Bloomberg and Rattner
October 14th, 2010

With all the attention the skullduggery at the state pension fund is getting, we can’t help but be curious as to why the press has paid so little attention to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ties to Steven Rattner.

Rattner agreed to pay $5 million in fines to the Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday. He still is under investigation by the state attorney general. As described in Bloomberg News, “Rattner allegedly paid $1.1 million in finder fees to Henry Hank Morris, the former chief political consultant to ex-New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi, according to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. In exchange, Quadrangle received an investment from the fund, said Cuomo,.”

In common parlance, this could be called bribing a public official.

Bloomberg’s ties to Rattner go deep. Again, according to Bloomberg News (which was not as shy as other press outlets about making the connection): “Quadrangle Asset Management has handled the personal and philanthropic finances of New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, whom Rattner supported through his chairmanship of Democrats for Bloomberg during the 2005 re-election campaign.”

In February, Bloomberg removed $5 billion from Quadrangle into a new firm that, the Times reported, would be solely focused on Bloomberg and his foundation. Rattner apparently would play a key role in creating this new entity — even though he already was under investigation.

The little matter of a cool million in bribes apparently has not shaken the mayor’s faith. Last night he and Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger (wonderful how power works in this town, isn’t it?) hosted a party for Rattner. At the gathering, the mayor riffed about who night play Rattner in a movie and then reportedly praised him for saving the country as President Barack Obama’s auto czar. No mention of how much he cost the state.

Interestingly, the Times blog post on Rattner does not mention his connection to the mayor, beyond a final sentence about the party. Rattner once worked at the Times.

More on the press coverage after the jump.
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By on October 14, 2010, 11:49 am
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A Tale of Two Comptrollers
October 7th, 2010

One comptroller’s big loss came with another’s gain today.

Allan Hevesi, of course, ranks as the day’s big loser. The former city and state comptroller has pleaded guilty to felonies related to his steering a quarter of a billion in state pension money to an investment firm that gave him lavish overseas trips and contributed to his campaigns.

“Hevesi acknowledged receiving nearly $1 million in gifts in exchange for improperly favoring and approving a $250 million investment in Markstone Capital Partners, L.P. from the New York State Common Retirement Fund,” a statement from the office of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said.

Hevesi, who was released on his own recognizance, faces up to four years in prison.

But the bad news for Hevesi came with good news for his successor: current State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. DiNapoli, who is running to win election to the post he has held since being appointed in 2006, has been dogged by charges and rumors that Cuomo’s long-running probe of skullduggery at the pension fund could reach him. Today though Cuomo gave DiNapoli a clean bill of health. (For the record, although both men are Democrats — and although DiNapoli backs Cuomo — Cuomo has not yet endorsed DiNapoli.)

The statement after the jump.
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By on October 7, 2010, 2:19 pm
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Sick Leave Movement
October 7th, 2010

We got word Council Speaker Christine Quinn is sitting down with supporters and opponents of the sick leave bill today in hopes of potentially finding a compromise.

Supporters of the proposal, which would require businesses to provide sick days, take the sit-down as a good sign, saying the speaker has expressed willingness to create an open dialogue and negotiate.

One critic of the bill seemed less optimistic — saying only to check back in tomorrow.

Just last week, the opposing sides released dueling studies on the bill’s impact. The study from the Partnership for New York City put the proposal’s price tag at $789 million annually, while a study from the Drum Major Institute said it would have no deleterious effect on city business.

After the sit-downs were scheduled, a rally scheduled for this morning by supporters of the bill was abruptly canceled.

By on October 7, 2010, 2:14 pm
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Stringer Responds to Quinn... Again
October 5th, 2010

Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, both anticipated candidates for mayor in 2013, are once again clashing over a bill to count vacant buildings and lots stalled at the council.

After Quinn’s spokesperson responded to Stringer’s criticism in the Wonkster late last week, Stringer, once again, sent over a response.

This is the response to Quinn’s response to Stringer’s criticism. Follow me?

