Gotham Gazette Fri, 20 Jul 2018 18:43:27 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Touted Bloomberg Anti-Poverty Incubator Sees New Life in De Blasio Era Bloomberg city of innovation speech

Above: Mayor Bloomberg speaks (Ed Reed). Below: Gibbs & Doar on panel

Data-driven Center for Economic Opportunity paves way for workforce development vision in Career Pathways

On July 14, former Bloomberg Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs and Robert Doar, former commissioner of anti-poverty efforts, participated in a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., fielding questions about the poverty-fighting efforts they led through New York City’s Center for Economic Opportunity. It came just after their written series on the CEO and the Bloomberg approach to reducing poverty in New York, in which they argue for it as a national model.

Two-and-a-half years after Mayor Michael Bloomberg left office, the two former officials wrote in Washington Monthly of the Center for Economic Opportunity’s role in pioneering a disruptive, systemic, data-driven approach to reducing poverty and creating opportunity, claiming impressive results: the city, from 2000 to 2013, reported a declining poverty rate as comparable American cities saw a 36% spike and nationwide figures climbed from 11.3% to 14.8%, they wrote.

A representative for Gibbs reported that the New York City poverty rate dropped from 21.2% to 20.3% over Bloomberg’s full tenure. Though a modest decline, relative to the poverty-rate growth elsewhere, New York City was a positive outlier, and in their series, Gibbs and Doar aimed to encourage a national fight against poverty modeled after CEO efforts.

Bloomberg’s successor, current Mayor Bill de Blasio, came into office promising to address socioeconomic inequities, and appears to have seen the positives of CEO. De Blasio’s anti-poverty campaign employs many of the same tactics that CEO popularized. While CEO is no longer the same standalone program incubator it was, it is still part of the city’s anti-poverty efforts and de Blasio administration has adopted a data-centric workforce development vision that takes a similarly holistic approach to tackling the underlying sources of unemployment.

The most recent newsletter from CEO, published August 26, says the center has released two new evaluation reports detailing the progress of municipal identification program IDNYC and the New York Times-heralded career advancement program, WorkAdvance.

Originated in 2006 as a commission evaluating the root causes of poverty, the aptly-abbreviated CEO was institutionalized within the Mayor’s Office in 2007 to pilot programs to address the working poor, young adults aged 16-24, and families with children. Bloomberg - the billionaire entrepreneur mayor - tasked Gibbs, then Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services, to define the shape and scope of the anti-poverty incubator, with assistance from Doar, the Human Resources Administration (HRA) Commissioner.

The CEO team collaborated with agencies and advisors to implement, manage, and evaluate the efficacy of its programs, taking an experimental approach aimed at finally designing initiatives that really work.

Success was measured in the context of CEO's precedent-setting, citywide poverty data measures, which were developed in-house. These evaluations were designed to improve on a federal model that did not take into account changes in the economy, demographic trends, and public policies, and were made possible through collaboration with partners like nonprofit research organizations MDRC and the IT-training Per Scholas.

Keen on informed risk-taking, the center pioneered both divisive flameouts like the conditional cash transfer Family Rewards program and nationally-replicated breakthroughs like the Obama-cited CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) initiative, which provides a support network of counselors and peer engagement groups, along with stipends for supplementary funding for books, transportation, and tuition not covered by financial aid. Over eight years, CEO launched over 60 initiatives. In its infancy, the center found its footing in accomplishments like the Office of Financial Empowerment. Soon, the center created successful job training and education programs like WorkAdvance and Project Rise that would continue operating through Bloomberg’s tenure and into the current administration.

"Through these programs, we are providing evidence of what works, and we hope that through these investments we will find the key to break the pattern of poverty that still persists despite all the opportunity our city offers," Bloomberg said at a 2007 press conference celebrating a first year of program launches.

In their recent series reflecting on CEO, Gibbs and Doar write: “The story of New York’s success to date is one of repeated experimentation, a willingness to take risks and the occasional failure. Most significantly, New York’s experience confirms that solid evidence can trump the liberal-versus-conservative stalemate when the welfare of the country’s most vulnerable people is at stake.”

Today, Mayor de Blasio has based his entire administration on reducing inequality, creating opportunity for those who have not had it, and treating the ills of a New York that has worked for those at the top of the socioeconomic ladder, but not many others.

De Blasio has outlined a plan to lift 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty and near poverty by 2025; the course of action in his OneNYC plan hinges on the transformative potential of a $15 per hour minimum wage and a combination of equity-focused initiatives to expand prekindergarten enrollment, construct affordable housing, and improve access to 21st-century essentials like broadband, transportation, and childcare.

