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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 20


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week the City Council and state Legislature are on their annual mid-February breaks that coincide with school vacation week in New York. There are no session days or budget hearings in Albany, and there are no City Council hearings in the city. (The state Legislature will be back in session for two days next week, Tuesday and Wednesday, before a very busy March.)

There are several events to be aware of in this holiday-shortened week -- see below for a day-by-day rundown. Meanwhile, we're watching for more as races heat up for the 11 special state legislative elections that will be held April 24; as the gubernatorial race continues to unfold, specifially whether State Senator John DeFrancisco can continue to rally Republican support for his nomination; as City Council Member Jumaane Williams continues to pursue his recently-announced bid for the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor; and more.

There will be continued examination this week of Governor Andrew Cuomo's executive budget plan, specifically with regard to the "30-day amendments" he released last week, which now form the full picture of his proposal that will focus negotiations with the Legislature. We're also heading toward the one-house legislative budgets, which will be unveiled mid-March.

And, this week will also see more analysis of Mayor Bill de Blasio's State of the City agenda, as we await more news about his promised charter revision commission, and more detail about other parts of his new plans focused on reinvigorating the city's democracy. Meanwhile, there will continue to be discussion of the state of NYCHA, including a press conference Tuesday morning at City Hall, which promises to garner some attention.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Monday is the Washington's Birthday (celebrated) holiday. 

Tuesday
At 9:50 a.m. Tuesday, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will deliver "a message of welcome to immigrants during naturalization ceremony for 31 new Americans,: at Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site in Buffalo. At 11 a.m., Hochul will celebrate "upcoming Maple Weekends and inclusion of maple industry in NYS Grown and Certified Program with Ceremonial Tree Tapping," at Smith's Maple Farm in Hamburg.

"On Tuesday, rapper Ja Rule alongside Council Members Alicka Ampry-Samuel and Ritchie Torres, electeds, and public housing residents from across NYC, will hold a press conference and rally to call for more investment and immediate renovations to NYCHA's failing heating systems and to #TurnUpTheHeat. Persistent heat and hot water outages at NYCHA developments throughout the city have impacted 323,000 public housing residents--80% of NYCHA tenants--leaving them in frigid apartments throughout the winter season. The rally will be held on the steps of City Hall at 11:00 AM and will include remarks from Ja Rule.”

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

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, Civic Hall and Citizen Action NY will host “The Revolution Will Be Localized,” a discussion on closing Rikers, bail reform, and other criminal justice issues, at Civic Hall’s headquarters.

On Tuesday at 6:15 p.m., Public Advocate Letitia James will deliver remarks at Congressman Joe Crowley’s Black History Month Celebration. At 7:30 p.m., James will deliver remarks at the People’s Climate Movement-NY 2018 Kickoff Meeting, at Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, "State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will talk disparities in health and economic security that hurt communities of color on WBLS’s “Open Line” program with Judge Bob Pickett and Bob Slade. Speaker Heastie, fellow legislators, AARP, the NAACP and Urban League will address two key state budget proposals by Governor Andrew Cuomo: to create a workplace retirement savings option that private sector companies could offer their employees, and to expand telehealth." The event will be at the Schomburg Center for Research for Black Culture. Along with Heastie, participants will include State Senators Brian Benjamin and Kevin Parker; Hazel Dukes, President, New York State NAACP; Arva Rice, Executive Director, NY Urban League; and Beth Finkel, AARP New York State Director, among others.

Wednesday
At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute will host a discussion on New York City food policy since 2008 and “lessons for the next decade.” Panelists will include City Council Member Mark Levine; Cathy Nonas, formerly of the Center for Health Equity; and Dwayne Wharton, of the Food Trust. The event will take place at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy in Harlem.

Thursday
At 9 a.m. Thursday, City & State will host its “Digital NY Summit,” convening “New York's information leaders from government and industry” for discussions “on the innovative ideas being used to improve the delivery of services to both citizens and government agencies,” at the Manny Cantor Center on the Lower East Side. DoITT Commissioner Samir Saini will deliver the opening keynote address. Other speakers include Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, and New York City Chief Technology Officer Miguel Gamiño, among others.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, the MTA will hold a public board meeting.

At 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will deliver his 2018 State of the Borough Address at the Bronx High School of Science.

At noon Thursday, the Senate Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) will hold a public meeting at 250 Broadway in Manhattan regarding cryptocurrency, its impacts, and regulation of it.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Women of Color for Progress will host “Why Does County Committee Matter” at the Flatiron School in Manhattan. Panelists will include Brooklyn District Leader Nikki Lucas, Manhattan County Committeewoman Reshma Patel, Queens State Senate candidate Jessica Ramos, and Bronx District Leader Marjorie Velazquez.

Friday and the weekend
At 8:15 a.m. Friday, the Center for New York City Law at New York Law School will host Police Commissioner James O’Neill for a discussion as part of its ongoing CityLaw Breakfast series.

At 8:30 a.m. Friday, New York Law School and the Federal Bar Association will host the 2018 New York Asylum and Immigration Conference at the New York Law School. Bitta Mostofi, Acting Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, will deliver the keynote address.

At 9 a.m. Friday, State Senator Tony Avella will hold a town hall meeting at Clearview Park Golf Course in Bayside, Queens.

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

At 11 a.m. Saturday, several unions, including AFL-CIO, AFSCME, and DC37, will host the New York “Working People’s Day of Action,” calling for an end to a “rigged” system and advocating on behalf of issues such as the right to organize as a union, affordable healthcare, and equal pay. The event will begin at Foley Square.

On Saturday in Jamaica, Queens, "Council Member I. Daneek Miller hosts Black History Month celebration featuring live performances and guest speakers, including Drs. Rameck Hunt and George Jenkins of the Three Doctors Foundation, and co-authors of The Bond, The Pact and We Beat the Street."

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

11 Special Elections Set for April 24


cuomo voting grimace

Gov. Cuomo voting (photo via The Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo has officially called a special election to fill 11 vacant seats in the Legislature — two in the Senate and nine in the Assembly — for April 24. Of these, four vacancies are located within the five boroughs of New York City. The short races are quickly heating up to replace three former city-based state legislators who have joined the City Council -- former Assembly members Francisco Moya and Mark Gjonaj and former Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. -- and another lawmaker, Brian Kavanagh, who left the Assembly for the Senate.

While all of these seats are likely to remain in Democratic hands, the other Senate special election is in a key Westchester swing district where party control of the upper chamber -- Republicans’ last stronghold of power at the state level -- is at play. There, Senate district 37, Democrat George Latimer left a vacancy when he was elected Westchester County Executive in November.

The governor had faced pressure from Democrats to call the special elections on January 1, the earliest possible date, which would have meant March elections and winners in place to represent their districts in final budget negotiations -- a new state budget is due by April 1. But, Cuomo decided to wait, saying he did not want to inject politics into the budget process, and called the specials so they would occur in April. Winners will be seated in the Legislature in time for negotiations during the final weeks of the legislative session that ends in June.

The backdrop also features a tentative reunification deal between the Senate’s breakaway Democratic faction known as the IDC and their mainline peers -- which is only on the table if Democrats regain the requisite 32 seats to retake the majority in the 63-seat chamber before the end of the 2018 session. Winning the two Senate seats is essential, and a great deal of focus will be on the Westchester race. The IDC, which forms a ruling coalition with the Senate GOP, includes eight members, while the mainline Democratic conference currently features 21 members, and one nominal Democrat, Senator Simcha Felder, caucuses with Republicans.

In New York, special elections do not include typical primaries, with party nominees picked by party officials rather than the larger voting pool. In the city’s deep blue districts, this often means that the Democratic nominee is virtually handed the seat. Upstate, a number of GOP-held seats are likely to remain safely Republican.

A closer look at where things stand in each of the 11 legislative vacancies home to special elections April 24 -- party candidate nominations must be set with the Board of Elections by February 26.

SENATE

Senate District 37 - Westchester
Since Latimer won the Westchester County Executive contest in November, unseating two-term GOP County Executive Rob Astorino, the race is heating up to fill his vacant 37th Senate District seat.

Assemblymember Shelley Mayer was chosen as the Democratic nominee for the seat -- beating out teacher and activist Kat Brezler -- in a mini-convention held by county Democratic leaders in January. Former Rye Councilmember Julie Killian, who lost a Senate race to Latimer in 2016, secured the GOP nomination in early February over former Yonkers Inspector General Dan Schorr. Republican candidate Sarmad Khojasteh had previously dropped out of the race to endorse Killian.

While Democrats have a two-to-one enrollment advantage in Westchester, the district has become a battleground in recent years. If Mayer is elected, the 90th Assembly District will be left vacant and without representation until the November 2018 election.

Senate District 32 - The Bronx
This Senate seat became available when Diaz Sr. won the election for New York City Council’s District 18, which was left vacant by term-limited Annabel Palma.

