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Vance Controversy Spotlights Lax Campaign Finance Rules for District Attorneys

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Manhattan DA Cy Vance (photo: @ManhattanDA)

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., was recently dragged into an unflattering spotlight over his decision not to prosecute disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein for a forcible touching incident in 2015 and for dropping a fraud investigation into members of the Trump family in a 2012, while apparently receiving campaign contributions from lawyers associated with both parties.

While it is not illegal - or uncommon - for district attorneys to accept contributions from lawyers in any type of practice, the details of the two cases, including the relevant campaign donations, are drawing newfound scrutiny to the state’s loose campaign finance rules for prosecutors and invite a new strain of age-old questions about whether legal immunity can be bought by the rich and powerful.

District attorneys, through their election campaigns -- which are not bound by New York City’s strict fundraising and spending limits -- can receive tens of thousands of dollars from a single donor, including lawyers, regardless of whether the attorney has business before the office. Government reform advocates, including former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, say there are systemic issues at play and are calling for campaign finance reform, including a serious look at public financing for all state-level officials. Some say district attorney candidates should be subject to the same fundraising restrictions as judicial candidates to prevent real or perceived bias or conflicts of interest.

Currently, candidates for district attorney operate in one of the many largely unseen areas of state campaign finance law and enforcement, with minimal rules and almost no oversight. District attorney campaigns file disclosures through the state Board of Elections, but there is little evidence that those filings are examined closely -- an apparently statewide issue wherein regulators pay scant attention to campaigns for local offices.

Recent reporting from The New Yorker, ProPublica, and WNYC radio, outlined how Trump family attorney Marc Kasowitz -- a longtime donor to Vance’s election campaigns -- met with the district attorney before he shut down an investigation into how Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. were marketing a new Trump condominium development, Trump SoHo, despite evidence compiled by his own prosecutors that the siblings may have deliberately misled investors. E-mails described by the three news outlets make clear that the Trumps “were aware they were using inflated figures about how well the condos were selling to lure buyers.”

A $25,000 donation made by Kasowitz in early 2012 was returned by Vance’s campaign prior to his May meeting with the district attorney (“standard practice” when a donor has matters before the prosecutor’s office, Vance told The New Yorker), but records show Kasowitz made an even larger donation, of $31,993, to Vance in January 2013, that less than six months after the case was abandoned (after this reporting, Vance said he would be returning that money, too).

Similarly, a narrow timeline can be traced between payments from two law firms representing Weinstein, made before and after he was let off the hook for allegedly groping an Italian model in his TriBeCa office, despite an audio recording, made in conjunction with the NYPD, of the movie producer apparently admitting to the incident and apologizing. The lawyer who represented Weinstein in the case, Elkan Abramowitz, is a partner in the firm where Vance previously worked and had contributed $26,550 to Vance’s campaign over the years, including $2,100 after the case was dismissed, as first reported by the New York Post. In addition, Abramowitz’s firm, Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello & Bohre, donated $11,500 to Vance’s election fund, according to state campaign finance records.

Another $10,000 contribution came from attorney David Boies -- who has represented Weinstein in past high-profile cases, though none involving Vance -- after the investigation was dropped in April 2015, as first reported by the International Business Times.

Vance maintains that he decided each case based on its merits and denies that donations made by lawyers of his clients influenced his decisions. In the face of intense media scrutiny, he has emphasized that it is common for prosecutors to accept campaign donations from lawyers. “No contribution ever in my seven years as district attorney has ever had any influence on my decision-making in a case,” Vance told reporters last week.

The recent criticism over Vance’s handling of the two investigations has demonstrated how the state’s current campaign finance system can easily lead to situations that sow doubt about the credibility of New York’s top prosecutors. As county-level elected officials, district attorneys across the state, including in New York City, are governed by state law, including in their campaign activities. Therefore, the city’s five district attorneys are not subject to the city’s campaign finance system for municipal offices, which includes much more strict limitations than currently exists in state law, where little exists to limit or enforce district attorney campaign fundraising.

Government reform advocates say these Vance cases highlight the need for public financing of all campaigns, but in particular for prosecutors and judges, who receive the bulk of their campaign contributions from lawyers and legal firms.

“People rely on the legal system to be a fair and for [judges and prosecutors] to follow the law -- not to play favorites,” said Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Group. “The campaign finance system creates an inherent conflict of interest. That’s why we’ve always argued for all races -- but certainly district attorneys and judges -- to be publically financed.”

Due to growing concerns over the real or perceived influence of special interests in judicial races since the 1990s, judicial candidates are now bound by fundraising guidelines, dictated by New York State Bar Association and other ethics oversight bodies, and enforced by the Office of Court Administration. However, there are no such rules for district attorneys, of which there are 62, one in each county of the state, and the Office of Court Administration has no jurisdiction over district attorneys, according to a spokesperson for the agency. 

The primary ethics blueprint for prosecutors, published by the New York State District Attorneys Association, titled “The Right Thing: ethical guidelines for prosecutors,” specifies that district attorneys should avoid certain political activities, such as making others aware of their presence at political events, but makes no mention of campaign finance rules. Campaign finance is also absent from a sparse section of the New York State Bar’s “rules of professional conduct” handbook that pertains to “prosecutors and other government lawyers.”

By contrast, the Judicial Campaign Ethics Handbook, citing an opinion from the New York State Bar Association, specifies that a judge’s campaign committee “may not knowingly solicit or accept contributions from a party to litigation that is before the judge, nor one employed by, affiliated with, or a member of the immediate family of a party to litigation before the judge.”

Judicial candidates are also instructed to avoid contributions from a party that may “reasonably be expected to come before the candidate if elected,” or one who has come before the candidate “so recently that it manifests an appearance of impropriety.” Furthermore, judicial candidates are prohibited from even looking at who contributed to their campaigns and must leave the room at fundraisers when a plea for contributions is made.

The judicial guidelines were implemented so that judges would conduct themselves in ways that “maintain public confidence in the judiciary,” according to the handbook. It may be reasonable for prosecutors, who like judges are elected and entrusted by the public to uphold the law, to be held to a similar set of standards.

District attorneys in the five boroughs are also not subject to New York City’s strict campaign contribution limits, which set, for example, an individual donation limit of $4,950 per cycle to a mayoral candidate, and much less so for those on the “doing business” list of entities with city business.

According to state regulations, an individual can contribute around $34,000 to a Manhattan district attorney’s campaign (the formula caps donations at the total number of active voters in the candidate's party in the district multiplied by $0.05). There are more than 681,000 active registered Democrats in New York County, also known as Manhattan, as of April 2017. But, due to the state’s porous campaign finance rules, contributors can easily circumvent even these limits, by donating through a company or spouse, or by creating multiple limited liability corporations, each of which it permitted to contribute up to $5,000 to county-level candidates.

A Turning Point
Weinstein’s predatory behavior towards young actresses has frequently been described as an “open secret” in Hollywood circles, but a bombshell New York Times report last week detailed decades of sexual harassment complaints levied against the producer, as well as secret payouts to scuttle potential law enforcement complaints, involving actresses like Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd.

Days later, a piece in The New Yorker detailed further allegations, including several women who said they were raped by Weinstein, and embedded an NYPD recording of the mogul seemingly admitting to the Italian model, Ambra Battilana -- who was wearing a police wire -- that he had groped her breasts the day before. Vance’s office, charged with investigating the forcible touching incident, ultimately declined to prosecute Weinstein. Since the story was published, allegations about the producer have piled up, with numerous high-profile actresses -- including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Beckinsale -- and other lesser-known actresses adding their voices to the chorus women claiming they were victimized by Weinstein.

The public backlash to the reports has been fierce, with many calling for Vance to resign and the National Organization of Women demanding a “full accounting” of his decision in the Weinstein case. A steady stream of New York elected officials have denounced Weinstein, who is a major Democratic donor, and announced that they would return or give to charity donations he made to their election campaigns. And with Donald Trump and his family rising to power, many are questioning whether immunity from criminal charges is at least in part dependent upon campaign donations.

Defendings its decision last week, Vance’s office released a statement that while the behavior alleged in recent reports about Weinstein “shocks the conscience,” at the time, the recording did not provide sufficient evidence to prosecute.

“If we could have prosecuted Harvey Weinstein for the conduct in 2015, we would have,” said Chief Assistant District Attorney Karen Friedman Agnifilo, in a statement. “After the complaint was made in 2015, the NYPD - without our knowledge or input - arranged a controlled call and meeting between the complainant and Mr. Weinstein...While the recording is horrifying to listen to, what emerged from the audio was insufficient to prove a crime under New York law, which requires prosecutors to establish criminal intent.”

In subsequent days, given the new reports, Vance’s office confirmed it was working with the NYPD to investigate allegations against Weinstein.

Meanwhile, Vance has been cruising unchallenged toward reelection this fall. Yet, over the last four years his campaign has raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, with funds coming mostly from lawyers and law firms, and has nearly $1 million left in the bank. In July, he raised $322,832.12, mostly from lawyers, and spent $358,061.43, leaving him with $1,305,989.18 in the bank, according to his filings with the State Board of Elections. Since the Democratic primary in September, he raised $18,400 and spent $399,084.31, leaving him with $925,333.49, according to his 32-day pre-general election filings.

The newfound scrutiny of Vance’s campaign finances has placed him in a sticky situation, one that some say could be avoided with new limits on district attorney campaigns, public funding of campaigns for state-level offices, or both. Vance is also now facing at least two campaigns for write-in challengers to unseat him through the November vote, where only his name will appear on the ballot.

Some, including Mayor Bill de Blasio -- who was recently investigated by Vance’s office himself, with no charges filed -- maintain that it is important to trust the system and that prosecutors are acting in good faith, and lawyers and prosecutors who have interacted with Vance told Gotham Gazette that he has a reputation as a “straight shooter.” However, experts on judicial conduct say that even those with the best intentions may overestimate their own immunity to bias.

“There’s a lot of literature out there on unconscious and unintentional bias with respect to financial conflicts of interest,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The long and the short of it is that people are often poor judges of how they are influenced by financial conflicts of interest, and often take actions that seem unbiased to themselves, but will have the appearance of corruption to outsiders.”

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by President Donald Trump in March and is known for efforts to weed out corruption on Wall Street and in state government, weighed in on the controversy surrounding Vance on Friday.

“It's time that candidates for local District Attorney just say no to campaign donations from criminal defense lawyers,” Bharara tweeted, later adding that there should only be public financing for district attorney candidates.

While public financing may be ideal, and is perhaps the “cleanest” way to prevent many conflicts, there may also be legal precedent for the passage of state law prohibiting who can contribute to a district attorney’s campaign, according to Horner.

“You’ve got to be careful how you develop a law that restricts donations, because there are First Amendment issues that come up, but I think it can be done,” said Horner, noting about half the states in the country have some restrictions on the ability of lobbyists to make campaign contributions.

“It’s a clumsy process and someone has to enforce it,” he added, noting that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, an ethics advisory board that currently only has jurisdiction over lobbyists and state-level officials, could be incorporated through legislation.

News came on Monday morning that Manhattan Assemblymember Dan Quart plans to introduce a bill to drastically reform how district attorney campaigns are governed in terms of who they can take donations from and what the caps on those donations would be, as reported by The Daily News.

On Wednesday, Vance emphasized to reporters that his fundraising standards were legal, and said that he had a “very sound vetting system.” But he acknowledged, in the wake of the controversies, he would be open to reexamining those practices.

“It obviously calls for an opportunity like this for me to rethink with my assistants how we wish to handle the matter going forward," he said. "So, in answer, it’s absolutely legal, but [campaign donations] should be re-examined, office by office.”

A spokesperson for Vance’s reelection campaign declined to elaborate on these adjustments when Gotham Gazette inquired.

On Sunday, Vance published a Daily News op-ed in which he defended himself and announced that there will be an independent review of how his campaign has handled contributions, leading to recommendations for future operations, in order “to help us radically reduce the appearance of influence of money in our work.” Vance promised higher standards than required, writing, “notwithstanding New York’s lax campaign finance laws and sky-high contribution limits, I’m prepared to dramatically restrict who can donate money to our campaign — including lawyers — and the amounts that our contributors are able to give.”

