Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1117 Mon, 24 Sep 2018 19:25:33 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Pointing to Deficiencies, Victims Call for Changes to State’s New Sexual Harassment Policies http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7764:pointing-to-deficiencies-victims-call-for-changes-to-state-s-new-sexual-harassment-policies http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7764:pointing-to-deficiencies-victims-call-for-changes-to-state-s-new-sexual-harassment-policies gov cuomo bill clinton electoral

(photo via the Governor's Office)


The problem of sexual harassment in New York state politics is systemic and plaguing young women beginning their careers, according to a group fighting to change the culture and the laws around the issue. And, they argue that recently adopted state measures to fight the scourge are insufficient, despite being touted by Governor Andrew Cuomo as “the best in the nation.”

The seven women of The Sexual Harassment Working Group -- all of whom have been personally affected by sexual harassment while working for lawmakers in the New York State Legislature -- have consulted a handful of advocacy and legal groups, and called upon their own experiences and expertise, to put together a detailed report with recommendations for ways to better protect women working in government.

“We wonder why there aren’t women in higher office, we wonder why women are so underrepesented in our legislature and in all levels of our government. And this is a big part of why: It does not feel safe to work in government if you’re a woman,” co-author Eliyanna Kaiser, a one-time chief of staff to former Assemblymember Micah Kellner, said during an event in Manhattan on June 19. Kaiser was not herself directly a victim of sexual harassment, but instead reported to Bill Collins in the Assembly Counsel's office, under former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, that Kellner had been sending inappropriate messages to one of his staffers, which led to initial inaction, attacks against Kaiser, and, eventually, Kellner’s ouster from the state Legislature.

Also on the panel were working group members and co-authors Danielle Bennett, former administrative assistant to Kellner who reported his harassment to Kaiser; Leah Hebert, former chief of staff to the late, disgraced Assemblymember Vito Lopez; Tori Burhans Kelly, former legislative aide to Lopez; Rita Pasarell, former legislative counsel and deputy chief of staff to Lopez; Erica Vladimer, former education policy analyst and counsel for the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC); and Elizabeth Crothers, former legislative aide in the New York State Assembly who publicly accused Assembly lawyer Michael Boxley of rape in 2003, two years after the alleged incident and when another victim of Boxley’s came forward. The discussion was moderated by political consultant and columnist Alexis Grenell, who has helped bring to light victims’ experiences as well as the insufficient responses from government officials.

The stories of these women run together in a horror plot that involves countless obstacles to reporting, near-dismissal, and a reluctance to investigate from those in charge, as well as forcibly implemented nondisclosure agreements that hinder the complainant's chances of reemployment and their ability to warn others.

“I agreed not to file a civil suit in exchange for [him to get] a HIV test,” Crothers said, adding the “loss of anonymity” after going public “follows you.”

“I really didn’t think there was another way out aside from suicide,” said Hebert, who was one of the first women to complain about Lopez groping and harassing female staffers, of her experience.

“These things that are happening are not the product of an individual harasser, they’re not mistakes,” Pasarell, another complainant against Lopez, added. “It’s massive, it’s systemic, and whenever I hear a new person coming out I say, ‘hey remember us, remember this happened to us in 2012?’”

It’s a cycle that exploits women and protects men who behave abhorrently and, as Grenell pointed out, it’s a reality yet unchanged by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s claims that New York has the “strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation” following the recent budget, wherein the anti-harassment legislation was passed. Grenell compared the governor’s statement to the “mission accomplished sign” former President George W. Bush stood in front of during 2003 remarks about the war in Iraq, only two months after the U.S. first invaded.

The Working Group is calling for Cuomo to hold public hearings to listen to victims of sexual harassment -- as its members demanded before the policies were decided by all-male leadership with little apparent regard for the opinions of victims. The group’s Harassment-Free Albany website states: “New York State has not held a state hearing on sexual harassment since Governor Mario Cuomo [Andrew Cuomo’s father] created a Sexual Harassment Task Force in 1992.”

The reporting system has no transparency for complainants, limited uniformity, and an obvious lack of objectivity, the panel urges. For example, when Vladimer, who this January publicly accused now-Deputy Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein of kissing her forcibly and against her will outside a bar in 2015, was asked where her case is at now, she said she has no idea.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Vladimer told event attendees on Tuesday. “[It’s with] the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics [JCOPE], which under some very vague executive law somehow has the authority to investigate sexual harassment claims. There are no experts on this commission and the commissioners who vote to decide whether or not there is wrongdoing are all appointed by elected officials.” They are also almost all men, with one woman in 14 commissioners.

“I don’t know where my investigation is and I think that’s one of the biggest things we’ve talked about is that there is no transparency and I know, and have been told, I don’t have a right to know where my investigation’s going,” Vladimer added.

When Vladimer went public, Klein immediately denied the allegations, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said the Senate would not investigate given no formal complaint had been lodged with its internal staff. Klein himself asked JCOPE to investigate, but other than Klein indicating an investigation had commenced, there is little information to go by.

In the lead-up to the new state budget, Cuomo had called for sweeping anti-sexual harassment policies, including greater resources for and transparency in JCOPE investigations. While Cuomo pushed through some measures, those JCOPE recommendations were not among what was passed into law.

The same Klein accused of sexually harassing Vladimer was one of the three other elected men, and no elected women, who assisted Cuomo in deciding the sexual harassment legislation this March, ahead of the annual budget. According to the budget, there are five measures designed to address sexual harassment in state politics -- as the governor’s office puts it, to “further build upon his 2018 Women’s Agenda for New York.”

In a press release announcing highlights of the new budget in March, Cuomo said, "We put into place the strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation, ending once and for all the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled this unacceptable behavior for far too long.”

Under the new legislation, all employers working with the state, including vendors and contractors, must implement a written policy addressing sexual harassment prevention and provide prevention training to all employees. This is an extension of a previously-existing law to include contracted workers, and means that employers may now be held liable for the sexual harassment of non-employees if the employer knew, or should have known, of the harassment and failed to take action. It does not, however, address the ambiguity around employees of elected officials.

The Sexual Harassment Working Group is recommending the definition of “employee” be changed to clearly include employees of elected and appointed officials, and that the New York State Human Rights Law should stipulate elected officials are also considered “employers.”

“Our recommendation is to specify employees as everybody -- essentially someone for hire -- this is how the labor law defines it and we just want every worker to have the same protection, including staff of elected officials,” Pasarell told Tuesday night’s event.

In the new legislation, New York employers are prohibited from requiring mandatory arbitration of claims of workplace sexual harassment, except where inconsistent with federal law, and this will come into effect in July.

Any officers and employees of the state or any public entity who is subject to a final judgement of personal liability in cases of sexual harassment will have to reimburse the state for the award given to the complainant, however the Sexual Harassment Working Group points out this is only applicable for cases determined by a judge, not necessarily to those settled out of court.

Cuomo’s legislation also states no employer has the authority to include or agree to include in any settlement a nondisclosure agreement, unless the condition of confidentiality is the complainant’s preference. And, notably, a model sexual harassment guidance document and a sexual harassment prevention policy is to be created with the Division of Human Right by October -- meaning a key portion of the new policy is not yet written.

“This year, Governor Cuomo signed the strongest anti-sexual harassment policy in the country,” Dani Lever, press secretary for Cuomo, told Gotham Gazette in a statement. “It closed gaping loopholes that entrapped women in toxic workplaces, extended protections to contracted workers, and strengthened rules that prevent companies from shirking their responsibility to root out bad actors—instead of sweeping problems under-the-rug.”

On the surface, all measures included in the enacted budget appear to go a long way towards exactly what the governor is promising but, according to the panel of women who’ve experienced sexual harassment in state politics first-hand, there are some areas of ambiguity that impede the path to reporting and justice for potential victims.

