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IE-funded mailer against council candidate John Lisyanskiy (via toxictodemocracy.tumblr.com)
Not only are the 2013 New York City elections memorable for moving the city into the post-Bloomberg era, they stand out for the unprecedented levels of outside spending, or independent expenditures, by non-campaign organizations that vied to influence electoral outcomes.
Due to gaps in disclosure requirements around election advertisements, the sources of much of last year's spending, which rattled the election's financial playing field, were largely obscured to voters. Lawmakers have since sought to quash that trend with the passage of new city laws in August. In the new normal after the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, though, there is little the City can do about the existence and expansion of independent expenditures, leaving officials to look for ways to ensure that there is as much transparency to those expenditures as possible.
According to the New York City Campaign Finance Board's (CFB) recently released analysis of the 2013 election cycle, independent entities not directly associated with any candidate campaign, such as political action committees (PACs), limited liability corporations (LLCs) and unions, spent a remarkable $15.9 million to sway voters, mostly through mass mailings and television and radio advertisements.
"The last election cycle saw a flood of outside money that threatened to overwhelm the spending by the candidates themselves, especially in individual Council races," recounted Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander, who was a driving force behind one of the disclosure laws passed last month.
In a bit of irony, the City is able to limit the amounts spent by candidate campaigns (by offering public matching funds in exchange for buy-in to the rules of the system), but not amounts of independent expenditures, or IEs, made by non-campaign entities.
While the presence of IEs in elections is not new, and unlimited political spending by outside entities is constitutional, according to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, many of the organizations behind last year's blitz used ambiguous titles that provided voters with little to no indication of what the organizations represent and where their money comes from.
"The only information most voters had about where these ads were coming from was that they were paid for by vague, positive sounding, anonymous entities," Lander said by email. "Some were viciously hostile, which was encouraged by the fact that they were effectively anonymous."
On September 2, the CFB published an extensive analysis of how money was raised and spent during the mayoral, city council, and other races of the 2013 election cycle. The report draws particular attention to what it calls the "remarkable influx of independent spending" throughout the election cycle. Its data shows that outside groups spent about $8 million to promote and detract from candidates in the mayoral race and $6.2 million in city council races.
The race in Brooklyn's 38th council district, for example, attracted more outside investment than any other council race. Several groups spent a total of $548,740 on the Democratic primary, most of which went toward bolstering incumbent Sara Gonzalez through mailings and internet ads. Jobs for New York, a PAC, spent $56,197 on mass mailings that disparaged her challenger, Carlos Menchaca, who would defeat Gonzalez and go on to take her spot in the Council.
Although independent expenditures did not necessarily translate into electoral success - Menchaca won the primary with 59% of the vote - their presence posed a challenge to the CFB in its mission to define and regulate the financial playing field during elections.
The CFB administers a "small-dollar matching funds program" in order to encourage engagement of more voters by campaigns, allow those with less personal wealth to compete as candidates, and propagate regular voters and their modest contributions against the greater financial and political prowess of corporations, unions, PACs and other big organized interests. For each dollar that a New York City resident donates, up to $175, candidates participating in the CFB program receive six dollars in matching public funds.
"The program provides candidates with the resources to effectively communicate their message to voters without relying on big contributions," CFB Press Secretary Matthew Sollars told Gotham Gazette. Yet, "candidates who feel they must match large independent expenditures may opt not to participate in the program only to spend more time raising money and less time with voters," he explained.
Participants in the campaign finance program abide by strict spending limits, while all candidates, whether program participants or not, must comply with New York City campaign contribution limits and release their campaign finances to the CFB for review.
Furthermore, the 2013 election cycle marked the first time that outside groups spending $1,000 or more had to disclose their expenditures, and those spending $5,000 or more were mandated to reveal the sources of their funds to the CFB. Yet despite these new transparency protocols, outside spenders managed to mask what many say are important details from voters regarding the sources of their money when communicating with the public directly.
For example, Jobs for New York, which was one of two PACs responsible for half of all 2013 election spending, aggregated $6.9 million from "over 120 LLCs and partnerships associated with specific [real estate] development projects" to influence city council races, according to the CFB. Voters received mailings financed by Jobs for New York, often portraying candidates negatively, with no more than a "Paid for by Jobs for New York" label on them, essentially revealing nothing about those LLCS or the fact that the PAC was founded and backed by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY).
United for the Future, another PAC, channeled more than $2.7 million into Bill Thompson's bid for mayor. The organization is a proxy for the New York City teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).
Lastly, anyone who followed last year's elections should recall the demise of early Democratic front-runner and then-City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Several groups opposed her bid for mayor and, under the slogan "Anybody but Quinn," independent groups New York City is Not for Sale (NYCN4S) and New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NYCLASS), an animal rights group which opposed Quinn for her support of the local horse and carriage industry, invested almost $1 million to damage Quinn's candidacy. According to the CFB's Post-Election Report, "this amount was by far the highest devoted to opposing any candidate in the primary."
In order to ensure that New York City voters can better evaluate and interpret election materials, the City Council passed and Bill de Blasio signed Local Law 2014/041 on August 28. The law stipulates that any political communication (print, radio, television, or phone call) financed by an independent expenditure must mention the financing organization's top three contributors, the C.E.O of the sponsoring organization, and the link to a government tracking site for more information: nyc.gov/FollowTheMoney.
"The goal is to ensure that we get the maximum information possible to voters, when they hear or receive an ad, about who is behind it and make clear that it is not approved by any of the candidates," Lander, the primary sponsor of the bill, told Gotham Gazette.
Enacted into law that same day was a second bill, sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick, which bans anonymous campaign communications. The new law requires all campaign-generated advertisements to include a "paid for by" name and label. Last election cycle, there were several candidates who sent voters anonymous advertisements attacking their opponents. While federal law already requires congressional candidates to include these disclaimers on campaign communications, local candidates for office are being mandated to do so for the first time.
The passage of these bills was the culmination of months of post-election dialogue between the CFB, lawmakers, good governance groups, and even the outside spenders themselves. "We have been discussing such changes with lawmakers for many months," said Sollars of the CFB. "We were happy to work with City Council members and Council staff on a law that will significantly improve disclosure for New York City voters."
In February, the CFB held a hearing to solicit feedback on its finance program's performance during the 2013 elections.
Calls for greater campaign finance reform and efforts to enhance voter understanding of the interests behind many entities and their communications are not issues confined to the municipal level, of course.
"Independent expenditures at the state level are only newly being regulated by the state." said Rachael Fauss, director of public policy at Citizens Union, a good governance group. "As a result of the 2014 budget negotiations, increased disclosure is now required for independent spenders in state elections," she explained.
In fact, many good government advocates and lawmakers have been calling for the state to fully enact campaign finance rules akin to the city's. Relevant reforms have been promised by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and were a key plank in the platform of his Democratic primary challenger Zephyr Teachout.
The state's budding disclosure requirements do not begin to match up to those codified in New York City in August. Although outside spending in state races must now be reported to the State Board of Elections, there are no additional mandates about revealing the contributors to those entities on actual campaign communications. The onus is on voters to seek out the information with the Board of Elections themselves.
***by Katrina Shakarian, Gotham Gazette@KatShakarian***
Note: Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union
Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio receives the endorsement of Tenants PAC
When Mayor Bill de Blasio declared early in his tenure that he would like to see the City regain control of its rent laws from the State many insiders laughed. "Why would we let that go?" asked one legislator. "Control is worth more than one election cycle."
