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What's The [Data] Point? 3.1 miles, with Patrick Orecki of CBC

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What's The [Data] Point? Episode 54 -- 3.1 miles with Patrick Orecki of CBC [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

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There has been a lot of recent controversy around the new Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, which has replaced the Tappan Zee Bridge connecting suburbs north of New York City, related to finances and naming. It is one of Governor Andrew Cuomo's signature infrastructure projects and, according to experts, shows a number of positives about government. But, there are financial questions about paying off the bridge debt and what the toll will be (and when). For this episode of the podcast, we dig into the details of the construction of the bridge, the financing of the bridge, and more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Democrats Target Previously Ignored Brooklyn Shot at State Senate Majority

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(Photo: @agounardes)

As Democrats eye majority control of the New York State Senate that has effectively eluded them for a decade, party leaders and a coalition of progressive activists are descending on Southern Brooklyn’s District 22, where Democrat Andrew Gounardes is challenging Republican Senator Marty Golden and where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than two-to-one.

The Senate Democratic conference currently holds 31 seats and needs just one more for a majority in the 63-seat upper chamber of the state Legislature, while their party-mates already overwhelmingly control the Assembly. With surging turnout and a blue wave of progressive energy rousing the party’s base, they see an opportunity to pick up several seats across the state. Senate District 22 -- which covers the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton, Dyker Heights, parts of Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach and Marine Park -- is one of only two in New York City represented by a Republican (the other is District 24 in Staten Island, a solidly Republican seat held by Senator Andrew Lanza). Golden, a former NYPD officer, has held the seat for 16 years, prior to which he served on the New York City Council.

In the September 13 primary, Gounardes, who is counsel to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, beat journalist-turned-politician Ross Barkan to win the Democratic nomination. The race was less bitter than other Democratic primaries across the city, and saw more attention focused on Golden’s eight-term Senate record and history of personal controversy.

“We’ve been running full-speed, nonstop since [primary] night,” Gounardes said in a Wednesday phone interview, 47 days until Election Day, November 6. “I was at the subway at 7:30 on Friday morning and we’ve been campaigning straight through.”

Gounardes has challenged Golden before, in 2012, but Golden outspent him and easily defeated him, getting 38,584 votes, or 52 percent, against Gounardes’ 28,243 votes, 38 percent, out of a total 74,451 votes cast. There were a total of 154,316 registered voters in the district at the time, including 77,594 Democrats, 33,621 Republicans and 36,731 unaffiliated voters. (Gounardes also ran on the Working Families Party Line and Golden ran additionally on the Independence Party and Conservative Party lines).

In 2014, Golden again faced a Democratic challenger, Jamie Kemmerer, who received little support from the Democratic establishment and lost by a wide margin in a low turnout election. Only 36,348 voters cast a ballot in that race, with 23,580 voters, or 65 percent, voting for Golden and 10,633, or 29 percent, for Kemmerer. Voter enrollment was largely unchanged -- there were 154,001 total registered in the district, with 77,328 Democrats, 32,710 Republicans, and 37,250 unaffiliateds.

Two years ago, the Democrats did not put up any opponent even as they were attempting to win back the Senate, allowing Golden to be reelected unopposed with more than 62,000 votes.

This year, however, is nothing like the last two elections. As Golden cruised unopposed in 2016, Donald Trump was surprisingly elected president. Awareness of the New York State Senate -- the fact that it has been controlled by Republicans, with the help of nine rogue Democrats -- grew. Activists organized. Party leaders, while feeling pressure from the base, began to see more seats as in play.

Turnout surged on primary day, September 13, and is expected to carry forward into the general. Voter registration has also climbed. As of April this year, there were 167,219 registered voters in District 22: 83,244 Democrats, 35,786 Republicans and 41,458 unaffiliateds.

“My approach has always been pragmatic progressivism,” Gounardes said, noting the issues that have defined his campaign and that he will be talking about for the next seven weeks: education, pedestrian safety, the city’s subway crisis, the high cost of living in the district, especially housing and health care, and corruption and good government reform.

“I have very progressive values but I’m also a very pragmatic person. Nothing in my platform is anything that I think is out of the mainstream,” he said. “I don’t think it’s out of the mainstream to talk about speed cameras. I don’t think it’s out of the mainstream to talk about fixing the MTA. Frankly I don’t think it’s out of the mainstream to talk about universal health care in the year 2018...I’m really focused on issues that we can have a direct impact on in as pragmatic a way as possible.”

He credited his primary victory to a robust field operation and a strong coalition of activists and labor unions that backed him. “We’re gonna do the same thing we did in the primary, we’re just gonna do more of it,” he said of his strategy to beat Golden. “The last four days of the election, we knocked on, I think, north of 15,000 doors in four days....We identified more than half of the voters in our target universe and we pulled them all out. And we predicted our turnout numbers, we predicted our margin, we hit all our metrics really, really strong. So we’re gonna do all of that but we’re gonna do it ten times more. That’s how we’re gonna win.”

Golden seems unperturbed by the challenge. The senator prides himself on being able to work with lawmakers from across the aisle and has called himself an “economic development nut,” who cares about lowering taxes and creating jobs. “My neighbors know I get good things done,” he said in an emailed statement to Gotham Gazette. “Bringing back billions of dollars to schools, advocating for common sense MTA reforms, standing up for labor, supporting law enforcement, driving economic development and job creation, keeping prescription medicine affordable and Brooklyn health care excellent - these have always been my priorities year in, year out.”

