Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/559 Wed, 21 Nov 2018 06:08:27 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) New City Council Committee Chairs Have Plenty on Their Plates http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7419-new-city-council-committee-chairs-have-plenty-on-their-plates http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7419-new-city-council-committee-chairs-have-plenty-on-their-plates City Council Speaker Corey Johnson members

Members of th new City Council with Speaker Johnson (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


The new class of the New York City Council took greater shape on Thursday with the appointment of chairs and members to the 40-plus committees and subcommittees that oversee the broad legislative, land use, and oversight roles of the 51-member body. Most returning Council members were reassigned to lead different committees while some remained in the positions they’ve served the past four years. New Speaker Corey Johnson also chose to create a few new committees to boost staff levels in certain areas and to better address specific issues that were subsumed under broader committee purviews.

In their new roles, many of the committee chairs will have to navigate a slate of issues, which in many cases will likely lead them into direct confrontation with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. This holds particularly true for the powerful land use and finance committees, both of which have new Council members at the helm. Speaker Johnson has also pledged broader independence from the mayor than his predecessor, indicating that members will be allowed, and even encouraged, to take the administration to task. He has pledged an enhanced oversight and investigations committee to lead the way in that regard.

Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr. of the Bronx was appointed chair of the land use committee, which is tasked with overseeing and reviewing land use applications, zoning amendment,s and landmark preservation in the city. Since the committee has the final say on any development projects that require city government approval, it plays a prominent role in determining the success of the mayor’s affordable housing program, in particular thus far by approving comprehensive, and controversial, neighborhood rezonings in communities such as East New York and East Harlem.

The city is exploring similar rezonings -- to create more affordable housing while also injecting economic energy and other benefits into neighborhoods -- in the Bay Street corridor on Staten Island, Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, and Flushing, Queens, among other communities. “Our city is at a crossroads, including my community in the South Bronx,” Salamanca said in a statement Thursday. The City Council, he said, “should be on the front lines on shaping the planning, development and all other land use actions in a way that listens to and addresses the concerns of all New Yorkers.” Freshman Council Member Francisco Moya is heading up the subcommittee on zoning and franchises which falls under Salamanca’s purview.

The finance committee, led by its new chair Council Member Daniel Dromm of Queens, also has a tough task ahead as it heads into budget season. Dromm will lead the Council’s negotiations with the administration over the $86 billion-plus city budget. The mayor is expected to release his fiscal year 2019 preliminary budget proposal later this month and the administration has been bracing for cuts in federal funding, threatened by the Trump administration, and a widely expected economic slowdown after years of continuous growth.

Last year, the Council advocated for increased savings and reduced agency inefficiencies even as they called for new funding for Council priorities. “I intend to use this position to move a progressive budget forward working closely with Speaker Corey Johnson who I thank for giving me this opportunity to serve,” Dromm said in a statement.

The Council’s budget hearings will no doubt also touch on the city’s $96 billion capital budget. Numerous Council members called last year for increased transparency in how capital projects are funded and managed, insisting that the city needs to reduce financial waste and cut down on project delays.
Johnson has now gone so far as to create an entirely new subcommittee to oversee the capital budget, chaired by Council Member Vanessa Gibson. “Many members, including myself, have been frustrated by the capital process itself,” Gibson told Gotham Gazette outside the Council chambers on Thursday. She said the new committee will allow expanded oversight of capital spending, particularly by individual city agencies. “At the end of the day, we just wanna say to the public, to New Yorkers and to all of my colleagues that we are spending your money wisely,” she said.

The transportation committee continues to be led by Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who has been a vocal supporter of the Move New York congestion pricing plan, which would impose tolls on the East River bridges to raise funds for mass transit infrastructure and reduced fare MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, while also lowering tolls on other bridges.

De Blasio has opposed both congestion pricing and the “Fair Fares” campaign, insisting that fair fares should be funded by the state and that congestion pricing is a “regressive tax” that hurts outer borough commuters. He has instead proposed a so-called millionaires tax, which Rodriguez also supports, that would accomplish both goals - subsidized MetroCards and new transit revenue. However, like congestion pricing, the tax would have to be approved by the state Legislature where it has already been rejected by Governor Cuomo and the state Senate, portending perhaps that the fair fares fight will be fought locally yet again. Cuomo appears on the verge of pursuing some version of congestion pricing.

