Gotham Gazette Tue, 12 Dec 2017 10:08:09 +0000 en-gb (Webmaster) Trump’s Victory, De Blasio’s State of the City bdb trump tower

Mayor de Blasio at Trump Tower (photo: Gotham Gazette)

Perhaps so as not to pour salt in the wound, Mayor Bill de Blasio took a few days to give his assessment of what went wrong for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. But, since he started to explain his take on how the Democrats blew it and the country wound up with Donald Trump as President, de Blasio has laid out in sharp terms what he believes should have been done differently.

“I think the campaign became about the wrong thing,” de Blasio said during a February 10 taping of Pod Save America, a podcast hosted by former aides to President Barack Obama, “...[it] focused on what was wrong with Donald Trump -- his character, his personality -- and not what we needed to do for the American people and how we needed to change things, and didn’t reference that extraordinary progressive platform enough.”

The mayor’s analysis, which he delivered almost jubilantly on the podcast and has given several times in recent months, appears to further validate his own 2013 victory and his philosophy around how Democrats must campaign throughout the country. It also seems to have served as definitional for him as he prepared his 2017 State of the City address, which he delivered on February 13, three days after taping the podcast in front of a live, friendly audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).

“In the end,” de Blasio said on Pod Save America, “one thing you learn if you’re sort of listening to people, is everyone needs something to vote for, not just something to vote against.”

A few nights later at the Apollo Theater, in front of another supportive crowd, de Blasio headlined his primetime State of the City speech with a pledge to create 100,000 “permanent good-paying jobs” over the next 10 years. These, the mayor promised, will be jobs mostly in growth sectors like life sciences and pay at least $50,000 annually. The mayor framed it as “the next front line in the battle” against inequality and the city’s affordability crisis.

De Blasio outlined his approach to delivering on that promise to explain his administration is working to provide opportunity for people and, as he is also seeking re-election, giving them that “something to vote for.”

“I'm going to talk to you about the things that we are going to do as a city government, the investments we're going to make, and the impact we expect it to have,” de Blasio said during his State of the City.

Reading not from prepared remarks but from notes, de Blasio was at times repetitive, especially in hitting home that his activist, interventionist brand of government is doing what New Yorkers need.

He explained his “deeply held belief that the simple role of government is to respond to people's everyday lives, to constantly show that we can be there for people, that we can do something to change their lives.”

It was a speech, of course, but at times the mayor fell into the de Blasio pattern of telling instead of showing -- he was sure to say out loud what he wanted the emotional takeaways to be.

Directly connecting his analysis of the 2016 presidential election and his mayoralty, de Blasio said, “I have to tell you that so much of what we've seen this last year, so much of what we're talking about in this city and this country honestly stems from the fact that for too long people felt their lives weren't seen, their pain wasn't responded to, their needs weren't met. They felt that here, they felt that all over the country. They felt that when they looked at Washington D.C., and a lot of people voted in 2016 based on a pain that was very economic, very real. Because they hadn't seen answers.”

The same type of dissatisfaction with government, de Blasio was saying, propelled him into office in New York and Trump into the presidency.

One year after voters chose Trump in a stunning upset, de Blasio will be back on the ballot. He has begun his 2017 campaign by rolling out endorsements from several labor unions and elected officials. At events in which he accepts those endorsements, whether union halls or a Bronx church, de Blasio has showcased what his administration has delivered for New Yorkers -- universal pre-kindergarten, more affordable housing, neighborhood policing along with lower crime, and more. He must now convince voters, at least the Democrats that make up his political base, that he not only heard them, but followed through on his 2013 pledge to create a more equal city.

During his State of the City, before he turned to his new jobs push, de Blasio discussed the other side of the affordability coin: housing. He not only extolled the progress of his affordable housing plan, which aims to build or preserve 200,000 units of rent-regulated apartments over ten years and is on track to do so, but explained anti-eviction measures the city is undertaking to keep people in their homes and, in many cases, out of a shelter system that is busting at the seams. (The city’s homelessness crisis is a source of vulnerability for de Blasio.)

In the lead up to his speech, de Blasio had announced a deal with the City Council to fund a “right to counsel” in housing court, whereby qualifying tenants would receive free legal guidance or representation from the city.

Explaining the policy during his State of the City, de Blasio carefully articulated to New Yorkers that his administration is both fighting for them and giving them that “something to vote for.”

Describing the specifics of the policy, he provided the three instances where “you get a lawyer.”

When he turned to jobs, he said, “If it's going to be your city, we have to help you keep climbing the economic ladder. We have to help you get more and more opportunity.”

In the 2016 election analysis de Blasio had delivered just three nights before, he said that Hillary Clinton “had a working majority in...states that she lost, but people stayed home because it didn’t feel enough it was for them and about them.”

During his State of the City, de Blasio read his playbook out loud, saying, “People have to see and feel every single day that their government is working for them, is on their side, find a way to make their lives better.”

At a recent press conference, Gotham Gazette asked the mayor when he decided to eschew the traditional State of the City model of running through a lengthy list of proposals, plans, and goals in favor of focusing on one central theme, that of affordability.

After saying that the State of the City is worked on year-round and tinkered with until the last minute, de Blasio said, “Really, over the few weeks leading up to this speech, I thought a lot about what I had heard from people all over the city and what I heard at town hall meetings.” Because of how much he hears about affordability, he said, “I felt that it would be smart to focus on it.”

The mayor added that he felt he had given much public discussion to his policing and education agendas, among other well-worn topics, and, “When I thought about where we needed to add more to the public’s understanding of the direction we were taking, it seemed to me it was around affordability.”

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Trump’s Victory, De Blasio’s State of the City Tue, 07 Mar 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Jobs of the Future Come From The Right Education 32090103833 db1beb78ae z

Mayor Bill de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

In his State of the City speech last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke of the need to create 100,000 good jobs for New Yorkers in the coming decade. He defined “good jobs” as those which pay more than $50,000 a year and talked about encouraging various sectors of the economy, like technology, that have average salaries that pay even more. To his credit, the mayor talked about creating good jobs that don’t necessarily require a college degree, like construction, but he also recognized the important role advanced education plays in attaining many well-paying technology-based jobs that are at the core of our globalized economy.

I think that’s great, but if the jobs to be created are to be held by New Yorkers – meaning children from every community who are educated in our city’s schools, whether they are native-born or immigrants – his administration must do more to prepare our city’s children for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) jobs of the future.

Sadly, according to a report by the New York City Comptroller’s office, which relied on Department of Education statistics, “only about one-fifth of the City’s new college-degreed entrants to its workforce...are products of the City’s school system.”

Critics of the mayor’s speech suggest that he can do little to actually promote the creation of such jobs for New Yorkers. I disagree. The city needs to spend more money where it will do the most good to prepare our children for the high tech jobs of the future, and that means spending more on STEM education in our public schools.

A dramatic example of the underfunding of STEM education in our city is Brooklyn Technical High School, where I head the Alumni Foundation. Brooklyn Tech receives only 87.6 percent of the annual funding required under the city’s fair funding formula. That means it is shortchanged about $1 million a year. While Tech ranks consistently in the top schools in our nation and our state, this chronic underfunding is short changing six thousand of the best and brightest students of our city. The school simply cannot offer the number and variety of advanced placement courses that the students could and should be taking.