He has a strong fundraising advantage. He has raised more than $782,000 for reelection, spent just about $720,000 and has about $485,000 in cash on hand. Gounardes has only raised about $276,000, spent about $101,000 and has about $153,000 left.

Golden has also been endorsed for reelection by several prominent law enforcement and uniformed workers unions, including the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, and by the Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000, the New York League of Conservation Voters, and DC37, an influential labor group. “My focus - beginning, middle and end - are the Southern Brooklyn neighborhoods I have the honor of representing. The support I get is from them. However others try to frame this this race, it's not about - and has never been about - anything other than our communities,” Golden said.

State Republican Party Chair Ed Cox said in a statement, “Marty Golden is one of the most effective leaders in the state. He delivers for his district and his constituent service is second to none. People trust him and know they can count on him -- it's why Brooklynites from all political persuasions vote for him and it's why he'll be re-elected this November.”

On the other side, Gounardes is being aided in his effort by prominent elected officials and labor unions as well, including 32BJ, the powerful building services workers union that just played a significant role in defeating Senator Jeff Klein, former leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, in the primary. A campaign spokesperson for Governor Andrew Cuomo said they see the seat as in play and will be supporting Gounardes as the governor spearheads the party’s effort to flip the senate.

“We believe in this blue wave year, every seat is in play and the governor is laser focused on doing our part to take back the House and flip control of the State Senate this November to fight back against Donald Trump’s divisive, anti- New York agenda,” the spokesperson, Abbey Collins, said in a statement.

The Working Families Party and the True Blue coalition, made up of 60 activist groups, also intend to flood the district with volunteers and efforts to turn out voters, which they successfully employed in several other contested Democratic primaries. On Saturday, the Gounardes campaign is holding a large general election kickoff rally, and on Sunday, True Blue activists will join with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and others to canvass in the district.

“Now that the primary’s behind us, there’s no other competitive general election to the State Senate in any one of the five boroughs except for our race here,” Gounardes pointed out. “So we feel very, very bullish about that fact and we’re encouraged by it because it means that volunteers, instead of getting on a bus and going to Pennsylvania or New Jersey or wherever else to go help with a congressional race, they now have an opportunity to take the subway down, if it’s running, and come down to Bay Ridge, and help us knock on doors and make phone calls.”

He has also been in touch with Barkan, his primary opponent, inviting him to the Saturday campaign event, and said that Barkan’s campaign volunteers and donors have reached out to offer support. “[H]e really spoke about Marty’s record in a way that I couldn’t have, with a platform that I just didn’t have,” Gounardes acknowledged of Barkan.

Barkan intends to assist the campaign which, he said in phone interview, could lead to a “sea change” in Southern Brooklyn. But he is still figuring out how he will get involved. “To defeat Marty Golden, you have to motivate Democrats, progressives, newer voters, younger voters, and really get them to come out,” he said. “I think this could be the year to do it. I certainly think Marty Golden is vulnerable, I always did. He is a state senator whose views are out of step with much of the district. It’s not an easy fight. I knew that going in, Andrew knows that too. But it’s a winnable fight.”

To Democrats, Golden’s weaknesses are legion. He is an avid supporter of President Donald Trump and has made a variety of bad headlines. In February last year, he falsely claimed that some of the 9/11 hijackers were Bay Ridge residents. In June 2017, he referred to now-Council Member Justin Brannan as “fat boy” at a sit-down with reporters. Then, in December, he apparently impersonated a police officer while his driver tried to force a cyclist out of a bike lane to get through traffic. In 2015, he made, and later deleted, a crass joke on Facebook about same-sex marriage and recreational marijuana being legalized. In 2012, he advertised and then later cancelled a workforce development seminar for women that had sexist overtones. In 2008, he spent more than $200,000 in campaign funds on events at a catering hall that he previously ran. He was investigated in 2014 for alleged campaign finance violations and used campaign funds for his defense, though no charges were filed. In 2005, Golden hit an elderly woman with his car -- she fell into a coma and died six months later -- and paid her family a settlement though he was found not to be at fault. He also believes Palestinian and Arab communities don’t vote because of cultural differences. And, in January, he made remarks about the opioid crisis that invited allegations of racism.

“We’re not talking about a quality candidate here,” said Harris Doran, a steering committee member of No IDC NY and an activist at Rise and Resist, two activist groups under the True Blue coalition. “He’s messed up his own record. No one else needs to do that. This is just a list of facts that are horrible. And he’s also super for Trump.”

[Read: After Primary Wins, Progressive Activists Eye Flipping State Senate Seats, and Wide Majority]

Golden also has a lengthy record of speeding tickets, which many saw as particularly hypocritical because of his shifting positions on the renewal of a law in this year’s state legislative session related to a speed camera program in place around New York City schools. The Democratic Assembly pushed to expand the program and the Republican Senate refused, leading to an expiration of the program that has since been resurrected by City Council legislation and a Cuomo executive order.

“A lot of people frankly are startled or shocked when they hear some of the policy positions or some of the things that Marty Golden stands for and the fact that someone can hold these views in 2018 in the city of New York,” said Brannan, a close Gounardes ally whose City Council district overlaps with Senate District 22. Brannan won his seat by defeating John Quaglione, who is Golden’s deputy chief of staff.

Brannan conceded it will be a tough battle. “We’re gonna have to work very hard because the district is very heavily gerrymandered but I think we’ve got the numbers,” he said.