In keeping with Johnson’s promise to stand up to the de Blasio administration, the Council now has an expanded Oversight and Investigations committee, led by Council Member Ritchie Torres of the Bronx. The committee is expected to have a full-time investigation staff made up of professional investigators, former prosecutors, and journalists. In an interview with the New York Times, Torres indicated a number of different issue areas he would approach for added oversight. “The abuse of placards. The use of eminent domain. The disposition of public land. Deed restriction. The disbursement of city subsidies. All of it is on the table,” he said.

On Thursday, Torres told Gotham Gazette that the New York City Housing Authority’s lead contamination issue, which has been a black eye for the de Blasio administration, was a “continuing concern” for him. “I have not set the investigative priorities of the committee just yet, but given my former position as chairman of the public housing committee, given my interest in the subject, NYCHA is going to be figuring prominently in my oversight priorities,” he said.

Torres’ role will crossover with the work of other committees, such as the Committee on Public Housing, which he led last term and will this term be led by Brooklyn Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel. The public housing authority needs $25 billion for infrastructure improvements, with few forthcoming state and federal funds this year. The authority’s numerous public failures continue to haunt the administration and invite criticism from the Council and community activists. And although the city has put a NYCHA overhaul plan into motion and seen some successes and promising developments, problems are not likely to abate any time soon.

“As chair, I will ensure that critical issues are addressed, from heat, to lead, to security issues,” Ampry-Samuel said in a statement. “I look forward to visiting every housing development in the city and the opportunity to hear from the residents and the resident leaders.”

Johnson also chose to expand the role the Council plays in scrutinizing the city’s criminal justice system. Council Member Rory Lancman of Queens was chosen to lead the newly formed Committee on the Justice System, which has oversight of city courts, district attorneys, legal service providers and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

Manhattan Council Member Keith Powers will be heading the Committee on Criminal Justice, which has oversight of the Department of Correction and Department of Probation. Both committees will play a prominent part in the plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex, which is contingent on reducing the city’s jail population to less than 5,000 -- it is currently just under 9,000 detainees -- while also creating borough-based jail facilities. Lancman told Gotham Gazette he expects to “aggressively oversee and try to reform” the city’s justice system. “You’ll see a very robust agenda coming out of my committee,” he said.

Lancman and Powers’ committees were carved out of the earlier Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services and the Committee on Courts and Legal Services, which Lancman led last term. Powers, who is new to the Council like Ampry-Samuel and others, said that move “recognizes that Rikers Island and the corrections system is really its own issue that needs to be tackled in the next coming years.”

“There are a lot of thorny issues,” Powers said of the closure of Rikers, “and I think a big part of it is really making sure that we put on the right timeline and that we make sure we manage all the different constituencies that are involved here.”

New York City Health + Hospitals, the cash-strapped municipal hospital system, continues to be a big area of concern for the Council and in particular Johnson, who led the health committee for the last four years. Johnson created a separate Committee on Hospitals to oversee the system, appointing new Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera as chair.

Council Member Mark Levine, chosen to be the new health committee chair, noted a number of issues he will address, including the opioid crisis, racial disparities in health outcomes, animal rights and the threat of bioterrorism. He has promised to push for a single payer healthcare system in the city -- a priority for the speaker -- and told Gotham Gazette he expects “there will be times when the Council and the administration are on different sides of an issue,” and that its incumbent on members to advocate for the Council’s priorities. “That’s the job of a good committee chair,” he said.

See the full list of new Council leadership, committee chairs, and committee members.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
New City Council Committee Chairs Have Plenty on Their Plates Thu, 11 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
District Attorneys, City Council Agree Mayor is Underfunding DAs http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6351-district-attorneys-city-council-agree-mayor-is-underfunding-das http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6351-district-attorneys-city-council-agree-mayor-is-underfunding-das district attorneys city council hearing

The five District Attorneys at a March hearing (photo: William Alatriste)


The district attorneys of the five boroughs reasserted their need for increased funding in the 2017 fiscal year at a City Council executive budget hearing Monday at City Hall. Council members—opting to forego heavy questioning of the necessity of this funding—framed fulfilling the district attorney requests as a crucial step towards criminal justice reform.

The public safety committee hearing was the penultimate executive budget hearing, with the finance committee set to finish the proceedings Tuesday before closed-door negotiations lead to a budget deal between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council before the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

De Blasio’s preliminary budget, released Jan. 21, estimated $94 million would be allocated to the King’s County (Brooklyn) DA office, $57 million to Queens County, $10 million to Richmond County (Staten Island), $101 million to New York County (Manhattan), and $59 million to Bronx County.

