Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/yuh-line-niou 2017-12-15T04:38:11+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Amid Larger Moment, Will Albany Face Another Sexual Misconduct Reckoning? 2017-10-31T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-31T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7286:amid-larger-moment-will-albany-face-another-sexual-misconduct-reckoning Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/7030332993_98be0d5262_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo Sheldon Silver Skelos Albany" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo, Sheldon Silver &amp; Dean Skelos in 2012 (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As allegations of sexual harassment and assault against disgraced movie producer and major Democratic political donor Harvey Weinstein piled up earlier this month, women around the world took to social media to share stories of abusive behavior using the hashtag <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MeToo?src=hash" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">#MeToo</a>.</p> <p>The light being shone on the predatory behavior of Weinstein and many others resonated at statehouses across the United States, from California to Rhode Island, where women in politics have been speaking out about sexual misconduct they experienced first-hand or witnessed, with victims including legislators, young staffers and interns, lobbyists, and others.</p> <p>In New York’s capital, the response has been more muted, in part because the Legislature is not currently in session, but also because Albany was recently forced to face its own mishandling of sexual misconduct scandals. As recently as 2014, the aftermath of a debacle around sexual harassment by Assemblymember Vito Lopez, which led to his forced resignation from the Assembly, produced a number of significant reforms to how harassment, misconduct, and discriminatory behavior are addressed in the state Assembly.</p> <p>Now, three years later and amid a national reckoning with issues related to sexual misconduct, women in state government who spoke to Gotham Gazette noted an&nbsp; improvement in the Albany culture since these reforms, but say that sexist attitudes and behavior continue to plague New York state government.</p> <p>While several female legislators were hesitant to speak on the record about their own experiences with sexual harassment, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa spoke frankly about her own experiences with sexism in the political sphere at a recent forum organized by Berkeley College in Manhattan. She described one incident, a decade ago, when on a conference call, it was announced that she would take the lead on a project. A man on the line, who is now a national leader in progressive politics, according to DeRosa, joked, “She can take the lead right up to my hotel room,” apparently unaware that DeRosa was on the line.</p> <p>“These instances have stuck with me, but I'm not kidding myself and neither should you — many women have and still do experience far worse every day, and it's not just actresses you're reading about in the news this week,” she said, according to <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/transcript-secretary-governor-melissa-derosa-delivers-keynote-address-women-media-courage-own" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a transcript</a> distributed by the governor’s office.</p> <p>Calling for “societal course correction,” DeRosa encouraged young women in all industries to speak out.</p> <p>The statement was a powerful one coming from DeRosa, who at 34 became the youngest person and first woman to be named Secretary to the Governor, the top aide to the state’s most powerful government official, when she was appointed to the post by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Days after DeRosa’s remarks, a former top official in Cuomo’s administration came forward with allegations that her former boss sexually harassed staffers, saying she was inspired by DeRosa’s remarks, <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/10/23/top-cuomo-official-claims-former-boss-sexually-harassed-employees/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The New York Post</a>.</p> <p>Patricia Gunning, who had recently resigned as the special prosecutor/inspector general of the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, told The Post that she faced retaliatory violence for calling out her boss for his behavior.</p> <p>“My hope is that this conversation will be the beginning of a new era in [how] these issues are addressed by employers,” Gunning told The Post.</p> <p>On Monday, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/10/30/cuomo-ally-sam-hoyt-leaves-state-post-for-private-sector/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">it was revealed</a> that&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">Sam Hoyt, a former assemblyman and Cuomo ally who ran Buffalo area projects for the state's Empire State Development Corporation, had abruptly resigned to take a job in the private sector. By Tuesday afternoon, Hoyt, who was disciplined by the Assembly<span style="font-weight: 400;">&nbsp;in 2009 for an affair with 19-year-old intern, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/10/31/state-employee-says-hoyt-paid-her-50000-to-conceal-relationship/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was accused</a> by a former state employee of pressuring her into a romantic relationship. She told Buffalo News that she was paid $50,000 for her silence.</span> </span></p> <p><span>In <a href="https://twitter.com/NickReisman/status/925443753200021505" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a statement</a>,&nbsp;<span>Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever acknowledged that allegations of misconduct had emerged against Hoyt and that an investigation was underway.</span></span></p> <p>"All state employees must act with integrity and respect," the statement read. "When the complainant made these allegations, they were immediately refered to the&nbsp; <span style="font-weight: 400;">Governor's Office of Employee Relations (GOER)&nbsp;</span>for an investigation."</p> <p>After GOER determined there were grounds for further review, the matter was refered to the Inspector General's Office, and later, the&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">Joint Commission of Public Ethics (JCOPE), according to the statement. Hoyt maintains that the relationship was consentual, according to Buffalo News.</span></p> <p>But while to this point there has not been a new public outcry at the New York Legislature, female lawmakers say that the Weinstein scandal and its fallout have struck a chord and sparked private conversations about their early experiences in Albany and how they can best aid young female staff aides and legislators.</p> <p>One such conversation occurred at <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/comm/?id=85" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a retreat</a> for the Women’s Legislative Caucus in Saratoga two weeks ago, where women shared uncomfortable incidents they had experienced early in their careers and discussed how they could better unify when scandals occur, according to Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo area lawmaker who chairs the Women’s Caucus. One thing agreed upon, Peoples-Stokes said, was that the Assembly’s sexual harassment enforcement could be enhanced by a mentorship program for incoming members and their aides.</p> <p>“We wanted to see if there is anything we can do in addition to ensure that we never need to have these experiences again,” said Peoples-Stokes. “It is something that we decided we are going to do as women of the Legislature, and you know, when women decide to do something, we get it done.”</p> <p>While the Assembly reforms appear to have improved the culture in the 150-seat chamber, Albany’s sexual harassment problem has not disappeared. The Senate and the Assembly <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/11/legislature-spends-271k-on-sexual-harassment-cases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">have spent</a> hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past two years on outside counsel to investigate sexual harassment complaints. The Assembly’s ethics committee -- which exists solely to enforce policy on sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation -- <a href="https://twitter.com/RachelSilby/status/917812909106978816" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convened a meeting</a> in executive session on October 12 and is expected to meet again on November 2. The matter at hand is not clear.<br /> <br />Currently reported to be under investigation by JCOPE and the Erie County District Attorney’s office is Senator Marc Panepinto, a Democrat from Buffalo, who announced he would not seek reelection last year <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/03/17/state-senator-faces-ethics-probe-amid-lurid-sexual-harassment-allegations/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amid rumors</a> of sexual harassment. Also last year, the Senate paid out $121,000 for two contracts with Kraus &amp; Zuchlewski LLP “for legal counsel related to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission matters and investigation of sexual harassment claims.”</p> <p>Assembly members who spoke with Gotham Gazette acknowledged the body’s embarrassing history of dismissing sexual misconduct claims internally, which has led to a slew of unflattering headlines in 2012 and 2013, but noted that <span style="font-weight: 400;">an influx of female legislators to the Assembly in recent years has also helped to reshape the culture</span>. At the Senate, such scandals and its culture of protecting those in power has not drawn the same scrutiny.</p> <p>Last week, New York’s chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) made an effort to further jumpstart the conversation, calling on women and men who currently or previously work(ed) in government in Albany and throughout the state to speak out about their personal experiences with sexual harassment or assault while on the job, citing the Legislature’s history of quashing sexual harassment complaints.<br /> <br />“Government sets the standard and the policies and the laws that all other industries are asked to uphold,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women - New York, said in a statement. “Given that Albany is a place where lawmakers have abused their power and sexual harassment has gone unchecked in the past, we felt it was important to give women in politics a platform to speak up.”</p> <p>The women’s advocacy organization has <a href="http://nownys.org/whistleblower-hotline-for-sexual-harassment-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> the creation of a new, dedicated hotline for individuals in government to report their experiences (people can call 518-362-7857 or submit a story online at <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/nownys.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nownys.org</a>).</p> <p>In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Ossorio said the goal is to build on the momentum of the #MeToo movement. The hotline will provide independent counsel and resources to victims while also assessing how effective recent policies have been, she said.</p> <p>“We immediately thought about the culture that has existed in Albany and we wanted to be able to empower women who work in politics, particularly young women and interns who head to their internships idealistic and wanting to be part of American government and are disillusioned by it,” she said. “We really want to know to what degree the environment of sexual harassment has been uprooted.”</p> <p>The personal stories tumbling out of statehouses around the nation are eerily familiar to anyone who has closely watched New York state government in recent years. In California, women leaders in government have formed a campaign called “We Said Enough,” sharing stories about how they have endured groping, inappropriate comments about their bodies and abilities, and insults and jokes that diminish them professionally. In some cases, “men have made promises, or threats, about our jobs in exchange for our compliance, or our silence. They have leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like,” wrote the group <a href="https://www.wesaidenough.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on a website</a> created for women to submit their stories.</p> <p>An open letter circulated by members of the Illinois Legislature drew a direct comparison between the Weinstein scandal and the coercive situations in which women in government find themselves and had drawn 130 signatures by Tuesday afternoon, <a href="https://t.co/zZUEBcBYR7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the AP reported</a>.</p> <p>"Every industry has its own version of the casting couch," reads the letter. "Ask any woman who has lobbied the halls of the Capitol, staffed Council Chambers, or slogged through brutal hours on the campaign trail. Misogyny is alive and well in this industry."</p> <p>Albany, which has historically been referred to as the New York’s own “sin city,” is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/16/nyregion/albany-faces-its-sex-problem-and-nobody-s-snickering.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">no stranger to such scandals</a>. Repeatedly, a series of particularly egregious complaints of sexual harassment or rape has led the Legislature to a watershed moment of sorts, producing much-needed reform in how accusers are treated and how their complaints are handled.</p> <p>A major turning point for the Assembly occurred <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/16/nyregion/albany-faces-its-sex-problem-and-nobody-s-snickering.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in 2004</a>, when, roiling from a series of rape accusations against Assemblymember Adam Clayton Powell IV and Michael Boxley, chief counsel to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, its leadership decided to bar members of the Legislature from fraternizing with interns.</p> <p>In the state Senate, a somewhat similar soul-searching happened, but at the time many of its members were strongly opposed to the idea of an intern-fraternization ban.</p> <p>In comparison to the 150-seat Assembly, sex scandals in the 63-seat Senate have unfolded more discreetly -- hinted at through <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/11/legislature-spends-271k-on-sexual-harassment-cases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">money spent on lawyers</a> or a senator or a top aide <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/09/flanagan-hires/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">leaving the job</a> abruptly amid rumors -- and as a result the body’s leadership has not been forced to publicly reckon with its record in the same way, according to Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who was instrumental in compelling the Senate to implement a mandatory sexual harassment training program.</p> <p>A decade ago, Krueger said she was privy to two incidents involving interns who were molested by older male senators. One incident occurred in a packed elevator and Krueger famously threatened to kick the senator if he touched an intern again. The other time she learned of a sexual assault claim when she found a young staffer crying outside a senator’s office at the Capitol.</p> <p>After the second incident, Krueger, who is known for her bluntness on the topic, said she urged then-Senate Leader Joe Bruno, a Republican from the Capital Region, to create mandatory sexual harassment training for all senators. When she threatened to hold a press conference naming and shaming the offending senators, Bruno, who later stepped down from the leadership role amid his own public corruption scandal, responded he would hold a competing press conference naming Democratic senators.</p> <p>The way Krueger tells it, she said, “I didn't tell you [what] party this senator is in. I don't give a damn what party they are. We can do a joint press conference, and we all can name names. I don't give a [expletive].” To which Bruno responded, “OK, OK, we'll do mandatory sexual harassment training,” Krueger <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/womenatwork/article/Liz-Krueger-Q-A-on-women-in-politics-9186948.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told The Albany Times Union</a>.</p> <p>The training became mandatory for senators and staff members and the regulations were clearly stated in a written document.</p> <p>It was not the last time Kreuger took her colleagues in the Legislature <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4246-a-culture-of-sexual-harassment-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">to task</a> over crimes against women. In June 2003, when Boxley was <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/12/nyregion/aide-to-silver-is-arrested-in-rape-case.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">led out of the Capitol in handcuffs</a>, having been accused of rape for the second time, Krueger said she had a very public confrontation with Assemblymember Lopez, who a decade later would be toppled by his own slew of sexual harassment scandals. They were scheduled, coincidentally, to hold a joint press conference in front of the Legislative Correspondents Association office. According to Krueger, the Assembly member fumed, “How dare they come over here and arrest our counsel in our house?”</p> <p>“I said ‘excuse me, he was tried with rape,’ pause, ‘for the second time,’ pause,” Krueger recalled to Gotham Gazette, “‘It seems to me that if you have anything to say publicly about this, it's let justice be fair and swift. Otherwise, I think you should keep your mouth shut.'”</p> <p>Lopez’s Assembly colleagues later told her that she had made an enemy for life. “I said, ‘Good. Some enemies are worth having,’” said Krueger of the former Brooklyn Democratic boss, who lost a City Council race in 2013 and died in November 2015.</p> <p>Still, Krueger acknowledges that the current sexual harassment policy in the Senate does not encourage women to come forward. “I’d like to believe the written policies the Senate came up with and mandatory training might have helped in some small way,” she told Gotham Gazette last week.</p> <p>In 2014, following <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4246-a-culture-of-sexual-harassment-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series of sexual misconduct scandals</a> involving Lopez, Assemblymember Micah Kellner, and Assemblymember Dennis Gabryszak, the Assembly officially changed its policy on sexual harassment, which had last been updated in 2009. In the past, sexual harassment complainants would typically report the incidents to the speaker’s office or the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), but it was up to the discretion of the speaker’s counsel whether to investigate the complaints.</p> <p>When it was revealed that Speaker Silver did not follow protocol and report misconduct allegations by two staff members against Assemblymember Lopez to the ethics body, instead cutting a secret $103,000 settlement with the women, Silver publically apologized for the lapse and announced that the Assembly would review its practices.</p> <p>To help restructure the chamber’s sexual harassment policy, the Assembly’s ethics committee enlisted CUNY Law School Professor <a href="http://www.law.cuny.edu/faculty/directory/rossein.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Merrick Rossein</a>, an attorney, law professor, and expert in discrimination litigation. Through interviews with women in the Assembly, Rossein made a series of recommendations to the bipartisan legislative task force that was convened to address deficiencies in the Assembly’s policy.</p> <p>“There are a number of things in this policy that I’m very proud of that I’d like to see in every sexual harassment policy, including the private sector,” said Rossein,&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">who has since been retained by the Assembly as an outside counsel to investigate complaints against members,</span> in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Recommendations made by Rossein include the appointment of an outside investigator to look into complaints; a guarantee of confidentiality for accusers; severe consequences for an employer that retaliates against a complainant; and more. Most importantly, a lawmaker accused of harassment is barred from talking to the accuser until a designated time. Additionally, lawmakers were made mandatory reporters, required to inform the ethics committee about sexual misconduct if they see it or hear about it -- a component women say <a href="http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-sexual-harassment-state-legislatures.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has had a dramatic impact on the culture in Albany</a>. A hotline has been set up for people to submit tips.</p> <p>The Assembly policy outlines two types of harassment, hostile work environment harassment — which is directed at somebody based on their sex, would be considered offensive by a reasonable person, and is severe or pervasive enough to interfere with one’s work environment — and quid-pro-quo harassment, the type described by victims of Weinstein, in which professional opportunities are offered in exchange for sexual favors.</p> <p>In response to the barrage of corruption and sexual harassment scandals over the last decade, the Legislature has also dramatically revamped the way it approaches its ethics and sexual harassment training, according to Assemblymember Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Nassau County and former chair of the Assembly’s ethics committee. Not only are class sizes smaller, according to Lavine, but they have gone from obligatory and dry, to dynamic, thought-provoking, and interactive.</p> <p>“We have gone from the days when it was almost an obligation to provide -- or what seemed to be at the time -- ethics training that was done in large groups of people,” said Lavine in a January interview with Gotham Gazette. “And while it was content-specific and good, it was not nearly so effective as the modern approach, which is to work with smaller groups of individuals in an interactive environment.”</p> <p>Still, there is undoubtedly more work to be done to rectify inequities for women and in Albany. It likely doesn’t help that those at the top of Albany’s power chain are all men. Many have pushed for Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County legislator who has led Senate Democrats since 2012 and is the first woman or person of color to lead a legislative conference, to be included at the negotiating table during budget and other high-level talks. Currently, the state’s $150 billion-plus budget is largely hammered out by four men: Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which forms a ruling coalition with the Republican conference. Democrats hope that the 2018 state-level elections and an agreement with the IDC will lead to Stewart-Cousins becoming the leader of a new Senate majority.</p> <p>Having more women in the Legislature would go a long way towards creating a safer space for female employees at all levels of government, according to Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p>“The most disturbing thing is that almost every woman has a story regarding harassment or worse,” said Stewart-Cousins, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “This is true in every walk of life and unfortunately true in government. Only by confronting sexism and gender bias head-on will we be able to truly create a culture which respects everyone equally. We need to support women and pro-women candidates for office and energize pro-women New Yorkers to get out and vote.”</p> <p>An increase in the number of women in Albany has helped reshape the culture from an old boys' club, in which women were largely relegated to secretarial positions, to a more egalitarian environment, where women are not only elected to office, but have risen to acquire key chair positions in both houses and led the passage of women-friendly legislation.</p> <p>Assemblymember Nily Rozic, who became the youngest woman in the state Legislature and the first woman ever to represent Queens’ 25th District when she was elected in 2012, said she has watched the culture transform since she began her tenure in Albany as an aide to Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh.</p> <p>“It’s certainly gotten better since I was a legislative staffer, but we have a long way to go. The underlying change that’s happening is that more women are getting elected to the Legislature and that really positively affects our work place,” said Rozic.</p> <p>Aside from the most serious cases of sexual assault and rape, it’s often sexual comments and diminishing jokes -- such as the one described by DeRosa -- or an extra-long hug that makes the state Legislature a treacherous place for young women.</p> <p>Alexis Grenell, a political strategist and commentator on feminist issues, said the comment described by DeRosa is a quintessential example of how women are verbally undermined in the workplace.</p> <p>“The harassment that Melissa described is fundamentally dehumanizing,” said Grenell. “There is nothing benign about it. It’s meant to take away her worth as a thinking, contributing person in a professional environment and renders her the sum total of her physicality and sex appeal. That is dehumanizing. It’s not why she’s on the call.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, recalled her first years as a legislative staffer in Washington, D.C. and as chief of staff to Assemblymember Ron Kim, of Queens. She said that when she first arrived in Albany, Kim warned her not to get into elevators with “the wrong people.” Later, she learned that she had been named on a “hot or not” list that had been circulating among male staffers at the Legislature.