Gotham Gazette Sun, 19 Aug 2018 10:22:25 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Following Up with Comptroller Stringer on Several Debate Moments faulkner stringer comptroller debate election

Faulkner, left, and Stringer, at the Comptroller debate (photo via @NYCVotes)

It appears that a relatively small number of people watched the lone debate in the election for New York City Comptroller, which occurred on Tuesday, October 17 between incumbent Democrat Scott Stringer and his Republican challenger, Michel Faulkner. It is one of three citywide races, along with those for Mayor and Public Advocate, happening this fall.

Conventional wisdom is that Stringer will handily win a second term on November 7, as he has the full backing of the Democratic establishment and significant fundraising and name recognition advantages over Faulkner and the other candidates who will be on the ballot: Libertarian Party nominee Alex Merced and Green Party nominee Julia Willebrand.

During the hourlong debate, broadcast on NY1 television and WNYC radio, Stringer mostly played it safe and defended his record, at times, especially early on, barely reacting as Faulkner criticized him from an adjacent podium. But in a handful of moments Stringer said especially newsworthy or curious things, taking positions or making statements worthy of follow-up. Gotham Gazette sent a short series of inquiries to the comptroller’s office for more information.

Closing Rikers Island
The debate moment that got the most attention was Stringer declaring that the Rikers Island jail complex should be closed in three years, far short of the ten-year timeline announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat also favored to win reelection this year. Stringer was well ahead of de Blasio is backing the notion of closing the notorious jail complex, but had not made such a splashy public declaration of his desired timeframe.

“Let’s do it in three years,” Stringer said at the debate, when asked about closing Rikers by WNYC’s Brigid Bergin, one of the panelists asking questions, and raising more than a few eyebrows of those who follow city politics closely. “It is inhumane. I’ve walked those corridors, I’ve talked to inmates. I’ve done the data analysis. And it is inhumane.”

Asked for more detail on how Stringer got to the three-year goal and what that “data analysis” looked like, the comptroller’s office told Gotham Gazette that the ten-year timeline is simply too long, that if New York wants to be a leader in criminal justice reform, it must move faster. A Stringer spokesperson said the comptroller has floated the three-year timeline at community events, but offered no specifics for how the comptroller got there.

NYCHA Home Ownership
At the comptroller debate, Faulkner explained his call for allowing some NYCHA residents an opportunity to own their apartments. Stringer expressed surprising support for the idea, which his office then walked back.

“I believe that the NYCHA residents, the long-term residents should have an equity stake in NYCHA right now,” Faulkner said at the debate.

Asked by moderator Errol Louis of NY1 whether NYCHA residents should indeed have a path to ownership, Stringer said, “I think that’s a wonderful idea, but let’s also figure out a way to actually make that happen. It’s easy to talk about it, but look, we have to get more access to loans, to credit, if we’re really going to change the landscape of home ownership for the people who struggle in our city but are building and investing their sweat equity in our communities. That is something that we have to look at, and I would definitely look towards that.”

In a follow-up to the debate, Gotham Gazette asked Stringer’s office about his apparent openness to some home ownership among NYCHA tenants and what that might mean for a privatization of the nation’s largest public housing system. A spokesperson tried to make it abundantly clear that the comptroller does not believe in privatization of NYCHA in any way. The spokesperson said that Stringer didn’t want to shut the door in principle on encouraging homeownership if there is a viable path that does not eliminate much affordable housing. The details of such a plan would be essential, the spokesperson stressed.

During the NYCHA discussion at the debate, Stringer touted his many audits of the housing authority and called for new funding streams, including his push for tens of millions of dollars in Battery Park City Authority proceeds to go toward NYCHA fixes.

A Specific Affordable Housing Plan
A large group of churchgoers, NYCHA residents, senior citizens, and advocates recently rallied near City Hall to push for an affordable housing plan from the Metro-IAF coalition led by two Brooklyn pastors and affordable housing builders. The plan, which has been rebuffed by the de Blasio administration, calls for major additional investments in NYCHA repairs, 15,000 new units of senior housing on NYCHA land, and more.

Stringer spoke at the City Hall rally, expressing his support for the plan, and reiterated it at the comptroller debate, referencing it without being specifically asked about it.

“There is a broad coalition of churches that have come together to build, within NYCHA, 15,000 senior housing units,” Stringer said during the debate. “My office is looking at those numbers, I think it’s a realistic plan. I think that anything we do to build within NYCHA developments has to be with the community -- to go back to something that we don’t do a lot of anymore, which is community-based planning.”

Asked why Stringer had come out in support of the plan to then say that his office is still looking at the numbers, the comptroller’s office said Stringer reviewed the Metro-IAF plan and believes it is viable, partly because it requires increased housing subsidies from the city that would allow for deeper levels of affordability, a desirable outcome the comptroller has been calling for more broadly as he has consistently criticized the de Blasio administration’s housing plan. More review is needed on the specifics, including how much more in subsidy the city can afford, the Stringer spokesperson said.

Stringer looks forward to continuing the conversation, Gotham Gazette was told.

The Mayor’s Affordable Housing Plan More Broadly
Including with regard to the Metro-IAF plan, Stringer has repeatedly said that de Blasio’s larger affordable housing plan is not affordable enough, that it is not reaching enough New Yorkers most in need. It has been part of his push to see the city build more affordable housing on city-owned vacant lots, the source of much controversy and back-and-forth with the de Blasio administration.

Stringer said at the debate that “right now” the city is “building luxury developments with some affordable housing that is not affordable.” Apartments being built in East New York, for example, are not affordable to families currently living there, he said, in apparent reference to the neighborhood rezoning plan passed by the de Blasio administration with the City Council. “[I]t’s not adequate,” Stringer said of the overall approach, adding, “we have to be bigger in thinking about housing.”

In response to a follow-up question from Gotham Gazette, Stringer’s spokesperson said that the current city housing plan is not geared enough toward those in deeper poverty and with current subsidies favoring low-income households, those with extremely low-income or virtually no income face even more pressure, especially when the rezonings are taken into consideration, given that they can risk furthering the threats of displacement.