In the op-ed, Vance said the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School would run the review of his campaign fundraising and larger campaign fundraising practices by district attorneys. The Center is run by Jennifer Rodgers, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who in a Friday interview with Gotham Gazette said she was not familiar with all the details of the situation, but defended Vance’s character and criticized the larger campaign finance system he’s operating within.

“It’s very easy after the fact to second guess whether he made the right decision,” Rodgers said, adding that “reasonable people can differ” on whether certain cases may brought, but that she hadn’t seen anything to make her think Vance did anything inappropriate. “He always struck me as a straight guy,” she said, “and I don’t think that this notion that he’s dirty and is somehow on the payroll is valid.”

Now, it will be up to Rodgers and CAPI to make recommendations to Vance that will undoubtedly reverberate to a much wider audience. As Vance wrote, “I never intended to start a conversation about money in criminal justice. But I see now that it’s long overdue. Campaign finance reform is criminal justice reform, and I have a unique opportunity to push the ball forward.”

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Amid Health Care Funding Fights, Cuomo Explores Special Session

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Gov. Cuomo with top health and budget aides (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo has been floating the idea of a special legislative session to address federal cuts to the state’s health care programs, as well as other concerns that have developed, since the state budget was agreed to in April.

In that budget, Cuomo pushed to include and won a provision granting him nearly unilateral power to adjust the state’s financial plan mid-year in the event of at least $800 million in federal cuts to the state. In April, the governor said the provision would ensure that “we do not overcommit ourselves financially” and indicated it allowed him to sign off on a budget that did not otherwise account for likely federal cuts. But, it appears as if Cuomo may call lawmakers back to Albany -- likely with agreement from the legislative majorities to an agenda -- regardless of whether the threshold has been met.

When the state Legislature finished its legislative year in June with a brief special session to pass mayoral control of schools as well as several smaller measures, such as $55 million in state aid for businesses and homeowners impacted by flooding around Lake Ontario, unknowns surrounding President Donald Trump’s promise to “repeal and replace Obamacare” loomed large.

As chatter of a special session to address two lapsed federally subsidized health care programs escalated this week, so did a feud between Cuomo’s administration and that of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio over $380 million that was earmarked to reimburse New York City Health + Hospitals, the city’s public hospital network, for expenses incurred treating uninsured and indigent patients over the last two years.

In recent weeks, Cuomo has sounded the alarm over four essential funding streams to New York health care systems that are being threatened by Trump and a Republican-led Congress. While the federal Graham-Cassidy bill -- a replacement to the Affordable Care Act that would have cost New York $16.9 billion by 2025, according to projections -- was defeated, and parts of Trump’s sweeping tax plan that target blue states are on shaky ground, the federal government failed to renew the Disproportionate Share Hospitals funds, known as D.S.H., by October 1, creating a potential $2.6 billion shortfall that is expected to disproportionately hit New York City’s public hospital system over the next year and a half.

If they remain in effect, the cuts will place a $330,000 burden on Health + Hospitals for federal fiscal year 2018, but the city says the state is also unlawfully holding $380 million in federal funds owed to city hospitals for federal fiscal year 2017, which just ended, for services already provided.

This federal funding, which passes through the state, is allocated for municipal and state-run hospitals that treat high volumes of uninsured and indigent patients.

While it is unclear whether the cut would justify a budget adjustment by the executive branch given the April budget provision, Cuomo appears to be courting lawmakers to return for a special session that could address D.S.H. and other looming health care deficits.

Also lapsing earlier this month is the federal Child Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), which subsidizes New York’s Child Health Plus plan, putting New York in a $1.1 billion hole and potentially jeopardizing the health coverage of 330,000 lower-income New York children, according to Cuomo’s office, though it seems likely a federal deal over the children’s health program may soon be reached. Still, the state has been placed in a precarious position.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Eric Hargan, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker warned that New York will not be able to continue the current Child Health Plus program if Congress fails to renew $1 billion in federal funding, and he said that Governor Andrew M. Cuomo will “have no choice but to call a special session of the Legislature.”

On Tuesday, Cuomo had dangled the special session idea before 13 upstate lawmakers, and in reality a much wider audience, suggesting in a letter that an extraordinary legislative session could also be used to amplify and speed up relief funding for Lake Ontario flood victims.

“I would support a special session of the legislature to return and appropriate an additional $35 million for this program to fund all eligible applicants in a time frame that recognizes the urgency of the situation,” Cuomo wrote. “There are other pending issues that could also be addressed at a special session, including the financial hardship the State will face from potential federal cutbacks.”

In addition to the 11 public hospitals in New York City’s Health + Hospitals system, the D.S.H. cuts directly impact the state-run SUNY Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse and SUNY Downstate hospitals in Brooklyn, Westchester County Medical Center, Nassau University Medical Center and Erie County Medical Center.

None of these facilities will receive payments until adjustments are made, according to Cuomo’s office.

The state has retained an outside consultant, KPMG, to figure out how to help health care facilities manage the cuts and Cuomo has repeatedly suggested that the Legislature may be forced to reconvene Congress signals that the money will not be restored by December 31. In a press conference on the topic last Tuesday, the governor suggested that local governments step up to offset some of the cuts.

“Nassau needs to help their public hospitals, New York City -- with a $4 billion surplus -- needs to help H+H, and SUNY will need to help Downstate and Upstate hospitals,” he said.

The cuts and Cuomo’s approach to dealing with them have ignited another episode in the feud between the governor and de Blasio and on Friday, the de Blasio administration announced its intention to sue New York State for D.S.H funds which administration officials say were expected by the city’s cash-strapped public hospital system for the federal fiscal year that ended on September 30.

City officials say they had budgeted with the expectation that $380 million would come through and Health + Hospitals Interim President and CEO Stan Brezenoff revealed that that the hospital system had begun to cut back on hiring to account for the deficit and was prepared to take other undesirable and risky measures.

“Our ability to deliver on our mission also relies on all levels of government. Unfortunately, the State is showing a shocking disregard for our mission and appears to have confirmed in public statements that they will not be releasing the $380 million Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSH) funds that we need and deserve for serving more than one million Medicaid, uninsured and immigrant New Yorkers who relied on our care last fiscal year,” Brezenoff wrote in a letter to staff members last week.

As of Tuesday night, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the lawsuit would be filed “in state court,” but could say when it would be filed, or who would be named in the suit. De Blasio himself has said that the state’s withholding of past D.S.H payments designated for H+H, "is not normal and there is no excuse for it.”

Cuomo’s administration maintains that it is withholding its final payment to New York City’s public hospitals for the 2017 cycle in September because it is still unclear whether the federal government will renew the D.S.H. program.

“There’s no way to fund the public hospitals with a $1.1 billion cut unless it is rolled back,” the governor said during a press briefing last week. “In the meantime, we have made no D.S.H. payments to any public hospitals since October 1, which is when the law went into effect. You can’t distribute funding until you know how much you have to distribute.”

Cuomo officials say city hospitals should have anticipated the cut, noting that the program, which is associated with the Affordable Care Act, was always intended to be phased out as more New Yorkers became insured.

“The federal cuts to DSH have been pending for seven years and we are sure that all responsible CEOs of the state’s public hospitals have been accounting for these potential shortfalls in that time,” said Jason Helgerson, New York State Medicaid Director, in a statement. “The suggestion that the state is somehow in a position to reverse federal cuts is willful political ignorance and a distortion of reality -- only the federal government can possibly restore cuts they’ve enacted. Save for the federal government restoring these funds, there is no way the remaining DSH dollars can reimburse all hospitals at 100 percent.”

Cuomo’s office says that it has been in contact with city hospital officials and shared a letter Helgerson sent Brezenoff on September 29, referencing a meeting of healthcare providers to discuss the potentially imminent demise of D.S.H.

“While we implored Congress to act, as the October 1 deadline approaches, it is clear they are failing to do so,” the state Medicaid director wrote. “The Governor convened health care providers on September 19 to discuss the possibility of these cuts and held a press conference with the group outlining how harmful they will be.”

City officials claim that they have been singled out, and that all the state-run public hospitals have received their payments for the past fiscal year.

Regarding the potential lawsuit from New York City, Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever called the threat “political theatre.”

“A more productive action would be to sue the federal government since they are making these devastating cuts, or if it actually cared about patient care, to use its funds to improve the hospital network that it owns,” said Lever.

One strategy -- requiring a legislative fix enacted through a special session -- would be to disperse the initial $380 million burden across hospitals throughout the state, most of which do not treat a large number of uninsured patients, state budget director Robert Mujica said in an interview with NY1 last week.

“The way the federal law interacts with the state law presently, is the first year of the cuts really impacts H+H first, under the law,” said Mujica. “So does that mean trying spreading the pain across all of the hospitals? That’s something we really have to look at. But always, redistributing is going to be very challenging. We hope it doesn’t come to that. We hope that the feds restore restore the cuts.”

U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who told State of Politics he’s been leading the charge to restore the hospital funding, described the battle in Congress as “neck-and-neck.”

The expiration of CHIP appears less dire; while the funding ended on September 30, states will not run out of the money for several months, and protecting children’s health is an issue that has bipartisan appeal. Schumer, who has been pushing to attach the renewal of CHIP funding to an Obamacare fix intended to stabilize markets and lower premiums, said he is working with his Republican colleagues to find a way to pay for the program.

About one-third of patients at the city’s public hospitals are uninsured and the network currently receives the largest D.S.H share. However, divvied up across state health care institutions, the $380 million burden would only account for less 1 percent of all hospital revenue, according to Bill Hammond, director of health policy at the Empire Center for Public Policy, a think tank.

"The lost money, if you look at just the federal losses, it’s about $330 million and that grows to $500 million in the second year, so it grows more and more every year. Spread across all the hospitals it would not be such a big deal, but right now it’s concentrated among 11 H+H hospitals, which is a problem,” Hammond said.

The ongoing federal health care crisis has also breathed new life into the debate over whether New York State would be well-served by a single-payer healthcare system, which Cuomo recently signalled tepid support for in an interview with WNYC radio’s Brian Lehrer.

A state-level universal health care bill, which guarantees health coverage to all New Yorkers regardless of ability to pay or immigration status, has repeatedly passed the Democratically-controlled Assembly, but has been defeated in the Republican-led state Senate by a sliver of a margin.

Assemblymember Dick Gottfried of Manhattan, who sponsors the bill, acknowledged that even if a version of his legislation was enacted tomorrow, it would take several years to fully implement, but said it warranted a second look given the uncertainty coming from Washington.

"It would not provide immediate relief, but the cuts that are likely to come from Washington will not come all at once, they will like snowball over the next couple of years," said Gottfried. “If we recognize health care as a right and provide health care coverage to every single New Yorker…Under a single-payer system, safety net hospitals and public hospitals would make out much better than they do today.”

Hospitals would save millions of dollars in administrative costs and the state would be in a much better position to bargain with drug companies, as it would represent 20 million patients, Gottfried added.

“Those savings are about the only way, realistically, that we can fill the gaps from whatever federal cuts are coming, without significantly damaging other programs or raising taxes,” he said. Critics, including Hammond, have said that Gottfried’s single-payer plan would be far costlier to the state that the Assembly member suggests.

When reached for comment on the health care cuts and whether the Assembly is prepared to return to Albany to deal with the situation, Mike Whyland, spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, said, “We care deeply about these hospitals and are closely monitoring it.”

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan did not respond to a request for comment. 

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 10

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

As this shortened holiday week begins all eyes are on Tuesday night's mayoral debate, the first general election televised debate as part of the city's campaign finance system and debate program, which will feature Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, Republican Nicole Malliotakis, and independent Bo Dietl. The debate will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday on NY1 television and WNYC radio. We'll have coverage of the debate at Gotham Gazette soon after it finishes and on Wednesday. [Read: 5 Things to Watch at First General Election Mayoral Debate]

There are other events to be aware of this week -- 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 is Columbus Day.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will host his annual Polish Heritage Breakfast.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will be at George Washington Educational Campus in Manhattan to make an announcement about Advance Placement.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “safe time for victims of family offense matters, sexual offenses, stalking and human trafficking, and their family members.”
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

At 3 p.m. Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo will make an announcement in Syracuse.

At 4 p.m. Tuesday, the state Senate Standing Committees on Environmental Protection and Agriculture will hold a public hearing “to hear from stakeholders on the implementation of Plan 2014” and on related topics. The hearing will take place in the town of Mexico in Oswego County.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, NY1 and WNYC will broadcast the first mayoral debate of the general election cycle. NY1’s Errol Louis will moderate a debate among incumbent Democrat Bill de Blasio, Republican Nicole Malliotakis, and independent Bo Dietl at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side. Debate sponsors also include Politico New York, Civic Hall, Citizens Union, and others.