Much like in other areas, the de Blasio administration has a different anti-poverty approach than its predecessor. Under de Blasio, the Center for Economic Opportunity has indeed been deemphasized as a program creator. Instead, this administration has adopted a set of workforce development initiatives through “Career Pathways,” which is inspired by aspects of CEO, like attacking the root causes of poverty and unemployment and employing strict data accountability.

Today, CEO is primarily used for its quantitative capabilities, evaluating new initiatives and streamlining existing ones while expanding its role in data analytics. Both Gibbs and current CEO Executive Director Matthew Klein, hired in 2014, are enthusiastic about de Blasio’s efforts.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Klein explained the ways in which the center has evolved. “The mayor has a strong focus on broad, big-scale change,” Klein explained of his boss, de Blasio. This means adjusting to the mayor's priorities: the CEO is now working closely alongside the Department of Education to monitor the implementation of the universal pre-kindergarten program, which Klein described as an "all hands on deck effort across the administration." Klein also appeared at the American Enterprise Institute panel to detail CEO’s new direction.

The city’s new Career Pathways approach, one that has been adopted at federal, state, and local levels across the country, relies on a network of industry partnerships that unites public and private stakeholders to design and develop curricula and training programs that match workforce shortages. In short, Career Pathways provides the skill development and Industry Partnerships provides the jobs: Career Pathways the supply, Industry Partnerships the demand.

The Office Of Workforce Development, formerly the Office of Human Capital Development, has assumed a coordinating role to oversee the complex maze of agencies, providers, funders, and stakeholders that the plan requires to produce its anti-poverty and workforce development programs.

By shifting to Career Pathways, the administration abandoned an old model of rapidly pairing workers with available jobs (“rapid-attachment”), instead investing in the skill building and education that produce lasting employment. The de Blasio administration is making an informed decision: the Career Pathways model has received support from The US Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, as well as the US Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

At the beginning of de Blasio’s term, the CEO poverty rate was at 20.7%, with 45.2% of New Yorkers living in near poverty - a term identifying the population living below 150% of the CEO poverty line. The administration claims that new training, entrepreneurship, and “bridge programs” have already served over 18,000 residents as of December 2015. There were also significant increases in youth employment, with the Summer Youth Employment Program expanding to reach 54,000 participants.

The new de Blasio strategy hinges on a dramatic redirection of the Human Resources Administration, which has been under the direction of Steve Banks since de Blasio appointed him in 2014. Moving away from pre-existing job placement initiatives, the agency now instead prioritizes redirected HRA programs and new bridge programs that provide low-skill job seekers with education and remedial training to find career-track employment in needy job sectors.

Like those of CEO, these programs are held accountable by data collection. The de Blasio administration calls these evaluatory statistics "common metrics," outlined in its original OneNYC plan, designed to align data and definitions to create a shared data collection system across all workforce programs.

While the Career Pathways approach has a place for successful CEO programs like WorkAdvance and Project Rise, the only CEO program highlighted in the OneNYC workforce development vision is the star CUNY ASAP initiative. The de Blasio administration has decided to chart his own path, with its own programmatic approach, instead of relying on the experimental nature of CEO.

So far, the Career Pathways vision has proven to be unwieldy for the same reasons it is heralded. The large web of new and redesigned education and training programs are more intensive and expensive than the preceding placement programs. In addition, the common metrics that provide accountability are in place, but somewhat disorganized: over a year into the approach common metrics have not been fully coordinated and integrated. The CEO is collaborating with the current administration to coordinate this data collection.

If the budding Career Pathways strategy succeeds, the current administration will, in part, have Bloomberg’s groundbreaking CEO to thank.

Bloomberg’s Incubator
A brainchild of a 2006 poverty commission, the "laboratory for experimentation" known as the Center for Economic Opportunity took advantage of a $100 million budget to pilot over 60 unconventional anti-poverty programs, each subjected to statistical evaluations that would determine its longevity.

Under the initial direction of executive director Veronica M. White, the CEO’s center’s initial funding came from a public-private partnership comprised of a new investment of tax dollars and philanthropic partners; the philosophy was indicative of the larger Bloomberg approach to government: infuse private sector principles to the public sector.

Gibbs Doar panel 1Over time, CEO’s staunchly quantitative approach to anti-poverty reform fostered what Gibbs describes as "an accountability for outcomes and evaluation.” It’s data-centric design was a reaction to its environment, typical of the slow-to-change government that Bloomberg often railed against.

"People, particularly in the social services, fall behind many other sectors," former Deputy Mayor Gibbs told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. "We do things because we believe they are the right thing to do, we believe they are good and virtuous and helping people in need, but we don't always give ourselves the same level of accountability for whether or not our great idea will actually produce good."

The CEO's Darwinian approach reflected the entrepreneurial mind of its captain, a mayor more than willing to experiment with city government.