</p> <p>“People would stop me in the hallway and say ‘you are just so exotic,’ but you know I’m not going to report them for it,” said Niou, who was elected to Silver’s old Assembly seat in 2016. “It’s just an ignorant and not very thoughtful comment.”</p> <p>These types of incidents collectively create a hostile environment that women internalize and come to see as normal, she said.</p> <p>“Over time, I’ve built this protective shell, like ‘oh these things are just going to bounce right off of me,’ but these things happen every day,” said Niou. “Somebody insists a kiss on the cheek -- like forces it -- but everyone kisses on the cheek, all over Albany people do the kiss-kiss thing.”</p> <p>The cheek kiss, which is often reserved for women in political settings, falls into a bit of a grey area, but many women in government have observed the greeting often provides an opportunity for hands to roam. The Assembly’s newest sexual harassment policy warns that touching -- including brushing against the body, squeezing, hugging, massaging or patting -- may fall under the category of sexual harassment, but that has not ended the practice.</p> <p>Grenell, who frequently holds press conferences at the Capitol, said to bypass the double kiss, she initiates a handshake by extending her arm as far away from her body as possible.</p> <p>A similar strategy is deployed by one Pennsylvania lawmaker, who at a recent women-led panel in the state, explained how she avoids the cheek kiss -- by placing one hand on her colleague’s shoulder, and the other outstretched for a handshake, according to <a href="http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/weinstein-sexual-harassment-harrisburg-capitol-lawmakers-sexual-favors-20171027.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an account</a> by a journalist covering the Harrisburg Capitol in the Philadelphia Inquirer.</p> <p>Albany veterans say they have grown accustomed to awkward and demeaning daily experiences.</p> <p>"I've been saying for the last 15 years: Every week, I drive three hours north and 30 years back in history in regards to how we treat women," said Senator Krueger, of Manhattan.</p> <p>With women across all industries, including government, empowered by the Weinstein blowup and its ripples to speak out about their experiences, Krueger said she would not be surprised if it led to another watershed moment in Albany.</p> <p>“I would suspect in the New York State Legislature, like so many other places -- where you have men in powerful positions and young women who might not have a lot of worldly experience, who think these are very important men,” she said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if more stories come out.”</p> <p><em>Update: The story has been updated with allegations about former EDC official Sam Hoyt that emerged Tuesday afternoon.</em></p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/7030332993_98be0d5262_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo Sheldon Silver Skelos Albany" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo, Sheldon Silver &amp; Dean Skelos in 2012 (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As allegations of sexual harassment and assault against disgraced movie producer and major Democratic political donor Harvey Weinstein piled up earlier this month, women around the world took to social media to share stories of abusive behavior using the hashtag <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MeToo?src=hash" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">#MeToo</a>.</p> <p>The light being shone on the predatory behavior of Weinstein and many others resonated at statehouses across the United States, from California to Rhode Island, where women in politics have been speaking out about sexual misconduct they experienced first-hand or witnessed, with victims including legislators, young staffers and interns, lobbyists, and others.</p> <p>In New York’s capital, the response has been more muted, in part because the Legislature is not currently in session, but also because Albany was recently forced to face its own mishandling of sexual misconduct scandals. As recently as 2014, the aftermath of a debacle around sexual harassment by Assemblymember Vito Lopez, which led to his forced resignation from the Assembly, produced a number of significant reforms to how harassment, misconduct, and discriminatory behavior are addressed in the state Assembly.</p> <p>Now, three years later and amid a national reckoning with issues related to sexual misconduct, women in state government who spoke to Gotham Gazette noted an&nbsp; improvement in the Albany culture since these reforms, but say that sexist attitudes and behavior continue to plague New York state government.</p> <p>While several female legislators were hesitant to speak on the record about their own experiences with sexual harassment, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa spoke frankly about her own experiences with sexism in the political sphere at a recent forum organized by Berkeley College in Manhattan. She described one incident, a decade ago, when on a conference call, it was announced that she would take the lead on a project. A man on the line, who is now a national leader in progressive politics, according to DeRosa, joked, “She can take the lead right up to my hotel room,” apparently unaware that DeRosa was on the line.</p> <p>“These instances have stuck with me, but I'm not kidding myself and neither should you — many women have and still do experience far worse every day, and it's not just actresses you're reading about in the news this week,” she said, according to <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/transcript-secretary-governor-melissa-derosa-delivers-keynote-address-women-media-courage-own" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a transcript</a> distributed by the governor’s office.</p> <p>Calling for “societal course correction,” DeRosa encouraged young women in all industries to speak out.</p> <p>The statement was a powerful one coming from DeRosa, who at 34 became the youngest person and first woman to be named Secretary to the Governor, the top aide to the state’s most powerful government official, when she was appointed to the post by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Days after DeRosa’s remarks, a former top official in Cuomo’s administration came forward with allegations that her former boss sexually harassed staffers, saying she was inspired by DeRosa’s remarks, <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/10/23/top-cuomo-official-claims-former-boss-sexually-harassed-employees/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The New York Post</a>.</p> <p>Patricia Gunning, who had recently resigned as the special prosecutor/inspector general of the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, told The Post that she faced retaliatory violence for calling out her boss for his behavior.</p> <p>“My hope is that this conversation will be the beginning of a new era in [how] these issues are addressed by employers,” Gunning told The Post.</p> <p>On Monday, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/10/30/cuomo-ally-sam-hoyt-leaves-state-post-for-private-sector/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">it was revealed</a> that&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">Sam Hoyt, a former assemblyman and Cuomo ally who ran Buffalo area projects for the state's Empire State Development Corporation, had abruptly resigned to take a job in the private sector. By Tuesday afternoon, Hoyt, who was disciplined by the Assembly<span style="font-weight: 400;">&nbsp;in 2009 for an affair with 19-year-old intern, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/10/31/state-employee-says-hoyt-paid-her-50000-to-conceal-relationship/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was accused</a> by a former state employee of pressuring her into a romantic relationship. She told Buffalo News that she was paid $50,000 for her silence.</span> </span></p> <p><span>In <a href="https://twitter.com/NickReisman/status/925443753200021505" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a statement</a>,&nbsp;<span>Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever acknowledged that allegations of misconduct had emerged against Hoyt and that an investigation was underway.</span></span></p> <p>"All state employees must act with integrity and respect," the statement read. "When the complainant made these allegations, they were immediately refered to the&nbsp; <span style="font-weight: 400;">Governor's Office of Employee Relations (GOER)&nbsp;</span>for an investigation."</p> <p>After GOER determined there were grounds for further review, the matter was refered to the Inspector General's Office, and later, the&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">Joint Commission of Public Ethics (JCOPE), according to the statement. Hoyt maintains that the relationship was consentual, according to Buffalo News.</span></p> <p>But while to this point there has not been a new public outcry at the New York Legislature, female lawmakers say that the Weinstein scandal and its fallout have struck a chord and sparked private conversations about their early experiences in Albany and how they can best aid young female staff aides and legislators.</p> <p>One such conversation occurred at <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/comm/?id=85" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a retreat</a> for the Women’s Legislative Caucus in Saratoga two weeks ago, where women shared uncomfortable incidents they had experienced early in their careers and discussed how they could better unify when scandals occur, according to Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo area lawmaker who chairs the Women’s Caucus. One thing agreed upon, Peoples-Stokes said, was that the Assembly’s sexual harassment enforcement could be enhanced by a mentorship program for incoming members and their aides.</p> <p>“We wanted to see if there is anything we can do in addition to ensure that we never need to have these experiences again,” said Peoples-Stokes. “It is something that we decided we are going to do as women of the Legislature, and you know, when women decide to do something, we get it done.”</p> <p>While the Assembly reforms appear to have improved the culture in the 150-seat chamber, Albany’s sexual harassment problem has not disappeared. The Senate and the Assembly <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/11/legislature-spends-271k-on-sexual-harassment-cases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">have spent</a> hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past two years on outside counsel to investigate sexual harassment complaints. The Assembly’s ethics committee -- which exists solely to enforce policy on sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation -- <a href="https://twitter.com/RachelSilby/status/917812909106978816" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convened a meeting</a> in executive session on October 12 and is expected to meet again on November 2. The matter at hand is not clear.<br /> <br />Currently reported to be under investigation by JCOPE and the Erie County District Attorney’s office is Senator Marc Panepinto, a Democrat from Buffalo, who announced he would not seek reelection last year <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/03/17/state-senator-faces-ethics-probe-amid-lurid-sexual-harassment-allegations/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amid rumors</a> of sexual harassment. Also last year, the Senate paid out $121,000 for two contracts with Kraus &amp; Zuchlewski LLP “for legal counsel related to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission matters and investigation of sexual harassment claims.”</p> <p>Assembly members who spoke with Gotham Gazette acknowledged the body’s embarrassing history of dismissing sexual misconduct claims internally, which has led to a slew of unflattering headlines in 2012 and 2013, but noted that <span style="font-weight: 400;">an influx of female legislators to the Assembly in recent years has also helped to reshape the culture</span>. At the Senate, such scandals and its culture of protecting those in power has not drawn the same scrutiny.</p> <p>Last week, New York’s chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) made an effort to further jumpstart the conversation, calling on women and men who currently or previously work(ed) in government in Albany and throughout the state to speak out about their personal experiences with sexual harassment or assault while on the job, citing the Legislature’s history of quashing sexual harassment complaints.<br /> <br />“Government sets the standard and the policies and the laws that all other industries are asked to uphold,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women - New York, said in a statement. “Given that Albany is a place where lawmakers have abused their power and sexual harassment has gone unchecked in the past, we felt it was important to give women in politics a platform to speak up.”</p> <p>The women’s advocacy organization has <a href="http://nownys.org/whistleblower-hotline-for-sexual-harassment-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> the creation of a new, dedicated hotline for individuals in government to report their experiences (people can call 518-362-7857 or submit a story online at <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/nownys.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nownys.org</a>).</p> <p>In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Ossorio said the goal is to build on the momentum of the #MeToo movement. The hotline will provide independent counsel and resources to victims while also assessing how effective recent policies have been, she said.</p> <p>“We immediately thought about the culture that has existed in Albany and we wanted to be able to empower women who work in politics, particularly young women and interns who head to their internships idealistic and wanting to be part of American government and are disillusioned by it,” she said. “We really want to know to what degree the environment of sexual harassment has been uprooted.”</p> <p>The personal stories tumbling out of statehouses around the nation are eerily familiar to anyone who has closely watched New York state government in recent years. In California, women leaders in government have formed a campaign called “We Said Enough,” sharing stories about how they have endured groping, inappropriate comments about their bodies and abilities, and insults and jokes that diminish them professionally. In some cases, “men have made promises, or threats, about our jobs in exchange for our compliance, or our silence. They have leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like,” wrote the group <a href="https://www.wesaidenough.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on a website</a> created for women to submit their stories.</p> <p>An open letter circulated by members of the Illinois Legislature drew a direct comparison between the Weinstein scandal and the coercive situations in which women in government find themselves and had drawn 130 signatures by Tuesday afternoon, <a href="https://t.co/zZUEBcBYR7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the AP reported</a>.</p> <p>"Every industry has its own version of the casting couch," reads the letter. "Ask any woman who has lobbied the halls of the Capitol, staffed Council Chambers, or slogged through brutal hours on the campaign trail. Misogyny is alive and well in this industry."</p> <p>Albany, which has historically been referred to as the New York’s own “sin city,” is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/16/nyregion/albany-faces-its-sex-problem-and-nobody-s-snickering.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">no stranger to such scandals</a>. Repeatedly, a series of particularly egregious complaints of sexual harassment or rape has led the Legislature to a watershed moment of sorts, producing much-needed reform in how accusers are treated and how their complaints are handled.</p> <p>A major turning point for the Assembly occurred <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/16/nyregion/albany-faces-its-sex-problem-and-nobody-s-snickering.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in 2004</a>, when, roiling from a series of rape accusations against Assemblymember Adam Clayton Powell IV and Michael Boxley, chief counsel to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, its leadership decided to bar members of the Legislature from fraternizing with interns.</p> <p>In the state Senate, a somewhat similar soul-searching happened, but at the time many of its members were strongly opposed to the idea of an intern-fraternization ban.</p> <p>In comparison to the 150-seat Assembly, sex scandals in the 63-seat Senate have unfolded more discreetly -- hinted at through <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/11/legislature-spends-271k-on-sexual-harassment-cases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">money spent on lawyers</a> or a senator or a top aide <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/09/flanagan-hires/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">leaving the job</a> abruptly amid rumors -- and as a result the body’s leadership has not been forced to publicly reckon with its record in the same way, according to Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who was instrumental in compelling the Senate to implement a mandatory sexual harassment training program.</p> <p>A decade ago, Krueger said she was privy to two incidents involving interns who were molested by older male senators. One incident occurred in a packed elevator and Krueger famously threatened to kick the senator if he touched an intern again. The other time she learned of a sexual assault claim when she found a young staffer crying outside a senator’s office at the Capitol.</p> <p>After the second incident, Krueger, who is known for her bluntness on the topic, said she urged then-Senate Leader Joe Bruno, a Republican from the Capital Region, to create mandatory sexual harassment training for all senators. When she threatened to hold a press conference naming and shaming the offending senators, Bruno, who later stepped down from the leadership role amid his own public corruption scandal, responded he would hold a competing press conference naming Democratic senators.</p> <p>The way Krueger tells it, she said, “I didn't tell you [what] party this senator is in. I don't give a damn what party they are. We can do a joint press conference, and we all can name names. I don't give a [expletive].” To which Bruno responded, “OK, OK, we'll do mandatory sexual harassment training,” Krueger <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/womenatwork/article/Liz-Krueger-Q-A-on-women-in-politics-9186948.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told The Albany Times Union</a>.</p> <p>The training became mandatory for senators and staff members and the regulations were clearly stated in a written document.</p> <p>It was not the last time Kreuger took her colleagues in the Legislature <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4246-a-culture-of-sexual-harassment-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">to task</a> over crimes against women. In June 2003, when Boxley was <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/12/nyregion/aide-to-silver-is-arrested-in-rape-case.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">led out of the Capitol in handcuffs</a>, having been accused of rape for the second time, Krueger said she had a very public confrontation with Assemblymember Lopez, who a decade later would be toppled by his own slew of sexual harassment scandals. They were scheduled, coincidentally, to hold a joint press conference in front of the Legislative Correspondents Association office. According to Krueger, the Assembly member fumed, “How dare they come over here and arrest our counsel in our house?”</p> <p>“I said ‘excuse me, he was tried with rape,’ pause, ‘for the second time,’ pause,” Krueger recalled to Gotham Gazette, “‘It seems to me that if you have anything to say publicly about this, it's let justice be fair and swift. Otherwise, I think you should keep your mouth shut.'”</p> <p>Lopez’s Assembly colleagues later told her that she had made an enemy for life. “I said, ‘Good. Some enemies are worth having,’” said Krueger of the former Brooklyn Democratic boss, who lost a City Council race in 2013 and died in November 2015.</p> <p>Still, Krueger acknowledges that the current sexual harassment policy in the Senate does not encourage women to come forward. “I’d like to believe the written policies the Senate came up with and mandatory training might have helped in some small way,” she told Gotham Gazette last week.</p> <p>In 2014, following <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4246-a-culture-of-sexual-harassment-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series of sexual misconduct scandals</a> involving Lopez, Assemblymember Micah Kellner, and Assemblymember Dennis Gabryszak, the Assembly officially changed its policy on sexual harassment, which had last been updated in 2009. In the past, sexual harassment complainants would typically report the incidents to the speaker’s office or the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), but it was up to the discretion of the speaker’s counsel whether to investigate the complaints.</p> <p>When it was revealed that Speaker Silver did not follow protocol and report misconduct allegations by two staff members against Assemblymember Lopez to the ethics body, instead cutting a secret $103,000 settlement with the women, Silver publically apologized for the lapse and announced that the Assembly would review its practices.</p> <p>To help restructure the chamber’s sexual harassment policy, the Assembly’s ethics committee enlisted CUNY Law School Professor <a href="http://www.law.cuny.edu/faculty/directory/rossein.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Merrick Rossein</a>, an attorney, law professor, and expert in discrimination litigation. Through interviews with women in the Assembly, Rossein made a series of recommendations to the bipartisan legislative task force that was convened to address deficiencies in the Assembly’s policy.</p> <p>“There are a number of things in this policy that I’m very proud of that I’d like to see in every sexual harassment policy, including the private sector,” said Rossein,&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">who has since been retained by the Assembly as an outside counsel to investigate complaints against members,</span> in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Recommendations made by Rossein include the appointment of an outside investigator to look into complaints; a guarantee of confidentiality for accusers; severe consequences for an employer that retaliates against a complainant; and more. Most importantly, a lawmaker accused of harassment is barred from talking to the accuser until a designated time. Additionally, lawmakers were made mandatory reporters, required to inform the ethics committee about sexual misconduct if they see it or hear about it -- a component women say <a href="http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-sexual-harassment-state-legislatures.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has had a dramatic impact on the culture in Albany</a>. A hotline has been set up for people to submit tips.</p> <p>The Assembly policy outlines two types of harassment, hostile work environment harassment — which is directed at somebody based on their sex, would be considered offensive by a reasonable person, and is severe or pervasive enough to interfere with one’s work environment — and quid-pro-quo harassment, the type described by victims of Weinstein, in which professional opportunities are offered in exchange for sexual favors.</p> <p>In response to the barrage of corruption and sexual harassment scandals over the last decade, the Legislature has also dramatically revamped the way it approaches its ethics and sexual harassment training, according to Assemblymember Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Nassau County and former chair of the Assembly’s ethics committee. Not only are class sizes smaller, according to Lavine, but they have gone from obligatory and dry, to dynamic, thought-provoking, and interactive.</p> <p>“We have gone from the days when it was almost an obligation to provide -- or what seemed to be at the time -- ethics training that was done in large groups of people,” said Lavine in a January interview with Gotham Gazette. “And while it was content-specific and good, it was not nearly so effective as the modern approach, which is to work with smaller groups of individuals in an interactive environment.”</p> <p>Still, there is undoubtedly more work to be done to rectify inequities for women and in Albany. It likely doesn’t help that those at the top of Albany’s power chain are all men. Many have pushed for Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County legislator who has led Senate Democrats since 2012 and is the first woman or person of color to lead a legislative conference, to be included at the negotiating table during budget and other high-level talks. Currently, the state’s $150 billion-plus budget is largely hammered out by four men: Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which forms a ruling coalition with the Republican conference. Democrats hope that the 2018 state-level elections and an agreement with the IDC will lead to Stewart-Cousins becoming the leader of a new Senate majority.