Quantcast

Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union
Loading

STATE

State

What's The [DATA] Point? $1.5 billion


whats the data point


What's The Data Point? Episode 9 -- $1.5 billion, [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

For this episode of the podcast, we were joined by Alex Matthiessen, President of Blue Marble Project and Campaign Director for Move New York, the "congestion pricing" plan that aims to help repair and improve the city's mass transit, roads and bridges, while reducing traffic and creating more equity in tolling around the city.

Matthiessen expains the details of the Move New York plan and its place in this new, unique political moment -- Governor Cuomo has recently said that he's looking at some version of a congestion pricing plan and there is immense attention on how the city and state can improve mass transit, reduce traffic congestion, and repair, sustain, and expand the subway and other transportation options. Matthiessen addresses the next steps for Cuomo, whether Mayor de Blasio should come around to back Move New York or some version of it, and where things are heading for a new paradigm in New York transit.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis (@MariaDoulis) of CBC (@cbcny), and special guest Alex Matthiessen (@MoveNewYork). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, August 14


640px New York City Hall

New York City Hall


President Donald Trump will be in New York City on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; he will stay at Trump Tower before returning to his golf course in New Jersey on Wednesday. No events are scheduled; the president will be holding meetings at Trump Tower. The president’s visit to his hometown will likely be met with continuing protests following a massive solidarity march that took place on Sunday for the victims of the Charlottesville attack, in which one anti-racist protestor was killed and 19 injured when an Ohio man drove a car into a crowd of protestors on Saturday. Trump is facing increasing criticism for failing to strongly condemn white supremacist violence in the wake of the incident. 

Also on Sunday, elected officials and mayoral candidates marched in the 35th annual Dominican Day Parade. Mayor Bill de Blasio took the opportunity to address the violence in Charlottesville and also Trump's visit to the city. "President Trump is coming back to his hometown. I hope while he’s here he thinks about the values of this place," de Blasio said. "I hope he thinks about New Yorkers and what we believe. I hope he thinks about the people he grew up with who would never tolerate a white supremacist movement, who would never tolerate innocent protestors being mowed down out of hatred."

In other news, the deadline to register to vote in September’s primary election is on Friday, August 18. The primary will take place on September 12.

Monday
At 10 a.m. Monday, Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, the presumptive GOP mayoral nominee, will hold a news conference at the steps of City Hall to release her "Treatment B4 Crisis Plan to help New York City's mentally ill."

At 1:30 p.m. Monday, State Senator Brian Benjamin will host a rally “in support of the first black female senate leader in New York State history, the Honorable Andrea Stewart-Cousins.” The rally will take place on West 122nd St between St. Nicholas Ave and Frederick Douglass Blvd in Harlem. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James will attend the rally. 

Mayor de Blasio does not have any events scheduled on Monday. In the evening, the mayor and First Lady Chirlane McCray will leave for Rhode Island, where they will be on vacation till Friday.

Tuesday
At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Public Advocate Letitia James will host a news conference in Brooklyn "announcing the banks that fund the Worst Landlords Watchlist. She will be joined by tenants, advocates, and elected officials."

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Civic Hall and Citizens Union will host “A Constitutional Convention for New York - Yes or No?” Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max will moderate a panel of supporters and opponents to discuss the question of whether New York State should vote to hold a constitutional convention.

Wednesday
At 8 a.m. Wednesday, City & State will host “On Education,” which will “gather leaders in education, government, advocacy, and business to discuss the implementation of technology in classrooms and STEM curriculum across New York, and the current debate regarding evaluations, testing, school closures and more.” New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will deliver the opening remarks. Others speaking or participating on panels throughout the day include James Milliken, Chancellor of CUNY; MaryEllen Elia, State Education Commissioner and SUNY president; Janella Hinds, Vice President of the United Federation of Teachers; Betty Rosa, Chancellor of the Board of Regents; Carl McCall, Chairman of SUNY; and others.

At noon Wednesday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assemblymember Amy Paulin will hold a press conference at the White Plains Metro North station to announce a “major new investment to expand mass transit in Westchester County.”

Thursday
At 10 a.m. Thursday, the Campaign Finance Board will hold a public meeting.

At 2 p.m., the New York State Urban Development Corporation will hold a directors meeting.

Friday and the weekend
No other events on our radar for Friday or the weekend as of Sunday night.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***

by Ben Brachfeld and Samar Khurshid
@GothamGazette

Dan Squadron Fought the LLC Loophole and the Loophole Won


8675391217 6a4e836d65 z

State Senator Daniel Squadron (photo: Daniel Squadron/Flickr)


In early April, during the final throes of state budget negotiations, state Senator Daniel Squadron introduced a hostile amendment on the Senate floor to the Public Protection and General Government state budget bill. The amendment was intended to close the so-called “LLC loophole” in the state’s campaign finance law, which allows limited liability companies, often with hidden owners, to pour virtually unlimited money into political campaigns.

It was hardly the first time Squadron and his fellow minority Democrats tried to force the chamber to consider the bill, which, despite broad support from the public, had never been brought to the Senate floor.

"Year after year, indictment after indictment, conviction after conviction, the Senate Majority has refused to take action to close an indefensible loophole,” said Squadron on the Senate floor, echoing his remarks from previous sessions. It would also be his last effort as a senator to close the notorious loophole, which factored in the corruption convictions of both state legislative leaders Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos in 2015.

On Wednesday, Squadron, who was first elected in 2008, abruptly announced his resignation from the Senate. He signed off with an op-ed in the New York Daily News, describing how he had grown disillusioned by the dysfunction in Albany.

“Over the years,” Squadron wrote, he watched the government’s potential “thwarted by a sliver of heavily invested special interests.”

“In the state Senate, for example, Democrats have repeatedly been denied control of the chamber by cynical political deals, despite winning an electoral majority — including in 2016,” he added, referring to the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference, which has a power sharing agreement with the Senate GOP, and Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who conferences with Republicans to control the chamber.

Squadron also decried the “structural barriers” faced by rank-and-file legislators, “including ‘three men in a room’ decisionmaking, loophole-riddled campaign finance rules and a governor-controlled budget process.”

Squadron’s white whale, the LLC loophole, was created by the Board of Elections in 1996 and treats limited liability companies like individuals, allowing them to donate $60,800 in a year to political campaigns at the state level. Corporations, in comparison, are only allowed to contribute a maximum of $5,000. Elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans, have benefited from the loophole.

In 2015, Squadron joined Democrats Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh and the Brennan Center for Justice as co-plaintiffs on a lawsuit filed against the state Board of Elections in 2015 to end the loophole. The case, though initially dismissed, was appealed on June 27. 

Over the last two decades, New York’s lax campaign finance laws have resulted in statewide candidate and party coffers being flooded with millions in LLC dollars. LLCs donated $54.2 million to candidates, parties, and traditional PACs between 2011 and 2014, and more than $118.6 million between 1999 and 2014, according to a 2015 Board of Elections analysis by the Hedge Clippers, an activist organization backed by a coalition of unions and progressive groups that highlights the corrosive effect of big money in politics. A 2013 report by the now defunct Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption identified one group that had “utilized 25 separate LLCs and subsidiary entities to make 147 separate political contributions totaling more than $3.1 million since 2008.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has been possibly the biggest beneficiary of the LLC loophole while at the same time calling for a cap on LLC donations. In the most recent campaign finance filings, Cuomo raised $5.1 million in contributions between January and June, with more than $500,000 from LLCs.

