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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, December 12

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week begins with focus on the transition of President-elect Donald Trump, who has continued to announce nominations for cabinet positions, as well as attention on the extent to which Russian agents attempted to influence the United States presidential election in order to help Trump win. Reports indicate that President Obama has ordered a full review, that members of Congress may hold hearings, and that the CIA has concluded Russian agents were involved in hacking efforts to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Trump. Trump dismissed such reports over the weekend and insulted the CIA in a Friday statement.

Here in New York, officials continue to react to Trump's transition decisions, including his nominees for key posts, with many Democratic officials alarmed by potential next leaders of agencies charged with federal environmental, housing, and labor policy.

Over the weekend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a Sunday morning appearance on the radio show of businessman John Catsimatidis, where the two discussed Cuomo's infrastracture vision and projects. There was no discussion of the corruption that has rocked Cuomo's economic development programs, wherein members of Cuomo's inner circle and major donors to Cuomo's campaigns have been indicted on federal charges. Cuomo discussed a variety of projects underway, including the Second Avenue Subway, the work on which he recently visited and said he was about to visit again on Sunday. The subway extension may open by the end of the year or in January.

Mayor Bill de Blasio had a busy weekend. On Saturday, he was scheduled to deliver remarks at an event celebrating Reverend Ray Rivera’s 50 years in Ministry; host a Community Board holiday party at Gracie Mansion; deliver remarks at the Jamaican Rotary Club’s annual winter dinner and dance party; attend the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, Local 831 holiday party; and attend the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society’s 96th Yuletide Ball. On Sunday, he was scheduled to deliver remarks at Prophet Muhammad’s birthday celebration with Imam Tahir Kukaj at the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center on Staten Island and to deliver remarks at Congressman Joseph Crowley’s annual holiday party in Queens.

On Monday, de Blasio has one public event on his schedule, his weekly appearance on NY1's Inside City Hall, in the 7 and 10 p.m. hours.

This is a busy week in New York politics as some government busy is wrapped up for the year -- for example, this week will see the final committee hearings and full meeting of 2016 for the City Council -- and other organizations are holding their final public policy events of the year. See below for details.

The City Council is expected to pass a large package of campaign finance reform bills this week, first through committee, then through the full Council. Read about all the bills here.

We're also watching this week to see if a special session will occur in Albany wherein state legislators will either act on a variety of measures in conjunction with Gov. Cuomo or take matters into their own hands by passing pay raises for their positions and executive chamber posts, daring Cuomo to use a veto, which they may then override. [Related: Does Higher Pay Attract Better Politicians?]

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 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 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing on how to manage parking in ways that meet community needs, and to discuss three proposed laws.

On Monday and Tuesday, the New York State Board of Regents will hold its monthly meeting in Albany.

On Monday at 10 a.m., the Association for a Better New York will host a Gateway Program Progress Update and Panel. Anthony Coscia, Chairman of the Board at Amtrak, will be the presenter. Senators Charles Schumer and Cory Booker will be among the panelists, and Regional Plan Association President Tom Wright will moderate.

On Monday at 11 a.m. in Union Square, "First Lady Chirlane McCray, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives Richard Buery and American Horror Story actor Denis O’Hare will kick off a week of community action events to connect New Yorkers to free, confidential mental health help during the holidays."

At noon Monday at City Hall, there will be a “press conference by feminist leaders and organizations to urge swift action on police reform.” It will be led by a variety of groups and individuals, including Joanne N. Smith, Founder and Executive Director of Girls for Gender Equity; Gloria Malone, Young Women’s Advisory Council Coordinator at Girls for Gender Equity; Monifa Bandele, MomsRising; L. Joy Williams, President of Brooklyn NAACP; NAACP Legal Defense Fund; Legal Aid Society; and others.

The City Planning Commission will hold a review session and a special meeting at 1 p.m. on Monday. 

On Monday at 5:30 p.m., the Queens Borough Board will review the Queens Library’s strategic planning process. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz chairs the Queens Borough Board; Queens Library President and CEO Dennis Walcott will give a presentation.

Mayor de Blasio is on NY1's Inside City Hall Monday evening, 7 and 10 p.m.

At Tuesday at 10 a.m. "Mayor de Blasio will host a press conference to make an announcement regarding job creation in New York City" at Alexandria Center in Manhattan. "Later, the Mayor will meet with Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon...Following the meeting, the Mayor will hold a photo spray with Secretary-General of the U.N. Ban Ki-moon."

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • The Committee on Civil Rights will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law that will keep employers “from inquiring about or relying on a prospective employee’s salary history.”
    The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss three proposed laws.
  • The Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing on “how the Workers Compensation System impacts NYC workers.”
  • The Committee on Environmental Protection will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law on “water pollution control, including provisions relating to stormwater management and control of discharges into storm sewers.”

Ahead of the Council's civil rights committee hearing, "Public Advocate Letitia James will be joined by elected officials, business leaders, and advocates to rally support for her legislation to prohibit employers from asking previous salary information from any prospective job applicant. The press conference will be held directly before the bill’s hearing in front of the Council Committee on Civil Rights." James will be joined at the 9 a.m. rally by Council Members Cumbo, Mealey, and Salamanca, according to her office.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Industrial Development Agency (NYCIDA) will hold a Board of Directors Meeting.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Gov. Cuomo will make an announcement at the New NY Bridge Project, in Tarrytown.

At 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Libraries and Education Technology will hold a public hearing in Albany on the funding of public libraries to “examine the 2016-2017 State Budget’s impact on the mission of New York State libraries in the 21st Century.”

At 10:30 a.m. Tuesday "Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and New York City Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill announce the results of a long-term investigation."

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, there will be a rally on the steps of City Hall calling for Mayor de Blasio to support the Right to Counsel Bill. This bill “would ensure all tenants who are forced by their landlords to go to Housing Court have access to a lawyer.” Tenants, advocates, and community members, including AARP-NY, as well as City Council members, led by Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, will participate.

At 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Brooklyn Borough Hall, "Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will join dozens of domestic violence survivors as well as elected officials such as Assembly Members Amy Paulin and Jamie Williams and Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo, chair of the Committee on Women’s Issues, to hold a candlelight empowerment rally on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall. Commemorating the anniversary of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a landmark piece of federal legislation that improved criminal justice responses to domestic violence and allowed survivors to better access social services, they will unveil a legislative package with reforms to help strengthen impacted families. Borough President Adams, himself personally affected by domestic violence, will discuss the importance of new action while sharing the stories of inspiring local survivors."

On Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Bronx, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will attend a town hall meeting of District 7’s Community Education Council at P.S. 5.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute will hold “Feeding Gotham: The History and Future of Food Policy in New York City.” This event will look at “concerns over the production and distribution of food in the city,” which exist even after former Mayor Michael Bloomberg created an office of food policy. Gregory Baics of Barnard, Marion Nestle of NYU, and Nick Freudenberg of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute will be among the speakers. The moderator will be Mark Bittman from The New York Times.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Crain’s New York will hold a Business Breakfast Forum with NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. He “will discuss reducing crime in NYC as it rises nationally, how he will implement “broken windows” and neighborhood policing and solving the homicide problem that remains in pockets of the city.” Erik Engquist, assistant managing editor of Crain's New York Business, and Pervaiz Shallwani, criminal justice reporter at The Wall Street Journal, will moderate a discussion after O’Neill gives remarks.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • The Committee on General Welfare will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing on “preventive services at the Administration for Children’s Services,” discussion of a proposed law to deal with preventative services, and discussion of a proposed law which would provide language classes for some children in foster care.
  • The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
  • The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss several proposed laws related to the board of standards and appeals, and to discuss a proposed law in relation to the creation of an interactive zoning variance and special permit map.”
  • The Committee on Finance will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing on Fiscal 2017 November Financial Plan and the September Capital Commitment Plan.
  • The Subcommittee on Libraries and the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations will hold a joint oversight hearing at 1 p.m. on the New York Public Library’s Schwarzman Building and Midtown Campus Plans.

On Wednesday at 10 a.m., the MTA will have a board meeting.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will hold “Stop and Frisk: An In-Depth Look at a Contentious Policing Tactic.” At this event, “Criminologist and criminal justice expert Michael White delves into his and Henry Fradella's new book, Stop and Frisk: The Use and Abuse of a Controversial Policing Tactic.”

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board will have a board meeting.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • The Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law on the DUMBO Business Improvement District, and to discuss a proposed resolution “approving the new designation and changes in the designation of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget.”
  • There will be a Stated Meeting at 1:30 p.m. This is the last full City Council meeting of the year. It will be prefaced by the usual pre-stated press conference led by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute will continue its Urban Food Policy Forum series: “Defending SNAP and Child Nutrition After the Election.” The panelists at this event will discuss what impact the election will have on safety nets for child nutrition. Panelists include Maggie Dickinson, Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, Guttman Community College; Triada Stampas, Vice President for Research and Public Affairs, Food Bank for New York City; and Ellen Vollinger, Legal/Food Stamp Director, Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). The moderator will be Jan Poppendieck, Senior Faculty Fellow, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute and Professor Emerita, Sociology, Hunter College.

On Thursday, at 10 a.m., the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold its next public meeting.

Friday and the weekend
At 8:15 a.m. on Friday, the CityLaw breakfast series will continue with Steven Banks, Commissioner of the Department of Social Services. He will be speaking on poverty and homelessness in New York City. 

At 10 a.m. Friday, the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee will host Campaign School in New York City. “Are you ready to learn about political engagement at the state and local level in New York? And are you curious about the fundamentals of running a campaign?...Open to pro-choice Democratic women ready to take the next step.”

At 10 a.m. Friday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Governmental Operations, the Assembly Standing Committee on Small Business, the Assembly Standing Committee on Oversight, Analysis and Investigation, and the Assembly Subcommittee on Oversight of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises will hold a joint public hearing in Albany on the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) Program.

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 Brendan Birth and Ben Max

Much Agreement on Need for Bail Reform, But Little Movement

de Blasio rikers ponte officers

On Rikers Island (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

There is an ongoing conversation in New York about how to fix the bail system that many agree is broken, keeping too many poor people in jail after they are arrested for low-level nonviolent offenses but cannot afford to post bond and, at times, allowing individuals back onto the street who are prone to violence but able to pay bail. Efforts at reform have been full of fits and starts.

About a month ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced measures to make it easier for people to pay bail through an online payment system, as opposed to the insistence that bail is paid in person. More recently, City Council Member Rory Lancman introduced legislation that would require a city service provider to furnish judges setting bail with details of a defendant’s financial situation.

These latest incremental local reform ideas and others are aimed at chipping away at the problems with the system, but many advocates, legal experts, and elected officials agree that there is a need for an expanded statewide conversation around the culture of bail and actual statutory reform, chiefly to ensure that those with limited material resources are not punished simply for their economic status.

Reforming the bail system in New York has been something of a priority at both the city and state levels, though tangible progress has been limited.

In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo included the issue in his policy agenda for this year, although there has been little follow-up through legislation. Cuomo proposed requiring judges to assess risk to public safety when making a bail decision -- something de Blasio and others are in agreement with -- and stronger regulations of bail bondsman practices.

In New York City, the de Blasio administration has implemented a number of initiatives this year to make bail payments less complicated and to provide alternatives to bail that keep people from being incarcerated. There have also been concerted efforts both in policing practice and through legislation to reduce arrests for low-level offenses in the first place, and arrests are down significantly while the city has become safer in terms of major crimes.

The population at Rikers Island jails, where about three-quarters of the city’s jail population is housed, hovers around 7,500 daily, down significantly from peak years over recent decades.

In April, the mayor committed nearly $18 million for a citywide expansion of a supervised release program that will allow as many as 3,000 low-level offenders each year to remain out of jail and work while they await trial. The program cuts down on the use of monetary bail, ensuring that people who are of low risk to public safety but cannot afford bail do not languish in prison.