Even more troubling is the city’s failure to keep the school’s physical infrastructure - its elevators, boilers, plumbing, and electrical systems - up to date. Some of it is simply too old to be reliable and some, like the electrical, is not distributed properly throughout the school to service the needs of modern classroom computerization. The alumni recently commissioned a professional study of the building, which occupies a square city block. It showed that it would cost about $300 million to recapitalize the 80-year-old building and make it into a modern vertical campus. To replace the building would likely cost three times as much.

Brooklyn Tech has a long history of educating the children of the city’s working families – whether New York-born or from other countries – and preparing them for the world of work. Admittedly in my day, nearly 50 years ago, we learned how to operate metal lathes and pour molten lead in the foundry. Today’s modern curriculum allows students to major in many engineering fields as well as quantitative finance, law and medicine (That’s right, Brooklyn Tech has majors like a college.) Brooklyn Tech accounts for a large percentage of all the AP courses taken in the city, but at the same time, it also graduates hundreds of students each year who have industry-recognized certifications needed to get a job.

If the city wants to prepare New Yorkers for the good jobs that exist today, and in the future, it should increase funding for STEM education to 100 percent of the fair funding formula, not only at Brooklyn Tech but at other city high schools – and not only the eight test-in schools like Tech, Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, but others across the city committed to educating our children in the critical STEM curriculum.

For Brooklyn Tech, that also means the city should embark on a ten-year program to rehabilitate its building. Not only would this properly prepare today’s students for the jobs of the future, it would also create high-paying construction jobs for thousands of our city’s workers.

Larry Cary is a Manhattan lawyer and president of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation.

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Jobs of the Future Come From The Right Education Tue, 21 Feb 2017 01:57:10 +0000
In Final State of the City Speech, Mark-Viverito Vows Resistance mmv sotc 3

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: @BenKallos)

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito vowed defiance against President Donald Trump’s immigration policies and promised to uplift and empower New York City’s immigrant population in her final State of the City speech at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn on Thursday.

Mark-Viverito, the first Latina speaker of the body, has 10 months left on the job before she is term-limited out of the Council. On Thursday, she sought to cement her legacy and inspire with her speech, titled “Who We Are,” that recognized the city’s cultural and ethnic plurality. As in years past, the heart of her speech was a commitment to justice -- for immigrants, for students, for women, and for those caught up in the penal system, to name a few.

The speaker took a staunch stand against recent actions by the federal government, in particular raids that were carried out across the country last week by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, during which 41 undocumented immigrants from New York City were arrested. She said the city would not comply with federal immigration agents in targeting city residents who do not pose a public safety threat. “New York has always persevered, no matter the obstacle,” Mark-Viverito said, stopping short of mentioning Trump by name. “Whether defying a king in England or a president in Washington, we stand up for what is right.”

Mark-Viverito also proposed a slew of new legislations to protect undocumented immigrants, including one barring ICE agents from entering private areas on city property and offices that provide social services without a judicial warrant or court order; a bill to restrict ICE officials from entering public schools and accessing student records; and a system to limit the city’s collection of personal data and guidelines for disclosure of personal data to the federal government.

The Council will also attempt to baseline legal defense funding for immigrants facing deportation, she said, and establish immigrant family resource centers in each borough.

She also said officers of the NYPD, Department of Probation and Department of Correction would not be allowed to enforce federal immigration laws. “Three million immigrants live in New York City, they fuel our economy, they propel our city forward,” she said. “They are an indispensable part of our city’s landscape and they are absolutely, unquestionably New Yorkers.”

The city will also create it’s own “wall of resistance,” Mark-Viverito pledged, by coordinating policies and advocacy with other sanctuary cities and jurisdictions across the country. Additionally, she announced a first-of-its-kind conference of legislative leaders through the National League of Cities, scheduled for April at the City Council. “Just imagine dozens of Criminal Justice Reform Acts and municipal identification card programs instituted in every big city across the United States,” she said, touting two of the council’s key accomplishments in the last three years. “The possibilities for national solidarity on almost any issue are endless.”

Along with her focus on immigrant protections, Mark-Viverito also proposed a number of progressive measures, the likes of which have defined her tenure at the Council. She called for “culturally responsive” education that encourages conversations on race in city schools, measures to address cyberbullying, steps to reduce overcrowded classrooms and a comprehensive plan to teach sexual health education in public schools. Mark-Viverito vowed that the Council would aggressively and proactively protect women’s reproductive rights, ensuring access to free birth control in New York City and pushing state legislators to pass the Reproductive Health Act. And she said the Council will pass legislation requiring the city meet racial and gender equity goals in its policies and programs.

“We must make sure all New Yorkers are on equal footing - and that we’re providing a pathway for all New Yorkers to be heard and to succeed,” she said. “This is who we are.”

Mark-Viverito also committed to expanding criminal justice reform by reducing pre-trial incarceration, making bail procedures easier and reducing the population of the Riker’s Island prison complex. She expressed her support for raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18, an issue that is currently being debated at the state level, and said the Council will work with the district attorneys to clear low-level summons warrants that are more than 10 years old.

“This year, we will continue to stand for justice, access and fairness,” she said. “This year, we will once again show the world just who we are.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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In Final State of the City Speech, Mark-Viverito Vows Resistance Fri, 17 Feb 2017 00:00:00 +0000
Comptroller Criticizes Mayor for 'Out Of Control' Homelessness Spending, Limited Agency Savings stringer 2

Comptroller Scott Stringer presents his budget analysis (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)

Comptroller Scott Stringer blasted aspects of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget for fiscal year 2018 on Wednesday, taking issue with the mayor’s homelessness strategy and what Stringer described as a dearth of savings for city agencies.

Speaking to reporters at his offices on 1 Center Street, the comptroller said the city’s economy continues to be strong but warned of the challenges from an economic slowdown after years of sustained growth, the effects of which are already being felt. The risks are especially high, he said, with President Donald Trump’s threats of funding cuts to the city and the inadequate cushion of city reserves.

The comptroller, a frequent critic of the mayor who may challenge de Blasio on the ballot, was most critical of the administration’s spending on homelessness with little to show in the way of results. “The lack of progress for our homeless families and failure to change the status quo is deeply concerning to me and to all New Yorkers,” he said. “The crisis is growing, it is not receding.”

The city has seen an explosion in homelessness over the last three years, with the number of homeless people in the shelter system crossing 60,000 late last year. In the 2017 fiscal year, ending June 30, the city will have spent $2.3 billion on tackling the issue, up from $1.17 billion in fiscal year 2014, the comptroller estimated. The revised budget for the Department of Homeless Services alone is $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2017, an increase of more than 390 million since the budget was originally adopted. Mayor de Blasio, in his State of the City speech on Monday, briefly acknowledged that his administration has more to do on tackling homelessness, but provided no details, promising to address it in the coming days.

