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Assessing the Aftermath: Top Takeaways for NYC from 2016 Albany Session

de blasio cuomo 2014 presser

De Blasio and Cuomo in 2014; photo via The Governor's Office

Mayor Bill de Blasio has made it clear that he feels like he’s often fighting for New York City’s interests against both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Senate Republicans, with Assembly Democrats as his key allies. In his initial statement reacting to the recent end of the 2016 legislative session in Albany, de Blasio put a thank you to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and company at the forefront, never mentioned Cuomo, and gave his take on what he assessed as a mixed bag for the city.

For his part, Cuomo argues that the city made out quite well and, in harshly worded statements to the media, his aides say that the governor, raised in Queens, very much looks out for the city, but has little respect for the mayor. It can often be hard to separate the mayor from his agenda and the interests of the city, and in assessing the outcomes of the legislative session for New York City, it’s clear that de Blasio’s rivalries with Cuomo and Senate Republicans affected policy decisions.

Still, while de Blasio did see several disappointing results out of Albany this year, like another one-year extension of mayoral control of city schools, there was a lot for the city to celebrate, including wage and benefit legislation that the mayor and his fellow Democrats had wanted. The city appears to have made out much better in the state budget than in the post-budget portion of the session and final deals reached in mid-June.

There are long lists of outcomes that de Blasio and his allies are pleased with and not; but what the six-month session made abundantly clear is that state lawmakers, including the governor, are nowhere near ready to relinquish the substantial powers they wield over the city. The session was marked by important policy debates; political rivalries; and the news of an investigation into de Blasio, his aides and allies, that originated with the state Board of Elections’ enforcement counsel. That counsel, Risa Sugarman, is a former Cuomo aide, leading to finger pointing and conspiracy theories from de Blasio - drama added to the already-fraught dynamics.

As de Blasio regroups over the summer and state legislators prepare for fall elections, a look back at the 2016 legislative session in Albany shows the following top ten takeaways for New York City:

1. Gov. Cuomo is still able to bend Senate Republicans to pass progressive legislation. Mayor de Blasio and his progressive allies may have been somewhat shocked when the state budget, passed at the beginning of April, included a staggered minimum wage increase that could eventually reach $15 throughout the state and a paid family leave program. Both policies won Cuomo national accolades and appeared to many to be his attempt to coopt de Blasio’s position as the top progressive in the state. To get both things done Cuomo had to convince and cajole Senate Republicans to go along with two policies opposed by many in their base (he’d done this before, of course, with marriage equality and the SAFE Act). The minimum wage and paid family leave policies will have a major impact on New York City workers, especially those de Blasio has sought to lift up.

2. De Blasio is Cuomo’s enemy and Senate Republicans’ boogeyman. It was clear early in session that Senate Republicans saw de Blasio as a perfect foil, but it wasn’t clear how much ammo they would actually have or far they would go to deny him success in Albany. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan held fast in his stance on mayoral control of schools and in the end de Blasio was only granted a second straight one-year extension. After de Blasio’s complaints on the subject, Cuomo shot back that the mayor was “lucky” to get one year. De Blasio had harsh words toward the governor at a recent press conference and Cuomo’s press office has been highly critical of the mayor.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are outraged by revelations around de Blasio’s 2014 efforts to flip the Senate to Democrats and plan to tie 2016 Democratic opponents to the mayor in most contested Senate races this summer and fall. Voters in contested districts are likely to hear a lot about the “corrupt, liberal” mayor who is looking to control the Senate and all of state government, to make the whole state like New York City. It’s unlikely Cuomo will do much to help Senate Democrats, something de Blasio has been critical of in the past and in recent comments. Senate control has major implications for New York policy-making, of course, as de Blasio recently discussed in an interview with Harry Siegel of the Daily News, where he said that New York could be like California, if Cuomo was to push for that.

3. Mayoral control of schools will be an election-year issue for de Blasio. Winning a one-year extension of mayoral control means de Blasio will have to look to Albany for another extension next year - as he faces reelection. With his poll numbers dropping and corruption investigations swirling it becomes more likely he will face a primary challenge. Expect de Blasio’s handling of schools to be a hot topic in Albany and in the mayoral race. De Blasio’s critics continue to point to his opposition to charter schools and raise questions about his handling of the city’s most troubled schools.

4. De Blasio owes Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. The Democratic Assembly Speaker from the Bronx went to bat for de Blasio in the chamber’s budget proposal - pushing a six-year extension of mayoral control of schools - and later appeared to hold up budget negotiations while fighting for renewal, until de Blasio relented to the compromise that was reached. In 2009 Heastie was the lead Assembly sponsor of a bill that would have crippled mayoral control, so it doesn’t appear he was fighting for the renewal on principle. De Blasio will have to continue to nurture his relationship with Heastie as many other Democrat legislators express a similar refrain: “it isn’t easy being the mayor’s friend.”

On a variety of issues it is clear that Heastie and his fellow Assembly Democrats from the city are the city’s biggest advocates and the mayor’s top allies. In reacting to the end of session, de Blasio released a statement saying, “With the leadership and commitment of Speaker Heastie and his Assembly colleagues, New York City secured a series of important State commitments that will improve lives across our five boroughs.”

5. State leaders appear increasingly interested in curtailing the city’s autonomy. In reaction to the city’s plan to impose a five cent fee on paper and plastic bag shopping bags, the Senate moved legislation that would have banned any locality from instituting such a law. The Assembly was headed in that direction but Heastie cut a deal with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to delay implementation of the plan so that the Council could amend it to the Assembly’s liking and explore other changes.

Cuomo has moved to limit the city’s ability to implement its affordable housing plans; instituted greater oversight of city homeless shelters; decided to open new state police barracks near City Hall; and created a new agency in the budget that could allow him to take over major capital projects. Critics see the new agency as an end run around the MTA board.

6. The feud between Cuomo and de Blasio leaves affordable and supportive housing in an unpredictable state. Cuomo won $1.9 billion in funding for supportive and affordable housing in the state budget, but only $150 million of those funds were released in an agreement with legislative leaders by the end of session. Affordable and supportive housing advocates and providers say that without a long-term plan that details how the cash will be allocated in years to come it will be hard for builders to get funding for new construction.

Additionally, the 421-a tax abatement program meant to spur developers to build rental housing with mandated affordable housing included was not renewed. De Blasio continues to insist that a proposal he put forth should be adopted, while Cuomo says the building trades unions must be included in negotiating a deal. The mayor’s affordable housing plans are at risk without a new 421-a program.

7. The Assembly went to bat for the MTA. The governor’s executive budget proposal would have put off funding the MTA’s capital plan until the MTA ran out of current funding streams. The Assembly fought and won $2.9 billion in funding for the capital plan this year. It will be the first of four annual appropriations that will end up totalling $7.3 billion.

8. Major New York City-based infrastructure projects are on the move. It appears that major infrastructure projects, both inside and outside of New York City, will be key to Gov. Cuomo’s legacy. In the city, the state is moving ahead with improving JFK Airport, redeveloping LaGuardia Airport and Penn Station, expanding the Javits Convention Center, and building new MetroNorth stations in the Bronx.

9. Education funding debates continue, with more money headed to New York City. While many in New York City, including de Blasio, continue to call on the state to meet its obligations under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling, according to Gov. Cuomo’s office, “The FY 2017 Budget provides $24.8 billion in School Aid, the highest amount in history and a 6.5 percent increase over last year.” Much of it is headed to New York City, home to more than 40 percent of the state’s population. As part of the mayoral control extension deal, though, the city is now required to make its individual school funding formulas more available publicly.

10. Top city priorities left out. Less on de Blasio’s agenda, but more on those of city-based state legislators, who are overwhelmingly Democratic, are issues like criminal justice reform and the DREAM Act, which saw no movement this year.