Stringer wants to see more work done with not-for-profit developers, the spokesperson said, and to add anti-displacement zoning to undercut tenant harassment.

[Read: Comptroller Debate Focuses on Stringer's Record]

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Following Up with Comptroller Stringer on Several Debate Moments Thu, 26 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing the Public Advocate & Comptroller Debates mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits

October 18, 2017 - Max & Murphy: Analyzing the Public Advocate and Comptroller Debates

brigid at debate nyc votesThe lone public advocate and comptroller debates of the election cycle occurred on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. Brigid Bergin of WNYC radio (pictured, middle) was one of the panelists asking questions at the comptroller debate between incumbent Democrat Scott Stringer and Republican challenger Michel Faulkner, and she joins this episode of Max & Murphy to recap and analyze that debate and the debate between incumbent Democrat Letitia James and Republican challenger J.C. Polanco in the public advocate race.

Bergin, Max, and Murphy also discussed the state of the mayoral race as we are less than three weeks before Election Day, November 7. The second and final mayoral debate is set for November 1.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy. You can hear the episode through the embedded audio below or download it wherever you get your podcasts.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing the Public Advocate & Comptroller Debates Wed, 18 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Comptroller Debate Focuses on Stringer's Record faulkner stringer comptroller

Michel Faulkner, left, and Scott Stringer at Tuesday's debate

Echoing more the calm and substantive public advocate debate from Monday than the rowdy, unproductive October 10 mayoral debate, on Tuesday evening the Democratic and Republican candidates for comptroller, incumbent Scott Stringer and Michel Faulkner, respectively, met for their sole debate ahead of Election Day, November 7.

The race to be the city’s chief fiscal officer has, like the public advocate contest, been a sleepy one, with the incumbent Democrat holding major financial and other advantages, and heavily favored, as the higher profile mayoral race has sucked up the attention of most of whatever small number of voters is paying attention to the municipal elections. It is expected to be another terribly low turnout election.

Unlike the Republican challenger for public advocate, J.C. Polanco, Faulkner raised enough money to qualify for a debate with Stringer. Polanco was granted a debate by Public Advocate Letitia James, and the two jousted for an hour Monday evening about James’ record, the role of public advocate, and a variety of other issues.

On Tuesday, Stringer and Faulkner competed in a debate largely focused on Stringer’s record over the past four years, with Faulkner accusing him of not being a tough enough watchdog and Stringer showcasing his record of accomplishments. Both advocated for their positions on a wide range of issues, from managing the many-billion-dollar public pension funds to monitoring the city’s ballooning budget, the potential impact of the Trump administration on the city’s finances, and what to do about the city’s public housing, NYCHA, and with the Rikers Island jail complex.

The debate, hosted at the CUNY Graduate Center in Midtown Manhattan, was broadcast on NY1 television and WNYC radio, and moderated by NY1 political anchor Errol Louis, with questions also coming from WNYC’s Brigid Bergin and NY1’s Bobby Cuza. It was a spirited but respectful affair between the two contenders, though at times Stringer appeared to shrug off Faulkner’s criticisms, perhaps evidence of the air of inevitability surrounding the race. With a lot more money in the bank and higher name recognition, Stringer is expected to ride to easy victory with support from many labor unions and given the city’s massive Democratic enrollment advantage.

Faulkner, a pastor and a former New York Jet football player, throughout the night referred to his vision of the comptroller’s office as one of an activist auditor who gets things done, rather than someone who simply releases reports and talks about problems.

“Now more than ever, New York City needs an active fiscal watchdog. Someone who will manage our finances, who will push back on the mayor, and push back on City Council, and stop this runaway spending,” Faulkner said. “Scott Stringer has not been tough enough. I will be tougher, I will be better.”

Faulkner attacked a record that Stringer spent the night defending, going so far as to say that Stringer misrepresented who he was while campaigning for comptroller four years ago.

Stringer, meanwhile, defended his record as someone who delivered consistent returns for taxpayers and pensioners, and as someone who was not afraid to call out deficiencies either in mayoral policies or in agency mismanagement. He pointed, for example, to his audit of homeless shelters that exposed major problems with conditions and led to the city taking repairs much more seriously. More broadly, however, Stringer pitched himself as someone fighting for New Yorkers, especially for those struggling to afford the cost of living in the city and immigrants.

Much of the debate centered on two key parts of the comptroller’s job: managing the massive pension system and monitoring the city’s budget and financial health.

On the topic of pensions, wherein former public employees who are vested are guaranteed certain payouts, Stringer somewhat tepidly defended his record after Louis noted that this year’s returns have been around 2%, well below the comptroller office’s 7% actuarial target. Stringer noted that, over his tenure, pensions have hit this target, with a 7.4% return rate. When the pension funds themselves don’t adequately meet payout obligations, the city must make up the difference to the tune of billions in its annual budget.

“That is something that’s taken a lot of work,” Stringer said. He said that one reason for the pension fund hitting its target was changing the “internal workings of the Bureau of Asset Management.” The incumbent showed more enthusiasm in describing reforms he’s led to how the pension system is run, including changing the fee structure for investors hired to grow the funds.

Louis also asked Stringer about a movement among municipal pension systems to move towards investing in passive index funds, which, rather than being actively managed by investors, simply follow a market index such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average or S&P 500, and tend to outperform actively managed funds.

Stringer stated, however, that if the city had invested in an unspecified index fund over the past few years, the returns would be 6.9%, just below the 7% benchmark.

“So, we can’t just rely on the index,” Stringer said. “And that is why we have a varied asset allocation. We make sure that we protect the fund. We’re long-term investors, we’re not trying to game the system. On average, we’ve hit 7.4% the last four years. This year, we returned 13%. But at the end of the day, our strategy is to secure retirement security. We’re not trying to come in and out of funds, we’re not trying to create risk, and that is a conservative approach that I think has served the people who rely on us well.”

