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News Feed http://www.gothamgazette.com/ Wed, 04 Mar 2015 13:07:56 GMT FeedCreator 1.8.0-dev (info@mypapit.net) Money to Run: Past Fundraising of Donovan & Gentile http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5610-money-to-run-past-fundraising-of-donovan-gentile donovan and gentile

Donovan, left (photo: Staten Island Advance/Rachel Shapiro) and Gentile (@VGentile43)

The May 5 special election for NY's 11th Congressional District approaches, and two seasoned New York politicians face off for the privilege of filling the seat vacated in January by Michael Grimm. The candidates to represent the district, which includes Staten Island and a small portion of Southern Brooklyn, are Democrat Vincent Gentile and Republican Daniel Donovan.

A sitting New York City Council Member representing Bay Ridge, Gentile was first elected as a New York State Senator in the 1990s, representing a district that included part of Staten Island. Gentile was defeated by City Council Member Marty Golden for the Senate seat in 2002 and then won Golden's vacant Council seat in the special election held in early 2003. Gentile was re-elected to the Council in 2005, 2009, and 2013. He will be term-limited out at the end of 2017, unless he vacates the seat beforehand.

Daniel Donovan, the Republican of Staten Island, has been District Attorney for Richmond County, New York, since 2004, after winning the open seat in 2003. He was re-elected in 2007 and 2011, with an unsuccessful 2010 run for Attorney General in between.

The geography of this congressional district is already known to be unfriendly to any Brooklyn contender, and also to Democrats; Staten Island contains the lion's share of the district, and Democrats tend to find it tough going in this well-known Republican enclave of New York City even though there are actually more registered Democrats on the island. Golden has held onto his state Senate seat against numerous spirited challengers after taking it away from Gentile, so Bay Ridge, in Brooklyn, has similar political qualities.

With Election Day just two months off, each is surely scrambling to raise the funds needed to run an effective campaign. With that in mind, an examination of their past fundraising is instructive.

Both Gentile and Donovan are new to federal fundraising, but they have thick campaign finance files with New York State. Analyzing their New York campaign finance data, the biggest contrast that can be drawn between Donovan and Gentile, is that Donovan is a county-wide official, who received spirited support for a state-wide run in 2010.

Vincent Gentile's campaign finance operation, on the other hand, has not required the same kind of "portability." He's been asking for support in Bay Ridge and surrounding communities in his council district. mostly.

To produce the charts below, Gotham Gazette examined donor-ship transactions filed by the following committees: DONOVAN FOR NEW YORK , DONOVAN FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL, DONOVAN FOR D. A., DONOVAN 2010. GENTILE FOR NEW YORK, GENTILE FOR THE FUTURE, GENTILE NYC.

DG daily

The chart above includes 3,287 days, from January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2014. With the graph scaled for Donovan's Attorney General campaign in 2010, Gentile's activity becomes nearly invisible. Because he did have this statewide run, Donovan's fundraising history skews any direct overall comparison.

Gentile, whose fundraising was capped during this time period by city campaign finance law, was able to rely on public matching funds for his races. Those matching disbursements are not counted here, just what the candidate received from donors. The council member has been fundraising on an ongoing basis, his most recent activity peeking out near the very end of the chart, a year after his election to a third and final full council term. This activity may be largely about paying off NYC Campaign Finance Board penalties - Gentile has been penalized for a variety of filing issues.

DG schedule

The bar chart above demonstrates the comparative difference in scale of Donovan's and Gentile's fundraising, while also segmenting the cumulative sum by donor type.

Other Contributors (Schedule C) is where contributions from labor organizations tend to be recorded. While filers do not all behave the same way in discerning Schedule C from Schedule B (Corporations), Gentile's reliance on Schedule C is 37.28% of his haul, while Donovan's is 22.85%.


With the chart above, Donovan's top ten zip codes from which he receives funds, representing 34.97% of his overall haul, are shown. In addition to including three Staten Island ZIP codes in his top ten, he has tapped Manhattan extensively.


Gentile's top ten ZIP codes (above), meanwhile, reflect much more locality - again, likely a function of Donovan's run for a statewide seat. Gentile has also relied more on his own top ten to make up the whole than Donovan.

While seven of Donovan's top ten ZIPs are actually in Manhattan and three are on Staten Island, six of Gentile's top ten are in Brooklyn. Five are local to his council district while one is in Downtown Brooklyn. Three of Gentile's top ten ZIPs are in Manhattan and one is on Staten Island.

When looking at the top 20 donors to each candidate (seen in the two charts below), both individual and institutional, the fact that Donovan has campaigned under a different set of rules further emerges. For this reason, these charts are not meant to be compared side-by-side. They are simply meant to show who these two candidates have relied on to fund their campaigns. Gentile's contributions are capped, but he is able to make substantial personal contributions to his own campaign, and he has done so. Gentile's top 20 individual and institutional donors, 2006-2014:

DG GT20 

Something to look for when the federal fundraising picture begins to emerge is whether Gentile is reaching outside of his neighborhood, into more of the NY-11 turf, as well as whether he is beginning to tap major capital sources. Put another way, to what extent has the city campaign finance system limited Gentile's measurable fundraising prowess? In what ways does a Congressional race open up new fundraising opportunities? We might also ask how much of Bay Ridge is coming along with him and donating. Do his labor backers take the same level of interest in the U.S. Congress as they have in his local bids? Is he out-performing his city record? (Gentile's lists go to 19 rather than 20 because there are multi-way ties for individual donations at $2,000 and institutional donations at $3,000.)

Donovan's top 20 individual and institutional donors, 2006-2014:


Similarly to with Gentile, there's a long list of major players and institutions who may reflect growing or shrinking enthusiasm for Donovan as this race develops. For many of those who have given to Donovan in the past, the stakes are very different with a district attorney or an attorney general than with a member of Congress. Are the usual stakeholders still interested in Donovan? Do they invest in Congressional races? Stay tuned!

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

jreznick@gothamgazette.com (Jon Reznick) Wed, 04 Mar 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5610-money-to-run-past-fundraising-of-donovan-gentile
Council Members Push to Speed Reform at Human Rights Commission http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5613-council-members-push-to-speed-reform-at-human-rights-commission lander march

Council Member Brad Lander (photo: William Alatriste)

NEW YORK—Much needed change is on the horizon for the City's Commission on Human Rights, but just how quickly that change will be implemented is up in the air.

On Tuesday the City Council held an oversight hearing on the Commission (CCHR) and heard a package of bills aimed at providing greater insight and transparency to the agency. For years advocates have decried the lack of funding and staffing of the CCHR, the city agency charged with enforcing the Human Rights Law.

In fiscal year 1991 the CCHR had a staff of 241 and a budget of $9.5 million, according to budget documents. In fiscal year 2015 there are only 66 positions, and a budget of $4.5 million. In her State of the City address last month, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito vowed to increase funding by $5 million and boost staffing by 65.

On the legislative side, the Council has proposed three bills: Intro. 421 would establish additional reporting requirements regarding CCHR investigations; Intro. 690 would establish an employment discrimination testing program in an attempt to proactively root out employment discrimination; and Intro. 689 would establish a testing program to root out housing discrimination. All three bills would take effect immediately after being signed into law.

CCHR Chair Carmelyn Malalis, appointed to the position by Mayor Bill de Blasio in November, is supportive of resurrecting the Commission, of course. As a seasoned civil rights attorney in the private sector prior to her appointment, she saw the protection the Human Rights Law provides.

But on the bills proposed by the Council, Malalis is less supportive, saying at Tuesday's hearing that she agrees in principle, but is unsure on the timeline.

