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Progressive Critics Largely Convinced by Cuomo's Wage Push


Cuomo min wage labor parade

Gov. Cuomo (photo via The Governor's Office via flickr)


Many of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's staunchest progressive critics appear to be convinced by his new push for a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage. Cuomo has repeatedly angered the left wing of his Democratic Party by supporting Republican candidates, backing charter schools, and routinely making middle-of-the-road compromises on various issues. Only a few months ago Cuomo scoffed at the idea of a $13 minimum wage, but now advocates and legislators who have repeatedly felt betrayed by Cuomo say they believe firmly that he plans to see through the $15 hourly wage.

"I have been a harsh critic of the governor sometimes," said Michael Kink, executive director of Strong Economy For All, "But this is going to be a big deal in the lives of so many New Yorkers and it is worthy of straightforward applause."

Democratic state Senator Liz Krueger, who has has repeatedly clashed with the administration on policy issues, told Gotham Gazette: "The governor has gone through an evolution and he is now at a wage that is greater than my conference put forward. I think it is a good thing."

Two elements of Cuomo's approach appear to have convinced progressive critics of the sincerity of his push.

The first is that Cuomo has made himself the first major elected New York state official to advocate the $15 minimum wage and the plan he supports is comparable to those passed into law in Seattle and Los Angeles and proposed in ballot initiatives in Washington, D.C. and California.

Secondly, Cuomo has made the fight personal by naming his plan the "Mario Cuomo Campaign For Economic Justice," after his father, the late governor.

Kink, a frequent, vocal critic of the Cuomo administration, has nothing but praise for Cuomo's wage push. "This will absolutely make a difference in people's lives. The phase-in schedule he is talking about is comparable to what other places are talking about. If we could wave a wand and get it today it would be wonderful," said Kink, acknowledging there's no chance of immediately shifting the minimum wage to $15 an hour. As recommended by his fast food wage board, Cuomo is calling for a phased-in $15 hourly minimum wage by 2019 in New York City and in 2021 all across the state.

Noting that the governor has had "varying levels" of commitment on progressive issues in the past, Kink sees new life from Cuomo on the wage. Cuomo has "supported" efforts on the DREAM Act, campaign finance reform, and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), but has not made powerful public or behind-the-scenes-efforts to enact them.

"He has made this so personal in naming it the 'Mario Cuomo Campaign,' I believe it puts this up there with marriage equality and guns," said Kink, referring to what are perhaps Cuomo's two crowning legislative achievements, marriage equality and the SAFE Act. "This is a different level of support than we've seen from the governor on other legislative initiatives."

The path to Cuomo's support for a statewide $15 wage took form earlier this year when he called on the state labor department to convene a wage board to examine compensation for fast-food workers. The board held hearings across the state, hearing from many workers, who also staged large rallies outside those hearings and elsewhere. James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute said he believes the hearing testimony was extremely impactful for Cuomo.

"I can't help but think that incredibly compelling testimony of hundreds of fast-food workers from across the state moved the governor," said Parrott. "The testimony really got across how much worse the reality (of surviving on minimum wage) is to how many close observers like myself thought it to be."

In July, the wage board recommended that large fast-food chains pay their workers $15 an hour by 2019 in New York City and mid-way through 2021 in the rest of the state. Cuomo seized on the wage board's efforts, holding a celebratory rally just after its recommendations were made public. A $15 wage polls very well with Democrats in the state.

On September 10, Cuomo announced that he was advocating an eventual $15 minimum wage for all industries, to be implemented along the wage board's recommended timeline.

Krueger said that by using the wage board in the fight for an increased minimum wage, Cuomo spotlighted a power that past governors did not utilize.

"For decades we've know you could use a wage board in this manner, but the governor showed leadership in doing so," said Krueger. "I'd prefer legislative action, but we have been shown there are other ways to address wage issues."

In order to make the path to $15 an hour a reality in all industries, Cuomo will indeed need legislation.

Republicans have balked at the measure and criticized the wage board's recommendations as a fait accompli. They insist it will hurt businesses across the state.

"I don't agree with the wage board. I know it's a statute in the State of New York. I think that it's executive overreach," Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said during a September event hosted by Crain's New York Business. "A lot of my colleagues feel very strongly about that, and as we come into next year. I think we have to be mindful of the fact that we actually have raised the minimum wage — we're one of the ten highest states in the country already."

The state's minimum wage is due to rise from $8.75 to $9 an hour at the end of this year, per the legislation Flanagan was referring to. The Senate leader insists that the governor must go through the legislature to take this kind of action, but he did not rule out another wage increase.

Many Democrats greeted Cuomo's plan with open arms, but skeptics still exist. A number of Democrats told Gotham Gazette they fear Cuomo has only championed the issue as a means to boost his sinking approval ratings and steal political thunder from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who fought with Albany early in his term to allow the city a say over raising its minimum wage.

Critics also note that Cuomo has begun talking about pairing a wage increase with tax cuts for businesses, indicating a willingness to cut a deal with Republicans. "I think linking the two is a mistake," Bill Lipton, director of the Working Families Party said recently on The Capitol Pressroom. "I think we should have a smart, progressive tax code policy. I think it should be discussed separately from the minimum wage. The minimum wage really stands on its own."

The governor, of course, is often one to lecture on how things get done in Albany, citing the necessity of compromise and touting his successes in making progress despite a split legislature.

Cuomo has also looked to boost his fundraising with the wage effort; his campaign sent out email solicitations earlier this month asking for a $15 donation "to help us fund the fight [for $15]."

Another point of contention for some is that they believe by putting himself at the head of the $15 per hour movement Cuomo now has an increased ability to set the timeline for phase-in. Given Cuomo's predilection for compromising with Senate Republicans, these critics fear the Governor may simply increase the deadlines for implementation of the wage hike. Cuomo himself described a $13 increase as a "nonstarter" with the legislature this past spring.

An economist analyst, Parrot said that concerns about the length of the phase-in at this point are unfounded. "It's hard to know exactly what the inflation is going to be like but it is pretty nominal," he said. "It will still be worth something that is more than $9 [is now] but it is not going to be $15 in 2015 terms." Parrot said that the state budget predicts two percent inflation per year, so judging by that, "it is not as if $15 in 2021 would be wiped out."

In other words, the move to a $15 minimum hourly wage by 2021 would be significant, even taking into account inflation.

Kink said that he isn't concerned by Cuomo's comments about a business tax cut, or that the governor might cave to pressure from Republicans. "The governor showed just how high of a priority he thinks this is for the state when he put his dad's name on it," Kink told Gotham Gazette. "He has decided that this is important to his legacy."

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

Cuomo Takes Additional Executive Action on Criminal Justice


Cuomo Schneiderman David Heastie

Gov. Cuomo, middle, with Alphonso David, to the governor's right (Kevin P. Coughlin)


The administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo has begun to implement a series of reforms designed to make it easier for former inmates to win employment, access health care systems, and find housing upon re-entering society.

The administration is moving on 12 recommendations put forward by the governor's Council on Community Re-Entry and Reintegration, a body made up of 28 criminal justice experts including Alphonso David, counsel to the governor; Elizabeth Glazer, director of the New York City Office of Criminal Justice; Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of Correctional Association of New York; and Glenn Martin, head of Just Leadership USA.