Criminal justice issues were not a priority for Cuomo or Senate Republicans. While Cuomo's January State of the State address included mentions of the campaign to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility and efforts to encode into state law a special prosecutor in the case of police shootings of unarmed civilians, neither appeared to ever become a major priority for Cuomo, who focused on minimum wage and paid family leave at the start of session and a variety of other issues after the budget, while also dealing with the developing federal investigation into his economic development programs. Both criminal justice reform initiatives, among others, are largely popular in the Assembly and New York City, but not in the Senate.

The DREAM Act, another priority of New York City Democrats, won’t pass as long as Senate Republicans hold the chamber - or until Cuomo forces it through: Advocates for legislation to give undocumented students access to tuition assistance haven’t given up their fight but they know Senate Republicans have touted their opposition to the bill successfully during the last few election cycles. They also know that Cuomo can move mountains when he wants to - the governor had included the DREAM Act in his budget bills, but has not campaigned on the issue since his 2014 reelection bid.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed writing.

With Controversy Brewing, State Pay Commission Moves Toward Recommendations

pay commission

The state pay commission (photo by Meg O'Connor)

A commission tasked with examining the compensation of state lawmakers and executive branch officials met for the fifth time Tuesday, and all seven commissioners agreed that heads of state agencies deserve a significant raise. However, the meeting was adjourned without the commissioners examining the salaries of statewide elected officials, and nothing was agreed upon during the brief and heated discussion of pay for Assembly members and state Senators.

The commission's recommendations are due in a little over four months, on Nov. 15, and Tuesday’s meeting was nearly called to an end without addressing legislators' pay at all, save for a remark by one commissioner. The commission agreed to discuss the controversial issue of Assembly member and Senator pay, which has gone unchanged since 1999, during the next meeting, on July 26. Tuesday's public meeting was an open discussion among commissioners that did not allow for any public testimony, and there will be no additional public hearings before the deadline.

The Compensation Commission set a tentative window for the top-earning agency commissioners’ annual salaries at somewhere between $175,000 and $200,000. These salaries have gone unchanged for the past 18 years - top-earning commissioners, like the head of the Department of Transportation, currently earn about $136,000 annually.

There was no vote on the matter, though, as the commission still needs to determine the exact number they will recommend, which they are likely to do when they meet at the end of July. Conversations about whether or not to phase in the salary increase are also ongoing.

As newly required by law, every four years - beginning June 2015 - the New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial, and Executive Compensation is established to examine the compensation of state judges, legislators, statewide elected officials, and certain state officers. The commission is made up of seven commissioners - three appointed by the Governor, one by the Senate Majority Leader, one by the Assembly Speaker, and two by the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. The commission must make its recommendations before November 15, 2016. The commission’s recommendations will automatically become law and go into effect on January 1, 2017, unless the Legislature specifically votes against the increases.

Tuesday’s meeting mainly examined compensation for members of the executive branch. Yet the salaries of the Governor and other statewide elected officials (which also have not been raised since 1999) went unaddressed during this meeting, and has not been thoroughly examined during past meetings or hearings. The commissioners seem generally confused as to whether they have the authority to recommend salary changes for the Governor and other statewide elected officials, like the Comptroller and the Attorney General, and questioned that while speaking amongst themselves before the meeting began.

The commission released its recommendations for the judiciary in December 2015, which included salary increases for judges phased in over a four-year period.

The compensation of state legislators, members of the Assembly and the Senate, who have not received a raise to their base salary of $79,500 since 1999, will be addressed at the next meeting. The subject was briefly raised, but the conversation turned tense and the meeting was adjourned shortly thereafter with little, if any, progress made on the issue.

The salaries in the executive branch dominated Tuesday’s discussion, with commissioners agreeing to set a “tentative window” for the salary of the so-called “A-level” commissioners (meaning those who currently have the highest compensation). The commission eventually landed on the $175,000-$200,000 window, and agreed to adjust the compensation of the lower-earning top agency officials proportional to the adjustment for top-earning commissioners.

“This shouldn’t simply be an inflation adjustment,” said commissioner Roman B. Hedges, former professor of political science and former deputy secretary of the state Assembly Committee on Ways and Means. The inflation adjustment for top-earning commissioners would be an increase of about 43 percent (to about $193,000) as their salaries have not been adjusted for almost two decades. “We should be thinking about how we can make this a compensation” that the commissioners deserve and that can attract the best people to public service, Hedges added.

Sheila Birnbaum, chair of the pay commission and co-head of the Global Products Liability and Mass Torts practice at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, suggested that the increase should raise the salaries of top-earning commissioners to somewhere “not as high as [comparable] New York City commissioners, but maybe at least somewhere between” that and the inflation adjustment. Many top-earning New York City commissioners earn about $220,000 annually.

“There’s a certain symbol in the $200,000 number,” Hedges said, “It’s still below what the judges are making, it’s still below what the city commissioners are making, and it’s more than inflation…we want to make sure that our executive agencies are staffed with people who can handle the breadth” of managing complex agencies.

“I understand the spirit of Hedge’s suggestion…but by my calculation that would be something like 47 percent,” said commissioner Gary Johnson, executive legal counsel at Medgar Evers College and former director of the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations. Johnson added that that sort of an increase might be politically unsavory.

“That will be incredibly difficult to sell,” said commissioner Fran Reiter, a former executive deputy director for State Operations under Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“I don’t have problem with the 200 number,” said commissioner Barry Cozier, senior counsel in the litigation practice of LeClairRyan, “but I think, because we do have political considerations involved, and yes as pure percentage it’s a substantial increase,” perhaps “as with the judges, we should consider whether it should be a phase in over the years.”

“I personally feel that we should not be looking at a number under $195 for the A group,” Cozier added.

Reiter said she was “not comfortable” with that number, and called on the commission to be “realistic,” suggesting a range of $175,000-$180,000. “What we do here is ultimately going to be judged by the Legislature, who can negate what we do…and since we haven’t even begun to talk about what will be the most controversial issues that we face…we may very well come up with a number [for commissioners] that the Legislature is not going to be acceptive of if we don’t do the same for them,” Reiter cautioned.

The commissioners then agreed to “come up with a number for the A-level commissioners that would then be proportionally applied to the other commissioners,” in Johnson’s words, and decided to address whether the pay increase should be phased in over time or given all at once at the next meeting.

In the few minutes the “most controversial” issue of legislative compensation was discussed, the conversation quickly became heated. Legislators earn $79,500 and haven’t had a raise in 17 years, but can earn unlimited outside income because the position is considered part-time. State lawmakers’ outside jobs have been the subject of heightened controversy in recent years, especially as former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was convicted on several federal corruption charges last year after trading official favors to pocket nearly $4 million in legal fees. Government reform advocates and Governor Cuomo have proposed significant limits on legislators’ outside pay while calling for their base salaries to increase dramatically in an attempt to limit corruption in state government.

On Tuesday, two commissioners (Reiter, appointed by Cuomo, and James Lack, a former state Senator appointed to the Commission by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan) repeatedly cut each other off to shout at one another over the relevance of state lawmakers being classified as part-time or full-time.

The argument broke out when Reiter criticized lawmakers for not making the case to the commission that their work should be considered full-time: “No one, among the three [lawmakers] we’ve heard from, came here and said to us, ‘You know, the work we do is not just when we’re in Albany, we go back to our districts and here are the kinds of things we do, and that would have been a valid argument-“

“Oh, Fran, cut it out!” Lack interrupted, describing the work he and his colleagues did for their constituents when the Legislature was not in session and lawmakers returned to their districts. “Who cares” that three “junior” state legislators “didn’t bother to distinguish between full- and part-time,” Lack said, adding that while he was a legislator, “no one went around distinguishing between part-time and full-time.”