What exactly is it worth to state legislators? According to a New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) study of campaign donations during the last state-level campaign cycle of 2011-2012, real estate and construction interests gave $7,523,955 to legislators and were the top donors of any business sector to each legislative conference.
Further, tenant advocates say the debate over whether to give control of rent regulation back to the City could serve as a distraction to the policy issues at play. Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenants PAC, said the focus should be on repealing vacancy decontrol - a process by which landlords can take apartments off the rent-regulated rolls by making drastic improvements to the apartments and hiking up rents. "This [giving the city control over rent laws] is just one issue among many," said McKee. "It cannot be the sole issue."
McKee points out that despite years of work raising money and campaigning for Senate Democrats tenant advocates have grown accustomed to Democratic Senators voting against their issues. McKee says that the real estate lobby's strategy is clear: "Approach upstate Democrats who don't care one way or another and get them to vote their way for huge contributions."
Despite de Blasio and his fellow city progressives' rise to prominence, it is unsurprising given historical and monetary trends that The Daily News reported on Monday that Senate Democrats are non-committal on the issue of returning rent control to the City. Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins was non-committal in a statement issued to The Daily News. There is little incentive for senators who do not represent the city to support the measure. However, a number of progressive upstate Democrats including Sens. Neil Breslin and Cecelia Tkaczyk do generally support tenants' issues and might be counted on to vote for city home rule.
The Urstadt Law of 1971 took away the city's ability to set its own rent control guidelines and put it in the hands of the Legislature. The law did not face great opposition at the time as the city was going through a major financial downturn, but it has given Albany monumental say over the city's housing policy and become the ire of many city legislators and advocates. It allows Albany to set policy on which housing stock is kept at affordable rates, what is affordable and when landlords can remove apartments from rent control.
The New York City-based real estate industry does not discriminate by locality or party affiliation when it comes to donations - some of the biggest beneficiaries of its largesse are upstate legislators who have no constituency involved in the fight over the city's rent laws. In the 2011-2012 cycle, Republican Sen. Greg Ball from Westchester and Democratic Sen. Tim Kennedy from Buffalo received more campaign money from the real estate lobby than any other sitting legislators. Each took in nearly $200,000 in real estate cash. Ball is not seeking re-election this year, but Kennedy is. Kennedy was involved in a heated Democratic primary where The Buffalo News identified at least $100,000 worth of donations from NYC-based real estate interests.
Other real estate industry favorites include Republican Sen. Martin Golden of Brooklyn and the head of the Independent Democratic Conference, Sen. Jeff Klein of the Bronx.
McKee recalls raising cash and campaigning for former Democratic Sen. Darrel Aubertine who ran and won in a 2008 special election in a district that covers northern and central parts of the state. Tenants PAC members went door-to-door for days as it snowed, but when it came time to vote on housing, McKee says Aubertine betrayed them.
De Blasio has been intimately involved in helping Democrats reclaim the Senate this year as well as expending major political capital to help Gov. Andrew Cuomo and running mate Kathy Hochul fend off surprisingly effective challenges in the Democratic primary from Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu, respectively. Some wonder if de Blasio expects Urstadt repeal as payback for his work, but others expect the mayor understands what a heavy lift repeal would be. "He is positioning himself to get a better outcome with the rent laws up for renewal," speculated one Democratic legislator who asked not to be identified. "He can't expect full repeal." The state's laws governing city rents are set to expire next year, which is triggering another round of back-and-forths between tenant groups and the real estate industry.
Some insiders say they've seen movement that indicates real estate interests are acting to ensure that the IDC/Republican Senate governing coalition stays intact. They expect the group to work to "peel off" certain conservative Democratic legislators to have them support the IDC, or at least keep them committed to preventing major changes to the rent laws.
"The joke around Tenants PAC used to be that we would support a Democratic fire hydrant," said McKee. "Not anymore. We've been betrayed too many times."
However, Tenants PAC has maxed out its donations to upstate Democratic Sen. Cecelia Tkaczyk and plans to do the same with Democratic Sens. Terry Gipson and Ted O'Brien.
Defeating Klein was a priority for Tenants PAC this year because members believe him to be beholden to the real estate industry. During a NY1 debate with his primary opponent, former City Council Member Oliver Koppell, Klein refused to commit to supporting full Urstadt repeal. "Again, I will weigh every issue as [it comes]," said Klein. "I support rent stabilization, I support everything that protects tenants. I think we need to take a good hard look at the MCI [Major Capital Improvements] law. There's a lot of things that are out there."
In an interview the day after his primary loss, Koppell was skeptical that Klein will enact tenant-friendly legislation. "I don't think he is going to go along with repeal," said Koppell. "I asked him that in the debate and he wouldn't answer. I think that is a pretty good sign of his intentions."
De Blasio appears to be banking that the political capital he spent supporting Klein and Cuomo in the primaries will be paid back on a number of issues next session. De Blasio had help from Klein last session when the pair worked together to secure pre-kindergarten funding for the city and de Blasio and Cuomo have appeared much more aligned of late than they did when at odds over where pre-k funding would come from and what the future of the city's charter school sector would look like.
Some advocates and legislators insist returning control of the rent laws to the City is not that far-fetched. Mayor Michael Bloomberg managed to make home rule of city schools the signature of his administration and some advocates think de Blasio can do that with housing. City Council Member Jumaane Williams, chair of the council's housing committee, issued a Monday statement pressing legislators on Urstadt repeal after the report surfaced that Senate Democrats weren't fully on board with the idea.
"I am disappointed to hear that some of our NYC Democratic leaders in Albany are less than enthusiastic toward Mayor Bill de Blasio's call to repeal Urstadt," Williams writes. "It is my hope that Albany's resistance is just pre-election angst that will subside after November, because New Yorkers need for real affordable housing is great and immediate."
Williams said that the city has seen rents increase for five decades: "It is a shame that our state legislators have not done more to end this crisis. Urstadt has prevented New York City from strengthening rent regulation laws that are meant to protect the nearly 2.5 million tenants who live in rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartments."
In the end controlling rent regulations does not just mean campaign cash for the legislators - it also means having a gigantic bargaining chip to use in negotiations on other issues. Rent laws are likely to be just another piece of negotiations in a year when several large pieces of progressive legislation like The Dream Act and campaign finance reform are supposed to come to a vote in both houses. Legislators expect that Cuomo, who has deep ties to the real estate industry himself, will leverage progress on other issues to keep rent laws under Albany's control.
McKee of Tenants PAC says the issue will be "a test" for Cuomo, Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Democratic Sen. Mike Gianaris. To those on his side of the push, McKee asks, "What are you going to do to get these legislators on board?"
***by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette@DavidHowardKing
Manhattan BP Brewer at a City Hall press conference (photo: @galeabrewer)
When Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer held her first monthly meeting with representatives from each Manhattan community board in January, civic technology was a key part of the conversation.
One city leader who helped shepherd the passage of the groundbreaking 2012 Open Data Law when she was a member of the City Council, Brewer has long-believed in both government transparency and the potential of using data to help solve civic problems. But as she has learned since the law's passage, having the data online is only the first step.
"The wealth of city data available online needs to be made usable," Brewer said. "Simply dumping data on the internet does not qualify as transparency."
Thanks in large part to the booming technology sector, there is a blossoming civic technology community in New York City. Now that government data is becoming more readily available to the public, the challenge is to marry those who have (or are learning) the technical skills to use it with the policymakers who can solve problems.
On Monday, September 15, Brewer will announce a partnership between her office and CUNY's Service Corps program. She will welcome 15 members of the program into her office as paid interns, funded by CUNY, for the entire school year. For 12 hours per week the students will receive training in Brewer's office to use and mine the open data portal as well as other data used by the City such as planning, census, and budget data.
