Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/690 Sat, 21 Oct 2017 01:08:34 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Is Mayor De Blasio Putting Students First? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6146:is-mayor-de-blasio-putting-students-first http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6146:is-mayor-de-blasio-putting-students-first de blasio education

Mayor de Blasio (photo via The Mayor's Office)


Mayor de Blasio's annual State of the City address is a natural time to take a step back and review his performance running the largest school system in the United States. For StudentsFirstNY, our most basic litmus test for policymakers is a simple question – are they putting the interests of students first? After two full years with Mayor de Blasio, we can definitively say that the answer is "no."

In analyzing Mayor de Blasio's stewardship of city schools, there are several themes that emerge. First, there is a distinct lack of urgency in delivering results for students. Second, his policies are not based on research. He has ignored evidence that programs like small schools and expanded choice work. Third, he has not shown results on failing schools. And finally, the mayor has ignored teacher quality.

Throughout the course of his time in office, this mayor has not shown much fondness for the details of his job. He seems more comfortable pondering the course of progressive philosophy or knocking on doors in Iowa, for example, than he does in setting specific timelines and metrics for results. Take his much-hyped program to have every child read by third grade. The goal is noble, but he doesn't promise results that can be measured until 2026 – long after he is gone from office. What good does that do for kids who will be trying to learn to read this year, or next year, or for years after that?

A strong education leader understands that setting realistic short-term targets is essential to tracking results and ensuring progress towards a greater goal. Without real, deliverable metrics, these programs are little more than press releases with empty promises that may never come to fruition.

Another hallmark of Mayor de Blasio's time in office has been a fundamental rejection of data and research-based decision-making. Under Mayor Bloomberg, the school system was improving – but Mayor de Blasio has rejected the use of evidence as a personal rebuke of his predecessor. In its place is a menu of nice sounding initiatives that have never been shown to actually improve educational outcomes for kids.

Time and time again, Mayor de Blasio has opted to make education decisions based on politics, even when it means rejecting policies that have a proven track record of success. Take small schools as an example. Countless studies have shown that small schools work, but the de Blasio administration has rejected them for political reasons.

The same is true with charter schools. Even though New York City has the longest waiting list in the country, with tens of thousands of parents hoping to get spots for their kids in charter schools, the mayor has fought tooth-and-nail against them. Why? It's not about serving kids; the mayor's political allies in the teachers union want to stifle their competition.

These politically-motivated decisions threaten to trap another generation of students in failing schools, with no hope of a turnaround. The "Renewal" model was supposed to be Mayor de Blasio's signature program, but so far it has accomplished little for kids in the city's lowest performing schools. Some Renewal schools hit their target goals before the program had even started – a sure sign of artificially low expectations. And despite the claims of progress, objective student achievement measures show that these schools continue to perform poorly.

Finally, Mayor de Blasio has not lifted a finger to improve teacher quality. He missed a golden opportunity to improve teacher quality with fundamental reforms during the 2014 teacher contract negotiations. Instead of reform, de Blasio caved to the UFT on every key issue – everything from merit pay for great teachers to eliminating the unwanted teachers from the ATR pool. The mayor likes to call this "collaboration," but in reality, the UFT gets what it wants at the expense of kids. So students are stuck with ineffective teachers and the teachers that no principal wants are forced back into the classroom.

At the end of the day, we need to know that students are learning and have access to the highest quality schools possible. Halfway through Mayor de Blasio's term, it's not enough to talk a good game. It's time to deliver results.

***
Jenny Sedlis is the Executive Director of StudentsFirstNY. On Twitter @JennySedlis & @StudentsFirstNY.

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

]]>
Is Mayor De Blasio Putting Students First? Thu, 04 Feb 2016 17:04:12 +0000
Klein's 'Newspaper' Touts His Ability to Bring Home the Bacon http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5926:kleins-newspaper-touts-his-ability-to-bring-home-the-bacon http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5926:kleins-newspaper-touts-his-ability-to-bring-home-the-bacon klein riverdale record

Sen. Klein's "newspaper"


The latest edition of the "newspaper" being published by state Senator Jeff Klein features frontpage news celebrating his ability to bring cash home to his Bronx district.

"UFT, educators herald Klein's $1.5M support for community schools," reads one frontpage headline.

Another: "Community applauds Klein for securing $250K for Hudson River Greenway study."

The timing is interesting given that the latest edition of "Riverdale Record" - circulation 37,000 - hit mailboxes just as Klein and the large sums of funding he secured have come under scrutiny by the press and good government groups.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo once railed against member items and pushed to abolish them but this year they returned with a vengeance, given Cuomo's approval, and Klein, an ally to both Cuomo and Senate Republicans, appears to be the biggest beneficiary by far.

The leader of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, Klein has been in a unique bargaining position over the last several years. Klein has brought home over $11.7 million in earmarks from the State and Municipal Projects Fund over the last three years, more than three times that of any other Senator, Politico New York reported on Monday. That funding is allocated through the Dormitory Authority to projects like building basketball courts, improving parks, and installing security systems in public places.

The funding Klein touts on his new front page do not appear to be from that allotment of cash, nevertheless it fuels Bronx-based critics who say Klein has been leveraging his largesse to combat or silence local media outlets. Those critics say Klein's "newspaper" is just another weapon that allows him to avoid scrutiny and damage the legitimate Bronx press.

klein paper

Klein's Democratic critics say his take home in pork projects is a reward from Senate Republicans for helping them keep their thin majority instead of enabling Democrats to seize the chamber.