Last month, the mayor announced the creation of a system that allows cash bail to be paid online, by a phone, or through a courthouse kiosk by family members and friends of defendants. The system, due to be launched citywide by the spring, aims at alleviating the difficulty of having to physically visit a corrections facility to pay bail. “Nobody with the ability to pay bail should sit in jail just because the bail process is an inconvenience,” de Blasio said at the announcement.

The City Council has also been inching closer to establishing a public bail fund, which was first announced by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in her February 2015 State of the City speech. The fund received a license from the state Department of Financial Services in August but cannot begin operations until a pending license application for a bail bond agent is approved. If it becomes operational, the fund will provide bail money for qualifying participants so that they can leave jail between arrest and court appearance.

Bail reform is a key consideration for the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, a body that was set up at the speaker’s behest earlier this year to recommend broad criminal justice reforms, with an eye toward creating a plan for closing the Rikers Island prison complex. The body is being headed by former New York State chief judge Jonathan Lippman, who, when he filled that role, argued vehemently for bail reform.

Lippman believes that bail reform is moving ahead slowly in the city, but he stressed in a phone interview that there needs to be statutory change in law to effect broad change. “The city is doing really good things but they’re nibbling around the edges, not able to get at the heart of it,” he said. “My belief is that we need cooperation from Albany and we need a new bail statute.”

Lippman suggested a two-fold approach to bail: giving judges the authority to assess risk to public safety and the need to “flip the assumption” that someone should be incarcerated instead of being released while waiting for a court date. “Bail doesn’t assure the person coming back and it’s an anachronism,” he said, promising that the commission will directly address the issue when it releases its recommendations sometime in spring 2017.

Last year, when Lippman was serving as chief judge (he was forced to retire due to age restrictions and is now “of counsel” at Latham & Watkins), he announced administrative measures to reform the bail system in the absence of legislative action by the state. His own proposals from 2013 to essentially do away with cash bail have not been taken up by legislators in Albany, where Republicans control the state Senate and are often opposed to what is seen as progressive criminal justice reform.

“I think we got a lot of attention when I proposed the legislation,” Lippman said, rueing that “getting a lot of attention and getting things done are two different things.”

The challenge to changing the bail statute, he said, is the same that creeps up in any issue of criminal justice reform. “Legislators are elected and get into this soft-on-crime/tough-on-crime syndrome,” he said. “I think we need to be smart on crime.”

A major impetus to the conversation around bail reform was the tragic death of Kalief Browder, a young Bronx resident who spent three years on Rikers Island awaiting trial on charges of stealing a backpack. Browder couldn’t pay bail but was eventually released when the case was dismissed. In jail, he faced physical and mental abuse and was placed in solitary confinement for nearly two years. In June 2015, Browder committed suicide.

The case prompted widespread outrage and besides putting a spotlight on the culture of violence at Rikers, it highlighted the problems in the bail system. Advocates use Browder’s experience as a rallying cry in their push for change.

While there’s a lot of agreement that an update of the legal statutes is necessary, there’s a greater need, many say, for reexamining the purpose of the bail mechanism and reeducation in how it is practiced.

“Bail, by definition, discriminates against the poor,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris, deputy Democratic Conference leader, who proposed a bill last year to scrap cash bail. “There’s no rational basis for continuing this process.”

Gianaris, of Queens, believes that reform is being slowed by a misunderstanding of the issue. “Bail was never intended to keep dangerous people off the street,” he said, pointing out that defendants have a constitutional presumption of innocence and cannot be considered dangerous for the purposes of bail if they haven’t been convicted yet.”

Ezra Ritchin, project director of the Bronx Freedom Fund, one of two charitable bail funds already operating in New York City, commends the mayor and the City Council for the steps they’ve taken and says there is an urgency around bail reform at the state level.

“We’re in an important moment right now where there’s a lot of change happening,” he said. “Since Kalief Browder...there has been momentum for reform.”

But Ritchin warned, “There are things that we are missing in all of this.” The root of the issue, he said, is the high volume of arrests in New York City, and the consideration that a defendant is likely to miss their court date. “It’s often labeled as flight-risk,” he said. “That’s a massive misunderstanding of what’s going on. No one is fleeing.”

“It’s a question of the way that we frame risk,” Ritchin said, referring to the chances that a person might flee or even be a risk to public safety, which is a consideration that both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have proposed as an addition to the bail statute. “What we don’t talk about,” Ritchin said, “is the risk of a person’s life falling apart from being wrenched into the system.”

Therein lies the biggest issue for Ritchin, the way the bail statute is put into practice. The current statute allows nine different forms of bail, including cash bail, that a judge can impose, some of which are less onerous.

“I think the statute, if used correctly, could result in a very different system than the one we see now,” Ritchin said. This “golden question” of how to change the culture of imposing bail, among prosecutors and judges, is one for which Ritchin said he has no clear answer.

City Council Member Lancman echoed that sentiment. As the chair of the Council’s Committee on Courts and Legal Services, Lancman is at the frontline of this issue. “The major obstacle is the unwillingness of judges and prosecutors to accept other forms of assurances for a defendant...than cash bail or bond, as well as the unwillingness to look at each defendant’s financial circumstances,” Lancman told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “The system in every way possible -- from the city side, the judiciary side, the district attorney’s side, and, to a lesser extent, from the defense’s side -- is not focused on eliminating this reality of people being sent to Rikers Island because they’re poor.”

Under the bill Lancman introduced November 29, an arraignment screening organization contracted by the city to provide details about a defendant, including a recommendation on their risk of flight, would also have to include information on a defendant’s ability to pay bail. This is just one of the few ways the city can change how the bail system works, Lancman said, stressing the need for action at multiple levels. “The effort to reform bail requires many stakeholders adopting the new procedures and policies and outlook, which cumulatively would have an effect of greatly reducing the number of people on Rikers Island because they’re poor,” he said. 

The understanding that cash bail is a misguided concept has taken hold in an unprecedented way at the city and state level, according to Insha Rahman, senior planner at the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute of Justice. Less than a decade ago, “it wasn’t a part of the rhetoric and conversation around bail as it is now,” Rahman said. 

She insisted that any legislative proposal, such as one that would consider adding public safety as a consideration, should be informed by data obtained through a statewide survey. “The push needs to be to understand the problems with the use of bail statewide to avoid unintended consequences in places where it’s being used effectively as opposed to ineffectively,” she added, pointing out that different counties employ different practices and that the system is far from a monolith even within New York City’s five boroughs.

There is no cash bail in Washington D.C., where defendants are only detained if they are considered a risk to public safety. It’s considered a model by many advocates of bail reform in New York. But, as Rahman argued, adding risk as a consideration in setting bail could create problems if not studied carefully. “Any change to that is basically change in the sorting mechanism of who stays in and who is released,” she said.

Judge Lippman supports the idea of factoring public risk. So do Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, and they have been criticized for it. The proposal has also held up reform at the state level as different stakeholders struggle to find middle ground. Advocates and legal experts fear that it could deprive defendants of their rights and further institutionalize racism in the judicial system.

Cuomo has not changed his stance since he first included it in his 2016 agenda, according to his office. “The Governor continues to champion comprehensive criminal justice reform, including changes to the state’s antiquated bail system,” said Abbey Fashouer, a spokesperson for the governor, in a statement. “New York is one of only four states in the nation that does not currently take into account public safety risks when making bail and release decisions – and it’s past time to develop a new approach.”

The mayor recently doubled down on his support for the proposal. During a November 7 appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall, de Blasio spoke of the need for bail reform in the context of the fatal shooting of NYPD Sergeant Paul Tuozzolo in the Bronx just three days prior. Tuozzolo was shot and killed by a man who was out on bail and suffered from mental health problems. It was reminiscent of the October 2015 killing of NYPD Officer Randolph Holder, which the mayor referenced in the interview as well. Holder was killed in East Harlem while pursuing an armed suspect who had earlier been sentenced to a treatment program by a drug court rather than being sent to jail.

“This is a reminder that we need bail reform in the State of New York,” de Blasio told NY1 anchor Errol Louis of Tuozzolo’s murder. “We need to include the question of how dangerous a criminal is in the bail decision because there are times when someone is not – a criminal is not a flight risk, but they are a threat to the community, or they have a profound mental health challenge that needs to be addressed. These issues have to be taken into account and we need a state law that recognizes that bail – judges should have the opportunity to consider the dangerousness of the individual when making a bail decision.”

Peter Goldberg, executive director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, said, as others did, that, “The fundamental problem with how bail operates is that it cages presumptively innocent people for their inability to come up with a certain amount of money.” He warns that replacing it with a system that assesses public safety might ignore that presumption as well.

“There’s a risk that  a system that replaces it will exacerbate existing racial and socioeconomic inequalities,” Goldberg said. “And in any system that looks to judge a person’s dangerousness merely based on the accusation of a crime, the data being used to create that system needs to be made available to the public, to be vigorously validated, but the bedrock principle needs to be the presumption of release.”

As 2017 approaches and with it the next budget and legislative agendas for state legislators and the governor, there’s widespread optimism that bail reform will be a priority. Judge Lippman believes the issue has gestated long enough. “That digestive process has already taken place and it’s time to pick it up and run with it,” he said, confident that his commission’s recommendations will be bold and “out of the box” and will not be politically constrained. “Because of the credibility of the commission, because of the depth of the research...no public official is going to be able to fuzz around these issues,” he said. “That releases some of the political pressure.”

Senator Gianaris is bullish on bail reform as well. “We’ve seen enough injustice,” he said, “that the time has come to take a comprehensive look at this and get rid of bail once and for all.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, December 5

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Will there be a special session in Albany before the end of the year? That's one question we're looking for an answer to as the week begins. Time is running low for one to occur before the holidays at the end of the month. Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he wants to hold one to deal with a variety of issues, including pay raises for legislators and executive branch employees and other reforms to the legislator position, plus 421-a and more.

Meanwhile, here in the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to move his reelection campaign along. On Sunday de Blasio spoke at Parkchester Baptist Church in the Bronx and received the re-election endorsement of Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda, the first state-level endorsement of the mayor’s reelection campaign, which has kicked off with several union endorsements and the backing of former Mayor David Dinkins and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

On Sunday afternoon, in his official capacity as mayor, de Blasio delivered remarks at the New York Progressive Action Network Conference. De Blasio begins his week with three public events Monday -- see below for details.

Also Sunday, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, with faith leaders, announced “a new push for additional federal anti-terror funding to help safeguard civil, religious and community institutions.” Gillibrand cited the NYPD reporting a 30 percent jump in hate crimes throughout the city in 2016, and her office said she “will call for additional funding in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Homeland Security appropriations bill for the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Non-Profit Security Grant Program (NSGP). This additional funding would help ensure the protection of non-profit facilities and places of worship from potential threats. The Senate is currently debating the measure and is set to vote on it next week.”

This week, we're watching for news out of Albany on a special session and much more. 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:

On Monday, Mayor de Blasio has three public events: at 10 a.m. at the First Precinct, "de Blasio and Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill will host a press conference to discuss crime statistics." "In the evening, the Mayor will appear on NY1’s Inside City Hall...Later the Mayor will deliver remarks at the Brooklyn Bar Association's Annual Dinner." The mayor is also hosting "a meeting with the Executive Committee of the New York Conference of Mayors at Gracie Mansion" that is closed to the press and public.

At the City Council on Monday:

  • The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9 a.m.
  • The Committee on Immigration will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a resolution “calling upon the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to grant Haiti a new designation for Temporary Protected Status to provide temporary immigration relief to eligible Haitian nationals in the United States, as well as to stop the detention and repatriation of Haitian nationals ineligible for immigration relief, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.”
  • The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
  • The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law around deed restrictions and deed restriction removals.
  • The Committee on Women’s Issues, the Committee on Contracts, and the Committee on Small Business will hold a joint oversight hearing at 1 p.m. on “the City’s efforts to expand contracting with minority and women-owned businesses.”
  • The Committee on Waterfronts will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing on improving boater safety in the City’s waterways.
  • The Committee on Education will meet at 1:30 p.m. to discuss proposed laws which will require the New York City Department of Education to report information on computer science education programs and Career and Technical Education programs. 

