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Opinion

Opinion

Governor Cuomo Has Just Weeks to Embrace a Real Green New Deal for New York


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Gov. Cuomo (photo: governor's office)


As debate over the Green New Deal has seized the nation, the young people of Sunrise Movement have been challenging politicians to answer a simple question: What is your plan?

In April, the New York City Council rose to that challenge with a series of bills that sets a high-water mark for urban climate action across the globe. Mayor de Blasio is expected to sign the Climate Mobilization Act soon.

Governor Cuomo, meanwhile, has allowed the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA), the most ambitious climate legislation in the country, to languish in Albany. “I don’t see anything specific for the rest of the session” in terms of environmental legislation, the governor said recently -- a shocking statement considering the lack of climate action coming from Albany -- about the state government agenda before the legislative session ends mid-June.

Climate change is an existential threat for my generation. Young people deserve more than lip service from leaders who have consistently failed to confront the crisis over the past decade.

New Yorkers know this. We’ve seen the impacts of climate change and fossil fuel pollution in record-breaking heat waves, devastating hurricanes like Superstorm Sandy, and overwhelmingly high rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases. We know we need to act urgently to meet the scale of the challenge.

To his credit, Governor Cuomo put forth a vision for climate action in his executive budget. He calls it a Green New Deal. Unfortunately, his plan is not worthy of the name.

The young people of Sunrise ask politicians to share their plans so that we can see who is serious about tackling climate change and who is not. We have three criteria for judging what constitutes a serious plan to address the crisis.

First, the Green New Deal needs to transition the entire economy to clean energy. Governor Cuomo only sets enforceable decarbonization targets for the electricity sector.

Second, the Green New Deal needs to make sure resources flow directly to the communities hit hardest by climate change – particularly communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. The governor talks about environmental justice – but his plan fails to put his money where his mouth is.

Finally, the Green New Deal needs to center the good, family-supporting jobs that will be created through investments in renewable energy. The governor’s proposal doesn’t yet outline a comprehensive way to make that happen.

Here’s the thing: the Climate and Community Protect Act, which predates Governor Cuomo’s ‘Green New Deal,’ would accomplish these three needs. The CCPA is a vision for climate justice that has been improved and expanded and revised for almost four years with the support of over 150 community, labor, and environmental organizations.

Spearheaded by a coalition called NY Renews, the CCPA is the holistic approach to the climate crisis that New Yorkers deserve. The coalition’s plan sets a legally enforceable timeline to get New York’s entire economy off of fossil fuels by 2050 while also ensuring that 40 percent of state funding goes to frontline and vulnerable communities (low-income and communities of color, among others, facing the brunt of environmental harms), and that the green jobs created are also good jobs that follow prevailing wages and provide training and apprenticeships when possible.

The federal Green New Deal resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has broken new ground for its success in bringing climate change to the fore in Congress. But in New York, the CCPA has for years been a model for climate legislation that centers both good jobs and healthy communities.

Climate change, pollution, and environmental harms have exacerbated systematic inequality by disproportionately affecting indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and yes, youth like young climate strikers and the Sunrise members that have been showing up nationwide to push their representatives toward climate action.

Governor Cuomo says he wants to be at the forefront of the climate movement — framing his proposals as a ‘Green New Deal’ demonstrates as much. But the way New York should lead the climate movement is by modeling the power of community-focused action. The governor’s plan wouldn’t get us to 100 percent renewable energy economy-wide, and it doesn’t include the kinds of provisions we need for jobs or justice. Superstorm Sandy has already showed us how necessary it is to invest in the frontline communities hit hardest by the climate crisis. No justice, no deal.

The CCPA, however, enshrines in law an enforceable timeline to eliminate fossil fuels throughout New York by 2050, meaning that New Yorkers will not only have a plan, they will have recourse to ensure the state follows through.

The CCPA has passed the State Assembly three times already, only to be stopped by what used to be the climate change-denying, Republican Senate leadership. That’s changed now, and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has embraced the CCPA and its coalition of community, labor, and environmental groups.

If Governor Cuomo can’t commit to supporting the CCPA, then the state legislature needs to force his hand by putting the bill on his desk.

In 2019, all climate action is long past due. With the federal Green New Deal stalled in Congress thanks to fossil fuel executives and their allies in Republican leadership, what we need now is for our state leaders to step up. The CCPA is ready, and New Yorkers are ready too.

