Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics




To Continue Making Progress, We Need Mayoral Control

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Mayor de Blasio at school (photo: @NYCMayorsOffice)

Since taking office, Mayor Bill de Blasio has made our City's 1.1 million school children a priority: providing free, full-day, high-quality pre-kindergarten for every four-year-old; giving historically struggling schools aggressive resources they need to turn around; providing members of Citywide and Community Education Councils robust training; expanding dual-language programs for English Language Learners; encouraging collaborative pedagogy; and giving parents a meaningful voice in public education. These reforms would all be nearly impossible for the system to accomplish without the alignment of the Mayor's vision, Chancellor Carmen Fariña's leadership, and, ultimately, mayoral control of our city's schools.

Read more: To Continue Making Progress, We Need Mayoral Control

Condom Demonstrations a Positive Step but Not Enough

Joan Malin PPNYC

Joan Malin, the author

When Planned Parenthood of New York City sex educators have taught high school students in classrooms how to properly use condoms, one thing has been missing from the lessos: actual condoms.

Our educators are highly skilled and have provided education on proper condom use without actually conducting demonstrations, but they haven't been able to teach students using the most effective method. That is now changing—the city's Department of Health and Department of Education are now allowing condom demonstrations in high school classrooms as part of sex education. This is a positive step and a vital tool for learning—but it's not enough.

Read more: Condom Demonstrations a Positive Step but Not Enough

Preparing for New York's Next Constitutional Convention Referendum

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The NY State Senate Chambers (photo: Senate website)

New York's Constitution mandates a statewide referendum every twenty years on whether to convene a state constitutional convention. The time has come to begin preparing for the next referendum on Nov. 7, 2017, at which time voters will decide whether there is a convention the following April. Steps must begin to be taken now so that New Yorkers are ready to make an informed decision.

Read more: Preparing for New York's Next Constitutional Convention Referendum

Time to Reform Mayoral Control

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Mayor de Blasio visits a classeoom (photo: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

On May 12, a Quinnipiac poll was released showing that two to one, New York City voters believe that the mayor should share control over our public schools with other elected officials. On Tuesday, Public Advocate Letitia James issued a report, calling for improvements to ensure sufficient checks and balances and more parent input in school governance. We agree.

Read more: Time to Reform Mayoral Control

Building One Livable City

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A NYC park ribbon-cutting (@MarkLevineNYC)

New York is embarking on a building boom, and upzoning neighborhoods around the boroughs, with the laudable goal of making the city more affordable. But will it be more livable?

The answer depends, in part, on whether we plan for green space and open space to match all the new construction. With residential towers set to rise in at least 15 neighborhoods in line for new zoning, and the pace of building picking up city-wide, it's critical that we account for the infrastructure of public life. This means investing in new parks, playgrounds, street trees, and "green" features like bioswales as our city expands.

Read more: Building One Livable City

Fix NYCHA First


NYCHA buildings in Harlem (photo: David Schalliol)

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration have turned heads with bold plans for lifting 800,000 families out of poverty, boosting school performance, and making the city more livable and equitable for all. His OneNYC plan aims to do nothing less than convert New York City into a progressive Sweden on the Hudson. The affordable housing component of the plan, the outline of which was first announced last year, alone promises to help finance construction of 80,000 units of below-market subsidized housing, extend subsidies for 120,000 existing units, and stimulate construction of 160,000 market-rate apartments, in part to relieve overall pressure on prices.

Read more: Fix NYCHA First

Let's Note the Mayor's Budget Investment in an Instrumental Workforce


Mayor de Blasio (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio recently unveiled his Executive Budget for Fiscal Year 2016. Since then, there has been much comment on what the budget includes, notably $100 million for homelessness, and omits, namely funding to hire 1,000 NYPD officers. Nearly absent in budget conversation, though, is the important investment that the city is making in the human service nonprofit sector in the form of a 2.5 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) and an unprecedented $11.50 per hour wage floor.

Read more: Let's Note the Mayor's Budget Investment in an Instrumental Workforce

Restorative Justice is Key to School Discipline Reform

solutions not suspensions

A discussion on school discipline (photo: @Teachers_Unite)

Since the founding of Bronx Lab School in 2004, "student discipline" has been an ongoing topic of discussion. Students, staff, and parents are continually debating the merits and efficacy of suspensions, detentions, and mediations in addressing the realities of student conflict and non-adherence to school policies and values. What we know for sure after more than a decade of these conversations is that there are no simple answers. What we have learned is, though, is that Restorative Justice supports our community's mission and values, and offers a humanizing approach to the ever-present "discipline" question.

Read more: Restorative Justice is Key to School Discipline Reform

Time to Reduce New York City's Stubborn Child Poverty Rate

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Mayor de Blasio visits a classroom (photo: @NYCMayorsOffice)

When people talk about childhood poverty, it is usually discussed as a distant problem that happens in some developing country halfway across the world. They are often quick to point out that childhood poverty is a problem in places like "Africa" where starving children are too weak to swat flies away from their eyes. Those ubiquitous television commercials soliciting monthly donations are deceptive, because they leave the impression that childhood poverty does not exist in the developed world. Well, childhood poverty certainly exists here in New York City, where 32 percent of children - or one out of every three kids - were living in poverty in 2010.