</p> <p>Having more women in the Legislature would go a long way towards creating a safer space for female employees at all levels of government, according to Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p>“The most disturbing thing is that almost every woman has a story regarding harassment or worse,” said Stewart-Cousins, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “This is true in every walk of life and unfortunately true in government. Only by confronting sexism and gender bias head-on will we be able to truly create a culture which respects everyone equally. We need to support women and pro-women candidates for office and energize pro-women New Yorkers to get out and vote.”</p> <p>An increase in the number of women in Albany has helped reshape the culture from an old boys' club, in which women were largely relegated to secretarial positions, to a more egalitarian environment, where women are not only elected to office, but have risen to acquire key chair positions in both houses and led the passage of women-friendly legislation.</p> <p>Assemblymember Nily Rozic, who became the youngest woman in the state Legislature and the first woman ever to represent Queens’ 25th District when she was elected in 2012, said she has watched the culture transform since she began her tenure in Albany as an aide to Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh.</p> <p>“It’s certainly gotten better since I was a legislative staffer, but we have a long way to go. The underlying change that’s happening is that more women are getting elected to the Legislature and that really positively affects our work place,” said Rozic.</p> <p>Aside from the most serious cases of sexual assault and rape, it’s often sexual comments and diminishing jokes -- such as the one described by DeRosa -- or an extra-long hug that makes the state Legislature a treacherous place for young women.</p> <p>Alexis Grenell, a political strategist and commentator on feminist issues, said the comment described by DeRosa is a quintessential example of how women are verbally undermined in the workplace.</p> <p>“The harassment that Melissa described is fundamentally dehumanizing,” said Grenell. “There is nothing benign about it. It’s meant to take away her worth as a thinking, contributing person in a professional environment and renders her the sum total of her physicality and sex appeal. That is dehumanizing. It’s not why she’s on the call.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, recalled her first years as a legislative staffer in Washington, D.C. and as chief of staff to Assemblymember Ron Kim, of Queens. She said that when she first arrived in Albany, Kim warned her not to get into elevators with “the wrong people.” Later, she learned that she had been named on a “hot or not” list that had been circulating among male staffers at the Legislature.</p> <p>“People would stop me in the hallway and say ‘you are just so exotic,’ but you know I’m not going to report them for it,” said Niou, who was elected to Silver’s old Assembly seat in 2016. “It’s just an ignorant and not very thoughtful comment.”</p> <p>These types of incidents collectively create a hostile environment that women internalize and come to see as normal, she said.</p> <p>“Over time, I’ve built this protective shell, like ‘oh these things are just going to bounce right off of me,’ but these things happen every day,” said Niou. “Somebody insists a kiss on the cheek -- like forces it -- but everyone kisses on the cheek, all over Albany people do the kiss-kiss thing.”</p> <p>The cheek kiss, which is often reserved for women in political settings, falls into a bit of a grey area, but many women in government have observed the greeting often provides an opportunity for hands to roam. The Assembly’s newest sexual harassment policy warns that touching -- including brushing against the body, squeezing, hugging, massaging or patting -- may fall under the category of sexual harassment, but that has not ended the practice.</p> <p>Grenell, who frequently holds press conferences at the Capitol, said to bypass the double kiss, she initiates a handshake by extending her arm as far away from her body as possible.</p> <p>A similar strategy is deployed by one Pennsylvania lawmaker, who at a recent women-led panel in the state, explained how she avoids the cheek kiss -- by placing one hand on her colleague’s shoulder, and the other outstretched for a handshake, according to <a href="http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/weinstein-sexual-harassment-harrisburg-capitol-lawmakers-sexual-favors-20171027.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an account</a> by a journalist covering the Harrisburg Capitol in the Philadelphia Inquirer.</p> <p>Albany veterans say they have grown accustomed to awkward and demeaning daily experiences.</p> <p>"I've been saying for the last 15 years: Every week, I drive three hours north and 30 years back in history in regards to how we treat women," said Senator Krueger, of Manhattan.</p> <p>With women across all industries, including government, empowered by the Weinstein blowup and its ripples to speak out about their experiences, Krueger said she would not be surprised if it led to another watershed moment in Albany.</p> <p>“I would suspect in the New York State Legislature, like so many other places -- where you have men in powerful positions and young women who might not have a lot of worldly experience, who think these are very important men,” she said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if more stories come out.”</p> <p><em>Update: The story has been updated with allegations about former EDC official Sam Hoyt that emerged Tuesday afternoon.</em></p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Adjusting to Albany: Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou 2017-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6808:adjusting-to-albany-assemblymember-yuh-line-niou Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/yuhlineniou2.jpg" alt="yuhlineniou2" height="474" width="600" /></p> <p>Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou (photo via @yuhline)</p> <hr /> <p>Yuh-Line Niou, Assemblymember for the 65th District in Lower Manhattan, has a tough task. The new Assembly member takes the seat held by disgraced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for 40 years. Niou won the September 2016 Democratic primary -- backed by the Working Families Party -- and November general election after losing a prior special election to Alice Cancel, who had been the choice of the Silver machine.</p> <p>Now, she must navigate growing into her role as an elected official, managing constituent services in a district that once got special attention given Silver’s powerful perch, and making her mark on Albany’s crowded landscape.</p> <p>In February, Nious spoke with Gotham Gazette about the challenges of meeting the outsized expectations of her district, getting to know her new colleagues and figuring out how to be heard in a notoriously dysfunctional state government. She also shared some of the less glamorous aspects of being a new legislator from New York City, such as taking the train to and from Albany and ordering pizza to her hotel.</p> <p><em><strong>GG: How was your first month as a state legislator? What was orientation like?</strong></em></p> <p>YLN: The first month has been pretty hectic. It’s been exciting in a lot of ways, but it’s also a lot to take in. It’s a pretty steep learning curve, because everybody else seems to know what’s going on a lot more than I do. It’s been also really exciting to get to know a lot of my colleagues. My cohort -- it’s very exciting for us to be together, because we’re all freshmen together, and there’s about 11 of us on the Dems side. It’s been kind of fun, that part of it...There’s a lot of folks that just listening to them talk and understanding some of the issues that they are fighting for, I admire them.</p> <p><strong><em>GG: What’s your commute like? Where do you stay? Favorite restaurants? Tell us about your day-to-day.</em></strong></p> <p>YLN: Actually, because there’s been so many events going on in-district, I commute Sunday night and I take the latest train usually. Sometimes it’s 9 p.m. and sometimes 11 p.m. I take the Penn Station Amtrak, and usually when I get [to Albany] it’s around midnight, or if I got the 11 o’clock, it’s like 2:30 a.m. But I try to go to as many district events as possible before I leave; because we’re up here, we don’t to get to be in the district as much as we would like and people want to see me out there. But because of the schedule and how busy it is is [in Albany] -- It’s almost budget season, it’s actually the last day for budget letters -- everything is really hectic.</p> <p>I’m staying at the Holiday Inn Express — very fancy! — I actually have not gone out to eat at all really. Sometimes in the dead of night, when we finally get done with everything, it’s like 11 p.m., and everything’s closed. I go back to the Holiday Inn, and then I order pizza.</p> <p><em><strong>GG: Have you had much Assembly floor time? Do you speak up for your constituents?</strong></em></p> <p>YLN: It’s really great, because they help us by putting things into packages and days. So there hasn’t been much difficulty with drafting policy or the legislative schedule yet. I think that things get full and really crazy fast right after the budget is done — for the policy side.</p> <p>Right now, we’ve done a lot on women’s rights and I was able to speak up on reproductive health. We had a bunch of resolutions heard. Mine was the Lunar New Year resolution, and it was really great, because over 80 legislators signed on to it. We also had the immigrant rights debate, a lot of criminal justice reform debates. So those were really impactful right now, because of what’s going on on a federal level.</p> <p><em><strong>GG: You are coming in during a strange climate given what’s going on nationally. How has the Trump administration shaped your priorities?</strong></em></p> <p>YLN: That a really big question. One of the things that I’m lucky enough to be a part of, is being part of ‘the people’s budget,’ I’m one of the legislators who is helping to put it together — and that’s the document that the Black, Hispanic, Asian and Puerto Rican Caucus put together. It’s really exciting. We get to talk a lot about the things I just mentioned, with criminal justice reform, and immigrant rights and women's rights. And we get to talk a lot about what we, as a caucus, would like to focus on. The other budgets don’t necessarily make those things a priority, so at least it’s a document for folks who believe in those things to have a voice. It’s a very exciting project and I’m really honored to be a part of it.</p> <p>One of the pieces -- because of the weird climate -- one of the things I got to speak up on, was stopping data registries, and I think that’s really important because I know the city is going through some stuff with the [IDNYC (municipal identification card)] program. We are all trying do our best to look at what’s happening, and then do really good preparation to be a good buffer and good representation of our district.</p> <p><em><strong>GG: You get this question a lot, but, Asian-Americans have been underrepresented in public office in New York State for so long. As the first Asian-American state legislator representing Manhattan, is there a lot of pressure to be a voice for an entire ethnic group?</strong></em></p> <p>YLN: I worked for [Assemblymember] Ron [Kim] last year and he was the only Asian-American on the entire state level — I bet he felt that! Right now, there’s both me and him, and it’s nice. But I also know that there are many of our colleagues that have very large Asian-American populations, and many of them have been very good at representing those communities in those districts as well. But yes, of course, a lot of people are going to come to our office with a lot of language-access needs, and immigration issues, and things like that. Just very basic things, like how to use mail. These are things Ron and I had to deal with that a lot at his office, because he was the only Asian-American elected on the entire state level, so many times a lot of those issues came to us.</p> <p>I don’t get tired of the question, by the way. I think it’s sad that we have to keep asking the question more than anything. Because, I think that you are right, absolutely, we are the most underrepresented minority in New York State and the most rapidly growing as well in our state. We are at least 10 percent of the population in our state and we definitely don’t even have 1 percent of representation on a state level. That’s shocking, for sure. I think it's upsetting in the sense that, ‘Oh, I can’t believe I am the first on a state level,’ because I didn’t think that that was still a thing, but unfortunately, it is. I think it's very important to represent my whole district, but it is also a community that grew together, and everybody is supportive of one another. That’s why it’s such an incredible district.</p> <p><em><strong>GG: Any other surprising moments or takeaways from the past month and a half?</strong></em></p> <p>YLN: There hasn’t been anything completely unexpected, but I definitely have just been just moved by how supportive everyone is. Especially with my office, the speaker [Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie] has been very, very good with my district and understanding the difficulty that I am under.</p> <p>Given the history of this office, I think that we know that this district was serviced like no other district, because there were a lot of resources that, having the former speaker represent the district, that the district would have. Certain expectations have been set by the seat, which means I have to provide a very high level of constituent service and representation, but with only a fraction of the budget.</p> <p>I was very moved and surprised by how much the Speaker understands that, and by how supportive the staff has been, on [The] Ways and Means [Committee], and the different committees, how they’ve been for our district in general, because it's got to be a drastic change.</p> <p>I think it's my responsibility to the district to ensure that I’m super responsive, that we are able to get to folks’ needs very quickly and efficiently, because it's crucial. This is a constituency that literally had the most service and then almost no service for a period of time. It’s been a shock to the system. I’m hoping to make sure we are 100 percent accessible, that we are always transparent, and my priority is always constituents first.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span style="text-align: center;">[Read more from our series,&nbsp;</span><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6818-adjusting-to-albany-meet-nyc-s-new-class-of-state-legislators#yuhlineniou" target="_blank" style="text-align: center;">Adjusting to Albany: Meet NYC's New Class of State Legislators</a><span style="text-align: center;">]</span></p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/yuhlineniou2.jpg" alt="yuhlineniou2" height="474" width="600" /></p> <p>Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou (photo via @yuhline)</p> <hr /> <p>Yuh-Line Niou, Assemblymember for the 65th District in Lower Manhattan, has a tough task. The new Assembly member takes the seat held by disgraced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for 40 years. Niou won the September 2016 Democratic primary -- backed by the Working Families Party -- and November general election after losing a prior special election to Alice Cancel, who had been the choice of the Silver machine.</p> <p>Now, she must navigate growing into her role as an elected official, managing constituent services in a district that once got special attention given Silver’s powerful perch, and making her mark on Albany’s crowded landscape.</p> <p>In February, Nious spoke with Gotham Gazette about the challenges of meeting the outsized expectations of her district, getting to know her new colleagues and figuring out how to be heard in a notoriously dysfunctional state government. She also shared some of the less glamorous aspects of being a new legislator from New York City, such as taking the train to and from Albany and ordering pizza to her hotel.</p> <p><em><strong>GG: How was your first month as a state legislator? What was orientation like?</strong></em></p> <p>YLN: The first month has been pretty hectic. It’s been exciting in a lot of ways, but it’s also a lot to take in. It’s a pretty steep learning curve, because everybody else seems to know what’s going on a lot more than I do. It’s been also really exciting to get to know a lot of my colleagues. My cohort -- it’s very exciting for us to be together, because we’re all freshmen together, and there’s about 11 of us on the Dems side. It’s been kind of fun, that part of it...There’s a lot of folks that just listening to them talk and understanding some of the issues that they are fighting for, I admire them.</p> <p><strong><em>GG: What’s your commute like? Where do you stay? Favorite restaurants? Tell us about your day-to-day.</em></strong></p> <p>YLN: Actually, because there’s been so many events going on in-district, I commute Sunday night and I take the latest train usually. Sometimes it’s 9 p.m. and sometimes 11 p.m. I take the Penn Station Amtrak, and usually when I get [to Albany] it’s around midnight, or if I got the 11 o’clock, it’s like 2:30 a.m. But I try to go to as many district events as possible before I leave; because we’re up here, we don’t to get to be in the district as much as we would like and people want to see me out there. But because of the schedule and how busy it is is [in Albany] -- It’s almost budget season, it’s actually the last day for budget letters -- everything is really hectic.</p> <p>I’m staying at the Holiday Inn Express — very fancy! — I actually have not gone out to eat at all really. Sometimes in the dead of night, when we finally get done with everything, it’s like 11 p.m., and everything’s closed. I go back to the Holiday Inn, and then I order pizza.</p> <p><em><strong>GG: Have you had much Assembly floor time? Do you speak up for your constituents?</strong></em></p> <p>YLN: It’s really great, because they help us by putting things into packages and days. So there hasn’t been much difficulty with drafting policy or the legislative schedule yet. I think that things get full and really crazy fast right after the budget is done — for the policy side.</p> <p>Right now, we’ve done a lot on women’s rights and I was able to speak up on reproductive health. We had a bunch of resolutions heard. Mine was the Lunar New Year resolution, and it was really great, because over 80 legislators signed on to it. We also had the immigrant rights debate, a lot of criminal justice reform debates. So those were really impactful right now, because of what’s going on on a federal level.</p> <p><em><strong>GG: You are coming in during a strange climate given what’s going on nationally. How has the Trump administration shaped your priorities?</strong></em></p> <p>YLN: That a really big question. One of the things that I’m lucky enough to be a part of, is being part of ‘the people’s budget,’ I’m one of the legislators who is helping to put it together — and that’s the document that the Black, Hispanic, Asian and Puerto Rican Caucus put together. It’s really exciting. We get to talk a lot about the things I just mentioned, with criminal justice reform, and immigrant rights and women's rights. And we get to talk a lot about what we, as a caucus, would like to focus on. The other budgets don’t necessarily make those things a priority, so at least it’s a document for folks who believe in those things to have a voice. It’s a very exciting project and I’m really honored to be a part of it.</p> <p>One of the pieces -- because of the weird climate -- one of the things I got to speak up on, was stopping data registries, and I think that’s really important because I know the city is going through some stuff with the [IDNYC (municipal identification card)] program. We are all trying do our best to look at what’s happening, and then do really good preparation to be a good buffer and good representation of our district.</p> <p><em><strong>GG: You get this question a lot, but, Asian-Americans have been underrepresented in public office in New York State for so long. As the first Asian-American state legislator representing Manhattan, is there a lot of pressure to be a voice for an entire ethnic group?</strong></em></p> <p>YLN: I worked for [Assemblymember] Ron [Kim] last year and he was the only Asian-American on the entire state level — I bet he felt that! Right now, there’s both me and him, and it’s nice. But I also know that there are many of our colleagues that have very large Asian-American populations, and many of them have been very good at representing those communities in those districts as well. But yes, of course, a lot of people are going to come to our office with a lot of language-access needs, and immigration issues, and things like that. Just very basic things, like how to use mail. These are things Ron and I had to deal with that a lot at his office, because he was the only Asian-American elected on the entire state level, so many times a lot of those issues came to us.</p> <p>I don’t get tired of the question, by the way. I think it’s sad that we have to keep asking the question more than anything. Because, I think that you are right, absolutely, we are the most underrepresented minority in New York State and the most rapidly growing as well in our state. We are at least 10 percent of the population in our state and we definitely don’t even have 1 percent of representation on a state level. That’s shocking, for sure. I think it's upsetting in the sense that, ‘Oh, I can’t believe I am the first on a state level,’ because I didn’t think that that was still a thing, but unfortunately, it is. I think it's very important to represent my whole district, but it is also a community that grew together, and everybody is supportive of one another. That’s why it’s such an incredible district.</p> <p><em><strong>GG: Any other surprising moments or takeaways from the past month and a half?</strong></em></p> <p>YLN: There hasn’t been anything completely unexpected, but I definitely have just been just moved by how supportive everyone is. Especially with my office, the speaker [Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie] has been very, very good with my district and understanding the difficulty that I am under.</p> <p>Given the history of this office, I think that we know that this district was serviced like no other district, because there were a lot of resources that, having the former speaker represent the district, that the district would have. Certain expectations have been set by the seat, which means I have to provide a very high level of constituent service and representation, but with only a fraction of the budget.</p> <p>I was very moved and surprised by how much the Speaker understands that, and by how supportive the staff has been, on [The] Ways and Means [Committee], and the different committees, how they’ve been for our district in general, because it's got to be a drastic change.</p> <p>I think it's my responsibility to the district to ensure that I’m super responsive, that we are able to get to folks’ needs very quickly and efficiently, because it's crucial. This is a constituency that literally had the most service and then almost no service for a period of time. It’s been a shock to the system. I’m hoping to make sure we are 100 percent accessible, that we are always transparent, and my priority is always constituents first.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span style="text-align: center;">[Read more from our series,&nbsp;</span><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6818-adjusting-to-albany-meet-nyc-s-new-class-of-state-legislators#yuhlineniou" target="_blank" style="text-align: center;">Adjusting to Albany: Meet NYC's New Class of State Legislators</a><span style="text-align: center;">]</span></p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Adjusting to Albany: Meet NYC’s New Class of State Legislators 2017-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6818:adjusting-to-albany-meet-nyc-s-new-class-of-state-legislators Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/legislators/nyscapitolbuilding2.jpg" alt="nyscapitolbuilding2" width="600" height="456" /></p> <p>photo via @NYSCapitolTours</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">While the ethics trainings and orientation for new state legislators may have evolved over the years, one thing has remained constant: the daunting task of navigating the Capitol’s maze-like corridors during one’s first weeks of work in Albany.</p> <p dir="ltr">Orientation provides some roadmap to Albany’s byzantine legislative processes, including workshops in drafting bills, organizing a press conference, and conducting research, and legislative staffers are provided for support, but it can take a few weeks, if not months, for newly minted politicians to fully acclimate to life as a state lawmaker.</p> <p dir="ltr">In fact, much of the training happens on the job, according Assemblymember Tom McKevitt, who oversees the trainings for incoming Assembly members in the chamber’s Republican minority.</p> <p dir="ltr">“For many people they are coming to a different part of the state, they are leaving their families, leaving their hometowns, to come to a very different place,” said McKevitt, who represents part of Long Island, and has served in the Assembly for just over a decade. “New York State government is a massive operation. It really is. So we try to give them as much knowledge as possible and give them as much resources as possible to get them as productive a start to their legislative careers.”</p> <p dir="ltr">All new legislators in the Senate and the Assembly receive mandated training when they begin their legislative careers in Albany. In addition, each party conference provides training, as McKevitt indicated for the Assembly minority.</p> <p>
NEW LEGISLATORS

