Gotham Gazette Mon, 23 Jul 2018 11:48:43 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Queens Council Primary Pits Assembly Member Versus Disgraced Former Rep  Francisco Moya City Council

Francisco Moya (photo via Moya's Facebook)

Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, City Council Member for District 21 in Queens and chair of the powerful finance committee, shook up city politics in June when she announced she would not be running for re-election. Now, with her seat up for grabs and several potential candidates removed from the ballot by the Board of Elections, there is a dramatic head-to-head Democratic primary matchup to fill the City Council seat.

The contest is between State Assemblymember Francisco Moya and Hiram Monserrate, a former City Council member and state senator who spent time in prison after being convicted on fraud charges. This, after he was expelled from the Senate after slashing his girlfriend’s face.

Moya has quickly secured the backing of the Queens Democratic Party establishment and many labor unions and advocacy groups, but Monserrate has strong name recognition in the district, which includes Corona, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights.

Key issues in the race include Monserrate’s history, as well as Moya’s work in Albany, and district issues like affordable housing, development -- especially in Willets Point, education, small businesses, and opportunities and protections for immigrant communities.

“For the last seven years, I have worked tirelessly in Albany to stand up for working families in Corona, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and across this city,” Moya said in a campaign statement. “I have seen the challenges we face in providing a quality public school education to our children, encouraging the small businesses that drive economic growth in Queens, and standing up for the rights of immigrants, women and members of the LGBTQ community at a time of mass deportations, fear and Donald Trump.”

Moya has unsuccessfully pushed the Dream Act in Albany, legislation that would expand state college tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants and their children. The Council district has a very large immigrant population and many Spanish speakers.

As of the mid-July campaign finance filings, Moya had raised $111,473 for his campaign. He has received endorsements from unions including 32BJ SEIU, 1199 SEIU, the Hotel Trades Council (NYHTC AFL-CIO), and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). He has also been endorsed by Public Advocate Letitia James and the Queens Democratic Party, led by Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley.

In comparison, Monserrate had raised only about $30,000. Bertha Lewis, the president of the Black Institute and the Black Leadership Action Coalition (BLAC), a non-profit organization that works to shape public policy, recently endorsed Monserrate, reportedly due to his policy position on Willets Point, which he wants to transform into affordable housing (he attempted to move a deal on Willets Point the last time he was in the Council, according to the Village Voice).

Willets Point is an area known for its industrial sites that has been undergoing redevelopment since 2011. Many of the auto-shops and small businesses in the area have been shut down and are to be replaced by a hotel, a convention center, a large parking lot, a mall, and a number of housing units. The plan has faced criticism and multiple lawsuits for killing local businesses and failing to provide adequate affordable housing. In June, the New York Supreme Court ruled that the proposed construction of the mall could not be built on city parkland. The future of the area is unclear.

Both Monserrate and Moya have expressed opposition against the redevelopment plan and have called for the Willets Point land in question to be turned into affordable housing.

“I look forward to continuing the tremendous efforts of Council Member Ferreras-Copeland, and fighting for the progressive values that define our city,” Moya said in his campaign statement. “We know all too well how corruption and a lack of accountability can harm our community, and the last thing we need is to follow Council Member Ferreras-Copeland's tenure with the kind of failed leadership of the past.”

His reference to corruption was clearly aimed at Monserrate, who was removed from the state Senate in 2010 for his fraud conviction over misusing city funds for his Senate campaign. There is also video footage of Monserrate dragging his girlfriend by her hair through his apartment building in 2008.

Ferreras-Copeland, the outgoing Council member, served as chief of staff to Monserrate in the past, but came to distance herself from him, and the two became embroiled in controversy as Monserrate appeared to seek revenge. Moya previously defeated Monserrate in the 2010 primary for the District 59 Assembly seat. Monserrate also recently lost a 2016 district leader race.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette regarding why he decided to attempt another comeback in elected politics, Monserrate said, “My decision to run stems from one very simple thing: I love my community and district. My love for my community led me to serve as city councilman and state senator and it compels me to run for City Council once again. Our community faces difficult challenges and these challenges require strong and proven leadership.”

When previously asked about the controversy surrounding his assault charges, Monserrate said in a NY1 interview, “My mistakes are now in my past, several years ago. I have moved on.”

