News Feed http://www.gothamgazette.com/ Tue, 18 Mar 2014 23:29:17 GMT FeedCreator 1.8.0-dev (info@mypapit.net) Today’s Lead: State Senate Rejects Dream Act http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/eye-opener/4909-todays-lead-state-senate-rejects-dream-act-

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DREAM Act legislation failed by a margin of two votes in the State Senate last night. The legislation which would have provided tuition assistance to the children of illegal immigrants, was brought up for a surprise vote. Thirty Democrats voted for the bill; all the Republicans voted against it, as well as Democratic Sens. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn and Ted O'Brien of Rochester. Gov. Andrew Cuomo voiced support for the legislation earlier in the day. Legislators and advocates have been trying to make the DREAM Act part of budget negotiations but this vote may have killed that effort. Some Democrats slammed the coalition between the Independent Senate Democrats and Republicans for preventing progressive legislation from passing. Others took it as a positive sign: "Six months ago, no one would have wagered that the DREAM Act would make it to the Senate floor in an election year, let alone come within two votes of passing,” said Democratic Sen. Jose Peralta from Queens, who sponsored the bill.
Looking for a Steward in the 79th AD

A Bronx district with a troubled history seeks new leadership.
The Mayor’s Vacant Lots

City seeks to sharpen picture of vacant lots and add incentives to boost affordable housing.

Letting the Sun in: The State of New York State Government Transparency

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Death of Brooklyn Boy Latest in Spate as City Turns to Traffic Safety (NY Times)

Possible Suitor For LICH Has Checkered Record as Savior (NY Times)

City’s Largest Residential Building Gets Green Light (NY Post)

Federal Suit Filed Over Harlem Charter School (Daily News)

State Suspends Licenses of Tax Deadbeats (Daily News)

Mayor Holds Public Hearing on Paid Sick Leave Bill (NY 1)

Astorino Tries to Translate Spanish Into Votes (Wall Street Journal)

De Blasio Declines to Engage Cuomo on Pre-K (Crain's)


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dking@gothamgazette.com (David Howard King) Tue, 18 Mar 2014 12:04:30 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/eye-opener/4909-todays-lead-state-senate-rejects-dream-act-
Looking for a Steward in the 79th http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/4908-new-york-state-assembly-79th-district-bronx AD79 site screen grab

The web page for the representative of the 79th NYS Assembly District


A Bronx Assembly District with a Troubled History Seeks New Leadership

Visitors to the website for the 79th New York State Assembly District are met not by the smiling face of the district's assembly member, but by the simple outline of contact information for the seat's district and Albany offices.

Click the page labeled "Biography," see "No biography available at this time."

The 79th, you see, is currently home to one of ten vacant New York State Assembly seats. That's ten of the state's 150 districts lacking a representative to the legislature's lower house. In the upper house, the state Senate, there are currently two vacancies among the 63 districts. This makes for almost two million New Yorkers, mostly in poorer sections of New York City, left without proper representation.

Making matters worse, there are no set protocols for staffing the offices of districts with vacant leadership and it is budget season in Albany. Not only are basic constituent services not necessarily being performed, but residents of these districts do not have a full slate of representatives seeking their share of discretionary funding.

Despite the pleas of some good government advocates, opinion writers, other elected officials, and constituents, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has stated he has no plans to call for special elections to fill the seats before November.

Cuomo cites the costs of specials and the heightened opportunity for party machines to have outsized influence in choosing the eventual winner if specials are called and turnout is even lower than usual. Some good government groups frustratedly agree with the governor's analysis and support his patience.

However, there have been more than a few cries that "taxation without representation" is ongoing in places like the Bronx's 79th assembly district (AD).

The 79th includes Bronx neighborhoods such as Morrisania, Concourse Village, Claremont Village, West Farms, and Tremont and is almost entirely populated by people of color. According to multiple sources, the district is home to underperforming schools, high unemployment, and a lack of faith in government. Two of the 79th's last three assembly members have left office due to bribery charges, including, most recently, Eric Stevenson, who was convicted in January of accepting bribes. In 2003, then-assembly member Gloria Davis resigned from office amid bribery charges to which she pled guilty.

In between the two, Michael Benjamin served the Bronx's 79th from 2003 to 2010, at which time he opted not to seek re-election. Without an indictment to his name, Benjamin served with distinction, leading to recent calls for him to pursue his old seat. On Friday, Benjamin announced that he would not be seeking election, writing on his website, "It's time for a new generation of honest persons to compete to represent 79th AD. I'll be an interested & opinionated constituent."

And into this power vacuum hopes to step Michael Blake, a Bronx native and veteran of both Obama presidential campaigns. Blake, who by all indications fits Benjamin's description of a new generation of honest office-seekers, is coming off a 2013 spent running Reshma Saujani's unsuccessful campaign for public advocate. Prior to that campaign, Blake served as the national deputy director of Operation Vote for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign and worked in the Obama administration after helping get the president elected in '08.

Blake now seeks elected office himself for the first time in his hometown, where he will be competing in a to-be-determined field that initially includes self-described "community advocate and activist" George Alvarez and parent coordinator Raul Rodriguez.

Reached for comment about the race and the district, Blake said that he would be officially kicking off his campaign "soon" and gave his assessment of problems in the district: "There's no question there's been troubles from an ethical standpoint, economic issues, crime issues, education issues that have been happening in this community. It's clear residents are skeptical, losing hope that politics and public servants can turn things around. They're really jaded, to be honest. There's a very low voting history, it's the poorest congressional district in the country."

To turn things around, Blake said, will require improving the area's educational and economic opportunities. "If you pick up a book and you pick up a check, you probably don't pick up a gun," he said, his voice rising. "I'm confident we can bring together allies, [secure] resources this district hasn't seen before."

"There's a growing new vision happening around here," Blake said, citing Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr.'s "New Bronx" branding and saying it is time to actualize it across the entire borough. Blake also named new city council members Vanessa Gibson and Ritchie Torres as examples of the changing of the guard and the Bronx political culture.

