Gotham Gazette Sat, 17 Nov 2018 21:48:16 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) ‘Democracy Vouchers’ May Come to New York City Ben Kallos campaign finance reform

City Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

As he ran for mayor this year, former City Council Member Sal Albanese typically didn’t go more than five minutes without mentioning his call to bring additional campaign finance reform to New York City. Despite the fact that the city already has a heralded public-matching system that encourages small donation fundraising, Albanese pointed to the “democracy voucher” program instituted in Seattle, which is even more radical in its efforts to lower individual donation limits, encourage more voters to engage in politics, and push candidates to pay more attention to residents of all financial means.

The Seattle program, passed by voters in 2015 as part of a larger “honest elections” initiative, not only mandates exceedingly low ceilings for individual donations to candidates and for candidate expenditures, it provides eligible residents with four $25 vouchers that they can donate to participating candidates of their choosing. Using public money garnered from a property tax, it encourages more people to participate by giving them the means to donate to candidates and pushes candidates to reach out more broadly to the electorate. Research has shown that people who donate to campaigns vote in very high numbers.

While Albanese fell short in his bid to unseat Mayor Bill de Blasio, the City Council’s resident campaign finance reformer is planning to explore a democracy voucher program in New York City. City Council Member Ben Kallos told Gotham Gazette that he has submitted a request to the Council’s bill-drafting unit for democracy voucher legislation, likely to be introduced next year, after a new class of Council members is seated and a new speaker selected in January.

"I'm exploring anything and everything a jurisdiction in the country or on the planet is using to increase participation," Kallos told Gotham Gazette on Monday.

"The recent court decision upholding democracy vouchers shows a promising option for the city as we investigate ways for candidates to come from a community with community support without having to rely on big dollars from special interests," Kallos added, referring to a challenge to the Seattle system that was dismissed earlier this month.

Putting in a request for legislation is the first step of many whereby a bill can become law, and many bills never get through the City Council to the mayor’s desk. But, Kallos intends to start a serious discussion about whether the city should take a more drastic step toward campaign finance reform. Next year will also see a report from the city’s Campaign Finance Board about its program, as is mandated by law in the year following each city election. The board will make recommendations for ways in which the city can tweak the program, but democracy vouchers are unlikely to be part of its recommendations.

As for drawbacks to a democracy voucher program, one is that there is very limited data on its effectiveness since the Seattle program just got going. Others include the potential cost in public dollars, which could exceed the money the city currently puts toward its program -- the CFB paid out “$17,694,046 to 103 qualifying candidates for the 2017 election cycle,” according to a recent press release -- and whether an accompanying reduction in maximum individual contributions would push more money into independent expenditures.

Before introducing democracy voucher legislation or the CFB post-election report, however, Kallos is looking to see one of his currently-pending campaign finance reform bills passed in the waning days of this legislative session. Co-sponsored by 29 members in the 51-seat Council, the Kallos bill would increase the public matching threshold for how much candidates can receive relative to the spending limit in their races (there are lower thresholds for City Council races than borough-wide and city-wide races).

The bill had a hearing in April and Kallos said he is pushing to see it passed this term. The Manhattan Democrat saw his online voter registration bill passed on Tuesday by the governmental operations committee he chairs. The full Council is expected to pass it on Thursday and de Blasio has indicated he will sign it into law.

The de Blasio administration has indicated support for Kallos’ bill to increase the public matching threshold, which would allow candidates to run their campaigns based more on smaller, matchable donations (eligible donations up to $175 are matched six-to-one, to a certain percentage of the spending threshold, which Kallos’ bill would increase).

A de Blasio spokesperson also expressed some vague support for exploring the ideas of democracy vouchers and lowering contribution limits, when asked by Gotham Gazette. “The Mayor supports moving towards full public financing of elections and reversing Citizens United,” said spokesperson Seth Stein, in a statement. “We are reviewing other proposals and City Council legislation that will help us end the influence of money in our elections.”

Under the Seattle system, the maximum contribution allowed by each individual to a candidate participating in the democracy voucher program is $250 plus $100 in vouchers. For candidates not participating in the program, the maximum individual contribution is $500. These numbers are far lower than those currently allowed in New York City, where, for example, the maximum individual donation to a mayoral candidate is $4,950.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

‘Democracy Vouchers’ May Come to New York City Tue, 14 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
De Blasio’s Record on Ethics and Transparency Mayor de Blasio City Hall

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)

This article is part of a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. Find all pieces of the series here.


It is a source of great frustration for Mayor Bill de Blasio and hangs over his administration and reelection bid as an albatross. Observers across the political spectrum, including Democratic and Republican opponents in this year’s mayoral race, have attacked de Blasio for blurring or crossing ethical lines, and for lacking transparency.

De Blasio rode into power promising the most transparent administration in the city’s history, but his nearly four years in office have been marked by continuing questions and controversies over both his administration’s opaqueness and ethics, highlighted by twin law enforcement investigations into fundraising practices and government favors for campaign donors. The incumbent Democratic mayor, seeking reelection this fall, has repeatedly argued that he and his associates have carried themselves ethically and that he has done more disclosure than his predecessors and other high-level officials.

Yet, along with his electoral opponents, political observers, government reform advocates, and City Council members also say de Blasio’s rhetoric has not been backed by action and that his record on transparency and ethics has been, at best, a mixed bag.

In endorsing him in the Democratic primary, the New York Times editorial board wrote, “A political operative before he ran for public office, Mr. de Blasio has not shaken free of detractors’ suspicions about his ethical compass. He was subjected to both federal and state investigations into whether he presides over a pay-to-play system that favors well-heeled donors seeking favors from City Hall. Ultimately, no charges were brought against him or his aides. Though the mayor declared he had been vindicated, the Manhattan district attorney concluded that some of his fund-raising appeared to have violated “the intent and spirit” of the law. That’s a far cry from Mr. de Blasio’s claim to have been pronounced “innocent.”

De Blasio was indeed chastised by federal and state prosecutors, who, while they did not bring charges against him or his associates, investigated their actions and outlined problematic practices, some of which led to new city laws limiting certain fundraising activities that the mayor and his team engaged in. De Blasio has claimed that he and his aides have held themselves to the highest standards, but he has regularly raised those standards when pushed.

Part of the mayor’s pushback against criticisms has been that he and his associates have always had good motives, like expanding pre-kindergarten, and that a political nonprofit his allies ran to support his agenda disclosed more than required. Though he has been dogged by questions from members of the media, de Blasio readily points out that regular New Yorkers don’t often ask him about his fundraising practices or release of email records when they have the opportunity to question him at town halls or radio call-in segments.

“People never bring up the issues from the investigations, because I think there was a broad understanding in the public that there was an immense amount of scrutiny that found absolutely nothing wrong,” he said in a recent New York Magazine interview, mischaracterizing the facts given that while no charges were brought, prosecutors did indicate that the mayor and his associates had blurred or crossed ethical lines. “Everyday New Yorkers are much more concerned with kitchen-table issues. Some political insiders, maybe they’ve come to certain conclusions. But for everyday New Yorkers? They didn’t see anything wrong, and they’re right, because there wasn’t anything wrong.”

As de Blasio asks New Yorkers for four more years, ethics and transparency will continue to be a focus of criticism from his general election opponents and others, while the mayor will defend himself and attempt to point to stronger aspects of his record. But the record of how he and his administration have conducted themselves when it comes to playing by the rules, separating political fundraising and governing, and providing the public with both ethical and transparent government is very much worth chronicling and examining as voters evaluate their choices this November.

Mayoral spokespeople Eric Phillips and Austin Finan agreed to speak with Gotham Gazette for this story, but, other than a brief conversation to discuss the premise of the article, no comment was provided.

The most recent Quinnipiac University public opinion poll that included a question about de Blasio's ethics, published at the end of July, showed New York City voters saying 52 to 35 percent that he is honest and trustworthy, down from 59 to 31 percent in May. Still, the 52 was up from the lowest rating de Blasio has received in a Quinnipiac poll over his four years as mayor: amid intense controversy in May 2016, 43 percent said he is honest and trustworthy, while 45 percent said he is not. The highest de Blasio's honesty was rated by voters eight months into his tenure, when the balance was 66 to 22 in his favor.

Selective Transparency
In his former role as public advocate, de Blasio championed transparency and took the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to task for its apparent lack thereof. De Blasio disclosed meetings with lobbyists and implemented tools to track Freedom of Information Law requests, while criticizing the Bloomberg administration for its lax FOIL response time.

Fast forward nearly four years and the same official who urged increased disclosure by Bloomberg has been reticent to show the same commitment in his own operations on FOIL responsiveness speed and other things like police discipline records and emails with top non-governmental advisors. For example, as public advocate, de Blasio recommended legislation requiring the mayor to include FOIL response statistics in the annual Mayor’s Management Report, but it is not something de Blasio has done as mayor himself.

Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, de Blasio's second-in-command, recently conceded at a New York Law School breakfast that the administration could improve it's record on FOIL requests. "I don't think we've done as good as job on that as we could have," he said, Politico New York reported. "But I can't tell you we've gotten good enough. ... Our open data initiative has been, I think, one of the stronger ones in the country. ... Fundamentally, the more data that we can put out there so people don't have to say, 'May I,' but can do their own analytics, is the way to do."

On August 23, at the first of two mayoral debates in the Democratic primary, de Blasio was asked by debate panelist and NY1 reporter Grace Rauh about steps he would take to improve transparency in a second term, should he be reelected, or if he considered any improvements unnecessary. As he often does, the mayor disagreed with the premise of the question, and pivoted toward touting his record on transparency. “Anytime a lobbyist lobbied me on behalf of a third party I put that up online so that people know exactly who talked to me when. I did that,” de Blasio said. “No other mayor’s done that before in our history. I’m in favor of the kind of transparency that’s gonna make life different for everyday New Yorkers like body cameras for all of our patrol officers over the next two years. This is one of the ultimate acts of transparency and accountability in government.”

He added, “Past administrations did not disclose all sorts of things. I’ve made it a point to be open about disclosure. Some areas where I disagree specifically I do not think it was appropriate to disclose but compared to previous administrations we’ve gone a long way and a lot farther in terms of openness and disclosure and transparency....No mayor previously had that level of transparency and I’m very proud of the fact that we put that in place in the city. When it comes to tough questions, well it’s a tough job as part of what I’d expect as mayor of New York City.”

It was a far from satisfactory answer for de Blasio’s only opponent on the debate stage, former City Council Member Sal Albanese. “I’m just incredulous,” Albanese responded. “This administration is the least transparent administration in recent history,” he added (it is not an easy comparison to make).

“We should have a higher standard for the mayor than not being indicted,” Albanese said repeatedly during the debates and the primary campaign.

Government watchdog groups have also found that de Blasio reneged on his campaign pledges around core good governance, though there has been acknowledgement that the administration has implemented certain policies that have enhanced transparency, including related to data generated by city government.

For instance, the city has continued and expanded the implementation of the Open Data law, launching a redesigned online portal with thousands of datasets available to the public. The administration has launched OpenRECORDS, a centralized website to file and track FOIL requests with numerous city agencies. These advancements, while notable, do not capture the full picture of mayoral transparency, however.