Read more: Time to Reduce New York City's Stubborn Child Poverty Rate

A Holistic Approach to Reducing Gun Violence

Gibson WIlliams

CMs Gibson, center, & Williams, right, are two of the co-authors (photo: William Alatriste)

NYPD Detective Brian Moore is one of the latest victims of a gun violence pandemic that has deeply wounded our city. This tragic event illuminates a stark reality: with this many guns on the street, senseless and random violence can happen in the blink of an eye. Despite improved efforts to take guns off the streets, engage youth in positive outlets, and interrupt the interstate gun pipeline (through which the gun used to kill Det. Moore came), gun violence continues to plague us.

Read more: A Holistic Approach to Reducing Gun Violence

Real Estate’s Attempt to Co-opt the Affordable Housing Discussion

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Construction at 10 Hudson Yards (photo: @ryanhutchins)

Think of the classic pieces of advice you’ve heard from parents, teachers or mentors along the way in life: Look before you leap. Think before you speak. Consider the source.

Sometimes we forget the obvious. This has been the case over the past two years, as an organization with a long track record of blocking all efforts to advance an affordable housing agenda has suddenly become a leading voice in the debate about how best to pursue this much-needed public policy goal.

Cleverly, the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) has seized on the de Blasio administration’s focus on affordable housing as the latest way to fight something they have opposed for five decades: the designation of city landmarks. Now REBNY declares that landmarking is bad for affordable housing. The contention is as baseless as it is self-serving.

Consider the source: REBNY’s mission is to maximize profits and eliminate regulatory hurdles for developers and property owners. It sees landmarks and historic districts as obstacles on that path, and historically has been no friend to affordable housing advocates. To further its mission, REBNY has been a longtime key funder of maintaining the Republican majority in the State Senate – which consistently opposes every affordable housing preservation initiative. Is this really a group that should have the ear of the city’s top housing policymakers on this subject?

A recent report issued  by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, “Check the Facts and Consider the Source: Campaign Cash and REBNY’s Real Record on Affordable Housing” reveals that although REBNY represents New York City owners and developers, the group furthers its policy agenda by investing heavily in elections upstate and on Long Island. In the month before last fall’s state elections, the group’s new “Jobs for New York” political action committee raised $2.5 million toward the goal of electing Republicans in Senate districts. The effort was successful: In the five races targeted - all outside of New York City - Republican candidates won, moving the Senate to complete GOP control.

A look back over the past 10 years further demonstrates a strong pattern:

  • Over the decade from October 2004 through October 2014, the Real Estate Board PAC was the #2 interest-group donor to the New York Republican State Committee, second only to the landlords’ Rent Stabilization Association PAC.

  • Over the decade from October 2004 through October 2014, the Real Estate Board PAC was consistently in the top ten largest interest-group donors to the NYS Senate Republican Campaign Committee, giving $454,000.

  • Over the decade from October 2004 through 2014, the Real Estate Board PAC gave more than four times as much to the Republican senate campaign committee as to the Democratic one.

  • From 2011 to 2013, despite being a New York City organization, nearly three-quarters of REBNY contributions went to candidates in districts outside the city.

  • When the contributions of REBNY officers are added to the mix – like those of Glenwood Management owner Leonard Litwin – the numbers become even more dramatic. From 2011 to 2013, the combined group gave 31 times as much to the Republican State Senate Committee as to the Democratic one.

In the words of veteran housing activist Michael McKee, “Real estate money has prevented action on any and all bills that would benefit tenants or stop the loss of affordable housing. Not a single pro-tenant bill has made it to the floor [of the state Senate] in the last four years.”

Yet city and state officials have been heard parroting REBNY’s self-serving “argument.” Why not learn, instead, from the people who work to build affordable housing day in and day out? We at GVSHP queried those professionals, and they found it laughable to connect landmarking to the challenges of building affordable housing. Rather, they said the top obstacles to such development include the rising costs of land and construction; scarce and declining subsidies; and an inability to reap the economies of scale that market-rate developers depend on.

Another reason to “consider the source” is REBNY’s record of crying wolf over the designation of historic districts that today’s New Yorkers consider essential. Just after the Landmarks Law was signed in 1965, a REBNY official was quoted in the New York Times warning that the new law would “seriously impede the modern expansion and progress of the city” – a prediction that clearly did not come true.

In 1986, REBNY opposed the designation of the Ladies’ Mile Historic District on lower Fifth Avenue, saying it would have “a chilling effect on the renovations and adaptations of long-vacant buildings” – clearly belied by today’s vibrant shopping district with robust rental rates. In 1988, REBNY opposed the creation of the Central Park West Historic District, explaining that it was opposing this one because it always opposes them. For decades, the group has been calling for our city’s landmarks law to be rolled back.

From the current investigation of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to the recent indictment of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Speaker – who is accused, among other things, of using Litwin’s Glenwood Management to get kickbacks – the paths that real estate money takes in New York city and state government are often not pretty. And their attempts to influence the process extend far beyond the state Legislature; indeed, REBNY’s largesse has been lavished on both Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio.

But that’s not a good reason to let the Real Estate Board become the authors of, or authorities on, public policy about affordable housing or landmarking. We wouldn’t want the NRA to write legislation about gun safety, nor the oil and gas industry to dictate policy on renewable energy sources. Check the record, and consider the source.

Karen Loew is Director of East Village and Special Projects at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

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