Good government groups say the current member item system is ripe for corruption and political abuse. "It is stunning that the process of handing out legislative pork was restarted during the most disastrous session in history after the two most powerful Senators and the most powerful Assemblyman were toppled by corruption inquiries," said John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, referring to Tom Libous, Dean Skelos, and Sheldon Silver. "To restart the process now shows utter obtuseness to the corruption that is going on."

Klein broke from Senate Democrats in 2011 after Republicans won the majority, creating the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). Klein said the move was motivated by dysfunction in the mainstream Democratic caucus, but Democrats and advocates have since accused Klein of creating the party simply to increase his power and ability to bargain with Senate Republicans.

Klein did in fact partner with Senate Republicans to give them a majority in 2012 when Democrats won a numerical majority. The IDC has enjoyed increased staff funding and more legislative input. Even after Republicans won an outright majority, they have continued to try to keep Klein happy as an insurance policy against future Democratic victories.

Now critics have even more ammunition against Klein's motives as the cold hard numbers are available. To put Klein's State and Municipal Projects Fund awards in perspective you just have to look at what the most senior members of the Senate Republicans were awarded. Former Majority Leader Dean Skelos won $3.6 million, Sen. George Martins, $3.5 million, and former Sen. Tom Libous, nearly $3 million.

A spokesperson for Klein defended the member items to Politico New York, saying it "funds important government projects throughout New York State."

Many legislators argue member items are important because they allow politicians to deliver for the most worthy causes in their districts. The Bronx has traditionally been underserved by state government, but Klein is not the only representative of the area and according to the list of member items released by Senate Republicans, only Republicans and members of the IDC were able to deliver this type of funding for their districts.

Good government groups note that the process has been abused many times and has led to embezzlement and corruption. Some groups call for depoliticizing the process by giving members discretionary funding based on the population of their districts.

Kaehny, of Reinvent Albany, said he believes if the state insists on giving out member items it should follow the model created by the New York City Council under Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

In 2014, the Council overhauled its member item process after a number of members were caught directing funds to projects that benefited them or their friends and family. The old process was also routinely criticized because it allowed the council speaker to punish and reward Council members. Now members bring home nearly equal funding to their districts, with some variance based on poverty levels.

[Related: In Battle with Local Bronx Media, Klein Starts Own 'Newspaper']

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

]]>
Klein's 'Newspaper' Touts His Ability to Bring Home the Bacon Wed, 07 Oct 2015 23:32:21 +0000
How To Become a New York City Council Member http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5862:how-to-become-a-new-york-city-council-member http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5862:how-to-become-a-new-york-city-council-member bdb cms muni id alatriste

Mayor de Blasio, a former Council member, with several current CMs (William Alatriste)


Ask any New York City Council member and they'll tell you— there is no set formula that will send an aspiring candidate to City Hall.

"If you want to be a lawyer, the path is the same: get a bachelor's degree, take the LSATs, go to law school, take the bar exam, and voila, you're a lawyer," Ritchie Torres, the 51-member Council's youngest rep, told Gotham Gazette. "Whereas in politics, there is no single path."

Torres' ascent to deputy leader in the Council— he is an openly gay, Afro-Latino, college drop-out who grew up in public housing in the Bronx— is perhaps most emblematic of this truth, reflected in the broad expanse of backgrounds present in today's class of Council members.

The sole member of the Council with a doctorate of medicine, Mathieu Eugene, has another unique story. "I grew up in a country of many challenges. If somebody told my mother when I was a child, 'your son will be an elected official in New York,' she would've said, 'you're crazy,'" said the Haitian-born Eugene, of Brooklyn.

But while it's true that there's not a single path to becoming a member of the New York City Council, it is also true - as indicated by data and Council members' own admissions - that some paths are more commonly travelled than others.

Gotham Gazette found that nearly 40 percent of current Council members have served on the staff of a Council member or state Assembly member, with 60 percent of that group serving as chief of staff; and nearly 30 percent of Council members served on a community board.

Several Council members have come to the body directly from the state Assembly, the path being taken by soon-to-be Council Member Joseph Borrelli, of Staten Island. Borrelli is running unopposed in a special election to replace former Council Member Vincent Ignizio, who resigned recently to take a non-profit leadership job.

Meanwhile, last Thursday's primary day saw Barry Grodenchik emerge from a crowded Democratic field in a race to fill a vacant Queens Council post. Grodenchik, a former Assembly member and current aide to the Queens Borough President, still has to defeat a general election opponent, but is favored to do so.

Asked about his government experience preparing him for the Council, Grodenchik emailed Gotham Gazette to say that elected officials deal with many challenges in office, one being "the level of bureaucracy you sometimes face in navigating government on behalf of constituents." He believes that "experience doing so matters - and I believe my experience in the Assembly, as well as at [Queens] Borough Hall will help me be a better Councilman if elected."

Grodenchik continued to say that throughout his "career in public service" he's "gained insight on how to get things done in government." His experience likely appeals to voters, especially the small number willing to vote on a Thursday in an "off-year." It is also what led him to garner the support of the Queens County Democratic "establishment," which helped him get elected - establishment support is often a key to electoral victory in City Council races.

