Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1528 Thu, 14 Dec 2017 18:54:25 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) The Right to Know Act and the City Council Speaker Race http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7310:the-right-to-know-act-and-the-council-speaker-race http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7310:the-right-to-know-act-and-the-council-speaker-race jumaane williams rtkar

Jumaane Williams at a Right to Know Act rally (Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


In less than two months, the current class of the New York City Council ends its term, and eight incumbents who won reelection on Tuesday are running to lead the 51-member legislative body as its next speaker. It is an internal race influenced by county party affiliates, labor unions, Mayor Bill de Blasio, himself newly reelected, and others.

As the clock ticks on this term and the speakership of Melissa Mark-Viverito, a de Blasio ally who is term-limited out of office, a particular package of controversial legislation offers an especially delicate situation for Mark-Viverito, de Blasio, and the speaker candidates, most notably the one, Ritchie Torres, who is a prime sponsor of the bills.

Each of the eight speaker candidates -- Council Members Torres, Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Donovan Richards, Jimmy Van Bramer, Robert Cornegy, Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams -- is a co-sponsor on the two police reform bills, collectively called the Right to Know Act, which puts them at odds with the mayor, who has ardently opposed the legislation, and with Mark-Viverito, who has refused to allow it to come to a vote. Instead, Mark-Viverito and the NYPD announced an agreement on administrative changes whereby the police department agreed to implement pieces of the bills, but without the power of law.

As the Council readies for an expected end-of-term legislative blitz, supporters of the bills from inside and outside the Council are pushing for passage, potentially setting up the next speaker, the second-most powerful elected official in the city, to take office having already courted conflict with the mayor and potentially establishing a new dynamic between the heads of the executive and legislative branches of city government. It puts Torres in a particularly awkward position of having to possibly decide whether to buck advocates and co-sponsors or the mayor and the speaker and those members who would rather not have to vote on the measure.

De Blasio has yet to use a veto during his four years as mayor, with virtually every contentious piece of legislation either being negotiated to agreement between the mayor and the Council or scuttled.

The bills in question include Intro. 182, sponsored by Council Member Torres, putting him in unique position among the speaker candidates, which requires police officers to identify themselves during a street stop, and Intro. 541, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, mandating that officers inform individuals of their right to refuse consent to a search in cases that it is required and to provide audio or written proof if an individual consents to a search. Unsurprisingly, the legislation was met with strong resistance from the NYPD, whose leadership has often been critical of the City Council’s attempts to legislate its practices and believes the bills would hamper officers’ abilities to do their jobs.

In July last year, Mark-Viverito struck a compromise with the police department to implement certain provisions of the bills, foregoing a vote, despite the fact that the bills had and continue to have support from a majority of the Council. Police reform advocates were incensed by what they saw as a backroom deal and questioned the speaker’s willingness to stand up to de Blasio.

Six of the eight speaker candidates -- Johnson and Cornegy did not respond to requests for comment for this article -- said the speaker’s race would not affect their support for the Right to Know Act and that the legislation would likely not affect the speaker’s race. But they also agreed that any speaker must demonstrate their independence from the mayor, and supporting these police reforms can do just that.

“I can assure you that the speaker’s race has no bearing on how I will conduct myself on the subject of the Right to Know,” said Torres, in a phone interview. “One has nothing to do with the other.” Torres and Reynoso have held off on using a discharge through committee, a procedural tool that would allow them to bypass a committee vote and bring their bills directly to the floor of the Council, despite the urging of police reform advocacy groups such as Communities United for Police Reform (CPR).

“I never shy away from challenging authority but for me it’s more about finding the right solution,” Torres said, insisting that he would rather negotiate with the police department to amend the bills and get them passed. “There’s greater value in passing legislation with the buy-in of an agency than doing so in the face of hysterical opposition. In the end, if one side refuses to negotiate in good faith, then of course I reserve the right to discharge and I have no hesitation about exercising that right. But I will do so only when necessary.”

When asked if, in the context of Right to Know, Speaker Mark-Viverito had been sufficiently independent of the mayor and whether the next speaker should be more independent, Torres bluntly said, “‘No’ to your first question and ‘yes’ to your second question.”

The other speaker candidates, even as they stood for the virtues of the Right to Know Act, did not criticize Mark-Viverito, who has been noncommittal on whether the two bills are moving closer to a vote. She has insisted that the Council is continuing internal conversations with the bill sponsors and the NYPD, and that the body has been assessing the implementation of the administrative changes agreed to last year. “We have been in dialogue, very recent dialogue with advocates, with the police department, with the sponsors of the bill,” she said at a recent news conference. “There’s been a lot of conversation, so we’re still going through our process.”

Asked if she’d encourage Torres and Reynoso to exercise their prerogative to discharge the bills, she simply said, “We’re going through the process with those bills.”

When asked repeatedly at that press conference what specifically she and the Council were doing to monitor the administrative implementation, Mark-Viverito gave vague answers about ongoing conversations.

Politico New York reported last week that supporters of the bills are hoping to bring them to a vote by November 16, since a vote after that would leave insufficient time to override a veto by the mayor. Police reform groups have also called on the bill sponsors, Torres and Reynoso, to ensure passage or discharge the bills through committee by that deadline.

“Our primary concern with the [next] speaker is really making sure that they’re going to be a person who supports these reforms and future reforms and make sure that New Yorkers are having interactions with police that make sense and don’t violate their rights,” said Anthonine Pierre, deputy director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, a nonprofit that is a member of the Communities United for Police Reform coalition. Advocates have been supportive of Torres and Reynoso, but appear to be reaching a point of frustration.

As was the case with police reform advocates, many on the Council were disappointed by the speaker’s decision to strike a bargain with the NYPD in lieu of a legislative solution. But, besides Torres, most other speaker candidates defended Mark-Viverito’s record of being independent, while yet others spoke of how they would handle the speakership themselves.

Council Member Levine believes the bills will hardly play a role in the speaker race as he expects they’ll be resolved before the end of the year. “I believe that there will be a way for the bills to move forward with buy-in from the people that will be implementing it, the [police department], and that that will be settled before we have a new speaker,” he said in a phone interview.  

He defended Mark-Viverito’s leadership over the process involving the Right to Know. “I think she should be given credit for working very very hard on this issue, both on the policy and legislative front,” Levine said.

He emphasized that the Council has been independent of the mayor, pushing him on issues such as funding for 1,300 new police officers and free legal assistance in housing court, which he championed. And he noted that the speaker will be chosen only by the 51 members of the Council. “It’s just so important that the Council emerge as a totally independent body, a co-equal branch of government, and that’s definitely my vision for the speakership,” he said.

Council Member Rodriguez hopes to see movement on the bills but would only comment on “who I would be as speaker,” briefly mentioning that he would expand the oversight role of committee chairs. “The speaker should be a person that defends the independent voice of the Council,” he said.

Council Member Van Bramer said the speaker race “is an opportunity to elevate the conversation” around Right to Know, which he said should pass on its merits regardless of the race. He said he would move the bills to a vote, given he is elected speaker, if they do not pass this year. “I think that it’s really important that the speaker be a counter-balance to the mayor,” he said. “I think the body is looking for an independent and forceful speaker who’s gonna be able to represent the members and represent the interests of the members and I think I’ve demonstrated in the past that while we certainly work together, when I disagree with the mayor, I’m not afraid to disagree with the mayor and disagree strongly.”

