Gotham Gazette Sat, 17 Nov 2018 21:32:18 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Can the De Blasio Administration Really Register 1.5 Million More Voters? Mayor de Blasio voting

Mayor de Blasio voting (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced a DemocracyNYC plan. One big goal: “to register 1.5 million New Yorkers to vote over the next four years.”
To make this work the mayor will create a new city leadership post: Chief Democracy Officer. How hard will it be for this new chief to meet the mayor’s goal?

Let’s do some rough math, based upon recent enrollment, census, and vital statistics data:

According to estimates in the most recent American Community Survey, there were 5,402,352 citizens of voting age in New York City in 2016 (plus or minus 22,325).

According to the state Board of Elections, in November of 2017 there were 5,053,842 registered voters in the city. That’s 93.5% of the eligible citizens.

Let’s make two initial assumptions to maximize the number of potential additional registrants among those of voting age now to make the CDO’s job more possible. First we’ll put aside reasons for disqualification other than age that would further reduce the number of those eligible but not registered (in prison or on parole for a felony, judged mentally incompetent by a court, voting elsewhere). Second, we’ll add that 22,325 to the estimate – that is, make the high side assumption of the number of age- eligible citizens while remaining within the statistical range of error.

That results in 370,835 citizens who are of voting age now and not registered.

Additionally, there are about 372,000 teenagers in New York City who will reach the age of 18 in the next four years. Of all people in the city over the age of 18, about four in five (80.5%) are citizens. The percentage of citizens among younger people, many born here of immigrant parents, is likely higher. They are not all citizens, but again let’s count more rather than fewer as likely to be eligible to register to vote: 9 in 10 of them. That would be 334,800.

That brings the available target total of potential new registrants to 705,635.

People from elsewhere in the country or living abroad (but not new immigrants) will move into and out of the city during the mayor’s second term. For now let’s just consider those moving in. Some will be children. Some won’t be citizens. A high side assumption from past experience of the number who can be registered: 200,000.

That brings us to 905,635 potential registrants.

Uh oh. We are 594,365 short.

Of course there are all those people who move within the city. They change their addresses. They need to re-register. Maybe the mayor meant to include them; he did not say the Chief Democracy Officer would have to find “new” registrants. So let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Again we have to watch out for kids, non-citizens, and those already included in our count as not registered. Estimating from federal statistics on people moving annually within and between counties for 2011-2015, it looks like 483,000 is a reasonable number.

Still not there: 1,388,022 (OK, though, we’re getting within shouting distance). To meet the mayor’s goal the Chief Democracy Officer must find about 112,000 more people eligible to register in the next four years, and register them all. Where?

But wait a minute, that’s just the additions. How about the subtractions?

The Empire Center and others have noted that New York City’s population continues to grow every year because immigrants from abroad outnumber the many already living here who are leaving. Less noticed, most of those leaving are voters or vote-eligible, while those who are arriving are non-citizens. A conservative estimate is that 189,000 actual or potential registrants will move out of the city over the next four years.

Finally, there’s mortality. About 212,000 New Yorkers will die during Mayor de Blasio’s second term, more than 95% of whom are voting age. Of course, some - probably a smaller portion than for the city population as a whole - will be non-citizens. A reasonable, conservative estimate is that death will reduce New York City’s potential electorate by 171,000.

One-hundred-eighty-nine thousand plus 171,000 equals 360,000. Departure and mortality will reduce the city’s potential electorate in the next four years by about 6.5%.

-Registering 1.5 million people to vote in New York City over the next four years is an impossible dream.

-Registering all of the age-eligible citizens now in the city won’t significantly expand the current electorate; it will keep it about the same size.

-The largest pool of potential registrants during Mayor de Blasio’s second term is comprised of people living in the city who are already registered, but changed their addresses.

-It would be truly extraordinary if the city’s voting roles grew by half-a-million registrants in the next four years.

The bottom line: If I were asked to be the new Chief Democracy Officer, the first thing I’d do is some serious counting. Then I’d call the mayor, to renegotiate the voter registration goal.

Gerald Benjamin is Director of The Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz.