While many Council members come from other parts of government, including elected bodies like the Assembly, their predecessors' staffs, and local community boards, others come from community organizing and labor. Some enter the Council from the private sector, but usually have community ties to speak of.

Gotham Gazette spoke with current Council members about their journeys to City Hall and how the demographics of the Council are changing.

Chief of Staff
Many Council members who served in the role of chief of staff look back on the job as a pivotal position that gave them the tools to be an effective Council member.

"I think that anyone considering running for office should have some experience in government because I think it's important for people to know about the job that they are seeking," Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos said. Kallos served as chief of staff to former Assembly Member Jonathan Bing. "I can say that being a chief of staff, I was able to learn about the most important part of the job, which is constituent services and helping individuals with their cases."

Kallos also said he was able to learn about "how the legislative process works, how to get things done in a collegial environment...and ultimately as a chief of staff you get to learn a lot about the different jobs and what is necessary to run a well-functioning office."

Queens Council Member Costa Constantinides told Gotham Gazette his experience working as deputy chief of staff to former Council Member James Gennaro provided him with a strong skillset on which to run.

"When I made the choice to run for City Council I had a foundation in policies and I felt that was really important," Constantinides said. "I talked about, 'I have a record of getting bills passed, I have a record of knowing how this institution works, I have a record of taking on real fights already.'"

Council Member Torres, a former constituent liaison for now colleague Council Member Jimmy Vacca, said the role of chief of staff is particularly crucial: it allows for "far more access to the political establishment" than employees in a Council member's district office have.

"Yes, one path to elected office could be employment in the office of an elected official, but within that category there are huge differences between chief of staff and the role of a constituent organizer," Torres said. "The center of political action tends to be in City Hall and if you're in the district office, you're disconnected from the political dynamics."

Underlining the importance of working for an elected official: when asked what advice they would give a college student aspiring to serve as a Council member, each current member interviewed by Gotham Gazette suggested interning for a Council member or working on a campaign for City Council.

Community Boards & Name recognition
For many interested in helping their community, joining a community board is a natural first step, and one that may develop into the desire to run for City Council. For some, the perception exists that community boards may be used a springboard or requisite stop along the road for aspiring elected officials.

"Absolutely, community boards are supposed to be a voice for the community and naturally those that are providing that voice will be interested [in becoming a Council member], but often times— and one of the things I'm trying to discourage— is a place where it becomes a solely-owned subsidiary of the political establishment where it just ends up being full of people running for office," said Kallos, who served on Community Board 8. "So there needs to be a delicate balance."

To that end, Kallos is pushing community board reform legislation, including term limits.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a former Council member and community board member now in charge of appointing community board members, sees the boards practically, as a place where aspiring Council members can learn about the issues facing their community. If successful and effective as a board member, Brewer says, individuals can make a name for themselves and help their communities.

Brewer disagrees with Kallos' assertion that community boards are overly politicized (a fact they both amiably alluded to in interviews— Brewer is opposed to Kallos' term limits bill), noting that her office interviewed over 700 community board candidates this year alone.

"If you are going to be on the community board, you're going to take it seriously. So I think we are beyond the politicization, what's happened in the past is in the past," Brewer said, referring to more stringent reforms in the application and appointment processes now in place. "So I think people who think they're going to get on [the board] just so they can run for office— I mean it could happen, if you do a really good job on the community board then you should run, in my opinion, because you know the issues."

Brewer says it is good that for aspiring elected officials community boards can be a training ground and necessary step.

"I think unless you have some extraordinary circumstance in terms of name recognition, which I did not, and most people don't, then if you're a college student and you want to be a lawyer and then come back and run for office, you really do need to get on the community board, make a difference somehow," Brewer said, citing Helen Rosenthal and Corey Johnson as examples of current Council members who showed promise as leaders on their community boards. Rosenthal was elected in 2013 to replace Brewer on the Council.

"I have found it now that I'm on the Council really helpful that I was on the community board for so long," Rosenthal told Gotham Gazette. "I was on it for 15 years, so when issues come up I have a long history on them...So now as a Council member, when these same types of issues come up, I have a good toolbox to draw from."

Name recognition often rules the day when it comes to elections, and for local races, that neighborhood notoriety can be essential. Name recognition can also come in other ways.

"Look, you have the pure insider and the pure outsider," Torres said. "I'm neither purely an insider or purely an outsider, I think most of us fall in a spectrum in between, but I think what was unique about my candidacy was that no one had ever heard of me before. I think most Council members have much more name recognition with the political establishment than I did when I ran for public office."

In speaking of the importance of name recognition, Manhattan BP Brewer referenced the Weprins, of Queens— Assembly Member David Weprin and his brother, former Council Member Mark Weprin. The Weprin brothers have each held both the Assembly and Council seats that they were holding until Mark resigned this spring to work for Governor Cuomo; their father Saul was the Speaker of the Assembly.

Then there is the Rivera family— Assembly Member Jose Rivera and former Council Member Joel Rivera— for over 20 years Joel held the seat Torres now occupies.

Before joining Congress, U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke succeeded her mother Una Clarke in the City Council. Current Council Member Inez Barron and her husband, Assembly Member Charles Barron, completed an easy seat swap recently when he was term-limited out of the Council.

But according to political consultant and executive director of the New York State Democratic Party Basil Smikle, candidates with private sector backgrounds who toe the edge of what Torres referred to as the "outsider" side of the spectrum still can be appealing to voters.