Golden, however, downplayed the massive uptick in turnout in the district. “Slogans like ‘blue wave’ have a way of glossing over and missing the reality of neighborhoods,” he said. “Every district and community is different. I am proud and grateful to have longstanding support from all parties, all ages, all backgrounds, and from throughout the district.”

Gounardes believes Golden’s base has likely soured on his record. “The message has always been for years that if we run a strong, smart campaign, Golden is vulnerable,” he said. “We know that because his support in the district is a mile wide but an inch deep and his record is really poor on a lot of critical issues.”

He added, “We’re gonna flip the Senate when we win this race and so people wanna be a part of that history-making moment and they can do it without having to leave the city.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

After Primary Wins, Progressive Activists Eye Flipping State Senate Seats, and Wide Majority

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A 'True Blue' rally (photo: @indivisibleny13)

Prior to September 13, primary day, the True Blue coalition, made up of progressive activists from about 60 individual groups across the state, had one main goal: to depose all eight state Senators of the erstwhile Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) and another rogue Democratic Senator from Brooklyn, Simcha Felder, all of whom have bolstered and voted with the Republican majority. But after emerging victorious in six of those races, most of which came as a surprise, the activist network is turning its newfound influence and experience to the bigger objective of bringing the state Senate under outright Democratic control through November’s general election.

“The plan only was the ‘No IDC’ races until Thursday,” said Harris Doran, a steering committee member of No IDC NY and an activist at Rise and Resist, two groups that are part of the larger coalition. “Right now, we’re all having conversations about what to do.” That conversation kicked off in earnest on Tuesday night, Doran said, with an initial meeting that occurred just 48 days before Election Day, November 6.

Progressive activists have long blamed the IDC and Felder for allowing Republicans to hold the state Senate and block a slate of progressive legislation. Though the IDC rejoined the mainline Democrats earlier this year, activists sought to and succeeded in replacing many of them with Democrats who the activists saw expressing truer progressive bonafides. Even as those candidates seem set to win in the November 6 general, it would still leave the Democratic conference with 31 members in the 63-member Senate. Republicans have 32 seats including Felder, who handily beat his Democratic primary opponent, Blake Morris, and is expected to be easily reelected in November.

On Tuesday evening, dozens of True Blue coalition activists met to strategize about how they can carry their efforts forward. “What you have right now is the entire anti-IDC movement researching, analyzing, looking at all the candidates and deciding who we want to support and how, and how many,” Doran said, before previewing an exceedingly ambitious goal. “One thing that was decided was that we don’t just want to flip one seat, we want to flip nine...We want to get to 40 Democrats. We want more than just a majority.”

He continued, “With the IDC races, a lot of people were new activists. Some people, it was the first time they ever door-knocked, the first time they did a lot of things. So now the entire movement is experienced and has won six really difficult races. So everyone’s really excited to apply what we’ve learned and also grow and move forward.”

A top Democratic party operative who wished to remain unnamed to discuss races candidly pointed to several districts where Democrats see an opening against Republican incumbents -- District 4, where Louis D’Amaro is challenging Sen. Phil Boyle; District 5, where Jim Gaughran is challenging Sen. Carl Marcellino; District 6, where Kevin Thomas is challenging Sen. Kemp Hannon; District 7, where Anna Kaplan is challenging Sen. Elaine Phillips; District 22, where Andrew Gounardes is challenging Sen. Marty Golden; District 41, where Karen Smythe is challenging Sen. Sue Serino; District 46, where Pat Strong is challenging Sen. George Amedore Jr.; and District 56, where Jeremy Cooney is challenging Sen. Joseph Robach.

There are also a few open seats that have become competitive battlegrounds. Those include District 3, where Monica Martinez, a Democrat, is facing off against Dean Murray, a Republican; District 39, where James Skoufis faces Republican candidate Tom Basile; District 43, where Democrat Aaron Gladd is going against Republican Daphne Jordan; and District 50, where Democrat John Mannion is taking on Republican Bob Antonacci.

The only race where the party may have to play defense, according to the source, is in District 8, where incumbent Democratic Sen. John Brooks is being challenged by Massapequa Park Mayor Jeff Pravato. Republicans also seem intent on challenging Sen. David Carlucci, a former IDC member who survived his primary challenge last week and is facing C. Scott Vanderhoef, a Republican, in the general.

On Tuesday, State Republican Party Chair Ed Cox told New York Now, “We’ve got a good chance with the Brooks seat in Nassau County and I think we have got a good shot where Scott Vanderhoef, the five-time elected county [executive] of Rockland County is running for the state Senate seat there. Of course, Senator Carlucci has had a tough primary and is wounded to begin with and that’s a seat we’ve held before and I think we can win that one again.”

All but the Golden race are outside New York City.

The True Blue activists, who engage in a variety of campaign tactics including door-knocking and phone-banking, have yet to settle on which races they’ll jump into. “There are a lot of metrics involved, like the district’s partisan lean and the issues that they support, and of course there are other aspects like where they are geographically and where we can have the most impact,” said Mia Pearlman, co-leader of True Blue NY, an individual group from which the larger coalition drew its name. “Once the coalition groups decide where they want to put their energy, then we’ll work on sort of helping each campaign,” Pearlman said. “What we tried to do with the IDC challengers...is to get groups in the coalition to adopt a campaign and then put all their resources directly into the campaign.”

