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Why Cynthia Nixon Will Lose


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Gov. Cuomo (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)


One thing is evident when considering the electoral dynamics in New York, and when taking into account recent polling on the gubernatorial race: the path to victory leads through black and Latino communities and Governor Andrew Cuomo has a major leg up.

The most recent Siena College poll indicates that among Latinos and African-Americans Cuomo is winning by significant margins. Among African-Americans polled, the governor receives a whopping 74% of the vote and among Latinos he’s at a significant 69% (support among both groups has increased since Siena’s last poll). Together, black and Latino New Yorkers account for 42% of the entire Democratic primary electorate, according to my calculations. Given these numbers, it is no wonder that Cynthia Nixon is attempting to make inroads into these communities, though seemingly less so in Latino communities than black communities.

Unfortunately for Nixon, the numbers are just not there. While Siena’s polling shows the governor above the 70% mark among communities of color, the reality is that the governor’s support is likely to be higher than that.

Here’s why: Siena’s own numbers indicate that 9% of the statewide overall electorate is African-American and 8% is Latino -- the poll is of likely general election voters, with Democrats asked to weigh in on the primary. But that is a significant undercount of the actual reality in a Democratic primary. According to data provided by L2, a national voter data company, 18% of the New York Democratic primary electorate is Latino and 22% black. So, the 74% support among African-Americans in Siena’s polling, and 69% support among Latinos for Cuomo, will be a bigger deal than anticipated when factoring in actual turnout in the primary.

Beyond the numbers, the governor can lay claim to a host of accomplishments that he can say have positively impacted communities of color. From paid family leave to an increase in the minimum wage; a tuition-free college program to the allocation of $10 million to a defense fund for immigrants facing the Trump administration’s backlash, Cuomo has made a mark for himself particularly among people of color. And the governor a couple of months ago issued an executive order that will help grant the right to vote to most parolees, another constituency dominated by African-Americans and Latinos. Black and Latino communities will ultimately judge whether the governor’s actions have truly benefited them.

When considering these accomplishments, it is no wonder why Governor Cuomo’s favorability remains high among Latino and black New Yorkers. With more than 40% of the primary vote coming from these two key voting blocs, and considering his high favorability ratings among them, Cuomo should move to the general election fairly easily.

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Eli Valentin is a Democratic consultant and pastor of the Iglesia Evangelica Bautista in New York City. On Twitter @EliValentinNY.

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Help People with Mental Illness: Make Kendra’s Law Permanent


dj kendra law

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


As the state legislative session comes to a close, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Assembly Mental Health Committee chair Aileen Gunther have still not made New York’s most effective mental illness law permanent or closed loopholes in it. Their inaction is cruel to people suffering from mental illness and unsafe for the public.

Kendra’s Law allows judges to order a subset of those with the most serious mental illness -- those who have a proven history of arrest, incarceration, hospitalization or violence that was caused by stopping their treatments -- to accept one year of outpatient treatment. Being court ordered to accept treatment, which often includes medications, lowers homelessness, hospitalization, arrest, and incarceration among people with serious mental illness by 70%.

Patients in the court-ordered treatment programs continue to live with their families and friends in their communities, making it less restrictive than the alternatives, inpatient commitment or incarceration. By reducing the use of hospitals and jails it saves taxpayers 50% of the cost of care. Many more people with serious mental illness and a history of hospitalization, arrest, incarceration, or violence should be court-ordered to participate in Kendra’s Law programs.

Kendra’s Law requires the community mental health programs to serve those with serious illnesses who are under court orders, rather than always picking and choosing who they serve. As I documented in Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill, trade associations like the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS) and Mental Health America (MHA) object to it. Some of their members want to continue to receive state funds without any obligation to serve those with the most serious illnesses.

Cuomo, Heastie, and Gunther, have decided to side with these trade associations by refusing to make Kendra’s Law permanent or closing the loopholes in it. That puts patients, the public, and first responders, including police officers, at risk of random acts of violence by those with serious mental illness who go untreated and inhibits efforts to reduce homelessness and needless hospitalizations.

Because as written Kendra’s Law expires every five years, and risks not being renewed, community programs that do support helping those with the most serious mental illness are reluctant to commit to hiring the staff needed to get court orders and provide ongoing monitoring of patients. The monitoring ensures those with serious mental illness under Kendra’s Law are complying with treatment, including their medications.

Heastie and Gunther should ensure the Assembly passes the Kendra’s Law improvement bill proposed by Senator Catharine Young that passed the state Senate, and Governor Cuomo should sign it into law. Kendra’s Law is supported by groups as diverse as the NYS chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police. The bill is even more important during a time that the state is continuing its relentless push to close state psychiatric hospitals, the last refuge for many of those with the most serious mental illness.

In Governor Cuomo’s State of the State speech, he talked compassionately about those with mental illness who are homeless. “Leaving a sick person to fend for themselves is not progressive, charitable, ethical or legal...It is our obligation as a caring people, a compassionate society, to reach out and provide whatever social services or address whatever needs the individuals presents." He went on to ask localities to “tell us what law stops them from helping mentally ill street homeless and we will change the law this session."