* AM Yuh-Line Niou
* Sen. Jamaal Bailey
* AM Robert Carroll
* AM Carmen De La Rosa
* AM Brian Barnwell
* AM Tremaine Wright
* AM Stacey Pheffer Amato
* Sen. Marisol Alcantara
* AM Clyde Vanel
* AM Inez Dickens
</p> <p dir="ltr">This year, there are 10 new state lawmakers from New York City, joining the 150-seat Assembly, which is dominated by Democrats, and the 63-seat Senate, which is narrowly controlled by Republicans. All of the new reps from the city are Democrats -- there are only a handful of New York City Republicans in the Legislature altogether, mostly from Staten Island.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gotham Gazette began interviewing each of those 10 new members in February to gauge how they are adjusting to life in the state Legislature, which is notoriously dysfunctional and insulated, and has seen its share of corruption scandals in recent years.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the first weeks of the legislative calendar leading up to one-house budgets in March are always fairly intense for new legislators, this year appears to have been more so. As with other state capitals and city halls around the country, the inauguration of President Donald Trump, followed by the unconventional president’s chaotic first two months in office, have cast a long shadow over governing in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">As the Trump administration rushes to follow through on campaign promises to scale back reproductive rights, repeal the Affordable Care Act, and ban immigrants from select countries, many legislators, especially Democrats, are feeling more uncertainty and a greater sense of urgency. Both come in part from their constituents -- New Yorkers who overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in November.</p> <p dir="ltr">Several incoming lawmakers hailing from the five boroughs are facing challenging political climates in their districts and given local political dynamics. Yuh-Line Niou, now representing Lower Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District, must deliver for a constituency accustomed to receiving an exceptionally high level of resources given that the seat had been held for decades by (now convicted) former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.</p> <p>The 31st Senate District’s new representative, Marisol Alcantara, is a member of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), at a time when the breakaway group of Democrats that forms a coalition majority with Republicans is facing some significant backlash. Meanwhile, Senator Jamaal Bailey, of the 36th Senate District, is joining the mainline Senate Democratic Conference that is struggling in the minority.</p> <p>To begin our series on new city-based state legislators, Gotham Gazette spoke with Niou, Bailey, and Brooklyn Assemblymember Robert Carroll. Read their interviews through the links below, and stay tuned for our interviews with the seven other new lawmakers from the five boroughs.&nbsp;</p> <p>
yuh line niou2
Yuh-Line Niou

