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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.”

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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?

e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
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. 

Tuesday
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. 

Wednesday
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.”

Thursday
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
@GothamGazette

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

Recommendations Near, State Pay Commission Constitutionality Questioned


heastie cuomo flanagan

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?


bernie hat handshakes 1

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.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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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.

Donald Trump, New York Corruption & A Loss of Faith in Institutions


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The 2016 Al Smith Dinner


Public trust in Washington began diminishing under President Lyndon Johnson over the course of the 1964 presidential election and the escalation of war in Vietnam. Watergate ushered in a new era of distrust in government in the United States as the country’s top elected office was compromised. By 1974, public trust in government dipped below 40 percent for the first time since such records had been kept. 

As with other political corruption scandals, new ethics laws were introduced in response to Watergate, in part to solve problems, in part to restore public trust. President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974. That year, federal campaign finance regulations were enacted and the Federal Elections Commission was established to ensure compliance, along with several other “good government” amendments throughout the 1970s. As side effects, the newly enacted legislation contributed to further erosion of public trust through lengthy investigations and loopholes allowing unlimited amounts of “soft money” to flow into elections through political parties as opposed to particular candidates.

Running on the campaign message of “I will not lie to you,” Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976, with personal and professional character front and center. Though public trust in government under President Carter would continue shrinking below 30 percent amid rising inflation, rising oil prices due to the energy crisis of 1979, and the Iran hostage crisis which lasted from 1979 until 1981.

Like Carter, candidates for public office have run on their integrity, ethical and moral grounds, and promises to “clean up” government for as long as time. Too often, it doesn’t turn out to be that simple. There is perhaps no better example of this than Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who came into office as Governor in 2011 amid Albany corruption and ethics scandals having been Attorney General, where he helped root out some of that corruption. Nearly six years later, state government has continued to see a stream of corruption arrests and ethics scandals.This year, Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, campaigned for a Democratic takeover of the state Senate, saying that ethics reform is his top priority for next year in Albany.

Corruption and ethics in government remain a focal point for candidates at all levels of government as elected officials are accused of and convicted for rewarding their major donors and key allies with political appointments, government contracts, and other payoffs. Politicians are not seen as trustworthy -- in New York and elsewhere. In fact, there is a crisis of confidence in the United States not only in government, but in other institutions: public schools, the criminal justice system, big business, and news media, among others.

This year’s presidential election has seen loud and passionate conversation about political and moral corruption, lies, misdeeds, and a system “rigged” in a variety of ways. Polls show the public sick of it all, and disillusioned by key pillars of democratic society. Donald Trump, now President-elect, ran an outsider campaign largely aimed at tearing down corrupt and ineffective government, speaking to populist frustrations to out-of-touch, crooked, and gridlocked elected officials and bodies.

Here in New York, the issue of government corruption is especially acute, not only according to the ever-growing rap sheet of the state’s elected officials, but also according to New Yorkers. Poll numbers from July show 87 percent of registered voters in New York believe corruption is a serious problem in state government, while only 38 percent believed Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature will take steps to improve ethics in state government this year. Despite all this, many New Yorkers support the same politicians they see as enabling the problem, or at least ignoring it.

“In the face of well-publicized incidents of corruption, mostly the people will lose trust in the institutions and withdraw from the political system,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of public affairs at Baruch College. Voter turnout in New York has been slumping for decades, though it is unclear how much of that trend has to do with political corruption and a lack of faith in government.

“New Yorkers have particularly good reason to look down upon their elected officials because they’ve lived in a state of total dysfunction and corruption involving nearly every level of government for the last six or seven years,” said Muzzio.

This year alone, New Yorkers have witnessed several cases of corruption affecting state and city officials.

The most high-profile were the separate convictions of former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, on federal corruption charges. The two abused their public posts for private gain, as dozens of other New York officials have done in recent years.

In September, Gov. Cuomo saw nine of his associates and donors arrested on federal corruption charges -- a group that includes two former close aides, Joseph Percoco and Todd Howe; a now-former senior state official, Alain Kaloyeros, who Cuomo often praised; and six others involved in state economic development projects. The charges included bid-rigging for major state contracts involved in those projects, alleged to have been tailored to major Cuomo campaign donors. The governor was not charged and Cuomo maintains that he had no knowledge of the alleged malfeasance.

In October, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, Mangano’s wife, and a Long Island town supervisor were arrested and charged with trading favors and contracts for perks. These arrests are the most recent New York corruption news to hit newspapers and airwaves, sending further message to New Yorkers that their public servants are not prioritizing public service.

Even short of arrests, news of investigations into potential wrongdoing can erode public trust and expose unethical or questionable behavior by government officials, even if illegality is not found.

There are multiple ongoing investigations into the behavior of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, and his allies. No charges have been brought against de Blasio or any of his close aides or allies, and the mayor has said they acted legally in their fundraising practices and did not do government favors for donors.

Still, a majority of New Yorkers and several government watchdog groups believe there was unethical, if not illegal, behavior. Even as the city’s Campaign Finance Board cleared de Blasio and his affiliated political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, of campaign finance violations, the board said the nonprofit’s fundraising “plainly raises serious policy and perception issues,” in an official statement.

At a national level, both major party presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, had ethical and legal questions swirling around them as they competed to lead the country. The details of issues surrounding Clinton’s private email server and her family foundation accepting donations from foreign governments when she was Secretary of State are well-publicized. As are questions about Trump’s foundation and business dealings, and allegations of sexual misconduct.

For many good reasons, there is a frightening trend in public polling that shows an erosion of confidence in major institutions among Americans.

Confidence in key U.S. institutions -- political, financial, religious, and more -- has remained relatively low over the last decade, according to Gallup polling data going back to 2006, and most recently recorded in June.

According to those survey results, Americans have particularly lost confidence in financial institutions, organized religion, news media, and the U.S. Congress. 

Congress has the distinction of being the only institution that currently inspires little or no confidence in a majority of Americans, according to the national poll from June. Partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill and obstruction by the Republican-controlled legislature with Democratic President Barack Obama in office has undoubtedly contributed to this standing, with Congress last on public confidence among the 14 institutions tested, which also included the presidency, the Supreme Court, religious organizations, organized labor, the medical system, and the banks.

Of the 14 institutions tested by Gallup, the only ones where more than half of survey participants responded with “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence are the military, small businesses, and the police. In New York City, job approval for the police is also high, though approval has diminished in recent years and is divided by racial and generational differences.

“Americans clearly lack confidence in the institutions that affect their daily lives,” writes Jim Norman, a polling analyst with Gallup. As Norman points out, the lack of confidence in institutions extends into many facets of life: “the schools responsible for educating the nation’s children; the houses of worship that are expected to provide spiritual guidance; the banks that are suppose to protect American earnings; the U.S. Congress elected to represent the nation’s interests; and the news media that claims it exists to keep them informed.”

While each institutional sector has its own reasons for earning a lack of confidence -- the financial meltdown, sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, partisan gridlock in D.C., etc. -- Norman says “there are reasons that reach beyond any individual institution.”

