Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/476 Tue, 17 Oct 2017 02:07:36 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Forget the Brooklyn Presidential Debate, the Real Battle is New York State http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6268:forget-the-brooklyn-presidential-debate-the-real-battle-is-new-york-state http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6268:forget-the-brooklyn-presidential-debate-the-real-battle-is-new-york-state silver skelos cuomo 2012

Albany of yesteryear (photo via The Governor's Office on flickr)


With an April 14 date set for the Clinton-Sanders Brooklyn debate, New York and Kings County are now center stage in the ever-engrossing presidential election. Though bringing the ninth Democratic presidential debate to Brooklyn might help New Yorkers become more informed voters, it also sadly serves as a timely distraction from the latest setback to progressive governance reforms in the Empire State.

Thanks to the exclusion of any government ethics reform measures in the state budget deal reached last week, New Yorkers will continue to live in a state that offers public pensions for longtime legislators turned felons, loopholes for special interest groups to funnel millions into local campaigns, and no limits on outside income for our part-time legislators.

With wealthy donors this free to inject money into politics, it's easy to understand why in the last decade over 40 New York lawmakers have been arrested or left office after being accused of impropriety, including a notable few from Brooklyn. As such, it’s also not much of a surprise that the Center for Public Integrity has given New York State a D- in its State Integrity Investigation and consistently ranks New York among the worst for government accountability and transparency nationwide.

When the presidential candidates debate national politics in our borough, let’s hope they remember that all politics are ultimately local. If Senator Sanders is committed to taking money out of politics, there are plenty of easy targets right here in New York. If Secretary Clinton cares about building trust with voters, she could be served well by demanding an ethics package in her own state.

New Yorkers are frustrated with business as usual in Albany—a sentiment easily seen in abysmal voter turnout numbers. While a Brooklyn debate will help both campaigns excite their supporters in time for the April 19 primary, supporting reforms to the state’s election laws would ensure that New York voters have their voices heard in all elections.

Common sense reforms like online voter registration, early voting, and same-day party enrollment are commonplace in other U.S. states but denied to New York voters. These reforms would not only increase voter participation for working families but help newer residents still registered in their long-abandoned “home” states have a voice in electing their representatives.

Brooklyn is home to a strong Democratic majority and some promising progressive leaders but we’ve been “led” by entrenched political powers for much too long.

New York and Kings County can become more democratic, but this can only happen through ongoing political engagement on the local level. Before we start celebrating public debates between national candidates in our community, let’s demand public conversations on decision-making in New York State, a modernized electoral system, and state ethics rules with teeth. Whether we vote for our first democratic socialist president or first female president in New York’s primary, let’s not let the revolution stop there.

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by Anusha Venkataraman and Rodrigo Camarena on behalf of New Kings Democrats, a progressive, grassroots political organization committed to bringing trans­parency, accountability, and inclusionary democracy to the Kings County Democratic Party.

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

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Forget the Brooklyn Presidential Debate, the Real Battle is New York State Thu, 07 Apr 2016 02:09:43 +0000
Eviction Bonuses and Preferential Rents, Not 421-a, Should Be the Focus in Albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6259:eviction-bonuses-and-preferential-rents-not-421-a-should-be-the-focus-in-albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6259:eviction-bonuses-and-preferential-rents-not-421-a-should-be-the-focus-in-albany aff housing march rally

An affordable housing march 


We have long advocated for the elimination of the 421-a tax abatement because it has been nothing but a giveaway to developers masquerading as a means of affordable housing production. This is why affordable housing advocates across the city celebrated when 421-a expired on January 15.

Since its expiration, arguments about its possible revival are popping up more and more frequently, along with lamentations about its demise. How quickly we forget the many published analyses exposing the fact that even though the controversial tax abatement has created little affordable housing, it has cost New York City taxpayers up to $1 billion in lost tax revenue annually.

Only about 1,350 affordable apartments were created over the previous four years of this wasteful program. That is fewer than 350 per year, and with a price tag of $833,000 per affordable apartment created.

Instead of discussing benefits for rich developers, all attention should be on fixing the major loopholes in the rent regulation system that houses 2.5 million tenants in approximately 1 million units with no cost whatsoever to the taxpayer.

One of the most egregious of these loopholes is the "eviction bonus," which allows enormous rent increases of up to 20 percent in rent-stabilized apartments upon vacancy. This may be the greatest threat to the affordability and retention of rent-regulated housing, which is the foundation of strong and diverse communities and the reason that tenants looking to move are faced with unaffordable rents in every neighborhood in this city. The eviction bonus affects tens of thousands of low- and middle-income tenants – far more than those benefiting from 421-a.

Then there are "preferential" rents, the other much-used landlord tool for driving rents and pushing tenants out of rent-regulated apartments. An estimated 325,000 low-income families are vulnerable to unaffordable rent increases upon lease renewal because the preferential rent system affects 1,000 times as many families than those that benefit from new 421-a affordable units each year.

These were the reasons for a major rally of 300 community folks this week in the quickly gentrifying neighborhood of Bushwick, where Brooklyn residents described the many tactics used by landlords to evict rent-stabilized tenants in order to increase rents.

The rent laws were renewed in June 2015, with nowhere near the reforms necessary to protect tenants in New York. Without strong rent regulations, tens of thousands of tenants will eventually be met with only two choices: end up in homeless shelters or leave the city altogether. Neither is acceptable.

As the state moves beyond budget negotiations into legislative session, rent laws should become the focus of discussion, not the $1 billion 421-a developer giveaway. The millions of low-income tenants at risk of losing their homes and stable communities are more than enough reasons.

[Related: De Blasio Calls for Albany to 'Make Right' on Program at Center of Rift with Governor]

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Delsenia Glover is the campaign manager for the Alliance for Tenant Power. On Twitter @TenantPowerNY.

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

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Eviction Bonuses and Preferential Rents, Not 421-a, Should Be the Focus in Albany Sun, 03 Apr 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Bharara Visits Capital He Upended http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6154:bharara-visits-capital-he-upended http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6154:bharara-visits-capital-he-upended bharara mortgage

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara (photo: @SDNYnews)


For the last year a siege mentality has dominated the New York state capitol. And in some respect, Albany, or at least the political denizens who dwell within the capitol, does appear to be very much in the cross hairs of a conquering army headed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. The main roads into town feature digital billboards flashing entreaties from the FBI urging New Yorkers to "REPORT CORRUPTION," along with a number for the New York State Public Corruption Task Force.

On Monday, Bharara may drive by those very signs as he makes his way to Albany for a series of events, including two speaking engagements. The crusading prosecutor's presence may be enough to make already-nervous Albany lawmakers break into a cold sweat.

The most powerful people in Albany - lobbyists, legislators, and even Gov. Andrew Cuomo - have watched as Bharara has gone from prosecuting rank-and-file legislators to decapitating both houses of the legislature by securing the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on multiple counts of corruption. All the while Bharara has maintained investigations into Cuomo's dealings, with the prosecutor's mantra of "Stay tuned" casting a larger-than-life shadow.

Although he promised major reforms during his recent State of the State address, Cuomo has since avoided the press in Albany, continuing his streak of not holding a press conference at the capitol, now at over 200 days. The current majority leaders have also remained largely mum on ethics since the start of the year. Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie voiced support for various reforms early in January, but has said little since. His working group on Assembly rules and transparency continues to delay the release of proposals to make the body more open and democratic.

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has pushed back against the very idea that there is any need for reforms, pointing to changes made over the last several years and asserting the need for individuals to act of high moral character.

Bharara has made it clear that he continues watching.

On Monday, Bharara will take something of an up-close look, as he heads to Albany for several events and speaks publicly twice. The first speaking event will take place a short walk from the capitol building when Bharara addresses the New York State Conference of Mayors; the other hosted by good government groups and WAMC public radio--a veritable public radio empire that reaches across upstate New York and into Vermont and Connecticut. The topic for both events will, of course, be fighting public corruption. Bharara is also set to appear, along with Gov. Cuomo, at the swearing in of new Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.

