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What’s The [DATA] Point? $67 billion

whats the data point

What's The Data Point? Episode 19 -- $67 billion, with Jay Kriegel of Related Companies and Americans Against Double Taxation [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtdp 19

$67 billion is the amount of state and local taxes paid that New York State residents deduct from their federal tax returns each year, under a deduction, SALT for short, that has been part of the federal tax code since it began in 1913, but is again being targeted by Republicans in Washington, D.C.

The push to end or drastically limit SALT is part of a larger effort by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to overhaul the tax code, including a major corporate tax cut and the removal or reduction of other popular deductions, like for medical expense and student loan payments.

New York elected and civic leaders -- including this episode's guest, Jay Kriegel, are vehemently opposed to the effort to reduce SALT. Kriegel explains what's at stake and what he is doing to prevent what many believe would be a catastrophe for New Yorkers, and residents of other states as well.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Carol Kellerman of CBC (@cbcny), and guest Jay Kriegel (@NoDoubleTax). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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As New York Votes, a Push to Allow 17-Year-Olds the Ballot Next

bobbt carroll presser

Assemblymember Robert Carroll at Monday's rally

On the eve of Election Day 2017, a state Assembly member from Brooklyn held a press conference focused on voter engagement and turnout, but it wasn’t in support of his own candidacy -- he’s not up for reelection until next year -- or anyone else’s. Instead, Assemblymember Robert Carroll was talking about his push to allow 17-year-olds to vote.

In the state capital of Albany, Carroll recently introduced a bill, the Young Voter Act, that would allow 17-year-olds to cast ballots in state and local elections. The voting age is currently 18 for national elections and within New York. The legislation would also require that all students in public high schools receive at least eight hours of formal civics education, and that schools provide voter registration forms to students when they turn 17.

The proposal, which Caroll will attempt to see moved when the Legislature returns to session in January, is aimed at improving New York’s dismal record of voter turnout (among the worst states in the country). On Monday, Carroll rallied in support of the bill outside the city’s Board of Elections with fellow Brooklyn Democratic Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, as well as several politically engaged high school students and advocates.

This included the leadership of the Youth Progressive Policy Group (YPPG), a group of students whose stated mission is to “give the youth of New York a voice in our state’s political process.” The group claims that engaging people in the electoral process early will lead to a more civically active life later on, and it is thus important to not only educate students in civics at an early age, but also to empower them to be a part of it.

YPPG’s President, Eli Frankel, a senior at Manhattan’s Bard High School, was quick to note that 17-year-olds are productive members of civic society in other ways, and that this should be extended to voting.

“We are organizing rallies like this, we’re going out and we’re talking to people, and a lot of 17-year-olds are contributing to their communities and have responsibilities of adulthood already,” Frankel told Gotham Gazette. “They’re paying taxes, they’re driving, some can enlist in the military. So, it’s time that voting is incorporated into those responsibilities that 17-year-olds already have so they can begin participating in government in a really substantive way so their voice is heard.”

Chris Stauffer, YPPG’s vice chair and a senior at Bard, noted that in places where voting rights were extended to high school students, the turnout results have been very promising.

“Sixteen- to 18-year-olds in Takoma Park, Maryland actually have double the turnout than 18- to 25-year-olds,” Stauffer told Gotham Gazette of the locality that has lowered its voting age to 16. “This is without any reform to civics education.” People who are still in high school may have fewer extraneous obligations than someone in the age bracket immediately following, where many are away from home at college, allowing them to vote with regularity and consistency and setting them up for a lifetime of civic engagement.

Lowering the voting age alone might not be enough to spur extensive turnout among high school students and young people in general, which is why the bill includes more robust, comprehensive civics education in New York schools.

The non-profit group Generation Citizen partners with schools in cities around the country, including New York City, to provide students with an “action civics” curriculum centered around local issues, wherein students seek to enact change in specific issue areas. Generation Citizen helps fill a gap in civics education found in many schools and school systems, but it currently operates in a relatively small percentage of classrooms.

Civics education is often lacking in schools, especially as it relates to close-to-home politics and government.

“A lot of civics courses focus on larger, more grand themes in American history,” Frankel said. “And the civics seminars that this bill mandates all students get really directs students on the nuts and bolts of how they can go out and vote, how they can fill out a ballot correctly, how to register to vote, how to make sure their voice is heard outside of voting, how elections work, and where they can find the information about candidates and about elections that they need to go out and turn out.”

The bill also would provide for instant registration within schools. Schools currently have most relevant information for voter registration anyway, aside from an individual’s signature and party registration, according to YPPG Policy Director Max Shatan, a senior at Bard. This allows the process to involve minimal effort on the part of students.

According to YPPG PR Director Ilana Cohen, a senior at the Beacon School in Manhattan, these foundational steps in schools would engage people in the process even more than simply allowing them to vote at 17.

“Establishing the importance of voting in the classroom has a much greater effect than simply allowing teenagers to go out after high school and let them independently register to vote,” Cohen said.

Prior to the bill’s introduction, Assemblymember Carroll sat down with some of the students at YPPG to gather input on a pre-registration bill already in the Assembly. According to Carroll’s chief of staff, Dan Campanelli, during this conversation Carroll suggested crafting a bill to lower the voting age to 17, which was ecstatically received by the students. Carroll subsequently worked on the bill with the students.

“In this age of civic participation and interest, we need to make sure, in New York State, that we are teaching our young people what it means to be an active participant in their democracy,” Carroll said at Monday’s rally. “We teach young people all sorts of things. We teach them how to drive cars, we teach them how to take the SAT. We should teach them how to be active citizens and how to vote.”

Although the bill has 23 co-sponsors in the 150-seat Assembly including Carroll, it would have to overcome the significant hurdle of passing the Republican-controlled state Senate, as well as to bypass a culture in Albany that is notoriously resistant to voting reform. Senate Republicans have been resistant to election reform measures that have passed the Assembly, like early voting and same-day registration. Younger voters typically skew Democratic, giving another reason for the GOP to oppose Carroll’s bill, especially as Republicans cling to the slimmest of majorities in the Senate, only due to several rogue Democrats who either caucus or form a coalition with the GOP. Though Carroll largely did not speak to its chances in the Senate, he is confident in its ability to pass the Assembly if it gets out of committee there.

“If you are against more people accessing the ballot box, then guess what? You’re against democracy,” Carroll said Monday. “And maybe you should get out of the business of holding elected office, because that’s the point of it.”

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Note - This article has been updated to clarify that YPPG's members are seniors at Bard High School, not juniors.

Races to Watch on Election Day, Inside and Outside New York City

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Rob Astorino, left, and George Latimer

Welcome to Election Day 2017. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sweep comfortably to reelection over six other candidates, including Republican challenger Nicole Malliotakis, an Assembly member from Staten Island, despite their efforts to paint him as an ineffective manager beholden to his campaign donors. Similarly, many of the city’s 51 City Council seats that are up for grabs are predetermined by a heavily Democratic electorate, but there are a few spirited city races heading into Election Day, Tuesday November 7.

There are also a handful of especially interesting races to watch outside of New York City, as voters will choose two significant suburban county executives and others in hotly contested elections.

A Few to Watch in New York City
In the city, it’s the battle of the aides in the 43rd Council District, centered in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, one of the city’s last bastions of Republican strength, where punk rocker-turned-government aide Justin Brannan, a Democrat who has worked for outgoing Council Member Vincent Gentile and for Mayor Bill de Blasio, faces John Quaglione, a top staffer to Republican State Senator Marty Golden. While Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district, it is one area that has elected GOP representatives like Golden.

One district over, in Brooklyn’s 44th Council District, Democrat Kalman Yeger, the chosen successor of outgoing Council Member David Greenfield, faces Yoni Hikind, the son of Democratic Assemblymember Dov Hikind, who has created the “Our Community” ballot line, he says, in order to provide voters with “a choice.” Greenfield decided not to run for reelection at a time when his campaign could install Yeger as the Democratic nominee, and Greenfield and the elder Hikind have a long-running rivalry.

In Manhattan, District Attorney Cy Vance, a Democrat, is seeking reelection while facing blowback for campaign contributions linked to cases he declined to prosecute involving disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, members of the Trump family, and Mayor de Blasio. Vance will be the only name on the ballot for Manhattan D.A., but Marc Fliedner, a progressive former Brooklyn prosecutor who ran an unsuccessful primary campaign for Brooklyn DA earlier this year, is waging an assertive write-in campaign, which is attracting some buzz. Fliedner is a long-shot, but he moved to a Manhattan apartment and has a lot of social media attention on his campaign.

There are also interesting city races to watch in Council Districts 1, 35, and 40, where three incumbent Democrats -- Margaret Chin, Laurie Cumbo, and Mathieu Eugene, respectively -- are trying to hold onto their seats against spirited foes.

