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Gov. Andrew Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office)
In addition to selecting state representatives in this November's election, registered voters will also get to decide on three ballot propositions, one of which is the Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014 (Proposition 3 on the back of your ballot). If approved, the Act would allow the State to borrow up to $2 billion for school-based capital projects.
If Prop 3 passes, what will the money be spent on?The (very quiet) pitch to voters has been primarily focused on the technology benefits of the proposal. School districts could spend the bond money on new equipment such as interactive whiteboards, computer servers, and desktop, laptop, and tablet computers. They could also use the money to beef up internet access by installing high-speed broadband or wireless service.
Additionally, schools could choose to install high-tech security features inside buildings or on campus.
In what has been a less-discussed option for the bond money, school districts could opt to spend their allotment on two non-tech initiatives. Districts could "construct, enhance, and modernize educational facilities to accommodate pre-kindergarten programs" or provide space to replace portable classrooms (also known as trailers).
How much would my school district get?Part of this year's State budget included a way to calculate how much each district would receive if the Smart Schools Bond Act is passed. The State will allocate the same proportion of the district's share of school aid, excluding Building Aid, Universal Pre-kindergarten Aid, and the Gap Elimination Adjustment. For example, if a district received two percent of the total State school aid in the budget, then they would receive two percent of the $2 billion (assuming the State maxes out the bond), which is $4 million, minus the amounts from those exception categories.
Note: Several very small school districts (under eight teachers) would not receive any funding in this initiative.
The interactive map below allows users to see how much money a school district stands to receive. The amounts assume the full $2 billion bond.
Smart Schools Bond Act Allocation By District(click to zoom & move)
Who decides how the money is spent?If voters approve Prop 3, the Smart Schools Review Board, which is comprised of the Chancellor of the State University of New York, the Director of the Budget, and the Commissioner of Education (or "their respective designees"), will issue guidelines.
Using the guidelines, each district will be required to submit a Smart Schools Investment Plan.
According to the rules, school districts are required to consult with parents, teachers, students, community members, and other stakeholders on how the money will be spent. But it is unclear when the public will be given the opportunity to provide input (i.e. before or after a district draws up a plan).
Governor Andrew Cuomo has expressed support for Prop 3, though he has not been actively pushing for its passage. Gotham Gazette reached out to the governor's press office for clarification, however calls were not returned. In the governor's campaign ad, "Education," released on Monday, he says, "I want to invest $2 billion to build the new technology classrooms of tomorrow," but does not directly name Prop 3 in any way.
A New York State Education Department (NYSED) Office of Facilities Planning Newsletter issued in September encouraged districts to "review district needs in relation to these project categories and have a plan to proceed if funding becomes available." The newsletter includes limited information on how to put together that plan, saying "more information will be provided as it becomes available and once a successful bond act is authorized."
The Smart Schools CommissionIn April, Gov. Cuomo announced the members of the Smart Schools Commission: Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google; Geoffrey Canada, former president and CEO of Harlem Children's Zone; and Constance Evelyn, superintendent of the Auburn School District. According to the press release the commission will be charged with "advising the State on how to best invest" the $2 billion.
Since April, the commission has hosted three public symposiums around the state. At these events, the benefits of technology in education were the topic, with leading industry experts speaking at each. The public was invited to submit suggestions to the commission.
The commission will file a report this fall with recommendations and the individual districts will submit proposals for funding. It is unclear what role the commission report will have in how the smart schools bond money will be allocated to districts. Gotham Gazette sought clarification from the governor's press office, but calls were not returned.
Other voting considerations-The governor has spun this proposition as a tech initiative, a way to "transform our classrooms from the classrooms of yesterday to the classrooms of tomorrow," as he said in his January State of the State speech when he first pitched the Smart Schools Bond.
New York City stands to receive up to $783 million from the bond, which is by far the most money of any district (it being the largest). Buffalo would be the next highest, at $56 million. Just over 300 of the state's 674 districts would receive under $1 million in funding. But how much of that money will actually go toward technology in each district remains to be seen.
Mayor Bill de Blasio had hoped to secure $340 million annually for his pre-k program through a tax hike on the city's top earners. But Gov. Cuomo did not back the tax, choosing to allocate $300 million to the city from the state's budget instead. That left de Blasio $40 million short annually, and the windfall from the Smart Schools Bond Act would be used to help to cover the difference over the next several years.
The mayor plans to allocate roughly $310 for the restructuring of existing buildings to create additional seats for his pre-k initiative, according to a spokesperson for the mayor.
As the proposition is currently written, there is no requirement that a certain percentage of the money be spent on technology.
-The legislation that authorized the bond act assumes an eight-year shelf-life for the technology products. That is a very generous estimate considering how quickly technology changes and pieces of it become obsolete.
For some technology perspective: the first iPad was released in April of 2010. It was discontinued in March of 2011. In less than five years since the introduction of the iPad there have been five iterations as well as three versions of the iPad Mini (introduced in November 2012) and an iPad Air. Unless districts are able to work out leases with manufacturers, schools could be dealing with outdated equipment for years.
-The debt this $2 billion bond will create is no small amount in the annual budget. E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for Public Policy, puts the total at roughly $130 million per year, but that figure could change drastically depending on how long the note is for.
The State Comptroller will make that determination using a weighted average, assuming 30 years for pre-k investments, 20 years for connectivity investments, and eight years for technology hardware. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's April 2014 preliminary budget report issued a warning on this issue, saying, "mandating the use of the weighted average method could result in higher overall borrowing costs for the State's taxpayers even though annual debt service payments in the early years may be less."
In addition, approving the bond will push the state very close to its statutory debt ceiling. If the entire $2 billion is authorized, the capacity under the cap will shrink to just $366 million, or 0.3 percent of capacity by fiscal year 2017, according to figures provided by Citizens Budget Commission (CBC). In fact, given its analysis of the proposal, CBC is now encouraging New York voters to vote "no" on Prop 3.
At $2 billion, the Smart Schools Bond Act is the largest authorization of debt in the fiscal year 2015 budget. But as Comptroller DiNapoli noted, the public will get a say.
"Engaging the public in borrowing decisions is a positive step," DiNapoli said in his budget report.
Recently, DiNapoli declined to say if he thought voters should approve the proposition, citing his office's involvement in issuing the bonds. He did say, though, "certainly to improve the infrastructure for our schools, especially those that need expanded classrooms with regard to implementation of pre-k, a lot of value in that."
-There is no shortage of lobbying in education, but when it comes to the Smart Schools Bond Act, the regular cast of characters seems to be surprisingly quiet.
"I know of no state education groups—or any groups, for that matter, that are actively advocating for passage of the act," David Albert, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association, said, according to Capital New York.
Gov. Cuomo's official state website has plenty of information about the proposal, but he has been quiet publicly in regards to Prop 3. Asked about it at the Columbus Day Parade on Oct. 13 in New York City, Cuomo said, "I'm supportive. I've spoken publicly on the bond issue...I support."
***by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette@MeriwetherK
Gov. Cuomo with Kathy Hochul (photo: John Kenny @jjk607)
The following is part of our series, The Cuomo Record, examining incumbent Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo's first term as he seeks re-election heading to Election Day, November 4
Ask good government groups what New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has done on ethics and reform in his first term in office and you will get strikingly different accounts.
One version goes that Cuomo is a dedicated public servant who has slowly and carefully worked for reform and achieved some important changes to how the state polices legislative corruption, but has ultimately been defeated on major systemic reform by a recalcitrant legislature.
"He has been the most active governor in recent memory on pushing wide-range reforms," said Dick Dadey of Citizens Union, who notes that Cuomo implemented a new ethics commission with joint oversight (JCOPE), mandated legislators disclose their outside income, secured tougher bribery laws, and got some concessions from the Legislature on issues "that are core to their power."
The other version is less kind. It goes something like: Cuomo is a governor who has broken many promises because he is unwilling to risk political capital for major reform.
To hear Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters tell it, Cuomo has "Squandered opportunities for reform that we won't see again for a generation." Bartoletti insists Cuomo has failed to capitalize on openings where he could have used his bully pulpit to push the Legislature harder or galvanize the public on full public financing of elections and ending loopholes in New York's campaign finance law that allow unlimited corporate donations; given the attorney general more power to pursue legislative corruption; or addressed the Board of Elections' lack of enforcement of existing campaign finance laws.
Despite some differences in assessment of Cuomo's first term, just about all in the good government community agree that Cuomo has not clearly communicated whether he intends to pursue any sort of ethics or campaign finance reform agenda should he win a next term.
"It seems he is trying to argue he has solved Albany's problems and he is not saying what he will do going forward," said Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). "He said he was going to stop Albany from being a punchline, but the minute Preet Bharara starts handing down indictments Albany will be a punchline once again."
Dadey of Citizens Union agrees that Cuomo has been quiet on his second-term agenda noting that "ever since the Moreland debacle the governor has not been visible on reform issues or second-term plans and I think it has been a loss."
Dadey contends that "the big black eye of Moreland has clouded some people's memories of the significant reforms this governor achieved during his first term."
Bartoletti, who served as an advisor to Cuomo's Moreland Commission on Public Corruption, says that the governor promised massive systemic reform in his 2010 campaign policy book and was handed major opportunities to achieve it.
"It started with a chance to reform redistricting and he gave it away and the Legislature said: 'This guy is all bark and no bite. He isn't serious about reform.'" From there Bartoletti notes that Cuomo has seen a swath of legislators indicted during his term (11 according to NYPIRG's Mahoney) and had the backing of a major, monied push to reform the state's campaign finance system, but rather than hitting the stump and rallying the voters for change, Bartoletti says Cuomo "Moved the ball maybe 10 yards...There wasn't a touchdown."
So what did Cuomo promise voters during his 2010 campaign?
"We must fundamentally reform our system to give voices to all New Yorkers, not just the special interests.To accomplish this, we must enact a voluntary system of public financing, make sure legislative lines are drawn independently of self-interested legislators and enact other campaign finance laws to give New Yorkers a real voice in their government," Cuomo's policy book read.
