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In a Most Political District, A Conspicuous Lack of Debate


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Then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is arrested at a LICH protest (photo: Public Advocate's office)


Few swaths of the city have been home to more controversies over the past decade than Brooklyn's 52nd Assembly District. From the creation of Brooklyn Bridge Park and closing of Long Island College Hospital to the prolonged rollout of Atlantic Yards, the area has been nothing if not contested terrain.

Given the various neighborhoods' traditions of civic activism, one might expect to find a lively race to succeed Joan Millman, who in late May announced that she was giving up the assembly seat she held since 1997 in order to take a job with the de Blasio administration.

Instead, the contest is best viewed as the battle of two machines, old vs. new—creating a deficit of democracy in a district where people typically pay more attention to local issues.

A district leader since 2004, Jo Anne Simon is running with the support of both Millman and the Kings County Democratic Party. Frank Seddio, the current party boss, is no kingpin in the tradition of Meade Esposito, and is generally seen as less influential than his predecessor, Vito Lopez (an ally of Seddio but not Simon).

Pete Sikora, meanwhile, represents the new guard, which consists of the Working Families Party, the consultancy BerlinRosen, State Senator Daniel Squadron, and Council Members Brad Lander and Steve Levin. Formerly at NYPIRG, Sikora currently is a lobbyist and legislative director for the communication workers union, a leading player in the WFP.

The third candidate in the race is in the unallied Doug Biviano, a Brooklyn Heights-based activist. That he lacks connections to either machine helps explain why he's less well-funded. Biviano, however, garnered 2500 votes (with only $20k) running against Millman in 2010, suggesting that he can be a factor.

Biviano recently attacked Sikora for his role in the campaign to save LICH. Sikora takes credit for proposing to de Blasio last summer that the then-mayoral candidate and others (including Sikora) get arrested to protest the hospital closing. Sikora told me that he's "very proud" of his role in initiating the act of civil disobedience.

However, many within the area now view de Blasio's high-profile effort as little more than a campaign stunt. BerlinRosen recently circulated a letter defending de Blasio's handling of the LICH closing, an act of damage control by the mayor's team—and one that suggests that the scars won't heal for a while.

As for what to do next at the site, Sikora vows to "fight against high-rise luxury housing," whereas Simon and Biviano are calling for a full-service hospital. Simon also pledges to push for a "Health Care Management Information Act" in Albany that would provide full needs assessments before future hospital closures.

All three candidates are opposed to the high-rise housing (combining luxury and affordable units) proposed for Brooklyn Bridge Park. Simon is proposing that a ferry terminal at Pier 7 could match the revenue for the park that the housing would produce—but the de Blasio administration seems intent on proceeding with its plans.

Simon is also the only one of the three candidates who has been active on Atlantic Yards, of which the WFP was an early supporter. Simon has been a leading figure in Brooklyn Speaks, which sought to stake out the middle ground between Forest City Ratner and Develop Don't Destroy.

Brooklyn Speaks recently claimed success in helping accelerate the pace of affordable housing at Atlantic Yards. While the agreement announced in late June does provide greater accountability, there are major concerns regarding the actual affordability of most of the units—nearly two-thirds of which will go to families earning more than $100,000.

As Simon explains, the issue of actual cost was "outside the scope" of the Brooklyn Speaks' lawsuit, while the gentrification of Prospect Heights has inflated the Area Median Income used to determine the affordability guidelines. Both are valid points, but Simon and Brooklyn Speaks were quick to claim victory despite the fine print.

The real growth area in the district, of course, is Gowanus. While Simon has been a vocal supporter of the SuperFund designation for the site, neither she nor the other two candidates seem to be spelling out a vision for the neighborhood.

It's precisely the need for district residents to hear more from the candidates about their ideas that makes the absence of scheduled debates so conspicuous. At the moment, there's only one on the calendar—hosted by the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council on August 27th. The district only contains a small sliver of that neighborhood.

In the absence of debates, or extensive media coverage, voters will encounter the candidates in traditional fashion: at their doors or on the streets, which places all three contestants on equal footing; and via mailers and robo-calls, which cost money to produce and circulate.

Thus, voters in the 52nd district will be hearing plenty from Sikora and Simon between now and the September 9th primary. Simon has chosen a dubious line of attack, accusing Sikora of inflating his claims regarding his work on NYPIRG's successful effort to win passage of city council lead paint legislation. Fact check: Sikora was at the forefront of that campaign.

In any district, sniping politics-as-usual helps explain the falling rates of voter participation, which increases the power of the machines. And when some of the most engaged voters in the city are being served red herring, it's bad for everyone's health.

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Theodore Hamm is chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph's College in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.

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Complete the Full Second Avenue Subway Now


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Second Aveue Subway construction (samschwartz.com)


Ask a hundred people who live on the East Side what they love about their neighborhood and you'll hear a hundred different answers. Ask the same people what is their least favorite thing about where they live and you'll hear the same refrain over and over: it's too far from the subway!

New York neighborhoods live or die based on their proximity to public transit. The far East Side, from Third Avenue to East End Avenue, has always suffered due to its distance from the Lexington line, the only subway line operating in the 8 full avenue blocks between Central Park and the East River.The Lexington line serves an average of 1.3 million riders each day – more than the average daily ridership of any other entire transit system in the US.