Early on in his term, the mayor began limiting interactions with the press, eschewing the daily news briefings that previous mayors had traditionally held and restricting occasions when he would take “off-topic” questions. It earned him scorn from detractors in and out of the media, and, almost cyclically, reinforced his derision for reporters who grew frustrated with the dearth of unfettered, unscripted responses to their questions.

“There’s a Trump-like quality in his whining about the media,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, CUNY. “He’s got the same disease as the President.”

“There’s a lot the citizenry could find praiseworthy in his record,” Muzzio added, “but the two main issues are his transparency and political ethics, and his sense of self-aggrandizement where everything is ‘historic’ and ‘transformative.’ The problem is the distance between rhetoric and reality.”

Muzzio also noted that the administration has released a lot more data than previous mayoralties, which has been useful for analysis of city agencies. “It’s the personal transparency, rather than institutional transparency, that’s lacking,” Muzzio said of de Blasio.

One example of rhetoric versus reality was a promotional video put out in December 2016 by City Hall that touted the administration’s accomplishments, as it was mired in the two investigations that had captured headlines for months. Good government groups criticized the mayor at the time for effectively putting out a campaign ad shortly before the start of an election year during which government-funded advertisements would have been prohibited. The mayor fielded questions about the ad for weeks and grew frustrated by another example of what he has perceived as reporters’ fixation on trivial matters at the expense of spreading all the “good news” that is happening as a result of his policies.

At the August 23 debate, prompted by NY1’s Rauh, de Blasio pledged that he would not set up another issue-advocacy nonprofit like the Campaign for One New York, which was at the center of one of the two investigations into his administration. It was something the mayor had previously said he didn’t plan to do and had in fact signed a new law making virtually impossible. In making the pledge, he reiterated that he faced tough questions about his ethical conduct purely because he was willing to voluntarily disclose who had donated to the nonprofit group and how much.

“If you know you did things right you disclose,” he said. “If you’ve got something to hide, you don’t disclose. That’s what we did over and over again with donations that we did not have a legal obligation to disclose but we went ahead and disclosed anyway and I’m proud of that fact.”

But, the mayor’s approach to disclosure has been highly selective. For the better part of two years, media outlets have pushed, and NY1 and the New York Post even sued, the administration for access to emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and unpaid outside advisors. The mayor’s team has shielded those communications, terming the advisors “agents of the city” who would not be subject to disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law that typically apply to correspondence between government officials and non-government entities. Exceptions to FOIL exist for intra-governmental communication that is part of the decision-making process, but de Blasio and his team argued that the advisors were so close to City Hall and the mayor that they were de facto members of the administration.

Eventually, the mayor relented to an extent, and troves of emails, numbering in the thousands and many of them significantly redacted, have been released on numerous occasions, usually in Friday “news dumps.” The administration is still in court appealing the decision to release the emails, but the mayor pledged in March to release all communications going forward. The emails have not shown wrongdoing, but rather painted the administration, and the mayor particularly, in an unflattering light at times. Some showed de Blasio’s harsh treatment of underlings while others revealed his proximity and degree of access afforded to donors, including controversial ones.

Watchdogs have pointed out that with the Campaign for One New York and the “agents of the city,” de Blasio has created his own problems by blurring lines and limiting transparency. By inviting massive donations to the nonprofit from entities with city business, de Blasio opened the door to pay-to-play allegations, and even the federal investigation. Under intense scrutiny, the mayor wound up promising extensive evidence of donors who did not get favorable treatment from city government -- a promise he eventually admitted he regretted -- but after months of delays, he produced a column on the online publishing platform Medium that left many wanting for more detail.

Big Money for the ‘Right’ Causes
As public advocate, de Blasio urged big corporations to adopt policies against funding political action committees and organized elected officials dedicated to that cause. He filed a legal brief in federal court arguing against the removal of limits to donations to PACs and he railed against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed untold amounts of money from undisclosed donors to flood electoral campaigns.

“Deep-pocketed donors have turned their sights on New York and our best-in-the-nation campaign finance system,” de Blasio said, in a statement on Oct. 3, 2013, when he filed the amicus brief. “They’re determined to upend protections that have safeguarded our democratic process for decades. This is about more than one election. It’s about defending the voices of everyday New Yorkers. It’s a fight we are going to win.”

While de Blasio has continued to rail against Citizens United and call for full public campaign financing, the mayor has not aggressively pursued such a system in New York and the same politician who has long decried wealthy moneyed interests influencing government relied on them to promote his own political agenda while mayor.

De Blasio came into office with a come-from-behind primary win and a general election landslide. He had the wind at his back and attempted to take on the world, so to speak. This led to the creation of the controversial nonprofit and a 2014 effort to swing the state Senate Democratic that got him in trouble, along with other actions that have hurt his reputation for openness and clean government.

Within a month of the mayor’s election, his allies set up a political nonprofit group called UPKNYC, later branded The Campaign for One New York, to promote the goal of universal pre-kindergarten in the city, which in part depended on state-level approval. After achieving its initial goal -- de Blasio favored a tax on the rich to fund the proposal but settled for direct funding from the state -- the group pivoted to promoting the mayor’s affordable housing plan. All along, the 501(c)4 organization solicited unlimited donations, many from wealthy donors and labor unions that also had business with the city. The group did voluntarily disclose its finances and donors every six months.

Scrutiny of its activities, and the mayor’s fundraising for it and possible exchange of government favors, helped trigger one of the two separate corruption investigations, a federal probe into allegations of pay-to-play at City Hall --- the second was a state-level inquiry into whether the mayor’s attempt to sway state Senate races for Democratic candidates in 2014 had violated election law by funneling big donations to candidate campaigns through local Democratic committees.

The mayor maintained throughout that he and his associates had acted under strict legal guidance and had followed the letter of the law, and both probes eventually concluded with no charges. But the stench of scandal remained as the Manhattan U.S. attorney concluded that the mayor, though not crossing into clear criminal activity, had sought contributions from donors and then had “made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies” on behalf of those donors.

De Blasio defended this as typical practice and even good government -- that any constituent, whether a donor or not, who brings a concern to him is directed to someone in the administration who may be able to help, but that the relevant powers make decisions based on the merits, not relationships. What has been abundantly clear, however, is that de Blasio donors have enjoyed special access to and attention from the mayor and his administration.

De Blasio also regularly made the case that the ends justified the means, that because he was fighting for universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing, his skirting of campaign finance rules and blurring of lines was acceptable. The contradiction became especially evident when de Blasio agreed to sign legislation pushed by the City Council, notably Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a close de Blasio ally, to drastically limit political nonprofits with ties to elected officials. De Blasio would explain that it was “the right thing to do” but did lament that he felt it might hamstring progressive politicians with good intentions like himself in the ongoing fight against opposing big-money interests.

At the second Democratic mayoral primary debate on September 6, debate moderator Maurice DuBois of CBS-2 put the mayor on his heels with the first question, about his apparent ethical failings. “Mr. de Blasio, here’s a true story,” DuBois began. “A political leader and his associates used pay-for-play tactics...but were not charged with a crime. However, state and federal prosecutors insist those people did violate the intent and spirit of the law. While there were no criminal charges, would you want people like that working for you?”

A defensive de Blasio again stood by his administration’s efforts and the policy goals that they achieved, and insisted that he and his associates had been vindicated by the intense scrutiny by prosecutors that nevertheless found no wrongdoing. “I look at everything that we’ve done and I’m very convinced that high standards were kept to and the results speak for themselves in terms of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we’ve improved,” he said. “That’s what I came here to do, make people’s lives better.”

Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, said she is “torn” over the mayor’s first-term scandals. “Part of me is just wondering, ‘is this the cost of doing business as a politician in the 21st century if you’re not a billionaire?’” she said, drawing a contrast with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg who did not have to depend on donors for his own campaigns. “Part of me thinks, ‘Well if you don’t have billions to contribute on your own, do you possibly have to get that from unsavory characters and make alliances and depend on people who have resources?’ But the other part of me wonders, ‘Wow, it seems like we’re always asking about some sort of potential wrongdoing.’”

Greer’s conflict seems to be indicative of that of at least several prominent Democrats, including officials like Comptroller Scott Stringer, who criticized the Campaign for One New York as a “slush fund” but wound up endorsing the mayor for reelection, citing his progressivism in fighting inequality. For some time, Stringer was considering a mayoral run, either against de Blasio or in the event de Blasio did not seek reelection due to results from the investigations that did not materialize.

Greer emphasized that de Blasio’s ethics record should not be conflated with his transparency, even though the two are sometimes drawn in “concentric circles.” She noted that de Blasio’s refusal to take questions from the press simply raises more concerns about what else he isn’t being transparent about. “I genuinely do not understand why there are times that de Blasio makes life much harder for himself than he has to...He brought that on himself,” she said. She did agree that perhaps everyday New Yorkers don’t care about issues of transparency that “get into the weeds,” but said he couldn’t dismiss the concerns of those who do. “By you not wanting to answer it, you can’t wish it away by saying nobody’s interested,” she said. “Yes, we are interested.”

De Blasio’s criticism of and condescension towards the media was on full display in the column he wrote on Medium, where he attempted to defend himself against pay-to-play allegations and special access for donors. The column, promised by de Blasio more than a year prior, was meant to illustrate instances of donors who sought favors from the administration but were denied. In the face of allegations and investigations, de Blasio had promised “a whole lot of evidence” of donors not getting the action they desired from the city. De Blasio provided little evidence in his Medium column, but went after the media with gusto.

“Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City,” de Blasio wrote of the coverage of his contact with donors. “Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”

The column contained few examples and no names, and largely blamed the media for over-inflating the scandals that have plagued de Blasio’s tenure. “It was a non-explanation, he gave a few examples of dubious quality,” Muzzio said with an exasperated sigh, noting how the mayor looked down his nose at the press.

Some top Democratic elected officials have been hesitant to criticize the mayor openly, save for Stringer and a few others. Public Advocate Letitia James, de Blasio’s successor and whose office is meant to serve as a watchdog over city government, declined to comment for this article through a spokesperson. James has largely stayed away from questions about de Blasio’s ethics and transparency issues, explaining her approach as more focused on the substance of agency work and using litigation and legislation to make policy change.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, ostensibly the second-most powerful elected official in the city, deflected when asked about the mayor’s defense of the Campaign for One New York and his transparency, at a news conference on Sept. 7, when the mayor’s ethics record was being argued over both on the primary election debate stage and throughout the ongoing race for mayor.

“We continue to have conversations in this Council and we continue to look at legislation to figure out how we can be more transparent,” she said. “That doesn’t just fall on the mayor, that falls on all of us to be more transparent in government.”

Mark-Viverito emphasized the Council’s measures to improve the Campaign Finance Board’s functioning and the laws governing campaign fundraising and spending. “Being a candidate and being an elected official is not easy,” she said. “The CFB rules are extremely complicated to follow and sometimes to keep track of and so sometimes you can get a little bit lost in them.”

When Gotham Gazette pointed out that the mayor’s Campaign for One New York operated outside of the CFB’s purview and asked if looking back on it she felt it was still ethical for the mayor to have created the group, Mark-Viverito said, “I’m not gonna respond to that at this moment. I haven’t really focused on it as of late. Again, what we strive to do is to be accountable to our constituents and that’s what I have been doing as an elected official, that’s what we do each and everyday and I’m gonna continue to strive down that path.”