Squadron, in addition to pushing for closure of the LLC loophole, defined himself as a voice for other good governance measures, championing the enactment of term limits and restrictions on outside income. His persistent but respectful questioning of his Republican colleagues on the lack of movement on the bills marked each session, to no avail. This year’s hostile amendment, like other attempts that had come before it, failed.

“And the status quo has proven extraordinarily durable: It barely shuddered when the leaders of both legislative chambers were convicted of corruption,” Squadron wrote in the Daily News, referring to Silver and Skelos.

Alarmed by the nationwide shift towards “Trumpism,” Squadron said in an interview that he was presented in July with the opportunity he couldn’t refuse: to join entrepreneur Adam Pritzker and Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University on a national campaign effort. He said the timing of his resignation was to ensure that his seat, which is safely Democratic, would be filled on November 7, Election Day. It is a city election cycle; state legislative elections are slated for next year, so the process for replacing Squadron is different from a typical election.

But despite his frustration with the “cynical dealmaking” he witnessed in Albany, when asked about supporting a constitutional convention, which many reformers say is the only way to move these issues, Squadron was lukewarm.

Once every 20 years, New Yorkers have the opportunity through a ballot referendum to vote to call a constitutional convention, including this Election Day. If called, delegates will be chosen from each Senate district, and the following year a convention aimed at modernizing and updating New York’s lengthy and arcane constitution will commence. Any changes produced by the convention will return to voters the following year.

"I think there is a lot of promise in a constitutional convention, if it’s done in the right way,” Squadron said. “[T]he Con Con and gaining a Democratic majority are two ways to push the fundamental reform."

Many have taken note of the abrupt nature of Squadron’s departure, which triggers a special election without a competitive primary -- the Democratic nominee will be chosen by party insiders, not voters.

The rebuke was swift and harsh, including from the paper Squadron chose to place his farewell. “Last month we rapped Councilman David Greenfield for leaving office to take a new job after claiming a spot on the reelection ballot — putting sole power to pick a successor in his own hands,” wrote the New York Daily News editorial board. “State Sen. Daniel Squadron just made a similar move that will arrogantly deprive some 300,000 people in his Brooklyn and Manhattan district of a chance to decide who serves them. And deprive who knows how many would-be public servants of the chance to make their case to the voters.” The move, the board noted, was particularly “rich” considering Squadron had built a reputation as a reformer.

Squadron, in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette, defended the timing of his decision noting that even if the opportunity had presented itself earlier, it would have been unfair to leave his constituents without representation for part of the legislative session. Had he resigned following the extended session that ended in late June, the move would have allowed Senate hopefuls just a week to collect 1,000 petitions required to get on the ballot -- hardly a more democratic option, he said.

Squadron represents the 26th Senate District, which includes neighborhoods along the Brooklyn waterfront, from Greenpoint to Carroll Gardens, and a significant chunk of lower Manhattan, reaching as far as Washington Square Park. According to state election law, when an intercounty special election is called, the party nominee is decided by leaders of both counties, in this case chair of Brooklyn Democrats Frank Seddio and Manhattan Democratic Party boss Keith Wright, according to spokespersons for both organizations. If Democratic leaders decide on a “weighted vote,” then Squadron’s successor will effectively be decided by the Manhattan party, since Brooklyn only accounts for one-third of the district.

A spokesperson for the Manhattan Democrats said that the organization's internal policy is to include its own committee members in choosing nominees, and that a convention will likely be called for early September -- a nominee must be selected by September 21. How the outcome of that vote will be reconciled with the wishes of the Brooklyn’s Democratic leadership remains unclear.

“Frank [Seddio] and Keith [Wright] have spoken and are going to get together to decide on a process for replacing Squadron,” said George Arzt, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Democrats, noting that Seddio was mourning the recent death of his brother.

Squadron has acknowledged that the intercounty special election process is inherently flawed, allowing the Democratic county chairs to effectively choose his successor (since a Republican nominee has no chance of winning the seat), and has written a letter to both party bosses, requesting that county committee members, representatives selected from each election district, be included in the process.

“To disenfranchise Brooklynites would be unfair and undemocratic. I strongly urge you to make this process as democratic as possible: to allow a full vote of the County Committee across both Manhattan and Brooklyn, and to be bound by its result,” he wrote in the letter, indicating that because more of his district is in Manhattan, that county machine may have been able to dominate the process.

Assembly Member Kavanagh, a fellow reformer whose district overlaps with a small part of Squadron's Senate district, quickly announced his candidacy for the seat. Other names being floated include Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, who indicated she is exploring a bid, and Lincoln Restler, an aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has led anti-machine reform efforts in Brooklyn.

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Progressive Activist Registers Campaign Committee for Latimer’s Senate Seat


brezler 2

Katherine Brezler (photo via Facebook)


A teacher and grassroots organizer is scoping out the Westchester Democratic Party nod in a potential special election for state Senator George Latimer’s seat, which would be triggered if the Democratic senator wins the race for Westchester county executive this fall.

On July 24, Katherine Brezler, a 35-year-old from White Plains who campaigned for Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential bid, became the first to register a campaign committee for the 37th Senate District seat currently held by Latimer, according to the New York State Board of Elections.

Latimer is challenging Republican incumbent Rob Astorino for the county executive position with the blessing of his fellow Democrats in the Senate minority conference. At least four mainline Democrats contributed to Latimer’s county executive campaign. The largest donation, of $2,500, came from Senator Michael Gianaris, deputy leader of the mainline Democratic conference and head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC). Latimer has received endorsements from the Independence, Working Families, and Women’s Equality parties and will first face county legislator Ken Jenkins, from Yonkers, in the September 12 primary. 

Brezler is also rooting for Latimer, whom she describes as “a mentor,” and has been making phone calls on his behalf. “I have good feelings about the future of Westchester and the voters making [Senator] George Latimer county executive,” she said. “I wouldn’t be out here this early if I didn’t believe that. But there is still a lot of work to do. We have a lot of doors to knock on.”

If Latimer does unseat Astorino, the Senate seat he would vacate is likely to be highly contested. Since 2012, the last time the seat was empty, both the Republican and Democratic campaign committees have collectively poured nearly $2 million into district races. Governor Andrew Cuomo also threw his support behind Latimer last year to ensure that the seat remained Democratic.

By all accounts, Latimer has been an exceptional Democratic candidate. Despite a 2012 redistricting of the 37th Senate District, which the League of Women Voters of Westchester criticized for cutting out minority voters and favoring Republicans, Latimer won the seat that year, and retained his popularity in the district for three consecutive terms. In 2014, Latimer kept the seat with 49.9 percent of the vote, barely beating out Republican Joe Dillon, who drew 45.8 percent of the vote. Latimer’s office did not respond to a message seeking comment for this article.

Brezler, who previously was a Sanders delegate and founding member of the People For Bernie, a national network that rallied support for the former presidential candidate, boasts a slew of progressive accomplishments. She was part of a national organizing campaign for the movement to “opt-out” of state school testing, is an advocate for affordable housing and, citing her background as the daughter of a doctor and nurse, she has made the passage of universal, single-payer health care a central part of her platform. She noted that there is a 2-1 ratio of registered Democrats over Republicans in the district, and that Democratic engagement in Westchester is on the rise since the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.

Brezler, who has also worked as a delegate for the Westchester/Putnam chapter of the AFL-CIO union, said she was inspired to run, in part, because of the stagnant state of progressive legislation in the New York State Senate, despite Democrats holding a narrow majority in the body. The Senate GOP maintains the legislative majority with the help of Senator Simcha Felder, of Brooklyn, who caucuses with the conference, and through an alliance with eight rogue Democrats who make up the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).