And there are of course the three citywide races, for Mayor as well as City Comptroller and Public Advocate. De Blasio faces Malliotakis as well as independents Bo Dietl and Mike Tolkin, each running on a self-created ballot line; Reform Party nominee Sal Albanese, Green Party nominee Akeem Browder, and Libertarian nominee Aaron Commey.

Incumbent Democratic Comptroller Scott Stringer is being challenged by Republican Michel Faulkner, as well as Green Party nominee Julia Willebrand and Libertarian Alex Merced. Incumbent Democratic Public Advocate Letitia James is being challenged by Republican J.C. Polanco, as well as Green Party nominee James Lane, Libertarian nominee Devin Balkind, and Conservative Party nominee Michael O’Reilly. Both Stringer and James are heavily favored to win second terms.

One Important Reason to Vote Across the State
But even those in the city, or across the entire state, who may find their ballot choices uninspiring should head to the polls Tuesday, at least for the opportunity to flip over the ballot and answer three big “yes” or “no” questions with serious implications. One referendum would determine whether New York will hold a state constitutional convention; the second would allow judges to strip some or all public pensions from officials who are convicted of corruption; and the third would allow limited flexibility in preserved land to permit localities to make certain infrastructure improvements.

Outside New York City
Incumbent Democratic mayors of the state’s three largest cities outside New York City -- Lovely Warren in Rochester, Kathy Sheehan in Albany, and Byron Brown in Buffalo -- successfully beat out formidable challengers in their primaries and are expected to win reelection easily in the general.

There are several exciting races worth paying attention to in the state’s swing areas, the outcomes of which are bound to have a significant impact on politics and government at various levels. Not all are a traditional toss-ups between Democrats and Republicans, though they are on Long Island and in Westchester. In Syracuse, however, a fight within the Democratic Party has unfolded, as two candidates, one a Democrat and the other Independent, are going head-to-head for the mayoral seat. In Erie County, where many are following a hotly contested race for county clerk, party affiliation gets a bit messier.

Westchester County Executive
Despite its 2-to-1 Democratic leaning electorate, Westchester County has twice elected Republican Rob Astorino as its top executive over formidable opponents. Astorino, seeking another term, lost the 2014 gubernatorial race to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has endorsed State Senator George Latimer in his quest to unseat Astorino. Astorino’s popularity appears to be owed in large part to his fiscal policies, including keeping a campaign promise not to raise property taxes, but that may wane due to his vocal support for President Donald Trump and the political moment occurring one year after Trump’s surprise win.

The Latimer-Astorino race has featured a lot of mud-slinging, including accusations of bribery, corruption, tax evasion, and the nefarious influence of outside money. While Astorino’s campaign has cast Latimer as a delinquent state legislator and tax deadbeat, Latimer and his supporters are pointing to the infusion of $1 million in support of Astorino from controversial billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer.

The race is seen as a toss-up by many.

As always, Westchester’s notoriously high property taxes are central to the policy debate, with both candidates vowing to keep rates stagnant, but this year, at times overshadowing the discussion is whether Westchester’s socially liberal electorate -- which overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election -- will stick with an enthusiastic Trump supporter in Astorino, who has sought to keep much of the campaign’s focus on his local record and on attacking Latimer.

This race will have significant implications for New York State’s political landscape regardless of the outcome. A Latimer win, while it would be a victory for Westchester Democrats, would also deal a blow to state Senate Democrats who hope to retake that house, and therefore the entirety of state government, in 2018. Latimer’s open seat would trigger a special election that could see a member of the Independent Democratic Conference or a Republican take the seat.

For Astorino, who is mulling another run for governor next year, the stakes are exceptionally high. While the GOP county executive has had a lengthy run, if he loses, or even wins by a small margin, he may be forced to reconsider any gubernatorial ambitions.

Nassau County Executive
With current Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano facing federal corruption charges and not seeking reelection, both Democrat Laura Curran and Republican Jack Martins have made reform a central part of their platforms. Each candidate has spent over $1 million on attack ads, accusing each other of corruption in the final days before the general election.

Martins, a former three-term state senator, has criticized Curran for hiring BerlinRosen, a consulting firm with ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and said that Curran wants to allow New York City progressives to take over the Long Island county. Meanwhile, Curran, a county legislator, has tried to associate Martins with former Senator Majority Leader Skelos, who was convicted on corruption charges that were then overturned but will be retried in 2018, and Martins once supported.

Similar to the Westchester race, Democrats are seizing on growing antipathy towards the president with the hope of swaying Nassau’s slightly Democratic leaning electorate. Nassau often competes with Westchester for the distinction of highest taxed county, and property taxes have also dominated the discussion.

Cassandra Lems is running on the Green Party line.

Rensselaer County Executive
Democrat Andrea Smyth faces an uphill battle against GOP Assemblymember Steve McLaughlin for the open position of Rensselaer County Executive. The debates and campaigns have turned personal, with Smyth’s campaign highlighting leaked audio recordings of McLaughlin speaking abusively to female staff members. McLaughlin has accused his opponent of running a negative campaign.

The candidates are running to succeed Republican County Executive Kathleen Jimino, who is retiring after four four-year terms. The last four county executives have been Republicans, but some speculate that the controversies surrounding McLaughlin could turn the seat blue.

Both candidates have focused their platforms on infrastructure, particularly on rebuilding the area’s ailing water systems. While Smyth has expressed interest in exploring consolidation and cutting costs by creating service-sharing agreements between municipalities, McLaughlin has said he will be focused on ways to boost and develop the local economy.

Green Party candidate Wayne Foy is also on the ballot.

Syracuse Mayor
With Democratic Mayor Stephanie Miner term-limited, on Election Day Syracuse residents will choose between Democrat Juanita Perez Williams and Ben Walsh, who is running on the Reform Party, Independence Party, and Upstate Jobs Party lines.

Initially, Walsh was running on just two minor ballot lines, but he scored a small victory in the primary when he managed to snag the Independence line from Republican candidate Laura Lavine -- who trails far behind in polls -- with a concerted write-in campaign targeting those voters. The additional party line will allow Walsh to appear higher on the ballot.

A recent Siena College poll shows Walsh leading Perez Williams by just two points, within the margin of error, and despite calls for party unity, Democrats are apparently divided between the two candidates.

Walsh, who previously served as economic development director for Mayor Miner, has been leading his opponent in fundraising, gaining support from influential real estate interests, and has garnered several endorsements from local Democrats breaking with the party. Meanwhile, Perez Williams, a lawyer and navy veteran, has drawn financial support from the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic Party, as well as endorsements from numerous top state and national Democratic officials including Governor Andrew Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, the mayors of Ithaca, Buffalo, and Rochester, and, most recently, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Both candidates have previously worked for the city and would make history if elected. Perez Williams would be the first Latina elected mayor of Syracuse and Walsh would be Syracuse's first mayor not affiliated with a major political party.

Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins is also seeking the seat. Joe Nicoletti, who has endorsed Perez Williams in the general, is still running on the Working Families Party line though he has reportedly stopped campaigning.

Erie County Clerk
Former journalist Steve Cichon and state Assemblymember Mickey Kearns are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the competitive race for Erie County Clerk, a seat left vacant by Senator Chris Jacobs earlier this year. Upstate, county clerks are the second most important county-wide elected position, after county executive, and are responsible for running local elections, issuing licences, and maintaining public records.

In Erie County, party affiliation can get complicated. Despite Democrats holding a lead of a nearly 135,000 voters over Republicans in Erie County, Republicans have a tight grip on many county-wide elected positions. Voter turnout tends to be lower in the heavily Democratic city of Buffalo, while Republican candidates often draw deep-pocketed donors from the more affluent and politically moderate suburban areas.

Kearns is a registered Democrat, but has disappointed Democratic leaders with some of his more conservative positions, such as his stances on women’s rights and abortion, and is running on the Republican line. Kearns touts his record of standing up against corruption; he was the first in the Assembly to call for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to resign amid 2013 sexual harassment scandals and temporarily broke from his conference.

Meanwhile, Cichon, who has received financial backing from the county Democratic Party, was a Republican while working as news director at WBEN, but is now running on the Democratic line. As someone who has not been a politician before, he says he hopes he can bring civility and common sense to the administrative position.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 6

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Election Day is Tuesday! Be ready to vote -- both for candidates and on the three back-of-ballot "yes" or "no" questions. Use the Gotham Gazette-WNYC-City Limits voter guide; read up on the three ballot questions; and take a look at 10 Races & More to Watch. Find all of our election coverage, including links to our Max & Murphy Podcast episodes, here.

