Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/ritchie-torres 2018-11-19T13:43:49+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Questions Linger as Right to Know Act Goes Into Effect 2018-10-18T17:21:15+00:00 2018-10-18T17:21:15+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8004-questions-linger-as-right-to-know-act-goes-into-effect Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mayorsoffice-gradu.jpg" alt="mayorsoffice gradu" width="600" /></p> <p>(Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The Right to Know Act, a significant piece of police reform legislation passed by the City Council last December, is set to go into effect Friday and advocates who hoped it would transform street interactions between New Yorkers and police officers are worried that the NYPD may not fully comply with the new law.</p> <p>The Right to Know Act comprises two laws with requirements for how officers conduct themselves in street stops. The first, sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat, mandates that officers identify themselves when questioning individuals, provide a valid reason for doing so, and provide a business card with their name and rank to the individual. The second law, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, a Brooklyn Democrat, requires officers with no probable cause to obtain verbal consent before searching an individual or their property while informing people of their right to refuse a search. The police department will also have to compile and report data on the number of such encounters.</p> <p>Developed as a response to the NYPD’s controversial use of stop-and-frisk policing, the Right to Know legislation travelled a bumpy years-long road to passage. In 2016, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito refused to allow the bills to come to a vote and instead struck a deal with the NYPD to implement certain provisions administratively. The move was protested by criminal justice advocates who believed Mark-Viverito had kowtowed to opposition by the police department and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Then, in 2017, when the two bills were on the verge of being approved, Torres’ bill was amended in ways that police reform advocates said diluted and betrayed its original intent by removing certain categories of interactions from its jurisdiction. The CPR coalition pulled its support for that bill before it passed, as did some of the Council Members who co-sponsored it. Nonetheless, the enactment of the legislative package was mostly celebrated as a victory for criminal justice reform efforts in the city.</p> <p>Advocates and the bill sponsors have since been eagerly awaiting and preparing for the two laws to go into effect on Friday, though there have been questions raised about the NYPD’s readiness to change its ways -- concerns the NYPD is pushing back against, promising full compliance with the new laws and asserting its outreach efforts as “unprecedented.”</p> <p>“We’re gearing up to see how the NYPD implements the reforms mandated in the law,” said Michael Sisitzky, lead policy counsel in the advocacy department at the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a phone interview on Tuesday. NYCLU is a member of the Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) coalition, which spearheaded advocacy for the Right to Know bills for years. Sisitzky said his organization has been conducting internal education sessions about the two laws as they await its implementation.</p> <p>But he noted that the NYPD has failed to significantly engage with advocates or solicit enough community input on changing its policies to adhere to the laws, which was explicitly required by Reynoso’s bill.</p> <p>“That consultation didn’t happen in any meaningful way,” Sisitzky said. “The NYPD really decided to not follow the spirit and requirements of the law and consult with communities despite these communities being involved in this for the last five years.” He said it was a “missed opportunity” to reimagine policing tactics and that more so than other reforms related to greater reporting on enforcement or the creation of outside monitors, its success depends on how it is executed on the ground. “This was an easy chance for them to work with communities to create new policies,” he said.</p> <p>On Wednesday, Joo-Hyun Kang, director of CPR, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-right-to-know-act-obstruction-20181017-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the New York Daily News</a> that the coalition had only one meeting with the NYPD in September and that it’s recommendations were not taken into account in new guidance issued to officers. Drafted guidance in the NYPD patrol guide, which dictates officer conduct and protocols, that was seen by Kang seemed to fall short of the requirements in the law, the News reported, and Kang worried that officers were not being properly trained.</p> <p>Council Member Reynoso echoed the sentiments of the advocates. On Wednesday morning, Reynoso visited the offices of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which handles complaints of NYPD officer misconduct and abuse of power, to speak with more than 60 CCRB staffers about the Right to Know Act, what inspired it and how it will improve policing, particularly communities of color, where the overuse of stop-and-frisk was damaging to police-community relations and ruled unconstitutional by a judge.</p> <p>Emphasizing the need for the Right to Know Act, Reynoso recounted his own personal experience with stop-and-frisk from his high school days, when he and his cousins were abruptly stopped and searched by police officers as they walked down the street. “That experience was very life-changing for me. I felt like I lost all dignity,” he said.</p> <p>Speaking to reporters after the meeting, he noted that the NYPD should have been more collaborative as they prepare to adapt to the new laws. “I think the NYPD does want to follow through with the bills,” he said, while conceding that they have “done a very poor job” of communicating with reform advocates. “While I do believe that they haven’t done enough at this moment to engage communities the way they’re supposed to by law, moving forward I do feel comfortable that they’ll be able to engage,” he said. “But, because we’ve lost all this time, without communicating to the advocates, there are some things that they could have done better or might have overlooked that could have been addressed before implementation. Now we have to wait till after implementation to address a lot of these issues.”</p> <p>Reynoso stressed that the new laws would be a valuable tool in the pockets of public defenders and New Yorkers who feel that their civil rights have been violated, and that the department’s compliance would also be ensured by the full implementation of its body camera program. De Blasio announced in January that all patrol officers would be outfitted with cameras by the end of the year.</p> <p>There are concerns, however, about how closely officers will follow the new laws. “Unfortunately, the NYPD doesn’t have the best track record complying with legal mandates,” NYCLU’s Sisitzky said. The NYPD has in recent months come under fire for refusing to abide by a City Council law mandating disclosure of data on subway fare evasion arrests. And de Blasio has repeatedly chosen to defer to the department’s leadership, which cited public safety concerns, instead of ordering compliance.</p> <p>Asked if the NYPD could be trusted to follow the Right to Know, which the department fought, and if the mayor could be relied upon to enforce it, Reynoso seemed to harbor some doubts. “I absolutely believe that the mayor should be on the front lines...but the mayor has shown that he cares deeply about his relationship with the NYPD.” Even when certain pieces of police reform legislation are justified, Reynoso said, “[The mayor] would err on the side of the police [rather] than the people of the City of New York.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for the mayor did not respond to a request for comment. An NYPD spokesperson, asked about the concerns expressed by advocates, said in a statement, “The NYPD will fully comply with the Right to Know Act when it takes effect this Friday. As the Department developed its policies, it heard numerous recommendations from the advocacy community through discussions with the Federal Monitor. The Department also provided advocates unprecedented access to NYPD policies, forms, and trainings prior to the law taking effect. And the NYPD will of course continue to talk to advocates to fine tune the policy as it is implemented and we can assess what’s working and what might be improved.”</p> <p>Advocates and the City Council say they will be keeping an eagle eye on the police adherence. “The City Council is proud of its efforts in this area and we will be watching the roll out to ensure the Right To Know is being followed,” said Jennifer Fermino, City Council communications director, in a statement.</p> <p>On Thursday afternoon, the CPR coalition rallied with several City Council Members outside City Hall, celebrating the Right to Know Act but also airing their complaints about the NYPD's lacklustre engagement and promising to hold the department and the de Blasio administration accountable. "And, on Friday morning, Reynoso and members of the CCRB will hit the streets of Brooklyn and the Bronx to inform New Yorkers about their new rights under the Act.</p> <p>“I think [the new laws] offer New Yorkers a real sense of control and knowledge over their encounters with the police department,” said Jonathan Darche, CCRB executive director, in a phone interview. “And we’ve been working hard with the department in order to make sure that we’re on the same page with them about how they are training members of service so that we can hold members accountable to the standard that is being demanded of them by the department.”</p> <p>“I’m excited that it’s coming to fruition,” Council Member Torres said outside City Hall on Wednesday as he rushed to attend a Wednesday meeting of the full Council.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mayorsoffice-gradu.jpg" alt="mayorsoffice gradu" width="600" /></p> <p>(Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The Right to Know Act, a significant piece of police reform legislation passed by the City Council last December, is set to go into effect Friday and advocates who hoped it would transform street interactions between New Yorkers and police officers are worried that the NYPD may not fully comply with the new law.</p> <p>The Right to Know Act comprises two laws with requirements for how officers conduct themselves in street stops. The first, sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat, mandates that officers identify themselves when questioning individuals, provide a valid reason for doing so, and provide a business card with their name and rank to the individual. The second law, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, a Brooklyn Democrat, requires officers with no probable cause to obtain verbal consent before searching an individual or their property while informing people of their right to refuse a search. The police department will also have to compile and report data on the number of such encounters.</p> <p>Developed as a response to the NYPD’s controversial use of stop-and-frisk policing, the Right to Know legislation travelled a bumpy years-long road to passage. In 2016, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito refused to allow the bills to come to a vote and instead struck a deal with the NYPD to implement certain provisions administratively. The move was protested by criminal justice advocates who believed Mark-Viverito had kowtowed to opposition by the police department and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Then, in 2017, when the two bills were on the verge of being approved, Torres’ bill was amended in ways that police reform advocates said diluted and betrayed its original intent by removing certain categories of interactions from its jurisdiction. The CPR coalition pulled its support for that bill before it passed, as did some of the Council Members who co-sponsored it. Nonetheless, the enactment of the legislative package was mostly celebrated as a victory for criminal justice reform efforts in the city.</p> <p>Advocates and the bill sponsors have since been eagerly awaiting and preparing for the two laws to go into effect on Friday, though there have been questions raised about the NYPD’s readiness to change its ways -- concerns the NYPD is pushing back against, promising full compliance with the new laws and asserting its outreach efforts as “unprecedented.”</p> <p>“We’re gearing up to see how the NYPD implements the reforms mandated in the law,” said Michael Sisitzky, lead policy counsel in the advocacy department at the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a phone interview on Tuesday. NYCLU is a member of the Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) coalition, which spearheaded advocacy for the Right to Know bills for years. Sisitzky said his organization has been conducting internal education sessions about the two laws as they await its implementation.</p> <p>But he noted that the NYPD has failed to significantly engage with advocates or solicit enough community input on changing its policies to adhere to the laws, which was explicitly required by Reynoso’s bill.</p> <p>“That consultation didn’t happen in any meaningful way,” Sisitzky said. “The NYPD really decided to not follow the spirit and requirements of the law and consult with communities despite these communities being involved in this for the last five years.” He said it was a “missed opportunity” to reimagine policing tactics and that more so than other reforms related to greater reporting on enforcement or the creation of outside monitors, its success depends on how it is executed on the ground. “This was an easy chance for them to work with communities to create new policies,” he said.</p> <p>On Wednesday, Joo-Hyun Kang, director of CPR, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-right-to-know-act-obstruction-20181017-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the New York Daily News</a> that the coalition had only one meeting with the NYPD in September and that it’s recommendations were not taken into account in new guidance issued to officers. Drafted guidance in the NYPD patrol guide, which dictates officer conduct and protocols, that was seen by Kang seemed to fall short of the requirements in the law, the News reported, and Kang worried that officers were not being properly trained.</p> <p>Council Member Reynoso echoed the sentiments of the advocates. On Wednesday morning, Reynoso visited the offices of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which handles complaints of NYPD officer misconduct and abuse of power, to speak with more than 60 CCRB staffers about the Right to Know Act, what inspired it and how it will improve policing, particularly communities of color, where the overuse of stop-and-frisk was damaging to police-community relations and ruled unconstitutional by a judge.</p> <p>Emphasizing the need for the Right to Know Act, Reynoso recounted his own personal experience with stop-and-frisk from his high school days, when he and his cousins were abruptly stopped and searched by police officers as they walked down the street. “That experience was very life-changing for me. I felt like I lost all dignity,” he said.</p> <p>Speaking to reporters after the meeting, he noted that the NYPD should have been more collaborative as they prepare to adapt to the new laws. “I think the NYPD does want to follow through with the bills,” he said, while conceding that they have “done a very poor job” of communicating with reform advocates. “While I do believe that they haven’t done enough at this moment to engage communities the way they’re supposed to by law, moving forward I do feel comfortable that they’ll be able to engage,” he said. “But, because we’ve lost all this time, without communicating to the advocates, there are some things that they could have done better or might have overlooked that could have been addressed before implementation. Now we have to wait till after implementation to address a lot of these issues.”</p> <p>Reynoso stressed that the new laws would be a valuable tool in the pockets of public defenders and New Yorkers who feel that their civil rights have been violated, and that the department’s compliance would also be ensured by the full implementation of its body camera program. De Blasio announced in January that all patrol officers would be outfitted with cameras by the end of the year.</p> <p>There are concerns, however, about how closely officers will follow the new laws. “Unfortunately, the NYPD doesn’t have the best track record complying with legal mandates,” NYCLU’s Sisitzky said. The NYPD has in recent months come under fire for refusing to abide by a City Council law mandating disclosure of data on subway fare evasion arrests. And de Blasio has repeatedly chosen to defer to the department’s leadership, which cited public safety concerns, instead of ordering compliance.</p> <p>Asked if the NYPD could be trusted to follow the Right to Know, which the department fought, and if the mayor could be relied upon to enforce it, Reynoso seemed to harbor some doubts. “I absolutely believe that the mayor should be on the front lines...but the mayor has shown that he cares deeply about his relationship with the NYPD.” Even when certain pieces of police reform legislation are justified, Reynoso said, “[The mayor] would err on the side of the police [rather] than the people of the City of New York.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for the mayor did not respond to a request for comment. An NYPD spokesperson, asked about the concerns expressed by advocates, said in a statement, “The NYPD will fully comply with the Right to Know Act when it takes effect this Friday. As the Department developed its policies, it heard numerous recommendations from the advocacy community through discussions with the Federal Monitor. The Department also provided advocates unprecedented access to NYPD policies, forms, and trainings prior to the law taking effect. And the NYPD will of course continue to talk to advocates to fine tune the policy as it is implemented and we can assess what’s working and what might be improved.”</p> <p>Advocates and the City Council say they will be keeping an eagle eye on the police adherence. “The City Council is proud of its efforts in this area and we will be watching the roll out to ensure the Right To Know is being followed,” said Jennifer Fermino, City Council communications director, in a statement.</p> <p>On Thursday afternoon, the CPR coalition rallied with several City Council Members outside City Hall, celebrating the Right to Know Act but also airing their complaints about the NYPD's lacklustre engagement and promising to hold the department and the de Blasio administration accountable. "And, on Friday morning, Reynoso and members of the CCRB will hit the streets of Brooklyn and the Bronx to inform New Yorkers about their new rights under the Act.</p> <p>“I think [the new laws] offer New Yorkers a real sense of control and knowledge over their encounters with the police department,” said Jonathan Darche, CCRB executive director, in a phone interview. “And we’ve been working hard with the department in order to make sure that we’re on the same page with them about how they are training members of service so that we can hold members accountable to the standard that is being demanded of them by the department.”</p> <p>“I’m excited that it’s coming to fruition,” Council Member Torres said outside City Hall on Wednesday as he rushed to attend a Wednesday meeting of the full Council.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
At Brooklyn Town Hall, Angry NYCHA Residents Told to Vote as a Bloc 2018-10-04T04:00:00+00:00 2018-10-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7978-at-brooklyn-town-hall-angry-nycha-residents-told-to-vote-as-a-bloc Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/superstorm-sandy-aftermath.jpg" alt="superstorm sandy aftermath" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo via&nbsp;NYCHA)</p> <hr /> <p>The myriad issues plaguing the New York City Housing Authority came to the fore at a town hall on Wednesday night, with NYCHA residents excoriating public officials and officials scrambling to respond.</p> <p>The town hall, hosted by BRIC TV at its downtown Brooklyn studio, featured an audience mainly consisting of NYCHA residents and a panel of City Council Members Alicka Ampry-Samuel and Ritchie Torres, NYCHA tenant leader Lisa Kenner, New York Daily News reporter Greg Smith, and NYCHA historian Nicholas Dagen Bloom, along with a short pre-recorded interview with city Comptroller Scott Stringer. The event was moderated by BRIC’s Brian Vines.</p> <p>The issues affecting NYCHA, including but not limited to an alleged cover-up relating to lead paint in apartments, approximately $32 billion in unmet capital needs, and a lack of transparency in management have hung low over the de Blasio administration for the past year. The city, beginning in the Bloomberg Administration, was revealed to have falsified documents submitted to the federal government relating to lead paint inspections in apartments, setting off an additionally intensified period of controversy beyond what was already been a mountain of challenges and persistent struggles for the authority to provide adequate housing and find the revenue needed to upgrade its deteriorating housing stock, which includes roughly 180,000 units across the city, home to about 400,000 New Yorkers.</p> <p>The Daily News <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-metro-nycha-lead-20180621-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported in June</a> that the de Blasio administration had used a blood-lead level benchmark significantly higher than the federal standard, resulting in only 19 children living in NYCHA being identified as having elevated lead levels; by the federal standards, 820 children in NYCHA had elevated levels, a number <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-metro-nycha-lead-poisoned-kids-20180830-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">revised to over 1,100 in August</a>. And last winter, hundreds of thousands of NYCHA residents were left without working heat and hot water because of defective boilers in critical need of repair.</p> <p>A federal consent decree, which has yet to be formalized by a judge, would have New York City spend $2 billion on critical repairs and appoint a federal monitor to oversee the ailing Housing Authority. The judge has yet to name a monitor. In practice, the deadline has been extended twice by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, first from July 11 to September 12, and then from September 12 to whatever date the judge formalizes the consent decree.</p> <p>When tenants testified in court about NYCHA conditions on September 26, the judge, William Pauley, expressed <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/26/nyregion/housing-authority-nyc-monitor.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">shock</a> at their stories, and has been hesitant to approve the consent decree without changes.</p> <p>Several speakers had been personally affected by the lead paint scandal, with their children facing the possibility of lifelong repercussions as a result of the lead-infested apartments they spent their formative years in.</p> <p>“Y’all exposed them to lead dust and continue to disrespect me and violate me,” said Lynone Faison, a resident of the Ingersoll Houses in Fort Greene whose child was exposed to lead. Faison said she would prefer living on the street to living in her apartment, but was refraining from doing so because she was worried that ACS would take her children.</p> <p>“I’m not going to let you just keep walking all over us. I look at you two,” she said, referring to Ampry-Samuel and Torres, the elected officials on the panel, “I’m telling you snakes, you all need to be fired. You all need to be fired. I’m sorry, but you need to be fired, you’re not helping me.”</p> <p>Another woman, a former resident of the Al Smith Houses on the Lower East Side, detailed how her son had been exposed to lead during her pregnancy; she left NYCHA after giving birth, when the woman she and her husband had been caring for passed away and the city evicted them. She also referenced the stark inequality that has been spotlighted in the development’s vicinity.</p> <p>“Our children are seeing these rapid changes happening in the world, and they are being told that they are not part of it,” she said. “So we want to ask questions, you know, we want to ask questions. When will our children be part of it? If these developments are happening -- within months, they’re renovating houses. I mean, what on earth, months it takes to renovate a house, but years and years of lead poisoning [in NYCHA]. I mean, this is a genocide here.”</p> <p>Ampry-Samuel is the current chair of the Public Housing Committee, and Torres is a former chair of that committee and the current chair of the Oversight Committee, which has looked into NYCHA and helped reveal some of the recent issues that have come to light. Both grew up in NYCHA housing, Ampry-Samuel in Brownsville and Torres in Throggs Neck, and relayed their experiences in public housing frequently throughout the hearing.</p> <p>“I don’t believe or have faith that anyone cares about us at all,” Ampry-Samuel told the woman from Al Smith Houses. “As an elected official, it’s difficult, but I can speak my truth and I can speak what I’ve seen because I’m not worried about my next election. I’m not worried about the next office that I’m gonna run for because I’m just worried about how I’m gonna, in a sense, protect the people, protect my people. And when I look at the mayor’s housing plan, and I look at all these infill deals, at no point at all do they take into consideration the NYCHA voice.”</p> <p>Infill is the controversial process by which the city is allowing private development on NYCHA land to create new housing, some of it affordable, as well as new revenue for NYCHA.</p> <p>Despite their ties to NYCHA and efforts to provide oversight, the politicians in the room were heavily criticized as detached from conditions on the ground, taking home a $150,000 salary, and being funded by real estate interests. Questioners repeatedly expressed derision at the panelists not answering their questions, even those on the panel who are not politicians. The frustration of the NYCHA residents characterized the mood of the event.</p> <p>“How do they get to go forward with RAD or infill when they’re under a federal investigation,” asked Karen Blondell, a resident of Red Hook Houses since 1982. RAD refers to Rental Assistance Demonstration, an Obama-era program that privatizes building management and changes ownership of the property to a public-private partnership, with funding coming from Section 8 vouchers rather than Section 9 public housing subsidies. One complex, the Ocean Bay Apartments in Rockaway, has undergone full RAD conversion. Initial results have appeared somewhat promising in the city, and elected officials have praised the use of the program, though many residents are worried that the program is de facto privatization of public housing.</p> <p>Ampry-Samuel has been supportive of the RAD program in the past and has sided with the de Blasio administration on its expansion. However, she agreed with Blondell that critical repairs must be made the top priority of the authority.