Bharara will not be addressing the state legislature, even though he recently made the trip to Frankfort, Kentucky to discuss public corruption and the type of culture that allows it to fester in New York. Throughout his examination of New York state government, Bharara has not only found several examples of illegal activity, but he has also decried legally corrupt practices, such as the infamous "three men in a room" method of deciding virtually all important state policy.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican, invited Bharara to address his conference, but Bharara's office prefered to address a bipartisan gathering. Kolb, in turn, wrote to the majority leaders of each conference in both houses, asking them to jointly invite Bharara to address the legislature as a whole. "They haven't even bothered to respond to my letter," Kolb told Gotham Gazette. "What are they so afraid of?"

Kolb, who will be speaking before Bharara on Monday at the mayors conference, said he hopes to hear more from Bharara on how the "three men in a room" power structure in Albany defeats transparency and allows corruption to fester.

"Mr. Bharara has asked 'Since when has it become acceptable for three men to decide everything?,' And I expect he will focus on that again. It's not about getting our way, but about asking questions about how things are structured, about payments, pots of money. Making sure our constituents are represented. I mean there was even that Skelos quote where he said, 'I control everything.' These guys have too much power," Kolb said.

John Kaehny of good government group Reinvent Albany is also interested in hearing Bharara attack the culture in Albany that might not necessarily be prosecutable.

"Hopefully he says: 'The real scandal is what's legal.'" said Kaehny, referring to what many, including Bharara, have said about Albany's usual ways of doing business.

"In Albany," Kaehny said, "the governor can give a bag full of taxpayer money to a big business and that business can give him a bag of money back, or a bag full via unlimited LLC contributions. All legal. Yet in New York City, it is a crime for people doing business with the city to contribute more than $400" to a campaign.

Among Kaehny's concerns are that law firms that represent state agencies and authorities can also lobby on behalf of private clients.

"It goes on and on," said Kaehny. "The conflict of interest is so baked into how Albany works that Silver tried to use it as a defense."

Bharara has addressed how Albany's culture has played into many of the cases he prosecuted.

"If you're one of the three men in a room, and you have all the power and you always have and everyone knows it," Bharara told an audience at New York Law School last January following Silver's arrest. "You don't tolerate dissent because you don't have to. You don't allow debate because you don't have to, and because the status quo always benefits you."

The three men in the room are the governor, Assembly speaker, and Senate president. For several years running, those men were Andrew Cuomo, Sheldon Silver, and Dean Skelos. Thanks to Bharara, both Silver and Skelos are awaiting sentencing on federal charges.

In his New York Law School speech, Bharara mocked "three men in a room," joking about what happens behind closed doors, asking whether women are allowed and wondering if perhaps it gets "a little gamey in that room."

But he quickly returned to the serious, saying that the elected officials end up getting "swept up in the power and the trappings, because you were never challenged, and because you can easily forget who put you there in the first place. And so I ask again, what kind of a system is that?"

Bharara also took the time to recognize the legislators in attendance--he didn't exactly honor them. "I see there are a number of elected officials here. And after yesterday I guess I have two theories as to why that might be. One might be that you knew I was taking attendance. And the other is that there are a lot of folks now looking for immunity," he said, in his typical wry manner.

That fear that Bharara is watching, that he is still working on unearthing new misdeeds, has paralyzed legislative leaders on a number of issues over the last year. Some have confided to aides and others that they aren't sure what Bharara is after, or who he has flipped to his side. Many note that there are clear connections between legislative action and campaign donations that are ripe for investigation. Legislators have also been put on notice regarding their abuse of per diem reimbursements, use of campaign cash for personal expenses, and other misdeeds.

It appears to many that Bharara started this year by giving Cuomo and legislators an opportunity to reflect on the gravity of the Silver and Skelos convictions and actually get to work on real reforms. A number of insiders see Bharara's announcement in January that he did not have enough evidence to indict anyone on the untimely end of The Moreland Commission on Public Corruption as a way to take some pressure off of Cuomo to allow him to take the initiative on ethics in his State of the State address. Those same insiders see Bharara's visit as a nudge to Cuomo and legislative leaders to actually deliver on reforms this year.

In his State of the State platform, Cuomo announced his intentions to see the LLC loophole closed, strict limits set on legislators' outside income, a public campaign finance system established, and other changes made to prevent corruption. Whether Bharara wades into any of those specifics is to be seen.

[Related: Cuomo Announces Ethics Plan to Questions of Follow Through]

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Bharara Visits Capital He Upended Sun, 07 Feb 2016 21:57:03 +0000
Assembly Democrats Reject Republican Rules Changes, Promise Own Proposals Soon http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6084:assembly-democrats-reject-republican-rules-changes-promise-own-proposals-soon http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6084:assembly-democrats-reject-republican-rules-changes-promise-own-proposals-soon kolb malliotakis

Assembly Minority Leader Kolb and colleagues (photo via @NMalliotakis)


A majority of Democrats in the New York State Assembly voted down a series of 13 rules changes proposed by their Republican counterparts designed to make the chamber more equitable and allow members of the minority to get their bills to a vote.

While a push for rules changes led by Republican Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and their defeat by Assembly Democrats has become an annual Albany tradition, this year the focus on reform is at a peak thanks to the federal convictions of former legislative leaders Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who became the chamber's leader after Silver's indictment, convened a working group on operations, participation, and transparency last year to come up with a series of recommendations to make the chamber more open to its members and the public. However, the group has been criticized for not holding any public hearings, neglecting to include Assembly Republicans, and failing to keep up with its own deadlines.

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, one of the group's co-chairs, told Gotham Gazette that he expects he and his colleagues will reveal proposals shortly and that they will "touch on" a lot of the Republicans' concerns.

"The working group is putting together a broad set of proposals that we hope to make soon and I expect them to include a wide range of reforms that will touch on what Republicans have proposed," Kavanagh said. "They haven't proposed anything new. We are aware of the proposed changes Republicans want to make in this house."

Assembly Republicans also advocated for a package of bills that would create eight-year term-limits for legislative leaders, shut down legislators' campaign accounts if they are convicted of a felony, and do away with the much-criticized Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

The Assembly Majority has had preliminary discussions about banning outside income, but Heastie has indicated those conversations are in very early stages. Both the Assembly and Senate majorities are expected to have a larger conversation about reform after Cuomo unveils highly-anticipated ethics reforms in his State of the State address. While Democrats hold power in the Assembly, Republicans control the Senate, albeit by a much slimmer margin.

During a Tuesday morning press conference touting the reforms, Kolb appealed directly to the man responsible for securing the indictments of Skelos and Silver, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. "You all read recently that the federal prosecutor has spent a little time in Kentucky talking about ethics," Kolb said. "I think we should invite Mr. Bharara or somebody like him to talk to the New York State Legislature about ethics and corruption."

Kolb said he wanted to send a message to Bharara that some action is being taken to fight the status quo. He said he wants to see the end of the "three men in a room" system whereby the governor and majority leaders of each house decide the budget and most other pieces of legislation without much outside input. Kolb pointed out that two of the three men from recent years are no longer in office, given the indictments of Silver and Skelos.

Bharara has taken to criticizing the situation in Albany and has repeatedly told the public to "stay tuned" regarding new investigations and indictments of state politicians. "There are by my count 213 men and women in the state legislature, and yet it is common knowledge that only three men essentially wield all the power," Bharara said after the arrest of Silver last January. "I must confess a little bit of confusion about this: When did this come to pass? Why has everyone just come to accept it?"

