Gotham Gazette Fri, 20 Jul 2018 18:37:32 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Skelos Conviction Greeted With Calls for Immediate Action on Reform Skelos Silver Cuomo 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Skelos Conviction Greeted With Calls for Immediate Action on Reform Fri, 11 Dec 2015 19:56:40 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, October 19-23 week in review bus readers

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

Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday October 23

PHOTOS OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio and other officials announce sale of Stuyvesant Town & Peter Cooper Village, via Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office; Governor Cuomo receives an award and announces planned protections for transgender New Yorkers at the Empire State Pride Agenda gala, via Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office

de blasio stuyvesant town

Cuomo pride transgender


1. Cuomo To Extend Protection For Transgender New Yorkers: At the Empire State Pride Agenda gala on Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he will take executive action to extend legal protections for transgender New Yorkers.

2. City & State Make New Moves In K2 Fight (Separately): Governor Cuomo announced on Tuesday that New York is expanding its public awareness campaign against synthetic drug abuse with ads and a 33-foot-tall billboard in the Bronx that reads "Synthetic marijuana can kill!" On the same day, Mayor de Blasio signed three measures into law that criminalize the manufacture and distribution of synthetic marijuana, commonly known as K2, intensifying the city's ongoing crackdown.

3. Federal Court Upholds SAFE Act: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the New York SAFE Act on Monday, keeping in place signature Cuomo gun regulations which were passed in the wake of the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

4. Stuyvesant Town Sold: This week, the Blackstone Group, a Wall Street investment firm, reached a deal to buy Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, a 11,232-apartment complex near the East Village. As part of the deal, 5,000 units will be preserved for middle-class families. The deal was negotiated with the de Blasio administration, City Council Member Dan Garodnick (who wrote this Gotham Gazette op-ed with his thoughts on the deal), and other key stakeholders.

5. De Blasio Moves On Bail: In the aftermath of the killing of Police Officer Randolph Holder on Tuesday evening, Mayor de Blasio and others are scrutinizing the processes by which the alleged killer was still on the streets given a long criminal record and recent arrests. De Blasio is calling on the state to change its bail laws: as he and allies such as City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito ask for elimination of bail for low-level nonviolent offenders, they also want to see judges allowed to consider the dangerousness of someone facing charges when setting bail.


  • 38 female firefighters in New York City’s over 10,700-member force.
  • 43% of Assembly housing chair Keith Wright’s congressional campaign has been funded by real estate interests regulated by his committee.
  • 5,485 classrooms in New York City are overcrowded, according to data from the teachers’ union - a 15% drop from last year.
  • $21.1 million increase in spending by lobbyists to influence Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers in the first six months of 2015, bringing the total spent so far this year to $130.9 million.
  • 28 separate incidents of rape behind bars were reported by Rikers Island inmates last year - though the city Department of Corrections failed to inform the NYPD about any of them.


  • It was a good week for Governor Cuomo and gun control advocates as a federal appeals court upheld key components of New York's SAFE Act.
  • It was a bad week for former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, each of whom saw legal setbacks as they approach their separate corruption trials, set to begin early next month.


  • Around this time last year, on October 23, 2014, Dr. Craig Spencer, who had just returned from treating Ebola patients in Africa, became the first person in the city to test positive for the Ebola virus, sparking fear and urgent efforts to contain the spread of the deadly disease.
  • Around this time 7 years ago, on October 23, 2008, the New York City Council voted 29-22 in favor of extending the term limit on the offices of Mayor and others to three consecutive four-year terms, allowing then-mayor Michael Bloomberg to run for office a third time (and win) in the 2009 mayoral election.
  • Around this time 20 years ago, on October 19, 1995, the Metropolitan Transit Authority approved a fare hike of 25 cents, bringing the single-ride fare to $1.50.
  • Around this time 51 years ago, on October 22, 1964, New York City Mayor Robert Wagner and the City Council reached agreement on a plan to raise the city's minimum wage to $1.50 an hour - the highest in the nation - though it was struck down later that year, on the grounds that state law prevented cities from increasing the wage on their own.


Spurred by Buffalo Billion, Reformers Look to Fix State Business Subsidies, by David Howard King

In Effort to Ensure Sound Education, City Battles Student Homelessness, by Colin O’Connor

As Healthcare Landscape Changes, City Hospital Authority Charts New Path, by Christian Zhang

One 'Raise the Age' Story at Center of Push for Legislative Action, by David Howard King

Participatory Budgeting Grows in NYC - Why Isn’t Every Council Member Doing It?, by Colin O’Connor

The Future of Stuyvesant Town & Peter Cooper Village, by Council Member Dan Garodnick (opinion)

There is Nothing Innovative About Displacement, by Tarry Hum (opinion)


  • WNYC's Robert Lewis and Data News Team put together an in-depth series on "The Hard Truth About Cops Who Lie."

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

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max:

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

by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

The Week That Was in New York Politics, October 19-23 Fri, 23 Oct 2015 18:09:53 +0000
Language in Rushed Rent Regulations May Hold Tenant-Friendly Surprise Cuomo Heastie rent

Cuomo and Heastie in cahoots? (photo: Governor's Office via flickr) 

Tenant advocates disappointed by the rent laws deal reached by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature at the end of session suddenly have a spark of hope, weeks after the backroom negotiations came to an end. Some are interpreting the wording of the new law to actually make it more difficult for landlords to deregulate apartments when rent reaches the established threshold, much to the chagrin of those property owners.

