Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics



Before Pre-K: Improving Early Childhood Education in New York City

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From "Big Dreams for New York City's Smallest Children"

When you ask the people running childcare and early education programs for low-income kids what would help their all-important work most, the predictable answer is: more money. And the experience of EarlyLearnNYC, the City's much-ballyhooed revamping of subsidized programs for kids from 6 weeks to 4 years old, shows that while instruction standards have been raised, funding not only hasn't kept pace; one effect is that teacher take-home pay has, perversely, been reduced.

The good news – contained in our recent Center for New York City Affairs at the New School report on EarlyLearnNYC's mixed record since its 2012 launch – is that there's a lot we can do to financially shore up early childhood education using already existing funds. The key is getting more kids currently eligible for subsidized programs enrolled in them – a goal that EarlyLearnNYC has struggled to meet. In fact, enrollment in child care programs that hold contracts with the City crashed in the first months of EarlyLearnNYC, plummeting below 80 percent of the system's total capacity. That number has slowly climbed back up to 89 percent over the past year-and-a-half – but that still leaves more than 4,000 subsidized child care slots sitting empty.

We've identified how, with a little entrepreneurial effort and red tape cutting, the City can recapture tax dollars for quality early education that are now all too often being spent for little more than informal babysitting.

Here's the deal: Federal law requires the City to provide childcare vouchers to parents making the transition from receiving public benefits to holding jobs. Since 1999, the number of kids covered by such vouchers has jumped by more than two-thirds, to nearly 57,000.

Parents are legally entitled to use those vouchers any way they see fit – and today the overwhelming majority wind up paying friends or family members to mind their tots during the workday. That's a huge missed opportunity to reach and teach kids whose brains are sponges for knowledge and who aren't getting the exposure to learning they need. It's also a pretty poor return on what's expected to be an outlay of $367 million in tax dollars ($67 million raised directly from city tax levy) over the next 12 months.

Our formula for changing that has two key elements. The first requires getting two major city agencies – The Human Resources Administration that manages childcare vouchers and the Administration for Children's Services that oversees EarlyLearnNYC – consistently on the same page. When they have worked together to encourage parents to use vouchers for EarlyLearnNYC programs, they've produced positive results. The goal should be making such cooperation, reinforced by targeted social media outreach and mass media ad campaigns, the rule rather than the exception it now is.

The second reform we propose is: Make it easier for parents to enroll youngsters in EarlyLearnNYC. There's no doubt that the current way-too-cumbersome enrollment process can be made simpler, quicker, and more convenient without any serious downside. The discouraging schedule of parent co-pays for EarlyLearnNYC – now as high as $3,000 a year for families making less than $25,000 – also needs to be made more financially realistic.

Getting more kids in EarlyLearnNYC would be a win for them, and also for their parents, for early childhood education programs, and for the city as a whole. It would prime thousands more kids for success when they move on to the city's expanded all-day pre-kindergarten classes.

It would also strengthen the case for upping funding for early childhood learning. The mavens are absolutely right when they say they need more money. We think they'll have an even better argument to make by working with the City to aggressively, creatively, and cooperatively increase EarlyLearnNYC's now foundering enrollment.

Kendra Hurley and Abigail Kramer of the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School are authors of the new report, Big Dreams for New York City's Youngest Children: The future of early care and education


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Are Smaller Apartments The Solution To New York's Housing Crisis?

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 Apartment buildings in New York City (wikicommons)

New York City's housing market has not caught up to the changing lifestyles of its residents. Today's New Yorkers are more mobile, more likely to live alone, and more likely to be clustered on opposing ends of the age spectrum. Yet, the city's housing is geared toward large families that inhabit apartments for years at a time.

A new Furman Center study this week showed a potential way out of the impasse: more compact units that are better suited to current housing needs. The study should be a catalyst for city leaders to lift restrictions that have limited smaller apartments and build a new generation of housing that will work for today's New Yorkers.