Professor Muzzio said that, coincidentally, he had recently lectured his undergraduate students on the Gallup poll showing diminishing confidence in institutions. “There’s been a profound decline in trust among major institutions and Americans simply don’t know how government works, creating a crisis for maintaining a civic society,” said Muzzio.

While there are a litany of factors contributing to this loss of confidence, political corruption at all levels of government has contributed to this decline in institutional trust, especially at the state and local level in New York. However, a general lack of confidence in institutions and the mounting evidence of corruption by elected officials has not prevented voters in New York from supporting the very politicians that they find to be associated with the problems of corruption as opposed to offering solutions.

There does not appear to be New York-focused polling data on confidence in institutions, so it is unclear how New Yorkers fit into Gallup’s results. But some local polling results shows New Yorkers’ views on their state and local governments and the New York City police department.

In a statewide Quinnipiac poll conducted in July among registered voters, nearly nine out of ten New Yorkers, 87 percent, said that corruption is a serious problem in state government. That includes a majority in all subgroups -- Democrats, Republicans, and independents; young and old; men and women; upstaters, suburbanites, and city dwellers.

While ethics reform is widely considered an important issue in New York, only 38 percent of poll respondents said they believed the governor and state Legislature would take steps to improve ethics in state government this year, according to the poll. Democrats and city residents have the most confidence in their state-level officials on this question, with 50 and 46 percent who expect there to be steps taken this year, respectively.

Furthermore, nearly half of those polled, 48 percent, said they view Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of the problem with ethics in government, including one-third of Democrats and city dwellers and two-thirds of Republicans and upstate residents. Two-thirds of poll participants said they disapproved of the way the state Legislature is handling its job, including a majority among Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

Despite the cross-party consensus among New Yorkers suggesting a lack of confidence in their state lawmakers to address the serious issue of ethics and corruption in government, New Yorkers still show a general willingness to support individual elected officials that make up the system they universally lack confidence in, even when they associate them with the problem.

For instance, Gov. Cuomo’s job approval rests at 50 percent in the July Quinnipiac poll, and respondents gave their individual state senators and Assembly members average approval ratings of 52 and 43 percent, respectively. Many state legislators are easily re-elected every two years, facing minimal, if any competition.

A Siena College poll released in October also has Cuomo’s favorability rating at 50 percent among likely voters in New York -- virtually unchanged despite the federal corruption charges filed against nine individuals involved in his inner circle or economic development programs.

“There is a disconnect between knowledge of a problem and action,” said Muzzio. “The voters say that it is corrupt and a significant problem and they don’t believe they’ll do anything to address it; this brings up a question if the voters really think it’s a serious problem.”

Further, nearly half of all Quinnipiac poll respondents, 48 percent, said that New York State elected officials are incapable of ending political corruption in Albany and should all be voted out of office so that new officials can start with a clean slate. It is a striking lack of confidence across New York, showing that New Yorkers do not believe their current crop of state government elected officials will take the necessary steps to improve their ethics and root out corruption.

In comparison to Democrats, Republicans in New York consistently view corruption as a more serious issue. New York Republicans, who hold much less power at the state level, are more dissatisfied with elected officials, less expecting of their efforts to address ethics reform, and more willing to see all state level elected officials voted out of office.

In New York City, there is a similar phenomenon regarding local government. According to an August Quinnipiac poll of registered voters in New York City, only 28 percent of participants approve of the way Mayor Bill de Blasio is handling political corruption. Amid months of negative headlines around investigations into de Blasio’s behavior, 53 percent of participants said that de Blasio does favors for developers who make contributions to campaigns in which he is involved.

More than half of respondents find this behavior unethical, if not illegal, and a vast majority of New Yorkers, 84 percent, believe political corruption in New York City is a serious problem. Despite all of this, 42 percent of registered voters in New York City, and 53 percent of Democrats, said de Blasio deserves to be reelected. Nearly half of poll respondents, 49 percent, said de Blasio is honest and trustworthy despite the federal, state, and local investigations into the behavior of the mayor and his allies. Insisting that he and his team acted legally, de Blasio has said that investigations are an unfortunate part of public life these days.

The police department is also an area of concern for corruption in New York City, according to New Yorkers.

The Quinnipiac poll from August provides more information about views of police corruption among city residents. In line with the national survey data displaying confidence in the police as a trustworthy institution, 60 percent of New York City voters polled said they approve of the way the NYPD is doing its job. Though there is a caveat to this when you divide respondents into subgroups revealing racial and generational divides: 80 percent of survey participants who self-identify as white approve of the NYPD’s job, while only 32 percent of participants who self-identify as black approve, while 58 percent disapprove. As for age, job disapproval for the NYPD is highest among young people, ages 18 to 34, while job approval is highest among those 65 and older.

High compared to other institutions, confidence in police in the U.S. -- which in June was at 52 percent -- is nevertheless at its lowest since 1993, according to Gallup. In New York City, job approval for now-retired Police Commissioner Bill Bratton was at 57 percent in August, the same as it was in March 2014 when Bratton had just taken the position, according to Quinnipiac. Bratton’s job approval dipped to its lowest level, 44 percent, in December 2014 before rebounding to its previous level. The dip coincided with a grand jury deciding not to indict an officer whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s death and weeks of protests that followed, as well as two officers being killed in their patrol car.

While Bratton’s job approval increased 6 percentage points among white respondents over his tenure, his approval rating dropped 20 percentage points, from 61 to 41 percent, among black respondents by August 2016.

Despite relatively high confidence marks in the NYPD, police corruption is seen as a serious problem by 72 percent of New York City voters polled by Quinnipiac in August. But, a majority of respondents, 54 percent, view police corruption as just a few police commanders doing favors for well-connected people, while 36 percent believe police corruption is more widespread. Skepticism of widespread police corruption is highest among young people and African-Americans, according to polls.

Part of the disconnects shown by poll numbers on ethics reform and the popularity of incumbents likely has something to do with the fact that many people don’t have government ethics as one of their most pressing concerns. People are focused on jobs, health, safety, housing, education, and other such issues.

Voters also know their local representatives better, can be more forgiving toward people they see producing for their community, and may have a sense of a corrupt or ineffective collective government.

The split can be seen, for example, with Rep. Charles Rangel, who has represented residents in New York’s 13th Congressional District in northern Manhattan since the 1970s. As a first-term representative and member of the Judiciary Committee, Rangel -- a Harlem-born Democrat -- participated in the investigation that led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. Throughout his tenure, Rangel has become a local legend, and known for bringing funds and other investment into his underprivileged district.

Rangel, who is retiring this year, secured hundreds of millions of dollars in federal investment into his district, including, by way of a few examples: $300 million in federal, state and city-funded loans and grants for business development, jobs, educational and health programs, and social services in Harlem, East Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood as part of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone; $2.5 million in federal funding for computerizing archives of Harlem's world-renowned Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; and $9 million in federal funding for a major rehabilitation of the 650-unit Taino Towers complex in East Harlem.

“When people vote for their local representatives at the state and federal level, they are interested in results: are the schools good? Is the economy improving, or at least not stagnate? The benefits that you gain as a resident outweigh any official’s bad behavior,” said Muzzio.

