Quantcast

Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union

Why Albany Matters in NYC Tech Policy


New York State has been ranked third among all "cyberstates" by the American Electronics Association, which considered home computer and Internet use, tech wages, research and development, and other factors. But that may say more about how poorly the other states are doing. The truth is, New York is way behind where it could be -- and where it needs to be.

Yes, there are signs of life in the state's policies. Currently, there are almost 300 bills in the New York State Legislature dealing with technology, telecommunications, cable or energy. Look at the New York State bill search, and you will see bills to provide technology grants for schools, to assist new high-technology business start-ups, to create programs for the use of high-tech maps, to fund research and development, and to set energy policy.

But there is much more that could be done.

Education

Few people in the know see technology as a replacement for teachers in the classroom; rather, they understand it as an aid to teachers. For example, information technology could be used to match teachers with schools to speed up the hiring process, and to assess the progress of individual students, or even to tutor students who are falling behind. Legislation has been proposed to increase funding for technology in the schools. Naomi Matusow, who is the chair of the Assembly Committee on Libraries and Information Technology, supports the creation of the New York Virtual Electronic Library -- NOVEL -- a "library without walls" for New Yorkers which would help to make accessible a whole range of information for students.

Home Computer and Internet Use

Despite New York State's high ranking as a cyberstate, less than 55 percent of the population logs on from home, which places the state 33rd in home computer and Internet use in relation to other states. New York's poor areas are especially lagging.

The issue is not that everyone should have Internet access from their homes. Rather, community technology centers, libraries, schools, churches and other gathering places could be used for group access. State policies and grants encouraging the development of such centers in poor areas of the city would be a great benefit in making New York truly wired.

High-Speed Internet Access

High-speed Internet access, or "broadband" as it is commonly known, is vital to the increased use of computers and the Internet for business, education, health, government, entertainment and personal communications. Broadband can be provided either by a telecom company such as Verizon, a cable company such as Time Warner Cable or an Internet service provider such as Earthlink.

But, there are still relatively few home users of broadband services. Only approximately one person in ten has high-speed access nationwide. While many New Yorkers may have at work, they may not be getting its full-benefits due to their limited ability to use it for their own education, entertainment or personal communications while at work. Studies show that broadband users go online many, many more times per day than slower dial-up Internet users. Thus, increased broadband access would result in growth in a number of online services.

But, broadband infrastructure is extremely expensive and telecommunications companies are hesitant to shoulder all of the costs without government subsidies or guarantees that they will recapture their investments. In addition, concerns about stealing digital content such as music or movies (think Napster) have arisen due to the lack of technological 'locks' on their property that prevent copying and enforceable laws that prevent stealing on the Internet. This has hampered the growth and distribution of digital content. Thus, access to broadband has not been widespread. However, the State could help to promote increased broadband access in New York City's community technology centers, libraries, schools, and non-governmental organizations. This is an area in which the New York Public Service Commission could assist in promoting competition among broadband providers which would lower the cost of access. With a greater number of New Yorker's using broadband, the city will be able to offer advanced government services online in areas such as health and education.

Economic Development: Research & Development Hubs

Despite stories about the dot.com bust, information technology is still a leading sector for growth in New York City. The state's efforts have been extremely positive in promoting information technology investment in New York State. In fact, recently, the Albany area was chosen as a new research and development hub for computer chips by twelve domestic and international technology companies. While the project is aimed at promoting job growth upstate, it is likely to draw business to New York City in traditional areas of strength such as finance, law, and advertising as new companies come to do business in the State.

This new hub is based on the Silicon Valley model of partnerships between university research centers and private sector manufacturing centers. New York City's universities and surrounding technology companies could also become an important research and development hub for new emerging technologies. State efforts are vital in identifying what kind of research and development hub could be successful in the unique setting New York City provides.

New York City's current high-tech economic development zones have resulted in lower than expected results in part due to the heavy blows of the dot.com crisis and the attacks of September 11. State development of these zones might help to transition the fully-wired office spaces into community technology centers, office space for government employees without adequate access to technology or other facilities that might benefit the public as a whole.

Laura Forlano is a doctoral student studying communication technology policy at Columbia University.

 

 

Why Albany Matters in NYC Tech Policy


New York State has been ranked third among all "cyberstates" by the American Electronics Association, which considered home computer and Internet use, tech wages, research and development, and other factors. But that may say more about how poorly the other states are doing. The truth is, New York is way behind where it could be -- and where it needs to be.

Yes, there are signs of life in the state's policies. Currently, there are almost 300 bills in the New York State Legislature dealing with technology, telecommunications, cable or energy. Look at the New York State bill search, and you will see bills to provide technology grants for schools, to assist new high-technology business start-ups, to create programs for the use of high-tech maps, to fund research and development, and to set energy policy.

But there is much more that could be done.

Education

Few people in the know see technology as a replacement for teachers in the classroom; rather, they understand it as an aid to teachers. For example, information technology could be used to match teachers with schools to speed up the hiring process, and to assess the progress of individual students, or even to tutor students who are falling behind. Legislation has been proposed to increase funding for technology in the schools. Naomi Matusow, who is the chair of the Assembly Committee on Libraries and Information Technology, supports the creation of the New York Virtual Electronic Library -- NOVEL -- a "library without walls" for New Yorkers which would help to make accessible a whole range of information for students.

Home Computer and Internet Use

Despite New York State's high ranking as a cyberstate, less than 55 percent of the population logs on from home, which places the state 33rd in home computer and Internet use in relation to other states. New York's poor areas are especially lagging.

The issue is not that everyone should have Internet access from their homes. Rather, community technology centers, libraries, schools, churches and other gathering places could be used for group access. State policies and grants encouraging the development of such centers in poor areas of the city would be a great benefit in making New York truly wired.

High-Speed Internet Access

High-speed Internet access, or "broadband" as it is commonly known, is vital to the increased use of computers and the Internet for business, education, health, government, entertainment and personal communications. Broadband can be provided either by a telecom company such as Verizon, a cable company such as Time Warner Cable or an Internet service provider such as Earthlink.

But, there are still relatively few home users of broadband services. Only approximately one person in ten has high-speed access nationwide. While many New Yorkers may have at work, they may not be getting its full-benefits due to their limited ability to use it for their own education, entertainment or personal communications while at work. Studies show that broadband users go online many, many more times per day than slower dial-up Internet users. Thus, increased broadband access would result in growth in a number of online services.

But, broadband infrastructure is extremely expensive and telecommunications companies are hesitant to shoulder all of the costs without government subsidies or guarantees that they will recapture their investments. In addition, concerns about stealing digital content such as music or movies (think Napster) have arisen due to the lack of technological 'locks' on their property that prevent copying and enforceable laws that prevent stealing on the Internet. This has hampered the growth and distribution of digital content. Thus, access to broadband has not been widespread. However, the State could help to promote increased broadband access in New York City's community technology centers, libraries, schools, and non-governmental organizations. This is an area in which the New York Public Service Commission could assist in promoting competition among broadband providers which would lower the cost of access. With a greater number of New Yorker's using broadband, the city will be able to offer advanced government services online in areas such as health and education.

