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 2017-12-18T11:04:34+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com 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/?id=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>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government 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>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government 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/?id=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 non-gender 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 non-gender conforming (TNGC) 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 TNGC 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 TNGC 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 TNGC 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, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</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 non-gender 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 non-gender conforming (TNGC) 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 TNGC 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 TNGC 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 TNGC 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, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Inside the Fundraising and Spending of the City Council Speaker Candidates 2017-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-06T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7356:inside-the-fundraising-of-the-city-council-speaker-candidates Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img_8277.jpg" alt="city council speaker" width="600" height="406" /></p> <p>City Council Speaker candidates (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>The eight men running to become the next speaker of the City Council are all Democrats who were re-elected in November to serve a final term in the body. None of them faced a strong challenger in their respective races, either in the primaries, which are largely determinative of overall results, or in the November 7 general election. Nevertheless, a few of the candidates raised significant campaign cash and spent it just as liberally as if they were running competitive races. As Gotham Gazette has reported, several of the speaker candidates have donated heavily from their campaign accounts to those of other City Council members and candidates, in apparent effort to win favor ahead of the speaker vote, which will occur in January.</p> <p>Among the eight candidates, a few are seen as frontrunners in the race -- Council Members Robert Cornegy Jr., Corey Johnson, Mark Levine and, to a lesser degree, Ritchie Torres -- though it is a notoriously nebulous contest with shifting dynamics. Labor unions may buoy the chances of certain members while county allegiances may supersede that support. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s role remains to be determined. The other candidates -- Ydanis Rodriguez, Jimmy Van Bramer, Donovan Richards and Jumaane Williams -- are considered less likely to emerge victorious, though one or more may have an outside path to the throne.</p> <p>This week, the candidates had to final a new campaign finance report, with activity between October 24 and November 30. It is the last filing before the speaker vote, which is likely to occur January 3.</p> <p>When it comes to campaign fundraising and spending, Johnson remains at the top of the list. His run for speaker began two years ago and the Manhattan Democrat even eschewed the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program, which would have limited his expenditures. He has also been the most prolific donor to other members who ran for reelection and fresh faces that will be joining the Council come January.</p> <p>Johnson raised $505,818 over the race and spent $374,707, the latest campaign disclosures show. He has $131,111 left to spend on future races or charitable donations or supporting other electoral candidates. Of his total fundraising, $209,000 came from 76 contributions of $2,750, the maximum allowable in a City Council race. A total of $73,600 came from political action committees, while a slew of his largest donations came from individuals in the real estate, hotel, and nightlife industries. Some top donors include Barry Diller, the billionaire IAC and Expedia chairman; former Ralph Lauren Corporation CEO John Mehas; and Tony award-winning producer Daryl Roth. Much of Johnson’s spending, $126,300 to be exact, took the form of political contributions, and he spent only about $22,750 with campaign consulting firm Metropolitan Public Strategies.</p> <p>Levine, another Manhattan Democrat who also did not participate in the public funds program, raised $439,110 over the course of the election cycle. But Levine’s expenditure of $405,802 outpaced the fundraising leader, Johnson, and left just $33,308 in campaign funds at his disposal. There were 45 donors who gave Levine the maximum contribution, for a total of $118,250. He received $86,825 in total from PACs. Among his top donors were employees of real estate firms, law practices, property management companies, and at least one hedge fund. He counts George and Marian Klein of the Park Tower Group among those who gave the highest possible donation.</p> <p>Levine has been seen as the candidate perhaps most favored by the mayor, which has raised concerns about whether he can be a sufficiently independent leader, and led him to focus many of his public remarks on leading an strongly independent Council. He retained the services of Pitta Bishop &amp; Del Giorno LLP, an influential lobbying firm, to handle his strategy in running for speaker. He has spent $58,200 on campaign consultants, including Kirtzman Strategies and RKM Strategic Consulting, and another $84,985 on political contributions.</p> <p>Cornegy Jr., the only candidate who isn’t a member of the Council’s progressive caucus, was once viewed as an unlikely next speaker, having done little to cultivate a viable candidacy, spending little money or time helping others campaign, and having a low-key presence at the Council. But with the backing of the Brooklyn county party apparatus and, more recently, support from prominent voices that can influence the race, including U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, he is seen as having better chances of prevailing. Cornegy did participate in the CFB’s public funds program, which meant he had to abide by a strict spending limit of $182,000 for each of the primary and general elections. He ended up raising a total of $184,730, and spent all but $1,722. He received $71,500 from maxed-out donations, and political action committees contributed a total of $40,650 to his reelection. Billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis donated to Cornegy’s campaign, as did Soly and David Bawabeh, prominent real estate developers in the city. Campaign consultations accounted for $67,450 in Cornegy’s campaign spending, most of which went to Mercury Public Affairs, a well-known consulting firm. He also doled out $35,750 in political contributions.</p> <p>Torres, a Bronx Democrat and the youngest candidate in the race for speaker, raised $264,819 this election cycle, but he was also a public funds participant and ended up spending $108,851 for his reelection. He has $155,968 in cash on hand. His campaign got $69,400 from PACs and he received less than a dozen maxed-out donations, including one from Council Member Johnson’s campaign.</p> <p>Torres’ prospects depend largely on support from the Bronx county machine, which will likely negotiate with the Queens county establishment to determine how plum Council committee chair positions are distributed. U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, who chairs the Queens Democrats, is expected to play an outsize role in the entire process this year. The two counties were sidelined in 2014 when the Council’s newly empowered progressive caucus, influential labor unions, de Blasio, and Brooklyn Democratic County chair Frank Seddio collaborated to anoint Melissa Mark-Viverito as speaker.</p> <p>Queens Council Member Van Bramer, another public funds non-participant, raised $539,560 and spent $278,587, for a balance of $260,973. He received 68 contributions of the max $2,750, equalling $170,500 of his total fundraising. About $66,000 of his total came from PAC donations. Van Bramer has attempted to make public and private overtures to Crowley but is not expected to receive the county backing. Currently majority leader of the Council, Van Bramer could wind up with another top leadership or committee post.</p> <p>Richards, whose district spans parts of Brooklyn and Queens, participated in the public funds program and raised $171,598, including $39,700 from PACs, and spent $150,948. He has only $20,650 left in his account. Richards is seen as having long odds in the race but was for a time expected to be the mayor’s preferred candidate after Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland announced she would not be running for reelection. She was widely regarded as a strong contender for the speakership and her exit from the Council left the speaker race dominated by men.</p> <p>Rodriguez was a public funds participant but he had two primary opponents, explaining his expenditure of $242,365 from his total fundraising of $255,423. He has $13,058 in his campaign account. He received $45,175 in PAC money.</p> <p>Williams, who some say could be a potential primary opponent to Governor Andrew Cuomo next year, or a lieutenant governor candidate as part of a ticket, opted out of the public funds program and raised $226,784 for his reelection to the Council, including $66,100 in PAC donations. He also had a non-competitive primary but he spent nearly all of his campaign cash, leaving just $660 in his account.</p> <p>The next and final campaign finance disclosures are due January 16.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/img_8277.jpg" alt="city council speaker" width="600" height="406" /></p> <p>City Council Speaker candidates (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>The eight men running to become the next speaker of the City Council are all Democrats who were re-elected in November to serve a final term in the body. None of them faced a strong challenger in their respective races, either in the primaries, which are largely determinative of overall results, or in the November 7 general election. Nevertheless, a few of the candidates raised significant campaign cash and spent it just as liberally as if they were running competitive races. As Gotham Gazette has reported, several of the speaker candidates have donated heavily from their campaign accounts to those of other City Council members and candidates, in apparent effort to win favor ahead of the speaker vote, which will occur in January.</p> <p>Among the eight candidates, a few are seen as frontrunners in the race -- Council Members Robert Cornegy Jr., Corey Johnson, Mark Levine and, to a lesser degree, Ritchie Torres -- though it is a notoriously nebulous contest with shifting dynamics. Labor unions may buoy the chances of certain members while county allegiances may supersede that support. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s role remains to be determined. The other candidates -- Ydanis Rodriguez, Jimmy Van Bramer, Donovan Richards and Jumaane Williams -- are considered less likely to emerge victorious, though one or more may have an outside path to the throne.</p> <p>This week, the candidates had to final a new campaign finance report, with activity between October 24 and November 30. It is the last filing before the speaker vote, which is likely to occur January 3.</p> <p>When it comes to campaign fundraising and spending, Johnson remains at the top of the list. His run for speaker began two years ago and the Manhattan Democrat even eschewed the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program, which would have limited his expenditures. He has also been the most prolific donor to other members who ran for reelection and fresh faces that will be joining the Council come January.</p> <p>Johnson raised $505,818 over the race and spent $374,707, the latest campaign disclosures show. He has $131,111 left to spend on future races or charitable donations or supporting other electoral candidates. Of his total fundraising, $209,000 came from 76 contributions of $2,750, the maximum allowable in a City Council race. A total of $73,600 came from political action committees, while a slew of his largest donations came from individuals in the real estate, hotel, and nightlife industries. Some top donors include Barry Diller, the billionaire IAC and Expedia chairman; former Ralph Lauren Corporation CEO John Mehas; and Tony award-winning producer Daryl Roth. Much of Johnson’s spending, $126,300 to be exact, took the form of political contributions, and he spent only about $22,750 with campaign consulting firm Metropolitan Public Strategies.</p> <p>Levine, another Manhattan Democrat who also did not participate in the public funds program, raised $439,110 over the course of the election cycle. But Levine’s expenditure of $405,802 outpaced the fundraising leader, Johnson, and left just $33,308 in campaign funds at his disposal. There were 45 donors who gave Levine the maximum contribution, for a total of $118,250. He received $86,825 in total from PACs. Among his top donors were employees of real estate firms, law practices, property management companies, and at least one hedge fund. He counts George and Marian Klein of the Park Tower Group among those who gave the highest possible donation.</p> <p>Levine has been seen as the candidate perhaps most favored by the mayor, which has raised concerns about whether he can be a sufficiently independent leader, and led him to focus many of his public remarks on leading an strongly independent Council. He retained the services of Pitta Bishop &amp; Del Giorno LLP, an influential lobbying firm, to handle his strategy in running for speaker. He has spent $58,200 on campaign consultants, including Kirtzman Strategies and RKM Strategic Consulting, and another $84,985 on political contributions.</p> <p>Cornegy Jr., the only candidate who isn’t a member of the Council’s progressive caucus, was once viewed as an unlikely next speaker, having done little to cultivate a viable candidacy, spending little money or time helping others campaign, and having a low-key presence at the Council. But with the backing of the Brooklyn county party apparatus and, more recently, support from prominent voices that can influence the race, including U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, he is seen as having better chances of prevailing. Cornegy did participate in the CFB’s public funds program, which meant he had to abide by a strict spending limit of $182,000 for each of the primary and general elections. He ended up raising a total of $184,730, and spent all but $1,722. He received $71,500 from maxed-out donations, and political action committees contributed a total of $40,650 to his reelection. Billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis donated to Cornegy’s campaign, as did Soly and David Bawabeh, prominent real estate developers in the city. Campaign consultations accounted for $67,450 in Cornegy’s campaign spending, most of which went to Mercury Public Affairs, a well-known consulting firm. He also doled out $35,750 in political contributions.</p> <p>Torres, a Bronx Democrat and the youngest candidate in the race for speaker, raised $264,819 this election cycle, but he was also a public funds participant and ended up spending $108,851 for his reelection. He has $155,968 in cash on hand. His campaign got $69,400 from PACs and he received less than a dozen maxed-out donations, including one from Council Member Johnson’s campaign.</p> <p>Torres’ prospects depend largely on support from the Bronx county machine, which will likely negotiate with the Queens county establishment to determine how plum Council committee chair positions are distributed. U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, who chairs the Queens Democrats, is expected to play an outsize role in the entire process this year. The two counties were sidelined in 2014 when the Council’s newly empowered progressive caucus, influential labor unions, de Blasio, and Brooklyn Democratic County chair Frank Seddio collaborated to anoint Melissa Mark-Viverito as speaker.</p> <p>Queens Council Member Van Bramer, another public funds non-participant, raised $539,560 and spent $278,587, for a balance of $260,973. He received 68 contributions of the max $2,750, equalling $170,500 of his total fundraising. About $66,000 of his total came from PAC donations. Van Bramer has attempted to make public and private overtures to Crowley but is not expected to receive the county backing. Currently majority leader of the Council, Van Bramer could wind up with another top leadership or committee post.</p> <p>Richards, whose district spans parts of Brooklyn and Queens, participated in the public funds program and raised $171,598, including $39,700 from PACs, and spent $150,948. He has only $20,650 left in his account. Richards is seen as having long odds in the race but was for a time expected to be the mayor’s preferred candidate after Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland announced she would not be running for reelection. She was widely regarded as a strong contender for the speakership and her exit from the Council left the speaker race dominated by men.</p> <p>Rodriguez was a public funds participant but he had two primary opponents, explaining his expenditure of $242,365 from his total fundraising of $255,423. He has $13,058 in his campaign account. He received $45,175 in PAC money.</p> <p>Williams, who some say could be a potential primary opponent to Governor Andrew Cuomo next year, or a lieutenant governor candidate as part of a ticket, opted out of the public funds program and raised $226,784 for his reelection to the Council, including $66,100 in PAC donations. He also had a non-competitive primary but he spent nearly all of his campaign cash, leaving just $660 in his account.</p> <p>The next and final campaign finance disclosures are due January 16.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Council Speaker Candidates Give Generously to Colleagues 2017-11-30T05:00:00+00:00 2017-11-30T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7343:council-speaker-candidates-give-generously-to-colleagues Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/johnson-moya-crowley-c2.jpg" alt="johnson moya crowley c2" width="600" /></p> <p>Corey Johnson, Francisco Moya, Joe Crowley (photo via @CoreyinNYC)</p> <hr /> <p>The eight City Council members, all Democrats, who are competing to lead the 51-member legislative body as speaker for the next four years must convince numerous constituencies of their viability, including some combination of county party leaders, labor unions, the mayor, and other influential politicos. But, when the new Council class convenes in January, the vote will come down to the 51 Council members, and they are not without agency. The speaker candidates, all men, have for months been seeking to curry favor with their colleagues, employing a variety of methods. One such tactic is to donate campaign funds to current and incoming members of the City Council.