Diaz Sr., a conservative Democrat who had served the Senate’s 32nd District since 2002, easily beat several third-party candidates in the general election after a more competitive primary. Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda, a Democrat, formally declared his candidacy for the Senate seat in December and is expected to be Diaz Sr.’s successor in the overwhelmingly Democratic district. This would leave a vacancy in the 76th Assembly District.

ASSEMBLY

Assembly District 39 - Queens
This position was vacated by former Assemblymember Francisco Moya, who was elected to the City Council District 21 seat in November. Moya replaced Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who decided not to run for re-election. Candidates running for Moya’s seat include Catalina Cruz, the former chief of staff for Ferreras-Copeland, and Aridia Espinal, a former Moya staffer and district leader, who has Moya’s endorsement.

Cruz has criticized the nature of special elections in New York. “Unfortunately, the special election process for the state Assembly does not allow for Democratic primary voters to decide who represents them on the Democratic Party ballot line,” Cruz said in a statement.

Assembly District 74 - Manhattan
The 74th State Assembly seat was vacated by Brian Kavanagh when selected by Democratic Committee leaders last fall to replace Dan Squadron in the State Senate. Democrat Harvey Epstein, scooping up endorsements from a slew of City Council members, Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and other Democratic power players, handily won the Democratic nod over Mike Corbett, an aide to City Council Member Costa Constantinides and president emeritus of the New York State Young Democrats, on February 12.

The New York Republican County Executive Committee unanimously endorsed Bryan Cooper for race.

Assembly District 80 - The Bronx
This seat was held by former Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, who was elected to the City Council’s 13th District, replacing term-limited James Vacca last year.

Gjonai’s former chief of staff Nathalia Fernandez received the Democratic nomination for the Assembly’s 80th District on Thursday, paving the way for her to take the seat in April.

“Our district deserves an Assembly Member who has the experience to get things done.  My deep roots in the community and my experience has prepared me to be an effective representative on day one,” said Fernandez, who has the backing of her former boss.

Fernandez said her priorities will include improving quality of life in the district, increasing education funding in the state budget, supporting small businesses, and improving public transportation. The district includes Morris Park, Pelham Parkway, and Norwood, among other Bronx neighborhoods.

Assembly District 5 - Suffolk County
This Suffolk County seat was vacated by Republican Assemblymember Al Graf, who won his bid for district court judge in Islip in November. Graf represented the 8th District, which includes Holbrook and Stony Brook, since 2010. Like much of Suffolk County, this district is a toss up between Democrats and Republicans -- though the GOP maintains a slight advantage.

Doug Smith, a 27-year-old former aide to Graf, has secured the Republican nomination, while Democrats are searching for a new nominee after union leader Peter Zarcon received the Democratic nod, but pulled out of the race Wednesday citing “personal family concerns.”

According to Newsday, Democratic leaders say they are now interviewing Deborah Slinowsky, a former school board member who works in the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, and Jenn Hann, a legislative aide.

Assembly District 102  - Greene County
Former Republican Assemblymember Pete Lopez stepped down from his Assembly position to become a Region 2 Administrator at the United States Environmental Protection Agency in October. Schoharie Town Supervisor Christopher Tague has secured the Republican nod, beating out former Ulster County Legislature candidate Santos Lopez, while Aidan O’Connor Jr., a member of the Greene County Legislature, is the Democratic nominee. The district encompasses parts of four counties -- Albany Columbia, Greene, and Schoharie -- and has a slight Republican advantage.

Assembly 17th District - Nassau County
Former Assemblymember Thomas McKevitt, a Republican, stepped down for a seat on the Nassau County Legislature. No candidates have yet emerged. The district has a GOP advantage.

Assembly 142nd District - Buffalo Region
Michael Kearns, a Democrat who ran on the GOP line, narrowly defeated Democratic candidate and former radio host Steve Cichon, a lifelong Republican, for Erie County Clerk in the fall. While the majority of the district is Democratic, party affiliation can be complicated in Buffalo.

Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke has nabbed the Democratic nomination for this vacant seat, while the Republicans have picked a Democrat, Erik T. Bohen, as their candidate in the special election to replace Kearns.

The district includes parts of South Buffalo, Lackawanna, Seneca, and Orchard Park.

Assembly District 10 - Suffolk County
Former Republican Assemblymember Chad Lupinacci left this seat to take over as supervisor of Huntington, a seat held by Frank Petrone for 24 years. The 10th District of the Assembly, which includes large portions of Suffolk County, has a Democratic advantage.

Assembly District 107 - Rensselaer, Albany, Columbia
No candidates have emerged yet for the seat of former Assemblymember Steve McLaughlin, a Republican who left the Assembly after winning the race for Rensselaer County executive, but five Democrats and two Republicans have reportedly been interviewed by respective party leaders.

The district is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

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

Read more by this writer.

First Annual State Economic Development Report Falls Short, Watchdogs Say


Zemsky economic development

Howard Zemsky (photo: Govenor's Office)


Starting this year, the state’s central economic development agency is required to produce an annual comprehensive report of all of the state-funded programs it oversees. The requirement of Empire State Development (ESD) was part of the state budget agreement reached last April amid intensifying criticism of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s approach to economic development.

With the report due on December 31 of each year, ESD must compile the past fiscal year's “aggregate totals” for each economic development program administered by the agency, examining “program progress, program participation rates, economic impact, regional distribution, industry trends, and any other information deemed necessary by the commissioner," according to the 2017-2018 enacted budget.

The inaugural report was late.

“It will be out this week -- and that’s my fault, truthfully,” ESD president and CEO Howard Zemsky told state legislators somewhat sheepishly during the joint legislative budget hearing on economic development in Albany on January 29. He added, “I think you’ll find it to be very thorough, very forthcoming, and very extensive.”

Cuomo’s economic development czar, who is appointed by Cuomo, was queried on the report’s status by Senate Finance Chair Cathy Young, an Upstate Republican, who cited an audit by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli that found ESD failed to meet more than half of the reporting requirements for tax credit and job creation programs that were due between April 2012 and September 2016.

“Some of them have been successful, but many of these programs have run into substantial issues, such as far lower job creation than expected…In light of these issues, ESD is often unwilling to share information with the legislature and the public on these projects,” said Young.

The annual report was released last week, on February 5, but watchdogs and experts say it falls far short of a comprehensive analysis drawing clear connections between the state’s numerous investments and job growth, and only highlights the need for a comprehensive “database of deals.”

Much of the 128-page document offers a photo-heavy, though thorough overview of the state’s “holistic” approach to transforming New York State, through business grants and tax incentives, as well as workforce development, Regional Economic Development Councils, downtown revitalization programs, and more. The latter third of the report provides a more data-centric breakdown of the economic impact of 1,153 projects overseen by ESD that received financial assistance in state fiscal year 2017 (April 1, 2016-March 31, 2017).

“This report highlights all of these strategies throughout and also includes a section of detailed statistical information. Extensive additional information on thousands of economic development projects throughout the state is available on our website,” writes Zemsky in his opening message. “Our strategy is not only providing positive economic results in the short term but also planting seeds for sustainable economic prosperity over the long term.”

The investments are broken down into four categories: tax expenditure programs -- which includes the Excelsior jobs program, the entertainment tax credit and Start-Up NY -- loans and grants, marketing and advertising, and innovation. In total, $1.8 billion was provided by ESD in support of these projects, which are expected to leverage nearly $18.6 billion in business and partner investments. According to the report, 162 projects have direct job commitments that leverage $14 billion and require the creation and retention of over 65,000 jobs in New York, for an average cost of $13,205 per job.

Among watchdogs who reviewed the ESD report, the primary criticisms are that it lacks recipient-level data, it at times only shows “net new job commitments” instead of actual jobs created, and has inconsistent definitions for what constitutes a job.

Recipient-level data, which shows return on investment from individual projects, is crucial for determining any program’s true cost-per-job, according to David Friedfel, director of state studies for Citizens Budget Commission (CBC).

“Taxpayers should know if individual projects are receiving benefits under multiple programs, the total amount of state and local spending, the number of jobs promised and created, and the amount of capital expense committed and expended by the company,” said Friedfel in an email, noting that such information could be made available with the creation of an online “database of deals,” a key recommendation repeatedly pushed by CBC and other fiscal watchdogs and government reform groups.

A spokesperson for ESD pointed out the statute specifically requires the agency to provide “aggregate totals” for the programs and noted that report provides links to quarterly reports offering more granular details.

The Excelsior jobs program issued $25.3 million in tax credits to 62 businesses, according to the report. Those business pledged to create 10,072 jobs, retain 30,279 jobs, and invest more than $2.4 billion. The total tax credits committed to these 62 businesses is $174.2 million over the life of the projects. This amounts to $4,318 in tax credits committed per job created and retained.

The report should also show actual jobs created, not just commitments under the Excelsior jobs program, something the database of deals would document in real time, according to Friedfel, since companies often commit to creating a certain number of jobs, and then the project either fails to come to fruition, or the actual number of jobs created falls short of expectations. At times, more jobs are created than originally expected.

