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Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union

Mayoral Election


New York City's election machinery was surprisingly prepared to accept our votes and our democratic participation during the postponed primary on September 25. The city's 1,300 polling places buzzed with 750,000 of us who went to the polls, surprising the commentators who had speculated that the city was not ready just two weeks after a terrorist attack to think about a local election. We were at least tentatively ready to engage in shaping our city, choosing the City Council members, public advocate, and -- yes -- mayor who will represent us over the next four years as we rebuild our downtown, our economy, and our confidence.

Still, we are a changed city. The slogans of early September - "better schools, safer streets," "real results for real people" - seemed right on point for a local election in prosperous times but have little resonance with an electorate still grappling with an unprecedented loss of life, security, and confidence. The candidates seemed to recognize this; they didn't even try to campaign during the two weeks between the attacks and the re-scheduled primary.

Now, just days before the run-off for the Democratic nomination for mayor and public advocate and only a month before the general election, the electoral process must come back to life. New York City's voters face what is arguably the most important decision they will ever make in selecting the leaders of our city government. It is plain that the stakes for the future of our city could not be higher.

We don't need the petty squabbles that often mark political campaigns, but we must have a real debate among our potential leaders about the New York's future. They must show us their vision. We must test their mettle. The candidates must go back to the campaign trail - walking a tightrope that requires them to acknowledge the nearly unspeakable gravity of what happened on September 11, while somehow articulating and demonstrating why they should lead the city.

Given the formidable, but crucial, task facing Mark Green, Fernando Ferrer, and Michael Bloomberg, it is understandable that many people have turned back to Mayor Rudy Giuliani. We don't really know these men, and Giuliani set a new standard of crisis leadership as he guided the city in the weeks following the September 11 attacks. It is also understandable, if not particularly responsible, that Mayor Giuliani has not just welcomed but has encouraged speculation over whether he can turn all the rules on their head to run again or extend his term.

The mayor's position on this issue is in flux as the candidates and other politicians announce their different positions, so this question could either be resolved or further complicated by the time you read this. But from this vantage point -- days after the primary -- Giuliani's flirtation with staying in office is hardly a step forward in rebuilding the city. The mayoral candidates need the opportunity to demonstrate their vision and agenda to the city's voters. They don't need to be distracted by this maneuvering. And the voters don't need to be distracted by these machinations: Can Giuliani convince the Democratic State Assembly to repeal term limits, and then how does he get on the ballot? Would it be possible for him to win a write-in campaign? Can he run on the Conservative line? How does he go about extending his term? Is that legal? What will he do if only some of the candidates agree to an extension?

There is an awful lot of drama in following this story, but it doesn't help the City choose its next leader. We need, instead, to be looking at the candidates closely, asking hard questions. The task before the candidates during this unusual campaign season will require remarkable political skill as well as vision and plans. This will be a hard but necessary test for the men who would be our next mayor. Our democracy is not so fragile that the process must defer to Giuliani - and it's highly debatable whether that's what the city really wants. What we need now is a vibrant election to choose a mayor, not a potentially bitter fight about keeping the old one.

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

Damage And Restoration To Electricity, Phones, TV


The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center caused significant damage to New York City's electric, gas, broadcasting and telecommunication networks in lower Manhattan. The effects rippled throughout the tri-state area. As Senator Clinton told CBS news on September 17, we must make sure that our electricity and communication networks are restored quickly and efficiently. Because each of these networks relies on the smooth functioning of the other, it is important that electric, gas, water, transportation and communications networks are restored in harmony. Below is a brief recap of the damage done to our infrastructures and the efforts that have been taken to restore services in lower Manhattan.

Electricity

Electric, gas and steam service was down in a large part of lower Manhattan due to a combination of equipment problems caused by the attacks and the fire at 7 World Trade Center. The fire and collapse of 7 World Trade Center permanently damaged Con Edison's energy infrastructure because two substations and major electric transmission cables were located in the immediate area. An additional substation near South Street Seaport also lost service. The destruction of these three substations left five electricity networks without power in lower Manhattan. In addition, the gas system in a 30-block area was cut off from the energy infrastructure.

The attacks left 12,000 customers without electric power. Due to interruptions in telephone service caused by the attacks, it was difficult for people to call for emergency services and report electricity outages. As a result, Con Edison added the following additional customer service and emergency lines: 212-243-1900 and 800-75-CONED.

Since the crisis, 1,900 Con Edison crews have worked to inspect and test equipment in order to restore service to lower Manhattan. At first, temporary generators were used to restore electricity to streetlights, residences and businesses in the affected areas. By September 17, power had been restored to more than 5,000 customers in lower Manhattan. Con Edison is urging customers not to use air conditioners and other high-energy devices and to limit their electric usage to only essential needs. This is because the attacks damaged the electric distribution infrastructure. This infrastructure manages the distribution of energy to meet the city's normally high demand. Damaged electric cables and transmission lines have been removed from the network and more than 26 miles of new high-voltage cable has been laid. The company is continuing to work with the government in order to restore full-service to lower Manhattan.

Broadcasting & Telecommunications
Radio and television broadcasting throughout the New York tri-state areas was disrupted as a result of the destruction of the 300-foot broadcasting tower leaving many New Yorkers without access to news and information about the attacks. Time Warner Cable www.aoltimewarner.com was able to keep broadcast stations on the air using fiber-optic links after the destruction of the antenna. I was only able to receive broadcasts from CBS for most of the first day of the crisis. Many stations made arrangements to be rebroadcast on other stations but full-service has still not been restored to broadcast audiences.