First, the budget hasn’t defined “sexual harassment” and the way the issue is currently treated under state law leaves much room for interpretation. The Sexual Harassment Working Group recommends adding “sex and gender” to the list of classes protected from discrimination in the New York State Constitution, to offer another level of protection for all New Yorkers, including victims. And the authors suggest the current standard for behavior to qualify as sexual harassment in state law -- that it must be “severe or pervasive” -- be changed to mirror the recent changes to New York City law, where the standard for discrimination and harassment reads simply that the person is treated “less well.”

“When you’re talking about standards in law, the ‘litigative itch,’ as they call it, is all in these terms,” Kaiser said. “People are always going to bicker about the actual event that happened. We’d prefer that bickering to be asking, ‘didn’t he treat her less well?’ Rather than, ‘was it severe and pervasive?’”

The working group is also calling for an independent body to oversee all discrimination harassment policy enforcement. At the moment, JCOPE members are appointed by state elected officials. Of the 14 members, three are appointed by the Temporary President of the Senate, three are appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly, one is appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate, one is appointed by the Minority Leader of the Assembly, and six are appointed by the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor.

Many of the stories from the women in The Sexual Harassment Working Group involve some level of disbelief from those charged with investigating their reports of sexual harassment. In Crothers’ case, it wasn’t only disbelief, it was outright protection of her alleged attacker.

“Before it came out in the press and when I met with the speaker [Sheldon Silver], I didn’t feel he didn’t believe me, he just said ‘well I won’t let him go out to bars anymore and my first priority is protecting the institution,’” Crothers said at the panel event. Silver resigned as speaker in 2015 after being arrested on federal corruption charges, and long after being accused of facilitating former Assemblymember Lopez’s harassment of eight women who were on his staff. The panelists believe this culture of cover-up and protection will continue unless there is an independent body appointed to investigate, and determine, reports of sexual misconduct in Albany.

It’s the Lopez example that best shows the need for further restrictions around the use of nondisclosure agreements, beyond what is outlined in the new legislation. Two of the women in the working group, who were on the panel, ultimately signed nondisclosure agreements after accusing the former Assembly member of sexual harassment and groping. They said they didn’t want a nondisclosure agreement -- it wasn’t implemented to protect their privacy -- but it was offered to them as a ‘take it or leave it’ measure.

“We wanted an investigation, we asked multiple times for an investigation,” Hebert said. Hebert’s name went public, despite her having signed a nondisclosure agreement, when reports from other victims were published by the media ahead of Lopez’s resignation in 2013. Instead of an investigation, Hebert said she, along with Pasarell, were made to sign nondisclosure agreements and were told Lopez would go through sexual harassment prevention training.

“The NDA, it wasn’t just that...we couldn’t speak to anyone,” Hebert said. “It was, at first, $10,000 in liquidated damages if we broke it for every occurence, and it would happen with a mediator behind closed doors so no one would know they were enforcing the agreement. And it also contained a provision that we could never apply to the Assembly again.” This last measure effectively limiting their opportunities to work in state government, and the fine making it impossible for the complainants to explain their circumstances to future employers, file for unemployment benefits, or warn others or the Human Rights Division of Lopez’s behavior.  

They pushed back on their exclusion from the Assembly and the response was, “we could never apply to Lopez’s office again, which was fine, but they increased our liquidated damages cost to $20,000,” Hebert said.

Pasarell, another of Lopez’s victims, said the anti-sexual harassment legislation in the budget regarding nondisclosure agreements -- that they can only be used in cases where the complainant consents -- can too easily be twisted to benefit the harasser.

“The way they phrased the new law is for the complainant to have a nondisclosure agreement, it’s got to be the complainant’s preference. In our case we saw repeatedly how the Assembly portrayed it as if it was our preference when it absolutely was not,” she said. “The nondisclosure agreement came to us very late in the game and it was ‘take it or leave it.’”

Women reporting sexual harassment will be better assisted, The Sexual Harassment Working Group argues, if the Legislature provides greater protection against victim coercion into signing nondisclosure agreements. The group also recommends the law allow for individual liability, so harassers can be targeted without taking the Legislature or State to arbitration or court. And, in cases where complainants do want a nondisclosure agreement for confidentiality reasons, there should be a “Sunshine in Litigation” law to prevent serial harassers (who’ve offended at least once prior) from re-offending. “Limited information would be shared but a pattern of harassment would be outed,” Pasarell said.

The way to change the culture of sexual harassment and exploitation is through changing the law, The Sexual Harassment Working Group maintains, and the way to do that is through consulting with victims, advocacy groups, and others, including lawmakers -- a process much more extensive than how Cuomo and legislative leaders, all men, went about it.

In response to The Sexual Harassment Working Group’s report, Cuomo’s team said it will review the recommendations but gave no indication of whether or not they will consider holding or pushing for a public hearing on the issue.

“No woman should ever be violated, let alone in the workplace—period. And that’s why Governor Cuomo has championed measures that hold employers accountable for ensuring a hospitable workplace,” Lever, Cuomo’s press secretary, told Gotham Gazette. “The ‘Me Too’ movement has caused an awakening in our society, and while we’ve taken positive concrete steps in New York, we need to continue to see progress in our state and across the country. We look forward to reviewing these recommendations and continuing this important work.”

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by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that Lopez allegedly harassed eight women on 33 counts, not 33 women; that two, not three, of the women mentioned signed NDAs; and that Kaiser reported Kellner's behavior to the Assembly counsel's office, not Speaker Silver directly.

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Pointing to Deficiencies, Victims Call for Changes to State’s New Sexual Harassment Policies Sun, 24 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Council Members Announce Legislation to Root Out Sexual Misconduct in City Government http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7357:council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7357:council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government rosenthal levine sexual harassment legislation

Council Members Rosenthal and Levine (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


Amid a national outcry against sexual assault and sexual harassment, including in the workplace -- intensified by numerous accusations against sitting members of Congress that have resulted in two resignations thus far -- members of the New York City Council are stepping up to combat, prevent and expose any cases of sexual misconduct within their own ranks and that of the gargantuan city government.

A series of bills proposed on Thursday by two Council members aim to bring to light any instances of sexual harassment at the City Council, city agencies, and even at organizations that contract with the city or receive city funds.

“This moment has the potential to be a turning point, but it will only stick if policy makers seize this opportunity to not just punish individual abusers but reform the system that enabled that abuse,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, co-chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus, at a news conference at City Hall. Rosenthal was appearing with Council Member Mark Levine, who requested the new legislation on sexual harassment policies. “Institutions like the City Council must step up and interrupt the power dynamics that have allowed abuses to exist just under the surface for far too long,” Rosenthal said.

Levine, a Manhattan Democrat who is running to be the Council’s next speaker, has requested that bills be drafted to strengthen the City Council’s policies on sexual harassment, requiring that complaints by Council staffers be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics rather than the Council central staff, as is the case right now. The committee currently only investigates complaints against the elected members of the Council and has the power to discipline them through an official censure, fine, removal from a committee or expulsion from the body. The Council would also have to regularly report the status of complaints to those bringing the claims.

Levine’s proposals are not limited to internal Council practices. He also asked for bills mandating twice yearly disclosure of sexual harassment claims at all city agencies, and has proposed creating a task force to assess agency policies to improve reporting standards and to make it easier for those subjected to harassment to come forward.

“At a time of something of a national awakening to the epidemic of sexual harassment and abuse of power by men in the workplace, in industries like Hollywood, in newsrooms, in the halls of Congress...it would be dangerously naive of us to think that we’re not facing a similar epidemic in the workforce of this city,” Levine said. “It would also be naive for us to assume that in the City Council with its staff of about 300 that we are immune from this epidemic.”

Separately, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer from Queens, another speaker candidate, has proposed two bills that would mandate reporting of sexual harassment policies -- how complaints are resolved, disciplinary and training practices -- from organizations that apply for city funding and would impose a minimum five-year ban from receiving city funds on organizations with multiple complaints. “The #MeToo movement is about exposing systematic workplace sexual harassment and assault, but it's up to lawmakers now to push forward solutions to address it,” Van Bramer said in a statement.