</p> <p>“I don’t think NYCHA should move forward with anything right now,” Ampry-Samuel said of major new programs, “because there’s questionable management, there’s questionable dealings, and if there’s any kind of investigation happening right now, if Judge Pauley is reviewing the consent decree, I don’t think they should be moving forward. What they can be doing is just making sure that they’re fixing the heat and hot water systems right now that are happening as we’re going into the heating season, and they can make sure they’re going into the apartments doing what they’re supposed to be doing with the lead abatements.”</p> <p>Blondell replied that her apartment underwent a long-awaited lead inspection last week, but the “industrial hygienist” who showed up for the inspection was armed only with a flashlight.</p> <p>“Come on now, come on, I could do better testing by sending away for a kit to the EPA,” she said.</p> <p>In response, Torres signaled his critiques of the consent decree.</p> <p>“There’s no evidence that more monitoring is going to improve public housing,” Torres said. “We’ve had a monitor for mold for five years, and we’re no closer to remediating mold in public housing.” A vocal critic of the mayor and his housing policies in particular, Torres said at the town hall that affordable housing under the mayor’s plans are not actually affordable for the people they’re intended for -- some have called for incorporating NYCHA into the larger city affordable housing plan so that it gets more attention and is more clearly approached as part of a valuable stock of rent-regulated apartments, or for at least <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7240-pushing-new-affordable-housing-plan-activists-plan-massive-city-hall-rally" target="_blank" rel="noopener">more closely aligning</a> affordable housing and NYCHA plans.</p> <p>There have been ample calls for prosecutions of NYCHA officials involved in the lead scandal. Though NYCHA is under federal investigation and its offices have been raided by authorities, prosecutors have not announced any charges.</p> <p>“When we as residents had to deal with zero tolerance from the Clinton administration to present time, how is it okay for NYCHA to have falsified, fraudulently reported about lead, mold, and everything else, and no one’s being criminally charged,” Blondel asked. Smith noted in response that an active criminal investigation into NYCHA is currently taking place to look into fraudulent lead paint filings.</p> <p>One woman, a former tenants association president at Washington Houses in East Harlem, referred to tenants association leaders as “crooks.”</p> <p>“That tenant participation activity money that was meant to be spent for us in these developments to create programs and things for our families and so forth, that’s HUD money, we don’t even know what’s happening with it. We was promised there was gonna be a hearing, that ain’t happened yet,” she said.</p> <p>Kenner, the tenant leader, spoke in defense of tenants associations.</p> <p>“As president, you do not get paid, you know, it’s a thankless job,” Kenner said. “But you live where you live, and you want better for your people and yourself.”</p> <p>The woman from Washington Houses vociferously criticized the city government and the Council members, and advocated for direct action against the city as a means of securing tenants’ rights.</p> <p>“The only way we’re gonna get justice is by shutting 250 Broadway down,” she said in reference to where main NYCHA and City Council offices are located.</p> <p>Smith made a similar call later in the program, saying that the hundreds of thousands of NYCHA residents should vote as a bloc.</p> <p>“If NYCHA residents, there are 400,000 people who live in New York City housing. So if you have an organized effort to vote with one voice, you will have a voice that people will actually listen to,” Smith said. This message received a mixed response in the room, and Vines reiterated a point made earlier about how NYCHA residents did not have monolithic thoughts on all issues.</p> <p>“NYCHA is not a monolith,” Vines said. “We’re not all of the same mind on everything. Is it going to take those 400,000-plus residents of NYCHA to become single-issue voters, regardless of what your politics may be, if your home comes first? Is that really a viable answer?”</p> <p>To that question, Torres responded in the affirmative and endorsed Smith’s proposal.</p> <p>“Of course,” Torres said. “What’s more important than your home? I mean, if the political leadership of the city has no regard for your basic living conditions, are refusing to provide you heat or hot water, or protect you from lead poisoning, or lying to you repeatedly, of course you should hold them accountable. And if I have a constituent who’s living in disrepair, I have an obligation to make sure they get their repairs. Of course I do. You should hold us accountable.”</p> <p><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RBbnu-tKZU" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Watch the full BRIC TV NYCHA town hall</a></p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/superstorm-sandy-aftermath.jpg" alt="superstorm sandy aftermath" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo via&nbsp;NYCHA)</p> <hr /> <p>The myriad issues plaguing the New York City Housing Authority came to the fore at a town hall on Wednesday night, with NYCHA residents excoriating public officials and officials scrambling to respond.</p> <p>The town hall, hosted by BRIC TV at its downtown Brooklyn studio, featured an audience mainly consisting of NYCHA residents and a panel of City Council Members Alicka Ampry-Samuel and Ritchie Torres, NYCHA tenant leader Lisa Kenner, New York Daily News reporter Greg Smith, and NYCHA historian Nicholas Dagen Bloom, along with a short pre-recorded interview with city Comptroller Scott Stringer. The event was moderated by BRIC’s Brian Vines.</p> <p>The issues affecting NYCHA, including but not limited to an alleged cover-up relating to lead paint in apartments, approximately $32 billion in unmet capital needs, and a lack of transparency in management have hung low over the de Blasio administration for the past year. The city, beginning in the Bloomberg Administration, was revealed to have falsified documents submitted to the federal government relating to lead paint inspections in apartments, setting off an additionally intensified period of controversy beyond what was already been a mountain of challenges and persistent struggles for the authority to provide adequate housing and find the revenue needed to upgrade its deteriorating housing stock, which includes roughly 180,000 units across the city, home to about 400,000 New Yorkers.</p> <p>The Daily News <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-metro-nycha-lead-20180621-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported in June</a> that the de Blasio administration had used a blood-lead level benchmark significantly higher than the federal standard, resulting in only 19 children living in NYCHA being identified as having elevated lead levels; by the federal standards, 820 children in NYCHA had elevated levels, a number <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-metro-nycha-lead-poisoned-kids-20180830-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">revised to over 1,100 in August</a>. And last winter, hundreds of thousands of NYCHA residents were left without working heat and hot water because of defective boilers in critical need of repair.</p> <p>A federal consent decree, which has yet to be formalized by a judge, would have New York City spend $2 billion on critical repairs and appoint a federal monitor to oversee the ailing Housing Authority. The judge has yet to name a monitor. In practice, the deadline has been extended twice by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, first from July 11 to September 12, and then from September 12 to whatever date the judge formalizes the consent decree.</p> <p>When tenants testified in court about NYCHA conditions on September 26, the judge, William Pauley, expressed <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/26/nyregion/housing-authority-nyc-monitor.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">shock</a> at their stories, and has been hesitant to approve the consent decree without changes.</p> <p>Several speakers had been personally affected by the lead paint scandal, with their children facing the possibility of lifelong repercussions as a result of the lead-infested apartments they spent their formative years in.</p> <p>“Y’all exposed them to lead dust and continue to disrespect me and violate me,” said Lynone Faison, a resident of the Ingersoll Houses in Fort Greene whose child was exposed to lead. Faison said she would prefer living on the street to living in her apartment, but was refraining from doing so because she was worried that ACS would take her children.</p> <p>“I’m not going to let you just keep walking all over us. I look at you two,” she said, referring to Ampry-Samuel and Torres, the elected officials on the panel, “I’m telling you snakes, you all need to be fired. You all need to be fired. I’m sorry, but you need to be fired, you’re not helping me.”</p> <p>Another woman, a former resident of the Al Smith Houses on the Lower East Side, detailed how her son had been exposed to lead during her pregnancy; she left NYCHA after giving birth, when the woman she and her husband had been caring for passed away and the city evicted them. She also referenced the stark inequality that has been spotlighted in the development’s vicinity.</p> <p>“Our children are seeing these rapid changes happening in the world, and they are being told that they are not part of it,” she said. “So we want to ask questions, you know, we want to ask questions. When will our children be part of it? If these developments are happening -- within months, they’re renovating houses. I mean, what on earth, months it takes to renovate a house, but years and years of lead poisoning [in NYCHA]. I mean, this is a genocide here.”</p> <p>Ampry-Samuel is the current chair of the Public Housing Committee, and Torres is a former chair of that committee and the current chair of the Oversight Committee, which has looked into NYCHA and helped reveal some of the recent issues that have come to light. Both grew up in NYCHA housing, Ampry-Samuel in Brownsville and Torres in Throggs Neck, and relayed their experiences in public housing frequently throughout the hearing.</p> <p>“I don’t believe or have faith that anyone cares about us at all,” Ampry-Samuel told the woman from Al Smith Houses. “As an elected official, it’s difficult, but I can speak my truth and I can speak what I’ve seen because I’m not worried about my next election. I’m not worried about the next office that I’m gonna run for because I’m just worried about how I’m gonna, in a sense, protect the people, protect my people. And when I look at the mayor’s housing plan, and I look at all these infill deals, at no point at all do they take into consideration the NYCHA voice.”</p> <p>Infill is the controversial process by which the city is allowing private development on NYCHA land to create new housing, some of it affordable, as well as new revenue for NYCHA.</p> <p>Despite their ties to NYCHA and efforts to provide oversight, the politicians in the room were heavily criticized as detached from conditions on the ground, taking home a $150,000 salary, and being funded by real estate interests. Questioners repeatedly expressed derision at the panelists not answering their questions, even those on the panel who are not politicians. The frustration of the NYCHA residents characterized the mood of the event.</p> <p>“How do they get to go forward with RAD or infill when they’re under a federal investigation,” asked Karen Blondell, a resident of Red Hook Houses since 1982. RAD refers to Rental Assistance Demonstration, an Obama-era program that privatizes building management and changes ownership of the property to a public-private partnership, with funding coming from Section 8 vouchers rather than Section 9 public housing subsidies. One complex, the Ocean Bay Apartments in Rockaway, has undergone full RAD conversion. Initial results have appeared somewhat promising in the city, and elected officials have praised the use of the program, though many residents are worried that the program is de facto privatization of public housing.</p> <p>Ampry-Samuel has been supportive of the RAD program in the past and has sided with the de Blasio administration on its expansion. However, she agreed with Blondell that critical repairs must be made the top priority of the authority.</p> <p>“I don’t think NYCHA should move forward with anything right now,” Ampry-Samuel said of major new programs, “because there’s questionable management, there’s questionable dealings, and if there’s any kind of investigation happening right now, if Judge Pauley is reviewing the consent decree, I don’t think they should be moving forward. What they can be doing is just making sure that they’re fixing the heat and hot water systems right now that are happening as we’re going into the heating season, and they can make sure they’re going into the apartments doing what they’re supposed to be doing with the lead abatements.”</p> <p>Blondell replied that her apartment underwent a long-awaited lead inspection last week, but the “industrial hygienist” who showed up for the inspection was armed only with a flashlight.</p> <p>“Come on now, come on, I could do better testing by sending away for a kit to the EPA,” she said.</p> <p>In response, Torres signaled his critiques of the consent decree.</p> <p>“There’s no evidence that more monitoring is going to improve public housing,” Torres said. “We’ve had a monitor for mold for five years, and we’re no closer to remediating mold in public housing.” A vocal critic of the mayor and his housing policies in particular, Torres said at the town hall that affordable housing under the mayor’s plans are not actually affordable for the people they’re intended for -- some have called for incorporating NYCHA into the larger city affordable housing plan so that it gets more attention and is more clearly approached as part of a valuable stock of rent-regulated apartments, or for at least <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7240-pushing-new-affordable-housing-plan-activists-plan-massive-city-hall-rally" target="_blank" rel="noopener">more closely aligning</a> affordable housing and NYCHA plans.</p> <p>There have been ample calls for prosecutions of NYCHA officials involved in the lead scandal. Though NYCHA is under federal investigation and its offices have been raided by authorities, prosecutors have not announced any charges.</p> <p>“When we as residents had to deal with zero tolerance from the Clinton administration to present time, how is it okay for NYCHA to have falsified, fraudulently reported about lead, mold, and everything else, and no one’s being criminally charged,” Blondel asked. Smith noted in response that an active criminal investigation into NYCHA is currently taking place to look into fraudulent lead paint filings.</p> <p>One woman, a former tenants association president at Washington Houses in East Harlem, referred to tenants association leaders as “crooks.”</p> <p>“That tenant participation activity money that was meant to be spent for us in these developments to create programs and things for our families and so forth, that’s HUD money, we don’t even know what’s happening with it. We was promised there was gonna be a hearing, that ain’t happened yet,” she said.</p> <p>Kenner, the tenant leader, spoke in defense of tenants associations.</p> <p>“As president, you do not get paid, you know, it’s a thankless job,” Kenner said. “But you live where you live, and you want better for your people and yourself.”</p> <p>The woman from Washington Houses vociferously criticized the city government and the Council members, and advocated for direct action against the city as a means of securing tenants’ rights.</p> <p>“The only way we’re gonna get justice is by shutting 250 Broadway down,” she said in reference to where main NYCHA and City Council offices are located.</p> <p>Smith made a similar call later in the program, saying that the hundreds of thousands of NYCHA residents should vote as a bloc.</p> <p>“If NYCHA residents, there are 400,000 people who live in New York City housing. So if you have an organized effort to vote with one voice, you will have a voice that people will actually listen to,” Smith said. This message received a mixed response in the room, and Vines reiterated a point made earlier about how NYCHA residents did not have monolithic thoughts on all issues.</p> <p>“NYCHA is not a monolith,” Vines said. “We’re not all of the same mind on everything. Is it going to take those 400,000-plus residents of NYCHA to become single-issue voters, regardless of what your politics may be, if your home comes first? Is that really a viable answer?”</p> <p>To that question, Torres responded in the affirmative and endorsed Smith’s proposal.</p> <p>“Of course,” Torres said. “What’s more important than your home? I mean, if the political leadership of the city has no regard for your basic living conditions, are refusing to provide you heat or hot water, or protect you from lead poisoning, or lying to you repeatedly, of course you should hold them accountable. And if I have a constituent who’s living in disrepair, I have an obligation to make sure they get their repairs. Of course I do. You should hold us accountable.”</p> <p><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RBbnu-tKZU" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Watch the full BRIC TV NYCHA town hall</a></p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Former and Current Elected Officials Discuss Potential Changes to City Campaign Finance System 2018-08-08T04:00:00+00:00 2018-08-08T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7854-former-and-current-elected-officials-discuss-potential-changes-to-city-campaign-finance-system Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/nyccfb-twitter.jpg" alt="nyccfb twitter" width="600" /></p> <p>Schaffer, Ulrich, Torres, Quinn, Gotbaum, Cho (l-r) (photo: @NYCCFB)</p> <hr /> <p>Former and current New York City elected officials broadly praised the city’s campaign finance system at a panel at New York Law School on Wednesday, while acknowledging that it could be improved to incentivize more reliance on small donors and streamlined to encourage first-time candidates to run for office.</p> <p>The panel was hosted by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) and moderated by Daniel Cho, assistant executive director for candidate guidance and policy at the CFB. The panellists included sitting City Council Members Ritchie Torres and Eric Ulrich, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who shared their divergent experiences in running for elected office, raising campaign money, and navigating the city’s campaign finance program.</p> <p>The CFB administers the system and its widely lauded public matching funds program, which intends to level the playing field in elections by matching the first $175 of every qualifying contribution at a 6-to-1 ratio. The rationale is simple: It motivates candidates for local and citywide office to cast a wider net and seek smaller individual donors rather than depend on wealthy contributors giving larger donations.</p> <p>But, even as other jurisdictions have begun to model programs after New York City’s, the CFB is hoping to strengthen its system, further limit the size of maximum donations, and encourage pursuit of small donors, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7735-campaign-finance-board-to-propose-reforms-at-charter-commission-hearing" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recommending a slew of reforms</a> for consideration by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision commission, which will soon announce the proposals it will put before voters on November’s Election Day. CFB Chair Rick Schaffer gave opening remarks before the panel, during which he outlined the history of the campaign finance program and the CFB's new recommendations.</p> <p>Those reforms include drastically lowering contribution limits, increasing the matching fund ratio to 8-to-1 and the value of matchable donations to $250, changing the thresholds for qualifying for matching funds -- including the addition of a geographic requirement where a citywide candidate would have to get at least 50 donations from each borough -- and lowering the minimum qualifying contribution from $10 to $5. In the coming weeks, the charter commission will issue its final report, and the proposals it lands on will be presented to voters on the November general election ballot.</p> <p>[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7735-campaign-finance-board-to-propose-reforms-at-charter-commission-hearing" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Campaign Finance Board Proposes Reforms at Charter Commission Hearing</a>]</p> <p>Council Member Ulrich, a Republican from Queens, said the matching fund system was instrumental in his special election campaign in 2009, which he ran without help from labor unions or the local party establishment. “The critical factor in me deciding to move forward and to run was in fact the campaign finance program,” he said.</p> <p>Torres, a Bronx Democrat, similarly said the program gave him “sufficient resources” to run his City Council campaign in 2013, but with one caveat. “The cost of running a campaign seems to vary widely from Council district to Council district.You could win a district like mine on the sheer strength of door-to-door campaigning,” he said.</p> <p>Quinn -- who is the only mayoral candidate to ever max out on public matching funds, Cho later said -- subsequently noted that rent for campaign offices in particular is one cost that can be drastically different depending on the district.</p> <p>Gotbaum, who is now executive director of government reform group Citizens Union, said that when she ran for public advocate in 2001, she raised large numbers of maximum donations -- currently $5,100 for citywide candidates -- because of a crowded field and because the CFB’s matching funds tend to be doled out late in the campaign. The program does appear to serve its intended purpose better for City Council candidates as citywide candidates continue to raise a majority of their funds from large donors.</p> <p>Gotbaum supports the public funds program but worries about the public reaction to the cost of public financing if the matching amounts are raised, though she also acknowledged that not enough New Yorkers even know the program exists. “I think if you put the match up terribly high, those few people that participate may start to complain...I’m just throwing that out there as a point of discussion,” she said.</p> <p>The CFB gives out public funds twice in an election in most cases, for the primary and then for the general. But Ulrich pointed out that for Republicans, who tend to be involved in far fewer primaries owing to Democrats’ heavy voter enrollment advantage in the city, matching funds are usually only disbursed once. In some cases, Ulrich argued, this gives Democratic candidates advantages in terms of getting their message out to voters and attacking their Republican opponent. “So I think the board should probably look at that,” he said. “It doesn’t affect most participants but...certainly in my part of the city, it does.”</p> <p>All the panellists agreed that a big challenge to ensuring ordinary voices are reflected in elections is that voter participation and engagement is far too anaemic in New York City. They not only stressed the need for more voter education but also the dire necessity of reforming the state’s antiquated voting and election laws which are widely held responsible for low voter turnout.</p> <p>“The reliance at the state level is on these big donors, corporate donors in fact,” said Ulrich, who ran for state Senate in 2012 and said he received dozens of large, unsolicited donations. “I would much rather if there was any way possible for state, federal, and city candidates for public office to be participating in a matching funds program. It’s a much more transparent, fairer, and I think ethical approach to running for political office.”</p> <p>Ulrich’s Republican colleagues who control the state Senate have not had the same opinion, however, as the chamber has opposed most campaign finance reforms supported by the Democratic Assembly and Governor Andrew Cuomo, as well as most voting and election reforms.</p> <p>Quinn took particular issue with state election law’s LLC loophole, which allows hidden donors to legally circumvent the already high state contribution limits through multiple limited liability companies. As Council speaker, Quinn ushered in campaign finance reforms which included a prohibition against LLC donations in city elections. She also said the practice of intermediaries “bundling” donations from several contributors for a single candidate tend to be more corrupting than a single, maxed-out donation.</p> <p>“That’s really where the amplification of corporate interests comes into place,” she said, urging the CFB to go beyond simply lowering contribution limits.</p> <p>Torres also wanted to see “bolder” reforms. “Some of these improvements do feel incremental,” he said, pointing out the heavy reliance on large donors, particularly in the mayoral race. He wants to see a drastic reduction in the contribution limits. “I think it would create a system that is purely powered by small donations,” he said.</p> <p>The Council member also noted that the recent victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- who ran on a platform opposed to corporate donors -- over Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in the June congressional primary shows a “millennial outcry” against excessive money in politics. “If the mayor’s charter commission were to radically reduce contribution limits in response to the national zeitgeist that’s taking hold, I think it would be a legacy achievement for the mayor,” he said.</p> <p>The panellists also agreed that perception matters in politics, and that constituents need to be reassured that government is not for sale, with some discussion around the “doing-business” limits on donations from entities seeking or holding city contracts.</p> <p>“For me, the standard is whether you contribute to the appearance of corruption,” Torres said, noting that Council members can raise substantial sums of money from industries that they regulate and that individual members also hold an almost “veto power” over land use matters that could be worth tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. “I’m not suggesting that this happens but the fact that it’s even a theoretical possibility is problematic,” he said. “A member could leverage the power you have over the [Uniform Land use Review Procedure] to extract sizable contributions. So why not foreclose that possibility.”</p> <p>Ulrich blamed the negative perceptions that the public holds of New York politicians on the long and constant stream of state-level elected officials, mostly in the state Legislature, who have been convicted of corruption. “I think until Albany gets their act together and enacts some form of real and robust ethics reform and campaign finance reform,” he said, “that is going to overshadow...all the wonderful and great work that the CFB is doing.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/nyccfb-twitter.jpg" alt="nyccfb twitter" width="600" /></p> <p>Schaffer, Ulrich, Torres, Quinn, Gotbaum, Cho (l-r) (photo: @NYCCFB)</p> <hr /> <p>Former and current New York City elected officials broadly praised the city’s campaign finance system at a panel at New York Law School on Wednesday, while acknowledging that it could be improved to incentivize more reliance on small donors and streamlined to encourage first-time candidates to run for office.</p> <p>The panel was hosted by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) and moderated by Daniel Cho, assistant executive director for candidate guidance and policy at the CFB. The panellists included sitting City Council Members Ritchie Torres and Eric Ulrich, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who shared their divergent experiences in running for elected office, raising campaign money, and navigating the city’s campaign finance program.