The 250-plus page briefing book criticized the loopholes in New York's campaign finance law that allow major donations to party coffers but rather than offering a specific solution the book simply asserts "New York State needs a system of public campaign financing."
Cuomo has not reformed the state's loosely regulated campaign finance system - instead he is the largest beneficiary of it - raising over $45 million for his 2014 campaign, mostly from large corporate donors.
On the campaign trail Cuomo promised he would give the Attorney General a blanket referral to investigate legislative corruption if he was unable to stop it with other reforms. Despite a tidal wave of legislative indictments Cuomo has not issued such a referral. Instead he empaneled the Moreland Commission, which he eventually bargained away for a set of reforms that good government groups regarded at the time as "small potatoes."
AccomplishmentsCuomo's first major action on ethics came in June 2011. After long negotiations with the Legislature a deal was announced that replaced the state's old ethics watchdog with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). Staffed by legislative and gubernatorial appointees the ethics commission quickly came under fire because legislative appointees can easily team up to vote against investigations.
Furthermore, Cuomo's appointees all owed their careers or political position to the governor. JCOPE quickly ran into trouble over the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal. It was reported that JCOPE members blocked an investigation into Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's handling of the matter. JCOPE has also seen turnover of members who have expressed frustration about how the body operates.
Further troublesome to good government officials is that JCOPE often operates behind closed doors and without any transparency.
The JCOPE deal also included major reporting requirements relative to lawmakers revealing their outside income, with lawyers also required to reveal their clients if they do business before the state.
Mahoney describes that point as "a real step forward." Legislators' outside income has certainly become more public, but there's been little movement in terms of further regulating it.
Moreland and beyondIn the spring of 2013, after a rash of indictments, Cuomo held a press conference announcing a series of reforms he wanted to help fight corruption. Good government groups were unimpressed as his plans did not include major items like a new campaign finance system. The Legislature didn't seem to think the reforms were minor as they balked at the idea of enacting any of Cuomo's proposals into law.
Later in June Cuomo moved to create his long-threatened Moreland Commission. Despite the months of investigations, public hearings, and an initial report that detailed how Albany's campaign finance laws allow for corruption, Cuomo quietly announced the commission's demise over an atypical conference call to discuss a budget deal.
What Cuomo got in exchange for ending the commission was not insignificant, but was far weaker than what many had hoped for and Cuomo had promised from the Moreland Commission. The deal included stronger bribery laws, a trial campaign finance system that only impacted the 2014 comptroller's race, and a new position at the Board of Elections (BOE) that oversees enforcement issues. Legislators rejected tighter restrictions on campaign donations and a larger campaign finance system that Cuomo had proposed in his budget.
Mahoney of NYPIRG says it is important that the BOE now has an individual whose job it is to speak out about enforcement issues. However, Mahoney also contends that it is concerning that the head of the unit that investigates election law violations keeps in regular touch with Cuomo's aides.
Mahoney calls the trial campaign finance system for the comptroller's race "an unmitigated disaster" (incumbent Tom DiNapoli opted not to participate and his challenger is unlikely to qualify for the program).
Dadey, however, insists that Cuomo has often fought the good fight and been hamstrung by a legislature that is determined to maintain its power. "The governor was an effective champion on campaign finance reform. To place the failure of the movement entirely at his doorstep is wrong because he did do a lot given the Senate's opposition."
When asked about criticism that Cuomo did not expend as much energy on campaign finance reform as he did on same-sex marriage or gun laws Dadey responded, "I think that misses the point. The core power of the Legislature is at stake with redistricting and campaign finance reform in a way that it is not with marriage or gun laws. Those issues are not core to where they draw their power."
The main spot of contention among good government groups surrounds Cuomo's promise to enact independent redistricting and veto the Legislature's lines if they are partisan. Rather than making good on those promises, Cuomo cut a deal with the Legislature creating an amendment that would have a separate redistricting commission largely appointed by the Legislature draw lines. To go into effect, the plan must be approved by voters via a ballot proposal, number one ("Prop 1") on the Nov. 4 Election Day ballot.
According to the proposed amendment, the Legislature would review the lines drawn by the commission and if it twice rejects plans from the commission it could then change the plan to its liking - within certain legal parameters that those in favor of Prop 1 call extremely important. Common Cause NY and NYPIRG have come out against the amendment saying that it provides window dressing that allows the Legislature to continue controlling who its members represent and helping them win re-election.
Citizens Union and The League of Women Voters, on the other hand, back the amendment saying that Prop 1 is progress because it allows for a separate commission to draw the lines rather than the Legislature and that it includes key language preventing the drawing of lines "for political advantage" that would open gerrymandering up to significant legal vulnerability to court challenge.
Despite supporting the amendment Bartoletti believes Cuomo has mishandled the endeavor. "Prop 1 is supposedly being backed by the governor but has he been out there supporting it on the stump or in TV ads? I've not seen it. And if that goes down some people will say 'good, we can do better,' but it's just as likely the governor will say, 'we tried and the people have spoken so go away.'" Dadey says Cuomo's absence on Prop 1 has just been par for the course for the governor, who has avoided ethics and reform issues since the Moreland scandal and is not indicative of his support for the amendment. Cuomo recently reiterated his support for Prop 1 when asked, but has not been an active advocate for it - yet, anyway.
Mahoney disputes that permanent damage has been done to the chances of good government reform, but he agrees that Cuomo has missed major opportunities to rally the public. "He had a big opportunity in 2013. It seemed like there was an indictment every other week, and there were many groups who had his back on campaign finance reform. He could have used that time to rally the public but he really didn't push hard," Mahoney said.
Bartoletti acknowledges that corruption issues don't poll as well as economic issues with voters and that it will take "A governor who is willing to go to the mat for principles and we haven't seen that. 'Present company' included."
Bartoletti said she had deep belief that Cuomo's Moreland Commission would effect change. "Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats were scared to death of what Moreland might reveal and this is what we get," she said, disappointedly referring to allegations that Cuomo interefered with the commission when it started investigating interests he was close to and then traded it away for minor reforms.
Of course, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office has picked up on Moreland's initial work and may still bring about further results - though these would be in the form of indictments, which require a far higher bar, not necessarily recommendations for reform. As Bharara has said, often the real scandal is what is legal, not what is illegal. Moreland was on track to expose the many problems involved with the legal systems in place that indictments from Bharara and others often help highlight, but only when legislators have taken things even past what is legally sanctioned.
Asked whether she thought the fallout from Moreland would damage future attempts for reform Bartoletti responded, "I can't really imagine a positive scenario. The governor alienated an awful lot of people from the Working Families Party to my colleagues in good government. I don't have an awful lot of optimism anything is going to happen on reform in the next four years. I think we are going to have to wait for an entirely different governor and an entirely different legislature."
***This article is part of The Cuomo Record, Gotham Gazette's series looking at the governor's first term. Find the other articles in the series here.***by David King, Albany Editor, Gotham Gazette@DavidHowardKing
Note: Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation, the sister organization of Citizens Union
New York City Hall
What to watch for this week in New York politics:
What looks like will be the one-and-only debate of the governor's race is set to take place this week, Wednesday night in Buffalo. Details below on that and a whole lot more to look for this week.
Recent campaign activityOn Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo was following up on his quick trip to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico by holding two events with Hispanic leaders in the Bronx and Washington Heights. Cuomo was "joined by leaders in the Hispanic community for campaign rallies at Hostos Community College in the Bronx and the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Center in Washington Heights," according to his public schedule.
Cuomo had jetted to the Caribbean to impress Hispanic New York voters and announced plans to increase trade between New York and those two places.
On Saturday, Cuomo's lieutenant governor running mate Kathy Hochul was back on the Women's Equality Express, this time without Cuomo. Together they announced their endorsement (via Saturday press release) of Justin Wagner, who is a Democrat running for State Senate in the Hudson Valley and was aboard the Express on Saturday, and incumbent Democratic State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk.
Meanwhile, Cuomo's two main opponents, Republican Rob Astorino and the Green Party's Howie Hawkins have continued traversing the state attempting to pick up on or create anti-Cuomo sentiment and offer their policy proposals to voters.
Cuomo, Astorino, Hawkins, and Libertarian Party candidate Michael McDermott are set to debate on Wednesday night.
Also this weekAlong with anticipating the big debate, we'll be watching this week to see how much of a push Cuomo makes for these Democratic Senate candidates and others. And for the two (of the three) ballot proposals he has expressed support for: Cuomo has said New Yorkers should vote "yes" for Prop 1 (redistricting reform) and Prop 3 (Smart Schools Bond Act). Hochul expressed support for all three ballot measures (Prop 2 moves the state Legislature toward e-bills as opposed to printing them at all times).
On Monday, Cuomo will be hosting Vice President Joe Biden, for "an event to discuss infrastructure modernization, where the Governor will make an announcement." The event will take place at 11 a.m. in Flushing, Queens at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, according to a release from the governor's office. Word is Biden is also due in Syracuse for a campaign rally on Monday with U.S. Rep. Dan Maffei, according to Syracuse.com
Back to election news: as we approach the two weeks until Election Day mark, incumbent Republican Rep. Michael Grimm and his Democratic challenger Domenic Recchia debated on Friday (and aired on ABC-7 Sunday morning). The debate was a contentious one, with each candidate accusing the other of lying on numerous occasions and quite a bit of arguing and interrupting. There was some substance involved, too, as the two do differ starkly on a good deal of policy - things like the Affordable Care Act, taxes, and immigration policy. Despite Grimm being under indictment, Recchia is having a hard time capitalizing, leaving many unimpressed and questioning his candidacy.
The Mayor, the Comptroller, and the SpeakerLast week was a quiet one for Mayor Bill de Blasio, as was this weekend - on Sunday the mayor's public schedule did include (only) a closed-press meeting with "Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon of Likud in Manhattan." The Mayor continues to work his way through (or around) the controversy surrounding Rachel Noerdlinger, the top aide to his wife. On Monday morning, "Mayor de Blasio will host a press conference in Broad Channel [Queens] to make an announcement related to Hurricane Sandy recovery...[in the] afternoon, the Mayor will hold a public hearing at City Hall on Int. 466-A, in relation to the speed limit reduction, and Int. 295-A, related to transportation benefits." On Tuesday night the mayor is a featured guest at a fundraising event for incumbent Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.