Reiter responded that the “reluctance of the state Legislature to make its own case pisses me off.” (Government reform advocates have repeatedly expressed that the commission should be as independent as possible and should not allow those whose salaries they are tasked with determining sway their opinion). “Sorry if you don’t get that,” Reiter added.

“Oh, I get it,” Lack responded. “I certainly get why they don’t want to come and see you.”

Tensions will likely remain high when the commission returns to discuss legislative pay on July 26. The meeting was adjourned almost immediately after the heated disagreement between Reiter and Lack. “We all knew that when we got to talking about the Legislature it’d get a little more heated - but we don’t have to get the heat this high!” said Birnbaum.

Leaders from government reform groups have testified at two of the commission’s prior public hearings, and agreed that the current salaries for state legislators are insufficient, but urged the commission to take into account the “stunning series of seemingly unending scandals” coming out of Albany, as Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, put it.

Both the commission and advocates agree that, having not received a salary increase since 1999, legislators ought to receive one, and that doing so could help attract strong candidates to public service. Yet, advocates also warned that the actual amount that legislators earn is more than their base salary, since lawmakers can also earn leadership stipends, per diems, and outside income given the “part-time” nature of the job.

“The Commission's recommendation should look at the base salary of legislators as part of a complete review of legislative compensation, including outside income and leadership stipends,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group, during a March 10 hearing. The Commission should also consider “the additional and often outrageous presence of money within New York's political system, such as elected officials' personal use of campaign funds, loopholes in campaign finance law, and the power and secrecy surrounding discretionary funding.”

Speaking amongst themselves before the meeting began, the commissioners seemed unclear as to whether or not they had the authority to recommend reforms to the way legislators are compensated.

“I’m not sure if lulus are part of the conversation,” said Hedges, referring to leadership stipends.

“I think that’s an important thing to confirm,” Reiter responded.

This is supposed to be a “basic salary change…that’s what the senators told me - now that’s just their interpretation of what it is that they passed,” Lack said of legislators and their legislation creating the commission.

The law passed last year did not grant the commission authority to make changes on reforms like limiting outside employment of elected officials, according to Horner. If the Legislature does not convene and specifically vote against the commission’s recommendations, the new salary levels will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017. This will be for the new class of legislators chosen through November’s elections, many of whom will be the same individuals who currently hold the posts. There are no term limits in the state Legislature.

During next November’s general election, in 2017, voters will decide whether to call a Constitutional Convention. If called, the convention would convene in April, 2019, and could address whether the job of a state lawmaker should be changed to full-time, among many other issues that may be on the table.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has previously said that the compensation commission was not called to decide whether the Legislature should be full time. “I think what the commission in our minds was set up was, ‘what is the requisite pay and what is the pay scale?,’” Heastie said. “Those are the definitions. Other considerations around income are not what they’re charged to do.”

by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

New York Congressional Primary Results; Espaillat, Teachout Among Winners

Espaillat presser

Adriano Espaillat (photo: @EspaillatNY)

New York voters chose congressional candidates in 13 primaries across the state on Tuesday, with seven of those contests taking place within New York City—all of which were Democratic. New York has 27 seats in the House of Representatives.

While the current New York City congressional delegation consists of 11 Democrats and one Republican, a makeup that is unlikely to change this year, results from key primaries in three swing districts outside the city have set the stage for races that could factor into which party controls the House after November’s elections.

In the most-watched and only competitive primary in New York City, nine candidates contended to be the Democratic nominee for New York’s 13th Congressional District, where longtime incumbent Charlie Rangel announced he will step down after 46 years in office. The district includes much of Upper Manhattan and some of the South Bronx. Because the district is overwhelmingly Democratic, the primary winner is a lock to become the next district representative in Congress.

State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who lost primary challenges to Rangel in 2012 and 2014, declared victory in NY-13, barely defeating Assemblymember Keith Wright. While Wright did not immediately concede, asserting that every vote must be counted and that efforts to suppress the vote of African-Americans must be investigated, NY1 projected Espaillat the winner just after 11 p.m., at which point 98% of precincts had reported their ballots and Espaillat held a lead of about 1,270 votes. The NY-13 vote was relatively high among expectedly low turnout affairs across the city and state, with about 43,000 votes cast -- Espaillat received about 15,700 (37%); Wright about 14,400 (34%).

Clyde Williams (11%) finished a somewhat distant third, followed by Adam Clayton Powell IV (6%), Guillermo Linares (5.5%), Suzan Johnson-Cook (5%), Michael Gallagher, Sam Sloan, and Yohanny Caceres.

Most New York City congressional primaries were marked by victories for incumbent candidates. Democrats Gregory Meeks of Queens; Nydia Velazquez of Brooklyn; Jerrod Nadler and Carolyn Maloney of Manhattan; and Jose Serrano of the Bronx kept their seats by wide margins in contested primaries. All are expected to win general election races in November, along with other Democrats, like Grace Meng and Hakeem Jeffries, who did not have primary challenges, and Republican Rep. Daniel Donovan, who was unopposed in the primary.

A key primary outside the city was the 19th Congressional District in the Hudson Valley and the Catskills, where current Republican Rep. Chris Gibson has announced he will retire this year. Zephyr Teachout defeated Will Yandik to clinch the Democratic nomination there, while John Faso won the Republican nomination over Andrew Heaney. Teachout and Faso are preparing for what could be a very competitive general election that may garner national attention and resources from the two major party apparatuses.

Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, who represents the state’s 3rd Congressional District on Long Island, will also retire at the end of this term. In the primaries, Thomas Suozzi defeated Jon Kaiman, Steve Stern, Jonathan Clarke, and Anna Kaplan to become the Democratic nominee. Suozzi will face Republican candidate Jack Martins in the general election.

Republican Rep. Richard Hanna of the 22nd Congressional District in Utica has also announced he will step down this year after three terms in office. In the district’s Republican primary, Claudia Tenney defeated George Philips and Steven Wells to become the nominee, and will run against Democratic candidate Kim Meyers in November.

As the November general election approaches, candidates on both sides of the aisle will be looking up the ticket at presidential nominees. The two major parties both have presumptive nominees from New York, Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and Donald Trump for the Republicans. The official nominating conventions are in July.

Come November, there will be one New York Senate race on the ballot, with incumbent Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat from Brooklyn, facing Republican challenger Wendy Long. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat who defeated Long in 2012, is not up for reelection this year.

The general election will take place November 8. Before the November election, New Yorkers will have a third primary election day, with state Assembly and Senate primaries on September 13. Few New York City-based races are expected to be competitive, but if Espaillat is indeed the winner in NY-13, his state Senate seat will be open and there are at least two Democrats, Micah Lasher and Robert Jackson, already in the running.

[See the details of New York primary voting results via WNYC here]

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Aaron Holmes contributed reporting.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 27

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Tuesday is New York's second election day of 2016. In April, it was the presidential primaries; now, the congressional primaries. All of New York's 27 seats in the House of Representatives are up for election this year, though not all have competitive primaries since many incumbents are not being challenged from within their party. There are several long-time incumbents being challenged, though, and a few open seats with competitive primaries. In New York City, most of the focus is on the race in the thirteenth congressional district, where a long list of Democrats is attempting to replace retiring Rep. Charles Rangel. In a crowded field, anything can happen, but the two frontrunners are seen as being state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who lost primary challenges to Rangel in 2012 and 2014, and Assemblymember Keith Wright, who has been endorsed by Rangel. Clyde Williams, a former aide to President Bill Clinton, received the endorsement of The New York Times. [Read more about the NY13 race and much more in our preview of Tuesday's primary day here.]

