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Leonard Litwin's Political Donations: The Full Picture


Leonard-Litwin

Leonard Litwin (photo via Jewish Business News)


Leonard Litwin is a major New York political donor who amplifies his political speech by making large donations through his network of LLCs. Via the LLC loophole, each company may contribute as if it is a distinct individual (with separate campaign finance limits).

Using a new database which automatically loads up all of the New York State Board of Elections campaign finance filing data, we have conducted a unique analysis of Litwin's political finance network in order to paint a picture of his sprawling influence - presented in graphic form below.

One problem with the public data is that when filers describe the counter-parties to their campaign finance transactions (such as donors and vendors), there is no objective standard for names and addresses. Any one name or address may be described limitless ways, accounting for truncation, abbreviation, punctuation, nicknames, typos and other errors. With that in mind, this research gathered up 302 different references to Litwin and his businesses. Litwin's home address and office address are collectively described 104 ways in the data.

With these selections in hand, our research to identify the Litwin network activity (going back to January, 2000) resulted in a product of 1,834 specific contributions totaling $13.2 million dollars. We tallied the dollar sums on the relationships between Litwin and each of his beneficiaries. The chart below sorts recipients of Litwin's cash from largest to smallest, by sum. First, the top five beneficiaries:

Top 5 Recipients from Leonard Litwin LLC Network, 2000-2014

1. NYS SENATE REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE $1,131,000
2. ANDREW CUOMO 2014, INC. $1,089,200
3. NEIGHBORHOOD PRESERVATION PAF $768,550
4. JOBS FOR NEW YORK, INC. $587,600
5. NYS SENATE REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE - HOUSEKEEPING $550,000

The full picture:

litwin sankey small 
(click the image or here to see full size)

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by Jon Reznick for Gotham Gazette
Data analysis performed using FTMSQL2 by Competitive Advantage Research, LLC

Deal Between NYCHA and Private Developers Provokes Questions


torres nycha

CM Ritchie Torres outside of a NYCHA building (photo: @RitchieTorres)


A recently announced venture between the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), L+M Development Partners, and BFC Partners is expected to rehabilitate six especially dilapidated Section 8 housing developments.

The deal was announced in December and calls for the six developments, containing 900 units in three boroughs, to receive increased federal funding under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Mark-Up-To-Market program (MUTM) that prompts contract renewals between HUD and Section 8 development owners. Though HUD's Section 8 program generally subsidizes privately-owned developments, these six - three of which NYCHA inherited after a private owner defaulted - are owned by the City. As a result, in order for any contract renewals to take place under MUTM there must be, according to federal law, a for-profit owner involved. Thus, NYCHA sought corporate partners in its efforts to increase revenues and rehab the buildings.

Questions, however, quickly emerged regarding the lack of transparency in the deal's initial proposal, the deal's possible long-term effects, and whether the deal is a key step in the "privatization" of NYCHA.

On Tuesday, the City Council's Public Housing Committee, chaired by Council Member Ritchie Torres, a Democrat from the Bronx, will take up these questions and relevant issues. The Council website lists the hearing as "Oversight - A Fair Deal for NYCHA? A Look at NYCHA's Decision to Sell a Stake in Project-Based Section 8 Housing to Private Developers."

Tenants living in any of the city's roughly 91,000 Section 8 units pay an affordable rate, generally under a 30-percent-of-income cap, while federal funding covers the difference to reach market rates by providing tax exempt bonds or 4 percent tax credits to private owners. NYCHA's Conventional Public Housing, on the other hand, which includes over 178,000 units, is itemized in a separate line in the HUD budget and does not require private ownership.

Federal funding for Section 8 developments must go to private developers as dictated by the Low-Income Tax Credit (LIHTC) Program, enacted by the federal government in 1986. Moreover, funding under LIHTC, which was established to incentivize private investment in affordable housing, cannot be allocated without a private developer. Following LIHTC protocol, the responsibility to allocate tax credits to developers is then relegated to states' housing agencies. Politically, passing LIHTC afforded legislators under a Reagan-led government the ability to better fund public housing while simultaneously touting pro-business housing models.

A problem has arisen due to the fact that federal funding for Section 8 Housing has been significantly reduced over the past decades. According to a report released in July, 2014 by Victor Bach and Tom Waters of the Community Service Society (CSS), "by 2013, the cumulative operating [federal] subsidy loss since 2001 had mounted to nearly $1 billion."

As part of the recent deal between NYCHA and the two developers - which raised many eyebrows when it was announced - the two companies will pay NYCHA gradually for their 50 percent stake: $150 million at the outset of the deal, $100 million over the next two years, and $100 million more spread across a 15-year span. It totals $350 million in revenue and the developers plan to invest another $100 million in renovations, they say. NYCHA insists it is protected by an opt-out clause and other carefully constructed elements of the deal.

With a $77 million deficit and $18 billion in capital and building needs throughout NYCHA's 328-development portfolio, it's easy to understand the authority's motivation for cutting a deal with private developers to get an infusion of cash.

During an interview with Gotham Gazette, Bach of CSS explained that after the deal, which ensures continued Section 8 status under the MUTM program, federal subsidies that normally require an annual renewal, will be guaranteed a steady 30-year stream and protection from possible changes in HUD funding policy.

In short, NYCHA will receive revenue from L+M and BFC as well as more secure and increased federal funding. L+M and BFC, in exchange, receive tax exempt bonds and tax credits. This will be the case, anyway, for at least the next 30 years until - and this aspect of the deal is the cause of some suspicion - the developers, upon NYCHA's approval, may upgrade the units to full market-rate prices when federal aid expires.

On this topic, Moses Gates, the Director of Planning and Community Development at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), told Gotham Gazette, "If I were to ask NYCHA about this, I would ask 'What is the guarantee that the public will retain ownership at the end?'"

The ostensible answer seems to be that there is no guarantee. However, Gates hoped that a clearer picture of what NYCHA's deal will look like 30 years from now might be addressed during Tuesday's city council hearing.

New York State Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez expressed similar concerns in a recent op-ed in this publication. Rodriguez questions whether this one deal could be the gateway to a new public-private policy that, Rodriguez worries, could lead to privatization of NYCHA units.

"On the surface raising money to fix the buildings makes sense," he wrote. "But there is more to any deal involving NYCHA. In fact, I struggle to see how this fits into the long-term affordable housing plan for New York City. Is this 'pilot' part of a larger plan to diminish the City's stake in housing?"

The possibility of a substantial disruption in affordable housing at the hands of private developers coupled with a Housing Authority so crippled by deficit that it has no choice but to acquiesce to privatization is unsettling to many. But, between Gates' assessment that "this deal is not a template," and Bach's warning "to keep in mind that these are only six of NYCHA's 328 developments," the fears of Assembly Member Rodriguez and others may be at least slightly alarmist.

Possibly exaggerated fears notwithstanding, a lack of transparency regarding the future of these Section 8 developments and the deal itself has been a point of contention. The source of Bach's greatest apprehension was the lack of transparency surrounding the proposal.

The deal, Bach said, seemed to have "crept in under the radar." NYCHA was originally considering the partnership in June 2013, during former-Mayor Michael Bloomberg's tenure. A deal was proposed, but the private developer involved at the time ultimately withdrew. As a result, the notion carried over into Mayor Bill de Blasio's term mostly unnoticed behind his ambitious housing plans, efforts to boost NYCHA, and clear assertions from new NYCHA leadership led by Chair Shola Olatoye that "we will not tear down public housing, or privatize it."

Looking at the new NYCHA deal with two private developers, Bach questions Olatoye's assurance. "NYCHA claimed it's not privatization. We said it certainly looks like it," he said. Assembly Member Rodriguez, of northern Manhattan, and some city council members clearly also see a red flag.

Upon request for an interview a NYCHA spokesperson declined, but later stated in an email that "NYCHA is not giving up ownership or privatizing. This is not a profit making endeavor; all dollars re-invested...NYCHA and the Authority will remain in control over the future of these buildings." [bold and underline theirs]

Furthermore, the deal comes at a time when NYCHA's credibility and competence is in question - granted, though, that a scathing audit from City Comptroller Scott Stringer does not reflect the current NYCHA leadership or Mayor de Blasio, in office just over a year.

An audit report published Dec. 16, 2014 by Stringer's office concluded that NYCHA missed out on $692 million in revenue and savings for failing to meet basic HUD guidelines. In an example of "incompetence," NYCHA spent $10 million on a Boston Consulting Group study, but when the group made suggestions that, if followed, projected $106 million in revenue and savings by 2014, the suggestions were left unacknowledged.

One of the audit report's more clear, and obvious, suggestions for improvement reads "Improve planning and follow-through on revenue and cost-saving initiatives."

Olatoye, however, dismissed the audit's findings as "exaggerated financial claims projected out over future decades with little connection to NYCHA today under new leadership." The audit did in fact range the years preceding Olatoye's leadership and Mayor de Blasio's new housing policies, which have included a sharp focus on NYCHA not shown by prior administrations.

Given the new leadership of de Blasio and Olatoye, Stringer's audit, and the City Council's oversight, there could very well soon be a more clear picture of the new NYCHA Section 8 deal. NYCHA officials certainly seem clear-eyed with regard to assuring those concerned that the units will not be turned over to private hands in 30 years. Tuesday's question-and-answer period will undoubtedly be illuminating.

***
by Jarad Sassone-McHugh, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Note: this article has been updated to reflect that the deal being discussed is indeed final.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 9


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will be off to a fast start with Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiling his initial Fiscal Year 2016 preliminary budget plan. De Blasio will announce his budget Monday at 2 p.m. at City Hall, outlining the shifts in spending and what they say about his priorities. We already know that money has been added for new NYPD bulletproof vests. Look for more stories Sunday evening into Monday in various publications that de Blasio's team has placed in an effort to roll out top agenda items included in the budget.