Once the students are trained, they will work with Manhattan's community boards in solving neighborhood problems. The city's 59 community boards are comprised of volunteer membership along with minimal paid staff and operate on shoestring budgets. But, they are the first line of defense for communities regarding land use and zoning decisions, and are often a place residents go with neighborhood problems such as noise complaints, potholes, and lack of services.
Matthew Washington, chair of Community Board 11 in East Harlem, said in a phone interview Friday that he is excited about the new partnership and welcomes the help.
"There is so much information in [the open data portal]. To have someone who is committed to going in there and help extract the information and put it in a format that is very accessible to the broader community is going to be immensely helpful," Washington said.
He said his number one priority will be education data because a number of the schools in his district are underperforming. He hopes to have Service Corps students not only map where the schools are, but combine that with performance data such as graduation rates.
"Being able to use data to understand exactly where the schools are helps inform how we can push them forward," Washington said.
He also hopes to have the students help with longer term planning for the district. Two years ago CB11 hired an outside consultant to make zoning recommendations for a section of CB11 running from 115th Street to 132nd Street, between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue. While the students won't be able to make recommendations, they will be able to create a detailed map of every school, park, unit of affordable housing, even fire hydrant, in the community board district based on information from the open data portal.
"It can help inform what opportunities exist for us," Washington said.
Brewer sees a lot of potential throughout Manhattan. A staunch supporter of the Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities, she hopes mapping transportation issues in each community board district can contribute to that effort. She also sees data from the open portal being useful for starting or improving recycling and composting programs. One of the biggest issues she hopes to tackle is where affordable housing units are in each district. The information needed to map this information can be found on the open data portal or within city agencies—the students will be the key to unlocking it and making it useful to all New Yorkers.
In addition to helping the community, Brewer also sees the initiative as a great way for the students involved to gain a foothold in what is an emerging industry. Tech jobs are now necessary and available in virtually every industry, and open data is projected to bring in three to five trillion dollars in economic value annually across seven sectors, according to an October 2013 study conducted by McKinsey & Company.
"My vision is that these service corps members will have the tools for a new career in civic technology," Brewer said. "I feel very proud to be able to train them in a topic that I think will be good for their careers."
***by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette@MeriwetherK
Mayor de Blasio casting his vote on primary day (photo: @BilldeBlasio)
Last week's Democratic gubernatorial primary saw shockingly low turnout among New York voters - less than 10% of the state's 5.8 million registered Democrats cast a ballot.
Except no one is shocked.
The latest sign of distress in our democracy didn't turn many heads because it was expected; another plot point on a downward sloping trend line, both here in New York and nationally. Our voter turnout crisis is very real and should be troubling to anyone who cares about democracy, responsible government, and good public policy.
A primary day tweet from the account of Mayor Bill de Blasio reads, "Do your civic duty, New York City-vote today," above a picture of the mayor at his polling place. Reminders like this from the mayor and many other civic leaders have no effect, of course, as people have virtually all made up their minds about voting before the day arrives - especially on a day like last Tuesday with state-level primary elections in a non-presidential year. Sadly, an increasing number of potential voters are opting not to perform their "duty."
But who cares? We do not question the legitimacy of our governments, even if they are elected by a smaller and smaller percentage of constituents. Non-voters are adults, people who understand at least the general concepts of democracy, voting, and government. To boot, when we talk about voter turnout, we typically use stats based on registered, not eligible voters (estimates are that in the U.S. a little over 70% of eligible voters are registered).
Those who decide not to participate, for whatever reasons, are ceding power to those who care, those who organize and fight for their interests. Non-voters give tacit approval of whatever outcomes result; providing their proxy to the voters who opt in.
I, for one, don't want an increasingly diminishing portion of the potential electorate to decide the outcomes of our elections and therefore, much of our public policy. But, I also don't want even more uninformed voters heading to the ballot box to simply fill in an oval next to the name they recognize most from TV ads or mailers.
I want a flourishing democracy.
There are all sorts of election-related reforms that can and probably should be enacted, of course, and if you're reading this article you might very well already be able to list them: same-day registration; open primaries; term limits; and greater campaign finance regulations, among others. But, there's another essential element: education.
We've become scared of politicizing the classroom. By and large, we don't teach current events - which we should be doing in every subject area, not just social studies, where it happens at times. For the most part, we aren't infusing real-world issues and experiences into coursework, even in college.
We aren't exposing our children to civic thinking from a young age.
Just like we should (but don't) immerse our students in the study of foreign language from a young age, we should immerse them in the study of public life. We should invite our students to think critically about the world around them, we should invite debate. We should provide opportunity for authentic experiences and community service learning and action civics. We should allow young people to help make public policy.
We need a generational shift. It won't happen overnight, but it can happen.
This shift will take a reimagining of our schools, of our classrooms and our curriculums. It will take a retraining of our teachers and our after-school program providers. But, like with just about everything we should scale up, we have enough people doing things the way I'm describing that we can get there in due time. Positive shifts in focus from teacher-centered to student-centered classrooms and the increased honus on critical thinking skills are part of the equation.
As New York State and municipalities therein adapt to the common core standards and revamp both curriculum and instruction toward meeting them, there is a perfect opportunity to make more changes. The best outcome won't even be increased voter participation, it will be that virtually everyone involved enjoys school more and gets more out of it because it is a place of relevant, real-world thinking and action.
Voters and non-voters alike have little faith in elected officials to be honest and effective, but are generally not thoughtful about solving this problem. Instead, people disengage - or stay disengaged or withdraw further. To change that and ensure a social norm of critical thinking about public life and policy, we must establish this m.o., making it a part of who we are and what we do: in the classroom, at the dinner table, everywhere.
Many of the adults who care about politics and government were the kids who cared about politics and government. These people are the exception. To make them - us - the rule, we must encourage engagement from a young age.
Even in today's school culture, when you ask young people about problems with the world around them and for ways to do things differently, the floodgates open.
Yet, we don't often ask those questions and therefore, when the gates to the polling place are flung wide, there is not a flood of voters, but a trickle.
***by Ben Max, executive editor, Gotham Gazette@TweetBenMax
New York City Hall
What to watch for this week in New York politics:
This week will be another busy one for the New York City Council and full of attention shifted from the primaries to the state-level general election races, along with including a softball game featuring Mayor Bill de Blasio and members of his administration versus Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, her fellow council members, and staff. There will also be a good deal of attention in the lead up to The People's Climate March planned for Sunday, September 21 - and a great deal more to keep an eye on.
To start the week, "Mayor de Blasio will join Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for a bi-state meeting with top officials from federal, state and local law enforcement and public safety agencies to discuss enhanced security and preparedness throughout the New York-New Jersey region...Following this meeting, the Mayor will participate in a joint media availability," according to the mayor's public schedule. The meeting will take place at 3 p.m. at 1 Penn Plaza.
After a Sunday that saw Gov. Cuomo and others announce that the R train's Montague Tunnel will reopen on Monday, many happier commuters will be watching to see what the governor's approach to campaigning is this week. Last week included, of course, the 2014 New York State primary elections, with Cuomo securing the Democratic Party nomination in his gubernatorial re-election bid (among many other key results). Cuomo's main challenger in the primary, Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout, is not fading from the public eye, leading a 'Save the Internet' rally at City Hall on Monday, making media appearances, and embarking soon on a book tour that will keep the buzz around her going. Teachout, who returned to the classroom the night after the primary, has also said that she does not plan to endorse in the gubernatorial general election until the end of October. Expect Cuomo, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, and Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins to all continue to push for the support of those who backed Teachout in the Dem primary.