One of CEOs early successes was the Office of Financial Empowerment. Created within the Department of Consumer Affairs in 2006, OFE fought to "make work pay" through expansions of income supplements, public health insurance, and the earned income tax credit, among other programs.

According to Gibbs and Doar, an early evaluation showed $3 million in savings for 22,000 clients, and $22.5 million in total debt reduction. In July, Gotham Gazette reported that OFE has been incrementally expanded during Mayor de Blasio’s tenure, now headed by Executive Director Debra-Ellen Glickstein, who signed on in 2015.

Other CEO initiatives, like WorkAdvance, provided vulnerable New Yorkers with occupational skill training and industry-recognized certifications before coordinating placement in high-demand sectors. This humanistic approach included both pre-employment and job retention services to ensure effectiveness and instill confidence in job seekers. The program was hand-picked for national replication through a partnership with the Social Innovation Fund (SIF): a public-private partnership identifying evidence-based approaches to social challenges.

At the American Enterprise Institute panel with Gibbs and Doar, Gordon Berlin, president of MDRC, emphasized the significance of the grant, citing the "cross city partnership" it created. "The SIF really helped secure the CEO's future, role, and position in the national debate about federal poverty policy," Berlin said.

Tested in New York, Northeast Ohio, and Oklahoma, the expanded WorkAdvance program boasted two-year advantages at all sites (when compared to a control group) of 31% in training completion and 12-41% in sectoral employment, along with instances of earnings boosts up to 26%, according to an MDRC report.

The only CEO program highlighted in Mayor de Blasio’s OneNYC Career Pathways workforce development vision is the aforementioned CUNY ASAP, now available to 17,000 full-time students across 24 campuses. The CUNY program helps students earn associate degrees by providing supplemental financial and personal assistance with the goal of increasing credits earned and lowering cost per degree.

The effort rose to national fame when President Obama mentioned ASAP by name in a 2015 address regarding a proposal to offer free tuition for more community college students. Creating an educated, debt-free workforce could have significant anti-poverty ramifications: a 2015 ASAP study claims that by 2020, an estimated 35% of job openings will require a bachelor’s degree, and 30% more will require a college or associate’s degree. The country’s student debt crisis is well documented.

As of June, the program claims a 53% to 23% (control group) advantage in graduation rates. The current incarnation of CUNY ASAP, located at all six city community colleges, reported a Spring enrollment of over 8,000 students, and projects to double that total this Fall. CEO Deputy Executive Director Carson Hicks told Gotham Gazette that the program is on track to reach 25,000 students by the 2018-2019 academic year.

Expanded Vision
Mayor de Blasio hopes the Career Pathways approach, made possible by strategic industry partnerships, will build on the CEO legacy of impactful training and education programs held accountable by stringent data collection and evaluation.

Three new HRA programs include CareerAdvance, CareerCompass, and YouthPathways, which replaced programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

A Center for an Urban Future analysis of Career Pathways, released last month, commends the change, observing that old TANF initiatives were both low-paying and unaligned with the career goals of clients. There was also a lack of individualized assessment, made evident by the fact that the programs did not take into account the age of their clients.

De Blasio also cites Computer Science for All as an early success and part of long-term plans to create opportunity and reduce poverty. Launched in 2015, the program aims to deliver computer science education to public school students through elementary, middle, and high school. The administration says it will make the program available to all students by 2025 in order to accommodate a job market that increasingly rewards the technically proficient (CSFA references a 57% tech employment hike 2007-2014).

Computer Science for All is funded by a public-private partnership with the New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education and the Robin Hood Foundation, and is part of the mayor’s Equity and Excellence agenda, which includes AP for All: a program designed to provide students at all 400 city high schools with access to five AP courses by 2021. Both programs intend to address the troubling disparity between education opportunities for many black and Hispanic youth and their more privileged counterparts.

The administration has also overseen a new investment in bridge programs that provide remedial training for skill-deficient workers. The CEO was brought in to develop programs connecting participants with healthcare training opportunities, also collaborating with CUNY to launch the Building Bridges Professional Development course that gathered over 50 community-based organizations in summer of 2015. That same winter, The NYC Bridge Bank was established to provide program curricula, design manuals, and teacher guides for Career Pathways implementation.

Across workforce development, the de Blasio administration is operating with increased capital: according to the same Center for an Urban Future report, the city has increased its annual spending budget for workforce services from $500 million in fiscal year 2014 to just over $600 million in fiscal year 2016. Mayor de Blasio has committed to increasing occupational and training programs to $100 million and bridge programs to $60 million annually by 2020.

To coordinate these moving parts, the administration converted the once-perfunctory Office of Human Capital Development into the Office of Workforce Development to serve the essential role of guiding and coordinating with the three main agencies that together control almost all of the money that flows into workforce development: the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), the Department of Small Business Services (SBS), and the Human Resources Administration (HRA), according to Christian Gonzalez-Rivera, a senior researcher at the Center for an Urban Future.