From Stringer:

Lets set the record straight: My 2007 report on vacant, under-utilized land in Manhattan produced major policy changes. As a result of these efforts, and with my strong support, Assemblyman Herman D. Farrell and Senator Jose M. Serrano introduced legislation in 2008which Gov. David Paterson signed into lawremoving special tax treatments for vacant residential sites above 110th street. The measure also provided financial incentives for owners who build affordable housing on these sites. In approving this bill, the state legislature took decisive action. But the city council has dropped the ball. With my endorsement, then Council member David Yassky introduced a measure calling for an annual citywide survey of such properties, to see if they could be used as new housing resources for homeless people, as well as hospitals, schools community gardens and the like. Armed with the results, we could fill so many unmet needs in our city. But unfortunately the legislation has languished in the city council without a full hearing or discussion. Then as now, I call upon the council to conduct an annual survey of vacant properties that could be transformed into vibrant new uses and benefit all New Yorkers.

By on October 5, 2010, 8:11 am
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Quinn, Stringer Showdown?
October 1st, 2010

Yes, both are potential mayoral candidates in 2013.

It might be a little early for a full-blown rivalry, but Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer definitely disagree on a proposal to survey the city’s vacant properties stalled at the City Council. The bill, which has 28 sponsors, would create an annual accounting of all of the city’s vacant buildings and lots.

The group pushing the proposal, Picture the Homeless, hope it would spur the development of those properties as temporary housing for the homeless. Quinn said this week the survey would be “enormously expensive” and the money for it would be better used serving the homeless.

In response to our reporting on the issue, Stringer sent over the following statement.

I am disappointed that the City Council quashed legislation that would survey vacant buildings throughout the city, in order to identify new sources of temporary housing for the homeless.

In 2007 I released the results of Manhattan’s first ever survey of vacant properties, finding that there is a significant number of vacancies in the borough representing potential for thousands of new affordable housing units. Along with the results, I proposed an annual survey of vacant buildings which had been actively backed by Anti-Homeless organizations. Although there is a cost to this idea, its potential long-term value to the city is so obvious.

If a citywide vacant lot count would indeed cost millions of dollars, then I believe we should look to more creative options, rather than throw up our hands and pull the plug on this important initiative.

One possible approach to a vacant lot count that keeps costs low would be to utilize volunteers from the Mayors NYC Service program. The City already dispatches volunteers for its annual street homeless count, so this approach would not be without precedent. And, to be honest, counting vacant lots isnt rocket science. It would require a minimal amount of training. Most able bodied New Yorkers interested in enhancing the long-term vitality of their communities could make a positive contribution by participating in a city-wide vacant lot count.

I call on the City Council to reconsider this decision and let this badly-needed housing program go forward. We cannot afford to be pennywise and pound foolish at a time when the recession has made day to day survival for the homeless tougher than ever.

In response to Stringer’s statement, Maria Alvarado, Quinn’s spokesperson, said the bill at the council would require the survey of vacant buildings, which is “more complicated” than just counting empty lots. The council applauds the borough president for his study, Alvarado said, but simultaneously asks what “clear policy changes” came out of it?

By on October 1, 2010, 1:35 pm
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Quinn Reacts to Sick Leave Study
September 29th, 2010

For months, Council Speaker Christine Quinn has put off opining on a proposal to require paid sick leave in the city, saying she wanted to wait for the results of a study on the issue by business leader, the Partnership for New York City.

That study came out yesterday, saying the proposal would cost $789 million. Also yesterday, the Drum Major Institute released its own study on the issue, saying the proposal wouldn’t harm job or business growth.

Quinn — granted she has had only one day to mull it over — isn’t ready to say which one she sides with.

“I am considering all of the pros, all the cons,” said Quinn. “There are few bills that are perfect.”

She said the council was “reviewing” the studies and would make a decision on the bill, which has a super majority of support in the council, “very soon.”

By on September 29, 2010, 2:58 pm
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Labor Slams Bloomberg Cuts
September 21st, 2010

Talk about timing.

After a breakfast this morning where two deputy mayors talked of taking on the city’s unions and the adminsitration announced a new hiring freeze and budget cuts, Lillian Roberts, the executive director of the city’s largest municipal workers union, DC37, is slamming the adminsitration.

Here is her response:

City workers deliver essential services that New Yorkers need to maintain a decent quality of life. Were already working with bare-bones staffing in most agencies. Now, what does the Mayor do? He puts a freeze on citywide hiring of the very men and women who deliver these essential services.

