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Democratic Club Calls On Wright To Choose Between Party Leadership & Lobbying Job

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Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright (photo: Governor's Office/Flickr)

A Manhattan Democratic club is calling on Assemblymember-turned-lobbyist Keith Wright to either resign from his role as chair of the Manhattan Democratic Party or give up his lucrative job at the lobbying firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP, arguing that the dual role creates a conflict at the “very top of our County Democratic Party.”

A letter sent last month by the Village Independent Democrats (VID), obtained by Gotham Gazette, explains that holding the Democratic Party leadership position while working for private clients who deal with government agencies “reflects poorly” on the Democratic Party at a time when it is trying to “rebuild and present itself as an alternative in the upcoming 2018 elections.”

The missive, which is signed by the group’s executive committee and club president Erik Coler, followed a meeting at VID’s West Village clubhouse in late June, during which committee members raised concerns with Wright about the job he accepted as government affairs director at the firm earlier this year.

“After [an] exhaustive discussion, VID felt that we had to take a bold stance to strengthen public trust in our public and political institutions,” Coler told Gotham Gazette. “We respect all that County Leader Wright has done for the Democratic Party and for the people of New York, and felt that we had to communicate our views to him.”

Wright’s role at the firm, which began in January, is in a consulting capacity since the state’s Public Officers Law prohibits him from lobbying before the state Legislature for two years after leaving the Assembly. Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, which bills clients $550 an hour for Wright’s services, represents a bevy of government relations clients including Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, real estate developers and labor groups. Among those are also a number of clients whose interests tend to conflict with the goals and values of the Democratic Party, such as the National Tobacco Company, and Metropolitan Package Store Association, which actively opposed raising the minimum wage in New York last year.

The VID letter stops short of a giving Wright an ultimatum, but Coler said the committee hopes that other Democratic clubs will join them in calling on Wright to resign. Wright was not made available for comment on this article.

VID, which is one of the oldest Reform Democratic clubs in Manhattan, according to its website, has among its ranks just one district leader, Keen Berger, who wields six of 24 votes for county leader in the 66th Assembly District. (Each of Manhattan’s 12 Assembly districts get 24 votes, and each district leader is granted an appropriate fraction of that vote, according to a spokesperson from the Manhattan Democratic Party. AD 66 has four district leaders, which allows each one a quarter of the district vote.) However, if other political clubs follow VID in its call, it could pose a problem for the well-liked county leader, who is up for re-election in September.

Government watchdogs, who have in the past criticized Wright’s dual role and called on him to drop one of his posts, commended the political club for speaking out.

“If ever there was a time for Democrats to step up and lead on clean government, it’s now, given what’s happening nationally,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany. “You can’t reconcile being the county political boss with what is functionally lobbying. It’s impossible; there is an inherent conflict of interest.”

The position taken by VID reflects a national trend, in which Democratic Party leaders who have worked as lobbyists representing entities like tobacco or pharmaceutical companies -- which have interests directly conflicting with their stated progressive goals -- faced blowback from their left-leaning base. Prior to his run for Democratic National Committee chair, Jaime Harrison resigned from his lobbying position at Podesta Group -- which reps tobacco companies, coal companies and banks -- for that reason.

In California, progressives are challenging the election of state Democratic Party Chair Eric Bauman, previously the party's vice chairman, over their preferred candidate because of actions they percieved as lobbying. Last year, through a private consulting firm he runs with his husband and another partner, Bauman accepted $12,500 a month to aid pharmaceutical companies in fighting a Democratic initiative to reduce drug costs, while also working full-time as an adviser to California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.

Barry Weinberg, executive director of the New York Democratic Party said Wright has no intention of stepping down from either post, citing the former Assemblymember’s 30-year record of public service, and reputation for integrity. He noted that during Wright’s 24 years in the State Assembly, he voluntarily eschewed any outside income from the private sector.

“Similarly, after leaving elected office and before joining the firm, he made sure that his job at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron did not have any conflicts of interest with his role as County Leader, an unpaid party position,” said Weinberg.

A statement from Wright’s firm, Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, noted that the company has a full-time ethicist on staff to consider potential conflicts of interest.

“The firm will not allow its principles to be compromised, nor will the firm allow Keith to compromise his principles. DHC does not comment on matters regarding specific clients,” the statement reads.

Correction: An earlier version of this article described Bauman as a lobbyist. A spokesperson for the California Democratic Party clarified that Bauman's company is a consulting firm.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.


Read the VID letter below:

June 27th, 2017 - Village Independent Democrats

Calls For Long-Term Solutions As City Transit Crisis Worsens

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Governor Cuomo with MTA Chair Joe Lhota (photo: Governor's Office/Flickr)

Two separate subway track fires on Monday, in the morning and evening, that led to stoppages on multiple lines and delays across the system were just the latest incidents that put the spotlight on problems with New York City’s subways. The last few weeks have seen chronic delays, a recent A-train derailment, and passengers trapped on an F Train for nearly an hour without running air or power. Although issues with the subway system have long been apparent, and only increasing in severity, the official response has widely been deemed insufficient. Transit and infrastructure experts agree that the city and state must act now, and act together, to deal with the system’s overcrowding, aging trains and archaic signal mechanisms, and there seems to be broad consensus among them on policies and proposals that could solve the city’s transit crisis.

The problems with the city’s subways have been decades in the making, stemming from chronic underinvestment in mass transit infrastructure. Earlier this month, in a New York Times op-ed, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel contrasted New York City’s system with Chicago’s own, pointing out that the key to his city’s transit successes was prioritization of maintenance and direct accountability of local officials. “[F]irst, we put reliability ahead of expansion,” he wrote. “We focused relentlessly on modernizing tracks, signals, switches, stations and cars before extending lines to new destinations.”

Although the editorial drew a harsh rebuke from elected officials and New York’s tabloids, Emmanuel’s criticisms were not entirely off the mark. The MTA has largely failed to maintain and modernize the analog signal system in New York, which dates back to before World War II and is one of the key factors in system breakdowns. Although improvements are underway, at the rate the MTA is progressing, a system-wide upgrade is expected to take 50 years.

Official accountability has also been lacking. Mayor Bill de Blasio has faced increased pressure from constituents, activists and political opponents to address the MTA’s poor performance, though he does not in fact control the state agency. The mayor has sought to distance himself from those issues, laying the problems at the feet of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has authority and control over the MTA’s day-to-day operations.

Cuomo, however, has argued that he has insufficient control of the agency despite appointing a plurality of the MTA’s board members and its chair. He recently proposed increasing the number of gubernatorial MTA appointees, declared a state of emergency for the MTA to ease procurement rules, and appointed Joe Lhota, who has previously served as MTA chair, to lead the agency yet again. Cuomo also pledged another $1 billion to the MTA capital plan.

"If suspending procurement rules is a good idea, why is it only being done for $1 billion? Why isn't the governor pressing for more fundamental reform?” wondered Stephen Smith, an urban and transit policy expert who runs the popular Twitter account Market Urbanism. Smith, along with other transit experts, are skeptical that throwing more money at the problem will work unless officials implement multi-faceted solutions that address existing infrastructure, spending efficiency, management and capital project completion, to name a few.