"AARP New York will host a watch party for the first general election mayoral candidate debate" at Dark Horse NYC.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Move Forward Staten Island will host a panel discussion on the Constitutional Convention at the College of Staten Island. Panelists will include convention opponents Erika Lorshbough of NYCLU and John Soldini of UFT, as well as convention supporters Morgan Pehme of Effective NY and Thomas Bergdall of Citizens Union.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Small Business will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to “access to online business supports,” “a workforce redevelopment plan for small business,” and “a state of small business survey.”
--The Committees on Education and General Welfare will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “support for homeless students,” as well as to discuss proposed laws relating to the topic.
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at noon
--The Committee on Recovery and Resiliency will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed Hurricane Sandy Recovery Task Force.
--The Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss the nomination of Robert L. Cohen for reappointment to the Board of Correction.

At noon Wednesday, Justice League NYC will hold a rally at City Hall Park to demand that the City Council pass the Right to Know Act.

At 2:15 p.m. Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will hold a Facebook Town Hall meeting on New York’s opioid crisis.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a board meeting at 100 Church Street.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Community Service Society will host a “Health Equity Panel Discussion,” discussing the disparity in health outcomes between white people and people of color, and possible remedies to that inequity. David Sandman, President of the NYS Health Foundation, will moderate a panel consisting of Mary Bassett, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Sinsi Hernandez-Cancio, Director of Health Equity at Families USA; and Elisabeth Benjamin, Vice President of Health Initiatives at the CSS.

On Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Market Hotel in Brooklyn, City Council Member Rafael Espinal will participate "in “What Should NYC’s Night Mayor Do?” A Town Hall organized by the New York City Artist Coalition to discuss how the City’s new Office of Nightlife can serve small diverse spaces."

At 8 a.m. Thursday, City & State will host “State of NY Health” at the New York Academy of Sciences. The forum will “convene leaders in government, public policy, and industry, to discuss all forms of health care issues in New York.” Maria Vullo, Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, will deliver keynote remarks. Afterwards, several panels made up of leaders in government, business, and media will convene.

At 11 a.m. Thursday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Agriculture will hold a public oversight hearing in Albany regarding “the SFY 2017-2018 State Budget for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.”

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at the Island School on the Lower East Side with City Council member Rosie Mendez, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh.

On Thursday at 8 p.m. at Jazz at Lincoln Center, "Reverend Al Sharpton and the National Action Network (NAN) will hold the 8th Annual Triumph Awards, celebrating distinguished individuals who utilize their talents and resources to help those within disadvantaged communities. This year’s awards recognizes honorees from the arts and sciences who have made a positive impact upon society, including Emmy award-winning actress Cynthia Nixon, Legendary Recording Artist and Songwriter Valerie Simpson, and Best-Selling author and Physician Dr. Ian Smith."

Friday and the weekend
At 8:15 a.m. Friday, the Center for New York City Law will host First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris as part of its ongoing CityLaw Breakfast Series. The event will take place at the New York Law School.

At 10 a.m. Friday, the Campaign Finance Board will hold a public board meeting at 100 Church Street.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez will deliver his “State of the District” address at the Salome Urena Educational Campus in Inwood.

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

City Council Members Still Navigating Outside Income Divestment Ahead of Deadline

paul vallone by john mccarten

Council Member Paul Vallone (photo: John McCarten)

Legislation barring City Council members from making outside income will go into effect on January 1, forcing several sitting and incoming Council members to make tough decisions about their side jobs.

The regulations, which were linked to a significant pay increase for all city elected officials, including a salary bump from $112,500 to $148,000 for City Council members, were approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council last year. Only three current City Council members, two of whom voted against the new restrictions, continue to be involved in their private sector businesses, and each is still in the process of figuring out divestment as mandated by the new law.

Council Members Peter Koo, Chaim Deutsch, and Paul Vallone -- all still in the process of being reelected to another term -- were required to submit letters to City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito by March 1, 2016 indicating whether or not they intended to continue earning outside income and stating an intention to comply with the rules by the January deadline -- in time for the 2018-2021 Council session.

When reached by Gotham Gazette, each of the three Council members or a representative described legal and logistical complexities in divesting from or dissolving a limited liability company (LLC), resigning from a job, or recusing oneself from duties in anticipation of the deadline.

Meanwhile, some still question whether the Council should have gone to a near-complete ban on outside income (small allowances are provided for members who teach a college course, for example), or if the model should have been akin to the cap on what members of Congress are allowed to make outside of their governmental duty -- a small percentage of their salaries.

Vallone, a Democrat who represents District 19 in Eastern Queens, reported earning between $5,000 and $47,999 from his family’s law practice on his 2016 financial disclosure forms. In opposing the new outside income restrictions on Council members, he introduced a last-ditch amendment -- citing a statement made by good government group Citizens Union -- that Council members’ outside income should be capped at 15 percent of their Council salaries rather than eliminated. The amendment did not pass, and a spokesperson for Vallone said he is working with his lawyers to figure out how the rules apply to the family’s legal firm, which was founded by his grandfather Judge Charles J. Vallone in 1932, and where three generations of Vallones have since practiced.

As managing Partner of Vallone & Vallone, the Council member oversees the company’s day-to-day operations and serves as general counsel for corporate clients, according to the firm’s website. The firm also handles estate law, real estate transactions, civil and personal injury litigation, and criminal law.

Also a Democrat, Deutsch represents the 48th Council District, in Southern Brooklyn, and currently makes between $100,000 and $250,000 a year through a real estate management company he owns. He said he intends to shut down the business by January, but has not yet determined the process for doing so.

“It’s going to take some time to shut down the corporation. I don’t know exactly what the process is,” said Deutsch, who voted against the bills. “What I do know, is that I’m not accepting any more managing fees. I could keep the corporation open for the next five years, and maybe reopen it after term limits. But I will not be receiving the outside income.”

Deutsch, like Vallone and Koo, will be term-limited out of office at the end of 2021 if successful on Election Day this year, which each is expected to be.

Koo is a Democrat who owns a chain of pharmacies and represents the 20th Council District in Queens. He reported making between $60,000 and $99,999 as the president of a pharmacy, and another $5,000 to $47,999 at another pharmacy. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but he was the only one of the three who voted in favor of the legislation.

Other newly elected Democratic nominees for the City Council said that they had already quit their jobs to focus on their campaigns and that they have no intentions to returning to work before January.

“I quit in 2017 in April to be a full-time candidate,” said Keith Powers, who won a crowded District 4 Democratic primary and is the favorite to win the seat in November. “No matter what job I had at the time, I would have given it up; you want to make sure you have all the time to talk to voters.”

Like Powers, most candidates for City Council either leave their jobs entirely or take a leave of absence for the key months of the campaign.

Powers, a former government aide and, more recently, lobbyist who ran partly on a reform and transparency platform, said he hopes that the City Council rules can be a model for the state Legislature, where the salaries are far lower but the outside income restrictions are minimal and the job is considered part-time.

“You should be fully committed to the job that you’ve been elected to for the district. In the district that I am in, I don’t know how you would even have time to do both,” Powers said.

State government appeared to be moving toward pay raises for state legislators and others in government last year, but the process was stalled amid disagreements among Governor Andrew Cuomo, members of the Legislature, and appointees to a special panel tasked with determining pay raises and, potentially, other reforms to the relevant jobs. Legislators haven’t had a salary increase in nearly 20 years, with base pay stuck at $79,000, though many legislators receive additional bonuses as well as per diem payouts for trips to Albany.

There were and continue to be criticisms about the requirement that City Council members relinquish virtually all outside income. Some stemmed from concerns that an outright ban on outside income could discourage small business owners from running for office, according to Council Member Ben Kallos, who co-sponsored the legislation and chairs the governmental operations committee. The bill was tweaked to make allowances for passive income and would not force electeds to dissolve their business entities completely.

“It’s just what we could reasonably expect from people. So, if somebody has spent their career as a small business person, and brought that small business experience to the City Council,  which can be invaluable…,” said Kallos. “After four years or eight years, [that person] could return to their community, and continue doing what they did to begin with.”

Rather than stripping a small number of elected officials of their non-governmental livelihoods, the goal was to ensure that Council members focus on their districts full-time, and to avoid any real or apparent conflicts of interest.

“It is a concern for me that someone with business before the city could hire a member of the City Council in the hopes of gaining influence,” said Kallos, who represents Manhattan’s 5th Council District.

Kallos said that before taking office in 2014, he personally retired from the practice of law in three states and dissolved LLCs for companies he had started. He said he is still in the process of dissolving several non-profits he created.

“All of them have had, literally had no business since I got elected. But, it can be a complicated and weird, long process,” he said.

While dissolving these entities is not required by the bill, Kallos said, “I felt that as the author of the law in question, I have to set a good example and go one step further than the law requires.”

Certain passive income, such as interest, dividends, rent, annuities, capital gains, copyright royalties, or retirement payouts are acceptable under the new rules. Council members may also accept compensation for speaking engagements or artistic performances, with advance approval by the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB), and income for teaching an accredited college course, “so long as such compensation does not exceed that normally received by others at the institution for a comparable type and amount of instruction.”

The language also leaves room for jobs drawing “minimal income, involving a limited time commitment,” with advance approval by the Office of General Counsel, as long as the role does not interfere with the member’s official duties.

The pay raise at the City Council may have helped attract a number of candidates from state government, where legislative salaries have been frozen since 1999. But, the new city guidelines can also create complications for an Assembly member and state senator earning outside income on the verge of election to the City Council. Three state lawmakers won Democratic City Council primaries in September and are either heavily favored or guaranteed to win the seat in November.

State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., who won the primary for Council District 18 in the Bronx, earns between $5,000 and $20,000 for his role as pastor at the Christian Community Neighborhood Church, which he founded, according to his most recent financial disclosure forms. Diaz Sr. could not be reached for comment.

Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, who won the primary for Council District 13 in the Bronx, has earned between $75,000  and $100,000 from a real estate brokerage firm he owns with a family member. A spokesperson for Gjonai said he has started the process with his lawyers and accountants to take the necessary steps to comply with city law.

“It's difficult for him to comment, because he's learning himself about that process,” said Jennifer Blatus, a spokesperson for Gjonaj. “I can say that it’s something the Assemblyman is happy to do in order to better serve his constituents.”

Assemblymember Francisco Moya, who won the primary in Queen’s 21st Council District, receives between $5,000 and $20,000 in rental income, according to his state disclosure filings, and will not be obligated to give up the income.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Malliotakis’ Legislative Record Reflects Conservative Base

Nicole Malliotakis podium legislator

Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis (photo: Malliotakis for Mayor via Facebook)

As state Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis attempts to unseat Mayor Bill de Blasio in November, the Republican from Staten Island faces the ongoing challenge of striking the right tone to appeal to a citywide electorate dominated by Democrats without alienating her more conservative base.

That base, exemplified by the district Malliotakis has represented in Albany for seven years, has led her to accumulate a legislative record that closely tracks her Republican minority conference in the Assembly. Now, seeking to win over moderate Democrats, voters unaffiliated with any party, and as many of the city’s 500,000-plus registered Republicans as possible, Malliotakis has positioned herself as an open-minded, “common sense” candidate who works across the aisle and isn’t easily placed on the political spectrum, despite what her legislative record might indicate.

"I'm not looking to fight an ideological war in this election, or as mayor,” she told Gotham Gazette. “I’m looking to do the job that Bill de Blasio has failed to do. To make sure that our traffic is running, that our trains are running, that our kids are being well-educated, and that the homelessness crisis is being addressed."

Stepping outside her district into the mayoral campaign spotlight, Malliotakis has faced few questions about her voting record on major pieces of legislation that have come through her house of the Legislature. Notably, she has said she regrets her 2011 vote against marriage equality; comparing herself to former President Barack Obama, she told news outlets that her views on the issue had since “evolved.”

It is not the only vote Malliotakis must now account for to a broader electorate, as she has weighed in on dozens of high-profile bills of importance to New York City residents, like those regarding women’s reproductive rights, criminal justice reform, equal pay, college affordability, rent regulations, and the minimum wage.

