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The Week That Was in New York Politics, June 29-July 2


week in review bus readers

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


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Thursday July 2 - our usual Friday feature a day early this week due to the holiday, enjoy:

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Council Member Corey Johnson celebrates at the Pride Parade, via William Alatriste

corey johnson pride jump

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. De Blasio Slams Cuomo, Leaves for Vacation: On Tuesday, June 30, Mayor de Blasio, First Lady Chirlane McCray, and children Chiara and Dante left for a vacation in the Southwestern and Western United States. They will be returning on Wednesday, July 8. Before leaving, de Blasio filmed an interview with NY1’s Errol Louis for Inside City Hall and then spoke with reporters in his City Hall office, in both instances heavily criticizing Governor Andrew Cuomo and expressing a great deal of frustration about the way the governor has acted toward the mayor and the policies that came out of Albany negotiations.

2. RGB Votes for a Rent Freeze: For the first time in its history the Rent Guidelines Board voted to freeze rents on about a million regulated apartments. On Monday, after four previous open meetings with public testimony, the Board voted 7-2 for freezing new or renewed one-year leases beginning October 1 while tenants signing two-year leases could pay up to a 2% increase. Tenants and their allies have celebrated the vote, which the mayor called "the right move" by board members he appoints. This comes on the heels of a deal to extend rent regulations in Albany that many tenants and their allies call inadequate.

3. NYPD Oversight Hearing: On Monday the City Council heard nine proposed NYPD-related bills, including the two that make up the “Right to Know Act.” The bills deal with police communication with civilians, officers’ use force, and more. “I wish to say respectfully, but firmly, that these are the purview of the police commissioner and the police department, and not of legislative control,” said Police Commissioner Bill Bratton at the hearing, expressing his opposition to the bills. The next night, key stakeholders met to discuss police accountability in an open forum.

4. Capping Uber: The City Council Committee on Transportation heard a controversial bill Tuesday that would require the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission to conduct a study on how the taxi and for-hire industries affect traffic, air quality, noise, and public health. The bill could put a cap on the number of for-hire vehicles. On the day of the hearing Uber, the most prominent of non-taxi for-hire vehicles offered free rides to anyone using the Uberpool carpool service to go to a protest against the bill at City Hall.

5. FBI Investigating Upstate Prison: The FBI launched an investigation into Clinton Correctional Facility, the prison Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped from earlier this month, related to possible corruption, including drug trafficking. The FBI investigation is said to have been started around looking into how Matt and Sweat broke out of the prison, but has expanded.

THIS WEEK'S NUMBER:

  • 13 Metro-North employees were brought into court Monday on charges that they had "cheated on the exams required to become a train conductor or locomotive engineer."

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

  • It was a good week for Maria Torres-Springer, who has been the Commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services, and is becoming President of the city's Economic Development Corporation, or EDC. Appointed by Mayor de Blasio, Torres-Springer will be the first female EDC chief.
  • It was bad week for old political friendship, as the feud between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo escalated, with de Blasio issuing scathing criticisms of Cuomo in the aftermath of the end of Albany’s legislative session. Mr. de Blasio declared that he has tried to work with Cuomo but has “been disappointed at every turn.” He also called the governor vindictive and said that he had lost his way in terms of his Democratic principles.

THE FLASH:

  • Two years ago, on July 3, 2013, then-mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner gave a campaign speech outside of City Hall, "A Big Apple Declaration of Independence from Albany." Number one on his ten-point list: permanent mayoral control of city schools.
  • This week in 1776, on July 4, the United States Declaration of Independence; 239 years ago.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

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

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

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

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by Erika Wang and Ben Max

Policing Experts Focus on Public Trust, Accountability Measures


bratton bdb policing plan

NYPD Commissioner Bratton at a recent announcement (photo: @CommissBratton)


Just one day after NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton resisted calls from City Council members pushing police reform legislation — which followed the news that 1297 new officers will be added to the force— police accountability was scrutinized by several key players, including the NYPD Inspector General, at a forum hosted by good government group Citizens Union.

The event, held Tuesday evening at New York Law School in front of about 125 people, was centered around the idea that because the police work for and to protect the people of the city, department and officer accountability is an essential part of good government. The issue has also been an extremely hot topic over the past several years, largely around the stop-question-and-frisk tactic and broken windows policing; a number of lawsuits, reforms, and high-profile incidents have occurred.

Mayor Bill de Blasio was elected, in part, on his criticism of the NYPD under his predecessor and de Blasio's promises to reform the department.

Though the panelists— NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure; Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance; former Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney and NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Arnold Kriss; and Executive Director for advocacy group Communities United for Police Reform Joo-Hyun Kang— discussed issues including the use of police body cameras, the role of special prosecutors, and community policing, there was one prevalent underlying theme: community trust of police officers, and lack thereof.

The group discussion, moderated by Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey, followed keynote remarks by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, himself a former police officer.

"The job of a police officer is to correct conditions. And he is to carry out that task by ensuring that the public isn't harmed, that he isn't harmed, and believe it or not, that the person he is trying to correct isn't harmed," Borough President Adams said. "That's the goal, and we have gone off track in doing so."

Kang, whose group has been highly critical of the NYPD, including under de Blasio, spoke of "a crisis of public confidence," citing the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man killed while being arrested on July 17 of last year.

"Underlying the crisis is actually instances where officers have not been held accountable by the department," Kang said. The results of the department investigation of Garner's death have not yet been revealed as a federal probe is ongoing.

Adams, a former state senator who served as a New York City police officer for 22 years, also had strong words for the politicians, judges, and community members he said had relinquished to police commissioners the job of holding police accountable.

"The fact is, countless numbers of good New Yorkers that hung out...at the Museum of Natural History and went to dinner parties and tea parties, they said, 'it's not our children.' So there was a level of non-urgency because many of the children caught up in the system were black and brown and came from economically-challenged communities," Adams said. "We should all be embarrassed by what happened to young people in this city in the last 20 years. We can point to the NYPD in the blue uniform, but the fact is, a whole lot of us in blue suits stood by and watched it happen also - we all participated in it."

Discussion turned to Governor Andrew Cuomo's announcement that he would appoint, for one year, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as special prosecutor in cases where a police officer kills an unarmed civilian. Kang and Kriss said they supported the measure; as did Borough President Adams in his opening remarks, saying he believes the relationship between police and local prosecutors is "too challenging for the the prosecutor to examine."

DA Vance warned that unlike a district attorney, a special prosecutor would not be accountable to the public, and that using a special prosecutor "makes a decision about the fairness of the actions of the prosecutor prematurely."

"How does the governor know a special prosecutor should be appointed? Has the prosecutor done something wrong? Is there a basis, other than what we read in the paper to distrust the actions of the prosecutor or the grand jurist? I believe you are relieving me of my responsibility which I take very seriously," Vance said. "You're taking it away and giving it to someone who is accountable to nobody, who has no experience— the attorney general, I'm very fond of Eric Schneiderman, but I'm not sure how many homicide prosecutors you're going to find on his staff."

Though Kriss supports the appointment of a special prosecutor, he doesn't believe the attorney general's office is best equipped to serve in that role, and said he is concerned the governor's executive order may be a "knee-jerk reaction" in an attempt to bring comfort to the families of individuals killed by police officers.

"The question is whether or not the attorney general is the best individual, and I don't really believe so, because I don't know if they're capable," Kriss said, citing the complexities and difficulties of setting up and investigating cases involving police officers, especially in the early hours of the morning. "Are we going to have something effective out there?"

When asked about the future of police accountability, both Vance and Eure spoke of body cameras, which Vance described as a "game changer." Eure - the first ever NYPD Inspector General after the position was created in part as a response to stop-and-frisk abuses - was more reluctant to praise the use of body cameras, which the NYPD is expanding the use of in large numbers after a pilot program.

"We'll be opining on the subject of body cameras in the coming months but that is the trend across the country and a whole host of issues come up in that context: how long should the cameras stay on, should police officers notify citizens they're interacting with the camera is on, there all sorts of issues," Eure said. "These are very big issues, very complex issues that haven't been thought through, quite frankly."

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by Catie Edmondson, Gotham Gazette
@CatieEdmondson

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

Why Don’t We Ever Hear About Commercial Rent Policy?


levine small biz

Council Member Levine & co outside an evicted business (photo: @MarkLevineNYC) 


Mid-June, it was a block in Washington Heights that was poised to be the next to close up shop. The landlord, Coltown Properties, looked to evict the mostly Latino-owned stores on the street, which included a barbershop, restaurant, and income tax service. The store proprietors faced the same issue as many other small business owners in New York — there was nothing they could do.

“Collectively, the businesses on this block have been in operation for over 80 years,” local City Council Member Mark Levine said at a press conference on 162nd Street and Broadway. “At a time when unemployment rates in our neighborhood are disproportionately high, these businesses are vital to the economic livelihood of this area.” Levine’s office is partnering with Legal Aid Society to provide legal assistance to small businesses in his district.

This is New York today, the plight of the city’s small businesses is grumpily accepted like a late train. It’s perceived by many New Yorkers as a part of the city grind, the dog-eat-dog, if-you-can-afford-it-here-you-can-afford-it-anywhere reality of a town teeming with opportunity, but becoming evermore competitive - and expensive.

Echoing all too quietly in the halls of both city and state government, the average retail rent in Manhattan has risen 22 percent over the past decade, causing a sprawl of small businesses to relocate or simply close. It is a disease that’s spread to Brooklyn too.