Gov. Cuomo has taken a series of executive actions to address criminal justice reform issues this summer; actions that include naming Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as special prosecutor to investigate police killings of unarmed individuals and calling for the removal of 16- and 17-year-olds from adult prisons.

Cuomo has said that he is battling the "perception" of bias in New York's criminal justice system. "When a community doesn't have trust for the fairness of the criminal justice system, it creates anarchy," Cuomo said in July before signing the executive order giving Schneiderman the special prosecutor role.

Speaking with Gotham Gazette, Alphonso David said that the administration is also trying to battle the view held by some former inmates that the state and society have written them off.

"This is a perception issue that we all have to deal with," said David. "If the men and women who have served their time in prison and are released believe there are no opportunities, and unfortunately have experiences that feed that perception - that employers are not interested in employing them; that there are no housing opportunities for shelter; that there are absolutely no services or resources for support - then what we are doing is saying the only option for them is crime. We have to change that perception. Creating opportunities benefits jobseekers, saves taxpayer dollars, and supports public safety."

Several of the actions taken by the administration are designed to lower the impact having a previous conviction has on securing state-funded housing, employment with the state, and occupational licenses.

Another already-enacted change makes it easier for inmates to obtain state identification from the Department of Motor Vehicles once they are released from prison. Advocates say state ID is critical to obtaining services and employment and yet, according to state officials, only 29 percent of people released from state facilities had obtained such ID six months after their release.

Another reform is designed to allow inmates to save money they are sent by relatives so they have some financial stability upon release. Prior to this reform money inmates received went primarily to paying off fines they had incurred. However, paying restitution will remain a priority for any money inmates receive.

The state has also made the formerly incarcerated a focus of supportive housing initiatives and issued guidelines for the construction and operation of new supportive housing for mentally ill inmates returning to New York City. The Cuomo administration has faced mounting criticism from advocates and elected officials, though, for not providing what they see as adequate funding for supportive housing in the city.

The Department of Health and Department of Corrections will team up to enroll departing inmates in Medicaid. Many inmates suffer from hypertension and diabetes and, upon release from prison, frequently seek treatment at emergency rooms rather than regularly seeing a doctor. State officials say enrolling former inmates in Medicaid will better their outcomes and save the state money.

Finally, the state has done away with red tape that has historically made it extremely difficult for returning inmates to live with their spouses and partners even when there was no history of domestic violence. Members of the re-entry council say that the odds of an inmate committing another crime are greatly reduced when they return to live close to their families.

State Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat who has worked closely with a number of the council members, praised the administration's fast implementation of the recommendations. "These recommendations will tear down barriers that the formerly incarcerated face in finding employment and housing," Rivera told Gotham Gazette. "I'm glad to see these recommendations and to see the governor implement them so quickly."

Rivera said he hopes to see the re-entry council continue its work and noted that he is carrying two bills that could potentially be addressed by the council. One bill would require that the Department of Corrections considers the location of an inmate's family when deciding where they will serve their sentences, as a means to reduce recidivism by keeping inmates as close to home as possible. Rivera is also advocating the state provide college education for inmates, something the Cuomo administration went to bat for in 2014 only to abandon after facing intense political backlash.

"We need both of these things," said Rivera. "Not just because they are the morally correct things to do, but because both will reduce recidivism and save the state money."

Rivera said the council's work has sparked more conversations on the issues and has assisted the legislature in deciding what it should focus on in terms of criminal justice issues. "I hope they continue the conversation because it helps draw the line as far as what can be done by the executive and what needs to be done legislatively," Rivera said.

David, Cuomo's counsel, said that the council will be continuing its work with a focus on how to involve the federal government in the reentry conversation, and on improving access to education and housing. That does not mean, however, that the council will ignore issues like college for inmates, or sentencing issues. An administration official told Gotham Gazette that while the council's focus is on issues former inmates face they will not "ignore opportunities that exist within the prison system."

David said he is happy to hear that the council's work has had an impact on some members of the legislature as there will likely be more criminal justice issues that require legislative action next year. "I do hope these actions advance policies and incentivize the legislature to take actions to improve the lives of all New Yorkers and advance new legislation," David said.

Members of the council say they are ready to get back to work.

"We accomplished our goals this year but our work is far from over," said Council Chair Rossana Rosado in a statement. "As we look to address many more of the systemic barriers encountered in re-entry, we will not lose sight of New York's role as a leader in combating the devastating impact and stigma of second class citizenship that so many of our fellow New Yorkers face, especially men of color."

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

Guide for the Last Minute Voter


 ballothand-lg2

It is a testament to the corruption-as-usual air of the state capital that three or more current incumbents facing challenges in Thursday's primary election could very easily be reelected only to find themselves removed from office or jailed in the coming year.

Are voters paying attention? Will they be sending future jailbirds to Albany, or will they put their faith in people with unfamiliar names who promise change?

Better not to blame the voters — they are likely feeling nauseous from the stink of scandal emanating from Albany, where members of New York’s vaunted ethics panel spent Monday morning jousting with each other over transparency instead of talking openly about what everyone who pays attention to the news already knows.

The scandal they weren’t allowed to talk about in public involves not only the one-time overlord of Brooklyn politics, Assemblyman Vito Lopez, but no less than three of the most powerful men in the state: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver who has ruled the Assembly with an iron grip for nearly two decades; the second-term comptroller, Thomas DiNpoli, who was appointed by his colleagues after his predecessor Alan Hevesi was jailed for corruption; and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who although up until now was scandal-free, served in the Senate Democratic conference with a number of ethically challenged colleagues.

None of those men face a vote by the electorate this year, but plenty of other scandal-clouded pols do.
 
Voters won’t just be deciding who to send to Albany. They'll also pick people to build out the structure of their county committees. Voters in Brooklyn will have the chance to strip some power away from Lopez. And a few countywide judicial races will let New Yorker’s decide who gets to dole out justice from the bench.

Here are a few highlights from the dozens of primaries playing out in the city.

State Legislative Contests 

Assemblyman William Boyland of the 55th State Assembly District is the poster boy for Albany corruption and dysfunction. He wrote no bills last year and made up for it by authoring three this year. He has had one of the highest absentee rates of any legislator — and saying he has had some legal trouble would be an understatement.

Boyland was arrested on federal bribery charges in November of last year, three weeks after being acquitted in a different case. He is accused of soliciting more than $250,000 in bribes, some of it which he planned to use to pay legal bills from the previous case.

Luckily for Boyland, he faces six challengers who could easily split the vote and allow him to keep his seat. Boyland will again likely be too busy dealing with legal issues to actually legislate.

Read the Gazette's coverage of the election: Assembly's Boyland Faces Tough Primary Challenge • Five Primary Races Worth Caring About • Family Values at Play in State Senate Race in the Bronx 

Another incumbent, Asssemblywoman Naomi Rivera, has been labeled an “absentee Assemblywoman” by BoroBeat writer Bob Kapstatter, but her record in the community over the past seven years isn’t likely to decide her race against three challengers for the 80th State Assembly District.

Rivera has been the focus of a scandal surrounding her appointment of her boyfriend to a political position despite the fact that he had no qualifications. The scandal keeps deepening and the Bronx district attorney is investigating. But with three other names on the ballot — Adam Bermudez, Estrada Rukaj and Mark Gjonaj — Rivera may just squeak through the primary.
 
