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News Feed http://www.gothamgazette.com/ Mon, 08 Feb 2016 19:05:21 GMT FeedCreator 1.8.0-dev (info@mypapit.net) De Blasio Pushed to Include Local Jobs in Neighborhood Rezonings http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6151-de-blasio-pushed-to-include-local-jobs-in-neighborhood-rezonings bdb parents brooklyn

Mayor de Blasio talks with parents (photo: Ed Reed, Mayor's Office) 

Community advocates are making it clear that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans to rezone neighborhoods are not acceptable unless they include broader economic development initiatives like local hiring.

As part of his ambitious affordable housing plan, de Blasio has announced several communities the city plans to rezone first in an effort to create more density, build affordable units, and improve neighborhoods. When the mayor initially announced the start of the rezoning process, the blowback was severe. In East New York, which is slated to be the first area rezoned among 15 neighborhoods across the city, residents cried foul that the process involved limited community input, failed to consider local needs, and could lead to wide-scale displacement.

Last week, the city capitulated to a degree. At a hearing of the City Planning Commission, the administration announced that it would make additional investments in job creation to allay residents’ concerns. The investment includes a Workforce1 career center to connect residents to jobs and education and provide assistance to local businesses, as well as $1.5 million to renovate the East New York Industrial Building and attract businesses.  

“I feel like it’s too little, too late,” said Bill Wilkins, director of economic development, Local Development Corporation of East New York. Wilkins said the city is moving in the right direction but needs to keep local groups such as the LDCENY in the loop. “There’s been a degree of dialogue with respective agencies. There just needs to be more.”

Stressing the need for a collaborative approach to rezoning, he said the need to create affordable housing has to also be matched by economic synergy. “We have an opportunity to create a local micro stimulus plan if done correctly,” he said, conceding that the city planning department’s plan for economic development in East New York was well-intentioned but in need of “fine tuning.”

“I think they’re in the room,” WIlkins said of the administration, “and they’re close to getting on the dance floor.”

Residents and groups all over the city are concerned that new residential development and other aspects of neighborhood improvement will lead to rapid gentrification and displacement of current residents. Good employment opportunities for those locals can help avoid such pitfalls.

Other communities identified for rezoning are making similar appeals around jobs, and the East New York announcement has marginally buoyed their hopes.

“Well, again, wherever we are looking at rezoning, my view is, I think, different than some of my predecessors,” Mayor de Blasio said at a recent unrelated press conference when Gotham Gazette asked about including similar measures elsewhere. “I see the rezoning as a chance to right some wrongs and to make up for some things that were not done properly in the past,” the mayor added. “A lot of communities did not have the kind of job creation they deserve. We haven’t had enough of a five borough economy. That is changing in the last two years.”

In the Bronx, community advocates insist that the city must guarantee job training and placement for local residents, especially around the new construction that comes with rezoning.

Susanna Blankley, director of Community Action for Safe Apartments, is a member of the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision, which created a community plan to present to the city. She said, “We want to see a comprehensive plan that will lead to long-term careers, protections from displacement, and provisions to get high-end jobs as opposed to creating more minimum-wage jobs.”

One of the coalition’s demands is that construction jobs should go to union workers, which provide them greater opportunities for promotions.

The Bronx does have the benefit of time. The city is still struggling through negotiations over East New York. The City Planning Commission has only just passed two zoning amendments -- Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) -- which apply to the entire city and have been sent to the City Council for its approval. MIH and ZQA are intended to set a new baseline of land use rules that neighborhood by neighborhood rezonings built on.

“The city still has time to learn and adapt,” Blankley said. It will be months before the Bronx rezoning is on the table. “[The city] should correct their course and learn from the mistakes made in East New York,” she added.

In East Harlem, employment was also one of the significant priorities among dozens of objectives that were voted on at a community forum last week at El Museo del Barrio. The East Harlem Neighborhood Plan was formulated over a ten-month process involving community organizations; the City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents the area as its local Council member; multiple community workshops; and input from more than a thousand residents. At the forum, many residents voiced their concerns about being left behind or pushed out. Union representatives insisted that any construction jobs must go to union workers.

David Nocenti, executive director of Union Settlement, was the chair of the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan subgroup on economic development, small business and workforce development issues. He declined to comment since the final plan has not yet been released.

De Blasio said that his administration, led by the Economic Development Corporation,  has “done a great job really trying to create a neighborhood-based economy in a five borough economy. But one of the things we can do through a rezoning process is maximize the creation of local jobs and maximize the ability of local residents to get them. So, that’s something we’re going to focus on intensely as we do rezonings.”

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid     @GothamGazette

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samarkhurshid@nyu.edu (Samar Khurshid) Mon, 08 Feb 2016 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6151-de-blasio-pushed-to-include-local-jobs-in-neighborhood-rezonings
Bharara Visits Capital He Upended http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6154-bharara-visits-capital-he-upended bharara mortgage

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara (photo: @SDNYnews)

For the last year a siege mentality has dominated the New York state capitol. And in some respect, Albany, or at least the political denizens who dwell within the capitol, does appear to be very much in the cross hairs of a conquering army headed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. The main roads into town feature digital billboards flashing entreaties from the FBI urging New Yorkers to "REPORT CORRUPTION," along with a number for the New York State Public Corruption Task Force.

On Monday, Bharara may drive by those very signs as he makes his way to Albany for a series of events, including two speaking engagements. The crusading prosecutor's presence may be enough to make already-nervous Albany lawmakers break into a cold sweat.

The most powerful people in Albany - lobbyists, legislators, and even Gov. Andrew Cuomo - have watched as Bharara has gone from prosecuting rank-and-file legislators to decapitating both houses of the legislature by securing the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on multiple counts of corruption. All the while Bharara has maintained investigations into Cuomo's dealings, with the prosecutor's mantra of "Stay tuned" casting a larger-than-life shadow.

Although he promised major reforms during his recent State of the State address, Cuomo has since avoided the press in Albany, continuing his streak of not holding a press conference at the capitol, now at over 200 days. The current majority leaders have also remained largely mum on ethics since the start of the year. Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie voiced support for various reforms early in January, but has said little since. His working group on Assembly rules and transparency continues to delay the release of proposals to make the body more open and democratic.

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has pushed back against the very idea that there is any need for reforms, pointing to changes made over the last several years and asserting the need for individuals to act of high moral character.

Bharara has made it clear that he continues watching.

On Monday, Bharara will take something of an up-close look, as he heads to Albany for several events and speaks publicly twice. The first speaking event will take place a short walk from the capitol building when Bharara addresses the New York State Conference of Mayors; the other hosted by good government groups and WAMC public radio--a veritable public radio empire that reaches across upstate New York and into Vermont and Connecticut. The topic for both events will, of course, be fighting public corruption. Bharara is also set to appear, along with Gov. Cuomo, at the swearing in of new Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.