The Second Avenue Subway offers the promise of public transit to the East Side to neighborhoods long isolated. When Phase 1 opens in 2016, the entire East Side will enjoy the same easy access to subways as the rest of Manhattan. New Yorkers who live and work on the far East Side will finally know what it's like to catch a train just a couple of blocks away.

Where, though, will that train take them?

As of 2016, not very far. The first phase of the Second Avenue Subway, opening in 2016, will only extend the Q line from 57th Street to 96th Street. While this will provide some much-needed relief on the Lexington line, it doesn't truly solve the problem: a dearth of subway access east of the entire length of Lexington Avenue.

Extending the Q train four stops only helps Upper East Siders travelling to destinations near Broadway (mostly on the West Side in midtown.); it does nothing to connect uptown and downtown on the East Side, the route where the need is most critical. True transportation equity requires a full build of the Second Avenue Subway, from 125th Street to Hanover Square.

It is unclear if the MTA is prepared to seamlessly move forward with construction. The MTA's Twenty-Year Capital Needs Assessment, released in October 2013, devotes only three paragraphs (out of 140 pages) to the Second Avenue Subway construction, noting that "[i]mplementation of future...phases will need to take into account MTA's ability to fund and plan each functional incremental stage." The decade old Environmental Impact Statement for the project has not yet been updated, one of the very first steps the MTA will have to take to plan for future phases. As of yet, no concrete steps have been taken to ensure that construction of the Second Avenue Subway will continue past Phase 1.

This is an enormous mistake.

It's a mistake to introduce a delay of any kind into this construction process. When Phase 1 concludes in 2016, the team of thousands that has made this project possible will disband without a new phase to move on to. Any pause between phases, no matter how slight, will result in a loss of institutional knowledge, equipment, staff and experienced contractors, and cause future delays.

It's also a mistake to miss out on the lowest interest rates we're likely to see for decades. Right now is a perfect time to raise capital to continue Second Avenue Subway construction. In order to take advantage of this, we need to build as much as we can, as quickly as possible. Rather than simply moving forward on only Phase 2, the MTA should finance and begin construction on both Phase 2 and Phase 3 simultaneously. We must build a subway that meets the urgent need that was the impetus for the 2nd Avenue Subway more than 80 years ago.

As New Yorkers, we all know the benefits that subway access can bring. We've already seen the far East Side spring to life in the last few years in anticipation of the opening of Phase 1. However, we also know that partially finished projects usually don't deliver any of the promised benefits – building half a bridge is just a waste of money.

Extending the existing Q line a mere 40 blocks does not fulfill the promise of the Second Avenue Subway. It's time to boldly move forward and begin financing, planning and building the next phases of this project. The East Side has waited long enough for transit equity.

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Assemblymember Dan Quart represents the 73rd District on Manhattan's East Side and is a member of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, which oversees the MTA

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Unleashing the Economic Power of the 35 Percent


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Mayor de Blasio announces 'Jobs for New Yorkers' (photo: nyc.gov)


For many New Yorkers, the Great Recession is an increasingly distant memory. Employment in the city has surpassed pre-recession levels, bolstered by more than 312,000 jobs added between 2010 and 2013. Wall Street is enjoying a bull market stretching into its sixth year, and home values across the five boroughs have rebounded sharply. One group of New Yorkers has not shared in the recovery, however: low-skilled young adults. Indeed, their economic struggles predated the downturn, and absent drastic policy changes they will continue indefinitely.

Approximately 305,000 young adult New Yorkers - approximately 35 percent of the city's total 18- to 24-year old population - are either out of school and not working, or employed in low-wage jobs with limited advancement opportunities. Without targeted support, the large majority of them will struggle to achieve steady employment and financial independence, and many could face homelessness, incarceration and serious health problems. At the same time, New York City employers will miss out on the energy, technological sophistication and creativity of these young adults.

Since its creation in 2006, JobsFirstNYC has worked to develop strategies and mobilize stakeholders to connect young adults with limited education and work experience to the New York City labor market. In July, JobsFirstNYC released Unleashing the Economic Power of the 35 Percent, featuring a four-pronged plan to help New York City young adults get on a path toward career-track employment and economic security. Key elements of the plan include:

1. A set of sectoral partnerships to help young adults prepare for careers in high-demand fields;
2. Training and apprenticeship programs to create a pipeline of skilled workers within those sectors;
3. A network of community-based Opportunity Centers to help out-of-school, out-of-work young adults get back on track through employment and education programming; and,
4. A one-stop web portal providing career information and access to education, training and career resources.

Over the last several decades, New York City's labor market has changed in ways that have made it all but impossible for young adults without education and training beyond high school to access middle-wage jobs. For the most part, the city now creates high-wage jobs that require four-year college degrees and specialized training, or low-wage, low-skilled positions in sectors such as food service and retail. But young adults can fill many of the middle-skilled jobs that remain, in fields like computer support, building maintenance and welding, so long as they can get the required training and have access to employers—assets the public workforce system can help to provide.