In other election news, Sunday also saw the New York City campaign launch rally for incumbent Attorney General (AG) Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat. Both Schneiderman and incumbent Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, also a Democrat, face several general election opponents after not being opposed in the primary, but both are expected to be re-elected fairly easily. Schneiderman has additional kick-off events planned for Yonkers, Buffalo, Suffolk, Nassau, Syracuse and Albany, according a campaign press release. Thus far, his Republican oppenent John Cahill has done a great deal of campaigning focused on attacking Schneiderman regarding his role in the Moreland Commission.
As the week begins, New York politicos will keep an eye on the campaigns, and there's a great deal happening at the City Council and all over the city, with many events to be aware of.
The run of the week in more detail:
MondayNYCLASS, the group that has worked vigorously to ban the use of horses pulling carriages in New York City, has a new enemy: City Council Member Rafael Espinal. Espinal is the chair of the council's consumer affairs committee, which has oversight over the horse carriage industry, and recently announced he is not supportive of a ban on the horse carriages. So, NYCLASS has quickly organized a protest for Monday morning in Brooklyn outside Espinal's district office. The Facebook event page reads: "Disgraceful Councilman Rafael Espinal supports the inhumane, unsafe carriage horse industry?! Just this week, hours after a carriage driver was in court for animal cruelty charges, Councilman Espinal had the audacity to DEFEND the abusive, corrupt carriage horse industry and even threatened to block the Mayor's efforts to help the horses! Let's send Councilman Espinal and the rest of the City Council the message that humane voters will NOT stand for elected officials who defend animal cruelty. Join us Monday to picket his office!"
At 10:30 a.m. Monday on the steps of City Hall, Public Advocate Tish James "will release a report on improving nail salon safety for both workers and customers. In New York City alone, it is estimated that there are 2,000 businesses licensed to practice nail care and design."
At 11:30 a.m., outside the Department of Labor offices on Varick St., "As Gov. Andrew Cuomo's wage board convenes for the first time on Monday, workers and advocates will hold a press conference and rally in New York City calling on the Wage Board to eliminate the sub-minimum wage for the 230,000 tipped workers in New York State. Tipped workers and advocates will also be available for interviews in Albany following the Wage Board meeting. The event is being organized by Raise Up NY, fighting for #1FairWage, a coalition comprised of tipped workers, the National Employment Law Project, Make the Road New York, the Center for Popular Democracy, Fast Food Forward, New York Labor-Religion Coalition, New York Communities for Change, ROC-NY, ROC-NY affiliate of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, Strong for All, United New York, Citizen Action NY, and other community groups and advocates."
On Monday at noon, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will host a Hispanic Heritage Month Small Business Roundtable at City Hall with Small Business Administration Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet and Council Small Business Committee Chair Robert Cornegy.
On Monday at 12:30 p.m. there will be a "Rally to Save the Internet" at City Hall's eastern plaza: "Internet freedom supporters will gather in City Hall Park to demand real protections for Net Neutrality and a rejection of Comcast's proposed merger with Time Warner Cable." Speakers are said to include Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu, among several others. [A recent Gotham Gazette look at protests regarding Net Neutrality]
A little earlier on Monday, at 11 a.m. at Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, Council Member Laurie Cumbo and other electeds and cultural leaders will announce capital funding allocated by the de Blasio administration, the New York City Council, and Brooklyn Borough President Adams to several arts and cultural institutions in Cumbo's council district.
On Monday afternoon, DOE Chancellor Carmen Fariña will visit a professional development session at elementary school P.S. 295, the Studio School of Art and Culture, in Brooklyn.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer's office is sponsoring a "day of action" to raise awareness for the NYC Organics Collection Program. The program, which collects food scraps for composting, is in over 100 DOE schools in Manhattan and will reach all Manhattan schools by October.
Also Monday, Brewer is hosting a dialogue on the Mayor's NYCHA safety plan with officials and tenant leaders from St. Nicholas Houses, Polo Ground Towers, and Wagner Houses, which were selected for the initiative.
State Senator Liz Krueger and Manhattan Community Board Six are sponsoring a forum on senior issues on Monday evening at NYU Langone Medical Center.
On Monday evening, there will be an event in "Preparation for People's Climate March with Howie Hawkins supporters" at the CUNY Grad Center.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has a busy Monday planned: at 12:30 PM, "Adams will announce the details of his capital budget funding for education for Fiscal Year 2015, an investment of more than $3.1 million...at the New York City College of Technology (City Tech), which is set to receive $400,000 in funding for the College's Fabrication Laboratory, an innovation engine in 3D printing technology for the College and the borough's emerging tech industry...Adams will also take time to promote some of his initiatives in early childhood learning, technology in the classroom, physical education, and other issues affecting the borough's youth."
Brooklyn's Borough Hall Goes Gold: "When Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adam's office heard about the Empire State Building saying no to kids with cancer, they were in disbelief and offered to light Brooklyn Borough Hall GOLD this coming Monday night! First Coney Island, now Downtown Brooklyn!" 6:30pm at Brooklyn Borough Hall.
According to his office, Adams "will also introduce legislation to use proceeds from vanity license plate sales to raise money for research and treatment that will help combat the disease."
TuesdayAt 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday the Flatiron Speaker Series will welcome Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
Elected officials, environmental advocates, and students are holding a rally on Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. at City Hall: "Student Advocacy Day for the Environment and rally for #BYOBag Week campaign (rally/press conference will be followed by students meeting with City Council members to promote legislation to put 10-cent fee on disposable plastic/paper bags)." Along with middle school and high school students, the event will feature "the New York League of Conservation Voters; Citizens Committee for New York City; Citizens Campaign for the Environment; Addison (a creative agency currently marketing an innovative reusable bag); and Council Members Margaret Chin and Brad Lander and others."
Council Member Andy King will be joined by students and their parents at a press conference on Tuesday at 10 a.m. on the steps of PS 41 in the Bronx "to make an important announcement about school uniforms for public school students."
The City Council's committee hearing schedule on Tuesday includes a meeting of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises at 9:30 a.m.; a meeting of the Committee on Public Housing 10 a.m. at Breukelen Houses Community Center, 715 East 105th Street, Brooklyn: "Oversight - A Safer NYCHA and the Mayor's Plan to Reduce Violent Crime at Public Housing"; and a meeting of the Committee on Youth Services to look at afterschool programs at 10 a.m. at City Hall.
Tuesday will feature "VOCAL NY Push to End NYC's Overdose Crisis," 11 a.m. on the steps of City Hall: attendees are expected to include State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, Council Members Stephen Levin, Corey Johnson, and Andrew Cohen, and other elected officials, along with the Drug Policy Alliance and NY Civil Liberties Union.
The John Cahill for NY State Attorney General campaign is hosting a "Women for Cahill Luncheon" on Tuesday at noon at the Women's National Republican Club in midtown Manhattan.
On Tuesday evening, the Manhattan Young Democrats are holding their monthly general meeting - this one will feature Council Member Dan Garodnick as guest speaker.
Also Tuesday evening, Public Advocate Tish James and Council Members (Speaker) Mark-Viverito, Carlos Menchaca, and Julissa Ferreras, the council's BLAC, and leaders from the Mexican community will celebrate the 204th Anniversary of Mexican Independence, 5:30 p.m., City Hall Council Chambers.