Bharara will not be addressing the state legislature, even though he recently made the trip to Frankfort, Kentucky to discuss public corruption and the type of culture that allows it to fester in New York. Throughout his examination of New York state government, Bharara has not only found several examples of illegal activity, but he has also decried legally corrupt practices, such as the infamous "three men in a room" method of deciding virtually all important state policy.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican, invited Bharara to address his conference, but Bharara's office prefered to address a bipartisan gathering. Kolb, in turn, wrote to the majority leaders of each conference in both houses, asking them to jointly invite Bharara to address the legislature as a whole. "They haven't even bothered to respond to my letter," Kolb told Gotham Gazette. "What are they so afraid of?"

Kolb, who will be speaking before Bharara on Monday at the mayors conference, said he hopes to hear more from Bharara on how the "three men in a room" power structure in Albany defeats transparency and allows corruption to fester.

"Mr. Bharara has asked 'Since when has it become acceptable for three men to decide everything?,' And I expect he will focus on that again. It's not about getting our way, but about asking questions about how things are structured, about payments, pots of money. Making sure our constituents are represented. I mean there was even that Skelos quote where he said, 'I control everything.' These guys have too much power," Kolb said.

John Kaehny of good government group Reinvent Albany is also interested in hearing Bharara attack the culture in Albany that might not necessarily be prosecutable.

"Hopefully he says: 'The real scandal is what's legal.'" said Kaehny, referring to what many, including Bharara, have said about Albany's usual ways of doing business.

"In Albany," Kaehny said, "the governor can give a bag full of taxpayer money to a big business and that business can give him a bag of money back, or a bag full via unlimited LLC contributions. All legal. Yet in New York City, it is a crime for people doing business with the city to contribute more than $400" to a campaign.

Among Kaehny's concerns are that law firms that represent state agencies and authorities can also lobby on behalf of private clients.

"It goes on and on," said Kaehny. "The conflict of interest is so baked into how Albany works that Silver tried to use it as a defense."

Bharara has addressed how Albany's culture has played into many of the cases he prosecuted.

"If you're one of the three men in a room, and you have all the power and you always have and everyone knows it," Bharara told an audience at New York Law School last January following Silver's arrest. "You don't tolerate dissent because you don't have to. You don't allow debate because you don't have to, and because the status quo always benefits you."

The three men in the room are the governor, Assembly speaker, and Senate president. For several years running, those men were Andrew Cuomo, Sheldon Silver, and Dean Skelos. Thanks to Bharara, both Silver and Skelos are awaiting sentencing on federal charges.

In his New York Law School speech, Bharara mocked "three men in a room," joking about what happens behind closed doors, asking whether women are allowed and wondering if perhaps it gets "a little gamey in that room."

But he quickly returned to the serious, saying that the elected officials end up getting "swept up in the power and the trappings, because you were never challenged, and because you can easily forget who put you there in the first place. And so I ask again, what kind of a system is that?"

Bharara also took the time to recognize the legislators in attendance--he didn't exactly honor them. "I see there are a number of elected officials here. And after yesterday I guess I have two theories as to why that might be. One might be that you knew I was taking attendance. And the other is that there are a lot of folks now looking for immunity," he said, in his typical wry manner.

That fear that Bharara is watching, that he is still working on unearthing new misdeeds, has paralyzed legislative leaders on a number of issues over the last year. Some have confided to aides and others that they aren't sure what Bharara is after, or who he has flipped to his side. Many note that there are clear connections between legislative action and campaign donations that are ripe for investigation. Legislators have also been put on notice regarding their abuse of per diem reimbursements, use of campaign cash for personal expenses, and other misdeeds.

It appears to many that Bharara started this year by giving Cuomo and legislators an opportunity to reflect on the gravity of the Silver and Skelos convictions and actually get to work on real reforms. A number of insiders see Bharara's announcement in January that he did not have enough evidence to indict anyone on the untimely end of The Moreland Commission on Public Corruption as a way to take some pressure off of Cuomo to allow him to take the initiative on ethics in his State of the State address. Those same insiders see Bharara's visit as a nudge to Cuomo and legislative leaders to actually deliver on reforms this year.

In his State of the State platform, Cuomo announced his intentions to see the LLC loophole closed, strict limits set on legislators' outside income, a public campaign finance system established, and other changes made to prevent corruption. Whether Bharara wades into any of those specifics is to be seen.

[Related: Cuomo Announces Ethics Plan to Questions of Follow Through]

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

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dking@gothamgazette.com (David Howard King) Mon, 08 Feb 2016 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6154-bharara-visits-capital-he-upended
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 8 http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6153-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-february-8 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

State budget hearings continue in Albany this week, but excitement in the capital is centered around the presence of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who makes a rare visit to Albany, where he'll participate in several events Monday, including one with good government groups where he'll discuss ethics and corruption in state government.

Meanwhile, in New York City, on Sunday Mayor Bill de Blasio announced new safety improvements to crane operations - a plan to reduce risks, particularly from high winds, following Friday's crane collapse, which killed one person and injured several others.

It's an important week for de Blasio's housing plan. The City Council will hold two committee hearings this week on the mayor's proposals to change the zoning and land use rules of the city. The two proposals, known as Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability have received mixed reviews around the city, including a lot of pushback from local community boards and groups advocating for the lowest-income New Yorkers. [Read more about the proposals here.] Adding a few tweaks, the City Planning Commission passed the two amendments to the city's zoning rules last week, sending them to the City Council for review and possible adjustments. See hearing details below.

Also important to watch this week: City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will deliver her second State of the City address, on Thursday from the Bronx. Mark-Viverito's speech is called "More Justice" and likely to both tout work the speaker and her colleagues have done to protect low income and immigrant New Yorkers, including measures to reduce penalties for low-level, non-violent offenses, and outline new plans to create what Mark-Viverito believes would be a more fair criminal justice system and society. Last week, Mayor de Blasio gave his 2016 State of the City address, also from the Bronx, where he focused on neighborhood development. See event details for Mark-Viverito's speech below.

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

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

The run of the week in detail:

At 10 a.m. Monday at City Hall, “low-wage workers for real affordability” will “reject Mayor de Blasio’s controversial housing plan...a day before the City Council hearing on Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, low-wage workers for real affordability call for major changes to de Blasio's plan.” Ralliers will include “fast food workers, carwash workers, laundry workers, and other workers and residents from East New York, the South Bronx, and East Harlem and low-income neighborhoods.”

At 11:30 Monday morning, Mayor de Blasio "will hold a public hearing for and sign eight pieces of legislation - Intro. 632-B, in relation to protecting employees in large grocery stores from immediately losing their jobs after an ownership transition; Intro. 771-A, 957-A and 952-A, in relation to requiring the Department of Education to submit annual reports on student health services, information regarding sexual health education instruction received by public middle and high school educators, and information regarding school compliance with State regulations governing comprehensive health education and HIV/AIDS education in 6th through 12 grade; Intro. 49-A, in relation to expanding notice to Council Members and Community Boards regarding the approval and rejection of applications for new buildings and alterations to existing buildings that require a new certificate of occupancy; Intro. 798-B, in relation to requiring the Depart of Finance to provide tenants enrolled in the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption or the Disability Rent Increase Exemption programs with the rent amount on which their benefit calculation is based on; and Intro. 1007 and 1030-A, in relation to increasing the amount expended annually on Business Improvement Districts (BID) and expanding the Metrotech BID."