Assembly Republicans proposed a number of reforms that are considered worthwhile by a host of good government groups. The 13 proposed changes included making public the process of selecting a speaker, allowing members to bring one substantive bill to the floor during their two-year term regardless of its support, requiring committee meetings to be webcast and roll call votes recorded, imposing eight-year term limits on committee chairs, and requiring equal funding for each legislator's' office.

John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany told Gotham Gazette that Assembly Republicans failed to reach out to good government groups for their support. "So how serious was this?" asked Kaehny, adding that he would be happy to support "serious recommendations."

Heastie was asked about the progress of the working group last week on The Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter and he responded by asking for patience, saying that the group was finalizing recommendations and still having discussions with members. "I want the message to be that we are open to all kinds of ideas surrounding transparency," Heastie added.

Arbetter then asked Heastie for his thoughts on Assemblymember Jim Tedisco's "Spirit of 76" legislation that would allow a bill to come to a vote if it has the support of 76 members (a majority of the 150-seat Assembly), no matter their party.

"The party in the minority always finds a way to dilute the power of the majority," Heastie responded, "but our kind of government is a majority rules system."

Arbetter pressed Heastie on whether the working group might be considering something like Tedisco's bill.

"The working group is looking for ways to have more transparency, to not have bills bottled up, to come up with ways to make things a little smoother," Heastie told Arbetter. "There are a mountain of things new members feel is a challenge. But in all fairness the workgroup is not looking to undo the majority rule the way we have in our government."

Senate Republicans passed a bill on Tuesday that sets term limits for leadership positions. It is not expected to pass in the Assembly. Kolb told reporters before the rules vote that he would not act unilaterally and term-limit himself if Assembly Democrats failed to pass such a measure.

Assemblymember Steve McLaughlin, of the Capital Region, scolded Assembly Democrats Tuesday, saying, "Thirteen times this body could have voted to reform the way we do business and thirteen times you voted no."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Assembly Democrats Reject Republican Rules Changes, Promise Own Proposals Soon Wed, 13 Jan 2016 04:23:43 +0000
Good Government Groups Want Legislators to Pledge to Fight for Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6069:good-government-groups-want-legislators-to-pledge-to-fight-for-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6069:good-government-groups-want-legislators-to-pledge-to-fight-for-reform pledge

The pledge (photo via @CitizensUnionNY)


Lawmakers returned to Albany for the first day of the 2016 legislative session in the wake of two seismic corruption convictions of their former house leaders. Waiting for them were representatives of three leading good government groups, asking New York state legislators to sign a pledge to fight for good government reform.

On the first day of session since both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos were convicted on multiple federal corruption charges, good government groups unveiled a pledge asking legislators to "support, vote for, and work zealously to sign into law legislation that:" closes the LLC loophole, bans or reduces outside legislators' income, and requires transparency for all discretionary funds in the state budget.

Citizens Union, Common Cause, and the New York Public Interest Research Group revealed the "Clean Conscious Pledge" just as lawmakers were scurrying to chambers for roll call and to hear their leaders set the year's agenda. The groups hope the pledge will demonstrate that rank-and-file members support major ethics overhaul in the wake of the Silver and Skelos convictions.

So far the website hosting the pledge lists three initial signers among the 200-plus members of the Senate and Assembly: Sen. Michael Gianaris and Assemblymembers Felix Ortiz and David Buchwald.

"New Yorkers send elected officials to Albany to solve problems, not create them," said Blair Horner of NYPIRG in a statement. "This pledge is the first step in showing New Yorkers that the state's elected leadership is serious about ending Albany's ethics crisis. It's time for the governor and legislators to solve this problem."

Reform was clearly on the mind of many legislators returning to the capital, but the heads of both legislative bodies approached the issue in strikingly different ways Wednesday. Both Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Flanagan, a Republican, did begin by addressing the issue of ethics reform, touting reforms made to outside income disclosure laws last year. Then they both were quick to blame the other house for inaction. Heastie noted that the Assembly "took action on a series of proposals that were unfortunately not adopted by the state Senate."

One of those actions was passing a bill to close the LLC loophole that allows businesses to create multiple fronts to get around campaign donation limits.

Meanwhile, Flanagan pointed out that the Senate passed a pension forfeiture bill it had reached a deal on with the Assembly only to have the Assembly back out at the last minute because of concerns about how it would affect union members. The bill is aimed at ensuring that legislators convicted of public corruption are not able to collect a government pension - something both Silver and Skelos are in line to do.

Heastie mentioned in his remarks that he would like to try to reach a new agreement on the issue. Both Skelos and Silver are set to take home sizeable pensions despite their convictions.

But that is where the similarities between their comments ended. "Make no mistake – over the coming weeks, discussions around proposals on ethics will be a priority of this house. The Assembly is serious about ethics reform and we know that words are not enough," Heastie told the chamber.

Flanagan, on the other hand, downplayed future action on ethics and told the chamber that if legislators did their jobs and served their constituents, "things will take care of themselves." Flanagan then went on to list a number of notable attractions in districts across the state, like zoos and parks, and said that legislators must be proud of their districts.

The comments left many legislators scratching their heads.

"Senator Flanagan didn't have much to say about the needed changes Senate Democrats have been talking about to restore the public's faith in us and address these massive scandals," said state Sen. Liz Krueger. "He basically said we already did what needed to be done and said how great it was and then listed places in people's districts. I don't think I heard anything on how he wants to address ethics."

In her remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins called for ethics reform and restoring trust in elected officials - as did Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican.

Assemblymember David Buchwald, a Democrat, became the first legislator to sign the good government groups' pledge. Buchwald issued a statement touting his commitment. "I am proud to be the first state legislator to take this meaningful pledge to restore integrity and the public's trust in state government," said Buchwald. "It is incumbent upon legislators to work to significantly reduce corruption, and we can do so by passing these common sense measures. I think the vast majority of New Yorkers would want to see their representatives sign this pledge."

A number of other legislators said they had yet to see the pledge with the chaos of the first day of session but said they planned to consider it.

Krueger, who said she supports the efforts of the good government groups, said that she had yet to see the pledge and was cautious to lend her support without seeing all of the details. When read the gist of the pledge Krueger was favorable. "It's important to me how the pledge is written," said Krueger, "I'm hesitant to sign a pledge committing to do something I can't control."

Legislative leaders are waiting to see exactly how far Cuomo will push on ethics - he has said he'll be outlining a major reform plan at the top of this State of the State and budget address on Jan.13.

Krueger said it is now incumbent on Cuomo and the public to make it clear to legislative leaders that massive reform is needed. "This is about how hard the governor pushes and how loud the public screams," she said.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union

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Good Government Groups Want Legislators to Pledge to Fight for Reform Wed, 06 Jan 2016 23:47:40 +0000
Skelos Conviction Greeted With Calls for Immediate Action on Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6032:skelos-conviction-greeted-with-calls-for-immediate-action-on-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6032:skelos-conviction-greeted-with-calls-for-immediate-action-on-reform Skelos Silver Cuomo 2012

Dean Skelos in 2012, via The Governor's Office on flickr 


Sen. Dean Skelos and his son Adam Skelos were convicted on eight federal corruption charges Friday. They were found guilty of a scheme where Dean Skelos used his power as Senate Majority Leader to influence companies to employ or pay his son. The conviction comes only a week after that of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on charges that he illegally used his influence for financial gain of $4 million.

The convictions speak to a larger campaign by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office brought the cases against both Silver and Skelos, to change the culture in Albany that enables lawmakers to hold outside jobs while influencing major policy decisions and a campaign finance system that allows companies to pour unlimited funds into campaign accounts. The juries in both cases return verdicts within only a few days.

"The swift convictions of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos beg an important question – how many prosecutions will it take before Albany gives the people of New York the honest government they deserve?" asked Bharara in a statement following the conviction.

Skelos loses his Senate seat with his conviction. He and his son both face 130 years in prison. Skelos becomes the fifth legislative leader to leave office under ethics troubles since 2000 and is the thirty-third legislator forced to leave office due to criminal or ethical misconduct since then.

