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The Citi Bike Expansion Plan is Great; Here’s How to Do It Right


dot citi bikeride ues

(photo: New York City Department of Transportation)


New Yorkers across the city have reason to celebrate, with the news that the Citi Bike network is expanding to the Bronx and deeper into Brooklyn and Queens -- bringing the benefits of bike share to every corner of Manhattan and extending its reach into neighborhoods like Morrisania, Flatbush, and Jackson Heights.

Citi Bike’s expansion into more communities of color not only represents a huge opportunity for improving New Yorkers’ lives; it will help set the tone for cities across the country and the world.

It’s important that we get this right, scaling Citi Bike’s existing equity programs alongside this massive infrastructural investment.

Through my work with the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, the nation’s first community development corporation (CDC) focused on promoting the economic futures of black families in Central Brooklyn, I’ve been on the front lines of encouraging ridership and promoting a feeling of system ownership among black and Latinx residents.

We’ve hosted bike rides, worked with the city Department of Transportation to give away helmets, promoted low-cost memberships, and cultivated community champions; with our seat at the table, we have pushed for policies to benefit communities of color, like changing pricing for SNAP recipients and ensuring that youth have access to Citi Bike.

We adapted as we learned, and we’ve had real results. Ridership in Bed Stuy is growing faster than systemwide since we signed on as a Citi Bike partner. One year ago, we joined Citi Bike and Healthfirst in launching Reduced Fare Bike Share. More than 3,400 low-income New Yorkers have signed up for Citi Bike for only $5 a month.

Here’s what we’ve learned -- I hope it provides guidance in Citi Bike’s new phase of expansion:

First, community engagement must be real and consistent.

There are complex reasons that ridership is lower in majority-minority neighborhoods than others, at least in part due to the suspicion that the system isn’t meant for everyone.

As Restoration’s partnership with Citi Bike has proven, real impact comes with grassroots organizing and consistent community presence. Citi Bike and Healthfirst’s newly-announced $300,000 Community Grant Program for local nonprofits in the expansion zone will go a long way; there must be a sustained commitment to these partnerships long after that seed money has run out.

Second, there must be parallel investments in protected bike lanes.

Expanding Citi Bike is a great first step, but equal commitment to protected bike lanes in these new neighborhoods is crucial to encouraging ridership from a diverse array of residents.

Studies have shown that female ridership, for example, is boosted by a feeling of security on a bike, and that bike safety is achieved in numbers.

Bike safety is a compounding phenomenon: the more comprehensive the infrastructure is, the more people will ride; the more people ride, the safer the roads become.

Third, the fight for transit equity does not stand alone.

We must remember that advocacy around transportation equity is part of a larger effort to stem the tide of historic disinvestment across many facets of life in communities of color.

The City and its partner Citi Bike have an opportunity to model what equitable infrastructure investment looks like; not just what resources are where and when, but who is at the table when those decisions are made.

We must be aware of the unintended consequences of our decisions, and ensure that our investment in communities doesn’t equal the displacement of longtime residents.

As Citi Bike expands, I’ve already seen a real effort to address these challenges, to scale what’s working and to correct what isn’t.

Expansion of collaborative efforts like the Better Bike Share Partnership, authentic community engagement and support, and affordable pricing will help guarantee that equity goals are met. They will undergird all efforts to ensure that bike adoption in new neighborhoods is top-of-mind and that infrastructure investment is responsible.

It wasn’t long ago that many in communities like Bed Stuy bemoaned Citi Bike’s arrival. Just a few years later, New Yorkers stood on the steps of City Hall to demand bikeshare quicker and that it reach further.

It was one of the quickest changes in public approval maybe ever, and speaks to the system’s overwhelming success in not only getting people where they need to go, but doing it in a way that people enjoy.

I believe we’re close to realizing a system that meaningfully supplants car ownership and is cemented as part of the public transit infrastructure across the boroughs.

With a thought-out, comprehensive plan for bike equity, Citi Bike can meaningfully support communities across the city, bringing new access to former transit deserts, opening up economic opportunity for diverse commercial hubs, making our communities greener and healthier, and showcasing to the world what a truly equitable, integrated transportation system can look like.

***
Tracey Capers is Executive Vice President of Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.

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Cuomo’s Getting His Belmont Arena, But the Numbers Don’t Add Up


belmont park redev

Belmont arena rendering (rendering: Sterling Project Development)


Delayed appraisal, dubious benefits analysis, interest-free financing complicate rosy outlook

Three lessons from the long battle over Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn are that promises of huge financial benefits deserve skepticism, that independent studies trump promotional ones, and that scenarios should be presented as a range of outcomes, rather than just the best case.

Unfortunately, those lessons have been ignored regarding the new sports-and-entertainment arena complex planned at Belmont Park in western Nassau County, with the New York Islanders as anchor tenant and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, surely anticipating a big ribbon-cutting in 2021, as the chief cheerleader.

The near-final step toward approval of “the transformational $1.26 billion Belmont Park Redevelopment Project” came in a Cuomo press release July 8 announcing that a new Long Island Rail Road station would help serve the project, which also includes a hotel and “luxury outlet stores.” (That retail, as I explain below, might be the priority for the Islanders’ owners.)

The press release came with a chorus of praise—the new station might lessen the likelihood of arena-related traffic chaos—but left seeds for doubt.

Unfortunately, as the project comment period ends August 1 and approval votes loom soon after, the Cuomo administration has obfuscated public assistance for the station and an overall deal that gives the developers the project land essentially rent-free, while presenting an economic benefits analysis with glaring gaps, and delaying the delivery of promised data.

Who’s paying for the station?
The estimated cost of the station is $105 million. According to the press release, “The arena developer will cover $97 million— 92 percent of the total cost — and the State will invest $8 million.” The developer is New York Arena Partners, or NYAP, involving Sterling Equities, the Scott Malkin Group (Islanders’ owners), Madison Square Garden, and the Oak View Group.

That scenario was belied by a “Fiscal and Economic Benefits” report attached to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (or Final EIS), which said NYAP would initially contribute $30 million for that new station, then pay $67 million over the course of 30 years.

That sounds like the equivalent of interest-free financing, a huge bonus for the developer. Unfortunately for the public, Newsday, Long Island’s dominant newspaper, initially accepted Cuomo’s framing, while an editorial columnist echoed Cuomo’s take, gaining an enthusiastic tweet from a spokesperson for Empire State Development (ESD), Cuomo’s economic development authority, who essentially called alternative explanations fake news.