"Voters tend to respond to candidates who can convey both an understanding for the issues as well as a passion to actually want to impact them. So you can be active in your community and not convey to a voter that you want the job. You can work in the private sector and be able to speak of a vision with a fervor that come across to the voter," Smikle said.

"I think ultimately no matter what path you take," Smikle continued, "having that so-called 'fire in the belly' always is important no matter where you come from and no matter what your trajectory. Having said that, I think even if you come from the private sector you still need to have a sense of what is going on with the voters in your neighborhood. You have to know that. A voter needs to know you can take whatever it is in your background up until this point and apply it to their situation."

Labor unions
"Unions are the other place people come out of," Brewer said. "It's where Melissa [Mark-Viverito, the current Speaker] came out of, where [Council Member] Annabel Palma came out of...You have to have some unions with you to win."

Council Member Daniel Dromm was a delegate and chapter chair for the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) before he became a Council member and enjoyed the union's support once he decided to run. Dromm told Gotham Gazette that the UFT had thrown him an early endorsement in 2008 a few months before term limits were extended, enabling the Council member he was running against to seek a third term.

"So the UFT had to make a decision again the following June what to do because the incumbent who was also very supportive of the union decided she was going to run, and what they decided to do was do a dual endorsement," Dromm said. "But at that point I had gotten what I had needed out of the endorsement from the UFT, so it was very helpful to me in that sense and gave my candidacy a lot of legitimacy."

It is well-known that in Democrat-heavy New York City, unions can make a difference both in building legitimacy and name-recognition, but also in helping get out the vote come primary day. New York City Council elections often see crowded Democratic primaries, as was the case when Rosenthal was elected in 2013 and the primary that Grodenchik just won in Queens.

Smikle told Gotham Gazette that earning the support of unions is important both operationally and symbolically.

"You're still looking to represent districts that chances are have labor union representation among your constituents. If you're living in an area that has a large number of TWU workers, [for example], that union endorsement is very important. If other unions come on board, it looks like you are a friend to the working people, to laborers, and you get the symbolism that's attached to that as well because you're not just a friend to organized labor, you're a friend to people's aspirations. That is extraordinarily important," Smikle said.

The shift in demographics
The power unions hold to get candidates elected underlines the importance of having contacts in politics.

"If you're a poor kid from the Bronx without a college education and no position in politics, for all intents and purposes you have no means of fundraising," Torres said. "You have no social capital, no economic capital, no rolodex you can tap into for fundraising purposes. So you either need to have some position— even if you're at the margins of the political establishment, you need some position in politics— or you need to be part of the professional class."

Brewer, however, said that being a part of the professional class may actually put candidates at a disadvantage compared to people involved in community organizing or activism.

"If you work on Wall Street and then decide to come back and run, then you'll be able to raise money but you won't know the people...In Manhattan you can always raise more money whether you're on a community board, work for an elected official, or not," Brewer said.

The public campaign financing system in New York City, which provides public matching funds for small donations, "gives you the opportunity," Brewer said, "to raise a little money and still win. What you have to do is develop your own list. Initially you run and win financing-wise on friends and family."

At a forum hosted by the Campaign Finance Board in July, Council Member Eric Ulrich, a Republican from Queens, also emphasized the importance of the city's matching funds program in equalizing the playing field for aspiring Council members.

"If it were not for the Campaign Finance Board I would never have been elected to City Council. I did not come from a political family, I came from a single parent household, we didn't come from money," Ulrich told attendees.

Constantinides also cited the CFB's matching program as being a game changer, adding the importance of the change in term limits.

"That's a huge, huge part to seeing this demographic shift," Constantinides said, referring to the changes in the age, race, and ethnic diversity in the Council. "Term limits have changed, it's leveled the playing field, it's allowed people to come in and say- you have matching funds, you're not worried about raising 300-, 400-thousand dollars, you're focused on raising a certain amount and then going out and making your case to your constituents."

The demographic shift to which Constantinides references came at the confluence of the implementation of stricter term limits and the rise of the Progressive Caucus, a liberal bloc of Council members formed in 2010 in response to the Bloomberg administration's more conservative policies and the city's shifting population.

"What you actually saw was this dramatic change in the Council where progressive Council members are helping other progressive Council members [and candidates]," Kallos, who was elected to the Council in 2013 and joined the Progressive Caucus upon taking office in 2014, said. "So whereas typically you'll have seen independent expenditures from the Real Estate Board of New York shaping elections, now what you'll see is organized activity by [progressive] members trying to elect more. So I think what you saw was a much more progressive body getting elected by virtue of members making that happen."

The rise of the caucus, which began with 12 and now includes 19 of the 51 council members (with several other close allies who are not official members), was viewed by many as a shift away from machine politics and toward community organizing and advocacy. But Torres, a caucus member whose ascent into politics is emblematic of this shift, said he thought the picture was more complicated.

"It is certainly true that you have an organized progressive movement, progressive infrastructure that operates independently of the traditional centers of political power, and it is true that the progressive movement has made a priority out of electing younger people to public office, people of color to public office, and more women in public office," Torres, who is 27, said. "So that is true, but I will caution you not to distinguish or completely separate the progressive movement from the establishment."

Even the progressive movement can be in danger of becoming an insider's game, where the progressives who get the endorsements are the ones who have the relationships and can raise money, Torres said. There is also always a question of how closely aligned unions and progressives are with the different county political machines.