On the culture of corruption that seems to be plaguing his assembly district, Benjamin disagreed it is rampant. "Two arrogant and corruptible individuals in the past 12 years shouldn't paint the 79th AD as 'Corruption Central,'" he emailed.

Benjamin affirmed his faith in the next batch of Bronx leaders, "I'm not too worried about this sort of thing repeating itself in the 79th district or elsewhere," he said.

But, the area is troubled in other ways that need immediate attention, he said, citing the lack of a full-service bank within the district and the "black hole" in New York City education that is its middle schools. The district needs "job training for those who are out of school and don't necessarily have the job skills to work these days," Benjamin continued.

When asked about the crop of candidates for his old seat, Benjamin noted that he does not know Blake personally and will be watching to see how much of a connection with the district's communities he can make in a fairly short time. Benjamin noted that none of the initial candidates seem to have "a history of involvement with organizations in the AD."

Each, of course, will beg to differ, as Alvarez and Rodriguez already do on their websites and Blake did over the phone, saying, "I volunteer here, I preach locally, the Bronx is home.

"For me, I live in this district, live in this community, I see what's going on, how can I not say it's time to step up and serve?" he asked.

What Blake runs on other than the power of his resume and personality is yet to be seen, of course. But coming from his organizing experience at the national, state, and local levels, it would be a surprise if his campaign is not well run.

Asked what advice he would give to whomever fills the 79th assembly district seat as of 2015, Benjamin, who held it for eight years, said, "The same [advice] given me by a local businessman 11 years ago, 'Stay honest. Work for the people.'"

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) Tue, 18 Mar 2014 01:36:09 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/4908-new-york-state-assembly-79th-district-bronx
The Mayor's Vacant Lots http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/4906-the-mayors-vacant-lots-de-blasio-affordable-housing vacant lot - Walton Ave - Bronx

A vacant lot in the Bronx


City Seeks to Sharpen Picture of Vacant Lots and Add Incentives to Boost Affordable Housing

A neat stretch of row houses comes to an abrupt halt at 2247 Walton Ave., in the Bronx, where a boarded-up house warning of rat poison sits beside a fenced-in lot covered in dead grass and garbage. The site has remained empty for several years and has served as an effective backdrop for media events held by Picture the Homeless, an advocacy group headquartered nearby.

Throughout the Bloomberg administration, Picture the Homeless campaigned for the city to turn the thousands of vacant lots and buildings strewn across the boroughs into affordable housing for the city's growing homeless population.

The group may now have a high-profile ally to champion its cause: Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Before taking office, de Blasio pledged to thoroughly tax and develop the city's vacant land, in part by making vacant residential properties in the so-called outer boroughs subject to the same higher commercial tax rate as those in Manhattan. The move would raise tax revenue and make it prohibitively expensive for landowners to hold onto real estate without developing it, according to the mayor.

In fact, even under the current tax code the city is already not even receiving its due in tax revenue from vacant lots, as shown by Comptroller Scott Stringer's audit of vacant lot classifications. Stringer's audit showed that the city's Department of Finance "improperly classified the tax and building classes of 308 vacant properties throughout New York City, resulting in an annual real estate tax loss conservatively estimated at $1.7 million."

Along with changing the tax code, Mayor de Blasio also advocates for the creation of a non-profit public land trust that would allow the city to more efficiently acquire vacant property from negligent owners and sell it to more responsible ones – a process that is currently controlled by multiple agencies and holding companies.

The mayor's office confirms that unlocking vacant properties is still a key part of his plan to create or preserve 200,000 affordable housing units. Details of the plan are expected in May.

But, a complicating factor: when the City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings invited city agencies to a hearing on vacant properties last month, it became clear that the picture of vacancy is still fuzzy.

"Integral to the housing plan will be a re-examination of all the city's assets, including vacant land," Vicki Been, the new commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), told the committee.

A bill passed by the Council in 2011 requires city agencies to keep records of the vacant properties that come to their attention. But records remain incomplete.

There are approximately 7,000 privately owned vacant lots across the city, according to the Department of City Planning. Been said that HPD is aware of about 1,100 vacant city-owned properties, 141 of which have buildings on them.

"But that is not the universe of vacant buildings," she said.

Both Been and a representative of the city Department of Finance, which keeps records of the city's privately-owned vacant buildings, said it would be difficult to come up with a precise number of vacant buildings and lots that could be developed for housing.

"It seems like there's no number to start with, even if it's wrong," said a frustrated Jumaane Williams, the new chairman of the Council's housing and buildings committee.

A bill that would require the city to conduct an annual census of vacant properties has been stalled in the Council since 2010. The bill initially received support from several council members, including current Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

In 2011, Picture the Homeless volunteers hit the streets and conducted a survey of vacant properties. They found enough vacant buildings and lots to house nearly four times city's 53,000 homeless people.

"The idea of homes without people while people are without homes offends common sense," Sam Miller, director of policy and communications for Picture the Homeless, said at the committee hearing. "Counting this property is an important first step to transforming this property into housing for homeless people."

For de Blasio, it would be the initial step to determining who would be affected by his tax plan and where in the city new affordable housing could be created.

Existing city records show that Staten Island is the borough with the most square-footage of privately-owned property that could be developed for residential purposes, followed by Queens and Brooklyn.

Private owners of vacant land fall into a wide range of categories, from religious groups to families to major developers.

Supporters of de Blasio's plan say raising taxes would cut back on the developer practice of "warehousing" land in high-demand neighborhoods while waiting for market rates to rise. In his initial proposal, the mayor specifically mentioned targeting developers in areas like Williamsburg, where market speculation may be most frenzied.

Council Member Antonio Reynoso, whose district includes Williamsburg, said he supports the mayor's plan and is especially interested in targeting the neighborhood lots that have been empty for many years.

"The bottom line is that Williamsburg is starved for affordable units and the families that have been displaced in the last decade are a testament," he said in an email.