By contrast, Neil deMause, writing in Gothamist, estimated that the financing offered a $33 million public bonus to the developers.

To me, it recalled the 2009 deal in which Forest City Ratner, which had bid $100 million for the right to build over the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard in Brooklyn, negotiated relaxed terms: permission to put $20 million down (for the parcel necessary for the Barclays Center), then pay, over 21 years, the equivalent of $80 million in 2009 dollars: approximately $173 million, at an implied 6.5% interest rate.

Four days after Cuomo’s announcement, Newsday reported that NYAP was, in fact, getting the equivalent of interest-free financing for the station, and was essentially getting the entire 43-acre site in exchange for payments being reinvested into project infrastructure. One sports economist quoted in the story thought the rail deal was fair while another thought the deal might stimulate the economy, even if the land was a bargain. 

New public revenue?
I have more doubts, and not just because of Cuomo’s record on transparency. Consider: the ESD board meeting July 8 to accept the Final EIS was scheduled with exactly one business day’s notice, a decision that provoked project opponents to protest to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE).

According to Cuomo’s press release, the state-commissioned analysis “found the new arena, hotel and retail village will generate nearly $50 million in new public revenue per year and produce $725 million in annual economic output” (spending, apparently).

Sure, building on underutilized land adds significant jobs and tax revenues, especially from the retail, but Cuomo’s numbers deserve scrutiny rather than blind endorsement.

The state's fiscal estimates ignore the cost of additional public services and infrastructure, as well as the value of various tax exemptions. Unbiased agencies, like the New York City Independent Budget Office, typically weigh benefits and costs. The watchdog group Reinvent Albany has asked ESD for an analysis of Belmont subsidies, without results. (In Streetsblog, Reinvent Albany also raised several questions about the new train station, including operating costs and cost overruns.)

Moreover, the report by BJH Advisors performed for Cuomo doesn’t consider “whether the spending and jobs are moving from one site presently in New York State to the new project location.” That’s said to be reasonable, “given the type and unique nature of the retail uses and the newly generated demand for hotel and accommodation services.” 

Maybe, but that excludes the nearby Nassau Coliseum, clearly an arena rival, as explained below. 

The new luxury outlet mall
And if, as the state says, “there are currently no direct comparable development [sic] to Value Retail's luxury outlet product within the United States,” shouldn’t the developers of such high-end retail be paying for the land?

We haven’t heard much about Value Retail, founded by Islanders’ co-owner Malkin, but Belmont would represent the first United States example of a successful European chain, of which Bicester Village, not far from London, is now the United Kingdom’s second-busiest attraction and generates more sales per square foot than any retail outlet in the world. 

Consider: at 315,000 square feet, if Belmont achieves sales at $2,000 per square foot, that means annual revenue of $630 million, and big success for Value Retail, which typically charges brands 12.5% of sales: meaning $78.8 million in annual rent given that estimated revenue. (Is $2,000 per square foot realistic? Well, sales at less-exclusive Woodbury Common, as of early 2018, were $1,624 per square foot, and Bicester achieved sales of $4,000 per square foot, as of 2016. Even at Woodbury Common results, the Belmont numbers would be formidable.)

No wonder Value Retail founder Malkin has let Islanders’ co-owner Jon Ledecky be the public face of the project. 

Rent goes back into the project
Beyond the rail station financing and tax breaks, the Cuomo administration has figured out how to mask significant public help for what was long portrayed as an “entirely privately funded” project. (Now, I suppose it’s “almost entirely privately funded.”)

Along with that initial $30 million payment for the station, NYAP will pay $20 million upfront for Project Site infrastructure. However, these payments fulfill the developer’s seemingly sweet land lease: announced at just $40 million to control 43 acres for 49 years.

So, instead of paying New York for the site, that money—plus an extra $10 million—goes back into the project.

What about the appraisal?
Is the land worth just $40 million (or even $50 million)? The annual payment, per acre, is but 10 percent of the cost paid for the right to build a “racino” at Aqueduct, another racetrack. In March 2018, ESD promised the Village Voice an appraisal would be done before “the conclusion of the environmental review in 2019.”

Apparently appraisals exist. ESD, in the Response to Comments Chapter of the Final EIS released July 8, said that “The transaction between ESD and the Applicant is a fair market transaction confirmed by appraisals received by ESD.” 

However, ESD has not released them. Despite that July 8 statement, Newsday reported five days later that an appraisal would be complete “in the coming weeks”—just in time for the final approval votes.

The Belmont process suffers from opacity, as I’ve written. A rival bidder for the site withdrew in 2017, citing (to Long Island Business News) “extraordinary requirements, preconditions and reviews” that pointed to a wired deal for a hockey arena; LIBN’s editor opined that the state “only solicited proposals tailor-made for the Islanders and their well-heeled backers.”

Impact on the Coliseum
The claim that spending and jobs won’t move within the state has a huge blind spot: the county-owned Nassau Coliseum, less than ten miles away. The state review fudges the new arena’s likely devastating impact on the Islanders’ former (and now part-time) home, which, after being downsized and renovated, seats only 13,900 for hockey—too small for the National Hockey League—and up to 15,000 for concerts. 

The new arena would seat 18,000 for hockey and up to 19,000 for concerts—and, of course, would contain many more luxury suites. Unlike Barclays, announced in 2012 as the Islanders’ new permanent home as of 2015 but making an awkward fit for the team, it would be built to accommodate hockey.

Asked in the public comment period about the need for another arena, the state responded, “The arena would meet the demand for larger events that cannot be hosted at smaller venues such as Nassau Coliseum.”

Well, it might meet the demand for Islanders games. But it’s dubious that the Coliseum couldn’t host “larger events.” Even at Barclays, which offers far better transit access and a denser population nearby, only a few supernova performers, like Jay-Z and Barbra Streisand, have consistently sold out, while concerts averaged between 9.711 and 11,944 over the first four years, as I reported. Even the Belmont Final EIS (Chapter 7) notes that non-sporting events at Barclays averaged 8,468.

Nonetheless, the Final EIS Project Description chapter quotes the Belmont arena developer without question: “In addition to the approximately 44 to 60 New York Islanders home games, NYAP envisions approximately 145 non-NHL arena event days annually, including: approximately 50 marquee concert/entertainment event days that would fully utilize the arena’s space (approximately 19,000 seats); approximately 65 large to medium event days (utilizing between 6,000 and 11,500 seats), such as Disney on Ice, Cirque Du Soleil, E-Sports, or high school sports; and approximately 30 small or non-ticketed event days (3,500 seats or fewer).” 

