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


mayorsoffice rikers island

(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


time share airbnb

(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


rally city hall

(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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While Waiting on the State, Steps on Marijuana for the Mayor and NYPD


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(Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Smoking marijuana in public will only be legalized if the New York State Assembly and Senate – huffing and puffing – change the penal law.

With no change, the real problem in New York City is the collateral consequences – past, present, and future – arrests for marijuana cause thousands of black and Hispanic New Yorkers disproportionately impacted by the NYPD’s approach. These consequences include issues when applying for a license or job, or leading to deportation proceedings as mandated by President Trump’s onerous immigration executive order.   

These consequences could start to be mitigated if Mayor Bill de Blasio will “tell” – actually order – his police commissioner not to make misdemeanor marijuana arrests and instead directs the NYPD to issue a non-criminal summons when marijuana is smoked publicly. Additionally, de Blasio must enlist all five of the city’s district attorneys to decline criminal marijuana prosecutions – only the Manhattan and Brooklyn D.A.s have taken up this policy.  

If the NYPD submits, a misdemeanor marijuana arrest will virtually be eliminated as a criminal charge, fingerprints will not be taken, nor sent to the FBI. For a non-criminal summons a fine can be paid by mail. This process would in essence decriminalize marijuana.  

The proposed mayoral no-arrest policy – guaranteed to cause consternation at the NYPD’s highest level – will generate a reflex response that not making marijuana misdemeanor arrests is inconsistent with enforcing the law and it is Albany’s responsibility to change the law.   

As he assigned a 30-day review of marijuana enforcement, de Blasio’s hopeful statement, “I respect the NYPD, which has proven the ability to innovate to come up with the how. I have a mandate for them, I’m convinced they will figure out how to act on it,” is unrealistic.

The mayor cannot really believe that the NYPD will voluntarily recommend “innovative” ideas – in 30 days – or significantly change its crime strategies of stopping, frisking, seizing marijuana, and arresting a person for smoking it in public, after 50-plus years of no progressive ideas for how to effectively address this issue.  

The NYPD’s hazy and quick response after de Blasio’s announcement is hardly encouraging, “The (NYPD) 30-day Working Group on marijuana enforcement is underway, and this issue is certainly part of that review.  The Working Group is reviewing possession and public smoking of marijuana to ensure enforcement is consistent with the values of fairness and trust, while also promoting public safety and addressing community concerns.”

There was a sleight of hand NYPD “reform” concerning marijuana arrests to ease the public pressure when stop-and-frisks were at all-time highs.

Since 2013, the NYPD, instead of criminally processing a person arrested, has often given a Desk Appearance Ticket – a misdemeanor criminal summons for public smoking – after a person is arrested, photographed, and fingerprinted, if there is no outstanding warrant for that person’s arrest.  The only real DAT benefit is the person is not incarcerated for 10 or 20 or more hours waiting for a criminal court arraignment.

Annually, more than 15,000 individuals were arrested and charged with a misdemeanor, overwhelmingly receiving a DAT for smoking pot in public, and approximately 30,000 non-criminal summonses were issued for pot possession.  

For these 45,000 New Yorkers and the hundreds of thousands before and after them, the collateral consequences for arrests and even for non-criminal summonses continue.   

While legalization is debated the Legislature and the Governor must immediately enact an exemption to state law that currently mandates fingerprinting a person arrested for criminal possession of marijuana.

The Legislature and the Governor must specifically exclude from disclosure any pending or adjudicated marijuana arrest or non-criminal summons issued or asked about in any employment application for public service, a license or to obtain any public benefit.

While the mayor, the governor, and the Legislature dither about the legalization of marijuana, it is time for the mayor, after four-and-a-half years in office, to lead – and drag the NYPD along – to eliminate marijuana arrests, which will start to end the collateral consequences.  

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Arnold Kriss is a Manhattan attorney who formerly served as a Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney and Deputy Commissioner of Trials in the NYPD.