This week before the July 4 holiday weekend will also see continued efforts by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to highlight accomplishments of the recently-completed legislative session in Albany. On Monday Cuomo will lead the first of three legs of a motorcycle ride to raise awareness about the importance of breast cancer screenings - details below.

Mayor Bill de Blasio starts his week celebrating the recent Obama administration announcement of Stonewall Inn as the first LGBT national monument in the afternoon.

De Blasio spent Friday and Saturday in Indianapolis at the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors. He then participated in Sunday's Pride Parade back on the city. Cuomo also marched, and the two even spent some rare time in close proximity after presidential candidate Hillary Clinton joined the parade for a little while and all three could be seen marching near each other.

Meanwhile, it's another busy week at the City Council and there are several other events to be aware of - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
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The run of the week in detail:

“On Monday, June 27, 2016, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo will launch the first-ever statewide breast cancer motorcycle ride to raise awareness of the disease across New York State. The ride supports Governor Cuomo’s comprehensive “Get Screened, No Excuses” campaign – the nation’s most aggressive effort to eliminate the barriers that often prevent women from getting screened, such as difficulty scheduling mammograms or burdensome insurance hurdles. Beginning in Kings Park on Long Island, Governor Cuomo, Sandra Lee, and hundreds of participants will ride motorcycles across the state to raise awareness about breast cancer and support families fighting against the disease. Legendary musician Billy Joel will also join the first leg of the ride on June 27. The second and third legs of the ride will take place on Friday, July 8 and Wednesday, July 13.”

At 11 a.m. Monday at City Hall, "Dozens of housing advocates and tenants will join with elected officials to announce a scathing new report that exposes statistical evidence of Airbnb’s negative impact on affordable housing in NYC." This, according to an advisory from the "Share Better" coalition. Public Advocate Letitia James is among those who will speak.

At noon on Monday at the Stonewall Inn, "Mayor de Blasio will join Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, and other elected leaders, advocates and New Yorkers in designating Stonewall Inn the first LGBT national monument."

Also at noon Monday at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) Commissioner Julie Menin and J-School Dean Sarah Bartlett will hold a press event to announce a $1 million grant from MOME to the CUNY J-School.

At 12:30 p.m. Monday, City Council Members Carlos Menchaca, Stephen Levin, and Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and others will hold a press conference on the steps of City Hall in response to the Supreme Court’s decision on President Obama’s immigration plan and rising anti-immigrant sentiment. The press conference is scheduled immediately before a hearing of the Committee on Immigration, which will focus on two resolutions that call for federal action for Syrian refugees and Ecuadorian earthquake survivors.

At the City Council on Monday:

  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Environmental Protection will meet to discuss several bills.
  • Also at 1 p.m., the Committee on Juvenile Justice will hold an oversight hearing examining the Department of Investigation's report on the Administration for Children’s Services’ (ACS) Close to Home Initiative.
  • Also at 1 p.m., the Committee on Immigration will meet to discuss two recently introduced resolutions. The first calls on the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security “to designate Ecuador for Temporary Protected Status to provide temporary immigration relief.” Another resolution calls on the President and the State Department “to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the USA by the end of 2016 and to increase such number to 65,000 by the end of 2017.”

At 6 p.m. Monday, the New York State Legislature will hold a meeting of the Senate Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases “to continue to focus on improved prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of these diseases to better protect the health of New York residents.”

At 6 p.m. Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James will host another in her screenings of of "Making a Killing: Guns, Greed and the NRA," this one at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

On Monday at 6:30 p.m., the Rent Guidelines Board will hold a public meeting to finalize and vote on proposed rent guidelines effective October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017. The decision will determine rent changes, if any, for rent-stabilized tenants across New York City for one- and two-year leases. Last year, there was a first-ever “rent freeze” for one-year leases, with a small increase on two-year leases.

Congressional primary elections will take place Tuesday in New York. All seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for election this year, as are some U.S. Senate seats. To vote, you must be registered in a party holding a primary. Use the Board of Elections’ locator to find your poll site.

On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will appear live on 1010 WINS at 7:30 a.m. and WCBS Newsradio 880 at 7:50 a.m. to discuss the Rent Guidelines Board vote.

Later, at 12:30 p.m., "the Mayor will participate in a tele-town hall with seniors to discuss the Rent Guidelines Board vote."

After, at 2 p.m., "the Mayor will hold public hearings for and sign six pieces of legislation – Intro. 871-A, in relation to ensuring equal access to single-occupant bathrooms for transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers; Intro. 1149-A, in relation to requiring ticket sellers to be licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs; Intro. 868-A, in relation to issuing an annual report on the implementation of Next Generation 911; Intro. 851-B, in relation to protecting against the harassment of tenants who lease space for a commercial rather than residential nature; Intro. 775-A, in relation to creating timeframes for the landmark designation process; and Intro. 1223, in relation to reducing the use of carryout bags. The Mayor also will hold public hearings for Intros. 1122-A, 1123-A and 1128-A, in relation to increasing access to feminine hygiene products."

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Health will meet.
  • Also at 10 a.m., the Committee on Oversight and Investigations will meet regarding the collection and evaluation of civilian complaints alleging police misconduct, in order to improve monitoring and discipline practices.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation will hold a public meeting to “determine procedure for considering legislative and executive compensation.” At the New York City Bar, midtown.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City & State NY will host a reception to launch the “Manhattan: Borough Series” special issue of its print publication. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will attend and participate in a live interview. Lucille’s Bar & Grill.

Also Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., "Public Advocate James will host a “Talk to Tish” town hall about veterans issues in New York City. The town hall will feature a panel of experts and advocates, information and resources from service providers, and questions from the audience. Public Advocate James will be joined by Loree Sutton, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Veterans’ Services; Craig Newmark, Founder of craigslist and veterans advocate; IAVA; and other veterans groups." At the Intrepid Air and Space Museum.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, the New York Building Congress will hold a Construction Industry breakfast forum featuring Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan; The Metropolitan Club in Manhattan.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Youth Services will meet to conduct an oversight hearing on the Summer in the City educational program.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Land Use will meet.

At 3 p.m. Wednesday, the New York City Bar Association will host a panel discussion on “The Role of Foreign Policy in the 2016 Presidential Election.” Several speakers will participate, including Ed Cox, chair of the New York State Republican Committee, and David E. Sanger, Chief Washington Correspondent at The New York Times.

“The next public meeting of the New York City Voter Assistance Advisory Committee (VAAC) will be held at 5:30 PM on Wednesday, June 29, at the offices of the Campaign Finance Board.”

At 6 p.m., the Panel for Education Policy will meet in Long Island City.

At 2 p.m. Thursday, the Department of Consumer Affairs will host an Open House Training series on the city’s Commuter Benefits Law. The training will ensure employers understand their responsibilities under the new Law, which took effect on January 1, 2016.

Friday and the weeked
It's July 4th weekend, have a good and safe weekend. We won't be publishing a "Week Ahead" for the week of July 4, but we'll be back with one on Sunday evening July 10 for the week of July 11.

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 Amanda Sherwin and Ben Max

Cuomo Appears to Give Up on Legislature Closing LLC Loophole

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Gov. Cuomo & his budget director, Robert Mujica (photo: The Governor's Office)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears to have given up on the state Legislature taking action to close the notorious LLC loophole, which allows wealthy donors to subvert campaign finance laws by creating multiple limited liability corporations that can each give more than $60,000 to a candidate’s campaign.

According to The New York Times, Cuomo said this weekend that it would be up to the public to close the loophole through a constitutional convention.

In January, the governor made closing the LLC loophole a key plank of his government ethics reform package. He and his representatives have said repeatedly that Cuomo wants the loophole closed. In late May, after months without mentioning the loophole unless prompted by reporters, the governor unveiled “a menu” of eight bills that would partially close the loophole for various combinations of campaigns for elected positions -- all of the bills would have impacted gubernatorial candidates, including the incumbent governor, who has been the biggest beneficiary of LLC giving.