Economic Development: Research & Development Hubs

Despite stories about the dot.com bust, information technology is still a leading sector for growth in New York City. The state's efforts have been extremely positive in promoting information technology investment in New York State. In fact, recently, the Albany area was chosen as a new research and development hub for computer chips by twelve domestic and international technology companies. While the project is aimed at promoting job growth upstate, it is likely to draw business to New York City in traditional areas of strength such as finance, law, and advertising as new companies come to do business in the State.

This new hub is based on the Silicon Valley model of partnerships between university research centers and private sector manufacturing centers. New York City's universities and surrounding technology companies could also become an important research and development hub for new emerging technologies. State efforts are vital in identifying what kind of research and development hub could be successful in the unique setting New York City provides.

New York City's current high-tech economic development zones have resulted in lower than expected results in part due to the heavy blows of the dot.com crisis and the attacks of September 11. State development of these zones might help to transition the fully-wired office spaces into community technology centers, office space for government employees without adequate access to technology or other facilities that might benefit the public as a whole.

Laura Forlano is a doctoral student studying communication technology policy at Columbia University.

 

 

The Latest on 311, Pay Phone Rate Rollback, Camera Surveillance, Hi-tech


This year, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications will receive a $7.7 million budget increase, making it the only city agency to escape severe cuts, according to the New York Times. The money will be used in part to implement the 311 centralized call system which will enable one number to be used for all complaints and questions to city agencies.

The 311 system, which is expected to cost $50 million, is supposed to make the city's call centers more efficient and increase the quality of services offered. For example, the new system will include a line with 150 languages. While other city agencies are suffering as a result of cuts, the increased spending on technology aims to benefit all agencies by leveraging resources and making them more autonomous. Bloomberg's close relationship with Commissioner Gino Menchini of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, and his career as the head of a high-tech company, drive his strong belief in the benefit of technology for New York City.

Pay Phone Rate Rollback

After increasing pay phone rates to 50 cents in March, Verizon is switching back 14,000 phones on sidewalks and in subway stations to 25 cents. While the 50 cent calls were unlimited in length, Verizon found that customers in New York rarely use pay phones for more than 2.5 minutes. Thus, the increased minutes were not an incentive to use the phones. However, pay phones in hotels and airports will remain at the higher rate. Verizon's decision stems from pressure by 80 other pay phone companies and the increasing use of cell phones.

Internet For The Elderly

This month the Tenantspin channel offered elderly community groups the opportunity to broadcast their own TV show for four days at the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Elderly groups from the Lincoln Square Neighborhood and Henry Street Settlement discussed their ideas. Watch their shows at the SuperChannel Archive.

Security Cameras

Last month, the New York Times reported that the National Park Service began using surveillance cameras with face recognition technology to photograph visitors entering the Statue of Liberty. The pictures are then compared to a database of terror suspects. The increased security was motivated by the warning of a potential attack on the national landmark. Security cameras are becoming more and more pervasive in New York as a result of the attacks of 9-11.

Privacy advocates such as the New York Civil Liberties Union strongly oppose the use of surveillance cameras because they fear it will lead to a lack of privacy. This month, the New Museum of Contemporary Art is featuring an exhibition called Open Source Art Hack which includes walking tours of surveillance cameras in Soho. Similarly, the Electronic Privacy Information Center conducted a postcard campaign in Washington, DC earlier this year using striking images to illustrate the increased using of surveillance cameras. For more information, see Observing Surveillance.

New Diesel Generators In Chelsea

Con Edison reportedly plans to install eight diesel generators in Chelsea in order to prevent potential power failures this summer. The 40-foot long units will provide enough additional power to plug-in 400 homes for an entire year. But, the neighborhood block association and community board are concerned about noise problems, particle emissions and electrical hazards. High increases in energy consumption in Chelsea are cited as the reasons for the additional generators.

Hi-Tech Maps And Community Boards

Last month, I introduced hi-tech maps and their importance in the clean-up and recovery efforts following 9-11. But they have everyday implications as well, for community boards.

In the past eight years, hi-tech maps, or graphical information systems, have become increasingly important in understanding and communicating information about cities. These maps can link information about heath epidemics such as the West Nile virus, crime outbreaks, rat problems or traffic congestion to the basemap of New York City. This map, developed by the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), commonly called NYCmap (pronounced: nice map), is the Velcro to which up to 500 layers of information, stored in databases, can be attached.

For examples of how these layers can be linked with maps, see the images produced the Community Mapping Assistance Project (CMAP) at the Gotham Gazette Map Archive.

"Graphical Information Systems enables the data to dance," says Al Leidner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. These maps can give answers to complicated questions involved in land use, economic development and public health planning.

Currently, community boards must wrestle with a pile of different paper maps in order to make decisions that affect their neighborhoods. With hi-tech maps, the answer to a question about the number of elementary schools within walking distance to public transportation routes but not near liquor stores could be retrieved almost instantly.

"Limited access to information communication technology has kept [community] boards from fulfilling the role envisioned by the City Charter," Tom Lowenhaupt of Queens Community Board 3 said at the Municipal Art Society on June 13. One organization that is providing free technology training to community groups is the Citizens Committee for New York City.

Community board budgets are usually only around $200,000 and their board members are volunteers, so funds for high-end map software applications are clearly unavailable However, less expensive software such as Microsoft's MapPoint, which costs about $200, can be used to get some of the same functionality.

Still, while the programs have become easier to use in recent years, they require training. To this end, the Municipal Art Society is starting a graphical information systems (GIS) training session for community leaders.

Due to security risks, NYCmap cannot be provided to the general public. However, some examples of hi-tech maps that are available to the public include NYPIRG's OASIS map of open spaces and DoITT's soon-to-go-public MyNeighborhood map, which will include eight layers of information about individual communities.

This year, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications will receive a $7.7 million budget increase, making it the only city agency to escape severe cuts, according to the New York Times. The money will be used in part to implement the 311 centralized call system which will enable one number to be used for all complaints and questions to city agencies.

The 311 system, which is expected to cost $50 million, is supposed to make the city's call centers more efficient and increase the quality of services offered. For example, the new system will include a line with 150 languages. While other city agencies are suffering as a result of cuts, the increased spending on technology aims to benefit all agencies by leveraging resources and making them more autonomous. Bloomberg's close relationship with Commissioner Gino Menchini of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, and his career as the head of a high-tech company, drive his strong belief in the benefit of technology for New York City.

Pay Phone Rate Rollback

After increasing pay phone rates to 50 cents in March, Verizon is switching back 14,000 phones on sidewalks and in subway stations to 25 cents. While the 50 cent calls were unlimited in length, Verizon found that customers in New York rarely use pay phones for more than 2.5 minutes. Thus, the increased minutes were not an incentive to use the phones. However, pay phones in hotels and airports will remain at the higher rate. Verizon's decision stems from pressure by 80 other pay phone companies and the increasing use of cell phones.

