Council and Administration Spar Over Wages
May 11th, 2010

The administration says it’s open to sitting down with council members to discuss a bill to require prevailing wages for service employees at city subsidized developments.

But that was after a representative from the administration said the bill would squash economic development, lower property tax revenue, test the fate of senior centers (not to mention the myriad nonprofit capital projects council members hold dearly) and is, in a nutshell, against the city charter.

Needless to say, those so-called negotiations might not go very well.

For the first time, the City Council held a hearing this morning on a measure to require entities that receive more than $10,000 of city assistance annually to pay a prevailing wage for building service employees. The bill could have a huge impact on the city’s service sector, including a wealth of agencies and tenants of city contracted properties. This wide-ranging impact is at the heart of the administration’s opposition.

“It’s quite broad and it affects basically everything the city does,” said Tokumbo Shobowale, chief of staff to Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Bob Lieber. “Rather than do harm, we prefer the deliberative approach,” he added.

The administration would rather the City Council hold off on any wage requirement mandate until it conducts a living wage study, which it is scheduled to complete in 2011.

Supporters of the bill, including 32BJ, saw that preference as a way to delay the proposal.

“The issue of doing a study has been going on for five years,” said 32BJ Executive Vice President Kevin Doyle — who represents service employees and is a major supporter of the bill. “The time to do a study and use that to deter action is passed.”

Council members questioned the administration’s opposition to the bill when its own representative said the city wouldn’t truly know the impact of this type of policy until its study was completed.

“You’re not coming in any sort of spirit of cooperation,” said the bill’s sponsor, Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito. “We are not and should not be in the business of adding poverty wage jobs.” Mark-Viverito said she had approached the administration to sit down and discuss the bill earlier this year, but never received a response.
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By on May 11, 2010, 5:02 pm
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Sick Leave, Wage Standards Coming to City Hall
May 10th, 2010

Tomorrow’s going to be a big day for two issues that have been floating around City Hall for quite some time: paid sick leave and prevailing wage standards.

At 9:30 a.m., council members and 32BJ will rally on the steps of City Hall in support of a bill to require developers that receive city subsidies to pay building service employees a prevailing wage. A hearing will follow at 10 a.m. (For more on wage standards at city-subsidized developments, check out “Subsidies in the City.”)

At 2 p.m., the council will hold a hearing on the paid sick leave bill. More on that issue here.

By on May 10, 2010, 5:33 pm
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Divide in the Charter Commission?
May 10th, 2010

Some Charter Revision Commission members seemed split this morning over whether the commission could thoroughly vet the more serious issues scheduled for review and still get them on the November ballot.

The commission approved a resolution today outlining five issue areas to explore and scheduled public hearings and expert panels on those specific topics for May and June. The issues include term limits, voter participation (including nonpartisan elections), land use (especially the ULURP process), balance of powers (including the roles of community boards, the borough presidents and the City Council) and fiscal responsibility.

Just before approving the resolution, the Rev. Joseph M. McShane proposed an amendment to require the commission to revisit its timeline before proposing anything for November’s ballot. To get anything on the ballot this fall, the commission would have to solidify its proposals by September.

Commission Chair Matthew Goldstein rejected McShane’s amendment, saying it was already “embedded” in the document. The commission, Goldstein said, will have a deliberative process.

After the meeting, Goldstein told reporters, “I’ve always said that this year was a much better opportunity, because there will be more and more active participation because we’re going to have statewide elections. If I wanted to bring something or we wanted to bring something, it would make a lot of sense not to lose that opportunity. The opportunity cost would be higher.”
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By on May 10, 2010, 1:14 pm
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Rikers Beds Won't go to ICE
May 7th, 2010

Empty beds on Rikers Island are going on the rental market.

Tenants, however, won’t include federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

To help close a city budget gap, the Department of Correction has proposed to lease several hundred vacant beds on Rikers Island to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. They will charge $150 per bed a day, raking in about $13.2 million every year. Stephen Morello of the Department of Correction called in to say those beds won’t go to federal immigration officials, whose presence on Rikers has been the subject of some controversy.

“We had an exploratory conversation with them,” said Morello of federal immigration officials renting beds. “They are not interested in our space.”

