Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/state-legislature 2017-11-20T21:02:17+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Assembly Takes Stock of State Economic Development Programs Ahead of Next Negotiations 2017-11-14T05:00:00+00:00 2017-11-14T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7321:assembly-takes-stock-of-state-economic-development-programs-ahead-of-next-negotiations Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/34868772685_4a41dee04d_z.jpg" alt="34868772685 4a41dee04d z" width="640" height="427" /></p> <p>Howard Zemsky in Buffalo (via Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Ahead of the 2018 legislative session, the New York State Assembly’s Economic Development Committee held a hearing Monday in Albany to evaluate the progress of the state’s multitude of economic development programs and hear testimony from companies and organizations that have benefited from state grants.</p> <p>Taking center stage was Howard Zemsky, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s economic development czar as president and CEO of Empire State Development, who defended the state’s jobs programs and was grilled for nearly an hour by members of the committee. Committee members, led by chair Robin Schimminger, a Democrat from Erie County, raised concerns about the effectiveness of Buffalo’s annual 43North competition and Regional Economic Development Council grants; lower-than-expected job production; and increased regulatory burdens on small businesses.</p> <p>Cuomo has staked much of his legacy and devoted billions of state dollars to revitalizing the upstate economy. The state has infused $8 billion a year into economic projects since he took office in 2011, according to <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/06/07/new-york-job-programs-investigation/102323140/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a Gannett Albany review</a>. But as Cuomo’s economic development programs have multiplied each year, the Legislature has failed to pass any meaningful oversight measures to ensure transparency, that beneficiaries are meeting job creation goals, or that grants and incentives are going to well-vetted recipients. While some efforts, such as those aimed at farms and breweries, have been successful, others, like Cuomo’s Start-Up New York program, have fallen short of job creation goals.</p> <p>At Monday’s hearing, Zemsky noted that upstate cities have seen a boom in tech sector jobs, which on average pay more than non-tech sector jobs, and touted a dramatic increase in venture capital investment throughout the state. The Empire State Development head said that ESD takes a “holistic” approach, pointing to the success of its downtown and waterfront revitalization efforts, which aim to attract a younger, more vibrant talent base, and investing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.</p> <p>He briefly defended the Regional Economic Development Councils, which have been accused of favoritism and conflicts of interests, and touted Buffalo as a success story -- a city that has been a major focus for Gov. Cuomo and transformed from a financially depressed post-industrial town to a vibrant hub of entrepreneurship.</p> <p>“A lot of what we have done in Buffalo we have used as a template in many other parts of the state and I’m proud that we took some risks and took some chance,” said Zemsky. “Every year we improve and make adjustments.”</p> <p>Schimminger cited an article noting that three-quarters of companies that are attracted to Buffalo by the 43North program have since left the city and inquired about whether the residency requirements, currently a year, could be extended.</p> <p>“We’re only a few years into the program, but after every year the 43North board reassesses and reevaluates what went right, what didn’t go right, just like we do in government. Is it possible that we might change the regulations, that we might change the time frame? That’s under active discussion,” said Zemsky, noting that many companies retain active connections to Buffalo even after they leave.</p> <p>Zemsky’s presentation rang hollow for at least one committee member, Assemblymember Raymond Walter, a Republican from Amherst, who told Zemsky to provide hard data about the returns delivered by the state’s Buffalo investments rather than “offering platitudes.”</p> <p>“Our job here is to draw a direct connection between what we are doing with taxpayer dollars to that renaissance and I’m not convinced you can do that,” said Walter. “If we could focus on that, rather than the platitudes, that would be great.”</p> <p>Zemsky pointed Walter to ESD’s progress report, insisting the number of new firms has grown and jobs have dramatically accelerated in Buffalo, by “almost any metric,” particularly when compared to other struggling cities.</p> <p>The conversation quickly turned personal, with Zemsky, who is a Buffalo businessman, accusing the Assembly member of opposing the state’s efforts to spur Buffalo’s economy, and demanding, “Do you go to any of the REDC meetings, do you know anything that is actually going on?”</p> <p>At one point during the heated exchange about interpreting Buffalo’s jobs data, which Walter said mostly highlights low-skill jobs growth, Zemsky snapped, “You don’t know anything about the innovation economy.”</p> <p>The biggest indicator of Buffalo’s growth, Zemsky pointed to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/20/upshot/where-young-college-graduates-are-choosing-to-live.html?mtrref=gothamist.com&amp;gwh=8F08A0901526DF9D7B923B841CCE335E&amp;gwt=pay" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the rise</a> of the area’s millennial population over the last decade. “Turning the corner on that is the most important thing we can do,” he said.</p> <p>After Zemsky, the Assembly panel was addressed by various industry leaders and experts, who described how programs like the Start-Up New York jobs program and the Southern Tier Startup Alliance (NYSTAR) have created or retained thousands of jobs and spurred both investment and innovation.</p> <p>A representative of watchdog group ReInvent Albany then presented the positions of good government organizations, calling for the passage of a number of bills introduced in the Legislature last year, which would increase oversight of and transparency in the state’s economic development programs.</p> <p>Among the legislative fixes proposed by Reinvent Albany and others is the creation of a “database of deals,” which would digitally list every entity receiving funds from the state along with where each dollar is going; a bill to restore the powers of the state Comptroller to review procurement contracts for SUNY, CUNY, and Office of General Services; and campaign finance restrictions to curb the appearance or reality of pay-to-play politics.</p> <p>At least two bills, including the database of deals and one requiring nonprofit organizations affiliated with government entities to be subject to the freedom of information law and the open meetings law, are sponsored by Schimminger, but did not make it to the Assembly floor. Legislation related to procurement reform appeared to gain steam early this year in light of a major bid-rigging scandal that will see close associates of and donors to Cuomo on trial for corruption in 2018, but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6875-ramped-up-economic-development-funding-less-transparency-in-new-state-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nothing was passed</a> as the Legislature acquiesced to the governor’s objections.</p> <p>“The only thing the Legislature did do is write a check for $1.8 billion in the extender budget passed in April, a blank check granted by the Legislature to Governor Cuomo for economic development projects with no additional oversight,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany.</p> <p>Schimminger welcomed Camarda’s comments, saying that &nbsp;good government groups are “preaching to the choir” when they call for increased accountability and oversight.</p> <p>“Not a single one of those bills that you mentioned have been blocked by the committee, in fact, many of them -- the database of deals, the Start-Up fix -- have come out of the committee but are delayed elsewhere,” said the Assembly member, referring to the fact that the legislation had been held up in other legislative committees.</p> <p>The wisdom behind Start-Up New York, which creates tax-free zones for new businesses, local development corporations and other economic development programs is the finding that startups create significantly more jobs than companies that have matured 10 to 30 years and drive economic development. But critics say these programs <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/06/07/new-york-job-programs-investigation/102323140/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">continue to fall short</a> of the job creation goals and many beneficiaries of these state incentives have failed to report on sufficient or any progress made through their grants.</p> <p>Despite the fact that several members of Cuomo’s circle are set to appear in court next year for their roles in the bid-rigging scandal involving the state’s Buffalo Billion program, a second round of cash investment to the project was approved in this year’s budget, with no new accountability measures.</p> <p>While Schimminger acknowledged these problems in his opening remarks, the hearing was primarily an information-gathering session, and those outstanding issues will be addressed during the next legislative session, he told Camarda. The governor will unveil his next executive budget in January, leading to months of negotiations and hearings.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/34868772685_4a41dee04d_z.jpg" alt="34868772685 4a41dee04d z" width="640" height="427" /></p> <p>Howard Zemsky in Buffalo (via Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Ahead of the 2018 legislative session, the New York State Assembly’s Economic Development Committee held a hearing Monday in Albany to evaluate the progress of the state’s multitude of economic development programs and hear testimony from companies and organizations that have benefited from state grants.</p> <p>Taking center stage was Howard Zemsky, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s economic development czar as president and CEO of Empire State Development, who defended the state’s jobs programs and was grilled for nearly an hour by members of the committee. Committee members, led by chair Robin Schimminger, a Democrat from Erie County, raised concerns about the effectiveness of Buffalo’s annual 43North competition and Regional Economic Development Council grants; lower-than-expected job production; and increased regulatory burdens on small businesses.</p> <p>Cuomo has staked much of his legacy and devoted billions of state dollars to revitalizing the upstate economy. The state has infused $8 billion a year into economic projects since he took office in 2011, according to <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/06/07/new-york-job-programs-investigation/102323140/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a Gannett Albany review</a>. But as Cuomo’s economic development programs have multiplied each year, the Legislature has failed to pass any meaningful oversight measures to ensure transparency, that beneficiaries are meeting job creation goals, or that grants and incentives are going to well-vetted recipients. While some efforts, such as those aimed at farms and breweries, have been successful, others, like Cuomo’s Start-Up New York program, have fallen short of job creation goals.</p> <p>At Monday’s hearing, Zemsky noted that upstate cities have seen a boom in tech sector jobs, which on average pay more than non-tech sector jobs, and touted a dramatic increase in venture capital investment throughout the state. The Empire State Development head said that ESD takes a “holistic” approach, pointing to the success of its downtown and waterfront revitalization efforts, which aim to attract a younger, more vibrant talent base, and investing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.</p> <p>He briefly defended the Regional Economic Development Councils, which have been accused of favoritism and conflicts of interests, and touted Buffalo as a success story -- a city that has been a major focus for Gov. Cuomo and transformed from a financially depressed post-industrial town to a vibrant hub of entrepreneurship.</p> <p>“A lot of what we have done in Buffalo we have used as a template in many other parts of the state and I’m proud that we took some risks and took some chance,” said Zemsky. “Every year we improve and make adjustments.”</p> <p>Schimminger cited an article noting that three-quarters of companies that are attracted to Buffalo by the 43North program have since left the city and inquired about whether the residency requirements, currently a year, could be extended.</p> <p>“We’re only a few years into the program, but after every year the 43North board reassesses and reevaluates what went right, what didn’t go right, just like we do in government. Is it possible that we might change the regulations, that we might change the time frame? That’s under active discussion,” said Zemsky, noting that many companies retain active connections to Buffalo even after they leave.</p> <p>Zemsky’s presentation rang hollow for at least one committee member, Assemblymember Raymond Walter, a Republican from Amherst, who told Zemsky to provide hard data about the returns delivered by the state’s Buffalo investments rather than “offering platitudes.”</p> <p>“Our job here is to draw a direct connection between what we are doing with taxpayer dollars to that renaissance and I’m not convinced you can do that,” said Walter. “If we could focus on that, rather than the platitudes, that would be great.”</p> <p>Zemsky pointed Walter to ESD’s progress report, insisting the number of new firms has grown and jobs have dramatically accelerated in Buffalo, by “almost any metric,” particularly when compared to other struggling cities.</p> <p>The conversation quickly turned personal, with Zemsky, who is a Buffalo businessman, accusing the Assembly member of opposing the state’s efforts to spur Buffalo’s economy, and demanding, “Do you go to any of the REDC meetings, do you know anything that is actually going on?”</p> <p>At one point during the heated exchange about interpreting Buffalo’s jobs data, which Walter said mostly highlights low-skill jobs growth, Zemsky snapped, “You don’t know anything about the innovation economy.”</p> <p>The biggest indicator of Buffalo’s growth, Zemsky pointed to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/20/upshot/where-young-college-graduates-are-choosing-to-live.html?mtrref=gothamist.com&amp;gwh=8F08A0901526DF9D7B923B841CCE335E&amp;gwt=pay" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the rise</a> of the area’s millennial population over the last decade. “Turning the corner on that is the most important thing we can do,” he said.</p> <p>After Zemsky, the Assembly panel was addressed by various industry leaders and experts, who described how programs like the Start-Up New York jobs program and the Southern Tier Startup Alliance (NYSTAR) have created or retained thousands of jobs and spurred both investment and innovation.</p> <p>A representative of watchdog group ReInvent Albany then presented the positions of good government organizations, calling for the passage of a number of bills introduced in the Legislature last year, which would increase oversight of and transparency in the state’s economic development programs.</p> <p>Among the legislative fixes proposed by Reinvent Albany and others is the creation of a “database of deals,” which would digitally list every entity receiving funds from the state along with where each dollar is going; a bill to restore the powers of the state Comptroller to review procurement contracts for SUNY, CUNY, and Office of General Services; and campaign finance restrictions to curb the appearance or reality of pay-to-play politics.</p> <p>At least two bills, including the database of deals and one requiring nonprofit organizations affiliated with government entities to be subject to the freedom of information law and the open meetings law, are sponsored by Schimminger, but did not make it to the Assembly floor. Legislation related to procurement reform appeared to gain steam early this year in light of a major bid-rigging scandal that will see close associates of and donors to Cuomo on trial for corruption in 2018, but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6875-ramped-up-economic-development-funding-less-transparency-in-new-state-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nothing was passed</a> as the Legislature acquiesced to the governor’s objections.</p> <p>“The only thing the Legislature did do is write a check for $1.8 billion in the extender budget passed in April, a blank check granted by the Legislature to Governor Cuomo for economic development projects with no additional oversight,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany.</p> <p>Schimminger welcomed Camarda’s comments, saying that &nbsp;good government groups are “preaching to the choir” when they call for increased accountability and oversight.</p> <p>“Not a single one of those bills that you mentioned have been blocked by the committee, in fact, many of them -- the database of deals, the Start-Up fix -- have come out of the committee but are delayed elsewhere,” said the Assembly member, referring to the fact that the legislation had been held up in other legislative committees.</p> <p>The wisdom behind Start-Up New York, which creates tax-free zones for new businesses, local development corporations and other economic development programs is the finding that startups create significantly more jobs than companies that have matured 10 to 30 years and drive economic development. But critics say these programs <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/06/07/new-york-job-programs-investigation/102323140/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">continue to fall short</a> of the job creation goals and many beneficiaries of these state incentives have failed to report on sufficient or any progress made through their grants.</p> <p>Despite the fact that several members of Cuomo’s circle are set to appear in court next year for their roles in the bid-rigging scandal involving the state’s Buffalo Billion program, a second round of cash investment to the project was approved in this year’s budget, with no new accountability measures.</p> <p>While Schimminger acknowledged these problems in his opening remarks, the hearing was primarily an information-gathering session, and those outstanding issues will be addressed during the next legislative session, he told Camarda. The governor will unveil his next executive budget in January, leading to months of negotiations and hearings.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
As New York Votes, a Push to Allow 17-Year-Olds the Ballot Next 2017-11-07T05:00:00+00:00 2017-11-07T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7303:as-new-york-votes-a-push-to-allow-17-year-olds-the-ballot-next Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bobbt-carroll-presser.jpg" alt="bobbt carroll presser" width="600" height="484" /></p> <p>Assemblymember Robert Carroll at <span tabindex="0" data-term="goog_1899207167">Monday's</span> rally</p> <hr /> <p>On the eve of Election Day 2017, a state Assembly member from Brooklyn held a press conference focused on voter engagement and turnout, but it wasn’t in support of his own candidacy -- he’s not up for reelection until next year -- or anyone else’s. Instead, Assemblymember Robert Carroll was talking about his push to allow 17-year-olds to vote.</p> <p>In the state capital of Albany, Carroll recently introduced a bill, the Young Voter Act, that would allow 17-year-olds to cast ballots in state and local elections. The voting age is currently 18 for national elections and within New York. The legislation would also require that all students in public high schools receive at least eight hours of formal civics education, and that schools provide voter registration forms to students when they turn 17.</p> <p>The proposal, which Caroll will attempt to see moved when the Legislature returns to session in January, is aimed at improving New York’s dismal record of voter turnout (among the worst states in the country). On Monday, Carroll rallied in support of the bill outside the city’s Board of Elections with fellow Brooklyn Democratic Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, as well as several politically engaged high school students and advocates.</p> <p>This included the leadership of the <a href="https://yppg-ny.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Youth Progressive Policy Group</a> (YPPG), a group of students whose stated mission is to “give the youth of New York a voice in our state’s political process.” The group claims that engaging people in the electoral process early will lead to a more civically active life later on, and it is thus important to not only educate students in civics at an early age, but also to empower them to be a part of it.</p> <p>YPPG’s President, Eli Frankel, a senior at Manhattan’s Bard High School, was quick to note that 17-year-olds are productive members of civic society in other ways, and that this should be extended to voting.</p> <p>“We are organizing rallies like this, we’re going out and we’re talking to people, and a lot of 17-year-olds are contributing to their communities and have responsibilities of adulthood already,” Frankel told Gotham Gazette. “They’re paying taxes, they’re driving, some can enlist in the military. So, it’s time that voting is incorporated into those responsibilities that 17-year-olds already have so they can begin participating in government in a really substantive way so their voice is heard.”</p> <p>Chris Stauffer, YPPG’s vice chair and a senior at Bard, noted that in places where voting rights were extended to high school students, the turnout results have been very promising.</p> <p>“Sixteen- to 18-year-olds in Takoma Park, Maryland actually have double the turnout than 18- to 25-year-olds,” Stauffer told Gotham Gazette of the locality that has lowered its voting age to 16. “This is without any reform to civics education.” People who are still in high school may have fewer extraneous obligations than someone in the age bracket immediately following, where many are away from home at college, allowing them to vote with regularity and consistency and setting them up for a lifetime of civic engagement.</p> <p>Lowering the voting age alone might not be enough to spur extensive turnout among high school students and young people in general, which is why the bill includes more robust, comprehensive civics education in New York schools.</p> <p>The non-profit group Generation Citizen partners with schools in cities around the country, including New York City, to provide students with an “action civics” curriculum centered around local issues, wherein students seek to enact change in specific issue areas. Generation Citizen helps fill a gap in civics education found in many schools and school systems, but it currently operates in a relatively small percentage of classrooms.</p> <p>Civics education is often lacking in schools, especially as it relates to close-to-home politics and government.</p> <p>“A lot of civics courses focus on larger, more grand themes in American history,” Frankel said. “And the civics seminars that this bill mandates all students get really directs students on the nuts and bolts of how they can go out and vote, how they can fill out a ballot correctly, how to register to vote, how to make sure their voice is heard outside of voting, how elections work, and where they can find the information about candidates and about elections that they need to go out and turn out.”</p> <p>The bill also would provide for instant registration within schools. Schools currently have most relevant information for voter registration anyway, aside from an individual’s signature and party registration, according to YPPG Policy Director Max Shatan, a senior at Bard. This allows the process to involve minimal effort on the part of students.</p> <p>According to YPPG PR Director Ilana Cohen, a senior at the Beacon School in Manhattan, these foundational steps in schools would engage people in the process even more than simply allowing them to vote at 17.</p> <p>“Establishing the importance of voting in the classroom has a much greater effect than simply allowing teenagers to go out after high school and let them independently register to vote,” Cohen said.</p> <p>Prior to the bill’s introduction, Assemblymember Carroll sat down with some of the students at YPPG to gather input on a pre-registration bill already in the Assembly. According to Carroll’s chief of staff, Dan Campanelli, during this conversation Carroll suggested crafting a bill to lower the voting age to 17, which was ecstatically received by the students. Carroll subsequently worked on the bill with the students.</p> <p>“In this age of civic participation and interest, we need to make sure, in New York State, that we are teaching our young people what it means to be an active participant in their democracy,” Carroll said at Monday’s rally. “We teach young people all sorts of things. We teach them how to drive cars, we teach them how to take the SAT. We should teach them how to be active citizens and how to vote.”</p> <p>Although the bill has 23 co-sponsors in the 150-seat Assembly including Carroll, it would have to overcome the significant hurdle of passing the Republican-controlled state Senate, as well as to bypass a culture in Albany that is notoriously resistant to voting reform. Senate Republicans have been resistant to election reform measures that have passed the Assembly, like early voting and same-day registration. Younger voters typically skew Democratic, giving another reason for the GOP to oppose Carroll’s bill, especially as Republicans cling to the slimmest of majorities in the Senate, only due to several rogue Democrats who either caucus or form a coalition with the GOP. Though Carroll largely did not speak to its chances in the Senate, he is confident in its ability to pass the Assembly if it gets out of committee there.</p> <p>“If you are against more people accessing the ballot box, then guess what? You’re against democracy,” Carroll said Monday. “And maybe you should get out of the business of holding elected office, because that’s the point of it.”</p> <p>