As news and debate over residential rent regulation dominated Albany and New York City over the past several months, what happens on a daily basis to small businesses throughout the city tends to fall by the wayside. Commercial tenants have far less protection against sudden rent increases than residents do, and now, that deficit is playing out in pockets of the city at an increasingly rapid pace. In comes another Chase, next to the new Duane Reade.

Depending on who you ask, the reasons vary as to why elected officials in New York and Albany have acted — or, to some advocates, failed — on reforming commercial rent policy.

“No one is lobbying the state Legislature for commercial rent control, so obviously legislators are not thinking about the issue,” Michael McKee, the treasurer of Tenants PAC, says. “I am not even aware that there is a bill that would provide protections to small businesses.”

As it stands, the only bill in the New York State government that pertains to commercial rent in New York City is the “Small Business Survival Act,” first proposed by Senator Tony Avella of Queens in 2013. It aims to level the playing field between tenant and landlord by mandating arbitration privileges to small businesses. Landlords must follow certain criteria when setting a lease, and the commercial tenant has more time in negotiations. “The current commercial rental market results in unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive leases for the payment of rent for commercial space in New York City,” the bill reads. As of this legislative session, it has not seen a vote.

The more common small business bills that do exist are like the resources offered by the city and state’s economic development agencies: they seek to provide clarity with forms, regulations, and other bureaucratic nuances that come attached to opening and operating a small business in a tax- and rule-heavy state. The same situation stands in the Business Council, the most prominent lobby for businesses in Albany. Providing commercial tenants with some sort of leverage in lease negotiations did not make its 2015 ‘Top Ten Objectives’ list, or the webpage for its subdivision of small businesses. Rejecting a higher minimum wage did, though.

“If there is ever to be any movement on this issue, folks have to organize,” McKee said, talking with Gotham Gazette while he was in the midst of yet another major push to influence tenant rent regulations being set by lawmakers in Albany and the city’s rent guidelines board.

As many can attest, it is especially tough to compete against what is, without a doubt, the most powerful force in New York politics: real estate. This is a business community that spends millions every year on political campaigns; the contributions of one of its biggest entities, the Real Estate Board, made up a tenth of the entire state’s campaign money last election cycle. And that’s just one group.

To James Parrott, the deputy director and chief economist of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, that wealth of influence explains the radio silence both down- and up-state, among Democrats and Republicans, on an issue that directly threatens real estate hegemony. Reasoning seems to be that if small businesses had more protections against space-seeking developers, it would cut into the pace and profits of the city’s longstanding natural order. Landlords either want to charge more for commercial space or developers want tenants out so they can sell or demolish and build anew.

“The real estate community has always been aggressive in campaign contributions,” Parrott explains. “And, by doing so, they’ve successfully prevented anything that would restrict them.”

This, of course, includes commercial tenant rights. Parrott makes a key point: in a state government where the recently former Speaker of the Assembly and Majority Leader of the State Senate are both indicted for crimes involving real estate’s influence, it’s hard to believe a bill called the Small Business Survival Act would even last a day. Not to mention the probe into the abrupt closing of the Moreland Commission by Governor Andrew Cuomo; an investigation that is specifically looking into tax breaks for huge developers.

City government is not excluded, either, Parrott argues.

The tale of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (better known as the SBJSA) in the City Council is a long yet uneventful one. Basically, the bill — which, in structure, is very similar to its upstate counterpart — has been floating around the chambers of City Hall since 2008. (Last year, Gotham Gazette dove into its reintroduction.) It would let commercial tenants have the right to lease renewal ten years or more. If a landlord wants to raise rent, mediation with the tenant would be mandated, and, if the parties don’t come to an agreement, an arbitrator would make the final decision.

In essence, it is a flexing of New York City’s municipal home rule, which allows the Council to bypass Albany and regulate commercial code on its own turf. Similar proposals have existed in the Council for decades now, but all have met the same fate: failure. No surprise, Parrott says: the power of real estate is as strong in the city as it is upstate, if not stronger. Also, past mayors and council speakers have strongly sided with that community, meaning any bill is unlikely to ever see a vote, and even if passed by Council, likely vetoed.

But, to tenant advocates, this time around offers hope. Finally, they argue, a legislative body and a mayor progressive enough to actually take up the issue. At least on paper.

“Historically, the deference to Albany has served as a smokescreen/distraction for elected city officials to validate their appalling inaction on issues that they, in all actuality, have complete control over,” Kirsten Theodos, a spokesperson for Take Back NYC, a grassroots advocacy group for tenants and subset of the larger group Save NYC, told Gotham Gazette.

Right now, the SBJSA has 19 City Council sponsors in a 51-member boday. Seeing the bill heard at a committee hearing and then brought to a vote is unlikely, and would probably first require a number of additional sponors signing on (Council members can support a bill without co-sponsoring, but sponsorship levels show strength). To land those additional sponsors, Theodos hopes that situations like the eviction of businesses in Washington Heights will shed light on the issue. When asked if Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who endorsed the bill before becoming speaker, would support the bill now, a spokesperson pointed to remarks made by Mark-Viverito to The Villager in late May. She did not provide an endorsement of the bill then, but mentioned an argument that has been repeatedly made by the real estate community in the past: that the SBJSA is illegal.

“The bill gets introduced once the [Council] staff do their due diligence,” the Speaker said. “Then there are hearings to hear from all sides. And then we figure out what the next steps will be — because sometimes options are being explored that legally we don’t have the ability to implement as a city or as a legislative council.”

Last year, in Gotham Gazette, the president of the Real Estate Board, Steven Spinola, called the bill an “unconstitutional intrusion” on property owners. A spokesperson for the Board told me this position hasn’t changed. Essentially, the board believes it is not in the Council’s jurisdiction to regulate commercial tenants. Home rule doesn’t apply here, they say.

Theodos stresses that this is not true; SBJSA would target the negotiations process, she says, and not install commercial rent control. The legal counsel to the Small Business Congress, a coalition of tenant advocates, supported this argument last year, citing Supreme Court decisions that enable local autonomy.

As a member of the City Council, Mayor Bill de Blasio supported the SBJSA, but he has remained relatively mum on the bill since entering his current office. For many advocates, the hope is that he’ll extend the drive that he has recently demonstrated around housing rent regulations in Albany to the parallel issue for small businesses. However, although he was elected on a ‘helping the little guy’ message and a promise to embrace them, small business owners and their allies also worry that his tendency to meet with representatives from the Real Estate Board and other commercial heavyweights threatens his adherence to their cause. Holding an office that naturally attracts real estate interests, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito has also met with REBNY heads. While neither de Blasio nor Mark-Viverito appears especially cozy with real estate titans, neither has pushed directly on the commerical rent issue either.

That isn’t to say nothing has been done by the de Blasio administration to help small business owners since he took office in January of 2014, though. His office’s Department of Small Business Services (SBS) is spending upwards of $27 million to streamline and defuse the regulatory process and, with the Department of Consumer Affairs, made sure that fewer fines are handed out to small businesses that can barely afford rent. More importantly, SBS has rolled out initiatives aimed at providing pro bono legal services to small businesses in lease negotiations; a policy which will soon expand, SBS spokesperson Merideth Weber told Gotham Gazette.

“We are working to roll out additional programs that span the range of supports we can provide including education, assistance, and tools that can help businesses avoid pitfalls in leases, and make the retail market more transparent,” Weber said in a statement.

When asked if the mayor supports SBJSA, Weber responded, “We’re reviewing the bill and this administration is working on a comprehensive plan to ensure that small businesses have the tools and resources they need to compete in an ever-changing marketplace.”

Still, tenant advocates argue that these measures dance around the main issue: that small businesses have no legal powers against immediate evictions or rent gouging. In a hyper-developing environment reaching further into several boroughs, small business owners are often defenseless. With a state government not inclined to act on commercial rent policy in New York City, and a city bill that, for now at least, is on the back burner of the Council agenda, the urgency stressed by owners and advocates doesn’t seem to be resonating here nor there.

Council Member Mark Levine, who spoke out against the eviction of the small businesses on a block in Washington Heights, in his district, says that there are other options that can help stem the tide of closing small businesses. And these, he said, do not necessarily require either a dying bill or a dead government. “Albany is not acting in any domain, really,” he quickly noted.

The city government, Levina argues, could set an example by not renting out its own real estate to chain stores. Also, zoning laws can be regulated in order to prevent chains and encourage small businesses — a policy that Columbia University has undertaken in Morningside Heights, Levine said. He added that the city should look into preventing developers who receive city subsidies from renting out to chains.

One of the 19 sponsors of the SBJSA, Levine argues that the city needs to set out a structure in which commercial tenants can have enough time whereby they are properly notified of a lease change. He also referred to a bill recently introduced by Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Dan Garodnick that would raise the commercial rent tax exemption in Manhattan (below 96th Street) from $250,000 to $500,000 per year. As of now, the bill has 16 sponsors.

In terms of Albany attention, residential tenants supersede their commercial counterparts in numbers, Levine says, and the politics involved are different. But still, the council member describes challenges faced by small businesses in New York right now as a “crisis;” one that is perhaps even more alarming than the affordable housing problem, given the conditions. “There’s not much a tenant can do,” he says. “Therefore, we’re seeing dramatic changes in our streetscapes, and the scale of the problem is great.”