The comptroller, in his presentation, questioned that lack of a cohesive policy, stressing that City Hall has not been forthcoming with data or progress reports. He noted that the Department of Homeless Services online dashboard has not been updated in over a year. In particular, he faulted the administration’s “out of control” spending on emergency shelters at commercial hotels, which reached $102 million in the 2016 calendar year. “We need transparency people, we need to understand this so we can actually get to the root of the crisis because we can’t spend blindly without seeing results,” he said.

Stringer also emphasized that the city needs to increase its savings and reserves by identifying greater efficiencies in city agencies. Under de Blasio, agencies have voluntarily identified savings each year through the Citywide Savings Program. Stringer supports the program, which saved $2.1 billion this year, but said the scope of savings is insufficient. “City agencies must do more to scrub their budgets and operations to identify more savings and efficiencies to help address our risks,” he said, pointing out that prior to 2014, agencies contributed 2.7 percent on average to the city’s savings in a year, compared to 1 percent under Mayor de Blasio. “The more they scrub, the more they’ll save,” he said.

These reserves will be particularly crucial if the Trump administration should follow through on its proposed cuts to sanctuary city funding, the comptroller pointed out. New York City could lose as much as $7 billion, which would “rip up our social safety net,” Stringer said. Overall, he insists that the city’s budget cushion -- the reserves and surplus funds at the beginning of the fiscal year -- should be between 12 and 18 percent of city expenditures. Currently, the city has a cushion of only $8.5 billion or 10 percent for fiscal year 2018.

Stringer did praise the mayor for initiatives in the budget that he has supported, including funding for 300 new school crossing guards, providing bullet-resistant windows for all NYPD patrol cars and committing $1 billion for roof repairs at 729 NYCHA buildings.

Stringer’s criticism wasn’t just limited to the mayor’s preliminary budget. Asked about de Blasio’s State of the City commitment to create 100,000 jobs over the next ten years, Stringer said, “I don’t think people truly understood what he was talking about,” noting that the city had created 90,000 jobs a year on average since 2009.

“We do that yearly,” he said. “To talk about a plan over ten years to create 100,000 jobs, to do that over 10 years is just an empty promise and it’s certainly not enough...It makes no sense in my view.” He recommended a “holistic” approach to job creation, by addressing homelessness, building affordable housing and pushing economic development through investments in women- and minority-owned businesses.

Mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips sharply rebuked the comptroller’s broad critique. “The comptroller has criticized universal pre-K, equipping officers with body cameras, unprecedented highs in affordable housing and job creation, a balanced budget with record savings, and sweeping investments in homelessness prevention,” Phillips said, in a statement. “City Hall shares the public’s wonderment at what exactly the Comptroller's fighting for.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Comptroller Criticizes Mayor for 'Out Of Control' Homelessness Spending, Limited Agency Savings Thu, 16 Feb 2017 06:45:27 +0000
De Blasio Focuses on Affordability Crisis in State of the City Speech De Blasio at State of the City

Mayor de Blasio delivers State of the City speech (Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

At his fourth State of the City speech on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared an ambitious agenda to create thousands of jobs while continuing to expand affordable housing for the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Speaking at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem, de Blasio acknowledged in blunt terms that New York City is facing an affordability crisis that has been years in the making, resulting from rising rents and relatively stagnant incomes. “This affordability crisis threatens who we are, threatens the very soul of this city,” he said, stressing the need for his administration to do more to alleviate the economic anxiety felt across the city.

The mayor chose initially to forego his traditional style of rattling off key initiatives under the umbrella of his larger agenda, instead delivering an overall sobering message that the city’s successes from the last three years have not been felt equally among all its residents. Although he touted the progress of his affordable housing plan, which has so far financed and preserved more than 62,500 units of housing, he said the city also needs to ensure that incomes are keeping apace. “Everything we've been doing so far is necessary,” de Blasio said. “I believe it's right. But it's not sufficient...We have to now focus on the other half of the equation. We have to drive up incomes.”

His proposed solution was a broad plan to create 100,000 “permanent good-paying” jobs over the next ten years, with 40,000 created in the next four years. Some of this promised growth will come from plans already underway, the mayor said, including 9,000 jobs in the life sciences industry and 10,000 jobs created through the redevelopment of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

He also announced two new major initiatives. The city will invest $136 million to create a “Made in NY” manufacturing center for the fashion, film and food industry in Sunset Park. Construction on the campus will begin next year and by the time it is completed in 2020, it will create 1,500 permanent jobs and 543 temporary positions. De Blasio also pledged $2.6 billion over the next decade to retrofit public buildings with eco-friendly infrastructure, which he estimated will create about 30,000 construction jobs.

In last year’s State of the City speech, de Blasio seemed largely optimistic that the city was on the right track. On Monday, however, he noted that his administration’s major achievements from the last three years -- record-low crime levels, record-high school graduation rates and the implementation of universal prekindergarten for roughly 70,000 children, to name a few -- were “overshadowed” by the continuous struggle many New Yorkers face in an increasingly unaffordable city.

The speech struck a tone similar to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address last month, which focused on a middle class left behind in the state’s economic recovery since the Great Recession. The mayor similarly noted the economic “pain” that punctuated the national discourse during the 2016 presidential election and is still being felt by the public. He promised to directly address that prevailing sentiment while standing up to potentially harmful federal policies. “There's a lot of people in the city right now who fear for what's happening, and they fear that Washington won't have their back, that Washington is against them,” he said. “I want to say clearly to all of them, New York City will have your back.”

A few of the big initiatives the mayor mentioned include measures of housing affordability that were announced in the lead up to Monday’s speech and are meant to work in lockstep with the administration’s focus on creating jobs. These include a $1.9 billion capital fund commitment over the next seven years to provide 10,000 more units of affordable housing for New Yorkers making less than $40,000 a year. Half these homes will be dedicated to seniors and 500 will be set aside for veterans. The mayor also pushed his proposal of a Mansion Tax, a 2.5 percent levy on the sale of homes costing $2 million and more, which he said would raise $336 million in revenue that the city could use to subsidize rents for 25,000 seniors. The tax would require authorization from the state Legislature.

A third initiative, announced jointly with the City Council, is a program to provide universal access to legal services for tenants in housing court, with free representation for low-income New Yorkers earning below $50,000 a year. The city will allocate $15 million to the program in the 2018 fiscal year, increasing it to $93 million by fiscal year 2022, in addition to an existing $62 million yearly commitment to anti-eviction legal services. De Blasio also promised further policy announcements on homelessness, the opioid epidemic and traffic congestion in the new few weeks.

The mayor’s broad overtures to New Yorkers during a time of uncertainty at the national level are likely to carry forward as he begins to campaign in earnest for a second term. His chances of reelection remain strong with just under half of likely voters approving of his performance in a recent Quinnipiac University poll, a number that has slowly improved over the last few months. He also has few primary challengers, although that may change if there are any major developments in the ongoing state and federal investigations into his administration and his fundraising practices. The mayor maintains that his behavior and that of his associates did not violate the law, and none of them have been charged with a crime.