Tenant advocates say the new language of the bill - which regulates about a million affordable apartments in New York City - mandates that landlords have rented an apartment under the $2,700 per month threshold before they can remove it from the rent control rolls. This is as opposed to being able to deregulate the unit once an allowable hike hits $2,700 per month even if the unit is between tenants. Advocates believe this will significantly extend the time under which apartments are rent controlled even if it does not stop their eventual expiration.

Judith Goldiner, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society, said that since 1997, the language in the statute has been, "for any housing accommodation which is or becomes vacant on or after the effective date of the [1997 law] and before the effective date of the [2011 law] with a legal regulated rent of $2,000 or more a month."

The threshold was raised to $2,500 when the rent laws were renewed in 2011.

Goldiner said the language in the 2015 act can be captured as: "any housing accommodation that becomes vacant on or after the effective date of the rent act of 2015 where such legal regulated rent was $2,700 or more." They key being that the monthly rent was already $2,700 before an apartment is vacated, meaning that the rent threshold cannot be reached between tenants due to allowable vacancy and renovation bumps.

The Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), a landlord group, is aware of the language and believes it to be a drafting mistake that the Legislature could address along with a host of other drafting errors in the "Big Ugly" that was rushed to a vote on June 25 after session went into week-long overtime. But, it is unclear if the Legislature has any interest in returning to deal with the language. Sources in the Assembly say the language in question was inserted intentionally and they would not consider altering it.

Cuomo administration officials indicate they did not think the language was an issue. Tenant advocates wonder if Cuomo would dare alter the bill even if it was unintentional given that his allegiance to Democratic ideals has been under so much scrutiny of late. The governor recently felt backlash from the left after Senate Republicans touted a memorandum of understanding signed by his aide that appeared to agree to roll back a part of his signature gun-regulation SAFE Act. Not to mention attacks on Cuomo over elements seen as lacking (mayoral control of schools) or missing (minimum wage hike) from the final deal.

"Our interpretation is a tenant has to be in place under that threshold before they could move to deregulate," said Goldiner of the Legal-Aid Society. Goldiner said this specific measure was something she and her colleagues advocated for at great lengths. "I don't think this was unintended," Goldiner told Gotham Gazette. "We were in many, many meetings with the Assembly telling them how this would stem the tide of deregulation. And in a bill where tenants got very little, I think this is fairly appropriate."

Advocates still say that while the apartments would remain regulated, $2,700 per month is still a high rent and this tweak is not a game changer of any kind. Landlord groups are dismissing the language as a drafting mistake.

"I think the fact of the matter is when you read the section of the law on legal regulated rent it has not changed at all," said Frank Ricci of the RSA. "The bill in its entirety did so much on so many things that there are drafting inconsistencies throughout the bill. It is not pristine and clean as it has been in past years."

Lawyers for both sides are currently being consulted on the language and interested parties admit the debate could end up being settled in court.

The dispute over the language adds a twist to an especially heated year for the real estate industry and tenant advocates, including many New York City-based legislators.

Many lawmakers who represent parts of the city and advocates regard the changes made to the rent laws this year as minor tweaks that will only make it slightly more difficult for landlords to take apartments off the regulated rolls. The Legislature renewed the rent laws for four years and the law increases the threshold for vacancy deregulation and high-income deregulation from $2,500 to $2,700. Those thresholds will then be updated on January 1 of each year according to decisions by the city and suburban Rent Guidelines Boards. The amount landlords can increase monthly rent based on the improvements they make to apartments has also been reduced slightly and fines for tenant harassment have been increased.

Sen. Adriano Espaillat, a Manhattan Democrat, called the changes "one inch forward," and added: "We saw some tougher penalties but there were no major victories, we are still going to lose thousands of affordable apartments over the next four years."

Michael McKee of Tenants PAC agrees. He points to a study by Tom Waters of the Community Service Society that predicts the city alone stands to lose 87,500 rent regulated apartments given the $2,700 per month threshold.

Frank Ricci, of the Rent Stabilization Association, said that the new laws will make it much harder for landlords to afford maintenance and repairs. "These changes are going to make it much more difficult to maintain buildings. The Major Capital Improvements changes are going to disincentivize owners from making major improvements or doing major work like fixing the boiler."

Advocates point to reports from Waters and analysis from blogger John Krauss that show the city has consistently seen thousands of apartments leave the affordable housing rolls despite increases in the deregulation threshold made in 2011.

"We've said for 22 years that raising the threshold is meaningless," said McKee. "It simply makes financial sense for landlords to spend the money [on repairs] to deregulate their apartments. The new laws do nothing to disincentivize them."

However, Espaillat and McKee say that tenants were particularly organized this year and effective in putting pressure on Cuomo and the Legislature. Advocates barraged the governor at his offices and continued their protests after the deal was passed - at one point targeting Cuomo's home in Westchester.