“It is the mom and pop stores that make this city,” Levine said. “And the city government should be doing much, much more to protect them.”

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John Surico is a freelance journalist. His reporting can be seen in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Village Voice, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn.

In End of Session 'Scorecard,' Plenty for Next Year's Albany Agenda


Cuomo Heastie Flanagan

Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (L-R) (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


In the Democrat-controlled Assembly, it was 122-13; in the Republican-controlled Senate, 47-12. With those votes and a Governor Andrew Cuomo signature, a final policy package brought an underwhelming end to a tumultuous 2015 legislative session in New York's capital. 

Look at the bill, which combines laws on a variety of disparate issues, and see it's headlined "relates to rent-control provisions," referencing what was to many the most important aspect of the deal reached by Governor Cuomo, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. This year's 'three men in a room' took a little extra time to get to "yes," with the 2015 'big ugly' passed through the Legislature a little over a week after the originally scheduled end of session.

You can forgive Albany lawmakers for being a little tardy, though - as Governor Cuomo has said, it was no ordinary year in Albany. "This was a very difficult year," Cuomo said last Tuesday when announcing the framework of a deal. "There were extraordinary developments...It was almost unimaginable to have this kind of change in this period of time. You wound up with two new leaders." He was, of course, alluding to the fact that both Flanagan's and Heastie's predeccesors were arrested on corruption charges earlier this year.

Along with an extension of rent regulations that mostly concern New York City tenants and their allies, the deal includes action briefly extending mayoral control of city schools and the 421-a real estate tax abatement program; providing property tax rebates; setting aside funding for nonpublic schools; and altering the cap on charter schools so more can open in New York City. Cuomo and the Legislature also struck deals on campus sexual conduct and nail salon regulation.

While extensions were passed on major sunsetting items, the 2015 deal may be more notable for how much it did not include than for what it did.

Cases in point: noting the absence of items he had promised action on, Cuomo announced two executive orders he would be issuing on criminal justice issues. Facing an uncooperative Senate, the governor had also already set things in motion to up the minimum wage on his own, with his Department of Labor convening a fast food worker wage board set to deliver recommendations soon.

But on those issues some action is being taken - there is also a wide variety of policy seeing no movement through the end of session deal or Cuomo on his own, angering advocates behind pushes to enact paid family leave, the Gender Non-Discrimination Act, the DREAM Act, government ethics and campaign finance reform, and mixed martial arts (MMA), to name a few of the most-sought. New York will continue to be the only state that does not sanction MMA and one of only two that continues to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system.

Yet according to Cuomo, the end-of-session deal is a robust package, plenty good for New Yorkers, and further evidence that New York government is functional. Speaking at a press conference announcing a final agreement, Cuomo said, "I am personally very happy and very proud of this legislative package. I think that it is responsive to the problems that are pressing the state right now. I think that it is actually a very robust and extensive legislative package of reforms that goes a long way towards making this state a better state."

The governor also praised Flanagan and Heastie. "These gentlemen were in a very difficult situation to step in as a new leader," Cuomo said, adding that it was "extraordinary" that the two could step into the legislative process in the middle of negotiations and ensure government keeps working.

Flanagan seemed mostly pleased with the session's policy outcomes. Heastie less so. But, Heastie and many of his supporters have been quick to note that the deal appears to be the best the new speaker could do. He was fighting an uphill battle, many Democrats argue, against an obstinate Senate Republican conference and, in some cases, an unsympathetic Democratic governor. New York City Democrats - elected and otherwise - were largely disappointed, and many point a finger at Cuomo, who they say did not fight hard enough on key issues or for tenants.

State Senator Adriano Espaillat, a Manhattan Democrat who voted against the end-of-session deal, said, "We are far from where we need to be to protect tenants...we need strong rent laws, not a slight improvement."

City Comptroller Scott Stringer said similarly, "When it came to protecting tenants, Albany failed miserably," Stringer said Sunday on John Catsimatidis' radio show, according to the Daily News. "We have an affordable housing crisis," Stringer added, "But the rent stabilization deal didn't address those issues."

The rent laws took center stage as Albany lawmakers let them briefly expire and the session puttered into overtime. But, the regulations were among many issues at play, some of which saw action. In looking at the outcomes of the 2015 legislative session - which some have called anemic or "the absolutely bare minimum" - we see the initial framework for next year's policy agenda.

WHAT WAS DONE
Rent Regulations: extended for four years, and strengthened slightly with an increase and indexing of the threshold by which units can be removed from the regulated rolls; an increase in civil harassment penalties where owners harass a tenant to obtain a vacancy; and an adjustment to the limits landlords can charge tenants to receive reimbursement for building improvements. Senate Republicans attempted to insert income verification measures, but they did not make the final deal.

Of Assembly Speaker Heastie's push on rent regulations, Governor Cuomo said, "I believe the rent package that he has obtained is a major step forward. You have certain voices that would say rent regulations should just go away - I understand that, but that's not going to happen any time soon. But he has done an extraordinary job in crafting a program that addresses the entire spectrum of the problem."

Reaction: the extension came as a relief to tenants and their allies, but is seen as largely inadequate, as the comments from Espaillat and Stringer indicate. City Council Member Jumaane Williams has said that "Governor Cuomo completely and thoroughly let New York City tenants down."

A spokesperson for a coalition of pro-tenant groups, Real Affordability for All, said "This deal is very bad for tenants, good for corruption and a step further to eliminating the largest source of affordable housing in the state. The changes included to the laws are as insignificant as the reforms made in 2011, which led to the displacement of thousands of working class New Yorkers and to the high record number of families who ended up in city shelters. It completely ignores the affordable housing crisis." Activists say thousands of rent regulated apartments will be lost each year and they plan to continue to protest the deal.

Taxes: the state property tax cap, limiting growth at two percent per year, is extended for an additional four years, and a new property tax credit, "$3.1 billion over four years in direct relief to struggling New York taxpayers," is included. In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Flanagan said, "We are taking action on long-held Republican priorities that reduce the property tax burden here in New York so that we can create jobs, grow businesses, and help taxpayers keep more of their hard-earned money."

Reaction: the governor is largely praised for fiscal discipline when it comes to property tax increases, while the property tax cap and the new tax credit are seen as wins for middle class and wealthy homeowners. The Citizens Budget Commission, however, expresses concern about the tax credit, writing, "The legislative package passed in Albany last week rejected some misguided and expensive proposals, including a tax credit for benefactors of private schools. Unfortunately, other expensive proposals were included, adding to current and future state expenses without providing offsetting savings or revenues...By far the largest part is a new property tax relief rebate program, which will cost $1.3 billion annually when fully implemented."

421-a: "The legislation extends the 421-a program for six months, with a provision that allows representatives of labor and industry groups to reach a memorandum of understanding regarding wage protections for construction workers. If such an agreement is reached, the program will automatically be extended for four years," according to a release from the governor's office. A key piece of the deal is that affordable housing will be mandated as part of any development approved to receive the tax break, a significant change from the previous version, which included major exceptions. The deal also bans the so-called "poor door" setup that some developers enacted with separate entrances for market-rate tenants and affordable unit tenants.

Reaction: 421-a was a source of conflict between Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. The final plan - assuming that the two sides can come to a wage agreement - is very close to what de Blasio proposed, which he and his aides have pointed out, including through a convincing infographic.

"Some real progress was made on 421-a. We were very proud of that fact," de Blasio said on Monday, according to The Observer. "We're going to have a lot more affordable housing than we would have otherwise, and taxpayers are going to get a much better deal, because any time we subsidize a building, there will be affordable housing as part of that." The deal does not include the so-called "mansion tax" de Blasio called for on sales of apartments over $1.75 million and used to fund affordable housing, which the mayor called "a mistake" and a "lost opportunity."

The deal appears to work for just about all the key stakeholders, though the labor agreement that must be reached could halt the celebration, and even if it is worked out by the parties, the proof of this deal's success will be in the pudding that is real estate development and accompanying affordable housing built over the coming years.

Education: there is $250 million to private schools "for the costs of performing State-mandated services," money which many say the schools are already owed; requirements for the "disclosure of state exam questions and answers" and other measures to improve standardized testing; a "one-year extension of mayoral control of the New York City school system"; and an "increase in the number of charter schools available to be issued in New York City to 50 and enhanced flexibility in teacher certification rules" for charter schools.

Reaction: de Blasio and his allies had sought at least three years extension of mayoral control (de Blasio had originally pushed for it to be made permanent and the Assmebly had passed a seven-year extension); the one-year deal is seen as an insult to the mayor and, to some, revenge by Senate Republicans for de Blasio's 2014 efforts to swing the Senate to Democrats. It is unclear how much Governor Cuomo fought for a longer extension, though he had himself originally proposed three years early in 2015. "The outcome of the negotiations was the best that we could do," Cuomo said. Mayoral control will now be a focal point again in 2016 as de Blasio seeks another extension.

Meanwhile, much of the rest of the deal appears to extend the governor's education reform agenda. Cuomo allies in the charter school sector praised the deal. "Today Albany leaders stepped up and delivered for parents and students who demanded more choice," said StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis. "Too many children are stuck in failing schools without options...Thankfully, Albany leaders understand that charter schools play a critical role in the delivery of free, public education in New York."

Albany lawmakers also announced a deal enacting Cuomo's "Enough is Enough" campus sexual assault conduct policy across the state. "We have a bill on sexual assault on campuses that is the smartest and toughest bill in the United States," Cuomo said announcing the deal. "I think it's going to set a new national model for other states to follow."