Kendra’s Law is that law that needs changing. It needs loopholes closed and permanence. Cuomo, Heastie, and Gunther should do that now, before the next tragedy.

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DJ Jaffe is author of Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill and Executive Director of Mental Illness Policy Org, a non-partisan think-tank on mental illness policy.

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What Stuyvesant High School Was For Me


Stuyvesant HS

Stuyvesant High School (photo: Jim Henderson via Wikipedia)


When I graduated from Stuyvesant High School in June of 2001, I remember feeling sad to be moving on from my friends and excited to be moving on to college. But I also remember an overwhelming sense of relief that I would no longer have to deal with the tests that formed the backbone of the Stuyvesant High School experience.

The tests didn’t start at the end of the first semester or even during midterms freshman year. They did not even start on the day that I made the trip down to Battery Park to take the “Stuy test.” Rather, they started toward the end of middle school, spending Saturday mornings in a hotel conference room in midtown Manhattan, taking a prep course run by a Stuyvesant math teacher (who, when I was a sophomore, would give me the lowest grade of my high school career). I remember that many of us wore our soccer uniforms and cleats to class because we had to hurry off to games immediately afterwards.

By this time I had been subjected to plenty of high-stakes exams: pre-school interviews, citywide exams, a fifth grade full of tests and interviews to get into well-regarded public middle schools, and, even after I had started attending one such school, the Hunter test, on which I did not come remotely close to earning the admission score. I understood some of those tests to be more important than others, but none carried the weight of the ones related to Stuyvesant. The implication, starting with preparations for the SHSAT, and continuing at a pace of six or more exams per semester during my time at Stuyvesant and additionally highlighted by the SAT, was that how I performed on each exam was going to impact the rest of my life.

My parents did not pressure me to get into Stuyvesant or seem to care about where I went to college (though it was always understood I would go). They did pressure me to do the homework the prep course assigned, and I recall that I did it. I scored a 560 on the exam -- the cutoff was 559 -- and was excited to be accepted as, technically speaking, the dumbest kid in school. I called a close friend who told me he had missed getting in by one question. He would be going to Bronx Science. Even though we only lived a few blocks away from each other, we drifted apart after that.

The pressure was entirely driven by the culture surrounding Stuyvesant. Other than the occasional creative writing course or class led by an outside-the-box thinking history teacher, Stuyvesant was all about tests. The midterms and finals were inflexible and merciless. Scantrons were everywhere. “What did you get on the test?” was a frequent question, one that had to be asked with a level of tact that high school kids are seldom capable of.

Even though I was, relative to my classmates, an unmotivated, average student, content to get Bs and take “remedial” Spanish and math (which at Stuyvesant meant taking ninth-grade Spanish as a ninth-grader and not taking calculus), I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and scribble math equations on a piece of paper next to my bed. At my mom’s advice, I took to sleeping with textbooks underneath my pillow the night before tests, hoping to learn just a little more through osmosis.

At the end of one semester there was a rash of episodes involving fire alarms getting pulled and the school being unnecessarily evacuated. It was rumored that they caught the culprit by identifying a single student who had an exam scheduled on each of the days an evacuation occurred. Students whispered that we could not access the patio outside the fifth floor cafeteria because the administration was afraid if we were allowed on it there would be suicides. It was said we were not given class rankings for the same reason.

Cheating, which relied both on old-fashioned methods and newfangled technology like cell phones and digital cameras, was rampant. Some kids cheated to get the grades they felt they needed and some kids cheated just to get by. Some kids just disappeared, presumably moving on to schools where things were a little less intense. I remember crying in a taxi on the way home from college night as a sophomore because it was clear I could not even expect to get into “Wash U. in St. Louis.”

Exams aside, there was a lot of fun to be had at Stuy. I wrote for the sports section of the school newspaper. A review of the yearbook tells me there were more than 90 clubs, including something called “The Real,” devoted to “underground hip-hop music,” that I was the president of -- it is my recollection that we had no budget or formal meetings. I played backup tight end on the football team, which I am not sure I could have done at another school. Significantly, in my experience the football team was one of the few places at Stuyvesant where Asian, black, Hispanic, and white students really spent time together (the cheerleading team was a similarly integrated group).

I can still remember all the different parts of the school where students of particular races congregated almost exclusively and I suspect that my classmates can as well. On the second floor where the main entrance and exit was located, there was a “senior bar” -- basically a waist-high counter surrounded by lockers -- that at the time I would have said was the epicenter of the social life of the school but I now realize was overwhelmingly white. There was another “bar” that was widely referred to as the “Asian bar” on the sixth floor. I recall that there was an area behind the escalators on the fifth floor where African-American students hung out.

The exact demographic makeup of the school at the time is difficult to find online, but as I recall, Asian students made up about half the school, with white students making up most of the other half. As now, the percentage of black and Hispanic students was well below 10%. I am sure that Stuyvesant has changed in many ways since I left, but in some important ones, it has not.

Like most alums, it is through my perspective from and since my time at Stuyvesant that I view the ongoing debate about how -- and whether -- specialized high school admissions should be reformed. Stuyvesant needs to be more diverse and it is not entirely clear how best to make that happen.