"I am concerned that placing any additional obligations on the Commission with short timelines—such as those included in the proposed legislation—may actually be counterproductive to making the commission more effective, more visible, more accessible, more transparent, more responsive, or more impactful," Malalis said at Tuesday's hearng.

While she was named chair of the Commission in November, Malalis has only been on the job for two weeks. She said she is just beginning the process of reviewing the agency's operations, policies, and procedures. Following the review she will implement a multi-pronged strategy, she said, which will take some time to complete.

Specifically related to the bills requiring testing, Malalis said, "I am concerned that the timelines imposed in the bills may actually be counterproductive to the Commission expanding an effective testing program, which includes community partners and advocacy organizations that can help with a thoughtful expansion."

When asked what would be an appropriate timeline, Malalis said that being in her position such a short time, she could not give a deadline.

Council Member Deborah Rose pressed Malalis on the issue of the timeline, arguing if she has only been on the job two weeks, how could she know the timelines wouldn't work.

Malalis opened up, saying she was eager to engage in the community and with her staff, a time consuming job as it is.

"I am fairly concerned about having to spend much more of that time on fulfilling the reporting obligations that would be necessary under the bills," Malalis said.

She also tipped her hand at what appears to be the administration's fear of statistics that could be interpreted in a negative way. Her testimony reflected a desire to look at stats in 2016 or 2017, after a new strategic plan will have materialized.

"If these three bills were to become effective immediately, I fear that the reporting would not be reflective of what is down the pipe and what is underway," Malalis said.

That answer did not sit well with Council Member Brad Lander, who is a lead sponsor on Intro. 689.

"If it were just about you, we could definitely be patient," Lander said. "But we, and I really mean we, have let this agency deteriorate long past the point of patience."

He added, "I would like to point out that you are only in week two, but the de Blasio administration is in month 15. That was too long to wait to appoint a new commissioner, to get a new commissioner in place and to start to have a strategic plan."

Lander also argued the majority of the reporting requirements for Intro. 421 are likely already being kept and that if testing programs are already in place, the data likely already exists.

"For that information to be meaningful, more time needs to pass so that some of the information it requests, for instance our work with Corporation Counsel, has time to develop," Malalis responded.

Civil rights advocates, who have been pushing for CCHR reform for years, are even less eager to wait longer for data on the Commission's work enforcing the Human Rights Law.

"You really want to get a baseline now. No one is going to be blaming the new crew for what has gone on," Craig Gurian of the Anti-Discrimination Center said during his testimony. "It could not be less burdensome. If, in fact, the Commission is currently testing, it is, in fact, complying with two of the bills [already]."

It appears the Council and the administration are not far apart on the goals of revamping the CCHR, meaning negotiations should yield some changes to the bills sooner rather than later. Malalis will be testifying later this month during budget hearings where these bills, as well as staffing and funding issues, will be addressed.

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

MeriwetherK@gothamgazette.com (Kristen Meriwether) Wed, 04 Mar 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5613-council-members-push-to-speed-reform-at-human-rights-commission
Bratton Assures Manhattan Business Community NYPD Staying Vigilant, Improving http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5606-bratton-assures-manhattan-business-community-nypd-staying-vigilant-improving FullSizeRender 1

Commissioner Bratton addresses Manhattan Chamber of Commerce members (Ben Max)

NEW YORK - NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton's job requires him to appear in front of audiences of all sorts. To his credit, Bratton is remarkably consistent no matter who he's speaking with, whether it is NYPD officers at a promotion ceremony, city council members at an oversight hearing, or, as was the case on Monday morning, representatives of the business community. He's been at this a long time, after all: not only is Bratton in his second stint heading the NYPD, but he's on the verge of 50 years in law enforcement. Still, a skilled politician in his own right, Bratton knows how to appeal to an audience without betraying his principles or coming across as disingenuous.

So it was on Monday in Midtown, where Bratton addressed a room of about 75 guests of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, assuring representatives of the business community that his NYPD is the best it's ever been and only getting better, crediting them for the role of their tax dollars in creating the safest big city in the country, and attempting to allay any fears that there would be disruption to business while he's in charge.

In remarks and question-and-answer sessions with new Manhattan Chamber Board Chair Ken Biberaj and audience members, Bratton displayed his typical calm intensity. He's exactly what you want in a top cop: sharp, serious, confident, and even a little compassionate. He has Clint Eastwood-esque crow's feet and pitch, and he exudes you-can-rest-easy-on-my-watch competence and dedication. On Monday, he went into great detail making sure that Manhattan business people know the city is safer than it's ever been, and that he is not standing pat nor patting himself on the back, but that he is leading the NYPD forward.

Introducing Bratton, Biberaj framed the commissioner's appearance just right, saying, "Everyone in this room recognizes that the success of your business is directly tied to the success of our police commissioner and the brave men and women of the NYPD."

Bratton took to the podium to promise that his police force would continue to protect quality of life, attributing the city's record safety to preventing major crimes by paying attention to smaller ones. "We will continue to address broken windows policing in this city," he said. But, Bratton followed that by adding that the NYPD would do so even more carefully than it has, saying that "like a doctor...we want to police in a way that we do no harm."

In his remarks, Bratton explained that officers are being retrained, and that professional development will be constant. He said that the trainings and other efforts were being made, in part, to improve trust between the NYPD and the communities it serves. "We have to regain trust where we've lost it, we have to make new relationships where we never had it, and we have to work in all of our various communities in the world's most diverse city," he said.

"[W]e will get it right. We will regain that trust. We will improve on that trust," Bratton continued, in perhaps the most impassioned portion of his speech. "And particularly in the area of race relations - particularly with our black residents and our growing Latino and Asian populations - there is a need for the police department to be seen as legitimate, to be seen as collaborative in their relationships with the communities they serve, to be seen as responsive. And we will be all those things."

Bratton's point was two-fold: one, the work of building trust in all communities is important to doing good, fair police work; and two, the flaring up of racial tensions is a form of disorder, and disorder is not good for business and we won't let things happen that hurt business.

Bratton said it was the obligation of police to do their jobs "constitutionally," "compassionately," and "consistently." But along with all of the lofty rhetoric, the commissioner told his audience that he is especially focused on terrorism and cyber crime, that he has new polling capabilities that give him "the ability to access very quickly 17,000 people, 200 per precinct, down to a block, down to a street level." This way, he said, he's able to "keep my thumb on the pulse of every precinct in the city, how are we doing." He told the crowd that he's in constant contact with the mayor and leaders in Washington, D.C. with regard to robust anti-terrorism efforts and that he's meeting with the city's five district attorneys next week.

In what is a typical refrain for Bratton, he returned time and again to broken windows policing, his trademark. "I under no circumstances intend to retreat on the importance of quality of life policing," he said. "[I]t was essential in taking back this city to get rid of the squeegee pests, get rid of the aggressive beggars, to stop people from evading the fare on the subway, to stop people from urinating and drinking in public parks. All these things that deteriorated the quality of life."

But as is also usual for Bratton, he quickly moderated: "I will commit that we will in fact be sensitive, we will be well-trained, we will be well-focused, we will not be abusive, we will not be excessive...we are not driving a department focused on quantity, we're focusing on quality. And so effective, quality-of-life-type policing is absolutely essential."

The public safety data is indeed almost all rosy, supporting Bratton's theories and his leadership - as well as his mayor's. But, Bratton was asked by an attendee about the fact that shootings are up. He responded, "We have an increase this year in shootings and we have an increase in homicides. Shootings are principally located in Brooklyn, the Bronx." Bratton went on to list specific precincts where "the disease," as he put it, has been isolated, but festers. "[T]he shootings and the murders, while they're concentrated in...relatively small areas of the city, they have a citywide impact and they have the potential to have an impact on perceptions of safety in the city," he acknowledged.