“Assuming the above-described events were to sell out at the utilization levels indicated, attendance on arena event days would average approximately 15,000 patrons,” the document states. That’s extremely dubious. Even Madison Square Garden—the region’s premier event venue, in the heart of Manhattan—falls short, averaging 14,825 for non-sporting events, as acknowledged elsewhere in the Final EIS.

If the attendance estimates are overblown, that also lowers the expected number of jobs, and tax revenue from new spending, further undermining the projections.

Dancing around the damage
Another commenter during the environmental review asked how, if visitors to non-sporting events are expected—according to a previous project document—from “a catchment area of no more than a 20-30 minute drive to the arena,” Belmont would compete with the Coliseum. 

The ESD response acknowledged that the arenas “would overlap significantly,” but asserted that “both venues attract visitors from throughout the entire MSA [Metropolitan Statistical Area], which is significantly large enough to absorb the additional supply of events and entertainment.”

That’s an astounding leap of logic. The MSA, while it contains 20 million people, extends to New Jersey and even Pennsylvania. How many people would travel long distances to attend shows at Belmont? Remember, many Islanders fans decided they had little interest in attending weeknight games at Barclays, the team’s temporary home, given the travel commitment. In other words, demand depends on logistics.

The response, however, continued in fantasyland: “One venue might focus on larger shows, both venues could host the same acts on different nights, or perhaps host events marketed at different audiences.”

Sure, events are marketed to different audiences. But most shows too big for the Coliseum don’t exist, as attendance figures show. As to hosting “the same acts on different nights,” that’s not just dubious business practice—why would an arena coordinate with a rival?—but also a logistical nightmare: why would an act that has loaded in equipment and sets move nearby for a second performance?

Where’s the audience?
The Final EIS Socioeconomic Conditions chapter claims that “the Nassau Coliseum would continue to focus on smaller-scale events than those hosted at the Barclays Center and the proposed [Belmont] arena.” When that passage appeared in the Draft EIS, I pointed out—in a January op-ed for the Daily News—that the Coliseum relies on family shows, which Belmont plans to pursue.

That contention remains un-rebutted. Instead, both the Draft and Final documents confidently assert, “Overall, the metro area is considered sufficiently large to comfortably absorb additional non-sporting events from the proposed arena without having a significant impact on the existing venues.” 

Such passive-voice phrasing, backed by no independent analysis, severely undermines the claim and further undermines the credibility of the state review.

***
Norman Oder is a Brooklyn journalist who writes the daily blog Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report and is working on a book about the project. On Twitter @AYReport.

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Note: this piece has been updated: the original version referenced the 15,000 attendance estimate without including the Islanders' games, and didn't clarify that the MSG attendance figures were for non-sporting events.

5 Solutions the Public Advocate Should Deliver for New York City


cityscape

(photo; Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


The New York City Public Advocate is a poorly defined position that, over its 30 years of existence, has often been used to advance the political interests and status of career politicians. I’m running for Public Advocate because I want to do something very different with the office: turn it into a “startup” working in the public interest to deliver real products and services that improve New Yorkers’ lives and helps under-resourced civil servants modernize our city’s government.

I’ll do this by delivering five noncontroversial “solutions” that I’ve outlined in Gotham Gazette columns over the last few years: 1) strengthening our social safety net; 2) kickstarting technology-enabled government reform; 3) improving civic engagement processes; 4) facilitating metro-regional coordination; and 5) producting websites that help New Yorkers see and understand their government.

1) A Searchable Safety Net
Politicians talk constantly about our city’s safety net, but where is it? New York City doesn’t have what almost every major city in the country does -- a “211” system that organizes government and nonprofit health, human, and social service information and makes it available to the public through a website and 2-1-1 phone hotline.

Everyday thousands of city and nonprofit staff are duplicating work and struggling to keep their own resource directories up-to-date, recognizing that the availability of this information is the difference between a New Yorker accessing the critical health and social services they need or needlessly suffering without it.

No nonprofit or government agency has taken it upon themselves to solve this citywide problem -- but the Public Advocate can and should.

As Public Advocate, I will create an open source directory of all available health, human, and social services available in New York City, and make that information accessible on the web, via an app, by phone, and via API to partner organizations all over the city.

2)  Digital Transformation Team
New York City’s bureaucracies were designed in an era of telegrams, switchboards, and printed memos. It’s past time for an upgrade. And the best way to get one is by helping city agencies create their own Digital Service Organizations (DSOs). These groups use open source technology and agile production techniques to bring government services and the bureaucracies that provide them into the modern era.

The first DSO was the UK’s Government Digital Service. Founded in 2011, it has driven a digital transformation in the UK government -- greatly improving services and reducing annual operations’ costs by over a billion pounds per year. We could get similar results in New York City, but someone needs to lead. That someone should be the Public Advocate.

As Public Advocate, I will work to ensure that New Yorkers get faster, better, and cheaper government services by working with civil servants and their agencies to train, support, and network them together as we create DSOs throughout our city’s various government agencies.

3) Civic Engagement Oversight
In November 2018 New Yorkers voted overwhelmingly to establish a “Civic Engagement Commission” (CEC) to “enhance civic participation.” We need to make sure that the CEC advances the interests of the public, rather than those of politicians.

As the voice of New Yorkers, the Public Advocate is in the perfect position to provide oversight and help improve New York City government’s civic participation programs. We can do this by providing New Yorkers with clear information about the city’s existing public participation processes, which agencies are doing them, who leads them, what metrics they use to determine success, and how those programs could be improved using best practices (which I’ve honed over the past decade from working around the world).

Then, we will establish an “Engagement Lab” that works with individual civil servants and government agencies to support them as they establish and improve public engagement processes.

4) A Regional Organizing Project
New York City is the largest city in the United States with more than 8.5 million residents, but we’re also the beating heart of the nation’s largest “metropolitan area,” with a population of over 23 million spanning four states and 30 counties.

Our city’s ability to tackle some of our most important challenges such as housing, transit, energy, pollution, climate resilience, and more all require regional solutions. But systemic coordination among the 30 counties and four states in the New York Metropolitan Area doesn’t happen efficiently. In fact, it’s hardly happening at all. Our current methods for regional coordination are woefully inadequate, relying on a hodgepodge of nonprofits, commissions, and multi-government “authorities” that each work on their own sliver of these massive and deeply interconnected challenges.

Sometimes these groups compete; sometimes massive areas of work go completely uncoordinated; and the public is hardly aware these groups exist or that they are charged with making such important decisions. Unfortunately, we experience this coordination failure everyday -- crumbling subway systems; out-of-control infrastructure construction costs; our communities’ unmitigated vulnerability to extreme weather are all evidence of this massive problem. 

