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News Feed http://www.gothamgazette.com/ Wed, 02 Sep 2015 19:17:47 GMT FeedCreator 1.8.0-dev (info@mypapit.net) Advocates Rally to Keep Solitary Confinement in Spotlight http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5867-advocates-rally-to-keep-solitary-confinement-in-spotlight solitary confinement rally

A rally to reform solitary confinement rules (photo: @NYCAIC)


Last November he United Nations committee on torture found that the United States was not in compliance with its Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment because of excessive use of solitary confinement in prisons across the country.

The UN found that use of solitary confinement of over 15 days amounts to torture. Nearly a year later New York state has no limit on how long an inmate can be held in solitary--some have served decades. With increasing focus on the conditions in prisons, New York is struggling to address flaws in its prison system that has led to deaths and that advocates say does irreversible mental and physical damage to inmates.

Up to 5,000 inmates are held in solitary confinement at one time in New York. Inmates in solitary spend 23 hours a day in an empty room with no outside contact. The brutal conditions faced by those subjected to this form of punishment, especially at New York City's most notorious jail, Rikers Island, have been splashed across front pages, the subject of major lawsuits and federal investigations, and the topic of debate throughout all levels of government.

Rikers has banned the use of solitary for inmates under 18 years of age and a plan is in the works to disallow the placement of anyone 21 and younger, moves made following a scathing federal report from the office of US Attorney Preet Bharara. Yet, bills that would limit the length of solitary confinement and who can be held in solitary have sat stagnant in the state legislature.

Activists hope to change that with a series of protests held on the 23rd of each month at locations across New York City. The rallies are held on the 23rd to draw focus to the fact that prisoners are held in solitary for 23 hours a day.

So far The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement have held two rallies. Their second rally, held in Rose Hill Park in the Bronx, aimed to relay the experience of Nicholas Zimmerman, an inmate in Attica who has been held in solitary confinement for the last ten of his 12 years in prison.

Zimmerman told advocates: "Since being in The SHU [Special Housing Unit], I have had a stroke, I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and I have tried to commit suicide twice, and very often get these thoughts, but I fight really hard to keep my mind!"

Advocates have focused on relaying the human experience of being in solitary confinement as a way of getting the public to understand what it does to inmates and their families. Megan Crowe-Rothstein of The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement said that the rallies have been about keeping the issue alive in the grassroots by creating more understanding.

"People really become interested when they hear what [solitary confinement] does to people and their families--especially when it comes from people who have suffered and are brave enough to share their stories," said Crowe-Rothstein.

Supporters of solitary confinement, like the city's corrections officer union, say it is an important tool to protect guards and inmates from violence, as well as an effective behavioral tool. "You run a red light, you pay a ticket," corrections union president Norman Seabrook said at a City Council hearing in June of last year. "You punch an officer in the eye, you go to punitive segregation." (Punitive segregation is the term used for solitary confinement on Rikers.)

Advocates charge that the lack of interaction and sensory deprivation created in solitary can lead to severe physical and mental conditions.

Their argument is bolstered by the now-famous story of Kalief Browder. Browder was arrested at 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack and served three years at Rikers after he couldn't post bail, eventually being released without ever being charged. Browder spent nearly two years in solitary while at Rikers and suffered beatings by inmates and guards that were captured on video. Upon release, Browder struggled to put his life back together and eventually killed himself on June 8 of this year. Browder's death led to statements from major politicians, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, and a major invigoration of grassroots attention on both the bail and confinement aspects of the system.

"There is no reason he should have gone through this ordeal, and his tragic death is a reminder that we must continue to work each day to provide the mental health services so many New Yorkers need," de Blasio said in a statement just after Browder's death. "On behalf of all New Yorkers, we send our condolences to the Browder family during this difficult time."

Bills that would restrict the use of solitary have been stalled in Albany for years. One piece of pending legislation, called the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALT), would set major restrictions on how the punishment can be used.

The bill stipulates that no prisoner could be in solitary for more than a 15-day stretch, or for 20 days in a 60-day period. Prisoners who would be placed in solitary for more than 15 days would instead have to be sent to a separate residential rehabilitation unit with therapy and out-of-cell programming. The bill would ban the use of solitary confinement on prisoners under the age of 22 or above the age of 55, prisoners who are pregnant, who have a mental or physical disability or who are "perceived" to be LGBTQ.

This year the bill was referred to the Senate and Assembly corrections committees in January and never voted to the floor. In 2014, the same fate, as the bill's Assembly sponsor, Assemblymember Jeff Aubry, said the gubernatorial election would stymie any action.

A number of legislators concerned with criminal justice issues told Gotham Gazette that it was disheartening that the leadership of their houses did not take up the measures related to solitary given the public's focus on criminal justice issues stoked by police killings of unarmed civilians and deaths at Rikers Island. Legislators asked to remain anonymous due to concerns about angering leadership.

Advocates plan to continue their rallies into the next legislative session, giving themselves a head start on lobbying efforts when legislators return to Albany in January. The next rally will take place Wednesday, September 23 - the location has yet to be announced.

One of the roadblocks to reforming the state's use of solitary is the city's corrections officers union. Norman Seabrook, president of the 9,000-member union, lobbied hard to keep solitary confinement policy as it was in the city. He threatened to sue the Board of Corrections for every officer that was injured by an inmate after the board banned solitary confinement for those under 21.

The city's corrections board is expected to discuss further reforming solitary at upcoming meetings but no action is imminent. "Rikers gets so much attention for good reason," said Crowe-Rothstein, "but there are people in solitary across the state who are suffering and the state must act to change that."

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

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect the fact that 16- and 17-year-olds are now banned from being placed in solitary confinement on Rikers Island and that banning those 21-and-under is in the works, but not final, as originally stated.

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dking@gothamgazette.com (David Howard King) Wed, 02 Sep 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5867-advocates-rally-to-keep-solitary-confinement-in-spotlight
Bill Puts City Landmarks Law At Serious Risk http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5868-bill-puts-city-landmarks-law-at-serious-risk-berman SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District

SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District (photo: @GVSHP)


This year’s 50th anniversary of New York’s landmarks law is a good time to take stock of how much our city has benefitted from preservation. And, as we do so and acknowledge the importance of preserving key elements of New York’s history and appeal, we must be careful not to let our guard down.

Landmarked buildings and neighborhoods, many of which were once blighted and neglected, now nearly without exception brim with new investment and pride. Landmarking somehow manages the dual feat of promoting economic development while, with its anti-demolition protections, helping long-time residents and businesses stay put if they wish to reap the benefits of the increased appeal of their surroundings. Preservation has clearly been a key ingredient in New York’s renaissance over the last several decades.