“The people of New York are demanding change and it’s time we took action to restore the public trust by closing the LLC loophole and bringing fairness to our campaign finance system,” Cuomo said in the May 24 statement announcing his bill menu aimed at closing the loophole that has allowed tens of millions of dollars into campaign accounts. “For years, I have proposed closing the LLC loophole – one of the most egregious flaws in our campaign finance system – and every year the bill has stalled.”

According to Cuomo, Senate Republicans are unwilling to act on the loophole because they rely on corporate money. The legislative session ended with what many reform advocates see as minimal ethics reforms, highlighted by a move toward stripping pensions from officials convicted of corruption. In his first post-session remarks, the governor told The Times that there is no path to closing the LLC loophole through the Legislature and that it must be done through a constitutional convention.

“There has to be a dose of reality in the assessment,” Cuomo told The Times. “It is tantamount to political suicide for the Republican Party in this state because they believe it ends corporate money, and only union money would come into the system, which would help the Democrats.”

He added: “The people are going to have to do it,” referring, according to The Times, to a constitutional convention.

A number of reform advocates and legislators who support closing the loophole were taken aback by Cuomo’s comments and their meaning in terms of his pursuit of reform. Cuomo made little public effort to move the multi-faceted reform agenda he proposed in January and instead appeared to move the goalposts for reform toward the end of session when he announced he wanted to tackle independent expenditure campaigns, something Senate Republicans found much more appealing than restricting legislators’ outside income or closing the LLC loophole.

“It sounds like the governor is saying he can't get it done,” said Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan, who is party to a lawsuit brought by reform groups and current and former legislators against the State Board of Elections to close the loophole. “It sounds like the governor is saying ‘I'm incapable of reforming Albany and we have to leave it up to a constitutional convention,’ and I don't know that he is wrong.”

Dick Dadey, executive director of government reform group Citizens Union, said he is unwilling to wait for a convention to address the loophole. “His comments personify his frustration not being able close the loophole and point to a goal too far in the future to accept,” said Dadey. “We can’t rely on a convention that we don’t know will be called.”

Voters have the ability to approve a constitutional convention every 20 years. The next vote is scheduled for November 2017. If voters were to approve it, they would vote again the following November to select delegates to represent them at the convention, which would actually get underway in April 2019. Delegates would meet to debate reforms to the constitution that could focus on anything from money in politics to the state’s civil rights mandates. Voters wouldn’t get to vote on proposed changes from the convention until November 2019.

There is no guarantee that closing the LLC loophole would come up during a constitutional convention or make it to a final vote.

“The Board of Elections created this loophole and they can fix it,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, referring to the state BOE’s 1996 ruling that opened the loophole. “These LLCs have been at the center of major corruption scandals so it isn't like this is an academic problem,” said Horner. “It’s a real problem.”

Not only does Cuomo’s suggestion that a constitutional convention is the only way to close the loophole discount the lawsuit Krueger is involved in and mean that change couldn’t possibly occur until November of 2019, but it also appears to fail to factor in the possibility of Democrats winning the Senate majority from Republicans this fall. Democrats in the Senate and Assembly both claim to support closing the LLC loophole. The Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, has voted a number of times to close the loophole while some Senate Democrats have tried to force a vote on closing the loophole in their chamber to no avail.

“I guess seeing the Senate Democrats take control of the Senate isn't a way he sees to get things done,” said Krueger. Cuomo, a Democrat, has been criticized over several years for not doing enough to help Democrats take the chamber and for being too close to Republicans. Cuomo has touted his ability to productively work across the aisle.

Mike Murphy, spokesperson for Senate Democrats, said closing the LLC loophole is at the top of their agenda. “Senate Democrats have been fighting to close this loophole for years only to be rebuffed by our Republican colleagues. When we take the majority this will be one of the first things we pass. The people of New York deserve a government that they can trust.”

John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany said at the most basic levels he sees Cuomo’s comments as the governor giving up on reform, but he also sees it as Cuomo letting Senate Republicans off the hook on an issue that could be used to help Senate Democrats win control of the chamber.

“It means the governor is not going to use the LLC loophole as a campaign issue against Senate Republicans. He could beat the Republicans over the head with the LLC loophole because the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate Democrats support closing the loophole, as do all of the watchdog groups and independent experts and editorial boards,” said Kaehny.

Cuomo’s office did not respond to requests for comment around whether Cuomo did indeed mean that closing the LLC loophole would require a constitutional convention and whether he was discounting the possibility of Democratic control of the Senate.

Many believe Cuomo prefers governing, as his father did, with a Democratic Assembly and Republican Senate, allowing him to pass more conservative fiscal measures when necessary.

Dadey agreed that Cuomo’s comments appear to ignore the possibility of change in the Legislature. “The Governor’s position does not take into account Senate control,” said Dadey. “This lets the Legislature off the hook.”

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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

Two Months On, Buffalo Billion Investigator’s Contract Remains a Mystery

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Gov. Cuomo (photo: The Governor's Office)

It has been two months since Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that Bart Schwartz would conduct an “independent review” of the state’s signature Buffalo Billion economic development program and yet Schwartz’s contract with the state remains either unfinished or under wraps. On April 29, following the news that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara had subpoenaed some of Cuomo’s closest allies in conjunction with an investigation into bid-rigging and other possible improprieties, Cuomo and Schwartz released a joint statement announcing that the former U.S. attorney was being hired.

Cuomo administration officials have repeatedly failed to respond to Gotham Gazette inquiries about the status of Schwartz’s contract since he was appointed. On May 24, Cuomo told reporters that the contract had yet been finalized, but that he would make it public when it was. Without seeing Schwartz’s contract it is impossible to know exactly what he has been tasked to review; the terms of his investigation; who he reports to; and how much Schwartz’s services are costing taxpayers.

Schwartz’s contract must legally be made public if it involves the use of taxpayer money.

“The contract should be made public,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “There hasn't been any kind of information on his retention and that is disappointing and inexplicable. The longer this drags out the more we have to question the arrangement.”

Watchdog groups note that Schwartz’s role could have been filled by numerous other existing state entities that investigate corruption, including Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, whose office oversees state finances and contracting. On Tuesday evening, The Times Union reported that Cuomo has empowered Schwartz under the Moreland Act, giving him "the power to issue civil subpoenas," which the Cuomo administration confirmed, though it still declined to make any documentation public. A Cuomo spokesperson told The Times Union that Schwartz's contract was still being finalized and that when it is done, it will be submitted to DiNapoli and made public.

In a statement to The Times Union, a Cuomo spokesperson said of Schwartz's review of the state economic development programs and development of new guidelines for fund disbersement, "Both processes are ongoing and, as the guidelines are being drafted, Mr. Schwartz has closely examined and signed off on payments before they were released. This is important work and we thank him for promptly commencing his review. It is also a complex and unique assignment and we expect the contract to be finalized and sent to the (state) comptroller shortly."

Anonymous Cuomo administration officials have been referenced in various publications saying that Schwartz is reviewing and approving all contracts and cash flow related to the Buffalo Billion and other economic development projects. For the second time this year, payments to the SolarCity project were recently made late and led to talk of possible layoffs and disruption of the project. An anonymous Cuomo administration official told The Buffalo News that Schwartz approved the cash for the project and that it was delayed during a review by DiNapoli. The comptroller’s office later denied it had anything to do with the delay.

The firm handling Bart Schwartz’s public relations declined to comment on the status of his contract, but pointed to Schwartz’s statement from April. “The state has reason to believe that in certain programs and regulatory approvals they may have been defrauded by improper bidding and failures to disclose potential conflicts of interest by lobbyists and former state employees,” Schwartz wrote, in apparent reference to Cuomo associates Joseph Percoco and Todd Howe.