The fallout of the Assemblyman Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal may help shape the race in the 17th State Senate District, where challenger Jason Otaño hopes to further tie 10-year incumbent and Lopez ally Martin Dilan to Lopez’s sinking ship. Dilan and his councilman son, Erik, have helped Lopez keep a reign on political positions in Brooklyn. 

But Otaño has been accused of being interested in the race only out of political revenge. Rep. Nydia Velasquez faced a primary challenge from Erik Dilan earlier this year, and Otaño’s run is seen by many as retribution.

Otaño admits to initially considering a run for Council and speaks openly of his loyalty to Velasquez. He also had to move into the 17th district to challenge Dilan.
 
One-term Sen. Adriano Espaillat took a risk this year and challenged long term incumbent Rep. Charles Rangel for his Congressional seat. After a series of headline-grabbing mishaps at the city Board of Elections that saw the race grow tighter than initially reported, Espaillat decided to concede and run for his 31st State Senate District seat.

The man who wants to unseat him is Assemblyman Guillermo Linares — Espaillat’s long-time political rival. Espaillat has attacked Linares for being beholden to real estate interests and, in a recent flyer, charged that Linares “betrayed” Latinos by backing Rangel in the Congressional race. In spite of being criticized for the flyer, the message was tuned to voters in the largely Spanish-speaking district. 

Rangel has endorsed Linares and his daughter Mayra, who is running to fill her father’s Assembly seat. Espaillat seems to be winning the endorsement wars, however, enjoying the support of most of his legislative colleagues and a rare endorsement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

More Gazette election coverage: Second-Longest Running Show Now on Broadway is Uptown • How the State’s Political Scandals are Reshaping the Primaries
 
Mike Miller faces a stiff challenge in Queens' 38th State Assembly District to his three-year incumbency from challenger David Adorno, a staffer for Councilman Robert Jackson. Miller has had to familiarize himself with new communities after redistricting reshaped the 38th district. Meanwhile, Adorno is trying to paint Miller as part of the old guard.
 
Also in Queens, seven-term Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky is battling John Messer, a former project manager for the Economic Development Corp., for the 16th State Senate District that was greatly redrawn during the redistricting process to better represent the Asian population.

Messer is trying to capitalize on the district’s Asian population with campaign material that spotlights his Asian wife. Stavisky has tried to paint Messer as a Republican, noting his  contributions to Republican candidates. Messer has contributed a great deal of his own money to bankroll his candidacy.

Stavisky enjoys a large base of labor support and, like Espaillat, was endorsed by the governor.

Sen. Shirley Huntley may have the worst time getting relected this year than any other scandal-plagued incumbent. Rumors of misdeeds surrounding her nonprofit have lingered for the past two years — giving a viable challenger a chance to prepare for the race in the 10th State Senate District seat in Queens. 

It didn’t hurt Councilman James Sanders chances that Huntley was indicted and arrested earlier this month for committing fraud in a conspiracy to defraud the state, or that The New York Post ran a picture of Huntley in handcuffs on its front page. Huntley should have had a major advantage going into the election, since she was first elected in 2006, has brought home major pork funding to her district and had seniority on a number of committees. 

But her arrest has upended all that, leaving her stripped of her committee positions and her reputation further tarnished. Redistricting also altered the district so that it now includes parts of Sanders’ council district. Sanders has called on Huntley to step down to deal with her legal troubles. She has pledged to fight the charges.
 
Rodneyse Bichotte has an uphill battle in her challenge for Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs' 42nd State Assembly District seat in Brooklyn. Jacobs was first elected to the Assembly in 1978 — that is a whole lot of incumbency and comes with a whole lot of perks: fundraising know-how, name recognition and the rest.

Bichotte has made inroads with the district's immigrant population, but many insiders are skeptical that the young electrical engineer will be able to topple someone with Jacobs’ legacy.

Judicial Contests

Among a handful of noteworthy Democratic primaries for countywide judicial elections, the standout race is in Manhattan for the job of Surrogate Court judge, overseeing sometimes bruising cases involving wills and estates.

The candidates, Barbara Jaffe and Rita Mella, are competing for a 14-year term on the bench. Jaffe is an acting New York State Supreme Court Justice, who has worked on the matrimonial bench. Mella is a county Civil Court judge, a position she won in a general election in 2006.

The New York City Bar Association, which evaluates candidates, has approved both. The Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commission, described as a "network of independent screening panels for judicial candidates," has rated both candidates as "highly qualified."

The New York Times also weighed in on the contest, picking Mella over Jaffe.

"Both contenders are thoughtful and hard-working, and both support court reforms. In a close call, our endorsement goes to Ms. Mella. We are impressed by her solid grasp of the office, excellent people skills and obvious passion for the court’s work," the newspaper wrote.

There are also a number of primary elections for 14-year term Civil Court judgeships in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan.

Party Positions

A group of reform-minded Brooklyn Democrats have mobilized to rival the power of the Kings County Democratic political machine personified only days ago by boss Lopez (until he resigned from the job amidst sexual harassment allegations) . 

The reformers are running candidates for unpaid positions within the party structure in a bid to change it from the inside.

District leaders — also known as state committee persons — are unpaid officials elected every two years to represent each state assembly district throughout the city. While the job is rarely talked about except by party insiders, many politicians start their careers as district leaders. Each district has a male and a female district leader.

One race to watch is in Brooklyn, where District Leader Lincoln Restler, 28, was elected by a slight margin two years ago, and has used his position to rival the Lopez-led establishment. Restler is running for re-election against a Lopez-backed candidate, 65-year-old Chris Olechowski, a Greenpoint activist.

Read the Gazette's coverage of the battle to defeat Brooklyn's political machine.

The position of county committee is sometimes considered a stepping stone for anyone wanting to get involved in the inner workings of local party politics. County committee members are supposed to attend meetings called by the county chair, debate issues on party stances and help to select candidates for higher office.

According to the Grassroots Initiative, a nonprofit that provides information for people considering a run for public office, each election district has two-to-four elected county committee positions. The county committee contains representatives in a county party for about 700-to-1,000 registered voters within an election district. But thousands of these positions are vacant.

The process for running for county committee requires petitioning within the election district. The New Kings Democrats, a Brooklyn political reform club that also backs Restler, has recruited 260 local Brooklynites this year to run for county committee positions, a few of whom will run in contested races.

The polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday. Don't know if you are registered? Call 1-888-VOTE-NYC

Additional Resources

The city's Board of Elections is the go-to spot for information on voter registration and poll sites. They recently updated their website, too. The city's Campaign Finance Board has a comprehensive list of all the races, plus links to a sample ballot and voter registration lookup.

Good government groups are working to inform voters, too. Citizens Union, the Gazette's sister organization, compiled a voter directory to competitive races. So did The League of Women Voters, which can be found here.

Who Can Vote

If you're a registered Republican, Democrat, Independent or Working Families party member, you can vote. If not, you'll have to wait until the general election. The goal of the primary election is to give party-affiliated voters the opportunity to pick their candidates.

Where to Vote

The polls are located throughout the city, and you can find yours using this handy locator offered by the city's Board of Elections.

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David Howard King is Gotham Gazette's state government editor in Albany. Additional reporting contributed by Kamelia Kilawan and Cristian Salazar in New York City. Map links courtesy of the Center for Urban Research at the Graduate Center, CUNY.