Assemblymember for the 65th District
Lower Manhattan
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“This is a constituency that literally had the most service and then almost no service for a period of time. It’s been a shock to the system.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou


</p> <p>
jamaal bailey
Jamaal Bailey

State Senator for the 36th District
Parts of the Bronx and Mount Vernon
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“But a lot of the preparation, it just comes in real-time. Just seeing the bill and you have to vote on it.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Senator Jamaal Bailey


</p> <p>
robert carroll 2
Robert Carroll

Assembly Member for 44th District
Brooklyn (Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Park Slope, Flatbush)
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“I think if you are going to be in politics, you have to understand that you’re not going to win every fight, and you have to be ready to stay in the arena.” 
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assembly Member Robert Carroll


</p> <p>
Carmen for assembly
Carmen De La Rosa

Assembly Member for 72nd District
Manhattan (Harlem, Inwood, Hamilton Heights, and Washington Heights)
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“It’s definitely a great place to be, coming from the City Council, it’s sort of government on a larger scale, so it’s a welcome challenge for me.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa


</p> <p>
Brian Bramwell
Brian Barnwell

Assembly member for the 30th District
Parts of Astoria, Long Island City, Maspeth, Middle Village, and Woodside
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat
“The budget process was certainly long, but I don’t have a problem with that. In my opinion, it’s better to negotiate and negotiate and negotiate, instead of just doing the deal for the sake of doing a deal.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Brian Barnwell


</p> <p><em><strong>Coming soon, interviews with:</strong></em></p> <ul> <li>Assemblymember Tremaine Wright</li> <li>Assemblymember Stacey Pheffer Amato</li> <li>Senator Marisol Alacantra</li> <li>Assemblymember Clyde Vanel</li> <li>Assemblymember Inez Dickens</li> </ul> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/legislators/nyscapitolbuilding2.jpg" alt="nyscapitolbuilding2" width="600" height="456" /></p> <p>photo via @NYSCapitolTours</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">While the ethics trainings and orientation for new state legislators may have evolved over the years, one thing has remained constant: the daunting task of navigating the Capitol’s maze-like corridors during one’s first weeks of work in Albany.</p> <p dir="ltr">Orientation provides some roadmap to Albany’s byzantine legislative processes, including workshops in drafting bills, organizing a press conference, and conducting research, and legislative staffers are provided for support, but it can take a few weeks, if not months, for newly minted politicians to fully acclimate to life as a state lawmaker.</p> <p dir="ltr">In fact, much of the training happens on the job, according Assemblymember Tom McKevitt, who oversees the trainings for incoming Assembly members in the chamber’s Republican minority.</p> <p dir="ltr">“For many people they are coming to a different part of the state, they are leaving their families, leaving their hometowns, to come to a very different place,” said McKevitt, who represents part of Long Island, and has served in the Assembly for just over a decade. “New York State government is a massive operation. It really is. So we try to give them as much knowledge as possible and give them as much resources as possible to get them as productive a start to their legislative careers.”</p> <p dir="ltr">All new legislators in the Senate and the Assembly receive mandated training when they begin their legislative careers in Albany. In addition, each party conference provides training, as McKevitt indicated for the Assembly minority.</p> <p>
NEW LEGISLATORS

* AM Yuh-Line Niou
* Sen. Jamaal Bailey
* AM Robert Carroll
* AM Carmen De La Rosa
* AM Brian Barnwell
* AM Tremaine Wright
* AM Stacey Pheffer Amato
* Sen. Marisol Alcantara
* AM Clyde Vanel
* AM Inez Dickens
</p> <p dir="ltr">This year, there are 10 new state lawmakers from New York City, joining the 150-seat Assembly, which is dominated by Democrats, and the 63-seat Senate, which is narrowly controlled by Republicans. All of the new reps from the city are Democrats -- there are only a handful of New York City Republicans in the Legislature altogether, mostly from Staten Island.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gotham Gazette began interviewing each of those 10 new members in February to gauge how they are adjusting to life in the state Legislature, which is notoriously dysfunctional and insulated, and has seen its share of corruption scandals in recent years.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the first weeks of the legislative calendar leading up to one-house budgets in March are always fairly intense for new legislators, this year appears to have been more so. As with other state capitals and city halls around the country, the inauguration of President Donald Trump, followed by the unconventional president’s chaotic first two months in office, have cast a long shadow over governing in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">As the Trump administration rushes to follow through on campaign promises to scale back reproductive rights, repeal the Affordable Care Act, and ban immigrants from select countries, many legislators, especially Democrats, are feeling more uncertainty and a greater sense of urgency. Both come in part from their constituents -- New Yorkers who overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in November.</p> <p dir="ltr">Several incoming lawmakers hailing from the five boroughs are facing challenging political climates in their districts and given local political dynamics. Yuh-Line Niou, now representing Lower Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District, must deliver for a constituency accustomed to receiving an exceptionally high level of resources given that the seat had been held for decades by (now convicted) former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.</p> <p>The 31st Senate District’s new representative, Marisol Alcantara, is a member of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), at a time when the breakaway group of Democrats that forms a coalition majority with Republicans is facing some significant backlash. Meanwhile, Senator Jamaal Bailey, of the 36th Senate District, is joining the mainline Senate Democratic Conference that is struggling in the minority.</p> <p>To begin our series on new city-based state legislators, Gotham Gazette spoke with Niou, Bailey, and Brooklyn Assemblymember Robert Carroll. Read their interviews through the links below, and stay tuned for our interviews with the seven other new lawmakers from the five boroughs.&nbsp;</p> <p>
yuh line niou2
Yuh-Line Niou

Assemblymember for the 65th District
Lower Manhattan
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“This is a constituency that literally had the most service and then almost no service for a period of time. It’s been a shock to the system.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou


</p> <p>
jamaal bailey
Jamaal Bailey

State Senator for the 36th District
Parts of the Bronx and Mount Vernon
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“But a lot of the preparation, it just comes in real-time. Just seeing the bill and you have to vote on it.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Senator Jamaal Bailey


</p> <p>
robert carroll 2
Robert Carroll

Assembly Member for 44th District
Brooklyn (Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Park Slope, Flatbush)
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“I think if you are going to be in politics, you have to understand that you’re not going to win every fight, and you have to be ready to stay in the arena.” 
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assembly Member Robert Carroll