</p> <p>All eight candidates -- Council Members Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, Robert Cornegy Jr., Ritchie Torres, Donovan Richards, Jumaane Williams, and Jimmy Van Bramer -- have made large political contributions from their reelection campaigns, according to an analysis of campaign finance filings by the New York City Campaign Finance Board at Gotham Gazette’s request, though the amounts to vary widely.</p> <p>Numbers reflect disclosures filed through November 7, the day of general election and the most recent filing deadline. The next deadline is Monday, December 4.</p> <p>The speaker candidates used money from their campaign accounts to spend on a variety of political causes, but most of their political giving went to other members running for reelection or Council candidates running to replace term-limited members.</p> <p>Council Member Johnson’s lobbying largesse far outpaces the rest of the members, with $126,300 in political contributions, of which $84,875 went to other current or incoming members. Johnson, who has been aggressively campaigning for the Council’s top spot long before others jumped into the fray, also gave to local Democratic clubs and Democratic county organizations. He made the maximum allowable contribution of $2,750 to 26 candidates (including Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, who was unsuccessful in her reelection bid).</p> <p>Levine, who along with Johnson and Cornegy is seen as a frontrunner in the race, has been second with $84,185 in political contributions, including $69,375 to his colleagues.</p> <p>Most of the recipients of campaign cash from the speaker candidates has overlapped.</p> <p>In third place is Rodriguez, whose political contributions to colleagues were $52,750, out of a total $57,761 spent from his campaign account on political donations.</p> <p>The rest of the members spent far less to build support and help colleagues. Torres only gave $35,000 out of $59,117 in political contributions. Richards contributed $31,500 out of $37,465. Cornegy’s donations were only $27,500, Van Bramer’s were $24,675 and Williams gave just $13,000.</p> <p>In total, there were 42 Council candidates from across the city who received a political contribution from another candidate, including both sitting Council members and those running for open seats. Among the 42 were a few who were unsuccessful as well as 11 new incoming members of the City Council.</p> <p>The biggest beneficiary of the political giving was Adrienne Adams, a Democrat who was elected to the District 28 seat in Queens, which was empty following the expulsion of Council Member Ruben Wills after his conviction on corruption charges. Adams received $26,750 from Council colleagues, of which $18,000 was from seven speaker candidates. Cornegy was the only one who did not donate to her. Adams could not be reached for comment. In her run she had the backing of the Queens Democratic Party machine, which is seen as the most influential county party in the speaker race, with Rep. Joe Crowley at its head.</p> <p>Justin Brannan, another Democrat who won the District 43 seat in Bay Ridge, collectively received $12,250 from five speaker candidates. “Having been a staffer in the Council and a Democratic organizer for many years, throughout my primary and general elections, I was grateful to have the support of many of the members I now look forward to calling colleagues and one of which we will elect as our leader,” Brannan said in a statement. “Personally, I'm looking for a speaker who will empower the members and consider the many diverse voices that make up the body.” He did not say who he would vote for.</p> <p>As Brannan indicated, it’s not unusual for Council Members to bolster Council staffers’ bids for City Council. This was the case for Carlina Rivera, the former legislative director to outgoing Council Member Rosie Mendez. Rivera won Mendez’s Council District 2 seat in Manhattan. In a statement, Rivera said she was “thankful” for the support from Council members, who gave her $14,483 in total. All but $150 came from speaker candidates, but Rivera insisted that would not affect her vote. She declined to indicate which speaker candidate she may be leaning towards. “My decision on the next Speaker will be made like any other -- with careful consideration of each candidate’s record and policies,” she said. “It won’t be easy given the strength of each candidate, but I look forward to casting my vote based on these merits.”</p> <p>Even as the speaker candidates’ political giving is tallied, some have helped raise money for their colleagues without raising it directly or bundling it as an intermediary. Some also raised money for or donated to Mayor de Blasio’s reelection bid, even as they attempt to sell their colleagues and others on promises of standing up to the mayor as the next speaker. Speaker candidates, to varying degrees, also went to campaign with members and candidates in their districts. Johnson and Levine were the most active in this respect, too, helping candidates to collect ballot petition signatures, knock on doors, and greet voters.</p> <p>In Midtown Manhattan’s District 4, Keith Powers was elected to the seat being vacated by term-limited Council Member Dan Garodnick. Powers received the maximum $2,750 contribution from five speaker candidates. “I’ve known all the candidates for more than a few years,” said the former lobbyist who ran on a good government platform, in a phone interview, “and I’ve worked with them and I think they know I’ll be a good addition to the City Council. I think that’s why they supported me.”</p> <p>The donations are not considerations in the race for speaker, Powers said, insisting he does not have a preferred candidate yet. “I think for everybody, it’s about the person’s ability to lead the Council, to keep the Council independent of the mayor,” he said. “I think [Council members] choose a speaker based on what’s best for their district and the issues they work on, and someone who shares their values.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/johnson-moya-crowley-c2.jpg" alt="johnson moya crowley c2" width="600" /></p> <p>Corey Johnson, Francisco Moya, Joe Crowley (photo via @CoreyinNYC)</p> <hr /> <p>The eight City Council members, all Democrats, who are competing to lead the 51-member legislative body as speaker for the next four years must convince numerous constituencies of their viability, including some combination of county party leaders, labor unions, the mayor, and other influential politicos. But, when the new Council class convenes in January, the vote will come down to the 51 Council members, and they are not without agency. The speaker candidates, all men, have for months been seeking to curry favor with their colleagues, employing a variety of methods. One such tactic is to donate campaign funds to current and incoming members of the City Council.</p> <p>All eight candidates -- Council Members Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, Robert Cornegy Jr., Ritchie Torres, Donovan Richards, Jumaane Williams, and Jimmy Van Bramer -- have made large political contributions from their reelection campaigns, according to an analysis of campaign finance filings by the New York City Campaign Finance Board at Gotham Gazette’s request, though the amounts to vary widely.</p> <p>Numbers reflect disclosures filed through November 7, the day of general election and the most recent filing deadline. The next deadline is Monday, December 4.</p> <p>The speaker candidates used money from their campaign accounts to spend on a variety of political causes, but most of their political giving went to other members running for reelection or Council candidates running to replace term-limited members.</p> <p>Council Member Johnson’s lobbying largesse far outpaces the rest of the members, with $126,300 in political contributions, of which $84,875 went to other current or incoming members. Johnson, who has been aggressively campaigning for the Council’s top spot long before others jumped into the fray, also gave to local Democratic clubs and Democratic county organizations. He made the maximum allowable contribution of $2,750 to 26 candidates (including Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, who was unsuccessful in her reelection bid).</p> <p>Levine, who along with Johnson and Cornegy is seen as a frontrunner in the race, has been second with $84,185 in political contributions, including $69,375 to his colleagues.</p> <p>Most of the recipients of campaign cash from the speaker candidates has overlapped.</p> <p>In third place is Rodriguez, whose political contributions to colleagues were $52,750, out of a total $57,761 spent from his campaign account on political donations.</p> <p>The rest of the members spent far less to build support and help colleagues. Torres only gave $35,000 out of $59,117 in political contributions. Richards contributed $31,500 out of $37,465. Cornegy’s donations were only $27,500, Van Bramer’s were $24,675 and Williams gave just $13,000.</p> <p>In total, there were 42 Council candidates from across the city who received a political contribution from another candidate, including both sitting Council members and those running for open seats. Among the 42 were a few who were unsuccessful as well as 11 new incoming members of the City Council.</p> <p>The biggest beneficiary of the political giving was Adrienne Adams, a Democrat who was elected to the District 28 seat in Queens, which was empty following the expulsion of Council Member Ruben Wills after his conviction on corruption charges. Adams received $26,750 from Council colleagues, of which $18,000 was from seven speaker candidates. Cornegy was the only one who did not donate to her. Adams could not be reached for comment. In her run she had the backing of the Queens Democratic Party machine, which is seen as the most influential county party in the speaker race, with Rep. Joe Crowley at its head.</p> <p>Justin Brannan, another Democrat who won the District 43 seat in Bay Ridge, collectively received $12,250 from five speaker candidates. “Having been a staffer in the Council and a Democratic organizer for many years, throughout my primary and general elections, I was grateful to have the support of many of the members I now look forward to calling colleagues and one of which we will elect as our leader,” Brannan said in a statement. “Personally, I'm looking for a speaker who will empower the members and consider the many diverse voices that make up the body.” He did not say who he would vote for.</p> <p>As Brannan indicated, it’s not unusual for Council Members to bolster Council staffers’ bids for City Council. This was the case for Carlina Rivera, the former legislative director to outgoing Council Member Rosie Mendez. Rivera won Mendez’s Council District 2 seat in Manhattan. In a statement, Rivera said she was “thankful” for the support from Council members, who gave her $14,483 in total. All but $150 came from speaker candidates, but Rivera insisted that would not affect her vote. She declined to indicate which speaker candidate she may be leaning towards. “My decision on the next Speaker will be made like any other -- with careful consideration of each candidate’s record and policies,” she said. “It won’t be easy given the strength of each candidate, but I look forward to casting my vote based on these merits.”</p> <p>Even as the speaker candidates’ political giving is tallied, some have helped raise money for their colleagues without raising it directly or bundling it as an intermediary. Some also raised money for or donated to Mayor de Blasio’s reelection bid, even as they attempt to sell their colleagues and others on promises of standing up to the mayor as the next speaker. Speaker candidates, to varying degrees, also went to campaign with members and candidates in their districts. Johnson and Levine were the most active in this respect, too, helping candidates to collect ballot petition signatures, knock on doors, and greet voters.</p> <p>In Midtown Manhattan’s District 4, Keith Powers was elected to the seat being vacated by term-limited Council Member Dan Garodnick. Powers received the maximum $2,750 contribution from five speaker candidates. “I’ve known all the candidates for more than a few years,” said the former lobbyist who ran on a good government platform, in a phone interview, “and I’ve worked with them and I think they know I’ll be a good addition to the City Council. I think that’s why they supported me.”</p> <p>The donations are not considerations in the race for speaker, Powers said, insisting he does not have a preferred candidate yet. “I think for everybody, it’s about the person’s ability to lead the Council, to keep the Council independent of the mayor,” he said. “I think [Council members] choose a speaker based on what’s best for their district and the issues they work on, and someone who shares their values.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
What's the State Role in NYCHA Oversight? 2017-11-27T05:00:00+00:00 2017-11-27T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7332:what-s-the-state-role-in-nycha-oversight Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/torres_nycha_monitor_idc_presser.jpg" alt="torres nycha monitor idc presser" width="600" height="458" /></p> <p>CM Torres and the call for a state NYCHA monitor (photo: @RitchieTorres)</p> <hr /> <p>As Mayor Bill de Blasio and leaders of the embattled New York City Housing Authority continue to respond to fallout from revelations that NYCHA had failed for years to comply with federal and local laws around lead paint inspections, some elected officials are renewing calls for the state take a more active role in the city’s massive public housing system.</p> <p>NYCHA, which has <a href="https://sites.williams.edu/envi-322-s16/mold-in-new-york-city-public-housing-by-lili-bierer/designed-in-oppression-the-history-of-nyc-public-housing-mirrors-current-poor-conditions/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">for decades</a> has been plagued by lapses in safety protocols, sometimes <a href="http://abc7ny.com/news/nycha-was-warned-hours-before-elevator-death-investigation-finds/1267322/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">with tragic results</a>, includes 175,000 housing units home to well over the official tally of 400,000 New Yorkers. A report by the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI), released earlier this month, indicates that NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye knew of deficiencies in lead inspections in early 2016 but signed off on paperwork submitted to the federal government certifying that all the regulations had been met. Olatoye explained that soon after she had become aware of the gap, which began under the prior administration, she alerted NYCHA’s federal regulators and jumpstarted the lead inspections.</p> <p>DOI called for the appointment of a “third-party monitor” to ensure compliance with lead and safety rules as well as to perform regular safety checks on NYCHA units.</p> <p>De Blasio and Olatoye have resisted both the calls for more state oversight and the recommendation for the outside monitor, instead implementing their own set of reforms, including new protocols and a new internal compliance unit, while multiple top NYCHA officials were either forced out or demoted. Though he also sat on the revelations for over a year, de Blasio argued that NYCHA was already addressing the lead inspection shortfalls and admitted that he should have made the issue public sooner. He has strongly pushed back against calls for Olatoye’s removal.</p> <p>As a public authority, the 84-year-old agency -- the oldest and largest such low- and middle-income housing provider in the country -- is technically under the purview of the state, though state law grants the mayor control over appointment of board members and leadership.</p> <p>But in the wake of the lead-inspection revelations, several lawmakers want an increased state role in NYCHA oversight. Members of the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference, led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, held a November 20 press conference to push for a state monitor, as outlined in legislation introduced by Klein earlier this year, which would create an Office of the Independent Monitor within the Department of Homes and Community Renewal, to be appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. Klein and other members of the IDC were also joined by City Council Member Ritchie Torres, chair of the Council’s public housing committee, and other elected officials.</p> <p>The state played a larger role in financing and governing the agency <a href="https://law.justia.com/codes/new-york/2014/pbg/article-13/title-1/402/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in the years</a> immediately after World War II, when there was a large state-wide public housing program, but that contribution shrunk over time to near non-existence, and NYCHA <a href="https://council.nyc.gov/budget/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/NYCHA.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">relies almost entirely</a> on the federal housing agency, HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), for subsidizing its operating and capital needs.</p> <p>While NYCHA has accumulated the $17 billion in capital needs to get into a state of good repair, the authority has also struggled to remain in the black in its yearly operating budget, which has actually been stabilized under de Blasio and Olatoye, even without state money.</p> <p>State-provided operating subsidies to NYCHA were ended by Governor George Pataki in 1998, leaving the housing agency with a $60 million annual operating shortfall, according to NYCHA records. To address its growing annual operating deficit, which was as high as $235 million in 2006, NYCHA transferred many federal subsidies meant for capital improvements into operations, which ensured the system would fall into further disrepair. Since 2006, NYCHA’s personnel has been reduced from 15,000 to 11,000, with many of the jobs lost white collar positions that played a role in compliance. New York City followed the State’s example and by 2004 it had essentially stopped subsidizing NYCHA operations, further crippling the agency, according to according to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/130-opinion/6174-rebuilding-nycha-a-fresh-look" target="_blank" rel="noopener">urban historian and professor Dr. Nicholas Dagen Bloom</a>, co-editor of the anthology <a href="https://press.princeton.edu/titles/10548.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Affordable Housing in New York</a>.</p> <p>“In the past 20 years, there’s a been a federal reduction, but compared to the state and city, HUD is really the only game in town,” said Bloom. “The city and state are almost entirely dependent on HUD for the real or long term oversight. So, there’s kind of a bureaucratic insanity where there is less money, but [NYCHA] is supposed to maintain the same standards.”</p> <p>NYCHA <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7299-de-blasio-s-record-on-nycha" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has been stabilized somewhat under de Blasio</a>, with the 2015 release of NextGeneration NYCHA, an ambitious, 10-year strategic plan to get the authority back on track. Thanks to an increase in city investment, the operating budget is no longer running a deficit and plans are moving ahead to bring in more revenue, but NYCHA has not made much headway in addressing the billions of dollars worth of unmet capital needs. As part of the plan, the de Blasio administration relieved NYCHA of more than $100 million in annual bills toward police services and property taxes. In 2015 and 2016, for the first time in years, the authority achieved an operating surplus, one just under HUD’s recommended three-month cushion. However, the most recent $35 million federal cut, <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/federal-aid-reduced-for-new-york-city-housing-authority-1488844639?tesla=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">announced in March</a>, is expected to plummet NYCHA’s operating budget back into the red.