At 8 a.m. Monday, the Association for a Better New York will have a breakfast with William C. Dudley, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Dudley “will present a macroeconomic outlook and what it means for New York.”

At 10 a.m. Monday in Albany, the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Education will hold a public hearing “to examine and study existing and new ways to support and improve the academic success of English Language Learner students in New York State’s school districts.”

On Monday at 10 a.m., “New York City Council Member Andy King and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina will visit all schools on Evander Childs High School campus.”

At 10:30 a.m. Monday near Trump Tower, City Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez “will call on President-Elect Donald Trump to move his transition headquarters out of New York City to ease traffic congestion in midtown Manhattan.”

At 4 p.m. Monday at York College, there will be a public hearing on the MTA’s proposed fare hikes.

On Monday at 5:30 p.m., the New York City Council will hold an event for World AIDS Day at City Hall.

On Monday at 6:30 p.m., New York Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit, and the Legal Aid Society will host a “Know Your Rights Forum” in Corona. This event will be an “informational forum about immigration concerns under the Trump Administration” where “families in Corona--one of the largest immigrant communities in New York City--will be able to ask questions and receive resources from City agencies.” 

"On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will hold public hearings for and sign 17 pieces of legislation – Intros. 738-A, 1079-A, 1088-A, 1090-A, 1093-A, 1094-A, 1098-A, 1100-A, 1101 and 1102, in relation to gas safety; Intro. 1124-A, in relation to establishing an electric vehicle charging station pilot program; Intro. 1183-A, in relation to establishing a task force on affordability, admissions and graduation rates at the City University of New York; Intro 1228-B, in relation to amending the New York City charter to review the operations, policies, programs and practices of the Department of Correction; Intro. 300-A, in relation to the removal of snow and ice from fire hydrants; Intro. 1147-A, in relation to establishing an office of crime victim services; and Intros. 1213-A and 1214-A, in relation to services provided to NYCHA residents, including the jobs-plus program."

"In the evening, the Mayor and First Lady Chirlane McCray will attend The Nation Institute’s 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner."

At the City Council on Tuesday: The City Council will hold a Stated Meeting at 1:30 p.m. This will be prefaced by the usual pre-stated press conference hosted by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

"The New York City Council on Tuesday will introduce a package of laws that would improve jobs in the fast food industry and other retail jobs, providing more regular schedules and access to more hours for workers so they can plan their lives and support their families. The council is also introducing a first-of-its-kind bill that would enable fast food workers to set up a non-profit organization in order to advocate for themselves and their families and improve their communities." Council members, workers led by 32BJ SEIU, and advocates will rally at 10 a.m. at City Hall.

On Tuesday, Stroock, Stroock, and Lavan will host a forum called "Can Media Actions Impair Justice?" The panel will explore the view held by some that “justice—in civil and criminal cases—may be under serious attack by today's news, editorial and internet coverage.” The forum will include Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein, Senior Judge, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York; Justice John M. Leventhal, Associate Justice, Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York Second Judicial Department; William K. Rashbaum, Reporter at the New York Times; and Judge Shira A. Scheindlin (Ret.), Stroock Of Counsel. Robert Abrams, former New York State Attorney General and Chair of Stroock's Government Relations Practice Group; and Joel Cohen, former Special Prosecutor and Stroock Of Counsel, will be the moderators of the forum.

On Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce will host a breakfast with NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday in Albany, "Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman will release a report on voting rights across New York State, detailing the results of his inquiry into the unprecedented level of voting complaints regarding the April 2016 presidential primary, and outlining a comprehensive set of reforms to address these issues."

At noon Tuesday, the New York City Bar Association will have a luncheon with NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. The NYPD Commissioner will “discuss the NYPD’s efforts to address and improve public safety and quality-of-life conditions” and also “share his vision of joining police and community resources to achieve these goals.”

At noon Tuesday, the Brennan Center for Justice will have a film screening of "Rikers," a documentary. After the screening, there will be a panel discussion on “the crisis of incarceration in America through the stories of those who’ve been imprisoned” at Rikers, including panelists Dr. Ernest Drucker, Professor, NYU College of Global Public Health and author, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America; Lauren-Brooke “LB” Eisen, Senior Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law; and Glenn E. Martin, Founder and President, JustLeadershipUSA, national leader and criminal justice reform advocate.

On Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., NYC Votes will hold a public hearing on the 2016 elections. NYC Votes is inviting people to “share your voting story, listen to the testimonies of other voters and to help NYC Votes improve its voter outreach and education.”

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Association for a Better New York Young Professionals will continue its “What’s On Tap?” series with City Council Member Ritchie Torres. Torres “will share his experiences in public service and civic leadership, his current priorities for the City Council, and his thoughts on what's next for New York post-election.”

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Baruch College will hold “Trump’s First 100 Days: What Will He Actually Do?” Speakers include Baruch President Mitchel B. Wallerstein on Defense/National Security, Professor Els de Graauw on Immigration Policy, Professor Hector Cordero-Guzmán on Workforce Issues, Professor Judith Kafka on K-12 Education, Clinical Professor Jeffrey Apfel on Higher Education, Professor John Casey on The Landscape for Nonprofits/Civil Society, Professor Dahlia Remler on Health Care Policy, Professor Tom Halper on The Court & Appointments, Professor Eric Gander on The Court & The First Amendment, and Professor David Jones on Congress.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Bar Association will hold “An Evening with Judge Margo K. Brodie, United States District Court Judge, EDNY.” Brodie will “share reflections on her career path, advice on how to navigate the legal profession, and the responsibilities and benefits of being an active member of the profession.”

At the City Council on Wednesday: The Committee on Health will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss proposed laws that deal with the reporting of HPV vaccination rates, the use of long-acting reversible contraceptives, and maternal mortality.

On Wednesday, the New York City Housing Conference will hold its 43rd Annual Awards Program and “Keys to Opportunity” conference. New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will be the keynote speaker. Honorees will include Shola Olatoye, CEO of NYCHA. Panel discussions will include a “Federal Policy Update,” “Connecting Services to Housing,” “Planning for Year-15,” “Winning Strategies For Community Engagement,” “How to Make Housing Healthier,” and “City & State Financing Programs.” Panelists will include City Council Members Donovan Richards and Jumaane Williams and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • The Committee on Veterans and the Committee on Finance will hold a joint meeting at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law that would deal with the alternative exemption for veterans.
  • The Committee on Economic Development will meet at 1 p.m.
  • The Committee on Higher Education will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing on the New York City Council Merit-Based Scholarship Program. 

On Thursday at 3 p.m., the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at CUNY Journalism School will release a new research study: "NYC's Ethnic Media in the Digital Age," from Matthew Matsaganis, Ph.D. Associate Professor, University at Albany, State University of New York.

On Thursday at 6:30 p.m., the Museum of the City of New York will hold “Zoning at New Heights: Supertalls and the Accidental Skyline.” This event will “consider whether or not the zoning regulations that were created to tame towers during the rise of the skyscraper in the early 20th century have kept pace with the evolving skyline.” John Cetra, AIA, Founding Principal, Cetra Ruddy; Raphaël Fischler, Associate Professor at the School of Urban Planning, McGill ; Terrence O'Neal, Chair of the Land Use and Waterfront Committee, Community Board 6; Michael T. Sillerman, Partner, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP; and Carol Willis, Founding Director of the The Skyscraper Museum will be the panelists. Edith Hsu-Chen from the NYC Department of City Planning Director for Manhattan will be the moderator.

On Thursday at 6:30 p.m., New York City Council Member Dan Garodnick will host “A Call To Action: Advancing NY Values from Your House to the White House.” At this event, people will “learn how over the next four years we can advance and preserve the values that make New York City great.” This event is co-sponsored by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Borough President Gale Brewer, Senator Liz Krueger, and Assembly Member Dan Quart. The event will include a panel discussion and an advocacy resource fair, with groups like Planned Parenthood NYC, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Make The Road New York, The Anti-Violence Project, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Anti-Defamation League, Coalition for the Homeless, and the New York Immigration Coalition. Panelists will include Rashida Richardson, New York Civil Liberties Union; Daniel Altschuler, Make the Road New York; Elizabeth Adams, Planned Parenthood of NYC; and Yasmin Safdie,The Anti-Violence Project.

Friday and the weekend
Nothing on our radar for Friday or the weekend as of the start of the week. Among things that could be on the docket: Mayor Bill de Blasio is likely to make his 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 Brendan Birth and Ben Max

Does Higher Pay Attract Better Politicians?

state of the state auditorium standing

(photo via The Governor's Office)

After months of deliberating, a commission tasked with recommending salary adjustments for state lawmakers and executive branch employees met for the final time on Nov. 15 and did not suggest raises. The salary of New York state legislators has remained the same since 1999, and could stay unchanged until the commission meets again in another four years, as established by the 2015 law that created a new process for such pay raises.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and members of the Senate and Assembly could override their recent decision to leave raises up to a commission and pass compensation reform earlier. 

One of the main arguments made in support of raising lawmaker salaries is that a higher salary would “attract the best possible people to pursue the position,” since “a depressed salary will eventually discourage qualified people from pursuing those offices,” as Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie wrote in a letter sent to the commission Oct. 5.

Though the notion that increasing politicians’ pay is needed to attract better candidates to office may be quite disagreeable to the public, Heastie is not alone in that line of thinking.

Some government reform advocates, academics, and, naturally, Heastie’s appointee to the commission, Roman Hedges, have argued that better pay generates increased competition among candidates, leading to more choices for voters, and, as Hedges put it, would attract “the best people available” and create a “more professional Legislature." 

But is that true? The body of academic research examining this question has produced somewhat mixed results, though the findings generally support the claim. Most studies have shown that higher wages do result in increased political competition and attract more educated candidates (more college degree holders). Most research also shows that higher pay increases the rate at which incumbents seek reelection.

Some studies shows that higher salaries improve lawmakers’ performance in office (as measured by the number of bills submitted and approved), while others have found that lawmakers with higher salaries spend less time on legislative activities.

New York State lawmakers currently earn a base salary of $79,500 annually for what is technically a part-time job. Lawmakers may still hold employment elsewhere and earn outside income (and almost half do), and most lawmakers earn an additional $9,000-$41,500 annually from legislative stipends, or lulus, and also get per diems for traveling to Albany. 

Even though they haven’t had a raise in 17 years and the job is part-time, New York lawmakers are still the third highest paid in the nation, behind only California ($100,113 per year) and Pennsylvania ($85,339). How often state legislatures meet and how they function differ vastly from state to state, with some, like New Hampshire, paying its lawmakers only $100 a year in order to maintain a more citizen legislature. 

Had New York state lawmakers’ salaries kept up with inflation, legislators would earn about $114,000 annually. The median household income in New York is $58,687. New York City Council members recently voted themselves raises, to increase the base salary to $148,500 per year, but they also banned outside income and lulus, and are subject to a maximum of two four-year terms. There are no term limits in the state Legislature, which is “in session” from January to June each year.

Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri, has a body of research measuring the impact of salaries on state lawmakers across the United States. Overall, Squire has found that more seats go uncontested when legislative pay is lower (giving voters fewer choices); higher pay allows lawmakers to spend more time on their legislative responsibilities; and higher salaries are more likely to attract lawmakers who hold college degrees. For example, 88 percent of California state lawmakers, who earn $100,113 annually, have college degrees, while only 49 percent of New Hampshire state lawmakers, who earn $100 annually, have graduated from college.

Squire sent testimony to the New York State compensation commission, per the commission’s request, summarizing some of the findings from academic literature examining the influence of salaries on lawmakers. More professionalized legislatures (meaning legislatures that meet longer and supply lawmakers with higher salaries and more staff) pass a greater percentage of bills overall and enact more bills per legislative day.

Squire also noted that turnover declines as salary levels increase (the effects of which are debatable), and that lawmakers in legislatures with a higher degree of professionalization “have more contact with their constituents” and “are more attentive to their concerns.”