At 1:30 p.m., "the Mayor will attend the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association 2016 Lunar New Year Celebration, where he will be honored for adding the Lunar New Year to the school holiday calendar, and present a proclamation. Immediately following the event, the Mayor will hold a media availability."

The New York State Legislature is in session on Monday in Albany. And at 12:30 p.m., there will be a joint legislative budget hearing on Higher Education at the New York State Legislature.

Also at 12:30 p.m. Monday in Albany, the Senate Standing Committee on Judiciary will hold a “public hearing to consider the nomination of Michael Garcia for Associate Judge of the New York State of Appeals.”

From 12:30 to 4 p.m. Monday, BetaNYC will host a discussion on open data and its effects on New York City.

On Monday at 1 p.m. in front of the Supreme Court building in Brooklyn, “the family of Akai Gurley will be joined by families impacted by police violence in New York City. Officer Peter Liang, who will be testifying Monday, killed Akai Gurley on November 20, 2014 in NYCHA Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York, Brooklyn during a vertical patrol.”

Also at 1 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James will deliver remarks at the Flushing Chinese Business Association Lunar New Year Celebration.

Monday at 2 p.m. at Queens Hospital, "First Lady Chirlane McCray and Deputy Mayor Richard Buery will host a town hall with Muslim leaders in Queens on mental health. They will share an overview of ThriveNYC and then answer questions from participants." [Read: As Council Begins Oversight, McCray Reports Mental Health Roadmap Progress]

At 4 p.m. Monday in Albany, good government groups and WAMC/Northeast Public Radio will host U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for “A Special Conversation with Preet Bharara.” Citizens Union, Common Cause New York, the League of Women Voters and the New York Public Interest Research Group will co-host the event at The Linda, WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio in Albany. Bharara will deliver remarks and sit for an interview with WAMC President and CEO Dr. Alan Chartock - it will be broadcast live on WAMC’s 28 radio frequencies and at www.wamc.org. Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, will introduce Bharara.

Earlier in the day, Bharara is also set to address a conference of New York mayors and attend the swearing in of new New York chief judge Janet DiFiore, who will lead the state’s court of appeals. Governor Cuomo will deliver remarks at DiFiore's ceremony.

Late Monday evening, the New York City Department of Homeless Service and volunteering New Yorkers will conduct the annual HOPE Count of the city’s street homeless population. At about 11:30 p.m., “Mayor Bill de Blasio, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio, HRA Commissioner Steve Banks, and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will kick-off a HOPE count volunteer training session at PS 116 in Manhattan.” There are estimated to be 3,000-4,000 people who live on the streets in New York City, though the HOPE count and new measures by the mayor seek to clarify that number. The de Blasio administration is undertaking new efforts to move people from the streets into shelters, safe havens, hospitals, or other facilities.

The New York State Legislature is in session on Tuesday. Also, at 9:30 a.m., there will be a joint legislative budget hearing on human services.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday in Queens, “Borough President Melinda Katz will deliver the keynote...at the annual Queens Chamber of Commerce breakfast before an audience that includes members of the Queens Borough Cabinet and more than 150 business and community leaders from across the borough.”

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 9:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchise will hold a hearing at City Hall - “The focus of this hearing will be the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing proposal but public testimony on the Zoning for Quality and Affordability can also be given.”
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Veterans will take a tour of the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Military Family Clinic at NYU School of Medicine.

At 1 p.m., the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold “EC2017 Compliance and C-Smart" which is “training for campaigns running in the 2017 citywide elections."

At 7 p.m., the Riders Alliance will host a “Strategy Meeting and Training: Reduced Fares for Low-Income Riders.”

At 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the City Council, the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchise will hold a hearing at City Hall - “The focus of this hearing will be the Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposal but public testimony on the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing can also be given.” [Read: Planning Commission Sends Mayor's Zoning Proposals to City Council]

On Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Albany, the Assembly Standing Committees on Judiciary and on Consumer Affairs and Protection will hold a joint hearing “To examine ways to better protect New Yorkers from unfair mandatory arbitration clauses, and to explore how the arbitration adjudicatory process can be improved.”

At 6:30 p.m., The Urban Land Institute New York will host “A View from the Top: Inclusive Leadership in the Real Estate Industry” about women’s leadership roles.

"The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be held on Thursday, February 11 at 10:00 AM."

On Thursday at 10:30 a.m. in the Bronx, the Assembly Standing Committee on Cities will hold a hearing on infrastructure problems of cities and potential solutions.

At noon on Thursday from the Samuel Gompers Campus in the South Bronx, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will deliver her second State of the City address, "More Justice."

On Thursday at 5:15 p.m. at the General Society Library, Common Cause NY, Greater NY Chamber, New Democratic Dimensions, and National Women's Political Caucus are hosting "Ethics in Government: Where do we go from here?" featuring state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Assembly Member Deborah Glick, City Council Member Dan Garodnick, and former City Council Member Robert Jackson.

Friday and the weekend
At 10 a.m. Friday, the City Council Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet on two bills: one, "would require the department of parks and recreation to publish a manual that sets forth binding policy regarding the reporting of the department's pesticide use. The bill would require that the manual, any changes to the manual, and any pesticide use reports prepared by the department of parks and recreation be made available online on the department's website"; and the other "would require the Parks Department (DPR) to establish a notification system by way of email or text message where park goers can register to receive advance notifications whenever an area under DPR's jurisdiction will be sprayed with pesticides."

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 Ben Max

bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) Sun, 07 Feb 2016 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6153-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-february-8
De Blasio Stresses Neighborhood Health in 'One City' Vision http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6148-de-blasio-stresses-neighborhood-health-in-one-city-vision BdB SOTC

Mayor de Blasio delivers his State of the City (Mayor's Office)

Strong neighborhoods are essential to a just city, Mayor Bill de Blasio argued from the Bronx Thursday evening, delivering his third State of the City address. De Blasio's speech was long on markers of progress and acknowledgement of the city's uniformed workforce, and included several new proposals ranging from the nitty gritty of city management to major innovations.

The theme of the speech, according to the mayor, was "one New York: working for our neighborhoods," and de Blasio made the case that the city is on the right track, while also outlining new ways in which his administration would improve conditions for New Yorkers, especially those living in long-forgotten places.

The banner items are plans for a streetcar along 16 miles of Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, the development of Governor's Island into a multidimensional attraction, and a new private sector employee retirement fund. These grander items came amid announcements about new efforts to scrub graffiti, prosecute gun dealers, and invest $91 million to revitalize Far Rockaway.