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated to clarify that YPPG's members are seniors at Bard High School, not juniors.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bobbt-carroll-presser.jpg" alt="bobbt carroll presser" width="600" height="484" /></p> <p>Assemblymember Robert Carroll at <span tabindex="0" data-term="goog_1899207167">Monday's</span> rally</p> <hr /> <p>On the eve of Election Day 2017, a state Assembly member from Brooklyn held a press conference focused on voter engagement and turnout, but it wasn’t in support of his own candidacy -- he’s not up for reelection until next year -- or anyone else’s. Instead, Assemblymember Robert Carroll was talking about his push to allow 17-year-olds to vote.</p> <p>In the state capital of Albany, Carroll recently introduced a bill, the Young Voter Act, that would allow 17-year-olds to cast ballots in state and local elections. The voting age is currently 18 for national elections and within New York. The legislation would also require that all students in public high schools receive at least eight hours of formal civics education, and that schools provide voter registration forms to students when they turn 17.</p> <p>The proposal, which Caroll will attempt to see moved when the Legislature returns to session in January, is aimed at improving New York’s dismal record of voter turnout (among the worst states in the country). On Monday, Carroll rallied in support of the bill outside the city’s Board of Elections with fellow Brooklyn Democratic Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, as well as several politically engaged high school students and advocates.</p> <p>This included the leadership of the <a href="https://yppg-ny.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Youth Progressive Policy Group</a> (YPPG), a group of students whose stated mission is to “give the youth of New York a voice in our state’s political process.” The group claims that engaging people in the electoral process early will lead to a more civically active life later on, and it is thus important to not only educate students in civics at an early age, but also to empower them to be a part of it.</p> <p>YPPG’s President, Eli Frankel, a senior at Manhattan’s Bard High School, was quick to note that 17-year-olds are productive members of civic society in other ways, and that this should be extended to voting.</p> <p>“We are organizing rallies like this, we’re going out and we’re talking to people, and a lot of 17-year-olds are contributing to their communities and have responsibilities of adulthood already,” Frankel told Gotham Gazette. “They’re paying taxes, they’re driving, some can enlist in the military. So, it’s time that voting is incorporated into those responsibilities that 17-year-olds already have so they can begin participating in government in a really substantive way so their voice is heard.”</p> <p>Chris Stauffer, YPPG’s vice chair and a senior at Bard, noted that in places where voting rights were extended to high school students, the turnout results have been very promising.</p> <p>“Sixteen- to 18-year-olds in Takoma Park, Maryland actually have double the turnout than 18- to 25-year-olds,” Stauffer told Gotham Gazette of the locality that has lowered its voting age to 16. “This is without any reform to civics education.” People who are still in high school may have fewer extraneous obligations than someone in the age bracket immediately following, where many are away from home at college, allowing them to vote with regularity and consistency and setting them up for a lifetime of civic engagement.</p> <p>Lowering the voting age alone might not be enough to spur extensive turnout among high school students and young people in general, which is why the bill includes more robust, comprehensive civics education in New York schools.</p> <p>The non-profit group Generation Citizen partners with schools in cities around the country, including New York City, to provide students with an “action civics” curriculum centered around local issues, wherein students seek to enact change in specific issue areas. Generation Citizen helps fill a gap in civics education found in many schools and school systems, but it currently operates in a relatively small percentage of classrooms.</p> <p>Civics education is often lacking in schools, especially as it relates to close-to-home politics and government.</p> <p>“A lot of civics courses focus on larger, more grand themes in American history,” Frankel said. “And the civics seminars that this bill mandates all students get really directs students on the nuts and bolts of how they can go out and vote, how they can fill out a ballot correctly, how to register to vote, how to make sure their voice is heard outside of voting, how elections work, and where they can find the information about candidates and about elections that they need to go out and turn out.”</p> <p>The bill also would provide for instant registration within schools. Schools currently have most relevant information for voter registration anyway, aside from an individual’s signature and party registration, according to YPPG Policy Director Max Shatan, a senior at Bard. This allows the process to involve minimal effort on the part of students.</p> <p>According to YPPG PR Director Ilana Cohen, a senior at the Beacon School in Manhattan, these foundational steps in schools would engage people in the process even more than simply allowing them to vote at 17.</p> <p>“Establishing the importance of voting in the classroom has a much greater effect than simply allowing teenagers to go out after high school and let them independently register to vote,” Cohen said.</p> <p>Prior to the bill’s introduction, Assemblymember Carroll sat down with some of the students at YPPG to gather input on a pre-registration bill already in the Assembly. According to Carroll’s chief of staff, Dan Campanelli, during this conversation Carroll suggested crafting a bill to lower the voting age to 17, which was ecstatically received by the students. Carroll subsequently worked on the bill with the students.</p> <p>“In this age of civic participation and interest, we need to make sure, in New York State, that we are teaching our young people what it means to be an active participant in their democracy,” Carroll said at Monday’s rally. “We teach young people all sorts of things. We teach them how to drive cars, we teach them how to take the SAT. We should teach them how to be active citizens and how to vote.”</p> <p>Although the bill has 23 co-sponsors in the 150-seat Assembly including Carroll, it would have to overcome the significant hurdle of passing the Republican-controlled state Senate, as well as to bypass a culture in Albany that is notoriously resistant to voting reform. Senate Republicans have been resistant to election reform measures that have passed the Assembly, like early voting and same-day registration. Younger voters typically skew Democratic, giving another reason for the GOP to oppose Carroll’s bill, especially as Republicans cling to the slimmest of majorities in the Senate, only due to several rogue Democrats who either caucus or form a coalition with the GOP. Though Carroll largely did not speak to its chances in the Senate, he is confident in its ability to pass the Assembly if it gets out of committee there.</p> <p>“If you are against more people accessing the ballot box, then guess what? You’re against democracy,” Carroll said Monday. “And maybe you should get out of the business of holding elected office, because that’s the point of it.”</p> <p>

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated to clarify that YPPG's members are seniors at Bard High School, not juniors.</p>
Amid Larger Moment, Will Albany Face Another Sexual Misconduct Reckoning? 2017-10-31T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-31T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7286:amid-larger-moment-will-albany-face-another-sexual-misconduct-reckoning Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/7030332993_98be0d5262_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo Sheldon Silver Skelos Albany" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo, Sheldon Silver &amp; Dean Skelos in 2012 (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>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 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MeToo?src=hash" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">#MeToo</a>.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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&nbsp; improvement in the Albany culture since these reforms, but say that sexist attitudes and behavior continue to plague New York state government.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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 href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/transcript-secretary-governor-melissa-derosa-delivers-keynote-address-women-media-courage-own" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a transcript</a> distributed by the governor’s office.</p> <p>Calling for “societal course correction,” DeRosa encouraged young women in all industries to speak out.</p> <p>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, <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/10/23/top-cuomo-official-claims-former-boss-sexually-harassed-employees/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The New York Post</a>.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>On Monday, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/10/30/cuomo-ally-sam-hoyt-leaves-state-post-for-private-sector/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">it was revealed</a> that&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">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<span style="font-weight: 400;">&nbsp;in 2009 for an affair with 19-year-old intern, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/10/31/state-employee-says-hoyt-paid-her-50000-to-conceal-relationship/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was accused</a> by a former state employee of pressuring her into a romantic relationship. She told Buffalo News that she was paid $50,000 for her silence.</span> </span></p> <p><span>In <a href="https://twitter.com/NickReisman/status/925443753200021505" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a statement</a>,&nbsp;<span>Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever acknowledged that allegations of misconduct had emerged against Hoyt and that an investigation was underway.</span></span></p> <p>"All state employees must act with integrity and respect," the statement read. "When the complainant made these allegations, they were immediately refered to the&nbsp; <span style="font-weight: 400;">Governor's Office of Employee Relations (GOER)&nbsp;</span>for an investigation."</p> <p>After GOER determined there were grounds for further review, the matter was refered to the Inspector General's Office, and later, the&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">Joint Commission of Public Ethics (JCOPE), according to the statement. Hoyt maintains that the relationship was consentual, according to Buffalo News.</span></p> <p>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.</p> <p>One such conversation occurred at <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/comm/?id=85" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a retreat</a> 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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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 <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/11/legislature-spends-271k-on-sexual-harassment-cases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">have spent</a> 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 -- <a href="https://twitter.com/RachelSilby/status/917812909106978816" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convened a meeting</a> in executive session on October 12 and is expected to meet again on November 2. The matter at hand is not clear.<br /> <br />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 <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/03/17/state-senator-faces-ethics-probe-amid-lurid-sexual-harassment-allegations/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amid rumors</a> of sexual harassment. Also last year, the Senate paid out $121,000 for two contracts with Kraus &amp; Zuchlewski LLP “for legal counsel related to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission matters and investigation of sexual harassment claims.”</p> <p>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 <span style="font-weight: 400;">an influx of female legislators to the Assembly in recent years has also helped to reshape the culture</span>. At the Senate, such scandals and its culture of protecting those in power has not drawn the same scrutiny.</p> <p>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.<br /> <br />“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.”</p> <p>The women’s advocacy organization has <a href="http://nownys.org/whistleblower-hotline-for-sexual-harassment-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> 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 <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/nownys.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nownys.org</a>).</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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 <a href="https://www.wesaidenough.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on a website</a> created for women to submit their stories.</p> <p>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, <a href="https://t.co/zZUEBcBYR7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the AP reported</a>.</p> <p>"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."</p> <p>Albany, which has historically been referred to as the New York’s own “sin city,” is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/16/nyregion/albany-faces-its-sex-problem-and-nobody-s-snickering.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">no stranger to such scandals</a>. 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.</p> <p>A major turning point for the Assembly occurred <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/16/nyregion/albany-faces-its-sex-problem-and-nobody-s-snickering.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in 2004</a>, 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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>In comparison to the 150-seat Assembly, sex scandals in the 63-seat Senate have unfolded more discreetly -- hinted at through <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/11/legislature-spends-271k-on-sexual-harassment-cases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">money spent on lawyers</a> or a senator or a top aide <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/09/flanagan-hires/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">leaving the job</a> 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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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 <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/womenatwork/article/Liz-Krueger-Q-A-on-women-in-politics-9186948.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told The Albany Times Union</a>.</p> <p>The training became mandatory for senators and staff members and the regulations were clearly stated in a written document.</p> <p>It was not the last time Kreuger took her colleagues in the Legislature <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4246-a-culture-of-sexual-harassment-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">to task</a> over crimes against women. In June 2003, when Boxley was <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/12/nyregion/aide-to-silver-is-arrested-in-rape-case.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">led out of the Capitol in handcuffs</a>, 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?”</p> <p>“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.'”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>In 2014, following <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4246-a-culture-of-sexual-harassment-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series of sexual misconduct scandals</a> 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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>To help restructure the chamber’s sexual harassment policy, the Assembly’s ethics committee enlisted CUNY Law School Professor <a href="http://www.law.cuny.edu/faculty/directory/rossein.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Merrick Rossein</a>, 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.</p> <p>“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,&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">who has since been retained by the Assembly as an outside counsel to investigate complaints against members,</span> in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>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 <a href="http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-sexual-harassment-state-legislatures.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has had a dramatic impact on the culture in Albany</a>. A hotline has been set up for people to submit tips.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>These types of incidents collectively create a hostile environment that women internalize and come to see as normal, she said.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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 <a href="http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/weinstein-sexual-harassment-harrisburg-capitol-lawmakers-sexual-favors-20171027.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an account</a> by a journalist covering the Harrisburg Capitol in the Philadelphia Inquirer.</p> <p>Albany veterans say they have grown accustomed to awkward and demeaning daily experiences.</p> <p>"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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p><em>Update: The story has been updated with allegations about former EDC official Sam Hoyt that emerged Tuesday afternoon.</em></p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/7030332993_98be0d5262_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo Sheldon Silver Skelos Albany" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo, Sheldon Silver &amp; Dean Skelos in 2012 (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>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 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MeToo?src=hash" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">#MeToo</a>.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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&nbsp; improvement in the Albany culture since these reforms, but say that sexist attitudes and behavior continue to plague New York state government.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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 href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/transcript-secretary-governor-melissa-derosa-delivers-keynote-address-women-media-courage-own" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a transcript</a> distributed by the governor’s office.</p> <p>Calling for “societal course correction,” DeRosa encouraged young women in all industries to speak out.</p> <p>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, <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/10/23/top-cuomo-official-claims-former-boss-sexually-harassed-employees/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The New York Post</a>.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>On Monday, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/10/30/cuomo-ally-sam-hoyt-leaves-state-post-for-private-sector/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">it was revealed</a> that&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">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<span style="font-weight: 400;">&nbsp;in 2009 for an affair with 19-year-old intern, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/10/31/state-employee-says-hoyt-paid-her-50000-to-conceal-relationship/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was accused</a> by a former state employee of pressuring her into a romantic relationship. She told Buffalo News that she was paid $50,000 for her silence.</span> </span></p> <p><span>In <a href="https://twitter.com/NickReisman/status/925443753200021505" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a statement</a>,&nbsp;<span>Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever acknowledged that allegations of misconduct had emerged against Hoyt and that an investigation was underway.</span></span></p> <p>"All state employees must act with integrity and respect," the statement read. "When the complainant made these allegations, they were immediately refered to the&nbsp; <span style="font-weight: 400;">Governor's Office of Employee Relations (GOER)&nbsp;</span>for an investigation."</p> <p>After GOER determined there were grounds for further review, the matter was refered to the Inspector General's Office, and later, the&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">Joint Commission of Public Ethics (JCOPE), according to the statement. Hoyt maintains that the relationship was consentual, according to Buffalo News.</span></p> <p>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.</p> <p>One such conversation occurred at <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/comm/?id=85" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a retreat</a> 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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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 <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/11/legislature-spends-271k-on-sexual-harassment-cases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">have spent</a> 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 -- <a href="https://twitter.com/RachelSilby/status/917812909106978816" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convened a meeting</a> in executive session on October 12 and is expected to meet again on November 2. The matter at hand is not clear.