Some academics and policy experts caution against thinking of higher salaries as a panacea for Albany’s dysfunction. New York lawmakers are relatively well-paid among state legislatures nationally, yet that has neither deterred corruption in the state capital nor resulted in a more functional legislature.

The state Legislature is “more transactional than they’ve ever been,” said E.J. McMahon, research director of the Empire Center, a conservative think tank that studies the state economy and public policy. “At this point, by historical standards for sure, the Governor and the state Legislature, given their responsibilities, are not paid enough…but the Legislature stands out for how poor a job it does in many ways,” McMahon said.

“They introduce thousands and thousands of bills, do very little in the way of real deliberation,” McMahon added, highlighting frustrations raised in responses to a public opinion survey posted on the compensation commission’s website. “They’re as bad as they’ve ever been at waiting till the last minute to sheepishly go along and rubber stamp something that legislative leaders have cut a deal on” with the governor, McMahon said.

Adjusting the compensation levels of elected officials is a tricky situation for many reasons, especially because lawmakers inevitably have to prompt their own raise in some way, which is always a politically unfavorable move. And in New York, legislators living in and around New York City have a far greater cost of living than others.

“I think we need to pay people commensurate with our expectations of them,” said Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science and director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz, who served on a compensation commission in Ulster County. Benjamin would prefer that state lawmakers do “full-time work for full-time pay,” in accordance with what is needed to “live reasonably as a family person in New York.”

Yet since that needed amount would differ in different areas of the state, “and compensation needs to be equal because of the nature of the task,” compensation would be skewed toward the higher end, and salaries should “be adjusted formulaically after a base is established…Pay must be targeted to open up the possibility to serve to a broad spectrum of New Yorkers,” Benjamin said. 

Benjamin’s suggestion calls attention to the difficulty of adjusting the salaries of elected officials based on one measurement alone, which is what led Italian economists Stefano Gagliarducci and Tommaso Nannicini to examine the relationship between pay and the quality of Italian mayors, as the wage of mayors in Italy depends on population size. Like New York state lawmakers, Italian mayors may also earn outside income. Gagliarducci and Nannicini found that higher wages attracted more educated candidates (as measured by the amount of years spent in school). 

Another study examined whether higher wages improve lawmakers’ performance in office, increase competition for office, and attract “higher quality candidates” amongst municipal councilors in Brazil after a constitutional amendment introduced caps on their wages according to population size, resulting in some legislators receiving higher pay than others. 

Economists Claudio Ferraz and Frederico Finan analyzed the educational and professional background of everyone who ran for municipal government in the year the amendment took effect, and tracked what the winning candidates did while in office. They found that higher wages increased political competition by attracting more candidates (though it also increased reelection rates among incumbent candidates), and attracted more educated legislators with more experience, though this effect was modest. As with New York state lawmakers, the role of a municipal councilor in Brazil is not a full-time position, and a majority of councilors still have an additional professional role.

Additionally, Ferraz and Finan found that higher salaries improved politicians’ performance in office, as measured by both the number of bills submitted by legislators and the number of bills approved, which they believe may be due to the higher incentive to be reelected.

However, not all academic research points to the same conclusion. In 2014, Columbia Business School economist Raymond Fisman and others analyzed the impact of salaries on the educational background of members of the European Parliament, and the performance of those MEPs while in office (as a law had just been introduced which equalized MEPs’ salaries, which had previously differed significantly) and found that increased salaries actually decreased the number of MEPs who came from highly-ranked universities.

Like Ferraz and Finan, however, Fisman also found that higher salaries also increased the number of incumbents who ran for reelection, and that higher salaries did “induce more political competition.”

Significantly, Fisman’s study found that MEPs whose pay increased did not become more productive in terms of their attendance at legislative sessions or their legislative output (including the number of reports prepared, written declarations, motions for resolutions, etc.). The researchers concluded that in this instance, “monetary incentives have no discernible impact on politicians’ effort, which seems more influenced by non pecuniary motivations.”

Fisman believes this could perhaps be the result of extrinsic rewards (more money) overriding the intrinsic ones (a personal calling to represent people). Though most academic research has found that higher pay does indeed increase political competition by prompting more candidates to run for office, Fisman’s findings suggest that higher pay may not necessarily lead to “better” representatives, though the additional money does attract some candidates who may not have otherwise run for office.

“There is a relationship between higher pay and inducing more people to run,” said Fritz Schwarz, Jr., chief counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice and chair of New York City’s 2015 quadrennial advisory commission, which was called to evaluate the salaries of the city’s elected officials and led to pay raises for City Council members, the Mayor, and other positions. “But I think it’s not a one-to-one relationship,” Schwarz said. “There are good people who choose to run with the low pay, and not everybody who is induced to run with the high pay is going to be Alexander Hamilton or James Madison.”

Another 2014 study, one which examined the salaries of state legislators and governors across the United States over the past 60 years, found that politicians in states with higher wages “spend greater time on fund-raising and on constituent services, but no more time on legislative activities.” Professors Elizabeth Lyons at the University of California and Mitchell Hoffman at the University of Toronto caution that their findings call into question the claim that increasing legislators’ salaries will improve the quality of state governments. However, their study did again find that higher salaries are associated with increases in political competitiveness, though the effect was modest.

Overall, most studies find that higher pay does lead to more competitive elections, which is good for voters, and generally attracts candidates with more years of education. Higher pay alone does not necessarily improve the performance of politicians while in office, which is itself tricky to define, though it does give them a greater incentive to get reelected, which may influence them to work harder to maintain their position.

Adjusted for inflation, New York state lawmakers are making less now than at most points since their last raise, in 1999. State lawmakers in California and Pennsylvania, the two states that pay their legislators more than New York, regularly see their salaries increased incrementally every year -- Pennsylvania's are pegged to a cost of living adjustment and in California a commission meets every year to adjust legislator salaries.

The question of whether or not lawmakers should receive a raise often becomes entangled by other questions: should they be able to earn outside income, or should the position be considered full-time? Should members who don’t hold leadership positions still receive stipends? Should pay be based on how effective lawmakers actually are?

Strong differences of opinion on these questions ultimately led to the state compensation commission’s failure to do the one thing it was called to do: recommend salary adjustments.

Government reform advocates, academics, and even some members of the commission were generally in agreement that New York state lawmakers ought to be paid a bit more, despite the fact that they are already the third highest paid lawmakers in the nation and Albany is still very dysfunctional. Governor Andrew Cuomo and his appointees to the compensation commission are, in fact, demanding other reforms to the position, like limits on outside income, in exchange for a salary increase -- something legislative leaders have balked at and called inappropriate given the duties of the commission.

“I think a lot of legislators in both houses, in both parties, are very frustrated with the way things work, and pay is a varying part of that frustration for some of them,” said McMahon. “But most of them are not going to be any less frustrated - they’ll simply be paid more and just as frustrated. They see how badly the system works and they’d like to change it, but they can’t figure out how to do it.”

by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 28

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week we're continuing to watch President-elect Donald Trump fill out his cabinet while examining his conflicts of interest, which he has said don't matter, and his erratic and dangerous behavior, such as Trump tweeting on Sunday, "In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." Trump has no proof for such claims, and appears set on continuing his assault on key democratic institutions and norms.

Cloe to home, we're continuing to track and probe how New York City and State are responding to a Trump presidency and preparing for his potential policies, based on his campaign agenda. New York Democrats such as Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and many others, have had to face the reality of a Trump victory and what it could mean for the state and city. In sum, they've promised to work with Trump if he is going to put forward policies to invest in infrastructure and help workers and others struggling with employment, education, loans, and more; but to fight Trump if he attempts to deport millions of immigrants, including those in the country illegally, create a Muslim registry, or fulfill other campaign promises. They've also responded with worry to some of Trump's early appointments.

This week after the Thanksgiving holiday will be a busy one in New York politics, with a packed City Council schedule, including the second of two Stated meetings this month, at which new bills are introduced and bills that have passed committee are voted on by the full Council. City Council Member Costa Constantinides will chair an enviromental committee hearing on Monday and he has written a new op-ed column for Gotham Gazette discussing his belief that the city has additional responsibility to fight climate change in light of Trump's election and promises to undo progress made in fighting global warming.

Mayor de Blasio begins his week with one public event: his weekly appearance on NY1's Inside City Hall.  

See our day-by-day rundown of the week ahead in New York politics 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 Environmental Protection will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing on power plants, and to discuss a proposed resolution “calling on the state of New York to phase out Number 4 and Number 6 fuel oil in power plants in its plan to meet carbon dioxide reduction goals as set by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.”
  • The Committee on Transportation will meet at 11 a.m. for an oversight hearing on Citibike in New York City.
  • The Committee on Recovery and Resiliency will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss “workforce development, apprenticeship and local hiring initiatives in the various Sandy programs.”

At 1 p.m. Monday, the City Planning Commission will hold a review session.

At 1 p.m. Monday at City Hall, “The Legal Aid Society along with Brooklyn Defender Services will join other defender organizations, community advocates, stakeholders and U.S. Congress Member Hakeem Jeffries and New York State Assembly Member Dan Quart to call on Governor Cuomo to sign S6483A/A9042A – legislation to treat folding knives as work tools not weapons...S6483A/A9042A passed the New York State Legislature in June (117-12 in the Assembly and 61-1 in the Senate) and will soon be sent to the Governor’s office for consideration.” 

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, Governor Cuomo will deliver remarks at the Capital Region Sustainability Conference in Schenectady.

At 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, "Mayor de Blasio, Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill and Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg will host a press conference to make an announcement regarding Vision Zero."

At 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in Albany, "The New York State Assembly will hold a public hearing to examine the condition of the state’s election infrastructure with a focus on measures that are in place to protect the integrity of the system against cyber-infiltration or attack. Election Law Committee Chair Michael J. Cusick and Election Day Operations and Voter Disenfranchisement Subcommittee Chair David Buchwald will take testimony on the integrity of the state’s election infrastructure and address reports about foreign governments attempting to infiltrate American voter registration records."

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • The Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed resolution on the DUMBO Business Improvement District.
  • There will be a full-Council Stated Meeting at 1:30 p.m. As usual this will be prefaced by a pre-stated press conference led by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall, the Women's Caucus of the City Council, led by Speaker Mark-Viverito and chairs Helen Rosenthal and Laurie Cumbo, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Public Advocate Letitia James will be holding an "Equality Rally" at which they will announce a new package of legislation that will be formally introduced at the City Council afterward. They will be joined by advocates and service provider organizations.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics will hold a meeting on Tuesday in Albany.

On Tuesday, Working Families Party “activists will be joining tens of thousands of people to rally for higher wages in more than 340 cities and nearly 20 of the nation’s busiest airports. In NYC, we'll be linking arms with fast food workers and airport workers in the fight for $15 to send a loud and clear message: we won’t back down.” Actions will include “fast food civil disobedience” and “airport shutdown” at Newark Airport. City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James will rally with workers on Tuesday morning.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, City Council Member Jumaane Williams will hold a town hall meeting to address both city initiatives and constituent issues. District Leader Josue Pierre will also be at this town hall.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, State Senator Liz Krueger will host “Making Change in Your Neighborhood: How to Work with Your Government to Improve Your Community.” Activists and representatives such as John Raskin of Riders Alliance, Elaine Walsh of East 86th Street Association, and M. Umair Khan of the Office of the NYC Public Advocate will speak at this event.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will attend a town hall meeting of District 8’s Community Education Council at Bronx Community High School.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • The Committees on Education, Juvenile Justice, and Fire and Criminal Justice Services will hold a joint hearing at 10 a.m. for oversight of “educational services for New York City's detained, placed, and incarcerated youth, adolescents, and young adults.”
  • The Committees on Public Housing and Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will hold a joint oversight hearing at 1 p.m. on recycling at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, City & State NY “will convene leaders in government, public policy, and the industry to discuss labor relations and its effect on public projects in New York.” Robert Asaro-Angelo, the Eastern Regional Representative of the United States Department of Labor, will deliver the keynote. Lorelei Salas, the Commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs; City Council Member I. Daneek Miller; and State Senator Phil Boyle will be among those on the various panels.