Internet For The Elderly

This month the Tenantspin channel offered elderly community groups the opportunity to broadcast their own TV show for four days at the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Elderly groups from the Lincoln Square Neighborhood and Henry Street Settlement discussed their ideas. Watch their shows at the SuperChannel Archive.

Security Cameras

Last month, the New York Times reported that the National Park Service began using surveillance cameras with face recognition technology to photograph visitors entering the Statue of Liberty. The pictures are then compared to a database of terror suspects. The increased security was motivated by the warning of a potential attack on the national landmark. Security cameras are becoming more and more pervasive in New York as a result of the attacks of 9-11.

Privacy advocates such as the New York Civil Liberties Union strongly oppose the use of surveillance cameras because they fear it will lead to a lack of privacy. This month, the New Museum of Contemporary Art is featuring an exhibition called Open Source Art Hack which includes walking tours of surveillance cameras in Soho. Similarly, the Electronic Privacy Information Center conducted a postcard campaign in Washington, DC earlier this year using striking images to illustrate the increased using of surveillance cameras. For more information, see Observing Surveillance.

New Diesel Generators In Chelsea

Con Edison reportedly plans to install eight diesel generators in Chelsea in order to prevent potential power failures this summer. The 40-foot long units will provide enough additional power to plug-in 400 homes for an entire year. But, the neighborhood block association and community board are concerned about noise problems, particle emissions and electrical hazards. High increases in energy consumption in Chelsea are cited as the reasons for the additional generators.

Hi-Tech Maps And Community Boards

Last month, I introduced hi-tech maps and their importance in the clean-up and recovery efforts following 9-11. But they have everyday implications as well, for community boards.

In the past eight years, hi-tech maps, or graphical information systems, have become increasingly important in understanding and communicating information about cities. These maps can link information about heath epidemics such as the West Nile virus, crime outbreaks, rat problems or traffic congestion to the basemap of New York City. This map, developed by the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), commonly called NYCmap (pronounced: nice map), is the Velcro to which up to 500 layers of information, stored in databases, can be attached.

For examples of how these layers can be linked with maps, see the images produced the Community Mapping Assistance Project (CMAP) at the Gotham Gazette Map Archive.

"Graphical Information Systems enables the data to dance," says Al Leidner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. These maps can give answers to complicated questions involved in land use, economic development and public health planning.

Currently, community boards must wrestle with a pile of different paper maps in order to make decisions that affect their neighborhoods. With hi-tech maps, the answer to a question about the number of elementary schools within walking distance to public transportation routes but not near liquor stores could be retrieved almost instantly.

"Limited access to information communication technology has kept [community] boards from fulfilling the role envisioned by the City Charter," Tom Lowenhaupt of Queens Community Board 3 said at the Municipal Art Society on June 13. One organization that is providing free technology training to community groups is the Citizens Committee for New York City.

Community board budgets are usually only around $200,000 and their board members are volunteers, so funds for high-end map software applications are clearly unavailable However, less expensive software such as Microsoft's MapPoint, which costs about $200, can be used to get some of the same functionality.

Still, while the programs have become easier to use in recent years, they require training. To this end, the Municipal Art Society is starting a graphical information systems (GIS) training session for community leaders.

Due to security risks, NYCmap cannot be provided to the general public. However, some examples of hi-tech maps that are available to the public include NYPIRG's OASIS map of open spaces and DoITT's soon-to-go-public MyNeighborhood map, which will include eight layers of information about individual communities.

Laura Forlano is a doctoral student studying communication technology policy at Columbia University.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No To Nonpartisan Elections


Early in June, the mayor proposed a major change in the way the city holds elections. Under the mayor's plan, the city would scrap the current system of primary elections to determine party nominations, followed by a general election. Instead, the city would hold a non-partisan election, with all candidates running together and no party identification on the ballot.

This is not a new idea; many people have proposed making New York's citywide elections non-partisan. Some of the arguments in favor of the idea include: party politics don't work in a municipal setting, party machines wield too much power, too few people have access to the election process, the party primaries are often raucous and ugly.

That last part is, by the way, entirely true.

The proposal's first opponents out of the gate are Democratic party leaders. This is understandable, given they are leaders of the party that enjoys a six-to-one registration advantage in the city.

The current mayor is a Republican, although he switched parties right before the campaign in order to avoid a crowded Democratic primary field. But it is not nearly as simple as saying that Democrats are against this idea and Republicans are in favor of it.

This is a complex issue, and the arguments offered as evidence of why we should change the current system can just as easily be used to defend it.

So one Republican, at least, will go on record as saying this is a bad idea, and here's why:

Argument #1: Partisan politics are inappropriate in a municipal setting. People don't really like partisan politics much anymore. Even the word partisan has a pejorative feel. Bi-partisan, non-partisan, these are good things, or at least better things, most people would agree. And they would say that having a party affiliation (much less a loyalty to a particular party) is considered passe, naive, unenlightened. These days, being politically independent is the "new black," and political moderation is the new vogue.

The truth is, partisan politics are a good thing. Parties force candidates to make choices, to take stands, to make commitments to groups of people with long collective memories and high collective standards. It is a form of public accountability, and it provides discipline, continuity, and posterity to public service.

Whether it is at the national, state, or local level, party politics is a systematic way of making choices on behalf of a larger group of people. In a democracy, it is essential that everyone feel as though he is represented, whether or not he ever serves in public office. The party system gives voters a chance to affiliate themselves with a cause; and that cause, whether it is collective bargaining or education spending or land use planning, is bigger than any candidate could ever possibly be.

People love to say, "I don't vote for the party, I vote for the candidate." But that's not really true. You don't vote for the candidate, or at least not just for the candidate. You vote for her, but also for her ideas and her contributors and what she studied in school and where she worked and her family and friends and worldview and philosophy and reasoning ability and opinions and perspectives and hopes and dreams. A candidate is never just a person, he or she is a package deal, and party affiliation is just one part of that package. But at least with a candidate's party affiliation, you know what you are getting up front.

Argument #2: Not enough people participate in party primaries. It is true that not many people vote in party primaries. These are the elections held to determine who will become the party nominee and run in the general election. In New York, under state law, anyone who is registered with a party can participate in that party's primary. The fact is most people choose not to.

The downside is obvious, fewer people participating in the process. But the upside is, those who vote in local party primaries are also the most active, involved, and well-informed of any pool of voters during any election at any level. Party primaries involve smaller numbers of voters with a higher interest in who will represent them. These are the voters who attend debates, read position papers, and follow the campaign with enthusiasm and intensity.

Not everyone may like the results of a particular primary election, but even detractors must admit that it is a decision made by those who are paying the most attention.

And political primaries are open to anyone who is paying attention. Po litical parties aren't exclusive, exclusionary organizations; they want more new members all the time. They are constantly trying to register new voters to add to their ranks. Parties thrive when more and more people belong.

Political primaries are already open to anyone who wants to participate. There's no reason to think that drastically changing the system will suddenly increase the level of interest necessary to get people to turn out on Election Day.