At Thursday’s news conference, which included advocates and Council Members Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Jumaane Williams, who is also running for speaker, Levine said he was not aware of instances of harassment that had occurred at the Council in the last few years, either involving Council members or their staff. When asked by Gotham Gazette if he would ask the current speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and the current staff to make public any possible instances, he said, “Our bill is not retroactive...I certainly would encourage that but our bill is only effective from the day it passes.”

Levine also acknowledged that with the Council’s busy end-of-term schedule and with only two more full-Council meetings on the docket to close out the year and the term, the bills are unlikely to become law this year. “It’s almost certainly too late to pass before the end of the session but this will be a top priority of mine in whatever role I happen to be occupying come January,” he said. “We want to be proactive.”

Members of women’s advocacy organizations praised the reforms proposed Thursday. Ella Mae Estrada, associate dean and chief diversity officer of New York Law School, also announced at the news conference that the School would be partnering with the City Council and Assemblymember Charles Lavine to bring together elected officials, activists and academics for the National Conference on Sexual Harassment in the Government Workplace. “We are all part of an overdue and needed conversation in this country about sexual harassment and we all have an obligation in creating workplaces that are safe and respectful for all of our employees,” Estrada said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Council Members Announce Legislation to Root Out Sexual Misconduct in City Government Thu, 07 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Amid Larger Moment, Will Albany Face Another Sexual Misconduct Reckoning? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7286:amid-larger-moment-will-albany-face-another-sexual-misconduct-reckoning http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7286:amid-larger-moment-will-albany-face-another-sexual-misconduct-reckoning Cuomo Sheldon Silver Skelos Albany

Gov. Cuomo, Sheldon Silver & Dean Skelos in 2012 (photo via The Governor's Office)


As allegations of sexual harassment and assault against disgraced movie producer and major Democratic political donor Harvey Weinstein piled up earlier this month, women around the world took to social media to share stories of abusive behavior using the hashtag #MeToo.

The light being shone on the predatory behavior of Weinstein and many others resonated at statehouses across the United States, from California to Rhode Island, where women in politics have been speaking out about sexual misconduct they experienced first-hand or witnessed, with victims including legislators, young staffers and interns, lobbyists, and others.

In New York’s capital, the response has been more muted, in part because the Legislature is not currently in session, but also because Albany was recently forced to face its own mishandling of sexual misconduct scandals. As recently as 2014, the aftermath of a debacle around sexual harassment by Assemblymember Vito Lopez, which led to his forced resignation from the Assembly, produced a number of significant reforms to how harassment, misconduct, and discriminatory behavior are addressed in the state Assembly.

Now, three years later and amid a national reckoning with issues related to sexual misconduct, women in state government who spoke to Gotham Gazette noted an improvement in the Albany culture since these reforms, but say that sexist attitudes and behavior continue to plague New York state government.

While several female legislators were hesitant to speak on the record about their own experiences with sexual harassment, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa spoke frankly about her own experiences with sexism in the political sphere at a recent forum organized by Berkeley College in Manhattan. She described one incident, a decade ago, when on a conference call, it was announced that she would take the lead on a project. A man on the line, who is now a national leader in progressive politics, according to DeRosa, joked, “She can take the lead right up to my hotel room,” apparently unaware that DeRosa was on the line.

“These instances have stuck with me, but I'm not kidding myself and neither should you — many women have and still do experience far worse every day, and it's not just actresses you're reading about in the news this week,” she said, according to a transcript distributed by the governor’s office.

Calling for “societal course correction,” DeRosa encouraged young women in all industries to speak out.

The statement was a powerful one coming from DeRosa, who at 34 became the youngest person and first woman to be named Secretary to the Governor, the top aide to the state’s most powerful government official, when she was appointed to the post by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Days after DeRosa’s remarks, a former top official in Cuomo’s administration came forward with allegations that her former boss sexually harassed staffers, saying she was inspired by DeRosa’s remarks, according to The New York Post.

Patricia Gunning, who had recently resigned as the special prosecutor/inspector general of the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, told The Post that she faced retaliatory violence for calling out her boss for his behavior.

“My hope is that this conversation will be the beginning of a new era in [how] these issues are addressed by employers,” Gunning told The Post.

On Monday, it was revealed that Sam Hoyt, a former assemblyman and Cuomo ally who ran Buffalo area projects for the state's Empire State Development Corporation, had abruptly resigned to take a job in the private sector. By Tuesday afternoon, Hoyt, who was disciplined by the Assembly in 2009 for an affair with 19-year-old intern, was accused by a former state employee of pressuring her into a romantic relationship. She told The Buffalo News that she was paid $50,000 for her silence.

In a statementCuomo spokesperson Dani Lever acknowledged that allegations of misconduct had emerged against Hoyt and that an investigation was underway.

"All state employees must act with integrity and respect," the statement read. "When the complainant made these allegations, they were immediately refered to the  Governor's Office of Employee Relations (GOER) for an investigation."

After GOER determined there were grounds for further review, the matter was referred to the Inspector General's Office, and later, the Joint Commission of Public Ethics (JCOPE), according to the statement. Hoyt maintains that the relationship was consentual, according to The Buffalo News.

But while to this point there has not been a new public outcry at the New York Legislature, female lawmakers say that the Weinstein scandal and its fallout have struck a chord and sparked private conversations about their early experiences in Albany and how they can best aid young female staff aides and legislators.

One such conversation occurred at a retreat for the Women’s Legislative Caucus in Saratoga two weeks ago, where women shared uncomfortable incidents they had experienced early in their careers and discussed how they could better unify when scandals occur, according to Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo area lawmaker who chairs the Women’s Caucus. One thing agreed upon, Peoples-Stokes said, was that the Assembly’s sexual harassment enforcement could be enhanced by a mentorship program for incoming members and their aides.

“We wanted to see if there is anything we can do in addition to ensure that we never need to have these experiences again,” said Peoples-Stokes. “It is something that we decided we are going to do as women of the Legislature, and you know, when women decide to do something, we get it done.”

While the Assembly reforms appear to have improved the culture in the 150-seat chamber, Albany’s sexual harassment problem has not disappeared. The Senate and the Assembly have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past two years on outside counsel to investigate sexual harassment complaints. The Assembly’s ethics committee -- which exists solely to enforce policy on sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation -- convened a meeting in executive session on October 12 and is expected to meet again on November 2. The matter at hand is not clear.

Currently reported to be under investigation by JCOPE and the Erie County District Attorney’s office is Senator Marc Panepinto, a Democrat from Buffalo, who announced he would not seek reelection last year amid rumors of sexual harassment. Also last year, the Senate paid out $121,000 for two contracts with Kraus & Zuchlewski LLP “for legal counsel related to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission matters and investigation of sexual harassment claims.”

Assembly members who spoke with Gotham Gazette acknowledged the body’s embarrassing history of dismissing sexual misconduct claims internally, which has led to a slew of unflattering headlines in 2012 and 2013, but noted that an influx of female legislators to the Assembly in recent years has also helped to reshape the culture. At the Senate, such scandals and its culture of protecting those in power has not drawn the same scrutiny.

Last week, New York’s chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) made an effort to further jumpstart the conversation, calling on women and men who currently or previously work(ed) in government in Albany and throughout the state to speak out about their personal experiences with sexual harassment or assault while on the job, citing the Legislature’s history of quashing sexual harassment complaints.

“Government sets the standard and the policies and the laws that all other industries are asked to uphold,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women - New York, said in a statement. “Given that Albany is a place where lawmakers have abused their power and sexual harassment has gone unchecked in the past, we felt it was important to give women in politics a platform to speak up.”

The women’s advocacy organization has announced the creation of a new, dedicated hotline for individuals in government to report their experiences (people can call 518-362-7857 or submit a story online at nownys.org).