In 2010, the city contained 1.8 million one- and two-person households, but only a million studios and one-bedroom apartments. This disparity continues to grow. As a result, the single and elderly move into larger units, leaving less room for larger families and ultimately discouraging many from making a home in New York.

Such a trend is unsustainable. Years ago, when the city experienced a similar demographic wave, single-room occupancy housing proved to be a practical solution. Such units, which house one or two residents without the costly amenities of a typical apartment, allow a whole new generation to live in New York.

A number of obstacles, however, stand in the way of more SROs today. Due to an array of outdated regulations, developers simply lack the incentives to build such housing. But by making these units a more attractive option, we could set off a building boom that gives millions of New Yorkers access to an apartment that works for them.

First, we need to allow smaller apartments and smaller rooms. Current regulations will not allow apartments under 400 square feet, a true stumbling block to building small. We also need zoning changes to allow higher-density developments and, with many SROs classified as hotels rather than residences, a variety of different uses in the same zone.

Moreover, we need to rethink our definition of what constitutes an apartment. Not every apartment, for example, needs a window in every room – particularly when a single window in a small space can go far. In the same vein, not every kitchen needs a full set of appliances, nor does every bathroom need a full bathtub. By making these design requirements more flexible, we can encourage more units that would not be acceptable today.

These small changes can go a long way to encouraging SRO construction, and Mayor de Blasio has the power to change them. An influx of smaller units can free up larger apartments for families and help solve the growing housing discrepancy in the City.

As Mayor de Blasio considers his range of options to make housing more affordable, it is vital that smaller units be part of the mix.

Leonard Grunstein is Managing Member at Hanlen Real Estate Development & Funding


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The Politics of Governance

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NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, Mayor de Blasio, & Reverand Al Sharpton (Rob Bennett, Mayor's Office)

Last week, an acquaintance asked me whether the problem in our American democracy today is the state of our politics, or the state of our government. The question admittedly stumped me. While there are definitely major challenges in both realms, the actual distinction is critical, and one which we're quick to overlook, which can lead to inefficacy in both realms. And perhaps nothing illustrates this slight better than New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's recent challenges in dealing with the Eric Garner tragedy.

In purely definitional terms, the Greek root of the term "politikos" is "of, for, or relating to citizens." In other words, politics encompasses the actual activities associated with how citizens influence the policies and actions of a government. Thus politics, despite the partisan labels modern society attaches to the term, is citizen-centered. Government, on the other-hand, refers to the actual body that makes the policies and enacts them. Thus, the question essentially becomes whether more effective politics, or citizen engagement, leads to more effective governance, or whether more effective governmental institutions will lead to better results for citizens.

Eric Garner, a 43-year-old Staten Islander who died after being placed in a chokehold by a police officer attempting to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes, was victim of faulty governance practices. Justifiably, the aftermath of his death has focused on the police policies that allowed such an incident to happen. Namely, critics argue, so-called 'broken-windows' policing, promoted extensively by Police Commissioner William Bratton, is inherently racist, and police focus on low-level criminal offenses in a way that disproportionately targets minorities.

De Blasio is an organizer at heart, and ran a successful mayoral campaign largely because he understands politics so well. He understood that the electorate had tired of a third Bloomberg term, he understood that stop-and-frisk had become a racist policing tactic, and he understood that economic inequality was becoming the defining issue for a generation. He spoke to these as a consummate political being, promising to bring people together, to influence the bodies that made these policies. De Blasio mastered the politics of the moment in New York City.

The transition from politics to governing has proven challenging. But interestingly, de Blasio has attempted to merge the two constantly - every policy becomes a campaign. His first major move was to push for universal pre-kindergarten. Before long, "UPK" pins were commonplace throughout the city, and Albany rallies seemed to happen weekly. Although he did not get his tax on the wealthy passed to pay for it, he did get funding for his pet project. In a similar mold, de Blasio's push for the Democratic National Convention to be held in Brooklyn, which he claims would spur economic activity in the region, has included designing Nets jerseys with the names of delegates on the back - and, naturally, new DNC NYC 2016 pins. There is nothing inherently wrong with these campaigns - UPK is now happening (great), and the convention might come to Brooklyn (disputably great).