While Moya has received a variety of endorsements from elected officials and groups, there has not been a large show of force against Monserrate, with elected officials denouncing his candidacy. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in a statement that Monserrate “has absolutely no business running for City Council” and called him “violent” and “corrupt.”

Cristina Furlong, an activist and the founder of a community organization called Make Queens Safer that aims to secure neighborhood streets, attempted to run in the primary as well, but her ballot signatures were ruled invalid on August 1. She had told Gotham Gazette that Monserrate “has an unrealistic platform. He’s running on the idea that we can fix Willets Point to make it affordable housing, and I think that people who are committed voters who are going to turn out on September 12 need to understand what’s realistic for our district.”

Furlong said, “I’m not a career politician” and that an outsider’s voice was important. She recognized the challenge of raising money for a competitive race against Moya and Monserrate.

Both Moya and Monserrate have stated they want to bring 100 percent affordable housing to Willets Point. Moya has said 33 percent of the units should be made affordable for low-income individuals making $25,000 or less. He has suggested forming a community advisory council to give residents a say in its development. Moya is also calling for greater funding for renovations at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, and the creation of a “World’s Borough Market” modeled after the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side and La Marqueta in East Harlem, which he says would support local vendors and businesses. Of all of the businesses in the area, he would like 65 percent of them to be owned by women or minorities.

Monserrate has not put forward a campaign policy agenda. His website touts “a lifetime of service and delivering for our community,” and past accomplishments.

Walking around Corona in late July, you would not necessarily know there is a contested election just a few weeks away. Aziz, who has managed Dream Pizza, a local pizzeria, for almost 30 years, spoke with Gotham Gazette about the issues he sees in the community. He said, “Everything is too expensive, especially rent and the taxes. Everybody complains about it. Business is not like it used to be.” Aziz said he is also concerned with the availability of good jobs. He didn’t indicate he was aware of the City Council election in September until prompted by Gotham Gazette.

Sam, who runs Game Star Communication, Inc., a local video game and electronics store also located in District 21, echoed similar sentiments, and said, “Small businesses are dying now. Internet business has hurt us a lot. The internet prices are sometimes lower than my prices, but they [online businesses] aren’t paying rent or property tax. They don’t have to pay employees like we do.”

Sam then paused, clicked his tongue, and said, “What are we going to do? We have to go vote.”

[For more on this contest, read Ross Barkan’s story on the race in the Village Voice]

Queens Council Primary Pits Assembly Member Versus Disgraced Former Rep Wed, 02 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 17 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

From Monday through Friday, the de Blasio administration will hold the third installment of the week-long City Hall in your Borough series, wherein the mayor and many members of his administration run the city away from City Hall and in the boroughs. This installment will take place in Queens. De Blasio has already announced the borough hall-based open house-style constituent “resource fair” and one town hall that he’ll hold, each of which he did during his weeks on Staten Island and in the Bronx.

De Blasio starts the week buoyed a bit politically after a weekend in which he was formally endorsed by the Bronx County Democratic Party on Saturday and Comptroller Scott Stringer on Sunday.

The City Council is more active this week than it has been thus far in July -- it will hold its lone full-body Stated Meeting this week, on Thursday, and has several committee hearings.  

As always, there are a number of events to be aware of - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:***

The run of the week in detail:

Mayor de Blasio begins his week in Queens on Monday for the latest edition of City Hall in Your Borough. De Blasio has a very busy Monday: "In the morning, Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill will host a press conference to announce the future site of the 116 Precinct in Queens...After, the Mayor will host a cabinet meeting with senior staff in Queens. This meeting will be closed press. Prior to the meeting, the Mayor will deliver remarks...In the afternoon, the Mayor will deliver remarks at a health care rally with Governor Cuomo" in Manhattan. "Later, the Mayor will participate in an armchair discussion with Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize Winner and New York Times columnist, at the Seventh Meeting of the Society for the Study of Economy Inequality...In the evening, the Mayor will appear live on NY1’s Road to City Hall...After, the Mayor and Cardinal Dolan will attend the New York Mets game at Citi Field."

At 10 a.m. Monday "Public Advocate Letitia James will host a press conference to release her report on how the City can utilize community banking, credit unions, and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) to improve its financial health."