Together, the four initiatives detailed in Unleashing the Economic Power of the 35 Percent would represent a seamless, employer-focused and community-based system to effectively engage out-of-school, out-of-work and at-risk young adults while adding to New York City's human capital stock. Successful implementation would require an unprecedented commitment not only from city government, but from the private sector and philanthropy as well.

From a public finance perspective, this is an investment with enormous potential return. Economists have estimated the aggregate cost of lower earnings, foregone tax revenues, and higher public spending for housing, corrections, and social services at nearly $300 billion over the course of the lifetimes of the "35 Percent." Reducing their numbers would free up tens of millions of dollars each year for other uses.

Improving the fortunes of the 35 Percent should be high on the de Blasio administration's to-do list. Few if any policy initiatives would do more to advance the mayor's goal of expanding economic opportunity, and the recent convening of the Jobs for New Yorkers Task Force to overhaul workforce development in New York City provides a perfect opportunity for the mayor to name support for young adults as a top priority. Above all else, leadership—from City Hall, the business community, and philanthropy—is needed to help young New Yorkers realize their full potential to contribute to the city economy.

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Louis Miceli is Executive Director of JobsFirstNYC, a nonprofit focused on connecting young adults to the economic life of New York City.

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On National Night Out, Vision for a Safer Brooklyn


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Commissioner Bratton, left, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the author (photo: Kathryn Kirk/BK BP's office)


There are many things that have contributed to the Brooklyn renaissance, but perhaps no factor has been more essential than New York's transformation into America's safest big city. Places like McCarren Park in Williamsburg, a hot spot for drug-dealing during my days patrolling the 94th Precinct, are now a peaceful haven for stroller sets, as real estate values in the surrounding area continue to climb to all-time highs. Every investment that the public and private sectors make in our neighborhoods is predicated on the foundation of public safety, either in its maintenance or its ongoing improvement.

The reduction in crime that began in the 1990s was sparked by the leadership of Bill Bratton, a public servant who our city is fortunate to have back as the city's police commissioner. Early on in this second tour of duty, we have seen his analytical, proactive approach to crime fighting be enhanced by the progressive vision of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has turned the page on the days where bias-based policing was thought to be the only way to keep New Yorkers safe.

The duo has already moved forward to improve relationships between police and community by ending the arbitrary use of stop, question and frisk and halting the humiliating surveillance of Muslims, while instituting a seven-point plan to train officers on the norms of neighborhood courtesy, professionalism, and respect. They moved to improve security at NYCHA by adding more cameras, outdoor lighting, and patrolmen, and they introduced the "Summer All-Out" program to put more cops on our streets in response to community conditions on the ground.

More can and must be done to ensure public safety for all, actions that go beyond the reach of City Hall and One Police Plaza. With the recent spike in shootings and the possession of illegal handguns, we must have a dialogue on this National Night Out that addresses this crisis's root causes.

I want to initiate the conversation to answer these issues. As a 22-year veteran of New York's Finest and an office-holder of over seven years, my experience guides me to recommend strategies addressing three areas: mental health awareness, intergovernmental coordination to curb the flow of illegal arms, and community accountability.

There is a real mental health problem for our communities, and we need to understand how it affects our perception of public safety. We shun and resent family members with illnesses because of the difficulties meeting their specialized needs. This should not be the case, as it establishes a pattern of hurt people hurting people. Without resources or a support system when abandoned by family, our mentally ill become a public risk to safety. Rather than abandoning our brothers and sisters burdened by mental illness, we should provide them with greater access to treatment so that they do not end up on our streets or in our jail cells; we need to sympathize and empathize, not ostracize and stigmatize.

Creating a culture of information sharing and collaboration between city agencies and community organizations is another logical, and overdue, step to improving our safety. Illegal handguns are flooding into our streets from southern states with looser laws. While we have made appeals to Congress for intervention, our appeals have fallen on deaf ears. We cannot accept inaction from Washington on life and death matters; however, given the current state of national politics, we have to focus in the short term on the capabilities of our own city, its agencies, and its people. The aforementioned strategy for safer public housing should be a road map for future coordinated efforts, where we might be able to create partnerships for city, state and federal authorities to halt gun trafficking and educate our youth of the dangers of carrying and distributing weapons.

Lastly, we need to hold our communities accountable for failing to provide opportunities for our young people or to raise them with a sense of urgency to find employment, pursue education, and avoid the allure of gangs. Parents can fix this by teaching children the values of civic engagement and having a sincere discussion with their children about their dreams for the future. They must also play a real role in checking on their sons' and daughters' activities and ensuring they are free from the grips of drugs and weapons.

There is no single solution for stopping crime and preventing violence in our streets. We as a community, including parents, relatives, friends, and neighbors, have to be the definition of our brothers' and sisters' keepers. We are seeing something, but right now, we are not all saying something. This is part of better police-community relations, and it speaks to our societal responsibility to each other. Once this is understood, we can see further reductions in violence and the continued evolution of Brooklyn's renaissance.

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Eric Adams is Brooklyn Borough President and a former New York State Senator and member of the NYPD.