But this approach will not always work, and it has not worked with the Garner case. Immediately after returning from his vacation to Italy, de Blasio's political instincts kicked in, and he held a public roundtable with both Bratton and civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton at City Hall, ostensibly to show that police and civil society could work together in the aftermath of the death. But neither would have any part of it. Sharpton ripped into Bratton, and Bratton seemed completely unsure of his role at the podium.

In the days since, de Blasio has continued to stammer. First, he came to Sharpton's defense, saying that the reverend "had been active and productive" on police policies for decades. When a report then came out saying he would side with Sharpton over Bratton, potentially ousting his commissioner, de Blasio responded with vigorous defense, calling the notion "idiotic" and asserting that Bratton is "the finest police leader in the United States." Meanwhile a wide-scale rally is planned on Staten Island to protest the police policies - a rally de Blasio certainly would have attended while running for Mayor.

Civil society is coalescing around the Garner issue, in a way that shows politics at work. This engagement, in a city that just had its lowest electoral turnout since World War II, is undoubtedly positive. But the way that de Blasio can move forward is by actually responding to the politics of the moment with concrete policies, demonstrating a willingness to create police policies that will both protect and respect New York City's citizenry. The mayor's expansion of the Gun Violence Crisis Management System is a step in the right direction of governance over politics and he should take it to every city precinct. The sole act of creating a political stage, and attempting to bring foes to the table, does not work. New York City's citizens are getting more political. But they need a leader to not just play politics, but rather, to govern.

Scott Warren is the CEO and co-founder of Generation Citizen, an national non-profit based in New York City dedicated to empowering young people to be active citizens.


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A Fall Agenda for the City Council's Veterans Committee


Council Member Eric Ulrich, right, at a veterans committee hearing (photo: William Alatriste)

When Council Member Eric Ulrich was appointed chair of the veterans committee by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in January, no one within the veterans community was sure what to expect. One of a few Republicans in a largely Democratic council, there were some vets who opposed his selection. However, during his first six months as chair, Ulrich, along with the rest of the committee, has given the committee's hearings new depth, with a seriousness and straight-forward approach that had been missing.

The result has been a renewed intensity of conversation in the veterans community and optimism for actually getting some legislation passed that will help veterans and their families. Therefore, as we rapidly approach September, this is a good moment to look ahead and discuss several possible topics the committee should consider holding hearings on over the next several months - especially given Mayor Bill de Blasio's appointment on Monday of a new commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Veterans' Affairs, former Brigadier General Loree Sutton.

In no particular order, recommendations for city council veterans committee priorities:

Veterans Advisory Board: As was stated in the veterans' briefing paper written during last year's mayoral campaign, the Veterans Advisory Board (VAB) has had some major issues over the past several years regarding its lack of an organized or public schedule, lack of transparent communication with the veterans community, ways by which issues make it to the board's attention and up the administration's chain of command.

It's only been recently that the city finally published the board's annual reports as well as the names of those serving on the board, when the majority of members' terms were either finished or coming to an end. Therefore, as the council committee has never held an oversight hearing on the VAB, this should be considered a top priority. The council committee should explore what the board has been doing and what can be done to make it more responsive, especially including a change to the terms of appointment.

