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New York City Residents and Economy are Generating an Increasingly Large Share of State Government Resources


gov cuomo fy exec budget

(photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


New York City and its economy have been growing at an extraordinary pace in recent years - it is quite clear that the city is generating jobs, development, and wealth. It continues to have major problems - affordable housing and homelessness crises, a deteriorated mass transit system, and nearly 20% of its population still trapped in poverty - but its overall economy has been growing.

This growth is occurring in the context of a set of perennial questions, both during state budget season when the allocation of resources across the state is decided every winter, and during campaign season, when most of the competitive legislative districts, especially for the State Senate this election year, are actually outside New York City.

Those questions are: What is the place of New York City in the state economy? Is the city a drain on the resources of the rest of the state’s residents, or a net contributor to the rest of the state? Should the city be forced to pay more to the state, or less? In the campaigns outside the city, a standard Republican refrain is to persuade voters to stick with the Republicans or lose power to “New York City Democrats,“ which presumably means there is a danger to out-of-city residents that more of their tax dollars will be spent on urban problems.

Ideally, of course, the state’s policies should allocate resources based on meeting the needs of all the people of the state in every region, rather than merely sending back equal amounts of money to the communities the dollars came from on the basis of how much they contributed in taxes. But one thing is true: the idea that New York City is a drain on the resources of the rest of the state’s regions and residents is absolutely not accurate.

The Rockefeller Institute of Government, a research institute affiliated with the State University of New York, in 2011 analyzed the basic question of where the money for New York State comes from by region, and where it is then spent by region, and confirmed that New York City is a net contributor to the state of New York as a whole. The data came from the State 2009-10 Fiscal Year, nine years ago. This article looks at trends since that time, but the evidence only shows that New York City residents and the city economy are providing an ever larger share of the State’s resources.

The City’s Status in 2009
The New York City economy’s strength in providing revenue to the state might seem intuitively obvious these days, but more surprising is that the Rockefeller Institute study showed that the city does not receive in spending its per capita share of the state’s population. As a member of the state Assembly at budget hearings over the years, I would listen to Republican state senators complain about the Medicaid program, and, guess what, they were right! Maybe not about the program’s overall value or burden, but about the fact that a lot of money in that program does go to New York City, which took 62% of the expenditure of the state-funds-only part of the Medicaid program. It was practically everything else that went the other way, with less funding to New York City and more elsewhere.

When you added in the state universities, the state prisons, and psychiatric hospitals, other state hospitals, the road, bridge, and highway spending, and even state aid to elementary and secondary education, the totality of the expenditures brought the city’s share of the state-funds-only budget to 40% of spending, while the city’s share of the population then was 42.9%, as pictured in this table from the study:

“Giving and Getting: Regional Distribution of Revenue & Spending in the NY State Budget, Fiscal Year 2009-10,” Rockefeller Institute of Government 2011

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Local Assistance grants in the table above included both the Medicaid program and Aid to Education, revenue sharing, community colleges, and property tax relief spending (where the state gave school districts money in compensation for lost revenue from the STAR property tax exemptions for homeowners, where the districts lost funds). The average of all of the Local Assistance programs came to 49% for the city, but in two other large categories of spending, State agencies and State Capital Projects, the City amounted to less than one quarter of the spending, resulting in the overall 40% share.

The City’s Contribution to State Resources in 2009
The source of the state’s tax and other revenues, even in 2009, exceeded New York City’s per capita share of the state’s population, whether calculated from the residents of the city only, or the city as a place of work (Rockefeller study):

 

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The city economy’s share of the state’s tax and other receipts in 2009 (48.7%) is partly explained by the large number of New Jersey, Connecticut, and other non-residents who work in the City and pay nonresident income taxes. About 14% of the state’s income taxes come from nonresidents. The city residents’ share of state revenues also exceeded its share of the population in 2009 (45.1 vs. 42.9), reflecting a combination of some very high-income and low-income taxpayers and residents. The city’s overall status in the state in terms of income and shares in 2009 is also reflected in this table:

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New York City’s Status Today
The city’s economy is now providing a far higher share of state revenue than in 2009, during the national recession. I estimate the share based on residency now reaches 50%, and the share as a place of work reaches 53% or more.

In 2009, the city’s share of the state’s employment was 43%, but the City has gained 715,000 jobs out of 977,000 gained statewide between 2009 and 2017, according to state labor department data, and now stands at over 46% of state employment. The city was home to 44.9% of the state’s personal income in 2009, produced 45.1 % of state revenue from its residents, and 48.7% of state revenue as a place of work (Rockefeller study). A New York State Assembly economic report showed  the city’s status as of 2016.

New York State Assembly 2018 Economic and Revenue Report

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According to the Assembly economic report, the city’s share of the state’s personal income was 46.6% in 2016, higher than the 44.9% in 2009. If the same proportion for resident revenue share and place of work share held from 2009 to 2016, the city share of state revenue rises to 46.8% as a place of residence, and 50.4% as a place of work. Personal income statistics do not include capital gains income, but it is a source of income tax revenue. Capital gains income was severely depressed in 2009 due to the recession. In 2018, several billion more dollars in income tax revenue from capital gains, heavily concentrated among wealthy New York City residents, has significantly increased New York City’s share of state revenue, above and beyond the general growth in jobs and income. The following table from the state Division of the Budget shows the impact of the recession:

New York State Division of Budget, Economic & Revenue Outlook, 2012-2013, p.145

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The table shows the spectacular $84 billion drop in capital gains in New York between 2007 and 2009 -- from $118 to $33.9 billion -- and the Rockefeller Institute report data reflects the low level of tax revenue from that year.

What about now?

New York State Division of Budget, Economic & Revenue Outlook, 2018-2019, p.111

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Capital gains realizations for income tax purposes have risen $66 billion since 2009 to the 2019 state estimate, from $33.9 to $100.2 billion.

What does that mean for New York City?

The state Division of the Budget estimates that the top 1% of New York taxpayers pay 42-43% of the state’s income tax liability. What about in the city? A New York City Independent Budget Office study of city tax returns showed that in 2014 the top 1% of New York City residents paid $9.9 billion in state income taxes, which is about 60% of the tax liability of the top 1% of New York State taxpayers that year. Division of Budget figures also show that the top 1% of taxpayers have about 80% of capital gains income, meaning most of the tax revenue from capital gains comes from the wealthiest taxpayers. Income taxes provide 60% of state tax revenue.