</p> <p>Over the past few years, NYCHA has benefited from some capital investment from the city address some infrastructural deficiencies. Since 2015 the city has infused the authority with $1.3 billion to fix 952 roofs, benefiting 175,478 NYCHA residents, as well as $555 million to repair 409 facades, according to a spokesperson for the de Blasio administration. Although the State has historically provided capital funds for NYCHA developments, in 2001, state contributions were reduced from $15 million to $6.4 million a year and dwindled completely by 2007, with the exception of a few one-time investments like $100 million for NYCHA (managed by Dorm Authority for the State of New York) for playgrounds and security cameras in 2015, and $200 million for boilers and elevators in 2017, <a href="https://council.nyc.gov/budget/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/NYCHA.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">according to city records</a>.</p> <p>However, infrastructure problems and public health crises persist throughout NYCHA, and since 2015, the IDC and Council Member Torres have been calling for the state to take more fiscal and regulatory responsibility for the city’s public housing system, a recommendation Governor Andrew Cuomo <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2015/05/cuomo-city-at-odds-over-funding-for-nycha-022540" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has in the past shrugged off</a>, incorrectly characterizing the housing authority a “federal agency” and wrongly declaring state contributions as “unprecedented.”</p> <p>Senator Klein’s <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s5788" target="_blank" rel="noopener">state monitor bill</a> unanimously passed the Senate on the final day of the 2017 legislative session, but has not been considered by the Assembly. Spokespersons for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the Assembly’s housing committee chair, Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, did not respond to requests for comment on the bill.</p> <p>Joining the calls for a state monitor amid the lead inspection fallout is not only Torres, but also Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who in a letter to Governor Cuomo, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the federal government has demonstrated itself to be an unreliable partner to the city.</p> <p>“Only the state has the ability to appoint a credible monitor to examine NYCHA at this time,” Diaz Jr. said in a statement. “More than 400,000 New Yorkers call our city’s public housing developments their home. The families who call our city’s public housing developments home deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. It is now plainly clear that a state-appointed monitor is the only way to make that happen.”</p> <p>In response to the latest calls for significantly more state involvement in NYCHA, Cuomo spokesperson Abbey Fashouer said in a statement, “We have continuously expressed concerns with NYCHA’s operational failures and these latest allegations -- and potential legal violations -- that the agency knowingly committed by exposing New Yorkers to lead paint are particularly disturbing. We have received the letter, and we are reviewing it with our fellow state partners, the Attorney General and the State Comptroller.”</p> <p>De Blasio, at a press conference last week, appeared resistant to the idea of increased state involvement, emphasizing that the pertinent authority over the city’s public housing system is HUD and stressing that a federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York already identified NYCHA’s lead screening lapses in 2016 and that the city was taking steps to remedy it.</p> <p>“The pertinent authority here is the federal government,” said de Blasio at a press conference on November 20. “I think it’s important that agencies respect their fellow agencies. So, this is the top level of government that is the funder of a lot of NYCHA’s operations and has legal oversight responsibility. And for two years, they’ve been involved in this issue. I think that should be respected.”</p> <p>While de Blasio acknowledged that the federal investigation into NYCHA is ongoing and that the city is continuing to cooperate, he said it could lead to a federal monitor of the housing authority, similar to those in place at the NYPD and Department of Correction. Instead of a state or independent monitor at this time, NYCHA is creating an Executive Compliance Department, with Chief Compliance Officer Edna Wells Handy at its head. Handy has been counsel to the NYPD commissioner. The mayor has also rebuffed calls from Public Advocate Tish James to fire Olatoye, defending his public housing chief, saying that she has been instrumental in turning the authority around.</p> <p>“I’m convinced that the leadership we have now is part of the solution to the problems that plague NYCHA,” de Blasio said at the November 20 press conference. De Blasio also referenced the personnel changes beneath Olatoye, though those were only made once the lead inspection scandal had become public through the Department of Investigation, not soon after Olatoye and de Blasio first learned of the inspection lapses.</p> <p>Critics say steps taken by the de Blasio administration are insufficient. "Calling these changes ‘sweeping’ hardly makes them so. ‎An internal compliance department is no substitute for an independent monitor. NYCHA's failure to recognize the need for third-party accountability will only deepen the damage to its credibility," said Council Member Torres.</p> <p>A spokesperson for the DOI, reiterated its call for the external NYCHA monitor to be housed at the independent city agency, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. The spokesperson noted that DOI already has a “robust integrity monitor program” with 18 active monitorships “overseeing an array of integrity issues that include construction, city-funded not for profits, and information technology.”</p> <p>Professor Bloom said he is not surprised there is little enthusiasm from Cuomo’s office for the state to get involved.</p> <p>“The underlying problem is NYCHA residents don’t vote at very high levels -- New York City residents don’t vote -- and upstate, public housing is not a priority. It’s a very small program upstate. [It’s a question of whether] there is the political will,” said Bloom.</p> <p>According to Bloom, the calls for external monitors may be beside the point. While the creation of additional compliance entities may produce more reports (and bureaucracy), without a significant investment of funds to address the lead problem at its root cause, these steps are unlikely to improve quality of life for NYCHA residents. Currently federal regulations require that NYCHA inspect all 55,000 apartments with presumed lead paint, and NYCHA must prioritize apartments with children under six-years-old listed as residents. The city insists that the number of affected apartments is low; that between 2010 and 2016 there were only 17 documented cases requiring lead abatement at 18 NYCHA apartments where children with elevated blood lead levels live. Four of these cases occurring after 2014, according to de Blasio’s office, but <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/city-numbers-lead-poisoning-public-housing-may-be-misleading/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a WNYC report</a> suggests that these numbers may be skewed, since the city defines "elevated lead levels" at 10 micrograms per deciliter -- double the U.S Center for Disease Control standard since 2012.</p> <p>“If you really want to make NYCHA lead-free -- and the case could be made that there should be no lead in any of these apartments -- well, that will require a much more extensive cleaning that will cost a lot of money,” Bloom said. A state-run and financed “lead abatement program” for NYCHA, for example, would likely be welcomed by the housing authority, Bloom added.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio said that two rounds of inspections and amelioration were already underway has vowed that NYCHA would soon been in compliance. On Monday, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/embarrassed-nycha-break-locks-remove-toxic-lead-paint-article-1.3659243" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Daily News reported</a> that NYCHA residents had been notified that inspectors would force entry into units, removing and replacing door locks if tenants were not home during a designated time window.</p> <p>“We will be in compliance with Local Law One next month and then we intend to stay in compliance with Local Law One every year thereafter,” de Blasio said at the November 20 press conference. “And that is important because what that means essentially is as soon as inspections and amelioration ends for one year, you start essentially immediately thereafter for the next year. So there will be a continuous inspection cycle from this point on. Any resources that NYCHA needs for that effort will be provided.”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/torres_nycha_monitor_idc_presser.jpg" alt="torres nycha monitor idc presser" width="600" height="458" /></p> <p>CM Torres and the call for a state NYCHA monitor (photo: @RitchieTorres)</p> <hr /> <p>As Mayor Bill de Blasio and leaders of the embattled New York City Housing Authority continue to respond to fallout from revelations that NYCHA had failed for years to comply with federal and local laws around lead paint inspections, some elected officials are renewing calls for the state take a more active role in the city’s massive public housing system.</p> <p>NYCHA, which has <a href="https://sites.williams.edu/envi-322-s16/mold-in-new-york-city-public-housing-by-lili-bierer/designed-in-oppression-the-history-of-nyc-public-housing-mirrors-current-poor-conditions/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">for decades</a> has been plagued by lapses in safety protocols, sometimes <a href="http://abc7ny.com/news/nycha-was-warned-hours-before-elevator-death-investigation-finds/1267322/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">with tragic results</a>, includes 175,000 housing units home to well over the official tally of 400,000 New Yorkers. A report by the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI), released earlier this month, indicates that NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye knew of deficiencies in lead inspections in early 2016 but signed off on paperwork submitted to the federal government certifying that all the regulations had been met. Olatoye explained that soon after she had become aware of the gap, which began under the prior administration, she alerted NYCHA’s federal regulators and jumpstarted the lead inspections.</p> <p>DOI called for the appointment of a “third-party monitor” to ensure compliance with lead and safety rules as well as to perform regular safety checks on NYCHA units.</p> <p>De Blasio and Olatoye have resisted both the calls for more state oversight and the recommendation for the outside monitor, instead implementing their own set of reforms, including new protocols and a new internal compliance unit, while multiple top NYCHA officials were either forced out or demoted. Though he also sat on the revelations for over a year, de Blasio argued that NYCHA was already addressing the lead inspection shortfalls and admitted that he should have made the issue public sooner. He has strongly pushed back against calls for Olatoye’s removal.</p> <p>As a public authority, the 84-year-old agency -- the oldest and largest such low- and middle-income housing provider in the country -- is technically under the purview of the state, though state law grants the mayor control over appointment of board members and leadership.</p> <p>But in the wake of the lead-inspection revelations, several lawmakers want an increased state role in NYCHA oversight. Members of the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference, led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, held a November 20 press conference to push for a state monitor, as outlined in legislation introduced by Klein earlier this year, which would create an Office of the Independent Monitor within the Department of Homes and Community Renewal, to be appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. Klein and other members of the IDC were also joined by City Council Member Ritchie Torres, chair of the Council’s public housing committee, and other elected officials.</p> <p>The state played a larger role in financing and governing the agency <a href="https://law.justia.com/codes/new-york/2014/pbg/article-13/title-1/402/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in the years</a> immediately after World War II, when there was a large state-wide public housing program, but that contribution shrunk over time to near non-existence, and NYCHA <a href="https://council.nyc.gov/budget/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/NYCHA.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">relies almost entirely</a> on the federal housing agency, HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), for subsidizing its operating and capital needs.</p> <p>While NYCHA has accumulated the $17 billion in capital needs to get into a state of good repair, the authority has also struggled to remain in the black in its yearly operating budget, which has actually been stabilized under de Blasio and Olatoye, even without state money.</p> <p>State-provided operating subsidies to NYCHA were ended by Governor George Pataki in 1998, leaving the housing agency with a $60 million annual operating shortfall, according to NYCHA records. To address its growing annual operating deficit, which was as high as $235 million in 2006, NYCHA transferred many federal subsidies meant for capital improvements into operations, which ensured the system would fall into further disrepair. Since 2006, NYCHA’s personnel has been reduced from 15,000 to 11,000, with many of the jobs lost white collar positions that played a role in compliance. New York City followed the State’s example and by 2004 it had essentially stopped subsidizing NYCHA operations, further crippling the agency, according to according to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/130-opinion/6174-rebuilding-nycha-a-fresh-look" target="_blank" rel="noopener">urban historian and professor Dr. Nicholas Dagen Bloom</a>, co-editor of the anthology <a href="https://press.princeton.edu/titles/10548.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Affordable Housing in New York</a>.</p> <p>“In the past 20 years, there’s a been a federal reduction, but compared to the state and city, HUD is really the only game in town,” said Bloom. “The city and state are almost entirely dependent on HUD for the real or long term oversight. So, there’s kind of a bureaucratic insanity where there is less money, but [NYCHA] is supposed to maintain the same standards.”</p> <p>NYCHA <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7299-de-blasio-s-record-on-nycha" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has been stabilized somewhat under de Blasio</a>, with the 2015 release of NextGeneration NYCHA, an ambitious, 10-year strategic plan to get the authority back on track. Thanks to an increase in city investment, the operating budget is no longer running a deficit and plans are moving ahead to bring in more revenue, but NYCHA has not made much headway in addressing the billions of dollars worth of unmet capital needs. As part of the plan, the de Blasio administration relieved NYCHA of more than $100 million in annual bills toward police services and property taxes. In 2015 and 2016, for the first time in years, the authority achieved an operating surplus, one just under HUD’s recommended three-month cushion. However, the most recent $35 million federal cut, <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/federal-aid-reduced-for-new-york-city-housing-authority-1488844639?tesla=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">announced in March</a>, is expected to plummet NYCHA’s operating budget back into the red.</p> <p>Over the past few years, NYCHA has benefited from some capital investment from the city address some infrastructural deficiencies. Since 2015 the city has infused the authority with $1.3 billion to fix 952 roofs, benefiting 175,478 NYCHA residents, as well as $555 million to repair 409 facades, according to a spokesperson for the de Blasio administration. Although the State has historically provided capital funds for NYCHA developments, in 2001, state contributions were reduced from $15 million to $6.4 million a year and dwindled completely by 2007, with the exception of a few one-time investments like $100 million for NYCHA (managed by Dorm Authority for the State of New York) for playgrounds and security cameras in 2015, and $200 million for boilers and elevators in 2017, <a href="https://council.nyc.gov/budget/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2016/05/NYCHA.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">according to city records</a>.</p> <p>However, infrastructure problems and public health crises persist throughout NYCHA, and since 2015, the IDC and Council Member Torres have been calling for the state to take more fiscal and regulatory responsibility for the city’s public housing system, a recommendation Governor Andrew Cuomo <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2015/05/cuomo-city-at-odds-over-funding-for-nycha-022540" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has in the past shrugged off</a>, incorrectly characterizing the housing authority a “federal agency” and wrongly declaring state contributions as “unprecedented.”</p> <p>Senator Klein’s <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s5788" target="_blank" rel="noopener">state monitor bill</a> unanimously passed the Senate on the final day of the 2017 legislative session, but has not been considered by the Assembly. Spokespersons for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the Assembly’s housing committee chair, Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, did not respond to requests for comment on the bill.</p> <p>Joining the calls for a state monitor amid the lead inspection fallout is not only Torres, but also Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who in a letter to Governor Cuomo, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the federal government has demonstrated itself to be an unreliable partner to the city.</p> <p>“Only the state has the ability to appoint a credible monitor to examine NYCHA at this time,” Diaz Jr. said in a statement. “More than 400,000 New Yorkers call our city’s public housing developments their home. The families who call our city’s public housing developments home deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. It is now plainly clear that a state-appointed monitor is the only way to make that happen.”