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Leadership Wanted: The College Access Crisis Needs You, Mayor de Blasio


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Mayor Bill de Blasio delivering an education speech (Rob Bennett/NYC Mayor's Office)


Focusing on programs that help at-risk college students achieve doesn't get them in the door, so the mayor must put more energy and funding into college access.

This time a year ago, New York City residents were knee-deep in sorting through the promising rhetoric offered by hopeful bureaucrats vying to become the next Mayor of New York City. "The Tale of Two Cities"– the signature campaign phrase that helped propel Bill de Blasio into becoming the next chief executive of America's largest city – speaks to the severity of the economic inequality that exists in New York City and across the country.

Mayor de Blasio's election was an overnight mandate for progressive reform, which greatly emphasized increasing resources for New York City's schools. This year's final New York City budget does take steps in the right direction by investing more in the City University of New York (CUNY) and programs like the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs and the Black Male Initiative to help the most at-risk students succeed while at college. These investments are necessary – especially given that 42 percent of CUNY community college students experience housing insecurity, 39 percent experience food insecurity, and 65 percent come from households with incomes less than $30,000 per year.

However, let's be clear: the mayor is not placing equal priority on college access, a choice that is dangerously shortsighted and will be much more costly in the end. The programs and opportunities that at-risk New York City high school students have available to help them access college are just as important as the programs that help students after admission.

While most New York City high school students know that a high school diploma is no longer good enough, and acknowledge the need for a college degree, almost 70 percent of students believe that a high school diploma alone would adequately prepare them for college-level coursework. Yet only 25 percent of students are graduating college-ready in New York City. Just 29 percent of high school graduates in the class of 2012 had test scores high enough to avoid remedial courses at the city's public schools. What's worse is that 74 percent of first-time freshmen entering CUNY community colleges needed remedial coursework in math, up 15 percent from 2002. Nearly three out of four high school students are either failing to graduate on time or lack the basic academic skills needed to hit the ground running at CUNY.

It is clear that the City should be doing more to help members of the most at-risk communities access college while simultaneously injecting the CUNY system with enough resources to effectively meet the demand.

There's no debate: public higher education, while not perfect, is a proven and successful model to help prepare young people socially and economically to become life-long contributing citizens. However, the critical four-year path leading a young person toward college can make or break a student's college attainment. The mayor should seize the opportunity and lead the people of New York and the nation's cities to address this issue head on by jump-starting an inclusive public policy process that will lay out an aggressive plan for other cities across America to follow.

In addition to the obvious players like the NYC Department of Education, New York State Education Department, and CUNY, the mayor must bring to the policy table local stakeholders like the College Access Consortium of New York and groups like the Goddard Riverside Community Center, as well as national models such as College Track and partners like the Lumina Foundation to put New York City on a collaborative path to increasing college attainment and by doing so, tackling economic inequality.

To start, initial conversations should include how to best leverage existing government infrastructure and systems to think collaboratively and across agencies about policy solutions. For example, we could analyze programs offered by the New York City Department of Housing to integrate effective and proven programs in public housing facilities. The issue of college access is an intersectional problem and requires intersectional solutions. This issue requires Mayor de Blasio to employ a policy process that is inclusive, grounded in research and analysis, utilizes all the resources we have available, and injects even more resources to change this much talked about but greatly under-addressed issue of college access or the lack thereof.

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Kevin Stump is Campus Network Leadership Director at the Roosevelt Institute

A version of this article was originally posted at Next New Deal, the blog of the Roosevelt Institute
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The Neoconservative Roots of the Broken Windows Theory


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A July 31 rally against police brutality at City Hall (photo: Ben Max)


After 20 years of Republican mayors, Bill de Blasio won election on a remarkably progressive platform. Unlike his four previous predecessors, de Blasio pledged to raise taxes on the rich to pay for social services that would benefit the rest of the city. De Blasio's universal pre-K and middle school initiatives are designed to provide important supports for the families and young people most in need. This effort to reduce inequality stands in sharp contrast to the fundamental politics and social theory driving "broken windows" policing. The death of Eric Garner has brought this fundamental contradiction to the fore and demands a substantive response from the mayor.

The Broken Windows theory was first laid out as a kind of hypothesis-by-analogy by criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in the Atlantic Monthly in 1982. They presented existing behavioral research that showed that when a car is left unattended on a street it is usually left alone, but if just one window of the car is broken, the car is quickly vandalized. The lesson: failure to indicate care and maintenance will unleash people's latent destructive tendencies. Therefore, if cities want to establish or maintain crime-free neighborhoods they must take action to ensure that residents feel the pressure to conform to civilized norms of public behavior. The best way to accomplish this is through the use of police to remind people in subtle and not so subtle ways that disorderly, unruly, and anti-social behavior is unacceptable. When this doesn't happen, people's baser instincts will take hold and predatory behavior will reign in a return to a Hobbesian war of all against all.