Argument #3: Parties wield too much power. Candidates of every kind get elected, essentially, by answering the question, "What would you do differently, or better, or more of once elected?" The answer to that question is a candidate's promise, the campaign platform.

Whether or not a candidate fulfills her campaign platform is going to depend on whether those pledges can be enforced. It's true, the looming threat of the next election can be pretty persuasive to a public official, but even more than that, the political party has a way of forcing those in its ranks to stick to the plan. Political parties have a long-term agenda, and they have to look beyond the next election in order to survive. They have a legacy to preserve, and a reputation to protect. They have an interest in making sure those in their party do what they say they'll do once elected

Political parties have influence, yes, but it can be the kind of influence that works to protect voters and preserve accountability. The good kind.

Argument #4: Party nominations are often raucous and ugly. Party primaries can get ugly, absolutely correct. Last fall's Democratic runoff between Mark Green and Fernando Ferrer is a perfect example. But that is no reason to be casual about eliminating the system that has elected our leaders for the city's history.

Elections of every kind, whether partisan or not, will eventually get ugly. Campaigns in which every candidate signs a pledge to "stick to the issues" will get ugly. Publicly funded campaigns overseen by good government groups and monitored by citizen review boards will eventually get ugly. I have worked on campaigns in every part of the country, from Presidential on down, and to this day the ugliest campaign I have ever seen was a non-partisan school board race in a small town in Pennsylvania.

Campaigns can be unpleasant, not because they are partisan, but because they are important. The stakes are high, and the pressure is intense, and the results matter, and sometimes we get carried away. Candidates will say things they shouldn't and do things they wish they hadn't and make decisions that they will live to regret. Not because of their party affiliation, and not because they are evil, but because they are human.

Partisan politics may not gentle. But we wouldn't want it to be.

Although there is something refreshing in any elected official trying to change the system that got him elected in the first place, this idea is not right for New York City. It is an idea that would undoubtedly change things, but to the detriment of the process.

Susan Reefer is a Republican pollster and media strategist. She is based in New York City.

 

Technology and 9/11


The attacks on the World Trade Center succeeded in devastating New York's telecommunications infrastructure. However, a recent meeting of the City Council's subcommittee on technology brought to light the many ways in which technology was used to overcome the challenges of 9/11.

From Verizon and IBM to the Chief Medical Examiner's Office and the Housing Authority, technology played an important role in the rescue and emergency management efforts.

Maps

With the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications displaced from its offices and without access to computers, mapping experts had to recreate a map of the city. Luckily, Professor Sean Ahearn of Hunter College had a copy of the citys graphical information system (GIS) database. The Emergency Mapping and Data Center created in response to the attacks operated 24/7 for two months and handled 2,600 requests for information. In order to facilitate the use of these maps, the center produced a unique identification number for all city buildings. The mapping experience gained from the attack on the World Trade Center helped in the creation of a mobile mapping center to respond to the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in Queens in November.

Databases

The attacks made it painfully clear that city agencies do not possess a common database system. Thus, the families of victims had to fill out the same form many times over -- until IBM created a software program that allowed the data to be entered electronically and transmitted to different agencies. Databases also allowed the Chief Medical Examiner's Office to create automatic death certificates, scan and archive important documents, track collected DNA and match DNA with the victims. In addition, there is no online directory of emergency contact information for city employees. This made it difficult for city employees to work from home following the attacks.

Global Positioning Systems

Debris was tracked as it was removed from Ground Zero with the help of global positioning system (GPS) monitoring equipment. The system uses portable units to record information and transmit it wirelessly and securely to the Internet. The technology allowed the city to document the location and amount of debris efficiently and flexibly. It also allowed building inspectors quickly to inspect the damage to buildings surrounding the site of the World Trade Center.

Telecommunications

While there has been a lot of talk about using technology to decrease redundancy and improve efficiency, this does not apply to telecommunications networks. This is because in order to avoid the serious damage which occurred as a result of 9/11, telecom companies recommend that redundancy be built into future city infrastructure. This includes greater network resiliency, more diversity of routes, and extra capacity. Competition between telecommunications providers is important in providing redundancy. In order to achieve this, the city will need to sign contracts with companies in addition to Verizon. However, building redundancy into telecom networks is very costly, wiping out the savings that new technology promises.

Lessons

  • The Internet survived when wired and wireless phones did not.
  • Maps of the city are a vital resource in times of disaster.
  • It is important to build redundancy into telecommunications networks.
  • It is necessary to use decentralized databases or Internet-based data storage systems.
  • City employees should be offered incentives and discounts on home computers.
  • The city should give employees access to e-mail.
  • Local, state and federal governments must share information across boundaries in order to avert public safety threats.

 

Of course, people -- government employees, the private sector, non-profit organizations and citizens -- were New York's most important resource following 9/11. Our city's techno-heroes found innovative ways to employ technology, and learned important lessons for future city tech policy.

Laura Forlano is a doctoral student studying communication technology policy at Columbia University.

Scandals And Voters


The mood of the electorate this year is, according to the wisdom of pollsters and political strategists, surprisingly upbeat, if understandably cautious. Nationally and in New York State, it looks as though most Americans may decide to stick with the team that is in place. But there have been some recent local developments that may turn this wisdom upside down, not just for individual races but for the whole election season.

The developments have to do, in a word, with scandals.

There has been scandal in the church, scandal in the Brooklyn judiciary, and scandal among property tax assessors. The scandals most likely to affect this year's elections are the corruption charges against two politicians.

Earlier this month, State Senator Guy Velella was formally indicted for bribery, charges that have been under investigation for two years. Velella, whose district includes part of The Bronx, is a member of the Republican State Senate majority, and is considered to be one of the most powerful senators in the New York City delegation.

Earlier this year, Democratic City Councilmember Angel Rodriguez was accused of taking bribes in exchange for his vote of approval on pending city projects.

Graft and corruption in city politics is nothing new. Around the turn of the last century, a Tammany Hall ward boss named George Washington Plunkett gave a series of "very plain talks on very practical politics." Among the wisdom he imparted were these words:

Everybody is talkin' these days about Tammany men growin' rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin' the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There's all the difference in the world between the two. Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. I've made a big fortune out of the game, and I'm getting' richer every day, but I've not gone in for dishonest graft-blackmailin' gamblers, saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc.-and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics. There's an honest graft, and I'm an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin': "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em."

That distinction may or may not have been true one hundred years ago, and it may or may not be true today. Most people would probably make a distinction between the perks an elected official might enjoy, and outright bribery. After all, our New York state senators, with an annual salary around $80,000, are well compensated, but most are still making less than they would in the private sector. In the research I've seen, despite a lot of tough talk, most voters are fairly tolerant of their own representatives unless it becomes clear that there was an outright abuse of power.

When there is an abuse of power, it tends to get the voters' attention, quickly. And not the kind of attention most candidates want.

A political scandal doesn't always mean the end of a political career; U.S. Senator Bob Torricelli (D-NJ) has dodged allegations almost as long as he's been in office, but he's survived both legally and politically, and is currently the frontrunner in his re-election campaign.