“The committed jobs are just the goals, the report should have actuals,” said Friedfel. “Also, the difference between commitments and actual job creation is the reason why economic development spending should be pay-for-performance, with companies being reimbursed after job creation goals are met.”

While much of the report’s tax credit data does a better job of presenting actual job creation numbers, critics say the figures are still misleading because the term “job” is defined differently throughout.

In part due to the broad scope of the report, jobs for different types of economic development programs are counted using different sets of criteria. In an attempt to preempt this criticism, the report classifies jobs associated with the entertainment industry tax credit as “hires” rather than “jobs” because these are typically short-term gigs that are counted regardless of how long the employees work. The cost-per-job for these roles is considerably lower than more permanent, full-time positions produced by other programs. The state’s controversial film and television tax credit has benefited 289 projects, resulting in $2.9 billion in private investment and a cost-per-hire of $2,841.

Another anomaly is Start-Up NY, which, due to the particulars of its tax requirements, only counts employees that are full-time and permanent for at least six months -- a threshold that should probably be applied for all job counts, some critics say.  In 2016, businesses in the Start-Up NY program reported business tax benefits of $949,868 and reported their employees received $3 million in personal income tax benefits, which brings the state investment to a $3.9 million total, according to the report. The businesses also report investing over $31 million and creating a total of 1,135 new jobs, of which 722 were "net new jobs," or jobs that lasted longer than six months. The ESD report omits a cost-per-job breakdown for Start-Up NY, perhaps because the 2017 data is unavailable yet, but it notes that 67 businesses were approved in 2017, projecting the creation of 1,000 jobs and $28 million in investment. Based on 2016 jobs numbers provided, the cost was $5,470 per net new job.

The program has been the source of significant criticism of those who point to weak job creation, including, most recently, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who called for an end to the program on Tuesday. (Ongoing questions about the effectiveness of Governor Cuomo’s job creation efforts also come as elements of his economic development programs are at play in twin corruption trials happening this year, where Cuomo associates and donors are accused of bid-rigging and bribery.)

Critics argue that the same job-counting criteria should be applied across the board and question whether jobs created by companies benefiting from more than one public subsidy have been counted twice.

"The charts and data in the report are in different formats and don't allow for apples to apples comparisons of different subsidy programs,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a leading advocate for the database of deals. “There is no baseline data showing existing jobs or growth rates for regions. What's striking about the report is how little actual data there is that sheds light on performance by region, program or recipient."

The report also highlights 378 projects investing in infrastructure, marketing, and capacity building, leveraging $2.2 billion in private investment.

Many long-time critics of the state’s economic development programs are not likely to be appeased by the numbers regardless of how they are presented. E.J. McMahon, research director of the Empire Center for Public Policy, calls himself “close to atheistic ” on the field of taxpayer-funded economic development.

“Part of the problem is distinguishing between what incentive claims to have delivered and what would have happened anyway without the incentive,” said McMahon, who frequently rails against the state’s entertainment tax credit, which disproportionately benefits economically-thriving New York City.

The credit grants tax reimbursements of up to 30 percent for production companies that film in New York City or its suburbs. Farther upstate, the entertainment incentive grows to 40 percent. The number of entertainment ventures filmed in the city has ballooned in recent years, but naysayers note that New York City has always been a coveted filming location for the movie and television industry.

“The people who are fans of the film credit have consistently pretended for years that no one would have been making films in New York City without the tax credit. All it proves is if you pay someone to do something, they will do it,” said McMahon.

Getting lost in the conversation is what economists call “opportunity costs,” which is “what we didn't do because we gave you the money," according McMahon. "The true cost of filming ‘Blue Bloods’ in Queens is not that we gave them $25 million, it’s what could the State of New York have spent that $25 million on? What kind of mental health services could you have provided to people on the street for $25 million? What’s the societal value of that over having Tom Selleck walking around Queens?”

A spokesperson for Comptroller DiNapoli’s office declined to comment on the ESD report, stating that the agency currently has an audit of ESD underway. Senator Young was unavailable for comment due to all-day budget hearings Monday and Tuesday, a spokesperson said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article miscalculated the cost per job for Start-Up NY. The article has been amended to reflect this correction.

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

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 12


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Savino Asks De Blasio for Help Passing ‘Subway Grinder’ Bill He Once Supported


Savino and de Blasio

Senator Savino and Mayor de Blasio at lunch (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office)


As a debate rages over the appropriate law enforcement response to subway fare evasion, in Albany, a bill steepening the penalty for certain subway sex offenses is getting another look.

During Mayor Bill de Blasio’s testimony at a joint legislative budget hearing on Monday, Senator Diane Savino asked the mayor to put pressure on the Assembly to consider her legislation that would make certain lewd subway behavior a class B felony, resulting in up to a year in prison.

Savino recalled that in 2012, de Blasio, then public advocate, stood with her and Assemblymember Michael Cusick at a Staten Island subway station to unveil the “subway grinding” bill, which would target unwanted sexually-motivated touching of someone who is “physically helpless or unable to move on public transit.”

“We passed the legislation -- that you helped me draft -- in the Senate five times,” said Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) who represents Staten Island’s North Shore and southern Brooklyn, at Monday’s hearing. “If you could use your considerable influence with the Assembly to try to get it out of the Assembly. It’s critically important to safety in the subways,” she said, before continuing on to other topics.

While Savino’s bill has repeatedly passed the Senate, where Savino’s conference forms a ruling coalition with Senate Republicans, it has stalled in the downstate Democrat-dominated Assembly. De Blasio typically works closely with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to represent New York City’s interests in the legislative process.

De Blasio did not specifically address the legislation during Monday’s hearing. When Gotham Gazette followed up with the mayor’s office, a spokesperson said that Savino’s bill is currently under review.

“We support the spirit of the legislation and look forward to working with Senator Savino to ensure it’s the most effective that it can be for New Yorkers,” said mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein.

A compromise bill passed by both houses in 2015 -- sponsored by Republican Senator Marty Golden of Brooklyn and Democratic Queens Assemblymember Aravella Simotas -- adds unwanted rubbing against bus or subway riders to the penal law definition of “forcible touching,” a class A misdemeanor, carrying a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

Savino maintains that the 2015 bill has had no effect, since forcible touching is already a misdemeanor, though subway and bus offenses have not necessary been treated that way by the courts. Her legislation was motivated in part by a case dating back to 2002, in which a “very large” man surreptitiously masturbated and ejaculated on the clothing of a teen girl while she was immobilized on a crowded train. An appeals court ruled that this was not forcible touching, since the offender did not use physical force, but only a “stealth” action.

When de Blasio backed the Savino-Cusick bill in 2012, he said in a statement, “When the laws on the books aren’t enough to protect people, we have to make them tougher. ‘Grinding’ is a deeply personal and deeply offensive violation that no woman or straphanger should have to suffer. We need laws that match the seriousness of this crime.”

In the Assembly, some question whether the reclassification is effective at deterring crime, since maximum sentences are rarely meted out.

Brooklyn Assembly Member Joe Lentol, a Democrat who chairs the Assembly codes committee, said that an increased awareness around sexual harassment this year might spur the passage of Savino’s bill this year, but said it was worth investigating whether judges are enforcing the 2015 statute, and whether it has translated into actual jail sentences for offenders.

“In this day and age, this might be baseline behavior that we want to go after -- maybe she’s right. I don’t know if a class B felony is appropriate, but maybe we should make it a felony,” said Lentol.

“We have made it a crime; it was never a crime before,” added Lentol.

In the meantime, reported “grinding” cases have jumped more than 50 percent in the last three years, according to an NYPD data report compiled by Savino last year, though she acknowledges this inflated figure could be a result of more riders reporting the crimes rather than an increase in incidents.

"I’m confident that we don’t have more sex crimes happening. We have more women who know that we care, who trust the system, and are willing to make that report," said NYPD Transit Chief Joseph Fox on CBS New York in 2016.

When asked for a comment on the outlook for her bill this year, Savino said, "For years, I have worked to elevate penalties on serial 'subway grinders' who prey on women commuting on our subways, and I have no doubt the Senate will pass my bill again. A felony penalty is necessary for egregious offenders who continue to violate women on mass transit and walk away with a slap on the wrist."

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

State Senate’s New Sexual Harassment Policy Draws Criticism


John Flanagan Senate

Senate Leader John Flanagan (photo: State Senate)


The New York State Senate leadership’s attempt to revamp its sexual harassment policy is drawing criticism from advocates and lawmakers.

Ordered by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island, the rewrite enhances protections but also adds a seemingly gratuitous line warning that falsely accusing someone is a “serious act.” It comes amid a national reckoning about workplace harassment, including in government, but also follows a claim made against one of the leading members of the state Legislature, Senator Jeff Klein. Klein, whose Independent Democratic Conference forms a ruling coalition with the Senate majority Republican conference, has vehemently denied forcibly kissing a staff member outside a bar in 2015.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the only female leader of a state legislative conference, expressed dismay at the changes in a statement, saying that the warning to false accusers is evidence that the Senate leadership is not serious about combating sexual harassment.