The attacks destroyed the Verizon offices at the World Trade Center where 488 people worked, most of whom have been accounted for. This knocked out service to ten wireless cells because calls were connected through the World Trade Center offices. In addition, Verizon's switching center directly across from the World Trade Centers suffered structural and water damage and was isolated from the telecommunication network. This caused a loss of 200,000 phone lines and three million data networks and the displacement of 1,737 workers. In addition, landline and wireless telecommunication networks were overloaded due to the doubling of call volume which is normally 115 million calls per day. Calls to directory assistance were also doubled. As of September 19, 14,000 businesses and 13,000 residences were still without phone service.

Following the attacks, Verizon provided free calls at all of Manhattan's 4,000 pay phones and supplied 5,000 cellular phones to emergency workers. In addition, additional payphone and cell phone facilities were deployed in the disaster area to provide additional service to emergency workers. Hundreds of technicians were deployed to the disaster area in order to restore data and phone service to emergency services, the New York Stock Exchange and the financial district. This allowed the New York Stock Exchange to open successfully on September 17. In addition, phone calls to businesses in the affected areas were rerouted to other offices. Verizon is continuing to work to restore full-service to lower Manhattan.

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

A Plea For Same-Day Voter Registration


It's after Labor Day. You're just back (mentally or physically) from the long summer break. Political posters are lining the streets. Candidates and supporters are pushing leaflets right, left, and center at your subway stop. Now you remember ... there's an election coming. You're ready to pay attention, choose your candidates. The primary is on September 11. But wait. If you are not already registered to vote, and registered in a political party, you've missed your chance to cast a ballot in this heavily contested primary.

By state law, the voter registration books closed on August 17. This was 25 days before the primary and before many potential voters even began to pay attention to the election. You can still register to vote in the November general election; that deadline is October 12. But this provides little comfort when most of the races will be decided in the primary.

Voter registration seems relatively simple - and certainly over the past 10 or 15 years it has become much easier. You fill out a short form, mail it to the Board of Elections, and you're registered. But this extra step is likely to be one step too many for those who are less well-off, less educated, and are members of a racial or ethnic minority. Indeed, despite massive voter registration efforts for the 2000 election, 35 percent of the country's eligible citizens remained unregistered.

In the summer months preceding a primary, who is paying serious attention to the election? Who is paying the kind of attention that makes someone think, "Do I need to register to vote? What's the deadline? Where do I get the forms?"

Why should potential voters have to jump through this extra hoop? Voting is not a test of a citizen's ability to negotiate a bureaucracy. Over the years, several academic studies have shown that registration is a substantial barrier to casting a ballot and a major cause for low voter turnout in the United States. Indeed, a study by Columbia University Professor Robert S. Erikson, tellingly titled "Why Do People Vote? Because They Are Registered," demonstrated that once registered, even new voters go to the polls at very high rates.

Six states have made registration as simple as it can be. Minnesota, Maine, New Hampshire, Idaho, Wisconsin, and Wyoming allow voters to register at the polls when they arrive to cast their ballot. North Dakota abandoned registration entirely in 1951. Five of these states have the highest voter turnout in the country.

The principal argument against scrapping advance registration requirements is the threat of increased fraud. This argument does not hold up to close scrutiny. First, there is no evidence that the states with same-day registration have had a problem with voter fraud. Indeed, Maine, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have had same-day registration for more than 25 years. Second, there are remedies to protect against this risk. Some of the recommended anti-fraud measures include: requiring same-day registrants to sign an oath or affidavit, requiring adequate proof of identity and residence, requiring election day registrants to vote by paper, affidavit ballots, subject to challenge, and promptly verifying election-day registrants with a non-forwardable post card sent to their address. Centralized, computerized state registration records would also significantly protect the process against increased fraud.

Different jurisdictions have used different combinations of these anti-fraud measures depending on the needs of their state and their political culture. New York should identify which of these measures would work best in our political culture without making it more difficult for certain citizens, particularly members of a racial or ethnic minority, to vote. These tools and their successful use in other states make clear that if same-day registration does have an increased risk of fraud, which has not been shown, we have effective means to deal with it. The fear of fraud should not stifle this democratic reform.

Some opponents of same-day registration also argue that same-day registration for party primaries could trigger party-raiding that undermines the party's ability to control its selection of candidates. There is, of course, an easy solution to that complaint: if it is shown to be a problem, the state could simply prohibit those voters already registered from switching parties in the several weeks preceding the primary. Under this regime, registered voters' rights to choose and change their parties are as protected as they are now, and the parties retain some control over their choice of candidates, but a significant barrier for new voters is removed.

Recognizing that advance registration is an unnecessary restriction on the franchise and that problems with potential fraud can be solved, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and a handful of other politicians have recently called for the state to adopt same-day registration procedures, but Albany hasn't budged. Indeed, New York, and many other states, have long resisted any move toward same-day voter registration and most efforts to make registration easier. After the National Voter Registration Act (also known as the Motor Voter Act) was enacted in 1993, forcing states to ease voter registration requirements, New York was sued by the U.S. Justice Department for failing to comply with its requirements. And, almost every election year, including 2000, it is discovered that the state Department of Motor Vehicles has failed to properly process registrations submitted with driver's license applications, leaving potential voters without a ballot.

