Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics




PBA Continues Misguided Resistance to Reform

nypd transit and kids

(photo: @NYPDnews)

Last week the NYPD and a Federal Court appointed "stop and frisk" monitor came to agreement on the distribution of informational receipts to be given out to people stopped by the police. The cards will contain identifying information about the officer and the reason for the interaction. This is one of several potential outcomes of the "stop and frisk" community remediation process now underway stemming from the Floyd v. City of New York decision.

The idea for the cards came out of efforts by Communities United for Police Reform to dial back abusive and discriminatory police stops which numbered in the hundreds of thousands just a few years ago and overwhelmingly targeted young men of color. A very similar proposal is contained in the organization’s package of police reforms now before the City Council, commonly referred to as the Right to Know Act

The thinking behind the proposal is that police will be less likely to engage in unlawful, abusive, or disrespectful stops if there is enhanced accountability. In addition, the cards can be used to help people document the stop and possibly aid in their efforts to bring Civilian Complaint Review Board cases. While in practice police might not give out the cards as required in every interaction, failure to do so would be a violation of administrative policy. 

This new procedure is no cure-all for the problems of discourteous, abusive, and excessive policing, but it is a step towards greater transparency and accountability and could play a role in reducing some abusive practices by officers.

It is also in keeping with the department’s professed goal of increasing respectful communication between officers and the public in the hopes of achieving greater mutual understanding. However, the problem of completely respectful and lawful overpolicing will remain.

A courteous ticket for riding a bike on the sidewalk or a respectful arrest for selling loose cigarettes is still a deeply problematic example of ballooning police power and the criminalization of everyday life for too many people.

In response to these rather benign efforts at basic transparency and legal accountability, Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch issued a deeply disturbing statement condemning the move:

“With the CCRB’s contact information prominently listed on the back, these receipts are clearly designed to invite retaliatory complaints against police officers who make an active effort to prevent crime and take guns off the street. They are just one more item on the ever-growing list of anti-public-safety measures that will put an end to proactive policing in this city and ultimately accelerate the increase in crime and disorder that we are already seeing in our public spaces.”

While unions have the right to speak out about public policy measures that affect their members, they should be held publicly accountable for those statements. Pat Lynch's comments will only serve to inflame community tensions and undermine public confidence in the NYPD, which is already experiencing a significant legitimacy crisis in many communities of color.

By attempting to evade transparency and accountability, he is signaling to his members and the public that police have something to hide about the way they interact with the public. Further, his suggestion that accountability hurts crime fighting is based on the faulty belief that the only way to reduce crime is through aggressive, disrespectful, and unconstitutional policing. This is a deeply disturbing view of policing and should be of great concern to elected leaders and the public.

It also seems a bit disingenuous to express such a high level of concern about the potential for retaliatory complaints against officers. Any review of the outcome of such complaints should greatly reassure him since so few of them actually result in any negative consequences for officers. Even with recently enhanced powers, the CCRB rarely substantiates claims against officers and even when it does, meaningful consequences are infrequent. The mere possession of one of these information cards, in the absence of extensive corroborating evidence, will hardly prove sufficient to substantiate a complaint under current evidentiary standards.

It’s time for Pat Lynch and the officers he represents to stop being part of the problem of poor police-community relations. He could start by acknowledging that a problem exists and begin working with reformers and community activists to repair some of the damage caused by years of racialized overpolicing.

The rank-and-file members of the NYPD did not create the current situation all on their own; our elected leaders have encouraged an expanded and more aggressive role for the police, placing them on an untenable “war” footing all too often. At the same time, elected officials should politically isolate any union leader that shows such contempt for the public they serve and look for concrete ways to diminish police power by finding more effective and less punitive alternatives.

Alex S. Vitale is associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics. He is senior policy adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project and serves on the New York State Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. You can follow him on Twitter: @avitale

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

JFK International: The Airport New York Deserves

JFK Spencer Platt Getty Images

JFK (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Many are the sins of the Port Authority. Administrators made bad decisions about the original design for JFK, saddling the airport in the 1950s with large and widely separated terminals that have complicated renovation ever since. They also resisted creating mass transit links to JFK, finally opening the AirTrain over half a century after the first flights took off over Jamaica Bay.

Nor did the Port Authority over the decades show much talent for day-to-day management of facilities at the airport, leading to dirty bathrooms, shabby terminals, and delays.

Yet in the last two decades the Port Authority, and the airlines that operate at JFK, have spent billions of dollars collectively to redevelop the airport's terminals.

We now have a popular and functioning rail link, at least to the subway and LIRR. The AirTrain, a passable mass transit option, carries over six million travelers and workers per year. Most airport roadways have been rebuilt, signage is better, and security much enhanced. New air traffic technology is slowly reducing delays.

JFK is still regularly voted one of the country's "worst airports," but the truth is that the place works about as well as anything else in New York--and therein lies the problem.

JFK has rebounded in international travel, in large measure because the New York region has had a tremendous growth in tourism. In 2000, 6.8 million international visitors came to the city; last year it was an amazing 12.2 million.

JFK is handling two thirds of the international travelers flying into the metropolitan area's three major airports. But the airport cannot boost the region's economy at full throttle if New York's leaders, and the people who elect them, do not change the rules of the game.

Companies need better access to workers, customers, and suppliers on a more reliable aviation transportation system. Otherwise, they will pack up and go somewhere else. Consumers also rely upon air cargo more than they realize. Whether it's Tiffany's, Walmart, or Apple; an affordable sushi dinner, inexpensive roses on Valentine's Day, or antibiotics when you get sick—high volume, low cost air cargo makes it all possible.

Every year, New York's airports ship in and out over $200 billion dollars worth of products including machinery, apparel, food, and medical instruments.

Yet the region's leaders have not done anything, beyond the AirTrain, to upgrade passenger connections to create the all-important "one seat ride" from Manhattan business centers to the airport. Nor have the many plans to upgrade freight access to Long Island and JFK reached fruition despite JFK's tremendous loss of market share in air cargo over the past three decades.