EXECUTIVE ACTION:
The governor is taking executive action on three issues, each of which will still be revisited in terms of legislation, likely in 2016.

Governor Cuomo wanted legislation passed to raise the age of criminal responsibility, but Senate Republicans balked. "To me the single most important piece of 'raise the age' is getting the 16- and 17-year-olds out of state prisons and that's what I can do by executive order," Cuomo said last week. "We'll be creating facilities designed for those 16- and 17-year-olds that will be much more appropriate than a state prison," he said.

Cuomo also announced that since he could not come to a deal with legislative leaders on a special prosecutor in cases where police officers kill unarmed civilians, he was appointing the attorney general as such for one year, and will hope to come to a legislative solution in 2016.

The governor has pushed a further increase in the minimum wage, which is now $8.75 per hour and set to go to $9 at the end of the year. Unable to get Senate Republicans to bite, Cuomo announced he had instructed his Department of Labor to convene a wage board examining wages in the fast food industry. The wage board has held several public hearings and is set to announce its recommendations any day. Hopes are high that the board will "do the right thing and recommend a $15 wage for fast-food workers that will take effect as soon as possible," as a statement from Working Families Party State Director Bill Lipton read. Even if the board announces something less than $15 per hour, it is likely to push a significantly higher wage than $9.

ON TO NEXT YEAR:
While Cuomo acts on his own regarding the minimum wage in the fast food industry, where 16- and 17-year olds are imprisoned, and how investigations into police killings of unarmed civilians are run, it is almost certain that the governor and others will want to see legislative action on the three issues come 2016.

Advocates will have to continue to push for the DREAM Act; paid family leave; the Gender Non-Discrimination Act; raising the age of criminal responsibility and other criminal justice reforms; an increase in the minimum wage; legalizing mixed martial arts; ethics and campaign finance reform; and much more. Cuomo did not get Assembly Democrats to agree to his education tax credit proposal that would have incentivized contributions to nonpublic schools, and it is unclear if there will be another push for it in the future. It is clear, however, that the other issues on this list will remain the focus of much lobbying and activism:

Ethics and Campaign Finance Reform: "I'm disappointed and, frankly, find it incomprehensible, that there were not further measures taken to reform the procedures in our state government and in our campaigns," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said on Friday, according to The Observer.

Schneiderman, who has put forth his own sweeping ethics reform package, said he wants to see a special legislative session before the scheduled January return of business to Albany. Good government groups, including Citizens Union, the Brennan Center, and NYPIRG, released a statement saying, "New York's leading civic organizations today decried Albany's continuing failure to fully address the ceaseless ethics problems head-on during the 2015 legislative session. The groups called on Governor Cuomo and the state's legislative leaders to convene a special session to tackle ethics reforms before the end of the calendar year."

Among the reforms the good government groups and Schneiderman want to see are limits on legislators' outside income and the closing of the infamous LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited campaign donations.

The Gender Non-Discrimination Act: The State Assembly has passed GENDA eight times, but the legislation, which, according to the Empire State Pride Agenda, "would update the state's anti-discrimination protections to cover transgender New Yorkers," has stalled in the Senate. The Pride Agenda released a statement saying that with the end of "a deplorably unproductive legislative session," the Senate has left transgender New Yorkers at continued risk "to the vicious discrimination that haunts countless trans lives." The Pride Agenda and allies also want to see action banning "conversion therapy" on minors in New York, which has also passed the Assembly.

Paid Family Leave: It's an issue gaining more and more traction nationally, but New Yorkers are looking to push paid family leave at the state level in the absene of federal policy. Reacting to a lack of movement before the end of the 2015 session, the New York Paid Family Leave Insurance campaign issued a statement, saying, "It now appears that New York families will have to wait yet another year for paid family leave. Meanwhile, thousands of workers upstate and down are still forced to choose between caring for their loved ones and their families' economic security...While employers and employees in California, Rhode Island, and even next door in New Jersey continue to reap the benefits of this overdue policy, New York is still woefully behind." Advocates cite The Paid Family Leave Insurance Act, which passed the Assembly in March and "would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill family member, and deal with issues that arise when a family member is called to active military service."

Business owners and their allies continue to express reservations about any additional mandates placed on owners, both in terms of monetary cost and productivity. Many insist that New York should not take any further action to make the state more unfriendly toward business.

Well before the end-of-session deal was reached, it was clear that little beyond the basics would be done. Those behind the issues above, plus the DREAM Act, a farm workers bill of rights, the abortion plank of the Women's Equality Agenda, MMA, and other pieces of legislation watched the final negotiations in disappointment, and beginning to think about influencing the start of business next year.

In most instances, it is Democrats left wanting more. When the final deal was announced on Thursday, Assembly Speaker Heastie spoke of coming to terms with reality. "You could always want better," he said. "This is a bicameral Legislature and the Republicans in the Senate have their own vision on what they'd like to see and you do the best you can and try to compromise...We would have loved to have done more." 

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

The Week That Was in New York Politics, June 22-26


week in review bus readers

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


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday June 26

PHOTOS OF THE WEEK: Gov. Cuomo shakes hands with Sen. Flanagan at their Thursday 'big ugly' announcement (top; via The Governor's Office on flickr); Mayor de Blasio hugs CM Ferreras-Copeland at their Monday budget announcement (middle, via William Alatriste); de Blasio officiates three marriages at City Hall on Friday (bottom, via William Alatriste)

Heastie Cuomo Flanagan 

de Blasio ferreras

marriage equlity city hall

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. Albany End-of-Session Policy: The framework for the end of 2015-2016 legislative session deal was announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Tuesday afternoon; details were negotiated, and the two legislative houses voted the deal through on Thursday evening.

2. New York City Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Agreement: The City’s $78.5 billion budget agreement for Fiscal Year 2016 was announced by Mayor de Blasio, City Speaker Mark-Viverito, Finance Committee Chair Ferreras-Copeland and Council Members on Monday evening. Highlights include funding for 1,297 additional NYPD officers, six-day library service, seniors centers, and much more, including a new bail fund.

3. New NYPD Plan, "One City: Safe and Fair Everywhere": On Thursday Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton announced a new community policing plan, possible due to the upcoming addition of about 1,000 police officers to the NYPD force, aimed to unite “neighbors and residents in the fight against crime.” Police officers will go through the “training necessary to deepen relationships within the communities they serve.”

4. De Blasio’s Other Announcements:

  • On Tuesday, de Blasio added the Lunar New Year as an official school holiday.
  • On Wednesday, with Executive Order No.10, de Blasio established the Commission on Gender Equality.
  • Also on Wednesday, de Blasio announced a partnership with eyeglass company Warby Parker, which will allow community school students who need eyeglasses to receive them free of charge.

5. City Council Schedules Hearing on Police Reform Proposals: On Monday June 29 there will be a hearing of the public safety committee on nine police reform proposals, Capital New York reported. One of the bills included would outlaw the use of chokeholds by police officers. There is speculation that the hearing was added to the calendar as part of the budget deal during which de Blasio and the Council decided to include funding for 1,297 new police officers for the NYPD force.

THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:

  • 1,297 NYPD officers will be added to the force per the City’s newly released budget.
  • $78.5 billion for the city’s 2016 fiscal year budget. The budget is only a $200 million increase from the mayor’s executive budget released in early May. The new budget includes $52.6 million in City Council discretionary funds to be allocated by the 51 members, and Speaker Marissa Mark-Viverito has $16 million to allocate from her speaker's pot. 
  • 80 different pre-packaged Whole Foods products were tested by the Department of Consumer Affairs and “all the products had packages with mislabeled weights.” DCA Commissioner Julie Menin announced an investigation on Wednesday.
  • 1 year extension for mayoral control of city schools, per the new end-of-session deal in Albany, a major blow to Mayor de Blasio, who had wanted it made permanent.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

  • It was a good week for the LGBTQ community with the Stonewall Inn voted as a historic landmark on Monday and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that same-sex marriage is a right on Friday.
  • It was bad week for Mayor Bill de Blasio with mayoral control of schools only extended for a year, the charter cap essentially increased, and the rent regulation extension not matching his desired outcome.

THE FLASH:

  • This week in 2011, the same-sex marriage bill was approved by the State Senate 33-29 and was signed into law by Governor Cuomo at 11:55 p.m. June 24, 2011. Tweet from Andrew Cuomo, in part: @NYGovCuomo “On this day in 2011, New York State proudly passed #MarriageEquality.”
  • This week in 1915, the current New York City flag was raised for the first time during a flag-raising ceremony.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

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

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

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

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by Erika Wang and Ben Max

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 29


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week must be much quieter than last - the city budget is passed; the legislative session in Albany is over; the two escaped upstate prisoners were found (one killed; one shot and captured); and the United States Supreme Court has wrapped up its spring. It's also a holiday week as we head toward Saturday, July 4 - the official holiday is Friday, as you probably know. There is quite a bit happening in New York politics on Monday and Tuesday, as you'll see below. There's also sure to be plenty of examination this week of what happened last week, and with much to consider as people dig further into the city budget, Albany 'big ugly,' and more.

Before looking at what is upcoming, did you read our Week in Review looking at the key things to see and know from last week in New York politics? It's a new feature of ours, a quick end-of-week read to catch you up and also bring you fun items like photos of the week, numbers of the week, and more. Give it a look.

