Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/500 Tue, 17 Oct 2017 11:28:33 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Key to Affordable Housing Development, Vacant Lots Remain Source of Controversy http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7251:key-to-affordable-housing-development-vacant-lots-remain-source-of-controversy http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7251:key-to-affordable-housing-development-vacant-lots-remain-source-of-controversy vacant lot


On 43rd Street in Far Rockaway, Queens, sit five adjacent, vacant lots. Cordoned off by a chained-link, gray metal fence, the lots—owned by the city’s Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD)—are covered in weeds and garbage. They are “eyesores for the community,” said Alexis Smallwood, a local community organizer, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “Vacant lots should be used for community spaces or real affordable housing.”

These five lots are examples of the hundreds the Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD) could utilize for affordable housing. Since issuing an audit and fuller report in early 2016, Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office has claimed that HPD has let more than 1,000 of these lots stand idle. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has contended, however, that Stringer’s conclusions were “false and misleading.

The latest iteration of the decades-old debate over the quantity, quality, and status of New York’s city-owned vacant lots has been raging, with ebbs and flows, for the past year-and-a-half, even making its way into this year’s mayoral election.

Sal Albanese, who challenged de Blasio in the Democratic mayoral primary and is now running in the general election on the Reform Party line, cited the Comptroller, writing in The Daily News that he “will remove the stranglehold that big developers have on City Hall by taking the vacant properties city government owns - there are more than 1,000 of them - and building truly affordable housing.” Albanese referenced the use of vacant lots during debates as well.

Other politicians have taken up the cause, calling for better use of the city’s vacant lots in battling the affordable housing crisis. Public Advocate Letitia James and City Council Members Jumanee Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez—arguing for legislation that includes a yearly, HPD-led census of publicly-owned, vacant lots—cited Stringer in an August op-ed in City and State.

Meanwhile, HPD and City Hall insist that the de Blasio administration is progressing in its development of lots for new affordable housing and call critics uninformed. “The sites that are available we’ve had a near maniacal focus on making sure that we know where they are and that we are putting them to good use,” said HPD Commissioner Torres-Spring in an interview on What’s the [Data] Point?, a podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission.

The comptroller’s office remains dubious. In response to the commissioner’s comments, Tyrone Stevens, press secretary for Comptroller Stringer, said, “Unfortunately, since our audit, we have not seen any specific plans from HPD about how they are developing vacant city-owned land or how many units they’ve created and where they’re located.”

As of now, the facts remain fuzzy. In early 2017, HPD denied several FOIL requests by Paula Segal, attorney with the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center, for lists of vacant lots under its jurisdiction. No lists were provided to the comptroller’s office in rebutting its report, and the department did not provide that information to Gotham Gazette when approached recently, after Torres-Springer’s latest comments on the discrepancy.

As the debate continues, momentum has been building for pending City Council legislation that would require HPD to perform an annual, citywide census of all publicly-owned, vacant land. However, the de Blasio administration has not yet signaled support for the legislation, which is under negotiation, according to Torres-Springer.

Why Vacant Lots?
When he announced his intention to run for mayor, de Blasio made affordable housing a centerpiece of his campaign, promising to create and preserve 200,000 affordable housing units over the next ten years. “We need a stronger hand to make sure development will create and preserve places for a diverse range of families to live and raise their kids,” said de Blasio in a late 2013 campaign speech.

Shortly after he assumed office, he released Housing New York, a plan to flesh out a path to these 200,000 affordable units. At a total cost of $41 billion, not all of which would be city money, it promotes an array of strategies, like expanding housing for seniors and mandating rezonings to require a set portion of affordable units. The plan also includes a call to spur citywide development of small, vacant sites.

For privately-owned, vacant sites, Housing New York includes the intention to not only institute taxes to incentivize housing development, but to reach out to real estate owners to foster potential partnerships. For those that are publicly-owned, the plan calls for the clustering of small, city-owned sites through newly-created programs like the Neighborhood Construction Program (NCP) and New Infill Homeownership Opportunities Program (NIHOP).

Most notably, Housing New York includes a plan to conduct a citywide survey of all publicly and privately-owned vacant land. The administration has given no public indication that this survey has been performed, though it insists it has a detailed grasp of all its vacant lots.

Nonprofits have estimated the total number of vacant sites to be in the thousands. In a 2011 report, Picture the Homeless, a nonprofit advocacy group, reported the existence of 3,551 vacant buildings and 2,489 publicly and privately-owned vacant lots citywide. The group projected that these properties could house close to 200,000 people, more than three times the estimated number of homeless people in New York City, which now hovers around 62,000.

How Many Public Lots?
While the city can incentivize the development of private lots (through vacancy taxes, rezoning density bonuses, and more), it can more quickly turn city-owned lots into affordable housing, as it directly administers these properties, often by working with nonprofit developers.

However, the exact number of vacant lots the city owns remains unclear. "It seems like there's no number to start with, even if it's wrong," said City Council Member Jumaane Williams, during a hearing on vacant properties in 2014.

Nonprofits like Picture the Homeless and city agencies have tried to fill the gap, with varying results. In a report released in 2016, The Municipal Arts Society of New York used data from the Department of City Planning and found 2,726 city-owned, vacant sites. Nonetheless, MAS noticed inaccuracies.

“There seems to be deficiencies in existing city datasets,” said Marcel Negret, project manager at The Municipal Arts Society, in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

596 Acres, a nonprofit that pushes for community access to vacant lots, tried to correct for these errors. It combed through city datasets, removing sites that are gutterspaces, parks, and those that have already been sold to developers. Publishing this data as an interactive map, 596 Acres then crowdsourced information from residents and organizers. Its estimate for publicly-owned, vacant land amounts to 1,801 lots as of October 13th.

Finally, the comptroller’s office waded into the fray with its 2016 audit of the Department of Housing and Preservation. Auditors used agency records as well as tax lien sales to identify 1,459 city-owned, vacant properties, of which 1,131 are under the jurisdiction of HPD, it said. In a subsequent report, Stringer claimed that these existing properties could produce approximately 53,000 units of affordable housing. Stringer did not assess the usability of the lots.

Debate Kicks Up a Notch
After the audit’s public release, Comptroller Stringer, a Democrat then considering a possible entrance into the 2017 mayoral race, blasted the administration, HPD, and their predecessors, for an inability to effectively deploy vacant sites under their control.

“This is generations of inaction,” he said.

Housing officials responded in kind. “Your assertion that HPD allows vacant City-owned properties to languish in the face of the affordable housing crisis is simply wrong,” said Vicki Been, then HPD Commissioner, in a statement included in the original audit, in the section typically reserved for such a response.  

HPD claimed that the majority of lots cited in Stringer’s audit were accounted for: it said 310 have “major development challenges” (e.g. were in floodplains or near hurricane danger zones); 150 of the properties were better suited for “non-residential projects” (e.g. community gardens); and 670 were suited for residential use, of which 400 were already set aside for development within the next two years.

