CITY Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. https://www.gothamgazette.com/city 2020-08-07T09:46:25+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Progressive Challenger Launches City Council Campaign to Unseat Conservative Democrat in Queens 2020-08-05T18:00:00+00:00 2020-08-05T18:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9656-progressive-challenger-launches-city-council-conservative-democrat-queens-holden-ardila Samar Khurshid samarkhurshid@gmail.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/juan-ardila-park.jpg" alt="juan ardila park" width="600" /></p> <p>Juan Ardila (photo: campaign website)</p> <hr /> <p>First-term City Council Member Bob Holden, a conservative Democrat from Queens known for controversial statements and criticism of the de Blasio administration, is facing a 2021 challenge from Juan Ardila, a first-generation immigrant and Maspeth native who says Holden is failing the 30th Council District.</p> <p>Ardila, the son of a Honduran-Cuban mother and Colombian father, says he is running to fight for working class families in a district plagued by rising costs of living, lack of mass transit, limited employment opportunities, and overcrowded schools.</p> <p>Holden is expected to run for reelection, aiming to continue representing a district that includes Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Woodhaven, and Woodside. Though he is a registered Democrat, he narrowly won the 2017 general election on the Republican line after losing the Democratic primary to then-incumbent Council Member Elizabeth Crowley. Holden also appeared on the Reform and Conservative Party lines as well as a ballot line he created called “Dump de Blasio." Holden won that election attacking Crowley over her support for closing the jails on Rikers Island and for not taking a hard enough line against homeless shelters in the district.</p> <p>Holden has consistently been among the more moderate or conservative members of his party in the 51-seat Council, regularly voting with a handful of other conservative Democrats and the three Republicans in the body. He’s a staunch supporter of law enforcement, decrying the city’s recent police reforms and opposing local limits on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Holden did not respond to a request for comment for this article. He has yet to create a reelection campaign committee and has not raised any funds for the race. Ardila has raised about $20,500 and spent $7,500 so far.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Ardila said in an interview that his path to public service began when his mother was almost deported when he was 17. He abandoned plans to become a forensic scientist and instead decided he wanted to study immigration law and public policy.</p> <p>“I really focused essentially my entire adult life on public service,” Ardila said in a phone interview. He had a two-year stint as office manager for Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander. He then worked as a consultant for the New York City Department of Education, helping with the expansion of universal pre-kindergarten and the 3-K for All program. He followed that with work at the International Rescue Committee, the humanitarian nonprofit organization, where he mentored and tutored refugee and asylee children, he said, and helped them with college and residency applications and employment authorizations.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ardila is now at the Legal Aid Society where he helps New Yorkers get access to public benefits and legal representation. Just two months ago, he graduated from NYU with a Master’s in Public Administration, with a focus on public policy analysis.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ardila says that Holden has been a lackluster Council member, sponsoring few pieces of legislation while also failing to bring the resources needed back to the district. Unlike his predecessor, Holden did not opt in to the City Council’s participatory budgeting program, which would have allowed residents to vote on roughly $1 million in infrastructure improvement projects for the 30th District.</p> <p>“We used to have it and Holden forced us to opt out of the program,” Ardila said of participatory budgeting. “Ultimately what it's done is just eliminated the opportunity for any form of decision-making and civic engagement from the people on how these public dollars are spent. That's a big problem.”</p> <p>There are programs that Ardila said would be invaluable in the district but haven’t been implemented such as the city’s FRESH Program, which provides fresh food options to grocery stores. He is also pushing to partner with Meals on Wheels so homebound seniors don’t have to risk their health during this pandemic to buy groceries. And he faults Holden for not ensuring that residents have access to those services. “The leadership is just not there and it's just not going to be there, unfortunately,” Ardila said.&nbsp;</p> <p>For Ardila, most of the district’s needs revolve around its lack of access to mass transportation. Much of District 30 is a transit desert with no access to the subway system and with few bus lines running through it. That makes it harder for residents to find affordable housing that is easily connected to the rest of the city, and thus jobs, and prioritizes vehicles at the cost of pedestrian safety and public health, he said.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ardila is calling for a major expansion of bus routes and bus lanes, increasing bus speeds, expanding the Fair Fares discount Metrocard program for low-income New Yorkers, improving the Access-A-Ride paratransit system, and making more MTA subway stops accessible to those with disabilities.</p> <p>District 30 is home to a large middle-class population of New Yorkers. Just over half its residents are white, and about 40% of the population is foreign-born. The largely residential district contains mostly one- and two-family homes besides large green spaces.&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2017, Republican mayoral nominee Nicole Malliotakis handily won the district over Mayor Bill de Blasio, though there are more Democratic registered voters than Republicans in the district. As of February 21 of this year, there were 86,774 registered voters in the 30th Council District, including 45,321 Democrats, 16,010 Republicans, and 21,561 party-unaffiliated voters (often called independents).</p> <p>The race could be a test for where and how much progressive groups and leaders, including elected officials, want to expend their resources in the 2021 election cycle, where all of city government will be on the ballot, including the citywide and borough-wide positions, and all of the 51 City Council seats, including roughly three dozen "open" Council seats where no incumbent will be running due to term limits. Holden's stances on a variety of issues don't match with some of the progressive currents sweeping through New York politics, nor even some of the more moderate Democratic views, as evidenced by often Holden votes in the minority in the Council. But, Holden's grasp on his district is another story, and he is sure to have a base of support heading into his expected reelection bid.</p> <p>Though it is home to many home-owners, the district is not immune to the citywide unaffordability crisis, Ardila said. “A lot of renters are getting displaced throughout the district as a whole,” he said.&nbsp;</p> <p>On the issue of homeless shelter siting, one of Holden’s main focuses, Ardila finds himself on the same side as the incumbent, though for different reasons. Holden won his election after helping to ignite a firestorm of controversy around a hotel used as a homeless shelter in Maspeth, as he criticized the de Blasio administration’s homelessness policies at large. The Council member, known for his many “not in my backyard” stances as president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, made largely unfounded claims that the shelter was a severe public safety hazard, raising the spectre of crime and drug use by the homeless men housed there. He has similarly been an ardent opponent of another shelter that opened in Glendale in February, repeatedly calling for it to be shut down.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Ardila said homeless shelters are a “bandaid” to the larger crisis and he also believes the Glendale shelter should be closed, but he said it’s because the district lacks the resources and interconnectivity that would give the shelter residents the services they need to get back on their feet. “Glendale is located smack in the middle of a transit desert. There’s only one train station and very intermittent bus service,” he said. “The challenge with that is when you're a homeless person in a location that is a transit desert, with expensive fares, in an area where there’s essentially no employment opportunities and lack of social services that they need, you’re not really supporting them. They’re isolated. They’re on the outskirts.”</p> <p>Though he would have little power over broader housing policies as a City Council member, Ardila said the solution is to build more affordable housing density around transit hubs and to fund it with taxes on the wealthy and by eliminating tax incentives for real estate developers, both of which are the purview of the state Legislature.</p> <p>“Homelessness is intertwined with other factors leading to poverty,” he said. “We're pushing for housing for all. We view housing as a human right and unfortunately the real estate culture in New York City views housing as a speculative investment.” He said the city should follow the “Housing First” model that Columbus, Ohio put in place 20 years ago when it started building permanent supportive housing for homeless people.</p> <p>The other major issue in the district, Ardila said, is overcrowding in schools. “Students&nbsp;do better with more individualized attention and we need bigger classrooms. We need to support teachers, we need to support counselors,” he said. Ahead of the passage of this year’s city budget, he criticized the mayor for proposing cuts to the Department of Education and for not reallocating funds from the “bloated NYPD budget” that could go to school resources.</p> <p>Ardila is confident that he can win over a diversifying electorate. He believes the district is more “purple” than red or blue, and that residents care more for local issues than citywide ones. “We want to focus on the in-district issues,” he said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/juan-ardila-park.jpg" alt="juan ardila park" width="600" /></p> <p>Juan Ardila (photo: campaign website)</p> <hr /> <p>First-term City Council Member Bob Holden, a conservative Democrat from Queens known for controversial statements and criticism of the de Blasio administration, is facing a 2021 challenge from Juan Ardila, a first-generation immigrant and Maspeth native who says Holden is failing the 30th Council District.</p> <p>Ardila, the son of a Honduran-Cuban mother and Colombian father, says he is running to fight for working class families in a district plagued by rising costs of living, lack of mass transit, limited employment opportunities, and overcrowded schools.</p> <p>Holden is expected to run for reelection, aiming to continue representing a district that includes Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Woodhaven, and Woodside. Though he is a registered Democrat, he narrowly won the 2017 general election on the Republican line after losing the Democratic primary to then-incumbent Council Member Elizabeth Crowley. Holden also appeared on the Reform and Conservative Party lines as well as a ballot line he created called “Dump de Blasio." Holden won that election attacking Crowley over her support for closing the jails on Rikers Island and for not taking a hard enough line against homeless shelters in the district.</p> <p>Holden has consistently been among the more moderate or conservative members of his party in the 51-seat Council, regularly voting with a handful of other conservative Democrats and the three Republicans in the body. He’s a staunch supporter of law enforcement, decrying the city’s recent police reforms and opposing local limits on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Holden did not respond to a request for comment for this article. He has yet to create a reelection campaign committee and has not raised any funds for the race. Ardila has raised about $20,500 and spent $7,500 so far.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Ardila said in an interview that his path to public service began when his mother was almost deported when he was 17. He abandoned plans to become a forensic scientist and instead decided he wanted to study immigration law and public policy.</p> <p>“I really focused essentially my entire adult life on public service,” Ardila said in a phone interview. He had a two-year stint as office manager for Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander. He then worked as a consultant for the New York City Department of Education, helping with the expansion of universal pre-kindergarten and the 3-K for All program. He followed that with work at the International Rescue Committee, the humanitarian nonprofit organization, where he mentored and tutored refugee and asylee children, he said, and helped them with college and residency applications and employment authorizations.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ardila is now at the Legal Aid Society where he helps New Yorkers get access to public benefits and legal representation. Just two months ago, he graduated from NYU with a Master’s in Public Administration, with a focus on public policy analysis.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ardila says that Holden has been a lackluster Council member, sponsoring few pieces of legislation while also failing to bring the resources needed back to the district. Unlike his predecessor, Holden did not opt in to the City Council’s participatory budgeting program, which would have allowed residents to vote on roughly $1 million in infrastructure improvement projects for the 30th District.</p> <p>“We used to have it and Holden forced us to opt out of the program,” Ardila said of participatory budgeting. “Ultimately what it's done is just eliminated the opportunity for any form of decision-making and civic engagement from the people on how these public dollars are spent. That's a big problem.”</p> <p>There are programs that Ardila said would be invaluable in the district but haven’t been implemented such as the city’s FRESH Program, which provides fresh food options to grocery stores. He is also pushing to partner with Meals on Wheels so homebound seniors don’t have to risk their health during this pandemic to buy groceries. And he faults Holden for not ensuring that residents have access to those services. “The leadership is just not there and it's just not going to be there, unfortunately,” Ardila said.&nbsp;</p> <p>For Ardila, most of the district’s needs revolve around its lack of access to mass transportation. Much of District 30 is a transit desert with no access to the subway system and with few bus lines running through it. That makes it harder for residents to find affordable housing that is easily connected to the rest of the city, and thus jobs, and prioritizes vehicles at the cost of pedestrian safety and public health, he said.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ardila is calling for a major expansion of bus routes and bus lanes, increasing bus speeds, expanding the Fair Fares discount Metrocard program for low-income New Yorkers, improving the Access-A-Ride paratransit system, and making more MTA subway stops accessible to those with disabilities.</p> <p>District 30 is home to a large middle-class population of New Yorkers. Just over half its residents are white, and about 40% of the population is foreign-born. The largely residential district contains mostly one- and two-family homes besides large green spaces.&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2017, Republican mayoral nominee Nicole Malliotakis handily won the district over Mayor Bill de Blasio, though there are more Democratic registered voters than Republicans in the district. As of February 21 of this year, there were 86,774 registered voters in the 30th Council District, including 45,321 Democrats, 16,010 Republicans, and 21,561 party-unaffiliated voters (often called independents).</p> <p>The race could be a test for where and how much progressive groups and leaders, including elected officials, want to expend their resources in the 2021 election cycle, where all of city government will be on the ballot, including the citywide and borough-wide positions, and all of the 51 City Council seats, including roughly three dozen "open" Council seats where no incumbent will be running due to term limits. Holden's stances on a variety of issues don't match with some of the progressive currents sweeping through New York politics, nor even some of the more moderate Democratic views, as evidenced by often Holden votes in the minority in the Council. But, Holden's grasp on his district is another story, and he is sure to have a base of support heading into his expected reelection bid.</p> <p>Though it is home to many home-owners, the district is not immune to the citywide unaffordability crisis, Ardila said. “A lot of renters are getting displaced throughout the district as a whole,” he said.&nbsp;</p> <p>On the issue of homeless shelter siting, one of Holden’s main focuses, Ardila finds himself on the same side as the incumbent, though for different reasons. Holden won his election after helping to ignite a firestorm of controversy around a hotel used as a homeless shelter in Maspeth, as he criticized the de Blasio administration’s homelessness policies at large. The Council member, known for his many “not in my backyard” stances as president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, made largely unfounded claims that the shelter was a severe public safety hazard, raising the spectre of crime and drug use by the homeless men housed there. He has similarly been an ardent opponent of another shelter that opened in Glendale in February, repeatedly calling for it to be shut down.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Ardila said homeless shelters are a “bandaid” to the larger crisis and he also believes the Glendale shelter should be closed, but he said it’s because the district lacks the resources and interconnectivity that would give the shelter residents the services they need to get back on their feet. “Glendale is located smack in the middle of a transit desert. There’s only one train station and very intermittent bus service,” he said. “The challenge with that is when you're a homeless person in a location that is a transit desert, with expensive fares, in an area where there’s essentially no employment opportunities and lack of social services that they need, you’re not really supporting them. They’re isolated. They’re on the outskirts.”</p> <p>Though he would have little power over broader housing policies as a City Council member, Ardila said the solution is to build more affordable housing density around transit hubs and to fund it with taxes on the wealthy and by eliminating tax incentives for real estate developers, both of which are the purview of the state Legislature.</p> <p>“Homelessness is intertwined with other factors leading to poverty,” he said. “We're pushing for housing for all. We view housing as a human right and unfortunately the real estate culture in New York City views housing as a speculative investment.” He said the city should follow the “Housing First” model that Columbus, Ohio put in place 20 years ago when it started building permanent supportive housing for homeless people.</p> <p>The other major issue in the district, Ardila said, is overcrowding in schools. “Students&nbsp;do better with more individualized attention and we need bigger classrooms. We need to support teachers, we need to support counselors,” he said. Ahead of the passage of this year’s city budget, he criticized the mayor for proposing cuts to the Department of Education and for not reallocating funds from the “bloated NYPD budget” that could go to school resources.</p> <p>Ardila is confident that he can win over a diversifying electorate. He believes the district is more “purple” than red or blue, and that residents care more for local issues than citywide ones. “We want to focus on the in-district issues,” he said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Max & Murphy Podcast: Shaun Donovan Explores a Run for Mayor 2020-08-06T04:00:00+00:00 2020-08-06T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9658-max-murphy-podcast-shaun-donovan-run-for-mayor-2021-experience-housing Ben Max bmax@gothamgazette.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/podcast20/housing-urb-dev.jpg" alt="housing urb dev" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Shaun Donovan at the podium (photo: Spencer T Tucker)</p> <hr /> <p><strong>August 5, 2020 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Shaun Donovan Explores a Run for Mayor<br /></strong></p> <p>Shaun Donovan, a former top aide to President Barack Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, joined the show to discuss his likely candidacy for Mayor of New York City in the 2021 election.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org.</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/870856438&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <div style="font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc; line-break: anywhere; word-break: normal; overflow: hidden; white-space: nowrap; text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif; font-weight: 100;"><a href="https://soundcloud.com/gotham-gazette-max-murphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener" style="color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;" title="Max &amp; Murphy">Max &amp; Murphy</a> · <a href="https://soundcloud.com/gotham-gazette-max-murphy/episode-239-shaun-donovan-explores-a-run-for-mayor" target="_blank" rel="noopener" style="color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;" title="Episode 239: Shaun Donovan Explores A Run For Mayor">Episode 239: Shaun Donovan Explores A Run For Mayor</a></div> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/podcast20/housing-urb-dev.jpg" alt="housing urb dev" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Shaun Donovan at the podium (photo: Spencer T Tucker)</p> <hr /> <p><strong>August 5, 2020 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Shaun Donovan Explores a Run for Mayor<br /></strong></p> <p>Shaun Donovan, a former top aide to President Barack Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, joined the show to discuss his likely candidacy for Mayor of New York City in the 2021 election.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org.</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/870856438&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <div style="font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc; line-break: anywhere; word-break: normal; overflow: hidden; white-space: nowrap; text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif; font-weight: 100;"><a href="https://soundcloud.com/gotham-gazette-max-murphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener" style="color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;" title="Max &amp; Murphy">Max &amp; Murphy</a> · <a href="https://soundcloud.com/gotham-gazette-max-murphy/episode-239-shaun-donovan-explores-a-run-for-mayor" target="_blank" rel="noopener" style="color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;" title="Episode 239: Shaun Donovan Explores A Run For Mayor">Episode 239: Shaun Donovan Explores A Run For Mayor</a></div> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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After Intake Pause, City's Supervised Release Program Set for Large Expansion 2020-08-05T04:00:00+00:00 2020-08-05T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9645-intake-pause-new-york-city-supervised-release-program-expansion-rikers-jail-bail Ethan Geringer-Sameth ethangs@gothamgazette.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/5-justice-system-public.jpg" alt="5 justice system public" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Four New York City District Attorneys (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>After a four-month hiatus as the courts struggled to go virtual amid the coronavirus outbreak, New York City's supervised pretrial release program is taking new clients again in all five boroughs.</p> <p>Supervised release, established as a middle-ground alternative between bail and release on recognizance, allows defendants to return to their communities before trial, under the watch of a case manager who checks in regularly, and also links the client to social services. The program has been lauded by some elected officials and prosecutors as an effective tool to ensure defendants make required court appearances and has been a growing part of the city's decarceration effort over the past decade, particularly in recent years.</p> <p>But when the pandemic forced court proceedings to go online in March, supervised release intake grinded to a halt. Still, funding for the program almost tripled in the recently-passed fiscal year 2021 city budget and now judges in all five boroughs are again taking up the option at arraignments. Throughout it all, the 3,000 existing participants continued in the program using remote check-ins instead of on-site ones, while the city jail population has dropped to approximately 3,900 as of July 3, down from a daily average of over 8,300 in 2018 and about 11,700 in 2013.</p> <p>"Supervised release is a crucial part of this administration’s ongoing efforts to reduce the city’s jail population," wrote Miriam Popper, who oversees the initiative as the executive director of Pretrial Justice Initiatives at the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), in an email. "It is important that attorneys, judges, and defendants have this option, particularly during this public health crisis, when we are trying to decrease the number of pretrial people in city custody."</p> <p>In the scheme of New York State's pretrial statuses, supervised release falls somewhere in the middle in terms of how restrictive it is for the defendant -- remand to jail without the option of bail being the most restrictive and release on recognizance being the least. It still places some obligations on the defendant, like checking-in with case managers and creating an independent living plan, but provides greater freedom than in bail cases, where returning to court is conditioned, in part, on a desire to become financially whole.</p> <p>Supporters of the program say it’s a constructive tool, relying on relationship- and community-building to not only encourage court appearances but to help foster better outcomes for clients after trial.</p> <p>"The whole idea is to take people who are most often disconnected from the services they need to rebuild or reimagine their lives and, through supervised release, get them connected to those services," said Stanley Richards, executive vice president of The Fortune Society, which provides housing and a wide variety of other supports to individuals in the program.</p> <p>"Supervised release is sort of the safety net that continues on with people throughout the adjudication of their cases to get them the services," he said.</p> <p>First piloted in Queens in 2009, then in Manhattan in 2013, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the initiative would expand citywide in 2015, with a $13.8 million investment from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's asset forfeiture coffers.</p> <p>“There is a very real human cost to how our criminal justice system treats people while they wait for trial,” de Blasio said in a 2015 <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/471-15/mayor-de-blasio-17-8-million-reduce-unnecessary-jail-time-people-waiting-trial">statement</a>. “Money bail is a problem because – as the system currently operates in New York – some people are being detained based on the size of their bank account, not the risk they pose. This is unacceptable. If people can be safely supervised in the community, they should be allowed to remain there regardless of their ability to pay.”</p> <p>As part of the same announcement, then-Police Commissioner Bill Bratton praised the initiative as a public safety tool. “This program moves the city towards a more fair and equitable criminal justice system by decreasing unnecessary detention for those individuals awaiting trial, while more accurately assessing public safety risk and the supervision necessary to prevent people from reentering the criminal justice system,” he said in a statement.</p> <p>Court appearance rates for supervised release participants are similar to cases where bail is set and where defendants are released on recognizance. Between March 2016 and March 2019, the court appearance rate for the 12,262 participants was 88 percent citywide, the same as releases without supervision, and just below the 91 percent appearance rate for bail cases. (The boroughs with the highest court appearance rates for supervised release were Manhattan and Queens, with 92 percent each, where the program has been running for longer.)</p> <p>Last year, in anticipation of changes to the bail law, Vance invested another $100 million to be spent over two years -- coupled with additional city funding -- to drastically scale up the program.</p> <p>In the city's current Fiscal Year 2021 budget, passed July 1, $117.5 million has been allocated to supervised release, including $50 million from Vance, a 270 percent increase over the fiscal year 2020 budget, according to a New York City Council spokesperson (a spokesperson for MOCJ said contracts are still being finalized and the final budget may be slightly smaller than the Council's figure). The city expects to triple or quadruple participation under the expansion, according to a City Hall <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/530-19/city-expands-award-winning-nationally-recognized-supervised-release-program-response-state">press release</a> announcing the new funding last year.</p> <p>And it appears to be on track. In all of 2019, 641 defendants in Manhattan were released pretrial under supervision, compared with 1,162 in the first six months of 2020, according to Vance's office, even with the pandemic slowing the program.</p> <p>"In a way, COVID kind of buried the lead," said Aubrey Fox, executive director of the New York City Criminal Justice Agency, which contracts with city government and first piloted the program in Queens. "This is like the quickest scaling-up process that I've experienced in my career."</p> <p>"The increase in the city budget was in response to the new needs created by the State's bail reform law," Popper wrote in the email to Gotham Gazette. "Supervised Release has now expanded its eligibility to anyone pretrial, making an important set of resources available to a sizable new pre-trial population."</p> <p>"The expanded Supervised Release will continue to utilize community-based resources, rather than law enforcement, to help get our clients back to court," she said.</p> <p>MOCJ contracts with New York City Criminal Justice Agency and two other nonprofits to administer the program: Center for Court Innovation; and Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services. The organizations use a risk assessment tool to determine each defendant's likelihood of returning to court and make a recommendation to a judge.</p> <p>In supervised release cases, defendants are connected with a case manager from one of the three contracted organizations. The organizations in turn work with other providers, like Fortune Society, to connect them with a range of social services. Typical supportive work includes connecting participants to public assistance, helping them enroll in substance abuse treatment programs, or helping them find housing, employment, and schooling.</p> <p>While checking in with a case manager and the frequency of the check-ins is mandated, other aspects of the program are voluntary.</p> <p>"It's not meant to be a law enforcement-heavy approach to supervision," Fox said. "There are requirements, but the idea is to create this relationship between the individual who has been assigned to the program and their case manager."</p> <p>When the coronavirus pandemic hit New York, court administrators struggled with the technical element of ensuring that confidential conversations between defendants and MOCJ's court representatives could continue to take place at arraignment, once those proceedings had moved to a digital format.</p> <p>From March 17 to mid-July, the New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA), in consultation with MOCJ, suspended new client intake, while supervised release providers continued to serve roughly 3,000 current defendants through remote contact.</p> <p>Around the same period, gun violence in the city skyrocketed. And more recently, between July 5 and August 2 shootings increased 165 percent compared to the same 28-day period last year, according to the NYPD.</p> <p>De Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea have maintained the increase in shootings and murders is in part the result of suspended court operations. Court administrators, district attorneys, and public defenders have <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9624-de-blasio-nypd-court-shutdown-gun-violence-increase">all refuted the claim</a>, which is based on the idea that with court capacity limited, violent and crime-prone individuals are returning to the streets without the full accountability of the criminal legal system. Lucian Chalfen, a spokesperson for OCA, called the claims "at best totally factually incorrect and at worst an attempt to shift the blame for an increase in street violence," and prosecutors have insisted that arraignments have continued.</p> <p>In the first quarter of 2019, the last period data is available, 8 percent of supervised release participants were rearrested for a felony -- which would include gun charges -- while awaiting trial. MOCJ did not provide comparative rearrest data for bail and release on recognizance cases and OCA directed arrest inquiries to the police department, which did not respond to requests for comment.</p> <p>"Anyone who might have been released on SR [supervised release] instead of having bail set was not eligible for that avenue of release," wrote Alice Fontier, managing director of Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, in an email to Gotham Gazette, in reference to the possibility of release on one’s own recognizance (ROR). "It is rare that people charged with gun cases are released ROR."</p> <p>"Accordingly, I don't think supervised release has any relevance to gun cases," she added.</p> <p>With new entrants into supervised release suspended during the pandemic, more defendants in cases of criminal possession of a weapon were released on recognizance than on bail. From March 16 to July 26, 422 people facing weapons possession charges were released on recognizance, compared with 388 for whom bail was set, according to data provided by OCA.</p> <p>"I think in general there may have been some people who would have really benefited from supervised release services but it was not so much that as a result they were detained," said Fox of the Criminal Justice Agency, indicating that some released on recognizance could have been in the supervised release program had it been taking new entrants.</p> <p>While supervised release stopped taking new participants between mid-March and mid-July, providers were tapped to provide a similar service to a new clientele: individuals released from city jails because of COVID-19 health concerns.</p> <p>Between March 16 and July 5, the city released roughly 1,500 jail detainees to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. At least 313 of them -- those who had completed trial, were serving city jail terms, and were let out under an early release program known as "6A" -- were put under the purview of the three supervised-release providers. While the form of the supervision was similar to the pretrial program, the conditions of their 6A releases meant checking in with a case manager daily, a much stricter requirement than the weekly or monthly check-ins of pretrial releases.</p> <p>Providers, who normally have a representative in the courtroom at arraignment, were put in the position of having to reach and orient new participants outside of the typical framework.&nbsp;</p> <p>"Now suddenly people were being released in the middle of the night from Rikers," Fox said. "How do we connect them to supervised release?"</p> <p>"I have to say this period of pause was a period of intense work and creativity for all the supervised release providers," he added.</p> <p>"Anytime we release someone, we have to make sure we work to keep everyone as safe as possible, but we had a real imperative about saving lives, that came first," de Blasio told reporters at a press conference in April, in response to questions about how supervision of the early COVID releases was working.</p> <p>"The fact is, we're going to keep doing whatever it takes to monitor these individuals," he said. "And then, as soon as the crisis is over, the way the releases occurred, if anyone needs to be brought back to jail, they will be.</p> <p>MOCJ said the three providers are still supervising roughly 70 people who were released under 6A. Of the original 313 early releases, 39 were rearrested by April 30, including one on a gun charge, according to <a href="https://twitter.com/CrimJusticeNYC/status/1288244295414304769/photo/1">data</a> posted by MOCJ's official Twitter account.</p> <p>Of the 3,000 participants in supervised release during the height of the pandemic, Fox said engagement remained high. "The programs have all worked really assiduously to keep engaging people," he said. "It's gone surprisingly well."</p> <p>"We pivoted from being a court-date reminder service to being a wellness initiative where we were texting everyone daily wellness texts that offered links to services," in addition to personalized calls, Fox said. He said several hundred referrals to social services were made during the state of emergency.</p> <p>"That offering is definitely not as intense as [pre-pandemic] supervised release," Fox noted, "but we did find it was quite effective in terms of at least giving people a sense that somebody cares about them."</p> <p>One of the main challenges case managers have faced is reestablishing lines of communication remotely, especially with clients who have unstable housing and limited access to a phone or computer.</p> <p>"This was an immediate challenge of working with homeless individuals without phones," said Mike Rempel, director of jail reform at Center for Court Innovation, which runs supervised release in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. "We had to be able to communicate with them remotely."</p> <p>Rempel, Fox, and Richards all said their organizations purchased phones and devised ways to distribute them safely without risking exposure to the virus, either through drop-offs or contacts in the community.</p> <p>Many of the service providers Gotham Gazette spoke with believe the coronavirus crisis may have helped secure the supervised release initiative, as officials seek alternatives to crowded jails and as well-established channels of communication become essential.</p> <p>"As the courts start to reenvision how they will be operating in this new normal, supervised release is going to play a pivotal role in working with community-based organizations to make sure that we don't incarcerate people who don't need to be detained," Richards said.</p> <p>