"Even in the progressive world, the two currencies are the same: money and relationships," Torres said. "I think someone like me has a greater chance of succeeding in the new world in which we are operating, but I want to caution that. Relationships and money continue to be the dominant forces of politics."

***
by Catie Edmondson, Gotham Gazette
@CatieEdmondson

]]>
How To Become a New York City Council Member Thu, 27 Aug 2015 13:23:11 +0000
Strategy Meetings Signal Coming Flurry of Rent Law Lobbying http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5707:strategy-meetings-signal-coming-flurry-of-rent-law-lobbying http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5707:strategy-meetings-signal-coming-flurry-of-rent-law-lobbying housing rally

A housing-related rally at City Hall (photo: @AffordabilityNY)


On Friday, tenant advocates, union representatives, and elected officials gathered in two separate meetings to discuss the renewal and strengthening of state rent laws. There is a sense of urgency among city-based legislators and tenant advocates as the laws regulating many thousands of apartments are set to expire in six weeks and legislative debate on the topic is non-existent.

One meeting took place at the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) headquarters in New York City and featured Mayor Bill de Blasio, union heads, and key electeds like Assembly Housing Committee Chair Keith Wright of Harlem. According to numerous sources the meeting was convened by 1199 SEIU, the powerful healthcare workers union, to convince organized labor to join the fight to strengthen the rent laws.

Meanwhile, another group of advocates and legislators met in Yonkers in the office of Assembly Member Shelley Mayer to discuss how to get equity between the city and suburban rent laws and how to mobilize tenants on short notice.

Many legislators and advocates worry that the meetings took place too late in the game. There's just six weeks left in legislative session and the rent laws have been the subject of few negotiations and almost no organized lobbying.

Stakeholders see this year as do or die for strengthening rent laws so that landlords can't remove apartments from rent regulation after making renovations and increasing rent. Advocates say 54,000 apartments have been taken off the roles in the past 10 years - a figure they cite as a net total. Landlords insist the current rules help them maintain apartments and keeps the housing stock from falling into complete disrepair - they do not want to see it become tougher for them to move apartments to market rate.

Meanwhile Senate Republicans are distracted by the corruption investigation into and impending charges against Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and eager to frustrate their nemesis de Blasio, who is seeking renewal of mayoral control of schools and the rent laws before both sunset in June. Tenant advocates are investing all of their hope in new Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Democrat of the Bronx, and are demanding he play hardball in negotiations over the renewal of the 421-A tax break that benefits developers and expires at the same time as the rent laws.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already downplayed the possibility of useful negotiation in the Legislature. Back from his visit to Cuba, an energized, punchy Cuomo delivered an assessment of the current rent law negotiations to a breakfast of the Association for a Better New York on April 24.

"If it was a different time in Albany, frankly, and Albany was a little bit more of a stable situation I would normally take those negotiations to Albany and try to work it out among the parties," Cuomo said of the housing-related issues. "Albany is somewhat - there's a lot going on right now. So I'm hoping and I'm asking the parties to work out the disagreements among themselves." He then suggested that the situation in Albany might be so dire that a straight extension of both programs, without any tinkering, might be necessary.

That was the last thing tenant advocates wanted to hear. "I thought it was outrageous," said Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenant's PAC. "He was proposing exactly what the real estate industry wants."

McKee was further vexed that no legislators challenged the assertion that Albany is too dysfunctional to negotiate over two essential pieces of legislation."Why was there no blowback?" asked McKee. The influence of the real estate industry in Albany is well-documented, of course.

Advocates plan on turning up the pressure in the coming weeks. Cuomo's Manhattan office will be the center of protest on Wednesday, May 6 at 11 a.m. and New York State Tenants and Neighbors will host a rally in Foley Square at 5 p.m. on May 14. A number of legislators also have tentative plans to make public pushes for strengthening the rent laws.

What do advocates want? They say the city has those 54,000 rent-controlled units over the past 20 years thanks to vacancy decontrol. Current state law allows landlords to increase rents based on improvements they make to a building or individual apartments. Some tenants find their rents increasing without any obvious fixes being made. Landlords can also increase rent by 20 percent once a rent-stabilized tenant leaves. Tenants claim this leads to abuse from landlords who want to increase rent. The Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), which represents landlords, insists that landlords make improvements that are necessary and that without them the housing stock deteriorates.

Landlords face increasing operating costs like water and sewer fees. Frank Ricci of the RSA said he praised the current laws, especially considering the challenges landlords face. "I think all those laws work very well," said Ricci. "They inject needed capital into the housing stock.

But that does not mean Ricci is happy with a lack of legislative discussion over the rent laws "There hasn't been a rational healthy debate on the issue for years. It is owners versus tenants. The Assembly gets very wrapped up in representing tenants. They aren't worried about what keeps the housing stock going."

There are differing proposals for how to improve rent control for tenants and it is unlikely any individual bill proposed in the Legislature will become the solution as a bill package will almost certainly be hashed out in secret by Cuomo and the leaders of each house. But a few of the ideas include limiting landlords' ability to increase rent after repairs so that once the repairs are paid off rent would return to a baseline. There is also talk of ending vacancy decontrol and stopping landlords from being able to increase rent by 20 percent once an apartment becomes vacant.