</p> <p>In response to the latest calls for significantly more state involvement in NYCHA, Cuomo spokesperson Abbey Fashouer said in a statement, “We have continuously expressed concerns with NYCHA’s operational failures and these latest allegations -- and potential legal violations -- that the agency knowingly committed by exposing New Yorkers to lead paint are particularly disturbing. We have received the letter, and we are reviewing it with our fellow state partners, the Attorney General and the State Comptroller.”</p> <p>De Blasio, at a press conference last week, appeared resistant to the idea of increased state involvement, emphasizing that the pertinent authority over the city’s public housing system is HUD and stressing that a federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York already identified NYCHA’s lead screening lapses in 2016 and that the city was taking steps to remedy it.</p> <p>“The pertinent authority here is the federal government,” said de Blasio at a press conference on November 20. “I think it’s important that agencies respect their fellow agencies. So, this is the top level of government that is the funder of a lot of NYCHA’s operations and has legal oversight responsibility. And for two years, they’ve been involved in this issue. I think that should be respected.”</p> <p>While de Blasio acknowledged that the federal investigation into NYCHA is ongoing and that the city is continuing to cooperate, he said it could lead to a federal monitor of the housing authority, similar to those in place at the NYPD and Department of Correction. Instead of a state or independent monitor at this time, NYCHA is creating an Executive Compliance Department, with Chief Compliance Officer Edna Wells Handy at its head. Handy has been counsel to the NYPD commissioner. The mayor has also rebuffed calls from Public Advocate Tish James to fire Olatoye, defending his public housing chief, saying that she has been instrumental in turning the authority around.</p> <p>“I’m convinced that the leadership we have now is part of the solution to the problems that plague NYCHA,” de Blasio said at the November 20 press conference. De Blasio also referenced the personnel changes beneath Olatoye, though those were only made once the lead inspection scandal had become public through the Department of Investigation, not soon after Olatoye and de Blasio first learned of the inspection lapses.</p> <p>Critics say steps taken by the de Blasio administration are insufficient. "Calling these changes ‘sweeping’ hardly makes them so. ‎An internal compliance department is no substitute for an independent monitor. NYCHA's failure to recognize the need for third-party accountability will only deepen the damage to its credibility," said Council Member Torres.</p> <p>A spokesperson for the DOI, reiterated its call for the external NYCHA monitor to be housed at the independent city agency, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. The spokesperson noted that DOI already has a “robust integrity monitor program” with 18 active monitorships “overseeing an array of integrity issues that include construction, city-funded not for profits, and information technology.”</p> <p>Professor Bloom said he is not surprised there is little enthusiasm from Cuomo’s office for the state to get involved.</p> <p>“The underlying problem is NYCHA residents don’t vote at very high levels -- New York City residents don’t vote -- and upstate, public housing is not a priority. It’s a very small program upstate. [It’s a question of whether] there is the political will,” said Bloom.</p> <p>According to Bloom, the calls for external monitors may be beside the point. While the creation of additional compliance entities may produce more reports (and bureaucracy), without a significant investment of funds to address the lead problem at its root cause, these steps are unlikely to improve quality of life for NYCHA residents. Currently federal regulations require that NYCHA inspect all 55,000 apartments with presumed lead paint, and NYCHA must prioritize apartments with children under six-years-old listed as residents. The city insists that the number of affected apartments is low; that between 2010 and 2016 there were only 17 documented cases requiring lead abatement at 18 NYCHA apartments where children with elevated blood lead levels live. Four of these cases occurring after 2014, according to de Blasio’s office, but <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/city-numbers-lead-poisoning-public-housing-may-be-misleading/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a WNYC report</a> suggests that these numbers may be skewed, since the city defines "elevated lead levels" at 10 micrograms per deciliter -- double the U.S Center for Disease Control standard since 2012.</p> <p>“If you really want to make NYCHA lead-free -- and the case could be made that there should be no lead in any of these apartments -- well, that will require a much more extensive cleaning that will cost a lot of money,” Bloom said. A state-run and financed “lead abatement program” for NYCHA, for example, would likely be welcomed by the housing authority, Bloom added.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio said that two rounds of inspections and amelioration were already underway has vowed that NYCHA would soon been in compliance. On Monday, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/embarrassed-nycha-break-locks-remove-toxic-lead-paint-article-1.3659243" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Daily News reported</a> that NYCHA residents had been notified that inspectors would force entry into units, removing and replacing door locks if tenants were not home during a designated time window.</p> <p>“We will be in compliance with Local Law One next month and then we intend to stay in compliance with Local Law One every year thereafter,” de Blasio said at the November 20 press conference. “And that is important because what that means essentially is as soon as inspections and amelioration ends for one year, you start essentially immediately thereafter for the next year. So there will be a continuous inspection cycle from this point on. Any resources that NYCHA needs for that effort will be provided.”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Ends Term with Flurry of Oversight Hearings 2017-11-19T05:00:00+00:00 2017-11-19T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7328:city-council-ends-term-with-flurry-of-oversight-hearings Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/mmv_hearing_john_mccarten_city_council.jpg" alt="mmv hearing john mccarten city council" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p><em>[Note: this article has been updated based on fluctuations in the City Council calendar]</em></p> <p>A flurry of oversight hearings are filling the City Council calendar as the Council enters its final month of the four-year session, most notably a hearing slated to address controversies over NYCHA’s falsified lead inspection reports, a hearing to discuss the city’s progress in closing Rikers Island jails, and a hearing on integrating the city's segregated public schools.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx">More than a dozen oversight hearings</a> are slated for Council committee discussion between November 20 and December 19 as this current iteration of the Council ends its term. A new class of Council members, many of whom are current officeholders who won reelection this fall, will be sworn in just after the new year, with a new Council Speaker chosen at the first full-body “stated meeting” in early January.</p> <p>At oversight hearings, Council members typically question the relevant top officials in the mayoral administration about the topic at hand, before testimony from other stakeholders, like advocates, non-governmental experts, or members of the public. While the hearings can be informative to Council members, journalists, advocates, and the broader public, further Council action will likely be taken in the next session, when many committee chair positions will have changed hands.</p> <p>Along with the oversight hearings on the NYCHA lead controversy and initial steps being taken toward closing Rikers jails, some of the scheduled oversight hearings deal with fighting homelessness, the NYPD’s role in school safety, mental health services for military veterans, evaluating workforce development programs, “the feasibility of microgrids,” and more.</p> <p>The oversight hearing scheduled to discuss closing Rikers, set for December 4, comes on the heels of the de Blasio administration’s release of a request for proposals to assess existing jails as potential sites to accommodate additional inmates and the overall need for space across the boroughs other than State Island, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has said no new jail will be opened.</p> <p>A 10-year plan issued by the mayor’s office in June committed to reducing the city’s jail population from the now roughly 9,500 to 5,000 within this time frame, while ensuring space in four borough jails for that smaller number of detainees.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is term-limited out of office at the end of the year, has been a driving force behind the mission to close Rikers jails. At a press conference on Thursday, she told Gotham Gazette that the hearing will be important in terms of examining progress on several fronts important to the larger goal.</p> <p>“There’s already sites that exist and what we have to do is look at how we can create a modern day facility that really addresses some of the concerns that were raised and the recommendations made in the independent commission report,” she said, referring to the issue of identifying space and the RFP being put out by the city whereby a consultant will be hired to study resources and need. She also referred to the report put forth by a commission she empaneled led by former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, which crafted its own 10-year plan for closing Rikers jails.&nbsp;"There’s stuff to talk about, there’s other recommendations and action items that have to be taken, action that has to be taken and we can’t do that alone so it’s a matter of figuring out, where do we stand, what’s next to do, how quickly can we get it done,” Mark-Viverito said.</p> <p>The timeline for closing Rikers, the designation of responsibility, locations for housing detainees, the rate of population decline within the correctional facility, and a number of recent bail reform laws are topics of interest for the oversight hearing according to Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, chair of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice, which will host the hearing. Crowley will lead it, likely along with Mark-Viverito.</p> <p>“This would be the most ideal way of wrapping up the session because it’s an immense endeavor and one that clearly the Department of Corrections doesn’t have the talents right now and the ability to address,” Crowley told Gotham Gazette in an interview. “I’m hoping that we can put together recommendations for the mayor’s office to help make this plan more of a reality.”</p> <p>The NYCHA lead hearing was a recent addition to the slate, called by City Council Member Ritchie Torres, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Public Housing, in light of a Department of Investigations report revealing that NYCHA submitted false documentation of lead paint safety inspections never completed. The hearing, set for December 5, will discuss the practice and steps being taken to make things right, Torres said. According to the report, NYCHA failed to perform apartment inspections in 2013, 2014 and 2015 despite not having conducted the approximate 55,000 annual inspections required to satisfy the federal rule.</p> <p>The DOI report asserted that false paperwork was submitted even after NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye learned of the department’s non-compliance with city and federal rules. Olatoye is expected to appear before the committee during the oversight hearing next month. “I want to ask the chairperson about the agency’s practice of misleading the federal government about conducting lead paint inspections. Why did those practices transpire? When did she find out those practices were happening? How long did it take her before she revealed it to the general public and revealed it to DOI?” Torres told Gotham Gazette in an interview.</p> <p>In response to the DOI report and fallout, NYCHA announced personnel and programmatic changes. Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio has stated his support for Olatoye, whose departure has been called for by several people, most notably Public Advocate Letitia James.</p> <p>The Department of Investigation, Council Member Torres, and Public Advocate James, among others, have called for an independent monitor to oversee NYCHA inspections in the future. “NYCHA no longer has the credibility to monitor its own lead paint inspections. The only hope for restoring public confidence is an independent monitor,” Torres said.</p> <p>On December 7, the Council's education committee will hold an oversight hearing on "diversity in New York City schools," whereby the Council will check in on progress in reports from the Department of Education mandated by legislation co-sponsored by Council Members Brad Lander and Ritchie Torres.</p> <p>"This hearing will begin with testimony from the NYC Department of Education (DOE) about the plan they released in the spring (<a href="https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u=http%3A%2F%2Fschools.nyc.gov%2FNR%2Frdonlyres%2FD0799D8E-D4CD-45EF-A0D5-8F1DB246C2BA%2F0%2Fdiversity_final.pdf&amp;e=822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace&amp;utm_source=bradlander&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=wxy_response&amp;n=2" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fschools.nyc.gov%252FNR%252Frdonlyres%252FD0799D8E-D4CD-45EF-A0D5-8F1DB246C2BA%252F0%252Fdiversity_final.pdf%26e%3D822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace%26utm_source%3Dbradlander%26utm_medium%3Demail%26utm_campaign%3Dwxy_response%26n%3D2&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1511288945029000&amp;usg=AFQjCNGfBMLho06w-CXN2EyIlxv1Yv-KFg">“Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools”</a>), the third-annual&nbsp;<a href="https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u=http%3A%2F%2Fschools.nyc.gov%2Fcommunity%2Fcity%2Fpublicaffairs%2FDemographic%2BReports.htm&amp;e=822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace&amp;utm_source=bradlander&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=wxy_response&amp;n=3" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fschools.nyc.gov%252Fcommunity%252Fcity%252Fpublicaffairs%252FDemographic%252BReports.htm%26e%3D822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace%26utm_source%3Dbradlander%26utm_medium%3Demail%26utm_campaign%3Dwxy_response%26n%3D3&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1511288945029000&amp;usg=AFQjCNHQtfHPwaIrq96mcC5n-8qWVyAEuA">“School Diversity Accountability Act” report</a>&nbsp;(just released last week), and other efforts such as their recently-announced&nbsp;<a href="https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u=http%3A%2F%2Fschools.nyc.gov%2FOffices%2Fmediarelations%2FNewsandSpeeches%2F2017-2018%2FD1Diversity.htm&amp;e=822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace&amp;utm_source=bradlander&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=wxy_response&amp;n=4" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fschools.nyc.gov%252FOffices%252Fmediarelations%252FNewsandSpeeches%252F2017-2018%252FD1Diversity.htm%26e%3D822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace%26utm_source%3Dbradlander%26utm_medium%3Demail%26utm_campaign%3Dwxy_response%26n%3D4&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1511288945029000&amp;usg=AFQjCNGw0oqxEL7Z_kduvhxi2X0DPPokuA">plan for District 1</a>&nbsp;and the work they are beginning for District 15 middle-schools," according to an announcemnt from Lander's office.</p> <p>"After that -- and just as important -- the hearing will also provide an opportunity for the City Council to hear public testimony from students, parents, educators, and advocates working to combat school segregation and create truly integrated schools," the Lander announcement adds.</p> <p>An oversight hearing to discuss career pathways and workforce development systems is also scheduled, for November 27. New York City’s population is notably underprepared for the workforce, with more than 3.3 million residents over the age of 25 lacking an associate’s degree or other level of college education, according to July 2016 <a href="https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/newyorkcitynewyork/PST045216" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Census data</a> estimates. Those with degrees are concentrated largely within Manhattan. The city’s launch of the Career Pathways program in 2014 was an initial step in addressing the issue; committed to improving working conditions for lower-wage workers emphasizing training and education and creating connections with city employers. While the program has shown some promise in reforming and overhauling the city’s approach to skill-building programs, Career Pathways still lacks permanent funding and has yet to establish the necessary system of referrals and partnerships, according to <a href="https://nycfuture.org/research/building-the-workforce-of-the-future" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> released by Center for an Urban Future in 2016.</p> <p>The oversight hearing will likely include an update on the status of the Career Pathways program from the city’s Department of Small Business Services and testimony from Stacy Woodruff of the Workforce Professionals Training Institute on changes within the job market, according to Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., chair of the Committee on Small Business.</p> <p>“November’s small business committee hearing will be geared towards gaining a better understanding of the progress of the Career Pathways program announced in 2014. As New York’s economy continues to evolve, it is essential we understand the ways in which we can anticipate that evolution and ensure we prepare New Yorkers for the jobs that will come along with it,” said Cornegy, whose committee will co-host the hearing with the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, chaired by Council Member Daneek Miller.</p> <p>Earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio announced a new plan to use city resources to spur 100,000 new, good-paying jobs, with an emphasis on making sure that current city residents and those who have long-lived in the city are able to fill the new jobs. The Career Pathways program is seen by many in economic development and job training circles as key to this effort, but experts say that it has been underfunded by the de Blasio administration.</p> <p>Under this City Council, a bill was passed and signed by the mayor in 2016 to establish a separate Department of Veterans Affairs, outside of the Mayor’s Office. The new department has a much bigger staff and budget than the old Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs, and works to place veterans in jobs through Workforce1 centers, reduce homelessness among military veterans, connect veterans to benefits and services, including mental health care. An oversight meeting on Monday, November 20 included discussion of the city’s progress in providing mental health services for veterans.