Meanwhile, Comptroller Scott Stringer spoke on Sunday at a rally "with local elected officials and tenants against rent de-stabilization" at 545 Prospect Place in Brooklyn, according to his public schedule. And on Monday, Stringer is set to testify at the city council hearing on the controversial Astorica Cove development project.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito joined for the Cuomo-Hochul rally in the Bronx on Sunday, speaking at Hostos in support of the ticket. On Monday, Mark-Viverito will deliver opening remarks at a city council joint committee hearing on domestic violence and run a participatory budgeting event in her district.
On Wednesday, the Council will hold a full-body Stated Meeting at which it will vote on several bills and send them to the mayor for approval, while also seeing the introduction of others. As always, the stated meetings are full of legislative action.
Council members like Mark-Viverito who are running the program are in full participatory budgeting swing. See below for more details.
As always, there's a whole bunch of interesting political and civic events this week, including at the end of the week this year's annual Municipal Arts Society (MAS) conference on Thursday and Friday, featuring many interesting speakers and panels dealing with city innovation, infrastructure, and more. See below for more.
The run of the week in more detail:
MondayAlong with Vice President Biden being in town for an event with Gov. Cuomo, Monday will see:
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and a delegation representing 'Dot NYC' will attend the NYSE Opening Bell Ceremony "to celebrate the public launch of .nyc, the new top-level web domain."
On Monday, Rep. Michael Grimm and his challenger Domenic Recchia are set to appear in front of the Staten Island Advance editorial board.
Also on Monday, the City Council is back in action with the following committee meetings: the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will convene to review several land use applications; the Committee on Courts and Legal Services will hold a joint meeting with the Committee on Women's Issues and the Committee on General Welfare for an oversight hearing on "coordination of services for victims of domestic violence" and to consider a bill "requiring the department of homeless services to grant a presumption of eligibility for applicants to the shelter system who are exiting human resources administration domestic violence shelters or department of youth and community development runaway homeless youth shelters"; multiple resolutions related to protecting and helping victims of domestic violence and a "resolution recognizing October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the City of New York"; the Committee on Immigration will meet to review two new bills regarding "persons not to be detained by the department of correction" and "persons not to be detained by the police department"; the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will meet to review a landmarks land use application; and the Committee on Education will meet to discuss a bill "requiring the department of education to report information regarding guidance counselors and social workers in schools" and a "resolution to establish a comprehensive college preparation program" for New York City schools.
On Monday morning, Pace University will host the second part of its "Summit on Resilience." The conference will address recovery after Superstorm Sandy and try to provide analysis of what strategies need to be implemented to further increase resiliency "through improved cooperation and communication among public and private organizations and the public."
Participatory budgeting neighborhood assemblies on Monday will be held by Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Andrew Cohen, Jimmy Van Bramer, Karen Koslowitz, Brad Lander and Mark Treyger.
The New York State Liquor Authority and NYS Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, NYS Assembly Member Ron Kim, and NYC Council Member Peter Koo are hosting an mid-day event in Queens: "Small Business Seminar: What does the NYSLA do? What is the process to obtain a liquor license for a restaurant, liquor store, or grocery store?"
On Monday evening, Chancellor Carmen Fariña will attend a Community Education Council town hall meeting in Brooklyn.
TuesdayTuesday marks just two weeks 'til Election Day!
Tuesday night, Mayor de Blasio is headlining a campaign event for incumbent Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. DiNapoli and his Republican opponent Bob Antonacci held their only debate last week.
Also on Tuesday evening, Gov. Cuomo is set to attend the film preview of the PBS documentary "The Italian Americans" at The Picture House in Pelham.
At 10 a.m. on Tuesday at City Hall, Council Member Donovan Richards and the "BRT For NYC" Steering Committee will host an event to support city council and community support for bringing Bus Rapid Transit to Queens. The "BRT For NYC" Steering Committee includes reps from ABNY, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, Riders Alliance, Working Families Party, Pratt Center for Community Development, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, TWU, Transportation Alternatives.
The City Council's Tuesday schedule includes: the Committee on Transportation meeting to consider at a bill "requiring signs regarding penalties for assaulting taxi and livery drivers"; the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations will meet on a resolution "to establish the Smithsonian American Latino Museum and designate Arts and Industries building as its future location in Washington D.C."; the Committee on Land Use will meet regarding the "Land Use Calendar - Week of October 20, 2014 - October 24, 2014; Deferral of the Meeting of the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions"; the Committee on Community Development will see the introduction of a bill "in relation to worker cooperatives"; and the Committee on Waterfronts will hold an oversight hearing on "examining of the City's Clean Waterfront Plan."
On Tuesday morning, City & State NY hosts its third annual "Panel on Diversity," featuring keynote addresses by Comptroller Stringer; NYS Chief Diversity Officer Mecca Santana; Counsel to Mayor Bill De Blasio Maya Wiley; and the NYS Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights, Alphonso David.
Also Tuesday morning will be "Food Policy for Breakfast: Can Campus Food be the Next School Food? Making University Food Services a Force for Food Change, A Look at What's Happening at CUNY and SUNY" - "In New York City more than 600,000 young adults attend college. How are universities feeding their students? What are the facilitators and obstacles of healthier campus food and food environments? What promising strategies can be learned from other places? In this session in honor of National Food Day, the following panelists will discuss these questions."
City Council Member Andy King is holding a news conference Tuesday afternoon outside John Philip Sousa Middle School, where he "will be joined by school officials, parents and students...to announce a bill that will implement an important mandatory program for all New York City public school children," according to King's office.
Speaker Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James, joined by other city council members, will celebrate the upcoming Hindu festival of Diwali at City Hall on Tuesday evening.
Council Members Corey Johnson, Ydanis Rodriguez and Karen Koslowitz will hold neighborhood assemblies to discuss participatory budgeting in their districts on Tuesday.
Former candidate for Lieutenant Governor in the Democratic primary, Tim Wu, will speak on "political corruption and the 1st Amendment" during an event at Columbia Journalism School on Tuesday evening.
Tuesday night is also the Manhattan Young Democrats' monthly meeting, this one featuring special guest Council Member Mark Levine.
Council Member Helen Rosenthal is set to participate on a Tuesday evening panel on "the contemporary minimum wage movement, local politics and the future of labor" hosted by The Roosevelt Institute at Columbia University. The panel will also include Dorian Warren, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, Roosevelt Institute Fellow, and MSNBC contributor.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will host her borough board meeting on Tuesday morning and on Tuesday evening will host her annual Italian Heritage Month event at St John's.
WednesdayRep. Michael Grimm and Domenic Recchia are set to debate at the Iron Hills Civic Association on Wednesday evening.
The four main gubernatorial candidates are also set to meet Wednesday night: in Buffalo for a debate that will be televised on Time Warner.
Wednesday afternoon will see a City Council Stated Meeting, prefaced as always by a press conference held by the Speaker. Before the Stated, the Committee on Finance will convene on Wednesday morning to discuss the "establishment of the West Shore BID" and to approve "the new designation and changes in the designation of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget."
Also earlier on Wednesday, Council Member Andy King "will hold a news conference...on the steps of City Hall to announce a bill to be introduced that afternoon in Stated that will influence thousands of New York City public school and charter school students by helping to deter bullying, mitigate the tendency of children to form cliques, and is cost effective for parents."
Wednesday evening New York City Council Member Ben Kallos will host a "Bike Safety Forum with the NYPD."
Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Mark Levine, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Andrew Cohen, Paul Vallone, Costa Constantinides, Jimmy Van Bramer, Karen Koslowitz, Eric Ulrich, Stephen Levin, Brad Lander and David Greenfield are holding neighborhood assemblies to discuss different aspects of participatory budgeting in their districts on Wednesday night.
On Wednesday evening, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is hosting a "town hall on Ebola and Enterovirus" at Borough Hall with "experts from the Brooklyn Hospital Center, Centers for Disease Control, Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, Doctors Council SEIU and Office of Emergency Management." In a release, Adams said, "I want Brooklynites to be aware and prepared for any emergency or disaster. Because of recent medical concerns, and in order to prevent an unnecessary mass panic, I aim to educate our residents..."
The Geraldine A. Ferraro Democratic Club launches at an event on Wednesday night in Queens. Various Democratic organizations and leaders, including Council Member Karen Koslowitz and Borough President Melinda Katz will help launch the club.
Democratic nominee for State Assembly in the 76th District, Rebecca Seawright, will hold a fundraising event on Wednesday night.
BetaNYC is hosting a Civic Hacknight on Wednesday: "technologists, data scientists, developers, designers, map makers, and activists" meet for the latest installment of this work, billed as "a study hall or office hours to improve the city."
ThursdayEleanor's Legacy Fall Luncheon will feature special guest US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on Thursday. Kathy Hochul and State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins will both be in attendance. "Every luncheon attendee will receive a complimentary copy of the Senator's new book, Off the Sidelines."
Thursday's City Council schedule includes: the City Council Committee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing with the Committee on Contracts to discuss "conflicts of interest in city contracts"; the Committee on Governmental Operations will meet regarding oversight of "agency-based voter registration" and "improving compliance with the city's pro-voter law" and "expanding agency based voter registration to additional city agencies; the Committee on Health meets for an oversight hearing on "NYC and the Affordable Care Act: Where Are We Post-Roll-Out and How We Can Boost Access to Care"; and the Committee on Environmental Protection will hold a hearing on a new bill aimed at "reducing greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050."
Crain's New York Business will host a day-long "Made in New York Trade Show" at the FIT on Thursday, which will showcase products from "unique New York businesses in the food and beverage industry."