Tuesday evening will feature "The Mayoral Agenda: Affordable Housing and Historic Preservation" an event put on by The Center for New York City Affairs at The New School: "Historic Districts Council and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation are working together to present a panel discussion about affordable housing and historic preservation."
There will be an Emergency Preparedness Forum on Tuesday evening hosted by Brooklyn Borough President Adams and featuring Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Esposito for a "discussion of hurricane resiliency and safety procedures. Workshops including training tips for limiting storm damage will be provided in partnership with FDNY, Con Edison, the American Red Cross, NYPD, National Grid, and FEMA." Brooklyn Borough Hall, registration begins at 5:30pm, program runs from 6 to 8 p.m.
There will be a Queens Bus Service Transit Forum on Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. put on by ATUs 1056, 1179, and 1181 in partnership with the Queens Civic Congress: "Queens residents can voice their concerns for public bus transit and share proposals to enhance service."
WednesdayWednesday will feature the aforementioned softball game between the de Blasio administration and city council members and staff in Coney Island.
Prior to the game, the City Council schedule includes a meeting of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries & International Intergroup Relations (jointly with the Committee on Civil Service and Labor) "to resolve support for the Justice for Jazz Artists Campaign" at 10 a.m. - "the Justice for Jazz Artists Campaign which seeks through collective bargaining to improve the lives of musicians working in New York City's jazz clubs by addressing workplace issues, including providing retirementsecurity."
Also on Wednesday will be a meeting of the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections at 1 p.m. to evaluate candidates for appointment by the City Council to the Board of Elections. Via the Council: "For the first time ever, the Council will conduct a public, transparent process, including a public hearing on September 17th, to consider direct appointments to the Board of Elections by the Council's political party, including: Convening a public hearing of the Council's Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections, at which candidates will testify and answer questions, and where the public will have an opportunity to testify; Providing potential appointees with a detailed written questionnaire which will be available at the public hearing; Asking nominees to review and analyze the NYC Department of Investigation's report on problems at the Board of Elections."
Council Member Chin, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Sen. Daniel Squadron, and Manhattan BP Brewer are hosting a forum and clinic on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on Wednesday afternoon into evening.
On Wednesday morning, there's "Crain's Arts and Culture Breakfast: a New Future for NY's Culture Industry," 8 a.m. at Con Edison Conference Center: "Tech experts are the new "it" executives of the arts and culture world. To give their institutions an edge, several industry leaders are successfully using technology to help expand their audiences, enhance programming and increase fundraising in a rapidly changing environment. Crain's will explore how institutions are building brands, boosting donations and gaining followings in the digital age."
Wednesday evening, The Stonewall Democratic Club is hosting an Educational Policy Forum at the LGBT Community Center at 8 p.m. Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina will make remarks and several city officials, including City Council Member (and education committee chair) Danny Dromm are expected to attend and participate in a panel discussion.
Also Wednesday evening, Make the Road New York celebrates the 15th Anniversary of its Youth Power Project.
ThursdayThursday morning Stroock is hosting "21st Century Technology and the Economy of New York City" and asking, "Is high tech a driving force in today's New York economy and for the foreseeable future?" The event is set to include "William Floyd, Head of External Affairs at Google, Maya Wiley, Counsel to Mayor de Blasio with a special focus on investing in the City's technology and infrastructure and expanding broadband access across the City, Andrew Essex, Vice Chairman of Droga5 and Andrew Rasiej, Chairman of NY Tech Meetup."
Thursday's City Council schedule includes a meeting of the Committee on Health at 10 a.m. on a "Resolution Recognizing September as Ovarian Cancer Month in New York City"; a meeting of the Committee on Housing and Buildings at 10 a.m.; a meeting of the Committee on Land Use at 11 a.m.; a meeting of the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency at 1 p.m. regarding "Oversight: Update on Progress of the Build It Back Program"; and a meeting of the Committee on Consumer Affairs at 1 p.m.: "Oversight: Price Displays at Gas Station in New York City. Introduction: Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to gas station road signs."
Thursday evening sees a Riders Alliance event, "New York City Transit Reporters" featuring Pete Donahue of the Daily News and Dana Rubinstein of Capital New York: "From budget cuts to hurricanes to kittens on the train tracks, hear the stories that bring out the best and worst in New York City transit. Learn about the vital role of expert journalists in improving transit policy." [A recent article from Gotham Gazette on Riders Alliance]
There is a fund-raiser for incumbent Rep. Michael Grimm taking place in Brooklyn at 7 p.m. on Thursday. Grimm, who is under indictment, is being challenged in November's 11th Congressional District election by former City Council Member Domenic Recchia.
And on Thursday evening City Council Member Donovan Richards "Hosts Public Workshop with DOT & MTA on Future of Rockaway's Public Transit" in Rockaway. The event will include Richards, DOT and MTA representatives, transit advocates, and concerned members of the public. "Residents of the Rockaway Peninsula face few options as it pertains to public transportation. Council Member Richards is bringing representatives from DOT and MTA directly to the community to discuss their transportation related needs."
Also on Thursday, but not in New York, former NY gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout is discussing her new book Corruption in America at Harvard Law School.
Friday and the weekendOn Friday, the City Council schedule includes a meeting of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management at 10 a.m. at Brooklyn Borough Hall and will look at a bill on "regulating publicly accessible collection bins."
The Murphy Institute at CUNY presents "Policing in Communities of Color: Turning Protest into Policy Change with the Rev Al Sharpton" on Friday morning.
Saturday is Student Voice Live, an event focused on improving education policy and practice through increasing the role students play in decision-making.
Saturday is the early registration deadline for New York State 4th Annual MWBE Forum, which will be Wednesday and Thursday; October 1 and 2 in Albany (online registration ends September 26th; on site registration is possible)
On Saturday, Brooklyn City Council Member Vinny Gentile will have a ribbon cutting at his new district office on 5th Avenue at 11 a.m.
Saturday Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins holds "A Green Alternative to the Two Parties" at Graffiti Church on E7th Street at 9 a.m.
And on Sunday, September 21st, "New Yorkers and people from around the world, will convene in New York City for what is being advertised as the "Biggest Climate March in History." The People's Climate March, which will occur two days before UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon has called on world leaders to discuss the climate crisis at the UN, will attempt to display to the world that it is possible to live in a sustainable world safe from "the ravages of climate change."
"On Sunday, September 21st, from 1 to 5PM, PROP volunteers will travel to different locations in the city to carry out our ongoing petition drive. This effort will add to the 17,000 signatures already gathered to show policymakers and the press that the support for sweeping NYPD reforms is diverse and widespread."
Sunday will also see the African American Day Parade.
And: "After years of advocacy work, design, and construction, the park's northernmost section – the High Line at the Rail Yards – is finally opening on Sunday, September 21. In celebration, we're hosting a week of special programs for visitors of all ages. You're invited to participate in a morning wellness class, stop by for a lunchtime concert, let the kids play with cool new design features, and so much more."
***Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? Email Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: email@example.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).
***by Kristen Meriwether, Katrina Shakarian, and Ben Max in New York City and David King in Albany@GothamGazette
Public Advocate James at a body-worn camera press conference (photo: Rob Abruzzese)
NEW YORK—Last week, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton unveiled the two body cameras that would be used in a pilot program by his department: the VieVu LE3 and the Axon Flex by TASER. During the press conference, two police officers modeled the devices and the commissioner showed a short video taken during a traffic stop to display what the recordings would look like.
While the demonstration was informative, I found myself asking many questions that could really only be answered by using the device: questions around what it feels like to wear one all day and how easy they are to operate.