"So two years in, we are building one New York," de Blasio said after going through the highlights of his first two years in office: safer and smoother streets, lower crime, expanded worker benefits, a popular municipal identification card, universal pre-kindergarten and other education programs, and "the most ambitious affordable housing plan in the history of this nation" with strong initial progress.

"The changes we've made are working for our neighborhoods," he said, "and today, we are capturing the momentum of these first two years to push harder, to go farther."

As he often does, de Blasio fit nuts-and-bolts programs and so-called quality-of-life concerns into his overarching focus on creating equity in New York. He promised new health centers in underserved neighborhoods like the South Bronx, expanded WiFi access through sidewalk kiosks and broadband at public housing complexes, and more frequent cleaning of city streets.

The mayor got a thumbs up from business leaders. "Mayor de Blasio focused on investing in the city 's future, ranging from building new centers of innovation and economic activity to developing a novel transit connector between Brooklyn and Queens and creating a network of health centers serving the South Bronx," said Partnership for NYC President and CEO Kathy Wylde in a statement. "These are priorities that the business community shares – practical and achievable. They will contribute to the city's vitality and stimulate private investment."

Meanwhile, progressive lawmakers and advocates are excited about the retirement savings program, which the mayor will work on with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and others. City Council Member Ben Kallos, who helped develop the model for the program while working with liberal activist Bill Samuels at EffectiveNY, will introduce legislation so that "any New Yorker working at a business with ten or more employees to automatically enroll in a retirement plan."

Unfortunately for de Blasio, his State of the City address was sandwiched between the collapse of a deal he had orchestrated to reform the carriage horse industry and the shooting of two NYPD officers, who were shot during a patrol in a Bronx housing complex while de Blasio was speaking a few miles away. The mayor was quickly briefed after finishing his remarks and went to the hospital, where he and NYPD officials reported that both officers were in stable condition.

During his speech the mayor went to great lengths to praise the NYPD, as well as the other uniformed city workers: firefighters, correction officers, and sanitation workers.

This workforce is essential to a safe and clean city, de Blasio explained, adding that the successes in these areas made possible the city's vibrant economy and efforts to ensure that others would be able to share in the prosperity. Still, he promised continued efforts to bring police and community closer together.

"Now, if making New Yorkers safer is the first and foremost of our efforts to improve quality of life," the mayor said, "then helping New Yorkers get around our city swiftly and easily comes next." He then introduced measures to build the streetcar route - which is estimated to cost about $2.5 billion and be finished in 2024; allow people to pay for parking using a mobile app; and the expansion of bus arrival countdown clocks.

Canopied by talk of neighborhoods, de Blasio gave an almost block-by-block explanation of how he is leveraging the tools of city government to improve New Yorkers' lives. While the mayor's approval rating hovers around 50 percent, it is on a recent upswing, and notwithstanding a recent weekend trip to Iowa to campaign for Hillary Clinton, de Blasio appears to have gotten the message that New Yorkers want him focused on running the day-to-day operations of the city.

On Thursday, de Blasio said that his vision for a growing and fair city "means we need to manage government effectively for a safe, clean, economically strong city with an improving quality of life. And it means we must innovate for the future in all our neighborhoods, always pushing the envelope for new ways to keep New York the greatest global city of the 21st century."

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax     @GothamGazette

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) Fri, 05 Feb 2016 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6148-de-blasio-stresses-neighborhood-health-in-one-city-vision
The Week That Was in New York Politics, Feb. 1-5 http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6149-the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-feb-1-5 week in review bus readers

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

Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday February 5, 2016

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: In Iowa, Mayor de Blasio makes calls on behalf of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, via @Chirlane; De Blasio delivers his State of the City address, via Michael Appleton, Mayor's Office; De Blasio tours the downtown Manhattan site of a crane collapse, via Ed Reed, Mayor's Office.

bdb calls iowa

bdb state of the city

bdb crane collapse


1. State of the City: Mayor de Blasio emphasized building strong neighborhoods and city management during his third State of the City address on Thursday, and focused on acknowledging the work of everyday New Yorkers and the city’s uniformed workforce, and improving conditions across the five boroughs. New initiatives highlighted during the speech include a streetcar running along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, development on Governor’s Island, a new private sector employee retirement fund, and a $91 million investment to revitalize Far Rockaway. [Read: De Blasio Stresses Neighborhood Health in 'One City' Vision & Muslim Immigrant Family of NYPD Captain to Lead Pledge of Allegiance at State of the City]

2. Council Votes on Raises, Reforms: On Friday, the City Council approved a package of legislation to raise the salaries of all the the city’s elected officials and reform how Council members are compensated. The reforms, including eliminating stipends for chairing committees and making the position full time, have been praised, yet the higher than recommended salary increase the Council is seeking and the timing of the vote have been criticized. [Read: Questions Remain as City Council Moves Ahead with Pay Raises, Reforms]

3. Critical Time for Housing Plan: On Wednesday, the City Planning Commission passed two major components of Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan, sending them to the City Council, which will hold two hearings on the proposals next week. The two proposals - Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability - have received mixed reactions and aim to adjust the city’s zoning codes to allow what the administration says will be more responsible development. At the same time on the state level, calls for Governor Cuomo to move on new program to incentivize affordable housing production continue. [Read: Planning Commission Sends Mayor's Zoning Proposals to City Council & Calls for Public Discussion of New Affordable Housing Incentive Program]

4. Horse Carriage Deal Collapses: Mayor de Blasio’s controversial plan to shrink the horse carriage industry collapsed after facing intense criticism from several sides, including the horse-carriage drivers, pedicab drivers, park advocates, Council members, union leaders, animal-rights activists, and more. After the Teamsters union withdrew its support for the deal, the City Council cancelled its scheduled vote on the plan.

5. Subway Slashings: In the wake of several separate slashings in the subways in January, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced Wednesday that the NYPD will now wake up sleeping straphangers. Transit crime was up 36 percent in January, according to Bratton. Speaking on Hot 97 radio, Mayor de Blasio said there is no pattern to the random attacks and pointed to an overall downward trend in crime.

$148,500 is the new salary for City Council members, up from $112,500, and $10,185 higher than the $138,315 salary a commission tasked with reviewing the compensation levels of elected officials recommended, Gotham Gazette reports. (The salaries of the Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, Borough Presidents, and District Attorneys will all increase too)

21,401 open code violations at homeless shelters around the city at the end of 2015, an overdue report released by Mayor de Blasio shows.

6.4% increase in the number of jobs in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx from the end of 2013 through the middle of 2015, the Daily News reports.

$91 million will be invested to revitalize Far Rockaway, DNAinfo reports.

$2.5 billion is the estimated pricetag for a new streetcar that will run between Brooklyn and Queens along the East River, the Times reports.

89% of New Yorkers say corruption in the state government in Albany is a serious problem, according to the a Siena poll.

It was a good week for New York City’s elected officials, all of whom will receive at least a 12 percent salary increase after the City Council approves a package of legislation Friday that will enact the raises (although Mayor de Blasio will not accept a raise for the duration of his term).

