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News Feed http://www.gothamgazette.com/ Wed, 29 Jul 2015 20:28:05 GMT FeedCreator 1.8.0-dev (info@mypapit.net) Despite Unprecedented Scandal, Calls for Special Ethics Session Fall on Deaf Ears http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5829-despite-unprecedented-scandal-calls-for-special-ethics-session-fall-on-deaf-ears john sampson

Recently convicted former Sen. John Sampson (photo: @SampsonVictory)

It would reason to think that the conviction of two legislative leaders would lead to a flurry of anti-corruption activity in any state capital. But in Albany, where the new normal appears to involve multiple convictions and indictments of sitting lawmakers every year, last week's crime blotter appears to have barely turned a head. The convictions of Republican Senate Deputy Leader Tom Libous and Democratic Sen. John Sampson, a former Majority Leader, on charges of lying to the FBI (Sampson was also convicted of obstructing justice) don't appear to have had much of an impact at all on reform efforts, despite ongoing calls for action from those who don't work at the capitol.

Good-government groups including the New York Public Interest Research Group, Reinvent Albany, Common Cause, and Citizens Union have reiterated calls for a special session on ethics reform, calls that began in June at the end of the legislative session. That was the session that saw the indictments of Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos - and that produced little by way of reform.

"Normally, in a rational world, these indictments would shock the legislative body into action, but it ain't gonna happen, not in New York," said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, the man who could compel the Legislature to return to session, made it crystal clear during a radio interview last week that he has no intention of doing so. "A special session to do what? I mean, we've proposed every ethics law imaginable," Cuomo said in an appearance on The Capitol Pressroom. "We've proposed and accomplished unprecedented disclosure," the governor added, referring to what did get done.

On Tuesday, Cuomo reiterated that a special session is not in the cards. Speaking to reporters after an event near Lake George, Cuomo said, "I haven't heard anything from the Senate or the Assembly saying, 'Our minds are changed, we now want to pass a bill that we didn't want to pass.' So for the taxpayers to spend a lot of money to bring the legislators back to Albany for the same outcome they had several weeks ago makes no sense," according to Capital New York.

Cuomo's stance has a number of advocates concerned that he has abandoned reform efforts because the public has grown numb to the cloud of scandal that hangs around the state capitol - a cloud voters appear to be attaching to the governor in public opinion polls. Advocates also worry Cuomo has gone as far as he is willing to go on reform and is digging in to defend the reforms he has made, despite the fact that they haven't quelled the tide of indictments.

"It sounds like he's throwing in the towel," said Blair Horner of NYPIRG, one of the reform groups calling for a special session to deal with corruption. "He is trying to create an environment where action is not on the table. He dreamt up the current system, so it could be that he is trying to protect it."

Muzzio said that Cuomo is making the only play he has at the moment. "The upper house is going to come back and do nothing," Muzzio said of the Republican-controlled Senate. "The governor is making a sound governmental argument - he's asking what would the purpose be of having a special session when we know the bottom line is nothing is going to happen."

Other Democrats, including Cuomo rival Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, have been advocating a special session to take on an overhaul of ethics enforcement. Schneiderman has been touting his "End New York Corruption Now Act" that would create a system of public campaign financing, eliminate outside employment for legislators, extend legislative terms, and allow the AG to prosecute public corruption, among other things.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat and constant advocate for reform, told Gotham Gazette he thinks a special session on ethics reform is desperately needed. "I can't think of anything that would better help excise the opprobrium from last week's twin state Senate convictions than a special session entirely devoted to ethics reforms," said Hoylman. "No more piecemeal fixes or trimming around the edges; it's time for Albany to address ethics comprehensively and head-on. Let's come back from our vacations and get to work closing the LLC loophole, restricting outside income, and rationalizing our campaign finance system. If this effort isn't begun now, it'll have to be addressed in January when we return."

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins indicated during an interview on The Capitol Pressroom on Monday that she would be more than willing to bring her conference back for special session should Cuomo call one. But she said she doubted Senate Republicans would be interested. "I have not, he has not, we collectively have not been able to get our Republican Senate colleagues to actually be serious about real, strong ethics reforms," Stewart-Cousins said, referring to the governor.

It isn't just the indictments and convictions that have reformers concerned. They point out that recent campaign filings show that candidates are taking in increasing amounts of campaign cash through the LLC loophole that allows corporations to flout donation limits by the creation of multiple LLCs. Developer Glenwood Management was the largest abuser of the system before it became entangled in the corruption cases against Silver and Skelos.

Both Cuomo and Schneiderman, who have decried the loophole and called to close it, were major beneficiaries of it in the last election cycle. Now, filings show that Schneiderman took in over $260,000 from LLCs since January; Cuomo took in $1.4 million from LLCs in the same period.

Meanwhile, two ethics enforcement units created under Cuomo's watch appear either slow to action or crippled by infighting. The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, has been criticized for being the puppet of Cuomo and legislative leaders and its board has seen repeated turnover in its leadership. Legislative appointees are currently fuming over what they say is outside interference from the executive.

Four legislative appointees wrote the Albany Times Union expressing dismay at recent executive hires and appointments and stressed that the next JCOPE director must be found outside of state government (i.e. without direct ties to Cuomo). "If the next Executive Director is not hired from outside State government after an exhaustive search, the public trust will be inexorably destroyed," reads the letter.

"JCOPE is disintegrating," said Horner of NYPIRG. "What better time to act on a new system?"

Cuomo's enforcement counsel at the Board of Elections has also been criticized for being slow to move on the most basic enforcement issues. And the Board recently declined to close the LLC loophole, which it had created years ago.

Muzzio said he believes there will have to be major public outcry before the Legislature gets serious on reform. "You need someone charismatic enough to carry the message, because people forget about it unless they are forced," said Muzzio. "That kind of messenger just ain't there. The governor has been gun-shy since the SAFE Act hurt his poll numbers. I don't think he's gonna push it. It's gotta be another guy. There's Schneiderman, but he doesn't have the same cache as the governor. He can't deal."

Horner said it is obvious to him that New York does have a new, charismatic, corruption-fighting figurehead. He says Cuomo relinquished his status as "conductor of the reform train" to the U.S. Attorney responsible for many of the Albany indictments. "The new conductor's name is Preet Bharara, and New York will go wherever he takes us," Horner said.

A July 15 Siena Poll, taken before the convictions of Libous and Sampson, found that corruption is still on the minds of voters and that legislators should probably be concerned about the issue if they want to keep their jobs. The poll found 90 percent of voters felt state government corruption is a serious problem. Meanwhile 49 percent of those surveyed said recent scandals make it less likely they will re-elect their representatives in 2016.

Horner said he doesn't have much reason to believe Cuomo is going to return to ethics reform, but he does have some hope.

"We often see governors run as reformers in their first terms, and in their second terms become defenders of the status quo - because they become the status quo," said Horner. "Now, perhaps [Cuomo] thinks he will have more leverage next year around the budget. I would argue there is no better time than now. I don't think we've ever seen two legislative leaders convicted in the same week."

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

dking@gothamgazette.com (David Howard King) Wed, 29 Jul 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5829-despite-unprecedented-scandal-calls-for-special-ethics-session-fall-on-deaf-ears
City's Veterans Community Meets to Assess Policy, Build Cohesion http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5830-citys-veterans-community-meets-to-assess-policy-build-cohesion veterans policy event pic

From Tuesday's event (photo: NYC Veterans Alliance via Facebook)

A steady stream of hands shot in the air as the speaker asked audience members to indicate if they had served their country, beginning with Vietnam and ending post-9/11.

