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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, May 11

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to look for this week in New York politics:

SKELOS WATCH: The fallout from Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos' arrest on federal corruption charges continues, with Skelos facing increased pressure to step down from his leadership post. The Legislature is back in session in Albany on Monday, it seems that it is only a matter of time before Skelos takes the path indicted Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver took after his arrest: becoming a rank-and-file member of his body while a colleague ascends to the throne. [Read our in-depth look at how Skelos came to power and what he's done over the years to maintain it]

Meanwhile, there are only about five weeks left in the legislative session and for any real policy work to get done, the Senate leadership must be stabilized. There are a whole host of issues that lawmakers and advocates want to see action on, but in order for anything to really get done, it will come down to negotiations among Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and the leader of the Senate, whether it is Skelos or a replacement. Some of the key issues on the negotiating table include mayoral control of New York City schools, rent laws and the 421-A tax break for real estate development, 'raise the age' and other criminal justice reforms, paid family leave, the minimum wage, and more. It doesn't seem anything else will be done on the ethics reform front, even though there is more and more scrutiny on the LLC loophole and the problems with the influence of campaign donations and donors. Gov. Cuomo is in a tough spot, the worse Albany looks the worse he looks, and he also wants to get more legislation done before the end of session, but his hands are tied as the Senate deals with the upheaval of Skelos' arrest. The governor may just resort to doing as much as he can without the Legislature, as he's indicated with recent decisions to convene a wage board looking at the minimum wage for fast-food workers.

DE BLASIO TO DC: Mayor Bill de Blasio is heading back to Washington, DC this week. On Tuesday he'll unveil the "Progressive Agenda" that he and collaborators from around the country have put together. A liberal version of the 1994 Republican "Contract with America," it will focus on reducing inequality and creating opportunity. The mayor has argued that a national progressive movement can be extremely helpful to his work in New York. De Blasio will reportedly also head to California this week, where he will speak at his daughter's school, Santa Clara University.

Meanwhile, it promises to be another busy week in the City of New York itself, with the City Council in action, many events and rallies around the city, and continued analysis of de Blasio's recently unveiled fiscal year 2016 Executive Budget leading up to the start of council hearings on the budget, which start May 18, and a final budget deal by the end of June.

Public Advocate Letitia James is due back from Israel this week, she's been there on a nine-day visit.

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

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

The run of the week in detail:

Monday morning, Eleanor’s Legacy will host its Spring Breakfast honoring Congressional Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and featuring appearances from Congressional Reps. Nita Lowey, Grace Meng, Louise Slaughter, and Nydia Velazquez, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Stephanie Schriock, President of EMILY’s List.

Mark-Viverito has a busy Monday: in addition to the Eleanor's Legacy event, the speaker will be speaking "at MOVE Systems Press Conference to Announce Food Cart Pilot Program" at City Hall; speaking at "Press Conference to Announce the Grand Marshals for the 2015 National Puerto Rican Day Parade; speaking "at New York City Council Jewish Heritage Event" at City Hall, and appearing "Live on BronxTalk" at 9 p.m.

On Monday at 9:30 a.m. at City Hall, "workplace safety advocates will unveil the latest alarming findings from the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health's "Price of Life: 2015 Report on Construction Fatalities in NYC...Advocates will call for: public agencies to stop awarding taxpayer dollars and public contracts to repeat safety offenders; prosecutors to use criminal statutes to go after contractors who violate safety regulations; increased resources for OSHA inspectors to spot problems before they become fatalities; and elected officials to keep a strong Scaffold Safety Law, which holds those who control construction sites responsible if they fail to provide proper safety equipment and a worker is injured or killed as a result."

At 10 a.m. Monday, "Governor Cuomo Makes an Announcement Regarding the Enough is Enough Campaign" at FIT in Manhattan.

At about 10:30 Monday morning, "The New York City Independent Budget Office will release a report...that examines the city's provision of mental health and discharge planning services in the jail system. The report specifically looks at these services in relation to the city meeting its obligations under the Brad H. court settlement and provides data on the number of inmates eligible for and receiving mental health and discharge planning services in 2009 and 2013. Details on city spending are also included."

At 11 a.m. on Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will hold a "Press Conference Kicking Off Shred It Events with AARP" at Union Settlement, 237 East 104th Street. On Monday evening, Stringer will "Holds a Town Hall at Big Six Towers" in Woodside.

"On Monday, Mayor de Blasio will visit Corona Family Residence, a homeless facility in Queens...After the visit, the Mayor will hold a media availability to make an announcement related to homelessness" at about 1:30 p.m., according to his public schedule.

On Monday at 2 p.m. at City Hall, "leading housing coalitions and labor leaders to announce massive mobilization for stronger rent laws," specifically a march on Thursday "to demand laws that can keep NYC affordable for working people."

Monday’s City Council schedule will include "the Committee on Housing and Buildings will hold a hearing on Introduction 222-2014, in relation to amending the obligation of owners to provide notice to their tenants for service interruptions, and Introduction 592-2014, in relation to preservation of hotels. The Committee on Housing and Buildings will also hold an oversight hearing on construction safety.

"The Committee on Environmental Protection will hold a hearing on Introduction 240-2014, in relation to filing semiannual reports on catch basin cleanup and maintenance, and Resolution 549-2015 calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to veto the application by Liberty Natural Gas, LLC to construct the Port Ambrose liquefied natural gas terminal off the coast of New York.

"The Committee on General Welfare and the Committee on Governmental Operations will hold a joint hearing on Introduction 251-2014, in relation to the collection of demographic data regarding numerous Asian Pacific American sub-demographic groups, Introduction 551-2014, in relation to requiring city agencies to amend their official forms and databases to accommodate multiracial identification where racial identification is required, Introduction 552-2014, in relation to collecting and reporting data related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and Resolution 472-2014 calling on the state and federal governments to amend their official forms and databases to accommodate multiracial identification in all instances where racial identification is required."

On Monday, the state Legislature is in session in Albany.

At 5:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, “Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Tish James, the New York City Council Jewish Caucus, and members of the New York City Council cordially invite you to a Jewish Heritage Month Celebration, featuring special guest speaker Dr. Ruth Westheimer.”

Monday evening, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a Queens Borough Board Meeting.

Also Monday evening, the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit (CAU), in collaboration with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, will host an LGBT City Agencies and Community Meet & Greet: “Meet and connect with all of New York City's LGBT focused agency representatives and learn about all the services and resources city agencies have to offer to the LGBT community.”

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, the New York Press Club will host the panel event, “The Investigators,” where a “panel of investigative reporters will discuss the state of their art in contemporary New York, joined by the City's new Investigations Commissioner, Mark G. Peters.” Panelists will include Greg Smith of New York Daily News, William Rashbaum and Michael Schwirtz of The New York Times, and Murray Weiss of DNAinfo.com New York, and the panel will be moderated by Tom Robbins.

Also Monday evening at 6:30 p.m., the Manhattan Institute will hold its Fifteenth Annual Alexander Hamilton Award Dinner, honoring Senior Fellow at Manhattan Institute and Co-Author of 'Broken Windows Policing,' George Kelling, and Founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, Eva Moskowitz, “for Their Dedication to Increasing Safety and Opportunity in New York...The Alexander Hamilton Award was created to honor those individuals helping to foster the revitalization of our nation’s cities.”

Mayor de Blasio will be in Washington, DC on Tuesday: according to POLITICO, early in the day he'll appear at a Roosevelt Institute event with Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others, and then he "will hold a 3 p.m. news conference outside the U.S. Capitol with labor leaders, Democratic lawmakers and liberal activists to unveil his "Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality.""

From the mayor's office: "On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will travel to Washington, D.C. to unveil The Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality. There will be two events. In the morning, the Mayor will deliver remarks at the National Press Club. This event, hosted by the Roosevelt Institute, will also feature Nobel Prize winning economist and professor Joseph Stiglitz and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. In the afternoon, the Mayor will make an announcement at the House Triangle near the U.S. Capitol Building steps."

Tuesday morning, the Association for a Better New York will host a “breakfast with Scott Rechler,” who will "provide a regional perspective for addressing New York's competitive challenges and opportunities. He will also outline reforms underway at the Port Authority as well as priorities and goals for the Port Authority and for the region going forward.”

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a Queens Borough Cabinet Meeting.

Tuesday’s City Council schedule will include a joint hearing of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services, the Committee on Public Safety, the Committee on Courts and Legal Services, and the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services to “examine New York City’s action plan” on behavioral health and the criminal justice system.

On Tuesday, the state Legislature is in session in Albany.

On Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio "will be joined by a bipartisan coalition of mayors from around the country for meetings with Congressional leadership to call for a six-year transportation authorization that significantly increases federal transportation investments. Wednesday afternoon, the mayors will hold a press conference at the U.S. Capitol. Additional details regarding Mayor de Blasio's schedule while in Washington will be released as they become available." Later on Wednesday, "Mayor de Blasio will travel to Santa Clara, California."

"Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams announced Brooklyn Job Fair 2015, an opportunity for Brooklynites to come to Brooklyn Borough Hall on Wednesday, May 13th from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM and apply for positions at some of New York City's major businesses. This networking event is being co-hosted by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, and is part of a sustained effort by Borough President Adams to advance hiring of local residents through the borough. According to statistics by the New York State Department of Labor, Brooklyn's unemployment rate in March 2015 was 6.7%, a higher number than that of the city and the state."

Wednesday, City and State, in collaboration with the Bronx Borough President’s Office, will host an event in celebration of its first ever Bronx Special Issue publication: “City & State will publish our first ever special issue covering everything Bronx. This special print edition will feature comprehensive coverage of major issues and industries in the Bronx, perspectives from every Bronx elected official and much more! This print edition will be launched City & State’s first ever Bronx-based event that will correspond with Bronx week.” Attendees will include Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., SOMOS Chair and Bronx Democratic Party Chair Marcos Crespo, State Senator Jeff Klein, and Kyle Kimball, President of the New York City Economic Development.