It was a bad week for City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who has been widely criticized after he called the $36,000 raise he and other Council members are about to get a “big compromise,” and insisted that they “deserved” to make $175,000. Rodriguez was also the sponsor of the horse carriage bill, which fell apart this week and has also been the source of much controversy.

Around this time 103 years ago, on February 2, 1913, about 150,000 people visited Grand Central Terminal for its opening day. Now, about 750,000 people visit Grand Central every day for travel, dining or shopping.

Around this time 4 years ago, on February 2, 2012, 18-year-old Ramarley Graham was shot and killed by police officers in the bathroom of the apartment Graham lived in with his family. The officers followed Graham into his home from a bodega after they thought they saw Graham with a gun. No gun was found, and the officer who shot Graham had the manslaughter charges against him dropped. On the anniversary of Graham’s death, his parents delivered a letter to City Hall officials urging Mayor de Blasio to fire the NYPD officer who shot Graham.

Around this time 52 years ago, on February 3, 1964, 460,000 students refused to go to school in order to protest the segregation of New York City’s schools. Students gathered and chanted “Jim Crow must go!” in front of the Board of Education building, calling for immediate action to be taken to desegregate the schools.

Around this time 17 years ago, on February 4, 1999, West African immigrant Amadou Diallo was killed by police officers in the entrance of his Bronx apartment building after the officers mistakenly believed Diallo was the serial rapist they were searching for, and that he was reaching for a gun. Diallo, 23, had no gun and was in fact reaching for his wallet when four NYPD officers fired 41 shots, hitting him 19 times. His death sparked demonstrations against racial profiling and unfair treatment by the police. The four officers involved were eventually acquitted of all charges.


De Blasio Stresses Neighborhood Health in 'One City' Vision, by Ben Max

Planning Commission Sends Mayor's Zoning Proposals to City Council, by Maggie Calmes

Calls for Public Discussion of New Affordable Housing Incentive Program, by David Howard King

After Iowa: Debates & Voting Dates Until New York, by Ben Max

Muslim Immigrant Family of NYPD Captain to Lead Pledge of Allegiance at State of the City, by Samar Khurshid

Questions Remain as City Council Moves Ahead with Pay Raises, Reforms, by Meg O'Connor

Planning Commission Vote Will Send Zoning Proposals to City Council, Ben Max

As Council Begins Oversight, McCray Reports Progress in Mental Health Roadmap Implementation, by Meg O'Connor

What To Do When the L Train Closes, by Alex Armlovich (opinion)

As Federal Aid System Advances, Our Outdated Way Leaves New York Students Behind, by Sue Mead and Kevin Stump (opinion)

The City's Next Steps to Ensure Vibrant, Creative Communities, by Adam Forman (opinion)

A Good Deal for Horses, by Allie Feldman (opinion)

Reducing Organic Waste Without Increasing Costs, by Carol Kellermann (opinion)

To Eradicate Sex Trafficking, Prosecute the Pimps and Buyers, by Lauren Hersh (opinion)

Four Decades of Dedication: City Limits’ Story, by Jarrett Murphy ( City Limits)

Homeless Young Adults Can Fall through a Crack in Shelter System, by Genia Gould (City Limits)

40 Stories, 40 Years: City Limits and the History of Today's New York City, by Jarrett Murphy (City Limits)

Council Member Brad Lander spoke with Errol Louis on NY1 to explain raising Council members' salaries and to discuss the controversy surrounding it.

Dick Dadey, executive director of the government watchdog group Citizens Union, spoke with Brian Lehrer on WNYC about the package of legislation the City Council voted on Friday that will raise the salaries of all of New York City’s elected officials for the first time since 2006, as well as the controversy surrounding the larger-than-recommended salary increase for Council members and the timing of the vote.

Mayor de Blasio appeared on Hot 97 radio to talk about the presidential race, violence in the subway, the newly announced streetcar line that will run between Brooklyn and Queens, running for re-election, and legalizing marijuana.

Current and former New York Daily News columnists Harry Siegel and Bill Hammond joined Alexis Grenell and Nick Powell on the NYSlant podcast to discuss JCOPE’s controversial lobbying decision, and the equally controversial pay raise proposals from the City Council.

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

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

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

by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

megoconnor13@gmail.com (Meg O'Connor) Fri, 05 Feb 2016 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6149-the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-feb-1-5
Reducing Organic Waste Without Increasing Costs http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/6141-reducing-organic-waste-without-increasing-costs composting sanitation

photo via NYC Sanitation

Today, the New York City Council will hold an oversight hearing on the Department of Sanitation's organic waste program started in 2013. The focus on organic waste is merited by the size of the waste stream (more than 1 million tons annually) and environmental benefits of reducing greenhouse gases through use of alternative disposal strategies, such as composting, rather than transport to distant landfills. The City plans to expand the pilot program citywide; however, a report published this week by the Citizens Budget Commission indicates the cost of doing so would be prohibitively expensive. Instead, City leaders should pursue a different strategy.

The Department of Sanitation (DSNY) currently collects organic waste from more than 186,600 households in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, as well as 200 large apartment buildings and 750 schools. The share of organic waste diverted ranges from 12 to 26 percent – lower than the citywide recycling rate (43 percent) – at a cost of $19 million over two years.

If the curbside program were expanded citywide, costs would balloon.

Most districts do not have sufficient unused truck capacity to substitute an organic waste collection for one weekly refuse collection or to use dual-bin trucks. CBC estimates at least 88,000 new truck-shifts would be needed for collections each year, resulting in citywide costs in the range of $177 million to $250 million per year – an increase of 10 to 15 percent on the $1.7 billion cost of residential waste collection and disposal.

Given these costs, DSNY should alter its strategy in three ways:

1. Expand curbside collections only where and when additional collection routes are not required. This could be achieved by either replacing a weekly refuse pickup with an organics pickup or collecting refuse and organics simultaneously with special trucks with two separate compartments. Achieving such efficiencies would require City Council approval and a significant boost to participation rates. Currently only one of the 59 sanitation districts would qualify, but at higher diversion rates as many as ten could.

2. Collaborate with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to expand the use of in-sink disposers. DEP and DSNY should identify neighborhoods where in-sink disposers could be used without burdening wastewater treatment infrastructure. This strategy eliminates the need for curbside collections, bringing food waste from people's homes to digestion plants via water pipes and sewers, not trucks on roads.

3. Bring down the cost of all collections in the long-term. If wider diversion of organic waste is a high priority, collection costs must be reduced. Ideas for changes to collection routes and practices range from negotiating changes to the contract for sanitation workers to opening all or some residential waste collection to a competition among private carters.

As New York City seeks to achieve environmental benefits through wider diversion of organic waste, municipal leaders should understand that unless residential trash collection costs are reduced, new program costs will greatly overwhelm any potential savings from landfill reduction. A targeted strategy could be a way to preserve municipal resources and ensure organics programs are sustainable for the long term.