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Ossorio said the goal is to build on the momentum of the #MeToo movement. The hotline will provide independent counsel and resources to victims while also assessing how effective recent policies have been, she said.

“We immediately thought about the culture that has existed in Albany and we wanted to be able to empower women who work in politics, particularly young women and interns who head to their internships idealistic and wanting to be part of American government and are disillusioned by it,” she said. “We really want to know to what degree the environment of sexual harassment has been uprooted.”

The personal stories tumbling out of statehouses around the nation are eerily familiar to anyone who has closely watched New York state government in recent years. In California, women leaders in government have formed a campaign called “We Said Enough,” sharing stories about how they have endured groping, inappropriate comments about their bodies and abilities, and insults and jokes that diminish them professionally. In some cases, “men have made promises, or threats, about our jobs in exchange for our compliance, or our silence. They have leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like,” wrote the group on a website created for women to submit their stories.

An open letter circulated by members of the Illinois Legislature drew a direct comparison between the Weinstein scandal and the coercive situations in which women in government find themselves and had drawn 130 signatures by Tuesday afternoon, the AP reported.

"Every industry has its own version of the casting couch," reads the letter. "Ask any woman who has lobbied the halls of the Capitol, staffed Council Chambers, or slogged through brutal hours on the campaign trail. Misogyny is alive and well in this industry."

Albany, which has historically been referred to as the New York’s own “sin city,” is no stranger to such scandals. Repeatedly, a series of particularly egregious complaints of sexual harassment or rape has led the Legislature to a watershed moment of sorts, producing much-needed reform in how accusers are treated and how their complaints are handled.

A major turning point for the Assembly occurred in 2004, when, roiling from a series of rape accusations against Assemblymember Adam Clayton Powell IV and Michael Boxley, chief counsel to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, its leadership decided to bar members of the Legislature from fraternizing with interns.

In the state Senate, a somewhat similar soul-searching happened, but at the time many of its members were strongly opposed to the idea of an intern-fraternization ban.

In comparison to the 150-seat Assembly, sex scandals in the 63-seat Senate have unfolded more discreetly -- hinted at through money spent on lawyers or a senator or a top aide leaving the job abruptly amid rumors -- and as a result the body’s leadership has not been forced to publicly reckon with its record in the same way, according to Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who was instrumental in compelling the Senate to implement a mandatory sexual harassment training program.

A decade ago, Krueger said she was privy to two incidents involving interns who were molested by older male senators. One incident occurred in a packed elevator and Krueger famously threatened to kick the senator if he touched an intern again. The other time she learned of a sexual assault claim when she found a young staffer crying outside a senator’s office at the Capitol.

After the second incident, Krueger, who is known for her bluntness on the topic, said she urged then-Senate Leader Joe Bruno, a Republican from the Capital Region, to create mandatory sexual harassment training for all senators. When she threatened to hold a press conference naming and shaming the offending senators, Bruno, who later stepped down from the leadership role amid his own public corruption scandal, responded he would hold a competing press conference naming Democratic senators.

The way Krueger tells it, she said, “I didn't tell you [what] party this senator is in. I don't give a damn what party they are. We can do a joint press conference, and we all can name names. I don't give a [expletive].” To which Bruno responded, “OK, OK, we'll do mandatory sexual harassment training,” Krueger told The Albany Times Union.

The training became mandatory for senators and staff members and the regulations were clearly stated in a written document.

It was not the last time Krueger took her colleagues in the Legislature to task over crimes against women. In June 2003, when Boxley was led out of the Capitol in handcuffs, having been accused of rape for the second time, Krueger said she had a very public confrontation with Assemblymember Lopez, who a decade later would be toppled by his own slew of sexual harassment scandals. They were scheduled, coincidentally, to hold a joint press conference in front of the Legislative Correspondents Association office. According to Krueger, the Assembly member fumed, “How dare they come over here and arrest our counsel in our house?”

“I said ‘excuse me, he was tried with rape,’ pause, ‘for the second time,’ pause,” Krueger recalled to Gotham Gazette, “‘It seems to me that if you have anything to say publicly about this, it's let justice be fair and swift. Otherwise, I think you should keep your mouth shut.'”

Lopez’s Assembly colleagues later told her that she had made an enemy for life. “I said, ‘Good. Some enemies are worth having,’” said Krueger of the former Brooklyn Democratic boss, who lost a City Council race in 2013 and died in November 2015.

Still, Krueger acknowledges that the current sexual harassment policy in the Senate does not encourage women to come forward. “I’d like to believe the written policies the Senate came up with and mandatory training might have helped in some small way,” she told Gotham Gazette last week.

In 2014, following a series of sexual misconduct scandals involving Lopez, Assemblymember Micah Kellner, and Assemblymember Dennis Gabryszak, the Assembly officially changed its policy on sexual harassment, which had last been updated in 2009. In the past, sexual harassment complainants would typically report the incidents to the speaker’s office or the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), but it was up to the discretion of the speaker’s counsel whether to investigate the complaints.

When it was revealed that Speaker Silver did not follow protocol and report misconduct allegations by two staff members against Assemblymember Lopez to the ethics body, instead cutting a secret $103,000 settlement with the women, Silver publically apologized for the lapse and announced that the Assembly would review its practices.

To help restructure the chamber’s sexual harassment policy, the Assembly’s ethics committee enlisted CUNY Law School Professor Merrick Rossein, an attorney, law professor, and expert in discrimination litigation. Through interviews with women in the Assembly, Rossein made a series of recommendations to the bipartisan legislative task force that was convened to address deficiencies in the Assembly’s policy.

“There are a number of things in this policy that I’m very proud of that I’d like to see in every sexual harassment policy, including the private sector,” said Rossein, who has since been retained by the Assembly as an outside counsel to investigate complaints against members, in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

Recommendations made by Rossein include the appointment of an outside investigator to look into complaints; a guarantee of confidentiality for accusers; severe consequences for an employer that retaliates against a complainant; and more. Most importantly, a lawmaker accused of harassment is barred from talking to the accuser until a designated time. Additionally, lawmakers were made mandatory reporters, required to inform the ethics committee about sexual misconduct if they see it or hear about it -- a component women say has had a dramatic impact on the culture in Albany. A hotline has been set up for people to submit tips.

The Assembly policy outlines two types of harassment, hostile work environment harassment — which is directed at somebody based on their sex, would be considered offensive by a reasonable person, and is severe or pervasive enough to interfere with one’s work environment — and quid-pro-quo harassment, the type described by victims of Weinstein, in which professional opportunities are offered in exchange for sexual favors.

In response to the barrage of corruption and sexual harassment scandals over the last decade, the Legislature has also dramatically revamped the way it approaches its ethics and sexual harassment training, according to Assemblymember Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Nassau County and former chair of the Assembly’s ethics committee. Not only are class sizes smaller, according to Lavine, but they have gone from obligatory and dry, to dynamic, thought-provoking, and interactive.

“We have gone from the days when it was almost an obligation to provide -- or what seemed to be at the time -- ethics training that was done in large groups of people,” said Lavine in a January interview with Gotham Gazette. “And while it was content-specific and good, it was not nearly so effective as the modern approach, which is to work with smaller groups of individuals in an interactive environment.”

Still, there is undoubtedly more work to be done to rectify inequities for women and in Albany. It likely doesn’t help that those at the top of Albany’s power chain are all men. Many have pushed for Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County legislator who has led Senate Democrats since 2012 and is the first woman or person of color to lead a legislative conference, to be included at the negotiating table during budget and other high-level talks. Currently, the state’s $150 billion-plus budget is largely hammered out by four men: Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which forms a ruling coalition with the Republican conference. Democrats hope that the 2018 state-level elections and an agreement with the IDC will lead to Stewart-Cousins becoming the leader of a new Senate majority.

Having more women in the Legislature would go a long way towards creating a safer space for female employees at all levels of government, according to Stewart-Cousins.