What I find missing from the debate is a discussion about how the “Stuy test” and the Stuyvesant experience are linked. If students are not going to be admitted based on their ability to excel on a single, high-pressure exam, they should not be evaluated primarily based on high-pressure exams. It seems likely that a student body admitted to Stuyvesant based on criteria other than the SHSAT would benefit from a reduced emphasis on testing. It may even be that all students, including current Stuyvesant students, would benefit from a reduced emphasis on testing.

At the same time, the iteration of Stuyvesant I attended left me very well prepared for college and law school. I feel strongly that I was always going to be an average student in high school. At an underperforming school, that might mean barely graduating. At Stuyvesant, that meant a B average and a partial scholarship to Lehigh University. Many New York City students would benefit from the education I received, regardless of how they are admitted to the school or how painful it might be while they are there.

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Jonathan Fishner is a graduate of Stuyvesant High School, class of 2001, and an attorney. His opinions are his own.

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Holding Polluters Accountable is as Important Now as Ever


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(photo via the Governor's Office)


The summer season is in full swing, with New Yorkers flocking to weekend getaways across the state, from Coney Island to Long Island beaches to the Catskills and beyond. But it is critical that we remain vigilant as good stewards of our shared natural treasures. With environmental protections under siege from the current federal administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is imperative that New Yorkers understand and exercise their civil justice rights to protect their communities and hold polluters accountable.

For years, our ability to enjoy and access New York’s natural treasures has been made possible in part by the environmental advocacy fostered by many committed individuals and the state’s civil justice system, which allows victims to hold negligent polluters financially accountable for adverse health impacts, drinking water contamination, and property damage.

From the Gowanus Canal to sports fields in Red Hook and the ongoing public health crisis in Hoosick Falls, we must remain strong in standing up to bad actors and polluters by protecting and exercising our civil justice rights, particularly in the absence of effective federal oversight.

New York State’s civil justice system provides people with the ability to hold companies and industries responsible when their actions put the public at risk. In a court of law, people injured by negligence and reckless endangerment have been able to address corporate transgressions and hold bad actors accountable.

For communities and residents up against powerful entities with overwhelming resources, the civil justice system often is the only way to get big, influential interests to do the right thing. Ordinary, hardworking New Yorkers are no match for a well-funded public relations campaign and a skilled team of professional lobbyists.

And for victims of dangerous, debilitating diseases and conditions caused by reckless pollution, the civil justice system serves as a mechanism to account for onerous and often overwhelming medical costs. It often spurs meaningful legislative action and oversight as well, to prevent further harm.

Over the past century, the civil court system has shaped environmental reform and delivered justice to communities time and time again. In the 1940s and 1950s, Hooker Chemical Company used a property in Niagara Falls known as Love Canal as a dumpsite for toxic chemical waste and contaminants.

Two decades after the town of Niagara Falls took over the land and developed it for residential purposes, homeowners noticed a suspicious black fluid flowing out of the canal, leading to widespread discovery of its use as a dumpsite, as well as the pollution’s harmful health effects on the community, including higher rates of miscarriage, birth defects, and leukemia.

Activists and residents were outraged at the company’s failure to consider the impacts of their actions or even to bother informing the community years later of what was done. Executives were never jailed or held accountable in a criminal court – but they were forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements with the EPA and affected residents.

The Love Canal calamity is widely viewed as a catalyst for stricter federal regulations that were subsequently put in place to protect the environment and our communities.

Fast forward to today, in Hoosick Falls, an effort is in motion to hold Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell International, Inc., accountable for dangerous contamination of the water supply—an important step toward bringing justice to this community and its residents.

There should be no question that any companies that pollute our communities and poison our children will be identified, held accountable, and forced to right their wrongs. We must always be vigilant.

Our communities, the health of our neighbors and loved ones, and our prized state environmental treasures must be protected. In an era of federal inaction, a strong civil justice system remains the cornerstone of an active and engaged public and empowers all of us to look out for and protect one another.

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Matt Funk is president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association. On Twitter @_mattfunk.

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New York City Must Protect Due Process for All in The Trump Era


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(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Under the Trump administration, we are seeing escalated attacks against immigrant communities across the country. Raids, workplace sweeps, and the detention of Dreamers, asylum seekers, and other immigrants have led to the daily separation of families.

More than any other city, New York City has been proactive in responding to these attacks. At the center of our efforts to support our immigrant community is the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) — the nation’s first universal legal defense program for immigrants facing deportation.

Over the last four years, NYIFUP has set the national standard for protecting the due process rights of immigrants and keeping families together.  

Research shows that detained immigrants with access to legal counsel have a 48% probability of success in immigration court, as compared to 4% without access to counsel.  

Moreover, the New York City Council has made significant investments in complementary initiatives, including providing representation to immigrant children, survivors of domestic violence, asylum seekers, and those applying for U.S. citizenship.  

Our comprehensive legal services effort ensures income is not a barrier to obtaining quality, trustworthy representation for many immigrants at risk of deportation.

Unfortunately, Mayor de Blasio has dangerously limited due process to many more at risk of deportation by quietly implementing a policy that excludes immigrants, including veterans, with certain convictions from qualifying for representation through our legal defense programs.