On Monday, de Blasio’s speech was reminiscent of his first campaign. “The message to the people of the city is, this is your city,” he said. “It's not something that belongs to those who happen to be most advantaged. It belongs to the people who made it great. It belongs to the people who built it. It belongs to the people who gave it its character, its culture, its heart and its soul.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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De Blasio Focuses on Affordability Crisis in State of the City Speech Tue, 14 Feb 2017 00:00:00 +0000
Key to Vision of Closing Rikers, City Council Bail Fund Moves Through State Process MMV SOTC bail fund story

Mark-Viverito delivers her State of the City (photo: William Alatriste)

Last year, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito unveiled her plan for a fund that would cover bail for poor individuals charged with low-level criminal offenses who would otherwise be forced to wait in a city jail for their court date. The Council dedicated $1.4 million of budget funds to back the project, which is nearing launch.

The program, if successful, could not only keep hundreds of individuals from staying in jail because they can't afford bail, but also lead to the expansion of state law that oversees and licenses bail funds, allowing for more criminal charges to be covered and higher bails paid.

The Council bail fund is going through a fairly lengthy process to get up and running, with no clear start date more than a year after the initiative was announced. Mark-Viverito recently said she expects it to be functional in the coming months, but that the bureaucratic process of getting licensed by state overseers takes time. The fund has just been approved as a not-for-profit charity by the state attorney general's office, the second in four key steps. A heightened sense of urgency around the bail plan has emerged after Mark-Viverito announced this year that she hopes it will be a key element of actualizing "the dream" of closing Rikers Island jails. 

About 10,000 people are currently held in Rikers Island and other city jails, most awaiting a court appearance after being arrested for a low-level, non-violent offense. Some have been in jail for weeks or months because they can't afford bail and the criminal justice system moves at a snail's pace. It is a situation that many, including Mark-Viverito, have decried with increasing intensity over the past two years.

"We need to take a comprehensive approach to criminal justice reform that ensures a fairer system, improves police community relations, and addresses the fact that far too many of our young people – mostly low-income black and Latino males – are locked up at Rikers," Mark-Viverito said during her 2015 State of the City address.

She continued: "For instance, if you are accused of jumping a turnstile or committing other minor offenses in New York City, you may be locked up. And if you can't afford bail you will spend on average 15 days in jail. The results are predictable: people lose their jobs, or their housing, and cannot take care of their children while they are in custody. These are people who are accused of minor offenses and are still considered innocent in the eyes of the law. This is not justice."

During this year's State of the City address, on Feb. 11, the speaker said that she wants to see "the population of Rikers to be so small that the dream of shutting it down becomes a reality." She announced a new criminal justice commission, led by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, that will make recommendations for how to improve the criminal justice system.

Last week while discussing her belief that Rikers Island should eventually be closed, Mark-Viverito cited her bail fund as something that will reduce the population over time. Asked when she expected the bail fund to start, Mark-Viverito said she is waiting to be licensed by the state.

"We're waiting for the state, unfortunately, there's some state authorizations you need...some sort of licensure is needed," Mark-Viverito told reporters. "We needed, initially, a federal authorization, we've received that, we're waiting for the state, once that's done, we're ready to roll out. It's just we can't...without that authorization. So hopefully within the next months. It's just a normal process, obviously we are on top of it, but it's a normal process, it's bureaucratic."

In follow-up conversation with Gotham Gazette, representatives of Mark-Viverito's office stressed the process is going well, is not an undue burden, and that the hope is to launch the program in a few months. The office said the process to incorporate the program began officially in July 2015. The first step involved registering as a non-profit on the federal level; the second, attorney general approval as a charity. With that second step complete, the application will go to the state Department of Financial Services, which licenses charitable bail funds.

As approved by the AG, the fund shows "Initial directors" George McDonald, of The Doe Fund and David Howard, and Alphonso Wyatt, who were previously associated with the the fund. According to its bylaws, "The sole member of the Corporation shall be The Doe Fund, Inc., a New York not-for-profit corporation." McDonald is the founder and CEO of The Doe Fund, which has worked for decades to employ, house, and train homeless New Yorkers to help them stabilize their lives.

According to the filing, "the purpose" of the new organization will be "to assist indigent defendents charged with low-level crimes avoid the experience, complications and related hardships of pretrial detention caused by their inability to afford bail." Once it becomes a bail fund, it will "provide bail assistance" and "research, analyze and document the effectiveness and social impact of" its activities.

Before 2012 Mark-Viverito's bail fund wouldn't have needed state approval because charitable bail funds operated in a legal gray area. That year, Bronx state Senator Gustavo Rivera successfully advocated for a state law to oversee bail funds after a judge ordered an organization in his district to stop covering bail.

Now, as bail funds grow in popularity, Rivera said he is working with the state Department of Financial Services to smooth the application process and guide smaller groups that are interested in opening funds. Rivera said that as the evidence of the efficacy of such programs grows he hopes to expand the law that now only covers misdemeanor offenses and has a cap of $2,000 bail.

Rivera was approached by the Bronx Defenders (a nonprofit legal defense group) in 2010 shortly after he defeated disgraced then-Sen. Pedro Espada for his seat. When the bill passed in 2012, the Bronx Freedom Fund became the state's first licensed charitable bail fund.

Since then the group has shown promising results, which Mark-Viverito and others have noticed. It released a study last year showing that 97 percent of its clients returned to all their court appearances - some to more than 15 dates in a row. The group says that 27 times its bail money was returned even before the conclusion of a case. Out of 188 cases, 62 percent ended in a dismissal of all charges, 22 percent in a violation that carries no record, and 12 percent with a misdemeanor plea and no jail time.

The fund has $100,000 to pay bail and it is periodically replenished when their clients fulfill their court obligations. Individuals are interviewed by the fund to determine their eligibility. Alyssa Work, former director of the Freedom Fund, told Gotham Gazette last year that the application process involved a defendant filling out a form, and her checking to see if they have family and community ties or steady employment. She also would evaluate their criminal record.

Rivera has held a two roundtables on bail funds and has heard some concerns from interested groups. "We've been tweaking the paperwork you have to go through to get people licensed as bondsmen," said Rivera. "We've been discussing having the application fee waived for certain smaller organizations that aren't flush with cash, some folks have found it difficult to find someone at [Department of Financial Services] to answer questions. But the most important thing is that we've been working with DFS on this all along and they've been very helpful."

Organizations wishing to start a bail fund have to complete four major steps: register as a non-profit under federal tax laws; register as a charity under New York State law through the AG's office; obtain a charitable bail license from the state DFS; and, finally, obtain an individual bail bond license from DFS.

Mark-Viverito's office is now on to the third step.

Obtaining a charitable bail organization license from DFS requires a detailed application, a fee of $1,000, and the fingerprinting of all officers, directors, trustees, and executive personnel.

Rivera said that while he intends to keep working with DFS on the application process, he does "hope to eventually introduce legislation that expands the legal parameters of bail funds." Rivera continued, "Right now the cap on bail is $2,000, we might want to move that. There is a small list of offenses currently covered and we may want to expand that list. We know we are helping people whose only crime is being poor, who can't afford bail, allowing them to be able to fight for their freedom, when they otherwise might be sitting in Rikers or somewhere else."