“As the state needs to continue operating these important programs, they have asked me to commence an immediate review of all grants and approvals – past, current and future – in certain programs and operations including the Buffalo Billion/Nano Economic Development Program,” Schwartz wrote.

When asked on May 24 if Schwartz’s findings would be made public, Cuomo said that decision would be up to Schwartz, but Cuomo’s press office later clarified the report would be made public as long as the U.S. attorney’s office approved.

“Is he working as a volunteer or getting paid without a contract? Will the public ever know?” asked John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a watchdog group that tracks the Buffalo Billion. “What exactly does [Schwartz] do for the governor?”

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated with new information as reported by The Times Union.

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

Advocates, Providers Keep Pressure on Cuomo Over Housing Funds

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Gov. Cuomo (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

While the 2016 legislative session may be finished, the battle over how the state will allocate $1.9 billion in funds earmarked for supportive and affordable housing is not. Neither is the feud between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, which includes a front over the housing funds.

After the end-of-session deal-making among Cuomo and legislative leaders yielded an agreement to release only $150 million of the $1.9 billion pledged in this year’s budget, housing advocates plan to protest in front of Cuomo’s Manhattan office at 11 a.m. Tuesday. They’re calling on the governor to work with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to agree on additional funding allocations for the entire sum. Advocates say they expect the last-minute protest, which de Blasio’s office is supportive of, to draw 200 or more participants.

Developers say that without more certainty about how much state funding will be available and when, new supportive housing projects simply aren’t going to move forward and that will compound the already multi-year waits for homeless and other populations that rely on the housing, which includes social services for people with mental illness, substance abuse problems, and other impediments.

“The New York Housing Conference urges State leaders to continue negotiating the terms of a statewide 5-year housing plan to allocate the full $2 billion of enacted housing dollars for programmatic use,” reads the newsletter from The New York Housing Conference announcing the Tuesday rally. The statement goes on to detail the challenges developers face in planning housing projects if their funding is not in place. “Developing affordable housing is often a multi-year planning process and the industry depends on funding certainty and programmatic direction to shape projects that will meet community needs and policy goals of the anticipated statewide housing plan,” it says.

Advocates for affordable and supportive housing came together in the last weeks of session to demand Cuomo and the Legislature sign a required memo of understanding, or MOU, agreeing how to allocate the $1.9 billion. A coalition of groups called The Campaign 4 NY/NY housing sent out a series of scathing press releases, held rallies, and pressured lawmakers, but by the last day of session Cuomo and the Legislature settled on releasing $150 million of the $1.9 billion.

The Cuomo administration touted $570 million being made available for supportive housing in an end-of-session press release, but it appears most of that funding was already available through service funding and tax credits secured in this year’s budget. The administration points out that $600 million of the $1.9 billion is dedicated to supportive housing and that the housing plan is designed to stretch over five years, therefore making $150 million an appropriate amount to release for supportive housing during the first year of the program. Administration officials say the rest of the $570 million will go to funding the operational costs of the supportive units.

“Today’s agreement includes the execution of a memorandum of understanding to make more than $570 million in state resources available to advance capital construction and operating on the first 1,200 units of supportive housing under the Governor’s sweeping $20 billion Housing and Homelessness plan,” reads the Cuomo administration’s Friday statement. “The funding will be released to the Division of Housing and Community Renewal and is available immediately to be awarded in conjunction with other resources including state and federal tax credits to support construction costs for the new supportive housing units.”

Advocates are not completely critical of the governor, but plan to push further, especially while the end of session lingers in the news. “We are happy some of the money was made available for supportive housing,” said Rachel Fee, executive director of the New York Housing Conference. “It’s an important issue but we really need leaders to come together to sort out the entire plan. I’m really hopeful there will be a deal before next year's budget because I think there is a lot of common ground on housing between the leaders.”

Some of the most outspoken advocates from the NY/NY Campaign also use one of de Blasio’s main political consultancies, BerlinRosen. A campaign spokesperson for de Blasio also represents affordable housing groups.

Advocates say the $150 million should jump-start the stalled affordable housing pipeline but they are anxious to get a look at the MOU lining out how even that money will be allocated. “It is really important we see what it says,” said Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director for policy for The Coalition for the Homeless.

Gotham Gazette spoke to three individuals representing different firms that are involved in affordable and supportive housing development. Discussing the machinations of their industry on the condition of anonymity, they said that the $150 million in capital funding will get existing projects moving, but without future funding solidified and agreed to “there is no window into the future of what capital will be available.”

They expect most firms to wait to see what kind of agreement the often unpredictable denizens of the state Capitol come up with before moving on new projects because both capital funding and social services funding are necessary to build and run supportive housing projects. Two of the individuals noted that a NY/NY city-state agreement was easily reached under Republican Governor George Pataki, with one noting that Cuomo once led the federal housing agency, something the governor regularly cites when discussing his expertise on housing issues.

They noted that developers want a return to the NY/NY partnership between the city and state that provided a reviewable document outlining what funds for capital and support services would be available and when.

Nortz issued a series of blistering press releases questioning Cuomo’s commitment to housing and homelessness last week. “The Governor's pathetic offer to provide a tiny fraction of what he promised underscores the shallowness of his commitment to housing our homeless neighbors,” wrote Nortz.

Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s chief of staff, responded in kind, tweeting on Friday, “$570M for first year of 5 year pledge fulfilled. Learn to take yes for an answer or stop being credible.”

Cuomo told The New York Times over the weekend that the MOU represented just an installment in a five-year plan.

The private battle over the housing funds between Cuomo and legislative leaders appears to stem from Senate Republicans’ desire to renew the controversial 421-a tax credit for developers, which is supposed to yield some affordable housing. The measure lapsed at the start of this year after Cuomo put negotiations in the hands of labor and real estate, insisting certain wage requirements needed to be part of any deal. There have been stop-and-start negotiations over the renewal for many months, but they have not yielded a deal. Holding on to the housing funds could give Republicans the bargaining chip they need to get 421-a renewed next year, or even sooner.

Cuomo administration officials stress that they feel securing the $1.9 billion in the budget was the hard part and getting it out the door will be much easier.

However, the public battle over the MOU is more centered in the feud between Cuomo and de Blasio. The state and city have traditionally come together in agreement to fund supportive housing (the series of three NY/NY deals), but no deal has materialized under Cuomo and de Blasio. “In the past we had a long-term commitment to create supportive housing that gave investors the reassurance they needed,” said Kristin Miller, director of CSH, an organization that helps find financing for supportive housing projects.

Last fall, de Blasio announced he would commit $3 billion over the next 15 years to create 15,000 units of supportive housing in New York City. Advocates saw it as a way of pressuring Cuomo to deliver his own commitment. De Blasio, his top officials and allies have repeatedly called on the governor to do so, and Cuomo appeared to answer that call during his January State of the State address.

Cuomo made homelessness and supportive housing a major part of that speech and the accompanying budget and policy book. Committing $20 billion over five years to create 100,000 new units of affordable housing and 6,000 units of supportive housing across the state, Cuomo also outlined a number of programs that appeared designed to take away de Blasio’s ability to fund and control the construction of affordable housing while inserting more checks and balances over the city’s shelter system. Some of that plan wound up being jettisoned in budget negotiations.

“The Governor promised 6,000 units and anything short of that is going to be met with disappointment,” said Carla Rabinowitz of Community Access, who is organizing the Tuesday protest at Cuomo’s office. “I know people who have been waiting three to ten years to get into supportive housing and now you’re telling them they have to wait more because of politics? It isn’t acceptable.”