</p> <p>The CFB administers the system and its widely lauded public matching funds program, which intends to level the playing field in elections by matching the first $175 of every qualifying contribution at a 6-to-1 ratio. The rationale is simple: It motivates candidates for local and citywide office to cast a wider net and seek smaller individual donors rather than depend on wealthy contributors giving larger donations.</p> <p>But, even as other jurisdictions have begun to model programs after New York City’s, the CFB is hoping to strengthen its system, further limit the size of maximum donations, and encourage pursuit of small donors, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7735-campaign-finance-board-to-propose-reforms-at-charter-commission-hearing" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recommending a slew of reforms</a> for consideration by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision commission, which will soon announce the proposals it will put before voters on November’s Election Day. CFB Chair Rick Schaffer gave opening remarks before the panel, during which he outlined the history of the campaign finance program and the CFB's new recommendations.</p> <p>Those reforms include drastically lowering contribution limits, increasing the matching fund ratio to 8-to-1 and the value of matchable donations to $250, changing the thresholds for qualifying for matching funds -- including the addition of a geographic requirement where a citywide candidate would have to get at least 50 donations from each borough -- and lowering the minimum qualifying contribution from $10 to $5. In the coming weeks, the charter commission will issue its final report, and the proposals it lands on will be presented to voters on the November general election ballot.</p> <p>[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7735-campaign-finance-board-to-propose-reforms-at-charter-commission-hearing" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Campaign Finance Board Proposes Reforms at Charter Commission Hearing</a>]</p> <p>Council Member Ulrich, a Republican from Queens, said the matching fund system was instrumental in his special election campaign in 2009, which he ran without help from labor unions or the local party establishment. “The critical factor in me deciding to move forward and to run was in fact the campaign finance program,” he said.</p> <p>Torres, a Bronx Democrat, similarly said the program gave him “sufficient resources” to run his City Council campaign in 2013, but with one caveat. “The cost of running a campaign seems to vary widely from Council district to Council district.You could win a district like mine on the sheer strength of door-to-door campaigning,” he said.</p> <p>Quinn -- who is the only mayoral candidate to ever max out on public matching funds, Cho later said -- subsequently noted that rent for campaign offices in particular is one cost that can be drastically different depending on the district.</p> <p>Gotbaum, who is now executive director of government reform group Citizens Union, said that when she ran for public advocate in 2001, she raised large numbers of maximum donations -- currently $5,100 for citywide candidates -- because of a crowded field and because the CFB’s matching funds tend to be doled out late in the campaign. The program does appear to serve its intended purpose better for City Council candidates as citywide candidates continue to raise a majority of their funds from large donors.</p> <p>Gotbaum supports the public funds program but worries about the public reaction to the cost of public financing if the matching amounts are raised, though she also acknowledged that not enough New Yorkers even know the program exists. “I think if you put the match up terribly high, those few people that participate may start to complain...I’m just throwing that out there as a point of discussion,” she said.</p> <p>The CFB gives out public funds twice in an election in most cases, for the primary and then for the general. But Ulrich pointed out that for Republicans, who tend to be involved in far fewer primaries owing to Democrats’ heavy voter enrollment advantage in the city, matching funds are usually only disbursed once. In some cases, Ulrich argued, this gives Democratic candidates advantages in terms of getting their message out to voters and attacking their Republican opponent. “So I think the board should probably look at that,” he said. “It doesn’t affect most participants but...certainly in my part of the city, it does.”</p> <p>All the panellists agreed that a big challenge to ensuring ordinary voices are reflected in elections is that voter participation and engagement is far too anaemic in New York City. They not only stressed the need for more voter education but also the dire necessity of reforming the state’s antiquated voting and election laws which are widely held responsible for low voter turnout.</p> <p>“The reliance at the state level is on these big donors, corporate donors in fact,” said Ulrich, who ran for state Senate in 2012 and said he received dozens of large, unsolicited donations. “I would much rather if there was any way possible for state, federal, and city candidates for public office to be participating in a matching funds program. It’s a much more transparent, fairer, and I think ethical approach to running for political office.”</p> <p>Ulrich’s Republican colleagues who control the state Senate have not had the same opinion, however, as the chamber has opposed most campaign finance reforms supported by the Democratic Assembly and Governor Andrew Cuomo, as well as most voting and election reforms.</p> <p>Quinn took particular issue with state election law’s LLC loophole, which allows hidden donors to legally circumvent the already high state contribution limits through multiple limited liability companies. As Council speaker, Quinn ushered in campaign finance reforms which included a prohibition against LLC donations in city elections. She also said the practice of intermediaries “bundling” donations from several contributors for a single candidate tend to be more corrupting than a single, maxed-out donation.</p> <p>“That’s really where the amplification of corporate interests comes into place,” she said, urging the CFB to go beyond simply lowering contribution limits.</p> <p>Torres also wanted to see “bolder” reforms. “Some of these improvements do feel incremental,” he said, pointing out the heavy reliance on large donors, particularly in the mayoral race. He wants to see a drastic reduction in the contribution limits. “I think it would create a system that is purely powered by small donations,” he said.</p> <p>The Council member also noted that the recent victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- who ran on a platform opposed to corporate donors -- over Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in the June congressional primary shows a “millennial outcry” against excessive money in politics. “If the mayor’s charter commission were to radically reduce contribution limits in response to the national zeitgeist that’s taking hold, I think it would be a legacy achievement for the mayor,” he said.</p> <p>The panellists also agreed that perception matters in politics, and that constituents need to be reassured that government is not for sale, with some discussion around the “doing-business” limits on donations from entities seeking or holding city contracts.</p> <p>“For me, the standard is whether you contribute to the appearance of corruption,” Torres said, noting that Council members can raise substantial sums of money from industries that they regulate and that individual members also hold an almost “veto power” over land use matters that could be worth tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. “I’m not suggesting that this happens but the fact that it’s even a theoretical possibility is problematic,” he said. “A member could leverage the power you have over the [Uniform Land use Review Procedure] to extract sizable contributions. So why not foreclose that possibility.”</p> <p>Ulrich blamed the negative perceptions that the public holds of New York politicians on the long and constant stream of state-level elected officials, mostly in the state Legislature, who have been convicted of corruption. “I think until Albany gets their act together and enacts some form of real and robust ethics reform and campaign finance reform,” he said, “that is going to overshadow...all the wonderful and great work that the CFB is doing.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
De Blasio Points to Cuomo’s NYCHA Order as ‘Potentially Dangerous’ to City Budget 2018-04-27T04:00:00+00:00 2018-04-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7644-de-blasio-points-to-cuomo-s-nycha-order-as-potentially-dangerous-to-city-budget Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/guvandrcuomo-comm-center.jpg" alt="guvandrcuomo comm center" width="640" height="427" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo with top NYC officials and others (photo: Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order earlier this month to impose an external monitor on the crisis-plagued New York City Housing Authority has turned into a potential budget boondoggle for the city, with Mayor Bill de Blasio warning on Thursday of the “unforeseen consequences” the order could have on the city’s fiscal future.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/EO_180.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">governor’s order</a> came after months of escalating problems at NYCHA developments that highlighted the decades-long financial struggles and mismanagement at the city-run agency. NYCHA was also sued by a group of tenants and advocates citing the harsh living conditions in NYCHA apartments, including issues with mold, lead paint, and dramatic failures in heat and hot water systems this past winter during extreme cold spells. That led Cuomo to declare in his order that the conditions at NYCHA “constitute a public nuisance affecting the security of life and health in the city of New York” and that the city could not adequately respond to an imminent disaster.</p> <p>The emergency declaration ordered the selection of an “Independent Emergency Manager” to oversee repairs to mitigate harmful conditions and to create a plan to utilize $550 million in state funding pegged for NYCHA. The order also eased procurement rules to speed up the pace of repair and maintenance work.</p> <p>But the order also notes that any repairs ordered by the emergency manager must be paid by the city, as per the state Public Health Law, which Mayor de Blasio took issue with on Thursday during his Executive Budget presentation as he spoke of other “unfunded mandates,” cuts, and cost-shifts that the city was saddled with under the latest state budget.</p> <p>“The more we and other analysts have looked at that executive order, the more we see a very challenging and potentially dangerous element of it in terms of our budget,” de Blasio said at City Hall. He said that “open-ended language” in the order could mean millions in cost for the city, which would not be approved through the city’s budget process, and therefore would not allow the City Council, the mayor, or comptroller any control over spending.</p> <p>“We are concerned that that creates a very problematic precedent and in addition could have many unforeseen consequences for next year’s budget,” he added.</p> <p>De Blasio has repeatedly touted investments he has made in NYCHA since taking office, including $1.6 billion in operating funds and $2.1 billion in capital money. Under his <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/nycha/about/nextgen-nycha.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NextGeneration NYCHA plan</a> to get the struggling agency back on its feet, NYCHA has managed to turn around its operating finances, no longer running an annual deficit, though it still faces many billions in capital repair and construction needs.</p> <p>On Thursday, de Blasio announced an added $20 million investment over the next two fiscal years to further reduce the backlog of repairs at NYCHA by 50,000 cases. But the massive capital need remains, estimated at $25 billion, and growing. The City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7604-in-response-to-de-blasio-proposal-city-council-sets-stage-for-tense-budget-negotiations" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently called</a> on the mayor to add another $2.45 billion in NYCHA capital funding to the budget (the city has separate operating and capital spending plans). Though no additional capital funding was added in the executive budget, the city has already allocated $423 million in capital for fiscal year 2019, according to Freddi Goldstein, a mayoral spokesperson.</p> <p>But for all the potential burden that de Blasio spoke of, the actual effect of Cuomo’s order is unclear and the mayor is not entirely helpless in the process. Budget watchdogs also currently have no idea how much money it could cost the city. “That’s a total unknown at this point,” said Doug Turetsky, communications director for the Independent Budget Office, a city-funded monitor.</p> <p>Sean Campion, senior research associate at Citizens Budget Commission, an independent nonprofit, said the governor’s order is a “good first step” to chip away at the housing authority’s massive needs, but he acknowledged that the order is “somewhat vague” about the city’s responsibilities. “It definitely sets a new precedent. The impact is yet to be determined. There’s obviously some benefits to having this monitor come in and develop a plan for spending the state money and whatever city money the city wants to chip in as well,” he said.</p> <p>He also noted that, as per the order, the emergency manager will have to be chosen “unanimously” by the mayor, the City Council speaker, and the president of the NYCHA Citywide Council of Presidents. If they fail to do so within the mandated time frame, the decision falls to Comptroller Scott Stringer. “So whoever’s going to be appointed to this position is in some ways going to be appointed by city elected officials, none of whom really have an incentive to essentially give the monitor a blank check for funding all of NYCHA’s repair needs. All that’s sort of tempered the risk,” Campion said.</p> <p>Several elected officials stood with Cuomo when he signed the order -- including Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and City Council Member Ritchie Torres, former chair of the Council’s public housing committee -- and heaped praise on the governor for taking action, though most had not read the language contained in the order. The officials posed with Cuomo for celebratory photos, behind a banner reading “Standing with NY Tenants.”</p> <p>After the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/nyregion/nycha-cuomo-monitor-cost-city.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Times first pointed out</a> the potential costs the city would have to bear, some of the same officials demurred.</p> <p>“We have concerns about some of the ramifications of the order, but we are still reviewing it and discussing our options and potential costs,” said Speaker Johnson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “NYCHA is in crisis and the situation required swift action. We will work with the governor, the mayor and the tenants to find solutions to the worst problems affecting the residents. We are all in agreement that they have suffered for too long.”</p> <p>Stringer, the city’s chief financial officer, declined to comment through a spokesperson. Public Advocate Letitia James’ office did not provide a comment for this article. She told the Times that the order was an unfunded mandate and that the state should consider taking on the costs of implementing it rather than the city. &nbsp;</p> <p>Among the group of city officials, the order’s fiercest defender is Torres, who has in recent weeks positioned himself in close proximity to Cuomo in pushing for NYCHA’s interests and castigating the mayor’s perceived failures. “I think the mayor would be wise to view the executive order as an opportunity to improve public housing rather than a challenge,” he said in a phone interview Friday. “[T]he notion that more funding for public housing is a problem is as insulting as it is idiotic.”</p> <p>Torres echoed Campion’s point that the city, not the state, will pick the emergency manager, and said it was “disingenuous” for the mayor to claim he has no role. “So I presume he would select someone who would work with the city to develop a financially feasible plan. Even if the mayor has political objections to the executive order, leadership often means making the best of a bad situation, but there’s no evidence that the administration’s even attempting to do so. It’s simply whining, rather than problem-solving,” he said.</p> <p>He also brushed aside concerns that the city will have to bear more costs, insisting that activists have long pushed for $1 billion annually in funding for NYCHA and that no officials or activists have suggested using the emergency manager to fund NYCHA’s full $25 billion need. “But can the city play a greater role in addressing the most critical infrastructure needs of public housing? I would submit to you that the answer’s ‘yes’ and the executive order creates an opportunity to do so,” Torres said. “The administration has often made piecemeal investments in public housing in response to crises. The executive order forces the city to take a more systematic, a more planned approach to addressing the longer term critical infrastructure needs of public housing.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s latest expense budget plan, presented Thursday, is for $89 billion for next fiscal year, while the updated five-year capital commitment plan is for $82 billion. The mayor has regularly reminded audiences, though, that NYCHA is its own authority, not a mayoral or city agency, and has its own budget plans, which the city has continued to contribute to under his watch.</p> <p>De Blasio hopes to quell some of the overarching concerns about Cuomo’s executive order and optimistically said Thursday that he has had conversations with the governor to modify it.</p> <p>“Even though the Governor and I have disagreements we still talk regularly. I talked to him earlier in the week,” he explained to reporters. “We still attempt to reason together...I don’t think he necessarily intended a massive unfunded mandate on New York City. I think he – I certainly don’t think he intended to interfere with day-to-day operations of NYCHA. We need to have that conversation and work it through...because the last thing you’d want is to have the state issue an executive order that backfires for the people it’s supposed to serve.”</p> <p>Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesperson, <a href="https://twitter.com/RichAzzopardi/status/989874940156563457" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweeted Friday</a> that the executive order would be adjusted once an ongoing federal investigation into NYCHA’s handling of lead paint concludes and “determines de Blasio’s liability” for what he called a debacle. Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for additional comment or offer further clarity.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/guvandrcuomo-comm-center.jpg" alt="guvandrcuomo comm center" width="640" height="427" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo with top NYC officials and others (photo: Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order earlier this month to impose an external monitor on the crisis-plagued New York City Housing Authority has turned into a potential budget boondoggle for the city, with Mayor Bill de Blasio warning on Thursday of the “unforeseen consequences” the order could have on the city’s fiscal future.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/EO_180.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">governor’s order</a> came after months of escalating problems at NYCHA developments that highlighted the decades-long financial struggles and mismanagement at the city-run agency. NYCHA was also sued by a group of tenants and advocates citing the harsh living conditions in NYCHA apartments, including issues with mold, lead paint, and dramatic failures in heat and hot water systems this past winter during extreme cold spells. That led Cuomo to declare in his order that the conditions at NYCHA “constitute a public nuisance affecting the security of life and health in the city of New York” and that the city could not adequately respond to an imminent disaster.</p> <p>The emergency declaration ordered the selection of an “Independent Emergency Manager” to oversee repairs to mitigate harmful conditions and to create a plan to utilize $550 million in state funding pegged for NYCHA. The order also eased procurement rules to speed up the pace of repair and maintenance work.</p> <p>But the order also notes that any repairs ordered by the emergency manager must be paid by the city, as per the state Public Health Law, which Mayor de Blasio took issue with on Thursday during his Executive Budget presentation as he spoke of other “unfunded mandates,” cuts, and cost-shifts that the city was saddled with under the latest state budget.</p> <p>“The more we and other analysts have looked at that executive order, the more we see a very challenging and potentially dangerous element of it in terms of our budget,” de Blasio said at City Hall. He said that “open-ended language” in the order could mean millions in cost for the city, which would not be approved through the city’s budget process, and therefore would not allow the City Council, the mayor, or comptroller any control over spending.</p> <p>“We are concerned that that creates a very problematic precedent and in addition could have many unforeseen consequences for next year’s budget,” he added.</p> <p>De Blasio has repeatedly touted investments he has made in NYCHA since taking office, including $1.6 billion in operating funds and $2.1 billion in capital money. Under his <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/nycha/about/nextgen-nycha.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NextGeneration NYCHA plan</a> to get the struggling agency back on its feet, NYCHA has managed to turn around its operating finances, no longer running an annual deficit, though it still faces many billions in capital repair and construction needs.</p> <p>On Thursday, de Blasio announced an added $20 million investment over the next two fiscal years to further reduce the backlog of repairs at NYCHA by 50,000 cases. But the massive capital need remains, estimated at $25 billion, and growing. The City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7604-in-response-to-de-blasio-proposal-city-council-sets-stage-for-tense-budget-negotiations" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently called</a> on the mayor to add another $2.45 billion in NYCHA capital funding to the budget (the city has separate operating and capital spending plans). Though no additional capital funding was added in the executive budget, the city has already allocated $423 million in capital for fiscal year 2019, according to Freddi Goldstein, a mayoral spokesperson.</p> <p>But for all the potential burden that de Blasio spoke of, the actual effect of Cuomo’s order is unclear and the mayor is not entirely helpless in the process. Budget watchdogs also currently have no idea how much money it could cost the city. “That’s a total unknown at this point,” said Doug Turetsky, communications director for the Independent Budget Office, a city-funded monitor.</p> <p>Sean Campion, senior research associate at Citizens Budget Commission, an independent nonprofit, said the governor’s order is a “good first step” to chip away at the housing authority’s massive needs, but he acknowledged that the order is “somewhat vague” about the city’s responsibilities. “It definitely sets a new precedent. The impact is yet to be determined. There’s obviously some benefits to having this monitor come in and develop a plan for spending the state money and whatever city money the city wants to chip in as well,” he said.</p> <p>He also noted that, as per the order, the emergency manager will have to be chosen “unanimously” by the mayor, the City Council speaker, and the president of the NYCHA Citywide Council of Presidents. If they fail to do so within the mandated time frame, the decision falls to Comptroller Scott Stringer. “So whoever’s going to be appointed to this position is in some ways going to be appointed by city elected officials, none of whom really have an incentive to essentially give the monitor a blank check for funding all of NYCHA’s repair needs. All that’s sort of tempered the risk,” Campion said.</p> <p>Several elected officials stood with Cuomo when he signed the order -- including Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and City Council Member Ritchie Torres, former chair of the Council’s public housing committee -- and heaped praise on the governor for taking action, though most had not read the language contained in the order. The officials posed with Cuomo for celebratory photos, behind a banner reading “Standing with NY Tenants.”</p> <p>After the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/nyregion/nycha-cuomo-monitor-cost-city.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Times first pointed out</a> the potential costs the city would have to bear, some of the same officials demurred.</p> <p>“We have concerns about some of the ramifications of the order, but we are still reviewing it and discussing our options and potential costs,” said Speaker Johnson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “NYCHA is in crisis and the situation required swift action. We will work with the governor, the mayor and the tenants to find solutions to the worst problems affecting the residents. We are all in agreement that they have suffered for too long.”</p> <p>Stringer, the city’s chief financial officer, declined to comment through a spokesperson. Public Advocate Letitia James’ office did not provide a comment for this article. She told the Times that the order was an unfunded mandate and that the state should consider taking on the costs of implementing it rather than the city. &nbsp;</p> <p>Among the group of city officials, the order’s fiercest defender is Torres, who has in recent weeks positioned himself in close proximity to Cuomo in pushing for NYCHA’s interests and castigating the mayor’s perceived failures. “I think the mayor would be wise to view the executive order as an opportunity to improve public housing rather than a challenge,” he said in a phone interview Friday. “[T]he notion that more funding for public housing is a problem is as insulting as it is idiotic.”</p> <p>Torres echoed Campion’s point that the city, not the state, will pick the emergency manager, and said it was “disingenuous” for the mayor to claim he has no role. “So I presume he would select someone who would work with the city to develop a financially feasible plan. Even if the mayor has political objections to the executive order, leadership often means making the best of a bad situation, but there’s no evidence that the administration’s even attempting to do so. It’s simply whining, rather than problem-solving,” he said.</p> <p>He also brushed aside concerns that the city will have to bear more costs, insisting that activists have long pushed for $1 billion annually in funding for NYCHA and that no officials or activists have suggested using the emergency manager to fund NYCHA’s full $25 billion need. “But can the city play a greater role in addressing the most critical infrastructure needs of public housing? I would submit to you that the answer’s ‘yes’ and the executive order creates an opportunity to do so,” Torres said. “The administration has often made piecemeal investments in public housing in response to crises. The executive order forces the city to take a more systematic, a more planned approach to addressing the longer term critical infrastructure needs of public housing.