The New York City Economy Share of State Tax & Other Receipts Now Reaches 53% or More
I estimate that when New York’s tax rates on upper-income and super-wealthy taxpayers are applied to the extra $66 billion in capital gains income, the city’s share of total state revenue moves up two-and-a-half percentage points, reflecting about $2.5 billion more paid in income taxes from capital gains out of an additional roughly $4.5 billion in income taxes from capital gains paid statewide -- using $78 billion in receipts in 2009 and $106 billion in 2019 as the bases for the calculations. An extra two-and-a-half points bring the city’s share from 50.4% to about 53% of total revenue payments. The overall concentration of growth in New York City likely also brought in more sales tax, real estate transfer tax, and other revenue, bringing the share to more than 53% of state revenue, ten points higher than the city’s 43% share of the state population. On the resident side the share should be at least 50%.

The State Spending Side Today
On the spending side of the equation I don’t believe there are significant differences from 2009 in terms of percentages. There have been many changes in the ensuing years but they tend to cancel each other out.

New York City’s revenue sharing from the state, which was $246 million in 2009, was eliminated that year. The state enacted a new property tax relief program worth $1 billion a year that provides rebates exclusively outside New York City, in addition to the STAR program. Governor Cuomo and the Legislature agreed in 2012 to a 2% property tax increase cap for municipalities outside New York City, along with an agreement for the state to absorb all additional local government Medicaid expenses above their 2012 spending base, including New York City’s obligation. This freeze on local Medicaid spending had the effect of helping both the city and the counties outside the city in the same proportion as the overall regional expenditure for the Medicaid program. The city’s gain from the Medicaid freeze was offset by the loss of revenue sharing and the added property tax relief spending outside the city on a regional allocation basis.

In 2014 Mayor de Blasio sought and won a universal full-day prekindergarten program, worth $300 million a year from the state. But the money ended up incorporated in the city’s overall share of Aid to Education, which stayed at the same 39% of total aid from the state as it had been for years before that.

In 2016 the state approved a new Capital Spending program for the MTA, but the State Senate insisted on parity for Highway, Road, and Bridge spending, and a capital program of $27 billion for road and bridge work was adopted at the same time, most of which is spent outside the city. The state received more than $10 billion in funds from legal settlements with financial institutions related to recession-era wrongdoing, and applied large portions of the funds to upstate economic development and infrastructure projects.

The state also cut taxes extensively during the Cuomo years, including corporate, estate, and income taxes (a high rate was maintained on incomes now above $2.1 million per year), but these policies tended to concentrate tax payments into the upper income brackets and thus concentrate them in the city, as discussed above.

How these changes will affect future budgets is uncertain, but the facts are that the New York City economy keeps generating a larger share of state resources while the city does not receive an outsize proportion of state spending.

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Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter @JimBrennanNY.

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[Updated] Can Democrats win the state Senate? How progressive is Cuomo? New Yorkers are about to find out


New York Democratic Party

Gov. Cuomo (photo via New York Democratic Party)


This op-ed is an updated version of a previously published column, now accounting for the October 32-day Pre-General Campaign Financial Disclosure and incorporating other new information, including reader feedback from the original version, previously published in Gotham Gazette October 2.

In the November 6 general election, New York Democrats have a historic opportunity to take control of the state Senate. If this happens, Democrats would control both houses of the state Legislature for only the third time in the last 100 years, unlocking years of bottled up progressive legislation passed by the Democratically-controlled Assembly but blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Assuming Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, wins reelection as he is expected to, a number of these bills may very well land on his desk, including those related to universal health care; election, voting and campaign finance reforms; reproductive health rights; equal education funding for city schools; equal protections for LGBT and disabled people; carbon emissions elimination; immigration protections, including making New York a sanctuary state; and criminal justice reforms.

Recent history might temper optimism, however. New York Democratic voters chose the status quo over the bold reforms represented by the Cynthia Nixon-Jumaane Williams-Zephyr Teachout slate in September’s primaries and in last year’s constitutional convention ballot referendum. In the 2016 state Senate races, 98% of incumbents were re-elected.

We’ll soon see how powerful New York’s blue wave really is, both on Election Day and in the legislative session that will follow beginning in January. A few key questions:

But didn’t progressives just defeat the IDC?
Sort of and it’s insufficient.

Before the primary, there were actually more “Democrats” in the state Senate than Republicans, even though the GOP conference held a 40-23, then 32-31 majority in the 63-seat chamber.

Nine Democrats were either part of the Republican conference or in a power-sharing agreement via the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), giving the GOP a majority for the recent two-year legislative session (and prior) and preventing progressive legislation from reaching the Senate floor. Eight of those senators were members of the IDC, which did rejoin the “mainline” Democratic conference in April, after a new state budget had been passed, which led to the 32-31 GOP majority for the final months of the session that ended in June.

In the September 13 primary, six former IDC members were defeated. The ninth rogue Democrat, Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, has been part of the Republican Conference for multiple terms, and was even reelected in 2016 on both the Democratic and Republican ballot lines. He won his primary challenge last month.

Despite losing in the Democratic primary, all six defeated former IDC members are likely to remain on November’s ballot on other party lines, often the Independence Party and/or Women’s Equality Party. The October filings indicate that the six defeated IDC members did not have any meaningful campaign activity in the post-primary weeks, but Senator Tony Avella has declared he is campaigning to win in the general election, and neither Senator Jeff Klein nor Senator Jesse Hamilton has formally declared their intentions. Democratic Party leaders may try to reward defeated IDC members -- like former conference leader Klein and Hamilton -- with judgeships to keep them from actively campaigning.

Surviving former IDC Senators David Carlucci and Diane Savino, along with Felder, will almost certainly win re-election in November.  

What do Democrats really need to do?
Net one seat. If Democrats flip just one GOP-held Senate seat and hold onto those they currently have, then Democrats will have a real 32-31 majority heading into next year. Competitive Senate races exist on Long Island and upstate, including several districts where Democrats failed to run any candidate at all in 2016.

What’s possible?
Flipping ten seats. My most optimistic scenario has Democrats flipping ten GOP-held seats and holding onto their own, for a 41-22 majority.

If the primaries were any indicator, November turnout will be high, which will benefit Democrats due to their two-to-one registration advantage across the state. Primary turnout more than doubled since the last comparable election in 2014. In Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties, Democratic primary turnout actually tripled from 2014 to this year.

Democrats are mounting competitive races in the five GOP-held districts where the current officeholder is retiring. In 2012, Obama carried all of those districts; In 2016, Clinton carried one and Trump won by 6% or less in the other four. Democrats are also contesting several other races where the Republican incumbent is seen as beatable.