What it can do is affect the overall mood of the electorate during a campaign season. The 1994 Congressional elections, which marked the most sweeping changes in the national political landscape in 60 years, were precipitated by several events, but among the most significant were two major scandals: the House banking scandals, and the House post office scandal. Of course, some of the members who were implicated in those scandals survived that election, and some who were completely innocent of wrongdoing were thrown out of office. The specific allegations mattered, but what mattered more was the tone it set: the scandals sent a message that the current members were privileged, out of touch, entrenched, not to be trusted. "Better to get rid of all of them and start over," was the thinking; "Throw the Bums Out!" became the war cry.

There is little chance such a sweeping sentiment would be seen this year. The current scandals appear to be isolated, both from one another, and from state and city government as a whole.

But it also means that voters may not be quite so inclined to keep incumbents in power no matter what. When a city and a nation go through what we have been through, we turn to our leaders for wisdom and security and comfort. It's understandable if during those times, we sometimes confuse the authority of the office with the infallibility of the person.

A reminder that our leaders are only human and need to be constantly held accountable, while unfortunate, can be beneficial in a democracy. We have set elections not to reward good representatives, but to weed out the bad ones.

C.S. Lewis wrote in his essay, "Equality:" "A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the governmentĆ’..The real reason for democracy isĆ’no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows."

This has always been true. But this becomes more true, not less so, during times such as these.

Susan Reefer is a Republican pollster and media strategist. She is based in New York City.

New York Republicans


 

He has been a Republican for only a few months, and was at first criticized by fellow members of his new party for calling himself a liberal and for appointing so many Democrats to his administration. But Michael Bloomberg has been making Republicans happy lately with his stands on a critical issue -- money.

First, Mayor Bloomberg has made large donations to the party, and held several fundraisers at his home, including a $15,000 a plate dinner for the re-election of Governor George Pataki, which featured President George W. Bush as the guest of honor. He has also used his personal jet and his helicopter to make it to fundraising events in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

But just as importantly, Bloomberg has been adamant in the one position that cynics say is the only thing that consistently separates Republicans from Democrats - he is against raising taxes.

Bloomberg preaches his "no new taxes" message almost daily, saying that taxes would drive out business, scare away residents, and upset the debt rating agencies. The mayor's answer to closing the nearly $5 billion budget deficit is to cut city services, and to borrow money. The City Council, made up of 47 Democrats and four Republicans, disagrees, saying there is a better way than the loss of a thousand teachers, the continuing crumbling of the city's schools, the piling up of trash on the streets, and the hunger of old people who will no longer get meals delivered over the weekend.

In response to Bloomberg's preliminary budget (a kind of first draft of the budget that the mayor released in February), the City Council called for some $1 billion in new taxes, including a hike in the personal income tax to fund the construction of new schools. Last week, when Bloomberg released his executive budget (in effect, his second draft), he ignored all of their recommendations for new taxes.

Democratic Councilmember Leroy Comrie says the mayor's cuts threaten the livelihood of neighborhoods (See his essay). Republican Councilmember Dennis Gallagher believes the mayor is on the right track (See his essay).

Polls show that the majority of New Yorkers would approve a tax increase, which should not be surprising in a city where there are five times as many registered Democrats as Republicans. But still, New Yorkers voted for Bloomberg, as they voted, twice, for his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, who had the same position (at least theoretically) on taxes.

Is the election of two successive Republican mayors for the first time in the history of the city an insignificant quirk, "one of the paradoxes of American politics," as Dan Cantor of the Working Families Party puts it? Or does it represent, as Andrew Eristoff, the head of the Manhattan Republican Party, would like to believe, "a great sea change in New Yorker's views?"

GRAND OLD PARTY

The elephant was born in New York City. Thomas Nast, famed political cartoonist, a New Yorker, and a Republican, was the first to portray the Republican Party as an elephant, in the pages of Harper's Weekly. (He was also the first to depict the Democrats as donkeys). The New York chapter of the Republican Party was formed the same year as the national party, in1854, and was one of some half dozen parties to have endorsed the winning candidate for mayor three years later.

But the truth is, New York has never been a Republican town, even when its homegrown Republicans gained national prominence. Thomas Dewey, governor and candidate for president of the United States, Nelson Rockefeller, governor and vice president of the United States, and Senator Jacob Javits were all quintessential New York Republicans, fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

But only three Republicans were elected mayor of New York in the twentieth century. The first one, Fiorello LaGuardia, had just a minimal allegiance to the party; the second, John Lindsay, ran successfully for reelection as an independent, and then became a Democrat. The third, Rudy Giuliani, who was Time magazine's "Man of the Year" and was given an honorary knighthood by the Queen of England, is nevertheless said to have a limited future in the national Republican Party because he is too liberal.

And for all the self-congratulations about the election of a second Republican mayor, last year's local elections were otherwise bad news for the party. With only 472,000 out of 3.5 million registered voters in the city and a weak local party organization, the Republicans could not produce candidates in the races for public advocate or comptroller, and many Democrats ran unopposed in City Council races as well. Some Republican City Council candidates who did run were even advised not to campaign too aggressively for fear that they might inspire enraged Democrats to go to the polls.

In the end, Republicans ended up with a net loss of two council seats, down to four. Also this year, the party suffered a painful loss of an East Side State Senate seat that Roy Goodman held for 33 years, when Republican John Ravitz was trounced by Democrat Liz Krueger. Ravitz is also expected to resign from his longtime seat as one of the few Republicans in the Assembly representing the city.

"With our governor and mayor, the public perception is that Republicans are the party in power, when in reality we are not," said Eristoff. "The prospects of winning are still so remote that it's almost a joke."

In the East Harlem City Council race last year, Republican candidate George De Martino said winning would be "a miracle of God," and that he was running simply "as a life experience."

SHIFTING LANDSCAPE?

Still, there are tangible signs of change.

Republicans like Governor George Pataki now see urban voters -- particularly Latinos -- as potential supporters, and have actively courted them, with positive results. In February, Democratic Bronx State Senator Pedro Espada announced that he was switching parties. Last month Pataki appeared at a Bronx hospital with Dennis Rivera, the head of the 1199/SEIU health care union. The two men had been fierce adversaries for much of the last decade; the union opposed the governor in his run for office in 1994 and battled with him over health care issues on several occasions. Now the two men were smiling, shaking hands, and beaming proudly with a newly formed alliance.

Just a few weeks before, Pataki and the New York State Legislature approved $1.8 billion in pay raises for the union's 210,000 workers, many of whom are African-American or Latino and live in the city.

"I'm a Democrat," Rivera said as he endorsed the Republican governor for re-election. "I intend to remain a Democrat. I'm very active in Democratic Party activities. On the other hand, I have to recognize that Governor Pataki has been incredibly helpful to the health care union."