“The most disturbing thing is that almost every woman has a story regarding harassment or worse,” said Stewart-Cousins, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “This is true in every walk of life and unfortunately true in government. Only by confronting sexism and gender bias head-on will we be able to truly create a culture which respects everyone equally. We need to support women and pro-women candidates for office and energize pro-women New Yorkers to get out and vote.”

An increase in the number of women in Albany has helped reshape the culture from an old boys' club, in which women were largely relegated to secretarial positions, to a more egalitarian environment, where women are not only elected to office, but have risen to acquire key chair positions in both houses and led the passage of women-friendly legislation.

Assemblymember Nily Rozic, who became the youngest woman in the state Legislature and the first woman ever to represent Queens’ 25th District when she was elected in 2012, said she has watched the culture transform since she began her tenure in Albany as an aide to Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh.

“It’s certainly gotten better since I was a legislative staffer, but we have a long way to go. The underlying change that’s happening is that more women are getting elected to the Legislature and that really positively affects our work place,” said Rozic.

Aside from the most serious cases of sexual assault and rape, it’s often sexual comments and diminishing jokes -- such as the one described by DeRosa -- or an extra-long hug that makes the state Legislature a treacherous place for young women.

Alexis Grenell, a political strategist and commentator on feminist issues, said the comment described by DeRosa is a quintessential example of how women are verbally undermined in the workplace.

“The harassment that Melissa described is fundamentally dehumanizing,” said Grenell. “There is nothing benign about it. It’s meant to take away her worth as a thinking, contributing person in a professional environment and renders her the sum total of her physicality and sex appeal. That is dehumanizing. It’s not why she’s on the call.”

Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, recalled her first years as a legislative staffer in Washington, D.C. and as chief of staff to Assemblymember Ron Kim, of Queens. She said that when she first arrived in Albany, Kim warned her not to get into elevators with “the wrong people.” Later, she learned that she had been named on a “hot or not” list that had been circulating among male staffers at the Legislature.

“People would stop me in the hallway and say ‘you are just so exotic,’ but you know I’m not going to report them for it,” said Niou, who was elected to Silver’s old Assembly seat in 2016. “It’s just an ignorant and not very thoughtful comment.”

These types of incidents collectively create a hostile environment that women internalize and come to see as normal, she said.

“Over time, I’ve built this protective shell, like ‘oh these things are just going to bounce right off of me,’ but these things happen every day,” said Niou. “Somebody insists a kiss on the cheek -- like forces it -- but everyone kisses on the cheek, all over Albany people do the kiss-kiss thing.”

The cheek kiss, which is often reserved for women in political settings, falls into a bit of a grey area, but many women in government have observed the greeting often provides an opportunity for hands to roam. The Assembly’s newest sexual harassment policy warns that touching -- including brushing against the body, squeezing, hugging, massaging or patting -- may fall under the category of sexual harassment, but that has not ended the practice.

Grenell, who frequently holds press conferences at the Capitol, said to bypass the double kiss, she initiates a handshake by extending her arm as far away from her body as possible.

A similar strategy is deployed by one Pennsylvania lawmaker, who at a recent women-led panel in the state, explained how she avoids the cheek kiss -- by placing one hand on her colleague’s shoulder, and the other outstretched for a handshake, according to an account by a journalist covering the Harrisburg Capitol in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Albany veterans say they have grown accustomed to awkward and demeaning daily experiences.

"I've been saying for the last 15 years: Every week, I drive three hours north and 30 years back in history in regards to how we treat women," said Senator Krueger, of Manhattan.

With women across all industries, including government, empowered by the Weinstein blowup and its ripples to speak out about their experiences, Krueger said she would not be surprised if it led to another watershed moment in Albany.

“I would suspect in the New York State Legislature, like so many other places -- where you have men in powerful positions and young women who might not have a lot of worldly experience, who think these are very important men,” she said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if more stories come out.”

Update: The story has been updated with allegations about former EDC official Sam Hoyt that emerged Tuesday afternoon.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Amid Larger Moment, Will Albany Face Another Sexual Misconduct Reckoning? Tue, 31 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
To Combat Increase in Reported Rapes, Experts Point to Prevention http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6092:to-combat-increase-in-reported-rapes-experts-point-to-prevention http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6092:to-combat-increase-in-reported-rapes-experts-point-to-prevention cumbo presser

City Coucil Member Laurie Cumbo leads a press conference (photo: William Alatriste)


Reported rapes are on the rise in New York City. Despite an overall downward trend in felony crime, 2015 saw a 6.3 percent increase in the number of rapes reported, up to 1,439 from 1,354. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and others have attributed this increase to the “Cosby effect,” meaning more women are coming forward to report rapes, including from years before, rather than more rape actually being committed.

In the early days of 2016, three reported incidents of rape - all stranger rapes - have garnered attention: two allegedly committed by for-hire vehicle drivers and the horrific alleged gang rape of an 18-year-old in a Brownsville playground. Most rapes are not widely reported in the media - most are committed by someone the victim knows.

Both the increase in rapes reported in 2015 and the Brownsville incident have made rape more central to public policy conversation.

While the city has implemented a number of measures in recent years to encourage victims of sexual assault to come forward, the question remains, what can elected and appointed officials do to help prevent these crimes from happening in the first place?

Of the 1,439 reported rapes last year, 166 were committed by strangers (up from 117 in 2014), and 14 took place in for-hire vehicles like taxis and Ubers (up from 10 in 2014). Speaking about this increase on WNYC radio last week, Bratton encouraged women going home late at night from bars or clubs by cab “to adopt the buddy system.”

That comment was met with widespread criticism, prompting a press conference outside City Hall on a frigid Monday morning, where City Council members and women’s rights advocates denounced the remark.

“It should not be the sole responsibility of a woman to guarantee her safety,” said Council Member Laurie Cumbo, chair of the Committee on Women’s Issues. Cumbo and others outside City Hall called on the NYPD to focus on preventing sexual violence and catching perpetrators, rather than telling women what they should do to avoid becoming a victim.

It’s important that in response to rape, the police department is not “encouraging women to implement buddy systems, but rather saying ‘you have a right to be safe,’” chair of the Committee on Public Safety, City Council Member Vanessa Gibson added.

Three bills have been introduced in the City Council which aim to better protect women from sexual violence:

  • Intro 762, which would require all taxicabs, hail vehicles, liveries, black cars, and luxury limousines to have a panic button installed that would allow a passenger to send a distress signal to law enforcement. There is currently no upcoming hearing scheduled on the bill, which has ten sponsors and has not been moved on since it was introduced by Cumbo in April, 2015.
  • Intro 869, which would require the NYPD to add sex offenses to its crime status report. They would be listed in total and by type of sex offense separately. The bill has eight sponsors and does not seem to have an upcoming hearing.
  • Intro 868, which would require the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications to create a plan that would allow the public to communicate digitally with emergency responders using the City's 911 system. The system would allow the public to send digital communications including text messages, videos, and photographs. The bill was discussed by the Committee on Public Safety and the Committee on Technology at a hearing Thursday morning.   

Those gathered outside City Hall on Monday demanded that these bills be passed, that the city allocate more resources to increase monitoring of high incident locations and improve access to rape crisis counselors and centers, and that the NYPD come out with a comprehensive strategy to address the rising number of sexual assaults.

A spokesperson for the NYPD informed Gotham Gazette that over the past two years, with support from the Mayor and the City Council, the NYPD has made several changes to better deal with sexual assault, including:

  • Increasing the size of NYPD special victims division, adding 30 investigators to make 240 total
  • Creating a DNA Cold Case Squad, Bronx Child Abuse Squad, Analytic Squad, and increasing the Sex Offender Management Unit by seven investigators to total 20 officers
  • Increasing specialized training for the special victims division from 5 to 10 days per year
  • Increasing efforts to encourage reporting of sexual assaults, distributing 32,000 cards and 16,000 flyers in 2015 which explained sexual violence and encouraged people to call the special victims division

Yet all of these legislative proposals or policy changes by the NYPD are designed to either stop a sexual assault from taking place once the threat of assault has already been made clear, or to help victims after they have been violated. In order to truly reduce the number of sexual assaults that take place, both advocates and the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention say ‘primary prevention’ or prevention education is the most effective method.