Unfortunately, a bill with a serious chance of passage scheduled to be heard at the City Council on September 9 would change much of that. Intro. 775 would for the first time impose ‘do-or-die’ timeframes for buildings and neighborhoods being considered for landmark designation. If the deadlines are not met, buildings and neighborhoods, no matter how worthy or endangered, would automatically be disqualified for designation. Reconsideration would be prohibited for a period of five years, during which time demolition could proceed unhindered.

Had the bill’s draconian provisions been in effect over the last fifty years, more than half of our city’s landmarks and historic districts would not have been designated, since those designations took longer than the bill allows. Given that a significant number of owners of those properties originally resisted designation (though many later came to appreciate the benefits of landmarking), the bill’s five-year greenlight for demolition would have no doubt meant many beloved landmarks would have been lost.

Landmarked neighborhoods that took longer to designate than the bill requires include Greenwich Village and the Grand Concourse; Bedford Stuyvesant and Boerum Hill; Jackson Heights, Hamilton Heights (Sugar Hill), and the South Street Seaport, among many others. The Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Terminal, and the Woolworth Building all also failed to meet the rigid deadlines Intro. 775 would impose.

The purported purpose of the bill is to prevent sites under consideration for landmark designation from staying in limbo indefinitely without a final vote. Right now there are 95 such sites in New York City that have waited over five years without a final determination on landmark status – less than 0.3% of all the buildings ever considered for landmark designation in New York City. By contrast, the problem Intro. 775 would create, represented by the more than 17,000 worthy landmarked structures which would have been disqualified for designation under the bill’s provisions, would be more than 170 times the size.

(It should be noted that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has agreed to vote upon the 95 undesignated sites within the next 18 months, essentially eliminating the bill’s entire raison d’etre.)

Ironically, Intro. 775 would do nothing to address the actual reasons why some landmark designations take considerable time. Those which run the longest typically are the most controversial or complicated, involving delicate negotiations with stakeholders, careful examination of final boundaries, exhaustingly-detailed research to back up the Commission’s conclusions, and meticulously detailed designation reports to aid owners in understanding the implications and parameters of designation. To meet these needs, the bill would provide no additional resources to the Commission, the smallest of New York City’s over 100 city agencies, in spite of its considerable mandate to regulate more than 33,000 landmarked properties and evaluate the historic resources of the entire city.  

Rather than encouraging smooth and timely decision-making, the bill would actually encourage delaying tactics and obstructionism by powerful developers opposed to landmarking, by offering the option of “running out the clock.”

Intro. 775 would also have a chilling effect upon the Commission, which no doubt would avoid controversial or complicated designations so as not to squander its limited resources on proposals which might take longer than the tight, legally-mandated timeframes would allow. Many have wondered if this is the true purpose of the bill; Intro. 775 is backed strongly by the Real Estate Board of New York, which has opposed nearly every landmark or historic district designation in New York City, and made a top priority of gutting the landmarks law.

The City Council has much less onerous ways which it rarely uses to encourage the Landmarks Preservation Commission to act as it deems appropriate.

Not only does the Council control the Commission’s purse strings, but it must approve the appointment of every Commissioner to the body, including the Chair, who decides when designations take place. Rather than exercising such reasonable oversight, through Intro. 775 the City Council would pretend to address a complex issue by simply tying one of the agency’s arms behind its back, while giving greater leverage and advantage to one of our city’s already most powerful and influential interest groups.

To address what is at most a tiny issue which appears to be already resolved, Intro. 775 throws the baby out with the bathwater – in this case, New York’s architectural and cultural heritage.

And, it is not a slow-moving municipal bureaucracy that will suffer for it, but our city’s rich multi-layered history, diverse neighborhoods, and iconic landmarks.

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Andrew Berman is the Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

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webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Andrew Berman) Wed, 02 Sep 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5868-bill-puts-city-landmarks-law-at-serious-risk-berman
Put Queens Residents First in Willets Point Development http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5869-put-queens-residents-first-in-willets-point-development FC Queens discussion

FC Queens community meeting


For decades, the Willets Point area in Queens has loomed large in the daydreams of real estate developers and city planners. Redevelopment plans for this neighborhood of mechanic shops and other small businesses have been floated for decades, but none have come to fruition.

Now that the city has all but abandoned a fatally flawed Bloomberg-era plan for the area, a new plan for cleaning up Willets Point is still needed, but it must better address the needs of the low-income and working-class Queens community in which it's located. There are several specific ways in which this goal must be realized.

Several years ago, the Bloomberg administration made a deal with Related Companies and Sterling Equities to redevelop Willets Point to yield the developers enormous profits, but with little commitment to build affordable housing. But a court ruled against the development, because it would have unlawfully allowed a shopping mall to be built upon part of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Mayor de Blasio's administration recently decided not to join the developer in appealing a judge's decision to ban the mall's construction without real concessions from the developer toward meeting the community's needs through affordable housing development.

As the Fairness Coalition of Queens (FC Queens) has been arguing for years now, the last thing that Queens needs is another mall. What the Queens residents in the area do need, and deserve, is the following.

First and foremost, Willets Point needs to be cleaned up. The site has been highly contaminated for more than a century. Now that the city has spent millions displacing dozens of vibrant small businesses from the area, it's at least time to remove the toxins from our communities' backyard.

Second, as affordable housing becomes ever more scarce in Queens, it's vital that Willets Point be used to build truly affordable housing—with a substantial proportion of units that are affordable to the many local residents earning 20 to 30 percent of Area Median Income.

Third, with jobs so hard to come by for local Queens residents, the Willets Point development must ensure that local residents are granted hiring preferences, with strong training and apprenticeship programs to provide career pathways for local workers.

Fourth, whoever ultimately develops Willets Point should be required to contribute significantly to the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy and be partners in improving the park to better serve Queens residents.

Finally, the community must be deeply involved throughout the planning process. FC Queens, an umbrella group of dozens of faith, immigrant, housing, and youth-serving agencies, has been at the forefront of preserving open space and expanding affordable housing. The administration and its chosen developers need to engage our stakeholders in this process to ensure that the next plan for Willets Point is one that actually works for Queens residents.

We all want a bright, new future for Willets Point, but it must be a plan that puts the needs of Queens residents first. Otherwise, the history of failed development plans for this prized Queens site will continue to repeat itself.