There may be no lull in the action as calls to strengthen the laws continue and the 2016 election year is just around the corner. On Wednesday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former state senator, will brief the media "about a new push to achieve some of the urgently needed protections not provided by the recently approved rent laws negotiated by Governor Andrew Cuomo and State Senate Republicans." Adams is also going to convene a meeting of state and local electeds and tenant advocates "to discuss plans moving forward."

Legislators and tenant advocates say they think the recent campaign could continue and be used as a tool to help Democrats win control of the state Senate at which point they could revisit the rent laws even before they expire. "We we were on point on organizing, on messaging, on building a coalition," Espaillat told Gotham Gazette. "If we win the majority next year we could very well address affordability." Democrats, who traditionally do better in presidential years, hope in part to ride a Hillary Clinton wave.

Ricci told Gotham Gazette that such action would create an unstable environment for landlords. "If you want a well-preserved housing stock in the city, you need consistency and predictability," said Ricci. "There is a lot of thought and planning that goes into improvements. If there is talk every year about tinkering it would create an unstable environment. In fact it would be shortsighted on the part of the Legislature to even talk about changes because it will stop people from making these large investments." 

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Language in Rushed Rent Regulations May Hold Tenant-Friendly Surprise Tue, 14 Jul 2015 21:50:09 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 13 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Before you read our preview of this week, check out our 'Week in Review' of last week's political news - it's a good, quick read and includes top photos and stories of the week; key numbers to know from the week's news; and other interesting and fun features. We recently started publishing this new feature every Friday.

This week:

Eric Garner's Death One Year Later: Friday, July 17 is one year since Eric Garner died at the hands of police officers who were arresting him on a Staten Island street. Expect many commemorations this week, including renewed calls for policing reform and for disciplinary action against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Garner's death. The NYPD investigation of the incident has been resolved, but Police Commissioner Bratton says the department is awaiting the federal investigation to conclude before announcing NYPD findings. Among the latest coverage emerging as the one-year mark hits, this weekend the Daily News looked at Pantaleo one year later, while the AP went in-depth on the fallout from Garner's death.

Summer Crime Numbers: Speaking of the NYPD, as the summer continues many are watching to see what New York City crime numbers look like. The De Blasio administration launched its summer crime-fighting initiative aimed at the parts of the city with the most violent crime earlier this year than last, attempting to stem the uptick in shootings and murders that the city had seen in the first six months of 2015. June was a strong month for those stats. Stay tuned this week as more data becomes available.

Cuomo-De Blasio: the governor and the mayor continued their war of words last week, though neither spoke in the kind of terms de Blasio did when he let loose about the governor before leaving on vacation at the start of the month (Example: Cuomo declined to name a single thing de Blasio has done well as mayor when he was asked on WPIX-11). Things may very likely quiet down a bit for the rest of the summer, but you can bet the two will continue to be asked about areas of disagreement and key policies that are at stake as they sort through their relationship and styles of governance.

On Monday, de Blasio will host a press conference to make an announcement in the Bronx - he will be joined by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (Cuomo's public schedule has him in New York City, with no events listed). This weekend, de Blasio was out and about while Cuomo was mostly out of the public eye, though he did participate in a campaign fundraiser on Long Island (which was met by protestors). On Sunday, de Blasio delivered remarks and marched "in the Inaugural NYC Disability Pride Parade with the Commissioner of the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities Victor Calise and members of the administration." He then spoke at "the 43rd Annual Old Timers Stick Ball Game." On Saturday, de Blasio delivered remarks in Central Park at NY CityFest.

Also on Saturday, Cuomo's office sent out a statement from Counsel Alphonso David clarifying the memo of understanding between the administration and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan regarding the continued delay of the ammunition background check database that is outlined in the SAFE Act but has yet to launch. The Friday announcement of the MOU raised many eyebrows and received much criticism from Cuomo's left.

Speaker Mark-Viverito will travel back to Arizona this week - she was there earlier this year to talk with Phoenix lawmakers about the city's municipal ID program - where on Friday she will speak at the annual Netroots Nation conference. According to Capital New York, at the conference Mark-Viverito "will participate in a panel titled "Building Progressive Political Power"" and then "also speak at a forum hosted by the Latino Victory Project, a political action committee that raises money and resources for Latino candidates across the country."

It's looking like another fairly quiet summer week in terms of events scheduled around the city, and with the City Council holding few hearings this month. But, there's several things on the schedule for your attention - see below - and surely more will pop up as the week begins.

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:***

The run of the week in detail:

"The trial of state Sen. Thomas Libous is the latest legal battle for a New York political figure caught in U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's war on corruption." Libous' corruption trial is set to start Monday, as Gannett reports.

On Monday at 10 a.m., Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will attend a press announcement with New York City Dept. of Transportation officials, Columbus Avenue and 86th Street.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is due to give an economic policy speech at The New School on Monday.

Governor Cuomo's fast food worker wage board will meet on Monday.

At 10:30 Monday morning, "Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman will make remarks in Plattsburgh to discuss efforts to combat the foreclosure crisis in the North Country and across the state." He will be joined by Peter Racette, Deputy Director of the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York; Michelle Furnia, Director of Finance and Housing, Friends of the North Country; and Assemblywoman Janet Duprey Plattsburgh Mayor James Calnon, among others.