Campaign Committees Operate With Little Oversight, Groups Say


Photo by flickr.com/401(K)2012, used under Creative Commons license


ALBANY, N.Y. — Modest, crunchy former Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of the word scofflaw.

In Hawkin’s case, his committee hasn’t filed reports since 2011 and, even though it’s allowed to file a no-activity statement, it hasn’t, according to campaign finance records. Records also show that Hawkins 2010 campaign committee has $12,906 on hand, though Hawkins says the real number is a lot lower.

“My treasurer was a volunteer who just got overwhelmed,” Hawkins explained. “She said we had $12,000 on hand, but we have about $1,000.”

Campaign committees have long operated without much scrutiny from the public or regulators, including by the state Board of Elections, which is charged with overseeing them, according to good government groups.

The groups say the BOE’s enforcement is so lax that the only action they take regularly is issuing relatively small fines that range from $100 to $1,000 to those who don’t file on time. They also say that the BOE is not even trying to catch major offenders like corporations that routinely donate money well over New York’s already extremely high contribution limits.

As the state heads into the peak of election season, campaign committees are being scrutinized anew.

Last week, the New York Public Interest Group released a study that aimed to highlight the failure of BOE enforcement actions, showing that 2,328 campaign committees had failed to file activity reports for the July period. Hawkins’ name appears on that list right along with disgraced former state politicians Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate.

NYPIRG - $31M in Campaign Funds Missing in Action

The BOE disputes the assertions of good government groups, arguing that it has been aggressive in enforcing campaign finance laws.

“Since 2006, we have initiated 5,042 lawsuits against candidates and committees seeking more than $1.5 million in court-assessed fines for failure to file campaign finance disclosure reports,” the BOE said in a statement. “While we are criticized for seeking fines of only $1,000, that is the maximum allowable under current law. In addition, we average more than 4,000 enforcement actions each year, which stop short of litigation because the committees or candidates make their filing.”

The BOE also said it had referred more than 900 cases involving candidates and committees to the Albany County district attorney between 2007 and 2010.

Hawkins said the BOE has routinely notified him and his treasurer of deadlines. He said he is currently trying to figure out the accounting mess and file with the BOE.

“In my experience, they fine you, and for the little guy $500 is a lot, it hurts. But in some ways it’s inexcusable,” Hawkins said.

Bill Mahoney, legislative operations and research coordinator for NYPIRG, agrees that the current system is harder on the little guys. He also says he is aware of a number of candidates who were being fined and didn’t even know it because their treasurers had moved, retired or had other problems.

“They sent notices to old addresses, issued fines and didn’t even follow up as to why they hadn’t filed,” Mahoney said. He also noted that the regulations the BOE enforces are frustratingly lax.

“We’ve come to a point where you have to be walking away with the money and not telling anyone for it to be illegal,” he added.

New York has the laxest limits on campaign contributions of any state in the nation. The state BOE is overseen by two Republicans and two Democrats who need three out of four votes to take significant enforcement action. Good government groups think the BOE routinely avoids going after the big fish because it doesn’t suit them.

Two Freedom of Information Law requests made by NYPIRG to the BOE show that the only enforcement actions taken by the BOE since 2007 for violations of the campaign finance laws were fines for late filings ranging from $100 to $1,000.
 
"An examination of committees that haven’t filed recently shows that even in this area, the Board has not met its responsibilities to enforce the law,” the NYPIRG study says. The report also asserts that more than 2,300 committees — which have collected more than $31 million — "have still not disclosed any transactions made during the six months covered by the July filing period." Many of those same committees haven’t filed required disclosure information for more than a year.

NYPIRG routinely evaluates corporate donations and sends the BOE a list of apparent violations — donations that are over the limits, missing addresses of donors, missing names and so on.

Letter to BOE 11 5 09

NYPIRG says it can take years to hear back from the BOE and, when it does, the message is often that a routine audit of entities was done, any issues were addressed and that the matter has been resolved.

BOE Donation Overages 2006 + 2007 Response

Mahoney notes that a number of corporations listed in their complaints have continued to give higher than allowable contributions throughout the years despite multiple complaints.

Additional information obtained by NYPIRG through other FOIL requests shows that the BOE has not taken action against corporations for any of the violations NYPIRG has pointed out. In fact, the FOILs do not show the actions the BOE claims to have taken by referring cases of major campaign finance scofflaws to the Albany County district attorney.

Speaking of Monserrate and Espada — it has been a while since they last filed, and they had significantly more money on hand than Hawkins. Monserrate’s committee, Monserrate 2010, last filed with the Board in 2010 when they reported having $46,731.51 on hand. Espada for the People reported having $62,593.51 on hand in a 2008 pre-primary filing.

During Espada’s entire sordid term in the Legislature, reporters would routinely call the BOE to see if his committees had filed or paid fines. The answer was almost routinely no, but that negotiations were continuing. Now Espada has been convicted on federal fraud charges for stealing $500,000 from the the publicly- funded health clinic he ran — and there is still no official reporting of where all his campaign cash has gone.

Neither Espada nor Monserrate or representatives of their campaign committees could be reached for comment.

“The fact that the Board does not perform any audits raises the disturbing possibility that some of these candidates have simply pocketed the money,” Mahoney said in a statement. “While the vast majority of these filers may not have engaged in serious violations of the law, the Board’s anemic oversight and enforcement creates the impression that non-compliance with the law carries little risk of real consequences.”

Another legislator who has yet to file an activity report, Assemblyman William Boyland, is facing federal bribery charges on allegations he solicited a $250,000 bribe from two undercover FBI agents. Prosecutors allege that Boyland asked for the cash to pay off legal bills from an earlier bribery indictment that he was acquitted of. (Boyland did not comment when he was arraigned on the latest bribery charges in November; his attorney said they would "defend this case.")

Boyland’s committee, William F. Boyland Jr. Reelection Campaign, last reported having $39,950 on hand in July 2010.

Messages seeking comment were left at Boyland's office and with a representative, but were not returned.

One of the BOE’s many defenses of its enforcement has been that it is understaffed.

“Since the law was changed in 2005, and local filers were required to file with the State Board, our total number of filers has increased more than seven-fold, going from 1,716 in 2004 to more than 12,300 last year,” wrote BOE spokesman John Conklin. “During that time the resources allocated to the Board by the state have not kept pace with that increased workload. The suggestion that we have not asked for additional resources is simply untrue.”

Mahoney says the BOE has done little to publicize their need for more staffing.

And, in 2007, the BOE was given funding to beef up its enforcement staff by Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Barbara Bartoletti, of the New York State League of Women Voters, recalls working on Spitzer’s transition team and advocating for more enforcement at the BOE. In the end, $1.5 million was allocated in Spitzer’s first budget so that the BOE could hire 11 full-time enforcement staff.

“They just didn’t have the political will to use it. The status quo works for them,” Bartoletti said.

A year later, with Gov. David Paterson in charge and with a gaping hole in the state budget, he swept unused agency funds — including the BOE’s — back into the general fund.

 

New York State Government


Legislative Gazette - The Legislative Gazette is the weekly insider's newspaper for the state government, founded in 1978 and put together by student interns as part of the State University of New York. Its Web site is useful for keeping track of the news that might fly under the radar screen of the mainstream press.