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/5-justice-system-public.jpg" alt="5 justice system public" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Four New York City District Attorneys (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>After a four-month hiatus as the courts struggled to go virtual amid the coronavirus outbreak, New York City's supervised pretrial release program is taking new clients again in all five boroughs.</p> <p>Supervised release, established as a middle-ground alternative between bail and release on recognizance, allows defendants to return to their communities before trial, under the watch of a case manager who checks in regularly, and also links the client to social services. The program has been lauded by some elected officials and prosecutors as an effective tool to ensure defendants make required court appearances and has been a growing part of the city's decarceration effort over the past decade, particularly in recent years.</p> <p>But when the pandemic forced court proceedings to go online in March, supervised release intake grinded to a halt. Still, funding for the program almost tripled in the recently-passed fiscal year 2021 city budget and now judges in all five boroughs are again taking up the option at arraignments. Throughout it all, the 3,000 existing participants continued in the program using remote check-ins instead of on-site ones, while the city jail population has dropped to approximately 3,900 as of July 3, down from a daily average of over 8,300 in 2018 and about 11,700 in 2013.</p> <p>"Supervised release is a crucial part of this administration’s ongoing efforts to reduce the city’s jail population," wrote Miriam Popper, who oversees the initiative as the executive director of Pretrial Justice Initiatives at the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), in an email. "It is important that attorneys, judges, and defendants have this option, particularly during this public health crisis, when we are trying to decrease the number of pretrial people in city custody."</p> <p>In the scheme of New York State's pretrial statuses, supervised release falls somewhere in the middle in terms of how restrictive it is for the defendant -- remand to jail without the option of bail being the most restrictive and release on recognizance being the least. It still places some obligations on the defendant, like checking-in with case managers and creating an independent living plan, but provides greater freedom than in bail cases, where returning to court is conditioned, in part, on a desire to become financially whole.</p> <p>Supporters of the program say it’s a constructive tool, relying on relationship- and community-building to not only encourage court appearances but to help foster better outcomes for clients after trial.</p> <p>"The whole idea is to take people who are most often disconnected from the services they need to rebuild or reimagine their lives and, through supervised release, get them connected to those services," said Stanley Richards, executive vice president of The Fortune Society, which provides housing and a wide variety of other supports to individuals in the program.</p> <p>"Supervised release is sort of the safety net that continues on with people throughout the adjudication of their cases to get them the services," he said.</p> <p>First piloted in Queens in 2009, then in Manhattan in 2013, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the initiative would expand citywide in 2015, with a $13.8 million investment from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's asset forfeiture coffers.</p> <p>“There is a very real human cost to how our criminal justice system treats people while they wait for trial,” de Blasio said in a 2015 <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/471-15/mayor-de-blasio-17-8-million-reduce-unnecessary-jail-time-people-waiting-trial">statement</a>. “Money bail is a problem because – as the system currently operates in New York – some people are being detained based on the size of their bank account, not the risk they pose. This is unacceptable. If people can be safely supervised in the community, they should be allowed to remain there regardless of their ability to pay.”</p> <p>As part of the same announcement, then-Police Commissioner Bill Bratton praised the initiative as a public safety tool. “This program moves the city towards a more fair and equitable criminal justice system by decreasing unnecessary detention for those individuals awaiting trial, while more accurately assessing public safety risk and the supervision necessary to prevent people from reentering the criminal justice system,” he said in a statement.</p> <p>Court appearance rates for supervised release participants are similar to cases where bail is set and where defendants are released on recognizance. Between March 2016 and March 2019, the court appearance rate for the 12,262 participants was 88 percent citywide, the same as releases without supervision, and just below the 91 percent appearance rate for bail cases. (The boroughs with the highest court appearance rates for supervised release were Manhattan and Queens, with 92 percent each, where the program has been running for longer.)</p> <p>Last year, in anticipation of changes to the bail law, Vance invested another $100 million to be spent over two years -- coupled with additional city funding -- to drastically scale up the program.</p> <p>In the city's current Fiscal Year 2021 budget, passed July 1, $117.5 million has been allocated to supervised release, including $50 million from Vance, a 270 percent increase over the fiscal year 2020 budget, according to a New York City Council spokesperson (a spokesperson for MOCJ said contracts are still being finalized and the final budget may be slightly smaller than the Council's figure). The city expects to triple or quadruple participation under the expansion, according to a City Hall <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/530-19/city-expands-award-winning-nationally-recognized-supervised-release-program-response-state">press release</a> announcing the new funding last year.</p> <p>And it appears to be on track. In all of 2019, 641 defendants in Manhattan were released pretrial under supervision, compared with 1,162 in the first six months of 2020, according to Vance's office, even with the pandemic slowing the program.</p> <p>"In a way, COVID kind of buried the lead," said Aubrey Fox, executive director of the New York City Criminal Justice Agency, which contracts with city government and first piloted the program in Queens. "This is like the quickest scaling-up process that I've experienced in my career."</p> <p>"The increase in the city budget was in response to the new needs created by the State's bail reform law," Popper wrote in the email to Gotham Gazette. "Supervised Release has now expanded its eligibility to anyone pretrial, making an important set of resources available to a sizable new pre-trial population."</p> <p>"The expanded Supervised Release will continue to utilize community-based resources, rather than law enforcement, to help get our clients back to court," she said.</p> <p>MOCJ contracts with New York City Criminal Justice Agency and two other nonprofits to administer the program: Center for Court Innovation; and Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services. The organizations use a risk assessment tool to determine each defendant's likelihood of returning to court and make a recommendation to a judge.</p> <p>In supervised release cases, defendants are connected with a case manager from one of the three contracted organizations. The organizations in turn work with other providers, like Fortune Society, to connect them with a range of social services. Typical supportive work includes connecting participants to public assistance, helping them enroll in substance abuse treatment programs, or helping them find housing, employment, and schooling.</p> <p>While checking in with a case manager and the frequency of the check-ins is mandated, other aspects of the program are voluntary.</p> <p>"It's not meant to be a law enforcement-heavy approach to supervision," Fox said. "There are requirements, but the idea is to create this relationship between the individual who has been assigned to the program and their case manager."</p> <p>When the coronavirus pandemic hit New York, court administrators struggled with the technical element of ensuring that confidential conversations between defendants and MOCJ's court representatives could continue to take place at arraignment, once those proceedings had moved to a digital format.</p> <p>From March 17 to mid-July, the New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA), in consultation with MOCJ, suspended new client intake, while supervised release providers continued to serve roughly 3,000 current defendants through remote contact.</p> <p>Around the same period, gun violence in the city skyrocketed. And more recently, between July 5 and August 2 shootings increased 165 percent compared to the same 28-day period last year, according to the NYPD.</p> <p>De Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea have maintained the increase in shootings and murders is in part the result of suspended court operations. Court administrators, district attorneys, and public defenders have <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9624-de-blasio-nypd-court-shutdown-gun-violence-increase">all refuted the claim</a>, which is based on the idea that with court capacity limited, violent and crime-prone individuals are returning to the streets without the full accountability of the criminal legal system. Lucian Chalfen, a spokesperson for OCA, called the claims "at best totally factually incorrect and at worst an attempt to shift the blame for an increase in street violence," and prosecutors have insisted that arraignments have continued.</p> <p>In the first quarter of 2019, the last period data is available, 8 percent of supervised release participants were rearrested for a felony -- which would include gun charges -- while awaiting trial. MOCJ did not provide comparative rearrest data for bail and release on recognizance cases and OCA directed arrest inquiries to the police department, which did not respond to requests for comment.</p> <p>"Anyone who might have been released on SR [supervised release] instead of having bail set was not eligible for that avenue of release," wrote Alice Fontier, managing director of Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, in an email to Gotham Gazette, in reference to the possibility of release on one’s own recognizance (ROR). "It is rare that people charged with gun cases are released ROR."</p> <p>"Accordingly, I don't think supervised release has any relevance to gun cases," she added.</p> <p>With new entrants into supervised release suspended during the pandemic, more defendants in cases of criminal possession of a weapon were released on recognizance than on bail. From March 16 to July 26, 422 people facing weapons possession charges were released on recognizance, compared with 388 for whom bail was set, according to data provided by OCA.</p> <p>"I think in general there may have been some people who would have really benefited from supervised release services but it was not so much that as a result they were detained," said Fox of the Criminal Justice Agency, indicating that some released on recognizance could have been in the supervised release program had it been taking new entrants.</p> <p>While supervised release stopped taking new participants between mid-March and mid-July, providers were tapped to provide a similar service to a new clientele: individuals released from city jails because of COVID-19 health concerns.</p> <p>Between March 16 and July 5, the city released roughly 1,500 jail detainees to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. At least 313 of them -- those who had completed trial, were serving city jail terms, and were let out under an early release program known as "6A" -- were put under the purview of the three supervised-release providers. While the form of the supervision was similar to the pretrial program, the conditions of their 6A releases meant checking in with a case manager daily, a much stricter requirement than the weekly or monthly check-ins of pretrial releases.</p> <p>Providers, who normally have a representative in the courtroom at arraignment, were put in the position of having to reach and orient new participants outside of the typical framework.&nbsp;</p> <p>"Now suddenly people were being released in the middle of the night from Rikers," Fox said. "How do we connect them to supervised release?"</p> <p>"I have to say this period of pause was a period of intense work and creativity for all the supervised release providers," he added.</p> <p>"Anytime we release someone, we have to make sure we work to keep everyone as safe as possible, but we had a real imperative about saving lives, that came first," de Blasio told reporters at a press conference in April, in response to questions about how supervision of the early COVID releases was working.</p> <p>"The fact is, we're going to keep doing whatever it takes to monitor these individuals," he said. "And then, as soon as the crisis is over, the way the releases occurred, if anyone needs to be brought back to jail, they will be.</p> <p>MOCJ said the three providers are still supervising roughly 70 people who were released under 6A. Of the original 313 early releases, 39 were rearrested by April 30, including one on a gun charge, according to <a href="https://twitter.com/CrimJusticeNYC/status/1288244295414304769/photo/1">data</a> posted by MOCJ's official Twitter account.</p> <p>Of the 3,000 participants in supervised release during the height of the pandemic, Fox said engagement remained high. "The programs have all worked really assiduously to keep engaging people," he said. "It's gone surprisingly well."</p> <p>"We pivoted from being a court-date reminder service to being a wellness initiative where we were texting everyone daily wellness texts that offered links to services," in addition to personalized calls, Fox said. He said several hundred referrals to social services were made during the state of emergency.</p> <p>"That offering is definitely not as intense as [pre-pandemic] supervised release," Fox noted, "but we did find it was quite effective in terms of at least giving people a sense that somebody cares about them."</p> <p>One of the main challenges case managers have faced is reestablishing lines of communication remotely, especially with clients who have unstable housing and limited access to a phone or computer.</p> <p>"This was an immediate challenge of working with homeless individuals without phones," said Mike Rempel, director of jail reform at Center for Court Innovation, which runs supervised release in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. "We had to be able to communicate with them remotely."</p> <p>Rempel, Fox, and Richards all said their organizations purchased phones and devised ways to distribute them safely without risking exposure to the virus, either through drop-offs or contacts in the community.</p> <p>Many of the service providers Gotham Gazette spoke with believe the coronavirus crisis may have helped secure the supervised release initiative, as officials seek alternatives to crowded jails and as well-established channels of communication become essential.</p> <p>"As the courts start to reenvision how they will be operating in this new normal, supervised release is going to play a pivotal role in working with community-based organizations to make sure that we don't incarcerate people who don't need to be detained," Richards said.</p> <p>

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
What's Next for the City's Massive 100 Million-Meal Emergency Food Program? 2020-08-05T04:00:00+00:00 2020-08-05T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9649-new-york-city-massive-emergency-food-program-fall-school-free-food Victor Porcelli vporcelli@gg.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/1-meal-hub-ps1.jpg" alt="1 meal hub ps1" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio at a school food hub (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The uncertainty around how New York City public schools will be reopened come September extends to the emergency food initiative greatly expanded by city government during the devastating coronavirus outbreak that led to mass unemployment and food insecurity, as a large portion of the program was using public schools to distribute millions of free meals.</p> <p>A part of the massive program that has distributed over 100 million free meals since March will likely shift as students and staff return to schools that have served as central emergency food hubs during the pandemic shutdown. While New Yorkers of all stripes, including families, could pick up “grab-and-go” meals at more than 400 school sites across the five boroughs five days a week, many others received more than 1 million meals a day through home delivery and still others received emergency sustenance through food pantries and other means.</p> <p>With the planned shift in how school buildings are used, it’s not yet clear how the city intends to distribute emergency food or even what the need will be come September, in part due to the unknowns around the city’s economic revival. Whereas schools have long been a source of two meals a day for many low-income students and became logical food pick-up hubs during the shutdown, a school reopening where students are only in school buildings two or three days a week creates a complicated picture on many fronts, including food.</p> <p>A month out from the planned reopening of schools, those leading the city’s emergency food program acknowledge that plans are not yet set for how meal distribution will work after Labor Day. While some students will attend school up to three days a week, parents can completely opt their children out of in-person learning, and although there is a commitment by -- but not yet a plan from -- top officials to provide students with meals, it’s unclear how many food insecure adults without children have been utilizing the school food pick-up sites over the past months and whether or not they will be able to continue to do so.</p> <p><strong>Grab &amp; Go Meals</strong><br />The city’s emergency program, called GetFoodNYC, is led by the city’s “food czar,” a position Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on March 21, when he said Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia would take the new role. Soon after being appointed, Garcia helped stand up efforts to make 470 Department of Education sites, almost all of which were schools, available to provide three meals a day to children under 18 (and, later, to families and then also adults without children as of April 3), and develop and expand other emergency food programming.</p> <p>It is the school pick-up piece of the program that Garcia and the city have yet to make concrete plans to continue once schools reopen.</p> <p>“DOE [Department of Education] is planning carefully around reopening,” said Department of Sanitation Assistant Commissioner for Public Affairs Joshua Goodman, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “Until we know what school reopening will look like, we cannot know exactly what Grab &amp; Go meal operations may look like – but our commitment will remain the same, that no New Yorker should go hungry due to the pandemic.”</p> <p>It was only late last Thursday that de Blasio<a href="https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/nyc-releases-plan-for-return-to-in-person-learning-as-tri-state-faces-conflicting-options/2543950/"> revealed the most detailed plan yet</a> as to how schools will reopen, which includes measures to immediately close down classrooms where one or more students test positive for coronavirus, and to close down entire buildings if two or more students in different classrooms test positive. It also requires students or teachers who feel sick to stay home and allows for families to opt into an all-remote learning option. About 26% of families would prefer that option, no matter the safety precautions taken, according to a Department of Education survey<a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-city-schools-plan-still-unclear-but-some-students-teachers-will-stay-home-11593712873"> reported on by the Wall Street Journal</a>. For students returning to school buildings, it will only be for<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/08/nyregion/nyc-schools-reopening-plan.html"> one to three days a week</a>. Individual school plans are in the process of being designed, though they in part rely on what student enrollment will look like, forming something of a chicken-or-the-egg relationship.</p> <p>Before they were closed, New York City public schools were serving more than 1 million meals a day, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office (IBO), with Garcia saying in an interview that New York City public schools are “maybe the largest feeding program in the country.”</p> <p>“If schools are truly reopening, [the grab-and-go locations] are a lot less important,” said Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, a non-profit dedicated to connecting those experiencing food insecurity to services and advocating for legislation to address hunger. “That would certainly be a good thing in reducing hunger. And, you know, there are 1,600 schools so even if&nbsp; that closes down 400 alternative sites, some adults may be missing out but far more kids would be fed so that would be a worthwhile trade-off.”</p> <p>But that progress will be significantly complicated by the part-time nature of schooling for many students in the fall and the fact that untold number of students will not be going to school buildings at all.</p> <p>When assessing the grab-and-go program, the <a href="https://ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/food-to-go-did-nyc-open-grab-and-go-sites-in-areas-with-the-greatest-need-schools-brief-july-2020.html">IBO found evidence</a> supporting Berg’s point about the benefits of students accessing food in schools, as the pick-up program did not serve as a replacement for in-school meals.</p> <p>“While quickly established, the Grab &amp; Go sites have not fully met the problem of hunger and food insecurity across the city,” the report states. “In the last week of April, the sites provided an average of 305,000 meals a day, well below the number schools typically served.”</p> <p>However, IBO did find that nearly 90% of students were within half a mile of the grab-and-go locations, and more than half "were located in census tracts where the average household income was below or near the poverty threshold,” with the majority of sites located in Brooklyn and the Bronx.</p> <p>The report is based on data from March 30, though, and the program has expanded significantly since. It also does not include other emergency food efforts besides the grab-and-go program.</p> <p>“More than 400 meal hubs at DOE sites across the city are distributing around 500,000 meals per day to people in need,” Goodman said in a statement when asked about the IBO report, published at the end of July. “This is an incredible achievement, part of a broader operation that has now served more than 100 million meals since the pandemic began to ensure no New Yorker goes hungry. We appreciate the IBO’s role but are deeply proud of the work of DOE staff and the NYC Food Czar team.”</p> <p>Moving forward, the city hopes the grab-and-go program will be used in conjunction with school meals. As although students will not be attending school every day, some not at all, the city is committed to maintaining a grab-and-go program that operates every day for students, according to Garcia’s office. How it will do so, and whether it will extend to families or adults without children, is still unclear.</p> <p>That population of adults without children, as Berg alluded to, is one with few resources dedicated directly to them. Besides the grab-and-go program that is first and foremost for students and their families, GetFoodNYC’s food delivery service is meant for seniors or those who cannot risk going outside due to medical conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19.</p> <p>It is unclear how large the population is of those who have been accessing grab-and-go meals at school sites but are not members of families with schoolchildren, and how many may lose out on free meals if the grab-and-go program reverts to being only for children or families with children, as the program does not collect demographic data, in order to avoid discouraging use.</p> <p><strong>Deepening Struggles for New Yorkers</strong><br />There are more than 800,000 people in New York City who were unemployed as of June 2020, according to the<a href="https://www.labor.ny.gov/stats/nyc/"> New York State Department of Labor</a>, maing for a roughly 20% unemployment rate, a massive increase from the roughly 4% at the start of March. This is just one measure of many indicating the extent of economic devastation due to the pandemic, and the growing food insecurity because of it.</p> <p>Berg described the substantial spike in need caused by the pandemic as “better than the Great Depression but worse than it’s been in modern times.” He said that, although New York has made substantial and important progress addressing the problem, there are still hungry New Yorkers in need of further assistance.</p> <p>“It’s certainly better than starving and New York City’s actually doing better than the rest of New York State, and really doing less bad than the rest of the country,” Berg said. “But when the Mayor says, ‘we’re going to make sure no one’s going hungry,’ that’s not true, either, because people were going hungry before this and they’re certainly going hungry now.”</p> <p>From March 21 to June 6 there were over 1 million more unemployment claims compared to the same time period in 2019, according to a recent<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/covid/covid-19-food-insecurity.pdf"> report</a> by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The number of SNAP (food stamps) recipients increased by 8% from<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/facts/hra_facts/2020/hra_facts_2020_03.pdf"> March</a> to<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/facts/hra_facts/2020/hra_facts_2020_05.pdf"> May</a>, according to statistics from the<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/hra/about/facts.page#snap"> New York City Human Resources Administration</a>. Prior to the pandemic, SNAP enrollment had been decreasing, with about a 5% decrease from<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/facts/hra_facts/2020/hra_facts_2020_02.pdf"> February 2019 to February 2020</a>. The city’s massive emergency food program may have actually led to fewer SNAP sign-ups than may have otherwise occurred amid the economic shock.</p> <p>According to the results of a poll by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), 35% of New York City households said in April that they had received food from an emergency food source in the past month, and 21% of New Yorkers said they were unable to buy groceries because of lack of money following the COVID-19 outbreak and its fallout.</p> <p>Those facing financial and food insecurity who are neither seniors nor adults with children may turn to other resources meant to help anyone going hungry, according to Garcia.</p> <p>“I do think that there will be a set of people that, due to the economic downturn, will need support through food pantries and soup kitchens and the grab-and-go program,” Garcia said.</p> <p><strong>Food Pantries</strong><br />But many food pantries are struggling, too, due to the pandemic, with 75% of food pantries and soup kitchens serving more New Yorkers in April 2020 than in the months leading up to COVID-19, according to a survey by Food Bank for New York City. That<a href="https://www.foodbanknyc.org/update-on-food-insecurity-during-covid-19/"> report</a> also found that&nbsp;</p> <p>“At the outbreak’s peak, roughly 40% of the city’s soup kitchens and food pantries were closed, largely because they are run by seniors who are at high risk during the health crisis.”</p> <p>Food pantries do provide substantially less support to food insecure New Yorkers compared to government programs like SNAP, though, with Berg saying government programs support nearly 20 times more food than food pantries. Still, food pantries can be a vital source of food for those in need.</p> <p>Ceasar Tobar-Acosta, who heads the food pantry at the Bronx’s Kingsbridge Heights Community Center, described the pre-COVID pantry as relying on small donors and serving 10-20 people a day.</p> <p>“Our numbers shot up from us doing weeks of serving 20 in a day to us, as of last Friday, 150 people showing up a day,” Tobar-Acosta said of how things changed once the pandemic worsened, in a July 21 interview.</p> <p>Tobar-Acosta said, besides the increase in demand and addition of precautions to prevent spreading the disease, COVID-19 resulted in the pantry relying on a new type of donors, namely large non-profits. It also received food from the GetFoodNYC program.</p> <p>At one point, though, the food pantry<a href="http://bronx.com/we-cannot-close-our-food-pantry-right-now/"> almost had to close</a> due to the increase in demand but limited supply. Of food pantries that did close, a disproportionate number were in the Bronx, where 50% closed, 90% of which were in high-need communities, according to the Food Bank for New York City report.</p> <p>“As someone born and raised in the Bronx my entire life, it is very easy to see how…the Bronx very much captures why New York City is a tale of two cities. When you see all these resources, a lot of money, but then you see, hey, there’s a lot of communities that don’t get this funding,” Tobar-Acosta said. “When you’re already living in a food insecure place, the second a pandemic hits you are significantly worse-off because your community already does not have those supplies for a number of reasons. And the Bronx is one of those places where there are a lot of food insecure areas of the Bronx already.”</p> <p>With job loss exacerbating an already-pressing crisis, Tobar-Acosta mentioned one customer of the food pantry who is an essential worker and works a 12-hour shift, but still needs assistance. Many community members are also said to be faced with the tough decision of leaving their jobs and collecting unemployment, or receiving zero-hour work-weeks for some period of time as local employers needed to cut back on costs during the pandemic.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Most definitely there’s a visible impact of job loss. We see newer and newer faces as the days pass,” Tobar-Acosta. “They can’t go back to their old jobs, because on paper they voluntarily left even though the other option was you don’t get paid.”</p> <p>Those facing job loss will likely continue to need assistance, even as, hopefully, the public health crisis continues to improve and the city economy continues to reopen. Garcia said she hopes GetFoodNYC will be able to continue to “fill in the gaps” by providing increased assistance to food pantries. She also said it is likely that many of the food pantries that closed were smaller and may have opened back up since the height of the pandemic.</p> <p><strong>Funding</strong><br />Support for food pantries and other emergency food efforts received huge boosts of funding from all levels of government during the pandemic.</p> <p>Garcia said most of the funding for GetFoodNYC, specifically, comes from the federal government.</p> <p>“We anticipate that the covid emergency is going to get extended nationally, just based on where we are,” Garcia said in an interview. “We have to re-up the program every 30 days under FEMA but it has been accepted under FEMA funding, so that has been what has underwritten emergency feeding during this time.”</p> <p>The city also dedicated a significant amount of funding, such as a $170 million initiative, “Feeding New York,”<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9316-de-blasio-plan-food-emergency-coronavirus-hunger"> announced by de Blasio on April 15</a>, which Garcia was charged with executing. The plan dedicated funding to the Food Reserve (an existing emergency reserve of nonperishable goods that the city has in case of a crisis, like the pandemic), suggested that grocery stores require workers and customers to wear face masks, and initiated the scaling up of the food delivery system through the Department of Education and Department for the Aging (DFTA), an area where GetFoodNYC has contributed greatly.</p> <p>City funds for emergency food efforts and GetFoodNYC have also come from through New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA), which had a total budget for food (including funds for Emergency Food Assistance, the GetFoodNYC program, and the Food Reserve) of $73.4 million in fiscal year 2020, which ended June 30, according to the IBO. That number is expected to drop slightly for fiscal year 2021, to $71 million, per the recently-adopted fiscal year 2021 budget.</p> <p>In both years, city funding for food pantries and soup kitchens was about $21 million, according to IBO. For 2021, the other $50 million goes toward the Food Reserve, suggesting that the GetFoodNYC program will continue to be almost entirely reliant on federal funds moving forward. (This is not a complete picture of emergency food funding, as other agencies, such as the Department of Education and the Sanitation Department, are somewhat involved with such efforts.)</p> <p>The city took other measures, too, to address growing needs including matching a state government $25 million allocation toward food banks for food and personnel, which was estimated to provide 2.1 million food packages each consisting of nine meals for a total of 19 million meals, according to a City Council<a href="https://council.nyc.gov/press/2020/03/27/1908/"> press release</a>. The city also deployed city staff to 14 food pantries short on volunteers.</p> <p>And in addition to emergency funds via FEMA, the federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provided the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program with<a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/disaster/pandemic/covid-19"> $500 million</a> on March 18. There was also the CARES Act, which provided $15.5 billion to support SNAP, $35 million for WIC, $38 million for Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) Commodities, $16 million for TEFAP Administration, and $450 million for food banks on March 27.</p> <p>On top of that, Congress passed a pandemic-EBT program that gives families with children who would have received public school meals with electronic debit cards, something Berg said would result in around $400 million worth of food going to roughly 1 million New York City kids.</p> <p><strong>Home Delivery for the Most Vulnerable</strong><br />One of the major areas the de Blasio administration put funds into through the GetFoodNYC program was home-delivered meals for seniors and those with pre-existing medical conditions, two populations especially vulnerable to COVID-19 that had unique challenges, besides financial stress, in accessing food — namely, the risk of contracting the disease while grocery shopping or picking up food.</p> <p>Even before Garcia was even named food czar, though, the New York City Department for the Aging knew this would be a problem when the city closed hundreds of senior centers in mid-March to prevent the spread of COVID-19. DFTA immediately converted the centers to sites for preparing and sending out delivered meals to seniors’ homes, expanding on an existing meal-delivery program for those who are mostly or completely homebound. The week senior centers were closed, 96,000 meals were distributed to senior centers to then be delivered, Deputy Director of Public Affairs for DFTA Suzanne Myklebust told Gotham Gazette <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9217-city-closes-senior-centers-but-will-provide-meals-amid-coronavirus-outbreak">at the time</a>.</p> <p>But, there was still a need for seniors and others who could not risk going outside due to medical conditions that made them more susceptible to COVID-19, especially at the height of the pandemic.</p> <p>“We do think that there is a group of seniors that one, shouldn’t be going out, and two, are very food insecure,” Garcia said. “And that their usual option of a senior center congregate food setting isn’t going to come into play for quite some time.”</p> <p>Garcia and her team worked to quickly create the food-delivery system within GetFoodNYC, which uses drivers licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission to deliver meals from large distribution centers, helping to provide devastated drivers with income while also feeding needy New Yorkers. The program ramped up fast and began delivering 1 million meals a day as of the week of May 27, and from mid-March to mid-June the New York City government served <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9516-whats-the-data-point-70-million-with-kathryn-garcia-cas-holloway-emergency-food">70 million free meals</a>.</p> <p>“I worked in government for eight years in the Clinton administration, a big bureaucracy, and the magnitude of what New York City did, it can’t be overstated,” said Berg. “They did in the course of a few weeks what typically would take government years to plan.”</p> <p>The program was developed in part by enterprise software company Unqork, where former New York City Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway works as the head of its public enterprise initiative. Holloway worked in the Bloomberg administration during Superstorm Sandy, when he first saw the need to develop software quickly and at scale to address a crisis. The GetFoodNYC app developed for the current crisis over the course of a weekend, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9516-whats-the-data-point-70-million-with-kathryn-garcia-cas-holloway-emergency-food">Halloway said</a> on the What’s The [Data] Point? podcast, and made it possible for individuals to fill out a survey to see if they qualify for the program, and order if they do, and had another side for TLC drivers to sign up for delivery shifts, as well as an administrative back-end.</p> <p>“It has been an enormous team effort across a lot of agencies to make this work, I would say an alphabet soup of agencies,” Garcia said in the interview. “And a real commitment by the city to make sure that no one went hungry. What you would traditionally do, like run a soup kitchen for food, clearly was not going to be our go-to in the middle of a pandemic, so I think there was a certain amount of commitment and creativity to getting this done that has to do with a real team of people that felt like this was incredibly important work.”</p> <p>Although the program received some criticism for not initially providing kosher and halal meals, by<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9403-new-york-city-meet-need-for-culturally-diverse-emergency-food-halal-kosher-coronavirus"> mid-May</a> it had 18 sites serving kosher meals and 32 sites providing halal meals, strategically placed in communities with large Jewish or Muslim populations. Another issue was questions of how nutritious the meals were, with some recipients describing accounts where they were given snacks rather than actual meals, as reported by<a href="https://t.co/3pjflUhxL4?amp=1"> Gothamist</a>. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and New York City Council Member Ben Kallos of Manhattan<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9439-bill-to-mandate-nutrition-standards-new-york-city-food-meals-adams-kallos"> introduced a bill</a> on May 20 to develop nutrition standards for the meals in both the delivery and grab-and-go parts of the program. There have also been issues with<a href="https://nypost.com/2020/07/29/free-city-meals-meant-for-needy-left-at-wrong-address-since-may/"> delivery accuracy</a> and<a href="https://nypost.com/2020/07/27/boxes-of-unopened-coronavirus-food-for-poor-found-dumped-in-queens/"> waste of some meals</a> that have sat in warehouses.</p> <p>“We take food waste extremely seriously, and doing so is part of how we have been able to distribute over 100 million meals successfully,” Goodman said in a statement. “At this scale, we rely on all New Yorkers to let us know right away if there is ever a problem, at <a href="http://nyc.gov/getfoodhelp">nyc.gov/getfoodhelp</a> or by calling 311. We can often fix problems same day if they are brought to our attention.”</p> <p>Garcia has also acknowledged hiccups in the program, saying “the challenge was also just dealing with the scale of the crisis at the moment of the crisis and the huge need that just went flying through the roof, and keeping up with that and trying to make sure we had enough food, food that was religiously appropriate and being able to make that sync together,”<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9516-whats-the-data-point-70-million-with-kathryn-garcia-cas-holloway-emergency-food"> she said in a recent appearance</a> on What’s The [DATA] Point?, which is produced by Gotham Gazetteand Citizens Budget Commission.</p> <p>Goodman has also repeatedly responded to some of this criticism on Twitter, <a href="https://twitter.com/jshgdmn/status/1264625261737320450?s=20">saying</a>, for example: “To meet incredible scale (1M meals/day) we work with dozens of vendors - over 30 and growing. Some serve fresh food, some frozen, some shelf-stable, which is things like canned tuna, soups, packaged milk, maybe pita chips,” and “This is a huge operation of *emergency* food - but as Mayor and Commissioner Garcia stated, must be healthy and nutritious. If someone receives a meal that doesn't meet our standards, let us know at <a href="http://NYC.gov/GetFoodHelp">http://NYC.gov/GetFoodHelp</a> so we can fix and hold vendor accountable.”</p> <p><strong>Looking Ahead</strong><br />Garcia said the need for home-delivered meals, especially among seniors, will likely remain for some time as COVID-19 makes it unsafe for senior centers to return even as the city moves through reopening phases.</p> <p>For some of those seniors, they have relied on a similar to but more comprehensive program than the GetFoodNYC food delivery service run by DFTA, which has been serving elderly New Yorkers who need food delivered due to illness or disability for years, partially through a partnership with Citymeals on Wheels.</p> <p>The budget for the Home Delivered Meals program (HDM), unlike HRA’s emergency food budget, did see a 25% decrease from $59.7 million in fiscal year 2020 to $44.6 million in fiscal year 2021, according to the IBO. However, some of that decrease is a result of a lack of discretionary funding DFTA received for HDM from the City Council in the 2021 city budget that it had received the year prior, according to DFTA.</p> <p>“For 30 years, DFTA’s Home Delivered Meals (HDM) program has provided nutritious meals to older New Yorkers who are homebound due to severe illness or disability. This program has been operating long before the COVID-19 crisis and will continue operating long after,” Myklebust said in a statement. “This year, we issued an RFP to increase meal options for this program, including the availability of culturally aligned meals that reflect our City’s diversity, all while ensuring that meals continue to be high quality, healthy and nutritious. A top priority for DFTA and the City is that no older New Yorker goes hungry during this pandemic and that all who need meals has access to them, either through the HDM program or GetFoodNYC.”</p> <p>Garcia remains hopeful about the city’s ability to meet need even if there is a second covid wave in the fall, saying, “Our programs are pretty flexible in our ability to dial up if need be.”</p> <p>Berg is not as hopeful. Although he said he gives the city “a lot of kudos” for taking the substantial steps it did, he maintains that higher wages for workers, more than food pantries or federal programs, are key to combating food insecurity. He said the large amount of food pantries within the city are relatively new, compared to in the 1970s when better conditions for workers meant they were relatively unneeded.</p> <p>And despite the funding already dedicated to addressing hunger nationwide, statewide, and citywide, Berg said that without another substantial federal stimulus package, New Yorkers — especially those who are low-income — will be in a very tough spot.</p> <p>“I’ve been in this job 19 years and there’ve been three truly catastrophic events: 9/11, the 2008 Wall Street collapse, and then Hurricane Sandy. In all of those, low-income people suffered the most and it took years and years and years to recover,” Berg said. “Hungry people are the first to get the problem and the last to recover, last to be rehired, last to get wage increases. And I’m worried the current political environment isn’t building the public safety net we need.”</p> <p>