De Blasio's first budget was mostly praised, though there were questions about how he initially accounted for elements of union contracts he had struck and he did have to make modifications based on feedback from Comptroller Scott Stringer - all part of the budget process, which has several phases. Once the FY2015 budget (the city's fiscal year begins July 1) was settled between de Blasio and the City Council, many lauded the work done to prioritize new progressive initiatives and maintain solid fiscal footing. De Blasio does have to watch his out-year deficits, experts say. The city budget is also reliant on what happens in Albany, of course, so adjustments will likely have to be made as Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature negotiate the state's FY2016 budget over the next two months (the state's fiscal year begins April 1). De Blasio met with new Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Sunday to discuss rent regulations, which will be a major issue in Albany negotiations, during budget talks and/or afterward.

De Blasio and other city officials, including Stringer, head to Albany on Feb. 25 to address the Legislature about the city's budget needs. The Legislature has already begun holding budget hearings, including on education, at which New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña testified and explained the City's opposition to some of Gov. Cuomo's education reform proposals. Cuomo is attempting to tie a large amount of increased school aid to his education reform agenda, the governor continues to have events around his larger agenda throughout the state, including many held by his top emissaries, such as Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul.

De Blasio's executive budget rollout is just the first step in the city's FY2016 process. The City Council will spend weeks holding budget hearings and give its response before the budget outline is adjusted and another round of hearings is held, final tweaks are made, and, in all likelihood, a June deal is reached. We'll get some more indication of what the City Council is eyeing both in calendar 2015 and fiscal 2016 when Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito gives her first State of the City address on Wednesday of this week. On Sunday, Mark-Viverito and a council delegation head to Israel for a nine-day trip. Details below.

Other top storylines to watch this week, followed by the run of the week in day-by-day detail, as we usually do:

  • Many eyes are on Albany as new Assembly Speaker Heastie gets more acclimated in his role and budget negotiations move forward. We're awaiting word from Heastie on his take on several hot-button items, including education reform, the minimum wage, rent regulations, and more. Heastie's first work may be moving reform of the Assembly rules and then also working on larger ethics reform for Albany lawmakers in general. Meanwhile, he has promised to be a more inclusive speaker than his predecessor, which could make budget negotiations more complicated. If Heastie is more of a spokesperson for the will of his conference, especially his New York City delegation, which is a large portion of the chamber, it may matter a bit less what he believes in individually. As watchers know, though, anything can happen when the Albany horse-trading gets going and a budget deal is being worked out.
  • Democratic movement in NY11? Staten Island Democrats are due to meet with potential candidates to take on Staten Island DA Dan Donovan in the yet-to-be-called special election in New York's 11th Congressional District (to replace Michael Grimm, who resigned after a pleading guilty to one count of felony tax fraud) - according to the SI Advance, which reports the interviews will take place on Wednesday. It is looking like it will be another Brooklyn Democrat, perhaps Council Member Vincent Gentile, to attempt to take the seat (former Council Member from Brooklyn Domenic Recchia was unsuccessful against Grimm in November). A lawsuit was filed last week to push Gov. Cuomo to call the special election, which he has stalled on doing. The district, which encompases all of Staten Island, has been without a representative since Grimm resigned at the beginning of January.
  • It is Black History Month, look for many related events, including one being held Thursday by Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, the Council's Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus, and other council members.

As always, there's a great deal happening at the City Council and all over the city, with many events to be aware of. Day-by-day details 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
As mentioned, Mayor de Blasio will unveil his FY2016 budget proposal on Monday, 2 p.m., City Hall.

Advocates and elected officials supporting the DREAM Act will rally in Albany around noon on Monday, with a 1 p.m. press conference scheduled. As part of the "Moral Mondays" series, this week's push is around the stalled legislation that would allow for state financial aid to go to college students brought to the United States illegally. Gov. Cuomo has recommitted to seeing the DREAM Act passed, it seems, including language in his budget proposal to tie it to an education tax credit bill that Republicans favor.

Monday's City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency jointly with the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services for an oversight hearing "Examining the City's Enhanced Emergency Response Plans post Superstorm Sandy"; and a meeting of the Committee on Consumer Affairs to discuss oversight of "Education and Outreach on Financial Literacy for Young Adults," and to see the introduction of a new bill regarding "provision of young adults with outreach and education regarding consumer protection issues."

Because of inclement weather, HOPE 2015 was rescheduled for Monday, Feb. 9. The NYC Department of Homeless Services will conduct its annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) - a program aimed at collecting "vital information for outreach teams to help homeless people leave the streets for a better life." The annual event will draw hundreds of volunteers including a good number of elected officials as those involved walk the city. [Read our report on the intensified efforts made by advocates and the City to help the homeless during the harsh winter months]

"On Monday, February 9th, the newly formed Community Investment Advisory Board will hold the first of five public hearings, one in each borough, under the new Responsible Banking Act. The law represents one of the strongest steps any government has taken to respond to hold banks accountable to local communities. This law puts NYC at the forefront of a national movement of municipalities enacting laws to direct more City deposits and business to banks that are meeting the credit needs of communities where they do business" - according to a media advisory from the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development and the New Economy Project.

Also Monday evening, there will be a town hall event regarding the Kent Avenue warehouse fire in Brooklyn. "At the town hall, city agencies will be in attendance to brief the community on the fire and its impacts and to answer any questions. The following agencies will be in attendance: Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Fire Department, NYC Emergency Management, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Buildings, Sanitation Department, Small Business Services, Police Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Mayor's Community Affairs Unit. All North Brooklyn residents are strongly encouraged to attend...The Town Hall is being hosted by Council Member Stephen Levin, State Senator Daniel L. Squadron, Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan."

Monday's Joint Legislative Budget Hearings are on taxes and on economic development.

On Monday, the Senate Standing Committee on Civil Service and Pensions will meet in Albany to consider various pieces of legislation related to pensions and civil service law.

The Senate Standing Committee on Judiciary will hold a hearing regarding Court of Appeals nominees Judge Leslie Stein and Judge Eugene Fahey.

On Monday evening, Comptroller Stringer will deliver remarks at the Turtle Bay Association 31st Annual Love Thy Neighborhood Valentine Party.

On Monday evening, the "New York City Council Urban Investigation Final Presentation" will be given by students involved with programming from The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP). 'How does the City Council actually work?' is the question at the heart of this work. "In this latest Urban Investigation, CUP and teaching artist Dillon de Give tackled these questions with a group of public high school students from International Community High School in Mott Haven. To find out how the City Council works, the students interviewed City Council staff and members—including Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito—as well as staff from city agencies. They created a short video to share what they learned. Join us for the debut of their project at Anthology Film Archives, where students will present the video and discuss their creative process."

On Monday and Tuesday is the 10th Annual H.F. Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America. Among many aspects, Joe Ponte, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction will participate on the 9th and Ken Thompson, Kings County (Brooklyn) District Attorney will give the keynote address on the morning of the 10th.

[READ THE LATEST ORIGINAL REPORTING FROM GOTHAM GAZETTE]

Tuesday
On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will meet with Members of Congress Jerry Nadler and Nydia Velázquez; he will deliver remarks at the 10th Annual John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America; he will meet with Mayor of London Boris Johnson in City Hall; and he will deliver remarks at the opening of "The Italian Americans" at NYU.

Tuesday's City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Public Housing for an oversight hearing on: "A Fair Deal for NYCHA? A Look at NYCHA's Decision to Sell a Stake in Project-Based Section 8 Housing to Private Developers"; a meeting of the Committee on Transportation for oversight "examining the expansion of bus rapid transit in New York City," and the introduction of new bills relating to a "bus rapid transit plan" and "car sharing in the city fleet"; a meeting of the Committee on Parks and Recreation on "Annual report on non-governmental funding for NYC parks"; and a meeting of the Committee on Veterans on bills "Requiring the reporting of veterans receiving agency services"; "Membership of the veterans advisory board"; and "Meetings of the veterans advisory board." [As part of our extensive coverage of veterans issues in New York City, we recently wrote about issues around the Veterans Advisory Board related to its membership and its transparency]

On Tuesday morning, there will be a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture to consider a variety of relevant legislation. There will also be a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Local Government: "The New York Conference of Mayors (NYCOM) and Municipal Officials to address the Committee...[on] An act to amend the real property tax law, in relation to school tax relief (STAR) exemptions" and a variety of other items.

There will be a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Education regarding a variety of relevant bills. There will be a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Transportation on various legislation including "An act to amend the vehicle and traffic law, in relation to prohibiting a child under the age of eight from being left unattended in a motor vehicle"; "An act to amend the vehicle and traffic law and the penal law, in relation to distribution of certain mandatory surcharges imposed for alcohol-related traffic convictions" and several others.

Tuesday morning will see a Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on Higher Education.

Tuesday morning will see a special event at The New School: "In Need of Shelter: Protecting the city's children from the traumas of homelessness." Details: "The de Blasio administration has made reducing family homelessness a key priority. Nevertheless, homeless families spend on average over 400 days in city shelters, and the number of families is near a record high. Young children are overrepresented; the number of kids under the age of 6 in shelters has grown nearly 60 percent since 2006. How can we keep children in city-subsidized shelters safe? How can we use the time they spend in shelter to foster rather than derail their development? How can we support parents who are leaving shelters that may be the only homes their children have known? A conversation with experts in the field, and the release of the latest edition of Child Welfare Watch"

On Tuesday afternoon, the College of Staten Island will host a conversation on policing in New York City and the United States, with sociologist Alex Vitale and Eric Garner's daughter Erica Garner: "To Serve and Protect? Broken Windows Policing and Eric Garner." More: "The police killing of Staten Island resident Eric Garner, and other cases, has galvanized a mass movement demanding fundamental changes to policing in New York City and the United States. Come to a lecture and public discussion with sociologist Alex Vitale and activist Erica Garner for a critical dialogue on policing, its deeper roots, and the mass movement that has emerged."

"Stop the trafficking" will be Tuesday evening at Brooklyn Borough Hall: "Human trafficking is the second largest source of illegal income worldwide exceeded only by drug trafficking. Our esteemed panel includes: New York City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, Chair of the Committee on Women's Issues, LifeWay Network, GEMS and Safe Horizon for a discussion on human trafficking, how it affects our community, and the current efforts in place to combat this global crisis." [Read a recent Gotham Gazette op-ed by Manhattan DA Cy Vance on the need for New York to strengthen its sex-trafficking laws]

On Tuesday evening, Comptroller Scott Stringer hosts "Trailblazers, a program and awards ceremony in honor of African-American History Month," 6 p.m., New York Public Library Schomburg Center.