Below is my list for the best opportunities for Democrats to flip GOP-held Senate seats, categorized as “Most likely to flip,” “Highly competitive,” and “Long-shots.” You can see the full detailed spreadsheet here.

In compiling this list, I considered voter registration differential, popularity as measured by the number of individual campaign contributors, money including party funding, voting results by state Senate in the two most recent presidential elections, the power of incumbency, and signals of grassroots activism.

Senate District

Money matters -- to pay for campaign staff, advertising, get-out-the-vote efforts, and more. The table above includes the most recent Board of Elections campaign disclosures, filed by October 1. Grassroots support can certainly counteract big money, as IDC challenger Alessandra Biaggi demonstrated in her primary defeat of former IDC leader Klein, but it’s difficult to conceive how other candidates could overcome comparable odds. Klein outspent Biaggi nearly seven-to-one -- $2.8 million to Biaggi’s $414,457 -- but Biaggi raised money from 47 times the number of contributors that Klein had.

Past voter preferences matter, especially since they don’t necessarily follow in line with voter registration data. The 2012 presidential election was more reflective of deeply felt beliefs in these districts, which had with one exception solid pluralities for Obama. Democratic voters who stayed home may have contributed to the mixed results of the 2016 election. By this year, 2016’s GOP victories didn’t deter -- and perhaps motivated -- Democratic contributors and may have awakened Democrats who came out in droves to vote in this year’s primaries. In addition, changing demographics have also affected these districts in ways that potentially favor progressive Democratic candidates.

Party money also matters. Both Democrats and Republicans have state Senate campaign committees, which have injected money into select races as shown on my chart. The full extent of Cuomo’s financial support remains to be seen.

What’s the rundown on the races?
James Skoufis vs. Tom Basile (SD-39): Assemblymember Skoufis has a solid lead in every respect that should offset the weak Democratic performance in the past presidential elections. The significant GOP support for Basile signals the party’s concern. Even after the GOP’s $288,300 investment, Skoufis had a commanding 9.5 times more money as of the most recent filing.

Jen Lunsford vs. Rich Funke (SD-55); Anna Kaplan vs. Elaine Phillips (SD-7), Karen Smythe vs. Sue Serino (SD-41): These three races occur in districts with vulnerable GOP incumbents. In all three, huge Democratic Party enrollment and presidential voting advantages could overcome GOP funding advantages. In SD-7, the GOP is concerned enough to invest $254,500 to prop up incumbent Senator Phillips.

Jeremy Cooney vs. Joseph Robach (SD-56): Jeremy Cooney has everything going for him -- but money. He’s in a heavily Democratic district that came out big for Obama and Clinton. His grassroots popularity is reflected in the number of individual donations. But his relatively low cash balance against a well-funded incumbent, Senator Robach, is so large that the GOP seems to have decided Robach doesn’t need additional help.

Jim Gaughran vs. Carl Marcellino (SD-5): This district may define the red-to-blue wave as it is one of the few in the country that flipped from voting Republican to Democrat between the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, perhaps indicating a demographic shift. As of September, Gaughran and Marcellino had roughly the same balance remaining in their campaign accounts, motivating both parties to pony up for the final weeks of the campaign. GOP support gives Marcellino an edge in overall funding that Gaughran’s enthusiastic grassroots supporters can overcome, especially since Marcellino only won by 1.2% in 2016 over Gaughran.

Jen Metzger vs. Annie Rabbitt (SD-42) and Monica Martinez vs. Dean Murray (SD-3): Both of these districts were solid Trump districts in 2016 after having been solid Obama districts in 2012. Both enjoy large Democratic majorities and no incumbents. Metzger and Martinez are also winning the hearts and dollars of individual contributors over their GOP opponents. Metzger’s impressive overall campaign funding advantage of 1.8 times Rabbitt is solid; Martinez’s deficit to Murray of 1.4 times her fundraising can also be surmounted by a strong grassroots effort down the stretch.

Andrew Gounardes vs. Marty Golden (SD-22): This Southern Brooklyn seat represents why many GOP-held districts are vulnerable. Since 2012, when incumbent Republican Senator Golden won his last competitive race, the district’s demographics have changed dramatically. Today, 40% of residents are now people of color, especially Asian and Hispanic; and 43% are immigrants, primarily Asian, eastern European, and Mexican. Residents work in blue-collar industries like transportation, wholesale, and construction. Virtually every racial group earns less than the median for New York State. These changes create the setting for the red-to-blue opportunity for progressive Democrat Gounardes, Golden’s opponent in 2012.

In less than 30 days between the post-primary and the October filings, Gounardes has substantially narrowed the funding gap with Golden after having spent significantly during a hard-fought Democratic primary. Golden’s 7 times funding advantage shunk to 2.3 times with the help of the state Senate campaign fund. The lopsided Democratic registration advantage in the district is a red herring; some of the district’s constituents register as Democrats in order to have a say in New York City primaries, but vote GOP in the general election. Many registered Democrats in the district have voted Republican in mayoral and other elections for years. [Disclosure: I’m a member of Gounardes’ finance committee.]

Aaron Gladd vs. Daphne Jordan (SD-43): This district is a conundrum. The GOP enjoys a strong registration advantage but went for Obama in 2012 and narrowly chose Trump in 2016. Gladd’s advantage in contributors and overall funding sufficiently concerns the GOP enough to drop money to support Jordan.

Lou D’Amaro vs. Phil Boyle (SD-4) and John Mannion vs. Bob Antonacci (SD-50): In both races, the GOP is winning on number of contributors and overall funding balance going into the final weeks of the election. Mannion’s situation may be so bleak that the Democrats have thrown a pile of cash into this race, while the GOP, smelling a potential win, has also invested.

Kevin Thomas vs. Kemp Hannon (SD-6) and Pete Harckham vs. Terrence Murphy (SD-40): It’s very hard to imagine that Thomas and Harckham can overcome the massive campaign balance deficits as compared to their GOP opponents in the waning weeks of the election.

Aren’t there Democrats at risk?
Incumbent Democrats appear safe. John Brooks in Senate District 8 on Long Island is often mentioned as a potential risk, probably due to his narrow 214-vote (0.2%) win in 2016 over then-incumbent GOP Senator Michael Venditto. But now-incumbent Brooks has a solid fundraising lead over his GOP challenger, Jeff Pravato, in a district that went for Obama and Clinton and has a solid Democratic voter registration advantage.