At 11 a.m. Monday there will be a public hearing of the New York City Campaign Finance Board on "proposed amendments to the Campaign Finance Board rules related to public funds eligibility and disclosure statement documentation."

At 1 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will hold a "press conference to announce findings of audit of the New York City Housing Authority's maintenance and repairs" at Grant Houses, 125th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

At 5:30 p.m. Queens "Borough President Melinda Katz will chair a joint meeting of the Borough Board and Borough Cabinet...The Board and Cabinet will hear a presentation from Assistant Chief Terrence Monahan on the New York City Police Department's (NYPD's) new "One City: Safe and Fair – Everywhere" initiative. The initiative calls for a series of strategic changes to form a new framework for neighborhood policing and for building a true partnership between the police and the community in the fight against crime."

At 7 p.m. many of the city's Democrats will celebrate at the Manhattan Democratic Party's third annual Demmy Awards. "Event is hosted by New York County Democratic Committee Leader and Assembly Member Keith Wright. "The Demmy Awards honors individuals, organizations and democratic clubs who have made significant contributions to the Democratic Party. NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Councilwoman Inez Dickens, Councilman Corey Johnson and more to be in attendance." This year's honorees include "New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies Executive Director Jennifer Jones Austin and more."

On Tuesday morning, Public Advocate Letitia James will co-host a workshop on avoiding immigration scams with NYIC at the Brooklyn Public Library.

Presumed presidential candidate and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley "will host an immigration roundtable on Tuesday at 11 AM at the New York Immigration Action Fund, where he will unveil his ideas for fixing our inhumane immigration system."

Also Tuesday at 11 a.m., "UFA President Steve Cassidy, joined by recently hired FDNY firefighters will announce a lawsuit against the NY City Council Speaker for her office's efforts to obstruct debate and open government and for creating a total lack of transparency in City Hall...on the steps of the New York State Supreme Court." The issue at stake is disability pension policy.

At 2 p.m. there will be a workshop hosted by the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence, "ID Theft: Addressing Financial Abuse in Domestic Violence Cases."

At 5 p.m. there will be a "Small Business Risk Education Workshop" hosted by the New York Public Library-SIBL.

At 6 p.m. the New York City Bar Association will host "What It's Really Like to Practice Law As A Woman." Carmelyn Malalis, Commissioner of the New York City Commission on Human Rights will be one of the speakers.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) are hosting a series of town hall meetings to discuss the recently released NYCHA Next Generation Plan. There will be a town hall meeting on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Baruch College.

Tuesday evening in Union Square, Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets will hold a "Vision Zero vigil," commemorating traffic fatalities. BP Brewer is expected to attend.

At 7:30 Tuesday evening, there will be an "interfaith worship service commemorating the one year anniversary of Eric Garner's death" at
Mount Sinai United Christian Church on Staten Island. Mayor de Blasio, Public Advocate James, Comptroller Stringer, Speaker Mark-Viverito, and other officials are set to attend. The mayor will deliver remarks.

James will then host an Iftar celebration in Brooklyn.

At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, the City Council Rules, Privileges and Elections Committee will meet to consider several commission and board appointments. This is the only hearing on the Council's schedule for the week.

At noon Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Civic Hall will co-host a "Community Open Data Workshop," on how to use "open data for local community planning.

At 7 p.m. there will be a "BetaNYC Civic Hacknight."

At 8 a.m. Thursday, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will co-host a discussion on the state of development, specifically East Side rezoning in Manhattan. East Midtown Rezoning Steering Committee Co-Chairman and Council Member Dan Garodnick will be giving the keynote speech with a panel featuring Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, President of MTA Capital Construction, and others following. The discussion is sponsored by the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Woods Bagot, the Real Estate Board of New York and New York Law School's Center for Real Estate Studies and Center for New York City Law.

At 8:30 a.m. there will be a Manhattan Borough Board meeting hosted by BP Brewer.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a land use hearing at 10:30 a.m.

The second in a two-part symposium on race and law enforcement hosted by Roosevelt House public policy institute of Hunter College is on Thursday at 6 p.m. (Part one occured on Tuesday, July 7.) On Thursday the former Executive Director of Mental health for NYC corrections, Daniel Selling, will be among other speakers attending.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will host Iftar Dinner at 6:30 p.m. to honor the month of Ramadan and leaders in Manhattan's Muslim community.

The City's 2015 NYC BigApps competition begins on Thursday, with a launch event at Civic Hall. "BigApps is a globally recognized competition that recruits the sharpest minds in tech and innovation to tackle New York City's biggest challenges. Launched in 2009 by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), BigApps has awarded over $350,000 in prizes, attracted nearly 500 submissions, and engaged thousands of New Yorkers."

Friday and the weekend
Expect demonstrations and commemorations of the one-year anniversary of Eric Garner's death. One such event will be on Saturday at noon in Brooklyn, a "Rally to Demand Justice for Eric Garner."