Andrew Barrocas, CEO of MNS, a consulting company that scouts and markets valuable property for developers in Williamsburg and other parts of the city, says there are two main reasons that developers hold off on building.

"Number one, they have to come up with more equity than they might have thought they needed to when they originally bought the site," he said. "Number two, they could just be having delays getting through permitting and approvals."

One of Barrocas' clients is the owner of the Edge, a partially-completed luxury development on North 6th Street in Williamsburg, which is listed in city records as holding four vacant lots. He says the company is developing according to schedule, not "warehousing."

In order to make money on the property, the city would have to revoke the tax abatements it receives to build affordable units alongside its condos.

"Taxes are very low," said Barrocas. "Virtually nothing."

Council members who spoke at the vacant land hearing last month cited specific examples of empty buildings and lots in their own districts and expressed a desire to see vacant land put to use.

"What really motivates us here is the opportunity cost," said Council Member Mark Levine.

After years of being overlooked, change may be underway for the vacant lot on Walton Avenue, as well as the rest of the city's vacant properties.

A private developer is seeking approval for a plan to take advantage of city and state subsidies to erect a building on the Walton Avenue site with both affordable units and supportive housing for people with special needs.

And if de Blasio's proposals become a reality, transformations like this one may become more common.

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Note: this article has been adjusted to include information regarding Comptroller Scott Stringer's audit report released on March 17.

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webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Caroline Lewis) Mon, 17 Mar 2014 17:36:05 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/4906-the-mayors-vacant-lots-de-blasio-affordable-housing
Today’s Lead: Cuomo Pressed For Less Pre-K Funding in Senate Budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/eye-opener/4904-todays-lead-cuomo-pressed-for-less-pre-k-funding-in-senate-budget eyeopenerbw2

Gov. Andrew Cuomo lobbied to reduce the amount of prekindergarten funding in the state Senate's budget proposal, according to The Wall Street Journal Cuomo called Sen. Jeff Klein on Tuesday to tell him the $540 million in prekindergarten funding proposed in the Senate budget and requested by Mayor Bill de Blasio was excessive. Cuomo suggested that Klein was looking to score political points to avoid a primary. Cuomo's sensitivity to the issue shows how delicate a political issue prekindergarten funding has become. The Senate budget resolution was passed on Thursday and now committees in both houses of the legislature will meet on the spending plan and negotiate with Cuomo on a final package. The pre-k figure included in the Senate budget is essentially meaningless. Cuomo has taken a number of jabs at de Blasio and his education plans over the last month.

Letting the Sun In: The State of Transparency in New York

At the dawn on Sunshine Week Gotham Gazette examines the state of open data and transparency in the City and State. Advocates say the state is leading the nation in open data accessibility but has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to transparency and the Freedom of Information Law.

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Other Stories We're Following

State Offices Ignore Freedom of Information Laws (Ithaca Journal)

De Blasio’s Costly Education Victory (Capital)

Cuomo Hedges on Mayoral Control (Capital)

De Blasio Visits Mourners in East Harlem (NY Times)

Guinness Withdraws Sponsorship of St. Patrick’s Day Parade (NY Times)

City and Teachers Union Resuming Multiyear Contract Talks (Daily News)

Senate Rejects Push For Renters Tax Credit (Daily News)

Mayor and Speaker Fill Ranks Will El Diario Alums (Politicker)

De Blasio Criticizes Sandy Recovery (Wall Street Journal)

New Panel Will Consider Port Authority Reforms (Wall Street Journal)

State Paid Double Estimated Market Value For Some Sandy-Damaged Homes (DNAinfo)

PR Pros Tell Mayor How to Recover (Crain's)

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dking@gothamgazette.com (David Howard King) Mon, 17 Mar 2014 12:55:06 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/eye-opener/4904-todays-lead-cuomo-pressed-for-less-pre-k-funding-in-senate-budget
Letting the Sun In: The State of New York Government Transparency http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/4903-new-york-government-transparency-open-data-sunshine-week CheckbookNYC.com via the NYC Comptroller's office

Under former comptroller John Liu, New York City began publishing a great deal of budget data online at checkbooknyc.com


City and State Get Better at Sharing Data But Show Room for Improvement

Albany, N.Y. – With the dawn of national Sunshine Week on Sunday, good government advocates will intensify their campaigns for more transparency in New York State, where progress in open government is seen as a mixed bag.

The state has made headway in providing online access to public records, but the state legislature and city government are failing to grant greater access to meetings where policy decisions are made.

New York leads the nation in open-data initiatives, according to John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, an organization advocating for an open, accountable state government.

Kaehny attributes the state's success in this area to such websites as Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Open NY, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's Open Book New York and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's NY Open Government. These sites offer access to a wealth of data, from the spending practices of state agencies to who is lobbying state officials.

"We can say, 'we are the best at this,' said Kaehny, adding that the state Department of Health won a national award last year for having the best open data site in the country.

However, the state legislature – specifically the Assembly ¬– has neglected to take advantage of available technology and expand public access by webcasting committee meetings. The legislature is, of course, a politically charged place, and relinquishing even the slightest bit of power is often anathema to those who hold it.

Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi is sponsoring a bill that would require all committee meetings be webcast and votes be posted online within 24 hours. He told NY1 in January, however, that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's staffers informed him the bill has no chance of passing. The Senate already webcasts its committee meetings, but without being required by law to do so.

"Best practices in transparent government now include access to open data and the webcasting of proceedings," said Rachael Fauss, Policy and Research Manager at Citizens Union, a government watchdog organization that publishes Gotham Gazette.

"The State Assembly should work toward implementing these best practices by webcasting their committee meetings, aligning with what their colleagues in the State Senate already do" she said.

Legislative committees include members from both parties, but are chaired by a member of the majority party. They are organized by and deal with a variety of issues such as housing, education, and insurance. And, committees are typically used by the majority party to quietly kill legislation that it does not want to see come to a floor vote. It is easier to allow bills to die in committee – particularly when the tactic isn't part of a webcast – than to allow a floor debate and full-body vote.