At 10 a.m. at City Hall, "Following recent attacks that cost the lives of a New York City Police Officer and a doctor at Bronx Lebanon Hospital, Public Advocate candidate J.C. Polanco will announce a proposal aimed at preventing violent attacks by mentally ill individuals." He'll be joined by Reform Party Chair Curtis Sliwa.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will visit a "Summer in the City" classroom at PS 120 in Queens. 

Mayoral candidate Bo Dietl will be on Staten Island Monday. At noon, Dietl "announces plan to fight opioid addiction on Staten Island" from the Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Chemical Dependency at Staten Island. At 2 p.m., "Dietl discusses issues with Staten Island senior citizens" from The Brielle at Seaview.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m. At 10:30, the subcommittee will discuss retail development at Baychester Square in the Bronx.
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

The New York State Board of Regents will meet on Monday and Tuesday in Albany.

At 11 a.m. Monday, the Poor People’s Campaign and Rev. William Barber will hold a rally at the City Hall steps to condemn “the Trump administration and state elected officials’ ongoing, proven acts of racist voter suppression and gerrymandering.”

At 6:40 p.m. Monday, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will deliver remarks at a Remarkable Achievement Award ceremony at Citi Field.

At 7 p.m. Monday, the Manhattan Democratic Party will host the “Demmy Awards” at the School of Visual Arts Theatre.

At 7 pm. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will give the keynote speech at the Urban Justice Center's “Cashing In On Incarceration” panel discussion. 

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a “city resource fair” at the Helen Marshall Cultural Center at Queens Borough Hall, as part of the Queens “City Hall in your Borough” week.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Public Advocate Tish James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, Assemblymember Walter T. Mosley, and HPD Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer will “announce the creation of nearly 600 affordable apartments in Prospect Heights.” The announcement will take place at the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital Complex.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, the Department of Consumer Affairs will host a “town hall for immigrant small business owners” at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. Attendees will include DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas, SBS Commissioner Gregg Bishop, MOIA Commissioner Nisha Agarwal, and others.

At the City Council on Wednesday: the Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, former HUD regional commissioner Holly Leicht, and others will host a symposium at Baruch College “exploring recommendations for improving government’s approach to disaster recovery and preparedness.”

At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will host its “Chairman’s Breakfast featuring a conversation with Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to Governor Cuomo” at the Southwest Porch at Bryant Park.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Manhattan Institute will host “The Drug-Pricing Challenge: Expanding Access, Accelerating Innovation, Growing The Economy,” featuring former US Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction at the NYU Winthrop Research and Academic Center in Mineola to “examine the issues facing communities in the wake of increased heroin abuse.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Panel for Education Policy will hold a public meeting at Murry Bergtraum High School in Manhattan.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, City Council Member Rafael Salamanca and NYC Housing Preservation and Development will host a tenant resource fair at Casita Maria in Hunts Point, Bronx.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio will host a town hall at PS 70 in Astoria with Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, City Council Member Costa Constantinides, State Senator Michael Gianaris, and Assembly Member Aravella Simotas.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, State Senator Michael Gianaris will participate in a “Stand Up Staten Island” town hall with Indivisible NY, discussing the “inner workings of the oft-dysfunctional” Senate, with particular emphasis on the IDC, at Duzer’s Local in Stapleton.

The full City Council will meet at 1:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers. The meeting is expected to be prefaced by a press conference by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Also at the City Council on Thursday: the Finance Committee will meet at 10 a.m.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the Bronx Democratic Party will hold its annual dinner at the Marina del Rey.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Civic Hall and Vote Run Lead will host “Run As You Are,” a workshop for those interested in running for office in New York City or elsewhere.

Friday and the weekend
No events on our radar for Friday or the weekend as of Sunday night, but the mayor will conclude his week in Queens and is likely to make is weekly appearance on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday morning.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max


The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 17 Sun, 16 Jul 2017 23:39:10 +0000
Opposing Shelters Won’t End the Housing Crisis Crowley Maspeth shelter

Council Member Crowley opposes a shelter in Maspeth (photo via Twitter)

On Wednesday night I attended my community board meeting on a proposed homeless shelter in Maspeth, Queens. The city Commissioner of Social Services, Steve Banks, was there, along with hundreds of residents who are against the shelter. I was one of just a handful of homeless and housing rights advocates in the audience.