Council Member Williams spoke briefly with Gotham Gazette at City Hall and only said that he was following the lead of the Right to Know sponsors. “I continue to support it, I hope it gets passed,” he said.

Council Member Richards said Right to Know is part of a criminal justice reform discussion that would continue over the next four years, no matter who becomes the Council’s leader. “You know even as Melissa leaves, as we continue to move forward over the next four years, this issue does not die,” he said. “The need for reform is gonna be something continuous.”

He also stressed that Right to Know has not languished because of a lack of independence either by the speaker or the Council. “I think it’s a question of trying to shape and get something done. And the Council has the ability to pass legislation whether the mayor supports it or not, but we also want to make sure that we’re doing it in a responsible fashion and we’re trying to reach a medium that is doable,” Richards said, “to make sure that, one, our community is getting the greatest benefit of transparency, but secondly also in a way that ensures that we’re not also going to harm officers’ ability to do their job as well.”

Council Member Rory Lancman, a vocal critic of the de Blasio administration on criminal justice issues, is also a co-sponsor of the Right to Know Act which, he said, “is a good lens through which to evaluate the speaker candidates,” and their ability to stand up to the mayor.

“The issue of are you for or against the Right to Know Act isn’t a factor in the speaker’s race because everybody’s for it,” he said. “What is an issue is whether or not you as a speaker will allow bills that make you or the administration uncomfortable come to the floor for a vote. That is an important test of the speaker candidates and I think it is the main issue that each speaker candidate has to address because philosophically, ideologically, substantively there’s not much of a difference among the eight of them in terms of what they stand for.”

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

Read more by this writer.

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The Right to Know Act and the City Council Speaker Race Wed, 08 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Bill de Blasio’s Police Accountability Problem http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6690:bill-de-blasio-s-police-accountability-problem http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6690:bill-de-blasio-s-police-accountability-problem de blasio nypd headquarters

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign account recently posted a Twitter message touting the NYPD’s neighborhood policing initiative. “New York City is proving to the rest of the country that respectful, compassionate neighborhood policing drives down crime & makes us safer,” the tweet from @BilldeBlasio read.

In a response symbolic of a problem de Blasio is facing as he heads into his re-election year, Lumumba Bandele tweeted his response to de Blasio: “You & #NYPD are in no position to talk about respect & compassion.” Bandele then cited the fact that the police officers who killed Ramarley Graham, an unarmed black teenager shot to death in 2012, and “others,” likely a reference including Eric Garner, are still employed by the city.

Bandele identifies himself on Twitter as an organizer, writer, producer, and professor from Bedford-Stuyvesant. His mention of Ramarley Graham came as there has been increased attention from police reform activists to pressure de Blasio to proceed with an NYPD trial for Officer Richard Haste and the others involved in Graham’s death. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill recently announced that such a trial was likely to begin in early 2017.

The new year, de Blasio’s fourth as mayor, is also expected to see movement regarding accountability for Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Garner’s 2014 death during an attempted arrest. A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in 2014, and the federal Department of Justice has been investigating his actions, which, according to de Blasio and the NYPD, has kept the city from moving ahead with any of its own disciplinary procedure.

As the mayor kicks off his re-election campaign, police reform activists, including some elected officials, are frustrated with de Blasio for what they see as a failure to live up to his 2013 promise as a police reformer, especially with regard to increasing accountability at the NYPD. While these two high-profile cases may soon see developments, advocates say that punishment for officers takes far too long and is far too soft, and that on holding officers accountable for inappropriate or illegal behavior, the mayor has done nothing systemic to change NYPD culture.

For his part, de Blasio argues that he has been the reformer he said he would be, that he has overseen major changes to policing in New York City while both crime and arrests have declined. De Blasio, a Democrat, has been battling perceptions that he is "anti-cop" and would be soft on crime since his 2013 campaign. While he has mostly assuaged the latter, the former persists in some corners, perhaps contibuting to a lack of action in addressing accountabiity, even as, on the other side of the equation, reformers believe he has not been tough enough on badly-behaving officers.

Some reform advocates do give de Blasio credit for following through on elements of his campaign rhetoric, which had a significant focus on policing as part of his larger call for greater equity. But, they are quick to note that de Blasio’s efforts have not extended into essential areas of transparency and accountability.

City Council Member Jumaane Williams and members of Communities United for Police Reform, for example, acknowledge that de Blasio has overseen certain tactical changes at the NYPD, like instituting a new training regime focused on de-escalation, continuing to reduce street stops, and a more lenient approach to marijuana arrests. But, they believe that it amounts to little if it is not accompanied by major changes to how police officers are dealt with when they abuse their power, especially around excessive use of force.

Real culture change, they say, requires both front- and back-end reform -- new training, strategies, and directives, as well as beefed up oversight and increased transparency and accountability. At the same time de Blasio has been criticized for doing little on officer accountability, after decades of doing so the NYPD stopped making public a weekly update on officer disciplinary actions, citing their realization that they had been violating a state law.

When de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill held an early December press conference to announce low crime in the city, Communities United put out a press release saying, “As Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill gave briefing on crime data from November, they continued to ignore alleged abuses and misconduct during month.” The release linked to more than two dozen news articles about alleged police abuses or a lack of transparency into the NYPD.

“There’s a lot of talk about building relationships and building trust between communities and police,” but “our position is, hold up, in order for us to have trust, we need greater accountability,” said Monifa Bandele, a vice president at Moms Rising, a national organization that in New York is part of Communities United for Police Reform. Bandele spoke with Gotham Gazette after CPR held a mid-December press conference calling for new measures to improve transparency and accountability in the NYPD. Police officers regularly violate people’s rights, she said, but “nothing seems to come of it.”

CPR and a majority of City Council members want to see the Right to Know Act passed. The legislation would require police officers to provide more information to people they are stopping on the street, including identification. Despite majority support, the Right to Know Act has stalled in the City Council because de Blasio does not support it, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has not allowed it to come to a vote, and other Council members have been unwilling to move it to a vote without the speaker’s blessing. Mark-Viverito did announce a compromise with the NYPD to institute elements of the legislation through NYPD training and the patrol guide.

Council Member Williams is one sponsor of the Right to Know Act, and while he wants to see more from de Blasio and the NYPD, he also says that there has been progress. In an interview, Williams said that there probably hasn’t been enough credit given to de Blasio for some of the change, but that that is a result of other failings.

“It’s very real that when it comes to transparency and accountability we’re no better than any other city in this nation and that’s a problem, we should be leading this effort,” Williams said.

“One of the best ways to change behaviors is to make sure people feel there’s accountability for that behavior,” said Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat. “So those are the type of things that I think people have yet to see and they’re very concerned about it and it’s what he campaigned on so I think people have an expectation to see it.”