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s latest expense budget plan, presented Thursday, is for $89 billion for next fiscal year, while the updated five-year capital commitment plan is for $82 billion. The mayor has regularly reminded audiences, though, that NYCHA is its own authority, not a mayoral or city agency, and has its own budget plans, which the city has continued to contribute to under his watch.</p> <p>De Blasio hopes to quell some of the overarching concerns about Cuomo’s executive order and optimistically said Thursday that he has had conversations with the governor to modify it.</p> <p>“Even though the Governor and I have disagreements we still talk regularly. I talked to him earlier in the week,” he explained to reporters. “We still attempt to reason together...I don’t think he necessarily intended a massive unfunded mandate on New York City. I think he – I certainly don’t think he intended to interfere with day-to-day operations of NYCHA. We need to have that conversation and work it through...because the last thing you’d want is to have the state issue an executive order that backfires for the people it’s supposed to serve.”</p> <p>Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesperson, <a href="https://twitter.com/RichAzzopardi/status/989874940156563457" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweeted Friday</a> that the executive order would be adjusted once an ongoing federal investigation into NYCHA’s handling of lead paint concludes and “determines de Blasio’s liability” for what he called a debacle. Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for additional comment or offer further clarity.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Members Outline Priorities for New Term 2018-01-23T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-23T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7436-city-council-members-outline-priorities-for-new-term Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/38866913345_afd4b05a3e_z.jpg" alt="38866913345 afd4b05a3e z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council members (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council is gearing up for a new agenda under Speaker Corey Johnson, with several newly created committees and fresh faces in the legislative body. As the Council begins to schedule its first committee hearings and readies for the reintroduction of legislation from the last session, there are a number of priorities that Council members are planning to pursue. Returning members say they want to pass bills that have been pending and build on their work from the last four years, while new members are eager to follow through on the policy platforms that got them elected.</p> <p>New issue committee chairs appear ready to steer those committees in new directions, while Johnson has promised a robust agenda and is taking steps to beef up the Council’s oversight powers, expand its land use division, and increase its scrutiny of the mayor’s budget. Many of the committees, new and old, under his watch will take on greater responsibilities and are expected to tackle a slew of contentious policy issues, legislation, and oversight matters. Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette indicated a broad list of priorities, with some agenda items that will have citywide ramifications and others more parochial, district-level in their scope.</p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal, in her new role as chair of the women’s committee, said she will pursue legislative and public policy solutions to combat sexual harassment in the public and private sectors, to end the gender pay gap for municipal workers, and advance criminal justice reforms to protect sexual assault and domestic violence survivors.</p> <p>“We are seeking to empower women at every level -- in the workplace, in the economic arena, in social interactions, and in politics,” Rosenthal said. In December, Rosenthal stood with Council Member Mark Levine to announce a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government" target="_blank" rel="noopener">request</a> for drafting legislation that would require complaints by Council staffers to be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics, as is currently the case for complaints against elected Council members, and would also mandate that city agencies report on sexual harassment claims twice a year. &nbsp;</p> <p>Rosenthal also wants to see through the full implementation of her legislation, signed by the mayor in September last year, to create an Office of the Tenant Advocate within the Department of Buildings. Among her other priorities are protections for small businesses in her Upper West Side district, seniors’ needs, and the city’s social safety net. Formerly chair of the contracts committee, which will now be led by new Council Member Justin Brannan, Rosenthal said her guiding philosophy in approaching priority issues will still be “fiscal responsibility.”</p> <p>Council Member Levine said he hopes to follow up on unfinished business from the last session, including the implementation of Right to Counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court, which was a bill he sponsored and waged a years-long campaign to win support from the mayor. Now chairing the health committee (he had parks last term), Levine will also focus on expanding healthcare coverage and addressing racial inequities in health outcomes across the city. One priority he has expressed support for is single-payer healthcare, an issue that Speaker Johnson has been vocal about pursuing.</p> <p>After chairing the public safety committee last term, Council Member Vanessa Gibson is chairing the new Subcommittee on Capital Budgets, which will be tasked with analysing the city’s now $96 billion capital budget. The subcommittee will assess the procurement process at city agencies and how agencies spend their capital dollars. Gibson said she is “looking to create better capital spending oversight and ensure there is a consistent process for capital projects so that we can truly realize meaningful investment in New York’s aging infrastructure.”</p> <p>Gibson also said she will continue to advocate for bail reform, an issue that Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to put his weight behind this year. Gibson will also have to navigate complicated land use issues as she tackles the proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning in her Bronx district. The project is moving forward quickly and will come through the land use committee now being chaired by Gibson’s Bronx colleague Council Member Rafael Salamanca.</p> <p>Council Member Ritchie Torres, another Bronx Democrat, is overseeing the newly empowered Committee on Oversight and Investigations, which will comprise a dedicated investigative unit of former prosecutors, professional investigators, and former journalists. While the division is staffing up, Torres’ first public task will be a joint oversight hearing on February 6 with the Committee on Public Housing, which he chaired last term, concerning heat and hot water failures in NYCHA housing. The new chair of the public housing committee is newly-elected Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who formerly worked at the public housing authority, NYCHA.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7419-new-city-council-committee-chairs-have-plenty-on-their-plates">New City Council Committee Chairs Have Plenty on Their Plates</a>]</p> <p>The new chair of the Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections, Council Member Karen Koslowitz, said last week she was still formulating her agenda for 2018. Her committee is expected to lead the way on a package of internal rules reforms that a majority of the Council, including Speaker Johnson, have endorsed.</p> <p>Koslowitz, of Queens, also spoke of extending traffic safety laws to bicycle riders, saying that she would “like to see them be registered, licensed.”</p> <p>Council Member Mark Treyger, a former teacher who has taken over as chair of the education committee, spoke at length about the issues plaguing public school infrastructure. “I come from a district that some of our schools were built with money from the New Deal, and haven't seen upgrades since the New Deal,” he said of his southern Brooklyn community, also emphasizing the need for additional school aid.</p> <p>Treyger also wants to advance two bills he proposed in the last session: one requiring the city to station licensed social workers in all police precincts, and another to make it illegal for police officers to engage in sexual activity with a person in their custody. The second bill was prompted by a recent case in which an 18-year-old woman accused two officers of rape while she was in their custody. The officers claimed the act was consensual, leading to public outcry over the loophole in the law that does not automatically categorize it as custodial rape. Legal proceedings continue in the matter. &nbsp;</p> <p>Council Member Fernando Cabrera, the new chair of the governmental operations committee, said he will push campaign finance reforms over the next few years since his committee has oversight of the Campaign Finance Board, which administers the city’s public matching funds program to incentivize small-dollar donations in elections. “The whole idea of the campaign finance [program] was to equalize the playing field,” he said. “Whenever you have policies that don’t… [that] puts a candidate at a disadvantage, I have issues with that,” he added, without going into specifics.</p> <p>In his role, Cabrera will also oversee the city Board of Elections, the Law Department, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, among other agencies. The BOE will administer at least three election days this year, in June, September, and November, with a fourth likely in some districts if Cuomo calls for special elections to fill several currently vacant state legislative seats.</p> <p>Council Member Steven Matteo, the Republican minority leader, said he plans to prioritize property tax relief this year, something he has long advocated for. “Last year we had the veterans property tax that we passed here, my bill. I want to expand on that this year, too, do some real property tax relief for everyone else,” he said. Matteo, one of three Republicans in the Council, was appointed by Johnson to chair the Committee on Standards &amp; Ethics, which, if new legislation on workplace sexual harassment is passed by the Council, will likely see its role expand this session. The committee is currently <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx-city-councilman-andy-king-accused-sexual-harassment-article-1.3698395" target="_blank" rel="noopener">investigating</a> an allegation of sexual harassment against Council Member Andy King.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio has promised to take up property tax reform this term, which Matteo intends to hold him to. The Council had announced plans for a property tax reform task force last term, but it never came to be.</p> <p>Council Member Brannan also hopes to tackle property tax reform, he said, hoping that he will be able to sit on the proposed commission “to really take a deep dive into it.” As a former employee of the Department of Education, Brannan also said the Council has an opportunity to increase its oversight of DOE operations. “I think, it’s a couple areas where I think we can get a little more aggressive,” the contracts chair said. DOE contracts to outside vendors have been a point of contention for years, an area Brannan may be able to meld his prior experience and new responsibilities.</p> <p>Council Member Carlina Rivera, also newly-elected, will have her hands full chairing the Committee on Hospitals, newly created to oversee the city’s municipal hospital system, which is in financial crisis. But she also has local concerns she wants to address, she told Gotham Gazette, including reforms to city rules that allow construction in the early mornings, evenings, and weekends, an issue leftover from her predecessor, former Council Member Rosie Mendez.</p> <p>Some of Rivera’s other priorities concern land use and infrastructure projects, particularly the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, an integrated coastal protection initiative aimed at reducing flood risk due to coastal storms and sea level rise. She also intends to focus on NYCHA’s infrastructure woes, citing the numerous developments in her district and the issues of heat and hot water in NYCHA housing, and she must negotiate a major land use deal in her district related to a proposed Union Square tech hub that the de Blasio administration wants to build.</p> <p>Council Member Diana Ayala, another rookie lawmaker, is chairing the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services. She said she expects some examination of safe injection sites coming to New York City, which advocates argue would reduce drug users’ risk of overdose, transmitting diseases, and death. Speaker Johnson has said he is in favor of exploring the possibility.&nbsp;"The safe injection sites I know are going to be a big issue," Ayala told Gotham Gazette. "There's been a lot of conversation around bringing those to New York."</p> <p>Ayala also suggested that she will be looking into how New York City’s criminal justice system deals with the issue of domestic violence.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>When asked about her policy priorities, new Council Member Adrienne Adams emphasized immigrant protections and homelessness. Adams expressed deep concern about the policies coming out of &nbsp;Washington, D.C. under the Republican-led Congress and President Donald Trump. Under former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council passed a number of immigrant-friendly laws and curbed the city’s cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities. “My district is extremely diverse and with the policies coming from Washington these days, they’re affecting my district and the entire city of New York tremendously,” said Adams, of southeast Queens.</p> <p>Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr., of the Bronx, who joined the Council from the state Senate, is the first chair of the Council’s new Committee on For-Hire Vehicles. When asked about his priorities, Diaz Sr. simply said, “Taxis.”</p> <p><em>Samar Khurshid contributed to this article.</em></p> <p>

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by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to better clarify Diana Ayala's comments on safe injection sites.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/38866913345_afd4b05a3e_z.jpg" alt="38866913345 afd4b05a3e z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council members (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council is gearing up for a new agenda under Speaker Corey Johnson, with several newly created committees and fresh faces in the legislative body. As the Council begins to schedule its first committee hearings and readies for the reintroduction of legislation from the last session, there are a number of priorities that Council members are planning to pursue. Returning members say they want to pass bills that have been pending and build on their work from the last four years, while new members are eager to follow through on the policy platforms that got them elected.</p> <p>New issue committee chairs appear ready to steer those committees in new directions, while Johnson has promised a robust agenda and is taking steps to beef up the Council’s oversight powers, expand its land use division, and increase its scrutiny of the mayor’s budget. Many of the committees, new and old, under his watch will take on greater responsibilities and are expected to tackle a slew of contentious policy issues, legislation, and oversight matters. Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette indicated a broad list of priorities, with some agenda items that will have citywide ramifications and others more parochial, district-level in their scope.</p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal, in her new role as chair of the women’s committee, said she will pursue legislative and public policy solutions to combat sexual harassment in the public and private sectors, to end the gender pay gap for municipal workers, and advance criminal justice reforms to protect sexual assault and domestic violence survivors.</p> <p>“We are seeking to empower women at every level -- in the workplace, in the economic arena, in social interactions, and in politics,” Rosenthal said. In December, Rosenthal stood with Council Member Mark Levine to announce a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government" target="_blank" rel="noopener">request</a> for drafting legislation that would require complaints by Council staffers to be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics, as is currently the case for complaints against elected Council members, and would also mandate that city agencies report on sexual harassment claims twice a year. &nbsp;</p> <p>Rosenthal also wants to see through the full implementation of her legislation, signed by the mayor in September last year, to create an Office of the Tenant Advocate within the Department of Buildings. Among her other priorities are protections for small businesses in her Upper West Side district, seniors’ needs, and the city’s social safety net. Formerly chair of the contracts committee, which will now be led by new Council Member Justin Brannan, Rosenthal said her guiding philosophy in approaching priority issues will still be “fiscal responsibility.”</p> <p>Council Member Levine said he hopes to follow up on unfinished business from the last session, including the implementation of Right to Counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court, which was a bill he sponsored and waged a years-long campaign to win support from the mayor. Now chairing the health committee (he had parks last term), Levine will also focus on expanding healthcare coverage and addressing racial inequities in health outcomes across the city. One priority he has expressed support for is single-payer healthcare, an issue that Speaker Johnson has been vocal about pursuing.</p> <p>After chairing the public safety committee last term, Council Member Vanessa Gibson is chairing the new Subcommittee on Capital Budgets, which will be tasked with analysing the city’s now $96 billion capital budget. The subcommittee will assess the procurement process at city agencies and how agencies spend their capital dollars. Gibson said she is “looking to create better capital spending oversight and ensure there is a consistent process for capital projects so that we can truly realize meaningful investment in New York’s aging infrastructure.”</p> <p>Gibson also said she will continue to advocate for bail reform, an issue that Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to put his weight behind this year. Gibson will also have to navigate complicated land use issues as she tackles the proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning in her Bronx district. The project is moving forward quickly and will come through the land use committee now being chaired by Gibson’s Bronx colleague Council Member Rafael Salamanca.</p> <p>Council Member Ritchie Torres, another Bronx Democrat, is overseeing the newly empowered Committee on Oversight and Investigations, which will comprise a dedicated investigative unit of former prosecutors, professional investigators, and former journalists. While the division is staffing up, Torres’ first public task will be a joint oversight hearing on February 6 with the Committee on Public Housing, which he chaired last term, concerning heat and hot water failures in NYCHA housing. The new chair of the public housing committee is newly-elected Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who formerly worked at the public housing authority, NYCHA.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7419-new-city-council-committee-chairs-have-plenty-on-their-plates">New City Council Committee Chairs Have Plenty on Their Plates</a>]</p> <p>The new chair of the Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections, Council Member Karen Koslowitz, said last week she was still formulating her agenda for 2018. Her committee is expected to lead the way on a package of internal rules reforms that a majority of the Council, including Speaker Johnson, have endorsed.</p> <p>Koslowitz, of Queens, also spoke of extending traffic safety laws to bicycle riders, saying that she would “like to see them be registered, licensed.”</p> <p>Council Member Mark Treyger, a former teacher who has taken over as chair of the education committee, spoke at length about the issues plaguing public school infrastructure. “I come from a district that some of our schools were built with money from the New Deal, and haven't seen upgrades since the New Deal,” he said of his southern Brooklyn community, also emphasizing the need for additional school aid.</p> <p>Treyger also wants to advance two bills he proposed in the last session: one requiring the city to station licensed social workers in all police precincts, and another to make it illegal for police officers to engage in sexual activity with a person in their custody. The second bill was prompted by a recent case in which an 18-year-old woman accused two officers of rape while she was in their custody. The officers claimed the act was consensual, leading to public outcry over the loophole in the law that does not automatically categorize it as custodial rape. Legal proceedings continue in the matter. &nbsp;</p> <p>Council Member Fernando Cabrera, the new chair of the governmental operations committee, said he will push campaign finance reforms over the next few years since his committee has oversight of the Campaign Finance Board, which administers the city’s public matching funds program to incentivize small-dollar donations in elections. “The whole idea of the campaign finance [program] was to equalize the playing field,” he said. “Whenever you have policies that don’t… [that] puts a candidate at a disadvantage, I have issues with that,” he added, without going into specifics.</p> <p>In his role, Cabrera will also oversee the city Board of Elections, the Law Department, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, among other agencies. The BOE will administer at least three election days this year, in June, September, and November, with a fourth likely in some districts if Cuomo calls for special elections to fill several currently vacant state legislative seats.</p> <p>Council Member Steven Matteo, the Republican minority leader, said he plans to prioritize property tax relief this year, something he has long advocated for. “Last year we had the veterans property tax that we passed here, my bill. I want to expand on that this year, too, do some real property tax relief for everyone else,” he said. Matteo, one of three Republicans in the Council, was appointed by Johnson to chair the Committee on Standards &amp; Ethics, which, if new legislation on workplace sexual harassment is passed by the Council, will likely see its role expand this session. The committee is currently <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx-city-councilman-andy-king-accused-sexual-harassment-article-1.3698395" target="_blank" rel="noopener">investigating</a> an allegation of sexual harassment against Council Member Andy King.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio has promised to take up property tax reform this term, which Matteo intends to hold him to. The Council had announced plans for a property tax reform task force last term, but it never came to be.</p> <p>Council Member Brannan also hopes to tackle property tax reform, he said, hoping that he will be able to sit on the proposed commission “to really take a deep dive into it.” As a former employee of the Department of Education, Brannan also said the Council has an opportunity to increase its oversight of DOE operations. “I think, it’s a couple areas where I think we can get a little more aggressive,” the contracts chair said. DOE contracts to outside vendors have been a point of contention for years, an area Brannan may be able to meld his prior experience and new responsibilities.</p> <p>Council Member Carlina Rivera, also newly-elected, will have her hands full chairing the Committee on Hospitals, newly created to oversee the city’s municipal hospital system, which is in financial crisis. But she also has local concerns she wants to address, she told Gotham Gazette, including reforms to city rules that allow construction in the early mornings, evenings, and weekends, an issue leftover from her predecessor, former Council Member Rosie Mendez.</p> <p>Some of Rivera’s other priorities concern land use and infrastructure projects, particularly the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, an integrated coastal protection initiative aimed at reducing flood risk due to coastal storms and sea level rise. She also intends to focus on NYCHA’s infrastructure woes, citing the numerous developments in her district and the issues of heat and hot water in NYCHA housing, and she must negotiate a major land use deal in her district related to a proposed Union Square tech hub that the de Blasio administration wants to build.</p> <p>Council Member Diana Ayala, another rookie lawmaker, is chairing the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services. She said she expects some examination of safe injection sites coming to New York City, which advocates argue would reduce drug users’ risk of overdose, transmitting diseases, and death. Speaker Johnson has said he is in favor of exploring the possibility.&nbsp;"The safe injection sites I know are going to be a big issue," Ayala told Gotham Gazette. "There's been a lot of conversation around bringing those to New York."</p> <p>Ayala also suggested that she will be looking into how New York City’s criminal justice system deals with the issue of domestic violence.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>When asked about her policy priorities, new Council Member Adrienne Adams emphasized immigrant protections and homelessness. Adams expressed deep concern about the policies coming out of &nbsp;Washington, D.C. under the Republican-led Congress and President Donald Trump. Under former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council passed a number of immigrant-friendly laws and curbed the city’s cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities. “My district is extremely diverse and with the policies coming from Washington these days, they’re affecting my district and the entire city of New York tremendously,” said Adams, of southeast Queens.</p> <p>Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr., of the Bronx, who joined the Council from the state Senate, is the first chair of the Council’s new Committee on For-Hire Vehicles. When asked about his priorities, Diaz Sr. simply said, “Taxis.”</p> <p><em>Samar Khurshid contributed to this article.</em></p> <p>

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by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

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</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to better clarify Diana Ayala's comments on safe injection sites.</p>
Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Member Ritchie Torres on The New Council & His New Role 2018-01-17T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-17T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7426-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-member-ritchie-torres-on-the-new-council-his-new-role Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p><strong>January 17, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: City Council Member Ritchie Torres<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/podcast/ritchie-torres-277px.jpg" alt="ritchie torres 277px" width="277" height="143" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>Bronx City Council Member Ritchie Torres is very excited about the new class of the City Council and his role in it -- he's been named by new Speaker Corey Johnson to chair the Committee on Oversight and Investigations, with a promise to beef the committee's staff so that it can be a powerful force in holding city government accountable.</p> <p>Torres joined the podcast to discuss that role and how he will approach it, as well as other Council and political dynamics, including his own bid for the speakership that came up short, his decision to leave the Progressive Caucus, and more.</p> <p>Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@jarrettmurphy</a>, with guest <a href="https://twitter.com/RitchieTorres" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@RitchieTorres</a>. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/385080701&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="170" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p><strong>January 17, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: City Council Member Ritchie Torres<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/podcast/ritchie-torres-277px.jpg" alt="ritchie torres 277px" width="277" height="143" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>Bronx City Council Member Ritchie Torres is very excited about the new class of the City Council and his role in it -- he's been named by new Speaker Corey Johnson to chair the Committee on Oversight and Investigations, with a promise to beef the committee's staff so that it can be a powerful force in holding city government accountable.</p> <p>Torres joined the podcast to discuss that role and how he will approach it, as well as other Council and political dynamics, including his own bid for the speakership that came up short, his decision to leave the Progressive Caucus, and more.</p> <p>Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@jarrettmurphy</a>, with guest <a href="https://twitter.com/RitchieTorres" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@RitchieTorres</a>. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/385080701&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="170" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Mayor-Made Speaker, Sought a Member-Driven Legacy 2017-12-29T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-29T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7394-melissa-mark-viverito-a-mayor-made-speaker-who-sought-a-member-driven-legacy Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/16265643371_7f1d47f71f_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio Speaker Mark-Viverito" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Melissa Mark-Viverito, the first Latina to preside over the 51-member New York City Council, leaves office having shepherded a progressive shift in the city’s direction, in conjunction with fellow Democrat Mayor Bill de Blasio, a philosophically aligned partner in government who was the deciding factor in her winning the powerful speaker position four years ago.</p> <p>As arguably the second most powerful elected official in the city, Mark-Viverito oversaw an agenda of progressivism that significantly moved the needle for causes of social justice, especially related to immigrants, workers, and the criminal justice system, many of which were close to her heart and supported by a Council dominated by progressive members. But when the needle didn’t move fast enough, there were those that said Mark-Viverito too often carried the mayor’s water. It’s a charge she disputes, as do numerous Council members that served under her as they look back at her four years at the helm.</p> <p>Members broadly agree that she followed through on a promise to give rank-and-file Council members the freedom to pursue their priorities while standing firm against the mayoral administration when it mattered, and that some capitulation to the administration’s priorities was part of the high-wire balancing act that defines the speakership. While they worked together far more often than they were in opposition, it was not always clear to what extent Mark-Viverito and her members, on one hand, and de Blasio, on the other, disagreed, given that the Council speaker often kept negotiations close to the vest and declined to comment in detail as the legislative process unfolded.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito and her members also rarely aired internal conflict publicly, while members appeared to know that their speaker would support them, even as she very much pursued her own policy priorities and kept a tight grip on what legislation made its way to the Council floor for a vote.</p> <p>The outgoing speaker made careful decisions about when and how to criticize the mayor, preferring to hold oversight hearings than to make splashy headlines with a sharp quote. She regularly declined to comment about de Blasio’s ethics and transparency problems, instead pursuing legislation to address certain issues or allowing others more willing to be oppositional to fill the space. She mostly stayed out of de Blasio’s feud with Governor Andrew Cuomo, another fellow Democrat, though she herself has been part of some tense intra-party political battles with officials like former Assemblymember and current Manhattan Democratic Party leader Keith Wright.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito assumed the speakership in January 2014 with support from an ascendant mayor, strong labor unions, and a newly empowered Progressive Caucus, bucking the traditional county party-dominated process for selecting a new speaker. The new dynamic led some to be wary of whether Mark-Viverito would be a speaker for the members of the Council or for the mayor, whose politics so closely resembled her own. After taking office, she quickly advanced internal changes at the Council that were meant to empower members, particularly the chairs of the 40-odd committees, while also maintaining sufficient control within the speaker’s office.</p> <p>“The considerable thing about my leadership is that I made it a member-focused legislative body,” Mark-Viverito said, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7383-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-speaker-melissa-mark-viverito" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in a recent appearance on the Max &amp; Murphy podcast</a> hosted by Gotham Gazette and City Limits. “It wasn’t about me centralizing the power, just pushing what my agenda was…[it was about] having the members really have much more of a functional role and ownership for this institution. It belongs to all of us, it doesn’t just belong to the speaker.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito beefed up the Council staff to support members’ legislative priorities, she said, which led to greater output. Over the four years, the Council passed 714 bills under her leadership, more than any Council class before it. “I was being respectful to member priorities and the vision that they had and working with them on that...and I think that’s the way a legislative body should function,” she said.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Listen: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7383-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-speaker-melissa-mark-viverito">Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito</a>]</p> <p>The first two years of Mark-Viverito’s speakership proceeded amicably with the mayor for the most part. The Council played its part in supporting the mayor’s agenda that included universal pre-kindergarten and expanding the paid sick leave law. City spending ramped up with little opposition from the Council, which also advocated for increased spending on its own policy priorities.</p> <p>“I think that from the start the speaker was a forward thinking, independent leader,” said outgoing Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, a Queens Democrat. “She brought real fairness and transparency to the Council and made the Council a better place to work, from someone who had been in the Council for five years prior to her leadership.”</p> <p>An early area of disagreement was Mark-Viverito’s call for an increase in the NYPD’s headcount, which struck many as peculiar given her criticisms of police practices and the larger criminal justice system. She unsuccessfully pressed the issue in 2014, and then renewed her efforts in 2015, eventually convincing a hesitant de Blasio to back the expensive idea. The department ended up adding 1,300 new officers, a compromise among the Council, the mayor, and the NYPD.</p> <p>Also in 2015, in the city’s fight against the ride-hailing service Uber, Mark-Viverito publicly chastised the mayor for presuming that the Council would do his bidding. The mayor, after giving up his effort to cap the number of new cars run by Uber and its competitors, threatened that a cap was still a tool available to him, even though it would have to be approved by the Council first. “I’m not going to allow anyone to attempt to save face at the expense of this Council,” she said at a news conference at City Hall, raising many eyebrows. “This Council decides what bills we need to discuss, what debates we will have, what will be taken off the table, what will be put on the table. No one else leads that discussion, no one else influences that discussion.”</p> <p>Higher profile battles would occur later still, as de Blasio’s first term wore on towards a potential second and as the speaker’s final term wound to a close. (Mark-Viverito was early to endorse de Blasio for reelection, but, over the following months, she seemed to show more willingness to resist his politics and policies.)&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“I think first and foremost, she’s been her speaker,” said Council Member Brad Lander, in a phone interview, on whether Mark-Viverito had been the members’ speaker or the mayor’s. “She’s got a strong vision for the city and for the Council and that’s what I think has guided her. I think it’s been a really productive and fair and highly consequential and progressive speakership.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/35061738875_734c469ce0_z.jpg" alt="De Blasio Mark-Viverito City Hall handshake Ed Reed Mayor's Office" width="300" height="200" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />Lander, who was a leading proponent for Mark-Viverito to become the speaker and was named chair of the Council’s rules committee by her, praised the internal reforms that Mark-Viverito implemented early on, which he helped write. The reforms made the Council “a more equal and inclusive body in which every member can zealously represent their community and their values, even when those are different, without fear or favor,” Lander said. Perhaps most notably, Mark-Viverito and her colleagues changed the system by which members are provided discretionary funds to disperse to nonprofits, rationalizing a process that had often been used by previous speakers to reward and punish members.</p> <p>On particular issues, Lander said, Mark-Viverito facilitated legislation championed by members, such as the right to counsel for tenants in housing court, fair work-week legislation, and certain freelancer protections. The most impactful, in Lander’s view, was her successful advocacy for the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex. Mark-Viverito convened an independent commission to recommend a raft of criminal justice reforms and particularly to look at Rikers. De Blasio, who did not support the closure at first, seemed to begrudgingly accept the inevitable and announced his support just before the commission issued its report. “I believe Rikers is on a path to closure,” Lander said, “and I don’t think that would be true if [Mark-Viverito] had not been elected speaker four years ago.”</p> <p>Lander noted that while the speaker often agreed and collaborated with the mayor, she was not hesitant to oppose him or break with him when her members dictated she should. For instance, when she pulled a bill she supported from consideration by the full Council that would have curbed the city’s horse carriage industry. It was a prominent campaign issue in the 2013 mayoral race and de Blasio had advocated for and promised a complete ban. But, amid discontent from members on potential compromise legislation in early 2016, the speaker stood with her colleagues.</p> <p>“I think she’s been independent,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, a vocal critic of the de Blasio administration, in a November interview at City Hall. “Each speaker, just like each member, has their own political relationship with the other side of the building here. And no speaker’s going to be completely independent from the mayor or the governor or any other political actor that has influence.”</p> <p>As the process to select the next speaker of the City Council has played out in the final months and weeks of 2017, de Blasio has repeatedly said how well he thinks his involvement in Mark-Viverito’s victory turned out. De Blasio captured his overall feelings in June, when announcing a final budget deal with Mark-Viverito, saying of the speaker:</p> <blockquote> <p>“[S]he has been an extraordinary partner over the last four years. We knew each other well before we each assumed these roles. We knew that we had a lot of respect and trust for each other. We knew that we shared values. We didn’t know what it would be like to play these roles. We didn’t know what the times ahead would be or what the issues we’d face would be. But there was a core belief that if you share values, a lot of good things can happen. And many, many conversations over many years – mostly in agreement, sometimes not, but we always found a way to get to a good outcome, and with great support from all our colleagues. So from me, I can tell you I’ll be sorry when these four years are over because it has been such a great and positive partnership. As a progressive, I want to thank Melissa Mark-Viverito for helping to move this city in a new progressive direction. And the things she has championed are going to have a huge impact on this city for many years to come.”</p> </blockquote> <p>A former Council member, who asked to remain anonymous to speak freely, served under both Mark-Viverito and former speaker Christine Quinn and said the process of Mark-Viverito’s election as speaker hampered her ability to distance herself from de Blasio. “Melissa started at a very great disadvantage, the fact that the mayor picked her to be the speaker and only because of him,” the former member said. “He made her. That hurt the whole body and it hurt her ability to really appear to be independent...because people perceived that the City Council is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the mayor. Right off the bat, that’s a bad start.”</p> <p>This former member did credit Mark-Viverito for giving more leeway than Quinn to Council members to push legislation and pursue their individual agendas, while also breaking with the mayor on controversial items. But even then, the member said, there was a degree of deference. “I think Melissa did check with the mayor on everything, and even when they broke, I think they probably checked with the mayor before they broke. So I think it was a real problem,” the former member said.</p> <p>On no other issue has that dynamic played out more strongly than criminal justice reform and the Council’s attempts to legislate, and regulate, the city’s police force. Two police reform bills to regulate officers’ interactions with people, collectively named The Right to Know Act, progressed slowly through the legislative process over the years despite having overwhelming support from Council members and progressive advocates. Tensions reached a head in mid-2016 when Mark-Viverito reached a compromise on administrative implementation by the NYPD of partial measures, in lieu of a full Council vote to codify the provisions into law. Advocates saw it as a backroom deal while Council members fumed over the concession to the administration and the police department.</p> <p>Amended versions of the bills would ultimately pass in a divisive vote at the final full meeting of the Council on December 19, 2017, with numerous Council members and hundreds of community groups coming out in opposition to one bill sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres that had been, in their view, diluted to appease the NYPD and the mayor, who said he’d sign the bill given it had struck the right balance despite his skepticism about too much legislating of NYPD protocols.</p> <p>Monifa Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, an advocacy coalition, said in a statement that it was “disappointing,” particularly given Mark-Viverito’s progressive credentials on police reform and accountability. “While [Mark-Viverito] was a champion on Closing Rikers, she did not show the same willingness to fight for front-end police reforms that hold the NYPD accountable and systemically change racial disparities in policing and what feeds the criminal justice system,” Bandele said. “She spent three to four years blocking the Right to Know Act, and then helped the de Blasio administration undermine the half of the legislative package of which Council Member Torres was lead sponsor.” Bandele also criticized the speaker’s push to increase the headcount of the NYPD, which Mark-Viverito had <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2015/04/mark-viverito-defends-calls-for-police-expansion-and-reform-021178" target="_blank" rel="noopener">argued</a> would help with reforms and implementation of community policing.</p> <p>Council Member Torres also criticized the administrative compromise in 2016 and he told Gotham Gazette in November that Mark-Viverito had not been sufficiently independent of the mayor in that case. In a separate interview after a November 1 Crain’s New York Business breakfast forum, Torres indicated, amid praise, some dissatisfaction with the speaker’s record. “I support Melissa, I love Melissa as a person and as a speaker. I thought she has struck the right balance between decentralizing greater power to the members while at the same time maintaining the power of the speaker’s office,” he said. “There are a few moments when I felt we were excessively deferential to the mayor and I said so at the time of those controversies.”</p> <p>Torres had said at the Crain’s forum -- part of his bid to become Mark-Viverito’s successor as speaker -- that the Council was prone to sideshow distractions. “Oscar Lopez, Christopher Columbus, what’s the latest sensation of the week,” he elaborated in the interview afterward. “The Health and Hospitals Corporation could disappear within the next five years. NYCHA has $17 billion worth of capital needs. Those are the things that matter, those are the things that we should be discussing.”</p> <p>Torres later changed his tune somewhat, perhaps showcasing some of the mixed feelings Council members have about Mark-Viverito’s tenure and her relationships with de Blasio and her members. “She has been responsive to the needs of the members, there’s no question about it. As a member, I could not be more satisfied with the leadership that she’s given me,” Torres recently told Gotham Gazette at City Hall.</p> <p>As to his earlier comments on her independence, Torres said, “I think it’s a matter of degree. We could always be more effective, we could always be more independent. But has she fundamentally been representative of the needs of the members of the institution? The answer is yes. Not perfect, but fundamentally.” When the Right to Know Act headed to a vote and many of Torres’ colleagues criticized his bill, Mark-Viverito was one of his fiercest defenders, though a number of Council members felt that Torres and Mark-Viverito had capitulated too much to the de Blasio administration. Torres’ bill did pass.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7383-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-speaker-melissa-mark-viverito" target="_blank" rel="noopener">On the Max &amp; Murphy podcast</a>, Mark-Viverito addressed working with de Blasio, and the Council negotiating hundreds of bills with the administration, along with land use deals, budgets, and more. “I can safely say that we’ve had a good partnership and I think that there are a lot of things that I was able to move them on and they had conversations with us and maybe there’s things that they [moved] us on,” she said December 20. “But definitely it was a very productive relationship in that way. And I think that in areas where they may have had concerns about pieces of legislation, really engaging with them and talking to them and exerting ourselves, we were able to get some reconsideration on those items. And that’s in consultation with colleagues...I’m not regretful of anything.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito is leaving office proud of the way she led the Council, and not ruling out her own run for mayor down the line. It’s no surprise that even though she is term-limited she did not challenge a sitting mayor of her own party who she is largely aligned with and who helped her reach the height of her power. She’s leaving office having not only ushered in significant changes to city law, but having altered the way the Council functions and how members expect to be treated by their leader.</p> <p>“Anyone that has to deal with a thousand bills over the course of a tenure is going to have to work to be tremendously balanced when you’re leading a legislative body against, at times, or in conjunction with the mayor’s administration,” said Staten Island Council Member Joe Borelli, one of only three Republicans on the City Council who, more often than not, vote against the types of progressive legislation championed by Mark-Viverito.</p> <p>“I don’t think you can box her in as being either/or [the members’ speaker or the mayor’s speaker]. I’m sure her critics will say that she’s both at times when it suits their narrative,” Borelli continued. “She’s someone who wore her progressive banner very proudly and that’s certainly going to be her legacy and I think people over the next few years will view her as someone who carried the football for progressive causes a bit further, and people like me and those I represent will see her tenure in the speakership as slightly different.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/16265643371_7f1d47f71f_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio Speaker Mark-Viverito" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Melissa Mark-Viverito, the first Latina to preside over the 51-member New York City Council, leaves office having shepherded a progressive shift in the city’s direction, in conjunction with fellow Democrat Mayor Bill de Blasio, a philosophically aligned partner in government who was the deciding factor in her winning the powerful speaker position four years ago.</p> <p>As arguably the second most powerful elected official in the city, Mark-Viverito oversaw an agenda of progressivism that significantly moved the needle for causes of social justice, especially related to immigrants, workers, and the criminal justice system, many of which were close to her heart and supported by a Council dominated by progressive members. But when the needle didn’t move fast enough, there were those that said Mark-Viverito too often carried the mayor’s water. It’s a charge she disputes, as do numerous Council members that served under her as they look back at her four years at the helm.</p> <p>Members broadly agree that she followed through on a promise to give rank-and-file Council members the freedom to pursue their priorities while standing firm against the mayoral administration when it mattered, and that some capitulation to the administration’s priorities was part of the high-wire balancing act that defines the speakership. While they worked together far more often than they were in opposition, it was not always clear to what extent Mark-Viverito and her members, on one hand, and de Blasio, on the other, disagreed, given that the Council speaker often kept negotiations close to the vest and declined to comment in detail as the legislative process unfolded.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito and her members also rarely aired internal conflict publicly, while members appeared to know that their speaker would support them, even as she very much pursued her own policy priorities and kept a tight grip on what legislation made its way to the Council floor for a vote.</p> <p>The outgoing speaker made careful decisions about when and how to criticize the mayor, preferring to hold oversight hearings than to make splashy headlines with a sharp quote. She regularly declined to comment about de Blasio’s ethics and transparency problems, instead pursuing legislation to address certain issues or allowing others more willing to be oppositional to fill the space. She mostly stayed out of de Blasio’s feud with Governor Andrew Cuomo, another fellow Democrat, though she herself has been part of some tense intra-party political battles with officials like former Assemblymember and current Manhattan Democratic Party leader Keith Wright.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito assumed the speakership in January 2014 with support from an ascendant mayor, strong labor unions, and a newly empowered Progressive Caucus, bucking the traditional county party-dominated process for selecting a new speaker. The new dynamic led some to be wary of whether Mark-Viverito would be a speaker for the members of the Council or for the mayor, whose politics so closely resembled her own. After taking office, she quickly advanced internal changes at the Council that were meant to empower members, particularly the chairs of the 40-odd committees, while also maintaining sufficient control within the speaker’s office.</p> <p>“The considerable thing about my leadership is that I made it a member-focused legislative body,” Mark-Viverito said, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7383-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-speaker-melissa-mark-viverito" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in a recent appearance on the Max &amp; Murphy podcast</a> hosted by Gotham Gazette and City Limits. “It wasn’t about me centralizing the power, just pushing what my agenda was…[it was about] having the members really have much more of a functional role and ownership for this institution. It belongs to all of us, it doesn’t just belong to the speaker.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito beefed up the Council staff to support members’ legislative priorities, she said, which led to greater output. Over the four years, the Council passed 714 bills under her leadership, more than any Council class before it. “I was being respectful to member priorities and the vision that they had and working with them on that...and I think that’s the way a legislative body should function,” she said.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Listen: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7383-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-speaker-melissa-mark-viverito">Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito</a>]</p> <p>The first two years of Mark-Viverito’s speakership proceeded amicably with the mayor for the most part. The Council played its part in supporting the mayor’s agenda that included universal pre-kindergarten and expanding the paid sick leave law. City spending ramped up with little opposition from the Council, which also advocated for increased spending on its own policy priorities.