This kind of behavior is part and parcel of the last century's sad tradition of voter registration laws, which always had more to do with turning the electoral process into a game than opening democracy. But the spirit of Jim Crow in the South and the anti-immigrant laws of the North and West should be left with the past. We are in a new century, and there is no real justification for our advance registration laws. In short, the time has come for same-day registration.

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

Software -- "Piracy" (Stealing) versus "Open Source" (Freebies)


What's hot this summer? If you have been riding the subway, you may have seen a big ad that starts "YIKES!" It is about software.

The advertising campaign by a watchdog group for the software industry called the Business Software Alliance, is trying to get New York businesses to stop "piracy" -- illegal software use.

Illegal software use, commonly called piracy, is similar to stealing or making illegal copies of a book, CD, artwork or video. For example, a company might be using Windows and Microsoft Office software on 500 computers but they may only own a license to use it on 300 of them.

The anti-piracy campaign that is in New York subways is also targeting four other cities, including Atlanta and Oklahoma City (though it is not clear that the businesses in New York and Oklahoma City are somehow the worst offenders). For a month, the software industry was offering an amnesty, which they called a truce, that would allow anyone to request license for copies of software they were using illegally, without fear of incurring any of the fines. Normally, companies or individuals prosecuted for using illegal software can face fines up to $250,000 or five years in prison.

The severe penalties have not been very effective as a deterrent. Worldwide, 37 percent of software was being used illegally in 2000 according to the Sixth Annual BSA Global Software Piracy Study. While North America has the lowest piracy rate in the world at 24 percent, in other regions such as Eastern Europe the rate reaches almost 90 percent.

Illegal software use results in a loss of $11.75 billion for the global economy and a loss of $2.6 billion in the United States.

The effect in New York has been calculated down to the very dollar. In 1999, software piracy cost the state of New York $541 million in retail sales. We also lost $101,438,483 in sales tax and $351,511,820 in wages and salary. New York workers are also affected because less money for wages and salary means 5,592 fewer jobs. Despite their large populations, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have the lowest levels of piracy at less than 20 percent. However, since demand for software is high in these states, the actual dollar losses are more substantial than in other areas of the nation.

What is odd about all the panic over software piracy is that there is a competing trend in the high-tech world, and that is what is called "open source" -- what somebody unsophisticated might call "freebies." It is software that can be used without a license; it is free to anyone who wants it.

"Open source" software is very secure and less vulnerable to viruses and bugs because the computer code is public knowledge. This means that programmers are constantly working to improve the software's security and reliability.

Copyright laws do not restrict the use and distribution of "open source" software. The original author is given credit for writing the software. but it is open to programmers to make improvements on it. This leads to more creative solutions and new technological breakthroughs. Popular "open source" software includes Linux (an alternative operating system to Microsoft Windows), Apache (Web server), Perl (for "live content" on the Internet), BIND (the provider of Internet domain names) and sendmail (email transport software).

On the other hand, the economic impact of "open source" software is extremely difficult to gauge. This is because it is downloaded for free from the Internet and redistributed by the creators and users. Since its use is growing rapidly it is possible that free software could be responsible for increased business efficiency and productivity. Thus, it may contribute to the recent growth of the technology sector. For example, according to the Open Source Initiative, Linux has an estimate of up to 27 million users and the Apache Web server is used for 50 percent of all servers.

The New York subway anti-piracy campaign targets employees of companies that may be using illegal software and encourages them to call a hotline to report violations. The flashy billboards with prominent Microsoft branding posed questions such as "How happy are your employees?" and "What would you do with an extra $150,000?" to MTA riders. This campaign suggests that employees working in businesses that use illegal software may not be as satisfied as their peers using licensed software and that the price of using illegal software may be cost businesses $150,000 each time they get caught.

Certainly, the goal of the Business Software Alliance is to crack down on the use of illegal software. But, New Yorkers might be better off if we start to use "open source" software and reduce our dependence on monopolistic software companies. Maybe the Open Source Initiative will consider running their own subway advertising campaign encouraging riders to write their own software programs?

Now, THAT would scare Microsoft and other software companies even more than the fact that millions of copies of their software are being used illegally.

In Other News:
Last month, New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer and Attorney General Elliot Spitzer voiced opposition to Microsoft's plan to bundle their Internet shopping, instant-messaging and music services into their new operating system Windows XP. The new system is scheduled to begin shipping on October 25. New York-based companies such as AOL-Time Warner and Eastman Kodak Co. have complained that Windows XP favors Microsoft products over those of competing companies. On July 24, Senator Schumer sent a letter to the Department of Justice attempting to block the launch of Windows XP. These complaints come at a time when public policy towards Microsoft has shifted due the unfavorable ruling that the company's Windows operating system is a monopoly. Despite these recent efforts, analysts don't believe that the new product launch will be delayed.

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

What Is Wrong With The Board Of Elections?


The chaos surrounding Florida's presidential election counts and recounts may have cost New Yorkers the president of their choice. But for New York City there is a thin silver lining around this national cloud. The presidential election debacle triggered a scrutiny of the city's election machinery that has forced the city's creaking Board of Elections to take steps -- albeit baby steps -- to run a better election this year. And, if we're lucky, very lucky, this new scrutiny from the press, the politicians, and our perennial watchdog groups will prompt real change in the way elections are run in the city -- starting with scrapping the Tammany-era patronage system that operates our election system.