At noon Wednesday, the Senate Task Force on Workforce Development will meet for a hearing on “Bridging the Employment Gap.”

The state Legislature is due to be in session on Wednesday.

Wednesday evening, Cooper Union will host "The Monopoly Moment: The New Anti-Trust Paradox" featuring Fordham Law professor and former gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout.

Also Wednesday evening, Vets GSA in partnership with CUNY and John Jay College of Criminal Justice, will host “a workshop and seminar that will be focusing on identifying contracting opportunities for New York State and the US Federal Government for Veteran Owned Businesses...This session will provide information for Services Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses and Veteran Owned Small Business to make them award or the multitude of open source business development intelligence websites that can be used to assist in the increasing the businesses ability to assess competition and identify and bid on viable opportunities.”

Thursday morning, the Senate Standing Committee on Codes, the Senate Standing Committee on Consumer Protection, and the Senate Standing Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs, will hold a joint hearing regarding “Cyber Security in New York State as it Relates to Businesses and the Private Sector.”

Thursday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Finance “concerning amendments to the District Plan of the Lower East Side Business Improvement District” and a full-body Stated Meeting at 1:30 p.m.

At 5:00 p.m. Thursday, New York Communities for Change, Real Rent Reform Campaign, and Alliance for Tenant Power will host “Rally to Save NYC..Landlords and developers are taking our neighborhoods away from us. The affordable housing crisis and gentrification have brought millions of New Yorkers to a breaking point. If we don’t win stronger rent laws in June, our city will be lost. This is our last chance to hold onto the place we call home.” There will be a rally in Foley Square, followed by a march.

On Thursday evening, Manhattan BP Brewer will speak "at American Planning Association panel discussion on 421-a and rent stabilization, Rudin Family Forum at the Puck Building."

Friday and the weekend
Friday morning, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research will host “New York’s Next Health Care Revolution: How Employers Can Help Empower Patients and Consumers...In a just-released collection of essays published by the Manhattan Institute, a group of leading experts offer a clear diagnosis of New York’s health care ills, as well as a menu of concise, actionable reforms that employers and policymakers can use to make the Empire State’s health care system truly patient-and consumer-centered.”

On Saturday morning, Brooklyn BP Adams, in coordination with The Youth Council on Community Engagement, will host “Youth Participation on Community Boards Boot Camp...Brooklyn’s youth ages 16 – 25 and those who work with youth are invited to learn about civic engagement and how their local community board addresses the issues in their neighborhood.”

Saturday evening, Lea DeLaria (of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black) and the Empire State Pride Agenda will host its Spring Dinner at Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center: “The Empire State Pride Agenda is New York’s statewide civil rights and advocacy group dedicated to winning equality and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) New Yorkers and our families.” New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will provide the evening’s keynote.

Also Saturday evening, City Council Member Jumaane Williams and supporters will host a 39th birthday celebration/fundraiser for Williams: “Join us as we celebrate one of the most progressive and visionary public servants representing New York City communities today. Help fundraise to support the future of Brooklyn's rising star in government and invest in OUR future!”

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 Shannon Ho, Marco Poggio, and Ben Max

Tenant Advocates Seize on Scandal in Push for Stronger Rent Laws

make the road activists

Make the Road activists (photo: @Met_Council)

Tenant advocates, angered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's recent comments that they see as favoring landlords and the real estate industry, protested outside his Manhattan office on Wednesday afternoon.

The action, which featured members of Metropolitan Council on Housing, Tenants and Neighbors, and Make the Road New York, is the first in what will be an onslaught targeting Cuomo and bringing up his close ties to the real estate industry, especially the fact that his biggest donor is Glenwood Management, the group tied to the federal complaints against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

As legislative session continues in Albany and key housing-related legislation is set to expire, advocates want to see an end to the 421-A tax break for developers and strengthening of rent regulations.

Cuomo told The Association for a Better New York on April 24 that dysfunction in Albany could lead to a straight extension of the rent laws and the controversial 421-A program that has also been at issue in the Silver and Skelos investigations. Tenant activists have taken Cuomo's comments and the possibility of his prediction coming true as an assault on their goals.

"The governor's comments were unacceptable," Javier Valdes, co-executive director of Make The Road New York, told Gotham Gazette. "It shows a real disconnect about the crisis that is going on for tenants in New York and the suburbs."

Jonathan Westin of New York Communities for Change said that his organization hopes to pressure Skelos, a Republican, and Cuomo, a Democrat, on rent laws so that there isn't simply a straight extension. "The governor supports the status quo and make no mistake about it, the status quo is a victory for real estate interests. The status quo means thousands more affordable apartments lost," Westin told Gotham Gazette.

Thomas Waters, housing policy analyst for The Community Service Society of New York, told Gotham Gazette he simply doesn't believe dysfunction is going to get in the way of negotiating the issue. "We saw how quickly the Assembly moved on from Silver's indictment," he said.

The protesters circulated a letter to Cuomo on Monday that read in part, "We write to express our outrage over your recent comments that displayed, at best, indifference to New Yorkers who are struggling to pay their rent in rent-regulated apartments. Low- and moderate-income tenants who live in more than 1 million rent-regulated apartments are at a breaking point because of the failure of leadership in Albany."

Tenant advocates are increasingly unnerved by Cuomo's comments about the rent laws, 421-A, and Skelos. On Wednesday Cuomo said he would negotiate with Skelos because he couldn't pick who runs the Senate and that 421-A must be extended. He also was asked to explain his relationship with Glenwood Management. "They are a donor of mine. They are a donor of many elected officials across the state, and that's basically the interaction," Cuomo said. "I've had nothing to do [with them], except they've been political supporters of mine."

Valdes said his group plans to convey to Cuomo that recent scandals have changed the playing field because they've exposed how things work in the backroom.

"The governor made comments in Syracuse that 421-A has to be renewed and yet it is in the complaint against Senator Skelos where he is getting kickbacks from the real estate industry," said Valdes. "There is a major disconnect here. The governor is supporting the status quo and the status quo just won't cut it anymore. We won't stand for tax breaks that favor millionaire developers while our members are driven out of their apartments.

The complaint against Skelos alleges that Glenwood, Cuomo's largest campaign donor, provided Skelos' son with $20,000 for doing no work after Skelos pressured Glenwood reps to provide his son with business.

It appears one of Glenwood's higher-ups is now serving as a witness and informant for federal investigators. Cuomo defended Glenwood during an appearance in Syracuse on Wednesday, saying he would not return donations from the company and its main players because there was no proof of "wrongdoing."

"The difference this year is that it is all out in the open," said Westin. "We see how the billionaire developers influence policy with campaign donations and illegal bribes and we aren't going to let it stand."

Advocates plan a two-headed strategy with tenant advocates tying Cuomo to major real estate donors and legislators and union members pushing Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to play hardball when it comes time to negotiate the rent laws.

"Carl can't just go in there with Cuomo and Skelos to negotiate," said Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenants PAC. "He has to take hostages. If they want to get anything they want, Carl has to get stronger rent laws. It's up to him."

Last Friday, legislators, union heads, and Mayor Bill de Blasio came together for a strategy meeting on rent law lobbying. According to numerous sources, the meeting convened by 1199 SEIU was designed to involve more unions in the effort and convince union heads that the issue is critical to their members.

On Tuesday, de Blasio issued a statement supporting stronger rent laws and advocating a number of specific policy points like reducing how much landlords can raise rent for repairs, ending high-rent vacancy decontrol, and eliminating landlord's ability to raise the rent of rent controlled apartments by 20 percent after it is vacated. He did, however, also argue for the extension of 421-A, as long as it is tied to more clear mandates for the affordable housing that is supposed to come with the tax benefits. "No more tax breaks without building affordable housing in return," de Blasio said in a statement to the New York Times.

"The biggest thing that has changed this time around is that we have the mayor on our side for the first time," said Waters, who said de Blasio is backing the choice measures out of the slate of policy reforms his organization supports. Getting over the hurdles of a Republican-controlled Senate and a real-estate friendly governor will not be easy, of course. Plus, many Democrats at all levels of government receive large donations from real estate interests.

Landlord groups like the Rent Stabilization Association insist that a number of the measures in the rent laws that de Blasio and tenant advocates want eliminated are critical in allowing landlords to afford the costly maintenance of apartments. The RSA is currently running a television spot that laments the plight of landlords and Albany's inability to come up with a solution to help landlords maintain the housing stock.

Valdes and Make the Road will be in Albany every Tuesday for the rest of session, they've said. Session is scheduled to go until mid-June, and advocates plan a large rally during the first week that month. Other rallies are expected across the city and in Albany, with major one in Manhattan's Foley Square on Thursday, May 14.

Valdes said that his group sees an "affordability crisis" building across the city and the suburbs. "People used to think of this as a Manhattan problem but I can tell you it is an outerborough problem now."

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

De Blasio's Executive Budget: What We Know So Far

BdB City Hall Alatriste

Mayor de Blasio at City Hall on Wednesday (photo: William Alatriste)

Mayor Bill de Blasio will outline his Fiscal Year 2016 Executive Budget on Thursday afternoon at City Hall. The mayor will also release his administration's first iteration of the city's 10-year capital plan. While there may still be a few surprises, we already know quite a bit about the changes the mayor has made from his preliminary budget to his executive budget.

The budget presentation will build off the mayor's $77 billion Preliminary Budget, which he unveiled in February. That spending plan was then vetted by the City Council throughout March hearings, leading to a formal response from the Council on April 14 and ongoing negotiations, heading toward a final agreement between the mayor and the Council by the end of June. City Council Executive Budget Hearings are set to begin May 18 and finish June 9. The city's fiscal year begins on July 1.