The Safe Passage Project and the Diane Abbey Law Institute for Children and Families of the Impact Center for Public Interest Law at New York Law School Present: Unaccompanied Immigrant Children and the "Priority Docket": New York's Experience on Tuesday evening at New York Law School.

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Wednesday
On Wednesday at noon, "New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will deliver her inaugural State of the City address, "Lifting Every Voice," at the Johnson Community Center in East Harlem."

[Read our interview with Mark-Viverito about her first year as speaker and the leadership style she has brought to the role; and read our broader look at the "new" City Council's first year (2014), with a focus on what changed and what did not under new leadership and an almost half-new council]

Earlier, on Wednesday morning, the offices of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and City Comptroller Scott Stringer are hosting a "Tax Workshop for Clergy."

On Wednesday evening, Stringer is holding a meet-and-greet with residents of Starrett City, in East New York, Brooklyn.

Earlier, on Wednesday morning, PCAC and ULI New York present: "Keeping NY on Track: the Importance of the MTA Transit Network in a Changing World," a discussion on the MTA Capital Program. Moderator: Seth Pinsky, Executive Vice President, Fund Manager, Metro Emerging Markets & Public Affairs Director, RXR Realty and Speakers: Joan Byron, Director of Policy, Pratt Center for Community Development; Donna Keren, SVP, Research & Analysis, NYC & Company; Janno Lieber, President, WTC Properties, Silverstein Properties; Mark J. Marcucci, Managing Director, Global Head of Citi Realty Services, Citi.

Thursday
Thursday's City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Finance on "Approving the new designation and changes in the designation of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget"; a meeting of the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections to discuss a variety of items: "Communication from the Mayor - Submitting the name of Wellington Chen to the Council for its advice and consent regarding his appointment as a member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, pursuant to Sections 31 and 3020 of the New York City Charter. Communication from the Mayor - Submitting the name of Kim Vauss to the Council for its advice and consent regarding her appointment as a member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, pursuant to Sections 31 and 3020 of the New York City Charter. Communication from the Mayor - Submitting the name of Hank Willis Thomas to the Council for its advice and consent regarding his appointment as the painter member of the New York City Art Commission, known as Public Design Commission, pursuant to Sections 31 and 851 of the New York City Charter"; and the first of two February City Council Stated Meetings.

Public Advocate Letitia James will host a discussion on the NYC Campus Safety Act. 5 p.m. at The New School: "James has been working closely with college students across the city to craft legislation that targets on-campus sexual violence. The result is the NYC Campus Safety Act...[which] seeks to provide City resources to assist colleges across the city to strengthen education, prevention, and response to on-campus sexual and domestic violence as well as boost the reporting mechanisms for survivors." RSVP.

Thursday evening will see the aforementioned Celebration of Black History Month at the City Council, hosted by Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council's BLAC and other council members: 6 p.m. in Council Chambers, City Hall. To RSVP, email BlackHistoryMonth@council.nyc.gov

On Thursday evening, The Bronx Republican Party is hosting its Lincoln Day Dinner, at which it will be honoring John Catsimatidis with the Bronx Republican Party 2015 "Leadership Award"; the Chairman's Special Tribute: The Bronx Republican Party 2015 humanitarian awardee will be announced; and closings by Honorable Ed Cox, Esq., Chair of State GOP, and Bronx GOP Chairman John Greaney.

Friday and the weekend
Friday's City Council schedule is a meeting of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management for a hearing regarding a bill aimed at "Reducing permitted capacity at putrescible and non-putrescible solid waste transfer stations in overburdened districts."

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is hosting the "Eighth Annual Emerging Manager & MWBE Conference" on Friday at the Hilton Albany Hotel: "The Emerging Manager Program allows the New York State Common Retirement Fund (CRF) to: invest in newer, smaller and diverse investment management firms;
access the next generation of talent in the investment field; and provide opportunities for the CRF to invest with qualified minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE)."

Friday evening will see the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators Evening Reception, hosted by City & State NY.

Saturday at noon, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, in collaboration with the Silberman School of Social Work, will host an event in East Harlem: "Rising for Justice in El Barrio." More: "Join us as we stand with East Harlem residents and people all over the world against the violence towards women and girls. Violence Intervention Program, the Silberman School of Social Work and my district office joined forces for this community-based action to combat sexual assault and rape, and make our schools and neighborhoods as safe as possible."

Leaving on Sunday, Feb. 15, Mark-Viverito is leading a city council trip to Israel - set to last nine days and include about 15 council members. "The trip is sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the UJA Federation of New York. This is Speaker Mark-Viverito's second trip to Israel as a Council Member – she previously made the trip in 2012. The delegation will include, other than the speaker, Council members David Greenfield, Brad Lander, Mark Levine, Mark Treyger, Ritchie Torres, Helen Rosenthal, Cory Johnson, Donovan Richards, Antonio Reynoso, Eric Ulrich, Andrew Cohen, Jimmy Van Bramer, Rafael Espinal and Darlene Mealy" - according to JP Updates.

***
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 and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Thousands Ready for First City Sanitation Exam Since ‘07


garcia sanitation

Sanitation Commissioner Garcia & some of her troops (@NYCSanitation)


On a frigid January night in Queens, the wood-panelled society clubhouse was full of people preparing for one of the most important tests they would ever take. New York's sanitation worker exam was only three weeks away and there was little time for small talk.

More than 40 exam applicants sat in rows of faded plastic chairs, shuffling through practice materials and asking what it was like to pick up the city's garbage. A group of stern-faced members from the African-American Benevolent Society (AABS) - all current or retired sanitation employees - stood up front and told them that the job could be tough, but the pay is steady and the pension is excellent.

"Once you're hired, you'll get a check for the rest of your life," said Superintendent Lyle Reid.

Many of the people in the room have been awaiting this coming weekend for years. On Saturday, Feb. 7 and Sunday, Feb. 8, the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) will hold its first employment exams since 2007.

During a one-month registration period in October, more than 94,000 people applied to become one of "New York's Strongest." DSNY hires an estimated 500 people per year, so applicants are doing whatever it takes to get the highest score possible. Yet passing the exam is only the first of many obstacles on a multi-year journey toward landing one of the city's most competitive and coveted civil service jobs.

In their Jamaica clubhouse, surrounded by pictures of the Obama family, Public Advocate Letitia James, and other prominent African-American figures, the AABS members tried to prepare the applicants for the process ahead. They repeatedly emphasized the importance of getting as close to a perfect score as possible on the exam.

"Don't even ask me what's the passing. 'Cause if that's what you're concerned about you're wasting your time," said David Shelborne, AABS president.

The group listened attentively. One woman was still wearing her FedEx uniform, while another man sported an orange ballcap with an elaborately stitched image of the New York skyline. A Brooklyn native had even flown up from her office job in Charleston, South Carolina with dreams of moving back and working for the city. Both of Reid's young sons were studying, even though one will soon become an MTA track worker.

A few young men had questions about criminal records or meeting parole requirements. The AABS members assured them that as long as they were honest with DSNY they would be fine.

"There's nothing, literally, holding you back but yourself," said Gail Johnson, a civilian DSNY employee.

The Gig
Unlike the police, fire, or correction departments, working in sanitation doesn't require any college credits. Applicants need to have a GED certificate and be 21 years old by the time of employment. A Class A or B commercial driver's license (CDL) is also required, but DSNY will train employees for an additional cost if they don't have one.

The annual salary for a new sanitation worker starts at $33,746, but anyone who lasts five and a half years will earn at least $70,000. These numbers could increase if a new labor contract is negotiated this year. They also don't include additional income, such as differential pay and overtime. Amounts vary depending on a worker's job duties, the severity of snow season and other factors, but extra money of some kind is guaranteed.

For example, all truck crews receive a shift bonus as part of a 1980 labor agreement that reduced collection teams from three to two workers. Workers also receive additional pay for working outside of their normally scheduled shifts and are guaranteed at least eight hours of pay at time-and-a-half for emergency situations such as snowstorms. They also receive a uniform allowance, paid holiday time, paid sick days, health insurance for their families, and a pension plan. DSNY has many other job opportunities beside collecting garbage, though that is the agency's primary function.

"You don't necessarily have to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an airplane pilot to earn a decent living," said Reid.

The Independent Budget Office estimates that the average sanitation worker with more than five and a half years on the job makes an average of $119,000 per year, including health benefits. This does not include annuity payments, pension payments, and other fringe benefits.

This salary is for entry-level sanitation workers who collect garbage and recyclables, sweep the streets with mechanical brooms, and clear snow. Numbers are based on the most recent contract for the Local 831 Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association, which was negotiated in 2007 and expired in 2011.

If a worker is then promoted to become a supervisor or superintendent, the pay grows accordingly. Both positions also require exams. The AABS and other department societies - known as fraternal organizations - traditionally hold study sessions for promotional exams.

Superintendent Andrenia Burgis has helped run the promotional exam study sessions at AABS for years. She's known as one of the best teachers in the department and DSNY employees come from all over the city for her guidance. Reid, who is white, enjoyed her classes so much that he joined AABS and is now the group's corresponding secretary.

Due to the volume of applicants, no fraternal organization had ever held study sessions for the sanitation worker exam. This time, Burgis decided to change that and help people in low-income communities apply for a job that could help them establish better lives.

When the exam was announced last fall, Burgis led information sessions throughout Brooklyn and Queens. She thought that if local politicians could come support a new Target opening up, they should help promote a well-paying civil service job.

"Those are just minimum wage jobs. These are jobs that can change your life," she said.

Working with Senator John Sampson, whom she knew from church and is currently under indictment on corruption charges, Burgis found ways to get the $47 application fee waived and help people without Internet access apply online. Working with AABS, public housing tenant associations, local libraries and churches, Burgis estimates that she signed up at least 2,500 people.

DSNY reported that 34 percent of exam applicants identified as black, the highest percentage of any ethnic group.

Since the fall, Burgis has organized multiple study sessions in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. She's also looking into the possibility of free CDL training. At the very least, Burgis said she's happy that people will now be working toward their GEDs and are registered with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to apply for other civil service jobs.