We have been given a Mayor's task force, a Governor's task force, and, yes, even an ex-Presidents' task force on election reform. They aren't all worrying about New York City's elections, but they are studying election processes, making recommendations, issuing reports. The mayor's belatedly-appointed task force is charged with serving as a kind of intermediary between the Board of Elections and the rest of city and state government in the hope that this fall's elections are not so chaotic that New York gets a "black eye like Florida," as the task force's chairman, former Senate Minority Leader Manfred Ohrenstein, has said. The mayor's task force has been raising important issues that the Board of Elections seemed content to let sit. But even the task force members themselves wonder what can be accomplished by a task force appointed by the mayor only four months before the September 11 primary. Meanwhile, the city's civic groups have been hammering at the issues surrounding the forthcoming election since the new year. The Citywide Coalition for Voter Participation, led by the New York Public Interest Research Group and Common Cause, pressed the City Council and the mayor's office to give the Board of Elections enough money to run this year's election properly -- even while recognizing that the board suffers from serious management problems that should be the focus of long-term reform. Citizens Union has stepped in with a kind of citizen self-help program by recruiting at least 300 voters to serve as new poll workers throughout the City. In addition, the New York Public Interest Research Group and Citizens Union have been closely monitoring the Board of Elections since January, sending observers to every Board meeting.

Prodded by all this scrutiny and even its own fear of a Florida redux, the Board of Elections has lumbered toward some improvements. It is in the process of hiring its first Chinese speaking staff members and is said to be making extra efforts to ensure that ballots are properly translated to avoid a repeat of last year's humiliation when some Chinese ballots listed the Democratic candidates as Republicans and vice versa. The board is also promising to improve its recruitment and training of poll workers, who are mostly patronage hires and are considered by many to be the weakest link in the city's election process. The board is pushing the legislature and the mayor to increase the poll workers' pay, recognizing that $130 for a relentless 16-hour day is a major barrier to recruitment.

There is little question that these improvements should mitigate the chaos at the polls on primary day and result in a better election. But the board's last minute scramble to prepare for the primary reveals the chronic management flaws that hobble every election. For instance, the board, working with the mayor's task force, began only six weeks before the primary to try to figure out how to count the 100,000 paper ballots expected to be cast in the Democratic primary in time for the runoff two weeks later. Because the races this year are historically crowded and competitive, these ballots -- absentee, affidavit, and emergency ballots -- could decide whether there is a runoff and who is in it. How many days after September 11 will two or three candidates -- and the voters -- be waiting to find out who is in the runoff?

Word seeped out recently that the board was considering asking the legislature to postpone the primary runoff because the Board was worried it couldn't count the paper ballots fast enough to identify the winners in time. The board's executive director disputes this report and swears he is doing everything he can to ensure that the paper ballots will be counted promptly. Civic groups and others are pressing the mayor to give the board the $800,000 it has requested to hire enough workers to count the votes quickly.

The money should be allocated -- the city's voters should not be punished further because the board has been sloppy. But why wasn't the board prepared better for this? When everyone has known for months that this year's elections are unusually crowded and competitive, why did the board wait until July to declare this emergency? Indeed, just last year, it took 45 days for the board to count the paper ballots in the Goodman-Krueger state senate race, and a recent report from the State Board of Elections laid the blame for this chaos at the feet of the city Board. And, in 1997, a series of mishaps -- called a "pattern of ineptitude" by a federal judge -- left city voters wondering for 10 crucial days whether there would be a runoff between Ruth Messinger and Al Sharpton. With this history, why wasn't the b board fretting about the paper ballot count in January?

Every election it seems there is some snafu that in a close election could seriously undermine the integrity of the results and in other elections simply wears down voters' confidence. Along with the Goodman-Krueger fiasco, last year's elections were shot through with serious problems. Many voters faced broken machines, seemingly interminable lines, poll workers whose poor training made it harder to vote, inadequate translations, jammed phone lines, and names that had disappeared from the voter registration rolls. In 1988, voters in the city's minority neighborhoods turned out in record numbers to cast votes for Jesse Jackson in the presidential primary. They met with widespread disenfranchisement in the form of broken machines and disappearing registrations.

We are often quick to blame the city's 40-year-old voting machines. Yes, they need to be replaced in time, but they are not the problem. A recent MIT/CalTech study of the presidential elections determined that the old lever machines can be one of the most reliable methods of voting. But not in New York City. According to this study, New York City -- particularly Brooklyn and the Bronx -- had "residual" vote rates that exceeded Florida's and rivaled counties with the infamous punch card ballot. (Residual votes are made up of uncounted, unmarked, and spoiled ballots; the MIT/CalTech team considered this the best measure of a voting system.) New York City's undervote was three times that of the rest of New York State. What's wrong here? We have machines that should be among the most accurate, but for some reason our city's votes are getting thrown away.

The real problem rests with the board and the patronage system that runs it. By law, the board is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. By law, most of its workforce is also bipartisan. What this means is that the board is a patronage system to its core. Everyone -- from administrative assistants to machine technicians to translators -- is hired through contacts with local party bosses. A recent administrative position was listed as "Staten Island Democrat" -- in other words it was to be filled by the Staten Island Democrats. While the bipartisan composition of the board is written into the state's constitution, there is nothing to stop the City Council, which selects the board members, from demanding that the board cease operating as a patronage machine.

This election will be over in November. If there is no disaster, the city's problems with its election systems will likely slip from view until election season rolls around again. But New York City's voters will continue to be disenfranchised as our votes are lost through bad management. The scrutiny that began for this election season must continue until real change is made. The only true way to reform New York City's election process is to scrap the patronage system that runs the board today ‰ÛÓ as it has for decades ‰ÛÓ and substitute an accountable, nonpartisan agency. Will any of our elected officials take this on?