But, he promised that he and his force are on the case, and intently reminded the audience that "The city is a very safe city. We are truly the safest large city in America."

by Ben Max, editor, Gotham Gazette

bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) Tue, 03 Mar 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5606-bratton-assures-manhattan-business-community-nypd-staying-vigilant-improving
Governor’s Student Loan Relief Plan Helps Less Than One Percent http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinions/5609-governors-student-loan-relief-plan-helps-less-than-one-percent-cuomo-stump cuomo opp agenda

Governor Cuomo (photo: @NYGovCuomo)

Just over 2.8 million New Yorkers hold nearly $74 billion in student loan debt. Governor Cuomo’s Get on Your Feet Loan Forgiveness Program wouldn’t even help one percent of them with their debt, even when fully phased in.

The proposal would apply to New York State residents who graduate from college in the state, continue to live here, and make less than $50,000 per year. It would allow those New Yorkers to pay nothing on their student loans for the first two years out of school. Instead, the State would make loan payments so long as debt holders are participating in a federal program - the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) income-based loan repayment program – an option that forgives the remainder of a federal loan after 20 years of consecutive monthly on-time payments or 10 years if you're enrolled in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

It’s great that Governor Cuomo is thinking about the student debt crisis by helping a few recent graduates get on their feet. However, without addressing the high and rising cost of going to college, which is the root cause of high and rising student debt levels, debt will continue to cripple an entire generation’s ability to fight ever-growing inequality. Some are referring to bleak employment prospects, unemployment rates, and low wages for young people as the “Lost Decade” effect.

This unprecedented student debt crisis continues to impact economic markets like housing. According to a report by Young Invincibles, the average single student debtor is likely ineligible for a typical home mortgage due to their debt-to-income ratio.

It’s important to note that this wasn’t always the case. Prior to the Great Recession, homeownership rates of those with a history of student debt were substantially higher than those without. This is because earning potential is higher for those with degrees. However, despite it being a buyer’s market, student loan debtors are still less likely than non-debtors to buy a home.

The biggest growth in student loans came in the past decade, as student debt rose an average of 14 percent per year from $364 billion in 2004 to over $1 trillion today, according to the New York Fed. To be fair, total student debt has ballooned in part because more people are going to college and therefore taking out student loans. It’s good that more people are earning college degrees. However, that’s not the only contributor to the ballooning of student debt. The cost of getting a bachelor’s degree is 12 times higher than it was 35 years ago, far outpacing medical care, housing, and all other commodities – and that’s accounting for inflation.

New York is no outlier. State tuition has increased by nearly 130 percent at New York’s public four-year colleges over the last two decades. Tuition at the City University of New York (CUNY), which was once free for all city residents, will increase nearly 60 percent from 2008 to 2016 alone. Meanwhile the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) remains grossly inadequate. This is why 60 percent of New Yorkers graduate owing student loan debt with an average amount of $26,381.

To seriously address the student debt crisis in New York, Governor Cuomo must:

  1. Inject general resources into SUNY and CUNY so the universities can rely less on tuition revenue. Decades of disinvestment has made higher education either inaccessible for many or comes with an unsustainable and long-lasting cost.

  1. Rollback the annual tuition increases made since the Great Recession. Raising tuition through a recession and the years that followed unfairly burdened families during difficult times while also reducing the multiplier effect we could be realizing if dollars weren’t being drained into paying high tuition and then paying off student loans;

  1. Bring TAP into the 21st century through a number of common sense reforms. This includes streamlining the rules of the program to open access to students in need and increasing the maximum award to $6,500 to keep up with rising costs associated with going to college.

  1. Integrate rewarding and incentive-driven loan forgiveness programs in all economic development initiatives to help address the more than 2.8 million state residents with student loan debt. This includes expanding the reach of initiatives like the NY SUNY 2020 Grant Challenge Program, STARTUP NY, and others to reduce and forgive the student loan debt of employees as a baseline of doing business in the state and benefiting from these very rewarding programs.  

The shared value in the above four policies that the state requires is simple: an increase in the capital that can be reinvested into the New York economy in other ways by reducing the monthly and overall amount of student debt that New Yorkers are paying.

It’s time for the governor and state policy-makers to start thinking differently about higher education and student debt. Most of the conversations happening around student debt policy don’t actually reduce payments or forgive debt. Instead they make loans cheaper or easier to repay - this type of thinking will only further fortify the crisis that is already having long-term negative effects on millions of people and the American economy.

But, implementing policies that reduce debt owed and forgive total debt will dig us out of this hole, and propel us into a brighter economic future.  

Kevin Stump is Leadership Director at Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network

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


webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Kevin Stump) Tue, 03 Mar 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinions/5609-governors-student-loan-relief-plan-helps-less-than-one-percent-cuomo-stump
The Limits of Community Policing http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinions/5607-the-limits-of-community-policing-nypd-city-council-vitale-aguilera NYPD-L-Train 

NYPD Transit (photo: @NYPDLTrain)

We share many of the recent concerns about overly aggressive, discourteous, and unlawful policing that have been raised in the last several months. Every day hundreds of mostly poor and non-white New Yorkers have unwanted and problematic interactions with the police including unjustified stops and illegal searches, frequent issuances of summonses for non-criminal behavior, and harassment and intimidation by police. Therefore we applaud the holding of a hearing Tuesday by the Public Safety Committee of the New York City Council on improving policing. There is a need for major reforms in how policing is conducted in New York City.

We are very concerned, however, that the leadership of both the NYPD and the City Council are proposing to add 1,000 police officers to the NYPD headcount under the guise of expanding community policing. Too often, community policing means more intensive and invasive policing of minor disorderly behavior that serves to criminalize mostly people of color without dealing with the underlying causes of this behavior like poverty, homelessness, problematic drug use, mental health issues, and more.

The majority of New Yorkers are not actively engaged in the political life of their local neighborhood. Some may be politically active in other venues, others may be focused on national or international concerns, and most are caught up in the daily struggles of home and work.

Part of the problem with so-called community policing lies in the nature of community. Those who are active in community affairs are not always representative of the full diversity of views and experiences in our many neighborhoods. Community Boards and Precinct Community Councils tend to be populated by long-time residents, those that own rather than rent their homes, business owners, and landlords. The views of renters, youth, homeless people, and the most socially marginalized are rarely represented in these bodies.

Community policing tends to turn all neighborhood problems into police problems. Across the country, community police programs have been based on the idea that the community should bring its myriad of concerns about the condition of the community to the police, who will work with them on developing solutions. Invariably, however, the range of community problems extends far beyond serious crime. Why should the police necessarily be the sole or even lead agency in developing strategies to address community concerns about disorder and public safety?

One of the most frequent concerns of neighborhood residents is the presence of low level drug dealing and use. This generates a tremendous number of calls to 311 and 911. Enhancing the ability of police to respond to these community concerns will just further criminalize people involved with low level drug use and sales. The failed "War on Drugs" strategy of criminalizing these activities has done nothing to reduce the availability and negative effects of drugs on individuals or communities, has produced substantial negative collateral consequences for those arrested, and has been a major drain on city resources. The cost of running each bed at Rikers Island comes to over $150,000 a year; money better spent on prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and jobs programs.

There is extensive research that shows that most complaints that "community representatives" take to the police are about "quality of life" problems rather than serious crime. People tend to raise concerns about local disorderly conditions such as noise and traffic, or public behaviors they find annoying such as small-time drug dealing, prostitution, and any gatherings of young people. More intensive police attention to these "community" concerns will invariably lead to further unnecessary and counterproductive harassment and criminalization of many of New York's poorest and most vulnerable.