New York City already mandates universal appointment of counsel in Family Court and Housing Court. Appointed counsel in those courts is based on financial need, not on a person’s criminal record.

A criminal record may, at times, be a factor for a judge deciding the merits of the case, but it’s never a factor in deciding who deserves an attorney. We must have the same standard in our immigration courts that we do in family and housing.

Elected officials, especially those who proclaim a progressive identity, should not fuel the nation’s deportation machine by limiting due process at a time like this.

Instead, we have a duty to do everything in our power to ensure a level playing field in a system that is heavily weighted against people of color and immigrants, who all too often are ensnared by a system set up to criminalize them.

The mayor’s approach is dangerous. We reject his exclusionary policy and urge him to restore our legal services programs to universal representation models without discriminatory exclusions.

Our legal services programs do not determine who gets to stay in the country and who doesn’t — that is the role of our courts. Instead, our publicly funded programs help immigrants understand the proceedings they are in, as well as their legal rights and obligations.

Making certain individuals ineligible for legal services strips them of a meaningful opportunity to have their day in court — leaving immigrants subject to deportation to countries where their lives may be at risk and allowing for the senseless separation of families.

We would do well to remember the words of retired Immigration Judge Paul Grussendorf, who explained, “it is un-American to detain someone, send them to a remote facility where they have no contact with family, place them in legal proceedings where they are often unable to comprehend, and not to provide counsel for them.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said that states are the laboratories of democracy. We add that cities are the spark of genius that drives innovation in our democracy.

New York City has led the way in protecting the rights of immigrants. We must expand on that progress — not turn back. Other cities across the nation are looking to us as beacons of progress.

As descendants of immigrants and LGBTQ members of the New York City Council, and as New Yorkers, we are committed to eradicating inequality, discrimination, and barriers to fairness in our great city.

We are committed to universal representation and due process for all immigrant New Yorkers.

Justice is on our side.

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Carlos Menchaca and Daniel Dromm are members of the New York City Council, representing parts of Brooklyn and Queens, respectively. Menchaca chairs the Council’s immigration committee, while Dromm is chair of the finance committee. On Twitter @cmenchaca and @Dromm25.

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It’s Time for Airbnb to Share Its New York Listings


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(photo: Sofie Hecht / Gotham Gazette)


Teaching children to share is difficult. Teaching Airbnb to share is impossible. Airbnb’s version of the “sharing economy” means more profits for the company and less affordable housing for the rest of us. 

Airbnb repeatedly allows and provides cover for commercial operators to break the law, turn our homes into hotels, and parachute into our communities to make a profit, pilfering apartments along the way. Instead of working with enforcement officials to curb illegal listings, the company uses every legal maneuver in the books—fighting subpoenas and refusing to share data—to take more and more housing out of our communities.

Airbnb could easily disclose data on its listings. It does so in San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, and even China. But it refuses in New York. Why? Because it’s by far the company’s largest U.S. market, where it makes hundreds of millions more than any other U.S. city. 

It even goes as far as shielding unscrupulous commercial operators that evict tenants from rent-stabilized apartments just to protect its biggest money makers. 

And that’s on top of fueling gentrification and contributing to rising rents around the city as a result of stripping the long-term housing market of thousands of units.

Again, that’s not sharing. That’s taking. And that’s why the New York City Council’s efforts to rein in an unaccountable, deceitful corporation by forcing Airbnb to disclose the addresses of its listings to enforcement officials needs to happen, and happen soon.

Here’s the thing about Airbnb: the company thinks the rules don’t apply to it. In cities across the country and, in fact, across the globe, there has been a reckoning with communities and local governments passing sensible regulations to protect residents, only to see those laws ignored by a corporation that has built assets totaling more than $30 billion. And there are few cities that know this better than New York.

In 2010, state lawmakers modified the 1929 Multiple Dwelling Law to ban short-term rentals in New York City apartment buildings for fewer than 30 days while the primary tenant is not present to ensure the “sharing economy” did not close the door to affordable housing on actual long-term tenants, or create quality-of-life issues in buildings not zoned for hotel and commercial activity. It was strengthened in 2016 to allow for more enforcement but Airbnb continues to throw up roadblocks.

The company’s refusal to follow that law has allowed tens of thousands of illegal entire home/apartment listings to proliferate across the city in the midst of an affordable housing crisis when New Yorkers needed those apartments the most. 

Just last year alone, Airbnb generated $435 million in revenue from illegal listings in New York City, according to the School of Urban Planning at McGill University. That’s 435 million reasons why Airbnb cannot be trusted to police its own website, and why New York officials must step up, yet again, to pass additional regulations to stop Airbnb from breaking our laws. 

Like the stories we have heard in cities such as San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Chicago, Barcelona, Paris, Toronto, and Amsterdam, to name a few, the wealthiest among us have come to view Airbnb as a tool to make millions by turning homes into hotels and reducing available housing stock for everyone else. In New York, this has resulted in 13,500 units being removed from the housing market, according to the McGill report, making it even harder to find an available and affordable place to live. 