</p> <p>The hearing was co-hosted by the Committee on Mental Health, chaired by Council Member Andrew Cohen, and the Committee on Veterans, chaired by Council Member Eric Ulrich.</p> <p>“This is the end of the City Council session so it’s the last opportunity to check in here on the status of the newly created Department of Veterans, the overall services available to veterans. I’d like to make an inquiry into the nexus between Thrive[NYC] and our veterans, the number of veterans being serviced through Thrive and just kind of an overall taking the temperature of where we’re at in terms of connecting veterans with mental health services,” said Cohen, referring to the de Blasio administration’s large mental health care program spearheaded by First Lady Chirlane McCray.</p> <p>Also on the City Council calendar is an oversight hearing that took place Tuesday, November 21 to discuss “the feasibility of microgrids.” Local energy grids capable of disconnecting from central power sources and operating autonomously, microgrids are used to provide power when the traditional grid has been compromised by an emergency or major power outage. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which left 800,000 city residents without power, microgrids could offer an important alternative in helping deal with future storms.</p> <p>Such grids also enable greater use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, potentially allowing city residents more flexibility in their energy sources. “These types of small electricity grids have the potential to change the way we generate and consume power “ said Council Member Costa Constantinides, chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, in a statement to Gotham Gazette prior to the hearing, which his committee hosted in conjunction with the Committee on Consumer Affairs, chaired by Council Member Rafael Espinal. “We hope to learn more about how microgrids could be implemented in our city, how consumers could save money on utility bills, and hear feedback from environmental advocacy groups,” said Constantinides.</p> <p>On Monday, November 20, the committees on housing and on general welfare held an oversight hearing on how the city’s housing department coordinates with the city’s homeless services department and its welfare agency “to address the homelessness crisis.”</p> <p>Other <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">scheduled</a>&nbsp;oversight hearings, some of which have now occurred, include: a public safety committee hearing on “NYPD’s School Safety’s Role and Efforts to Improve School Climate”; the committees on higher education and technology on “CUNY Tech Incubators”; the committees on health and immigration on “Immigrant Access to Healthcare”; the governmental operations committee on “DCAS’s Energy Management and Energy Efficiency Initiatives”; the economic development committee on “NYC’s Sagging Air Cargo Industry”; the recovery and resiliency committee on “Update on assisting vulnerable populations in emergency evacuations”; the juvenile justice committee on “Trauma-Informed Services in the Juvenile Justice System”; the contracts committee on “Examining Existing Supports and Needs of Underrepresented Business Owners in City Procurement”; the aging committee on “Supporting Unpaid Caregivers”; the technology committee on "MODA's Data and Verification Plan"; the housing committee on "Housing Development Fund Corps. (HDFCs) &amp; Transparency"; the environmental protection committee on "The City’s Wastewater Infrastructure – Current Condition and Future Plans"; the economic development committee on "Economic Impact of Vacant Storefronts"; and a few others.&nbsp;</p> <p>(Note: be sure to re-check <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Council calendar</a> as hearings are often postponed or canceled.)</p> <p>(Note: this article has been updated with information about an additional hearing.)</p> <p>

***
by Grace Dixon for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/mmv_hearing_john_mccarten_city_council.jpg" alt="mmv hearing john mccarten city council" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p><em>[Note: this article has been updated based on fluctuations in the City Council calendar]</em></p> <p>A flurry of oversight hearings are filling the City Council calendar as the Council enters its final month of the four-year session, most notably a hearing slated to address controversies over NYCHA’s falsified lead inspection reports, a hearing to discuss the city’s progress in closing Rikers Island jails, and a hearing on integrating the city's segregated public schools.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx">More than a dozen oversight hearings</a> are slated for Council committee discussion between November 20 and December 19 as this current iteration of the Council ends its term. A new class of Council members, many of whom are current officeholders who won reelection this fall, will be sworn in just after the new year, with a new Council Speaker chosen at the first full-body “stated meeting” in early January.</p> <p>At oversight hearings, Council members typically question the relevant top officials in the mayoral administration about the topic at hand, before testimony from other stakeholders, like advocates, non-governmental experts, or members of the public. While the hearings can be informative to Council members, journalists, advocates, and the broader public, further Council action will likely be taken in the next session, when many committee chair positions will have changed hands.</p> <p>Along with the oversight hearings on the NYCHA lead controversy and initial steps being taken toward closing Rikers jails, some of the scheduled oversight hearings deal with fighting homelessness, the NYPD’s role in school safety, mental health services for military veterans, evaluating workforce development programs, “the feasibility of microgrids,” and more.</p> <p>The oversight hearing scheduled to discuss closing Rikers, set for December 4, comes on the heels of the de Blasio administration’s release of a request for proposals to assess existing jails as potential sites to accommodate additional inmates and the overall need for space across the boroughs other than State Island, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has said no new jail will be opened.</p> <p>A 10-year plan issued by the mayor’s office in June committed to reducing the city’s jail population from the now roughly 9,500 to 5,000 within this time frame, while ensuring space in four borough jails for that smaller number of detainees.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is term-limited out of office at the end of the year, has been a driving force behind the mission to close Rikers jails. At a press conference on Thursday, she told Gotham Gazette that the hearing will be important in terms of examining progress on several fronts important to the larger goal.</p> <p>“There’s already sites that exist and what we have to do is look at how we can create a modern day facility that really addresses some of the concerns that were raised and the recommendations made in the independent commission report,” she said, referring to the issue of identifying space and the RFP being put out by the city whereby a consultant will be hired to study resources and need. She also referred to the report put forth by a commission she empaneled led by former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, which crafted its own 10-year plan for closing Rikers jails.&nbsp;"There’s stuff to talk about, there’s other recommendations and action items that have to be taken, action that has to be taken and we can’t do that alone so it’s a matter of figuring out, where do we stand, what’s next to do, how quickly can we get it done,” Mark-Viverito said.</p> <p>The timeline for closing Rikers, the designation of responsibility, locations for housing detainees, the rate of population decline within the correctional facility, and a number of recent bail reform laws are topics of interest for the oversight hearing according to Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, chair of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice, which will host the hearing. Crowley will lead it, likely along with Mark-Viverito.</p> <p>“This would be the most ideal way of wrapping up the session because it’s an immense endeavor and one that clearly the Department of Corrections doesn’t have the talents right now and the ability to address,” Crowley told Gotham Gazette in an interview. “I’m hoping that we can put together recommendations for the mayor’s office to help make this plan more of a reality.”</p> <p>The NYCHA lead hearing was a recent addition to the slate, called by City Council Member Ritchie Torres, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Public Housing, in light of a Department of Investigations report revealing that NYCHA submitted false documentation of lead paint safety inspections never completed. The hearing, set for December 5, will discuss the practice and steps being taken to make things right, Torres said. According to the report, NYCHA failed to perform apartment inspections in 2013, 2014 and 2015 despite not having conducted the approximate 55,000 annual inspections required to satisfy the federal rule.</p> <p>The DOI report asserted that false paperwork was submitted even after NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye learned of the department’s non-compliance with city and federal rules. Olatoye is expected to appear before the committee during the oversight hearing next month. “I want to ask the chairperson about the agency’s practice of misleading the federal government about conducting lead paint inspections. Why did those practices transpire? When did she find out those practices were happening? How long did it take her before she revealed it to the general public and revealed it to DOI?” Torres told Gotham Gazette in an interview.</p> <p>In response to the DOI report and fallout, NYCHA announced personnel and programmatic changes. Meanwhile, Mayor de Blasio has stated his support for Olatoye, whose departure has been called for by several people, most notably Public Advocate Letitia James.</p> <p>The Department of Investigation, Council Member Torres, and Public Advocate James, among others, have called for an independent monitor to oversee NYCHA inspections in the future. “NYCHA no longer has the credibility to monitor its own lead paint inspections. The only hope for restoring public confidence is an independent monitor,” Torres said.</p> <p>On December 7, the Council's education committee will hold an oversight hearing on "diversity in New York City schools," whereby the Council will check in on progress in reports from the Department of Education mandated by legislation co-sponsored by Council Members Brad Lander and Ritchie Torres.</p> <p>"This hearing will begin with testimony from the NYC Department of Education (DOE) about the plan they released in the spring (<a href="https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u=http%3A%2F%2Fschools.nyc.gov%2FNR%2Frdonlyres%2FD0799D8E-D4CD-45EF-A0D5-8F1DB246C2BA%2F0%2Fdiversity_final.pdf&amp;e=822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace&amp;utm_source=bradlander&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=wxy_response&amp;n=2" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fschools.nyc.gov%252FNR%252Frdonlyres%252FD0799D8E-D4CD-45EF-A0D5-8F1DB246C2BA%252F0%252Fdiversity_final.pdf%26e%3D822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace%26utm_source%3Dbradlander%26utm_medium%3Demail%26utm_campaign%3Dwxy_response%26n%3D2&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1511288945029000&amp;usg=AFQjCNGfBMLho06w-CXN2EyIlxv1Yv-KFg">“Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools”</a>), the third-annual&nbsp;<a href="https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u=http%3A%2F%2Fschools.nyc.gov%2Fcommunity%2Fcity%2Fpublicaffairs%2FDemographic%2BReports.htm&amp;e=822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace&amp;utm_source=bradlander&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=wxy_response&amp;n=3" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fschools.nyc.gov%252Fcommunity%252Fcity%252Fpublicaffairs%252FDemographic%252BReports.htm%26e%3D822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace%26utm_source%3Dbradlander%26utm_medium%3Demail%26utm_campaign%3Dwxy_response%26n%3D3&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1511288945029000&amp;usg=AFQjCNHQtfHPwaIrq96mcC5n-8qWVyAEuA">“School Diversity Accountability Act” report</a>&nbsp;(just released last week), and other efforts such as their recently-announced&nbsp;<a href="https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u=http%3A%2F%2Fschools.nyc.gov%2FOffices%2Fmediarelations%2FNewsandSpeeches%2F2017-2018%2FD1Diversity.htm&amp;e=822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace&amp;utm_source=bradlander&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=wxy_response&amp;n=4" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=https://bradlander.nationbuilder.com/r?u%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fschools.nyc.gov%252FOffices%252Fmediarelations%252FNewsandSpeeches%252F2017-2018%252FD1Diversity.htm%26e%3D822327e927f5ca70ec4cc0c3c103361c2111bace%26utm_source%3Dbradlander%26utm_medium%3Demail%26utm_campaign%3Dwxy_response%26n%3D4&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1511288945029000&amp;usg=AFQjCNGw0oqxEL7Z_kduvhxi2X0DPPokuA">plan for District 1</a>&nbsp;and the work they are beginning for District 15 middle-schools," according to an announcemnt from Lander's office.</p> <p>"After that -- and just as important -- the hearing will also provide an opportunity for the City Council to hear public testimony from students, parents, educators, and advocates working to combat school segregation and create truly integrated schools," the Lander announcement adds.</p> <p>An oversight hearing to discuss career pathways and workforce development systems is also scheduled, for November 27. New York City’s population is notably underprepared for the workforce, with more than 3.3 million residents over the age of 25 lacking an associate’s degree or other level of college education, according to July 2016 <a href="https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/newyorkcitynewyork/PST045216" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Census data</a> estimates. Those with degrees are concentrated largely within Manhattan. The city’s launch of the Career Pathways program in 2014 was an initial step in addressing the issue; committed to improving working conditions for lower-wage workers emphasizing training and education and creating connections with city employers. While the program has shown some promise in reforming and overhauling the city’s approach to skill-building programs, Career Pathways still lacks permanent funding and has yet to establish the necessary system of referrals and partnerships, according to <a href="https://nycfuture.org/research/building-the-workforce-of-the-future" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> released by Center for an Urban Future in 2016.</p> <p>The oversight hearing will likely include an update on the status of the Career Pathways program from the city’s Department of Small Business Services and testimony from Stacy Woodruff of the Workforce Professionals Training Institute on changes within the job market, according to Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., chair of the Committee on Small Business.</p> <p>“November’s small business committee hearing will be geared towards gaining a better understanding of the progress of the Career Pathways program announced in 2014. As New York’s economy continues to evolve, it is essential we understand the ways in which we can anticipate that evolution and ensure we prepare New Yorkers for the jobs that will come along with it,” said Cornegy, whose committee will co-host the hearing with the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, chaired by Council Member Daneek Miller.</p> <p>Earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio announced a new plan to use city resources to spur 100,000 new, good-paying jobs, with an emphasis on making sure that current city residents and those who have long-lived in the city are able to fill the new jobs. The Career Pathways program is seen by many in economic development and job training circles as key to this effort, but experts say that it has been underfunded by the de Blasio administration.</p> <p>Under this City Council, a bill was passed and signed by the mayor in 2016 to establish a separate Department of Veterans Affairs, outside of the Mayor’s Office. The new department has a much bigger staff and budget than the old Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs, and works to place veterans in jobs through Workforce1 centers, reduce homelessness among military veterans, connect veterans to benefits and services, including mental health care. An oversight meeting on Monday, November 20 included discussion of the city’s progress in providing mental health services for veterans.</p> <p>The hearing was co-hosted by the Committee on Mental Health, chaired by Council Member Andrew Cohen, and the Committee on Veterans, chaired by Council Member Eric Ulrich.</p> <p>“This is the end of the City Council session so it’s the last opportunity to check in here on the status of the newly created Department of Veterans, the overall services available to veterans. I’d like to make an inquiry into the nexus between Thrive[NYC] and our veterans, the number of veterans being serviced through Thrive and just kind of an overall taking the temperature of where we’re at in terms of connecting veterans with mental health services,” said Cohen, referring to the de Blasio administration’s large mental health care program spearheaded by First Lady Chirlane McCray.</p> <p>Also on the City Council calendar is an oversight hearing that took place Tuesday, November 21 to discuss “the feasibility of microgrids.” Local energy grids capable of disconnecting from central power sources and operating autonomously, microgrids are used to provide power when the traditional grid has been compromised by an emergency or major power outage. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which left 800,000 city residents without power, microgrids could offer an important alternative in helping deal with future storms.</p> <p>Such grids also enable greater use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, potentially allowing city residents more flexibility in their energy sources. “These types of small electricity grids have the potential to change the way we generate and consume power “ said Council Member Costa Constantinides, chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, in a statement to Gotham Gazette prior to the hearing, which his committee hosted in conjunction with the Committee on Consumer Affairs, chaired by Council Member Rafael Espinal. “We hope to learn more about how microgrids could be implemented in our city, how consumers could save money on utility bills, and hear feedback from environmental advocacy groups,” said Constantinides.</p> <p>On Monday, November 20, the committees on housing and on general welfare held an oversight hearing on how the city’s housing department coordinates with the city’s homeless services department and its welfare agency “to address the homelessness crisis.”</p> <p>Other <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">scheduled</a>&nbsp;oversight hearings, some of which have now occurred, include: a public safety committee hearing on “NYPD’s School Safety’s Role and Efforts to Improve School Climate”; the committees on higher education and technology on “CUNY Tech Incubators”; the committees on health and immigration on “Immigrant Access to Healthcare”; the governmental operations committee on “DCAS’s Energy Management and Energy Efficiency Initiatives”; the economic development committee on “NYC’s Sagging Air Cargo Industry”; the recovery and resiliency committee on “Update on assisting vulnerable populations in emergency evacuations”; the juvenile justice committee on “Trauma-Informed Services in the Juvenile Justice System”; the contracts committee on “Examining Existing Supports and Needs of Underrepresented Business Owners in City Procurement”; the aging committee on “Supporting Unpaid Caregivers”; the technology committee on "MODA's Data and Verification Plan"; the housing committee on "Housing Development Fund Corps. (HDFCs) &amp; Transparency"; the environmental protection committee on "The City’s Wastewater Infrastructure – Current Condition and Future Plans"; the economic development committee on "Economic Impact of Vacant Storefronts"; and a few others.&nbsp;</p> <p>(Note: be sure to re-check <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Council calendar</a> as hearings are often postponed or canceled.)</p> <p>(Note: this article has been updated with information about an additional hearing.)</p> <p>