Senate committees have allowed debate on legislation, but debates in Assembly committees are known to be much more of a formality with a bill's fate decided before it even reaches committee.

The committee process in Albany is even more opaque because committees provide scant information about their oversight and what they do during their meetings.

"Every committee should provide a description that is easy to find through the Assembly and Senate websites that details the types of bills that move through that committee, general areas of focus, significant topics that were a focus last session and are a focus this session, and agencies that it oversees," said Maggie Williams of The Advocacy Institute, which supports legislative advocacy by social justice organizations.

"Anything less than clear, accessible, up to date information is unacceptable – especially with the technological tools at our disposal."

At the city level, New York's Local Law 103 went into effect this month and requires city agencies, task forces and commissions to webcast their meetings. As Gotham Gazette reported earlier this month, most groups have not been compliant as of yet, and there is widespread confusion about the law's implementation and oversight.

The bill was championed by then-Councilwoman Gale Brewer, an outspoken open data reformer, who is now Manhattan borough president. While the law is indicative of reform, it is unclear which city agency is in charge of ensuring compliance with its mandates. Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration says it is committed to making the law work.

The city comptroller's office operates an online portal, Checkbook NYC, that is similar to the state comptroller's site for publishing state contract information.

City vs. State

While New York State is generally ahead of most others on open government, the state lags behind the city in most regards, including the aforementioned differences regarding legislature webcasting.

Additionally, there is no state-level parallel to the city's 311 system, by which New Yorkers can provide and seek information, including by logging complaints about city services and infrastructure.

"The fundamental problem is the state does not know itself well enough yet," said Kaehny. With the exception of the Department of Health, Kaehny noted, state agencies are not actively seeking or tracking information from their users.

Perhaps the most important divide between how the city and the state approach open data and transparency is how each deals with the cornerstone of government data accessibility: the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

The state has no central clearing house for FOIL requests and there is a sense among advocates and journalists that FOIL requests are not treated equally in Albany.

There is no system for tracking FOIL requests, whether they are approved or not, or how quickly they receive a response.

"FOIL itself is completely opaque," Kaehny said. "We don't know when FOIL requests are received if they are fulfilled. There have been hearings in Washington in the last couple of days on FOIL reform. Those hearings are based on reporting metrics we don't even have in New York so we can't even complain about it."

Kaehny said he has heard from several people who are concerned that "commissioners set requests aside while others are expedited."

Meanwhile, a recent report by the Ithaca Journal showed that of 86 state agencies, 79 were not complying with the Freedom of Information Law's requirement that each state agency keep up-to-date "subject matter lists" available online.

In New York City, a bill that would create an online hub to track FOIL requests is set to be introduced at the next council session. Sponsored by Councilman Ben Kallos, the bill would create a website to allow any New Yorker to file an online request that would then be linked to the data in machine-readable form.

News reporters have expressed some reluctance to file online requests for fear of alerting competitors to their story ideas, Kallos said in a brief phone interview. His legislation will address those concerns, he promised.

Brewer, who helped create the law, said she thinks having a single portal for FOIL requests could work in tandem with the open-data websites each agency maintains. Requests could be answered quickly if the information is already available on another site, she said.

Kallos expects that the mayor will support his bill because as public advocate de Blasio issued a report that showed major inconsistencies between city agencies and their responses to FOIL requests. De Blasio called on Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the time to track and report on the responsiveness of every city agency to FOIL requests.

Kallos feels the governor could possibly be on board too. Advocates hope that there will be more pressure on Albany to pass a FOIL-tracking bill if the City Council sets the precedent.

"I think the governor has made a commitment to Open New York and open data," Kallos said. "The more the city can do to set an example with our progressive governor, the more we empower him to do the right thing."

The Wish List

One major discrepancy between open data access in New York City and at the state level is exposure of which subcontractors are used by firms that win government contracts. The city is set to make all subcontractors public while the state has no such plans.

Advocates say that being able to see which subcontractors are getting work through the state and comparing that to contributions being made to politicians could go a long way toward ending the "pay-to-play" culture in Albany.

"It is way more likely for a local subcontractor to give [a campaign contribution] to local politicians than for a large corporation," said Kaehny.

Advocates for government transparency and accountability would also like to see the creation of a dataset of companies that benefit from tax credits from the state. Cuomo's first tax reform commission headed by Carl McCall released a report last year that found the state's tax breaks for businesses have tripled from 2005 to 2013.

"In 1994, nine business tax credits were available to taxpayers with a cost to the State of about $200 million," the report states. "By 2005, there were 33 credits costing the State $673 million; in 2009, there were 38 credits costing the State $821 million. By 2013, the number of credits available to taxpayers had jumped to 50, costing the State an estimated $1.7 billion, close to triple the cost in 2005."

Kaehny said the state's tax credits are in desperate need of more transparency.

"The state gives out $1.7 billion in tax credits each year and we don't know who the recipients are," he said, "The pay-to-play risk is really high."

Additionally, at a recent New York City Council rules committee hearing, Andrew Rasiej, Chairman of NY Tech Meetup, encouraged the council to appoint its own Chief Information Officer (CIO) to implement open government reforms and lead civic tech innovation.

During Sunshine Week, advocates will be calling for changes such as these to broaden the scope of government data available to the public and improve the agility with which government can respond to new information, policies, and needs.

Sunshine Week was launched in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors. It is observed in mid-March each year to coincide with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, the nation's fourth president and champion of an informed electorate.

"A popular government without popular information, or means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both," Madison wrote in 1822.