De Blasio himself pushed back when asked about the audit during an interview. “I think it’s breathtaking how little the comptroller understands about this issue,” he said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show in September 2016.

The comptroller had his own response. “But what the city has said to me is ‘no, no, no, all of these properties are already accounted for.’ Can you believe that? So if they’ve already made deals on the properties, who did they ever consult? They didn’t consult the community boards, they didn’t consult anybody,” Stringer said in an interview with the Observer.

The ‘Housing Not Warehousing Act’
This back-and-forth took place amid City Council discussions on legislation designed to take stock of and push the development of private and city-owned vacant land. Comprised of three bills, the “Housing Not Warehousing Act” aims to create a registry of all landlords holding vacant property; hold an annual, citywide census of all vacant land; and compile a list of publicly-owned vacant sites.

Introduced to the Council in December of 2015 by Public Advocate Letitia James and Council Members Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez, the act was the focus of a public hearing in September 2016. Despite widespread support from Council members, HPD opposed Intro. 1039, the bill that would require the department to “conduct annual surveys of all city-owned properties to identify vacant buildings or lots that may be suitable for affordable housing.”

HPD Deputy Commissioner Daniel Hernandez testified that publicly releasing this list would have unintended consequences. It would reveal vacant lots that host key environmental infrastructure, information potentially dangerous in the wrong hands, he said. It would prompt real estate speculation, as companies buy up surrounding lots in hopes of grants by the city, he argued, and it would be costly and unnecessary, as HPD already has much of this information at its fingertips.

“Monitoring and collection required by the census would require extensive staff time and a commitment of financial resources without providing the data we really believe is desired,” explained Hernandez, according to City Limits.

In order to prove HPD was already making use of vacant lots under its control, Hernandez cited the same statistics released in response to Stringer’s audit, saying the city has identified 670 vacant lots suitable for the construction of affordable housing. HPD did not provide a detailed itemization.

The committee balked at the lack of specificity. “How could you come to this hearing and not know the status of each and every one of these sites?” asked Council Member Barry Grodenchik, a Democrat from Queens, according to Crain’s New York.

Trying for Clarity
More than a year since the committee hearing on the Housing Not Warehousing Act, HPD has yet to publicly provide a detailed accounting of its vacant sites. Yet, the department reiterates that it is doing everything in its power to manage and deploy lots under its control.

“There’s a lot of misconception about this, so I’m happy to clear the air,” Torres-Springer said, when asked about the vacant lots controversy on What’s The [Data] Point?. “To the extent that they are vacant sites, hundreds of those have either already been designated or in the pipeline or will be soon. There’s a good portion of those that are very small lots that have significant issues where you can’t really build. And—to be honest—even for those, we’re looking at ways to cluster so there's an affordable housing project that can be built.”

Asked to respond to Torres-Springer’s recent comments, Stringer’s office again demanded details. “Which sites are currently being developed and how many remain undeveloped? In what neighborhoods?,” said Stevens, the press secretary. “Who are the developers and how much total subsidy have they received from the city so far for their work?”

Others, too, have lamented that HPD has failed to substantiate its claim that all vacant lots under its control are accounted for. Segal, of the Urban Justice Center, explained in an interview that she filed three Freedom of Information Law requests to HPD on behalf of Picture the Homeless. Asking for lists of the 310 lots that have development challenges, the 150 better suited for non-housing purposes, and the 670 best suited for housing, Segal said that HPD denied one request based on “interference of contracts,” while not replying to the other two.

“HPD failed to respond as they are required by state law,” she explained. “There’s no accountability.”

Gotham Gazette asked HPD for the same lists Segal requested. Housing officials neither provided the data nor responded to Segal’s allegations. They did, however, push back against Stringer’s criticisms. “The comptroller’s assertion that HPD can create 50,000 units on all vacant city-owned land is simply untrue,” said housing officials. “It is not practical to develop all available sites at one time considering resource demands, and oddly shaped lots, infrastructure and resiliency needs on HPD’s remaining land makes development all the more challenging.”

Asked for examples of city-owned vacant lots where housing is currently under construction, HPD provided two. One is "Flushing Municipal Lot 3," which was bid on in 2014 and awarded in 2015. "HPD announced the selection of a joint venture between Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), HANAC Inc., and Monadnock Development to develop a transit-oriented, mixed-use, and mixed-income development in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens. The team's plan, called One Flushing, will result in the creation of 208 units of very low-income senior housing and multifamily housing that will be affordable to low- and moderate-income families."

The second example is "Livonia Avenue Initiative Phase II," which was bid on and awarded in 2014. "HPD announced the selection of BRP Companies, HELP USA, and the Local Development Corporation of East New York (LDC ENY) for Phase II of the Livonia Avenue Initiative in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn. The development team's plan includes four new mixed-use buildings with a total of 288 affordable apartments, a commercial kitchen that will provide culinary training, and a Career Exploration center (CEC) that will provide vocational training to students of the New Visions Charter High School."

There are various other lots in different stages of development, including some that were put out for bid last year that will be moving forward with selected partners in the near future.

Going Forward
Perhaps the best hope for a reliable account of city-owned vacant lots remains one bill, Intro. 1039, of the Housing Not Warehousing Act. While the legislation has remained dormant since the 2016 hearing, City Limits recently reported that momentum for the package of bills is increasing. Two have over 30 sponsors in the 51-seat Council, and Intro. 1039 has more than the “veto-proof” majority, with 34 sponsors, as of October 10.

In comments given to City Limits, Council Member Williams, the prime sponsor of 1039, said, “I do believe it’s time to get moving.” He explained he might even attempt to push the legislation through without HPD sign-off. The Council virtually never moves legislation that has not reached an amicable compromise point with the de Blasio administration.

Williams is hopeful that parlays with the administration will be successful and, according to a spokesperson in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “believes that the administration recognizes the degree of the affordable housing crisis here in the city, and hopes to work with them to address the problem and find meaningful solutions.”

Torres-Springer echoed this desire to cooperate, saying on the podcast, “We continue to work with the Council on those bills, because we share the goal of using every square foot of real estate that we possibly can to build affordable housing, but we have to do it, of course, in the most strategic way.”

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by Ben Weiss, Gotham Gazette

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Key to Affordable Housing Development, Vacant Lots Remain Source of Controversy Mon, 16 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Comptroller Candidate Michel Faulkner http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7219:max-murphy-podcast-comptroller-candidate-michel-faulkner http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7219:max-murphy-podcast-comptroller-candidate-michel-faulkner

Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette


September 28, 2017 - Max & Murphy with Comptroller candidate Michel Faulkner

michel faulknerComptroller candidate Michel Faulkner, running on the Republican and several other ballot lines, joined Max & Murphy to discuss his candidacy. Faulkner, a pastor, called himself "a proud Frederick Douglass Republican," and explained that he is a "small government conservative" who believes in "individual responsibility." At the same time, he said he is not for dismantling welfare programs, but instead wants to create more opportunity for people to lift themselves out of poverty.