At 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, New York Law School will have a breakfast forum on “Celebrating 100 Years of NYC Zoning: Setting the Future Agenda for Developers and Policy Makers.” The moderator is Ross F. Moskowitz, Partner of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP. The panelists will include Commissioner Vicki Been, New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development; New York City Council Member David G. Greenfield, Chair of the Committee on Land Use; Andrew Kimball, CEO, Industry City; and Ron Moelis, CEO, L+M Development Partners.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the Center for New York City Affairs will hold a panel discussion on how to make New York City Public Schools more integrated. The panelists will be Josh Wallack, Deputy Chancellor of Strategy and Policy; City Council Member Brad Lander; Voyka Soto, Organizer, Power to Harlem Parents; and Shino Tanikawa, president, District 2 Community Education Council. Clara Hemphill, director of education policy and InsideSchools, will be the moderator.

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

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Riders Alliance will hold “Where Do We Go from Here: Albany, Washington and Transit after the Election.” Participants will “talk about our top priorities for 2017 and what the shifting political climate in Albany means for public transit in the year ahead.” State Senator Brad Hoylman, Dan Rivoli of the Daily News, and Veronica Vanterpool of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign will be the panelists. Dr. Christina Greer of Fordham University will moderate.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
  • The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 11 a.m.
  • The Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing on “Parks Department properties currently inaccessible to the public.”
  • The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.
 At 8 a.m. Thursday, the Urban Land Institute New York will hold its 2017 Economic Forecast event, featuring Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics and looking at what to expect in 2017 in light of the recent election and other developments in the United States and around the world.

“The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be held on Thursday, December 1, at 10:00 AM.”

At noon Thursday, the Human Services Council will hold a press conference on the steps of City Hall for its OTPS (Other than Personal Services) Campaign. More information on the campaign can be found here.

At 3 p.m. Thursday, the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at CUNY Journalism School will host a Q&A with Tom Finkelpearl, the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Errol Louis of NY1 and the CUNY J-School will host.

Friday and the weekend
At 9 a.m. Friday, the The New York City Council, in collaboration with Brooklyn Law School and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, will hold “The Next 100 Years of Brooklyn Zoning.” This event is a “conference on the future of Brooklyn zoning featuring leaders from government, developer and advocacy communities.” Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen is the featured speaker, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Council Land Use Chair David Greenfield, and Council Members Rafael Espinal, Brad Lander, Stephen Levin and Antonio Reynoso will participate.

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 Brendan Birth and Ben Max

Successful Presidential Transitions Rely on Attitudes, Organization and Law

trump obama from trump facebook

President-elect Trump & President Obama (photo: Trump on Facebook)

President-elect Donald Trump visited The White House Thursday to discuss transition planning with President Barack Obama. While the election was just decided and it was Trump’s first public move in shifting from the campaign toward governing, the transition process has been underway for months -- both in the Trump campaign and the Obama administration. The period from Election Day to Inauguration Day, January 20, is brief -- just 73 days this year -- and the next President must be able to move quickly during the transition period in order to smoothly take the reigns of the country’s vast government and military apparatuses.

Unlike the ideological and, to some extent, personnel continuity that a Hillary Clinton win may have afforded, the Obama to Trump transition will be drastic. But, there are protocols and practices in place, mandated by law and not, meant to make for a successful presidential transition. On both Wednesday and Thursday, President Obama sought to assure the country that his administration is doing everything it can to ensure a smooth transition of power, despite the differences between the president and his successor, whom Obama has called uniquely unfit for the position.

Speaking in the Rose Garden on Wednesday, the day after the election, Obama told the country, “I have instructed my team to…work as hard as possible to ensure that this is a successful transition for the president-elect.”

Obama reiterated the point on Thursday when he and Trump sat in the Oval Office, with the president saying that his team must do its best to make Trump successful, because if the president is successful, so is the country.

The task for Trump and his top advisors, including post-election transition chair and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, is immense -- many thousands of positions to fill, a daunting amount of information to absorb, and important policy and protocol decisions to make. President-elect Trump is under the microscope perhaps to a greater extent than others in his position might be because he heads to the presidency as the first in United States history with no prior government or military experience. Trump immediately set off alarm bells when his first two appointments included Steve Bannon, who has a history of anti-Semitic, white nationalist, and misogynistic behavior, as his top strategic advisor.

While all of Trump’s top cabinet posts will be deeply scrutinized, as they would with any president-elect, there is also the vast bureaucracy of both the White House and, to a larger degree, the federal government, that must be filled and managed. A sound presidential transition relies on the preparation and attitude of the outgoing administration, the organization and execution of the incoming administration, and the laws in place to aid in the effort.

Prior to September 11, 2001, a few laws were already in place to govern the transition process, and others have been added since. In 1963, recognizing the need for a formalized transition process in the face of a more technologically advanced and rapidly moving world, Congress enacted The Presidential Transitions Act of 1963, which set the precedent for transition funding, allocating $900,000 of federal funds per team. The 1988 Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act increased funding, capped outside contributions to transition teams, and required that major donations be disclosed. Similar legislation, passed in 1998 and 2000, shortened Senate confirmation periods and addressed the digitalization of government records, but other than that, the scale and schedule of a transition was up to the two administrations.

"The national interest requires that such transitions in the office of President be accomplished so as to assure continuity in the faithful execution of the laws and in the conduct of the affairs of the Federal Government, both domestic and foreign,” reads the Presidential Transition Act of 1963. “Any disruption occasioned by the transfer of the executive power could produce results detrimental to the safety and well-being of the United States and its people."

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the transition period was identified as one of national vulnerability. This led to the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. Comprehensive security briefings for incoming high-level personnel became mandated, as was extensive contingency planning, crisis management training, and background checks.

Under Obama, further attention was paid to transitions. In March of this year, he signed into law the 2015 Presidential Transitions Improvement Act, which requires the executive branch to establish two transition panels, one for the White House operation and one to oversee the process throughout federal agencies. The panels must be formed six months before the general election. Prior to that, the 2010 Pre-Election Presidential Act required the General Services Administration to provide each major party candidate’s transition team with office space, desks, computers, and phones within three business days of the candidate’s nomination for president.

With these laws in place, the Trump transition team has a lot of resources, but also a lot of work to do.

According to the president-elect’s transition website, the team is setting up Agency Review Teams for each federal agency, and has begun the vetting and hiring process for the approximately 4,100 presidential appointees. As reported by Politico in October, the Chris Christie-led pre-election transition team had compiled a list of 400 appointees to push through Senate confirmation after the election. Though few other details were made available by the Christie team, Politico also reported that the Trump operation was holding private explanatory meetings for big donors and financial services leaders. One such “look inside” charged $5,000 per person.

Shortly after winning the election, Trump announced that Vice President-elect Pence would replace Gov. Christie as the chair of the transition, and also named a larger transition committee. Top cabinet positions are expected to be filled soon, and other high-profile positions will also have to be determined. The policy focus, political orientation, government experience, and demographic diversity -- racial, gender, religious, and more -- of top-level appointments to key administration posts will give an indication of what type of presidency is being planned.

The team that will be overseeing this work, Trump’s Presidential Transition Executive Committee, has just been announced. Under Pence’s leadership, committee vice chairs are Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Dr. Ben Carson, Christie, Senator Jeff Sessions, and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn.

The committee will also include Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Rep. Chris Collins, Tom Marino, Lou Barletta, and Devin Nunes, Rebekah Mercer, Steven Mnuchin, Anthony Scaramucci, Peter Thiel, Trump’s children Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka, Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, who was RNC chair and has been named Trump’s White House chief of staff, and Bannon, who was the campaign CEO for the home stretch after having led Breitbart News.

Rumors have started to fly about possible appointments for different cabinet positions, including some of the names from the transition team.

Along with the Bannon hire, there are other red flags being raised about the Trump transition, including the effects of the shift from the Christie-led team to the Pence-led team. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that “President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition operation plunged into disarray,” citing the resignation of key transition figures from the Christie team who had been integral to the process and a hold-up around Pence signing essential transition paperwork.

History, 2008, and Today
Smart, proactive transitions are the first step toward an effective presidency and begin long before the formal transition process that takes place between Election Day and Inauguration Day. Prepared candidates will often begin transition planning before the conclusion of their primary race, will have transition staffs in the hundreds, and can be expected to provide lists of presidential appointees as soon as they can be called president-elect. In 2008, the Obama transition operation consisted of 679 staffers and volunteers, and began before Obama had defeated Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. 

Well-run transitions are important for several reasons. First, national security concerns necessitate a smooth handoff, a process that requires vetting and apprising new defense and high-level personnel well before they succeed their predecessors. The next-in-line officials must be brought up to speed on a wide variety of threats and operations. The President-elect is immediately briefed on the same information as the President.

Transitions are seen as a weak point in national security regardless of the quality of the transition, so it is expected that incoming and outgoing administrations will be as diligent and cooperative as possible. Ever since Harry Truman learned of the Manhattan Project a month into his presidency (which was not even by election, but by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death while in office), national security has been a foremost transition priority. Still, the events of September 11, 2001 dramatically increased the level of attention paid to national security generally and in transitioning. In the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, comprehensive security briefings for incoming high-level personnel were mandated, as well as extensive contingency planning.

Second, it is in the political interests of both incoming and outgoing administrations to oversee a smooth transition. From the outgoing perspective, it is politically expedient for a president’s reputation to include a well-executed departure from office. From the incoming perspective, a president’s early success hinges on his or her preparedness to take office.

“President Bush was very gracious to us during the transition,” President Obama’s former advisor David Axelrod recently told the New York Times, echoing a point Axelrod has stressed publicly in a variety of forums over the years.

Preparedness includes having appointees for all high-level positions ready for Senate confirmation, a working policy agenda ready to implement, and a set of priorities to follow. If appointees are not ready, then the confirmation process cannot commence, and agencies take longer to fully assemble. While the 2008-09 transition is heralded as the most successful in U.S. history, there were still hiccups, especially given the surrounding circumstances: a global financial crisis.

Because it was such a success, the Bush-Obama transition essentially serves as a template for the successful modern transition -- and it’s one that Obama has said his administration is working to repeat. Two hallmarks stand out when analyzing that transition: early and proactive planning from both sides; and dedication to conquering partisan concerns for the greater good of the country’s security.

In “The 2008-2009 Presidential Transitions Through the Voices of Its Participants,” Martha Joynt Kumar, a professor of political science at Towson University, provides a retelling of the transition based on interviews with several important players.

Recognizing the biggest obstacle to a fast and seamless transition to be the Senate confirmation process, the Bush administration set about reducing the length of FBI investigations into presidential appointees from 60 to 30 days. It also tasked the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) with performing investigations, so as to have more hands on deck. Though successful in making these reforms, the administration’s attempt to eliminate Senate confirmations for non-policymaking positions failed, Kumar explains. Regardless, it succeeded in streamlining the Senate confirmation process for the Obama administration.

Kumar outlines how the Bush Administration focused further still on personnel turnover, requiring that the transition teams from each federal agency collaborate to create a list of 150 crucial positions that needed to be filled as soon as possible. The list was then handed over to the Obama team after the election.

As mandated by the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, the Bush administration began holding one-on-one meetings with the incoming Obama team as early as Election Day, Kumar explains. Incoming cabinet officers and agency heads sat down with their predecessors to go over contingency planning for each sector of government. By December 4, 2008, the core national security teams from the president and the president-elect had met several times, discussed the administration’s operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and had handed over most contingency and crisis planning.

The Bush team, Kumar writes, also made it a priority to leave behind a record of their work and experience to help guide their successors. Led by Steve Hadley, the National Security Advisor, the Bush White House compiled a total of 40 memoranda, divided into two sets; one addressing national security and foreign policy, and the other domestic policy. The memoranda contained difficulties that the Bush administration had faced, advice for avoiding such issues, information about particular countries of interest, and an account of all the interactions that had taken place between the U.S. and countries of interest.