In its formal response to de Blasio, the Council pushed for, among other items: creating a citywide bail fund (ask: $1.4M); additional investments in NYCHA (ask: additional $25M); creating a year-round youth employment program (ask: $17.3M); expanding the Mayor's Office of Veteran's Affairs (ask: additonal $600,000); providing universal free lunch to city students; investing in street resurfacing (ask: additional $103M); and of course, the big button ask: hiring 1,000 additional NYPD officers (ask: $68.7M). (Note: the asks listed are for FY2016, some numbers are projected to change in subsequent years. Read full details of the Council's preliminary budget response here).

It appears the mayor is accounting for most of the items listed above and other council asks in some fashion or another, though on several fronts the details have not yet been released. Many are eagerly waiting to see where the mayor has come down on the expansion of the NYPD force.

But in the days leading up to Thursday's executive budget presentation, the de Blasio administration has previewed several elements of the new spending plan as reported by a variety of news outlets. Some of these relate to City Council asks, some do not - a rundown of what we know so far:

  • Capital New York is reporting several details around savings that de Blasio will unveil: he plans "to create a first-of-its-kind $500 million account to pay for long-term capital projects" called "The Capital Stabilization Reserve"; he will set "aside $1 billion for the F.Y. 2016 "general reserve""; and it appears that "city agencies have come up with $530 million in savings through the end of F.Y. 2016" while "agencies found $125 million through F.Y. 2016 in additional revenue."
  • The New York Times is reporting that de Blasio will announce new homelessness prevention spending: "the city [will] commit $100 million in annual spending, including funding for rental assistance to more than 7,000 new households, anti-eviction efforts and other measures."
  • The New York Daily News is reporting that de Blasio is including additional spending on the city's most-struggling schools: "struggling and underfunded city schools will get an additional $33.6 million," with over "$20 million of the added money [going] to 94 low-performing schools already targeted for renewal by city Department of Education officials. Those schools will receive an added $250,000 per year on average, enough to hire two additional staffers or pay for hundreds of hours of extra programming for students."
  • Crain's New York Business is reporting that de Blasio is set to "propose to nearly triple funding for the city's eight industrial business service providers to $1.5 million from this year's $570,000" and "include $450,000 for new industrial and manufacturing training to give workers the skills that industrial employers seek."
  • The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the mayor will boost "propose increasing city funding to programs run by the Department of Small Business Services by 73.5%...recommending spending $43.9 million," up from "$25.3 million for the agency in the current fiscal year. The mayor is proposing that the agency's overall budget, including funding from other sources, such as the federal government, total $167 million."
  • The New York Daily News is reporting that de Blasio will announce he's devoting more money to fighting rats: "he's beefing up a successful pilot program aimed at ridding the vermin from seven neighborhoods with $3 million to make it permanent and allow it to expand citywide...over six times the $400,000 the pilot received in last year's budget."
  • At Gotham Gazette, we are reporting that it is likely the city's Board of Elections will see an increase from the preliminary to the executive budget, which would follow a trend of several years and is expected by stakeholders and experts, such as the Independent Budget Office and the BOE executive director, Michael Ryan. The mayor's office has not confirmed this report though.
  • TechCrunch is reporting that the de Blasio administration is "putting down a $70 million financial commitment over 10 years to make universal affordable broadband a reality — with most of that money being spent in the first two to three years." It's not immediately clear if that indicates new money being put into this year's executive budget, but the article came just before de Blasio spoke at a TechCrunch conference on Monday.
  • JP Updates is reporting that de Blasio "is expected to restore funding for priority-5 child care vouchers...the FY2015 budget provided $12.6 million...According to an administration official, as part of the FY16 Executive Budget, the Mayor is permanently funding the childcare vouchers by baselining the $12.6 million a year."
  • The AP is reporting that de Blasio is relieving NYCHA of money the authority is due to send the city: "New York City will waive an annual $30 million payment it is owed from the city's public housing authority...De Blasio will announce the elimination of the payment, issued every year since 1949 as a "Payment in Lieu of Taxes,"...[a] decision will save the New York City Housing Authority approximately $130 million through fiscal year 2019."
  • Additionally, the AP is reporting that de Blasio is including $125 million per year over the next five years toward the MTA budget, which has become a major source of tension.

This week, the mayor and First Lady Chirlane McCray, who chairs the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, "announced the creation of the Center for Youth Employment, which will coordinate and expand efforts to connect New York City's young people to opportunities for career exposure, summer jobs, quality skills-building programs, supportive mentors, and thoughtful guidance towards college and a career." The Center is a public-private initiative "conceived and launched by the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City in collaboration with City agencies and private partners, [and] will be integrated into the existing Mayor's Office of Workforce Development."

The mayor also outlined what he'd like to see from Albany in terms of housing and tenant-protection policy, as reported by the Times, and, as reported by POLITICO, the mayor will be heading to Washington, DC next week to both lobby federal lawmakers for more infrastructure and transportation funding, as well as to unveil the "Progressive Agenda" he and others have been formulating to affect the national conversation around inequality and opportunity. 

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Note: this article has been updated

Amid Further Ethics Scandal, What Can Cuomo Do Now?

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Gov. Cuomo (photo: @NYGovCuomo)

Last March Gov. Andrew Cuomo killed the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption in a deal with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Now, a little more than a year later, both legislative leaders have been arrested and charged with multiple counts of federal corruption. Surrounded by scandal, it isn't immediately clear what the governor can or will do next. One thing that is sure, though, is that the worse Albany looks, the worse Cuomo looks.

After Silver's January arrest Cuomo gave a speech at NYU outlining grand ethics reform proposals like public financing of campaigns and enacting a full-time legislature. But when it came time to cut a budget deal, Cuomo again agreed to limited change in order to get an on-time spending plan. After Skelos' arrest this week, the governor has remained relatively quiet. With Albany in disarray and a national laughingstock, what can Cuomo do in a tough situation he has largely made for himself?

Reformers and political experts are torn about Cuomo's next move, especially after he's trumpeted many ethics adjustments as the end-all-be-all. Some say Cuomo needs to use the bully pulpit without fear of losing political capital, while others say Cuomo shouldn't say anything at all. On Wednesday Cuomo lamented the fact that if the charges against Skelos are true, it flies against the work he and others, including Skelos, have done trying to clean up the capital.

Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law professor whose speciality is corruption and 2014 primary opponent of Cuomo's, said that the Skelos indictment shows that none of Cuomo's smaller ethics initiatives have actually changed the climate of corruption in Albany. "Symbolic action won't cut it," said Teachout. "There is no bridge he can start to build right now, there is not one thing he can toss out there at this point."

Teachout added that "the thing that is so damning" about the complaint against Skelos is that the alleged corruption occurred since Cuomo's been in office, "not like the Silver indictment where things took place before Cuomo took office. So it shows us these incremental changes haven't paid off."

The Skelos complaint details how the majority leader asked Glenwood Management to steer title insurance business to his son. Skelos allegedly threatened to punish members of the real estate industry if they failed to comply with his demands and eventually a representative of Glenwood allegedly gave Skelos' son a $20,000 commission for doing no work. Glenwood steers millions of dollars into campaign accounts - including Cuomo's - of candidates running at all levels through the LLC loophole that allows them to subvert campaign finance limits.

"We've always suspected this is how things are done behind closed doors, but these complaints have really brought it into the light," said Dick Dadey, executive director of good govenrment organization Citizens Union. "Not just the influence of campaign donations but that some officials use their positions to extort," he added.

It was these kinds of relationships that the Moreland Commission was digging into when Cuomo's aides began interfering with it. And it was that kind of scrutiny that led legislative leaders to pressure Cuomo into ending the commission altogether, though it is unclear how much pressure they really had to apply.

Teachout said that Cuomo, who has taken in over $1 million from Glenwood, should go to great lengths to demonstrate he is not himself tied to the company in any quid-pro-quo arrangement.

"He should tell Glenwood their kind of business is not welcome in Albany, he should reveal his emails with Glenwood and [its head] Leonard Litwin and say enough is enough on the LLC loophole," said Teachout.

Bill Samuels, head of good government organization EffectiveNY, called on Cuomo to return all the donations from Glenwood. "I shouldn't have to call on the Governor to return this tainted money. If he were truly committed to ethics reform and cleaning up Albany, Cuomo would have immediately returned these funds to Glenwood Management and expressed outrage over this latest corruption scandal unfolding on his watch," Samuels said in a statement.

Cuomo told Capital New York at a press conference in Syracuse on Wednesday that he would not return the donations or refuse to accept more because Glenwood representatives had not been charged with wrongdoing. "If no one did anything wrong, then you can't just say, 'You have no right to participate in the political process,'" the governor said.

Dadey agrees that Cuomo should not have to return the contributions because they were made legally, but says that it would be, "Helpful to know what kind of interactions the administration had with Glenwood."

Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action NY, said she feels Cuomo's attempts at ethics reform haven't paid off because he is so concerned about immediate political wins rather than the long-term good. Scharff said she'd like to see Cuomo take to the bully pulpit on public financing of elections even knowing that he won't win this year, but ready to take a loss and do it to build political momentum.

Teachout agrees. "If he actually believes in reform he has to show he is willing to take genuine political risk," she said. "He has to come out saying: 'Win or lose I am going to put capital on the line for this to get credibility."

Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, told Gotham Gazette that he has concerns that public financing of campaigns simply won't go anywhere because Senate Republicans are ideologically opposed. He and other good government advocates also worry that Cuomo no longer has any credibility on reform issues and that his proclamations on the subject have become white noise to the public and to legislators.

"The governor has eroded the bully pulpit," Horner said. "He has been delivering speeches but not real reform. In Albany, talk is cheap. He has shown that he prefers triage but that doesn't get you anywhere."

Dadey said that Cuomo must stay on the soap box to "connect the dots of corruption for the public."