At a forum on New York City Veterans Policy Tuesday night, hosted by the New York City Veterans Alliance, veterans and veteran advocates of diverse ages and backgrounds gathered to discuss the issues facing their community, including homelessness, funding for employment, healthcare and other services, and even how to define the term 'veteran.' The event occurred amid ongoing debate over how well city government is attending to veterans' needs and organizing its resources to best provide support to the hundreds of thousands of veterans living in the city.

"I would say different era veterans are having much different experiences in NYC. A lot of the student vets, there's a lot more support for them with the new GI bill, they're doing a lot better overall. And they're a lot more active in honing the community and helping with various student organizations and veterans associations at schools," said Vadim Panasyuk, who served in Iraq and works at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). "But other era veterans that are struggling— from more forgotten conflicts, Korea, Vietnam— those vets are still struggling, and find themselves in legal whirlpool of all the different VSOs [veteran support organizations] and dealing with misinformation from one service provider to another and it becomes very discouraging to seek out help."

Iraq War veteran Tireak Tulloch, a spokesman for IAVA, agreed. "If you're a veteran from a different era, [service providers] don't know what to do with you," Tulloch said.

Vietnam veteran Lee Covino, who recently served as Vice-Chairman of the City's Veterans Advisory Board, described witnessing an "identity crisis."

"You have people who are separated by campaigns...you have a huge population out there and one of the things that irks me is when a vet tells me, 'I'm not a vet,'" Covino said. "That's nonsense. You're an era and you need to organize that way."

The efficacy and availability of resources for veterans was a key part of Tuesday night's discussion, with NYC Veterans Alliance interim director Kristen Rouse noting in her opening remarks that the city committed to a "notable" increase in funding for veterans in the fiscal year 2016 budget.

"I think there's been tremendous progress and the city has come together, but...There's a real sense to me of a lack of cohesion of all these different efforts," said Coco Culhane, the founding director of the Veteran Advocacy Project at the Urban Justice Center. "And there's not a whole lot of infrastructure they can turn to at the city level and especially for veterans who are not eligible for these federal VA dollars. The city is their safety net and we need to be there for them so I think we have a long way to go, even with just acknowledging veterans."

There is conversation at the city level over whether the Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs, or MOVA, should become its own city agency, removed from within the mayor's office, but still under the mayor's purview. Creating a separate Department of Veterans Affairs, as called for by a City Council bill that has had one public hearing but does not have Mayor Bill de Blasio's support, would likely give work to support veterans more clarity, resources, and oversight.

"You need people who know what they're doing to serve this population and having experts but also having oversight. If we're going to address all of the issues that are included in that report," Rouse told Gotham Gazette referring to the report NYC Veterans Alliance recently released, "if we want to properly address this stuff, there has to be an accountable agency that has programmatic oversight of what these different city agencies are doing." The report, which surveyed almost 500 veterans in the New York metropolitan area, identified veterans' key concerns, including improving access to the VA suicide hotline and increasing oversight of veteran service organizations that receive city funding.

Comedian and television host John Oliver delivered opening remarks describing his experience being married to a veteran. "It's hard being married to a veteran because you can't complain about your day," Oliver quipped. "'Oh, you had a bad day writing jokes? Shut up!'"

But Oliver also took a more serious turn, underlining the importance of doing more than just saying "thank you" to military veterans.

"It's too easy to say 'thank you,' but you're not actually doing anything. There can be a real seduction in people having lovely commercials on TV, introducing veterans at football games, but it's not doing anything to fix infrastructure," Oliver said.

Moderator Phoebe Gavin, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, commented that "the average American is just not very connected to the [military] campaigns that have occurred," adding that many might not have a veteran in family. "There's just not as much connection to campaigns as there used to be...we've been at the mall all this time," Gavin said of most Americans going about their business, like shopping, while a small group serves in the military or has a family member doing so.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette prior to the forum, Oliver highlighted the work organizations Team Rubicon and Mission Continues do to assist veterans' transition back to civilian life. Team Rubicon unites military veterans with first responders to deploy emergency response teams, giving veterans the opportunity to put the skills they learned in the armed forces to use responding to natural disasters.

"They are a good example of providing practical assistance," Oliver said. "And most veterans don't want help, they're not a group that will complain, they don't want to be treated like a charity case. They want to be given opportunities."

by Catie Edmondson, Gotham Gazette

catie.edmondson@columbiaspectator.com (Catie Edmondson) Wed, 29 Jul 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5830-citys-veterans-community-meets-to-assess-policy-build-cohesion
A Call for Equitable Development in Southeast Queens http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5827-a-call-for-equitable-development-in-southeast-queens rev wilkes

Rev. Wilkes, middle, leads a prayer & voter registration drive (photo: @andrewjwilkes)

Jamaica needs development that benefits long-term residents, workers, and the families of Southeast Queens. Development is a multidimensional process. At best, the process not only supports real estate firms, but also expands the availability of affordable housing opportunities and family-sustaining jobs that pay a living wage. Although we applaud the efforts for improving Jamaica, we are concerned that current plans are not going far enough to guarantee equitable development of jobs and housing for local families.

Under the Bloomberg administration, New York City witnessed rezoning to facilitate development in industrial neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Long Island City. With that process came the escalation of rents, leases, and the overall cost of living. While some individuals benefited from this process, wide scale displacement of residents and the local workforce occurred, especially among people of color. In 2007, under the same administration, 368 blocks of downtown Jamaica were rezoned for higher-density development, meaning more units of housing, office, or retail space for the broader community of Southeast Queens. As the economy crashed in 2008, much of the anticipated development was stalled, but a real estate boom is kicking in now with estimates of more than 3,000 units of housing in the coming years. As faith leaders of Southeast Queens, we're lifting up our voices to ensure that our community promotes equitable development of job and housing opportunities for individuals and families whose labor makes this area such a vibrant constellation of neighborhoods.

We recognize and appreciate the contributions of other voices to this conversation. Participants who created the "Jamaica NOW" action plan, for instance, have championed valuable – and viable – ideas for improving Jamaica. The plan intends to do three things: increase quality jobs and small business support; promote commercial growth and economic development; and improve livability for both residents and visitors. Already, the beautification of Rufus King Park is making a difference in the recreational and cultural life of Jamaica. The plan, however, doesn't specify a comprehensive vision for equitable development. Without such details, our concern is that modestly inclusive projects will benignly, but mistakenly, be heralded as successes and the best we could do for our communities.

Two examples illustrate our concern. Let's start with the NYPD lot development project on 168th and Archer Avenue. The city's Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act defines a "living wage" as just $11.50 per hour and notably applies to construction workers on this project because the property is receiving more than $1 million in subsidy from the city Economic Development Corporation. However even if two members of a family were working full-time, with no vacations, at this wage they would still be ineligible for the affordable housing within the project because they would not make enough to meet the income threshold accorded by the zoning of the area.