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Despite Expectations, Design-Build for New York City Not Approved in Albany

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a rendering of the New NY Bridge, via The Governor's Office

It is bipartisan legislation that steadily built momentum since its introduction a year ago, gaining support from state legislators, New York City Hall, labor unions, good government groups, and the private sector along the way. But despite proponents’ expectations, the New York City Public Works Investment Act—which would have extended the authority to use “design-build” contracts to some New York City agencies—was not passed by the end of Albany’s legislative session.

The bill, introduced last June, would have allowed five city agencies, including the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Protection, to use the project delivery method known as “design-build” in which a single contractor is responsible for both a project’s design and construction. Both DOT and DEP, as well as a Mayoral spokesperson, have said that design-build would save millions of dollars more annually over traditional “design-bid-build” methods that mandate agencies hire separate entities for design and construction, thereby almost always assuming additional costs.

Initially seen as contentious due to early objections from labor unions, the bill was tweaked to guarantee project labor agreements and was eventually backed by labor and trades groups including the New York Building Congress, Partnership for New York City, the Real Estate Board, the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, the NYC Central Labor Council, DC 37, and the General Contractors Association.

Design-build also has support from several think tanks and good government groups like Citizens Budget Commission, the Center for an Urban Future, the New York University Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, and the Bipartisan Policy Center.

State Assembly Member Michael Benedetto, a Bronx Democrat who sponsored the Assembly version of the bill, had collected memos from the above groups and delivered them to members of the Assembly Cities Committee, which Benedetto chairs. Earlier this month, with weeks remaining in the legislative session, Benedetto told Gotham Gazette that he was confident the bill would pass the committee and “hoping against hope” it would reach Cuomo’s desk. Instead, the end-of-session deadline came and went, and the bill remains in the Cities Committee and Rules Committee in the Assembly and Senate, respectively.

“It was, admittedly, a little bit depressing,” Benedetto said on Monday, the first business day after the session ended in the wee hours of Friday night into Saturday morning. “I thought everyone could have been satisfied from this and the city could have saved some money, but it wasn’t to be.”

The bill ultimately died when members of the Assembly and Senate, negotiating possible amendments to the bill, were unable to reach a consensus. The Senate Cities Committee voted unanimously to pass the bill in its current state, but according to Benedetto, some Assembly members took issue with the bill’s provisions, or lack thereof, for minority and women-owned businesses.

Under the bill’s current language, city agencies would be allowed to consider consultants’ record of compliance with laws “concerning minority and women-owned business enterprise participation” and would have to follow “objectives and goals” for hiring such businesses outlined in the city’s administrative code. But some Assembly members saw these measures as insufficient for ensuring design-build contracts would involve minority and women-owned businesses, according to Benedetto.

State Senator Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, did not respond to a request for comment.

Proponents of design-build expressed surprise and frustration that the bill was not passed. In a statement to Gotham Gazette, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio said design-build would be “the single most effective step” to update aging infrastructure and build new schools and public housing.

“The City looks forward to continuing work with the incredible coalition who supported the legislation—including industry, labor and advocates—to get it passed during the next Albany session,” the spokesperson said. Legislators will return to the capital in January after this fall’s elections for all 150 Assembly and 63 Senate seats.

Design-Build Institute of America Executive Director and CEO Lisa Washington said the institute was “incredibly disappointed” in a statement to Gotham Gazette, and pointed to a DBIA report published in April that reflects steadily increasing use of design-build by state agencies. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has regularly praised use of design-build by the state.

“We have no reason to believe the bill failed on the merits,” Washington said. “We are confident that similar bipartisan legislation can pass the New York Legislature next session, and we will be working hard to make sure that happens.”

Citizens Budget Commission Vice President Maria Doulis told Gotham Gazette she was disappointed with the outcome, and said that the state is “moving very slowly in the area of updating and modernizing its procurement.” She added that, in her opinion, a dispute over language accounting for women and minority-owned businesses could have been easily solved.

“Honoring that consideration has not impeded this from going forward in other places,” Doulis said. “You can do it by maintaining flexibility but also including some requirements for subcontractors.”

Although it will remain off-limits for city agencies for now, certain state agencies are authorized to use design-build thanks to a law that was passed in 2011 and renewed in 2015. Ironically, the latest state agency to exercise this power will do so in Manhattan—Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that the state’s billion-dollar expansion of the Jacob J Javits Center will use a design-build contract.

by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

In Extended Session, Lawmakers Vote Through Variety of Bills with Little Public Review

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The Capitol Building (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin, Governor's Office)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders finished protracted and messy end-of-session negotiations on Friday night -- one day after the scheduled end of legislative session -- not with the traditional celebratory press conference, but with a series of press releases. Sent to reporters as bills were still being negotiated, printed, and voted upon Friday night, Cuomo’s public schedule for Saturday put him in the New York City area with no events.

A press release announcing an agreement on a five-point “ethics reform plan” was sent out at about 7 p.m., though actual bill language wasn’t available until about 1:45 a.m., with legislators expected to vote on the varied measures immediately thereafter.

At a few minutes after 8 p.m., the framework of a deal on a wider variety of issues was announced - dealing with issues like mayoral control of New York City schools; funding for housing homeless people; lead testing in schools; funding for CUNY and SUNY schools; and much more.

Legislators from both houses, many somewhat delirious after consecutive late nights of session followed by early mornings -- some of whom had even taken to sleeping at their desks -- learned of outlines of deals second- or third-hand. Negotiations were largely held by Cuomo, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Independent Democratic Conference head Jeff Klein, with the three legislative leaders reporting back to their conferences.

A long evening at the Capitol building did not end until after 3 a.m., with a strong sense of disorganization and confusion throughout. Even without knowing much about what they were voting on, state Senators voted through the ethics package 60-2 and the "big ugly" mash-up of other bills 61-1.

For the public, many legislators and watchdog groups, this year was defined by the corruption convictions of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, as well as the broad federal investigation into Cuomo’s economic development programs across the state. However, legislators resisted any major reforms that would directly address the issues involved in those cases.

Instead, the Friday deal agreed to by Cuomo and legislative leaders addressed the use of independent expenditure committees; tightened rules on what would be improper coordination between candidate campaigns and committees; did away with a rule from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics that forced lobbyists to disclose their interactions with newspaper editorial boards; and will begin the process of amending the state constitution to strip lawmakers convicted of corruption of their pensions - this measure is an amendment to the state constitution and will therefore have to be passed by a second consecutive state legislature (following this fall’s elections), placed on the ballot, and approved by voters, likely in November, 2017.

Also included is a measure to increase disclosure by 501(c)(4) organizations that take money from 501(c)(3) organizations, a move seen by many as an attack on good government groups that use the latter for funding their advocacy work. Cuomo administration officials have repeatedly referred to good government groups as “shadow lobbyists” while the governor has regularly worked with them on ethics and campaign finance reform measures.

The five-point plan falls significantly short of what Cuomo outlined in his January State of the State speech and of what good government groups and reform-minded legislators have been calling for. In a twist of irony, the ethics related bills were given almost virtually no public review before being moved through.

“For the first time, independent expenditure groups and PACs will be required to adhere to unprecedented disclosure requirements, and New York will have the nation’s strongest rules defining and governing coordination and independence,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Missing from the ethics deal are many of Cuomo’s major proposals he made in January - proposals that include limiting outside income for legislators; closing a loophole that allows corporations to subvert campaign contribution limits by creating multiple LLCs; and measures to prevent campaign accounts controlled by political parties from taking in unlimited donations.

Meanwhile, New York City issues remained major sticking points as leaders hashed out their final deal. It appeared that a breakthrough was reached after Mayor Bill de Blasio told Heastie, de Blasio’s main Albany ally, that he could live with another one-year renewal of mayoral control that mandates the city spell out exactly how much money it is spending on each school.