Pataki's Democratic opponents Carl McCall and Andrew Cuomo accused the governor of buying the union's vote. But the endorsement also signaled that the old rules of New York politics might be changing. Unions can no longer guarantee to deliver the Democratic vote, some say, and blocs of voters are more inclined to select candidates based on their own best interest, rather than by party loyalty.

Indeed, one of the most surprising things about Michael Bloomberg's come-from-behind win against Democrat Mark Green, was that Bloomberg received greater than expected support came people who traditionally vote for Democrats -- African-Americans, liberal whites, and most noticeably Latinos, who gave Bloomberg 47 percent of their vote.

The New York State Democratic Party maintains that things have not changed.

In fact Democrats say that traditionally Republican areas like the Silk Stocking district on the Upper East Side, the North Bronx, and Bay Ridge are turning their way. Elsewhere in the state, Democrats have been able to steadily register more voters upstate and Long Island. And the party's new Spanish language web site claims that 72 percent of New York Latinos still identify themselves as Democrats.

"When it comes time to pull a lever in the voting booth, New Yorkers, including health care workers, vote on policy - not politics," New York State Democratic Chairman Denny Farrell has said. "I wish Governor Pataki as much success as the 1199 candidate as John Ravitz had with that union's endorsement."

SHIFTING VIEWS?

Even if individual Republican politicians are in fact gaining more support from traditionally Democratic New Yorkers, does this signal a change in their political views? Some investors are counting on it.

Last week saw the launching of a new daily newspaper for New York City, the New York Sun, which promised to carry the flag of "free enterprise" and the "American idea" for New Yorkers who have been longing for more conservative editorial pages.

Whether they will find a mass readership is not yet clear. And even if they do, their success will not necessarily have anything to do with ideology, certainly not party affiliation.

The same can be said for Bloomberg. Although he has been campaigning for local candidates and promises to be active in this fall's state elections, the mayor seems more interested in how Republicans can help him get things done in the city than in building a party.

Bloomberg lobbied Republicans in Washington for post 9/11-disaster aid. He was able to broker a deal with President Bush and Governor Pataki to gain control of Governor's Island. And he has spent a good deal of time in Albany working with law makers in his attempt to gain control of the schools, rebuild the World Trade Center site, and negotiate a difficult budget crisis.

Eristoff, the head of Manhattan's Republican Party, would like to claim that Bloomberg's visibility and initial success represent a general change in the attitudes of New Yorkers.

"People are more skeptical of broad new taxes, they want successful workfare programs, they are looking for accountability in public institutions and accountability in education," Eristoff said. "These are all Republican ideals."

But what is ideal for one Republican is not necessarily for another.

Many Republican New Yorkers still struggle to articulate a clear sense of identity. (See "I Am A Republican Because..." on the New York State Republican web site). They tend, for example, to be more liberal on issues like abortion, gay and lesbian rights, and immigration policy than their colleagues in other parts of the country. This is surely a large reason why Republican candidates in the city sometimes play down their affiliation.

"There is often a demonization of the word Republican in New York City," said David Jackson of Log Cabin Republicans of New York which advocates for gay and lesbian rights within the party. Jackson insists that, contrary to the assumption of many liberal-minded New Yorkers, Republicans have a history of being at the forefront of social issues like the civil rights movement. He likes to point out that the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, in 1916, was a Republican "In reality, party identification and issues have been fluid over the generations," Jackson said, "which is more true to the Republican spirit."

The natural desire for a politician to avoid being viewed as a demon may have something to do with why most Republican candidates in the city focus primarily on fiscal policy and issues specific to New York. Or they can always cite the most prominent New York Republican, Rudy Giuliani.

"In eight years, Rudolph Giuliani did a tremendous amount to put the city on the right track: reducing crime and welfare spending, cutting taxes and spurring tourism," said Republican Councilmember Dennis Gallagher. "In my district, the registration is overwhelmingly Democrat, but someone like myself can still get elected because the voters realize that Republicans can do an effective job."

"With all due respect to the national agenda, local issues are what win local elections," said Staten Island Republican James Oddo, the Minority Leader of the City Council. "That means education, affordable housing, and quality-of-life issues."

Staten Island is one of the few exceptions in New York City politics.

Though the borough has only 71,000 registered Republicans, as against 104,000 Democrats, the Republican party has been able to tap into white, Catholic, and affluent voters and build a solid borough-wide organization that can turn out the vote. Staten Islanders are said to have given Giuliani victory because they showed up in force over the ballot proposition that would have allowed the borough to separate from the city, and they have continued to vote heavily in recent elections because of their concern over the Fresh Kills landfill.

But even in Staten Island the politics are not clear cut. The North Shore, which more closely resembles the rest of the city with its dense housing and ethnic diversity, is a Democratic stronghold. And the new Borough President James Molinaro, is not a registered Republican, but a Conservative. Last fall, outgoing Borough President Guy Molinari, who is often credited with building the Republican Party in Staten Island, endorsed his deputy Molinaro as his non-Republican successor.

DOES NEW YORK NEED TWO STRONG PARTIES?

In a recent City Journal article entitled "Gotham Needs A GOP," author Steven Malanga argued that Republicans should try to build on the success of Michael Bloomberg and finally construct a real party with grassroots support. This would not only benefit the party, he argued, but all New Yorkers by providing a "clash of ideas."

"[Republicans] might have discovered, if they had bestirred themselves, that New York doesn't have to be Moscow-on-the-Hudson," Malanga writes, "but could become a normal two-party town like most of America."

"Two strong parties spur competition, produce better candidates, and elevate everybody's game," said Oddo, who was elected from a district that favors registered Democrats three to two.

Democrats say that their party is big enough to welcome a variety of opinions and people.

"The Democratic Party has always been the party of inclusion, diversity, and progress, which is why we have registered more than one million new voters in all corners of New York State," Denny Farrell has said.

But some on the left end of the political spectrum also think it might be healthier to offer an alternative to the one-party state that New York City has been for much of its history.

"Strong parties are good for government," agreed Dan Cantor of the Working Families Party. "But the Republican Party has no future in New York City."

Though the term limits law was an initiative that was begun and backed by a Republican (Ronald Lauder), the law has been of far more tangible benefit to the Working Families party, which leans to the left and is supported by the labor movement. Of the 29 candidates it backed in last year's election (most of them also running as Democrats), 15 of them won. And in the first few months of this year, the party has made its presence felt at City Hall by getting 27 of 51 City Council members to sign a letter to the council speaker asking him to raise taxes to pay for education and children's programs and pushing legislation like a "living wage" bill that would require city workers be paid at least $8.10 an hour.

And as long as the person who must sign such a bill into law, and who would have to sign off on any tax increases, is a Republican, and one with a few billion dollars to contribute, it might be a bit premature just now to kill off the elephant.

The City Council Gets Serious About Tech


The first meeting of the Select Committee on Technology in Government, entitled "Using Technology to Make Government Smart, Cost-Effective, and Open" and headed by Councilmember Gale Brewer, offered testimony by some 15 experts on a range of issues connected to "e-government."