Though I was horrified by the residents who chose to stigmatize our homeless community – describing them as criminals, drug dealers, welfare hogs, and addicts, and questioning their immigration status – I was most struck by the vehement energy this community has thrown behind this cause, somehow believing that the community is exempt from the city’s housing crisis.

Homelessness is not an isolated issue. Homelessness is a product of the broader housing crisis – a crisis that is having an impact across the city in endless ways: gentrifying neighborhoods, segregating communities, and increasing income disparity, just to name a few. Keeping a homeless shelter out of your community does not solve problems.

At one point, a speaker shouted, “de Blasio brought this social engineering experiment to the wrong community!” But the “social engineering experiment” has been lingering in this community for years. Long before Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Banks came along, decades of failed government policies built the foundation of the housing crisis we’re living in today. Be it the loss of manufacturing industries and union jobs in the 1970s and 1980s, a state-sponsored shelter allowance for low-income households that has remained the same since the 1980s, quality-of-life policing of poor communities of color, and slashes to drug education and support programs, the city’s housing and homeless crisis was long in the making. This is what Mayor de Blasio inherited – this mess is what Commissioner Banks is urgently trying to reverse with limited resources, limited support from the State, and within a limited timeframe.

While failed policies have propelled the housing crisis, a lack of commitment and leadership from our elected officials has kept us from halting its momentum. Promising to preserve the “quality-of-life” of residents, Queens City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley has helped legitimize NIMBYism in Maspeth.

On Wednesday Crowley’s office announced a lawsuit against the City over the proposal to open the shelter. Rather than becoming an elected official who is actively involved in the fight to end homelessness and the housing crisis, Crowley falls sorely short by opposing the creation of the first homeless shelter in the jurisdiction of Community Board 5.

Meanwhile, at the state level, eight months have gone by since Governor Cuomo made a commitment to build 20,000 units of supportive housing, and there has not been enough movement. Supportive housing is a crucial source of housing that pairs permanent housing with on-site services. Research has shown time and again that it is the most successful (and cost-effective) way to end homelessness for individuals living with disabilities or other special needs.

Since the 1990s, New York City and State have made a joint commitment to fund supportive housing. While few Maspeth residents mentioned the need for support and services for homeless individuals, most are likely unaware that our governor is currently sitting on nearly $2 billion set aside in the state budget for crucial housing, including supportive housing. Only a small portion of the funds have been allocated.

It’s worth mentioning here that the City has made true to its commitment.

With 80,000 homeless statewide and thousands more living on the streets, in three-quarter houses, doubled up in apartments and in other precarious housing, it’s incomprehensible that our governor continues to pay so little attention to this crisis. It’s also unconscionable that people in our communities are turning their backs on city officials working to combat the homelessness and housing crises, and on their fellow New Yorkers in need.

What I saw last night was a crowd of people who know little about what has propelled us into this housing crisis in first place; they know little about the needs of the homeless community in New York, and they are not willing to learn about either. Imagine where we might be if instead of vehemently opposing a shelter, the community put equal effort into fighting for truly affordable housing for the New Yorkers who need it the most.

Paulette Soltani is a community organizer with VOCAL-NY, a grassroots organization that builds power among low-income people impacted by homelessness, HIV/AIDS, drug use, and mass incarceration. She is a resident of Community Board 5 in Queens.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Opposing Shelters Won’t End the Housing Crisis Thu, 01 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
A Budget for Immigrant New York MTR 15

photo via Make The Road New York

Growing up in Puebla, Mexico, I was raised to believe that all families, and all communities, deserve their fair share.

Since immigrating to New York, however, I've seen clearly that immigrant communities here often get far from their fair share. Immigrant communities like Woodside, Queens, where I live, too often lack the basic infrastructure and opportunities that residents need—good schools, safe and affordable housing, access to good-paying jobs, and more. We just get the short end of the stick relative to better-off neighborhoods.

As I've followed recent political debates in our state, I've learned that a lot of that has to do with the state budget. The budget, more than anything else that happens in our state each year, has an enormous bearing on shaping the priorities of our state government and determining which programs and regions will get the funding that they need. The budget determines funding for everything from education to housing to health care. And, with more and more policy decisions getting inserted into the budget in recent years as a way of getting around Albany's dysfunction, the budget is actually now the biggest policy-making vehicle in our state.