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

AOL-Time Warner and High-Speed Access. Also, Cell-Phone Ban.


This month, all eyes are on New York-based AOL Time Warner. The company plans to offer AOL's high-speed Internet access over Time Warner's cable lines. This is of concern to lawmakers and consumers because the provision of this service would consist of a monopoly by the recently merged company. Therefore, Time Warner must open up the use of its cable lines to several competitors before it can offer its own high-speed access service.

High-speed Internet access or broadband is an 'always-on' Internet connection that is much faster than a 56 kilobits per second dial-up modem. 'Always-on' means that there is no connecting and disconnecting the Internet.

Currently, cable and digital subscriber lines (DSL) are the two most common forms of high-speed access. Cable access is normally cheaper because the connection is shared within your neighborhood. Like a dial-up modem, DSL uses your telephone line to connect to the Internet. However, with DSL (unlike a dial-up modem) you can make phone calls while surfing the Web.

According to the conditions of the December 14 merger between AOL and Time Warner, the new company must sign agreements with at least two competing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in each region before it can provide it's own high-speed access. Opening up one company's cable lines to allow for competition in the provision of Internet access is called 'open access'. For this reason, on July 3rd AOL Time Warner filed a petition with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stating that they plan to allow cable access to potential competitors Juno Online and High Speed Access Corp. (HSA). Previously, they signed a similar agreement with Earthlink.

The Federal Trade Commission's role in regulating the private sector on the open access issue is important because the Internet has evolved, for the most part, free of government intervention. Instead, the industry has regulated itself on important policy decisions. However, self-regulation does not always lead to well-informed policies that take the social needs of the public into consideration. For example, on-line privacy is one area where consumer needs are not being met.

Currently, telecommunications is a competitive sector with many Internet service providers offering service while the cable industry is monopolistic by region. This is why you get three phone bills i.e. local, long distance and mobile phone but only one cable TV bill. This is also why you can only get cable service from Time Warner in Manhattan and Cablevision in the Bronx. However, cable Internet access could become a monopoly if steps are not taken by lawmakers to encourage competition.

In telecommunications, the company that controls "the last mile" of connection between the local phone or cable provider to your home determines who can offer you Internet service. Open access groups such as the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) are pushing to make sure that independent Internet service providers gain access to Time Warner's cable lines. In a March 2 statement to a Senate Subcommittee, the Center's Executive Director Jerry Berman said that AOL Time Warner's position on open access was "a very positive step."

However, AOL Time Warner's current petition to the Federal Trade Commission has not been well received by open access groups. This is because there may be a common financial interest between AOL Time Warner and High Speed Access Corp., one of the potential competitors named in the petition.

Here is a quick review of the potential competitors. New York-based Juno is a free Internet service provider with 4.1 million subscribers that recently announced a merger with NetZero, another free provider. The new company, if approved, would be the 2nd largest Internet service provider, after AOL Time Warner. Colorado-based High Speed Access is funded by Vulcan Ventures, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's company. A Center for Democracy and Technology expert rejected High Speed Access as a competing Internet service provider citing common financial interests between AOL Time Warner and Paul Allen.

The Federal Trade Commission has 90-days to review and decide whether or not to approve AOL Time Warner's plan. If the plan is approved, it is likely to be implemented in New York first since both AOL Time Warner and Juno are based in New York. During the first 30-days of this time period, the Federal Trade Commission opens a public comment session to evaluate the proposed Internet service providers.

Another popular cable Internet provider in New York is Roadrunner that was formed in 1998 by Time Warner, MediaOne, Microsoft, Compaq and Advance/Newhouse. While the company may be an alternative to AOL Time Warner's future service and it's newly named competitors, there is no escaping the fact that it is owned in part by Time Warner. In light of AOL Time Warner's planned service, Roadrunner's ownership further contributes to the limiting, rather than broadening, of consumer choice in the broadband market.

Is the proposed AOL Time Warner plan a step towards competition and open access or are New Yorkers faced with a case of media monopoly? On one hand, choosing AOL Time Warner as your cable and Internet provider could minimize the number of bills that sit on your dining room table each month. On the other, consumers should be free to choose whichever Internet provider they like.

Clearly, AOL Time Warner is placing their bets on coach potatoes who would rather write one check for cable TV and high-speed Internet service. While the company is obligated to let other players into the marketplace, they have an advantage as the cable provider. This is why the Federal Trade Commission merger conditions require AOL Time Warner to give access to competitors before they offer their own high-speed service.

This is one issue that New Yorkers should watch closely over the next three months. The Federal Trade Commission's decision may mean the difference between trends toward media monopoly or increased competition. In the end, you may need to decide whether to switch to AOL Time Warner or one of its competitors, or stick with your current provider.

In Other News:

This month, New York became the first state to ban cell phone use while driving. Using a hands-free cell phone and emergency calls, on the other hand, are ok. Violators face fines of $100. Unlike many other mobile companies, Verizon Wireless supports this legislation.

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

What Is Wrong With The Board Of Elections?


The chaos surrounding Florida's presidential election counts and recounts may have cost New Yorkers the president of their choice. But for New York City there is a thin silver lining around this national cloud. The presidential election debacle triggered a scrutiny of the city's election machinery that has forced the city's creaking Board of Elections to take steps -- albeit baby steps -- to run a better election this year. And, if we're lucky, very lucky, this new scrutiny from the press, the politicians, and our perennial watchdog groups will prompt real change in the way elections are run in the city -- starting with scrapping the Tammany-era patronage system that operates our election system.