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dking@gothamgazette.com (David Howard King) Mon, 17 Mar 2014 04:56:23 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/4903-new-york-government-transparency-open-data-sunshine-week
Today's Lead: Lawmakers Propose Full Funding For Pre-K http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/eye-opener/4900-todays-lead-lawmakers-propose-full-funding-for-pre-k eyeopenerbw2

The state senate passed a budget resolution yesterday providing $540 million a year over five years for funding of full-day pre-K and after school programs in the city. They would pay for it by removing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's corporate tax cut from the budget. The amount meets the new standards Mayor Bill de Blasio requested last week. The Assembly passed their own budget resolution authorizing the mayor's wealth tax to pay for pre-K. But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he was fine with a plan that fully funded pre-K without a tax, as long as there are no strings attached. The senate's resolution did include a catch for the mayor, as it would rescind his charter school co-location decisions and impose new mandates on how the city deals with the schools. Silver made it clear he doesn't support the charter rules. The chambers will have to negotiate the final budget with the governor, who was quick to change the subject from pre-K to charter schools, saying that discussion "is going to be powerful and is probably going to be one of the more controversial and complex matters that we wind up dealing with in the budget."

The 'Imperfect Messenger': Anthony Weiner on Policy and Politics

A Gotham Gazette two-part exclusive interview with the mercurial former congressman, two-time mayoral candidate, political commentator, and New York idea guy.

Now up:
Part Two: Politics (discussing keys to being politically effective; the differing styles of mayors de Blasio, Bloomberg, and Giuliani; what it means to be a progressive; and the upcoming mid-term congressional elections, among other things).

And in case you missed it or want to read it again:
Part One: Policy (discussing Sandy recovery, the teachers union contract, seniors and development, among other things).

Other Stories We're Following

Metro-North Safety Lacking, Review Finds After Fatal Crash (NY Times)

Harlem Explosion Sheds Light On Old Infrastructure (Crain's)

De Blasio: We’ll Talk About Infrastructure Later (Capital)

Bar Association Urges Steps To Improve Ethics Panel (NY Times)

Senate Seeks Tweaks In Budget (Albany Times Union)

New Kind Of Hospital Emerges In The Bronx (WNYC)

Health And Hospitals Deficit Faces Further Expansion (Wall Street Journal)

What Klein Delivered For Progressives As Breakaway-Leader (Capital)

Ex-Fire Commissioner Blasts FDNY For Bigotry (Daily News)

Labor Contract Talks Off To Good Start (Daily News)

Commissioner Bratton "Over" Jaywalking Questions (Capital)

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mmuller@gothamgazette.com (Mike Muller) Fri, 14 Mar 2014 12:29:21 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/eye-opener/4900-todays-lead-lawmakers-propose-full-funding-for-pre-k
The 'Imperfect Messenger': Anthony Weiner on Policy and Politics Part Two http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/4899-anthony-weiner-policy-politics-part-two Anthony Weiner

former congressman Anthony Weiner


A Gotham Gazette exclusive with the mercurial former congressman, two-time mayoral candidate, political commentator, and New York idea guy

Part Two of a two-part series: Politics
[See Part One: Policy]

When Anthony Weiner talks policy or politics – or sports or restaurants or anything else, I imagine – he speaks authoritatively. He speaks confidently, as if he's researched and thought through his positions so well that they are foolproof and should be common sense to the listener. As has been clear, he presents as alpha and tends toward pugilism.

When you're seeking votes, it's an effective style much of the time. Those pursuing elected office, especially an executive role, must convince people of their leadership. It can be quite visceral. Mix Weiner's aggressive style with a strong grasp of data and detail, a quick wit, and good articulation, the combination leads to winning over a lot of voters.

During the summer of 2013, I saw Weiner win many rooms full of New Yorkers amid his second bid to become mayor of New York. Weiner cannonballed into the race in late May and for the next two months was at or near the top of the polls in a crowded Democratic field – until it all came crashing down due to new revelations about his prior lewd online behavior.

For most of June and July, and even beyond, Weiner was the strongest retail politician in the running – he appeared at the parade of candidate forums, but unlike his rivals, he stood every time it was his turn to speak (and the microphone logistics allowed). Virtually every time he rose, it was as if the audience was reawakened from the slumber that can come from hearing four, five, six politicians give almost identical consecutive answers to a question – and without much punch.

Weiner stood, spoke quickly, loudly, and clearly, gesticulated, made jokes, and got serious and deep on specific, relevant policies; he connected with his audience time and again.

As the one candidate who had played on a national stage, Weiner regularly showed his considerable political talent. At times, of course, he also showed the volatility of the aggressor, the snarl of the alpha.

Then and now, Weiner seems convinced that the combination of good ideas and strong personality is the key to political success.

After he and I discussed a variety of policy issues on Tuesday, we talked politics, ranging from local to national:

On New York City and progressivism

Political success is almost all about "giving New Yorkers a sense that you're fighting for them," Weiner told me. "I've always had this thing about politics: people care a little bit about what your ideas are, they do."

What they really connect with, he believes, is "this general sense...'that guy kind of gets me and what I'm going through.' They don't necessarily care that you got this payroll tax or that." They want to identify empathy, feel as though you are knee-deep in the struggles of life with them, he believes.

I noted that this sense of voter-candidate identification seems to have catapulted Bill de Blasio into the mayoralty around issues such as affordability, race, education, and hospitals.

"The general frame that the mayor laid out that animates him [is] this notion of income inequality, there's an enormous amount of need in the city," Weiner said.

De Blasio was also apt to identify the desire of many New Yorkers that their city become "a place where people feel a better connection to their government than perhaps they did during the Bloomberg years," he said.

"I think that what I watch for in Mayor de Blasio is these two things about him: one, he has a very strong ideological sense about how he wants things to look like in his world, that's where 'the progressive thing' is; and two, he's a lifelong political tactician. He's a politician, so how those things work together in making the city run is a fascinating thing.

"Bloomberg as the contrast, completely non-ideological, entirely 'I'm this tactician guy.' So he governed everything that he did and governed the way he wanted us to look at him.

"Giuliani was mostly an ideological guy, 'I'm going to get this thing wrestled to the ground,' and that he wasn't very good on the tactical side wound up undoing himself – he just wound up looking like a jerk.

"I hope that [de Blasio] can show that progressives can be good, smart, tactical, 'block and tackle' administrators," he said.

"Define progressive," I responded.

"I've got no [expletive] idea! (laughs), I'm the wrong guy to ask," he replied.