"The governor must not allow this saga of scandal and corruption to prevent him from enacting real ethics reform," said Dadey. Good government groups like Citizens Union and NYPIRG, as well as reform-minded legislators and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, have been calling for sweeping reforms aimed at truly cleaning up Albany's corruption problem. They say that the time for incrementalism is over.

Horner said that action is critical and he thinks the governor could find quick consensus with the Legislature on certain issues. Horner wants to see a new ethics watchdog where "the appointees aren't captives," a bill to restrict legislators' outside income, and legislation to end the LLC loophole. "The time for fake ethics reform has long past," said Horner.

Cuomo has remained relatively silent on Skelos' indictment. On Wednesday he said he will not call on Skelos to resign because, "I don't have the option of picking who they pick as their leaders. They pick a Senate leader, I will work with that leader," Cuomo said referring to state senators, especially the Republican majority.

Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, said he believes Cuomo is doing the best thing he can for himself by remaining mum on the scandals that have left Albany more dysfunctional than ever. "My initial inclination is he should keep quiet, stay far away from it, don't even comment," Muzzio told Gotham Gazette. Cuomo appears to be taking that tack, instead promoting on Wednesday that several private New York colleges have signed on to his campaign aimed at reducing sexual assault on campuses and penning an op-ed in the New York Times announcing his new move geared at raising the wages of fast-food workers.

What he'll do next on ethics reform is far from clear. Muzzio said Cuomo should avoid making any grand speeches on reform because everyone has heard it before. "I don't think Groundhog Day works because the press are gonna hang him for it. He should keep quiet while working toward a strategy of reform because this is going to pass."

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

With Focus on Mental Health, Push for New City Veterans Agency Continues

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Veterans at Wednesday's City Council hearing (photo: William Alatriste) 

The City Council’s Committee on Veterans held an oversight hearing Wednesday to gauge the effectiveness of the Mayor’s Office of Veteran Affairs (MOVA).

The hearing seemed the latest chapter in a renewed push for a separate Department of Veterans Affairs by Council Member Eric Ulrich, who chairs the veterans committee, and like-minded council members and advocates. Ulrich introduced a bill last year which would create a new department to deal with veteran affairs, removing the office from directly within the mayor’s in order to increase its profile, funding, and transparency. “Ideally such an agency would be fully funded and would act as a one-stop shop for any need that a veteran might have,” Ulrich said at Wednesday’s hearing. He stressed that MOVA needs dedicated funding and personnel to better serve New York City’s 225,000 veterans.

MOVA Commissioner and retired Army Brigadier General Loree Sutton testified before the committee and reiterated her office’s top strategic priorities in serving veterans’ needs, namely ending veteran homelessness, focusing on mental and behavioral health for veterans, and developing employment opportunities for veterans.

Mayor de Blasio announced at his 2015 State of the City address that he would end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 and Sutton indicated today that she was confident of reaching that goal.

“Mission and strategy drive programs and budget,” Sutton said in her testimony. She repeatedly stressed that MOVA’s work goes beyond it’s own budget and personnel, working with multiple city agencies to help veterans in need.

Sutton has yet to take a public position on Ulrich’s bill, and it is clear that the de Blasio administration is in no rush to back it. Responding to Council Member Fernando Cabrera’s query on whether an independent agency could be more effective, Sutton said, “I will keep that as an open question going forward. My pledge to the mayor, to the taxpayers, to the veterans, to the families in New York, is to make the best use of the resources that we currently have. We’re in the midst of doing that right now. Once I have convinced myself that we have maximized the resources that we have, then we’ll be in a position to assess what might make sense going down the road. “

When asked, Mayor de Blasio has not supported the idea of creating a new agency. The proposal received overwhelming support today from veterans advocates and organizations and even the office of Public Advocate Letitia James. “Disappointingly, our Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs is not funded in a way that reflects the actual needs of our veterans,” said Oswaldo Pereira, a veteran and outreach coordinator for the public advocate’s office, who was speaking on behalf of James. “Veterans deserve to have a department that can truly serve their needs,” he added.

Joseph Bello, founder of NY MetroVets, criticized Commissioner Sutton for her silence on a new veterans department. “It is time to create a free-standing direct services agency that can not only have preliminary and executive budget hearings on veterans issues, but can funnel contracts awarded to veteran service providers in the boroughs directly, instead of through other city agencies that are unfamiliar with these groups.”

There was much focus at the hearing on mental health issues, a concern raised by committee members Cabrera and Paul Vallone. Sutton told Cabrera that mental health issues were “an area in the system that could use some additional development.” Toward that, she pointed out MOVA’s partnership with First Lady Chirlane McCray through the recently announced Mental Health Roadmap due to be released in the fall.

Vallone was quick to point out that the $54 million plan failed to mention veterans. “When I see this go up and I don’t see my veterans in here, I gotta fight for it,” Vallone said. Sutton promised the committee, however, that when the final strategy is released, veterans would figure significantly.

Representing the Veterans Mental Health Coalition of New York City, Melissa Earle also called for expanding MOVA to the level of a department. “With a department dedicated to serving veterans, greater resources and funding can be secured to better overcome the complex challenges of veterans of all generations,” she said.

Ulrich’s bill has a veto-proof 40 co-sponsors (in the 51-member body) and he has indicated that he would be willing to push it forward even without the mayor’s support. 

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

City Board of Elections Expected to Again See Budget Bump

BOE Michael Ryan

BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan (photo: @BOENYC)

On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio is set to unveil his Fiscal Year 2016 Executive Budget, which is likely to be nearly identical to the final budget passed by the mayor and the City Council before the June 30 deadline. Much of the new version of the mayor's spending plan will be similar to his $77 billion preliminary budget, which he presented in February and was vetted throughout March by the Council. But, the de Blasio administration has already acknowledged several areas where funding levels will show a difference on Thursday, with increases planned to support manufacturing, mental health services, the MTA, struggling schools, and more.

One under-the-radar aspect of the budget that is set to see a significant change from preliminary to executive is funding for the city's Board of Elections, which administers New Yorkers' opportunities to vote.

The preliminary budget includes approximately $84.4 million for the Board of Elections (BOE), a drop from the $113.9 million that the BOE is spending in fiscal year 2015, which wraps up at the end of June. It's a differential of about $29.6 million, a 26 percent decrease.

This disparity, however, is unlikely to stick. According to the Independent Budget Office (IBO), this year's preliminary budget allocation for the Board of Elections follows a pattern of the last several years. In fact, fiscal 2016 includes a larger preliminary provision for the BOE than preliminary budgets of previous years. Doug Turetsky, IBO Chief of Staff and communications director, told Gotham Gazette that this is not something that should raise eyebrows just yet; the trend is that the actual budget will make up the $30-40 million gap from the preliminary plan. If funding stays the same, there might be reason for concern that BOE is being underfunded. But it is also important to keep in mind that each year brings different elections, whether they be on the city, state, or federal level.

It may appear a curious annual underfunding in the preliminary, just to be increased in the executive or the adopted budget, but Turetsky said that there is often talk of moving federal primary elections from June to September to coincide with state and city primaries, which would foster efficiency and decrease budgetary need. If the figure in the preliminary was closer to what will likely be in the actual budget, Turetsky explained that it may act as a "disincentive" for the state to move state and federal primary elections to the same date. By holding off on the additional funding, it puts pressure on the state to decide and, ideally, move toward a single voting date.

Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the City Council Governmental Operations Committee, spoke similarly, but did express concern about the general issue of underfunding BOE operations. Kallos told Gotham Gazette that while the BOE tends to overestimate its financial need, if it is not appropriately funded "it is the elections and democratic process that suffers." While Kallos is looking for stronger numbers in the executive budget, he also said that "if we over-budget then that means that another agency loses."

Getting to the final adopted number is part of the process of having preliminary budget hearings in March and executive budget hearings in May and June. Kallos' committee heard from BOE representatives in March and will hear from them again as the mayor and the Council head toward an agreement.

BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan is not worried about the dramatic trend that some might say resembles the "budget dance" affecting his agency's operations in the coming year. Ryan told Gotham Gazette that the BOE still needs an estimated $12 million; approximately $2.2 million to update the expiring warranty for electronic voting and the other $10 million to meet federal mandates for ADA accessibility. Ryan expressed confidence that his agency will be appropriately funded.

The "lean and mean preliminary" as he called it, is just part of the process. The real focus is on the executive budget, he said, with little concern over the difference between the two proposals. He also put his agency into larger budgetary context. "The executive budget should be a balancing between what the mayor's office ultimately believes an agency needs to function and what the city expects to receive in tax revenue, because the city must operate on a balanced budget," said Ryan.

Ryan told Gotham Gazette that the trend has continued because it works for budget planning purposes. By underestimating in the preliminary budget, the mayor's office establishes a baseline (or placeholder as it has been called) that can be edited henceforth, after the hearings, negotiations, and decisions that follow - including decisions made on the state or federal level. "It's a check and balance, to make sure that not just the Board of Elections, but that all the agencies that are asking for funds that they actually need," Ryan said.

Ryan also said that another reason the city keeps careful tabs on the allocation of funds is a result of the budget crisis of 1975, when the city went bankrupt, spending into debt of an estimated $14 billion. Shortly after the crisis, a law passed requiring balanced budgets, removing leeway for the city to operate on deficit spending.

"I'm not anticipating any issues, quite frankly," said Ryan. "I think it's all gonna work out fine and we've been working very closely with the mayor's office to make sure that our needs are met and that we're able to fulfill our statutory and constitutional mandate to provide elections for the voters of the City of New York."

by Shannon Ho, Gotham Gazette
@ShanMHo @GothamGazette

Dean Skelos Thwarted Reform and Maintained Power, Despite the Odds

Skelos Silver Cuomo

Dean Skelos in 2012 (photo: The Governor's Office via flickr)

In June 2008, after serving 23 years as the State Senator from Nassau County, Dean Skelos inherited the troubled Republican conference from retiring Majority Leader Joe Bruno. It wasn't exactly the most enviable position.