Stringer also stated that money managers would no longer be paid no matter whether they made or lost money for the city; rather, they would now only be paid if they did well. He argued that the city is leading “best practices” for pensions nationwide.

Faulkner said that he agreed with several things Stringer’s office did to “shore up the existing fund.” In fact, he largely strayed away from criticizing Stringer’s record in arguably the most important aspect of the job, instead pivoting to the city’s increased operating budget, though he did say the growing public personnel -- which has increased dramatically under Mayor Bill de Blasio -- has had a negative impact on the city’s pension system by increasing obligations.

Faulkner’s most prominent line of attack was, in fact, concerning the city’s rising budget, which has increased by about 18% since de Blasio assumed office, up to about $85 billion this fiscal year. Faulkner said de Blasio and the City Council had an excessive “tax and spend” approach, and that de Blasio tries to throw money at any problem to make it go away, such as with homelessness. But, Faulkner did not offer areas of the city budget he would cut, instead saying that he is sure there could be some savings to be found, and seemingly indicated he wants the city to actually spend more money on programs -- if only the city could keep more of its own tax money, he said.

Faulkner said that the city should aim to stop relying on the federal government for everything. He praised President Donald Trump’s federal tax reform plan as a positive that would put money in the pockets of average New Yorkers and allow the city to comfortably raise local taxes to fund certain priorities like affordable housing.

When NY1’s Cuza questioned the plausibility of Faulkner’s hope that the city would rely on the federal government to return tens of billions of dollars to the city, Faulkner said that rather than asking for the money back, New Yorkers should simply stop giving tax money to the federal government.

“We don’t have to wait for it back,” Faulkner said. “We just stop giving it to them. If it’s my money, I’m just saying, ‘well you know what.’ We need all of the political will in New York to be able to do that.” It was indicative of a pattern in which Faulkner did not seem to have fully fleshed out plans to present to voters.

Regarding the notion of asking the federal government for tax dollars that go elsewhere to be returned to New York, as advocated by Faulkner, Stringer said “I don’t deal in fantasy.”

“Right now, the Trump proposal would cost middle income New Yorkers billions of dollars,” said Stringer, who has been a frequent critic of Trump, while Faulkner has been supportive of the president. “We would lose $7 billion in New York State to this tax cut; 100,000 people who make less than $100,000 a year would be eviscerated by this tax cut. It is dangerous. It is the greatest risk we have right now, along with issues related to the Affordable Care Act and Health + Hospitals. And in no way is this tax cut a benefit to working people.”

On the growth of the city budget, Stringer defended his oversight work, saying he had pushed the de Blasio administration to find more savings, and said that due to his advocacy the city currently held its largest total amount of savings in its history. He said he is proud of the investments the city has been making, and offered a mix of praise and criticism for de Blasio -- the two have endorsed each other for reelection depsite frrequent sparring, mostly earlier in the term, when Stringer was toying with a 2017 mayoral run.

Also discussed were broader political issues of the day, such as affordable housing. Both Stringer and Faulkner criticized the mayor’s affordable housing plan, with Stringer saying that it is not going far enough in reaching the people who most need it. He reiterated his calls for deeper affordability in the plan, for using land banks, and for more aggressively building on city-owned vacant lots.

Stringer also referenced an ongoing threat of federal funding cuts to NYCHA, while Faulkner sharply responded by noting that Stringer had been criticizing federal disinvestment from NYCHA during the administration of Democrat Barack Obama. Instead, Faulkner said that the city could fund NYCHA through a federal tax cut.

Faulkner called out Stringer for simply releasing reports on NYCHA’s numerous shortcomings without proposing or implementing reforms, and, in cross examination, asked Stringer how he would actually fix the things he calls out. Stringer’s answer was to, first and foremost, elect a new president who will invest in public housing. Stringer also defended the results of his audits, noting that he has spurred action across city agencies, that hundreds of audits have led to 1,000 of his office’s recommendations being adopted.

Faulkner proposed that, in order to lift them out of cyclical poverty, NYCHA residents should have the ability to own equity in their homes. In something of a surprise moment, Stringer said that it was an impossibility today, but that he was open to exploring a path to that outcome.

On Rikers, Faulkner gave roundabout answers: he said that the facility should eventually be closed and that the way it’s operated needs to be immediately reformed, but that a closure plan being developed by de Blasio was not trustworthy. However, on the question of housing pretrial detainees within the boroughs rather than on Rikers Island, Faulkner was supportive, saying they should be held near courthouses.

Stringer, who proclaimed that he was the “first elected official to step up and say shut [Rikers] down,” took it a step further on Tuesday. “Let’s do it in three years,” Stringer said, significantly undercutting de Blasio’s ten-year timeline. “It is inhumane. I’ve walked those corridors, I’ve talked to inmates. I’ve done the data analysis. And it is inhumane.”

While Stringer and Faulkner were the only two candidates to qualify for the debate, two others will be on the ballot in November: Alex Merced is the Libertarian nominee for comptroller, and Julia Willebrand is the Green Party nominee.

Near the end of the debate, Louis moderated a “lightning round,” asking Faulkner and Stringer for quick answers to a series of rapid fire questions on a variety of topics, some personal or frivolous, others more substantive. The candidates were asked about ten questions, including whether they had ever ordered from Fresh Direct (Faulkner has not, Stringer has); whether the mayor should use taxpayer dollars to fund his legal defense from investigations that closed without charges (Faulkner gave a resounding no, while Stringer refused to comment because his office is involved in the process). Asked whether the proposed BQX streetcar was a wise use of taxpayer dollars, Faulkner said no while Stringer said “there’s a long way to go” and the project needs “vigorous review.”

Asked for the most recent book both had read, Faulkner answered with If They Can Keep It, by Eric Metaxas, a book about American exceptionalism. Stringer said Shark Detective, a children’s book he had read to his young sons.