The emergence of this theory in 1982 is tied to a larger arc of urban neoconservative thinking going back to the 1960s. Wilson's former mentor and collaborator, Edward Banfield, himself a close associate of Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, parented many of the ideas that came to make up the new conservative consensus on cities. In his seminal work of 1970, The Unheavenly City, Banfield argues that the poor are trapped in a culture of poverty that makes them largely immune to government assistance:

"Although he has more "leisure" than almost anyone, the indifference ("apathy" if one prefers) of the lower-class person is such that he seldom makes even the simplest repairs to the place that he lives in. He is not troubled by dirt or dilapidation and he does not mind the inadequacy of public facilities such as schools, parks, hospitals, and libraries; indeed, where such things exist he may destroy them by carelessness or even by vandalism."

Unlike Banfield, who in many ways championed the abandonment of cities, Wilson decried the decline of urban areas. Along with writers like Jim Sleeper (The Closest of Strangers) and Fred Siegel (The Future Once Happened Here), Wilson pointed a finger at the twin threats of failed liberal leadership and the moral failings of African Americans as the cause. All three of them argued that liberals had unwittingly unleashed urban chaos by undermining the formal social control mechanisms that made city living possible. By supporting the more radical demands of the later urban expressions of the Civil Rights Movement, they had so weakened the police, teachers, and other government forces of behavioral regulation, that chaos came to reign.

What was needed to stem this tide was a reassertion of social control mechanisms by empowering the police to not just fight crime but to become agents of moral authority on the streets. The new role for the police was to intervene in all of the quotidian disorders of urban life that contributed to the sense that "anything goes."

The Broken Windows theory magically reverses the well understood causal relationship between crime and poverty, arguing that poverty and social disorganization are the result of, not the cause of, crime and that the disorderly behavior of the growing "underclass" threatens to destroy the very fabric of cities.

Wilson, following Banfield, believed strongly that there were profound limits on what government could do to help the poor. Financial investment in the poor would be squandered, new services would go unused or be destroyed, and the poor would continue in their slothful and destructive ways. Since the root of the problem was either an essentially moral/cultural failure or the lack of external controls to regulate inherently destructive human urges, then the solution had to take the form of punitive social control mechanisms to restore order and neighborhood stability. This is why police are arresting people for grilling on the sidewalk, drinking on their front stoop, and, yes, selling loose cigarettes.

The result of this approach has been the mass criminalization of the poor, who in New York City are overwhelmingly people of color. Hundreds of thousands of mostly young black and Latino men are put into the criminal justice system for mouthing off in class, taking up two seats on the subway, and possessing marijuana. In some neighborhoods over 50% of young men are caught up in the criminal justice system. It is a system that drives them from school, undermines future employment prospects, and immerses them in a world of gangs and violence.

Proponents of Broken Windows policing claim that it is responsible for the city's dramatic crime drop. Even a cursory look at the facts shows this can't possibly be true. The crime drop is an international phenomena that has occurred in hundreds of cities that never used Broken Windows based policing. Even scholars who point to a special role for the police in New York, like Franklin Zimring (The City that Became Safe), argue that it was not Broken Windows based policing that made the difference. And further, if Broken Windows policing was supposed to lead to a revitalization of poor communities, why is it that poverty and inequality in New York are growing? Gentrification has improved some physical communities, but through displacement, not the advancement of the people already there.

Disorder can be a real threat to urban stability. Mass homelessness, untreated mental illness, and youth engaged in graffiti, performing on the subway, and dealing drugs on the street should be a concern, but the police are not the best, most cost-effective way to deal with these problems. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on a revolving door criminal justice system that leaves most people worse off. Eric Garner had 30 previous contacts with the police and it did nothing to improve his life situation. The mayor's top criminal justice advisors know that we need to develop alternatives, but aggressive, invasive, and expensive policing is standing in the way.

This profoundly conservative view of the Broken Windows theory seems fundamentally at odds with the program put forth by the new mayor. De Blasio's goals are optimistic about the ability of government to make a positive impact on the lives of the poor. His educational programs are designed to provide developmental and social supports to help young people lead stable and productive lives without relying on constant police vigilance. It's time for the mayor to dial back "quality of life" policing and continue to invest in the lives of young people and the communities they live in, rather than relying on mass criminalization. He can't have it both ways.

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Alex S. Vitale is associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics. You can follow him on Twitter at @avitale.
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The City Must Step Up on Sandy Business Recovery


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(visitstatenisland.com)


The following entry is part of The Small Business Corner, a collaboration between Gotham Gazette and GoBizNYC:

At a recent a press conference on the City's Sandy recovery progress, Mayor Bill de Blasio noted: "Relief can't come fast enough for homeowners and small business owners who have already waited too long." We cannot agree more. Twenty-one months after the storm, so much more remains to be done. The City needs to expedite programs, provide grants—even retroactively—and implement a better approach to resiliency planning in neighborhoods ravished by Sandy.

Revamping the "Build It Back" program is essential and has been a step in the right direction. Recently, NYC Housing Recovery reached out to our organization, the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, for assistance in bringing local contractors to the table to learn how they can provide services through the program. In addition, the City is improving the onerous procurement process for contractors so that they will get paid for their services in a timely fashion. This is encouraging.

That being said, the City needs to better coordinate with Federal and State agencies and comprehensively address the difficulties businesses have had when dealing with various layers of government.