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Javier H. Valdés is the Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community, and a member of the Fairness Coalition of Queens. On Twitter: @maketheroadny.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

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webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Javier H. Valdés) Wed, 02 Sep 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5869-put-queens-residents-first-in-willets-point-development
Cuomo and De Blasio Must Do More to Fight Homelessness http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5866-cuomo-and-de-blasio-must-do-more-to-fight-homelessness Cuomo Rochester

Gov. Cuomo (photo via the governor's office on flickr)


New York City's homelessness crisis has blemished Mayor de Blasio's progressive track record, and rightfully so. While Mayor Bloomberg made our city the capital of homelessness in the United States, Mayor de Blasio, now in his second year, must take responsibility and meaningfully address the problem.

Although the reduction in shelter numbers from 60,000 to 56,000 is certainly progress, it is woefully far from a bold vision for "ending the tale of two cities" and ensuring access to truly affordable housing for poor and low-income New Yorkers.

But to be fair, it's hard for the mayor to have a bold vision when the governor blocks him at every turn.

Governor Cuomo has refused to fully fund homelessness services, or even work with New York City to make existing public assistance and shelter programs to house the homeless more effective. Instead, the governor has used the homelessness crisis as a political opportunity to slam the mayor, while his own office continues to worsen the problem.

In fact, Governor Cuomo's recent rhetoric invoking the reemergence of the "bad old days" when discussing Times Square is actually a reflection of his own political decision to not fully fund supportive housing in his last budget or meaningfully reform laughably low public assistance shelter grants.

The governor has also refused to contribute state dollars to innovative housing subsidy programs developed by the city's Human Resources Administration (HRA), leaving the city to foot the entire bill, thus limiting its reach. As a result, New York's homeless and people who are nearly homeless, including those in need of mental, physical, and behavioral health services are left with no option other than the streets.

The reality is that both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo should be doing more to address the city's record homelessness. Advocates and public policy experts have shown them solutions that they both have yet to adopt. Instead our mayor and governor have opted for political expediency over good public policy and finger-pointing over asserting leadership.

Mayor de Blasio must demand more dedicated housing for the homeless from developers reaping massive profits through tax subsidies and land deals. This could be accomplished if New York City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) required a baseline of 10 percent of units to be set aside for the homeless for development projects that benefit from public resources. The developers would still make staggering profits and the city could remedy the scarcity of affordable housing units by not giving away land and money to wealthy developers that get rich off gentrification and displacement. The city should also require current developments and NYCHA to commit many more existing units to house homeless New Yorkers.

On the state level, Governor Cuomo must fully fund supportive housing, known as the NY/NY IV agreement, and work with city agencies to make homeless housing vouchers, funded by both the city and state, as effective and well-resourced as possible.

There is little doubt that the Governor could get the necessary funding for supportive housing in his upcoming budget (of course, getting the job done last year would have been better), and his own state agencies already have the power to work more effectively with city agencies if they were directed to do so.

Governor Cuomo's task is far easier than Mayor de Blasio's – which is all the more reason to characterize the governor's inaction as anything but political posturing to weaken the mayor.

We have the solutions, now we need our top elected officials to put aside the politicking and blame-shifting and take the steps to finally end this awful homelessness crisis.

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Alyssa Aguilera is the Political Director of VOCAL-NY, a grassroots community organizing group, which is a member organization of the Homes for Every New Yorker campaign.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

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webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Alyssa Aguilera) Tue, 01 Sep 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5866-cuomo-and-de-blasio-must-do-more-to-fight-homelessness
Map Launched to Bring Greater Accountability to Capital Spending http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5863-map-launched-to-bring-greater-accountability-to-capital-spending Lander map

A screenshot of the new map launched by Council Member Brad Lander


They are notoriously over-budget and late. Capital projects - infrastructure investments in things like transportation, parks, libraries, and schools - regularly leave members of the public wondering if their elected officials are competent or honest.

On a large-scale, think 2nd Avenue Subway, 7-line extension, and East Side Access. But, there are also many, many smaller capital projects all over the city.

As participatory budgeting has taken hold in about two dozen New York City Council districts, residents can see capital spending and project progress on a small-scale, down-the-block basis from the very start. One of the keys to the “PB” process is that district residents themselves get to design and decide where government money gets spent in their neighborhoods. Still, it is not always easy to keep track of these projects, which can often take longer than residents would like.

Now, New Yorkers of the city’s 39th council district have a new government accountability tool at their disposal. And, it is one that could be a model to bring greater transparency and urgency to capital projects across the city. Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander has published a new comprehensive map of ongoing capital projects in his district, which stretches from Cobble Hill to Park Slope to Kensington.

The interactive map, now available on the council member’s website, designates projects both in progress and completed, and whether or not they were funded through participatory budgeting. By simply clicking an icon on the map, users can find out more detail about each project in particular, including what year it was funded, the amount allocated to the project, and its current completion status.

Lander map zoom in on project

The tool, a Google Maps embed created by Pratt Institute summer intern Annie Levers (and a feasible project for anyone with a gmail account) is not being billed as the next big, highfalutin tech solution, but rather a simple common-sense step towards improving accountability in the city’s capital contracts.

The idea comes from desire for more transparency in the way that the city handles its capital projects. Discussing the tool and larger issue at hand, Lander points to the Parks Capital Tracker, introduced last year by the city Parks Department, as a good first step toward setting a new standard of transparency, but noted that council member-funded capital projects were still not included in discretionary funding information publicly provided the City Council.

Ideally, Lander considers the map a step toward a larger, more robust citywide system for tracking the ways in which public money is spent. Even though overhead costs were minimal and the data accessible to all council members, Lander does not expect his colleagues to follow suit and publish maps of their own.

“I think the long term answer is for the City of New York to provide a portal for all capital projects,” Lander told Gotham Gazette. “I am developing legislation that would require the city to provide something like this -- or the Parks Capital Tracker -- for all city capital projects, whether funded by an agency, City Hall, or by the Council.”

“I don't think the long-term answer is every council member developing their own map and database,” Lander said. Rather, “the long-term answer is a citywide system that tracks all capital projects.”

Such a system, Lander hopes, would be a resource for both individuals seeking information about a particular project in their neighborhood and for more formal research purposes, including the city’s own efforts to increase efficiency and accountability.

For instance, Lander offers that “it may be that a particular contractor works for three or four different agencies, but if you track it over time, you see that that contractor is persistently late or persistently coming in over budget. So there's a value in systems efficiency, there's value in meeting questions of equity: how's the number being spent in between neighborhoods; evaluating different priorities.”

This effort runs parallel to a broader theme within the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, Lander’s predecessor in the Council: simplifying and streamlining the city’s capital investments.

“I think [improved accountability] has been a theme in the de Blasio administration on the capital budget side,” says Adam Forman, of the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank. City Comptroller Scott Stringer released a report in February looking at the rates at which capital projects are begun in the fiscal year they are supposed to, showing some of the inefficiencies in capital processes over the past ten years.