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Comptroller Debate Focuses on Stringer's Record Tue, 17 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Comptroller Candidate Michel Faulkner mxm logo

Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette

September 28, 2017 - Max & Murphy with Comptroller candidate Michel Faulkner

michel faulknerComptroller candidate Michel Faulkner, running on the Republican and several other ballot lines, joined Max & Murphy to discuss his candidacy. Faulkner, a pastor, called himself "a proud Frederick Douglass Republican," and explained that he is a "small government conservative" who believes in "individual responsibility." At the same time, he said he is not for dismantling welfare programs, but instead wants to create more opportunity for people to lift themselves out of poverty.

Faulkner believes in "privatizing more things," he said, naming NYCHA as one example, though he does not necessarily believe all of the housing authority should be made private. He said he wants the job of comptroller to improve the city's fiscal management and dismissed the notion that the city has enough saved in rainy day funds as well as the positive ratings that the city has been given by outside financial monitors.

Faulkner argues that incumbent Scott Stringer, the Democrat he is trying to unseat, has not held Mayor Bill de Blasio to account in strong enough fashion, and outlines much more of the rationale for his candidacy.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy. You can hear the episode through the embedded audio below or download it wherever you get your podcasts.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Comptroller Candidate Michel Faulkner Thu, 28 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Republican Citywide Candidates Hopeful Despite Slow Fundraising Faulkner

GOP Comptroller candidate Michel Faulkner

Ahead of the citywide elections, Republican candidates for Comptroller and Public Advocate -- Michel Faulkner and J.C. Polanco, respectively -- have struggled to raise funds for their campaigns, trailing their respective opponents by large sums.

With just over three months before Election Day, both Faulkner and Polanco need to significantly increase their fundraising prowess to run competitive races against Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James, both Democrats.

Faulkner, a former New York Jet and reverend, has over $91,000 cash-on-hand as of the latest filing. Over the course of his campaign, he has received $157,875 in loans, $126,800 of which is his own money. Notably, former Republican candidate for mayor Paul Massey and his wife both donated $4,950 to his campaign in May, the maximum amount that is legally permitted. Massey and Faulkner had endorsed each other before Massey dropped out of the race.

A political consultant and aide in the state Assembly minority, Polanco has even less in the bank, with only $10,386 on-hand, though he only recently entered the race. Public Advocate James, meanwhile, has $309,720 cash-on-hand.

Similarly, Comptroller Stringer holds $1,663,140 in the vault as of the July filing, far surpassing Faulkner.

Polanco and Faulkner are both energetic campaigners, but it is unclear if they will be able to pick up the fundraising pace. In order to have a chance, they must be able to fund campaign activities, meet the Campaign Finance Board’s threshold to receive public matching funds, and qualify for the debates.

In a heavily Democratic town -- roughly 80% of New York City voters voted for Hillary Clinton this past Fall -- gaining traction as a Republican is always difficult. Still, the Faulkner and Polanco totals are particularly low, according to George Arzt, a long-time New York City journalism and communications professional. “That’s dreadful,” he said, reacting to a reading of the candidates’ fundraising totals. Arzt is a Democrat who worked for Mayor Ed Koch.

Their struggle raising money, particularly from Republican and Conservative groups and individuals, comes as no surprise to Arzt, though. “Would you put money into their campaigns knowing that they have about under a 5 percent chance of winning?” he asked rhetorically. “Would you waste your money if you were the organization?”

However, in interviews with Gotham Gazette, both Faulkner and Polanco expressed optimism about their campaign’s ability to gain traction in the coming months. Both candidates believe they have a crossover message that doesn’t fit neatly into a typical Republican box. (They also have significant differences, given that Faulkner is a strong proponent of President Donald Trump, while Polanco is a longtime critic of Trump.)

Faulkner pointed to his heterodox message on social services: “People ask me, ‘well are you going to cut services?’ The answer is no, we need more services.” And on unions: “I’m not a union buster, I believe in labor, I was a member of the Teamsters union.” He also sports a more conventional urban conservative message backing charter schools and on policing. “My biggest challenge is my party affiliation,” he said.

More true to the job of comptroller, Faulkner has a harsh assessment of his opponent’s history holding Mayor de Blasio accountable. “He’s a tame, weak watchdog, who’s only watching. He’s not barking, he’s not biting, he’s not growling,” Faulkner said of Stringer, who has been tough on de Blasio but did endorse the mayor for a second term. “He’s part of the problem,” Faulkner said, insisting Stringer is too complacent with an unacceptable status quo. “The reason I’m becoming concerned about Stringer is he campaigned as an activist,” he said. However, Faulkner alleged Stringer “has become complicit in everything that's wrong with government.” “He’s a government bureaucrat who’s worse than de Blasio,” he added.

Faulkner said he is unfazed by Stringer’s fundraising advantage. “He has more money, but he doesn't have a fundraising advantage because he doesn’t have Michel Faulkner’s heart,” he said. “I don’t need his money; I need enough money,” Faulkner said. “I don’t need as much as he needs to run a campaign. I don’t have to, I’m a whole different breed of cat.”

Still, Faulkner acknowledged he needs to get the ball rolling with his fundraising efforts. “Do I have enough money now? No, but I believe I will have enough.”

He went on to explain why he has gotten off to a slow start in fundraising, pointing to his short-lived mayoral campaign, which he ended to run for comptroller, where there was no Republican candidate. “To say that it’s been a challenge is a real understatement,” he said. “Because I tried so much stuff for the mayoral campaign, the pivot is very difficult to getting back on track.” Faulkner said he is going to add more “call times,” periods spent on the phone talking to potential donors.

“We actually had a very exciting call [recently] and Ed Cox is helping,” Faulkner said of the New York State Republican Party Chair. “The county leaders are going to get behind us and work with us, we’re putting the pedal to the metal,” Faulkner said.

Polanco, a self-described “Never Trump Republican” who strives to be an independent voice willing to speak out against wrongdoing regardless of party, is focusing his campaign on political and ethics reform. He also promises to be a stronger watchdog of the mayor than the current officeholder he is seeking to unseat.

In the interview, Polanco described how difficult the fundraising component has been for him during his short campaign. “There's no question that fundraising is the toughest part of this campaign,” Polanco said. “The two hardest things to do are losing weight and getting financial contributions for a public advocate’s race. I’m convinced of those two things” he said in his typical upbeat tone. “But I’m working at it.”