Fixing signals and reducing crowds
One of the main ailments affecting subway infrastructure is the old and neglected signal system, which the MTA has acknowledged is one of its most important challenges. The state has already allocated $2.1 billion, of the MTA’s total $29.5 billion capital plan, for signal improvements. “We’re undergoing a top-to-bottom review, but make no mistake, we must do maintenance and system expansion to underserved communities at the same time,” said MTA Chair Lhota in a statement earlier this month to the New York Daily News, responding to Emmanuel’s op-ed.

On a recent episode of What’s the [Data] Point?, a joint podcast hosted by Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, Janno Lieber, the MTA's new chief development officer pointed towards expanding use of Communications-based train control (CBTC), a signal system that would allow trains to move in closer proximity to one another due to more precise tracking of trains. According to Lieber, CBTC improves service by allowing more cars to run on a particular lines while reducing the delays and danger that often come with crowded tracks. The upgrade is currently in use on on the 7 and L lines, with plans to implement them in the E, F, M and R lines as well.

But the slow pace of upgrading the system stems from the balancing act that the MTA and State have to strike in implementing physical infrastructure improvements. The MTA’s modus operandi has generally been to shut trains down for nights or weekends at a time in order to make repairs and upgrades, allowing trains to run during high-use periods. But that work is time consuming and less efficient, driving many in the transit world to lean towards avoiding stop-and-go style fixes. “Full shut downs of subway lines get work done faster,” said Ben Kabak, editor of the New York City-centric transit news blog, Second Avenue Sagas. “At some point, that's going to have to be the conversation we’re going to have.”

Kabak supports the MTA’s plan to effect repairs on the L Train, which will involve a complete shutdown of the line starting in 2019. This option, though understandably unpopular with commuters, results in faster and less costly repairs.

David Jones, a de Blasio appointee on the MTA board and long-time transit advocate, echoed Kabak. “I was convinced by the arguments they made that to do this in a piecemeal fashion would have led to chronic delays and lasted a much longer period of time,” he said of the planned L Train shutdown. “I don’t think this is going to be pleasant,” he added, though conceding that it is the best approach to a less-than-ideal situation.

[Related: 7 Transit Commitments Advocates Want From Candidates This Year]

A prime factor that causes a majority of subway delays is overcrowding. In a sense, the MTA is a victim of its own success and, since the 1990’s, has seen ridership rise from four to six million daily riders. Unfortunately, in that time, the system has added less than 30 new train cars, leading to trains running at peak capacity. As a result, overcrowding is now responsible for more than one-third of the 75,000 subway delays each month, according to MTA data.

“The only truly effective way to address crowding on the subway is to run more trains,” John Raskin, Executive Director of Riders Alliance, a transit advocacy group, told the New York Times in January. “It’s not a cheap or quick solution.”

An effort to add more miles of track would also improve service. This is evident from the launch of the Second Avenue subway line, which, in its first month, reduced ridership on the busy Lexington Avenue line by 27 percent between 42nd and 110th streets. But Smith is not optimistic that Governor Cuomo will launch large subway expansion projects to reach underserved neighborhoods. “Andrew Cuomo is very focused on the 2020 election, which is why he’s focused on rebuilding bridges,” he said. He doesn’t expect Cuomo to show a similar commitment to mass transit. “I don’t have much hope,” he said.

More bang for the MTA’s buck
It’s widely acknowledged that the MTA has lacked for investment for years, and elected officials and advocates have proposed numerous options to fund repairs. Fare hikes have been used in the past but are unpopular, for obvious reasons. The Empire Center’s E.J McMahon suggested in June the State should use 40 percent of the over $10 billion from banking fines and penalty money in the last three years to finance subway improvements. Recently, State Assembly Member Robert Carroll proposed increasing the city’s 50-cent taxi surcharge to one dollar, and expanding this tax towards black cars and ride-hailing services. A coalition of eight transit advocacy groups have also proposed taxing the property value added through real estate upzonings to finance investment in transportation.

But experts told Gotham Gazette that it’s not a lack of funds, but rather the manner in which they are put to use which is the more significant. Costs for long-term transit projects in the city tend to balloon over time, owing to delays in construction and increasing labor costs. Transportation writer Alon Levy estimated that New York City’s cost per mile of subway construction astronomically outpaces what other major cities such as Madrid, London and Paris spend. The first phase of the Second Avenue Subway first phase, for example, cost $4.5 billion -- $1.7 billion per kilometer, or just under two-thirds of a mile. In comparison, London’s Jubilee Line Extension, Amsterdam’s North-South Line and and Berlin’s U55 cost $450 million, $410 million and $250 million per kilometer respectively. The cost of the Second Avenue Subway, about four times as much as the equivalent in Paris, was not an aberration. The 7 line extension has cost near as much per kilometer of construction and the East Side Access is even projected to surpass the cost of the Second Avenue line.

Smith and Levy agree that until officials figure out how to get more bang for their buck for both tune-ups and new construction, the city’s transit troubles will likely continue. For them, the discourse on the issue features an outsized emphasis on raising revenue while ignoring the soaring costs. “It’s difficult to ask people for more money when they’re not getting much for it,” Smith said.

Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, echoed that argument. “The problem is we’ve implemented a new tax for the capital plans but we’ve never dealt with the cost side,” she said, attributing the bulk of costs to labor. “Labor is 40 percent of the costs, 40 percent materials and then 20 percent overhead and white collar,” she said, referring to a report released in April by the Empire Center for Public Policy. Those labor costs are “25 percent higher than they should be,” she said. Smith concurred, suggesting that high labor costs and a “mind-boggling amount of waste” are the likely culprits.

MTA’s Lieber conceded as much on the Gotham Gazette-CBC podcast, pointing out that the agency has not been sufficiently scrupulous in its procurement and project coordination, leading to costly labor. Lieber, who previously worked for Silverstein Properties as president of World Trade Center Properties, believes the MTA can take lessons from the private sector to lower costs. “You have to have design process that is going to resolve all the design questions and then not reopen them,” he said, contending that continuous arguing and haggling over design often delays and increases project costs. To do this, the parties involved need “close collaboration on design, so you don’t have change,” he said, insisting that the agency needs to ensure efficient and timely construction work.

Another factor behind high prices is the premiums that contractors place on construction when faced with uncertainty going into a project, Lieber said. “Sometimes we say to the contractor, ‘take all these risks about conditions that you don’t know about and throw a huge premium on it,’” he said. He suggested that hiring outside contractors may not be the best approach. “We’d probably be better off letting the public sector own and manage those risks and try to eliminate them,” said Lieber, “rather than having the contractor in effect charge you...much, much higher price for risks that he or she doesn’t really understand or can’t envision.”

Lieber also noted that builders often squander money on excessive last-minute repairs to completed projects, which adds to the final price tag. In his new role, Lieber said he’d enact measures to tackle these inefficiencies and improve how the MTA conducts its business.

Opportunities for the City
In the absence of state action, experts agree that there are initiatives de Blasio can take on his own. Earlier this month, a coalition of transit advocates rallied around seven transit initiatives they want City Hall, and any candidate running for elected office in the city, to adopt. These include discounted MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, alternatives for when the L Train shuts down, and enhancing bike and bus lanes.