As an example, at a recent 67th Precinct Community Council meeting in Flatbush, Brooklyn the main complaint of community members was the regular presence of homeless people in and around businesses at the corner of Church and Nostrand Avenues. Some of these people had obvious mental health problems and others panhandled for money for subsistence purposes. The local police commander pledged to respond to these concerns but acknowledged limited capacity and resources to do so. Increased police responsiveness to these complaints, in the absence of new services, will lead to the harassment and arrest of these people in the name of community policing. This is not the kind of improved policing we need.

To the extent that police need to be involved in managing quality of life community concerns, it should be restricted to responding to truly dangerous conditions. The police could also play a role as gatekeeper to enhanced services, such as how Seattle's Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program diverts low-level drug offenders and sex workers to social services instead of jail. For too long the city has over-relied on the police as first responders to a range of community concerns that might better be dealt with through other city agencies. The police primarily have punitive tools at their disposal, such as arrest and the use of force. What is needed instead are responses that are less punitive and provide real pathways out of addiction, joblessness, homelessness, and poor health.

We do want the police to be more courteous, professional, and respectful, but expanding the ability of police to respond to community concerns will lead to more criminalization of people trying to survive when their most basic needs are not being met. Therefore, we oppose any increase in the number of police at this time and instead call on the City Council to use whatever resources it would have used to increase the headcount of the NYPD to instead invest in supportive housing, harm reduction programs, evidence-based drug treatment, and health services that can play a much more positive and sustained role in reducing very real community concerns about disorder and public safety.

by Alyssa Aguilera and Alex S. Vitale

Aguilera is Political Director at VOCAL-NY.

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.

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

webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Alyssa Aguilera and Alex S. Vitale) Mon, 02 Mar 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinions/5607-the-limits-of-community-policing-nypd-city-council-vitale-aguilera
City Officials Sharpening Teeth of Human Rights Commission http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5608-city-officials-sharpening-teeth-of-human-rights-commission-law-mark-viverito mmv st pats parade

Speaker Mark-Viverito & council colleagues march (photo: William Alatriste)

For years New York City has led the country with one of the most robust human rights laws on record. New Yorkers are protected against discrimination in employment, housing, and public services based on race, creed, age, citizenship status, gender, marital status, and sexual orientation, among other qualities.

As with any law, enforcement is the key though. For the city's Human Rights Law, that task falls on the Human Rights Commission, an agency on the front lines in the battle against discrimination in New York City. New Yorkers can file complaints to the commission if they feel they are being discriminated against. The agency has the power to levy fines and file criminal proceedings against those who discriminate. Even without a specific complaint, the commission also has the power to proactively root out discrimination through its own investigations.

For low-income New Yorkers and those who cannot afford an attorney, the Human Rights Commission is often the only avenue to seek justice against those who break the Human Rights Law. But what was once a vigorous agency has been whittled to a shell of its former self by two decades of budget cuts. The Human Rights Law continues to be strengthened through numerous pieces of City Council legislation, but funding and staffing of the Commission has not followed suit.

In fiscal year 1991 the Human Rights Commission had a staff of 241 and a budget of $9.5 million, $7.2 million of which came from the City, according to budget documents. The adopted budget for the current fiscal year (2015) funds a staff of just 66 with a budget of $4.5 million. The majority of that funding comes from the federal government, with the City putting in just $1.1 million.

"[The Council] hadn't really realized that the Commission has sat there and lost 90 percent of its funding since the Dinkins administration," Amy Taylor of Legal Services NYC said in a recent phone interview. "Here they are strengthening the law, but there is no way to enforce it."

The City Council is once again eyeing changes to the Human Rights Law, but this time, funding and staffing appear to be coming with it. In her State of the City address on Feb. 11, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito vowed to add $5 million in funding and double the number of attorneys and human rights specialists at the Commission.

"We're going to put teeth in a Commission that has been ineffective for too long," Mark-Viverito said in her speech. "We will make the Commission accountable for prosecuting cases, going after the worst offenders through proactive investigations and spot testing in areas such as employment and housing discrimination."

The speaker plans to add funding for 65 positions: 40 attorneys and 25 human rights specialists. Whether that money will come from the Council's portion or the general City budget will be decided during budget negotiations. A final fiscal 2016 budget is due by the end of June. On Tuesday, the City Council will hold an oversight hearing to examine the Human Rights Commission and discuss several related bills.

"It is incredibly important that if we are going to have this robust Human Rights Law we have an agency that enforces it and makes it a reality for people," Taylor said. "We are thrilled with the new funding announcement. It really shows a commitment on the part of the speaker to turn the agency around."

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), agrees. "The Human Rights Commission has enormous potential, but it has been underfunded and sabotaged for decades," she said in a recent interview. "The speaker's commitment to get this agency funded is a big deal."

With the new funding for staffing, advocates hope to resuscitate an agency that has not taken much action in recent years. In 2013, the Commission received 4,763 inquiries, resolved 591 filed cases, and resolved 199 allegations through "pre-complaint intervention."

It should be noted that the resolved cases were not likely filed in the same year. The average age of the cases in 2013 was 320 days, an average that has fallen each year for the past 12 years, according to council testimony by former Human Rights Commission Commissioner Patricia Gatling in February, 2014.

Out of 602 cases in fiscal year 2014, only 48, or eight percent, resulted in a probable cause determination. "Given how strong the New York City Human Rights Law anti-discrimination protections are, it is striking how many cases are dismissed and how few individuals actually have their cases prosecuted by the Commission," the New York City Human Rights Law Working Group wrote in its March 2014 white paper, having noted a similarly low percentage in 2013.

Taylor, whose organization is a part of the working group, and other advocates who spoke with Gotham Gazette point out the Commission's focus has been on outreach, not investigations.

"As a practice we, and our colleagues in the legal services world, never refer people there because we don't feel confident their case will be appropriately investigated and handled," Taylor said.

The community based technical assistance performance measures, which are used to grade the Human Rights Commission, jumped from 17,297 in fiscal year 2012 to 53,426 in fiscal year 2014, according to the most recent Mayor's Management Report.

Overall community engagement jumped from 18,915 in fiscal year 2012 to 54,986 in fiscal year 2014. Cases filed went from 335 to 497 during the same time period. The Commission added two staff attorneys in 2013 and its cases closed went from 440 to 602 between fiscal years 2012 and 2014.

The new funding for the Commission will be accompanied by strong new leadership. On Nov. 24 Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Carmelyn Malalis as the new chair of the Human Rights Commission. He also named eight new commissioners. For the previous decade Malalis worked as a partner at Outten and Golden LLP and served as the co-chair of the firm's LGBT Workplace Rights and Disability and Family Responsibilities Discrimination practice groups. She is an accomplished civil rights litigator and is expected to bring her commitment to the civil rights statute with her.

Malalis is expected to lead the Commission in much more proactive enforcement than her predecessors.

"CCHR plays a critical role in protecting our essential civil rights and improving community relations among New Yorkers across the five boroughs," Malalis said in an emailed statement. "Our Commission is firmly on its way toward becoming an even more robust enforcer of our Human Rights Law, and I look forward to working with partners and advocates to safeguard the rights and dignity of every New Yorker."

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

MeriwetherK@gothamgazette.com (Kristen Meriwether) Mon, 02 Mar 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5608-city-officials-sharpening-teeth-of-human-rights-commission-law-mark-viverito
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 2 http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5605-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-march-2  New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week and many others to follow will continue to be dominated, at least in part, by negotiations over both the state and city budgets. The state budget is supposed to be settled by April 1, when the new (2016) fiscal year begins. The city budget, which is in part reliant on the state budget, is to be agreed upon by July 1, when the city's 2016 fiscal year begins. As negotiations continue in Albany, this week marks the beginning of the City Council's preliminary budget hearings, where representatives from the de Blasio administration will explain spending and spending needs to council members. See below for details in our day-by-day outline.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is on the new "The Nightly Show" on Comedy Central, 11:30 p.m. Monday night. Earlier in the day, the mayor "will host a breakfast at Gracie Mansion for members of the New York City Congressional delegation. There will be a media availability after this event."