Have you read the latest reporting and in-depth articles from Gotham Gazette lately? Take a look here for our most recent articles, you're sure to find something interesting.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Erika Wang and Ben Max

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 13 Fri, 10 Jul 2015 16:50:49 +0000
License to Carry: New York's Gun Permit Laws Cuomo SAFE Act

Gov. Cuomo signs the SAFE Act, Jan. 2013 (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)

Riders on a Brooklyn-bound 4 train fled in terror when a man responded to taunts from two younger men by pulling a gun and loading a clip. As the confrontation escalated and the train stopped, the melee spilled into the Borough Hall station, with threats and shoving until Gilbert Drogheo, one of the younger men, was lying dead of a gunshot wound on the station floor. Like a number of recent shootings, most of the incident was captured on video.

What stands out about the shooting death is that the firearm that killed Drogheo wasn't obtained illegally. According to law enforcement officials, Willie Grooms, the 69-year-old retired corrections officer who shot Drogheo, had a pistol permit. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced that Grooms will not be charged with a crime despite pleas from Drogheo's family. Grooms has maintained that Drogheo was harassing and assaulting him and that he attempted a citizen's arrest.

The incident and several others, such as the seemingly accidental gun shot that injured five people at a Waldorf Astoria wedding, raise serious questions for many New Yorkers - as the recent shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina church that killed nine has also done for many across the country. These are questions being seized upon by gun control activists in especially vehement efforts during June, which is Gun Violence Awareness Month in New York. Among the questions being asked are 'who is allowed to carry a gun' and 'how do people get gun permits.'

Advocates on both sides of the gun control debate agree that New York has some of the toughest gun-permitting laws of any state in the nation. However, regulations differ greatly between New York City and the rest of the state, with the city having a much more stringent system. This is evident as the New York Times recently reported on armed upstate New Yorkers on the lookout for two escaped prisoners.

"New York has some of the strongest laws in the country," said Leah Barrett of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. "New York is a 'may issue' state, whereas Florida is a 'shall issue.' Meaning [Florida] will basically issue [a gun permit] to anyone with a pulse."

New York is known as a 'may-issue state' because its regulations allow for background checks before issuing a license. However, the licensing process upstate is less restrictive than that of some other states, like Maryland, that rarely issue permits. Other states, such as Florida, are known as 'shall-issue' states because they have an application process that is mostly a formality. States like Texas are known as states 'unrestricted' because its residents are free to carry concealed firearms without going through any application process.

The screening and permitting process in New York differs based on type of firearm. Applicants for pistol permits undergo criminal and mental health background checks at the state and federal level - even when purchasing at a gun show. Permits are issued by local judges or clerks. Applicants must be at least 21 years old, free of a felony conviction or "serious" offense, of good moral character, and not have had a previous license revoked. Applicants must also state whether they have suffered severe mental illness or been institutionalized or hospitalized for such an illness. Permit issuers may deny a license based on that history.

In most of the state outside of New York City, permits are not required for the vast majority of rifles and shotguns used to hunt. Whereas the city does require a permit for guns used for hunting. The SAFE Act banned most assault style shotguns and rifles across the state but grandfathered in those purchased before January 15, 2013. Those grandfathered firearms were required to be registered before January 14, 2014.

"In New York City it is nearly impossible to get a pistol permit without some kind of hardcore need," said Tom King of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association. "Getting a concealed carry permit is almost impossible in the city unless you are a politician, a celebrity or very, very wealthy." The New York Police Department is tasked with reviewing applications for concealed carry permits in the city. A New York Times report from 2011 revealed that a number of celebrities and media members like John Catsimatidis, Sean Hannity, Alexis Stewart, and John Mack all have city pistol permits.

Outside of the city, King says, the permitting is less prohibitive but may take some time due to background checks that have recently been enhanced by the SAFE Act - legislation that is much maligned by gun rights advocates. The difficulty of getting a concealed permit varies depending on the county in which someone applies, in most cases the process is overseen by a judge or a clerk.

The NYPD offers a number of different permits that allow for pistols to be carried for business purposes, or restrict the carrier to a specific business or residence. Store owners and security guards appear to be the most-often licensed. Applicants must pay about $400 for a license, wait 12 weeks, and undergo a background check. They then must apply to the NYPD for permission to buy whichever firearm they select. One license can cover up to 25 different weapons. There were over 40,000 permit holders in New York City as of 2011.

Applications for permits in the rest of the state generally cost a lot less - often around $15 - and are completed in about two months. The SAFE Act established that state pistol permits must be renewed every five years. Pistol owners who fail to do so can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. Renewal involves submitting an applicant's current address, contact information, social security number, and a list of owned firearms.

King said that New York's current permitting rules seem fairly stable and that his group is mostly involved in fighting off the attempts of local municipalities to tweak gun laws. He notes that most smaller cities have to apply to the state for home rule to make their gun laws tougher and most of the time they are denied, or the law is defeated in court. His group is also actively looking to make repealing the SAFE Act a major issue in the 2016 elections for state Senate and Assembly. It was often used against Governor Andrew Cuomo and others during the 2014 cycle, while when he was campaigning in New York City, Cuomo boasted about passing the law, enacted quickly after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, CT.

Barrett, of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, is concerned that a federal bill that would force states to recognize out-of-state conceal-carry permits is picking up steam. The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act is backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a host of Republican legislators from states with no permitting laws. "This operates more or less like a driver's license," Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told The Hill in February. "So, for example, if you have a driver's license in Texas, you can drive in New York, in Utah and other places, subject to the laws of those states."