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/1-meal-hub-ps1.jpg" alt="1 meal hub ps1" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio at a school food hub (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The uncertainty around how New York City public schools will be reopened come September extends to the emergency food initiative greatly expanded by city government during the devastating coronavirus outbreak that led to mass unemployment and food insecurity, as a large portion of the program was using public schools to distribute millions of free meals.</p> <p>A part of the massive program that has distributed over 100 million free meals since March will likely shift as students and staff return to schools that have served as central emergency food hubs during the pandemic shutdown. While New Yorkers of all stripes, including families, could pick up “grab-and-go” meals at more than 400 school sites across the five boroughs five days a week, many others received more than 1 million meals a day through home delivery and still others received emergency sustenance through food pantries and other means.</p> <p>With the planned shift in how school buildings are used, it’s not yet clear how the city intends to distribute emergency food or even what the need will be come September, in part due to the unknowns around the city’s economic revival. Whereas schools have long been a source of two meals a day for many low-income students and became logical food pick-up hubs during the shutdown, a school reopening where students are only in school buildings two or three days a week creates a complicated picture on many fronts, including food.</p> <p>A month out from the planned reopening of schools, those leading the city’s emergency food program acknowledge that plans are not yet set for how meal distribution will work after Labor Day. While some students will attend school up to three days a week, parents can completely opt their children out of in-person learning, and although there is a commitment by -- but not yet a plan from -- top officials to provide students with meals, it’s unclear how many food insecure adults without children have been utilizing the school food pick-up sites over the past months and whether or not they will be able to continue to do so.</p> <p><strong>Grab &amp; Go Meals</strong><br />The city’s emergency program, called GetFoodNYC, is led by the city’s “food czar,” a position Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on March 21, when he said Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia would take the new role. Soon after being appointed, Garcia helped stand up efforts to make 470 Department of Education sites, almost all of which were schools, available to provide three meals a day to children under 18 (and, later, to families and then also adults without children as of April 3), and develop and expand other emergency food programming.</p> <p>It is the school pick-up piece of the program that Garcia and the city have yet to make concrete plans to continue once schools reopen.</p> <p>“DOE [Department of Education] is planning carefully around reopening,” said Department of Sanitation Assistant Commissioner for Public Affairs Joshua Goodman, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “Until we know what school reopening will look like, we cannot know exactly what Grab &amp; Go meal operations may look like – but our commitment will remain the same, that no New Yorker should go hungry due to the pandemic.”</p> <p>It was only late last Thursday that de Blasio<a href="https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/nyc-releases-plan-for-return-to-in-person-learning-as-tri-state-faces-conflicting-options/2543950/"> revealed the most detailed plan yet</a> as to how schools will reopen, which includes measures to immediately close down classrooms where one or more students test positive for coronavirus, and to close down entire buildings if two or more students in different classrooms test positive. It also requires students or teachers who feel sick to stay home and allows for families to opt into an all-remote learning option. About 26% of families would prefer that option, no matter the safety precautions taken, according to a Department of Education survey<a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-city-schools-plan-still-unclear-but-some-students-teachers-will-stay-home-11593712873"> reported on by the Wall Street Journal</a>. For students returning to school buildings, it will only be for<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/08/nyregion/nyc-schools-reopening-plan.html"> one to three days a week</a>. Individual school plans are in the process of being designed, though they in part rely on what student enrollment will look like, forming something of a chicken-or-the-egg relationship.</p> <p>Before they were closed, New York City public schools were serving more than 1 million meals a day, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office (IBO), with Garcia saying in an interview that New York City public schools are “maybe the largest feeding program in the country.”</p> <p>“If schools are truly reopening, [the grab-and-go locations] are a lot less important,” said Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, a non-profit dedicated to connecting those experiencing food insecurity to services and advocating for legislation to address hunger. “That would certainly be a good thing in reducing hunger. And, you know, there are 1,600 schools so even if&nbsp; that closes down 400 alternative sites, some adults may be missing out but far more kids would be fed so that would be a worthwhile trade-off.”</p> <p>But that progress will be significantly complicated by the part-time nature of schooling for many students in the fall and the fact that untold number of students will not be going to school buildings at all.</p> <p>When assessing the grab-and-go program, the <a href="https://ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/food-to-go-did-nyc-open-grab-and-go-sites-in-areas-with-the-greatest-need-schools-brief-july-2020.html">IBO found evidence</a> supporting Berg’s point about the benefits of students accessing food in schools, as the pick-up program did not serve as a replacement for in-school meals.</p> <p>“While quickly established, the Grab &amp; Go sites have not fully met the problem of hunger and food insecurity across the city,” the report states. “In the last week of April, the sites provided an average of 305,000 meals a day, well below the number schools typically served.”</p> <p>However, IBO did find that nearly 90% of students were within half a mile of the grab-and-go locations, and more than half "were located in census tracts where the average household income was below or near the poverty threshold,” with the majority of sites located in Brooklyn and the Bronx.</p> <p>The report is based on data from March 30, though, and the program has expanded significantly since. It also does not include other emergency food efforts besides the grab-and-go program.</p> <p>“More than 400 meal hubs at DOE sites across the city are distributing around 500,000 meals per day to people in need,” Goodman said in a statement when asked about the IBO report, published at the end of July. “This is an incredible achievement, part of a broader operation that has now served more than 100 million meals since the pandemic began to ensure no New Yorker goes hungry. We appreciate the IBO’s role but are deeply proud of the work of DOE staff and the NYC Food Czar team.”</p> <p>Moving forward, the city hopes the grab-and-go program will be used in conjunction with school meals. As although students will not be attending school every day, some not at all, the city is committed to maintaining a grab-and-go program that operates every day for students, according to Garcia’s office. How it will do so, and whether it will extend to families or adults without children, is still unclear.</p> <p>That population of adults without children, as Berg alluded to, is one with few resources dedicated directly to them. Besides the grab-and-go program that is first and foremost for students and their families, GetFoodNYC’s food delivery service is meant for seniors or those who cannot risk going outside due to medical conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19.</p> <p>It is unclear how large the population is of those who have been accessing grab-and-go meals at school sites but are not members of families with schoolchildren, and how many may lose out on free meals if the grab-and-go program reverts to being only for children or families with children, as the program does not collect demographic data, in order to avoid discouraging use.</p> <p><strong>Deepening Struggles for New Yorkers</strong><br />There are more than 800,000 people in New York City who were unemployed as of June 2020, according to the<a href="https://www.labor.ny.gov/stats/nyc/"> New York State Department of Labor</a>, maing for a roughly 20% unemployment rate, a massive increase from the roughly 4% at the start of March. This is just one measure of many indicating the extent of economic devastation due to the pandemic, and the growing food insecurity because of it.</p> <p>Berg described the substantial spike in need caused by the pandemic as “better than the Great Depression but worse than it’s been in modern times.” He said that, although New York has made substantial and important progress addressing the problem, there are still hungry New Yorkers in need of further assistance.</p> <p>“It’s certainly better than starving and New York City’s actually doing better than the rest of New York State, and really doing less bad than the rest of the country,” Berg said. “But when the Mayor says, ‘we’re going to make sure no one’s going hungry,’ that’s not true, either, because people were going hungry before this and they’re certainly going hungry now.”</p> <p>From March 21 to June 6 there were over 1 million more unemployment claims compared to the same time period in 2019, according to a recent<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/covid/covid-19-food-insecurity.pdf"> report</a> by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The number of SNAP (food stamps) recipients increased by 8% from<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/facts/hra_facts/2020/hra_facts_2020_03.pdf"> March</a> to<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/facts/hra_facts/2020/hra_facts_2020_05.pdf"> May</a>, according to statistics from the<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/hra/about/facts.page#snap"> New York City Human Resources Administration</a>. Prior to the pandemic, SNAP enrollment had been decreasing, with about a 5% decrease from<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/facts/hra_facts/2020/hra_facts_2020_02.pdf"> February 2019 to February 2020</a>. The city’s massive emergency food program may have actually led to fewer SNAP sign-ups than may have otherwise occurred amid the economic shock.</p> <p>According to the results of a poll by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), 35% of New York City households said in April that they had received food from an emergency food source in the past month, and 21% of New Yorkers said they were unable to buy groceries because of lack of money following the COVID-19 outbreak and its fallout.</p> <p>Those facing financial and food insecurity who are neither seniors nor adults with children may turn to other resources meant to help anyone going hungry, according to Garcia.</p> <p>“I do think that there will be a set of people that, due to the economic downturn, will need support through food pantries and soup kitchens and the grab-and-go program,” Garcia said.</p> <p><strong>Food Pantries</strong><br />But many food pantries are struggling, too, due to the pandemic, with 75% of food pantries and soup kitchens serving more New Yorkers in April 2020 than in the months leading up to COVID-19, according to a survey by Food Bank for New York City. That<a href="https://www.foodbanknyc.org/update-on-food-insecurity-during-covid-19/"> report</a> also found that&nbsp;</p> <p>“At the outbreak’s peak, roughly 40% of the city’s soup kitchens and food pantries were closed, largely because they are run by seniors who are at high risk during the health crisis.”</p> <p>Food pantries do provide substantially less support to food insecure New Yorkers compared to government programs like SNAP, though, with Berg saying government programs support nearly 20 times more food than food pantries. Still, food pantries can be a vital source of food for those in need.</p> <p>Ceasar Tobar-Acosta, who heads the food pantry at the Bronx’s Kingsbridge Heights Community Center, described the pre-COVID pantry as relying on small donors and serving 10-20 people a day.</p> <p>“Our numbers shot up from us doing weeks of serving 20 in a day to us, as of last Friday, 150 people showing up a day,” Tobar-Acosta said of how things changed once the pandemic worsened, in a July 21 interview.</p> <p>Tobar-Acosta said, besides the increase in demand and addition of precautions to prevent spreading the disease, COVID-19 resulted in the pantry relying on a new type of donors, namely large non-profits. It also received food from the GetFoodNYC program.</p> <p>At one point, though, the food pantry<a href="http://bronx.com/we-cannot-close-our-food-pantry-right-now/"> almost had to close</a> due to the increase in demand but limited supply. Of food pantries that did close, a disproportionate number were in the Bronx, where 50% closed, 90% of which were in high-need communities, according to the Food Bank for New York City report.</p> <p>“As someone born and raised in the Bronx my entire life, it is very easy to see how…the Bronx very much captures why New York City is a tale of two cities. When you see all these resources, a lot of money, but then you see, hey, there’s a lot of communities that don’t get this funding,” Tobar-Acosta said. “When you’re already living in a food insecure place, the second a pandemic hits you are significantly worse-off because your community already does not have those supplies for a number of reasons. And the Bronx is one of those places where there are a lot of food insecure areas of the Bronx already.”</p> <p>With job loss exacerbating an already-pressing crisis, Tobar-Acosta mentioned one customer of the food pantry who is an essential worker and works a 12-hour shift, but still needs assistance. Many community members are also said to be faced with the tough decision of leaving their jobs and collecting unemployment, or receiving zero-hour work-weeks for some period of time as local employers needed to cut back on costs during the pandemic.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Most definitely there’s a visible impact of job loss. We see newer and newer faces as the days pass,” Tobar-Acosta. “They can’t go back to their old jobs, because on paper they voluntarily left even though the other option was you don’t get paid.”</p> <p>Those facing job loss will likely continue to need assistance, even as, hopefully, the public health crisis continues to improve and the city economy continues to reopen. Garcia said she hopes GetFoodNYC will be able to continue to “fill in the gaps” by providing increased assistance to food pantries. She also said it is likely that many of the food pantries that closed were smaller and may have opened back up since the height of the pandemic.</p> <p><strong>Funding</strong><br />Support for food pantries and other emergency food efforts received huge boosts of funding from all levels of government during the pandemic.</p> <p>Garcia said most of the funding for GetFoodNYC, specifically, comes from the federal government.</p> <p>“We anticipate that the covid emergency is going to get extended nationally, just based on where we are,” Garcia said in an interview. “We have to re-up the program every 30 days under FEMA but it has been accepted under FEMA funding, so that has been what has underwritten emergency feeding during this time.”</p> <p>The city also dedicated a significant amount of funding, such as a $170 million initiative, “Feeding New York,”<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9316-de-blasio-plan-food-emergency-coronavirus-hunger"> announced by de Blasio on April 15</a>, which Garcia was charged with executing. The plan dedicated funding to the Food Reserve (an existing emergency reserve of nonperishable goods that the city has in case of a crisis, like the pandemic), suggested that grocery stores require workers and customers to wear face masks, and initiated the scaling up of the food delivery system through the Department of Education and Department for the Aging (DFTA), an area where GetFoodNYC has contributed greatly.</p> <p>City funds for emergency food efforts and GetFoodNYC have also come from through New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA), which had a total budget for food (including funds for Emergency Food Assistance, the GetFoodNYC program, and the Food Reserve) of $73.4 million in fiscal year 2020, which ended June 30, according to the IBO. That number is expected to drop slightly for fiscal year 2021, to $71 million, per the recently-adopted fiscal year 2021 budget.</p> <p>In both years, city funding for food pantries and soup kitchens was about $21 million, according to IBO. For 2021, the other $50 million goes toward the Food Reserve, suggesting that the GetFoodNYC program will continue to be almost entirely reliant on federal funds moving forward. (This is not a complete picture of emergency food funding, as other agencies, such as the Department of Education and the Sanitation Department, are somewhat involved with such efforts.)</p> <p>The city took other measures, too, to address growing needs including matching a state government $25 million allocation toward food banks for food and personnel, which was estimated to provide 2.1 million food packages each consisting of nine meals for a total of 19 million meals, according to a City Council<a href="https://council.nyc.gov/press/2020/03/27/1908/"> press release</a>. The city also deployed city staff to 14 food pantries short on volunteers.</p> <p>And in addition to emergency funds via FEMA, the federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provided the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program with<a href="https://www.fns.usda.gov/disaster/pandemic/covid-19"> $500 million</a> on March 18. There was also the CARES Act, which provided $15.5 billion to support SNAP, $35 million for WIC, $38 million for Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) Commodities, $16 million for TEFAP Administration, and $450 million for food banks on March 27.</p> <p>On top of that, Congress passed a pandemic-EBT program that gives families with children who would have received public school meals with electronic debit cards, something Berg said would result in around $400 million worth of food going to roughly 1 million New York City kids.</p> <p><strong>Home Delivery for the Most Vulnerable</strong><br />One of the major areas the de Blasio administration put funds into through the GetFoodNYC program was home-delivered meals for seniors and those with pre-existing medical conditions, two populations especially vulnerable to COVID-19 that had unique challenges, besides financial stress, in accessing food — namely, the risk of contracting the disease while grocery shopping or picking up food.</p> <p>Even before Garcia was even named food czar, though, the New York City Department for the Aging knew this would be a problem when the city closed hundreds of senior centers in mid-March to prevent the spread of COVID-19. DFTA immediately converted the centers to sites for preparing and sending out delivered meals to seniors’ homes, expanding on an existing meal-delivery program for those who are mostly or completely homebound. The week senior centers were closed, 96,000 meals were distributed to senior centers to then be delivered, Deputy Director of Public Affairs for DFTA Suzanne Myklebust told Gotham Gazette <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9217-city-closes-senior-centers-but-will-provide-meals-amid-coronavirus-outbreak">at the time</a>.</p> <p>But, there was still a need for seniors and others who could not risk going outside due to medical conditions that made them more susceptible to COVID-19, especially at the height of the pandemic.</p> <p>“We do think that there is a group of seniors that one, shouldn’t be going out, and two, are very food insecure,” Garcia said. “And that their usual option of a senior center congregate food setting isn’t going to come into play for quite some time.”</p> <p>Garcia and her team worked to quickly create the food-delivery system within GetFoodNYC, which uses drivers licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission to deliver meals from large distribution centers, helping to provide devastated drivers with income while also feeding needy New Yorkers. The program ramped up fast and began delivering 1 million meals a day as of the week of May 27, and from mid-March to mid-June the New York City government served <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9516-whats-the-data-point-70-million-with-kathryn-garcia-cas-holloway-emergency-food">70 million free meals</a>.</p> <p>“I worked in government for eight years in the Clinton administration, a big bureaucracy, and the magnitude of what New York City did, it can’t be overstated,” said Berg. “They did in the course of a few weeks what typically would take government years to plan.”</p> <p>The program was developed in part by enterprise software company Unqork, where former New York City Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway works as the head of its public enterprise initiative. Holloway worked in the Bloomberg administration during Superstorm Sandy, when he first saw the need to develop software quickly and at scale to address a crisis. The GetFoodNYC app developed for the current crisis over the course of a weekend, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9516-whats-the-data-point-70-million-with-kathryn-garcia-cas-holloway-emergency-food">Halloway said</a> on the What’s The [Data] Point? podcast, and made it possible for individuals to fill out a survey to see if they qualify for the program, and order if they do, and had another side for TLC drivers to sign up for delivery shifts, as well as an administrative back-end.</p> <p>“It has been an enormous team effort across a lot of agencies to make this work, I would say an alphabet soup of agencies,” Garcia said in the interview. “And a real commitment by the city to make sure that no one went hungry. What you would traditionally do, like run a soup kitchen for food, clearly was not going to be our go-to in the middle of a pandemic, so I think there was a certain amount of commitment and creativity to getting this done that has to do with a real team of people that felt like this was incredibly important work.”</p> <p>Although the program received some criticism for not initially providing kosher and halal meals, by<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9403-new-york-city-meet-need-for-culturally-diverse-emergency-food-halal-kosher-coronavirus"> mid-May</a> it had 18 sites serving kosher meals and 32 sites providing halal meals, strategically placed in communities with large Jewish or Muslim populations. Another issue was questions of how nutritious the meals were, with some recipients describing accounts where they were given snacks rather than actual meals, as reported by<a href="https://t.co/3pjflUhxL4?amp=1"> Gothamist</a>. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and New York City Council Member Ben Kallos of Manhattan<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9439-bill-to-mandate-nutrition-standards-new-york-city-food-meals-adams-kallos"> introduced a bill</a> on May 20 to develop nutrition standards for the meals in both the delivery and grab-and-go parts of the program. There have also been issues with<a href="https://nypost.com/2020/07/29/free-city-meals-meant-for-needy-left-at-wrong-address-since-may/"> delivery accuracy</a> and<a href="https://nypost.com/2020/07/27/boxes-of-unopened-coronavirus-food-for-poor-found-dumped-in-queens/"> waste of some meals</a> that have sat in warehouses.</p> <p>“We take food waste extremely seriously, and doing so is part of how we have been able to distribute over 100 million meals successfully,” Goodman said in a statement. “At this scale, we rely on all New Yorkers to let us know right away if there is ever a problem, at <a href="http://nyc.gov/getfoodhelp">nyc.gov/getfoodhelp</a> or by calling 311. We can often fix problems same day if they are brought to our attention.”</p> <p>Garcia has also acknowledged hiccups in the program, saying “the challenge was also just dealing with the scale of the crisis at the moment of the crisis and the huge need that just went flying through the roof, and keeping up with that and trying to make sure we had enough food, food that was religiously appropriate and being able to make that sync together,”<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9516-whats-the-data-point-70-million-with-kathryn-garcia-cas-holloway-emergency-food"> she said in a recent appearance</a> on What’s The [DATA] Point?, which is produced by Gotham Gazetteand Citizens Budget Commission.</p> <p>Goodman has also repeatedly responded to some of this criticism on Twitter, <a href="https://twitter.com/jshgdmn/status/1264625261737320450?s=20">saying</a>, for example: “To meet incredible scale (1M meals/day) we work with dozens of vendors - over 30 and growing. Some serve fresh food, some frozen, some shelf-stable, which is things like canned tuna, soups, packaged milk, maybe pita chips,” and “This is a huge operation of *emergency* food - but as Mayor and Commissioner Garcia stated, must be healthy and nutritious. If someone receives a meal that doesn't meet our standards, let us know at <a href="http://NYC.gov/GetFoodHelp">http://NYC.gov/GetFoodHelp</a> so we can fix and hold vendor accountable.”</p> <p><strong>Looking Ahead</strong><br />Garcia said the need for home-delivered meals, especially among seniors, will likely remain for some time as COVID-19 makes it unsafe for senior centers to return even as the city moves through reopening phases.</p> <p>For some of those seniors, they have relied on a similar to but more comprehensive program than the GetFoodNYC food delivery service run by DFTA, which has been serving elderly New Yorkers who need food delivered due to illness or disability for years, partially through a partnership with Citymeals on Wheels.</p> <p>The budget for the Home Delivered Meals program (HDM), unlike HRA’s emergency food budget, did see a 25% decrease from $59.7 million in fiscal year 2020 to $44.6 million in fiscal year 2021, according to the IBO. However, some of that decrease is a result of a lack of discretionary funding DFTA received for HDM from the City Council in the 2021 city budget that it had received the year prior, according to DFTA.</p> <p>“For 30 years, DFTA’s Home Delivered Meals (HDM) program has provided nutritious meals to older New Yorkers who are homebound due to severe illness or disability. This program has been operating long before the COVID-19 crisis and will continue operating long after,” Myklebust said in a statement. “This year, we issued an RFP to increase meal options for this program, including the availability of culturally aligned meals that reflect our City’s diversity, all while ensuring that meals continue to be high quality, healthy and nutritious. A top priority for DFTA and the City is that no older New Yorker goes hungry during this pandemic and that all who need meals has access to them, either through the HDM program or GetFoodNYC.”</p> <p>Garcia remains hopeful about the city’s ability to meet need even if there is a second covid wave in the fall, saying, “Our programs are pretty flexible in our ability to dial up if need be.”</p> <p>Berg is not as hopeful. Although he said he gives the city “a lot of kudos” for taking the substantial steps it did, he maintains that higher wages for workers, more than food pantries or federal programs, are key to combating food insecurity. He said the large amount of food pantries within the city are relatively new, compared to in the 1970s when better conditions for workers meant they were relatively unneeded.</p> <p>And despite the funding already dedicated to addressing hunger nationwide, statewide, and citywide, Berg said that without another substantial federal stimulus package, New Yorkers — especially those who are low-income — will be in a very tough spot.</p> <p>“I’ve been in this job 19 years and there’ve been three truly catastrophic events: 9/11, the 2008 Wall Street collapse, and then Hurricane Sandy. In all of those, low-income people suffered the most and it took years and years and years to recover,” Berg said. “Hungry people are the first to get the problem and the last to recover, last to be rehired, last to get wage increases. And I’m worried the current political environment isn’t building the public safety net we need.”</p> <p>

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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Crowded Field Forms for Special Election to Replace Ritchie Torres in the City Council 2020-08-04T04:00:00+00:00 2020-08-04T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9643-crowded-field-forms-special-election-to-replace-ritchie-torres-bronx-city-council Andrew Millman amillman@gg.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/7-press-conf-regard.jpg" alt="7 press conf regard" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Council Member Ritchie Torres (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>With City Council Member Ritchie Torres declaring victory in the Bronx’s 15th Congressional District Democratic primary and all but assured to advance to Congress at the start of next year, a special election to replace Torres in the City Council’s own District 15 looks likely for sometime in February or March of 2021. The race in the heavily-Democratic Council district is already shaping up to be hotly-contested, with community leaders, the son of a state senator, and at least one member of the New York City Democratic Socialists of America (NYC-DSA) all jumping into the race.</p> <p>Since Torres, who declined an interview request for this story, was term-limited from seeking another Council term in the regularly-scheduled 2021 city elections, candidates had already started running to replace him. His presumed victory only moves up their election date by about four months, though even with a special election early in the year to see who finishes out the last year of the four-year term, there will be a primary in June 2021 and a general election that fall to see who will represent the district as of January 2022.</p> <p>The special election will also likely mark the first use of ranked-choice voting in New York City, probably along with a special election in Queens’ District 31, where Council Member Donovan Richards is on his way to becoming Queens Borough President. The new voting system approved by voters in 2019 is mandated to go into effect at the beginning of 2021 for all special elections and party primary elections for city government positions.</p> <p>Council District 15 straddles Fordham Road, which is frequently used to demarcate the northern boundary of the South Bronx, and encompasses the neighborhoods of Belmont, Fordham, Tremont, Norwood, Parkchester, West Farms, and Williamsbridge, as well as some of the largest greenspaces in the city (the New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx Zoo, and Crotona Park), Fordham University, and Arthur Avenue. It is also home to St. Barnabas Hospital, which was one of the <a href="https://gothamist.com/news/st-barnabas-hospitals-bronx-coronvirus">most inundated medical facilities</a> during the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City.</p> <p>According to the <a href="https://data.cityofnewyork.us/City-Government/Census-Demographics-at-the-NYC-City-Council-distri/ye4r-qpmp">2010 Census</a>, the district is 66% Hispanic, 25% Black, and 5% white, with 63% of adults under the age of 45. District 15 is also among the <a href="https://www.icphusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Poverty.pdf">poorest in the city</a> with a poverty rate of 38.5% in 2014, which was third-highest among City Council districts. Torres earned an upset win in a competitive 2013 Democratic primary then cruised to reelection in 2017. He made public housing and oversight of the de Blasio administration main priorities during his tenure.</p> <p><strong>Candidates &amp; Possible Candidates</strong><br />Four candidates are now running to succeed Torres: Ischia Bravo, district manager for the Bronx’s Community Board 7; Elisa Crespo, an education liaison for Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.; Oswald Feliz, a district leader and housing lawyer; and, Julian Sepúlveda, who works in intergovernmental affairs for the city’s Department of Education.</p> <p>Bravo challenged longtime Bronx Assemblymember Jose Rivera in a 2016 Democratic primary, but prior to that spent seven years as executive director of the Bronx Democratic County Committee. Crespo, who is seeking to become the city’s <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9606-lgbtq-candidates-2021-elections-new-york-city-council">first Council member of trans experience</a>, is a member of the Bronx/Upper Manhattan branch of the NYC-DSA and a board member of the Stonewall Democrats. Feliz has worked in State Senator Gustavo Rivera’s office and for Congressional Rep. Adriano Espaillat’s campaign, with both of those districts partially overlapping with Council District 15. Sepúlveda, who is the son of Bronx State Senator Luis Sepúlveda, announced his candidacy <a href="https://t.co/I8aLCnwE3T?amp=1">within the last week</a>.</p> <p>Additionally, John Sanchez, district manager for Bronx Community Board 6, told Gotham Gazette that he is “seriously considering running for the seat” after “being approached by community members and community leaders” about a potential candidacy. He does not currently have a campaign committee open and would be a first-time candidate for elected office, but said he would be making a decision “shortly.” However, he has recently <a href="https://fordham.us4.list-manage.com/track/click?u=48158e1ebf5fdfa94689a4509&amp;id=9553387f48&amp;e=0cfba2baf3">advertised for intern positions</a> for a Council campaign, so an announcement appears imminent.</p> <p>There has been speculation that Samelys López or another candidate from the left would enter the race. While there is already one DSA member in the race in Crespo, López received a great deal of support from progressive groups and elected officials in the congressional primary won by Torres, where she received a little over 13% of the vote in a crowded field (coming in 4th, after Torres, Michael Blake, and Ruben Diaz Sr.), leading several people Gotham Gazette spoke with to wonder if she’ll run for the Council. López, who was endorsed by NYC-DSA, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others in the congressional primary, did not respond to requests for comment for this story.</p> <p>There's also always the possibility of other candidates entering the race.</p> <p>“I’m a true-blue Democrat, but I’m willing to work with any group that has the best intentions for the Bronx. If that means working with DSA or incumbents, then so be it,” Bravo told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>“Our campaign is trying to build the broadest coalition possible that is representative of our community and our borough,” said Crespo, who says she will pursue the endorsements of the DSA and Working Families Party, as well as the Bronx Democratic Party.</p> <p>“The DSA has done some amazing work in the city, particularly with the election of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” said Julian Sepúlveda, “and I’m going to try to get support from as many advocacy groups as I can. What’s going to matter in this election is candidates’ ability to speak to voters and build grassroots support.”</p> <p><strong>Fundraising &amp; Ranked-Choice Voting</strong><br />As one of roughly 35 upcoming City Council races without an incumbent, the race for District 15 is likely to be very competitive. Two candidates, <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2317&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Bravo,%20Ischia&amp;office=CD%2015&amp;report=summ">Bravo</a> and <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2321&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Crespo,%20Elisa&amp;office=CD%2015&amp;report=summ">Crespo</a>, are neck-in-neck in terms of initial fundraising, with $17,546 and $16,707 raised, respectively, as of the July disclosure reports.Crespo has narrowly more total donors, with 296 to Bravo’s 283.</p> <p>“Most of my money mostly came from hard-working people in the Bronx who are dedicated to seeing someone who is unbought and unbossed,” Bravo told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Feliz has <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2311&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Feliz,%20Oswald&amp;office=CD%2015&amp;report=summ">raised </a>$4,747 so far, but he said he is confident that he can make up ground in campaign cash, noting that most of his fundraising was done within the last few weeks of the filing deadline. Three-quarters of his donations came in the month preceding the July 11 filing deadline, according to <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/ftmsearch/Candidates/Contributions?ec=2021&amp;rt=can&amp;cand=2311&amp;stmt=&amp;trans=ABC">disclosures</a> to the city’s Campaign Finance Board, while 76% of <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/FTMSearch/Candidates/Contributions?ec=2021&amp;rt=can&amp;cand=2317&amp;trans=ABC">Bravo’s </a>and 61% of <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/FTMSearch/Candidates/Contributions?ec=2021&amp;rt=can&amp;cand=2321&amp;trans=ABC">Crespo’s</a> donations came in that same timespan.</p> <p>“I intend to fundraise as strongly as I can and I’m pretty confident in my ability to fundraise,” Sepúlveda told Gotham Gazette, noting that fundraising is not his focus at the moment as he had just officially announced his candidacy.</p> <p>Candidates and organizers have expressed concern over the uncertainty regarding the implementation of ranked-choice voting, which is mandated to go in effect at the beginning of 2021 per the 2019 City Charter revision. The New York City Board of Elections has not returned Gotham Gazette’s request for comment about implementing ranked-choice voting early next year, and has already missed a deadline set by the City Council for a plan. Ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, allows voters to rank up to five candidates in order of preference, and if no candidate wins a majority on the initial count of first-choice votes, there are ensuing rounds of eliminating the lowest-vote getter and reapportioning their voters based on those voters' next choices until a candidate hits 50%.</p> <p>“You never saw elected officials come or show their faces,” Bravo recalled of her childhood living in public housing, “too often we don’t see ourselves reflected in our elected officials. We need to make sure that we have someone like myself who knows the district and doesn’t need to take a full term to get to know the local issues.”</p> <p>“The lens of mothers on the City Council is something that’s been missing,” Bravo, who is the mother of two school-aged children, told Gotham Gazette. For example, she said, “I rely heavily on my in-laws and my grandmother to watch my kids” and that will be difficult during the school year with a return to in-person learning and concerns about spreading the virus from kids to more vulnerable older relatives.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Those who have struggled, and been marginalized, and been oppressed should be the ones who should be making the decisions,” said Crespo, who is 29 years old and would likely be one of the youngest, if not the youngest, Council members. “My generation, for the first time, is not going to be better off than the generation before us. We’ve lived through multiple economic disasters and I strongly believe that it’s going to take a new generation of bold progressive leaders to bring systemic change.</p> <p>“I’ve spent my entire adult career working in municipal government,” Sepúlveda said in an interview. “I want to be able to make a difference with the knowledge I’ve acquired. I want to amplify the voices of those who I think have been underrepresented in New York City policy and government.”</p> <p><strong>Budget Equity</strong><br />The Bronx has historically been underfunded as a borough when it comes to the city and state budgets, particularly when it comes to <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/ny-union-education-funding-gap-20200125-foongyxznfdb5el7icu73fagdi-story.html">education funding</a>. Feliz said that the district needs “a strong negotiator,” not “an elected official who’s simply going to vote yes or no,” to bring much needed funding to the Bronx, pointing to his record advocating for tenants against landlords as evidence of his negotiating skills.</p> <p>“The Bronx has been short-changed for far too long and covid exposed the ugly truth of what was happening in our borough,” Bravo said. She hopes that the Bronx’s relatively high rate of 2020 Census returns will help remedy this.</p> <p>“There’s lots of development happening in the district but not enough schools that are being built to accommodate the new families coming in,” Crespo said. “We need to make sure each public school gets the same amount of funding, but schools in underserved areas probably need a little more.”</p> <p><strong>Covid-19 &amp; Recovery</strong><br />The coronavirus pandemic and its socioeconomic consequences are at the forefront of candidates’ and voters’ minds in Council District 15. Bronx residents have been <a href="https://www.thecity.nyc/health/2020/4/3/21210372/bronx-residents-twice-as-likely-to-die-from-covid-19-in-nyc">twice as likely to die from coronavirus</a> as other New York City residents, despite the borough having a number of infections proportional to its share of the city’s population. Public health experts say this elevated fatality rate is caused by the high rates of diabetes, asthma, and other chronic health conditions.</p> <p>Bravo was critical of Mayor de Blasio’s school reopening plan, saying that “a staggered schedule is not something that’s feasible for working parents like myself. I don’t care how affordable the mayor thinks he can make child-care for us. My rent is too high.”</p> <p>“The Bronx is going to be dealing with a different set of problems related to covid than the wealthy parts of Manhattan,” Sepúlveda said. “Health care is a right, not a privilege, and we’re going to have a mental health crisis so we need to be able to support our community emotionally.”</p> <p>Feliz is proposing that the city should construct a deck and greenspace over the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the <a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2017/2/20/14671192/nyc-most-congested-streets-united-states-cross-bronx-expressway#:~:text=The%20New%20York%20Post%20first,every%20year%2C%20according%20the%20study.">most congested roadway in the nation</a>. That would absorb the air pollution that disperses into Bronx neighborhoods. A similar proposal has also been put forward for the <a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2019/3/12/18248873/brooklyn-heights-bqe-repair-dot">Brooklyn-Queens Expressway</a> renovation.</p> <p><strong>Housing</strong><br />Affordable housing was another issue raised by all the declared candidates, although there were some differences in how each would approach the issue. As Bravo pointed out, the 10453 zip code (Bedford Park) had an<a href="https://furmancenter.org/stateofthecity/view/eviction-filings"> eviction rate</a> of nearly 21% in 2019, the third-highest in the city. Several other zip codes that overlap with District 15 were also in the top twenty.</p> <p>“This has been a burden for quite some time,” Bravo said, pointing to rising rents in the Bronx.</p> <p>She said “we need affordable housing that’s also sustainable housing, not with the bare minimum materials, and that it’s part of a new green infrastructure.” She added that impact studies should be expanded earlier in the process “so we know what services will be needed to go along with housing growth.”