This lack of action, which discourages much trade and business at JFK, is the result of inaction by many political leaders and agencies rather than malfeasance of the Port Authority.

JFK also remains hemmed in by unnecessarily congested highways, a situation that has eroded the airport's supremacy in air cargo and hurt its passenger business.

Although larger tractor-trailers were finally allowed last year on New York City highways, no city in the world has as many truck free "parkways" girdling an airport. As a result, the heavily congested Van Wyck Expressway and slow service roads remain the only routes out of JFK for trucks. Long Island and city residents, concerned about a stagnant economy, may have to reconsider the logic of narrow landscaped parkways.

The four runways at JFK are also far below what is needed to handle the passenger business at one of the world's leading international airports. O'Hare, for instance, has eight and has spent billions reconfiguring its runways to reduce delays and boost capacity.

The Regional Plan Association, the Port Authority years ago, and many others have made some logical proposals for expansion of runways into Jamaica Bay or on the landside. Their pragmatic proposals would boost operations and reduce delays in bad weather with minimal noise and environmental impacts. Those plans have gone nowhere.

In light of the fact that Jamaica Bay has yet to realize its promise as a great ecological park, and was compromised further by superstorm Sandy, city and federal officials need to seriously consider using more of its surface for aviation.

The Bay and its environs are, after all, places where commerce, residence, and nature have always mixed. New oysters beds in the water under additional runways, and fewer marshes and gulls near the runways, would yield a cleaner and more resilient bay—and fewer bird strikes.

The Port Authority could also be forced to mitigate any habitat losses at JFK with marsh restoration on other sites, far away from airplanes.

There are many cities both here and abroad that stand ready to absorb New York City's growth; aviation technology is making it easier to bypass crowded New York.

JFK is a remade airport today, but its growth pales in comparison to its peer global cities. Transportation is the key determinant of where companies will locate.

If New York is going to have a diversified economy, including decent jobs for the working class, making space for air cargo and aviation—which employ large numbers of entry level workers—makes a lot of sense, especially because it can be done in an environmentally sustainable way.

by Nicholas D. Bloom and Philip M. Plotch

Bloom is associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology where he is also Chair of Urban Administration and Interdisciplinary Studies. He has written many books including The Metropolitan Airport: JFK International and Modern New York and the forthcoming edited collection from Princeton University Press, Affordable Housing in New York: The People, Places, and Policies That Transformed a City.

Plotch is an assistant professor of political science and director of the Masters in Public Administration program at Saint Peter's University in Jersey City. He is the former director of World Trade Center Redevelopment and Special Projects for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and the former manager of planning for New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He is the author of Politics Across the Hudson: The Tappan Zee Megaproject.

Real Solutions to the Scandal of Struggling Schools

farina tech summit nycschools

Chancellor Fariña (photo: @NYCSchools)

There’s been lots of news and commentary lately about fraudulent credit recovery schemes and grade fixing practices at city schools. The editors of the New York Post predictably want to pin the blame on Mayor de Blasio – with op-eds written by critics such as Senate Majority Leader Flanagan, who claim that these scandals are a good reason to question the extension of mayoral control of city schools.  

Truth is that these schemes spread like a virus first under Mayor Bloomberg – the result of pressure on schools to improve quickly or be closed, combined with a troubling lack of oversight to see that improvements were based on real learning and not gimmicks. Credit recovery was widespread, along with instructions from principals that teachers should pass 60 percent of their students “or else.”   

Despite the fact that this troubling phenomenon occurred during the Bloomberg administration, Senator Flanagan was then one of the biggest boosters of mayoral control, and in 2009, helped renew it for another six years. This was probably not unrelated to the fact that Bloomberg was also the biggest financial contributor to the Republican Senate majority.   

Now that de Blasio is mayor, the hedge-funders and the charter lobby have replaced Bloomberg as the biggest contributors to the state GOP, and keeping its members in charge of the Senate. And as de Blasio has consistently opposed the efforts of these same groups to expand charters and privatize our public schools, Flanagan and the editors of the Post are predictably eager to use the scandal to threaten him with the loss of mayoral control.

To her credit, reporter Sue Edelman, who has broken many of these stories, made it clear in the Post that these fraudulent practices are not new:

Credit- and grade-boosting schemes went into full swing under Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who boasted of raising the citywide graduation rate to 64.2 percent in 2014. Last year, the rate rose to 68.4 percent. But both years only 38 percent of the grads had test scores high enough to enroll in CUNY without remedial help.

But even if this credit recovery and other artificial methods of juking the stats took hold during the Bloomberg years, the de Blasio administration cannot be let off the hook for allowing them to continue.

Edelman’s piece recounts the scandalous allegations at Dewey, Flushing, Richmond Hill, Bryant and Automotive High Schools, which until recently were met with little more than a shrug from both Chancellor Farina and the mayor. Teachers at Dewey in particular had been reaching out desperately for more than a year, before their copious evidence of fraud was finally taken seriously, and principal Kathleen Elvin dismissed in July.  

I began to get anguished messages from teachers at Dewey in September 2012. Starting in February 2014, teachers reported the credit recovery to Special Investigator Condon and others. Soon followed numerous exposés in the Post, and by Marcia Kramer of CBS News and Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News, who catalogued in great detail the outrageous techniques of the principal to boost the graduation rate.

Yet in March, de Blasio said, referring to the Dewey scandal and the much-derided capability of the internal DOE investigative unit, “I don’t assume because some teachers talked to you that that’s the whole truth. I believe very, very strongly in the quality of our investigations unit. I have absolute faith in the integrity of that unit.”

As recently as this past June, Farina minimized the clear evidence of the principal’s misdeeds.

In this way, she and the mayor have played into the hands of their opponents. Even now, by appointing a group made up almost exclusively of DOE officials to look into the scandals instead of an independent panel of investigators, the administration seems tone deaf about how its efforts to stem the tide of corruption will be portrayed.