This week we're not only watching for new stories about things that happened last week, but there are also key meetings of the governor's fast food wage board; the city rent guidelines board; and the City Council public safety committee. See details of those events and more below. Also, by Tuesday, The Midtown East Steering Committee, co-chaired by Council Member Dan Garodnick and Borough President Gale Brewer, is set to send their re-zoning blueprint to city planners.

Weekend wrap: the LGBT Pride celebrations continued after Friday's Supreme Court decision dictating marriage equality nationwide (Mayor Bill de Blasio held a celebration at City Hall and performed two marriages Friday afternoon). On Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo officiated a wedding ceremony for the first time since being granted the authority to do so as part of the end-of-session deal in Albany. Cuomo presided over a marriage outside of the Stonewall Inn just before the annual Pride parade, which he, de Blasio, and many other city and state officials participated in.

On Saturday, "Mayor Bill de Blasio, Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP, and Council Member Jumaane Williams dedicated a plaque marking the site of the colonial-era Wall Street slave market. Standing in Manhattan Park, the plaque is the first official acknowledgement of this slave market."

Upcoming: on Monday, at 10: 15 at South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, "Mayor de Blasio and U.S. Representatives Nydia Velázquez and Jerrold Nadler will host a press conference to make an announcement," according to the mayor's public schedule. At 4 p.m. at City Hall, "the Mayor will hold public hearings for and sign Intro. 318-A, in relation to prohibiting discrimination based on a person's arrest record or criminal conviction; Intro. 125-B, in relation to licensing car wash businesses; and Intros 456-A, 723-A, 724-A, 725-A, 726-A, and 729-A, related to the City's outreach and accessibility efforts for small businesses."

Cuomo-De Blasio Detente?: One key item worth watching this week is how well things cool off between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo after a tense stretch leading to Albany's end of session and a deal not very favorable to de Blasio and many city-based lawmakers and their constituents. It's likely that this will be a fairly quiet week, though things could flare up again if either de Blasio or Cuomo (or their surrogates) were to criticize the other when talking with members of the media. Where the relationship between the two 'old friends' goes from here is unclear, as it may have been hit by irreparable damage over the past year-and-a-half, especially the past six months. Stay tuned.

Check out our day-by-day rundown below, and have a great week!

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

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At 8 a.m. Monday morning, "City Council Parks Committee Chair Mark Levine and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal will be joined by DOT and Parks Department officials to kick-off the first day of car free Central Park north of 72nd Street. Last year, Council Members Rosenthal and Levine introduced legislation, Intro 499, which would ban cars in Central Park for a portion of the year and study banning them year-round...Central Park, West Drive and near 92nd Street Enter the Park at 93rd Street and Central Park West."

On Monday at the City Council: a 9:30 a.m. hearing of the public safety committee on a variety of police reform bills - expect this to be a long, intense hearing. Bills being heard deal with outlawing the use of chokeholds by the NYPD (they are currently banned by department policy); new reporting requirements for the NYPD of high-crime neighborhoods and CCRB complaints against specific officers; rules around officers identifyng themselves to suspects and notifying suspects of their rights to refuse a search that is not being requested due to reasonable suspicion; and more.

At noon outside that City Council hearing, according to police reform groups, "there will be a press conference "to call for New York City Council to pass Right to Know Act" featuring Council Members Brad Lander, Ritchie Torres, Jumaane Williams, and Antonio Reynoso, along with representatives from Communities United for Police Reform, Make the Road New York, VOCAL-NY, New York Civil Liberties Union, NYC Anti-Violence Project, Legal Aid Society, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Streetwise & Safe, Picture the Homeless, Arab American Association of New York, Brooklyn Movement Center, and Audre Lorde Project.

At 10 a.m. the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies is hosting the ribbon cutting for their new office and conference center. Bill Chong, Commissioner of the Department of Youth and Community Development; Steve Banks, Commissioner of the Human Resources Administration; Gilbert Taylor, Commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services; Council Member Helen Rosenthal and Council Member Dan Garodnick will be among those attending.

On Monday at 10 a.m., City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will deliver remarks at Broome Street Academy's graduation ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History.

After a month of testimony, the final public deliberations for the fast food Wage Board will be on Monday at 11 a.m. at the New York State Department of Labor. As has been the case with its other hearings, fast food workers and their allies, those fighting for a higher minimum wage, with the goal of $15/hour, will rally beforehand.

At noon on Monday at the Queens Library, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer will hold a "press conference to celebrate six day service at all New York City libraries."

Also at noon, "Street vendors and the Street Vendor Project of the Urban Justice Center call for lifting the cap on street vendor permits with the premiere of new video, plaza in front of City Hall," according to City & State NY.

At 1 p.m. Monday at City Hall, Harlem Interfaith Commission for Housing Equality will hold a press conference, attended by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

Also at 1 p.m. Monday, "New York City Councilman Mark Treyger joins elected officials, community leaders, clergy members and residents to denounce the recent incidents of gun violence and call on the city to improve safety in Coney Island's residential areas, Surf Avenue and West 30th Street, Coney Island," according to City & State NY.

At 4 p.m. de Blasio and other city leaders will hold a bill-signing ceremony at City Hall.

On Monday at 6 p.m. the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) will hold its final vote after 4 public meetings with testimony. The meeting was originally scheduled for Tuesday, June 23.

Prior to the RGB meeting and vote, there will be a rally outside of Cooper Union, "After tenants were denied important rent protections by the governor, tenants are turning to the Rent Guidelines Board as their final hope for housing stability. Elected officials and the Rent Justice Coalition are rallying before the final Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) vote to demand rent relief for New York's working families. The RGB vote will impact the city's long term financial stability and the immediate welfare of 2.5 million tenants. The final vote comes after four hearings, where thousands of tenants and dozens of elected officials testified about the need for a rent rollback and the dire consequences of a rent increase." Attendees will include "The Rent Justice Coalition, rent stabilized tenants, elected officials including Council Member Jumaane Williams, Council Member Corey Johnson, Council Member Ben Kallos, Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Council Member Rosie Mendez, Council Member Dan Garodnick, Council Member Mark Levine, Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, Assembly Member, Assembly Member Herman Farrell, Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, Senator Bill Perkins, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and others."

At 6 p.m. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will host that borough's feedback session as First Lady Chirlane McCray and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene put together a "Roadmap for Mental Health."

Monday evening's Inside City Hall on NY1 will feature an interview with Council Speaker Mark-Viverito.

Tuesday
As mentioned, the Midtown East Steering Committee is due to submit its rezoning plans to city hall by Tuesday.

Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. there will be a Google Hangout, "#LatinasRepresent Hangout with NYC's Leading Latinas," with Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Executive Director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas. This will be broadcast live.

Also at 10 a.m. Tuesday, and hearing of the City Council's transportation committee to examine two bills related to the taxicab and for-hire vehicle industry.

The Midtown East steering committee is aiming to send their re-zoning blueprint to city planners by June 30. The area covers stretches from East 39th to East 57th street between Fifth and Third Avenue and will be the culmination of nine months of talks.

On Tuesday at 5 p.m. there will be an immigration consultation and legal help provided by the Immigrant Justice Corps Community at the Brooklyn Public Library.

At 5:30 p.m. a Caribbean Heritage celebration will be hosted at City Hall. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, Council Member Mathieu Eugene and the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus co-chairs Andy King and Rosie Mendez will be attending, among others. RSVP by Monday June 29, 2015.

There will be an event on the "role of data in reporting on race" by The New York Times Company's African Heritage Network and ProPublica at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Marcus Mabry, editor at large for The New York Times will be attending.

At 6 p.m. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will be hosting Manhattan's session on the "Roadmap for Mental Health" being put together by First Lady Chirlane McCray and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Tuesday evening, beginning at 6 p.m. at New York Law School, good government group Citizens Union hosts "Effective Police Accountability; Building Public Trust and Ensuring Public Safety in Our Community...engaging dialogue on how New York can strengthen police accountability, improve public oversight, boost police-community relations, and ensure public safety." Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will give opening remarks, which will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, former Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney and NYPD Deputy Commissioner Arnold Kriss, Communities United for Police Reform's Joo-Hyun Kang, and Philip Eure, Inspector General for the NYPD; and moderated by Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey.

There will be a tenants' forum in Greenpoint on Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m. with the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development in partnership with Council Member Stephen Levin. "This is an opportunity for tenants to get information on issues such as rent stabilization protections, HPD code enforcement, housing court, rent protection for low-income seniors and displaced persons, anti-harassment protections, and much more."

Wednesday is July 1, and it looks like political events in the city are halting for the July 4th weekend.

Catch up on a few recent Gotham Gazette highlights:

Thank you for reading Gotham Gazette. Have a great start to July!

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Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Bernard Agrest, Erika Wang, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

School Meals in the Budget: Applause for Breakfast, Groans for Lunch


Lunch 4 Learning

Lunch 4 Learning at City Hall (photo: Zehra Rehman)


Supporters of expanding free school meals in New York City are expressing mixed reactions to the city budget agreement announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito on Monday night.

The fiscal year 2016 budget, at $78.5 billion of spending soon to be officially approved, satisfies one key demand of advocates – that of expanding "breakfast after the bell." The name refers to allowing students to eat free breakfast provided by the school in their classroom. The program will be funded for inclusion in 530 elementary schools. The budget also includes funding to continue universal free lunch in all of the city's standalone middle schools. But, this has disappointed advocates who were hoping the free lunch program would be expanded to elementary and high schools.