Renewal of the rent laws almost certainly won't happen this year without renewal of 421-A, a tax break for developers that has been under the spotlight lately in part thanks to the indictment of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who allegedly used his leverage over the breaks to push developers to hire a law firm which in turn gave him kickbacks. There are also questions about whether 421-A is still necessary as an incentive to spur development in a booming city.

But, the tax break is designed to incentivize developers to include affordable housing in luxury high rises. Tenant advocates say the costs of the break far outweigh the benefit, though: the city lost $1 billion in tax revenue to the exemption in 2014 according to a study by the Municipal Art Society of New York. Advocates estimate that fewer than 16,000 families benefited from the creation of affordable housing under 421-A last year. Some legislators have proposed replacing the program with a housing voucher system so that families would directly benefit.

It is dubious to think that Senate Republicans will let 421-A go when the real estate board, also known as REBNY, and developers are their single largest campaign donors and Senate Republicans don't have a very large wish list for the end of year. Governor Cuomo is also a very large beneficiary of the real estate industry, as are many other Democrats.

Further, some in the real estate industry insist that de Blasio needs 421-A to implement his ambitious city affordable housing plan because he is relying on real estate powers to implement it. His plan calls for the creation over the next decade of 80,000 affordable units, the preservation of 120,000 affordable units, and the development of 160,000 market-rate units.The mayor's office did not issue any details of Friday's meeting and did not respond to request for comment in time for publication.

Activists and legislators say the mayor should simply get behind a new plan that relies on a program replacing 421-A, but with the rent laws expiring in June and Senate Republicans running down the clock it appears unlikely that 421-A is going anywhere.

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

]]>
Strategy Meetings Signal Coming Flurry of Rent Law Lobbying Sat, 02 May 2015 13:41:31 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 16 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5632:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-march-16 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5632:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-march-16 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will again be dominated by budget negotiations - especially in Albany, where a budget is due by the end of the month, which is rapidly approaching. In New York City, City Council hearings will continue on Mayor Bill de Blasio's preliminary fiscal year 2016 budget - once those hearings wrap up at the end of the month, the Council will craft its response to de Blasio, negotiations will continue, and the mayor will present his Executive Budget, leading to another round of council hearings. Key portions of the city budget are, of course, dependent upon the state budget, so much anticipation (and lobbying) surrounds negotiations in Albany, where Governor Andrew Cuomo is attempting to push through his spending plan, with major education and ethics reforms, despite significant disagreement from both Democrats (who control the State Assembly) and Republicans (who control the State Senate). Cuomo is also right in the middle on the minimum wage increase he's pushing and other issues.

While there will be a lot of action in Albany this week, this weekend is the annual Somos el Futuro Conference in Albany, at which there is always plenty of networking, negotiating, and more.

Speaking of budget negotiations, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (a former State Senator) launched a petition on Sunday to put additional pressure on the governor and other legislative leaders to include Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in budget negotiations. "Despite comprising over half of New York State's population, no woman has ever had a seat in statewide budget negotiations," it begins.

As for de Blasio, he made his case in Albany a few weeks ago and continues to lobby behind the scenes, while also praising the Assembly and its new Speaker, Carl Heastie of the Bronx, for its one-house budget outline. A key aspect of state funding for de Blasio is that for his universal pre-kindergarten program. On Sunday de Blasio held an event to kick off enrollment for pre-K for the 2015-2016 school year - enrollment officially opens on Monday. The City is hoping to expand pre-K enrollment from year one's 53,000-plus to all 73,000-or-so four-year-olds in the city. Monday is the start of pre-K enrollment and the end of the application period to be on one of the city's Community Education Councils. CECs are the local representative bodies that help inform education policy decision making and have been highlighted during the "Mayoral Control Forums" held by Public Advocate Letitia James in recent weeks.

James held a rally at City Hall on Sunday to call on the State to fully fund city schools in line with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and to criticize Gov. Cuomo's education reform policies. She starts her week with one event on her public schedule: a Howard University alumni affair.

Along with James, environmental activists and others, Comptroller Scott Stringer begins his week at a City Hall press conference to voice opposition to the Port Ambrose liquefied natural gas export facility.

The mayor starts his week with a busy Monday: he'll "host a breakfast for City Council Leadership in Manhattan...meet with Congressman Jerry Nadler and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez in City Hall," host an afternoon press conference with NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton to make an announcement; and, at 11 p.m. "appear on Tavis Smiley" on PBS, according to his public schedule.

On Thursday evening, the mayor is expected to speak at a fundraiser in Manhattan to support City Council Member Vincent Gentile's congressional campaign. By the way, if you want to register to vote in that special election or the other one (Assembly District 43) happening May 5, you have until April 10 to register.

On Monday evening, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will speak at a Citizens Union event on solving Albany's corruption probably. He is expected to unveil new plans to expand his role in doing so and new proposals pushing state lawmakers further in ethics reforms. Details below.

As always, there's a great deal happening at the City Council and all over the city, with many events to be aware of. 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: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Monday in Albany, National Organization for Women NYC will rally to end human trafficking: “For the last three years NOW-NYC has been fighting for the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (TVPJA). Consensus is growing that the problem of trafficking can be tackled by legislators ensuring survivors-especially children-get help not punishment. TVPJA does that and more, and its passage would make New York a national leader in the fight against human trafficking.” [Related: read Manhattan DA Cy Vance's recent op-ed on the need to strengthen New York's sex trafficking laws]

On Monday afternoon, Assembly Speaker Heastie will hold a "news conference announcing comprehensive legislation to combat human trafficking. He will be joined by members of the Assembly Majority and advocates," according to his public schedule.

