permitted to ask for or set bail in amounts that people cannot afford.”</p> <p>Malinowski wants to see measures for more accountability for the NYPD, district attorneys, and judges, but the idea of the elimination of cash bail for low-level offenders is being discussed by state legislators. In the meantime, the Liberty Fund is seeking to keep more people from entering city jails, missing work, school, and family, and avoiding the snowballing effect that often occurs from even a short jail stay.</p> <p>Rachel Foran, managing director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, echoed Malinowski’s comments about wanting to see more criminal justice reform from the city. “We see the work of community-funded bail funds like us and others across the state and country as an important, but temporary intervention to prevent the unjust and unnecessary pretrial jailing of people caged purely for the inability to afford bail,” she also said. “We ultimately want to see the elimination of the cash bail system entirely.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Crucial Weeks Ahead for Potential Rezoning of East Harlem 2017-08-15T04:00:00+00:00 2017-08-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7132:crucial-weeks-ahead-for-potential-rezoning-of-east-harlem Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/mark-viverito-at-east-harlem-planning-session.png" alt="mark viverito at east harlem planning session" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>Mark-Viverito at East Harlem planning session (photo: Samar Khurshid)</p> <hr /> <p>The de Blasio administration’s plan to significantly alter a large section of East Harlem is in the middle of a contentious process, with its fate unclear. The proposed changes to land use rules and infusion of community development resources -- part of the administration’s larger efforts to build more housing, some of it with affordability requirements, and improve neighborhoods -- have not been to the liking of key elected officials and the window for negotiations will close before the end of the year.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/plans-studies/east-harlem/east-harlem-presentation-042417.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">East Harlem rezoning plan</a> has hit several bumps in the road as it moves through the city’s process for designing and approving changes to the type of development that is permitted and resources the city will bring into a particular area. Namely, the city’s current proposal faces disapproval by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.</p> <p>The City Planning Commission formally began the <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/east-harlem/east-harlem.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Uniform Land Use Review Procedure</a> (ULURP) process for the East Harlem rezoning plan when the proposal was released April 24, followed by the Borough President’s recommendation earlier this month, in which Brewer put forth her non-binding vote of no confidence.</p> <p>Next, the City Planning Commission will hold a hearing August 23, followed by a City Planning Commission review due by October 2. Afterwards, the City Council has 50 days to vote on the proposal, which can be tweaked within certain parameters acceptable to the City Planning Commission. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>East Harlem is one of 15 neighborhoods that the administration <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/089-15/state-the-city-remarks-bill-de-blasio-prepared-delivery#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">identified</a> early in 2015 as potential areas where the city could build significant amounts of new housing, some of it with affordability requirements, with the goal of boosting local communities through other means as well, including retail and open space, job creation, new school seats, and better transportation infrastructure. The rezonings are a part of de Blasio’s goal of creating and preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing across the city over 10 years. Along with the rezoning of parts of East New York, in Brooklyn, a plan to rezone East Midtown just passed, though it is largely focused on creating new and modern office and commercial spaces.</p> <p>East Harlem could be the second major neighborhood rezoning of de Blasio’s tenure, but, like in East New York, the administration must negotiate with local stakeholders, especially Mark-Viverito, the local Council rep whose opinion is the most important in the process.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito will negotiate with the de Blasio administration until there is a plan to her liking, or she will kill the rezoning. The speaker is term-limited out of office at the end of this year (two leading candidates vying to succeed her have also criticized the de Blasio administration’s plan) and has the opportunity to pass the rezoning before she departs.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito wants to make a deal work. She has seen the rezoning of East Harlem -- especially the affordable housing and community development that would come with it -- as key to her legacy as she prepares to leave the City Council. She helped lead the development of a community-based blueprint, <a href="http://www.eastharlemplan.nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">East Harlem Neighborhood Plan</a>, that she and others believe the city has not hewed close enough to in its proposal.