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Mark-Viverito said, "New York City is proud to lead the way in reforming a broken bail system that unjustly subjected our young people of color to senseless violence and abuse. By approaching this issue thoughtfully and deliberatively, we hope that our proposal for a citywide bail fund can serve as a model for other cities and municipalities seeking to change the way poverty and the criminal justice system intersect."

Like Mark-Viverito, Sen. Rivera supports closing Rikers. Mayor Bill de Blasio called the idea "noble," but has said he doubts it is achievable. "My job is to level with the people of New York City," de Blasio recently told reporters. "This would cost billions and billions of dollars, be logistically very difficult, and we don't have the space right now."

De Blasio has, however, also focused on bail reform, calling the current system unfair, with a burden that keeps the poor in jail for crimes they haven't been tried for, much less convicted of.

De Blasio has a supervised release program scheduled to begin March 1. Funded by asset forfeiture funds from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and the City Tax Levy, the program will provide judges with the option of sending those charged with misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies to supervised release programs overseen by agencies run in each of the five boroughs, rather than setting bail. The plan is expected to eventually serve 3,000 defendants.

"There is a very real human cost to how our criminal justice system treats people while they wait for trial," de Blasio said in a July statement announcing the program. "Money bail is a problem because – as the system currently operates in New York – some people are being detained based on the size of their bank account, not the risk they pose. This is unacceptable. If people can be safely supervised in the community, they should be allowed to remain there regardless of their ability to pay."

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Key to Vision of Closing Rikers, City Council Bail Fund Moves Through State Process Thu, 03 Mar 2016 21:28:32 +0000
In State of the City, Mark-Viverito Outlines Civic Engagement, Voter Empowerment Plans mmv youth

Mark-Viverito with young attendees of her speech (photo: William Alatriste) 

In her second State of the City address, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito on Thursday made it clear that she is determined to make New York a more inclusive city where different voices are heard and counted. Her message of 'More Justice,' the title for the speech, resonated in the different initiatives the speaker announced to improve civic engagement and to empower New Yorkers so that city policy is more fair and responsive to constituents.

Speaking at the Samuel Gompers Campus in the South Bronx, Mark-Viverito said she wants to kickstart the heartbeat of New York's democracy, with increased funding for participatory budgeting, expanding student voter registration, using technology to increase voter turnout, and enhancing community input in land use decisions.

She touted the success of the Council's participatory budgeting program, calling it a "laboratory for what an enfranchised voting populace is all about," and announced that Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will pledge $1 million to the process this year.

The last round of participatory budgeting, she said, saw increased participation owing to new outreach measures, including text notifications telling people when and where to vote. Youth participation, in particular, was high she said, with 12 percent of PB votes cast by those under 18 years old.

Much of Mark-Viverito's speech focused on youth and the importance of young voices in city matters. She committed to expanding voter registration in high schools, with the ultimate goal of registering at least 10,000 students. This would increase the Council's current funding of student voter registration at 56 high schools to 125 high schools.

"Our young people can, and should be, a powerful voice in the next election," she said.

Voter turnout has been a particular challenge for New York state. In the 2014 elections, with only 29 percent of eligible voters casting ballots, New York ranked 49th in voter participation in the country, fact Mark-Viverito bemoaned during her speech.

"This generation was lucky enough to be born with the right to vote, regardless of race or gender," said City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, in a statement. Rosenthal has led Council efforts to promote Student Registration Voter Day. "Our next challenge," Rosenthal said, "is to raise awareness of the value of voting and civic participation."

Mark-Viverito placed partial blame for the dismal voting record on outdated voting laws and said the Council would push to make voting easier. She also pledged support for Governor Andrew Cuomo's efforts on voting reform, as promised in his State of the State speech, which include early voting and automatic voter registration when New Yorkers interact with government agencies.

"The public cannot stand up and be counted if we fail to modernize our voting process," Mark-Viverito said.

In keeping with this proposed modernization and tackling some of what the city has control over, Mark-Viverito announced new initiatives including a voting app and online portal to help voters locate polling places, check their registration, track absentee ballots, and obtain other election data. The city will also start to notify voters via email and text messages to improve turnout. "We are going to bring democracy right to your fingertips," she said to New Yorkers.

More than by voting alone, the speaker wants young professionals to directly participate in local government. She announced the creation of a full-time one-year Social Justice Postgrad Fellowship, which would place graduates with professional degrees in positions throughout city government.

Noting that public service is not always an option for young professionals without financial means, Mark-Viverito said, "We need to recommit ourselves to a simple yet powerful notion: New York needs to be a city for everyone, with policymaking and governance that is open to everyone."

Mark-Viverito segued into addressing the city's handling of important local land use decisions. In the last few months, there has been widespread backlash from communities against Mayor Bill de Blasio's proposals to change the city's zoning codes and to rezone specific neighborhoods across the five boroughs. Residents have claimed that the processes have been top-down, without enough local input, and that plans do not meet neighborhood needs.

The speaker proposed a solution in her speech, calling on the city to develop Neighborhood Commitment Plans along with rezoning proposals to allow people to track the city's promises. "Planning for the future of our neighborhoods should start from the ground up and infuse the voices of everyday New Yorkers into policy decisions," she said.

She also appealed to the city to refine its guidelines for the Fair Share system to invite public input and ensure that different communities receive important city services in equal measure and are not overburdened by certain types of facilities.

The speaker's discussion of increasing civic engagement was coupled with attempts to improve communication with constituents: Mark-Viverito's speech was live-streamed in Bengali this year, along with Spanish and Mandarin as it had been before. It was also available online in multiple languages and City Council social media accounts were active throughout.

This is part of a larger commitment the de Blasio administration and City Council have made to reaching out to a broad base of ethnic communities. Earlier this month, the speaker and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced new plans to utilize ethnic and community media outlets across the city.

Expanding on these measures, Mark-Viverito in her speech emphasized the need to upgrade the city's language access law, going beyond just translators, to create a more comprehensive framework.

"English proficiency should never be an obstacle to accessing city services," she said, promising a law that would require city agencies to gather data on language needs and demographics of the communities they serve. Its implementation would require the city to provide translation services for the top six languages identified. The Council will also work with the administration to provide emergency push notifications on digital devices in multiple languages through NotifyNYC.

"Language access is extremely important for New York City's immigrant, low-wage workers who are especially vulnerable to workplace violations and trafficking," said Linda Oalican, executive director, Damayan Migrant Workers Association, Inc. "Increasing language access at City agencies will provide vulnerable immigrant workers with more opportunity to report violations and assert their legal rights."

The Speaker also said the Council will establish financial outreach and education programs for immigrants, seniors, and women, giving them greater financial literacy and access to services.

A common thread running through the speech was Mark-Viverito's emphasis on empowerment -- for communities to have a say in rezoning plans, for the youth to have a say in social issues and, in the final section of her remarks, for women to have a larger role in city government and business.

The 51-seat City Council has 14 women, five of whom will be term-limited out of the next election. Those five are all women of color, Mark-Viverito said.