Though she was quite reticent to weigh in on the issue when it was most relevant, Mark-Viverito did eventually spearhead the writing and passage of the legislation to rein in groups like Campaign for One New York, forcing the mayor’s hand on a measure that ensures few like it will ever exist in the future, given several new restrictions, like severe limits on what entities with city business can donate to nonprofits closely associated with an elected official. Even during that legislative process, Mark-Viverito, largely a de Blasio ally, took pains not to criticize the mayor directly, while tacitly and legislatively showing her disapproval. In signing the legislation, de Blasio refused to acknowledge that he had made any mistakes, but touted it as good legislation further reigning in money in politics.

Council Member Mark Levine, who is among a number of members running to be the next speaker of the Council, also gave a quasi-defense of the mayor. “I think he has to be judged by the fact that there was extensive scrutiny with considerable resources at multiple levels of government, local and federal, that left no stone unturned and determined there was not ground to charge,” he told Gotham Gazette, “and that at the end of the day is the most important standard and one that he justifiably touts, particularly in light of the months of leaks which gave him bad press for issues which ultimately were not deemed sufficient to charge on.”

But multiple City Council members, who did not wish to be named, felt differently. Separately, they gave similar opinions to one another, criticizing the mayor’s hypocrisy on transparency, his handling of the “agents of the city” emails, and his continued arrogance over escaping an indictment.

One Council member said the mayor was “vulnerable” on issues of transparency and that he faced “justifiable criticism” over his shielding of his emails, which did not seem at all legally defensible. The months of bad headlines, said the Council member, led to a “bunker mentality” and the mayor and his associates dug in their heels deeper. (Indeed, de Blasio has reopened himself to many more press questions since the investigations ended.)

Two Council members said the mayor’s shielding of his emails was largely an exercise in protecting his image rather than hiding instances of corruption. “It’s clear they are well aware of who their friends are,” said one member, of the mayor’s relationship with donors. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the contents of some of the “agents of the city” emails are especially gossipy and embarrassing.

Another Council member commended the press as the institution, more so than the City Council, that has most held the mayor accountable, and criticized the mayor for attacking the media’s reportage. The member noted that the Council did not use its subpoena power and did not act on the Campaign for One New York until after Common Cause NY, a good government group, filed an official complaint with the Campaign Finance Board.

That Council member also critiqued the mayor for not revealing who administration officials hold meetings with, an issue on which de Blasio had campaigned, and for not fully implementing the online FOIL portal. On the mayor’s Medium post, the Council member said, “It’s a little too cute to tell folks exactly who did what without using their names.”

‘Backwards on Police Transparency’
In April 2013, then-Public Advocate de Blasio released a “Transparency Report Card” that evaluated 18 city agencies on their response to FOIL requests. The two agencies that received a failing grade were the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the NYPD. A Village Voice analysis from April of the de Blasio administration’s handling of FOIL records showed that little had changed in more than three years. “A review of thousands of pages of FOIL records shows the city’s system for handling public information requests remains haphazard, under-resourced, and often excruciatingly slow. And the mayor’s own office is the slowest of all,” the report reads.

The mayor’s earlier criticism of the NYPD’s opaqueness perhaps most smacks of hypocrisy to police reform advocates who say his administration has not only not made progress, but actually backtracked on transparency at the police department. The NYPD, and then de Blasio, last year contended that successive administrations had for decades misinterpreted Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Code, which protects the personnel records of police officers from public disclosure. As the department saw it, the law prevents them from releasing “personnel orders” that summarize disciplinary actions taken against officers. These orders had routinely been released until the revised policy was put in place, and the city has fought tooth and nail to uphold its reinterpretation of the law, even appealing an unfavorable judicial ruling, and has pointed to the need for the state to change the law.  

“The de Blasio administration has taken the city backwards on police transparency and accountability with its misuse of state law 50-a to conceal information,” said Lumumba Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocacy groups. Bandele noted that, though the mayor released a proposal to change the law in Albany, there was little evidence that the administration made it a priority in this year’s legislative session. “On policing, this administration is misusing the law as an excuse for being less transparent than those of Bloomberg and Giuliani,” she added, “allowing the NYPD to shield police abuse and corruption from public scrutiny, and failing to provide leadership to improve police accountability and transparency.”

The notion -- that the de Blasio administration has been worse about NYPD transparency and accountability -- is one that was also echoed this year by City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is a de Blasio supporter overall.

Scrutiny and Change
Undoubtedly, scrutiny of the mayor’s actions led to change in his behavior. He stopped communicating with top lobbyists who were close to him and began to limit government-related interaction with outside consultants, particularly Jonathan Rosen, a confidante who was involved in the mayor’s 2013 campaign and the Campaign for One New York, and whose firm is again working on the mayor’s 2017 reelection bid. The scandals also prompted the legislation by the City Council -- which the mayor signed into law -- regulating donations to nonprofit groups affiliated with elected officials and requiring disclosure by these groups under the oversight of the Conflicts of Interest Board. And, de Blasio changed his “agency of the city” email transparency policy as he continues to battle in court to keep past emails secret.

But it’s unclear if the mayor, who won his primary handily and is expected to coast to reelection through the general, will take substantive steps to be more transparent. “[If] he gets a second term, I can’t see him as a lame duck being more transparent, so I think that’s a concern,” said Greer.

There’s no doubt that de Blasio’s general election opponents, chiefly Republican Nicole Malliotakis, a state Assembly member from Staten Island, will continue to make de Blasio’s ethics a focus of the campaign. The question remains, though, how much voters care. Political analysts note that most voters do not vote based on transparency and ethics issues unless there is a major scandal that has led someone to jail. Voters often vote based on “pocket book” and “kitchen table” issues like jobs, schools, and crime -- a point de Blasio himself regularly acknowledges at least tacitly.

Council Member Brad Lander, who was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation regulating political nonprofits, said it was more constructive to focus on the political system that allows, and in some way encourages, reliance on wealthy donors. “If we want elected officials in New York City to live up to a higher standard of good government, then the best approach is to strengthen our own rules,” he said. “That’s more valuable than focusing on individuals.”

This article is part of a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. Find all pieces of the series here.



November 2013: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio gets elected mayor of New York City after running a campaign in which he promised an unprecedented level of transparency in government. As Public Advocate, de Blasio issued a “Transparency Report Card” evaluating city agencies on their response to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. He chiefly criticized the NYPD for their lax FOIL response times, giving them a failing grade in his report.

December 2013: De Blasio’s allies set up UPKNYC, also known as the Campaign for One New York, an issue-advocacy nonprofit -- classified by the IRS as 501(c)(4)s -- that could solicit unlimited contributions and spend unlimited funds to promote the mayor’s agenda, namely promoting universal pre-kindergarten. Under law, the nonprofit was not required to disclose its donors. The mayor’s associates later set up another nonprofit called United For Affordable NYC, to promote his affordable housing plan. The Campaign for One New York eventually became the locus of two parallel investigations by federal and state prosecutors into the mayor’s fundraising practices and his effort to sway state Senate races in 2014.

July 2014: The Campaign for One New York voluntarily discloses its fundraising and donors to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and to the public, despite not being required to do so, showing $1.76 million in donations, a lot of which came from labor unions that have been big supporters of the mayor and from groups that do business with the city. The mayor faced scrutiny for allowing doing business donors to give unlimited amounts, whereas those same donors would’ve been limited in how much they could contribute to a campaign committee. The Campaign for One New York later shifted its focus towards the mayor’s larger progressive agenda, particularly affordable housing, after having already achieved the goal of funding universal pre-kindergarten in the city.

May 2015: De Blasio heads to Washington D.C. to launch “The Progressive Agenda,” a platform of progressive policies that he attempted to advocate for at the national level to try to influence issues in the presidential race. Another nonprofit, the Progressive Agenda Committee, is set up by October 2015 to helm the project. The group would have little to no impact before shutting down within less than a year, only making headlines for an aborted attempt at holding a presidential candidate forum in Iowa in December 2015.

The same day de Blasio was in Washington, the New York Times reports that the Campaign for One New York has come under scrutiny by JCOPE for not registering as a lobbying entity. In 2014, UPKNYC had registered as a lobbyist to promote universal pre-k.

July 2015: Yet again, the Campaign for One New York discloses its fundraising, showing another $1.7 million in fundraising over a six-month period. The donations came from unions, lobbyists, wealthy donors and real estate executives. A Politico New York analysis in September shows that 46 of 74 donors “either had business or labor contracts with City Hall or were trying to secure approval for a project when they contributed, public records show.” Over the next few months, de Blasio faces constant questioning about potential conflicts of interest and the perception of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall. The nonprofit groups also seem to slow down their operations and fundraising amid increased criticism.

Feb 2016: Common Cause New York, a government reform advocacy group, files a complaint with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board, requesting investigations of the Campaign for One New York and United for Affordable NYC. “The Mayor's unprecedented use of 501(c)(4) fundraising has spawned a shadow government that raises serious questions about who has influence and access to the policymaking process,” Common Cause NY said in a statement at the time. “It has created a perpetual campaign, confusing the role of government and politics, to the detriment of the public interest.”

March 2016: The Campaign for One New York announces plans to close down as the spectre of pay-to-play allegations begins to hound the administration. United for Affordable NYC ends operations in conjunction, but the Progressive Agenda Committee continues to exist with minimal staff.

April 2016: Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara reportedly begins looking into two de Blasio donors, in connection with a separate corruption case involving the NYPD. Both donors contributed to the mayor’s campaign as well and were part of his inauguration committee. CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reports that Bharara’s office had started focusing on the mayor’s fundraising practices. Mayor de Blasio, saying he was unaware of any federal investigation, says on April 11, “I’m not going to be speaking about this after today.”

On April 22, the New York Daily News reports on a leaked memo from the state Board of Elections regarding the mayor’s 2014 efforts to help Democrats win the state Senate. The memo alleges that de Blasio and his team circumvented campaign contribution limits to benefit three Democratic campaigns, thereby warranting criminal prosecution. (It would later emerge that the memo was released by a Republican BOE spokesperson.)

On April 28, after de Blasio’s counsel confirms having received subpoenas in parallel state and federal investigations into the mayor’s fundraising, de Blasio maintains his innocence. “Everything we’ve done from the beginning is legal and appropriate,” he said. “There’s an investigation going on, we’re going to fully cooperate with that investigation.”

May 2016: A lawyer for the Campaign for One New York tells JCOPE that the nonprofit would stop complying with subpoenas, suggesting that the probe into CONY has become politically motivated.

On May 18, Mayor de Blasio promises to produce a list of donors who contributed to the Campaign for One New York but did not receive favors from City Hall, insisting that his administration makes decision based on merit and not on favoritism.

The same month, de Blasio comes under fire for shielding his email exchanges with five unpaid outside advisers, some of whom have business with the city. The administration terms them “agents of the city” and argues that they are exempt from disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law.

June 2016: The administration releases selected emails from outside consultants to Politico New York, in response to long-pending FOIL requests.

July 2016: The New York City Campaign Finance Board rules that the Campaign for One New York did not violate campaign finance law and that donations and spending by the group do not count towards the mayor’s 2017 reelection campaign. But, the board criticized the mayor’s fundraising practices, which they saw as circumventing the city’s strict campaign finance restrictions, and called on the City Council to pass legislation to close the loophole.  