Williams said he’s pleased about neighborhood policing, street stops continuing to decrease, and marijuana arrests being down, but that the city still needs to look at the racial breakdown, the percentages by demographic group, of some of the stops and arrest data. It is a sentiment echoed by leaders from Communities United for Police Reform, an umbrella group, as well as PROP, the Police Reform Organizing Project, which monitors arrest data and court proceedings. These activists say that it is good that a number of metrics are trending downward overall, but that disproportionate racial disparities persist on everything from street stops to summonses and arrests for all types of low-level crimes.

“I would love to hear a coherent answer on that,” Williams said when asked why he thinks de Blasio hasn’t been more aggressive on the transparency and accountability aspects of police reform.

Asked recently about the issue, de Blasio told WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer that he believes he’s lived up to his promises on policing and that disciplinary matters are done on a case-by-case basis.

“What did I say we were going to do? We were going to greatly decrease the use of stop-and-frisk. We did that. We were going to institute neighborhood policing. We’re doing that. We were going to stop the things that were causing a rift between police and community. For example, we stopped the arrest for low-level marijuana possession. You know, we are now doing an entirely different training regimen for our cops including de-escalation when there are encounters with civilians. We’re starting implicit bias training at the NYPD – a huge step forward for the largest police department in the country,” de Blasio said December 7 on WNYC.

The mayor continued: “I think folks who want reform should look at all that – all the things that they had said they wanted are actually happening. In terms of the disciplinary cases, each and every one of those is going to be seen through. As you know, the Garner case, right now, is in the hands of the U.S. Justice Department. When they finish their process, if they do not bring charges, there will be disciplinary action determined through the NYPD’s due process.”

“So, I don’t put those pieces together the same way that some critics do,” de Blasio said. “I think we have made steady progress on police reform.”

To support his point, de Blasio said that the city has “reinvigorated” the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a nominally independent agency that hears civilian complaints about the NYPD, holds hearings, and recommends punishments. Under de Blasio, complaints against police officers to the CCRB have dropped, something the mayor regularly cites. He mentioned it on WNYC earlier this month, while also bringing up the NYPD Inspector General, a position created through City Council legislation co-sponsored by Council Members Williams and Brad Lander, de Blasio’s successor in the City Council from Park Slope, and passed over the veto of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg (de Blasio was supportive of the legislation as public advocate at the time).

“We have so many elements of reform that some of these same advocates said, for years, would change everything,” de Blasio said on WNYC. “We’re doing it. And body cameras – in the course of this year, you’re going to see body cameras starting to be introduced on a large level in New York City. They will be expanded greatly from there.”

One problem that reformers point to in de Blasio’s argument is that the NYPD commissioner continues to possess discretion as to what extent he or she follows CCRB recommendations on officer punishment and that discretion almost always leads to a lesser penalty, often significantly so. Officers who use excessive force, for example, may be docked a few vacation days as opposed to being suspended without pay or worse. Advocates want “zero tolerance” for officers who violate the rights of civilians.

Citizens Union, a government reform organization, recently published a new set of recommendations for streamlining and improving police accountability, including changes to the process by which officers are disciplined. This was a follow up to a 2012 Citizens Union report that analyzed more than ten years of CCRB and NYPD data, raising significant questions about officer discipline -- it found that “The NYPD almost always did not follow CCRB recommendations to administer the most severe penalty despite the fact that the CCRB shows great discretion in accepting and investigating complaints against police officers.”

De Blasio, who has had a contentious relationship with the main union representing rank-and-file NYPD officers, has repeatedly deflected discussion of police accountability by focusing on the new training that officers are getting, arguing that it and other reforms are preventing bad actions by officers, and reducing negative interactions between officers and members of the public.

Along with tougher sanctions on officers who use excessive force or otherwise break protocol, Williams, CPR, and others want to see movement on the Right to Know Act and another bill, sponsored by Council Member Rory Lancman, to make police chokeholds illegal -- they are currently banned by NYPD policy, but critics say this has not deterred officers from using them, as seen in Garner’s death. (Even if made illegal, chokeholds, like any other use of force, would be allowable under law when an officer’s life is in danger.)

According to Monifa Bandele of Moms Rising, the Right to Know Act would build on the progress of the Community Safety Act. She said that children come home having had an interaction with police that they felt was unjustified or abusive, but can’t tell their parents who the officer was. “It’s hard to have accountability when you don’t know who you’ve interacted with,” she said, noting that adults often have the same issue. “Transparency, which is what the Right to Know Act is rooted in, is very key to get to accountability,” Bandele said, adding that officers seem to know that “there won’t be any consequences to violating the rights of New Yorkers.”

A spokesperson for de Blasio argued that “The mayor has delivered the farthest reaching criminal justice reforms of any mayor in the city’s history," but did not address questions around officer accountability and punishment for officers who violate rules and laws.

The de Blasio administration is currently being sued by Legal Aid Society and others over its refusal to release the discipline records of Officer Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s death. This, in combination with the change in policy around what had been a weekly posting of officer promotions and disciplinary action at NYPD headquarters has led to claims of backsliding on transparency and accountability.

“Without transparency about past disciplinary records when the CCRB finds an officer has committed misconduct, how can there be any real accountability?” asked Council Member Lander in a statement. “[I]f the NYPD can dismiss or downgrade the CCRB's charges secretly, and the public never knows about patterns of repeat offenders, how can communities be asked to trust the system? That’s why we are deeply distressed by the NYPD’s recent decision to suddenly reverse course on a decades-old practice of transparency, and why we’re joining the call today to release records pertaining to complaints against Officer Daniel Pantaleo.”

Pantaleo has been on modified duty since Garner’s death, but he continues to draw his NYPD salary, and was even found to be collecting significant overtime pay -- something that the NYPD quickly moved to address when Politico New York reported it. Overtime limits or not, modified duty is not enough for Pantaleo or other officers accused of wrongdoing, advocates for reform say.

Monifa Bandele said her teenage children are told the rules at school, but if they violate them, there are consequences. “Accountability is what we want from Bill de Blasio,” she said. “He’s done great things,” she added, noting universal pre-kindergarten and paid sick leave, “but what about policing -- this is an issue that Bill de Blasio ran on...it’s what separated him from the rest of the pack.”

It’s unclear at this point what “the pack” will look like as the mayor seeks re-election in 2017, but Bandele said “I don’t know” when asked if de Blasio has done enough good to warrant her support this time around. She indicated there’s still time for him to show real commitment to police reform by focusing on the transparency and accountability elements.

Congressional Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat, has been an outspoken critic of de Blasio and is talked about as a potential mayoral candidate, though he has said he is not planning to run. At a September press conference outside NYPD headquarters, Jeffries said, “The administration said to us that they would be transparent as it relates to the issue of the police and the tension with the community. Instead, they’ve retreated, and declined to provide information on rogue officers who don’t deserve to wear the blue uniform any further. The de Blasio administration promised the people of the City of New York that we would receive meaningful police reform and instead we’ve gotten more of the same. That is shameful. And we will no longer tolerate it.”

Public opinion polls consistently show de Blasio with strong support among African-Americans, especially relative to white New Yorkers. Asked about this and whether people of color should support de Blasio, Council Member Williams said, “Well I think none of our support should be taken for granted so I would tell my constituents ‘don’t give anybody your support without asking hard questions and having them respond.’”