That’s why, as Public Advocate, I’ll launch an online metro-regional coordination hub that aggregates and organizes information from the various coordination bodies, produces events that bring these bodies together, and develops a 10-year plan for improving metro-regional governance.

5) An Open Government Interface
Thanks to the city’s innovative open data law, city agencies are publishing a tremendous amount of information to the city’s open data portal, but finding the right information can get a little tricky. Professional researchers and large businesses have the resources needed to make sense of city data, but smaller businesses, journalists, and the vast majority of residents often do not.

Fortunately, the city created the Commission on Public Information and Communication (COPIC) with a charter mandate to “educate the public about the availability and potential usefulness of city produced or maintained information and assist the public in obtaining access to such information.” Unfortunately, information on COPIC is hard to find. It seems to lack an official website or an active Twitter. Go figure!

As Public Advocate, I will reconvene COPIC and work with that body to create a unified interface for information about city agencies, such as their budgets, expenses, capital projects, social services, performance indicators, and more. In the words of the original OpenCongress.org web project, we’ll build “the website [the city] should have made for itself.”

Successful implementation of the five solutions described above requires a focused vision, a motivated team with the right skills, and the resources -- financial and political -- that come with the Public Advocate’s office. As a technologist that helps nonprofits, governments, and startups build information systems to achieve specific goals, I know how to get this work done. As a concerned New Yorker dedicated to giving this city the government it deserves, I’m confident I will -- whether I’m elected Public Advocate or not.

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Devin Balkind is a nonprofit executive, civic technologist, and startup advisor running for Public Advocate as the Libertarian Party nominee. On Twitter @DevinBalkind.

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New York Builds on Its Extensive Climate Leadership


offshore wind gov

(photo: offshore-wind-govMike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


New York Already has the Lowest Greenhouse Gas Emissions Per Capita of Any State in the Nation and is Moving Forward

New York State has just enacted a plan to bring its planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to 15% of its 1990 levels by 2050 and provide enough “carbon-emission offsets“ like forestation and wetlands reclamation to bring total carbon-emissions to “net-zero“ by that same year. These goals put New York at the forefront of the United States in addressing climate change.

Governor Cuomo had submitted a similar proposal in his executive budget in January of this year, entitled the Climate Leadership Act, but the Legislature did not adopt it in the April budget. Instead, it reformulated the proposal to provide a more highly developed and detailed planning process to implement the transition to a carbon-neutral society and economy by the goal year of 2050.

To be sure, the governor deserves great credit for already moving New York in this direction, using the state’s powers to usher in substantial increases in wind and solar power over the past several years and repeatedly enunciate and affirm goals of increasing renewable energy and setting a policy of achieving 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

In June, the state Legislature passed a bill -- The New York State Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act -- at the end of its 2019 legislative session, which Governor Cuomo just signed into law, creating a broadly inclusive public participation process along with a step-by-step planning and regulatory decision-making structure for the energy transformation.

A Climate Action Council is created consisting of 12 New York State agency heads and 10 non-governmental individuals who will spend several years scoping out a plan to implement the transition and vote to present their recommendations to state government leadership by 2022.

In 2023 the state agencies will then incorporate the recommendations into ongoing regulatory actions to bring the residential, commercial, industrial, transportation, and electricity-generation sectors of New York’s economy toward the greenhouse gas emission reductions needed to reach the goals.

The legislation also mandates that disadvantaged communities, which have borne the brunt of pollution and climate change, share in the benefits of the transformation in a major way, to receive a goal of 40% of the benefits and a legal minimum of 35% of the benefits.

By 2030 New York’s goal will be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% below its 1990 levels, including achieving electricity generation from 70% renewable sources of energy, and a carbon-neutral electricity-generation sector by 2040. The State Public Service Commission (PSC), regulator of the state’s electric utilities, is directed to a more expedited schedule for the electric generation renewable goals since 2030 is in fact not really so far away for this important sector of the state’s economy.

The goals are far from unrealistic, because in part we are much closer to them than many people realize. New York’s greenhouse gas emissions are already nearly 20% below its 1990 levels, according to the 2019 State Energy Patterns and Trends published by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. 

 

GHG Emissions by Sector (in million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent)

               

Year

Residential

Commercial

Industrial

Transportation

Electric

ElecImports

Total

1990

34.3

26.5

20

59.4

63

1.7

205

2016

30.9

20.7

10.2

73.7

27.7

3.8

167

% Change

-9.8%

-22.2%

-48.9%

24.20%

-56%

120%

--18.5

1990-2016

           

 

New York’s electricity-generation system is already in an advanced stage of transformation from a fossil-fuel based system. Coal is nearly gone; only 1% of New York’s electric generation came from coal in 2018, and the last coal-fired plants will be deactivated in 2020.

Only 37% of New York’s electricity use now comes directly from fossil fuels consumed in New York. 16% of New York’s electricity use is imported from Canada and other parts of the United States. There is some fossil fuel use in that mix but it also includes hydroelectric and nuclear power. 26% of New York’s electricity comes from nuclear power, and nearly 20% comes from renewables, primarily hydroelectric power.

The Transmission System Needs Extra Capacity
Although New York’s electricity grid has made major progress shifting from fossil fuels, its transmission infrastructure needs upgrades and new investments to keep up the pace of bringing in more renewable power, according to the Independent System Operator (ISO), manager of the state’s electric grid.

Some wind power produced in Upstate New York has to be curtailed off the grid now because it can’t be economically transmitted downstate due to capacity limitations; the same goes for some Canadian power generation and even some of New York’s own hydroelectric generation. The ISO and the PSC have moved to permit several new transmission-line upgrades to bring power around the state more effectively, from Canada, from western New York to Eastern New York, and from Upstate to Downstate.

The Cuomo administration foresees offshore wind power around New York City and Long Island as major new sources of renewable power, and, once again, the transmission systems need to be upgraded to absorb that wind energy production. When he signed the bill on Thursday, the governor also announced the two winners of a procurement process to add 1,700 MegaWatts of offshore wind power, which may eventually produce about 5% of New York's electric power. It may realistically be 2035 before New York can get to 70% renewable power, but the Public Service Commission is authorized to modify the timetable in the CLCPA to get there.

Several of New York’s nuclear power plants will be deactivated by that time, but several nuclear plants will still be in operation in 2040 and the legislation permits that power to be counted as part of the carbon-neutral goal for the electricity-generation system.