“New York City’s system depends on reasonable contribution limits that reduce the appearance that influence can be bought or sold through campaign contributions,” said then-CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn. “It defies common sense that limits that work so well during the campaign should be set aside once the candidate has assumed elected office.”

August 2016: A battle brewing in the background for months over NYPD officers’ disciplinary records came front and center as the New York Daily News reported that the department would no longer release “personnel orders” summarizing disciplinary actions against officers. Then-Commissioner Bill Bratton insisted that the city had long misinterpreted a decades-old state law -- Section 50-A of the New York State civil rights code-- that had led to the release of officer records. The law has been a particular sticking point for police reform advocates incensed over the administration’s efforts to protect the disciplinary record of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a banned chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014. Mayor de Blasio, whose administration has been fighting for well over two years to shield Pantaleo’s record, insisted his hands were tied on 50-A unless the state Legislature took action to change the provision.

At an unrelated news conference in late August, de Blasio said he had stopped meeting with lobbyists, chiefly James Capalino, a top lobbyist and advisor to the mayor. “He, going into the mayoralty, was someone I respected as a friend and who I talked to a lot over the years,” de Blasio said. “But I do not have contact with him anymore.”

September 2016: Two media outlets -- NY1 and the New York Post -- sue the mayor for the release of emails exchanged with Jonathan Rosen, of the consulting firm Berlin Rosen, who is one of the mayor’s “agents of the city.”

That month, the City Council begins drafting legislation to regulate political nonprofits like the Campaign for One New York. Multiple bills were formulated to implement additional disclosure rules for these groups and to bring them under the purview of the Conflicts of Interest Board.

October 2016: After weeks of criticizing the New York Post for their coverage of his administration, de Blasio repeatedly ignores Post reporter Yoav Gonen’s questions at an October 6 news conference. Gonen presses on with questions, leading to heated words from the mayor, who calls the Post a “right-wing rag” before moving on to other reporters. The incident earns the mayor widespread condemnation from local media.

That same month, amid increasing criticism over the administration’s stance on Section 50-A, de Blasio releases a legislative proposal calling on Albany to amend the law to remove confidentiality provisions and make the full disciplinary records of officer available to the public. “Without significant changes to this statute, the city remains barred from providing New Yorkers with the transparency we deserve," the mayor said.

November 2016: The Council introduces legislation to curb political nonprofits, particularly limiting contributions from entities and individuals with business before the city. Nonprofit groups would also have to disclose their donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.

On November 23, the administration releases thousands of pages of emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and Jonathan Rosen, who was among those classified as “agents of the city” to prevent disclosure.

At a November 29 news conference, de Blasio indicated to the press that he had reduced contact with Rosen. “I think it’s fair to say that it’s pretty rare I’m talking to people, but each situation is individual,” he said at the time.

December 2016: On his weekly appearance on NY1 on December 5, de Blasio tells anchor Errol Louis that his communications with outside advisors and consultants will no longer be shielded from disclosure.  

On December 15, the New York Times reports that two grand juries have been convened to hear testimony on the state and federal investigations into the mayor’s administration and fundraising. De Blasio continues to maintain that he and his associates acted legally and appropriately, following guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board and from campaign lawyers.

March 2017: Federal and state prosecutors jointly announced on March 17 that de Blasio and his aides would not face charges in the dual year-long investigations into the administration. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance criticized the mayor in a statement, saying that de Blasio and his associates violated the spirit and intent of the campaign finance law. Joon H. Kim, acting-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, noted that the investigation looked into “several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the City, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors.”

De Blasio, at a news conference that day, said the conclusion of the investigations “simply confirms what I’ve said all along. My staff and my colleagues and I have acted in a manner that was legal and appropriate and ethical throughout. This is something I feel very strongly about in public service – that we have to comport ourselves in the proper manner and we have done that, and that has been confirmed by the results of this investigation.”

Also in March, a Manhattan appeals court rules in favor of the de Blasio administration in the case of Officer Pantaleo’s disciplinary record, superseding two earlier lower court decisions that had allowed the release of some information.

April 2017: After months of delaying his promise to provide a list of donors who did not receive favored treatment from City Hall, de Blasio partly backtracks and insists that he will pen an op-ed by the end of April that would mention certain relevant instances. (He had been hesitant to release the list earlier, citing the ongoing investigations.)

August 2017: The de Blasio administration releases more emails that show two donors who were embroiled in a police corruption scandal had relatively easy access to the mayor.  

At the first Democratic mayoral primary debate on August 23, de Blasio concedes that the op-ed on donors is forthcoming and would be released before the September 12 primary. On September 1, de Blasio delivers in the form of a post on Medium, an online publishing website. The post reads more as a screed against the media and contains only four instances involving unnamed donors to illustrate the mayor’s point. Some of those had emerged from emails released by the administration earlier in the month.

“Media reports on these contacts fixated on their access to me and ignored the fair and transparent outcomes that followed,” the mayor writes. “Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City. Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”

September 6: The second mayoral primary debate begins with a heavy focus on de Blasio’s ethics.

September 12: De Blasio handily wins the Democratic primary for mayor.

November 7: Election Day


This article is part of a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. Find all pieces of the series here.

by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

De Blasio’s Record on Ethics and Transparency Sun, 22 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
The Mayoral Money Race as the General Election Heats Up bo dietl voting crop

Bo Dietl (photo: @BoDietl)

Six weeks from now, on November 7, New Yorkers will head to the polls to decide whether to renew the contract of Mayor Bill de Blasio, or if they want new leadership from one of the incumbent Democrat’s opponents in the general election.

The latest mayoral race poll, from NBC 4 New York/Marist, was released on September 19 and shows de Blasio well ahead of his main challengers -- Republican nominee Nicole Malliotakis and independent candidate Bo Dietl. De Blasio received 65 percent from likely voters, including undecided ones, while Malliotakis received 18 percent and Dietl 8 percent. Sal Albanese, a former City Council member and lost by a wide margin to de Blasio in the Democratic primary, will also be on the ballot on the Reform Party line, but he was not included in the poll. Michael Tolkin, another runner-up to de Blasio in the primary, has also created a separate general election ballot line called “Smart Cities,” while several other candidates will also be on the November ballot, such as Green Party mayoral nominee Akeem Browder.

Coming out of primary day with a massive win, securing 74.2 percent of the vote, de Blasio continues to hold a strong fundraising advantage, and his spending on an extensive ground game and media campaign has overshadowed his opponents. The most recent campaign finance filings, covering the period between August 29 and September 18, show the mayor raising campaign cash at a comfortable clip, with a majority of contributions under $175, which qualify to be matched at a 6-to-1 ratio under the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program.

De Blasio raised just over $272,000 in this last filing period, and his campaign expects that to reach $400,000 with the second round of payouts of public matching funds. This period also coincided with the rollout of a massive ad buy for his campaign, resulting in more than $3 million in expenditures. Of that expenditure, $2.51 million went to airing television ads and $175,000 to digital ads. Overall, the mayor has raised $5.25 million, and received $2.86 million in public matching funds before the September 12 primary. Having spent $5.78 million so far, he has about $2.34 million in cash on hand, with new public money expected soon.

“Our campaign’s grassroots fundraising has only picked up the pace since our strong showing on Primary Day,” said Rick Fromberg, de Blasio’s campaign manager, in a statement that also touted the mayor’s first-term record on crime, affordable housing, and pre-kindergarten.

Malliotakis, a state Assemblymember who represents parts of Staten Island and a sliver of Brooklyn, has also stepped up her fundraising, coming close to de Blasio in this last period with $241,000 in contributions. She spent nearly $300,000 in the same period, of which about $200,000 went to television ads. Malliotakis has struggled to garner name recognition outside of her home borough of Staten Island, with 49 percent of likely voters in the NBC 4 New York/Marist Poll saying they had never heard of her and 17 percent saying they were unsure of how to rate her.

Her campaign has not taken off in terms of fundraising, but it is buoyed by having hit the threshold for public matching funds, and is expecting a $1.6 million payout from the CFB later this week. By qualifying for the funds, “we open a whole new chapter in my campaign to retire Bill de Blasio,” Malliotakis said in a statement. “New Yorkers understand that Bill de Blasio has failed New York City and its residents, that’s why we are receiving the donations needed to turn this race into a competitive election.”

In total, Malliotakis has raised more than $734,412 and spent $571,462, leaving her just $162,950 in her campaign account without public funds. She also surpassed the dual thresholds of campaign expenditure and spending and required poll numbers to face de Blasio on the stage for two official CFB-sponsored debates ahead of the general election. The first is scheduled for Tuesday, October 10, just two weeks from now.

Dietl, the Trump-like former NYPD detective who runs his own private investigation firm, raised just under $20,000 in the last filing period and spent about $80,000. Unlike the other candidates, Dietl did not purchase any ads and has largely relied on social media to get his message out. He has raised just over $1 million overall (including $100,000 from a personal loan he gave his campaign) and spent a little more than $800,000, leaving him with $208,898. He is not participating in the public matching program, so he will not receive any additional funds through the Campaign Finance Board.

Albanese’s campaign has been a small-dollar affair throughout. In the last filing period, he raised just $6,360 and spent $4,424. Much of Albanese’s campaign cash was depleted last month when he made big expenditures to qualify for the Democratic primary debates. Since he joined the race, he has managed to raise $214,141 and has spent $190,081, leaving $24,060 in his coffers.

There are more than a dozen other candidates also running for mayor. Tolkin raised about $234,000 in contributions and spent about $192,000 in his latest filing. Tolkin’s filings also show $5.4 million in total fundraising and expenditures but a majority of that falls under “in-kind” contributions, in the form of services and branded merchandising that Tolkin claimed for his campaign.

The Green Party’s Akeem Browder, brother of Kalief Browder -- the young Bronx man who was imprisoned on Rikers Island for three years on charges of stealing a backpack that were later dropped, beaten and put in solitary confinement, and later committed suicide after being released. Browder, who has criticized de Blasio’s ten-year timeline for closing the scandal-ridden Rikers jail complex, has raised $1,887 and spent just $100.

Libertarian candidate Aaron Commey has raised $2,001 and spent $1,111.

by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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The Mayoral Money Race as the General Election Heats Up Mon, 25 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
2017 New York City Primary Election Results nyc votes i voted sticker

NYC Votes sticker, design by Marie Dagata and Scott Heinz

Mayor Bill de Blasio prevailed convincingly in the Democratic primary Tuesday as he seeks a second term. De Blasio was facing four challengers, most prominently former City Council Member Sal Albanese. With 98% of precincts reporting, de Blasio had secured 74.4% of the vote, to Albanese’s 15.4%, and Michael Tolkin’s 4.7%, Robert Gangi’s 3.1%, and Richard Bashner’s 2.4%. De Blasio had about 317,000 votes; Albanese with about 65,450 in a very low turnout election, where about 15% of more than 3 million registered Democrats cast ballots.

There was no Republican primary for mayor as Nicole Malliotakis will be the party's nominee for the general election. Malliotakis and independent candidate Bo Dietl both made a last-minute push to win the Reform Party nomination through write-in votes allowed by the "opportunity to ballot" that had been filed ahead of primary day despite the fact that the Reform Party had endorsed Albanese. The results of that challenge will be determined soon, but Albanese said Tuesday evening he had held on to the line.