Lazar Treschan, director of youth policy at Community Service Society, a nonprofit focused on poverty reduction, is supportive of the new Career Pathways direction. “The reforms have been terrific in terms of vision, planning, ideas,” Treschan told Gotham Gazette. “One thing that is missing is additional investment,” he added. “Ideas will only take you so far. At some point we do need the money.” Treschan noted that new money would come from the city, as current workforce money largely comes from the state and federal government.

Reality Check
Despite the promising launch of initiatives like HireNYC, a targeted hiring program that connects job seekers to positions created by the city’s purchases and investments, there has not been enough permanent funding in the workforce system and investment in provider organizations to bring about the advanced system of referrals and partnerships that the nascent Career Pathways strategy requires, analysts say.

"The new system really shows a lot of promise to consolidate programs that once existed in silence," Rivera said. Published in July, Rivera conducted a comprehensive evaluation of Career Pathways, informed by interviews with over 30 workforce development experts. "The city for the first time is actually investing in bridge programs…it's really on the ground level right now. So a lot of investment has been made already. A lot of shift in culture has happened," Rivera said.

However, Rivera wonders about whether the de Blasio administration has overreached. "When you look at all levels, there is not enough money to serve all the people who need to be served with these higher touch expensive programs…the bridge programs are at least one-and-a-half or even two times more expensive as regular adult basic education programs. We're going to need more investment in order to make this happen."

In his report, Rivera uncovered why there isn't enough money flowing into Career Pathways initiatives. "The programs tend to be funded at least in part through private philanthropic dollars and to operate on a limited scale. Public investment is hampered at the federal level by restrictions and rules imposed by funding sources, and at the local level by a limited understanding on part of city agencies of the needs of community-based organizations in the cost structures of the programs they run."

Data Accountability
Another key shortcoming of the Career Pathways rollout involves the coordinating office, which is, as of April, headed by Executive Director Barbara Chang. In its current incarnation, the Office of Workforce Development (WKDEV) has limited power and influence to make programming and funding decisions, according to Rivera.

Unlike the CEO model where design, evaluation, and funding are all consolidated into one adaptable, independent body, WKDEV purely serves a guiding role. "CEO actually has money to pilot programs, the Office of Workforce Development just has enough to basically pay salaries," Rivera explained. "That's one of the problems: basically, it's a coordinating agency, it should be an agency that should have more control over program development, but it doesn't." Rivera’s critique, which relates to CEO, boils down to: "Work-dev [WKDEV] can advise, but in the end they are not accountable."

One of the Office of Workforce Development's chief responsibilities is to create a set of common metrics to measure performance of Career Pathways programs. However, Rivera reports that WKDEV is only now sitting down with the different agencies (HRA, SBS, DYDC) to catalog outcome measures, compare definitions, and determine relevant measures for integration into each program.

Rivera explained why this will be a difficult process. "Even a measure like number of people served can have a different definition from one agency to the next," he explained. "The other problem is that programs work with very different populations. You can’t expect an organization that serves community college students to have the same outcomes as one that serves high school dropouts who read at less than the sixth grade level."

The avoidable disorder of data systems begs the obvious question: why weren't common metrics squared away earlier? "That was actually a question I asked the director of the Mayor's Office of Workforce Development,” Rivera said. “Why start with programs instead of the common metrics?" His answer? The decision had less to do with accountability and more with self-preservation.

"These agencies depend on meeting certain outcomes to continue receiving money. So, HRA has to prove to the federal government that it did what the federal government wanted it to do in order to continue receiving money and not get penalties. And so any kind of outside evaluation that shows that maybe they are not doing their job as well as they said they are, or basically if you measure them with a different yardstick that says they're not doing as well, anything like that, can potentially be threatening. So it's very dicey. It's very political, for that reason."

There is the obvious comparison to the way the CEO closely monitored its initiatives. "These are (CEO) programs that still have an evaluation component, and they basically represent the gold standard for how these (Career Pathways) programs should be measured.”

"In fact," Rivera added, "that's part of the inspiration that work-dev took in order to start measuring common metrics."

Today’s Driver
Today, the Center for Economic Opportunity is less of an active player than it was under Bloomberg, assuming a supporting role in the current administration. The center still manages to conduct annual poverty measures and build on existing initiatives like the redesigned Young Adult Literacy Program, while spearheading others like an upcoming mental health service integration project made possible by a 2015 Social Impact Fund grant.

Mayor de Blasio is eager to capitalize on the CEO's analytical capabilities: Executive Director Klein reported at the American Enterprise Institute panel that there are 39 CEO evaluations either launched, underway, or completed within the last two years.