“To emphasize the punishment for filing a false report while not emphasizing the seriousness of sexual harassment is exactly the type of intimidation that has silenced so many through the years and encourages perpetrators to attack accusers,” said Stewart-Cousins.

Other criticisms of the document center around its use of the word "may" rather than "shall" in places, weak anti-retaliation language, and its failure to designate an independent person to report misconduct to.

These seeming gaps are drawing questions about the motivation for the policy rewrite and who was involved in drafting it. Spokespersons for the Republican conference and the IDC did not respond to a requests for comment on the matter, but Senate Democrats, three of whom serve on the Senate ethics committee, said they were not consulted.

“It just showed up in my staff email two nights ago... I don’t think I even got a direct copy,” said Senator Liz Krueger, who is known for her outspokenness on sexual harassment, during a recent appearance on The Capitol Pressroom radio show. “We could have told them everything that was wrong with it, but no one sought [our advice] in advance.”

An attorney who is frequently contracted to investigate discrimination and harassment claims involving the Senate, said she also had not been consulted, having not seen the documents until Gotham Gazette sent them to her.

“I learned about the new policy when I read about it in the newspaper,” said Pearl Zuchlewski, founding partner of Kraus & Zuchlewski LLP, which has been paid $198,485 by the Senate to investigate personnel claims in 2016 and 2017, according to New York State Comptroller records.

Senate Republicans stand behind the policy change, with a spokesperson saying that “the Senate has taken a strong policy and made it even stronger” and noting that the new version adds more examples of what constitutes sexual harassment, giving employees the ability to report an incident directly to the Senate's personnel officer and making clear that retaliation will not be tolerated.

“The false complaint provision that is being referenced by Senator Stewart-Cousins existed previously and has not been changed in any meaningful way. It is and always has been wrong to make a false complaint,” said Maureen Wren, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans.

While Wren would not provide details of who was involved in drafting, editing, and approving the new harassment policy, Flanagan has repeatedly said recently that he hired an outside firm to work on it, but much remains mysterious about the process.

"I asked for an independent review, we hired outside counsel, we strengthened what we do already in the Senate. I was proud of the work that we did before, we took what we did and just made it better," Flanagan said during a question-and-answer session of a Crain’s New York Business appearance January 25. “Everyone should feel comfortable in their work environment,” he added.

One of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State proposals, which reflects similar legislation proposed by Assembly Member Sandra Galef, aims to create a uniform sexual harassment policy for all government employees, including all three branches of state government.

Currently, the Senate policy covers complaints made against employees of the Senate and the Assembly’s policy covers complaints made against Assembly members and staff, with specific protocol depending on whether a complaint is made against someone working at the Legislature or in district offices. The state’s Joint Committee on Public Ethics, which is made up of Cuomo and legislative appointees, can also investigate a misconduct complaint on its own or with a formal referral from a government entity. Cuomo has proposed adding resources to JCOPE so that it can more quickly and ably conduct misconduct investigations.

Klein asked JCOPE to investigate the claim against him and has indicated such an investigation is underway. Flanagan said the Senate would not investigate because the accuser, Erica Vladimer, had not made a formal complaint within the body.

There are parts of the Senate policy that now more closely resemble the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy, last updated in 2014 after a major scandal, which is a 13-page document widely seen as a gold standard for sexual harassment policies in government.

For example, the section that recommends complainants first communicate their discomfort to the offending party and ask that the behavior stop, now mirrors an italicized line in the Assembly policy emphasizes that while “self help” is recommended it is not required. Another amendment that reflects the Assembly policy, specifies that the claim that alleged misconduct “meant no harm” or was “just a joke” is not an excuse.

However, if the impetus for the policy change was to create more parity between the two legislative houses, a side-by-side reading of the Senate and Assembly sexual harassment policies suggests there is still a long way to go, according to Alexis Grenell, a frequent commentator on government reform and gender issues, and a Democratic political consultant.

"The Senate policy is a weak imitation of the Assembly version, which is much closer to model language and includes no such warning against false reporting,” said Grenell. “No one wants to be sexually harassed or put themselves through the added stress of an investigation, which is why false reporting is so unusual. It's a red herring problem intended to discourage reporting."

The Senate’s new policy also adds a number of protected categories like creed, color, military status, familial status, predisposed genetic characteristics, and domestic violence victim status, but omits gender identity and expression, as noted by Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat.

“I would call it a glaring omission -- a real statement as to the values and priorities of the Senate majority,” said Hoylman, noting that statistically transgender people of all groups are most likely to be targeted in hate crimes.

Hoylman is the prime sponsor of GENDA, or the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act -- which seeks to extend sex discrimination protections to people discriminated against on the basis of gender identity, expression, or transgender status -- but the Senate majority has prevented the bill from reaching the floor.

Many of the gaps cited in the old policy remain in the new version. For example, while the Assembly policy instructs complainants to report incidents to an independent counsel that has been retained, the Senate policy does not provide this avenue for individuals to report misconduct.

Senate complainants are still instructed to report incidents to an immediate supervisor or the immediate supervisor of the offender, the appropriate department head, or to his or her appointing authority.

If the complaint concerns any of those officials, or the complainant is uncomfortable making a report to any of these individuals, he or she may go to the Senate Personnel Officer, or the Secretary of the Senate.

“The concept that you should somehow first report it up the line internal to your office, when the line always goes to a senator, and/or then go to the staff of the majority leader -- also a senator, who frankly has even more reason to want to protect members and the ‘institution’ -- is just wrong,” said Krueger on Capitol Pressroom.

“I actually think this new policy is worse than the old policy and I don’t understand how in 2018 people don’t understand what the problem is and how we can address it,” said Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat.

When describing who will conduct the investigation should one unfold, the language in the Senate policy leaves up to the discretion of Senate leadership whether to hire an independent investigator, by using the word “may” rather than “shall.”

Despite that language, Republicans say that sexual harassment complaints within the Senate are handled independently and that it has been the practice for years.

By contrast, the Assembly policy indicates that the investigation “shall” be conducted by outside lawyers retained by the Assembly, and offers more detail for protecting the confidentiality of all parties involved as well as witnesses interviewed.

“Once you get into the question of what’s going to happen if there is a problem, this policy is not nearly as strong and clear as it needs to be,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of reform group Common Cause, on The Capitol Pressroom last week, speaking with Senator Krueger with host Susan Arbetter.

Other changes to the Senate policy include the addition of a 30-day time limit for both the accused and the accuser to appeal a decision.

The Assembly policy, which also includes a 30 day appeal time limit, has also been praised for taking steps to protect the privacy of accusers when they come forward and ensuring that they do not face retaliation by specifying harsh penalties for such behavior. The Senate’s two-paragraph anti-retaliation section is less specific.

The Assembly approach is not without question. In late 2017, Republican Assemblymember Steve McLaughlin was sanctioned by the Assembly ethics committee for allegedly asking a female Assembly aide for nude photos, lying about it, and then leaking her name to colleagues in the Legislature. At the time, questions were raised about the length of time it took for the investigation to unfold, as by the time McLaughlin faced disciplinary action, he was already on his way out of the Assembly, having been elected Rensselaer County Executive earlier that month.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

In Albany, De Blasio Budget Testimony Centers on MTA, NYCHA


de Blasio Albany budget testimony

Mayor de Blasio testifying in Albany (Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Testifying in Albany Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $168 billion executive budget and outlined the city’s funding priorities for the next fiscal year.

De Blasio was the first to testify at a joint legislative budget hearing on local governments, making his annual journey to the Capitol, where he also met privately with Cuomo for an hour, and was scheduled to meet with three of five legislative conference leaders: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

In his opening remarks, de Blasio had mixed reviews for Cuomo’s budget, praising some measures while also urging state legislators to help him beat back others as they negotiate toward a new state budget by the April 1 start of the fiscal year. The mayor outlined several of his own top priorities that require state approval, such as design-build authority, electoral reform, and renewal of the speed camera program.

The mayor’s initial testimony and subsequent back-and-forth with lawmakers included significant focus on transportation and housing issues, especially MTA funding and problems at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), though de Blasio also touched on uncertainty coming from the federal government; criminal justice reforms and their connection to the closure of Rikers Island jails; and other fiscal and policy items.

De Blasio noted the burden placed on New York City by the Trump administration’s recently implemented tax plan, and acknowledged the steep impact of the termination of Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSH) payments, which is expected to cost city hospitals $400 million annually.

“I want to commend the Governor for trying to find ways to blunt the effects of the new tax law and I look forward to working with him, and all of you, on solutions,” he said, adding that the upcoming Trump administration budget proposal is likely to pose additional fiscal challenges for New York City.

De Blasio also outlined more than $750 million in cuts and cost shifts to New York City contained in Cuomo’s executive budget proposal. These include $144 million in additional charter school costs, a $129 million cut to child welfare services, a $65 million cut to special education funding, $31 million less to juvenile justice programs, and a $9 million reduction in rental subsidies for working families leaving shelters. In addition, there is a $211 million gap between what the city was expecting in school aid and the amount designated in the executive budget, according to the mayor’s office.