So in November 2010 -- when a House panel found Rangel guilty of 11 counts of ethical violations for violating House rules or federal laws by soliciting donations from people with business before his committee to fund a Harlem university center named in his honor, not paying taxes on a home in the Dominican Republic, improperly using a rent-stabilized apartment in New York as a campaign office, and not properly disclosing more than $600,000 in income and assets; as reported in the Washington Post -- it’s not surprising that Rangel was simultaneously re-elected to a 21st term in office despite the ethics violations and accompanying censure.

Rangel has since won two more elections before he announced his retirement. In a May 2014 New York Times/NY1/Siena College poll conducted among Democrats in the 13th district during a primary competition with challenger Adriano Espaillat -- who is now set to replace Rangel after a third try at the seat -- Rangel had 52 percent favorability among his constituents. In line with other polling results, respondents in that Siena poll said the candidate attribute “understands needs and problems of people like me” was more important in their decision about who to support than honesty and trustworthiness.

“For most voters, ethics is a minor issue; it’s an abstraction,” said Muzzio. “When you have to worry about issues like having jobs, providing a good education, decreasing crime, you could expect ethics to be less important than more immediate issues affecting voters personally.”

Despite the evidence that voters are more concerned with other issues than ethics reform, according to Gov. Cuomo, restoring integrity in government will be a national issue after this year’s elections.

“All this cynicism, all this distrust, all these questions about the justice system and this and that is going to linger,” Cuomo said at an October 30 campaign rally on Long Island for Democratic State Senator George Latimer, according to State of Politics.

Trust in government -- and other institutions -- is something New Yorkers and all Americans, including the new President, will have to reckon with after Election Day and into 2017 and beyond.

“Every relationship comes down to trust. There are questions about the integrity of government,” Cuomo said Oct. 30, linking the need for reform to the “overall lack of confidence in government voters have expressed.”

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by William Fowler for Gotham Gazette

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Donald Trump Elected President in Big Night for GOP


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President-Elect Donald Trump


On a huge Election Day for Republicans, Donald Trump won the presidential election, the GOP kept control of both houses of Congress, and, here in New York, Republicans have increased their margin in the state Senate, the party’s last stronghold of statewide power.

With a stunning show of support across the country, Trump and his vice presidential running mate Mike Pence won more states than expected and Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. Reports came in around 2:40 a.m. that Hillary Clinton had called Trump to concede, and soon after, Trump took the stage at the New York Hilton to declare victory.

It was less than an hour after Clinton campaign chair John Podesta said that several states were “too close to call,” that the campaign was going to see every vote counted, and that it would have more to say on Wednesday.

But as more votes came in, the Associated Press called the race for Trump and reports came in of Clinton’s call. Trump called for unity and promised to be a President for all Americans. He repeated campaign promises of investment in infrastructure and jobs for Americans. He did not mention several of his other promises from the campaign trail, like building a wall on the Mexican border and getting Mexico to pay for it, nor did he use disparaging nicknames for his opponent or lash out at critics, as he had throughout the primary and general elections. Trump did not threaten key pieces of the U.S. Constitution as he had over the course of his campaign.

The President-elect spoke calmly and graciously, thanking many members of his team for their work and support, and he thanked Hillary Clinton for her service to the country. There is a great deal of uncertainty about how he will handle the transition of power and the Presidency once inaugurated on January 20, 2017. He is the first person ever elected U.S. President with no government or military experience.

The popular vote count is very close, and Clinton could very well win that but lose the Electoral College and thus the presidency. Trump pulled out a variety of swing states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina.

Financial markets in the U.S. and around the world tumbled as Trump’s win became more apparent.

In the U.S. Senate, where Republicans held a 54-46 advantage coming into the elections, during which 34 Senate seats were being voting on, Republicans appear to have lost just one seat, in Illinois. However, as of 3 a.m., there were two races still not called. It appears likely that the Senate split will be 53-47 or 52-48. New York Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat who won reelection easily, is on track to become Senate Minority Leader.

Republicans will also maintain control of the House of Representatives, where all 435 seats were on the ballot and the GOP came into the elections with a 247-188 advantage. Democrats appear to be picking up a handful of seats to slightly narrow that gap.

Here in New York, congressional races contributed to those House results. Despite several hotly contested races, mostly on Long Island and the Hudson Valley, the New York delegation to the House will remain the same in terms of party representation. In the most watched race in the state, if not the country, Republican John Faso defeated Democrat Zephyr Teachout to replace retiring GOP Rep. Chris Gibson.

In the race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, Democrat Tom Suozzi has defeated Republican Jack Martins. Other Congressional results include wins for Republicans Lee Zeldin, Peter King, Dan Donovan, Elise Stefanik, Claudia Tenney, Thomas Reed, John Katko, and Chris Collins; and for Democrats Kathleen Rice, Gregory Meeks, Grace Meng, Nydia Velazquez, Hakeem Jeffries, Yvette Clarke, Jerrold Nadler, Carolyn Maloney, Adriano Espaillat, Joe Crowley, Jose Serrano, Eliot Engel, Sean Patrick Maloney, Paul Tonko, Louise Slaughter, and Brian Higgins.

All of the seats in the New York State Legislature were also on the ballot this year: 63 Senate seats and 150 Assembly seats. Democrats will maintain a healthy majority in the Assembly. The Senate math is more complicated, but Republicans appear to have ensured they will have at least a bare majority of 32, including Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who caucuses with the GOP. As of 3 a.m. there were two races too close to call, though, which will influence the final margin and could give the GOP more cushion: Republican Sen. Michael Venditto and Democratic challenger John Brooks and Republican Sen. Carl Marcellino and Democratic challenger James Gaughran are locked in tight battles, both on Long Island.

There is another key piece to the state Senate puzzle, of course: the soon-to-be seven-member Independent Democratic Conference and the GOP are likely to continue to align in a power-sharing coalition. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan indicated in an Election Night press statement that the GOP-IDC partnership would continue in 2017. It is not immediately clear what this means for the Albany agendas laid out by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo as they discussed what they hoped to see next year if Democrats took the chamber.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note: this story has been updated with additional information.

5 Things to Watch on Election Day in New York


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(photo: Mayor's Office on Flickr)


Either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. When we know which of the two New Yorkers will be number 45 depends on how the vote unfolds. Both candidates will be in New York City on election night: Clinton holding her event at the Javits Center, Trump holding his at the New York Hilton.

The potential historic significance of the Presidential vote should not be overlooked: Hillary Clinton could become the first woman elected President of the United States. For his part, Trump is attempting to complete an almost unfathomable outsider run through to the White House. A political novice best known as a celebrity television personality and real estate mogul, Trump defeated a variety of more traditionally qualified opponents in the Republican primary, has broken many norms of American democratic politics, and run a type of campaign never before seen in this country.

Though there has been some fluctuation, Clinton has maintained a solid lead in the polls, both nationally and in key swing states that will help determine the all-important Electoral College results. Still, this has been an election like no other, and no one is sure what will happen Tuesday.