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Can the De Blasio Administration Really Register 1.5 Million More Voters? Tue, 06 Mar 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing De Blasio's State of the City Address mxm logo

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

February 14, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing De Blasio's State of the City Address

johnmollenkopf 150x150

John Mollenkopf has been studying and writing about New York City politics and government for decades. Mollenkopf, who is a distinguished professor and director of urban research at the CUNY Graduate Center, joined the podcast to analyze Mayor Bill de Blasio's 2018 State of the City speech, and assess where de Blasio is in his quest to make New York "the fairest big city in America." While he calls de Blasio a friend and agrees with much of the mayor's approach, Mollenkopf gave clear-eyed assessments of de Blasio's speech and politics, while also helping to put de Blasio's tenure, speech, and policies in historical perspective.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing De Blasio's State of the City Address Wed, 14 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Promises Fairness, Democracy in State of the City Address De Blasio State of the City 2018

Mayor de Blasio delivers his 2018 State of the City (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his first State of the City speech of his second and final term at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn on Tuesday evening, mostly retreading old ground on policy while exploring new ways to improve the city’s “battered” democratic and electoral processes.

De Blasio, a Democrat, made few new policy announcements as he enumerated a 12-point “gameplan” to make the city fairer and safer while improving the lot of the most vulnerable New Yorkers. In resolute tones, the mayor reiterated a variety of major accomplishments and programs from his first term, promising to build on them as he counts down his remaining time leading the city. He did announce plans to call a charter revision commission to evaluate the city’s campaign finance and election systems, and plans to infuse more civics into city schools.

“Three years, ten months, and 15 days. That’s how long this administration has to ensure New York City becomes the fairest big city in America,” de Blasio said, using what is now a common refrain, though a relatively new one for the mayor.

“My mandate to my entire administration is this: Make every decision, whether about policy, or budget, or personnel, with this simple question in mind: Will this action help make us the fairest big city in America?” he said. While de Blasio has still not explained if New York lags behind other cities, large or small, or what policies from elsewhere the city should adopt, on Tuesday night he fleshed out a bit more of what fairness means to him.

As he often does, de Blasio spoke of the city’s unprecedented drop in crime and promised to expand neighborhood policing and the use of body cameras on police officers to make the city even safer while improving police-community relations. Following the success of universal pre-kindergarten, he said his administration is on an “aggressive path” to expand the program to all three-year-olds in the city, citing racial inequities built into the education system. He did not discuss integrating the city’s exceedingly segregated schools.

De Blasio did promise that in the weeks ahead he would address one specific goal of his Equity and Excellence education program -- getting all children reading at grade level by the third grade, when state standardized testing begins.

The mayor touted his ambitious affordable housing program as well, with its goal of preserving and creating 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026, and emphasized the city’s efforts to ensure that current residents are the ones who benefit from expanded affordability by receiving jobs that pay well. His administration has set out to create 100,000 jobs over ten years that pay at least $50,000 per year each.

The mayor doubled down on what he sees as the city’s role in being “the antidote to broken policies in Washington” on climate change by taking action at the local level including stronger efforts to reduce carbon emissions and transitioning to an all-electric city car fleet.

Although de Blasio sparingly mentioned President Donald Trump and made no direct reference to Governor Andrew Cuomo except to praise him for an early voting funding proposal in the governor’s budget plan, he issued clear warnings about the “big fights ahead in Albany and Washington,” including for education and infrastructure funding, and made several calls on New Yorkers to pressure state leaders for policies like bail and voting reforms.

De Blasio vowed to push the state to provide full education aid to the city under the state Supreme Court’s Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision, and again advocated for a millionaire’s tax to fund the city’s subways and provide half-priced MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers. He made reference to congestion pricing, which he has repeatedly opposed as a “regressive tax” over the last year, but recently warmed to when the governor’s panel made its recommendations. “I believe in progressive taxation,” de Blasio said Tuesday. “That will always be my first goal when it comes to finding revenue. But I will sit down with leaders in Albany, any time, anywhere, to find solutions to the subway crisis.”

The mayor said his “one condition” on congestion pricing is that “the money raised in New York City stays in New York City,” and reiterated his calls for a “lockbox” provision in any new law that installs new fees for traveling into a Manhattan congestion zone.