There was also no Republican primary for the other citywide positions of Public Advocate and Comptroller -- the general election GOP nominees will be J.C. Polanco and Michel Faulkner, respectively. There was no Democratic primary for Comptroller, incumbent Scott Stringer moves ahead to the general election in search of a second term.

In the Democratic primary for Public Advocate, incumbent Letitia James easily won. James had nearly 77% of the vote, with 277,405 votes, to David Eisenbach’s 23% and 84,457 votes. Eisenbach's campaign never got far off the ground as the Columbia professor attempted a long-shot challenge based on his belief that James has not been a forceful enough check on de Blasio.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. won his primary with 86% of the vote. None of the other borough presidents had primaries.

Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, who took over after the death of Ken Thompson in 2016, won a resounding victory in a crowded Democratic primary that fully determines the race, given no general election competition. Gonzalez received about 53% of the vote with 98% of precincts reporting. The second place finisher was Anne Swern at 11.5%, followed by Marc Fliedner at 10%, Patricia Gatling at 9%, City Council Member Vincent Gentile at 9%, and Ama Dwimoh at 7%. [All numbers in this race and others may change slightly when all the votes are finally tallied.]

In general it was a big night for incumbents, led by de Blasio, James, Diaz Jr., and Gonzalez, but also down through the City Council, where several incumbents were facing tougher challengers than those bigger name officials.

One exception, however, is in City Council District 1, where Council Member Margaret Chin and challenger Christopher Marte finished the night in a race too close to call. With 100% of precincts reporting, Chin had 5,220 votes (46%) to Marte’s 5,020 (44%). Two other candidates combined for about 10% of the vote. It is unclear when the race may resolved given counting of affidavit and absentee ballots, or a potential recount.

Most of the City Council intrigue coming into the night was around the majority of the 10 “open” seats where an incumbent was not running. But there were about 15 competitive Council races.

Carlina Rivera won the District 2 race handily, with about 61% of the vote in a crowded primary to replace Rosie Mendez.

Keith Powers won the crowded District 4 primary in the race to replace Dan Garodnick with more than 41% of the vote. Marti Speranza came in second with about 23%.

District 8 is another race without a final conclusion as primary night ended. Diana Ayala had 3,646 votes to Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez’s 3,556 votes. Two other candidates combined for about 1,000 votes. Ayala declared victory shortly before midnight, however, though it had not been called by the Associated Press. Just after midnight, Rodriguez said the “race is far too close to call.”

An Ayala win would be considered an upset given Rodriguez’s stature as an elected official, and a boon for both City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who campaigned for Ayala, her aide, to replace her as the district’s representative, and Mayor de Blasio, who also endorsed Ayala. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Comptroller Scott Stringer had endorsed Rodriguez. Many other electeds were split in the race.

Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, who set spending records in his race, has won the Council District 13 race to replace James Vacca, with about 39% of the vote. Vacca’s preferred candidate, Marjorie Velazquez, won about 34%, and John Doyle came in third with about 19%. Two other candidates combined for about 8%.

Continuing the partial Albany exodus, State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. won the race to replace Annabel Palma in Council District 18 with about 42% of the vote. Amanda Farias earned about 21%, Elvin Garcia about 15%, Michael Beltzer about 14%, and William Moore about 9%.

In one of the most-watched races of the night, Assemblymember Francisco Moya won the District 21 race to replace Julissa Ferreras-Copeland over Hiram Monserrate. Moya earned about 56% of the vote to Monserrate’s 44%.

Adrienne Adams has won the race to fill the vacant seat left by former Council Member Ruben Wills, who was convicted on corruption charges this summer. She received about 39% of the vote to Richard David’s 32% and Hettie Powell’s 29%.

Mike Scala won a three-way Democratic primary to see who will challenge incumbent Republican Council Member Eric Ulrich in the general.

Brooklyn Council Member Laurie Cumbo won the Democratic primary with 58% to challenger Ede Fox’s 42%.

Notably, there was one Green Party primary, in Council District 35, which was won easily by Jabari Brisport, who will now attempt to unseat Cumbo in November.

In District 38, incumbent Carlos Menchaca won his primary with about 49% of the vote to Assemblymember Felix Ortiz’s 33%, Chris Miao’s 9%, Sara Gonzalez’s 6%, and Delvis Valdes’ 3%.

Incumbent Council Member Mathieu Eugene won his primary with 41% of the vote against Brian Cunningham’s 30% and Pia Raymond’s 22%. Jennifer Berkley earned 6%.

Alicak Ampry-Samuel won a crowded Democratic primary in District 41 where the field was competing to replace Darlene Mealy. Samuel won 31% of the vote, to Henry Butler’s 22%, Cory Provost’s 11%, and a number of other candidates between 9% and 3%.

In the District 43 Democratic primary, Justin Brannan prevailed, with about 39% of the vote, followed by Khader El-Yateem’s 31%, Nancy Tong’s 16%, Vincent Chirico’s 8%, and Kevin Carroll’s 6%.

The Southern Brooklyn district was also home to the one competitive Republican primary, which John Quaglione won. Quaglione won about 49% of the GOP vote, to Liam McCabe’s 32%, Rober Capano’s 15%, and Lucretia Regina-Potter’s 5%.

Brannan and Quaglione will now face off in one of the few competitive general election races in the city in District 43.

Incumbent Debi Rose won her primary against challenger Kamillah Hanks. Rose earned about 70% to Hanks’ 30%.

In other, less competitive races:
Manhattan incumbents Ben Kallos in District 5, Helen Rosenthal in District 6, Mark Levine in District 7, and Ydanis Rodriguez in District 10 all won handily. Rosenthal was thought to be facing a tough challenge from Mel Wymore, and the election was fierce, but Rosenthal won more than 65% of the vote in the high turnout district.

Council Member Bill Perkins, elected in a February special election, won the primary with about 50% of the vote against several competitors, most notably Marvin Holland, who earned about 20% of the vote.

Bronx incumbents Andy King in District 12; Fernando Cabrera in District 14; and Rafael Salamanca in District 17 all won their primaries.

Queens incumbents were victorious include Council Members Peter Koo in District 20; Barry Grodenchik in District 23; Rory Lancman in District 24; Daneek Miller in District 27; and Elizabeth Crowley in District 30.

Victorious Brooklyn incumbents include Council Members Antonio Reynoso in District 34; Inez Barron in District 42; Jumaane Williams in District 45; and Chaim Deutsch in District 48.

Districts not listed did not have any primary contest.

The general election will be Tuesday November 7.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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2017 New York City Primary Election Results Tue, 12 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Dietl, Malliotakis Make Last-Minute Play for Reform Party Nomination dietl by samar crop

Bo Dietl (photo: Samar Khurshid)

GOP mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis and independent candidate Bo Dietl are both making a last-minute push to win the Reform Party ballot line for November’s mayoral election. While Sal Albanese, who is also challenging Mayor Bill de Blasio in the Democratic primary, has been backed by the Reform Party, Dietl and Malliotakis are each attempting to convince their supporters to help them steal the ballot line by voting on primary day -- Tuesday, September 12 -- using a provision in state election law that effectively allows an open vote.

Albanese, a former City Council member who is running as a Democrat, was officially endorsed by the Reform Party of New York and is counting on winning the line to be included in the November 7 general. But, an “opportunity to ballot” petition filed with the Board of Elections has opened up the party line to other candidates as well, allowing registered Reform Party voters as well as unaffiliated voters -- those not registered with any party -- to write in the candidate of their choice. The petition had to be signed by only 5 percent of the party's registered members, which amounts to about 10 signatures in the case of the Reform Party which has a total of 187 registered voters. On primary day, Albanese’s name will appear on the Reform Party ballot next to an area that allows for a write-in vote.

Both Dietl and Malliotakis, each of whom is assured of a spot on the November ballot through other lines, has sent out a mass mailing with instructions for their supporters, Gotham Gazette has learned.

dietl mailer
malliotakis mailer 1
malliotakis mailer 2

According to Frederico Polsinelli, Bo Deitl’s campaign manager, the petition to ballot was filed by Reform Party members who support Dietl and “felt that Bo had been shut out unfairly and felt that the Reform Party should have an open, fair process to vote.”

Dietl was passed over for the Reform Party’s endorsement in June and lashed out at Staten Island Reform Party Chair Frank Morano in a number of obscenity-laden text messages. A Staten Island Advance reporter posted screenshots of the messages on Twitter.

Malliotakis spokesperson Rob Ryan confirmed that the campaign has begun reaching out to voters. “We did a bunch of robocalls and a mailing that will be hitting today or tomorrow which also explains the process,” he said. Ryan provided Gotham Gazette with the instruction mailers which include directions on how to choose Malliotakis. (pictured)

Polsinelli, Dietl’s campaign manager, said they are taking an “active, aggressive” approach to the process. “We’re encouraging all independent and Reform Party voters to go to the ballot and write in Dietl’s name,” he said. “We’re in the process of launching a citywide mailer. We’re actively reaching out, we’re going hard on email, phonecalls and hard mail. This is not a passive exercise.”

He said the Dietl campaign is targeting about 8,000 voters. “We’re in this to beat [Mayor] de Blasio and getting on the Reform Party line will help do that.” Dietl will be on his own self-created ballot line, “Dump the Mayor,” for November’s election.

Malliotakis will be the Republican nominee, and she also has the backing of the Conservative Party. She has also filed to appear on her own self-created ballot lines. De Blasio will likely appear on both the Democratic Party and Working Families Party ballot lines.

Albanese’s campaign does not seem worried about the added competition. “Sal’s the only candidate whose name is on the ballot,” said Linda Cronin-Gross, a campaign spokesperson, referring to the Reform Party ballot, which voters will have to ask for at the polls.

New York election law, in normal circumstances, only allows closed primaries in which registered members of a party can cast a vote to choose their nominee. This shuts out voters who do not have a party affiliation from voting on primary day. According to the latest statistics from the state Board of Elections, as of April 1, there were more than 780,000 active registered voters unaffiliated with a party. The Reform Party had only 183 active registered voters.

“It’s creating quite an interesting contest,” said the Reform Party’s Morano. “I do think Sal’s gonna win pretty handily...Sal best embodies the Reform principles.” Morano noted that if Albanese, or any other candidate, fails to receive 40 percent of the vote in that primary, it will trigger an automatic run-off two weeks later between the top two vote-getters.

“It’s gonna be interesting to see how this works,” Morano said. “It’s certainly a first-of-its-kind experiment.”

by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note- this article has been updated to include details about the "opportunity to ballot" petition process. 

Dietl, Malliotakis Make Last-Minute Play for Reform Party Nomination Fri, 08 Sep 2017 17:22:52 +0000
De Blasio & Albanese Argue Through Second of Two Primary Debates bdb albanese cuny grad center

Bill de Blasio, left, & Sal Albanese

The second and final Democratic mayoral primary debate on Wednesday was a frenetic hour-long affair in which Mayor Bill de Blasio spent much of his time on the defensive, facing probing questions from debate moderators and tough criticism from his opponent, Sal Albanese. At the same time, Albanese appeared to come up short yet again in terms of clearly articulating a vision for a mayoralty beyond tearing down many of de Blasio’s current policies.