Both the State Senate and the State Assembly are in session in Albany on Monday afternoon.

Monday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Civil Rights for its preliminary budget hearing and a meeting of the Committee on Oversight and Investigations for its preliminary budget hearing.

On Monday morning, "New York Law School hosts "A Bold Step for New York's Children: A Symposium on Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility" featuring Jeremy Creelan, Soffiyah Elijah, Jacqueline Greene, Sheriff Allen Riley, Joel Copperman, Richard Aborn, Laurie Parise and others," according to City & State NY. [Related: read our report on Governor Cuomo's much-praised effort to "Raise the Age"]

Also according to City & State NY, on Monday at 11:30 a.m. "State Sen. IDC Leader Jeff Klein, state Sens. Diane Savino and Adriano Espaillat, New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres and others gather for a rally calling for funding in state budget to repair and upgrade NYCHA developments, Million Dollar Staircase, State Capitol, Albany."

The City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is holding a TB Day of Action on Monday, in which Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and others are participating to raise awareness.

Monday at 5:30 p.m., New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Brad Lander will host a “Celebration of Bangladesh Independence,” at the Council Chambers inside City Hall. Other Council Members in attendance will include Rafael Espinal Jr., Rory Lancman, Daniel Dromm, I. Daneek Miller, Annabel Palma, Mark Weprin, Jimmy Van Bramer, among others.

On Monday evening, BP Brewer will attend the opening of the new Hunter College faculty/laboratory research space at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Also Monday evening, NYCHA will host its Manhattan town hall meeting at Johnson Houses CC, in East Harlem.

Monday evening, good government group Citizens Union will host “Can New Yorkers Fix Albany’s Corruption Problem?” - its first Civic Conversation of the year, featuring Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and an esteemed panel. “Join Citizens Union for our first Civic Conversation of the year. This educational forum will bring expert panelists and the public together to discuss why there is a crime wave of corruption in Albany and what can be done to fight back and change the capitol's ethics.” After Schneiderman delivers remarks, panelists will include Richard Briffault, Professor of Legislation at Columbia Law School, Chair of NYC Conflicts of Interest Board and Former Moreland Commissioner; Richard Brodsky, Senior Fellow at Demos, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Public Policy at NYU Wagner Graduate School, and Former NYS Assemblymember for the 92nd District; Jennifer Rodgers, Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity, Former Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The panel will be moderated by Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union.

Tuesday
Tuesday morning, “Join Crain’s and New York real estate's most impressive players to explore the next stage in the city’s development. Chairman of the NYC Planning Commission Carl Weisbrod will unveil the de Blasio administration’s latest zoning policies and urban-planning initiatives. A panel of experts will assess City Hall’s ambitious efforts to create and maintain 200,000 units of affordable housing. The conference will conclude with the sharpest minds in the business debating how best to reform a broken tax system that must pay for it all.”

Also Tuesday morning, the Young Women’s Christian Association of New York will host a discussion on Leadership and Generosity: A Call to Action: “We will look at ‘Young Women Leaders’ featuring Aissata M.B. Camara, Elizabeth Plank, Carmen Perez, Maria Naggaga, Yuh-Line Niou, and Candace Simpson.”

Tuesday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Juvenile Justice, jointly with the Committee on General Welfare and the Committee on Women’s Issues for a preliminary budget hearing.

Tuesday at noon, The Brennan Center for Justice will present Democracy's Problems and Prospects: A Book Talk with Douglas E. Schoen: “America’s democracy is floundering, Congress is hopelessly gridlocked, and millions remain without gainful employment. Despite all this, longtime political strategist and polling expert Douglas E. Schoen remains optimistic.”

Tuesday evening, CUNY Institute for Education Policy (CIEP) will host a one-on-one conversation with the President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), Michael Mulgrew: “This unscripted conversation will cover a wide range of pressing issues facing New York State's teachers and their students.” Mulgrew will be speaking with CIEP Director David Steiner, who is also Dean of the Hunter College School of Education and former State Commissioner of Education.

[Explore the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette for something you may have missed]

Wednesday
Wednesday morning in Albany, Capital New York will host “Medical Marijuana: Is N.Y. Doing it Right?”, an in-depth conversation on the topic of New York’s medical marijuana law "covering regulation, accessibility, barriers to entry into the local market, program costs and more.” Featured speakers will include the incoming Counsel to the Governor of New York, Alphonso David; Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried; State Senator Diane Savino; and others.

On Wednesday, City Council Member Andy King and the Riverbay Corporation will host the "2015 Veterans Job and Resource Fair" in Co-op City in the Bronx. "Employers as well as non-profit resource organizations and city agencies will be present, including JP Morgan Chase & Co., which, with other founding corporations, launched the 100,000 Jobs Mission in 2011 with the goal of hiring 100,000 military veterans by 2020."

Wednesday afternoon, the Graduate Center at CUNY will host another public lecture in the Immigration Seminar Series: “Everyday Illegal: When Policies Undermine Immigrant Families.” Among the speakers will be Joanna Dreby, Associate Professor of Sociology at University at Albany, SUNY.