In New York City, where one in every four child does not have access to enough food, many students depend on schools to provide their only consistently available meals of the day. Members of the City Council, Public Advocate Letitia James, and advocates had led a strong push for the budget to include funding to make school lunches free for all students, regardless of grade level or family income, and for the expansion of 'breakfast after the bell.'

This year's preliminary and executive budgets did not include 'breakfast after the bell' or an expansion of universal free lunch but the final budget includes $17.9 million to expand the breakfast program to 530 elementary schools. City Council leadership considers the expansion of 'breakfast after the bell' and the continuation of the middle school free lunch pilot program successes. A continuation of the middle school program was not included by de Blasio when he unveiled his February preliminary budget, but the Council convinced him to restore it in his executive budget, released in May. At the time, Mark-Viverito said, "Bureaucratic hurdles are not an excuse for letting children go hungry."

In response to the budget deal, Council members focused on gains made, praising the 'breakfast after the bell' provision in the budget for reducing negativity around hunger for elementary school children. "Hungry kids will face less stigma at school because of $17.9 million for 'breakfast after the bell' for 339,000 children at 530 elementary schools, which I rallied for and introduced legislation supporting," said Council Member Ben Kallos in a post-budget statement. Kallos, a strong supporter of expanding free school meals, added that "New York City is now an important step away from being near last among big cities in public school breakfast participation."

Advocates for 'breakfast after the bell' also welcomed the announcement. "New York City students were big winners in last night's budget deal," chief strategy officer for Share Our Strength, Josh Wachs, said in a statement Tuesday. "No child should start the school day on an empty stomach. Thanks to leadership from the Mayor, Schools Chancellor, City Council, and partners in the Powered by Breakfast NYC coalition, they won't have to in NYC public elementary schools."

Through the budget, 'breakfast after the bell' will be expanded to include all of the city's elementary schools by fiscal year 2018. At the moment, it is an opt-in program in New York City with principals deciding if their schools participate. Over 300 of the city's schools have opted in so far, either serving breakfast in classrooms or providing "grab and go" carts for students to pick up food to take into class. At Monday night's press conference, de Blasio highlighted the role that the Council's insistence played and called breakfast an area where there was "opportunity for a major breakthrough" in fighting hunger and thus helping kids learn.

As the expansion of 'breakfast after the bell' was celebrated, supporters of universal free lunch for all city students were less than satisfied. "I'm a little disappointed that it [universal school lunch] wasn't expanded," Public Advocate Letitia James told Gotham Gazette, while expressing satisfaction with breakfast program gains. "New York City should be leading the national conversation on improving nutrition in public schools but instead we're falling further and further behind."

Other advocates echoed this sentiment. "We knew that the Council was championing this issue and that there seemed to be a lot of enthusiasm," says Liz Accles of Lunch for Learning, a coalition-led campaign advocating for universal free lunch. "We're a little stunned that it wasn't in there."

Last year, the city introduced a pilot program under which standalone middle schools provided free lunch to all students. This increased school lunch participation by 10 percent in those schools. While the consensus among advocates was that these numbers were a success, Mayor de Blasio described the results as "mixed" at his executive budget presentation. The mayor reiterated that conclusion at Monday's budget announcement, saying, "The first year of the school lunch program didn't achieve what all of us had hoped." He added that the coming year would involve "a much stronger promotional effort and effort to engage parents and students."

It appears that if the middle school lunch program shows enough progress there may be room for expanding free lunch beyond those grades.

"It's an opportunity that's being passed up," says Accles. "The federal government wants us to do this," she said referring to federal reimbursements for meals served in public schools. Public Advocate James pointed out that because most expenditures would be covered by these reimbursements, it would only cost the city $20 million per year to provide free lunch to all of the city's public school students. This amounts to 0.1 percent of the Department of Education's annual budget.

The drive for universal free lunches and 'breakfast after the bell' has been in large part due to a poverty stigma associated with accepting free school meals, long-offered to students from the poorest households. Around three-fourth of New York City's public school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches on the basis of a family income below 130 percent of the poverty level, or other criteria such as being food stamp recipients, homeless, or in foster care. Despite the great need, stigma and a fear of being mocked limits student participation in free meal programs. A third of the students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches don't eat those meals, with participation dropping below 40 percent in high schools. "Given those numbers, I'm really shocked that the mayor did not support expanding free lunch," says James.

Breakfast participation is even lower despite breakfast being free for all students in New York City public schools since 2003. Morning food has been offered before the start of school. Last school year only about 35 percent of the city's low-income students were eating breakfast in school, according to the latest annual report by the Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit organization working to eliminate hunger and under-nutrition. A combination of factors, including the poverty stigma and logistical problems in getting to school much earlier than the start of the school day, drive down breakfast participation numbers.

Supporters of universal free school meals say that there would no longer be stigma attached to accepting a school lunch if schools provide free lunches to all students and family income is no longer a deciding factor. Similarly, if all students are allowed to eat 'breakfast after the bell' together in their classroom, it would not single out those students who have to arrive to school early just to eat a free breakfast in the cafeteria.

The budget decisions that will dictate spending beginning at the July 1 start of the next fiscal year come as this school year is coming to a close. On Wednesday, the Department of Education announced that its "2015 Summer Meals program, which provides free, healthy breakfast and lunch to children across New York City, will begin this Saturday, June 27, the first day of summer vacation." The program is aimed at students who are food insecure and rely on school meals throughout the year.

From the end of June through September 4, the program will provide free meals to "children 18 and younger" at "1,100 locations, including pools, school, libraries, parks, public housing sites, and community-based organization sites." Children don't have to prove New York City residency or be enrolled in summer school; no application or identification is needed to access food. The DOE said that "a record 8.1 million meals were served" last summer.

Advocates want to see something similar all year round. On Tuesday afternoon, students from Lunch for Learning coalition groups delivered a letter to the mayor and a photobook of 330 pictures from its selfie campaign. They were accompanied by advocates, Council Member Antonio Reynoso, and leaders from Local 372, a union of the city's Board of Education employees. Barbara Turk, the mayor's director of food policy, was at City Hall to receive the letter and photobook on the mayor's behalf.

The message of the student letter was clear: "We are disappointed that expansion of Universal Free School Lunch for all public schools was left out of the budget. We have been working very hard to make this happen and were surprised and upset when you said the middle school results are mixed."

"If I get on line, the rich students will say that I'm eating 'free-free,'" said 16-year-old Aminata, one of the students at City Hall representing Bushwick Campus Youth Food Policy Council. While she has to try to hide when she gets a free lunch at her high school, she says that her brothers in middle school do not have to worry about bullies in the cafeteria because everyone in their school eats free lunches. She often also has to share her free lunch with friends who don't qualify for reduced-price lunch but still cannot afford to buy food every day. "This is not a want, this is a need," said Shaun D. Francois I, president of Local 372.

Though they are disappointed by the budget, supporters of universal free meals, including the public advocate, plan to carry on their efforts to expand the program to all of the city's schools. "We're going to continue to campaign and we're going to continue to keep the pressure on, working with advocates to expand this program so that students will be better nourished ready for the school day," James told Gotham Gazette.

"We know it's the right thing to do," says Accles. "We're going to keep pushing until we get it done."

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by Zehra Rehman, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Cuomo, Legislative Leaders Announce End-of-Session Pact


Cuomo Heastie Flanagan

Three men at a table (photo: Office of the Governor - Kevin P. Coughlin)


The deal must still be approved by Democrats in the Assembly and Republicans in the Senate, but there is a framework in place for an end-of-session policy package resolving debate on several key issues that have been on the Albany negotiating table for months.

On Tuesday afternoon at the Capitol, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the majority leader of each house, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Republican Senate President John Flanagan, announced that they had compromised on a slate of policies, many of which are of great importance to New York City. Noting the preliminary nature of the deal and that it still needed to be conferenced in each legislative house, Cuomo explained that the 'three men in a room' had agreed on a four-year extension of rent regulations with a few tweaks, a one-year extension of mayoral control of city schools with no tweaks, and more.

He also explained several issues on which no agreement had been reached, with executive action imminent on two: the governor promised to use his power to remove 16- and 17-year-olds from state prisons after no deal was struck on a comprehensive bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility and he said that he would name, for one year, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as a special prosecutor in cases where a police officer kills an unarmed civilian.

The two houses of the legislature are expected to pass on Wednesday the bills drafted based on the framework deal. While there's still a chance that something could go awry, it is unlikely - legislators were supposed to wrap up the spring session last Wednesday, coming back to Albany Tuesday after resolutions on key issues were elusive last week. Some details are still being worked out, though, and Cuomo, Heastie, and Flanagan did not provide much by way of specifics. Rent regulations, which had expired and then were retroactively extended through Tuesday, and mayor control, set to expire at the end of the month, had been at the top of the agenda because they were sunsetting. Many issues have dropped off the negotiating table in the preceding weeks and months.

Taking the lead in outlining the agreed upon, Cuomo provided context, repeatedly noting that it had been an extraordinary year, but not naming either former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver or former Senate President Dean Skelos, both of whom were arrested on corruption charges in 2015. Cuomo praised Heastie and Flanagan, and touted that Albany was continuing to function despite all of the challenges. Cuomo introduced the press conference by saying, in part, "I'm excited. This is a very robust agreement, it is a comprehensive agreement, it includes continued education reforms, it cuts taxes and it is an unprecedented package that protects tenants."