"We're trying to move the people through the community for something positive for themselves," she said.

The Exam
While no one knows exactly what will be on this year's exam, or even how many questions it will have, the assumption is that it will follow a similar formula to most other civil service exams. No prior job knowledge is required. Instead, applicants are tested on written comprehension, problem solving skills, deductive reasoning, spatial orientation, basic math, and other similar areas.

Free study classes are far from the norm. Civil service test prep is a lucrative industry, especially in New York. Tens of thousands of people apply to become postal workers, court officers, notary publics, and more every year.

Angelo Tropea, a retired chief county clerk, sells test prep books. His latest, "Sanitation Worker Exam New York City," is currently the bestselling civil service test guide on Amazon. While Tropea has never taken the sanitation exam himself, he is familiar with basic civil service exams. He wrote the book with sanitation-related scenarios in mind and sprinkled in motivational quotes from the likes of Confucius, Abraham Lincoln, and Yoda.

Many current sanitation workers claim they barely studied for the exam, if at all, but Tropea cautions against that attitude.

"The greatest danger of taking this test is being overconfident," he said.

Tropea's company, Concept Review, has been holding study classes around the city leading up to the exam. On a rainy Sunday in January, 53 people came to the Arden Heights Jewish Center on Staten Island for an all-day session. For $169, attendees received a binder full of study materials and seven hours of instruction.

"When they design the exam, I assure you it's not gonna be as easy as many people think," Mark Spiritus, one of the day's teachers, told his class. "Remember they're trying to screen you out."

Working off a classic overhead projector, Spiritus stood in the front of the center's spacious Lynne Bloomgarden Social Hall. Mirrors covered the walls and a large crystal chandelier hung overhead. He riffed on test-taking strategies, study habits, and job potential.

His colleague, Stewart Feigel, told the class to sleep well the night before the exam, eat a good breakfast, and get to the testing site early.

"Stress is something you do not want that day," he said.

As the morning wore on, some attendees grew restless. One young man in a Superman T-shirt put his head down on the table and fell asleep. Others listened intently, looking for any chance to improve their odds on the exam. Some work in retail or drive trucks. All of them want a better job.

The group was mostly male - a trend in DSNY, which was the last uniformed city agency to hire women - but at least one woman in attendance had big plans for a career in civil service.

Tonya Parker, currently a DSNY clerical aide, had taken NYPD and state corrections exams in the past. During her time on the job so far, Parker has learned the agency's systems and met a lot of sanitation workers who encouraged her to apply.

"They told me if anything it's not as bad as you think it is," she said.

Joseph Bruno, an Army veteran who is currently a subcontractor for Time Warner Cable, has taken NYPD and FDNY exams with no luck yet. He would prefer sanitation.

"No one's shooting at you. You're not running into burning buildings," he said.

After the Exam
Even those who ace the exam will still have to wait until they can start the job. DSNY will continue hiring off the 2007 exam list until Feb. 2016.

At that point, applicants from this current exam will start being called based on their scores and corresponding list numbers. This number indicates when they'll be called for the next step and dictates their seniority in the garage once hired. If people receive the same score, which is common, their list number will be determined based on who signed up first.

Applicants can also qualify for a variety of score credits. Anyone who has been a resident of the five boroughs, Nassau County, or Westchester County for more than a year can get five additional points. Anyone whose parent or sibling died in the Sep. 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks can use a legacy credit, which is an additional 10 points. Applicants can't receive points for more than one parent and one sibling, but they can potentially receive 20 points for a parent and a sibling. Veterans can receive five additional points and disabled veterans can receive 10.

The highest score from the 2007 exam was 123.75. A passing score is 70, but the lowest score to be called so far was 97.5.

While some applicants will get called in a matter of months, others may wait years. David Shelborne, AABS president, didn't receive a letter for nearly 10 years. At the time he was a senior specialist for an electronics company and ended up taking a nearly $60,000 pay cut to join DSNY. In the 25 years since, he has done well for himself within the department and his wife is now a sanitation police officer.

"I looked far off in the future," said Shelborne. "Best move I ever made."

Superintendent Burgis and Darlene Perez - a mechanical broom operator in the Bronx - both waited eight years. Robert Rammairone from Staten Island waited five years, during which time he worked at Home Depot and also applied to become a police officer.

Muhammad Shareef, president of the Islamic Council for the Department of Sanitation, remembers only waiting a year or two at most.

He attributes his success to an exam study book he borrowed from the library and read obsessively.

"I think I read it so much that I started to memorize what was on the next page," he said.

If You Get Called
Once called, applicants still face a battery of other tests. Obstacle courses have to be navigated while carrying heavy garbage bags, a doctor must give approval of physical and mental fitness, and a mountain of forms must be completed.

By the time sanitation workers finally make it on the job, they have an 18 month probationary period in which to prove themselves. Showing up late to work, failing a drug or alcohol test, and other infractions are all grounds for dismissal.

During this probationary period, neither the Local 831 Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association or any fraternal organizations can protect a worker. Once they've made the cut, workers may have a better chance of surviving a failed drug test or other issues with union support.

The first couple years can be difficult for even the most exemplary workers to adjust to. Many won't last until the five-and-a-half year mark when the money really starts to kick in.

Robin Nagle, an anthropology professor at NYU, experienced this firsthand when she became a sanitation worker to research "Picking Up," her book about life on the job. "You can read about it, you can even hang out with guys, but when you're in uniform and you're the one responsible for that truck, there is nothing that prepares you for that," Nagle said.

The physical strain of picking up multiple tons of garbage every day, potentially working in different boroughs for weeks on end without a day off during snow season, and contending with rats or maggots scares some people away.

Based on her own experience, Nagle said the job is well worth it. Sanitation workers share a camaraderie unlike anything she's seen in other jobs and take great pride in the important role they play.

"God forbid there were a strike tomorrow - or we get buried by snow tonight and you can't collect the garbage for the next little while - you feel it, immediately," she said of the key role sanitation workers play.

Nagle's words proved to be apt. AABS had to cancel a number of other exam study sessions after their Jamaica event due to Winter Storm Juno. Even though it didn't pummel the city as expected, DSNY employees were still working overtime for days to catch up on snow removal and garbage collection and will continue to do so this week.

The hours are long, but they're getting paid well and take the job seriously.

According to a 2013 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, being a sanitation worker is statistically more dangerous than being a police officer or firefighter. Their chances are high of getting hit by a car, knocked over by a projectile coming out of the truck's compactor, stuck with a needle inside a garbage bag, or experiencing any number of other hazards.

Yet when the exam notice went out last fall, DSNY employees spread the news to parents at Little League games, relatives, fellow worshippers, and anyone they met. With so many New Yorkers struggling to make a living wage and pay their bills, this kind of job can be life-changing.

All the applicants can do now is show up this weekend with sharpened pencils and give it their best. After that they will go back to their regular lives and wait.

"It's just a door," said David Shelborne. "The same way people go to a store and buy a lottery ticket."

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by Cole Rosengren, Gotham Gazette
@ColeRosengrenNY

In State of the City, De Blasio Pledges to End Veteran Homelessness in NYC


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Mayor de Blasio delivering his State of the City (Mayor's Office via Twitter)


NEW YORK—In 2010, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness issued the nation's first comprehensive plan to address homelessness among the nation's military veterans. The plan called for ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.

During his first year in office New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, like his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, signed on to the pledge. He has just under a year to complete what is a formidable task, yet it is exactly what he promised to do on Tuesday.

There are currently 1,000 homeless veterans in New York City, according to the City Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Of those, 712 are in DHS shelters, 264 are in federal VA-funded housing, and 29 are living on the streets.

De Blasio included the issue of veteran homelessness in his State of the City address, which focused almost solely on addressing the city's affordable housing crisis. The mayor called the issue of veteran homelessness a "moral indictment," and noted his administration would continue working with the Obama administration on solving the problem.

"We will end chronic homelessness among veterans this year in New York City," de Blasio said during his first major speech of the year, given Tuesday at Baruch College in Manhattan. "Those who fight abroad to protect our freedom should never be left without a home here in the country they defended. It makes no sense, and we won't let it happen."

The City will create a housing plan for every military veteran in the shelter system by the end of February, according to details provided by the mayor's press office. Support will be provided to any veteran who has served in the military, regardless of discharge status. If a veteran does not qualify for services under the State or Federal definition, the Mayor's Office of Veteran Affairs will find public or private sources.

The City will push veterans through the new LINC rental subsidy program to find permanent housing and veterans will be given preference for existing supportive housing. These efforts are on top of the veteran preferences which already exist in subsidized and public housing.

The City will also continue the multi-agency coordination that has proved largely successful thus far. In November of last year, New York City was given an award for reducing veteran homelessness by 64 percent (a total of 3,032 veterans) since 2011, according to HUD's 2013 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report.

The collaboration, including weekly conference calls to address specific veterans needing shelter, has made a huge difference in combating veteran homelessness, but ensuring proper funding has been the key, according to advocates.

"There is an unprecedented level of resources available to prevent veterans from becoming homeless and also to rapidly re-house them when they do," Tori Lyon, executive director of Jericho Project, said by phone Monday. "The resources available actually match the size of the need. That is the only way you can end any kind of homelessness."

Jericho Project currently operates two supportive housing residences for veterans which housed 143 veterans in 2014 and another development is slated to open in 2016 in the Bronx.

This fiscal year the VA awarded $22.66 million to fund seven non-profit social service organizations in New York for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) programs, according to testimony from DHS at a November City Council hearing. Gotham Gazette asked the mayor's press office for clarity on how much total funding was received this fiscal year, however, emails were not returned by press time.

"We applaud the administration for their commitment to veterans and to alleviating the homelessness crisis. And, we commit to being a partner in the effort to help veterans renew their lives," Mitchell Netburn, president and CEO of Project Renewal said by email Tuesday. "We, like the administration, believe that no one should be without a home -- especially the men and women who have so selflessly served our country."

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by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
@MeriwetherK

Amid Assembly Shake-Up, Cuomo Attempts to Capture Ethics High Ground


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Gov. Cuomo delivering his new ethics plan Monday (photo: @NYGovCuomo)


On the day Sheldon Silver would step down as Assembly Speaker, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told students at New York University Law School that he will hold the state budget hostage until the Legislature agrees to a package of major ethics reforms. "I will not sign a budget that does not have an ethics plan as outlined in my proposal," said Cuomo, who detailed a five-prong plan.