Klein also detailed CEO’s role in establishing common metrics among the dissimilar Career Pathways programs. When challenged on the rollout, Klein emphasized that the right plan was there from the beginning, even if execution faltered somewhat. “Common metrics was largely set in terms of the definitions of the metrics themselves by the time the (Career Pathways) report was issued," Klein said, before offering an addendum. "There may have been one or two areas that needed final refinement to align across agencies."

“It sounds very simple, but it’s a complex undertaking…you’re talking about a changed management approach across multiple agencies and dozens of funding streams with old legacy data systems,” Klein said. “I don’t feel that bad about the timeline that we’re on.”

By large, de Blasio's appreciation for the CEO approach is evident in the way he conducts his anti-poverty and workforce development reform. Even former Deputy Mayor Gibbs spoke with warmth when describing the current mayor's efforts.

"We very much hoped that the de Blasio administration would continue with the CEO as an institution, and a framework, and also hoped that we could share the lessons so that others could do it as well, so we were super excited when de Blasio did exactly that," Gibbs said. "He embraced it and continued it, and I think what's really great is that he made it his own as well.”

by Benjamin Jurney for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Touted Bloomberg Anti-Poverty Incubator Sees New Life in De Blasio Era Mon, 29 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Continues Deliberative Approach to Appointments de blasio banks appointments 2014

Mayor de Blasio makes appointments, 2014 (photo: Ed Reed, Mayor's Office)

Deliberative. Hands-on. Micro-manager. Terms used by a variety of people to describe Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has also described himself as such. De Blasio is known to put considerable thought before action, demand regular reports from his functionaries, and go through multiple levels of input before arriving at policy decisions.

While de Blasio has been known for years as especially deliberative, sometimes to the point of inaction, his close style of management has defined his mayoral administration from its first days - beginning in its post-election transition period - and now into its third year. This reputation has at times conflicted with a sense of disarray, growing in recent months, and the mayor saying that he was not informed by deputies about important matters, like an embarrassing land use deal.

The cautious, exacting approach extends to each major decision, but has perhaps been nowhere as pronounced as with top-level appointments to city agencies and mayoral offices. For this, the mayor has been critiqued many times - not so much for the people he chooses, but for the time he takes to make those choices and the agenda he imposes on the people he appoints. Experts largely applaud his efforts to ensure a diverse and talented administration but say that his glacial pace can hinder operations and that efforts to wholly push his political philosophy can interfere with efficient governance.

De Blasio has also been loathe to let people go, and when he has made top-level personnel shifts, he has regularly found other positions in city government for those on the move.

The mayor invited widespread criticism in the first few weeks before and after he took office when it became apparent that he wasn’t moving with the same level of expediency as his predecessor. Ahead of the mayor’s first day in office, The New York Times’ Michael Grynbaum wrote, “Twenty-four hours before he takes charge of the nation’s largest municipality, Mr. de Blasio is on track for the slowest creation of a New York City government in a generation.”

It took months for all the highest posts across the city to be filled and most final holdovers from the previous administration to be replaced. At each announcement of an appointment, the mayor emphasized the time and effort that went into the search and the key criteria of consideration. At an unrelated January 29 2014 press conference, de Blasio was asked about his pace of appointments, and said, “We are making decisions on personnel in the same way we said we would from the beginning. We want highly effective people. We want people who share the values of this administration. We want people who reflect the diversity of New York City. One by one, we’re finding folks of the highest quality levels.”

Earlier that month, on January 16, de Blasio announced the appointment of Commissioner Mary Bassett to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Commissioner Rose Pierre-Louis to the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence, the mayor said, “We're looking for effective people who can achieve in the context of the public sector of New York City, a particularly challenging venue. People are ready to be effective in this context. We're looking for people who share the progressive values of this administration. We're looking for people who understand the people of New York City – an administration that reflects in every way the people of this city.”

On February 28, 2014, when two months into his term the mayor announced three new hires -- Nisha Agarwal as Commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, Lorraine Grillo as President of the School Construction Authority and Steve Banks as Commissioner of the Human Resources Administration -- he said, “We’ve said all along, as we make appointments, our standards are clear. We need people who share our progressive values related to the future of this city. We need people who are effective and experienced. And we need people who represent the fullness of New York City.”

He also went on to defend his pace of appointments. In response to a reporter’s questions, he said, “I think what we’ve done is we’ve said we are looking for the very, very best. We will make sure we get the best. We’ll make sure we get people who are truly effective, who have our values and who reflect the whole population of this city. And we’re just not going to compromise on that….And I can tell you this much from our personnel process: if I’m not satisfied, I say go back and get me more names. So I’m very hands on about this and I pride myself on having created very effective teams for quite a long time.”