For his part, the mayor has touted the expansion of the express Select Bus Service and the New York City Ferries as examples of incremental improvements his administration has made. And, more ambitiously, his administration is exploring the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) proposal, a streetcar that would run along the waterfront from Sunset Park in Brooklyn to Astoria, Queens. Similar to the procedure with which former Mayor Michael Bloomberg expanded the 7 train to the West Side, the de Blasio administration hopes to finance the project with value capture funding, which collects the value of increased property taxes in the neighborhoods along the route.

Other than the Select Bus Service, transit experts are skeptical about de Blasio’s ideas and priorities. Ferries, while useful for some, have a relatively limited capacity. And the BQX draws mostly harsh reviews from transit experts, who say it would neither serve a currently popular and overcrowded route nor a necessary one with demand. Smith called it a “terrible idea’ and “a solution in search of a problem.”

Kabak concurred. “Their plan is suspect from a transit routing perspective and the plan is suspect from a financial perspective.” He argued that real estate interests were the driving motivator behind the misbegotten idea. Kabak suggested what he believes to be better alternatives to the BQX route, that the mayor can work on without state cooperation. He pointed to the Triboro RX proposal, a proposed route that would run from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn through Queens to Co-op City in the Bronx. It would serve an “unmet demand” for trains in areas such as Flatbush and Flushing, he said.

Smith favors more significant structural and jurisdictional reforms. “My personal opinion is that the city needs to take back the NYC Transit Authority for it to ever really be fixed,” he emailed. “Leaving it in the governor's hands is just a recipe for political unaccountability, since the vast majority of voters in New York State do not ride the subway or buses and don't care about their fate.”

He said Mayor de Blasio should take steps towards getting mayoral control of the MTA, starting with buses. “They're much lower-stakes – lower ridership, less capital funding – and the governor might be more willing to give them, and, of course, their funding, back to the city,” Smith said. “And if the city shows that it can be a better steward of the buses than the state was, I think the case for taking back the big prize – the subway – becomes a lot more convincing.”

He continued, “This would have the effect of both fixing the substantive and the jurisdictional unaccountability problems by making the powers-that-be that manage the city’s mass transit more responsive to the cohort that uses it.”

Easing congestion
Coinciding with mass-transit troubles, and partly because of them, New Yorkers have also experienced an uptick in traffic congestion, and continued subway dysfunction is likely to make matters worse. Gelinas said this is an area where de Blasio can take small steps such as making the streets safer for bicycles and improving street management. “When you look at the streets, the streets are just complete chaos, so you can understand why people don’t want to ride bikes,” she said. Along these lines, the City Council has discussed pushing the NYPD to increase bus lane enforcement and crack down on placard abuse, as well as adding bus and bike lanes.

[Related: Calls for Small & Large Fixes to City Congestion, Transit Woes]

A more ambitious measure requires encouraging ridership from the outer parts of Queens via the Long Island Rail Road. In fact, as transit experts are quick to note, one of the few advantages of gubernatorial control of all New York public transportation agencies is the ability to integrate different modes of transportation.

Levy argued that the LIRR, though passing through decidedly urban parts of Queens, better serves suburban commuters. He recommended that the LIRR be integrated, like the subways and buses. This would reduce E train ridership and take drivers off the road, he argued. He also proposed matching subway schedules with the LIRR to allow for quicker commutes from Queens.

In Kabak’s view, the most impactful option available to lawmakers is congestion pricing, with strategically increased tolls to discourage driving on busy roads. “I think the only real way to get these cars off the road is to price traffic accordingly,” he said. “It’s a tough sell because people who drive have a loud political voice but until you’re willing to say this traffic comes at a price that the rest of us are paying, as opposed to the drivers, then you’ll have traffic.”

Jones, the MTA board member, voiced support for gas taxes and congestion pricing to discourage driving. These measures would, however, need the backing of the governor and the state legislature. Governor Cuomo has said congestion pricing is a “nice idea” but insists that the legislature, which has rejected it in the past, still lacks the appetite for it. Mayor de Blasio similarly has insisted that congestion pricing is contingent on state action, and has shown little interest in pushing the issue.

Instead of redirecting responsibility and kicking the can down the road, Jones hopes that Cuomo and de Blasio can work together to push these fixes as commuters desperately await action. “The public doesn’t really care about the dispute between the mayor and the governor,” he said. “They just want to be able to get to work on time.”

New York's Top Democrats Rally Against Obamacare Repeal Bill

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Governor Cuomo at Monday's healthcare rally (photo: Governor's Office)

At a packed auditorium at Mount Sinai Hospital Monday afternoon, four of the state’s top elected Democrats united in a show of force to rally against a common enemy: the Republican-led U.S. Senate’s bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio banded together on Monday, pledging to take legal action should the Senate pass the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the bill that would replace former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare legislation. The Senate proposal would slash federal Medicaid funding, curtail the program’s expansion, and eliminate tax credits for individuals to purchase insurance on the open market, among other things.

(Although a procedural vote on the bill was meant to be delayed until after the return of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is recovering from surgery to remove a blood clot above his left eye, the bill seemed dead on arrival when two more Republican Senators said Monday night that they would oppose it.)

“We're going to pay three times more to take care of the people in the emergency rooms than we would have paid if we'd actually given them healthcare,” said Cuomo of the Senate proposal, kicking off the rally.

Schneiderman, following Cuomo’s lead, promised that if the BCRA passed, “I will go to court to challenge it. I will sue the Trump administration.”

[Related: Focused on Fighting Trump, is Schneiderman Looking Away from Albany Reform?]

Cuomo blamed a rising “ultraconservative ideology” in Washington D.C. for ensuring that Senate Republicans were “not talking about changing health care for all americans, they're talking about changing healthcare for poor americans.” He reserved particular derision for the Faso-Collins amendment, an addition to the Senate bill from upstate GOP Reps. John Faso and Chris Collins that would move Medicaid costs from the counties to the state, calling it an “old-fashioned con game.”

The amendment, which Faso and Collins hope will reduce local property taxes, would explicitly only apply in the state of New York and has not been a focus of the national conversation around the Congress’ attempts to overturn Obamacare. But it has become a central flashpoint in New York as state officials balk at a provision that would cut $2.3 billion in federal funding if the state fails to pick up the Medicaid tab. Schneiderman, who called the whole bill “unconstitutional,” went so far as to single out that provision and referred to Collins and Faso as “two people who supposedly represent New York.”

Mayor de Blasio made no mention of the amendment, but instead focused on the unity displayed by elected officials, labor, and business. The mayor himself has repeatedly butted heads with the governor in the past and has seldom been seen at public events with him. The mayor said that the majority of Americans rejected the healthcare bill, and “what's happening in the USA today is spitting in the face of that majority.” On Monday, the mayor urged New Yorkers to spread the message across the country, telling their friends to call their senators. “We all know where those swing votes are,” he said.

The four Democrats also warned of threats to state hospitals should the Republican bill pass, with Heastie asserting that New York has the “greatest healthcare delivery system in the nation, and to punish us because we deliver the best healthcare is unconscionable.”

He echoed the governor, who had raised the spectre of “bankrupt hospitals” and 1.2 million healthcare jobs being jeopardized in the state. “It means 20 percent of the state economy that is healthcare would be devastated if these cuts went through,” Cuomo said.