Advocates of the bill say it would prevent 'gotcha' moments where travelers with out-of-state concealed-carry permits are arrested for toting guns illegally in another state. Barrett and gun-control advocates say the bill would wreak havoc in New York. They say the bill could severely damage efforts to fight gun trafficking from out of state, which the NYPD and others often point to as a major issue in terms of guns used to commit crimes in New York City. "New York would be forced to honor permits from these other states that have weaker laws," said Barrett. "We would likely see an influx of guns from out of state and an increase in trafficking. And how will New York be able to confirm these permits?"

While, New York may very well have some of the strongest gun laws in the country, some in Albany, including legislators who back stricter gun laws, say that in order to get Senate Republicans to negotiate on other bills they may have to concede to their efforts to roll back parts of the SAFE Act. On June 9 the Senate passed a bill that would do away with a SAFE Act provision that requires background checks on those who purchase ammo. A state database to monitor ammo sales has yet to be brought online. The bill would also prevent gun registrations from being made public and allow family members to gift semiautomatic guns to their relatives.

King said he thinks the bill has a real chance to make it through the Legislature. Barrett, however, points to a recent poll her group conducted on the individual elements of the SAFE Act. The poll shows that New Yorkers support the SAFE Act by a 2-1 margin, and their support increases overwhelmingly when asked about the individual gun-safety measures contained in the act.

Background checks for all firearm sales was backed by 89 percent of all voters and 80 percent of gun owners surveyed. Renewal of pistol permits every five years was supported by 79 percent of voters and 53 percent of gun owners. Background checks for ammunition sales was supported by 72 percent of all voters and 37 percent of gun owners.

"New Yorkers overwhelmingly support gun safety, in fact they support the measures contained in the SAFE Act when they learn how common sense they are," said Barrett.
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

License to Carry: New York's Gun Permit Laws Mon, 22 Jun 2015 21:22:56 +0000
SAFE Act Haunts Movement on Gun Safety Legislation students NYAGV

Student activists in Albany (photo: @NYAGV1)

Earlier this month, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence brought 150 school children from the Bronx and Harlem to Albany to recite poetry, sing songs, and perform skits about the impact gun violence has on their daily lives.

They didn't get the warmest of welcomes. Kicked out of the space they had booked - the very public well of the legislative office building - they were forced into a hearing room. They were replaced in the well by a wine tasting.

SAFE Act Haunts Movement on Gun Safety Legislation Mon, 18 May 2015 01:42:51 +0000
The Flanagan Effect: What the New Senate Leader Means for the De Blasio Agenda Flanagan oath Facebook

New Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (photo via Facebook)

ALBANY - Republican John Flanagan assumed the mantle of Senate Majority Leader on Monday during an unprecedented time of upheaval in Albany, brought on by the arrests of both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on multiple federal corruption charges. Scandal unearthed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has exposed the backroom dealings of the state's largest political donor and the men who control the flow of legislation. As he takes a new seat at the negotiating table, Flanagan faces a variety of challenges, including establishing himself as free of ethical baggage and coalescing a fractured Republican party.

While he'll have to prove his trustworthiness to his colleagues and the public at a time filled with ever-increasing cynicism about government, one challenge Flanagan will not have to face is convincing many of the rank-and-file senators he now leads to oppose policies favored by progressive New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. As legislative session begins its final six weeks with another major leadership shake-up, de Blasio and many others from the city are looking to Albany with nervous anticipation as key policies hang in the balance.

Just moments after being congratulated on the floor of the Senate, Flanagan spoke to reporters and acknowledged the "boatload" of issues facing New York City and said that de Blasio should be reaching out to legislators and the governor to move some of the issues forward.

Earlier on Monday, before it was clear that Flanagan would be the next Senate Leader, de Blasio was asked about the power shift in Albany at an unrelated press conference. The mayor called the situation in Albany "unstable" and uneasily said, "Right now, we're focused on getting what we can get done over the next six-seven weeks in Albany for the people in New York City."

With only 17 session days left on the calendar, de Blasio is still waiting for Albany to negotiate deals on renewing sunsetting rent laws, the 421-A tax break for developers, and mayoral control of city schools. De Blasio and his allies in the City Council are also aligned with state Democrats in pushing for an increase in the minimum wage and paid family leave. It seems unlikely that Flanagan's ascent will change the Republican Majority's stance against a minimum wage increase and other changes favored by city leaders.

In fact, as he seeks to establish himself as the lone Republican of the "three men in a room," Flanagan may drive an even harder bargain than Skelos might have.

Many observers say they see Flanagan as a 'continuation of the status quo.' The 53-year-old senator has served in state government for more than half his life, is a white male Long Island Republican, worked at a lawfirm up until last week, is a member of conservative think thank ALEC, voted against marriage equality, and has already clashed with de Blasio, Senate Republicans' favorite foil.

While some of the profile fits, Republican insiders say that Flanagan's political history belies his biggest strength - his ambition. And it is that ambition that could see Flanagan become even more of a thorn in the side of de Blasio and an opponent of his agenda than even his predecessor, Skelos, who carried a major grudge after the mayor's 2014 attempt to win the Senate for Democrats.