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‘Fairest Big City’ Wouldn’t Keep Homeless New Yorkers Out of Housing


mayorbilldeblasio dickens

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


In February at Mayor de Blasio's State of the City address, we heard plans to make New York City "the fairest big city in America." During his speech, the mayor talked about affordable housing, universal pre-K, and even global warming. But who was forgotten in his speech? The more than 64,000 homeless New Yorkers who face discrimination every day in their search for housing and stability.

I am one of the 64,000 people living in a shelter in this "fair" city. I've been homeless for over a year. I was first given the Special Exit and Prevention Supplement (SEPS) voucher last July. SEPS is a program that is supposed to help me secure housing and pay a portion of my rent—but I've been unable to find a landlord who will accept it, even though refusing vouchers is illegal in New York City. My story is not unique. Thousands of homeless New Yorkers like me can pay rent but can’t find housing due to rampant source-of-income discrimination by landlords and brokers. This isn’t just plain wrong, it’s against the law. 

In fact, in 2008, Mayor de Blasio himself (then a City Council member) wrote legislation amending the Human Rights Law to include protections from source-of-income discrimination, and celebrated this victory as making New York City one of the strongest anti-discrimination cities in the country. 

I work four days a week, go to school on Fridays, and in my few free moments, I search for housing. I see a housing specialist, I call brokers who who post ads for apartments, and I fill out applications for the affordable housing lottery. I have conversation after conversation at my church, in my workplace, and at school, to find out if anyone has a new lead for housing. This process has exhausted me, tested my mental and physical health, and above all, has made me angry that anyone could call this city "fair" or on the way to “fairest.”  

The mayor began his first term promising to "end the tale of two cities," and began his second with the “fairest big city” goal. Meanwhile, he's created so little deeply affordable housing and not nearly enough support for the thousands of us who are without a home. Without real action, a slogan of "fairness" is a slap in the face to New Yorkers who are homeless and discriminated against.

Now, I hear Mayor de Blasio is proposing to cut $1.7 million from the city’s Commission on Human Rights (CCHR)—the agency in charge of helping people who face discrimination.  I know that these rental assistance programs are riddled with problems, and they are not the perfect solution to homelessness. But right now, they are the most immediate ticket out of this struggle, and their use must be protected.

Homeless New Yorkers and advocates rallied at City Hall recently to protest Mayor de Blasio’s proposed budget cuts to the CCHR. The administration's response angered me more: we were made to feel like our demands were unreasonable and were told that the cuts would not impact the source-of-income discrimination work at the CCHR. We heard that all five people who currently make up that unit won't be impacted at all. Even so -- five people to protect tens of thousands' right to housing!

Any money cut to the commission renders its work less effective, period. Any cut signals to New Yorkers that the mayor simply does not consider the anti-discrimination work of the commission a priority. And most of all, allowing the CCHR to exist without adequate resources represents Mayor de Blasio’s fragmented and flawed approach to solving homelessness.

If Mayor de Blasio wants to make New York City “the fairest big city in America,” he can start by doing everything in his power to make sure the city's most vulnerable people are protected by the law and can find permanent housing.

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Georgia Morgan is a member of VOCAL-NY, a grassroots organization that builds power among low-income people impacted by homelessness, HIV/AIDS, drug use, and mass incarceration. On Twitter @VOCALNewYork.

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Latino New Yorkers Must Find Common Ground to Move Toward Progress


Puerto Rican Day Parade

Puerto Rican Day Parade (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office)


About 2.5 million New York City residents are Latino, making the community the second largest ethnic group in the city only after non-Latino whites. The majority of the city’s Latino population is U.S. born and nearly 80% say they speak Spanish at home.

But despite strong population growth, Latino New Yorkers face a number of adverse conditions that continue to put constraints on their economic progress. About 26.4% of all Latino families live in poverty. That number jumps to 49.9% among households led by women with children. Immigration status, high unemployment, and displacement are just a few of the pressing contributing factors leaving Latinos behind.

The Latino community must work together to shape its future.

With that in mind, last year three Latino research institutes at CUNY—the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, Center for Puerto Rican Studies (Hunter College-CUNY) and the Mexican Studies Institute —along with other partners, held the first ever New York City Summit on Latinos (SoL-NYC), to forge advocacy coalitions to develop an action-based agenda of policy priorities that can move the Latino community forward.