But beyond the winner of the Presidential race, there are several key things to watch for on Election Day 2016 in New York: 

1. CONGRESSIONAL CONTROL
Along with the Presidential race, there are key contests -- some in New York -- to see which party controls the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, both of which currently have Republican majorities.

There is a far slimmer margin in the Senate (four seats) and it’s basically a toss-up as to whether Democrats will swing enough seats to take a majority. If they are able to, New York Senator Charles Schumer is set to become Majority Leader. Schumer is up for re-election this year and being challenged by Republican Wendy Long. He is expected to cruise to victory.

Meanwhile, there are several House seats in New York that Republicans are trying to keep in order to maintain their healthy majority in the lower house. One of the most hotly-contested races in New York and the country is in New York’s 19th Congressional District, where Republican John Faso and Democrat Zephyr Teachout vie to replace retiring Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican. The race, like others, but to a larger degree, has seen a huge influx of money from special interests and the national parties.

The results of the Presidential election and party control in Congress will mean a great deal for the country, and for New York City and State, especially when it comes to federal policy and funding decisions -- particularly regarding infrastructure, immigration, health care, and more. 

2. STATE SENATE CONTROL
Also in New York, all the seats of the state Legislature are on the ballot: 63 Senate seats, 150 Assembly seats. Control of the state Senate, Republicans’ last statewide stronghold, is on the line.

The complicated state Senate math includes about two dozen members of each mainline party, a Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, and a caucus of breakaway Democrats that is set to grow from five to seven. That breakaway group, the Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, will likely be again able to dictate terms of a coalition power-sharing agreement with one of the mainline conferences. The IDC has been aligned with Republicans for the past several years, but once the Election Day dust clears with a handful of swing seats decided, negotiations will again ramp up. Like with swing seats for the House, the state Senate variables on are Long Island and in the Hudson Valley, as well as a couple of upstate seats. 

3. TURNOUT
While across the country more than 43 million people have already voted, according to NBC News analysis of early voting data, another 85 million or so will vote on Election Day.

In 2012, about 129 million total votes were cast in the presidential election. It was 131 million in 2008, when Barack Obama was first elected.

In New York, there were 7.1 million votes cast in the 2012 presidential election, 2.5 million of which were cast in New York City. Across the state, Obama received about 4.5 million votes to Mitt Romney’s 2.5 million, sending the state’s 29 electoral votes for Obama (270 electoral votes are required to win; Obama won 332). In New York City, Obama received about 1.95 million votes to Romney’s 400,000.

As of November 1, 2016, the state Board of Elections reports that there are 11.5 million registered active voters in New York; 4.5 million of them in New York City. There are 5.7 million active registered Democrats in the state, 2.7 million Republicans, 2.5 million unaffiliated (or "independent") voters, and about 700,000 other active registered voters affiliated with other parties.

Hillary Clinton, a Democrat like Obama, is expected to easily win the state, and overwhelmingly win New York City. How the vote will shake out across the country is less clear in some places, especially this year’s swing states like Pennsylvania, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and a few others. Most projections favor Clinton to win the popular and, more importantly, Electoral College. But, turnout is key, and it is not clear whether Clinton’s ground game and candidacy have whipped up the participation she will need in those key states, or whether Trump’s candidacy has activated enough independents, conservatives, and previously inactive voters to take him over the top.

There’s little mystery in New York, though it will be interesting to see what the margin outside New York City looks like and whether there is significant ticket-splitting by Republicans who don’t vote for Trump but do vote for their local representatives in the House or state Legislature. 

4. ELECTION ADMINISTRATION & SECURITY
Problems with the New York City Board of Elections are rampant and well-documented. City Comptroller Scott Stringer is auditing the agency, which is actually governed by state law, something Mayor Bill de Blasio has been regularly lamenting over the past year, especially when the BOE improperly removed tens of thousands of Brooklyn voters from the rolls.

De Blasio said last week that he has full faith in the "integrity" of the process and results, but not in the administration or "efficiency" of the voting process across the city’s 1,205 polling places and at BOE headquarters.

The federal Justice Department announced Monday “that its Civil Rights Division plans to deploy more than 500 personnel to 67 jurisdictions in 28 states for the Nov. 8, 2016, general election.” Included among those are both Queens County and Kings County in New York City.

“Although state and local governments have primary responsibility for administering elections, the Civil Rights Division is charged with enforcing the federal voting rights laws that protect the rights of all citizens to access the ballot on Election Day,” reads the DOJ announcement.

Along with general BOE incompetence, there are also concerns about voter intimidation as this fraught, violent presidential campaign comes toward an end. And, there are concerns about the possibility of a terror or cyber attack. On Monday, de Blasio and NYPD officials, including Commissioner James O’Neill, held a press briefing to discuss security measures. The NYPD is on high alert given Election Day and the fact that both Clinton and Trump will be in Manhattan Tuesday evening.

There will be more than 5,000 NYPD officers on patrol Tuesday.

“[W]e know that the eyes of the world will be on New York City,” de Blasio said Monday, about Election Day. “We have an obligation, not only to the people of this city, but to this country to make sure that tomorrow, all through the day, and particularly tomorrow night, goes smoothly and goes well. So we have extraordinary resources in place to do that and we’ll be working very closely with our federal partners.”

As for a cyber threat, NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller said Monday, "Working with DoITT – the City’s IT overarching agency – as well as with the FBI and their cyber team, as well as with the NYPD and our cyber people, we have done a survey of the key systems that would affect the City’s ability to respond in emergency [inaudible], as well as systems that have to do with moving information around the election. And we’re very confident that we’re in a good position to declare those systems operating properly, free of any intrusions, and our ability to monitor those things."

5. IS THE END THE END?
Even after all of his shocking statements and maneuvers, Donald Trump sent shockwaves throughout the country, even the world, when he said at the third Presidential debate that he may not accept the results of the election. “I will look at it at the time...I’ll keep you in suspense,” Trump told moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News and all those watching, many with mouth agape. 

And since, Trump has increased his claims of a “rigged” election, casting doubt about how he might react if he is not declared the winner on Tuesday evening. Trump has talked about voter fraud, which studies have shown to be virtually nonexistent, and his belief that the media has been in out to get him. If Trump does lose and even if he does decide not to openly challenge the validity of the results, no one knows what his “concession” speech might sound like. 

If Trump shocks the world, it is all-but-certain that Clinton would concede without calling into question the democratic process, local vote-counters, or any other factors. And, there is of course the off chance of a repeat of the 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush, where a Florida recount was started after there was no clear winner on Election Night, though polls have not indicated that the results have much chance of being that close.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 7


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

TUESDAY is ELECTION DAY. New Yorkers will vote for President, one U.S. Senate seat, all U.S. House seats, every seat in the state Legislature (63 Senate, 150 Assembly), and for some judgeships. Use the Gotham Gazette-WNYC Election Guide to see which races you’ll be voting on or for more information about key races.

Also, use the Gotham Gazette guide to the Presidential candidates’ issue stances to prepare to vote for the 45th President of the United States. Either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump will be that next President. Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Jill Stein are the other two candidates in our guide and likely to receive significant portions of the vote.