Thursday is "Pro Bono Day NYC 2014: Connecting Passion to Purpose" - an event dedicated to making sure "that non-profits..have access to the pro bono they need." Keynote speakers are to include Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, Richard Buery and New York City's Chief Service Officer, Paula Garvin.
Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen will speak at "Competitiveness of the Cities" afternoon panel on the first day of the two-day Municipal Arts Society (MAS) Summit for New York City: "Now entering its fifth year, the 2014 Summit will focus on the themes of Equity, Place, and Opportunity, addressing the need to create an urban environment that supports economic growth and opportunity while also fostering a sense of place and community. With more than 100 speakers representing a range of civic, cultural, social, and economic sectors from across the city, the country, and the world, the 2014 MAS Summit will offer a dynamic mix of sessions ranging from in-depth panel discussions to Smart Talks."
Council Members Johnson and Koslowitz will hold participatory budgeting events Thursday night.
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson will hold a town hall on Thursday at Liberation Diploma Plus High School in Coney Island.
Council Member Kallos will deliver remarks at the "Civicmakers - Building a Better Democracy with Technology" event on Thursday evening: "We live in an age of broken politics, overwhelming civic cynicism, and vast disparities in wealth and justice. At the same time, grassroots interest in rebuilding democracy abounds, from the maturing open government movement, to a proliferation of new civic engagement and empowerment platforms...Now is the time for a new conversation about what kind of society we wish to live in, and what solutions will move us most quickly in that direction. Join New York's civic tech luminaries for a night of thought-provoking ideas and deep discussion more salon than meetup, more world-changing than networking."
Friday and the weekendComptroller Stringer hosts a Polish Heritage Breakfast Friday morning at the Polish and Slavic Center, 177 Kent St., Brooklyn.
The second day of the MAS summit will feature more keynote speakers, including: Sen. Charles Schumer on "The Future of New York City's Large Scale Infrastructure: How the Federal Government Can Help"; Chairman of New York City Planning Commission, Carl Weisbrod on "Building a City for all New Yorkers: Affordable Housing and Economic Development"; among others. On Friday afternoon Manhattan Borough President Brewer serves on a panel, "Growth in the Boroughs" with other Borough Presidents.
Ralph Nader will campaign with gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins in New York City on Friday.
***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 Rati Mukhuradze, Katrina Shakarian, and Ben Max@GothamGazette
Inez Dickens, Keith Wright & Charlie Rangel (L-R) (photo: @CaseyTolan)
For the first time in 70 years, Upper Manhattan voters could see an open seat race for Congress in 2016.
Rep. Charles Rangel, who has represented the district for 44 years, has pledged to not run again in two years after coming through two straight tough Democratic primaries and turning 84 in June.
Questions about who will replace Rangel have been a popular topic for rumor and discussion in uptown political circles for years, and they're only getting more urgent now that Rangel says he's retiring.
Assuming Rangel follows through on his pledge, 2016 will mark the first open seat race in the Congressional district since 1944, when Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was elected during World War II. Rangel defeated Powell in 1970, and has been in office ever since.
While anything could happen in the next two years, political insiders expect to see a long list of contenders on the primary ballot for the 13th district come 2016, which will be a presidential election year. The ethnically-diverse district includes almost all of Upper Manhattan and part of the Bronx. Interviews with several current and former uptown elected officials and political insiders focused on about half a dozen main contenders.
One big question hovers: will Rangel be able to choose his successor?
"I'm not looking forward to retiring. I'm looking forward to two more years of hard work and fighting," Rangel recently told Gotham Gazette. "The most important thing is for me to live long enough to make certain I'm involved in my successor."
He declined to name who that could be.
"One of the reasons it's taken Rangel so long to decide what to do with the seat is that he wants to have a hand in choosing his successor," Harlem political consultant Basil Smikle said. "But there's no guarantee that that anointed person would win."
Crowded fieldA crowded field of candidates would be a boost for State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who came close to beating Rangel in the 2012 and 2014 Democratic primaries, if he runs again.
While Espaillat lost by a larger margin in 2014 than in 2012, his actual number of votes and vote percentage went up - he received 41.3 percent of the vote in 2012 and 43.1 percent in 2014. Espaillat would enter the next race with a fairly high name-recognition advantage and the experience of having run twice before in the district, which includes a good chunk of his senate district.
An Espaillat spokesperson declined to comment about the senator's 2016 thinking and said he's focused on his senate district, especially with regard to rent law reforms in Albany.
Espaillat was endorsed by a broad coalition of elected officials and unions in his 2014 race. Hank Sheinkopf, a political consultant who has worked for Rangel, predicted that if Espaillat runs again he won't see the same enthusiasm for his candidacy in a third go around.
"It'll be hard to put together his support again," Sheinkopf said.
Whether or not Sheinkopf is right, if Espaillat runs again he would not only have an experience advantage over potential opponents, but if several Rangel allies run, they could split the vote and make Espaillat's path to victory easier.
Rangel "wants to choose a successor, but the minute he begins publicly grooming a successor, the people he's not grooming, he has no more leverage over," an uptown Espaillat supporter said.
Who could be Rangel's chosen successor? One oft-mentioned name is State Assembly Member Keith Wright, a close ally of Rangel and the chair of the Manhattan Democratic Party.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Wright said, smiling, when asked last month if he was considering running in 2016.
But Wright could have other opportunities waiting for him, insiders say.
"I think Keith will wait it out in the Assembly to become Speaker, after Shelly [Silver] retires," said one uptown politico.
"He is in line for other opportunities – I think he'd do very well as Speaker," said former Gov. David Paterson, who represented Harlem in the State Senate before being elected Lieutenant Governor.
What about Paterson himself for Congress?
"I wouldn't rule it out, but it's not a priority for me," Paterson said. "When you have had the privilege of being governor for three years, when you've lived in the executive mansion...there aren't many things on your bucket list." Paterson was recently named State Democratic Party Chair.
Another strong Rangel ally is City Council Member Inez Dickens, whom Rangel has described as his "political wife."
Dickens, who will be unable to run for her Council seat again in 2017 because of term limits, said in a statement that she was focused on her district.
"Congressman Rangel's replacement will have big shoes to fill but I trust in the voters that whomever they choose will do their best," she said. Dickens was an active Rangel supporter this past election season and could often be seen near the incumbent during events.
Adam Clayton Powell IV, a former East Harlem state assembly member and city council member, said he was "absolutely" considering running again, and expected "about 100 people" to run for the open seat.
"This seat has only had two people in 70 years," said Powell, the son of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., who represented Harlem in Congress before Rangel. "Both of them have been icons. Whoever replaces them is going to have big shoes to fill."
Powell, now a lobbyist for New York businesses, challenged Rangel in 1996 and 2010, but endorsed him for re-election in 2012 and 2014.
State Senator Bill Perkins, who is seen as a little more politically independent from Rangel than Wright or Dickens, is also a possible contender. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
And some hope to see Reverend Michael Walrond, preacher of First Corinthian Baptist Church, run again. He received about eight percent of the 2014 vote running against Rangel and Espaillat.
Walrond was unavailable for an interview, a spokesperson said.
Sheinkopf suggested one more name: City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose East Harlem and Bronx district overlaps somewhat with the congressional district. She endorsed Espaillat in 2014.
Mark-Viverito, who will also be term limited in 2017, did not respond to a request for comment.
The age factorPaterson said he hopes to see younger candidates in the running.
"One of the reasons Congressman Rangel was able to be so effective was because when he was elected, he was 40 years old," Paterson said. "He had the time to accumulate seniority."
"My first choice would be a young person that's brave and dynamic and represents the issues," he said. "And then if that isn't the case, there are a number of people around who I'm sure would all be good — my favorite would be Keith Wright."
Most of the main contenders for the seat are in their fifties or sixties. Espaillat turned 60 a few weeks ago. Walrond and Mark-Viverito are in their forties.
"I don't think that we have really involved a lot of young people in the political process," Paterson said. "I think this has been a kind of a failure on our part [by] the elected officials" in Upper Manhattan.
Smikle, a political consultant, agreed that age could be an important factor.
"Congress is a seniority-based system, so you want someone who will be able to stay there for 15 or 20 years to build seniority," Smikle said. "There'll be some apprehension of electing someone who's significantly older."
Race and geographyThe 2012 and 2014 elections were influenced by a racial dynamic in this changing district, which includes central Harlem and its large African-American population, and Washington Heights and Inwood, which are more Dominican. A 2012 redistricting that included part of the Bronx increased the district's Hispanic population.
In both Democratic primaries, Espaillat won big in Dominican areas, while Rangel took the lead in African-American and Puerto Rican-majority areas. Rangel accused Espaillat of having done nothing in office "besides saying he's a Dominican."
The growing Hispanic population in the district - along with an ongoing effort to register Dominican voters - could be a boost for a Dominican candidate like Espaillat.
"This district, the way it was drawn, it's still a Harlem district, but it's no longer a black district, and a lot of people have trouble recognizing that," said Paterson, who is black. "Sooner or later it is going to be a Hispanic district likely held by a Dominican...I don't plan on being bitter when this happens because it's the inertia of change."
Wright, Dickens, Perkins, and Walrond are black. Mark-Viverito is Puerto-Rican and Espaillat is Dominican. Powell is African-American and Puerto Rican (as is Rangel).
The vote could also be split geographically. While most of the district is in upper Manhattan, it also includes part of the Bronx.
"If there is any consolidation of support [for] a single candidate in the Bronx, it would significantly change the dynamics of the race," Smikle said.
Rangel nostalgiaWith almost two years to go until the next election, is it silly to already be thinking about who's going to run? Not so, said Smikle.
"The district has been represented by Rangel for over four decades, and there needs to be some conversation about the succession plan," Smikle said. "It's not just about who will replace him, it's a conversation about what the community actually needs."
In this heavily Democratic district, winning the primary will likely amount to winning the seat itself.
Some still wonder, will Rangel really retire? He's said he will - but in politics, and especially with Rangel, never may not mean never.
And in Harlem, where Rangel remains an icon, some are sad to see him go. At the African-American Parade Day Breakfast last month, several attendees worried that no one could fill Rangel's shoes.