</p> <p>At a recent news conference, Mark-Viverito expressed her displeasure with the city’s process, and criticized the administration for ignoring the East Harlem community voice. “We all took ownership for that process so we stand very strongly behind the recommendations of the steering committee of the neighborhood plan,” she said August 9, when asked by Gotham Gazette about Brewer’s recent opposition and negotiations about the plan.</p> <p>“What City Planning presented flew in the face of all of that, and it was very disrespectful to all of the thought and workings of the community, and I think Gale [Brewer] strongly spoke to that in her statement,” Mark-Viverito said. “We had thousands of people that participated in that process,” she said. “It was nothing to really sneeze at. And I’m really, really proud of that effort.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Mark-Viverito made mention of the numerous community representatives were involved in the planning process with the City Planning Department, and that the community has made its needs and wants clear. The Neighborhood Plan, a joint effort involving CB11, Brewer, Mark-Viverito, and advocacy group Community Voices Heard, is a more wide-reaching document than a rezoning proposal, including recommendations on everything spanning NYCHA repairs, public safety reforms, tenant protection and park space. The comprehensive 138-page analysis also includes specific models for ratios of market-rate to affordable housing for newly developed buildings. Undergirding the report and the entire conversation is an estimate of 12,000 East Harlem households that the report classifies as in need of affordable housing.</p> <p>East Harlem rezoning, whatever form it winds up taking, will create additional housing, both affordable and market-rate, as well as commercial space, by upzoning much of the Upper Manhattan neighborhood, often referred to as El Barrio.</p> <p>By its current design, the rezoning would allow buildings to stretch up to 30 stories between 104th and 126th Streets in the eastern part of the area and between 126th and 132nd in the western portions. Currently, there is a 120 foot, or ten-to-twelve stories, height restrictions on parts of 125th street and surrounding areas while the rest of East Harlem are not subject to specific height limits. According to the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/about/press-releases/pr-20170424.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">City Planning Department,</a> the upzoning would create approximately 3,500 rental apartment units under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program, which set asides a quarter of new housing for affordable housing in any new development approved by the city in a rezoned area. The commission estimates the upzoning would spawn 122,000 square feet of commercial space along with 27,500 square feet of office and industrial space.The proposal also includes height restrictions on units built on parts of Lexington Avenue and mandatory apportioning of more affordable housing units in the densest of new developments. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Still, elected officials representing the area, in agreement with Manhattan Community Board 11’s <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170628/east-harlem/east-harlem-rezoning-vote-community-board-11" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stance</a>, fear the upzoning will not sufficiently benefit low-income residents of the area, which has a high poverty rate, and will adversely affect mom-and-pop stores, accelerate gentrification, increase property prices, without enough affordable housing to meet the area’s needs.</p> <p>On August 3, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer came out against the administration’s current proposal. While she reaffirmed support for the general idea of rezoning East Harlem, she explained she is not convinced of the merits of what the city put forward. "A rezoning done the right way offers the opportunity to create many new affordable units, including units affordable to low-income East Harlem residents, while actually reducing the effects of gentrification and reinvigorating neighborhood small businesses and retail,” she said in a <a href="http://manhattanbp.nyc.gov/html/home/home.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement</a> announcing her opposition. "What the administration has put in front of us, however, is rezoning done the wrong way.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Brewer went on to cite concerns about gentrification, affordability and building heights, all of which she believes are better addressed in <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170628/east-harlem/east-harlem-rezoning-vote-community-board-11" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommendations</a> put forward by Community Board 11. Community Board 11 rejected the proposal, though, like Brewer’s, the vote is not binding -- ultimately, the decision is up to the City Council, which almost universally follows the lead of the local Council member, in this case Mark-Viverito.