Another example drives from the de Blasio administration's plan to rezone East New York. In that community, the administration recently announced a plan for 50 percent of new housing to be affordable at neighborhood-based incomes, yet in Jamaica we are talking about just 20 percent of affordable housing being produced – and that only within a smaller "special inclusionary zone" in which the builders are only required to build if they take additional subsidy. Yet even this 20 percent is not truly affordable - a family of three would need to make at least $62,150 to be eligible for the housing, while the median income in Community Board 12 representing Southeast Queens is $50,857 per year.

Given the dynamics outlined above, our question is: what can be done differently? How can we ensure that we advance equitable development in Southeast Queens, that we build it right in our community?

Three ambitious, yet achievable goals stand out for our community, congregations, and city. First, we can lift up the moral imperative of our faith traditions to make the case for equitable development. Our religious traditions teach us that laborers deserve to be paid; that what's done in the dark – negotiation of terms and deals – should be brought into the light; that attending to the weighty matter of justice is central to our convictions and congregations. Second, we can use city subsidy and the leverage that it brings to infuse parity into the production of affordable housing. Instead of settling for developments whose housing is 80 percent market-rate and 20 percent affordable, we can pursue an even division of residential opportunity: 50 percent market-rate and 50 percent affordable for local residents. Third, we can ensure that strong legal protections prohibit harassment and displacement among tenants living in downtown Jamaica and surrounding communities.

We celebrate the resurgence of downtown Jamaica and the surrounding community. In many respects, this resurgence is a belated recognition of the tremendous legacy and potential of Southeast Queens. We invite you to join us as we learn, pray, and take action together for a renewed call for equitable development in Southeast Queens tonight, Tuesday, at 6:30 p.m. at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York. Our best days await us, and we look forward to continued collaboration with elected officials, labor unions, congregations, and other community groups to create deeply affordable housing and family-sustaining jobs in our neighborhoods.

Rev. Andrew Wilkes, the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York
Bishop Joseph Williams, Christ Church International
Pastor Brian Ellis Gibbs, Queens Baptist Church
Father Jeffry Dillon, Christ the King & St. Mary Magdalene

webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Rev. Andrew Wilkes) Tue, 28 Jul 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5827-a-call-for-equitable-development-in-southeast-queens
Queens Library Scandal Spurs Nonprofit Oversight Bill http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5828-queens-library-scandal-spurs-nonprofit-oversight-bill crowley rally

CM Crowley at a City Hall rally (photo: @magghayes)

On the heels of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer's report on Queens library executives engaging in questionable practices, Queens Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley is renewing her push for greater oversight of officers of city-funded nonprofit organizations.

Crowley's bill, introduced to the Council's contracts committee and currently in preliminary stages, would require officers of nonprofit organizations— defined as chief executive, operating and finance officers— that receive 50 percent or more of their funding from the city to file conflict of interest disclosure forms to the city agencies that fund them.

"This [bill] just came from my frustration learning about this and understanding that this corruption was happening and the city had no idea," Crowley told Gotham Gazette, referencing former Queens Borough Public Library President Tom Galante.

Galante was fired in December after the library board of trustees reviewed his expense account and discovered lavish spending on pricey meals, alcohol, and furniture at the same time the library cut staff. Stringer's audit and investigative report into the library's finances— released in July— found a series of abuses: Galante failed to disclose his outside businesses on government filings and recorded "time spent performing part-time services for another public employer" that conflicted with his library schedule. Stringer's report also questioned the practices of the current interim library president Bridget Carey-Quinn, who served as chief operating officer under Galante.

"If we only had extended this law, that we extend to all elected officials, to those that are top management at nonprofits getting most of their money from the city, then we would know if there was a conflict and we would've known already that Tom Galante was abusing his privileges as CEO of the library," Crowley said.

Crowley introduced the bill in April 2014, a month after the Council convened a special oversight hearing on library executives' compensation following a series of articles scrutinizing Galante's salary. A hearing for the bill is expected in September or October in the contracts committee, which is chaired by Manhattan Councilmember Helen Rosenthal.

"Every time he answered another question, we were more and more horrified by what he had to say," Rosenthal told Gotham Gazette of Galante's 2014 testimony, "and what we unearthed is that there was very little oversight for the Queens library president."

Rosenthal indicated she is eager to have a hearing on it this fall. Questions exist, though, about the burdens the bill would place on nonprofits if enacted into law. These questions are likely to be raised at the planned hearing.

Lauren George, associate director of Common Cause New York, a good government group, said the bill will require nonprofits to do some additional work in order to prevent future malfeasance.

"It will pose an additional burden, on small nonprofits especially, which have very limited staff and resources," George said. "Though increased public disclosure can't be a bad thing, and could help deter bad actors abusing access to city funds in the future, with the appropriate oversight and watch-dogging."

To what extent the bill will prove burdensome for nonprofits is not yet clear. For Doug Sauer, the CEO of the New York Council of Nonprofits, the bill overreaches in trying to regulate private organizations like public employees.

"If you look at Boeing industries and see how much money they get from the federal government, does the federal government come in and control how Boeing operates at the officer level, who their CEO is, or require all this personal information?" Sauer asked rhetorically. "So the basic premise— and there's gray area—is that the vast majority of not-for-profit organizations are independent, private not-for-profit corporations with boards of directors that share responsibility for the organization."

Sauer predicted the bill, if passed, will have a chilling effect on nonprofits and their ability to attract and retain employees in leadership positions.

"A lot of the City Council contracts are for small organizations so this would be tremendously onerous already on a talent pool that's very limited, that they can't properly compensate to begin with," Sauer said. "People won't want to do that [file disclosures], they're applying for a job where they may make $35,000. If they're a public employee they're in the pension system, they get good healthcare, they get good benefits. That's not the case for the majority of nonprofits."

Sauer also took issue with the 50 percent threshold the bill uses to determine whether officers of nonprofits will have to file conflict of interest disclosure firms.

"If you're talking about 85 or 90 percent of government money, you're talking a little bit of a different story, is this really more of a quasi-governmental entity? And that's a different debate," Sauer said. "But this is a real low figure and most organizations are community, grassroots organizations, not institutions, the vast majority don't have adequate funding as it is."

Rosenthal said that once taxpayer money is involved, nonprofits open themselves up to public scrutiny. "Taxpayers have the right to know what [their money] is being spent for," Rosenthal said.

It is also unclear how many nonprofits would be compelled to file disclosures if the bill is passed— an issue Crowley said will be looked into at the hearing in the fall but doesn't foresee as providing a significant burden. Representatives of the nonprofits that received the most money from the Council's pot of discretionary funds, the Hispanic Federation and the Catholic Charities Community Services, Archdiocese of New York, were not available for comment.

"I think that we'll see a clear benefit by rooting out corruption, you know when I file [my conflict of interest form] every year, I file electronically. I don't know that it would be so burdensome," Crowley said.

The bill currently has nine sponsors, including Crowley (but not Rosenthal), many of whom are from Queens. Indicating her support, Rosenthal lamented the need for the bill, but says it is necessary to ensure ethical practices are occurring at these nonprofits.

"It's always the bad apples that ruin it for the rest of us," Rosenthal said. "And I think that we are often as lawmakers dragged down to the lowest common denominator and it's too bad that we should be in this situation, but given that what [Galante] was doing was so egregious, it raises the question, is this happening in other sectors as well— so you want to check that out."