Later, at the April 18, 2014 appointment of Cynthia Lopez as Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, de Blasio stressed the “exhaustive search” that went into the process. “It was obviously essential to find a leader who understood the everyday life of the industry right here in this city,” he said. “But just as important. We needed someone with a deep appreciation of what these industries at their best mean for the city and can mean in the future.”

Industry insiders saw Lopez as a controversial choice for the position, lacking the necessary business know-how to deal with a multibillion dollar industry. Lopez eventually resigned, serving through October 2015, and in February of this year was replaced by Julie Menin, who was commissioner of Consumer Affairs at the time (a new Department of Consumer Affairs commissioner was named about three months later from outside the administration).

In April 2014, four months into his tenure, DNAinfo obtained a memo written by de Blasio’s then-Chief of Staff Laura Santucci to agency heads that showed the strong control the mayor wanted to exercise over the hiring process at city agencies. It seemed to indicate de Blasio’s general approach, extending from the top down to mid-level personnel. As might be expected, agencies were told to select candidates from within the agency, respondents to online job postings, and resumes sent by the Mayor’s Office of Appointments. But, after that, the memo stated, “you must submit requests for approval to hire the candidate from your Deputy Mayor and for final approval from the Mayor’s Chief of Staff prior to appointment. All approvals are subject to City Hall background integrity screening of the candidate.”

Two years later, the modus operandi seems to be the same. “The mayor’s really committed to having the most excellent, talented, diverse administration possible,” said Rachel Lauter, director of the Mayor’s Office of Appointments, in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. “It’s a deliberative process. We want to make sure we get it right.” The office of appointments helps city agencies and mayoral offices in recruitment and development of senior leadership. The office also advises the mayor on the more than 300 boards and commissions under his purview.

While allowing for due diligence, the deliberative approach to choosing commissioners and deputy mayors takes time, which seems to have worked for the mayor in terms of fairly strong continuity thus far, but against him last year when high-level appointees resigned or were transferred and their departments went without replacements for months at a stretch. For his part, de Blasio appears content with leaving positions vacant for as long as it takes to find the person that meets his requirements on qualifications, diversity, and shared progressive vision.

At the end of August 2015, Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services Lilliam Barrios-Paoli stepped down at a time when the city was facing a rising homelessness crisis and a barrage of bad press around it. Then, in December, Commissioner of Homeless Services Gilbert Taylor resigned as the mayor announced a comprehensive 90-day review of the city’s entire homeless services system. At the time, de Blasio said at a press conference of Barrios-Paoli’s position, “What we do in this administration is we're very careful and very choosy about the people we bring into senior roles.”

The Barrios-Paoli and Taylor departures showed features of de Blasio’s personnel approach: each was placed in a new role in city governance (Barrios-Paoli's unpaid) and an extended process unfolded for replacing each.

In January of this year, Dr. Herminia Palacio was appointed deputy mayor, five months after Barrios-Paoli’s departure. Homeless services fell under the supervision of Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks. Following the April release of the 90-day review, the department now has an integrated management structure with HRA and DHS reporting to Banks as the Commissioner of Social Services.

“Candidates are currently being identified for the positions of chief homeless services administrator and chief social services administrator and appointments will be announced when they are made,” said HRA Press Secretary Lourdes Centeno in a May 19 email. More than a month later, hires do not appear to have been made.

At a December 2015 roundtable with the press, the mayor downplayed the vacancies, telling reporters, “Look, I think, we have, overall, a high level of continuity and a lot of really effective people.”

“I’ve been doing personnel work a long time, there’s no such thing as getting it 100 percent right,” he added. “I certainly try and learn from each situation and I can also say it’s a lot nicer to make personnel decisions one at a time than what we had to go through in the transition, which was, you know, dozens and dozens of key roles simultaneously. But I’d say overall, I’m very satisfied at the personnel we’ve put together.”

For top-level vacancies, commissioners for instance, the next ranking official takes over an agency, per the city charter, before a permanent replacement can be chosen. Sometimes those interim commissioners are permanently appointed. Even then, however, the process is not instant.

This was the case with the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, where Michael Owh was officially elevated to the post of director after managing the department for two months in an interim capacity. Similarly, at the Department of Small Business Services, deputy commissioner Gregg Bishop was promoted to commissioner about five months after former SBS Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer was appointed as president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Torres-Springer replaced one of the last commissioners under de Blasio who had been appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Kyle Kimball.

Political observers and experts agree for the most part with the mayor’s philosophy of careful consideration before making any appointment, and particularly so with his commitment to ensuring greater diversity across the administration. Under de Blasio, the representation of people of color in top leadership positions (agency heads, mayoral office heads and cabinet) has increased to 46 percent this year, from 25 percent in 2013, Mayor Bloomberg’s final year in office. The number of Latino and Asian leaders went up dramatically and the gender ratio shifted toward female (from 47 percent to 55 percent). De Blasio has received steady criticism for not appointing a representative number of Latinos to top positions.