"We don't have anyone who knows the streets, the community, the people like Charlie Rangel does," said Shirley Scott, who has lived in Harlem her whole life. "If he does retire, it's not going to be a good thing."
"I remember when he ran the first time," said Gloria Wright (no relation to Keith Wright). "He's been raising Harlem up. Everyone in politics has done something or said something they shouldn't, but he's a good Congressman."
***by Casey Tolan, Gotham Gazette@CaseyTolan
Gov. Cuomo, left, during a recent interview on PBS (photo: @charlierose)
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's policy book for his 2009 campaign seeking the state's highest office promised that "sunlight is the best disinfectant and will bring transparency and ethics to government." Cuomo pledged to post his full schedule online including meetings with lobbyists and elected officials. Instead, the press has become accustomed to daily announcements that "Governor Cuomo is in New York City."
When it comes to transparency, Cuomo's first term has included a great deal of state data published online, but can largely be characterized by secrecy, obsessive message control, and the editing of public records and reports.
"The bottom line is Andrew Cuomo is not a transparent governor," said Baruch professor of political science Douglas Muzzio. "There are many points, but the fact that the administration uses text messages rather than email is troubling. The administration closely holds their cards to their chests."
However, Muzzio says that the lack of openness may very well have enhanced Cuomo's ability to govern. "Lack of transparency is not necessarily a bad thing. Too much transparency leads to inefficiency. Would he have been successful in budget negotiations, the SAFE Act negotiations, same-sex marriage negotiations? Some things in politics ought not be exposed to public view because it can freeze system," said Muzzio.
The Cuomo administration has pushed transparency efforts through the use of technology and posting data online, but experts agree most of the information shared that way has been superficial.
In the days prior to the 2011 launch of Cuomo's CitizenConnects website ("an electronic town hall") the governor's press office lobbied reporters not to focus on the fact that Cuomo would be posting his full public schedules online and instead that the site was designed to keep New Yorkers apprised of public meetings and to share their ideas. The administration did begin posting Cuomo's schedules, but with months delay and serious omissions.
A Mixed Bag"I can charitably say the administration has been a mixed bag of making data open to the public," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). "They have utilized technology to make government databases open to the public and they deserve credit for it. But when it comes to the process by which decisions are made the administration is opaque - budget negotiations are shrouded in secrecy, they monitor who is requesting information through FOIL (Freedom of Information Law). They really cherry pick the information they make available to the public."
Horner, who is a seasoned Albany veteran, says that Cuomo's father Mario had the most open administration he has seen whereas former Gov. George Pataki was very closed off. "I think this Cuomo (Andrew) is closer to the Pataki administration. They are extremely secretive. We still don't know how they are funding the building of the Tappan Zee Bridge and they are pouring concrete into the ground."
Horner notes that increasing transparency whether it be from sharing schedules, government data, or policy positions can open a politician up for attack. Cuomo has felt that sting a number of times in his first term.
Cuomo's schedule became particularly important when he unexpectedly announced in his 2012 state of the state speech a plan whereby Genting, a Malaysian gambling company, would build and run a Queens convention center and casino.
Many observers wondered where the idea had come from. It turns out that Cuomo was approached about the idea by Genting officials during an October 2011 fundraiser that was not disclosed on Cuomo's official schedule. Cuomo officials said the omission was a mistake. It further turned out that Genting had given $400,000 to a business-focused advocacy group, formed at Cuomo's behest and called The Committee to Save New York, while Cuomo was working on the convention center plans. The New York Gaming Association gave the committee $2 million and The Committee to Save New York refused for months to release its list of contributors.
As criticism swirled, plans for the convention center were eventually dropped.
Meanwhile, the administration has won praise from advocates and tech groups for making budget data and info on state agencies available through open.ny.
Media RelationsCuomo's new memoir details what appears to have bred his deep mistrust of the press. In the book, released October 14 (exactly three weeks before Election Day), Cuomo explains how he learned about his divorce from a New York Times reporter and how he feels the press was responsible for sinking his 2002 bid for governor because it harped on his statement that then-Gov. George Pataki had held former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's coat in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Perhaps an exchange with the Times' Amy Chozick best distills Cuomo's feelings for the press: "You have to be careful because sometimes the temptation is actually to tell [reporters] the truth," Cuomo said in reference to those 2002 comments. Chozick responded: "We like the truth." To which Cuomo countered: "No. You like your truth."
Albany insiders remember Cuomo's father Gov. Mario Cuomo as someone who regularly conversed with the press and had collegial relationships with a number of reporters. The son's administration has earned a reputation for the exact opposite.
Administration members have developed dossiers on reporters and in the case of Liz Benjamin of Capital Tonight, the brief was prepared for a meeting with her employers at Time Warner Cable. Her file was marked "Generally Snarky." Administration officials have made direct appeals to have reporters' work or style changed. Cuomo is known to himself make off-the-record calls to reporters and editors trying to shape stories.
The governor has continually refused to appear on prominent political television shows such as Benjamin's and Errol Louis' Inside City Hall. Instead, the governor makes radio appearances on a fairly regular basis, but in a very selective manner.
Cuomo has so tightly controlled his interaction with the media that over his first four years in office he has mainly dealt with two reporters to get his message out to the public. Early in his term Cuomo exclusively appeared on a radio show hosted by Fred Dicker of The New York Post. The administration appeared to float policy ideas through Dicker's articles with anonymous tips. If something was brewing in the news cycle that needed addressing Cuomo would call in to Dicker's show and carefully discuss it, though the focus of his appearances was normally on Cuomo's love of muscle cars and Upstate.
Eventually the pair had a falling out when Cuomo began advocating for tougher gun laws, leading to the SAFE Act. Since then Cuomo has made regular, albeit often brief appearances on Susan Arbetter's The Capitol Pressroom radio program on Syracuse's WCNY.
"He doesn't talk to the press except for in tightly controlled situations and that is a problem because you guys get the message to the people," said Muzzio. "Right now the [agency] commissioners don't talk to anyone unless they get approval from the second floor [of the Capitol, where Cuomo's office is]."
"There is a general lack of information getting to the public. He's got a responsibility to the people and ignoring the press is bad because there could be a much greater discussion of policy than there is," said Muzzio.
With the release of his memoir, Cuomo did tape an hour-long interview with PBS' Charlie Rose in mid-October. However, he continues to ignore invitations from NY1, incuding for televised debates.
In-house Communications & Record/Commission TamperingIn what appears to be another attempt to restrict media and general public knowledge of the administration's goings on, members are known to follow tight rules on internal communications. Cuomo's staff confers by Blackberry pin messages that are not saved for the archives as messages sent by official email would have to be under state law. And Pro Publica reported in August that the administration has an email policy that requires state employees to automatically delete their email periodically.
Pro Publica also detailed how administration members have conducted state business by private email. "Government business should never be conducted through private email accounts," Christopher Dunn of The New York Civil Liberties Union, told Pro Publica. "Not only does it make it difficult to retrieve what is a government record, but it just invites the suspicion that a government employee is attempting to evade accountability by supervisors and the public."
The administration has also tampered with records from the governor's time as Attorney General. The Times Union reported in July 2012 that administration staff reviewed documents it had requested from the archives, inspected them after they left, and then removed what they didn't want them to see.
The New York Times reported that administration staff were "editing" Cuomo's public record as attorney general by pulling multiple files from the state archives. The files related to Cuomo's controversial investigation into the "troopergate" scandal involving then Gov. Eliot Spitzer and former Republican Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. Cuomo's report found major fault with Spitzer's behavior but exonerated Bruno. Other reports were less damning of Spitzer and some saw Cuomo's as a political move to damage Spitzer. Administration officials told The Times that they were simply removing documents that should not have been placed in the archives in the first place.
Lastly, but perhaps most important, is Cuomo's handling of commissions. Cuomo has come under the spotlight for his and his administration's alleged meddling in the anti-corruption Moreland Commission - which the governor had formed to root out corruption in Albany and closed down in what many call premature fashion. This group includes U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, who has had his office pick up on Moreland's initial work and is also investigating Cuomo's interference.
A number of members of previous commissions including Cuomo's on the Long Island Power Authority and tax relief insist Cuomo had complete control of their work - editing their findings, pressuring them to back his agenda, and at times simply telling them what their findings should be.
It was also recently reported by Capital New York that Cuomo's administration edited and delayed a federal fracking study - being performed at the governor's request while he simultaneously drags his feet on taking a stance on the controversial energy extraction practice. Cuomo has said he will make no declaration about fracking before Election Day.
What is most striking about his handling of the recent Moreland Commission on Public Corruption is that Cuomo appears to have begun interfering when the commission began looking into groups that had strong connections to his administration. Subpoenas to the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), which donates heavily to Cuomo, and to an ad-buying firm Cuomo uses were pulled back at the suggestion of Cuomo staffers. Cuomo had promised in August 2013: "Anything (the Moreland Commission) wants to look at, they can look at—me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman. They have total control and ability to look at whatever they want to look at."
Then in April 2014 Cuomo told the Crain's New York Business editorial board: "The Moreland Commission was my commission. It's my commission. My subpoena power, my Moreland Commission. I can appoint it, I can disband it. I appoint you, I can un-appoint you tomorrow. So, interference? It's my commission. I can't 'interfere' with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me."
Muzzio says that its important for politicians to "separate what is good for governing from what is good electorally. It is good at times to open yourself up, but he can't. He is a macro- and micro-manager."
A cloud of 'secrecy' even hovers over the governor's re-election campaign. Horner of NYPIRG said that he would love to know more about Cuomo's policy positions and that it would help Cuomo build a mandate. However, he admits, "When you take a policy position you leave yourself open to opposition. Cuomo appears to be taking the Rose Garden Strategy. So no, Albany has not yet achieved openness nirvana. There are still some very dark places."