***
by Grace Dixon for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

&nbsp;</p>
The Right to Know Act and the City Council Speaker Race 2017-11-08T05:00:00+00:00 2017-11-08T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7310:the-right-to-know-act-and-the-council-speaker-race Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/jumaane-williams-rtkar.jpg" alt="jumaane williams rtkar" /></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Jumaane Williams at a Right to Know Act rally (Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</span></p> <hr /> <p>In less than two months, the current class of the New York City Council ends its term, and eight incumbents who won reelection on Tuesday are running to lead the 51-member legislative body as its next speaker. It is an internal race influenced by county party affiliates, labor unions, Mayor Bill de Blasio, himself newly reelected, and others.</p> <p>As the clock ticks on this term and the speakership of Melissa Mark-Viverito, a de Blasio ally who is term-limited out of office, a particular package of controversial legislation offers an especially delicate situation for Mark-Viverito, de Blasio, and the speaker candidates, most notably the one, Ritchie Torres, who is a prime sponsor of the bills.</p> <p>Each of the eight speaker candidates -- Council Members Torres, Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Donovan Richards, Jimmy Van Bramer, Robert Cornegy, Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams -- is a co-sponsor on the two police reform bills, collectively called the Right to Know Act, which puts them at odds with the mayor, who has ardently opposed the legislation, and with Mark-Viverito, who has refused to allow it to come to a vote. Instead, Mark-Viverito and the NYPD announced an agreement on administrative changes whereby the police department agreed to implement pieces of the bills, but without the power of law.</p> <p>As the Council readies for an expected end-of-term legislative blitz, supporters of the bills from inside and outside the Council are pushing for passage, potentially setting up the next speaker, the second-most powerful elected official in the city, to take office having already courted conflict with the mayor and potentially establishing a new dynamic between the heads of the executive and legislative branches of city government. It puts Torres in a particularly awkward position of having to possibly decide whether to buck advocates and co-sponsors or the mayor and the speaker and those members who would rather not have to vote on the measure.</p> <p>De Blasio has yet to use a veto during his four years as mayor, with virtually every contentious piece of legislation either being negotiated to agreement between the mayor and the Council or scuttled.</p> <p>The bills in question include <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1681129&amp;GUID=F650527A-AA60-49DB-8A02-97E9C4A0CBDE&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=int+182" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 182</a>, sponsored by Council Member Torres, putting him in unique position among the speaker candidates, which requires police officers to identify themselves during a street stop, and <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2015555&amp;GUID=652280A4-40A6-44C4-A6AF-8EF4717BD8D6&amp;Options=ID%7cText%7c&amp;Search=nypd" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 541</a>, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, mandating that officers inform individuals of their right to refuse consent to a search in cases that it is required and to provide audio or written proof if an individual consents to a search. Unsurprisingly, the legislation was met with strong resistance from the NYPD, whose leadership has often been critical of the City Council’s attempts to legislate its practices and believes the bills would hamper officers’ abilities to do their jobs.</p> <p>In July last year, Mark-Viverito struck a compromise with the police department to implement certain provisions of the bills, foregoing a vote, despite the fact that the bills had and continue to have support from a majority of the Council. Police reform advocates were incensed by what they saw as a backroom deal and questioned the speaker’s willingness to stand up to de Blasio.</p> <p>Six of the eight speaker candidates -- Johnson and Cornegy did not respond to requests for comment for this article -- said the speaker’s race would not affect their support for the Right to Know Act and that the legislation would likely not affect the speaker’s race. But they also agreed that any speaker must demonstrate their independence from the mayor, and supporting these police reforms can do just that.</p> <p>“I can assure you that the speaker’s race has no bearing on how I will conduct myself on the subject of the Right to Know,” said Torres, in a phone interview. “One has nothing to do with the other.” Torres and Reynoso have held off on using a discharge through committee, a procedural tool that would allow them to bypass a committee vote and bring their bills directly to the floor of the Council, despite the urging of police reform advocacy groups such as Communities United for Police Reform (CPR).</p> <p>“I never shy away from challenging authority but for me it’s more about finding the right solution,” Torres said, insisting that he would rather negotiate with the police department to amend the bills and get them passed. “There’s greater value in passing legislation with the buy-in of an agency than doing so in the face of hysterical opposition. In the end, if one side refuses to negotiate in good faith, then of course I reserve the right to discharge and I have no hesitation about exercising that right. But I will do so only when necessary.”</p> <p>When asked if, in the context of Right to Know, Speaker Mark-Viverito had been sufficiently independent of the mayor and whether the next speaker should be more independent, Torres bluntly said, “‘No’ to your first question and ‘yes’ to your second question.”</p> <p>The other speaker candidates, even as they stood for the virtues of the Right to Know Act, did not criticize Mark-Viverito, who has been noncommittal on whether the two bills are moving closer to a vote. She has insisted that the Council is continuing internal conversations with the bill sponsors and the NYPD, and that the body has been assessing the implementation of the administrative changes agreed to last year. “We have been in dialogue, very recent dialogue with advocates, with the police department, with the sponsors of the bill,” she said at a recent news conference. “There’s been a lot of conversation, so we’re still going through our process.”</p> <p>Asked if she’d encourage Torres and Reynoso to exercise their prerogative to discharge the bills, she simply said, “We’re going through the process with those bills.”</p> <p>When asked repeatedly at that press conference what specifically she and the Council were doing to monitor the administrative implementation, Mark-Viverito gave vague answers about ongoing conversations.</p> <p><a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/11/01/council-members-could-push-right-to-know-over-objections-from-de-blasio-115423" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a> reported last week that supporters of the bills are hoping to bring them to a vote by November 16, since a vote after that would leave insufficient time to override a veto by the mayor. Police reform groups have also called on the bill sponsors, Torres and Reynoso, to ensure passage or discharge the bills through committee by that deadline.</p> <p>“Our primary concern with the [next] speaker is really making sure that they’re going to be a person who supports these reforms and future reforms and make sure that New Yorkers are having interactions with police that make sense and don’t violate their rights,” said Anthonine Pierre, deputy director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, a nonprofit that is a member of the Communities United for Police Reform coalition. Advocates have been supportive of Torres and Reynoso, but appear to be reaching a point of frustration.</p> <p>As was the case with police reform advocates, many on the Council were disappointed by the speaker’s decision to strike a bargain with the NYPD in lieu of a legislative solution. But, besides Torres, most other speaker candidates defended Mark-Viverito’s record of being independent, while yet others spoke of how they would handle the speakership themselves.</p> <p>Council Member Levine believes the bills will hardly play a role in the speaker race as he expects they’ll be resolved before the end of the year. “I believe that there will be a way for the bills to move forward with buy-in from the people that will be implementing it, the [police department], and that that will be settled before we have a new speaker,” he said in a phone interview. &nbsp;</p> <p>He defended Mark-Viverito’s leadership over the process involving the Right to Know. “I think she should be given credit for working very very hard on this issue, both on the policy and legislative front,” Levine said.</p> <p>He emphasized that the Council has been independent of the mayor, pushing him on issues such as funding for 1,300 new police officers and free legal assistance in housing court, which he championed. And he noted that the speaker will be chosen only by the 51 members of the Council. “It’s just so important that the Council emerge as a totally independent body, a co-equal branch of government, and that’s definitely my vision for the speakership,” he said.</p> <p>Council Member Rodriguez hopes to see movement on the bills but would only comment on “who I would be as speaker,” briefly mentioning that he would expand the oversight role of committee chairs. “The speaker should be a person that defends the independent voice of the Council,” he said.</p> <p>Council Member Van Bramer said the speaker race “is an opportunity to elevate the conversation” around Right to Know, which he said should pass on its merits regardless of the race. He said he would move the bills to a vote, given he is elected speaker, if they do not pass this year. “I think that it’s really important that the speaker be a counter-balance to the mayor,” he said. “I think the body is looking for an independent and forceful speaker who’s gonna be able to represent the members and represent the interests of the members and I think I’ve demonstrated in the past that while we certainly work together, when I disagree with the mayor, I’m not afraid to disagree with the mayor and disagree strongly.”</p> <p>Council Member Williams spoke briefly with Gotham Gazette at City Hall and only said that he was following the lead of the Right to Know sponsors. “I continue to support it, I hope it gets passed,” he said.</p> <p>Council Member Richards said Right to Know is part of a criminal justice reform discussion that would continue over the next four years, no matter who becomes the Council’s leader. “You know even as Melissa leaves, as we continue to move forward over the next four years, this issue does not die,” he said. “The need for reform is gonna be something continuous.”</p> <p>He also stressed that Right to Know has not languished because of a lack of independence either by the speaker or the Council. “I think it’s a question of trying to shape and get something done. And the Council has the ability to pass legislation whether the mayor supports it or not, but we also want to make sure that we’re doing it in a responsible fashion and we’re trying to reach a medium that is doable,” Richards said, “to make sure that, one, our community is getting the greatest benefit of transparency, but secondly also in a way that ensures that we’re not also going to harm officers’ ability to do their job as well.”</p> <p>Council Member Rory Lancman, a vocal critic of the de Blasio administration on criminal justice issues, is also a co-sponsor of the Right to Know Act which, he said, “is a good lens through which to evaluate the speaker candidates,” and their ability to stand up to the mayor.</p> <p>“The issue of are you for or against the Right to Know Act isn’t a factor in the speaker’s race because everybody’s for it,” he said. “What is an issue is whether or not you as a speaker will allow bills that make you or the administration uncomfortable come to the floor for a vote. That is an important test of the speaker candidates and I think it is the main issue that each speaker candidate has to address because philosophically, ideologically, substantively there’s not much of a difference among the eight of them in terms of what they stand for.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/jumaane-williams-rtkar.jpg" alt="jumaane williams rtkar" /></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Jumaane Williams at a Right to Know Act rally (Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</span></p> <hr /> <p>In less than two months, the current class of the New York City Council ends its term, and eight incumbents who won reelection on Tuesday are running to lead the 51-member legislative body as its next speaker. It is an internal race influenced by county party affiliates, labor unions, Mayor Bill de Blasio, himself newly reelected, and others.</p> <p>As the clock ticks on this term and the speakership of Melissa Mark-Viverito, a de Blasio ally who is term-limited out of office, a particular package of controversial legislation offers an especially delicate situation for Mark-Viverito, de Blasio, and the speaker candidates, most notably the one, Ritchie Torres, who is a prime sponsor of the bills.</p> <p>Each of the eight speaker candidates -- Council Members Torres, Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Donovan Richards, Jimmy Van Bramer, Robert Cornegy, Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams -- is a co-sponsor on the two police reform bills, collectively called the Right to Know Act, which puts them at odds with the mayor, who has ardently opposed the legislation, and with Mark-Viverito, who has refused to allow it to come to a vote. Instead, Mark-Viverito and the NYPD announced an agreement on administrative changes whereby the police department agreed to implement pieces of the bills, but without the power of law.</p> <p>As the Council readies for an expected end-of-term legislative blitz, supporters of the bills from inside and outside the Council are pushing for passage, potentially setting up the next speaker, the second-most powerful elected official in the city, to take office having already courted conflict with the mayor and potentially establishing a new dynamic between the heads of the executive and legislative branches of city government. It puts Torres in a particularly awkward position of having to possibly decide whether to buck advocates and co-sponsors or the mayor and the speaker and those members who would rather not have to vote on the measure.</p> <p>De Blasio has yet to use a veto during his four years as mayor, with virtually every contentious piece of legislation either being negotiated to agreement between the mayor and the Council or scuttled.</p> <p>The bills in question include <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1681129&amp;GUID=F650527A-AA60-49DB-8A02-97E9C4A0CBDE&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=int+182" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 182</a>, sponsored by Council Member Torres, putting him in unique position among the speaker candidates, which requires police officers to identify themselves during a street stop, and <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2015555&amp;GUID=652280A4-40A6-44C4-A6AF-8EF4717BD8D6&amp;Options=ID%7cText%7c&amp;Search=nypd" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 541</a>, sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, mandating that officers inform individuals of their right to refuse consent to a search in cases that it is required and to provide audio or written proof if an individual consents to a search. Unsurprisingly, the legislation was met with strong resistance from the NYPD, whose leadership has often been critical of the City Council’s attempts to legislate its practices and believes the bills would hamper officers’ abilities to do their jobs.</p> <p>In July last year, Mark-Viverito struck a compromise with the police department to implement certain provisions of the bills, foregoing a vote, despite the fact that the bills had and continue to have support from a majority of the Council. Police reform advocates were incensed by what they saw as a backroom deal and questioned the speaker’s willingness to stand up to de Blasio.</p> <p>Six of the eight speaker candidates -- Johnson and Cornegy did not respond to requests for comment for this article -- said the speaker’s race would not affect their support for the Right to Know Act and that the legislation would likely not affect the speaker’s race. But they also agreed that any speaker must demonstrate their independence from the mayor, and supporting these police reforms can do just that.</p> <p>“I can assure you that the speaker’s race has no bearing on how I will conduct myself on the subject of the Right to Know,” said Torres, in a phone interview. “One has nothing to do with the other.” Torres and Reynoso have held off on using a discharge through committee, a procedural tool that would allow them to bypass a committee vote and bring their bills directly to the floor of the Council, despite the urging of police reform advocacy groups such as Communities United for Police Reform (CPR).</p> <p>“I never shy away from challenging authority but for me it’s more about finding the right solution,” Torres said, insisting that he would rather negotiate with the police department to amend the bills and get them passed. “There’s greater value in passing legislation with the buy-in of an agency than doing so in the face of hysterical opposition. In the end, if one side refuses to negotiate in good faith, then of course I reserve the right to discharge and I have no hesitation about exercising that right. But I will do so only when necessary.”