<br /> <br />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 <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/03/17/state-senator-faces-ethics-probe-amid-lurid-sexual-harassment-allegations/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amid rumors</a> of sexual harassment. Also last year, the Senate paid out $121,000 for two contracts with Kraus &amp; Zuchlewski LLP “for legal counsel related to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission matters and investigation of sexual harassment claims.”</p> <p>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 <span style="font-weight: 400;">an influx of female legislators to the Assembly in recent years has also helped to reshape the culture</span>. At the Senate, such scandals and its culture of protecting those in power has not drawn the same scrutiny.</p> <p>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.<br /> <br />“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.”</p> <p>The women’s advocacy organization has <a href="http://nownys.org/whistleblower-hotline-for-sexual-harassment-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> 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 <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/nownys.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nownys.org</a>).</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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 <a href="https://www.wesaidenough.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on a website</a> created for women to submit their stories.</p> <p>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, <a href="https://t.co/zZUEBcBYR7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the AP reported</a>.</p> <p>"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."</p> <p>Albany, which has historically been referred to as the New York’s own “sin city,” is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/16/nyregion/albany-faces-its-sex-problem-and-nobody-s-snickering.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">no stranger to such scandals</a>. 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.</p> <p>A major turning point for the Assembly occurred <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/16/nyregion/albany-faces-its-sex-problem-and-nobody-s-snickering.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in 2004</a>, 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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>In comparison to the 150-seat Assembly, sex scandals in the 63-seat Senate have unfolded more discreetly -- hinted at through <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/11/legislature-spends-271k-on-sexual-harassment-cases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">money spent on lawyers</a> or a senator or a top aide <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/09/flanagan-hires/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">leaving the job</a> 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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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 <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/womenatwork/article/Liz-Krueger-Q-A-on-women-in-politics-9186948.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told The Albany Times Union</a>.</p> <p>The training became mandatory for senators and staff members and the regulations were clearly stated in a written document.</p> <p>It was not the last time Kreuger took her colleagues in the Legislature <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4246-a-culture-of-sexual-harassment-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">to task</a> over crimes against women. In June 2003, when Boxley was <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/12/nyregion/aide-to-silver-is-arrested-in-rape-case.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">led out of the Capitol in handcuffs</a>, 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?”</p> <p>“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.'”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>In 2014, following <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4246-a-culture-of-sexual-harassment-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series of sexual misconduct scandals</a> 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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>To help restructure the chamber’s sexual harassment policy, the Assembly’s ethics committee enlisted CUNY Law School Professor <a href="http://www.law.cuny.edu/faculty/directory/rossein.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Merrick Rossein</a>, 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.</p> <p>“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,&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">who has since been retained by the Assembly as an outside counsel to investigate complaints against members,</span> in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>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 <a href="http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-sexual-harassment-state-legislatures.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has had a dramatic impact on the culture in Albany</a>. A hotline has been set up for people to submit tips.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>These types of incidents collectively create a hostile environment that women internalize and come to see as normal, she said.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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 <a href="http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/weinstein-sexual-harassment-harrisburg-capitol-lawmakers-sexual-favors-20171027.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an account</a> by a journalist covering the Harrisburg Capitol in the Philadelphia Inquirer.</p> <p>Albany veterans say they have grown accustomed to awkward and demeaning daily experiences.</p> <p>"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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>“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.”</p> <p><em>Update: The story has been updated with allegations about former EDC official Sam Hoyt that emerged Tuesday afternoon.</em></p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Meet The Three State Legislators Likely Heading To The City Council 2017-09-13T04:00:00+00:00 2017-09-13T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7195:meet-the-three-state-legislators-coming-to-the-city-council Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/gjonaj_election_night_crop.jpg" alt="gjonaj election night crop" width="600" height="416" />&nbsp;</p> <p>Mark Gjonaj &amp; Bronx Democratic leadership (photo: @MarkGjonajNY)</p> <hr /> <p>With the New York City primary election behind us, it appears that at least three state legislators are likely to be leaving behind the trips to Albany for plush City Council seats.</p> <p>Following the path of former State Senator Bill Perkins, who was elected to the City Council in a special election earlier this year, two Assembly members and one state senator are likely to be making the same jump come January: State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Francisco Moya were all victorious in determinative Democratic primaries Tuesday night.</p> <p>Assemblymembers Felix Ortiz and Robert Rodriguez also ran in Democratic City Council primaries, but appear to have lost their respective bids. Ortiz came in a distant second attempting to unseat incumbent Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Rodriguez is narrowly behind Diana Ayala in a race he has not conceded, though Ayala did declare victory. Gjonaj will have to defeat Republican candidate John Cerini in the general election, who is expected to be tougher competition than Diaz Sr.'s Republican opponent,&nbsp;Eisley Constantine. Moya does not have any general election competition.</p> <p>The three state legislators who won on Tuesday would join the City Council as part of the full new class of 51 members for a four-year term starting in January. For Diaz Sr., it would be a return to a Council district he once represented before being elected to the state Senate.</p> <p>Gjonaj, Moya, and Diaz Sr. will likely be part of a Democratic supermajority in the Council that will elect a new Speaker and work with Mayor Bill de Blasio -- if he prevails in November’s general election as expected. They will be asked to help deal with problems like a lack of housing affordability, a deteriorating transportation system, substandard schools, and more.</p> <p>The state lawmakers would bring to the City Council significant legislative experience as they fill three of the 10 seats set to change hands.</p> <p>"The powers of the Legislature are infinitely broader, as a result these candidates bring a functional experience which is invaluable and would help City Council immensely,” says former Assemblymember Richard Brodsky.</p> <p>Last year, Mayor de Blasio and the City Council approved a large pay boost for all city elected officials, including Council members -- to $148,000, up from $112,500 -- in exchange for a ban on most outside income, which may continue to draw a steady stream of candidates from state government, where legislative salaries have been frozen at $79,000 since 1999. In addition to the pay bump, state lawmakers from New York City may be attracted to the proximity of City Hall as opposed to the state capital, as well as the influence and visibility that come with a City Council position.</p> <p>Leaving the Legislature, the three would join a number of other rank-and-file state lawmakers who have abandoned Albany for other offices where they believe they can be more effective. Additionally, this year, Republican Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who was largely unnoticed outside of her district while serving in the Assembly minority, is now posing a fierce challenge to de Blasio in the mayoral race.</p> <p>In August, State Senator Daniel Squadron, penning a letter <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/leaving-n-y-senate-article-1.3394774" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in The Daily News</a> about his own disillusionment with the Albany process, announced that he would leave the Senate to pursue a national initiative. During his eight years in Albany, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7122-dan-squadron-fought-the-llc-loophole-and-the-loophole-won" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his legislation to close the infamous “LLC loophole”</a> had never made it to the Senate floor.</p> <p>The moves from the state Legislature to the City Council often come down to opportunity. Diaz Sr., Rodriguez, Gjonaj and Moya all sought to replace City Council members who are term-limited or not seeking re-election. As soon as an elected official enters a City Council race, they typically become the favorite, given their higher profile, ability to fund-raise, and ties to important entities like labor unions. They almost always win.</p> <p>Lawmakers say they find it easier to have an impact legislatively from the City Council than in the State Assembly, where Democrats have an overwhelming majority, or in the State Senate where the Democratic conference is fractured and in the minority, according to those who have made the switch. The Albany budget and legislative processes are also known to be closed off to many rank-and-file legislators, given the “three men in a room” decision-making that often dominates.</p> <p>“In order to be effective in Albany you have to be there a long time, to accumulate seniority, to get a committee chairmanship. It’s very hard to get legislation passed without clout,” said Brooklyn Council Member Alan Maisel, who was elected to the body in 2013 after seven years in the Assembly.</p> <p>Some leave Albany in part because they have young children at home and being Upstate for portions of six months out of the year is grueling for their families, while others are motivated to move to the City Council as they near retirement, because the state’s pension system determines disbursements based on a lawmaker’s most recent salary. Maisel said he enjoyed his time Albany, but the turning point for him was the months after Hurricane Sandy, when he felt helpless to support his constituents from Albany. When the seat became available, he ran.</p> <p>“Here I am in Albany, from January till June, and I didn’t like that,” he said. “I wanted to be involved in local community things.”</p> <p>In 2021, when 37 Council members will be term-limited out of office, there is expected to be a marked influx of state legislators to the City Council. Other City Council members who have came from the State Legislature in recent years include Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Rafael Espinal, Joe Borelli, Inez Barron, and Rory Lancman.</p> <p>The departure of Squadron, Moya and, likely, Diaz Sr. and Gjonaj, will set off a series of special elections, which will be called at the discretion of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, has called for Cuomo to consolidate all the special elections into one, on November 7, Election Day.</p> <p>"We need to remove barriers to voting with early voting, instant runoff voting, and automatic voter registration -- an advance the Governor could accomplish administratively without legislative action," said Lerner.</p> <p>To enable this, Lerner called on the Diaz Sr., Gjonaj, and Moya to "put the public's interest ahead of their own self-interest and resign from the Legislature immediately." If the lawmakers remain in office for the remainder of the term, their seats will remain unfilled during the start of the 2018 legislative session.</p> <p>This year’s likely migrants have already been thrust into the next big fight in City Hall, that for the coveted role of City Council speaker, held by term-limited Melissa Mark-Viverito until the end of the year. It is for Mark-Viverito’s Council seat in District 8 (East Harlem and the South Bronx) where Assemblymember Rodriguez could still possibly join the wave, if his attempt to see affidavit and absentee ballots counted puts him ahead of Ayala, Mark-Viverito’s preferred successor and former aide.</p> <p>As their votes are being sought by their soon-to-be-colleagues seeking the speakership, there is more to know about the three legislators likely moving to the City Council.</p> <p><strong>Ruben Diaz Sr.: Council District 18</strong><br />Famous for his signature cowboy hat, his unvarnished “What You Should Know” <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/articles/ruben-diaz/what-you-should-know-0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">newsletter</a>, and his passionate speeches on behalf of immigrants and the working class on the Senate floor, Reverend Ruben Diaz Sr. will soon be bringing his distinctive sartorial style to the Bronx’s 18th City Council District, a position he briefly held in 2001.</p> <p>An ordained minister who was born in Puerto Rico, Diaz leads the Christian Community Neighborhood Church on Longfellow Avenue and the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization, an organization of 150 local evangelical ministers. He is known as a conservative Democrat who may be out of step with many more socially progressive Council members.</p> <p>Diaz, who replaces the term-limited Annabel Palma, enjoys widespread support in the district. Legislatively, during his 13 years in the Senate, 18 of his bills have made it to the governor’s desk, 16 signed into law. His record ranges from <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/240132/diaz-will-introduce-legislation-to-address-toplessness-crisis/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">targeting the topless panhandlers</a> in Times Square, to pushing Cuomo to implement <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/246064/ruben-diaz-sr-to-cuomo-implement-id-program-that-helps-immigrants/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an identification card program</a> similar to IDNYC across the state, which is available to all immigrants regardless of documentation.</p> <p>Diaz Sr. also has much to gain from returning to his former district, which he left in 2002 to replace the scandal-scarred Senator Pedro Espada. Moving back to New York City and joining the City Council will allow Diaz, who is 74, to collect a higher pension when he eventually retires and cementing the Diaz brand could be beneficial for his son, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who may have broader, citywide political aspirations in the future.</p> <p>Diaz Sr. has drawn criticism for his socially conservative views, particularly his vote against New York’s Marriage Equality Act in 2011 and his anti-abortion stance. The reverend’s views have made for tricky politics for allies such as City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who is seeking the Council speakership and was <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/08/14/city-councilman-slammed-by-gay-activists-for-endorsing-ruben-diaz-sr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized</a> by gay activists for endorsing Diaz Sr. in his Council bid. A prominent LGBT political club, the Stonewall Democrats, rescinded its support for Rodriguez as a result.</p> <p>“While we obviously do not agree on every issue–particularly his stances on abortion and the rights of the LGBTQ community–I know Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. has been a strong advocate for Latino representation and his working class constituents in the Bronx,” Rodriguez <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/08/14/city-councilman-slammed-by-gay-activists-for-endorsing-ruben-diaz-sr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told the New York Post</a>. “As an experienced legislator, he will continue to serve them well in the Council.”</p> <p>Another speaker hopeful, Council Member Corey Johnson, who is gay, also caught flack for friendliness toward Diaz Sr., but much earlier in the election cycle.</p> <p>In 2011, Diaz’s grandaughter, Erica, who is a lesbian, <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/personality/interviews-and-profiles/state-sen-ruben-diaz-sr-city-council-interview.html#.WbkpPkqGM6U" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">famously</a> organized a counter protest to her grandfather’s anti-gay marriage rally.</p> <p>Regarding his views on homosexuality, Diaz Sr. <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/08/03/i-am-the-church-i-am-the-state-diaz-sr-faces-younger-voices-in-bronx-primary/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told City Limits</a>, “You don’t believe in this, you don’t believe in that, but you respect the people. And you provide the service you are supposed to provide and you make sure they get the same service as everyone else.”</p> <p>Many are surely hoping that his “What you Need to Know” columns, which are published <a href="http://thebronxchronicle.com/2016/02/17/wysk-eliot-spitzer-vs-hiram-monserrate/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in the Bronx Chronicle</a> continue. In his blunt columns, he’s taken to task his <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/ruben-diaz/3-new-amigos-%E2%80%93-what%E2%80%99s-difference" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">colleagues</a> in the Senate, Governor Cuomo’s <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/228751/diaz-whats-good-for-the-ethics-goose/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ethics reform attempts</a>, actor/director <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/229541/diaz-goes-out-of-his-way-to-be-offended-by-sean-penn/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sean Penn’s comment</a> at the Oscars, and most recently, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito was caught <a href="http://thebronxchronicle.com/2015/12/09/melissa-mark-viverito-is-the-wrong-person-to-teach-american-values-to-donald-trump/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in his crosshairs</a>.<br /><br />On Tuesday, Diaz Sr. defeated Elvin Garcia, a former Bronx aide in Mayor de Blasio’s community assistance unit who is gay; activist Amanda Farias, who was backed by the National Organization of Women; and others.</p> <p>“I disagree with Diaz [Sr.] on just about everything, but I find him to be active and engaged and a serious member of the Legislature,” said Brodsky of his former colleague. “The tendency for these candidates to be colorful and independent is a virtue," he added.</p> <p><strong>Mark Gjonaj: Council District 13</strong><br />Gjonaj joined the state Assembly in 2012, after defeating incumbent Assemblymember Naomi Rivera, the daughter of Assemblymember Jose Rivera and sister Councilman Joel Rivera, in the 2012 Democratic primary. A real estate broker without political background aside from a stint as the Bronx representative on the Taxi and Limousine Commission, his victory caught the political establishment <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20120930/POLITICS/309309975/the-unlikely-assemblyman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by surprise</a>.</p> <p>The son of Albanian immigrant union workers, Gjonaj is seen as something of a trailblazer for the Bronx’s Albanian-American community, which includes a population of more than 12,500, according to 2011 figures, and he continues to have widespread support in the district.</p> <p>The 48-year-old Gjonaj, <a href="http://bronxink.org/2012/10/20/24603-from-albanian-roots-to-an-albany-job-mark-gjonajs-long-trail-to-the-assemblybly/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">who is known</a> for his extravagant fundraising tactics, recently drew criticism for spending campaign dollars on his own family businesses as well accepting donations from questionable sources. He is credited with <a href="http://observer.com/2017/03/bronx-mark-gjonaj-assembly-council-albanian-flag-day-don-coqui/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">energizing</a> a somewhat conservative constituency in the Bronx. His centrist Democratic politics is evidenced by the endorsement of state Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which forms a ruling majority with the Senate GOP. Both politicians represent suburban areas of the Bronx.</p> <p>Gjonaj served as chairperson of the subcommittee on micro business and has <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/education/charter-schools-republicans-vs-democrats.html#.WbLXNdOGPVo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">signaled support</a> for charter schools. He has been <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/bronx-pol-brags-pushing-women-rights-bill-voted-no-article-1.2964989" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized for taking credit</a> for the Women’s Equality Act, which he voted against, and he has promoted drug-fighting legislation, including a bill criminalizing and increasing penalties for the sale of synthetic marijuana.</p> <p>During his bid for City Council, Gjonaj scooped up all the major endorsements from the Bronx Democratic party machine and power players, as well as major labor unions. He spent a record amount -- <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/city-council-hopeful-sets-record-pumping-716g-bid-article-1.3485386" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">more than $716,469</a> -- on his campaign, defeating Marjorie Velazquez, a Democratic district leader and community board member who was endorsed by progressive and women’s groups, and John Doyle, a hospital official who once worked for Klein.</p> <p>“I am honored that the people of the 13th District have chosen me to fight for The Bronx and help lead the way in protecting the common-sense Democratic values that are vital in safeguarding our working and middle-class families, keeping our streets safe, ensuring every child receives a quality education and securing affordable housing options for the most vulnerable,” Gjonaj said in a statement following his primary win. “From City Hall, I will be in a better position to bring attention to those issues and take action.”