Make no mistake: despite the company’s best attempts to distract from the truth, the legislation being proposed by the New York City Council would have zero effect on the nice families in Airbnb’s commercials using the platform to make ends meet. Regular folks sharing their homes legally and responsibly are not the problem, and they are also not the norm when it comes to Airbnb. The millions of dollars the company invests in slick marketing and expensive lobbyists to peddle their ongoing misinformation campaigns does not change the fact its platform is overrun by unscrupulous landlords subverting our laws to make extra bucks at the expense of regular New Yorkers.

Why should Airbnb be rewarded for having the track record of a greedy corporation that refuses to follow the law?

In San Francisco, when Airbnb refused to police its site of illegal listings, the city enacted regulations forcing Airbnb to disclose the addresses of its listings, sending a strong message to bad actors and serial lawbreakers that they would no longer get a free pass to flout the law and profit from illegal activity.

Almost immediately, Airbnb listings in San Francisco dropped by more than half and thousands of apartments returned to the long-term market for permanent residents. 

Now it’s New York’s turn. 

No corporation should get to pick and choose what laws it follows and what laws it breaks in order to make a profit on the backs of middle-class families.

The New York City Council and Mayor de Blasio must see through Airbnb’s lies and deceit and act once and for all to protect tenants by swiftly passing legislation requiring Airbnb to share the addresses of its listings so enforcement officials can protect our communities and affordable housing.

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Tom Cayler is a member of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance in Manhattan.

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The Byford Plan and the MTA Information Deficit


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Andy Byford (photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)


New York City Transit’s new president, Andy Byford, recently presented a major plan to fix the subways, called “Fast Forward,” which involves a massive sustained investment in upgrading and modernizing the subway system, combined with a spending speed-up by closing more subway lines on nights and weekends to get the work done more rapidly. Other major priorities are also in the plan, like improved bus speeds, providing access for disabled people at more stations, strengthening construction management, and improving relationships with employees.

The keystone, however, is implementing a modern, computer-based train control system to improve the frequency and reliability of the subway trains with billions of dollars in investments in advanced signal systems. The ambitious goal -- a vastly improved transit system -- is what the riders and the people and businesses of the city and the metropolitan area want and need.

The MTA did not publish official figures on the costs, causing the press to seek unofficial figures, which were reported anywhere from $17 to $19 to $37 billion for different time frames. The MTA claims it is costing things out. The public is also being subjected to ongoing political theater as public figures use each other as punching bags about the MTA, with Cuomo versus de Blasio and Cuomo versus Nixon as the main events.

While the MTA has given the public a stated goal of a better system and a bare outline of a plan to get there, it has left the public in the lurch in relation to other key information beyond cost. This includes information to see how the plan matches up with the rest of the system’s needs that have to be paid for, everything from the expansion projects like East Side Access and Second Avenue Subway, to basics like replacing track and the legacy signal system that must be done continuously, to buying new subway cars and buses, to keeping the suburban rail lines running.

Additionally, assuming the MTA has to borrow a lot more money, the public deserves to know how much new revenue will be needed to cover a lot more debt, and when. There is also precious little on exactly how the MTA might gain control of the unending cost overruns on the multi-billion dollar expansion projects. Let’s put the punching bags in the corner and start looking at what kind of information deficit the MTA has provided the public.

Still in construction are actually two capital plans. An April 2018 report to the MTA Board Capital Program Oversight Committee shows that the 2010-14 Capital Plan is still not finished -- more than $5 billion of the $32 billion plan, which included Federal Hurricane Sandy recovery funds, has yet to be received. The current $33 billion 2015-2019 plan has only received $3.5 billion and is still 90% incomplete!

The report also says in 2018 the MTA plans to commit $7 billion to capital construction -- a pace that would result in most of the current plan rolling over unfinished into 2020 and beyond. The New York City government had actually given more funds to the two plans than the State government -- $879 million versus $465 million, by March of this year. The 2015-2019 Plan is running five years behind schedule, and the MTA is going to exhaust its available resources far short of completion. When this is going to happen is one of the main information deficits.

The current plan has at least one dry hole: a $7 billion IOU from the State written in law that gets provided when the MTA exhausts its current resources, or by 2025. The MTA needs an extra $600 million a year in a new revenue to pay debt service on what I estimate to be $7 billion in bonds to fill that hole.

The agency has a second dry hole: it projected a $600 million deficit by 2021 in February (even after two fare hikes), which resulted in Standard & Poor downgrading the agency’s bond rating. Agency officials also told a senior state legislator before the state budget adoption that the MTA could not afford the $11 billion commitment to the capital plan that is supposed to be funded by the MTA itself. These two problems will likely come together around 2021 but the MTA is now not giving a date to the public for when new revenue sources will be needed.

These shortfalls don’t include the new Byford plan.

Information deficit one, therefore, is how much money the MTA really needs in new revenue to pay for the current plan, before you even put the Byford “Fast Forward” plan on top of it. The answer is probably more than $1 billion a year before Byford. Information deficit two is how much money the Byford plan will cost on top of the current capital plan and its successor (the 2020-2024 plan), and how much new revenue will be needed for that.