Twice, in 2013 and 2014, she voted “nay” or sat out the vote for the 10-part Women’s Equality Act, pushed by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, which would guarantee equal pay for women and strengthen protections for victims of human trafficking, but also codify into state law the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. When the bills were divided up in 2015, all but the abortion plank were passed into law.

“I’m a woman; of course I support women’s rights,” Malliotakis said. “With the Women's Equality Act, we fought to bring the bills up individually. It’s not simply codifying Roe vs. Wade. The language allowed for abortions based on the health of the mother, not the life of the mother. It’s also expanding it into the third trimester, and that’s why I’m opposed.”

For the most part, Malliotakis’ voting and legislative record has not been central to the mayoral race, a fact that may soon change given the upcoming first general election debate, scheduled for October 10.

"I think she's in a little bit of a pickle,” said Richard Flanagan, political science professor at College of Staten Island, about Malliotakis’ mayoral candidacy. “She just has a legislative record which is a good fit for Staten Island, but not really citywide."

Malliotakis’ campaign has argued that she can manage the city better than de Blasio has -- she regularly criticizes the mayor for failing schools, the homelessness crisis, crumbling subways, and other quality of life issues. But unlike current MTA Chair Joe Lhota, who challenged de Blasio in 2013 and drew 24 percent of the vote, Malliotakis does not have extensive management experience. Rather, her record is largely defined by her years in the state Assembly minority conference, during which she voted mostly along partisan lines, often against the legislation that moved through the heavily Democratic house that is dominated by New York City representatives.

"I always do what’s in the best interest of my constituents, I reflect the interests of my district, and I stay true to my beliefs,” Malliotakis told Gotham Gazette. “When I vote for or against a bill, I read through these pieces of legislation and in many of them I find language that changes the entire meaning of the bill, and you have to keep that in mind."

Malliotakis argues that her critics take her votes out of context, such as her vote against a 2011 bill to bar discrimination based on race, gender, or national origin, which she said she opposed because it is redundant to existing state and federal law. Other times, she said she has rejected legislation that is part of an omnibus bill, which combines legislation she supports with policies or financial implications she takes issue with.

Malliotakis has consistently voted against several progressive measures that have repeatedly passed the overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly, but were blocked in the Republican-controlled Senate, such as increasing the minimum wage and paid family leave. Both were eventually passed in 2016 through a budget compromise, though Malliotakis voted against the budget bill that included the two items.

Being in the minority in her legislative chamber, Malliotakis has had limited opportunity to pass her own legislation, especially given that her political views often differ from her Democratic colleagues. Indicative of the district-focused nature of her legislative record, when Malliotakis released her first video advertisement of the mayoral campaign, she showcased three fairly low-profile accomplishments. “As a state legislator,” Malliotakis says in the ad, “I successfully fought to restore lost bus service, for elder care to keep senior centers open; I even sued the Port Authority when they raised tolls.”

It can be frustrating to serve in the Assembly’s Republican conference, which has little influence over what happens in the 150-seat body. Despite authoring dozens of bills each year, in her seven years in the Assembly, no legislation for which Malliotakis was the prime sponsor has made it to the floor -- the best she can hope for is that some of her ideas are taken up by the majority.

“I can’t think of many things worse in life than being a Republican member of the Assembly,” said Hunter College political science professor Ken Sherrill. “You’re not unemployed, but all you can do is be there and sometimes hold press availabilities -- which she is very good at doing -- but it just doesn’t matter.”

Along with other members of her conference, Malliotakis has been outspoken about reforming the rules of the Assembly to increase transparency and participation from members of the minority. A measure she introduced to grant greater public access to the legislative committee process has been adopted by the Legislature.

Malliotakis was also among the first to call for the resignation of former Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, during the 2013 sexual harassment scandal involving then Assemblymember Vito Lopez, and has pushed for reforms like the stripping of pensions from legislators convicted of corruption, a referendum that has moved through the legislative process and will be on the ballot this Election Day.

While occasionally she has voted against her conference, as she did with a vote in favor of landmark 2013 gun control legislation, the Secure Ammunition and Firearm Enforcement (SAFE) Act, another signature Cuomo accomplishment, her work on behalf of her constituents is appreciated, according to Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican from Canandaigua.

“Nicole has been a dynamic force for our conference and her constituents. She is passionate about her community, she knows the issues, never backs down from a fight, and puts in the hard work necessary to be successful. Her drive and abilities are why her future is so bright,” Kolb told Gotham Gazette. “We’ve been fortunate to have her in our conference. Certainly, New Yorkers would be lucky to have her in City Hall.”

As one of two Assembly Republicans from New York City -- the other being Staten Island Assemblymember Ron Castorino, who chairs the county arm of the state Republican Party -- Malliotakis has not shied away from the spotlight and has been forceful on some of her more conservative views. Citing her experience as the daughter of Greek and Cuban immigrants, she has been outspoken in her opposition to the DREAM Act and has touted its repeated defeat as one of her legislative victories.

“Any immigrant who is a citizen of this state should be appalled by the DREAM Act,” Malliotakis told National Review in 2014, “because while they’re taking out debt...and while they’re working multiple jobs to put their kids through school, those who do not follow the rules are set to get a benefit that should be reserved for citizens.”

Malliotakis also opposed raising the age of adult criminal responsibility, and she voted against the 2017-2018 state budget bill that included a version of the legislation, which brings New York law to where virtually every other state has its thresholds. She has objected to Gov. Cuomo’s recently-passed Excelsior Scholarship, which makes public college free for students from households earning up to $125,000, and voted against the budget bill that included it. She has instead sponsored several bills to expand the state’s Tuition Assistance Program and other existing streams of financial aid for college students who are citizens.

Malliotakis was involved in a pair of high-profile lawsuits. She first sued the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey over toll increases, which she charged were illegal, though a judge ruled in favor of the transportation agency following a six-year court battle. More recently, she joined Castorino in trying to prevent the city from purging records of IDNYC members, those holding the city’s municipal identification card, a program launched under de Blasio that has targeted all New Yorkers, including undocumented immigrants. The lawsuit was dismissed, but is under appeal, and Malliotakis has promised if elected mayor to retain such records and reevaluate the ID program.

Recent legislation Malliotakis signed onto as a co-sponsor that passed both houses has focused on transportation, senior services, public safety, storm recovery, and animal rights. As part of this year’s state budget, she co-sponsored an extension of Kendra’s Law, which allows a judge to mandate a mentally ill person undergo regular psychiatric evaluations, and signed on to Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle’s "New York Buy American Act," which requires certain industries to purchase materials from the United States. In 2015, with her district still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, she signed on to the creation of a disaster task force.

She has voted in favor of child protection legislation, including making illegal sexual orientation conversion therapy on minors, public safety initiatives, and various animal protection bills.

While it is not a matter of voting in Albany, Malliotakis has opposed the city’s public matching of campaign funds, but says she is participating in it this year out of necessity, given that her main opponent, de Blasio, is doing so. On Thursday she received news that she would receive $1.5 million in such public funds.

Malliotakis’ legislative and constituent services record appears to be working for her largely Republican district -- she has managed to keep her once competitive Assembly seat safely in GOP hands and was not challenged by a Democratic candidate in 2016.

Jumping into the race for mayor, however, Malliotakis has struggled to explain some of her votes to a much broader, more progressive city-wide audience. When questioned about specific votes, such as those against the minimum wage increase and paid family leave, and against early voting, she chalked them up to the “inside baseball” of legislating, and provided somewhat vague answers.

"We don't vote on ideas; we vote on legislation and whether it is a good bill,” she told Gotham Gazette regarding a vote against an anti-discrimination measure she saw as redundant. “Often there are thousands of bills that are introduced and never become law.”

Malliotakis said that she has rejected legislation she believes is flawed and should be revised. She cited several faulty medical marijuana bills that preceded the state’s Compassionate Care Act, which she supported, that allows certain forms of cannabis to be used to treat a specific list of debilitating conditions.

“The legislation has been around for decades. It was a poorly drafted bill that didn't iron out the kinks; it just sat there. Every year, the same thing,” she said. “But I voted for the final version that became law, because they made changes and they made it better. I think any legislator who is thorough and is thoughtful of whatever unintended consequences come out has to make sure that the words make sense.”

Based on her legislative history, Malliotakis is one of the more conservative Republican nominees New York City has seen in recent history. Lhota is more socially liberal. Former Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg both started out as Democrats and expressed support for socially progressive issues like marriage equality. Both mayors were were also elected by a dramatically different constituency, according to Sherrill.

“New York City is significantly more diverse than it was when Giuliani was elected and for various reasons, he was running against a mayor who was not as popular as the typical Democratic mayor,” said Sherrill. “Similarly, Bloomberg, who had no record, spent something like $75 million on his campaign and might not have won had it been for that massive expenditure. He was a more credible moderate because of his past behavior. She’s facing a more daunting problem than Giuliani or Bloomberg.”

Given that the city economy is doing well, and crime rates have dropped to record lows, the timing for a Republican mayor is not ideal, and the number of Republican office holders in New York City has consistently declined in recent years. This is coupled with the fact that de Blasio has greatly out-fundraised Malliotakis and the mayor posted a 47-point lead according to the first general election poll, taken by Marist/NBC 4.

In running citywide, Malliotakis has sought to focus the race on quality of life issues and management of the city, rather than more ideologically-charged topics like immigration and reproductive choice. Much of Malliotakis’ platform appears to be offering a more moderate version of de Blasio’s mayoral agenda: reform Riker’s Island but don’t close it; bring back more use of stop-and-frisk, but not to previous levels; expand the list of offenders that cannot be protected from immigration authorities; insist on affordable housing in new developments but not quite as much as de Blasio has mandated; and so on.

She has also embraced some typical Republican priorities, like reducing wasteful spending, freezing property taxes rates, and eliminating redundant city agencies. She has attacked budget growth under de Blasio and cited that too much of the spending is not being used effectively. Still, she has not indicated much from the $85 billion city budget that she would cut, only that she would eliminate many of the “special advisor” positions that de Blasio has hired so many of, which would amount to possibly a few million dollars in savings.

While many caution ruling anything out after the 2016 presidential election, even Malliotakis herself knows she has long odds, though her campaign insists the race is closer than the first poll showed. Malliotakis has said part of the reason she is running is that de Blasio had to be made to answer for his record and she didn’t see that likely to happen with the early field of candidates.

If she is interested in pursuing another office in the future, which many suspect she is, it would be wise for Malliotakis to continue courting media coverage and focus on not alienating her base, according to Sherrill.

“The more votes she gets, the better position she’s in, that she can say, ‘Look, I did better than Joe Lhota.’ She has to act as if she is seriously interested in winning, but a reasonable goal is to get more votes than Lhota got,” he said.

In part because Malliotakis faced no challengers in the Republican primary, she has avoided any major scrutiny of her legislative record. Her votes against major sections of the 2015, 2016, and 2017 state budgets -- omnibus bills that combined popular legislation with controversial policy and basic funding measures -- may provide further ammunition for the opposition, according to Sherrill.

“I can assure you that de Blasio’s campaign staff has done a thorough investigation of her Albany record. The time will come -- though maybe not until after the World Series -- to unload this stuff on her,” said Sherrill. There could be glimpses when de Blasio and Malliotakis, and independent Bo Dietl, debate in the first of two official, televised contests on Tuesday, October 10. The second debate is scheduled for November 1.

Some of de Blasio’s campaign staff have already pointed to her Albany votes, using them to further associate her to Trump’s presidency.

“Assemblymember Malliotakis has made her career in Albany as a Trump-style conservative who has voted time and time against commonsense legislation, from raising the minimum wage to marriage equality and helping young immigrant students,” de Blasio spokesperson Dan Levitan told Gotham Gazette. “New Yorkers need to know the truth about her right-wing voting record.”

When asked her strategy for courting New York’s liberal voters without alienating her base, Malliotakis said, “I’m just honest,” and cited Democratic Mayor Ed Koch’s oft-quoted line, “If you agree with me on nine out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist.”

“No one out there is going to agree with me all the time,” Malliotakis said. “I think they need to see overall what I’m offering the City of New York and decide whether they are better off with Bill de Blasio.”