The five DAs presented additional funding requests during a preliminary budget hearing in March, after which the Council called on de Blasio to fully fund those budget needs in its response to his preliminary budget and listed public safety among its top eight priorities. Of the five offices, New York County requested an additional $600,000, Bronx County $11.5 million, Kings County $1 million, Queens County $4.9 million, and Richmond $3.6 million. The Bronx request was so large because new DA Darcel Clark plans to open a new bureau on Rikers Island, as well as several other significant initiatives.

None of the additional funding requests were included in de Blasio’s $82.2 executive budget, released April 27—a decision Council Member and Public Safety Committee Chair Vanessa Gibson said on Monday she was “very disappointed to see.”

“The City Council is making significant impacts to criminal justice reform, but none of this will matter if the city does not support our District Attorneys,” Gibson said. “Though I applaud the efforts that the administration’s [making] to fund other law enforcement agencies such as the NYPD, it is irresponsible not to include funding for our city’s prosecutors.”

At Monday’s executive budget hearing, representatives from the DA offices, including three DAs themselves, said increased funding would be the only solution to severe problems facing each county, and Council Member and Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland said the Council was “on the same page.” Ferreras-Copeland criticized de Blasio’s executive budget earlier in May when she said it did not “ensure that the shared priorities of both the Administration and the Council are included.”

In response to Monday's comments from the district attorney offices and Council members, mayoral spokesperson Monica Klein said in an emailed statement, "The administration is committed to appropriately funding the critical needs of our District Attorneys, and we look forward to working with the Council and DAs throughout the budget process. Mayor de Blasio has also invested in numerous initiatives to support our DAs' essential efforts -- including an additional $2 million per year to the Special Narcotics Prosecutor and $10 million to the Anti-Violence Innovation challenge -- and launched expansive initiatives aimed at reducing opioid misuse and overdose deaths across the City, in close partnership with local elected officials."

Manhattan DA Cy Vance said on Monday that additional funding would go toward the creation of an Alternative to Incarceration unit aimed at preventing low-level nonviolent offenders from facing jail time.

Staten Island DA Michael McMahon, a Democrat who succeeded Republican Dan Donovan (now a member of Congress) as DA, said his predecessors “did not aggressively pursue” sufficient funding at City Hall. As a result, McMahon said his office is unequiped to combat Staten Island’s rising heroin overdose epidemic and domestic abuse incidents, and currently unable to finance a case management system. All five DAs are now Democrats, like de Blasio and 48 of the 51 City Council members.

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson, represented at the hearing by his chief of staff Leroy Frazer, and Queens DA Richard Brown, represented by Chief ADA Jack Ryan, both hope to direct additional funding towards increasing personnel and improving facilities.

While Bronx DA Clark said some funding would go towards facilities and retaining more staff within her offices, she also hopes to establish a Rikers bureau that targets the prison complex, where she said corruption currently fosters “criminal business as usual.”

***
by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

]]>
District Attorneys, City Council Agree Mayor is Underfunding DAs Mon, 23 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Criminal Justice Reform Act is No Alternative to Broken Windows Policing http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6112-criminal-justice-reform-act-is-no-alternative-to-broken-windows-policing http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6112-criminal-justice-reform-act-is-no-alternative-to-broken-windows-policing  bratton times sq group

NYPD ceremony in Times Square (photo: @CommissBratton)


Monday morning the City Council will begin consideration of a series of bills, called the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which would limit the use of criminal penalties to manage a variety of low level “quality of life” offenses such as public drinking, park code violations, noise, and public urination. City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, said she hopes these changes will reduce the problem of excessive criminalization in communities of color, a sentiment echoed by Council Member Rory Lancman, chair of the courts committee, on WNYC radio last Friday. Lancman noted that too many areas of the city have experienced overpolicing and overcriminalization.

The Act, being spearheaded by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito,  already has broad support in the Council and the endorsement of NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, and thus, Mayor de Blasio. It's encouraging that political leaders in New York City are exploring ways of reducing the impact of the criminal justice system on communities of color, but this package of reforms is at best a baby step, and at worst, may open the door to more racially discriminatory police actions.

The bills, if passed, would create new civil penalty options for these offences by allowing police to choose between a criminal summons and a civil one when encountering an offender, a choice made based on departmental guidelines. The criminal codes remain on the books per Bratton’s insistence, which he says is necessary so that officers can demand identification, conduct searches, and perform background checks.

With a criminal summons, people must appear in summons court and if they fail to do so a warrant is issued for their arrest. Over a million such arrest warrants are currently on the books, leading to numerous unfortunate encounters with the police, such as being arrested on the way to work or to pick children up from school.