Intro. 314 – MOVA: Back in April, Council Member Ulrich proposed and submitted Intro. 314, a bill that would change the Mayor's Office of Veterans' Affairs (MOVA) into a more autonomous department. Part of the reasoning is that the change would show the public that veterans issues are taken seriously in New York City while expanding the office's current capabilities. It would also make it easier for council members to obtain funding for local veterans groups. While this legislation could possibly make it through the Council, there must be discussions between the de Blasio administration and the Council regarding this change as it would require many shifts regarding budgeting, mission and even its place in the city charter. Nevertheless, a hearing on this bill should be held to obtain input from the public, the veterans community, and MOVA leaders.

Veteran Homelessness: Last month, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in New York City held its annual CHALENG (Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups) meeting, which brought together service providers, advocates, and others to identify the needs of homeless veterans and how to best meet those needs. At this meeting, Commissioner Gilbert Taylor of the city's Department of Homeless Services (DHS) talked about ending veteran homelessness in the city and it was shared that homelessness among veterans in the city has gone down from 3,500 in 2013 to 1,600 veterans as of their latest estimates. However, there has not been a hearing on homeless veterans from the council committee since November of 2011 and this would be an opportune time to hold one (perhaps jointly with the General Welfare Committee) to get an update on what the administration is doing; how it's working with the VA; and where they are in regard to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Mayor's Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

Intro. 426 – Benefits Counseling Services: Also last month, Council Member Ulrich introduced legislation that would place benefit counselors in each borough to assist veterans and their family members with VA disability claims and other related issues. With the recent loss of MOVA's three benefit counselors and the continued high number of claims pending at the VA, this bill deserves a hearing. This would also coincide with Governor Cuomo's announcement at the New York Veterans and Military Families Summit last March of the establishment of a statewide "Strike Force" to expedite federal disability claims for New York veterans and their family members.

Veterans and STEM: At the beginning of August, the 2nd Annual Executive U.S. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Summit took place here in New York City. Leaders gathered from around the nation to discuss how to improve STEM education and the rising concern about future challenges and potential shortages in the workforce. Veterans have been identified as a source of motivated, skilled talent that can help address the decline of the technical workforce and an article in Forbes last year stated that New York City topped the list for STEM jobs. Also, Task and Purpose recently published an article about the new White House STEM initiatives including job training for veterans. Therefore, the council committee should consider holding a hearing on how the city can work with CUNY, as well as other colleges and interested parties, to encourage veterans to utilize the GI Bill to pursue post-secondary degrees in STEM fields and build upon the technical skills gained from military training and experience.

The City Council Committee on Veteran Affairs should also consider a hearing regarding veteran unemployment and others related to veteran-owned businesses.

Yes, this is a fairly hefty agenda and by no means do I or other members of the veterans community expect it all to happen in the fall. However, if the committee continues to approach veterans issues seriously, can hold hearings on a regular basis to look at these issues, and even move a few pieces of legislation, the next several months will be a success and continue to build on the positive work it started in the first part of the year. I believe this committee is up to the challenge.

Joe Bello served 11 years in the U.S. Navy/Naval Reserve and has been a veterans advocate in New York City for almost two decades. He is the founder of NY MetroVets.

Cab Riders Deserve Better

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Calling for Taxi Trips that are Safer, More Accessible, and with Fewer Impacts on the Environment

The New York City taxicab is woven into the fabric of our city's personality as much as skyscrapers, unbeatable pizza and high-pressure jobs. The iconic yellow cab has been a familiar part of our streetscape for decades, ushering "suits" to meetings, sure, but also students and frazzled parents to school on late mornings; tourists to the Empire State Building; and plenty of us back to Brooklyn many a late night.

Yet despite their established presence, each time I hop into one of the yellow, green, black, or other for-hire vehicles now roaming our neighborhoods, whether flagged, called or "app'd," I'm increasingly unsure what I'm getting myself into. While the evolution, innovation, and expansion of options are welcome, there are essential protective upgrades that must also be made – especially in the Vision Zero Era when NYC has committed to prevent death and injury on our city's streets.