The administration has been less than transparent on a whole host of education issues – as the NYC Kids PAC report card pointed out.

There are 94 schools on the city’s “Renewal” list. These schools, many of which have been struggling for years, are under tremendous pressure to increase test scores and raise graduation rates or be closed or taken over by the state. Yet so far, the remedies introduced by the administration focus on “wrap-around” services – which do not directly address these students’ academic needs – as well as replacing teachers, appointing new administrators, and encouraging more professional development.

These schools do not need a whole new raft of inexperienced teachers. In March, de Blasio visited Automotive High School and said, “It is impossible to sit in one of those rooms and not immediately identify the level of commitment so many of our teachers have – how much they believe in the work they’re doing...These teachers are committed, energetic, creative, and they’re committed to the future of this school.” And yet last month, it was reported that 63 percent of the teachers at those schools had left or been forcibly removed.

Nor do these school need yet more high-priced administrators, though the Renewal division at Tweed is expanding fast and will have 45 administrative positions, many of them at top salaries, filled by the end of the summer. It is also unlikely that more teacher training and professional development will turn around these schools. An article in Politico NY relates how Farina recently met with Karen Ames, the new Superintendent of District 8 in the South Bronx, who briefed her on efforts to improve the Renewal schools in her district:  

Ames, [is] the new superintendent of District 8, which encompasses a swath of largely low-income neighborhoods in the Bronx…[Ames is] a former network leader in prestigious District 2, the same Upper East Side region where Fariña spent years as principal of P.S. 6, came prepared for her meeting with the chancellor, whom she has known for years….Ames recently led several principals of Renewal Schools in her district on a tour of District 2’s Salk School of Science, one of the city’s best middle schools. Fariña praised the idea of the Salk tour…

It is astonishing that principals of District 8 renewal schools are being asked to visit Salk Middle School on the East Side of Manhattan for tips on how to improve their schools, given their vastly different student populations. Salk is a selective middle school that takes only the highest scoring students, and serves a primarily middle class and even comparatively wealthy school population. Only 11 percent of Salk students qualify for free lunch, according to Inside Schools; and it is home to no English language learners. Its students are 64 percent white; 21 percent Asian, 4 percent black, and 9 percent Hispanic.   

Contrast those statistics with the four Renewal middle schools in District 8: 

  • The Bronx Mathematics Preparatory School – 95 percent free lunch; 26 percent special education; 10 percent ELL; 95 percent black and Hispanic. 
  • Hunts Point School – 91 percent free lunch; 28 percent special education; 25 percent ELL; 99 percent black and Hispanic. 
  • Urban Assembly Academy of Civic Engagement: 79 percent free lunch; 30 percent special education; 13 percent ELL; 96 percent black and Hispanic.
  • M.S. 301 Paul L. Dunbar: 83 percent free lunch; 27 percent special education; 24 percent ELL, 97 percent black and Hispanic.

According to the Independent Budget Office, all the Renewal schools have much larger numbers of English language learners, immigrant students, students with disabilities, and students in temporary housing, as well as more black and Hispanic students than the system as a whole.   

What the students in these schools desperately need is intensive tutoring and small classes to make significant improvements, not a new cadre of inexperienced teachers or administrators breathing down their necks. And yet more than 60 percent of the Renewal schools still have many classes with 30 students or more, according to DOE data.

When Rudy Crew was chancellor, he drew the lowest-performing schools in the city into a new program called the Chancellor’s District, and capped class size in all of their classes at no more than twenty students. This worked effectively to raise achievement.  Yet not a single elementary or K--8 school on the Renewal list had capped class sizes at 20 students in grades K-3 last year, as most experts would recommend. These were also the goals that the state demanded the DOE achieve citywide in its class size reduction plan in these grades, as part of the settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit in 2007.

Only eight middle or 6-12 schools out of 43 Renewal schools last year had capped class sizes at 23 students in grades 6-8, and only one renewal high school out of 31 had capped class sizes at 25 – the goals for those grades in the city’s original class size reduction plan. More than half of the high schools had at least some classes with 35 to 44 students - which mean they violated union contract levels.

The real scandal is that hundreds of thousands of New York City high school students, including those at schools that have allegedly engaged in credit manipulation, like Richmond Hill, Flushing, and Automotive, continue to struggle in large classes of 34 or more.  

Rudy Crew had a vision of what high-poverty students need to succeed; but right now, there is no comparable vision on the part of this administration. If we are talking about accountability for schools and teachers, we must also address the accountability of those in charge of running our schools, and here the mayor and the chancellor have unaccountably failed.  

Leonie Haimsonis the Executive Director of Class Size Matters. Follow her on twitter @leoniehaimson


A Step Toward Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline

christine rodriguez make the road new york 

Christine Rodriguez, the author

For years, the school-to-prison pipeline has afflicted communities of color in New York. From a young age, students begin to be treated like criminals within the confines of their own schools—from being handcuffed, suspended, and arrested for minor incidents to starting the day by walking through metal detectors and having police be the first people they see.

Young people treated as criminals in school are much less likely to succeed. I've seen it first-hand among my high school peers. There are more police officers than counselors in our schools, which makes students feel like they are expected to end up in jail rather college.

This year, I graduated from high school, and I am committed to help end the school-to-prison pipeline. We must stop pushing youth out of school - New York City should be leading the way.

Recently, there was good news for New Yorkers who want to see an end to punitive discipline and more support of students to succeed. The Mayor's Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline, convened earlier this year and of which I am a member, issued a set of recommendations last month that include measures to reduce school suspensions and arrests, address racial disparities, and collect more important data that will show what we know has been happening inside our schools.

The de Blasio administration, which convened the Leadership Team, has responded enthusiastically, and has committed to incorporating these recommendations into official city policy. Already, the administration has issued a new mission statement that includes a commitment to "reduce the use of suspensions as a disciplinary tool and will eliminate the use of summonses and arrests for minor school misbehavior while continuing to advance school safety."