He called for bail reform and speedy trial reform to pass in Albany, which are crucial to his administration’s goal of reducing the city’s jail population to about 5,000 and closing the Rikers Island jail complex. Later, he emphasized the need for election and voting reforms such as easier absentee voting and same-day voter registration, which would have to be approved by the state legislature.

Though the mayor has little influence in Washington, D.C and on the larger national stage, he nonetheless pledged to fight for the 30,000 New Yorkers and 700,000 Americans who are Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came or were brought to the country as young people, have lived here for years, and currently face the threat of deportation under Trump.

In a reference to the recently passed federal tax code overhaul, de Blasio also added, “One day, one day soon, after an election or two, we will fight to rescind the Trump giveaways to the wealthy and big corporations.” The mayor’s somewhat cryptic reference to future elections won’t do anything to convince people of his repeated attempts to dispel the notion that he might explore a run for the presidency in 2020.

The mayor also said he would expand ThriveNYC, First Lady Chirlane McCray’s signature mental health program, promising mental health care access to all, and would redouble efforts to combat the opioid epidemic that has touched parts of the city by “increasing prevention, enforcement, and treatment.”

Although de Blasio did not mention the most recent scandals over lead paint and heating failures that have engulfed the city’s already ailing public housing system, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), he touted his administration’s focus on NYCHA and promised to invest further in the system. “Our public housing residents are a priority for me and this administration, and the City Council as well,” he said in forceful defense, during the twelfth of his 12 initial points.

Among a few other specifics, the mayor also promised to ensure gender pay equity through the Commission on Gender Equity and the Commission on Human Rights.

The novel elements of the mayor’s speech came near the end, as he delved into a ten-point “DemocracyNYC” agenda to "shake the foundation of the broken status quo right here in our state and our own city.”

Taking direct aim at the state’s “exclusionary” electoral system and the consistently low voter turnout in the city, de Blasio proposed a plan to reduce the effects of money in politics and to better engage city voters. “We must re-democratize a society that is losing its way,” he said.

De Blasio said he will call a Charter Revision Commission to create a plan for expanding public financing of city elections and reducing donor contribution limits to candidates. Typically, the City Council has legislated reforms to the city’s campaign finance system, which includes generous public matching, already incentivizes small-dollar donations, and is considered a national model. A charter commission would propose ballot referenda for New Yorkers to vote on, and the mayor plans to have them done in time for this year’s election in November, he said.

The commission will also be tasked with finding ways that the city government can disseminate information and conduct outreach for elections, which is currently the purview of the Board of Elections, a quasi-state agency that has long been criticized for its dysfunction. Noting that the BOE has resisted an offer of $20 million from the city for reforms, de Blasio repeated a few of those critiques, including the BOE’s failure to inform voters of poll site changes and lack of translation services for the city’s massive immigrant population. “And in the digital age, the best our Board of Elections will do to encourage you to vote is send you a postcard,” he derisively joked (though he later asked those in the audience to fill out a postcard pledging civic action).

Warning of the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, de Blasio also set aside $500,000 to bolster the BOE’s cybersecurity efforts.

In coming weeks, the mayor said he would appoint a Chief Democracy Officer charged with registering 1.5 million voters over four years, particularly by targeting 17-year-olds in high schools and voting-eligible students in the city’s colleges. He also announced a Civics for All education initiative for city schools that will include “rapid response lesson plans” to help students process current events, and, taking a cue from the New York City Council, announced a “participatory budgeting” component in which high schools will receive $2,000 that students can decide how to use. De Blasio also announced an online portal to inform New Yorkers about elections to local office.

The mayor also spoke of new lobbying disclosure requirements for city agency heads and officials that report directly to him, which will take effect March 1. De Blasio touted the measure as a transparency advancement, though the pledge, along with his campaign finance reform plans, also serve as reminders that the mayor has hid correspondence with outside advisors he dubbed “agents of the city,” gave extraordinary access to his campaign donors, and created a political nonprofit that accepted millions of dollars in contributions from entities with city business.

democracynyc postcardFinally, the mayor announced a massive outreach campaign to ensure all New Yorkers are counted in the 2020 Census. “Getting accurately counted can make all the difference for the size of our congressional delegation and the amount of the funding we get from Washington,” he said. “It’s about getting our fair share.”