As for whether he plans to back de Blasio (seven of Williams’ colleagues recently announced their endorsements of the mayor for re-election), Williams said, “He’s the person I supported before, I think I am inclined to still support him, but not without hearing a lot of answers on police reform issues and housing issues, these are really affecting my constituents because I think there are glaring problems in what we want to accomplish in this city and what’s been done.”

“There has been movement,” Williams added, making sure to acknowledge progress. “We said we were going to push wholesale, systematic differences and changes and I don’t think that’s come about and people have a right to hear, well, ‘why hasn’t it and what’s going to be different in the next campaign?’ So all i’m going to tell my constituents: let’s wait and hear what those answers are.”

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Monifa and Lumumba Bandele are married. Separately, this reporter noticed the Lumumba Bandele tweet mentioned in the beginning of the story and came across Monifa Bandele at the press conference mentioned, later confirming the relationship.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Bill de Blasio’s Police Accountability Problem Wed, 28 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Council to Hear Bill Mandating Publication of NYPD Patrol Guide http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6515:council-to-hear-bill-mandating-publication-of-nypd-patrol-guide http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6515:council-to-hear-bill-mandating-publication-of-nypd-patrol-guide Garodnick NYPD

City Council Member Garodnick, in NYPD hat, & colleagues (photo: William Alatriste)


A bill introduced by City Council Member Dan Garodnick to require the NYPD to publish its patrol guide online will be heard for the first time by the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety next week. The hearing, set for Thursday, September 15, follows shortly on the recent controversy over the Right to Know Act, a package of police reform legislation that Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito put on the backburner in favor of related changes the NYPD agreed to implement through training and its patrol guide.

The compromise struck between Mark-Viverito and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton upset some Council members and police reform activists, while also drawing renewed scrutiny to the NYPD patrol guide.

While Mark-Viverito has insisted the Right to Know Act bills are not off the table permanently and some call for Council members to push for their passage without her agreement to schedule a vote, Garodnick’s patrol guide bill is moving forward, and appears to have widespread support. After being heard in committee the bill can be amended and then voted through committee and the full Council - if it has enough support.

While police and government reform advocates alike call for more transparency around police officer conduct, publishing the patrol guide online may be one fairly simple measure that most, if not all, stakeholders can agree on.

The NYPD patrol guide lays out procedures and codes of conduct for police officers, including protocols for interactions with the public. Free but outdated versions of the guide are available online. In 2014, Shawn Musgrave, a reporter for MuckRock, obtained a copy through a Freedom of Information Law request, albeit after significant back and forth with the department. (Local writer and political organizer Keegan Stephan also posted the same version on his blog in April this year.) The current guide can also apparently be purchased online, at this officer uniform store and through this publisher, for between $55 and $70. Garodnick’s bill, introduced in March of 2015, would require the police department to make the full patrol guide available on their website free of cost, but would exclude portions on non-routine investigative techniques, confidential information or any information that would compromise an officer’s safety or that of the public. The police department would have to update the guide each time an amendment is made, clearly noting the changes along with their effective dates. The bill would go into effect 90 days after it is signed into law. 

“The Police Commissioner supports posting the Patrol Guide on the Department's website,” said an NYPD spokesperson in a statement to Gotham Gazette, also confirming that department personnel will testify at the Sept. 15 hearing. (Coincidentally, Bratton’s last day at the NYPD is set for Sept. 16; he announced his retirement earlier this summer. Bratton has often clashed with the Council on police reform and oversight.)

Garodnick called his bill an “important transparency initiative” for the police. “This bill will help build the trust that some feel is lacking between the police and communities,” he said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. “It will also add accountability because New Yorkers will be able to know what to expect in interactions with the police and be better equipped to speak up” if there are any violations, he said.

It will also help the police department, Garodnick said, in ensuring that the public understands the rules. Mark-Viverito appears to be backing the bill. “This is part of our continued push to reform the NYPD to make it more transparent,” said Eric Koch, spokesperson for the speaker, in a statement.

Publishing the patrol guide is unlikely to quiet those calling for passage of the Right to Know Act, but it would bring more light to the new directives being given to officers for carrying out street stops, among other updates that have recently been agreed upon, such as the use of civil summonses instead of criminal summonses or arrests for a variety of non-violent, low-level offenses.

Incoming Police Commissioner James O’Neill, who will take over the department when Bratton departs, has said he is fully supportive of the Right to Know compromise.

The legislation in the Right to Know Act would require police officers to identify themselves by name, rank, and command if a street stop does not result in an arrest and requires an officer to obtain consent to search a civilian, a vehicle or house and inform a civilian of their right to refuse consent for a search if there is no probable cause. The bills were strongly opposed by Bratton on behalf of the NYPD, and thus the de Blasio administration. Mark-Viverito did not agree to schedule a vote on the bills, which had a committee hearing on June 29, 2015.

Instead, Mark-Viverito struck an administrative compromise with Bratton to implement aspects of the two bills through department training and the patrol guide. In a recent interview with Gotham Gazette, Mark-Viverito defended the compromise as progress, explaining that the Council had moved the NYPD from its strong opposition toward middle ground. Police reform advocates have criticized the agreement, pointing out that the NYPD is particularly opaque when it comes to its patrol guide.

“Editing training and patrol guide language will never deliver real change on the ground to end the police abuses that the Right to Know Act would help end, and the Speaker’s deal to gut and seek delay of the reforms certainly will not,” said Anthonine Pierre, lead community organizer for Brooklyn Movement Center, in a statement.

Brooklyn Movement Center is a part of Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition. “Transparency is needed on a range of fronts with the NYPD and Council Member Garodnick’s efforts to advance that regarding the patrol guide are positive, but it’s troubling that this transparency bill was not provided with a hearing until public scrutiny of Speaker Mark-Viverito’s deal that lacks transparency and deficiently relies on the patrol guide,” Pierre said. There is no evidence that the hearing comes as a result of the Right to Know Act compromise.

Amid the criticism of the deal, Politico New York recently reported that the NYPD was speeding up its estimated timeline for implementing the compromise by six months. According to Politico, NYPD sergeants were to receive training on updated search protocols as early as August 26 and would relay that to officers in the next few weeks. A second “reinforcement” training was planned for September, with the department expecting the patrol guide to be updated by October 15.

At a recent news conference on the steps of City Hall, government reform group Citizens Union pointed to the lack of transparency with the patrol guide. The group released a set of proposals to improve police accountability; among them, making the patrol guide freely accessible to the public.

“I’m surprised that it even takes a law,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, a vocal proponent of police reform and a co-sponsor of the bill. “It seems obvious that it should be available to the public except in rare circumstances where that compromises public safety.”

Lancman said making the patrol guide public has been an issue for years, and not just since the Right to Know controversy. “One would have thought that de Blasio, on taking office, would have published it without needing to be forced through legislation three years into his term, to do so.”

Lancman expects the hearing to go smoothly and that the bill will receive overwhelming support. “There’s no reason the NYPD shouldn’t be transparent in this way,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

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Council to Hear Bill Mandating Publication of NYPD Patrol Guide Tue, 06 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Procedural Move Could Lead to Vote on Right to Know Act http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6478:procedural-move-could-lead-to-vote-on-right-to-know-act http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6478:procedural-move-could-lead-to-vote-on-right-to-know-act right to know protest city hall

A Right to Know Act rally


Last week, City Council Members Ritchie Torres and Antonio Reynoso sent out a joint statement in which they addressed the ramifications of the impending retirement of NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. “With the departure of William Bratton,” the statement reads, “we are reminded that administrative agreements are every bit as short-lived as commissioners themselves, coming and going in the moments we least expect.”