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito has worked to convene a “Rezoning Task Force” which has met periodically from January to April of this year. &nbsp;</p> <p>"This proposal concentrates new development in too small an area with too much density, likely worsening the effects of gentrification,” Brewer said, echoing CB11’s criticism. “This proposal lacks a meaningful preservation plan and sufficient up-front commitments to save existing affordable housing units,” the borough president added.</p> <p>Brewer also issued a <a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/355410421/Final-Manhattan-B-P-Recommendation-Re-Nos-C-170358-ZMM-Et-Al-East-Harlem-Rezoning?irgwc=1&amp;content=10079&amp;campaign=Skimbit%2C%20Ltd.&amp;ad_group=66960X1516509X7c26b4767569ebf998ad5f7cb991e13a&amp;keyword=ft750noi&amp;source=impactradius&amp;medium=affiliate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">list of recommendations</a> for the city to adopt to make the plan more palatable to the community. The list includes reclaiming lost affordable housing units, lowering the density of potential buildings to preserve neighborhood character, and providing more affordable housing units to low-income residents of the area, particularly those making less than 30 percent of the area median income, which amounts to $23,350 for a household of three. &nbsp;</p> <p>Despite Mark-Viverito’s frustration and Brewer’s disapproval, the effort to rezone East Harlem is far from dead, with negotiations to tweak the plan ongoing.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito, taking note of the time she has remaining in the Council, said she would continue to advocate for the community’s recommendations. “So that’s what I’m going to be doing in the months that I have to discuss and analyze this rezoning, is to really advocate for the recommendations the community put together,” she said. “We’re in the process of working through that, and I take that plan as a guide in terms of my negotiations with the city. So I’ve been pushing them on a lot of the things that are outlined in that plan.”</p> <p>But Mark-Viverito’s opposition, should it persist, would effectively serve as a death knell for approving the current plan, or something close to it, any time soon.</p> <p>At a news conference on August 7, Mayor de Blasio acknowledged that dynamic when asked by Gotham Gazette about the status of rezoning talks and Brewer’s opposition to the East Harlem plan. “This rezoning is unusual compared to all the others because it’s the Speaker’s own district,” de Blasio said. “I think what’s good is when you then hear those concerns and try to work them through and try to find a solution that you both feel pretty good about. And certainly, most importantly, the person who matters the most is the representative of that district in the Council.”</p> <p>De Blasio said there is still time to iron out the differences in order to craft a plan that meets both the administration’s preferences and the community’s needs. “We’ve had vocal conversations about the rezoning and will continue to…And there’s plenty of time to do that,” de Blasio added. “So we’ll continue having those conversations.”</p> <p>The process for approving a rezoning is long and multifaceted. Each proposal must go through <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/east-harlem/east-harlem.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ULURP</a>, a process that involves a mixture of behind-the-scenes machinations and public hearings with the aim of creating an upzoning blueprint which includes input from city planners, elected officials, and relevant communities. Rezonings typically take several months, if not longer, to make their way through ULURP. The East Midtown rezoning, for instance, was in the pipeline in different iterations for several years before being approved by the City Council on August 9th.</p> <p>A spokesperson for the City Planning Department said the process has already incorporated additional community input.</p> <p>On August 7, the CPC issued a technical memorandum, called an “<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/applicants/env-review/east-harlem/tech-memo-001.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A-Text</a>,” or amended text, which addressed concerns coming from the local community board and elected leaders. This particular iteration of the rezoning plan includes height restrictions on buildings on 3rd Avenue, the Park Avenue Corridor and Lexington Avenue -- provisions not included in the original plan.</p> <p>“Adding this ‘A-text’ alternative allows for consideration of additional options on shaping the future of East Harlem,” said the CPD spokesperson in an email. “Together with the certified application, the A-text enables deliberation on a wide array of options to protect neighborhood character, increase affordable housing and spur job-generating development in East Harlem. We hope that this provides an environment for a more robust public discussion on the development of the final rezoning plan.”