Throughout his time as leader Skelos became known as a cutthroat politician, willing to make extraordinary deals to keep himself in power.

Skelos inherited the Majority Leader mantle from the legally troubled and retiring Sen. Joseph Bruno in 2008. In 2009, Republicans were thrust into the minority but Skelos schemed to correct that annoyance. He concocted a deal with Democratic Sens. Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate and created a new ruling coalition with himself as Majority Leader and Espada as Temporary President. The deal eventually fell apart but Democrats lost their majority during the next election cycle thanks to a Republican campaign that focused on "Democratic Dysfunction."

Skelos successfully fought off a major push by reformers for independent redistricting that many thought would thrust Republicans permanently into the minority and when Democrats eventually won a numerical majority again in 2012, Skelos cut another deal. Sen. Jeff Klein and the Independent Democratic Conference partnered with Republicans giving them the majority and Klein the title of co-leader along with a hefty helping of pork and staff funding.

Adam Skelos was caught on wiretap scolding his father, Dean, for allowing Klein to keep his position when Republicans won an outright majority in 2014. Dean assured his son that Klein had no real power. "I'm going to control everything. He's going to get very little. Believe me. Very little. Everybody's going to know," Dean told Adam. He then pointed out the real objective of the exercise was to "Keep [Democrats] separate and fighting and hating each other. That's what's worked for the last six years. Keeping them at each other's throats."

Senate Republicans allowed votes on a number of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's major issues during his tenure as Majority Leader including same-sex marriage and the SAFE Act. He cut also cut deals with Cuomo and Silver on a number of incremental reform packages that included the formation of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, an agency regarded almost universally as dysfunctional and impotent.

Skelos' conviction brought a tidal wave of calls for reform from good government groups and reform-minded electeds. Many repeated their post-Silver conviction call for Cuomo to call for a special session on ethics reform.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union said that for Cuomo "not to call now for special legislative session is to aid and abet the rampant corruption in Albany."

"Inaction speaks louder than words," wrote Blair Horner of The New York Public Interest Research Group in a statement. "Failure by Governor Cuomo to convene a special session on ethics and inaction by the legislature can only be understood as a defense of Albany's status quo."

Cuomo is under increasing pressure to act on ethics as he shuttered the Moreland Commission that was investigating legislative misconduct in a 2014 deal with Silver and Skelos--a deal that greatly angered Bharara and appears to have sparked a federal investigation.

Cuomo issued a statement putting the onus on the legislature, but indicating he plans to push for reforms:

"There can be no tolerance for those who use, and seek to use, public service for private gain. The justice system worked today. However, more must be done and will be pursued as part of my legislative agenda. The convictions of former Speaker Silver and former Majority Leader Skelos should be a wakeup call for the Legislature and it must stop standing in the way of needed reforms."

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan issued a statement saying that he wants to act "swiftly and completely" to restore the public trust. Last year Flanagan successfully blocked any action reforming the LLC loophole that allows corporations to make unlimited campaign contributions.

Klein, Skelos' former partner in governing, issued a similar statement: "Today's conviction of Dean Skelos should be a call to arms for Albany and the people who serve in government," said Klein.

[Read: How Dean Skelos Thwarted Reform and Maintained Power, Despite the Odds]

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Skelos Conviction Greeted With Calls for Immediate Action on Reform Fri, 11 Dec 2015 19:56:40 +0000
Tenant Activists Trace Road to Corruption Trials, Eye Elusive Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6029:tenant-activists-trace-road-to-corruption-trials-eye-elusive-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6029:tenant-activists-trace-road-to-corruption-trials-eye-elusive-reform rent protest albany

Tenants sit-in at the Albany capitol


"It's just surreal," said Jaron Benjamin a week after the conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and on the day of closing arguments in the federal corruption case against former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, knowing that those cases may have been bolstered by work he did years ago in the fight to strengthen the state's rent laws.

In the span of less than a year Benjamin went from issuing a report exposing the connections among the real estate industry, holes in New York's campaign finance laws, and major legislation to seeing his work used by the Moreland Commission, only to see Gov. Andrew Cuomo unceremoniously shutter the anti-corruption panel.

Then came the 2015 indictments of Silver and Skelos that many expected would scare Albany into enacting serious reform. But no transformative action has come, leaving Benjamin and other advocates to wonder what kind of impact their work actually had.

"There is still part of me that thinks surely the people charged with enforcing the laws must have known this type of activity was going on," said Benjamin referring to the SIlver and Skelos cases, especially in terms of the involvement of the real estate industry. "Seeing all of this play out has made me question what is pay-for-play and what is business as usual. It's all been blurred, and being involved in Moreland and the 421-a fight made me question what exactly is unethical and what's illegal."

In 2013 Benjamin was looking for a way to get people's attention. Then director of The Metropolitan Council on Housing, he needed a way to get regular New Yorkers interested in the backroom dealing that he saw as having continually allowed the real estate industry power to weaken rent laws every time they were up for renewal.

"We knew we had to start preparing then for the 2015 rent law renewal and I said, 'I want an issue that kind of encapsulates all the talking points, captures the outrage of big real estate's buying power in Albany, something that would rile people up,'" Benjamin told Gotham Gazette.

The report The Met Council released on June 5, 2013, focused on the influence of real estate moguls, like the now infamous Leonard Litwin, and their ability to flood politicians' campaign coffers with cash, subverting campaign finance limits by using the also infamous LLC loophole.

Three years later, looking back, some advocates feel that the report was a turning point for Albany. But things didn't change the way Benjamin and his allies might have expected.

After the report drew the interest of Moreland Commission staff in their investigation of legislative corruption that was later picked up by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Majority Leader Dean Skelos were indicted on federal corruption charges brought by Bharara's office. The Met Council report and the federal charges exposed what many see as the undue influence of the real estate industry on New York State lawmakers and industry leaders' willingness to lavish lawmakers with cash legally and illegally to get what they want.

And yet, with Silver convicted and the Skelos case before a jury, the state legislature and Gov. Cuomo have yet to act to change the system. Cuomo has been the biggest beneficiary of Glenwood Management's largesse, with his campaign accounts receiving over $1 million in donations over the years through many LLCs. Glenwood also gave half a million dollars to Cuomo's Committee to Save New York.

In fact, even after Silver and Skelos were indicted and their relationships with Litwin's Glenwood Corp. revealed, Cuomo and new legislative leaders delivered a blow to tenant groups by enacting what many see as a real-estate-friendly renewal of the rent laws, deflecting pressure from advocates and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenants PAC, who has been involved in fighting for stronger rent laws in Albany for decades, said he hopes the convictions jolt Albany into action, but he is dubious that it will happen because the indictments weren't exactly shocking to him. "We knew Shelly had sold us out; he sold us out three times," McKee said of Silver, who was touted by many others as the protector of all things progressive in the state legislature. "We knew Skelos was owned by real estate lock, stock, and barrel. We didn't know the details, but it wasn't a surprise."

Neither Benjamin nor McKee were surprised that Silver was receiving payments from Glenwood Management, or that members of Glenwood were helping Skelos' son land no-show jobs. The details were new to them, but the idea that legislative leadership and Glenwood were intimately connected was not at all revelatory. Neither was Skelos' declaration on a wiretapped phone call that he was weakening Senate Democrats by awarding Sen. Jeff Klein and the Independent Democratic Conference token power.

Despite his doubts about active efforts at change, McKee acknowledges that the Albany reform conversation has changed since the Silver and Skelos indictments. The LLC loophole is now a major issue, with increasing pressure from good government groups, newspaper editorial boards and reform-minded lawmakers - like state Senator Daniel Squadron, who, along with colleagues and other allies, just released a report on the loophole.