Facing an aging conference and with Democrats enjoying a huge enrollment advantage across the state, 2009 saw Republicans enter the Senate minority for the first time in decades. The same month Skelos began his stint as minority leader his predecessor was indicted on eight counts of corruption. It began Skelos' long but successful fight to keep his conference not only relevant but in charge when it mattered the most in terms of decision-making for the future of his party.

Now, seven years later, Skelos faces a federal complaint with several charges, including monetizing his office by arranging payments to him and his son through a developer who sought favorable legislation. The case involves many elements of state government that have been attacked as corrupt and unethical - from the LLC loophole that allows donors to pump the lifeblood of campaign cash into the Republican conference, or the 421-A tax break for developers that has been attacked as a giveaway to corporate donors, major issues at play in the indictment are parts of how Skelos managed to keep himself and the Senate Republicans in power in Albany.

"I'm going to be president of the Senate, I'm going to be majority leader," Skelos allegedly told his son during a phone conversation about their deal with a developer - a call being recorded by federal agents. "I'm going to control everything, I'm going to control who gets on what committees, what legislation goes to the floor, what legislation comes through committees, the budget, everything."

On Monday Skelos issued a statement claiming his innocence and worked to maintain his role as leader of the Senate Majority.

Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action, an organization that has advocated many major reforms that Skelos directly opposes, said that Skelos' power can be directly traced back to the policy he delivers and the reforms he opposes.

"It was never more clear than in last year's Senate elections how much the system helped keep the Republicans in power," said Scharff. "They raised vast amounts of money from hedge funds that were interested in very specific policy points and had them spend massive amounts of money in independent expenditures to deliver the policy that keeps them in power."

During his time as Majority Leader Skelos won battles on redistricting, not only pushing back efforts to create independently drawn lines but even succeeding in the creation of the 63rd Senate seat upstate. He publicly derided campaign finance reform, public financing of campaigns, and efforts to have lawyers disclose their clients. And behind the scenes he was mostly successful in holding back the tide of government and campaign finance reform. He's appointed members to the state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, and fought successfully to kill the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption. As the federal charges against him and much political history show, Skelos has not been alone in any of this.

The indictment against Skelos alleges he monetized his office by abusing the same systems and loopholes that he protected from reform. The charges against Skelos say that the developer involved in the kickback scheme used the LLC loophole to subvert campaign finance limits. Only last month, Skelos' new appointee to the Board of Elections thwarted efforts to eliminate the same loophole.

Skelos maintained this power by cutting deals with Democrats like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Independent Democratic Conference head Sen. Jeff Klein who both share some of Skelos' economic concerns and larger donors.

"Skelos' indictment gets to the core problem," Scharff told Gotham Gazette. " Those who raise the most money are the ones who have the most power and they have gone out of their way to make sure reform doesn't happen. They have made sure it is built into how Albany works."

How He Got Here: The Coup
In 2009, Senate Democrats reveled in their new-found power. Exposing Bruno's largess - personal, customized vans for his use, private printing facilities, and television studios, Democrats were riding high as they took control of the chamber. But Democrats only enjoyed a few seat margin over Republicans.

The "Three Amigos" including Pedro Espada, Carl Kruger and Ruben Diaz pushed for more power within the conference in exchange for their loyalty. Democratic Majority Leader Malcolm Smith appeared weak and scattered. Meanwhile Buffalo billionaire Thomas Golisano, who had helped Democrats win the majority, felt ignored by Smith. He and his political fixer Steve Pigeon met with Skelos and Republican Sens. Tom Libous and George Maziarz in an Albany rock club and began devising a Senate takeover.

They recruited the dissatisfied and particularly-ambitious freshman Espada and Espada recruited Sen. Hiram Monserrate. On June 8, 2009, with only days left in session, facing the expiration of mayoral control of schools and the rent laws, Republicans lept into action. Republicans moved for a surprising leadership vote and although it was disputed by Democrats soon Skelos was standing in the chamber shaking hands with Espada - the two split Smith's positions as Majority Leader Espada and Senate President Skelos.

Control of the Senate was disputed for months. Eventually Espada and Monserrate rejoined the Democratic conference but the damage had been done - rifts in the Senate Democrats were made public, and they were painted as dysfunctional during their first shot at the majority in decades.

Worth noting is that at the time both Monserrate and Espada faced ethical questions beyond just conniving for Senate power. Espada was eventually convicted of stealing from his own health clinics, in one case using cash for HIV victims to fund his campaigns, and Monserrate was eventually expelled from the Senate for slashing his girlfriend's face with a bottle. And yet, Skelos partnered with both men for a tenuous shot to regain control of the Senate.

Keeping Power Through Redistricting
In 2011 Skelos regained the title of Senate Majority Leader thanks to major donations from real estate, developers, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and it wasn't a moment too soon. A coalition of reform groups led by former Mayor Ed Koch were pushing for legislators to deliver a redistricting plan that better reflected the actual enrollment and population of the state. For decades Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats engaged in a redistricting process that allowed them to draw districts that would assure their incumbents had the best chance of being reelected, disregarding the actual makeup of communities. Skelos played hardball, slamming Koch's efforts as "partisan."

Eventually Cuomo gave up his pledge to veto any district lines that were gerrymandered and agreed to new lines that drastically favored Senate Republicans, even creating a 63rd district upstate that suspiciously carved its way around major population centers and incorporated rural towns populated by more voters who were more likely Republican.

During this time Skelos proved to be a valuable ally to Cuomo as he helped the governor pass some of his more conservative fiscal plans, including a tax cap, while also delivering Cuomo the votes he needed on same-sex marriage. Although Cuomo also delivered a highly-touted ethics package that year, advocates insist that major issues were ignored because Skelos and Senate Republicans refused to cede any ground on campaign finance reform as they believed the current system was essential to keeping them in the majority.

2013-2014 Deals and The Death of Moreland
Democrats technically held enough seats for a majority after the 2012 elections but Skelos cut a deal with the IDC and newly-elected Sen. Simcha Felder to create a coalition government which saw Skelos rotate control of the chamber with Klein. During this time a number of legislators were indicted on corruption charges and advocates began a major push for public financing of campaigns. Skelos stood steadfast against campaign finance reform, even holding a hearing against the policy featuring national anti-public finance advocates.

"Public financing of elections would not have stopped any one of those crooks and idiots from doing what they did," Skelos told reporters on April 23, 2013. Skelos directly referenced Smith who had been indicted that day on counts that he tried to bribe his way onto the Republican ticket in the race for New York City mayor.

As pressure mounted in 2013 Skelos obstinately opposed a series of reforms proposed by Cuomo - a package of reforms most advocates actually considered insignificant. Finally Cuomo made good on his longtime threat to empanel a Moreland Commission to investigate public corruption. For months, as Moreland held hearings, Skelos and now-indicted then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver waged a court battle against Moreland and publicly decried it as a "witch hunt."

"These actions amount to an attempt to coerce or threaten the Legislature and upset the separation of powers that exists between the executive and legislative branches, and cannot be accepted," Skelos wrote to Senate Republicans in November 2013.

It was in 2013 that reports of possible influence by Cuomo's office into the commission began. Some Moreland insiders insisted Cuomo's office was particularly deadset on stopping subpoenas to the Real Estate Board of New York, whose members are key Cuomo donors, but also major backers of Skelos and Senate Republicans. Cuomo began facing increasing pushback from Skelos and Silver during 2014 budget negotiations.

Moreland was reportedly closing in on ties between donations from the real estate industry and policy and it was making everyone in charge antsy. In March, Cuomo quietly announced he had killed Moreland in exchange for his proposed slate of reforms. "Skelos killed the commission just as it was starting to expose the quid-pro-quo system that is built into Albany," said Scharff.

As the 2014 election season kicked into high gear Cuomo felt increasing pressure to support a Democratic Senate and align himself with liberal policy. The governor promised the Working Families Party he would help elect Democrats to the Senate and the IDC promised it would caucus with Democrats.

Senate Republicans mobilized their major donors, reminding them of the coming sunset of the rent laws, the push to expand charter schools in the state, and of the "Democratic dysfunction of 2009." Not only did the real estate industry pour record amounts of cash into Senate Republican coffers, but it marshalled a number of independent expenditures to boost candidates in important districts.

This Year
Republicans started 2015 with the wind in their sails. They had won complete control of the Senate and soon after the year began Silver, longtime Democratic Assembly majority leader, was indicted. But quickly word came that Skelos was also a target of US Attorney Preet Bharara. Still, Skelos rejected just about any Democratic policy proposed in the state budget: tossed out were proposals on campaign finance reform, renewing mayoral control of schools, criminal justice reform, raising the minimum wage, and a host of other issues.

After returning from the budget break in mid-April, Republicans largely ignored the major outstanding issues. Session became a parade of small-time legislation having to do with vanity license plates and honoring local sports teams. Last week as more chatter picked up around Skelos' possible indictment, session slowed even further with Republicans spending more time in conference.

Finally on Friday the New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported federal prosecutors might arrest Skelos on Monday. Skelos and his son faced charges in court and the Senate Majority leader proclaimed his innocence. Senate session went on as planned Monday afternoon, with little of substance being discussed and many Republican Senators expressing solidarity with Skelos, the man who kept them in power against the odds. But signs exist of a possible break in the solidarity. Some, like Sens. John DeFrancisco and John Flanagan jockeyed to replace Skelos while others like Sen. John Bonacic said Skelos had to resign with an indictment over his head.