</p> <p>“I think that from the start the speaker was a forward thinking, independent leader,” said outgoing Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, a Queens Democrat. “She brought real fairness and transparency to the Council and made the Council a better place to work, from someone who had been in the Council for five years prior to her leadership.”</p> <p>An early area of disagreement was Mark-Viverito’s call for an increase in the NYPD’s headcount, which struck many as peculiar given her criticisms of police practices and the larger criminal justice system. She unsuccessfully pressed the issue in 2014, and then renewed her efforts in 2015, eventually convincing a hesitant de Blasio to back the expensive idea. The department ended up adding 1,300 new officers, a compromise among the Council, the mayor, and the NYPD.</p> <p>Also in 2015, in the city’s fight against the ride-hailing service Uber, Mark-Viverito publicly chastised the mayor for presuming that the Council would do his bidding. The mayor, after giving up his effort to cap the number of new cars run by Uber and its competitors, threatened that a cap was still a tool available to him, even though it would have to be approved by the Council first. “I’m not going to allow anyone to attempt to save face at the expense of this Council,” she said at a news conference at City Hall, raising many eyebrows. “This Council decides what bills we need to discuss, what debates we will have, what will be taken off the table, what will be put on the table. No one else leads that discussion, no one else influences that discussion.”</p> <p>Higher profile battles would occur later still, as de Blasio’s first term wore on towards a potential second and as the speaker’s final term wound to a close. (Mark-Viverito was early to endorse de Blasio for reelection, but, over the following months, she seemed to show more willingness to resist his politics and policies.)&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“I think first and foremost, she’s been her speaker,” said Council Member Brad Lander, in a phone interview, on whether Mark-Viverito had been the members’ speaker or the mayor’s. “She’s got a strong vision for the city and for the Council and that’s what I think has guided her. I think it’s been a really productive and fair and highly consequential and progressive speakership.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/35061738875_734c469ce0_z.jpg" alt="De Blasio Mark-Viverito City Hall handshake Ed Reed Mayor's Office" width="300" height="200" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />Lander, who was a leading proponent for Mark-Viverito to become the speaker and was named chair of the Council’s rules committee by her, praised the internal reforms that Mark-Viverito implemented early on, which he helped write. The reforms made the Council “a more equal and inclusive body in which every member can zealously represent their community and their values, even when those are different, without fear or favor,” Lander said. Perhaps most notably, Mark-Viverito and her colleagues changed the system by which members are provided discretionary funds to disperse to nonprofits, rationalizing a process that had often been used by previous speakers to reward and punish members.</p> <p>On particular issues, Lander said, Mark-Viverito facilitated legislation championed by members, such as the right to counsel for tenants in housing court, fair work-week legislation, and certain freelancer protections. The most impactful, in Lander’s view, was her successful advocacy for the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex. Mark-Viverito convened an independent commission to recommend a raft of criminal justice reforms and particularly to look at Rikers. De Blasio, who did not support the closure at first, seemed to begrudgingly accept the inevitable and announced his support just before the commission issued its report. “I believe Rikers is on a path to closure,” Lander said, “and I don’t think that would be true if [Mark-Viverito] had not been elected speaker four years ago.”</p> <p>Lander noted that while the speaker often agreed and collaborated with the mayor, she was not hesitant to oppose him or break with him when her members dictated she should. For instance, when she pulled a bill she supported from consideration by the full Council that would have curbed the city’s horse carriage industry. It was a prominent campaign issue in the 2013 mayoral race and de Blasio had advocated for and promised a complete ban. But, amid discontent from members on potential compromise legislation in early 2016, the speaker stood with her colleagues.</p> <p>“I think she’s been independent,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, a vocal critic of the de Blasio administration, in a November interview at City Hall. “Each speaker, just like each member, has their own political relationship with the other side of the building here. And no speaker’s going to be completely independent from the mayor or the governor or any other political actor that has influence.”</p> <p>As the process to select the next speaker of the City Council has played out in the final months and weeks of 2017, de Blasio has repeatedly said how well he thinks his involvement in Mark-Viverito’s victory turned out. De Blasio captured his overall feelings in June, when announcing a final budget deal with Mark-Viverito, saying of the speaker:</p> <blockquote> <p>“[S]he has been an extraordinary partner over the last four years. We knew each other well before we each assumed these roles. We knew that we had a lot of respect and trust for each other. We knew that we shared values. We didn’t know what it would be like to play these roles. We didn’t know what the times ahead would be or what the issues we’d face would be. But there was a core belief that if you share values, a lot of good things can happen. And many, many conversations over many years – mostly in agreement, sometimes not, but we always found a way to get to a good outcome, and with great support from all our colleagues. So from me, I can tell you I’ll be sorry when these four years are over because it has been such a great and positive partnership. As a progressive, I want to thank Melissa Mark-Viverito for helping to move this city in a new progressive direction. And the things she has championed are going to have a huge impact on this city for many years to come.”</p> </blockquote> <p>A former Council member, who asked to remain anonymous to speak freely, served under both Mark-Viverito and former speaker Christine Quinn and said the process of Mark-Viverito’s election as speaker hampered her ability to distance herself from de Blasio. “Melissa started at a very great disadvantage, the fact that the mayor picked her to be the speaker and only because of him,” the former member said. “He made her. That hurt the whole body and it hurt her ability to really appear to be independent...because people perceived that the City Council is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the mayor. Right off the bat, that’s a bad start.”</p> <p>This former member did credit Mark-Viverito for giving more leeway than Quinn to Council members to push legislation and pursue their individual agendas, while also breaking with the mayor on controversial items. But even then, the member said, there was a degree of deference. “I think Melissa did check with the mayor on everything, and even when they broke, I think they probably checked with the mayor before they broke. So I think it was a real problem,” the former member said.</p> <p>On no other issue has that dynamic played out more strongly than criminal justice reform and the Council’s attempts to legislate, and regulate, the city’s police force. Two police reform bills to regulate officers’ interactions with people, collectively named The Right to Know Act, progressed slowly through the legislative process over the years despite having overwhelming support from Council members and progressive advocates. Tensions reached a head in mid-2016 when Mark-Viverito reached a compromise on administrative implementation by the NYPD of partial measures, in lieu of a full Council vote to codify the provisions into law. Advocates saw it as a backroom deal while Council members fumed over the concession to the administration and the police department.</p> <p>Amended versions of the bills would ultimately pass in a divisive vote at the final full meeting of the Council on December 19, 2017, with numerous Council members and hundreds of community groups coming out in opposition to one bill sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres that had been, in their view, diluted to appease the NYPD and the mayor, who said he’d sign the bill given it had struck the right balance despite his skepticism about too much legislating of NYPD protocols.</p> <p>Monifa Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, an advocacy coalition, said in a statement that it was “disappointing,” particularly given Mark-Viverito’s progressive credentials on police reform and accountability. “While [Mark-Viverito] was a champion on Closing Rikers, she did not show the same willingness to fight for front-end police reforms that hold the NYPD accountable and systemically change racial disparities in policing and what feeds the criminal justice system,” Bandele said. “She spent three to four years blocking the Right to Know Act, and then helped the de Blasio administration undermine the half of the legislative package of which Council Member Torres was lead sponsor.” Bandele also criticized the speaker’s push to increase the headcount of the NYPD, which Mark-Viverito had <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2015/04/mark-viverito-defends-calls-for-police-expansion-and-reform-021178" target="_blank" rel="noopener">argued</a> would help with reforms and implementation of community policing.</p> <p>Council Member Torres also criticized the administrative compromise in 2016 and he told Gotham Gazette in November that Mark-Viverito had not been sufficiently independent of the mayor in that case. In a separate interview after a November 1 Crain’s New York Business breakfast forum, Torres indicated, amid praise, some dissatisfaction with the speaker’s record. “I support Melissa, I love Melissa as a person and as a speaker. I thought she has struck the right balance between decentralizing greater power to the members while at the same time maintaining the power of the speaker’s office,” he said. “There are a few moments when I felt we were excessively deferential to the mayor and I said so at the time of those controversies.”</p> <p>Torres had said at the Crain’s forum -- part of his bid to become Mark-Viverito’s successor as speaker -- that the Council was prone to sideshow distractions. “Oscar Lopez, Christopher Columbus, what’s the latest sensation of the week,” he elaborated in the interview afterward. “The Health and Hospitals Corporation could disappear within the next five years. NYCHA has $17 billion worth of capital needs. Those are the things that matter, those are the things that we should be discussing.”</p> <p>Torres later changed his tune somewhat, perhaps showcasing some of the mixed feelings Council members have about Mark-Viverito’s tenure and her relationships with de Blasio and her members. “She has been responsive to the needs of the members, there’s no question about it. As a member, I could not be more satisfied with the leadership that she’s given me,” Torres recently told Gotham Gazette at City Hall.</p> <p>As to his earlier comments on her independence, Torres said, “I think it’s a matter of degree. We could always be more effective, we could always be more independent. But has she fundamentally been representative of the needs of the members of the institution? The answer is yes. Not perfect, but fundamentally.” When the Right to Know Act headed to a vote and many of Torres’ colleagues criticized his bill, Mark-Viverito was one of his fiercest defenders, though a number of Council members felt that Torres and Mark-Viverito had capitulated too much to the de Blasio administration. Torres’ bill did pass.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7383-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-speaker-melissa-mark-viverito" target="_blank" rel="noopener">On the Max &amp; Murphy podcast</a>, Mark-Viverito addressed working with de Blasio, and the Council negotiating hundreds of bills with the administration, along with land use deals, budgets, and more. “I can safely say that we’ve had a good partnership and I think that there are a lot of things that I was able to move them on and they had conversations with us and maybe there’s things that they [moved] us on,” she said December 20. “But definitely it was a very productive relationship in that way. And I think that in areas where they may have had concerns about pieces of legislation, really engaging with them and talking to them and exerting ourselves, we were able to get some reconsideration on those items. And that’s in consultation with colleagues...I’m not regretful of anything.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito is leaving office proud of the way she led the Council, and not ruling out her own run for mayor down the line. It’s no surprise that even though she is term-limited she did not challenge a sitting mayor of her own party who she is largely aligned with and who helped her reach the height of her power. She’s leaving office having not only ushered in significant changes to city law, but having altered the way the Council functions and how members expect to be treated by their leader.</p> <p>“Anyone that has to deal with a thousand bills over the course of a tenure is going to have to work to be tremendously balanced when you’re leading a legislative body against, at times, or in conjunction with the mayor’s administration,” said Staten Island Council Member Joe Borelli, one of only three Republicans on the City Council who, more often than not, vote against the types of progressive legislation championed by Mark-Viverito.</p> <p>“I don’t think you can box her in as being either/or [the members’ speaker or the mayor’s speaker]. I’m sure her critics will say that she’s both at times when it suits their narrative,” Borelli continued. “She’s someone who wore her progressive banner very proudly and that’s certainly going to be her legacy and I think people over the next few years will view her as someone who carried the football for progressive causes a bit further, and people like me and those I represent will see her tenure in the speakership as slightly different.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p>
Congratulations and Consternation as City Council Ends Term 2017-12-19T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-19T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7379-congratulations-and-consternation-as-city-council-ends-term Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/mmv_flag_alatriste.jpg" alt="mmv flag alatriste" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Speaker Melisasa Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alatriste, June 2015)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council concluded its four-year term on Tuesday with a marathon legislative blitz, passing 38 new bills at its last full-body meeting. The Council has seen more new legislation passed in the last four years than any other Council class seated before it, with a total of 714 bills approved (in comparison, the final full-body meeting under the previous speaker, Christine Quinn, the Council passed 29 bills in December, 2013).</p> <p>Under the leadership of outgoing Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council has taken an active, interventionist approach and has approved sweeping legislation to benefit the city’s most vulnerable and poorest populations. Broad packages of criminal justice reforms, immigrant protections, tenant and consumer rights laws have been enacted alongside more pedantic concerns, dominated by a progressive caucus that has driven large parts of the Council’s policy priorities.</p> <p>The Council has made civil penalties for low-level offenses in order to prevent criminal records in as many instances as possible, and provided free legal services for low-income tenants in housing court. It created a municipal identification program with an eye toward benefitting undocumented immigrants. It passed new land use regulations to mandate the creation of affordable housing when the city grants more density to a developer, among many more policies that have reshaped the city’s landscape.</p> <p>Tuesday’s agenda carried much of the same. The 38 bills included two significant, and controversial, police reform bills, collectively called the Right to Know Act. One of the two bills saw an unusually high number of “no” votes for a body that has not brought legislation to the floor that has been voted down (nor has the Council had a bill it passed vetoed by Mayor Bill de Blasio).</p> <p>The Council on Tuesday also made technical changes to the city’s Human Rights Law, mandated that the Department of Education publish an annual report on students in temporary housing, and required the Department of Small Business Services to create a resource guide for subcontractors. Bills dealing with traffic violations, renewable energy use, noise complaints, and a census of vacant city properties were also approved, among others.</p> <p>“We turned a speaker-driven institution into one where members have had a real say in things,” said Mark-Viverito from the Council floor, triumphantly touting her record as speaker and recounting her career. “Even when we didn’t always agree, we always listened.”</p> <p>What was at times a celebratory occasion, however, had a number of tense and bittersweet moments. Whoops and applause did ring out to the full chamber, as Mark-Viverito spoke for the last time from the floor, thanking her colleagues who applauded her in return. But the members also faced the necessity of bidding her farewell, along with 10 other outgoing members who are either term-limited or stepping down. “I don’t have regrets,” Mark-Viverito told her Council cohort, emphasizing the productive legislative session that she led. “And we should all be proud of that because we’re making the city a better city for all New Yorkers, for every single New Yorker who oftentimes feels invisible or feels disrespected or disenfranchised.”</p> <p>The perfunctory congratulations and backpatting would only last so long. In a legislative body known for few disagreements in the last four years, one particular bill on the agenda, Intro. 182 sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres as part of the Right to Know Act, led to one of the most concerted debates and eventually the most divided vote the body has seen in this four-year session.</p> <p>The bill, which passed 27-20 with three abstentions, requires NYPD officers in certain types of street encounters to proactively identify themselves and to provide a business card listing their rank and command. Last-minute changes to the bill prompted consternation from police reform advocates, who felt it had been watered down at the behest of the NYPD and urged members to oppose it, while vehemently criticizing Torres. The final version did not include the most common street stops or any car stops.</p> <p>Many of Torres’ colleagues praised his efforts to negotiate the bill and came to his defense, while others subsequently criticized the final product that was voted on. Numerous Council members, including Brad Lander, Jumaane Williams, Donovan Richards, and Robert Cornegy, as well as many other Council members of color who had been sponsors of the bill, pulled their support. (The companion legislation, Intro. 541 sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, which requires police officers to obtain consent to conduct a search where there is no probably cause, passed 37-13.)</p> <p>At one point, Williams spoke beyond his allotted time against Torres’ bill and his microphone was cut off as Speaker Mark-Viverito urged the body to move on. Council Member Rosie Mendez, who was next to speak, offered to yield her two minutes to Williams but Public Advocate Letitia James, overseeing the proceedings, denied the request saying the Council rules did not allow it. A frustrated Williams continued to talk before relenting. “It’s a sham and it’s a shame,” he said.</p> <p>When it was finally his opportunity to speak, Torres, who faced much of the advocates’ wrath, staunchly defended the final legislation he put forward. “It is historic, it is unprecedented, it is real reform in the truest sense of the word,” he said, seeking to dispel what he said was disinformation from advocates about the effects of the bill, insisting that it lays a strong foundation for progress and preempting what he believes will be a more conservative Council come January. “I stand by what I have chosen to do, even if it means standing alone,” he said, “even if it means straining and severing political relationships, even if it means I am no longer beloved in progressive circles, even if it means I have no future in progressive politics.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/mmv_flag_alatriste.jpg" alt="mmv flag alatriste" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Speaker Melisasa Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alatriste, June 2015)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council concluded its four-year term on Tuesday with a marathon legislative blitz, passing 38 new bills at its last full-body meeting. The Council has seen more new legislation passed in the last four years than any other Council class seated before it, with a total of 714 bills approved (in comparison, the final full-body meeting under the previous speaker, Christine Quinn, the Council passed 29 bills in December, 2013).</p> <p>Under the leadership of outgoing Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council has taken an active, interventionist approach and has approved sweeping legislation to benefit the city’s most vulnerable and poorest populations. Broad packages of criminal justice reforms, immigrant protections, tenant and consumer rights laws have been enacted alongside more pedantic concerns, dominated by a progressive caucus that has driven large parts of the Council’s policy priorities.</p> <p>The Council has made civil penalties for low-level offenses in order to prevent criminal records in as many instances as possible, and provided free legal services for low-income tenants in housing court. It created a municipal identification program with an eye toward benefitting undocumented immigrants. It passed new land use regulations to mandate the creation of affordable housing when the city grants more density to a developer, among many more policies that have reshaped the city’s landscape.</p> <p>Tuesday’s agenda carried much of the same. The 38 bills included two significant, and controversial, police reform bills, collectively called the Right to Know Act. One of the two bills saw an unusually high number of “no” votes for a body that has not brought legislation to the floor that has been voted down (nor has the Council had a bill it passed vetoed by Mayor Bill de Blasio).</p> <p>The Council on Tuesday also made technical changes to the city’s Human Rights Law, mandated that the Department of Education publish an annual report on students in temporary housing, and required the Department of Small Business Services to create a resource guide for subcontractors. Bills dealing with traffic violations, renewable energy use, noise complaints, and a census of vacant city properties were also approved, among others.</p> <p>“We turned a speaker-driven institution into one where members have had a real say in things,” said Mark-Viverito from the Council floor, triumphantly touting her record as speaker and recounting her career. “Even when we didn’t always agree, we always listened.”</p> <p>What was at times a celebratory occasion, however, had a number of tense and bittersweet moments. Whoops and applause did ring out to the full chamber, as Mark-Viverito spoke for the last time from the floor, thanking her colleagues who applauded her in return. But the members also faced the necessity of bidding her farewell, along with 10 other outgoing members who are either term-limited or stepping down. “I don’t have regrets,” Mark-Viverito told her Council cohort, emphasizing the productive legislative session that she led. “And we should all be proud of that because we’re making the city a better city for all New Yorkers, for every single New Yorker who oftentimes feels invisible or feels disrespected or disenfranchised.”</p> <p>The perfunctory congratulations and backpatting would only last so long. In a legislative body known for few disagreements in the last four years, one particular bill on the agenda, Intro. 182 sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres as part of the Right to Know Act, led to one of the most concerted debates and eventually the most divided vote the body has seen in this four-year session.</p> <p>The bill, which passed 27-20 with three abstentions, requires NYPD officers in certain types of street encounters to proactively identify themselves and to provide a business card listing their rank and command. Last-minute changes to the bill prompted consternation from police reform advocates, who felt it had been watered down at the behest of the NYPD and urged members to oppose it, while vehemently criticizing Torres. The final version did not include the most common street stops or any car stops.</p> <p>Many of Torres’ colleagues praised his efforts to negotiate the bill and came to his defense, while others subsequently criticized the final product that was voted on. Numerous Council members, including Brad Lander, Jumaane Williams, Donovan Richards, and Robert Cornegy, as well as many other Council members of color who had been sponsors of the bill, pulled their support. (The companion legislation, Intro. 541 sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, which requires police officers to obtain consent to conduct a search where there is no probably cause, passed 37-13.)</p> <p>At one point, Williams spoke beyond his allotted time against Torres’ bill and his microphone was cut off as Speaker Mark-Viverito urged the body to move on. Council Member Rosie Mendez, who was next to speak, offered to yield her two minutes to Williams but Public Advocate Letitia James, overseeing the proceedings, denied the request saying the Council rules did not allow it. A frustrated Williams continued to talk before relenting. “It’s a sham and it’s a shame,” he said.</p> <p>When it was finally his opportunity to speak, Torres, who faced much of the advocates’ wrath, staunchly defended the final legislation he put forward. “It is historic, it is unprecedented, it is real reform in the truest sense of the word,” he said, seeking to dispel what he said was disinformation from advocates about the effects of the bill, insisting that it lays a strong foundation for progress and preempting what he believes will be a more conservative Council come January. “I stand by what I have chosen to do, even if it means standing alone,” he said, “even if it means straining and severing political relationships, even if it means I am no longer beloved in progressive circles, even if it means I have no future in progressive politics.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Council Speaker Candidates Hesitant to Criticize or Reform Party-Controlled Board of Elections 2017-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7368-council-speaker-candidates-hesitant-to-criticize-or-reform-board-of-elections Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/24746697891_2461799422_z.jpg" alt="City Council chambers with members" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>photo by William Alatriste/City Council</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Board of Elections has widely been acknowledged as a dysfunctional agency in need of urgent and sweeping reform, yet the political will for modernizing and professionalizing the board has not existed, at least in part because its current structure benefits those in power.