I reminded him he had written "progressives like me" in his Daily News column, to which he laughed and said, "Fair enough. I mean, I don't know. I would have this argument all the time in Washington when people used to say that single payer was this wacko liberal position, and I would say it's cheaper, it requires less infrastructure." It was pragmatic and everyone should want it, he implied.

"I never used that language in the campaign, as you know," he continued. "I think its not unifying language, it means different things to different people."

He countered my noting that some people define "progressive" as an activist form of government with, "No, not when it comes to a woman's right to choose it's not.

"I think too often we Democrats and we liberals and we progressives, whatever you're going to call us, allow the language of the debate to be stolen from us," he said, becoming even more animated.

He cited the example of wearing an American flag pin on his lapel and having Democratic voters tell him that it was a Republican thing to do. Incredulously, rhetorically, he asked, "When did they get the flag? When did that happen?"

He continued: "I don't know what these words mean. Let me ask you a question. Is stopping 200,000 or 400,000 New Yorkers who didn't commit any crime, who you don't write a (NYPD form UF) 250 for, who weren't arrested, is doing that a conservative way to fight crime? I don't know. I gotta tell you, you speak to Libertarians and they'd probably say, 'no, I don't want government stopping me when I walk down the street, that's a bad thing.'"

On Albany and political capital

"I have a macro sense that it's a good place for the mayor to be, fighting for more control of our destiny," Weiner said. "Especially now that the governor is being so bombastic and unnecessarily confrontational about this stuff. He's kind of making the case for us. He's almost sounding paternalistic, playing right into the argument that many of us make that you know, you don't necessarily have all the answers, let us try a few."

But is the mayor using up too much political capital, I asked, and is political capital a finite resource anyway?

"It's not finite, it can be regenerated," he answered. "If you're good, you figure out a way to become popular and take advantage." Weiner continues to argue that the mayor of New York seeking to wrest more power from "dysfunctional" Albany is the right tact.

On dysfunctional Washington, national politics and the media

With mid-term congressional elections on the 2014 horizon, I asked Weiner what he thinks might happen.

"When the government shutdown was going on I would have said, 'oh the Republicans are going to hemorrhage 70 seats over this,'" he said. "Now, Democrats...the Obamacare website crashes and I'm like 'this is the end of the world.' I don't know. I can tell you this, nothing's getting done in Washington. I stay in touch with some of my colleagues there, it's just a tough place to be."

Pointing to the Tea Party, without naming it, he continued, "If you look at today and you realize that no one could have conceived that 10 percent of the population that is so animated by having nothing happen would basically hold all the cards in this system that's been set up," he said in reference to congress and federal checks and balances.

"We've empowered a relatively small number of Americans represented by a relatively small number of representatives, backed up by a surgical echo chamber of the media that you can do anything, that Michele Bachmann on one side and Anthony Weiner on the other can do anything and have 30,000 Twitter followers say 'go get em', you know, whether it's me trying to get Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from cases because his wife took a bunch of money from lobbyists or Michele Bachmann saying something crazy.

"And combine that with computer-driven redistricting," he continued, and "you've got the Henry Waxmans and the John Dingles and the George Millers of the world asking 'why am I investing 20 years in Congress to be a master legislator, for what?'

"And you, and you – and now you're in this business so I can say it – and you bozos write stories like the New York Times writes that Weiner's only passed one law. We passed like ten laws my entire time I was there! It's like 'one law,' yes!, I'm not the chair of the appropriations committee, so I have 92 things I got inserted into laws, but no, 'only one law,' so its like, 'why bother?'

"That's one of the reasons why I think that President Obama is doing a damn good job as President," Weiner said in conclusion, not at all sounding like someone nearly done with politics, "because every day he gets up in the morning and says 'I'm dealt this crummy hand, I'm going to try to get the best possible deal for the American people. I got Weiner on one side kicking my ass, I got Bachmann on the other side kicking my ass, I've got Ben who won't give me a moment's breathing room before he's telling me what my poll numbers say, you know, I'm just going to try to do the best I can.'"

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Revisit part one of our interview with Weiner, in which the former congressman discuss city policy, including health-care, Sandy recovery, the teachers' union contract, seniors, and development.

by Ben Max, Executive Editor

bmax@gothamgazette.com

@TweetBenMax

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) Thu, 13 Mar 2014 23:21:30 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/4899-anthony-weiner-policy-politics-part-two
Today's Lead: Harlem Explosion Kills Six; Gotham Gazette Hires New Executive Editor http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/eye-opener/4898-todays-lead-harlem-explosion-kills-six-gotham-gazette-hires-new-executive-editor- eyeopenerbw2

An explosion in East Harlem yesterday killed at least six people and leveled two buildings. Nine people are still missing. Neighbors reported smelling gas, and the explosion is suspected to have been caused by a leak. Century-old cast iron piping, which is prone to leaks and that ConEd had been replacing, is a possible cause. A new gas line was installed in one of the buildings a few months ago. Acrid smoke has made recovery difficult and nearby residents have been stocking up on face masks. The explosion prompted a call for increased infrastructure spending and for the mayor to speed up his appointment of a Department of Buildings commissioner. Authorities renewed their appeals to the public to report possible gas leaks immediately.

News From Gotham Gazette: Our New Executive Editor!

Gotham Gazette is happy to announce the hiring of Ben Max as Executive Editor. Ben begins work at Gotham Gazette this week after leading comprehensive coverage of the 2013 New York City election cycle at DecideNYC.com, a website he began early last year. Ben is being accompanied to Gotham Gazette by some of his Decide NYC team and some of their most recent content. Reach Ben at bmax@gothamgazette.com. Find more information on Ben's joining Gotham Gazette here.