“Two-thirds of this country supports universal healthcare and it’s unconscionable that it’s popped three years in a row, and the state Senate thinks it’s acceptable not to bring it to the floor,” Brezler said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

Brezler said she spoke to a number of local elected officials who told her they were not interested in the seat, although she did not specify whom, and saw an opportunity to ensure that the district remained in Democratic hands.

Assemblyman Steven Otis, a Democrat whose district encompasses much of Latimer’s and who previously worked as chief of staff to Latimer’s predecessor, is one name likely to be floated for the post, according to people familiar with the district. Otis told Gotham Gazette he intends to remain in the Assembly where he is “excelling” and “can deliver the best results” for the communities he represents.

If Latimer wins the county executive primary election and then the general this fall, he will vacate his current seat by January, and it will be up to Governor Cuomo’s discretion to call a special election. In a special election, a competitive primary is bypassed, and the Democratic and Republican nominees are picked by the party boss and county executive committee, which comprised of district leaders. In Westchester, the nominee may also be selected by party chair persons of city, towns and villages, Brezler said.

A former Yonkers district leader herself, Brezler says she has had productive conversations with Westchester County Democratic Party chairman Reginald LaFayette and believes she has the name recognition required to drum up county committee support.

"I've been working in local politics for a very long time,” Brezler said. “They know me by name, face, and work; it’s not a surprise to anyone that I’m running.” 

Brezler has also voiced opposition to Cuomo on a number of issues in the past, but noted the second-term governor’s evolution since his re-election in 2014. “The governor is trying his best to put his progressive foot forward and I’m interested in seeing what this year looks like," she said.

Brezler said the supposed fissure between the progressive, grassroots Sanders faction of the Democratic Party and the Democratic establishment has been overstated in the media and is not as pronounced on the state level, where she believes Democrats are coming together to resist the policies of the Trump administration.

Veteran Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said Brezler’s past criticisms of Cuomo could be a liability for her candidacy. “It’s unlikely that someone who has attacked the governor will be picked as the nominee,” he said, noting that, “Cuomo got the 2 percent property tax cap for the people of Westchester,” which is plagued by some of the highest rates in the nation.

However, getting a headstart on fundraising and the potential to tap into support from a national Sanders coalition could help Brezler, because it may “scare off other candidates,” he said.

As an educator, Brezler has been a proponent of the state meeting its school aid obligations under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision -- the results of a lawsuit seeking to ensure “the constitutional right to a sound basic education” for all public school students -- which she says would infuse struggling schools in Yonkers and elsewhere with millions of dollars needed to ease the county’s notorious property tax burden.

Brezler said her next objective is to win over the DSCC, chaired by Senator Gianaris of Queens, who she said will likely have a conversation with LaFayette about what is best for the party.

“If the DSCC isn’t super excited about me then I think they will find that the network behind me is able to raise a considerable amount, and that I have more name recognition than they think,” said Brezler.

Brezler, who is a first-generation Argentine immigrant on her father’s side, noted that she would be a diverse choice for the Senate Democrats as the first openly queer woman in the legislative body.

A spokesperson for the Senate Democratic conference declined to weigh in on “hypothetical” candidates and Gianaris’ office did not return a request for comment.

It may still be too early for Democrats to vet potential replacements for Latimer not knowing the outcome of the election, said Sheinkopf. “She’s just out front faster than anyone else,” he said of Brezler. “First order of business, is to know whether Latimer will beat Astorino. For that you would have to hire a magician and get the divine inspiration. Is it possible? Yes. Is it highly likely? 50-50.”

Julie Killian, a Council member from the city of Rye in Westchester who challenged Latimer for the Senate seat in 2016 and received 44.3 percent of the vote, is rumored to be running again on the Republican party line, but she has not announced an interest in the race and her Senate fundraising account has been cleared out, according to her most recent BOE filings.

Regardless of whether Latimer wins the county executive race, Brezler said she intends to continue to shake things up on the state and local level.

“I'm not going anywhere,” she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Latimer's 2014 Republican challenger.

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

 

In Manhattan, District Leader Maps Redrawn Last Minute and Hard to Find


district leader palm card kim

Kim Moscaritolo and Adam Roberts, district leaders for Manhattan's Assembly District 76, Part B


While much of the media and public’s attention is focussed on New York’s mayoral and City Council races, lesser known elections are also slated to take place this fall.

On primary day, September 12, and election day, November 7, Manhattanites will vote on their district leaders. While the position is part-time and unpaid, it comes with a degree of influence and is often a stepping stone to greater political posts. Sometimes elected officials at higher levels are also district leaders, giving them additional power.

The county committee, which is made up of two to four representatives from each election district, is too large and unwieldy to be an effective body. Therefore, district leaders are elected biennially to form an executive committee and are enabled to exercise all or most of the powers of the county committee. In addition to acting as a liaison between constituents and paid elected officials, district leaders play a role in nominating civil judicial candidates, making formal party endorsements, and appointing paid poll workers.  They also vote for the Democratic Party county chairman.

In three boroughs -- Brooklyn, Staten Island, and the Bronx -- a pair of district leaders are elected per State Assembly district, one male and one female. But in Queens and Manhattan, Assembly districts may be divided into two, three, or four district leader parts, marked by the letters A, B, C, and D.

To get on the ballot, candidates must collect 500 signatures from residents of their Assembly district, or their part of an Assembly district, which in Manhattan can be comprised of between 10 and 50 election districts, BOE subdivisions marked by designated polling places within Assembly districts. Signatures from outside these boundaries can be challenged by an opponent, potentially leading to removal from the ballot.

This year, several candidates for district leader positions say that a last minute redrawing of the Manhattan election district map sparked confusion and misinformation just days before the June ballot petitioning period kicked off. Ballot petitioning is the signature-gathering process whereby candidates qualify for the election ballot.

When election districts are changed, the party must then adjust the district leader parts. A preliminary draft of the new “party call” -- which lists which election districts belong in which Assembly district parts -- is submitted to current Manhattan district leaders along with a map to see where additional adjustments can or should be made.

Typically, district leaders agree on the boundaries amongst themselves and the party sends out a third version of the party call, which according to Manhattan Democratic Party rules, must be approved by district leaders with a two-thirds vote.

This year, petitioning for district leader races began June 6, with the forms due between July 10 and July 13. Due to the newly drawn election districts, the district leader parts had yet to be made permanent or public by the final week in May, and candidates say the related confusion cut into their petitioning time and chances for success.

"It was very short notice to find out the lines have changed and that greatly impacted people's targets,” said Ny Whitaker, a candidate for the 68th Assembly District, Part D. “I know for sure that I lost some huge blocks where I've built relationships over the last few years."

In New York City, getting on the ballot for any elected seat is a notoriously complex process, riddled with pitfalls that can cause even experienced candidates to stumble, but for county party races like district leader, in some boroughs it can be that much more challenging to obtain basic information and clarity about guidelines.

To deduce where their district parts are located, district leader candidates in Manhattan (and Queens) must match up the most recent “party call,” which lists which one- to two-block election districts are located in each part, with the latest election district map, available from the Manhattan (or Queens) Board of Elections.

"There are many intricate layers to running for a party position, but there isn't a manual for telling you how to run,” said Whitaker. “Calculating the number of voters that you need for party positions and county positions is like a statistical equation involving algebra, geometry, and geography."

For non-incumbents, unless they are very knowledgeable about the process, obtaining this information is even harder. The party call listed on the Manhattan Democratic Party website is out-of-date (though this is an improvement from Queens, where the Democratic Party does not have a website to reference).