"Empowering women means empowering all of us – creating a stronger, healthier, and more just society," Mark-Viverito said before she talked about the Council's Young Women's Initiative launched last year. The initiative gauged input from more than 200 experts and advocates, including young women, transgender women, and gender-nonconforming women to create policy recommendations for the city.

On Thursday, the Speaker pledged $10 million from the city over the next two years, matched with another $10 million from private charitable donations, to fund the recommendations of the initiative including programs to enhance career guidance, leadership development, youth employment, transgender health services and access to contraceptives, and to end sexual exploitation. "Young women are the very foundation, the core of our city's hope for the future," Mark-Viverito said. "So we don't need cracks in the glass ceiling - we need to shatter it, once and for all."

The speaker also addressed issues of homelessness, pledging support for a $15 minimum wage, calling on the federal government to expand housing subsidies for low-income families, and appealing to the city administration to allocate more public housing to homeless families and survivors of domestic violence. She raised the possibility of the city creating its own permanent rental subsidy program modelled on the federal system and funded partially by the state. Current programs have time limits, at times leading people back into shelters when they cannot pick up their full rent without subsidy.

The speaker also announced increased support to families and caregivers through a bill that would require the city to identify the needs of caregivers and to provide them assistance. She spoke of increased investments in after-school programs, supporting paid family leave, and a Division of Paid Care under the newly-created Office of Labor Standards.

A large part of the speech focused on an expansive criminal justice reform plan, which includes reforming the warrant system; increased oversight of city jails; improved pre-trial, reentry and rehabilitation services; and the creation of an independent Criminal Justice Commission to study and accelerate reforms. "It's time to reimagine our entire criminal justice system," Mark-Viverito said.

[Related: Mark-Viverito 'Doubles Down' on Criminal Justice Reform in State of the City]

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

In State of the City, Mark-Viverito Outlines Civic Engagement, Voter Empowerment Plans Thu, 11 Feb 2016 21:51:46 +0000
Mark-Viverito 'Doubles Down' on Criminal Justice Reform in State of the City mmv speech 2016 

Mark-Viverito delivers her State of the City (photo: William Alatriste) 

During her second State of the City address, titled “More Justice,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced on Thursday a slew of new criminal justice reforms, including efforts to minimize the number of New Yorkers that end up in the city’s jail by clearing old arrest warrants for low-level, nonviolent offenses, and creating more programs to help reduce recidivism. She also said that as the number of inmates on Riker’s Island decreases, a plan for closing the notorious jail complexes could be enacted.

Addressing an issue at the center of criminal justice conversation over the past year, Mark-Viverito said those who have avoided getting into trouble with the law again for years should have old arrest warrants cleared. Clearing these warrants, some of them decades old, would greatly reduce the city’s backlog of over 1.1 million open summons warrants, which are the result of people failing to appear in court after receiving a summons for a low-level, nonviolent offense, such as having an open container of alcohol.

These open warrants can affect the warrant-holder’s immigration status, hurt their chances of getting a job, housing, or other services, and, of course, can result in jail time. A system where someone ends up in jail or with a permanent record for “being in a park after dark is simply not fair or proportionate,” Mark-Viverito said during her speech.

The new initiatives outlined by Mark-Viverito will build upon steps the City Council has already taken to bring “more justice” to the criminal justice system, including creating a citywide bail fund, passing legislation to increase transparency at Rikers Island, prohibiting prospective employers from inquiring about criminal history on job applications, and introducing legislation to change the way the city punishes low-level, nonviolent offenses, such as having an open container of alcohol in public or being in a park after dark.

On Jan. 25, after nearly a year of negotiations, a package of eight bills known as the Criminal Justice Reform Act was introduced in the City Council. The legislation encourages police officers to issue civil penalties, rather than using criminal summonses or arrests, for low-level, nonviolent offenses. Mark-Viverito highlights the package of bills, which appears to have the blessing of Mayor Bill de Blasio, on Thursday, and explained that the Council would be moving it forward and building upon it.

In a statement, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson expressed support for Mark-Viverito’s announcements, saying, “I commend Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for placing criminal justice reform at the top of her legislative agenda….I look forward to working with the Speaker and our partners in government to continue to address this important citywide issue.” Thompson has held several events to help people clear arrest warrants and summonses.

Warrant amnesty, combined with the Criminal Justice Reform Act’s move to steer cases away from the criminal system and direct them to a civil court run by the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings could go a long way toward the speaker’s goal of minimizing the number of New Yorkers who end up in the criminal justice system and on Riker’s Island.

But reducing that number must also involve efforts that “address the systemic issues that plague neighborhoods and start to actually fix them,” Mark-Viverito said, vowing the Council will do just that by passing legislation to ensure the city has a multi-agency plan to provide more social services that target problems like unemployment, high school dropout rates, and substance abuse in areas with high crime rates.

In a continued effort to bring increased transparency to the city’s jail system, this year the Council will pass legislation establishing an Inspector General for the Department of Correction, who will focus “on systemic issues in the city’s jail system, and will be modeled after the successful NYPD Inspector General established by the City Council in 2013,” Mark-Viverito said.

Speaking with members of the press after Mark-Viverito’s speech, Norman Seabrook, president of the city’s Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, said he “applaud[s] the Speaker for her genuine feelings of trying to make a difference, but in order to make a difference you have to sit down with everyone at the to the people that do this for a living as opposed to the ones that just push a pencil.”

“Our job is care, custody, and control,” Seabrook said of those officers who work at and for the city’s jails. “In order to rebuild the system, reform has to be on both sides,” he added, later explaining that one side is those pushing reform and the other is police and correction leaders, as well as district attorneys.

Bringing all stakeholders together to plan reform is exactly what newly-retired Chief Judge of the State of New York, Jonathan Lippman, intends to do as chair of an independent commission to examine Rikers Island and “explore a community-based justice model.” Mark-Viverito first announced the creation of the commission during her State of the City address.

“I very much intend to have a broadly represented committee, particularly of the criminal justice community, and that includes all of the players,” Lippman told reporters after the speech. “I think I have a background that allows me to bring the different sides of the equation to this table, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”

The commission will complement existing reform efforts by exploring ways to continue reducing pre-trial detention rates, move adolescents and the mentally ill off Rikers in the short term, and utilize more community courts and borough-based jail facilities.

Lippman’s firm, Latham and Watkins, which he joined after being forced to retire as chief judge due to age restrictions, will staff the commission and provide all the needed resources pro bono. The Center for Court Innovation, a criminal justice think tank, will also work with the commission, whose members will be selected by Lippman in consultation with Mark-Viverito and others.

“We are going to do the most careful, comprehensive look at Rikers that’s ever been done,” Lippman said, “and make very concrete, direct recommendations...What’s clear is that [Rikers] is central to the justice system here in our city, and it doesn’t work.” While the population at Rikers has already been shrinking, violence in the jails is a major problem, as is people being detained there for extended periods while they await trial for non-violent offenses.

Another important piece of minimizing the number of New Yorkers in the City’s jails is reducing the recidivism rate. “Every year,” Mark-Viverito said, “there are about 70,000 admissions to Rikers and other city jails - but only about 16 percent of those admitted are ultimately sentenced to prison.”