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 2

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week, the spotlight remains on relief efforts in Puerto Rico, where more than half the population is without clean drinking water and the entire island is without power after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. Elected officials in New York continue to criticize the Trump administration for its slow response to the crisis and are urging the federal government to step up assistance, while also rallying New Yorkers to donate supplies and money to the aid effort. Mayor Bill de Blasio's reelection campaign sent out an e-mail blast on Sunday appealing for charitable donations for Puerto Rico, and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is Puerto Rican, is set to appear live on MSNBC in the morning to discuss the issue.  

The municipal general election is only five weeks away, and the first of two mayoral debates is scheduled for next week, October 10. Mayor de Blasio will be debating Republican challenger Nicole Malliotakis, an Assemblymember from Staten Island, and independent candidate Bo Dietl, a former NYPD officer who runs his own private investigation firm.

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

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

The run of the week in detail:

At 10 a.m. on Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James will host a news conference "calling for Workers' Rights Protections & Releasing Report on Mandatory Arbitration," at the steps of City Hall. 

At approximately 10 a.m., City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will appear on MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson to discuss Hurricane Maria relief efforts in Puerto Rico. At 11:30 a.m., Mark-Viverito will speak at a news conference in Manhattan on Puerto Rico "relief and assessment" with U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat and other members of the New York congressional delegation, as well as Puerto Rican leaders and advocates. Comptroller Scott Stringer will also deliver remarks.  

At the City Council on Monday: The Committee on Veterans will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing on the Department of Veterans’ Services.

At 10:30 a.m. on Monday, Mayor de Blasio will “host a community conversation on school safety with parents"

At noon Monday, the New York State Board of Elections will hold a commissioners’ meeting in Albany.

At 7 p.m. Monday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at P.S. 13 in East New York with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, and State Senator Roxanne Persaud.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Queens Chamber of Commerce will host a seminar on the New York State Paid Family Leave Program at its headquarters in Jackson Heights.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Bar Association will host “Police Officer Testimony: A Quarter of a Century After the Mollen Commission.” Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance will join a panel consisting of Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, former New York Supreme Court justice Barry Kamins, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters Lawrence Byrne, managing director of Bronx Defenders Justin Olderman, and Brooklyn Supreme Court justice Dineen Riviezzo to “discuss police testimony and whether the subject has become an issue for the courts; what type of training do new police officers receive on this subject; challenges by the defense; and what role should be played by the prosecution and judiciary.”

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, the Albany Times Union, New Yorkers Against Corruption, and Effective NY will host “Capitol Confidential Breakfast Forum: A Constitutional Choice,” discussing the prospect of a New York State Constitutional Convention. Casey Seiler, senior editor at the Times Union, will moderate a panel consisting of convention supporters Gerry Benjamin, director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz, and Bill Samuels, chairman of Effective NY, and convention opponents Donna Lieberman, executive director of NYCLU, and Jerry Kremer, chairman of Empire Government Strategies and a former Assembly member. The forum will take place at the Hearst Media Center in Loudonville.

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

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the New York City Bar Association will host “The Future of Reproductive Rights and the Importance of Bar Engagement.” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will be a featured speaker. Schneiderman will sit on a panel with Berkeley Law professor Melissa Murray and Center for Reproductive Rights president Nancy Northup for a conversation on the “current state of reproductive rights law.” The panel will be moderated by Slate Magazine’s Dahlia Lithwick.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at I.S. 254 in Belmont, the Bronx. He will be joined by City Council Member Ritchie Torres, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., U.S. Rep. José E. Serrano, State Senator Gustavo Rivera, and Assemblymember José Rivera.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, Crain’s will host its “2017 Entertainment Summit” at the New York Marriott Downtown, discussing New York City’s film and TV boom.

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, the Association for a Better New York will host Republican mayoral nominee Nicole Malliotakis for a “power breakfast” at the Roosevelt Hotel. Malliotakis will “discuss her current campaign for New York City Mayor, her time in the Assembly and priorities for Staten Island, and her overall vision for the City.”

At 10 a.m. Thursday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will host “Building Brooklyn Right,” a forum on “faith based development” for houses of worship, at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a board meeting at 100 Church Street.

Friday and the weekend
On Friday, the Council for Economic Education will hold its 56th annual “Conference on K-12 Financial and Economic Education” in Brooklyn. Featured speakers will be Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, New York Federal Reserve Bank President and CEO William Dudley, and journalist Beth Kobliner. Fariña will be presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

At noon Saturday, New York City students will join students from around the country for the “Youth Action March,” demanding a voice in “the political system they will inherit.”

It is Columbus Day weekend, the next Week Ahead will be published Monday evening, October 9, with the first general election mayoral debate the next night: Tuesday, October 10.

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

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, September 25

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio had a busy weekend, speaking at several events on Saturday and Sunday, wearing governmental and campaign hats at different times. De Blasio will hold City Hall in Your Borough this week in Manhattan, with many top administration personnel working out of an upper Manhattan space at NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem. This will be de Blasio’s fourth City Hall in Your Borough week, with only Brooklyn still left. Several events have already been announced, while others will become apparent day by day when advisories are made public -- see below for some details, including two evening town halls and a constituent resource fair.

Governor Andrew Cuomo continued his recent focus on storm devastation in the Caribbean this weekend. The governor toured Puerto Rico after having previously gone to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Cuomo held several briefings about the Puerto Rico crisis and made an announcement about New York aid on Sunday in Manhattan, with celebrities and other partners. De Blasio also coordinated a city response to the devastation in Puerto Rico, sending city personnel to assist both before and after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria, along with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is from Puerto Rico.

Along with continued storm response efforts and the northern Manhattan-based City Hall in Your Borough programming, is is a very busy week in New York politics. See below for a full day-by-day rundown, including a variety of City Council hearings and much more.

  ***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:

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Transportation will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing on “taxi medallion values,” and to discuss a proposed law “to create a task force to study taxicab medallion values.”
--The Committee on Environmental Protection will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to “public access to noise mitigation plans” and “responses to noise complaints,” as well as to discuss a resolution “calling on the United States Congress to pass and the President to sign legislation that would require the Federal Aviation Administration to reduce the threshold for what constitutes a significant noise impact.”
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

De Blasio will begin City Hall in Your Borough Manhattan week with three public events: he'll appear live on The Danny Jones Show on 580 AM at 9:15 a.m. At 10 a.m., "the Mayor will hold a photo spray before a cabinet meeting." And at 1 p.m., "the Mayor will make an announcement regarding the City parks system" at Joseph Sauer Park.

The de Blasio administration has other events happening to start Manhattan week: At 10 a.m. "Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Srinivasan, New York Landmarks Foundation Chair Davis, Senator Benjamin, Council Member Perkins and community groups will unveil the Mount Morris Park Historic District Marker, commemorating the history of a neighborhood that was home to a number of prominent black residents." At 120th Street between Lenox and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. "After, Social Services Commissioner Banks and Acting Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Mostofi will visit a legal clinic, where providers from Catholic Charities will be taking appointments from Dreamers ahead of the October 5 renewal deadline." "The Department of Consumer Affairs, Mayor's Office of International Affairs, and Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs table at the Colombian Consulate to distribute information to immigrants about rights and City resources." At 1 p.m., "Commissioner for the Aging Corrado will host motion activity event and informational for Falls Prevention Awareness Day." At 2:15 p.m., "Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships Director Fialkoff, Mayor’s Fund Executive Director Bloch, and NYC Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity Director Klein will visit one of the 15 community-based organizations integrating the Connections to Care model for mental health supports into their work." And at 2:30 p.m., "Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio, Social Services Commissioner Banks and Mayor’s Food Policy Office Director Turk host a press conference about the success of La Puerta Estrecha’s Washington Heights food pantry as part of the NYC Food Assistance Collaborative program to increase food assistance by 10 million pounds a year in 12 high-need neighborhoods."

At 8:30 a.m. Monday, the Board of New York City School Support Services will hold a public meeting at 321 West 44th St.

At 9 a.m. Monday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will deliver a keynote address at the NY State School Board Association Leadership Summit in Saratoga Springs. At 6 p.m., she will attend a receivership hearing at August Martin High School in Queens.

On Monday morning at Criminal Court in Manhattan, “Reform Party mayoral candidate Sal Albanese will act as Reform Party Chairman Curtis Sliwa’s attorney...as Sliwa must answer a desk appearance ticket in New York  Criminal Court for his arrest in July as he tried to personally serve Mayor de Blasio with legal papers at Gracie Mansion.  Sliwa was serving the papers in response to efforts by Mayor de Blasio and others to have Albanese thrown off the ballot.”

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, Governor Cuomo will deliver remarks at the Business Council of New York State's Annual Meeting in Bolton Landing.

“On Monday, September 25, 2017 at 11:00 am in front of the proposed Riverside Galleria project near the intersection of Arthur Kill Road and Richmond Valley Road, Borough President James S. Oddo will discuss the latest example of a project that does not comply with General City Law 36, and why this could have a major impact on traffic along the Arthur Kill Road corridor and end his support for the project.”

On Monday at 11 a.m. “Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, U.S. Congressman Adriano Espaillat, NY State Senator Marisol Alcantara, NY State Assembly Member Carmen de la Rosa, and Fidel F. Del Valle, Commissioner and Chief Administrative Law Judge of the NYC Office of Administrative Trials & Hearings (OATH) will hold a press conference to announce an upcoming educational event for Upper Manhattan residents and business owners which will focus on how to respond to summonses from regulatory and law enforcement agencies in New York City.” Both the press conference and the educational event they are announcing will take place at the YM&YWHA ("the Y") of Washington Heights & Inwood, with the educational event Tuesday from 6-8 p.m.

On Monday at 1 p.m. at City Hall, ""Puerto Rican activists, members of Hedge Clippers and elected officials are calling on a moratorium to debt payments to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority known as PREPA after the devastation left by Hurricane Maria. Members of the community in NY are asking that the safety of Puerto Ricans be put before any payments to creditors." Participants will include State Senator Gustavo Rivera and Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ Service Employees International Union.

At 5 p.m. Monday, NYC Indivisible will hold a “Rally to Save the ACA,” joining Indivisible groups nationwide to urge the senate to vote against the newest effort in congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, Citizens Union and the New York Law School will host a panel discussion on the New York Constitutional Convention, “Process and Possibilities.” The panelists will include Art Chang, of the Sanctuary State Project; Danielle DeMatteo, of Forward March NY; Ross Sandler, of the New York Law School; and Brandon West, of New Kings Democrats.

Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day. Agencies and advocacy groups will be holding voter registration drives throughout the city.

NYC Votes will hold a press conference on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. with YMCA to announce “a full roster of events in partnership with the YMCA of Greater New York and other organizations to celebrate National Voter Registration Day (NVRD)...Other organizations joining these efforts include the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Human Resources Administration, the New York Public Interest Research Group, Dominicanos USA, the League of Women Voters of New York City and the City University of New York.” The press conference will occur at the McBurney YMCA, 125 West 14th Street.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Contracts will meet at 9:30 a.m. to discuss a proposed law “requiring city agencies to accept procurement invoices electronically.”
--The Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “notice of the recording of certain real estate instruments,” as well as a resolution “calling upon the New York State Legislature to pass and the Governor to sign legislation to require all real property conveyances to be memorialized by a deed recorded in the office of the clerk of the county where such real property is situated.”
--The Committee on Health will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing on “The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Compliance with Local Law 37: Pesticide Use by City Agencies.” The committee will also discuss a resolution “recognizing September as Prostate Cancer Awareness Month in New York City,” and several proposed laws relating to regulation of “non-tobacco smoking products” and on “the use of pesticides by city agencies.”
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committee on Recovery and Resiliency will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing on “Build It Back Enrollment.”
--The Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing on “High Rise Fires And What New York City Can Learn From the London Tragedy.”

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, City & State will host “Achieving 30% Aspirational MWBE Goals” at the NYU Kimmel Center. City & State editor in chief Jon Lentz will moderate a panel consisting of Jonnel Doris, Director of the Mayor’s Office of MWBE; Gregg Bishop, Commissioner of the Department Small Business Services; Council Member Robert Cornegy; Wendy Garcia, Chief Diversity Officer for the Comptroller’s Office; and Charles E. Williams III, a partner at Peckar & Abramson.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the Senate Standing Committee on Consumer Protection will meet in Albany “to investigate how best to protect consumers, such as seniors and internet users, from the theft of their personal information” in the wake of the Equifax breach.