De Blasio ended on a note of hope, holding up the postcard for his DemocracyNYC initiative, one of which was handed out to each attendee. The card included a checklist for how New Yorkers can choose to engage with city government and make their voice heard more broadly.

“We are poised at the beginning of a new age with a new and bolder chapter to be written,” he said, gesturing to the audience, “and its author will be you.”

by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

De Blasio Promises Fairness, Democracy in State of the City Address Tue, 13 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 12 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio will give his 2018 State of the City address this week, on Tuesday evening. The first of his second term, de Blasio is expected to talk more about his newly branded quest to make New York City “the fairest big city in America.”

Budget hearings continue in Albany this week, and the Legislature will also hold session days to introduce and pass legislation on Monday and Tuesday, before taking its usual mid-February break. The Legislature will be back in session in Albany on February 27 and 28. Then, things will get busier as March is home to many more session days leading into the April 1 start of the new fiscal year, by which time state leaders are supposed to have a new budget worked out.

There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding that budget as Governor Andrew Cuomo continues to consider what exactly to propose in terms of overhauling the state tax system in response to the new federal tax code, which has especially significant ramifications for New York, and in terms of a congestion pricing plan for New York City. There are also top line items such as exactly how to close the state budget deficit (among other measures, Cuomo is proposing several cost-shifts and funding cuts to New York City, as well as several new taxes and fees), the structure of MTA funding responsibility, and more.

Speaking of MTA funding, Riders Alliance transit activists are leading a rally and lobby day in Albany Monday to push Governor Cuomo and legislators to pass a congestion pricing plan and fund the MTA. Several lawmakers will participate in the rally -- see below for details, and read: Transit Advocates to Storm Albany for MTA Action.

Meanwhile, in the city, the new City Council continues to hold its first committee hearings of the new term, where new chairs and members begin to hold city agencies accountable, consider legislation, and discuss important issues facing the city. There are also two full City Council “Stated Meetings” scheduled for this week, at which the Council votes on bill that have passed through committee and new bills are introduced. See details below.

And this week leads into “Caucus Weekend” in Albany, where the Black, Latino, Asian and Puerto Rican Caucus of the state Legislature hosts events and meetings, among others that will occur in the capital.

There are a variety of events to be aware of this week - see our day-by-day rundown below.

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

The run of the week in detail:

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on For-Hire Vehicles will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “TLC enforcement practices.”
--The Committee on Standards and Ethics will meet at 10:30 a.m. for a rule 10.80 hearing regarding Council Member Andy King.

At the State Legislature on Monday:
--The Senate Standing Committee on Local Government will meet at 9 a.m. in Albany to “listen to local governments, local elected officials, and local government advocacy organizations regarding shared services and discuss how Albany can better partner with localities.”
--There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal as it relates to health and Medicaid at 10 a.m.
--The Assembly Standing Committee on Real Property Taxation will meet at 11:30 a.m. in Albany for a budget implementation hearing.

The State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

On Monday, Riders Alliance, transit advocates, and elected officials will hold a rally at 12:30 p.m. and lobby day in Albany “to demand sufficient revenue to modernize subway signals and replace cars to the State budget.” Participants will include “Assembly Corporations Committee Chair Amy Paulin, Assembly Members Carmen Arroyo, Robert Carroll, Carmen De La Rosa, Michael DenDekker, Jeffrey Dinowitz, Catherine Nolan, Luis Sepulveda, and Jo Anne Simon, and Senators Leroy Comrie, Martin Malave Dilan, Michael Gianaris, other members of the Senate and Assembly, grassroots members of the Riders Alliance.” [Read: Transit Advocates to Storm Albany for MTA Action]

The New York State Board of Regents will hold its monthly board meeting on Monday and Tuesday in Albany.

At 8 a.m. Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the New York Urban League Champions of Diversity (COD) Awards Breakfast. At 11:15 a.m., Stringer will host a press conference at 111 West 115th Street in Manhattan. At 1 p.m., James wll deliver remarks at the Police Athletic League Business Luncheon Honoring Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

On Monday at 9 a.m. at City Hall, “NYC taxi drivers and taxi-base owners will hold vigil at City Hall to raise awareness about TLC’s excessive fines and abusive enforcement, and in memory of recent taxi driver deaths.” “Leaders will call for action to stop the industry-wide crisis.”