Whitaker, who ran for district leader positions twice before, said the information was changed on such short notice that Votebuilder -- the voter roll database compiled by the Democratic National Committee, made available to Democratic candidates for a hefty subscription fee -- had not been updated with the new data, and until the very last petitioning day, even the Board of Elections could not provide an updated election district map.

Whitaker, who wound up obtaining the new party call and latest electoral district map from the Manhattan Board of Elections office one day before the start of petitioning, said she only knew of the maps being redrawn because she attended the New York County Democratic Party’s executive committee meeting on May 17.

During that meeting, district leader Johnny Rivera, who represents the 68th District, Part B, raised concerns about the short window he had to review any changes that were made to his part. However, he said, party officials were unwilling to address his concerns citing time constraints.

“I am a district leader and I had some difficulty getting that information. It’s fundamental to running in a race, you need to know the boundaries to use your time wisely in collecting signatures in that particular election district,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. “Not knowing that can cost you the election.”

The last time Assembly districts are redrawn was in 2012, however, the Manhattan Board of Elections is required to regularly alter election districts to accommodate demographic shifts and ensure that poll sites are well utilized. The redistricting often results in a complete renumbering of election districts on the map and with some EDs, as they are called, even dragged from one Assembly district into another.

This year, the redistricting triggered a three-step effort to reconstruct the map in a way that is understandable and agreeable to current district leaders, according to Barry Weinberg, executive director for the New York County (Manhattan) Democratic Party, who was involved in the painstaking process.

Weinberg said he and the party’s law chair received the new part lines on May 11, stayed up all night to create the preliminary party call and sent it out to district leaders the following day for review.

“From the party’s perspective, we worked as fast as we possibly could to turn around the draft of the party call in under 24 hours, given the time constraints,” said Weinberg.

There were some disagreements, such as one case, in Lower Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District, where one boundary cut through a housing project. But in most cases, the district leaders worked things out on a conference call, according to Weinberg. There were also a few errors with the original election district map that had to be corrected by the Board of Elections.

But Rivera, the district leader, said he was not aware of changes made to his part until hours before the May 17 vote, and asked that the vote be postponed, a request that was denied. The party call was due to be submitted to the BOE by May 23.

Politics of course plays a role in how the boundaries are determined, and those who are not allies of County Democratic Party boss Keith Wright say they can be subtly shut out of the process.

“The final changes, I didn’t have a say in it. I think it all depends on your relationship with the chairman. If you are in, you probably get the lines you wanted. If you are not in, you get whatever he decides, and you get it two or three hours before the meeting,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette, referring to Wright..

For district leaders, petitioning was particularly stressful this year for other reasons. Most political candidates throughout the city obtain their petition printouts from a single print shop, owned by Alan Handell, who is entrusted to make sure the forms meet the BOE’s byzantine requirements. When it is an “on year” -- when City Council, mayoral, and other elections are taking place -- this creates a printing backlog delaying the petitioning process, according to at least one district leader who spoke with Gotham Gazette.

“Because of the backlog, I wasn’t able to get my petitions until June 9,” three days after petitioning began, said Kelmy Rodriguez, who is challenging District Leader John Ruiz in the 68th Assembly District, Part C.

There are few rules dictating how county Democratic parties operate, since they largely are empowered to set their own, and really only answer to the New York State Democratic Party.

"The district leaders and the county have the right to have the parts redrawn because the parts are entirely the creature of the party. This year seems like it was done really close to the beginning of petitioning" said Sarah Steiner, a Manhattan election lawyer, who is involved in several district leader races. She added, “I do think the process should be more transparent."

The inconsistent divisions in Manhattan formed over a century of New York’s history, a result of regulatory changes, demographic shifts and controversies, according to Doug Kellner, co-chair of the State Board of Elections and former law chair for the Manhattan Democratic Party.  The splits often occurred to settle disputes between political clubs or district leaders.

“It was something [former Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Herman ‘Denny’ Farrell] did not like to do when he was county leader, because it kept watering down the authority of the district leader,” said Kellner. “When you have eight district leaders in an Assembly district, it’s as if nobody is in charge.”

In Manhattan, the practice dates back to the turn of the 20th Century, when it was mainly used as an anti-reform measure, when Tammany Hall -- the political machine that ruled the borough for the first half of the century -- was in power.

“It was a method of redistricting and gerrymandering the party organization,” said Kellner. “Until reforms that [former First Lady] Eleanor Roosevelt pushed in the early 1950s, it was abused to prevent insurgents from gaining footholds within the county organization.”

Roosevelt, who became heavily involved in reforming city politics after her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt became governor of New York in 1929, was instrumental in democratizing the vote for district leaders. Previously, only county committee members were able to vote for these representatives. Roosevelt and the League of Women Voters were instrumental in implementing the male and female pair, a structure that ensures the inclusion of more women in the party establishment.

Redrawing of the parts, Kellner noted, was historically a way to ensure that people who  belonged to a particular political club lived in the appropriate part.

“It always came down to, from what I observed, it really was where club people resided, so people wouldn’t always join the club for the territory where they lived and when it came down to do the party call. They might address that by massaging the boundaries between the part,” he said.

The regulations have since been loosened to allow club members and district leaders to live in any section of the Assembly district and choose which “part” they run for.

Ultimately it is up to the party to find a system that works. The Staten Island Democratic Party previously divided its Assembly districts into parts, calling them “zones,” but at a county committee meeting in May, district leaders voted to adopt the two leader per district structure used by other boroughs.

A spokesperson for the Staten Island Democratic Party said it has already saved the county and candidates time and money, streamlined the election process, and made petitioning easier for the upcoming election.

In recent years, the Manhattan Democratic Party attracted a lot of young people -- many of whom were energized by the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections -- into the political process, which has sparked a push for more transparency and access across the borough.

“There has been an effort to sort of modernize things and make things more available to people and a little more transparent,” said Kim Moscaritolo, district leader for the 76th Assembly District, Part B. “When I was first getting involved, it was nearly impossible to find that information, even finding out who the district leaders were for those parts.”

Stephen Redden, member of the Manhattan Young Democrats, which Moscaritolo is active in, is working on creating an interactive, color-coded map to make the district leader information more accessible on the party’s website, according to Weinberg.

Previously, candidates would have to get the maps from the BOE and color them in. “If there's a race, you would just draw with a highlighter where the lines are,” said Weinberg. “We’re hoping to bring that into the 21st Century.”

The New York City Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment.

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, August 7


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio is starting the week with a news conference Monday morning where he is expected to announce a new "millionaire's tax" which would fund MTA upgrades and subsidize MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. The proposal comes amid a dispute between the city and State over funding a short-term rescue plan for the subways. Governor Andrew Cuomo and MTA Chair Joe Lhota pushed back against the mayor's proposal, which became public on Sunday, insisting that the city bear half the costs for immediate subway repairs. Mayor de Blasio has insisted throughout that the state already has enough funds at its disposal. 

This week has more action than last at the City Council, including an oversight hearing on the subway system. There is a variety of other Council committee hearings and one full-body Stated Meeting at which bills are passed and introduced.

 See our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At 10 a.m. Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James will host a news conference at City Hall with City Council Members Margaret Chin and Ritchie Torres on "NYCHA Failing to Serve Senior Residents with Disabilities."