Monday’s rally was purportedly the launch of a renewed push to defeat the unpopular Senate bill, which already seems to be on its last legs. Schneiderman called the effort a coalition that would be led by the governor over the coming weeks with the intent of “sending this disgusting, anti-health bill on a one-way trip to the trash heap of history.”

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated. 

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 17

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

From Monday through Friday, the de Blasio administration will hold the third installment of the week-long City Hall in your Borough series, wherein the mayor and many members of his administration run the city away from City Hall and in the boroughs. This installment will take place in Queens. De Blasio has already announced the borough hall-based open house-style constituent “resource fair” and one town hall that he’ll hold, each of which he did during his weeks on Staten Island and in the Bronx.

De Blasio starts the week buoyed a bit politically after a weekend in which he was formally endorsed by the Bronx County Democratic Party on Saturday and Comptroller Scott Stringer on Sunday.

The City Council is more active this week than it has been thus far in July -- it will hold its lone full-body Stated Meeting this week, on Thursday, and has several committee hearings.  

As always, 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:

Mayor de Blasio begins his week in Queens on Monday for the latest edition of City Hall in Your Borough. De Blasio has a very busy Monday: "In the morning, Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill will host a press conference to announce the future site of the 116 Precinct in Queens...After, the Mayor will host a cabinet meeting with senior staff in Queens. This meeting will be closed press. Prior to the meeting, the Mayor will deliver remarks...In the afternoon, the Mayor will deliver remarks at a health care rally with Governor Cuomo" in Manhattan. "Later, the Mayor will participate in an armchair discussion with Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize Winner and New York Times columnist, at the Seventh Meeting of the Society for the Study of Economy Inequality...In the evening, the Mayor will appear live on NY1’s Road to City Hall...After, the Mayor and Cardinal Dolan will attend the New York Mets game at Citi Field."

At 10 a.m. Monday "Public Advocate Letitia James will host a press conference to release her report on how the City can utilize community banking, credit unions, and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) to improve its financial health."

At 10 a.m. at City Hall, "Following recent attacks that cost the lives of a New York City Police Officer and a doctor at Bronx Lebanon Hospital, Public Advocate candidate J.C. Polanco will announce a proposal aimed at preventing violent attacks by mentally ill individuals." He'll be joined by Reform Party Chair Curtis Sliwa.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will visit a "Summer in the City" classroom at PS 120 in Queens. 

Mayoral candidate Bo Dietl will be on Staten Island Monday. At noon, Dietl "announces plan to fight opioid addiction on Staten Island" from the Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Chemical Dependency at Staten Island. At 2 p.m., "Dietl discusses issues with Staten Island senior citizens" from The Brielle at Seaview.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m. At 10:30, the subcommittee will discuss retail development at Baychester Square in the Bronx.
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

The New York State Board of Regents will meet on Monday and Tuesday in Albany.

At 11 a.m. Monday, the Poor People’s Campaign and Rev. William Barber will hold a rally at the City Hall steps to condemn “the Trump administration and state elected officials’ ongoing, proven acts of racist voter suppression and gerrymandering.”

At 6:40 p.m. Monday, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will deliver remarks at a Remarkable Achievement Award ceremony at Citi Field.

At 7 p.m. Monday, the Manhattan Democratic Party will host the “Demmy Awards” at the School of Visual Arts Theatre.

At 7 pm. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will give the keynote speech at the Urban Justice Center's “Cashing In On Incarceration” panel discussion. 

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a “city resource fair” at the Helen Marshall Cultural Center at Queens Borough Hall, as part of the Queens “City Hall in your Borough” week.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Public Advocate Tish James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, Assemblymember Walter T. Mosley, and HPD Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer will “announce the creation of nearly 600 affordable apartments in Prospect Heights.” The announcement will take place at the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital Complex.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, the Department of Consumer Affairs will host a “town hall for immigrant small business owners” at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. Attendees will include DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas, SBS Commissioner Gregg Bishop, MOIA Commissioner Nisha Agarwal, and others.

At the City Council on Wednesday: the Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, former HUD regional commissioner Holly Leicht, and others will host a symposium at Baruch College “exploring recommendations for improving government’s approach to disaster recovery and preparedness.”

At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will host its “Chairman’s Breakfast featuring a conversation with Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to Governor Cuomo” at the Southwest Porch at Bryant Park.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Manhattan Institute will host “The Drug-Pricing Challenge: Expanding Access, Accelerating Innovation, Growing The Economy,” featuring former US Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction at the NYU Winthrop Research and Academic Center in Mineola to “examine the issues facing communities in the wake of increased heroin abuse.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Panel for Education Policy will hold a public meeting at Murry Bergtraum High School in Manhattan.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, City Council Member Rafael Salamanca and NYC Housing Preservation and Development will host a tenant resource fair at Casita Maria in Hunts Point, Bronx.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio will host a town hall at PS 70 in Astoria with Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, City Council Member Costa Constantinides, State Senator Michael Gianaris, and Assembly Member Aravella Simotas.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, State Senator Michael Gianaris will participate in a “Stand Up Staten Island” town hall with Indivisible NY, discussing the “inner workings of the oft-dysfunctional” Senate, with particular emphasis on the IDC, at Duzer’s Local in Stapleton.

The full City Council will meet at 1:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers. The meeting is expected to be prefaced by a press conference by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Also at the City Council on Thursday: the Finance Committee will meet at 10 a.m.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the Bronx Democratic Party will hold its annual dinner at the Marina del Rey.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Civic Hall and Vote Run Lead will host “Run As You Are,” a workshop for those interested in running for office in New York City or elsewhere.

Friday and the weekend
No events on our radar for Friday or the weekend as of Sunday night, but the mayor will conclude his week in Queens and is likely to make is weekly appearance on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday morning.

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


Rochester Mayor Accused of Circumventing Campaign Finance Rules

lovely warren

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren (via Facebook)

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren is drawing scrutiny for apparently using a political action committee she founded in 2015 help finance her 2017 re-election campaign and for repeatedly accepting over-the-limit contributions from business interests, as shown by her campaign finance records.

The Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC can accept virtually unlimited donations, but like other donors, the PAC is prohibited from contributing to Warren’s re-election campaign beyond the combined primary and general election limits set by the Monroe County Board of Elections, or $8,557 per four-year election cycle. These limits apply to monetary and in-kind donations.

Warren, a first-term Democrat who is facing two primary challengers, created the PAC without a clear objective beyond fundraising for Rochester initiatives and supporting local candidates, but similar spending patterns by her re-election campaign, Friends of Lovely Warren, and the PAC suggest the two pools of money are improperly being used to advance the same political objectives, which would be in violation of state election law.

Since 2015, the PAC has raised $325,020 and spent $105,314, largely on what appear to be campaign-related activities, according to a review of its expenditure reports. The spending significantly surpasses the $8,557 cap on what the PAC is allowed to contribute to the campaign. While elected officials occasionally start their own leadership PACs, typically the committees are created to advance a particular cause and support other candidates, rather than backing the individual's own electoral endeavors, according to a spokesperson for the state Board of Elections.

Both of Warren’s committees have been infused with cash from interests with business before the City of Rochester, with several donors exceeding campaign finance limits, according to campaign finance reports reviewed by Gotham Gazette.

A formal letter of complaint sent to State Board of Elections Chief Enforcement Counsel Risa Sugarman in April by one of Warren’s primary challengers alleges illegal coordination between the campaign committee and the PAC and calls for an investigation.