We have been given a Mayor's task force, a Governor's task force, and, yes, even an ex-Presidents' task force on election reform. They aren't all worrying about New York City's elections, but they are studying election processes, making recommendations, issuing reports. The mayor's belatedly-appointed task force is charged with serving as a kind of intermediary between the Board of Elections and the rest of city and state government in the hope that this fall's elections are not so chaotic that New York gets a "black eye like Florida," as the task force's chairman, former Senate Minority Leader Manfred Ohrenstein, has said. The mayor's task force has been raising important issues that the Board of Elections seemed content to let sit. But even the task force members themselves wonder what can be accomplished by a task force appointed by the mayor only four months before the September 11 primary. Meanwhile, the city's civic groups have been hammering at the issues surrounding the forthcoming election since the new year. The Citywide Coalition for Voter Participation, led by the New York Public Interest Research Group and Common Cause, pressed the City Council and the mayor's office to give the Board of Elections enough money to run this year's election properly -- even while recognizing that the board suffers from serious management problems that should be the focus of long-term reform. Citizens Union has stepped in with a kind of citizen self-help program by recruiting at least 300 voters to serve as new poll workers throughout the City. In addition, the New York Public Interest Research Group and Citizens Union have been closely monitoring the Board of Elections since January, sending observers to every Board meeting.

Prodded by all this scrutiny and even its own fear of a Florida redux, the Board of Elections has lumbered toward some improvements. It is in the process of hiring its first Chinese speaking staff members and is said to be making extra efforts to ensure that ballots are properly translated to avoid a repeat of last year's humiliation when some Chinese ballots listed the Democratic candidates as Republicans and vice versa. The board is also promising to improve its recruitment and training of poll workers, who are mostly patronage hires and are considered by many to be the weakest link in the city's election process. The board is pushing the legislature and the mayor to increase the poll workers' pay, recognizing that $130 for a relentless 16-hour day is a major barrier to recruitment.

There is little question that these improvements should mitigate the chaos at the polls on primary day and result in a better election. But the board's last minute scramble to prepare for the primary reveals the chronic management flaws that hobble every election. For instance, the board, working with the mayor's task force, began only six weeks before the primary to try to figure out how to count the 100,000 paper ballots expected to be cast in the Democratic primary in time for the runoff two weeks later. Because the races this year are historically crowded and competitive, these ballots -- absentee, affidavit, and emergency ballots -- could decide whether there is a runoff and who is in it. How many days after September 11 will two or three candidates -- and the voters -- be waiting to find out who is in the runoff?

Word seeped out recently that the board was considering asking the legislature to postpone the primary runoff because the Board was worried it couldn't count the paper ballots fast enough to identify the winners in time. The board's executive director disputes this report and swears he is doing everything he can to ensure that the paper ballots will be counted promptly. Civic groups and others are pressing the mayor to give the board the $800,000 it has requested to hire enough workers to count the votes quickly.

The money should be allocated -- the city's voters should not be punished further because the board has been sloppy. But why wasn't the board prepared better for this? When everyone has known for months that this year's elections are unusually crowded and competitive, why did the board wait until July to declare this emergency? Indeed, just last year, it took 45 days for the board to count the paper ballots in the Goodman-Krueger state senate race, and a recent report from the State Board of Elections laid the blame for this chaos at the feet of the city Board. And, in 1997, a series of mishaps -- called a "pattern of ineptitude" by a federal judge -- left city voters wondering for 10 crucial days whether there would be a runoff between Ruth Messinger and Al Sharpton. With this history, why wasn't the b board fretting about the paper ballot count in January?

Every election it seems there is some snafu that in a close election could seriously undermine the integrity of the results and in other elections simply wears down voters' confidence. Along with the Goodman-Krueger fiasco, last year's elections were shot through with serious problems. Many voters faced broken machines, seemingly interminable lines, poll workers whose poor training made it harder to vote, inadequate translations, jammed phone lines, and names that had disappeared from the voter registration rolls. In 1988, voters in the city's minority neighborhoods turned out in record numbers to cast votes for Jesse Jackson in the presidential primary. They met with widespread disenfranchisement in the form of broken machines and disappearing registrations.

We are often quick to blame the city's 40-year-old voting machines. Yes, they need to be replaced in time, but they are not the problem. A recent MIT/CalTech study of the presidential elections determined that the old lever machines can be one of the most reliable methods of voting. But not in New York City. According to this study, New York City -- particularly Brooklyn and the Bronx -- had "residual" vote rates that exceeded Florida's and rivaled counties with the infamous punch card ballot. (Residual votes are made up of uncounted, unmarked, and spoiled ballots; the MIT/CalTech team considered this the best measure of a voting system.) New York City's undervote was three times that of the rest of New York State. What's wrong here? We have machines that should be among the most accurate, but for some reason our city's votes are getting thrown away.

The real problem rests with the board and the patronage system that runs it. By law, the board is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. By law, most of its workforce is also bipartisan. What this means is that the board is a patronage system to its core. Everyone -- from administrative assistants to machine technicians to translators -- is hired through contacts with local party bosses. A recent administrative position was listed as "Staten Island Democrat" -- in other words it was to be filled by the Staten Island Democrats. While the bipartisan composition of the board is written into the state's constitution, there is nothing to stop the City Council, which selects the board members, from demanding that the board cease operating as a patronage machine.