At 11 a.m. Monday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a news conference at Columbus park in Brooklyn to "make an announcement about the City's support for subways and buses." Later, he will make his weekly appearance on “Road to City Hall” on NY1 Monday evening, during the 7 and 10 p.m. hours. This will be the mayor’s final weekly appearance on the program until after the mayoral election. He may appear as a candidate. 

Tuesday
At the City Council on Tuesday:
-- The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 9:30 a.m. to discuss several proposed laws, including, but not limited to, creating a “safe construction bill of rights,” creating “an office of the tenant advocate within the department of buildings,” “creating a task force on construction work in occupied multiple dwellings,” increasing penalties for working without permits and violating stop work orders, and amending the definition of tenant harassment to “include repeatedly contacting or visiting a tenant under certain circumstances.”
-- The Committee on Transportation will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “improving the New York City subway system.”
-- The Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to a “wireless communications surcharge” and “increasing the maximum qualifying income for the senior citizen homeowner’s exemption and the disabled homeowner’s exemption.”
--The Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “reporting response times for firefighting units and ambulances to emergencies.”
-- The Committee on Health will meet at 10:30 a.m. to discuss several proposed laws relating to the regulation of tobacco products, including, but not limited to, a prohibition on use of tobacco or e-cigarettes in “the common areas of all multiple dwellings” and “increasing the retail cigarette dealer license fee.”
-- The Committee on Standards and Ethics will meet at 12:30 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “matter of Ruben Wills,” the Queens Council member recently convicted on criminal corruption charges.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) will meet on Tuesday in Albany.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Board of Standards and Appeals will hold a public hearing at Spector Hall.

Wednesday
The full City Council will meet at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito expected to host the usual pre-stated press conference beforehand.

Also at the City Council on Wednesday
-- The Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to a “wireless communications surcharge” and “increasing the maximum qualifying income for the senior citizen homeowner’s exemption and the disabled homeowner’s exemption.”
-- The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 10:30 a.m.
-- The Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections, at 10:30 a.m., will hold a continuation of an August 2 recessed hearing regarding the nominations of Nasr Sheta to the Board of Standards and Appeals and Michael Rivadeneyra to the Civilian Complaint Review Board
-- The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at Spector Hall.

Thursday
At 3 p.m. Thursday, at Brooklyn Borough Hall, Council Member Antonio Reynoso “will be representing the 34th District including Bushwick, Greenpoint and Williamsburg” at the Source360 Speaker Series.

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio will be on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show for his weekly interview on Friday. This will be the mayor’s final weekly appearance on the program until after the mayoral election, though he is likely to appear on the show as a candidate.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

What About the Buses?


governorandrewcuomo photo by marc a. hermann mta new york city transit

(photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA)


Newly-minted MTA chief Joe Lhota held a press conference last week to announce a rescue plan for the city’s ailing subway system. The agenda includes signal fixes, maintenance work, new emergency response teams, and even rider communication shifts. Lhota’s blueprint comes with $800-plus million price tag, he said, which set off another round of feuding between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo about how much the city and the state will each pitch in.

While there is a great deal of attention necessarily being paid to the state of the city’s subway system, absent from the new MTA plan was measures to improve bus service. Transit advocates, city and state elected officials have subsequently pointed to buses as an overlooked but essential factor in improving New York City’s transit system, to provide commuters more reliable options and to reach people who live outside subway zones.

Indicative of the need for attention to buses is the fact that subway underperformance and drops in service reliability have not spawned an increased reliance on the city’s bus system. In fact, as the New York Times reported in February, bus ridership fell by approximately 1.6 percent on weekdays and 4 percent on weekends in 2016 from the year before, in keeping with a multi-year trend of falling bus usage.   

Following Lhota’s announcement of the new “NYC Subway Action Plan,” State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, who chairs the Assembly committee with MTA oversight, commended Lhota for releasing an emergency subway plan, but also encouraged him to address buses in the near future.

“While I recognize that our signals, tracks, cars, and user experience are all at the forefront of public concern and discourse, there are many New Yorkers who need improvements in other areas as well,” said the Dinowitz statement. “Accessibility concerns and bus service remain in need of attention also, and I encourage Chairman Lhota to address these issues soon,” he said. While Dinowitz’s committee has done little by way of MTA oversight in recent years, the Assembly member has put forth some of his own recommendations and took part in a two-day series of subway rides on Thursday and Friday to talk to riders directly.

John Raskin, executive director of transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, who has written and spoken favorably of Lhota and his plan, also said he would like to see advancements on buses.

“Focusing on bus service is a quick and affordable way to improve public transit for millions of daily riders. Implementing long-overdue bus improvements would be a great compliment to the longer, more expensive work that will be needed to overhaul subway service,” he wrote in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “In the near future, the MTA could improve bus service by switching to a system of boarding through all doors, as well as redesigning bus routes to match how people travel today,” he continued, also proposing “adding bus lanes to local routes so buses don't get caught in traffic jams.”

The bus system, particularly bus lanes, as many transit experts point out, can be changed relatively quickly, and by the mayor, if need be. Still, the state-run MTA holds the majority of control over buses as a whole.

There is growing consensus among experts and elected officials pointing to expanding both Select Bus Service (SBS), essentially express buses, and transit signal priority (TPS), which helps buses move more quickly through traffic light changes.

SBS is one of the joint ventures set in motion over the past few years that has shown signs of success. Ths mode differs from traditional buses in that passengers board from all doors, speeding up the process at each stop, and the stops are less frequent on routes, making SBS something of an “express.” SBS also uses proof-of-payment, where instead of dipping a metrocard, riders buy tickets at bus stop kiosks prior to boarding (they are checked randomly).

SBS has been deployed on 14 routes across the city; several potential routes to expand the service have been proposed as well. Prominent current examples of SBS are on 1st and 2nd Avenues in Manhattan; the newly-added crosstown 79th Street and 86th Street routes Uptown; the B41, B44 and B46 in Brooklyn; the S79, connecting Bay Ridge and Staten Island; the Q70 which goes to LaGuardia Airport; and several others.

“Both the MTA and New York City DOT can speed up the installation of Select Bus Service, which has proven both popular and effective, making buses run faster and attracting more riders who had given up on the slow local service that came before it,” wrote Raskin.   

Mayor de Blasio, for his part, often refers to SBS as a model. “That’s something we think has been a real success story -- so there are sometimes when things have been done the right way, and that’s one of them,” he said when asked about the buses by Gotham Gazette at a Thursday press conference. “Then we want to keep expanding. It’s a good news story,” he continued. “I’d put it in the same category as the other, newer types of transportation that are being developed rapidly: the ferry system, light rail, and obviously the expansion of Citi Bike -- all of these are going to be necessary to give people more options,” he said.

“For [SBS expansion] to be achieved,” de Blasio said, “it requires cooperation between the city and the state and the MTA, and obviously investment by the city on the capital elements of each route.”

Advocates and experts have also called for an expansion of bus service to places that are particularly distant from a subway stop and existing bus routes, such as certain parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

With the impending closure of the L train in 2019, transit advocates have called for augmented bus service during the shutdown, which former MTA chief Tom Prendergast pledged to address last year.

Last month, a coalition of eight transit advocacy groups gathered to announce a list of commitments they would like New York City lawmakers to champion and implement. Improving bus service was among the seven demands. “Unfortunately, service is often slow and unreliable, and buses are generally neglected by policymakers, at the expense of residents who already have the most punishing commutes,” the plan states.

The coalition of advocates is urging the city to add additional bus lanes to local routes along with expanded Select Bus Services. But new bus routes are not the only way to improve service. Stricter, even dedicated bus lanes -- through physical barriers and NYPD enforcement -- are other options in the city’s toolbox. All-door boarding, an important component to SBS, is another endeavor for the city to consider putting into place across the system.