For instance, the business recovery process needs to be streamlined so that allocated Community Block Development Grant (CBDG) funds actually get into the hands of businesses, which have struggled to recover on their own for almost two years. It is a real disgrace that of the $293 million dollars allocated for business recovery in New York City (as of April 1, 2014), only $3.5 million has been distributed to businesses. Bureaucratic bottlenecks must be resolved. In addition, an inventory needs to be done to assess how many impacted businesses did not come back or are teetering to stay afloat as well as where vacancies lie and opportunities exist.

Given that small businesses are the backbone of our economy, adjusting bureaucracy to meet the realities of small business capacity and accelerate business recovery should be a top priority for this administration. Such efforts will only make our local economy more resilient to future disasters.

The Staten Island community, through its strength, determination, and pride, has taken up the task of bringing back our neighborhood economies, one business at a time. But we can't do this on our own. We need this administration to step up with us and take a holistic approach to rebuilding and resiliency planning – not only on Staten Island, but in all of New York City.

Linda M. Baran is the President of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, the largest business organization on Staten Island. The Chamber is comprised of over 700 businesses, 80% of which are small businesses with fewer than ten employees.

@SIChamber
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Desperately Needed Infrastructure Improvements Must Be Given Dedicated Funding


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A water main break in Manhattan (photo: Laura Shin)


Earlier this month, BNP Paribas plead guilty to money laundering and falsifying business records. The French Bank will pay $8.9 billion in fines, with approximately $4 billion directed to New York State and its municipalities. As politicians and civic leaders rushed to offer recommendations for directing this windfall, a consensus began to emerge: the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of New York State infrastructure.

While the recent settlement is a significant sum, even if it is wholly applied, it will not be enough to address New York's aging and outmoded infrastructure. In New York City alone, thirty-seven percent of subway signals exceed their 50-year useful life; 63 percent of cargo facilities at John F. Kennedy airport are considered "non-viable" for modern screening; 24 percent of the water that enters distribution mains never reaches customers due to leaks and other diversions; 11 percent of bridges are structurally deficient; and nearly 60 percent of NYCHA buildings do not comply with Local Law 11 standards for exterior and façade conditions.

The Center for an Urban Future estimated that $47 billion is needed over the next four to five years simply to bring the city's aging infrastructure to a state of good repair. However, based on accumulated funding gaps and shortfalls in upcoming capital plans, unmet needs will reach $34.2 billion. To address this large and growing funding gap, it's imperative that city and state policymakers identify new dedicated revenue streams and ensure that existing revenue streams are not raided, as they have too often been in the past.

Sam Schwartz's "Fair Plan," for instance, would introduce new tolls on those East River bridges carrying vehicles into the city's central business district while sharply reducing tolls on five non-Manhattan bridges. Most importantly, the dedicated revenue from Schwartz's plan would generate $1.2 billion annually for transit projects and regional highway improvements.

For an additional dedicated funding stream, New York City should follow Seattle, Philadelphia, and 500 other cities in replacing its sewer charges - currently assessed at 159% of the water rate - with a more nuanced stormwater management fee. Property owners would be charged according to the percentage of rainwater captured on their lots (before it enters the city's overburdened sewer system). This would incentivize increased water retention on private property, with customers paying a lower fee as they introduce new green elements – trees, swales, porous pavement, green roofs. This could be coupled with a credit program to help customers finance the installation of green elements, with loans repaid each month via a utility or property bill.

Finally, while the BNP Paribas fine is often described as a "one shot deal", it too could be converted into a continuous, dedicating funding source. By depositing the $4 billion into an infrastructure trust fund, it could generate $200 million a year in perpetuity, assuming a conservative 5 percent annual return (the MTA, by comparison, assumes a 7 percent annual return on its pension investments). This $200 million is hardly pittance. In New York City, it would afford 800 new units of low-income housing, the resurfacing of 1,300 lane-miles of city streets, or 34 miles of reconstructed sewers each year.

Moving forward, political wrangling and posturing over court settlements – like the protracted dispute between Governor Cuomo and Attorney General Schneiderman over control of an earlier $613 million settlement with JPMorgan Chase – could be avoided if the state Legislature mandates that a fixed share of future court settlements be deposited into the infrastructure trust. This would help stabilize the state's critical infrastructure for years to come.

As the city and state consider these new funding streams, political officials should refrain from diverting or dipping into existing (and already insufficient) dedicated revenue sources - a practice that has been all-too-common in recent years. At the MTA, $30 million from the Metropolitan Mass Transportation Operating Assistance account was transferred to the state's General Debt Service Fund in 2014. Funds from the Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund have also been used to cover state budget expenses. In New York City, revenue dedicated to the water and sewage system is redirected to the city's expense budget through "rental payments." Since 2005, these rental payments have increased significantly, from $109 million to $183 million.

The city's airports have also been affected by political interference. While the airports generate significant revenues from landing fees, gate fees and other levies, $214 million at JFK was diverted to non-airport related activities between 2004 and 2010. Though federal regulations require airport operators to reinvest all airport revenue into their facilities, the Port Authority was granted an exemption. In several instances, area politicians have pushed the Port Authority to use funds generated by the airports to prevent toll and fare increases at other Port Authority-managed assets, such as the PATH train.