Efficiency
The goal of city government should be to eliminate all paperwork and put everything on-line, David Birdsell of Baruch College. testified. This will take some doing. Currently only 50 percent of New Yorkers have access to the Internet from their homes.

A good start would be to use the Internet for the process by which private firms get city contracts, said Marcia Van Wagner, deputy research director of the Citizens Budget Commission, which, she said, could save the city about $135 million a year. The recommendations are outlined in the commission's report "No Small Change" (available online in PDF format). The current procurement system wastes 12 million sheets of paper according to one estimate.

Openness
While the government stores public documents electronically, neither the public nor the press can get to them easily, as David McCraw, deputy general counsel for the Daily News, testified. Indeed, the city is delinquent in meeting federal requirements of the 1974 Freedom of Information Act and its state equivalent, the Freedom of Information Law. Better access to public information would result in more innovative uses of the information to educate the public on issues.

Community Access

Non-profit organizations and small-businesses suffer from poor access to information technology. Many of them are still using dial-up connections to the Internet (if they are lucky enough to have access) and 85 percent of computers are not state-of-the-art. According to Barbara Chang, executive director of NpowerNY, a non-profit technology assistance provider, 83 percent of non-profits want greater access to cutting-edge technology.

Tech Czar
Several experts who testified recommended the creation of a top administration official to advocate for technology issues and chart a visionary technology policy for the city. Without clear support, planning and training at the highest levels, Birdsell testified, technology strategies are likely to fail.

There is currently no city official to plan a strategy that covers the social issues (openness, access) involved in technology policy. The Tech Czar would work closely with the Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications (which has the cute acronym DoITT, or Do It), which manages the technical side. A czar could also revive the Commission on Public Information and Communication (whose acronym, CoPIC, isn't particularly cute), which was created by the 1989 charter in order to increase citizen access to public information. Despite the huge potential for improving citizen access to government documents via the Internet, the commission has rarely met since it lost its funding in 1991, four years before the invention of the web browser. As a result, the city is often accused of having abysmal standards for public information.

The next public hearing of the Select Committee on Technology in Government will be held at 10AM on May 6 at Councilmember Brewer's City Hall Office at 250 Broadway, 16th Floor.

The first meeting of the Select Committee on Technology in Government, entitled "Using Technology to Make Government Smart, Cost-Effective, and Open" and headed by Councilmember Gale Brewer, offered testimony by some 15 experts on a range of issues connected to "e-government."

Efficiency
The goal of city government should be to eliminate all paperwork and put everything on-line, David Birdsell of Baruch College. testified. This will take some doing. Currently only 50 percent of New Yorkers have access to the Internet from their homes.

A good start would be to use the Internet for the process by which private firms get city contracts, said Marcia Van Wagner, deputy research director of the Citizens Budget Commission, which, she said, could save the city about $135 million a year. The recommendations are outlined in the commission's report "No Small Change" (available online in PDF format). The current procurement system wastes 12 million sheets of paper according to one estimate.

Openness
While the government stores public documents electronically, neither the public nor the press can get to them easily, as David McCraw, deputy general counsel for the Daily News, testified. Indeed, the city is delinquent in meeting federal requirements of the 1974 Freedom of Information Act and its state equivalent, the Freedom of Information Law. Better access to public information would result in more innovative uses of the information to educate the public on issues.

Community Access

Non-profit organizations and small-businesses suffer from poor access to information technology. Many of them are still using dial-up connections to the Internet (if they are lucky enough to have access) and 85 percent of computers are not state-of-the-art. According to Barbara Chang, executive director of NpowerNY, a non-profit technology assistance provider, 83 percent of non-profits want greater access to cutting-edge technology.

Tech Czar
Several experts who testified recommended the creation of a top administration official to advocate for technology issues and chart a visionary technology policy for the city. Without clear support, planning and training at the highest levels, Birdsell testified, technology strategies are likely to fail.

There is currently no city official to plan a strategy that covers the social issues (openness, access) involved in technology policy. The Tech Czar would work closely with the Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications (which has the cute acronym DoITT, or Do It), which manages the technical side. A czar could also revive the Commission on Public Information and Communication (whose acronym, CoPIC, isn't particularly cute), which was created by the 1989 charter in order to increase citizen access to public information. Despite the huge potential for improving citizen access to government documents via the Internet, the commission has rarely met since it lost its funding in 1991, four years before the invention of the web browser. As a result, the city is often accused of having abysmal standards for public information.

The next public hearing of the Select Committee on Technology in Government will be held at 10AM on May 6 at Councilmember Brewer's City Hall Office at 250 Broadway, 16th Floor.

Laura Forlano is a doctoral student studying communication technology policy at Columbia University.

The City Council Gets Serious About Tech


The first meeting of the Select Committee on Technology in Government, entitled "Using Technology to Make Government Smart, Cost-Effective, and Open" and headed by Councilmember Gale Brewer, offered testimony by some 15 experts on a range of issues connected to "e-government."

Efficiency
The goal of city government should be to eliminate all paperwork and put everything on-line, David Birdsell of Baruch College. testified. This will take some doing. Currently only 50 percent of New Yorkers have access to the Internet from their homes.

A good start would be to use the Internet for the process by which private firms get city contracts, said Marcia Van Wagner, deputy research director of the Citizens Budget Commission, which, she said, could save the city about $135 million a year. The recommendations are outlined in the commission's report "No Small Change" (available online in PDF format). The current procurement system wastes 12 million sheets of paper according to one estimate.

Openness
While the government stores public documents electronically, neither the public nor the press can get to them easily, as David McCraw, deputy general counsel for the Daily News, testified. Indeed, the city is delinquent in meeting federal requirements of the 1974 Freedom of Information Act and its state equivalent, the Freedom of Information Law. Better access to public information would result in more innovative uses of the information to educate the public on issues.

Community Access

Non-profit organizations and small-businesses suffer from poor access to information technology. Many of them are still using dial-up connections to the Internet (if they are lucky enough to have access) and 85 percent of computers are not state-of-the-art. According to Barbara Chang, executive director of NpowerNY, a non-profit technology assistance provider, 83 percent of non-profits want greater access to cutting-edge technology.

Tech Czar
Several experts who testified recommended the creation of a top administration official to advocate for technology issues and chart a visionary technology policy for the city. Without clear support, planning and training at the highest levels, Birdsell testified, technology strategies are likely to fail.

There is currently no city official to plan a strategy that covers the social issues (openness, access) involved in technology policy. The Tech Czar would work closely with the Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications (which has the cute acronym DoITT, or Do It), which manages the technical side. A czar could also revive the Commission on Public Information and Communication (whose acronym, CoPIC, isn't particularly cute), which was created by the 1989 charter in order to increase citizen access to public information. Despite the huge potential for improving citizen access to government documents via the Internet, the commission has rarely met since it lost its funding in 1991, four years before the invention of the web browser. As a result, the city is often accused of having abysmal standards for public information.

The next public hearing of the Select Committee on Technology in Government will be held at 10AM on May 6 at Councilmember Brewer's City Hall Office at 250 Broadway, 16th Floor.