Federal immigration officials do not have a separate facility on Rikers, but they do have staff members that review inmate files and select people for interrogation — and potentially deportation. A Freedom of Information Act request by immigration advocacy groups last year found between 2004 and 2009, 13,000 Rikers inmates were put in deportation proceedings because of this practice.

This is not the first time the city has leased space in its correction facilities to other law enforcement agencies. When Suffolk County was out of room, the city leased out its beds to them.

By on May 7, 2010, 2:27 pm
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Cops Saved, Teachers Slashed
May 6th, 2010

In an hour, Mayor Michael Bloomberg will release his fiscal year 2011 executive budget.

So far, the Times reports 6,700 teachers will be cut (it’s unclear how much of this will be through attrition). In addition, the city’s workforce will be reduced by another 5,000 positions — mostly through attrition.

Following the Times Square attempted bombing, the mayor has decided to withdraw his proposal to cut New York’s finest by about 900 positions. The police department will now be held harmless.

Much of the city’s fiscal fate is up in the air since Albany has yet to reach a budget agreement. The mayor argues Gov. David Paterson’s original plan would slash $1.3 billion from the city.

For more on the budget impasse in Albany, see “Missing in Action.”

We will be reporting on the proposal throughout the day today, so stay tuned.

By on May 6, 2010, 11:24 am
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Liu Says Explore Arizona Divestment
April 29th, 2010

Comptroller John Liu called the anti-immigration law approved in Arizona the “new apartheid” this afternoon, and said the city should explore divesting in companies based there.

“This is clear,” said Liu outside City Hall. “What’s happened in Arizona is the new apartheid. ”

The comptroller said the city should explore the same type of ban it had during apartheid in South Africa, which included prohibiting certain investments with the country. Liu did not know off hand how much of the New York City pension funds were invested in companies with Arizona connections, but his office is looking into it, he said.

The call came on the steps of City Hall this afternoon, where elected officials and advocates rallied to denounce the Arizona law, which forces police officers to ask individuals for their immigration status if they look suspicious. Officials say the law amounts to de facto racial profiling.

In addition to Liu, Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez called for a complete ban on Arizona — no visiting the Gran Canyon, sorry. Other officials said the new law should spur officials to act on immigration reform in Washington.
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By on April 29, 2010, 2:56 pm
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Liu Takes on the EDC, Again
April 28th, 2010

Comptroller John Liu took another swipe at the city’s Economic Development Corp. today, accusing the agency of hoarding away $125 million in profits from so-called public deals.

In an audit released this morning, the comptroller alleges the corporation collected funds from the sale of city assets and lease payments and held onto the cash for its own purposes.

Officials at EDC say its well within their rights to collect and keep the funding — and they have an opinion from the city’s Law Department (seen below) to prove it.

“There are plenty of questions and even concern about what exactly the EDC does, as it deals with substantial amounts of City funds and publicly subsidized economic development,” Liu said in a prepared statement. “This episode only accentuates the need to reign in the EDC.”

This is not the first time the comptroller has gone after the EDC in his relatively short tenure. He has established a task force to look into the distribution of public subsides — including deals at the IDA (which we report on extensively here) — as well as community benefit agreements.
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By on April 28, 2010, 3:17 pm
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Assemblywoman's Grandson Still on Staff
April 15th, 2010

A month after pleading guilty in federal court to embezzling more than $100,000 from a Bronx nonprofit, Richard Izquierdo Arroyo is still acting as the chief of staff to his grandmother, Assemblymember Carmen Arroyo, he confirmed this afternoon.

When asked during a phone interview whether he had considered resigning from his post in the assemblywoman’s office following his guilty plea, Izquierdo Arroyo said, “I think this conversation is over.” He then hung up the phone.

According to SeeThroughNY, Izquierdo Arroyo made $82,964 in 2009 as the assemblymember’s chief of staff. Izquierdo Arroyo is also the nephew of Councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo, and he was indicted in June of last year.

Izquierdo Arroyo pleaded guilty in March to embezzling $115,000 from SBCC management, a nonprofit that manages residences for low-income tenants, between May 2005 and February 2009. He was president of the organization at the time. The cash went to clothes, shoes, airfare, hotels and restaurants as well as campaign contributions to the assemblymember and a new floor for her office.

Izquierdo Arroyo, 33, is scheduled for sentencing on June 25. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, and he has agreed to pay $115,000 in restitution.