The Council members were referring to an agreement between Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Bratton on the police department internally implementing certain provisions of the Right to Know Act, a proposed package of bills regulating police officer conduct during street stops of civilians. The bills, sponsored by Torres and Reynoso, have majority support in the Council but the speaker chose not to give them a vote and instead struck a compromise with Bratton - one that his replacement, now Chief of Department Jimmy O’Neill has pledged to uphold. That deal didn’t sit well with Torres and Reynoso (or other reform advocates, both in and outside the Council) and the two vowed to move forward without the speaker’s blessing.

“As the sole legislature in New York City, ‎the City Council exists to hold agencies accountable through oversight and legislation,” the statement says. “Passing the Right to Know Act to advance accountability and transparency in policing, is an extension of what we were elected to do. ‎Let us honor the legislative role to which the public, through their votes, has assigned us – it’s beyond time for the Council to pass the Right to Know Act and we will seek to do just that without any further delay.”

For the two Right to Know Act bills to get a vote before the full Council, they would typically have to first be voted through the Committee on Public Safety, chaired by Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who is a co-sponsor on Torres’ bill. But committee hearings are scheduled by the Speaker’s Office, which can deny a hearing, and in this case is clearly opposed to these bills receiving a vote.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Torres and Reynoso have no options to push the bills through. Under the Council rules, a bill sponsor can get seven other members to co-sign a motion to discharge the bill from committee. That motion would have to be submitted to the Speaker and the relevant committee chair at least a week before a Stated Meeting of the full Council. The motion then gets voted on by the Council, and if passed with a simple majority, the bill then gets a vote at the next Stated.

Council Member Gibson said it was too soon to consider that tactic. "The conversation on the Right to Know Act is not over, so I think it's premature to talk about a vote without the Speaker's support that might fracture good working relationships in the Council,” she told Gotham Gazette in an email. “I respect the Speaker's decision and I look forward to continuing to work with her, the rest of my colleagues, and incoming Police Commissioner Chief O'Neill as we see these administrative changes come to fruition."

A spokesperson for Council Member Torres said that a discharge motion had not been filed as of Wednesday afternoon. Torres declined to provide any comment for this story. The Council’s next stated meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, August 16. After that, the next Stated is set for September 14.

Torres’ bill, Intro. 182, would require police officers to identify themselves by name, rank and command when a street stop does not end in an arrest. The bill has 33 sponsors. Reynoso’s bill, Intro. 541, requires officers to obtain consent when searching a person, vehicle or home and also to inform a person of their right to refuse consent. That bill has 28 sponsors.

The compromise between Mark-Viverito and Bratton incorporates certain aspects of the two bills, but not all. Under the agreement, the NYPD will make changes to its patrol guide, requiring officers to obtain a clear "yes" or "no" response after asking to conduct a consent search - meaning a search where there is no probable cause. Officers will also be required to give out business cards when they search a person, property, vehicle or home or at checkpoint stops and the search does not result in a punitive action.

Council Member Jumaane Williams, an ally on both Right to Know bills and an outspoken critic of the deal between the speaker and commissioner, said he was glad Torres and Reynoso had decided to forge ahead with the bills. “I’ll follow their leadership,” he told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. Williams agrees that the provisions of the bills need to be codified in law to be effective.

“The Speaker has said the legislative door isn’t closed,” he added, referring to Mark-Viverito’s pledge to re-evaluate as they see implementation of the administrative changes, which will include adjustments to the NYPD patrol guide and new training of officers. “Hopefully there’s some common ground that we can reach to move [the Right to Know Act] forward,” Williams said, adding that Bratton’s retirement provides an opportunity “to take a new look at where we are with this act.”

On Thursday, a number of prominent advocacy organizations that have been pushing the Right to Know Act and criticizing Mark-Viverito over her compromise with Bratton held a Twitter rally calling for passage of the two bills with the hashtag #RightToKnowAct. Leading the call was Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition group of dozens of nonprofits. Organizations that lent their voices to the effort on Twitter include the Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the New York Working Families Party, Justice League NYC, and Color of Change, among others.

So far, the speaker has not responded to the indications that Torres and Reynoso would seek a vote without her express approval. She has time and again reiterated that the agreement with Bratton is an effective reform measure and one that goes into effect faster than legislation could. “This is yet another set of critical police reforms that will continue to keep New Yorkers safe while also ensuring better interactions with the communities they serve,” the speaker said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “This agreement is about more than talk, it is about action. These reforms serve as a model for how we can work collaboratively to achieve lasting change.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Procedural Move Could Lead to Vote on Right to Know Act Thu, 11 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Working with The Next Police Commissioner http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6472:working-with-the-next-police-commissioner http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6472:working-with-the-next-police-commissioner williams king deblasio

City Council Member Jumaane Williams, the author (photo: Jeff Reed)


Given where we are in the policing discussion in this city and country, and the acknowledgement of how deeply systemic the problems lie, focusing on the departure or hiring of any one Commissioner has always simplified a complex problem. I have never known a time when people were not calling for the removal of an NYPD Commissioner as the solution to policing issues in our city.

It was right for many of us to express concerns when Commissioner Bill Bratton was chosen, given troublesome incidents in Boston, Los Angeles, and right here in New York City. It was also our duty to point out clearly and boldly when we thought he was not helping us steer the conversation in the right direction. Indeed, there were times when Commissioner Bratton showed contempt for the City Council's role in government. The Police Department is not an agency unto itself, free of the city’s legislative body. The Commissioner has also, at times, used language that ranged from insensitive to incendiary and dangerous.

Still, we would be wrong to say that no change has occurred during his tenure.

We can argue about what the changes that have occurred mean, how effective they are and will eventually be, but we cannot ignore them. While there are still issues with the percentage breakdown by race of who is getting stopped and arrested, there have been significant drops in stop-question-and-frisks and marijuana arrests. The Neighborhood Coordination Officers Program, while not true community policing, is a good attempt to move away from focusing on arrests and summonses. There have been legislative victories, collaborations, and of course, the retraining of the entire force -- all while pushing crime to historic lows.

It takes many partners to deal with public safety and NYPD has a crucial role.

With all that said, we are not where many of us thought we would be in 2016, particularly in the areas of trust and accountability. In these areas improvement has been slow, even stagnant. This is where the new Commissioner, James O'Neill, whom I've grown to view as an honest broker, can really focus on moving the ball forward. I congratulate him on his appointment and look forward to working with him.

Long-lasting change cannot happen until we tackle all of the socioeconomic and structural obstacles that poor, black, and brown communities face. Unemployment, inadequate housing, and an unsatisfactory education system are all problems that need interagency solutions. Police have a tough job, and we owe it to them and the community not to ask them to do jobs that they shouldn't be doing.