Right off the bat, de Blasio was challenged on allegations of pay-to-play that have plagued his term and was asked if he believed the public had the right to know about donors who request favors from the mayor. Falling back on his oft-stated defense, the mayor maintained that his administration had acted legally, and ethically, and that his reliance on donors is necessitated by the political reality of election financing.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved in this administration, I’m proud of the ethical standards that we’ve set and kept to throughout,” de Blasio said, insisting that the scrutiny of his administration by state and federal prosecutors, who closed their investigations without filing any charges, had clarified that his conduct was lawful. “I’m very satisfied with the way I handled things,” he said.

The question allowed Albanese an opening to attack the mayor early. “I think the people of the City of New York want integrity in government...we need a higher standard for mayor than not being indicted,” he said, repeating a line he has used often during the race ahead of Tuesday’s primary vote. He would later come back to the mayor’s ethics, referring to de Blasio’s recent column on Medium that purports to show that donors to his campaign did not receive favorable treatment from his administration. The column, which de Blasio promised to publish before primary day at the first debate, was far from what the mayor had pledged well over a year ago, and de Blasio himself expressed regret earlier this week about the promise he had made to present “a whole lot of evidence” where donors did not get what they wanted from his administration.

The debate was held at the CUNY Graduate Center and aired by sponors CBS-2 television and 1010 Wins and CBS 880 radio; it was also sponsored by the New York Daily News, Common Cause New York, and the New York Immigration Coalition. It was the second of two official Campaign Finance Board-sanctioned mayoral primary debates. There are no other citywide primary debates, with not enough competition for any of the Republican citywide nominations or for the Democratic nominations for Comptroller or Public Advocate, where the two incumbents are set to cruise into the general election.

Albanese, who finds himself running for mayor a third time this year and will appear on the general election ballot on the Reform Party line no matter the outcome of the Democratic primary, provided a few alternatives about how he would run the city. He promised to abandon the current administration’s housing and neighborhood rezoning policies, which he said have been an “unmitigated disaster.” He critiqued the city for overspending on the Renewal Schools program and the “politically massaged” school results delivered by the administration, noting that a high percentage of high school graduates are not ready for college coursework. And he pledged to restore respect for the NYPD, which he said had been missing under de Blasio.

De Blasio, in response, repeatedly challenged his opponent’s “mistruths” and fell back on consistent talking points that he has relied on throughout his campaign. He bluntly stated that issues such as homelessness, affordable housing, and education would be long and tough battles, but insisted that his administration is on the right path and has made significant progress in his first term, progress that he would build on if reelected. The mayor cited investments into the NYPD and delicately answered a question about how he would talk to his son, Dante, about interacting with the police.

It was a frenetic debate, with moderators often interjecting with follow-up or clarifying questions and the two candidates regularly sparring. Topics meandered from citywide issues to more parochial ones, and there was often little that separated de Blasio’s positions from Albanese’s. For instance, the two largely agree on quality-of-life policing, on greater enforcement of fines for unauthorized or dangerous construction, and on building street infrastructure to prevent vehicle-involved terror attacks.

But, they sharply disagreed on other issues.

Albanese critiqued the mayor for constantly antagonizing President Donald Trump and insisted that the Mayor of New York needs to work closely with federal agencies, even as he said that he opposed Trump’s “abhorrent” policies. Albanese supports a proposed congestion pricing initiative, known as Move New York, to impose tolls on the three East River bridges to help fund the subways; while de Blasio called congestion pricing a “regressive tax” and stressed that his proposal for a millionaire’s tax to fund subway repairs was a more viable alternative, even though his proposal has largely been shot down by the GOP-controlled state Senate and de Blasio sees it passing only once Democrats take control of that house of the Legislature in January 2019, which de Blasio said was soon.

Albanese supports legalizing recreational marijuana but the mayor does not, instead saying he wants to continue to see how it goes in other locales. And Albanese is in favor of retaining the statue of Christopher Columbus at Columbus Circle, an issue the mayor did not personally take a stand on; de Blasio instead insisted on “objective” standards for monuments and statues and possible “symbols of hate” on public property in the city, which will be decided by a commission he will soon convene, announced in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville last month where Confederate monuments were a focus.

Albanese concluded the debate as he began it, emphasizing his background as an immigrant, a graduate of the public school system and CUNY, a former teacher and City Council Member, and a lawyer who worked in finance. “Those experiences qualify me for the best job in America, which is being Mayor of New York City,” he said.

De Blasio, in conclusion, relayed his simple campaign slogan. “This is your city,” he said. “That’s my message to all New Yorkers, it has to work for you.” He pledged a continued fight for New Yorkers on equity and affordability if reelected.

The primary election is on Tuesday, September 12.

by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

De Blasio & Albanese Argue Through Second of Two Primary Debates Wed, 06 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Where's The Polling In The Mayoral Race? albanese campaigning eisenbach kid

Sal Albanese, middle, campaigning (photo: @SalAlbaneseNYC)

The second of two Democratic mayoral primary debates is set for Wednesday, but leading public opinion pollsters have yet to study the full Democratic primary field or take stock of the competition between Mayor Bill de Blasio and his lone debate opponent, challenger Sal Albanese. The lack of polling makes it harder to gauge how Albanese and the three other Democratic challengers to de Blasio may fair come September 12, or how de Blasio’s approval rating has changed in the last month.

De Blasio is considered a heavy favorite in both the primary and the general election, during which he is expected to face presumptive Republican nominee Nicole Malliotakis, independent Bo Dietl, and others, including Albanese, who has the Reform Party line.

Albanese, a former City Council member, will again be the only other Democratic candidate on the debate stage on Wednesday, with the three other Democrats -- Robert Gangi, Michael Tolkin, and Richard Bashner -- having failed to qualify or be invited by the debate sponsors. But it’s unclear if Albanese’s relatively low-budget campaign has closed the gap with the mayor’s massively funded one or if recent news cycles have affected the mayor’s numbers.

The latest Quinnipiac poll was released July 31, and saw de Blasio’s job approval rating slip to 50 percent, against a 42 percent disapproval. A May 17 poll had him at 60 - 34 percent. Voters were split 46-46 percent on whether the mayor deserved to be reelected, but in a matchup against Malliotakis, de Blasio won handily with 52 percent of the vote against Malliotakis’ 15 percent. Dietl pulled 11 percent of the vote in the poll. None of the other candidates in the Democratic primary were included, a choice Albanese has been critical of.

Quinnipiac's lead pollster, Mickey Carroll, has been impossible to reach over the course of two weeks. Spokesperson Patrick Smith declined to discuss its polling schedule. “Savvy campaigns, if they expect a poll coming, they create buzz around the release,” Smith told Gotham Gazette. “Generally, the day before a poll is released, we inform the media.”

Smith did say that Quinnipiac would be polling the mayoral race, but would not say if a poll would be released prior to the primary or Wednesday’s debate. “We poll when we wanna poll, when we think we can poll,” he said. Carroll has indicated to reporters that Quinnipiac polls candidates in part based on media attention they received, to which candidates and others can quickly identify a catch-22.

The Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducts the Marist Poll, has not conducted any polls in the mayoral race so far. Nicolette Strano, administrative coordinator of the Marist Poll, indicated that they would not release a poll before the primary. “We will be polling on the mayor’s race, but it won’t be soon,” she said. “Maybe in a month.”

A NY1-Baruch College poll released July 27 included de Blasio, Malliotakis, Dietl and Albanese. De Blasio was the favorite with 43.3 percent and Albanese received 3.9 percent.

A lot has happened since the aforementioned polls. Albanese’s campaign has stepped up its fundraising, and spending, with a slew of digital ads targeting de Blasio’s record. De Blasio’s campaign also recently made a $2 million ad buy, rolled out on Friday with a 30-second television ad focused on the mayor’s universal pre-kindergarten program.

On August 23, De Blasio and Albanese faced off in the first primary debate sponsored by the city Campaign Finance Board and partners. The mayor comfortably touted his record over the course of 90 minutes, with a few moments of vulnerability, particularly over the pay-to-play scandals that plagued his administration. Albanese was continuously on the offensive, armed with numerous zingers, but struggled to articulate concrete policy proposals at key points in the debate.

[Read: 5 Key Moments from the First Democratic Mayoral Primary Debate]

While de Blasio was defensive throughout the debate, he did not make any major error, at least in some part helping to cement his status as the favorite. Still, Albanese surely managed to build his profile with voters, given the debate and the media coverage of it. But to what degree Albanese impressed voters remains unknown since the two leading polling institutes did not assess voter sentiment after the debate.

In the 2013 mayoral race, with a crowded field of prominent Democratic candidates, Quinnipiac conducted four polls in August and September before the primary election. One explanation, perhaps, is that the 2013 Campaign Finance Board debate criteria specified polling averages that candidates needed to meet to qualify, unlike this year when polling averages were not included.

Albanese, who is the only other Democrat besides de Blasio to qualify for both debates this year, said he was “mystified and suspicious that there haven’t been polls because I think this race is closer than is being reported.” He said he was dubious of media reports that indicate de Blasio is coasting to reelection, a narrative that benefits de Blasio. “How do we know that? There hasn’t been a poll in six or seven weeks,” he said, particularly exasperated that there wasn’t a poll after the first debate. Albanese has indicated that he thinks he would be into double digits if a poll was conducted.

Another sign Albanese sees that his campaign is catching up: de Blasio’s campaign has not yet released any internal tracking polls. ”When campaigns have internal polls, they leak it to the press. No one is leaking anything, which my antenna tells me this is a close race,” Albanese said.

Albanese’s campaign itself has not conducted any tracking polls, having already spent almost all its campaign funds. “We can’t afford it,” he said.

De Blasio campaign spokesperson Dan Levitan refused to comment on internal research. “I don't know when Marist and Quinnipiac are planning to poll again,” he emailed.

by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Where's The Polling In The Mayoral Race? Mon, 04 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Voters Guide for the 2017 City Primary Election de Blasio voting election

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Voters Guide for the 2017 City Primary Election Tue, 29 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
5 Key Moments from the First Democratic Mayoral Primary Debate de Blasio Albanese debate

De Blasio & Albanese on NY1

Mayor Bill de Blasio, a first-term Democrat pursuing reelection this fall, faced off against Sal Albanese on Wednesday at the first of two primary debates ahead of the September 12 vote. Over the course of 90 minutes at the Symphony Space on the Upper West Side, the two shared a number of tense exchanges as they made their pitches to voters. De Blasio offered a continuation of his first-term accomplishments in tackling inequality, while Albanese attempted to present himself as the alternative to a mayor who he argued has not done the job well.

Albanese, a former City Council member, went on the attack almost immediately and jabbed at de Blasio throughout, criticizing the mayor’s inability to reign in homelessness, his ties to real estate interests, his “ineffective” affordable housing policy, his nonchalance towards the city’s subway crisis and his “politicizing” of the police. “I think people are looking for reform politics,” said Albanese, selling himself as an outsider with integrity who wants to deliver a better democracy to New Yorkers. Albanese is also running on the Reform Party ballot line regardless of the outcome of the Democratic primary.