With more than 240 million trips taken each year, the NYC taxicab industry could classify as the seventh largest transit system in the world in and of itself. This colossal scale comes with an equally immense amount of interaction with passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other drivers – and, sadly, all too many preventable fatalities and injuries along the way. The distressing number of high profile taxi-related injuries and deaths making headlines lately show a grave need for updates to the regulations responsible for keeping New Yorkers and visitors safe on our streets and in our cabs.

Cab riders have a right to expect that when they enter a city-regulated cab or for-hire vehicle, their ride will be as safe as possible, which is one way we hope the launch of Cab Riders United can make a difference. Cab Riders United intends to serve as a voice for the 1.2 million passengers who ride in the city's cabs and for-hire vehicles each day. Our hope is that the voice of passengers and the public will be heard by Mayor de Blasio's office and the TLC and can help them move forward on key initiatives and regulations to improve the safety, quality and environmental impact of the city's taxicab industry.

New York is a world leader in culture, business, and food – constantly pursuing or pioneering "the next big thing" in nearly every category. The city's innovative policies on reducing tobacco-related death and disease and improving sustainability have been imitated the world over. And, our newer initiatives like paid sick leave and universal pre-K may be similarly replicated in years to come. Today, we should also embrace the opportunity to lead the charge in innovative transportation services, regulations, and technology to ensure safer, better quality cabs and car services with fewer negative impacts on the environment. New York can once again create a model for other cities to follow.

Cab Riders United strongly supports Mayor de Blasio's Vision Zero goal and its guiding principle that death or injury on our city's streets is simply unacceptable. Taxicabs and for-hire vehicles play an important role in New York City and they should be designed and operated with safety in mind. These vehicles should meet or surpass all federal crash and safety standards rather than be exempted from them. How many New Yorkers realize that only one taxi model on the city's streets has been crash-tested with the partition installed to prove its safety? Did you ever realize that the taxi partition we've seen for decades not only changes the vehicle's structural integrity but can prevent the passengers' airbags from deploying? Did you ever notice how often the credit card reader is installed exactly where your face will land in the event of a crash? In the city's emergency rooms, the doctors and nurses are tragically all-too familiar with an injury they call "partition face."

We can do better. Designing taxis inside and out with safety as the top priority; improving seatbelt and child seat regulations; requiring exterior warning lights and sliding doors to reduce the risk to pedestrians and cyclists should all be on the agenda. Not to mention, research shows that higher pay means safer cabbies; and it's simply unconscionable that many drivers working an 11 or 12 hour shift cannot even adjust their seat position to maintain comfort and alertness because of how the partition is installed. With this in mind, we also need to work on improving the training, pay, and working conditions for drivers

In a city where most residents do not own a car, but rely on a driving service when public transportation just won't work - such as returning from a medical appointment, the airport, or in times of emergency - passengers have a right to expect services that are convenient, comfortable and high quality. This includes continuing to expand service in previously underserved communities through the green Boro taxis and other innovative new options like Uber and Lyft, accelerating progress to make taxis accessible for passengers in wheelchairs, and simply a clean and comfortable ride.

Finally, New York is a leader among cities in an ever more urbanized world, and with that comes a responsibility to reduce carbon emissions and show others how a great city can become a greener, cleaner place to live. New York's taxis and for-hire vehicles are vital to the city's transportation system, but we need smart regulations that minimize the vehicles' negative impacts on climate, ambient air quality, and public space while creating a level playing field for fair competition.

As a proud New Yorker, I honestly believe that there is no other city like ours. The yellow taxi is more than a symbol of our city; it's an integral part of the hustle and bustle that makes NYC great. Yellow cabs and for-hire vehicles connect a diverse and dynamic population across neighborhoods, businesses, and cultures to bring people together. And, for generations the industry has created economic opportunity for New Yorkers, especially new immigrants. The taxi and for-hire vehicle industry should continue to do all of these things – but even better, with improved safety, expanded access, greater comfort and convenience, and a reduced impact on the environment.