</p> <p>But, Gjonaj does have an active general election competition ahead, even if he is a heavy favorite. Following the primary, Bronx County Republican Party Chair Michael Rendino said in a statement that Gjonaj's primary win showed a lack of popular support. "In a stunning rebuke to politics as usual, Mark Gjonaj couldn't even break 40% in his Democratic primary election after spending more money than any council candidate in the history of the City’s campaign finance system," Rendino said. "Developer Mark Gjonaj is now going to have to defend his record against John Cerini in the general election. John is a longtime community leader and small business owner in Throgg's Neck and has been fighting for us his whole life. I like our chances."</p> <p><strong>Francisco Moya: Council District 21</strong><br />Good governance won out on primary day when Francisco Moya successfully beat out disgraced ex-Senator Hiram Monserrate, who was coming off of a two-year stint in jail for misappropriating $100,000 of taxpayer funds after previously having been expelled from the Senate for a domestic violence incident involving his then girlfriend.</p> <p>Monserrate has been seeking a return to elected office and has shown he can still turn out votes. After a particularly ugly battle, the margin was close, with Moya pulling in 56 percent of the vote, compared to Monserrate’s 44 percent.</p> <p>"Honesty and integrity won tonight,” Moya, 43, told the crowd at a victory party in Corona Tuesday night, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/crooked-domestic-abuser-monserrate-sees-city-council-hopes-dashed-article-1.3491279?cid=bitly" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The Daily News</a>.</p> <p>That sentiment was echoed by the National Organization for Women (NOW) which released a statement of congratulations to the incoming Council member. “We are proud to congratulate Francisco Moya for his victory today, because we know that he is going to fight for women, fight for immigrants, and fight for his community, and he can stand up as a role model for them as well,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the NOW, which had come out strongly against Monserrate’s candidacy in recent weeks.</p> <p>Beyond Monserrate’s criminal record and ethics, a key point of contention during the race was the fate of Willets Point, a large plot of land that is in limbo after a proposed development there was blocked by a Court of Appeals ruling. The initial deal had been struck by Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who announced earlier this year that she would not seek reelection for the seat and will leave it at the end of the year. She endorsed Moya as her successor and campaigned with him in the days before the primary.</p> <p>Moya’s progressive legislative record during his seven years in Albany -- not to mention universal disdain for Monserrate from the Democratic establishment -- allowed the Assembly member to sweep up <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/08/cuomo-endorses-moya/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">endorsements</a> from the Working Families Party, unions, and numerous politicians, including Mayor de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Public Advocate Tish James.</p> <p>Elected to the Assembly in 2010 over Monserrate, Moya has been known for <a href="http://www.latinpost.com/articles/15552/20140625/dream-act-fails-pass-ny-bill-sponsor-francisco-moya-acts-immigration-reform.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his efforts</a> to fight for the passage of the NY DREAM Act, which would enable undocumented immigrant college students to be eligible for state financial aid. But year after year, the legislation died in the Republican controlled Senate.</p> <p>As a Council member, Moya won’t have to worry about his bills being blocked by Republicans, who control only three seats in the 51-seat body.</p> <p>Moya, who has said that he is the first state legislator of Ecuadorian descent and represents Jackson Heights, Queens, this year introduced <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6749-citing-trump-threat-assembly-passes-new-immigrant-protections-along-with-dream-act" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an extensive legislative package</a> aimed at protecting immigrants from police and enforcement agencies amidst a federal immigration crackdown, which would provide undocumented individuals with access to public defenders.</p> <p>He has <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/legislators-step-protect-wage-workers-article-1.2218229" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">introduced legislation</a> to stop employment agencies from committing fraud against job seekers, and went to bat for New York’s Scaffold Law, which places all liability for injured construction workers on employers. An avid soccer enthusiast, he's also championed <a href="http://thenycfcnation.com/2017/01/queens-borough-president-open-to-soccer-stadium-in-willets-point/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bringing </a>a Major League Soccer stadium to Queens -- an idea that may come to fruition soon.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Update: this article has been updated with a revised statement from Common Cause NY.</p> <p>Update: this article and its headline have been corrected to reflect that Diaz Sr. and Gjonaj have general election opponents.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/gjonaj_election_night_crop.jpg" alt="gjonaj election night crop" width="600" height="416" />&nbsp;</p> <p>Mark Gjonaj &amp; Bronx Democratic leadership (photo: @MarkGjonajNY)</p> <hr /> <p>With the New York City primary election behind us, it appears that at least three state legislators are likely to be leaving behind the trips to Albany for plush City Council seats.</p> <p>Following the path of former State Senator Bill Perkins, who was elected to the City Council in a special election earlier this year, two Assembly members and one state senator are likely to be making the same jump come January: State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Francisco Moya were all victorious in determinative Democratic primaries Tuesday night.</p> <p>Assemblymembers Felix Ortiz and Robert Rodriguez also ran in Democratic City Council primaries, but appear to have lost their respective bids. Ortiz came in a distant second attempting to unseat incumbent Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Rodriguez is narrowly behind Diana Ayala in a race he has not conceded, though Ayala did declare victory. Gjonaj will have to defeat Republican candidate John Cerini in the general election, who is expected to be tougher competition than Diaz Sr.'s Republican opponent,&nbsp;Eisley Constantine. Moya does not have any general election competition.</p> <p>The three state legislators who won on Tuesday would join the City Council as part of the full new class of 51 members for a four-year term starting in January. For Diaz Sr., it would be a return to a Council district he once represented before being elected to the state Senate.</p> <p>Gjonaj, Moya, and Diaz Sr. will likely be part of a Democratic supermajority in the Council that will elect a new Speaker and work with Mayor Bill de Blasio -- if he prevails in November’s general election as expected. They will be asked to help deal with problems like a lack of housing affordability, a deteriorating transportation system, substandard schools, and more.</p> <p>The state lawmakers would bring to the City Council significant legislative experience as they fill three of the 10 seats set to change hands.</p> <p>"The powers of the Legislature are infinitely broader, as a result these candidates bring a functional experience which is invaluable and would help City Council immensely,” says former Assemblymember Richard Brodsky.</p> <p>Last year, Mayor de Blasio and the City Council approved a large pay boost for all city elected officials, including Council members -- to $148,000, up from $112,500 -- in exchange for a ban on most outside income, which may continue to draw a steady stream of candidates from state government, where legislative salaries have been frozen at $79,000 since 1999. In addition to the pay bump, state lawmakers from New York City may be attracted to the proximity of City Hall as opposed to the state capital, as well as the influence and visibility that come with a City Council position.</p> <p>Leaving the Legislature, the three would join a number of other rank-and-file state lawmakers who have abandoned Albany for other offices where they believe they can be more effective. Additionally, this year, Republican Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who was largely unnoticed outside of her district while serving in the Assembly minority, is now posing a fierce challenge to de Blasio in the mayoral race.</p> <p>In August, State Senator Daniel Squadron, penning a letter <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/leaving-n-y-senate-article-1.3394774" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in The Daily News</a> about his own disillusionment with the Albany process, announced that he would leave the Senate to pursue a national initiative. During his eight years in Albany, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7122-dan-squadron-fought-the-llc-loophole-and-the-loophole-won" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his legislation to close the infamous “LLC loophole”</a> had never made it to the Senate floor.</p> <p>The moves from the state Legislature to the City Council often come down to opportunity. Diaz Sr., Rodriguez, Gjonaj and Moya all sought to replace City Council members who are term-limited or not seeking re-election. As soon as an elected official enters a City Council race, they typically become the favorite, given their higher profile, ability to fund-raise, and ties to important entities like labor unions. They almost always win.</p> <p>Lawmakers say they find it easier to have an impact legislatively from the City Council than in the State Assembly, where Democrats have an overwhelming majority, or in the State Senate where the Democratic conference is fractured and in the minority, according to those who have made the switch. The Albany budget and legislative processes are also known to be closed off to many rank-and-file legislators, given the “three men in a room” decision-making that often dominates.</p> <p>“In order to be effective in Albany you have to be there a long time, to accumulate seniority, to get a committee chairmanship. It’s very hard to get legislation passed without clout,” said Brooklyn Council Member Alan Maisel, who was elected to the body in 2013 after seven years in the Assembly.</p> <p>Some leave Albany in part because they have young children at home and being Upstate for portions of six months out of the year is grueling for their families, while others are motivated to move to the City Council as they near retirement, because the state’s pension system determines disbursements based on a lawmaker’s most recent salary. Maisel said he enjoyed his time Albany, but the turning point for him was the months after Hurricane Sandy, when he felt helpless to support his constituents from Albany. When the seat became available, he ran.</p> <p>“Here I am in Albany, from January till June, and I didn’t like that,” he said. “I wanted to be involved in local community things.”</p> <p>In 2021, when 37 Council members will be term-limited out of office, there is expected to be a marked influx of state legislators to the City Council. Other City Council members who have came from the State Legislature in recent years include Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Rafael Espinal, Joe Borelli, Inez Barron, and Rory Lancman.</p> <p>The departure of Squadron, Moya and, likely, Diaz Sr. and Gjonaj, will set off a series of special elections, which will be called at the discretion of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, has called for Cuomo to consolidate all the special elections into one, on November 7, Election Day.</p> <p>"We need to remove barriers to voting with early voting, instant runoff voting, and automatic voter registration -- an advance the Governor could accomplish administratively without legislative action," said Lerner.</p> <p>To enable this, Lerner called on the Diaz Sr., Gjonaj, and Moya to "put the public's interest ahead of their own self-interest and resign from the Legislature immediately." If the lawmakers remain in office for the remainder of the term, their seats will remain unfilled during the start of the 2018 legislative session.</p> <p>This year’s likely migrants have already been thrust into the next big fight in City Hall, that for the coveted role of City Council speaker, held by term-limited Melissa Mark-Viverito until the end of the year. It is for Mark-Viverito’s Council seat in District 8 (East Harlem and the South Bronx) where Assemblymember Rodriguez could still possibly join the wave, if his attempt to see affidavit and absentee ballots counted puts him ahead of Ayala, Mark-Viverito’s preferred successor and former aide.</p> <p>As their votes are being sought by their soon-to-be-colleagues seeking the speakership, there is more to know about the three legislators likely moving to the City Council.</p> <p><strong>Ruben Diaz Sr.: Council District 18</strong><br />Famous for his signature cowboy hat, his unvarnished “What You Should Know” <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/articles/ruben-diaz/what-you-should-know-0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">newsletter</a>, and his passionate speeches on behalf of immigrants and the working class on the Senate floor, Reverend Ruben Diaz Sr. will soon be bringing his distinctive sartorial style to the Bronx’s 18th City Council District, a position he briefly held in 2001.</p> <p>An ordained minister who was born in Puerto Rico, Diaz leads the Christian Community Neighborhood Church on Longfellow Avenue and the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization, an organization of 150 local evangelical ministers. He is known as a conservative Democrat who may be out of step with many more socially progressive Council members.</p> <p>Diaz, who replaces the term-limited Annabel Palma, enjoys widespread support in the district. Legislatively, during his 13 years in the Senate, 18 of his bills have made it to the governor’s desk, 16 signed into law. His record ranges from <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/240132/diaz-will-introduce-legislation-to-address-toplessness-crisis/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">targeting the topless panhandlers</a> in Times Square, to pushing Cuomo to implement <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/246064/ruben-diaz-sr-to-cuomo-implement-id-program-that-helps-immigrants/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an identification card program</a> similar to IDNYC across the state, which is available to all immigrants regardless of documentation.</p> <p>Diaz Sr. also has much to gain from returning to his former district, which he left in 2002 to replace the scandal-scarred Senator Pedro Espada. Moving back to New York City and joining the City Council will allow Diaz, who is 74, to collect a higher pension when he eventually retires and cementing the Diaz brand could be beneficial for his son, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who may have broader, citywide political aspirations in the future.</p> <p>Diaz Sr. has drawn criticism for his socially conservative views, particularly his vote against New York’s Marriage Equality Act in 2011 and his anti-abortion stance. The reverend’s views have made for tricky politics for allies such as City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who is seeking the Council speakership and was <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/08/14/city-councilman-slammed-by-gay-activists-for-endorsing-ruben-diaz-sr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized</a> by gay activists for endorsing Diaz Sr. in his Council bid. A prominent LGBT political club, the Stonewall Democrats, rescinded its support for Rodriguez as a result.</p> <p>“While we obviously do not agree on every issue–particularly his stances on abortion and the rights of the LGBTQ community–I know Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. has been a strong advocate for Latino representation and his working class constituents in the Bronx,” Rodriguez <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/08/14/city-councilman-slammed-by-gay-activists-for-endorsing-ruben-diaz-sr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told the New York Post</a>. “As an experienced legislator, he will continue to serve them well in the Council.”</p> <p>Another speaker hopeful, Council Member Corey Johnson, who is gay, also caught flack for friendliness toward Diaz Sr., but much earlier in the election cycle.</p> <p>In 2011, Diaz’s grandaughter, Erica, who is a lesbian, <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/personality/interviews-and-profiles/state-sen-ruben-diaz-sr-city-council-interview.html#.WbkpPkqGM6U" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">famously</a> organized a counter protest to her grandfather’s anti-gay marriage rally.</p> <p>Regarding his views on homosexuality, Diaz Sr. <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/08/03/i-am-the-church-i-am-the-state-diaz-sr-faces-younger-voices-in-bronx-primary/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told City Limits</a>, “You don’t believe in this, you don’t believe in that, but you respect the people. And you provide the service you are supposed to provide and you make sure they get the same service as everyone else.”</p> <p>Many are surely hoping that his “What you Need to Know” columns, which are published <a href="http://thebronxchronicle.com/2016/02/17/wysk-eliot-spitzer-vs-hiram-monserrate/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in the Bronx Chronicle</a> continue. In his blunt columns, he’s taken to task his <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/ruben-diaz/3-new-amigos-%E2%80%93-what%E2%80%99s-difference" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">colleagues</a> in the Senate, Governor Cuomo’s <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/228751/diaz-whats-good-for-the-ethics-goose/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ethics reform attempts</a>, actor/director <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/229541/diaz-goes-out-of-his-way-to-be-offended-by-sean-penn/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sean Penn’s comment</a> at the Oscars, and most recently, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito was caught <a href="http://thebronxchronicle.com/2015/12/09/melissa-mark-viverito-is-the-wrong-person-to-teach-american-values-to-donald-trump/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in his crosshairs</a>.<br /><br />On Tuesday, Diaz Sr. defeated Elvin Garcia, a former Bronx aide in Mayor de Blasio’s community assistance unit who is gay; activist Amanda Farias, who was backed by the National Organization of Women; and others.</p> <p>“I disagree with Diaz [Sr.] on just about everything, but I find him to be active and engaged and a serious member of the Legislature,” said Brodsky of his former colleague. “The tendency for these candidates to be colorful and independent is a virtue," he added.</p> <p><strong>Mark Gjonaj: Council District 13</strong><br />Gjonaj joined the state Assembly in 2012, after defeating incumbent Assemblymember Naomi Rivera, the daughter of Assemblymember Jose Rivera and sister Councilman Joel Rivera, in the 2012 Democratic primary. A real estate broker without political background aside from a stint as the Bronx representative on the Taxi and Limousine Commission, his victory caught the political establishment <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20120930/POLITICS/309309975/the-unlikely-assemblyman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by surprise</a>.</p> <p>The son of Albanian immigrant union workers, Gjonaj is seen as something of a trailblazer for the Bronx’s Albanian-American community, which includes a population of more than 12,500, according to 2011 figures, and he continues to have widespread support in the district.</p> <p>The 48-year-old Gjonaj, <a href="http://bronxink.org/2012/10/20/24603-from-albanian-roots-to-an-albany-job-mark-gjonajs-long-trail-to-the-assemblybly/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">who is known</a> for his extravagant fundraising tactics, recently drew criticism for spending campaign dollars on his own family businesses as well accepting donations from questionable sources. He is credited with <a href="http://observer.com/2017/03/bronx-mark-gjonaj-assembly-council-albanian-flag-day-don-coqui/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">energizing</a> a somewhat conservative constituency in the Bronx. His centrist Democratic politics is evidenced by the endorsement of state Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which forms a ruling majority with the Senate GOP. Both politicians represent suburban areas of the Bronx.</p> <p>Gjonaj served as chairperson of the subcommittee on micro business and has <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/education/charter-schools-republicans-vs-democrats.html#.WbLXNdOGPVo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">signaled support</a> for charter schools. He has been <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/bronx-pol-brags-pushing-women-rights-bill-voted-no-article-1.2964989" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized for taking credit</a> for the Women’s Equality Act, which he voted against, and he has promoted drug-fighting legislation, including a bill criminalizing and increasing penalties for the sale of synthetic marijuana.</p> <p>During his bid for City Council, Gjonaj scooped up all the major endorsements from the Bronx Democratic party machine and power players, as well as major labor unions. He spent a record amount -- <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/city-council-hopeful-sets-record-pumping-716g-bid-article-1.3485386" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">more than $716,469</a> -- on his campaign, defeating Marjorie Velazquez, a Democratic district leader and community board member who was endorsed by progressive and women’s groups, and John Doyle, a hospital official who once worked for Klein.</p> <p>“I am honored that the people of the 13th District have chosen me to fight for The Bronx and help lead the way in protecting the common-sense Democratic values that are vital in safeguarding our working and middle-class families, keeping our streets safe, ensuring every child receives a quality education and securing affordable housing options for the most vulnerable,” Gjonaj said in a statement following his primary win. “From City Hall, I will be in a better position to bring attention to those issues and take action.”</p> <p>But, Gjonaj does have an active general election competition ahead, even if he is a heavy favorite. Following the primary, Bronx County Republican Party Chair Michael Rendino said in a statement that Gjonaj's primary win showed a lack of popular support. "In a stunning rebuke to politics as usual, Mark Gjonaj couldn't even break 40% in his Democratic primary election after spending more money than any council candidate in the history of the City’s campaign finance system," Rendino said. "Developer Mark Gjonaj is now going to have to defend his record against John Cerini in the general election. John is a longtime community leader and small business owner in Throgg's Neck and has been fighting for us his whole life. I like our chances."</p> <p><strong>Francisco Moya: Council District 21</strong><br />Good governance won out on primary day when Francisco Moya successfully beat out disgraced ex-Senator Hiram Monserrate, who was coming off of a two-year stint in jail for misappropriating $100,000 of taxpayer funds after previously having been expelled from the Senate for a domestic violence incident involving his then girlfriend.