</p> <p>Crespo said that <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8458-little-used-community-land-trust-model-for-affordable-housing-may-see-big-boost">Community Land Trusts</a> could potentially “remove some of the speculation from the housing market. That would do well to serve Bronxites to make sure that housing is affordable and reflect the actual median income of Bronxites.” She added that “we need to modernize our land use process and be thinking five to ten years in advance.”</p> <p>Sepúlveda supports an increase to housing subsidies in the city’s budget to make affordable housing available to more New Yorkers. “I think Speaker Johnson had a <a href="https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2020/01/31/council-speaker-backs-plan-to-increase-rental-assistance-vouchers">solid plan on rental subsidies</a>,” he said. “The City Council has a deep role in investing in affordable housing. The housing crisis entrenches poverty and worsens police problems. All of these problems are related.”</p> <p>Feliz believes that the eviction moratorium should be extended “for the duration of the pandemic” and that “if the state doesn’t do that, the city should.” He said that “no one should be evicted due to the fact that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and our society is economically unstable.”</p> <p><strong>Public Safety</strong><br />With the protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis, activists and protesters in New York City have called for funding to be reallocated away from the police budget towards other youth and social services, under the slogan “Defund the NYPD.” The candidates currently running in Council District 15 said they are largely supportive of those proposals.</p> <p>“The NYPD has an inherent culture of feeling above the law and some of them have lost track of what they were assigned to do, which is to protect and serve,” Crespo said. “Many times in low-income communities, we feel unsafe around the police. I think police are too quick to resort to excessive force and they’re not well trained in how to de-escalate situations.”</p> <p>“I think if we thoughtfully and purposefully looked at NYPD line-items, such as the public relations unit and the militarized equipment, we could reinvest that into critical social services programs,” said Crespo. She supports defunding the NYPD by at least $1 billion from its nearly $6 billion annual operating budget, and said the recent city budget did not accomplish that.</p> <p>“We absolutely have to defund the NYPD, which means taking away some of that budget and putting it toward social programs, and we also have to promote police accountability,” said Feliz, who is supportive of a $1 billion cut to the NYPD budget, at least initially. He proposes mandating that police officers have an “affirmative duty” to stop misconduct they witness their coworkers committing.</p> <p>“The word ‘defund’ means different things to different people,” Sepúlveda told Gotham Gazette. “I support efforts to divest from the NYPD and put that money back into measures that invest in this city. The police department isn’t the only thing we should think about when it comes to public safety,” he said, noting he’s had personal and familial experiences with police handling of mental health emergencies. “I think we should divest a true billion dollars, at least as a start.”</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/7-press-conf-regard.jpg" alt="7 press conf regard" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Council Member Ritchie Torres (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>With City Council Member Ritchie Torres declaring victory in the Bronx’s 15th Congressional District Democratic primary and all but assured to advance to Congress at the start of next year, a special election to replace Torres in the City Council’s own District 15 looks likely for sometime in February or March of 2021. The race in the heavily-Democratic Council district is already shaping up to be hotly-contested, with community leaders, the son of a state senator, and at least one member of the New York City Democratic Socialists of America (NYC-DSA) all jumping into the race.</p> <p>Since Torres, who declined an interview request for this story, was term-limited from seeking another Council term in the regularly-scheduled 2021 city elections, candidates had already started running to replace him. His presumed victory only moves up their election date by about four months, though even with a special election early in the year to see who finishes out the last year of the four-year term, there will be a primary in June 2021 and a general election that fall to see who will represent the district as of January 2022.</p> <p>The special election will also likely mark the first use of ranked-choice voting in New York City, probably along with a special election in Queens’ District 31, where Council Member Donovan Richards is on his way to becoming Queens Borough President. The new voting system approved by voters in 2019 is mandated to go into effect at the beginning of 2021 for all special elections and party primary elections for city government positions.</p> <p>Council District 15 straddles Fordham Road, which is frequently used to demarcate the northern boundary of the South Bronx, and encompasses the neighborhoods of Belmont, Fordham, Tremont, Norwood, Parkchester, West Farms, and Williamsbridge, as well as some of the largest greenspaces in the city (the New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx Zoo, and Crotona Park), Fordham University, and Arthur Avenue. It is also home to St. Barnabas Hospital, which was one of the <a href="https://gothamist.com/news/st-barnabas-hospitals-bronx-coronvirus">most inundated medical facilities</a> during the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City.</p> <p>According to the <a href="https://data.cityofnewyork.us/City-Government/Census-Demographics-at-the-NYC-City-Council-distri/ye4r-qpmp">2010 Census</a>, the district is 66% Hispanic, 25% Black, and 5% white, with 63% of adults under the age of 45. District 15 is also among the <a href="https://www.icphusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Poverty.pdf">poorest in the city</a> with a poverty rate of 38.5% in 2014, which was third-highest among City Council districts. Torres earned an upset win in a competitive 2013 Democratic primary then cruised to reelection in 2017. He made public housing and oversight of the de Blasio administration main priorities during his tenure.</p> <p><strong>Candidates &amp; Possible Candidates</strong><br />Four candidates are now running to succeed Torres: Ischia Bravo, district manager for the Bronx’s Community Board 7; Elisa Crespo, an education liaison for Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.; Oswald Feliz, a district leader and housing lawyer; and, Julian Sepúlveda, who works in intergovernmental affairs for the city’s Department of Education.</p> <p>Bravo challenged longtime Bronx Assemblymember Jose Rivera in a 2016 Democratic primary, but prior to that spent seven years as executive director of the Bronx Democratic County Committee. Crespo, who is seeking to become the city’s <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9606-lgbtq-candidates-2021-elections-new-york-city-council">first Council member of trans experience</a>, is a member of the Bronx/Upper Manhattan branch of the NYC-DSA and a board member of the Stonewall Democrats. Feliz has worked in State Senator Gustavo Rivera’s office and for Congressional Rep. Adriano Espaillat’s campaign, with both of those districts partially overlapping with Council District 15. Sepúlveda, who is the son of Bronx State Senator Luis Sepúlveda, announced his candidacy <a href="https://t.co/I8aLCnwE3T?amp=1">within the last week</a>.</p> <p>Additionally, John Sanchez, district manager for Bronx Community Board 6, told Gotham Gazette that he is “seriously considering running for the seat” after “being approached by community members and community leaders” about a potential candidacy. He does not currently have a campaign committee open and would be a first-time candidate for elected office, but said he would be making a decision “shortly.” However, he has recently <a href="https://fordham.us4.list-manage.com/track/click?u=48158e1ebf5fdfa94689a4509&amp;id=9553387f48&amp;e=0cfba2baf3">advertised for intern positions</a> for a Council campaign, so an announcement appears imminent.</p> <p>There has been speculation that Samelys López or another candidate from the left would enter the race. While there is already one DSA member in the race in Crespo, López received a great deal of support from progressive groups and elected officials in the congressional primary won by Torres, where she received a little over 13% of the vote in a crowded field (coming in 4th, after Torres, Michael Blake, and Ruben Diaz Sr.), leading several people Gotham Gazette spoke with to wonder if she’ll run for the Council. López, who was endorsed by NYC-DSA, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others in the congressional primary, did not respond to requests for comment for this story.</p> <p>There's also always the possibility of other candidates entering the race.</p> <p>“I’m a true-blue Democrat, but I’m willing to work with any group that has the best intentions for the Bronx. If that means working with DSA or incumbents, then so be it,” Bravo told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>“Our campaign is trying to build the broadest coalition possible that is representative of our community and our borough,” said Crespo, who says she will pursue the endorsements of the DSA and Working Families Party, as well as the Bronx Democratic Party.</p> <p>“The DSA has done some amazing work in the city, particularly with the election of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” said Julian Sepúlveda, “and I’m going to try to get support from as many advocacy groups as I can. What’s going to matter in this election is candidates’ ability to speak to voters and build grassroots support.”</p> <p><strong>Fundraising &amp; Ranked-Choice Voting</strong><br />As one of roughly 35 upcoming City Council races without an incumbent, the race for District 15 is likely to be very competitive. Two candidates, <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2317&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Bravo,%20Ischia&amp;office=CD%2015&amp;report=summ">Bravo</a> and <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2321&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Crespo,%20Elisa&amp;office=CD%2015&amp;report=summ">Crespo</a>, are neck-in-neck in terms of initial fundraising, with $17,546 and $16,707 raised, respectively, as of the July disclosure reports.Crespo has narrowly more total donors, with 296 to Bravo’s 283.</p> <p>“Most of my money mostly came from hard-working people in the Bronx who are dedicated to seeing someone who is unbought and unbossed,” Bravo told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Feliz has <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2311&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Feliz,%20Oswald&amp;office=CD%2015&amp;report=summ">raised </a>$4,747 so far, but he said he is confident that he can make up ground in campaign cash, noting that most of his fundraising was done within the last few weeks of the filing deadline. Three-quarters of his donations came in the month preceding the July 11 filing deadline, according to <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/ftmsearch/Candidates/Contributions?ec=2021&amp;rt=can&amp;cand=2311&amp;stmt=&amp;trans=ABC">disclosures</a> to the city’s Campaign Finance Board, while 76% of <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/FTMSearch/Candidates/Contributions?ec=2021&amp;rt=can&amp;cand=2317&amp;trans=ABC">Bravo’s </a>and 61% of <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/FTMSearch/Candidates/Contributions?ec=2021&amp;rt=can&amp;cand=2321&amp;trans=ABC">Crespo’s</a> donations came in that same timespan.</p> <p>“I intend to fundraise as strongly as I can and I’m pretty confident in my ability to fundraise,” Sepúlveda told Gotham Gazette, noting that fundraising is not his focus at the moment as he had just officially announced his candidacy.</p> <p>Candidates and organizers have expressed concern over the uncertainty regarding the implementation of ranked-choice voting, which is mandated to go in effect at the beginning of 2021 per the 2019 City Charter revision. The New York City Board of Elections has not returned Gotham Gazette’s request for comment about implementing ranked-choice voting early next year, and has already missed a deadline set by the City Council for a plan. Ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, allows voters to rank up to five candidates in order of preference, and if no candidate wins a majority on the initial count of first-choice votes, there are ensuing rounds of eliminating the lowest-vote getter and reapportioning their voters based on those voters' next choices until a candidate hits 50%.</p> <p>“You never saw elected officials come or show their faces,” Bravo recalled of her childhood living in public housing, “too often we don’t see ourselves reflected in our elected officials. We need to make sure that we have someone like myself who knows the district and doesn’t need to take a full term to get to know the local issues.”</p> <p>“The lens of mothers on the City Council is something that’s been missing,” Bravo, who is the mother of two school-aged children, told Gotham Gazette. For example, she said, “I rely heavily on my in-laws and my grandmother to watch my kids” and that will be difficult during the school year with a return to in-person learning and concerns about spreading the virus from kids to more vulnerable older relatives.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Those who have struggled, and been marginalized, and been oppressed should be the ones who should be making the decisions,” said Crespo, who is 29 years old and would likely be one of the youngest, if not the youngest, Council members. “My generation, for the first time, is not going to be better off than the generation before us. We’ve lived through multiple economic disasters and I strongly believe that it’s going to take a new generation of bold progressive leaders to bring systemic change.</p> <p>“I’ve spent my entire adult career working in municipal government,” Sepúlveda said in an interview. “I want to be able to make a difference with the knowledge I’ve acquired. I want to amplify the voices of those who I think have been underrepresented in New York City policy and government.”</p> <p><strong>Budget Equity</strong><br />The Bronx has historically been underfunded as a borough when it comes to the city and state budgets, particularly when it comes to <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/ny-union-education-funding-gap-20200125-foongyxznfdb5el7icu73fagdi-story.html">education funding</a>. Feliz said that the district needs “a strong negotiator,” not “an elected official who’s simply going to vote yes or no,” to bring much needed funding to the Bronx, pointing to his record advocating for tenants against landlords as evidence of his negotiating skills.</p> <p>“The Bronx has been short-changed for far too long and covid exposed the ugly truth of what was happening in our borough,” Bravo said. She hopes that the Bronx’s relatively high rate of 2020 Census returns will help remedy this.</p> <p>“There’s lots of development happening in the district but not enough schools that are being built to accommodate the new families coming in,” Crespo said. “We need to make sure each public school gets the same amount of funding, but schools in underserved areas probably need a little more.”</p> <p><strong>Covid-19 &amp; Recovery</strong><br />The coronavirus pandemic and its socioeconomic consequences are at the forefront of candidates’ and voters’ minds in Council District 15. Bronx residents have been <a href="https://www.thecity.nyc/health/2020/4/3/21210372/bronx-residents-twice-as-likely-to-die-from-covid-19-in-nyc">twice as likely to die from coronavirus</a> as other New York City residents, despite the borough having a number of infections proportional to its share of the city’s population. Public health experts say this elevated fatality rate is caused by the high rates of diabetes, asthma, and other chronic health conditions.</p> <p>Bravo was critical of Mayor de Blasio’s school reopening plan, saying that “a staggered schedule is not something that’s feasible for working parents like myself. I don’t care how affordable the mayor thinks he can make child-care for us. My rent is too high.”</p> <p>“The Bronx is going to be dealing with a different set of problems related to covid than the wealthy parts of Manhattan,” Sepúlveda said. “Health care is a right, not a privilege, and we’re going to have a mental health crisis so we need to be able to support our community emotionally.”</p> <p>Feliz is proposing that the city should construct a deck and greenspace over the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the <a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2017/2/20/14671192/nyc-most-congested-streets-united-states-cross-bronx-expressway#:~:text=The%20New%20York%20Post%20first,every%20year%2C%20according%20the%20study.">most congested roadway in the nation</a>. That would absorb the air pollution that disperses into Bronx neighborhoods. A similar proposal has also been put forward for the <a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2019/3/12/18248873/brooklyn-heights-bqe-repair-dot">Brooklyn-Queens Expressway</a> renovation.</p> <p><strong>Housing</strong><br />Affordable housing was another issue raised by all the declared candidates, although there were some differences in how each would approach the issue. As Bravo pointed out, the 10453 zip code (Bedford Park) had an<a href="https://furmancenter.org/stateofthecity/view/eviction-filings"> eviction rate</a> of nearly 21% in 2019, the third-highest in the city. Several other zip codes that overlap with District 15 were also in the top twenty.</p> <p>“This has been a burden for quite some time,” Bravo said, pointing to rising rents in the Bronx.</p> <p>She said “we need affordable housing that’s also sustainable housing, not with the bare minimum materials, and that it’s part of a new green infrastructure.” She added that impact studies should be expanded earlier in the process “so we know what services will be needed to go along with housing growth.”</p> <p>Crespo said that <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8458-little-used-community-land-trust-model-for-affordable-housing-may-see-big-boost">Community Land Trusts</a> could potentially “remove some of the speculation from the housing market. That would do well to serve Bronxites to make sure that housing is affordable and reflect the actual median income of Bronxites.” She added that “we need to modernize our land use process and be thinking five to ten years in advance.”</p> <p>Sepúlveda supports an increase to housing subsidies in the city’s budget to make affordable housing available to more New Yorkers. “I think Speaker Johnson had a <a href="https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2020/01/31/council-speaker-backs-plan-to-increase-rental-assistance-vouchers">solid plan on rental subsidies</a>,” he said. “The City Council has a deep role in investing in affordable housing. The housing crisis entrenches poverty and worsens police problems. All of these problems are related.”</p> <p>Feliz believes that the eviction moratorium should be extended “for the duration of the pandemic” and that “if the state doesn’t do that, the city should.” He said that “no one should be evicted due to the fact that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and our society is economically unstable.”</p> <p><strong>Public Safety</strong><br />With the protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis, activists and protesters in New York City have called for funding to be reallocated away from the police budget towards other youth and social services, under the slogan “Defund the NYPD.” The candidates currently running in Council District 15 said they are largely supportive of those proposals.</p> <p>“The NYPD has an inherent culture of feeling above the law and some of them have lost track of what they were assigned to do, which is to protect and serve,” Crespo said. “Many times in low-income communities, we feel unsafe around the police. I think police are too quick to resort to excessive force and they’re not well trained in how to de-escalate situations.”</p> <p>“I think if we thoughtfully and purposefully looked at NYPD line-items, such as the public relations unit and the militarized equipment, we could reinvest that into critical social services programs,” said Crespo. She supports defunding the NYPD by at least $1 billion from its nearly $6 billion annual operating budget, and said the recent city budget did not accomplish that.</p> <p>“We absolutely have to defund the NYPD, which means taking away some of that budget and putting it toward social programs, and we also have to promote police accountability,” said Feliz, who is supportive of a $1 billion cut to the NYPD budget, at least initially. He proposes mandating that police officers have an “affirmative duty” to stop misconduct they witness their coworkers committing.</p> <p>“The word ‘defund’ means different things to different people,” Sepúlveda told Gotham Gazette. “I support efforts to divest from the NYPD and put that money back into measures that invest in this city. The police department isn’t the only thing we should think about when it comes to public safety,” he said, noting he’s had personal and familial experiences with police handling of mental health emergencies. “I think we should divest a true billion dollars, at least as a start.”</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Critical of Controversial NYPD Arrest of Protestor; Shea's Stance Unclear 2020-07-31T04:00:00+00:00 2020-07-31T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9638-de-blasio-critical-nypd-arrest-protestor-shea-stance-unclear Ethan Geringer-Sameth ethangs@gothamgazette.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/49342242247_c2b30ff3cb_c.jpg" alt="De Blasio Shea NYPD crime safest" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio &amp; Commissioner Shea (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio condemned the tactics and the timing of the police officers who dragged a protester alleged to have damaged several police cameras into an unmarked van on Tuesday. But the mayor did not say Thursday whether his police commissioner, Dermot Shea, felt the same way despite reporting having had two separate conversations on the subject.</p> <p>In an incident that was caught on camera and quickly went viral Tuesday evening, plainclothes officers leapt out of a grey van before a crowd of peaceful demonstrators in the Kips Bay section of Manhattan, and arrested and drove off with Nikki Stone, a protester who police said they had been looking for in connection with multiple alleged incidents of vandalism. The arrest has drawn scrutiny for its apparent similarities to Portland, Oregon, where for several nights federal agents have detained protesters in unmarked vehicles as demonstrations continue in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in May.</p> <p>De Blasio has said publicly that making the arrest at a peaceful demonstration was wrong and suggested similar strategies could have a chilling effect on free speech. The morning after the arrest, the mayor told reporters the place to make the arrest "was clearly not in the middle of an ongoing protest," and said the department would review the tactic.</p> <p>"I'll talk to the Commissioner about this more today, but I think there is a better way to get that done," he said Wednesday morning, without indicating what Shea had said about the arrest other than why Stone was a suspect.</p> <p>De Blasio said he didn't think it was "a matter of discipline" for the officers involved but that he wanted NYPD personnel to be more sensitive to the context of the arrest and make "better choices about how to deal with things in this moment of history."</p> <p>At his Thursday morning press briefing, de Blasio was evasive when asked whether or not Shea agreed the arrest should have been handled differently.</p> <p>"I spoke with Commissioner Shea about an hour after I think the video came out originally the other night, and then I spoke to him again yesterday," de Blasio said. "Look, I think it's clear, again, it was not the right time and place, and we have got to work to make sure people always know that the right to protest is protected in New York City."</p> <p>"When they vandalize public property," the mayor continued, referring to the charges against Stone, "there will be a consequence, but it was not done the right way. I certainly expressed that to [Shea] and we're going to work on trying to find a better way going forward."</p> <p>But the mayor didn't elaborate on what the "better way" could or should have been, what Shea actually said during their conversations, or whether there is an internal NYPD review of the incident underway.</p> <p>Since June, de Blasio and Shea have <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9555-police-commissioner-shea-repeatedly-contradicts-mayor-de-blasio-nypd">repeatedly disagreed publicly</a> over a host of recent policing and criminal justice reforms, including changes to controversial arrest tactics.</p> <p>Stone received a desk appearance ticket for criminal mischief and graffiti charges stemming from five separate incidents in June and July, according to an NYPD spokesperson. In at least three of them, officials say a person identified as Stone obscured NYPD security cameras with paint in the area around the encampment of demonstrators at City Hall, which coalesced in late June after weeks of marches against police brutality.</p> <p>In an interview Wednesday on WABC radio, Chief of Department Terence Monahan, the NYPD's highest-ranking uniformed officer, said the Warrant Squad officers assigned to make the arrest had acted above board and in line with departmental protocols. Monahan said the Warrant Squad arrived after being informed (it is unclear by whom) of Stone’s presence at the march, and the arrest was made after Stone identified the unmarked van as a police vehicle.</p> <p>"At that point there was nothing else to be done, she approached them," he said.</p> <p>Available footage of the incident is limited to what was captured by bystanders and posted to social media, making it difficult to confirm Monahan's account.</p> <p>Asked if the officers should have acted differently, Monahan only said that he would like to see them maintain their cover for longer. "We would have liked her not to be able to identify them, she was able to pick them up as a cop car. It would have been better if they could have been a little less transparent while they were doing the observations on her."</p> <p>During a Wednesday press conference call, Governor Andrew Cuomo weighed in on the incident unprompted by reporters, and called the Warrant Squad arrest "obnoxious." Like the mayor, Cuomo said its timing at a demonstration so close to the unrest in Portland sent the wrong message. “It was wholly insensitive to everything that’s going on. It was threatening,” he said.</p> <p>That morning, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson also criticized the NYPD's handling of the arrest. "It is totally unacceptable that an arrest for minor property crimes was carried out in such an aggressive and disturbing manner," he wrote in a <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCSpeakerCoJo/status/1288474255605325824">Twitter post</a>.</p> <p>Monahan wouldn't opine on critiques from New York's political class in the interview Wednesday. "I'm not going to get into the politics, I'm giving you the facts of what happened, you can judge by the facts," he said.</p> <p>When asked Thursday if the NYPD could clarify Commissioner Shea's position on the incident, a department spokesperson referred Gotham Gazette to Monahan’s WABC interview.</p> <p>

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/49342242247_c2b30ff3cb_c.jpg" alt="De Blasio Shea NYPD crime safest" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio &amp; Commissioner Shea (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio condemned the tactics and the timing of the police officers who dragged a protester alleged to have damaged several police cameras into an unmarked van on Tuesday. But the mayor did not say Thursday whether his police commissioner, Dermot Shea, felt the same way despite reporting having had two separate conversations on the subject.</p> <p>In an incident that was caught on camera and quickly went viral Tuesday evening, plainclothes officers leapt out of a grey van before a crowd of peaceful demonstrators in the Kips Bay section of Manhattan, and arrested and drove off with Nikki Stone, a protester who police said they had been looking for in connection with multiple alleged incidents of vandalism. The arrest has drawn scrutiny for its apparent similarities to Portland, Oregon, where for several nights federal agents have detained protesters in unmarked vehicles as demonstrations continue in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in May.</p> <p>De Blasio has said publicly that making the arrest at a peaceful demonstration was wrong and suggested similar strategies could have a chilling effect on free speech. The morning after the arrest, the mayor told reporters the place to make the arrest "was clearly not in the middle of an ongoing protest," and said the department would review the tactic.</p> <p>"I'll talk to the Commissioner about this more today, but I think there is a better way to get that done," he said Wednesday morning, without indicating what Shea had said about the arrest other than why Stone was a suspect.</p> <p>De Blasio said he didn't think it was "a matter of discipline" for the officers involved but that he wanted NYPD personnel to be more sensitive to the context of the arrest and make "better choices about how to deal with things in this moment of history."</p> <p>At his Thursday morning press briefing, de Blasio was evasive when asked whether or not Shea agreed the arrest should have been handled differently.</p> <p>"I spoke with Commissioner Shea about an hour after I think the video came out originally the other night, and then I spoke to him again yesterday," de Blasio said. "Look, I think it's clear, again, it was not the right time and place, and we have got to work to make sure people always know that the right to protest is protected in New York City."</p> <p>"When they vandalize public property," the mayor continued, referring to the charges against Stone, "there will be a consequence, but it was not done the right way. I certainly expressed that to [Shea] and we're going to work on trying to find a better way going forward."</p> <p>But the mayor didn't elaborate on what the "better way" could or should have been, what Shea actually said during their conversations, or whether there is an internal NYPD review of the incident underway.</p> <p>Since June, de Blasio and Shea have <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9555-police-commissioner-shea-repeatedly-contradicts-mayor-de-blasio-nypd">repeatedly disagreed publicly</a> over a host of recent policing and criminal justice reforms, including changes to controversial arrest tactics.</p> <p>Stone received a desk appearance ticket for criminal mischief and graffiti charges stemming from five separate incidents in June and July, according to an NYPD spokesperson. In at least three of them, officials say a person identified as Stone obscured NYPD security cameras with paint in the area around the encampment of demonstrators at City Hall, which coalesced in late June after weeks of marches against police brutality.</p> <p>In an interview Wednesday on WABC radio, Chief of Department Terence Monahan, the NYPD's highest-ranking uniformed officer, said the Warrant Squad officers assigned to make the arrest had acted above board and in line with departmental protocols. Monahan said the Warrant Squad arrived after being informed (it is unclear by whom) of Stone’s presence at the march, and the arrest was made after Stone identified the unmarked van as a police vehicle.</p> <p>"At that point there was nothing else to be done, she approached them," he said.</p> <p>Available footage of the incident is limited to what was captured by bystanders and posted to social media, making it difficult to confirm Monahan's account.</p> <p>Asked if the officers should have acted differently, Monahan only said that he would like to see them maintain their cover for longer. "We would have liked her not to be able to identify them, she was able to pick them up as a cop car. It would have been better if they could have been a little less transparent while they were doing the observations on her."</p> <p>During a Wednesday press conference call, Governor Andrew Cuomo weighed in on the incident unprompted by reporters, and called the Warrant Squad arrest "obnoxious." Like the mayor, Cuomo said its timing at a demonstration so close to the unrest in Portland sent the wrong message. “It was wholly insensitive to everything that’s going on. It was threatening,” he said.</p> <p>That morning, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson also criticized the NYPD's handling of the arrest. "It is totally unacceptable that an arrest for minor property crimes was carried out in such an aggressive and disturbing manner," he wrote in a <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCSpeakerCoJo/status/1288474255605325824">Twitter post</a>.</p> <p>Monahan wouldn't opine on critiques from New York's political class in the interview Wednesday. "I'm not going to get into the politics, I'm giving you the facts of what happened, you can judge by the facts," he said.</p> <p>When asked Thursday if the NYPD could clarify Commissioner Shea's position on the incident, a department spokesperson referred Gotham Gazette to Monahan’s WABC interview.</p> <p>

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Two Plans Map Path Forward for Devastated New York City Economy 2020-07-30T04:00:00+00:00 2020-07-30T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9612-two-new-plans-map-path-forward-for-devastated-new-york-city-economy Andrew Millman amillman@gg.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/26453693324_a0c4edb5d3_c.jpg" alt="New York City economy construction jobs plans" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Getting New York City back to work (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>With COVID-19 infection rates low and New York moving through phased ‘reopening,’ the attention of elected officials, business leaders, and others has turned toward the city’s economic recovery. This month, two groups, the Partnership for New York City, which represents many of the city’s largest businesses, and a new coalition, the New York Workforce Recovery Strategy Group, have released recovery plans with somewhat different focuses and conclusions about how the city should move forward.</p> <p>New York City and State have suffered some of the <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/new-york-by-the-numbers-weekly-economic-and-fiscal-outlook-no-10-july-20-2020/">worst economic consequences</a> of the pandemic in the country thus far. New York City’s unemployment rate currently stands at 20.4%, up from up from <a href="https://www.labor.ny.gov/pressreleases/2020/april-21-2020.shtm">just over 4%</a> when the coronavirus outbreak hit here, according to the State Department of Labor.</p> <p>Between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020, New York State shed 8.2% of its GDP, tied with Nevada, another state economy with a large tourism sector, for the largest decrease in the nation.</p> <p>“This will be infinitely harder than the recovery after 9/11,” said Dan Doctoroff, who was New York City Deputy Mayor of Economic Development from 2002 to 2007, and is currently Sidewalk Labs CEO, during a recent digital forum held by the <a href="https://t.co/0Qpe5ieUcY?amp=1">Center for an Urban Future</a>. “If we don't change the trajectory, New York City is heading into a period of negative growth.” Doctoroff said that “reversing this trend will require a new model for inclusive growth that addresses long-standing inequities,” particularly citing housing affordability and insufficient public transportation as injustices that need to be addressed.</p> <p>New York State anticipates losing 7% of its GDP in 2020 and up to 14% by the end of 2023, according to the <a href="https://pfnyc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/actionandcollaboration.pdf">state’s Division of the Budget</a>. In comparison, the state suffered declines of 2% after 9/11 and 10% after the 2008 financial crisis and those dips were for a relatively shorter period of time than the multi-year downturn currently projected. Reduced household income will also mean that the city’s affordable housing shortage will grow from 650,000 to 760,000 units within the next year, according to <a href="https://pfnyc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/actionandcollaboration.pdf">consulting firm Oliver Wyman</a>’s research for the Partnership for New York City.</p> <p>Several economic indicators point to the city and state economies rebounding slightly in recent weeks as the city has moved through the state-designed reopening phases, but they are still far from their pre-pandemic levels. The New York Federal Reserve’s Empire State Manufacturing Survey, conducted in early July, <a href="https://www.newyorkfed.org/survey/empire/empiresurvey_overview.html">indicates </a>improving business conditions.</p> <p>For example, revenue for Manhattan’s small businesses, which are heavily reliant on commuters, declined 70% from February to March, but has improved to 40% off pre-pandemic levels. Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island small business revenues declined 40-60% at the nadir of the pandemic, but have since rebounded to 10-25% less than pre-pandemic levels. The Bronx is the only borough where small business revenues are not below January 2020 levels.</p> <p>Still, the city’s collections from taxable sales were down 47% in June from the same month in 2019. Residential real estate sales were down 55% and commercial real estate sales down 57% for April-June of this year compared to the same period last year.</p> <p>The Partnership for New York City estimates in its report that as many as a third of the city’s 230,000 small businesses in neighborhood commercial corridors may go out of business due to the economic downturn and as many as 520,000 jobs were lost from the small business sector alone as consumer spending dipped by 44%.</p> <p>Jonathan Bowles, the executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, noted that “much of the city's recent job growth has been high-wage industries.” This has had “huge benefits for New York City,” but “the challenge moving forward is to expand access in every way possible —apprenticeships, in-depth training, CUNY, innovative HS models, and more.”</p> <p><strong>Partnership for New York City Calls for Public-Private Collaboration</strong><br />The Partnership asserts that with such massive job and revenue losses, the state and local governments will need to partner more with the private sector to rehabilitate the economy. Its report, entitled <a href="https://pfnyc.org/actionandcollaboration/">“A Call for Action and Collaboration,”</a> compiled research from 14 consulting firms and interviews with industry experts.</p> <p>They found that 70% of the New York City metro region’s office employees have safety concerns about returning to work in the near future. Industries able to operate remotely have experienced increased productivity and lowered costs, meaning that it is likely that many work-from-home policies will continue even after the pandemic. This could possibly permanently reduce the number of workers who commute into Manhattan each day and thus have a deleterious effect on businesses that cater to these commuters.</p> <p>One of the report’s more relatively-positive findings is that there are currently some 200,000 job vacancies in the city. The Partnership says closing the skills gap through more workforce development programs would help fill these opportunities with the recently unemployed.</p> <p>The Partnership for New York City supports five main actions to leverage the city’s major corporations and mobilize its members. One is to start a “Health Innovation Partnership,” which would set a universal standard for a “health passport,” build up a robust contact-tracing program, and finance investment in the life sciences sector. Another is to launch a restart clearinghouse to improve access to financial and technical resources for small- and minority-owned businesses.</p> <p>A third is the “Education Innovation Partnership,” which would use the private sector to help the city’s public education system establish high-quality online learning and hybrid programs for both in-school and remote education.</p> <p>Believing that state and municipal revenue shortfalls will mean less government funding for key programs, the Partnership is calling for an employer-led effort to expand job training, credentialing and hiring of city residents to fill the 200,000 job vacancies in the city.</p> <p>The Partnership is currently active advocating for federal relief for city, state, and transit agency needs, liability protection for employers and institutions, and a less restrictive visa policy for students and workers. A new federal relief package is expected soon, though it’s unclear what it may include for helping to plug huge city, state, and MTA budget gaps.</p> <p>As of July, according to the<a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/new-york-by-the-numbers-weekly-economic-and-fiscal-outlook-no-10-july-20-2020/"> New York City Comptroller’s Office</a>, subway ridership is still less than a fifth of and bus ridership is at just under half of pre-pandemic levels. MTA ridership appears to have plateaued in the most recent week, even with the city moving into “phase four” of its reopening. The fall-off in revenue for the MTA has left the transit agency in a <a href="https://www.masstransitmag.com/management/article/21143682/new-york-mta-facing-financial-calamity">dire fiscal position</a>.</p> <p>The Partnership also says it will hold “cross-sectoral problem-solving sessions” around the issues of transit, taxation, security, housing, and racial justice.</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9618-max-murphy-podcast-devastating-economic-picture-new-york-what-to-do-kathy-wylde" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Partnership for New York City CEO Kathryn Wylde discusses the Partnership's new report and more on the Max &amp; Murphy podcast</a>]</p> <p><strong>New Coalition wants a “Recovery for All”</strong><br />Meanwhile, the New York Workforce Recovery Strategy Group, which is led by the NYC Employment &amp; Training Coalition and includes over 80 business and human services leaders throughout the city, has its own plan, “<a href="http://nycetc.org/recoveryforall">Recovery for All: A Vision for New York City’s Equitable Economic Recovery</a>,” which takes a slightly different approach. Where Partnership for New York City envisions the private sector stepping up in a major way, this coalition believes that an equitable recovery will be achieved through significant government action.</p> <p>The report calls for an increase in public works projects and direct public employment, as well as relief programs for the most-affected individuals and communities. The coalition is also calling for an “education and training ecosystem” for the displaced workforce and marginalized communities, as well as recovery efforts for local small business and nonprofits, and support for new business development.</p> <p>The “Recovery for All” report asserts that recent Black Lives Matter protests “have made it abundantly clear that New Yorkers want a stronger safety net and economy that proactively benefits the many, not the few.” Recent data indicates that New York’s residents of color have been harder hit by the pandemic’s economic consequences than their white neighbors, which has also been the case for the public health emergency. Black (27%), Hispanic (33%), and Asian (28%) New Yorkers have all seen higher levels of worker dislocation than white New Yorkers (23%).</p> <p>The coalition wants to see the city build new revenue streams, primarily through taxes on high earners, and increased cuts to certain programs to redirect funding towards community investment so that the city’s post-recovery economy is a “sustainable” one. They caution against “austerity” budget measures that could even further harm marginalized communities.</p> <p>According to the New York Workforce Recovery Strategy Group, the city has the opportunity to address two crises at once, the economic one wrought by the pandemic through mass unemployment and the ongoing climate crisis, by investing in upgraded infrastructure.</p> <p>The coalition suggests ramping up short- and long-term infrastructure projects, and several potential projects the city should focus on. These include broadband installation, greening and repairs of NYCHA facilities, the “Cleaner and Greener New York” plan that would build up green infrastructure such as solar and wind power generation and coastal resiliency, and upgrades to public-health and child-care infrastructure.</p> <p>The coalition is also calling for a “true universal basic income for all New Yorkers,” as well as expansion of current means-tested cash assistance. It wants direct cash assistance for individuals, families, and communities most affected by the pandemic, as well as increases to both the state’s earned income tax credit and child and dependent care tax credit.</p> <p>The “Recovery for All” and Partnership for New York City reports both stress that an economic recovery for New York City relies on workforce development. However, the New York Workforce Recovery Strategy Group believes that the government, not private businesses, should take the lead on this through programs to help jumpstart businesses such as transitional employment, wage subsidy, work-based learning programs and apprenticeships. The coalition is also calling on the city to develop a citywide workforce development system, which non-profit <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9566-unemployment-crime-spike-city-plan-disconnected-youth-years-behind-schedule">service providers have long called for</a>.</p> <p>Also like the Partnership’s, the “Recovery for All” report highlights the need for assistance for small businesses in particular. It advocates for reducing red tape and increasing free or low-cost technology and technical training for local businesses, among other steps.</p> <p>