The question is, is the governor?

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Matthew Miles Goodrich is New York State Director of Sunrise Movement. On Twitter @mmilesgoodrich & @sunrisemvmt.

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Manhattan GOP Goes Full Trump, Ruining Chances for Years to Come


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(photo: @RealDonaldTrump)


Well, it’s happened. The barbarians have finally sacked the city.

On February 1, Trump enthusiast Ian Walsh Reilly assumed the leadership of the Metropolitan Republican Club, one of the oldest Republican clubs in New York City. Like Trump, Ian’s the kind of guy who bumps elbows with high-profile racists and unrepentant misogynists like Gavin McInnes, founder of the alt-right nationalist group The Proud Boys.

Ian just couldn’t wait to get Gavin in front of his club’s membership last year, and this epic lapse in judgment resulted in a nearly 24-hour cycle of violence and vandalism – on Manhattan’s tony Upper East Side no less.

Then, on April 20, Ian’s lickspittle lackey Gavin Wax and sidekick Vish Burra claimed top spots at the New York Young Republican Club. (Wax is currently facing criminal charges of Forcible Touching and Sexual Abuse, while Burra was charged with felony drug possession in 2015.)

These organizations form the backbone of the Manhattan GOP’s voter and volunteer base, and are now firmly under the control of Trumpist alt-right acolytes, which puts Manhattan Republican Party Chair Andrea Catsimatidis in a bit of a bind.

Trump lost Manhattan in the 2016 GOP Primary to John Kasich, and scored less than 10% of the vote borough-wide on Election Day. For a party organization tasked with recruiting candidates, raising money, and winning elections, I’m stumped as to what their endgame strategy is.

No serious New York City candidate will ever run on a Republican ticket with Trump, and no candidate who embraces Trump will ever win in the city (outside of Staten Island – and sometimes not even there).

Could the ascent of people like Wax, Burra, and Reilly be a sign that local County Committees and their ancillary groups have simply thrown in the towel on ever building a real party apparatus, and have instead opted to simply cash in on the rubes and dupes and Pizzagate pushers that comprise the monochromatic Trump coalition?

Sure seems like it.

If Trump wins re-election in 2020, his personality and policies will undoubtedly reshape the current Republican Party for many years to come. But if Trump is defeated, then the GOP, especially in urban areas, will have a unique opportunity to redefine what it means to be a Republican in the 21st Century.

However, those who embraced Trump, either half-heartedly or with bear hugs, won’t be able to make that case. Sorry, but Trump taint just don’t bleach.

New York City constitutes nearly half the statewide vote, and from day one, it’s been abundantly clear that Trump does not share the city’s values.

But until Manhattan and other borough Republicans disavow, disassociate, and condemn the president, a majority of city voters simply won’t give two cowpats about what ideas we have on public housing, higher education, infrastructure, jobs, student debt, and criminal justice reform.

If our leaders refuse to assert themselves at the grassroots level – or worse yet, co-opt the alt-right message, then the GOP in the Empire State is doomed.

We need our County Chairs and State Party officers to lead, to communicate to young people and veteran activists alike what a winning strategy and message look and sound like. Hint: it’s not Donald J. Trump.

But if they’re either unwilling or unable to do so, then perhaps the time has come for experienced operatives and establishment groups, who have so far largely stood on the sidelines and quietly seethed, to strike back with a vengeance in order to preserve the party of Teddy Roosevelt so that it won’t be spoken of in the same breath as ‘pussy’-grabbers, conspiracy theorists, and xenophobes.

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John William Schiffbauer is a political consultant, and was the Deputy Communications Director for the New York Republican State Committee from 2014 to 2016. On Twitter @JWSGOP.

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Mass Gang Takedowns are Not ‘Doing Justice’


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Preet Bharara (photo: @PennLaw)


Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has a new book entitled Doing Justice, which is designed to further establish his position within the “Trump Resistance” by playing up his commitment to the rule of law in the face of the politicized actions of the Trump Justice Department. In it he argues that there is no place for politics in the decisions about which cases to take on and how to prosecute them.

"Certain norms do matter,” Bharara writes. “Our adversaries are not our enemies; the law is not a political weapon; objective truths do exist; fair process is essential in civilized society.”