</p> <p>
Carmen for assembly
Carmen De La Rosa

Assembly Member for 72nd District
Manhattan (Harlem, Inwood, Hamilton Heights, and Washington Heights)
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“It’s definitely a great place to be, coming from the City Council, it’s sort of government on a larger scale, so it’s a welcome challenge for me.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa


</p> <p>
Brian Bramwell
Brian Barnwell

Assembly member for the 30th District
Parts of Astoria, Long Island City, Maspeth, Middle Village, and Woodside
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat
“The budget process was certainly long, but I don’t have a problem with that. In my opinion, it’s better to negotiate and negotiate and negotiate, instead of just doing the deal for the sake of doing a deal.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Brian Barnwell


</p> <p><em><strong>Coming soon, interviews with:</strong></em></p> <ul> <li>Assemblymember Tremaine Wright</li> <li>Assemblymember Stacey Pheffer Amato</li> <li>Senator Marisol Alacantra</li> <li>Assemblymember Clyde Vanel</li> <li>Assemblymember Inez Dickens</li> </ul> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Crowded Assembly Field Looks to Quickly Unseat Silver Replacement 2016-09-07T04:00:00+00:00 2016-09-07T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6513:crowded-assembly-field-looks-to-quickly-unseat-silver-replacement Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/AD65_panel_Li_mic.jpg" alt="AD65 panel Li mic" width="600" height="315" /></p> <p>AD65 candidates at a debate (photo: <a href="https://twitter.com/FilAmDems" target="_blank">@FilAmDems</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>In a world where U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara hadn&rsquo;t turned his eye toward public corruption in state government, Sheldon Silver would likely be running for his 21st term in the Assembly and easily extending by another two years his 40-year reign over Manhattan&rsquo;s 65th Assembly District.</p> <p>In the real world, Silver, who had already resigned the powerful Assembly speakership he held for almost 20 years, was automatically stripped of his seat in November 2015 when he was convicted on multiple federal corruption charges.</p> <p>Silver&rsquo;s Assembly seat was filled during an April 19 special election - a process notorious for being easily controlled by local political parties - by Alice Cancel, the preferred choice of Silver&rsquo;s still-active and -influential network.</p> <p>Now, fewer than five months later, a Democratic primary contest between Cancel, the short-term incumbent, and five other local political and community activists will be far less malleable for the disgraced former speaker&rsquo;s allies. In the heavily-Democratic district, the primary winner is all-but-certain to win November&rsquo;s general election. Republican candidate Lester Chang is running again; Chang earned just under 19 percent of the vote in the April special election.</p> <p>While Silver&rsquo;s pall will hang over the district for decades to come, this election is its first chance at a fresh start, an argument being made by Cancel&rsquo;s challengers.</p> <p>The change from Silver has already come at a price for the district, given the immense power held by an Assembly Speaker. Cancel took Silver&rsquo;s place as a rank-and-file legislator with little sway in the Assembly majority. Whoever wins this year, Cancel or another candidate, will head to Albany as a rookie legislator without major committee assignments; with little leverage to push for major initiatives&rsquo; and unable to deliver the millions of dollars in community funding Silver was so revered for in his district and derided for from outside it.</p> <p>Cancel, a former district leader, won the seat with the backing of the Manhattan Democratic Party, Silver&rsquo;s wife, and a number of his allies. Since winning the seat Cancel has made a number of gaffes and appeared to many as unprepared to hold the seat.</p> <p>Normally, incumbency is seen as a major advantage, bringing with it name recognition, powerful endorsements, and a dedicated fundraising apparatus. But Cancel hasn&rsquo;t demonstrated that to be the case. She drastically trails other candidates in fundraising and hasn&rsquo;t had much time to establish constituent services that would allow her to ingratiate herself with her voter base. She has also <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160824/lower-east-side/alice-cancel-booed-for-all-lives-matter-declaration-at-candidate-forum" target="_blank">underperformed</a> in her few public appearances and primary debates. Cancel has been media shy and reluctant to campaign, though during the special election <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/03/24/alice-cancel-reveals-why-she-hasnt-started-campaigning-for-silvers-seat/" target="_blank">she explained</a> that her public scarcity had to do with health concerns.</p> <p>The incumbent&rsquo;s perceived weakness appears to be part of why five challengers hope they can marshall a dedicated base of support in what is expected to be a low turnout affair. The September 13 vote is the third primary day in New York this year.</p> <p>Challenging Cancel are Paul Newell, Yuh-Line Niou, Jenifer Rajkumar, Gigi Li, and Don Lee.</p> <p>Newell is a community activist and district leader who was the first Democrat to challenge Silver in nearly two decades, when he ran against him in 2008. Newell, who was endorsed <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/22/opinion/22fri4.html?_r=0" target="_blank">by The New York Times editorial board</a>, won about 22 percent of the vote with Silver at 69 percent. The effort gained Newell experience and notoriety that he hopes to capitalize on during this year&rsquo;s primary.</p> <p>Niou also has experience running for office in the district - she challenged Cancel in the special election with the backing of the Working Families Party (WFP). Niou lost by 700 votes in an effort that won her the support <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/09/opinion/choices-for-new-yorks-special-elections.html" target="_blank">of The Times&rsquo; editorial board</a> and major elected officials. (While saying that any of the challengers would be better than Cancel, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/03/opinion/endorsements-in-new-york-primary-races.html" target="_blank">The Times</a> is again supporting Niou this month.)</p> <p>Rajkumar is a human rights lawyer and district leader who has been involved in advocacy initiatives on tenant rights, labor protections, and women in politics. She challenged City Council Member Margaret Chin in a 2013 primary and, like others running now, sought the Democratic nomination for the April special election.</p> <p>Li is chair of Manhattan Community Board 3 and made history in 2012 when she became the first Asian-American to be elected to chair a city community board. Li has been involved in advocating for services for families and children.</p> <p>Lee is a technology executive with a long history of community activism. He got his start in politics in the Koch Administration and is now running as an outsider candidate.</p> <p>The void left by Silver is immense as he brought billions worth of pork to the district over the decades, used his power to micromanage almost all changes in the district, and stood as a champion for many liberal causes. At the same time, many in Albany saw Silver as a long-term impediment to state government ethics reform and to policy reforms that could have positively impacted his district, especially on affordable housing.</p> <p>The federal corruption charges against Silver revealed his close financial ties to the real estate lobby that he swore he was fighting during Albany negotiations over rent control and other major housing issues.</p> <p>While many expected Silver&rsquo;s conviction to bring real change to Albany the special election to replace him was a sign to many across the state that there were still plenty of roadblocks in place. When Manhattan Democrats gathered to back a candidate for the empty seat, Silver&rsquo;s allies maneuvered to ensure that Cancel got the nod. Special elections in New York remain largely controlled by local party committees.</p> <p>Niou and her supporters protested the selection process and campaigned against Cancel with the backing of the WFP, which is supporting her again. Other candidates plotted for their current runs.</p> <p>This crop of candidates for the 65th will be looking to tap into voting bases across a district that includes Chinatown, the Lower East Side. and most of Lower Manhattan. Political consultants expect that the district&rsquo;s powerful Asian vote, which could have been tapped as a bloc by one candidate, to be splintered, making the race less easy to predict.</p> <p><a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/enrollment/assembly/assembly_apr16.pdf" target="_blank">According to</a> the state Board of Elections, as of April 1, 2016, there were 65,766 active registered voters in the 65th Assembly District, 43,094 of them Democrats. (There were 6,320 active registered Republicans and 14,100 active registered voters unaffiliated with a party.)</p> <p>Top issues facing the district include affordability, especially in housing, as well as education, including school space, climate resiliency, senior services, and health care infrastructure. There is also, of course, a lot of discussion of government ethics and state government reform.</p> <p>Gotham Gazette spoke to all of the challengers about the race, but attempts to secure an interview with Cancel were unsuccessful.</p> <p>Candidates painted a picture of a district where elderly residents are finding it harder to afford to stay, where immigrant families can&rsquo;t afford more than one bedroom, and where properties owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) are in constant disrepair. Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature managed to put aside $2 billion for affordable housing and supportive housing, but have yet to actually allocate spending for most of that sum.</p> <p>Niou said it must be a priority to get the money out of the state&rsquo;s coffers and into districts. Asked about Cuomo&rsquo;s plan to revive the expired 421-a tax break for developers who agree to build a certain percentage of affordable housing, Niou was skeptical. &ldquo;Affordability is a huge issue for our district and the thing is you can't lose money building apartments in Manhattan,&rdquo; she said, noting the escalating cost of rent. Niou said that if 421-a is necessary checks must be in place.</p> <p>&ldquo;We need to make sure developers pay workers the proper wage and make sure we are actually getting affordable units,&rdquo; Niou said. She also advocated reopening discussions over rent regulation laws to end practices that incentivize landlords to push tenants out.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Li said the state needs a multi-pronged approach to affordable housing. &ldquo;We can't just throw money at new development to solve the affordability issue,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;We need preservation. Repairing NYCHA properties and dealing with sustainability must be a priority, but it is important we build new apartments.&rdquo; She added that she believes it is time to alter the Urstadt Law that gives the State say over major city issues in order to give the City more power.</p> <p>Rajkumar advocated for quickly funding supportive housing projects and reforming 421-a to &ldquo;hold developers accountable.&rdquo;</p> <p>Newell said his district faces an &ldquo;acute capital need&rdquo; as far as housing goes, citing the disrepair of NYCHA properties. &ldquo;We obviously need to continue building to meet our housing demands, but not I&rsquo;m sure we need 421-a, with or without a wage subsidy.&rdquo; He said that he would favor increased checks on the subsidy program to ensure developers are actually delivering the affordable units they receive breaks for.</p> <p>Lee said that &ldquo;special interests&rdquo; must be removed from housing policy and that the State is &ldquo;playing with funny money.&rdquo;</p> <p>Asked how she would preserve affordable housing at a recent debate, Cancel responded: &ldquo;To be very honest with you, I don&rsquo;t know the answer to that question, in terms of how do we stop what&rsquo;s going on,&rdquo; before suggesting rezoning might help, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/26/opinion/winds-of-change-on-the-lower-east-side.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&amp;smid=nytcore-ipad-share&amp;_r=1" target="_blank">according to The New York Times</a>. Rezoning is under purview of the City Council.</p> <p>With education funding a major issue in the district and a proposed tax credit for donations to education institutions likely to be a major factor during the next legislative session in Albany, Gotham Gazette asked the candidates about their position on the controversial measure that is aimed at helping private and charter schools. The five challengers all appeared opposed to the measure, to varying degrees. Li said that while she generally supports &ldquo;compromise,&rdquo; she is &ldquo;focused on funding public education first and foremost.&rdquo;</p> <p>Newell said flatly that he opposes the tax credit. Niou, who noted that Cuomo supports the credit said, &ldquo;The Governor wants lots of things but he hasn't paid us for the CFE case yet,&rdquo; referring to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that resulted in a judge saying the state chronically underfunds the poorest schools. &ldquo;So he owes public schools, so it is ridiculous to give breaks to people who support private schools when public schools are suffering,&rdquo; Niou said.</p> <p>Rajkumar said CFE funding is critical to make sure city schools can serve students from all districts equally. She also decried how legislators use funding for city schools as a political &ldquo;football.&rdquo;</p> <p>Lee said he was concerned that people who make donations not be allowed to dictate how the money is spent.</p> <p>The candidates also all came together on the need to save local health care providers given the closing of Beth-Israel Hospital. They were also concerned about resiliency issues the city was forced to confront during Superstorm Sandy.</p> <p>Li said she discovered while campaigning that many residents of the district don&rsquo;t realize they are eligible for health care and other benefits under the Federal Zagroda Act. Li and Niou said that they saw a desperate need in the district for constituent service efforts to connect residents with government programs.</p> <p>All of the challengers to Cancel professed to support a list of government ethics reforms that include limiting or banning outside income for legislators, implementing a statewide system of public campaign financing similar to that employed in New York City; ending the LLC loophole; and adjusting the budget process to make it more open and inclusive.</p> <p>They differed less on what they wanted done and more on how they would achieve it.</p> <p>&ldquo;I think we have a window of opportunity for real change that hasn&rsquo;t existed for generations,&rdquo; said Newell, who added that he expected Democrats to take control of the state Senate thereby ending a Republican blockade on most of the aforementioned reforms. &ldquo;On the Assembly side, Carl Heastie did not expect to be Speaker, and he filled out last session without putting dramatic changes into action,&rdquo; said Newell. &ldquo;Next session I think we will see who Carl Heastie really is when he brings the Assembly into the 21st Century.&rdquo;</p> <p>Rajkumar said she believes individual Assembly members and committee chairs need more individual power. She also wants lobbying on legislation to be revealed in a database in real time.</p> <p>Lee said voters are tired of waiting for the system to change. &ldquo;These guys see problems and they say &lsquo;let's kick it to the next election cycle.&rsquo; They have no sense of urgency. They are so out of touch and expectations have gotten to be so low. The bigger issue is that we need true reform - not fresh blood but a blood transfusion,&rdquo; Lee said.</p> <p>Asked about the differences between challenging Silver and 2008 and running in a crowded field in 2016, Newell first said the difference is &ldquo;we are going to win,&rdquo; but added having a crowded field of deeply invested community members means that the district will have the first &ldquo;healthy debate process&rdquo; it has had in decades.</p> <p>As for campaign funds to support stretch-run efforts, Cancel <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/efs_summary_page?comid_in=A21287&amp;rdate_in=02-SEP-2016&amp;reportid_in=B&amp;eyear_in=2016" target="_blank">reported</a> having $11,581 on hand as of her 11-day pre-primary filing.</p> <p>Other candidates have significantly more money for final flyering and other advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts. Endorsements from unions, elected officials, and other groups have also been divided, mostly among Cancel&rsquo;s challengers.</p> <p>Rajkumar <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/efs_summary_page?comid_in=A19668&amp;rdate_in=12-AUG-2016&amp;reportid_in=A&amp;eyear_in=2016" target="_blank">reported</a> having $182,826 on hand in her 32-day pre-primary filing; her 11-day pre-primary filing has not been posted by the BOE. Rajkumar has been endorsed by The Public Employees Federation and Citizens Union of New York, a government reform group.</p> <p>Newell <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/efs_summary_page?comid_in=A19463&amp;rdate_in=12-AUG-2016&amp;reportid_in=A&amp;eyear_in=2016" target="_blank">reported</a> having $92,347 on hand as of his 32-day pre-primary filing. He has been endorsed by the United Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers, Citizen Action of New York, and City Council Members Rosie Mendez, Mark Levine, and Ben Kallos.</p> <p>Niou <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/efs_summary_page?comid_in=A21218&amp;rdate_in=12-AUG-2016&amp;reportid_in=A&amp;eyear_in=2016" target="_blank">reported</a> having $76,635 on hand in her 11-day pre-primary filing. Along with her endorsements from The New York Times and The Working Families Party, Niou is supported by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, state Senator Daniel Squadron, and others.</p> <p>Li <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/efs_summary_page?comid_in=A21247&amp;rdate_in=02-SEP-2016&amp;reportid_in=B&amp;eyear_in=2016" target="_blank">reported</a> having $36,404 on hand as of her 11-day pre-primary filing. She has been endorsed by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council Members Margaret Chin and Helen Rosenthal, and state Senator Jesse Hamilton.</p> <p>Lee <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/efs_summary_page?comid_in=A21265&amp;rdate_in=02-SEP-2016&amp;reportid_in=B&amp;eyear_in=2016" target="_blank">reported</a> having $31,856 on hand of his 11-day pre-primary filing.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/AD65_panel_Li_mic.jpg" alt="AD65 panel Li mic" width="600" height="315" /></p> <p>AD65 candidates at a debate (photo: <a href="https://twitter.com/FilAmDems" target="_blank">@FilAmDems</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>In a world where U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara hadn&rsquo;t turned his eye toward public corruption in state government, Sheldon Silver would likely be running for his 21st term in the Assembly and easily extending by another two years his 40-year reign over Manhattan&rsquo;s 65th Assembly District.</p> <p>In the real world, Silver, who had already resigned the powerful Assembly speakership he held for almost 20 years, was automatically stripped of his seat in November 2015 when he was convicted on multiple federal corruption charges.</p> <p>Silver&rsquo;s Assembly seat was filled during an April 19 special election - a process notorious for being easily controlled by local political parties - by Alice Cancel, the preferred choice of Silver&rsquo;s still-active and -influential network.</p> <p>Now, fewer than five months later, a Democratic primary contest between Cancel, the short-term incumbent, and five other local political and community activists will be far less malleable for the disgraced former speaker&rsquo;s allies. In the heavily-Democratic district, the primary winner is all-but-certain to win November&rsquo;s general election. Republican candidate Lester Chang is running again; Chang earned just under 19 percent of the vote in the April special election.</p> <p>While Silver&rsquo;s pall will hang over the district for decades to come, this election is its first chance at a fresh start, an argument being made by Cancel&rsquo;s challengers.</p> <p>The change from Silver has already come at a price for the district, given the immense power held by an Assembly Speaker. Cancel took Silver&rsquo;s place as a rank-and-file legislator with little sway in the Assembly majority. Whoever wins this year, Cancel or another candidate, will head to Albany as a rookie legislator without major committee assignments; with little leverage to push for major initiatives&rsquo; and unable to deliver the millions of dollars in community funding Silver was so revered for in his district and derided for from outside it.</p> <p>Cancel, a former district leader, won the seat with the backing of the Manhattan Democratic Party, Silver&rsquo;s wife, and a number of his allies. Since winning the seat Cancel has made a number of gaffes and appeared to many as unprepared to hold the seat.