***
by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/26453693324_a0c4edb5d3_c.jpg" alt="New York City economy construction jobs plans" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Getting New York City back to work (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>With COVID-19 infection rates low and New York moving through phased ‘reopening,’ the attention of elected officials, business leaders, and others has turned toward the city’s economic recovery. This month, two groups, the Partnership for New York City, which represents many of the city’s largest businesses, and a new coalition, the New York Workforce Recovery Strategy Group, have released recovery plans with somewhat different focuses and conclusions about how the city should move forward.</p> <p>New York City and State have suffered some of the <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/new-york-by-the-numbers-weekly-economic-and-fiscal-outlook-no-10-july-20-2020/">worst economic consequences</a> of the pandemic in the country thus far. New York City’s unemployment rate currently stands at 20.4%, up from up from <a href="https://www.labor.ny.gov/pressreleases/2020/april-21-2020.shtm">just over 4%</a> when the coronavirus outbreak hit here, according to the State Department of Labor.</p> <p>Between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020, New York State shed 8.2% of its GDP, tied with Nevada, another state economy with a large tourism sector, for the largest decrease in the nation.</p> <p>“This will be infinitely harder than the recovery after 9/11,” said Dan Doctoroff, who was New York City Deputy Mayor of Economic Development from 2002 to 2007, and is currently Sidewalk Labs CEO, during a recent digital forum held by the <a href="https://t.co/0Qpe5ieUcY?amp=1">Center for an Urban Future</a>. “If we don't change the trajectory, New York City is heading into a period of negative growth.” Doctoroff said that “reversing this trend will require a new model for inclusive growth that addresses long-standing inequities,” particularly citing housing affordability and insufficient public transportation as injustices that need to be addressed.</p> <p>New York State anticipates losing 7% of its GDP in 2020 and up to 14% by the end of 2023, according to the <a href="https://pfnyc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/actionandcollaboration.pdf">state’s Division of the Budget</a>. In comparison, the state suffered declines of 2% after 9/11 and 10% after the 2008 financial crisis and those dips were for a relatively shorter period of time than the multi-year downturn currently projected. Reduced household income will also mean that the city’s affordable housing shortage will grow from 650,000 to 760,000 units within the next year, according to <a href="https://pfnyc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/actionandcollaboration.pdf">consulting firm Oliver Wyman</a>’s research for the Partnership for New York City.</p> <p>Several economic indicators point to the city and state economies rebounding slightly in recent weeks as the city has moved through the state-designed reopening phases, but they are still far from their pre-pandemic levels. The New York Federal Reserve’s Empire State Manufacturing Survey, conducted in early July, <a href="https://www.newyorkfed.org/survey/empire/empiresurvey_overview.html">indicates </a>improving business conditions.</p> <p>For example, revenue for Manhattan’s small businesses, which are heavily reliant on commuters, declined 70% from February to March, but has improved to 40% off pre-pandemic levels. Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island small business revenues declined 40-60% at the nadir of the pandemic, but have since rebounded to 10-25% less than pre-pandemic levels. The Bronx is the only borough where small business revenues are not below January 2020 levels.</p> <p>Still, the city’s collections from taxable sales were down 47% in June from the same month in 2019. Residential real estate sales were down 55% and commercial real estate sales down 57% for April-June of this year compared to the same period last year.</p> <p>The Partnership for New York City estimates in its report that as many as a third of the city’s 230,000 small businesses in neighborhood commercial corridors may go out of business due to the economic downturn and as many as 520,000 jobs were lost from the small business sector alone as consumer spending dipped by 44%.</p> <p>Jonathan Bowles, the executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, noted that “much of the city's recent job growth has been high-wage industries.” This has had “huge benefits for New York City,” but “the challenge moving forward is to expand access in every way possible —apprenticeships, in-depth training, CUNY, innovative HS models, and more.”</p> <p><strong>Partnership for New York City Calls for Public-Private Collaboration</strong><br />The Partnership asserts that with such massive job and revenue losses, the state and local governments will need to partner more with the private sector to rehabilitate the economy. Its report, entitled <a href="https://pfnyc.org/actionandcollaboration/">“A Call for Action and Collaboration,”</a> compiled research from 14 consulting firms and interviews with industry experts.</p> <p>They found that 70% of the New York City metro region’s office employees have safety concerns about returning to work in the near future. Industries able to operate remotely have experienced increased productivity and lowered costs, meaning that it is likely that many work-from-home policies will continue even after the pandemic. This could possibly permanently reduce the number of workers who commute into Manhattan each day and thus have a deleterious effect on businesses that cater to these commuters.</p> <p>One of the report’s more relatively-positive findings is that there are currently some 200,000 job vacancies in the city. The Partnership says closing the skills gap through more workforce development programs would help fill these opportunities with the recently unemployed.</p> <p>The Partnership for New York City supports five main actions to leverage the city’s major corporations and mobilize its members. One is to start a “Health Innovation Partnership,” which would set a universal standard for a “health passport,” build up a robust contact-tracing program, and finance investment in the life sciences sector. Another is to launch a restart clearinghouse to improve access to financial and technical resources for small- and minority-owned businesses.</p> <p>A third is the “Education Innovation Partnership,” which would use the private sector to help the city’s public education system establish high-quality online learning and hybrid programs for both in-school and remote education.</p> <p>Believing that state and municipal revenue shortfalls will mean less government funding for key programs, the Partnership is calling for an employer-led effort to expand job training, credentialing and hiring of city residents to fill the 200,000 job vacancies in the city.</p> <p>The Partnership is currently active advocating for federal relief for city, state, and transit agency needs, liability protection for employers and institutions, and a less restrictive visa policy for students and workers. A new federal relief package is expected soon, though it’s unclear what it may include for helping to plug huge city, state, and MTA budget gaps.</p> <p>As of July, according to the<a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/new-york-by-the-numbers-weekly-economic-and-fiscal-outlook-no-10-july-20-2020/"> New York City Comptroller’s Office</a>, subway ridership is still less than a fifth of and bus ridership is at just under half of pre-pandemic levels. MTA ridership appears to have plateaued in the most recent week, even with the city moving into “phase four” of its reopening. The fall-off in revenue for the MTA has left the transit agency in a <a href="https://www.masstransitmag.com/management/article/21143682/new-york-mta-facing-financial-calamity">dire fiscal position</a>.</p> <p>The Partnership also says it will hold “cross-sectoral problem-solving sessions” around the issues of transit, taxation, security, housing, and racial justice.</p> <p>[LISTEN: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9618-max-murphy-podcast-devastating-economic-picture-new-york-what-to-do-kathy-wylde" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Partnership for New York City CEO Kathryn Wylde discusses the Partnership's new report and more on the Max &amp; Murphy podcast</a>]</p> <p><strong>New Coalition wants a “Recovery for All”</strong><br />Meanwhile, the New York Workforce Recovery Strategy Group, which is led by the NYC Employment &amp; Training Coalition and includes over 80 business and human services leaders throughout the city, has its own plan, “<a href="http://nycetc.org/recoveryforall">Recovery for All: A Vision for New York City’s Equitable Economic Recovery</a>,” which takes a slightly different approach. Where Partnership for New York City envisions the private sector stepping up in a major way, this coalition believes that an equitable recovery will be achieved through significant government action.</p> <p>The report calls for an increase in public works projects and direct public employment, as well as relief programs for the most-affected individuals and communities. The coalition is also calling for an “education and training ecosystem” for the displaced workforce and marginalized communities, as well as recovery efforts for local small business and nonprofits, and support for new business development.</p> <p>The “Recovery for All” report asserts that recent Black Lives Matter protests “have made it abundantly clear that New Yorkers want a stronger safety net and economy that proactively benefits the many, not the few.” Recent data indicates that New York’s residents of color have been harder hit by the pandemic’s economic consequences than their white neighbors, which has also been the case for the public health emergency. Black (27%), Hispanic (33%), and Asian (28%) New Yorkers have all seen higher levels of worker dislocation than white New Yorkers (23%).</p> <p>The coalition wants to see the city build new revenue streams, primarily through taxes on high earners, and increased cuts to certain programs to redirect funding towards community investment so that the city’s post-recovery economy is a “sustainable” one. They caution against “austerity” budget measures that could even further harm marginalized communities.</p> <p>According to the New York Workforce Recovery Strategy Group, the city has the opportunity to address two crises at once, the economic one wrought by the pandemic through mass unemployment and the ongoing climate crisis, by investing in upgraded infrastructure.</p> <p>The coalition suggests ramping up short- and long-term infrastructure projects, and several potential projects the city should focus on. These include broadband installation, greening and repairs of NYCHA facilities, the “Cleaner and Greener New York” plan that would build up green infrastructure such as solar and wind power generation and coastal resiliency, and upgrades to public-health and child-care infrastructure.</p> <p>The coalition is also calling for a “true universal basic income for all New Yorkers,” as well as expansion of current means-tested cash assistance. It wants direct cash assistance for individuals, families, and communities most affected by the pandemic, as well as increases to both the state’s earned income tax credit and child and dependent care tax credit.</p> <p>The “Recovery for All” and Partnership for New York City reports both stress that an economic recovery for New York City relies on workforce development. However, the New York Workforce Recovery Strategy Group believes that the government, not private businesses, should take the lead on this through programs to help jumpstart businesses such as transitional employment, wage subsidy, work-based learning programs and apprenticeships. The coalition is also calling on the city to develop a citywide workforce development system, which non-profit <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9566-unemployment-crime-spike-city-plan-disconnected-youth-years-behind-schedule">service providers have long called for</a>.</p> <p>Also like the Partnership’s, the “Recovery for All” report highlights the need for assistance for small businesses in particular. It advocates for reducing red tape and increasing free or low-cost technology and technical training for local businesses, among other steps.</p> <p>

***
by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

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</p>
City Council Staff Union Expects Recognition and Start to Contract Bargaining 'Soon' 2020-07-30T04:00:00+00:00 2020-07-30T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9633-new-york-city-council-staff-union-recognition-collective-bargaining Samar Khurshid samarkhurshid@gmail.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/pre-conf-hearing.jpg" alt="pre conf hearing" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: Emil Cohen/New York City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The union effort launched last year by City Council staff members could soon be recognized by the City Council as negotiations near conclusion, according to a Council spokesperson and a member of the union.</p> <p>The Association for Legislative Employees, an unaffiliated union that represents hundreds of City Council aides working both for individual Council members and on the Council’s central staff, launched with a card campaign in November, and a majority of staff members signing a union authorization card.</p> <p>In January, the union requested voluntary recognition from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s office, and negotiations began in earnest in February. But the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the process. “The pandemic hit and everything kind of got placed on hold,” said Wilfredo Lopez, a core committee member of the union and legislative director to City Council Member Ben Kallos.</p> <p>Communication resumed in May with the Council’s general counsel, the city’s Office of Labor Relations (OLR) and Office of Collective Bargaining (OCB). The union has retained the law firm of Stroock &amp; Stroock &amp; Lavan as representation.</p> <p>In its January letter, the union called for recognition of three distinct titles – councilmanic aides, legislative finance analysts, and senior legislative finance analysts. The union envisioned two bargaining units between the titles but is now expecting to move forward with one bargaining unit.</p> <p>“Every indication we're getting is that we're likely to continue as one big unit which I think benefits everybody from a logistical standpoint,” Lopez said. “But that will be decided further along the line.”</p> <p>Lopez was optimistic that there could soon be an agreement on recognition. “It's gonna happen soon. I can't really answer what soon is because that will depend on a lot of dominoes falling into place,” he said. “But every communication that we've received and every representation that has been made by OLR via the Council seems to indicate that there's going to be some sort of agreement reached soon. Could be days, weeks, hopefully not months.”</p> <p>Speaker Johnson also indicated that the negotiations are heading in the direction of recognition. “I come from a union household and I am a big supporter of labor, and I look forward to continuing to work towards recognizing the Council staff union,” said the Manhattan Democrat in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>There may be piecemeal progress in the formation of the union as a spokesperson from the speaker’s office also noted that Johnson only has direct purview over Council central staff, which includes legislative finance analysts but not councilmanic aides.</p> <p>“The Council is taking steps toward voluntary recognition for the job titles of the Council central staff for which union organizers collected cards,” said a Council spokesperson. “For district staff, Council members have some autonomy when it comes to their own staff, but Speaker Johnson supports voluntary recognition for his district staff. The process is ongoing.”</p> <p>Even if only the central staff are recognized, it would mean that the union has received recognition. Then, Lopez said, they could begin to accrete other titles into the union by petitioning the Office of Labor Relations and Office of Collective Bargaining. There appears to be something of a legal grey area in terms of who will recognize the staff of Council members and how bargaining will unfold.</p> <p>The union has, in the meantime, been drafting governing documents and is in the middle of a membership drive. “We're essentially just crossing our T's and dotting our I's and making sure that when that agreement is reached, we're ready to move into bargaining day one,” Lopez said. The union has also been <a href="https://d170d78e-8da1-4a94-a66e-b3cbc75ba844.usrfiles.com/ugd/d170d7_98c505f437e346c087dc2df50a8a2342.pdf">advocating</a> for safe working conditions as the City Council reopens its offices.</p> <p>Though the negotiations seem to be amicable, the process has not been fast enough for some union members. Zara Nasir, a lead organizer of the union effort, has been regularly <a href="https://twitter.com/ZaraNasirNYC/status/1283392853582983173">tweeting</a> about the lack of recognition from the Council, recently noting that the time has surpassed 170 days since voluntary recognition was sought.</p> <p>There had been rumblings about a Council staff union for years as aides -- who perform a wide variety of jobs from chief of staff and communications to constituent services and legislative work -- repeatedly raised concerns about low salaries and tough working conditions, including exceedingly long hours.</p> <p>While the City Council voted to give its own members a large pay raise from $112,500 to $148,500 annually in 2016, staff pay has remained relatively flat, with big disparities between aides performing similar roles under different Council members. An analysis by Politico New York found that many staffers <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2019/11/13/some-council-staffers-making-near-minimum-wage-as-talk-of-unionization-percolates-1226885">barely make</a> over minimum wage.</p> <p>The union was also spurred into action when the Council essentially gave Council Member Andy King a slap on the wrist in October after an internal investigation substantiated allegations of ethics violations against him, including for harassment of staff members. King has since faced another investigation by the Committee on Standards and Ethics and is also being <a href="https://nypost.com/2020/07/08/former-andy-king-staffer-sues-him-for-retaliating-against-her/">sued</a> by a former staffer for retaliating against her for cooperating in one of those investigations.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/pre-conf-hearing.jpg" alt="pre conf hearing" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: Emil Cohen/New York City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The union effort launched last year by City Council staff members could soon be recognized by the City Council as negotiations near conclusion, according to a Council spokesperson and a member of the union.</p> <p>The Association for Legislative Employees, an unaffiliated union that represents hundreds of City Council aides working both for individual Council members and on the Council’s central staff, launched with a card campaign in November, and a majority of staff members signing a union authorization card.</p> <p>In January, the union requested voluntary recognition from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s office, and negotiations began in earnest in February. But the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the process. “The pandemic hit and everything kind of got placed on hold,” said Wilfredo Lopez, a core committee member of the union and legislative director to City Council Member Ben Kallos.</p> <p>Communication resumed in May with the Council’s general counsel, the city’s Office of Labor Relations (OLR) and Office of Collective Bargaining (OCB). The union has retained the law firm of Stroock &amp; Stroock &amp; Lavan as representation.</p> <p>In its January letter, the union called for recognition of three distinct titles – councilmanic aides, legislative finance analysts, and senior legislative finance analysts. The union envisioned two bargaining units between the titles but is now expecting to move forward with one bargaining unit.</p> <p>“Every indication we're getting is that we're likely to continue as one big unit which I think benefits everybody from a logistical standpoint,” Lopez said. “But that will be decided further along the line.”</p> <p>Lopez was optimistic that there could soon be an agreement on recognition. “It's gonna happen soon. I can't really answer what soon is because that will depend on a lot of dominoes falling into place,” he said. “But every communication that we've received and every representation that has been made by OLR via the Council seems to indicate that there's going to be some sort of agreement reached soon. Could be days, weeks, hopefully not months.”</p> <p>Speaker Johnson also indicated that the negotiations are heading in the direction of recognition. “I come from a union household and I am a big supporter of labor, and I look forward to continuing to work towards recognizing the Council staff union,” said the Manhattan Democrat in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>There may be piecemeal progress in the formation of the union as a spokesperson from the speaker’s office also noted that Johnson only has direct purview over Council central staff, which includes legislative finance analysts but not councilmanic aides.</p> <p>“The Council is taking steps toward voluntary recognition for the job titles of the Council central staff for which union organizers collected cards,” said a Council spokesperson. “For district staff, Council members have some autonomy when it comes to their own staff, but Speaker Johnson supports voluntary recognition for his district staff. The process is ongoing.”</p> <p>Even if only the central staff are recognized, it would mean that the union has received recognition. Then, Lopez said, they could begin to accrete other titles into the union by petitioning the Office of Labor Relations and Office of Collective Bargaining. There appears to be something of a legal grey area in terms of who will recognize the staff of Council members and how bargaining will unfold.</p> <p>The union has, in the meantime, been drafting governing documents and is in the middle of a membership drive. “We're essentially just crossing our T's and dotting our I's and making sure that when that agreement is reached, we're ready to move into bargaining day one,” Lopez said. The union has also been <a href="https://d170d78e-8da1-4a94-a66e-b3cbc75ba844.usrfiles.com/ugd/d170d7_98c505f437e346c087dc2df50a8a2342.pdf">advocating</a> for safe working conditions as the City Council reopens its offices.</p> <p>Though the negotiations seem to be amicable, the process has not been fast enough for some union members. Zara Nasir, a lead organizer of the union effort, has been regularly <a href="https://twitter.com/ZaraNasirNYC/status/1283392853582983173">tweeting</a> about the lack of recognition from the Council, recently noting that the time has surpassed 170 days since voluntary recognition was sought.</p> <p>There had been rumblings about a Council staff union for years as aides -- who perform a wide variety of jobs from chief of staff and communications to constituent services and legislative work -- repeatedly raised concerns about low salaries and tough working conditions, including exceedingly long hours.</p> <p>While the City Council voted to give its own members a large pay raise from $112,500 to $148,500 annually in 2016, staff pay has remained relatively flat, with big disparities between aides performing similar roles under different Council members. An analysis by Politico New York found that many staffers <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2019/11/13/some-council-staffers-making-near-minimum-wage-as-talk-of-unionization-percolates-1226885">barely make</a> over minimum wage.</p> <p>The union was also spurred into action when the Council essentially gave Council Member Andy King a slap on the wrist in October after an internal investigation substantiated allegations of ethics violations against him, including for harassment of staff members. King has since faced another investigation by the Committee on Standards and Ethics and is also being <a href="https://nypost.com/2020/07/08/former-andy-king-staffer-sues-him-for-retaliating-against-her/">sued</a> by a former staffer for retaliating against her for cooperating in one of those investigations.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
New Project to Prepare Voters for Historic 2021 New York City Elections 2020-07-29T04:00:00+00:00 2020-07-29T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9613-new-project-prepare-voters-for-historic-2021-new-york-city-elections Gotham Gazette ggstaff@gothamgazette.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/7-park-lib.jpg" alt="7 park lib" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>New York City voters will have a lot to decide in 2021 (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Gotham Gazette will be an integral part of a major new project led by its parent organization, Citizens Union Foundation, aimed at educating voters in advance of the historic, immensely-important 2021 New York City elections.</p> <p>In 2021, New York City voters will elect a new Mayor and Comptroller, at least four new Borough Presidents, and dozens of new City Council members. The rest of city government will also be on the ballot, including seats where incumbents are expected: Public Advocate, Queens Borough President, and roughly 15 City Council posts in the 51-seat body.</p> <p>The project, ElectNYC, will include a voters guide website with information on offices, races, and candidates; original reporting, led by Gotham Gazette; an education and outreach campaign, including local candidate debates; and more. It will be led by veteran journalist Eleanor Randolph, who was on the New York Times editorial board for 20 years, and a team under her direction, working closely with the Gotham Gazette team under the leadership of executive editor Ben Max.</p> <p>ElectNYC -- to be found at <a href="http://electnyc.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ElectNYC.org</a> -- will include a special focus on City Council races in communities with traditionally low voter turnout and little local media coverage.</p> <p>Citizens Union Foundation is a nonpartisan good government organization focused on voter education and government accountability. For more than 20 years, CUF’s most prominent program has been publishing Gotham Gazette, a highly-regarded, independent online news publication that covers New York city and state government and politics. Gotham Gazette is known for its in-depth policy and political coverage, election guides, morning newsletter, The Eye-Opener, and its tough accountability reporting with particular focus on the Mayor, City Council, Governor, and State Legislature, among other powerful figures and institutions.</p> <p>In conjunction with the Gotham Gazette staff, Citizens Union Foundation is launching ElectNYC, run by Randolph and her growing team. Citizens Union Foundation executive director Betsy Gotbaum, former Public Advocate of New York City, serves as publisher of both Gotham Gazette and ElectNYC.</p> <p>A nonpartisan voter education effort, ElectNYC will provide New Yorkers with crucial information about next year’s local New York City elections, which will usher in massive turnover in city government. Leaders elected next year will take over at an especially important time given the crises the city is dealing with, and they could hold office for most of the rest of the decade.</p> <p>Somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 candidates are expected to run for the more than 60 city government seats that will be on the ballot, with only a small portion of those seats held by incumbents seeking reelection.</p> <p>As is usually the case in New York City, most of the action will take place in Democratic primaries, given the city’s overwhelming Democratic voter registration tilt. For the first time, those primaries will be in June next year, meaning even greater importance of voter education sooner rather than later. Another key aspect of the coming city elections is the first-time implementation of ranked-choice voting, which will be in place for all special elections and party primary elections (but not general elections) for New York City government positions.</p> <p>Voters will need to be educated on ranked-choice voting, which will allow them to rank up to five candidates in such elections and seeks to ensure that the winners of crowded and competitive elections have a broad base of support.</p> <p>“Next year’s elections will transform New York City for generations to come,” said Gotbaum in announcing ElectNYC, which has started to raise money for the project and secured early support from the Ford Foundation. Gotbaum mentioned the turnover in city government and the start of ranked-choice voting, adding, “The turmoil of 2020 has shown us how important it is to have dependable government leaders. It is crucial that New Yorkers have accurate, unbiased information so they can make the best choices for themselves, their families and their communities.”</p> <p>ElectNYC will hire journalists to cover local races, build a user-friendly website, and disseminate information about the elections in communities throughout the five boroughs through traditional and social media campaigns, and host local candidate debates. While paying special attention to races in underserved communities with low voter turnout, the project will also partner with local community-based nonprofits to help reach residents of those neighborhoods.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Our mission for the 2021 elections is straightforward. We plan to present New Yorkers with no-nonsense, non-partisan information about the candidates in this complex and important election,” said Randolph, who also stressed the void left by shrinking local news coverage. Voters need “trustworthy guidance about who the candidates are, how they would run the city, and how to cast a vote,” she added, and ElectNYC will provide just that.</p> <p>For most New Yorkers, even those who follow politics and government affairs closely, the 2021 city elections will simply be overwhelming. ElectNYC will help make sure it is less so, while ensuring that voters have information they need and can engage with local politics and elections that are so essential to their future and that of New York City.</p> <p>“In partnership with this new project, Gotham Gazette will expand its well-known, local political coverage to bring New Yorkers the essential, insightful information they need to actively participate in one of the most significant local election cycles in the city’s history,” said Max. Gotham Gazette <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/election-coverage/2021-elections" target="_blank">has already begun covering the 2021 city elections</a>, and will only be ramping up that coverage in the coming weeks and months, doing so in partnership with ElectNYC.</p> <p>To learn more, visit <a href="http://www.ElectNYC.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ElectNYC.org</a>.</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/7-park-lib.jpg" alt="7 park lib" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>New York City voters will have a lot to decide in 2021 (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Gotham Gazette will be an integral part of a major new project led by its parent organization, Citizens Union Foundation, aimed at educating voters in advance of the historic, immensely-important 2021 New York City elections.</p> <p>In 2021, New York City voters will elect a new Mayor and Comptroller, at least four new Borough Presidents, and dozens of new City Council members. The rest of city government will also be on the ballot, including seats where incumbents are expected: Public Advocate, Queens Borough President, and roughly 15 City Council posts in the 51-seat body.</p> <p>The project, ElectNYC, will include a voters guide website with information on offices, races, and candidates; original reporting, led by Gotham Gazette; an education and outreach campaign, including local candidate debates; and more. It will be led by veteran journalist Eleanor Randolph, who was on the New York Times editorial board for 20 years, and a team under her direction, working closely with the Gotham Gazette team under the leadership of executive editor Ben Max.</p> <p>ElectNYC -- to be found at <a href="http://electnyc.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ElectNYC.org</a> -- will include a special focus on City Council races in communities with traditionally low voter turnout and little local media coverage.</p> <p>Citizens Union Foundation is a nonpartisan good government organization focused on voter education and government accountability. For more than 20 years, CUF’s most prominent program has been publishing Gotham Gazette, a highly-regarded, independent online news publication that covers New York city and state government and politics. Gotham Gazette is known for its in-depth policy and political coverage, election guides, morning newsletter, The Eye-Opener, and its tough accountability reporting with particular focus on the Mayor, City Council, Governor, and State Legislature, among other powerful figures and institutions.</p> <p>In conjunction with the Gotham Gazette staff, Citizens Union Foundation is launching ElectNYC, run by Randolph and her growing team. Citizens Union Foundation executive director Betsy Gotbaum, former Public Advocate of New York City, serves as publisher of both Gotham Gazette and ElectNYC.</p> <p>A nonpartisan voter education effort, ElectNYC will provide New Yorkers with crucial information about next year’s local New York City elections, which will usher in massive turnover in city government. Leaders elected next year will take over at an especially important time given the crises the city is dealing with, and they could hold office for most of the rest of the decade.</p> <p>Somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 candidates are expected to run for the more than 60 city government seats that will be on the ballot, with only a small portion of those seats held by incumbents seeking reelection.</p> <p>As is usually the case in New York City, most of the action will take place in Democratic primaries, given the city’s overwhelming Democratic voter registration tilt. For the first time, those primaries will be in June next year, meaning even greater importance of voter education sooner rather than later. Another key aspect of the coming city elections is the first-time implementation of ranked-choice voting, which will be in place for all special elections and party primary elections (but not general elections) for New York City government positions.</p> <p>Voters will need to be educated on ranked-choice voting, which will allow them to rank up to five candidates in such elections and seeks to ensure that the winners of crowded and competitive elections have a broad base of support.</p> <p>“Next year’s elections will transform New York City for generations to come,” said Gotbaum in announcing ElectNYC, which has started to raise money for the project and secured early support from the Ford Foundation. Gotbaum mentioned the turnover in city government and the start of ranked-choice voting, adding, “The turmoil of 2020 has shown us how important it is to have dependable government leaders. It is crucial that New Yorkers have accurate, unbiased information so they can make the best choices for themselves, their families and their communities.”</p> <p>ElectNYC will hire journalists to cover local races, build a user-friendly website, and disseminate information about the elections in communities throughout the five boroughs through traditional and social media campaigns, and host local candidate debates. While paying special attention to races in underserved communities with low voter turnout, the project will also partner with local community-based nonprofits to help reach residents of those neighborhoods.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Our mission for the 2021 elections is straightforward. We plan to present New Yorkers with no-nonsense, non-partisan information about the candidates in this complex and important election,” said Randolph, who also stressed the void left by shrinking local news coverage. Voters need “trustworthy guidance about who the candidates are, how they would run the city, and how to cast a vote,” she added, and ElectNYC will provide just that.</p> <p>For most New Yorkers, even those who follow politics and government affairs closely, the 2021 city elections will simply be overwhelming. ElectNYC will help make sure it is less so, while ensuring that voters have information they need and can engage with local politics and elections that are so essential to their future and that of New York City.</p> <p>“In partnership with this new project, Gotham Gazette will expand its well-known, local political coverage to bring New Yorkers the essential, insightful information they need to actively participate in one of the most significant local election cycles in the city’s history,” said Max. Gotham Gazette <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/election-coverage/2021-elections" target="_blank">has already begun covering the 2021 city elections</a>, and will only be ramping up that coverage in the coming weeks and months, doing so in partnership with ElectNYC.</p> <p>To learn more, visit <a href="http://www.ElectNYC.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ElectNYC.org</a>.</p> Little Support for De Blasio's Claim that Court Shutdown is Driving Gun Violence Surge 2020-07-27T16:00:00+00:00 2020-07-27T16:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9624-de-blasio-nypd-court-shutdown-gun-violence-increase Ethan Geringer-Sameth ethangs@gothamgazette.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/media-avail-photo.jpg" alt="media avail photo" width="600" /></p> <p>De Blasio and Shea discuss public safety (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea are marooned on an island with few substantive details to sustain their claim that one of the biggest drivers of New York City's recent increase in gun violence is a pandemic-stalled court system.</p> <p>The two have repeatedly offered largely unsupported claims that the coronavirus-related suspension of grand juries and a slow-down in gun offense prosecutions has made the courts a major contributor to the surge in shootings throughout the city over the last several months. But representatives from the state courts, district attorney offices, and public defender services have all refuted the administration's claims, while available data paints a somewhat murky picture.</p> <p>On Monday, the mayor published an open letter to New York Chief Judge Janet Di Fiore and the city’s five district attorneys in which he urged them to work with the city to "do much more," and said he would be reaching out to arrange a meeting with all parties.