“When I got into the race,” he continued of his early June launch, “I had to go through all this paperwork so that I could qualify to be able to fund-raise. From the moment I got the OK to the moment of the first [campaign finance] filing was only about three weeks. I’m continuously calling to try to make it happen, to generate excitement so that I could have a respectable race and show some credible fundraising numbers.”

Polanco expects the bulk of his donations to come from small-dollar donors and cited complications with getting large dollars from the Republican Party apparatus. In a prior interview with Gotham Gazette, around the time of his campaign launch, Polanco said he wouldn’t be campaigning full-time for a while, given the need to support his family.

“That's exactly what you want to be doing is focusing on individual, small-dollar donations to qualify for the match program,” said Republican consultant and communications professional Jessica Proud. “For the city, the mayor’s race tends to get the focus of the attention when it comes to earned media,” she said. “J.C [Polanco] got into the race a little bit late so I think he’s just getting started now.”

“It takes a little time to build up an organization,” Proud added. “It's not like you’re flipping the switch and they give you a big check,” she said of the matching funds program, wherein the public money supplements small-dollar donations to political campaigns.

Arzt argues it is not good timing for Republicans to win citywide, including mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis, a Staten Island Assembly member and the presumptive GOP nominee. While Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg had success running city-wide, times have changed, according to Arzt. He noted that Giuliani succeeded a troubled Dinkins administration and Bloomberg came in just after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The current Republican candidates, he said, currently lack any evident “catastrophic event that could propel them into office,” though one could occur at any time. “Its tough to go up against an incumbent unless the incumbent is tainted by scandal or misjudgement,” Arzt added.  

Proud, who does communications for Cox and the state GOP, expressed support for Polanco and Faulkner, and their non-ideological positioning. “There's no Democrat or Republican way to pick up the trash,” she said. “And I think that's the kind of positioning you need to have as a Republican in New York City.”

Republican Citywide Candidates Hopeful Despite Slow Fundraising Thu, 27 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Michel Faulkner Attempts Outsider Republican Run for Comptroller Faulkner Massey

Michel Faulkner, left (photo: Samar Khurshid)

Michel Faulkner is tired of career politicians and he doesn’t believe elected experience is necessary to run for one of New York’s citywide offices. Faulkner, the pastor at the New Horizon Church in Harlem and once a defensive lineman for the New York Jets, is running as a Republican for the office of Comptroller, the city’s chief financial officer.

In an hour-long interview at City Diner on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Faulkner, 60, explained his decision to run for Comptroller and how he believes his experience in the private sector trumps what incumbent Comptroller Scott Stringer, a Democrat, has brought to the office. “There was a need,” Faulkner said, “and I can help the city as Comptroller in a significant fashion.”

Faulkner was, until two weeks ago, vying for the Republican nomination for Mayor but dropped out soon after Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis launched her own mayoral candidacy. The GOP mayoral nomination has all but become a two-horse race now with Malliotakis and millionaire real estate executive Paul Massey appearing to be the most viable contenders. There was no GOP candidate for Comptroller until Faulkner dropped to the race.

[Related: GOP Mayoral Primary Appears To Be Massey Versus Malliotakis]

Malliotakis’ entry into the mayoral fray forced Faulkner to rethink his own campaign, he said. At first he was expecting her support, but instead she became a competitor. “And I looked at the whole idea of what we want to do as Republicans,” he said. “We want to advance the two-party system. We want to have electable people who have good ideas to move things forward. And in New York City, we wanna create a competitive market for those ideas.”

Faulkner quickly endorsed Massey for Mayor and Massey endorsed his campaign for Comptroller in return -- the two held an at-times awkward press conference at City Hall on May 15. Faulkner also said that Malliotakis, a 36-year-old Staten Islander, doesn’t have the “life experiences, in my opinion, that would make her a mayoral elected candidate now. In the future, sure, but not right at this moment.”

“I made the decision that the team needed something to happen,” he said of his candidacy for Comptroller. Faulkner has also had trouble raising significant funds for his mayoral bid, loaning his own campaign tens of thousands of dollars; a move to Comptroller is expected to significantly improve that dynamic.

Although Faulkner has called Scott Stringer a friend (Stringer was Faulkner’s local Assembly member at one point, he’s said), he faulted the incumbent Democrat for playing it safe on the political field. “I was hoping that Scott was going to run [for Mayor], if his objections were valid or his distance from de Blasio was valid, he would’ve run,” Faulkner said, referring to the long period of time during which Stringer was considering a primary challenge to Mayor Bill de Blasio. “But he chose rather the safe route...I’m sorry but that’s a political answer when we need a dramatic difference in the way things are being done.”

For Faulkner, Stringer’s biggest failings have been not keeping de Blasio in check, in effect sitting aside while the budget ballooned to nearly $85 billion and not advocating strongly for taxpayers.

“Here’s the problem,” Faulkner said, “We’re spending more and getting less bang for our buck. There are so many inefficiencies in the way we are spending our city dollars. I can help the city tremendously by simply enforcing what we already have on our books. By making audited reports understandable for average New Yorkers and by giving New Yorkers an opportunity to know what’s going on with their dollars, because everybody cares about their tax dollars. We just don’t get a chance to say much about it because we think it’s not going to help.”

Faulkner has employed a literal “watchdog” analogy to the comptroller’s office before, and drove home the point again. “We hear no growls, no biting certainly,” he said of Stringer.

The criticism of Stringer appears a bit overstated given how the comptroller has approached his job for the past three-plus years. Stringer, although a Democrat like de Blasio, has been consistently critical of the mayor and his agencies. In dozens of reports and fiscal audits, Stringer has identified weaknesses in the de Blasio administration and recommended reforms. His office has covered everything from the city’s low level of investment in Minority and Women Owned Businesses (M/WBEs) and the sharp increase in homelessness spending to the costs of snow removal. Just this week, he released an audit of the Department of Education’s implementation of high speed internet in middle schools, finding that the DOE did not maintain documentation that would show whether the project was completed on time or within its budget. Stringer was also a vocal critic of the Campaign for One New York, de Blasio’s political nonprofit, calling it a “slush fund” shortly after de Blasio had been criticized by the Campaign Finance Board for how the nonprofit raised and spent funds.