It's time for New Yorkers and city officials, including Mayor de Blasio and members of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, to take the next steps to make our taxi and for-hire vehicle system one that we all can both rely on and take pride in. The Cab Riders United agenda is fueled by the energy and insights of regular New Yorkers who pay for car transportation and by the expertise of health professionals, academics, transportation policy advocates, and allied leaders from NYC's labor, business and design communities. We invite you to add your voice and join us as we advocate for these three principles: safety, quality service, and reduced environmental impact. Please visit our website, sign our petition and let us know your ideas!

Michael O'Loughlin, is a proud New Yorker and campaign organizer for Cab Riders United. He has worked on a number of NYC transportation initiatives to make the city's systems safer and more accessible for residents and visitors.


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Breaking New York's Bad Plastic Bag Habit

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The author at a City Hall rally in support of the plastic bag bill (photo: Saleen Shah)

New York City has a bad habit that is expensive and dirty and one that we can break easily and soon.

It's the habit of using plastic bags.

And like most bad habits, we didn't always have it. For the first time in a generation or two, we are seeing reusable bags everywhere. They're even trendy. Consider this: the first plastic bags were introduced in 1977. Now they account for four out of every five bags handed out at grocery stores.

The good news is that American cities are fighting back either with legislation that reduces the use or bans them outright. Bravo to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C. In an editorial, The Seattle Times challenged lawmakers saying it's high time to revisit a statewide ban.

Now the fight comes to the nation's largest city, uniting small business owners, environmentalists, and fiscal conservatives concerned about the cost of shipping trash out of the city, which amounts to an estimated $10 million to move 100,000 tons of plastic bags to landfills.

In September, right after the UN conference on climate change, our city council's sanitation and solid waste committee will hold a hearing on the proposed Lander-Chin bill that seeks to reduce the amount of single-use carryout bags that enter our waste stream.

It's encouraging news that the de Blasio administration is "very supportive" of the bill. For its part, Citizens Committee, in partnership with council members, will be holding cotton canvas bag giveaway events across the city.

How the Bill Works
The proposed bill here in the city calls for a simple 10-cent charge per bag. Who gets to keep the 10 cents per bag? Small retailers, the very folks this bill's opponents (read: the billion dollar plastics industry and its lobbyists) say will be hurt by the bill.

This commonsense approach is bringing people together in every borough and neighborhood. Council Member Brad Lander, one of the co-lead sponsors of the bill, says he believes the legislation is based on "a tried-and-tested...approach to reducing bag waste in New York City by at least 60 percent in a way that works for the environment and works for the city," according to a past Gotham Gazette piece. And Citizens Committee for New York City is just one member of a broad coalition seeking a new plastic bag law in the City Council. Co-sponsors of the bill have worked extremely hard to secure the backing of a few retail and grocery associations, a remarkable feat.

Under the proposed law, restaurants that rely on take-out and food delivery, as well as food stamp recipients, would be exempt. Some street vendors would also be exempt, unless they sell what a grocery store or retailer sells. In New York City alone, just one less grocery bag per person per year would reduce waste by five million pounds and save $250,000 in disposal costs. Also, increased proliferation of reusable bags will have a big impact. A sturdy, reusable bag needs only be used 11 times to have a lower environmental impact than using 11 disposable plastic bags.

Learn and Share
We urge you to learn these simple facts and educate your neighbors so that they can in turn educate their neighbors. After all, we live in a city full of hundreds of neighborhoods and with your support the time will soon come when plastic bag consumption finally trends down.