There's a few other events this week, including Mayor de Blasio giving a speech Monday morning at the Association for a Better New York, and there will be a lot of get-out-the-vote efforts all over the city and beyond -- see our day-by-day rundown below, and stay tuned to Gotham Gazette for your election results and analysis on Tuesday and beyond.

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

The run of the week in detail:

At 8 a.m. Monday, Mayor de Blasio will be the featured speaker at the Association for a Better New York’s latest “power breakfast,” at the Hilton Hotel in Midtown. At 10:30 a.m. at City Hall, “the Mayor and First Lady McCray will hold a public hearing and sign Intro.1313-A, which creates Paid Safe Leave.” At 11:30 a.m. at West Street and Vestry Street, “the Mayor, First Lady and President Mauricio Macri of Argentina will attend a tribute for victims of the Tribeca terrorist attack.”

At 8:30 a.m. Monday, the New York City Special Education Collaborate will host “Addressing Disproportionality: Equity, Access & Culturally Responsive Education” at the New York Academy of Medicine. Topics explored will include “the root causes of disproportionality, classroom inequity, culturally responsive education, curriculum redesign, intersectionality, and more.”

On Monday at 10 a.m. at City Hall, "Congresswoman Grace Meng, Public Advocate Letitia James, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will join Council Member Helen Rosenthal and the City Council Women’s Caucus in commemorating the one-hundredth anniversary of women's suffrage in New York State." Other elected officials and advocates will also participate.

At 11 a.m. Monday, women leaders who support the constitutional convention will gather at the steps of City Hall to call for a con con and discuss its potential benefits. Participants include State Senator Liz Krueger and Citizens Union Executive Director Betsy Gotbaum.

At 11:30 a.m. Monday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will preside over the launch of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Woman Suffrage Movement Monument in Central Park’s Mall.

At 1 p.m. Monday, Writers Guild of America East will hold a rally on the City Hall steps in support of the employees of DNAinfo and Gothamist, who were laid off after the websites were shut down, a week after the employees voted to unionize.

At 4 p.m. Monday, Assemblymember Robert Carroll will hold a rally in front of the New York City Board of Elections to drum up support for his Young Voter Act, which would lower the voting age to 17 in state and local elections.

At 6 p.m. in Albany, the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice will host a “community conversation on bail” at the Capital South Campus Center.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host “Women’s Suffrage Turns 100: Reshaping Politics.” The BHS’s Julie Golia will lead a conversation on how women in government are changing legislative priorities with Christine Quinn, former Council Speaker and mayoral candidate, and A’Shanti Gholar, Political Director at Emerge America.

Tuesday is Election Day. New Yorkers can head to the polls to vote for Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, City Council, Borough President, Manhattan and Brooklyn District Attorneys, and other offices.

At the City Council on Wednesday: the Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss several proposed laws relating to co-op housing.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a public board meeting at Bronx Community College.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host “Women’s Suffrage Turns 100!: The ‘Nasty Woman’ Stigma,” discussing the prevailing perceptions women have to face in politics and other fields. BHS’ Julie Golia will lead a conversation with Joan Malin, former President of Planned Parenthood NYC; Allison K. Lange, historian of women and gender; and Jamia Wilson, Publisher of Feminist Press.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute will host “Food Policy in New York City Since 2007: Lessons for the Next Decade” as part of its Urban Food Policy Forum series. The event will take place at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.

At 4 p.m. Thursday, the state Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation will meet at the Wayne Central School District Performing Arts Center in Ontario, Ontario County “to hear from stakeholders on the implementation of Plan 2014.”

Friday and the weekend
At 3 p.m. Sunday, leaders including Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and former gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout will gather at Lehman College’s Music Building to discuss the ways that the Independent Democratic Caucus supposedly blocks progressive legislation from being passed in New York. The event will take place in IDC leader Jeff Klein’s district.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

Departure of Assembly Ethics Official Prompts Calls for Broader Reforms

Carl Heastie Assembly

Carl Heastie (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

When ethics expert Jane Feldman’s departure from the New York State Assembly, and her appraisal of the experience as “as waste of money,” was first reported by the Times Union last week, many saw it as another blow to reform efforts in Albany.

Feldman told the outlet she she “didn’t do anything” and called her hiring as executive director of the Office of Ethics and Compliance in September 2015 a “P.R. move.” The office itself, according to Feldman, was a windowless space on the ninth floor of the Legislative Office Building with airflow problems that had been carved out of a larger conference room.

Two years ago, the office was created by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie as part of the newly-selected speaker’s larger commitment to introduce more ethics and transparency measures to the 150-seat chamber. Promises were made, in part, to appease critics frustrated by the backroom speakership appointment process, and to signal a new era after that of infamous former Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Heastie, a representative of the Bronx, created a working group on rules reform, led by Assemblymembers Brian Kavanagh, of Manhattan, and Gary Pretlow, of Mount Vernon, and vowed to choose an “independent” advisor who could offer guidance to members and offer suggestions for improving Assembly processes. Feldman, who previously headed the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission for six years, was chosen by a six-person team following a nationwide search, and was seen as a fresh and independent perspective, someone from outside Albany’s long-standing and secretive power structures.

But during her two years in Albany, Feldman says she rarely spoke to Heastie and found even members who were interested in reforming the Albany process rebuffed her suggestions.

"There are so many things that are so entrenched,” said Feldman, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “There are a lot of good members who I think want to see ethics reforms, but when I would tell them how other states do things, the attitude was, 'well, that would never work here.'"

Heastie’s office chalked up her experience to a misunderstanding about the job description, saying in a statement, “there was a disconnect between our expectations for the office and this individual’s view of her responsibilities.”

But good government watchdogs say the larger problem is that no in-house advisor could make much of a dent in Albany’s ways, including how the legislative houses operate, the loophole-riddled campaign finance system, an opaque budget negotiation process, and flawed oversight structures.

“Internal oversight is sort of an oxymoron,” said New York Public Interest Group’s Blair Horner. “The fundamental problem is you can’t really self-regulate when it comes to ethics. It’s like self-policing. An honor system only works for the honorable.”

While it might have been helpful to have a person for members to go to for advice, Feldman’s described duties essentially duplicated the role of the Legislative Ethic Commission (LEC), a bi-partisan entity comprised of senators, Assembly members, and outside experts that provides advice to lawmakers on outside income, fundraising, and other conflict of interest queries. In at least one instance, this created a conflict, when the LEC offered one lawmaker different advice than Feldman did about whether the lawmaker could accept a speaking engagement, Feldman told the Times Union.

It would be difficult to reconcile the two interpretations of the law given that opinions produced by the LEC are not made available to the public, and even Feldman said she could not access them. Legislative ethics advisory bodies in other states all make their opinions available to the public, and some of them even tweet out their opinions, she noted.

Even the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which acts in an advisory role for the executive branch, and its predecessor agencies have made opinions public and publishes a bulk of information online.

By many accounts, the Assembly has become more democratic under Heastie. The majority Democratic conference is consulted more frequently during budget negotiations, leadership opportunities are created for new members, and more hearings for legislation are held. Silver’s extremely intense grip on power has been loosened by his successor. But these strides are “infinitesimally small compared to the needs of the state, which is for radical overhaul of ethics oversight in New York,” according to Horner. “To have an office in the Assembly -- even if it doesn’t have any windows -- to sort of generate recommendations and answers to people’s questions is sort of in the chicken soup category. It doesn’t deal with the cancer of corruption that has plagued the Capitol.”

John Kaehny, executive director of ReInvent Albany, said that the biggest problem plaguing state government is its rampant pay-to-play culture. But while the overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly has repeatedly passed legislation that would curb the notorious LLC loophole, which allows wealthy interests to attempt to influence lawmakers with virtually unlimited campaign donations, the bill has been blocked from consideration in the Republican-controlled Senate. Other efforts at campaign finance reform, including instituting lower caps on individual donations and a public-matching system, have also stalled.

“If it were up to the Assembly, they would probably pass a New York City-style small donor matching campaign finance system, but that’s not the law, and they have to exist within a system that is really corrupt and just a complete swamp of money,” said Kaehny. “So the question of what exactly Jane Feldman was supposed to do is a little elusive.”

When Heastie announced a 2016 ethics reform package -- which included a bill limiting outside income for lawmakers and closure of the LLC loophole -- Feldman said she learned about it viewing the roll-out on T.V., and it became obvious that the job was not as she felt it had been described to her during interviews with the search committee and with the Speaker.

In a statement, Heastie spokesperson Mike Whyland said, “the office was created as a training and expertise resource for members and staff and independent of the Speaker’s office. It was never meant as a position that would craft policy and take part in negotiations, something that would obviously compromise the independent nature of the office. This is an independent, bipartisan office that serves both the majority and the minority and thus has no responsibilities to negotiate laws.”