By on April 15, 2010, 3:17 pm
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Jumping the Bloomberg Administration
March 30th, 2010

skyler_hiressm
A report on City Room has been confirmed by the Bloomberg administration: Deputy Mayor for Operations Ed Skyler will be leaving City Hall next month.

At his post, Skyler oversaw the fire, police, sanitation, environmental protection, buildings and transportation departments. He even moonlighted as a robber-stopping samaritan. Skyler was also one of Bloomberg’s top aides that reportedly opposed a third term.

He is now moving on to the private sector after serving 8 years with the Bloomberg administration. Skyler is not the first to go.

The full release from the mayor’s office is after the jump.

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By on March 30, 2010, 10:59 am
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Jet Blue Calls Queens Home
March 22nd, 2010

jetblue

Photo (cc) 2008 matt.hintsa

Score one for New York City. Florida — zero.

The Bloomberg administration and JetBlue announced this afternoon that the airliner would not be moving to Florida as it had considered last year. It will be calling Queens, specifically Long Island City, its permanent home.

The Big Apple and Florida had been in a bidding war over JetBlue, which recently built a $734 million terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The airline said last year it was considering moving its headquarters, and it had narrowed its pick down to New York City and Orlando, Fla.

As part of the deal to stay in New York, the city will contribute up to $3 million to JetBlue’s hub at JFK. The airliner was also offered other tax incentives from both the city and state, including up to $7 million in city job growth credits and $6 million in state capital grants for job retention and growth, according to the New York City Economic Development Corp.

The airliner, currently in Forest Hills, will headquarter in the Brewster Building, now 1 MetLife Plaza, in Long Island City.
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By on March 22, 2010, 4:47 pm
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Historic Vote Broken Down
March 22nd, 2010

It’s here. Good or bad, supporter or critic, the United States is on its way to universal health care.

For a local take, check out how the New York delegation voted last night below. Among our representatives, the vote was 24 to 4. In Washington, health care passed 219 to 212.

And to take a look at the floor debate (all three-plus hours) visit here.

Ackerman, Gary, New York, 5th — Ay
Arcuri, Michael A., New York, 24th — No
Bishop, Timothy, New York, 1st — Ay
Clarke, Yvette D., New York, 11th — Ay
Crowley, Joseph, New York, 7th — Ay
Engel, Eliot, New York, 17th — Ay
Hall, John J., New York, 19th — Ay
Higgins, Brian, New York, 27th — Ay
Hinchey, Maurice, New York, 22nd — Ay
Israel, Steve, New York, 2nd — Ay
King, Pete, New York, 3rd — No
Lee, Christopher J., New York, 26th — No
Lowey, Nita, New York, 18th — Ay
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By on March 22, 2010, 11:27 am
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Staffer Sentenced in Slush Fund Scandal
March 19th, 2010

Asquith Reid, the former chief of staff of former Councilmember Kendall Stewart, was sentenced to three years probation today for embezzling the City Council’s discretionary funds, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York.

Reid was the first person affiliated with the council to be charged in the growing council slush fund scandal. Reid pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and one count of witness tampering in June 2009 — charges that could have come with decades in prison.

As part of his sentence, he will have to spend nine months in a halfway house, will pay restitution and forfeit any income he made from the crime, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Stewart, Reid’s former boss, lost his seat in the council last fall. Many suspect a large part of his loss had to do with this scandal.

By on March 19, 2010, 3:31 pm
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Charter Debate Heats Up
March 19th, 2010

Things got contentious this morning between State Sen. Bill Perkins and “Morning Joe” host, Joe Scarborough, when the subject of charter schools in Harlem came up.

Perkins has become one of the most outspoken critics of charter schools in the city.

Watch below.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

By on March 19, 2010, 10:25 am
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Liu Convenes Task Force on Public Benefits (update)
March 19th, 2010

In an effort to make sure the public receives benefits when the city gives out public subsides, Comptroller John Liu convened the first meeting of a task force this morning that will look into reforming the process of economic development.

Liu announced the task force in February, saying in a press release at the time: “It is simply common sense to have clear standards that ensure benefits for the public when private developers receive benefits from the public.”

Initially charged with looking at community benefit agreements, the task force has expanded its scope to all deals that receive public subsidies, according to Sharon Lee, the comptroller’s spokesperson. They will report back to the comptroller in six months with recommendations, she said.