Public Advocate Letitia James has been a staunch supporter of the use of body-worn cameras by police officers, issuing a report in August on the benefits. As part of the research for this report and body cameras in general, the public advocate's office was given several models to test (James demonstrated these during a press conference of her own).
James' office allowed me to take the VieVu LE3 for a test run to attempt answering some of my questions by wearing it for a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, on the subway, and through Times Square.
Below are specs on the camera, two video clips taken by the VieVu, and an outline of my experience using the device.
Techs and SpecsNote: click to skip the product specs and jump to the Test Run section, with sample video
Size: For those old enough to remember, the VieVu LE3 reminds me of a pager in size (3" x 2.1" x .85" without clip), weight (2.8 oz without clip), and feel. The device comes with two clip-backs and one pin-back to allow the wearer to attach the device to clothing.
Video: The video resolution is HD quality at 1280x720 and records at 30 frames per second. The camera does not have night vision or infrared - features left off because the camera is intended to capture as close to exactly what the officer can see as possible, according to a spokesperson for VieVu. The makers wanted to avoid the possibility of an occurrence like having an officer view a night vision-enabled video showing a suspect reaching for something (like a weapon), and then changing their story to match the video when there was no way they could have seen it happen that way during the actual encounter.
Durability: The LE3, which is made by former cops for cops, offers military grade protection. It is rated non-submersible waterproof (IPX5) meaning it can withstand rain or snow, but cannot be submerged in liquid (i.e. if an officer dives into a pool, it will likely malfunction). The LE3 can handle temperatures from -4 F to 122 F.
According to the spec sheet the LE3 can handle being dropped 10 feet onto a hard surface. I dropped it a few times from about three feet, but since the unit costs $899, I wasn't willing to test the limits (James' office did not give any warnings about testing the durability).
Battery: The lithium-ion battery life is five hours recording at SD quality and three hours at HD quality with a standby life of 72 hours. When the LE3 is empty, it takes three hours to fully charge. I had no issues with the battery running out during my 4 hour test.
Storage: Each camera has 16 GB of non-removable raw storage; and storage capacity of 12 hours at SD quality video storage and six hours at HD quality video. The video can be loaded to a cloud storage service (which VieVu offers) or to on-site storage.
Software: VieVu uses it's own proprietary software called Veripatrol which must be downloaded before the LE3 is ready to use. There is no software disk (its a direct download from the web), which is nice for smaller computers that don't have disk drives. But, the software is not compatible with Mac computers (which I learned the hard way, losing a day of reporting). This shouldn't be an issue for the NYPD because of the City's contract with Microsoft.
The software is fairly easy to use. It has an admin feature which is used to assign a camera to an officer. A separate program is used to download the videos. Without the training that would surely come with use of these cameras and programs, I hit several snags unlikely to be problems for the NYPD. It's worth noting, though, that VieVu IT support is on the West Coast, so when I called at roughly 10 a.m., it was not yet open.
Theft: The VieVu will only work with the software, the cable, and a password, so if the unit is lost or stolen, the system is designed so that the video can't be downloaded to just any computer.
Use ElsewhereVieVu products (not just the LE3) are currently being used by 4,000 police agencies in 16 countries, according to its website.
-The Oakland Police Department uses LE2 and LE3 models. Started in 2009 with a pilot program of 20, as of 2013, all Oakland PD officers are required to use them (for a total of 559 units). Policy dictates officers are to record during citizen contact, arrests or detentions, evaluation for psychiatric detention, vehicle pursuit, serving a warrant, conducting a search, or transporting a prisoner.
-The Houston Police Department uses the LE3 model. The HPD pilot program began with 100 cameras in December of 2013. Its policy dictates officers must activate the camera any time they are in a law enforcement interaction and are required to leave it on until the incident has concluded. By phone, HPD Captain Michael Skillern said there was pushback from officers at first, but after a few months, "the attitude had turned 180 degrees and they were happy to have them." He added that when HPD was looking to move cameras to different units, some officers personally called him and asked them not to take their cameras away.
Gotham Gazette Test RunI performed two test runs: a jaunt across the Brooklyn Bridge and a subway ride into a wander through Times Square. On the day I tested the device, it was partly cloudy, in the low 70s, and did not rain.
The instructions say, "the ideal position to attach the camera is level with the sternum but it will vary depending on user." I don't own a tie, which is where the officer at the NYPD press conference displayed the LE3, so I pinned the camera level with my sternum to a heavy shirt for the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
A related note on NYPD dress code: police officers are not required to wear ties during the summer with their short sleeve shirts. If wearing long sleeve shirts, they must wear a tie, unless they have a turtleneck underneath. If wearing a sweater over a shirt, a tie is mandatory, however the tie is worn underneath the sweater, thus not allowing the officer to clip the camera to it. Officers should be able to clip the camera to their tie or to their shirt if not wearing a tie, though a sweater could pose a problem.
The LE3 is incredibly easy to use. When ready to record, one simply flips down the lens cover. The cover is easy enough to pull down with one finger while on the go, but the cover also has enough tension that it won't just fall down while on the run - important functionality for officers expected to begin recording as a chase or other abrupt encounter occurs.
There is a roughly two-second delay before a small green light begins to blink on the top of the device to signal recording has begun. I found it was sometimes difficult to see the light blinking in the sunlight, and it was a partly cloudy day (my sunglasses may have had something to do with this too though).
As the video below shows, much of what I recorded with the LE3 pinned to my shirt is almost unwatchable. In the video it looks like the camera must have been swinging like a pendulum, however it was moving only slightly from left to right as I walked. I was not wearing a bulletproof vest like NYPD officers are required to do, so it is unclear if that vest would have provided a flatter, more stable surface behind the camera.
Captain Skillern of the Houston Police Department said of the 100 cameras in their pilot program, they had no issues with the video quality from cameras placed on the sternums of female officers versus males.
For members of the NYPD, the LE3 will blend in well with their black uniforms. I had on a bright blue shirt and a black pager-like device pinned to the middle of my chest and only about a quarter of people I walked by seemed to look at it. However, when the device was on, I did notice more people looking my way - a trend I attribute to the fact the camera lens is outlined in a bright green circle, making it much more noticeable.
I did not perform any tests at night, so it is unclear how noticeable the blinking green light would be or how the quality of the video would turn out. The camera does not have night vision or infrared, which will will likely lead to a specific policy regarding recording in those situations.
As the video shows, when my interview subject was sitting down, I could not capture him in the frame of my shot. I didn't have him stand or move my camera as I may normally have done to get the best shot as a journalist because I wanted to represent (as best I could) what an interaction between a police officer and a citizen might be like. Training officers regarding positioning to capture the best footage could address certain limitations.
Second TestFor the second test I changed out the pin-back for the clip back (which was very easy, but did require a small philips head screwdriver). Wearing a backpack this time, I clipped the LE3 to the loop it has on a shoulder strap and pulled the strap as close to the center of my chest as possible. I knew it would provide the more stable video the camera is capable of that my first use did not show.
The second clip shows much more stable video except when I tested it running up and down stairs. I wasn't chasing a suspect but rather trying to catch a train. As you can see in the clip, the video is pretty shaky. When going down stairs, the camera focuses on the ceiling, making the camera seemingly unable to catch video of a suspect.
Despite the limitations, I was impressed with the quality of the camera, particularly its ability to react to changes in lighting. This was evident when I went underground and transitioned from sunlight to fluorescent. It was also evident during an interview when the sun was directly behind my subject. The lens was able to adjust to ensure the subject's face could be seen.