The Independent System Operators’ most recent analysis of New York’s electric grid, Power Trends 2019, even forecasts New York will have the ability to absorb increasing use of the grid by electric vehicles, and that energy storage systems, energy efficiency measures, and demand control systems can manage the electric system’s gradual transition to renewables, along with the investments in new transmission capacity.

New York Energy Use and Renewable Transition
Although there is plenty of attention, and credit for the environmentally-beneficial progress of New York’s electric grid, greater challenges will remain for transportation, industrial, and building energy use. That’s because fossil fuel use in New York’s electricity-generation system is now only 20% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The non-electricity-generation sectors, namely transportation, industry, and buildings in the commercial and residential sectors, emit 80% of New York’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Even if New York eliminated fossil fuel use from its electric generation and electricity import sectors, its greenhouse gas emissions would still be at 66% of its 1990 levels. According to its energy profiles from the United States Energy Information Administration, New York’s current baseline already has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the nation among the 50 states, at only 50% of  the national average! New York has the second lowest energy consumption per capita of the 50 states already (Rhode Island is first). 

New York’s efficiencies in large measure predate the big renewable push of recent years and are merely the general characteristics of New York’s economy. Transportation accounts for 44% of New York’s greenhouse gas emissions but it is still cleaner than the rest of the country. The New York City metropolitan area mass transit system carries millions to their destinations using much less energy per capita than the rest of America. New York is 6.1% of the U.S. population but uses only 4% of the energy consumed in the transportation sector of the U.S. (per USEIA, State Energy Data 2016). 

One of President Trump’s chief environmental lunacies is the rollback of President Obama’s fuel efficiency standards for the American automobile industry. But the industry itself is highly resistant to the rollback, as are many states and foreign markets, as well as foreign producers, and progress will continue there.

As the vehicle fleet in New York turns over, efficiency improvements will continue and greenhouse gas emissions will decline. The state government and municipalities will need to promote the transition to electric vehicles and powering them from renewable energy, continue to invest in public transportation -- not just in the New York City metropolitan area but the state’s other communities as well -- and promote alternative methods of transportation.

New York has little in the way of heavy industry and its industrial sector uses only 1% of the energy used in the industrial sector in the United States. But its commercial and residential sectors use energy in closer proportions to New York’s share of the U.S. population. The residential sector uses less electricity than normal because of the high proportion of small apartments in New York City, but overall household energy use is still 15% greater than the average household because of New York’s colder weather and the fuel needed for space heating and hot water. 

Improving energy efficiency in New York’s commercial and residential buildings presents serious challenges. Conservation investments for many homeowners may be too costly because they are of modest means and they will need help and subsidies to improve efficiencies. Commercial and apartment building owners may also find energy investments costly and may need tax incentives to stimulate those investments. But there is time for the residential and commercial building sectors to change.

New York’s new law directs the Climate Action Council to hold public hearings for several years throughout the state as it develops its plans, and the Council must establish advisory panels from different sectors of society, including labor and industry, to examine how to go forward. It must also work with environmental justice and just transition groups with plans for fair treatment and beneficial participation of disadvantaged communities.

New York’s state and local governments will need these inclusive processes to establish buy-in from sectors of society that may be fearful or skeptical of what a transition will look like or how they could be affected. The goals can be achieved, or New York can come very close, with the collaborative process the state has outlined for carbon-neutrality by 2050.

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

 

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Fixing the City’s Broken System that Puts the Social Safety Net at Risk


speaker m mv cm helen westside

(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


The recently-passed New York City budget greenlights billions of dollars to some of the most vital programs across the five boroughs. These dollars will help to fund homeless shelters, emergency food pantries, senior services, mental health services, and early childcare for the most vulnerable New Yorkers.

The City of New York contracts with over 1,000 community-based organizations (CBOs) to provide these essential human services at a cost of $6 billion annually. But thanks to the City’s broken procurement system, CBOs are forced to wait a very, very long time to see their money. In fact, according to a recent Comptroller’s report, human service providers wait an average of 221 days before being reimbursed for services and labor they have already provided.

Under the current system, CBOs are forced to essentially cover the City’s costs and then wait over seven months on average for payment, which, when it arrives, doesn’t cover their actual costs. What private business would accept -- or be able to operate under -- these terms?

This awful status quo persists because there are virtually no timelines attached to the City’s procurement process, which allows bureaucrats to sit on contracts and deprive local nonprofits of desperately needed funds. After a contract is awarded, it goes through the supervising agency’s review process, then to the mayor’s office, and, if all goes well, on to the comptroller for registration. Only the comptroller is subject to a time limit, however, which is 30 days.

As a result, 80 percent of all contracts issued by the City are currently delivered late, with a whopping 89 percent of human services contracts arriving tardy. For nonprofits and charities that provide crucial citywide services, these delays can be catastrophic. Since these organizations cannot close their doors to those in need, many opt to take on loans. The problem is, these loans often come with interest. 

One study estimated that late contracts cost New York City nonprofits a staggering $774 million in 2018 ($756 million in negative cash flow and another $18 million in associated financing costs). This is up from $675 million in 2017.

Think of the critical services -- for the elderly, young children, and disabled people -- that could have been provided by the $18 million lost to interest payments.

This burdensome debt not only drags down the vital services that CBOs can provide, but also threatens the livelihood of their employees. As Human Services Council Executive Director Allison Sesso writes, human service workers “increasingly find themselves in the very same position as their clients -- in need of social service assistance to provide for their families.” The financial strain also disproportionately affects already marginalized populations, as women and people of color represent 85% and 75% of human service workers, respectively. In an industry with already high employee turnover, the City should be doing everything in its power to bolster, not undermine, these organizations’ finances.

This is why we are introducing legislation that will help end the long delays within the City’s contracting process and bring relief to CBOs. Our legislation, Intro. 1627, would require the City’s Procurement Policy Board to establish time limits on each bureaucratic phase of the procurement process for any contract exceeding $100,000. The limits would be developed in consultation with each contracting agency and the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS).

Not only will this legislation help CBOs and other human services providers be paid in a timely manner, it will also require MOCS to report publicly on each agency’s adherence to the time limits, providing the public with a necessary source of accountability.

New Yorkers deserve the best services, and the CBOs providing those services deserve to be paid fairly and on time by a city government they can hold accountable. Overhauling the procurement system may be bureaucratic and slow in nature, but it is necessary if we are to properly serve the New Yorkers who are most in need.

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City Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Ben Kallos represent Manhattan districts. On Twitter @HelenRosenthal and @BenKallos.