The new civil process, to be administered by the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, will be more like traffic court in which people must pay a fine or perform community service, but no warrant will result from failure to comply. Instead, a civil judgement will be issued, which could result in the garnishment of wages or bank accounts, or seizure of property. This might also affect one’s credit rating. None of this will result in incarceration, which is positive, but the penalties can still be substantial, with fines ranging from $25 to $250 for a first offense.

In addition, these financial penalties are likely to fall heaviest on areas where quality-of-life, or broken windows, enforcement is the most widespread, removing resources from already poor communities. While some will escape these penalties through community service programs, many working poor will not.

Vincent Riggins, chair of the public safety committee of Community Board 5 in East New York has actually called for the return of half of all those fines to the local community board to be spent on community development projects. It is a great idea that would reduce the financial incentive that has driven excessive and discriminatory summonsing in places like Ferguson, MO.

Riggins has raised another important point. By leaving these offenses on the books, rather than truly decriminalizing them, the door is left open for the kinds of invasive policing experienced under stop, question, and frisk in recent years. By keeping open alcohol an offense, police will have “reasonable suspicion” to stop anyone drinking a beverage in a bag or unmarked container, potentially leading to exactly the kinds of unwarranted police intrusions that we have worked so hard to reduce. While Bratton rightly touts reductions in police enforcement encounters, racial disparities persist.

Another area of concern is the discretionary nature of the new rules. The NYPD insisted that it would only support the bill if it retained the ability to treat these offences as criminal when officers felt it appropriate. This gives them the ability to demand ID and run people for warrants. But what will determine who gets a civil summons, who gets a criminal one, and who gets run for warrants? There is a real risk that the more punitive practices will become heavily concentrated in exactly those poor, non-white communities that bore the brunt of stop, question, and frisk, and who bear the burden of most criminal summonses and low level arrests now.

Council Member Gibson says that there will be a process of determining policies for guiding officer discretion, and that the City Council is calling for the default to be a civil summons. This outcome, however, is far from assured, since the ultimate decision rests with the NYPD and the officer on the street. Therefore, there is a real risk that the police will perceive the need to take harsher and more invasive action in exactly the same places they do now, with milder penalties reserved for more prosperous parts of the city. If these changes are enacted, this must be monitored closely, something Council Members Jumaane Williams and Mark Levine are proposing through a bill mandating reporting by the NYPD.

Any reduction in the use of criminal penalties is welcome, but this measure retains an adherence to using punitive mechanisms to manage so called quality-of-life problems in keeping with the deeply conservative Broken Windows theory. There is nothing in the bill to develop non-punitive mechanisms for addressing community problems.

As one caller to WNYC pointed out, the current criminal penalties seem to be largely ineffective in reducing the amount of public urination, why should the civil penalties be any more effective? They won’t. The reality is that public bathrooms are largely non-existent in New York City. Other major cities around the world have much more developed amenities in place and have largely avoided this problem. If you don’t want people to pee in public, give them functional and accessible public bathrooms, not a choice between criminal and civil sanctions.

In addition, a lot of quality-of-life problems are driven by pervasive underemployment for youth of color, a lack of positive social activities for young people, and widespread homelessness. While the Mayor and City Council have started to acknowledge the extent of some of these problems, their focus has been primarily on hiring more police and tinkering with what kind of punitive sanctions to use, rather than a major redistribution of resources away from police, courts, and prisons, and towards housing, healthcare, and youth services.

In his book The Silent Black Majority, Michael Fortner shows that the push for criminal justice solutions to community problems was supported by many in poor black communities and my own research on the rise of quality-of-life policing in the ‘90s shows the same thing. But what I also found was that these communities also called for youth centers, improved housing, and better schools, but what they got was only the policing and prisons. It’s time our political leaders quit asking the NYPD for permission to really shift resources away from the criminal justice system and towards improving communities in positive ways.

In Los Angeles, the Youth Justice Coalition has called for redirecting 1% of all criminal justice spending ($100 million) in the county towards youth jobs, community centers, and violence reduction outreach workers. That would be real reform. The Police Reform Organizing Project here in New York is currently exploring a similar initiative on an even broader scale. Crime and disorder matter and need to be addressed, but we must strive to develop affirming rather than punitive solutions whenever possible. If the City Council is serious about reducing the negative impacts of the criminal justice system, it should start by revisiting its decision to expand the NYPD. More police with more discretion is not the answer.

***
Alex S. Vitale is associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics. He is senior policy adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project and serves on the New York State Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. You can follow him on Twitter: @avitale

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

]]>
Criminal Justice Reform Act is No Alternative to Broken Windows Policing Sun, 24 Jan 2016 19:01:27 +0000