That's why, this year, my fellow members of Make the Road New York and I are calling for immigrant communities across the state to get our fair share of the state budget. In a new report that we released this week, "A Budget for Immigrant New York," we call for greater equity across the budget, so that immigrant communities can thrive as they deserve.

The report highlights 25 items, but my own story shows why three are so important.

First, we call for the state to include in its budget an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour as soon as possible, with indexing to inflation. As a minimum wage earner, my dream has been to improve the lives of my four children, but the wages I earn are too low for me to do that. The truth is, on my wages it is impossible to get ahead in this expensive state. Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour for me is an issue of survival. A $15 minimum wage would mean enough food in my house at night for my family, and peace of mind that I could begin to meet all of our other needs.

Second, we call for an increase of $2.9 billion in new school aid. As a parent of four, I worry every day about my children's education, and it pains me to see them attending schools that don't have all the resources they need. Under-resourced schools like theirs are not the exception—they are the rule. We need billions of dollars in additional school aid, and it must prioritize high-needs school districts.

Third, immigrant adults need the opportunity to fully integrate themselves in their communities through adult literacy programs. I'm currently enrolled in an English class that I know will help me engage better with my children's teachers and find a better job, but too many other immigrants can't access classes because there is not enough state funding. We need $17 million in adult literacy funding in this year's budget.

On these issues and so many more, this year's budget offers an opportunity to do more for immigrant communities in desperate need. We need leaders in Albany to step up to make sure that we get our fair share.

Cristina Molina is a member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @maketheroadny

A Budget for Immigrant New York Thu, 03 Mar 2016 03:28:17 +0000
A Family-Centered Approach to Homelessness Policy ralph homes for the homeless

Ralph da Costa Nunez, the author

The first two years of the de Blasio administration have been marked by a continued rise in the number of homeless children and adults, along with the resignation of both the deputy mayor for health and human services and the commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services. The Mayor's announcement of a comprehensive operational review of the city's homeless programs may be labeled by some as a sign of a system in crisis. However, the administration may actually be poised to seize this opportunity and radically overhaul the ineffective policies and practices of the past. The key question is: to what end?

Homeless children and their parents make up 70 percent of all the homeless individuals in the system. Tonight over 17,000 homeless parents with almost 24,000 children will call a shelter or a welfare hotel home. The sensational aspects of their problems routinely make headlines and overwhelm politicians, civic leaders, and taxpayers alike. It is time for those responsible for delivering the city's homeless services to face the facts about families—the majority of the city's homeless—who presently spend an average of 15 months living in shelter.

After serving 140,000 individuals over the past 30 years, most of whom were children, we at Homes for the Homeless have faced the facts. We've learned a thing or two about who homeless families are and what it takes to move them permanently into stable housing. The central lesson, contrary to popular belief, is that simply doling out government rental assistance or housing vouchers will not solve homelessness for most families. Our policymakers have to stop pretending that putting a roof over a family's head for a few months or even a year 'ends homelessness.' It doesn't. Over 60 percent of the families rehoused by the city have returned to shelter.

Truly solving homelessness will require we move from an emergency response to a triage response.

There are essentially three types of homeless families: (1) those parents over 25 who have work, tenancy, and life experience; (2) those parents under 25 who want to complete their education, start a work life, and get help with parenting; and (3) those parents who are first and foremost confronting severe challenges such as domestic violence, child welfare and neglect, substance abuse, and mental health issues. For the past 30 years, every administration's policies to combat family homelessness have been based on a 'one size fits all' rehousing strategy. The untainted truth is that homeless families are not all alike, their challenges and opportunities are not the same.

Anyone who has worked on the front lines in family shelters will tell you that the current system does not work and never will.

Providing housing to families not prepared to obtain, maintain, and retain their housing or their job results in repeated returns to the shelter system, which is both disruptive to the family and costly to the taxpayer.

The entire shelter system must be triaged into a network of specialized facilities that meet the needs of the three types of homeless families: (1) short-stay shelters to rapidly rehouse families who have work and tenancy experience and the highest probability of a successful transition; (2) intermediate-stay sites would provide mandatory literacy and job training to improve job readiness and retention, as well as job placement; and (3) highly specialized facilities would be equipped to tackle the severe chronic social issues plaguing the most vulnerable homeless families who find themselves homeless over and over again.