The protection of these dedicated revenue streams, as well as the introduction of new funding sources, should not be delayed. Without immediate, sustained, and generous investment in its core infrastructure, New York's quality of life and economic competitiveness will quickly diminish.

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Adam Forman is research associate at the Center for an Urban Future, a New York City based think tank. He is the author of "Caution Ahead," a report published in March by the Center documenting New York's infrastructure vulnerabilities.
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The Small Business Corner, with GoBizNYC


NYC from Top of the Rock

City of opportunity - and challenges


Small businesses are the backbone of our local economy. They define the character of our neighborhoods and exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit of both new and native New Yorkers. Often, they are where young people get their first work experience and where seniors find a job that helps them make ends meet in their retirement years.

Mayor de Blasio demonstrated his concern for small business earlier this month, when the Department of Consumer Affairs made good on his campaign commitment to reduce fines and begin to reform city inspection processes. That is a good start, but much more remains to be done.

City and state government regularly add to regulatory and legal mandates that fall most heavily on the city's more than 179,000 businesses with fewer than 20 employees. Rhetorical support for small business too often does not translate into public policies that promote their sustainability.

One reason for this disconnect is that the small business community has not fully been a part of the citywide policy conversation. GoBizNYC, a small business initiative of the Partnership for New York City, aims to change that.

GoBizNYC was launched a year ago to elevate the small business voice and, in that time, we have built a network that reaches over 25,000 small businesses across the five boroughs. Our mission is to strengthen the voice of small, immigrant, and minority-owned businesses, and to create an environment where small businesses can create more jobs and build our city's neighborhood economies.

By working collaboratively with small business groups across the city, including the Five Boro Chamber Alliance, local development corporations, merchant associations, business improvement districts, industry associations, and community-based organizations, we help support the small business community by ensuring that small business concerns are heard and thoughtfully considered by local policymakers.

As part of our effort to amplify the voice of the New York City small business community, we are collaborating with Gotham Gazette to publish the "Small Business Corner," a bi-weekly column featuring the opinions and perspectives of small business owners and advocates from the GoBizNYC network on the range of issues that concern the city's small businesses.

These op-eds will address policies that impact a small business directly, such as government efficiency and regulations, while also considering issues that affect a small business' ability to survive and thrive in New York City, such as infrastructure, public safety, education, and livability. This effort also exemplifies Gotham Gazette's commitment to bringing a wide range of voices and issues into the civic discourse through both its original reporting and its op-ed pages.

To all New York City small business owners and advocates: we hope this new platform will better enable you to engage in the local policy conversation and we look to you to support us in this endeavor by sharing your thoughts, experiences, and voices. To learn more about how you can be a part of GoBizNYC and participate in this effort, visit GoBizNYC.org.

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Victor Wong is the Director of Business Outreach & GoBizNYC at the Partnership for New York City

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The New York City Green Cart Initiative: Expanding Access to Healthy Produce in Low-Income Neighborhoods


green cart one

A New York City Green Cart vendor (photo: Marc Shavitz)


When New York City launched its Green Cart Initiative in 2008, residents in low-income areas were suffering disproportionately from obesity and diet-related disease, while these same neighborhoods lacked sufficient access to retailers selling fresh fruits and vegetables. According to a 2008 study by the City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) and the Department of Planning, approximately three million New Yorkers lived in neighborhoods with few grocery stores and high rates of diabetes and obesity.

Challenged by this public health crisis, Mayor Bloomberg's Office of Food Policy decided to focus on increasing access to healthy food in these specific local communities, which are sometimes referred to as "food deserts." Food deserts are areas of the city where access to fresh food outlets is limited and where consumption of fruits and vegetables is particularly low. The public policy bet was simple: increasing access would, in theory, increase consumption and, in the long-term, improve public health. The Green Cart program was implemented by the Mayor's Office of Food Policy and the City DOHMH in partnership with the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund as part of a broader citywide food access strategy.

In mid-2013, after six years in operation, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund engaged Columbia University, SIPA to independently determine if Green Carts was meeting its goals.

We focused our analysis on 1) assessing the effectiveness of Green Carts in improving access to fresh fruits and vegetables for low-income New Yorkers; 2) assessing the economic viability of Green Carts as small businesses; 3) determining whether Green Carts is changing customer behavior; and 4) examining the role of philanthropy in promoting and supporting innovative public policy. As baseline data was not available, our research team spent three months (July – September 2013) locating and interviewing (in Bengali, Spanish and English) Green Carts vendors and their customers to collect extensive primary data on vendor location and neighborhood characteristics; cart locations, vendor demographics and business practices; and customer demographics, purchasing behavior and consumption behavior. Key findings of the report indicate that the NYC Green Cart initiative has been an extraordinary success. Green Carts is achieving the following:

Increasing access to fresh produce in targeted neighborhoods. We located 166 Green Carts operating across four boroughs during peak vending season. The DOHMH has subsequently released data that it observed and inspected 329 unique permitted Green Carts operating during a twelve month period. As an added benefit, the DOHMH also recently found an increase in produce in small grocery stores and bodegas in green cart zones.