James Sheppard, a Monroe County legislator and former Rochester police chief who is running for mayor on the Working Families Party line and competing in the Democratic primary, charges in the letter that Warren’s two organizations “maintain common operational control with the same individuals exercising actual and strategic control over the day to day activities of both organizations,” and that Friends of Lovely Warren has received from the Warren PAC “goods, services and funds well in excess of what is permissible.”

Sheppard identifies overlapping expenditures by the two entities, pointing to an annual fundraiser typically organized by Warren’s electoral campaign which in 2016 was organized by, and benefited, the Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC. Sheppard notes that the event was organized by and benefited Warren’s campaign in 2015 and 2017, however, in all three years, Warren solicited contributions to benefit her own re-election bid in a note posted on the event website.

“The Mayor’s Ball is my annual fundraising event. As we celebrate Rochester’s accomplishments, this gathering raises money to support my vision for Rochester and my reelection campaign,” the note reads.

A review of the PAC’s spending since 2015 confirms that the majority of $105,314 spent went to Rochester Riverside Convention Center, which is where the Mayor's Ball event is held each year. In addition, Warren’s campaign committee and PAC have made payments to 11 common vendors and payees during the four-year 2017 campaign cycle, totaling $14,577 of the PAC's spending. The PAC has contributed a comparatively small amount, slightly more than $5,000, to local candidates.

“It is apparent, therefore, that Ms. Warren is permitting the two committees to act interchangeably as vehicles to conduct campaign activity in violation of the NYS Election Law. The value of funds, goods and services received by Friends of Lovely Warren from the Warren PAC from the event well-exceeds the amount permissible under controlling law,” states the Sheppard letter, which was obtained by Gotham Gazette and can be read in full below.

PACs may coordinate with and donate to a particular candidate’s campaign committee, but may not spend money to “aid or take part in the election or defeat of a candidate or to promote the success or defeat of a ballot proposal, other than in the form of contributions, including in-kind contributions to candidates,” according to the state Board of Elections website. PACs are also subject to the same contribution limitations as regular donors. Using a PAC to fund one’s own campaign would show a disregard for campaign finance rules and, in the case of an incumbent, provide an especially unfair advantage, according government watchdog groups.

New York Public Interest Group Executive Director Blair Horner said the allegations against Warren and her groups are serious enough that they warrant scrutiny by Sugarman, whose job is to identify and investigate potential violations of campaign finance law.

“New York’s campaign finance system is already riddled with loopholes. If the allegation is true, allowing this arrangement would demolish whatever limits still exist,” he said of using a PAC as a second campaign committee.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, said this practice is virtually unheard of, and indicates a significant lack of oversight at the county and the state levels. "It seems to be a flat out disregard for the law,” she said.

Sugarman’s office, which is staffed with several investigators, lawyers and supporting staff, was created in 2014 by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, after the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption determined that the board’s prior investigations of election law were ineffective. It operates mostly independently from the state Board of Elections, and there have been disagreements in the past between the board’s commissioners and Sugarman.

Sugarman declined to comment on whether an investigation into Mayor Warren is underway.

Aside from the questionable coordination between Warren’s committees, Friends of Lovely Warren has accepted more than $20,000 in total over-contributions from at least five donors, according to filings from the last four years. Nearly a dozen more entities contributed the maximum allowed to the campaign committee and also donated to the PAC (which, again, has no contribution limits).

The list of these donors is mostly comprised of Rochester real estate companies, many with business before the city. Buckingham Properties, a development company that has benefited from a sale of city property and tax break authorized by Warren, contributed an over-the-limit total of $10,350 to Friends of Lovely Warren in 2014 and 2015, and another $5,000 to Warren’s PAC in 2016.

Winn Development, which owns Rochester’s historic Sibley Building and sought to have a government-subsidized photonics company headquartered there, donated a combined $20,000 between Warren’s campaign ($5,000) and PAC ($15,000).

One of the most flagrant over-the-limit donations came from the powerful healthcare union 1199 SEIU, which following two $7,500 donations to Friends of Lovely Warren in early 2015, and already in excess of giving limits, wrote the campaign committee another check, for $10,000, in March 2016.

Representatives from state and local Boards of Elections said there are no routine overcontribution audits for county-level filers, because the local campaign limits are set by county boards, but filers who pull in or spend more than $1,000 typically register with the state Board of Elections.

“It’s a quirk with the way things work. [Local contribution limits] are based on voter registration. There’s no process in place where all the different contribution limits are provided to us,” said State Board of Elections spokesperson Thomas Connolly.

He said that the agency’s compliance unit instead focuses its auditing resources on state-level filers, those for the state Legislature or statewide offices, for example. “We literally have tens of thousands of filers. There’s no realistic way our staff of a dozen and a half can look at every single filer,” he said.

Connolly did note that both of Warren’s committees had in the past received correspondence from the BOE’s compliance unit for “items that were considered deficiencies and/or training issues.”

Reached by phone, Monroe County Board of Elections’ Democratic Commissioner Thomas F. Ferrarese said the agency does not have the authority or means to audit local filers because the agency does not have access to filers’ data. “We just don't have that information,” he said.

When asked if there was any routine overcontribution screening process by state and county boards of elections for local races, Ferrarese said, “No, not really.”

Instead, campaign finance information is simply posted to the Board’s website, and an investigation may be opened if a formal complaint is filed and the special counsel deems it worthwhile.

The county contribution limit is based on a formula set by the state and is calculated based on how many ballot lines a candidate is running on and how many eligible voters are in the district. While it may still fluctuate slightly, it’s not likely to change more than a few dollars for the Rochester mayoral race, according to Ferrarese.

A spokesperson for Warren’s campaign committee said that its staff works hard to comply with election law and coordinates closely with the state Board of Elections, but did not address the illegal coordination charge.

“Our all volunteer treasurer and fundraising teams always strive to be certain that contributions are within the limits set by the election board,” said Brittaney Wells, campaign manager for Friends of Lovely Warren. “If any contributors have unknowingly exceeded that limit in the past we have refunded the contribution in question and believe we are in full compliance. We will continue to work closely with the Board of Elections in the future on these and other campaign issues.”

However, a review of refunds made by the committee during this election cycle indicates that just $5,300 was returned to Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local No. 3 in 2016 and a $2,500 donation was refunded to a nonprofit called Rochester Community TV Inc. in 2015.

There are other problems with the campaign finance filings of Friends of Lovely Warren committee that span more than a decade. Warren began her political career as aide to long-time Rochester Assemblymember David Gantt, who has described her as family. A comparison of Warren and Gantt’s campaign committees shows discrepancies, including more than 10 contributions between 2005 and 2015 reported as expenditures by Gantt’s committees that Warren’s committees shows no record of receiving.

Warren’s campaign has also reported more than $22,000 in contributions from unspecified donors between 2005 to 2016, with approximately half of those donations received by the committee after Warren won the mayoral seat in 2013, according to the filings. The donations are simply listed as “unitemized,” and it is unclear if they meet the $100 threshold for including the donor’s name because they are grouped together by date.