Democrats need to ensure that primary victors Rachel May in SD-53 and Alessandra Biaggi in SD-34, both of whom beat IDC members, continue their momentum through November. The IDC incumbents they defeated are likely to appear on other ballot lines and have significant money. May’s opponent, David Valesky, reported a $340,038 post-primary balance to May’s $41,209, though he has recently declared that he will not campaign in the general. Biaggi’s opponent, former IDC leader Klein, reported a post-primary balance of $497,267 and has not indicated his plans for the general election.

On October 8, former IDC Senator Avella of Queens, who lost in the Democratic primary to John Liu, announced that he will actively campaign in a long-shot attempt to win the November election on the Independence Party and Women’s Equality Party lines. As of the recent filing, Liu had a 3.3 times funding advantage over Avella and an energized and active campaign operation.

So what’s going to happen?
On November 6, Democrats will take control of the New York State Senate with a solid majority that Republicans cannot hold back. This, along with holding onto a wide majority in the Assembly, will likely result in a steady stream of progressive legislation on the governor’s desk to sign, giving Cuomo the opportunity to make history New York has been waiting for.

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Art Chang is a writer, thinker and strategist at the intersection of technology and government. He is a former board member of New York City’s Campaign Finance Board, where he led the creation of NYC Votes and Voting.NYC. On Twitter @achangnyc.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]

In Need of Partners: Affordability Gap Too Large for New York City to Cover Alone


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(photo: @NYCHousing)


New York City is a city of renters, and affordable housing is a perennial concern of New Yorkers. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city has committed an unprecedented level of resources to create and preserve affordable housing units and make critical repairs at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). But is it realistic to think the city can address affordability for all rent-burdened New Yorkers?

A new report from Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) indicates rental burdens have not improved since 2014, and are most severe for low-income single households, particularly single seniors. The most effective programs for providing low-income, affordable housing have been federally funded; the city cannot handle the affordability problem on its own.

CBC analysis of data from the 2017 Housing Vacancy Survey (HVS) shows more than 921,000 renter households in New York City, or 44 percent of all renters, pay at least 30 percent of their income in rent, even after accounting for the value of federal rental housing vouchers and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (food stamps). Twenty-two percent of households – more than 462,000 families and single adults – are severely rent burdened, which means they pay 50 percent or more of their income in rent.

Severe rent burdens disproportionately affect single households: 35 percent of single seniors, 27 percent of single households, and 26 percent of single-parent households were low-income and severely burdened. In contrast, about 15 percent of households with multiple adults were low-income and severely burdened.

These findings are largely unchanged from the last time the HVS was conducted in 2014. The share of rent-burdened households increased to 44 percent from 42 percent, while the share of severely burdened remained unchanged. Severe burdens increased slightly among low-income single households and seniors.

The primary challenge in tackling the “affordability gap” is that the lowest income households require subsidies to supplement what they can afford to pay in rent. Historically, federal housing programs have been most effective at addressing these needs. According to the 2017 HVS, two-thirds of the lowest income households that are not rent burdened either reside in federally-subsidized public housing or receive Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. Most of the remaining third benefit from some other form of subsidy from the city, state or federal governments.

While city government has a role to play in addressing rental burdens, it is unrealistic to expect the city to close the gap on its own. The number of extremely and very low income New York City households that pay half their income in rent exceeds the mayor’s entire 300,000-unit housing plan. Meanwhile, NYCHA faces a $32 billion capital need, and its public housing units are in the worst condition of all rental housing in the city. The cost of addressing these challenges vastly exceeds the city’s financial resources. Any meaningful response to preserve public housing and address the housing needs of severely rent burdened New Yorkers will require willing partners in Albany and Washington.

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Sean Campion is a senior research associate for Citizens Budget Commission. On Twitter @cbcny.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]

Unlocking the Key to Real Affordable Housing in New York City


unlocking key aff

(photo: @NYCHousing)


Let’s say you’re a single mother of one child with an annual income of $45,000 looking for a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. Off to a seemingly good start, you found a wonderful “affordable housing” unit, but the monthly rent is $2,700 with an annual salary requirement of $95,000. This is definitely out of reach, so you try to find a studio apartment and hope for the best. You find an “affordable” studio apartment, this time in Queens -- but you need at least a $75,000 salary for a monthly rent of $2,200. This isn’t affordable either. What gives?

One of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s main priorities, since taking office in 2014, is to build more affordable housing at a rate never seen before in New York City. Last year, the mayor announced his plan to boost production of affordable housing to 25,000 apartments annually by 2021, and set a new goal of 300,000 apartments by 2026. These terms and numbers, along with the language the mayor uses in celebrating his affordable housing achievements, give the perception that people will be able to stay in the neighborhoods they grew up in and halt displacement. But how “affordable” are these homes?

A simple look at New York City Housing Connect, the online portal to access applications for affordable housing, proves these homes are not as affordable and attainable as one may think.

Who’s to blame? Congress, in part.

Why are many of these apartments considered “affordable” if you need to make almost six figures to even apply? An especially vexing question given that the median income in New York City is roughly $33,000.

The short answer is “area median income,” also known as AMI, a statistic officially calculated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). AMIs for New York City are calculated too high to begin with, and then the city sets “affordable rates” for many apartments well above AMI.

Some of New York City’s affordable housing in new constructions is targeted at income levels as high as 165% of the AMI, making it unattainable for low- or middle-income households. And AMI for the city is high on its own because it actually includes incomes from other counties outside of the city, those from individuals in Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties, all of which are home to higher average incomes. Thus, New York City’s AMI for 2018 is $93,900 for a family of three.

Why are these suburban counties included in an AMI for the region, rather than the five boroughs alone? HUD uses Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), which are based on commuting patterns determined by the federal government and often include counties far beyond an area’s urban core. Further, HUD has no formal mechanism for cities to challenge their AMI. New York’s AMI is 20 percent higher than actual median incomes in the city. This is flat out wrong and leads to New Yorkers being priced out of their homes and neighborhoods.

The very same apartments intended for low-income New Yorkers are being handed over to upper middle-class individuals and families. The city allocates millions of dollars for affordable housing projects, yet these projects are directed at the wrong people!

Some of this is by the mayor’s choice; de Blasio has decided to target more units at a broad range of affordability requirements than fewer units at lower rents.

But still, AMI is an essential component. Why can’t New York just change its AMI laws? Because AMI is determined through federal law and would require an act of Congress. Rep. Jose Serrano of the Bronx wrote a letter back in 2015 to then-HUD Secretary Julian Castro, expressing his support for a change in AMI calculation for New York City. However, Congress has not taken any action to actually mandate the reassessment of the city’s AMI.