This election will be over in November. If there is no disaster, the city's problems with its election systems will likely slip from view until election season rolls around again. But New York City's voters will continue to be disenfranchised as our votes are lost through bad management. The scrutiny that began for this election season must continue until real change is made. The only true way to reform New York City's election process is to scrap the patronage system that runs the board today -- as it has for decades -- and substitute an accountable, nonpartisan agency. Will any of our elected officials take this on?

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

Redistricting


After each census comes the dance known as redistricting. This time around, New York City and the surrounding suburbs accounted for virtually all the growth in New York State. Much of upstate actually lost population. The result is that, however the new districts are drawn, they will have to benefit New York City, giving the city more representatives in the New York State Senate and New York State Assembly, as well as preserving the city's proportion of the state's dwindling U.S. Congressional delegation. But that doesn't mean the process is going to be pretty. Redistricting, some observers have said, is like sausage; one does not want to watch what goes into making it.

The number of members of the New York State Assembly who represent New York City will increase from 61 to 63, out of a total of 150 seats. The number of members of the New York State Senate must increase from about 25 to about 26 (some State Senators have districts that include only parts of the city), out of a total of 62 seats.

In the United States Congress, it will be more complicated. The total number of members of Congress in New York State must drop from 31 to 29. Much of that loss must come from upstate. But the 14 local members of Congress may see their seat dangerously redrawn for a different reason - the change in ethnic and racial composition.

In the past, Congressional districts were created in very odd shapes in order to carve out a district in which the majority of the population were "minorities." Thanks to recent rulings by the United States Supreme Court, when the 2000 redistricting gets into full swing, strangely shaped districts will be seen as "constitutionally suspect" and may need to be redrawn. These could include Nydia Velazquez's Congressional district, already redrawn for the 1996 election, which includes parts of Brooklyn, Queens and the Lower East Side; Nita Lowey's Congressional district, which swings down from Westchester through the Bronx into parts of Queens; and Elliot Engel's district, which puts together minority populations in several areas of the Bronx with portions of Yonkers, Mount Vernon and New Rochelle.

It is true that race or Hispanic status can no longer be the "predominant" or primary factor in redrawing districts, but a recent Supreme Court ruling indicates race can be considered. Voting rights specialists use the terms "packing" and "cracking" when describing the methods to dilute minority-voting power. "Packing" means corralling the minority voters in as few districts as possible, so that, while a minority candidate might be elected, the white incumbents in the nearby districts will not be threatened.

"Cracking" means splitting the minority vote among several districts so that they will be unable to elect a preferred candidate. Recently, "unpacking" of the state legislature occurred in New Jersey, a process upheld by the federal courts so far. African American Democrats in that state originally backed the plan. But the slate proposed by the Democrats in the mixed race districts, once the plan was accepted, is all white. How will all these factors affect such districts as the one represented for decades by Charlie Rangel, for instance, the dean of the Black Congressional Caucus who now finds himself in the second most heavily Hispanic district in New York State at just over 50 percent?

Redistricting is often an exercise in absurdity done behind closed doors. But there are some signs that this time around, it will at least be more out in the open. Governor George Pataki has budgeted three million dollars so that his office may become involved, and the new computer technology means that regular members of the community can at least theoretically learn what is going on, and make their voices heard.

Andrew A. Beveridge has taught sociology at Queens College since 1981, done demographic analyses for the New York Times since 1993, and provides expert testimony on a range of cases, including housing discrimination. The opinions expressed are his alone.

Women and Technology


In the past year, New York City has done much to promote high technology. While economic development in New York's special high-tech zones is a priority, it is also important to focus on upgrading the skills of citizens in these communities.

Currently, New York's high-tech economic development efforts are focused on eight districts: Harlem, Long Island City, DUMBO, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Sunset Park, Red Hook, Staten Island and most recently in the South Bronx. These are some of the poorest neighborhoods in New York. Since there are a large number of single mothers in these neighborhoods, it is important to target tech education and training at women. Poor women are the least likely to have computer training and this keeps them out of higher paying jobs. Focusing training on single mothers will enable their families to benefit from the influx of high-tech businesses in their communities.

If mothers are trained in high-tech skills, it is highly likely that they will pass on this knowledge to their children. Thus, by focusing new tech-training programs on women, New York can also influence the future generation of New Yorkers. This is extremely important if New York is to further develop its current focus on high-tech industries like biotechnology and information technology.

One way to upgrade the skills of working mothers in these neighborhoods is to divert money from already established programs. New York's Commission on the Status of Women could play an important role in making this happen. For example, recently, the U.S. Department of Labor gave the Private Industry Council funding to train several hundred New Yorkers over the next two years in high-tech skills. These funds could be targeted at building the skills of individuals within the eight high-tech districts.

Another way would be to require that companies lured into these high-tech zones by below-market rent in wired office space offer high-tech skills workshops focused on women. This would help build positive relations with the communities in which they reside while improving their likelihood of being employed.

If efforts are not made to focus on the education and training of families where economic development programs are planned, it is likely that they will be further marginalized. They will be less likely to know how to use a computer or access information via the Internet. In the end, economic development without social development is a recipe for exacerbating the digital divide.

The high-tech sector is still dominated by men. Therefore, focusing high-tech education and training on women is a sound policy choice no matter what neighborhood they live in.