</p> <p>Normally, incumbency is seen as a major advantage, bringing with it name recognition, powerful endorsements, and a dedicated fundraising apparatus. But Cancel hasn&rsquo;t demonstrated that to be the case. She drastically trails other candidates in fundraising and hasn&rsquo;t had much time to establish constituent services that would allow her to ingratiate herself with her voter base. She has also <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160824/lower-east-side/alice-cancel-booed-for-all-lives-matter-declaration-at-candidate-forum" target="_blank">underperformed</a> in her few public appearances and primary debates. Cancel has been media shy and reluctant to campaign, though during the special election <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/03/24/alice-cancel-reveals-why-she-hasnt-started-campaigning-for-silvers-seat/" target="_blank">she explained</a> that her public scarcity had to do with health concerns.</p> <p>The incumbent&rsquo;s perceived weakness appears to be part of why five challengers hope they can marshall a dedicated base of support in what is expected to be a low turnout affair. The September 13 vote is the third primary day in New York this year.</p> <p>Challenging Cancel are Paul Newell, Yuh-Line Niou, Jenifer Rajkumar, Gigi Li, and Don Lee.</p> <p>Newell is a community activist and district leader who was the first Democrat to challenge Silver in nearly two decades, when he ran against him in 2008. Newell, who was endorsed <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/22/opinion/22fri4.html?_r=0" target="_blank">by The New York Times editorial board</a>, won about 22 percent of the vote with Silver at 69 percent. The effort gained Newell experience and notoriety that he hopes to capitalize on during this year&rsquo;s primary.</p> <p>Niou also has experience running for office in the district - she challenged Cancel in the special election with the backing of the Working Families Party (WFP). Niou lost by 700 votes in an effort that won her the support <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/09/opinion/choices-for-new-yorks-special-elections.html" target="_blank">of The Times&rsquo; editorial board</a> and major elected officials. (While saying that any of the challengers would be better than Cancel, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/03/opinion/endorsements-in-new-york-primary-races.html" target="_blank">The Times</a> is again supporting Niou this month.)</p> <p>Rajkumar is a human rights lawyer and district leader who has been involved in advocacy initiatives on tenant rights, labor protections, and women in politics. She challenged City Council Member Margaret Chin in a 2013 primary and, like others running now, sought the Democratic nomination for the April special election.</p> <p>Li is chair of Manhattan Community Board 3 and made history in 2012 when she became the first Asian-American to be elected to chair a city community board. Li has been involved in advocating for services for families and children.</p> <p>Lee is a technology executive with a long history of community activism. He got his start in politics in the Koch Administration and is now running as an outsider candidate.</p> <p>The void left by Silver is immense as he brought billions worth of pork to the district over the decades, used his power to micromanage almost all changes in the district, and stood as a champion for many liberal causes. At the same time, many in Albany saw Silver as a long-term impediment to state government ethics reform and to policy reforms that could have positively impacted his district, especially on affordable housing.</p> <p>The federal corruption charges against Silver revealed his close financial ties to the real estate lobby that he swore he was fighting during Albany negotiations over rent control and other major housing issues.</p> <p>While many expected Silver&rsquo;s conviction to bring real change to Albany the special election to replace him was a sign to many across the state that there were still plenty of roadblocks in place. When Manhattan Democrats gathered to back a candidate for the empty seat, Silver&rsquo;s allies maneuvered to ensure that Cancel got the nod. Special elections in New York remain largely controlled by local party committees.</p> <p>Niou and her supporters protested the selection process and campaigned against Cancel with the backing of the WFP, which is supporting her again. Other candidates plotted for their current runs.</p> <p>This crop of candidates for the 65th will be looking to tap into voting bases across a district that includes Chinatown, the Lower East Side. and most of Lower Manhattan. Political consultants expect that the district&rsquo;s powerful Asian vote, which could have been tapped as a bloc by one candidate, to be splintered, making the race less easy to predict.</p> <p><a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/enrollment/assembly/assembly_apr16.pdf" target="_blank">According to</a> the state Board of Elections, as of April 1, 2016, there were 65,766 active registered voters in the 65th Assembly District, 43,094 of them Democrats. (There were 6,320 active registered Republicans and 14,100 active registered voters unaffiliated with a party.)</p> <p>Top issues facing the district include affordability, especially in housing, as well as education, including school space, climate resiliency, senior services, and health care infrastructure. There is also, of course, a lot of discussion of government ethics and state government reform.</p> <p>Gotham Gazette spoke to all of the challengers about the race, but attempts to secure an interview with Cancel were unsuccessful.</p> <p>Candidates painted a picture of a district where elderly residents are finding it harder to afford to stay, where immigrant families can&rsquo;t afford more than one bedroom, and where properties owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) are in constant disrepair. Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature managed to put aside $2 billion for affordable housing and supportive housing, but have yet to actually allocate spending for most of that sum.</p> <p>Niou said it must be a priority to get the money out of the state&rsquo;s coffers and into districts. Asked about Cuomo&rsquo;s plan to revive the expired 421-a tax break for developers who agree to build a certain percentage of affordable housing, Niou was skeptical. &ldquo;Affordability is a huge issue for our district and the thing is you can't lose money building apartments in Manhattan,&rdquo; she said, noting the escalating cost of rent. Niou said that if 421-a is necessary checks must be in place.</p> <p>&ldquo;We need to make sure developers pay workers the proper wage and make sure we are actually getting affordable units,&rdquo; Niou said. She also advocated reopening discussions over rent regulation laws to end practices that incentivize landlords to push tenants out.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Li said the state needs a multi-pronged approach to affordable housing. &ldquo;We can't just throw money at new development to solve the affordability issue,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;We need preservation. Repairing NYCHA properties and dealing with sustainability must be a priority, but it is important we build new apartments.&rdquo; She added that she believes it is time to alter the Urstadt Law that gives the State say over major city issues in order to give the City more power.</p> <p>Rajkumar advocated for quickly funding supportive housing projects and reforming 421-a to &ldquo;hold developers accountable.&rdquo;</p> <p>Newell said his district faces an &ldquo;acute capital need&rdquo; as far as housing goes, citing the disrepair of NYCHA properties. &ldquo;We obviously need to continue building to meet our housing demands, but not I&rsquo;m sure we need 421-a, with or without a wage subsidy.&rdquo; He said that he would favor increased checks on the subsidy program to ensure developers are actually delivering the affordable units they receive breaks for.</p> <p>Lee said that &ldquo;special interests&rdquo; must be removed from housing policy and that the State is &ldquo;playing with funny money.&rdquo;</p> <p>Asked how she would preserve affordable housing at a recent debate, Cancel responded: &ldquo;To be very honest with you, I don&rsquo;t know the answer to that question, in terms of how do we stop what&rsquo;s going on,&rdquo; before suggesting rezoning might help, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/26/opinion/winds-of-change-on-the-lower-east-side.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&amp;smid=nytcore-ipad-share&amp;_r=1" target="_blank">according to The New York Times</a>. Rezoning is under purview of the City Council.</p> <p>With education funding a major issue in the district and a proposed tax credit for donations to education institutions likely to be a major factor during the next legislative session in Albany, Gotham Gazette asked the candidates about their position on the controversial measure that is aimed at helping private and charter schools. The five challengers all appeared opposed to the measure, to varying degrees. Li said that while she generally supports &ldquo;compromise,&rdquo; she is &ldquo;focused on funding public education first and foremost.&rdquo;</p> <p>Newell said flatly that he opposes the tax credit. Niou, who noted that Cuomo supports the credit said, &ldquo;The Governor wants lots of things but he hasn't paid us for the CFE case yet,&rdquo; referring to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that resulted in a judge saying the state chronically underfunds the poorest schools. &ldquo;So he owes public schools, so it is ridiculous to give breaks to people who support private schools when public schools are suffering,&rdquo; Niou said.</p> <p>Rajkumar said CFE funding is critical to make sure city schools can serve students from all districts equally. She also decried how legislators use funding for city schools as a political &ldquo;football.&rdquo;</p> <p>Lee said he was concerned that people who make donations not be allowed to dictate how the money is spent.</p> <p>The candidates also all came together on the need to save local health care providers given the closing of Beth-Israel Hospital. They were also concerned about resiliency issues the city was forced to confront during Superstorm Sandy.</p> <p>Li said she discovered while campaigning that many residents of the district don&rsquo;t realize they are eligible for health care and other benefits under the Federal Zagroda Act. Li and Niou said that they saw a desperate need in the district for constituent service efforts to connect residents with government programs.</p> <p>All of the challengers to Cancel professed to support a list of government ethics reforms that include limiting or banning outside income for legislators, implementing a statewide system of public campaign financing similar to that employed in New York City; ending the LLC loophole; and adjusting the budget process to make it more open and inclusive.</p> <p>They differed less on what they wanted done and more on how they would achieve it.</p> <p>&ldquo;I think we have a window of opportunity for real change that hasn&rsquo;t existed for generations,&rdquo; said Newell, who added that he expected Democrats to take control of the state Senate thereby ending a Republican blockade on most of the aforementioned reforms. &ldquo;On the Assembly side, Carl Heastie did not expect to be Speaker, and he filled out last session without putting dramatic changes into action,&rdquo; said Newell. &ldquo;Next session I think we will see who Carl Heastie really is when he brings the Assembly into the 21st Century.&rdquo;</p> <p>Rajkumar said she believes individual Assembly members and committee chairs need more individual power. She also wants lobbying on legislation to be revealed in a database in real time.</p> <p>Lee said voters are tired of waiting for the system to change. &ldquo;These guys see problems and they say &lsquo;let's kick it to the next election cycle.&rsquo; They have no sense of urgency. They are so out of touch and expectations have gotten to be so low. The bigger issue is that we need true reform - not fresh blood but a blood transfusion,&rdquo; Lee said.</p> <p>Asked about the differences between challenging Silver and 2008 and running in a crowded field in 2016, Newell first said the difference is &ldquo;we are going to win,&rdquo; but added having a crowded field of deeply invested community members means that the district will have the first &ldquo;healthy debate process&rdquo; it has had in decades.</p> <p>As for campaign funds to support stretch-run efforts, Cancel <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/efs_summary_page?comid_in=A21287&amp;rdate_in=02-SEP-2016&amp;reportid_in=B&amp;eyear_in=2016" target="_blank">reported</a> having $11,581 on hand as of her 11-day pre-primary filing.</p> <p>Other candidates have significantly more money for final flyering and other advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts. Endorsements from unions, elected officials, and other groups have also been divided, mostly among Cancel&rsquo;s challengers.</p> <p>Rajkumar <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/efs_summary_page?comid_in=A19668&amp;rdate_in=12-AUG-2016&amp;reportid_in=A&amp;eyear_in=2016" target="_blank">reported</a> having $182,826 on hand in her 32-day pre-primary filing; her 11-day pre-primary filing has not been posted by the BOE. Rajkumar has been endorsed by The Public Employees Federation and Citizens Union of New York, a government reform group.</p> <p>Newell <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/efs_summary_page?comid_in=A19463&amp;rdate_in=12-AUG-2016&amp;reportid_in=A&amp;eyear_in=2016" target="_blank">reported</a> having $92,347 on hand as of his 32-day pre-primary filing. He has been endorsed by the United Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers, Citizen Action of New York, and City Council Members Rosie Mendez, Mark Levine, and Ben Kallos.</p> <p>Niou <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/efs_summary_page?comid_in=A21218&amp;rdate_in=12-AUG-2016&amp;reportid_in=A&amp;eyear_in=2016" target="_blank">reported</a> having $76,635 on hand in her 11-day pre-primary filing. Along with her endorsements from The New York Times and The Working Families Party, Niou is supported by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, state Senator Daniel Squadron, and others.</p> <p>Li <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/efs_summary_page?comid_in=A21247&amp;rdate_in=02-SEP-2016&amp;reportid_in=B&amp;eyear_in=2016" target="_blank">reported</a> having $36,404 on hand as of her 11-day pre-primary filing. She has been endorsed by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council Members Margaret Chin and Helen Rosenthal, and state Senator Jesse Hamilton.</p> <p>Lee <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/efs_summary_page?comid_in=A21265&amp;rdate_in=02-SEP-2016&amp;reportid_in=B&amp;eyear_in=2016" target="_blank">reported</a> having $31,856 on hand of his 11-day pre-primary filing.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Special Election Shows Need for Democratization 2016-02-22T19:58:44+00:00 2016-02-22T19:58:44+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6187:special-election-shows-need-for-democratization Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/pressconf.jpg" alt="silver seat KALC" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Charles Youn, executive director of KALCA, speaks at a press conference</p> <hr /> <p>Any good democracy should reflect a society’s diversity in its leadership. The undemocratic way in which the 65th Assembly District special election is unfolding should galvanize all communities, particularly underrepresented ones, to push for reforms and encourage underrepresented New Yorkers to be more civically engaged.</p> <p dir="ltr">America does not always have accurate and inclusive representation in government. This is especially true in state legislatures. A few weeks ago<a href="http://www.newamericanleaders.org/states_of_inclusion_2016_report.html" target="_blank">, a study released by the New American Leaders Project</a> found several distressing trends. Although 38% of the U.S. population identifies themselves as people of color, only 6% of state legislators come from such a background. &nbsp;Furthermore, the New American Leaders Project’s survey of non-white legislators found that during some of their campaigns, they were actively discouraged from running by their own political party.</p> <p dir="ltr">This problem is painfully apparent in New York. For the past 40 years, Sheldon Silver ruled over the 65th Assembly District, commonly referred to as a majority-minority district. This district includes Chinatown, a neighborhood that has steadfastly served as the epicenter of growth and opportunity for many Asian immigrants since the 1900s.</p> <p dir="ltr">Silver is said to have had a vice-like grip on his seat, and only released his hold when the courts forced him to leave upon a federal corruption conviction. His departure and the subsequent special election should have given New Yorkers the opportunity to vote for new candidates who actually reflect their community. However, residents of the district were robbed of that opportunity.</p> <p dir="ltr">Since the announcement of the special election, the deck was stacked against any possible candidate outside the local political machine, one which Silver still controls. On January 30, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/voters-decide-article-1.2513169" target="_blank">despite the protests of the media</a> and good government groups such as <a href="http://thevillager.com/2015/12/31/arcane-process-to-pick-shelly-silver-successor-favors-district-leaders/" target="_blank">Common Cause New York</a>, a special election date of April 19 was announced, which was five months earlier than the strongly suggested September 13 New York State primary date. Just a few hours later, local blogs and newspapers revealed that the Democratic County Committee, a subset of the state Democratic Party, would determine the Democratic nominee for the special election in one week, effectively ending an election just seven days after its start.</p> <p dir="ltr">The candidate the local county committee selected on February 6 was Alice Cancel, the wife of the Democratic County Committeeman and political club boss of the Lower East Democrats, John Quinn. Cancel has had no qualms praising Silver.</p> <p dir="ltr">The quick and fixed process prompted one candidate, <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160208/financial-district/controversy-surrounds-democratic-candidate-chosen-for-sheldon-silvers-seat" target="_blank">Yuh-Line Niou, to refuse to be considered for the Democratic line</a>, stating that “this process is not one anyone would have chosen to reflect the diversity of our district, and to be fully democratic.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The election in April will be a farce, with only one name on the Democratic ballot line in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans 8 to 1. Come fall, the Democratic pick will have an incumbent advantage, and Chinatown may once again be represented by someone who has not democratically earned the right to do so.</p> <p dir="ltr">This is a mockery of American democratic values, and we must all act to ensure it does not happen again.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are two ways we as concerned citizens can do so. First, push to adopt the policy recommendations from <a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/www/cu/site/hosting/Reports/Citizens_Union_Hidden%20from%20View_The_Undisclosed_Campaign_Activity_of_Political_Clubs.pdf" target="_blank">Citizens Union’s 2013 report on political clubs</a> to curb excess influence over institutions like the Democratic County Committee. The report found that the financial and personal ties within and among political clubs, machines, and individual politicians were suspect and strong. For example, during the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/10/nyregion/witness-says-larry-seabrook-never-sought-kickbacks.html" target="_blank">2011 federal trial of former City Council member Larry Seabrook</a>, it was discovered that he had used the Northeast Bronx Democratic Club as his personal ATM. To fix this, Citizens Union recommended that a political club’s financial activities be transparent and regulated.</p> <p dir="ltr">Citizens Union recommends, among other things, defining precisely what constitutes illegal coordination between political clubs and candidates’ campaigns.</p> <p dir="ltr">Secondly, underrepresented communities must become more civically engaged. During the midterm elections in 2014, Asian-American voter turnout was abysmal<a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/09/asian-american-voter-turnout-lags-behind-other-groups-some-non-voters-say-theyre-too-busy/" target="_blank">—only 4% of the eligible population voted</a>. We can and must do better.</p> <p dir="ltr">Civic engagement does not start or stop at the polls. Being engaged means joining a community board, voting in primaries, participating in candidate forums, reading political news, and joining organizations that advocate for people’s rights.</p> <p dir="ltr">What has happened in Chinatown proves that now is the time for our underrepresented communities to get involved and make a difference.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />Serin Choi is the Advocacy Chair for the Korean American League for Civic Action, a non-partisan non-profit organization that advocates for increased Asian leadership in the public sector.</p> <p dir="ltr">