Meanwhile, Forman adds that due to the time that it takes to design contracts, bid them out, and finally get shovels in the ground, the City Council often authorizes some $15 billion of capital spending a year, “knowing full well” that only some $8-10 billion will actually be contracted out.

Simply opening up the details of capital contracts to public scrutiny could contribute more pressure towards a model where, as Forman puts it, “the money that we authorize to spend, let's actually spend it in that fiscal year.”

Bolstering a sense of public stewardship
A second goal of the map will be more difficult to quantify than improved contracting accountability. Lander hopes that making information more available, and importantly, more digestible will help bolster a sense of public stewardship in capital projects around his district.

Although increased accountability will be a main selling point when presenting legislation to the Council, the map was originally born out of a desire to merely better present updates about ongoing participatory budgeting projects within the district.

Lander map various

Lander says that a key value add of participatory budgeting, currently in its fifth year in the 39th District, is that it “enables people to feel like stewards of pieces of the public realm. They develop the ideas for them, they lobby for them, and so they feel a stronger sense of stewardship around the projects that they voted and advocated for, so that they're eager to know their status.”

“Because people voted on them, we felt a responsibility to provide updates on where these projects are,” Lander said. “And until now, we just had a big [Microsoft] Word-like webpage, where you have to scroll down and you see each year's project and which ones won, and look at it, and there it is. Now that we're in year five, we realized that's not the best way to keep people updated.” Thus, the new interactive map.

Constituent Julie Bero, a Windsor Terrace resident and member of the District Committee for Participatory Budgeting, agrees that the map has a deeper potential as a tool for public education. “Just a few years into the process, I think the effectiveness of PB is not quickly clear because many of the projects are not yet complete,” said Bero.

The PB process is largely run as a volunteer effort, where delays and bureaucratic holdups can present a challenge to recruiting and retaining volunteers, and winning over skeptics. Bero explains that “so much in our culture is about instant gratification and some people have expressed frustration that projects that won funding early on aren't already done.”

Bero thinks that tools such as the mapping project could compensate for the lack of feedback for many projects so far. Bero hopes that in several years, when a variety of PB projects finally are really bearing fruit, that a sense of communal stewardship and accomplishment may be more visible. “But in the meantime, this map can help residents of our district to understand the progress that's already been made and look forward to what's on the horizon.”

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by Brit Byrd, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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brit.byrd@gmail.com (Brit Byrd) Mon, 31 Aug 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5863-map-launched-to-bring-greater-accountability-to-capital-spending
PBA Continues Misguided Resistance to Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5864-pba-continues-misguided-resistance-to-reform-lynch-vitale nypd transit and kids

(photo: @NYPDnews)


Last week the NYPD and a Federal Court appointed "stop and frisk" monitor came to agreement on the distribution of informational receipts to be given out to people stopped by the police. The cards will contain identifying information about the officer and the reason for the interaction. This is one of several potential outcomes of the "stop and frisk" community remediation process now underway stemming from the Floyd v. City of New York decision.

The idea for the cards came out of efforts by Communities United for Police Reform to dial back abusive and discriminatory police stops which numbered in the hundreds of thousands just a few years ago and overwhelmingly targeted young men of color. A very similar proposal is contained in the organization’s package of police reforms now before the City Council, commonly referred to as the Right to Know Act

The thinking behind the proposal is that police will be less likely to engage in unlawful, abusive, or disrespectful stops if there is enhanced accountability. In addition, the cards can be used to help people document the stop and possibly aid in their efforts to bring Civilian Complaint Review Board cases. While in practice police might not give out the cards as required in every interaction, failure to do so would be a violation of administrative policy. 

This new procedure is no cure-all for the problems of discourteous, abusive, and excessive policing, but it is a step towards greater transparency and accountability and could play a role in reducing some abusive practices by officers.

It is also in keeping with the department’s professed goal of increasing respectful communication between officers and the public in the hopes of achieving greater mutual understanding. However, the problem of completely respectful and lawful overpolicing will remain.

A courteous ticket for riding a bike on the sidewalk or a respectful arrest for selling loose cigarettes is still a deeply problematic example of ballooning police power and the criminalization of everyday life for too many people.

In response to these rather benign efforts at basic transparency and legal accountability, Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch issued a deeply disturbing statement condemning the move:

“With the CCRB’s contact information prominently listed on the back, these receipts are clearly designed to invite retaliatory complaints against police officers who make an active effort to prevent crime and take guns off the street. They are just one more item on the ever-growing list of anti-public-safety measures that will put an end to proactive policing in this city and ultimately accelerate the increase in crime and disorder that we are already seeing in our public spaces.”

While unions have the right to speak out about public policy measures that affect their members, they should be held publicly accountable for those statements. Pat Lynch's comments will only serve to inflame community tensions and undermine public confidence in the NYPD, which is already experiencing a significant legitimacy crisis in many communities of color.

By attempting to evade transparency and accountability, he is signaling to his members and the public that police have something to hide about the way they interact with the public. Further, his suggestion that accountability hurts crime fighting is based on the faulty belief that the only way to reduce crime is through aggressive, disrespectful, and unconstitutional policing. This is a deeply disturbing view of policing and should be of great concern to elected leaders and the public.

It also seems a bit disingenuous to express such a high level of concern about the potential for retaliatory complaints against officers. Any review of the outcome of such complaints should greatly reassure him since so few of them actually result in any negative consequences for officers. Even with recently enhanced powers, the CCRB rarely substantiates claims against officers and even when it does, meaningful consequences are infrequent. The mere possession of one of these information cards, in the absence of extensive corroborating evidence, will hardly prove sufficient to substantiate a complaint under current evidentiary standards.

It’s time for Pat Lynch and the officers he represents to stop being part of the problem of poor police-community relations. He could start by acknowledging that a problem exists and begin working with reformers and community activists to repair some of the damage caused by years of racialized overpolicing.

The rank-and-file members of the NYPD did not create the current situation all on their own; our elected leaders have encouraged an expanded and more aggressive role for the police, placing them on an untenable “war” footing all too often. At the same time, elected officials should politically isolate any union leader that shows such contempt for the public they serve and look for concrete ways to diminish police power by finding more effective and less punitive alternatives.

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

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

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asvitale@gothamgazette.com (Alex S. Vitale) Mon, 31 Aug 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5864-pba-continues-misguided-resistance-to-reform-lynch-vitale
On Twitter, De Blasio Continues Recent Efforts at Direct Public Contact http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5865-on-twitter-de-blasio-continues-efforts-at-direct-public-contact BdB subway mayors office

Mayor de Blasio on the subway (@NYCMayorsOffice)


Mayor Bill de Blasio appears to be making a concerted effort to increase his direct, public interactions with New Yorkers. The mayor, who is more than halfway through his second year in office and has seen his public opinion poll numbers slide, took to Twitter Monday afternoon for a live chat, during which he replied eleven times to people who tweeted questions for him using the hashtag #BDBchat.