NY Public Payroll Watch - A product of the Manhattan Institute, a think tank on public policy, this website provides news clips, links and updates to track labor issues that affect the cost of NY local and state governments.

NYS Department of Labor - Job openings are updated daily. Also information on youth careers, community service center, labor market, and unemployment insurance.

NYS Senate - Senate schedules, info on legislation and all the other workings of NYS gov't.

NYS Unified Court System - Info by judicial district. Great links to law libraries and legal research.

Open Book New York - This site, created by the New York state compotroller, is designed to help visitors find out how the state government spends taxpayer dollars. The site allows searches of current state contracts and of how much various state gencies spend on salaries, travel and other expenses.

Top Stories of 2011


betting
Round and round it goes.

A number of our pundits made some big bets last year, pushing all their chips into the center of the table, only to see them swept up by the dealer. Perhaps the best example of gambling on the wrong outcome was Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., whose prediction was short and to the point.

"There will be a fight in the senate for gay marriage and it will fail to pass again. So my prediction is there will be no gay marriage in 2011," Diaz told us by phone from his holiday party last year. There was a fight in the Senate but little did Diaz know that Gov. Andrew Cuomo would craft a deal with both sides of the aisle, a deal that saw same-sex marriage become the law of the land. It doesn’t seem many people knew the kind of political force Albany was dealing with before Cuomo took the reins of power in 2011.

Going with his heart over his better judgment, Terry O’Neill, founder of the Constantine Institute, misread the cards for his friend Albany County District Attorney David Soares and said he expected, “Andrew Cuomo to appoint Albany County D.A. David Soares as commissioner of criminal justice services.” Soares very publically earned the ire of the Cuomo administration this year when he refused to prosecute peaceful protestors at Occupy Albany.

Roberto Perez, keeper of The Perez Notes Blog, nearly hit the nail on the head last year when he predicted embattled NYC Schools Chancellor Cathie Black would resign. But he sacrificed a safe bet for the sake of snark by adding that Black would join, "the Cuomo administration, after realizing that there is more dysfunction within the New York City school system than there is in Albany."

That isn’t to say no one got it right. A number of our pundits foresaw, as BronxTalk host Gary Axelbank put it, "The bloom will come off the rose or, more accurately, the rose will come off the bloom as the truth will begin to emerge about the Bloomberg administration." Whether the "truth" emerged or not, Axelbank wasn’t alone in foretelling the declining popularity of the Bloomberg administration through missteps and scandal during 2011.

Perhaps the most telling comments came from John Petro of the Drum Major Institute. Petro focused on the income disparity in the city, foreshadowing the major rallying cry of Occupy Wall Street. "In the city, where the wealthiest one percent takes home 44 percent of all income, the gap between the rich and the poor will widen. Jobs will be created, but largely in low-paying sectors like retail and home health care. No one will point out the obvious: a $7.25 minimum wage is completely insufficient for New York City." Petro got it wrong, however, when he predicted that the living wage bill would pass the Council. That is a battle that will continue to play out in 2012.

Who would our political pundits put their money on in 2012, what trends will pay off, what is a sure bet for the new year? What would make a good parlay? Read on dear reader, our political tip sheet is yours to peruse.

Councilman Ydanis Rodriquez

Once the weather warms up, I think we're going to see a huge surge in activity from the Occupy Wall Street movement. My prediction is that by working together with elected officials, OWS will influence the budget process. Organizing with thousands of city residents, the movement will stop the Mayor's pattern of balancing the budget on the backs of working and middle class New Yorkers. Apart from Occupy Wall Street, I also predict that State Senator Adriano Espaillat will soon be changing his title to Congressman Adriano Espaillat, taking his long history of great work for Northern Manhattan and the Bronx to Washington, D.C."

City Comptroller John Liu

With tough budget decisions ahead in 2012 our office will maintain its focus on paring dollars from unnecessary outside contracting, saving pension cost with investment reforms, and finding waste with thorough auditing of city agencies.

Councilman Jumaane Williams

1. The Mayor will wake up sometime near the middle of the year and say, "Wait, you mean I'm the Mayor of the entire NYC and not just the 1%? Why didn't anyone tell me?”

2. My favorite sports team, the Knicks, will continue to trade for the oldest and most injured among us.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

This year, we have taken major steps to market The Bronx, attract new businesses, support our existing businesses, and grow the overall economy of our borough, and in the coming year my office will continue fighting for the economic development of our borough. Although we face challenges in our education, economy, among other things, it is time to let the world know once again that the Bronx is a place of success. In addition I, along with all 1.4 million Bronxites, have World Series number 28 in sight this new year and feel confident that our Bronx Bombers will repeat their 2009 performance.

Gene Russianoff, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign

1. Sadly, the fare will go up at the end of 2012. That's the MTA plan. Last time, in December 2010, the 30-day unlimited MetroCard went up 17%. If that happens again – and there are fare hikes, as planned, for every two years – be prepared for a $167 30-day card in 2017. A good time to be in the 1%.

2. There will be some good news for long-suffering bus riders: You will soon be able to use your cell or smart phone to tell how far your bus is from your stop in real time. A new "Bus Time" program goes Staten Island-wide in January 2012--and then around the city.

3. "Poetry in Motion" – subway car ads featuring works from Shakespeare to Frost – will return from retirement. You may get stuck in a subway tunnel, but it will be your chance to catch up on the likes of Langston Hughes or Emily Dickinson.

Colin Campbell keeper of The Brooklyn Politics and reporter for The Politicker.

1. All hope for independent redistricting will turn out to be mere naive wishfulness -- redistricting will be just as partisan next year as it's always been.

2. Andrew Cuomo will schedule the special election to replace former State Senator Carl Kruger this Spring, and the race between Democratic Councilman Lew Fidler and Republican attorney David Storobin will be a close one, won by single digits (I'm clueless as to who will win it though!)

3. The Republicans will draw a new majority-Asian State Senate district in Queens. While they'll have a shot at winning it if Republican Councilman Peter Koo runs, the more important reason for drawing this district will be to provide the argument that the Republican map better protects minority representation when the inevitable lawsuits come a knockin'.

4. Mitt Romney wins New York's Republican primary next April. This is a pretty easy prediction so I can say I got at least one right should the other ones go awry haha.

Bill Mahoney, NYPIRG

The new ethics law required the Board of Elections to establish new rules for the disclosure of independent expenditures on state races by January 1st. The Board will start the year off on the wrong foot by failing to meet this deadline. Two weeks later, the January filings will reveal that hundreds of donors gave more than the legal limit in 2011. The Board will take no action. They will also fail to do anything when these filings reveal that several elected officials used their campaign coffers for personal purposes, such as funding their legal defenses.

Councilman Stephen Levin

I predict we will have really good legislation coming out of the Council. Two bills I look forward to having hearings on involve street vendors. They receive thousand dollar fines for minimal violations. Hopefully it will come to a vote. Small things like having their cart over a subway grate, or not properly displaying their license can get them a thousand dollar fine, and these guys only make $15,000 a year. It is outrageous.

Sen. Liz Krueger

I predict the governor follows through on his commitment to veto LATFOR’s lines if they don’t meet independent standards.

I hope the Governor will make as passionate a commitment to moving on public financing of elections as he did to same-sex marriage last year.

I was told my official response should be that I will run [for mayor] if I am drafted, and up until this point it has been working.