The New York Fed's Small Business Credit Survey (image via @NYFed_News)
Small businesses are critical to the jobs recovery. They employ half of private sector workers and have generated roughly two-thirds of the nation's net new jobs since 1995. Despite the economic significance of this sector, local policymakers lack high quality information about small firms' performance and their financing and investment decisions, including decisions to hire new workers. The New York Fed, working with a coalition of community partners, is trying to fill this gap.
Since 2010, the New York Fed's Outreach Team has surveyed small businesses in the greater New York region about their performance, financing needs and choices, and employment experiences. We work with organizations that serve the business community—including government agencies, chambers of commerce, and nonprofit service organizations—to gather timely intelligence and help shape programs that benefit small business owners.
Two themes have emerged from the survey: unmet small dollar credit needs (loans of $250k or less) and high credit application costs.
First, small business loans under $250k are the most frequently needed and hardest to come by. According to the latest Small Business Credit Survey (SBCS), 90% of small businesses in our region that applied for credit in 2013 sought amounts under $1 million, with the bulk of demand under $250k. These figures are consistent with national data, which show that small dollar lending through large and small banks hasn't returned to pre-recession levels.
Why do firms need small dollar loans? The most common need is working capital to finance day-to-day operations, including financing inventory for an outstanding contract or to smooth seasonal cash flow. However, approval rates for these smaller amount loans were significantly lower than those for higher dollar amounts. The most common credit challenges are weak performance, often resulting in a weak credit score, and insufficient collateral.
City and state officials at the Department of Small Business Services and Empire State Development have used these insights to shape industry-specific loan and grant programs and to design post-Superstorm Sandy recovery programs. Our team at the New York Fed has used the findings to shape Access to Capital workshops, which we hold regularly in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The workshops demystify the credit application process by featuring direct conversations with lenders. They also introduce businesses that cannot qualify for traditional credit to alternative credit sources such as community development financial institutions, which can assume greater risk than banks and feature credit products designed to introduce (or reintroduce) firms into the financial mainstream.
A second and related finding from our research is that the credit search process can be quite costly in time and effort. Small business borrowers report spending more than 30 hours on average applying for loans—the better part of a workweek of a full-time employee. Consistent with this, small firms report growing interest in obtaining credit from non-traditional sources, including online lenders, which promise faster credit decisions. Even though this market currently represents less than $10 billion in outstanding loan capital, compared to the $700 billion from traditional sources, it is estimated that the portfolio balance of online lenders is doubling every year.
While the online sector has streamlined the credit application process, the terms and conditions can be quite costly. For example, online balance sheet lenders like OnDeck and Kabbage typically provide small short-term loans at an annualized rate that can range anywhere between 30 to 120 percent. Peer-to-peer lenders like Lending Club and Prosper, on the other hand, normally target near-prime borrowers and lend larger amounts for longer terms; interest rates for these loans range from 8 to 24 percent.
Given the importance of these trends for the economic health of small businesses and the US economy, the New York Fed remains committed to finding ways to maximize opportunities from credit innovations and minimize risk. Our goal is to provide high quality information and analysis on small businesses and to increase transparency about new sources of credit that may profoundly affect firms' financing options.
***by Claire Kramer, AVP, Director of Community Development, and Diego Aragon, Associate Director, Outreach and Education
Find the New York Fed on Twitter @NYFed_News and on Facebook here.
A young pedestrian crosses Foster Ave at Nostrand Ave, Flatbush (all photos: Erin Brodwin)
Children in poorer neighborhoods are more likely to be injured while walking
Walking down the street shouldn't mean risking your life. But that is the case at this Brooklyn intersection. Fifteen-ton buses jockey for position with cars, taxis, and dollar vans whose drivers speed down the boulevard hollering boasts of hasty trips for time-strapped travelers. People emerging from the subway crisscross the street at random; the white lines of multiple crosswalks are barely visible.
Children dash throughout the scene: little ones from the daycare center dwarfed by their backpacks run from corner to corner while teenagers in sneakers dart through traffic. A walk signal doesn't protect one child from a near miss when an aggressive driver in a white SUV makes a right turn.
This is Avenue H and Nostrand Avenue on a weekday afternoon. It's one of New York City's most dangerous intersections for children. Within a one-block radius of this urban hive nearly 50 young people under age 17 were hit and injured by vehicles in a seven-year period. Three died. In the two police precincts that cover the area, more than 900 kids were hurt and ten were killed by motorists. And this is not the city's only hotspot for child pedestrian injuries.
New York City drivers hit and injured more than 15,000 children between 2005 and 2012, according to a Gotham Gazette analysis of federal data. And a lot of people, even police officers and traffic safety advocates, aren't aware of the problem.
Typically, traffic safety analyses focus on pedestrians who are killed. In the same seven-year period, almost 100 children were hit by cars and died—no doubt a dire problem. But an analysis of child victims that doesn't account for kids who are hit and injured by cars gives an incomplete picture of street safety. Deaths are rare and haphazard: cars kill children even in places with well-designed streets and a vigilant police force. Analyzing injuries and deaths, however, reveals a pattern of hotspots. Some streets are indeed more dangerous than others. In New York City, most hotspot roads and intersections are in low-income neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the Bronx. They are overwhelmingly congested, poorly maintained, and inadequately policed, according to transportation experts and residents.
Dangerous streets 2005-2012: Orange dots represent areas where at least 7 kids were injured by cars. Dots in black mean a child was killed by a car within 5 blocks of that site. DOT data.
Parents and safety advocates recognize that almost every child that's injured could just as easily be killed. And for those who have lost a child the grief never ends. Audrey Anderson lost her 14-year-old son, Andre, to a speeding driver. Andre was bicycling to a friend's house in Rockaway Beach, Queens when the driver of an SUV swerved and struck him from behind. The child never saw it coming. The NYPD arrived to the scene but did not test the driver for drinking while driving. An investigation into Andre's death was never launched. "Someone always has to die in order for changes to be made," says Anderson. "Unfortunately I lost mine like that."
(Audrey Anderson holds a picture of her son Andre, killed by a speeding car in the Rockaways)
Residents, parents, and activists in these accident-prone New York City areas say they need a safety facelift. Mayor Bill de Blasio's Vision Zero campaign to eliminate pedestrian fatalities is a start, and one backed by many families who have lost children to traffic crashes. But most of the advocacy work is being done by residents with little knowledge about street design or access to data about pedestrian injuries.
Efforts by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) appear to make a difference, but front line police culture favors taking action on violent crime more than traffic enforcement—even though the data shows more kids getting hit by cars than being shot by guns. Mayor Bill de Blasio's Vision Zero campaign launched this year to begin tackling these problems, is a good start. Still, pedestrian safety programs continue to be more prevalent in affluent communities where parents complain the loudest, seemingly at the expense of children in low-income boroughs, where accident rates are the highest. In the low-income community of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, for example, annual rates of child injury are seven times higher than in the wealthy neighborhood of Park Slope, one of the communities that has received the most police attention to street safety.
Residents are on guard but resigned to the dangerYou can hear children laughing from outside the Head Start childcare center in Flatbush. At dismissal time, staff help children gather lunch boxes and backpacks to prepare for their parents' arrival. Some cluster in supervisor Stacy Rose-McFarland's room, where they wait for moms and dads who haven't yet gotten off work. Soon the kids will pour out onto the streets.
Ten children were hit by cars and injured a few yards away from the daycare's entrance between 2005 and 2012, a Gotham Gazette analysis found. One block west, a child died. "It's a really tough corner," says Rose-McFarland of the intersection of Glenwood Road and Nostrand Avenue. Afternoon dismissal time is the most troubling for the center's staff, she says. In the past, safety officers from the 67th precinct helped direct traffic and dissuaded kids from darting between cars. But sometime last year, the officers stopped showing up, she says. "I wish they could be here, not the whole eight hours or anything, but just around dismissal time, when we're all letting the kids out at once."
A few blocks away, outside Flatbush Public School 269, ask any local whether she has witnessed a kid getting hit by a car and the answer is often yes.
Near the school between Nostrand and Foster Avenues, children inhabit a world of their own. Inside the playground on the school's corner, kids use swings, crawl on a jungle gym, and skid down slides. At 4:00 p.m. on a warm Wednesday afternoon, the place is abuzz with parents carting toddlers in strollers and young boys riding bikes in the street.
Parents and teachers know the two streets that run alongside the park are dangerous. Between 2005 and 2012, 34 children were injured within a block of the playground. Residents say a lot of crashes happen when cars travelling the wrong way on Nostrand collide with other cars, or even the B44 bus. "Happens all the time," said Remzi Deli owner Hamood Awad when I asked him if he'd seen many crashes. "Lots of cabbies. They realize they're going the wrong way mid-block and then suddenly make a turn."
It doesn't help that the street is a major thoroughfare for the B44 bus, which is supposed to stay within the confines of a painted red lane in the middle of Nostrand Avenue. School buses and delivery trucks share the road here too. On the sidewalks lining the street, vendors sell everything from ice cream to peanuts, adding to the number of people traveling through the area on foot.
(Pedestrians cross at Nostrand Ave and Avenue H, Flatbush, Brooklyn)
Yolanda Simmons, the police officer who guards PS 269 on weekday afternoons, says people in the neighborhood are aware of the problem, but no one's done anything to change it. "It's the drivers," says Simmons. "People don't understand that if buses and cars are coming this way, they shouldn't be going that way. I've seen trucks...phew! Some close calls."
Niola Victor, a parent who's lived in the area for two decades, said she's also seen a few crashes. "They're always coming from the opposite way. It's ridiculous! I've seen a few kids hit like that," she said. Victor said she also saw an older man get hit and killed a few months ago. "He died right there," she said, pointing at Nostrand Avenue, where the white crosswalk paint was wearing away.
NYPD: Dismissive and defensiveA majority of pedestrian crashes in Brooklyn and the Bronx happen along the invisible lines that distinguish one police precinct from another. Midwood's 7-0, or 70th precinct, cuts a jagged staircase-shape where it meets Flatbush's 6-7 along Nostrand between the intersection near Rose-McFarland and Foster Avenue a few blocks north. In total in those precincts, more than 900 kids were hurt by cars between 2005 and 2012. Ten were killed. Daycare administrators and residents in the area say they know it is dangerous, but are so used to the hazards they no longer feel empowered to do anything about them. Joshua Miller, who has lived in Flatbush for 22 years, says he's gotten used to seeing or hearing about kids getting hit. "Every month it's something," Miller says. "Just last year I saw two people hit. The worst part is that it's a school zone!"