As we prepare to hold the second SoL-NYC Summit on Friday, June 1, we released a set of recommendations produced at last year’s conference through the participation of over 40 representatives of Latino or Latino-serving organizations. While it identifies some of the constraints on Latinos in New York City, it also calls for immediate action.

The recommendations include education reforms responsive to the linguistic and cultural needs of our children; increasing civic and political participation of the community; better access to jobs and economic opportunities, as well as strengthening the city’s “sanctuary” status to better protect law-abiding immigrants at risk of deportation.

This year is particularly important given the federal government’s one-sided focus on immigration, the upcoming gubernatorial election, where Latinos could play a crucial role, and the still-painful devastation left in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria. The aftermath of Maria in particular is driving a new exodus to the New York area of Puerto Rican families, which could once again bring demographic change.

As academic institutions, we do not engage in direct action or endorse political candidates. However, we recognize the importance such strategies bring to other stakeholders as they see fit.

Latinos are not a homogeneous group. In New York City, Hispanics represent over 20 different countries of origin and national ethnicities, which can pose a challenge to finding a common agenda.

As conveners, our role is to produce data and non-partisan policy analysis as well as an important space for key stakeholders to find common ground, build alliances, and strengthen their organizing power.

Latinos are strong in numbers; we are the youngest New Yorkers, with a median age of 31 and 36% under the age of 18. We now need to come together to wake up our own sleeping giant and create change.

It is encouraging to see Latinas obtaining college degrees at a faster pace now and also represented among new candidates for office and those recently elected.

However, there are deep, ongoing challenges -- the unemployment rate is still very high, for example, at 11%, compared to the overall unemployment rate of 3.9% in New York City (as of December 2017). Who is making sure that every job creation effort at the city and state levels includes Latinos? Without good-paying jobs there is no upward mobility for a group that’s the poorest and whose diversity brings language barriers as well as different educational levels and immigration statuses. Those are the kinds of discussion our annual conference wants to foster.

While the Puerto Rican and Dominican populations have been growing and spreading around the country, New York City remains the place with the most Puerto Ricans and Dominicans anywhere in the United States. New York City is also the seat of Puerto Rican and Dominican political power at the local, state, and federal levels, given both representation and influence. The Mexican population in the city continues to grow as well, leading also to political empowerment at the city level. Overall, Latinos have become nearly one-quarter of the New York City electorate, mirroring the importance of the Latino vote on the national level.

We are calling on neighborhood leaders, organizations, and other stakeholders in the Latino community to use the conference as a powerful tool to help bring the much-needed resources Latinos need.

Latinos are in good position to drive legislative change. Let’s take advantage of that power to make New York City a more livable home for Latinos and everybody else!

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Carlos Vargas-Ramos, Director of Policy, External and Media Relations, Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College (CUNY).

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The Battle for Urban Economic Sovereignty is Set to Begin


governorandcuomo rail project

(photo via the Governor's office)


One of the most powerful financial tools in the United States federal government’s financial toolbox is its relationship to the Federal Reserve Bank, which can create money “out of thin air” and then use it to buy the federal government’s debt: treasury bills, bonds, and notes. While the primary purpose of these “open market operations” is to manage U.S. money supply, a convenient side effect is that that the Federal Reserve can, in the words of the Economist magazine, “buy up trillions of government debt, pushing down the cost of borrowing even as governments run up historic peacetime deficits.“

This monetary flexibility allows the federal government to spend more than it earns, and go into massive debt (over $20 trillion!), and still retain the confidence of investors, governments, and its citizens. Per capita, the federal government has over $60,000 of debt per citizen, the second highest debt per capita in the world, for anyone interested in keeping score.

U.S. state and local governments still carry tremendous debt, but since they don’t have their own central banks to bail them out, they have to maintain some semblance of a balanced budget. In practical terms, this means states and city governments can go into debt to pay for capital expenses like bridges and infrastructure, but not operational expenses like social and basic service provision.