Some have argued that changing AMI will make affordable housing development less financially viable and thus less appealing for developers to construct. The financing of affordable housing often depends on government subsidies to developers, though, so the equations are not simple ones. And, there are always questions about number of units versus depth of affordability. If AMIs were lowered to more accurately reflect need in New York City and make “affordable” apartments truly affordable to more tenants, some instances may call for a combination of developers accepting less profit and/or government offering more incentives.

There might be some hope for action in New York. Adjusting AMI may require congressional action, but that hasn’t stopped state elected officials from introducing legislation to address this issue. State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assembly Member Brian Barnwell, both Queens Democrats, have a bill pending in the state Legislature that would mandate developers calculate AMI based on ZIP code. It might not do much to reduce skyrocketing rents citywide, but this policy would definitely pave the way to a more affordable and transparent affordable housing system. The bill is still in committee, but considering the very real likelihood of a Democratic-controlled State Senate in January via the November elections, there might be a real chance for an overhaul of the current system and an outcome of meaningful change.

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David Aronov is a graduate student at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and Director of Community Relations for New York City Council Member Karen Koslowitz (the views expressed here are the author’s alone).

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]

In Brooklyn Democratic Party, Democracy is Healthier Than Some Would Have You Think


seddio via fbook

Frank Seddio & Senator Persaud (photo: Frank Seddio on Facebook)


Democracy in action can be messy, but the election law as well as state and local party rules are clear when it comes to how governments and political parties carry out their business. And despite the cathartic and frantic attempts by the New Kings Democrats to claim that party “bosses” thwarted their attempts to take over the Brooklyn Democratic County Committee, the fact is they did not have the votes.

They are focused on proxies, which allow elected committee members to have their voices heard if they cannot, for one reason or another, attend the semi-annual committee meeting. While the NKD complain that party leaders held the vast majority of proxies, their protestations fail to acknowledge that they worked very hard to collect proxies, mailing to everyone on the County Committee list seeking support for themselves. They failed.

Frank Seddio, the chair of the party’s Executive Committee, thanks to the hard work of many local clubs, received around 600 of those proxies from County Committee members who believed he would best represent their interests. The NKD, despite their best efforts, claimed they had 130.

I say “claimed” because those who complain the County Committee meeting started two-and-a-half hours late – implying there were some nefarious deeds going on behind the scenes to thwart democracy – know that the sole reason for the delay was because the NKD leaders failed to bring in their proxies at an appropriate time. They did not bring their proxies to the meeting hall until 90 minutes after the meeting was scheduled to start. Attorney volunteers had to sort them through a “bar-code system” that forced everyone in the hall to wait, but party leaders agreed to stipulate that they had 130 proxies so the meeting could start without waiting the additional two hours it might have taken to complete entry of the proxies into the system.

Even though many of the NKD proxies turned out to be invalid for a variety of required reasons, that did not change the fact that the party leadership stipulated and allowed the facially defective proxies to be counted. When combined with the votes of members in the room and the proxies each side held, the supporters of the current party leadership far outvoted those who wanted to seize control.

And since the County Committee is an entity whose activities in organizing the party’s structure and business is set out in state election law, failure to complete the committee’s business effectively would have put the party out of business, blocking it from nominating candidates to appear on the party’s line in elections.

The law is clear. A proxy is the voice of a “person,” someone who previously ran for a position on County Committee, but could not attend the meeting for reasons that could include health, work, family responsibilities, etc. I am amazed to hear that it is somehow undemocratic to allow their voices to be heard via his or her proxy, especially when the NKD worked so hard to gather proxies but apparently lack the support among party members to gather enough to alter the voting outcomes.

The NKD activists and leaders fail to mention that party leaders have acceded to virtually every one of their proposals for rules reform, and welcomed a proposal at the most recent County Committee meeting by Assemblymember Robert Carroll, a respected reformer, to change the proxy rules to require they be carried by another committee member from the same Assembly district. That will go to the rules committee for consideration, the same rules committee that approved every one of the reformers’ proposed changes last time they made them. Being open to ideas through robust discourse is not a novel idea. The district leaders have done just that for many years.

Nonetheless, for some it seems as it just feels better to simply not take yes for an answer, and instead to make up for their lack of broad support at the grassroots level by yelling, screaming, and disrupting the meeting.

We understand that Democratic politics has long been marked by factional family fights, a sign that, in the words of the chair, the party is “alive, exciting, and worth fighting over.” And we understand there is a generational challenge to party leadership, since many in the room started in politics as insurgents themselves challenging the party leadership at the time they entered the fight.

But there is an old lawyer expression that seems to apply here. When you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. When you have the law on your side, pound the law. When you have neither, pound the table.

Intra-party fights take place under the rules of the party, and that includes allowing proxies so Committee members who cannot attend have their voices represented. And make no mistake—it is a voice. That is why the NKD worked so hard to collect proxies, and why the party’s district leaders do so as well.

When they have enough votes to elect their chosen leaders, we will graciously respect the results and work with them to elect Democrats in order to push an agenda to benefit the people of Brooklyn, which is why we are all in this together in the first place.

From my perspective, we must continually work harder to reach everyone throughout every corner of the borough and in between, and remember we are all in this together.

***
Frank Carone, a partner in Brooklyn’s Abrams Fensterman law firm, is the law secretary of the Brooklyn Democratic Party.

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State of Latino Health: Dismal, and Invisible


Gotham Health Center

(photo via NYC Mayor's Office)


Latinos make up nearly a third of New York City’s eight million residents. But even though we are a large part of New York’s present and a rising population that’s crucial to the city’s future, we are completely invisible.

We are invisible in large part because we are different. And because of those joined factors, our health care is in a state of crisis. Compared to our fellow New York neighbors, we lack access to quality, culturally competent care, and we face a shortage of high-quality family care options. In fact, we sometimes encounter unique barriers that make us even more susceptible to illnesses than our neighbors and tend to experience worse health outcomes.

After decades of efforts to bring health care to underserved Latinos across the city, we set out to answer crucial questions: Why do great disparities in health care remain? And why do our families lack the health care services they need?

Why are Latinos far less healthy than our neighbors?

In a new report put out by my organization, a nonprofit network of over 2,000 providers who treat over 650,000 patients largely from lower income immigrant communities, we talked to hundreds of Latino doctors and patients across New York City to compile a first-ever poll.

We hope it spurs a movement.

We set out to bring to light health disparities and the cultural, economic, and institutional barriers that diminish access to even basic health care services -- leading to devastating health outcomes for many in our communities.