</p> <p>Monserrate has been seeking a return to elected office and has shown he can still turn out votes. After a particularly ugly battle, the margin was close, with Moya pulling in 56 percent of the vote, compared to Monserrate’s 44 percent.</p> <p>"Honesty and integrity won tonight,” Moya, 43, told the crowd at a victory party in Corona Tuesday night, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/crooked-domestic-abuser-monserrate-sees-city-council-hopes-dashed-article-1.3491279?cid=bitly" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The Daily News</a>.</p> <p>That sentiment was echoed by the National Organization for Women (NOW) which released a statement of congratulations to the incoming Council member. “We are proud to congratulate Francisco Moya for his victory today, because we know that he is going to fight for women, fight for immigrants, and fight for his community, and he can stand up as a role model for them as well,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the NOW, which had come out strongly against Monserrate’s candidacy in recent weeks.</p> <p>Beyond Monserrate’s criminal record and ethics, a key point of contention during the race was the fate of Willets Point, a large plot of land that is in limbo after a proposed development there was blocked by a Court of Appeals ruling. The initial deal had been struck by Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who announced earlier this year that she would not seek reelection for the seat and will leave it at the end of the year. She endorsed Moya as her successor and campaigned with him in the days before the primary.</p> <p>Moya’s progressive legislative record during his seven years in Albany -- not to mention universal disdain for Monserrate from the Democratic establishment -- allowed the Assembly member to sweep up <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/08/cuomo-endorses-moya/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">endorsements</a> from the Working Families Party, unions, and numerous politicians, including Mayor de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Public Advocate Tish James.</p> <p>Elected to the Assembly in 2010 over Monserrate, Moya has been known for <a href="http://www.latinpost.com/articles/15552/20140625/dream-act-fails-pass-ny-bill-sponsor-francisco-moya-acts-immigration-reform.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his efforts</a> to fight for the passage of the NY DREAM Act, which would enable undocumented immigrant college students to be eligible for state financial aid. But year after year, the legislation died in the Republican controlled Senate.</p> <p>As a Council member, Moya won’t have to worry about his bills being blocked by Republicans, who control only three seats in the 51-seat body.</p> <p>Moya, who has said that he is the first state legislator of Ecuadorian descent and represents Jackson Heights, Queens, this year introduced <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6749-citing-trump-threat-assembly-passes-new-immigrant-protections-along-with-dream-act" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an extensive legislative package</a> aimed at protecting immigrants from police and enforcement agencies amidst a federal immigration crackdown, which would provide undocumented individuals with access to public defenders.</p> <p>He has <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/legislators-step-protect-wage-workers-article-1.2218229" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">introduced legislation</a> to stop employment agencies from committing fraud against job seekers, and went to bat for New York’s Scaffold Law, which places all liability for injured construction workers on employers. An avid soccer enthusiast, he's also championed <a href="http://thenycfcnation.com/2017/01/queens-borough-president-open-to-soccer-stadium-in-willets-point/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bringing </a>a Major League Soccer stadium to Queens -- an idea that may come to fruition soon.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Update: this article has been updated with a revised statement from Common Cause NY.</p> <p>Update: this article and its headline have been corrected to reflect that Diaz Sr. and Gjonaj have general election opponents.</p>
‘Zombie’ Charter School Agreement Rests on Interpretation of Ambiguous Law 2017-07-11T04:00:00+00:00 2017-07-11T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7056:zombie-charter-agreement-rests-on-interpretation-of-ambiguous-law Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/15788513155_926c5aac1c_z.jpg" alt="de blasio law interpretation" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo:&nbsp;Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A much talked-about provision of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 13th-hour <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7042-mayoral-control-extended-in-special-session-with-usual-albany-process" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deal</a> to have his control over city schools extended was the agreement that 22 revoked or surrendered charter school charters could be reissued without counting towards the predetermined state cap on the number of charter schools.</p> <p>In exchange for a two-year extension of mayoral control of city schools, de Blasio agreed to a series of charter school-friendly administrative maneuvers, including the “zombie” charter provision, as well as others around rental reimbursements and school space allocations. The mayor made the deal with state Senate Republicans, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and their charter sector allies.</p> <p>What has not been widely noted is that language added to the state Education Law at the end of the 2015 Albany legislative session already allowed exactly 22 charters that had been “surrendered, revoked or terminated” on or before July 1, 2015, to be reissued, raising the question of why it was necessary to clarify that point at all.</p> <p>The answer might lie around the ambiguity of the language. The law states that “such reissuance shall not be counted toward the statewide numerical limit” – the cap of 460 charters – but makes no mention of the separate limit of 50 charters issued after July 1, 2015, for cities of one million or more people, a criteria only New York City fits.</p> <p>The mention of the state cap and omission of the city cap could be understood as affirming that charters which were revoked and then reissued in the city would continue to count towards that predetermined ceiling of 50, of which there are now 23 remaining aside from the defunct “zombie” charters. It seems that the mayoral administration’s concession was not to read the law that way.</p> <p>In a brief phone conversation, Department of Education (DOE) spokesperson Toya Holness said Monday that the administration “agreed not to challenge the way [the law] was being interpreted,” but declined to offer examples of potential alternative interpretations.</p> <p>Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, said that it was the Senate Republican majority’s “position that those 22 ‘zombie’ charters shouldn’t be counted towards any kind of cap.”</p> <p>In essence, state authorizers issues the charters that allow applying entities to open charter schools, but for one reason or another some are revoked or the schools close down, leaving the question of whether those charter slots under either of the two caps are newly available.</p> <p>Wrangling over the status of revoked charters has been going on for years; in 2010, before the law was changed to include specific directives on reissuing charters, an Assembly <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A10928&amp;term=2009&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Floor&amp;nbspVotes=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> introduced by charter-friendly Democrats tried to establish that “that revoked charters will no longer count against the cap,” according to its summary. It didn’t pass at the time.</p> <p>The reissuable charters won’t be separately marked, but simply added the available pool of charters under the cap, which now appears to stand at 45 for New York City, where 216 charter schools currently operate. Potential schools hoping to secure a charter must follow the normal application procedures through state authorizers -- New York City’s Mayor and Department of Education actually have very little control related to charter schools, less so given changes to the laws ushered in by Senate Republicans and Cuomo after de Blasio, a longtime charter foe, took office in 2014. Senate Republicans and Cuomo are supportive of charters and well-funded by charter allies, while de Blasio and state Assembly Democrats are close with and funded by teachers unions, who see largely non-unionized charters as anathema to their survival.</p> <p>It is not clear why the law was amended to permit specifically 22 reissuances, nor who exactly included the language. It was part of the 72-page end-of-session <a href="http://origin-states.politico.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/files/150625_Big_Ugly.pdf">bill</a> passed on June 25, 2015 that includes a wide variety of measures.</p> <p>Even if the de Blasio administration stands down from challenging the charter stipulation, the lack of legal clarity means that another entity could. Public school advocates and teachers unions in particular have been consistent opponents of charter school expansion, and have been willing to use legal tools to stop it.</p> <p>In 2013, the United Federation of Teachers filed a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/teachers-union-lawsuit-charter-schools-nixed-article-1.1760531" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">lawsuit</a> against the DOE to try to stop it from offering space to charter schools in existing city public schools; the suit was eventually dismissed by a judge. The UFT, which is largely allied with de Blasio, did not return a request for comment about whether it would challenge the agreed upon interpretation of the charter school law.</p> <p>

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/15788513155_926c5aac1c_z.jpg" alt="de blasio law interpretation" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo:&nbsp;Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A much talked-about provision of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 13th-hour <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7042-mayoral-control-extended-in-special-session-with-usual-albany-process" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deal</a> to have his control over city schools extended was the agreement that 22 revoked or surrendered charter school charters could be reissued without counting towards the predetermined state cap on the number of charter schools.</p> <p>In exchange for a two-year extension of mayoral control of city schools, de Blasio agreed to a series of charter school-friendly administrative maneuvers, including the “zombie” charter provision, as well as others around rental reimbursements and school space allocations. The mayor made the deal with state Senate Republicans, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and their charter sector allies.</p> <p>What has not been widely noted is that language added to the state Education Law at the end of the 2015 Albany legislative session already allowed exactly 22 charters that had been “surrendered, revoked or terminated” on or before July 1, 2015, to be reissued, raising the question of why it was necessary to clarify that point at all.</p> <p>The answer might lie around the ambiguity of the language. The law states that “such reissuance shall not be counted toward the statewide numerical limit” – the cap of 460 charters – but makes no mention of the separate limit of 50 charters issued after July 1, 2015, for cities of one million or more people, a criteria only New York City fits.</p> <p>The mention of the state cap and omission of the city cap could be understood as affirming that charters which were revoked and then reissued in the city would continue to count towards that predetermined ceiling of 50, of which there are now 23 remaining aside from the defunct “zombie” charters. It seems that the mayoral administration’s concession was not to read the law that way.</p> <p>In a brief phone conversation, Department of Education (DOE) spokesperson Toya Holness said Monday that the administration “agreed not to challenge the way [the law] was being interpreted,” but declined to offer examples of potential alternative interpretations.</p> <p>Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, said that it was the Senate Republican majority’s “position that those 22 ‘zombie’ charters shouldn’t be counted towards any kind of cap.”</p> <p>In essence, state authorizers issues the charters that allow applying entities to open charter schools, but for one reason or another some are revoked or the schools close down, leaving the question of whether those charter slots under either of the two caps are newly available.</p> <p>Wrangling over the status of revoked charters has been going on for years; in 2010, before the law was changed to include specific directives on reissuing charters, an Assembly <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A10928&amp;term=2009&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Floor&amp;nbspVotes=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> introduced by charter-friendly Democrats tried to establish that “that revoked charters will no longer count against the cap,” according to its summary. It didn’t pass at the time.</p> <p>The reissuable charters won’t be separately marked, but simply added the available pool of charters under the cap, which now appears to stand at 45 for New York City, where 216 charter schools currently operate. Potential schools hoping to secure a charter must follow the normal application procedures through state authorizers -- New York City’s Mayor and Department of Education actually have very little control related to charter schools, less so given changes to the laws ushered in by Senate Republicans and Cuomo after de Blasio, a longtime charter foe, took office in 2014. Senate Republicans and Cuomo are supportive of charters and well-funded by charter allies, while de Blasio and state Assembly Democrats are close with and funded by teachers unions, who see largely non-unionized charters as anathema to their survival.</p> <p>It is not clear why the law was amended to permit specifically 22 reissuances, nor who exactly included the language. It was part of the 72-page end-of-session <a href="http://origin-states.politico.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/files/150625_Big_Ugly.pdf">bill</a> passed on June 25, 2015 that includes a wide variety of measures.</p> <p>Even if the de Blasio administration stands down from challenging the charter stipulation, the lack of legal clarity means that another entity could. Public school advocates and teachers unions in particular have been consistent opponents of charter school expansion, and have been willing to use legal tools to stop it.</p> <p>In 2013, the United Federation of Teachers filed a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/teachers-union-lawsuit-charter-schools-nixed-article-1.1760531" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">lawsuit</a> against the DOE to try to stop it from offering space to charter schools in existing city public schools; the suit was eventually dismissed by a judge. The UFT, which is largely allied with de Blasio, did not return a request for comment about whether it would challenge the agreed upon interpretation of the charter school law.</p> <p>

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
After Promising More, De Blasio Explains Limited Voting Reform Push 2017-07-04T04:00:00+00:00 2017-07-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7045:after-promising-more-de-blasio-explains-limited-voting-reform-push Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/30233163884_73022f4407_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio voting distance" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>De Blasio voting (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>On May 31 Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he and partners were “about to launch a major effort” to change state laws governing elections and voting in New York. ”I think people really want electoral reform in this state,” de Blasio told Gotham Gazette at an unrelated press conference. “And there’s a chance to do it, and it’s about creating the pressure needed to achieve it. So, we’re going to be doing a lot in the next few weeks on it.”<br /><br />In the subsequent days, de Blasio led two telephone town halls on voting reform, but did nothing else publicly. The regularly scheduled legislative session ended in Albany on June 21 with none of the mayor’s desired reforms -- like early voting and same-day voter registration -- passed through both houses of the state Legislature.<br /><br />A special session called the following week by Governor Andrew Cuomo yielded deals on several issues, including an extension of the expiring mayoral control of New York City schools, but nothing related to electoral reform was on the table, much less in <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7042-mayoral-control-extended-in-special-session-with-usual-albany-process" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the final package</a> that was passed on June 29.<br /><br />On May 31, Gotham Gazette asked de Blasio what had happened to his previously promised efforts on voting reform. The mayor responded, “Well, you know plenty about Albany, and this is when things start to happen.” He then promised a campaign.<br /><br />On June 30, Gotham Gazette asked de Blasio what had happened to the “major effort” he had pledged given only the two tele-town halls. <br /><br />“Well, I thought it was the beginning of a major effort, and we found quickly, you saw the session was pretty unusual,” de Blasio said during an open question-and-answer session after discussing July 4th-related public safety matters at One Police Plaza. “It was not like any session I can remember. The leaders -- you remember the day the leaders met for the first time, it was astoundingly late in the session. And for a long time, including as recently as Wednesday morning, we thought that very skinny bill that the governor put forward was all that was gonna get through,” de Blasio said, referring to the initial special session proposal Cuomo had made to reach a deal on mayoral control. The package passed wound up being more expansive, including a variety of legislation and funding priorities, but no voting reforms.<br /><br />The mayor continued: “So, we started an effort that I thought had a real chance to make an impact. We found a situation where the Legislature and the governor were expecting a very limited session. I’m still glad we pushed for it, and we’re gonna be pushing a lot more because it has to happen. To me, it’s an inevitability. Everything in that Assembly package will become the law in New York State, it’s just a matter when. But this was -- I was surprised at how this whole session evolved. I don’t think I can think of anything exactly like it.”<br /><br />The Assembly package the mayor referred to includes a slate of efforts to make voting easier in New York, which consistently ranks toward the bottom in voter participation among states. The electoral agenda that has passed in the Democratically-controlled Assembly but stalled in the Republican-controlled state Senate includes early voting, same-day registration, an expansion of “automatic” voter registration, combining primary days, electronic poll books, and more.<br /><br />The agenda is one supported at least nominally by Cuomo, who included a similar electoral reform package in his 2017 State of the State policy book. The governor did nothing publicly, however, to push electoral reform. In April, he acknowledged nothing on the subject had made it into the new state budget, which included a good deal of new policy that the governor had made priority. In June, after the regularly scheduled session, Cuomo was asked about voting reform at a press conference and said to put it in “the loss column,” a reference to a prior comment he made about his wins and losses for the year. (The governor explained he had far more wins than losses this year.)<br /><br />“[T]here wasn't extensive discussion on it” among himself and legislative leaders, Cuomo admitted June 22, “but it has been opposed for many, many years vociferously, so I wasn't surprised either.” The governor was not explicit about where the opposition has come from, though movement on the bills, or lack thereof, and comments from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan have made clear the Senate has bottled up the legislation. Heastie and his Democratic majority have not necessarily made electoral reform a high priority, however.<br /><br />While de Blasio has also put limited public weight behind electoral reform, he did hold the two tele-town halls, on June 7 and 14, encouraging New Yorkers to call their state representatives to lobby for reform. On the second call, for which he was joined by former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner and Jason Kander, former Missouri secretary of state and current president of Let America Vote, the mayor said there were 15,000 people participating.<br /><br />Back in January, de Blasio testified before a state legislative hearing on Cuomo’s executive budget proposal. “I am obviously pleased to see election reform in the executive budget.,” de Blasio said in his opening testimony. “I want to thank the Assembly for passing an election reform package last year, including early voting, which is absolutely necessary given the realities of modern lives and people's’ schedule. Early voting and same-day registration are fundamental reforms we need to improve the democratic process.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/30233163884_73022f4407_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio voting distance" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>De Blasio voting (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>On May 31 Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he and partners were “about to launch a major effort” to change state laws governing elections and voting in New York. ”I think people really want electoral reform in this state,” de Blasio told Gotham Gazette at an unrelated press conference. “And there’s a chance to do it, and it’s about creating the pressure needed to achieve it. So, we’re going to be doing a lot in the next few weeks on it.”<br /><br />In the subsequent days, de Blasio led two telephone town halls on voting reform, but did nothing else publicly. The regularly scheduled legislative session ended in Albany on June 21 with none of the mayor’s desired reforms -- like early voting and same-day voter registration -- passed through both houses of the state Legislature.<br /><br />A special session called the following week by Governor Andrew Cuomo yielded deals on several issues, including an extension of the expiring mayoral control of New York City schools, but nothing related to electoral reform was on the table, much less in <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7042-mayoral-control-extended-in-special-session-with-usual-albany-process" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the final package</a> that was passed on June 29.<br /><br />On May 31, Gotham Gazette asked de Blasio what had happened to his previously promised efforts on voting reform. The mayor responded, “Well, you know plenty about Albany, and this is when things start to happen.” He then promised a campaign.<br /><br />On June 30, Gotham Gazette asked de Blasio what had happened to the “major effort” he had pledged given only the two tele-town halls. <br /><br />“Well, I thought it was the beginning of a major effort, and we found quickly, you saw the session was pretty unusual,” de Blasio said during an open question-and-answer session after discussing July 4th-related public safety matters at One Police Plaza. “It was not like any session I can remember. The leaders -- you remember the day the leaders met for the first time, it was astoundingly late in the session. And for a long time, including as recently as Wednesday morning, we thought that very skinny bill that the governor put forward was all that was gonna get through,” de Blasio said, referring to the initial special session proposal Cuomo had made to reach a deal on mayoral control. The package passed wound up being more expansive, including a variety of legislation and funding priorities, but no voting reforms.