Over the years, community benefits agreements, which are unregulated, have become standard practice for development deals. The agreements are struck between community groups and stakeholders and developers, often quelling community opposition and ensuring a development moves forward. They are outside of the land use process.

Since the City Council defeated Kingsbridge last year, some officials have questioned the use of public subsidies and are promising to scrutinize projects that receive public benefits.

UPDATE: Here are the co-chairs of the task force:

JOHN “JACK” AHERN President of the New York City Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO)
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By on March 19, 2010, 10:00 am
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A Regional Market at South Street Seaport
March 18th, 2010

seaport

Photo (cc) 2006 David Reeves

Is the New York City Economic Development Corp. open to Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s proposal to create a regional market at the South Street Seaport?

Corporation President Seth W. Pinsky thinks so.

“We definitely agree that a regional market is a good use for the South Street Seaport,” Pinsky said this afternoon at a City Council budget hearing.

The corporation and seaport owner, General Growth Properties, had been working on a redevelopment plan for the downtown shopping area for several years. That plan included a specialty food market.

But when Properties filed for bankruptcy in April of 2009 — predominantly an effect of the real estate bust — the redevelopment proposal was abruptly put on hold.

Now that General Growth Properties appears to be emerging from bankruptcy, Pinksy expects the project to move forward. A hearing on the developer’s exit from bankruptcy will be later this spring.
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By on March 18, 2010, 3:10 pm
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NYCHA Still in the Woods
March 15th, 2010

Today’s announcement of a $400 million infusion to the New York City Housing Authority will get the authority off of critical condition.
nycha

Photo (cc) DaveTheRavingWave (Dave Sanders)


But it isn’t out of the woods yet.

Testifying at a budget hearing just hours after the announcement of a federal funding boost, New York City Housing Authority Chairman John Rhea said the authority still faces a more than $100 million deficit in the current fiscal year.

“While we have made huge strides in addressing our long-term infrastructure needs and moving the authority towards financial health, ultimately reducing our section 8 and public housing operating forecasted deficit from $137 million to $103 million, we still have work to do,” said Rhea.

To close that gap, of which a large part is from the over enrollment of Section 8, the authority has four options, Rhea said, including terminating families from section 8, reducing section 8 payments or getting more funding from either the federal or local governments.

The news soured a more jovial announcement this morning from the Bloomberg administration that 21 NYCHA housing developments, originally built by the city and state after World War II, would become eligible for federal funding. Since these developments were built by the city and state, they never received federal funding, and they gradually stopped receiving city and state subsidies in the 1990s. Through a partnership with Citibank, who will own a stake in the developments, these properties will receive about $400 million in public and private money — the majority of which will go to capital improvements.
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By on March 15, 2010, 5:58 pm
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With Cops Down, Kelly Promises to Keep Crime Low
March 11th, 2010

Come January 2011, the city’s police ranks will be as low as they were in the 1990s, said Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., the chair of the council’s public safety committee, this morning.

For Vallone, that is intolerable.

“1990 was before safe streets, safe city,” said Vallone. “It was a time when the City Council realized we cannot police this city with this many police officers.”

Including academy class sizes and attrition, the police department headcount is expected to be at 34,875 in July, lowering to 34,475 in January 2011, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly testified at a preliminary budget hearing today. No unit, he added, will be held harmless.

“Virtually every unit, every entity, is going to be affected,” Kelly said. “No unit is spared, certainly in a mega sense.”

At the beginning of the fiscal crisis, the police department was one of the City Council’s top priorities. Members fought tooth and nail to keep academy class after academy class.

This year, after several years of budget cuts, it may not be the same. With day care centers on the chopping block and fire companies set for slashing, police officers may not be the council’s number one priority in fiscal year 2011. Much of the noise coming from City Hall’s steps refers to social service cuts and the Fire Department, not necessarily New York’s finest.
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By on March 11, 2010, 3:31 pm
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Liu and Simcha Visit the Council
March 4th, 2010

And they’re back.

Well, not for good.

Comptroller John Liu and Deputy Comptroller Simcha Felder visited City Hall this afternoon to deliver the comptroller’s take on the mayor’s preliminary budget.

According to his testimony, Liu said revenue forecasts for this fiscal year could be better than the mayor’s projections, but beyond that it could get a lot worse.