“He’s obviously been very careful,” said Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. “He’s made a number of pretty good appointments, and some that haven’t worked out. In general, it’s been a careful and systematic search process that had pretty good outreach and put together an administration that’s pretty representative of the city at large.”

He said de Blasio’s appointments consisted of little political patronage and on balance, “it turned out better than I expected.” While Sherrill was referring to commissioners, agency heads and deputy mayors, de Blasio has received some criticism for giving commission and board positions to campaign donors, a practice recently spotlighted by both DNAinfo and The Daily News in different ways.

There are ongoing questions about how the mayor makes sure top-level administration appointees fit with his political philosophy, including in areas of city operation and management that some say shouldn’t worry about anything other than efficient and effective service-delivery.

“Everything in [de Blasio’s] administration seems tied to advancing his political agenda,” said Theodore Hamm, chair of Journalism and New Media Studies at St. Joseph’s College. “People who are appointed are expected to adopt that perspective,” he added of the mayor’s brand of progressivism.

The mayor proclaims this freely. At the January 5 appointment of Deputy Mayor Palacio, he said, “As we have named key figures in this administration over the last two years, we take the occasion each time to reiterate the goals, the values we bring to this process. And it’s important to say it again – we believe in creating an administration that is fundamentally progressive in its values. And therefore, we look for talent that shares those values and has been effective in implementing progressive values.”

De Blasio has been boastful about insisting on a focus on equity in all agencies, requiring that his commissioners insert narrative about how they are fostering equity in their portions of The Mayor’s Management Report.

Hamm compared de Blasio to his two predecessors and their method of governance. Rudolph Giuliani was the prosecutor, Hamm said, and Bloomberg the CEO mayor, while de Blasio is the politician. He said Bloomberg was a “dedicated technocrat” who made decisions regardless of whether they were popular or not. “But he moved quickly whereas de Blasio is working on politician time and looking for people who will benefit his administration politically,” Hamm said. “Bloomberg’s people put policy before politics. De Blasio’s administration does it the other way around.”

Hamm did say that under de Blasio, there have been no “glaring examples” of people being appointed to positions where they don’t belong, like Bloomberg’s selection of Cathie Black as schools chancellor. Black was widely criticized for lacking necessary experience in education administration and she was removed after only three months in the position.

Jeff Smith, former professor of policy and advocacy at The New School’s Milano School, has a different take. Smith believes de Blasio’s policies and management are analogous to Bloomberg’s. The mayor sets a broad agenda, Smith said, and then defers to commissioners. “In some ways, this is a Bloomberg-style city government bent to a more progressive agenda,” he said. “It's tightly managed, fiscally responsible, with a disciplined focus on timelines and metrics in the same way that it was under Bloomberg. I think, after 12 years of Bloomberg, that's become the culture of city government.”

Few would argue for a set timeline for making appointments, but most would say that vacancies should be filled expeditiously, though responsibly. The mayor’s appointments director, Lauter, said she can think of no instance where they set an absolute date for filling a vacancy.

“One of the big questions facing any executive is trying to keep the appointment process moving,” said David Birdsell, dean of the Baruch College School of Public Affairs, “because vacancies, particularly long term vacancies, can substantially stymie even the best and most well-crafted agenda.”

This seemed apparent with the City Planning Commission, where a position that had been vacant for about five months was filled right before a vote on key pieces of the mayor’s affordable housing plan.

Birdsell also pointed out that while interim commissioners may be qualified and skilled, they’re hampered without the full authority to put an agenda in motion, particularly if that agenda can be overruled by a permanently appointed commissioner. “It’s obvious that you need to be deliberate or deliberative but every day that an agency goes unled is a day that that agency is underperforming its potential,” he said.

Ideally, Birdsell said, the administration should develop a roster of “shadow applicants” to fill vacancies instead of starting from scratch when there’s turnover.

Lauter recognizes the inevitability of churn in city administration and says the city does proactively prepare for vacancies. “One thing I’m mindful of is building the pipeline, building the bench,” she said. “We’re always thinking of deputy mayors, commissioners, et cetera, who could step up to the plate.”

As the Mayor’s Office of Appointments starts the process of vetting suitable candidates, they look internally and externally for people who “share [the mayor’s] progressive values and have the skills to get things done,” Lauter said. Administration officials did not respond to follow-up questions about the size of the appointments office and other details.

Robert Doar, who served as HRA commissioner under Bloomberg, understands the complexity of the task. "They want to get the right person who fits the need of the Mayor and the City of New York,” said Doar, now the Morgridge Fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “They’re tough decisions and they’re important and they want to get it right...It’s not a matter of policy. I’m sympathetic to any mayor trying to put together a good team.”