The mayor criticized the implementation of “Raise the Age,” which requires that 16- and 17-year-olds be removed from adult jails, calling it an unfunded mandate that will cost the city at least $200 million per year. De Blasio noted the executive budget’s elimination of $41 million of state funding for the city’s Close to Home juvenile justice placement program, despite the fact the program’s utilization is expected to triple with the implementation of Raise the Age.

“This cut undermines the signature reform designed to keep kids closer to their families. And it will cost the City $15.3 million in Fiscal 18 and $31 million in Fiscal 19,” said de Blasio. The city’s fiscal year begins July 1, and de Blasio recently outlined his $88.7 billion preliminary budget plan.

De Blasio praised the governor’s inclusion of bail and speedy trial reforms in his executive budget. He said the passage of these measures would reduce the city’s jail population and help to accomplish one of his signature endeavors, “to close Rikers Island for good.”

When questioned about whether he could expedite the closure plan for the jail complex, which is currently seen as a ten-year project, de Blasio told Democratic State Senator Brian Benjamin, of Manhattan, that the passage of all of his policy objectives -- such as parole, speedy trial, and bail reforms, as well as design-build authority for the city -- would allow the city to shrink the timeline.

“Unquestionably, that would take years off the process,” said de Blasio, though he declined to provide an exact projected timeline.

De Blasio also emphasized comprehensive election reform and passage of the Dream Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants, citing threats to immigrants from the federal government. “Given what is happening in our country and New York State can lead by example by helping all of our students,” said de Blasio, speaking on the same day that the Assembly would pass the Dream Act for the eighth time. It continues to stall in the Senate.

On transportation, de Blasio repeatedly cited the “millionaires tax” he wants to see that would create a dedicated funding stream for the MTA and support reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. But he also acknowledged that congestion pricing could work as a revenue-generator for the ailing transportation system run by the MTA.

De Blasio said he was ready to continue conversations and negotiations about how to best support the state-controlled transportation authority, but said that proposals contained in Cuomo’s budget should be taken off the table. He did express support for the general congestion pricing principles put forth by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel, but also indicated he wants to see tweaks.

De Blasio expressed concern that the money could potentially be diverted away from the subways and buses, suggesting a legal lockbox be created to restrict how congestion pricing revenue may be used. He also called for city approval for major transportation projects in the five boroughs.

The mayor took issue with the executive budget shifting the burden of MTA capital costs to the city, and battled with Senate finance Chair Cathy Young, an upstate Republican, over the 1953 law that specifies that city is responsible for all of the subway’s capital costs. While the city technically owns the subway system, the state has controlled it for more than 65 years.

“I absolutely disagree with your legal interpretation,” de Blasio said. “My counsel has looked at it too and has come to a very different conclusion…Let’s face it, the state has been running the MTA for decades now.”

The mayor criticized Cuomo’s “value capture” proposal, “that would grant the MTA the power to raid our property taxes on properties within a one mile radius of certain projects.” He said the proposal would cost the city billions of dollars and force the city to cut back on essential services like police, sanitation, and education.

“I was encouraged by the Governor’s recent comments that portrayed this as a choice for the city, not a mandate,” de Blasio said. “I would urge you to remove this provision from the enacted budget altogether.”

De Blasio made a similar argument about city services when asked by several lawmakers, including Young and Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who lost to de Blasio in last year’s mayoral race, about capping property tax increases in the city. The city is the only area of the state not subject to a cap of 2 percent annual property tax growth. De Blasio, who again pledged that he is about to launch a property tax reform effort, has said that the city must continued to take advantage of increases in property tax values to fund city services.

De Blasio, who designated $200 million for new boilers and heating systems in public housing after thousands of residents suffered outages this winter, called for the state to commit to matching the city’s investment in NYCHA. He also complained that the state has taken months to fulfill a request from the city to allocate funds earmarked for NYCHA from two budgets ago. The city had itself delayed its ask for the funds by several months beyond when it could have filed the request.

The mayor was grilled intensely by lawmakers on his public housing record. Senator Diane Savino, of Staten Island and the Independent Democratic Conference, called the living conditions “deplorable.” In another testy exchange, Senator Young drew attention to lapses in lead inspections at NYCHA apartments, and reports that children living in these residences were found to have high levels of lead in their blood. The scandal has prompted calls for de Blasio to fire NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye, including from Young on Monday. “Why is Shola Olatoye still at NYCHA?” Young repeatedly asked the mayor.

De Blasio acknowledged the mistakes but reaffirmed his previous statements, noting that the lapses began with the previous administration and credited Olatoye for turning the near-bankrupt housing agency around.

When Young pressed the mayor on issues at NYCHA, including unsafe conditions and crime that have “stacked up over the years,” the mayor responded tersely.

“Respectfully, I think it’s very reductionist to add certain facts up and say someone needs to be dismissed, even though they are getting a lot of work done for the people they serve. When you run a facility as big as NYCHA with years of disinvestment, of course there’s problems,” he said, adding that public safety has dramatically improved at NYCHA.

[Related: What's the State Role in NYCHA Oversight?]

During more than two hours of question-and-answer de Blasio was also asked about the financially-struggling public hospital system, where a new CEO has taken over who is promising to build on reforms already underway. The mayor was also asked to support supervised injection facilities for drug addicts and said that a city report is due back soon on the topic. He said it had to be very carefully dealt with.

While the mayor faced many tough questions, especially from Young, he also received a number of kudos, especially from city-based Democratic legislators, like Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan, who said that you wouldn’t know from many of the questions that the city is actually doing quite well.

Later in the day, de Blasio met for an hour with the governor to discuss how to resolve transportation and fiscal challenges in the coming weeks and months.

“It was a productive meeting, we talked about a lot of the same issues that came up in the testimony and, you know, hopefully we can all work together,” de Blasio told reporters when he emerged from Cuomo’s office.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 5


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will start off with a bang as Mayor Bill de Blasio makes his annual journey to Albany to testify at a legislative budget hearing. De Blasio has several issues with the executive budget proposal put forth in January by Governor Andrew Cuomo, his fellow Democrat and frequent sparring partner. De Blasio will make clear his state legislative and budget priorities for the year, and answers questions from members of the Senate and Assembly about those priorities, his record, city use of state funds, and whatever other matters they choose to raise.

De Blasio is expected to reiterate at least some of the priorities he outlined early this year, while also pushing back against Cuomo's budget proposals to cut certain funding to the city, provide less-than-expected education aid to the city, shift certain costs to the city, and require the city pay more for the MTA. The mayor discussed some of those budget issues when he released his own preliminary budget on Thursday of this past week. De Blasio is expected to either address outright or be asked about congestion pricing and where he stands on the recommendations put forth by Cuomo's "Fix NYC" panel, which the mayor has given a warmer reception than the general concept of congestion pricing in comments prior to the panel's report.

The Legislature will hold four days of budget hearings this week in Albany, while the two houses will hold legislative session on only Monday and Tuesday.

On Tuesday in the city, the newly empowered City Council Committee on Oversight and Investigation will hold its first hearing under new Speaker Corey Johnson and new committe Chair Ritchie Torres. The subject will be NYCHA, with a focus on heat for tenants. Council Member Alicka Samuel, the chair of the Council's public housing committee, which Torres chaired last term, will also lead the hearing. Johnson, Torres, Samuel, and others Council members are expected to heavily criticize NYCHA leadership and demand more answers about rcent heat outages and how NYCHA is responding to tenants' conditions. [Hear Torres talk about his new role in this recent episode of the Max & Murphy Podcast]

As always, there's a number of events to be aware of this week - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

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

At the State Legislature on Monday, there will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to local governments at 10 a.m. Mayor de Blasio will be among those testifying, and he will appear first. [Read: De Blasio Lays Out Initial 2018 Albany Priorities]

Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will also testify at the state budget hearing.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Johnson will speak at the Helen Hayes Theatre ribbon cutting ceremony on West 44th Street.

On Monday, VOCAL-NY will host its 2018 “Hepatitis C Elimination Legislative Awareness Day” in Albany.

At 9 a.m. Monday, U.S. Reps. Joe Crowley, Carolyn Maloney, and Ro Khanna will deliver remarks at a tech training session hosted by Google and Goodwill at the Goodwill facility in Astoria.

On Monday "at 11:30 AM, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will join New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) tenants impacted by the citywide heating crisis that left thousands in the cold this winter, as he calls on NYCHA to take actions to address challenges facing its underfunded capital program, namely a commitment to spend its recent and future fuel cost savings on emergency boiler repairs and conversions. According to a Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) study, NYCHA utility costs fell by $48 million from 2013 to 2016, largely due to lower natural gas prices as buildings were converted from oil to natural gas heating systems. Borough President Adams will advocate for this revenue stream to go directly toward more conversions so this cost savings can increase, creating a virtuous cycle of support for NYCHA."