Warren has made significant campaign committee reimbursements to herself and an employee that have not been explained. Between 2007 and 2016, Warren has paid herself $17,783.98 in total from both of her committees, including at least $3,921.98 since she became mayor, records show. At least 18 reimbursements totalling $4,315.98 are either left blank or vaguely identified as “REMI” or “reimbursement.”

In 2015 and 2016, Warren’s committees also collectively paid 10 unexplained reimbursements totaling $1,615 to Kiara Warren (it is unclear if Kiara is related to Lovely Warren).

Finally, the campaign committee has failed to submit several filings and appears to have accepted contributions from nonprofits and other likely prohibited groups, such as a neighborhood association that is not officially registered as a corporate entity.

A representative for the Warren campaign -- erroneously assuming Gotham Gazette was tipped off to these issues by lobbyist Robert Scott Gaddy, a former supporter of Warren who has since had a falling out with the Rochester mayor -- responded by pointing out that Gaddy’s lobbying firm was late in filing disclosure forms with the state's Joint Commision on Public Ethics (JCOPE).

Gaddy, who also once worked for Gantt alongside Warren, was involved in questionable campaign finance practices the first time Warren ran for mayor. In 2013, shortly before the Rochester mayoral primary, Gaddy spent more than $40,000 to support Warren through a last-minute independent expenditure committee called Rochester Rising. The committee was opened just prior to the Democratic primary and closed within one month. The practice, drew criticism from Rochester elected officials and good government groups given that it allowed Gaddy to circumvent the $3,335 contribution limits from a single individual to the Warren campaign. Gaddy is now backing Warren’s other Democratic challenger, Rachel Barnhart, a former television reporter.

Areas of Upstate New York have seen outside expenditure committees infusing big money into local races for more than a decade. At times, these have been lawful but perhaps unseemly attempts for wealthy interests to influence political campaigns, but in other instances, lines appear to have been crossed. Recently, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office charged Erie County operative Steve Pigeon and two others with bribery and "knowingly and willfully" coordinating illegally with campaign committees through their WNY Progressive Committee.

Note: The figures in this story are from before January 2017 -- the next batch of campaign finance filings are due on July 15. 

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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‘Zombie’ Charter School Agreement Rests on Interpretation of Ambiguous Law

de blasio law interpretation

(photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)

A much talked-about provision of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 13th-hour deal to have his control over city schools extended was the agreement that 22 revoked or surrendered charter school charters could be reissued without counting towards the predetermined state cap on the number of charter schools.

In exchange for a two-year extension of mayoral control of city schools, de Blasio agreed to a series of charter school-friendly administrative maneuvers, including the “zombie” charter provision, as well as others around rental reimbursements and school space allocations. The mayor made the deal with state Senate Republicans, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and their charter sector allies.

What has not been widely noted is that language added to the state Education Law at the end of the 2015 Albany legislative session already allowed exactly 22 charters that had been “surrendered, revoked or terminated” on or before July 1, 2015, to be reissued, raising the question of why it was necessary to clarify that point at all.

The answer might lie around the ambiguity of the language. The law states that “such reissuance shall not be counted toward the statewide numerical limit” – the cap of 460 charters – but makes no mention of the separate limit of 50 charters issued after July 1, 2015, for cities of one million or more people, a criteria only New York City fits.

The mention of the state cap and omission of the city cap could be understood as affirming that charters which were revoked and then reissued in the city would continue to count towards that predetermined ceiling of 50, of which there are now 23 remaining aside from the defunct “zombie” charters. It seems that the mayoral administration’s concession was not to read the law that way.

In a brief phone conversation, Department of Education (DOE) spokesperson Toya Holness said Monday that the administration “agreed not to challenge the way [the law] was being interpreted,” but declined to offer examples of potential alternative interpretations.

Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, said that it was the Senate Republican majority’s “position that those 22 ‘zombie’ charters shouldn’t be counted towards any kind of cap.”

In essence, state authorizers issues the charters that allow applying entities to open charter schools, but for one reason or another some are revoked or the schools close down, leaving the question of whether those charter slots under either of the two caps are newly available.

Wrangling over the status of revoked charters has been going on for years; in 2010, before the law was changed to include specific directives on reissuing charters, an Assembly bill introduced by charter-friendly Democrats tried to establish that “that revoked charters will no longer count against the cap,” according to its summary. It didn’t pass at the time.

The reissuable charters won’t be separately marked, but simply added the available pool of charters under the cap, which now appears to stand at 45 for New York City, where 216 charter schools currently operate. Potential schools hoping to secure a charter must follow the normal application procedures through state authorizers -- New York City’s Mayor and Department of Education actually have very little control related to charter schools, less so given changes to the laws ushered in by Senate Republicans and Cuomo after de Blasio, a longtime charter foe, took office in 2014. Senate Republicans and Cuomo are supportive of charters and well-funded by charter allies, while de Blasio and state Assembly Democrats are close with and funded by teachers unions, who see largely non-unionized charters as anathema to their survival.

It is not clear why the law was amended to permit specifically 22 reissuances, nor who exactly included the language. It was part of the 72-page end-of-session bill passed on June 25, 2015 that includes a wide variety of measures.

Even if the de Blasio administration stands down from challenging the charter stipulation, the lack of legal clarity means that another entity could. Public school advocates and teachers unions in particular have been consistent opponents of charter school expansion, and have been willing to use legal tools to stop it.

In 2013, the United Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit against the DOE to try to stop it from offering space to charter schools in existing city public schools; the suit was eventually dismissed by a judge. The UFT, which is largely allied with de Blasio, did not return a request for comment about whether it would challenge the agreed upon interpretation of the charter school law.

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 10

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio was due back in New York City on Sunday after a trip to Germany, where he spoke at the “Hamburg Zeigt Haltung” protest rally in support of democratic values outside the G20 summit of world leaders, along with several other appearances and meetings the mayor took part in. De Blasio, who left the city Thursday evening, was criticized for giving little advanced notice of his travel plans to the press or the public, for leaving town soon after the murder of NYPD Officer Miosotis Familia, and for continuing to take trips outside New York that don’t appear to have a clear purpose in terms of helping the city.

De Blasio said he only fully accepted the offer to speak at the rally when he learned that services for Familia wouldn’t be held until the beginning of this week (the wake for Familia will be Monday, the funeral Tuesday) and that it is essential that cities and their leaders take action in the face of the Trump administration and other global forces, on issues like climate change, health care, immigration, and more.

De Blasio is likely to have a busy week back in the city after a quiet one last week that included the July 4th holiday and the trip to Germany. (The week after this week (July 17-21) the mayor and his team will be holding "City Hall in Your Borough" in Queens, the third stop on that five-borough tour.)

It's a very quiet summer week at The City Council, and the state Legislature is not in session the rest of the calendar year, though there are some legislative hearings, like one happening this week. It's unclear if Governor Andrew Cuomo will be active this week.

As always, there are several political events to be aware of this week - see our day-by-day rundown below. And, with city election season in full swing, there will no doubt be a variety of campaign events by different candidates as the week progresses.

***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:

As mentioned, Monday will see the wake for murdered NYPD Officer Familia. Mayor de Blasio will pay his respects in the evening.

On Monday at 10:30 a.m., Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will make an announcement at Graycliff Estate in Derby.