The time is right for strong action. Students cannot wait. In 2011, Make the Road New York and many of our partners worked to pass the Student Safety Act, which for the first time made public what we already knew: too many black and Latino youth are being pushed out of school through arrests and suspensions for minor behaviors. The situation has improved under Mayor de Blasio's leadership, but there are still major disparities in school suspensions and arrests that are hurting young people of color and students with disabilities across our city.

And, under the 2011 law, we are still not able to collect data on hundreds of arrests by police offers, all suspensions, and the use of handcuffs and other restraints (which have been used on students as young as five years old). We look forward to getting this data soon.

The new recommendations from the Leadership Team acknowledge continuing challenges and signal a citywide commitment to reform. There is no time to waste.

The next step will be critical. In the coming months, the de Blasio administration, the Department of Education, and the NYPD will work to turn these recommendations into policy. Meanwhile, they will need to ensure that young people of color—who have been disparately affected by this problem—continue to be part of this conversation, weighing in on how we are being treated in our city's schools and making sure that our wellbeing is front and center in the public discussion.

Equally important, resources need to be allocated to implement new programs, trainings, and staffing to make policy changes effective and ultimately successful.

We're moving in the right direction, but we can't stop now.

Christine Rodriguez is a Youth Power Project member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community, and a member of the Mayor's Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline. On Twitter: @maketheroadny

Homeless Solutions Instead of Homeless Shaming

homeless subway bench 

(photo: Reuters)

On Monday, Sergeants Benevolent Association (SBA) Chair Ed Mullins sent a memo to SBA members, urging them, their friends and family members, and “the silent majority of New Yorkers, to get more involved” and hold our elected City officials accountable. He encouraged members to participate in the “Peek-A- Boo, We See You Too” campaign: photograph the homeless, panhandlers, and quality-of-life offenses and send the photos to the SBA for posting on its website.

We agree with SBA Chair Mullins’ call for New Yorkers to get involved in the city and hold elected officials accountable. However, we respectfully disagree with the use of the ‘Peek-A-Boo’ campaign as the means for doing so. The focus of all of our efforts must be solutions, not shaming.

The SBA campaign further stigmatizes and shames the street homeless, potentially isolating them from assistance. This complicates the efforts of street outreach teams, like those dispatched by Urban Pathways, as they engage individuals and bring them inside. Those living on the streets already often resist engagement and distrust the systems created to assist them.

During our Port Authority Bus Terminal outreach work this past September, Urban Pathways outreach staff engaged Mark H., whose body was covered with open sores, including some on his left leg infested with maggots. Despite this, Mark H. insisted that he did not need help. While outreach staff eventually engaged him, we cannot afford to further complicate this type of work. The city’s homeless may become only more disengaged should they have to also be concerned with strangers photographing them as part of their daily lives.

The ‘Peek-A-Boo’ campaign also detracts the focus from where it should be: successful solutions in the form of safe havens and supportive housing. Safe havens provide temporary shelter and services to those unwilling to enter shelters or unable to commit to treatment or recovery as a condition to accessing shelter.

Supportive housing, a combination of affordable housing and supportive services, is a proven means to dramatically reduce chronic homelessness. It is especially helpful for those likely captured as part of the ‘Peek-A-Boo’ campaign -- the street homeless living with disabilities and chronic health conditions, leaving shelters, psychiatric facilities, and addiction treatment programs.

Effectively dealing with City homelessness requires an all hands on deck, yet caring approach. New Yorkers should call 311 or a homeless services provider when they see a street homeless individual to alert an outreach team that can assess and engage the individual. The public and private sectors should continue to creatively partner to finance outreach programs and supportive housing residences. For example, Urban Pathways has for almost ten years now contracted with business improvement districts in New York City to provide homeless outreach services.

New Yorkers should also hold our elected officials accountable and push for funding of these solutions. In particular, they should hold elected officials accountable on the creation of a new statewide supportive housing program consisting of 35,000 units. Call your City Council Member, State Assembly Member and State Senator, as well as Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo and demand the 35,000 units of supportive housing that the Campaign for NY/NY Housing – now 262 members strong – has requested for over a year.

Now, we have solutions that can effectively reduce the city's homeless population. Let’s get involved and hold our elected officials accountable the right way. Homeless solutions, not homeless shaming, is where we should focus the attention.

Gary Belsky has been an Executive Board Member of Urban Pathways since 1996, serving as Board President from 2000-06.

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The Mayor and the Governor: A History of Tension and Cooperation

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The Mayor & the Governor in happier times (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty)

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have been openly feuding for months.

Cuomo helped sidetrack de Blasio's proposals for affordable housing and multi-year extension of the mayor's authority over city schools. In the spring, an unnamed source in the Cuomo administration -- possibly the governor himself -- called de Blasio "bumbling and incompetent."

Late in June, in an interview on NY1, de Blasio unloaded his frustrations about the governor: "he engaged in his own sense of strategies, his own political machinations, and what we've often seen is, if someone disagrees with him openly, some kind of revenge or vendetta follows."

The heated rhetoric has raised concerns. As has a lack of coordination on key matters related to public health and transportation. New York's governor and the mayor of its largest state need to get along for the welfare of both entities.

But there is a built-in historical tension in the relationship. The mayor governs the city. Yet state aid is essential to city finances, the state's Metropolitan Transportation Authority operates city subways, rent control falls under the auspices of the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, and the state has other oversight and control mechanisms.

Usually, the relationship between the governor and the mayor is marked by reluctant cooperation and pragmatic compromises. De Blasio and Cuomo can look toNew York history to find helpful models.

For instance, Robert F. Wagner, mayor 1954-1965, often traded barbs in the press with Republican governor Nelson Rockefeller. But that did not prevent them from making behind-the-scenes deals when it served both their interests. When Wagner needed more state aid or expanded taxing power to support city services, he was usually able to persuade Rockefeller and the legislature to come to his assistance. In 1960, Wagner orchestrated a newspaper campaign showing that the city was getting short changed on state aid. The stories included a coupon readers could clip out and mail to Rockefeller in protest. The governor chafed at the pressure, then gave in and at the last minute boosted state aid to the city by $81 million. Rockefeller and Wagner appeared together to announce the deal, and share the credit.