"It is very gratifying that people are paying attention now," said McKee (pictured below). "They ought to be properly shocked. It's just breathtaking, but some of this corruption is illegal and some of it is still perfectly legal."

mike mckee arrested albany

In June 2013 McKee and Benjamin weren't starry-eyed, but there was a feeling they might spur action in Albany. That month, Met Council released its report titled, "Tax Breaks For Millionaires: How the Campaign Finance System Failed New Yorkers and Helped Luxury Developers." That report examined how a small group of real estate interests used loopholes in the state's campaign finance law to funnel tremendous amounts of cash to politicians in exchange for support of the 421-a tax rebate program, which benefits developers of luxury apartment buildings.

The hope of all hopes was that perhaps public outrage would move lawmakers to close the LLC loophole, "maybe level the playing field so we would have a shot against the real estate industry. At the time we knew that Leonard Litwin was a poster child for the LLC loophole," Benjamin told Gotham Gazette.

Two years later Litwin's name would hang over Albany like a tropical depression, deals with Glenwood potential portals to the U.S. Attorney's office.

The report made waves, gaining the attention of the editorial pages of The New York Times and New York Daily News, and garnering support of liberal activist groups across the state.

Their hope for actual change was stoked when, in July of 2013, Cuomo empanelled The Moreland Commission to investigate public corruption. The commission held public hearings and appeared to be moving to a predetermined outcome. One day Benjamin was approached by commission staffers who wanted research information and addresses for real estate groups they planned to subpoena. "It really seemed like the Moreland staff took it seriously, but then the subpoenas got held back."

The Governor's Office put the brakes on those subpoenas, which may be an ongoing topic of federal investigation itself.

Benjamin's hopes were stoked again after U.S. Attorney Bharara took over the commission's files. "But there was no immediate action, so I thought 'OK, it was worth a try,'" Benjamin recalls.

Now VP of community mobilization at Housing Works, Benjamin watched as the indictments rolled in - indictments that were spurred in part by the very issues he tried to highlight in 2013. It wasn't the change he expected. "I would never celebrate someone else's misfortune, but I am enormously proud of the work I did at the Council and I do feel some of that work did help clean up Albany."

jaron benjamin

Benjamin (pictured above) says he sees indications that both new legislative leaders are more interested in listening to their members and willing to meet with groups that aren't the biggest donors. "It could be that they are both new, but it seems like they are both listening more and their doors are open," he said of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican.

McKee isn't holding his breath for sweeping legislative reforms spurred by the Silver conviction and Skelos trial. "I wish I could say the crap that came out about Shelly and Skelos is enough to get the governor and legislature to do something real on election reform and ethics, but left to their own devices they are going to pass some Mickey-Mouse bill that tinkers around the edges," he said. McKee hopes public outrage will move the politicians to enact real reforms.

Years of frustration appear to have led McKee to conclude that tenants have one real shot left to influence policy in Albany, and that is the 2016 elections.

He told Gotham Gazette that he is dropping all of his lobbying commitments to focus on recruiting and promoting Democratic Senate candidates for 2016, despite disappointments he has had with Democrats in both the Assembly and Senate. He believes the presidential election year offers as ripe an opportunity as Democrats will ever get to seize the Senate, and after that it will be too late for the next rent-law renewal. "I consider next year do-or-die. If we don't do it now we won't do it two years later."

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

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Tenant Activists Trace Road to Corruption Trials, Eye Elusive Reform Fri, 11 Dec 2015 02:23:25 +0000
Will Silver Conviction Be Tipping Point for 'Real' Reform? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6014:will-silver-conviction-be-tipping-point-for-real-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6014:will-silver-conviction-be-tipping-point-for-real-reform sheldon silver conviction

Sheldon Silver in 2012 (photo via the Governor's Office)


Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, thought to be the most powerful man in New York state government for decades, was found guilty Monday on seven counts of corruption in multiple schemes to monetize the power of his office. During the trial Silver's own defense attorney insisted that Albany itself was on trial and claimed that Silver's behavior was business as usual in Albany, and that even if it felt unseemly, it was in fact legal.

The jury did not agree. And though Silver left the courthouse saying he plans to continue his legal fight, the big question now is whether this startling development will be the impetus for major reform of the rules of the game for Albany lawmakers. With his conviction, Silver is removed from office and becomes the 32nd state lawmaker forced from office due to criminal or ethical issues since 2000.

Silver never took the stand on his own behalf and the defense called no witnesses. Instead, Silver's defense attorney, Steven Molo, argued that the federal government was trying to make Albany's long tradition of backroom dealing illegal. "It makes some people uncomfortable, but that is the system New York state has chosen, and it is not a crime," Molo said on Nov. 3 during opening statements. "The prosecutors are trying to make it a crime, but it's not."

Some advocates and legislators have railed against Silver's influence for years, decrying the concentration of power of the 'three men in a room,' of which Silver was one until he was indicted and resigned his leadership post. Some thought that with Silver all but gone Albany would somehow be redeemed. That redemption has been elusive.

As Silver faces decades of prison sentencing, Albany is still left to write its own rules. The men in charge, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who replaced Silver, have indicated there is currently no appetite for more reform and have rejected calls for special session on ethics.

"We will continue to work to root out corruption and demand more of elected officials when it comes to ethical conduct," Heastie said in a statement responding to Silver's conviction, adding that "accountability and transparency" are of utmost importance to the Assembly Majority. Heastie went on to list previously enacted reforms as evidence of his commitment as well as reform efforts that have been repeatedly stalled in the legislature by Senate Republicans.

"In addition to the enacted measures, the Assembly Majority has independently passed a number of ethics-related bills that were not taken up by the State Senate," reads the statement from Heastie, a Democrat like Silver and Cuomo. "Among these measures is a bill to close the LLC loophole and campaign finance reform measures to limit the influence of big money in politics, including the clarification of housekeeping accounts and independent expenditures, as well as the establishment of a meaningful public financing system."

Advocates hope public reaction to the conviction and the ongoing trial against Silver's former Senate counterpart, Sen. Dean Skelos - which is creating sensational soundbites thanks to wiretaps - will force more systemic change. Charges against Silver and Skelos were brought by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office.

"A political earthquake has hit Albany," said Blair Horner of The New York Public Interest Research Group. "This is a stinging rebuke to the 'Albany business as usual' defense and a clarion call to clean up state ethics. Hopefully this will be the tipping point at which New York's political leadership will gets its heads out of the sand. Governor Cuomo must now call a special session devoted to ethics reform."

Good government group Citizens Union, which tracks lawmakers who've left office due to criminal or ethical issues, quickly issued a statement calling for a special session after Silver's conviction. "Citizens Union calls upon the legislature to meet in special session and deal once and for all with the problem of public corruption in state government," the statement reads. "Legislators need to address the problem of using their public posts for private gain."

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been calling for a move away from incremental reform and laid out a legislative package to move the needle and prevent conflicts of interest and corruption.

Good government groups including NYPIRG and Citizens Union recently reiterated calls for sweeping reform, including:

  • Increased legislative compensation, but add greater limits on outside income.
  • "Limit the influence of dark money campaign contributions and end government spending that takes place in the shadows' through measures such as closing the infamous LLC loophole."
  • "Reform ethics oversight and enforcement" by making changes to JCOPE's structure, scope, and voting procedures to increase transparency and independence.
  • "Strengthen financial reporting disclosure requirements for public officers to allow the public to more easily spot conflicts of interest."
  • "Streamline and standardize disclosure of lobbying activity for better analysis and easier evaluation by the public."

Earlier this year, Gov. Cuomo pointed to prior reforms he oversaw that required disclosure of outside income that enabled the case against Silver. "We've passed disclosure laws that, frankly, would have been unthinkable ten years ago," Cuomo said, adding, "For the first time ever, they have to disclose their clients. That's one of the reasons this case is this case, right?"