On Monday “at 3:00 PM, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will honor a diverse array of Brooklynites as his latest “Heroes of the Month,” highlighted by 19-year-old Mark Kindschuh of Bay Ridge, a college student who saved a man fighting for his life amid a June terror attack in London. Other honorees include NYPD Officer Numael Amador, whose anonymous tip while off duty led to an arrest in the case of the violent attack on Bedford-Stuyvesant cyclist Domingo Tapia; animal activist Anne Levin, who saved an injured cat huddled on the side of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and high schooler Alina Estrella, who started a community campaign to revitalize Rainbow Playground in Sunset Park.”

Mayor de Blasio will make his weekly appearance on NY1’s Road to City Hall on Monday evening.

There will be a reception at Gracie Mansion Monday evening for former Mayor David Dinkins’ 90th birthday, with Mayor de Blasio giving remarks.

On Monday evening, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is holding a public hearing at Borough Hall on the redevelopment plan for the Bedford Armory. According to a media advisory from a coalition of groups, "Crown Heights residents and stakeholders will hold a rally against the Bedford Armory Project ahead of Brooklyn Borough President’s public hearing Monday. Residents will be calling on Borough President Eric Adams to reject the plan for Bedford Armory..."

At 7 p.m. Monday, U.S. Representative Tom Suozzi will hold a “Heard in the Third” town hall meeting.

As mentioned, Tuesday will see the funeral for NYPD Officer Familia.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Correction will hold a public meeting at 125 Worth St in Manhattan.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat is holding a small business summit on Tuesday. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is among those who will speak.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon will host the second of three hearings on gender pay equity on the governor’s agenda. This hearing will take place in Syracuse, at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Urban Land Institute will host “A Building Boom in the Bronx” as part of its “Borough Development Series” at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, examining the recent development boom in the Bronx and exploring “the development landscape throughout the borough as well as the driving factors that are pushing the Bronx towards an ever-brighter future.”

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City & State will host “Still Standing,” honoring 10 military veterans “who continue to serve the communities through their work.”

On Tuesday at 7 p.m., "First Lady Chirlane McCray will travel to NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital to host the fourth of five Community Conversations across the City. The conversation will focus on mental health, including combatting stigma and supporting those struggling with addiction. She will be joined by Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Executive Deputy Commissioner Dr. Gary Belkin and Columbia University Professor of Medicine, Dr. Rafael Lantigua. Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa will also attend."

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, the state Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction will meet at the Minnie Gillette Auditorium at Erie Community College in Buffalo to “examine the issues facing communities in the wake of increased heroin abuse.”

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at 22 Reade St in Manhattan.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Citizens Union will host “A Closer Look: New York Constitutional Convention” at the Cooper Union, discussing why CU believes New Yorkers should vote “yes” for a constitutional convention when the question is on the ballot this November.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a public board meeting at I.S. 323 in Brownsville.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at the Creston Academy in the Bronx. Joining the mayor will be City Council Member Fernando Cabrera, U.S. Representative Jose Serrano, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr, State Senator Gustavo Rivera, and Assembly Member Victor Pichardo.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, City & State will host “State of NY Smart Cities: Transportation & Infrastructure” at the New York Academy of Medicine, highlighting “economic development in Smart Cities, tech and innovation in urban development, and smart infrastructure” in panels consisting of elected officials, government officials, and advocates. Panelists include City Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Dan Garodnick, Assemblymembers Michael Blake and Clyde Vanel, Department of Transportation CTO Cordell Schachter, MTA Deputy CIO Daniel Queally, and others.

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, the New York League of Conservation Voters will host the third policy forum of its four-part “Getting to 80x50” series at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. This forum will focus on waste.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a public board meeting.

At the City Council on Thursday, the Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections will hold a hearing at 10:30 a.m. to provide advice and consent on the mayor’s nomination of Thomas Sorrentino to the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

At 3 p.m. Thursday, the CUNY Center for Community and Ethnic Media will host a panel discussion on covering the 2017 New York City elections at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. NY1’s Errol Louis will moderate a panel that includes Dick Dadey of Citizens Union; Rong Xiaoqing of Sing Tao Daily; Javier Castano of Queens Latino; Zenaida Mendez of the Manhattan Neighborhood Network; and Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max.

On Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m., Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is hosting a public hearing on two proposals for East Harlem: a large-scale rezoning of much of the area (96 blocks) and one specific proposed development.

Friday and the weekend
No events on our radar as of Sunday evening, but Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly Friday morning appearance on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show.

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

What's The [DATA] Point? $32.5 Billion

whats the data point

What's The Data Point? Episode 4 -- $32.5 billion, with Janno Lieber, the MTA's new Chief Development Officer. [You can download What's The Data Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

For the fourth episode of What's The [Data] Point? we were joined by Janno Lieber, the MTA's new Chief Development Officer who is one month into his work at the MTA, where he is overseeing major capital projects. Lieber discussed his mission, his initial work and the work that lies ahead, the general issues facing the city's subway system, and recent announcements made by Governor Andrew Cuomo that relate to the MTA. He said no one should be panicking about the subways and explained that the MTA can both manage major expansion projects and bring the current system up to a state of good repair at the same time.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis (@MariaDoulis) of CBC, and special guest Janno Lieber (@MTA)

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Powerful Assembly Post May Be Vacant Sooner Than Expected

farrell assembly floor

Assemblymember Herman Farrell (photo: The Assembly)

When Assemblymember Herman “Denny” Farrell, who heads the chamber’s Ways and Means Committee, announced he would not seek reelection next year, it set off a murmur about who might succeed him in the powerful -- and lucrative -- committee post.

Farrell, a Democrat elected to the Assembly in 1974 and the third longest serving member of the body, is known for his diplomacy and good natured bantering with Republicans and Democrats alike during budget hearings and on the Assembly floor.

Well-liked among his peers and beloved in his community, Farrell -- who represents Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood -- was recognized by the Legislature last week, when it voted to rename Upper Manhattan’s Riverbank State Park after him as part of a special legislative session dealing with mayoral control over schools.

Governor Andrew Cuomo also honored the Assembly member at a breakfast at the Executive Mansion on June 20, speaking in eulogistic terms of Farrell’s time in the Assembly and as former chair to both the Manhattan and State Democratic Parties.

“Denny also taught me politics was the means to the end, and that was getting into government to achieve power…not power you would use personally, not power to take care of some donors, to take care of some unions, to take care of the political complex — power to do good things for your people and for your community,” Cuomo said, according to a recording of his remarks obtained by Politico New York. “Government is about accomplishing things for people and making their life better. Everything else is bull----.”

While Farrell’s current two-year term is set to officially end at the end of 2018, the grand farewell he received in Albany and other indicators have signalled to many in Harlem that he plans to resign before January, when the Legislature is next due back in the capital. The move would virtually ensure the party nomination of his chief of staff, Rev. Al Taylor, in a special election, according one Harlem insider who spoke to Gotham Gazette on the condition of anonymity. For special elections to the state Legislature, the borough party committees name the party representative on the ballot.

“His departure is something that a lot of people Uptown are talking about. Farrell is putting a lot of his energy and political assets into his chief of staff, Al Taylor. Wherever Denny is, Al is nearby,” the insider said, noting that the Assembly office’s most recent quarterly newsletter featured Taylor more than Farrell. “All the signs point to Farrell's resignation being imminent.”