As the incumbent, de Blasio came armed with a strong grasp of the intricacies of city policy and comfortably, if at times condescendingly, batted away Albanese’s critiques. On multiple occasions, de Blasio challenged Albanese on his facts, insisting that his criticisms were more often than not falsehoods. (De Blasio’s campaign simultaneously sent reporters fact-checking email blasts in real time.)

De Blasio spent nearly the entire debate touting his record, including universal pre-kindergarten, the creation of affordable housing, reduction in crime, reforms to policing, improvements in educational achievement, and a stronger economy. “We’ve got a lot more to do to make this a city that truly is for everyone,” he said in his opening statement, alluding the organizing theme of his reelection bid, making the city more affordable by creating more housing and good-paying jobs, among other initiatives.

Defending his efforts on the national and international stage, de Blasio emphasized the need to stand up to the Trump Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress. At one point, when asked by a moderator, he definitively ruled out running for president in 2020 if he’s reelected this year. On multiple occasions, he defended himself regarding his focus on the city.

While de Blasio made clear his well-crafted campaign theme, Albanese left a more vague picture of what’s organizing his run beyond thinking poorly of de Blasio and believing the city needs a more ear-to-the-ground leader who can effectively and ethically manage municipal government.

The debate featured much of what both candidates have already said on the campaign trail, peppered with instances of tension and occasional shouts from hecklers in the audience, but no clear game-changing moments. De Blasio entered the debate a heavy favorite in the primary, with a massive advantages in fundraising, name recognition, institutional endorsements, and campaign infrastructure. Albanese is hopeful he will crack double digits in the next public opinion poll.

Albanese, who has focused on the election as a referendum on de Blasio, laid out a handful of policy proposals including “democracy vouchers” to publicly finance elections and a pied-à-terre tax on foreign property owners to subsidize affordable housing. He said he would build more affordable housing through a land bank and nonprofit developers, pledged more city dollars to the MTA, and stressed the need to reform the pension system.

But, he struggled for concrete answers at other times, such as when debate panelists asked how he would reform the city’s child welfare services to reduce racial disparities or what he would do about the city’s jails. Even on his top policy priority of campaign finance reform, he wrestled with his words and had to be pulled back twice by debate moderator Errol Louis of NY1 when he strayed to attack de Blasio in the middle of explaining his proposal.  

Although de Blasio had ready retorts for Albanese for the most part, he was on the defensive when Albanese pressed him on the state and federal investigations into his administration and his fundraising, which ended without any charges filed but words of admonishment by prosecutors. A steady stream of comments from Albanese about transparency and ethics under de Blasio formed a clear theme of the night.

Under questioning, de Blasio pledged that he would never again form an issue-advocacy organization like the Campaign for One New York, which was the subject of a federal investigation, all while stressing the worthy policy goals that the group helped achieve, chiefly universal pre-K.

Among others, there were five especially interesting moments in the debate, which was moderated by Louis and featured questions from panelists Grace Rauh and Juan Manuel Benitez of NY1, Brian Lehrer of WNYC, and Laura Nahmias of Politico New York.

Subway Shame
Early on in the debate, the candidates got into a back-and-forth about the city’s transit system, one of the campaign’s most reliable and oft-debated issues. While the system is operated by the state-controlled Metropolitan Transit Authority, as delays soar and many of the city’s straphangers spend their days stewing in sweat and frustration, many want solutions from the mayor.

“For three-and-a-half years he has said the subway isn’t his job,” Albanese said of de Blasio, and claimed that the mayor knew his recently proposed millionaire’s tax – which would tax the city’s wealthiest residents and divert the funds to the transit system – was “another ruse.”

“I had to shame him into taking the subway a couple weeks ago,” Albanese said, referencing de Blasio’s recent affinity for taking the subway more after having previously said it wasn’t the best use of his time.

The mayor shot back by pointing to his pre-kindergarten plan, which was acted on and passed by Albany legislators after he had first floated a similar tax to pay for it. “Sal, we got it done because we proposed a millionaire’s tax,” the mayor said, arguing that his push forced the issue and secured the funding, the bottom line. He also predicted that he wouldn’t have to worry about Albany obstruction much longer.

“Mark my words, we will have a Democratic state Senate,” de Blasio predicted; the Senate is the only Republican stronghold in statewide government, though barely, and only because of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference and Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who caucuses with the Republicans.

Money for Nothing?
One spat took place as the prospect of campaign donations and their undue influence was raised. De Blasio has been hounded by accusations that his administration is too accommodating to campaign donors since early on in his term. Local and federal investigations into his campaign activities and the now-defunct Campaign for One New York did not ultimately find criminal liability, but the din of scandal has only lessened, not abated.

Albanese said that “developers are running amok” after giving the mayor large donations, and accused de Blasio of running a pay-to-play administration. De Blasio responded that he was “taking on the real estate industry and winning,” and pointed to policies like mandatory inclusionary housing (MIH), a city policy that requires developers to set aside affordable apartments in market-rate buildings in rezoned areas.

Stating that the country’s “free enterprise system” has positives and negatives, the mayor said “our laws say that you have to go out there and get donations,” an arrangement that Albanese promptly equated to organized crime. “They own you when you get there,” he said, specifically referencing real estate money and lobbyists.

De Blasio said the comments were insulting to public officials from former President Barak Obama to Senator Elizabeth Warren -- both of whom have acknowledged you need campaign donations to run for office but that it doesn’t mean you’re compromised -- on down, and said the Citizens United decision was the “root of all evil.”

Albanese conceded that “the system is broken, but there are good public officials” before calling on de Blasio to release a previously promised list of campaign donors who didn’t receive any official favors. De Blasio pledged the list -- which has morphed into “examples” in an op-ed column -- would be published before the September 12 primary vote.

The Housing Crisis
Affordable housing, a de Blasio campaign focus and administration legacy item, was brought up intermittently throughout the debate, at times for longer stretches than others. One of the pivotal moments on the topic was when Albanese was attempting to outline his affordable housing plan under questioning from Lehrer of WNYC, who pointed out Albanese was only attacking the mayor’s plan without offering his own specifics.

Albanese had reiterated support for a pied-a-terre tax, which would apply to luxury properties owned by wealthy individuals not residing in them, and bashed de Blasio’s plan, saying “the problem with his numbers is that the housing is not affordable.”

“There’s people making $30,000 a year, $29,000 a year who can’t afford to live here, it’s outrageous,” Albanese said, while repeatedly referring to the city’s affordable housing situation as a crisis. As for his plan, he mentioned being on the City Council during the mayoralty of Ed Koch in the 1980s. “I would do what Ed Koch did. He built hundreds of thousands of units, using non-profit developers, and he provided the land,” said Albanese, inflating the Koch numbers.

That idea was immediately derided by de Blasio, who said “it’s not the 1980s anymore. We can’t have what Koch did.” There are few city-owned vacant lots available, he noted. De Blasio acknowledged “no doubt we have an affordable housing crisis,” but insisted that the city’s current reality would render a Koch-esque plan unfeasible, and his strategy of forcing private firms to set aside housing for certain income brackets and providing financing to extend existing affordable housing was the way to go.

Where’s the Mayor?
A discussion that began as a question about de Blasio’s travel habits morphed partly into an assessment of what it means to be the Mayor of New York. De Blasio’s has regularly traveled out of the city on political junkets, often to much criticism, especially for a recent trip to Hamburg, Germany to protest outside the G20 summit of world leaders, where de Blasio said he was offering an alternative representation of American values to that of President Donald Trump.

After assuring Rauh of NY1 that he had no intention of running for president in 2020, de Blasio defended his attempts to build a national profile, saying his predecessors “didn’t deal with a Donald Trump as president, they didn’t deal, a lot of the time, with both houses in Congress being Republican. We’ve to find a new way of protecting our taxpayers’ interests.” He added, “if it takes going to Washington or anywhere else, I will do what it takes for New Yorkers.”

The exchange led to Albanese being asked if he had a prominent enough national profile to represent New York City as Mayor.

“Whenever you become mayor, you become prominent. Even Bill’s prominent,” Albanese said, jabbing at his opponent and drawing one of many smirks from de Blasio throughout the night.

Albanese said he wants to make New York a “modern-day Athens” with a hyper-democratic political system that limited involvement by lobbyists and big-money interests. De Blasio eschewed the notion, instead saying he wants the best New York City possible.

A Transparency Pledge
Somewhat related to the donor conversation was a more general examination of de Blasio’s transparency practices. During the 2013 mayoral campaign, de Blasio said that his would be most transparent administration in history, a claim that hasn’t been borne out by the reality.

De Blasio reiterated a prior pledge not to create any other groups like Campaign for One New York and insisted that “compared to previous administrations we’ve gone a lot farther” on the issue of being transparent about contacts with lobbyists and special interests and been forthcoming with journalists, saying “we should not be unwilling to take those questions.”

This was immediately ridiculed by Albanese, who said “I think Koch was more transparent than you were, shockingly!” he laughed, and referred to how “Koch and [Rudy] Giuliani had press conferences every day, pres availabilities” -- de Blasio has been criticized for holding relatively few press conferences compared to predecessors. He also raised the issue of de Blasio’s use of personal email, recently exposed, obliquely referencing the 2016 presidential campaign and scandal involving Hillary Clinton’s email practices.

After de Blasio brought up that he was cleared by investigators of criminal wrongdoing in their investigations over his fundraising and donor relations, Albanese said “we should have a higher standard for the mayor than not being indicted.”

Three other Democrats who are also on the ballot did not qualify for Wednesday’s debate. The next primary debate is scheduled for September 6.

by Samar Khurshid and Felipe De La Hoz

5 Key Moments from the First Democratic Mayoral Primary Debate Thu, 24 Aug 2017 03:37:51 +0000
5 Things to Watch at First De Blasio-Albanese Debate de blasio albanese 2013 debate ny1

Albanese & de Blasio in 2013 via NY1

“A win for me is making the case that de Blasio has not been a good mayor and making the case that I can be a good mayor,” Sal Albanese, putting it simply, told Gotham Gazette on Monday, a little more than 48 hours before he was to take the stage against Mayor Bill de Blasio in the first of two Democratic primary debates.

The debate, a 90-minute affair that will air at 7 p.m. Wednesday on NY1 television and WNYC radio, is sure to be lively. The two participants have known each other a long time, served together in the City Council, ran against each other in 2013, and do not seem to like one another.

For de Blasio, the debate will be an opportunity to tout his first-term record and outline his vision for another four years. “You’ll hear a heavy focus on his record, going through his accomplishments of the last four years,” said de Blasio campaign spokesperson Monica Klein in a Monday phone interview, ticking off universal pre-kindergarten, low crime, affordable housing, and other items. “And obviously talking about what his plans are for the second term, which are pretty expansive,” Klein added, providing a few examples like extending public pre-school to three-year-olds.

Earlier Monday, de Blasio had told reporters at an unrelated press conference that he has been preparing for the debate. “We’ve done a number of prep sessions already the same way we did debate prep in 2013,” de Blasio said when asked. “I never take anything lightly. I’ve been an underdog in essentially every race I’ve been in. This is a different dynamic but it doesn’t change my preparation.”

That different dynamic is, of course, that de Blasio -- the incumbent mayor with a massive fundraising advantage and many endorsements from labor unions and other elected officials -- is a heavy favorite. Albanese, however, sees the debate as a major opportunity to get more New Yorkers to learn about his campaign, increase his fundraising for the final weeks of the primary race, and find a way to victory on September 12, in what is expected to be another terribly low turnout election.