Barbara Bartoletti League of Women voters

I predict Gov. Andrew Cuomo will have yet another session that by his terms will be successful. It might not be successful by our terms, but he will have a successful session one way or another.

Deputy Minority Leader Sen. Neil Breslin

I have two predictions—the courts will decide the lines and give us fair redistricting maps and the N.Y. Giants will win the Super Bowl

Sen. Gustavo Rivera

I predict... I will have several new Democratic colleagues in the New York State Senate.

I predict... We will pass a real health exchange for the state of New York.

I predict... The Occupy Wall Street movement will stay strong and continue to influence national dialogue on issues of economic inequality.

Barbara Bartoletti League of Women voters

I predict Gov. Andrew Cuomo will have yet another session that by his terms will be successful. It might not be successful by our terms, but he will have a successful session one way or another.

Adam Lisberg, editor City & State

At the risk of looking like more of a fool than usual twelve months from now, here are a few thoughts on the year to come. Despite all the turmoil and change of the last year, the one common theme is I expect the status quo to stay the status quo:

- The mayoral race will stay largely quiet. Just as the rumors always swirl about a business-backed would-be Bloomberg jumping in as a Republican, rumors will also swirl about a black or Latino challenger to try to undercut Bill Thompson among Democrat primary voters. Neither will happen. The existing major candidates have worked too hard, scrubbed their records too clean and raised too much money to let an interloper disturb their grim dance. You will hear names popping up. Don't waste your time worrying too much about them.

- Comptroller John Liu will still be comptroller. And since he's never officially declared for mayor, he has no reason to drop out, despite the growing federal probe into his fundraising. His chances will shrink, not because he really fears the feds, but because the institutional and union supporters he needs will shy away from investing in a candidate with a target on his back. Liu is too single-minded and ambitious to rule out anything in his future just because the feds have a target on his back and are trying to get underlings to flip on him. Unless Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara caught Liu on a wiretap directing illegal fundraising in his own words, he is unlikely to get indicted. And I believe Liu is too smart to have done that.

- Gov. Andrew Cuomo will not fall to earth. He is too skilled a politician to believe his own press, and is too focused on the mechanics of governing to let his attention wander. He knows there are forces that hope he settles into a sophomore slump, so he will stay focused on getting results and keeping on top of every potential threat. Beginner's luck wears off, but he knows the finish line wasn't the budget, the tax deal or gay marriage -- it will be New York's economy and job market in 2014. Or 2016.

- New York's media will stay robust and vibrant, even as more and more New Yorkers shift from reading newspapers and watching TV. A new iPad model and other competing tablets will give more people a reason to get their news in mobile form, not in an old format they have to buy every morning or sit down to watch. Yet the profusion of emerging sources of credible and interesting media will continue to grow -- as Capital New York did, and BuzzFeed might, and other startups dream of -- giving everyone in New York an explosion of good options. That's good news for new media outlets, bad news for old media empires, and scary news for journalists who hope to one day have an employer that contributes to their 401(k).

John Petro, Drum Major Institute

Wall Street bankers may have breathed a sigh of relief upon the clearing of Zuccotti Park, but as warm weather returns to New York the Occupy movement--or some new variation of it--will once again take to the streets of New York City and the capitol to shed light on worsening inequality and the indefensible concentration of wealth among the state's wealthiest. New mass protests in 2012--routinely numbering in the tens of thousands--will dwarf this past Autumn's marches in Lower Manhattan, and Democrats all across the country will benefit from the national attention on issues of inequality, economic justice, and fairness.

With the passage of gay marriage last year, the city's stop and frisk policy will become the new prominent social justice issue in New York. Calls for a federal probe into New York City's unjust stop and frisk policy will intensify, though it is unclear whether the the U.S. Attorney General will actually undertake such an investigation. However, the increased scrutiny of the policy will put pressure on 2013 mayoral contenders to take a position on street stops.

New York City's living wage bill will be passed and promptly vetoed by Mayor Bloomberg. The City Council will then overturn this veto.

The state's minimum wage will get a boost later this year, with a higher wage set for New York City (San Francisco has a minimum wage of $10.24, New York City's is $7.25). This new wage will be indexed to inflation.

New housing construction will pick up in New York City by the middle of 2012, as the surplus of new condo units begins to dry up. Developers will begin to draw up plans for new residential towers, but the lack of financing will continue to be a problem.

Governor Cuomo will back down on his calls for independent redistricting as lawmakers draw up their own new maps.

The "fast-tracked" Tappan Zee bridge will come to a halt as concerned citizens rightly introduce lawsuits intended to ensure that mass transit is an integral part of the new bridge. In the end, federal grant money may appear to help make mass transit on the Tappan Zee a reality, once again making Cuomo look like a winner.

Finally, with the MTA set to lose about $320 million in revenue due to the partial repeal of the payroll mobility tax, congestion pricing will again emerge as a smart solution to funding the region's vital mass transit system. Governor Cuomo will drive to the capitol in one of his muscle cars to sign the bill allowing the city to set up a congestion zone.

Eye on Albany


When you sign up for our Eye on Albany newsletter, you'll receive a round-up of our latest coverage of New York State Government once every two weeks in an e-mail. We also encourage you to sign up for Gotham Gazette's award-winning Eye-Opener morning newsletter, which delivers the day's top stories to your inbox at 7:30 a.m. each weekday. We collect articles from publications around the city and state and, along with our latest reporting, deliver them to you each morning. With an Eye-Opener subscription also comes our afternoon newsletter, which brings you the latest original Gotham Gazette reporting on all topics 1-2 afternoons each week.

 

 

City Council Stated Meeting Reports Archive


Every two weeks the New York City Council meets for what is called the Stated Meeting to introduce and pass legislation. A report on the meeting is posted the next morning.

November 18, 2010
Council Approves Agency Merger

By approving the merger of two agencies dealing with young people, the City Council hopes New York will better serve troubled kids, save money and shut a notorious detention center.

October 28, 2010
Council Unveils Domestic Violence Stats

Following a recent rash of brutal hate crimes, the City Council moved to put statistics on bias attacks and domestic violence on line.

October 14, 2010
Council Tries to Plug Some leaks

City Council tried to plug leaks in the city's water supply yesterday with a package of conservation bills. But several Republicans say they go too far.

September 30, 2010
Green Light!

Shining a light on electricity usage, the City Council approved a package of legislation Wednesday that aims to increase efficiency, including a bill requiring commercial properties to use light sensors.

July 30, 2010
Council Moves to Increase Recycling

The City Council passed several bills yesterday to boost New York's low recycling rate and keep trash out of the landfill. Members also OK'd two controversial development projects.

May 26, 2010
Fines for Unlicensed Plumbing

The City Council approved a bill yesterday to increase fines for unlicensed plumbing and fire suppression work.

February 4, 2010
Council Creates Path to Citizenship

The City Council is considering a proposal aimed at helping some immigrant children in foster care remain in the country.

January 22, 2010
The Council's New Order

Kicking off a new term, the City Council finalized its new committees yesterday -- but not without drama. See who is in and who is out.

January 7, 2010
2010 City Council's First Day

The new City Council, flush with 13 new members, re-elected Council Speaker Christine Quinn. But the vote was not without emotion and drama.

December 22, 2009
Broadway Triangle Approved by Council

The City Council approved a controversial rezoning, which community members cast as a political deal despite its promise of affordable housing.