Faulkner believes in "privatizing more things," he said, naming NYCHA as one example, though he does not necessarily believe all of the housing authority should be made private. He said he wants the job of comptroller to improve the city's fiscal management and dismissed the notion that the city has enough saved in rainy day funds as well as the positive ratings that the city has been given by outside financial monitors.

Faulkner argues that incumbent Scott Stringer, the Democrat he is trying to unseat, has not held Mayor Bill de Blasio to account in strong enough fashion, and outlines much more of the rationale for his candidacy.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy. You can hear the episode through the embedded audio below or download it wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Comptroller Candidate Michel Faulkner Thu, 28 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
2017 New York City Primary Election Results http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7190:2017-new-york-city-primary-election-results http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7190:2017-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.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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2017 New York City Primary Election Results Tue, 12 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Republican Citywide Candidates Hopeful Despite Slow Fundraising http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7091:republican-citywide-candidates-hopeful-despite-slow-fundraising http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7091:republican-citywide-candidates-hopeful-despite-slow-fundraising Faulkner

GOP Comptroller candidate Michel Faulkner


Ahead of the citywide elections, Republican candidates for Comptroller and Public Advocate -- Michel Faulkner and J.C. Polanco, respectively -- have struggled to raise funds for their campaigns, trailing their respective opponents by large sums.

With just over three months before Election Day, both Faulkner and Polanco need to significantly increase their fundraising prowess to run competitive races against Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James, both Democrats.

Faulkner, a former New York Jet and reverend, has over $91,000 cash-on-hand as of the latest filing. Over the course of his campaign, he has received $157,875 in loans, $126,800 of which is his own money. Notably, former Republican candidate for mayor Paul Massey and his wife both donated $4,950 to his campaign in May, the maximum amount that is legally permitted. Massey and Faulkner had endorsed each other before Massey dropped out of the race.

A political consultant and aide in the state Assembly minority, Polanco has even less in the bank, with only $10,386 on-hand, though he only recently entered the race. Public Advocate James, meanwhile, has $309,720 cash-on-hand.

Similarly, Comptroller Stringer holds $1,663,140 in the vault as of the July filing, far surpassing Faulkner.

Polanco and Faulkner are both energetic campaigners, but it is unclear if they will be able to pick up the fundraising pace. In order to have a chance, they must be able to fund campaign activities, meet the Campaign Finance Board’s threshold to receive public matching funds, and qualify for the debates.

In a heavily Democratic town -- roughly 80% of New York City voters voted for Hillary Clinton this past Fall -- gaining traction as a Republican is always difficult. Still, the Faulkner and Polanco totals are particularly low, according to George Arzt, a long-time New York City journalism and communications professional. “That’s dreadful,” he said, reacting to a reading of the candidates’ fundraising totals. Arzt is a Democrat who worked for Mayor Ed Koch.

Their struggle raising money, particularly from Republican and Conservative groups and individuals, comes as no surprise to Arzt, though. “Would you put money into their campaigns knowing that they have about under a 5 percent chance of winning?” he asked rhetorically. “Would you waste your money if you were the organization?”

However, in interviews with Gotham Gazette, both Faulkner and Polanco expressed optimism about their campaign’s ability to gain traction in the coming months. Both candidates believe they have a crossover message that doesn’t fit neatly into a typical Republican box. (They also have significant differences, given that Faulkner is a strong proponent of President Donald Trump, while Polanco is a longtime critic of Trump.)

Faulkner pointed to his heterodox message on social services: “People ask me, ‘well are you going to cut services?’ The answer is no, we need more services.” And on unions: “I’m not a union buster, I believe in labor, I was a member of the Teamsters union.” He also sports a more conventional urban conservative message backing charter schools and on policing. “My biggest challenge is my party affiliation,” he said.

More true to the job of comptroller, Faulkner has a harsh assessment of his opponent’s history holding Mayor de Blasio accountable. “He’s a tame, weak watchdog, who’s only watching. He’s not barking, he’s not biting, he’s not growling,” Faulkner said of Stringer, who has been tough on de Blasio but did endorse the mayor for a second term. “He’s part of the problem,” Faulkner said, insisting Stringer is too complacent with an unacceptable status quo. “The reason I’m becoming concerned about Stringer is he campaigned as an activist,” he said. However, Faulkner alleged Stringer “has become complicit in everything that's wrong with government.” “He’s a government bureaucrat who’s worse than de Blasio,” he added.

Faulkner said he is unfazed by Stringer’s fundraising advantage. “He has more money, but he doesn't have a fundraising advantage because he doesn’t have Michel Faulkner’s heart,” he said. “I don’t need his money; I need enough money,” Faulkner said. “I don’t need as much as he needs to run a campaign. I don’t have to, I’m a whole different breed of cat.”

Still, Faulkner acknowledged he needs to get the ball rolling with his fundraising efforts. “Do I have enough money now? No, but I believe I will have enough.”

He went on to explain why he has gotten off to a slow start in fundraising, pointing to his short-lived mayoral campaign, which he ended to run for comptroller, where there was no Republican candidate. “To say that it’s been a challenge is a real understatement,” he said. “Because I tried so much stuff for the mayoral campaign, the pivot is very difficult to getting back on track.” Faulkner said he is going to add more “call times,” periods spent on the phone talking to potential donors.

“We actually had a very exciting call [recently] and Ed Cox is helping,” Faulkner said of the New York State Republican Party Chair. “The county leaders are going to get behind us and work with us, we’re putting the pedal to the metal,” Faulkner said.

Polanco, a self-described “Never Trump Republican” who strives to be an independent voice willing to speak out against wrongdoing regardless of party, is focusing his campaign on political and ethics reform. He also promises to be a stronger watchdog of the mayor than the current officeholder he is seeking to unseat.

In the interview, Polanco described how difficult the fundraising component has been for him during his short campaign. “There's no question that fundraising is the toughest part of this campaign,” Polanco said. “The two hardest things to do are losing weight and getting financial contributions for a public advocate’s race. I’m convinced of those two things” he said in his typical upbeat tone. “But I’m working at it.”

“When I got into the race,” he continued of his early June launch, “I had to go through all this paperwork so that I could qualify to be able to fund-raise. From the moment I got the OK to the moment of the first [campaign finance] filing was only about three weeks. I’m continuously calling to try to make it happen, to generate excitement so that I could have a respectable race and show some credible fundraising numbers.”

Polanco expects the bulk of his donations to come from small-dollar donors and cited complications with getting large dollars from the Republican Party apparatus. In a prior interview with Gotham Gazette, around the time of his campaign launch, Polanco said he wouldn’t be campaigning full-time for a while, given the need to support his family.

“That's exactly what you want to be doing is focusing on individual, small-dollar donations to qualify for the match program,” said Republican consultant and communications professional Jessica Proud. “For the city, the mayor’s race tends to get the focus of the attention when it comes to earned media,” she said. “J.C [Polanco] got into the race a little bit late so I think he’s just getting started now.”

“It takes a little time to build up an organization,” Proud added. “It's not like you’re flipping the switch and they give you a big check,” she said of the matching funds program, wherein the public money supplements small-dollar donations to political campaigns.