The Byford plan has two five-year phases to get the new signal system constructed. If these investments and the money needed start moving soon, the first phase would overlap with the completion of the 2015-2019 capital plan, out to 2025. The second phase would overlap with the 2020-24 plan still in development by the MTA, with negotiations over funding between the State and the City to come. That 2020-2024 capital plan is scheduled to be provided to the MTA Capital Program Review Board (CPRB) in the fall of 2019. The current 2015-19 plan can be amended at any time with approval by the CPRB.

Governor Cuomo reaffirmed his support for congestion pricing shortly after the Byford plan was released; Mayor de Blasio did the same for the added millionaires tax he’s long-pursued, and Cynthia Nixon endorsed both plus a pollution tax as well. In truth the sum of revenue from a congestion pricing plan and added millionaires tax are probably both needed to get to 2025, complete the current capital plan, and overlay it with phase one of “Fast Forward.” New sources of revenue will also be needed for phase two of “Fast Forward”  plus the regular needs of the system, but those requirements are seven years off or more, so while long-term funding streams are needed, we don’t need to give everybody headaches about those numbers right now.

The Legislature created a Metropolitan Transportation Sustainability Advisory Workgroup in the budget, consisting of a group of appointees by the Governor, the Mayor, the Assembly, and the Senate, to report back to the Legislature at the end of 2018 on the host of complex issues associated with mass transit. Reporting was also required on the MTA’s Subway Action Plan, which the State forced the City to pay half of after Mayor de Blasio refused.

The Legislature should follow this up before the session concludes with a requirement that the MTA submit its 2020-24 plan earlier than fall 2019, to address the information deficit. The requirement should include an integration with the Byford plan and details of how costs can be controlled and contained in the capital construction budgets.

The MTA needs to cost out the ambitious goals and let the public know how much money is needed soon -- the political theater probably won’t stop for a long time but it would help if we could all work with the right numbers.

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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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The Wrong Site for a Bronx Jail


De Blasio Rikers Bronx Jail

Mayor de Blasio on Rikers (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Closing Rikers Island jails is the right decision for New York City, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of a thriving community. The Concourse neighborhood in the West Bronx has experienced a renaissance in recent years. Densely packed blocks of tenants and homeowners, public and parochial schools, libraries and mom-and-pop shops surround a glut of municipal uses. Shoehorning a 25-story, 1,500-bed jail into this neighborhood would be a significant and lasting mistake, one that would undermine the progress the West Bronx has made and the progress we hope to achieve through new borough-based jail facilities.

A new jail at East 161 Street, behind the Bronx Hall of Justice, would bring additional traffic to an area that already regularly experiences gridlock. There’s practically no parking in the area and it’s not uncommon to find court and police cars parked on sidewalks and in medians. And that’s before factoring in Yankees game-day traffic.

Proponents of the 161 Street site argue that by eliminating Department of Correction bus trips, the jail would relieve congestion. It might help, but the traffic generated by correction staff and visitors would increase traffic in the area tenfold. The de Blasio administration admits it has no plans to expand available parking in the area. Unless the City comes up with a real plan to reduce congestion, it’s unfair and unsafe to site a jail in this area.

If the 161 Street proposal were to go through, the Bronx’s borough-based jail facility would be less than 50 feet away from one of its highest performing high schools. In addition to the high school, an elementary campus, and a parochial school share the same block. I strongly believe no student should go to school in the shadow of a jail. It would disrupt the learning environment and undermine our efforts to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. Simply put, our young people deserve better.

Finally, if the administration wants to truly create a more humane jail, I question the rationale behind choosing the site with the smallest square footage. The proposed NYPD tow pound site boasts a lot of 183,000 square feet, in contrast to the 93,000 – 115,000 square feet afforded at the East 161 Street site. Cells, communal spaces, medical facilities, and even correction officers’ quarters will all have to be smaller. Recreation facilities will have to be on the roof, where detainees could potentially see into the apartments of nearby residents.

Female prisoners will have to be housed elsewhere, adding even more traffic to the community when they’re bused in for court appearances. The lot size at East 161 Street would require the jail be built at a towering 25 stories, raising concerns about officer response time in the event of an emergency, like a riot or a fire.

These are serious concerns and must not be taken lightly.

Ultimately, the proposal to site a jail at East 161 Street falls short. Its proximity to the courts may speed up cases and benefit court officers, but the risk to the community, to our children, and to the integrity and intent of borough-based facilities is too great to ignore. The City originally proposed the tow pound site, just two miles away. That site has a larger footprint, allowing for a 10-story facility with ground level recreation, and is several blocks away from the nearest school. I urge the administration to return to its original plan: build a borough jail facility at the tow pound, and allow the Concourse community to keep thriving.

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City Council Member Vanessa Gibson represents parts of the Bronx. On Twitter @VanessaLGibson.

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Taiwan’s Radical Participatory Democracy Training is Coming to New York


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(photo: John McCarten/NY City Council)


Many people are wondering whether rapid advances in communication technology will improve or degrade American democracy. Last decade, the answer seemed to be: improved! Wikipedia’s growth showed us the unimaginable “wisdom of the crowd,” WordPress made it possible for the world’s smartest people to share their thoughts with everyone for free, and Google was quickly “organizing the world’s information” for the benefit of all. Democratic utopia, here we come!