At just before 1 p.m., de Blasio's @BilldeBlasio account wrote "Hey New Yorkers, Bill here" and asked how people were preparing for the start of school. This was quickly followed by a tweet that said, "I'm excited to take your questions for the next few minutes. The team says I need a hashtag. Let's use: #bdbchat."

Monday's social media outreach is another in a series of recent efforts by the mayor to highlight the work of his administration and reassure New Yorkers that he is following through on his promises and that the city is headed in the right direction. It has been a tough stretch for the mayor including an unfavorable legislative session in Albany, an ongoing public feud with Governor Andrew Cuomo, much media attention on the city's homelessness crisis, a battle with car-hailing company Uber, controversy over what to do about topless women in Times Square, and other setbacks and challenges. De Blasio has felt that the press has not treated him fairly and after repeatedly criticizing the media, he appears of late to have taken a more proactive approach to communicating directly with the public.

In less than two weeks, the mayor has made two radio appearances, published a lengthy op-ed column in the Daily News, and held his first Twitter chat. These efforts, along with a Saturday afternoon spent canvassing in Brooklyn to promote his pre-Kindergarten program and other public events have had the mayor interacting with constituents in distinct, direct ways. Since becoming mayor, de Blasio has stressed repeatedly that he hears from New Yorkers all the time when he's out and about in the city, sometimes in response to questions about whether he will hold any public town hall meetings.

Even without any acknowledgment of plans for town halls or a shift in communications strategy, there's a noticable difference of late as the mayor looks to correct any perception of his mayoralty as setting the city on the wrong path. The mayor appeared for more than 40 minutes on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show on August 19, taking several listener calls. He then appeared on Hot 97's morning radio show on August 25, spent time Saturday afternoon promoting pre-K in East Flatbush, and saw his column in the Daily News on Sunday before taking to Twitter Monday afternoon. Not to mention de Blasio taking in a weekend series of Mets games in Queens (the Mets were hosting de Blasio's hometown favorite team, the Boston Red Sox).

A mayoral spokesperson wrote Gotham Gazette to say that "The Mayor is very interested in connecting with New Yorkers directly, both to hear their concerns and thoughts, and to share information about his administration. He will continue to look for creative opportunities to engage with New Yorkers."

On Twitter Monday, de Blasio answered a fraction of the questions sent his way, ignoring the many tweeted by members of the city press corps, who had not been told about the chat ahead of time. The social media outreach was not listed on de Blasio's public schedule sent to members of the media and was given at least an air of spontaneity. De Blasio has said in the past that he does not control his own Twitter account and it is unclear if the mayor himself was typing his tweets on Monday, but the mayor's office assures Gotham Gazette that the answers coming from de Blasio were his.

In answering questions tweeted at him, de Blasio chose a couple of less substantive ones, answering that he is 6'6" tall when asked his height, for example. Otherwise, de Blasio was asked and answered questions about affordability, homelessness, environmental protection, and education. In brief answers that are all that the medium allows, de Blasio provided the link to his OneNYC plan aimed at addressing sustainability and affordability and highlighted efforts to combat homelessness and keep rent increases down in rent-regulated apartments.

On education, de Blasio replied to one particular question two times, writing, "We're focused on improving teacher training and retaining high quality educators" and that his administration has "Moved away from over-reliance on high-stakes testing and ended the misleading grading of schools."

The mayor is due in front of a large group of New Yorkers Monday evening as he is set to make remarks in Queens at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, which has just begun. It's unclear if de Blasio will take the opportunity to highlight any of his policies.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) Mon, 31 Aug 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5865-on-twitter-de-blasio-continues-efforts-at-direct-public-contact
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, August 31 http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5860-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-august-31 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week looks like another relatively quiet one as we head toward Labor Day weekend and then what promises to be a busy September. That's not to say that things will be silent this week, as there are always things happening in New York politics. We give you a few things to watch for and then a bit of a September preview of upcoming political events.

One thing to keep an eye on this week is that we are in the home stretch of the race to replace Mark Weprin in the City Council (Weprin stepped down from his seat to take a job with Governor Andrew Cuomo). A crowded Democratic field heads toward the Thursday, September 10 primary day, and then the winner will have to win the November general election to represent that portion of eastern Queens.

Speaking of Governor Cuomo, he had a week out of the spotlight last week, time spent with family, the governor's office indicated. It is unclear if the governor will be making public appearances in the coming week.

Last week was also a quiet one for several top city officials, though the mayor had a somewhat active week. As this week gets going, the mayor continues to pursue a more positive public perception of his work:

TRACKING DE BLASIO: The mayor took in all three games in the Mets' weekend series with the Red Sox, de Blasio's favorite team from his Massachusetts roots. The Mets won one game of the three, on Sunday, but remain in first place in their division (the Red Sox are in last place in theirs). De Blasio spent time on Saturday afternoon canvassing in Brooklyn, popping in at barber shops and nail salons to encourage New Yorkers to sign up for pre-Kindergarten in the final days before the school year begins (classes start Sept. 9). De Blasio was joined by First Lady Chirlane McCray and other members of his administration, and still other members were out and about promoting pre-K throughout the city over Saturday and Sunday.

The mayor continues to work to get his message to New Yorkers, after two recent radio apperances (one on WNYC, one on Hot 97), the mayor had an op-ed column published in Sunday's Daily News in which he outlined the progress made during his tenure thus far and promises that "quality of life" in the city will not diminish on his watch. Read our recent look at de Blasio's turn from criticizing the media to taking his message directly to voters.

Also, as the mayor seeks to boost his public profile and the perception of his administration and mayoralty, we ask if it is time for de Blasio to hold public town hall meetings.

On Monday, at about 7 p.m., de Blasio "will deliver remarks at the U.S. Open in Queens," according to his public schedule.

As mentioned, there are just a few events on our calendar for this week, see below for those, and then we give you a quick list of September events to watch for, including the City Council's return to regular public hearings just after Labor Day and the Pope's visit to NYC.

***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***

A few events this week:

On Monday, city schoools Chancellor Carmen Fariña "will visit two charter schools on their first day of classes. She will be joined by James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center." The schools are Girls Preparatory Charter School of the Bronx and Growing Up Green Charter School in Long Island City, according to the chancellor's office.