The governor not only explained the rent regulation and mayoral control agreements, both of which came as crushing disappointments to many New York City Democrats, but also that there is a deal in place that extends the 421-a real estate tax break for six more months while a broader deal is reached between labor and developers around wages paid for constructing new residences. Cuomo also explained there were deals in place for a $1.3 billion "property tax rebate program...targeted to Upstate New York and to the suburban communities" and "$250 million to nonpublic schools for what is called mandated services reimbursement." This nonpublic school investment comes after Assembly Democrats refused to back Cuomo's push for an education investment tax credit that would have helped those same schools. There is also a deal in place to change how charter schools are authorized and allowing for about 50 more charter schools in New York City.

Most of what was announced was received warmly by those who typically support the governor, there's little evidence that he agreed to anything he did not approve of in order to get something else that he wanted. These include education reform groups especially pleased with reform of the charter school cap and not unhappy to see the deal give Mayor Bill de Blasio just a one year extension of mayoral control. At the same time, it appears that Cuomo's relationship with the more liberal wing of his Democratic Party is fraying further.

De Blasio did not release a statement on the deal, but cannot be happy about the one-year extension of mayoral control - he had asked for it to be made permanent, then said he would be on board with a three-year extension offered in the Assembly and backed publicly by Cuomo. De Blasio has also been particularly concerned with a strengthening of rent regulations - he wants an end to vacancy decontrol altogether - and of the 421-a program to benefit his affordable housing plans.

Meanwhile, tenant groups are displeased and will rally Wednesday in response to the deal, focusing their vitriol at the governor. The Rent Justice Coalition said Tuesday that "tenants were enraged to hear Governor Cuomo's rent law proposal, which will result in the deregulation of 100,000 apartments and lead to substantial landlord harassment." Another tenant group, Alliance for Tenant Power, released a statement from one of its leaders, Katie Goldstein, who said, "Our worst fears about Governor Cuomo have been confirmed. He took no action at all to strengthen the rent laws." Goldstein calls the deal "a massive giveaway to landlords" that "will harm and endanger countless low-income and working-class households." There will be a 10 a.m. press conference on Wednesday outside the governor's Manhattan office at which tenants will "accuse Governor Cuomo of betraying them by failing to strengthen rent laws and instead allowing massive giveaways to landlords."

In announcing the four-year extension of regulations that govern about a million New York City apartments home to about two million New Yorkers, Cuomo highlighted that there would be an increase in the vacancy decontrol threshold and that it would be indexed to what the city rent guidelines board does in terms of rent-controlled apartments in subsequent years. 

On criminal justice, Raise the Age NY, a broad coalition of groups, also expressed disappointment with the governor, releasing a statement saying, "Governor Cuomo's failure to fulfill his public commitment to pass comprehensive raise the age legislation jeopardizes public safety and lets down children like Kalief Browder who spend years in the adult system for simple mistakes. Getting fewer than 1,000 children out of adult jails and prisons barely scratches the surface of this problem that affects over 30,000 youth and our communities. Unfortunately, New York continues to be one of two states that does not treat youth in an age-appropriate manner, which leads to youth who are more likely to re-offend and less likely to turn their lives around and become productive citizens. The Governor and Legislature need to fix this problem."

In a statement responding to Cuomo's announcement, Attorney General Schneiderman lamented what he sees as a lack of action in Albany, saying he was disappointed that lawmakers had not come to a legislative solution on a special prosecutor, calling it "part of a broader failure to achieve meaningful reform on a range of issues in this legislative session." He went on to say that Cuomo "was unable to enact statutory reform" on a special prosecutor and that with the impending executive order, "My office will handle these cases with the highest level of care and independence, while we continue to work with lawmakers, District Attorneys, advocates and other experts in criminal justice reform on a long-term legislative solution to this critical matter of law and policy."

In finishing his remarks, Cuomo said of corruption scandal and resulting upheaval in state government, "this was a very difficult year. There were extraordinary developments. I don't think you can find another year in the state's history where you saw the number of changes and the major changes that were made during the legislative year, the change in leadership, etcetera."

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

Mayor & Council Announce $78.5B Fiscal 2016 Budget Deal


MMV BdB budget deal

Mayor & Speaker announce budget (photo: William Alatriste)


A little after 10 p.m. Monday night and more than a week before deadline, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced that they had reached a deal on a balanced fiscal year 2016 city budget. The $78.5 billion budget is for the fiscal year beginning July 1 and includes additional spending from the mayor's Executive Budget, released in May, for several Council priorities - including the hiring of 1,297 new NYPD officers. Along with the expanded NYPD headcount, the budget includes funding for six-day library service around the city, parks workers, senior citizen services, a city bail fund, and other key items that were negotiated over the past months. The budget also reflects new agency savings and increased tax revenue, thus showing only a $200 million increase from the mayor's executive budget.

De Blasio gave credit to his budget team, led by Office of Management and Budget Director Dean Feulihan, and Mark-Viverito to hers, led by Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who was the third speaker Monday evening after de Blasio and Mark-Viverito. The mayor and speaker gave what each sees as the highlights from their perspective, as did Ferreras-Copeland, then the press assembled in the rotunda at City Hall peppered the mayor with questions about why he had relented to the Council push - two years in the making - to add significantly to the NYPD force. Explaining that the two sides had agreed to key cost savings like a cap on NYPD overtime, de Blasio also indicated that he and council leadership believe the added personpower will allow NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton to implement true neighborhood policing. There will also be new officers devoted "to counter-terror work."

In a release to the media, de Blasio's office touts the budget as moving forward "key initiatives to tackle income inequality and lift up families across the five boroughs, while protecting and strengthening the City's long-term fiscal health."

When he spoke, de Blasio named three standout aspects to him: increased funding toward the city's most struggling, or "renewal", schools specifically for extended learning time and health services; additional funding for libraries that will return them to six-day service; and the plan for an expanded NYPD headcount. In the statement released by his office, he said, "We're strengthening the NYPD's ranks, devoting new officers to counter-terror work and neighborhood policing, while securing vital fiscal reforms in overtime and civilianization. We are also making critical investments in our renewal schools, libraries, and so much more."

For her part, Mark-Viverito highlighted the investment in seniors, which, according to the mayor's office, includes "$4.3 million to eliminate waitlists for the Department for the Aging's homecare program, and $2 million to expand elder abuse prevention," as well as "$750,000 – growing in the out years – to fund support services through the Seniors in Affordable Rental Apartments (SARA) Program; 30 percent of those units are set aside for homeless seniors." Referring to strong ongoing lobbying efforts by seniors and their Council member allies (chiefly led by Council Members Margaret Chin and Paul Vallone), Mark-Viverito acknowledged the "active," "vocal," and fast-growing population of aging New Yorkers.

In a statement, Mark-Viverito also highlighted new Council spending, saying, "From establishing a Citywide bail fund, to creating new jobs for young adults, to strengthening the City's commitment to veterans and hiring 1,297 more NYPD officers to keep us safe, our budget makes New York City a better place to call home." The Council is dedicating $1.4 million to create a new bail fund, part of "$280 million in Council initiatives that will support New Yorkers throughout the City."

The goal of the bail fund is "to keep those accused of non-violent, low-level offenses out of jail. The Council's Bail Fund will provide bail of up to $2,000 and will save the City millions of dollars in incarceration costs and will help make the City's criminal justice system more just," according to a Council press release.

The budget includes additional funding toward parks that had been lobbied for by Council members and advocates, including almost $700,000 to extend beach season one week past Labor Day.

The deal received a mostly positive response from Council Parks Committee Chair Mark Levine, who said in a statement, "I am thrilled that the City Council has restored funding for gardeners and maintenance workers--saving 150 vitally needed jobs, and protecting a critical resource for parks in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. I am also excited that we will be extending the beach season, allowing countless New Yorkers to enjoy these resources for a week past Labor Day," said Council Member Mark Levine. "I am disappointed the budget does not provide additional funds for community gardens, playground staff, mid-sized parks, and other important needs our park system faces. I look forward to continuing to work with the Mayor and my colleagues in the Council to bring greater resources to a park system that has been underfunded for far too long."

While de Blasio noted the increased funding heading toward the renewal schools that are the focus of much Department of Education effort and outside scrutiny, there are other key school-related additions to the budget, including $6.6 million for the DOE to "hire 50 additional physical education teachers and conduct a comprehensive needs assessment to address barriers and move schools toward full physical education compliance." There was a City Council hearing last week focused on the city's continued violation of state physical education requirements. This move in the budget may slow Council attempts to enact legislation requiring more reporting by the DOE on physical education programming, staffing, and space.

There's also "$17.9 million to phase-in breakfast in the classroom at 530 elementary schools, serving 339,000 students" by fiscal year 2018. While money for this Council priority, otherwise known as "breakfast after the bell," is included, there is no expansion of universal free lunch, which the Council had been pushing for. Last year, the program was instituted in middle schools, where all students are now provided lunch at no charge, but the mayor said that the results of the program were underwhelming and that instead of expanding it to elementary and/or high schools, the city would first look to do more outreach around the middle school offering and see if there is a noted improvement in year two.