Primary prevention aims to stop sexual assault by focusing on potential perpetrators, rather than the victims, and can involve educating high school, middle school, or college-aged students. Prevention education raises awareness of sexual abuse and harassment, promotes positive social attitudes and a negative view of sexual violence and harassment, and promotes bystander intervention.

“We are not going to end sexual violence if we are not being preventative in our nature and engaging those who are committing the violence,” said Quentin Walcott, co-executive director of CONNECT. The organization works to end violence against women and girls by addressing “the root cause of violence” through “engaging men and boys to change the attitudes and belief systems” under which “men think that they’re entitled and privileged to treat women in a particular type of way.”

Sonia Ossorio, president of NOW-NYC, told Gotham Gazette that engaging “men and boys in the discussion of what is manhood, what are healthy relationships, and what does consent look like” through comprehensive sexual education in schools at a young age is “critically important” to reducing the number of sexual assaults that take place.

Some may take issue with teaching sexual education and primary prevention to middle or high school students, but, as Council Member Gibson pointed out in an interview, “the bottom line is our children are going to learn about sex one way or another” and, she said, it is certainly preferable that children learn about sex through trained educators.

The five individuals who are accused of gang raping an 18-year-old in Brownsville are between the ages of 14 and 17. One of the rape suspects, 15 years old, is about to be a father.

Yet educational efforts like the prevention programs “shown to prevent sexual violence perpetration,” according to the CDC Injury Center, are “not really standardized” in New York City schools, but rather are “up to the principle,” Min Um-Mandhyan, director of development and communications for the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, told Gotham Gazette.

The city does have some preventative efforts in place, but those mainly involve bystander intervention training for adults. Ossorio says the city’s district attorneys “work with nightclubs to partner with them and have an open line of communication to reduce assaults that may happen.”

A spokesperson from the Manhattan DA’s office told Gotham Gazette that its Sex Crimes Unit regularly conducts trainings to help individuals better identify and encourage reporting of sexual assault through sessions in conjunction with the New York Nightlife Association, tailored toward workers like bouncers, managers, and bartenders, and through training with representatives from local colleges and universities. DA Vance also awarded $38 million to cities across the country last year to test a backlog of rape kits.

“Providing [prevention] education in the schools for age-appropriate levels is something…the city could hopefully provide some more funding for. We know that it is important in terms of prevention.” Jennifer Wyse, a social worker at Safe Horizon’s Community Program in Brooklyn, told Gotham Gazette.

When asked whether the City Council would like to see more primary prevention in schools, Gibson responded, “Absolutely,” and added that several Council members have put forth legislation on sexual education in schools.

“We obviously need to have this conversation during the budget…we’re very supportive of any effort [to reduce sexual violence] because look at what’s happening in this case in Brownsville,” Gibson said, referring to the fact that the alleged perpetrators were teenagers. “Any way we can prevent these cases, we support.”

“New York State has really put more funding behind” primary prevention programs, Um-Mandhyan said. The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault is one of six Regional Centers for Sexual Violence Prevention in New York State that implement primary prevention and community-based strategies to decrease sexual violence. In April, 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the allocation of $4 million in federal funding to the six regional centers.

“Unfortunately, New York City doesn’t really have a separate funding stream for rape crisis programs for sexual assault,” Um-Mandhyan said. “City Council is going to launch into budget season, so we’ll really be pushing for a funding stream.” Pointing to the disparity in access to rape crisis programs and resources for victims in Brooklyn and the Bronx, Um-Mandhyan said the Alliance would also like to see the city allocate more resources to underserved neighborhoods.

At Monday’s press conference, Gibson called the increased number of sexual assaults a call to action. “We are in the midst of a new budget season, so we have a very unique opportunity. We must ensure that we not only talk about it but we ‘be about it.’ We must put money where our commitment is…We must be sure that we provide the resources and programs necessary.”

When asked whether primary prevention education is something the City Council would consider implementing in New York City’s schools, Cumbo told Gotham Gazette that she hopes to pass a bill, Intro 952, at the next City Council stated meeting, which would require the Department of Education to report information regarding school compliance with state regulations governing comprehensive health education and sexual education for students in grades six through twelve.

There was another bill introduced in the City Council, however, not mentioned at Monday’s press conference, which would require the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene to develop a sexual assault prevention and response curriculum that would include training in affirmative consent for students, faculty, campus safety officers, and college administrators in New York City’s college campuses, as well as provide better information to students about available services for sexual assault victims.

The bill, Intro 517, was laid over by the Committee on Higher Education in February, 2015.

What advocates who work with sexual assault victims want to happen, Um-Mandhyan said, is “to see the city adopt sexual violence prevention education in public school curricula. It’s important to work with youth as prevention tends to work more effectively with younger people…We believe when you get to college level, it’s already too late.”

Gov. Cuomo made has made campus sexual assault a significant focus, pushing New York colleges and universities to adopt new measures related to preventing and responding to rape.

Bratton’s ‘buddy system’ comments were quick to elicit condemnation by City Council members, who called on him to come out with a comprehensive strategy from the NYPD to reduce sexual assaults.

But with the CDC and organizations that work to help victims of sexual assault pointing to primary prevention as the single most effective method to reduce the number of assaults that occur, the responsibility for coming up with that “comprehensive strategy” to prevent and reduce sexual assault, including providing funding for primary prevention programs and legislation to implement them in schools, rests with city lawmakers, not the NYPD.

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by Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette, @MegOConnor13

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To Combat Increase in Reported Rapes, Experts Point to Prevention Fri, 15 Jan 2016 05:13:31 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, Jan. 11-15 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6093:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-jan-11-15 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6093:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-jan-11-15 week in review bus readers

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


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday January 15

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Governor Cuomo gives his State of the State address, via the governor's office

andrew cuomo mario cuomo

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. State of the State: Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his combined State of the State and budget address on Wednesday. The plan has major infrastructure components to it as well as efforts to achieve social and economic justice, as the governor put it. Some of Cuomo’s 2016 “Built to Lead” agenda will place new financial strains on New York City, as the plan would end the state’s payment of some of the city’s Medicaid costs and change how CUNY is funded. Those changes and others are expected by some experts to cost the city $1 billion starting in the next fiscal year. In response, Mayor de Blasio has called the budget proposal “debilitating,” and said he would use “any means necessary” to restore the millions in state financing. Cuomo appeared to strike a conciliatory tone on Thursday, saying the city and state would work together to find Medicaid and CUNY efficiencies. [Read: Cuomo Outlines $144 Billion Budget & Cuomo Unveils Ethics Plan to Questions Of Follow Through]

2. Cuomo Cleared: On Monday, the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced there was not enough evidence to prove a federal crime in the investigation into Governor Cuomo’s interference with and closure of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.