Arzt argues it is not good timing for Republicans to win citywide, including mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis, a Staten Island Assembly member and the presumptive GOP nominee. While Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg had success running city-wide, times have changed, according to Arzt. He noted that Giuliani succeeded a troubled Dinkins administration and Bloomberg came in just after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The current Republican candidates, he said, currently lack any evident “catastrophic event that could propel them into office,” though one could occur at any time. “Its tough to go up against an incumbent unless the incumbent is tainted by scandal or misjudgement,” Arzt added.  

Proud, who does communications for Cox and the state GOP, expressed support for Polanco and Faulkner, and their non-ideological positioning. “There's no Democrat or Republican way to pick up the trash,” she said. “And I think that's the kind of positioning you need to have as a Republican in New York City.”

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Republican Citywide Candidates Hopeful Despite Slow Fundraising Thu, 27 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Stringer Updates Transparency Website to Show More Subcontracting http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7092:stringer-updates-transparency-website-to-show-more-subcontracting http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7092:stringer-updates-transparency-website-to-show-more-subcontracting stringer podium

Comptroller (photo via @NYCComptroller)


New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer is modifying the website showing city spending to include more information on sub-vendors, providing an added layer of transparency to the tool that helps shed light on hundreds of billions of dollars in city contracting. Checkbook NYC, the financial accountability portal run by the comptroller’s office with real-time data on the city’s complicated web of spending, contracts, and vendors, will get this updated starting Friday, Stringer is set to announce.

The site, which consists of a series of interactive charts and graphs displaying city agency spending and contracts, already features a dashboard of sub-vendors with information on payments by agency, contract, and primary vendor.

Stringer’s office is adding information on the number of contracts that require sub-vendor data and how many have submitted it; the number of proposed sub-vendors approved or rejected by agency chief contracting officers (CCOs); the numbers of sub-vendors at different stages of approval at each agency; and the general number of sub-contracts by prime vendors by agency.

Additionally, the entry for each individual contract will indicate whether the contractor is required to report sub-vendor information, if that information has been submitted, and where proposed sub-vendors are in the approval process.

“This is the start of the process – not the end. Right now, there’s a small amount of sub-vendor information in Checkbook. It won’t be filled overnight. Over time, we know more information will be added and we know it will yield a more open government,” Stringer said in a statement announcing the Checkbook expansion.

These sub-vendors are entities hired by a contract’s primary vendor to complete certain tasks. For example, the city’s Department of Design and Construction might hire a large construction firm to work on city-owned buildings. The construction firm, in turn, might pay consultants, engineering firms, and equipment firms as part of their city contract; these would be sub-vendors. According to data on the portal, they have been collectively paid over $450 million so far in fiscal year 2017.

CheckbookNYC was officially launched in 2010 by then-comptroller John Liu in an effort to increase fiscal transparency. It’s evolved since; this will be the third update made by Stringer, a first-term Democrat, since taking office at the beginning of 2014. An August 2014 update brought in data on contracts with the city’s Economic Development Corporation and a February 2015 update included information on minority and women-owned business and created the sub-vendor dashboard.

Not all the data will be immediately available. According to the comptroller’s office, “not every prime vendor and agency is in compliance with Citywide reporting rules.” The new feature is in part targeted at increasing reporting compliance.

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

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Stringer Updates Transparency Website to Show More Subcontracting Thu, 27 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Last City Budget Hearing Sets Stage for Final Negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6957:last-city-budget-hearing-sets-stage-for-final-negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6957:last-city-budget-hearing-sets-stage-for-final-negotiations ferreras

Council Member Ferreras-Copeland (photo: John McCarten)


The City Council held its final hearing on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $84.86 billion executive budget proposal on Thursday, with Council members raising issues that have persisted throughout budget season and expressing concerns about the federal budget proposal released this week by the Trump administration.

“The city adopts the Fiscal 2018 budget at a time of great uncertainty about the future of critical programs and services that help many of our most vulnerable populations,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, chair of the Council’s finance committee, in a prelude to a deal that must be reached between the Council and de Blasio by the July 1 start to the new city fiscal year. Many are expecting a deal much sooner than that deadline, though.

Ferreras-Copeland called the White House’s budget proposal “devastating,” pointing out that it outlines cuts to food stamps, Medicaid, housing programs, and the earned income and child tax credits. She worried that many city agencies hadn’t developed contingencies to cope with those potential cuts.

Although Ferreras-Copeland commended the de Blasio administration for funding key initiatives -- air conditioning in public school classrooms, immigrant support services, planning for borough-based jails in the effort to close the Rikers Island complex -- and reducing excess capital appropriations, she criticized the lack of funding for universal school lunch, senior services, youth jobs, and the Emergency Food Assistance Program. The budget, “as it currently stands, does not appropriately reflect the vision of both the Council and the Mayor,” she said.

Ferreras-Copeland said the administration had failed on a few fronts, particularly in reforming the capital appropriation process and providing transparency. She cited, for instance, the mayor’s announcement of a partial hiring freeze for administrative and managerial positions. “Because the Administration did not issue guidance on this plan until well into the budget hearings, agencies were unable to provide us any detail about how it would affect them,” she said. She also called for increasing city reserves, from the current 10.7 percent of adjusted spending to somewhere between 12 and 18 percent.

Dean Fuleihan, de Blasio’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, defended the proposed budget while promising to continue working with Council members on their priorities. Fuleihan presented a grim assessment of how President Trump’s budget would affect the city, insisting that the administration has “responded to the uncertainties and challenges we face by maintaining historic reserves and expanding our savings program, while continuing to make investments that strengthen New York’s future.”

Reform of the capital projects management system seemed of particular importance at the hearing and Ferreras-Copeland wondered why projects experienced consistent delays and cost overruns. Council Member Brad Lander later released an issue brief at the hearing, prepared in concert with other members, that showed 44 percent of capital projects that cost more than $25 million were severely late and 42 percent of projects were severely over budget. On average, the brief noted, projects were $30 million over-budget and 700 days late.

“This is not the fault of the de Blasio administration but we have a shared responsibility to do more to fix it,” Lander said.

Fuleihan agreed with that sentiment, while insisting the administration was making incremental improvements. “We need to work together...we need to be careful, we need to be thoughtful about this,” he said. The city will pass both a new fiscal year operational spending plan and a revised 10-year capital spending plan. The capital plan is revised every other year.

Fuleihan also promised to provide more detail about lump sum appropriations for a number of city agencies, an issue that Ferreras-Copeland said prevents the Council from full oversight. He also explained the implementation of the administration’s partial hiring freeze, which includes a variety of caveats, as the mayor had indicated it would.

Another issue that has been raised throughout the budget process is increased funding for nonprofit human services providers that are contracted by the city. These providers are increasingly facing financial insolvency and Council members have been advocating for the administration to provide contract increases. Fuleihan noted that it was an “inherited” problem and that the city has done more in the last three years than prior administrations. This year, the mayor’s preliminary budget also included a six percent wage increase over three years, at a cost of $200 million, for employees of these nonprofits. “Do we need to do more? Obviously,” Fuleihan said. “We’re saying we need to do more and we’re committed to doing more.”