Cuomo's plan would require legislators to disclose all outside income; strip pensions from legislators convicted of corruption; change the way legislators are reimbursed for travel; prevent campaign funds from being used for personal gain; patch major loopholes in campaign finance law; lower contribution limits; and make campaign donations more transparent.

"He battled the dragon of corruption for 12 years. The dragon, obviously, survived," Cuomo said referencing his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, who passed away earlier this year, and making the fight against the corruption seem all-the-more personal.

The Governor's speech was an attempt to regain the high ground on ethics that he lost last year after he shuttered The Moreland Commission on Public Corruption and after yet another lawmaker was arrested for impropriety. Cuomo only dedicated a few seconds to ethics reform in his State of the State Speech - an address quickly knocked from the headlines by the arrest of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's intimation that more legislator shoes would soon drop. Albany has remained entranced by the Assembly Democrats' rush to replace Silver - whether they will deliver actual reform and a replacement for Silver who is truly interested in changing the system is also the cause of whirring speculation.

The notion of giving up an on-time budget is no small thing for Cuomo, who made his four on-time budgets his political calling card during his reelection campaign. Advocates have told Cuomo to hold the budget hostage for a number of issues, but Cuomo had previously focused on proving he could get Albany to function in its most basic duties. "This means in all probability that we will not have a fifth on-time, amicable budget," Cuomo said on Monday. "I think that's safe to say because these reforms are going to meet with significant resistance, but I am OK with that. I think New Yorkers know after four on-time budgets, we could perform collegially to accomplish a fifth if that was the goal. But there are different ways to pass a budget, first of all, and it is more important to me to prove that we have corrected the [ethics] problem and restore trust then just check a box of getting another budget done on time."

Cuomo's proposal came as Assembly Democrats appeared set to anoint Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie as Silver's replacement despite the fact that he has made questionable use of campaign funds, collected more per diems and mileage reimbursements from the State than most other legislators, and appears to oppose campaign finance reform. On Monday Democrats rushed to build consensus around Heastie, eventually agreeing to vote him in as speaker at 11 a.m. on Tuesday.

Cuomo himself has taken advantage of some of the loopholes his ethics reforms would ban. The governor exploited all varieties of permissible avenues and lax donation limits in the state's campaign finance rules to amass an incredibly large campaign war chest that he used to win re-election.

Cuomo confused some observers saying, "Public finance is the only option to ensure democratic access to the system." Many advocates thought that meant enacting a system of public financing of elections is part of Cuomo's ultimatum, but documents Cuomo's press office handed out do not list a public financing system as part of his ultimatum, nor do they list closure of the state's LLC loophole. It is said that this is because they are both already part of the governor's budget proposal.

"Any reasonable person who heard what the Governor had to say sure would have thought public finance was part of his ultimatum," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group referring to some system in which public dollars are provided to candidates who meet certain qualifications. Many have called for the state to implement a version modeled after New York City's public matching funds system.

Senate Democrats hailed Cuomo's proposals as they mirror ones the Conference has endorsed previously. Good government groups also reacted positively.

Horner issued a statement welcoming Cuomo's speech but adding, "Yet the governor did not describe any significant changes in the oversight and enforcement structure. Without changes to the ethics and campaign finance systems, no real changes will occur. The best laws are only as good as their administration. New York cannot continue to rely on the US Attorney's office to walk the ethics and campaign finance 'beat' in Albany."

Dick Dadey of Citizens Union praised Cuomo's proposals adding: "Citizens Union is pleased to see the governor taking a strong stand to correct the misstep of closing down the Moreland Commission before its work was completed. Let's hope that this is the time that New Yorkers see the promise of a wholesale change to Albany happen."

Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York, kept her response simple, emailing a statement saying only, "We agree with the Governor when he says deeds matter more than words. Any budget that doesn't include public funding of elections is a corruption budget."

Cuomo's speech came as Assembly Democrats met to discuss when to vote Heastie in as speaker. Some called for the vote to come at midnight despite some members' concerns that Heastie should have more vetting and calls from good government groups to hold an open hearing on reforms to the Assembly's rules. Cuomo himself advocated the Assembly change its rules, saying, "The rules of the state Assembly centralize power so that individual members are virtually powerless to move legislation. This is the Assembly's opportunity to enact a new, fair and open system."

Heastie offered a reform plan earlier in the day that included the creation of an office of ethics and compliance to provide members with guidance on adhering to ethics rules. He is on board with reform of the per diem system (which he has generously taken advantage of), working to cap legislators' outside income, and increasing disclosure requirements. Heastie also pledged not to accept any outside income himself. "I believe we must seize this opportunity for reform, and enact the type of lasting change that will make the Assembly more open, transparent and accountable to the voters. I look forward to working with my colleagues to develop and implement reforms like these, and others, so that the Assembly can regain the voters' trust and start a new chapter."

Heastie met with the Assembly's reform caucus earlier in the day but refused to comment about what transpired, telling reporters: "It wouldn't be a private conversation if I told you about it."

Press was actually forced out of a public area around where Heastie met with members later in the day, ensuring Heastie did not have to answer questions as he walked the halls.

Meanwhile, good government groups held a press conference criticizing Assembly members for choosing Silver's replacement in such an opaque manner. The Brennan Center for Justice, NYPIRG, Common Cause, and Citizens Union unveiled a series of reforms they said would allow the Assembly to operate in a more transparent and Democratic manner.

Some of the reforms overlap with Cuomo's plan, like disclosing all outside income, stricter oversight of lobbyists, and closing loopholes in the campaign finance law. Reformers also want to overhaul the legislative oversight commission, empower rank and file members to introduce and get votes on their own legislation, and distribute resources more equitably among members.

Dadey told reporters he felt the Assembly was missing an opportunity created by Silver's legal troubles by acting to replace him so quickly. "This would have been a great opportunity for the candidates in the Assembly to show a real sensitivity to the need for a public process, and they have failed," Dadey said.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

Denying Donor Influence, Heastie Reaps Rewards for Bill Sponsorship


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Assembly Member Carl Heastie (photo: AP/Mike Groll)


Examples from Assembly Speaker Front-Runner's Campaign Filings Underscore Views on Donor Influence

On July 7, 2011, Assembly Member Carl Heastie saw a staggering influx of campaign donations from pharmacies and drugs stores across New York City. Two hundred dollar donations flew in from Liberty Avenue Pharmacy in Brooklyn, Melrose Pharmacy on Courtland Avenue in the Bronx, Hana Pharmacy on Union Street in Flushing.

When all was said and done, the "Friends of Carl Heastie" campaign account had tallied a one-day total of $10,200 from 32 drug stores in what appears to have been a coordinated show of appreciation. What had Heastie done to deserve this flurry of pharmaceutical enthusiasm? Earlier in 2011 Heastie introduced and helped pass a piece of legislation that made the industry very happy.

Assembly Bill A05502B made it illegal for health insurance companies to mandate the insured use mail order pharmacies or charge the insured copays if they filled their prescriptions at local pharmacies. Insurers insisted that using mail order pharmacies would save them and consumers a substantial amount of money. Brick and mortar pharmacies worried they would lose significant business.

Heastie's bill wasn't particularly out of the ordinary except for the fact that despite being in the Legislature since 2000, Heastie has not been a particularly productive law-maker. He hasn't sponsored many bills, and has not had great attendance: he missed 174 votes - or about 15 percent - last year according to the New York Public Interest Research Group. Heastie is, of course, on the verge of becoming the new Speaker of the Assembly and thus of particular interest at this time.

Heastie has been especially tight with the pharmacy lobby despite not having any particular background in the field. The Pharmacy PAC of NY donated to Heastie four times in 2011 totalling $4,100. Since 2010, Pharmacy PAC has donated $9,000 to Heastie, including donations as recently as 2014, according to a review of campaign finance filings by Gotham Gazette. These numbers do not include the individual pharmacy donations from July, 2011 or on other dates throughout the years.

These workings are by no means atypical for Albany - an industry oftens finds a legislator who is willing to introduce their pet bills and continually rewards that legislator. The pattern is not necessarily illegal, though it may depend on communications between donors and lawmakers. But, it speaks to how Albany operates.

Now, as Heastie is set to take the Assembly speaker reigns from the disgraced Sheldon Silver, who was arrested on federal corruption charges in January, good government groups and some legislators are calling for major reforms to the system. Heastie has made promises to usher in reforms to how the Assembly runs, but not necessarily to how Albany's finances swirl. He has also made a pledge to make zero outside income if elected speaker - it was Silver using his position to rake in many millions that is at the root of his charges.

Reform advocates and sources connected to the now-defunct Moreland Commission on corruption in Albany point to Heastie as an example of how the state's current campaign finance system allows legislators to enrich themselves without doing anything illegal. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office has picked up on Moreland's investigations, though, which is in part what led to Silver's arrest.

City and State NY reported that Heastie was a target of the Moreland Commission because he racked up nonspecified charges on his campaign's credit card to the tune of $25,000. In a more recent report from Capital New York, this number appears to be about $60,000. Heastie also used his account for quite a few car repairs and to pay hundreds of dollars in parking tickets - the latter is not allowed by campaign finance rules. "All campaign expenditures were properly itemized and were within Board of Elections guidelines," Heastie's spokesperson, Eric Soufer, told The New York Times last week. On the parking tickets issue, Soufer said that "It was the committee's understanding that this was an allowable expense under existing law. However, if that is not the case, we will address the issue."

The state's lax campaign finance laws don't require legislators to disclose specifics of campaign spending of under $50. But Heastie's campaign spending is curious to some because he is known to be a "number cruncher" and graduated from college with a degree in mathematics and statistics. "This is a guy who is supposed the know the value of a clean ledger," said one legislator with concerns about Heastie who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Heastie's fundraising and use of campaign accounts is even more interesting when his views on campaign finance reform and the influence of money on politicians are taken into account.