The budget includes "$1.14 million to fund 80 additional school crossing guards," which will help contribute to the mayor's Vision Zero traffic and pedestrian safety work around schools, and more money for teachers to spend on their classrooms. On Twitter, the United Federation of Teachers thanked Mark-Viverito specifically, noting that "The city budget contains a 62% increase in Teacher's Choice funds. Teachers should get $125 next school year, up from $77."

One point of contention, especially heightened of late, has been funding and function at the Mayor's Office of Veteran Affairs. There has been a push to pass a Council bill that would create a new Department of Veterans Affairs, moving the work outside of the mayor's office (though still under the mayor's control) and allowing for increased funding and Council oversight. That bill is likely stalled in the Council, though it has over thirty sponsors, while the new budget includes "$1.5 million in new staff and resources to meet the Mayor's goal of ending veteran homelessness, and $335,000 to fund a team of Veterans Service Officers that will be deployed in communities throughout the five boroughs," according to the mayor's office.

Meanwhile, the NYPD investment for nearly 1,300 new officers is much of what everyone is talking about. The mayor had pushed back against Council pleas (and even a few from Bratton) for hiring 1,000 new officers during both the fiscal 2015 and 2016 budget processes. This budget, however, includes "$170 million to add new uniformed officers to the NYPD, coupled with vital reforms in overtime and civilianization that will generate over $70 million in savings when fully phased-in. The new officers will be dedicated to counter-terror efforts and neighborhood policing – central to Commissioner Bratton's reengineering of the Department to bring police and community closer together while keeping crime low," according to the mayor's office.

Police reform advocates expressed immediate displeasure with the compromise and budget watchdogs shared concern about the choice's fiscal ramifications. The Police Reform Organizing Project, or PROP, released a statement saying, in part, "Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council leaders have made a truly terrible decision to add 1300 or so new officers to the NYPD's headcount. Rather than solve problems it will aggravate existing difficulties, deepening the racial, social, and economic inequities that plague our city and adding to the antagonism and distrust that communities of color already feel toward the police and the criminal justice system." De Blasio and others, of course, argue differently, saying that more officers will allow the NYPD to develop stronger community relationships and do more preventative policing.

Meanwhile, the Citizens Budget Commission said in a statement, "The FY 16 adopted budget announced by the Mayor and the Council this evening adds approximately $200 million in spending for additional police, social service providers and other programs. Although there is additional revenue available to fund these costs in the coming fiscal year, the agreed upon additions are an added risk to the City's fiscal health in future years, when budget gaps are already projected and when an inevitable economic downturn will erode the revenue required to pay for recurring expenses."

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

License to Carry: New York's Gun Permit Laws


Cuomo SAFE Act

Gov. Cuomo signs the SAFE Act, Jan. 2013 (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


Riders on a Brooklyn-bound 4 train fled in terror when a man responded to taunts from two younger men by pulling a gun and loading a clip. As the confrontation escalated and the train stopped, the melee spilled into the Borough Hall station, with threats and shoving until Gilbert Drogheo, one of the younger men, was lying dead of a gunshot wound on the station floor. Like a number of recent shootings, most of the incident was captured on video.

What stands out about the shooting death is that the firearm that killed Drogheo wasn't obtained illegally. According to law enforcement officials, Willie Grooms, the 69-year-old retired corrections officer who shot Drogheo, had a pistol permit. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced that Grooms will not be charged with a crime despite pleas from Drogheo's family. Grooms has maintained that Drogheo was harassing and assaulting him and that he attempted a citizen's arrest.

The incident and several others, such as the seemingly accidental gun shot that injured five people at a Waldorf Astoria wedding, raise serious questions for many New Yorkers - as the recent shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina church that killed nine has also done for many across the country. These are questions being seized upon by gun control activists in especially vehement efforts during June, which is Gun Violence Awareness Month in New York. Among the questions being asked are 'who is allowed to carry a gun' and 'how do people get gun permits.'

Advocates on both sides of the gun control debate agree that New York has some of the toughest gun-permitting laws of any state in the nation. However, regulations differ greatly between New York City and the rest of the state, with the city having a much more stringent system. This is evident as the New York Times recently reported on armed upstate New Yorkers on the lookout for two escaped prisoners.

"New York has some of the strongest laws in the country," said Leah Barrett of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. "New York is a 'may issue' state, whereas Florida is a 'shall issue.' Meaning [Florida] will basically issue [a gun permit] to anyone with a pulse."

New York is known as a 'may-issue state' because its regulations allow for background checks before issuing a license. However, the licensing process upstate is less restrictive than that of some other states, like Maryland, that rarely issue permits. Other states, such as Florida, are known as 'shall-issue' states because they have an application process that is mostly a formality. States like Texas are known as states 'unrestricted' because its residents are free to carry concealed firearms without going through any application process.

The screening and permitting process in New York differs based on type of firearm. Applicants for pistol permits undergo criminal and mental health background checks at the state and federal level - even when purchasing at a gun show. Permits are issued by local judges or clerks. Applicants must be at least 21 years old, free of a felony conviction or "serious" offense, of good moral character, and not have had a previous license revoked. Applicants must also state whether they have suffered severe mental illness or been institutionalized or hospitalized for such an illness. Permit issuers may deny a license based on that history.

In most of the state outside of New York City, permits are not required for the vast majority of rifles and shotguns used to hunt. Whereas the city does require a permit for guns used for hunting. The SAFE Act banned most assault style shotguns and rifles across the state but grandfathered in those purchased before January 15, 2013. Those grandfathered firearms were required to be registered before January 14, 2014.

"In New York City it is nearly impossible to get a pistol permit without some kind of hardcore need," said Tom King of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association. "Getting a concealed carry permit is almost impossible in the city unless you are a politician, a celebrity or very, very wealthy." The New York Police Department is tasked with reviewing applications for concealed carry permits in the city. A New York Times report from 2011 revealed that a number of celebrities and media members like John Catsimatidis, Sean Hannity, Alexis Stewart, and John Mack all have city pistol permits.

Outside of the city, King says, the permitting is less prohibitive but may take some time due to background checks that have recently been enhanced by the SAFE Act - legislation that is much maligned by gun rights advocates. The difficulty of getting a concealed permit varies depending on the county in which someone applies, in most cases the process is overseen by a judge or a clerk.

The NYPD offers a number of different permits that allow for pistols to be carried for business purposes, or restrict the carrier to a specific business or residence. Store owners and security guards appear to be the most-often licensed. Applicants must pay about $400 for a license, wait 12 weeks, and undergo a background check. They then must apply to the NYPD for permission to buy whichever firearm they select. One license can cover up to 25 different weapons. There were over 40,000 permit holders in New York City as of 2011.

Applications for permits in the rest of the state generally cost a lot less - often around $15 - and are completed in about two months. The SAFE Act established that state pistol permits must be renewed every five years. Pistol owners who fail to do so can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. Renewal involves submitting an applicant's current address, contact information, social security number, and a list of owned firearms.

King said that New York's current permitting rules seem fairly stable and that his group is mostly involved in fighting off the attempts of local municipalities to tweak gun laws. He notes that most smaller cities have to apply to the state for home rule to make their gun laws tougher and most of the time they are denied, or the law is defeated in court. His group is also actively looking to make repealing the SAFE Act a major issue in the 2016 elections for state Senate and Assembly. It was often used against Governor Andrew Cuomo and others during the 2014 cycle, while when he was campaigning in New York City, Cuomo boasted about passing the law, enacted quickly after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, CT.

Barrett, of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, is concerned that a federal bill that would force states to recognize out-of-state conceal-carry permits is picking up steam. The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act is backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a host of Republican legislators from states with no permitting laws. "This operates more or less like a driver's license," Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told The Hill in February. "So, for example, if you have a driver's license in Texas, you can drive in New York, in Utah and other places, subject to the laws of those states."

Advocates of the bill say it would prevent 'gotcha' moments where travelers with out-of-state concealed-carry permits are arrested for toting guns illegally in another state. Barrett and gun-control advocates say the bill would wreak havoc in New York. They say the bill could severely damage efforts to fight gun trafficking from out of state, which the NYPD and others often point to as a major issue in terms of guns used to commit crimes in New York City. "New York would be forced to honor permits from these other states that have weaker laws," said Barrett. "We would likely see an influx of guns from out of state and an increase in trafficking. And how will New York be able to confirm these permits?"

While, New York may very well have some of the strongest gun laws in the country, some in Albany, including legislators who back stricter gun laws, say that in order to get Senate Republicans to negotiate on other bills they may have to concede to their efforts to roll back parts of the SAFE Act. On June 9 the Senate passed a bill that would do away with a SAFE Act provision that requires background checks on those who purchase ammo. A state database to monitor ammo sales has yet to be brought online. The bill would also prevent gun registrations from being made public and allow family members to gift semiautomatic guns to their relatives.

King said he thinks the bill has a real chance to make it through the Legislature. Barrett, however, points to a recent poll her group conducted on the individual elements of the SAFE Act. The poll shows that New Yorkers support the SAFE Act by a 2-1 margin, and their support increases overwhelmingly when asked about the individual gun-safety measures contained in the act.

Background checks for all firearm sales was backed by 89 percent of all voters and 80 percent of gun owners surveyed. Renewal of pistol permits every five years was supported by 79 percent of voters and 53 percent of gun owners. Background checks for ammunition sales was supported by 72 percent of all voters and 37 percent of gun owners.

"New Yorkers overwhelmingly support gun safety, in fact they support the measures contained in the SAFE Act when they learn how common sense they are," said Barrett.
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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing



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