At noon Tuesday, Crain’s will host its 2017 “50 Most Powerful Women in New York” luncheon at Cipriani 42nd St. Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen will deliver opening remarks. Afterward, there will be a panel consisting of Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor; Cathy Engelbert, CEO of Deloitte US; Dr. Laura Forese, Executive Vice President and COO of New York Presbyterian; and Sheena Wright, President and CEO of United Way of NYC.

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Labor will meet in Albany “to examine New York State’s Workers’ Compensation Permanency Impairment Guidelines.”

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, City Council Member Donovan Richards will join the Association for a Better New York for its “What’s on Tap” series at District Social in Midtown.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Manhattan College will host a debate on whether to hold a constitutional convention. The debate will be between Arthur Schwartz, an election law attorney who supports the convention, and John O’Malley, the legislation director for CWA and who opposes the convention.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at the High School of Art and Design in East Midtown with City Council Member Dan Garodnick, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Liz Krueger, and Assemblymember Dan Quart.

The full City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, prefaced by a press conference by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Also at the City Council on Wednesday: the Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss resolutions “approving the new designation and changes in the designation of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget,” and concerning the “increase in the annual expenditure” for several business improvement districts and the logistics of hearings for proposed laws increasing annual expenditures for these BIDs.

At 11 a.m. Wednesday at City Hall, "Council Member Constantinides, joined in support by health and environmental advocacy organizations, announces the introduction of his legislative package to raise awareness of asthma. The bills raise awareness of asthma prevalence through annual reports, as well as increase availability of treatment for children with asthma."

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the MTA will hold a public board meeting.

At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will host a resource fair at the Malcolm X Center in Harlem as part of its Upper Manhattan installment of City Hall in your Borough. From 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., “Top representatives from City Hall, the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs, the Department of Transportation, Department of Finance, NYPD, Economic Development Corporation, Department of Education, Department of Health, Small Business Services, Department of Parks and Recreation, among others, will be available to answer Manhattan residents’ questions.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Panel for Educational Policy will hold a public meeting at the High School for Fashion Industries in Chelsea.

At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committees on Youth Services and General Welfare will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing on “safe and accessible shelters for homeless youth” and to discuss several proposed laws relating to homeless services for “runaway and homeless youth.”
--The Committee on Civil Rights will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing “examining the rise in discriminatory harassment claims received by the Commission on Human Rights.”
--The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “Agency Responses to Failures to Pay Civil Penalties: The Implementation of Local Law 47 of 2016.”

At 8 a.m. Thursday, City & State will host “On Sustainability” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The event will “gather leaders in sustainability, energy, government, advocacy and business to discuss the green initiatives in New York, reducing the carbon footprint, water resiliency and protection, zero food waste and more.” Editor-in-chief Jon Lentz will moderate a “keynote commissioners panel” consisting of Rick Chandler, of the Department of Buildings; Kathryn Garcia, of the Department of Sanitation; and Vincent Sapienza, of the Department of Environmental Protection. Several other panels consisting of government officials, advocates, and business leaders will convene throughout the day.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, Crain’s will hold a “Business Breakfast Forum” with Marisa Lago, Chair of the City Planning Commission and Director of the Department of City Planning, for a conversation on “the city’s controversial rezonings, including Midtown East, industrial districts, affordable-housing mandates and why neighborhood planning is more than just zoning.” Erik Engquist of Crain’s and David Levitt of Bloomberg will moderate.

At 8:15 a.m. Thursday, the Center for New York City Law at New York Law School will host Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on the “New York City Department of Transportation Strategic Plan 2016,” at 185 West Broadway, as part of its CityLaw Breakfast Series.

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

At 11 am. Thursday, the Assembly Standing Committees on Health, Social Services, and Aging will hold a joint hearing in Syracuse to “examine the safety and quality of residential units and public spaces in residential adult care facilities.”

At 1:15 p.m. Thursday, the New York City Bar Association will host “Alternatives to Incarceration Programs in Manhattan Supreme and Criminal Court,” a panel discussion with Manhattan Supreme Court judges Juan Merchan and Patricia Nunez; Nicole Ortsman-Dauer, Chief of the Alternatives to Incarceration Unit in the Manhattan DA’s office; Shanti Narra, of the Manhattan Legal Aid Society; and Miriam Popper, of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Members Carlos Menchaca and Julissa Ferreras-Copeland will host a celebration of Mexican Independence Day in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Mayor de Blasio will host a town hall meeting at the Johnson Community Center in East Harlem with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, State Senators Brian Benjamin and Jose M. Serrano, and Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez.

Friday and the weekend
At 6:30 p.m. Friday, the Gotham Center will host “A Tale of Two New Yorks: The Bloomberg and de Blasio Years” at the CUNY Graduate Center. City Limits’ Jarrett Murphy will talk to Chris McNickle, author of “Bloomberg: A Billionaire’s Ambition,” and Joseph Viteritti, author of “The Pragmatist: Bill de Blasio’s Quest to Save the Soul of New York,” about the city’s history and trajectory under the current and previous mayor.

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

Voters Pick Women Over Men in Primary for All Six Brooklyn Judicial Seats

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(Wiki Commons)

During the judicial primary elections September 12, Brooklyn Democratic voters seemed to base their selections for Civil Court judge primarily on gender; immune, apparently, to an ongoing squabble over the process for selecting the nominees, who are virtually guaranteed election in November given the borough’s Democratic tilt.

With 12 candidates vying for six civil court seats, Brooklynites nominated only women to the bench and no men, paying little attention to slates, endorsements, experience, or judicial screening panel approvals. Ignoring a bitter feud playing out between the Kings County Democratic Committee and a political operative running his own insurgent slate, voters chose a combination of women from both slates as well as a female judge running independently.

The trend did not go unnoticed and it has some speculating that in low-turnout elections, uninformed voters simply chose women because they may believe them to be more trustworthy and suited for judgeships.

For countywide civil court -- which had five contested seats -- three county-backed female judges, Connie Melendez (15.3 percent), Robin Sheares (13 percent), and Patria Frias-Colon (10.6 percent), drew enough of the vote to win (voters were asked to choose up to five of the 11 candidates listed on the ballot). Sandra Roper (9.9 percent), who was represented by Gary Tilzer, a political gadfly running a six-person judicial slate, came in fourth, and Ellen Edwards (9.8), who ran independently, was the fifth winner.

Tilzer, who says he has instructed his candidates to shun voluntary judicial screening panels, insists that the current nomination process is rigged.

“The screening panels are fake and the only people who don't know it are the journalists,” Tilzer said in a phone interview. “The party leaders select the judges.”

Many in Brooklyn’s legal community who take issue with Tilzer’s methods expressed dismay that a county-endorsed incumbent, Frederick Arriaga, who finished sixth, will be unseated after 10 years on the bench, while candidates who refused to submit to judicial screening panels or were deemed “unqualified” by the panels, were victorious.

“It’s upsetting that someone would challenge a competent, qualified, sitting judge -- someone who had a good reputation on the bench. Are you trying to make people hire consultants? What is the point of primarying someone like that?” asked former City Council Member Lew Fidler, who has close ties to the county party.

Howard Graubard, a lawyer active in Democratic politics, said the public would not be served if sitting judges were forced to become political.

“When I first came to Brooklyn in the 1980s -- whether a judge was elected by reformers or insurgents -- everyone left alone the incumbent judge. It was frowned upon in the political and legal community. it was something you just didn’t do,” he said. “The fact that Arriaga is not going to be on the bench in January, it’s a sin.”

In addition to the Democratic Party’s judicial screening panel, which has had its own controversies, New York City and Brooklyn bar associations have created their own peer-review screening committees which determine if candidates are “highly qualified,” “qualified,” or “not qualified.” A fourth judiciary screening is conducted by the state’s Office of Court Administration.

The trend held up in the primary election for Brooklyn’s Civil Court District 6, where Tilzer’s candidate, Elena Baron -- a woman deemed unqualified by at least three judicial screening panels -- won with 39.3 percent of the vote, over two panel-approved male judges.

Tilzer, who is credited with getting Brooklyn Civil Court judges Rachel Freier and Odessa Kennedy elected in 2016, is not pleased with the outcome either, speculating that this year’s pitifully low voter turnout derailed efforts to influence votes, and the fact that he was hospitalized with a foot infection in the weeks before the primary.

The only woman on the ballot who was not nominated was Isiris Isaacs, a client of Tilzer’s who was unanimous approved by all four judiciary committees and lost twice before running on the county slate. Close watchers speculate that she does not have an easily discernible female name and was therefore at a disadvantage among voters choosing based on perceived gender identification.

Meanwhile, Tilzer’s most well-known countywide candidate, John O’Hara -- a lawyer who made headlines for his rare conviction on voter fraud charges and subsequent exoneration -- was listed above the other names on the ballot, which is often seen as an advantage, and yet came in last.

While county-endorsed candidates often have a significant advantage, names play an important role in lesser-known elections like judicial races, and it is not uncommon for candidates to be selected based on apparent race, ethnicity, or gender, according to those who closely follow elections, including for judicial seats.

“When voters don’t have a lot of information, many default to women, believing -- whether correctly or not -- that women are outside the dominant power structure,” says election lawyer Sarah Steiner.

This may be aided by the fact that more women vote than men, and low voter turnout -- just 14 percent of New York Democrats voted in the mayoral primary happening the same day as the other primary elections. Some voters don’t even fill in any choices for down-ballot races like judicial seats due to a lack of familiarity with the candidates.

Connie Melendez’s Latino name have also helped her draw the overwhelming majority in the countywide race, since the Latino base was likely energized by the candidacy of Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, according to those familiar with Brooklyn’s judiciary. Gonzalez won his primary overwhelmingly and will no longer be Acting DA come January.

One thing voters apparently did not pay heed to was the back and forth erupted between a weakened Democratic machine and Tilzer over the legitimacy of the party’s candidate selection process.

A Democratic Party spokesperson said that the screening system was set up decades ago due to a push from government reformers to address rampant corruption within Brooklyn’s court system. The party only chooses to endorse candidates that have been approved by all four judicial screening systems.

“Gary Tilzer is full of sh**. If he had a complaint about the Democratic Party’s screening panel, what about the Brooklyn Bar [Association]? Then what about the New York City Bar [Association]? What about the independent screening panel organized by Office of Court Administration? It is a weak argument,” said Bob Liff, spokesperson for the Brooklyn Democratic Party, which is led by Chair Frank Seddio.

Liff noted that the County’s screening panel, which includes representatives from the borough’s many smaller bar associations, has in the past rejected the prefered candidate of former party boss Vito Lopez and typically find the same judges to be qualified as the peer-review committees run by the bar associations.

Tilzer retorted that Seddio is a member of the Brooklyn Bar Association, serving as its president last year, and suggested that the other screening committees are connected by an intricate web of political power players.

“The bar associations essentially enable a system where the political leaders can pick judges,” Tilzer said. “If they really were serious about having judges not connected to political leaders they would speak on that issue. [Candidates] have to go through this closed system with the county leaders and the district leaders and if you are not part of this group, you don't get elected.”

Aimee Richter, president of the Brooklyn Bar Association, told Gotham Gazette that Seddio, her predecessor, made a point to separate politics from his activities at the volunteer-run bar organization when he was its president in 2016, and had no influence over the judicial committee.

"Frank Seddio is a member of our organization like anybody else. Whenever politics got involved he made a very clear wall between his role at the Brooklyn Bar Association and his work at the Democratic Party. Anything having to do with the judicial screening committees, Frank stepped away from that,” Richter said.

When asked about the independence of its judiciary committee, a spokesperson for the New York City Bar Association pointed to its web page that outlines the organization’s extensive process and criteria for evaluating the qualifications of judicial candidates.

“The Committee’s mission is to determine if the candidate being reviewed holds the necessary qualifications to become a judge, such as integrity, impartiality, intellectual ability, knowledge of the law, industriousness, and judicial demeanor and temperament,” according to the organization’s website.

While the war between Tilzer and the Democratic Party has turned ugly, and both sides have drummed up negative press stories, there is deep skepticism in legal circles over whether the public is served by Tilzer’s efforts.

Until Tilzer became active, voters were presented with few options in Civil Court races, and typically the county-endorsed slate won. In Supreme Court, on the other hand, voters do not get to choose the Democratic nominee at all; rather, nominees are chosen by a judicial nominating convention, a process which has long been criticized for enabling cronyism and corruption. 