Since these races span the state, the activists will look to get involved largely remotely, Pearlman said, including through phone-banking, text-banking, postcards, and fundraising. “Hopefully we’ll also be going to some of these districts to help out,” she said. In past cycles, volunteers have boarded buses from the city to spend days in swing districts canvassing, but a lot can be done remotely. The involvement of New York City-based activists can be used against the candidates they are seeking to help, as Republicans outside the city often tell suburban and upstate voters that a GOP Senate majority is the only thing keeping taxes from skyrocketing and city liberals from taking over all of state government.

True to recent form, the activists aren’t looking to simply back any Democrat and, both Doran and Pearlman said, will be closely scrutinizing candidates to see who matches their priorities.

“It’s very important to the coalition that we support true progressives so we will be vetting candidates based on their policy positions and where they’ve raised money and their endorsements,” Pearlman said. “And we’re also excited to find candidates who have a lot of grassroots support in their districts, if there is a grassroots, because I think that that shows the strength of the candidate who may be able to win regardless of what the metrics might seem to predict.”

Pearlman emphasized that the decisions would be made independent of the state Democratic establishment, even if the coalition seeks advice on candidates. “While we are of course happy to talk to the establishment forces about who they would recommend, we have a great track record of helping candidates win who no one thought could possibly win in districts that people had completely written off.”

“We have no interest in having potential Cuomo lackeys elected to office to do his bidding,” Doran said, noting for example that Cuomo had urged certain candidates to run including Anna Kaplan, Monica Martinez, and Peter Harckham, who is running against Republican Sen. Terrence Murphy in District 40. Doran didn't preclude the possibility of supporting those three candidates, noting that the coalition would evaluate each of them to see if they share their progressive values. “We don't want to risk having Senators that may not be called the IDC but could be IDC-lite Democrats in the State Senate," he said.

The Working Families Party, which was also instrumental in helping the various insurgent challengers against the IDC as well as Julia Salazar’s defeat of incumbent Democratic Senator Martin Dilan, will also be heavily involved in the effort. “There are at least three of four top-tier Senate races that we think are very flippable,” said Joe Dinkin, WFP campaign director, earlier this week. “I think the surge in turnout in the primary and the energy we’re seeing on the ground is indicative of the fact that the blue wave is very real. We’re gonna see a lot of Democrats turning out to vote and we have a really good shot to pick up seats in the state Senate.”

Doran said, no matter the race, the effort will boil down to a robust ground game and voter contact campaign. “Nothing is stronger than going out and meeting people in the districts. People, not money, are the power,” he said, echoing a line regularly used by Alessandra Biaggi, who defeated former IDC leader Jeff Klein in the marquee race of the Senate primaries. And though he wouldn’t elaborate on specific tactics, he promised, “Obviously we will have some new fun surprises.”

[Read: How Insurgent Forces Activated, Educated and Brought the IDC Down]

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to clarify Doran's comments related to three Democratic state Senate candidates. 

2019 Charter Revision Commission Holds First Public Hearing

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The first hearing of the 2019 charter commission (photo: @Charter2019NYC)

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision commission may be done with its work but a separate commission, empanelled through legislation passed by the City Council, is just getting started.

The City Council-created commission, conceived by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Public Advocate Letitia James, held its first hearing on Wednesday to get suggestions about improving the city’s charter, the document that outlines the central powers, structures, and functions of city government. The 15-member commission is composed of members appointed by the Council speaker, the mayor, the comptroller, public advocate, and the five borough presidents. It is working towards putting questions on the ballot for the November 2019 election (the mayor’s commission recently approved three questions for this year’s general election ballot).

The 2019 commission, as it is being called, has a much broader mandate than de Blasio set for his, though by law charter revision commissions, once established, are able to examine whatever parts of the charter they see fit. The mayoral commission stayed fairly close to de Blasio’s directive, putting forth proposals regarding campaign finance reform, civic engagement, and community board reform. The 2019 commission has been expected to consider major changes related to land use and budgeting processes, and beyond.

[Read: Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Puts Three Questions on November Ballot]

While the commission will do its own internal deliberations and staff research, it is embarking on a public process to hear from New Yorkers, including issue-area experts and advocates, and everyday people.

Wednesday’s hearing, held at Lehman College in the Bronx, saw more than a dozen New Yorkers present a myriad of ideas over the course of three hours. The proposals broached everything from housing affordability protections and community board structure to government transparency measures and oversight agencies. Among the prominent ideas repeatedly suggested at the hearing were a broad push for police accountability and sweeping changes to the city’s land use policies, which many expected since the commission is being chaired by Gail Benjamin, the former land use division head for the City Council who was appointed by current Speaker Corey Johnson to head the commission.

In testimony, Hannah Birnbaum, who handles community engagement for 32BJ SEIU, the prominent labor union, stressed a “need for a more equitable and more democratic approach to land use decisions.” Among her recommendations were prevailing wage requirements for building service workers when the city disposes of public property, imposing the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) for new construction on land owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), and a central public database of land use applications.

A prominent voice for land use reform was Manhattan and Bronx City Council Member Diana Ayala, who testified at the hearing as co-chair of the City Council’s 22-member Progressive Caucus. “It is no secret that the city’s land use and planning processes are deeply flawed,” she said, emphasizing that the city’s approach is largely “reactive” and “randomly” addresses crucial issues of homelessness, environmental justice, rampant private development, and necessary infrastructure. “The status quo of ad hoc planning is just not working…We need a larger vision based on equity, a vision in which low-income communities do not have to slowly bear the brunt of the city’s every housing and infrastructure need.”