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The IDC is Gone. Political Betrayal is Not.


Cuomo Long Island

Gov. Cuomo and Long Island officials (photo: Governor's Office)


I’ve seen a lot through my five decades fighting for tenants in Albany, but I’ve never seen as tectonic a shift in power like we witnessed during this most recent legislative session.

For decades, the real estate lobby has spent more than the gross domestic product of many small countries to keep incumbents in power and ensure that the deck remained decidedly stacked against tenants, cementing a political status quo as solidly as the foundation of any luxury high-rise. And when the Republicans lost the Senate majority, the real estate lobby simply fell back on a new “majority” by shoveling cash to the now-infamous Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), members of which grabbed as much real estate money as they could in exchange for keeping Republicans in power and killing any real rent law reform efforts.

But in 2018, the electoral tide shifted. The IDC was largely swept out of office in the September primaries, replaced by true progressive Democrats; and in the November general election even more Democrats flipped seats from red to blue, making Andrea Stewart-Cousins the new Senate Majority Leader. Working with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, they delivered the strongest package of tenant protections of our lifetime. This victory will resonate among millions of renting families statewide.

The defeat of the IDC was the lynchpin that made this all possible, but even in our victory we saw the emergence of a new group every bit as disingenuous as the IDC and equally dangerous.

The IDC was built on an implicit dishonesty: candidates ran as Democrats, but then empowered Republicans once elected. After several years of this, the voters simply had enough and showed six of them the door. But this year, we saw explicit dishonesty from four Long Island senators -- Anna Kaplan, John Brooks, Monica Martinez, and Jim Gaughran -- all of whom ran as loyal Democrats, promised to support strong rent laws, and willingly accepted financial support from Tenants PAC.

Then they betrayed us.

These four turned their backs on tenants, ignored the promises they made, and sided with big real estate money and the entire Senate Republican Conference to vote “no” on the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019.

These Long Island 4 may not be a new IDC, but they are every bit as insidious, possibly more so, because they tried to dismantle tenant reforms from within the Democratic conference, siding with Governor Andrew Cuomo as he tried to create deeper divisions between New York City and suburban senators. This all blew up in Cuomo’s face when the Senate and Assembly came together on their own to negotiate a strong rent law package without him, reducing him to impotent ranting.

Elections have causes and consequences. Years of seeing our rights as tenants ignored because the real estate lobby used big political spending to bottle up reform caused voters to say enough is enough and finally elect leaders who would stand up for them. And now come the consequences – both the energized and ascendant tenant movement that will continue to grow into greater political power for working families, and the backlash that legislators who turned their backs on us, including some Assembly Democrats, will face at the ballot box next year.

The IDC collapsed under pressure from voters across the state who expected more integrity and honesty from their elected officials. The dishonest Long Island 4, freshly-brewed in the worst cauldrons of Albany’s toxic combination of money and politics, would be wise to heed that lesson.

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Michael McKee is treasurer of Tenants PAC. On Twitter @McKeeTenantsPac & @TenantsPACNY.

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Cy Vance’s Approach to Jeffrey Epstein was No Aberration


gov and cuomo da cy vance mta fare pat

Manhattan DA Cy Vance (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


I don’t buy Cy Vance’s defense that his Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Gaffney “made a mistake” in interpreting the law when she asked for Jeffrey Epstein’s sex offender status to be downgraded in 2011. Five years later, as Deputy Chief of the DA’s Sex Crimes Unit, she asked for and got a downgraded sex offender status for the OB/GYN I and dozens of other women had accused of sexual assault.

The similarities between the DA’s case at the time against Epstein and that of the one against my abuser, Robert Hadden, abound. Both were wealthy, connected, white men playing out their deranged fantasies with no regard for the women and children they used. Both had dozens of victims, including minors. Both leveraged their position of privilege and wealth for protection. And, perhaps most notably, both had Cy Vance as their top prosecutor.

When the DA requested a lower offender status for Epstein, the judge expressed shock. She was aware of the large number of victims in his case and of the severity of his crimes. The request was denied.

At Hadden’s February 2016 plea hearing, the DA confirmed the Court’s agreement to “downwardly depart from the SORA regulations and find Dr. Hadden a Level 1 Offender” as a condition of his plea agreement. The judge only saw a narrow slice of Hadden’s alleged crimes. Would he have reacted differently had the DA pursued a second indictment or made other efforts to include the other victims who continued to report? To this day, brave women, including a minor Hadden himself delivered as a baby, continue to come forward to report crimes he perpetrated against them.

I don’t know if I would feel differently about the abuse I endured had Hadden been given a higher offender status. What I do know is that the outcome of the DA’s cases against both Epstein and Hadden continue to reveal details of a two-tiered system of justice in Manhattan. Prosecutors operate with almost no impunity and the public lacks critical information about how the unit operates. At a minimum, the DA’s Sex Crimes Unit must submit to an outside, independent review -- but I also believe Vance should resign.

Hadden’s defense attorney herself told BuzzFeedNews, “Poor people don’t do as well in this system as people who can afford more competent lawyers. If you can afford them, you’re treated differently in our criminal justice system.” She’s not wrong.

Hadden has access to support from his employer, Columbia University. Some have questioned contributions Vance took from people like Jonathan Schiller, the then-chair of Columbia's Board of Trustees. In response to multiple allegations of undue influence, Vance commissioned a report from Columbia’s Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI) on how DAs can reduce conflicts of interest in campaign fundraising. The Hadden case and Schiller donations are glaring omissions from the report yet Vance touts it and his resulting pledge to not take money from attorneys with cases before him as reform. It’s not enough.

In June, Vance spoke at CAPI and cited the Raising the Bar report. He said “what I learned, above all, is it’s not enough for me to have confidence in my independence from donors. The people of New York deserve to be confident about this as well.”

Has he learned? More importantly, have we learned? The people have lost confidence in Vance’s leadership. We deserve better. How long will New Yorkers continue to let corruption, incompetence, and cowardice play out in front of the world before demanding meaningful change?

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Marissa Hoechstetter is an activist. On Twitter @MHoechstetter.

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Solving New York City’s Next Big Census Problem


resource cm carlos menchaca attends sbs

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)


New Yorkers got some great news last week when President Trump abandoned plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Adding the question to the Census would have resulted in a massive undercount of the city’s population, causing New York to lose its share of billions in federal funding for vital programs and services.