Although Stringer has not been especially vocal in questioning the rapid increase in expenditure under de Blasio, he puts out his own easy-to-read analysis each year of the mayor’s budget and has advocated for increased savings, insisting that the city must maintain an adequate “budget cushion” to weather a potential economic downturn. He has also hosted numerous town halls and local speaking engagements to directly communicate with New Yorkers across the boroughs. “New Yorkers know they can count on Scott Stringer's independence and effectiveness - plain and simple,” said Ilana Goldman, Stringer’s campaign manager, in an email. “He will continue to hold government accountable and be the progressive voice on the critical issues facing the city. We welcome Michel to the debate.”

Perhaps a result of his outspoken nature, Faulkner believes the Comptroller should be a constant, vocal, independent advocate on behalf of taxpayers. “So I may not be able to increase the number of charter schools, for instance, which is the mayor’s purview,” he said (incorrectly, charter schools are authorized through the state), “but I can say, ‘This is a report on how the schools are running and what the schools are or are not doing...That’s the independent voice. You’re doing a comparison analysis, you’re doing risk analysis...You’re providing really literally the business analysis of how the city is doing business. We don’t see that. I will bring that to the table.”

It was not clear exactly what Faulkner has reviewed from Stringer’s office or what specifically he thinks Stringer is not doing that the incumbent is in fact not putting forth. At the cross-endorsement press conference with Massey, Faulkner indicated he was just starting to dig into a review of Stringer’s output given his shift to the race.

Other than fiscal audits, the city Comptroller is also the fiduciary for the City’s five public pension funds, worth about $160 billion in assets. The Comptroller also reviews city contracts and resolves claims for and against the city. Enforcement of prevailing wage and living wage laws also falls under the office’s purview.

Faulkner believes he is prepared for the role. He touts his own experience running nonprofit groups such as the Institute for Leadership, which ran a statewide diabetes awareness campaign in 2009. He spoke of his experience working under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani on an NYPD police-community relations task force and of his time as a commissioner on the City Charter Review initiative. He also co-chaired a Board of Education task force on HIV/AIDS. Between 2002 and 2004, Faulkner ran programs in the United States for World Vision, an international evangelical aid organization. He founded the New Horizon Church in 2006 and also ran a company called Over the Hump Resources LLC which provided aid to small businesses for the last three years.

“There’s something to be said about having worked in the private sector,” Faulkner said. “Those private sector experiences that you bring to the table give you a perspective that help shape your thinking. Scott [Stringer] doesn’t have that...I’m talking about solutions. Every city agency is audited by the Comptroller. When the audited reports come out and it’s inefficient, it’s obvious that something ain’t working, suggest ways to fix it. I’ll suggest ways to fix it.”

“My job as Comptroller is to help us spend money wiser, to spend it better according to city laws,” Faulkner added, “and to help New Yorkers feel like their money isn’t running away from them.”  

It’s hard to say how Faulkner’s campaign may be received by the electorate leading up to the November election -- at this time, Faulkner and Stringer are running unopposed in their respective primaries. Faulkner is socially conservative and a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, who is deeply unpopular in his hometown of New York City. He voted for Trump last year, though he also said he voted for Barack Obama in 2012, and he insists that he isn’t supportive of every Trump policy or proposal. He is a Republican in a city where Democrats have a 6-to-1 voter enrollment advantage. In 2013, Stringer won the office of Comptroller with 80 percent of the vote against little-known Republican John Burnett and a few “third party” candidates.

Faulkner opposes New York’s sanctuary city status and doesn’t agree that low-level non-violent criminal offenses should be treated with civil penalties, which is a key initiative of the current administration and City Council. So far, he’s continued to mostly focus on criticizing de Blasio, with some initial jabs at Stringer. His campaign website has no policy proposals or statements.

Faulkner’s core constituency, he said, is “the forgotten, the disregarded,” including the African-American community, the Latino community, and poor and middle class New Yorkers. He has often focused on some of the egregious conditions plaguing the New York City Housing Authority, NYCHA, which is home to about half-a-million New Yorkers.  “Because just like President Trump talked about...their voices aren’t being heard,” he said.  

But he believes that, just like Trump, he can appeal to voters with the “truth and sincerity” that he brings to the equation and that, again like Trump, experience in elected office is not a necessity to run for Comptroller. “I think we’ve reached a day and a point where career politicians aren’t doing it anymore,” Faulkner said. “We’re seeing the same problems over and over and over. So the person who has held elected office after elected office and government position after government position, doesn’t necessarily manage the city’s or the nation’s affairs well. We need different models.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Michel Faulkner Attempts Outsider Republican Run for Comptroller Tue, 23 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Republican Mayoral Hopefuls Pitch Candidacies at Manhattan Forum manhattan gop forum

Wednesday's forum (photo via Manhattan GOP)

Candidates running, or hoping to run, for the Republican mayoral nomination made the case for their candidacies at a GOP forum in Manhattan on Wednesday night, pitching their qualifications and levelling criticism at Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio. Indicative of de Blasio’s incumbent status and the nature of the opposition field, the event featured more criticism of the mayor than forward-looking policy talk.

The Metropolitan Republican Club, on the Upper East Side, hosted four candidates -- real estate executive Paul Massey, state Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, Harlem pastor Michel Faulkner, and retired NYPD detective and private investigator Richard “Bo” Dietl. The first three are registered Republicans and can compete for the nomination if they collect the required petition signatures, but Dietl is currently running as an independent and seeking a Wilson-Pakula certificate from Republican county leaders that would allow him to also run in the Republican primary. Dietl originally sought to run as a Democrat against de Blasio in the primary but made errors in his filing paperwork that precluded him from doing so and also left him out of the Republican Party, which he had been a member of for decades, he’s said.