What he needs to do is put a freeze on outside contracts that prop up private consultants by squandering taxpayers dollars on operations with cost overruns in the millions of dollars, like CityTime, or seek to sell off city services and throw experienced, dedicated city workers out on the street, like the HHC restructuring plan.

The Bloomberg adminsitration sent a letter to all agency heads today asking for $800 million in cuts for the current fiscal year (Uniformed forces and education could see cuts of 2.7 percent, while all other agencies could see 5.4 percent cuts). For the next fiscal year, which starts in July, the adminsitration is hoping to see $1.2 billion in savings, with 4 percent cuts for uniformed agencies and 8 percent for all others.

According to the mayor’s office, the city faces a $3.3 billion budget gap for fiscal year 2012. All agency cuts must be submitted by Oct. 8.

By on September 21, 2010, 2:04 pm
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Empire Center and Council Spar Over Member Items
September 20th, 2010

Better late than never.

After more than six months, the Empire Center for New York State Policy is finally going to get a slew of information on the City Council’s member items requested through the state Freedom of Information Law. The request was filed shortly before Council Speaker Christine Quinn unveiled a new member items database, allowing New Yorkers to search through the council’s member items for this fiscal year.

The center had requested member items going back to 2006, including contact information for any nonprofit that received funding.

When it didn’t receive anything after several months, the state watchdog filed a suit against the council. Tim Hoefer, the center’s director of operations, said they plan to drop the suit as long as they get the information promised. According to the Daily News, they should receive the information on Wednesday.

“This is a victory for taxpayers throughout New York,” said Hoefer in a prepared statement. “We applaud Speaker Quinn for acknowledging the tardiness of the Council’s response to our FOIL and for her commitment to expanding openness in the future.”

The center operates the popular SeeThroughNY database, which catalogs all sorts of public information, including members items on the state level.

By on September 20, 2010, 1:11 pm
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Quinn Responds to Lopez Nonprofit
September 16th, 2010

The City Council will not freeze funding for the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council — a nonprofit founded by Assemblymember Vito Lopez now under investigation by the city’s Department of Investigation — but it will check in with the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services to “get further information,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn this afternoon.

The nonprofit came under fire this week after the Department of Investigation reported dysfunction and so-called incompetence within the organization and its board. Lopez denies this.

This fiscal year the council gave more than $581,000 to the group through its member items. All member items, Quinn said today, go through a rigorous vetting process by the council and the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services.

When asked this afternoon whether the funding of Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council called that vetting process into question, Quinn said, “We have a process that we believe is the best out there in the country.”

By on September 16, 2010, 2:46 pm
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Council Gives to Lopez Nonprofit
September 16th, 2010

The now under fire Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, the nonprofit founded by Brooklyn boss Assemblymember Vito Lopez, received nearly $17.9 million in government subsidies in 2009.

That funding is now under intense scrutiny by the city Department of Investigation, which says the nonprofit is dysfunctional, has a clueless board, bloated staff salaries and little oversight of the programs it funds, according to a report released yesterday.

But none of that means the nonprofit isn’t a favorite for city politicians to give to. In fiscal year 2011, which spans from July 2010 to June 2011, the City Council allocated $581,385 via its member items.

Councilmember Erik Martin Dilan, whose district overlaps Lopez’s, gave the most with $198,875. Councilmember Stephen Levin, a former staffer for Lopez, allocated $64,000 to the so-called dysfunctional nonprofit, Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley gave $18,510 and an additional $300,000 was allocated from the entire City Council (otherwise known as the speaker’s pot).

The Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council is a common beneficiary of council member items. The Brooklyn delegation gave the group $350,000 last fiscal year as did Crowley, Dilan and the entire council.

To the Post yesterday, Lopez denied the nonprofit was dysfunctional, calling it efficient.

By on September 16, 2010, 11:24 am
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Special Election Called for November
August 30th, 2010

As predicted, the special election to replace the late Thomas White on the City Council was called by Mayor Michael Bloomberg today for November 2.

Here is the release from the mayor’s office.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced that a special non-partisan election will be held in the 28th Council District on November 2nd, the date of the regularly scheduled general election, to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Council Member Thomas White, Jr. Pursuant to the City Charter, the nomination of candidates in the election will be by independent nominating petition, rather than through a party primary.