At 1 p.m. Monday at the State Capitol, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will hold a “press conference regarding the DREAM Act. He will be joined by members of the Assembly Majority and advocates,” in the Speaker's Conference Room.

At 1:30 p.m. Monday in the State Capitol, "advocates, community leaders, and elected officials will gather to unveil a progressive revenue package that would raise $16 billion for New York. They will call on Governor Cuomo and the state legislature to pass this revenue package, and discuss how and why it will benefit all New Yorkers. The progressive revenue package would raise enough to close the current budget deficit, offset looming federal budget cuts from Washington, and fund major new investments in jobs and infrastructure, including the MTA." Participants will include "members of labor unions, community groups, and advocacy organizations; elected officials from the state legislature, including Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry."

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host “Urban Health, Urban Parks,” discussing “the positive impact of city parks on the health of urban dwellers.” Panelists will include Prospect Park Alliance president Sue Donoghue, New York Times columnist Jane Brody, and author Florence Williams. CityLab’s Laura Bliss will moderate.

Mayor de Blasio will make his weekly appearance on NY1's Inside City Hall Monday evening in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours. He'll also appear on the upstate Capitol Tonight news progam in the 8 p.m. hour.

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

At the State Legislature on Tuesday
--There will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to human services at 10 a.m.
--The Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction will meet at 5 p.m. at Binghamton University’s Innovative Technologies Complex to “examine the issues facing communities in the wake of increased heroin abuse.”

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committees on Public Housing and Oversight & Investigations will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “chronic heat and water failures in NYCHA housing.” Council Speaker Corey Johnson has pledged to participate in the entire hearing.
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at noon.
--The Committee on Economic Development will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “NYCEDC 2018 and Beyond: Borough-by-Borough in the Next Four Years.”
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 2 p.m.

On Tuesday the New York City Charter School Center and the Northeast Charter Schools Network will host a lobbying day in Albany at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center, demanding “funding equity for all public school students, and the elimination of the arbitrary cap on charter schools in New York.”

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, TransitCenter will host “Is It Rigged” at One Whitehall Street in Lower Manhattan, discussing the highly-inflated cost of transit construction in New York as compared to other cities. The panel will feature Brian Rosenthal of the New York Times, Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute, Rich Barone of the Regional Plan Association, and Chris Ward of Metro NY.

Wednesday
At the State Legislature on Wednesday, there will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to environmental conservation at 9:30 a.m.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Standards and Ethics will meet at 11 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “section 10.80 of the Council Rules.”
--The Committee on Public Safety will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing “examining NYPD crowd control and protest procedures.”

On Wednesday, WE ACT for Environmental Justice will hold a lobbying day in Albany “to demand Governor Cuomo commits to 100% renewables and a fee on corporate climate polluters.”

Thursday
At the State Legislature on Thursday, there will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to taxes at 9:30 a.m.

At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Higher Education will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “hiring a new chancellor and college president at the City University of New York.”
--The Committee on Fire and Emergency Management will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “diversity in the FDNY.”
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.

“The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) will be held on Thursday, February 8, at 10:00 AM.”

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the Association for a Better New York will host Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor, for a “What’s On Tap” talk at the Anheuser-Busch offices in Chelsea.

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio is expected to make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday morning at 10 a.m.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

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by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Staten Island Activist Eyes Primary Challenge to IDC Senator Savino


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photo: Jasmine Robinson


State Senator Diane Savino, a founding member of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), may be facing a challenge in the Democratic primary this fall.

Jasmine “Jasi” Robinson, 38, a legal secretary and community activist from Port Richmond, told Gotham Gazette she is mulling a run for the 23rd Senate District that encompasses the North Shore of Staten Island and a sliver of southern Brooklyn, citing the anti-IDC movement among progressives as her inspiration.

Robinson, who has lived in the district her entire life, learned about the ruling coalition between the breakaway Democrats and Senate Republicans during an information session organized by “No IDC NY” in Manhattan in January. She was invited to the event with Staten Island Women Who March -- a group that formed out of the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. -- and found it eye-opening, she said.

“I wanted to educate myself more about the IDC. I had heard [Savino’s] side; I wanted to hear another side,” said Robinson. “They were very fair, they showed both sides of the coin…I was informed about the different issues facing the different communities and how the progressive voice is being silenced in Albany and that can’t be.”

Robinson has not yet formed a campaign committee, saying she is considering her options and will make a decision about whether to run for office in the next few weeks.

Currently, five of the eight IDC members appear to be facing at least one challenger. IDC leader Jeff Klein, of the Bronx, has two declared opponents and three anti-IDC candidates have announced their intentions to unseat Jose Peralta, of Queens. Senator Jesse Hamilton of Brooklyn, Senator Marisol Alcantara of Manhattan, and Senator David Valesky of Oneida are each facing one challenger. Robinson’s candidacy against Savino would bring the number of IDC members facing primaries to six.

Senator David Carlucci, of Rockland and Westchester counties, and Queens Senator Tony Avella remain unchallenged.

Notably, anti-IDC candidates are forging ahead with their candidacies despite a tentative Senate Democratic reunification plan on the table and lack of support from much of the Democratic establishment. A number of these contenders have shown significant initial fundraising strides, primarily from small individual donors (as opposed to corporations, unions, or political groups), over a short period of time. The party primaries are in September.

Progressives remain skeptical of reunification deal, which has been orchestrated by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat who is also up for reelection this year. Four years ago, when there were five IDC members, several announced challengers dropped their bids, citing a potential Senate Democratic reunification deal that ultimately did not materialize, while others forged ahead without establishment support and lost. Staten Island lawyer and M.T.A. board member Allen Cappelli, who briefly sought Savino’s seat in 2014, withdrew his campaign, telling Politico, "The rationale was not there anymore.” Savino ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and the general election in 2016.

The current deal would only be implemented if Democrats hold the 32 seats necessary to retake the majority after a special election for two vacant Senate seats, which is expected to be called by the governor for April 24, and relies Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who caucuses with the GOP conference, returning to the Democratic fold.

The anti-IDC backlash appears to have been stoked in part by the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, which energized the grassroots and is putting renewed pressure on the Democratic factions to reunite. A number of progressive anti-IDC groups have formed, like No IDC NY, which aim to make IDC a household phrase and educate voters about the structures in Albany that block the passage progressive legislation.

“The difference is Trump,” said No IDC spokesperson Sean McElwee. “There’s just an incredible salience to politics right now that is going to make a difference. The grassroots resistance to Trump is also resisting the machine-style politics that has been practiced in New York City over the past few decades.”

On Staten Island’s North Shore, many were mobilized to activism following the death of North Shore resident Eric Garner at the hands of a police officer, with Garner’s final words, “I can’t breathe,” becoming a rallying cry in police accountability protests across the nation. After a grand jury decided not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who placed Garner in a deadly chokehold, there was much criticism over the lack of transparency in the grand jury proceedings. At the time, Senator Savino urged Staten Islanders to respect the judicial process, but sponsored a bill, along with Staten Island Assemblymember Matthew Titone, requiring grand jury testimony to be made public.

Robinson, who lives down the block from Eric Garner’s mother and had met him a few weeks before his death, said that Savino’s actions were not sufficient in making North Shore communities of color feel heard.

“We have not seen Diane Savino taking the lead or even lending a voice or a hand in the case of Eric Garner. There was a vigil for his daughter [Erica Garner, who passed away in late 2017] and she was not there. You can’t pick and choose what issues you are going to be involved in,” said Robinson.

A spokesperson for Savino noted that after Garner's death, Savino stood alongside Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Member Debi Rose as they commemorated his life and acknowledged the need for a change in community-police relations.

“Senator Savino is up for re-election every two years and looks forward to the opportunity for a rigorous debate on issues that are important to her District,” the campaign spokesperson, Jennifer Blatus, added.

If she becomes a candidate, Robinson says she hopes to change the public’s perception of Staten Island, which is seeing a lively and growing progressive wave.

“Staten Island is not just Trump land,” she said. “It’s a coalition of so many different people; of progressives, of immigrants, of Latinos, of blacks -- it’s just a melting pot of people who want and need change in their communities. I want to be part of that new wave of politics that is changing Staten Island.”

Robinson has been active in local politics, working as a coordinator for the local Board of Elections and canvassing for a number of political campaigns, including that of former City Council Member Vincent Gentile and Staten Island Borough President candidate Tom Shcherbenko. She was recently elected to the executive board of the Staten Island Democratic Association, which touts itself as one of Staten Island’s oldest and most progressive Democratic clubs.

Olusoji Oluwole, a longtime member of the club, said that he believes Robinson’s potential candidacy would give progressives more visibility on Staten Island.

“For too long, some members of the Democratic Party have just played it safe and didn't want to alienate some of the moderates and conservatives on the Island, so I think some of the progressives in Staten Island are taken for granted,” said Oluwole.

While she may not have the support of the Democratic establishment, Robinson would have the backing and support of No IDC NY, which runs a multi-candidate campaign committee that has raised more than $20,000, in mostly small donations, according to its most recent Board of Elections filings. The group seeks to create a Democratic majority by unseating all of the breakaway Democrats and replacing them with “real Democrats” who are committed to caucusing with the mainline conference. According to No IDC’s chief strategist, Gus Christensen, Robinson fits the bill.