The efficiencies to be gained by such a reorganization would be enormous: the demand for shelter, the length of stay in shelter, the rate of return to shelter, and the cost of shelter would all decline.

So while the truth about homeless families is a bit more complicated than one would like, reorganizing the existing system to meet their actual needs is ground in common sense. Redirecting a misguided system requires strong political will and bold leadership. The time for a new and sensible approach is here.

Ralph da Costa Nunez is president and CEO of Homes for the Homeless, a social services provider that serves about 430 homeless families each night in the Bronx and Queens. Ralph is also president and CEO of the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness, a nonprofit that studies the impact of public policies on homeless families, particularly children.

A Family-Centered Approach to Homelessness Policy Mon, 21 Dec 2015 22:27:22 +0000
Two New Reps Join the City Council borelli grodenchik council

CMs Borelli, right, & Grodenchik are sworn in next to the Speaker (photo by William Alatriste) 

The New York City Council has two new members, each with prior experience in elected office and bringing to the 51-member body the perspective of New Yorkers living in the city's outer-reaches. Both districts being represented by new members are populated by many car- and single-family-home-owners.

One new representative - Barry Grodenchik of Queens - brings a fairly moderate Democratic viewpoint to the Council's majority, while the other new Council member - Joseph Borelli of Staten Island - brings an outspoken style to the Republican minority. Both Grodenchik and Borelli were sworn in on Tuesday, November 24, and participated in their first official Council business at that afternoon's "Stated Meeting."

Earlier this month, the two former Assembly members were chosen through special elections to fill Council vacancies created by members who resigned to take other jobs: Mark Weprin left to work for Governor Andrew Cuomo and Vincent Ignizio to lead Staten Island Catholic Charities.

The New York City Board of Elections counted all absentee and military ballots and officially certified the elections, and the two members took office. They were given a standing round of applause by their colleagues when they were announced into Council Chambers at City Hall.

Grodenchik, most recently a deputy Queens borough president after his time in the Assembly, prevailed in a crowded Democratic primary and went on to defeat his Republican opponent, retired police captain Joseph Concannon. Grodenchik will now serve the remainder of Weprin's term through 2017.

No stranger to elected office and political work, Grodenchik says he's ready to hit the ground running: "My learning curve is much shorter than a new Council member's would usually be," he said. "I bring experience in government. This is what we campaigned on and obviously people responded to that."

While Grodenchik says he's excited to work with his new colleagues, many of whom he knows well, and about the progressive direction of the Council, he also represents a district that largely differs on some of the policies of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, many Council members, and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Borelli, meanwhile, represents a district whose residents have even less affinity for the progressive direction the city is heading and the people leading that charge, starting with the mayor. Borelli is expected to bring a strong dissenting voice to the Council as he joins what will be a three-member Republican minority led by his Staten Island neighbor Steven Matteo and also includes Queens Council Member Eric Ulrich.

Coming from the Assembly minority, though, Borelli may actually have more opportunity to influence the policy discussions in the Council.

"I think it's a great time to be a member of the City Council because the spectrum of opinion is so wide," Borelli told Gotham Gazette. "I'm excited from a policy advocacy standpoint just to be able to present my opinion."

Besides their obvious disadvantage, he said the Republican minority is "a small but stalwart band."

Both Borelli and Grodenchik plan to make an impact over the next two years, as they described to Gotham Gazette in recent interviews, and will then be up for reelection in 2017, when the entire Council is on the ballot, including 11 seats where the current members are term-limited - chief among those being the speaker.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Mark-Viverito said, "Council Members-elect Barry Grodenchik and Joseph Borelli staunchly represented Queens and Staten Island in the New York State Assembly and now bring their strong records of public service to the City Council. I look forward to working with our incoming members to deliver results for New Yorkers across the five boroughs."

Gotham Gazette spoke at some length with both incoming Council members, Grodenchik and Borelli, about their experience and their priorities:

Barry Grodenchik, Queens Democrat, District 23
"I knocked on close to 5,000 doors in the course of the campaign. The two complaints that I heard over and over was water and sewer rates and property taxes going up each year," Grodenchik told Gotham Gazette. "Taxes on condos and co-ops are unfair. There's no question about it. That's something I'm going to gauge my colleagues on," he added.