After a fast leadership battle that some legislators say has been fracturing for the beleaguered Republican Majority, some legislators and activists say they expect de Blasio could serve as a uniter for Flanagan and the conference.

Flanagan is likely to make all effort to show strong leadership immediately. While other members of the Senate Majority have been content to serve as seat holders far into old age to keep the conference relevant, Flanagan has loftier goals. The new Senate Leader sees himself as a viable statewide candidate, and although he passed up the opportunity to run on the Republican ticket for Attorney General last year, he still harbors ambition to be Governor.

Not unlike the current governor, Democrat Andrew Cuomo - whom Flanagan will now be working with much more closely, the new Senate Leader has already tweaked Mayor de Blasio on education issues. Earlier this year, in an interview on The Capitol Pressroom, Flanagan, then chair of the education committee, said that mayoral control of schools might not be renewed and certainly would not be renewed as is. On renewal, Flanagan said: "I believe we have a very sincere and open opportunity to do so. Can I guarantee that? No."

Flanagan complained that de Blasio hadn't been particularly communicative with his conference and that he was trying to schedule hearings on mayoral control with de Blasio and City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina.

In that same interview Flanagan chided de Blasio for failing to "properly listen" to Republican legislators from the city and for trying to win the Senate majority for Democrats.

"I would recommend to the mayor that that was not the most prudent course of action," Flanagan said. "Look, he took a shot. He decided he wanted to do something, and the good news for the taxpayers of this state is, he didn't get it. We have the majority, and in some ways, his actions helped us politically. Because a lot of the things that he stands for, people outside the City of New York find anathema to their own interests."

On Monday, when de Blasio was asked about the fact that Senate Democrats did not try to grab the majority during the chaos caused by Skelos' arrest, he said, "I'm certainly not going to speak for them. They understand their circumstance better than I do. It's a very sad moment in Albany – let's face it – and a moment that's somewhat unstable." The mayor went on to allude to the 2016 elections, when Democrats will be hoping to ride a Hillary Clinton wave into control of the chamber. "You know, the future – obviously there will be an election next year that will determine the fate," de Blasio said, "but I think that State Senate Democrats are dealing with a situation as best they can right now."

Close de Blasio ally and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito was specific in issuing a statement congratulating Flanagan. "With so many important legislative issues in Albany - from affordable housing, to education to paid family leave - it's essential that the Legislature be able to continue it's critical work and I look forward to working with Senator Flanagan to make New York a better place," Mark-Viverito's statement reads.

Tenant activists have already written off the Republican conference as a whole because of members' connections to the real estate industry. De Blasio recently issued a housing policy agenda that supports a number of measures to strengthen rent control laws - Republicans are said to want a straight renewal of rent laws in exchange for continuation of the controversial 421-A tax abatement.

Groups tied to Glenwood Management - the developer named in charges againt both Silver and Skelos, gave Flanagan over $40,000 in the last few years, according to a study by Common Cause NY. Reporters repeatedly asked Flanagan if he was the subject of any investigations and he repeatedly said that there was nothing to worry about.

Flanagan takes the reigns of the Senate in what some have come to see as a "post unity" era. Skelos and his conference suffered major push back from the Conservative Party and upstate Republicans for cooperating with Cuomo to pass marriage equality, the SAFE Act gun control measures, and the last minimum wage increase.

With the slimmest of majorities, many expect Flanagan will look to bolster his conference by appealing to the base with attacks on de Blasio and pushback against his progressive agenda. Flanagan's opponent in the race to replace Skelos, John DeFrancisco, had the backing of many upstate and western New York politicians. Flanagan will need to appeal to them to keep the the party from fracturing.

To some Republicans Flanagan represents the more liberal branch of the party because of his support for the recent gun laws. On Monday the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association issued a statement saying Flanagan's election, is "a divisive blow to the freedom loving people of New York and should send a chill down the spine of every gun owner since the new leader voted for the so-called SAFE Act."

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

The Flanagan Effect: What the New Senate Leader Means for the De Blasio Agenda Mon, 11 May 2015 20:07:04 +0000
State Senate Democrats Poised to Ride Hillary Clinton Wave hillary-clinton

Hillary Clinton during a recent appearance in NYC (photo: NYC Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio may not have endorsed Hillary Clinton's presidential bid yet, but her candidacy could be instrumental in accomplishing something he and Governor Andrew Cuomo failed at last year: putting the State Senate in the hands of Democrats.

"I think she will have longer coattails next year than Cuomo did last year," said Kenneth Sherrill, who taught political science at Hunter College for decades. "Turnout will be higher and more partisan. There won't be any winks and nods toward Republican incumbents."

If the Democrats can wrest control of the Senate in 2016 they would control both houses of the Legislature come 2017 (they already hold a significant majority in the Assembly), and, at least in theory, be able to force the governor to the left.

"A presidential year with a rock star from New York running for president will immensely help voter turn out," State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, predicted enthusiastically.

Democrats have been creeping toward the majority in the Senate after holding it briefly from 2009 to 2010. In 2012 the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, a splinter cell of dissatisfied Democrats, gave Republicans the majority - with Cuomo's blessing.