The newly elected Council Member will serve until December 31, 2011. A second election to fill the remainder of the term will be held on Election Day in November 2011.

By on August 30, 2010, 4:35 pm
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Getting Your Say on Charter Revision
August 26th, 2010

Want to tell all registered voters what you think about the two ballot proposals approved by the Charter Revision Commission?

Here’s your chance.

The Campaign Finance Board is asking for pro and con submissions on the charter reform proposals to include in its voter guide.

To learn more, go here.

By on August 26, 2010, 12:04 pm
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Court: City Can't Tax Diplomats
August 17th, 2010

A federal appeals court sided with India and Mongolia over the Bloomberg adminsitration today, saying the city cannot collect property taxes on diplomatic spaces not used for so-called diplomatic purposes.

According to the Department of Finance, the city is owed about $590 million in outstanding property taxes. At least $278 million of that debt is directly related to foreign missions, like those owned by Mongolia and India. According to City Room, it is not clear whether today’s ruling would affect taxes previously collected by these types of properties.

Our chart below breaks down who owes what to the city — from Iran to Bulgaria. According to the Department of Finance, the largest sovereign debtor goes to Hungary, which the city argues owes $139 million in property taxes.

Click on the chart to interact.

By on August 17, 2010, 4:18 pm
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Firm Selected for Living Wage Study
August 12th, 2010

The city Economic Development Corp. has selected Boston-based Charles River Associates to conduct a $1 million study on the impact of living wage policies across the country and how they might affect the Big Apple’s economy.

The study is in response to an outcry from labor unions and advocates for the city to adopt a living wage — a debate that culminated in the defeat of a controversial development project in the Bronx last year called the Kingsbridge Armory. The City Council voted the plan down when the developer would not promise to force retail tenants to pay a living wage.

The adminsitration has said it would like to conduct a study before it considered any widespread policy, and the move has effectively stalled two pieces of living wage legislation at the council — one to require a living wage for building service workers at city-assisted developments and another that would require all city subsidized developments pay a living wage.

Daniel Hamermesh, a well respected professor at the University of Texas at Austin, will be the chief economist on the study, which is expected to be completed in the spring of 2011. He is also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Matthew Thompson, a vice president at Charles River Associates, will lead the project.

Even before Charles River Associates was selected as the consultant, elected officials and living wage advocates were debating the potential results. Comptroller John Liu called it a “sham” in June after the Economic Development Corp. failed to appoint an advisory panel of labor economists to oversee the study’s methodology and results.

Now some advocates are questioning the objectivity of at least one member of the study’s team, specifically David Neumark, a professor of economics at the University of California and a fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California. Neumark has authored several studies questioning the economic viability of living wage laws.
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By on August 12, 2010, 5:50 pm
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City Gets FMAP Funding
August 4th, 2010

Phew.

After a slew of warnings and threats of layoffs, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said today New Yorkers need not fear for the city’s share of federal Medicaid funding. It was approved today by the Senate, bringing another $400 million to the city. In addition, the city will get another $200 million in education aid.

According to the mayor’s statement, in full below, the budget approved by the council in June assumed the city would get this funding.

Here is the mayor’s statement:

Todays vote in the Senate is a major step towards extending the Federal Medicaid cost relief that was initially provided in the stimulus package known as FMAP and increasing Federal support for education. The Senate and House each previously passed bills including an extension of the FMAP program and cities and states around the country, including New York City, factored the assistance into their budget plans. A strong majority of the Senate today rightly decided to put partisan and electoral politics aside to ensure cities and states receive this funding, preventing possible layoffs and harmful budget cuts.

Early this summer, State leaders joined me to convene a meeting at Gracie Mansion with members of our congressional delegation to stress the importance of these dollars and the serious implications that would result if the funding did not come through. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew joined me in Washington this summer to tell our Congressional leaders that increased Federal support is essential to continuing the progress we have made in our schools. Todays vote demonstrates our message was heard.
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By on August 4, 2010, 4:09 pm
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Horses Get Sick Time
July 15th, 2010

In an attempt to move the stalled paid sick leave bill, advocates showed up at Central Park yesterday to point out carriage horses get time off (the result of a bill passed earlier this year), but people aren’t guaranteed sick time.