3. Gun Courts: On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio announced “Project Fast Track,” which aims to reduce gun violence in New York City through the creation of a new Gun Violence Suppression Division in the NYPD and by designating judges to fast-track illegal gun cases and resolve the cases within six months. [Read: City to Open Gun Courts to Expedite Prosecutions]

4. Spotlight on Sexual Assault: The alleged gang-rape in a Brownsville playground last Thursday, the rise in the number of reported rapes in 2015, and NYPD Commissioner Bratton’s suggestion that women going home late at night use the “buddy system” have led sexual assault to become the focus of public discussion this week. On Monday, lawmakers and advocates rallied outside City Hall to call for more legislation and resources to protect women from sexual assault. [Read: To Combat Increase in Reported Rapes, Experts Point to Prevention & Sexual Assault Becomes Focus of Public Discussion]

5. 421-a, Uber, Carriage Horses: Negotiations between construction unions and real estate developers to extend the controversial 421-a development tax break are at a standstill, with both sides certain they will not reach an agreement by the Friday deadline to renew the program. Meanwhile, the city releases its long-awaited study of the for-hire vehicle industry, leading to little other than acknowledgement that the city is unlikely to pursue a cap to Uber’s growth. And, a deal on reducing horse carriages appeals imminent. [Read: Negotiations to Extend Important Affordable Housing Tax Break Said to Reach Impasse]

THIS WEEK’S NUMBERS:

  • $145 billion budget was laid out by Governor Cuomo during his annual state of the state and budget address.
  • $20 billion commitment to combat homelessness was announced by Governor Cuomo during the address, with $10 billion earmarked for 100,000 permanent affordable housing units and $10 billion for 6,000 new supported beds over 5 years, 1,000 emergency shelter beds, and other services, Gotham Gazette reports.
  • $1 billion is about how much experts estimate the changes in funding to CUNY and state payment of Medicaid costs will cost New York City starting in the next fiscal year, Capital New York reports.
  • 78.1% of public school students in New York graduated on time last june, up from 76.4% the previous year, marking an increase for the third year in a row, Gannett Albany reports. Meanwhile, the graduation rate in New York City crept above 70% for the first time.
  • 1,439 rapes reported in 2015, up 6.3% from 1,354 in 2014, Gotham Gazette reports.
  • 1.4 million New Yorkers - 16.5% of the population - are food insecure, Gotham Gazette reports.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

It was a good week for Governor Andrew Cuomo, after he was cleared by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office in the investigation into his interference with the shutdown of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.

It was a bad week for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who came under fire for suggesting women should use the “buddy system” when coming home late at night to avoid becoming the victim of sexual assault. The NYPD has also been criticized this week for not notifying the public of the alleged gang rape in a Brownsville playground sooner.

THE FLASH:

Around this time 27 years ago, on January 13, 1989, subway gunman Bernhard Goetz was sentenced to a year in prison for possessing an unlicensed gun which he used to shoot four people he said were going to rob him.

Around this time 116 years ago, on January 10, 1900, bids went out for the construction of an underground railroad line running between City Hall and the Bronx. The city’s first subway opened four years later.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK

Special Election Spotlights Machine Politics in The Bronx, by Gabe Ponce de León

To Combat Increase in Reported Rapes, Experts Point to Prevention, by Meg O'Connor

Cuomo Outlines $144 Billion Budget, by David Howard King

Cuomo Unveils Ethics Plan to Questions of Follow Through, by David Howard King

At Hearing on Hunger, Council Presses De Blasio Administration on SNAP Participation, by Ryan Brady

New Data Indicates IDNYC Popularity Among Immigrants, by Samar Khurshid

Cuomo Heads Into State of the State After Big Announcements, With More to Say, by Ben Max

Assembly Democrats Reject Republican Rules Changes, Promise Own Proposals Soon, by David Howard King

Council to Assess Hunger Problem, City Efforts to Reduce It, by Ryan Brady

New York One Signature Away from Calling for Overturn of Citizens United, by Samar Khurshid

Sexual Assault Becomes Focus of Public Discussion, by Ben Max

To Meet Staten Island Needs, Borough President Focuses on Beating Bureaucracy, by Meg O'Connor

Don't Be Seduced By Sexy Transportation Projects, by Philip M. Plotch and Nicholas D. Bloom (opinion)

A Case for None-Time-Limited Supportive Housing for Young Adults, by Colleen Jackson (opinion)

More Cities Should Do What States and Federal Government Aren't on Minimum Wage, by JoEllen Chernow (opinion)

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

Governor Andrew Cuomo sat down with NY1's Errol Louis for an interview Wednesday after laying out his vision for the year in his State of the State address.

Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks discussed the ways the de Blasio administration is dealing with the homelessness crisis and the governor’s plans to audit the city’s shelter system with Errol Louis NY1.

Mary Brosnahan, executive director of Coalition for the Homeless, talks about the new proposals for addressing New York City's homeless population on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC.

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

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

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

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by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

 

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The Week That Was in New York Politics, Jan. 11-15 Fri, 15 Jan 2016 19:44:06 +0000
Sexual Assault Becomes Focus of Public Discussion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6079:sexual-assault-becomes-focus-of-public-discussion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6079:sexual-assault-becomes-focus-of-public-discussion cumbo

Council Member Cumbo (photo: William Alatriste)


Even before a horrific rape incident became the focus of news reports and statements from elected officials over the weekend, lawmakers and advocates planned to rally Monday morning at City Hall to call for new measures to protect women from violent assault.

While major felonies dropped overall in New York City in 2015, there were more rapes reported than the year before. There have also been alarming reports of rape connected to women riding in cabs and other for-hire vehicles. In discussing crime data on WNYC radio, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said on Tuesday of last week that there had been an increase in assaults on women taking cabs late at night and that women should use "the buddy system."

Bratton's statement was met with quick criticism, including by some who said he was victim-blaming. City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who chairs the Council's women's issues committee, renewed calls for legislation and additional resources toward preventing rape and other violence against women. Cumbo, who previously sponsored a bill calling for a "panic button" in all cabs and for-hire vehicles, will lead the rally Monday morning to push her bill and call for other measures.

There were 1,439 rapes reported in New York City last year, a six percent increase from the year before, when 1,354 were reported in 2014. Meanwhile, the NYPD said that 14 of the 166 rapes committed by a stranger to the victim were committed in incidents related to taxi or other for-hire vehicle rides.

Over the weekend, reports surfaced of an incident that had occurred Thursday evening in Brownsville, where five young men are alleged to have gang-raped a young woman at gunpoint, after having threatened her father and instructing him to leave.

Mayor Bill de Blasio was among several elected officials who released statements Sunday expressing outrage over the incident. The mayor promised to pursue the perpetrators of the rape and that his administration will "work to ensure a crime of this nature never happens again."

Council Member Cumbo released a statement pointing to the increase in rape and calling for action. She also connected the incident to Bratton's 'buddy system' comment, calling the remarks "an insult to women."

"I am outraged and every single New Yorker regardless of race, religion, or gender should be outraged by what has happened not only to this young woman - but to all of us, because right now women in New York City are more vulnerable than ever," Cumbo wrote. "To add insult to injury, NYPD Commissioner Bratton's response to the escalation of violence against women in cabs was for women to utilize the 'Buddy System.'

"If a father cannot protect his own daughter in this day and age then it is obvious that the so called "buddy system" is sexist, antiquated and an insult to women throughout New York City," Cumbo continued. "We do not need a buddy system. Every woman in New York City has the right to feel safe and protected at all times within the greatest City in the world. What we need is a strategy, resources, manpower, enforcement and a plan to keep every single woman in the City of New York safe."

There have been questions raised about the speed with which the father of the Brownsville victim was able to locate help and with which the NYPD responded and notified the public. The NYPD released a statement to the press Sunday evening saying there had been "no delay in responding to the rape in the 73 Precinct." By Sunday evening, four male suspects were in custody, according to the NYPD.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, himself a longtime member of the NYPD, said in a statement that he was "sickened" by the reports of the Brownsville rape and said, "I do not accept a city where reports of rape and sexual assault are on the rise. We must be proactively aggressive to keep women safe, including better lighting and design of public spaces like Osborn Playground," where the Thursday incident occurred.

Cumbo's bill, introduced in April, "would require all taxicabs, hail vehicles, liveries, black cars, and luxury limousines to have a panic button installed that would allow a passenger to send a distress signal to law enforcement," according to her office.

The rally set for City Hall at 10 a.m. Monday will command additional attention given what occurred in Brownsville on Thursday. It is unclear what other public policy ralliers may call for other than passage of Cumbo's bill, which currently has ten sponsors in the 51-member City Council. Additional lighting in parks and funding of groups that work to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault may be part the discussion.