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, chair of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations, pushed the administration on a $150 million capital need for city libraries and for $40 million in increased allocations for cultural institutions facing the threat of federal funding cuts.

Fuleihan stressed that the city has made significant investments in libraries, including capital allocations and operational funds for six-day service. “There’s always significant needs there, I’m not minimizing that...It’s another area where I think we all need to see some improvements,” he said of library capital projects. Cultural institutions, he said, were “part of the conversation we’re having,” and vowed that the administration will fight back against any proposed cuts.

Both Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and Council Member Laurie Cumbo reiterated a request for funding “Fair Fares” to give discounted Metrocards to low-income New Yorkers. It is one of the few budget requests that the mayor has absolutely refused to fund, insisting that the state or state-controlled MTA should provide the funding. Fuleihan repeated that rationale at the hearing. “The mayor is more than sympathetic towards this but he feels that the appropriate place to fund it is the MTA,” he said.

Cumbo also asked for the administration’s plan to expand the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), an ongoing point of negotiation between the administration and the Council. Fuleihan, pointing out that the city has increased SYEP slots by almost double in the last three years, said expanding the program was not as simple as funding more slots. “There are two things: how much capacity are we actually able to do over the summer, and if we agree on moving forward, how do we move forward,” he said. “So I think there’s still questions for us to work though.”

Following Fuleihan, Comptroller Scott Stringer also presented the Council with his preliminary analysis of the White House budget proposal and its impact on the city, finding that the city could lose $850 million in social services, housing and education funding. “We have to anticipate the impact of these significant cuts,” he said, “and be prepared with a sound and responsible city budget.”

And although he said that the city’s economic outlook remains strong -- with a projected surplus in fiscal 2017 that will “equal or exceed” the previous year’s $4 billion surplus -- he said revenue and job growth were slowing. “I remain concerned that we are not adequately prepared for a potentially rocky road,” he said.

“We’re not being alarmist, I’m not here today to say we’re in doomsday,” he later added, “but, look, part of why we’ve been successful as a city is, we navigate what comes our way. We’re forward thinking about it...This is our moment to be very strategic and cautious.”

Stringer listed a few of his own priorities for the budget, calling for reductions in the cost of citizenship applications to relieve the financial burden on 670,000 eligible immigrants. He also reiterated the need to fund human services nonprofits, releasing an accompanying analysis of the industry, and finally insisted on procurement reform at the Department of Education.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli also released an analysis of the federal budget proposal on Thursday, calling for increased reserves to weather economic uncertainty and the potential rollback of the Affordable Care Act. “The President's proposed budget would make steep reductions in programs upon which city residents rely and poses a major risk to future city budgets,” DiNapoli said in a statement.

With Thursday’s hearing, the public facing part of the budget process comes to an end, save for the rallies and press conferences that may occur to lobby for additional funding for specific causes. The City Council and the mayor will now move to closed-door negotiations to hammer out the final tweaks to the spending plan. Last year, the final budget deal reduced spending by about $100 million from the proposed executive budget. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mayor de Blasio ceremoniously shook hands on that budget agreement on June 8, the earliest agreement in 15 years. The next budget is due by July 1, the start of the 2018 fiscal year.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Last City Budget Hearing Sets Stage for Final Negotiations Thu, 25 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Michel Faulkner Attempts Outsider Republican Run for Comptroller http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6950:michel-faulkner-attempts-outsider-republican-run-for-comptroller http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6950:michel-faulkner-attempts-outsider-republican-run-for-comptroller Faulkner Massey

Michel Faulkner, left (photo: Samar Khurshid)


Michel Faulkner is tired of career politicians and he doesn’t believe elected experience is necessary to run for one of New York’s citywide offices. Faulkner, the pastor at the New Horizon Church in Harlem and once a defensive lineman for the New York Jets, is running as a Republican for the office of Comptroller, the city’s chief financial officer.

In an hour-long interview at City Diner on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Faulkner, 60, explained his decision to run for Comptroller and how he believes his experience in the private sector trumps what incumbent Comptroller Scott Stringer, a Democrat, has brought to the office. “There was a need,” Faulkner said, “and I can help the city as Comptroller in a significant fashion.”

Faulkner was, until two weeks ago, vying for the Republican nomination for Mayor but dropped out soon after Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis launched her own mayoral candidacy. The GOP mayoral nomination has all but become a two-horse race now with Malliotakis and millionaire real estate executive Paul Massey appearing to be the most viable contenders. There was no GOP candidate for Comptroller until Faulkner dropped to the race.

[Related: GOP Mayoral Primary Appears To Be Massey Versus Malliotakis]

Malliotakis’ entry into the mayoral fray forced Faulkner to rethink his own campaign, he said. At first he was expecting her support, but instead she became a competitor. “And I looked at the whole idea of what we want to do as Republicans,” he said. “We want to advance the two-party system. We want to have electable people who have good ideas to move things forward. And in New York City, we wanna create a competitive market for those ideas.”

Faulkner quickly endorsed Massey for Mayor and Massey endorsed his campaign for Comptroller in return -- the two held an at-times awkward press conference at City Hall on May 15. Faulkner also said that Malliotakis, a 36-year-old Staten Islander, doesn’t have the “life experiences, in my opinion, that would make her a mayoral elected candidate now. In the future, sure, but not right at this moment.”

“I made the decision that the team needed something to happen,” he said of his candidacy for Comptroller. Faulkner has also had trouble raising significant funds for his mayoral bid, loaning his own campaign tens of thousands of dollars; a move to Comptroller is expected to significantly improve that dynamic.

Although Faulkner has called Scott Stringer a friend (Stringer was Faulkner’s local Assembly member at one point, he’s said), he faulted the incumbent Democrat for playing it safe on the political field. “I was hoping that Scott was going to run [for Mayor], if his objections were valid or his distance from de Blasio was valid, he would’ve run,” Faulkner said, referring to the long period of time during which Stringer was considering a primary challenge to Mayor Bill de Blasio. “But he chose rather the safe route...I’m sorry but that’s a political answer when we need a dramatic difference in the way things are being done.”

For Faulkner, Stringer’s biggest failings have been not keeping de Blasio in check, in effect sitting aside while the budget ballooned to nearly $85 billion and not advocating strongly for taxpayers.

“Here’s the problem,” Faulkner said, “We’re spending more and getting less bang for our buck. There are so many inefficiencies in the way we are spending our city dollars. I can help the city tremendously by simply enforcing what we already have on our books. By making audited reports understandable for average New Yorkers and by giving New Yorkers an opportunity to know what’s going on with their dollars, because everybody cares about their tax dollars. We just don’t get a chance to say much about it because we think it’s not going to help.”

Faulkner has employed a literal “watchdog” analogy to the comptroller’s office before, and drove home the point again. “We hear no growls, no biting certainly,” he said of Stringer.