AudioA key element of what these cameras can capture is sound and the audio on the LE3 is superb. I was amazed at what I was able to pick up from these clips. At one point I followed a police officer with a dog from roughly 10-15 feet behind. When viewing the video I could hear the jingle of the dog's collar and leash.
From the video, I could hear every single conversation from the people walking by me. The construction and street noise didn't overpower, but instead blended seamlessly with conversations, and any other noise.
In some places the wind was blowing fairly strongly, but had no effect on the audio. The wind was picked up, but did not prohibit hearing the interview audio.
Since I have never walked the streets as a police officer it is hard for me to definitively say if this will work for the men and women of the NYPD. I didn't test how well the LE3 would stay on during a physical altercation. While there's no doubt an officer can easily turn the camera on in a tense situation, it is unclear how useful the video would be of an officer using this camera model and chasing a suspect. But, physical altercations and chases are not the bulk of officer interactions.
As with every piece of technology, the LE3 has limitations; more fully learning them and finding ways around them will surely be essential to the NYPD pilot program.
image via VieVu
Council Members Lander and Rose lead a rally in favor of their bill (photo: William Alatriste)
New York City council members are picking up where state legislators left off by pushing a bill that would ban the use of credit history checks in hiring decisions.
The Stop Credit Discrimination in Employment Act, Intro 261, co-sponsored by Council Members Brad Lander and Debi Rose, is being considered by the Committee on Civil Rights on Friday morning. The hearing could decide the fate of the bill that aims, its backers say, to end the harmful and, at times, discriminatory practice of screening an applicant's credit history to make a hiring decision.
Intro 261 is an updated version of a bill that was introduced to the City Council in 2012, but failed to pass. A similar bill was passed by the New York State Assembly in 2012, but not by the State Senate and has since languished, prompting the City Council to take matters into its own hands. The city bill is backed by 40 co-sponsors, including Public Advocate Letitia James, which means it will likely be heading out of committee, through the full council, and to the desk of Mayor Bill de Blasio - who is said to support the principle of the bill.
"Last time, the bill wasn't allowed to come to the floor for a vote," said Council Member Lander by phone on Thursday. "The Bloomberg administration didn't support the bill and neither did the Speaker (Christine Quinn)."
Nearly half (47 percent) of all employers in the United States require personal credit history checks for new workers, according to a 2012 study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). It is perfectly legal and is cited by businesses as a means to protect themselves and even consumers against financial fraud. The SHRM states that these checks are usually conducted near the end of the hiring process and that employees are given the opportunity to explain their record. The checks are federally regulated and medical history debt, says the SHRM survey, is ignored.
But the practice raises complex ethical and legal questions.
Senior policy analyst Amy Traub, of Demos, an organization that advocates for public policy, has addressed these issues at length and has even advised legislators in states such as Colorado, Vermont and Washington, D.C. Traub's report, Discredited: How Employment Credit Checks Keep Qualified Workers Out Of A Job, asserts clearly that worthy applicants are often denied jobs because of credit checks. These checks, which cannot judge a potential employee's character or job performance, can be linked to medical debt, lack of health coverage and unemployment. Traub cites evidence to show that credit reporting errors are common, occurring nearly once in every five reports, and that they can have a discriminatory impact on people of color. Finally, she says, they are an invasion of privacy.
With record levels of poverty and unemployment in New York, credit checks can create a cyclical problem. The catch-22, as Traub puts it, adversely affects unemployed workers: "Job-seekers are unable to secure work because of damaged credit and are then unable to escape debt and improve their credit because they cannot find work," she wrote in a Demos article.
This issue is neither new nor unrecognized. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) makes it legal for employers to ask for credit histories before employing an applicant. But in the last few years, many states have enacted legislation limiting this seemingly discriminatory policy including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Vermont, Oregon, Hawaii, Maryland and Washington. Just last year, laws were passed by the Colorado and Nevada legislatures. The only city with a law is Chicago.
At the federal level, efforts are also being made to abolish the use of credit checks for employment decisions. The Equal Employment for All bill was introduced in the Senate late last year by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Based on a bill submitted by Representative Steve Cohen in 2011, the new bill seeks to amend the FCRA and end employment credit checks. "This is also about basic fairness," said Warren in her floor speech to introduce the bill. "Let people compete for jobs on merit, not on whether or not they have enough money to pay all their bills." In January this year, President Obama mentioned the problem in his speech on long-term unemployment.
The bill has found little traction in Congress however.
Making matters worse for the fate of the bill is a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had in 2010 filed a lawsuit against the Kaplan Higher Education Corp., a for-profit education company, for rejecting a higher number of African-Americans than white job applicants because of personal credit histories. This, the EEOC argued, was a violation of Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act.
In April this year, the Court ruled in favor of Kaplan, allowing them to continue screening credit histories of job-seekers. The court also pointed out that the EEOC's case was tenuous since they themselves hired employees based on similar background checks. The ruling could serve to undermine efforts by national and state legislators to abolish the practice.
In New York City, however, the bill seems well on its way to becoming law. Proponents of the bill will hold a press conference at 9:30 Friday morning before heading into the civil rights committee hearing.
Opponents of the bill are wary of the impact it would have on the city's business environment. "With the increasing problems of identity theft and cyber-fraud, it is more important than ever that employers ensure that employees in highly sensitive positions – financial or technological – are carefully vetted," said Jessica Walker, vice president of government affairs at the Partnership for New York City. "Ten states and the City of Chicago have passed similar bans, but those all contain commonsense exemptions for these types of positions."
Unlike laws passed in other states, and even the bill pending in the New York State Legislature, the City Council legislation has only one exemption, for when a credit check is mandated by federal or state law. "It is stronger than any law passed so far," said Demos' Amy Traub.
"In the absence of action in Congress and Albany," said Lander, "we have taken action to protect the residents of New York City."
***by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette@GothamGazette
Mayor de Blasio, left, supported Dell Smitherman, right, for State Senate (photo: @DevinMaroney)
It was a long, hard night for many legislative campaigns watching primary results trickle in in their opponents' favor. For most New York City candidates a loss in the Democratic Primary means the end of the road, but for some options still remain thanks to the Working Families Party (WFP) ballot line.
Candidates such as Peter Sikora, who lost to Jo Anne Simon in Brooklyn's 52nd Assembly District, and Dell Smitherman, who fell to indicted incumbent Sen. John Sampson in Brooklyn's 19th Senate District, have the backing of the WFP and therefore its line on the November general election ballot.
(Both Sikora and Smitherman also happen to have the support of WFP darling Mayor Bill de Blasio, who campaigned for both leading up to the primary.)
It's early for the camps of Sikora, Smitherman and other WFP-endorsed candidates to make a decision on whether to continue their campaigns into the general, but the calculus could be there to give it a go in races where the field of candidates would be reduced.
Sampson won in a field with 3 other Democrats, taking 54 percent of the vote; Smitherman finished second with 30 percent and two other candidates totaled 16 percent. Simon won a three-way contest with 53 percent of the vote, with Sikora tallying 40 percent and a third candidate, Doug Biviano, who would not be appearing on the general ballot, taking 7 percent. Sikora is a long-time WFP activist with deep connections to the party. According to State Board of Elections documents the WFP spent $42,262 supporting Sikora - more than on any other candidate in the state. Coming in second was Smitherman who saw $19,143 in support from the party.
A groggy spokesman for Sikora told Gotham Gazette on Wednesday afternoon that the camp was still "taking things in" and expected to "sleep on it."
Candidates forging on would be expected to do so with the blessing of WFP leadership, of course.