But this rhetoric of justice and legal formalism stands in sharp contrast to his role in prosecuting young people from the Bronx accused of being “the worst of the worst” as part of the Bronx 120 “gang takedown.”

In 2016 the NYPD and a variety of federal agencies conducted the largest mass arrest of alleged gang members in New York City history, rounding up 120 individuals. Then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Bharara undertook the prosecution of those cases using the broad powers of the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. He alleged that these were hardened criminals who had created a vast criminal enterprise that was terrorizing their Bronx community.

Those arrested faced severe felony charges that caused almost all of them to accept plea deals after being held without the possibility of bail for up to two years.

A recent study of the outcomes of these 120 cases by CUNY Law Professor K. Babe Howell calls into question whether the interests of justice were served in these cases.

Howell’s report documents that after three years of court proceedings, 80 of the 120 were not convicted of a violent crime, a third of the defendants spent between zero and two years in prison, and 35 of those arrested were only convicted based on conspiracy to sell marijuana. She also found that almost all the defendants were eligible for a public defender, suggesting that these defendants had no financial resources despite supposedly belonging to a major “criminal enterprise.”

In fact, only around half of the defendants were ever even accused of being gang members. Nearly half of those arrested, including those facing the most serious charges, had already been convicted in state court for the same conduct; some were in prison or jail at the time of arrest.

On the other hand, in one case, Kraig Lewis was arrested in another state while completing a master’s program. He was beating all the odds. He had studied hard through college, as a scholar-athlete, playing basketball, running track, and making the dean’s list. In 2013, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He decided to enroll in an MBA program, and was excelling at it, all while paying it back to his community. He coached a kids’ basketball team and created and organized a “Stop the Violence” basketball tournament aimed at raising awareness of gun violence in inner city communities. And through it all, he was raising a young son.

In his final semester of grad school in 2016, on track to receive his MBA, Kraig was arrested in the Bronx 120 raid. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, headed by Bharara, argued that he should be detained without bail, even though he had no criminal record, and had never been in trouble. His classmates graduated, and walked the stage to receive their diplomas. Kraig sat in jail. His six-year-old son went to school without his dad to walk him there. He celebrated birthdays and milestones. He didn’t understand why his dad was gone.

Kraig is out now. He was given a sentence of time served for conspiracy to distribute narcotics (marijuana). But his life is not the same. He remembers seeing a friend stabbed in the neck while he was in jail. He remembers missing his son’s birthdays. He remembers how full of potential his life was, before the arrest. Even though he completed his MBA program through another school while in jail, his future is not the same. Not with a felony conviction.

These prosecutions were clearly political in nature. Bharara and then-NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton went to extensive lengths to demonize the people arrested in the Bronx 120 raid and presented the public a false narrative that this and other such raids are the way to make communities safer.

Arresting large numbers of people because of their alleged involvement with marijuana dealing, re-arresting people already in prison to produce a show trial, and branding young people struggling to make a future for themselves with a felony record is not justice and it doesn’t create long-term safety for their communities.

Bharara was confronted with the accusations Wednesday night at a Brennan Center event at NYU Law School by the moderator, Margaret Hoover of Firing Line on PBS. He responded that he acted on the advice of the NYPD, whose officials argued that this was the way to respond to an acute crisis of violent crime. He also pointed out that there was community support for some of the other raids he prosecuted in Westchester County.

This defense doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue, and doesn’t match Bharara’s other rhetoric. Prosecutors are supposed to make independent assessments of what is going to produce real justice, not just take the word of the police or respond to the loudest voices in a community. And they certainly shouldn’t agree to broad-based sweeps as conspiracy indictments.

Bharara himself admitted that criminal justice-led solutions, whether directed at violence or Wall Street corruption are unlikely to be successful on their own. We need a more holistic approach that understands the limits of deterrence-based strategies.

This is exactly correct. Instead of relying on police to give us ever-larger groups of socially-networked defendants and putting them in prison for ever-longer sentences, we need to legalize marijuana, provide community-based violence reduction efforts such as Cure Violence, and invest in the lives of young people so that they have real pathways to economic self-sufficiency.

Preet Bharara claims to be “doing justice,” so it is time for him to admit that these mass raids and RICO conspiracy cases are unjust and that those arrested should be given clemency.

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Alex S. Vitale is professor of sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College and the author of The End of Policing. On Twitter @avitale.

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