Monday morning, former Rep. Anthony Weiner will appear on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show to discuss the relationship between Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio (and more), which he analyzed in a recent op-ed in The New York Times. Weiner says that through a constitutional convention, New Yorkers may be able to adjust some of the city-state dynamics that create so much mayor-governor tension. Also, read our recent look at the issue of a potential New York convention: State Constitutional Convention: Holy Grail or Pandora's Box?

At 7 p.m. Monday evening AARP-NY is sponsoring a forum for New York City Council District 23 candidates at Queens High School of Teaching. AARP State Director Beth Finkel will be moderating and all qualifying candidates were invited to participate. The Queens Tribune/Queens Press is co-sponsoring the debate. A crowded field is competing in a Democratic primary that will be decided on Thursday, September 10. For more information, see the NYC Votes voter guide for the six-candidate primary and footage from a recent NY1 forum: three candidates and three other candidates.

Read our look at all the upcoming voting opportunities for New Yorkers - there are many of them - in 2015 and 2016, starting on September 10.

On Wednesday, at 9 a.m. the New York City Bar will hold "One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City." The event is sponsored by the Bar's Environmental Law Committee and co-sponsored by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. Nilda Mesa, the Director of the Mayor's Office of Sustainability, will present Mayor de Blasio's One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday Beta NYC will hold a civic hacknight at Civic Hall.

On Thursday at 8 a.m. City & State NY is hosting a "newsmakers" event featuring City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who will discuss important issues facing the city and the City Council.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, NYU's Urban Democracy Lab will host "(Still) The Progressive Mayor? Bill de Blasio in Year Two," with a discussion featuring several prominent journalists: Jennifer Fermino, City Hall Bureau Chief at the New York Daily News; Jarrett Murphy, Executive Editor and Publisher of City Limits; and Azi Paybarah, Senior Reporter at Politico New York will be panelists. The discussion will be moderated by Mary Rowe of the Municipal Art Society.

On Friday morning at Civic Hall, Citymart is hosting an NYC meetup series launch. Citymart is the firm that has been hired by the de Blasio administration to design challenges in a way that shifts the contract procurement process. Citymart has a deal with the city to experiment on a couple of projects as the city reconsiders its approach to contracting out work.

What To Watch For In September

  • The City Council resumes regular public oversight and legislative hearings after Labor Day. The Council will hold its two full-body Stated Meetings of September on the 17th and the 30th. Along with those, keep an eye out for the September 9 Build It Back oversight hearing. There will also be other especially noteworthy hearings, but details are not up on the Council calendar yet. Keep an eye out in future Week Aheads.
  • 2015 primary day in the city is Thursday, Sept. 10
  • Friday, September 11 will be the 14th anniversary of the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks. There will be a variety of 9/11 commemorations throughout the city on and around the 11th. On the morning of the 11th, New York Law School is hosting an event, "The City's Lawyers and September 11th," moderated by Dean Anthony W. Crowell. "Panelists (positions in 2001) – Jeffrey D. Friedlander, Law Department; Steven Fishner, Criminal Justice Coordinator; Marjorie Landa, Law Department; Bryan Grimaldi, Mayor's Office; and Florence Hutner, Law Department."
  • On September 12, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson is holding another "Begin Again" event where individuals with open arrest warrants and summonses will be able to have a hearing in front of a judge, with many able to have their warrants expunged. Read our report on Thompson's Begin Again initiative here.
  • The 7-train extension to the West Side is supposed to open mid-September.
  • The Association for a Better New York hosts Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on September 17.
  • ABNY hosts NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton on September 22.

Stay tuned for our upcoming Week Aheads for many more events and issues to keep an eye out for. Our next Week Ahead will be published on Monday, Labor Day. In the meantime, check out our latest Gotham Gazette stories.

***
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
@GothamGazette

Note: this article has been corrected to show that Mayor de Blasio attended all three Mets-Red Sox games this past weekend, not two as first stated.

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) Sun, 30 Aug 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5860-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-august-31
State Constitutional Convention: Holy Grail or Pandora's Box? http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5861-state-constitutional-convention-holy-grail-or-pandoras-box convention

photo: @NYSenDems


With a legislature now routinely shaken by major indictments, pressing issues left perpetually unresolved, and voter dissatisfaction with state government on the rise, some see a constitutional convention as perhaps the only way to bypass the legislature and institute serious reform. It just so happens that in 2017 voters will get to decide whether to have such a convention.

"A lot of the reforms people want to see don't need a convention to be instituted, but political will on the part of the legislature," said Blair Horner of The New York Public Interest Research Group, who was involved in the last conversation about holding a constitutional convention.

"The constitutional convention becomes a vessel that some pour their hopes into," says Horner. But, as supporters of a convention discovered in 1997, public support for conventions has proven to be unreliable when it comes time to vote to hold one.

This summer, a July 15 Siena College poll found 90 percent of New York voters feel government corruption is a serious problem. The same poll found that 69 percent of voters surveyed supported having a constitutional convention, which could reconfigure the state's governing document.

The poll results have boosted the hopes of those who see a constitutional convention, which would occur in 2019 if approved by voters in 2017, as the only real chance to fix state government. And yet the poll also contains chilling, bad news for those advocates: 75 percent of voters surveyed say they haven't heard anything about a constitutional convention.

Delegates could examine an untold number of changes to the constitution, but some of the areas advocates express interest in are better balancing the power between the executive and legislature; changing term limits; creating a full-time legislature; making pay-to-play politics illegal; and changing the redistricting process.

It's a familiar position for advocates who were involved the last time the topic came up in a serious way. Public support for constitutional conventions has proved to be a fragile thing in the past. "I think in general there was a lot of public discontent with state government not meeting budget deadlines; the business community was more upset then about taxes, as the government was less responsive to their concerns, and there was deep concern about local government issues," said professor Gerald Benjamin, who was appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo as Research Director of the Temporary State Commission on Constitutional Revision during the last discussion of a constitutional convention.

"There was a broad, but not deep, willingness to have a convention--but it dissipated when groups who were opposed to it for various reasons attacked it," Benjamin says.

State law requires that voters be asked every two decades whether they want a constitutional convention. The last such vote was in 1997. If the voters' answer is yes, they elect delegates to represent them at the convention, and any convention-negotiated changes are then put in front of voters as ballot referendums.

The last convention occurred in 1967 and was actually called by the legislature. Voters at that time said no to the proposed changes. The last voter-called convention occurred in 1938; voters rejected conventions in 1957, 1977, and 1997.

In 1997 initial public support for a convention was dissolved by the efforts of groups that were concerned measures they favored in the constitution would be done away with by conservative delegates. The League of Women Voters led opposition, attacking the delegate selection process for being accessible only to politicians and other connected individuals. "The League successfully argued that the convention would essentially be run by the same people who run the capital," said Horner.