Yet even a brief stint in jail can have life-changing ramifications, she said. A few days in Rikers can cause someone to lose their job, and a record could prevent them from getting a new job or accessing other needed resources, causing them to fall into what Mark-Viverito calls an “endless cycle of recidivism.”

“Reducing recidivism must be a top priority,” Mark-Viverito said, and to that end she promised the Council will work with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to create a Municipal Division of Transition Services which will help make the reentry process for those exiting prison easier and more supportive by providing services like computer classes, resume building, drug treatment, and housing resources.

Another piece of the Council’s effort to reduce recidivism rates will be the development of a video visitation program for those who are incarcerated, as maintaining familial and social relationships has been proven to reduce recidivism. The program will allow families who cannot make the often day-long trip to Rikers Island to speak with their loved ones by visiting a local library or neighborhood center and using the video program.

The Council will also continue to call on the State to raise the age of criminal responsibility, so that 16- and 17-year-olds are no longer automatically tried as adults, Mark-Viverito said. New York is one of the two states in the country that still tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Governor Andrew Cuomo has pushed to raise the age, but has not been able to get legislation passed through the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Along with an intense focus on criminal justice reform, Mark-Viverito also reiterated her support for a $15 minimum wage, emphasized support for immigrants, including by increasing language access and translation services, announced plans to increase civic and youth engagement, outlined ways the city can improve the community planning process, and stressed greater investment in young women.

"The State of the City is strong, but its foundation must be strengthened. That foundation is New Yorkers themselves," Mark-Viverito said on Thursday. "It's the student eager to vote or the community fighting for more green space. It's the immigrant family starting a business or the single mother bringing her baby home for the first time. It's our city's seniors and their caregivers. It's the New Yorker struggling to find a home, or the young man languishing in Rikers. And it is every young woman looking up at the glass ceiling...It's New Yorkers who make New York great. And it's New Yorkers who need more justice."

by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated.

Mark-Viverito 'Doubles Down' on Criminal Justice Reform in State of the City Thu, 11 Feb 2016 22:30:19 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, Feb. 1-5 week in review bus readers

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

Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday February 5, 2016

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: In Iowa, Mayor de Blasio makes calls on behalf of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, via @Chirlane; De Blasio delivers his State of the City address, via Michael Appleton, Mayor's Office; De Blasio tours the downtown Manhattan site of a crane collapse, via Ed Reed, Mayor's Office.

bdb calls iowa

bdb state of the city

bdb crane collapse


1. State of the City: Mayor de Blasio emphasized building strong neighborhoods and city management during his third State of the City address on Thursday, and focused on acknowledging the work of everyday New Yorkers and the city’s uniformed workforce, and improving conditions across the five boroughs. New initiatives highlighted during the speech include a streetcar running along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, development on Governor’s Island, a new private sector employee retirement fund, and a $91 million investment to revitalize Far Rockaway. [Read: De Blasio Stresses Neighborhood Health in 'One City' Vision & Muslim Immigrant Family of NYPD Captain to Lead Pledge of Allegiance at State of the City]

2. Council Votes on Raises, Reforms: On Friday, the City Council approved a package of legislation to raise the salaries of all the the city’s elected officials and reform how Council members are compensated. The reforms, including eliminating stipends for chairing committees and making the position full time, have been praised, yet the higher than recommended salary increase the Council is seeking and the timing of the vote have been criticized. [Read: Questions Remain as City Council Moves Ahead with Pay Raises, Reforms]

3. Critical Time for Housing Plan: On Wednesday, the City Planning Commission passed two major components of Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan, sending them to the City Council, which will hold two hearings on the proposals next week. The two proposals - Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability - have received mixed reactions and aim to adjust the city’s zoning codes to allow what the administration says will be more responsible development. At the same time on the state level, calls for Governor Cuomo to move on new program to incentivize affordable housing production continue. [Read: Planning Commission Sends Mayor's Zoning Proposals to City Council & Calls for Public Discussion of New Affordable Housing Incentive Program]

4. Horse Carriage Deal Collapses: Mayor de Blasio’s controversial plan to shrink the horse carriage industry collapsed after facing intense criticism from several sides, including the horse-carriage drivers, pedicab drivers, park advocates, Council members, union leaders, animal-rights activists, and more. After the Teamsters union withdrew its support for the deal, the City Council cancelled its scheduled vote on the plan.

5. Subway Slashings: In the wake of several separate slashings in the subways in January, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced Wednesday that the NYPD will now wake up sleeping straphangers. Transit crime was up 36 percent in January, according to Bratton. Speaking on Hot 97 radio, Mayor de Blasio said there is no pattern to the random attacks and pointed to an overall downward trend in crime.

$148,500 is the new salary for City Council members, up from $112,500, and $10,185 higher than the $138,315 salary a commission tasked with reviewing the compensation levels of elected officials recommended, Gotham Gazette reports. (The salaries of the Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, Borough Presidents, and District Attorneys will all increase too)

21,401 open code violations at homeless shelters around the city at the end of 2015, an overdue report released by Mayor de Blasio shows.

6.4% increase in the number of jobs in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx from the end of 2013 through the middle of 2015, the Daily News reports.

$91 million will be invested to revitalize Far Rockaway, DNAinfo reports.

$2.5 billion is the estimated pricetag for a new streetcar that will run between Brooklyn and Queens along the East River, the Times reports.

89% of New Yorkers say corruption in the state government in Albany is a serious problem, according to the a Siena poll.

It was a good week for New York City’s elected officials, all of whom will receive at least a 12 percent salary increase after the City Council approves a package of legislation Friday that will enact the raises (although Mayor de Blasio will not accept a raise for the duration of his term).

It was a bad week for City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who has been widely criticized after he called the $36,000 raise he and other Council members are about to get a “big compromise,” and insisted that they “deserved” to make $175,000. Rodriguez was also the sponsor of the horse carriage bill, which fell apart this week and has also been the source of much controversy.

Around this time 103 years ago, on February 2, 1913, about 150,000 people visited Grand Central Terminal for its opening day. Now, about 750,000 people visit Grand Central every day for travel, dining or shopping.

Around this time 4 years ago, on February 2, 2012, 18-year-old Ramarley Graham was shot and killed by police officers in the bathroom of the apartment Graham lived in with his family. The officers followed Graham into his home from a bodega after they thought they saw Graham with a gun. No gun was found, and the officer who shot Graham had the manslaughter charges against him dropped. On the anniversary of Graham’s death, his parents delivered a letter to City Hall officials urging Mayor de Blasio to fire the NYPD officer who shot Graham.

Around this time 52 years ago, on February 3, 1964, 460,000 students refused to go to school in order to protest the segregation of New York City’s schools. Students gathered and chanted “Jim Crow must go!” in front of the Board of Education building, calling for immediate action to be taken to desegregate the schools.

Around this time 17 years ago, on February 4, 1999, West African immigrant Amadou Diallo was killed by police officers in the entrance of his Bronx apartment building after the officers mistakenly believed Diallo was the serial rapist they were searching for, and that he was reaching for a gun. Diallo, 23, had no gun and was in fact reaching for his wallet when four NYPD officers fired 41 shots, hitting him 19 times. His death sparked demonstrations against racial profiling and unfair treatment by the police. The four officers involved were eventually acquitted of all charges.