Along with these issues of home ownership and affordability, Grodenchik cited transportation as a key concern. Situated on the edge of Queens, District 23 lacks much of the mass transit infrastructure in other parts of the city. There are no subway or Long Island Rail Road stops. "We live in what has been rightly called a mass transit desert," he said. "It can take an awfully long time to get from my district to the downtown business district," he said.

While he did not say he has any specific legislation in mind, Grodenchik is gathering a policy agenda and continuing to talk with constituents. He's been attending community and private meetings across the district, which covers Queens Village, Bayside, Douglaston, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, New Hyde Park and Little Neck. One week this month he had more than a dozen meetings with representatives from community boards, civic, and cultural organizations, he said.

Grodenchik also has plans to visit every public school in his district over the next few months to familiarize himself with school officials and parent-teacher associations to "make sure they're getting what they need to be the best schools in the city," he said.

As a "good Democrat," Grodenchik has a strong contingent of progressive colleagues, some of whom he has known for years. He admires the progressive direction that the Council has taken in the last two years and says he will likely see eye-to-eye with them on most issues, but not all. "I think people can disagree without being disagreeable," he said, stating his ardent opposition to congestion pricing proposals as an example. "I see it as a tax, particularly for people in Queens. It's a non-starter as far as I'm concerned," he said.

But he looks forward to being a part of a Council that has become more equitable, he said, under current Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, with resources allotted to members and districts in a clear, fair fashion.

Grodenchik has a long history of serving Queens. He worked under Queens Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn; he was Chief Administrative Officer for Borough President Claire Shulman for more than ten years. He was also a deputy borough president under Helen Marshall. In 2002, he was elected to the New York State Assembly where he served till 2014 (Grodenchik ran an abbreviated campaign for Queens BP in 2013 before dropping out of the race during the primary - he went on to become eventual winner Melinda Katz's director of community boards.)

Government, at any level, is complicated, Grodenchik says, but "You have to be able to come to the table with people you like and people you don't like to craft a solution that works for both community and the move the city forward in the best possible way."

Joseph Borelli, Staten Island Republican, District 51
Borelli, a state Assembly member, ran unopposed for District 51 on Staten Island, winning the seat formerly held by Vincent Ignizio. The district covers the southern end of the borough including neighborhoods such as Arden Heights, Bay Terrace, Oakwood, Great Kills, Richmond Valley, Huguenot and Princes Bay. Like Grodenchik's, it is also seen as a transportation desert.

For Borelli, the transition to the City Council is relatively easy. "The district is pretty much the same so I'm just sort of moving my bullseye over a bit," he said. With a strong idea of the work ahead, Borelli is making the rounds of the district. He has spent time during the last two weeks in meetings with his predecessor about issues to pursue and with city agencies to discuss capital projects in the district.

In setting his agenda, Borelli already has a few concrete priorities. "There are some major land use issues here that are especially important to us," he said of the construction of an outlet mall in Rossville at a massive liquefied natural gas storage site.

"These are big projects in this, some would say, backwater of New York City that require the same attention from the city planning and building department as some of the higher-profile projects in Brooklyn or Manhattan," he said.

He also hopes to improve the city's solid waste plan for e-waste which, he said, seems to work better in areas with high-rise buildings than it does in his community. "Why should it be more difficult for my community to get rid of a TV?"

A Republican, Borelli is not particularly on board with the Council's liberal bent, expressing his concern for many of the proposals recently put forward such as those to reform the NYPD and Riker's Island, and the decriminalization of minor offenses like public urination and open container violations.

"Some of the new proposals don't jive well with a bedroom community like Staten Island," he said, citing a bill recently introduced by Council Member Mark Levine which would prohibit credit checks for renters.

Borelli believes that "progressivism" doesn't speak to many people who live in the outer boroughs, who aren't represented by "these squeaky-wheel groups" who lobby the Council on issues and who feel the movement has lost touch with middle class New Yorkers.

"What group out there hopes for more public urination?" he asked rhetorically. "I'm against progressivism and in favor of restoring some rational thought to policies like that."

In doing so, he firmly believes he has his community's support. "My constituents really have my back," he said, "and it's very empowering when you feel like that."

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

This article has been updated to reflect the two new members officially taking office - it had originally been published in the lead up to their formally joining the Council.

Two New Reps Join the City Council Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:51:10 +0000