To ensure that “midnight regulations” --  legislation passed in the last months of a presidency and which, intentionally or not, often burdens the incoming administration with tougher regulations and policy changes they oppose -- did not waylay the new Obama administration, Joshua Bolten, the Bush Chief of Staff at the time, declared that proposed regulations had to be submitted no later than June 1, 2008, and that regulations could not be issued after November 1, 2008.

Obama’s team has placed a similar level of emphasis on transition planning, something that the president has cited in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s victory, and at the meeting the two had at the White House on Thursday, November 10.

Taking advantage of the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which states that presidential nominees may begin submitting names of personnel for national security clearance before election results have been determined, the Obama team, in the summer of 2008, began submitting names. Republican nominee Senator John McCain’s team submitted zero names, Kumar reports.

Around the same time, in August of 2008, Rahm Emanuel was informally appointed as Chief of Staff. Working with John Podesta, Obama’s transition director, Emanuel established several agency review teams to evaluate the state of each agency, gather information, and recommend appointees. Emanuel also cooperated with the Bush transition team on the personnel process to expedite the hiring process for the White House staff. Podesta, as the founder of the Center for American Progress, was able to draw from a wealth of experts for transition help and resources. They formed a core part of the transition policy team that identified executive orders that would be less complicated to prepare and sign, such as removing restrictions around abortion and stem cell research.

One of the pressing matters for Trump’s team is which Obama executive orders he wants to immediately undo, and which others of his own he may want to issue.

Though Trump himself is unpredictable and there is little clarity about how he will approach the job, the country is in many ways in a more stable place today than it was eight years ago when Obama was succeeding George W. Bush. At the time, the U.S. was in the midst of two wars and a financial crisis -- coordination between the incoming and outgoing administrations was paramount. Obama is often commended for having met repeatedly with then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Henry Paulson, Bush’s secretary of the Treasury. On issues such as the auto bailout and The Recovery Act, policy teams from both administration were influential in shaping the resulting stimulus package of 2009.

In “Presidential Transition Voices,” Kumar asserts that Obama’s relative success early in his presidency is largely attributable to his “early attention…to the need for transition planning and his assignment of experienced and knowledgeable people to handle studies of White House staff structure, agency operations, policy development, and staff selection.”

Despite their opposing views and past hostilities, Obama and Trump must now lead their best imitation of the Bush-Obama transition, putting aside their differences and holding the country’s safety and prosperity in the highest regard. As Obama put it, “the presidency is bigger than all of us.”

The 2016-17 transition will provide interesting insight into the style of the Trump presidency and will foreshadow the approach the new administration will adopt over the next four years. In his first public remarks after the election results were in, President Obama addressed the 2016 transition, saying he reached out to Trump “at about 3:30 in the morning…I had a chance to invite him to come to the White House...to talk about making sure there is a successful transition between our presidencies.”

Obama did not provide specifics, but he did reference the 2008 transition, saying he has instructed his team to emulate the “professional and gracious” approach taken by the Bush administration eight years ago.

by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

State Pay Commission Implodes as Cuomo Appointees Effectively Kill Salary Increases

pay commission shot nov 15 2016

State pay commission panelists at final meeting, Nov. 15, 2016

The final meeting of the state commission tasked with recommending pay raises for executive branch employees and state legislators was marred by disagreement and accusations, and failed to produce any results on Tuesday. It appears that the panel will be disbanded without taking any substantive action.

In a chamber at the New York City Bar Association in midtown, members of the New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial, & Executive Compensation met on Tuesday to discuss recommendations on increasing salaries for members of the state Senate and Assembly and state agency heads and commissioners. It was the last public meeting of the commission, which was under a November 15 deadline to make its recommendations as mandated under the April 2015 statute that create it.

But the six members of the committee who were present could not find common ground and the meeting devolved into significant disagreement about the role of the commission and whether it should even take a vote on the one set of recommendations put forward. A vote was taken on whether pay should be increased by about 2 percent per year since the last increases, in 1999, and resulted in two yays and three abstentions among the five voting-eligible panelists. There was even a dispute over whether commissioners could simply not vote or if they were considered abstaining from the vote by doing so.

It was the two commissioners appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo who refused to record any vote at all while the chair was not given a vote under the statute establishing the commission. The two appointees by legislative leaders voted in favor of raises, and the representative of the judicial branch abstained.

The executive appointees, Fran Reiter and Robert Megna, said they would not approve any raises unless they were accompanied by substantive ethics reform in Albany, particularly a severe limit on the outside income of legislators. (Megna was recently appointed by the governor after another appointee, Gary Johnson, resigned from the commission. The third executive appointee, Mitra Hormozi, was out of the country, the chair said.) Reiter said the commission should not vote on any proposal and stay open in the hopes of lawmakers convening a special session in Albany to vote through such outside income limits.

Commissioners also took issue with the fact that members of the state Legislature did not appear before the commission to make their case for a raise and to answer the commission’s questions. The legislative appointees, on the other hand, argued that the commission was charged with making an independent decision that should not be unduly politicized, expressing disappointment that the executive appointees were effectively parroting Governor Cuomo’s position to force reform.

That the vote would fail was made clear right at the start of the hearing by Reiter, who began by saying that the executive appointees would refuse to vote on any proposal increasing pay for state legislators, while generally agreeing that employees of the executive, such as agency heads, deserved much needed pay raises. She insisted that legislators should first establish a cap on outside income, essentially making their jobs full-time, and follow the lead of other elected bodies that have done so including the United States Congress and the New York City Council.

“It is unfortunate that the good legislators who work full-time, ably and honestly represent their constituents and most assuredly deserve a raise will suffer because there is refusal to right systemic wrongs,” Reiter said.

Roman Hedges, an appointee of State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, refuted Reiters argument with a thinly veiled barb aimed at the governor. “I don’t know exactly where to begin,” he said, “except to say that the reason there is a Legislature is to resist the King and that’s why it was first created, that’s why it exists and that’s what I just think I heard, ‘Do it my way or don’t do it at all.’”

Insisting that pay raises for the Legislature -- where the base annual salary has been $79,500 since 1999 -- are necessary to attract “good people” to state government, Hedges instead proposed a 2.154 percent per year cost-of-living increase across the board, even suggesting that it include the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, positions outside the commission’s jurisdiction.

“It doesn’t change the relative status of anyone...it doesn’t change the balance of power,” he said. “The balance of power is part of the question and it needs to be incorporated in whatever it is we recommend.” Hedges’ proposal, which would raise salaries for state legislators from $79,500 to roughly $114,500, was later voted on but failed to garner the necessary majority.

Reiter and Megna were visibly exasperated as Hedges spoke. Reiter sighed deeply, threw her hands up from time to time and audibly scoffed when Hedges said, “I think it’s awful that the governor wants to be King. I think it’s awful that the governor’s representatives here think that he should be King.” Reiter later hit back at Hedges’ for questioning her independence. “I reject that notion and frankly, I’m insulted by it,” she said, announcing that she had not spoken to the governor since well before being named to the panel.

Hedges found support from James Lack, who was appointed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. “I think [the percentages are] certainly fair and represent only an inflationary increase brought about of course by the political impossibility of having to vote for an increase yourself,” Lack said. 

The commission members also debated whether they could effectively continue their work after Tuesday, without a statutory mandate. Reiter posited that if they were to adjourn without putting any proposal to a vote, it would afford the state Legislature time to pass the reforms she was demanding before the end of the year and the commission could reconvene to move ahead with raises. But judicial appointees Barry Cozier and Chair Sheila Birnbaum both disagreed, as did Lack, saying that the commission would no longer have statutory authority and would have to be reauthorized by the state Legislature. Megna released a statement hours after the panel adjourned, saying that he believes the commission can still act before the end of the year and that he hopes the Legislature will enact outside income limits so that he and the commission will feel justified to vote through significant raises. He also said that he was open to small raises without such reform.

According to the 2015 law creating the commission, its recommendations would become law for the new year unless voted down by the Legislature. A commission is set to convene every four years according to the law, which sought to put the Legislature and Governor at some distance from ostensibly giving themselves pay raises. 

The commission’s failure to make any recommendations did not sit well with legislative leaders in Albany. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, said in a joint statement that it was “unfortunate” that the governor’s appointees demanded legislation in exchange for approving pay raises. “This is completely unacceptable,” they said, “and far exceeds the mandate of the Commission, which was to evaluate the need for an increase in compensation based primarily on economic factors.”

But Governor Cuomo, who legislators say has been interfering in the commission’s work, seemed indifferent to the lack of a decision, telling reporters at an upstate event, “They have till December 31 to see if they come up with any reconciliation but the public of this state is decidedly against any pay raises for the Legislature.”

Cuomo is in favor of raises, but has argued for months that lawmakers should also cap outside income. Heastie made the argument in October that legislators deserve a pay raise and his chamber has been open to some cap on outside income. Senate Republicans have refused to consider any cap, citing the importance of a part-time Legislature and the ability for legislators to hold other jobs.

Good government groups also decried the commission’s decision, or lack thereof, but with a key difference. “No action is not an acceptable resolution,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, in a statement. “While we believe that any raise should be accompanied by a limit or ban on outside income, we also believe that the Commission must do its job and make a recommendation, just as the NYC Quadrennial Advisory Commission for the Review of Compensation Levels for Elected Officials did last year. Continued government dysfunction is not functioning for New Yorkers.”

The New York City Council recently passed pay increases for its members and citywide elected officials, while banning outside income and declaring the Council member position full-time.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union said, however, that the pay raises should have been recommended without any caveats. “Elected official pay decisions should not be subject to a quid-pro-quo negotiation,” he said, while reiterating support for new ethics reforms in Albany. “It appears that political interference played more of a role in this decision than the law provided for...The pay commission should have offered a modest salary increase based on the length of time lawmakers have not received a raise and increased it even more had the Legislature returned later this year to address the issue of outside compensation.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 14

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Members of the media, people in politics, and many others continue to explain Donald Trump’s surprising victory in the Presidential race, and to monitor his transition efforts. There are many questions about the presidential race and the path ahead.

New York leaders, mostly disappointed Democrats, regrouped in Puerto Rico this weekend for the annual SOMOS conference. Mayor Bill de Blasio was there on Saturday night, giving remarks meant to reassure his like-minded colleagues that New York will continue on its more liberal path, including by protecting and welcoming immigrants. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also sought to convey the message that New York will fight a President Trump on any efforts that would undermine the state as a home to immigrants and liberal social values. Both de Blasio and Cuomo have said they are ready to work with Trump on things like infrastructure, but that they are ready to oppose him if he tries to execute certain campaign promises, like mass deportations.

De Blasio begins his week with two media appearances and two other events on his public schedule -- see details below.

In other events to watch this week, the City Council has a busy week of hearings, including one of its two full-body Stated meetings of the month, at which new bills are introduced and bills that have passed through a committee are voted on by the full Council. And the state commission on executive, legislative, and judicial compensation is due to hold its final meeting and make its recommendations. Additionally, Public Advocate Letitia James gives a policy address at New York Law School and Citizens Union and other organizations host a symposium on voter turnout in New York. See below for details and much more.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?

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The run of the week in detail:

On Monday at 9:40 a.m., Mayor de Blasio will appear live on Hot 97 radio. Later, the Mayor will host a closed-press roundtable with clergy and faith leaders. At about 7 p.m., the Mayor will appear live on NY1’s Inside City Hall. "After, the Mayor will deliver remarks at the Cities Thrive 2016 Reception," at 8 p.m. at Gracie Mansion.

At the City Council on Monday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services will hold an oversight hearing “examining the implementation of Nunez Settlement in city jails.” The committee will also discuss a proposed law on “the investigating, reviewing, studying, and auditing of and making of recommendations relating to the operations, policies, programs and practices of the department of correction by the commissioner of the department of investigation.”
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Waterfronts will meet for an update on Governor’s Island.

On Monday and Tuesday, the New York State Board of Regents will be holding its monthly meeting.