Ayala said the caucus’ proposals were based on five guiding principles -- equity and fairness, proactive and responsive plans, inclusive engagement, resiliency and sustainability, and transparency and accountability. She pushed for a “comprehensive planning framework that includes a fair share analysis,” an independent City Planning Commission, and empowering communities to have a voice before, during, and after a land use application process.

Commissioner Carl Weisbrod, the former city planning chief, pointed out that there are existing fair share principles for siting municipal facilities. “How would you suggest they be changed to make them more effective?” Weisbrod asked.

“I would eradicate them because they don’t work,” Ayala said bluntly.

Early on, Jed Holtz, an organizer for the Freedom Socialist Party, recommended allowing noncitizens to vote in municipal elections and also pushed the commission to address the “complete lack of accountability of the NYPD.” Holtz was one of several people who testified to that point, advocating for an entirely new structure of oversight of the police.

The central idea several advocates pushed was the creation of a publicly-elected Civilian Complaint Review Board, which hears and investigates complaints about NYPD officers -- CCRB members are currently appointed by the mayor, City Council, and police commissioner -- and establishing an elected special prosecutor dedicated to NYPD officer discipline. Current disciplinary procedures, they noted, allow the NYPD commissioner to have the final word on disciplinary recommendations made by the CCRB, and commissioners past and present have more often than not diluted and ignored those recommendations.

Though the advocates insisted that state law does not prohibit the creation of such an elected CCRB and prosecutor, they did struggle to answer probing questions from the commissioners about how the city could set those up without inviting legal challenges. “We’ve done a thorough review of all state law and we can’t find anything in the state law that says that this couldn’t happen,” one advocate said, when Commissioner Sal Albanese questioned whether it would be compatible with the state’s civil service law.

Hawk Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, emphasized the urgency of those proposals. “What we have here is the opportunity for New York to be a trailblazer on an issue that has plagued our society since the inception of policing in black and brown communities,” he said, as he went on to cite the names of several New Yorkers killed at the hands of police. “You have the opportunity to right wrongs.”

An appointed CCRB, he said, could never be free of political considerations even if its independent on paper. “This is implicit bias. You know who signs your checks, you know who appoints you, and this is who you’re loyal to,” he said.

There were of course several other proposals, some serious, others parochial and impractical.

Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany, a government reform group, suggested an overhaul of Chapter 47 of the city charter, which covers public access to meetings and information. Carl Lanzano, a member of Community Board 12, floated the idea of a Community Board Council made up of members elected from each of the city’s 59 community boards, which would then elect five members -- one from each borough -- to sit on the City Council and introduce and vote on legislation. Dmitri Daniel Glinski, president of the Russian-speaking Community Council of Manhattan & the Bronx, suggested scrapping the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and creating a new commission proportionally composed of members of the city’s immigrant communities. Another individual lambasted the Department of Investigation and said its head should be elected, not chosen by the mayor.

The commission also unanimously approved the appointment of Ed Atkin as the new executive director. The previous executive director, Jeff Metzler, resigned in mid-July.

The commission will continue its initial round of evening public hearings in each borough with events in Brooklyn on Monday and Queens on Thursday, with Staten Island and Brooklyn the following week.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note- This article has been updated to note that Dmitri Daniel Glinski, president of the Russian-speaking Community Council of Manhattan & the Bronx, testified at the hearing. Glinski was not named in an earlier version of this article.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Primary Day Is Here

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Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits

September 12, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: 2018 Primary Day is Here

primary day sept 221In a final preview of primary day for state-level races, we discussed the fact that primary day determine the future of the Democratic Party in New York, and dissected the races for Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, the battles between former IDC senators and their challengers, and more just ahead of the votes. We were also joined by Jill Jorgensen, City Hall bureau chief for the New York Daily News, who discussed Mayor Bill de Blasio's role in the state elections. And we took a few calls from voters explaining their plans to vote for Cynthia Nixon or Andrew Cuomo.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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What's The [Data] Point? $1 Billion, with Linda Gibbs

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What's The [Data] Point? Episode 53 -- $1 billion, with Linda Gibbs [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

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Linda Gibbs is a former Deputy Mayor under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and now a principal with Bloomberg Associates, the philanthropic consulting firm that Bloomberg launched just after leaving office in 2014. Working with cities and mayors around the globe, Gibbs' portfolio includes social services -- she had been the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services from 2005 through 2013. Gibbs joined the podcast to discuss her work for the city as deputy mayor and with other cities in her current role.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Vacancy in the Public Advocate's Office? Call the City Council Speaker

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Letitia James and Corey Johnson (photo: Gotham Gazette)

Two former speakers of the New York City Council -- Melissa Mark-Viverito and Christine Quinn -- are on the list of possible contenders for a potential vacancy in the office of public advocate should the current occupant, Letitia James, win the post of attorney general in this fall’s elections. But it’s the sitting Council speaker, Corey Johnson, who will get to do the job first if that scenario came to pass.

James is competing against three other Democrats to win the party’s primary nomination for attorney general on September 13. She has been the presumed frontrunner for months, with the blessing of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Democratic Party, though one of her opponents, Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, has picked up strong momentum and several prominent endorsement in recent weeks.

If James prevails in the primary then the general, assuming she is sworn in an attorney general at the start of 2019, it would trigger a nonpartisan special election to be held roughly 51 days later. And for those seven weeks or so, the City Council speaker would assume her duties.

Under Section 44 of the City Charter, in the event of a vacancy in the public advocate’s office, “the speaker shall act as public advocate pending the filling of the vacancy pursuant to subdivision c of section twenty-four, and shall be a member of every board of which the public advocate is a member by virtue of his or her office.”