The criticism of Stringer appears a bit overstated given how the comptroller has approached his job for the past three-plus years. Stringer, although a Democrat like de Blasio, has been consistently critical of the mayor and his agencies. In dozens of reports and fiscal audits, Stringer has identified weaknesses in the de Blasio administration and recommended reforms. His office has covered everything from the city’s low level of investment in Minority and Women Owned Businesses (M/WBEs) and the sharp increase in homelessness spending to the costs of snow removal. Just this week, he released an audit of the Department of Education’s implementation of high speed internet in middle schools, finding that the DOE did not maintain documentation that would show whether the project was completed on time or within its budget. Stringer was also a vocal critic of the Campaign for One New York, de Blasio’s political nonprofit, calling it a “slush fund” shortly after de Blasio had been criticized by the Campaign Finance Board for how the nonprofit raised and spent funds.

Although Stringer has not been especially vocal in questioning the rapid increase in expenditure under de Blasio, he puts out his own easy-to-read analysis each year of the mayor’s budget and has advocated for increased savings, insisting that the city must maintain an adequate “budget cushion” to weather a potential economic downturn. He has also hosted numerous town halls and local speaking engagements to directly communicate with New Yorkers across the boroughs. “New Yorkers know they can count on Scott Stringer's independence and effectiveness - plain and simple,” said Ilana Goldman, Stringer’s campaign manager, in an email. “He will continue to hold government accountable and be the progressive voice on the critical issues facing the city. We welcome Michel to the debate.”

Perhaps a result of his outspoken nature, Faulkner believes the Comptroller should be a constant, vocal, independent advocate on behalf of taxpayers. “So I may not be able to increase the number of charter schools, for instance, which is the mayor’s purview,” he said (incorrectly, charter schools are authorized through the state), “but I can say, ‘This is a report on how the schools are running and what the schools are or are not doing...That’s the independent voice. You’re doing a comparison analysis, you’re doing risk analysis...You’re providing really literally the business analysis of how the city is doing business. We don’t see that. I will bring that to the table.”

It was not clear exactly what Faulkner has reviewed from Stringer’s office or what specifically he thinks Stringer is not doing that the incumbent is in fact not putting forth. At the cross-endorsement press conference with Massey, Faulkner indicated he was just starting to dig into a review of Stringer’s output given his shift to the race.

Other than fiscal audits, the city Comptroller is also the fiduciary for the City’s five public pension funds, worth about $160 billion in assets. The Comptroller also reviews city contracts and resolves claims for and against the city. Enforcement of prevailing wage and living wage laws also falls under the office’s purview.

Faulkner believes he is prepared for the role. He touts his own experience running nonprofit groups such as the Institute for Leadership, which ran a statewide diabetes awareness campaign in 2009. He spoke of his experience working under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani on an NYPD police-community relations task force and of his time as a commissioner on the City Charter Review initiative. He also co-chaired a Board of Education task force on HIV/AIDS. Between 2002 and 2004, Faulkner ran programs in the United States for World Vision, an international evangelical aid organization. He founded the New Horizon Church in 2006 and also ran a company called Over the Hump Resources LLC which provided aid to small businesses for the last three years.

“There’s something to be said about having worked in the private sector,” Faulkner said. “Those private sector experiences that you bring to the table give you a perspective that help shape your thinking. Scott [Stringer] doesn’t have that...I’m talking about solutions. Every city agency is audited by the Comptroller. When the audited reports come out and it’s inefficient, it’s obvious that something ain’t working, suggest ways to fix it. I’ll suggest ways to fix it.”

“My job as Comptroller is to help us spend money wiser, to spend it better according to city laws,” Faulkner added, “and to help New Yorkers feel like their money isn’t running away from them.”  

It’s hard to say how Faulkner’s campaign may be received by the electorate leading up to the November election -- at this time, Faulkner and Stringer are running unopposed in their respective primaries. Faulkner is socially conservative and a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, who is deeply unpopular in his hometown of New York City. He voted for Trump last year, though he also said he voted for Barack Obama in 2012, and he insists that he isn’t supportive of every Trump policy or proposal. He is a Republican in a city where Democrats have a 6-to-1 voter enrollment advantage. In 2013, Stringer won the office of Comptroller with 80 percent of the vote against little-known Republican John Burnett and a few “third party” candidates.

Faulkner opposes New York’s sanctuary city status and doesn’t agree that low-level non-violent criminal offenses should be treated with civil penalties, which is a key initiative of the current administration and City Council. So far, he’s continued to mostly focus on criticizing de Blasio, with some initial jabs at Stringer. His campaign website has no policy proposals or statements.

Faulkner’s core constituency, he said, is “the forgotten, the disregarded,” including the African-American community, the Latino community, and poor and middle class New Yorkers. He has often focused on some of the egregious conditions plaguing the New York City Housing Authority, NYCHA, which is home to about half-a-million New Yorkers.  “Because just like President Trump talked about...their voices aren’t being heard,” he said.  

But he believes that, just like Trump, he can appeal to voters with the “truth and sincerity” that he brings to the equation and that, again like Trump, experience in elected office is not a necessity to run for Comptroller. “I think we’ve reached a day and a point where career politicians aren’t doing it anymore,” Faulkner said. “We’re seeing the same problems over and over and over. So the person who has held elected office after elected office and government position after government position, doesn’t necessarily manage the city’s or the nation’s affairs well. We need different models.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Michel Faulkner Attempts Outsider Republican Run for Comptroller Tue, 23 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Comptroller Examines Uneven Economic Growth in Gentrifying Neighborhoods http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6890:comptroller-examines-uneven-economic-growth-in-gentrifying-neighborhoods http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6890:comptroller-examines-uneven-economic-growth-in-gentrifying-neighborhoods stringer presser

Comptroller Stringer (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


The 15 neighborhoods that experienced the highest rates of gentrification in the city between 2000 and 2015 showed a monumental increase in new businesses and job growth but with an inequitable distribution of the accompanying benefits, according to a new analysis released Tuesday by Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer’s first-of-its-kind report, titled “The New Geography of Jobs: A Blueprint for Strengthening NYC Neighborhoods,” looked at economic activity in 15 gentrifying neighborhoods and examined trends in employment and entrepreneurial activity by industry, age, racial and ethnic groups. The neighborhoods were those identified by the NYU Furman Center in an analysis of 55 “sub-borough areas” in 2015. Of these, 22 were classified as lower income and 33 as higher income. The gentrifying neighborhoods were those that were lower income in 1990 and had experienced rent increases beyond the median neighborhood.

“We need to create an economy based on fairness,” Stringer said, speaking at the Chinese-American Planning Council on the Lower East Side. Stringer cited CPC’s work in the Lower East Side Employment Network, a successful workforce development approach that he said should be the model for other neighborhoods. “We want to be able to lift up all groups of people and everyone in our communities. I believe this is about the need to support the idea of local wealth creation and we can only do that with innovative, collaborative and community-centric solutions,” the comptroller added.