Carol Kellermann is President of the Citizens Budget Commission. On Twitter @cbcny.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email Opinion@gothamgazette.com

webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Carol Kellermann) Thu, 04 Feb 2016 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/6141-reducing-organic-waste-without-increasing-costs
A Good Deal for Horses http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/6142-a-good-deal-for-horses NYCLASS horses central park

photo via NYCLASS

***Editor's note: this op-ed column was published in anticipation of a vote on legislation that did not occur when a deal fell apart at the last minute on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2015 ***

The The New York City Council has the opportunity this week to take carriage horses out of dangerous city traffic and create new protections that will help these horses lead happier, safer lives.

They should jump at the opportunity.

For all of the political back and forth, this is a smart, sensible plan – especially if your goal is to protect horses. Consider the details of the plan:

First, it reduces the number of carriage horses by nearly half and protects them from being sold into slaughter when they are done working. NYCLASS has publicly stated that we are willing to pay – without the use of a single dime of taxpayer funds – for these retired horses to be sent to a sanctuary. So ignore any false rhetoric about these retired horses being sold to slaughter - it's just not true.

Second, the plan requires that the remaining carriage horses live and work in Central Park, not in dangerous city traffic. New York City streets are loud and congested with honking taxis, ambulance sirens, and double-decker buses. That's a reality that horses should not be forced to manage. Under this plan, they won't have to.

Third, it nearly doubles the stall size for each horse to 100 square feet and provides daily time and space for horses to roam – essential elements for protecting the horses' mental and physical well-being.

Some have falsely claimed that having half the number of horses will mean that the remaining horses will be worked twice as much. This is simply not true. The legislation limits the horses to working only one shift per day and there are clear penalties for overworking any horse.

None of these protections exist today and everyone who loves horses should support them.

Of course, there are some opponents now pushing the City Council to follow the "delay to death" strategy – dragging this process out even further. Enough is enough. We have debated and discussed this for years. Heck, the City Council passed – and the editorial boards of both the New York Times and the New York Daily News supported – legislation to move the horses into the Park in 1988! The time for debate is over. The Council needs to do what is right and pass this legislation.

What's more, delaying the process isn't a solution; it only allows opponents to continue to spread misinformation, particularly regarding bizarre real estate conspiracy theories. Let's set the record straight – again – on this: the stables are privately-owned property; the owners can do whatever they want with them. No one at NYCLASS, including our founder Steve Nislick, has or will have anything to do with the West Side stables. Period.

Strangely enough, some are surprised that NYCLASS and other animal rights organizations have so strongly supported the new compromise. They shouldn't be. Our number one priority is and always has been to protect the horses in the best and most practical way we know how. This plan does that.

The same can't be said for those supporting the status quo. These individuals claim that the horses are well cared for. This couldn't be further from the truth. Carriage horses are forced to live their entire non-working lives in small, confined stalls without access to open pastures. They travel to work through dangerous city traffic, forced to dodge enormous trucks, speeding cars, and bicycles, often spooking, and in too many cases, they are struck and injured. Are these proper conditions for beloved animals? We certainly don't think so. That's why numerous animal protection organizations such as the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States support this plan too.

Other opponents claim that the compromise doesn't go far enough. They want a complete ban on horse carriages. While we are sympathetic to these passionate voices, we believe that New Yorkers should support the proposed legislation because it helps achieve our number one priority: protecting and improving the lives of carriage horses. This compromise is a real-world solution to a problem that should have been eradicated decades ago.

It is time for us all to come together on the most important point: horses – as all animals – should be treated humanely and with care.

This new compromise is our opportunity to do just that. Because protecting our city's precious animals is not a choice, it's an imperative.

Allie Feldman is the Executive Director of NYCLASS. On Twitter @NYCLASS.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email Opinion@gothamgazette.com


webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Allie Feldman) Thu, 04 Feb 2016 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/6142-a-good-deal-for-horses
Planning Commission Sends Mayor's Zoning Proposals to City Council http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6143-planning-commission-sends-mayors-zoning-proposals-to-city-council BdB Weisbrod

Mayor de Blasio & Planning Chair Carl Weisbrod (photo: The Mayor's Office) 

As expected, the City Planning Commission passed two major components of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan on Wednesday morning, sending the amendments on to City Council for public hearings on Feb. 9 and 10.

Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) each passed with nine commissioners in favor, three opposed, and one abstaining. The plans, which need City Council approval, aim to change the city’s land use rules in order to spur more real estate development, but in a way that encourages new affordable housing units and improved neighborhoods.

The Commission addressed a standing room-only meeting hall and overflow annex packed with a large turnout of members from both the Hotel Trades Council and New York chapter of the AARP. Each group publicly endorsed Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan in December, citing positive implications for hotel workers and seniors, respectively.

Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod, who is appointed by the Mayor, roundly praised the amendments before the MIH vote, saying that the changes would “bring affordable housing to neighborhoods where it otherwise wouldn’t be built.”

Responding to oft-repeated criticism that the plans are too broad-strokes for community improvement, Weisbrod emphasized that the plan was not intended as a “one-size-fits-all” approach. He reminded attendees that the two amendments were meant to create a “floor, not a ceiling” for housing affordability in New York, pointing to subsidies from Housing Preservation and Development and other funding programs that would round out the mayor’s 10-year plan to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing.

Other Commission members weren’t as optimistic. Commissioner Rayann Besser, appointed by Staten Island Borough President, and Commissioner Orlando Marin from the Bronx both voted against the MIH amendment with no comment, while Queens-based Commissioner Irwin Cantor voted against after asking that changes be made during City Council review.

Commissioner Michelle de la Uz, appointed to the Planning Commission by then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and reappointed by now-Public Advocate Letitia James, insisted that MIH “doesn’t do enough to guarantee that the lowest-income families can obtain housing.” De la Uz abstained.

De la Uz’s critique of MIH, which requires affordable housing as part of new developments obtaining a rezoning, is a frequent one cited by critics of the plan. As Weisbrod did, supporters of MIH say that the city has other tools to create affordable housing for those at the lowest ends of the income spectrum.

The MIH amendment passed City Planning with a few changes, including improvements to the Board of Standards and Appeals special permits provisions of the program meant to enhance the city’s Housing and Preservation Department’s role in reviewing hardship applications from developers, and some textual clarifications.

The ZQA vote proceeded in much the same fashion, preceded by Commissioner Weisbrod’s statement that the ZQA amendment is a “modest but essential update” to current regulations that will allow for easier construction of more affordable and transit-accessible housing for low-income residents and seniors, as well as encourage more progressive urban design and ground-floor use of residential buildings.

Commissioner Besser again voted no, citing Staten Island Borough President James Oddo’s concern about “too many unanswered questions” regarding the effects ZQA would have on neighborhood character. Commissioner Marin also voted no, without comment. Commissioner Cantor praised the “tireless” efforts of City Planning before voting against. Commissioner de la Uz again abstained from the vote.