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

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/pressconf.jpg" alt="silver seat KALC" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Charles Youn, executive director of KALCA, speaks at a press conference</p> <hr /> <p>Any good democracy should reflect a society’s diversity in its leadership. The undemocratic way in which the 65th Assembly District special election is unfolding should galvanize all communities, particularly underrepresented ones, to push for reforms and encourage underrepresented New Yorkers to be more civically engaged.</p> <p dir="ltr">America does not always have accurate and inclusive representation in government. This is especially true in state legislatures. A few weeks ago<a href="http://www.newamericanleaders.org/states_of_inclusion_2016_report.html" target="_blank">, a study released by the New American Leaders Project</a> found several distressing trends. Although 38% of the U.S. population identifies themselves as people of color, only 6% of state legislators come from such a background. &nbsp;Furthermore, the New American Leaders Project’s survey of non-white legislators found that during some of their campaigns, they were actively discouraged from running by their own political party.</p> <p dir="ltr">This problem is painfully apparent in New York. For the past 40 years, Sheldon Silver ruled over the 65th Assembly District, commonly referred to as a majority-minority district. This district includes Chinatown, a neighborhood that has steadfastly served as the epicenter of growth and opportunity for many Asian immigrants since the 1900s.</p> <p dir="ltr">Silver is said to have had a vice-like grip on his seat, and only released his hold when the courts forced him to leave upon a federal corruption conviction. His departure and the subsequent special election should have given New Yorkers the opportunity to vote for new candidates who actually reflect their community. However, residents of the district were robbed of that opportunity.</p> <p dir="ltr">Since the announcement of the special election, the deck was stacked against any possible candidate outside the local political machine, one which Silver still controls. On January 30, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/voters-decide-article-1.2513169" target="_blank">despite the protests of the media</a> and good government groups such as <a href="http://thevillager.com/2015/12/31/arcane-process-to-pick-shelly-silver-successor-favors-district-leaders/" target="_blank">Common Cause New York</a>, a special election date of April 19 was announced, which was five months earlier than the strongly suggested September 13 New York State primary date. Just a few hours later, local blogs and newspapers revealed that the Democratic County Committee, a subset of the state Democratic Party, would determine the Democratic nominee for the special election in one week, effectively ending an election just seven days after its start.</p> <p dir="ltr">The candidate the local county committee selected on February 6 was Alice Cancel, the wife of the Democratic County Committeeman and political club boss of the Lower East Democrats, John Quinn. Cancel has had no qualms praising Silver.</p> <p dir="ltr">The quick and fixed process prompted one candidate, <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160208/financial-district/controversy-surrounds-democratic-candidate-chosen-for-sheldon-silvers-seat" target="_blank">Yuh-Line Niou, to refuse to be considered for the Democratic line</a>, stating that “this process is not one anyone would have chosen to reflect the diversity of our district, and to be fully democratic.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The election in April will be a farce, with only one name on the Democratic ballot line in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans 8 to 1. Come fall, the Democratic pick will have an incumbent advantage, and Chinatown may once again be represented by someone who has not democratically earned the right to do so.</p> <p dir="ltr">This is a mockery of American democratic values, and we must all act to ensure it does not happen again.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are two ways we as concerned citizens can do so. First, push to adopt the policy recommendations from <a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/www/cu/site/hosting/Reports/Citizens_Union_Hidden%20from%20View_The_Undisclosed_Campaign_Activity_of_Political_Clubs.pdf" target="_blank">Citizens Union’s 2013 report on political clubs</a> to curb excess influence over institutions like the Democratic County Committee. The report found that the financial and personal ties within and among political clubs, machines, and individual politicians were suspect and strong. For example, during the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/10/nyregion/witness-says-larry-seabrook-never-sought-kickbacks.html" target="_blank">2011 federal trial of former City Council member Larry Seabrook</a>, it was discovered that he had used the Northeast Bronx Democratic Club as his personal ATM. To fix this, Citizens Union recommended that a political club’s financial activities be transparent and regulated.</p> <p dir="ltr">Citizens Union recommends, among other things, defining precisely what constitutes illegal coordination between political clubs and candidates’ campaigns.</p> <p dir="ltr">Secondly, underrepresented communities must become more civically engaged. During the midterm elections in 2014, Asian-American voter turnout was abysmal<a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/09/asian-american-voter-turnout-lags-behind-other-groups-some-non-voters-say-theyre-too-busy/" target="_blank">—only 4% of the eligible population voted</a>. We can and must do better.</p> <p dir="ltr">Civic engagement does not start or stop at the polls. Being engaged means joining a community board, voting in primaries, participating in candidate forums, reading political news, and joining organizations that advocate for people’s rights.</p> <p dir="ltr">What has happened in Chinatown proves that now is the time for our underrepresented communities to get involved and make a difference.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />Serin Choi is the Advocacy Chair for the Korean American League for Civic Action, a non-partisan non-profit organization that advocates for increased Asian leadership in the public sector.</p> <p dir="ltr">

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

</p>