For the most part, turnover at the highest levels of the de Blasio administration has been low. He’s retained most of his top functionaries -- three of four deputy mayors and commissioners at major agencies such as the NYPD, the Department of Education, Housing Preservation and Development, the Department of Transportation, and others.

But there have been a spate of recent top-level departures. In May, de Blasio’s press secretary, Karen Hinton, said she was stepping down. Hinton, who had been with the administration for about a year, admitted in exit interviews that there were chemistry problems during her tenure. De Blasio quickly replaced her with Eric Phillips from within his communications team. Then, in a span of two days at the end of June, the administration saw three more high-level resignations. First came the announcement that Maya Wiley, the mayor’s chief counsel, would step down from her post on July 15 to take over as chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board and start teaching at The New School. The New York Times reported that Wiley was discouraged after being left out of the mayor’s inner circle. Just one day later, the administration announced the departure of Emily Lloyd, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, and Nilda Mesa, director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. The mayor named temporary replacements to handle these portfolios. Veteran DEP official Vincent Sapienza took over as acting commissioner and senior MOS official Dan Zarrilli will oversee sustainability initiatives till a permanent director is found.

At a news conference on July 1, de Blasio refuted that the resignations could be perceived as a consequence of the controversies currently surrounding his office. “It’s just a normal course of government,” he told reporters. “You know a lot of people will go into government for a couple of years, and then go onto something else....And there’s a lot of folks ready to come up from the next layer down and take on bigger responsibilities. So, it’s quite normal.”

De Blasio has been criticized for keeping some who resigned their positions or were removed by the mayor in the larger fold. Both Barrios-Paoli and Stacey Cumberbatch, who left as commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services without explanation, ended up at NYC Health + Hospitals rather than exiting city government entirely (Barrios-Paoli in an unpaid board position). Former Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor left that position and was soon named a judge in Family Court.

This pattern is unlikely to continue next year as de Blasio heads into his re-election campaign and takes stock of his policy successes and failures while high-level officials also evaluate their plans. It bears observing who will stick it out with the embattled mayor through his re-election battle and beyond, if he wins a second term.

Although the administration has made efforts to create a continuing pipeline of candidates for senior leadership, vacancies in the administration have lasted anywhere from two months to more than five months -  

Department of Consumer Affairs - After former DCA Commissioner Julie Menin was appointed to lead the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment in early February this year, DCA went without a permanent commissioner for almost four months. Her successor, Lorelei Salas, was appointed in May.

Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment - Menin replaced Cynthia Lopez as MOME Commissioner more than five months after Lopez’s resignation was confirmed (Lopez continued in the role through the end of October, three months before Menin’s appointment.)

Health and Human Services - Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli resigned at the end of August 2015 (although she served through September). Her replacement, Herminia Palacio, was appointed three months later in January 2016.  

Mayor’s Office of Contract Services - Lisette Camilo, former MOCS director, was appointed to head the Department of Citywide Administrative Services in early January this year, replacing Stacey Cumberbatch who became an assistant vice president at New York City Health + Hospitals. After nearly three months, near the end of March, interim MOCS Director Michael Owh was officially promoted to the position.

Department of Homeless Services - Gilbert Taylor left his commissioner post in December 2015 and was made a Family Court judge in March 2016. HRA Commissioner Steven Banks then ran the agency in an interim capacity till he officially took over following the release of the city’s homeless services review. DHS is still looking for top-level staff, though.

Department of Small Business Services - After former Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer was made president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation at the end of June 2015, SBS was run by deputy commissioner Gregg Bishop. Five months in, he was formally elevated to commissioner in late November.

Counsel to the Mayor - The administration announced late last month that Maya Wiley, de Blasio’s top lawyer, would be stepping down from her post on July 15. She was appointed by the mayor to chair the Civilian Complaint Review Board and will also be joining The New School as the Henry Cohen Professor for Management and Urban Policy and Senior Vice President for Social Justice.

Department of Environmental Protection - Commissioner Emily Lloyd, who had earlier been on medical leave, retired her post at the end of June. Vincent Sapienza, a veteran of the DEP for 33 years, took over as acting commissioner while the administration searches for a permanent replacement.

Mayor’s Office of Sustainability - Nilda Mesa, director of MOS, resigned on June 30 to “spend time with her family and explore new opportunities,” said the administration. Dan Zarrilli, senior director for climate policy and programs, will oversee the office in an interim capacity.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: This article has been corrected to accurately reflect the nature of former Deputy Mayor Barrios-Paoli's role at Health + Hospitals, which is unpaid.

Note: This article has been updated with additional personnel movement in the de Blasio administration that occurred just after the article was published, as well as recent comments from the Mayor on the subject.

De Blasio Continues Deliberative Approach to Appointments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000