However, many politically involved lawyers who spoke to Gotham Gazette defended the legitimacy of the screening panels and objected to Tilzer’s efforts to discredit them.

“I’m a big supporter of the panel system to ensure that we have qualified judges. That’s not to say that there aren’t occasionally qualified judges that for one reason or another, are rejected by the panels,” said Steiner. “Reformers of the judicial process worked really hard to get the panel structure into the existence and to make sure that different groups and different bar associations were able to give their opinion on judges. It’s a real shame that it didn’t happen this time.”

Others they see Tilzer as an opportunist, looking to profit of the little known, barely scrutinized elections, while calling himself a reformer.

“Gary Tilzer has some people bamboozled. He makes money by causing primaries,” said Fidler. “These [screening] panels do really good work and people ought to listen to that, rather than vote on name.”

Tilzer disputes the claim that he is in it for the money. “What I charged was way under price, because I was in the hospital,” he said, adding, “My fee is always lower than what the other consultants charge.”

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, September 18

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week we’re still assessing the outcomes of last week’s primary elections, while also kicking into full gear with the general election that is upon us, though it has far fewer competitive or interesting races.

It’s also a busy week at the City Council, where current Council members who won their primaries will no doubt have more bounce in their steps knowing they are good for another four years. Virtually all of the incumbents running for reelection either weren’t being challenged at all or won their primaries. The only exception might be Council Member Margaret Chin, whose race is too close to call.

The United Nations General Assembly will be in session this week, which will inevitably cause gridlock in parts of Manhattan. President Donald Trump will be in town for the General Assembly and meetings with foreign leaders. Trump is due to arrive in the city on Sunday and stay for most of the week. Expect protests.

Meanwhile, on Monday Mayor de Blasio will deliver the keynote address at C40 Talks, an event hosted by the C40 network of cities fighting climate change. He'll also be hosting and speaking at the “Global Mayors Summit” to discuss refugee policy and will later appear at a Local 3 union rally in Foley Square.

The Jewish High Holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday at sundown, slowing things down in terms of political activity as annually happens. But, there are a number of 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:

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on Transportation will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to new regulations regarding sidewalks and curbs
--The Committees on Parks & Recreation and Waterfronts will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “the role of the Parks Department in regulating recreational waterfront access.”
--The Committee on Courts and Legal Services will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “New York’s integrated domestic violence courts.”
--The Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “getting to zero waste by 2030,” as well as to discuss a proposed law with the aim of achieving that goal.

At 11:30 a.m. Monday, Make the Road NY, the New York Immigration Coalition, and 32BJ SEIU will hold a rally at the Dag Hammarskjold Tower, one block from the UN, to demand that the Trump administration extend Temporary Protected Status for individuals unable to return to their home countries.

At 11:50 a.m. Monday, Mayor de Blasio will kick off climate week by delivering the keynote address at "C40 Talks: How Mayors Are Getting the Job Done," hosted at the New York Times Building by C40, "a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change." 

At noon Monday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will hold a press conference at Brooklyn Borough Hall to announce the winner of his “$1 million smart gun design competition,” which aims to reduce gun violence deaths.

At 2 p.m. Monday, Mayor de Blasio will host and deliver the keynote address at “the first-ever Global Mayors Summit on migration and refugee policy and practice.” Mayors from around the world will converge on the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan to discuss issues surrounding refugee and migration policy as the UN General Assembly takes place.

On Monday beginning at 3 p.m. in Manhattan's Cadman Plaza, "Governor Cuomo, and national AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will join thousands of union members in support of IBEW Local 3 against Charter Communications/Spectrum in their fight for a fair contract. More than 1800 members of IBEW Local 3 are entering their sixth month of a strike against corporate greed." Ralliers will then "march across the Brooklyn Bridge in a show of solidarity." Mayor de Blasio is scheduled to address the Local 3 workers at Chambers Street and Centre Street at approximately 3:50 p.m., after which he will head to Foley Square to deliver remarks at the Local 3 rally. 

At 4 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will host a "United Nations Climate Week Investor Panel and Reception" at the Banque Nationale de Paris Innovation Lab. At 5 p.m., Stringer will deliver remarks at the IBEW Local 3 demonstration at Foley Square. 

At 5:30 p.m. Monday, the Campaign Finance Board’s Voter Assistance Advisory Committee will hold a public meeting at the CFB’s headquarters in the Financial District. Voters are welcome to testify about their primary day voting experiences.

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

At 7 a.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will appear on MSNBC's Morning Joe. At 8 p.m., the mayor "will sign Int. 1688, establishing New York City’s Office of Nightlife" at House of Yes in Brooklyn.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, City & State will host “Protecting New York’s Water Supply” at New York Law School. The forum aims to “educate New Yorkers and policymakers on how to protect New York’s water from Legionnaires Disease and other health risks and how to preserve superior quality water supply.” Panelists include City Council Member Dan Garodnick; John Letson, vice president of plant operations at Sloan Kettering; and Brad Considine, director of strategic planning at the Alliance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday at The New School, "The Center for an Urban Future will hold a high-level symposium...Assessing NYC’s Plan to Create 100,000 Good Jobs...The symposium will include keynote remarks from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, and a panel discussion featuring: Dan Garodnick, Member, NYC City Council & Chair, Economic Development Committee; Kevin P. Ryan, Chairman & Founder, MongoDB, Zola, Workframe and NoMad Health; former Chairman of BusinessInsider and GILT; Marlene Cintron, President, Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation; Seth Pinsky, Executive Vice President, RXR; former President of NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC); Jonathan Bowles, Executive Director, Center for an Urban Future; Moderator: Winston Fisher, Partner, Fisher Brothers; Co-Chair of the NYC Regional Economic Development Council."

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat will hold a “Moment of Truth forum” on “where America stands on immigration, discussing the future of immigration reform in the wake of the Trump administration’s announcement that it would end DACA. The event will take place at the Hispanic Federation Headquarters in the Financial District. Espaillat will be joined by fellow New York City Reps. Yvette Clarke and Nydia Velazquez, as well as Reps. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Raul Grijalva of Arizona. Public Advocate Letitia James and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will both also speak.

There will be a public City Planning Commission hearing Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. at the municipal building on the Bedford Union Armory development project and environmental impact statement, as part of the ULURP process.

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, schools "Chancellor Fariña will attend a ribbon cutting and deliver brief remarks at PS 201 to unveil the school’s new STEAM Lab and Broadcast Studio." At 11 a.m., Fariña "will join First Lady McCray to announce unprecedented commitment to support LGBT youth in New York City," at the LGBT Center in Manhattan. "In the evening, Fariña will attend a town hall meeting of District 27’s Community Education Council."

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals will hold a public hearing at 250 Broadway.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the Assembly Standing Committees on Aging, Social Services, and Health will meet at 250 Broadway in New York for a public hearing to examine the safety and quality of residential units and public spaces in residential adult care facilities, commonly known as adult homes, including: enforcement of health and safety standards; privacy of residents; and residents’ access to supportive and social services, health care, meals, and transportation.”

At noon Tuesday, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will attend a rally in support of the federal DREAM Act with Latino members of Congress and immigrant New Yorkers, at Trump Tower.

"Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman will make an announcement on the opioid epidemic" on Tuesday at noon at 120 Broadway.

At noon Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will tour local businesses with the Bayside Village Business Improvement District in Queens.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Elections will hold a commissioners’ meeting.

On Tuesday at 2:45 p.m. in the Bronx, ""Council Member Cohen and Assemblyman Gjonaj will stand with community leaders and concerned parents to protest the proposed single men’s homeless shelter at Sam’s Carpet on Webster Avenue in Norwood. The proposed site is directly across from P.S. 20. The community is gathering to voice their frustration with the placement of the shelter and lack of community involvement in choosing the site."

At 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara will sit down with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer for a discussion on “Public Corruption and the Rule of Law” at CUNY Law School. 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout will deliver opening remarks.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, City Council member Ben Kallos will hold a town hall meeting at Sloan Kettering Hospital.

On Tuesday at 6 p.m., State Senator Velmanette Montgomery is hosting a town hall meeting on the Constitutional Convention at Business Outreach Center, 85 S. Oxford Street, in Brooklyn. Public Advocate Letitia James will speak.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Teens Take Charge will host its second “Education Roundtable” at the Schomburg Center in Harlem, engaging students on issues of education policy in conversations with elected officials and educators. Panelists will include Assemblymembers Michael Blake and Carmen de la Rosa, State Senator Brian Benjamin, City Council member Brad Lander, DOE COO Ursulina Ramirez, Young Men’s Initiative deputy director Ifeoma Ike, and District 8 superintendent Karen Ames.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City & State will host its final stop on its borough series, on Staten Island, honoring 25 individuals “who live or work in Staten Island in five key sectors.” The event will take place at Staten Island’s Hilton Garden Inn in Bloomfield. Republican mayoral nominee Nicole Malliotakis and Staten Island Borough President Jimmy Oddo will give remarks.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and Assemblymember Victor Pichardo will host a Know Your Rights forum at the Davidson Community Center in Morris Heights in the Bronx.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “violence in New York City Secure Detention Facilities.”
--The Committee on Aging will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss several proposed laws. They relate to “providing assistance to seniors with bed bugs in their homes,” “requiring the department for the aging to provide certain information to households with users of life-sustaining equipment and individuals with a medical hardship,” “establishing a temporary task force on post-incarceration reentry for older adults,” and “an interagency program coordinator for the aging.”
--The Committee on Education will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “adult education programs and adult literacy,” as well as to discuss a proposed law relating to “requiring the mayor’s office of operations to report on adult literacy programs offered by the city or pursuant to a contract with the city.”
--The Committee on Cultural Affairs will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding a “Comprehensive Cultural Plan.”
--The Committee on Technology will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “Annual Open Data Plan” as well as to discuss a proposed law relating to “amending open data standards.”

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

At 1 p.m. Thursday, Families United for Racial & Economic Equality (FUREE) will hold a “Protect Public Housing Rally” in front of NYCHA headquarters at 250 Broadway.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the NYC Climate Action Alliance, in tandem with the New York City Bar Association and the New York League of Conservation Voters, will hold a panel discussion on the city’s 80x50 initiative, to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, at Fordham University’s McNally Amphitheatre at Lincoln Center. Speakers include Mark Chambers, of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability; Marcia Bystryn, of the NYLCV; Peggy Shepard, of WE ACT; Amy Turner, of the NYC Climate Action Alliance; and Richard Yancey, of Building Energy Exchange.

Friday and the weekend
From Sunday until Tuesday, the Business Council of New York State will hold its 2017 Annual Meeting at the Sagamore Resort at Lake George.

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

Meet The Three State Legislators Likely Heading To The City Council

gjonaj election night crop 

Mark Gjonaj & Bronx Democratic leadership (photo: @MarkGjonajNY)

With the New York City primary election behind us, it appears that at least three state legislators are likely to be leaving behind the trips to Albany for plush City Council seats.

Following the path of former State Senator Bill Perkins, who was elected to the City Council in a special election earlier this year, two Assembly members and one state senator are likely to be making the same jump come January: State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Francisco Moya were all victorious in determinative Democratic primaries Tuesday night.

Assemblymembers Felix Ortiz and Robert Rodriguez also ran in Democratic City Council primaries, but appear to have lost their respective bids. Ortiz came in a distant second attempting to unseat incumbent Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Rodriguez is narrowly behind Diana Ayala in a race he has not conceded, though Ayala did declare victory. Gjonaj will have to defeat Republican candidate John Cerini in the general election, who is expected to be tougher competition than Diaz Sr.'s Republican opponent, Eisley Constantine. Moya does not have any general election competition.

The three state legislators who won on Tuesday would join the City Council as part of the full new class of 51 members for a four-year term starting in January. For Diaz Sr., it would be a return to a Council district he once represented before being elected to the state Senate.

Gjonaj, Moya, and Diaz Sr. will likely be part of a Democratic supermajority in the Council that will elect a new Speaker and work with Mayor Bill de Blasio -- if he prevails in November’s general election as expected. They will be asked to help deal with problems like a lack of housing affordability, a deteriorating transportation system, substandard schools, and more.

The state lawmakers would bring to the City Council significant legislative experience as they fill three of the 10 seats set to change hands.

"The powers of the Legislature are infinitely broader, as a result these candidates bring a functional experience which is invaluable and would help City Council immensely,” says former Assemblymember Richard Brodsky.