“I am much more pessimistic about risks to the budget next year and beyond,” Liu states in his prepared remarks. “Our economic projections show slower growth in the out years of the financial plan period, resulting in more sluggish overall revenue growth.”

According to his testimony, Liu expects tax revenues to be $127 million less than the mayor’s projections in fiscal year 2011, which starts in July, and possibly $576 million less in fiscal year 2013.

The comptroller also released a larger assessment of the mayor’s proposal available here.

By on March 4, 2010, 4:30 pm
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Page at the Council
March 4th, 2010

This year’s preliminary budget might be the most preliminary proposal in recent memory, at least according to Councilmember Lewis Fidler and OMB Budget Director Mark Page, Gotham Gazette’s Courtney Gross reports from City Hall.

“We’re in a significant odd position right now in terms of the state,” Page said at the first of many preliminary budget hearings at City Hall this morning. According to Page, the city is seeing a $1.3 billion cut from the state, and until the state budget is approved, city officials won’t know how much they will have to cut back.

Given the mayhem in Albany, the timeframe for that budget approval is even hazier than usual. Officials at City Hall today did not sound confident that the state budget could be approved by the April 1 deadline. The city must pass its budget by July 1.

Until the state budget moves forward, council members appear to be making the proposed closure of 20 fire houses, the shutting of day care centers run by the Administration for Children’s Service and the reduction of children’s services case workers their top priorities.

As usual, the hearing this morning, which is heading into its third hour now, was contentious at times, particularly when the subject of day care centers was broached.

The city faces an estimated $2.6 billion budget deficit. The hearing was the first step in the negotiating process between the administration and the council on how to close that hole.

By on March 4, 2010, 12:48 pm
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Gowanus Named Superfund Site (Update)
March 2nd, 2010

gowanus

In a blow to the Bloomberg administration, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has named the slithering Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn a Superfund site.

The designation would require parties responsible for the canal’s pollution — which is sure to include manufacturing companies and oil refineries that have lined the canal’s shores for decades — to clean it up. This almost always involves court proceedings. That clean up of the 1.8 mile long canal, according to the Times, will likely take between 10 to 12 years.

The decision, which has been years in the making, could set aside the Bloomberg administration’s own plans to clean up the canal, which includes dredging from the Army Corp of Engineers and sewer system upgrades.

Its disappointing,” said Marc LaVorgna, a mayoral spokesperson, in an e-mailed statement. “We had an innovative and comprehensive approach that was a faster route to a Superfund-level cleanup and would have avoided the issues associated with a Superfund listing. The project will now move on a Superfund timeline, but we are going to work closely with the EPA because we share the same goal a clean canal. Local residents and businesses raised concerns about the impact of a Superfund designation on their community and we hope that the EPA will work with us to address those concerns as they move forward.

Supporters of the designation see today’s decision as a long-awaited victory.

“After 150 years of abuse and neglect the Gowanus Canal will finally get the comprehensive cleanup that the residents of the area deserve, stated Josh Verleun, Riverkeeper Attorney & Chief Investigator. The toxic legacy of coal tar, PCBs, pesticides, and other contamination of the Gowanus can only be cleaned through a comprehensive Superfund cleanup; we are gratified to see the EPA stepping up to this task.

In addition to the mayor’s alternate plan, the designation will also likely destroy development plans from Toll Brothers, who planned to build an approximately 460-unit residential development along the Carroll Gardens side of the canal. The City Council has already approved the rezoning for the project. The developer has said in the past that if the Superfund designation moved forward it would abandon the project along the canal. Toll Brothers is already reportedly eying another location in DUMBO.

The EPA will be holding a meeting Thursday in Carroll Gardens to discuss the next steps.

For more on the designation, check out these stories we ran last year — one from Toll Brothers and one from environmental group, Riverkeeper, who was supportive of the canal’s designation.

UPDATE: David Von Spreckelsen, a Toll Brothers senior vice president, told Gotham Gazette this afternoon that Toll Brothers will not be “going forward” with its project along the Gowanus now that it’s a Superfund site.

“Obviously we are very disappointed,” said Von Spreckelsen. “We had hoped that the EPA would seriously consider the mayor’s alternative plan, and obviously they didnt. At this point, we dont see the possibility of going forward.”

By on March 2, 2010, 11:53 am
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