<br /><br />The mayor continued: “So, we started an effort that I thought had a real chance to make an impact. We found a situation where the Legislature and the governor were expecting a very limited session. I’m still glad we pushed for it, and we’re gonna be pushing a lot more because it has to happen. To me, it’s an inevitability. Everything in that Assembly package will become the law in New York State, it’s just a matter when. But this was -- I was surprised at how this whole session evolved. I don’t think I can think of anything exactly like it.”<br /><br />The Assembly package the mayor referred to includes a slate of efforts to make voting easier in New York, which consistently ranks toward the bottom in voter participation among states. The electoral agenda that has passed in the Democratically-controlled Assembly but stalled in the Republican-controlled state Senate includes early voting, same-day registration, an expansion of “automatic” voter registration, combining primary days, electronic poll books, and more.<br /><br />The agenda is one supported at least nominally by Cuomo, who included a similar electoral reform package in his 2017 State of the State policy book. The governor did nothing publicly, however, to push electoral reform. In April, he acknowledged nothing on the subject had made it into the new state budget, which included a good deal of new policy that the governor had made priority. In June, after the regularly scheduled session, Cuomo was asked about voting reform at a press conference and said to put it in “the loss column,” a reference to a prior comment he made about his wins and losses for the year. (The governor explained he had far more wins than losses this year.)<br /><br />“[T]here wasn't extensive discussion on it” among himself and legislative leaders, Cuomo admitted June 22, “but it has been opposed for many, many years vociferously, so I wasn't surprised either.” The governor was not explicit about where the opposition has come from, though movement on the bills, or lack thereof, and comments from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan have made clear the Senate has bottled up the legislation. Heastie and his Democratic majority have not necessarily made electoral reform a high priority, however.<br /><br />While de Blasio has also put limited public weight behind electoral reform, he did hold the two tele-town halls, on June 7 and 14, encouraging New Yorkers to call their state representatives to lobby for reform. On the second call, for which he was joined by former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner and Jason Kander, former Missouri secretary of state and current president of Let America Vote, the mayor said there were 15,000 people participating.<br /><br />Back in January, de Blasio testified before a state legislative hearing on Cuomo’s executive budget proposal. “I am obviously pleased to see election reform in the executive budget.,” de Blasio said in his opening testimony. “I want to thank the Assembly for passing an election reform package last year, including early voting, which is absolutely necessary given the realities of modern lives and people's’ schedule. Early voting and same-day registration are fundamental reforms we need to improve the democratic process.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Powerful Assembly Post May Be Vacant Sooner Than Expected 2017-07-04T04:00:00+00:00 2017-07-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7046:powerful-assembly-chair-position-may-be-vacant-sooner-than-expected Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/farrell_assembly_floor.jpg" alt="farrell assembly floor" width="600" height="379" /></p> <p>Assemblymember Herman Farrell (<a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/Herman-D-Farrell-Jr" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">photo</a>: The Assembly)</p> <hr /> <p>When Assemblymember Herman “Denny” Farrell, who heads the chamber’s Ways and Means Committee, announced he would not seek reelection next year, it set off a murmur about who might succeed him in the powerful -- and lucrative -- committee post.<br /><br />Farrell, a Democrat elected to the Assembly in 1974 and the third longest serving member of the body, is known for his diplomacy and good natured bantering with Republicans and Democrats alike during budget hearings and on the Assembly floor.<br /><br />Well-liked among his peers and beloved in his community, Farrell -- who represents Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood -- was recognized by the Legislature last week, when it voted to rename Upper Manhattan’s Riverbank State Park after him <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7042-mayoral-control-extended-in-special-session-with-usual-albany-process" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as part of a special legislative session</a> dealing with mayoral control over schools.<br /><br />Governor Andrew Cuomo also honored the Assembly member at a breakfast at the Executive Mansion on June 20, speaking in eulogistic terms of Farrell’s time in the Assembly and as former chair to both the Manhattan and State Democratic Parties.<br /><br />“Denny also taught me politics was the means to the end, and that was getting into government to achieve power…not power you would use personally, not power to take care of some donors, to take care of some unions, to take care of the political complex — power to do good things for your people and for your community,” Cuomo said, according to a recording of his remarks <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/06/20/cuomo-honors-denny-farrell-who-rose-above-political-bullshit-112900" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">obtained by Politico New York</a>. “Government is about accomplishing things for people and making their life better. Everything else is bull----.”<br /><br />While Farrell’s current two-year term is set to officially end at the end of 2018, the grand farewell he received in Albany and other indicators have signalled to many in Harlem that he plans to resign before January, when the Legislature is next due back in the capital. The move would virtually ensure the party nomination of his chief of staff, Rev. Al Taylor, in a special election, according one Harlem insider who spoke to Gotham Gazette on the condition of anonymity. For special elections to the state Legislature, the borough party committees name the party representative on the ballot.<br /><br />“His departure is something that a lot of people Uptown are talking about. Farrell is putting a lot of his energy and political assets into his chief of staff, Al Taylor. Wherever Denny is, Al is nearby,” the insider said, noting that the Assembly office’s most recent quarterly newsletter featured Taylor more than Farrell. “All the signs point to Farrell's resignation being imminent.”<br /><br />In addition to Taylor, Juan Rosa, a former City Council staffer and community activist, is considering a run for the seat, according to multiple people familiar with the district. <br /><br />Farrell, who did not return a request for comment, has not confirmed any plan to vacate his Assembly seat before January 2019, when his term would officially end.<br /><br />If Farrell does indeed leave before the end of the year, not only would Taylor have the inside track to the Assembly, but Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie would name a new Ways and Means chair, the top Assembly budget post below the Speaker, before the next budget season in Albany -- a move that would likely prompt a series of new committee chair appointments throughout the Assembly for the 2018 session.<br /><br />“When you make one change, you make 30 changes. That is always the part that outsiders don’t understand,” said former Assemblymember Richard Brodsky. “Part of the calculus that any Speaker makes is not just how to fill that position, but how it will affect the entire food chain.”<br /><br />As capital watchers have noted Farrell’s imminent departure, it has also become apparent that several female legislators are in line for the committee leadership job -- a post no woman has ever held before.<br /><br />While new leadership appointments are made every year by the Speaker, the Ways and Means chairship is arguably the most powerful and well-paid committee position in the Assembly. It is also arguably the most challenging, as the committee is tasked with budget hearing leadership and examining any legislation considered by the body that has a fiscal component.<br /><br />The position comes with a significant stipend. On top of the standard $79,500 legislative salary, the Ways and Means chair earns $34,000, on par only with the $34,500 stipend received by the Assembly Majority Leader, currently Joseph Morelle, of Monroe County. Other committees, such as Codes and Education, may deliberate over a comparably high volume of bills, but come with a stipend of $18,000 each. The Ways and Means chair also has access to a significantly larger staff than any other chair in the Assembly.<br /><br />Geography and seniority have long played a role in who is selected for both leading Ways and Means and other top committees. For Ways and Means, other factors typically considered include knowledge of the budget process, diplomacy, ability to get along with Republicans in both legislative houses, and the stamina to sit through many hours of annual budget hearings. <br /><br />The longest serving member of the Assembly is Richard Gottfried, of Manhattan, who is followed by Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, of Brooklyn. Gottfried, who has headed the Assembly Health Committee for more than 30 years, told Gotham Gazette he has expressed to Heastie and previous speakers that he is not interested in leading Ways and Means.<br /><br />“I almost can't imagine how lucky I am to have had this job; it is just about a dream position for me,” Gottfried said of leading the Health Committee. “I love being able to focus on health policy and consider myself enormously happy to have this job.” <br /><br />He noted that the Speaker must ultimately assess the person’s ability to speak on behalf of the Assembly majority's view of the budget and be someone who can represent the diverse views of the Democratic Conference. <br /><br />“The speaker has to be concerned with, among other things, maintaining the solidarity and cohesion of the Democratic Majority because there are always a lot of forces eager to pick us apart,” said Gottfried, who is currently focussed on trying to see single-payer health care passed in New York.<br /><br />An obvious choice for Heastie might be Lentol, the second most senior member of the Assembly, who has held his seat since 1972 and has served as chair of the critical Committee on Codes since 1992. Lentol <a href="http://observer.com/2015/01/lentol-laments-assembly-culture-that-made-him-drop-speaker-bid/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">competed</a> against Heastie in the race to replace former Speaker Sheldon Silver in 2015, as did Assemblymember Catherine Nolan, of Queens, the sixth longest serving Assembly member. Lentol did not return a request for comment on whether he was interested in the Ways and Means position.<br /><br />Assemblymember Robin Schimminger, who represents a swing district encompassing Niagara and Erie Counties, follows Lentol and Farrell in seniority, but his district geography and more moderate place on the political spectrum could rule him out for such an influential position in the New York City-focussed conference. <br /><br />While women have historically been underrepresented in the Legislature, including in leadership positions, for the first time in history, several are in the mix for the Ways and Means post, including Nolan, who was first elected in 1984, Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, of Brooklyn, who is the fifth longest serving member of the Assembly, having been elected in 1980, and others.<br /><br />Weinstein chairs the highly technical Judiciary Committee and Nolan heads the Education Committee.<br /><br />Between Weinstein and Nolan on the seniority list are Brooklyn Assemblymember Dov Hikind and Assemblymember David Gantt, of Rochester.<br /><br />Female Assemblymembers Vivian Cook, of Queens; Earlene Hooper, of Nassau County; and Deborah Glick, of Manhattan, also rank among the 15 longest serving lawmakers in the 150-seat chamber. Glick has the distinction of being New York's <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1991/01/13/nyregion/first-openly-gay-legislator-brings-a-full-agenda-to-albany.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first openly gay person elected to the state Legislature</a>. She has been outspoken on a range of progressive issues and chairs the important Higher Education Committee. <br /><br />Seniority withstanding, Heastie has made an effort to provide leadership opportunities to newer members in a way his predecessors did not, according to members of the Assembly who spoke to Gotham Gazette.<br /><br />“I think we have noticed that under this leadership [Speaker Heastie] has managed to bring a few new members, who have only been here a few months, to be chairmen of committees and subcommittees. It has never happened before. You know, it took me 20 years to get a chairmanship myself,” said Brooklyn Assemblymember Félix W. Ortiz, who chairs the Cities Committee and serves as Assistant Speaker.<br /><br />He may also consider factors like gender, race, political beliefs, and other elements of diversity in making his decision.<br /><br />“Geography used to matter, but once you open up that door of identity, lots of people walk in. The Assembly is blessed with about 15 people whose seniority and talent and experience is considerable, it’s going to be hard for [Speaker Heastie] to make a bad choice,” said former Assemblymember Brodsky, who chaired both the Committee on Environmental Conservation and the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions during his nearly three decades in Albany.<br /><br />A spokesperson for Heastie did not return a request for comment, nor did the offices of Assembly Members Nolan, Weinstein, Lentol, and Schimminger.</p> <p>Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the location of Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle's district.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/farrell_assembly_floor.jpg" alt="farrell assembly floor" width="600" height="379" /></p> <p>Assemblymember Herman Farrell (<a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/Herman-D-Farrell-Jr" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">photo</a>: The Assembly)</p> <hr /> <p>When Assemblymember Herman “Denny” Farrell, who heads the chamber’s Ways and Means Committee, announced he would not seek reelection next year, it set off a murmur about who might succeed him in the powerful -- and lucrative -- committee post.<br /><br />Farrell, a Democrat elected to the Assembly in 1974 and the third longest serving member of the body, is known for his diplomacy and good natured bantering with Republicans and Democrats alike during budget hearings and on the Assembly floor.<br /><br />Well-liked among his peers and beloved in his community, Farrell -- who represents Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood -- was recognized by the Legislature last week, when it voted to rename Upper Manhattan’s Riverbank State Park after him <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7042-mayoral-control-extended-in-special-session-with-usual-albany-process" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as part of a special legislative session</a> dealing with mayoral control over schools.<br /><br />Governor Andrew Cuomo also honored the Assembly member at a breakfast at the Executive Mansion on June 20, speaking in eulogistic terms of Farrell’s time in the Assembly and as former chair to both the Manhattan and State Democratic Parties.<br /><br />“Denny also taught me politics was the means to the end, and that was getting into government to achieve power…not power you would use personally, not power to take care of some donors, to take care of some unions, to take care of the political complex — power to do good things for your people and for your community,” Cuomo said, according to a recording of his remarks <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/06/20/cuomo-honors-denny-farrell-who-rose-above-political-bullshit-112900" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">obtained by Politico New York</a>. “Government is about accomplishing things for people and making their life better. Everything else is bull----.”<br /><br />While Farrell’s current two-year term is set to officially end at the end of 2018, the grand farewell he received in Albany and other indicators have signalled to many in Harlem that he plans to resign before January, when the Legislature is next due back in the capital. The move would virtually ensure the party nomination of his chief of staff, Rev. Al Taylor, in a special election, according one Harlem insider who spoke to Gotham Gazette on the condition of anonymity. For special elections to the state Legislature, the borough party committees name the party representative on the ballot.<br /><br />“His departure is something that a lot of people Uptown are talking about. Farrell is putting a lot of his energy and political assets into his chief of staff, Al Taylor. Wherever Denny is, Al is nearby,” the insider said, noting that the Assembly office’s most recent quarterly newsletter featured Taylor more than Farrell. “All the signs point to Farrell's resignation being imminent.”<br /><br />In addition to Taylor, Juan Rosa, a former City Council staffer and community activist, is considering a run for the seat, according to multiple people familiar with the district. <br /><br />Farrell, who did not return a request for comment, has not confirmed any plan to vacate his Assembly seat before January 2019, when his term would officially end.<br /><br />If Farrell does indeed leave before the end of the year, not only would Taylor have the inside track to the Assembly, but Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie would name a new Ways and Means chair, the top Assembly budget post below the Speaker, before the next budget season in Albany -- a move that would likely prompt a series of new committee chair appointments throughout the Assembly for the 2018 session.<br /><br />“When you make one change, you make 30 changes. That is always the part that outsiders don’t understand,” said former Assemblymember Richard Brodsky. “Part of the calculus that any Speaker makes is not just how to fill that position, but how it will affect the entire food chain.”<br /><br />As capital watchers have noted Farrell’s imminent departure, it has also become apparent that several female legislators are in line for the committee leadership job -- a post no woman has ever held before.<br /><br />While new leadership appointments are made every year by the Speaker, the Ways and Means chairship is arguably the most powerful and well-paid committee position in the Assembly. It is also arguably the most challenging, as the committee is tasked with budget hearing leadership and examining any legislation considered by the body that has a fiscal component.<br /><br />The position comes with a significant stipend. On top of the standard $79,500 legislative salary, the Ways and Means chair earns $34,000, on par only with the $34,500 stipend received by the Assembly Majority Leader, currently Joseph Morelle, of Monroe County. Other committees, such as Codes and Education, may deliberate over a comparably high volume of bills, but come with a stipend of $18,000 each. The Ways and Means chair also has access to a significantly larger staff than any other chair in the Assembly.<br /><br />Geography and seniority have long played a role in who is selected for both leading Ways and Means and other top committees. For Ways and Means, other factors typically considered include knowledge of the budget process, diplomacy, ability to get along with Republicans in both legislative houses, and the stamina to sit through many hours of annual budget hearings. <br /><br />The longest serving member of the Assembly is Richard Gottfried, of Manhattan, who is followed by Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, of Brooklyn. Gottfried, who has headed the Assembly Health Committee for more than 30 years, told Gotham Gazette he has expressed to Heastie and previous speakers that he is not interested in leading Ways and Means.<br /><br />“I almost can't imagine how lucky I am to have had this job; it is just about a dream position for me,” Gottfried said of leading the Health Committee. “I love being able to focus on health policy and consider myself enormously happy to have this job.” <br /><br />He noted that the Speaker must ultimately assess the person’s ability to speak on behalf of the Assembly majority's view of the budget and be someone who can represent the diverse views of the Democratic Conference. <br /><br />“The speaker has to be concerned with, among other things, maintaining the solidarity and cohesion of the Democratic Majority because there are always a lot of forces eager to pick us apart,” said Gottfried, who is currently focussed on trying to see single-payer health care passed in New York.<br /><br />An obvious choice for Heastie might be Lentol, the second most senior member of the Assembly, who has held his seat since 1972 and has served as chair of the critical Committee on Codes since 1992. Lentol <a href="http://observer.com/2015/01/lentol-laments-assembly-culture-that-made-him-drop-speaker-bid/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">competed</a> against Heastie in the race to replace former Speaker Sheldon Silver in 2015, as did Assemblymember Catherine Nolan, of Queens, the sixth longest serving Assembly member. Lentol did not return a request for comment on whether he was interested in the Ways and Means position.<br /><br />Assemblymember Robin Schimminger, who represents a swing district encompassing Niagara and Erie Counties, follows Lentol and Farrell in seniority, but his district geography and more moderate place on the political spectrum could rule him out for such an influential position in the New York City-focussed conference. <br /><br />While women have historically been underrepresented in the Legislature, including in leadership positions, for the first time in history, several are in the mix for the Ways and Means post, including Nolan, who was first elected in 1984, Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, of Brooklyn, who is the fifth longest serving member of the Assembly, having been elected in 1980, and others.<br /><br />Weinstein chairs the highly technical Judiciary Committee and Nolan heads the Education Committee.<br /><br />Between Weinstein and Nolan on the seniority list are Brooklyn Assemblymember Dov Hikind and Assemblymember David Gantt, of Rochester.<br /><br />Female Assemblymembers Vivian Cook, of Queens; Earlene Hooper, of Nassau County; and Deborah Glick, of Manhattan, also rank among the 15 longest serving lawmakers in the 150-seat chamber. Glick has the distinction of being New York's <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1991/01/13/nyregion/first-openly-gay-legislator-brings-a-full-agenda-to-albany.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first openly gay person elected to the state Legislature</a>. She has been outspoken on a range of progressive issues and chairs the important Higher Education Committee. <br /><br />Seniority withstanding, Heastie has made an effort to provide leadership opportunities to newer members in a way his predecessors did not, according to members of the Assembly who spoke to Gotham Gazette.<br /><br />“I think we have noticed that under this leadership [Speaker Heastie] has managed to bring a few new members, who have only been here a few months, to be chairmen of committees and subcommittees. It has never happened before. You know, it took me 20 years to get a chairmanship myself,” said Brooklyn Assemblymember Félix W. Ortiz, who chairs the Cities Committee and serves as Assistant Speaker.