ZQA passed with changes requiring a CPC special permit for long-term care facilities in low-density residential districts, and specification around ground-floor usage for those facilities.

City Planning moved the two zoning text amendments through to the City Council despite the fact that they had received near-universal disapproval from local community boards, which had reviewed the proposals previously.

The Council will hold public hearings scheduled for Feb. 9 (MIH) and 10 (ZQA), at which the Council’s zoning subcommittee, chaired by Council Member Donovan Richards, will hear testimony from city government representatives, housing organizations, residents, and others. After that, the City Council will deliberate and may approve, modify, or disapprove the amendments. It is all but certain that the Council will seek modifications to the plans, especially ZQA.

According to city land use modification rules, any changes to MIH and ZQA must be “within scope” of what is passed by the CPC and approved as such by the CPC. The City Council’s website defines changes “within scope” as alterations that “must be on the same topic and within the boundaries of what has been studied in the Environmental Impact Statement.”

Responding to discussion on Twitter of the City Council’s power to modify the amendments, Council Member David Greenfield, who chairs the land use committee wrote, “Suffice to say we can make significant changes on our own.”

Whatever versions of MIH and ZQA are produced by the Council will be voted on by the subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, followed by the Committee on Land Use, and finally by the entire City Council.

While Wednesday’s Planning Commission majority vote lends a certain momentum to the changes being sought by Mayor de Blasio, advocacy groups continue to push back against both MIH and ZQA.

Community groups say that MIH does not address deeper affordability for New York’s lowest-income residents. New York Communities for Change issued a statement after the Planning Commission meeting, criticizing the commission’s decision. “Today the City Planning Commission sided with some of New York’s wealthiest developers to sell out our neighborhoods for a meager percentage of ‘affordable' units,” it reads. The statement specifically mentioned fast-food and homecare workers as being “left out of the city’s housing plans for decades.”

A cadre of preservation groups also spoke out vehemently against the CPC decision. Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said in a statement, “By far the majority of our city’s communities and residents have spoken out against this plan. We call on the City Council to listen to the people and communities that elected them and to ensure this wrongheaded plan is stopped. Berman’s criticism was echoed in a press release by representatives from the Historic Districts Council, New York Landmarks Conservancy, Landmark West, and Friends of the Upper East Side Historic District.

Despite the pushback, Mayor de Blasio has expressed confidence that MIH and ZQA will be looked upon favorably by City Council members. The City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, has indicated her support for the proposals, though she has said she expects changes to be made before the Council votes them through - something repeated by several members, including Greenfield and Richards.

Discussing his plans recently in Albany, de Blasio said, “[W]hat we found in the previous approach was that there were not particularly stringent demands put on developers in terms of affordable housing and some of the plans that were agreed to with communities were not honored, so that has bred a lot of cynicism.” But, de Blasio added, “I have a very different approach."

by Maggie Calmes, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

mcalmes@gg.com (Maggie Calmes) Thu, 04 Feb 2016 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6143-planning-commission-sends-mayors-zoning-proposals-to-city-council
Is Mayor De Blasio Putting Students First? http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/6146-is-mayor-de-blasio-putting-students-first de blasio education

Mayor de Blasio (photo via The Mayor's Office)

Mayor de Blasio's annual State of the City address is a natural time to take a step back and review his performance running the largest school system in the United States. For StudentsFirstNY, our most basic litmus test for policymakers is a simple question – are they putting the interests of students first? After two full years with Mayor de Blasio, we can definitively say that the answer is "no."

In analyzing Mayor de Blasio's stewardship of city schools, there are several themes that emerge. First, there is a distinct lack of urgency in delivering results for students. Second, his policies are not based on research. He has ignored evidence that programs like small schools and expanded choice work. Third, he has not shown results on failing schools. And finally, the mayor has ignored teacher quality.

Throughout the course of his time in office, this mayor has not shown much fondness for the details of his job. He seems more comfortable pondering the course of progressive philosophy or knocking on doors in Iowa, for example, than he does in setting specific timelines and metrics for results. Take his much-hyped program to have every child read by third grade. The goal is noble, but he doesn't promise results that can be measured until 2026 – long after he is gone from office. What good does that do for kids who will be trying to learn to read this year, or next year, or for years after that?

A strong education leader understands that setting realistic short-term targets is essential to tracking results and ensuring progress towards a greater goal. Without real, deliverable metrics, these programs are little more than press releases with empty promises that may never come to fruition.

Another hallmark of Mayor de Blasio's time in office has been a fundamental rejection of data and research-based decision-making. Under Mayor Bloomberg, the school system was improving – but Mayor de Blasio has rejected the use of evidence as a personal rebuke of his predecessor. In its place is a menu of nice sounding initiatives that have never been shown to actually improve educational outcomes for kids.

Time and time again, Mayor de Blasio has opted to make education decisions based on politics, even when it means rejecting policies that have a proven track record of success. Take small schools as an example. Countless studies have shown that small schools work, but the de Blasio administration has rejected them for political reasons.

The same is true with charter schools. Even though New York City has the longest waiting list in the country, with tens of thousands of parents hoping to get spots for their kids in charter schools, the mayor has fought tooth-and-nail against them. Why? It's not about serving kids; the mayor's political allies in the teachers union want to stifle their competition.

These politically-motivated decisions threaten to trap another generation of students in failing schools, with no hope of a turnaround. The "Renewal" model was supposed to be Mayor de Blasio's signature program, but so far it has accomplished little for kids in the city's lowest performing schools. Some Renewal schools hit their target goals before the program had even started – a sure sign of artificially low expectations. And despite the claims of progress, objective student achievement measures show that these schools continue to perform poorly.

Finally, Mayor de Blasio has not lifted a finger to improve teacher quality. He missed a golden opportunity to improve teacher quality with fundamental reforms during the 2014 teacher contract negotiations. Instead of reform, de Blasio caved to the UFT on every key issue – everything from merit pay for great teachers to eliminating the unwanted teachers from the ATR pool. The mayor likes to call this "collaboration," but in reality, the UFT gets what it wants at the expense of kids. So students are stuck with ineffective teachers and the teachers that no principal wants are forced back into the classroom.

At the end of the day, we need to know that students are learning and have access to the highest quality schools possible. Halfway through Mayor de Blasio's term, it's not enough to talk a good game. It's time to deliver results.

Jenny Sedlis is the Executive Director of StudentsFirstNY. On Twitter @JennySedlis & @StudentsFirstNY.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email Opinion@gothamgazette.com

webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Jenny Sedlis) Thu, 04 Feb 2016 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/6146-is-mayor-de-blasio-putting-students-first
Questions Remain as City Council Moves Ahead with Pay Raises, Reforms http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6144-questions-remain-as-city-council-moves-ahead-with-pay-raises-reforms lander mmv kallos

Council Members Lander, Mark-Viverito, Kallos (l-r) (photo: William Alatriste) 

At the first and only City Council hearing on a package of legislation that will raise the salaries of all the city’s elected officials and reform how Council members are compensated, the Council was roundly praised for accepting several reforms long sought by good government groups, but criticized both for raising their salaries higher than recommended and for the the timing of the vote.