In an interview with BronxTalk in September 2013 the notoriously press-adverse Heastie was asked about whether it was fair that candidates he was backing as chair of the Bronx County Democratic Committee had major financial support from PACs against candidates with meager means. "I guess that's a better question to ask the Supreme Court 'cause they're ones that ruled we can have these independent expenditure. It's difficult to say that people that want to express an opinion in an election should not be heard," Heastie told host Gary Axelbank, seemingly supporting the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that found campaign spending by corporations to be protected free speech.

Axelbank then inquired whether Heastie believes campaign donations make politicians bend to donors. "No, that's another one of problems I have," Heastie replied. "The press seems to do - and people running against elected officials say - they believe that because someone supports you or contributes to your campaign someone owns you or you've taken a bribe. I've received contributions from someone I disagreed with. Gotta start looking at individuals."

An astonished Axelbank replied, "Certainly money to campaigns buys influence. Who could deny it?"

To which Heastie replied "I'm never gonna admit to that."

Heastie isn't just in charge of his own campaign coffers, as head of the Bronx County Democratic Committee he also manages hefty donations that are then spread out to help County-endorsed candidates (Heastie has said that if elected speaker he will step down from this post).

In January of 2013 Heastie introduced legislation that would have allowed the check-cashing industry in the state to offer pay-day loans - which are banned in New York. The bill would have enabled check-cashing stores to offer short-term loans with up to 200 percent interest. The proposal was vehemently opposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and eventually killed by the Cuomo administration.

Opponents insisted the bill would have allowed taking advantage of the working poor, especially in districts like Heastie's in the Bronx.

Heastie received two donations totalling $1,500 in April and March of 2013 from Check PAC, the lobbying group representing check-cashing stores The County Committee received $5,000 from the group in July 2013. Both Heastie and the County Committee received other donations from the industry. Heastie's ally, Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein, who introduced an earlier version of the bill in the Senate, took in $50,000 from check-cashing donors from 2008 to 2013.

Axelbank asked Heastie about the controversy over the check cashing legislation in the September 2013 interview. Heastie insisted he had not been influenced by donations and said it was important to see that the industry gave money to legislators who did not support their legislation.

"They sponsored the county dinner which solded about 400,000 worth of other people," Heastie said. "That contribution was made to the county dinner, they did not contribute money to my personal campaign. If you look at newspaper reports it looked like they gave money to me," Heastie added, indicating some of the cause behind his distrust of the media.

Axelbank followed up asking Heastie: "Why didnt you oppose that bill?"

"I have an MBA in finance," said Heastie. "APR [Annual Percentage Rate] is not a fair measure of short term lending." Heastie insisted that the bill was an attempt to protect constituents who are "going online and getting taken advantage of by people in other states. You can't stop people going online," he said. Heastie added that the bill would have essentially regulated the pay-day loan industry in New York and helped consumers.

Ben Lawsky, Cuomo's Financial Services Superintendent, certainly did not agree with Heastie's rationale and said the bill would "roll back longstanding and effective consumer protections."

One issue worth watching should Heastie assume the speaker mantle is the legalization of mixed martial arts or "ultimate fighting" in the state. Silver was thought to be the one impediment to regulating the sport, which is banned, thanks to his ties to certain labor interests. Heastie has indicated he would be open to considering allowing the sport that some call "barbaric." Zuffa LLC, the company that owns The Ultimate Fighting Championship, has donated a total of $4,000 to Heastie and $5,000 to the Bronx Democratic Committee since 2012.

Other notable large donors to Heastie, since 2011, include the New Yorkers For Affordable Housing at $7,000, the Vote Cope PAC that represents teachers unions at $14,150, Law PAC of New York at $10,900, and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg at $4,100.

Bloomberg gave Heastie a lump sum of $4,100 on July 12, 2011. Heastie had carried Bloomberg's outer borough taxi bill in the Assembly.

Good government groups have heated up the push for major reforms to state ethics and the campaign finance system in the wake of Silver's arrest but it isn't clear if it actually behooves Heastie to deliver on it. He is set to meet with a group of reform-minded Assembly members.

"This system works for Carl. He is of this system," said one Assembly member from New York City who is concerned about Heastie's quick ascent to the speakership. "Why would he be interested in reforming it?"

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by David King; with some data analysis by Jon Reznick performed using FTMSQL2 by Competitive Advantage Research, LLC
@DavidHowardKing

Experts Preview De Blasio's 2015 State of the City Address


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Mayor de Blasio at a housing press conference (photo: @BilldeBlasio)


Unsurprisingly, Bill de Blasio began the meat of his first State of the City speech, given Feb. 10, 2014, by saying, "the truth is, the state of our city, as we find it today, is a Tale of Two Cities - with an inequality gap that fundamentally threatens our future."

As de Blasio readies to give his second State of the City address, now 13 months into his mayoralty, he'll surely focus on ways in which his young administration has worked to shrink that gap and make one city from two. There is a lot to say: de Blasio has spent the first year-plus of his tenure rolling out many policies and signing several new laws aimed at lifting up low-income New Yorkers, city residents living in the margins or the shadows, and putting into place a type of progressive governing paradigm the city has not seen in decades. A symbol: de Blasio had each of his commissioners include narrative about how they are working toward greater equity in New York City in their contributions to the annual Mayor's Management Report (MMR).

Despite a homelessness count that continues to rise, persistent unemployment in certain neighborhoods, too many failing schools, and a significant racial divide in how New Yorkers see both the police and the mayor, de Blasio does indeed preside over a flourishing, safer-than-ever city that he is taking in a starkly more progressive direction.

On Tuesday morning at Baruch College in Manhattan, de Blasio will give his 2015 assessment of the state of New York City. In his speech, he'll take New Yorkers through his administration's early accomplishments, he'll explain how he's making a more fair city by paying greater attention to those struggling to get by, and he'll lay out at least a few new initiatives. "I want to portray the achievements of 2014," de Blasio has said in planning his speech, "and how they will grow in 2015."

"The State of the City address is really important," said Dr. Christina Greer, a professor of political science at Fordham University. "Any time the executive addresses the public" is significant, she said, "it's not just about recalling the work of the last year, but to talk about what the mayor plans to do in the coming year." Greer said that de Blasio will have to give indication of his 2015 policy priorities, as evident in his budget, the presentation of which is just over the horizon.

Budget experts, though, don't necessarily see the mayor as able to announce new, bold, pricey plans. "Constrained is a good word," Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute said of how to describe the fiscal state of the city. According to Gelinas, the municipal labor contracts that de Blasio's team negotiated, led by the deal with the teachers union, "harm our ability to do big, new things, whether transit projects or an expansion of pre-K to even younger years."

Gelinas was certainly willing to give de Blasio credit for his pre-K rollout to date, and for the fact that 2014 saw record lows in murders and traffic fatalities. "He has a right to take credit on those things because if they were up he would be blamed," she said. But, Gelinas wants to see major transportation infrastructure projects, and the dedicated funding to go with them - only a portion of which would need to come from city coffers.

But before he gets to the path ahead, de Blasio will surely take pains to recount his successes and the policies put into motion that he's betting his mayoralty and the city's future on. The administration has been promoting a blog it launched to track its accomplishments and releasing preview videos. The administration has told the Daily News that de Blasio will unveil a plan to end homelessness among the city's military veterans and de Blasio is calling affordable housing the number one priority of the year ahead.

"If I was one of his advisors, I would advise him to begin by saying the state of the city is strong," said Ken Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. "After long periods of budgetary troubles, the city's in a good financial state. The economy is strong and the people are, by most measures, healthier, safer, better educated and, in some ways, wealthier than they've been in the past."

Sherrill, and other experts Gotham Gazette spoke with about the state of New York City ahead of de Blasio's speech, also expressed concerns, though. The city's education system is still functioning too poorly and inconsistently for many; the city is experiencing a stark racial divide; and affordability continues to hamper New Yorkers' quality of life.

"One of the major improvements has been that poor people finally have someone to listen to them," Greer said. De Blasio is not off to a perfect start, she said, "but if you ask any working class New Yorker, they'll tell you there's a marked change from the Bloomberg Era." De Blasio will almost certainly explain what he's done to improve the conditions of low- and middle-income New Yorkers. He'll likely explain that supporting and creating more opportunity for those living at the margins will continue to be his main focus.

Meanwhile, though, business is still booming in de Blasio's New York City, and the mayor may choose to highlight this fact. "The city economy is doing very well," said Kathy Wylde, President and CEO of Partnership for New York City. "There are more private sector jobs, lower unemployment, and general economic activity is high. We broke all records on tourism last year."

Wylde adds that the de Blasio administration has been responsive to business leaders' concerns and that she and other leaders in the business community are pleased to see de Blasio's recently begun push for a city business tax system that aligns with the State's. They want to see it pass as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget, and they are hopeful, she said. "The nature of these reforms makes New York attractive as the headquarter city for business."

Wylde also said that de Blasio has been strong on continued real estate development and that she has seen crucial work done by the administration in getting the City Council to adjust bills that could have an undue negative effect on business.

Several experts who spoke with Gotham Gazette pointed to the city's reliance on Albany and that de Blasio's speech may give some indication of what he is prioritizing in his 2015 dealings with the governor and state Legislature. De Blasio will testify in Albany on Feb. 25, but his State of the City could lay out his top priorities for state affairs: "housing, rent control and stabilization, education funding" were among the items mentioned by Gerald Benjamin of SUNY New Paltz. Gelinas mentioned transportation funding, and City Comptroller Scott Stringer has recently been addressing the need for the city to get it's fair share of funding from the capital.

On the state of the city, Stringer told Gotham Gazette that "Our economy has more private sector jobs than ever before; significant expansions of our transit network are coming online; and crime continues to reach all-time lows thanks to the efforts of the women and men of the NYPD. However, for all the good that is happening in the five boroughs, there are still far too many New Yorkers trapped in an affordability crunch as rents rise and wages fall."

"The challenge of this moment in New York's history," Stringer added, "is to commit to building an economy of shared prosperity for all." This is the message that the city's top elected officials - de Blasio, Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, and others - were elected on and have made a focus in their first year-plus in office.