According to Heastie's own press release, the Feldman was supposed to be involved in "reviewing best practices in legislative ethics to make recommendations for improvements." 

But Feldman said the Assembly was resistant to changes as small as publicizing on its website the times that it would go into legislative session. She said she was told that the parties go into conference so it was impossible to predict. “To me this is kind of archaic, but the way members learned what time session would be, is they would get a phone call that said ‘session is going to be at 11.’”

“I was told many times by people that I saw my job as much more important than it was intended to be,” said Feldman.

In 2015, good government groups sent a series of proposals to Kavanaugh and Pretlow for how the Assembly rules could be improved. The letter, signed by Common Cause, Citizens Union, NYPIRG, ReInvent Albany, and the Brennan Center for Justice, recommended that rank-and-file members be able to independently bring legislation with majority support to the floor -- even over objection of leadership -- that allocation of resources be more equitably distributed among members, as well as other transparency and efficiency measures.

“There was resistance to our recommendations, because they didn’t like anything that encroaches on the power of the speaker,” said Horner. “They did make some changes, but I still think there’s a long way to go.”

The working group was criticized for not holding any public hearings and for failing to include input from members of the minority conference, but it did produce a lengthy list of recommendations. The fixes were technological and procedural, with an eye on more transparency and communication, such as ensuring wi-fi service throughout the Assembly chamber, increased use of text alerts for staff and members, improvements to the Assembly legislation database, and livestreaming more committee meetings. There were a handful of notable changes to the committee process, such as one that would allow all members five opportunities to force a bill to be voted on in committee.

“I think there were 90 suggestions that we made, some of them take a longer time than others to be addressed, and most of them were accepted by the speaker,” said Pretlow.

But helping to craft the Assembly’s internal rules reform also, apparently, did not fall under Feldman’s purview. Pretlow said Feldman was not at all involved, adding that he did not interact with her during her time in Albany. Feldman, in an email, clarified that the working group met and had decided on recommendations shortly before she arrived in Albany.

Whyland did not respond to a request for comment on whether any candidates have emerged to replace Feldman or whether the role would be redefined, but he told the Times Union that the Assembly is looking to fill her former post with "someone who understands New York law, truly grasps the serious responsibilities of the office and its independent and bipartisan nature, and is willing to carry out its mission in full."

Clarification: The article has been updated to indicate that decisions about rules reform in the Assembly were made prior to Feldman's arrival.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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What's The [DATA] Point? 348 and 74

whats the data point

What's The Data Point? Episode 18 -- 348 and 74 [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

348 74 277

This week's data points are 348 and 74 as we bring you a two-part show, each featuring the author of a new CBC report out this week.

348 is the number of Local Development Corporations and Industrial Development Agencies in New York State. These corporations, created by local governments throughout the state, are intended to help spur economic development. But, are they effective? Riley Edwards, the principal author of "Opaque and Duplicative - Local Economic Development in New York State" discusses.

Then: 74 is the number of Business Improvement Districts in New York City. Are BIDs effective? Are they transparent? Tim Sullivan, author of CBC report "BIDS - Oversight, Organization and Transparency" discusses.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Carol Kellerman of CBC (@cbcny), and guests Riley Edwards and Tim Sullivan of CBC. Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Amid Larger Moment, Will Albany Face Another Sexual Misconduct Reckoning?

Cuomo Sheldon Silver Skelos Albany

Gov. Cuomo, Sheldon Silver & Dean Skelos in 2012 (photo via The Governor's Office)

As allegations of sexual harassment and assault against disgraced movie producer and major Democratic political donor Harvey Weinstein piled up earlier this month, women around the world took to social media to share stories of abusive behavior using the hashtag #MeToo.

The light being shone on the predatory behavior of Weinstein and many others resonated at statehouses across the United States, from California to Rhode Island, where women in politics have been speaking out about sexual misconduct they experienced first-hand or witnessed, with victims including legislators, young staffers and interns, lobbyists, and others.

In New York’s capital, the response has been more muted, in part because the Legislature is not currently in session, but also because Albany was recently forced to face its own mishandling of sexual misconduct scandals. As recently as 2014, the aftermath of a debacle around sexual harassment by Assemblymember Vito Lopez, which led to his forced resignation from the Assembly, produced a number of significant reforms to how harassment, misconduct, and discriminatory behavior are addressed in the state Assembly.

Now, three years later and amid a national reckoning with issues related to sexual misconduct, women in state government who spoke to Gotham Gazette noted an improvement in the Albany culture since these reforms, but say that sexist attitudes and behavior continue to plague New York state government.

While several female legislators were hesitant to speak on the record about their own experiences with sexual harassment, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa spoke frankly about her own experiences with sexism in the political sphere at a recent forum organized by Berkeley College in Manhattan. She described one incident, a decade ago, when on a conference call, it was announced that she would take the lead on a project. A man on the line, who is now a national leader in progressive politics, according to DeRosa, joked, “She can take the lead right up to my hotel room,” apparently unaware that DeRosa was on the line.

“These instances have stuck with me, but I'm not kidding myself and neither should you — many women have and still do experience far worse every day, and it's not just actresses you're reading about in the news this week,” she said, according to a transcript distributed by the governor’s office.

Calling for “societal course correction,” DeRosa encouraged young women in all industries to speak out.

The statement was a powerful one coming from DeRosa, who at 34 became the youngest person and first woman to be named Secretary to the Governor, the top aide to the state’s most powerful government official, when she was appointed to the post by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Days after DeRosa’s remarks, a former top official in Cuomo’s administration came forward with allegations that her former boss sexually harassed staffers, saying she was inspired by DeRosa’s remarks, according to The New York Post.

Patricia Gunning, who had recently resigned as the special prosecutor/inspector general of the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, told The Post that she faced retaliatory violence for calling out her boss for his behavior.

“My hope is that this conversation will be the beginning of a new era in [how] these issues are addressed by employers,” Gunning told The Post.

On Monday, it was revealed that Sam Hoyt, a former assemblyman and Cuomo ally who ran Buffalo area projects for the state's Empire State Development Corporation, had abruptly resigned to take a job in the private sector. By Tuesday afternoon, Hoyt, who was disciplined by the Assembly in 2009 for an affair with 19-year-old intern, was accused by a former state employee of pressuring her into a romantic relationship. She told The Buffalo News that she was paid $50,000 for her silence.

In a statementCuomo spokesperson Dani Lever acknowledged that allegations of misconduct had emerged against Hoyt and that an investigation was underway.

"All state employees must act with integrity and respect," the statement read. "When the complainant made these allegations, they were immediately refered to the  Governor's Office of Employee Relations (GOER) for an investigation."

After GOER determined there were grounds for further review, the matter was referred to the Inspector General's Office, and later, the Joint Commission of Public Ethics (JCOPE), according to the statement. Hoyt maintains that the relationship was consentual, according to The Buffalo News.

But while to this point there has not been a new public outcry at the New York Legislature, female lawmakers say that the Weinstein scandal and its fallout have struck a chord and sparked private conversations about their early experiences in Albany and how they can best aid young female staff aides and legislators.

One such conversation occurred at a retreat for the Women’s Legislative Caucus in Saratoga two weeks ago, where women shared uncomfortable incidents they had experienced early in their careers and discussed how they could better unify when scandals occur, according to Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo area lawmaker who chairs the Women’s Caucus. One thing agreed upon, Peoples-Stokes said, was that the Assembly’s sexual harassment enforcement could be enhanced by a mentorship program for incoming members and their aides.

“We wanted to see if there is anything we can do in addition to ensure that we never need to have these experiences again,” said Peoples-Stokes. “It is something that we decided we are going to do as women of the Legislature, and you know, when women decide to do something, we get it done.”

While the Assembly reforms appear to have improved the culture in the 150-seat chamber, Albany’s sexual harassment problem has not disappeared. The Senate and the Assembly have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past two years on outside counsel to investigate sexual harassment complaints. The Assembly’s ethics committee -- which exists solely to enforce policy on sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation -- convened a meeting in executive session on October 12 and is expected to meet again on November 2. The matter at hand is not clear.

Currently reported to be under investigation by JCOPE and the Erie County District Attorney’s office is Senator Marc Panepinto, a Democrat from Buffalo, who announced he would not seek reelection last year amid rumors of sexual harassment. Also last year, the Senate paid out $121,000 for two contracts with Kraus & Zuchlewski LLP “for legal counsel related to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission matters and investigation of sexual harassment claims.”

Assembly members who spoke with Gotham Gazette acknowledged the body’s embarrassing history of dismissing sexual misconduct claims internally, which has led to a slew of unflattering headlines in 2012 and 2013, but noted that an influx of female legislators to the Assembly in recent years has also helped to reshape the culture. At the Senate, such scandals and its culture of protecting those in power has not drawn the same scrutiny.