It would be the first time since the creation of the office of public advocate and the current office of the speaker, through a charter revision in 1989, that the clause would go into effect. It’s unclear how the speaker would approach the dual role, even in the interim, as he would both lead his 51-member legislative body and large central staff, and, as the title suggests, an office that advocates for the interests of everyday New Yorkers and keeps a watch on the functions and failures of city government. Both Johnson’s and James’ offices declined to comment for this article. Johnson has endorsed James for attorney general.

“If you get a vacancy, you want to get it filled by someone. Elections are gonna take a long time. A short time but a long time,” said Eric Lane, the Eric J. Schmertz Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Public Service at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law, Hofstra University. Lane served as executive director and counsel to the 1989 charter revision commission, which overhauled the structure of city government and created the positions that James and Johnson now hold.

“We definitely didn’t want the mayor to make that appointment,” Lane said, explaining the thinking behind the line of succession for public advocate. “In an intensely administrative government, where the mayor holds so much power, it’s the public advocate’s function to be a watchdog on that power.” The public advocate is also next in line to the mayoralty if a sitting mayor is removed from office or unable to carry out his or her duties. 

The public advocate was formerly known as the City Council president, but the position’s powers were stripped by the 1989 commission through the creation of the City Council speaker. The commission then decided to retain and re-envision the public advocate’s office in its current form, Lane said. “It was, in some ways, the least significant, most controversial topic we considered in the 1989 commission,” he said, noting that there was hotly-contested debate over the necessity of another citywide office. The rationale behind it was two-fold, he insisted. To have another set of independent eyes on the city bureaucracy and to allow minority communities to have a more participatory role in city politics.

Given the public advocate’s connection with the City Council, it then made sense for the vacancy to fall to the speaker. “We could’ve appointed the comptroller,” Lane conceded, “but at the time, we thought it would be more consistent with what the Council does. The Council had a relationship with that office, historically.”

[Read: Potentially Crowded Public Advocate Special Election Could Feature Two Former Council Speakers]

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Puts Three Questions on November Ballot

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The Charter Revision Commission (photo via Charter Commission)

After months of meetings and deliberations, thousands of suggestions and dozens of hours of public hearings, the charter revision commission created by Mayor Bill de Blasio voted to put three broad questions on the ballot in November. If approved by voters, the proposals would significantly reduce campaign contribution limits in city elections, create a new agency to civically engage the public, and apply term limits and appointment reforms to community boards.

De Blasio created the commission to review the city charter with an eye on reducing the impact of wealthy donors and special interests in electoral campaigns and drawing more New Yorkers to participate in elections and civic life. The 13-member commission largely stuck by that mandate, though it did consider and reject other significant proposals including independent redistricting of City Council districts and instant runoff voting, also known as ranked choice voting, which the mayor does not support. (A separate City Council-created charter revision commission is also beginning public hearings this month and could possibly take up the issues left unresolved by the mayoral commission. It will recommend ballot questions in 2019.)

On Tuesday, the members of the mayoral commission met for the final time, at the New York Historical Society west of Central Park, to approve their final report and three “yes” or “no” questions that will be put to voters on the November 6 general election ballot.

“Our job was to try to figure out what could make our city more just, more fair and more democratic and then to put it on the ballot to see if New Yorkers wanted the city to be run in this new fashion,” said Cesar Perales, chair of the commission, on Tuesday. “That’s what we did. I think we did that well and it’s going to be up to the voters in November to determine whether or not these things would be better for our city.”

The first question proposes expansive reforms to the campaign finance law and the city’s public matching funds program, which incentivizes grassroots fundraising by matching the first $175 of every eligible campaign contribution at a 6-to-1 ratio for candidates who choose to participate in the program.

The proposal would reduce contribution limits for participants from $5,100 to $2,000 for citywide candidates, from $3,950 to $1,500 for candidates for borough president, and from $2,850 to $1,000 for City Council seats. The proposed limits for those who choose not to opt in to the program are $3,500, $2,500 and $1,500 respectively.

The proposal also increases the matching ratio to 8-to-1 for the first $250 raised by a citywide candidate and for the first $175 raised for all other seats. It would increase the cap on public funds disbursements from 55 percent to 75 percent of the spending limit for a seat, while also doling out the funds earlier in the election cycle.

There was some clear disagreement about how the new campaign finance rules would be applied. A majority of commissioners agreed that candidates should be able to choose to abide by the new rules for the next citywide primary in 2021, and that the rules would be mandatory thereafter.

Two of the commissioners, John Siegal and Wendy Weiser, disagreed with that implementation plan, though both voted to approve the question. “I do not think it is wise public policy to have a situation in which regulated parties get to make the decision as to whether they will or will not follow new regulations,” Siegal said. “I cannot think of another situation in which a regulatory agency has been put in that position. I do not think its necessary. I actually don’t think there’s any benefit to it.” He did, however, hold out hope that candidates would see the benefit of voluntarily participating, since the lower contribution limits would be accompanied by potentially more public funds.

“While I do share the concern about having a choice, I am heartened by the assurances that this is really unlikely to come to pass,” Weiser said, “that everyone is really likely to follow the new system. It is the one that makes much more sense.”

Carlo Scissura, the commission secretary, was the sole dissenting voice on the campaign finance question. He conceded that the commission published an “overall great report” but has in past hearings expressed doubts about increasing the taxpayer contribution by creating a larger public matching funds program. “I wish that on the campaign finance, that we took a little different approach but it does reflect the will of what we heard and the will of the majority of the commission,” he said.