While women have now attained parity in Internet use in the U.S., employment opportunities are still highly biased towards men. According to New York-based high-tech networking association Webgrrls International women still represent only 20 percent of employees in Internet businesses. In addition, typically, women work in technology business areas such as marketing, advertising and public relations; very few work as programmers with computer science or engineering backgrounds or make it to upper management. Two notable examples of women who defy the norm are New York-based venture capitalist Esther Dyson and Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

It is easy to see these recommendations, while targeted specifically at women, could easily be used as a basis for all New Yorkers who find themselves unplugged and tuned out. In the end, if New York's high-tech economic development efforts are to benefit people living in all five boroughs, we must closely coordinate them with related social development programs.

New York cannot rely on the private sector to bring wealth to our poor neighborhoods. Instead, the city must make a concerted effort to target education, training and employment at women and youth. It is only then that we will be able to realize the goals of our economic development programs and build a better future for the city.

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

Sharpton's Endorsement


Al Sharptons endorsement for mayor has been postponed by his unexpected stay in jail. But it is worth asking: just how big is the Sharpton constituency in New York City? How many voters can he influence?

The best evidence we have of Sharpton's electoral strength is his past performance. Sharpton has run in three Democratic primaries -- for senator in 1992 and 1994, and for mayor in 1997. There has been no candidate for office in the history of New York City with so defined a group of supporters as Al Sharpton.

The raw numbers show that Sharpton's New York City vote has stayed the same regardless of over-all turnout:

  Sharpton Total % Sharpton
1992 S: 136,118 656,283 20.7
1997 M: 131,848 411,459 32.0

The same is true of his numbers by borough. The only changes of as much as 2,000 votes were his drop of 3,000 votes each election in Queens and his 5,000 vote spike in 1994 in Manhattan (which, presumably, was anti-Moynihan liberals):

Bronx:      
1992 S: 25,238 95,674 26.4
1994 S: 25,086 59,494 42.2
1997 M: 26,299 69,111 38.1
Brooklyn:      
1992 S: 50,170 195,298 25.7
1994 S: 49,193 127,823 38.5
1997 M: 50,198 128,366 39.7
Manhattan:      
1992 S: 26,515 180,316 14.7
1994 S: 31,320 118,136 26.5
1997 M: 26,236 122,847 21.4
Queens:      
1992 S: 32,664 164,723 19.8
1994 S: 29,778 101,960 29.2
1997 M: 26,739 81,022 33.0
Staten Island:      
1992 S: 1,531 20,452 7.5
1994 S: 1,613 11,605 13.9
1997 M: 1,656 10,112 16.4

Even at the Assembly District level, Sharptons votes were remarkably consistent. In 44 of the 61 ADs, his vote never varied by as much as 500 from one election to the next.

It should be noted turnout across the board dropped 1992 to 1994, while between 1994 and 1997 white turnout declined further and minority turnout rose.

The stability of Sharptons vote between 1994 and 1997, despite his sharp percentage declines in his best districts, came from the fact that these districts cast a higher percentage of the city vote in 1997. Looked at another way, the 48,000 largely anti-Sharpton whites who stayed home in 1997 were replaced by 40,000 largely anti-Sharpton minority voters, while 5,000 anti-Moynihan whites in 1994 shifted their votes away from Sharpton, so his over-all percentage in 1997 was only .7 percent below his 1994 showing.

Conclusion: About 30,000 voters come out to vote for Sharpton and stay home if he does not run. Another 95,000 voters have voted for Sharpton all three times he has run.

That is about one-eighth of the voters likely to vote in this Democratic primary, a sizable chunk. Of course, just because these voters vote for Sharpton when he runs does not mean that they follow his endorsements when he doesn't.

But it is these voters the Democratic candidates are looking to influence when they court Al Sharpton.


 

Endorsements and Michael Bloomberg

By Susan Reefer

Endorsements matter, or not, depending on who you talk to.

They matter, or at least matter more, when the endorsement is unexpected; when the person making the endorsement rarely deigns to do so in other races; when the endorsement is based on a shared ideal, rather than a personal relationship; when the person making the endorsement is well-liked and well-trusted.

Endorsements have traditionally been more of an issue in Democratic primaries, were organizational and coalition politics traditionally play a bigger role.

But even in Republican primaries, endorsements are worth noting.

The Republican mayoral primary in New York City is often an intellectual exercise, and this year will probably not be very different. The prohibitive front-runner is Michael Bloomburg, not because of his party credentials (he been a Republican just outside of six months) or his past electoral victories (he has none) or his long record of public service (ditto). But he does have a lot of money, and that will probably be enough to put him over the top.

So while the Republicans may not have much of a horserace, the endorsements are still an interesting commentary, if not on the candidates, then on the would-be kingmakers.

John McCain, it is rumored, will come to New York and campaign for and with Michael Bloomburg. McCain has his own interests, certainly; everything from another Republican Presidential run in 2008 to an independent bid in 2004 has been mentioned. So a McCain endorsement, whatever effect it would have on the outcome of the race, will certainly get McCain on the news for at least one 24-hour news cycle in the nation's largest media market.

But a McCain endorsement will have at least some small impact, in the form of credibility. McCain may be a maverick, and Republicans may be a little wary of his next move, but he is (at least at press time) a Republican, he is a bonafied American hero, and he is a duly elected United States Senator. He is the real thing, a modern American statesman. And he may lend some weight to the Bloomburg image, which despite a heavy media buy this month, is still in need of some definition.

New York City politics have a long tradition of creative alliances; this will make one more. But this and other endorsements will also be an interesting preview of things to come on the national scene.

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



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