Last week, New York’s chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) made an effort to further jumpstart the conversation, calling on women and men who currently or previously work(ed) in government in Albany and throughout the state to speak out about their personal experiences with sexual harassment or assault while on the job, citing the Legislature’s history of quashing sexual harassment complaints.

“Government sets the standard and the policies and the laws that all other industries are asked to uphold,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women - New York, said in a statement. “Given that Albany is a place where lawmakers have abused their power and sexual harassment has gone unchecked in the past, we felt it was important to give women in politics a platform to speak up.”

The women’s advocacy organization has announced the creation of a new, dedicated hotline for individuals in government to report their experiences (people can call 518-362-7857 or submit a story online at nownys.org).

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Ossorio said the goal is to build on the momentum of the #MeToo movement. The hotline will provide independent counsel and resources to victims while also assessing how effective recent policies have been, she said.

“We immediately thought about the culture that has existed in Albany and we wanted to be able to empower women who work in politics, particularly young women and interns who head to their internships idealistic and wanting to be part of American government and are disillusioned by it,” she said. “We really want to know to what degree the environment of sexual harassment has been uprooted.”

The personal stories tumbling out of statehouses around the nation are eerily familiar to anyone who has closely watched New York state government in recent years. In California, women leaders in government have formed a campaign called “We Said Enough,” sharing stories about how they have endured groping, inappropriate comments about their bodies and abilities, and insults and jokes that diminish them professionally. In some cases, “men have made promises, or threats, about our jobs in exchange for our compliance, or our silence. They have leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like,” wrote the group on a website created for women to submit their stories.

An open letter circulated by members of the Illinois Legislature drew a direct comparison between the Weinstein scandal and the coercive situations in which women in government find themselves and had drawn 130 signatures by Tuesday afternoon, the AP reported.

"Every industry has its own version of the casting couch," reads the letter. "Ask any woman who has lobbied the halls of the Capitol, staffed Council Chambers, or slogged through brutal hours on the campaign trail. Misogyny is alive and well in this industry."

Albany, which has historically been referred to as the New York’s own “sin city,” is no stranger to such scandals. Repeatedly, a series of particularly egregious complaints of sexual harassment or rape has led the Legislature to a watershed moment of sorts, producing much-needed reform in how accusers are treated and how their complaints are handled.

A major turning point for the Assembly occurred in 2004, when, roiling from a series of rape accusations against Assemblymember Adam Clayton Powell IV and Michael Boxley, chief counsel to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, its leadership decided to bar members of the Legislature from fraternizing with interns.

In the state Senate, a somewhat similar soul-searching happened, but at the time many of its members were strongly opposed to the idea of an intern-fraternization ban.

In comparison to the 150-seat Assembly, sex scandals in the 63-seat Senate have unfolded more discreetly -- hinted at through money spent on lawyers or a senator or a top aide leaving the job abruptly amid rumors -- and as a result the body’s leadership has not been forced to publicly reckon with its record in the same way, according to Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who was instrumental in compelling the Senate to implement a mandatory sexual harassment training program.

A decade ago, Krueger said she was privy to two incidents involving interns who were molested by older male senators. One incident occurred in a packed elevator and Krueger famously threatened to kick the senator if he touched an intern again. The other time she learned of a sexual assault claim when she found a young staffer crying outside a senator’s office at the Capitol.

After the second incident, Krueger, who is known for her bluntness on the topic, said she urged then-Senate Leader Joe Bruno, a Republican from the Capital Region, to create mandatory sexual harassment training for all senators. When she threatened to hold a press conference naming and shaming the offending senators, Bruno, who later stepped down from the leadership role amid his own public corruption scandal, responded he would hold a competing press conference naming Democratic senators.

The way Krueger tells it, she said, “I didn't tell you [what] party this senator is in. I don't give a damn what party they are. We can do a joint press conference, and we all can name names. I don't give a [expletive].” To which Bruno responded, “OK, OK, we'll do mandatory sexual harassment training,” Krueger told The Albany Times Union.

The training became mandatory for senators and staff members and the regulations were clearly stated in a written document.

It was not the last time Krueger took her colleagues in the Legislature to task over crimes against women. In June 2003, when Boxley was led out of the Capitol in handcuffs, having been accused of rape for the second time, Krueger said she had a very public confrontation with Assemblymember Lopez, who a decade later would be toppled by his own slew of sexual harassment scandals. They were scheduled, coincidentally, to hold a joint press conference in front of the Legislative Correspondents Association office. According to Krueger, the Assembly member fumed, “How dare they come over here and arrest our counsel in our house?”

“I said ‘excuse me, he was tried with rape,’ pause, ‘for the second time,’ pause,” Krueger recalled to Gotham Gazette, “‘It seems to me that if you have anything to say publicly about this, it's let justice be fair and swift. Otherwise, I think you should keep your mouth shut.'”

Lopez’s Assembly colleagues later told her that she had made an enemy for life. “I said, ‘Good. Some enemies are worth having,’” said Krueger of the former Brooklyn Democratic boss, who lost a City Council race in 2013 and died in November 2015.

Still, Krueger acknowledges that the current sexual harassment policy in the Senate does not encourage women to come forward. “I’d like to believe the written policies the Senate came up with and mandatory training might have helped in some small way,” she told Gotham Gazette last week.

In 2014, following a series of sexual misconduct scandals involving Lopez, Assemblymember Micah Kellner, and Assemblymember Dennis Gabryszak, the Assembly officially changed its policy on sexual harassment, which had last been updated in 2009. In the past, sexual harassment complainants would typically report the incidents to the speaker’s office or the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), but it was up to the discretion of the speaker’s counsel whether to investigate the complaints.

When it was revealed that Speaker Silver did not follow protocol and report misconduct allegations by two staff members against Assemblymember Lopez to the ethics body, instead cutting a secret $103,000 settlement with the women, Silver publically apologized for the lapse and announced that the Assembly would review its practices.

To help restructure the chamber’s sexual harassment policy, the Assembly’s ethics committee enlisted CUNY Law School Professor Merrick Rossein, an attorney, law professor, and expert in discrimination litigation. Through interviews with women in the Assembly, Rossein made a series of recommendations to the bipartisan legislative task force that was convened to address deficiencies in the Assembly’s policy.

“There are a number of things in this policy that I’m very proud of that I’d like to see in every sexual harassment policy, including the private sector,” said Rossein, who has since been retained by the Assembly as an outside counsel to investigate complaints against members, in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

Recommendations made by Rossein include the appointment of an outside investigator to look into complaints; a guarantee of confidentiality for accusers; severe consequences for an employer that retaliates against a complainant; and more. Most importantly, a lawmaker accused of harassment is barred from talking to the accuser until a designated time. Additionally, lawmakers were made mandatory reporters, required to inform the ethics committee about sexual misconduct if they see it or hear about it -- a component women say has had a dramatic impact on the culture in Albany. A hotline has been set up for people to submit tips.

The Assembly policy outlines two types of harassment, hostile work environment harassment — which is directed at somebody based on their sex, would be considered offensive by a reasonable person, and is severe or pervasive enough to interfere with one’s work environment — and quid-pro-quo harassment, the type described by victims of Weinstein, in which professional opportunities are offered in exchange for sexual favors.

In response to the barrage of corruption and sexual harassment scandals over the last decade, the Legislature has also dramatically revamped the way it approaches its ethics and sexual harassment training, according to Assemblymember Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Nassau County and former chair of the Assembly’s ethics committee. Not only are class sizes smaller, according to Lavine, but they have gone from obligatory and dry, to dynamic, thought-provoking, and interactive.

“We have gone from the days when it was almost an obligation to provide -- or what seemed to be at the time -- ethics training that was done in large groups of people,” said Lavine in a January interview with Gotham Gazette. “And while it was content-specific and good, it was not nearly so effective as the modern approach, which is to work with smaller groups of individuals in an interactive environment.”

Still, there is undoubtedly more work to be done to rectify inequities for women and in Albany. It likely doesn’t help that those at the top of Albany’s power chain are all men. Many have pushed for Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County legislator who has led Senate Democrats since 2012 and is the first woman or person of color to lead a legislative conference, to be included at the negotiating table during budget and other high-level talks. Currently, the state’s $150 billion-plus budget is largely hammered out by four men: Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which forms a ruling coalition with the Republican conference. Democrats hope that the 2018 state-level elections and an agreement with the IDC will lead to Stewart-Cousins becoming the leader of a new Senate majority.

Having more women in the Legislature would go a long way towards creating a safer space for female employees at all levels of government, according to Stewart-Cousins.