But the Reform Albany Act that contained the disclosure requirements also created the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, a board that has yet to take any major actions and remains paralyzed by infighting between members appointed by legislative leaders (including Skelos and Silver) and Cuomo.

In response to the Silver verdict Monday, Cuomo issued a statement that read, "Today, justice was served. Corruption was discovered, investigated, and prosecuted, and the jury has spoken. With the allegations proven, it is time for the Legislature to take seriously the need for reform. There will be zero tolerance for the violation of the public trust in New York."

There is some indication rank-and-file legislators are looking for larger reforms. Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell issued a statement calling for a full-time legislature to limit the influence of outside income and to raise legislative salaries in conjunction.

"We need to change the way things work in Albany. As today's verdict demonstrates, the ability to earn outside income creates too much potential for impropriety," wrote O'Donnell, a Manhattan Democrat. "To restore respect for the hard work that the New York State Legislature does, we need to make it more like the federal system."

Schneiderman, a Democrat, has called for the creation of a full-time legislature and a few members of the Senate also support the idea.

Several other members of the Assembly and Senate have called for major changes to campaign finance and other laws.

Paul Newell, a Manhattan Democratic district leader who challenged Silver in 2008 and is raising money to run for Silver's seat, called on voters to take action to reform state government.

"This is a sad day for Lower Manhattan and a sad day for New York," Newell said in a statement. "Today's verdict proves it is up to us to reclaim our government. No court will end Albany's culture of corruption and cronyism. If we, as voters and citizens, continue to accept a government that favors those who buy power and influence, then that will be the government we get. But, if we want a government that is fair, transparent, and works for all of us, we must reclaim it ourselves. We can and must do better. The time for us to act is now."

[Read: Top Ten Corruption Quotes from Silver, Skelos Trials]

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

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

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Will Silver Conviction Be Tipping Point for 'Real' Reform? Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:09:23 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 16 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5989:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-november-16 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5989:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-november-16 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

While former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's corruption trial continues this week, former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos' gets started. Albany ethics and pay-to-play culture will continue to loom over and be laced throughout the day-to-day news out of the two trials. Just last week, leading good government groups seized on the timing of the two trials and news that New York received a "D-" on a national scorecard of states' efforts to create government transparency and prevent corruption to call for sweeping ethics reforms in Albany.

Meanwhile, people in New York City and elsewhere are on high alert and in mourning after the attacks that occurred in Paris on Friday. Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, and other elected officials responded over the weekend with shows of solidarity and by taking measures to enhance law enforcement presence.

After participating in a Paris vigil in Manhattan Saturday, on Sunday de Blasio spoke at a ceremony commemorating World Day of Rememberance for Road Traffic Victims at City Hall. De Blasio has a busy Monday:

  • In the morning, he delivers remarks at the Ford Foundation's ConnectHome Broadband Initiative Roundtable.
  • At 11:30 a.m. at the Queens Museum, de Blasio and Council Member Julissa Ferraras-Copeland will host a press conference to make an announcement at
  • At 2 p.m. on Randall's Island, the mayor and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton will host a press conference to announce the first deployment of the NYPD's new Critical Response Command of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau.
  • Later, the Mayor will deliver remarks at the 20th Annual Met Museum Real Estate Council Benefit Dinner.

We're watching this week for any news about a NY/NY IV deal between the city and the state. NY/NY deals have created thousands of units of supportive housing, a homelessness prevention and reduction tool that provides housing and support services for people battling substance abuse, mental illness, and other problems. A City Council hearing had been scheduled for Monday in order to check the status of those negotiations and to pass a resolution calling on the city and state to come to a new agreement to provide new supportive housing units. But, the hearing was canceled on Friday - not long after Gotham Gazette had published a preview, which is still relevant and can be read here.

We're also looking for the launch of First Lady Chirlane McCray's "mental health roadmap." The roadmap, which has been delayed and the administration prefaced by releasing last week new data on mental illness and mental health challenges faced by New Yorkers. McCray is set to make one related announcement on Tuesday. Read our extensive preview of the mental health roadmap here.

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read 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: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At the New York State Legislature on Monday: at 10:30 a.m. at 250 Broadway, the Assembly Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development will meet for oversight on the 2015-2016 budget.

On Monday, at 8:30 a.m.: “K2 in NYC: Promoting Public Health and Safety,” a summit co-hosted by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, the NYPD, and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, to discuss the best ways to address the K2 synthetic drug crisis in New York City. Participants will include City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; Council Member Vanessa Gibson; DCA Commissioner Julie Menin; DOHMH Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett; State Senator Jeff Klein; Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams; and individuals who have used and been impacted by K2.

On Monday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will deliver morning remarks at the Hispanic Federation's Annual Hispanic Education Summit; 9:30 a.m. at the CUNY Grad Center. In the evening, Fariña will deliver remarks at an event celebrating LiteracyINC's parent volunteers; 6:15 p.m. in Manhattan.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Executive Economic Summit, in Manhattan.

At 10 a.m. at her office, Public Advocate Letitia James will host a meeting of the Public Advocate's LGBTQ Task Force.

At 11 a.m. The Internet Association, consisting of a large number of internet based companies, will launch the “New Yorkers for Ride Sharing” coalition in an attempt to motivate legislators to bring back app-based ridesharing services - like Uber and Lyft - in upstate New York.

At 5:30 p.m. the Queens Borough Board, led by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, will vote on the “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” and “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing” proposals by the de Blasio administration.

At 6 p.m. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will hold a public hearing regarding those “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing” and “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” proposals made by the Department of City Planning (Clinton School, 10 East 15th Street). [Read our look at the de Blasio administration's defense of their proposals and some of the pushback]

At 6 p.m. Monday, the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) will hold a discussion in Harlem on police quotas: “NYPD Quotas: The Damage Done to our Cops, to Our Communities, to Our Cities.”

At 6 p.m. as well, the New York League of Conservation Voters will host an event to honor the Food Bank of New York City and celebrate the momentum gained by greener buildings, renewable energy, well-funded neighborhood parks, and cleaner waterways initiatives. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is expected to make remarks at the event.

Another event at 6 p.m., at Baruch College, “The Counterattack: The Media, The War on Women and How to Fight Back” is hosted by state Senator Liz Krueger and will focus on anti-women statements and positions taken by presidential candidates and other prominent politicians. The event is co-sponsored by a wide variety of women’s rights groups and city-based elected officials at all levels.

At 6:30 p.m. the Civilian Complaint Board will hold a public meeting at the City College of New York.

Tuesday
At the New York State Legislature on Tuesday, at 11 a.m. in Albany, the Assembly Standing Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, the Assembly Standing Committee on Health, and the Assembly Standing Committee on Codes will meet to address the “Heroin and Synthetic Drug Crisis.”

At the City Council on Tuesday: 9:30 a.m. the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet to discuss a land use application and at 10 a.m. the Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet for a tour of the Crossroads Juvenile Center.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton will discuss his priorities and challenges facing the police at the Citizens Budget Commission breakfast meeting. [Read our recent look at Bratton’s commitment to his “peace dividend” approach to policing New York City.]

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, a public forum “Paid Family Leave for the Health of Working Families” will host several speakers including state Senator Joseph Addabbo and a slew of medical professionals, scholars, and insurers supporting Addabbo’s push for paid family leave in New York. The event is sponsored by the Community Service Society, Scholars Strategy Network-NYC Chapter, The Murphy Institute at CUNY, and the New York Paid Family Leave Insurance Campaign.

At 9 a.m. the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College will continue with its Food Policy for Breakfast Seminar Series with “Zoning and the City’s Food System: Opportunities to Shape Healthier Food Environments in NYC.” The panelists will be Daniel Hernandez, Deputy Commissioner for Neighborhood Strategies of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development; Shai Lauros, Director of Community Development for Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation; Javier Lopez, Deputy Director of the Center for Health Equity, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

At 9:30 a.m. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a Queens Borough Cabinet meeting.