Early in 1950, work on the New York State Thruway, begun in 1946, was stalling due to lack of funds. Governor Thomas Dewey, a Republican, proposed a new state Thruway Authority empowered to issue up to $400 million in bonds to build the superhighway, to be repaid by tolls. Public skepticism mounted. That would amount to "little more than a shakedown of the motorist," fumed the Automobile Club of New York. Democrats in the legislature vowed to block what they called "Dewey's Upstate Boulevard."

The governor needed help. In March, after a number of meetings, a deal was brokered by New York City transportation chief Robert Moses. Dewey agreed to connect the Thruway to the Major Deegan expressway, giving it entree into New York City, and to speed construction of expressways in New York City, using state and federal funds. O'Dwyer endorsed Dewey's proposal, undercutting Democrats' plans to block Dewey since most of the Democrats in the Assembly came from New York City. Asked whether it would put him in conflict with Democrats who had opposed it, O'Dwyer deadpanned: "I wouldn't know anything about that. I'm a city manager." Dewey professed surprise at allegations of political maneuvering. The Thruway would mean safe travel and, he explained, "I can't see anything political in saving lives." The legislature approved Dewey's proposal. Dewey appointed David J. Martin, a New York City real estate developer and political ally of mayor O'Dwyer, to the newly-created Thruway Authority.

In other cases, the relationship has seemed like a political kabuki dance.

For instance, in 1910, the state developed plans to build the Mohansic State Hospital in Yorktown Heights, Westchester County. John P. Mitchell, who became New York City mayor on a "fusion" ticket in 1914, initially supported it because it would serve people from his city. But as construction was about to begin, the New York Times and other city papers began asserting that sewage from the facility could pollute the city's water supply at the Croton Reservoir, though it was several miles away. Mitchell suddenly reversed himself, saying that the city would oppose anything that would "permit its citizens to drink polluted water." Governor Charles Whitman, a Republican, publically rebuked the mayor, saying his views were "far from expressing the real facts" and explaining that the systems for treating sewage were more than adequate. Mitchell escalated his criticism and threatened to get a court order to stop the project. The controversy grew heated. New York City residents would resist "the privilege of drinking such sewage," said the Merchants' Association.

Whitman put the project on hold and asked for legislative guidance. In 1917, he reversed himself and came over to Mitchell's view, asserting that polluted water could become "a constant and dangerous menace" and should not "become commingled" with New York City water lest it lead to "an epidemic of disease." Both the mayor and the governor exaggerated the threat and pandered to unwarranted public fears. But the legislature killed the project, opting instead to expand Middletown state mental hospital, several miles north and on the opposite of the Hudson from the Croton watershed. Expansion of a small boys' school on the Mohansic location was authorized, but the rest of the site was transformed into a park and transferred to Westchester County. It was deeded back to the state in 1957 and renamed Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park in 1982.

In still other cases, the relationship has been mostly sour. For example, Governor Rockefeller disliked and distrusted Mayor John Lindsay, whom he regarded as incompetent and a loose financial manager. Lindsey thought Rockefeller was autocratic and tight-fisted on New York City aid. Elected as a Republican in 1965, Lindsay switched to being a Democrat in 1971, and the political rivalry with the governor escalated. "I wish Lindsay would become an actor and leave the governance to me," Rockefeller remarked to GOP state chairman Richard Blum. In 1971, after Lindsay exploded in the press about Albany's holding the city in a financial vicegrip, the governor responded, "He's not responsible for what he's saying...The poor man has been under a lot of pressure."

Cuomo's response to de Blasio's NY1 interview had an air of condescension. "I understand why he's frustrated. I get frustrated, but we have a situation in Albany where you don't always get everything you want. That's called life. It's clear that his style is to air his public frustration."

The confrontational tone of the governor's and mayor's comments does not bode well for the future of the relationship.

It's time for the governor and the mayor to turn away from the sort of bickering and impasse that have characterized the relationships between some of their successors. They need to return to the historical tradition of discussion, negotiation, and compromise, sometimes including political competition and public posturing, but in the end settling on policies that benefit both the city and the state.

Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne is the author of the book The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History, published in 2015 by SUNY Press.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The President's Clean Power Plan Offers Great Opportunity to NYC

Rep Serrano

Rep. Serrano, right, is the author

In September, Pope Francis will bring his message of compassion, care, and justice to New York City. This historic and momentous occasion comes after His Holiness released an Encyclical earlier this year on climate change and ecology. In "Laudato Si," Pope Francis highlights the moral obligation we all have to confront climate disruption and to protect the most vulnerable communities among us threatened by climate change. Last week, our nation took a significant step towards meeting that goal.

Until now, there have been no limits set on the amount of climate-disrupting carbon pollution that dirty power plants can dump into our air, endangering the health of families throughout our country and fueling the climate crisis we currently face. We've already seen the impact here in New York, where Superstorm Sandy ravaged our homes and our neighborhoods.

More often than not, the power plants spewing dangerous pollution have a disproportionately negative effect on low-income communities and communities of color, which end up suffering from the worst effects of toxic pollution, including heart attacks, asthma, and premature death. This has been the case in my Bronx district, where we have had to fight to improve some of the worst air quality in New York City, clean-up our waterways, and improve access to quality parks and green spaces.

The Clean Power Plan announced last week by President Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will for the first-time limit the amount of dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. These protections will ensure that our kids, our communities, and New York's workforce are healthier, while also creating much-needed jobs, reducing energy costs, and fighting climate disruption.

We've already seen the enormous economic benefits of reducing carbon pollution here in New York and throughout the Northeast. New York is a proud member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which is a cap-and-trade effort of Northeastern states to reduce carbon pollution across our region. This effort has not only been successful in reducing carbon pollution, but also in spurring economic development for our communities and lowering electricity bills for our families.