On the economic opportunity front, de Blasio may in his speech recount policies around workforce development, support for small businesses, and, of course, universal pre-kindergarten. As Stringer notes, housing and wages are key elements of affordability, and de Blasio may reiterate a call for an even higher city minimum wage than Gov. Andrew Cuomo has recently called for (the governor's calling for an $11.50 per hour minimum in New York City by 2018). De Blasio will certainly discuss his administration's work on affordable housing, it is unclear how much he might touch upon the rent laws that must be addressed in Albany. Cuomo did not mention those laws in his State of the State speech on Jan. 21.

Meanwhile, there's no doubt the mayor will speak about crime rates and laud the NYPD. He'll talk in some way about bringing police and community closer together and most likely list some of the specific steps NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton is taking, such as a retraining program focused on officer-civilian interactions. De Blasio has already asserted that the conversation on these issues has had a bit of a reset as he's waited out the storm of anger from police union leaders and members of the NYPD that followed a series of events including the killing of two officers on Dec. 20.

"He'll have to address unity and reiterate that he's the mayor for all of New York," Greer said. She added that de Blasio will need to make it clear "that he's still working for the community that elected him, while giving a nod to members of the police department that he's there to work with them and for them."

***
by Ben Max, editor, Gotham Gazette. Samar Khurshid contributed reporting.
@tweetBenMax

Note: this article has been updated.

At Tax Credit Phone Bank, De Blasio Stresses Inequality Fight


Menin BdB EITC

Mayor Bill de Blasio and DCA Commissioner Julie Menin (photo: DCA, via Twitter)


"Every phone call you make is potentially changing the life of a family," said Mayor Bill de Blasio, addressing the city's first phone-a-thon to raise awareness about significant but overlooked tax refunds aimed at bolstering low-income earners.

Pink posters lined the crowded hall at the Fire Department building in downtown Brooklyn. The posters framed a simple question in Spanish, Chinese, and English: "What would you do with your refund?" Department of Consumer Affairs employees, dressed in maroon shirts with a pink #GotMyRefund decal, zig-zagged the tables that filled the room where at least 150 volunteers made thousands of calls to low- and medium-income New Yorkers to inform them about the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC.

Saturday's phone bank, which occurred simultaneously at a site in each of the five boroughs, signaled the start of a tax credit awareness campaign that will continue for the next three months and include outreach to thousands of New Yorkers who can benefit from the credit.

The mayor reiterated his central objective of fighting income inequality and said, "We cannot see so many of our fellow New Yorkers suffering economically. We have to find a way to reach each and every one. This is a very tangible and immediate way to do it."

The campaign, run by the Department of Consumer Affairs under Commissioner Julie Menin, aims to increase the number of people filing for EITC and using the City's tax prep services.

"We know EITC is one of the best ways to fight poverty so we're aggressively tackling it here in New York City," Menin told Gotham Gazette on Saturday afternoon. The phone banks would reach out to 100,000 people Saturday, she said, with an additional 250,000 automated calls going out by Wednesday.

"We need to make sure that for the next couple of months we continue to push this message out to make sure that people file for their tax refunds and also that they avail themselves of the free tax services that exist," she said.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams joined de Blasio and other elected officials, Menin, and many volunteers in making phone calls Saturday. Afterward, he issued a statement stressing the need for building awareness of EITC. "As the largest poverty reduction tax program in our country," he said, "and as a boost for our local economy, it is important that government educate every taxpayer about the EITC and make it possible for them to claim their benefits."

One of the volunteers, Bet Lopreste, 23, a writer and dancer, said the people she reached out to were surprised and curious about EITC, but even more so about the City's free-of-cost tax prep centers.

These services and refunds can be a boon for families. Sherwin Garcia, 31, an IT worker at Barclays filed his EITC last year through the City's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and received nearly $4,000. "Obviously you're not making enough money if you qualify for it. It helps pay off rent, credit card bills, and even creates some savings."

Although the EITC is a federal credit, New York State and even New York City offer their own versions of EITC. So for those who qualify, the benefits can reach up to $8,293 for a family with three children earning under about $52,000 a year and $670 for a single person without children earning under about $20,000. What's more, the EITC does not take away from other benefits such as the SNAP program (food stamps), Medicaid, or public housing assistance.

The phone-a-thon, just one day after Friday's Internal Revenue Service annual EITC Awareness Day, aims to increase filings in New York City by at least 50 percent. The value of refunds, according to official expectations, will be nearly $90 million and will put $135 million into the local economy.

For 27-year-old Jennifer Roman, a concierge at a condominium building, the EITC helped her pay off her student loans. The mayor called Roman up on stage as he spoke to the crowd. She received financial counseling last year at Urban Upbound, a non-profit in Queens and one of the city's financial empowerment centers, which helped her file her EITC, restructure her student debt, and repair her credit. She smiled as she said, "It's extremely great to know that the mayor is supporting us."

***
by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 2


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will again be largely dominated by doings in the New York State Assembly. Weather permitting, Assembly Democrats are set to conference, during which they may hear from presumptive next speaker Carl Heastie, of the Bronx. Disgraced long-time Speaker Sheldon Silver has submitted a resignation letter making his twenty-plus year run leading the body over as of 11:59 p.m. Monday night. While Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, of Rocheser, is due to become interim speaker until a Feb. 10 vote, Heastie has all but locked up the speakership on a more permanent basis. Morelle has said he is no longer in the running, as have other one-time "candidates," with only Queens Assembly Member Catherine Nolan remaining in the "race." Heastie has been making promises of reform to the body and its rules, and he has said that we will not make any outside income if elected speaker. There is said to be a push to have the vote before that Feb. 10 date, so stay tuned as things develop.

We're also watching these other top storylines heading into the week:

  • Dean Skelos investigation: There was a report by NBC-4 at the end of the week that Senate Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, is under investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara (whose work led to Silver's arrest on a variety of federal corruption charges). Skelos' office denied any investigation and nothing further has come of it thus far. Everyone is waiting for the next Albany shoe to drop as Bharara's office continues its investigations into Albany corruption.
  • Albany policy and budget: In close connection with all that is swirling and happening around corruption and changes in leadership in Albany is budget season, which began with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget presentation and State of the State speech on Jan. 21. Cuomo's agenda and budget have gotten far less attention than they might have if Silver had not been arrested the following day. Still, budget hearings will go on throughout February - including this week. Also look for the appearance of Mayor de Blasio and other city officials in Albany on Feb. 25.
    • The State Senate is also holding hearings on police and public safety, including one set for Wednesday in New York City. Cuomo included several criminal justice reforms in his proposals, there is likely to be quite a bit of negotiation around these issues in the coming months.
  • De Blasio's State of the City: The mayor will give his 2015 State of the City speech on Tuesday morning at Baruch College in Manhattan. He'll be touting New York City's hard left turn taken during his first year in office and the list of progressive policies put into place. De Blasio will be coming off a weekend that included another new initiative aimed at improving the lives of low-income New Yorkers: his administration's push to get more of those eligible to claim their Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) - read our report on the push and event, including de Blasio's participation, here.
    • We're watching to see not just what de Blasio brags of, but what new policy he unveils. Many will be carefully listening to how he discusses police-community relations, of course.
  • Pantaleo grand jury info: Arguments will be made on Thursday in the push, being led by Public Advocate Letitia James and others, to unseal more information from the grand jury case in which Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo was not indicted in the death of Eric Garner.
    • We're also waiting to see when there might be word on the NYPD's internal investigation of Garner's death and the conduct of the officers involved as well as the federal inquiry into the incident.
  • DNC 2016 - NYC?: Could the Democratic National Committee's decision about which city will host the 2016 convention come down this week? It's possible. New York City, with the main site as the Barclays Center, is one of three finalists.

Also, it is Black History Month. Expect many events in celebration as February gets going. Obviously, with so much discussion around race and policing and criminal justice writ large, many discussions will be especially concrete and relevant to current events in New York and elsewhere. And, as always, this week 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 details.

***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
New York City will be sloshing through some more bad weather on Monday, so be aware that everything listed here is subject to cancellation/posteponement. We've already been getting notice of some. As of Sunday afternoon, schools are open in New York City on Monday, but alternate side parking and garbage collection are suspended.

Monday is Groundhog Day. Mayor de Blasio will attend the annual celebration at the Staten Island Zoo, but this year he won't be handling the groundhog. Here's why. But, expect the mayor to have a big smile on his face - he's a Patriots fan (and they won the Super Bowl Sunday night).

The Groundhog Day event is the only public one on the mayor's public schedule for Monday. The same goes for Public Advocate Letitia James.

Meanwhile, de Blasio's wife, Chirlane McCray also has one Monday event on her public schedule: "First Lady Chirlane McCray will give brief remarks at the New York State Health Foundation's launch of the Healthy Neighborhoods Fund, a new $2-million push that will help low-income neighborhoods become healthier, more active places for residents of all ages."

Comptroller Scott Stringer begins his week with an early, 6:40 a.m. appearance on Morning Joe on MSNBC.

As we mentioned, Sheldon Silver's resignation as Speaker of the New York State Assembly will become official at 11:59 p.m. Monday. He is to remain an Assembly member moving forward, as he faces corruption charges on which he was arrested two weeks ago. Carl Heastie is widely expected to be the next speaker after a brief interim period with Joseph Morelle in the role.

At noon on Monday at the state capitol building, good government groups are set to call for major reforms in Albany: "for ethics and rules changes as Assembly picks new speaker." They argue that "lawmakers should seize opportunity for meaningful reform to restore public's faith in state government." Speakers will include "Denora Getachew, Brennan Center for Justice, Dick Dadey, Citizens Union, Susan Lerner, Common Cause NY, Blair Horner, NYPIRG...Reform advocates will identify specific proposals by which the State Assembly can seize this historic opportunity to fight corruption and create a more transparent, participatory and publicly deliberative process, and be available for comment on the selection process for a new Assembly Speaker."

On Monday at 11 a.m., according to the city Department of Consumer Affairs, "all three levels of government (federal, state and local), including NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Julie Menin and representatives from the Office of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), NYS Department of Taxation and Finance will kick off the tax season at a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site operated by Food Bank For New York City at Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, which offers numerous support services including financial counseling, debt management and financial literacy workshops, and is one of nearly 200 free tax sites in the City's expanded network. Representatives will encourage eligible New Yorkers to file their taxes for free and claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), as well as raise awareness of other financial empowerment resources available to low and moderate income families and individuals in New York City." Learn more about the EITC and the city's efforts to promote it here.