But the League wasn't the only group opposed. Public labor unions poured considerable cash into the opposition movement, fearing pension guarantees could be stripped away. Environmental groups joined the opposition movement in fear that provisions that keep state parks "forever wild" would be excised. That fear stems in part from the fact that convention delegates are elected based on state Senate districts, which are drawn in favor of Republicans (the Assembly has Democrat-friendly lines).

"Some view the constitutional convention as putting state parks and other constitutional issues at risk," said Horner. "Last time there was public support, as Mario Cuomo created the rationale for a fourth term around a convention. And [Governor] Pataki later supported it, but it went down in flames because of the efforts of those who opposed it based on what they could lose over the efforts of those who had hopes for what they could gain."

Former Assembly Member Richard Brodsky, now a senior scholar at Demos who calls himself "the last surviving progressive supporter" of a constitutional convention, said that the fears of many of these groups are well founded. "Those issues should weigh very heavily on the conversation," said Brodsky. "There is a lot of good stuff in the constitution we don't want to lose. However, voters in this state are by and large thoughtful and educated. Those issues are likely to be supported again."

Horner said it is far too early in the current process to tell if the pro-convention side will have funds that match those of the opposing sides.

New York City voters have historically had the most say over whether there is a constitutional convention as mayoral elections fall at the same time as the ballot question is put to voters. That makes it easier for those for and against the convention to target the city's generally liberal voting base in the lead up to a convention vote. This time the vote will likely coincide with Mayor Bill de Blasio's re-election bid.

Convention supporters like Brodsky have proposed legislation that could alleviate concerns about delegate selection. One Brodsky-backed measure would have created a public financing system for delegates so that average citizens could run. It also would have changed the way voters selected delegates, making voters select individual delegates rather than a ticket.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican, has advocated banning delegates from being elected officials or lobbyists. "Our first priority must be to eliminate politics from the delegate selection process," said Kolb in a statement. "My "Peoples Convention To Reform New York Act" would require any elected or party official to vacate their office in order to serve as a delegate; and prohibit delegates from accepting contributions from PACs or party campaign committees. It is imperative that political influence is removed."

Horner said he expects a spike in debate over the convention in 2016 as reformers introduce bills to change the delegate selection process. "The problem some see is regular people--a teacher, a cop--would lose their career track if they ran as a delegate. They don't have the flexibility of a lawyer or a career politician. And who has the apparatus to run as a delegate other than an elected official?"

Barbara Bartoletti of The League of Women Voters said her group is focused on public education and has yet to take a position this time around. Her organization and other groups are teaming with the Rockefeller Institute for a series of public forums to inform New Yorkers about delegate selection and what issues are likely to come up.

"We want to make this more a people's convention than a politicians' convention," said Bartoletti. "I've lost a lot of faith in what the legislature will do. So we want to make sure we capture the public's imagination on how important this is. The more the public is involved, the better checks and balances we will have on the governor and legislature."

Many scholars and good-government groups are currently working on formulating proposals on how to reform the delegate process and how best to revamp the constitution, but many groups have yet to take a firm position.

"What we are really looking at is citizen education and at the end of 2016 we will come up with a position if we think enough changes have been made around the delegate selection process," said Bartoletti.

Brodsky said that voter education is key at this stage in the process and is encouraged that it has begun so early. "We have to start with very basic things, instead of focusing on ethics or reform of government. What is really important here is the social content: the rights of working people, the right to wilderness, a bill of rights - things that have a tremendous impact on people's daily lives."

Brodsky said that unlike the federal constitution, which is a "how-to document," most state constitutions are "what-to-do documents."

"The public needs to become aware of the social impact, the daily-life impact of the constitution," Brodsky argues. "We need to focus on questions like: 'Are the state's privacy laws adequate,' 'Should there be a right to higher education,' 'Should the state be able to use authorities to give public tax dollars to private corporations?'"

Brodsky says these are issues that may galvanize public interest, rather than questions of process and procedure.

Kolb stressed that while delegates would set the agenda, he would "hope that a Constitutional Convention would address areas such as ethics reform, government spending, debt accumulation, and unfunded mandates – just to name a few."

Meanwhile, many interested parties are watching to see how much energy Gov. Andrew Cuomo expends on the issue of holding a convention.

"Reformers were remarkably reticent due to concerns about who might be elected as delegates," said Professor Benjamin of efforts related to the 1997 ballot question. "The legislature was presumptively hostile, was hands-off, but the one thing we did have was the great advocate for constitutional change in Mario Cuomo. Had he been re-elected I believe we would have had a larger conversation, as gubernatorial involvement has been shown to make the question of a convention much closer."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed support for a convention during his 2010 run for governor but has been quiet on the topic recently. Benjamin points out that most governors are opposed to the status quo, but this time reformers have Cuomo's budget powers in their sights.

In an interview earlier this year, Brodsky told Gotham Gazette that he thought one of the prime questions facing a constitutional convention would be the governor's considerable budget powers, which basically allow the governor to enact the executive budget through extenders, without legislative approval.

Cuomo spokesperson Richard Azzopardi told Gotham Gazette that Cuomo still supports a constitutional convention.

Talk of a possible convention started earlier than normal this cycle as advocates began calling for a convention in light of the 2009 Senate coup, which was enabled in part by Gov. Eliot Spitzer's abrupt resignation. State law did not specifically allow for Gov. David Paterson to name his successor as Lieutenant Governor. The Lieutenant Governor would have theoretically been able to break the coup by voting with Senate Democrats. Paterson eventually did name Richard Ravitch to the position at the urging of good government groups, and the appointment held up in the courts. Regardless, the drama did lead to conversation about a convention.

Mario Cuomo suggested in 2009 that rank-and-file legislators could support a convention as a means of regaining credibility with the public. "Why are people afraid of fundamental change?" Cuomo asked The New York Times rhetorically. "You don't like three men in a room, or three women in a room? Then change it."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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dking@gothamgazette.com (David Howard King) Wed, 26 Aug 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5861-state-constitutional-convention-holy-grail-or-pandoras-box
Is It Time For The Mayor To Do Town Halls? http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5858-is-it-time-for-the-mayor-to-do-town-halls bdb stickball

Mayor de Blasio greets a constituent (photo: @BilldeBlasio)


Scott Stringer has led 16 town hall-style events since becoming Comptroller; Letitia James, the Public Advocate, hosted her 28th on Wednesday night in Brooklyn. As has been well-documented, Mayor Bill de Blasio - along with Stringer and James, one of three popularly-elected citywide officials - has not yet held a town hall event himself.

Is it time for the mayor to host one?