Now, the narrative has shifted and it appears to many that technology is degrading democracy. Twitter is an addictive cesspool of fake news, trolling, and hypocrisy. Facebook is selling user profiles to the highest bidder, who then use them to manipulate us in remarkably effective ways. Uber, Amazon and myriad other “startups” are automating away the economy we’ve known. To many in the United States, the future looks like some combination of Terminator, Idiocracy, and Wall-E.

Fortunately, the negative visions of today are just as myopic as the positive ones of yesterday, and the lucky few who’ve been invited to the upcoming vTaiwan Open Consultation & Participation Officers Training will shortly understand why. This unique two-day event, being held June 11 and 12 in Midtown, will be the first English-language training delivered by Audrey Tang and members of the team that successfully implemented radically effective participatory democracy programs at the federal level in Taiwan.

Invitations have been sent to New York City Council members, city employees deeply engaged in work related to citizen feedback generation and analysis, and nonprofit staff that do technology-enabled community organizing. The public is invited to attend a post-training afterparty where Tang and the vTaiwain team will be available for schmoozing.

To understand why Taiwan’s participatory democracy programs are so interesting we have to look at their history, which for the sake of this article begins in 2014 with the Sunflower Movement, an Occupy Wall Street-style social protest that fueled a movement for genuine, participatory democracy. The movement occupied the Taiwanese legislature, turned on livestreams, and showcased the type of consensus-based decision-making participants and supporters wanted the government to implement.

The public was captivated by the movement and supported participants’ demand for the creation of a “Digital Ministry” to facilitate and further develop the type of participatory decision-making systems they were using. After a month-long occupation of the Taiwanese legislature, the government capitulated and appointed a movement leader, Tang, as “Digital Minister” with the stated goal of “helping government agencies communicate policy goals and managing information published by the government, both via digital means,”

Over the last four years, a constellation of participatory democracy programs has emerged. vTaiwan is a public consultation process that uses a wide range of online and offline tools and techniques to bring the public through an ORID-style process that results in a clear directive to the Taiwanese government about what should be done.

To date, 25 national issues have been discussed through the vTaiwan open consultation process, and more than 80% have led to decisive government action. The Participation Officer’s Training Program helps civil servants within diverse departments leverage insights from the vTaiwain process, as well as from Digital Service Organizations from around the world, to make their government agencies more open, horizontal, transparent, and responsive to the public.

These two approaches: vTaiwain for public participatory and PO trainings for government employees, offer an increasingly holistic vision of a technology-enabled democratic future we can all be optimistic about. And it’s coming to New York City -- and the English-speaking world -- for the first time.

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Devin Balkind is a technologist and nonprofit executive who works on civic technology projects in New York City. On Twitter @DevinBalkind.

Balkind is the executive director of Sarapis, the nonprofit fiscal conduit for this event. Any profits from the event (none are anticipated) will be reinvested in participatory democracy work in New York City.

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A Chance for Chancellor Carranza to Restore Teacher Trust


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Schools Chancellor Carranza (photo: New York City Council)


I read a lot of stories about the perfidy of teachers. We aren’t perfect. Like in every line of work, some among us do bad things. Often we’re stereotyped for the actions of a few. Despite the frequent and excellent reporting of Sue Edelman in The New York Post, most people don’t know much about administrative malfeasance, however, which exists from school level right up to Tweed Courthouse, home of the Department of Education’s top staff.

Let’s say my principal wakes up one morning and decides I’m an awful pain in the neck. In fact, he wouldn’t be wrong. (If he were, I probably wouldn’t be doing my job as a teachers union chapter leader.) While we can get along well under many circumstances, when teachers are in trouble, our relationship turns adversarial. It’s my job to defend our contract, and thereby our members. But it’s not always an easy task.

Let’s say my principal claims I threw a cheeseburger at a student. We could meet, and I would tell him I did not, in fact, throw the cheeseburger. There was no cheeseburger and there is no evidence there ever was a cheeseburger. This notwithstanding, the principal could place a letter in my file stating I threw a cheeseburger. He could also state that if there were any more flying cheeseburgers, I’d face further disciplinary action, up to and possibly including termination.

Let’s say the principal focuses on something that actually did happen, but has a lot of room for interpretation, like many actions. Perhaps I said good morning to a security guard and the guard did not like the way I looked at him when I did it. The principal could do an investigation (or not) and conclude that I did, in fact, say good morning. The principal could conclude that I looked at the security guard with some negative aspect, or at least the security guard believes I looked at him with a negative aspect.

That’s another letter in my file. That’s another threat to my livelihood. Aside from writing a response and attaching it to the letter, there would be nothing I could do about it. You won’t read this in the tabloids, but under our contract, members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) are not permitted to grieve, or appeal, letters in their files. It doesn’t matter if they are false, and it doesn’t matter if they are ridiculous beyond belief. The principal decides you are guilty, and that’s pretty much it.

If I continue to say “good morning” with that perceived awful look in my eye, it’s entirely possible I could face dismissal. When a principal moves to dismiss a teacher, we go before an arbitrator for a hearing. Granted, it’s unlikely an arbitrator would have me fired for saying “good morning” with a look, whether or not there actually is one. But it’s likely a principal who wrote accusations like that would scrounge for every negative piece of information available. Were the arbitrator to leave me with a job, I’d likely get a fine and be found guilty of something less consequential. In that case, I’d likely be removed from my school and made a part of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR). ATR teachers generally rotate between schools covering for absent teachers.