At 8:30 a.m. Monday, the New York City Food Policy Center will hold a “Food and Health Technology Breakfast Seminar.” This event “will discuss the intersection and rising interest in food and health technology, learn about recent innovations in food technology for health, and gain a better understanding of how technology can work to improve consumers’ understanding of healthy foods.”

At 11 a.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks and accept an award at the Annual Meeting of the 47th Street Business Improvement District.

At noon Monday, Crain’s New York Business will host its annual “Hall of Fame” luncheon. This event will honor “those who have transformed the city in both their professional work and in their civic and philanthropic activities.”

At noon Monday, Healthy Food for Upper Manhattan will hold “Youth Participation and Leadership in Upper Manhattan’s Healthy Food Movement.” There will be “a panel discussion about youth food justice programs that empower youth to make positive changes in Upper Manhattan’s food environment.”

At 1 p.m. Monday, the City Planning Commission will hold a review session.

At 2 p.m. Monday at Brooklyn Borough Hall, "Borough President Adams will welcome to Brooklyn a delegation of leaders from Guizhou Province, an area home to nearly 35 million people in southwestern China, as part of a fact-finding mission about local government; Brooklyn is home to one of the largest overseas Chinese populations outside of China, and Borough President Adams has established sister city agreements with the Chaoyang district of Beijing and Yiwu." At 6 p.m., "Borough President Adams will celebrate the accomplishments of local student chefs that have won a cook-off competition, organized by Mapping Basilicata and the New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA), which will grant culinary scholarships to study and train in the Italian region of Basilicata."

At 4:30 p.m. Monday, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance ; Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters; and the Consul General of Mexico, Ambassador Diego Gómez Pickering will hold an event which focuses on construction safety and training. This event will be at the Consulate General of Mexico in New York.

At 6 p.m. Monday, the New York League of Conservation Voters will hold its 2016 New York City Cocktail Party. New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will be the keynote speaker. 

Governor Cuomo is making three announcements on Tuesday: at 10 a.m. at Schorr Family Firehouse in Johnson City; at 12:15 p.m. at Vanguard Collegiate High School in Rochester; and at 1:30 p.m. at Charter Communications in Henrietta.

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Governmental operations will hold an oversight hearing on the 2016 Mayor’s Management Report.
  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Transportation will hold an oversight hearing on “making cycling and walking safer and more efficient,” and to discuss several proposed laws.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Veterans and the Committee on Higher Education will hold a joint oversight hearing on veterans in the CUNY system, and to discuss a proposed law “to establish a task force on affordability, admissions, and graduation rates at the City University of New York.”
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Technology will hold an oversight hearing on LinkNYC.

On Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., the Vera Institute of Justice will host “Public Housing Access: A Convening on Innovative Reentry Practices.” This event “will include discussions on the importance of public housing for people with conviction histories, lessons from the field, best practices, and opportunities for changes in policy.”

On Tuesday at 8:45 a.m., "Cities, Data, And Mobility: The NYC Experience", hosted by the Rudin Center at New York University. The event will include remarks by Meera Joshi, Commissioner and Chair, New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission and a panel discussion, moderated by Mitchell L. Moss, Director, NYU Rudin Center, including Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President; Cordell Schachter, Chief Technology Officer, New York City Department of Transportation; Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer, City of New York; and Anthony Townsend, Founder, Bits and Atoms.

On Tuesday at 9 a.m., the city Board of Corrections will hold a public meeting.

On Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., City Council Members Carlos Menchaca, Antonio Reynoso, and Brad Lander will hold a press conference on the steps of City Hall to support a bill on bicycle safety.

At 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, "Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will deliver remarks at the Cities Thrive Conference. The Conference, which is hosted by the First Lady, brings together leaders from across the nation to discuss mental health."

At 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Public Advocate Tish James will hold a conference call to discuss “bad labor practices and real estate investing by Deutsche Bank and the Qatar Islamic Bank that have exposed investor assets and put workers at serious risk.” 

On Tuesday at 5 p.m., the New York City Bar Association will hold “A New President, A New Approach to Criminal Justice Reform.” Speakers will include Helen P. O'Reilly, Chair of the Program Committee and Task Force on Mass Incarceration; Carter Burwell, Deputy Chief Counsel to Senator John Cornyn (R-TX); Roscoe Jones, Senior Counsel to Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ); Nick Turner, President, Vera Institute; Molly Gill, Legislative Affairs Director, Families Against Mandatory Minimums; Gabriel Sayegh, Co-Founder & Co-Director, Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice; and Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director, Alliance of Families for Justice will be the panelists.

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, TWU Local 100, the transit workers union, will hold "a massive rally" and release its contract demands as it negotiates with the MTA ahead of contract expiration January 15. The rally will occur outside MTA headquarters in Manhattan, and both Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer are expected to speak.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development will hold “Community Schools in New York City: Lessons from the Field.” Panelists are Christopher Caruso, Executive Director for Community Schools, Office of Community Schools, NYC Department of Education; Maritza Arroyo, Vice President, Education, United Way of NYC; and Mark Rush, Executive Director of Principal Pipeline Strategy, NYC Department of Education.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, State Senator Daniel Squadron will hold a Community Town Hall.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City Council Member Mark Levine will host a “Post Election Community Conversation.” This election is meant to be a conversation on the concerns that have been raised by the election of Donald Trump.

On Tuesday evening, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence will hold its annual benefit. Actor and comedian Richard Kind will be the host, and artist Yoko Ono and City Council Member Jumaane Williams will receive awards from NYAGV. 

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • The Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m.
  • There will be a Stated Meeting at 1:30 p.m. As usual, there will be a 12:30 p.m. pre-stated press conference led by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

On Wednesday at 8:30 a.m., the United Federation of Teachers will have a conference on the future of public schools in New York City. Dale Russakoff, author of "The Prize" about corporate reform efforts in Newark, N.J.; David Kirp, author of "Improbable Scholars" on the Union City, N.J. schools; Aaron Pallas, Columbia University; Amy Stuart Wells, a school integration and diversity expert; and Anastasia Raczek of City Connects will be among the speakers at the conference.

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

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Panel for Education Policy will hold a public meeting.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, City Council Member Rafael Espinal will host a town hall in his district with Housing Preservation & Development “to inform the community on how to apply for affordable housing through housing connect.”

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet for “an overview of the Department of Parks and Recreations’ Partnership for Parks Program.”
    At 10 a.m., the Committee on Health and the Committee on General Welfare will hold a joint hearing on “Part 1: Medical Health Services in the DHS Shelter System,” and to discuss a proposed law “to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, requiring in relation to requiring information on health services in shelters.”
  • At 10 a.m., the Committees on Immigration and Consumer Affairs will hold a joint hearing to discuss a proposed law that will “amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to preventing the unauthorized practice of immigration law.”
  • The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing on the “assessment of NYC’s language access services,” and to discuss a proposed law that will “amend the New York City Charter, in relation to improving access to city services for limited English proficient individuals.”
    The Committee on Aging will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing on the Department for the Aging’s core services. 

At 9 a.m. Thursday, “City & State’s Borough 50 Series will recognize top 50 community leaders from Brooklyn at a breakfast.” This event will recognize fifty powerful community leaders in the Borough of Brooklyn.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute will hold “Urban Food Policy Forum: Immigrants and Food Access.” Panelists will be Sam Solomon, Deputy Director of Policy at the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs​​​​​​​; Els de Graauw, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Baruch College, the City University of New York; and Jessica Hughson-Andrade, MPA, Director, Benefits Access, Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.

"The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be held on Thursday, November 17, at 10:00 AM."

On Thursday at 6 p.m., the Alliance for a Quality of Education will celebrate its Champions of Education. Betty A. Rosa, Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents; and Fred Frelow, Senior Program Officer of the Ford Foundation will be honored this year.

On Thursday at 7 p.m., the September 11, 2001 Memorial will hold “Covering Catastrophe: Reporting on 9/11.” At this event, Kristen Shaughnessy (NY1), Maggie Haberman (CNN and The New York Times), and Deepti Hajela (Associated Press) will examine the challenges covering September 11, 2001 and how coverage of the terrorist attacks changed the way future acts of terror were covered by the media.

Friday and the weekend
At 8:15 a.m. Friday, Public Advocate Letitia James will speak at the CityLaw Breakfast at New York Law School. 

At 9 a.m. Friday, Citizens Union and partners will host “The Only Way Is Up: A Citywide Discussion to Boost Voter Turnout in New York.” This half-day conference will include a variety of speakers and discussion sessions about New York voter turnout and how to increase engagement and participation.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, the National Organization for Women will hold its New York Annual Conference. It will be a “celebration of breaking barriers and setting a new feminist agenda.” This agenda includes the ending of child marriage, the election of women leaders, and the issue of rape.

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 Brendan Birth and Ben Max

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

Recommendations Near, State Pay Commission Constitutionality Questioned

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Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (photo via Governor's Office)

Recommendations on potential salary increases for Governor Cuomo and members of the state Legislature are due Tuesday, but constitutional questions hang over the effort to increase legislative and executive chamber pay.

The New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial, & Executive Compensation is at the center of the issue and an ongoing legal battle over the validity of the process it was put in charge of through 2015 legislation. Created as part of the April 2015 budget package, the commission is charged with making recommendations for salaries for the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of state government. The recommendations are due Tuesday, November 15, and will become law for the new year, when the next, largely unchanged class of state legislators takes office, unless they are modified or voted down by the current Legislature.

Raises for state legislators -- state Senators and Assembly members currently make a base salary of $79,500 -- would be the first since 1999. But the nature of this process has been questioned, with disagreement over whether this method of increasing salaries is allowed under the New York State Constitution because of the delegation of such power to the commission, which the law states will now convene every four years.

The budget “created the commission and it gave it the force of law,” according to James Coll, the founder ChangeNYS.org, an adjunct professor at Hofstra University, and the plaintiff in a court case challenging the constitutionality of the commission. “Which means that the commission gets to write the law, and the way that I read the New York State Constitution, those who are given the power to create laws are the Legislature, who have a veto or approval by the governor, or override the governor’s veto, and that is the only way it should pass.”

Coll sued the commission, Gov. Cuomo, and the state Legislature. His arguments were dismissed in New York State Supreme Court in Nassau County, but he has appealed to the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court.

On behalf of the defendants, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Motion to Dismiss argued against Coll on two grounds.

First, the motion argued that Coll’s “deep concern” does not provide him the standing to sue. In the motion’s eyes, “standing to sue requires the plaintiff to allege not only that he has an injury in fact that is distinct from any injury of the general public, but also, that he is within the zone of interests protected by the statute or constitutional provision at issue.” Furthermore, as the motion says that Coll’s injury is “identical to any alleged injury suffered by the general public, as well as speculative,” Coll’s “deep concern” did not provide him adequate standing to sue.

Second, the motion concluded that the commission is constitutional, on multiple grounds: that Coll did not prove the unconstitutionality of the commission beyond a reasonable doubt, that this commission was not an improper delegation of legislative authority, that the provisions cited by Coll “do not support his contentions,” and that “other states’ similar compensation statutes have been upheld” by the United States Supreme Court.

New York State Supreme Court Justice George R. Peck agreed with Schneiderman’s motion and dismissed the case in a three-sentence statement. In finishing his statement, Peck wrote, “Although this court has a financial interest in the outcome of this case, recusal is not necessary because every New York State Supreme Court Justice would have the same interest.”

As Coll appeals, government officials dismiss the validity of his case, but other experts think that he raises some very important questions on the constitutionality of the pay commission.

“I think it’s an intriguing argument. It could go either way. And I think a close reading of the constitution with specific provisions could lead you to a conclusion that an affirmative vote is needed,” said Gerald Benjamin, a dean and political scientist at SUNY-New Paltz, hitting on one key aspect of the pay commission’s larger structure: that its recommendations become law unless voted down. “But the courts have been respectful of the Legislature, so it’s hard to predict how the Court of Appeals will ultimately decide on this,” Benjamin said.