But there’s another wrinkle in this upcoming Census that could significantly depress participation across the city: the move to a digital Census. This will be the first-ever Census to be completed largely online. Though this change will be welcome news for many tech-savvy New Yorkers, it will bring new challenges in a city where 14 percent of residents live in households without a computer, 23 percent lack a broadband connection at home, and many more aren’t digitally proficient.

Just as city leaders stood up and fought the proposed inclusion of the citizenship question, New York City needs a wide-scale effort to make sure the move to a digital Census does not deter large numbers of New Yorkers from completing their forms. One way they can do this is by partnering in a big way with New York City’s branch libraries.

In recent years, libraries have extended far beyond their historical book-lending role to become the city’s most accessible technology hub for New Yorkers on the wrong side of the digital divide. In addition to providing computer stations, laptop loans, and free internet, they are also a place where those with limited tech literacy can get a helping hand from librarians.

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers already turn to branch libraries for tech help, whether it is applying to a job online, filling out Medicare applications, or simply staying in touch with family via email or Facebook. 

Beyond having a substantial technology infrastructure, libraries have unparalleled reach: the city’s 216 branch libraries are on the ground in nearly every community across the five boroughs. Importantly, libraries are also one of the city’s most trusted institutions, providing a range of services in multiple languages but never asking for personal information.

All this makes libraries a natural fit to extend their services to help New Yorkers fill out the digital Census.

Right now, however, it’s not clear that the city’s libraries have the capacity to do this effectively. Many branches across the five boroughs don’t have laptops to loan, and most libraries have at most six or twelve computer terminals, barely enough to serve existing demand.

Beyond the need for more dedicated computers, laptops, and tablets, libraries will need additional staff to help the many patrons who require significant assistance completing the digital Census. At most branches today, librarians are already overextended.

To his great credit, Mayor de Blasio has already launched an outreach campaign to ensure an accurate Census count, and the recently passed city budget includes $40 million to support this effort. The de Blasio administration should devote a portion of those funds to the city’s libraries. Doing so would empower branches across the city to ramp up their capacity and harness their considerable potential to boost participation in the online Census. 

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Jonathan Bowles is executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank focused on expanding economic opportunity in New York. On Twitter @jbowlesnyc & @nycfuture.

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A French Lesson in Fare Evasion


govcuomo 96th

(photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


I just returned to New York City from a month in Paris, where my husband was doing legal work. A regular public transit user at home, I was the same in Paris, making use of its Metro system. But because I did not inform myself of all the rules, I violated one of them and had to pay a fine. The experience helped me think about the fare evasion challenge we’re dealing with in New York. 

As in our subway system, there is one fare to travel throughout the city on the Paris Metro. I bought discounted “carnets” of 10 tickets at a time at a cost of about 14.90 euros, approximately $18. The tickets are small white cards; you put them in a slot on the way in, and if the ticket is valid it pops up in another slot to be retained; high plastic doors then open to let you through. When you leave the station at your stop, you walk through exits (sorties), which have high doors that open when you press on them with your hand.

Since there is no need to use the tickets to exit (they are needed at stations where you transfer to rail connections) and they are only good for one fare, I was throwing them away after entering a station. Of course this was silly of me; why wouId the entrance machines give you back the tickets if you weren’t supposed to keep them? But I wasn’t thinking it through and didn’t want to get used tickets mixed up with new ones from my carnets.

After a few weeks, while transferring between one train line and another at Gare St. Lazare, a major metro transfer point, I encountered a line of transit employees (they have orange vests like our MTA New York City Transit workers) stopping passengers walking through a tunnel. They asked to see my ticket.

In halting French with English mixed in I explained that I had thrown it away. Non, non madame, said one of the inspectors.  You must retain your ticket. I shrugged, explained that I was a tourist, that I had been using the system for several weeks and no one had stopped me, and said I would go and buy a new ticket to present to the inspection team. Non, non madame, one of them said; you have to pay a fine right now.

She showed me a chart with different fines for different types of violations. I was shocked at how high they were. She ‘settled’ for a payment of 30 euros, about $35, whipped out a handheld charge machine, inserted my credit card and gave me a special receipt. The same thing was happening to people around me, who contended they had lost their tickets or didn’t have them for whatever reason. 

At about the same time this happened to me in Paris, back home in Manhattan Governor Cuomo announced a comprehensive fare evasion deterrence program for the subways and buses, including the assignment of 500 personnel, including New York City and MTA police officers and 70 “Eagle Team” members, as well as a number of structural changes like securing emergency exits at subway stations and installation of video cameras.

Fare evasion has been a growing problem on New York City subways and buses in the last few years, according to the MTA. An MTA report issued in March estimated annual lost revenue due to fare evasion at $225 million in 2018; the projection for 2019 had grown to $260 million by the time of the governor’s June press conference.

The problem is particularly acute on buses where one of every five riders doesn’t pay the fare, the MTA says. It is infuriating to sit on a bus and watch others simply walk on without paying; drivers cannot be expected to take the risk of arguing with these passengers. But it is also a problem on the subways; I am sure everyone reading this column has seen people walking into stations through the emergency exit doors.

Stopping fare evasion should not be about criminalization or persecuting poor people—it’s about the money. Evasion hurts all transit riders by depriving the system of much-needed revenue and making the costs higher for those who do pay. $260 million a year is A LOT of money – enough, for example, to pay for half-fare Metrocards for all low-income riders eligible under the recently adopted “Fair Fares” initiative by the City Council and Mayor de Blasio. The worthy program should be fully implemented as quickly as possible and soon evaluated for possible expansion.

The heightened presence of law enforcement personnel and other initiatives to discourage fare evasion in the new plan are all worth trying, but they must be done carefully. And I suggest that, in addition, the MTA consider doing what the French are doing in the Paris Metro. It is not as big as New York’s system, of course, but does carry more than 4 million people a day and is the second busiest in Europe (after Moscow). It devotes 1,200 staff to fare evasion.

Instead of issuing summonses for non-payment that can be ignored with minimal – and no immediate – consequences, the Paris inspectors assess “penalty fares” that must be paid on the spot; 1 million of these penalties are issued a year in Paris. 

New York City Transit, the MTA’s division that runs the subways and buses, should explore using  the technology that Paris has employed to give members of the Eagle Teams who go onto buses to look for evaders hand-held devices that can check whether someone’s Metrocard (if they have one) has been used for that trip and if not, charge and collect a penalty fare, much higher than the regular fare but lower than the $100 civil fine for fare evasion. Do the same in the transfer tunnels in large subway stations like Penn and Grand Central.

Those who want to challenge the fine or cannot pay on the spot should have the option to pursue administrative appeals, but I strongly suspect this method will have more of a deterrent effect than simply issuing paper summonses to everyone. I certainly was very careful to save my Metro tickets after this happened to me!