Plastic Bag Cheat Sheet

  • Plastic bags are made from oil: it takes about 430,000 gallons of oil to produce 100 million plastic bags, and the U.S. goes through 380 billion of them a year.
  • Plastic bags are not biodegradable.
  • If buried, plastic bags block the natural flow of oxygen and water through the soil.
  • If burned, plastic bags release dangerous toxins and carcinogens into the air.
  • If simply thrown away, plastic bags clog the waste stream and other waterways.
  • The EPA reports only 5.2 percent of all plastic bags are recycled, meaning the rest find their way to landfills, streets, the ocean, and almost anywhere else they don't belong.
  • Plastic bags pose a serious danger to birds and marine mammals that often mistake them for food. Thousands die each year after swallowing or choking on discarded plastic bags. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean.
  • Department of Sanitation: New Yorkers use 5.2 billion single-use carryout bags per year.
  • Department of Sanitation: As of 2008, plastic bags accounted for over 1,700 tons of residential garbage per week in NYC
  • New York Times: City pays an estimated $10M to transport 100,000 tons of plastic bags to landfills
  • Thin plastic shopping bags jam expensive machinery at recycling plants.

So, let's break the habit and pop the plastic bag bubble once and for all. That'll be great news for all New Yorkers.

Peter H. Kostmayer is the CEO of Citizens Committee for New York City and a seven-term U.S. Congressman from Bucks County, Pennsylvania.


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Don't Hinder Small Business Growth

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Mayor de Blasio announces the expansion of paid sick leave legislation (Rob Bennett, Mayor's Office)

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

A recent piece in The New York Times highlighted how heavy regulations have inhibited growth among businesses in France. When French businesses grow to 50 or more employees, they are subject to a host of employment and accounting regulations that significantly increase their operating and administrative costs. As a result, many companies cap their firm size at 49 employees. With unemployment in France stuck at a record high of above 10% as well as continued private sector contraction, such disincentives to growth do not bode well for the country's worsening economic situation.

We have seen a similar trend here in New York City. According to the Partnership for New York City's NYC Jobs Blueprint, since the financial crisis in 2008, there has been a 7% net increase in the number of firms with one to four employees. Over the same period, however, there has been a 1% net decrease in the number of businesses with 50 or more employees. This indicates that though there is plenty of new entrepreneurial activity, the city's start-ups and small businesses are not able to scale up at a comparable rate.

Given the elaborate web of regulations local businesses must comply with, it is not hard to see why this is the case. For entrepreneurs who have enough on their plate managing all of the day-to-day aspects of their business while competing in the highest-cost city in the country, having to also navigate a complex bureaucratic system not adapted to the needs and pace of a small business presents yet another hurdle to success.

That's why the Small Business First initiative that was recently unveiled by the de Blasio administration is so important and timely. Small Business First aims to make the city more business friendly by simplifying regulatory processes across multiple city agencies and promoting compliance through education. This announcement, along with earlier commitments to reduce revenue generated from small business fines, indicates that this administration is devoting the necessary attention and resources to reforming the systemic complexities small business owners face every day.

At the same time, we must ensure that these gains are not offset by new layers of regulation that add to the already heavy burden on small businesses. For instance, small business owners have been scrambling to understand how to comply with new employer mandates like the Paid Sick Leave Law and are worried that there are more costly and burdensome regulations to come.

A tough regulatory environment has long-term ramifications. The International Monetary Fund has predicted that France's unemployment rate will not show any appreciable decline until 2016 and has warned that the country faces a "negative spiral of low growth and falling inflation."

New York City must learn from France's example and not implement policies that could hinder growth and stall recovery during future economic downturns. Our policymakers and elected officials must work closely with the small business community to ensure that the unintended consequences of any new regulations—in the short- and long-term—are minimized. Only through such collaboration will we be able to cultivate an economy that fosters small business growth and job creation and that remains resilient in tough times.

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


To make or discuss a submission for The Small Business Corner:

Reach GoBizNYC Director Victor Wong at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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The Small Business Corner is 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.

To all New York City small business owners and advocates: we hope this new platform, The Small Business Corner, 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


In a Most Political District, A Conspicuous Lack of Debate


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.

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


Second Aveue Subway construction (

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.

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:

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.

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.

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


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