The mayor's ending of the student cell phone ban in schools goes into effect on Monday. On Thursday morning, the mayor will speak to Association for a Better New York (ABNY), a prominent city business group. Two years ago as a candidate for mayor, de Blasio unveiled his universal pre-K plan at his ABNY visit. Last year, he took a victory lap on the subject and also discussed his plans to work with the business community. This year, expect the mayor to tout his Small Business First initiative, his Department of Consumer Affairs' work reducing fines on small businesses, his proposal to simplify the City's tax code and align it with the State's, and more.

The State Legislature is in session on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday this week (according to the "Joint Legislative Budget Schedule" released by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, the "Revenue Consensus Report" was due to be presented on or before Sunday, March 1.)

Wednesday will be an active, controversial, and tense day in Albany as various sides in the education policy debates head to the capital to rally and lobby lawmakers. In essence, there are the education reformers who back Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposals and those who don't - this latter group largely consists of teachers unions and those allied with them. Some related activism occured this weekend as unions and others who oppose Cuomo's education policies rallied on Saturday - many will also do so on Monday in the capital. The "reformers" who support (and help dictate) the governor's agenda will also be out in force on Monday in Albany. See below for more detail.

This week, the City Council begins its annual preliminary budget hearings in response to Mayor de Blasio's proposed preliminary budget for fiscal year 2016, with four scheduled this week: finance, transportation, higher education, and consumer affairs. There are also several other city council hearings this week. See below for full details.

Public Advocate Letitia James continues to host her series of "mayoral control forums" across the five boroughs, with two events scheduled this week - one on Staten Island, one in the Bronx. She kicked the series off this past week in Brooklyn. James begins her week speaking at the "Alliance for Tenant Power press conference calling for the preservation of New York City's affordable housing" on the steps of City Hall.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer begins his week at that same Alliance for Tenant Power rally. On Sunday, Stringer help a press conference and released new data from his ClaimStat tool showing the high number of incidents and settlement amounts around city playgrounds.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito begins her week speaking at the Urban Justice Center's ribbon cutting (see below for more) and participating in an afternoon rally calling for "additional reforms to the school discipline code," along with other council members, educators, youth and education advocates - at the High School for Fashion Industries in Manhattan.

"The government's response to the motion to dismiss the charges against Sheldon Silver is expected on March 6," according to Capital New York.

The race in New York's 11th Congressional District is really underway. Gov. Cuomo called for a special election on May 5 and Democrats have decided on Council Member Vincent Gentile to oppose Republican nominee and Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan. With just two months til election day, things will move quickly in this race - so keep an eye out for lots of campaigning and word on a debate or two. [Read our look at who may run to replace Gentile in the near future]

As always, a lot happening all over the city and the state, see our day-by-day rundown below for more...

***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. Monday morning, New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton will appear at The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce Quarterly Chairman's Breakfast, the first with new Chair Ken Biberaj. “The MCC Chairman’s Breakfast is a unique quarterly event for high level networking and dialogue on important trends and developments that affect the New York business community.”

Also Monday morning, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, New Jersey U.S. Senator Cory Booker and many more deliver remarks at Urban Justice Center's new headquarters, 40 Rector St., 9th Floor, Manhattan, according to City & State NY.

On Monday at 9 a.m. on the steps of City Hall, “The Real Rent Reform Coalition with other tenant activists will be holding a press conference to highlight the need for stronger rent regulations.” The rally will include “tenants of rent stabilized and controlled housing, Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Jumaane Williams, Mark Levine, Dan Garodnick, Corey Johnson and Steve Levin.”

At 10:30 Monday morning, "U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Lieutenant Governor Hochul meet with Students and lead organizing effort to combat sexual violence on college campuses," at the University at Buffalo North Campus in Amherst.

Monday’s City Council schedule will include a Committee on Housing and Buildings hearing regarding a new bill in relation to “extending the rent stabilization laws,” and to consider a resolution “determining that a public emergency requiring rent control in the City of New York continues to exist and will continue to exist on and after April 1, 2015”; and there will be a Committee on Technology oversight hearing concerning “Notify NYC and notification technologies.”

The State Senate Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Capital Investment will meet Monday morning, at 10:30 a.m., in a joint session with the Senate Standing Committee on Transportation for a legislative budget hearing on the MTA budget and finances. The committees will “examine the changes necessary to prevent annual operating deficits, stop the continuing cycle of increased fares and decreased services, and discuss funding options for the Capital Plan.”

The student cell phone ban in New York City schools will be lifted on Monday: “The change will better enable parents to stay in touch with their children, especially before and after school. It will also end the inequity under the current ban, which was enforced mostly at schools with metal detectors in low-income communities,” said Mayor de Blasio.

In the afternoon, in Albany, educators, parents, religious, labor and community activists will take part in a “Call Out Cuomo” march organized by NYSUT (a teachers union) to “highlight the devastating impact of Gov. Cuomo’s budget plan for public schools and colleges.”

Also Monday afternoon in Albany, a "coalition of education reform advocates" will rally in support of Gov. Cuomo's education reform agenda. According to a press release from Students First NY, "the rally will bring together more than a hundred district and charter school parents, clergy members and education reform activists who will call on Albany to prioritize New York's students and enact the reforms outlined in Governor Cuomo's education Opportunity Agenda."

Also Monday, there will be a Manhattan Education Council elections information session organized by the DOE at the Municipal Building: “Education Council offers parents an opportunity for district and citywide leadership. Attendees will learn about education councils and how to get involved in the elections. All parents interested in serving as part of a Community or Citywide Education Council should attend.”

On Monday evening, Riders Alliance is holding a meeting and training session: "We're organizing riders to fight for a fully funded public transit system and the next MTA Capital Program. Come to our training on March 2nd: we'll talk about how to fund the MTA without burdening riders. Let's get ready to fight for fair fares!" It's called "Training: Rising Fares, State Funding, and what we can do about it!"

On Tuesday, the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) will sponsor the Immigrant Day of Action in Albany: “The purpose of the day is to bring immigrant voices to Albany and to share the Immigrant Equality Agenda with policymakers in the state capitol.”

Also Tuesday, nearing a year after the expansion of the Paid Sick-Leave law, the de Blasio administration will convene an advisory panel of business leaders to report on its impact:  “The panel, which will meet twice a year, is set to hold its first meeting,” said Julie Menin, commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Manhattan Community Board 12 will host the Department of Consumer Affairs Small Business Forum. DCA representatives will distribute materials on the Paid Sick Leave Law and answer questions.

At 10:30 on Tuesday morning, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will visit a PROSE school to make an announcement - at The School of Integrated Learning in Brooklyn.

Tuesday at 11 a.m. at City Hall, "Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and members of the New York City Council will join New York City tour guides on the steps of City Hall for a rally supporting live tour bus guides and opposing tour bus operators' scare tactics."

On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will host a roundtable discussion in Manhattan with leaders of the financial industry.

Later on Tuesday, the mayor will hold a public hearing and sign a new law in relation to an annual report on non-governmental funding for New York City parks; a new law in relation to the distribution of localized emergency preparedness materials; a new law in relation to the creation of a Hurricane Sandy charitable organization and house of worship recovery task force; a new law in relation to allowing the Taxi and Limousine Commission to consider improved trouble lights for use in licensed vehicles; and a new law in relation to the sale of tax liens. This event will be open press. There will be no Q-and-A.