</p> <p>Its system of appointments based on political patronage has long been a source of criticism and its mismanagement of election operations has frustrated voters and been the subject of City Council oversight hearings. But, when asked, the eight men vying to become the next Speaker of the City Council recently said concerns about the BOE are misguided. To varying degrees, they indicated that the board is effective and efficient, that its failings are isolated rather than systematic, and that its current structure should be preserved.</p> <p>At a November 20 speaker candidate forum hosted by Citizens Union, other government reform groups, and New York Law School, seven speaker candidates -- Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan; Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens; and Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn -- were present and they mostly took the middle of the road when asked about the steps the City Council, which approves appointments to the BOE, could take to improve the board. The ten BOE commissioners include two -- one Republican and one Democrat -- from each borough.</p> <p>The Council members hedged their bets and praised the BOE, recognizing that any criticism could potentially be read as directed toward the county party organizations that nominate BOE commissioners and place other employees at the board -- the same county organizations whose support each candidate is seeking in order to become speaker. The eighth candidate, Ritchie Torres from the Bronx, would later give Gotham Gazette a similar response.</p> <p>None of the members were in favor of a non-partisan restructuring of the board. “That’s a tough question to ask of speaker candidates,” Williams said, to laughter from his colleagues in acknowledgement of the role of the county party machines in both picking BOE commissioners and picking the Council speaker. Williams defended the board but did acknowledge that patronage has played a role in appointments and that the Council could do more to improve it.</p> <p>“We know that we do have some issues and if we can just do some more thinking through that process and make sure that it’s not as patronage as some folks may think, we can move a lot further,” Williams said, taking the most bold position of the group. “I’m not sure if we push as hard as we can when things go wrong.”</p> <p>Other candidates spoke generally about reforming election and voting laws, a tangential subject that is mostly the prerogative of the state Legislature, and some staunchly argued in favor of the current partisan composition of the board, which they insisted maintains a balance and prevents one-party hegemony in elections.</p> <p>“I do not support non-partisan appointments to the Board of Elections,” said Johnson, one of the three perceived frontrunners in the race, along with Levine and Cornegy. “I believe that the parties play a particular role in ensuring that we make sure that any party that’s dominant at a given time cannot run roughshod over another party. If someone came up with a perfect system of a non-partisan way to handle it, maybe I’d entertain it. I’ve never heard of that system, I don’t know how you take political influence out of politics.”</p> <p>“I couldn’t agree more,” Van Bramer said in response.</p> <p>The city BOE falls under state jurisdiction, like all local boards of election, although the city gets to decide the board’s budget and not much else. The ten board commissioners are nominated by the county party machinery and appointed by the City Council. Representatives from the board testify at City Council hearings, usually during budget season, and receive recommendations and often admonitions from Council members, but are not bound to follow any Council mandates.</p> <p>The board is often seen as favoring the Democratic Party establishment, given that the vast majority of candidates for city offices are Democrats. Candidates not backed by the party machinery are often challenged in board proceedings and kicked off the ballot, though they are often first-time candidates with fewer resources and without experienced election lawyers.</p> <p>On Monday, Torres reiterated what his colleagues had said weeks ago. “I suspect you’re misdiagnosing the problem, the problem is a lack of resources,” he told Gotham Gazette at City Hall. “I suspect it’s a lack of resources more than the manner in which the appointments are made.”</p> <p>He continued, “Does the BOE have inefficiencies? Yes. It’s true of every agency in city government. There’s not a single agency in city government that’s free of inefficiency. So the notion that you would cite inefficiency as an excuse for fundamentally changing the structure of an institution is dubious.” Torres said he would oppose any measures that could weaken the party organizations’ role but conceded that the Council should “study the problem comprehensively” to determine the needs and inefficiencies of the BOE.</p> <p>There have been studies in the past, and each has found persistent issues.</p> <p>A <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/reports/pdf/2013/2013-12-30-BOE_Unit_Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2013 report</a> by the city’s Department of Investigations <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20131230/civic-center/nyc-board-of-elections-riddled-with-problems-dept-of-investigation-finds" target="_blank" rel="noopener">found</a> a raft of problems in elections management as well as internal board administration. In 2016, the BOE was responsible for a massive voter purge in Brooklyn during the presidential primaries, resulting in legal action by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. In November, Schneiderman announced a consent decree with the BOE that requires added oversight of the board’s voter list maintenance.</p> <p>Less than a week before this year’s general election on November 7, city Comptroller Scott Stringer also released an <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/audit-report-on-the-board-of-elections-controls-over-the-maintenance-of-voters-records-and-poll-access/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">audit</a> that excoriated the BOE’s dysfunctional election operations. At each step, the BOE has pushed back and has been resistant to change. Even when Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a $20 million incentive for the board to enact major reforms -- recommending the empaneling of a Blue Ribbon Commission to analyze the BOE, more transparency in hiring and improved poll worker training, among other measures -- its commissioners refused.</p> <p>“The Mayor believes that it is critical that we reform the Board of Elections,” said Seth Stein, a mayoral spokesperson, in a statement on Tuesday. “They have demonstrated time and again that they are unable to perform the basic functions of their office, like keeping eligible voters on the rolls. The Mayor looks forward to working with whoever the next Speaker is to encourage the Board to accept the $20 million we have offered in exchange for necessary reforms.”</p> <p>State-level BOE reforms have not progressed in Albany.</p> <p>Those who could take steps or apply pressure to improve the BOE’s abysmal record are the very people invested in the status quo, however, and the City Council, particularly its speaker, falls squarely within that dynamic. Election experts also tend to agree that the Council can pass little meaningful reform, absent legislative action at the state level, and that the bi-partisan BOE composition is appropriate. &nbsp;</p> <p>“There’s very little the City Council can do regarding the structural functioning of the agency,” said Sarah Steiner, an election lawyer. “They could maybe fund the board at a higher level so it could function better.”</p> <p>“In terms of patronage, it’s a bi-partisan agency, not a civil service agency. Unless that’s changed, the county organizations is where the commissioners and employees will come from,” she added. She insisted that most of the board’s employees are, in her experience, qualified and hard-working professionals. “As in any organization, some employees are better than others,” she said. And she warned that a civil service agency running elections could be open to political interference, while the current structure is designed to prevent just that.</p> <p>Steiner praised, in particular, the speed and accuracy with which the BOE provides election night results. But, she said, “they are less good at some of the work regarding candidates. I think the rules structure for candidates needs substantial revision.” Unlike the state BOE, the city agency doesn’t provide a public comment period for rules changes, she said, which often leaves the candidates and their campaigns unaware and unprepared. “The administrative rules are not as easy as the board thinks they are, and they’re largely a minefield,” she added.</p> <p>J.C. Polanco, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for public advocate this year, has served as &nbsp;president of the city BOE and saw the problems first hand and attempted to fix them. He campaigned this year on a platform that included BOE reform. He’s blunt about the Council speaker candidates and why they wouldn’t speak up against the agency. “Each candidate has to try not to offend the county organizations,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>Though Polanco also agrees that the BOE’s partisan structure may be necessary, he believes it can be better. “One of the things to do is to professionalize the board,” he said, “by forcing every candidate to go through the crucible of the [Council’s] investigations process required of commissioners.” He favors merit-based hiring and called for it when he worked at the board.</p> <p>“There are professionals at the board that get a bad rap for the failures of the board to modernize,” he insisted, echoing Steiner. “You can definitely have a professionalized partisan agency.” The board should post positions with qualifications online, he said, and more publicly seek employees. “It would require an enlightenment of the citizenry and the board,” Polanco said. He also speculated about giving third parties representation on the board, proportionate to their vote shares in prior elections.</p> <p>Although the Council members poised to be the next speaker may not agree, the official they are hoping to succeed believes that the BOE needs improvement. Melissa Mark-Viverito, who, in the waning days of her speakership, has waded into <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/local-politics/2017/12/09/squabble-among-manhattan-democrats-pits-council-speaker-against-county-chair" target="_blank" rel="noopener">conflict</a> with the Manhattan Democratic County Committee over a BOE commissioner appointment, said the Council has discussed reforming the BOE for years. Responding to a question from Gotham Gazette, she said, “There’s obviously a lot more work that has to be done. We’ve seen the reports issued by DOI and others with the dysfunction at the Board of Elections and there definitely has to be a lot more professionalizing of the Board of Elections and being able to implement reforms.”</p> <p>While much of the conversation around elections and voting in New York tends to revolve around the state’s antiquated laws, there have been local attempts at such reform. Council Member Ben Kallos has been a particularly vocal critic of the board and, as chair of the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, has pushed legislation that can improve elections and voting access. He has time and again urged representatives of the board to move towards merit-based hiring -- &nbsp;“I favor the civil service over the patronage appointment process,” he told Gotham Gazette on Monday. Kallos’ bill allowing online voter registration recently passed the Council. The mayor is expected to sign it into law, and it is considered valid under guidance from A.G. Schneiderman.</p> <p>We can “find meaningful alternatives that can help fix the BOE at the city level,” Kallos said. “As we learned with online voter registration, with a little bit of creativity and good attorneys, I think a lot can be possible at the local level.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency">City Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/24746697891_2461799422_z.jpg" alt="City Council chambers with members" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>photo by William Alatriste/City Council</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Board of Elections has widely been acknowledged as a dysfunctional agency in need of urgent and sweeping reform, yet the political will for modernizing and professionalizing the board has not existed, at least in part because its current structure benefits those in power.</p> <p>Its system of appointments based on political patronage has long been a source of criticism and its mismanagement of election operations has frustrated voters and been the subject of City Council oversight hearings. But, when asked, the eight men vying to become the next Speaker of the City Council recently said concerns about the BOE are misguided. To varying degrees, they indicated that the board is effective and efficient, that its failings are isolated rather than systematic, and that its current structure should be preserved.</p> <p>At a November 20 speaker candidate forum hosted by Citizens Union, other government reform groups, and New York Law School, seven speaker candidates -- Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan; Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens; and Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn -- were present and they mostly took the middle of the road when asked about the steps the City Council, which approves appointments to the BOE, could take to improve the board. The ten BOE commissioners include two -- one Republican and one Democrat -- from each borough.</p> <p>The Council members hedged their bets and praised the BOE, recognizing that any criticism could potentially be read as directed toward the county party organizations that nominate BOE commissioners and place other employees at the board -- the same county organizations whose support each candidate is seeking in order to become speaker. The eighth candidate, Ritchie Torres from the Bronx, would later give Gotham Gazette a similar response.</p> <p>None of the members were in favor of a non-partisan restructuring of the board. “That’s a tough question to ask of speaker candidates,” Williams said, to laughter from his colleagues in acknowledgement of the role of the county party machines in both picking BOE commissioners and picking the Council speaker. Williams defended the board but did acknowledge that patronage has played a role in appointments and that the Council could do more to improve it.</p> <p>“We know that we do have some issues and if we can just do some more thinking through that process and make sure that it’s not as patronage as some folks may think, we can move a lot further,” Williams said, taking the most bold position of the group. “I’m not sure if we push as hard as we can when things go wrong.”</p> <p>Other candidates spoke generally about reforming election and voting laws, a tangential subject that is mostly the prerogative of the state Legislature, and some staunchly argued in favor of the current partisan composition of the board, which they insisted maintains a balance and prevents one-party hegemony in elections.</p> <p>“I do not support non-partisan appointments to the Board of Elections,” said Johnson, one of the three perceived frontrunners in the race, along with Levine and Cornegy. “I believe that the parties play a particular role in ensuring that we make sure that any party that’s dominant at a given time cannot run roughshod over another party. If someone came up with a perfect system of a non-partisan way to handle it, maybe I’d entertain it. I’ve never heard of that system, I don’t know how you take political influence out of politics.”</p> <p>“I couldn’t agree more,” Van Bramer said in response.</p> <p>The city BOE falls under state jurisdiction, like all local boards of election, although the city gets to decide the board’s budget and not much else. The ten board commissioners are nominated by the county party machinery and appointed by the City Council. Representatives from the board testify at City Council hearings, usually during budget season, and receive recommendations and often admonitions from Council members, but are not bound to follow any Council mandates.</p> <p>The board is often seen as favoring the Democratic Party establishment, given that the vast majority of candidates for city offices are Democrats. Candidates not backed by the party machinery are often challenged in board proceedings and kicked off the ballot, though they are often first-time candidates with fewer resources and without experienced election lawyers.</p> <p>On Monday, Torres reiterated what his colleagues had said weeks ago. “I suspect you’re misdiagnosing the problem, the problem is a lack of resources,” he told Gotham Gazette at City Hall. “I suspect it’s a lack of resources more than the manner in which the appointments are made.”</p> <p>He continued, “Does the BOE have inefficiencies? Yes. It’s true of every agency in city government. There’s not a single agency in city government that’s free of inefficiency. So the notion that you would cite inefficiency as an excuse for fundamentally changing the structure of an institution is dubious.” Torres said he would oppose any measures that could weaken the party organizations’ role but conceded that the Council should “study the problem comprehensively” to determine the needs and inefficiencies of the BOE.</p> <p>There have been studies in the past, and each has found persistent issues.</p> <p>A <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/reports/pdf/2013/2013-12-30-BOE_Unit_Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2013 report</a> by the city’s Department of Investigations <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20131230/civic-center/nyc-board-of-elections-riddled-with-problems-dept-of-investigation-finds" target="_blank" rel="noopener">found</a> a raft of problems in elections management as well as internal board administration. In 2016, the BOE was responsible for a massive voter purge in Brooklyn during the presidential primaries, resulting in legal action by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. In November, Schneiderman announced a consent decree with the BOE that requires added oversight of the board’s voter list maintenance.</p> <p>Less than a week before this year’s general election on November 7, city Comptroller Scott Stringer also released an <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/audit-report-on-the-board-of-elections-controls-over-the-maintenance-of-voters-records-and-poll-access/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">audit</a> that excoriated the BOE’s dysfunctional election operations. At each step, the BOE has pushed back and has been resistant to change. Even when Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a $20 million incentive for the board to enact major reforms -- recommending the empaneling of a Blue Ribbon Commission to analyze the BOE, more transparency in hiring and improved poll worker training, among other measures -- its commissioners refused.</p> <p>“The Mayor believes that it is critical that we reform the Board of Elections,” said Seth Stein, a mayoral spokesperson, in a statement on Tuesday. “They have demonstrated time and again that they are unable to perform the basic functions of their office, like keeping eligible voters on the rolls. The Mayor looks forward to working with whoever the next Speaker is to encourage the Board to accept the $20 million we have offered in exchange for necessary reforms.”</p> <p>State-level BOE reforms have not progressed in Albany.</p> <p>Those who could take steps or apply pressure to improve the BOE’s abysmal record are the very people invested in the status quo, however, and the City Council, particularly its speaker, falls squarely within that dynamic. Election experts also tend to agree that the Council can pass little meaningful reform, absent legislative action at the state level, and that the bi-partisan BOE composition is appropriate. &nbsp;</p> <p>“There’s very little the City Council can do regarding the structural functioning of the agency,” said Sarah Steiner, an election lawyer. “They could maybe fund the board at a higher level so it could function better.”</p> <p>“In terms of patronage, it’s a bi-partisan agency, not a civil service agency. Unless that’s changed, the county organizations is where the commissioners and employees will come from,” she added. She insisted that most of the board’s employees are, in her experience, qualified and hard-working professionals. “As in any organization, some employees are better than others,” she said. And she warned that a civil service agency running elections could be open to political interference, while the current structure is designed to prevent just that.</p> <p>Steiner praised, in particular, the speed and accuracy with which the BOE provides election night results. But, she said, “they are less good at some of the work regarding candidates. I think the rules structure for candidates needs substantial revision.” Unlike the state BOE, the city agency doesn’t provide a public comment period for rules changes, she said, which often leaves the candidates and their campaigns unaware and unprepared. “The administrative rules are not as easy as the board thinks they are, and they’re largely a minefield,” she added.</p> <p>J.C. Polanco, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for public advocate this year, has served as &nbsp;president of the city BOE and saw the problems first hand and attempted to fix them. He campaigned this year on a platform that included BOE reform. He’s blunt about the Council speaker candidates and why they wouldn’t speak up against the agency. “Each candidate has to try not to offend the county organizations,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>Though Polanco also agrees that the BOE’s partisan structure may be necessary, he believes it can be better. “One of the things to do is to professionalize the board,” he said, “by forcing every candidate to go through the crucible of the [Council’s] investigations process required of commissioners.” He favors merit-based hiring and called for it when he worked at the board.</p> <p>“There are professionals at the board that get a bad rap for the failures of the board to modernize,” he insisted, echoing Steiner. “You can definitely have a professionalized partisan agency.” The board should post positions with qualifications online, he said, and more publicly seek employees. “It would require an enlightenment of the citizenry and the board,” Polanco said. He also speculated about giving third parties representation on the board, proportionate to their vote shares in prior elections.</p> <p>Although the Council members poised to be the next speaker may not agree, the official they are hoping to succeed believes that the BOE needs improvement. Melissa Mark-Viverito, who, in the waning days of her speakership, has waded into <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/local-politics/2017/12/09/squabble-among-manhattan-democrats-pits-council-speaker-against-county-chair" target="_blank" rel="noopener">conflict</a> with the Manhattan Democratic County Committee over a BOE commissioner appointment, said the Council has discussed reforming the BOE for years. Responding to a question from Gotham Gazette, she said, “There’s obviously a lot more work that has to be done. We’ve seen the reports issued by DOI and others with the dysfunction at the Board of Elections and there definitely has to be a lot more professionalizing of the Board of Elections and being able to implement reforms.”</p> <p>While much of the conversation around elections and voting in New York tends to revolve around the state’s antiquated laws, there have been local attempts at such reform. Council Member Ben Kallos has been a particularly vocal critic of the board and, as chair of the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, has pushed legislation that can improve elections and voting access. He has time and again urged representatives of the board to move towards merit-based hiring -- &nbsp;“I favor the civil service over the patronage appointment process,” he told Gotham Gazette on Monday. Kallos’ bill allowing online voter registration recently passed the Council. The mayor is expected to sign it into law, and it is considered valid under guidance from A.G. Schneiderman.</p> <p>We can “find meaningful alternatives that can help fix the BOE at the city level,” Kallos said. “As we learned with online voter registration, with a little bit of creativity and good attorneys, I think a lot can be possible at the local level.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency">City Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Speaker Candidates, All Men, Promise Gender Equity if Victorious 2017-12-08T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-08T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7359-city-council-speaker-candidates-all-men-promise-gender-equity-if-victorious Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img_8295.jpg" alt="City Council speaker candidates" width="600" height="382" /></p> <p>The City Council speaker candidates (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>At the last public forum in the race to become the next speaker of the City Council, seven of the eight men contending for the Council’s top leadership spot took turns making their argument for why they would be the right person to continue Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s legacy of protecting and promoting the cause of women, transgender, and gender non-conforming New Yorkers. Though few new ideas emerged, for nearly two hours, the seven Council members pitched their progressive credentials and promised to champion the city’s underrepresented and underserved populations.</p> <p>Hosted by a coalition of 14 organizations, at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute in Manhattan, the forum capped off a post-election month that has seen the candidates appear at more than a dozen issue-focused debates and discussions on everything from criminal justice to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency?mc_cid=5cc59c4465&amp;mc_eid=6382885063&amp;utm_source=CFB+weekly+updates&amp;utm_campaign=cf7f97599c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_745d48d7ac-cf7f97599c-290605553" target="_blank" rel="noopener">government transparency and accountability</a>. Thursday’s event was moderated by Politico New York reporter Laura Nahmias and Shatia Burks of the New York City Young Women’s Initiative. In attendance were Council Members Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, Robert Cornegy Jr., Donovan Richards, Jumaane Williams, and Jimmy Van Bramer. Ritchie Torres was the only candidate absent.</p> <p>Past was prologue as the candidates took turns briefly narrating their individual histories, giving tactful yet heartfelt answers while also lamenting the obvious irony of them all being men after 12 years of the City Council having women serve as speaker.</p> <p>Council Member Cornegy, who in recent weeks has risen to become one of the perceived frontrunners in the race, spoke as a family man, a husband and father of six. He noted his support for reproductive health bills in the Council, particularly one that created lactation rooms at city agencies that provide family services (he first opened a “lactation station” in his district office). He half-joked that he co-chairs the Council’s “men who get it” caucus.