Catie Edmondson, Gotham Gazette

catie.edmondson@columbiaspectator.com (Catie Edmondson) Tue, 28 Jul 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5828-queens-library-scandal-spurs-nonprofit-oversight-bill
At 'Begin Again,' Signs of New Approach to Broken Justice System http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5824-at-begin-again-signs-of-new-approach-to-broken-justice-system ken thompson jumaane williams laurie cumbo

DA Thompson, center, with Council Members Williams & Cumbo (@JumaaneWilliams)

During Father's Day weekend, hundreds of individuals received the gift of a new beginning. The Brooklyn District Attorney's office held a 'Begin Again' event to lift open arrest warrants related to summonses for low-level offenses ranging from public intoxication, the most common violation, to being in a park after closing. In total, 1,039 individuals from across all five boroughs attended the two-day event and 670 warrants were cleared.

The 'Begin Again' initiative is part of a larger summons reform movement that aims to make it easier for individuals to respond to summonses and ultimately, avoid arrest warrants. While the total number of summons filings in New York City has decreased significantly in recent years, the system remains strained, with a citywide backlog of over a million summonses.

In Brooklyn, District Attorney Ken Thompson's office indicated that the success of the event would lead to another in September, and that while similar events were held under former District Attorney Charles Hynes, the Father's Day weekend initiative saw the greatest number of warrants cleared in Brooklyn during comparable time periods. Other district attorneys do not appear quick to follow suit.

City leaders from Thompson to Mayor Bill de Blasio and his police commissioner Bill Bratton, the City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and others, are discussing summons reform.

"New York City's criminal justice system is overburdened with severely backlogged courts and millions of New Yorkers with outstanding warrants for low-level, minor offenses," said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in a statement sent to Gotham Gazette.

"District Attorney Ken Thompson's Begin Again initiative is a forward-thinking approach that tackles this issue head on," Mark-Viverito said, "enabling individuals to resolve their warrants and move on with a clean slate without the threat of impending arrest."

Thompson's office is quick to stress that warrants and the summonses that led to them were not simply dismissed wholesale, but that each individual who wanted to 'Begin Again' was given a fair hearing, with most warrants adjudicated and summonses cleared - as is the case when people show up to their summons-dictated court appearance.

While the initiative has received widespread support, some expressed reservations. "It does create a moral hazard that sends the message that people can expect such amnesties in the future," said Heather Mac Donald of The Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank. "It's a real issue and it has to be weighed against the public good in clearing these backlogs of warrants."

By using the term "amnesty," Mac Donald gets at a key issue for critics, who say that people should follow the law in the first place and pay the consequences for breaking it and for missing any mandated court appearance. People, including NYPD Commissioner Bratton, are hesitant to give the appearance of amnesty, believing that if New Yorkers believe there are no consequences to their actions, law-breaking will likely increase.

But Dawn Ryan, attorney-in-charge of The Legal Aid Society's Brooklyn criminal office, notes a distinction between the clearance of warrants and actual amnesty. "To me, amnesty is telling those who received the summonses that they may throw them away and forget they ever received them," said Ryan. By contrast, at 'Begin Again,' "they're still being held accountable in terms of showing up in response to the summons and having this matter resolved before a judge."

At 'Begin Again' events, those with outstanding warrants are assigned a Legal Aid attorney and brought before a judge, who hears the reason for the original summons and for not appearing in court, thus earning the warrant.

The Brooklyn District Attorney's office hailed 'Begin Again' a success and Ryan stated the event attracted so many people on its second day that the line remained open for an additional 45 minutes beyond the scheduled time. But the 670 warrants cleared barely make a dent in the 1.2 million open warrants related to unanswered summonses throughout New York City.

"It's just a drop in the bucket," acknowledged City Council Member Rory Lancman, who chairs the Council's courts and legal services committee. An estimated one in seven New Yorkers have an outstanding summons warrant and with less than one tenth of one percent of open summons warrants resolved thus far through the 'Begin Again' initiative, the need for further reform measures becomes evident. "I thought it seemed to be a great success for what it was," said Lancman. "But in the scheme of things, it's not really a sustainable strategy for getting at the over one million warrants that are outstanding."

The staggering number of open summons warrants is one of the reasons why Lancman, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, and New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman are among those advocating for certain low-level criminal offenses to be reclassified as civil penalties. A reclassification of some offenses would lessen the burden on the summons court system while also granting a reprieve to individuals who have committed non-violent, so-called 'quality-of-life' infractions. Proponents of such measures have argued that summonses are disproportionately issued to poor people of color and that arrest warrants resulting from failure to respond to a summons can have grave repercussions that far outweigh the original offense.

But even certain summons reform measures, it would seem, are backlogged. Earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced "Justice Reboot," an initiative including a planned overhaul of the summons process. Among the proposed changes were a new summons form making the court appearance date more prominent, robocall and text message reminders for those with summonses, and a more flexible system allowing individuals to appear in court up to a week in advance of their scheduled court date. While these measures were originally scheduled to begin this summer, they are now slated to start in early fall.

Sarah Solon, chief external strategy officer at the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, stated that the timing for the proposed reforms remains unchanged and that the measures will go into effect sequentially. "The new summons form has to roll out first, because it will collect the cell phone numbers that will allow for text message reminders and contain information about the flexible appearance dates," said Solon via e-mail. That new form will be released citywide within the next few months, Solon said, and going forward the form will collect data on an individual's race/ethnicity in order to ensure transparency in the summons process and provide important data.

The next Begin Again event is also scheduled for the fall-it will be held on September 12 in East New York. The flyer for the event - which will be posted around the borough and shared on social media as the one advertising the last one was - says, "we can help you take care of that old warrant." The literature seeks to reassure people: "over 1,000 people attended the last event," it says, followed by "no one was arrested" and "everyone got help."

Ryan said she and her colleagues at The Legal Aid Society hope other DA offices will follow Brooklyn District Attorney Thompson's lead in hosting such events.

So, apparently, does Thompson. In a July 15 letter addressed and hand-delivered to Mayor de Blasio with Chief Judge Lippman copied, Thompson urged the mayor to take the Brooklyn 'Begin Again' initiative citywide. Of the current way of doing things, Thompson wrote, "We simply cannot continue down this path any longer."

Brooke L. Williams is a freelance multimedia journalist based in New York City. She reports on the criminal justice system with an emphasis on those wrongfully convicted. You can follow her on Twitter @williamslbrooke

webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Brooke L. Williams) Mon, 27 Jul 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5824-at-begin-again-signs-of-new-approach-to-broken-justice-system
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 27 http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5826-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-july-27 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

BIDEN IN NY: Monday starts off with a bang as Vice President Joe Biden is in New York, first events with Governor Andrew Cuomo in Rochester, then New York City. According to Cuomo's office,  Biden and Cuomo will appear at 11 a.m. at SUNY Polytechnic Canal Ponds in Rochester, where they "will deliver remarks on the economy" and then at 2:45 at the Sheraton New York on 7th Avenue, Biden and Cuomo will make a "major infrastructure announcement." The latter is at an event being held by the Association for a Better New York, a business group. Cuomo was long-planned to speak at ABNY's luncheon, but it appears the specific agenda changed as things came through for Biden to join him and announce new plans for LaGuardia Airport. For the former, the Democrat and Chronicle is reporting that Biden will be announcing a $110 million grant from the Department of Defense to bolster the work being done at the Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation.