Tuesday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Public Safety for an oversight hearing on community policing in New York City; a meeting of the Committee on Governmental Operations to examine new bills relating to “Contemporaneous registration and absentee ballot application,” and “Allowing absentee voters to track the status of their absentee application and ballot”; a meeting of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services and the Committee on Health for an oversight hearing on “Health Care Delivery in New York City Jails: Examining Quality of Care and Access,” and on a new bill regarding “Health services in city correctional facilities”; a meeting of the Committee on Education examining “overcrowding in NYC Public Schools” and to consider a resolution “rejecting any attempt to raise the cap on the number of charter schools”; an meeting of the Committee on Transportation to oversee “Trucks in New York City - How does truck traffic impact the safety of pedestrian and cyclists?” and to examine new bills relating to “Truck route compliance studies and signage,” and “Requiring a comprehensive study regarding pedestrian and bicyclist safety on truck routes”; and an oversight hearing of the the Committee on Civil Rights on “Effective Enforcement of the City’s Human Rights Law,” and to examine new bills relating to “the powers and duties of the commission on human rights”; “establishing an employment discrimination testing program”; and “establishing a housing discrimination testing program.”

Tuesday evening, Public Advocate Letitia James will host a Mayoral Control Forum at the College of Staten Island: “New Yorkers are encourage to come and share their thoughts about mayoral control and how modifications to the law can help to improve our education system.”

Speaker Mark-Viverito will be honored on Tuesday evening at the Legal Aid Society reception "for leadership in seeking justice for NYC immigrants."

Also Tuesday evening, Chair of the Federal Reserve System Janet Yellen will be awarded the CBC Medal for High Civic Service at CBC Annual Dinner. Yellen deliver the keynote address and will be introduced by Jason Furman, Chair of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. Mayor de Blasio will deliver remarks, Comptroller Stringer is due to attend.

Wednesday morning, Crain’s will host its Arts & Culture Breakfast: “Join Crain's as we sit down with New York's cultural thought leaders to discuss the vision and priorities for one of New York's thriving industries and the vital role the industry plays on driving the city's economy.” Panelists will include City Council Majority Leader and Chair of the cultural affairs committee Jimmy Van Bramer.

On Wednesday, Albany is set to see major rallies both in support of and against Gov. Cuomo's education reform proposals. In support, the education reform movement will largely be led by Eva Moskowitz and her Success Academy network, which is again closing its schools to send teachers, students, and others to Albany to lobby. The pro-charter, pro-Cuomo, "reformers" will also include the Families for Excellent Schools network. Meanwhile, also lobbying will be the teachers unions and other advocates aligned with the efforts to increase state funding of traditional public schools, keep charter schools from growing, and limit the changes to teacher evaluations and teacher tenure that the governor is calling for in his 2015 agenda.

At City Hall, the Committee on Finance will meet for Preliminary Budget oversight hearings examing Mayor de Blasio's initial fiscal year 2016 budget proposal.

Also Wednesday, Brooklyn Community Board 14 will host a Department of Consumer Affairs Merchants Roundtable.

In the afternoon, at Columbia University Morningside Campus, Michael Nutter, Mayor of Philadelphia will take part in the Global Mayors Forum: “Mayor Nutter will speak about his innovative school reform strategy, his cutting-edge community policing partnership with vulnerable communities through Philly Rising, and his longstanding commitment to making Philadelphia become the greenest city in America, through the nationally recognized GreenWorks initiative.” It will, of course, be interesting to see what Mayor Nutter might say while in New York City about his city winning the 2016 Democratic National Convention bid over New York.

At 5 p.m., the Center on Global Energy Policy of  School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University will host “a presentation and discussion of the National Petroleum Council (NPC) study, Enhancing Emergency Preparedness for Natural Disasters. Ms. Peggy Montana, CEO and President, Shell Midstream Partners, LP, will present the report’s key findings and recommendations. After her remarks, Bob Hallman, CGEP Fellow and former Deputy Secretary for Energy and the Environment for New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, will provide his thoughts and reactions.”

On Wednesday evening in Brooklyn, those who favor opting students out of standardized testing will hold an event: “Opt in? Opt Out? IT'S TIME TO CHOOSE” - “NYC Opt Out, a coalition of parents from across New York City, is sponsoring a forum that brings together dynamic educational leaders and parents from LI and NYC. They are gathering to coordinate their actions and build support for opting out in NYC, where the schools are hit hardest by the policies of high stakes testing.”

Also Wednesday evening, at 7 p.m., BetaNYC presents a Civic Hacknight in Manhattan, “a weekly project night for technologists, designers, developers, data scientists, map makers, and activists who are working on "civic technology" projects.”

The Clinton Foundation Gala will take place Wednesday evening. Don't be surprised if Mayor de Blasio and/or Gov. Cuomo makes an appearance.

On Thursday morning, Mayor de Blasio will appear at a breakfast event of Association for a Better New York (ABNY), where the mayor will discuss “his priorities for the upcoming year and his vision for the future of New York City.”

Thursday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Transportation for a daylong series of Preliminary Budget oversight hearings.

Also Thursday evening, Public Advocate Letitia James will host a Mayoral Control Forum at Lehman College, in the Bronx.

On Thursday evening, another IDNYC information session, this one in Mandarin.

Council Member Levine will host a Department of Consumer Affairs Housing Workshop Thursday evening, at Junior High School Booker T. Washington Beacon Program Auditorium.

Thursday evening, the Bronx Coaliton for a Community Vision will host “A Community Forum for a Community Plan.” The coalition was formed in response to the City's plans to rezone a section of the Bronx as part of Mayor de Blasio's housing plan. It consists of New Settlement Apartments, Latino Pastoral Action Center, Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, Mothers on the Move, The Urban Justice Center, Pratt Center for Community Development, VOCAL-NY, United Auto Merchants Association, Faith In New York, and Real Affordability for All.

Also Thursday evening, at the 92nd Street Y: Wired Communities and the Genius of Technology: “Join a vibrant discussion about how technology and innovation is transforming our cities and communities—and how we should seize today’s opportunities to improve lives.”

Friday and the weekend
Friday morning, the NYU Steinhardt Education Policy Breakfast Series continues its look at pre-K: “What are the models for innovation and excellence? What initiatives can be implemented to evaluate and ensure quality, including but not limited to professional development? Our distinguished guest speakers will include a researcher whose work led to the implementation of the early education model in pre-K classrooms across Texas, and the head of New York City's current pre-K expansion.”

Starting Friday morning and continuing all day, Fordham University Law School hosts "Fighting Corruption in America and Abroad" - “This full-day symposium will focus on defining corruption and initiatives to regulate it within the United States, internationally, and in foreign countries. The symposium will include a keynote address delivered by Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and four panel discussions among legal academics, prosecutors, defense lawyers, economists, and political philosophers.” Former gubernatorial candidate and Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout will participate in one panel, she is among several distinguished participants. [Read our report after visiting Teachout's class the night after the primary]

Friday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Consumer Affairs for a daylong series of preliminary budget oversight hearings.

The court's response to the motion to dismiss the charges against Sheldon Silver is expected on Friday.

This weekend is an effort by Gov. Cuomo "geared toward boosting Upstate winter tourism...a free snowmobiling weekend...for all out-of-state and Canadian snowmobilers...The Governor also announced that the 2015 Winter Challenge will be held the same weekend, on March 8."