At 10 a.m. Monday, Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner David Hansell will announce the expansion of ACS’ Medical Consultation Program at the Nicholas Scoppetta Children’s Center in Kips Bay.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will outline the Women's Agenda at Mohawk Valley Council on Women and Girls Meeting in Utica. At 12:15 p.m., Hochul will discuss the FY 2019 Budget at the NYCOM Winter Legislative Meeting in Albany. At 1:15 p.m., Hochul will tour expansion plans of REDC-funded fresh produce nonprofit Capital Roots in Troy. And at 2 p.m., Hochul will tour REDC-funded Troy coworking space, Troy Innovation Garage.

At 12:30 p.m. Monday in Albany, there will be a “press conference to call on Governor Cuomo to pass progressive tax policies, invest resources to fund Assembly Member Hevesi’s proposed Home Stability Support plan and expand access to the HIV enhanced shelter allowance.” Participants who will gather at the Capitol include “members of the Albany Can End Homelessness in New York State campaign; members of the State legislature—including Assembly Members Andrew Hevesi, Michael Blake, Kimberly Jean-Pierre and others; faith leaders; and homeless New Yorkers in need of housing assistance. A crowd of about 30 will gather for this news event.”

On Monday at 3:30 p.m. in the Bronx, National Action Network is organizing a “rally at Middle School 224...where teacher was told she could not teach black history.” Participants will include “Rev. Kevin McCall, Crisis Director, National Action Network; Minister Kirsten John Foy, NE Regional Director of National Action Network; Mercedes Liriano Clarke, Teacher who was told she could not teach Black History at MS 224; National Action Network Youth Huddle; Parents and students at MS 224.

At 6 p.m. Monday, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler will hold a congressional town hall meeting at the Rosenthal Pavilion at NYU’s Kimmel Center.

On Monday evening, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will be among those to attend the Department of Education “Public Hearing on Health Careers and Science High School, George Washington Educational Campus.”

Mayor de Blasio will make his weekly Monday evening appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall with host Errol Louis during the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

At the City Council on Tuesday
--The Committee on Youth Services will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to runaway and homeless youth services.
--The Committee on General Welfare will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing “examining efforts to reduce hunger in New York City.”
--City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will deliver remarks at the beginning of both hearings.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday on the steps of City Hall, "NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, New York City Department of Transportation, elected officials, Car Free Day Partners, and environmental advocates will hold a press conference to officially announce the third annual Car Free Day NYC. Council Member Rodriguez will share more details about plans for Car Free Day this year."

At the State Legislature on Tuesday: There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal at it relates to mental hygiene at 9:30 a.m.

The State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

"The New York State Senate Majority will be holding a press conference tomorrow, February 13, 2018, at 10 a.m. in Room 124 of the Capitol in Albany to unveil a 2018 “Jobs and Opportunity” Agenda that would provide significant tax cuts for businesses, cut red tape, reduce regulatory burdens, invest in workforce development, and strengthen New York’s economic development programs. Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan will be joined by his colleagues in outlining the second part of the Senate’s “Blueprint for a Stronger New York,” an action plan that will guide the conference during upcoming budget negotiations."

"New York State Senator Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau) will be joined by survivors of sexual assault, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), and other legislative colleagues from both sides of the aisle for a press conference on Tuesday, February 13, 2018, at 11:30 a.m. in Room 124 of the Capitol in Albany. The event will focus on three measures currently before the houses that advance state protections and rights of sexual assault survivors: S.6428A / A.8401A- which establishes a Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights and requires unreported sexual assault evidence kits be maintained for 20 years in a secure, centralized location; S.6947A – which establishes a Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Telemedicine Pilot Program; and S.6964A – which ensures sexual assault forensic exams performed by hospitals are free of charge to the sexual assault survivor. Legislators will be joined by survivors and advocates from Rise, the Joyful Heart Foundation, and local SAFE providers."

At 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Capitol in Albany, "Senate Democrats To Announce Legislation To Reform New York’s Criminal Justice System."