In addition, the City Council has a legislative responsibility to do its part. To that end I am disappointed to hear Chief O’Neill say he will support the current agreement around the Right to Know Act (RTKA) without creating law. The RTKA goes hand-in-hand with the new neighborhood policing model, as well as the Right to Record Act, which helps protect both police and community. Together, they are responsible, common sense laws that will promote transparency and accountability in the police department, with the RTKA proposals mirroring recommendations from the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. These pieces of legislation will also help repair the relationship between the department and black and brown communities.

While improved policing practices and common sense legislation are steps in the right direction, we cannot expect the troubles of the community to be fixed solely by police and lawmakers. If we are honest, the biggest improvement would be the complete acceptance that the responsibility for public safety cannot be left to police alone. This acknowledgement must be combined with concentrated funding for other resources that complement, match, or exceed investment in law enforcement.

I look forward to working with the new Commissioner on these ideas and others.

When asked about the future of policing in this city when Commissioner Bratton was appointed I said then that I was “cautiously optimistic.” As an elected leader, I make no apologies for remaining optimistic in the worst and best of times while fighting to do right. If asked again as Commissioner O’Neill is set to take over, my answer would be the same.

***
Jumaane D. Williams is a City Council member from Brooklyn and co-chair of the Council's Task Force to Combat Gun Violence. On Twitter @JumaaneWilliams.

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

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Working with The Next Police Commissioner Tue, 09 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Right to Know Act is Progress We Need Now http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6446:right-to-know-act-is-progress-we-need-now http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6446:right-to-know-act-is-progress-we-need-now Jason Salmon

The author, center


I’m lying awake at 4 a.m. wondering if our calls for justice will ever be answered. The evening before I was marching in midtown, protesting the tragic killing of Alton Sterling. It’s been 17 months since the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and two years since Eric Garner’s death by suffocation at the hands of police. Even with cell phone cameras making this deadly reality no longer something we can ignore, justice remains elusive.

Lying awake, scrolling through Instagram, I noticed a lot of people liking and re- posting a graphic that’s the focal piece of Beyonce’s redesigned website. The redesign is dedicated to the killing of black people by law enforcement in this country over the past two years. It provides a stark picture of our condition. It’s simple enough: a black background with all the names of the murdered typed in white. I looked for my childhood friend’s name. He was killed by Florida law enforcement around the same time as Eric Garner. Not a highly publicized case, so I thought it might have been overlooked. But no, there it was.

I couldn’t stop thinking about how parents feel when their sons and daughters are killed. The horrible grief family members endure. I felt sick. And why shouldn’t I? What if my own father stepped outside his home and didn’t return? Seeing all of this death, having our voices ignored and justice denied time after time, I felt truly demoralized in a way I had never before in my life.

Two years ago, protesting the Garner tragedy, I took part in my first civil disobedience action on the Upper West Side. Soon thereafter, I found myself engaged in community organizing with an organization called Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), searching for peaceful ways to effect positive transformation. I then became JFREJ’s representative to Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition made up of dozens of organizations working toward ending discriminatory policing practices in New York City and beyond.

My main focus and energy has been working to support the passage of The Right to Know Act. This is important legislation that reinforces Fourth Amendment rights on the ground and has the potential to improve relations between the police and communities of color. It’s composed of two bills: the “ID bill” requires an officer to identify him- or her-self when having an interaction with a civilian, and the “consent to search bill” requires officers to inform citizens of their right to withhold consent to be searched where probable cause is absent.

Passing and implementing this legislation would go a long way toward normalizing police-community relations in this city and will allow us to take a step toward the justice that communities of color so richly deserve.

Sadly, the City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, is currently unwilling to bring this groundbreaking legislation to the Council floor for a vote, even though a majority of the Council has signed on to both bills. Instead, she made a backroom deal with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton - the architect of discriminatory Broken Windows policing - and scrapped this bill in exchange for adding a watered-down version to the NYPD patrol guide.

The compromise eliminates any guarantee that individuals will be notified of their right to refuse a search when there is no legal basis for one and discards the requirement for officers to identify themselves in most instances, including when individuals are questioned without reasonable suspicion. This strips the teeth from what is outlined in The Right To Know Act and delivers none of the reforms that President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended.

The bottom line: we need The Right To Know Act to become law. We know from a long and painful past that administrative prohibitions or protocols do not serve as true agents of change. For more than twenty years chokeholds have been prohibited by the patrol guide, yet this did not stop officers from using that technique resulting in the killing of Anthony Baez in 1994 and, more recently, the killing of Eric Garner in 2014. Effective? I think not. There also happens to be legislation making police chokeholds illegal (except, of course, in life-threatening situations) that is opposed by Commissioner Bratton and has not moved through the City Council.

Would passage of the Right to Know Act be the cure to police brutality? No. More is needed. Education, training, strict enforcement of NYPD rules, and real accountability instead of mere lip service, would also go a long way to eliminating police violence against citizens.

It’s also true we may never be able to eradicate all racial bias, and that some people can’t be educated or trained to be different. However, enacting laws that genuinely require the police to respect black people through proper communication will, in the process, respect everyone’s life, including the lives of police officers. The Right to Know Act would be a positive step on that road to de-escalation and reconciliation.

Let’s demand the Right to Know Act be brought to the City Council floor for a vote. True democracy requires nothing less.

***
Jason Salmon is a community organizer for Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and owns Treehouse Recording Studios in Brooklyn. On Twitter @JasonASalmon.

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

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Right to Know Act is Progress We Need Now Wed, 20 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
40 Questions for New York Politics in 2016 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6060:40-questions-for-new-york-politics-in-2016 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6060:40-questions-for-new-york-politics-in-2016 bdb mmv lupo

photo: William Alatriste


Happy new year! As we jump right into 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares for his State of the State and budget address, Mayor Bill de Blasio works to improve his public approval ratings, and the two keep on feuding. There's a lot to look for in the new year, here are about 40 political questions we're asking as the year begins - if you want to share them, answer any, or let us know one we missed, tweet @GothamGazette:

  1. How will the Cuomo-de Blasio feud play out?
  2. Who's next for Preet Bharara?
  3. What will Albany do about preventing public corruption?
    1. Will the LLC loophole close?
    2. Will New York move forward on a public campaign finance system?
    3. Will there be agreement on pension forfeiture?
    4. Will further limits be placed on legislators' outside income?
    5. Will legislator salaries be raised?
    6. Does the budget process become more transparent?
  4. What kind of Assembly reforms will Speaker Carl Heastie allow in terms of the ways in which his legislative house conducts its business?
  5. How does the Governor's minimum wage push wind up?
  6. What happens with the 421-a tax break/affordable housing program?
  7. Will the de Blasio administration show significant progress in turning around struggling schools?
  8. What happens with mayoral control of city schools, as dictated by state policy?
  9. What do teacher evaluations look like next, as dictated by state policy?
  10. What's the future of the Common Core in New York?
  11. Does the opt-out movement continue to grow?
  12. How do the 2016 elections affect which party controls the state Senate?
    1. Who wins the special election for the seat previously held by Dean Skelos?
    2. Who wins other vacant state legislative seats, like that held by Sheldon Silver?
  13. Will de Blasio improve his relationship with Albany Democrats?
  14. Can de Blasio effectively reduce the street and shelter homeless populations?
  15. How will the city and the state approach the homelessness crisis together/separately?
  16. Will New York "raise the age" of criminal responsibility from 16 (to 17 or 18)?
  17. Will de Blasio successfully negotiate paid parental leave with the city's municipal unions after announcing he is offering it to nonunion city employees?
  18. Will the State move on a paid family leave program?
  19. Can Cuomo show more progress in his efforts to revive struggling city and regional economies?
  20. How do the mayor's rezoning proposals fare in the City Council?
  21. How does City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito differentiate herself from Bill de Blasio?
  22. Will the City Council move any bills that the mayor isn't behind - like the Right to Know Act?
    1. Will de Blasio use a veto for the first time as mayor?
  23. What's next for Mark-Viverito as she faces term-limits (at the end of 2017)?
  24. Can the Mayor keep making progress toward his affordable housing goals?
  25. What will city elected officials' compensation increases look like once the mayor and Council come to an agreement based on the compensation commission's recommendations?
    1. Will Council pay increases come with the elimination of lulus and other reforms?
  26. Who will replace Charlie Rangel in Congress?
  27. How does it go for the two new District Attorneys, in the Bronx and on Staten Island?
  28. Can the NYPD continue to drive crime down, reducing murders after a small rise, while also improving community relations?
  29. Will there be progress on Rikers Island?
  30. What steps will the City take to desegregate its schools?
  31. What does Bill de Blasio's cabinet look like after a deputy mayor is replaced and the homeless services department is reassessed?
    1. Will other top officials leave the administration?
  32. What will happen with Uber?
  33. Will the City pass a plastic bag fee?
  34. Is there a compromise on reducing Central Park carriage horses?
  35. Can de Blasio improve his public approval ratings?
  36. Does anyone formidable emerge to declare a challenge to de Blasio for 2017?
  37. What will Comptroller Scott Stringer's charter school audits look like?
    1. What other audits and reports come from Stringer's office?
  38. Will Public Advocate Tish James continue to use litigation against the city to seek change? If so, what suits?
  39. How are New York officials involved in the presidential race?
    1. How will de Blasio, Cuomo, Mark-Viverito and other city and state officials who have endorsed her be involved in Hillary Clinton's campaign?
    2. Who wins New York in the Democratic and Republican primaries?
  40. Who becomes the next President of the United States?

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

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40 Questions for New York Politics in 2016 Mon, 04 Jan 2016 01:15:12 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, June 29-July 2 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5795:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-june-29-july-2 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5795:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-june-29-july-2 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Thursday July 2 - our usual Friday feature a day early this week due to the holiday, enjoy:

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Council Member Corey Johnson celebrates at the Pride Parade, via William Alatriste

corey johnson pride jump

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. De Blasio Slams Cuomo, Leaves for Vacation: On Tuesday, June 30, Mayor de Blasio, First Lady Chirlane McCray, and children Chiara and Dante left for a vacation in the Southwestern and Western United States. They will be returning on Wednesday, July 8. Before leaving, de Blasio filmed an interview with NY1’s Errol Louis for Inside City Hall and then spoke with reporters in his City Hall office, in both instances heavily criticizing Governor Andrew Cuomo and expressing a great deal of frustration about the way the governor has acted toward the mayor and the policies that came out of Albany negotiations.

2. RGB Votes for a Rent Freeze: For the first time in its history the Rent Guidelines Board voted to freeze rents on about a million regulated apartments. On Monday, after four previous open meetings with public testimony, the Board voted 7-2 for freezing new or renewed one-year leases beginning October 1 while tenants signing two-year leases could pay up to a 2% increase. Tenants and their allies have celebrated the vote, which the mayor called "the right move" by board members he appoints. This comes on the heels of a deal to extend rent regulations in Albany that many tenants and their allies call inadequate.

3. NYPD Oversight Hearing: On Monday the City Council heard nine proposed NYPD-related bills, including the two that make up the “Right to Know Act.” The bills deal with police communication with civilians, officers’ use force, and more. “I wish to say respectfully, but firmly, that these are the purview of the police commissioner and the police department, and not of legislative control,” said Police Commissioner Bill Bratton at the hearing, expressing his opposition to the bills. The next night, key stakeholders met to discuss police accountability in an open forum.

4. Capping Uber: The City Council Committee on Transportation heard a controversial bill Tuesday that would require the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission to conduct a study on how the taxi and for-hire industries affect traffic, air quality, noise, and public health. The bill could put a cap on the number of for-hire vehicles. On the day of the hearing Uber, the most prominent of non-taxi for-hire vehicles offered free rides to anyone using the Uberpool carpool service to go to a protest against the bill at City Hall.

5. FBI Investigating Upstate Prison: The FBI launched an investigation into Clinton Correctional Facility, the prison Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped from earlier this month, related to possible corruption, including drug trafficking. The FBI investigation is said to have been started around looking into how Matt and Sweat broke out of the prison, but has expanded.

THIS WEEK'S NUMBER:

  • 13 Metro-North employees were brought into court Monday on charges that they had "cheated on the exams required to become a train conductor or locomotive engineer."

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

  • It was a good week for Maria Torres-Springer, who has been the Commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services, and is becoming President of the city's Economic Development Corporation, or EDC. Appointed by Mayor de Blasio, Torres-Springer will be the first female EDC chief.
  • It was bad week for old political friendship, as the feud between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo escalated, with de Blasio issuing scathing criticisms of Cuomo in the aftermath of the end of Albany’s legislative session. Mr. de Blasio declared that he has tried to work with Cuomo but has “been disappointed at every turn.” He also called the governor vindictive and said that he had lost his way in terms of his Democratic principles.

THE FLASH:

  • Two years ago, on July 3, 2013, then-mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner gave a campaign speech outside of City Hall, "A Big Apple Declaration of Independence from Albany." Number one on his ten-point list: permanent mayoral control of city schools.
  • This week in 1776, on July 4, the United States Declaration of Independence; 239 years ago.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

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NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

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by Erika Wang and Ben Max

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The Week That Was in New York Politics, June 29-July 2 Wed, 01 Jul 2015 18:17:30 +0000
In Changing District, Cumbo Continues Culture Crusade http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5660:in-changing-district-cumbo-continues-culture-crusade http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5660:in-changing-district-cumbo-continues-culture-crusade cumbo alatriste

Council Member Laurie Cumbo (photo: William Alatriste)


In one of Brooklyn's most rapidly changing districts, where brownstones sell for millions of dollars around the corner from deteriorating public housing complexes, Council Member Laurie Cumbo believes that arts and culture can be a unifying factor.

"The whole purpose of humanity is to create culture and to advance culture. So it can't be separated from all of the other priorities," Cumbo said during an interview in her legislative office. "If you're not creating culture there's very little purpose to life in a way."

This idea has motivated Cumbo for decades, but during her first year in the City Council she's had a bigger platform than ever before to help put it into action. Since taking office in January, 2014, Cumbo quickly established herself as a vocal member, in part as chair of the Women's Issues Committee. Having founded the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) and worked at several other city cultural institutions, Cumbo, 40, is now seen as one of the strongest arts supporters on the Council.