In 2014 de Blasio launched a campaign to win outright control for Democrats and pressured the IDC to return to the fold - its members promised to conference with Democrats, but that seemed to hinge on the Democrats winning enough seats to have a majority. Cuomo, who faced a tepid response from his liberal base, barely campaigned for himself let alone Democratic candidates and flirted with backing Republican legislators who had supported his major policies in the past.

Republicans won outright control, in part thanks to Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, an elected Democrat who conferences with Republicans. Now de Blasio and like-minded Democrats face a Senate Majority that holds a grudge and the fate of rent laws, mayoral control of schools, and other key elements of de Blasio's progressive agenda in its hands. Cuomo holds a bag of progressive 2014 campaign promises that Senate Republicans seem dead set on preventing him from delivering, while they do enable him to deliver on the more conservative or centrist pieces of his economic and education agendas.

However, a massive advantage in voter registration and a younger base appear to make a Democratic takeover an eventuality. Hillary Clinton's candidacy could be the shove Democrats need to get them over the threshold and to never look back. Compared to Republicans, Democrats see larger turnout fluctuations in presidential and non-presidential years, with Clinton expected to provide a significant (if not Obama-esque) boost.

Cuomo would be faced with a liberal tidal wave in the Legislature and he might not be able to find a strong middle ground, though underestimating his ability to do so might be dangerous. Democrats further to the left, including de Blasio, would have two houses of the Legislature looking to deliver on progressive issues.

For some Democrats 2016 is D-Day. They expect Democratic turnout will spike and Clinton coattails - Hillary is technically a New York resident who represented the state in the US Senate and whose campaign office is in Brooklyn - will drag Democrats into perhaps permanent control of the chamber.

"I really think this is it," said New York State Senator Neil Breslin, a Democrat from Albany. "Her candidacy will be a strong attractor for new candidates, for veteran legislators to increase their involvement, and it will boost Democratic turnout."

Krueger said that with Clinton's candidacy, the push by US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to recruit more women candidates, and efforts from advocacy groups and PACs, "I do think we will see more interest in people who are willing to run for state government. The trouble is that a lot of people say: 'Albany, really? Yuck!' We need to get people...past that cynicism. When women see other women in leadership it makes [them] think, 'I can do this,'" she added.

Breslin believes Clinton's candidacy will also give some Republicans pause, and perhaps lead to the retirement of some more senior members.

Senate Republicans have been playing defense for years, fighting off changes to election law, redistricting, and campaign financing. They've also had to convince older members to stay in their seats for fear that their name recognition, not their party affiliation, is what has kept their seats in Republican hands.

"I get a 25,000 boost in votes in a regular presidential year," said Breslin. "That is the margin of victory for most candidates. Now translate that to Hillary."

Senate Democrats have worked diligently on presenting a unified front during their time in the minority, rallied around leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and even begun to openly challenge the policy decisions of Gov. Cuomo, who has done little to help them electorally and undermined and overlooked them legislatively.

In a sense Democrats have been liberated and become less fractious because they have lost some of their more rural and conservative districts to Republicans; meanwhile, districts that used to be fairly conservative are trending more liberal.

"We are in an extremely strong place regardless of whether 2016 is a presidential year," said Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Democrat of Queens, who noted the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee is out of debt for the first time in years. "We have 31 elected Democrats [in a 63-seat chamber] and there could be special elections before then for any number of reasons. Now add a Clinton candidacy to that - [she] is a daughter of New York - and we are in an amazing position."

Gianaris incudes members of the IDC in his count - they may quickly attempt to reconcile with mainline Democrats if the party is able to take a majority.

Republicans have laboriously tried to maintain some level of bipartisanship, fostering their alliance with the IDC and allowing them to bring some more Democratic issues to the floor including the DREAM Act and parts of Cuomo's Womens Equality Agenda. And they partnered with Cuomo to pass marriage equality and the SAFE Act - but they also saw incumbent legislators defeated after facing backlash on their votes on those two issues. And in the past two years Majority Leader Dean Skelos has pushed back hard against the progressive agenda.

Even some Senate Republicans say privately that passing the DREAM Act could be beneficial to the conference in certain districts with growing Latino populations, but Skelos has been adamant that the conference remain united in its public opposition to the measure. It's a certainty that Clinton and other presidential candidates will be heavily courting Latino voters.

Skelos has also refused to budge on a new round of minimum wage increases, and appears to have opposed a number of criminal justice reforms put forward after the July death of Eric Garner in New York City.

"We want to see these policies enacted for the good of the people of New York," said Gianaris of a progressive agenda. "The more these guys reject these common sense issues like a minimum wage increase and paid family leave for things like tax breaks for yachts and private jets the more it becomes obvious to voters how out of touch they are."

As bright as the state Senate future may seem for Democrats and as inevitable a 2016 Democratic ticket headed by Clinton may seem at the moment, some in the party acknowledge that without Hilary they could be in serious trouble. "Forget it," said one Democrat who asked to remain anonymous."If Hillary loses the primary we are in major trouble. All bets are off."

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

State Senate Democrats Poised to Ride Hillary Clinton Wave Wed, 15 Apr 2015 16:03:37 +0000