</p> <p>The East New York rezoning, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6287-east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">passed in 2016 and seen as a model for others to follow</a>, like East Harlem, includes infrastructure investment, a new school, and a career center to help those seeking jobs, along with the central goal of paving the way towards creating more housing units. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The rezoning has also become a key issue in the race for Mark-Viverito’s seat. If the proposal is not enacted this year, the issue will be passed along to the next Council member to represent the district.</p> <p>Two leading District 8 candidates -- State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez and Diana Ayala, the speaker’s former Constituent Services Director and Deputy Chief of Staff -- also oppose the administration’s plan.</p> <p>Rodriguez and Ayala, both Democrats, feel the city did not adequately adhere to the community’s input, which Rodriguez insisted was a difficult and crucial component to the process.</p> <p>“I remember how long those meetings go and how hard it is to get consensus on these things and in this case they spoke very clearly,” Rodriguez said at an August 8 candidate forum in an East Harlem community center. “They’re against it and they provided some reasonable conditions. So I stand with the community board against the plan.”</p> <p>Rodriguez was not convinced the plan would have much benefit for lower and middle-income residents, a very large combined chunk of the neighborhood, which has seen early waves of gentrification. “[I]t’s an aspirational goal that you’ll be able to get some affordability out of the percentage that is affordable in the new developments,” he said. “So what we’re saying is that we hope that the developers take this incentive after we’ve created wealth for them and then go through the lottery process and hope that our residents get in there? Where’s the mom and pop stores?” Rodriguez wondered.</p> <p>He voiced concern about what new developments would do to help low-income residents, such as those who earn less than 30 percent of AMI. “What’s in it for them? Nothing!” Rodriguez said. “What is the benefit for residents of East Harlem?” he continued. “Are we just going to hope that we’re going to be able to get affordability?”</p> <p>Ayala, who has been endorsed by Mark-Viverito, explained her opposition to the city’s plan at a candidate forum. “I think the city’s proposal is very upscale,” she said. “I would like to see deeper affordability as part of the plan. I would like to see more long-term affordability than in the current plan,” she said. “I want to see smaller buildings, I’m not a fan of huge towers,” Ayala said, voicing similar criticism when the topic again came up at the August 8 forum.</p> <p>In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Ayala said many residents in her community are unhappy with the plan. “Well, they fear that they’re going to be pushed out,” she said. “And they fear that, y’know, we’re going to have all these luxury, tall buildings that are going to change the character of the community and the culture is going to evaporate, [and the neighborhood is] not going to be Harlem anymore,” Ayala said. “I can sympathize because I live in the community, too, and that’s the last thing I want to see.”</p> <p> </p> <p>With reporting by Felipe De La Hoz</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/mark-viverito-at-east-harlem-planning-session.png" alt="mark viverito at east harlem planning session" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>Mark-Viverito at East Harlem planning session (photo: Samar Khurshid)</p> <hr /> <p>The de Blasio administration’s plan to significantly alter a large section of East Harlem is in the middle of a contentious process, with its fate unclear. The proposed changes to land use rules and infusion of community development resources -- part of the administration’s larger efforts to build more housing, some of it with affordability requirements, and improve neighborhoods -- have not been to the liking of key elected officials and the window for negotiations will close before the end of the year.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/plans-studies/east-harlem/east-harlem-presentation-042417.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">East Harlem rezoning plan</a> has hit several bumps in the road as it moves through the city’s process for designing and approving changes to the type of development that is permitted and resources the city will bring into a particular area. Namely, the city’s current proposal faces disapproval by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.</p> <p>The City Planning Commission formally began the <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/east-harlem/east-harlem.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Uniform Land Use Review Procedure</a> (ULURP) process for the East Harlem rezoning plan when the proposal was released April 24, followed by the Borough President’s recommendation earlier this month, in which Brewer put forth her non-binding vote of no confidence.</p> <p>Next, the City Planning Commission will hold a hearing August 23, followed by a City Planning Commission review due by October 2. Afterwards, the City Council has 50 days to vote on the proposal, which can be tweaked within certain parameters acceptable to the City Planning Commission. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>East Harlem is one of 15 neighborhoods that the administration <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/089-15/state-the-city-remarks-bill-de-blasio-prepared-delivery#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">identified</a> early in 2015 as potential areas where the city could build significant amounts of new housing, some of it with affordability requirements, with the goal of boosting local communities through other means as well, including retail and open space, job creation, new school seats, and better transportation infrastructure. The rezonings are a part of de Blasio’s goal of creating and preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing across the city over 10 years. Along with the rezoning of parts of East New York, in Brooklyn, a plan to rezone East Midtown just passed, though it is largely focused on creating new and modern office and commercial spaces.</p> <p>East Harlem could be the second major neighborhood rezoning of de Blasio’s tenure, but, like in East New York, the administration must negotiate with local stakeholders, especially Mark-Viverito, the local Council rep whose opinion is the most important in the process.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito will negotiate with the de Blasio administration until there is a plan to her liking, or she will kill the rezoning. The speaker is term-limited out of office at the end of this year (two leading candidates vying to succeed her have also criticized the de Blasio administration’s plan) and has the opportunity to pass the rezoning before she departs.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito wants to make a deal work. She has seen the rezoning of East Harlem -- especially the affordable housing and community development that would come with it -- as key to her legacy as she prepares to leave the City Council. She helped lead the development of a community-based blueprint, <a href="http://www.eastharlemplan.nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">East Harlem Neighborhood Plan</a>, that she and others believe the city has not hewed close enough to in its proposal.</p> <p>At a recent news conference, Mark-Viverito expressed her displeasure with the city’s process, and criticized the administration for ignoring the East Harlem community voice. “We all took ownership for that process so we stand very strongly behind the recommendations of the steering committee of the neighborhood plan,” she said August 9, when asked by Gotham Gazette about Brewer’s recent opposition and negotiations about the plan.</p> <p>“What City Planning presented flew in the face of all of that, and it was very disrespectful to all of the thought and workings of the community, and I think Gale [Brewer] strongly spoke to that in her statement,” Mark-Viverito said. “We had thousands of people that participated in that process,” she said. “It was nothing to really sneeze at. And I’m really, really proud of that effort.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Mark-Viverito made mention of the numerous community representatives were involved in the planning process with the City Planning Department, and that the community has made its needs and wants clear. The Neighborhood Plan, a joint effort involving CB11, Brewer, Mark-Viverito, and advocacy group Community Voices Heard, is a more wide-reaching document than a rezoning proposal, including recommendations on everything spanning NYCHA repairs, public safety reforms, tenant protection and park space. The comprehensive 138-page analysis also includes specific models for ratios of market-rate to affordable housing for newly developed buildings. Undergirding the report and the entire conversation is an estimate of 12,000 East Harlem households that the report classifies as in need of affordable housing.</p> <p>East Harlem rezoning, whatever form it winds up taking, will create additional housing, both affordable and market-rate, as well as commercial space, by upzoning much of the Upper Manhattan neighborhood, often referred to as El Barrio.</p> <p>By its current design, the rezoning would allow buildings to stretch up to 30 stories between 104th and 126th Streets in the eastern part of the area and between 126th and 132nd in the western portions. Currently, there is a 120 foot, or ten-to-twelve stories, height restrictions on parts of 125th street and surrounding areas while the rest of East Harlem are not subject to specific height limits. According to the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/about/press-releases/pr-20170424.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">City Planning Department,</a> the upzoning would create approximately 3,500 rental apartment units under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program, which set asides a quarter of new housing for affordable housing in any new development approved by the city in a rezoned area. The commission estimates the upzoning would spawn 122,000 square feet of commercial space along with 27,500 square feet of office and industrial space.The proposal also includes height restrictions on units built on parts of Lexington Avenue and mandatory apportioning of more affordable housing units in the densest of new developments. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Still, elected officials representing the area, in agreement with Manhattan Community Board 11’s <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170628/east-harlem/east-harlem-rezoning-vote-community-board-11" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stance</a>, fear the upzoning will not sufficiently benefit low-income residents of the area, which has a high poverty rate, and will adversely affect mom-and-pop stores, accelerate gentrification, increase property prices, without enough affordable housing to meet the area’s needs.</p> <p>On August 3, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer came out against the administration’s current proposal. While she reaffirmed support for the general idea of rezoning East Harlem, she explained she is not convinced of the merits of what the city put forward. "A rezoning done the right way offers the opportunity to create many new affordable units, including units affordable to low-income East Harlem residents, while actually reducing the effects of gentrification and reinvigorating neighborhood small businesses and retail,” she said in a <a href="http://manhattanbp.nyc.gov/html/home/home.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement</a> announcing her opposition. "What the administration has put in front of us, however, is rezoning done the wrong way.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Brewer went on to cite concerns about gentrification, affordability and building heights, all of which she believes are better addressed in <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170628/east-harlem/east-harlem-rezoning-vote-community-board-11" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommendations</a> put forward by Community Board 11. Community Board 11 rejected the proposal, though, like Brewer’s, the vote is not binding -- ultimately, the decision is up to the City Council, which almost universally follows the lead of the local Council member, in this case Mark-Viverito.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito has worked to convene a “Rezoning Task Force” which has met periodically from January to April of this year. &nbsp;</p> <p>"This proposal concentrates new development in too small an area with too much density, likely worsening the effects of gentrification,” Brewer said, echoing CB11’s criticism. “This proposal lacks a meaningful preservation plan and sufficient up-front commitments to save existing affordable housing units,” the borough president added.</p> <p>Brewer also issued a <a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/355410421/Final-Manhattan-B-P-Recommendation-Re-Nos-C-170358-ZMM-Et-Al-East-Harlem-Rezoning?irgwc=1&amp;content=10079&amp;campaign=Skimbit%2C%20Ltd.&amp;ad_group=66960X1516509X7c26b4767569ebf998ad5f7cb991e13a&amp;keyword=ft750noi&amp;source=impactradius&amp;medium=affiliate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">list of recommendations</a> for the city to adopt to make the plan more palatable to the community. The list includes reclaiming lost affordable housing units, lowering the density of potential buildings to preserve neighborhood character, and providing more affordable housing units to low-income residents of the area, particularly those making less than 30 percent of the area median income, which amounts to $23,350 for a household of three. &nbsp;</p> <p>Despite Mark-Viverito’s frustration and Brewer’s disapproval, the effort to rezone East Harlem is far from dead, with negotiations to tweak the plan ongoing.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito, taking note of the time she has remaining in the Council, said she would continue to advocate for the community’s recommendations. “So that’s what I’m going to be doing in the months that I have to discuss and analyze this rezoning, is to really advocate for the recommendations the community put together,” she said. “We’re in the process of working through that, and I take that plan as a guide in terms of my negotiations with the city. So I’ve been pushing them on a lot of the things that are outlined in that plan.”</p> <p>But Mark-Viverito’s opposition, should it persist, would effectively serve as a death knell for approving the current plan, or something close to it, any time soon.</p> <p>At a news conference on August 7, Mayor de Blasio acknowledged that dynamic when asked by Gotham Gazette about the status of rezoning talks and Brewer’s opposition to the East Harlem plan. “This rezoning is unusual compared to all the others because it’s the Speaker’s own district,” de Blasio said. “I think what’s good is when you then hear those concerns and try to work them through and try to find a solution that you both feel pretty good about. And certainly, most importantly, the person who matters the most is the representative of that district in the Council.”</p> <p>De Blasio said there is still time to iron out the differences in order to craft a plan that meets both the administration’s preferences and the community’s needs. “We’ve had vocal conversations about the rezoning and will continue to…And there’s plenty of time to do that,” de Blasio added. “So we’ll continue having those conversations.”