So what did we learn about the state of Latino health in New York City in 2018?

First, we learned that there is a wide gap between Latino patients and their physicians over what constitutes good health. While a majority of Latinos think they are healthy, their doctors disagree by vast margins. And only one-third of Latino patients think they are not receiving the care they need while two-thirds of doctors think Latinos experience persistent barriers to care.

Second, transportation and child care pose major barriers to health care access in Latino communities. Language is another major issue: in the Bronx, home to the city’s largest Latino population, only 10% of doctors speak Spanish, compared to 60% of residents. In fact, immigrants interviewed stated that language barriers kept them from telling their health care providers all of their symptoms – leading to unnecessary emergency room visits, avoidable crises, and uncontrolled chronic conditions.

Finally, too many health problems are going untreated in the Latino community. Smoking, asthma, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension are prevalent problems but health education has not kept up and health education materials are often not available in Spanish. In addition, mental health and substance abuse challenges are stigmatized and remain taboo to discuss, going undertreated or even untreated.

In short, our report showed us that we have much more work to do to lift up and improve health outcomes in the Latino community, but we can make progress if we are willing to put in the work.

Together, by prioritizing community engagement, we can build and scale a sustainable architecture of innovation to confront and solve these problems. We can and must develop and sustain strong community, public health, and health care strategies to improve access to quality, culturally competent, and much needed care.

Additionally, we also need a serious investment in health education on the part of policy-makers to address not only these conditions but also the lack of health education resources offered. And language matters. Understanding these nuanced, culture-specific disparities will help us build a system that combines high quality with more effective care that reduces costs for patients, institutions, cities, states, and the federal government.

The Latino community is growing faster in New York than in Nevada or California. Over the next few years, through intervention, innovation, and integration, we will use the findings of this report to partner with the state and city to better deliver culturally-competent care and build a stronger, healthier Latino community in New York.

The need is urgent, the path forward clear – now it’s time for action.

***
Dr. Ramon Tallaj is the founder and chairman of SOMOS Community Care.

***
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Governor Cuomo Must Fulfill His Own Expressed Commitment to Lifting Wages for Struggling Workers


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Gov. Cuomo pushes for a higher Port Authority minimum wage (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)


Last week, Governor Cuomo publicly called on Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's Board of Commissioners to pass a higher minimum wage for airport workers. While I, other elected officials, and numerous nonprofit advocates were pleased to see this increase approved, Governor Cuomo has still not fulfilled his commitment to another vital workforce in our state, the human services sector.

Hundreds of thousands of human service employees – the vast majority of whom are contracted by the state – remain unbelievably underpaid, making approximately $23,000-$29,600 per year, with no wage increases since 2010. These rates fall well below the $19 hourly wage the governor called for at the Port Authority, and are also below the average income required to meet the basic living needs of a family. The human services sector is a group comprised of approximately 332,000 New Yorkers – 80% of whom are women, and 50% individuals of color – who provide life changing services to New Yorkers from all walks of life, and are essential to our communities.

These are workers who care for our children, assist those with mental health issues, ensure survivors of domestic violence can rebuild their lives, and care for our aging relatives. Yet they are left with a wage that does not provide economic security of their own. For years, the work of employees in the nonprofit sector has been undervalued; the salaries in the sector are lower than comparable positions in other fields, many of the positions require a college degree but do not compensate accordingly, and stagnant wages result in high turnover.

Not only have state contracts failed to fully fund the wages of these employees, but Governor Cuomo refuses to include common-sense cost of living adjustments (COLA) that would allow these employees to earn a livable wage.

We have fought every single year since Governor Cuomo took office in 2011 for a statutory cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for human services employees. To this end, our chief executive has consistently and uncompromisingly deferred from providing any support in this initiative. This inaction has cost the human services workforce almost $500 million in lost wages. We have seen a largely consistent public commitment from the governor in his support of raising wages across New York. This was demonstrated in his remarks last week, in his championing of the $15 minimum wage, and through his outspoken support of pay equity for women. In light of these strong positions, we expect Governor Cuomo to apply this effort to increase the very limited salaries of human service workers.

When this wage increase for Port Authority workers was enacted, the governor stated that “it is paramount that we have a well-trained, secure, stable workforce…Invest in your most important asset, which is your workforce. Fairness, diligence, good business practices all bring one to the same obvious conclusion. Invest in the workforce, raise the minimum wage to $19 over five years. It is the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do."

We agree, Governor Cuomo. It is time for our state’s leader to make good on his own words, and fund the human services COLA in the next state budget to ensure living wages for this workforce which we our state depends on so heavily in order to build strong communities.

The governor said it best himself: “It is the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do.”

***
Andrew Hevesi is a member of the New York State Assembly, representing parts of Queens in Assembly District 28. On Twitter @AndrewHevesi.

***
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In Keeping Stranglehold, Brooklyn Democratic Party Bosses Further Sow Seeds of Their Demise


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Kings County Democratic Committee meeting (photo: James Boo, New Kings Democrats)


This summer I collected signatures from neighbors to represent my election district, an area of a few blocks, as a member of the Kings County Democratic Committee (KCDC), the Brooklyn denomination of the New York State Democratic Party.

I had signed up with the #RepYourBlock campaign, convened by New Kings Democrats (NKD), one-and-a-half years earlier for this purpose. I handed in my petitions in June and a few months later I received a postcard informing me of KCDC’s bi-annual rules meeting, on September 27 at Kingsborough Community College. This postcard let me know that if I signed and returned it to Frank Seddio, the Democratic County Chair, there would be no need for me to attend. Despite this “helpful” suggestion that I turn over my vote through this proxy before ever even participating in a meeting, I made plans to be there.

The hundreds of people gathered in the Leon M. Goldstein Performing Arts Center on September 27 ranged from newly-minted members like myself to people who had been attending for decades. From the beginning, it was clear that the party leadership was overwhelmed by the turnout. It was less clear whether that was by design or by incompetence.

We waited two-and-a-half hours past the posted start time for the meeting to begin. It was standing room only, and the people around me were palpably excited to participate in this most local form of government. When the meeting finally began, it got off to a contentious start. KCDC members heckled from the back of the room. The person leading the meeting, former State Senator Martin Connor, never introduced himself and was immediately defensive. Many of us had trouble following what was happening in a poorly-mic'd room with a lot of background noise.