TRACKING DE BLASIO: The mayor will not be with Biden and Cuomo for the LaGuardia announcement, it appears. De Blasio starts his week with a noon "press conference to make an announcement at the American Museum of Natural History" which will be in collaboration with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, according to her public schedule. "Later, the Mayor will host a meeting with M/WBE developers at City Hall," according to his public schedule. Meanwhile, over the weekend de Blasio marched in the Dominican Day Parade on Sunday and, on Saturday, he attended and spoke at "the Northern Caribbean University Alumni Association Homecoming" in Brooklyn and made "remarks at the Staten Island Democratic Party Boardwalk Bash."

Other things we're watching for include the latest crime stats from the NYPD; any sign of news from the Department of Justice or NYPD on the investigations into the conduct of officers involved in Eric Garner's death; further developments in the saga over how the MTA capital program will be funded; and the latest in the special elections set to take place for two City Council seats vacated by members taking new jobs and several seats in the state Legislature vacated due to corruption.

As always, there's a good deal happening all over the city this week, though the City Council has no public hearings or meetings scheduled this week after last week's lone July Stated Meeting and all of the Uber drama that led up to it. Regardless, read our day-by-day rundown below.

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

The run of the week in detail:

At 8 a.m. the Division of Local Government and School Accountability from New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s Office is hosting a seminar for municipal and school district officials.

At 9:45 a.m. Monday U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer will join AT&T and NYU to announce nine winning tech solutions from the ‘Connect Ability’ Challenge and present over $100,000 in prizes for the winning recipients. Victor Calise, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, and Marissa Shorenstein, New York State President of AT&T, will attend.

On Monday morning in Lake Buena Vista, FL, New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will deliver "remarks at GE Foundation's 2015 Summer STEM Conference," according to her public schedule.

At noon, Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Mark-Viverito and others - including Manhattan BP Gale Brewer - will make an announcement at the Museum of Natural History. Brewer is also set to join Cuomo and others for their 2:30 announcement...

At 2:30 p.m. the Association for a Better New York is hosting a lunch event with Vice President Joe Biden and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who will be making a “major infrastructure announcement” together. A live stream will be available via the governor's website. Governor Cuomo and Vice President Biden will also be in Rochester Monday to announce that “the region won a nationwide competition as the site for an Institute for Manufacturing Innovation.” City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Tish James, and Council Speaker Mark-Viverito are scheduled to attend the Biden-Cuomo announcement in New York City. According to the Daily News, "it will focus on the rebuilding of LaGuardia's central terminal building. It's expected Cuomo will announce the winner of a design competition. Cuomo is also expected to touch on initiatives, including the construction of an Air Train to LaGuardia, a high speed ferry connecting the airport to Manhattan, and a new airport hotel and business center."

Earlier Monday, Public Advocate James will speak at a Queens press conference with Congressman Steve Israel calling for a "review of security measures at reserve bases."

At 5:30 p.m. there will be a public meeting of the Contracts Committee of the panel for educational policy at Tweed Courthouse.

At 6 p.m. Monday City Council Member Corey Johnson and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are hosting “Rat Academy...a free training on safe and effective methods for rat prevention in your building and neighborhood,” at Hudson Guild's Elliot Center.

At 10 a.m. the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs is hosting an information session on the borough-specific processes of applying for and securing City funding for arts and cultural nonprofits in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. On Tuesday, August 4 at 12pm the Brooklyn and Queens borough-specific processes will be covered.

At 11:30 Tuesday morning on the steps of City Hall, "Mayor de Blasio will deliver remarks at a press conference hosted by the Hispanic Federation, urging support for Puerto Rico as it confronts its economic challenges." Council Speaker Mark-Viverito will also attend - she has been outspoken on issues relating to Puerto Rico, where she was born and raised.

At 6 p.m. the NYC Veterans Alliance is holding a forum on NYC Veterans Policy. John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, is set to make opening remarks. A panel discussion will include panelists Phoebe Gavin, U.S. Army Veteran, Freelance writer; Lee Covino, U.S. Army Veteran, Former Vice-Chairman of the NYC Veterans Advisory Board; Brett Morash, U.S. Navy Veteran, Vice President of Veterans Services for Services for the UnderServed; Tireak Tulloch, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, Veteran Advocate; Julienne Williams, U.S. Air Force Veteran, Veteran Transition Manager for New York at IAVA's Rapid Response Referral Program; and Coco Culhane, Founder and Director of the Veteran Advocacy Project at the Urban Justice Center.

At 6 p.m. there will be a “Red Tape Commission” meeting hosted by Comptroller Scott Stringer, with commission co-chairs Jessica Lappin and Michael Lambert, and Red Tape Commission Members. The Commission is “dedicated to helping success in business by finding ways to help you cut through the red tape.”

At 7 p.m. there will be a “Queens: Contracts for Excellence” public hearing hosted by the Department of Education.

At 8 a.m. City & State will hold an awards breakfast for “Technology, Telecommunications & New Media.” There will be a panel discussion with keynote speaker Minerva Tantoco, Chief Technology Officer of NYC; featured speaker Jay Hershenson, Senior Vice Chancellor at CUNY; and emcee Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy Forum. There will be a "Thought Leader Discussion: City & State and partners convene leaders in technology and new media to discuss best practices and trends in corporate social responsibility" moderated by Rasiej, with George Fontas, Capalino and Co.; Manhattan BP Gale Brewer, Neil Giacobbi, AT&T; Guy Franklin, Israeli Mapped in NY; and possibly others.

At 8 a.m. there will be “Uncovering the Code: An Update on NYC’s New Energy Code,” an event on the 2015 New York City Energy Conservation Code. Gina Bocra, Chief Sustainability Officer of the Department of Buildings, will be attending.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday the New York City Housing Authority is holding a board meeting.

The New York City Campaign Finance Board is offering a Compliance & C-SMART training session for the 2017 election cycle at 1 p.m. Wednesday. “Compliance trainings cover campaign finance laws and CFB rules. C-SMART trainings provide an overview of the CFB’s web-based application, which campaigns must use to manage and disclose financial activity. The candidate, treasurer, campaign manager or other individual with significant managerial control over the campaign is legally required to attend both a Compliance and a C-SMART training.”

At 2 p.m. there will be a public meeting for the Department of Transportation on revocable consents.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Department of Education is holding a panel for educational policy meeting at Taft Educational Complex in the Bronx.

At 7 p.m. BetaNYC and Coalition for Queens are hosting a civic hacknight.

Also Wednesday evening, at 7:30 p.m., Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz speaks to the Ansonia Independent Democrats about inequality and his new book, "The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them" - at the Lincoln Square Synagogue.

At 9 a.m. the Equal Employment Practices Commission is holding its July public meeting.

"The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be held on Thursday, July 30 at 9:30 AM."

At 10:30 a.m. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz is holding a land use hearing.

At 2 p.m. Thursday, ten of City & State’s veteran and military honorees will be celebrated for going “Above & Beyond.” Loree Sutton, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Veteran Affairs, will make the keynote remarks. Honorees include Welby Alcantara, USMC, Military & Veteran Services Coordinator, John Jay College; Joseph A. Bello, Founder, NY Metro Vets; Walter Bridgers, Team Leader, Harlem Veterans Center; Kenneth Curley , President & CEO, Raymond Associates LLC; Tom Gray, Senior Vice President, Capalino & Company; Aaron Leonard, Executive Director, Project Rebirth; Dan McSweeney, Incoming President, United War Veterans Council; Regina Marengo, President, Ensign Engineering; and Kelly Saeli, Director of Operations, NYC Helmets to Hardhats.