Democratic Sen. Michael Gianaris said he was "troubled" by the allegations against Skelos, adding: "Senator Skelos should now step down as Majority Leader for the good of our state and in the interest of allowing the remaining weeks of our legislative session to proceed without distraction. There are too many important issues which remain unresolved, ironically including several long overdue ethics reforms and expiring housing laws."

Saying that "Legislative leaders must be held to a higher ethical standard of conduct and his actions violate that standard," good government group Citizens Union called for Skelos to step down from his leadership post on Tuesday.

Klein, who maintains a deal with Senate Republicans, did not call for Skelos to resign. "The burden now falls on the Republican Conference to determine if new Republican Leadership is warranted," Klein said in a statement.

Cuomo, who has remained mostly in New York City of late, was in Albany Monday, but his only public event was an announcement that he participated in by phone. He did not comment on the Skelos matter.

Scharff and Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Group both said it is now up to Cuomo to push through the reforms he could not achieve earlier this year. "At the top of that list of legislative "must dos" are initiatives to overhaul ethics enforcement, limit outside income, and reign in the influence of New York's powerful special interests," said Horner. "The governor must take up the unfinished Moreland Commission agenda to restore the public's confidence in state government; specifically closing the LLC loophole."

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

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

Even Amid Albany Dysfunction, Advocates Forge Path to Paid Family Leave

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Advocates for paid family leave (photo: @CTWFP)

Upheaval in the capital due to another high-profile corruption scandal is not stopping advocates from heading to Albany to push for legislative action.

With just six weeks left in the legislative session set to expire mid-June, on Wednesday activists will rally at the Legislative Office Building and lobby lawmakers to pass paid family leave in New York State.

An 11:30 a.m. press conference will be led by Democratic State Senators, including bill sponsor Joseph Addabbo, calling for passage of the Paid Family Leave Insurance Act in the Republican-controlled Senate. The companion bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Cathy Nolan, passed in the Democrat-controlled Assembly in March. Addabbo’s bill failed a Senate vote two weeks later, just before a fiscal year 2016 budget deal was reached.

Though a new cloud hangs over the Legislature after federal corruption charges were brought against Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on Monday, it does not appear that substantive policy work in the capital will completely halt. There is reason to be skeptical that legislation will be approved by both houses to ensure New Yorkers are able to take paid leave to care for a sick family member or spend time with a new child, but the issue has captured the attention of many, and has gained new momentum at the city, state, and federal levels.

Negotiations over the paremeters of any paid family leave bill could be among the highest profile in Albany and legislative action on this issue could again make New York a national policy-making leader - perhaps garnering the type of positive attention the state could use given its growing reputation for corruption in its elected ranks. New York could become just the fourth state to pass a paid family leave law.

A representative of the Obama administration met recently with New York leaders on the subject as the president looks to pass legislation creating a fund to help states support family leave and a representative from Hillary Clinton’s campaign listed it as a priority for the presidential hopeful. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who is sponsoring federal paid family leave legislation, recently lamented that "The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world without any form of paid family and medical leave.” She promised “to continue the fight in Washington to pass the FAMILY Act to finally set a federal paid leave program." (The 1993 American Family and Medical Leave Act ensures 12 weeks of unpaid leave)

Gillibrand’s comments came during a video message that was played last Thursday at an event in New York City - and livecast to sister events in cities across the state - organized by the Paid Family Leave Insurance Campaign, which is at the heart of the Albany lobbying set for Wednesday. The campaign is made up of advocacy groups, unions, and elected officials; members include 1199 SEIU, 32BJ SEIU, Citizen Action of New York, Community Service Society, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York Paid Leave Coalition, and the NYS AFL-CIO. On Friday, Gillibrand expressed optimism about paid family leave, and said she is working both with leaders in New York state government and also pushing her bill on the federal level.

Representing the Obama administration, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez also recorded a message that was played to those in attendance last week. Perez and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett have been traveling the country promoting paid leave in what the administration is calling "Lead on Leave." It was Jarrett who previously met with New York officials.

At this point, however, movement on paid family is most likely to occur at the state level of government, at least between now and the summer. Looking to Albany, the New York City Council passed a resolution last week recommending that the state pass the Paid Family Leave Act. In her remarks at Thursday’s event, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said that her office’s report on the subject indicates that Albany is the best place for legislation to occur.

While there is support for the general principle of paid family leave in both houses of the Legislature and from Governor Andrew Cuomo, there is no clear path forward in terms of policy specifics. A key sticking point, of course, is where the funding will come from to pay for the employee leave involved.

At last Thursday’s rally, State Senator Addabbo said, “As the Senate sponsor of this legislation, I am delighted that the State Assembly has approved this bill, and I hope my legislative chamber will follow suit.”

“In the absence of action by Congress,” he added, “we need to change...one state at a time – and New York should be next, following the lead of New Jersey, California and Rhode Island.”

If some version of paid family leave is to pass both houses of the New York State Legislature and head to Governor Cuomo’s desk, it is unlikely it will be the Addabbo-Nolan version. A different paid family leave proposal in the Senate, sponsored by Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, differs from the Addabbo-Nolan bill on the source of funding. Klein’s version was included in the Senate’s one-house budget, but no compromise was reached in order to include paid family leave in the final state budget deal at the end of March, pushing the issue into legislative session.

Klein has reiterated that paid family leave is a top priority for him this session. In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Klein said, “At the Senate's Paid Family Leave hearing [in March], we heard from advocates, the business community and organized labor – and we are actively weighing their concerns and working towards a plan that’s both fair and balanced. In the coming weeks and months, I will continue to collaborate with my Senate colleagues to pass Paid Family Leave in New York State and put our hard-working families first.”

Governor Cuomo has expressed support for the issue, but he seemed to be caught off guard by the momentum behind it after he had declared there to be little appetite for paid family leave while he worked to pass his ten-plank women’s equality agenda, which is now moving through the Legislature in pieces.

Cuomo’s office recently indicated that leaders of the majorities from each house do not seem close on a paid family leave deal. It was unclear if his administration is doing anything to facilitate compromise.

In summarizing last Thursday’s rally, a press release from the New York Paid Family Leave Insurance Campaign says that significant lobbying efforts are set to begin: “In each region, labor and community leaders identified local actions and events to mobilize citizens between now and the end of the legislative session.” Wednesday’s event in Albany will be a major part of these efforts, but it remains to be seen how much attention any issue can get with Albany in further disarray.

The conversation around paid family leave has gained traction nationally since President Obama mentioned it in his State of the Union address earlier this year. The President is attempting to pass the Healthy Families Act to create a $2 billion fund to help states implement paid family leave. Senator Gillibrand has introduced the federal Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which has 12 Democrat co-sponsors.

While federal aid could provide a significant push, New York does already have the mechanisms to implement paid family leave. But, reticence among business leaders about what they see as another possible regulation and potentially unfunded mandate is shared by Republicans (and some Democrats) who staunchly refuse to lay the burden for paid leave on employers.

The concerns about the law raised by the business community seem unsubstantiated when the experiences of other states with paid family leave are taken into account. Meanwhile, the Nolan-Addabbo version of paid leave actually bases it on employee contributions rather than state funding. The Klein version, which appears to at least have some support from Senate Republicans, calls for the state to pay at least $125 million in the first year of implementation with the following years supplemented by employee payroll fees.

The paid leave campaign backing the Addabbo-Nolan bill stresses that “the paid family leave insurance benefit is entirely employee-paid,” and that “the law does not create a new administrative requirement, but rather expands New York’s existing Temporary Disability Insurance program (TDI) through a small increase in premiums that would continue to be shared by employers and employees, as they are now.”

In California, a paid family leave (PFL) law was passed in 2002 and went into effect in July 2004. In the years since, the fears that businesses had about the effect of PFL on their productivity and the local economy turned out to be unfounded. According to a 2011 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), 89 percent of employers said that PFL had a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on productivity and 91 percent said the same about profitability and performance. (The report was based on a survey of 253 employers and 500 individuals conducted in 2009 and 2010).

“California serves as a model for other states and the national level,” said Greta Twombly, campaigns manager, American Sustainable Business Council. “It’s considered a success. Businesses were worried about it hurting their bottom line. Data year after year shows that’s not the case.”

Twombly insists that paid family leave helps businesses avoid the costs of hiring and training new employees and evens the playing field for businesses that already provide certain benefits to their employees.

In New York, she said, “There’s direct competition between companies that provide it and those that don’t. There are companies that want to provide it but can’t because there are no logistics for it or their competitors don’t so they can’t afford to either.”

In 2009, New Jersey became the second state to establish paid family leave through the state Family Leave Insurance (FLI) program. Again, most employers felt that the program didn’t affect profitability according to a report released by CEPR last year. CEPR surveyed 18 employers ranging from 26 to 36,000 employees and none of these businesses said it affected productivity or turnover. Only two employers said it had a negative effect on their bottom line. Even in New Jersey, Twombly said, “There have been no terrible, dramatic, scary effects that opponents touted. Quite the opposite.”

Rhode Island only created its paid leave program in 2013. It is funded through employee contributions and so has minimal impact on employers. “In Rhode Island, a lot of employers were already doing this in one way or another,” said Erik Rettig, North-East outreach manager, Small Business Majority. “People getting sick is not new.”

Citing a poll conducted in 2013, Rettig said business owners are in favor of policies based in shared contributions or employee payroll deductions. But the challenge for New York is clarity in policy. “A lot of times these policies are piecemeal,” Rettig said. “They’re cobbled together. Businesses don’t look forward to that.” Although he conceded that it would be tough to expand temporary disability insurance to pay for paid family leave, a cost that would fall on employers, he argues “It makes business sense at the end of the day. There’s no evidence to support the fact that it isn’t working for businesses. There is evidence to the contrary. Business owners get this. They just want to make sure it happens in the right way,” Rettig said.

Senator Klein has been trying to champion his version of paid family leave through the Senate, albeit by separating it from TDI. "Including Paid Family Leave in the Senate’s one-house budget was a major step forward for New Yorkers,” Klein said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Where it goes now is unclear.