</p> <p>When asked if, in the context of Right to Know, Speaker Mark-Viverito had been sufficiently independent of the mayor and whether the next speaker should be more independent, Torres bluntly said, “‘No’ to your first question and ‘yes’ to your second question.”</p> <p>The other speaker candidates, even as they stood for the virtues of the Right to Know Act, did not criticize Mark-Viverito, who has been noncommittal on whether the two bills are moving closer to a vote. She has insisted that the Council is continuing internal conversations with the bill sponsors and the NYPD, and that the body has been assessing the implementation of the administrative changes agreed to last year. “We have been in dialogue, very recent dialogue with advocates, with the police department, with the sponsors of the bill,” she said at a recent news conference. “There’s been a lot of conversation, so we’re still going through our process.”</p> <p>Asked if she’d encourage Torres and Reynoso to exercise their prerogative to discharge the bills, she simply said, “We’re going through the process with those bills.”</p> <p>When asked repeatedly at that press conference what specifically she and the Council were doing to monitor the administrative implementation, Mark-Viverito gave vague answers about ongoing conversations.</p> <p><a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/11/01/council-members-could-push-right-to-know-over-objections-from-de-blasio-115423" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a> reported last week that supporters of the bills are hoping to bring them to a vote by November 16, since a vote after that would leave insufficient time to override a veto by the mayor. Police reform groups have also called on the bill sponsors, Torres and Reynoso, to ensure passage or discharge the bills through committee by that deadline.</p> <p>“Our primary concern with the [next] speaker is really making sure that they’re going to be a person who supports these reforms and future reforms and make sure that New Yorkers are having interactions with police that make sense and don’t violate their rights,” said Anthonine Pierre, deputy director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, a nonprofit that is a member of the Communities United for Police Reform coalition. Advocates have been supportive of Torres and Reynoso, but appear to be reaching a point of frustration.</p> <p>As was the case with police reform advocates, many on the Council were disappointed by the speaker’s decision to strike a bargain with the NYPD in lieu of a legislative solution. But, besides Torres, most other speaker candidates defended Mark-Viverito’s record of being independent, while yet others spoke of how they would handle the speakership themselves.</p> <p>Council Member Levine believes the bills will hardly play a role in the speaker race as he expects they’ll be resolved before the end of the year. “I believe that there will be a way for the bills to move forward with buy-in from the people that will be implementing it, the [police department], and that that will be settled before we have a new speaker,” he said in a phone interview. &nbsp;</p> <p>He defended Mark-Viverito’s leadership over the process involving the Right to Know. “I think she should be given credit for working very very hard on this issue, both on the policy and legislative front,” Levine said.</p> <p>He emphasized that the Council has been independent of the mayor, pushing him on issues such as funding for 1,300 new police officers and free legal assistance in housing court, which he championed. And he noted that the speaker will be chosen only by the 51 members of the Council. “It’s just so important that the Council emerge as a totally independent body, a co-equal branch of government, and that’s definitely my vision for the speakership,” he said.</p> <p>Council Member Rodriguez hopes to see movement on the bills but would only comment on “who I would be as speaker,” briefly mentioning that he would expand the oversight role of committee chairs. “The speaker should be a person that defends the independent voice of the Council,” he said.</p> <p>Council Member Van Bramer said the speaker race “is an opportunity to elevate the conversation” around Right to Know, which he said should pass on its merits regardless of the race. He said he would move the bills to a vote, given he is elected speaker, if they do not pass this year. “I think that it’s really important that the speaker be a counter-balance to the mayor,” he said. “I think the body is looking for an independent and forceful speaker who’s gonna be able to represent the members and represent the interests of the members and I think I’ve demonstrated in the past that while we certainly work together, when I disagree with the mayor, I’m not afraid to disagree with the mayor and disagree strongly.”</p> <p>Council Member Williams spoke briefly with Gotham Gazette at City Hall and only said that he was following the lead of the Right to Know sponsors. “I continue to support it, I hope it gets passed,” he said.</p> <p>Council Member Richards said Right to Know is part of a criminal justice reform discussion that would continue over the next four years, no matter who becomes the Council’s leader. “You know even as Melissa leaves, as we continue to move forward over the next four years, this issue does not die,” he said. “The need for reform is gonna be something continuous.”</p> <p>He also stressed that Right to Know has not languished because of a lack of independence either by the speaker or the Council. “I think it’s a question of trying to shape and get something done. And the Council has the ability to pass legislation whether the mayor supports it or not, but we also want to make sure that we’re doing it in a responsible fashion and we’re trying to reach a medium that is doable,” Richards said, “to make sure that, one, our community is getting the greatest benefit of transparency, but secondly also in a way that ensures that we’re not also going to harm officers’ ability to do their job as well.”</p> <p>Council Member Rory Lancman, a vocal critic of the de Blasio administration on criminal justice issues, is also a co-sponsor of the Right to Know Act which, he said, “is a good lens through which to evaluate the speaker candidates,” and their ability to stand up to the mayor.</p> <p>“The issue of are you for or against the Right to Know Act isn’t a factor in the speaker’s race because everybody’s for it,” he said. “What is an issue is whether or not you as a speaker will allow bills that make you or the administration uncomfortable come to the floor for a vote. That is an important test of the speaker candidates and I think it is the main issue that each speaker candidate has to address because philosophically, ideologically, substantively there’s not much of a difference among the eight of them in terms of what they stand for.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
The Future of Latino Politics in New York City 2017-05-16T17:52:06+00:00 2017-05-16T17:52:06+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6937:the-future-of-latino-politics-in-new-york-city Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/ruben_diaz_jr.jpg" alt="ruben diaz jr" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Ruben Diaz Jr. (photo: @rubendiazjr)</p> <hr /> <p>Just last month the annual Somos El Futuro legislative conference took place in Albany. Over 30 years ago a group of Latino elected officials and community leaders initiated the conference as a means to highlight issues important to Latinos and to shine a light on the plight of Latinos in New York. The visionary leadership of these early pioneers was to capitalize on and give consciousness to the ever-growing presence of Latinos in the state. Perhaps the name itself, Somos El Futuro -- We are the Future -- was not only a testament of the current influence of the Latino presence in New York at the time but also an apt moniker of the eventual significance of this surging community.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6843-latino-voters-and-the-2017-new-york-city-elections" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In a recent column</a>, I highlighted the growing Latino electoral presence in New York City. Latinos now make up almost a quarter of the entire city electorate. Based on sheer numbers Latinos can now claim that they are not just the future but that estamos aqui ahora -- we are here now.</p> <p>With this increasing presence has come a steady growth in Latino political representation, even though gentrification poses a real threat to some Latino-majority districts. The rise of the Latino presence citywide produced some noteworthy political leaders that in fact became pioneers and leading figures in our community. Among them we can note the work of Tony Mendez, Oscar Garcia Rivera, Herman Badillo, Olga Mendez, Angelo Del Toro, and Jose Rivera (who continues to serve in office).</p> <p>Without a doubt, these pioneers have paved the way for a newer crop of Latino political leaders, many of whom are doing excellent work in their respective communities. Many are not only providing pivotal leadership in their districts, some have the potential to be serious and credible candidates for citywide office in the near future. It’s important to also note that the extremely important work of providing leadership in Latino areas—communities often riddled with rampant poverty, decrepit housing, and overcrowded schools—is not only being provided by elected officials. In fact, there are a number of Latino community activists, many of them young, fighting ardently for the justice that Latinos demand and deserve.</p> <p>The last time a Latino gained a top spot on a citywide ballot was Fernando Ferrer in 2005. Prior to that it was Badillo, whose 1977 mayoral candidacy gained the affection of Latinos in New York (he also ran two more times for mayor). It is my belief that for the 2021 elections, Latinos can once again have a Latino (possibly more than one) launching a credible campaign for citywide office. The question is, who might these candidates be that can gain the attention of not only Latinos but also a wider electorate and public? Who will be the next Ferrer or Badillo?</p> <p>The first that has to be highlighted is Ruben Diaz, Jr., the current Bronx Borough President. Very recently, Diaz, Jr. was a constant name in the ever-present rumor mill regarding a potential challenge to Mayor de Blasio. Diaz, Jr. instead has decided to seek re-election. Over the years, he has taken credit for a boon in Bronx development projects (something which in fact began occurring during Ferrer’s tenure in the borough presidency) and has been a fierce advocate for the people in his borough. While lacking the intellectual heft of a Badillo and Ferrer, Diaz, Jr. has a magnetic personality that is sure to attract many as his final term as borough president nears an end.</p> <p>There is also Melissa Mark-Viverito, the current speaker of the City Council. Her position has given her the most Latino clout in recent years to influence citywide policy, some of which she has used. This platform has provided Mark-Viverito an ample opportunity to garner broad attention and to push for policy issues pertinent to a wider public and also to Latinos in particular. However, since she is term-limited and likely will be out of the public eye on a consistent basis, her chances for a successful citywide race in four years will be virtually impossible.</p> <p>One person to keep an eye on is Ritchie Torres, a Bronx City Council member. Elected in 2013, at the youthful age of 25, Torres has proven to be a solid legislator, championing important causes, and also fighting ardently for better housing conditions for public housing residents. Torres is charismatic, well liked by his peers, and whip-smart. He has the uncanny ability to probe and articulate complex policy matters. At 29 years of age, Torres will surely be one to watch for years to come and could be a formidable candidate for either Bronx borough president or the city’s public advocate if he chooses to aspire to either position.</p> <p>When looking at the horizon of Latino political leaders, the future seems bright -- the three aforementioned names are not the only ones on the list. With the continuing rise of Latinos in the overall population <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6843-latino-voters-and-the-2017-new-york-city-elections" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">and increased voting participation</a>, it may be quite possible that New York City will soon have its first Latino mayor.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Also by Eli Valentin: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6843-latino-voters-and-the-2017-new-york-city-elections" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Latino Voters and the 2017 New York City Elections</a>]</p> <p>***<br />Eli Valentin is a Democratic consultant and pastor of the Iglesia Evangelica Bautista in New York City. He is a frequent political analyst on Univision, and has appeared on NY1’s “Inside City Hall.” On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/elivalentinNY" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@EliValentinNY</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/ruben_diaz_jr.jpg" alt="ruben diaz jr" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Ruben Diaz Jr. (photo: @rubendiazjr)</p> <hr /> <p>Just last month the annual Somos El Futuro legislative conference took place in Albany. Over 30 years ago a group of Latino elected officials and community leaders initiated the conference as a means to highlight issues important to Latinos and to shine a light on the plight of Latinos in New York. The visionary leadership of these early pioneers was to capitalize on and give consciousness to the ever-growing presence of Latinos in the state. Perhaps the name itself, Somos El Futuro -- We are the Future -- was not only a testament of the current influence of the Latino presence in New York at the time but also an apt moniker of the eventual significance of this surging community.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6843-latino-voters-and-the-2017-new-york-city-elections" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In a recent column</a>, I highlighted the growing Latino electoral presence in New York City. Latinos now make up almost a quarter of the entire city electorate. Based on sheer numbers Latinos can now claim that they are not just the future but that estamos aqui ahora -- we are here now.</p> <p>With this increasing presence has come a steady growth in Latino political representation, even though gentrification poses a real threat to some Latino-majority districts. The rise of the Latino presence citywide produced some noteworthy political leaders that in fact became pioneers and leading figures in our community. Among them we can note the work of Tony Mendez, Oscar Garcia Rivera, Herman Badillo, Olga Mendez, Angelo Del Toro, and Jose Rivera (who continues to serve in office).</p> <p>Without a doubt, these pioneers have paved the way for a newer crop of Latino political leaders, many of whom are doing excellent work in their respective communities. Many are not only providing pivotal leadership in their districts, some have the potential to be serious and credible candidates for citywide office in the near future. It’s important to also note that the extremely important work of providing leadership in Latino areas—communities often riddled with rampant poverty, decrepit housing, and overcrowded schools—is not only being provided by elected officials. In fact, there are a number of Latino community activists, many of them young, fighting ardently for the justice that Latinos demand and deserve.</p> <p>The last time a Latino gained a top spot on a citywide ballot was Fernando Ferrer in 2005. Prior to that it was Badillo, whose 1977 mayoral candidacy gained the affection of Latinos in New York (he also ran two more times for mayor). It is my belief that for the 2021 elections, Latinos can once again have a Latino (possibly more than one) launching a credible campaign for citywide office. The question is, who might these candidates be that can gain the attention of not only Latinos but also a wider electorate and public? Who will be the next Ferrer or Badillo?</p> <p>The first that has to be highlighted is Ruben Diaz, Jr., the current Bronx Borough President. Very recently, Diaz, Jr. was a constant name in the ever-present rumor mill regarding a potential challenge to Mayor de Blasio. Diaz, Jr. instead has decided to seek re-election. Over the years, he has taken credit for a boon in Bronx development projects (something which in fact began occurring during Ferrer’s tenure in the borough presidency) and has been a fierce advocate for the people in his borough. While lacking the intellectual heft of a Badillo and Ferrer, Diaz, Jr. has a magnetic personality that is sure to attract many as his final term as borough president nears an end.</p> <p>There is also Melissa Mark-Viverito, the current speaker of the City Council. Her position has given her the most Latino clout in recent years to influence citywide policy, some of which she has used. This platform has provided Mark-Viverito an ample opportunity to garner broad attention and to push for policy issues pertinent to a wider public and also to Latinos in particular. However, since she is term-limited and likely will be out of the public eye on a consistent basis, her chances for a successful citywide race in four years will be virtually impossible.</p> <p>One person to keep an eye on is Ritchie Torres, a Bronx City Council member. Elected in 2013, at the youthful age of 25, Torres has proven to be a solid legislator, championing important causes, and also fighting ardently for better housing conditions for public housing residents. Torres is charismatic, well liked by his peers, and whip-smart. He has the uncanny ability to probe and articulate complex policy matters. At 29 years of age, Torres will surely be one to watch for years to come and could be a formidable candidate for either Bronx borough president or the city’s public advocate if he chooses to aspire to either position.</p> <p>When looking at the horizon of Latino political leaders, the future seems bright -- the three aforementioned names are not the only ones on the list. With the continuing rise of Latinos in the overall population <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6843-latino-voters-and-the-2017-new-york-city-elections" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">and increased voting participation</a>, it may be quite possible that New York City will soon have its first Latino mayor.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Also by Eli Valentin: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6843-latino-voters-and-the-2017-new-york-city-elections" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Latino Voters and the 2017 New York City Elections</a>]</p> <p>***<br />Eli Valentin is a Democratic consultant and pastor of the Iglesia Evangelica Bautista in New York City. He is a frequent political analyst on Univision, and has appeared on NY1’s “Inside City Hall.” On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/elivalentinNY" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@EliValentinNY</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