The first meeting of the Select Committee on Technology in Government, entitled "Using Technology to Make Government Smart, Cost-Effective, and Open" and headed by Councilmember Gale Brewer, offered testimony by some 15 experts on a range of issues connected to "e-government."

Efficiency
The goal of city government should be to eliminate all paperwork and put everything on-line, David Birdsell of Baruch College. testified. This will take some doing. Currently only 50 percent of New Yorkers have access to the Internet from their homes.

A good start would be to use the Internet for the process by which private firms get city contracts, said Marcia Van Wagner, deputy research director of the Citizens Budget Commission, which, she said, could save the city about $135 million a year. The recommendations are outlined in the commission's report "No Small Change" (available online in PDF format). The current procurement system wastes 12 million sheets of paper according to one estimate.

Openness
While the government stores public documents electronically, neither the public nor the press can get to them easily, as David McCraw, deputy general counsel for the Daily News, testified. Indeed, the city is delinquent in meeting federal requirements of the 1974 Freedom of Information Act and its state equivalent, the Freedom of Information Law. Better access to public information would result in more innovative uses of the information to educate the public on issues.

Community Access

Non-profit organizations and small-businesses suffer from poor access to information technology. Many of them are still using dial-up connections to the Internet (if they are lucky enough to have access) and 85 percent of computers are not state-of-the-art. According to Barbara Chang, executive director of NpowerNY, a non-profit technology assistance provider, 83 percent of non-profits want greater access to cutting-edge technology.

Tech Czar
Several experts who testified recommended the creation of a top administration official to advocate for technology issues and chart a visionary technology policy for the city. Without clear support, planning and training at the highest levels, Birdsell testified, technology strategies are likely to fail.

There is currently no city official to plan a strategy that covers the social issues (openness, access) involved in technology policy. The Tech Czar would work closely with the Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications (which has the cute acronym DoITT, or Do It), which manages the technical side. A czar could also revive the Commission on Public Information and Communication (whose acronym, CoPIC, isn't particularly cute), which was created by the 1989 charter in order to increase citizen access to public information. Despite the huge potential for improving citizen access to government documents via the Internet, the commission has rarely met since it lost its funding in 1991, four years before the invention of the web browser. As a result, the city is often accused of having abysmal standards for public information.

The next public hearing of the Select Committee on Technology in Government will be held at 10AM on May 6 at Councilmember Brewer's City Hall Office at 250 Broadway, 16th Floor.

Laura Forlano is a doctoral student studying communication technology policy at Columbia University.

The New Voter Identification Requirement


The U.S. Senate passed, by a vote of 99-1, a landmark $3.5 billion election reform package on April 11th that requires states to upgrade their election systems. In many ways it is a remarkable bill that could lead the way to serious reform of the voting processes in the nation by providing federal funds for states to upgrade their election systems and by requiring improved procedures for counting disputed ballots. But the bill includes a critical flaw that has civil rights leaders across the country - and New Yorkers in particular - up in arms.

The step backward within the bill's great leap forward is its requirement that first-time voters who did not register in person use a driver's license or other proof of identity, such as a utility bill, to verify their identity. The requirement was pushed by Republican senators as an anti-fraud measure, and it seems simple enough - don't most of us have a driver's license or, at least, a utility bill? And, the law provides what looks like a safety net for voters who show up at the polls without proper identification. The voter is supposed to be allowed to vote by affidavit ballot. But many advocates, including folks with years of experience working in the electoral process, contend that this requirement will impose a serious burden on voters who are members of minority groups, immigrants and new citizens, and those who live in urban areas, particularly New York.

First, there is the straightforward practical concern. As many as 3 million New York City voters do not have a driver's license. Indeed, 1990 census data showed that less than 50 percent of New York City's voting age residents had a driver's license compared with 91 percent of the state's residents overall. Also, members of minority groups are far less likely to have a driver's license than whites; recently naturalized citizens (and new immigrants from Puerto Rico) are also less likely to have a driver's license. For many of those potential voters, it may also prove onerous for them to have another valid form of identification handy when they go to the polls. This requirement, then, could depress the voting power of New York City and members of minority groups.

Second, application of the identification requirement is likely to create a host of problems. An identification requirement will require poll workers to use their discretion and judgment. More discretion and judgment will be required when the voters use a form of identification other than a driver's license. Unfortunately, poll workers often get the rules wrong. The more complicated the rules, the more likely they will not be applied properly - and this set of rules could seem complicated. A study of New York City's 2001 general election by the New York Public Interest Research Group demonstrated that most poll workers did not know basic rules about where someone should vote if they moved or who could help a disabled person vote. This suggests that poll workers will not be able to apply an identification requirement properly. Under the bill, the first-time voters who fail to provide proper identification should be permitted to vote with an affidavit or paper ballot, with which they sign an affidavit promising that they are who they say they are. But, again, given the reliability of the poll workers, it is quite likely that significant numbers of voters could be wrongly turned away. In fact, New York election lore is full of stories about poll workers who do not know when someone should use such a ballot and denying voters access to such ballots.

The i.d. requirement also creates opportunities for discriminatory treatment. African-Americans have a history of being subjected to special scrutiny at the polling place - as have members of other minority groups and recently naturalized citizens. Stories abounded in Duval County, Florida of African-American voters being asked to show a form of identification - sometimes two - while white voters were allowed to sign in without presenting any i.d. Similarly, a survey conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense Fund found that in the 2001 New York City general election one in six Asian voters was improperly asked to show identification before voting.

Finally, there is no evidence that such a rule is needed. In even the closest elections, there is rarely any evidence of voter fraud at the polls. And, the experience of states with same-day voter registration suggests that identification is not needed to protect against fraud.

Any close election will seriously test how these rules are applied. The improper application will leave a cloud over the legitimacy of the election results, but it will also disenfranchise valid voters and dissuade citizens from participating in the political process. That is not the intention of this law, and it should not be. This Senate bill must now be reconciled with a House bill that was passed in December and does not include an identification requirement. It is not clear what will happen to the i.d. provision when the two bills go to conference committee, but advocates will be keeping a close watch to ensure that the law does not include this step backward.

Susan Reefer is a Republican pollster and media strategist. She is based in New York City.



Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice


Gotham Gazette: Cuomo Heads Into State of the State After Big Announcements, With More to Say Cuomo Heads Into State of the State After Big Announcements, With More to Say Gotham Gazette: What To Do When The L Train Closes What To Do When The L Train Closes Gotham Gazette: To Eradicate Sex Trafficking, Prosecute the Pimps and Buyers To Eradicate Sex Trafficking, Prosecute the Pimps and Buyers Gotham Gazette: Concerns of ‘Voter Fatigue’ as New York Schedules Four 2016 Election Days Concerns of ‘Voter Fatigue’ as New York Schedules Four 2016 Election Days


Comments
Comment(s)

The comments section is provided as a free service to our readers. Gotham Gazette's editors reserve the right to delete any comments. Some reasons why comments might get deleted: inappropriate or offensive content, off-topic remarks or spam.