At the event Thursday, Public Advocate James said, “We are here for one simple reason: No one should have to choose between taking care of their family and losing their job.”

James added: “Paid family leave is a basic protection guaranteed to working families in 185 countries around the world, but our city, our state, and our country are lagging severely behind.”

by Samar Khurshid and Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid @tweetBenMax @GothamGazette

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, May 4

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Albany arrest watch: "Federal prosecutors are expected to announce criminal charges against New York state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos imminently, possibly as soon as Monday, in connection with a continuing corruption investigation, according to a person familiar with the matter," reported the Wall Street Journal on Friday evening.

Traffic alert! Via the White House: "On Monday, May 4, the President will travel to New York, New York to deliver remarks at an event at Lehman College launching the My Brother's Keeper Alliance, a new non-profit organization. Following this event, the President will attend DNC events."

There'll be a flurry of activity on Monday and Tuesday around the two special elections taking place in New York City on Tuesday: voters on Staten Island and a small chunk of Southern Brooklyn will select a new congressional rep and voters in central Brooklyn will select a new Assembly member (AD43). See NYC Votes' voter guide here.

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James is in Israel this week on a 9-day visit with a 16-member NYC community delegation, which left Sunday evening. Her office says that further details of James' trip will be made available upon her return.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to unveil his fiscal year 2016 Executive Budget on Thursday, May 7. There is a variety of additional spending being sought by City Council members and advocates that was not included in de Blasio's preliminary budget. The most high profile is, of course, funding for additional NYPD officers. The Council has asked the mayor to include funding for 1,000 additional officers and it is looking like the mayor will at least meet the Council half-way, but we're still awaiting confirmed details. De Blasio is also expected to release his administration's first update to the city's 10-year capital plan on Thursday.

On Friday, de Blasio was involved in a strategy session around lobbying for strengthening of rent laws in Albany. As legislative session continues this week in the capital be prepared to see more and more efforts to influence policy as lawmakers negotiate a whole host of issues, from the DREAM Act to rent regulations, mayoral control of schools, minimum wage, criminal justice reform, and much more. Lawmakers are again due in Albany Monday through Wednesday this week. Thursday is set to see a summit on teacher evaluations in Albany and a major Assembly hearing on criminal justice reform in Manhattan - see below for details.

You know what they're saying: the Bronx is the new Brooklyn. And it's Bronx Week 2015 this week, which Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and others kicked off on Sunday. Fitting that the President will be in the Bronx on Monday.

As always, there's a great deal happening at the City Council and all over the city, with many events to be aware of; see below for our day-by-day rundown.

***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:

[Update: event cancelled as Five Star Carting agreed to rehire the two employees] --> At 9 a.m. Monday morning, “In response to the firing of two private sanitation workers who testified about problems in their industry at a City Hall hearing, Councilmember Antonio Reynoso will hold a press conference in front of the sanitation company, Five Star Carting,” in Queens. Reynoso will be joined by a variety of labor leaders and other council members, including Brad Lander and Elizabeth Crowley. [note: this event was cancelled]

Monday morning, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will attend a veterans roundtable and brunch hosted by John Jay College.

Monday morning will be a memorial service for Victor Gotbaum, renowned New York City labor leader.

At 10:30 Monday morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo will participate in an announcement by phone, according to his public schedule. The announcement will be made from Bak USA in Buffalo.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that "The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City on Monday plans to introduce an initiative to connect 100,000 young New Yorkers with internships, mentorships and summer jobs by 2020...Chirlane McCray and her husband, the mayor, have secured $3.2 million in private donations to create the Center for Youth Employment, a public-private enterprise to increase the number of job programs for New Yorkers age 14 to 24 by 75% during the next five years."

An 11:55 a.m., Mayor de Blasio will be interviewed at Tech Crunch’s Disrupt NY: “New York Mayor Bill de Blasio will join us on stage at Disrupt New York for an amazing interview with our own Kim-Mai Cutler...He’s already working hard at making changes to the city that aim to increase network connectivity for all five boroughs and Digital.NYC, a hub for startups in the city. Join us on Monday at noon for this intimate and unique interview on our Disrupt NY stage.” Watch livestream here.

Also Monday at noon, “Council Member Paul Vallone and Council Member Corey Johnson will hold a rally calling on Mayor de Blasio to include funding for full service animal shelters in Queens and the Bronx in the fiscal year 2016 executive budget.” They will be joined by animal rights activists.

Monday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Transportation for an oversight hearing “examining the importance of federal funding for city transportation systems” and to consider a resolution supporting the GROW AMERICA Act.

At 1:30 Monday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will visit "Bronx Career and College Preparatory High School with Deputy Mayor Richard Buery to make an announcement."

At 3 p.m. on Monday, the State Senate will be in session.

On Monday at 6 p.m., elected leaders in Brooklyn are holding an “All Lives Matter Criminal Justice Town Hall.” It is being led by Borough President Eric Adams, State Senator Jesse Hamilton, Assembly Member Nick Perry, Council Member Laurie Cumbo, and District Leader Shirley Patterson.

Monday evening, NYU Wagner will host its Jacob K. Javits Visiting Professorship Lecture titled “Who Are the Policy Workers and What Are They Doing? A Citizen’s Perspective on Democratic Accountability in Modern Governance,” given by Anthony M. Bertelli, NYU Wagner Professor of the Politics of Public Policy and Vice Dean for Academic Affairs and Research.

Also Monday evening, the Queens Economic Development Corporation will host its New Idea to New Venture Workshop: “This workshop helps participants develop their business idea, organize their start-up process and create a strategy to launch their business. It also covers key elements of how to start a business including: financing, business registration, permit & licenses, and tax related issues. Learn how to setup a company and avoid missteps that can cost you time and money. This event welcomes all veterans who are interested in starting their own businesses.”

Tuesday is (Special) Election Day! New York’s 11th Congressional District and 43rd Assembly District will see voting and the election of new reps.

Community Service Society is organizing NY Reentry Roundtable Albany Advocacy Day: “members of the NY Reentry Roundtable invite you to join us as we travel to Albany to advocate for passage of three bills that are critically important for thousands of currently and formerly incarcerated New Yorkers and their families...buses will take advocates from CSS to Albany to meet with legislators and their staff.”

Tuesday morning, Crain’s will host Crain’s Health Care Summit 2015: Value-Based Payments. “Join Crain’s for a critical discussion as New York’s health care industry prepares to shift away from a fee-for-service model to value-based payments. Health care leaders who have already executed value-based contracts will share their best-practices and share lessons learned. This summit goes far beyond explaining WHY New York is shifting to this new model. It explains, on a peer-to-peer senior executive level, how to make that journey.”

Tuesday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises to consider land use applications; and a meeting of the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions to consider land use applications.

At 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Urban Justice Center will host Community Justice Awards: “This year, we are proud to honor David M. Levine, Head of Litigation and Regulatory Enforcement for the Americas at Deutsche Bank.”

Tuesday afternoon, the State Senate will be in session at 3 p.m.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, State Senator Amedore will hold the Women of Distinction Awards Ceremony in Albany: “In honor of Women’s History Month, Senator Amedore is inviting local residents to nominate friends, coworkers and neighborhood leaders whose outstanding work on behalf of our communities makes them deserving of special recognition by the State Senate as a New York ‘Woman of Distinction’.”

“The next public meeting and hearing of the New York City Voter Assistance Advisory Committee (VAAC) will be held at 5:30 PM on Tuesday, May 5th, in the Office of the New York City Comptroller...The meeting will include welcoming remarks from NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer and a special performance by NYC Youth Poet Laureate Crystal Valentine. A detailed agenda will be made available before the meeting and posted on the @NYCVotes Twitter feed.”

Also Tuesday evening, City Council Member Andy King and his staff will be hosting a "Constituent Services Night" at the Edenwald Community Center in the Bronx, part of his series in which "every other week in a different NYCHA housing development in the 12th Council District...Services will include resources and solutions for housing, food stamps, immigration, Access-A-Ride and basic services."

Tuesday evening is the May 2015 NY Tech Meetup and Afterparty, at NYU Skirball Center For The Performing Arts: “Join fellow technologists for an evening of live demos from companies developing great technology in New York.”

On Wednesday morning, Mayor de Blasio is due on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

[Update: postponed in wake of the death of Police Offier Brian Moore] There was set to be a demonstration at City Hall on Wednesday by firefighter and police officer unions, according to Capital New York: The Uniformed Firefighters Association and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association will march to push the mayor on disability pension benefits. [Update: postponed]

Wednesday morning, ABNY will host a breakfast session with US Congressman Joe Crowley where the Congressman is set to discuss “his priorities for the current session and beyond, including his recently unveiled Building Better Savings, Building Brighter Futures plan to address the savings and retirement security crisis in the U.S.”

Also Wednesday morning, Stroock will host a government leadership forum titled “Is New York Still A Democracy?” Panelists will include Congressman Jerrold Nadler; DeNora M. Getachew Campaign Manager and Legislative Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law; and Douglas A. Kellner, Co-Chair of the New York State Board of Elections. Robert Adams, former New York State Attorney General and Chair of Stroock’s Government Relations Practice, and Jerry H. Goldfeder, Stroock Special Counsel and Election Law attorney will moderate the panel discussion.

At 11 a.m. on Wednesday, advocates are expected to rally outside Governor Cuomo's Manhattan office as part of a renewed push to strengthen rent regulation laws that are being negotiated in Albany.

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, LiveOn NY will host its 20th Annual City Hall Advocacy Day. “Meet face-to-face with your Council Members; Advocate for those seniors who are too frail to be there; Advocate for more money the Department for the Aging; Represent your senior center; Help to keep programs for future seniors." The day will include morning and afternoon meetings with City Council members sandwiching a City Hall press conference.