We couldn’t make it, but they sent over photos.

What a juxtaposition.

horseaction 007

In March, the paid sick leave bill got a hearing, but nothing has happened since. Council Speaker Christine Quinn still hasn’t taken a position on it.

By on July 15, 2010, 10:30 am
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Charter Commission Dives Into Priorities
July 12th, 2010

It’s a sure bet the city Charter Revision Commission will send term limits back to the voters this fall, but it’s too soon to tell what proposal will be the odds on favorite.

Members of the city’s Charter Revision Commission met in a crowded, sweltry room in Lower Manhattan this evening to try to cull through proposals offered by its staff in a preliminary report released Friday. The report recommends myriad issues for the commission to explore — none more controversial than term limits.

So far, the report breaks down the issue by asking whether to go back to the voters with just two terms or to offer three terms for members of the City Council and just two for the mayor, comptroller and public advocate. Tonight it appeared commissioners favored rescinding the controversial third term extension approved by the council in 2008 and going back to two terms.

“Since the people not once, but twice voted for two, two’s what should be on the ballot,” said Commissioner Kenneth M. Moltner.

Following the meeting, Commission Chairman Matthew Goldstein said the commission has not ruled out three terms. “There is varied views on this,” he said.

Several commissioners also suggested allowing voters to opine on doing away with term limits entirely.

Also at hand is the issue of who can extend term limits and when. While the issue of banning the council from acting on term limits again was initially palatable to commissioners and members of the public, several commissioners this evening said the prohibition would likely be challenged in court. The consensus tonight was to require any legislative change in term limits apply to a future class.

Following initial expectations that the commission would dive into issues of government power (like doing away with the public advocate), land use and nonpartisan elections, Goldstein said these topics were too large to fully dissect before this fall’s election.
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By on July 12, 2010, 10:20 pm
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Charter Commission Puts out a Preliminary To Do List
July 9th, 2010

Those hoping the city’s Charter Revision Commission will consider term limits, instant run off voting and the consolidation of the Voter Assistance Commission (which we report on here) with the Campaign Finance Board are in luck.

But if you were banking on a boost to borough presidents’ power or rescinding the authority to oversee lobbyists from the city clerk, better luck next year.

The preliminary staff report from the commission was released this afternoon, which outlines recommendations for how the commission should proceed.

On term limits, the staff recommended the commission get more comment from the public on whether the charter should limit terms to two, possibly three for City Council members and prohibit council members from extending their own terms.

To increase voter participation, the report suggests the commission get more pubic comment on instant run off voting to select party candidates in primaries for citywide offices. The report floats the possibility of putting the issue on the ballot in November (We have covered this issue extensively here and here and here). This system would require voters rank their three top candidates during a primary election, and it would eliminate the need for runoffs.

Also to bring out the vote, the report recommends cutting the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot in half to 3,750 signatures for citywide candidates, 2,000 for borough-wide candidates and 450 for City Council candidates.
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By on July 9, 2010, 5:29 pm
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1:30 and Waiting
June 29th, 2010

It wouldn’t be a budget day without delay.

It’s 1:30 and the council chamber is… well, empty. That is besides a few random reporters twiddling their thumbs waiting for the day’s hearings. This morning’s 11:30 a.m. zoning committee has yet to commence (they are scheduled to approve the massive Domino Sugar factory project on the Williamsburg waterfront).

And it would be safe to say the 1:30 finance committee hearing won’t be occurring anytime soon.

Stay tuned.

By on June 29, 2010, 1:47 pm
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Where was Crowley?
June 25th, 2010

Noticeably absent from last night’s late night budget announcement was Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, the chair of the council’s Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee.

Since a key piece of the budget agreement was saving 20 fire companies from closure, we wondered why the councilmember wasn’t there.

We just checked in with her spokesperson Meredith Burak, who said Crowley had to run back to her kids and had several night events. Crowley’s office did have time to send out a release before Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the budget deal. The release had this headline: “CROWLEY DECLARES VICTORY OVER SAVING FIREHOUSES.”

By on June 25, 2010, 12:10 pm
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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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