Bill Aims to Ensure Heat is On When It Should Be 2016-12-14T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-14T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6669:bill-aims-to-ensure-heat-is-on-when-it-should-be Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/ritchie_torres_arms_crossed_pink_tie.jpg" alt="ritchie torres arms crossed pink tie" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Ritchie Torres (photo: John McCarten)</p> <hr /> <p>City Council Member Ritchie Torres will introduce a bill on Thursday that aims to ensure landlords follow the law and keep the heat on for tenants when it should be.</p> <p>Torres’ bill, being introduced in partnership with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, would require landlords of buildings with more than three units to install tamper-proof heat sensors in the living room of each unit. These “temperature reporting devices” would be monitored by tenants, landlords, and the city’s housing agency, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).</p> <p>The model for such a device was developed by Heat Seek, a winner of the city’s 2014 BigApps competition. With their legislation, Torres and Adams want to make sure that all tenants have heat when they are supposed to, and to create a new deterrent for landlords who might abuse heat settings as a way to drive tenants out of rent-stabilized housing.</p> <p>“The bill is based on a recognition that laws governing heat and hot water, which are among the most common complaints among tenants, can be the hardest to enforce,” Torres said in an interview on Wednesday.</p> <p>“It's bringing housing code enforcement into the 21st century,” Torres said. “And it’s allowing us to hold unscrupulous owners accountable, and drive down the rate of heat and hot water violations in New York City.”</p> <p>Working with Heat Seek, tenants, and housing lawyers, Adams recently announced a lawsuit against one large Brooklyn landlord whose Brownsville building had a number of heat complaints.</p> <p>Landlords must provide tenants with heat and hot water when the outdoor temperature falls below 55 degrees during the day and below 40 degrees at night during the October 1-May 31 “heat season.” HPD tracks violators.</p> <p>“My message to landlords across New York City is that we’re watching; don’t harm your tenants’ quality of life all because of greed,” Adams said in a statement. “We are using cool technology to warm the homes of Brooklynites, while putting bad-acting landlords on the hot seat for their harassing behavior. I am proud to work with Council Member Torres, the innovative team at Heat Seek NYC, our incredible legal advocates, as well as courageous tenants who are standing up for their housing rights.”</p> <p>As originally drafted, if passed by the Council and signed by the Mayor, the provisions of the bill would go into effect for January 1, 2018. It would require rules to be drafted and contract procurement by HPD (Heat Seek would not be guaranteed the contract for the devices). The bill will be heard in the Committee on Housing and Buildings, which is chaired by Council Member Jumaane Williams. Torres chairs the Committee on Public Housing, but the bill does not apply to the New York City Housing Authority, which is separate from the private landlords the bill is targeting.</p> <p>There are already amendments to the bill being discussed. Most significantly, according to Torres’ office, the bill is likely to be changed so that the temperature monitors are required of landlords with repeated violations related to providing heat, not of all landlords. The idea will be to identify when there has been “willful deprivation of heat and hot water” so that HPD can then monitor it and ensure that landlords are not repeatedly violating the law or driving out tenants. At times, landlords are accused of not providing heat but then raise the heat for HPD inspections. Sensors would allow for regular detection.</p> <p>Torres' office is looking at perhaps coordinating with the Public Advocate' "worst landlord" list that is released each year as those involved seek to identify negligent landlords or landlords that harass tenants.</p> <p>According to data provided by Torres’ office from HPD, last heat season HPD inspectors attempted 117,767 heat-related inspections and wrote 7,548 heat-related violations. HPD completed $2.7 million in heat-related emergency repairs that was charged to building owners and filed 3,151 heat cases in court, collecting $1.7 million in civil penalties against more than 3,100 properties.</p> <p>Heat Seek is looking forward to expanding its work. In a statement, the company said,&nbsp;“Heat Seek is grateful for Councilman Torres’s and President Adams’s forward-thinking approach to solving problems experienced by many New Yorkers. We know that underheated apartments are too common for our neighbors, and we believe that sensor technology has the capacity to change the way landlords provide services for their tenants and how our city enforces the Housing Code."</p> <p>Tenants are encouraged to call 311 to report issues with their heat and their landlords. Some tenants have taken to keeping a "heat log" but the tamper-proof devices from Heat Seek can provide more indisputable evidence.</p> <p>“I think most landlords make good effort to comply with the law,” Torres said, but it will be important to monitor and punish “actors who have a consistent pattern of heat and hot water violations.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/ritchie_torres_arms_crossed_pink_tie.jpg" alt="ritchie torres arms crossed pink tie" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Ritchie Torres (photo: John McCarten)</p> <hr /> <p>City Council Member Ritchie Torres will introduce a bill on Thursday that aims to ensure landlords follow the law and keep the heat on for tenants when it should be.</p> <p>Torres’ bill, being introduced in partnership with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, would require landlords of buildings with more than three units to install tamper-proof heat sensors in the living room of each unit. These “temperature reporting devices” would be monitored by tenants, landlords, and the city’s housing agency, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).</p> <p>The model for such a device was developed by Heat Seek, a winner of the city’s 2014 BigApps competition. With their legislation, Torres and Adams want to make sure that all tenants have heat when they are supposed to, and to create a new deterrent for landlords who might abuse heat settings as a way to drive tenants out of rent-stabilized housing.</p> <p>“The bill is based on a recognition that laws governing heat and hot water, which are among the most common complaints among tenants, can be the hardest to enforce,” Torres said in an interview on Wednesday.</p> <p>“It's bringing housing code enforcement into the 21st century,” Torres said. “And it’s allowing us to hold unscrupulous owners accountable, and drive down the rate of heat and hot water violations in New York City.”</p> <p>Working with Heat Seek, tenants, and housing lawyers, Adams recently announced a lawsuit against one large Brooklyn landlord whose Brownsville building had a number of heat complaints.</p> <p>Landlords must provide tenants with heat and hot water when the outdoor temperature falls below 55 degrees during the day and below 40 degrees at night during the October 1-May 31 “heat season.” HPD tracks violators.</p> <p>“My message to landlords across New York City is that we’re watching; don’t harm your tenants’ quality of life all because of greed,” Adams said in a statement. “We are using cool technology to warm the homes of Brooklynites, while putting bad-acting landlords on the hot seat for their harassing behavior. I am proud to work with Council Member Torres, the innovative team at Heat Seek NYC, our incredible legal advocates, as well as courageous tenants who are standing up for their housing rights.”</p> <p>As originally drafted, if passed by the Council and signed by the Mayor, the provisions of the bill would go into effect for January 1, 2018. It would require rules to be drafted and contract procurement by HPD (Heat Seek would not be guaranteed the contract for the devices). The bill will be heard in the Committee on Housing and Buildings, which is chaired by Council Member Jumaane Williams. Torres chairs the Committee on Public Housing, but the bill does not apply to the New York City Housing Authority, which is separate from the private landlords the bill is targeting.</p> <p>There are already amendments to the bill being discussed. Most significantly, according to Torres’ office, the bill is likely to be changed so that the temperature monitors are required of landlords with repeated violations related to providing heat, not of all landlords. The idea will be to identify when there has been “willful deprivation of heat and hot water” so that HPD can then monitor it and ensure that landlords are not repeatedly violating the law or driving out tenants. At times, landlords are accused of not providing heat but then raise the heat for HPD inspections. Sensors would allow for regular detection.</p> <p>Torres' office is looking at perhaps coordinating with the Public Advocate' "worst landlord" list that is released each year as those involved seek to identify negligent landlords or landlords that harass tenants.</p> <p>According to data provided by Torres’ office from HPD, last heat season HPD inspectors attempted 117,767 heat-related inspections and wrote 7,548 heat-related violations. HPD completed $2.7 million in heat-related emergency repairs that was charged to building owners and filed 3,151 heat cases in court, collecting $1.7 million in civil penalties against more than 3,100 properties.</p> <p>Heat Seek is looking forward to expanding its work. In a statement, the company said,&nbsp;“Heat Seek is grateful for Councilman Torres’s and President Adams’s forward-thinking approach to solving problems experienced by many New Yorkers. We know that underheated apartments are too common for our neighbors, and we believe that sensor technology has the capacity to change the way landlords provide services for their tenants and how our city enforces the Housing Code."</p> <p>Tenants are encouraged to call 311 to report issues with their heat and their landlords. Some tenants have taken to keeping a "heat log" but the tamper-proof devices from Heat Seek can provide more indisputable evidence.</p> <p>“I think most landlords make good effort to comply with the law,” Torres said, but it will be important to monitor and punish “actors who have a consistent pattern of heat and hot water violations.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Bill Would Prioritize Repairs at NYCHA Senior Developments 2016-09-27T04:00:00+00:00 2016-09-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6551:bill-would-prioritize-repairs-at-nycha-senior-developments Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/27269254400_b8965c6d33_z.jpg" alt="torres nycha tour" width="600" height="413" /></p> <p>Council Member Torres, right (photo via NYCHA on Flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>A new report by City Council Member Ritchie Torres&rsquo; office found a vast backlog in necessary repairs of sidewalks outside New York City public housing, particularly developments for senior citizens. Torres, a Bronx Democrat who chairs the Council&rsquo;s Committee on Public Housing, believes this is a serious issue of public safety and will introduce a bill on Wednesday that would require the Department of Transportation to prioritize sidewalk reconstruction at senior-only developments within the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).</p> <p>At the end of the fiscal year, NYCHA provides DOT with a list of sidewalks to be repaired outside housing developments. DOT has access to limited capital funds for these repairs, which leaves many sidewalks broken for years. Last year, in an effort to expand repairs, the DOT increased its annual commitment to NYCHA sidewalks from $1 million to $3 million. Torres&rsquo; report, which was previewed by Gotham Gazette, points out that senior-only developments tend to be low on the priority list provided by NYCHA.</p> <p>&ldquo;The city&rsquo;s policy to senior citizens, concerning sidewalks, is essentially, &lsquo;break a leg,&rsquo;&rdquo; Torres said in a phone interview. He stressed that seniors are particularly susceptible to trip-and-fall hazards, and at greater risk from the resulting injuries, and that NYCHA needs to give special consideration to senior housing developments when determining which sidewalks should be repaired.</p> <p>Currently, there are more than 61,500 New Yorkers, age 65 and older, living in NYCHA developments. Of the city&rsquo;s 328 total public housing properties, 41 are senior housing developments and 15 are senior-only buildings within mixed population developments. &ldquo;Common sense would dictate you give special consideration to senior citizens who have special needs,&rdquo; Torres said. &ldquo;The city&rsquo;s policy is basically a rejection of common sense.&rdquo;</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/sidewalk.png" alt="sidewalk" width="300" height="228" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />The report notes recent increases in DOT&rsquo;s budget for NYCHA property reconstructions that should first go to senior developments. It is estimated that roughly $327.2 million of DOT&rsquo;s $8.9 billion ten-year capital budget is meant to be allocated towards sidewalk and ramp repair for approximately 28.6 million square feet of citywide. The eight-page document from Torres&rsquo; office also includes pictures (left) of sidewalks from senior developments across the five boroughs and estimated costs for repair, with some of them relatively easy fixes. Only one senior development, Cassidy-Lafayette Houses on Staten Island, was ranked at the top of DOT&rsquo;s priority list for repairs.</p> <p>So far this year, the DOT has repaired sidewalks outside&nbsp;11 NYCHA developments, nine of which have on-site senior centers, according to a NYCHA spokesperson. These nine include Melrose Houses in the Bronx, Reid Apartments in Brooklyn, Vladeck Houses in Manhattan and South Jamaica Houses in Queens. The spokesperson also said the DOT was aiming to complete repairs at three more sites with senior centers before the end of the construction season.</p> <p>&ldquo;NYCHA and DOT maintain a strong partnership &ndash; and we are committed to working together with the Council Member to address these issues, ensuring improved quality of life and safe sidewalks for all of our residents,&rdquo; read a joint statement emailed to Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;We look forward to reviewing the legislation.&rdquo;</p> <p>Torres will introduce his bill at Wednesday&rsquo;s City Council meeting, it may then be heard in committee.</p> <p>The de Blasio administration has not weighed in on the proposal yet. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ll review the bill upon introduction,&rdquo; said Aja Worthy-Davis, deputy press secretary in the mayor&rsquo;s press office.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated.&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/27269254400_b8965c6d33_z.jpg" alt="torres nycha tour" width="600" height="413" /></p> <p>Council Member Torres, right (photo via NYCHA on Flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>A new report by City Council Member Ritchie Torres&rsquo; office found a vast backlog in necessary repairs of sidewalks outside New York City public housing, particularly developments for senior citizens. Torres, a Bronx Democrat who chairs the Council&rsquo;s Committee on Public Housing, believes this is a serious issue of public safety and will introduce a bill on Wednesday that would require the Department of Transportation to prioritize sidewalk reconstruction at senior-only developments within the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).</p> <p>At the end of the fiscal year, NYCHA provides DOT with a list of sidewalks to be repaired outside housing developments. DOT has access to limited capital funds for these repairs, which leaves many sidewalks broken for years. Last year, in an effort to expand repairs, the DOT increased its annual commitment to NYCHA sidewalks from $1 million to $3 million. Torres&rsquo; report, which was previewed by Gotham Gazette, points out that senior-only developments tend to be low on the priority list provided by NYCHA.</p> <p>&ldquo;The city&rsquo;s policy to senior citizens, concerning sidewalks, is essentially, &lsquo;break a leg,&rsquo;&rdquo; Torres said in a phone interview. He stressed that seniors are particularly susceptible to trip-and-fall hazards, and at greater risk from the resulting injuries, and that NYCHA needs to give special consideration to senior housing developments when determining which sidewalks should be repaired.</p> <p>Currently, there are more than 61,500 New Yorkers, age 65 and older, living in NYCHA developments. Of the city&rsquo;s 328 total public housing properties, 41 are senior housing developments and 15 are senior-only buildings within mixed population developments. &ldquo;Common sense would dictate you give special consideration to senior citizens who have special needs,&rdquo; Torres said. &ldquo;The city&rsquo;s policy is basically a rejection of common sense.&rdquo;</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/sidewalk.png" alt="sidewalk" width="300" height="228" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" />The report notes recent increases in DOT&rsquo;s budget for NYCHA property reconstructions that should first go to senior developments. It is estimated that roughly $327.2 million of DOT&rsquo;s $8.9 billion ten-year capital budget is meant to be allocated towards sidewalk and ramp repair for approximately 28.6 million square feet of citywide. The eight-page document from Torres&rsquo; office also includes pictures (left) of sidewalks from senior developments across the five boroughs and estimated costs for repair, with some of them relatively easy fixes. Only one senior development, Cassidy-Lafayette Houses on Staten Island, was ranked at the top of DOT&rsquo;s priority list for repairs.</p> <p>So far this year, the DOT has repaired sidewalks outside&nbsp;11 NYCHA developments, nine of which have on-site senior centers, according to a NYCHA spokesperson. These nine include Melrose Houses in the Bronx, Reid Apartments in Brooklyn, Vladeck Houses in Manhattan and South Jamaica Houses in Queens. The spokesperson also said the DOT was aiming to complete repairs at three more sites with senior centers before the end of the construction season.</p> <p>&ldquo;NYCHA and DOT maintain a strong partnership &ndash; and we are committed to working together with the Council Member to address these issues, ensuring improved quality of life and safe sidewalks for all of our residents,&rdquo; read a joint statement emailed to Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;We look forward to reviewing the legislation.&rdquo;</p> <p>Torres will introduce his bill at Wednesday&rsquo;s City Council meeting, it may then be heard in committee.</p> <p>The de Blasio administration has not weighed in on the proposal yet. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ll review the bill upon introduction,&rdquo; said Aja Worthy-Davis, deputy press secretary in the mayor&rsquo;s press office.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated.&nbsp;</p>