On Tuesday at 10 a.m. at his Harlem office, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, along with various elected officials, NYPD representatives, Hon. Tamiko A. Amaker, and Irwin Shaw, Attorney-in-Charge of the Legal Aid Society's Manhattan Office, will announce the "Clean Slate" warrant forgiveness program, which is scheduled for Saturday.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, there will be a press conference on preventing wage theft, at Tweed Courthouse, at which Comptroller Scott Stringer will speak. 

Cornell Tech will offer its first official tour of the Roosevelt Island campus construction on Tuesday. “Development of the first phase of the campus is currently underway and due to open in 2017. Cornell Tech is opening the construction site to press to see the visible transformation of the site,” at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

At 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, "First Lady Chirlane McCray will lead an announcement about a new initiative related to mothers and mental health in the upcoming mental health roadmap, ThriveNYC."

At 2 p.m. state Assembly Democrats will meet in Albany for an off-session meeting, according to Politico New York. This is happening right after Senate Republicans met on November 10.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Contracts Committee of the Panel for Educational Policy will meet. The full PEP meets Wednesday evening.

On Tuesday evening, state Senator Adriano Espaillat hosts an Inwood housing forum at Washington Heights Academy; MBP Gale Brewer will be among the other elected officials to speak.

At 6:30 p.m. Senator Daniel Squadron will host an MTA Bus Town Hall, looking at issues raised by constituents at his Community Convention. Representatives from the MTA will hear suggestions on how to improve services. The event is co-sponsored by a variety of other elected officials from Manhattan, local community boards, and Riders Alliance.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will host a public forum on Verizon FiOS in Brooklyn, allowing residents and businesses to comment on the service.

Wednesday
At the New York State Legislature on Wednesday: a 10 a.m. hearing on “Examining Issues Relating to Poverty among our Senior Citizens” by several committees, and, at 10:30 a.m., a hearing of the Assembly Standing Committee on elections to discuss “enhancing voter accessibility.” Both hearings are in Albany.

At the City Council on Wednesday: at 10 a.m. the Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections will meet to listen to the Mayor’s Message as delivered by Janet Alvarez of the New York City Tax Commission; and at 1 p.m. the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will convene to discuss a number of land use applications.

On Wednesday, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance will host the 6th annual Financial Crimes and CyberSecurity Symposium, at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Along with Vance, the conference will be headlined by FBI Director James Comey; Federal Reserve Bank of N.Y. General Counsel and Executive V.P. Thomas Baxter; and City of London Police Commissioner Adrian Leppard.

At 11 a.m. Wednesday at City Hall, The rally will be led by "New York City Coalition for Adult Literacy (NYCCAL), a citywide coalition of leading community based organizations, CUNY programs, libraries and union training programs. In addition to affected students, teachers and other allies, City Council Immigration Chair Carlos Menchaca will speak out in support of adult literacy programs...Nearly 100 adult learners, educators and their supporters will rally...to call attention to an action taken by the City in the most recent budget they believe has been swept under the rug: the elimination of adult literacy classes for over 6,000 individuals. The coalition will call on the Mayor and City Council to restore the classes and expand the City's limited adult literacy infrastructure."

On Wednesday at 2 p.m., the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School will hold “Rikers Island: Reform it - or Shut It Down?” The event will feature an extensive panel of experts and stakeholders moderated by Errol Louis of NY1. Speakers will include, among others, Elizabeth Glazer, director, Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice; Martin Horn, executive director, NYS Sentencing Commission; Glenn E. Martin, founder and president, JustLeadershipUSA; Carmen Perez, executive director, The Gathering for Justice and co-founder of Justice League NYC; Jeff Smith, assistant professor of politics and advocacy, Milano School; and Scott Stringer, city comptroller.

At 6 p.m. state Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins will give keynote remarks at “Who Represents Us? The Status of Black Women in Elected Office,” hosted by The Brennan Center for Justice.

Also at 6 p.m. Wednesday, The Murphy Institute will host a discussion about the role of participatory budgeting in the democratization of urban planning and asses the merits of the practice so far. Speakers include, among others: Celina Su, Political Science, CUNY; City Council Member Jumaane Williams, District 45; and Josh Lerner, Director Participatory Budgeting Project. [Read our recent look at the topic: Participatory Budgeting Grows in NYC: Why Isn’t Every Council Member Doing It?]

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, City & State NY will hold its Staten Island Special Issue Launch Reception at the Staten Island Museum. The event will feature Staten Island Borough President James Oddo.

Thursday
At the New York State Legislature on Thursday: at 11 a.m. the Assembly Standing Committee on Education and the Assembly Subcommittee on Students with Special Needs will hold a hearing in White Plains to discuss New York schools for deaf and blind students.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet for oversight on private sector workers and problems with worker rights, organizing and unionization.
  • At 11 a.m. the Committee on Land Use will meet.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Governmental Operation and the Committee on Finance will meet to discuss a number of bills related to the Environmental Control Board. The bills seek to clarify and reform procedures that occur among city agencies, businesses, and the Environmental Control Board (ECB) in the event of an ECB violation.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Higher Education will meet for oversight of student unions and non-academic spaces in CUNY universities, discussing whether they are a luxury or a necessity.

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, MBP Gale Brewer hosts a Borough Board meeting.

On Thursday at noon, the Manhattan Institute’s “The Beat MI” program will host a discussion,  “NYC Quality Of Life Issues: Are We Thriving Or Just Surviving?” featuring NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton; Phil Walzak, senior advisor to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Manhattan Institute Senior Fellows Jason L. Riley and Fred Siegel.

At 5:30 p.m. Mayor de Blasio, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Council Members Maria Del Carmen Arroyo, Fernando Cabrera, Rosie Mendez, I. Daneek Miller, Annabel Palma, and Richie Torres will host a Puerto Rican Heritage celebration at the Council Chambers in City Hall.

At 6 p.m. Thursday the Panel for Educational Policy will meet in Manhattan.

At 6:30 p.m. the New School, in preparation of the United Nations Conference of the Parties, will host a seminar to examine the role of young people in affecting environmental policy and promoting sustainable urban environments: “Climate Change, Cities and Youth Engagement.”

At 7 p.m. Thursday, “The NYC Young Republican Monthly Meetup,” with guest speakers TBA as of Sunday.

The Daily News is reporting that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will introduce Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton Thursday evening "when she receives a "leadership" award named after his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, at a Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence dinner at Cipriani on Broadway."

Friday and the weekend
At the New York State Legislature on Friday: at 10:30 a.m. the Assembly Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, the Assembly Standing Committee on Energy, and the Assembly Subcommittee on Infrastructure will meet to evaluate “Natural Gas Safety Efforts by Utilities.”

On Friday at 10 a.m. at Civic Hall, the state Board of Elections and the New York City Campaign Finance Board will host a session to preview new state campaign finance data reporting and to discuss how campaign finance data can be made more useful for the general public.

On Friday evening at the LGBT Center in Manhattan, "Advocates, allies, and researchers will gather to release and discuss "Transgender Health and Economic Insecurity: A report from the 2015 NYS LGBT Health and Human Services Needs Assessment." The event is being co-sponsored by the Empire State Pride Agenda, The LGBT Community Center, and Strength in Numbers Consulting Group, with research funding provided by the AIDS Institute of the NYS Department of Health."

On Saturday beginning at 9 a.m., Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance will offer New York citizens with outstanding summons warrants a chance for a “Clean Slate” by resolving their minor offenses on site, without the threat of arrest.

On Saturday at 10 a.m., the first of many LGBTQ Youth Summits in New York City will be taking place in Brooklyn. The Hetrick-Martin Institute in collaboration with New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito, Council Member Carlos Menchaca, the New York City Council LGBTQ Caucus, and community partners will conduct an LGBTQ Youth Summit in each of New York City’s five boroughs in order to empower LGBTQ youth in NYC.