Along with Sunday’s New York City marathon, the weekend was a get-out-the-vote sprint ahead of Election Day. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and many other New York officials were out campaigning. Cuomo led a three-stop get-out-the-vote tour boosting Hillary Clinton in Buffalo, Westchester, and Long Island. After kicking off the marathon on Staten Island Sunday, de Blasio spoke at five Brooklyn churches to promote Clinton (de Blasio also made a Sunday evening appearance at the Thomas Jefferson Club 61st Annual Dinner Dance in Brooklyn). There were also several phone banks and other efforts organized by the Clinton campaign and New York Democratic elected officials over the weekend.

On Monday, de Blasio will hold a press conference and appear on NY1's Inside City Hall in his official capacity, while also campaigning for Clinton. At 10:30 a.m. in Times Square "de Blasio, Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill and Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Secret Service David Beach will host a press conference to discuss Election Day security preparations."

The mayor will hold four get-out-the-vote rallies at city colleges Monday: 12:45 p.m. at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn; 2 p.m. at LaGuardia Community College in Queens; 3 p.m.at Baruch College in Manhattan; and 4p.m. at Hostos Community College in the Bronx. On Tuesday, he's on a five-borough GOTV tour -- see below for those details.

As for non-election items to watch for this week: there are several political events scheduled, see our day-by-day rundown below. One highlight is the final meeting of the commission that is deciding on raises for state-level elected and appointed officials, which will take place Thursday. The commission is due to make its recommendations by Nov. 15. After that, state lawmakers can let the recommendations take effect for next year or vote down the recommendations.

Another highlight this week is that Friday is Veterans Day.

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

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At the City Council on Monday: at noon, the Committee on Contracts will meet to discuss two things: oversight of and proposed laws for reforming the VENDEX system, and a proposed law for “requiring information about city contracts and contractors to be available online for public access.”

At 11 a.m.Monday, State Senator James Sanders, Jr. will hold a press conference celebrating the enactment of the Missing Adults Law. State Assembly Member Charles Barron and Dr. Arnita Fowler from Missing Persons Advocates will also be at the press conference.

At 6 p.m. Monday in East Harlem, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will host a "Melissa Meet Up" at 12 Vecinas Video Exhibition. "‘Melissa Meet Ups’ are an opportunity for New Yorkers to meet with Speaker Mark-Viverito one-on-one. [Monday] the Speaker will host the exhibit “12 Vecinas” by Marisol Plard Narváez."

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, Civic Hall will host “Unequal from Birth: The Case for Universal Child Care.” This event will “examine how public investment in high-quality, early childhood programs can create a better care infrastructure for today’s families and for a stronger, safer society.” Brigid Schulte, the Director of Better Life Lab at New America and author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time; Fabienne Doucet, Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education and Program Leader, Childhood Education, New York University; Alice Proujansky, a documentary photographer covering women and labor; Nina Drange, an Economist and Research Fellow at Statistics Norway; and Humberto Cruz, a Program Officer at Right to Play will be among the participants. 

Tuesday
Tuesday is Election Day. Polls in New York City open at 6 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. Use the Gotham Gazette-WNYC Election Guide here. Consult the Gotham Gazette presidential candidates policy comparisons guide here.

"Mayor Bill de Blasio to GOTV with Five-Borough-Blitz for Hillary Clinton on Election Day," according to the Clinton campaign: 7:45 a.m. in Queens; at 9:30 a.m., Mayor de Blasio casts his ballot with supporters in Park Slope at the Brooklyn Public Library, Park Slope Branch; 10:15 a.m. GOTV at entrance of Fulton Mall in Brooklyn; noon on Staten Island; 2 p.m. in Manhattan on 125th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and Malcolm X Boulevard; and 4:30 p.m. in the Bronx, E Fordham Rd & Grand Concourse.

Wednesday
At noon Wednesday, the Association for a Better New York will have a “Post-Election Analysis Luncheon.” The moderator will be Mitchell Moss (Director, Rudin Center for Transportation), and the panelists are Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, political strategist Susan Del Percio, Jefrey Pollock of Global Strategy Group, and Robert George of the New York Daily News Editorial Board.

At 1 p.m. Wednesday, the NYC Board of Correction will hold a special meeting.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a board meeting.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Civic Hall will host “Democracy Restored: Reinventing our Politics to Fix the Inequality Crisis.” This event will “evaluate the economic policies of the past eight years and what the next Administration can do to turn today’s “New Gilded Age” into a more responsive, inclusive economy.” The participants will include K. Sabeel Rahman, an Assistant Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, a Fellow at New America, and the author of Democracy Against Domination; Dorian Warren, a Contributor at MSNBC and a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute; and Daniel Altschuler, the Managing Director at Make the Road Action and the Director of Civic Engagement and Research at Make the Road New York. 

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

Starting at 11:30 a.m., "Parents, teachers and community members will walk to Governor Cuomo’s regional office in New York City Thursday to deliver a package of invoices for education funding that advocates say is 10 years overdue to local schools. The delivery of invoices marks 30 days since the “#EdWalk for CFE” arrived in Albany after a 150-mile trek from New York City to demand that Governor Cuomo and state legislators commit to fully funding public schools according to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit. This year is the 10th anniversary of the final court ruling on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, but schools continue to be funded below the CFE requirements. To comply with the CFE ruling, New York State owes an additional $3.9 billion in educational funding for school districts statewide."

On Thursday at 1 p.m., the New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial, & Executive Compensation will meet.

On Thursday at 5 p.m., New York Law School will hold “The Presidential Election and the Muslim Community: Charting a Path Forward.” The panelists include Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; Debbie Almontaser of the Muslim Community Network; and Sadiq Reza, professor at New York Law School.

On Thursday at 6 p.m., State Senator Daniel Squadron will hold a Community Town Hall. This event promises to be a “follow up to Senator Squadron’s Community Convention, at which many neighborhood issues were discussed -- including parks, healthcare, development, quality of life, and buses and subways.”

On Thursday at 7 p.m. the Brooklyn Historical Society will hold “The Darker Side of Reproductive History.” This panel will look at, among other things, “birth control experiments gone wrong and forced sterilizations.” The panelists will include Linda Gordon, NYU Professor of History, and author of Woman’s Body, Woman’s Right: The History of Birth Control in America; Adam Cohen, author of Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck; Iris Lopez, professor and author of Matters of Choice: Puerto Rican Women's Struggle for Reproductive Freedom; and Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, Executive Director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. Irin Carmon, an MSNBC reporter and co-author of Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, will be the moderator.

Friday and the weekend
Friday is Veterans Day. Leading up to and on Friday there will be a variety of Veterans Day events this week.

***
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
@GothamGazette

On Election Day, Federal Policy & Funding Stakes High for New York City


clinton de blasio inner circle

Clinton & de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will be in New York City on election night, and one of them will be the next President of the United States. Through the results of the presidential election, which comes down to one native New Yorker and one New York transplant, and with the congressional elections on the ballot, there’s a great deal at stake for New York City.