Reaching the low-income populations in neighborhoods exhibiting characteristics associated with "food deserts." Green Carts are all located in neighborhoods with high rates of diet-related diseases and high rates of poverty. According to a spatial analysis, most Green Carts are located in areas with relatively low produce store density, indicating that Green Carts is achieving its goal of reaching communities with unmet needs. Moreover, 68 percent of customers earn less than $50,000 per year, close to the federal guideline for a family of four living at 200 percent of poverty.

Changing customer behavior, with customers reporting regular visits and increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. 71 percent of customers surveyed reported increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables since shopping at a Green Cart, and 63 percent of customers are "regular" shoppers (at least once a week).

Providing entrepreneurial opportunities to vendors. Green Carts is economically viable in the long-term. 80 percent of vendors consider themselves "very profitable" or "somewhat profitable." 50 percent of vendors have been vending more than two years; 75 percent of vendors believe their experience running a Green Cart will help them open a larger business.

While the NYC Green Cart initiative has achieved unprecedented success, we also identified several opportunities that we hope can enhance the program in the future and be useful to other cities adopting the model:

  • The market-based approach, allowing vendors to locate anywhere within the designated zone, does not evenly distribute vendors across the designated high-need areas. Vendors who succeed economically are choosing locations with high foot traffic, near bodegas and near bus stops. Incentives could be given to vendors to move into locations which have greater economic risk.
  • Vendors are locating close to public housing in only one borough. This suggests that there may be more opportunities to reach high-need populations through a partnership with NYCHA.
  • There is inadequate tracking of operational Green Carts and no way to identify exact vendor locations or which vendors are actually operating their carts. Improved tracking and a market analysis would help to determine the appropriate number of vendors for each targeted neighborhood.

We also found that the public-private partnership model was critical to the success of the Green Carts Initiative. The Illumination Fund's initial grant enabled the City to implement an innovative program, and as the program progressed, it provided additional supports that government was unable to fund. Certainly, there are many ways to improve the program, as our research indicates. The overall findings are, however, very clear: Green Carts has been a success for both vendors and customers in underserved low-income communities and is a model program for densely populated urban areas across the United States

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Ester R. Fuchs, Professor of International and Public Affairs and Political Science, Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs

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Green Carts in the Food Desert: Oasis or Mirage?


Green Cart

Domingo Jose, a vendor participant in WHEDco's Green Cart Training Program (WHEDco)


The Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market provides approximately 60 percent of the fresh produce that New Yorkers eat every day. Yet less than two miles from Hunts Point, in the neighborhood of Crotona Park East, it is nearly impossible to find a fresh tomato.

The New York City Green Cart Program started in 2008 as an experiment to plant mobile produce carts in food deserts like Crotona Park East, neighborhoods with low access to fresh food and high risk for diet-related diseases. The program was an opportunity to improve the health of residents across the city, including in the Bronx - once again ranked as the least healthy county in the state. But the Green Carts program also had potential as a viable model for small business creation in low-income communities. With the right support, people from low-income backgrounds can start successful businesses that support families and enable financial independence. We saw great potential in the Green Carts program to accomplish these goals.

But a recent report by Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs reveals that the program has not lived up to its full potential. Created by the Mayor's Office of Food Policy (under the Bloomberg administration), the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, with critical support from the Deutsche Bank Foundation and Karp Resources, Green Carts is an innovative program that succeeds in delivering fresh produce to its target low-income population. Yet over the five years of the program's operation, of the 1,000 Green Carts permits created, only 492 permits are active, and the Columbia team could identify only 166 Green Carts that are still operational day. Those carts that are still in business tend to cluster near shopping districts and transit stops with high foot traffic, often far from where low-income residents live, and especially far from public housing developments. Those numbers are no surprise to those who saw the program's problems in real time.

At WHEDco, we spent significant time working side-by-side to help vendors, from permit application to site selection to operation. We saw the program from the vendor's perspective, and found the permitting process to be unnecessarily complicated. A Bronx resident would need to make at least six trips to Manhattan to complete food safety courses and file permit applications. The timing of the application process was unclear to WHEDco and other community-based organizations providing technical assistance to vendors, making it difficult to advise our clients. When vendors couldn't find storage for their carts in our neighborhood, WHEDco built a storage facility in the parking lot of our Intervale Green building to safely store four Green Carts, a process that required filing new building plans and an additional grant from Deutsche Bank. We conducted micro-market studies to help Green Cart operators in our neighborhoods identify locations that lacked fresh food. But many other operators received little guidance on where to set up shop, leading to the "clusters" the Columbia team found.

We still believe in the potential of the Green Carts program as a means to promote health and small business creation at the hyperlocal level. If it continues, the program should leverage the support of community-based organizations that can connect potential vendors and local business leaders, though new funding sources must be identified to support CBOs in this work. The Health Department's District Public Health Offices should be able to process permit applications locally, saving low-income vendors valuable time. And the Green Carts program should stick to its original intention and incentivize vendors to locate close to where people live, making it as easy as possible for Bronx residents to eat healthy while supporting local entrepreneurs.

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Nancy Biberman is the Founder and President of the Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco)
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