Asked about attention to buses as the subway system has become more unreliable and MTA Chair Lhota said more temporary subway line shutdowns would be needed, an MTA spokesperson said, "We are also focused on our bus customers and several initiatives are already in place to improve bus service. As you know, the MTA is committed to maintaining and expanding Select Bus Service, which has been successful in reducing dwell times at bus stops. Every bus in our system can be tracked with GPS and customers can access this information on the MTA Bus Time app. The same data we use for the app we use to monitor bus schedule and service to help mitigate issues that may arise on the road in real time. Installation of a new fare payment system, which is being worked on, will also speed up boarding," said Kevin Ortiz, of the MTA.

"Additionally, we continue to work with DOT to advance the rollout of Traffic Signal Prioritization city-wide and are looking at implementing all-door boarding where it is practical to do so," Ortiz added. "However, we don’t have direct control of road conditions on city streets. We are continuing to collaborate with DOT and NYPD to prioritize bus service as they address traffic congestion, unauthorized vehicles in bus lanes, double parked cars, and other factors that have the most direct impact on bus speeds and service reliability."

Advocates have argued in favor of expanding transit signal priority (TSP) as a way to speed up existing bus routes. “Mayor de Blasio's administration could also make a difference, by accelerating the implementation of transit signal priority, where lights turn green faster when buses are waiting,” Raskin explained.

Along these lines, TransitCenter, an organization of transportation experts, published a report on TSP. It notes that trips take longer than needed because “New Yorkers are stuck spending 21% of their bus rides stopped at red lights—but they shouldn’t be.” “Transit signal priority (TSP) can be used to extend green lights or shorten red ones when a bus is approaching, speeding up trips and improving schedule reliability,” it says.

The report also outlines New York City shortcomings compared to buses in other major cities. “Other cities around the world aren’t waiting for the light: New York is behind peers like London and Los Angeles, which have been utilizing signal priority for nearly two decades,” the TransitCenter report notes. “There are around 260 intersections providing bus priority in New York today, versus 3200 such intersections in London and 654 in Los Angeles.”  

Given the fact that the city already uses TSP, and is effective along these routes -- the report cited city DOT data showing that TSP reduced travel time by 18% -- the proposal suggests that the city adopt a goal of utilizing TSP for 20 new routes by 2018.

“Chairman Lhota and Commissioner Trottenberg should work together to prioritize transit on NYC streets by applying TSP more aggressively and more quickly,” the report reads. “Strong leadership is needed from both NYCDOT and the MTA to realize the relatively painless gains transit signal priority offers.”

Recently, TSP has garnered more support from New York officials. “Transit Signal Priority gives a Green Light to New York City bus riders,” said Polly Trottenberg, Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Transportation, in a recent press release. “We have seen travel time savings of 5-30 percent on the SBS routes where we installed this technology and now that the MTA is moving forward with its TSP procurement, we are pleased to announce that DOT will quadruple our installation rate, covering over 1,000 intersections total and 15 additional routes by 2020.”

City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s transportation committee, echoed Trottenberg. “Transit signal priority is a crucial part of improving bus service across the city,” he stated in the press release. “With buses shedding riders over the past few years,” he continued, alluding to the reduction in bus ridership, “improvements like this are how we will regain their trust that buses are a fast and efficient option.”

On the state level, in April, the Governor announced a new line of MTA buses that would be equipped with Wi-Fi and USB ports. Two thousand of these newly designed buses will be put to use in the next five years, according to the governor. Cuomo argued they will help reinvigorate the city’s bus system.

“From opening the Second Avenue Subway, to bringing Wi-Fi and cell service to underground subway stations, we are reimagining the mass-transit experience for the metropolitan area,” Cuomo said in a press release. “These new state-of-the-art buses will better connect passengers who are on-the-go, create a stronger mass-transit system and bring New York into the 21st Century,” the statement continued.

The high-tech bus model introduction and a late April press release regarding the addition of a bus “pilot program,” an introduction of 10 new environmentally friendly buses to the existing system, were the last times the state has given buses attention. The governor has mostly spent his MTA attention on subway-related matters, alternating between celebrating the Second Avenue Subway expansion, deflecting responsibility to the city, proposing additional gubernatorial powers to appoint MTA board members, telling the city to pay more money for the system, and taking renewed control of the situation.

Note: this article was updated with comment from the MTA.

There Will Be Three Big Questions on Your Ballot in November


voting election ballot proposals

Voting (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


A state constitutional amendment slightly loosening stringent environmental protections in the Adirondacks and Catskills in certain cases will be on the ballot this fall, the state Board of Elections announced this week.

The legislation, which has passed through two consecutive sessions of the Legislature in order to make it onto the ballot, allows for select infrastructure projects deemed necessary for the safety and economic vitality of nearby areas to be installed without a constitutional amendment.

It is the third referendum that will to be presented to voters on Election Day in November. Along with candidates for office, there will be three “yes” or “no” questions on voters’ ballots. The measure related to some building in the Adirondacks and Catskills will be number three, after a question of whether New York should hold a constitutional convention and whether pensions should be stripped from elected officials convicted of public corruption.

Currently, the New York State Constitution’s “forever wild” clause, which protects the state forest preserve as wild forest land, prohibits the lease, sale, exchange, or taking of any forest preserve land. For counties and townships in the relevant regions, road and bridge repairs and the installation of things like bike paths, broadband internet, or a water well infrastructure that cut into the surrounding forest preserve would require a constitutional amendment -- which takes a minimum of two years, involving double passage by the state Legislature and then approval from voters.

The sluggish process of critical projects has created safety concerns and hampered economic growth in New York State’s North Country, according to a spokesperson for state Senator Betty Little, a Republican from Queensbury County who sponsored the bill.

"The impetus for doing this amendment is to enable a very, very small category of projects to move forward without, in every instance, amending the constitution," said Daniel MacEntee, Little’s press secretary. “The North Country can't afford to be left behind. If there was better connectivity, it would be very beneficial to the economy, health, and safety of the region,” he added.

If the amendment passes, the state will create a “land account,” or up to 250 acres of forest preserve land surrounding county and town highways that can be encroached on for select projects. A town, village, or county can apply to the land account if it believes it has no viable alternative to using forest preserve land for certain limited health and safety purposes on or near major thruways.

Projects concerning the safety of bridges; the elimination of dangerous highway curves; relocation and maintenance of roadways; and the construction of water wells within 530 feet of a major highway, in order to meet basic drinking water quality standards, are all covered under the first exception.

The proposed amendment, sponsored in the state Assembly by Democratic Assemblymember Dan Stec, would also allow bicycle paths and specified types of public utility lines (including high speed internet), to be located within the widths of state, county, and certain town highways that traverse forest preserve land -- as long as there is minimal removal of trees and vegetation.

While the ammendment past during the normal legislative session, state lawmakers passed the enacting language for the amendment in June, when the Legislature reconvened in a special session to extend mayoral control of New York City schools and pass other measures. If New Yorkers vote in favor of the ballot measure on November 7, it will be enacted immediately.

The measure, which has been years in the works, has widespread approval from elected leaders, stakeholders, and environmental agencies, and Senator Little is optimistic that it will be passed on Election Day, according to MacEntee.

While environmental groups have historically resisted constitutional scale-backs of the “forever wild” provision, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the governor’s office were heavily involved in drafting the legislation, according to Assemblymember Steve Englebright, chair of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee.