Wednesday evening, “Albany Capital Pro Trivia Night!...Albany Bureau Chief Jimmy Vielkind tees up questions on all things policy, politics and media."

Also Wednesday evening, Beta NYC is hosting a Civic Hacknight in Queens with Coalition 4 Queens.

Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at MoMA PS1, New York City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer will host a Cultural Town Hall event featuring special remarks from the Cultural Affairs Commissioner, Tom Finkelpearl.

Also in Queens Wednesday evening, BP Katz is hosting a "parent advisory board meeting on common core" that will include reps from the city DOE.

Thursday
All day Thursday, the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development will host its Annual Community Development Conference. The morning keynote speaker will be Thomas J. Curry, Federal Comptroller of the Currency. The afternoon keynote speaker will be Melissa Mark-Viverito, Speaker of New York City Council.

Thursday morning, Manhattan BP Brewer hosts a meeting of the Manhattan Borough Board.

Thursday at City Hall, there will be a Student Voter Registration Day press conference held by elected officials, advocacy groups, and school representatives.

Also Thursday morning, Queens BP Melinda Katz will hold a land use meeting at Queens Borough Hall.

Thursday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Governmental Operations for its preliminary budget oversight hearing; a meeting of the Committee on Veterans to consider a resolution "calling upon the New York State Legislature to pass and the Governor to sign S.752, the Veterans' Education Through SUNY Credits Act"; and a meeting of the Committee on Education to consider multiple resolutions, including one "calling upon the New York State Legislature to reject any attempt to raise the cap on the number of charter schools," one "calling upon the Department of Education to amend its Parent's Bill of Rights and Responsibilities to include information about opting out of high-stakes testing and distribute this document at the beginning of every school year, to every family, in every grade," and one "calling upon the New York State Legislature to eliminate the Governor's receivership proposal in the executive budget for New York City." 

Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio is set to speak at a fundraiser for the Democratic candidate in the special election to fill the vacant 11th Congressional District seat, Brooklyn City Council Member Vincent Gentile. Democratic activist Bill Samuels and Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos will host the event at Mr. Samuels’ Manhattan home.

Also Thursday evening, the Department of Transportation and the MTA are hosting a town hall to unveil plans around the Utica Avenue B46 SBS Project, according to Riders Alliance, which is encouraging its members to attend and make their voices heard.

Thursday evening, at 6:30 p.m., Housing Preservation and Development will host a Owner Outreach and Education Forum with Council Members Inez Barron and Rafael Espinal and Cypress Hills Development Corporation in East New York, Brooklyn.

Also Thursday at 6:30 p.m., Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will host East Side Coastal Resiliency Project's Community Engagement Session: “Following on HUD's Rebuild by Design competition, New York City is working to reduce the risk of extreme weather and climate change, as well as improve quality of life. This project focuses on neighborhoods near the East River between Montgomery and 23rd Streets.”

Thursday at 7 p.m., the NYC Young Republican Club will host its monthly meetup at the Women's National Republican Club.

[Explore the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette for something you may have missed]

Friday and the weekend
All day Friday, Common Cause NY, Citizens Union, the New York City Council, and other partners will host Student Voter Registration Day “to increase youth voter registration and excite young people about being involved in the democratic process. Through interactive discussion SVRD encourages youth to see how issues at the polls affect their everyday lives.”

Friday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations, jointly with the Subcommittee on Libraries, for a preliminary budget hearing.

Friday morning, Amnesty International USA will have its weekend-long 2015 Human Rights Conference and Annual General Meetings, in Brooklyn: “The 2015 Annual General Meeting will bring over a thousand human rights activists from around the world together to engage in networking opportunities, human rights actions, inspiring plenaries, outstanding key notes, and hands-on workshops." Speakers will include Harry Belafonte, Ann Burroughs, Rosa Alicia Clemente, Nusrat Durrani, Steven Hawkins, Thomas Jagow-Schultz, Benjamin Jealous, Linda Sarsour, Ciara Taylor, Vincent Warren, Jesse Williams, and Jie-Song Zhang.

Friday afternoon, Assembly Member Rebecca A. Seawright will host a Women’s History Month celebration, at which the Assembly Member is also set to give out Women of Distinction Awards to recognize “remarkable women and their efforts to improve our community.”

On Friday at 5:30 p.m., to commemorate women's history month, Council Members Laurie Cumbo and Jumaane Williams "will host the second annual Shirley Chisholm Women of Distinction Celebration & Award Ceremony" at Brooklyn Public Library-Central Branch. "This event will honor seven extraordinary women from New York City who are making tremendous strides in their fields by using their skills and expertise to strengthen our communities. Two young community leaders will also be honored during the event and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will serve as the event's keynote speaker."

Friday evening in Albany, City & State NY will host a Somos Albany Kickoff Cocktail Reception. The event will feature New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and New York State Assemblyman & Somos el Futuro Chair Marcos Crespo.

Saturday morning, The Office of Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer, together with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will host "Tuberculosis Awareness Walk and Rally." 

Also Saturday morning, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) will host a CUNY Citizenship Application Assistance Event in Brooklyn.

On Sunday afternoon, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez will give his State of the District speech at George Washington Educational Campus.

[Explore the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette for something you may have missed]

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

***
by Rati Mukhuradze, Marco Poggio, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

]]>
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 16 Sun, 15 Mar 2015 19:15:54 +0000