***
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: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 16 Sun, 15 Nov 2015 01:38:42 +0000
Spurred by Buffalo Billion, Reformers Look to Fix State Business Subsidies http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5940:spurred-by-buffalo-billion-reformers-look-to-fix-state-business-subsidies http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5940:spurred-by-buffalo-billion-reformers-look-to-fix-state-business-subsidies Cuomo Buffalo thank you

Cuomo in Buffalo (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


United States Attorney Preet Bharara's attention has been drawn away from his normal stomping grounds to Buffalo, intrigued by what critics say is a shadowy network of state authorities and state-controlled non-profits handing out large business subsidies and contracts with little to no oversight.

Watchdogs say that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, through SUNY Polytechnic head Alain Kaloyeros, is essentially rewarding campaign donors with major contracts while using state cash to win political favor in economically-depressed areas. That sense has been exacerbated by a forceful push back against transparency by both the Cuomo administration and Kaloyeros.

Last legislative session the renewal of the 421-A tax break for real estate developers was the center of debate over business subsidies thanks to Bharara's indictments of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Both face corruption charges stemming from their involvement with a major donor who sought renewal of the tax break.

But Bharara's interest in Buffalo Billion has shifted the gaze of some reformers and legislators to discretionary subsidies that are controlled by the Governor. At the heart of the U.S. Attorney's investigation appears to be requests for proposals written in a way to ensure one company, led by a major donor to the governor, would win the lucrative contract at stake.

"We believe many of these programs are out of control," said John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, a group that has been focused on these subsidies. Kaehny said the programs have been "generally wasteful and driven more by pay-to-play or interest in providing local pork than derived from sound public policy."

Kaehny, a number of other reformers, and a small group of legislators want to pull back the curtain on these deals and create a system of true accountability that would show how contracts are awarded, how many jobs the contracts create, and how much state money is spent per job. Kaehny isn't exactly holding his breath, though, because he believes the current system was designed specifically to obfuscate and confuse.

"We do not see any reasonable motivation for the convoluted governance structure created by the governor other than to avoid oversight," Kaehny told Gotham Gazette. Kaehny said Cuomo has "created a legal fiction" involving SUNY Research Foundation and the Fort Schuyler Management Corporation, which sign contracts "on behalf of" state agencies like SUNY Poly. The state funnels money for a number of programs from Empire State Development Corporation, a state-run authority that has virtually no legislative or public oversight.

"Funding also comes from theoretically independent state authorities like NYSERDA and the Power Authority, which are told by the governor to provide money, power and land to SUNY Poly, which then gives resources away to select businesses," said Kaehny. "We believe this complexity is a deliberate effort to avoid transparency and accountability by the governor."

Some lawmakers are in the early stages of exploring legislative changes to how the state approves business subsidies. A few of them have been motivated by an Investigative Post report that the Cuomo administration dropped requirements to hire workers of color in one Buffalo Billion contract from 25 to 15 percent.

Others have been troubled by Cuomo's efforts to entice General Electric (GE) to move its headquarters back to the state. So far Cuomo has refused to detail what kind of incentives he has offered the company. Some legislators are concerned the company has yet to make good on its pledge to clean up the PCBs it poured into the Hudson River years ago and that its headquarters would have no economic benefit for the state.

"We have a real problem in New York with learning from history," said Ron Deutsch of the Fiscal Policy Institute. He said that New York has given businesses like GE, IBM, and Globalfoundries major incentives only to see them cut jobs, or move overseas. "We do nothing to hold anyone accountable" in the end, he said.

Cuomo has made it clear in conversations with the press that he sees no reason to scrutinize the Buffalo Billion program. Asked if he thought any procedures needed to be changed because of the investigation, Cuomo responded: "Do you know if there was any problem? No. If you knew there was a problem, then you would fix the problem. But we don't know any problem."

Good Jobs First, a national policy group that tracks business subsidies, actually rated New York 8th out of all 50 states on transparency for subsidy disclosures in a report released in January of last year.

Another study by the group found that New York spends more on "megadeals" than any other state. Megadeals are defined as subsidy agreements with businesses that cost $75 million or more. The 2013 report by Good Jobs First found that New York had spent $11.4 billion on such deals from 1984 to 2013.

When asked where New York's subsidy programs rank overall compared to other states, Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, replied, "Pick your metric."

SUNY Poly issued the following statement:

"In fact, neither SUNY Poly nor its affiliates have ever been in a position to unilaterally approve a single Buffalo project, including Buffalo project contracts or expenditures. The New York State system simply does not allow it. There are checks and balances at every step, layers of state oversight, internal and external audits, public hearings, public board meetings, and public votes."

So what can be done to prevent both the appearance and the reality of conflicts of interest; restore transparency and confidence in the system; and make sure someone is accountable for the way billions of dollars of taxpayer money is spent? Reformers have some suggestions.

One simple reform would be to ban businesses that win subsidies from donating large amounts to elected officials. The state need only look to New York City to see an effective model. In 2007, then City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Michael Bloomberg reached a campaign financing deal that drastically reduced the amount any government contractor or group with business before the city can give to any campaign.

"Even the appearance of conflict of interest is a problem," said Deutsch, of the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Another piece of the puzzle could be eliminating the LLC loophole so that businesses cannot create multiple fronts to pour cash into the campaign coffers of state electeds.

To enhance transparency, advocates say the convoluted route by which money goes from the state to businesses needs to be simplified.

Kaehny said he wants to see the Empire State Development Corporation become a one-stop shop for business subsidies. Preventing state-controlled non-profits from distributing state funds would theoretically increase transparency by streamlining the decision-making process.

Both the Comptroller and Attorney General do have some oversight capabilities, but the Comptroller had some authority stripped away in 2011 by a bill that limited the office's ability to audit SUNY and CUNY as well as its hospitals and construction funds. Fort Schuyler and SUNY Poly have led the distribution of Buffalo Billion funds.

DiNapoli noted the situation during a recent appearance on WCNY's Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter. "Our authority in some of these areas was curtailed a few years ago," DiNapoli said. "We complained about that at the time."

Kaehny said he wants to see the Comptroller and the Attorney General push publically on the issue of transparency. It isn't totally obvious how hard the Comptroller has been pushing for this information or not. If we had a right-wing Republican in the office I'm fairly sure we would see someone pushing relentlessly and using their bully pulpit when they weren't given the answers," Kaehny said, referring to the fact that all of the statewide offices are controlled by Democrats.

"The Comptroller could speak up clearly and directly and say: 'Here is what we don't know. Here are the dark spots. Here is where we see these structures created to defeat transparency,'" Kaehny said.

Still, many calling for change would like the Comptroller's office to have complete oversight over all subsidy deals.

One final, and perhaps farfetched possibility would be creating a State Independent Budget Office in the model of New York City's that would actually weigh the risks and possible rewards of highly nuanced tech and other business deals so that legislators and the public would understand where state money may be going. Deutsch said that someone needs to start asking a basic question: "How much is a job worth?"

The Cuomo administration has repeatedly stated that the Buffalo Billion will create 14,000 reliable jobs and attract $8 billion in investment as a result of the roughly $1 billion state expenditure.

It seems unlikely any of the reforms being discussed to the subsidy process will pick up steam in an election year, especially as Albany waits to see if Bharara's investigation leads to criminal charges.

"There are simple solutions," said Kaehny, "but they are very hard to get done because there is no will."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

Note: this article has been updated with a clarification from John Kaehny that Reinvent Albany beieves "many," not "most," of the subsidy programs are "out of control"

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Spurred by Buffalo Billion, Reformers Look to Fix State Business Subsidies Mon, 19 Oct 2015 00:37:47 +0000