De Blasio Stresses Neighborhood Health in 'One City' Vision, by Ben Max

Planning Commission Sends Mayor's Zoning Proposals to City Council, by Maggie Calmes

Calls for Public Discussion of New Affordable Housing Incentive Program, by David Howard King

After Iowa: Debates & Voting Dates Until New York, by Ben Max

Muslim Immigrant Family of NYPD Captain to Lead Pledge of Allegiance at State of the City, by Samar Khurshid

Questions Remain as City Council Moves Ahead with Pay Raises, Reforms, by Meg O'Connor

Planning Commission Vote Will Send Zoning Proposals to City Council, Ben Max

As Council Begins Oversight, McCray Reports Progress in Mental Health Roadmap Implementation, by Meg O'Connor

What To Do When the L Train Closes, by Alex Armlovich (opinion)

As Federal Aid System Advances, Our Outdated Way Leaves New York Students Behind, by Sue Mead and Kevin Stump (opinion)

The City's Next Steps to Ensure Vibrant, Creative Communities, by Adam Forman (opinion)

A Good Deal for Horses, by Allie Feldman (opinion)

Reducing Organic Waste Without Increasing Costs, by Carol Kellermann (opinion)

To Eradicate Sex Trafficking, Prosecute the Pimps and Buyers, by Lauren Hersh (opinion)

Four Decades of Dedication: City Limits’ Story, by Jarrett Murphy ( City Limits)

Homeless Young Adults Can Fall through a Crack in Shelter System, by Genia Gould (City Limits)

40 Stories, 40 Years: City Limits and the History of Today's New York City, by Jarrett Murphy (City Limits)

Council Member Brad Lander spoke with Errol Louis on NY1 to explain raising Council members' salaries and to discuss the controversy surrounding it.

Dick Dadey, executive director of the government watchdog group Citizens Union, spoke with Brian Lehrer on WNYC about the package of legislation the City Council voted on Friday that will raise the salaries of all of New York City’s elected officials for the first time since 2006, as well as the controversy surrounding the larger-than-recommended salary increase for Council members and the timing of the vote.

Mayor de Blasio appeared on Hot 97 radio to talk about the presidential race, violence in the subway, the newly announced streetcar line that will run between Brooklyn and Queens, running for re-election, and legalizing marijuana.

Current and former New York Daily News columnists Harry Siegel and Bill Hammond joined Alexis Grenell and Nick Powell on the NYSlant podcast to discuss JCOPE’s controversial lobbying decision, and the equally controversial pay raise proposals from the City Council.

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

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

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

by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

The Week That Was in New York Politics, Feb. 1-5 Fri, 05 Feb 2016 20:37:57 +0000
De Blasio Stresses Neighborhood Health in 'One City' Vision BdB SOTC

Mayor de Blasio delivers his State of the City (Mayor's Office)

Strong neighborhoods are essential to a just city, Mayor Bill de Blasio argued from the Bronx Thursday evening, delivering his third State of the City address. De Blasio's speech was long on markers of progress and acknowledgement of the city's uniformed workforce, and included several new proposals ranging from the nitty gritty of city management to major innovations.

The theme of the speech, according to the mayor, was "one New York: working for our neighborhoods," and de Blasio made the case that the city is on the right track, while also outlining new ways in which his administration would improve conditions for New Yorkers, especially those living in long-forgotten places.

The banner items are plans for a streetcar along 16 miles of Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, the development of Governor's Island into a multidimensional attraction, and a new private sector employee retirement fund. These grander items came amid announcements about new efforts to scrub graffiti, prosecute gun dealers, and invest $91 million to revitalize Far Rockaway.

"So two years in, we are building one New York," de Blasio said after going through the highlights of his first two years in office: safer and smoother streets, lower crime, expanded worker benefits, a popular municipal identification card, universal pre-kindergarten and other education programs, and "the most ambitious affordable housing plan in the history of this nation" with strong initial progress.

"The changes we've made are working for our neighborhoods," he said, "and today, we are capturing the momentum of these first two years to push harder, to go farther."

As he often does, de Blasio fit nuts-and-bolts programs and so-called quality-of-life concerns into his overarching focus on creating equity in New York. He promised new health centers in underserved neighborhoods like the South Bronx, expanded WiFi access through sidewalk kiosks and broadband at public housing complexes, and more frequent cleaning of city streets.

The mayor got a thumbs up from business leaders. "Mayor de Blasio focused on investing in the city 's future, ranging from building new centers of innovation and economic activity to developing a novel transit connector between Brooklyn and Queens and creating a network of health centers serving the South Bronx," said Partnership for NYC President and CEO Kathy Wylde in a statement. "These are priorities that the business community shares – practical and achievable. They will contribute to the city's vitality and stimulate private investment."

Meanwhile, progressive lawmakers and advocates are excited about the retirement savings program, which the mayor will work on with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and others. City Council Member Ben Kallos, who helped develop the model for the program while working with liberal activist Bill Samuels at EffectiveNY, will introduce legislation so that "any New Yorker working at a business with ten or more employees to automatically enroll in a retirement plan."

Unfortunately for de Blasio, his State of the City address was sandwiched between the collapse of a deal he had orchestrated to reform the carriage horse industry and the shooting of two NYPD officers, who were shot during a patrol in a Bronx housing complex while de Blasio was speaking a few miles away. The mayor was quickly briefed after finishing his remarks and went to the hospital, where he and NYPD officials reported that both officers were in stable condition.

During his speech the mayor went to great lengths to praise the NYPD, as well as the other uniformed city workers: firefighters, correction officers, and sanitation workers.

This workforce is essential to a safe and clean city, de Blasio explained, adding that the successes in these areas made possible the city's vibrant economy and efforts to ensure that others would be able to share in the prosperity. Still, he promised continued efforts to bring police and community closer together.

"Now, if making New Yorkers safer is the first and foremost of our efforts to improve quality of life," the mayor said, "then helping New Yorkers get around our city swiftly and easily comes next." He then introduced measures to build the streetcar route - which is estimated to cost about $2.5 billion and be finished in 2024; allow people to pay for parking using a mobile app; and the expansion of bus arrival countdown clocks.

Canopied by talk of neighborhoods, de Blasio gave an almost block-by-block explanation of how he is leveraging the tools of city government to improve New Yorkers' lives. While the mayor's approval rating hovers around 50 percent, it is on a recent upswing, and notwithstanding a recent weekend trip to Iowa to campaign for Hillary Clinton, de Blasio appears to have gotten the message that New Yorkers want him focused on running the day-to-day operations of the city.

On Thursday, de Blasio said that his vision for a growing and fair city "means we need to manage government effectively for a safe, clean, economically strong city with an improving quality of life. And it means we must innovate for the future in all our neighborhoods, always pushing the envelope for new ways to keep New York the greatest global city of the 21st century."

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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De Blasio Stresses Neighborhood Health in 'One City' Vision Fri, 05 Feb 2016 06:16:46 +0000