</p> <p>Convening grand juries again, which had been halted to prevent the spread of COVID-19, "is important progress, but we will have to do much more in order to reduce the backlog of cases that have, for the most part, been held in abeyance for several months — delaying justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators," de Blasio wrote.</p> <p>From June 22 to July 19, there were 328 shootings incidents in New York City, more than three times the number in the same period last year, according to CompStat, the NYPD's crime tracker. Over roughly the same 28-day period, even with so many more shootings, gun arrests have dropped by about two-thirds from 2019. The mayor has blamed the uptick on "massive societal disruption" triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout, regularly pointing to a court system that “is not functioning” and emphasizing the lack of grand juries and gun prosecutions. But he has been vague on specifics and has dodged questions about the falling arrest rate.</p> <p>"It's a pretty few places where we're seeing the uptick, a relatively few people causing the violent crime. We're going after them," de Blasio said on CNN Thursday after questions about the increased shootings and decreased arrests. "We need them prosecuted again. That's the big missing link here because we can't get them off the street if there's not prosecution and the court system functioning."</p> <p>"We know we don't necessarily need more gun arrests, we need the people that are caught to be prosecuted fully, and then we need the court systems open to get them off the street as quickly as possible," Shea said, seated next to de Blasio at a press briefing on July 17, where they announced an anti-gun violence campaign focused on increasing patrols in high-shooting areas, organizing gun buy-backs, and better deploying the Community Affairs Bureau.</p> <p>Until recently, de Blasio has largely credited growing joblessness and the upheaval of daily life for the recent violence, while also repeatedly mentioning the courts. Shea has gone further by explicitly blaming recent bail reforms and COVID-related jail releases, which have been backed by the mayor for the most part. The state of the court system is their major area of agreement in explaining the recent gun violence, even as they continue to publicly butt heads on new police reforms backed by the mayor.</p> <p>Lauding the police department's "precision policing," which focuses on rooting out a smaller number of individuals who officials say are responsible for most violent crime, de Blasio and Shea have blamed the courts and the prosecutors.</p> <p>"When those courts are opened up, we have a line of cases ready to get the most violent people off the streets. We need the court's help," Shea said at the July 17 press conference.</p> <p>In an open letter to Chief Judge Janet Di Fiore and the five district attorneys released Monday, de Blasio said 2,000 people had been charged with firearm offenses in New York City, but only about half had been indicted by a grand jury -- a point he and Shea have made before.</p> <p>Yet the Office of Court Administration, a state entity, insists that the courts have remained open virtually, and district attorneys and public defenders say arraignments have continued by video conference.</p> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo has suspended some elements of the Criminal Procedure Law, including the convening of grand juries, as part of the state's emergency response to the virus. But public defenders say no grand juries only means people accused of violent felonies have fewer avenues to be released from jail while they await the administration of justice.</p> <p>"The idea that a lack of grand juries is somehow increasing shootings is utterly absurd," said Alice Fontier, managing director for Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, in an interview. "To the extent that the court is not functioning to its full capacity, the result is more people being held in jail than previously would have been."</p> <p>Grand juries are a constitutional protection that give defendants a chance to have their case thrown out before trial if prosecutors can't show probable cause. In the pandemic, that ability was suspended and only later replaced with a judge's discretion in preliminary hearings where minimal evidence is presented, according to Fontier and other defense attorneys Gotham Gazette interviewed.</p> <p>Before the pandemic, when a person was arrested for an alleged violent felony, they would be arraigned -- meaning they are formally charged -- and a grand jury would review evidence to decide whether the case would proceed toward trial or be dropped. If the decision was made to indict, the defendant would remain in jail unless bail was set and paid. If the decision was made not to indict, the case was closed and the accused would go free.</p> <p>During the state of emergency, arraignments have continued and judges still set bail. But with grand juries suspended, the opportunity to get out of jail before trial without taking a plea deal or paying bail has disappeared, multiple public defenders said.</p> <p>In the past, if a grand jury wasn't convened within five days of an arrest -- which was not uncommon if prosecutors couldn't line-up witnesses or evidence in time -- the defendant would be released under a state statute known as Section 180.80 while their case proceeded. That provision was also suspended by Cuomo's executive order, leaving individuals to take a plea deal, pay bail (if bail is set), or sit in jail, according to the defense attorneys.</p> <p>"In fact the right to get out based on whether or not a grand jury has indicted you is also suspended as long as they have what's called a preliminary hearing," said Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services. At preliminary hearings, which are being conducted virtually, a judge decides whether there is probable cause to proceed to trial, she said.</p> <p>"Right now just based on the prosecutor’s charge and the judge saying that feels like a bail case, people are held on bail," Fontier said.&nbsp;</p> <p>"And there is no grand jury review, so it's all prosecutors and judges who are deciding who is in jail and who is not," she added.</p> <p>Since the mid-March state of emergency, the New York City Criminal Court has held nearly 19,000 arraignments and over 600 felony preliminary hearings, according to the Office of Court Administration. Virtually all gun possession and use cases are felonies, according to prosecutors and court representatives.</p> <p>"Although we share your goals of a safer and stronger city, your plea for a 'functioning and open' court system wholly ignores the reality that the courts have not only always remained open, but have excelled and adapted in ways that were unimaginable only a few months ago," wrote New York Chief Judge Janet Di Fiore in a letter to de Blasio on July 16 (the letter was <a href="https://nypost.com/2020/07/17/judge-rebukes-de-blasio-for-claiming-courts-caused-nyc-shootings/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">first reported</a> by The New York Post).</p> <p>But a day later, at the July 17 press briefing with Shea, the mayor repeated his claims, even raising his voice to a reporter as he was asked again to prove his assertions: "With great respect to my colleagues in the media, I'm going to challenge you to actually report what I said. Listen, the court system is not functioning! You can't have the ability to get people off the streets if the court system's not functioning!"</p> <p>"There's nowhere near the level of court activity that we had as recently as February, before the coronavirus," the mayor said on WNYC radio a week later, this past Friday, July 24.</p> <p>"The Mayor’s narrative regarding the operation of the State Court System throughout the pandemic is at best totally factually incorrect and at worst an attempt to shift the blame for an increase in street violence," wrote Lucian Chalfen, the courts' director of public information, in an email to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>"Despite what some people would say, they should walk into 161st Street or walk into Jay Street," Shea said at a <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/009526c7-57b0-4be5-8fd2-69be1bd2eb02-132.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">July 16 CompStat meeting</a> with police brass, referring to the locations of state courthouses and ignoring the proceedings that have continued digitally. "Don't tell me that the courts are open. The courts have been shut down for months."</p> <p>In some cases, like with long-term investigations, prosecutors obtain an indictment through a grand jury before an arrest is made. In the open letter to Di Fiore and the district attorneys Monday, de Blasio indicated this may be hampering the police department's ability to go after the gang activity underwriting the increase in shootings: "Because grand juries have not been sitting, we also cannot present the major cases used to take out the most violent street gangs," he wrote. Nothing prevents the NYPD from arresting someone they suspect of being involved in a shooting, however.</p> <p>Prosecutors have largely denied any reduction in the vigor with which they pursue gun charges.</p> <p>“It is wrong to say that the District Attorneys are not prosecuting or that the court system is not functioning,” wrote Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “It is certainly wrong to suggest that the recent uptick in shootings has been caused by the changes in court process that have resulted from the pandemic. It is true that grand juries and trials are on hold. But for months the Bronx DAs office has prosecuted and continues to prosecute cases especially violent offenses. There was no 'slow down.'"</p> <p>"When an arrest is made, we draft the appropriate complaint and file it with the court," Clark wrote. "Every defendant who has been arrested and charged with a crime has been arraigned."</p> <p>Similar word came from Manhattan. "Our office aggressively prosecutes violent crime and we have not observed a correlation between the uptick in gun violence and court operations," said Danny Frost, a spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. "Thanks to the hard work of our prosecutors, professional staff, and court system colleagues, our arraignments never stopped and our preliminary hearings have enabled us to meet our statutory obligations in the absence of a sitting grand jury."</p> <p>Oren Yaniv, a spokesperson for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, told Gotham Gazette that all prosecutions in the borough had slowed during the height of the pandemic and have only recently begun to pick back up. But he said that hasn't impacted the number of arraignments or people released from jail while they await trial.</p> <p>"Everything is getting arraigned and those accused of violent felonies can and are being held on bail or remand," he said in an email. "So, no, it doesn’t affect the number of defendants who are at large (leaving aside COVID considerations that are sometimes applied by judges when deciding on bail)."</p> <p>There is some data to back up de Blasio’s and Shea's claims that defendants in weapons cases are being released at higher rates than in the past, although other data suggests these aren't the main contributors of recent gun violence.</p> <p>In Manhattan this year, through June 15, there have been 319 arraignments for criminal possession of a weapon, only ten fewer than in the same stretch in 2019, according to Frost. But where 250 of those cases in 2019 resulted in detention, 177 did in 2020, a rate of 55 percent, down from 76% in 2019.</p> <p>That may be due to a number of reasons, like the city's effort to reduce the jail population in response to the coronavirus, and the discretion given to judges at preliminary hearings, including to set bail.</p> <p>According to a spokesperson for the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), 4,500 people had been released from jails between March 16 and July 5, a third of whom were released due to COVID-19 concerns. Of the COVID-related releases, 193 were re-arrested -- seven of those on gun charges.</p> <p>The mayor has stood by the move to cut the city jail population, which is now below 4,000, during the pandemic. That figure came after years of reducing the jail census from 11,000 detainees when de Blasio took office in 2014 to roughly 5,400 at the start of the state of emergency in March.</p> <p>"I am convinced it was the right thing to do because we were thinking about the health and safety of everyone involved and looking to save lives," de Blasio told reports in May in defense of the covid-inspired push to reduce the city jail population. "And, again, when this crisis is over, anyone who is awaiting trial who needs to be reincarcerated will be. So, this was the right approach."</p> <p>MOCJ did not respond to requests for data on the total number of people with gun charges released from jail. A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Correction referred Gotham Gazette to MOCJ, which they said had received the inquiry.</p> <p>A Gotham Gazette analysis of weapons arrest data provided by the Office of Court Administration revealed defendants in 48 percent of gun cases between March 16 and June 21 were released on their own recognizance or under supervision, compared with 25 percent during the same period last year. (Gun cases include criminal possession of a weapon and robbery with a weapon.)</p> <p>In the three-month period between January 1 and March 15, 2020, after new state bail laws passed last year had gone into effect, defendants in 42 percent of weapons cases were released, close to the release rate during the pandemic. (Lawmakers have again increased the number of offenses that are bail eligible, which went into effect on July 1.)</p> <p>But a <a href="https://nypost.com/2020/07/08/nypds-own-stats-debunk-claims-about-bail-reform-link-to-shootings/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Post analysis</a> of police data showed only one person released under the 2019 bail reforms has since been charged with a shooting, amid the 528 shootings in the first six months of 2020.</p> <p>The Office of Court Administration and public defenders have criticized the de Blasio administration's push to reopen in-person courtrooms to criminal proceedings, saying it will put people at risk of contracting and spreading coronavirus. Doing so could disproportionately expose Black and Latino communities, which have already borne a higher toll in the pandemic, defense attorneys say.</p> <p>Grand juries will be convened again beginning on August 10.</p> <p>"We have been working to reestablish full court operations, including jury trials," Chalfen, of the Office of Court Administration, wrote in a statement Monday. "While New York City still does not allow indoor dining, the Mayor blithely asks us to call in thousands of people a week Citywide for jury duty. Clearly he has absolutely no understanding of how the criminal justice process works."</p> <p>Many people familiar with court procedures are alarmed by the push to reopen courtrooms for in-person proceedings.</p> <p>"Now we have a situation where clients and attorneys are being forced to go to court in unsafe conditions," a caller, who identified themselves as “Lauren” and a public defender in Brooklyn, told de Blasio in an appearance on WNYC radio Friday. "The ventilation systems in the courts are very old."&nbsp;</p> <p>"I'm in a high-risk category," Lauren said. "I have plenty of clients who are high risk."</p> <p>"If there's ways to use remote activity that works, great, but it's not an option to not have a court system because it is one of the things contributing to our – the challenges we're facing as we're trying to address violence," de Blasio responded.</p> <p>"I have been talking to DAs, I've been talking to police officials and I believe them that there is nowhere near the level of activity that happened," he said. "I mean, it was just a pure factual statement."</p> <p>While court activity has been reduced, the mayor’s claims it is connected to an increase in gun violence remains refuted by those working in the court system.</p> <p>"There is no connection to what is happening in the street whatsoever,” said Fontier, the public defender in Harlem, “and I struggle to think how he could possibly make one if he actually tried.”</p> <p>

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/media-avail-photo.jpg" alt="media avail photo" width="600" /></p> <p>De Blasio and Shea discuss public safety (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea are marooned on an island with few substantive details to sustain their claim that one of the biggest drivers of New York City's recent increase in gun violence is a pandemic-stalled court system.</p> <p>The two have repeatedly offered largely unsupported claims that the coronavirus-related suspension of grand juries and a slow-down in gun offense prosecutions has made the courts a major contributor to the surge in shootings throughout the city over the last several months. But representatives from the state courts, district attorney offices, and public defender services have all refuted the administration's claims, while available data paints a somewhat murky picture.</p> <p>On Monday, the mayor published an open letter to New York Chief Judge Janet Di Fiore and the city’s five district attorneys in which he urged them to work with the city to "do much more," and said he would be reaching out to arrange a meeting with all parties.</p> <p>Convening grand juries again, which had been halted to prevent the spread of COVID-19, "is important progress, but we will have to do much more in order to reduce the backlog of cases that have, for the most part, been held in abeyance for several months — delaying justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators," de Blasio wrote.</p> <p>From June 22 to July 19, there were 328 shootings incidents in New York City, more than three times the number in the same period last year, according to CompStat, the NYPD's crime tracker. Over roughly the same 28-day period, even with so many more shootings, gun arrests have dropped by about two-thirds from 2019. The mayor has blamed the uptick on "massive societal disruption" triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout, regularly pointing to a court system that “is not functioning” and emphasizing the lack of grand juries and gun prosecutions. But he has been vague on specifics and has dodged questions about the falling arrest rate.</p> <p>"It's a pretty few places where we're seeing the uptick, a relatively few people causing the violent crime. We're going after them," de Blasio said on CNN Thursday after questions about the increased shootings and decreased arrests. "We need them prosecuted again. That's the big missing link here because we can't get them off the street if there's not prosecution and the court system functioning."</p> <p>"We know we don't necessarily need more gun arrests, we need the people that are caught to be prosecuted fully, and then we need the court systems open to get them off the street as quickly as possible," Shea said, seated next to de Blasio at a press briefing on July 17, where they announced an anti-gun violence campaign focused on increasing patrols in high-shooting areas, organizing gun buy-backs, and better deploying the Community Affairs Bureau.</p> <p>Until recently, de Blasio has largely credited growing joblessness and the upheaval of daily life for the recent violence, while also repeatedly mentioning the courts. Shea has gone further by explicitly blaming recent bail reforms and COVID-related jail releases, which have been backed by the mayor for the most part. The state of the court system is their major area of agreement in explaining the recent gun violence, even as they continue to publicly butt heads on new police reforms backed by the mayor.</p> <p>Lauding the police department's "precision policing," which focuses on rooting out a smaller number of individuals who officials say are responsible for most violent crime, de Blasio and Shea have blamed the courts and the prosecutors.</p> <p>"When those courts are opened up, we have a line of cases ready to get the most violent people off the streets. We need the court's help," Shea said at the July 17 press conference.</p> <p>In an open letter to Chief Judge Janet Di Fiore and the five district attorneys released Monday, de Blasio said 2,000 people had been charged with firearm offenses in New York City, but only about half had been indicted by a grand jury -- a point he and Shea have made before.</p> <p>Yet the Office of Court Administration, a state entity, insists that the courts have remained open virtually, and district attorneys and public defenders say arraignments have continued by video conference.</p> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo has suspended some elements of the Criminal Procedure Law, including the convening of grand juries, as part of the state's emergency response to the virus. But public defenders say no grand juries only means people accused of violent felonies have fewer avenues to be released from jail while they await the administration of justice.</p> <p>"The idea that a lack of grand juries is somehow increasing shootings is utterly absurd," said Alice Fontier, managing director for Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, in an interview. "To the extent that the court is not functioning to its full capacity, the result is more people being held in jail than previously would have been."</p> <p>Grand juries are a constitutional protection that give defendants a chance to have their case thrown out before trial if prosecutors can't show probable cause. In the pandemic, that ability was suspended and only later replaced with a judge's discretion in preliminary hearings where minimal evidence is presented, according to Fontier and other defense attorneys Gotham Gazette interviewed.</p> <p>Before the pandemic, when a person was arrested for an alleged violent felony, they would be arraigned -- meaning they are formally charged -- and a grand jury would review evidence to decide whether the case would proceed toward trial or be dropped. If the decision was made to indict, the defendant would remain in jail unless bail was set and paid. If the decision was made not to indict, the case was closed and the accused would go free.</p> <p>During the state of emergency, arraignments have continued and judges still set bail. But with grand juries suspended, the opportunity to get out of jail before trial without taking a plea deal or paying bail has disappeared, multiple public defenders said.</p> <p>In the past, if a grand jury wasn't convened within five days of an arrest -- which was not uncommon if prosecutors couldn't line-up witnesses or evidence in time -- the defendant would be released under a state statute known as Section 180.80 while their case proceeded. That provision was also suspended by Cuomo's executive order, leaving individuals to take a plea deal, pay bail (if bail is set), or sit in jail, according to the defense attorneys.</p> <p>"In fact the right to get out based on whether or not a grand jury has indicted you is also suspended as long as they have what's called a preliminary hearing," said Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services. At preliminary hearings, which are being conducted virtually, a judge decides whether there is probable cause to proceed to trial, she said.</p> <p>"Right now just based on the prosecutor’s charge and the judge saying that feels like a bail case, people are held on bail," Fontier said.&nbsp;</p> <p>"And there is no grand jury review, so it's all prosecutors and judges who are deciding who is in jail and who is not," she added.</p> <p>Since the mid-March state of emergency, the New York City Criminal Court has held nearly 19,000 arraignments and over 600 felony preliminary hearings, according to the Office of Court Administration. Virtually all gun possession and use cases are felonies, according to prosecutors and court representatives.</p> <p>"Although we share your goals of a safer and stronger city, your plea for a 'functioning and open' court system wholly ignores the reality that the courts have not only always remained open, but have excelled and adapted in ways that were unimaginable only a few months ago," wrote New York Chief Judge Janet Di Fiore in a letter to de Blasio on July 16 (the letter was <a href="https://nypost.com/2020/07/17/judge-rebukes-de-blasio-for-claiming-courts-caused-nyc-shootings/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">first reported</a> by The New York Post).</p> <p>But a day later, at the July 17 press briefing with Shea, the mayor repeated his claims, even raising his voice to a reporter as he was asked again to prove his assertions: "With great respect to my colleagues in the media, I'm going to challenge you to actually report what I said. Listen, the court system is not functioning! You can't have the ability to get people off the streets if the court system's not functioning!"</p> <p>"There's nowhere near the level of court activity that we had as recently as February, before the coronavirus," the mayor said on WNYC radio a week later, this past Friday, July 24.</p> <p>"The Mayor’s narrative regarding the operation of the State Court System throughout the pandemic is at best totally factually incorrect and at worst an attempt to shift the blame for an increase in street violence," wrote Lucian Chalfen, the courts' director of public information, in an email to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>"Despite what some people would say, they should walk into 161st Street or walk into Jay Street," Shea said at a <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/009526c7-57b0-4be5-8fd2-69be1bd2eb02-132.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">July 16 CompStat meeting</a> with police brass, referring to the locations of state courthouses and ignoring the proceedings that have continued digitally. "Don't tell me that the courts are open. The courts have been shut down for months."</p> <p>In some cases, like with long-term investigations, prosecutors obtain an indictment through a grand jury before an arrest is made. In the open letter to Di Fiore and the district attorneys Monday, de Blasio indicated this may be hampering the police department's ability to go after the gang activity underwriting the increase in shootings: "Because grand juries have not been sitting, we also cannot present the major cases used to take out the most violent street gangs," he wrote. Nothing prevents the NYPD from arresting someone they suspect of being involved in a shooting, however.</p> <p>Prosecutors have largely denied any reduction in the vigor with which they pursue gun charges.</p> <p>“It is wrong to say that the District Attorneys are not prosecuting or that the court system is not functioning,” wrote Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “It is certainly wrong to suggest that the recent uptick in shootings has been caused by the changes in court process that have resulted from the pandemic. It is true that grand juries and trials are on hold. But for months the Bronx DAs office has prosecuted and continues to prosecute cases especially violent offenses. There was no 'slow down.'"</p> <p>"When an arrest is made, we draft the appropriate complaint and file it with the court," Clark wrote. "Every defendant who has been arrested and charged with a crime has been arraigned."</p> <p>Similar word came from Manhattan. "Our office aggressively prosecutes violent crime and we have not observed a correlation between the uptick in gun violence and court operations," said Danny Frost, a spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. "Thanks to the hard work of our prosecutors, professional staff, and court system colleagues, our arraignments never stopped and our preliminary hearings have enabled us to meet our statutory obligations in the absence of a sitting grand jury."</p> <p>Oren Yaniv, a spokesperson for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, told Gotham Gazette that all prosecutions in the borough had slowed during the height of the pandemic and have only recently begun to pick back up. But he said that hasn't impacted the number of arraignments or people released from jail while they await trial.</p> <p>"Everything is getting arraigned and those accused of violent felonies can and are being held on bail or remand," he said in an email. "So, no, it doesn’t affect the number of defendants who are at large (leaving aside COVID considerations that are sometimes applied by judges when deciding on bail)."</p> <p>There is some data to back up de Blasio’s and Shea's claims that defendants in weapons cases are being released at higher rates than in the past, although other data suggests these aren't the main contributors of recent gun violence.</p> <p>In Manhattan this year, through June 15, there have been 319 arraignments for criminal possession of a weapon, only ten fewer than in the same stretch in 2019, according to Frost. But where 250 of those cases in 2019 resulted in detention, 177 did in 2020, a rate of 55 percent, down from 76% in 2019.</p> <p>That may be due to a number of reasons, like the city's effort to reduce the jail population in response to the coronavirus, and the discretion given to judges at preliminary hearings, including to set bail.</p> <p>According to a spokesperson for the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), 4,500 people had been released from jails between March 16 and July 5, a third of whom were released due to COVID-19 concerns. Of the COVID-related releases, 193 were re-arrested -- seven of those on gun charges.</p> <p>The mayor has stood by the move to cut the city jail population, which is now below 4,000, during the pandemic. That figure came after years of reducing the jail census from 11,000 detainees when de Blasio took office in 2014 to roughly 5,400 at the start of the state of emergency in March.</p> <p>"I am convinced it was the right thing to do because we were thinking about the health and safety of everyone involved and looking to save lives," de Blasio told reports in May in defense of the covid-inspired push to reduce the city jail population. "And, again, when this crisis is over, anyone who is awaiting trial who needs to be reincarcerated will be. So, this was the right approach."</p> <p>MOCJ did not respond to requests for data on the total number of people with gun charges released from jail. A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Correction referred Gotham Gazette to MOCJ, which they said had received the inquiry.</p> <p>A Gotham Gazette analysis of weapons arrest data provided by the Office of Court Administration revealed defendants in 48 percent of gun cases between March 16 and June 21 were released on their own recognizance or under supervision, compared with 25 percent during the same period last year. (Gun cases include criminal possession of a weapon and robbery with a weapon.)</p> <p>In the three-month period between January 1 and March 15, 2020, after new state bail laws passed last year had gone into effect, defendants in 42 percent of weapons cases were released, close to the release rate during the pandemic. (Lawmakers have again increased the number of offenses that are bail eligible, which went into effect on July 1.)</p> <p>But a <a href="https://nypost.com/2020/07/08/nypds-own-stats-debunk-claims-about-bail-reform-link-to-shootings/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Post analysis</a> of police data showed only one person released under the 2019 bail reforms has since been charged with a shooting, amid the 528 shootings in the first six months of 2020.</p> <p>The Office of Court Administration and public defenders have criticized the de Blasio administration's push to reopen in-person courtrooms to criminal proceedings, saying it will put people at risk of contracting and spreading coronavirus. Doing so could disproportionately expose Black and Latino communities, which have already borne a higher toll in the pandemic, defense attorneys say.</p> <p>Grand juries will be convened again beginning on August 10.</p> <p>"We have been working to reestablish full court operations, including jury trials," Chalfen, of the Office of Court Administration, wrote in a statement Monday. "While New York City still does not allow indoor dining, the Mayor blithely asks us to call in thousands of people a week Citywide for jury duty. Clearly he has absolutely no understanding of how the criminal justice process works."</p> <p>Many people familiar with court procedures are alarmed by the push to reopen courtrooms for in-person proceedings.</p> <p>"Now we have a situation where clients and attorneys are being forced to go to court in unsafe conditions," a caller, who identified themselves as “Lauren” and a public defender in Brooklyn, told de Blasio in an appearance on WNYC radio Friday. "The ventilation systems in the courts are very old."&nbsp;</p> <p>"I'm in a high-risk category," Lauren said. "I have plenty of clients who are high risk."</p> <p>"If there's ways to use remote activity that works, great, but it's not an option to not have a court system because it is one of the things contributing to our – the challenges we're facing as we're trying to address violence," de Blasio responded.</p> <p>"I have been talking to DAs, I've been talking to police officials and I believe them that there is nowhere near the level of activity that happened," he said. "I mean, it was just a pure factual statement."</p> <p>While court activity has been reduced, the mayor’s claims it is connected to an increase in gun violence remains refuted by those working in the court system.</p> <p>"There is no connection to what is happening in the street whatsoever,” said Fontier, the public defender in Harlem, “and I struggle to think how he could possibly make one if he actually tried.”</p> <p>

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
New York City Public Hospitals Were Unprepared for Major Crisis, Costing Lives During Covid Outbreak, Review Finds 2020-07-25T04:00:00+00:00 2020-07-25T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9605-new-york-city-public-hospitals-were-unprepared-for-major-crisis-costing-lives-covid-outbreak Victor Porcelli vporcelli@gg.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/5-health-hos-elmhurst.jpg" alt="5 health hos elmhurst" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio visits Elmhurst Hospital (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City and State governments’ lack of support for the city’s public hospitals left them underprepared in almost every way for the COVID-19 pandemic, even when the disease seemed likely to come to the city and despite warnings dating back to 2006 about the very conditions that would lead to an overwhelmed hospital system that became a real-life nightmare for New Yorkers, according to a preliminary report by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer</p> <p>And when COVID-19 inevitably did come to the city, miscommunication and poor management of the city’s public hospital system worsened the outcomes for many New Yorkers, even “at a cost in human lives,” Stringer wrote in a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo about the report, which was launched at Cuomo’s request amid some of the worst days of the crisis in New York, where more than 30,000 people have died of COVID-19.</p> <p>"[T]he reported conditions in our public hospitals during this unprecedented public health crisis are alarming, and my office is committed to working with the Governor and the Mayor to find answers,” Stringer said in a statement. “Our public health system serves families and residents that already face significant barriers to quality health care, and our frontline workers can't take care of us if we fail to protect them. We must ensure that our public hospitals have the funding, protections, resources and support they need, properly managed and coordinated, to protect New Yorkers during these uncertain times."</p> <p>In his preliminary report released July 17, Stringer outlined in detail the factors that contributed to New York City Health + Hospitals being overwhelmed by the pandemic that left New York as the worst-affected state (thus far) in the worst-affected country, with more than 23,000 of the 30,000-plus deaths among<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-data.page#download" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> New York City residents</a>, and over 400,000 cases across the state.&nbsp;</p> <p>And although H+H is a public benefit corporation, it is in significant ways run and funded by city government as a quasi-city agency, receives federal funds distributed through a formula in state law and, like all hospitals in New York, receives guidance from state entities, including in regards to preparing for and addressing a pandemic. For these reasons, Stringer’s report has implications as to how city and state government, including Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, could have put H+H in a better position to respond to the crisis.</p> <p>Cuomo had asked Stringer to perform the review that was <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-launches-investigation-into-new-york-citys-preparedness-and-response-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">launched on May 14</a> during a time when public hospitals like Elmhurst Hospital in Queens and Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx were inundated with coronavirus patients. At one point, the two hospitals had patient-to-worker ratios of 23:1 and 15:1 in their emergency rooms, a ratio that normally should be kept at 4:1, according to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/01/nyregion/Coronavirus-hospitals.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The New York Times</a>.</p> <p>At Elmhurst Hospital and others, trucks with built-in freezers had to be sent to be able to preserve the increasing number of dead bodies. With variations among the facilities, Health + Hospitals’ 11-hospital system appeared completely overwhelmed, with new accounts every day of staff working without PPE, huge surges in patients and deaths, and other harrowing stories. Questions quickly became evident as to why a small number of the 11 hospitals were exceedingly overwhelmed and not able to rely more on other facilities within the system. This led to Cuomo to ask for Stringer’s review.</p> <p>But one answer quickly provided by elected officials and experts was the leadership of Cuomo and de Blasio, which has come under scrutiny due to their slow responses during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak in New York, around decisions like closing schools and businesses or issuing a stay-at-home order, delays experts have said<a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2020/05/21/cuomo-de-blasio-blame-ignorance-but-not-themselves-in-wake-of-damning-report-1285383" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> cost lives</a>. Stringer’s initial findings in an ongoing investigation into Health + Hospitals further highlight issues with city and state leadership, and within H+H itself, in preparing New York’s public hospitals for a major public health crisis and addressing issues that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic’s peak.</p> <p>Stringer’s finding that problems at the city’s public hospitals cost lives appears to contradict a claim Cuomo has repeatedly made during the crisis, that no one died in New York because they did not get the care they needed.</p> <p>In his<a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/7.17.20-HH-Response-to-COVID-19.docx.pdf?utm_source=Media-All&amp;utm_campaign=f894c9a90f-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_05_31_COPY_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_7cd514b03e-f894c9a90f-154020809" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> letter</a> to Cuomo, Stringer noted that, partially due to a lack of funding, public hospitals already served more people, and particularly more underinsured and minority populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, than private hospitals. And H+H hospitals were short on personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators vital to safely treating infected patients and keeping those with the worst cases alive. The lack of equipment mirrored a lack of planning on how to deal with such a situation, leading to “on the fly” solutions, as Stringer’s report puts it, to problems New York officials had been aware of since as early as 2006.</p> <p>The most prominent issue highlighted in the report was hospitals seemingly complete lack of a plan for transferring patients from overwhelmed hospitals to those that still had open beds, despite past warnings from experts who testified to or developed plans for elected officials regarding pandemic preparedness. At first, individual staff at overwhelmed H+H hospitals would make calls to another hospital to try and arrange a transfer. But this inefficient system is partially what led to the accounts at hospitals like Elmhurst, which was completely overwhelmed and where staff worked inordinate and dangerous shifts.</p> <p>While Elmhurst was overwhelmed, other hospitals were not, leading to inequitable conditions across H+H that were eventually addressed through a daily conference call and then an email portal to manage patient transfers, according to Stringer’s report.</p> <p>Stringer made multiple recommendations, such as codifying ad hoc solutions like the email portal that was developed, as well as increasing training — especially critical care training — for H+H doctors and nurses and creating a set protocol for dealing with the types of situations that arose during the pandemic.</p> <p>“The lack of preparedness forced all players to improvise responses, sometimes successfully, sometimes not — but inevitably at a cost in human lives,” Stringer said in the letter to Cuomo. “Several deficiencies were noted, including inadequate access to needed supplies and equipment, a lack of systems and procedures for managing patient loads across hospitals, and insufficient protocols for deploying staff.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s office did not specifically address multiple requests for comment regarding the apparent fact that Stringer’s findings contradicted the governor’s comments about lives lost or regarding the state’s role in H+H challenges outlined in the report that the governor had requested.</p> <p>“We commend the comptroller for undertaking this effort, we will review these preliminary findings, and look forward to his final conclusions,” Cuomo senior advisor Rich Azzopardi said in a statement.</p> <p>In a statement, Health + Hospitals press secretary Stephanie Guzmán largely ignored criticisms brought up by Stringer and focused on the efforts H+H has made to save lives.