As economic activity increases in previously under-developed and lower-income neighborhoods, Stringer believes, the resulting opportunity, profits, and benefits should be experienced more evenly by all groups of residents.

The number of businesses in the city grew from 203,698 to 237,198 in the 15-year period, the report found, with increased activity in the boroughs outside Manhattan. In Downtown and Midtown Manhattan, which have traditionally seen large concentrations of the city’s economic activity, the share of total businesses fell from 39 percent to 31 percent. But in the 15 gentrifying neighborhoods -- which include East and Central Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, Bushwick, Sunset Park, Brownsville and Ocean Hill -- there was a 45 percent increase in the number of businesses from 29,132 in 2000 to 42,261 in 2015.

Although lower income communities saw greater growth than higher income districts across myriad industries, that growth was unevenly distributed. The report notes that while people of color own 34 percent of the city’s businesses, an uptick from years past, their share in the city’s overall economy, 16 percent of revenue and 21 percent of employment, remains relatively low. Black New Yorkers remain massively underrepresented, accounting for 22 percent of the city’s population but only owning 3 percent of businesses.

The report also found that 17.2 percent of young adults, between 18 and 24 years old, were out of school and out of work (OSOW) in 2015, with racial and ethnic disparities in those numbers. Among OSOW youth in gentrifying neighborhoods, black and Hispanic youth represented 21 percent each, while white youth made up 12 percent.

Stringer makes a number of recommendations in the report, aimed at connecting economic growth in a neighborhood to its residents. These include creating local network coordinators at workforce development providers to connect businesses with local job seekers; creating uniform assessments to evaluate and prepare job-seekers for the labor market; and assisting entrepreneurs and startups in scaling up their operations and setting up brick-and-mortar establishments; among other proposals.

“My message today is this: skylines change, creation is a good thing,” Stringer said. “But we have to do a better job of harnessing this economic power in a way that serves everyone. We need to focus not on prices and not just on rent, but we also need to work on wealth creation, on linking long-term residents with new emerging jobs.”

The comptroller noted, in response to a reporter, that housing affordability is still a crucial component of gentrification but emphasized the need to recognize changing demographics and economic challenges in those same neighborhoods. “What we need is a much more forceful workforce development plan because our data shows that there’s real possibility,” Stringer said, “but right now, for many communities, for many people, there’s a real disconnect between some of the benefits of changing neighborhoods, and it’s not filtering down to long-term residents.”

Stringer said this more robust city response to workforce development issues should be part of proposed rezonings that are being studied across the city. The de Blasio administration and local communities are in the process of developing plans to add development, population density, housing -- including affordable units, and neighborhood-specific changes like additional school seats and new parks, for example, to a variety of areas throughout the city. One plan, for East New York, was passed a year ago and is in the process of implementation. Others have moved slowly or stalled, though several, including for East Harlem, may be moving ahead more quickly soon.

Stakeholders in the East New York rezoning, including local Council Member Rafael Espinal, pushed strongly for workforce development initiatives to be included in the final plan, particularly the establishment of a city-run Workforce1 career center that opened in December. Similar efforts are also underway in other neighborhoods facing proposed rezonings, with community advocates insisting that jobs created by development should go to local residents.

Asked by Gotham Gazette about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recently announced plan to create 100,000 “good paying jobs” in the next ten years, Stringer had some cutting advice. “Anytime you want to say, ‘I can create 100,000 jobs,’ sure that’s OK, that’s a good thing,” he said, “but now we have to look at our emerging economies in the boroughs and what kinds of jobs are being created and are we matching good jobs with the citizens in those communities. And if we’re not, and we’re clearly not with communities of color in some of these neighborhoods, well what will you do about it? Can’t just say we’re gonna create jobs for people who can’t access those jobs? That’s not right.”

[Related: Part of Rezoning Plan, City Opens New Career Center in East New York]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Comptroller Examines Uneven Economic Growth in Gentrifying Neighborhoods Tue, 25 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
A Better Budget for New York http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6817:a-better-budget-for-new-york http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6817:a-better-budget-for-new-york scott stringer

Comptroller Scott Stringer, the author


Discoveries of "Super Earths." Contact lenses with data displays and video cameras. Earpieces that translate different languages in real-time. We are truly in the great age of technology and innovation. Knowledge, access, and new tools are helping us break barriers like never before in human history.

So why, then, does it seem so hard to deliver basic transparency to the city budget? If we're realizing incredible new terrain, why is it so difficult to lay out local government spending in a way that everyday people can understand?

Public budget presentations help us live within our means, control spending, and limit the potential for misuse of taxpayer funds. Every year, the City Council does rigorous review and thorough negotiation, and as a result, in New York we’ve had 35 straight years of balanced city spending plans, enjoy a double-A rating on our municipal bonds, and routinely win awards for our budget.

Openness matters because it induces better outcomes.

But let's say, for instance, an advocate for a particular issue or an ordinary taxpayer wants to know whether $4.9 million in funding has been cut for food pantries and other nutrition services. It would be virtually impossible to know by going online. And if that’s the case for a relatively small line item, it means the $84.7 billion in proposed spending for fiscal year 2018 in the preliminary budget is utterly incomprehensible to the public.

Budgets are about priorities. They’re statements not just on how we spend, but on how we present that spending.

When it comes to clarity and accessibility, we’re failing miserably.

There is, without question, plenty of information about the budget available. The Office of Management and Budget has 18 separate documents on its website about the fiscal 2018 preliminary spending plan, and one of them – the “Departmental Estimates” – is 4,180 pages long.

But just because information is posted online doesn’t mean it’s digestible. Just because something is publicly available doesn’t mean it’s transparent. That’s our problem.

Consider the original, exceptionally basic question: Is there, or is there not, a $4.9 million reduction in funding for food pantries and nutrition services in the fiscal 2018 preliminary budget?

Shockingly, not one of those 18 budget documents provides an answer. That’s because our budget isn’t laid out in terms of the programs and services that agencies deliver. Instead, it’s organized into broad “units of appropriation” and then – in voluminous departmental estimates – converted into budget codes, which are more often used to track funding sources than to describe recognizable programs.

That means unless you’re a seasoned budget expert, you’d have no idea what, if any, spending was proposed for fiscal 2018 for food pantries and nutrition services.

What’s more, it’s logical to wonder what that $4.9 million would buy exactly. How many meals does that fund? How many pounds of food can that purchase? You can’t find that information either in the budget or the Mayor’s Management Report. These simple, public-minded questions are devoid of straightforward government answers.

When it comes to budgetary transparency, even though New York is the financial capital of the world, we’re falling behind. Cities across the country have increasingly made spending information user-friendly and informative. While our budget is huge and complex, it doesn’t mean we can’t make it easier to understand.

A lot easier.

We can start by categorizing the budget in terms of the programs and services that agencies provide, instead of presenting obscure budget codes that aren’t recognizable to anyone other than an agency budget official.