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 Rati Mukhuradze, Marco Poggio, and Ben Max

webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Rati Mukhuradze, Marco Poggio, and Ben Max) Sun, 01 Mar 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5605-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-march-2
Sarsour, Brannan on Collision Course to Replace Gentile? http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5591-sarsour-brannan-on-collision-course-to-replace-gentile Sarsour Brannan

Linda Sarsour, left, (photo: William Alatriste) & Justin Brannan (photo: Teri Brennan)

They're both big personalities, proud Democrats, and very Brooklyn, but the similarities may end there for Justin Brannan and Linda Sarsour, two politicos who could be on a collision course to replace City Council Member Vincent Gentile.

While it may be early to speculate candidates to supplant Gentile when he is term-limited out of the Council at the end of 2017, with the council member named the Democratic candidate for the May 5 special congressional election to replace Michael Grimm, the politics of the moment allow a hastened timeline. Plus, a Brannan-Sarsour match-up is rife with intrigue.

To be sure, Gentile is a major underdog against Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, the Republican nominee seeking to represent New York's 11th Congressional District. The district consists of Staten Island and part of Southern Brooklyn - just two months after winning re-election, Grimm resigned in January after pleading guility to felony tax evasion. But, if Gentile were to pull off an upset and his council seat opens up sooner rather than later, a contest featuring Brannan and Sarsour in a complex part of the city would be about as interesting as a city council race can get.

Before continuing, a disclaimer: neither Brannan nor Sarsour has explicitly said they plan to run for City Council and neither responded directly to Gotham Gazette requests to gauge their interest. But, Brannan is a long-serving aide to Gentile in the 43rd Council District, president of a local political club - the Bay Ridge Democrats - and as noted an ambassador of the community as there is. Politics comes easily to Brannan, who has both a large physical stature and outsize personality. For her part, Sarsour is a fierce political activist and organizer who sitting city council members have publicly encouraged to seek local elected office. She is also the president of a political club: the Muslim Democratic Club of New York. A long-time Bay Ridge resident, she has developed a national profile around issues related to race and religion, social and criminal justice.

Political insiders in Southern Brooklyn and elsewhere see a Brannan candidacy as a no-brainer and virtual given. While Sarsour's name is on people's minds, some wonder if she's more focused on national and international politics and less suited for or interested in the granular, day-to-day work of a city council member. She is raising a family in the community, though, and city council can provide both a platform and a springboard. They are not the only two names mentioned by people with knowledge of the area and its politics, but they are by far the most prominent and compelling.

While they share some similarities and even some semblance of a friendship, the differences between Brannan and Sarsour set the stage for great political theater were they to compete for the seat Gentile currently occupies - whether in a 2015 or 2016 special election or the regularly-scheduled 2017 election (or both).

Look no further than the presence each has on social media. Sarsour's Twitter profile reads, "Palestinian-American-Muslim, racial justice & civil rights activist, media commentator. Born & raised in Brooklyn." Her feed is full of personal thoughts and retweets dealing with conflict in the Middle East, racial bias in policing in cities around the country, and more. Meanwhile, Brannan takes to Facebook to make sure that Bay Ridge residents know when alternate side of the street parking regulations are suspended.

Referencing his wife and other community connections, Brannan's Twitter profile says, "Mr. @leighjewel, #BayRidge ambassador, @VGentile43 aide, prez @bayridgedems, small biz owner, Freemason, vegetarian, Brooklyn native, bottled water enthusiast." He's also a long-time animal welfare activist, which comes through in his public messaging and has ben a part of his political work.

Currently, Brannan is Director of Communications and Legislative Affairs for Gentile; a source close to Gentile's congressional campaign says that Brannan will be taking a leave of absence from Gentile's council office to run communications for the campaign. If Gentile were to defeat Donovan, Brannan may have to decide if running for City Council trumps working for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and spending some of the year in D.C. Those who know him well believe he'd jump at the chance to run for local elected office.

Sarsour, meanwhile, has given minimal indication that she sees the City Council in her future. She is currently the Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York and has been traveling the country speaking. Sarsour may get enough push to run, though, from her growing Muslim Democratic Club and from her allies already in the City Council. She has been a big supporter of the City's recently rolled out municipal identification card program and vocal behind members of the Council's progressive caucus on many issues. However, Sarsour is an outspoken critic of the NYPD and has not minced words regarding city elected officials when it comes to their support for Israel. In a race between Sarsour and Brannan, it reasons that Brannan would see widespread support from law enforcement unions and elected officials closest to them.

Depending on who you speak with, the district Brannan and Sarsour may compete to represent is on one hand a middle-class area with a lot of union families and many relatively conservative Democrats, or, on another hand, a changing area with a growing Arab American population. Likely, it is, of course, both and much more. It seems clear that neither Brannan nor Sarsour would have a hard time raising money to run an effective campaign. It also appears mostly clear that the seat will not be opening up before the end of Gentile's term, as any Brooklynite is seen as having an extremely uphill battle to win in the 11th Congressional District.

What is less clear is whether Brannan and Sarsour will each jump at the chance to replace Gentile, whenever he does indeed depart. 

by Ben Max, editor, Gotham Gazette

bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) Fri, 27 Feb 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5591-sarsour-brannan-on-collision-course-to-replace-gentile
State Legislators Strain Under Cuomo's Budget Yoke http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5601-state-legislators-strain-under-cuomos-budget-yoke AM Moya DREAM Act

AM Moya, other electeds, & advocates rally for the DREAM Act (@FranciscoPMoya)

ALBANY - This week legislators returned to Albany after an extended break and began to feel the walls closing in on them. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made it clear he will use his executive power to compel the Legislature to agree to his education and ethics policies. He is able to do this through his ability to issue emergency budget extenders that keep the state running and enact policy points if the Legislature does not agree on a budget by April 1.

Cuomo has legislators in a tight spot as he declared earlier this year that he has no problem having a late budget and has tied major policy proposals to the budget process. His 30-day budget amendments appear to tighten some of his policy proposals to basic funding mechanisms. The longer the Legislature waits to cut a deal with Cuomo the worse things will be for them, and Cuomo has made it clear he is not willing to budge on certain proposals. It would appear the Legislature does not have much wiggle room, though Cuomo has shown a penchant for compromise when he sees an opportunity to secure victories.

The governor is essentially flexing his executive power - power that was bolstered during the 2009 Senate coup. At the time the Legislature was paralyzed when two Senate Democrats jumped ship to give Republicans the majority, and a legal and political battle ensued.

Governor David Paterson, with the help of good government groups and lawyers, used an untried executive authority to push through a spending plan to keep state government funded without the Legislature's consent. Cuomo promised when announcing his ethics reforms that he is committed to doing the same thing if necessary. "I will not sign a budget that does not have an ethics plan as outlined in my proposal. Either pass my budget or shut down the government," Cuomo said.

Legislators are angry that Cuomo is trying to weaken the body as a whole by using the tactic - they are also upset that he is not letting certain policies stand on their own merits.

Meanwhile, watchdogs like New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli have both said the strategy is fiscally irresponsible.

Thanks to court rulings, "These kinds of policy choices can be asserted into emergency appropriation bills," DiNapoli told Alan Chartock on The Capitol Connection on Thursday. "The Legislature holding up the budget is really not a smart strategy." DiNapoli went on to tell Chartock: "New York arguably has the strongest executive compared to any governor in any state in the union"

Raising great ire around the state, Cuomo has withheld projections of how much each school district would get in school aid under his budget plan. If the Legislature passes his reform plan he has promised $1.1 billion in increased education funding to be distributed around New York. If it doesn't, aid will only increase by $377 million. Cuomo's reform plan that is tied to the increased aid would make it easier to fire failing teachers, increase the value of state test scores in teacher evaluations, and allow more charter schools across the state - it has sent teachers unions on the war path.