“The most disturbing thing is that almost every woman has a story regarding harassment or worse,” said Stewart-Cousins, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “This is true in every walk of life and unfortunately true in government. Only by confronting sexism and gender bias head-on will we be able to truly create a culture which respects everyone equally. We need to support women and pro-women candidates for office and energize pro-women New Yorkers to get out and vote.”

An increase in the number of women in Albany has helped reshape the culture from an old boys' club, in which women were largely relegated to secretarial positions, to a more egalitarian environment, where women are not only elected to office, but have risen to acquire key chair positions in both houses and led the passage of women-friendly legislation.

Assemblymember Nily Rozic, who became the youngest woman in the state Legislature and the first woman ever to represent Queens’ 25th District when she was elected in 2012, said she has watched the culture transform since she began her tenure in Albany as an aide to Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh.

“It’s certainly gotten better since I was a legislative staffer, but we have a long way to go. The underlying change that’s happening is that more women are getting elected to the Legislature and that really positively affects our work place,” said Rozic.

Aside from the most serious cases of sexual assault and rape, it’s often sexual comments and diminishing jokes -- such as the one described by DeRosa -- or an extra-long hug that makes the state Legislature a treacherous place for young women.

Alexis Grenell, a political strategist and commentator on feminist issues, said the comment described by DeRosa is a quintessential example of how women are verbally undermined in the workplace.

“The harassment that Melissa described is fundamentally dehumanizing,” said Grenell. “There is nothing benign about it. It’s meant to take away her worth as a thinking, contributing person in a professional environment and renders her the sum total of her physicality and sex appeal. That is dehumanizing. It’s not why she’s on the call.”

Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, recalled her first years as a legislative staffer in Washington, D.C. and as chief of staff to Assemblymember Ron Kim, of Queens. She said that when she first arrived in Albany, Kim warned her not to get into elevators with “the wrong people.” Later, she learned that she had been named on a “hot or not” list that had been circulating among male staffers at the Legislature.

“People would stop me in the hallway and say ‘you are just so exotic,’ but you know I’m not going to report them for it,” said Niou, who was elected to Silver’s old Assembly seat in 2016. “It’s just an ignorant and not very thoughtful comment.”

These types of incidents collectively create a hostile environment that women internalize and come to see as normal, she said.

“Over time, I’ve built this protective shell, like ‘oh these things are just going to bounce right off of me,’ but these things happen every day,” said Niou. “Somebody insists a kiss on the cheek -- like forces it -- but everyone kisses on the cheek, all over Albany people do the kiss-kiss thing.”

The cheek kiss, which is often reserved for women in political settings, falls into a bit of a grey area, but many women in government have observed the greeting often provides an opportunity for hands to roam. The Assembly’s newest sexual harassment policy warns that touching -- including brushing against the body, squeezing, hugging, massaging or patting -- may fall under the category of sexual harassment, but that has not ended the practice.

Grenell, who frequently holds press conferences at the Capitol, said to bypass the double kiss, she initiates a handshake by extending her arm as far away from her body as possible.

A similar strategy is deployed by one Pennsylvania lawmaker, who at a recent women-led panel in the state, explained how she avoids the cheek kiss -- by placing one hand on her colleague’s shoulder, and the other outstretched for a handshake, according to an account by a journalist covering the Harrisburg Capitol in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Albany veterans say they have grown accustomed to awkward and demeaning daily experiences.

"I've been saying for the last 15 years: Every week, I drive three hours north and 30 years back in history in regards to how we treat women," said Senator Krueger, of Manhattan.

With women across all industries, including government, empowered by the Weinstein blowup and its ripples to speak out about their experiences, Krueger said she would not be surprised if it led to another watershed moment in Albany.

“I would suspect in the New York State Legislature, like so many other places -- where you have men in powerful positions and young women who might not have a lot of worldly experience, who think these are very important men,” she said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if more stories come out.”

Update: The story has been updated with allegations about former EDC official Sam Hoyt that emerged Tuesday afternoon.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 30

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

The big event this week will be Wednesday night’s mayoral debate, the second of two televised debates ahead of Election Day, November 7. Mayor Bill de Blasio, the incumbent Democrat; Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, the Republican nominee; and Bo Dietl, running on his own independent line, have been invited to participate. [This section of our article has been updated to reflect that CBS decided to invite Bo Dietl to participate in the debate (de Blasio and Malliotakis were guaranteed entrance given their fundraising numbers and participation in the public matching system.]

Meanwhile, of the four other candidates who will be on the mayoral ballot, two -- Sal Albanese, the Reform Party nominee, and Mike Tolkin, running on his own independent line -- are suing to be included in the debate. Tolkin met the financial requirements to be included in the first general election debate but was not invited by the lead sponsor, NY1. The other two mayoral candidates are Green Party nominee Akeem Browder and Libertarian nominee Aaron Commey.

De Blasio will kick off the week with a morning campaign announcement with Senator Charles Schumer and an evening campaign rally with Senator Bernie Sanders, both in Manhattan. On the government side of things, de Blasio is hosting a town hall on Thursday night in Queens and he has several events on Monday.

Much attention at the start of the week is being paid to the testimony of Jona Rechnitz, a cooperating witness in a federal corruption case against former correction officers union president Norman Seabrook who was also a major donor to de Blasio and has claimed a startling level of access to the mayor and his administration. De Blasio fielded press questions about Rechnitz’s testimony on both Saturday and Sunday, dismissing allegations as lies, old news, and not what New Yorkers really care about.

While there are many events to be aware of listed below, of special note are a City Council oversight hearing on Monday dealing with school bullying and the first public forum of the hopefuls vying to be the next City Council Speaker. Monday is a very busy day of Council committee hearings ahead of Tuesday’s “Stated meeting” where the full Council votes through bills that have passed committee and sees new bills introduced. See below for much more.

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

The run of the week in detail:

At 9:15 a.m. Monday, Mayor de Blasio and Senator Schumer will make a campaign announcement at Grand Central Terminal.

On Monday at 10 a.m., "Mayor de Blasio will deliver remarks at Know Your Value Conference with Mika Brzezinski." At 11 a.m. de Blasio and Senator Bernie Sanders will take a subway ride together, then hold a press conference about de Blasio's millionaire's tax proposal. At 4:30 p.m. "the Mayor will deliver remarks at a Local 3 IBEW rally for a fair contract" (City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will also deliver remarks at the rally). And at 8:30 p.m., "the Mayor will deliver remarks at the 50th anniversary of the annual Restore Brooklyn benefit."

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on Public Safety will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “requiring the police department to disclose gun violence information to applicants for firearm licenses and permits,” as well as to discuss resolutions urging Congress to oppose two pieces of legislation involving firearms, one eliminating a tax on silencers and the other allowing someone with a concealed carry permit to carry in another state regardless of licensing requirements.
--The Committees on Women’s Issues and General Welfare will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “HRA’s system of domestic violence shelters,” as well as to discuss a proposed law relating to “exits from domestic violence emergency shelters.”
--The Committee on Education will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “DOE’s Response to Incidents of Bullying, Harassment, and Discrimination in NYC Schools and Efforts to Improve School Climate,” as well as to discuss a proposed law relating to “requiring the department of education to list on its website the name and contact information of the designated respect for all liaison at each school.” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will deliver opening remarks.
--The Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services will meet at 11 a.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “requiring the board of correction and the commissioners of the department of correction and department of investigation to submit quarterly reports regarding the investigations of excessive use of force by correction officers on inmates.”
--The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 12:30 p.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “security cameras and security guards at certain eating or drinking establishments and repealing subchapter 20 of title 20 of such code, relating to licensing public dance halls, cabarets and catering establishments.”
--The Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss the renaming of “70 thoroughfares and public places.”
--The Committee on Immigration will meet at 1:30 p.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to “persons not to be detained by the department of probation” and “federal immigration enforcement,” as well as a resolution calling upon the federal government to extend Temporary Protected Status for 10 countries.
--The Committee on Environmental Protection will meet at 2 p.m. to discuss several proposed laws relating to the sewage system and fire hydrants.
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 2:30 p.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to Buildings Department inspectors and to “requiring the department of buildings to report on site safety managers and coordinators.”

At 10 a.m. Monday, First Lady Chirlane McCray will attend a ceremony with Health Commissioner Mary Bassett and National Institute for Reproductive Health President Andrea Miller, honoring New York City for being one of the NIRH’s top cities in America for reproductive rights.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will release the Comptroller’s Annual Wall Street Report, “on the profitability of New York City’s securities industry,” and hold a press conference call.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday at 633 3rd Avenue, “Reform Party Mayoral candidate Sal Albanese will hold a press conference outside Governor Cuomo’s midtown Manhattan office to call on him to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Mayor de Blasio’s corrupt administration.”