The second question, which was unanimously approved, would create a new 15-member Civic Engagement Commission, with eight appointed by the mayor -- including the chair and executive director -- two by the City Council speaker and one each by the five borough presidents. The mayor would have to appoint at least one member from each of the city’s largest and second-largest political parties, which, likely in perpetuity, means Democrats and Republicans.

Among the roles the commission would play are administering a citywide participatory budgeting program starting in 2020 (it’s currently employed by City Council members in dozens of districts); providing interpreters at poll sites; working on civic engagement with advocacy groups and nonprofit service providers, with a particular eye on outreach to limited English-language speakers; and providing annual reports on progress on those fronts. The proposal also allows the mayor to delegate more powers and responsibilities to the commission.

The notion of an Office of Civic Engagement has recently been pushed forward by City Council Member Brad Lander, who has introduced legislation to create one. If approved, the charter revision creation of such a commission would appear to negate Lander’s legislation. The Brooklyn Council member testified to the commission about the idea of creating a civic engagement body and has held his legislation as the charter commission proceeded with its work.

The most controversial proposals the commission is putting on the November ballot deal with community boards, the most local form of city government. The third question would establish staggered term limits for community board members, to reduce mass simultaneous turnover. Those members appointed or reappointed on or after April 1, 2019, would be allowed to serve four consecutive two-year terms; those appointed on April 1, 2020 may serve five terms; and those appointed after that would again only serve four terms.

The commission also recommended changes to the appointment process, to make it consistent across the five boroughs and to promote diverse membership. The civic engagement commission, if passed, would also be tasked with providing technical assistance to community boards, particularly urban planning expertise and language access. Eleven commissioners voted in favor of the question, while Commissioner Angela Fernandez abstained from the vote.

The commission’s final report was also approved unanimously, and the questions will be delivered to the City Clerk to place on the ballot, giving the commission two months to educate and inform New Yorkers that they’ll be able to choose more than just candidates in November, when New Yorkers will be voting largely on state-level elected positions, including for Governor and members of the state Legislature.

“These reforms will go a long way toward strengthening our democracy and limiting the influence of big money in our elections,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. “There’s no doubt in my mind that these measures will help us build a more fair and equitable city.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Potentially Crowded Public Advocate Special Election Could Feature Two Former Council Speakers

Quinn Mark-Viverito

Christine Quinn, center, & Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: City Council on flickr)

The September primary election is just over one week away and if New York City Public Advocate Letitia James wins the Democratic nomination for attorney general over her three primary opponents, she will be a significant favorite to win the position in November owing in large part to the state’s Democrat-heavy electorate. No Republican has won statewide since Governor George Pataki captured a third term in 2002; it’s been far longer for a Republican attorney general.

James winning the nomination will likely kick-off, in earnest, a mad scramble by several sitting and former elected officials who may seek to replace her through the at-that-point nearly certain special election for her citywide seat. Among the stronger potential contenders discussed in Democratic circles are two former speakers of the New York City Council -- Melissa Mark-Viverito, who led the body until last year, and Christine Quinn, her predecessor.

[Read: James Victory in Attorney General Race Would Trigger Citywide Special Election]

While they come from different wings of the New York Democratic Party, both Mark-Viverito and Quinn are firebrand politicians in their own right, and both made history in their respective ascensions to the speakership.

Quinn, a Democrat who represented parts of the lower west side of Manhattan, became the first openly gay and first female speaker in 2006, presiding over the 51-member legislative body for two four-year terms. For the last three years, since being term-limited out of office and losing in the 2013 mayoral primary, she has served as president and CEO of Women in Need (WIN), a nonprofit that provides services to homeless women and children. Some Democrats and others have criticized Quinn for her close working relationship with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, including the effort to extend term limits, which allowed Bloomberg, Quinn, and others to seek a third term in 2009 despite public disapproval. She is currently a close ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who appointed her vice chair of the New York State Democratic Committee.

Mark-Viverito, a Puerto Rican native who represented a district that includes East Harlem and part of the south Bronx, became the Council’s first Latina speaker in 2014, pushing a broad agenda of criminal justice reform, immigrant protection, police accountability and affordable housing. In January, she became a senior adviser at the Latino Victory Fund PAC, a group that supports Latino candidates for elected office. As speaker, Mark-Viverito was at times criticized for her close relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow progressive Democrat, and she has been an outspoken critic of the governor, endorsing his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon. Mark-Viverito is one of a relatively small group of prominent Democrats that is backing Nixon for governor and James for attorney general.

After a New York Law School panel earlier this month, Quinn did not deny having an eye on the office of public advocate. “We have to get Tish James elected and that’s what I’m focused on and also let’s not forget the Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, we have to get reelected,” she told Gotham Gazette, when asked if she had considered running for public advocate in the event of James’ ascension to attorney general. “Right now, I am focused, most importantly, on running WIN and helping the homeless families that we serve...and then in my spare time, so to speak, among other things, I’m helping candidates and friends run for office. So that’s what this summer and fall is about.”

Pressed further, she simply repeated the statement. “That’s what this summer and fall is about.”

Mark-Viverito is slightly less circumspect about her own political future. “I’ve been consistent in saying that I’m really proud of the record that I have accomplished and the issues that I’ve championed and what we’ve been able to get done in the city of New York,” she told Gotham Gazette in a recent phone interview. “I’m not gonna close the door on looking at possibilities in the future if other positions or other opportunities became available...So if there is an opportunity that presents itself, I will definitely be taking a look at that. And I feel strongly that Tish will win so we’ll have that conversation later.”