"Jasmine is off to a great start in building her support among progressive activists on Staten Island, in south Brooklyn and all around New York State. She has amazing potential -- she is extremely bright and charismatic,” he said in a statement. “Even more importantly, she really knows the people, and their issues and their problems, right in her community.”

Correction: An earlier version of this piece misidentified the location of Senator David Carlucci's district.

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

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, January 29


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

State budget hearings continue this week in Albany, where the joint legislative hearings will focus on topics including economic development and education, discussing programs and outlays in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently-released executive budget plan. 

On Tuesday, state Senator John DeFrancisco is expected to announce whether he will seek the Republican nomination for governor.

New City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will give remarks on Tuesday morning at the Association for a Better New York, a prominent business group.

Mayor de Blasio is expected to release his preliminary budget for next fiscal year on Thursday of this week (next Monday, February 5, de Blasio is scheduled to testify in Albany at a state budget hearing).

Like last week, this week is likely to feature a good deal of discussion of how New York city and state are responding to the recently passed federal tax reforms, and larger questions round budgeting for the next fiscal year -- the state’s fiscal year begins April 1, the city’s begins July 1 -- as well as issues like congestion pricing and MTA funding, which are coming into focus as key areas of debate this budget cycle in New York.

Meanwhile, President Trump will deliver his first State of the Union address Tuesday night, which many in New York will be watching.

There's a good deal happening all over the city and state this week, with several other events to be aware of - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
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The run of the week in detail:

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

At the State Legislature on Monday, there will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to economic development at 10:30 a.m.

At 10 a.m. Monday, the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a public hearing “regarding the 2017 citywide elections.”

On Monday starting at 10 a.m., schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will be at P.S. 150 in Sunnyside where she "will visit classes using the DOE's Passport to Social Studies curriculum at PS 150 in Queens. She will visit a 5th grade "living history museum," a 3rd grade class learning about China by creating travel brochures, and a 2nd grade class learning about New York City transportation."

At 11 a.m. Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo will make an announcement at Nassau Coliseum.

At 11 a.m. Monday at City Hall, “the de Blasio Administration will join Citi Community Development and the National Disability Institute to announce the launch of a national public-private initiative that encourages municipalities to expand financial empowerment and economic inclusion to people living with disabilities and their families. The announcement includes the launch of a local initiative that seeks to improve the financial stability ofthe one million New Yorkers living with a disability.”

At 1:30 p.m. Monday in Albany, “New York State legislators will join a statewide coalition to launch an aggressive legislative campaign to create safer consumption spaces (SCSs), also known as supervised injection facilities (SIFs), in New York State. The coalition, known as “End Overdose NY,” is comprised of public health and healthcare professionals, faith leaders, family members of those struggling with opioid dependency, drug treatment providers as well as people in recovery, and those still actively using drugs...Earlier in the day, the coalition will be holding a legislative briefing on the “End Overdose New York” drug policy platform, a 3-point program for a comprehensive and compassionate response to ending overdose across the state.” Participants will include Assemblymembers  Linda Rosenthal, Richard Gottfried, Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Diana Richardson, and Luis Sepúlveda, and leaders of a variety of groups like VOCAL-NY, Drug Policy Alliance, and others.

At 6 p.m. Monday, City & State will host a ceremony honoring its “50 Over Fifty 2018” honorees at the Mezzanine NYC in the Financial District. Honorees include former Council Speaker Christine Quinn, 1199SEIU President George Gresham, Citizens Budget Commission President Carol Kellermann, and Yankees President Randy Levine. City & State will also honor individuals winning a “Lifetime Achievement” award, including former Mayor David Dinkins, the Rev. Al Sharpton, former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, outgoing Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina, CUNY Chancellor James Milliken, and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

Mayor de Blasio will make his weekly Monday evening appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours. Mayor de Blasio will also make remarks Monday evening at the People’s State of the Union at The Town Hall.

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

At the State Legislature on Tuesday, there will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to public protection at 9:30 a.m.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, the Association for a Better New York will host City Council Speaker Corey Johnson for a “Power Breakfast” at the Marriott Marquis in Manhattan, where the speaker will “discuss his priorities for the next council.” Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will be among those in attendance.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics will meet on Tuesday in Albany.

At 11 a.m. Public Advocate James will host a press conference "calling on the FCC to protect the Lifeline Program."

On Tuesday at 11 a.m. "at Staten Island Borough Hall, Borough President James S. Oddo, District Attorney Mike McMahon, and technology company Uber will announce a continuation of their partnership that began on Thanksgiving Eve to combat drunk driving. They will announce the availability of free Uber rides on Sunday to allow football fans to arrive safely home after the big game as well as the local sponsors of this important initiative."

At approximately 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman "will hold a media availability after a critical DACA hearing in federal court," at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, in Brooklyn. "A federal judge will hear arguments on Attorney General Schneiderman’s motion for a preliminary injunction to block President Trump’s attempt to end DACA. After the hearing, Attorney General Schneiderman, DREAMers and their legal representatives, and advocates will hold a media availability outside the courthouse. Attorney General Schneiderman leads a coalition of 17 Attorneys General that filed suit to protect DREAMers and preserve DACA."

At about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at the state Capitol in Albany, Senate Democrats will announce "campaign finance reform and good government legislation" at a press conference led by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

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

On Tuesday at 3 p.m. at the 79th Precinct in Brooklyn, "Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner O’Neill will hold a media availability to make an announcement regarding body cameras. This event is open press. There will be Q-and-A." City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will participate in the press conference as well.

State Senator John DeFrancisco is expected to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Holiday Inn - Electronics Parkway Liverpool.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the New York Housing Conference will host Juliette Michaelson, Executive Vice President of the Regional Plan Association, for its “Thought Leader Speaker Series” at LMHQ in the Financial District. Michaelson will present the RPA’s Fourth Regional Plan to the NYHC.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, City Council Member Costa Constantinides will give his 2018 State of the District address for the 22nd Council District at P.S. 17 in Astoria, Queens. He will be joined by “special guest” Council Speaker Corey Johnson. Public Advocate Letitia James will also deliver remakrs.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at JustLeadershipUSA's “The State of #CLOSErikers” event, at New York Society for Ethical Culture.

President Trump will deliver his first State of the Union address Tuesday night at 9 p.m.

Wednesday
The full City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Council Speaker Johnson may hold a pre-stated press conference.

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

At the State Legislature on Wednesday, there will be a joint legislative hearing on the executive budget proposal relating to elementary and secondary education at 9:30 a.m.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the NYC Clergy Roundtable will host NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill at “Healing of our City: A Faith and Community Conversation with NYPD” at the New Jerusalem Worship Center in Jamaica, Queens. The commissioner will answer questions from the community on a range of topics.

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

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, City & State will host its 2018 P3 Summit at NYU’s Kimmel Center, convening “New York's transportation infrastructure leaders and P3 experts for a day-long, dynamic program of candid discussion and thought-provoking presentations on the complexities of public-private partnerships and the ways to successfully execute and manage P3s.” Several panels consisting of government officials, advocates, and business leaders will discuss these issues throughout the day.

Thursday
At 8 a.m. Thursday, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will host “The Future Series: Reforming the Property Tax in NYC” at the Rosenthal Pavilion at NYU’s Kimmel Center. Jacques Jiha, Commissioner of the City’s Department of Finance, will deliver a keynote address. A panel will also convene, consisting of REBNY President John Banks, Citizens Budget Commission President Carol Kellermann, Policy Director at Tax Equity Now NY Martha Stark, and NYU Law professor Vicki Been.

Mayor de Blasio is expected to present his preliminary budget proposal for fiscal year 2019, which begins July 1, on Thursday at City Hall.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, U.S. Rep Adriano Espaillat will host his 2018 State of the District Address for New York’s 13th Congressional District at the Vagelos Education Center in Washington Heights.

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio is expected to make his weekly Friday morning appearance on WNYC radio’s The Brian Lehrer Show.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

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by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

MTA Funding Fight May Dominate This Year’s City-State Budget Struggle


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Gov. Cuomo in the subway (photo: The Governor's Office)


Three key points of contention between the city and the state have emerged over transit funding, highlighted during Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) Chair Joe Lhota’s testimony at the joint legislative hearing on transportation Thursday in Albany.

The hearing, which included discussion of the MTA plan to restore New York City’s ailing subway system, occurred amid an ongoing feud between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo over the funding of crucial repairs for the deteriorating transit system, which is controlled by the state.

In a four-hour session that was at times good-natured and at others tense, members of the Senate and Assembly repeatedly questioned Lhota on three controversial and relevant aspects of Cuomo’s 2018 agenda: cost shifts of capital funding for the city’s subway system from the state to the city as outlined in Cuomo’s budget; a “value capture” plan to allow the state to reap property tax revenue spurred by transportation improvements in the city; and the recently unveiled congestion pricing plan outlined by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel.