At 11 a.m. Monday, the Assembly Standing Committees on Health and Correction will meet jointly in Albany for a public hearing on “healthcare in New York correctional facilities.”

At 11 a.m. Monday at City Hall, "New York City Council Members and environmental justice advocates will gather...to call on Mayor de Blasio to implement a stronger energy efficiency policy that will require building owners to reduce all types of energy usage, including electricity, not just fossil fuels, while protecting affordable housing and protecting good union jobs." Participants will include City Council Members Ben Kallos, Margaret Chin, Bill Perkins, Antonio Reynoso, and others; leaders of ALIGN and the Climate Works for All coalition, and others.

At 11 a.m. Monday, City Council Member Costa Constantinides will hold a press conference at 22-52 23rd St. in Astoria, Queens to announce the introduction of a bill to create a website for people to easily pay and inquire about property taxes.

At 6 p.m. Monday, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and the League of Women Voters (LWV) will co-host a workshop on the upcoming vote on whether to hold a state constitutional convention at the Albany Public Library. NYCLU is against the Con Con while LWV is for the Con Con. Erika Lorshbough, NYCLU’s Legislative Counsel, will discuss the downsides of a convention, while Laura Bierman, Executive Director of LWV, will speak to the upsides of a convention.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, the New York City Bar Association will host “Women of Color in State and Local Government,” a discussion with women of color working in city and state agencies about the challenges and opportunities that uniquely impact women of color in the political and government realm. Panelists include Shannon Manigault, Inspector General for the New York City Department of Investigation; Vilda Mayuga, Chair and Hearing Officer for the State Department of Labor’s Industrial Board of Appeals; Nneka Martin, Agency Attorney for the FDNY; and Archana Rao, Financial Frauds Bureau Chief at the Manhattan DA’s office. The panel will be moderated by S. Jeanine Conley of Littler Mendelson.

The Center for Popular Democracy is having it's gala Monday night, at which it is honoring City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Comptroller Scott Stringer is among those who will attend.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, NYCLU will host “Constitutional Crisis, Trump, and the ACLU” at the Fordham University School of Law, providing “legal analysis of the threats to democracy, civil rights and the rule of law posed by the Trump Administration and explain how the ACLU is fighting back.” Fordham Law professor Olivier Sylvain will moderate a panel consisting of NYCLU Legal Director David Cole and national ACLU Legal Director Art Eisenberg.

At 7 p.m. Monday, Mayor de Blasio will be joined by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for a campaign rally at Terminal 5 in Midtown West.

At 7 p.m. Monday, WNYC will host a live discussion on “Queens Machine” reporting by Brigid Bergin, discussing how the Queens Democratic Party operates. Dennis Walcott, the former schools chancellor and deputy mayor and current CEO of the Queens Library, will host a discussion at the Flushing Branch of the Queens Library on the history of political machines in New York City and the people who tried to take them down. Bergin and Fordham political science professor Dr. Christina Greer will be featured speakers.

Tuesday will mark one week until Election Day. Use our voter guide to see which races you'll be voting in and who the candidates are; find a collection of our election coverage here; read articles from us and our partners about Mayor de Blasio's record here; and listen to our election-focused podcast here.

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

Also at the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss the establishment of a BID in Morris Park, Bronx, as well as to discuss a resolution “approving the new designation and changes in the designation of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget.”
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 10 a.m.
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 10:30 a.m.

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

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Board of Standards and Appeals will hold a public hearing at Spector Hall.

Mayoral candidate Sal Albanese will be in federal court in Brooklyn Tuesday morning to attempt to obtain a court order that he is included in Wednesday’s night’s mayoral debate.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Crain’s will host a debate among the eight candidates for New York City Council Speaker at the New York Athletic Club in Midtown Manhattan. Crain’s Assistant Managing Editor Erik Engquist will moderate. The attending candidates will be: Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan; Ritchie Torres of the Bronx; Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens; and Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, City & State will host “On Immigration,” discussing “policy, management and leadership issues affecting New York's immigration efforts and program,” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City. City Comptroller Scott Stringer and city Small Business Services Commissioner Gregg Bishop will separately deliver keynote remarks. There will also be two panel discussions featuring government officials and advocates who will discuss how New York will move forward for DREAMers and the role immigrant-owned businesses play in the New York City economy.

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

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the New York Women’s Foundation will host “Women’s Leadership and the Lippman Commission” at Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work, discussing the “role of women’s leadership on the Commission and the work being done to help women entangled in the criminal justice system.” Event participants will include women who served on the Commission, including Margaret Egan, of CUNY; MaryAnne Gilmartin and Jane Marshall of Forest City New York; Insha Rahman, of the Vera Institute; Courtney Bryan of JPMorgan Chase; Dr. Althea Taylor, of the Hunter College School of Education; and Ana Oliveira, president the the NY Women’s Foundation.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, CBS will televise the second mayoral debate, including Democrat Bill de Blasio, Republican Nicole Malliotakis, and possibly others.

The Manhattan GOP will be holding a fundraiser/watch party at The Empire Steakhouse that Malliotakis will visit after the debate.

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

At 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Civic Hall will host a workshop on New York’s new paid family leave law. Molly Weston Williamson of a Better Balance will discuss the details of the law and how it could affect people’s lives.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, NYCLU and Citizen Action NY will host a workshop on New York’s new paid family leave law at the Albany Public Library.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will host a community forum on the East Harlem rezoning proposal at Taino Towers in her district.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village with City Council Member Barry Grodenchik, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, State Senator Leroy Comrie, and Assemblymember David Weprin.

Friday and the weekend
No events on our radar as of Sunday evening, but stay tuned!

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

City Council Members, with Notable Exceptions, Send Letter to MTA Supporting De Blasio Tax Plan

de Blasio subway tax

De Blasio on the train (Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

Amid an ongoing feud -- between the Mayor Bill de Blasio on one side and Governor Andrew Cuomo and the MTA on the other -- over funding for mass transit infrastructure in New York City, 27 New York City Council Members on Thursday announced support for the mayor’s proposal to tax wealthy New Yorkers to raise money for subway and bus improvements.

The mayor has pitched a tax increase on the top-most earners in the city as part of his “Fair Fix” plan, which would raise about $700 million in 2018 from 32,000 city residents, according to the de Blasio administration. That figure would rise to $820 million annually by 2022, according to city estimates, by increasing the highest income tax rate from 3.876 percent to 4.41 percent for individuals making more than $500,000 a year and couples making more than $1 million.

The revenue would be used for the subways and buses, but also to fund the “fair fares” plan to subsidize half-priced MetroCards for the city’s lowest-income residents, something de Blasio has expressed support for in principle, but refused to fund out of city budget money while saying it should be the responsibility of the state-controlled MTA.

More than half the 51-member City Council, including five of the seven members running to be the next speaker, backed the plan in a letter to MTA Chair Joe Lhota and the MTA board, on which the New York City Mayor has four appointees of the 14 seats (the Governor has a plurality of six and also appoints the chair). However, two leading speaker contenders did not sign, nor did current Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, though she has expressed support for de Blasio’s plan.

“It’s called the Fair Fix because rather than ask working New Yorkers already feeling the pressure of rising fares and bad service to foot the bill on their own, we are asking the millionaires and billionaires in our city to chip in a little extra to help move our transit system that helps make them some of the wealthiest people in the world,” reads the letter, which was sent out by Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer’s office. “This plan is the right approach and it must advance without delay.”

“We need more cost-effective capital construction for the MTA and must think of ways to generate more revenue for the exclusive purpose of bringing our mass transit system to the 21st-century,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the transportation committee, in a statement Thursday. “I am confident that Fair Fix, along with other plans proposed at the city and state levels, would raise desperately needed funds for a sustainable plan of improvements.”

Of the new revenue raised from the mayor’s proposal, $500 million would be dedicated each year to capital infrastructure improvements and the city estimates that it would allow them to borrow about $8 billion more for upgrades. At least $250 million would help provide half-price MetroCards for 800,000 low-income New Yorkers, which is based on the “Fair Fares” proposal created by a group of transit advocates who insisted that the city fund those MetroCards in the budget this year. De Blasio refused to add Fair Fares to the budget, even eschewing a smaller pilot proposal made by the City Council, but included it later in his tax increase proposal, insisting throughout that the state should bear the burden.

Any tax increases are seen as unlikely to move through Albany, especially during a state-level election year, which 2018 is, due to opposition from both Gov. Cuomo, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled state Senate. De Blasio and all 27 signers of the new letter are Democrats.

The 27 Council Members who support that notion include most of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, with a few notable exceptions. Speaker Mark-Viverito did not sign the letter, nor did Council Members Corey Johnson and Mark Levine, both of whom are prominent speaker candidates. Robin Levine, a spokesperson for Mark-Viverito, said in an email, “The MTA is in need of immediate fixing and the Speaker has long supported both the millionaire’s and commuter taxes.”