Meanwhile, billionaire John Catsimatidis, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP mayoral nomination in 2013, was also in attendance Wednesday night. Catsimatidis has been exploring another run, but appears unlikely to enter the race. Malliotakis, who declared her candidacy this week, is close to Catsimatidis and has said she would step aside if he decided to run again.

“We are all here, united around one thing,” said Adele Malpass, chair of the Manhattan County GOP, in opening remarks. “It is to make Bill de Blasio a one-term mayor.”

Malpass said a Republican candidate has a path to victory if they can pull together a broad and diverse coalition that includes Republicans, independents, 150,000 families on charter school waitlists, the orthodox Jewish community that voted for Donald Trump, common sense Bloomberg Democrats on the Upper East Side that voted for Joe Lhota, small business owners, and rank-and-file first responders. A Republican can reach 51 percent, she said, scoffing at perceived media skepticism over a Republican’s chances of beating de Blasio. “I can guarantee you tomorrow, when you look in the newspapers, the narrative is going to be ‘Oh they can’t win,’” she said.

Wednesday’s candidate screening was for Republican leaders from across the city to gauge the viability of each candidate, in part with an eye toward attempting to coalesce around a single candidate and avoid a primary battle that could be damaging to their side. Over the course of nearly two hours, the candidates were questioned on why they would appeal to voters and their positions on various policies and issues including the city budget, transit infrastructure, public safety, quality of life, Rikers Island, and the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program. Save for a few occasional jabs, the candidates refrained from criticizing each other.

Just two minutes were given to each candidate on each issue, contributing to a lack of concrete policy proposals. More so, the candidates lobbed critiques, and at times insults, at de Blasio, met often by applause and jeers from the 100 or so people gathered.

Malliotakis is currently the only woman on either side of the mayoral race and the only Republican candidate to have held elected office -- she represents parts of Staten Island and a sliver of Southern Brooklyn in the state Assembly. She called de Blasio a “tax and spend” mayor who is throwing “good money after bad money,” citing the significant increase in the city’s budget in the last three years. “I believe that we can change the direction of the city,” she said. As a daughter of immigrants and a Latina, she said, she’ll be able to pull votes from the Democratic base, and she was confident that she’ll be able to raise significant funds for her campaign, enough to meet the thresholds for the public matching funds program which gives 6-to-1 funds to each contribution up to $175.

“I’m not a big money politician,” said Michel Faulkner, who has so far struggled to raise funds, lending his campaign much of his own money and outspending what he has raised. But, as an African-American candidate, he believes he can build groundswell support and appeal to cross-party voters, particularly African-Americans and Hispanics. He prodded his fellow candidates, joking about Bo Dietl’s shifting party affiliation and taking a swipe at Massey for his maximum donation to de Blasio’s 2013 campaign, and made eye-catching, possibly tongue-in-cheek, policy pronouncements like vowing to put a homeless shelter in City Hall and an airport in every borough.

Massey, who so far has led the race in fundraising and spending by wide margins, called de Blasio corrupt and an “Olympic-level failure,” and said he would beat the mayor with a “legendary campaign” built on a massive ground game. Massey, who made millions in his real estate sales business, which he sold a few years ago, won’t be participating in the public matching funds program, since he doesn’t want to limit his spending, and has criticized the mayor for being a participant, since it means taxpayer money will go to his campaign. He expressed confidence that the party will eventually rally around him, since he also has the Independence Party’s endorsement and can build a fusion candidacy.

Massey, whose business operated across the five boroughs, lived in Westchester until recently, moving to the city in time to register to vote in last year’s presidential election (he has said he wrote in Michael Bloomberg for president) and to begin laying the groundwork for his mayoral campaign. NY1 reported that Massey rarely voted in Westchester over 20 years, which the candidate attributed to his busy work schedule. Massey is the only Republican candidate who has begun to lay out detailed policy proposals, though he has yet to show a strong command of city government or speak fluently about the nuts and bolts of policy. He is billing himself as an expert manager and above reproach ethically, both of which he contrasts with his criticisms of de Blasio.

Perhaps the most animated speaker of the night was Dietl, who said he could appeal to all New Yorkers as socially liberal and fiscally conservative. “I’m not beholden to any special interest group, and I’m not a career politician,” he said. A brash, tough-talking candidate, Dietl turned red with his varied and colorful critiques of the mayor. More than a few times he called de Blasio “Big Bird” and said the city was turning into a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah under the mayor’s first term, citing topless street performers in Times Square (desnudas) as illustrative of his point. He boasted that he could tap his numerous wealthy friends to fund his campaign and that, even though he tried to run as a Democrat, he is a Republican through and through. Dietl promises to be tough on crime but with a big heart. He also promised to rip out the city's bike lanes.

At one point, Dietl made an apparently racist remark when relaying the story of his appearance before a judge to appeal his registration in the Democratic Party. The judge, Debra James, he said, looked just like First Lady Chirlane McCray and he knew he was in trouble when he saw her. James and McCray are both African-American. Dietl later attempted to clarify, insisting that his comments were not meant to be racist and that the two did indeed look alike. He continued to stress the point on Thursday amid a storm of negative attention to the remarks.

On most issues, there was little daylight among the four. They all oppose the decriminalization of low-level offenses, critiqued the soaring city budget, hammered the mayor on the city’s homelessness crisis and decried his transit policies and the MTA (which the mayor often reminds people is actually controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo). On certain policies they varied, albeit slightly, such as the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex. For instance, Faulkner supports reforming it but not closing it, while Massey supports closing it but opposes community-based facilities being built in its stead -- he wants modern facilities built on the island.

“I don’t know if this provided enough clarity tonight,” Malpass told Gotham Gazette, after the forum. “I was hoping there might be someone who knocks it out of the park and we would all coalesce. I think this kind of confirmed more opinions that people had. If you had a preconceived idea about each candidate, that kind of reinforced that.”