A notice from Cumbo's office said that participating organizations would include National Organization for Women of New York City, New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, Committee for Taxi Safety Advocates, and CONNECT, an organization working to end domestic violence.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

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Sexual Assault Becomes Focus of Public Discussion Mon, 11 Jan 2016 03:52:47 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, January 11 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6076:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-january-11-2016 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6076:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-january-11-2016 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Eyes are on Albany this week as we head toward Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State and budget address on Wednesday in the capital. The governor has spent the past week rolling out pieces of his agenda, including events and announcements over the weekend, largely focused on infrastructure, but also criminal justice reform, the minimum wage, economic development, and more.

The two houses of the state legislature is in session Monday and Tuesday, and many members are likely to stay in town for the governor's speech on Wednesday. Mayor Bill de Blasio will be in Albany for the governor's speech, which Cuomo has indicated will include a series of measures aimed at fighting homelessness, some of which may encroach on work de Blasio is doing. Cuomo is also expected to unveil new plans around governmental ethics, education, and additional criminal justice reforms. For his part, de Blasio has been releasing new homelessness-related plans, in part, it seems, to head off the governor and assert that he has control over the situation. De Blasio has, however, called on the state to expand the resources it is devoting to supportive housing and other homelessness-prevention measures. [Read our preview of the 2016 Albany session: Corruption, Elections Loom Over Lengthy 2016 Legislative Agenda]

Cuomo will make another announcement Monday, this time on Rev. Al Sharpton's radio show. De Blasio begins his week with two public events in Brooklyn, both related to housing - see details below.

[Opinion: Time for the Mayor and the Governor to Work Together]

As the week begins, the issue of sexual assault in New York City has become a focus. This, after an increase in reported rapes in 2015, comments by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton that upset some people, and a horrific gang rape incident in Brooklyn on Thursday evening. A rally and press conference are scheduled for Monday at City Hall - details below.

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

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

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
The New York state legislature is in session on Monday.

At 10 a.m. Monday outside City Hall, legislators and advocates will hold a rally and press conference calling for a different approach to protecting women from rape. City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who has sponsored related legislation, other elected officials, advocates including National Organization for Women New York City, and others will rally to push the city to take new action and "to tell the NYPD to take rape seriously! Let's call for action, NOT just the "buddy system," to end violence against women," according to NOW.

On Monday at 10:30 a.m. in Manhattan, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will visit "PS 126 to make a language access announcement."

Mayor Bill de Blasio begins his week with two public events in Brooklyn, both housing related. At 2 p.m. the mayor "will host a press conference to make an announcement on affordable housing" at 1 Vernon Ave in Brooklyn. At 7:15 p.m., de Blasio "and NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoya will join residents from Wyckoff Gardens for a forum on NextGen Neighborhoods."

At 3 p.m. Monday, "Governor Cuomo makes an announcement on "Keepin' It Real With Reverend Al Sharpton.,"" according to the governor's public schedule.

At 6:30 p.m. on Monday, the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit will hold a small business town hall at Bedford-Stuyvesant's Restoration Plaza. Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President Carlo Scissura, Department of Small Business Services Commissioner Gregg Bishop and Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Julie Menin will be featured speakers at the event.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will host an information session for the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board at the David N. Dinkins Municipal Building. The BP's office is accepting applications for the board's membership.

Tuesday
The New York state legislature is in session on Tuesday.

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 9:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet.
  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Education will tour J.H.S. 50 John D. Wells in Brooklyn.
  • At 11 a.m., the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will meet.
  • At 1 p.m., the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, “Fighting the Fight for $15,” a breakfast forum co-sponsored by the Empire Center for Public Policy and the Manhattan Institute, will be held to discuss the effects of a $15 minimum wage on employment of New York State’s unskilled laborers. The event will feature Dr. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, E.J. McMahon, and Dr. Lee Bowes.

Starting Tuesday, candidates must starting filing the latest round of financial disclosures to the New York City Campaign Finance Board. The latest filing period covers all activity through Monday, January 11. Filings are due by midnight on Friday, January 15, and must be performed by candidates with campaign accounts for the upcoming 2017 city election cycle, as well as the upcoming Feb. 23 special election in City Council District 17; and, the recently held special elections in Council Districts 23 and 51.

At 11:30 a.m. Tuesday in Albany, the Center for an Urban Future and the New York Association of Training & Employment Professionals will co-host a symposium called “A Door to Opportunity” to discuss “the lack of financial aid for part-time students.” Gov. Cuomo’s assistant secretary for education, Jay Quaintance, SUNY Empire State College President Merodie A. Hancock, Assemblymember Deborah Glick (the chair of the assembly’s higher education committee), and others will be featured speakers.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in Manhattan, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy will host a discussion about “the challenges faced by immigrant-origin children and youth” called “Intersecting Inequalities: Focus on East Harlem.”

At 6:30 p.m., City & State will be hosting its State of the State reception at The Hollow Bar & Kitchen in Albany.

At 7 p.m., Riders Alliance will have a “strategy meeting” at its office about “Discount Public Transit Fares for Low-Income New Yorkers.”

Tuesday evening at 9 p.m. is President Obama’s final State of the Union address.

Wednesday
At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on General Welfare will hold an oversight hearing on “Hunger in New York City”.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Veterans will meet for an oversight hearing with its advisory board about “the Impact of Last Year’s Reforms” and for two resolutions.

At 12:30 p.m., Gov. Cuomo will give a speech combining his State of the State and Executive Budget addresses at Albany’s Empire State Plaza Convention Center.

On Wednesday, The Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness will start its “Beyond Housing: A National Conversation on Child Homelessness and Poverty 2016” conference. The three-day conference will end on Jan. 15.

City Council Member Corey Johnson is having a community resource fair at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday and a town hall at 7 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committees on Technology and Public Safety will hold a joint hearing about “Creating an emergency mobile text system.”
  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet about a bill aiming to prohibit the sale and distribution of toys with high levels of dangerous chemicals and a resolution to “Establish lower total content levels of regulated chemicals for children’s toys and to establish consistent standards for all children’s products”.
  • At 11 a.m., the Committee on Land Use will meet.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet on a bill mandating minimum temperatures in buildings and another bill that “would require single-occupant toilet rooms to be usable by persons of any gender.”
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Higher Education will meet for an oversight hearing about the question “Are Post-Secondary Institutions in New York City Adequately Training Teachers?”

At 8 a.m. Thursday, New York City Taxi and Limousine Commissioner Meera Joshi will “discuss the struggles of taxi medallion owners, the rise of Uber, and the future of innovation in the city's for-hire vehicle industry” at a Crain’s Business Breakfast Forum at the New York Athletic Club, moderated by Crain’s editor Erik Engquist and Politico New York reporter Dana Rubinstein.

“The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be held on January 14, at 10:00 AM.”

At the New York State Legislature Thursday: a 10:30 a.m. joint hearing about “Diversity in the Legal Profession” will be held in Albany by the Assembly Standing Committee on Judiciary and Assembly Subcommittee on Diversity in Law.

At 6:30 p.m. the first public workshop about Inwood’s rezoning will be held by Community Board 12, the Department of City Planning and Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez at P.S. 314.

Thursday evening at 7 p.m. at Fort Washington Collegiate Church will be the first debate in the race to replace retiring Congressional Rep. Charles Rangel. Invited candidates include Suzan Johnson Cook, Adriano Espaillat, Michael Gallagher, Guillermo Linares, Bill Perkins, Adam Clayton Powell IV, Clyde Williams, Keith Wright. The event is being hosted by the Uptown Community Democrats and will be moderated by Juan Manuel Benitez from NY1/NY1 Noticias.

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Transportation will meet for an oversight hearing on “Upgrading New York City Parking Systems for Greater Efficiency, Safety, and Reliability” and the introduction of three bills.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Environmental Protection will meet about a bill that would necessitate “photovoltaic systems for city-owned buildings.”

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

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by Ryan Brady and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, January 11 Sat, 09 Jan 2016 00:08:10 +0000