Friday and the weekend
Nothing on our radar yet for Friday or this weekend, but stay alert!

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

by Erika Wang and Ben Max

bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) Sun, 26 Jul 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5826-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-july-27
The Week That Was in New York Politics, July 20-24 http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5825-the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-july-20-24 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York

Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday July 24

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: the capitol office of former State Senator and Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous, scrubbed of his name after he was convicted of lying to the FBI, via Joseph Spector, Gannett Albany

libous office no name


1. Albany Corruption Drip - Sens. Sampson and Libous Convicted, Plus Additional Skelos Charges: On Tuesday Senator Dean Skelos and his son were charged with additional counts of bribery and extortion by a federal grand jury. On Wednesday Senator Tom Libous, the deputy majority leader, was found guilty of lying to an F.B.I agent and was automatically forced to give up his Senate seat. And on Friday Senator John Sampson was convicted on three federal charges and forced to resign as well.

2. Unaccompanied Minors Initiative Success: City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced that the initiative to provide legal representation for all undocumented immigrant children has been a “success.” Around 1,600 children have been provided with free lawyers and fourteen of them have been granted asylum.

3. Uber Politics: Uber and city officials reached an agreement announced on Wednesday that will not place a temporary cap on the for-hire vehicle industry, within which Uber is the leading operator, while the city conducts a four-month study. There is some controversy over who exactly deserves credit, or blame, depending on your perspective, for brokering the deal, with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito saying Thursday that the Council had the bill and that she was the key negotiator.

4. Fast Food Wage Board Recommends Eventual $15 Hourly Minimum: The Fast Food Wage Board called by Governor Cuomo through his Labor Department recommended fast food workers to receive a $15 an hour minimum wage by December 31, 2018 in New York City and in 2021 for the rest of New York State. The recommendation must be adopted by the Department of Labor to take effect in the fast food industry at franchises with 30 or more locations nationally.

5. Commissioner Bratton Says He Won’t Serve Two Full Terms: Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said this week that he is not expecting to remain in his post for a full two terms, should Mayor de Blasio be reelected, as he would be “70-some-odd” years old. Mayor de Blasio responded by pointing out that Pope Francis, whom he visited during a climate summit in Rome this week, is well into his seventies and having a profound impact.


  • 19,000 Staten Islanders lost power on Monday due to Con Edison outages related to the brief heat wave.

  • 40% of New York’s emissions will be reduced by 2030, promised Mayor Bill de Blasio at a climate conference in Italy organized by Pope Francis.

  • $1 billion boost through 2019 for the MTA in “better-than-expected revenues from fares, tolls and real estate taxes,” part of a larger MTA capital plan restructuring announced in pieces this week amid ongoing controversy over how the agency will be funded.

  • 4,100 minority and women owned businesses were certified in the last year, a record the de Blasio administration announced.


  • It was a good week for Republican City Council Member Steven Matteo of Staten Island, who officially became the Minority Leader of the City Council on Thursday. While the Republican caucus has just two members, it will likely add a third soon as Assembly Member Joseph Borelli is likely to replace Vincent Ignizio, who resigned his position for another job and stepped down as Minority Leader in the process. Oh, and the gig comes with a $15,000 annual bonus.

  • It was a bad week for former State Senator Tom Libous, who was convicted of lying to an FBI agent during an examination into his son’s hiring. Mr. Libous was the deputy majority leader and his departure leaves 31 elected Republican senators in the 63-member body. The Republicans still hold power, though, due to some complicated caucusing and alliances.


  • Last year this week, on July 24, 2014, the City Council unanimously passed ‘Avonte’s Law,’ requiring the DOE to evaluate the need for door alarms after Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old autistic boy, left school and drowned in the East River.

  • Twelve years ago this week, on July 23, 2003, City Council Member James Davis was shot and killed in City Hall.



  • Neil Barsky, chairman and founder of The Marshall Project, spoke about shutting down Rikers Island jails with Brian Lehrer on WNYC.
  • The Independent Budget Office released another in a series of analyses related to the city's schools, this one focused on per-pupil funding at traditional district schools and charter schools.

NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

by Erika Wang and Ben Max

Erika.Wang94@myhunter.cuny.edu (Erika Wang) Fri, 24 Jul 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5825-the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-july-20-24
City Industrial Manufacturing Plan Still Needed http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5820-city-industrial-manufacturing-plan-still-needed-de-blasio-hum Sunset Park

Rally outside City Hall before a land use committee hearing

Since the recent announcement by Jamestown Properties and partners of a $1 billion investment to rebrand and renovate a massive 16-building complex - which will require a rezoning to permit a hotel and academic facility as well as a public investment of $100 million to improve the surrounding streetscape and infrastructure - there has been a steady stream of media accounts of new tech and commercial tenants drawn to Industry City.

While the successful marketing of an “innovation district” has generated much interest and activity, the city has yet to state its policy on industrial land uses contributing to the real estate uncertainty that is threatening Sunset Park’s industrial small businesses including those in the Industrial Business Zone. Heightening real estate speculation is exemplified by the impending acquisition of the 14-acre, M3-1 zoned Sunset Industrial Park by a real estate investment joint venture, which “immediately after closing on the Property, Savoy/601W will begin the design and approval process to rezone this site and to redevelop it into a large-scale residential community“ thereby increasing the site’s value by more than four or five times the acquisition price of $130 million.

A month ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Sunset Park’s elected officials including City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Congress Member Nydia Velazquez, State Assembly Member Felix Ortiz, and long-time maritime advocate Congress Member Jerrod Nadler joined federal officials on the Sunset Park waterfront to announce the reactivation of the 72-acre South Brooklyn Marine Terminal (SBMT) and its designation as part of America’s Marine Highway System. All speakers lauded reactivating Brooklyn’s working waterfront, the environmental and public health benefits of truck traffic reduction, and the creation of unionized jobs. 

When the Mayor was asked to comment on neighboring Industry City’s prior request to use five acres of SBMT for 750 parking spaces to accommodate new tenants and shoppers, he affirmed SBMT would only be used for industrial purposes. While the parking issue appears to have been resolved for the immediate future, a substantive public discussion about the co-existence of an innovation economy district and a traditional maritime-manufacturing hub remain outstanding.

Jamestown Properties specializes in the adaptive reuse of industrial buildings. Its Innovation and Design Building in Boston’s Innovation District is similar to its plans for Industry City. Boston Globe columnist Paul McMorrow in “Old vs. new Seaport needs public debate” argued that for traditional and modern manufacturing sectors to work together, “it will only be after serious coordination, and hard conversations about what industry means in the 21st century.” Although the New York City Council released a comprehensive study of industrial land uses in November 2014, which was followed by a Land Use Committee public hearing in April 2015, Mayor de Blasio and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen have yet to weigh in on a substantive public conversation about industrial manufacturing and its importance to New York City’s economy.

The City Council report found that the decades-long decline of industrial manufacturing sectors has ended and, in fact, industrial employment grew modestly from 2010 to 2014.  Sunset Park is a prime example of this trend. Based on the New York State Department of Labor Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, Sunset Park’s industrial firms increased slightly from 1,138 in 2010 to 1,193 in 2014. The number of employees also grew during this period from 10,651 to 11,614 workers.