In the weeks leading up to the meeting there had been heightening tension around the efforts of NKD, a reform club trying to increase the participation of everyday Brooklynites through the #RepYourBlock campaign. NKD had reached out to Democratic County Committee members encouraging them to attend the meeting and if they couldn’t, asking that they give their proxy to someone they know or one of the #RepYourBlock partners, in an attempt to counter the juggernaut of the party leadership proxy-collection machine. Many committee members received multiple requests for their proxy (a way to allow someone else to vote in your absence), including a misleading one from party leadership that purported to be signed by one’s state Assembly member and district leaders (many of whom claimed this happened without their permission). Partially in response to this, there was a proposal to reform the proxy system introduced by my own Assembly member, Robert Carroll, which was overwhelmingly supported.

Then the time came for the vote that is one of the only real roles for members like me – voting for the officers of the executive committee. This year an actual competitive election was possible, because an alternate “reform” slate had been proposed by #RepYourBlock. The voting began, and an already tense meeting unmistakably changed.

Because we didn’t even get the chance to vote!

It was over before it started. Party leadership had waited to start the meeting until they were sure that Frank Seddio had enough proxy votes to overrule anything that happened. The voting began with a vote on the complete executive committee slate, and motions for a vote on each individual position were overruled or just flat out disregarded. When the vote was called for the establishment slate, about 50 people stood up. Martin Connor said those 50 votes, plus the more than 500 proxies held by Frank Seddio, meant the establishment slate won.

Even when those numbers were questioned, or when it was pointed out that the numbers didn’t seem to add up, or when it was clear that the numbers being reported were actively changing as more proxies appeared with every challenge, we were told “It’s done” and the meeting moved on.

In that room there were hundreds of people like me who had petitioned to be on County Committee, some of whom had competed in primaries. Over 500 people had left work early, skipped dinner, planned for childcare, carpooled, rode a subway to a bus, or made countless other arrangements, all to come to Manhattan Beach on a weeknight and attend a five-hour meeting. And the overwhelming majority were not even able to stand up and be counted in favor of a candidate they supported. Their questions and requests for explanation or clarification were dismissed and they were scolded from the lectern for daring to even ask them.

When a motion was made to recount the vote, after a member pointed out that the numbers given did not add up to an establishment victory, the vote in favor of recount was overwhelming. That vote was also unsuccessful, as Seddio’s proxies still outnumbered those in attendance. But the room had shifted, and even people who had voted for the establishment slate saw what was happening as counter to a democratic process. NKD and #RepYourBlock had inspired us to show up and be a part of our local political process, and the Kings County Democratic Party saw us as an obstacle.

The Brooklyn Democratic Party leadership did more for reform with its actions in that auditorium than years of organizing could have.

It is a testament to the efforts of #RepYourBlock that so many people were there. And by being so entrenched, and so unwilling to allow for anything that might dilute their stranglehold on Brooklyn politics, party leadership ensured that the proxy abuse they are so reliant on is in its final days.

***
Nicole Hunt is a member of New Kings Democrats, on the Executive Committee of Brooklyn Voters Alliance, and a member of the Kings County Democratic Committee. On Twitter @msnicolemh.

***
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Discouraged But Determined; Queens County Committee Will Change


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Queens County Democratic leader Joe Crowley (photo: @repjoecrowley)


This summer, the New York Times reported that candidates to become Democratic committee members in Queens were unaware that they were running for office and would be on the September 13 ballot. Queens Democratic Party bosses were nominating candidates without their consent for County Committee membership. You read that right.

Those party bosses, long-term incumbent elected officials also known as establishment Democrats, tried to prevent new, more progressive Democratic candidates from entering these local races. Their preference is, of course, to to maintain the status quo.

As a young Democrat passionate about public service, hearing about this corrupt electoral process happening in my backyard left me feeling discouraged. To live in an equitable society, establishment Democrats need to know not to partake in antiquated, exclusionary practices. In order to have a united Democratic Party there has to be a process where everyone can participate; wherein elections are open, transparent, and inclusive. By nominating candidates without their consent, establishment Democrats not only lose credibility, but they jeopardize the very foundations of our democratic process, the bedrock of our nation. They keep my home borough of Queens from progressing and marginalize people that actually want to get involved.

Many Democratic voters are beginning to support progressive candidates that distance themselves from the current establishment. I think back to the congressional primary win of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in June as well as the recent primary wins of progressives at the state level and feel encouraged that new candidates challenging incumbents approach their campaigns through a more just lens. New progressive Democrats are taking a stance that fights for economic, social, and racial justice for all and reject corporate PAC and corporate lobbyist money. This is a message to Democratic Party bosses that Democratic constituents will not wait for establishment incumbents to change unjust systems and practices.

Democrats who are too content with the status quo and sitting down on progressive issues will run the risk of not being reelected. While many establishment Democrats point at Republicans as the ones to blame for failing systems, mismanagement of funds, and the reason for many of the faults in our society, it’s easy to see that establishment Democrats are not much better. It’s time to look inward first. In order for current establishment Democrats to avoid strong primary challengers and continue winning elections against Republicans, they have to make sure that members of their party are engaged, included, and not being shunned by dishonest electoral processes. We need Democrats who ensure elections are just and not being controlled by the party bosses at the top.    

Although some establishment Democrats can tout years of experience and successes, if they have not done anything to change the electoral system, or have been too complacent, then many of their efforts are in vain. Winning campaigns through systemic malpractices does not make you an exemplary candidate. As we can see from the recent loss of seven Democratic incumbents in state Senate primaries, establishment Democrats have to be true to their Democratic electorates, take more action to change electoral systems, be more inclusive, and give a voice to more people in their communities. If they fail to do so, constituents from their districts will make sure to elect new progressive Democrats to take their seats.

As an aspiring professional in the field of public service, a Democrat, and a young person wanting to see change, machine politics do not interest me. Though discouraged by the practices of establishment Democrats, I am motivated to get more involved and work to change the unjust systems that currently exist, calling them out, and taking action. I urge my fellow Queens constituents and those around the city to elect the Democratic leaders that are transparent, honest, and committed to electoral integrity, from the local County Committee all the way up.

***
Giovanni Barcenes is an MPA Candidate at the NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and lifelong New Yorker born and raised in Queens. On Twitter @GioBarcenes.

***
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Immigrant-Service Organizations, Struggling with Immense Demand, Need Our Support


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(photo: John McCarten/New York City Council)


The news that immigrants who legally access public benefits, such as food, housing, and medical assistance, could be denied green cards will make it increasingly difficult for many immigrants across our city and nation to meet their basic needs, placing a sizeable burden on the nonprofit sector.

Already, the sector is faced with an unyielding demand for support by families and communities as immigrants turn to nonprofits for support in steeper numbers.