</p> <p>"NYC Health + Hospitals has been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, providing the highest quality care to all New Yorkers in the face of an unprecedented global pandemic,” Guzmán said. “Throughout this crisis, we acted as a system, coordinating across facilities and with our central office. Lives were saved across our city at the virus's peak thanks to the heroic efforts of our staff, who tripled and quadrupled, ICU capacity, surged resources and personnel, and even came to the aid of our city's private hospitals in their times of dire needs. We remain focused on providing the highest possible care for New Yorkers across our 11 hospitals for the duration of this crisis and beyond."</p> <p>Some of the findings in Stringer’s review provide significant insight into Health + Hospitals’ struggles during the pandemic. Despite repeated warnings, the city and state did not seek to increase its stockpiles of ventilators or PPE before it was too late, the review showed, leading to dangerous conditions for patients and health-care workers.</p> <p>For example, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene published its Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan more than a decade ago in 2006, which suggested the city maintain a six- to eight-week stockpile of masks and gloves. However, hospitals did not maintain stockpiles of PPE, which Stringer attributed in part to a recurring problem for H+H — not having enough money to both address current needs and prepare for future ones.&nbsp;</p> <p>And when H+H sought to get its hands on more PPE in January, they had already become a global commodity that was near-impossible to obtain. With many hospitals across the world facing similar shortages, though, the Centers for Disease Control changed its guidelines regarding how often a protective facemask could be used, which Stringer’s report alleges was “driven by lack of available supplies, rather than by science and medical standards.”</p> <p>“The State Department of Health disseminated the CDC guidelines, despite their obvious deficiencies, and H+H and other hospitals followed them: the lack of sufficient supplies precluded them from following more medically sound standards,” the letter reads. “The changing guidance and ensuing confusion rendered H+H health care workers even more vulnerable to COVID-19, with many becoming sick and dying.”</p> <p>According to the letter, at least 35 members of the New York State Nurses Association had died of COVID-19 as of early June. In an attempt to address unsafe conditions related to a scarcity of PPE,&nbsp; Cuomo <a href="https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/central-ny/news/2020/05/03/governor-cuomo-press-conference-5-3-20" target="_blank" rel="noopener">announced on May 3</a> that New York would be working with neighboring states to buy PPE and that he would mandate all hospitals to have a 90-day stockpile of PPE. But, Stringer’s letter says, “the State has yet to issue such order promised on that date. In addition, fulfilling the order would be nearly impossible in the current supply-constrained circumstances.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The same 2006 New York City response plan also predicted a shortage of ventilators, and said the city could be short as many as 9,500 in the case of a pandemic. Stringer’s review also showed that additional concerns about ventilators, PPE, and other issues (like a shortage of hospital beds) the city ended up experiencing were expressed in a presentation on Medical Emergency Preparedness in 2007, a hearing on the city’s response to H1N1 held by the City Council’s Committees on Governmental Operations, Health, and Public Safety in 2009, and New York State’s November 2015 Ventilator Allocation Guidelines.</p> <p>The only time the city had acted on these concerns was when, in 2006, it acquired a few hundred ventilators that were soon auctioned off due to the cost of maintaining them, something mentioned in Stringer’s letter and <a href="https://www.propublica.org/article/how-new-york-city-emergency-ventilator-stockpile-ended-up-on-the-auction-block" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported by ProPublica in April</a>.</p> <p>Another issue past public health experts had the foresight to see, but the city was unprepared for, was that of hospitals being unable to transfer potentially contagious patients, especially in the face of some facilities reaching max capacity.</p> <p>“The surge of patients requiring medical treatment at an H+H hospital was uneven across the H+H system,” Stringer said in the letter. “In an effort to address the disparities between the demand at each facility and its available resources, individual H+H staff would telephone another facility to attempt a transfer.”</p> <p>The lack of a centralized system resulted in inefficiencies as public hospitals already struggling to deal with unprecedented numbers of patients with a highly contagious virus needed more space. “The surge of patients requiring medical treatment at an H+H hospital was uneven across the H+H system, as press accounts about issues confronted by Elmhurst Hospital revealed,” the letter says, referring to the Queens hospital that on March 24 had 13 deaths in one day and faced severe shortages of PPE, ventilators and staff.</p> <p>H+H eventually developed an email portal to streamline transfer requests, and a process using a 1-800 number for the distribution of PPE to hospitals that needed it most, according to Stringer’s review. The city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene began a weekly distribution of PPE from its warehouses to all hospitals, public and private, in late March, according to Stringer’s report.</p> <p>But patients weren’t the only ones whose transfers were mismanaged, according to Stringer, as some staff were deployed to areas they should not have been due to a lack of recent — or any — training required to complete the tasks they were assigned. Struggling under great strains and running out of qualified staff, H+H assigned existing staff to areas where the need was greatest.</p> <p>“[S]uch action resulted in doctors and nurses being redeployed to assignments that required specific skills they either did not have or had not used in many years, often without adequate or needed training,” Stringer said in his letter. “This included, for example, assignment of neonatal nurses to the intensive care unit, or of a physical therapist who had not worked as a respiratory therapist for decades to treat COVID patients in respiratory distress.”</p> <p>And when H+H used paid volunteers, some of whom were recruited through city and state efforts, it exacerbated these issues.</p> <p>“[I]ntegrating those volunteers magnified redeployment issues. The volunteers needed to be credentialed and did not have access to or knowledge of H+H computer systems,” Stringer’s letter says.</p> <p>As experts had dating back to at least 2006, City Council Member Carlina Rivera, chair of the Council’s Committee on Hospitals, also said she had been calling for H+H preparation and management issues to be addressed for some time.</p> <p>“Many advocates and I have been calling for New York hospitals to work together in this sort of fashion since before the COVID-19 pandemic, and long before the capacity situations at Elmhurst Hospital and elsewhere reached crisis levels,” Rivera said in a March 30 statement, after Cuomo announced plans for intersystem hospital coordination across the state. “There are specific reasons that certain hospitals are facing more challenges in responding to this pandemic, and they often go back to issues of further contraction of our inpatient hospital systems as well as inequitable funding and distribution of under or uninsured patients. Some of these issues would also be easily solved in the long-term through a universal healthcare system.”</p> <p>Rivera had also called for the city to increase preparedness efforts for coronavirus as early as January, per a statement she released at the time. The mayor and top city health officials said in late January and into March that the city was well-prepared and ready, including at a March 5 City Council hearing on that preparedness, which was chaired by Rivera and City Council Member Mark Levine, chair of the Council’s health committee.&nbsp;</p> <p>In a statement responding to Stringer’s report, she reiterated another aspect of its findings: that many of the issues highlighted within it — from a lack of supplies and staff to no centralized management — stem from insufficient funding. In his report, Stringer notes that because H+H patients are disproportionately either uninsured or on Medicaid (70% of H+H patients fall under these categories, compared to 40% in private hospitals), H+H hospitals rely on public subsidies to fill their budget gaps.&nbsp;</p> <p>The report also notes that those gaps may be widening, as after falling in recent years, the number of uninsured H+H patients rose by 8% in the first four months of the 2020 fiscal year (July-October 2019). With many New Yorkers losing their employment, and so their insurance, due to COVID, it is likely the situation has worsened. Yet, the recent state budget adopted at the start of April cut Medicaid funds by $2.2 billion, which the report says, “could affect H+H’s bottom line.”</p> <p>In a recent statement, Rivera said H+H funding shortfalls likely made worse issues of insufficient stockpiles of key medical supplies, not enough beds or staff, and more.</p> <p>“H+H worked to alleviate some of these challenges, and while there are certainly numerous issues that H+H must reckon with and improve, the ultimate failure lies with the State for never pursuing real health care equity and reform,” Rivera said. “The same crises that every hospital system faced were magnified at H+H by a State budget that unfairly allocates more Medicaid and Medicare funds to private hospitals over our public system, by a State health insurance system that forces uninsured and under-insured New Yorkers to use H+H emergency departments as their only source for medical care, and by State health leaders who never sought to explore a universal healthcare model where patient loads and supplies could be more easily shared and planned between hospital systems. We’re not going to permanently solve the failures of any one hospital system unless we first consider the radical reforms we need to the way health care is delivered in this State and our nation.”</p> <p>In his report, Stringer first put forward short-term solutions to the problems raised in preparation for a future health crisis, including a potential second wave of COVID-19 this fall. He recommended that the state and city departments of health, the city’s Department of Emergency Management, and other state and city government offices, and major public and private hospitals, should come together to form a plan that “provides clear chains of command and responsibility for different aspects of crisis management,” in the event of an emergency. Stringer recommends H+H create the same plan for within its own system, too.</p> <p>He also advises that a centralized inventory and procurement system for things like PPE and ventilators be created. This would help identify and obtain critical supplies in advance of the next health crisis and ensure supplies are available when needed. Stringer also recommended that innovations such as “mechanisms developed for the transfer of patients between and among H+H facilities” be formalized; that H+H doctors and nurses be cross-trained to support ICU and critical care staff; that transferred or volunteer personnel be provided with training in skills they have not had to use for some time; and that state and city departments of health, H+H and other hospitals develop health and safety protocols and guidance to avoid confusion and miscommunications.</p> <p>Stringer also included in his letter to Cuomo a similar sentiment as expressed by Rivera — that larger issues played a role in creating and worsening problems for H+H and should be addressed.</p> <p>According to Stringer, H+H hospitals were already at a disadvantage due to chronic underfunding, as well as hospital closures and downsizings that have resulted in about 20,000 fewer hospital beds in New York State since 2000. In his letter, Stringer mentions that Elmhurst Hospital serves over 372,000 New Yorkers, while private hospitals such as NYU Langone serve 127,000 and the citywide average is 174,000. This translates into public hospitals’ abilities to serve their patients, as it can take as long as 12 hours to be admitted to some of them, compared to a citywide average that is half that long.</p> <p>And public hospitals serve populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, such as Black and Hispanic New Yorkers who, as of mid-May, had an age-adjusted death rate that was twice as high as their white and Asian counterparts, according to Stringer. This added to the strain that was put on H+H hospitals during the pandemic.</p> <p>“The City and State must address the underlying inequities in access to health care that both directly resulted in a disproportionately high death toll among the City’s most vulnerable populations and threatened to overwhelm existing capacity and systems,” Stringer wrote.</p> <p>

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/5-health-hos-elmhurst.jpg" alt="5 health hos elmhurst" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio visits Elmhurst Hospital (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City and State governments’ lack of support for the city’s public hospitals left them underprepared in almost every way for the COVID-19 pandemic, even when the disease seemed likely to come to the city and despite warnings dating back to 2006 about the very conditions that would lead to an overwhelmed hospital system that became a real-life nightmare for New Yorkers, according to a preliminary report by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer</p> <p>And when COVID-19 inevitably did come to the city, miscommunication and poor management of the city’s public hospital system worsened the outcomes for many New Yorkers, even “at a cost in human lives,” Stringer wrote in a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo about the report, which was launched at Cuomo’s request amid some of the worst days of the crisis in New York, where more than 30,000 people have died of COVID-19.</p> <p>"[T]he reported conditions in our public hospitals during this unprecedented public health crisis are alarming, and my office is committed to working with the Governor and the Mayor to find answers,” Stringer said in a statement. “Our public health system serves families and residents that already face significant barriers to quality health care, and our frontline workers can't take care of us if we fail to protect them. We must ensure that our public hospitals have the funding, protections, resources and support they need, properly managed and coordinated, to protect New Yorkers during these uncertain times."</p> <p>In his preliminary report released July 17, Stringer outlined in detail the factors that contributed to New York City Health + Hospitals being overwhelmed by the pandemic that left New York as the worst-affected state (thus far) in the worst-affected country, with more than 23,000 of the 30,000-plus deaths among<a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-data.page#download" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> New York City residents</a>, and over 400,000 cases across the state.&nbsp;</p> <p>And although H+H is a public benefit corporation, it is in significant ways run and funded by city government as a quasi-city agency, receives federal funds distributed through a formula in state law and, like all hospitals in New York, receives guidance from state entities, including in regards to preparing for and addressing a pandemic. For these reasons, Stringer’s report has implications as to how city and state government, including Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, could have put H+H in a better position to respond to the crisis.</p> <p>Cuomo had asked Stringer to perform the review that was <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/comptroller-stringer-launches-investigation-into-new-york-citys-preparedness-and-response-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">launched on May 14</a> during a time when public hospitals like Elmhurst Hospital in Queens and Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx were inundated with coronavirus patients. At one point, the two hospitals had patient-to-worker ratios of 23:1 and 15:1 in their emergency rooms, a ratio that normally should be kept at 4:1, according to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/01/nyregion/Coronavirus-hospitals.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The New York Times</a>.</p> <p>At Elmhurst Hospital and others, trucks with built-in freezers had to be sent to be able to preserve the increasing number of dead bodies. With variations among the facilities, Health + Hospitals’ 11-hospital system appeared completely overwhelmed, with new accounts every day of staff working without PPE, huge surges in patients and deaths, and other harrowing stories. Questions quickly became evident as to why a small number of the 11 hospitals were exceedingly overwhelmed and not able to rely more on other facilities within the system. This led to Cuomo to ask for Stringer’s review.</p> <p>But one answer quickly provided by elected officials and experts was the leadership of Cuomo and de Blasio, which has come under scrutiny due to their slow responses during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak in New York, around decisions like closing schools and businesses or issuing a stay-at-home order, delays experts have said<a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2020/05/21/cuomo-de-blasio-blame-ignorance-but-not-themselves-in-wake-of-damning-report-1285383" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> cost lives</a>. Stringer’s initial findings in an ongoing investigation into Health + Hospitals further highlight issues with city and state leadership, and within H+H itself, in preparing New York’s public hospitals for a major public health crisis and addressing issues that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic’s peak.</p> <p>Stringer’s finding that problems at the city’s public hospitals cost lives appears to contradict a claim Cuomo has repeatedly made during the crisis, that no one died in New York because they did not get the care they needed.</p> <p>In his<a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/7.17.20-HH-Response-to-COVID-19.docx.pdf?utm_source=Media-All&amp;utm_campaign=f894c9a90f-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_05_31_COPY_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_7cd514b03e-f894c9a90f-154020809" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> letter</a> to Cuomo, Stringer noted that, partially due to a lack of funding, public hospitals already served more people, and particularly more underinsured and minority populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, than private hospitals. And H+H hospitals were short on personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators vital to safely treating infected patients and keeping those with the worst cases alive. The lack of equipment mirrored a lack of planning on how to deal with such a situation, leading to “on the fly” solutions, as Stringer’s report puts it, to problems New York officials had been aware of since as early as 2006.</p> <p>The most prominent issue highlighted in the report was hospitals seemingly complete lack of a plan for transferring patients from overwhelmed hospitals to those that still had open beds, despite past warnings from experts who testified to or developed plans for elected officials regarding pandemic preparedness. At first, individual staff at overwhelmed H+H hospitals would make calls to another hospital to try and arrange a transfer. But this inefficient system is partially what led to the accounts at hospitals like Elmhurst, which was completely overwhelmed and where staff worked inordinate and dangerous shifts.</p> <p>While Elmhurst was overwhelmed, other hospitals were not, leading to inequitable conditions across H+H that were eventually addressed through a daily conference call and then an email portal to manage patient transfers, according to Stringer’s report.</p> <p>Stringer made multiple recommendations, such as codifying ad hoc solutions like the email portal that was developed, as well as increasing training — especially critical care training — for H+H doctors and nurses and creating a set protocol for dealing with the types of situations that arose during the pandemic.</p> <p>“The lack of preparedness forced all players to improvise responses, sometimes successfully, sometimes not — but inevitably at a cost in human lives,” Stringer said in the letter to Cuomo. “Several deficiencies were noted, including inadequate access to needed supplies and equipment, a lack of systems and procedures for managing patient loads across hospitals, and insufficient protocols for deploying staff.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s office did not specifically address multiple requests for comment regarding the apparent fact that Stringer’s findings contradicted the governor’s comments about lives lost or regarding the state’s role in H+H challenges outlined in the report that the governor had requested.</p> <p>“We commend the comptroller for undertaking this effort, we will review these preliminary findings, and look forward to his final conclusions,” Cuomo senior advisor Rich Azzopardi said in a statement.</p> <p>In a statement, Health + Hospitals press secretary Stephanie Guzmán largely ignored criticisms brought up by Stringer and focused on the efforts H+H has made to save lives.</p> <p>"NYC Health + Hospitals has been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, providing the highest quality care to all New Yorkers in the face of an unprecedented global pandemic,” Guzmán said. “Throughout this crisis, we acted as a system, coordinating across facilities and with our central office. Lives were saved across our city at the virus's peak thanks to the heroic efforts of our staff, who tripled and quadrupled, ICU capacity, surged resources and personnel, and even came to the aid of our city's private hospitals in their times of dire needs. We remain focused on providing the highest possible care for New Yorkers across our 11 hospitals for the duration of this crisis and beyond."</p> <p>Some of the findings in Stringer’s review provide significant insight into Health + Hospitals’ struggles during the pandemic. Despite repeated warnings, the city and state did not seek to increase its stockpiles of ventilators or PPE before it was too late, the review showed, leading to dangerous conditions for patients and health-care workers.</p> <p>For example, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene published its Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan more than a decade ago in 2006, which suggested the city maintain a six- to eight-week stockpile of masks and gloves. However, hospitals did not maintain stockpiles of PPE, which Stringer attributed in part to a recurring problem for H+H — not having enough money to both address current needs and prepare for future ones.&nbsp;</p> <p>And when H+H sought to get its hands on more PPE in January, they had already become a global commodity that was near-impossible to obtain. With many hospitals across the world facing similar shortages, though, the Centers for Disease Control changed its guidelines regarding how often a protective facemask could be used, which Stringer’s report alleges was “driven by lack of available supplies, rather than by science and medical standards.”</p> <p>“The State Department of Health disseminated the CDC guidelines, despite their obvious deficiencies, and H+H and other hospitals followed them: the lack of sufficient supplies precluded them from following more medically sound standards,” the letter reads. “The changing guidance and ensuing confusion rendered H+H health care workers even more vulnerable to COVID-19, with many becoming sick and dying.”</p> <p>According to the letter, at least 35 members of the New York State Nurses Association had died of COVID-19 as of early June. In an attempt to address unsafe conditions related to a scarcity of PPE,&nbsp; Cuomo <a href="https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/central-ny/news/2020/05/03/governor-cuomo-press-conference-5-3-20" target="_blank" rel="noopener">announced on May 3</a> that New York would be working with neighboring states to buy PPE and that he would mandate all hospitals to have a 90-day stockpile of PPE. But, Stringer’s letter says, “the State has yet to issue such order promised on that date. In addition, fulfilling the order would be nearly impossible in the current supply-constrained circumstances.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The same 2006 New York City response plan also predicted a shortage of ventilators, and said the city could be short as many as 9,500 in the case of a pandemic. Stringer’s review also showed that additional concerns about ventilators, PPE, and other issues (like a shortage of hospital beds) the city ended up experiencing were expressed in a presentation on Medical Emergency Preparedness in 2007, a hearing on the city’s response to H1N1 held by the City Council’s Committees on Governmental Operations, Health, and Public Safety in 2009, and New York State’s November 2015 Ventilator Allocation Guidelines.</p> <p>The only time the city had acted on these concerns was when, in 2006, it acquired a few hundred ventilators that were soon auctioned off due to the cost of maintaining them, something mentioned in Stringer’s letter and <a href="https://www.propublica.org/article/how-new-york-city-emergency-ventilator-stockpile-ended-up-on-the-auction-block" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported by ProPublica in April</a>.</p> <p>Another issue past public health experts had the foresight to see, but the city was unprepared for, was that of hospitals being unable to transfer potentially contagious patients, especially in the face of some facilities reaching max capacity.</p> <p>“The surge of patients requiring medical treatment at an H+H hospital was uneven across the H+H system,” Stringer said in the letter. “In an effort to address the disparities between the demand at each facility and its available resources, individual H+H staff would telephone another facility to attempt a transfer.”</p> <p>The lack of a centralized system resulted in inefficiencies as public hospitals already struggling to deal with unprecedented numbers of patients with a highly contagious virus needed more space. “The surge of patients requiring medical treatment at an H+H hospital was uneven across the H+H system, as press accounts about issues confronted by Elmhurst Hospital revealed,” the letter says, referring to the Queens hospital that on March 24 had 13 deaths in one day and faced severe shortages of PPE, ventilators and staff.</p> <p>H+H eventually developed an email portal to streamline transfer requests, and a process using a 1-800 number for the distribution of PPE to hospitals that needed it most, according to Stringer’s review. The city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene began a weekly distribution of PPE from its warehouses to all hospitals, public and private, in late March, according to Stringer’s report.</p> <p>But patients weren’t the only ones whose transfers were mismanaged, according to Stringer, as some staff were deployed to areas they should not have been due to a lack of recent — or any — training required to complete the tasks they were assigned. Struggling under great strains and running out of qualified staff, H+H assigned existing staff to areas where the need was greatest.</p> <p>“[S]uch action resulted in doctors and nurses being redeployed to assignments that required specific skills they either did not have or had not used in many years, often without adequate or needed training,” Stringer said in his letter. “This included, for example, assignment of neonatal nurses to the intensive care unit, or of a physical therapist who had not worked as a respiratory therapist for decades to treat COVID patients in respiratory distress.”</p> <p>And when H+H used paid volunteers, some of whom were recruited through city and state efforts, it exacerbated these issues.</p> <p>“[I]ntegrating those volunteers magnified redeployment issues. The volunteers needed to be credentialed and did not have access to or knowledge of H+H computer systems,” Stringer’s letter says.</p> <p>As experts had dating back to at least 2006, City Council Member Carlina Rivera, chair of the Council’s Committee on Hospitals, also said she had been calling for H+H preparation and management issues to be addressed for some time.</p> <p>“Many advocates and I have been calling for New York hospitals to work together in this sort of fashion since before the COVID-19 pandemic, and long before the capacity situations at Elmhurst Hospital and elsewhere reached crisis levels,” Rivera said in a March 30 statement, after Cuomo announced plans for intersystem hospital coordination across the state. “There are specific reasons that certain hospitals are facing more challenges in responding to this pandemic, and they often go back to issues of further contraction of our inpatient hospital systems as well as inequitable funding and distribution of under or uninsured patients. Some of these issues would also be easily solved in the long-term through a universal healthcare system.”</p> <p>Rivera had also called for the city to increase preparedness efforts for coronavirus as early as January, per a statement she released at the time. The mayor and top city health officials said in late January and into March that the city was well-prepared and ready, including at a March 5 City Council hearing on that preparedness, which was chaired by Rivera and City Council Member Mark Levine, chair of the Council’s health committee.&nbsp;</p> <p>In a statement responding to Stringer’s report, she reiterated another aspect of its findings: that many of the issues highlighted within it — from a lack of supplies and staff to no centralized management — stem from insufficient funding. In his report, Stringer notes that because H+H patients are disproportionately either uninsured or on Medicaid (70% of H+H patients fall under these categories, compared to 40% in private hospitals), H+H hospitals rely on public subsidies to fill their budget gaps.&nbsp;</p> <p>The report also notes that those gaps may be widening, as after falling in recent years, the number of uninsured H+H patients rose by 8% in the first four months of the 2020 fiscal year (July-October 2019). With many New Yorkers losing their employment, and so their insurance, due to COVID, it is likely the situation has worsened. Yet, the recent state budget adopted at the start of April cut Medicaid funds by $2.2 billion, which the report says, “could affect H+H’s bottom line.”</p> <p>In a recent statement, Rivera said H+H funding shortfalls likely made worse issues of insufficient stockpiles of key medical supplies, not enough beds or staff, and more.</p> <p>“H+H worked to alleviate some of these challenges, and while there are certainly numerous issues that H+H must reckon with and improve, the ultimate failure lies with the State for never pursuing real health care equity and reform,” Rivera said. “The same crises that every hospital system faced were magnified at H+H by a State budget that unfairly allocates more Medicaid and Medicare funds to private hospitals over our public system, by a State health insurance system that forces uninsured and under-insured New Yorkers to use H+H emergency departments as their only source for medical care, and by State health leaders who never sought to explore a universal healthcare model where patient loads and supplies could be more easily shared and planned between hospital systems. We’re not going to permanently solve the failures of any one hospital system unless we first consider the radical reforms we need to the way health care is delivered in this State and our nation.”</p> <p>In his report, Stringer first put forward short-term solutions to the problems raised in preparation for a future health crisis, including a potential second wave of COVID-19 this fall. He recommended that the state and city departments of health, the city’s Department of Emergency Management, and other state and city government offices, and major public and private hospitals, should come together to form a plan that “provides clear chains of command and responsibility for different aspects of crisis management,” in the event of an emergency. Stringer recommends H+H create the same plan for within its own system, too.</p> <p>He also advises that a centralized inventory and procurement system for things like PPE and ventilators be created. This would help identify and obtain critical supplies in advance of the next health crisis and ensure supplies are available when needed. Stringer also recommended that innovations such as “mechanisms developed for the transfer of patients between and among H+H facilities” be formalized; that H+H doctors and nurses be cross-trained to support ICU and critical care staff; that transferred or volunteer personnel be provided with training in skills they have not had to use for some time; and that state and city departments of health, H+H and other hospitals develop health and safety protocols and guidance to avoid confusion and miscommunications.</p> <p>Stringer also included in his letter to Cuomo a similar sentiment as expressed by Rivera — that larger issues played a role in creating and worsening problems for H+H and should be addressed.</p> <p>According to Stringer, H+H hospitals were already at a disadvantage due to chronic underfunding, as well as hospital closures and downsizings that have resulted in about 20,000 fewer hospital beds in New York State since 2000. In his letter, Stringer mentions that Elmhurst Hospital serves over 372,000 New Yorkers, while private hospitals such as NYU Langone serve 127,000 and the citywide average is 174,000. This translates into public hospitals’ abilities to serve their patients, as it can take as long as 12 hours to be admitted to some of them, compared to a citywide average that is half that long.</p> <p>And public hospitals serve populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, such as Black and Hispanic New Yorkers who, as of mid-May, had an age-adjusted death rate that was twice as high as their white and Asian counterparts, according to Stringer. This added to the strain that was put on H+H hospitals during the pandemic.</p> <p>“The City and State must address the underlying inequities in access to health care that both directly resulted in a disproportionately high death toll among the City’s most vulnerable populations and threatened to overwhelm existing capacity and systems,” Stringer wrote.</p> <p>

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Requests for Emergency Rent Grants Fell During Pandemic, But Expected to Skyrocket When Evictions Resume 2020-07-24T04:00:00+00:00 2020-07-24T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9622-requests-for-emergency-rent-grants-fell-during-pandemic-but-expected-to-skyrocket-when-evictions-resume Samar Khurshid samarkhurshid@gmail.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/36528747140_af7544e316_c.jpg" alt="tenants eviction protections rally" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Tenants on edge amid eviction moratorium (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A city-run emergency grant program that helps keep people in their homes has seen fewer applications during the COVID-19 pandemic, seemingly due to a moratorium on evictions. But housing advocates worry that the program will be hard pressed to respond to a “tsunami of evictions” that is likely to follow once the moratorium ends, which could happen as early as next month.</p> <p>As the pandemic raged across New York City, more than a million people lost their jobs, income, and ability to pay rent, leading to skyrocketing applications for city benefits in the form of food stamps and cash assistance, which are provided by the city’s Department of Social Services/Human Resources Administration. In March, Governor Andew Cuomo imposed a 90-day eviction moratorium, which was later extended for certain tenants through August 20, and negotiated a suspension of utility shutoffs with major providers (in June, he signed that moratorium <a href="https://www.timesunion.com/business/article/Cuomo-signs-moratorium-on-utility-shutoffs-15360360.php">into law</a> as well).</p> <p>As a likely result of those measures, the Department of Social Services gave out nearly half the number of “one-shot” emergency assistance grants in June as it did in February. One-shot deals are intended to provide housing stability by helping with rent, mortgage, and utility payments, staving off eviction, foreclosure, homelessness, and other negative outcomes through help to individuals and families during a rough patch. Two out of three one-shots are awarded for rent arrears, according to DSS.</p> <p>These grants are distinct from recurring assistance that is provided on a regular basis to those in need who qualify for certain city subsidy programs. Isaac McGinn, a spokesperson for DSS, said eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis, assessing whether a grant can prevent an imminent eviction and whether the client can continue to afford to pay the rent going forward.</p> <p>Since the pandemic hit, one-shots have fallen dramatically, from 3,803 households (covering 8,021 people) in February to 1,814 households (3,993 people) in June, a 53.2% decrease. The number of cases in June was about 49.5% lower than in June 2019, according to DSS data.</p> <p>“In these unprecedented times, as New York City reopens and continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and New Yorkers get back on their feet, helping New Yorkers remain stably housed is our top priority––and we are doing all we can to protect tenants and continue leveling the playing field,” said McGinn.</p> <p>Two looming potential deadlines could make for an expected flood of evictions and a corresponding increase in the number of people seeking assistance from the city. The governor has not indicated whether he will extend the eviction moratorium beyond August 20. First, on July 31 the additional weekly $600 federal unemployment benefit that was included in the CARES Act is set to expire. Congress is currently considering a second major round of stimulus funding, which could include direct payments as well as unemployment benefits, but it’s unclear when that will pass and what it might include. And while housing courts have been closed in New York for months, they partially reopened a few weeks ago before the Office of Court Administration issued guidance to pause all eviction proceedings till August 5.</p> <p>While the state did pass and is now implementing a $100 million rent relief voucher <a href="https://hcr.ny.gov/RRP">program</a> for low-income New Yorkers who have lost income, some are calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature to take additional action along with more federal aid.</p> <p>“We are about to go over a cliff here in this city, in terms of people potentially losing their housing and we have to stop it,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in his daily press briefing on Tuesday. “We need help from the federal government. We need rental assistance money for the people of this city and people all over the country who are facing this challenge. We need the State of New York to pass the laws that will give people the ability to pay the rent when they finally have an income but make sure no one is evicted simply because they can't pay the rent. We have so many things we have to do, and we're looking for every possible innovation.”</p> <p>Housing advocates are worried that the city and state aren’t taking strong enough steps to prevent what could easily become a major additional homelessness crisis as a massive number of tenants are evicted from their homes. According to a July 8 <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-08/coronavirus-moves-nyc-affordable-housing-crisis-to-breaking-point">Bloomberg Businessweek report</a> citing the Community Housing Improvement Program, a trade association of rent-stabilized property owners, about one in four New York City apartment tenants had not paid their rent since March.</p> <p>“There’s going to be a huge demand for one-shots,” said City Council Member Stephen Levin, a Brooklyn Democrat who chairs the Council’s Committee on General Welfare, calling them a “valuable tool” in the city’s belt. “The city should be prepared to process a huge influx of applications for one-shots and they should be prepared to be able to do that very quickly.”</p> <p>Levin said the state needs to cancel rent and mortgages if it wants to avoid the inevitable fallout at the end of August. “It’s really hard to contemplate or even fathom how devastating it could be,” he said. And he said there should be mechanisms where the city and state can cover future rent as well as back rent. “We don’t have the capacity to deal with a huge influx into the shelter system. It's unsafe as a public health policy. We don't want people in congregate settings at all,” he said, referencing the ongoing pandemic. “It’s incredibly destabilizing to families. So all around, it’s a better investment to prevent families from entering the shelter system to begin with.”</p> <p>One-shot assistance, which typically costs about $200 million annually, is among a suite of related housing and assistance programs that the city employs. McGinn of DSS said that the rent arrears program serves all New Yorkers who qualify and funding for it does not run out.&nbsp;The city also helps people with monthly rent payments and provides free legal assistance to many low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court.</p> <p>Ellen Davidson, staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, was not surprised that the number of one-shot grants have dropped, since they often require an individual to show a future ability to pay rent.</p> <p>“We have no reason to believe that there's enough staff to even process all of the applications that are coming their way,” Davidson said of DSS and the expected boom in need. “And considering that once someone is in housing court, time is of the essence, if applications get so backed up that they're not processed, people would be evicted who would qualify for rent arrears grants.”</p> <p>She said the city should ease some of the requirements for one-shots, particularly as many tenants may still be unable to show that they can make their rent in the months ahead, which is a prerequisite for the program.</p> <p>Davidson worries that the administration could choose to use federal funds to balance the budget rather than provide rent relief to tenants, pointing out that the city received nearly $400 million and has not shown how that has been spent. “The amount of attention that this administration has put toward the extreme risk that tenants are facing? They've spent no time on it. It's not on their radar screen,” she said of the de Blasio administration. “Everyone else has been talking about the eviction tsunami. It's just not something that the city seems to care about.”