Wednesday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Land Use for an oversight hearing regarding “Industrial Land Use and Zoning Policy - Challenges and Opportunities”; a meeting of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services for an oversight hearing “Examining Violence in New York City’s Jails and the City’s Response,” and on several bills; and a meeting of the Committee on Veterans for an oversight hearing “Evaluating the Effectiveness of MOVA’s Role Serving New York City’s Veterans.” [Read our look at the question of whether there should be a separate city department for veterans sercices]

Wednesday, the State Senate will be in session at 11 a.m.

Wednesday afternoon, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer will host a Small Business Roundtable.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction will hold a forum/town Hall to “examine the issues facing communities in the wake of increased heroin abuse.”

Also Wednesday evening, Council Member Mark Levine will host a Participatory Budgeting Party: “We will share project details for the winners, next steps in the process, and ways you can get involved in next year’s Participatory Budget.” This event is another in a string of PB events by council members in which they reveal and/or celebrate the PB-funded projects chosen by constituents and the PB process.

Mayor de Blasio is set to unveil his fiscal year 2016 Executive Budget on Thursday as well as his update to the city's 10-year capital plan.

Thursday in Albany, a teacher evaluation summit will occur, according to Capital New York: “Seven researchers, economists, and professors accepted an invitation to weigh in on the debate at a May 7 summit being held by the State Education Department and Board of Regents, according to a department memo obtained by Chalkbeat. Officials are required by law to collect public comment on how to design the regulations that will govern how a teacher’s performance in the classroom gets graded, a process that must be complete by the end of June.”

Thursday’s City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Land Use to review all items reported out of the Subcommittee hearings.

At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a public land use hearing.

Also Thursday morning in Manhattan, the Assembly Standing Committee on Codes will meet jointly with the Assembly Standing Committee on Judiciary, the Assembly Standing Committee on Correction, and New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus “to examine the need for reforms to the criminal justice system to ensure fairness, improve community/police relations, and protect the safety of law enforcement officers.”

Thursday afternoon, the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction will resume its hearing to “examine the issues facing communities in the wake of increased heroin abuse.”

Thursday evening, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU will hold a discussion titled “State of Money in Politics” - “The Supreme Court's landmark decision in Citizens United v. FEC reshaped the American political landscape, giving the wealthy more power to influence elections than at any time since Watergate and opening the floodgates for dark money in U.S. elections. Five years after the Supreme Court decision that set these trends in motion, what is the state of money in politics today? What are the emerging issues and paths for reform going forward?” The panel will feature Jeff Clements, Board Chair at Free Speech for People and Author of “Corporations Are Not People”; Zephyr Teachout, Associate Professor at Fordham Law School and Author of “Corruption in America”; and Ellen Weintraub, Commissioner of Federal Election Commission.

Also Thursday evening, The NYC Department of Records and Information Services will hold an event titled “A Woman’s Place: Access, Visibility and Making Change in the Workplace...An exciting conversation among trailblazing who’ve stood up to intimidation, injustice and invisibility in the workplace to bring about radical transformations.”

Friday and the weekend
Friday all day, The Murphy Institute will host “Violence & the City...this day-long, interdisciplinary conference will consider the nature and effects of various types of urban violence, and is organized around two themes: violence and urban society; and, crime, politics, and policy. Featured speakers will address these concerns in theoretically, methodologically, or empirically innovative ways.”

On Saturday afternoon, City Council Member Corey Johnson will host the First Annual West Side Summit, where he will deliver his State of the District Address, and announce winning projects from participatory budgeting.

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 Rati Mukhuradze, Marco Poggio, and Ben Max

This article has been updated.

Strategy Meetings Signal Coming Flurry of Rent Law Lobbying

housing rally

A housing-related rally at City Hall (photo: @AffordabilityNY)

On Friday, tenant advocates, union representatives, and elected officials gathered in two separate meetings to discuss the renewal and strengthening of state rent laws. There is a sense of urgency among city-based legislators and tenant advocates as the laws regulating many thousands of apartments are set to expire in six weeks and legislative debate on the topic is non-existent.

One meeting took place at the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) headquarters in New York City and featured Mayor Bill de Blasio, union heads, and key electeds like Assembly Housing Committee Chair Keith Wright of Harlem. According to numerous sources the meeting was convened by 1199 SEIU, the powerful healthcare workers union, to convince organized labor to join the fight to strengthen the rent laws.

Meanwhile, another group of advocates and legislators met in Yonkers in the office of Assembly Member Shelley Mayer to discuss how to get equity between the city and suburban rent laws and how to mobilize tenants on short notice.

Many legislators and advocates worry that the meetings took place too late in the game. There's just six weeks left in legislative session and the rent laws have been the subject of few negotiations and almost no organized lobbying.

Stakeholders see this year as do or die for strengthening rent laws so that landlords can't remove apartments from rent regulation after making renovations and increasing rent. Advocates say 54,000 apartments have been taken off the roles in the past 10 years - a figure they cite as a net total. Landlords insist the current rules help them maintain apartments and keeps the housing stock from falling into complete disrepair - they do not want to see it become tougher for them to move apartments to market rate.

Meanwhile Senate Republicans are distracted by the corruption investigation into and impending charges against Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and eager to frustrate their nemesis de Blasio, who is seeking renewal of mayoral control of schools and the rent laws before both sunset in June. Tenant advocates are investing all of their hope in new Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Democrat of the Bronx, and are demanding he play hardball in negotiations over the renewal of the 421-A tax break that benefits developers and expires at the same time as the rent laws.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already downplayed the possibility of useful negotiation in the Legislature. Back from his visit to Cuba, an energized, punchy Cuomo delivered an assessment of the current rent law negotiations to a breakfast of the Association for a Better New York on April 24.

"If it was a different time in Albany, frankly, and Albany was a little bit more of a stable situation I would normally take those negotiations to Albany and try to work it out among the parties," Cuomo said of the housing-related issues. "Albany is somewhat - there's a lot going on right now. So I'm hoping and I'm asking the parties to work out the disagreements among themselves." He then suggested that the situation in Albany might be so dire that a straight extension of both programs, without any tinkering, might be necessary.

That was the last thing tenant advocates wanted to hear. "I thought it was outrageous," said Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenant's PAC. "He was proposing exactly what the real estate industry wants."

McKee was further vexed that no legislators challenged the assertion that Albany is too dysfunctional to negotiate over two essential pieces of legislation."Why was there no blowback?" asked McKee. The influence of the real estate industry in Albany is well-documented, of course.

Advocates plan on turning up the pressure in the coming weeks. Cuomo's Manhattan office will be the center of protest on Wednesday, May 6 at 11 a.m. and New York State Tenants and Neighbors will host a rally in Foley Square at 5 p.m. on May 14. A number of legislators also have tentative plans to make public pushes for strengthening the rent laws.

What do advocates want? They say the city has those 54,000 rent-controlled units over the past 20 years thanks to vacancy decontrol. Current state law allows landlords to increase rents based on improvements they make to a building or individual apartments. Some tenants find their rents increasing without any obvious fixes being made. Landlords can also increase rent by 20 percent once a rent-stabilized tenant leaves. Tenants claim this leads to abuse from landlords who want to increase rent. The Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), which represents landlords, insists that landlords make improvements that are necessary and that without them the housing stock deteriorates.

Landlords face increasing operating costs like water and sewer fees. Frank Ricci of the RSA said he praised the current laws, especially considering the challenges landlords face. "I think all those laws work very well," said Ricci. "They inject needed capital into the housing stock.

But that does not mean Ricci is happy with a lack of legislative discussion over the rent laws "There hasn't been a rational healthy debate on the issue for years. It is owners versus tenants. The Assembly gets very wrapped up in representing tenants. They aren't worried about what keeps the housing stock going."

There are differing proposals for how to improve rent control for tenants and it is unlikely any individual bill proposed in the Legislature will become the solution as a bill package will almost certainly be hashed out in secret by Cuomo and the leaders of each house. But a few of the ideas include limiting landlords' ability to increase rent after repairs so that once the repairs are paid off rent would return to a baseline. There is also talk of ending vacancy decontrol and stopping landlords from being able to increase rent by 20 percent once an apartment becomes vacant.

Renewal of the rent laws almost certainly won't happen this year without renewal of 421-A, a tax break for developers that has been under the spotlight lately in part thanks to the indictment of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who allegedly used his leverage over the breaks to push developers to hire a law firm which in turn gave him kickbacks. There are also questions about whether 421-A is still necessary as an incentive to spur development in a booming city.

But, the tax break is designed to incentivize developers to include affordable housing in luxury high rises. Tenant advocates say the costs of the break far outweigh the benefit, though: the city lost $1 billion in tax revenue to the exemption in 2014 according to a study by the Municipal Art Society of New York. Advocates estimate that fewer than 16,000 families benefited from the creation of affordable housing under 421-A last year. Some legislators have proposed replacing the program with a housing voucher system so that families would directly benefit.

It is dubious to think that Senate Republicans will let 421-A go when the real estate board, also known as REBNY, and developers are their single largest campaign donors and Senate Republicans don't have a very large wish list for the end of year. Governor Cuomo is also a very large beneficiary of the real estate industry, as are many other Democrats.

Further, some in the real estate industry insist that de Blasio needs 421-A to implement his ambitious city affordable housing plan because he is relying on real estate powers to implement it. His plan calls for the creation over the next decade of 80,000 affordable units, the preservation of 120,000 affordable units, and the development of 160,000 market-rate units.The mayor's office did not issue any details of Friday's meeting and did not respond to request for comment in time for publication.

Activists and legislators say the mayor should simply get behind a new plan that relies on a program replacing 421-A, but with the rent laws expiring in June and Senate Republicans running down the clock it appears unlikely that 421-A is going anywhere.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

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