Although maligned for creating few jobs, warehouses are an important part of an industrial ecosystem and in Sunset Park warehouses employed 103 workers at an average annual wage of $31,236. Representing a third (33%) of the local employment base, this data underscores how traditional industrial manufacturing sectors continue to anchor Sunset Park’s neighborhood economy. These are jobs that have historically and continue to provide opportunity for working class immigrants and workers of color.

In response to a question posed by a Protect Our Working Waterfront Alliance (POWWA) member, Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball discounted community concerns about gentrification and displacement because contrary to “pushing people out”, he claimed the innovation economy is about “bringing people in.” But the real issue may be who is being brought in.

UCLA geographer Allen Scott argues that innovation districts are enclaves that represent a “privileged foci of production, work, and social life.” A mundane illustration is the branding of Industry City’s Food Hall, which is not called a food court because the term conjures up a shopping mall – the quintessential symbol of mass consumption.  Affluent consumers desire a unique experience in “great gathering places,” according to developer/architect Young Woo, who is “curating” a mix of retail tenants in refurbished shipping containers on Manhattan’s Pier 57. Clearly, an innovation economy is not just a reference to a mode of production but connotes a cultural milieu and aesthetic deemed creative, hip, and artisanal.

On the day of the City Council Land Use Committee hearing, POWWA – a citywide alliance which includes UPROSE, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Teamsters Local 812, Trinity Lutheran Church, and the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance – held a rally at City Hall where elected officials and advocates addressed the importance of preserving and protecting industrial jobs for working class New Yorkers. A Crain's article in March indicated that Mayor de Blasio was soon to announce his industrial manufacturing policy but that has yet to happen. In the meantime, the lack of an engaged public conversation about 21st century industry is contributing to speculative real estate activity and rising rents threatening Sunset Park’s viable industrial manufacturing ecosystem.

Tarry Hum is a professor at the City University of New York and author of Making a Global Immigrant Neighborhood: Brooklyn's Sunset Park.

webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Tarry Hum) Thu, 23 Jul 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5820-city-industrial-manufacturing-plan-still-needed-de-blasio-hum
Inside the Campaign Finance Filings of NYC's 'Big Four' http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5821-inside-the-campaign-finance-filings-of-nycs-big-four de blasio stringer james mark-viverito

The city's 'big four' (photo: @NYCCouncil)

Mid-way through 2015, the latest campaign finance filings are in and the raise and spend activity of New York City's top four elected officials can be analyzed through their principal campaign committees. Mayor Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, all Democrats, maintain active committees during their current terms in office.

While it is presumed that de Blasio, James, and Stringer will each seek re-election to city-wide office, Mark-Viverito is term-limited out of the Council at the end of 2017 and her future plans are unclear. It is well-documented that Mark-Viverito continues to raise money, readying, perhaps, for a mayoral run somewhere down the line. Both James and Stringer continue to raise funds too, with the comptroller outpacing his colleagues.

Mayor de Blasio has not been fundraising for his re-election campaign, though the account shows quite a bit of spending - instead it appears that the mayor is directing donations toward either the non-profit that he is closely aligned with, Campaign for One New York, and the city's Mayor's Fund for New York City.

All four candidates are subject to New York City Campaign Finance Board rules when it comes to their official campaign accounts. Information about the CFB program and its rules may be found on the CFB website, but one key concept is the contribution limit - a specific donor (individual or institution) may commit to a single politician. Though the limit varies per office, for all four of these officials, that effective limit is $4,950 per donor. When a donor has given this amount, they have "maxed out."

All of the data and charts below include the accumulated filings of July, 2015, for activity from January 1, 2014 through the July filing cut-off date of July 15, 2015. De Blasio has raised no money into his principal campaign account during his time as mayor, and he spends from a "war chest." The other three officials - James, Stringer, and Mark-Viverito - have sought out funds during this term. Popularly elected to citywide positions and assumed mayoral aspirants, Public Advocate James and Comptroller Stringer are both raising money at a significant pace, though Stringer has raised more thus far:

Stringer James 1

While James and Stringer appear to push their own fundraising performance around the January and July filings, Mark-Viverito had her big month in April (it was reported that she held a birthday fundraiser on April 20):


In terms of where the money comes from, James has enjoyed city-wide political financial support since January 2014, but has relatively few links to the Bronx:

James contribs

Stringer is heavily reliant on the Upper East Side and his home-turf in the Upper West Side since January 2014:

stringer contribs

Mark-Viverito's fundraising is Manhattan-centric; though less than $5,000 is from her district - which spans parts of Manhattan and the Bronx - since January 2014:

Viverito contribs

For each of the three (James, Stringer, Mark-Viverito), the share comprised by "maxed-out donors" (everyone who gave $4,950) as part of overall fundraising shows differences in those largest donors. Stringer's fundraising outpaces both of his colleagues by quite a bit, and the portion of his haul made up of max donors is largest. Stringer has about 50% of his raise from max contributors, whereas James is at about 35%, and Mark-Viverito about 20%.

MMV James Stringer bars

In raw numbers, the maxed-out donors to each of the three - sums and headcount for each segment are shown:

max raise james stringer mmv chart

All three officials count a common basket of labor institutions in their max-out club. All three also are in receipt of $4,950 from Greenberg Traurig, LLP as well.

A few individual donors have maxed out for two of these officials:

  • Kate Engelbrecht for James and Stringer
  • Alexander Rovt for James and Stringer
  • Roger Sherman for Stringer and Mark-Viverito
  • William Zeckendorf for James and Stringer

Campaign finance filings also require disclosure of spending. While the mayor is reticent to raise to his campaign account, he has spent from it. Stringer and James are both spending as well.

james stringer mmv spending

Mark-Viverito's biggest expenditure is on legal services, likely due to combatting allegations regarding her use of a consultancy during the speaker's race.

MMV spending

The top expenditures for each campaign - every relationship worth $1,000 or more entered into by these campaigns since January 2014 and through the July 2015 filing - show the bulk of expenditure is directed towards one or two firms that provide consulting and/or legal advice.

De Blasio has Hilltop Public Solutions and Genova Burns; James has Bedford Grove and Mirram Group; Stringer has Tucker Green Consulting and Genova Burns; while Mark-Viverito has Pitta Bishop Del Giorno Giblin and Nashban Mansur LLC. Mark-Viverito's very large payments to Ballard Spahr, meanwhile, are said to be related to the ongoing Conflicts of Interest Board investigation into her speaker's race.

Beneath that, the campaigns pay a small handful of staffers, handle some housekeeping, and some have funded their fund-raising operations to varying degrees. De Blasio's campaign is making substantial payroll payments, including various forms of insurance and taxes as well. In the "count" column we are displaying how many checks each vendor is receiving from its respective campaign, and the "average" column simply performs the division to provide a general sense of the ongoing relationships at play.

de blasio spending

tish james spend

stringer spend

mark-viverito spend

by Jon Reznick for Gotham Gazette
Data analysis performed using FTMSQL2 by Competitive Advantage Research, LLC

Note: The author has provided paid photo, prior to their current terms, to Stringer and Mark-Viverito, and in-kind photo to James.

jreznick@gothamgazette.com (Jon Reznick) Thu, 23 Jul 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5821-inside-the-campaign-finance-filings-of-nycs-big-four
Cuomo Waves Left with Executive Actions, Is Met with Shrugs http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5822-cuomo-waves-left-with-executive-actions-is-met-with-shrugs Cuomo wage rally

Cuomo at Wednesday's rally (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)

On Wednesday, the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo streamed live video of the wage board he convened as its members recommended a multi-year plan to phase in a $15 per hour minimum wage for fast food workers across the state. As the meeting ended the same stream cut to a jubilant rally in New York City. In stark contrast to previous Cuomo administration efforts there was no pretense that the wage board was somehow separate from the governor.