A spokesperson for Council Member Johnson did not return a request for comment on why he did not sign the letter.

“I'm fully supportive of the millionaires tax as I believe we desperately need new revenue for the transportation system, which is also why I support congestion pricing,” said Levine in an email. “I didn't sign on to the letter because Joe Lhota and the MTA board don't control the income tax rate.”

De Blasio has been an ardent opponent of a congestion pricing scheme, some version of which Cuomo has indicated he will offer in January when he unveils his executive budget proposal and the state’s legislative session begins. Congestion pricing typically includes mechanisms to raise money for mass transit while altering the city’s toll system and implementing measures to reduce street congestion in Manhattan.

The fate of de Blasio’s proposal is largely uncertain. It would have to be approved by the state Legislature, and Republicans who control the state Senate and have an acrimonious relationship with the progressive Democratic mayor have already thrown cold water on any tax increases. At the same time, the governor and MTA’s Lhota continue to pressure de Blasio to fund half of a $836 million emergency action plan for the city’s subways that Lhota unveiled shortly after retaking the helm at the MTA at a crisis point in subway service. De Blasio has refused, citing money that Cuomo has raided from the MTA and offering his tax plan.

Cuomo has set up a task force to explore congestion pricing but did not initially invite de Blasio, or any other elected official from New York City, to join it. Cuomo made an invitation to de Blasio during a recent NY1 interview, which de Blasio shot down, with his spokesperson calling the task force a “charade” and the mayor saying it is set up for the governor’s own purposes. De Blasio has consistently rejected congestion pricing as a “regressive tax” that would hurt outer borough commuters, despite the facts that while the most prominent plan, Move New York, would institute tolls on the now-free East River bridges, it would also lower tolls on some bridges, and that car owners tend to be wealthier than those who solely rely on public transportation.

“New Yorkers want real solutions and that's why they're rallying around the mayor's plan to ask the wealthiest 1% to chip in a little extra," said Austin Finan, a mayoral spokesman, in a statement when asked for a response to the City Council members’ letter.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Yes or No? Three Questions on the Back of Your November Ballot

sample ballot

(Image via NYC Board of Elections)

This November, New York voters will have the opportunity to vote “yes” or “no” on three ballot questions, each important in its own way. While the Constitutional Convention -- question number one -- has soaked up most of the ballot initiative press, New Yorkers get to weigh in on questions concerning stripping pensions from corrupt public officials and utilization of some protected forest reserves for essential infrastructure projects.

As Election Day approaches, familiarize yourself with the three ballot questions, and don’t forget to turn your ballot over when you go to vote November 7!

Proposal 1: Constitutional Convention
The proposed Constitutional Convention, or Con Con, has been the most divisive and high profile ballot question of the 2017 election cycle.

Every 20 years, it is mandated by the current constitution that New Yorkers are given the opportunity to vote on whether to hold a convention to amend the state constitution. A “yes” vote would trigger a multi-step process toward revising the state constitution, which most experts agree is outdated and in need of reform. Even if a convention is triggered, there is no guarantee that the constitution will change, as voters will again have the final say in approving or voting down what a convention proposes.

If approved, voters would select delegates to the convention on Election Day in November 2018 -- three delegate per state Senate district, for a total of 189, and 15 at-large delegates across the state. They would then convene to discuss potential amendments and submit recommendations, which would then be put up for a final popular statewide vote in November 2019. If approved, the constitution will be amended. The proposals could be put to voters as a full package, like in 1967, or piecemeal, which many say is preferable.

During the last referendum, in 1997, voters rejected a Con Con 63-37. The last convention, held in 1967, was actually called by the Legislature, not voters, and did not result in constitutional amendments as voters opposed the slate of proposals that came out of the convention. The last convention to result in amendments took place in 1938, after voters chose to call a convention in 1936, amid the Great Depression.

Many on the “yes” and “no” sides actually agree on the need to update the constitution and to pass certain reforms -- like updates to the state’s antiquated voting laws -- that have not made it through the state Legislature in Albany. But, there are strong differences of opinion about the best path to achieve reforms that also mitigates risks to hard-won provisions that could be vulnerable if a convention is called.

The convention is being supported by a variety of good government groups, who feel that the culture of corruption in Albany will never be resolved by the state Legislature. The Convention could, for example, finally lead to action on the LLC loophole, which allows essentially unlimited donations to political campaigns. The convention could also make the job of a state legislator a full-time position where outside income is forbidden or significantly limited; recommend term limits for legislators; and more. Some in New York City see a convention as a great opportunity to change home rule powers whereby the city would have more power over its own affairs and be less reliant on state government.

There is no shortage of potential issues that could be taken up at a convention, a fact used by both sides. Some advocates, like pro-choice groups, believe that a convention could enshrine certain rights into the state constitution -- like those mandated by the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision -- which has not been amended since 35 years before Roe v. Wade. State law does outline abortion protections, but they are less robust than Roe v. Wade, which has concerned pro-choice advocates for some time. But leading pro-choice groups also fear a convention could strip the state abortion protections already in place, leaving New York even more vulnerable to the potential Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Opponents of a convention are far and wide, from labor unions to civil rights groups to many elected officials of both major parties. There are some exceptions, like Democratic State Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican. Governor Andrew Cuomo had expressed support for a Con Con, but he has receded over time. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the leaders of the majority conferences in the Legislature are against a Con Con. De Blasio and others have called the possibility attractive, but warned of the risk, while Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has questioned the monetary cost of a convention.

Labor unions and their allies are concerned that a convention could lead to the elimination of pension protections for workers. Other liberal groups worry that conservative billionaires could hijack the convention process and strip the constitution of its progressive protections, such as for the state’s “forever wild” forest preserve. Meanwhile, conservative groups worry that the constitution could become even more liberal than it is; many upstate are worried about a loss of gun rights if a convention were held.

Public opinion and debate has been sharply divided on the issue; a recent Siena College poll showed that 44% of voters support holding a Con Con while 39% are opposed, a change from a July Quinnipiac poll stating that 55% of voters supported holding a convention while 30% were opposed.

More info:
Gotham Gazette overview

The Rockefeller Institute

Writings by J.H. Snider for Gotham Gazette

Proposal 2: Strip Public Pensions from Government Officials Convicted of Public Corruption.
Perhaps the most straightforward of the three ballot questions, number two has encountered little opposition, controversy, or discussion.

With a culture of corruption in and around New York politics, especially at the highest levels of state government, wherein dozens of legislators have been convicted of abusing their powers, the measure, if passed, would allow judges to either strip or diminish the public pension of any government official convicted of public corruption.

The Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011, passed unanimously in the Senate, with one nay vote in the Assembly, and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, enacted the substance of this proposal, but only for people who entered the state pension system thereafter. This loophole led to further action. The measure would allow judges to revoke pensions from any official convicted after the enactment, permanently.

The vast majority of public officials support the measure, including Cuomo. The most recent vote on the amendment, in January of this year, passed the Assembly unanimously, but passed the Senate with four nay votes: Democrats Ruben Diaz Sr, Velmanette Montgomery, and Kevin Parker, and Diane Savino, who is a member of the Independent Democratic Conference. The only concerns that appear to have been raised related to exactly who the provision would apply to and concerns for the spouses and other family members of convicted politicians who may be in financial trouble without the politician’s pension funds.

More Info:
More on Question 2 from Gotham Gazette

From The Washington Post

Proposal 3: Development on Forever Wild Lands
The third ballot question concerns a proposal to allow certain development on some of the state’s “forever wild” land preserves. Per the current constitution, these lands are preserved with no room for further development.

The proposal would create a 250 acre land bank that municipal governments could utilize to build infrastructure projects deemed necessary for the safety and economic vitality of the surrounding regions, on the condition that an additional 250 acres of forest are added to the state’s protected forest reserve in replacement. The provision, which is supported by most elected officials in the direct areas involved and by environmental groups, would also allow the construction of bike paths, sewer lines, and other public infrastructure within the width of highways in the preserve. The measure aims to provide basic infrastructure, like water wells, and promote economic development in rural areas upstate.

The amendment was overwhelmingly approved in the most recent state legislative session. In the Assembly, it passed 131 to 0, with 19 abstentions. In the Senate, it passed 61 to 0, with 2 abstentions.

Like proposal 2, opposition to this amendment is virtually non-existent. There is some concern, though, that energy for the “no” vote for the constitutional convention could theoretically lead to “no” votes for the remaining two questions despite widespread public support.

More info:
More on Question 3 from The New York Times

[See the exact language of the three ballot questions here, via NYC Votes]

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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