December 15, 2009
Kingsbridge Armory Defeated by the Council

In a rare move against a major project, the City Council rejected a proposal to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, putting the debate over paying living wages under a citywide spotlight.

December 10, 2009
Green Building Bills Approved by the Council

The City Council passed legislation requiring energy audits for large buildings -- a move that some critics say weakens a key part of the mayor's sustainability plan.

December 1, 2009
Clearing the Way for Open Grills

The City Council yesterday banned those opaque sheets of metal used as security gates on businesses around the city, but the measure will not go completely into effect until 2026. Council also approved its final legislative response to the deadly fire at Deutsche Bank in 2007.

November 17, 2009
Easing Parking Rules and Opposing Gas Drilling

In its first meeting since the election, City Council took aim at the administration's policies on issuing traffic tickets, passing four bills, including one the mayor has vowed to veto. The council also approved a new police academy and went on record against drilling for natural gas in the city's watershed.

October 29, 2009
Hines Midtown Tower Approved

The City Council approves a 1,000 foot tower in Midtown, which will include additional space for MoMA, a hotel and luxury residences. The council also took aim at mortgage foreclosure consultants.

October 15, 2009
Council Bans Flavored Tobacco

Just weeks after the federal government banned flavored cigarettes, the City Council goes a step further.

October 1, 2009
Graffiti Cleanup and Rezoning Sunset Park

The City Council attempts to make graffiti cleanup faster and rezones a large swath of Sunset Park.

September 18, 2009
Sitting in Smog on the Way to School

The City Council approved a bill yesterday making a student's ride to school a little cleaner. Check out that and more in this week’s Searchlight on City Hall.

August 21, 2009
City Council Requires Pharmacies to Translate

Handing out its own prescription for language access, the City Council approved legislation Thursday requiring large pharmacy chains to provide translation services in the city's most popular languages.

July 30, 2009
Coney Island Gets a Facelift

In an attempt to revitalize an area long known as "America's playground," the City Council approved a 27-acre redevelopment plan to turn Coney Island into a year-round destination, full of retail, hotels and entertainment.
Call it Las Vegas a la Brooklyn.

June 11, 2009
Dumbo's Dock Street Project Approved

In a rare move, the City Council approved a development project despite the vocal opposition of the local council member. Councilmember David Yassky opposes the project, known as Dock Street Dumbo because, he says, it will permanently taint the view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

May 21, 2009
Keeping Eyes on the Tenant Watch List

Patrick and Tari Kelly had no idea they were blacklisted.
They were Midtown subletters for two years, until their temporary landlord decided to renovate the building. They moved to Queens and six years later tried to relocate again to Washington Heights.

May 7, 2009
Scratching Out Etching Acid

Carving out another obstacle for graffiti "vandals," the City Council approved legislation Wednesday requiring that merchants selling etching acid keep purchasers' personal information for a year.

April 3, 2009
Council Moves to Protect Access to Clinics

In an attempt to clear a path for patients at reproductive clinics, the City Council approved legislation strengthening the city's clinic access law, allowing police to arrest protesters that harass those seeking medical care.

New Council Bills - 05/31/06

Hybrid Taxis - 05/24/06

Taxi Bills 05/10/06

Emerging Business Enterprise Bill 05/10/06

Gas Station Regulations 04/26/06

Stadium Financing 04/26/06

Street Electrocutions 04/05/06

Yankee Stadium 04/05/06

Lobbying Reform 03/22/06

The Council's Budget 03/22/06

Quinn's First Veto Override 03/01/06

Land Use and New Bills 02/15/06

Rules of the Council 02/01/06

Appointments of New York City Council Standing Committees 01/18/06

Quinn Elected as Speaker 1/04/05

Three Veto Overrides 12/08/05

Rejecting Landmark Warehouse in Brooklyn 11/30/05

Donations from Labor Unions 11/16/05

Financing for West Side of Manhattan 10/27/05

Health Insurance for Grocery Workers 10/11/05

Day Labor and Hindu Holiday 9/28/05

Green Buildings and Human Rights Law 9/15/05

Grocery Store Health Care 8/17/05

Free Sunday Parking 7/27/05

2006 Budget 6/30/05

Garbage Plan Revisited 6/23/05

Garbage Plan 6/08/05

Bathroom Parity 5/25/05

West Side Stadium Financing 5/11/05

Pollution; Allan Jennings Censure 4/20/05

AIDS Housing 4/12/05

School Construction 3/23/05

Child Safety 3/09/05

Defibrillators 2/16/05

West Side Rezoning 1/19/05

Gun Control 1/05/05

Film Tax Credits 12/15/04

School Nurses 12/07/04

Endangered Species 11/23/04

School Crime 11/14/04

Campaign Finance 10/27/04

IKEA Store 10/13/04

Filtration Plant 9/28/04

Church Parking Zoning 9/09/04

Overdevelopment Measure 8/12/04

Car Alarm Ban 07/21/04

Brooklyn Rezoning 06/28/04

Building Codes 06/07/04

Contract Reform 05/19/04

Equal Benefits Bill 05/05/04

Airport Lease 04/21/04

Budget Modification 03/24/04

Council's Costs 03/10/04

Lead Paint Veto 02/04/04

Lead Paint Law Passed 12/15/03

Rezoning Staten Island 12/03/03

Tish James Sworn In 11/19/03

Absentee Landlord Tax 11/06/03

Landmarking Cathedral 10/24/03

Newsstand Bill 10/15/03

Sports Fan Bill 09/30/03

Accessible Taxi Cabs 11/17/03

Adopt-A-Park 08/19/03

City Hall Shooting 07/23/03

Illegal Awnings 06/25/03

Water Filtration Plant 06/12/03

Budget Negotiations 06/05/03

Sales Tax Increase 05/28/03

Emergency Center 05/14/03

Tax Increases 05/05/03

Park Slope Rezoning 04/30/03

Welfare Education Bill 04/09/03

Environmental Bills 03/26/03

Anti-War Resolution 03/12/03

Contraception Bill 2/26/03

Cell Phone Bill 02/12/03

Good Government Bills 01/29/03

What's My District?


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Is Cuomo Losing Democratic Legislators?


p.s. 11
Gov. Andrew Cuomo marches in the Puerto Rican Day parade.

To a number of advocates and lawmakers, the end of legislative session this week not only represents a chance to see several important issues resolved but provides them with their first chance to gauge the trust, the investment they have put into Gov. Andrew Cuomo and to reflect on the leadership he has offered in return. With major deals in Albany still pending, some remain unclear exactly how they feel, but black and Latino lawmakers from New York City increasingly believe that Cuomo misled them -- or at least they didn't get what they were expecting. Although no one would go on the record to voice their concerns--behind the scenes their frustration is boiling over.

Today legislators are expected to vote on "the big ugly," the end-of-the-year deal that contains a property tax cap, a bill changing tuition rules for the city and state universities and a rent law deal that has been slammed by tenant advocates. And even now all the details are not clear.

With major cuts to education, health care spending and other social safety net programs across the state, as well as funding to New York City in the budget, minority legislators as a whole wanted Cuomo to make it up to them, to deliver on a promise that he is a Democratic leader who cares about issues important to downstaters, working class, the poor and black and Latinos. Most think he hasn’t done that.