According to the fiscal year 2017 budget summary released by the mayor’s office in April, in 1978 almost 23 percent of New York City’s budget came from the federal government. During the late 1980s, that number was at roughly 11 percent. In 2015, the federal government provided slightly under 9 percent of the city’s total budget. Despite spikes in funding during catastrophic times like the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks or the Great Recession, decline in federal investment in New York City is nothing new, nor is it purely partisan.

While cuts have been made to federal funding for infrastructure, housing, health care, and other important city programs over the years, New York felt a particular sting when President Barack Obama announced in February a significant cut in anti-terrorism funding in his 2017 budget. Mayor Bill de Blasio, frustrated, traveled to Washington to testify in front of Congress to restore the full amount of federal money granted. In May of this year, Congress passed a Homeland Security bill, which included the original $600 million for the Urban Area Security Initiative, more than the $330 million proposed by the White House.

Federal aid in the form of grants helps fund community development, social service, and education programs -- but who is in the White House and party control in Congress have a great deal of influence over amount of such funding. New York City’s current fiscal year 2017 budget is about $82 billion, less than one-tenth of which comes through federal funds. In 2013, New York City  taxpayers sent $57.3 billion in federal income tax to Washington, according to the Observer, which reported in March on  federal disinvestment in New York.

According to the city’s Independent Budget Office, the top three city agencies that received the most federal aid from 2011-2015 were the Department of Education ($8.4 billion), Human Resources Administration ($7.7 billion) and the Administration for Children’s Services ($6.4 billion).

The fiscal needs of big cities like New York sometimes get short-changed in D.C., explained Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, an independent policy group focused on improving New York City’s economy.

“Because it’s such a big city, because it’s perceived as a liberal city,” Bowles said in an interview. “For whatever reason, it’s struggled to get its fair share of funding.”

Some also point to cities, especially New York, being seen as economic engines not in need of federal support -- saying that leaders in Washington see New York City more as a booster of federal coffers through tax revenue.

Bowles said the next presidential administration has a real opportunity to include urban areas in new budget proposals, after decades of ignoring them.

“Politicians in Washington really didn’t want to talk about urban areas, and they were perceived as the problem,” he said. “But whether it’s public housing, transit funding or so many other things, New York’s needs are clearly not being taken care of by the federal government.”

Over the past year, Mayor de Blasio has campaigned for Hillary Clinton, his fellow Democrat, on numerous occasions and in a variety of states (this, after he delayed his endorsement of Clinton). De Blasio dedicated his time to campaigning for Clinton instead of stumping for Democratic candidates in key New York State Senate races, where control of that chamber will be decided. In 2014, de Blasio and his allies attempted to swing seats to ensure a Democratic takeover of the last Republican stronghold in New York statewide government. The effort failed and “Team de Blasio” is under investigation for some of the fundraising tactics it used.
De Blasio said he is focusing on the federal election this cycle, and in part doing so due to the large stakes at play for New York.

“[This election] will decide the presidency, it will decide the future of the Senate, maybe even the House, but it’s also going to reset the American political dialogue,” de Blasio said at a press conference when Gotham Gazette asked why he was choosing to be involved in the presidential race but not state Senate races. Key pieces of de Blasio’s agenda have been limited or blocked by Senate Republicans in Albany.

“I think it’s some of the time that’s going to be best spent in the next few weeks because if it helps us change the trajectory of the country and the federal government, that’s going to help New York City in a very big and very material way,” de Blasio said of campaigning for Clinton. At other times, de Blasio has acknowledged that he is staying away from the state Senate races because of the “atmosphere” of investigations into his team’s 2014 tactics.

Most federal policies impact New York. According to E.J. McMahon, research director at the Empire Center for Public Policy, the outcome of congressional races may affect New Yorkers more so than who becomes the country’s next president.

“Congress controls the purse strings,” McMahon said by email. “Congress basically wrote the two most important pieces of Obama-era legislation, the [Affordable Care Act] and stimulus. The makeup of Congress will ultimately determine whether there is any significant change in tax or infrastructure policy, both of which have major implications for New York in particular.”

As the city’s economic relationship with Washington continues to decline, city officials seek a presidential administration that would resurrect the stronger partnership it once had. Policy and funding are the two key areas, and they are usually linked. Federal policy on immigration, education, health care, and other key areas greatly affect what New York City does -- and there is a great deal at stake in the presidential race in terms of different policy visions. The same goes for those who might control each house of Congress.

In terms of additional funds from Washington, the city is looking for increased aid for bridges, tunnels, and roads; money toward jobs programs and housing vouchers; and more.

While it is not completely clear how a Clinton or a Trump presidency would differ for New York City -- and control of Congress may come into play significantly -- the two major party candidates have outlined different visions on the overall role of the federal government, as well as on trade, immigration, the minimum wage and a variety of other policies.

Dr. Bruce Berg, a political science professor at Fordham University, said there are three levels on which to assess the candidates’ plans and their potential impact on New York. These include each campaigns’ intended agenda, which party controls the House of Representatives and the Senate, and the candidate’s relationship with the mayor. Berg says the issues most at stake for New Yorkers in this election include infrastructure investment, immigration reform, healthcare, and public housing.

New York City’s Aging Infrastructure
Prioritizing investment in the nation’s infrastructure may be the biggest area of agreement for Clinton and Trump. The aging roads, bridges, and water systems of the United States are deteriorating; government data show in 2014, 32 percent of roads were rated “poor,” up from 16 percent in 2005.

During a recent U.S. Conference of Mayors event in Manhattan, Mayor de Blasio said 160 bridges in New York City were built over 100 or more years ago. The average lifespan for a bridge remains about 40 years. Despite being the tenth largest economy in the world, attracting more and more residents and tourists to the city each year, New York City’s aging infrastructure needs a serious upgrade, according to the mayor, as well as many others. And it’s not just New York, de Blasio explained at the USCM event, but cities nationwide that are losing funding for infrastructure projects.

“In the biggest cities in the country, there are more structurally deficient bridges than there are McDonald’s in the entire country,” de Blasio said. “And if you think about something that unites us all, those golden arches...and then think of a lot of bridges tragically on the verge of falling down.”

Although both Clinton and Trump agree the nation’s infrastructure is crumbling, their plans to pay for related projects differ dramatically. If Hillary Clinton wins the election, her first-100-days plan includes investing $275 billion to rebuild the country’s infrastructure. This includes investing in roads and bridges, but also in water systems, increasing wide-accessibility to internet, and improving the rate of completing these projects.

Former Mayor of Philadelphia and Governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, a Clinton surrogate, said Clinton’s investment will be over five years and paid for through business tax reforms, including  a one-time tax for corporations bringing profits held overseas back to the U.S. She hopes to allocate $25 billion over five years to a national infrastructure bank, which would fund projects that become held up due to political inertia in Congress. According to Rendell, Clinton also hopes to reauthorize the Build America Bonds program, which would finance infrastructure projects entirely from the federal government.

“It will bring jobs, growth, improve infrastructure, improve public safety, improve our quality of live and make us more economically competitive,” Governor Rendell said about Clinton’s plan at the Conference of Mayors event.