What has become abundantly clear from our work with more than 400 organizations each year that focus on immigration and other social service and advocacy groups is that the current challenges are formidable: nonprofits are doing the best they can despite a national climate of bias and discrimination against immigrants and the groups that serve them.

This increased workload is experienced not only by organizations with an immigrant-serving mission. It is seen by hundreds of the nonprofits we work with each year, from hunger organizations to affordable housing organizations, to those with an educational mission, and countless others.

Amid this climate, Community Resource Exchange recently convened six nonprofit leaders to illustrate the obstacles their staffs and constituents are facing. Speakers, whose work focuses on grassroots organizing, legal support, immigrant youth, economic justice, and LGBTQIA immigrant rights, pointed to issues that are creating a double-bind for nonprofits: increased demand coupled with changes to the system that make delivering services harder.

This the result of multiple factors, including that immigrants already have a heightened fear of being viewed as a public charge when accessing necessary services such as public assistance, Medicaid, and food stamps, for which they are eligible. The proposed change only exacerbates this fear.

This fear is the result of persistent myths that are being exaggerated in the current environment, for instance, that immigrants don’t pay taxes, come to the United States purely dreaming of opportunity (as opposed to fleeing life-threatening conditions in their homelands), and do not contribute to the economy, which have been proved untrue.

Complicating factors have been revisions to information required by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, amplifying fears of immediate deportation due to things like any accidental errors in completing applications.

Our panelists posed solutions to better serve immigrants: federal and international action to change the reality for immigrants in this country, including the need for a transnational conversation about the treatment of migrants and immigrants not just here in the U.S., but in Europe and other places. Local governments—city and state—and individuals must step in not only with financial help, but with common sense approaches.

Nonprofits need sufficient funding to support increased needs of immigrants coming through their doors, and elected officials who “get it” are those that are on the ground and in the neighborhoods, visibly witnessing the challenges being faced every day.

We must use our voices to seek change. This November 6, Election Day, is one opportunity, when people can support candidates who understand the needs and benefits of our multicultural society—and not just give lip service to secure votes.

Even simply starting a conversation with friends and family—albeit difficult ones—can springboard to broader awareness of the issues surrounding immigration, greater support for nonprofits on the frontlines of serving immigrants, and, most importantly, a better life for immigrants seeking a life in America free from discrimination and fear.

***
Katie Leonberger is the President and CEO of Community Resource Exchange. On Twitter @katieleonberger & @CREinNYC.

***
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Fear-mongering Versus Reality in New York Parole


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Senate Republicans oppose Herman Bell's parole (photo via Senator Patrick Gallivan's website)


Juxtaposed with the decision by New York State Senate Republicans to hold hearings to voice anger over decisions by the Parole Board was this past Friday’s annual Parole Summit of the Lifers and Longtermers Organization at Otisville Correctional Facility.

Summit attendees, including parole reform advocates, clergy, academics, and a judge from the New York Court of Appeals, heard person after person talk passionately about the Lifers’ commitment to their “Four Rs” of responsibility, remorse, reconciliation, and rehabilitation. By day’s end it was clear that for many people behind bars there is a fifth “R” – redemption.   

The transparent political motivation to hold hearings so close in time to elections is made all the more shameful by the appeal to fear-mongering, as comments already circulating by Senate Republicans raise the specter of droves of dangerous criminals randomly turned loose on the streets of Albany and Long Island, the chosen sites for the hearings, and elsewhere.  

Senator Patrick Gallivan, Chair of the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee that co-sponsored the hearings, characterizes a select few Board decisions granting parole as “indefensible and an affront to law-abiding citizens.” To the contrary, the Board followed the laws and regulations that govern the Board’s decision-making. Far more troubling to law-abiding citizens is an elected official urging the Board to flout the law.    

The Legislature passes laws that set minimum and maximum sentences, and judges mete out sentences pursuant to those laws. A person becomes eligible for parole after they have served their minimum judicially-imposed sentence. The Legislature has enumerated a number of factors that the Parole Board must consider when weighing whether to grant parole. If you have done well while incarcerated -- completed all required programs, avoided serious disciplinary infractions, accepted responsibility for your actions, and made a thorough re-entry plan -- you should be released. That is the law. Indeed, that is what people are told when they are sentenced.  

Long-overdue changes to the laws and regulations that govern parole direct the Board to take a forward-looking approach; evaluate who the person is today instead of fixating on the crime of conviction from often decades earlier. Now, the Board is required to utilize an objective evidence-based risk-assessment tool to determine whether someone presents a risk of future violent behavior. Elected officials who suggest that the Parole Board is turning loose a slew of dangerous criminals conveniently ignore that each of these people were deemed to be at the lowest possible risk for re-offending. They also elide the fact that each of these people served decades in prison before they were released. Not only have they been significantly punished, but, according to every study of age and crime, they have long ago “aged out” of any real possibility of future criminal conduct. Put simply, they are profoundly different people at age 50, 60 or 70 than they were when they were in their teens or twenties.  

Several Senators also refer disingenuously to the Board’s “seeming automatic releases.” That is patently untrue. The most controversial cases of the past year all involve people who had been denied parole eight, nine, ten, or more times spanning decades. However, consider the recent case of Richard DiGuglielmo. Mr. DiGuglielmo was convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years to life in a high-profile case involving the killing of a black man by a white off-duty police officer in a dispute over a parking space. Mr. DiGuglielmo served his 20-year minimum and was released at his very first appearance before the Board, a very rare outcome for someone convicted of murder, especially considering the objections from the victim’s family. Notably, there was no outcry from the Republicans members of the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee.

The Board is subjected to relatively little public opprobrium when it chooses to deny parole.  Contrary to the claims of Senate Republicans, the far larger problem with the Board, as made abundantly clear at the Otisville Parole Summit, is its habit of routinely denying parole to the many people who have so fully transformed, decisions based solely on the serious nature of the crime of conviction, something the person can never change. These punitive, backward-looking decisions ignore the innate human capacity to change and are ultimately cold and merciless.  

The epidemic of mass incarceration is now readily acknowledged. The 130 Lifers and Longtermers at the Otisville Summit have collectively served more than 2,400 years in prison.  Many of them have been denied parole repeatedly based exclusively on the crime of conviction from decades before. Contrary to the views of Republican members of the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee, decisions grounded in the extant laws and regulations to grant parole should be praised, not pilloried, and must not be influenced, let alone determined, by who yells the loudest.

***
Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law. On Twitter @SteveZeidman.

***
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