Let's build off of this momentum and seize the opportunity we have through the Clean Power Plan to go even further in making environmental justice a reality for all communities, promoting the growth of clean energy, and protecting the health of families here in New York and throughout the rest of the country.

As we look forward to Pope Francis's visit in September, let us all reflect on the responsibility we have to care for our environment and the health of the most vulnerable among us. While there is much work to be done, the President's Clean Power Plan is a historic step forward in answering that call. Let's do our part and support him in the implementation of this important framework, for our communities and for the world.

by Congressman José E. Serrano (D-NY15)

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Airbnb Eats 20% of City's Housing, What To Do About It

nyc youth hostels

Youth hostel solutions (photo: CTA Architects)

New York City is suffering from a severe affordable housing shortage and it has only gotten worse since 2010. A recent study by New York Communities for Change and the Real Affordability For All Coalition illustrates how Airbnb is exacerbating the affordable housing crisis in New York City.

What's shocking is that 20 percent of all New York City apartment vacancies in certain communities are simply disappearing, with the East Village losing 28 percent to illegal hotel rooms on Airbnb.

The study revealed those apartments are instead being offered on average 247 days a year and rented 109 nights a year as unregulated hotel units; and that nearly 60 percent of 27,000 units listed were "whole apartment rentals," meaning they are illegal.

As former chair of the New York State Assembly Ways and Means Committee, what's most shocking to me is that the City and State of New York see zero tax revenue from these illegal hotels. That is simply a crime.

The seeds of this crisis sprouted in 2010 when an unintentional legislative act forced the shutdown of over 50 regulated youth hostels representing over two million bed-nights in the city. Lacking that inventory and without more affordable options, victims were made of unknowing tourists, our city's scarce housing inventory, and travel-related tax revenue.

As more communities and building residents across the five boroughs are up in arms about illegal rentals under their noses, the New York City Council now has a sensible, although indirect legislative solution (Intro. 116) that just might begin to ease the housing shortage, by first legalizing the construction, licensing, and regulation of a new generation of safe, urban youth hostels in city commercial districts. This can make a significant difference.

In 2014, cities including Boston, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., attracted hundreds of thousands of youth travelers (age 15-30) patronizing a new generation of safe and affordable youth hostels. This happened as the old boarding house-style facilities many New Yorkers might think of yielded to the modern urbanism millennials demand.

The U.N.'s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) identifies millennials as the next big hospitality market explosion. The U.N. says international youth travel will grow from $173 billion annually today to $320 billion by 2020, and soon command 25 percent of all international travel. Industry data finds those international youth hostel customers' top destination is the United States, and the city they desire to experience the culture of most is New York.

These travelers may be pre- or post-college, alone or in a group, going to multiple cities where their budgets require lower-cost lodging to maintain their ability to afford several cultural experiences. Just think about the college kids you know, traveling through Europe or South America on a budget during a semester abroad. They likely did not stay at a single luxury hotel, unless of course mom and dad came to join for a week and pick up the tab.

So what option have these international youth travelers been left with in the Big Apple? They can either avoid New York City completely, or more likely find some cheap, albeit unregulated, unlicensed, likely unsafe and illegal place to stay. Enter Airbnb.

On the other hand, travel industry data reveals that tourists who travel the world and patronize hostels in their youth are more likely to return back to the cities they experienced favorably in later years, for business and vacation, and then it is their turn to finally patronize full-service hotels.

New York City should open its arms and eyes to this next, big, youth cultural and hospitality market – some of it happening around our city already.

Legalizing and regulating modern youth hostels creates a free market incentive for companies that own and operate them to offer the highest quality, safest, and most welcoming facilities that fit well into the communities where they are located.

The U.N. is telling us that waves of young tourists are going to travel to New York. The question is, will New York allow them to continue renting out scarce apartments as illegal hotels, or will it follow the lead of other U.S. cities that recognize, regulate, and collect taxes from them as legitimate contributors to the hospitality economy?

Hon. Jerry Kremer is Chairman of Empire Government Strategies and served 23 years as a member of the New York State Assembly, including 12 years as Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee and served by appointment of the Governor on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Capital Review Board and the Public Authorities Control Board. He is also a spokesman for Hostelworld, the globe's largest reservation service in the hostel industry. Hostelworld does not own or operate hostels.

Cuomo Should Properly Fund CUNY, Not Shift Burden to City


Calling on the governor to support CUNY staff (photo: @PSC_CUNY)

Employees at the City University of New York (CUNY) have been without a contract for over five years, despite the fact that most other state workers have not only settled their contracts but are actually preparing to negotiate the next round of agreements. The major hold up is a demand by Governor Andrew Cuomo that any salary increases for CUNY employees come out of the University’s operating budget - in essence, a major cutback in CUNY funding.

Given the long period without a contract, the cost of retroactive pay, just for faculty and professional staff, is at least $240 million to stay consistent with what other state workers received. The City has agreed to pay its share. This tension exists despite the fact that CUNY only receives around $500 million in direct support from the State each year and another $300 million out of the statewide Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) that serves public and private colleges. A cut of the magnitude created by forcing CUNY to pay for salary increases from operating expenses would be devastating to the university system and the 275,000 students it serves.

Last Tuesday, Governor Cuomo told reporters that rather than the State providing additional funds for CUNY and its employees, the City should pay more of the costs, a message similar to the one he has delivered recently concerning shortfalls at the MTA. The State took over primary financial responsibility for CUNY during the New York City fiscal crisis of the 1970s. Since then, the State has provided about 75 percent of government funding, with the City picking up the rest, mostly in support of CUNY community colleges. Cuomo says that he wants to revisit that arrangement given the City’s relative fiscal health. This seemingly rational stance belies several important facts that undermine the governor’s position.

First, the State’s fiscal health is not really an issue. The State had several billion dollars extra in revenues this year to spend, but it chose not to spend it on public higher education. Both CUNY and SUNY were given flat funding, budgeting that failed to take into account mandatory cost increases such as higher energy and maintenance costs, resulting in a $63 million shortfall for CUNY.