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Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.

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The Conspiracy in Queens is Beyond the DA Ballots


votes president us cast 2016

(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)


Election officials in Queens are counting ballots in the District Attorney Democratic primary recount exactly as the law prescribes -- and it is an injustice for Queens and an affront to democracy. 

After a stunning reversal of fortune that saw Melinda Katz erase a 1,090-vote gap after absentee and other ballots were counted, Tiffany Cabán is challenging the rejection of a small number of provisional ballots that she thinks will turn the tide back in her favor.  While there are many reasons a ballot could be rejected, the main cause at play here is that voters were not properly registered with the Democratic Party in time to vote in the June 25 primary.

Some are enrolled in a different party or no party at all, while others just didn’t enroll at their current address within the six-month window required by our state before this vote. Whatever the reason, many Queens residents came to the polls to vote in an important election and were told that their voice was not welcome. 

New York, unlike most other big cities in the country, uses a closed primary system to determine who will be on the general election ballot. This means that only voters who are properly enrolled in a political party may vote in a taxpayer-funded partisan primary. The winner of each partisan primary, or the party nominee if there is only one candidate, then advances to a general election open to all registered voters. 

In a city where Democrats represent nearly 70% of the electorate, this means that the relatively few people who show up and are allowed to vote in a Democratic primary essentially choose the winner of the general election.

The Republican nominee for Queens District Attorney has all but acknowledged the fruitlessness of trying to win, openly admitting he had not decided whether he would even bother to campaign for the office. The most likely outcome no matter if Katz or Cabán prevails in the primary recount, is that a county of nearly 2.4 million people will be represented by a District Attorney who received the support of barely 4% of registered Queens Democrats. 

In a democracy, residents are supposed to choose their elected officials. In New York, politicians from both the Republican and Democratic parties have worked hard to turn that idea on its head and pick their constituents. New York’s ballot access rules are among the most restrictive in the nation and the results speak for themselves -- apathetic voters who can’t be bothered to engage in a system that makes it hard to participate and where they do not feel that their vote really matters. 

Open primaries allow all registered voters to vote in a primary where all candidates for office are grouped together regardless of party affiliation. If no candidate receives 50% of the vote, the top two then face off in a general election, even if they are from the same party. It’s a system based on encouraging democracy.

Open primaries also allow new candidates from nontraditional backgrounds to break into the system. In the current structure, voters often avoid casting a ballot for candidates outside of the traditional parties for fear of spoiling the election in favor of someone they truly dislike. Traditional parties have intentionally perpetuated this dilemma to keep new players out and keep a broken system and the privileges that come with it in place. 

Opening up primaries to all voters, regardless of party affiliation, gives candidates a reason to appeal to a broad range of the electorate, while head-to-head general elections take the spoiler-effect out of the equation and free voters to vote for the candidate they like best.

The editorial boards have opined that there is no conspiracy at play by machine Democrats to steal the primary, and that the rules are being scrupulously followed. However, the proceedings in Queens show once again that the rules are the conspiracy. It is time to replace New York’s outdated, unjust system with something as open and inclusive as our residents deserve. 

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Michael Volpe is the Chair of the SAM Party of New York and former candidate for Lieutenant Governor on the SAM line. He is the former Mayor of the Village of Pelham. On Twitter @SAMforNY.

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I'm Not Running for Congress; Here's Why


gustavo rivera senate

Senator Gustavo Rivera, the author (photo: State Senate)


To someone who isn’t from the borough, the mention of the Bronx may evoke images of Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Zoo, or Arthur Avenue. A lesser-known fact is that the Congressional District that covers all three landmarks, and most of the South Bronx, is home to an open seat and will host a highly-contested election in 2020. The future of one of the poorest and most densely-populated districts in the country will be determined next year, making it one of the most important upcoming elections in New York City.

New York’s 15th Congressional District is geographically one of the smallest, with 730,000 people living within its lines. Nearly 97% voted for Barack Obama in November of 2012, making it the most Democratic district in the country. This means the congressional election will be determined in the June primary, not the November general.

For almost 30 years, this district has been represented by the consistently progressive voice of José E. Serrano, who announced his retirement earlier this year. This vacancy is an opportunity to bring new leadership into the House and this district, but it also carries a significant obligation to continue the progressive legacy of the Congressmember while blazing a new trail to effect change.

As the State Senator representing part of this Congressional District, I know well the needs and challenges of this community. The 15th Congressional District faces significant obstacles that are exacerbated by the current federal government. We need bold leadership who fights for fair housing and treats public housing residents with respect; who recognizes that healthcare is a human right; and who stands up for all residents of the district, regardless of citizenship status. The 15th Congressional District also needs a leader who sets an unparalleled ethical standard, just like our retiring Congressmember has done for decades. The work cannot stop; we need someone who will double down on the fight ahead of us.

I believe in public service, and in the positive impact government can have on people’s lives. This belief drove me to run for the State Senate in 2010 and it has been at the center of my efforts in office.

This past year, the State Senate regained the Democratic majority and passed a slew of progressive legislation that New Yorkers badly needed, including the Dream Act, the Reproductive Health Act, criminal justice, voting, and housing reforms, driver's licenses for all, gun regulations, and LGBTQ protections -- among others. I was also given the great honor to chair the Senate Health Committee, a position that had never been held by a person of color or a Bronxite, despite the disparities these groups have faced in accessing healthcare for generations.

The New York State Senate is enacting true change and fighting to help all New Yorkers thrive, but our work is far from done. This responsibility has influenced my decision to not seek the open seat in Congress next year. Representing my community in the State Senate has been the greatest honor of my life, and it is exactly where I believe I can best serve for the foreseeable future. This is particularly crucial since state government is one of the most effective checks and balances on the great national threat from Washington, D.C.

Nonetheless, I cannot ignore the importance of this election at such a critical moment.

The Federal Administration makes a mockery of our democracy daily, and actively works against the communities of my district, the Bronx, and New York City. As we look at a crowded field of Democrats vying for this seat, one thing is clear -- we have a serious responsibility to identify and unify behind a strong leader who will speak on our behalf and will join the new class of Congressmembers that reject the status quo of corporate politics. The 15th Congressional District deserves the very best, and I look forward to hearing from the candidates and eventually endorsing someone who will fight for that same standard for our community and our country.

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State Senator Gustavo Rivera represents parts of the Bronx and chairs the Senate's health committee. On Twitter @NYSenatorRivera.

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