Provisions of the New York State Constitution, like Article 3, Sections 13 and 14, outlining how laws should be enacted and how bills should be passed, and Article 7, Section 7, outlining when money can’t “be paid out of the state treasury or any of its funds,” could, in Benjamin’s opinion, be interpreted in a way that puts the constitutionality of the commission into doubt.

The commission was created as part of the budget agreement among Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and the leaders of the state Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, and the state Assembly, which has a Democratic majority. The commission has met five times publicly this year to hear testimony and discuss its jurisdiction and factors into its recommendations, and it will meet once more on November 15th, the day recommendations are due.

The commission has seen public infighting and canceled meetings, and it has been the subject of squabbling between Cuomo and legislative leaders. Cuomo made multiple comments tying the commission’s recommendations to the Legislature taking certain actions, including on timely budgets and campaign finance reform, and indicating that he believes pay raises should be accompanied by government ethics reforms. Cuomo wants to see a limit or ban on legislators’ outside income, which is currently unlimited.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette about the constitutionality of the commission, Abbey Fashouer, a spokesperson for Cuomo, said that “the court has already squarely rejected constitutional challenges to the pay commission.”

Gov. Cuomo has been relatively quiet on the commission of late. He remarked several weeks ago that, “Once the commission finishes, they will submit their findings, their opinion, their record. And then I’ll have an opinion that I’ll state, informed by the commission. But the purpose of the commission is to advise me on that question.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s office supported the commission in a recent public statement, calling it necessary “in order to remove politics from the decision making process in determining appropriate salary structures in our government.”

Neither Heastie’s office nor the office of Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan returned requests for comment for this story.

Both Coll and Benjamin disapprove of Heastie’s desire to remove politics, and therefore the people who elect lawmakers, from the decision-making process. Coll believes that this removal of elected officials from the decision-making is unconstitutional.

by Brendan Birth for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Could Trump & Sanders Populism Fuel Constitutional Convention Approval?

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Senator Bernie Sanders (photo: @BernieSanders)

With the 2016 presidential election over, can the populist fervor surrounding the candidacies of Senator Bernie Sanders and President-elect Donald Trump be harnessed into a new kind of revolution on a state level here in New York?

A year from now, next Election Day, New Yorkers will have the chance to vote on a referendum to call a Constitutional Convention, an opportunity to rewrite state laws that comes around once every 20 years. Proponents of the convention — at this point mostly academics and government reform groups like Citizens Union, but also Gov. Andrew Cuomo — are already pushing for New Yorkers to vote “yes” on the November 7, 2017 ballot question, saying it is a rare opportunity to take control of government, hold Albany leaders accountable, and enact ethics, elections, and other government reforms on specific issues like campaign finance, redistricting, voter registration, term limits, home rule, and more.

Sanders and Trump, both of whom won most New York counties in their respective April primaries, highlighted what they called the corrosive influence of wealthy interests and corporations on the political system and promised new kinds of people-powered government. They called the system rigged and broken, the government controlled by special interests, and spoke to the concerns of many voters who’ve lost faith in their elected representatives. They called for revolution, albeit with some essential differences.

But what will become of these movements in the aftermath of this Election Day? A New York Constitutional Convention -- or ConCon, as it is often called -- provides a chance to engage these constituencies and their sense of marginalization to literally “take back the government" by rewriting any and all aspects of the state constitution. This, at a time when legislators seem unable or unwilling to police themselves, reform democratic systems, and address long-standing problems.

A June Siena College poll showed that most New Yorkers do not trust the latest reform bills to stem corruption in Albany, and 68 percent said they’d support a Constitutional Convention. However, in the same poll, two-thirds of New Yorkers responded that they had read or heard nothing about a Constitutional Convention, and another quarter said they had heard “very little.”

The last time a ConCon was on the ballot, in 1997, it was voted down by a two-to-one margin. With scant public awareness of the issue, and powerful interests lining up in opposition, voters’ views could easily shift against the idea as the next election nears -- as was the case during the last vote. Whether or not a populist fervor can be whipped up around a ConCon vote is one major 2017 question awaiting New York.

One pro-ConCon group that has tried to capitalize on Sanders energy is the New Kings Democrats (NKD), a progressive reform political club in Brooklyn that voted almost unanimously to make ConCon part of its platform earlier this year. An officer of the group said NKD reached out to the Sanders campaign ahead of the New York primaries about the issue, but was rebuffed.

“It kind of never got off the ground,” said Brandon West, the group’s vice president of policy and political affairs. “The response we got was, ‘We’re trying to get Bernie elected president; let us know if you want to help.’”

A representative from Team Bernie New York declined to comment on a Constitutional Convention, saying before Election Day that while the team is aware of the ballot measure, it was focused electing Sanders-aligned candidates like Zephyr Teachout for Congress. (Teachout lost, but could be a powerful pro-ConCon voice if so inclined.)

Local chapters of major and minor political parties Gotham Gazette spoke with — including the Working Families Party — have yet to take a public position on ConCon.

Meanwhile, organized opposition to a Constitutional Convention is coming from labor unions and some environmental advocates who fear a nuclear approach to constitutional reform could put at risk workers’ pensions and environmental protections — such as a mandate that the Adirondacks Mountains be kept “forever wild.”

Those fears are echoed by many New York progressive reformers including Democratic State Assemblymember-elect Robert Carroll, whose political club Central Brooklyn Progressive Democrats (CBID) endorsed Sanders in the primary.

"My worry is that there are lots of worker protections, environmental protections and a whole host of other progressive safeguards in the New York State constitution, and I want to make sure those are preserved," Carroll said in a phone interview.

Carroll, and others, have noted that the ConCon delegate selection process is a main concern. The larger process would begin with ConCon approval through the ballot question on November 7, 2017. If approved, New Yorkers would then vote in 204 convention delegates on the following Election Day; the convention would commence the first Monday in April 2019; and New Yorkers would vote to ratify any proposed changes to the constitution as early as November 2019. (All proposed changes to the constitution that come from a ConCon are presented to voters for approval or disapproval.)

While technically anyone can run as a ConCon delegate, in practice, those with power and name recognition -- including state lawmakers themselves -- are typically elected, resulting in little change to the system, as was the case at a rare government-initiated ConCon in 1967.

“We don't know who is going to be in that convention or what the makeup will be,” said Carroll, warily of the hypothetical ConCon.

J.H. Snider, a ConCon expert, has written in Gotham Gazette that a truly fair and democratic ConCon vote would require legislators to be barred from running as convention delegates, and in fact, plural office-holding -- which is banned in other states -- is one of the issues a constitutional convention could address.

Gov. Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, said during his January State of the State that, “a constitutional convention that is properly held – with independent, non-elected official delegates – could make real change and re-engage the public.”

But, the $1 million that Cuomo proposed to include in the state budget to fund a preparatory committee for a potential ConCon did not appear in the spending plan approved a few months later.

During the general election, Sanders urged his supporters to embrace Clinton, and his movement has splintered into different factions, some reluctantly embracing the Democratic nominee, another segment backing the Green Party’s Jill Stein, and still other organizations — like Team Bernie New York — pushing for candidates in local races that aligned with Sanders’ message.

Every pro-Sanders group Gotham Gazette spoke to said that the ConCon referendum is not a priority on its post-primary agenda. It is quite early, but if 2016 momentum is not captured and continued, it may be gone for good.

Michael Blecher, a former Sanders activist who now runs a grassroots organization called Politics Reborn, said his group is currently focused on democratizing New York City’s district leader and county committee races, and that he is cynical of ConCon’s potential delegate selection process. However, he noted that attitudes among his fellow Sanders supporters might shift following the presidential election.

“[Sanders organizers] are about to have this existential crisis — after November 8 — as far as whether certain progressive leaders are willing to put it front and a center,” said Blecher of ConCon during an October interview.

For example, he said, Politics Reborn might consider informing the public about the ballot question as part of its canvassing efforts. Reforming how district leaders and county committee representatives are chosen could be a serious plank at a ConCon, but Blecher’s cynicism about the prospects for true reform appear fairly widespread, at least at this point and among those who know about a ConCon.

Political scientist and SUNY New Paltz professor Gerald Benjamin said Constitutional Convention advocates like himself face an uphill battle in reaching voters and expressed frustration at the lack of political organization.

“Where is the organized effort? It’s a year out and where are the resources? The people who want people to know about this are out there giving speeches — including me — but we are talking about telling millions of people that this is an opportunity to participate in major legislative reform,” he said.

In contrast to the tepid response from Sanders organizers, ahead of the election, New York Trump supporters told Gotham Gazette that regardless of its outcome, a ConCon would be a crucial part of their strategy to gain more citizen control over state government. Trump surrogate Carl Paladino — a Buffalo businessman who ran for governor in 2010 and has a history of Trump-like rhetoric — said he hoped a ConCon would dismantle the old power structures crippling Albany.

"Our state has decayed so much from the control of the progressive liberals; it has to happen, and I would want very much to be a part of it,” said Paladino. A ConCon would allow the public to pass laws without going through a Legislature “controlled by a dictator like Sheldon Silver,” he added, referencing the disgraced former Assembly Speaker, a Manhattan Democrat now convicted on public corruption charges.

Both Republicans and Democrats have an interest in enacting term limits and other governmental reforms, but if they fail to form an organized coalition, extreme voices like Paladino’s have the potential to scare voters off, according to Benjamin.

“It can only work if the reasonable and responsible people organize, but if the Paladinos come forward as a force for change, it’s going to fail for sure,” said Benjamin.

New York City, which makes up 40 percent of the statewide electorate, is likely to be weighted significantly more heavily in the upcoming vote, since it coincides with the city’s 2017 mayoral and other municipal elections. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat running for re-election next year, has expressed skepticism about a ConCon. In a recent interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, de Blasio suggested the convention would be corrupted by big money interests.

“If corporations were banned and wealthy individuals were banned from dominating the political process, I would be very interested in the Constitutional Convention that could actually fix a lot of problems in the state constitution,” de Blasio said, in response to a question from a caller to the show, “but my hesitation has always been – we’re literally talking about a rigged economy.”

If the mayor decides to take a more decisive and forceful position on the convention, it could sway the vote. Conversely, as John Kenny, publisher of New York True, points out there remains the possibility that a Republican mayoral challenger — Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich, perhaps — would come out in favor of a convention and drive a “yes” vote.

Political scientist and Hunter College professor Kenneth Sherrill, who is pushing for a ConCon, says the power of big money to derail the convention has been overstated.

“It’s a difficult political process to get on,” he said. “There are lots of big money interests, but they are countervailing interests. While the Koch brothers might give their interests, for example, they will have no interest in ‘forever wild.’ It's not as if big money is going to be a unified force in this.”

One issue wealthier interests, which can include labor unions, will likely be unified on, though, is preventing limitations on campaign contributions. A Republican state Senate has prevented the passage of campaign finance reform in Albany, even closure of the notorious LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited campaign donations from entities who set up multiple limited liability corporations. Cuomo has said that it appears the only way the LLC loophole will be closed is if “the people do it.” Some do question Cuomo’s commitment to a ConCon since the money did for the preparatory committee for a ConCon did not make it into the final 2017 budget, indicating little support from top state electeds. Cuomo did stump for a Democratic takeover of the state Senate, which would lead to closure of the loophole and other campaign finance reform, but that effort appears to have failed. The GOP retained its Senate majority on Tuesday, perhaps giving Democrats more impetus to pursue change through a convention.

The New York State constitution -- which dates back to 1777 -- was mostly rewritten at a 1894 convention, with significant changes made at the 1937 convention. While several amendments have been made since, parts are outdated, and some argue that a Constitutional Convention is necessary simply to update the lengthy, convoluted document. However, if Bernie Sanders supporters in this overwhelmingly Democratic city and state choose not to jump on board with the convention soon, pro-ConCon Trump voices may spook many New Yorkers, reinforcing the fears that it would endanger hard-won progressive measures, leaving the decision up to the next generation of voters — in 2037.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been corrected to remove menton of NYPIRG and League of Women Voters as having endorsed a Constitutional Convention.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

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