An Uneasy History

Cuomo has had problems with the minority community, going back to his 2002 gubernatorial primary challenge to the state's first major black political candidate, Carl McCall. Cuomo dropped out of the primary, and McCall went on to lose to Gov. George Pataki. When he ran for governor eight years later, Cuomo was criticized for not picking a lieutenant governor of color or from the city. After his election, Latino politicians criticized him for not placing any Latinos in major cabinet positions.

Many of these legislators and some advocates then pinned hopes for having their faith in Cuomo restored on the last week of session. They even warned Cuomo that their support hinged on what he delivered on rent laws. It was a lot to wish for, perhaps, and almost impossible to achieve.

When Cuomo withdrew from the Secure Communities program, a move lauded by Latinos in the state, a number of city lawmakers said privately that they felt that the move was only the "tip of the iceberg," something Cuomo had to do to show that he was paying attention to their community. Rent laws would provide the real test, not only of Cuomo’s relationship with blacks and Latinos but also of how progressive he would be.

"Andrew has the chance to be the leader of the Democratic Party," Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenants PAC, told Gotham Gazette earlier this month. "Andrew has a chance to do something Democratic, unlike what he has done up to now, which has been very Republican. He has a chance to do something for the Democrats with rent."

When McKee got wind of the agreement Cuomo had reached with the Assembly and Senate Republicans, it was clear he felt Cuomo had failed. He said Cuomo "sold us out," and that the bill was an "unmitigated disaster for tenants."

Sen. Adriano Espaillat visited the Assembly to glean details from members just after they had been briefed by their leadership. He told reporters quickly afterward that he wasn't sure what Cuomo had given up "to the other side," was worth what Democrats got in the rent deal.

What McKee and a number of Democratic legislators from the city wanted was a clearer effort to repeal vacancy decontrol so that apartments are not taken out of rent stabilization when they are vacated and the rent is $2,000 a month or above. One Senate staffer described the effort to do away with vacancy decontrol as "like Republicans pushing to ban abortion. It isn't going to happen, but we have to push for it."

Tenant advocates also hoped to change the process by which landlords can take apartments out of rent control by making improvements to the building—or by simply reporting that they have. The wanted the state to have to check to see whether reported improvements actually took place.

Lawmakers and advocates were ecstatic last week when they heard that Cuomo had threatened landlord groups that he would declare an emergency and kick rent control into the hands of the New York City Council. The move apparently led to some concessions but not the kind advocates were looking for.

Rent Regulation, Cuomo Style

Although the deal is still reportedly being tweaked in the backroom, no drastic changes are expected. And this is what we know so far:

The 421-a tax credit, which gives developers a tax break for setting aside 20 percent of a building for affordable housing, will continue for four years. Vacancy decontrol will still exist, but the bar will be set a little higher. The rent threshold for removing an apartment will go from $2,000 to $2,500, and maximum annual income will increase from $175,00 to $200,000. There is supposed to be a new measure to check on the work landlords claim to have done, but exactly how that will happen isn't yet clear. The rent laws will expire in four years and will be combined with the property tax cap in a bill that will expire in five years.

Republicans in the Senate were seen as getting more from this deal than downstate Democrats. As for Cuomo, who had said only that he wanted "stronger" rent laws and who made a tax cap one of his top three priorities, it seems that he came out of the deal fairly happy. He told reporters at a scrum yesterday, "You probably have to go back 30, 40 years to find a rent regulation bill that does as much for the tenants. You always try to do better, but the best bill in decades, I think, is pretty good."

Earlier in the day, the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus held an emergency meeting to discuss the rent deal. Then caucus chair Assemblymember Karim Camara and Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries, both of Brooklyn, met with the governor. They exited the meeting with little to say.

Jeffries told reporters, the "deal as it is remains as it is," but said it may need "clarity and strengthening." Instead of criticizing Cuomo, he blamed Senate Republicans, whom he called a "wholly-owned subsidiary” of real estate interests.

Cuomo told reporters his rent deal increased the rent threshold for vacancy decontrol by 25 percent. "Maybe you flip it the other way and say, was there anything that would make you happy?" he said of disgruntled advocates and legislators.

As it stands, legislators don't seem willing to call Cuomo out publicly on the deal. Some are still waiting for all the final details, and others still seem a bit off guard.

"It's hard to have a complete assessment of the governor's performance with so much undone," said Sen. Kevin Parker. "He is taking his final now, he has a chance to significantly improve his grade."

Another senator from the city, Gustavo Rivera, still holds out hope that the rent deal will somehow be stronger than the details that have so far been made public.

"I believe that with the governor's support we can pass stronger rent laws that will protect my constituents and those in rent regulated units throughout the state. There has been speculation about what the final product will look like in terms of the rent regulation legislation -- but nothing concrete. Proposals that do not end vacancy decontrol simply do not do enough to end predatory practices by bad landlords in the Bronx and throughout the city," he said.

Others, such as Assemblymember Rory Lancman, believe Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver did their best on the rent deal. "At the moment we have a Republican Senate that is eager to see rent regulation expire because then gold would rain down upon them from real estate industry. We’ve got to take what improvements we can get and live to fight another day," he told Liz Benjamin. "Hopefully, we can revisit this issue with a Democratic majority in the Senate in two years. If anyone thinks that [Silver], with full support of Democratic conference, hasn’t gotten the best deal that can be gotten, I think they’re being unrealistic."

Cuomo’s Edge

Even if the city Democrats decided to directly challenge Cuomo, it is questionable how successful they would be.

Cuomo is hugely popular; people are writing articles touting him as the most successful governor in America, and his name is being bandied about as a 2016 presidential candidate. Most Assembly members and senators from the city view the Republican majority in the Senate as the main impediment to a better rent law and other legislation that they think would benefit their constituents. If they want to retake the majority, Cuomo may be the best tool they have.

The Senate Democratic leadership has told its members all year not to rock the boat, but to let Republicans be active in the hope the GOP will screw up and New Yorkers will vote them out in 2012. The Democratic leaders fear any repeats of their two years in the majority when they could not keep their majority together -- largely because of too many unpredictable legislators from the city. This year, they are trying to do better. In fact they had their ducks in a row on marriage equality -- knowing where all their members stood on the issue long before even the possibility of a vote became a reality.

Meanwhile , rumors run rampant among legislators and advocates that Cuomo made a weak on rent regulation to guarantee a vote on same-sex marriage, or that it’s all part of a Machiavellian scheme to help keep Senate Republicans in the majority. Regardless of rumor, the plain truth is that so far Cuomo's agenda has not meshed with that of the city legislators of color. Cuomo is a fiscal conservative, and his stance against the millionaires tax and for major budget cuts is not what many of their constituents want. But without more leverage it isn't clear how these legislators are going to get their way or get along with the governor for the rest of his term.

Late on Wednesday night, the senate moved to pass its fifth temporary rent extender. Espaillat and a number of Democrats voted against one of the extenders earlier this month as a sign that they wanted in on negotiations. Cuomo responded viciously saying that the legislators were shirking their duties--despite the fact that Cuomo and advocates had said there would be no great danger if the laws lapsed temporarily.

A frustrated and tired Espaillat rose to explain his vote last night saying hopefully that the senate's repeated failure to pass a more permanent measure indicated, "perhaps there is still room to negotiate," to win greater reforms. The extender passed unanimously.



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