Malpass has been among the county chairs for the GOP interested in coalescing behind one mayoral candidate and pushing others out of the race, so that all resources can be focused on defeating de Blasio. She said Wednesday night that the next campaign finance filing, due May 15, might shed more light on which candidate is doing well on fundraising. Besides, she said, there are four valid candidates and other citywide nominees -- public advocate and comptroller -- to choose as well.

In the mayor’s race, however, “We might have a primary,” she said. “I don’t know if we can prevent it.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Republican Mayoral Hopefuls Pitch Candidacies at Manhattan Forum Thu, 27 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
In GOP Mayoral Primary, Lopsided Fundraising Numbers & One Big Question Massey city hall

Paul Massey (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)

With just six months until the primaries in this year’s city elections, declared candidates for the Republican mayoral nomination have begun to step up fundraising and campaigning. Meanwhile, two potential GOP mayoral candidates are still exploring a run, and the entrance of one or both could shake up a race that is off to a seemingly lopsided start.

Midnight on Wednesday was the deadline for the latest round of campaign finance disclosures, covering a two-month period from January to March. Three candidates have officially declared their runs for the Republican nomination -- real estate executive Paul Massey; Harlem pastor Michel Faulkner; and disability rights activist Darren Aquino.

Two others have also been flirting with the idea of running -- Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich, one of three Republicans in the legislative body; and billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, who lost in the GOP mayoral primary in 2013. While Ulrich’s fundraising picture may prevent him from launching a campaign -- plus he could run for another term in the Council; Catsimatidis would self-fund if he runs and has the resources to mount a robust campaign.

Massey is far ahead of the fundraising pack, having raised $865,000 in the last two months from 983 contributions. But, he also spent about $1.09 million in the same period. His campaign’s contributions to date total $2.48 million and his expenditure is about $3.3 million. He has also personally loaned his campaign about $1.97 million, leaving a balance of $1.16 million in his campaign account as of this week’s mid-March filing with the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

In an email blast on Wednesday, Massey touted his recent “fundraising record” which was more than double Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $394,000 raised in the last two months. “This is a significant indicator of what we have known all along – de Blasio is vulnerable and beatable,” the email read. De Blasio, however, has raised much more overall and spent far less, and has $2.32 million in his own campaign coffers. Unlike Massey, the mayor is also participating in the city’s public matching program.

At this point, fundraising comparisons between Massey and de Blasio are limited in value considering that each much emerge from their party primary before they would face off in the general as the two major party candidates. (Massey has secured the Independence Party line, so he is already assured a place in the general election.)

Massey, who officially launched his campaign in Queens on Monday, has emphasized the mayor’s vulnerability based on the two corruption investigations into the administration. He continued to harp on the controversy, even after federal and state prosecutors announced Thursday that they would not be bringing criminal charges against the mayor or his aides.

Massey is also not participating in the city’s public matching funds program -- which gives candidates 6-to-1 matching funds for every qualifying contribution up to $175 -- but boasted the strength of small dollar donors to his campaign. “[W]e almost doubled our donor base and almost half of that was from donors under $175, which proves the other thing we’ve known all along -- the more voters hear our message of integrity and leadership, the more they want to get involved,” the Wednesday campaign email read.

Faulkner’s fundraising haul pales in comparison. He has raised a total of $64,514 in contributions and has loans to his campaign worth $152,875, most of which was his own money. His campaign spending, about $268,000 outpaces his total fundraising, putting him just over $50,000 in the red. Between January and March, he raised $13,300 but spent $82,177.

Faulkner fashions himself as a candidate who will appeal broadly to Republicans and moderate Democrats, but that is at odds with his vocal support for President Donald Trump, who was soundly rejected by New York City voters in the presidential election. Faulkner has echoed some Trump policies, and opposes New York’s “sanctuary city” status. Like other Republicans, he has criticized the mayor for presiding over a decline in the quality of life in the city, citing an explosion in homelessness and the perception that the streets are unsafe, even though crime is at historic lows.

Darren Aquino’s fundraising and presence in the campaign has been almost negligible. He has raised just $1,800 total, and spent half of it. He has also made no media appearances other than participating in a March 9 mayoral candidate forum alongside Massey and Faulkner at Columbia University.

Council Member Ulrich was also on stage at that forum, organized by the Columbia University College Republicans, but not as a declared candidate. Ulrich has been hesitant to jump into the race and may be even more so now that the mayor has been cleared in the two investigations. His fundraising numbers also don’t indicate that he’s readying a run. He has raised just over $57,000 and spent about $16,000, leaving him $41,000 in his campaign account. In the last two months, he raised $5,455 and spent $791.

The second-term Council member, who recently became the subject of a reality television show pilot, said after the forum last week, “I haven’t made a decision yet. I’m very close to making a decision and I should have an announcement soon, but I’m still considering a run for mayor because I’m concerned about the future of the city and because I do believe that Bill de Blasio can be beaten.”

Appearing on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Tuesday, Ulrich criticized Mayor de Blasio while also putting on display his anti-Trump bonafides. Ulrich supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the Republican presidential primary last year, and Kasich has fundraised for Ulrich’s potential mayoral candidacy. When Ulrich began exploring a mayoral campaign last year, he told Gotham Gazette in October that he would not run if he was going to be embarrassed, and that a key piece of running a viable campaign is fundraising.

Then there is Catsimatidis, who lost the 2013 Republican nomination to Joe Lhota and wants to run one more time, he has said. Catsimatidis has been noncommittal and has not even registered a committee with the campaign finance board. But, he can rely on his deep pockets to self-fund his campaign, and poses potentially the biggest threat to the fundraising frontrunner Massey. At the very least, Catsimatidis may force Massey to spend even more money during the primary.

At a St. Patrick’s Day event on March 11, the Observer reported, Catsimatidis dropped hints about a mayoral run while appealing to his own Democratic side. “Look, Bill de Blasio’s a friend of mine and it’s all about—it’s not running as a Democrat or Republican, it’s running as a New Yorker,” he said. “About running for mayor,” he said later, “we haven’t made up our mind.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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In GOP Mayoral Primary, Lopsided Fundraising Numbers & One Big Question Thu, 16 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000