The governor has not said whether he will support a new bill passed by the Legislature this month that would fix that problem going into the future. In addition, last year the governor saw fit to use some of the State’s extra revenue to actually cut taxes for many residents, resulting in millions of small checks being sent out that seemed more like an election year stunt than rational fiscal policy. In fact, generous tax cuts made under Governor Pataki have severely undermined the state’s finances. Ending these tax breaks, which went overwhelmingly to the very richest New Yorkers, would generate billions in revenue, more than enough to place CUNY on stable footing.

According to an analysis by the Professional Staff Congress - CUNY, the State has consistently shifted funding during this period from state aid to student tuition. In 1989, tuition covered less than 20 percent of CUNY operating costs, while today it is closer to 50 percent. This, despite the fact that over half of CUNY students come from families that make under $30,000 a year. Tuition has increased by 58 percent in the last five years alone and more tuition increases are being planned.

Second, it is revenue from the city that makes state government possible in the first place. The state budget is a giant engine of resource shifting from downstate to upstate. An analysis by the Rockefeller Institute done in fiscal year 2010 showed that upstate regions received 42 percent of state funding despite generating less than 28 percent of revenue, including those from tuition, gambling, etc. New York City generated 45 percent of revenue, but received only 40 percent of funding, with downstate suburban counties making up the remaining difference. The idea that New York City is not paying its fair share is ridiculous.

Third, no other local area is being asked to engage in cost sharing to support public higher education at the four-year colleges and graduate schools. Upstate counties do contribute to community college funding, but Buffalo, Albany, and other cities with SUNY schools are not asked to cover basic operating expenses in the way Cuomo is proposing for CUNY.

Fourth, the City actually is spending more. In the last two budget cycles Mayor de Blasio has added additional funds to support the community colleges, especially for financial aid and special programs such as the highly successful Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) recently touted by President Obama.

Fifth, funding for CUNY generates significant fiscal as well as social advantages for the state. CUNY students, who are mostly non-white and first generation college students, tend to shift from being consumers of government resources to producers of tax revenue upon graduation. Failing to invest in this population suggests a callous disregard for both this economic reality and the interests of these students and their communities.

Perhaps the governor, who like his father was a product of parochial and private schools, fails to appreciate the central importance of CUNY for communities of color and immigrants. CUNY, as much as any other government institution, has been a central force in the building of the middle class and the integration of immigrants into the mainstream of society. It’s time that he treats funding for CUNY as the social justice issue it is, rather than a punching bag in his fight with the mayor. 

Alex S. Vitale is associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics. He is senior policy adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project and serves on the New York State Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. You can follow him on Twitter: @avitale

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A Call for Equitable Development in Southeast Queens

rev wilkes

Rev. Wilkes, middle, leads a prayer & voter registration drive (photo: @andrewjwilkes)

Jamaica needs development that benefits long-term residents, workers, and the families of Southeast Queens. Development is a multidimensional process. At best, the process not only supports real estate firms, but also expands the availability of affordable housing opportunities and family-sustaining jobs that pay a living wage. Although we applaud the efforts for improving Jamaica, we are concerned that current plans are not going far enough to guarantee equitable development of jobs and housing for local families.

Under the Bloomberg administration, New York City witnessed rezoning to facilitate development in industrial neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Long Island City. With that process came the escalation of rents, leases, and the overall cost of living. While some individuals benefited from this process, wide scale displacement of residents and the local workforce occurred, especially among people of color. In 2007, under the same administration, 368 blocks of downtown Jamaica were rezoned for higher-density development, meaning more units of housing, office, or retail space for the broader community of Southeast Queens. As the economy crashed in 2008, much of the anticipated development was stalled, but a real estate boom is kicking in now with estimates of more than 3,000 units of housing in the coming years. As faith leaders of Southeast Queens, we're lifting up our voices to ensure that our community promotes equitable development of job and housing opportunities for individuals and families whose labor makes this area such a vibrant constellation of neighborhoods.

We recognize and appreciate the contributions of other voices to this conversation. Participants who created the "Jamaica NOW" action plan, for instance, have championed valuable – and viable – ideas for improving Jamaica. The plan intends to do three things: increase quality jobs and small business support; promote commercial growth and economic development; and improve livability for both residents and visitors. Already, the beautification of Rufus King Park is making a difference in the recreational and cultural life of Jamaica. The plan, however, doesn't specify a comprehensive vision for equitable development. Without such details, our concern is that modestly inclusive projects will benignly, but mistakenly, be heralded as successes and the best we could do for our communities.

Two examples illustrate our concern. Let's start with the NYPD lot development project on 168th and Archer Avenue. The city's Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act defines a "living wage" as just $11.50 per hour and notably applies to construction workers on this project because the property is receiving more than $1 million in subsidy from the city Economic Development Corporation. However even if two members of a family were working full-time, with no vacations, at this wage they would still be ineligible for the affordable housing within the project because they would not make enough to meet the income threshold accorded by the zoning of the area.

Another example drives from the de Blasio administration's plan to rezone East New York. In that community, the administration recently announced a plan for 50 percent of new housing to be affordable at neighborhood-based incomes, yet in Jamaica we are talking about just 20 percent of affordable housing being produced – and that only within a smaller "special inclusionary zone" in which the builders are only required to build if they take additional subsidy. Yet even this 20 percent is not truly affordable - a family of three would need to make at least $62,150 to be eligible for the housing, while the median income in Community Board 12 representing Southeast Queens is $50,857 per year.

Given the dynamics outlined above, our question is: what can be done differently? How can we ensure that we advance equitable development in Southeast Queens, that we build it right in our community?