Cuomo has made a similar move with a set of ethics reforms he announced in the wake of the arrest of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on three federal corruption charges. The reforms would increase disclosure of legislators' outside income and connections with employers that have business before the State, and restrict their use of campaign funds.

On Thursday, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb held a press conference where he demanded Cuomo release school aid runs, which tell districts how much state funding to expect. Kolb called withholding the runs an "unprecedented and underhanded maneuver."

"The governor's tactics prevent school districts from being able to accurately plan for the future and his heavy-handed approach flies in the face of good fiscal practice," Kolb said.

Cuomo has responded to critics by telling them to simply plan for the smaller increase.
On the radio, DiNapoli echoed Kolbs concerns, saying that school runs are "not the final word, but an important piece of [school districts'] putting together their own budgets."

DiNapoli said he thinks putting policies that should provoke detailed discussion into the budget limits debate. "I do have concern with so much being jammed into the education discussion," said DiNapoli, adding: "Some of these issues should be debated in a thoughtful way, in a perspective of good policy not held hostage to a budget process."

Stringer expressed similar concerns, calling it "bad budgeting" in his Wednesday testimony in Albany, and also going into detail in a New York Daily News editorial titled "How Cuomo's Budget Stiffs New York City."

"Educating our children should never be held hostage to the outcome of policy differences. Students should not lose just because grown-ups cannot resolve their disputes," wrote Stringer. "Just three years ago, the state enacted a nearly identical conditional funding requirement that resulted in the city's loss of over $300 million in school aid when agreements on teacher evaluations could not be reached before the deadline. This year, more than $400 million could be at risk. This was a misguided approach three years ago, and we shouldn't make the same mistake again today."

Earlier this year some Democratic legislators pushed for Cuomo to add The DREAM Act to his budget proposal - he did so, but connected it to an education tax credit. The DREAM Act would provide tuition assistance to immigrant students who are in the country illegally or who have had their deportations deferred. Critics say the money should go to students whose immigration status is not in question.

The education tax credit appeals to more moderate and conservative lawmakers because it lets individuals write off donations to private or charter schools. Critics of that measure say the bill would essentially divert money to private and charter schools that would normally go into state coffers, and that large donors would likely eat up the credit allotment before middle class individuals could donate to their local public district schools.

Cuomo went one step further in his 30-day budget amendments by linking both the DREAM Act and the tax credit to the state's Tuition Assistance Program - further irking lawmakers and much of the education lobby.

Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos has repeatedly called for the DREAM Act and the tax credit to be unlinked (he favors the latter, opposes the former).

On Thursday, new Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie echoed Skelos. "We don't believe that they should be linked either. That was the governor's choice," Heastie told reporters. "The governor did that. We're moving forward today with the Dream Act, and we hope that it will pass on its own merits in the State Senate. We're going to pass it as a standalone bill today, and we think it should be passed as a standalone bill." The Assembly passed the bill by a vote of 81-42. It is extremely unlikely the Senate will act on the legislation.

Cuomo previously treasured his ability to collegially negotiate on-time budgets with the Legislature and refused to make major policy points part of his budget. Cuomo's signature legislation has come this way - things like marriage equality, the SAFE Act, and his property tax cap were voted on separately from the budget.

Cuomo's predecessors relied heavily on including contentious issues in budget bills. In 2009, Paterson negotiated major reform of the state's Rockefeller Drug Laws as part of the budget. Last year, however, Cuomo bargained away the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption as part of his budget deal to win a package of ethics reforms that many called too limited and a "pilot" public financing system that only applied to the office of Comptroller and never took off.

Heastie told reporters on Thursday that Cuomo's inclusion of ethics reform in the budget "Kind of ties the Legislature's hands." Heastie and other legislators have recently called for major ethics reforms following the scandal that felled Silver. It appears Cuomo's tactics have them balking, but it might not matter.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

dking@gothamgazette.com (David Howard King) Fri, 27 Feb 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5601-state-legislators-strain-under-cuomos-budget-yoke
The Case for Mayoral Control http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinions/5602-the-case-for-mayoral-control-bloomberg-de-blasio-bloomfield bdb reading school

Mayor de Blasio reads to students (photo: @MelindaKatz)

The state legislature will soon decide whether to reauthorize, amend, or eliminate mayoral control of the New York City public schools. Mayoral control should be extended and, as suggested by the Mayor, made permanent - with the possibility of amendment as with any law.

The most important reason to keep mayoral control is to keep city funding of our schools at a high level. Prior to mayoral control there were incessant and critical battles over the city's underfunding of our schools. That in part resulted from the demise of the old Board of Estimate, which set the City budget, and its mirrored membership on the Board of Education, consisting of single representatives of each Borough President and 2 mayoral appointees.

Once the Board of Estimate was eliminated, the connection between operational and budgetary authority of the schools was lost. The effect was immediate and harsh. An era of underfunding ensued, propelled by a new City Charter giving the Mayor strong budgeting powers but without authority for schools. As a result, the Board of Education budget withered while mayoral agencies were privileged.

Only with mayoral control did city funding increase and increase substantially. We no longer hear cries of impoverishment over the city's education budget. The fight now is over State funding because mayoral control means more money. Pure and simple.

While adequate city funding is the main reason for retaining mayoral control, there are additional benefits. The old Board of Education was a recipe for paralysis because six appointing authorities controlled seven votes on the Board. As Board Counsel, I saw petty political horse trading, patronage, and personal ambition mean more than quality education since no one was in charge. Kids, parents, and taxpayers bore the consequences, not those who bore real responsibility. A parade of short-term Chancellors came and went, leaving a legacy of instability that subverted any stirrings of instructional success.

Mayoral control has given us continuity and stability, prerequisites for educational improvement. Despite the churn of the last decade - and my strong public opposition to Bloomberg/Klein policies - leadership stability has been a plus. (Remember the chaos of Cathie Black!) Nothing is worse for a system than constant leadership changes and mayoral control has brought surprising system stability.

And stability is good for direction. Like it or not, clear institutional direction - the ability to make and implement decisions - is another requirement of strong institutions. I know that many of my friends claim the need for "checks and balances," but public education is not a national government to be protected from extremes of political volatility. It is fundamentally an executive function, requiring the clarity of mission and organizational structure that comes from having someone in charge.

It is easy to criticize the present scheme; harder to find a practical alternative, especially under a Charter giving the Mayor such strong fiscal power. Why believe shared authority will work when it failed before? Why believe elections will make schools less political and any more stable? When Board of Education members served fixed terms, we had the ridiculous spectacle of Board appointees betraying their Borough Presidents to side with Rudy Giuliani in a political power play, resulting in the anti-Dinkins "Gang of Four." This was not about kids but personal ambition.

If we need tweaks - and I warn of opening the door to all manner of tweakers - City Council advice and consent over the Chancellor's appointment and removing the Chancellor from PEP membership would create greater community input into DOE leadership and more pluralism in PEP deliberations.

As a former President of the Citywide Council on High Schools, I see the need for greater collaboration between the DOE and parent groups at the central, district, and school levels but that requires non-legislative solutions, not more regulation.

Much of the current opposition to mayoral control is a reaction to the Bloomberg years. But we have only begun to explore the opportunities and proven strengths of the law. If mayoral control has so far not yielded school policies attractive to particular constituencies, that is not the problem of governance but those who govern. Let's not be led astray by believing our policy preferences can be guaranteed by some new structure.

David C. Bloomfield is Professor of Education Leadership at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of American Public Education Law, 2nd edition, among other works.

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

webmaster@gothamgazette.com (David C. Bloomfield) Fri, 27 Feb 2015 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinions/5602-the-case-for-mayoral-control-bloomberg-de-blasio-bloomfield