The Cuomo administration attempted to propagate the appearance of independence for previous executive entities such as the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, two tax commissions, and even the Department of Environmental Conservation when it made its decision to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the state. But this time such a separation wasn't useful to the governor.

With his poll numbers at an all-time-low, members of his own party in open revolt and facing an ongoing feud with Mayor Bill de Blasio, Cuomo appears to be looking to bolster his standing among Democrats across the state by taking executive action on issues he failed to deliver on during the legislative session. Many prominent Democratic electeds and activists have questioned whether Cuomo actually expended any political capital during the legislative session to move progressive issues such as criminal justice reform, the DREAM Act, or a minimum wage increase.

"I don't believe the Assembly had a real working partner in the governor or the Senate in terms of getting things done for the people of this city and, in many cases, the people of this state," Mayor Bill de Blasio told NY1 late last month.

Trust among Democrats was further eroded when Senate Republicans released a memorandum of understanding with Cuomo's office that appeared to state that the governor agreed not to phase in a part of the SAFE Act until Republicans agree to it. Other than that MOU, Cuomo's post-session agenda has been dedicated to taking executive action on issues favored by the left and on which he did not deliver through legislation.

Cuomo has promised to use executive action to remove 16- and 17-year-olds from the state's prison system after failing to enact a sweeping policy to prevent those teens from being tried as adults, much less locked up with them. Failing to reach a deal with the legislature on other criminal justice reforms in the wake of death of Eric Garner, Cuomo signed an executive order earlier this month giving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the authority to investigate police killings of unarmed individuals, an attempt to reduce the perception that local district attorneys are biased toward the police.

Cuomo was celebrated by Democrats when signing the special prosecutor executive order, and he was applauded at Wednesday's minimum wage rally. City Comptroller Scott Stringer heaped praise on the governor as a man of action when he spoke to those gathered. But, many of Cuomo's fellow Democratic electeds and progressive advocates were not so committed to attaching the governor's name to the wage board decision. Three of the state's most powerful Democratic electeds - Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie - all released statements praising the decision, but without any mention of the governor.

Celebratory statements from New York Communities for Change and the Working Families Party also failed to mention the governor by name.

"I think that's appropriate," said former Cuomo opponent Zephyr Teachout of the lack of support from other Democratic electeds. Teachout is the Fordham Law professor who embarrassed Cuomo with a stronger-than-expected showing during last year's Democratic primary. Teachout tapped into displeasure with the governor from his left.

Cuomo defended his use of executive actions during a Wednesday appearance on The Capitol Pressroom radio program, and chose to eliminate any perception that he was separate from the wage board.

"I am the executive, I have many powers beyond those which the Legislature passes, right?" Cuomo told host Susan Arbetter rhetorically. "The executive, whether it's the president, the mayor, or the governor, you run the government, and you have a whole host of powers that are apart and aside from the Legislature. I often say to people [that] dealing with the Legislature and getting a budget passed, and then new laws, that's a part of my job. But that's only a part. And by the way, I don't even think that's the majority of my job. I run the government."

Teachout doesn't think Cuomo's problem lies exclusively with Democrats. "The governor has broad temperamental issues," Teachout told Gotham Gazette. "It's not like Cuomo has a problem with [only] the left. You are going to have a problem finding any group of voters who believe the governor is actually committed to fighting for them."

Cuomo has branded himself as a doer, as an executive who is about making sure the government is running efficiently and effectively, and who can get deals made by working with members of both parties.

Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group said that Cuomo's use of executive action is fairly typical for governors who have served more than one term. "In terms of putting it into context, governors have historically faced challenges in their second terms. Second terms tend to be harder. [Republican Governor George] Pataki had serious trouble in his second term. It wasn't just with Democrats, but with his own party challenging him."

Horner said that Cuomo is also dealing with "eroded approval ratings and unprecedented indictments" of state legislative leaders that have made getting what he wants from the Legislature that more difficult. And Horner said Cuomo is particularly notorious for "liking to put points on the board."

Many Democrats are happy Cuomo has used his executive powers on the issues he has but feel he acted out of political expediency so that he didn't have to place his Senate Republican allies in a difficult position during the legislative session. These Democrats are therefore reluctant to give him credit.

On the other hand, many business groups and Republican electeds are more than happy to connect Cuomo to his left-leaning executive actions, because they are opposed to them. "From day one Governor Cuomo's wage board has sought to silence the business community and force through an unfair and discriminatory increase on a single sector of one industry," said Melissa Fleischut, President and CEO of the NYS Restaurant Association, in a statement. Fleischut went on to accuse Cuomo of "stacking the board" with supporters of a wage increase, and allowing business owners "to get booed and heckled at public hearings."

Other business groups have attacked Cuomo for bypassing the Legislature on the wage issue, saying he has too much executive power. It may be surprising, but Teachout agrees to some extent. "The governor of New York has too much executive power and the 'three men in a room' have too much power," Teachout told Gotham Gazette. "Having said that, I'm happy he's using it for positive ends. But you know with this governor that if he has to move, he is always going to act in a way that maximizes his own power."

Cuomo is likely to face a lawsuit from the restaurant industry over the wage board's recommendations and subsequent adoption by the Department of Labor.

Regardless of his executive actions, pundits say Cuomo has to do something about his sinking poll numbers in New York City, which has been a reliable base for Cuomo in past elections. A June 15 Siena College poll found Cuomo's favorability rating drop to 39 percent, with his numbers dipping among city-based voters.

Horner said that executive actions are simply part of Cuomo's efforts to enact his agenda and that part of his agenda has to be "keeping the coalition together."

Teachout thinks Cuomo's executive actions indicate that he knows he faces an increasingly hostile electorate. "He is losing that default New York City vote that he could count on last time, and that's a big, big deal. When all you have left is the Buffalo base, that's a real problem. I don't think the wage board does much to help that."

Teachout - who has not ruled out challenging Cuomo again in 2018 (assuming he seeks a third term) - said that she believes voters have developed a view of Cuomo similar to the one that de Blasio expressed: a transactional politician, cynical, power-obsessed, and untrustworthy; and not much is going to change that.

A key question is how much workers, activists, and elected officials associate Cuomo with the action he is taking. Will the special prosecutor move endear Cuomo in communities distrustful of the police and district attorney offices? Will his move on the minimum wage earn him the loyalty of those low-wage and union workers? Are the progressive activists who have been burned by Cuomo willing to live with a governor who they don't feel they can trust but sometimes delivers for their causes?

"I compare this moment to the fracking moment," said Teachout. "I think the administration thought the fracking ban would have an equal impact to the marriage equality moment--that it would be this inspirational moment for people to rally around the governor. But I think most people saw it the same way I did: 'Great! He banned fracking.' But with no change in how they see him."

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

dking@gothamgazette.com (David Howard King) Thu, 23 Jul 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5822-cuomo-waves-left-with-executive-actions-is-met-with-shrugs