Three ambitious, yet achievable goals stand out for our community, congregations, and city. First, we can lift up the moral imperative of our faith traditions to make the case for equitable development. Our religious traditions teach us that laborers deserve to be paid; that what's done in the dark – negotiation of terms and deals – should be brought into the light; that attending to the weighty matter of justice is central to our convictions and congregations. Second, we can use city subsidy and the leverage that it brings to infuse parity into the production of affordable housing. Instead of settling for developments whose housing is 80 percent market-rate and 20 percent affordable, we can pursue an even division of residential opportunity: 50 percent market-rate and 50 percent affordable for local residents. Third, we can ensure that strong legal protections prohibit harassment and displacement among tenants living in downtown Jamaica and surrounding communities.

We celebrate the resurgence of downtown Jamaica and the surrounding community. In many respects, this resurgence is a belated recognition of the tremendous legacy and potential of Southeast Queens. We invite you to join us as we learn, pray, and take action together for a renewed call for equitable development in Southeast Queens tonight, Tuesday, at 6:30 p.m. at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York. Our best days await us, and we look forward to continued collaboration with elected officials, labor unions, congregations, and other community groups to create deeply affordable housing and family-sustaining jobs in our neighborhoods.

Rev. Andrew Wilkes, the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York
Bishop Joseph Williams, Christ Church International
Pastor Brian Ellis Gibbs, Queens Baptist Church
Father Jeffry Dillon, Christ the King & St. Mary Magdalene

City Industrial Manufacturing Plan Still Needed

Sunset Park

Rally outside City Hall before a land use committee hearing

Since the recent announcement by Jamestown Properties and partners of a $1 billion investment to rebrand and renovate a massive 16-building complex - which will require a rezoning to permit a hotel and academic facility as well as a public investment of $100 million to improve the surrounding streetscape and infrastructure - there has been a steady stream of media accounts of new tech and commercial tenants drawn to Industry City.

While the successful marketing of an “innovation district” has generated much interest and activity, the city has yet to state its policy on industrial land uses contributing to the real estate uncertainty that is threatening Sunset Park’s industrial small businesses including those in the Industrial Business Zone. Heightening real estate speculation is exemplified by the impending acquisition of the 14-acre, M3-1 zoned Sunset Industrial Park by a real estate investment joint venture, which “immediately after closing on the Property, Savoy/601W will begin the design and approval process to rezone this site and to redevelop it into a large-scale residential community“ thereby increasing the site’s value by more than four or five times the acquisition price of $130 million.

A month ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Sunset Park’s elected officials including City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Congress Member Nydia Velazquez, State Assembly Member Felix Ortiz, and long-time maritime advocate Congress Member Jerrod Nadler joined federal officials on the Sunset Park waterfront to announce the reactivation of the 72-acre South Brooklyn Marine Terminal (SBMT) and its designation as part of America’s Marine Highway System. All speakers lauded reactivating Brooklyn’s working waterfront, the environmental and public health benefits of truck traffic reduction, and the creation of unionized jobs. 

When the Mayor was asked to comment on neighboring Industry City’s prior request to use five acres of SBMT for 750 parking spaces to accommodate new tenants and shoppers, he affirmed SBMT would only be used for industrial purposes. While the parking issue appears to have been resolved for the immediate future, a substantive public discussion about the co-existence of an innovation economy district and a traditional maritime-manufacturing hub remain outstanding.

Jamestown Properties specializes in the adaptive reuse of industrial buildings. Its Innovation and Design Building in Boston’s Innovation District is similar to its plans for Industry City. Boston Globe columnist Paul McMorrow in “Old vs. new Seaport needs public debate” argued that for traditional and modern manufacturing sectors to work together, “it will only be after serious coordination, and hard conversations about what industry means in the 21st century.” Although the New York City Council released a comprehensive study of industrial land uses in November 2014, which was followed by a Land Use Committee public hearing in April 2015, Mayor de Blasio and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen have yet to weigh in on a substantive public conversation about industrial manufacturing and its importance to New York City’s economy.

The City Council report found that the decades-long decline of industrial manufacturing sectors has ended and, in fact, industrial employment grew modestly from 2010 to 2014.  Sunset Park is a prime example of this trend. Based on the New York State Department of Labor Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, Sunset Park’s industrial firms increased slightly from 1,138 in 2010 to 1,193 in 2014. The number of employees also grew during this period from 10,651 to 11,614 workers.

Although maligned for creating few jobs, warehouses are an important part of an industrial ecosystem and in Sunset Park warehouses employed 103 workers at an average annual wage of $31,236. Representing a third (33%) of the local employment base, this data underscores how traditional industrial manufacturing sectors continue to anchor Sunset Park’s neighborhood economy. These are jobs that have historically and continue to provide opportunity for working class immigrants and workers of color.

In response to a question posed by a Protect Our Working Waterfront Alliance (POWWA) member, Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball discounted community concerns about gentrification and displacement because contrary to “pushing people out”, he claimed the innovation economy is about “bringing people in.” But the real issue may be who is being brought in.

UCLA geographer Allen Scott argues that innovation districts are enclaves that represent a “privileged foci of production, work, and social life.” A mundane illustration is the branding of Industry City’s Food Hall, which is not called a food court because the term conjures up a shopping mall – the quintessential symbol of mass consumption.  Affluent consumers desire a unique experience in “great gathering places,” according to developer/architect Young Woo, who is “curating” a mix of retail tenants in refurbished shipping containers on Manhattan’s Pier 57. Clearly, an innovation economy is not just a reference to a mode of production but connotes a cultural milieu and aesthetic deemed creative, hip, and artisanal.

On the day of the City Council Land Use Committee hearing, POWWA – a citywide alliance which includes UPROSE, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Teamsters Local 812, Trinity Lutheran Church, and the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance – held a rally at City Hall where elected officials and advocates addressed the importance of preserving and protecting industrial jobs for working class New Yorkers. A Crain's article in March indicated that Mayor de Blasio was soon to announce his industrial manufacturing policy but that has yet to happen. In the meantime, the lack of an engaged public conversation about 21st century industry is contributing to speculative real estate activity and rising rents threatening Sunset Park’s viable industrial manufacturing ecosystem.

Tarry Hum is a professor at the City University of New York and author of Making a Global Immigrant Neighborhood: Brooklyn's Sunset Park.