Calling it “America’s Infrastructure First,” Trump also plans to invest heavily in infrastructure. His plan includes spending $1 trillion over a decade. He says he will pay for this plan not by raising taxes, but instead through private companies by offering a tax credit.  While one-sixth of a project’s cost would be funded privately, government-issued bonds would cover the rest

Trump’s proposal, the details of which were released two weeks before the election, would take advantage of low interest rates and encourage construction companies to spend on road and bridge projects that have revenue attached. These include toll roads, toll bridges and airports. This way, according to Trump and his advisors, the plan will pay for itself.

In June, Trump vowed to create the “greatest infrastructure” in the world with his plan. “When I see the crumbling roads and bridges, or the dilapidated airports or the factories moving overseas to Mexico, or to other countries for that matter, I know these problems can all be fixed, but not by Hillary Clinton,” he said. “Only by me.” 

City of Immigrants
Approximately 37 percent of New York City’s total population is foreign-born. Making up roughly 43 percent of the city’s total workforce, immigrants significantly contribute to the city’s economy. The immigration policies under the next President and Congress will greatly impact the city’s immigrants, half a million of whom are undocumented, as well as prospective immigrants, both documented and undocumented.

Alisa Wellek, the executive director of the Immigration Defense Project, a nonprofit, said New York has long been considered a target for deportation and detention of immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a federal agency.

“After 9/11 in New York, the enforcement apparatus really ramped up those efforts in the city and nationally,” Wellek said. “It’s really an unprecedented scale of mass deportations which affects many New Yorkers who are noncitizens and those who are a part of families that are a mix of citizens and noncitizens.”  

Within her first 100 days as President, Clinton plans to create a pathway to full citizenship, defend President Obama’s executive actions of DACA and DAPA, which extended the amount of time immigrant children and their parents can stay in the country, access to healthcare for all immigrants, and end corporation-owned, private immigration detention centers. During the final presidential debate, Clinton discussed how she would enforce immigration laws.

“I don’t want to rip families apart,” Clinton said. “I don’t want to be sending parents away from children. I don’t want to see the deportation force that Donald has talked about in action in our country,” she said.

Clinton also said she wants to bring undocumented immigrants “out from the shadows” and into the economy in order to protect them from “exploitative” employers and wage theft.

Since the beginning of his campaign, Trump’s top issue has been illegal immigration. His plans include building a wall at the country’s southern border, paid for by Mexico, ending sanctuary cities, and creating a “total and complete shut down of Muslims” from entering the country. He has spoken  unclearly about what a “shut down” actually means, referring to “extreme vetting” of potential migrants and refugees, and saying the ban would not be on Muslims, per se, but on people leaving certain areas of the world where ISIS is most active.

In New York City, the Muslim population continues to grow and estimates range from 600,000 to 1 million individuals. Trump’s plan to create a database of Muslims living in the United States and ban them from entering the U.S. could potentially have significant social and economic effects, though the specifics remain unclear. It is also not clear whether these measures would enhance national security.

During a visit to Phoenix, Arizona this summer, Trump discussed his idea of immigration reform: “We also have to be honest about the fact that not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate,” Trump said. “It is our right as a sovereign nation to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish here.”

Wellek said she hopes the next administration will overhaul the immigration system by repealing the 1996 immigration laws, ending mandatory deportation and detention and aligning reforms made in the criminal justice system with the immigration system. According to Wellek, New York has recognized the role immigrants play in the city.

“One thing New York City has done, that’s been very progressive, has been narrowing the collaboration between local police and immigration enforcement,” she said. “I think one big act for the next administration would be to end that collaboration fully.” 

What Wellek is referring to is a decision by Mayor de Blasio and the City Council to cooperate less with ICE. Indeed, many elected officials from the city, which is dominated by Democrats, have spoken out against Trump’s immigration agenda and said that it would be especially harmful to New York.

New York Health Care
Since it’s inception, President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped decrease the number of New Yorkers lacking health insurance by 2.5 percent, from 12.6 to 10.1 percent uninsured. Despite data showing this success, uninsured patients still makeup about 70 percent of stays at public New York City hospitals, Health + Hospitals, which is very costly to the city. Some of these patients are undocumented immigrants who were left out of the ACA, but still use public hospitals. This, along with soaring costs and declining revenue, has New York City’s public hospitals in financial crisis. Health + Hospitals is projected to have an operating deficit of $1.8 billion by 2020. The candidates’ two very different healthcare reform plans have the potential to affect the future of healthcare in New York.

Like most Republicans, Donald Trump disparages the ACA, or Obamacare as it is often known, and Trump plans to eliminate and replace the ACA on day one of office, he says. He called Obamacare “a big fat, horrible lie” and a “catastrophe” -- criticism that has received some boost given recent news about rate hikes under ACA exchanges.

Trump has not explained exactly what he would replace it with, but promises something “far better” and cheaper, and has said the country must eliminate “the lines” that restrict how insurers can sell health insurance state by state.

Trump wants to transform Medicaid, the federal healthcare program for the poor, into state block grants. 

If elected, Hillary Clinton plans to preserve the ACA and attempt to expand coverage for those that do not currently qualify for health insurance under the law. This means expanding Medicaid in every state, lowering health care premiums, and providing citizens a public-option insurance plan, which Clinton hopes to push states to offer their residents. A public option could insure over 400,000 people in New York who were left out of the ACA. If Republicans continue to control the House of Representatives, this expansion of the law has little chance of passing Congress.

Clinton also said she wants to double the funding for primary care services at community health centers over the next ten years, which would increase access to health care for many underserved, low-income, and uninsured New Yorkers. According to her campaign website, she also wants to “expand access to affordable health care to families regardless of immigration status by allowing families to buy health insurance on the health Exchanges regardless of their immigration status” - a move that could have drastic effects in New York City given the financial issues at Health + Hospitals.

Funding for NYCHA
As the largest public housing authority in the country, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) currently serves about 600,000 New Yorkers, including Section 8 voucher holders. Based on the July 2015 Census, 4.7 percent of the city’s population lives in public housing. No new public housing buildings are being constructed and New York is one of few places in the country that has committed to keeping its public housing stock. At the same time, federal funding for NYCHA has shrunk considerably, with the federal government moving more toward housing vouchers, which are used at some NYCHA facilities. 

The de Blasio administration has invested considerable additional funds into NYCHA, but the authority is also in serious financial trouble. The mayor launched a 10-year plan titled NextGeneration NYCHA, which includes a variety of initiatives, one of which is a program that leases underutilized land to developers to build both affordable and market-rate housing.

This plan hopes to combat the decline in federal funds dedicated to public housing, especially after NYCHA’s expected deficit jumped from $25 million to $60 million in 2016. NYCHA has struggled to meet basic maintenance and operation costs, though it has instituted several new reforms to improve the situation. Bowles, of Center for an Urban Future, said that Congress has not increased funding for housing projects in New York and other major cities for decades.

“Public housing has been starved at the federal level for years,” Bowles said. “It’s been decades since we’ve seen a real appetite in Washington to support the public housing infrastructure.”