This reporter made numerous attempts to speak to the NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, the person charged with informing the community about matters of public interest. No one from the office responded.
Some of the police officers who did discuss the problem sometimes seemed to think their job was to tackle "real crime" like murder and shootings, not something as tedious as traffic safety. In February at the Flatbush 67th precinct headquarters requests were made for more information on child pedestrian safety in the area, and an officer named Mike Bresnahan responded, "We do guns here. They do jaywalking on the Upper East Side."
But the data shows exponentially more area kids being harmed by drivers than gunmen. The neighborhood on the border of Midwood and Flatbush saw 15 people of any age shot in 2013. Each year, the average number of children hit by cars in the area is 50.
"The cops say, 'Well our officers are there for crime,'" says Richard Sargeant, who leads a community block group in Flatbush. "But you have [vehicles] flying down the road. That's a crime too." The same is true in other neighborhoods where kids are getting hit by cars. In Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn and Soundview, the Bronx, an average of 11 people were shot in each precinct in 2013. But each year, the average number of children hit by cars in those precincts is 50.
Officer Robert Thybulle, who handles community affairs in the 67th precinct, spoke at length about a single biking and walking safety event the precinct is hosting this summer. The goal of the event is to prevent accidents by educating pedestrians and cyclists. Thybulle didn't say anything about pursuing the drivers who are causing the accidents. Most of them are speeding and engaging in other reckless behavior while behind the wheel. Between 1995 and 2009, more than 220,000 pedestrians were injured; over 2,000 were killed, according to an analysis of NYPD data from Transportation Alternatives. Of the 2,000 crashes reported to the police in which a pedestrian was killed, the driver was breaking at least one traffic law at the time of the crash.
Thybulle did say the police need to be more proactive. "The Police Department is guilty of when something happens we react and then the issue dies," said Thybulle. "We recognize that the amount of pedestrians and cyclists hit is a lot."
NYPD officers were defensive and made excuses at a recent community event where they were pressed by residents about pedestrian safety. The meeting, at Brooklyn College in Flatbush, was organized by the Department of Transportation and the NYPD as part of the mayor's new Vision Zero task force. At the event, officers and transportation department employees sat around tables with residents. At one point, Frank Esquilin, who chairs a civic organization in the Crown Heights-Prospect Lefferts Gardens area, said that although the police had been flooding the community with cops, he never saw any enforcing traffic rules.
"During one of these situations you've got cops everywhere," said Esquilin to the officers. "So why aren't these cops doing something about all the people speeding?"
Police Officer Ari Dubitsky, who works in the area's 70th precinct, replied that the officers who patrol the area are part of a crime unit called Project Impact, and are usually patrolling on foot. That means they don't have a car to enforce traffic violations, he said. "You're asking those cops to chase down a car," said Dubitsky. "They can't do that without their own vehicle."
NYPD collects its own numbers on pedestrian injuries and deaths, which Thybulle said can be shared with the Department of Transportation. One metric used is the Accident-Prone Locations (APL) protocol, a point-based system introduced in the 1990s but abandoned until 2010, when it was reinstated by newly-appointed NYPD Chief of Transportation James Fuller. The protocol, in which the NYPD data team gives intersections one point for each crash that occurs there, two points for a crash in which someone is injured, and three points for a fatal crash, allows the department to deploy safety officers to monitor traffic and issue tickets in the most dangerous areas. Thybulle says his precinct uses the protocol and sends safety officers to schools.
This reporter shared the Gotham Gazette analysis of child pedestrian accidents with Thybulle, and he said the police have identified some of the same areas and received community complaints about them. In response, he said they use the APL protocol to send a group of safety officers to the area to enforce traffic laws and write summonses. Unfortunately, one of the most dangerous intersections in New York City doesn't seem to be getting special police attention. Rose-McFarland's building is a daycare center and not a K-12 school, so Thybulle said it may have been removed from the list of priority locations.
Affluent activists get attentionOn a windy November evening, Grace Freedman took the candle passed to her and cupped her hand around its flame to shield it from the chilly breeze that whipped hair and chapped lips. Freedman stood huddled amongst a familiar crowd of parents and children gathered on the corner of Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn. Those who didn't carry candles held handwritten signs with slogans like "Slow down!'' and "Kids live here" etched in large black letters.
Freedman, who is self-employed, is a pedestrian safety advocate in the affluent, largely white-collar community of Park Slope, where an average of one out of every 1,000 children is injured by motorists each year—not even approaching the rate of the most dangerous places for child-pedestrians in the city. In Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, for example, seven out of every 1,000 kids are injured by a car annually. In Soundview, the Bronx, five out of every 1,000 children are hit and hurt by a car.
Although she began holding meetings of parents concerned about street safety years ago, Freedman watched interest in pedestrian activism skyrocket in recent months after one resident's child was hit and killed by a vehicle. Last year, Freedman and a coalition of activists sent a petition to the Department of Transportation demanding that it designate parts of their community as neighborhood slow zones, spaces where speeds are reduced from 35 to 20 miles per hour. "If a neighborhood wants it," Freedman told me, "why can't they have it?"
Park Slope street safety advocate Eric McClure said he talked to a Department of Transportation official about reducing speed limits. But he was told there hadn't been enough pedestrian injuries or deaths to warrant action. Then in 2013 and earlier this year, some wealthy, or what he calls "high profile" children were hit by cars. The death of 12-year-old Sammy Eckstein Cohen in October became a catalyst. His parents began attending city council meetings, lobbying representatives from the Department of Transportation and the NYPD, and speaking at pedestrian safety rallies. The Department of Transportation shifted into high gear, McClure says.
In January, McClure said his Department of Transportation contact suggested he try petitioning the group again. This time, he was successful: The Department of Transportation reduced the speed limit on Prospect Park West from 30 to 25 miles per hour. McClure attributes the change to a few parents who have the connections and time to channel their grief for an innocent child into activism. "It's unfortunate that this is the way it is. But that's reality," says McClure.
The week of Jan. 21, the Department of Transportation and the NYPD sent a team of plain-clothes police officers from Park Slope's 78th precinct to ticket aggressive drivers who failed to yield to pedestrians crossing the street legally. In the course of the two-day sting operation, the officers wrote 17 summonses, almost as many as the 26 they issued in the entire month prior. For the month of January, police there wrote 42 summons for failing to yield to a pedestrian. That same month in Flatbush's much larger 67th precinct, where the child injury rate is three times higher, police issued seven summonses. Since then, the total number of summonses issued in Park Slope—which is half the size of Flatbush when the area's large park is excluded—still dwarfs the amount issued in Flatbush. Between January and April 2014 police in Park Slope wrote 112 summonses for failing to yield to a pedestrian. In Flatbush, they issued 91.
Rob Viola, a senior project manager in the Department of Transportation's traffic and planning division, admits that more active groups get the agency's attention. "The thing is, the more organized groups and neighborhoods are, and the more money the neighborhood has, the more impact they'll have. They have more money, they know who to talk to," says Viola.
Blaming the VictimPaul Steely White leads the city's authority on bicycling and walking advocacy, a non-profit group called Transportation Alternatives. White says the group's biggest challenge in preventing pedestrian crashes is "overcoming the erroneous perception that pedestrians have it coming, that there's nothing we can do." Because law enforcement officials often blame the victim, he says, it is difficult to encourage them to take preventive action.
But pedestrian error isn't always the reason for a crash. Most involve a traffic violation on the part of the driver—such as speeding or running a red light. And data from police reports shows that unsafe driver behavior is more likely to occur on wide-open, multi-lane roads where high speeds are permitted or on smaller streets where low speeds are not enforced.
There is a minority of instances where driver traffic violations are not a factor. Usually, these involve children who, as scientific studies have shown are unable to accurately judge speed, dart in front of vehicles or cross the street mid-block rather than in a crosswalk. This is more likely to occur if a neighborhood lacks sidewalks, or where high-density family housing (where lots of children live) abuts a major thoroughfare.
White says streets should be built in a way that protects residents from risk rather than placing them in the line of danger. "Even in the small percentage of cases—and I want to stress that it's a very small percentage—where you have kids darting out into traffic, we can prevent those by making our streets more forgiving to the routine errors people are going to make."
The burden is greater in low-income neighborhoods, where White says he sees "a disproportionate number of children dying from traffic crashes." In its report on child pedestrian crashes, Transportation Alternatives found that in low-income neighborhoods where public housing is located near high-speed streets, protracted 'super blocks' require that pedestrians walk long distances—up to a third of a mile, in some cases—to reach a streetlight with a crosswalk. As a result, walking anywhere without breaking the law is impossible. "We've criminalized walking," says White.
Youth Pedestrian Deaths, 2005-2012
Using science to make streets safeIn his previous career, Columbia University epidemiologist Charles DiMaggio was an emergency room physician's assistant in Queens in the 1970s. There he became accustomed to seeing injury firsthand. But something felt strange and oddly disturbing, he says, about the number of children he saw who'd been hit by a car or truck. "I knew something was going on," says DiMaggio. It was a turning point for DiMaggio, who decided he was more concerned with preventing these tragedies than treating them. So the Columbia University graduate student took on an extra load of classes and began working the redeye shift at the ER. Years later, he graduated with a PhD in epidemiology, which looks at injury and illness across communities, rather than in individuals.
Although pedestrian deaths are drastically lower today than they were in the 1970s, DiMaggio says the numbers are still concerning, especially for children. He said the Gotham Gazette data analysis yielded results that were consistent with his own findings. Two clusters of child injuries and deaths in Brooklyn — in Flatbush and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens — and two more in the South Bronx, he said.