In the words of the National Conference of State Legislatures: “unlike the federal government, states are not able to issue debt routinely. Issues of general obligation debt require at least the approval of the legislature and in many states, voter approval. The issue of revenue bonds requires legislation to create an agency to issue bonds and the creation of a revenue stream to repay the debt.”

Blockchain technology can change this dynamic.

First, by enabling sub-national governments to issues bonds faster, better, cheaper, and more regularly than ever before, and then by allowing these entities to create their own local currencies and “central banks” to manage them.

Ultimately, this technology will enables cities, states, and networks thereof to develop similar capabilities as national central banks, launching a whole new era of municipal finance and create new sources of local wealth.

You might have heard of Bitcoin -- a speculative “cryptocurrency” that emerged mysteriously as a quirky open source software project in 2009. At the time of its launch, the value of a bitcoin was, basically, one cent. Now its value hovers around $10,000.

That massive increase in value has prompted lots of coverage of Bitcoin as a phenomenon -- but only recently has media attention shifted to the unique type of database that was first introduced to the world via bitcoin -- and that database technology is called blockchain.

Lots of people explain blockchain well, so here, just the bottomline: blockchain database technologies are extremely good at producing “digital cash,” executing financial transactions and digitizing complex multiparty financial contracts like stocks and bonds.

Five years ago, blockchain technology was only familiar to cypher punks, open source aficionados, libertarians and fin-tech geeks. Today, the technology is being used by big banks to speed up their SWIFT international fund transfer systems, by countries to create new national digital currency systems, and by entrepreneurs and online communities to create their own currency systems outside the purview of the nation-state.

The first hints at how subnational governments within the U.S. could leverage this technology are coming into focus.

Berkeley, California, in partnership with municipal crowdfunding platform Neighborly and the Berkeley Blockchain Lab, is exploring how to issue municipal bonds on the blockchain, and then to pay interest on those bonds with tokens that can be used at local businesses.

There are many potential benefits to this approach. Cities can save money on the costs of issuing bonds, they can offer smaller bonds that were, in the past, prohibitively expensive to issue, and they can use the blockchain’s native ability to document transaction histories to create radically transparent bond offerings -- allowing bond holders to see a precise log of how the bond they purchased resulted in a piece of city infrastructure. By offering interest payments in tokens, the city can establish a technically sophisticated local currency system that can keep incentivizing people to spend their money locally, creating a local multiplier effect.

Unlike past “local money” systems such as Berkeley Bucks, Ithaca Hours, or the much more modern Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) emerging in towns around the United Kingdom, blockchain-based token systems can actually function within the framework for modern finance. Token prices can float in international markets, they can be sent anywhere in the world, saved, loaned, invested, used in contracts, and more. They truly are an alternative currency, and as such, municipal token systems could be managed by a new type of municipal central bank that, like the Federal Reserve, could create tokens “out of thin air” and use them to buy municipal debt -- and back the entire system with municipal assets like real estate, tax rebates, tolls, and more.

The political implications of increased municipal financial autonomy powered by blockchain-based technology could be extremely significant, particularly in the United States, where tremendous anxiety is generated by federally-funded, locally-implemented programs like public housing, abortion clinics, and immigration enforcement policies.

If municipalities had the type of monetary powers that are currently exclusively controlled by the federal government, then it’s very possible more resources will be available for programs popular at local levels but not national ones.

Berkeley City Council Member Ben Bartlett explains in Forbes:

“We decide to explore new forms of finance in response to the cuts from DC and corporate tax cuts that took away our ability to fund affordable housing. There are more than one-thousand homeless people living in Berkeley, which is projected to increase by a factor of five in the coming years. Many cities, just like Berkeley, are under a funding assault – we have to think outside of the box in order to solve this problem.“

As the Trump Administration advances federal programs and policies that push cities away, he is also pushing them towards new financial models and technologies that have the potential to transform the relationship between cities, states and nations.

Buckle up -- it’s likely to be a bumpy ride.

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Devin Balkind is a technologist and nonprofit executive who works on civic technology projects in New York City through Sarapis Foundation and on humanitarian projects around the world through Sahana Software Foundation. He was a candidate for New York City Public Advocate in 2017. On Twitter @DevinBalkind.

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