Public housing is one piece of the overall affordable housing picture. Despite being a major issue for most cities nationwide, tackling affordable housing and the cycle of poverty never became a major focus during this presidential election. In September, Clinton wrote an op-ed in the New York Times addressing housing.

“If we want to get serious about poverty, we also need a national commitment to create more affordable housing,” Clinton wrote. “Too many people are putting off saving for their children or retirement just to keep a roof over their families’ heads.”

Clinton calls for expanding Low Income Housing Tax Credits in areas of high-cost to create more affordable housing in viable neighborhoods.

Trump, a real-estate mogul, has released no specific plan to address affordable housing and nothing on his campaign website mentions it. However, the Republican Party’s platform calls for “responsible homeownership” and giving more control over zoning procedures to local authorities, rather than from the federal government.

Congress, the President and Mayor de Blasio
The relationship between the Mayor of New York City and the next president is important, as is the next president’s commitment to urban issues. Additionally, the makeup of Congress and the major funding decisions regarding aid sent to cities remains of utmost importance. If Democrats are able to retake control of the Senate, New York Senator Charles Schumer is likely to be Majority Leader, which could be a boon for New York.

Despite a long relationship with Clinton, including managing her 2000 campaign for U.S. Senate, de Blasio waited months after Clinton announced her presidential candidacy to endorse her, wanting to push her more to the left on issues. In recently hacked emails, the Clinton campaign expressed annoyance with de Blasio, jokingly calling him a “terrorist.” Donald Trump has called de Blasio “incompetent” and the “single worst mayor in the history of New York City,” but has praised the mayor after he was elected.

In part due to obstruction by congressional Republicans who want to see less government, President Obama has issued over 250 executive actions to get around legislative gridlock. Bruce Berg of Fordham University says if Clinton wins the presidency, she may face similar barriers to getting laws passed in Congress, which would affect federal aid granted to New York City and elsewhere. 

“I think the most likely scenario, looking at the election right now, is a Clinton victory, where she comes in as a rather crippled president and we get very little major initiative in the next four years,” Berg said. “I think what that means is that routine federal aid to New York continues to decline slowly as it has for the last several decades.”

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by Devin Gannon for Gotham Gazette

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Cuomo and De Blasio Outline Priorities for a Democratic Senate, with A Lot In Common


cuomo de blasio chelsea

Cuomo & de Blasio in Chelsea (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


In typical fashion, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio are saying a lot of the same things, but doing so nowhere near each other and without mentioning the other.

In a role reversal from 2014, during the current election season Cuomo is actively pushing for Democrats to win key swing seats and take control of the State Senate, Republicans’ last bastion of power in statewide government, while de Blasio is on the sideline.

But if you listen closely, Cuomo and de Blasio -- two Democrats engaged in a long-running, well-publicized feud -- have pointed to several of the same reasons why they want to see Democratic control of the Senate.

De Blasio, whose unsuccessful 2014 efforts to swing the Senate are under law enforcement investigation because of the campaign financing tactics used, has this year kept his public campaign activity limited to stumping for Hillary Clinton for President. But he has repeatedly said he wants to see Democrats take the state Senate majority here in New York, even predicting it will happen, and during a Monday evening appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall, he explained his top reasons why.

Asked what is at stake by host Errol Louis, de Blasio listed “public financing of elections – campaign finance reform” and “electoral reform” including same-day registration and early voting; as well as more New York City-focused issues like “proper extension of mayoral control of education” and “the program that supports affordable housing – 421-a...updated and reformed.”

It’s certainly more likely that the items on de Blasio’s wish list will become reality if Democrats control both houses of the state Legislature -- they already hold a sizeable majority in the Assembly. And all are items Cuomo has championed to some degree, whether in his State of the State policy proposals or during public remarks, including, in some cases, on the stump over the last ten days. There have been ongoing questions about Cuomo’s commitment on certain topics: how much he has pushed for campaign finance reform, for example, and whether he has really gone to bat for a longer extension of mayoral control of schools than the one-year given to de Blasio each of the past two Albany sessions.

Cuomo and de Blasio have battled over 421-a, each with his own vision for an updated property tax abatement program for real estate developers who create affordable units in certain projects. In June 2015, it was the first one-year extension of mayoral control and Cuomo’s lack of support for de Blasio’s proposed 421-a reboot that largely prompted the mayor’s now infamous outburst against Cuomo.

During his campaign appearances of late, Cuomo has endorsed several Senate candidates and highlighted why he believes it’s important for Democrats to control the chamber. The governor has largely been on Long Island, where key Senate swing seats will influence which party, mainline Democrats or Republicans, has the advantage in negotiating a power-sharing agreement with the six-member Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). It wouldn’t make sense for him to mention mayoral control or 421-a, and he hasn’t -- though Senate Republicans have openly questioned why Cuomo would want to allow de Blasio’s liberal agenda to flourish in Albany through a Democratic Senate.

What Cuomo pointed to on Long Island and in a Queens appearance are government ethics and campaign finance reform, both of which will only happen, he has said, if Democrats control the Senate. While citing “a government that is working, [with] a lot to be proud of,” the governor also said “there’s more to do” and pointed to the “Dream Act...criminal justice reform, Raise the Age, a campaign finance system that actually works...and probably most important, a real ethics package that cleans up the corruption in Albany once and for all.”

All of the above are policies that de Blasio supports.

“These are all issues that the governor has championed for years and will continue to fight for in the next legislative session,” said Dani Lever, a spokesperson for Gov. Cuomo, in a statement. A spokesperson for de Blasio did not respond to a request for comment on the priorities that the governor has laid out.

Additional evidence of Cuomo’s priorities can be seen in the survey he’s asked prospective endorsees to fill out. First reported by the Daily News, the full extent of the survey was reported this week by Politico New York: it seeks to help ensure that candidates looking for support from Cuomo are committed to protecting some of the governor’s signature accomplishments of the past several years -- Cuomo took office in 2011 -- like paid family leave, the Buffalo Billion, and a 2 percent property tax cap; and the pursuit of additional goals, like closing the LLC loophole, public campaign financing, and raising the age of adult criminal responsibility.

Even though their years-long power struggle continues, Cuomo and de Blasio have been sounding more and more alike on policy, especially since the governor has tacked left over the past year, pursuing and passing a major minimum wage hike, paid family leave, and other policies more friendly to de Blasio allies in labor, even the teachers unions that the governor has previously warred with.

Still, the two biggest figures in New York politics rarely make public appearances together, including when it would seem to make sense and give them an opportunity to show their shared constituents a united front. While the two did tour the site of the September bombing in Chelsea, they still held separate media briefings. Also in September, Cuomo and de Blasio held separate events in New York City, just days apart, to celebrate the same expansion of pension benefits to injured firefighters. The list goes on.

As Election Day draws nearer, the prospect of a Democratic takeover of the state Senate is again providing opportunity to see how much Cuomo and de Blasio seem to agree on -- and the void between them that persists. What might the Cuomo-de Blasio dynamic look like if Democrats do win control of the chamber? We may soon find out.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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