That renewal is a blow to de Blasio even though the administration calls it as a victory - de Blasio was looking for mayoral control to be made permanent, or at least extended for three years. “This extension is a recognition of the unprecedented progress and achievements mayoral control has delivered for our school system,” Austin Finan, a spokesperson for de Blasio, told The Wall Street Journal.

The deal clearly weakens the city’s independent control of schools and sets de Blasio up for another renewal fight next year when he will be up for reelection. It also empowers charter schools, which de Blasio has often been at odds with to the chagrin of Cuomo and Flanagan, to seek authorizations from SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which is seen as very pro-charter.

One positive for de Blasio was that the Senate approved some of his CUNY nominees and approved two of his MTA nominees, Veronica Vanterpool and David R. Jones, who had been waiting for over a year for confirmation. City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, the third of three de Blasio nominees to the MTA awaiting confirmation, had not been confirmed at the time this article was published.

Another major city issue came to something of a resolution on Friday night as Cuomo and legislative leaders announced they would make available $570 million in capital funding for supportive housing for homeless people. On Thursday a figure of $150 million was floated out of the $2 billion in funds set aside for supportive and affordable housing construction and maintenance in the budget, but not yet allocated. “The Governor's pathetic offer to provide a tiny fraction of what he promised underscores the shallowness of his commitment to housing our homeless neighbors,” said Shelly Nortz, executive director for policy at the Coalition for the Homeless, in reaction to the offer. Groups were not much happier with the $570 figure released on Friday, they want to see the full $1.9 billion allocated by Cuomo, Heastie, and Flanagan.

Deals announced leading up to and on Friday also included moves to improve safety at railroad crossings; fight heroin and opioid addiction; provide $50 million in additional capital funds to CUNY and SUNY; accelerate construction at the Javits Convention Center, and more. Legislation legalizing and regulating daily fantasy sports was passed through the Assembly Friday afternoon and made its way, somewhat surprisingly, to the Senate floor after 2 a.m., where it was passed. It will now go to the governor's desk.

This end-of-session “big ugly” package of legislation appears to have occurred in similar fashion to this year’s budget, with an agreement reached because the parties walked away from the negotiating table. In both cases, as is the tradition, bills were passed with such little review by legislators, advocates, and journalists alike that days of unpacking are ahead.

Not dealt with before the end of session was renewal of the 421-a real estate property tax break meant to spur afforable housing development in New York City and expansion of car-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft to Albany and other parts of the state.

Legislators will now return to their districts to run for reelection facing polls that show voters around the state want sweeping government ethics reform. Cuomo will likely look to bounce back from what has been an up-and-down year that saw him celebrate the political high of winning passage of a $15 minimum wage plan and paid family leave that earned him national attention and accolades from the left yet have members of his inner circle and his administration subpoenaed in a corruption probe. Much of the focus of the months ahead will be on that federal investigation and how the fall elections affect which party controls the state Senate.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

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New York Becomes 17th State to Call for Constitutional Overturn of Citizens United

squadron et al demand democracy

Sen. Squadron and "Demand Democracy" ralliers (photo: @DanielSquadron)

Amid increasing calls for New York to pass bold government ethics reform and minimize the role of money in elections, a bipartisan majority of state lawmakers has taken a symbolic but somewhat significant step in calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case.

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions can be considered individuals as far as their political contributions are concerned and that restricting their ability to donate to candidates amounted to a violation of their First Amendment right of free speech. That decision opened the floodgates to unlimited amounts of money in elections, including through outside groups supportive of candidates that must not coordinate with official campaigns but can raise and spend unlimited sums. Nearly 80 percent of Americans agree that the decision needs to be overturned. As of Wednesday, so do 76 New York State Assembly members (of 150 seats) and 32 State Senators (of 63 seats), a bare majority in each house.

Lawmakers and advocates announced at a news conference at the Capitol Building in Albany on Wednesday that a majority of members had signed letters to Congress calling for an amendment. The declaration came barely a week after Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed legislation to blunt the effects of Citizens United. In his announcement, the governor called the decision of the Supreme Court’s worst and said, “This decision ignited the equivalent of a campaign nuclear arms race and created a shadow industry in New York — maligning the integrity of the electoral process and drowning out the voice of the people. Citizens United must be reversed.” This week, he said one of his six priorities for the remaining legislative session is moving forward with his legislation to combat Citizens United that further restricts coordination between candidates and supportive “independent” committees, known as Super PACs.

New York is the first state with a Republican-controlled chamber to call for an amendment, though only two Republicans supported it. (The last vote that gave the Senate effort a majority came from Democratic Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who was recently elected to the chamber, replacing Republican Dean Skelos, who was removed from office upon a felony corruption conviction.) New York now joins the ranks of 16 other states which have done so through resolutions and ballot initiatives. More than 700 municipalities across the country have also passed resolutions, including 21 in New York.

On Wednesday, Assemblymember James Brennan, who led the effort in his chamber, said in a statement, “When we think about the intent behind campaign finance laws, they are supposed to protect our democracy from corruption while preserving the integrity of our elections. Citizens United has done the opposite. By allowing corporations the same rights as individuals, campaigns across the country are being fueled by obscene amounts of money. This has to stop. I call on Congress to do the right thing and pass a constitutional amendment to right this wrong.”

In the Senate, there were four letters with largely the same language. Twenty-four Democrats signed one letter. The five-member Independent Democratic Conference signed the same letter, albeit separately. Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins signed one independently. The Republicans, Sen. Phil Boyle and Sen. Kemp Hannon, signed their own version with slightly different language.

“There is motion now in Republican-controlled legislatures to support an amendment,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, co-director of the Democracy Is For People campaign at Public Citizen, a nonprofit group that led a coalition of advocates calling on state lawmakers to support an amendment. “The state legislature also needs to follow through and pass state reform,” he added.

Lawmakers more than agree. “It’s great news that a bipartisan majority of State Senators and Assemblymembers support closing the corporate contribution floodgate Citizens United opened,” said Senator Daniel Squadron, in an emailed statement. Squadron led his colleagues in the Democrats’ letter. “It's critical that legislation also move forward to show New York’s strong support for the voice of everyday Americans in the political process.”

Squadron has been one of the leading proponents for closing New York’s infamous “LLC loophole,” which ostensibly allows wealthy individuals and corporations to give unlimited funds to political candidate campaigns through a variety of limited liability companies. Cuomo, a Democrat, has called for closing the loophole and Assembly Democrats have passed such a measure - but the Republican-controlled Senate has balked, defeating the efforts of Squadron and his allies. Good government groups have been calling for closure of the LLC loophole for years, along with a slew of other government ethics and campaign finance reforms in New York, most of which have gone nowhere.

Sen. Boyle, a Long Island Republican, echoed the call for reform in the final legislative package of the year, insisting that his Republican colleagues were equally concerned about the influence of big money on elections both at the state and national level. He said it was important that the same restrictions on campaign contributions apply to corporations, unions, and individuals, hitting one of the key sticking points for Republicans: that unions are treated similarly to corporations. Boyle recognizes that signing a letter to Congress is a symbolic move, but one that can have a strong impact. “I think it’s going to energize the debate and hopefully draw the attentions of our federal legislators,” he said in a phone interview. “As much pressure on Washington D.C. as we can exert, the better.”

Sen. Stewart-Cousins was also encouraged by two Republicans signing on to the petition and called for additional action on legislative reform. “Addressing the negative impact that the Citizens United decision has had on our democracy is important,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “but also we must take action to fix our own glaring campaign finance and ethics issues in New York State such as closing the LLC Loophole which also allows special interests to contribute endless amounts of money. The people of New York deserve an electoral system and government that they can trust.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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