We should also show – and describe, narratively – changes from one year to the next. The public should be able to know exactly why and how proposed spending in the future differs, in programmatic terms, from spending now and prior.

If we’re spending less on a particular program, is it because we figured out how to do it more efficiently? Because demand went down? Or was the program cut as a policy choice? These are simple questions to which we know – and should present – the answers.

Efficiency matters. But by themselves, budget figures don’t tell us much. Taxpayers want to know what we’re buying and whether it’s money well spent. That means adding some basic information to the budget document to show what’s being produced, at what cost, and whether we’re achieving our goals. ​

Presenting those answers isn’t rocket science – it’s common sense.

We’ve proven we can manage our city’s finances well. But right now, unless you’re a professional budget expert, a seasoned journalist, or an aficionado, our lack of transparency discourages public participation.

We should be giving residents the open government they deserve, because the budget affects every single New Yorker. That means we must take the next step and open the discussion up to everyone, so that communities across the city can help decide the kind of city we want to be down the road.

As for that $4.9 million...it is currently not in next year’s budget. The funds were added this year by the City Council to provide emergency food to 180 pantries and soup kitchens citywide, and to help expand access to healthy foods at farmer’s markets and elsewhere. The Council and the Mayor will decide whether to add the funds again for next year’s budget.

Because, after all, budgets are about priorities.

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Scott Stringer is New York City Comptroller. On Twitter @scottmstringer.

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

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A Better Budget for New York Sun, 19 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
'External Risks Threaten NYC Budget,’ State Comptroller Says http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6786:major-risks-threaten-nyc-budget-state-comptroller-says http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6786:major-risks-threaten-nyc-budget-state-comptroller-says dinapoli speaking podium

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (photo: @NYSComptroller)


As City Council hearings on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget plan began Thursday morning at City Hall, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a new report on the city’s finances. “External risks threaten NYC budget,” the report blares, raising additional red flags to those already in the air courtesy of de Blasio’s own budget office, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, and others.

DiNapoli’s report, “Review of the Financial Plan of the City of New York,” is part of his job as comptroller -- he is the state's chief fiscal officer. Citing potential cuts to both federal and state funding to New York City, as well as slowing economic growth and tax collection, DiNapoli warns of uncertainty, even as de Blasio has outlined another increase to the city budget -- in late January, de Blasio presented an $84.67 billion spending plan.

Still, DiNapoli noted that the city’s reserves, savings program, and projected budget surplus for the current fiscal year are all helpful as it readies for potential storms ahead.

“While the city faces significant budget risks, it has record reserves to use if needed and Mayor de Blasio plans to expand the citywide savings program to help cut the size of the projected budget gaps,” DiNapoli said. “New York City’s economy is strong, but job growth and tax collections are slowing and risks beyond the city’s control, including possible changes in federal policy, are creating uncertainty.”

The City Council will evaluate de Blasio’s spending plan for the next few weeks, then release a preliminary budget response. Soon after, the mayor must release an updated executive budget plan, which will take into account the Council’s feedback; negotiations with the Council, service providers, and others; any developments on the federal level, where the Trump administration has threatened to strip billions of dollars in funding to cities like New York; and the adoption of a new state budget, which is due by April 1.

De Blasio and the City Council have until July 1 to agree on a spending plan for the next fiscal year. Once de Blasio releases his executive budget, another round of public hearings will commence as negotiations also continue behind closed doors.

DiNapoli’s analysis of the city’s financial picture discusses specific questions related to federal action, like potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act and Wall Street regulations, along with whether President Trump and a Republican Congress will attempt to significantly reduce federal funding to New York City -- in the current fiscal year, the city “anticipates the receipt of $8.8 billion in federal funding,” DiNapoli’s report says, which is about 10 percent of the city’s operating budget. About 1.5 million city residents could lose health insurance if the ACA is repealed, DiNapoli writes, mostly due to a possible loss of Medicaid coverage.

Looming threats from Washington, D.C. -- where de Blasio was himself on Thursday for a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors -- was a major theme of the first City Council budget hearing, where the Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito; Council Finance Chair, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland; and other Council members asked questions of de Blasio budget director Dean Fuleihan. Ferreras-Copeland and others were disappointed with the lack of planning and detail presented by the de Blasio administration on Thursday.

“At a time when economic growth is slowing, uncertainty from Washington is reaching new heights,” City Comptroller Stringer said in a statement to Gotham Gazette when asked about DiNapoli’s new report. “We have to be prepared for any scenario with this White House, because President Trump is capable of not only shredding American values, but also local budgets.” Stringer released his analysis of de Blasio's preliminary budget on February 15.

In her opening statement at Thursday’s hearing, Mark-Viverito said, “we can anticipate that the President’s proposed budget will likely contain deep spending cuts on important domestic priorities.” She said funding and programs that are threatened “could include cuts to Medicaid, SNAP, and education services...[and] a number of federal initiatives that fund City programs may be targeted for elimination.” She cited job training and youth employment programs, funding for public housing repairs, and “social service block grants.”

As for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget, released in January, DiNapoli notes that it “would adversely impact the city by an estimated $561 million beginning in FY 2018,” which starts July 1 of this year. “For example, the budget would increase education aid to New York City by $295 million, $244 million less than the amount anticipated by the city for FY 2018.” Cuomo also outlined a variety of funding cuts to the city in a range of areas -- cuts that de Blasio and his allies in Albany, namely the Democrat-led Assembly, will be fighting before a state budget is agreed upon by Cuomo and legislative leaders.

“While the city’s economy remains strong, it is showing signs of slowing down,” DiNApoli’s report says. “Job growth has declined from an average of nearly 125,000 jobs during calendar years 2014 and 2015, to less than 90,000 in 2016. The city assumes job growth will slow further to 55,500 jobs in 2017.” It is in this light that de Blasio recently pledged the city would spur the creation of 100,000 new “good-paying jobs” over the next ten years. For de Blasio, that means at least $50,000 annually. The mayor’s plan was criticized by some as not being bold enough, but de Blasio has pointed to the city’s slowing job growth and the fact that many new jobs have been lower paying.

“Tax collections have also weakened,” DiNapoli’s report says. “Last year, collections grew by 3.2 percent, less than half the average gain during fiscal years 2011 through 2015. Tax collections are projected to slow further to 2.4 percent in FY 2017.”

But, the city does have solid reserves and an ongoing savings program, which de Blasio has vowed will yield even more savings before he presents his executive budget this spring. DiNapoli credits the city with $1 billion in its general reserve, and $250 million to be set aside annually in its Capital Stabilization Reserve, as well as $4 billion in its Retiree Health Benefits Trust.

Asked about DiNapoli’s report, Freddi Goldstein, a budget spokesperson for de Blasio, said, “As Comptroller DiNapoli points out, we have been cautious in our budgeting while we prepare for the unknown. We are maintaining historic levels of reserves, have been saving at each phase of the budget and are being strategic and targeted with our investments.”

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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'External Risks Threaten NYC Budget,’ State Comptroller Says Thu, 02 Mar 2017 05:00:00 +0000