Monday's City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises to discuss land use applications; a meeting of the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses to review Land Use Applications; and a meeting of the Committee on Education for an oversight hearing regarding "The Indirect Employment System for School Building Maintenance and its Effect on Workers."

The state Senate Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Capital Investment will meet jointly with the Senate Standing Committee on Transportation: "Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Budget and Finances: To examine the changes necessary to prevent annual operating deficits and stop the continuing cycle of increased fares and decreased services."

Manhatttan Borough President Gale Brewer, members of the New York City Council and New York Public Library President Tony Marx "will host an IDNYC press conference and town hall" at the midtown Public Library "to answer questions about the program, hear from constituents, and encourage New Yorkers across the borough to apply for a New York City Identification Card."

On Monday evening, Pace University will host NYPD Commissioner William Bratton for "A Conversation with the New York City's Top Cop." The Commissioner will address issues of crime, terrorism and other challenges facing "the city that never sleeps...In this candid interview and Q&A, learn how Commissioner Bratton leads America's largest police department, his predictions for the future of New York City, and how he succeeds in the ultimate high–profile job, where he's never off the clock."

Also Monday evening, Manhattan BP Brewer and civil rights attorney Norman Siegel host a forum in northern Manhattan bringing together members of the community, law enforcement, clergy, and nonprofit leaders to develop proposals for improving police-community relations. The event will feature opening remarks by NYPD Chief of Department James P. O'Neill. "This event's small-group discussion format will generate a raft of qualitative data, suggestions, and ideas from members of the community and law enforcement. In collaboration with the Borough President's office, Mr. Siegel will participate in the production of a report with policy recommendations grounded in the findings of these discussion groups."

On Monday evening a coalition of community based organizations, labor unions, tenant associations, legal support and political clubs, "Real Rent Reform," will host an event in Washington Heights: "2015 Year of the Tenant - We Demand Fair Housing Laws and Rent Freeze."

Moral Mondays comes to New York City: "There is an overwhelming amount of injustice in our society, from income inequality to racial disparity to climate inaction. Our elected officials continue to prioritize personal profit over people and planet. On January 21st, Governor Cuomo delivered his State of the State and Executive Budget Proposal in Albany, and it unfortunately does little to address these concerns. On Monday February 2, the people will respond, evaluating the Governor's plans within the framework of morality and the common good. Together, we'll call for equitable education funding, living wages, fair taxation and corporate accountability, and more."

Tuesday
Tuesday at noon, the Bronx Republican Party in collaboration with other organizations, will show support for the NYPD at an "NYPD Respect Rally," on the steps of the Bronx County Courthouse.

Former New York gubernatorial candidate and Associate Professor of Law at Fordham University Zephyr Teachout will headline the City Bar Public Affairs Luncheon on Tuesday afternoon, where she will speak to her recently published book "Corruption in America," as well as address current issues in New York state.

On Tuesday afternoon, Hostos Community College will host a community forum on New York's Medical Marijuana Reform. Co-sponsored by City Council Member Corey Johnson, chair of the Council health committee. "On January 1st, the Department of Health published draft regulations for the sale, production and distribution of medicinal marijuana in New York state as per the Compassionate Care Act. How will the new program work? Who will have access? Will there be a dispensary in my neighborhood? What will it cost? Come get your questions answered and make your voice heard."

Tuesday evening, there will be a tote bag giveaway event in the Bronx with City Council Member Andy King and CEO of Citizens Committee of New York Peter Kostmayer; Co-op City. "The City Council's Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management is reviewing proposed legislation to reduce plastic bag waste in New York City. Under Bill 209-2014, New York City stores would implement a minimum 10 cent charge for every single-use bag (paper or plastic). Store owners retain the charge. Customers who bring their own bags will not be charged. Council Member King, who is a member of the committee, will informally poll commuters' response to the bill during the bag giveaway."

Tuesday evening will see the "February 2015 NY Tech Meetup" in Manhattan - "Join fellow technologists for an evening of live demos from companies developing great technology in New York."

"About 200 people are expected to attend an informational meeting on President Barack Obama's immigration reforms on Tuesday night at PS 20, in Port Richmond," Staten Island, according to the SI Advance. "City agencies, not-for-profits and legal providers will be sponsoring the free, large-scale meeting from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. for those looking to learn about new immigration policies like the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. New York City officials will also share information about the new municipal ID. Attendees will also have access to legal assistance and connections to a range of additional immigrant benefits."

Also Tuesday evening: "Local Climate Action in the Age of Big Fossil" is being hosted by Greater NYC for Change and partner organizations in Manhattan. "We're bringing together activists, private sector interests, and representatives of city government to join forces on this challenge. This is a fantastic opportunity for activists to learn how to advance the cause!" Panelists will include "Larry Schimmel, General Counsel for Investment and Operations at the NYC Public Advocate Letitia James' office, who will discuss government's role in divestment, and what municipal, state, and federal governments are discussing around environmental legislation" and "Beth Newcomer Legislative Analyst for NYC Council Member Helen Rosenthal (District 6, Upper West Side), who will discuss the Council Member's leadership on divestment," among others. "Sponsored by Greater NYC for Change with 350NYC, Manhattan Young Democrats, United for Action, and Village Independent Democrats."

Wednesday
"Everything You Need to Know: the Sheldon Silver Case" will be Wednesday, mid-day at Columbia Law School. "[The Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity] Executive Director Jennifer Rodgers will join CLS professors Richard Briffault and Daniel Richman to answer questions about the stunning arrest of long-time New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The event will focus on the details of the criminal complaint, and what the charges say about the culture of corruption in Albany."

Wednesday's City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Higher Education to discuss a new bill relating to "Information and city services to reduce college sexual assault"; a meeting of the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections consider the designation of the following persons to the following mayoral nominations: Wellington Chen, as a member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission; Kim Vauss, as a member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission; and Hank Willis Thomas, as the painter member of the New York City Art Commission, known as Public Design Commission; a meeting of the Land Use Committee to "consider all items reported out of the Subcommittees at the meetings held on Monday, February 2, 2015, and conduct such other business as may be necessary."

The state Senate Standing Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction will meet jointly with the Senate Standing Committee on Civil Service and Pensions; the Senate Standing Committee on Investigations and Government Operations; and the Senate Standing Committee on Codes to examine "police safety and public protection in New York City."

On Wednesday evening, there will be an IDNYC town hall/community meeting in Queens.

Wednesday evening, City Council Member Helen Rosenthal will host her monthly Housing Clinic. This month's meeting will focus on "city-wide housing related campaigns" and "as always" will feature an appearance from "staff attorneys from the Urban Justice Center for people seeking specific legal advice."

"Digital.NYC Five-Borough Tour: #LowerManhattan" will be Wednesday evening: "This is Digital.NYC's inaugural Five-Borough Tour event! #DigitalNYC #LowerManhattan...Come hear from NYC's Tech Game Changers about how NYC's tech ecosystem is changing and what's on the horizon." Panelists will include: Colin O'Donell: Founding Partner, Control Group, LinkNYC; Aaron Holiday: Managing Entrepreneurial Officer, Cornell Tech; Lori Anne Wardi: Vice President, .NYC; Kyle Kimball: President, NYCEDC; David S. Rose: Founder & CEO, Digital.NYC, Gust
Sandy Carter: General Manager Cloud Ecosystem Development and Entrepreneurship, IBM; with moderator: Matthew Flamm, Senior Reporter, Crain's NY.

The New Leaders Council (NLC) is having a new year event in Manhattan. Several elected officials including new Bronx Assembly Member Michael Blake are likely to stop by.

Thursday
Parties are scheduled to return to court on Thursday in the push to see more documents in the Eric Garner/Daniel Pantaleo grand jury. From Public Advocate Letitia James' office: "On Wednesday, January 28, 2015, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James was joined at the offices of Legal Services NY by attorneys representing the Public Advocate's office as well as the Legal Aid Society and the New York Civil Liberties Union to discuss legal efforts to unseal the grand jury proceedings related to the death of Eric Garner on July 17, 2014. The Public Advocate has argued that there is no logical reason to maintain grand jury secrecy as the video tape that shows the circumstances of Mr. Garner's death has been made public, and the identities of those involved are not hidden. The Garner family has additionally joined the co-petitioners in asking the court to unseal the grand jury proceedings...Oral arguments for the special proceeding were originally scheduled for January 29th, but have been postponed until Thursday, February 5, 2015 in Staten Island."

Friday and the weekend
Bronx Community Board application deadline is February 6th (those for Brooklyn and Manhattan have passed).

On Friday, The General Contractors Association of New York presents "The Road to Investment: A Conversation on the NYS Department of Transportation Capital Program." The program begins with the "8:30 a.m. Keynote Address from NYS Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald" followed by a panel including "Mitchell Moss, Professor of Urban Policy and Planning and Director of the Rudin Center for Transportation, New York University, the Honorable Daniel Garodnick, New York Council Member, John Cortlett, Legislative Committee Chairman, AAA New York."

Queens Community Board application deadline is Saturday.

City Council Member Ben Kallos will give his State of the District address in Manhattan on Sunday afternoon. "A new year brings new hope, opportunity for growth, and the optimism that the next year will improve upon the last. Thank you for an incredible past year, and here's to an even better 2015 as we build on the progress already made. Please join me as I report to you on the "State of the District" on February 8, 2015."

On Sunday afternoon, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer will host a State of the Borough event at Columbia University: "With her first State of the Borough event for the public, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer is forgoing the traditional address format to instead hold an interactive community conversation on residents' most pressing concerns and the initiatives the MBPO is working on to address them...Borough President Brewer will welcome to the stage four Manhattan thought leaders to talk candidly about affordable housing, education, technology, development in the borough, police-community relations, and other issues topping her constituents' lists of concerns. Audience members will be invited to live-Tweet questions and comments for all to see onstage—feedback that the speakers will explore in their conversation." Read from our series on the borough presidents here.

***
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 and Ben Max
@GothamGazette



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