In addition to Taylor, Juan Rosa, a former City Council staffer and community activist, is considering a run for the seat, according to multiple people familiar with the district.

Farrell, who did not return a request for comment, has not confirmed any plan to vacate his Assembly seat before January 2019, when his term would officially end.

If Farrell does indeed leave before the end of the year, not only would Taylor have the inside track to the Assembly, but Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie would name a new Ways and Means chair, the top Assembly budget post below the Speaker, before the next budget season in Albany -- a move that would likely prompt a series of new committee chair appointments throughout the Assembly for the 2018 session.

“When you make one change, you make 30 changes. That is always the part that outsiders don’t understand,” said former Assemblymember Richard Brodsky. “Part of the calculus that any Speaker makes is not just how to fill that position, but how it will affect the entire food chain.”

As capital watchers have noted Farrell’s imminent departure, it has also become apparent that several female legislators are in line for the committee leadership job -- a post no woman has ever held before.

While new leadership appointments are made every year by the Speaker, the Ways and Means chairship is arguably the most powerful and well-paid committee position in the Assembly. It is also arguably the most challenging, as the committee is tasked with budget hearing leadership and examining any legislation considered by the body that has a fiscal component.

The position comes with a significant stipend. On top of the standard $79,500 legislative salary, the Ways and Means chair earns $34,000, on par only with the $34,500 stipend received by the Assembly Majority Leader, currently Joseph Morelle, of Monroe County. Other committees, such as Codes and Education, may deliberate over a comparably high volume of bills, but come with a stipend of $18,000 each. The Ways and Means chair also has access to a significantly larger staff than any other chair in the Assembly.

Geography and seniority have long played a role in who is selected for both leading Ways and Means and other top committees. For Ways and Means, other factors typically considered include knowledge of the budget process, diplomacy, ability to get along with Republicans in both legislative houses, and the stamina to sit through many hours of annual budget hearings.

The longest serving member of the Assembly is Richard Gottfried, of Manhattan, who is followed by Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, of Brooklyn. Gottfried, who has headed the Assembly Health Committee for more than 30 years, told Gotham Gazette he has expressed to Heastie and previous speakers that he is not interested in leading Ways and Means.

“I almost can't imagine how lucky I am to have had this job; it is just about a dream position for me,” Gottfried said of leading the Health Committee. “I love being able to focus on health policy and consider myself enormously happy to have this job.”

He noted that the Speaker must ultimately assess the person’s ability to speak on behalf of the Assembly majority's view of the budget and be someone who can represent the diverse views of the Democratic Conference.

“The speaker has to be concerned with, among other things, maintaining the solidarity and cohesion of the Democratic Majority because there are always a lot of forces eager to pick us apart,” said Gottfried, who is currently focussed on trying to see single-payer health care passed in New York.

An obvious choice for Heastie might be Lentol, the second most senior member of the Assembly, who has held his seat since 1972 and has served as chair of the critical Committee on Codes since 1992. Lentol competed against Heastie in the race to replace former Speaker Sheldon Silver in 2015, as did Assemblymember Catherine Nolan, of Queens, the sixth longest serving Assembly member. Lentol did not return a request for comment on whether he was interested in the Ways and Means position.

Assemblymember Robin Schimminger, who represents a swing district encompassing Niagara and Erie Counties, follows Lentol and Farrell in seniority, but his district geography and more moderate place on the political spectrum could rule him out for such an influential position in the New York City-focussed conference.

While women have historically been underrepresented in the Legislature, including in leadership positions, for the first time in history, several are in the mix for the Ways and Means post, including Nolan, who was first elected in 1984, Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, of Brooklyn, who is the fifth longest serving member of the Assembly, having been elected in 1980, and others.

Weinstein chairs the highly technical Judiciary Committee and Nolan heads the Education Committee.

Between Weinstein and Nolan on the seniority list are Brooklyn Assemblymember Dov Hikind and Assemblymember David Gantt, of Rochester.

Female Assemblymembers Vivian Cook, of Queens; Earlene Hooper, of Nassau County; and Deborah Glick, of Manhattan, also rank among the 15 longest serving lawmakers in the 150-seat chamber. Glick has the distinction of being New York's first openly gay person elected to the state Legislature. She has been outspoken on a range of progressive issues and chairs the important Higher Education Committee.

Seniority withstanding, Heastie has made an effort to provide leadership opportunities to newer members in a way his predecessors did not, according to members of the Assembly who spoke to Gotham Gazette.

“I think we have noticed that under this leadership [Speaker Heastie] has managed to bring a few new members, who have only been here a few months, to be chairmen of committees and subcommittees. It has never happened before. You know, it took me 20 years to get a chairmanship myself,” said Brooklyn Assemblymember Félix W. Ortiz, who chairs the Cities Committee and serves as Assistant Speaker.

He may also consider factors like gender, race, political beliefs, and other elements of diversity in making his decision.

“Geography used to matter, but once you open up that door of identity, lots of people walk in. The Assembly is blessed with about 15 people whose seniority and talent and experience is considerable, it’s going to be hard for [Speaker Heastie] to make a bad choice,” said former Assemblymember Brodsky, who chaired both the Committee on Environmental Conservation and the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions during his nearly three decades in Albany.

A spokesperson for Heastie did not return a request for comment, nor did the offices of Assembly Members Nolan, Weinstein, Lentol, and Schimminger.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the location of Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle's district.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Cuomo Refuses to Comply with Trump Election Commission Request

new yorkers cast their votes for president

New Yorkers cast their votes for President (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)

New York has joined the ranks of states refusing to comply with a request for voter information sent yesterday by Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State and vice chair of the newly-created federal Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

“We will not be complying with this request and I encourage the Election Commission to work on issues of vital importance to voters, including ballot access, rather than focus on debunked theories of voter fraud,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo in a statement on Friday afternoon.

The letter, which asks that each state provide the administration with available data including the names, addresses, social security numbers, voter registrations, and voting histories of every voter in the state, immediately prompted concern over voter suppression and privacy.

N.Y.U. School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice put out a statement calling on states to carefully review their legal obligations before turning over the data. While voter data is technically public, accessing it generally requires adhering to special protocols and making payments, such as submitting requests in writing for specific data. In New York, accessing public voter data requires mailing a completed form to the state’s Board of Elections, leaving a record of who is requesting the information.

In the statement, Mryna Pérez, the center’s deputy director, recommended that secretaries of state have “frank conversations with their lawyers about the privacy and other implications of complying with Kobach’s extensive request.”

Several voting rights organizations have also condemned the request, including the League of Women Voters, whose president, Chris Carson, called it a “fishing expedition” and a “distraction from the real issue of voter suppression” in a statement.

Activists worry that the data will be used to target voters based on their political affiliations as opposed to the stated purpose of investigating voter fraud. The commission was created by President Donald Trump to investigate non-citizens casting ballots following his widely discredited claim that three to five million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election.

As Kansas Secretary of State, Kobach ran a multi-year campaign and developed new computer systems to crack down on illegal voting, which ultimately resulted in only nine convictions, mostly of older Americans who had voted in two states or otherwise violated procedural laws. Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project once referred to Kobach as the “king of voter suppression” because of his efforts to limit voter registration in Kansas.

New York joins California, Kentucky, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in turning away Kobach’s request, which is not legally binding.

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

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