Last year, Mayor de Blasio and the City Council approved a large pay boost for all city elected officials, including Council members -- to $148,000, up from $112,500 -- in exchange for a ban on most outside income, which may continue to draw a steady stream of candidates from state government, where legislative salaries have been frozen at $79,000 since 1999. In addition to the pay bump, state lawmakers from New York City may be attracted to the proximity of City Hall as opposed to the state capital, as well as the influence and visibility that come with a City Council position.

Leaving the Legislature, the three would join a number of other rank-and-file state lawmakers who have abandoned Albany for other offices where they believe they can be more effective. Additionally, this year, Republican Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who was largely unnoticed outside of her district while serving in the Assembly minority, is now posing a fierce challenge to de Blasio in the mayoral race.

In August, State Senator Daniel Squadron, penning a letter in The Daily News about his own disillusionment with the Albany process, announced that he would leave the Senate to pursue a national initiative. During his eight years in Albany, his legislation to close the infamous “LLC loophole” had never made it to the Senate floor.

The moves from the state Legislature to the City Council often come down to opportunity. Diaz Sr., Rodriguez, Gjonaj and Moya all sought to replace City Council members who are term-limited or not seeking re-election. As soon as an elected official enters a City Council race, they typically become the favorite, given their higher profile, ability to fund-raise, and ties to important entities like labor unions. They almost always win.

Lawmakers say they find it easier to have an impact legislatively from the City Council than in the State Assembly, where Democrats have an overwhelming majority, or in the State Senate where the Democratic conference is fractured and in the minority, according to those who have made the switch. The Albany budget and legislative processes are also known to be closed off to many rank-and-file legislators, given the “three men in a room” decision-making that often dominates.

“In order to be effective in Albany you have to be there a long time, to accumulate seniority, to get a committee chairmanship. It’s very hard to get legislation passed without clout,” said Brooklyn Council Member Alan Maisel, who was elected to the body in 2013 after seven years in the Assembly.

Some leave Albany in part because they have young children at home and being Upstate for portions of six months out of the year is grueling for their families, while others are motivated to move to the City Council as they near retirement, because the state’s pension system determines disbursements based on a lawmaker’s most recent salary. Maisel said he enjoyed his time Albany, but the turning point for him was the months after Hurricane Sandy, when he felt helpless to support his constituents from Albany. When the seat became available, he ran.

“Here I am in Albany, from January till June, and I didn’t like that,” he said. “I wanted to be involved in local community things.”

In 2021, when 37 Council members will be term-limited out of office, there is expected to be a marked influx of state legislators to the City Council. Other City Council members who have came from the State Legislature in recent years include Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Rafael Espinal, Joe Borelli, Inez Barron, and Rory Lancman.

The departure of Squadron, Moya and, likely, Diaz Sr. and Gjonaj, will set off a series of special elections, which will be called at the discretion of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, has called for Cuomo to consolidate all the special elections into one, on November 7, Election Day.

"We need to remove barriers to voting with early voting, instant runoff voting, and automatic voter registration -- an advance the Governor could accomplish administratively without legislative action," said Lerner.

To enable this, Lerner called on the Diaz Sr., Gjonaj, and Moya to "put the public's interest ahead of their own self-interest and resign from the Legislature immediately." If the lawmakers remain in office for the remainder of the term, their seats will remain unfilled during the start of the 2018 legislative session.

This year’s likely migrants have already been thrust into the next big fight in City Hall, that for the coveted role of City Council speaker, held by term-limited Melissa Mark-Viverito until the end of the year. It is for Mark-Viverito’s Council seat in District 8 (East Harlem and the South Bronx) where Assemblymember Rodriguez could still possibly join the wave, if his attempt to see affidavit and absentee ballots counted puts him ahead of Ayala, Mark-Viverito’s preferred successor and former aide.

As their votes are being sought by their soon-to-be-colleagues seeking the speakership, there is more to know about the three legislators likely moving to the City Council.

Ruben Diaz Sr.: Council District 18
Famous for his signature cowboy hat, his unvarnished “What You Should Know” newsletter, and his passionate speeches on behalf of immigrants and the working class on the Senate floor, Reverend Ruben Diaz Sr. will soon be bringing his distinctive sartorial style to the Bronx’s 18th City Council District, a position he briefly held in 2001.

An ordained minister who was born in Puerto Rico, Diaz leads the Christian Community Neighborhood Church on Longfellow Avenue and the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization, an organization of 150 local evangelical ministers. He is known as a conservative Democrat who may be out of step with many more socially progressive Council members.

Diaz, who replaces the term-limited Annabel Palma, enjoys widespread support in the district. Legislatively, during his 13 years in the Senate, 18 of his bills have made it to the governor’s desk, 16 signed into law. His record ranges from targeting the topless panhandlers in Times Square, to pushing Cuomo to implement an identification card program similar to IDNYC across the state, which is available to all immigrants regardless of documentation.

Diaz Sr. also has much to gain from returning to his former district, which he left in 2002 to replace the scandal-scarred Senator Pedro Espada. Moving back to New York City and joining the City Council will allow Diaz, who is 74, to collect a higher pension when he eventually retires and cementing the Diaz brand could be beneficial for his son, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who may have broader, citywide political aspirations in the future.

Diaz Sr. has drawn criticism for his socially conservative views, particularly his vote against New York’s Marriage Equality Act in 2011 and his anti-abortion stance. The reverend’s views have made for tricky politics for allies such as City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who is seeking the Council speakership and was criticized by gay activists for endorsing Diaz Sr. in his Council bid. A prominent LGBT political club, the Stonewall Democrats, rescinded its support for Rodriguez as a result.

“While we obviously do not agree on every issue–particularly his stances on abortion and the rights of the LGBTQ community–I know Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. has been a strong advocate for Latino representation and his working class constituents in the Bronx,” Rodriguez told the New York Post. “As an experienced legislator, he will continue to serve them well in the Council.”

Another speaker hopeful, Council Member Corey Johnson, who is gay, also caught flack for friendliness toward Diaz Sr., but much earlier in the election cycle.

In 2011, Diaz’s grandaughter, Erica, who is a lesbian, famously organized a counter protest to her grandfather’s anti-gay marriage rally.

Regarding his views on homosexuality, Diaz Sr. told City Limits, “You don’t believe in this, you don’t believe in that, but you respect the people. And you provide the service you are supposed to provide and you make sure they get the same service as everyone else.”

Many are surely hoping that his “What you Need to Know” columns, which are published in the Bronx Chronicle continue. In his blunt columns, he’s taken to task his colleagues in the Senate, Governor Cuomo’s ethics reform attempts, actor/director Sean Penn’s comment at the Oscars, and most recently, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito was caught in his crosshairs.

On Tuesday, Diaz Sr. defeated Elvin Garcia, a former Bronx aide in Mayor de Blasio’s community assistance unit who is gay; activist Amanda Farias, who was backed by the National Organization of Women; and others.

“I disagree with Diaz [Sr.] on just about everything, but I find him to be active and engaged and a serious member of the Legislature,” said Brodsky of his former colleague. “The tendency for these candidates to be colorful and independent is a virtue," he added.

Mark Gjonaj: Council District 13
Gjonaj joined the state Assembly in 2012, after defeating incumbent Assemblymember Naomi Rivera, the daughter of Assemblymember Jose Rivera and sister Councilman Joel Rivera, in the 2012 Democratic primary. A real estate broker without political background aside from a stint as the Bronx representative on the Taxi and Limousine Commission, his victory caught the political establishment by surprise.

The son of Albanian immigrant union workers, Gjonaj is seen as something of a trailblazer for the Bronx’s Albanian-American community, which includes a population of more than 12,500, according to 2011 figures, and he continues to have widespread support in the district.

The 48-year-old Gjonaj, who is known for his extravagant fundraising tactics, recently drew criticism for spending campaign dollars on his own family businesses as well accepting donations from questionable sources. He is credited with energizing a somewhat conservative constituency in the Bronx. His centrist Democratic politics is evidenced by the endorsement of state Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which forms a ruling majority with the Senate GOP. Both politicians represent suburban areas of the Bronx.

Gjonaj served as chairperson of the subcommittee on micro business and has signaled support for charter schools. He has been criticized for taking credit for the Women’s Equality Act, which he voted against, and he has promoted drug-fighting legislation, including a bill criminalizing and increasing penalties for the sale of synthetic marijuana.

During his bid for City Council, Gjonaj scooped up all the major endorsements from the Bronx Democratic party machine and power players, as well as major labor unions. He spent a record amount -- more than $716,469 -- on his campaign, defeating Marjorie Velazquez, a Democratic district leader and community board member who was endorsed by progressive and women’s groups, and John Doyle, a hospital official who once worked for Klein.

“I am honored that the people of the 13th District have chosen me to fight for The Bronx and help lead the way in protecting the common-sense Democratic values that are vital in safeguarding our working and middle-class families, keeping our streets safe, ensuring every child receives a quality education and securing affordable housing options for the most vulnerable,” Gjonaj said in a statement following his primary win. “From City Hall, I will be in a better position to bring attention to those issues and take action.”

But, Gjonaj does have an active general election competition ahead, even if he is a heavy favorite. Following the primary, Bronx County Republican Party Chair Michael Rendino said in a statement that Gjonaj's primary win showed a lack of popular support. "In a stunning rebuke to politics as usual, Mark Gjonaj couldn't even break 40% in his Democratic primary election after spending more money than any council candidate in the history of the City’s campaign finance system," Rendino said. "Developer Mark Gjonaj is now going to have to defend his record against John Cerini in the general election. John is a longtime community leader and small business owner in Throgg's Neck and has been fighting for us his whole life. I like our chances."

Francisco Moya: Council District 21
Good governance won out on primary day when Francisco Moya successfully beat out disgraced ex-Senator Hiram Monserrate, who was coming off of a two-year stint in jail for misappropriating $100,000 of taxpayer funds after previously having been expelled from the Senate for a domestic violence incident involving his then girlfriend.

Monserrate has been seeking a return to elected office and has shown he can still turn out votes. After a particularly ugly battle, the margin was close, with Moya pulling in 56 percent of the vote, compared to Monserrate’s 44 percent.

"Honesty and integrity won tonight,” Moya, 43, told the crowd at a victory party in Corona Tuesday night, according to The Daily News.

That sentiment was echoed by the National Organization for Women (NOW) which released a statement of congratulations to the incoming Council member. “We are proud to congratulate Francisco Moya for his victory today, because we know that he is going to fight for women, fight for immigrants, and fight for his community, and he can stand up as a role model for them as well,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the NOW, which had come out strongly against Monserrate’s candidacy in recent weeks.

Beyond Monserrate’s criminal record and ethics, a key point of contention during the race was the fate of Willets Point, a large plot of land that is in limbo after a proposed development there was blocked by a Court of Appeals ruling. The initial deal had been struck by Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who announced earlier this year that she would not seek reelection for the seat and will leave it at the end of the year. She endorsed Moya as her successor and campaigned with him in the days before the primary.

Moya’s progressive legislative record during his seven years in Albany -- not to mention universal disdain for Monserrate from the Democratic establishment -- allowed the Assembly member to sweep up endorsements from the Working Families Party, unions, and numerous politicians, including Mayor de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Public Advocate Tish James.

Elected to the Assembly in 2010 over Monserrate, Moya has been known for his efforts to fight for the passage of the NY DREAM Act, which would enable undocumented immigrant college students to be eligible for state financial aid. But year after year, the legislation died in the Republican controlled Senate.

As a Council member, Moya won’t have to worry about his bills being blocked by Republicans, who control only three seats in the 51-seat body.

Moya, who has said that he is the first state legislator of Ecuadorian descent and represents Jackson Heights, Queens, this year introduced an extensive legislative package aimed at protecting immigrants from police and enforcement agencies amidst a federal immigration crackdown, which would provide undocumented individuals with access to public defenders.

He has introduced legislation to stop employment agencies from committing fraud against job seekers, and went to bat for New York’s Scaffold Law, which places all liability for injured construction workers on employers. An avid soccer enthusiast, he's also championed bringing a Major League Soccer stadium to Queens -- an idea that may come to fruition soon.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Update: this article has been updated with a revised statement from Common Cause NY.

Update: this article and its headline have been corrected to reflect that Diaz Sr. and Gjonaj have general election opponents.

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