As de Blasio and his team wrestle with how to combat sagging public opinion poll numbers, what they see as unfair press coverage, and a perception gap that many agree leaves New Yorkers thinking de Blasio is performing worse than he actually is, it may be time for de Blasio to take his message directly to the people and hold his first town hall.

"He might want to look at where his criticism is coming from in his base," says Fordham political science professor Dr. Christina Greer. "If you're going to do a town hall, be strategic about it, so that it is effective for you and for New Yorkers," Greer advises.

Greer says that de Blasio should target where he had the deepest support in his 2013 election, with an eye, though, "especially on people feeling neglected," and go communicate with them. She said that these would be "productive places to start, but can't be the end."

Political consultant Evan Thies argues it would be smart for de Blasio to utilize his elected allies to get his message out, possibly at town hall-style events. "If they believe they can get those surrogates to host friendly conversations with real New Yorkers they should do that," Thies said, adding that de Blasio is suffering from a major perception problem and that he and his team need to resume "politicking."

"The perception" among the public, Thies says, "is not just that he's not the doing the job they hired him for, the perception is that he doesn't care about opinions that aren't his. And I just don't think that's true. He's trying to lead on issues of affordability - it's really just a perception problem and he needs to get out there and talk to people."

Doing so in the form of town halls would surely be risky for the mayor, who mostly plays things safe, but public forums are high-risk, high-reward opportunities. De Blasio could show New Yorkers that he is engaged, that his ear is to the ground, and that he is both tough and humble.

"The risk is not any worse than having the tabloids portray him as they are now," says former Rep. Anthony Weiner, who held many town halls when in office and has urged de Blasio to adopt the practice.

Sure, Weiner says, there can be some tough moments, and the TV cameras will gravitate toward those. But, holding town halls has many advantages: "You become a better representative when you do it...you hear the language real citizens use to describe the problems in their lives," Weiner tells Gotham Gazette.

"It would help him with a lot of the problems that he has," Weiner argues of the mayor. "He develops a little bit more of a fighter identity. If you're standing up in a hostile room, people respect that. There's a sense he's being pushed around too much, town halls gives you the opportunity to change that."

As of now, no one would call de Blasio a hothead or peg him as likely to commit a serious gaffe, but of course a public event with open microphones would leave the mayor prone to all sorts of challenges. (For example, we've seen of late what Black Lives Matter activists have accomplished at several presidential candidate events.) But, these events are always well-staffed with aides and security.

Even if he does a few town halls, there would be inevitable questions about where he's held them, and surely some media latching on to any outrageous moments.

However, nothing says 'I'm listening' like actually listening. And it appears the mayor needs a bit of a correction to perceptions that he's distracted by national politics and not a strong enough chief executive of this very hard to manage city.

In correspondence with City Hall, it does not appear that a de Blasio-led town hall is afoot.

Spokesperson Karen Hinton wrote Gotham Gazette saying, "Mayor de Blasio hears directly from New Yorkers in both formal and informal ways - whether it's through taking calls on public radio, or being stopped on the street - as he often is."

Indeed, in what was a rare formal opportunity for the mayor to engage in unscripted conversation with constituents, de Blasio took calls while on air with radio host Brian Lehrer Wednesday morning. All told, de Blasio's WNYC appearance lasted more than 40 minutes and gave the mayor a chance to speak directly to a wide swath of New Yorkers, and with several who called in.

Doing so, de Blasio again showed he is adept at responding to impromptu gripes about the city and his stewardship of it. Yet, the mayor has made only sporadic appearances on call-in radio.

Hinton's response echoes what the mayor himself has said when asked about holding town halls, something that his predecessors did with varying frequency - but did - and that his current fellow citywide electeds are clearly doing fairly regularly.

Public Advocate James held one town hall in each borough specifically about mayoral control of city schools, releasing a report afterward in which she called for some modifications to the system that would weaken the mayor's power. Among her twenty-plus other open events, James held a public safety town hall Wednesday evening in Brooklyn in response to a recent wave of shootings.

Comptroller Stringer has held at least one town hall in each borough, according to his office. Stringer held a "Sandy Oversight Hearing" in each borough other than the Bronx, which was the borough least damaged by the superstorm.

A spokesperson for the comptroller, Eric Sumberg, said that Stringer "believes that listening to constituents and meeting with them in their communities is one of the best ways to learn how he can use his office to root out waste and fraud and fight for working families."

Hinton, the de Blasio spokesperson, told Gotham Gazette that representatives of the administration are "out in neighborhoods across the city every single day, working directly with New Yorkers and bringing that feedback to City Hall to further shape our work. We are continually looking for additional opportunities to hear directly from New Yorkers across the five boroughs."

Highlighting efforts by the Community Affairs Unit, Hinton cited "dozens of town halls" organized around informing small business owners, improving city services for LGBTQ New Yorkers, and providing information on the city's handling of the recent Legionnaires' Disease outbreak in the Bronx.

To New Yorkers who feel good, bad, or iffy about the mayor, though, those efforts may not be enough. "Sometimes people want to see the mayor, not his proxy," says Dr. Greer, Fordham political science professor.

This, in part, is why the mayor marches in many parades, speaks at churches, and appears at a variety of other community events. There may be nothing quite like the unfiltered town hall, though, to move the public image of de Blasio, as Weiner points out.

In May, de Blasio was asked about plans to hold town halls on at least two different occasions. On May 11, de Blasio said he hears from New Yorkers all the time. "[I]t's amazing how many conversations I have with people every single day because they're not shy about coming up and starting a conversation, I assure you – every time I'm on the subway, every time I'm walking down the street and whether it's the Upper East Side or Park Slope or anywhere else. But beyond that, I talk to people who represent a whole host of communities all the time."

On May 18, de Blasio said of holding town halls, "I don't have a specific plan, but, you know, what I do all the time is go out around different communities in different settings...people just come up and talk about things, and offer their views, raise concerns...I go around all over the place – and the subways, and walking down the street – talk to everybody."

A spokesperson for Public Advocate James wrote Gotham Gazette that the public advocate has "worked aggressively to bring government to every corner of this city" and that the best way to connect constituents and government "is by reaching the people where they are."

It is certainly not a sentiment de Blasio would disagree with, and the mayor often highlights that he's bringing government to those who need it most, whether or not he is holding the type of open evening events his colleagues are. On Thursday, de Blasio held a ground-breaking in Far Rockaway for what will be 154 affordable housing units for low-income seniors.

At the mid-day press conference, de Blasio said affordable housing is the number one thing brought up to him by New Yorkers "on the subway, on the street - wherever I go."

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) Fri, 21 Aug 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5858-is-it-time-for-the-mayor-to-do-town-halls