Ben will also be writing at Gotham Gazette, starting with a two-part interview with former congressman and mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner. Part One of this series is focused on policy and is live this morning at Gotham Gazette:
The 'Imperfect Messenger': Anthony Weiner on Policy and Politics

Other Stories We're Following

More City Teachers Fleeing To Suburbs: Union (Daily News)

Federal Housing Chief Faults City For Sandy Aid Delays (WNYC)

Study Looks At What Makes Pre-K Successful (NY Times)

Senate Makes Bid To Undo Mayor's Charter Moves (NY Post)

Elderly Jaywalker Hurt By Cops Still Faces Charges (NY Post)

How A Taxi Share System Could Transform The City (The Atlantic Cities)

Senate Budget May Not Include ‘Specific Number’ For Pre-K (Capital)

Cops Hand Out Fake Warning Notices To Jaywalkers (StreetsBlog)

John Liu Files Suit Against Campaign Finance Board (Wall Street Journal)

Critics Fault Cuomo's Bank Tax Proposal (Associated Press)

Cuomo's Juvenile Justice Reform Falls Short Of Goals (City Limits)

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mmuller@gothamgazette.com (Mike Muller) Thu, 13 Mar 2014 12:28:31 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/eye-opener/4898-todays-lead-harlem-explosion-kills-six-gotham-gazette-hires-new-executive-editor-
The 'Imperfect Messenger': Anthony Weiner on Policy and Politics Part One http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/4897-anthony-weiner-policy-politics-part-one

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Anthony Weiner

photo: Anthony Del Mundo, NY Daily News


A Gotham Gazette exclusive with the mercurial former congressman, two-time mayoral candidate, political commentator, and New York idea guy

Part One of a two-part series: Policy

Anthony Weiner is a political columnist and commentator, a consultant and a family man. He is not, strangely, holding or running for elected office.

Having spent the vast majority of the past 23 years either in or seeking an elected position, Weiner, a former New York City Council Member (1992-1998) and congressman (1999-2011), finds himself on the fringe of the political discourse after coming up short in his second bid to become the mayor of his hometown.

The much-detailed scandal that ended Weiner's congressional career and derailed his 2013 mayoral bid seems to have contributed to a bull market for his thoughts on politics and policy. Weiner continues to be invited to cable news talk shows, has started writing a regular column in the Daily News, and after sitting down with me on Tuesday, dashed off to the NY1 studios to tape a "Wiseguys" segment for the "Inside City Hall" program.

His name continues to be an attention-grabber and his face, a head-turner – as I witnessed when he walked into the Manhattan coffee shop where we met. Dressed casually, Weiner bounded into the cafe, gave me an unhurried hello and firm handshake, and darted to grab a beverage before sitting down to chat. While he waited to order, several patrons recognized him; two women in line exchanged smirks and whispers.

Whatever you might think of Weiner, and opinions vary widely, there is no denying that he is interesting and engaging, and thus unlikely to drop out of the public eye any time soon. Not to mention that even if it is only by sheer will, the Brooklyn born Weiner is all but sure to remain part of the political conversation, despite his being a self-described "imperfect messenger."

When I asked Weiner what he has going on these days, other than the Daily News column, which had debuted two days before, he said, "I'm going to write the column. I don't know what else I'm going to do. I may choose one other outlet, maybe one of these news aggregator outlets, to do a little writing for."

He glanced out the window, perhaps deciding what to divulge, or looking for a deeper answer about his future plans.

"I've got something else I'm working on that I'm not prepared to discuss," he volunteered. "I'm doing some consulting with a health-care company here. I do a little consulting for, for the next stage of Obamacare, which is to implement it."

There it was again: health care, the topic that helped launch Weiner to national prominence three years before the sexting scandal led to his resignation.

It was on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives that Weiner put together some of his most dramatic and to many, endearing moments, thundering away at Republican opposition to health care reform and benefits for 9/11 first-responders. A proponent then and now of a national, single-payer health care system, Weiner continues to get passionate when talking about the issue.

As he did on the 2013 mayoral campaign, Weiner returned to the topic of health care or used health care as an example throughout our conversation. I asked him about certain policy areas that fit the cross-section of topics he had focused on during his last campaign and those receiving minimal attention in the first few months of the de Blasio mayoralty.

Weiner and others have noted that much of the political air is getting sucked up by universal pre-K. And while the administration and the media are devoting some attention to policing and traffic safety, there are, as always, topics less discussed. So Weiner and I dug into a few.

Sandy Recovery

"The federal government has to solve this flood insurance problem, but fast," Weiner said.

At the city level, he is willing to be patient with the new mayor.

"The mayor says he needs some time to get his hands around it," he said. "This is now going to be the third revamping of it. The money's not getting out. The mayor is learning, and what we learn...is you get caught in this Faustian vice, getting money out quickly and have the stories that people got it who maybe shouldn't have or the money's all gone and maybe your city didn't get it. You try to put these governmental checks in place that close the spigot so tight that nothing gets done. Finding that sweet spot is not so easy."

He concluded, "I honor the challenge that the mayor has, this is difficult stuff to do. He says 'give me some time,' the answer is yeah, give him some time."

The Teachers' Contract

On the teachers' union contract, I started by mentioning Weiner's mother, whom he often brought up when talking about education during this last campaign. Weiner's mother is retired, but taught for many years.

One of the funnier campaign trail anecdotes I remember from the perpetually witty and sarcastic Weiner was his response to a question about endorsements, particularly that of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which had gone to Bill Thompson in the Democratic primary. Weiner quipped that Thompson might have gotten the nod from the UFT, but that he, Weiner, had received the endorsement of at least one member – his mother Frances.

When I brought up the contract negotiations between the UFT and the city and made reference to the ongoing charter school debates, Weiner quickly changed the subject to health care costs.

"I believe that the health care savings and reform to grease the way for raises for municipal employees is going to finally happen," he said. "It's going to happen because it needs to on the substance. It's going to happen because de Blasio is smart enough to understand that this is a place that he can do what Mayor Bloomberg, with all his business acumen and conservative credentials, couldn't do."

I suggested that UFT would only agree to contribute to their health care costs in exchange for hefty retroactive raises and significant salary bumps moving forward. To which Weiner countered, "Finesse it by making the numbers relatively small."