Given the one-on-one nature of the debate -- especially juxtaposed to the crowded primary field of four years ago -- expect a pointed, at least somewhat substantive discussion of key issues facing the city. As it should, the debate will feature a good deal of reckoning with the record of the incumbent seeking another term. This is where both de Blasio and Albanese believe they will make key points -- de Blasio believes he has a lot to boast; Albanese thinks de Blasio has been a failure and must be replaced.

“Every mayor does some good things,” Albanese said, recognizing universal pre-K, “but on balance, he has not been a good mayor. That’s why I’m in the race.”

In 2013, de Blasio and Albanese participated in dozens of candidate forums and debates across the city. They were often joined on stage by the other Democratic hopefuls, including Christine Quinn, Bill Thompson, Anthony Weiner, and John Liu. Even during those busy affairs, Albanese almost always homed in on de Blasio, criticizing the soon-to-be-mayor as opportunistic and hypocritical. De Blasio usually swatted away the barbs and returned to his carefully crafted talking points about his equity agenda and the reasons that Quinn, the early frontrunner, should not be mayor.

Wednesday night, it will be just de Blasio and Albanese -- a moment the latter has surely been pining for since the former ran away with 40 percent of the primary vote, followed by 73 percent in the 2013 general election against Republican Joe Lhota. Albanese received less than 1 percent of the primary vote in 2013. Head-to-head with de Blasio, Albanese believes he can make a stronger case than he could in the circus-like 2013 primary.

Wednesday night, Albanese has his shot. Five things to watch for at the first debate:

1. Candidate Preparation

De Blasio said he’s been preparing and not taking anything lightly, despite his significant lead in the polls and in fundraising. Klein, the de Blasio campaign spokesperson, said that as of Monday, de Blasio’s prep consisted of reviewing key topics and the essential points the mayor wants to make in the allotted time. Unlike certain interviews, news conferences, and town halls, de Blasio will have some external time constraints via the debate format and the moderator, NY1’s Errol Louis. De Blasio practices his talking points and gets feedback about specifics he might have left out, Klein said, on broad topics like education.

The mayor had not yet done a mock debate, Klein said, but he would be in a more simulated session before Wednesday. She said the campaign hadn’t yet had someone playing the role of Albanese. Klein would only divulge that she and campaign strategist Phil Walzak, who, like Klein, worked on de Blasio’s 2013 campaign and in City Hall, are among those in the room when de Blasio is prepping. She added that Walzak has some debate experience from high school.

“He’s a pretty experienced debater,” Klein said of de Blasio, “he’s pretty comfortable being up on the stage.” A former City Council member and Public Advocate, de Blasio has participated in his share of debates, and, Klein pointed out, he is familiar and comfortable with those who will be asking him questions Wednesday night: Louis, the moderator, and panelists Juan Manuel Benitez and Grace Rauh of NY1, Brian Lehrer of WNYC, and Laura Nahmias of Politico New York.

The mayor is regularly on his toes and engaged in the issues, Klein added, given his weekly news conferences and regular town hall events. “He’s been talking about all these issues for four years,” she said

“I have a group of people that have worked with me on debate prep,” said Albanese, who is an attorney. “There are so many issues, so many different points that need to be brought up in these debates, it’s hard to get them all in. You want to get in as many as you can. It’s like preparing for a bar exam, really, there’s a lot of material. You’ve got to really drill it into your head.”

Albanese is very knowledgeable about city affairs, drawing on his experience as a teacher and City Council member. He doesn’t always quickly or neatly articulate his ideas, though, and it will be important for him to deliver his messages tightly, so that those watching or listening or seeing news coverage afterward get the best possible impression of him. After 90 minutes, one-on-one, Albanese said, “people will know what you’re about.” In 2013, with seven people on stage, “sometimes you rush through” your chance to speak, he said.

“I’m not a good sound bite guy, this gives me an opportunity to delve into some of the nuances of policy,” Albanese said. “He’s a very good debater,” Albanese said of de Blasio, “I don’t underestimate him. I’ve seen him debate.”

“We had a guy play de Blasio, obviously, during debate prep,” Albanese added. “We know the de Blasio arguments, what they’re going to be.” When asked, he said the de Blasio stand-in had been “David Eisenbach, the public advocate candidate...he’s actually pretty good, he’s a Columbia professor.” Eisenbach is running in the Democratic primary against incumbent Public Advocate Letitia James.

2. How intense will it get?

Albanese must be mayoral, but he also has to throw some haymakers. Will he interrupt de Blasio if he doesn’t think the mayor is addressing the issue at hand? “Hard to say,” Albanese said. “I think you’ve got to be careful with that - you don’t want to come across as a raving lunatic. You have to be assertive, but you have to be a critic. There may be some loud exchanges, we’ll see.”

Asked if de Blasio will go on the attack himself, perhaps critique Albanese’s record or past, Klein said, “We’ll see what happens when they’re on the stage…you can expect him to be pretty focused on talking about his record and his plans for the future.”

Recalling the 2013 tour of forums and debates across the city, Albanese said he remembered several instances where he got under de Blasio’s skin. “Up in the Bronx he got really was about the garbage, the waste-transfer station [slated for the Upper East Side]. He was arguing he has one near his home, and I said that’s not true, I know the neighborhood, and he got very upset, said I was misleading the public.”

“He also got angry at me when I said his tax-the-rich plan was going nowhere in Albany...I was right,” Albanese said of de Blasio’s signature 2013 proposal to get Albany approval for a city tax hike to fund pre-kindergarten. The state didn’t approve the tax, but provided most of the needed money through the state budget.

“He likes to tell New Yorkers why he’s fighting for them - that works him up, that we need more affordable housing, that we need neighborhood policing,” Klein said of the mayor, “I wouldn’t expect him to be subdued or anything.”

3. What’s Albanese’s vision?

Albanese will surely score some points critiquing de Blasio -- it’s a strong suit for the former City Council member from southern Brooklyn -- but the big question for the challenger is whether he can make the case for himself, and show New Yorkers that he has his own vision, with enough interesting policy proposals to warrant a more serious look.

“That’s what I would like: to talk about the issues in-depth,” Albanese said of the debate. “Give the public a sense of what our proposals are, talk about what’s working and what’s not working.”

“The issues that I think he gets an ‘F’ on are very big issues; integrity in government, transit, affordable housing, mismanagement of agencies,” Albanese said. The challenger has proposals for campaign finance reform, contributing more city money into the MTA, and passing the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, among other planks.

Given the recent attention on the city’s subway meltdown, Albanese will surely focus on his promise to be the “mass transit mayor.” He’ll also sell himself as someone who can restore integrity and management to City Hall -- eliminate “pay to play,” get control of the growing budget, reform the pension system, and more.

It would behoove Albanese to unveil at least one new splashy proposal at the debate and explain in careful detail the broader organizing principle of his campaign.

When de Blasio successfully ran in 2013, he pledged to reduce inequality by ending the “tale of two cities.” This year, de Blasio’s slogan is “Your City,” and he’ll pitch New Yorkers “on his vision for driving New York City forward with a focus on really making the city fairer and more affordable,” Klein said. “He’ll talk a lot of about how important it is that New Yorkers can afford to live in the city that they love.”

4. How well does de Blasio pivot -- and will Albanese and the moderators let him?

When Gotham Gazette asked the mayor on Tuesday about the fact that Albanese plans to stress de Blasio’s ethics issues, the mayor previewed the type of pivot he’ll surely showcase during Wednesday’s debate.

“All those issues were looked at by multiple entities and everything was resolved,” de Blasio said. “I think the election should be not about things from the past that are already behind us, but about what’s going to be necessary for everyday New Yorkers to do better in this city.” De Blasio then said he’s going to talk about affordable housing, lawyers for low-income people facing eviction, improved test scores and graduation rates, “crime going down for four years in a row.” It’s those substantive issues that “people want to talk about,” de Blasio said, and that “they want to know what’s next.”

“I think it must be difficult if you’re a challenger and you’re looking at those facts, I guess you have to try to change the discussion to something else,” de Blasio added.

Albanese said he knows it will be a challenge to get his points to stick and to make sure de Blasio faces the music in real time. “You can’t really get away from your record,” Albanese said. “He’ll say, ‘crime is down, jobs are up, pre-k, municipal ID cards’ -- and some of them are good things, but there’s a huge amount of weakness. Integrity in government is a huge piece of it. You need a higher bar for being mayor than not being indicted.”

“He’s probably going to try the kind-of Rose Garden strategy,” Albanese said, where de Blasio tries to not fully engage with his opponent but instead stress his talking points.

If de Blasio pivots, Albanese said, “We come back to it,” and pointed out the time for rebuttals built into the debate “You’ve gotta be quick on your feet. He’s probably going to pivot quickly from all the negative stuff. And my job is not to let him pivot.”

5. Substance
Even in 90 minutes with just two candidates, the debate won’t get to all the topics of concern to New Yorkers.

Where will the questioners and the candidates take the debate?

As he runs for reelection and as part of his larger equity paradigm, de Blasio is extremely focused on affordability. He’ll want to talk about affordable housing, good-paying jobs, low crime, improving student test scores, and other signs of progress in the city. He’ll want to tout reforms at the NYPD, including new training for officers, the ongoing implementation of body cameras, and the rollout of neighborhood policing. He will of course stress the continued reduction in “stop and frisk,” one of the central elements of his 2013 campaign.

It’s a Democratic primary and Albanese is to de Blasio’s right on some issues, like policing, which is helpful to the mayor. Albanese may offer one of his critiques of the mayor, that many in the NYPD rank-and-file do not like de Blasio. Beyond that, it may be up to the moderators to broach subjects that would otherwise be raised by Bob Gangi, a police reform activist also running in the Democratic primary who did not qualify for the debate, about a lack of more radical reform at the NYPD, especially regarding the practice of broken windows policing, and the limits to de Blasio’s approach to police accountability and transparency.

The city’s homelessness crisis, one of the few areas de Blasio has admitted failure, is sure to come up. Albanese may tie it to a larger argument about de Blasio’s management, which may also include a discussion of the city’s ballooning budget, which has grown about 17 percent under de Blasio and a free-spending City Council that he is largely aligned with. You name the topic, it could easily come up, from transportation options to school choice to traffic congestion to the financial problems at the city's public housing and hospitals.

De Blasio’s proposals for a term two include continuing toward creating 100,000 jobs that pay over $50,000 per year, developing and moving into motion a plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex, and more. “[F]rom 3-K to the mansion tax to the millionaire’s tax,” Klein said, referring to de Blasio’s plans to make pre-school available to all three-year-olds in the city and his proposals to tax large real estate transactions to fund senior affordable and raise taxes on the highest city earners to fund mass transit repairs. For all three of those measures, de Blasio needs Albany funds or approval.

For the incumbent mayor, it will be important to make clear to those consuming the debate or coverage of it that he has plans to move the city forward if given another term.

As for Albanese, the goal is fairly clear: “At the end of the day, I want people to say, ‘Albanese can be a good mayor, he can do the job.'”

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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5 Things to Watch at First De Blasio-Albanese Debate Tue, 22 Aug 2017 20:50:00 +0000