Sources within the WFP indicated that at this point they don't expect any candidates who lost in the Democratic Primary with its backing to continue on in the general.
Other Democrats with the WFP endorsement who lost in Tuesday's primaries include 45th AD candidate Kimberly Council, 55th AD candidate Lori Boozer, and 18th Senate District candidate Debbie Medina. Calls to these candidates were not returned in time for publication.
It has been an odd year for the influential labor-backed party as the WFP organized to field candidates to take on Gov. Andrew Cuomo as well as members of the Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, even grooming Zephyr Teachout to challenge Cuomo before eventually deciding to back incumbents Cuomo and Sens. Jeff Klein and Tony Avella. Both John Liu and Oliver Koppell were initially endorsed by the WFP at its convention in their bids to defeat Avella and Klein, respectively. But, the WFP later revoked its backing when the IDC bowed to pressure from de Blasio and unions to agree to plan a power-sharing agreement with Senate Democrats.
The WFP did successfully back a number of winning candidates including Leroy Comrie who defeated indicted Sen. Malcolm Smith in the 14th Senate District, Sen. Gustavo Rivera who fended off a challenge from Councilman Fernando Cabrera, as well as Cuomo and his choice for lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul.
The WFP's Bill Lipton admitted not every candidate was successful in a fundraising email to supporters. "Not every State Senate race went the way we had hoped. Some outstanding advocates for working families, like Dell Smitherman, ran terrific campaigns but unfortunately ended the evening coming up short," Lipton said in the email, which gave no mention of candidates pursuing general election campaigns.
***by David King, Albany Editor, Gotham Gazette@DavidHowardKing
Zephyr Teachout teaching her Property class (photo: Ben Max)
"The bad news is I'm not going to be the next governor," Zephyr Teachout said on Wednesday evening to a room full of Fordham Law School students as she began her second meeting of the semester with her Property class.
"You still may be the next one," a student responded, met by the beaming smile from Teachout that New Yorkers have seen over the past several weeks as she mounted her out-of-nowhere challenge to incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary.
"The good news," Teachout continued, "is after today's class I'll have even more time to pay attention to this class, [but] you guys are going to have to help me out tonight."
"We can do that," a different student responded.
Teachout needed little help, though, as she jumped into pushing her students to define "property" and dissect the precedent-setting Pierson v. Post case of 1805.
Less than 24 hours after giving her concession speech in the Democratic primary for governor of New York, Teachout was back in the classroom. Having canceled Monday night's class "for obvious reasons," as one student put it to Gotham Gazette before class started, Teachout had little choice but to muster the energy to meet with her students Wednesday night.
Energy does not seem to be in short supply for Teachout, of course, as the upstart, progressive candidate showed campaigning against Cuomo and posting a surprisingly high 34 percent (to Cuomo's 62 percent) in Tuesday's primary.
In one of only a couple of brief references to her campaign during the first hour of class (Teachout requested earlier in the day that Gotham Gazette only attend half of the two-hour meeting), Teachout explained that "[this] class is all about...two competing people pursuing the same thing - and who gets it." It was a comment met with a smattering of laughter from her students, who didn't seem to know how to respond to their professor until they were all in the normal rhythm of class and Teachout was peppering them with questions about the topic at hand.
Quite possibly sitting on a round of applause and swallowing dozens of questions, the thirty or so students reacted to Teachout warmly as she required they put their names on pieces of paper where she could see them and insisted they speak loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear. "You're all going to have to learn how to speak like politicians here," she implored at one point, with a big grin.
Though she did not receive the claps and hollers she may have become used to hearing upon entering a room, like on the campaign trail Teachout paced the room, looked her counterparts in the eyes, and remained focused as a photographer from another publication snapped many photos of her - though like the seasoned politician she has become, she did not seem unaware of the camera.
Earlier in the day, Teachout explained over the phone that she had been cautioned against running for governor by a handful of people who worried that a campaign could jeopardize her standing with the school as her tenure review looms in 2015. Teachout ignored all caution and naysayers, of course, and mounted the strongest primary challenge to an incumbent governor in recent memory. Teachout did not mention or directly reference Cuomo while Gotham Gazette was in attendance at Wednesday's class.
On Tuesday night from a stage just a short trip down the west side from Fordham Law School, Teachout had said that her "campaign demonstrates the rise of a new force in New York politics and in American politics." A "fearless force," she said.
During class on Wednesday, one student stopped midway through a sentence, saying of his attempted explanation, "No, that's wrong," to which Teachout quickly snapped, "There's no wrong here, we're just walking through the reasoning!"
"A lot of this is writing and storytelling," Teachout explained to her new students at one point about analyzing the law, sounding as much like an experienced candidate for office as a law school professor.
With the race and her strong showing behind her, Teachout's semester is underway and her book Corruption in America is due out shortly. Her next political move is unclear.
When asked, Teachout was not ready to discuss the topic, nor was she yet sure about her book's release date or plans for book signings, saying she hadn't been in touch with her publisher during the campaign. She was excited, though, about it's positive review in The New York Review of Books - which she said, laughing, could easily have been the highlight of her year, were it not for her surprise gubernatorial campaign. Teachout received over 182,000 votes in the primary. If each of those voters buys a copy of her book, she'll surely be a very happy professor.
A major plank in Teachout's platform was campaign finance reform - in fact, the second group she thanked in her concession speech was "the public financing activists" - and when discussing the race with Gotham Gazette on Wednesday afternoon, Teachout again referred to the need for reform. She pointed out that, in her opinion, to further help level the playing field and enable and encourage more people to run serious campaigns for public office, New York should consider allowing candidates to pay themselves to run from their campaign funds.
Thankfully for her, she said, "I'm lucky my job is compatible with running."
***by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette@TweetBenMax
Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste)
If you happen to visit New York City Council Member Ben Kallos' website on Wednesday you may notice a loading icon at the top of the page. No, he's not having website troubles and you are not experiencing internet problems. Kallos, who is also a software developer and chair of the council's government operations committee, is participating in the worldwide "Internet Slowdown" protest.
Kallos is joining the likes of reddit, Vimeo, and Wordpress (to name just a few of the many) who are protesting rules currently being proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would create tiered internet speeds. If passed, companies or citizens willing and able to pay more could use "fast lanes" whereas companies or citizens with more modest financial means would be relegated to using "slow lanes."
"Under possible new rules to be determined by the FCC, the sites that most New Yorkers enjoy would likely be slowed down," Kallos said in a statement. "Instead of a divided Internet, New York City and this country want one Internet that works."
None of the participating companies' websites will be affected in any way during the protest, however there will be a call to action button which will allow visitors to send emails to their elected officials.
The proposed rules go against the principle of net neutrality, a term coined in 2003 by former Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor Tim Wu. Net neutrality is the belief that governments and internet service providers (like Time Warner or Verizon, for example) should treat all data the same. It shouldn't matter what platform, type of service, location, or even delivery method, cost and access should be the same for everyone.
Wu and his 2014 running mate Zephyr Teachout, who challenged Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the gubernatorial primary, made internet access and data transparency cornerstones of their campaign. Kallos, along with Teachout and Wu, submitted written testimony to the FCC during the summer in favor of net neutrality.
Mayor Bill de Blasio also supports net neutrality. He submitted comments to the FCC in July in a letter co-penned by Charlie Hales, the mayor of Portland, and Edwin Lee, the mayor of San Francisco.
The next comment deadline for the FCC proposal is Sept 15.
[For an expanded, humorous, and opinionated take on net neutrality, this John Oliver Last Week Tonight segment offers a thorough take. Warning: graphic language]