<br /><br />He may also consider factors like gender, race, political beliefs, and other elements of diversity in making his decision.<br /><br />“Geography used to matter, but once you open up that door of identity, lots of people walk in. The Assembly is blessed with about 15 people whose seniority and talent and experience is considerable, it’s going to be hard for [Speaker Heastie] to make a bad choice,” said former Assemblymember Brodsky, who chaired both the Committee on Environmental Conservation and the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions during his nearly three decades in Albany.<br /><br />A spokesperson for Heastie did not return a request for comment, nor did the offices of Assembly Members Nolan, Weinstein, Lentol, and Schimminger.</p> <p>Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the location of Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle's district.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Mayoral Control Extended in Special Session with Usual Albany Process 2017-06-29T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-29T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7042:mayoral-control-extended-in-special-session-with-usual-albany-process Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/35486744541_357b0411fe_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo special session" width="600" height="405" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo on Thursday (photo: Philip Kamrass/Governor’s Office)</p> <hr /> <p>To prevent the impending lapse of mayoral control over New York City schools, the state Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo passed a two-year extension Thursday as part of a larger omnibus bill, which included a pension enhancement for certain uniformed workers, special recognition for former Governor Mario Cuomo, and several benefits for upstate areas.</p> <p>A special session was called Wednesday by Gov. Cuomo specifically to address mayoral leadership over city schools, which was set to expire June 30, and a small number of other matters, but the ensuing discussion produced a more sprawling legislation package, according to Cuomo. The final deal included a three-year extension of local taxes, $55 million in Lake Ontario flood relief funding, and the renaming of the new Tappan Zee Bridge after the governor’s late father.</p> <p>According to Cuomo, who held a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Capitol to celebrate what was accomplished, he and legislative leaders arrived at a compromise centered on extending mayoral control ahead of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7037-how-the-mayoral-control-special-session-works" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his calling the special session</a>. Once legislators returned to the capital, the negotiations were opened up more broadly, and a larger tentative deal was reached at around 8:30 p.m Wednesday night. That agreement followed a day of meetings behind closed doors, during which rank-and-file lawmakers, journalists, and the larger public were largely left on the sidelines. The Assembly voted to pass the omnibus bill <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/06/28/state-lawmakers-settle-on-bill-renewing-mayoral-control-tax-extenders-113137?mc_cid=b88135fdf7&amp;mc_eid=7ede0c8078" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at around 1 a.m. on Thursday</a>, while the Senate passed the bill after some internal rankling at around 2 .p.m.</p> <p>The opaque nature of the discussions, as well as the expense of keeping lawmakers in Albany at a cost of more than $30,000 -- though not all lawmakers take per diems and estimates vary -- drew criticism from lawmakers across party lines, including Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, who along with her fellow Senate Democrats urged their colleagues on the GOP side to move the bill along Thursday. </p> <p>“Another day and another example of dysfunction in the Senate,” Stewart Cousins said at a press conference outside the Senate GOP conference room. “The GOP/IDC inability to finish this session is an embarrassment. We need to stop wasting taxpayers’ money and do our jobs. The Senate Democrats are ready to vote for this package of legislation immediately. Let's go to the floor.”</p> <p>Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who was adamant during the legislative session that the lifting of the charter school cap in New York City not be included in the final bill, commended the governor and his colleagues in the Legislature for passing a comprehensive bill that would prevent disruption in the management of city schools.</p> <p>“I am proud of the efforts of Assembly members on both sides of the aisle who worked extremely hard to craft a consensus on the many pressing issues our state faces,” said Heastie, who got his way on the charter school cap, in a statement. “Working with Governor Cuomo, our successes include a two-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools, giving our educational system stability and allowing our school children to thrive.</p> <p>During his press conference in the Capitol’s Red Room, Cuomo ceremoniously signed the mayoral control portion of the legislative package and said he had anticipated the special session would only address mayoral control and legislation enhancing pension benefits for certain city police officers and firefighters, known as the “three-quarters bill.” However, several Senate Republicans from Upstate saw the bill as too New York City-centric.</p> <p>“The agreement was to come back and do mayoral control and the three-quarters bill. When we came back, the Assembly was fine with it,” Cuomo told reporters. “My understanding is, in the conference, the Senate said ‘We also want to do the sales tax extenders. And by the way, it’s not just the sales tax extenders,’ they said, ‘We also want do something on Vernon Downs’...That is what we were trying to avoid. Once you start to expand the wish list, it gets much, much harder to get to an agreement.”</p> <p>Offering a reason for the delay in legislative voting, Cuomo also celebrated how much got done in the end.</p> <p>The final bill offers a tax bailout to Vernon Downs, an Upstate racetrack, in order to prevent its closure and retain 300 well-paying jobs in the region; provides for critical transportation needs in Westchester County; and includes passage of a proposed constitutional amendment to aid communities in the Adirondack Mountains with infrastructure projects. In addition to the renaming of the Tappan Zee, the Legislature voted to rename Riverbank State Park in Manhattan in honor of retiring Assemblymember Denny Farrell, who was first elected to the Assembly in 1974.</p> <p>Flanagan also touted the package, saying in a Thursday statement saying that the omnibus bill "resolves a number of outstanding state issues" after "Senate Republicans were able to put together a more comprehensive package that meets the needs of taxpayers, students, and families throughout our entire state." Flanagan also indicated that there were provisions related to protecting charter schools, something Mayor de Blasio stated would be announced in the coming days as administrative, not legislative, matters.</p> <p>There was no legislative action regarding the MTA, which Cuomo had declared was in a state of emergency on Thursday morning at an event in New York City. At that event Cuomo did pledge an additional $1 billion to the MTA in next year’s budget.</p> <p>As had become evident when the budget was passed in April and through the end of the legislative session last week, no government ethics or election reforms made it through Albany this year. Two other top priorities of Mayor de Blasio’s -- design-build authority and additional speed cameras for school zones -- were also left on the chopping block.</p> <p>Still, at his own news conference on Thursday afternoon, de Blasio said he was very pleased with the outcome, especially on mayoral control. The mayor expressed relief that with the first two-year extension of his term, he would not need an Albany vote next year to keep control of the school system. What the mayor does need, however, is the approval of voters this fall when he seeks reelection.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>with reporting by Ben Max</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/35486744541_357b0411fe_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo special session" width="600" height="405" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo on Thursday (photo: Philip Kamrass/Governor’s Office)</p> <hr /> <p>To prevent the impending lapse of mayoral control over New York City schools, the state Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo passed a two-year extension Thursday as part of a larger omnibus bill, which included a pension enhancement for certain uniformed workers, special recognition for former Governor Mario Cuomo, and several benefits for upstate areas.</p> <p>A special session was called Wednesday by Gov. Cuomo specifically to address mayoral leadership over city schools, which was set to expire June 30, and a small number of other matters, but the ensuing discussion produced a more sprawling legislation package, according to Cuomo. The final deal included a three-year extension of local taxes, $55 million in Lake Ontario flood relief funding, and the renaming of the new Tappan Zee Bridge after the governor’s late father.</p> <p>According to Cuomo, who held a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Capitol to celebrate what was accomplished, he and legislative leaders arrived at a compromise centered on extending mayoral control ahead of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7037-how-the-mayoral-control-special-session-works" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his calling the special session</a>. Once legislators returned to the capital, the negotiations were opened up more broadly, and a larger tentative deal was reached at around 8:30 p.m Wednesday night. That agreement followed a day of meetings behind closed doors, during which rank-and-file lawmakers, journalists, and the larger public were largely left on the sidelines. The Assembly voted to pass the omnibus bill <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/06/28/state-lawmakers-settle-on-bill-renewing-mayoral-control-tax-extenders-113137?mc_cid=b88135fdf7&amp;mc_eid=7ede0c8078" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at around 1 a.m. on Thursday</a>, while the Senate passed the bill after some internal rankling at around 2 .p.m.</p> <p>The opaque nature of the discussions, as well as the expense of keeping lawmakers in Albany at a cost of more than $30,000 -- though not all lawmakers take per diems and estimates vary -- drew criticism from lawmakers across party lines, including Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, who along with her fellow Senate Democrats urged their colleagues on the GOP side to move the bill along Thursday. </p> <p>“Another day and another example of dysfunction in the Senate,” Stewart Cousins said at a press conference outside the Senate GOP conference room. “The GOP/IDC inability to finish this session is an embarrassment. We need to stop wasting taxpayers’ money and do our jobs. The Senate Democrats are ready to vote for this package of legislation immediately. Let's go to the floor.”</p> <p>Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who was adamant during the legislative session that the lifting of the charter school cap in New York City not be included in the final bill, commended the governor and his colleagues in the Legislature for passing a comprehensive bill that would prevent disruption in the management of city schools.</p> <p>“I am proud of the efforts of Assembly members on both sides of the aisle who worked extremely hard to craft a consensus on the many pressing issues our state faces,” said Heastie, who got his way on the charter school cap, in a statement. “Working with Governor Cuomo, our successes include a two-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools, giving our educational system stability and allowing our school children to thrive.</p> <p>During his press conference in the Capitol’s Red Room, Cuomo ceremoniously signed the mayoral control portion of the legislative package and said he had anticipated the special session would only address mayoral control and legislation enhancing pension benefits for certain city police officers and firefighters, known as the “three-quarters bill.” However, several Senate Republicans from Upstate saw the bill as too New York City-centric.</p> <p>“The agreement was to come back and do mayoral control and the three-quarters bill. When we came back, the Assembly was fine with it,” Cuomo told reporters. “My understanding is, in the conference, the Senate said ‘We also want to do the sales tax extenders. And by the way, it’s not just the sales tax extenders,’ they said, ‘We also want do something on Vernon Downs’...That is what we were trying to avoid. Once you start to expand the wish list, it gets much, much harder to get to an agreement.”</p> <p>Offering a reason for the delay in legislative voting, Cuomo also celebrated how much got done in the end.</p> <p>The final bill offers a tax bailout to Vernon Downs, an Upstate racetrack, in order to prevent its closure and retain 300 well-paying jobs in the region; provides for critical transportation needs in Westchester County; and includes passage of a proposed constitutional amendment to aid communities in the Adirondack Mountains with infrastructure projects. In addition to the renaming of the Tappan Zee, the Legislature voted to rename Riverbank State Park in Manhattan in honor of retiring Assemblymember Denny Farrell, who was first elected to the Assembly in 1974.</p> <p>Flanagan also touted the package, saying in a Thursday statement saying that the omnibus bill "resolves a number of outstanding state issues" after "Senate Republicans were able to put together a more comprehensive package that meets the needs of taxpayers, students, and families throughout our entire state." Flanagan also indicated that there were provisions related to protecting charter schools, something Mayor de Blasio stated would be announced in the coming days as administrative, not legislative, matters.</p> <p>There was no legislative action regarding the MTA, which Cuomo had declared was in a state of emergency on Thursday morning at an event in New York City. At that event Cuomo did pledge an additional $1 billion to the MTA in next year’s budget.</p> <p>As had become evident when the budget was passed in April and through the end of the legislative session last week, no government ethics or election reforms made it through Albany this year. Two other top priorities of Mayor de Blasio’s -- design-build authority and additional speed cameras for school zones -- were also left on the chopping block.</p> <p>Still, at his own news conference on Thursday afternoon, de Blasio said he was very pleased with the outcome, especially on mayoral control. The mayor expressed relief that with the first two-year extension of his term, he would not need an Albany vote next year to keep control of the school system. What the mayor does need, however, is the approval of voters this fall when he seeks reelection.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>with reporting by Ben Max</p>
Calls for Vetoes as 'Benefit Sweeteners' Head to Governor's Desk 2017-06-29T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-29T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7043:calls-for-vetoes-as-benefit-sweeteners-head-to-governor-s-desk Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/6841909782_93506d4cec_z.jpg" alt="cuomo pension reform" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As the dust settles on the scheduled legislative session in Albany and subsequent “extraordinary session” called by Governor Andrew Cuomo, much of the focus has been on the extension of mayoral control of city schools, finally passed Thursday after serious brinkmanship. There has also been plenty of talk centered on what didn’t happen: procurement, ethics, and electoral reform, the Child Victims Act, and more.</p> <p>The Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), a fiscal watchdog, is also calling for scrutiny of other items that did pass, though with little fanfare. Specifically, CBC is pointing to 26 bills that it calls “benefit sweeteners,” enhancements of public benefits that it estimates will cost state and local governments at least $34 million by the end of fiscal year 2018. In fact, in order to pass an extension of mayoral control of city schools, legislators and the governor also agreed on one public benefit enhancement that will increase disability pensions for certain uniformed workers.</p> <p>While that pension “sweetener” clearly has the governor’s blessing, according to Dave Friedfel, CBC’s director of state studies, the organization will send a letter to Cuomo urging him to veto about 10 of the other 26. This includes urging a veto of a “sweetener” that “clarifies eligible beneficiaries of New York City sanitation workers pension benefits, and provides a special accidental death benefit to the beneficiaries,” according to <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A40001&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the bill summary</a>, which is estimated to cost $8.9 million in immediate past service and then $6.8 million per year starting in fiscal year 2018, leading to an instant increase of $15.7 million in employer costs for New York City, the most of any of the bills identified.</p> <p>Fourteen of the bills relate to reforms of death and disability pensions, mostly expanding eligibility criteria for various benefits to different classes of uniformed personnel, including firefighters, court officers, parole officers, and emergency medical service providers. Seven bills relate to expansions of pension benefits, one to health insurance, and three to miscellaneous topics, like repealing the retirement age of 60 for Garden City police officers.</p> <p>CBC’s criteria is whether bills enhance benefits “without providing enhanced services to taxpayers or off-setting savings.” The watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, had been tracking 130 such bills throughout the session, most of which did not pass. For those that did, the attention is now on Cuomo to be judicious, CBC says.</p> <p>Friedfel stressed that the discussion anchored around “whether these types of issues need to be addressed through a benefit enhancement,” and not on whether they were valid issues.</p> <p>For example, several bills that were introduced, including one that passed, would extend leave for public employees to receive cancer screening. “Certainly we’re not advocating that people go without those screenings...but it’s unnecessary for the state’s taxpayers to grant additionally for those things,” said Friedfel, adding that some bills had not been requested by localities or employers but the state was unilaterally imposing extra costs.</p> <p>“Benefit enhancements should be part of the contractual negotiating process,” he said, referring to collective bargaining between government and labor unions.</p> <p>CBC’s discrete cost estimates per bill range from effectively zero to $15.7 million, for sanitation worker disability bill, in the first year. Thirteen of the bills did not have CBC estimates; of these, 10 had been passed with no fiscal note.</p> <p>Maria Doulis, vice president of CBC, said in an email that the session brought “a greater volume of bills passed by the Legislature, but the bills themselves are not very costly when compared to some measures that have been floated and even passed in years past. That is encouraging.”</p> <p>In response to questions over whether the governor intended to veto any of the bills or disputed the fiscal impacts outlined by CBC, Cuomo spokesperson Abbey Fashouer said in an email, “We haven’t seen the report or reviewed and analyzed all of the bills passed by the Legislature, but priority number one is protecting New York taxpayers.”</p> <p>When the special legislative session was called, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/26/nyregion/cuomo-special-session-city-schools.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reports</a> suggested that Cuomo would seek additional agreements on enhanced disability benefits.</p> <p>Ultimately, the bill passed by the Legislature Thursday allowed “certain uniformed members of public retirements systems” -- including NYPD officers, FDNY firefighters and other city employees -- to receive accidental disability benefits even if they’re not eligible for a “normal service retirement benefit” and do so “despite being disapproved from receiving a federal social security disability pension.”</p> <p>The expected cost of this provision would be $8.9 million in fiscal year 2018, then inch up to $12.5 by fiscal year 2022, for a total of about $55 million in those five years, paid for by New York City. Friedfel said the measure “didn’t need to be done in a special session” but it wasn’t “something we’re objecting to.”</p> <p>At a press conference Thursday afternoon in Albany, Cuomo said of the $55 million estimate, “I don’t even think we’re going to get to the 55, frankly. I think the actual need will be below that.”</p> <p>At his own press conference at City Hall, Mayor Bill de Blasio reacted to the legislation passed in Albany, celebrating the extension of mayoral control. The mayor said he thought the intent of the pension portion of the bill “was to be considerate to our uniformed officers who stay on the job beyond the minimum number of years, and to respect their reality, particularly if they become disabled.” He stated no objection to it.</p> <p>“I’m always sensitive to adding to pension burdens, because that’s a big long-term issue, but this was a modest cost and a fair concept,” he said in response to a question from Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Cuomo has in the past shown willingness to veto bills passed by the Legislature that would add to the financial burdens related to benefits. He twice vetoed a bill allowing honorably discharged military veterans who had transitioned to the public sector to purchase three years of public pension credit before finally <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/249699/after-two-vetoes-cuomo-approves-veterans-pension-credit-bill/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">signing</a> it last year, once the Legislature had appropriated funds. He also <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/11/29/cuomo-sticks-up-for-new-yorks-taxpayers/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vetoed</a> nine separate pension “sweeteners” last year.</p> <p>One of Cuomo’s first major legislative initiatives was reforming the largesse of the state pension system, a reform that <a href="https://www.google.com/amp/mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/idUSBRE82E0OF20120315" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">will save</a> the state an estimated $80 billion over 30 years.&nbsp;Doulis called it “one of the Governor's early and most significant fiscal accomplishments” and said he had been “pretty good about holding the line and rejecting most sweeteners.”</p> <p>