</p> <p>Johnson, another leading contender, reminded the audience that he is an openly gay man and the only openly HIV positive elected official in New York, and that issues related to transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) individuals are “deeply important” to him. He touted the passage of his bill allowing transgender New Yorkers to receive accurate birth certificates from the city.</p> <p>“The fact that the people running for Council speaker are all men reflects a failing of the political system in New York City,” said Levine, who is seen with Cornegy and Johnson as one of the three most likely to win the position when the vote takes place in January. “I think it does obligate the eight of us to reign in the hubris a little bit and do more listening than dictating.”</p> <p>Richards echoed the sentiment, saying “it is shameful that there is not a woman in this race,” while emphasizing that not only would the next speaker have to focus on women’s issues, but also ensure that women are in leadership positions.</p> <p>Rodriguez cited his experience as an immigrant, in a large family with many sisters. “Women’s issues are trans-sectional,” he said, while promising to continue Mark-Viverito’s legacy.</p> <p>Van Bramer, who is also openly gay, spoke from the experience of his own coming out. Being an LGBTQ activist meant also being “an activist for choice and a woman’s right to choose,” he said. “The two of them are inseparable.” He proudly touted his successful efforts to open the first Planned Parenthood health center in Queens, and in helping found the first Girl Scout troop for homeless girls.</p> <p>Williams, who noted early that the seven would likely respond similarly to questions, instead emphasized that he is “battle-tested to move forward” and has passed the most bills of all the candidates. His statement would ring true as there was little daylight between the candidates as they addressed the issues raised at the forum including access to reproductive health services, education, economic development and workplace sexual harassment, NYPD policy, affordable housing, city budgeting, and Council governance.</p> <p>On abortion access and so-called crisis pregnancy centers -- which NARAL Pro-choice America calls “fake health clinics” that mislead women to block access to abortions -- all seven agreed that the NYPD should play a stronger role in both protecting women from protesters outside Planned Parenthood clinics and in cracking down on predatory crisis centers. Cornegy even floated the idea of a dedicated police unit focused on these centers.</p> <p>Johnson insisted that Planned Parenthood is always a budget priority for him. He said the Council needed to do more to “reign in” CPCs while calling on the police to be more vigilant to protect women seeking abortions at clinics.</p> <p>Levine said the Council needs to fight back against the demonization of Planned Parenthood, and use its budgetary resources to provide services for women and TGNC individuals. Should the Republican-led federal government cut contraception coverage, for instance, Levine said the city should step in to fund it.</p> <p>Richards, of Queens, said there was a need to fund services where “people are living in the shadows” and expand health centers to communities like his that are underserved. And he said the Council should fund local organizations that provide those services.</p> <p>Rodriguez urged continued support for Planned Parenthood and better reproductive education in schools. Van Bramer insisted that contraceptives should be fully covered and if they’re not, the City Council should fund them. Williams, who jokingly apologized that all the candidates were men, echoed his colleagues and said he looked forward to passing his “boss bill” prohibiting discrimination by employers based on workers’ reproductive decisions.</p> <p>The candidates varied little on their perspectives on providing a quality education in city schools, particularly for those that face greater obstacles in the system including students in foster care, low-income, undocumented and LGBT and GNC students. Johnson emphasized that schools should not be punitive, but rather supportive and rehabilitative.</p> <p>Richards, Levine and Rodriguez touted the virtues of community schools that provide wraparound services to students, including physical and mental health and social services. Levine raised the spectre of school bullying and its “frequent entanglement” with anti-LGBT prejudice, which he said the school system and city leadership have failed to acknowledge and address. Rodriguez railed against school segregation, and called for the launch of an “education civil rights movement” under the next Council.</p> <p>The issue hit home for Van Bramer, who admitted being “near-suicidal” and skipping school to avoid a constant barrage of homophobic slurs. “All of us have to make sure that that stops once and for all and all children are safe to go to school,” he said.</p> <p>Williams stressed a change in school curriculums to ensure the inclusion of people of color and LGBT and GNC people. Cornegy said school segregation and prejudice based on sexual orientation need to be tackled at the Department of Education, and he lauded the effectiveness of community schools as well.</p> <p>Given the current national climate on sexual assault and workplace harassment, it was only natural that the candidates for arguably the second-most powerful position in city government would be asked about their perspective on the model policy to deal with the endemic problem.</p> <p>Levine reiterated three proposals, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government" target="_blank" rel="noopener">which he announced earlier in the day</a>, for rooting out sexual misconduct in city government through regular disclosure of sexual harassment claims by city agencies, a evaluation of sexual harassment policy and by elevating City Council staff complaints to bring them under committee oversight. Van Bramer also released details of bills on Thursday that would evaluate sexual harassment at city contractors and embargo those organizations with a history of misconduct. Another member with pending legislation was Cornegy, whose bill would require small businesses to detail what constitutes sexual harassment and provide hotline numbers for victims.</p> <p>Richards advocated a “zero tolerance” policy and said the Council should have its own independent department or agent to monitor sexual harassment. Rodriguez called for an entire agency to do the same citywide.</p> <p>Williams expressed support for his colleagues’ legislative efforts and candidly said, “The one thing we could all do immediately is believe” women’s stories of harassment. Johnson bemoaned a culture that allows men to believe they can act and behave in any way in a public setting because of their inherent power. “We have to change that,” he said.</p> <p>On changes to NYPD policy in interactions with LGBT and GNC New Yorkers, Richards and Rodriguez both stressed that the city needs to fully implement its body camera program and strengthen community-police relationships. Richards said the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates complaints of police misconduct, needs more teeth to hold erring officers accountable. “That’s where the culture shift absolutely needs to happen,” he said.</p> <p>Williams touted his “demonstrable leadership” against the NYPD’s racially biased use of stop-and-frisk policing, and the Council’s Community Safety Act of 2013, which he co-sponsored. The act created an independent monitor for the police department and added protections against biased profiling by officers. Cornegy subsequently advanced the idea of characterizing negative police interactions with protected classes of people as hate crimes.</p> <p>Women, trans and GNC communities and domestic violence survivors are at greater risk of becoming homeless in the city, said Burks of the Young Women’s Initiative, seeking the candidates’ ideas on improving access to affordable housing. Again, there were only slight differences in the candidates’ proposals as they called for deeper affordability and more set asides for formerly homeless New Yorkers, while some emphasized increased services and resources for survivors of domestic violence.</p> <p>The 51-member Council will have only 11 women members in the next term starting January, down from 19 a few years ago, and has not had a trans member yet. In the current Council, debate moderator Nahmias noted, three women of color negotiate the city budget -- Speaker Mark-Viverito, Finance Committee chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and Council finance director Latonia McKinney. Nahmias pressed the seven candidates on how they would ensure representation of cis and trans women, and women of color in particular, in their own senior teams and in the Council’s top leadership positions, namely the powerful chairs of the land use and finance committees.</p> <p>All the candidates were strongly committed to the task of choosing women and people of color as a majority of their senior leadership, and some said their staffs already reflect that commitment, though some rued the political reality that makes such a pledge necessary. “Women are 50 percent of the workforce and none of us deserves a gold star for making sure that women are in these positions and roles,” said Van Bramer.</p> <p>“It is appalling that there are only 11 women on the Council,” said Williams. The candidates <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7324-women-s-caucus-secures-commitments-from-city-council-speaker-candidates" target="_blank" rel="noopener">all interviewed with the Council's Women's Caucus and made commitments</a> to its existing and incoming members.</p> <p>Cornegy noted that hiring of people of color in the Council central staff had doubled in Mark-Viverito’s tenure, and he vowed to build on that by including women and trans individuals in particular.</p> <p>Danced around was the fact that the winning speaker candidate will likely have earned the backing of the major Democratic political organizations of the Queens and the Bronx, which will then have a lot of say in staffing and top Council leadership decisions made by the next speaker.</p> <p>Richards was possibly the only one to acknowledge that the speaker race will be influenced heavily by forces outside of the Council, including county party chairs and the mayor. He wouldn’t say who might be the finance or land use chairs under his speakership since “we all have power brokers that we’re talking to at play,” though he did promise to advocate for women to be chosen for those positions.</p> <p>Levine stressed the need to support far more diverse candidates for the Council in the 2021 elections, when nearly 40 seats will be up for grabs. Richards said the Council’s efforts need to go further, by making sure each city agency has diverse staff, by hiring gender diversity compliance officers and ensuring that women of color and trans people move up into managerial positions.</p> <p>In a brief lightning round, all seven candidates agreed to staff their senior teams and central staff with more than 50 percent women and TGNC individuals, committed to support and expand the Young Women’s Initiative, and said they would back the “<a href="https://avp.org/solutions-struggle-survival-tgnc-policy-brief/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Solutions out of Struggle and Survival</a>” policy proposals identified by numerous TGNC advocacy groups.</p> <p>With the last of the speaker forums, the public-facing aspect of the speaker-selection process appears effectively over. Candidates will now spend much of the next few weeks in backroom negotiations and closed meetings before the next speaker will be chosen in January when the next class of the City Council convenes.</p> <p>The partner organizations for Thursday’s forum included: Girls for Gender Equity, Women of Color for Progress, Brooklyn Movement Center, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual &amp; Transgender Community Center, PowHer NY, Planned Parenthood of New York City, National Organization for Women-NYC, New Leaders Council--NYC Chapter, National Institute for Reproductive Health, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Citizens’ Committee for Children, Eleanor’s Legacy, National Association of Social Workers—NYC Chapter.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[READ: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency?mc_cid=5cc59c4465&amp;mc_eid=6382885063&amp;utm_source=CFB+weekly+updates&amp;utm_campaign=cf7f97599c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_745d48d7ac-cf7f97599c-290605553" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img_8295.jpg" alt="City Council speaker candidates" width="600" height="382" /></p> <p>The City Council speaker candidates (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>At the last public forum in the race to become the next speaker of the City Council, seven of the eight men contending for the Council’s top leadership spot took turns making their argument for why they would be the right person to continue Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s legacy of protecting and promoting the cause of women, transgender, and gender non-conforming New Yorkers. Though few new ideas emerged, for nearly two hours, the seven Council members pitched their progressive credentials and promised to champion the city’s underrepresented and underserved populations.</p> <p>Hosted by a coalition of 14 organizations, at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute in Manhattan, the forum capped off a post-election month that has seen the candidates appear at more than a dozen issue-focused debates and discussions on everything from criminal justice to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency?mc_cid=5cc59c4465&amp;mc_eid=6382885063&amp;utm_source=CFB+weekly+updates&amp;utm_campaign=cf7f97599c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_745d48d7ac-cf7f97599c-290605553" target="_blank" rel="noopener">government transparency and accountability</a>. Thursday’s event was moderated by Politico New York reporter Laura Nahmias and Shatia Burks of the New York City Young Women’s Initiative. In attendance were Council Members Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, Robert Cornegy Jr., Donovan Richards, Jumaane Williams, and Jimmy Van Bramer. Ritchie Torres was the only candidate absent.</p> <p>Past was prologue as the candidates took turns briefly narrating their individual histories, giving tactful yet heartfelt answers while also lamenting the obvious irony of them all being men after 12 years of the City Council having women serve as speaker.</p> <p>Council Member Cornegy, who in recent weeks has risen to become one of the perceived frontrunners in the race, spoke as a family man, a husband and father of six. He noted his support for reproductive health bills in the Council, particularly one that created lactation rooms at city agencies that provide family services (he first opened a “lactation station” in his district office). He half-joked that he co-chairs the Council’s “men who get it” caucus.</p> <p>Johnson, another leading contender, reminded the audience that he is an openly gay man and the only openly HIV positive elected official in New York, and that issues related to transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) individuals are “deeply important” to him. He touted the passage of his bill allowing transgender New Yorkers to receive accurate birth certificates from the city.</p> <p>“The fact that the people running for Council speaker are all men reflects a failing of the political system in New York City,” said Levine, who is seen with Cornegy and Johnson as one of the three most likely to win the position when the vote takes place in January. “I think it does obligate the eight of us to reign in the hubris a little bit and do more listening than dictating.”</p> <p>Richards echoed the sentiment, saying “it is shameful that there is not a woman in this race,” while emphasizing that not only would the next speaker have to focus on women’s issues, but also ensure that women are in leadership positions.</p> <p>Rodriguez cited his experience as an immigrant, in a large family with many sisters. “Women’s issues are trans-sectional,” he said, while promising to continue Mark-Viverito’s legacy.</p> <p>Van Bramer, who is also openly gay, spoke from the experience of his own coming out. Being an LGBTQ activist meant also being “an activist for choice and a woman’s right to choose,” he said. “The two of them are inseparable.” He proudly touted his successful efforts to open the first Planned Parenthood health center in Queens, and in helping found the first Girl Scout troop for homeless girls.</p> <p>Williams, who noted early that the seven would likely respond similarly to questions, instead emphasized that he is “battle-tested to move forward” and has passed the most bills of all the candidates. His statement would ring true as there was little daylight between the candidates as they addressed the issues raised at the forum including access to reproductive health services, education, economic development and workplace sexual harassment, NYPD policy, affordable housing, city budgeting, and Council governance.</p> <p>On abortion access and so-called crisis pregnancy centers -- which NARAL Pro-choice America calls “fake health clinics” that mislead women to block access to abortions -- all seven agreed that the NYPD should play a stronger role in both protecting women from protesters outside Planned Parenthood clinics and in cracking down on predatory crisis centers. Cornegy even floated the idea of a dedicated police unit focused on these centers.</p> <p>Johnson insisted that Planned Parenthood is always a budget priority for him. He said the Council needed to do more to “reign in” CPCs while calling on the police to be more vigilant to protect women seeking abortions at clinics.</p> <p>Levine said the Council needs to fight back against the demonization of Planned Parenthood, and use its budgetary resources to provide services for women and TGNC individuals. Should the Republican-led federal government cut contraception coverage, for instance, Levine said the city should step in to fund it.</p> <p>Richards, of Queens, said there was a need to fund services where “people are living in the shadows” and expand health centers to communities like his that are underserved. And he said the Council should fund local organizations that provide those services.</p> <p>Rodriguez urged continued support for Planned Parenthood and better reproductive education in schools. Van Bramer insisted that contraceptives should be fully covered and if they’re not, the City Council should fund them. Williams, who jokingly apologized that all the candidates were men, echoed his colleagues and said he looked forward to passing his “boss bill” prohibiting discrimination by employers based on workers’ reproductive decisions.</p> <p>The candidates varied little on their perspectives on providing a quality education in city schools, particularly for those that face greater obstacles in the system including students in foster care, low-income, undocumented and LGBT and GNC students. Johnson emphasized that schools should not be punitive, but rather supportive and rehabilitative.</p> <p>Richards, Levine and Rodriguez touted the virtues of community schools that provide wraparound services to students, including physical and mental health and social services. Levine raised the spectre of school bullying and its “frequent entanglement” with anti-LGBT prejudice, which he said the school system and city leadership have failed to acknowledge and address. Rodriguez railed against school segregation, and called for the launch of an “education civil rights movement” under the next Council.</p> <p>The issue hit home for Van Bramer, who admitted being “near-suicidal” and skipping school to avoid a constant barrage of homophobic slurs. “All of us have to make sure that that stops once and for all and all children are safe to go to school,” he said.</p> <p>Williams stressed a change in school curriculums to ensure the inclusion of people of color and LGBT and GNC people. Cornegy said school segregation and prejudice based on sexual orientation need to be tackled at the Department of Education, and he lauded the effectiveness of community schools as well.</p> <p>Given the current national climate on sexual assault and workplace harassment, it was only natural that the candidates for arguably the second-most powerful position in city government would be asked about their perspective on the model policy to deal with the endemic problem.</p> <p>Levine reiterated three proposals, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government" target="_blank" rel="noopener">which he announced earlier in the day</a>, for rooting out sexual misconduct in city government through regular disclosure of sexual harassment claims by city agencies, a evaluation of sexual harassment policy and by elevating City Council staff complaints to bring them under committee oversight. Van Bramer also released details of bills on Thursday that would evaluate sexual harassment at city contractors and embargo those organizations with a history of misconduct. Another member with pending legislation was Cornegy, whose bill would require small businesses to detail what constitutes sexual harassment and provide hotline numbers for victims.</p> <p>Richards advocated a “zero tolerance” policy and said the Council should have its own independent department or agent to monitor sexual harassment. Rodriguez called for an entire agency to do the same citywide.</p> <p>Williams expressed support for his colleagues’ legislative efforts and candidly said, “The one thing we could all do immediately is believe” women’s stories of harassment. Johnson bemoaned a culture that allows men to believe they can act and behave in any way in a public setting because of their inherent power. “We have to change that,” he said.</p> <p>On changes to NYPD policy in interactions with LGBT and GNC New Yorkers, Richards and Rodriguez both stressed that the city needs to fully implement its body camera program and strengthen community-police relationships. Richards said the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates complaints of police misconduct, needs more teeth to hold erring officers accountable. “That’s where the culture shift absolutely needs to happen,” he said.</p> <p>Williams touted his “demonstrable leadership” against the NYPD’s racially biased use of stop-and-frisk policing, and the Council’s Community Safety Act of 2013, which he co-sponsored. The act created an independent monitor for the police department and added protections against biased profiling by officers. Cornegy subsequently advanced the idea of characterizing negative police interactions with protected classes of people as hate crimes.</p> <p>Women, trans and GNC communities and domestic violence survivors are at greater risk of becoming homeless in the city, said Burks of the Young Women’s Initiative, seeking the candidates’ ideas on improving access to affordable housing. Again, there were only slight differences in the candidates’ proposals as they called for deeper affordability and more set asides for formerly homeless New Yorkers, while some emphasized increased services and resources for survivors of domestic violence.</p> <p>The 51-member Council will have only 11 women members in the next term starting January, down from 19 a few years ago, and has not had a trans member yet. In the current Council, debate moderator Nahmias noted, three women of color negotiate the city budget -- Speaker Mark-Viverito, Finance Committee chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and Council finance director Latonia McKinney. Nahmias pressed the seven candidates on how they would ensure representation of cis and trans women, and women of color in particular, in their own senior teams and in the Council’s top leadership positions, namely the powerful chairs of the land use and finance committees.</p> <p>All the candidates were strongly committed to the task of choosing women and people of color as a majority of their senior leadership, and some said their staffs already reflect that commitment, though some rued the political reality that makes such a pledge necessary. “Women are 50 percent of the workforce and none of us deserves a gold star for making sure that women are in these positions and roles,” said Van Bramer.</p> <p>“It is appalling that there are only 11 women on the Council,” said Williams. The candidates <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7324-women-s-caucus-secures-commitments-from-city-council-speaker-candidates" target="_blank" rel="noopener">all interviewed with the Council's Women's Caucus and made commitments</a> to its existing and incoming members.</p> <p>Cornegy noted that hiring of people of color in the Council central staff had doubled in Mark-Viverito’s tenure, and he vowed to build on that by including women and trans individuals in particular.</p> <p>Danced around was the fact that the winning speaker candidate will likely have earned the backing of the major Democratic political organizations of the Queens and the Bronx, which will then have a lot of say in staffing and top Council leadership decisions made by the next speaker.</p> <p>Richards was possibly the only one to acknowledge that the speaker race will be influenced heavily by forces outside of the Council, including county party chairs and the mayor. He wouldn’t say who might be the finance or land use chairs under his speakership since “we all have power brokers that we’re talking to at play,” though he did promise to advocate for women to be chosen for those positions.</p> <p>Levine stressed the need to support far more diverse candidates for the Council in the 2021 elections, when nearly 40 seats will be up for grabs. Richards said the Council’s efforts need to go further, by making sure each city agency has diverse staff, by hiring gender diversity compliance officers and ensuring that women of color and trans people move up into managerial positions.</p> <p>In a brief lightning round, all seven candidates agreed to staff their senior teams and central staff with more than 50 percent women and TGNC individuals, committed to support and expand the Young Women’s Initiative, and said they would back the “<a href="https://avp.org/solutions-struggle-survival-tgnc-policy-brief/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Solutions out of Struggle and Survival</a>” policy proposals identified by numerous TGNC advocacy groups.</p> <p>With the last of the speaker forums, the public-facing aspect of the speaker-selection process appears effectively over. Candidates will now spend much of the next few weeks in backroom negotiations and closed meetings before the next speaker will be chosen in January when the next class of the City Council convenes.</p> <p>The partner organizations for Thursday’s forum included: Girls for Gender Equity, Women of Color for Progress, Brooklyn Movement Center, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual &amp; Transgender Community Center, PowHer NY, Planned Parenthood of New York City, National Organization for Women-NYC, New Leaders Council--NYC Chapter, National Institute for Reproductive Health, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Citizens’ Committee for Children, Eleanor’s Legacy, National Association of Social Workers—NYC Chapter.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[READ: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency?mc_cid=5cc59c4465&amp;mc_eid=6382885063&amp;utm_source=CFB+weekly+updates&amp;utm_campaign=cf7f97599c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_745d48d7ac-cf7f97599c-290605553" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>