In 2001, DiMaggio and a team of urban planners embarked on a mission to see if they could build safer streets. They focused on 130 New York City school zones where numerous children had been hit by cars. There they constructed sidewalk extensions, added streetlights, stop signs, and crosswalks, and held traffic safety education workshops with kids and parents. The process wasn't easy. It required time and collaboration across several city agencies.
In 2012, DiMaggio released the results of his own Safe Routes to School program. Child pedestrian injury rates had plummeted, falling to half their original numbers. "We showed that kids can still be kids," says DiMaggio. "They can walk and bike to school and be safe." The project's federal funding expired last year, however, and no plans exist to extend the initiative to areas beyond the immediate vicinity of the selected schools.
The hardest part of studying child pedestrian injuries is realizing that they are preventable, says DiMaggio. "If you package things in a way they don't break," he says, "you don't have to worry about dropping them."
***Erin Brodwin is a journalist who writes about the intersection between science and society. She's based in Brooklyn, New York. You can check out some of her other work at erbrod.comOn Twitter: @erbrod
Last month, the MTA submitted its five year capital budget. The $32 billion plan would provide critical funding for the replacement of subway cars and buses, the modernization of signal and communication systems, and major expansion projects like East Side Access and the Second Avenue Subway. While the capital plan is essential to the continued functioning of New York's century-old transit system, there was a hitch: $15.2 billion remains unfunded. How can the MTA close this gaping hole in its budget? With strong leadership and creativity from Mayor Bill de Blasio; wrangling funding from Albany and Washington while increasing the city's financial support.
Over the last twenty-five years, the City's direct contribution to the MTA capital program has fallen markedly. In 1989, Mayor Ed Koch allocated $950 million to the Authority – representing a 15 percent share of the city's total capital budget. By 2007, that contribution fell to $124 million, a 1.4 percent share. And while the City's funding of the 7 Train extension - via the Hudson Yards Investment Corporation - provided a bump over the last five years, its $449 million contribution in 2013 was less than half its 1989 total.
With the 7 Train extension nearing completion, the city mustn't allow its funding to return to mid-2000s levels. In its capital plan, the MTA budgeted only $131 million per year from the city over next half decade. Mayor de Blasio should consider tripling or quadrupling that sum.
In the past, the City's allocation to the MTA has been highly targeted. During his final term, Mayor Koch made a generous contribution to replace the Transit Authority's aging and graffiti-stricken subway cars. Mayor de Blasio and the City Council should take a similar tact, devoting dollars to a specific priority.
Across the transit system, there are a number of urgent needs. According to the Center for an Urban Future's Caution Ahead report, for instance, 37 percent of the subway's signal system has exceeded its fifty-year useful life and approximately 1,000 subway cars running along the A, C and E lines were built prior to 1975.
The MTA's fare-collection system too, is nearly obsolete. Officials have warned that its MetroCard turnstiles cannot be maintained beyond 2019. As the Transit Authority begins to implement a contactless, smart-card payment system, the City's new Municipal ID card could serve as a platform. In Boston, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) passes are built into the One Card for students. New York could fund a similarly integrated ID, helping the MTA adopt a modern fare-collection system while ensuring broad adoption of the new Municipal ID card.
The City can also help the MTA develop new funding streams. The second phase of the Second Avenue Subway, running from 96th Street to 125th, will be a boon to East Harlem developers. The City could follow London's lead, establishing a Community Infrastructure Levy on each square foot of new construction in the neighborhood. As developers profit from increased investment in public infrastructure, it is only fair that they contribute to this investment. The return on the levy could be divided between the subway extension and the city's affordable housing fund.
Importantly, the City cannot allow Albany off the hook. The current five year plan assumes zero capital contributions from the State. While Albany does contribute to the MTA operating budget, this is drawn from dedicated revenue sources that largely originate in New York City – like the corporate franchise tax surcharge and real estate transfer taxes. Discretionary funding for the MTA, on the other hand, was cut by $30 million this year.
Given that the city – and by extension, the subway – is New York's primary economic engine, this is unacceptable. Mayor de Blasio should work with Governor Cuomo, ensuring that any increase in the city's allocation be matched or multiplied by Albany – sourced, perhaps, from the state's new infrastructure bank.
The City should also press the MTA to more equitably distribute its capital funding across the subway and regional rail systems it operates. The 2015-2019 capital plan devotes 25 percent of rail funding to the LIRR and MetroNorth, despite the subway representing 91 percent of the Authority's ridership. If funding were divided according to ridership, the subway system would receive an additional $3.6 billion. Though perfect parity is not necessarily advisable, Mayor de Blasio should negotiate for a fairer distribution.
The subway is New York City's central circulatory system. Its 660 miles of track connect residents from Van Cortlandt Park to Coney Island, Flushing to Times Square. It is the thread that stitches the five boroughs together and a bellwether of New York's fortunes: as goes the MTA, so goes the city. To ensure New York's continued economic viability and quality of life, the upcoming capital plan must be fully funded. To do so, the Mayor and the Council – as well as the Governor – must take action.
***Adam Forman is research associate at the Center for an Urban Future, a New York City based think tank. He is the author of "Caution Ahead," a report published in March by the Center documenting New York's infrastructure vulnerabilities.***@GothamGazette
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Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, left, and challenger Bob Antonacci (photo: @InsideCityHall)
New York City - State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger Bob Antonacci outlined different views of the role of the Comptroller in a televised debate Wednesday night.
DiNapoli touted and defended his record as a strong fiscal steward for the state, but Antonacci, the Onondaga County Comptroller and a certified public accountant, said DiNapoli had overreached with activist investing. In a mostly cordial debate, the issue of "shareholder activism" drew a clear distinction between the two candidates.
An important but not widely known role, the Comptroller is the sole trustee of the state's $176 billion pension fund and is in charge of auditing and reviewing state contracts.
Of the likely voters polled by Siena College late last month, 52% didn't have an opinion about DiNapoli, even though he's been in statewide office for seven years. Nonetheless, the incumbent is a clear favorite with a large financial advantage and less than three weeks before Election Day. A poll released last week by Quinnipiac University had DiNapoli up 56% to Antonacci's 28%, and Siena found similar numbers.
During the hourlong debate at Baruch College, which was broadcast live on NY1, DiNapoli said the Comptroller should have an active role in advocating for socially conscious practices by companies the state pension fund invests in.
He said once the State is invested in a company, he encourages companies to be "good corporate citizens" in terms of environmental issues, worker rights, and LGBT rights, in part to protect against costly lawsuits and protect the state's investment.
"We want to hold the companies that we're invested in accountable," DiNapoli said during the debate.
Speaking with reporters afterward, DiNapoli continued on the subject: "Shareholder activism in the furtherance of protecting the fund is essential and necessary," he explained when asked to elaborate by Gotham Gazette.
But Antonacci said that the Comptroller should only be focused on returns, not ideological issues.
"We're going to base investments on one thing: returns to the taxpayers," Antonacci said about the office if he were to be elected.
According to Antonacci, DiNapoli has made more activist shareholder proposals than many other institutional fund trustees. He said funds with high rates of shareholder activism tend to do worse than funds that don't.
"His activism is costing the beneficiaries of this fund," Antonacci said. "He's got to get back to managing the fund."
At the same time, Antonacci said DiNapoli should be more active at auditing the State Legislature and the Governor. He attacked the comptroller for signing off on a settlement with two women who accused disgraced State Assembly Member Vito Lopez of sexual harassment. Lopez resigned from office amid the controversy.
DiNapoli said he didn't have a choice. "We can't pick and choose when there's a legal settlement," he said, explaining that the Comptroller can only seek to root out fraud, not object on moral grounds when two parties have reached an agreement.
DiNapoli touted what he called a record of fighting public corruption and his partnership with State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (also a Democratic incumbent seeking re-election) to recover stolen money, as well as his independence from the "second floor"—the governor's office.
"One of the key attributes of this office ... is independence," DiNapoli said. "You don't get any medals for being cozy" with the Governor.
While the race was intended to pilot a new state public campaign finance system - candidates that raised $200,000 in small dollar contributions could qualify for $1.2 million in public funds - it seems likely that neither candidate will collect the public money.
DiNapoli, who fought for public financing as an assembly member, declined to participate in the system for what he says is a variety of reasons: including that it would mean returning or ignoring for this cycle thousands of dollars in contributions he received in the past four years. DiNapoli believes that the governor and the State Legislature passed the public financing pilot program hurriedly, and should have delayed it until the 2018 election cycle.
Bucking many Republicans who oppose the system, Antonacci signed up for public financing – but as he acknowledged in the debate, he will likely fall short of the $200,000 mark and not earn any public matching funds.
Both candidates said they still thought that public financing of state elections was a good idea and a program that should be expanded.
"We have to do something to shake up the incumbency protection agency in Albany," Antonacci said. "Maybe public financing can do that."
"What I hope does not happen as a result of this election is that people who are against public financing say, 'See, this doesn't work,'" DiNapoli said. He now has $2.75 million in campaign cash.
Delving into discount rates and investment diversification, the debate was somewhat technical - as one would expect for an office with the Comptroller's responsibilities - and fairly genial, with Antonacci several times calling DiNapoli a "gentleman" for agreeing to debate him despite his big lead in the polls. It appears it will be the only debate between the candidates before the Nov. 4 election.
Schneiderman and his Republican opponent, John Cahill, will hold a one-on-one televised debate on October 30. Governor Andrew Cuomo, another Democratic incumbent, has declined to do the same with his Republican challenger Rob Astorino, although they will debate along with two additional candidates on Oct. 22.
Antonacci said Cuomo should debate Astorino one-on-one, but DiNapoli declined to say what the governor should do.
"I think debates are always helpful to political discourse and more debates like this are positive," DiNapoli told Gotham Gazette. "I'm proud we were the first set of candidates to come forward and do this."
Governor Cuomo (photo: @NYGovCuomo)
As Election Day approaches and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo runs for re-election to a second term, Gotham Gazette looks at his record on several key issues in a series to be released throughout mid-to-late October:
The Cuomo Record
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