Then he put the contract negotiations into perspective.

"The municipal unions in New York City are not only alone among the unions in the city. The non-municipal unions all pay a percentage of their health care, but they're almost alone of the municipal unions around the country," he said. "Look, I believe in a single-payer system, but I do believe that even small amounts that people have to pay, a dollar, two dollars, makes them better consumers, and so I think that it's ultimately going to happen."

With a nod to the fact that he has spoken about the issue of reigning in health care costs with regularity, he concluded, "I'm very gratified to see the mayor and his people are talking about it. His budget director talked about it in front of the city council. He's taking the right tone."

I noted that it didn't seem likely much else would change in the teachers' contract if a deal on health care contributions and pay raises was struck. Weiner disagreed.

"I've never had the belief that the path to education reform is blocked by the teachers' contract," he said. "I think that if you make a compelling case that you guys work an extra X number of hours and here's how we'll compensate you, or we want you to work in the summer and here's how we'll put up the air conditioning.

"Teachers are different. They're more like you now than they are like my mom. The day of the... 25-year senior teacher being the center of gravity in the teachers' union is gone away. Now they're basically younger teachers who want to innovate, who want a career ladder. I don't believe that (UFT President Michael) Mulgrew and his people are 'I want to stop reform.' Remember how long it's been since they've had anything resembling a partner in this."

Seniors

Perhaps no audience responded as well to Weiner during last summer's mayoral forums as seniors. I recall two forums, one put on by the CSCS and the other by the AARP, that focused on aging issues. Both crowds were lively and cheered Weiner the loudest of any candidate as he did what he did throughout the campaign: spoke knowledgeably, humorously and passionately about the specific issues of importance to the audience in front of him.

"This is a great city to grow old in," he said Tuesday. "City aging ultimately means our health care economy, to some degree, benefits. We don't want them all to go to down to Florida or the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico when they get older. It does come back to the health of the neighborhood shopping strip. They're still the people who want to go to the neighborhood flower shop, the neighborhood shoe store, the neighborhood pizzeria. They're under a lot of economic pressure as well."

Weiner then reiterated his call for the city to look at ways to encourage building new, smaller housing units for seniors, perhaps above or adjacent to a small senior center. This would help solve two problems, he argues: improving seniors' quality of life, and freeing up the larger housing units they are often renting – at below market rate, to boot.

Development

"I'm a fairly pro-development Democrat," he said, perhaps drawing a distinction between himself and the mayor, who he thinks is "going to use the fulcrum of government as best he can" to ensure provisions for living wages and affordable housing in new development deals.

I asked if the mayor's demands will deter developers from the city, especially at a time where the cost of borrowing money is on the rise due to federal policy.

"There's an enormous amount being made on market-rate development right now or else so much of it wouldn't be happening," he responded. "And I think there's a lot of ways that you can use that for the public good. I think our tax policy is ass-backward on some of these things, and you can derive revenue from these super high-end condos that pay a city transfer tax that's the same if it's a $40,000 unit and a $40 million unit.

"Our real estate boom is a third driven by a combination of cheap money and no where else to put it; a third driven on relative insecurity in other places" like China and Russia, and a third driven by the fact "that New York City is a safer place, a cleaner place. The money is chasing it.

"The same thing is supporting the stock market, which is supporting New York's economy. We're doing okay, you know, cheap money is driving a lot. Real estate does disproportionately well when you're doing that."

An Itch to Scratch

"I still have an itch that I want to scratch," Weiner said. "There's still things that I think and I care about. It's not going to be the center of my life anymore and that's kind of liberating, too, you know, to be like a New Yorker who just says 'there oughta be a law' or 'that bum screwed this up,' read the paper like everyone else, it's kind of nice not to feel like I've got to have a policy position on everything."

In part two of our interview with Weiner, we discuss politics: what it means to be a "progressive," how mayors de Blasio, Bloomberg, and Giuliani differ in their styles, the upcoming 2014 mid-term congressional elections, and more. Stay tuned to Gotham Gazette tomorrow.

by Ben Max, Executive Editor

bmax@gothamgazette.com

@TweetBenMax

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) Wed, 12 Mar 2014 23:18:12 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/4897-anthony-weiner-policy-politics-part-one
Today's Lead: Drop In Overall Crime, But Rise In Parks http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/eye-opener/4892-todays-lead-drop-in-overall-crime-but-rise-in-parks eyeopenerbw2

The city has seen a 2 percent drop in crime since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, and yesterday he attributed the reduction to his policing approach. Murders fell by 21 percent, shootings dropped by 14 percent, and the city went 10 days without a murder. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who again mixed up some statistics while speaking, conceded that unseasonable cold and numerous snowstorms probably helped. Major felonies in the city's biggest parks rose, however, and last year saw an 18 percent jump. Meanwhile, the commissioner will be transferring at least 100 NYPD commanders in a sweeping overhaul.

Other Stories We're Following

Few Blacks, Hispanics At Elite City Schools (NY Times)

Public Housing Residents Still Wait For Sandy Repairs (Daily News)

City Needs $50 Billion For Infrastructure Overhaul: Study (NY Post)

Advocates Push Mayor On Shelter Population Rise (NY Times)

City's Largest Labor Group To Meet Mayor's Chief Negotiator (DNAinfo)

Commissioner Calls Pot Legalization ‘Terrible Mistake’ (Politicker)

De Blasio Taps Team To Push 'Progressive' Criminal Justice (DNAinfo)

Feds: State Medicaid Payments 'Excessive' (Associated Press)

Public Advocate Wants Universal Free Lunch (Daily News)

One New Regent Member Chosen By Lawmakers (Associated Press)

Comptroller Worries Over City Union Contracts, Structural Deficits (Capital)

Council May Review Moskowitz Charters In Case Of Corruption (NY Post)

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mmuller@gothamgazette.com (Mike Muller) Wed, 12 Mar 2014 12:16:29 GMT http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/eye-opener/4892-todays-lead-drop-in-overall-crime-but-rise-in-parks