The proposed legislation was first announced late last Thursday, and the vote will take place two days after Wednesday's hearing, during an usual Friday session. The raises are retroactive to Jan. 1, regardless of when the bills are passed.

Asking that the Council delay the vote in order to allow more public input, Dick Dadey, executive director of the good government group Citizens Union, testified, “not delaying denies the public sufficient input on a matter that they will pay for and from which you personally benefit.” Dadey and Citizens Union had previously expressed criticism of the Council crafting its plan without a public hearing first.

The four bills largely adhere to the recommendations made by an independent advisory commission tasked with reviewing the compensation levels of the city’s elected officials, including eliminating stipends for chairing committees, making the Council member position full time, and raising the salaries of the Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, Borough Presidents, and District Attorneys to the amount outlined by the commission.

Other reforms, like mandating that financial disclosure forms be published online, banning almost all outside income, and making future raises prospective, go a step further than the commission’s report had recommended. These changes are earning the Council praise from good government advocates.

Significantly, the Council’s proposed legislation will raise Council member salaries from $112,500 to $148,500 - $10,185 higher than the $138,315 salary the commission had recommended. This, Council members say, is to compensate for the fact that they will ban almost all forms of outside income.

Yet, only three Council members currently earn significant outside income, and they will be grandfathered in until the end of their current term.

“We did not recommend any additional bump in pay [for eliminating outside income]…considering the fact that only very few of the members here have an income that would be banned under the new law, and the grandfathering…no present City Council person is adversely affected by the change until the end of this term,” Fritz Schwarz, Jr., chief counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice and chair of the advisory commission said during his testimony.

Dadey and Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, also took issue with the bonus for banning outside income, and suggested that particular increase should only be effective after the ban on outside income affects all members, on Jan. 1, 2018.

Of the three members of the Council earning significant outside income who will get the new salary nonetheless, Lerner said, “for the next year and a half, they are also going to be collecting that outside income. So that double-dipping doesn’t really make any sense to us.”

“These raises, the first in almost a decade, are well deserved,” Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said, starting off the hearing. Saying that the Council was adopting most of the commission’s recommendations, she said, “We diverged in one area: compensation for becoming full time and giving up the potential for outside income. The commission recommended no increase for this important reform. We disagree, and have proposed a modest increase to account for it.”

Some Council members were asking for an even larger salary increase, like Ydanis Rodriguez, who used the few minutes allotted for asking the panel questions to instead talk about how hard Council members work.

“We work more than 60 hours a week,” Rodriguez said. “For me, this is a big compromise that we’re doing…Our salaries should be $175,000.”

“That, I’m not in agreement with,” Mark-Viverito said to reporters when asked about Rodriguez’s remark.

Council members, commissioners, good government groups, and members of the Conflicts of Interest Board were all in agreement that Council members work hard, yet several Council members seemed defensive about the amount of work the position comes with. Council Member Chin added that the job is “more than full time.”

“Can we agree that the commission recognizes that the Council member works more than full time?” Rodriguez asked.

“We never received time sheets, so I can’t answer specifically, but in general, it was our impression…that absolutely you are working long periods of time,” commissioner Paul Quintero replied.

Speaking with press after his testimony, Schwarz expressed frustration with the fact that, though Council members spoke passionately of their need for better compensation and the hard work that they do during the hearing, not a single one had expressed that to the commission during its two public hearings.

“We invited all elected officials to come [testify at the two public hearings] and none of them did," Schwarz said, though he noted that Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was the only one of the city’s 64 elected officials to testify before the commission.

“It would be far better for the public, for us, and for them, if they’d come to testify,” Schwarz added.

Dadey echoed that sentiment, telling members of the press after his testimony, “This is the problem with the process - there are a lot of legitimate questions to be asked of the Council and how they arrived at the numbers. And to get a committee report two days before the vote…this is being rushed way too fast.”

The timing of the vote has raised eyebrows, as the Council rescheduled its stated meeting to Friday to vote on the legislation, at which point it will also vote on controversial legislation regarding Mayor de Blasio’s plan to shrink the horse-carriage industry. [Note: the vote on the horse-carriage deal was postponed when union support for the legislation fell through on Thursday]

When asked about the rush to vote on the salary legislation, Mark-Viverito first said, “The timing is something we cannot control…I didn’t think delaying it any further was a good thing to do.”

After members of the press pointed out that it is entirely within the Council’s control to decide when to vote on legislation, Mark-Viverito added, “Based on conversations with members there is an interest to move on this issue.” It was a sentiment echoed by Council Members Brad Lander and Ben Kallos, who co-chaired the hearing and defended the Council's plans, citing the unprecedented reforms and the value in raising Council salaries so as to attract strong people to run for office.

Dadey, however, said he has “talked to many Council members and [has] not heard any of them say they wanted it to be rushed. Many of them have a problem with the quick process.”

Two other issues that were raised several times during the hearing were whether most outside income should be banned entirely or if there should be a cap on the amount of outside income Council members can earn; and the low pay of Council staffers. Aides to Council members often make salaries between $30,000 and $50,000, with Council members deciding to hire additional people rather than pay a smaller staff more per person.

Council Member David Greenfield, who gave up practicing law and the outside income he earned from it months ago, said he is “concerned” about limiting types of outside income, saying it “may dissuade people from going into government” and asked if the commission would support a cap on outside income.

Schwarz said the commission is against a cap, adding “every other city official since 1937 have not been able to earn outside income.”

There is a possibility that some last minute amendments may be added to the package of bills on the floor of the Council during Friday’s full-body meeting. Some Council members seemed to be expecting to put amendments forward.

Good government groups have urged the Council not to accept a raise until their next term in office, if re-elected. Mayor de Blasio will not take a raise this term. As Dadey pointed out, 37 Council members said, in response to a Citizens Union questionnaire, that they think pay raises should be prospective.

Yet it seems highly unlikely that the Council will follow through on that, as both the commission and the Council support the rationale that, since it has been almost a decade since the salaries of elected officials have changed, accepting a raise this term would be fair. The Council is changing the process for the future, though, so that raises are put into effect for the next class of Council members. The timeline in part relies on the Mayor calling a compensation review commission every four years as he or she is supposed to.

While questions remain, this round of pay increases and the connected reforms move forward. As Council Member Greenfield pointed out Wednesday, “Prior councils have taken the raises, but have never done the reforms. This is a big deal…for the first time ever we’re actually taking the raises but also making the reforms, and that’s huge.”

"Just to be fair,” Greenfield said, emphasizing the desire for credit that several Council members expressed, “the Council can do whatever it wants.”

by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
@megoconnor13     @GothamGazette

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

megoconnor13@gmail.com (Meg O'Connor) Thu, 04 Feb 2016 05:00:00 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6144-questions-remain-as-city-council-moves-ahead-with-pay-raises-reforms