Englebright noted that the legislation is based on a similar constitutional amendment made for state highways, which designated 400 acres of land for such restoration projects. Based on the pace of utilization from that land pool, the 250 acres of land is expected to last at least half a century, according to Englebright.

“This is not a short-term project,” said the assemblyman. “It’s meant to be an ongoing mechanism to enable the people who use the roads, need to access part of the road network, make use of communication devices on those roads, or need to drill a well nearby -- they can do that without going back to every voter in the whole state. It will simplify life in the Adirondacks, and it sends a message that we honor and respect the well-being of the people who live there.”

Two other questions, one asking voters to decide on whether to hold a convention to amend the constitution, and an ethics measure to strip pensions from a public officer that has been convicted of a crime related to his or her official duties, will also be on the ballot in November. The outcomes of all of these questions will be heavily influenced by New York City voters, given that the city is such a population center and is holding a mayoral election, as well as many others for City Council and other offices. While turnout is expected to again be low, it will account for a significant portion of the total, along with those voting in local elections elsewhere across the state. There are no statewide elections this year, though, other than the ballot questions.

The second and third questions, as constitutional amendments, have passed the Legislature twice, and have been rigorously vetted by elected officials, advocates, and other stakeholders.

Aside from the convention question, the two pieces of legislation touch on larger reforms proposed by advocates of a constitutional convention: ethics reform and strengthening home rule.

The Con Con question, though facing a more uncertain future, poses a unique once-in-a-generation opportunity to dramatically overhaul the state’s lengthy and outdated constitution. Proponents say it can, among other things, be used to enact term limits for elected officials, improve the state’s courts system, create a strong system for legislative redistricting, and enact significant campaign finance reform.

While the referendum on holding a constitutional convention is posed to voters once every 20 years, New Yorkers voted down the measure in 1997, and it faces strong opposition from certain interest groups including environmentalists who are worried about preserving the “forever wild” law in its original form and labor unions who want to protect organizing and pension provisions.

It is unclear how sharing the ballot with two other questions will impact the constitutional convention vote, and vice versa. Gerald Benjamin, a SUNY New Paltz professor and longtime advocate for a constitutional convention, said he believes the other two questions will be overshadowed by the debate over the convention, which is heating up.

“The driver is going to be the Con Con vote,” said Benjamin. “You are getting an elevated attention to referenda, which is uncommon in New York. So you are expanding the electorate for the other two, potentially.” Groups are beginning to spend heavily to raise awareness about the convention questions and push their preferred vote.

However, the other two amendments may fuel arguments by opponents of a convention -- including one made by both legislative leaders -- that tweaks to the constitution can be done slowly over time, through amendments.

Benjamin said that this argument is specious, because the use of constitutional amendments as a legislative fix has grown less frequent, and when it is used, the matters that do get changed are small.

The amendment related to forest preserves expressly does not permit the construction of new intrastate gas or oil pipelines that did not receive necessary state and local permits and approvals by June 1, 2016.

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Even Without Federal Cuts, Signs of Trouble for State Finances


dinapoli phillips

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, right (photo: @NYSComptroller)


State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is calmly ringing alarm bells about the New York economy and budget outlook. DiNapoli, the state’s chief fiscal officer, recently announced that overall tax collections for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2018 -- April through July -- fell by $1.2 billion from the same period last year, a decrease of 6.1% in revenue.

Not only did tax revenues decrease by $1.2 billion from the prior year, but they were also $1.7 billion below a projection made by the Comptroller’s office in February, an indication that things are significantly worse than expected.

The findings were compiled in the comptroller’s monthly state cash report, issued in late July. In an accompanying statement, DiNapoli diagnosed a potential cause of the unanticipated shortfall in state revenues.

"We're three months into New York's fiscal year and personal income tax collections are falling short of what was expected," DiNapoli said. “Taxpayer anticipation of federal tax changes has contributed to the decline. Offsetting that, business tax collections are well over estimates.”

The comptroller, a few days after releasing the cash report, also released a larger fiscal analysis of the state’s enacted budget and other spending plans, including the capital program, which funds infrastructure projects. Already on unstable footing due to lower than expected revenues and questionable uses of budgetary windfalls, the situation is made worse by the looming cuts in federal aid by President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress, who have proposed deep cuts in areas integral to New York ranging from affordable housing to transportation and health care.

The comptroller’s fiscal report signals a potential crisis for the state in spite of what the DiNapoli refers to in his accompanying message as the nation’s “ninth year of economic expansion.” The larger analysis shows decreases in federal aid could have a large impact on the state’s ability to provide healthcare, for instance, with Medicaid funding at particular risk. Medicaid funding saw a significant increase in the new state budget, which was passed in early April after an agreement between Governor Andrew Cuomo and the two houses of the state Legislature.

The balance in the state’s General Fund, which is the state’s destination for non-earmarked revenue, is $7.7 billion, according to the report. According to DiNapoli, the figure “is substantially higher than the levels in the period during and immediately after the Great Recession, largely reflecting monetary settlements received in the past three years. But the State’s budgetary cushion is shrinking: the Enacted Budget Financial Plan projects that the General Fund balance will be one-third lower at the end of the current fiscal year than its recent peak two years previously.”

DiNapoli criticizes the apparent lack of credence paid to the very real threat of cuts in federal aid from the Republican-controlled Congress and White House in Washington D.C. The $153 billion state budget for Fiscal Year 2018 includes in its sources of revenue about $56 billion in federal aid, about a third of the $161 billion in revenue for FY18 according to the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC).

It is unclear just how much the federal budget could cut aid to New York, but the comptroller’s report suggests that the state’s Financial Plan doesn’t sufficiently account for the impact of the increasingly likely scenario of significant cuts in federal grants to New York. Cuomo and the Legislature did pass a new provision that allows the state greater flexibility to adjust the budget mid-year in the face of significant federal cuts, DiNapoli notes, but it is not completely clear how that process will play out and whether the state is truly prepared for such measures.

The comptroller also critiqued the use of funds acquired via financial settlements, which have amounted to about a $9 billion windfall over the past several years, as of January. The comptroller’s message states that the settlement money, which is “nonrecurring,” should be put towards financing capital projects rather than to balance budgets. According to the comptroller, through March 31, “the State had spent over $3.1 billion of its extraordinary windfall in settlement resources. Nearly half that amount had been used for various forms of budget relief, and another $461 million is planned for such use this year.”

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, David Friedfel, the director of state studies at Citizens Budget Commission, noted shared concerns between the comptroller and the nonpartisan, nonprofit budget watchdog.

“We echo many of the Comptroller’s concerns,” he said, “specifically the increasing use of settlement funds to close budgetary gaps. Likewise, it is concerning that personal income tax receipts continue to fall below projections, especially in light of potential cuts in Federal aid.”

Both CBC and the comptroller’s report also cast doubt on Cuomo’s claim that annual spending growth has stayed below 2 percent annually during his tenure. In May, CBC released a report explaining how Cuomo manipulated the numbers to tell his preferred story. The comptroller’s report says similarly, listing such budgetary tricks as “the use of prepayments; certain program restructurings which result in costs being reflected as reduced receipts rather than disbursements; shifting spending to capital projects funds; deferring expenditures to future years; and the use of off-budget resources to pay for certain program costs,” which, when accounted for, results in a 4 percent spending increase this year rather than Cuomo’s touted 2 percent.

“We are glad to see OSC voicing the same concern that state operating spending is really growing in excess of 2 percent,” Friedfel said. “The actual growth rate is still below historical norms, but by utilizing accounting adjustments and financial plan reclassifications, the State is undermining transparency to fit an artificial spending growth cap.”