"The New York State Legislature will begin the bi-partisan interview process of the New York State Board of Regents on Tuesday, February 13, 2018, at 1:30 p.m. in the Assembly Parlor, 3rd Floor Capitol, Albany."

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Corrections will meet at 9 a.m. at 125 Worth Street. [This meeting has been cancelled in light of a serious attack on a corrections officer.]

On Tuesday morning, Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the New York Immigration Coalition Annual City Legislative Breakfast, at Tribeca Grill.

At 5:45 p,m., James will deliver remarks at the New York National Association of Securities Professionals Foundation 20th Annual Wall Street Hall of Fame Gala, at UFT headquarters.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Elections will hold a commissioners’ meeting.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, "Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman will announce the takedown of a major Hudson Valley organized crime ring," at 44 South Broadway, White Plains.

At 4 p.m. Tuesday, Black Lives Matter activists will rally in front of the Department of Education to deliver a list of demands to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, which include ending zero tolerance programs, ending “black teacher pushout,” and a mandatory K-12 black history curriculum.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, TransitCenter will host “A Bid for Better Transit,” discussing the potential benefits of competitive private contracts for operating transit systems, at One Whitehall Street in Manhattan.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will deliver his 2018 State of the City Address at the Kings Theatre in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

The full City Council is scheduled to hold a Stated Meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall. Council Speaker Corey Johnson is expected to host a press conference beforehand.

Also at the City Council on Wednesday: the Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Alphonso David, Counsel to Governor Cuomo, will join Crain’s New York Business at its “Business Breakfast Forum” at the New York Athletic Club. David will discuss “the Cuomo administration budget, legislative and regulatory priorities for 2018.”

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the Center for New York City Affairs will host “Monitoring the Minimum Wage” at the New School’s Theresa Lang Student Center, featuring local business and community leaders discussing the impacts of of the minimum wage increase and steps for stakeholders to take in adjusting. Civic Hall founder and CEO Andrew Rasiej will moderate a panel consisting of Adria Powell, President of Cooperative Home Care Associates, and Katy Gaul-Stigge, President and CEO of Goodwill Industries NYNJ.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at Spector Hall.

At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation, the Assembly Legislative Commission on Toxic Substances and Hazardous Wastes, and the Assembly Long Island Task Force will meet jointly at the William H. Rogers Building in Smithtown, Suffolk County for a public hearing to discuss the “impacts of the proposed federal offshore drilling authorization on New York.”

At noon Wednesday, Riders Alliance will hold a rally on the City Hall Steps calling on Mayor de Blasio to be the “bus mayor,” and to “make buses run faster on our streets for 2.5 million riders.”

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a public board meeting.

The full City Council is scheduled to also hold a Stated Meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday at City Hall. Council Speaker Corey Johnson may also host a press conference beforehand.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the state Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction will meet at Pace University’s Pleasantville campus for a public hearing to “gather information and testimony regarding sober homes and existing regulations, or lack thereof.”

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Empire State Indivisible will host its monthly “What’s Happening in Albany” panel at the Fourth Universalist Society on the Upper West Side. This installment will focus on voting reform, with a panel consisting of Ari Berman, Mother Jones’ voting rights reporter, Susan Lerner of Common Cause/NY, Naila Awan of Demos, and State Senator Brian Benjamin.

Friday and the weekend
At 9 p.m. Friday, City & State and the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators will host a Caucus Weekend kickoff reception at the Albany Marriott.

Mayor de Blasio is expected to make his weekly appearance on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m. Friday.

At 8 a.m. Saturday, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will host the 47th Annual NYS Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators Conference at the Albany Capital Center. Honorees include Association chair Latrice Walker, Assembly sergeant-at-arms Wayne Jackson, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, 1199SEIU Secretary Treasurer Maria Castaneda, and Syracuse NAACP president Linda Brown Robinson.

Monday February 19 is Presidents’ Day, a federal holiday. Our next Week Ahead will be published that night (instead of on Sunday night).

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

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 12 Sun, 11 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
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, Senior 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, Senior 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, Senior 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

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Key to Vision of Closing Rikers, City Council Bail Fund Moves Through State Process Thu, 03 Mar 2016 21:28:32 +0000