She emphasized that she brings a strong perspective to policy-making as a Latina representing a low-income community. “I think that’s something that we consistently need to have in positions of authority in the city,” Mark-Viverito said. “And I believe my record speaks for itself and I look forward to being able to continue to serve this wonderful city.”

The special election, if there is one, would take place in March, assuming James is sworn in January 1 and vacates her current seat. Special elections for public advocate are nonpartisan, and each candidate would have to run on their own unique political party ballot line. The winner would then have to run for the seat again in a primary and general election later in 2019, if that person wants to keep the position.

There are several others who have either been floated as candidates or have signalled an interest in becoming the city’s ombudsperson, a post also considered a strong launching pad for a mayoral bid as de Blasio illustrated. They include sitting City Council Members Rafael Espinal, Ydanis Rodriguez, Ritchie Torres, and Joe Borelli, the only Republican among them. All of them but Borelli will be term-limited out of office in 2021. State Assemblymember Michael Blake is another potential candidate, as are Republican attorney J.C. Polanco and Columbia professor David Eisenbach, who both challenged James when she was up for reelection last year -- Eisenbach in the primary and Polanco in the general. Eisenbach has already officially filed papers with the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

“I think the position obviously has a lot of potential,” said a Democratic consultant who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It has different potential than being the City Council speaker where you’re not just responsible for yourself, you’re responsible for 50 other members, hundreds of staff, dozens of appointments here or there. It’s a different set of responsibilities and in the hands of someone who understands the levers of government, who understands the bully pulpit and is sort of willing to take bold steps, it can be a very strong position.”

The public advocate can act as more than just a “counterweight to the mayor,” the consultant said. “That person also can establish themselves as someone who is also driving the agenda for New York, and that’s something we haven’t really seen since Mark Green,” the person added, referring to the city’s first-ever public advocate, who served from 1994 to 2001.

Espinal, a Brooklyn representative, said in an email, “I’m seriously considering it, and whether to launch a campaign will come down to the positive energy and support from New Yorkers.”

A spokesperson for Rodriguez, whose district covers neighborhoods in upper Manhattan and a small section of the Bronx, said, “[Council Member Rodriguez] is committed to supporting Public Advocate James in her run for attorney general as she is the most qualified in the race. Should there be a special election for public advocate, he would consider running for that seat.”

Torres, in a statement through a spokesperson, said, “I am still thinking about it and where I would be most effective. I’m debating which position would allow me to be a better advocate for the city.” The Bronx Council member is also said to be looking at a run for Congress or Bronx borough president.

Borelli also said he was considering a run for public advocate, though he conceded that it would be tough to retain. “It’s possible to win a special, but it will be difficult for a Republican to win the following November,” he said in a text message.

When asked about Quinn and Mark-Viverito both running, he said, “Each would be formidable.”

Shortly before a primary debate among the four Democratic attorney general candidates on Tuesday, Assembly Member Blake told Gotham Gazette he was watching closely in case James’ seat becomes vacant. “She’s gotta win first, but it would be irresponsible not to be looking at it,” he said about considering a run. “First and foremost, this is brand new terrain for all of us. The possibility for a citywide special election is unique to say the least...Out of respect for everybody in the field, this is a moot point unless [James] is the attorney general, and we’re gonna be respectful of that.”

He added, “As I tell my team often, proper preparation prevents poor performance. So you’re just ready, and if that opportunity presents itself, we have some serious decisions to make.”

Blake, who is a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, was the campaign manager for 2013 public advocate candidate Reshma Saujani, giving him some recent experience with a citywide race. He was then elected to the Assembly in 2014.

No current elected official would have to give up their seat to run in the special election, but, if victorious, would then have to vacate their position to become public advocate.

As Borelli alluded to, one effect of numerous Democrats entering the fray is that they could split the vote in what will likely be a low-turnout special election, offering up an opportunity for a Republican to claim victory.

Polanco, the attorney and former public advocate candidate, recognizes that opening. Having run for the seat just last year, he has certain advantages. “Whoever is gonna come from our side, there has to be just one candidate,” Polanco said in a phone interview. “We’re small enough as it is. Even in a non-partisan race, you’re gonna need organizational support. So the organizations have to line up behind one candidate from the beginning in order for us to have a shot.”

Polanco noted that the nonpartisan aspect of the election is “always good for democracy, always good for participation,” since voters won’t necessarily make choices along party lines. But he also echoed the risk for any sitting Republican elected official who might run, as Borelli noted. “Do you give up your Council seat for that? I don’t know whether that’s a good gamble or not, especially if you have three years left on your Council seat,” Polanco said.

Polanco also weighed in on the potential contest between two former Council speakers, saying Quinn would be the “ultimate” candidate. “She’s the most qualified of the candidates on that side running,” he said. “But I think the Democratic Party of today is more along the lines of Melissa Mark-Viverito. The Ocasio-Cortezes of the world, the democratic socialists, are getting momentum. She represents that faction. We can’t kid ourselves.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

What's The [Data] Point? 5,000 with Liz Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice

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What's The [Data] Point? Episode 52 -- 5,000, with Liz Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

glazer elizabeth pod

Mayor Bill de Blasio has a plan to close the jails on Rikers Island, in part by reducing the overall city jail population to 5,000 detainees, down from about 8,000 now, which is down from well over 20,000 two decades ago. Liz Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, joined the podcast to discuss the administration’s criminal justice policies.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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