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/6841909782_93506d4cec_z.jpg" alt="cuomo pension reform" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As the dust settles on the scheduled legislative session in Albany and subsequent “extraordinary session” called by Governor Andrew Cuomo, much of the focus has been on the extension of mayoral control of city schools, finally passed Thursday after serious brinkmanship. There has also been plenty of talk centered on what didn’t happen: procurement, ethics, and electoral reform, the Child Victims Act, and more.</p> <p>The Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), a fiscal watchdog, is also calling for scrutiny of other items that did pass, though with little fanfare. Specifically, CBC is pointing to 26 bills that it calls “benefit sweeteners,” enhancements of public benefits that it estimates will cost state and local governments at least $34 million by the end of fiscal year 2018. In fact, in order to pass an extension of mayoral control of city schools, legislators and the governor also agreed on one public benefit enhancement that will increase disability pensions for certain uniformed workers.</p> <p>While that pension “sweetener” clearly has the governor’s blessing, according to Dave Friedfel, CBC’s director of state studies, the organization will send a letter to Cuomo urging him to veto about 10 of the other 26. This includes urging a veto of a “sweetener” that “clarifies eligible beneficiaries of New York City sanitation workers pension benefits, and provides a special accidental death benefit to the beneficiaries,” according to <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A40001&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the bill summary</a>, which is estimated to cost $8.9 million in immediate past service and then $6.8 million per year starting in fiscal year 2018, leading to an instant increase of $15.7 million in employer costs for New York City, the most of any of the bills identified.</p> <p>Fourteen of the bills relate to reforms of death and disability pensions, mostly expanding eligibility criteria for various benefits to different classes of uniformed personnel, including firefighters, court officers, parole officers, and emergency medical service providers. Seven bills relate to expansions of pension benefits, one to health insurance, and three to miscellaneous topics, like repealing the retirement age of 60 for Garden City police officers.</p> <p>CBC’s criteria is whether bills enhance benefits “without providing enhanced services to taxpayers or off-setting savings.” The watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, had been tracking 130 such bills throughout the session, most of which did not pass. For those that did, the attention is now on Cuomo to be judicious, CBC says.</p> <p>Friedfel stressed that the discussion anchored around “whether these types of issues need to be addressed through a benefit enhancement,” and not on whether they were valid issues.</p> <p>For example, several bills that were introduced, including one that passed, would extend leave for public employees to receive cancer screening. “Certainly we’re not advocating that people go without those screenings...but it’s unnecessary for the state’s taxpayers to grant additionally for those things,” said Friedfel, adding that some bills had not been requested by localities or employers but the state was unilaterally imposing extra costs.</p> <p>“Benefit enhancements should be part of the contractual negotiating process,” he said, referring to collective bargaining between government and labor unions.</p> <p>CBC’s discrete cost estimates per bill range from effectively zero to $15.7 million, for sanitation worker disability bill, in the first year. Thirteen of the bills did not have CBC estimates; of these, 10 had been passed with no fiscal note.</p> <p>Maria Doulis, vice president of CBC, said in an email that the session brought “a greater volume of bills passed by the Legislature, but the bills themselves are not very costly when compared to some measures that have been floated and even passed in years past. That is encouraging.”</p> <p>In response to questions over whether the governor intended to veto any of the bills or disputed the fiscal impacts outlined by CBC, Cuomo spokesperson Abbey Fashouer said in an email, “We haven’t seen the report or reviewed and analyzed all of the bills passed by the Legislature, but priority number one is protecting New York taxpayers.”</p> <p>When the special legislative session was called, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/26/nyregion/cuomo-special-session-city-schools.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reports</a> suggested that Cuomo would seek additional agreements on enhanced disability benefits.</p> <p>Ultimately, the bill passed by the Legislature Thursday allowed “certain uniformed members of public retirements systems” -- including NYPD officers, FDNY firefighters and other city employees -- to receive accidental disability benefits even if they’re not eligible for a “normal service retirement benefit” and do so “despite being disapproved from receiving a federal social security disability pension.”</p> <p>The expected cost of this provision would be $8.9 million in fiscal year 2018, then inch up to $12.5 by fiscal year 2022, for a total of about $55 million in those five years, paid for by New York City. Friedfel said the measure “didn’t need to be done in a special session” but it wasn’t “something we’re objecting to.”</p> <p>At a press conference Thursday afternoon in Albany, Cuomo said of the $55 million estimate, “I don’t even think we’re going to get to the 55, frankly. I think the actual need will be below that.”</p> <p>At his own press conference at City Hall, Mayor Bill de Blasio reacted to the legislation passed in Albany, celebrating the extension of mayoral control. The mayor said he thought the intent of the pension portion of the bill “was to be considerate to our uniformed officers who stay on the job beyond the minimum number of years, and to respect their reality, particularly if they become disabled.” He stated no objection to it.</p> <p>“I’m always sensitive to adding to pension burdens, because that’s a big long-term issue, but this was a modest cost and a fair concept,” he said in response to a question from Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Cuomo has in the past shown willingness to veto bills passed by the Legislature that would add to the financial burdens related to benefits. He twice vetoed a bill allowing honorably discharged military veterans who had transitioned to the public sector to purchase three years of public pension credit before finally <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/249699/after-two-vetoes-cuomo-approves-veterans-pension-credit-bill/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">signing</a> it last year, once the Legislature had appropriated funds. He also <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/11/29/cuomo-sticks-up-for-new-yorks-taxpayers/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vetoed</a> nine separate pension “sweeteners” last year.</p> <p>One of Cuomo’s first major legislative initiatives was reforming the largesse of the state pension system, a reform that <a href="https://www.google.com/amp/mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/idUSBRE82E0OF20120315" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">will save</a> the state an estimated $80 billion over 30 years.&nbsp;Doulis called it “one of the Governor's early and most significant fiscal accomplishments” and said he had been “pretty good about holding the line and rejecting most sweeteners.”</p> <p>

***
by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
How The Mayoral Control ‘Special Session’ Works 2017-06-27T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7037:how-the-mayoral-control-special-session-works Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/31605403862_edfcf4f2f8_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio desk Albany" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>To prevent the lapse of mayoral control over New York City schools, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday called an “extraordinary session” of the state Legislature to convene on Wednesday at 1p.m. in Albany. Often referred to as a “special session,” details of how the day will unfold -- especially what legislation will pass -- are still unclear.</p> <p>Currently, the session has been called for just one day, with the only named purpose the extension of authority granted to the New York City Mayor, currently Bill de Blasio, to run the city schools. But, as of Tuesday evening, there is no specific bill on the table and Cuomo’s proclamation leaves the discussion open to “such other subjects” he “may recommend.”</p> <p>"The Governor is calling an extraordinary legislative session for Wednesday, June 28 to take up the issue of Mayoral Control. The Governor has discussed the extraordinary session with the legislative leaders,” said Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, in a statement.</p> <p>The failure to reach a deal by the end of the week would lurch the educational system for 1.1 million city schoolchildren into uncertainty, and the process would commence to revert school governance back to the Board of Education and local school boards -- which, while in power, were frequently charged with inefficiency and corruption.</p> <p>Like most educational experts, Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have all expressed support for mayoral control and believe that the old school board system was worse. But, the GOP-controlled Senate want to tie an extension to an increase in the cap on charter schools in New York City. The Assembly wants a clean extender of mayoral control, but did tie it to other local extenders in the form of expiring tax rates that also have widespread support.</p> <p>On Wednesday, the three men will meet again try to break the impasse over the issue, and perhaps negotiate other policies, while reporters try to glean some insight into the negotiations. After breaking last Wednesday night at the end of the scheduled legislative year without deals on mayoral control, local tax extenders, or several other high-profile items, legislators, some of them on vacation, are being called back to the capital to handle unfinished business.</p> <p>A majority is needed in both houses for the session to commence, and it is the responsibility of the legislative leaders to compel their members to return to the Capitol, according to Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>According to Albany lore, the executive can call in state troopers to force lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session. This myth, cited by several legislative staffers, does not appear in the state constitution. <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/resolutions/2017/r4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Senate rules</a>&nbsp;do require a quorum, or 60 percent of members to be present for any motions or resolutions, and empower those present to send the Sergeant at Arms to bring absent senators back from their districts if necessary. In post-session remarks this past Thursday, Cuomo did jokingly reference constituents using force to send their local legislators back to Albany to finish their business.</p> <p><strong>While special sessions are sometimes intended to tackle a single topic,</strong> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/26/nyregion/cuomo-special-session-city-schools.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The New York Times reported</a> that the governor may be offering the Senate GOP approval of a bill to increase accidental disability pensions for firefighters, police officers, and other city employees in exchange for a sign-off on one year of mayoral control without charter school provisions attached. This has opened the door to lawmakers and interest groups who want to see other bills considered in renewed negotiations.</p> <p>Also caught in the crossfire, is a standard two-year extension dozens of local and county taxes. If it lapses, counties could face a $1.8 billion collective hole in their budgets, according to the New York State Association of Counties. Like with mayoral control, virtually all the major stakeholders believe in an extension, but disagree on the details of a deal.</p> <p>Now NYSAC<a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/06/nysac-give-permanent-sales-tax-authority-to-counties/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> is calling</a> for the Legislature to tackle legislation that would permanently allow county governments to extend their sales tax rates every two years.</p> <p>Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, wants the special session to include action on New York City’s rapidly deteriorating subway system, following a particularly dramatic derailment incident Tuesday morning, which left dozens of straphangers injured. Just before the end of the scheduled session Gianaris had put forth a new proposal for a temporary dedicated revenue stream to infuse cash into the MTA.</p> <p>“With the state legislature likely to return to Albany soon to address outstanding issues, fixing the MTA should be a top priority. When they return, the Governor and members of the legislature should not leave the Capitol until a solution to the MTA crisis is enacted,” wrote Gianaris in <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/petitions/michael-gianaris/dont-leave-albany-without-fixing-mta-support-better-trains-better-cities" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a petition</a> for lawmakers to consider his bill to establish a dedicated funding stream for emergency maintenance and repairs.</p> <p><strong>While only the governor sets the agenda for a special session, his power is limited.<br /></strong>Technically, the Legislature never gavels out of session. According to the state constitution, if the Assembly goes dark for four days consecutively, lawmakers cannot reconvene until the following calendar year.</p> <p>So, for more than two decades, every third day, an Assembly member has entered the chamber, and triple-banged the gavel on the podium -- a ritual that keeps the Legislature endlessly in session. This practice is intended to prevent recess appointments by the Governor and also allows any new legislation to age the requisite three days before becoming law.</p> <p>Since the legislative session never really ends, when a special session is called, the Legislature must return to Albany, but can immediately gavel out and go home. Its members can also stay and reconvene to consider legislation of their choosing.</p> <p><strong>The Legislature first turned over control of city schools to the Mayor in 2002.<br /></strong>Previously, they were governed a seven-member Board of Education and 32 elected community school boards. The Board of Education, which had two mayoral appointees and one each from the borough presidents, selected the chancellor. The mayor could also influence the school system through the city budget.</p> <p>Authority to appoint superintendents in elementary and middle schools was stripped from the Board in 1996 due to evidence of corruption and patronage in some school districts. Since this shift test performance and graduation rates dramatically improved at city schools, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/23/nyregion/new-york-school-control.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reports The New York Times</a>.</p> <p><strong>Without clear direction, the session can get expensive.<br /></strong>Compensation, per diem allowances and travel expenses for members can add up, not to mention the cost of additional legislative staff. There are 150 seats in the Assembly and 63 in the Senate. It’s not clear how many legislators will be back to Albany for Wednesday’s session.</p> <p>Legislators are paid a per diem rate of $175, which is to cover hotel and food, plus they <a href="https://www.gsa.gov/portal/category/100120" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are compensated</a> for travel expenses at 55 cents per mile, not including tolls. For a lawmaker from Buffalo, which is approximately 300 miles from Albany, the travel bill tallies up to around $150 each way, for example. There is also a partial per diem rate of $59 when lawmakers do not spend the night.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note:&nbsp;This article has been updated to clarify how lawmakers are gathered back to the Capitol during a special session.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/31605403862_edfcf4f2f8_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio desk Albany" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>To prevent the lapse of mayoral control over New York City schools, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday called an “extraordinary session” of the state Legislature to convene on Wednesday at 1p.m. in Albany. Often referred to as a “special session,” details of how the day will unfold -- especially what legislation will pass -- are still unclear.</p> <p>Currently, the session has been called for just one day, with the only named purpose the extension of authority granted to the New York City Mayor, currently Bill de Blasio, to run the city schools. But, as of Tuesday evening, there is no specific bill on the table and Cuomo’s proclamation leaves the discussion open to “such other subjects” he “may recommend.”</p> <p>"The Governor is calling an extraordinary legislative session for Wednesday, June 28 to take up the issue of Mayoral Control. The Governor has discussed the extraordinary session with the legislative leaders,” said Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, in a statement.</p> <p>The failure to reach a deal by the end of the week would lurch the educational system for 1.1 million city schoolchildren into uncertainty, and the process would commence to revert school governance back to the Board of Education and local school boards -- which, while in power, were frequently charged with inefficiency and corruption.</p> <p>Like most educational experts, Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have all expressed support for mayoral control and believe that the old school board system was worse. But, the GOP-controlled Senate want to tie an extension to an increase in the cap on charter schools in New York City. The Assembly wants a clean extender of mayoral control, but did tie it to other local extenders in the form of expiring tax rates that also have widespread support.</p> <p>On Wednesday, the three men will meet again try to break the impasse over the issue, and perhaps negotiate other policies, while reporters try to glean some insight into the negotiations. After breaking last Wednesday night at the end of the scheduled legislative year without deals on mayoral control, local tax extenders, or several other high-profile items, legislators, some of them on vacation, are being called back to the capital to handle unfinished business.</p> <p>A majority is needed in both houses for the session to commence, and it is the responsibility of the legislative leaders to compel their members to return to the Capitol, according to Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>According to Albany lore, the executive can call in state troopers to force lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session. This myth, cited by several legislative staffers, does not appear in the state constitution. <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/resolutions/2017/r4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Senate rules</a>&nbsp;do require a quorum, or 60 percent of members to be present for any motions or resolutions, and empower those present to send the Sergeant at Arms to bring absent senators back from their districts if necessary. In post-session remarks this past Thursday, Cuomo did jokingly reference constituents using force to send their local legislators back to Albany to finish their business.</p> <p><strong>While special sessions are sometimes intended to tackle a single topic,</strong> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/26/nyregion/cuomo-special-session-city-schools.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The New York Times reported</a> that the governor may be offering the Senate GOP approval of a bill to increase accidental disability pensions for firefighters, police officers, and other city employees in exchange for a sign-off on one year of mayoral control without charter school provisions attached. This has opened the door to lawmakers and interest groups who want to see other bills considered in renewed negotiations.</p> <p>Also caught in the crossfire, is a standard two-year extension dozens of local and county taxes. If it lapses, counties could face a $1.8 billion collective hole in their budgets, according to the New York State Association of Counties. Like with mayoral control, virtually all the major stakeholders believe in an extension, but disagree on the details of a deal.</p> <p>Now NYSAC<a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/06/nysac-give-permanent-sales-tax-authority-to-counties/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> is calling</a> for the Legislature to tackle legislation that would permanently allow county governments to extend their sales tax rates every two years.</p> <p>Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, wants the special session to include action on New York City’s rapidly deteriorating subway system, following a particularly dramatic derailment incident Tuesday morning, which left dozens of straphangers injured. Just before the end of the scheduled session Gianaris had put forth a new proposal for a temporary dedicated revenue stream to infuse cash into the MTA.</p> <p>“With the state legislature likely to return to Albany soon to address outstanding issues, fixing the MTA should be a top priority. When they return, the Governor and members of the legislature should not leave the Capitol until a solution to the MTA crisis is enacted,” wrote Gianaris in <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/petitions/michael-gianaris/dont-leave-albany-without-fixing-mta-support-better-trains-better-cities" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a petition</a> for lawmakers to consider his bill to establish a dedicated funding stream for emergency maintenance and repairs.</p> <p><strong>While only the governor sets the agenda for a special session, his power is limited.<br /></strong>Technically, the Legislature never gavels out of session. According to the state constitution, if the Assembly goes dark for four days consecutively, lawmakers cannot reconvene until the following calendar year.</p> <p>So, for more than two decades, every third day, an Assembly member has entered the chamber, and triple-banged the gavel on the podium -- a ritual that keeps the Legislature endlessly in session. This practice is intended to prevent recess appointments by the Governor and also allows any new legislation to age the requisite three days before becoming law.</p> <p>Since the legislative session never really ends, when a special session is called, the Legislature must return to Albany, but can immediately gavel out and go home. Its members can also stay and reconvene to consider legislation of their choosing.</p> <p><strong>The Legislature first turned over control of city schools to the Mayor in 2002.<br /></strong>Previously, they were governed a seven-member Board of Education and 32 elected community school boards. The Board of Education, which had two mayoral appointees and one each from the borough presidents, selected the chancellor. The mayor could also influence the school system through the city budget.</p> <p>Authority to appoint superintendents in elementary and middle schools was stripped from the Board in 1996 due to evidence of corruption and patronage in some school districts. Since this shift test performance and graduation rates dramatically improved at city schools, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/23/nyregion/new-york-school-control.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reports The New York Times</a>.</p> <p><strong>Without clear direction, the session can get expensive.<br /></strong>Compensation, per diem allowances and travel expenses for members can add up, not to mention the cost of additional legislative staff. There are 150 seats in the Assembly and 63 in the Senate. It’s not clear how many legislators will be back to Albany for Wednesday’s session.</p> <p>Legislators are paid a per diem rate of $175, which is to cover hotel and food, plus they <a href="https://www.gsa.gov/portal/category/100120" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are compensated</a> for travel expenses at 55 cents per mile, not including tolls. For a lawmaker from Buffalo, which is approximately 300 miles from Albany, the travel bill tallies up to around $150 each way, for example. There is also a partial per diem rate of $59 when lawmakers do not spend the night.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>Note:&nbsp;This article has been updated to clarify how lawmakers are gathered back to the Capitol during a special session.</p>