Sometimes principals grow very weary of UFT activists. The chapter leader of Central Park East 1, along with a UFT delegate, was removed last year. Both faced charges that were ultimately deemed frivolous. Still, it was only when the entire community rose up, particularly a strong core of parents, that the charges were dismissed. I’m sad to say that activist school community is the exception rather than the rule. I’m sadder to say I know of many other principals who do similar things. Sometimes they are removed and sent off to do who knows what, as was the principal of CPE 1. Just as frequently, they keep their jobs, continue to harrass UFT members and drive morale straight into the toilet.

UFT members are permitted to grieve principal letters under certain very specific circumstances. If the occurrence is not reduced to writing within three months, that’s a grievance. This means if it’s June, and I supposedly threw the cheeseburger in September, I can’t get a letter to file about it now. If the school administration fails to meet with the subject of the letter and discuss it before issuing the letter, they aren’t permitted to place said letter in the teacher’s file. Also, if disciplinary charges do not follow, letters are removed after three years. If not, that’s a contractual violation.

In our building at Francis Lewis High School, we have outstanding grievances for all of the above. That’s because the Department of Education “legal” division, which I imagine as a bunch of children riding stick horses and shooting cap guns, routinely advises principals to ignore very plain contractual language.

At step one in the grievance process, we meet the principal, who informs us legal says whatever he or she is doing, whether or not it violates the contract, is OK. Then, at step two, we go to offices on Gold Street, where a chancellor’s representative presides over a hearing. They have 48 school days to write a decision, which amounts to two or three months, and often they can’t even make that deadline.

When chancellor’s representatives meet deadlines, we receive emails. Why wasn’t an incident reduced to writing within 90 days of occurrence, as required by the contract? Chancellor’s reps say things like, ‘this incident is not an occurrence, and therefore did not happen when you say it did.’ They may say an incident did not become an occurrence until the principal found out about it. Time stands still, evidently, before things reach the ears of a principal. I read this stuff and I feel like I’m through the looking glass.

Teachers are pretty stressed out under the best of circumstances. Faced with taking a day and going to a Manhattan hearing, some tell me they’re terrified and refuse to go. Others are nervous, but go anyway. I go along to try and reassure them. It’s hard, though, because I now know step two hearings are pretty much rigged and members will have to wait months for a decision, assuming there is one. I have to tell them this is just an exercise, and that we’ll have to wait for step three, arbitration, to get a fair hearing. This process can take over a year.

At least five grievances I’ve helped my colleagues write are heading to arbitration. Because these are blatant violations of contract, I expect we will win them all. But here’s the thing—arbitrators work for both the city and the union. They can’t rule one way all the time, or even nearly all the time. Assuming the arbitrators do the right thing and rule in our favor in these cases, what will happen in less obvious ones? If arbitrators try to be balanced, the city will have an edge in many cases.

I believe that’s exactly the game the city is playing. It’s a remnant of the teacher-hostile Bloomberg administration, and it’s there because Mayor de Blasio failed to clean house when he came into office. If new schools chancellor Richard Carranza wishes to turn around 16 years of bad faith, 16 years of bad morale, productive for neither teachers nor students, he’ll move quickly to turn this around. He’ll clean house at legal, and demand that all new hires actually read and respect the UFT contract.

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Arthur Goldstein is an ESL teacher and UFT chapter leader for Francis Lewis High School. On Twitter @TeacherArthurG.

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Cy Vance and Jeff Sessions Versus Your Privacy


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Manhattan DA Vance leads a press conference (photo: @NYPDnews)


As an elected member of the state Assembly, one of my main priorities is to ensure New Yorkers have a government that works with them to protect their rights and their safety. That’s why I’ve become increasingly concerned by the steps Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has taken to undermine digital privacy through his weak position on encryption protection.

Americans are rightfully worried about the confidentiality of their electronic information, from financial documents and medical records to simpler things like texts and emails. That fear is confirmed every time a major company or government agency has its system breached.

But DA Vance, along with President Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, wants unfettered access to the data and information stored on our smartphones by forcing manufacturers to weaken the privacy protection technologies they’ve created and to install so-called “backdoors” into the devices.

What they want is the ability to bypass the encryption technology that allows only the sender and the recipient of a message - like a text - to see it. They argue that these backdoors will help law enforcement solve certain crimes, but the reality is the very small percentage of cases that could be helped is far eclipsed by the danger of weakening encryption for the rest of us.  

They describe these backdoors as small, but in truth they are a wide-open front door for a hacker or foreign government to gain access to almost any smart phone in America. Vance and Sessions are naive if they believe that once a technology is created, only “good guys” will use it. Rogue hackers or hostile foreign governments will use the same tactics.

Vance and Sessions must look for real solutions that protect our privacy and do not involve undermining the security of our data.

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Dan Quart is a member of the New York State Assembly representing Manhattan’s East Side. On Twitter @AMDanQuart.

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