</p> <p>The process for approving a rezoning is long and multifaceted. Each proposal must go through <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/east-harlem/east-harlem.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ULURP</a>, a process that involves a mixture of behind-the-scenes machinations and public hearings with the aim of creating an upzoning blueprint which includes input from city planners, elected officials, and relevant communities. Rezonings typically take several months, if not longer, to make their way through ULURP. The East Midtown rezoning, for instance, was in the pipeline in different iterations for several years before being approved by the City Council on August 9th.</p> <p>A spokesperson for the City Planning Department said the process has already incorporated additional community input.</p> <p>On August 7, the CPC issued a technical memorandum, called an “<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/applicants/env-review/east-harlem/tech-memo-001.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A-Text</a>,” or amended text, which addressed concerns coming from the local community board and elected leaders. This particular iteration of the rezoning plan includes height restrictions on buildings on 3rd Avenue, the Park Avenue Corridor and Lexington Avenue -- provisions not included in the original plan.</p> <p>“Adding this ‘A-text’ alternative allows for consideration of additional options on shaping the future of East Harlem,” said the CPD spokesperson in an email. “Together with the certified application, the A-text enables deliberation on a wide array of options to protect neighborhood character, increase affordable housing and spur job-generating development in East Harlem. We hope that this provides an environment for a more robust public discussion on the development of the final rezoning plan.”</p> <p>The East New York rezoning, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6287-east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">passed in 2016 and seen as a model for others to follow</a>, like East Harlem, includes infrastructure investment, a new school, and a career center to help those seeking jobs, along with the central goal of paving the way towards creating more housing units. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The rezoning has also become a key issue in the race for Mark-Viverito’s seat. If the proposal is not enacted this year, the issue will be passed along to the next Council member to represent the district.</p> <p>Two leading District 8 candidates -- State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez and Diana Ayala, the speaker’s former Constituent Services Director and Deputy Chief of Staff -- also oppose the administration’s plan.</p> <p>Rodriguez and Ayala, both Democrats, feel the city did not adequately adhere to the community’s input, which Rodriguez insisted was a difficult and crucial component to the process.</p> <p>“I remember how long those meetings go and how hard it is to get consensus on these things and in this case they spoke very clearly,” Rodriguez said at an August 8 candidate forum in an East Harlem community center. “They’re against it and they provided some reasonable conditions. So I stand with the community board against the plan.”</p> <p>Rodriguez was not convinced the plan would have much benefit for lower and middle-income residents, a very large combined chunk of the neighborhood, which has seen early waves of gentrification. “[I]t’s an aspirational goal that you’ll be able to get some affordability out of the percentage that is affordable in the new developments,” he said. “So what we’re saying is that we hope that the developers take this incentive after we’ve created wealth for them and then go through the lottery process and hope that our residents get in there? Where’s the mom and pop stores?” Rodriguez wondered.</p> <p>He voiced concern about what new developments would do to help low-income residents, such as those who earn less than 30 percent of AMI. “What’s in it for them? Nothing!” Rodriguez said. “What is the benefit for residents of East Harlem?” he continued. “Are we just going to hope that we’re going to be able to get affordability?”</p> <p>Ayala, who has been endorsed by Mark-Viverito, explained her opposition to the city’s plan at a candidate forum. “I think the city’s proposal is very upscale,” she said. “I would like to see deeper affordability as part of the plan. I would like to see more long-term affordability than in the current plan,” she said. “I want to see smaller buildings, I’m not a fan of huge towers,” Ayala said, voicing similar criticism when the topic again came up at the August 8 forum.</p> <p>In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Ayala said many residents in her community are unhappy with the plan. “Well, they fear that they’re going to be pushed out,” she said. “And they fear that, y’know, we’re going to have all these luxury, tall buildings that are going to change the character of the community and the culture is going to evaporate, [and the neighborhood is] not going to be Harlem anymore,” Ayala said. “I can sympathize because I live in the community, too, and that’s the last thing I want to see.”</p> <p> </p> <p>With reporting by Felipe De La Hoz</p>