Last year, Cumbo contributed more than half of her capital budget to a larger $22 million investment in her district's cultural institutions by the de Blasio administration and other elected officials. Out of the more than $4 million that Cumbo spent, $1.4 million was for MoCADA. This move drew some charges of favoritism, though Cumbo said it was all part of a broader mission for her 35th Council District.

The district - comprised of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights, as well as parts of Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant - has seen some of the most rapid gentrification in the city.

"Brooklyn is a victim of its own success in the sense that we've become the hottest place on Earth and so as a result some 60,000 people want to move here every year," said Cumbo.

Dealing with these influxes has become one of Cumbo's toughest challenges. While excited about the new possibilities, she is also concerned about helping Brooklyn's longtime residents too. Recent comments at a Council hearing about the perception that "blocs" of new Asian residents were getting preference for NYCHA housing over local residents caused some controversy. Cumbo later apologized - not the first time she's had to so for similar racially-charged statements - and said that she "embraces" all new residents.

"She's really concerned about people not getting shut out in the prosperity that's happening in Brooklyn," said Aaron Zimmerman, a longtime colleague and executive director of the New York Writers Coalition.

With her district among those at the center of the city's changing landscape, and Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing plan set to create even more density, Cumbo has a formidable task. She has tried to strike a balance by helping fund new projects to encourage cultural tourism - such as the Brooklyn Academy of Music's expansion - while also moving money toward auditorium renovations and new technology for local schools.

Growing up in East Flatbush, Cumbo got an early appreciation of how the arts can give people a connection to life outside their neighborhoods. Her mother was an opera singer and worked at Lincoln Center, her father created mixed media art pieces, and her brother was a photographer who once had his own gallery in Tribeca. Interning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when she was 15 further inspired Cumbo to pursue her own artistic interests.

Later, Cumbo saw black artists underrepresented in Brooklyn and decided to change that by starting a new museum to feature their work and help educate the surrounding community. She wrote a proposal to found the museum for her master's thesis in Visual Arts Administration at NYU's Steinhardt School. In 1999, with limited funding from friends and family, MoCADA was born.

It started as a small operation in a Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone and eventually moved into a larger, more visible Fort Greene location in 2006. Over more than 12 years, with funding from elected officials and private foundations, Cumbo expanded MoCADA beyond its gallery space. The organization holds film festivals in parks, teaches art in schools, hosts cultural events at local community centers and more. She also displayed controversial pieces about subjects such as gentrification and police brutality, which sparked debate due to the museum receiving some city funding.

In 2008, the piece "The Blue Wall of Violence" by an artist who calls himself Dread Scott drew particular outrage. Target practice silhouettes and corresponding dates were posted on a wall to represent the specific deaths of unarmed men at the hands of police officers. Each silhouette held items - a set of keys, a candy bar, a squeegee - that police said they mistook for weapons in each incident. Underneath all of this lay a coffin with mechanized batons banging on it.

Some newspapers and police union officials denounced the piece, but Cumbo refused to take it down.

When asked by a reporter from community paper The Local in 2010 whether she intentionally chose provocative exhibits, Cumbo said she was responding to real life events.

"You can't have a man in the Bronx shot by police with 41 bullets and have an exhibition on quilt making," she said, in reference to the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo.

[Related: The City Council Definition of Women's Issues]

In 2012, Cumbo stepped down from her duties at MoCADA to run for now-Public Advocate Letitia James' council seat. Cumbo wouldn't elaborate on the specifics of her decision to run, but it's clear that she wanted a larger forum than MoCADA's gallery to share her ideas about Brooklyn's future.

She beat four challengers in the 2013 Democratic primary - winning 36 percent of the vote by a margin of almost 10 points - and ran unopposed in the general election to become the 35th District's newest representative.

There were questions about whether Cumbo would be ready to handle issues outside of the art world, but she said that wasn't a problem because of the connections she'd made from more than a decade of networking in Brooklyn.

"If you're in the art world, they feel like you're in this bubble that's disconnected from the rest of the world," said Cumbo. "But if you're doing your job right you're integrated in every aspect of society."

Some areas of her new job have come easier than others. Participating in a Council "die-in" inspired by a non-indictment in the Eric Garner case and co-sponsoring the "Right to Know Act" fall in line with Cumbo's past comments on policing. Her former and frequent comments against gentrification have made contentious discussions about upzoning in Crown Heights even more challenging.

cumbo williams twitterCMs Cumbo & Williams (photo: @JumaaneWilliams)

Overall, Cumbo claims to have had a successful first year. She passed her first bill, which will require annual reports on graduation rates of foster children to help track their success after high school. Cumbo also worked with other council members to allocate funds to anti-domestic violence programs and restore money for 57 NYCHA community centers during budget negotiations, she said.

Cumbo points to these community centers, and their extended summer hours, as a key part of reducing violence in NYCHA complexes. In what she said is an example of culture helping in unconventional ways, Cumbo and her staff spent multiple nights last year playing games, showing movies, and doing other activities at the Ingersoll Community Center. In December, Mayor de Blasio announced that crime at the Ingersoll Houses had dropped by 18 percent.

While Cumbo attributes some of that success to her efforts, she agrees that more funding is needed to continue improving her district's NYCHA buildings.

"You know, you have to make choices," she said. "You have to see things holistically in the sense that last year I had a strong focus on art and culture. This year I'm going to have a stronger focus on NYCHA developments."

Even with these new plans, Cumbo can't help but gravitate back to the art world. At the beginning of March, she hosted her first State of the District event at the Brooklyn Museum. Nearly 20 years ago she was an intern at the museum. Now she has the power to allocate hundreds of thousands of dollar to it.

On a snowy Sunday afternoon, nearly 100 people came to hear about Cumbo's first-year accomplishments and plans for the year ahead. Among the guests were Senator Charles Schumer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and other council members.

Amid jokes about her colorful fashion sense and attention to detail, Cumbo also received plenty of praise from her colleagues.

"Everyone said Laurie had some big shoes to fill. That's not true. Laurie had her own shoes," said Public Advocate James, Cumbo's predecessor. "Her shoes have been much higher and much fiercer than mine. So she has blazed her own trail."

Her cultural focus was also emphasized by a longtime colleague and mentor.

"The arts are so critical to our city, to our country, to our society," said Ella Weiss, president of the Brooklyn Arts Council. "We have to feed people, we have to house people, but we also have to nurture the soul."

Cumbo couldn't confirm future plans until her discretionary and capital funds are finalized in the city's Fiscal Year 2016 budget, but she gave a preview of what's on the agenda. MoCADA will be moving into the new "BAM South" tower, which is currently under construction, ensuring a permanent home for her creation. Other ideas range from a large-scale renovation of the Bedford Union Armory in Crown Heights to reopening the Walt Whitman Community Center to allowing women temporary leave after they give birth in prison.

Many of these ideas are ambitious, and will take plenty of time and money, but Cumbo is undeterred.

"All we can do is keep working in the right direction," she said. "If we can do it here in New York then it can happen anywhere."

[Related: The City Council Definition of Women's Issues]

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by Cole Rosengren, Gotham Gazette
@ColeRosengrenNY

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In Changing District, Cumbo Continues Culture Crusade Fri, 03 Apr 2015 20:41:00 +0000