These issues were addressed by de Blasio officials in a press conference call with reporters two days earlier. “We are objecting strongly to language that was inserted into the budget that would create a new, capital liability, a new capital commitment liability on the part of the city for New York City Transit, which is breaking a long-standing history of how the MTA is funded,” said First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan during the call. He and the other officials on the call also pushed back against the value capture proposal, calling it an unprecedented intrusion into the city’s tax system.

Mayor de Blasio himself also expressed his opposition during his weekly appearance on WNYC radio’s The Brian Lehrer Show, saying Friday morning.

“To take our property taxes which pay for our police, our schools, you know, our parks, our sanitation, to try and take from our property taxes for something the State wants is absolutely unacceptable…the first thing the State should do is return the $456 million diverted away from the MTA,” de Blasio said, referring to funds that were earmarked specifically for the MTA diverted by the State to other purposes over the last few years. “Put that money back and then we can discuss how to move forward.”

De Blasio will testify himself at a state legislative budget hearing in Albany on Monday, February 5. MTA funding, including the state’s insistence that the city pay about $450 million toward Lhota’s emergency subway stabilization plan, will likely be topics of discussion.

During his testimony Thursday, Lhota said the state’s $836 million Subway Action Plan launched last summer to restabilize the city's subway service is working, citing the MTA’s ability to prevent the predicted “summer of hell” in 2017, though the data does not necessarily support his claim, as explained by Nicole Gelinas of The New York Post.

“That’s not true — or only true if you compare summer and autumn to winter and spring, instead of a season to the previous year’s season. The latter is a far better measure because of similar crowding and weather,” Gelinas writes.

Despite this, Lhota said he attributes the MTA’s success at preempting a disastrous transportation summer to heightened “vigilance” on the part of the agency, something he said must continue year-round.

He also announced technological improvements coming to the MTA, such as a new signaling technology, a fleet of electric buses, and the Freedom Ticket, which allows Long Island Rail Road commuters to seamlessly transfer to the subway system. "I fully expect it to happen this year," Lhota said of the Freedom Ticket.

Cuomo's executive budget allocates $9.7 billion for the departments of transportation and motor vehicles, the Thruway Authority, and the MTA. However, the budget shifts all of the responsibility for capital costs to the City of New York, which would “require a sevenfold increase in City capital contributions,” according to Citizens Budget Commission President Carol Kellermann.

“What we are talking about here is a radical restructuring of where the [Capital] money comes from,” State Senator Gustavo Rivera, of the Bronx, said to Lhota on Thursday. “Is that correct?”

Lhota said this type of fluctuation is typical of past capital plans for transportation.

“When you look at funding over the last 20 or 30 years, sometimes the city has given more than the state, sometimes the state has given more than the city -- it goes back and forth,” said Lhota. “There was a period of time when the federal government gave more than the city and state in various different five-year capital plans.”

Mayor de Blasio is expected to continue to push back on the proposal in the coming weeks, while also relying on state legislators from the five boroughs to take up the cause in budget negotiations with the governor’s administration.

De Blasio has reluctantly agreed to consider the congestion pricing plan released by Cuomo’s advisory panel. The plan, which is similar to one previously proposed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Cuomo has indicated he will tweak as he also negotiates with the Legislature, outlines a three-year, three-phase program aimed at reducing congestion in Manhattan and raising funds for transit improvements, especially the subway system. It also includes calls for the city to increase enforcement of certain traffic measures, like double-parking and placard abuse, that currently contribute to congestion.

Fully phased in, the Fix NYC proposal would charge cars entering the most congested areas of Manhattan $11.52, while trucks would pay $25.34, and those riding in cabs or for-hire vehicles like Uber would see a $2 to $5 surcharge. The congestion fees would vary based on location and time of day, and would likely apply to non-commercial vehicles driving below 60th Street in Manhattan. The plan calls for new transit investments early on and estimates about $1.5 billion in annual revenue when fully implemented.

De Blasio has previously called general congestion pricing, with new tolls on the East River bridges, a "regressive tax" that would disproportionately impact low- and middle-income commuters from outer boroughs, though there have been holes punched in that argument given the low percentage of people who commute into Manhattan from Queens and Brooklyn that are low-income. The mayor appeared less dismissive of the Fix NYC recommendations, calling them an improvement from prior congestion pricing plans.

At Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers were divided on the congestion pricing recommendations, which will be parsed through the legislative process in the coming weeks. Senator Diane Savino, who sponsored the Move New York version of congestion pricing, approves of congestion pricing as a way to make the city’s transportation system more equitable for commuters from the outer boroughs.

However, Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference representing parts of Staten Island and bits of Brooklyn, questioned whether appointees to the Fix NYC board considered the Move New York plan as a “better proposal” to eliminate “winner and losers” while enabling the city to generate transportation revenue without going through Albany. A key element of Move New York not included in the Fix NYC recommendations is lowering tolls on the Verrazano and other currently-tolled bridges, something Cuomo indicated he wants to consider.

Lhota said that panel produced a plan that they believe is a good starting point and that such concerns have yet be addressed during the legislative process. “The basic concept is there. Now, how do we make it fair?” he said.

“Fairness is important,” agreed Savino, adding, “We need to find a more steady stream of revenue for the MTA region, not just the transit system, but the region itself.”

Alex Matthiessen, the founder and director of Move New York, a group that evolved out of former Mayor Bloomberg’s failed attempt to pass a version of congestion pricing, has also thrown his support behind the Fix NYC plan despite its differences with his group’s proposal.

“I thought that we had created the gold standard of congestion pricing plans, especially for the City of New York, tailored for the City of New York, and these guys actually improved upon our plan in a number of ways,” Matthiessen told Gotham Gazette and City Limits during a recent podcast.

Other lawmakers and transportation experts are not yet sold on congestion pricing. Senator Leroy Comrie, a Queens Democrat, expressed skepticism of the plan, saying it does not solve the problem of congestion in Manhattan nor does it generate a reliable source of revenue for the MTA.

“My concern with congestion pricing is it doesn’t relieve the congestion,” Comrie told Lhota during Thursday’s hearing. “Why are we going to do a program where we are just taking more money from people and still the essential business districts will be crowded with the elements -- it won’t fix the truck traffic in the city, it won’t fix the issue of people coming from New Jersey into the City…so there’s a lot of things wrong with the plan.”

Regarding Cuomo’s value capture plan, the mayor’s office maintains that the administration was not consulted ahead of time, and just learned of it from Cuomo’s executive budget. The budget proposal, which targets zones around transportation projects such as the makeover of Penn Station, the 125th Street Metro-North Railroad stop, and expansion of the Second Avenue Subway, would deprive the city of control over its own potential revenue, de Blasio officials say.

“This is the City’s property tax base, it’s our major source of revenue,” said Fuleihan during the January 23 phone conference. "For the MTA to arbitrarily take City tax revenues, determine what those tax revenues are, on established neighborhoods...it’s outrageous and there is no logical argument for this.”

“The City has significant obligations that we need to keep, that we need to make sure we are able to commit to—safest big city in America, universal pre-K for four-year-olds, expansion of pre-K, we can go on, addressing the opioid crisis,” said Fuleihan.

At the hearing, Lhota fended off criticisms of Cuomo’s plan from New York City lawmakers, including Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat. “I can't emphasize enough why I think that this is a terrible idea, and I was hoping you would agree with me,” Krueger said of the value capture proposal.

When asked by reporters why the city was not consulted in the drafting of the legislation, Lhota said he could not speak for the governor’s office. “You are asking me questions that should be directed at the [executive] chamber,” he said, but noted that Bloomberg used value capture to extend the 7 train to the Upper West Side of Manhattan (something de Blasio officials acknowledged but pointed out was a city decision).

A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office addressed the criticisms saying that other major cities have used this strategy and they expected all affected to be on board with the plan.

“Transit systems in cities across the world use this method, including New York City,” said Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever. “We'd think anyone who wants to improve the subways would support it, and we will work with the legislature and all our local partners throughout the budget process to pass this law.”

Lhota indicated that the value capture tax could be extended indefinitely after the investment is recouped, arguing that there was a good case for the tax to be continued to maintain the quality of the subway service. “There’s unanimity in the entire MTA board that if we are using taxpayer dollars, we should try to recoup some of that wherever we can,” he said. He also said that the state is constitutionally authorized to utilize the value capture plan in other parts of the city, as needed.

Assembly Ways and Means Chairperson Helene Weinstein, a Democrat representing Brooklyn, noted the absence of communication between Cuomo’s administration and the community representatives of affected areas, questioning why the value capture wasn’t applied to suburban areas that are benefiting from major transportation investment. Of the Hudson Yards development on Manhattan’s West Side, she said, “That was a negotiated, agreed-to proposal, that both the city and MTA board worked out, and that worked on properties that were not really developed. There was clearly much more of a nexus between the extension of the 7 line [and the linked value capture program], than this sort of open-ended situation here.”

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

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