Another nonprofit budget watchdog, Empire Center, had a similar reaction to the report.

"As usual, the Comptroller’s report was fairly thorough in identifying some of the most important budgetary trends obscured by the governor’s spin as well as the financial risks ahead,” said E.J. McMahon, research director at Empire Center, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “However, one serious risk surprisingly overlooked by the report is the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate the federal income tax deduction for state and local taxes, also known as the SALT deduction."

SALT refers to state and local taxes. The average SALT deduction claimed by New Yorker taxpayers is $21,038, the highest in the country and nearly double the national average, according to McMahon, in a July blog post.

"Given the state’s inordinate dependence on taxes paid by wealthy residents,” McMahon told Gotham Gazette, “the repeal of the SALT deduction could seriously undermine our tax base by increasing the net tax “price” of New York compared to states with low or no income tax, such as Florida.”

Other gloomy projections the report makes include $5.7 billion more in capital spending for the five-year plan than projected in the 2016-17 budget capital plan; a total lack of deposits to rainy day reserves in the previous fiscal year and the year that has begun; and an increase of $11.2 billion in out-year budget gaps from last year, to $17.4 billion. DiNapoli forecasts outstanding debt to increase by 4.1% to $63.9 billion this year and to $73.7 billion by the end of the current Capital Plan period in 2022.

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 31


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week has fewer scheduled political events than usual, indicative of the first week of August. The City Council has just one hearing scheduled for the week, before it gets somewhat busy again the week of August 7.

Mayor Bill de Blasio was in Maine and Massachusetts over the weekend visiting family, he returns to the city and the ongoing debate over funding the subway system emergency plan put forth by MTA Chair Joe Lhota. Transit continues to be a major focus of city and state politics, and there are related events this week.

De Blasio will hold a town hall in Upper Manhattan this week, on Wednesday -- see details below.

Meanwhile, we're only about six weeks from primary day in the city election cycle. See the candidartes running in each race here.

 As always, there are several other events to be aware of - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At 9 a.m. Monday at Lincoln Center, city schools "Chancellor Fariña will deliver brief remarks to students and parents at the Middle School Arts Audition Boot Camp, a two-week program that provides intensive audition prep to Title I middle school students interested in applying to arts high schools."

At 11 a.m. Monday, “Bronx residents opposed to the opening of a homeless shelter that was initially promoted as a “market rate” apartment building for middle-income working families will rally with NYC Council Member Andy King and neighboring elected leaders and businesses on Monday, July 31, 11 a.m., outside the building at 3677 White Plains Road, Bronx, to demand that the City and the developer, the Stagg Group, return to the original plan as stated in 2015 by developer Mark Stagg.”

At 11 a.m. Monday at City Hall: "As the City Council continues discussing ways to increase construction safety, the Associated Builders and Contractors, Empire State Chapter and dozens of construction workers will hold a press conference...urging the Council to introduce and pass legislation mandating drug and alcohol testing on all New York City construction sites."

"On Monday, July 31st elected officials and advocates will stand at the City Hall R train subway stop to rally and provide details for the "Riders Respond Transit Tour," organized by Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez & Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz. The officials & advocates Will ride the rails to hear directly from subway commuters in advance of a City Council hearing on August 8th. This event is supported by a growing list of elected officials and advocates, including NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough Presidents Gale Brewer and Eric Adams, NYS Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa, Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Riders Alliance, Straphangers Campaign and TWU Local 100, among others. Tour participants will gather on Monday at a press conference at 12:00 noon at the City Hall R Train stop to release details about the tour, including the route and more."

Mayor de Blasio will appear on NY1's Road to City Hall in his usual Monday evening segment, at 7 and 10 p.m.

Tuesday
On Tuesday, there will be numerous events all across the city related to “National Night Out Against Crime.” Mayor de Blasio will participate in National Night Out Against Crime at the 34th, 46th, 103rd, and 60th precincts and on Staten Island." Public Advocate Letitia James is speaking at six events, all in the Bronx. Comptroller Scott Stringer will speak at five events in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will appear on The Weather Channel. At noon, Stringer will release a new policy report and hold a roundtable, at The Door on Broome Street.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Public Advocate James will be among those at City Hall for a press conference "to Protect Immigrant Delivery Workers."

On Tuesday at 10 a.m. at City Hall, City Council Member Margaret Chin "will announce legislation calling on the State Legislature to pass legislation to protect delivery workers by increasing penalties on their attackers. Council Member Chin introduced Res. 1586 in response to a growing number of incidents where delivery people, including limited English-proficient workers from Asian and immigrant communities, have been targeted in neighborhoods across the city, state and nation." Chin will be joined by Public Advocate Letitia James; former City Comptroller and City Council Member John Liu; Council Member Peter Koo; and other elected officials, advocates and community members.

Governor Cuomo is set to make three announcements Tuesday: in Oneida County, Columbia County, and Onondaga County. At 10:15 a.m. at Boulevard Trailers in Whitesboro; at 12:15 p.m. at Hudson Hall at the Historic Hudson Opera House in Hudson; and at 2:30 p.m. at Tessy Plastics in Baldwinsville.

On Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., "Mayor de Blasio, Chancellor Fariña and Commissioner O’Neill will visit a restorative justice circle at J.H.S. 88. After, the Mayor will hold a media availability to make an announcement about school safety."

At 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Politics Reborn will host a “Rally for Election Integrity” at the City Hall steps to protest against the lack of action regarding election reform following the controversial purge of voters in Brooklyn in 2016.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, U.S. Representative Jerry Nadler will hold a “Get Organized” town hall at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater on the Upper West Side.

Wednesday
At 11 a.m. Wednesday, The City Council Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections will meet to discuss two nominations to city agencies: Nasr Sheta to the Board of Standards and Appeals, and Michael Rivadeneyra to the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at the Police Athletic League Harlem Center, with City Council Member Bill Perkins, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat, State Senator Brian Benjamin, and Assembly Member Inez Dickens.

Thursday
On Thursday at noon in Brooklyn, State "Senator Jesse Hamilton will call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign legislation that helps mobility impaired NYCHA residents alongside, disability rights advocates, and NYCHA residents at a press conference at the Van Dyke Community Center."

At 2 p.m. Thursday, the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a board meeting.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, NOW NYC will hold a forum for Brooklyn District Attorney candidates at the YWCA in Downtown Brooklyn. Confirmed attendees are Acting DA Eric Gonzalez, Ama Dwimoh, Pat Gatling, and Anne Swern.

On Thursday and Friday, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Public Advocate Tish James, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, Riders Alliance, TWU, and others will ride the subways for 24 hours to “hear directly from subway commuters in advance of a City Council hearing on August 8th.”

Friday and the weekend
At 9:45 a.m. Saturday, City Council Member Margaret Chin will host a “Lower Manhattan Community Day” on Governors Island.

Mayor de Blasio is likely to make his weekly Friday morning appearance on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show, at 10am.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette



Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice


Gotham Gazette: East New York Rezoning, One Year Later East New York Rezoning, One Year Later Gotham Gazette: City Council Members Opt Out of Campaign Finance Program City Council Members Opt Out of Campaign Finance Program Gotham Gazette: Cuomo Contradicts Bharara on Prosecutors & Government Oversight Cuomo Contradicts Bharara on Prosecutors & Government Oversight Gotham Gazette: De Blasio Attempts to Clarify Latest Media Insult De Blasio Attempts to Clarify Latest Media Insult


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.