</p> <p>Cea Weaver, from the Housing Justice for All coalition, similarly said the city and state should not be waiting for federal funds when there are measures they can take right now. “We need Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature to act,” Weaver said. “I don’t think it’s OK to pass it off to the feds when the state government has the ability to raise taxes on corporate landlords and all rich people. We have the ability to raise revenue in our state to pay for things like housing assistance and housing support and we should be doing them in this moment of crisis.”</p> <p>When asked about the plight of tenants who may owe months of back rent once the pandemic eases, Cuomo has repeatedly touted the eviction moratorium as a temporary fix without offering a long-term solution. In an <a href="https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2020/07/22/governor-cuomo-phone-conference-7-22-2020#">interview with NY1’s Roma Torre</a> on Wednesday, he said the moratorium had “removed the anxiety and the pressure altogether of rent.”</p> <p>“It's for the entire COVID crisis,” he said of the moratorium. “We have not yet determined when the COVID crisis is over, because the COVID crisis isn't over. And then obviously, it's not going to be one day the virus disappears. There'll be a recovery period. So we'll have to figure that out.”</p> <p>The city, Weaver said, should urge housing courts and marshalls to not carry out evictions while investing funds in the rent programs that have proven effective.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/36528747140_af7544e316_c.jpg" alt="tenants eviction protections rally" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Tenants on edge amid eviction moratorium (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A city-run emergency grant program that helps keep people in their homes has seen fewer applications during the COVID-19 pandemic, seemingly due to a moratorium on evictions. But housing advocates worry that the program will be hard pressed to respond to a “tsunami of evictions” that is likely to follow once the moratorium ends, which could happen as early as next month.</p> <p>As the pandemic raged across New York City, more than a million people lost their jobs, income, and ability to pay rent, leading to skyrocketing applications for city benefits in the form of food stamps and cash assistance, which are provided by the city’s Department of Social Services/Human Resources Administration. In March, Governor Andew Cuomo imposed a 90-day eviction moratorium, which was later extended for certain tenants through August 20, and negotiated a suspension of utility shutoffs with major providers (in June, he signed that moratorium <a href="https://www.timesunion.com/business/article/Cuomo-signs-moratorium-on-utility-shutoffs-15360360.php">into law</a> as well).</p> <p>As a likely result of those measures, the Department of Social Services gave out nearly half the number of “one-shot” emergency assistance grants in June as it did in February. One-shot deals are intended to provide housing stability by helping with rent, mortgage, and utility payments, staving off eviction, foreclosure, homelessness, and other negative outcomes through help to individuals and families during a rough patch. Two out of three one-shots are awarded for rent arrears, according to DSS.</p> <p>These grants are distinct from recurring assistance that is provided on a regular basis to those in need who qualify for certain city subsidy programs. Isaac McGinn, a spokesperson for DSS, said eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis, assessing whether a grant can prevent an imminent eviction and whether the client can continue to afford to pay the rent going forward.</p> <p>Since the pandemic hit, one-shots have fallen dramatically, from 3,803 households (covering 8,021 people) in February to 1,814 households (3,993 people) in June, a 53.2% decrease. The number of cases in June was about 49.5% lower than in June 2019, according to DSS data.</p> <p>“In these unprecedented times, as New York City reopens and continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and New Yorkers get back on their feet, helping New Yorkers remain stably housed is our top priority––and we are doing all we can to protect tenants and continue leveling the playing field,” said McGinn.</p> <p>Two looming potential deadlines could make for an expected flood of evictions and a corresponding increase in the number of people seeking assistance from the city. The governor has not indicated whether he will extend the eviction moratorium beyond August 20. First, on July 31 the additional weekly $600 federal unemployment benefit that was included in the CARES Act is set to expire. Congress is currently considering a second major round of stimulus funding, which could include direct payments as well as unemployment benefits, but it’s unclear when that will pass and what it might include. And while housing courts have been closed in New York for months, they partially reopened a few weeks ago before the Office of Court Administration issued guidance to pause all eviction proceedings till August 5.</p> <p>While the state did pass and is now implementing a $100 million rent relief voucher <a href="https://hcr.ny.gov/RRP">program</a> for low-income New Yorkers who have lost income, some are calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature to take additional action along with more federal aid.</p> <p>“We are about to go over a cliff here in this city, in terms of people potentially losing their housing and we have to stop it,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in his daily press briefing on Tuesday. “We need help from the federal government. We need rental assistance money for the people of this city and people all over the country who are facing this challenge. We need the State of New York to pass the laws that will give people the ability to pay the rent when they finally have an income but make sure no one is evicted simply because they can't pay the rent. We have so many things we have to do, and we're looking for every possible innovation.”</p> <p>Housing advocates are worried that the city and state aren’t taking strong enough steps to prevent what could easily become a major additional homelessness crisis as a massive number of tenants are evicted from their homes. According to a July 8 <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-08/coronavirus-moves-nyc-affordable-housing-crisis-to-breaking-point">Bloomberg Businessweek report</a> citing the Community Housing Improvement Program, a trade association of rent-stabilized property owners, about one in four New York City apartment tenants had not paid their rent since March.</p> <p>“There’s going to be a huge demand for one-shots,” said City Council Member Stephen Levin, a Brooklyn Democrat who chairs the Council’s Committee on General Welfare, calling them a “valuable tool” in the city’s belt. “The city should be prepared to process a huge influx of applications for one-shots and they should be prepared to be able to do that very quickly.”</p> <p>Levin said the state needs to cancel rent and mortgages if it wants to avoid the inevitable fallout at the end of August. “It’s really hard to contemplate or even fathom how devastating it could be,” he said. And he said there should be mechanisms where the city and state can cover future rent as well as back rent. “We don’t have the capacity to deal with a huge influx into the shelter system. It's unsafe as a public health policy. We don't want people in congregate settings at all,” he said, referencing the ongoing pandemic. “It’s incredibly destabilizing to families. So all around, it’s a better investment to prevent families from entering the shelter system to begin with.”</p> <p>One-shot assistance, which typically costs about $200 million annually, is among a suite of related housing and assistance programs that the city employs. McGinn of DSS said that the rent arrears program serves all New Yorkers who qualify and funding for it does not run out.&nbsp;The city also helps people with monthly rent payments and provides free legal assistance to many low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court.</p> <p>Ellen Davidson, staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, was not surprised that the number of one-shot grants have dropped, since they often require an individual to show a future ability to pay rent.</p> <p>“We have no reason to believe that there's enough staff to even process all of the applications that are coming their way,” Davidson said of DSS and the expected boom in need. “And considering that once someone is in housing court, time is of the essence, if applications get so backed up that they're not processed, people would be evicted who would qualify for rent arrears grants.”</p> <p>She said the city should ease some of the requirements for one-shots, particularly as many tenants may still be unable to show that they can make their rent in the months ahead, which is a prerequisite for the program.</p> <p>Davidson worries that the administration could choose to use federal funds to balance the budget rather than provide rent relief to tenants, pointing out that the city received nearly $400 million and has not shown how that has been spent. “The amount of attention that this administration has put toward the extreme risk that tenants are facing? They've spent no time on it. It's not on their radar screen,” she said of the de Blasio administration. “Everyone else has been talking about the eviction tsunami. It's just not something that the city seems to care about.”</p> <p>Cea Weaver, from the Housing Justice for All coalition, similarly said the city and state should not be waiting for federal funds when there are measures they can take right now. “We need Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature to act,” Weaver said. “I don’t think it’s OK to pass it off to the feds when the state government has the ability to raise taxes on corporate landlords and all rich people. We have the ability to raise revenue in our state to pay for things like housing assistance and housing support and we should be doing them in this moment of crisis.”</p> <p>When asked about the plight of tenants who may owe months of back rent once the pandemic eases, Cuomo has repeatedly touted the eviction moratorium as a temporary fix without offering a long-term solution. In an <a href="https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2020/07/22/governor-cuomo-phone-conference-7-22-2020#">interview with NY1’s Roma Torre</a> on Wednesday, he said the moratorium had “removed the anxiety and the pressure altogether of rent.”</p> <p>“It's for the entire COVID crisis,” he said of the moratorium. “We have not yet determined when the COVID crisis is over, because the COVID crisis isn't over. And then obviously, it's not going to be one day the virus disappears. There'll be a recovery period. So we'll have to figure that out.”</p> <p>The city, Weaver said, should urge housing courts and marshalls to not carry out evictions while investing funds in the rent programs that have proven effective.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Wave of LGBT Candidates Eyes City Council Seats in 2021 Elections 2020-07-23T04:00:00+00:00 2020-07-23T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9606-lgbtq-candidates-2021-elections-new-york-city-council Andrew Millman amillman@gg.com <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/4-lgbt-pride.jpg" alt="4 lgbt pride" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council members at a Pride march (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council’s LGBT Caucus could shrink after the 2021 elections, with all five current caucus members -- including Council Speaker Corey Johnson -- prevented by term limits from running for reelection next year, when all of city government will be on the ballot. However, there are more than a dozen openly LGBTQ candidates running throughout the city to replenish and perhaps grow the ranks of LGBTQ representation in city government, encouraged by advocates and current Council members who <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8543-effort-launched-to-elect-lgbt-members-to-the-city-council">launched “LGBTQ in 2021,”</a> an effort to elect more LGBTQ candidates to the 51-seat Council, and inspired by <a href="https://www.21in21.org/">“21 in ‘21,”</a> a similar campaign to elect more women to the Council.</p> <p>These efforts come as LGBTQ candidates in New York have recently achieved state and national firsts. Mondaire Jones in New York’s 17th Congressional District (Rockland and northern Westchester) and City Council Member Ritchie Torres in the Bronx’s 15th Congressional District appear likely to become, respectively, the nation’s first gay black and gay Afro-Latino members of Congress. In Brooklyn, Jabari Brisport <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9571-jabari-brisport-eyes-journey-to-albany">could become</a> New York’s first gay Black state legislator, if his large lead holds in the 25th State Senate District Democratic primary. Kristen Browde was vying to become the state’s first trans legislator in the 93rd Assembly District, but appears to have come up slightly short in a close race.</p> <p>“What people thought was not possible has become possible,” said Samy Nemir-Olivares, a queer Puerto Rican-Dominican who won his race for District Leader Assembly District 53 (Williamsburg and Bushwick) last month. “Five years ago, we couldn’t get married because of the law. Now, we’re seeing the evolution of the LGBTQ movement from activism and organizing to electoral work.”</p> <p>“It is very impressive because LGBTQ people are a small number of the population, so it takes a lot more for an LGBTQ candidate to face these challenges of stigma and discrimination,” Nemir-Olivares told Gotham Gazette in an interview. “A majority of our community isn’t enough to win an election, so you have to build coalitions. It’s an act of faith and an act of perseverance.”</p> <p>As attention turns from the 2020 primaries to the 2021 city government elections, Gotham Gazette revisited the LGBTQ in 2021 effort, which appears to have lost momentum but, after inquiries and as the city rebounds from the coronavirus crisis and the calendar moves ahead, may see new life.</p> <p>In part through conversations with candidates and advocates, Gotham Gazette has identified at least 15 LGBTQ candidates currently running for City Council in 2021, including in every borough except Staten Island. Erik Bottcher (Council District 3), Phelan-Dante Fizpatrick (CD 3) Chris Sosa (CD 5), Billy Freeland (CD 5), Seth Rosen (CD 6), Marti Gould Allen-Cummings (CD 7), and Kristin Richardson Jordan (CD 9) are running in Manhattan; Elisa Crespo (CD 15) is running in the Bronx; Rod Townsend (CD 22);&nbsp;Alfonso Quiroz (CD 25); and Lynn Schulman (CD 29) are running in Queens; and Crystal Hudson (CD 35), Chi Ossé (CD 36), Josue Pierre (CD 40), and Wilfredo Florentino (CD 42) are running in Brooklyn.</p> <p>The City Council has never included a trans person, a non-binary person, or queer Black woman, and has not included any openly gay women at all since 2017. That could all change for the start of the next Council session, in January 2022, with several potentially historic candidacies.</p> <p>How much of a concerted, organized effort there will be to elect LGBTQ candidates to the Council and other city government positions remains to be seen.</p> <p>“LGBTQ in 2021 was a great idea and it brought together a group of experienced LGBT political operatives. However, once we tried to codify the idea, it appeared ten different people had ten different ideas as to the best way to go forth,” said Melissa Sklarz, a government relations strategist at SAGE, a former co-chair of both the Empire State Pride Agenda and Stonewall Democrats, and a newly-elected District Leader in Queens — one of two trans candidates, along with&nbsp;Emilia Decaudin, who won such positions this year.</p> <p>Several candidates and activists who Gotham Gazette spoke with for this story similarly expressed uncertainty or confusion over the current state of the formal LGBTQ in 2021 initiative. According to one LGBTQ Council candidate, as of this week, discussions are currently underway among the candidates to revitalize the effort using the infrastructure already established by the project last year.</p> <p><strong>Three Decades of LGBTQ Representation at the City Council</strong><br />New York City elected its first openly-gay City Council members in 1991 when Antonio Pagán and Tom Duane won in Manhattan’s Districts 2 and 3, respectively. Duane’s district, which covers the west side of Manhattan from Hell’s Kitchen through Chelsea to Greenwich Village and SoHo, was specifically drawn during the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1991/04/11/nyregion/34-options-are-given-for-new-council.html">1991 redistricting</a> with the intention of electing a member of the LGBTQ community to the Council (similarly, districts were also designed with the intention of electing Asian and Dominican Council members). For three decades now, District 3 has been represented by an openly gay Council member, from Duane to Christine Quinn, and currently Johnson, with both the latter two elected Speaker.</p> <p>“Having LGBT people in the Council, myself as the finance chair and Corey [Johnson] as the Speaker, we’re able to give record levels of funding to LGBT organizations that had never been done before,” said Council Member Danny Dromm, a longtime LGBTQ activist and leader, in an interview.</p> <p>Dromm was one of the first two openly LGBTQ Council members from outside of Manhattan, elected alongside fellow Queens Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer in 2009, and before that he was the first openly gay elected official in Queens, as a Democratic District Leader. He also cofounded the first Queens LGBT Pride Parade in 1993.</p> <p>Dromm pointed to the $3.7 million allocated in the city budget to LGBT community-based organizations and another $2.3 million distributed to trans-focused organizations in fiscal year 2020 as evidence of the LGBT Caucus’ impact. “To be honest with you, it’s the LGBT members that bring it up and push it, so we need to continue to have LGBT folks doing that within the City Council,” he said.</p> <p>“Oftentimes we are left out of conversations, although people mean well. It’s not that we’re excluded, it’s just that they don’t think to mention LGBT issues,” Dromm said. “It’s not just about having elected officials, but building institutions within our community and electeds can help with that, particularly through funding.”</p> <p>“I think that there’s a greater acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ people, though maybe not as much for transgender and gender-nonconcomforming folks yet, and their candidacies are taken very seriously,” Dromm said, when asked about how running for office has changed for LGBTQ candidates in recent years. He highlighted the candidacies of Crespo and Allen-Cummings as having the potential to be the first trans and non-binary Council members, respectively.</p> <p><strong>A Special Election on the Horizon</strong><br />Torres’ likely departure from the Council at the start of next year would trigger a special election sometime in February or March for Council District 15, which includes Belmont, Fordham, Tremont, Norwood, Parkchester, and Crotona Park. Three candidates were already running to succeed Torres. Given quirks election law and the calendar, there will be the special election early in the year to see who holds the seat for most of 2021 as well as regularly-scheduled June primary and November general elections for the next term, which begins January 1, 2022.</p> <p>The election will also likely be the city’s first attempt at ranked-choice voting, likely concurrently with a special election to replace Donovan Richards in Queens’ 31st Council District as he ascends to the borough president’s office.</p> <p>One candidate running to replace Torres in District 15 is Elisa Crespo, who currently works as an education liaison for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and is a <a href="https://twitter.com/sdnyc/status/1275955937606590465?s=11">board member</a> for the Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest LGBTQ political club.</p> <p>“I think people who have struggled the most and have been marginalized the most should be the closest to the decision-making table and because this is how I believe I can do the most good for the most people,” Crespo told Gotham Gazette in a recent interview.</p> <p>“It’d be a big deal for a woman of color, especially someone who’s had a story like mine, which is a story of overcoming and triumph, to be able to hold this seat,” said Crespo, who was educated in New York City’s public schools and CUNY’s John Jay College and has lived in the city’s public housing system. “I’m a working class-Latina and a product of public institutions. I worked my way up out of nothing.”</p> <p>Along with possibly becoming the first trans person to become a New York City Council member, she’s also among those hoping to be the first woman in the Council’s LGBT Caucus since 2017 (all five current caucus members are men). “An entire community’s voice has never been heard,” Crespo said when asked about the significance of potentially becoming the city’s first trans Council member.</p> <p>Crespo’s two opponents in the race as of now are Oswald Feliz, a state committee member for the 78th Assembly District, and Community Board 7 district manager Ischia Bravo. According to July financial disclosures, Crespo has <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2321&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Crespo,%20Elisa&amp;office=CD%2015&amp;report=summ">raised</a> $16,707, while Bravo <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2317&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Bravo,%20Ischia&amp;office=CD%2015&amp;report=summ">raised</a> $17,546 and Feliz&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=619&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Tapia%2c+Yudelka&amp;office=CD+14&amp;report=summ">raised</a> $4,747.</p> <p><strong>Council Candidates Attract National Attention</strong><br />Last month, the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a national organization with the mission of growing LGBTQ representation in elected office, announced their first five endorsements for next year’s Council races, noting the importance of starting early in New York’s “tough” political landscape.&nbsp;</p> <p>Those endorsees are Marti Gould Allen-Cummings, Erik Bottcher, Wilfredo Florentino, Seth Rosen, and Lynn Schulman.</p> <p>Sean Meloy, the Victory Fund’s Senior Political Director, told Gotham Gazette, “we’re not done. These are the first five that have been in touch with us.” Victory Fund’s criteria for endorsements are that candidates must be openly LGBTQ and have a record of fighting for the community, support reproductive freedom, and show viability.</p> <p>Meloy said a Victory Fund endorsement is a “stamp of approval” that signals to donors and other stakeholders that particular LGBTQ candidates have been vetted and have a shot at winning. He calls the fund “the gay Emily’s List,” referring to the organization that does similar work with women candidates. The two groups share some cofounders.</p> <p>Meloy points to Torres’ recent success as an example of the Victory Fund’s work building a “pipeline” of LGBTQ candidates. The group backed Torres when he was first running for City Council in 2013 and then again early in his run for Congress. He says the group got the message out nationally that Torres was “the only viable progressive alternative to Ruben Diaz Sr.,” and worked to publicize more broadly Diaz Sr.’s <a href="https://victoryfund.org/news/coalition-of-progressive-groups-slam-ruben-diaz-sr-for-his-anti-abortion-anti-lgbtq-record/">record of homophobia and misogyny.</a></p> <p>“We need to elect over 22,544 more LGBTQ people to offices around the country to even have a baseline level of parity in government,” Meloy told Gotham Gazette, noting that there are currently about 843 LGTBQ elected officeholders nationwide. That number has <a href="https://abcnews.go.com/US/record-number-lgbtq-candidates-running-us-office-report/story?id=71841394">more than doubled</a> since June 2016.</p> <p><strong>Candidates of Color Chart Own Path</strong><br />“The LGBTQ movement was for a very long time led by a white face, but now it is a new moment,” said Nemir-Olivares, noting how recent Black Lives Matter protests coincided with Pride Month through demonstrations such as the Queer Liberation March against Police Brutality and Black Trans Lives Matter March. “We’re living at a critical moment at which identities and life experiences are coming into the forefront of political discussion.”</p> <p>“The LGBTQ community is not in a silo,” Nemir-Olivares continued. “We’ve always been part of the racial justice movement, which includes a lot of queer activists. Before, people wanted to see them as separate issues, but candidates like Jabari Brisport and myself really represent that connection.”</p> <p>Of the five current members of the Council’s LGBT Caucus, two are people of color, which is not reflective of the city’s LGBTQ population as a whole, which mirrors the demographic proportions of the general population (about three-fifths of New York City’s population is people of color).</p> <p>“When we talk about the LGBTQ community in New York City, we’re not talking about cisgender white men,” said Wilfredo Florentio, a gay Black candidate running in Brooklyn’s Council District 42.</p> <p>Florentino <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2291&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Florentino,%20Wilfredo&amp;office=CD%2042&amp;report=summ">has raised</a> $11,731 for his campaign, compared to $23,475 raised by his only opponent in the race, Nikki Lucas, <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=1612&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Lucas,%20Nikki&amp;office=CD%2042&amp;report=summ">according to the most recent financial disclosure reports</a>.</p> <p>Several LGBTQ candidates of color, including Florentino, are currently running across the city and, in June, six of them announced that they had formed “a coalition of Black and Brown progressive candidates this Pride Month that offers an historic choice to voters in next year’s elections,” according to a statement put out by the group. The list also includes Crespo, Crystal Hudson (CD 35), Chris Sosa (CD 5), Josue Pierre (CD 40), and Kristin Richardson Jordan (CD 9).</p> <p>Florentino told Gotham Gazette that “POC LGBTQ candidates are not being considered viable. There is an air of viability as it relates to non-POC candidates, but BIPOC candidates have to work even harder to prove we are qualified.”</p> <p>Nemir-Olivares agrees, noting that “the founders of the LGBTQ movement were a Black and a Latinx transgender women,” referring to activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.</p> <p>“Representation matters. If we don’t see ourselves in officials that represent us, how can we ever aspire to serve our community in that way?” Florentino said. “When all of the focus is on non-BIPOC LGBTQ candidates, we are doing a disservice to POC-led movements like Stonewall.”</p> <p>Richardson Jordan <a href="https://twitter.com/kristin4harlem/status/1282131216418955264?s=21">says</a> she is “a Black queer democratic socialist and abolitionist on a mission to disrupt local Harlem district 9 with radical love.” While most of the 2021 LGBTQ candidates consider themselves progressives, Richardson Jordan appears to be the only one as of now who is a member of the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. She notes that she was calling for police and prison abolition even before the recent resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests.</p> <p>This week, Richardson Jordan announced that she had <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2230&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Jordan%2c+Kristin+R&amp;office=CD+09&amp;report=summ">raised</a> $42,046, while incumbent Council Member Bill Perkins, who is not term-limited but may not be running for reelection, has not raised any funds towards a potential reelection campaign as of yet.</p> <p>In Queens' Council District 25, Alfonzo Quiroz, who is of Mexican descent, is running to replace the term-limited Dromm.</p> <p><strong>Speaker's Heir Apparent</strong><br />Erik Bottcher, currently Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s district chief of staff, is running to succeed his boss and be the district’s fourth consecutive openly gay Council member. Johnson <a href="https://www.thecity.nyc/2020/2/10/21210534/top-corey-johnson-aide-running-for-his-chelsea-council-seat">told The City</a> that he was fully backing Bottcher’s bid when his chief of staff announced in February and Bottcher is supportive of his current boss’ mayoral aspirations as Johnson eyes becoming the city’s first openly gay Mayor.</p> <p>Bottcher previously worked for Governor Andrew Cuomo, first as a liaison to the gay and transgender communities during Cuomo’s 2010 campaign and then in Cuomo’s gubernatorial administration during the passage of marriage equality in 2011.</p> <p>When asked how LGBTQ politics has changed in the decade since marriage equality was passed in New York, Bottcher told Gotham Gazette, “Ten years ago when I began in government, we were fighting for things like gays in the military, marriage equality, and visitation rights. We’ve made progress on those issues, but we have so much farther to go, particularly for transgender Americans.”</p> <p>“Addressing inequities and disparities faced by trans people of color must include funding of programs. Government needs to show the money,” Bottcher said when asked what issues are currently most important for the LGBTQ community. “A strong LGBTQ [City Council] Caucus is needed to advocate for this during the budget process.”</p> <p>“The next LGBTQ Caucus should have at least seven members, which is what we had until [the end of 2017] when Council Members Rosie Mendez and Jimmy Vacca termed out,” Bottcher said when asked what the ideal number of LGBTQ Council members would be.</p> <p>“Any time policy is being discussed, people involved in the conversation have to be representative of our city,” Bottcher said, adding “if the people at the table don’t represent New York, that creates an opening for policy that doesn’t serve the people well.”</p> <p>Bottcher currently has two opponents in the race for District 3, Marni Halasa and Phelan-Dante Fitzpatrick. Halasa is a lawyer and figure skating coach, as well as an activist for tenants’ rights and small businesses. Fizpatrick, who currently works at DSK Retail, is running to be the first gay Black person to represent the district.</p> <p>As of the July financial disclosures, Bottcher has <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2312&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Bottcher%2c+Erik&amp;office=CD+03&amp;report=summ">raised</a> $114,356, the most of any non-incumbent Council candidate running in 2021, compared to <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2141&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Halasa,%20Marni&amp;office=CD%2003&amp;report=summ">Halasa’s</a> $1,740 and <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2365&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Fitzpatrick,%20Phelan-Dante&amp;office=CD%2003&amp;report=summ">Fitzpatrick’s</a> $500.</p> <p><strong>COVID-19 &amp; Community Responses</strong><br />“As we look to recover from this pandemic, it’s going to be really important that we’re creating job and housing opportunity for the people who need them,” Crystal Hudson, the former First Deputy Public Advocate for Community Engagement under Jumaane Williams and a candidate in Brooklyn’s Council District 35, told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>According to her <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2267&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Hudson%2c+Crystal&amp;office=CD+35&amp;report=summ">July financial disclosure</a>, Hudson has raised $66,328 in campaign funds thus far, which is over ten times as much as her nearest opponent in that race.</p> <p>“All issues are queer issues,” she said in an interview. “The queer community as a whole is in need of all the same things everybody else is in need of and, because we don’t always have access to the same resources, sometimes the need is far greater.”</p> <p>Hudson pointed to the <a href="https://www.hrc.org/blog/new-report-on-youth-homeless-affirms-that-lgbtq-youth-disproportionately-ex">high levels of homelessness</a> that LGBTQ youth experience as an example of how larger issues can have a particular impact on the LGBTQ community. “They experience homelessness as much as people who don’t fall into that category.”</p> <p>“Now is as great a time as any for us to show the importance of centering a voice like mine as a black queer woman,” said Hudson. “We lead from a different place. I’m centered on community and I want to follow the lead of my community.”</p> <p>During the pandemic, Hudson founded Greater Prospect Heights Mutual Aid, a volunteer network of neighbors supplying food and running errands, among other help, for people in need in Prospect Heights and the surrounding areas.</p> <p>“Running as a black queer woman is always challenging and difficult. I think that’s why there’s not many of us in these spaces,” said Hudson.</p> <p>“The Council has come a long way,” Hudson said, “but the fact that I have the potential to be the first or among the first two black queer women shows that we have so much further to go.”</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated with the addition of Alfonso Quiroz.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2020/4-lgbt-pride.jpg" alt="4 lgbt pride" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council members at a Pride march (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council’s LGBT Caucus could shrink after the 2021 elections, with all five current caucus members -- including Council Speaker Corey Johnson -- prevented by term limits from running for reelection next year, when all of city government will be on the ballot. However, there are more than a dozen openly LGBTQ candidates running throughout the city to replenish and perhaps grow the ranks of LGBTQ representation in city government, encouraged by advocates and current Council members who <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8543-effort-launched-to-elect-lgbt-members-to-the-city-council">launched “LGBTQ in 2021,”</a> an effort to elect more LGBTQ candidates to the 51-seat Council, and inspired by <a href="https://www.21in21.org/">“21 in ‘21,”</a> a similar campaign to elect more women to the Council.</p> <p>These efforts come as LGBTQ candidates in New York have recently achieved state and national firsts. Mondaire Jones in New York’s 17th Congressional District (Rockland and northern Westchester) and City Council Member Ritchie Torres in the Bronx’s 15th Congressional District appear likely to become, respectively, the nation’s first gay black and gay Afro-Latino members of Congress. In Brooklyn, Jabari Brisport <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9571-jabari-brisport-eyes-journey-to-albany">could become</a> New York’s first gay Black state legislator, if his large lead holds in the 25th State Senate District Democratic primary. Kristen Browde was vying to become the state’s first trans legislator in the 93rd Assembly District, but appears to have come up slightly short in a close race.</p> <p>“What people thought was not possible has become possible,” said Samy Nemir-Olivares, a queer Puerto Rican-Dominican who won his race for District Leader Assembly District 53 (Williamsburg and Bushwick) last month. “Five years ago, we couldn’t get married because of the law. Now, we’re seeing the evolution of the LGBTQ movement from activism and organizing to electoral work.”</p> <p>“It is very impressive because LGBTQ people are a small number of the population, so it takes a lot more for an LGBTQ candidate to face these challenges of stigma and discrimination,” Nemir-Olivares told Gotham Gazette in an interview. “A majority of our community isn’t enough to win an election, so you have to build coalitions. It’s an act of faith and an act of perseverance.”</p> <p>As attention turns from the 2020 primaries to the 2021 city government elections, Gotham Gazette revisited the LGBTQ in 2021 effort, which appears to have lost momentum but, after inquiries and as the city rebounds from the coronavirus crisis and the calendar moves ahead, may see new life.</p> <p>In part through conversations with candidates and advocates, Gotham Gazette has identified at least 15 LGBTQ candidates currently running for City Council in 2021, including in every borough except Staten Island. Erik Bottcher (Council District 3), Phelan-Dante Fizpatrick (CD 3) Chris Sosa (CD 5), Billy Freeland (CD 5), Seth Rosen (CD 6), Marti Gould Allen-Cummings (CD 7), and Kristin Richardson Jordan (CD 9) are running in Manhattan; Elisa Crespo (CD 15) is running in the Bronx; Rod Townsend (CD 22);&nbsp;Alfonso Quiroz (CD 25); and Lynn Schulman (CD 29) are running in Queens; and Crystal Hudson (CD 35), Chi Ossé (CD 36), Josue Pierre (CD 40), and Wilfredo Florentino (CD 42) are running in Brooklyn.</p> <p>The City Council has never included a trans person, a non-binary person, or queer Black woman, and has not included any openly gay women at all since 2017. That could all change for the start of the next Council session, in January 2022, with several potentially historic candidacies.</p> <p>How much of a concerted, organized effort there will be to elect LGBTQ candidates to the Council and other city government positions remains to be seen.</p> <p>“LGBTQ in 2021 was a great idea and it brought together a group of experienced LGBT political operatives. However, once we tried to codify the idea, it appeared ten different people had ten different ideas as to the best way to go forth,” said Melissa Sklarz, a government relations strategist at SAGE, a former co-chair of both the Empire State Pride Agenda and Stonewall Democrats, and a newly-elected District Leader in Queens — one of two trans candidates, along with&nbsp;Emilia Decaudin, who won such positions this year.</p> <p>Several candidates and activists who Gotham Gazette spoke with for this story similarly expressed uncertainty or confusion over the current state of the formal LGBTQ in 2021 initiative. According to one LGBTQ Council candidate, as of this week, discussions are currently underway among the candidates to revitalize the effort using the infrastructure already established by the project last year.</p> <p><strong>Three Decades of LGBTQ Representation at the City Council</strong><br />New York City elected its first openly-gay City Council members in 1991 when Antonio Pagán and Tom Duane won in Manhattan’s Districts 2 and 3, respectively. Duane’s district, which covers the west side of Manhattan from Hell’s Kitchen through Chelsea to Greenwich Village and SoHo, was specifically drawn during the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1991/04/11/nyregion/34-options-are-given-for-new-council.html">1991 redistricting</a> with the intention of electing a member of the LGBTQ community to the Council (similarly, districts were also designed with the intention of electing Asian and Dominican Council members). For three decades now, District 3 has been represented by an openly gay Council member, from Duane to Christine Quinn, and currently Johnson, with both the latter two elected Speaker.</p> <p>“Having LGBT people in the Council, myself as the finance chair and Corey [Johnson] as the Speaker, we’re able to give record levels of funding to LGBT organizations that had never been done before,” said Council Member Danny Dromm, a longtime LGBTQ activist and leader, in an interview.</p> <p>Dromm was one of the first two openly LGBTQ Council members from outside of Manhattan, elected alongside fellow Queens Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer in 2009, and before that he was the first openly gay elected official in Queens, as a Democratic District Leader. He also cofounded the first Queens LGBT Pride Parade in 1993.</p> <p>Dromm pointed to the $3.7 million allocated in the city budget to LGBT community-based organizations and another $2.3 million distributed to trans-focused organizations in fiscal year 2020 as evidence of the LGBT Caucus’ impact. “To be honest with you, it’s the LGBT members that bring it up and push it, so we need to continue to have LGBT folks doing that within the City Council,” he said.</p> <p>“Oftentimes we are left out of conversations, although people mean well. It’s not that we’re excluded, it’s just that they don’t think to mention LGBT issues,” Dromm said. “It’s not just about having elected officials, but building institutions within our community and electeds can help with that, particularly through funding.”</p> <p>“I think that there’s a greater acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ people, though maybe not as much for transgender and gender-nonconcomforming folks yet, and their candidacies are taken very seriously,” Dromm said, when asked about how running for office has changed for LGBTQ candidates in recent years. He highlighted the candidacies of Crespo and Allen-Cummings as having the potential to be the first trans and non-binary Council members, respectively.</p> <p><strong>A Special Election on the Horizon</strong><br />Torres’ likely departure from the Council at the start of next year would trigger a special election sometime in February or March for Council District 15, which includes Belmont, Fordham, Tremont, Norwood, Parkchester, and Crotona Park. Three candidates were already running to succeed Torres. Given quirks election law and the calendar, there will be the special election early in the year to see who holds the seat for most of 2021 as well as regularly-scheduled June primary and November general elections for the next term, which begins January 1, 2022.</p> <p>The election will also likely be the city’s first attempt at ranked-choice voting, likely concurrently with a special election to replace Donovan Richards in Queens’ 31st Council District as he ascends to the borough president’s office.</p> <p>One candidate running to replace Torres in District 15 is Elisa Crespo, who currently works as an education liaison for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and is a <a href="https://twitter.com/sdnyc/status/1275955937606590465?s=11">board member</a> for the Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest LGBTQ political club.</p> <p>“I think people who have struggled the most and have been marginalized the most should be the closest to the decision-making table and because this is how I believe I can do the most good for the most people,” Crespo told Gotham Gazette in a recent interview.</p> <p>“It’d be a big deal for a woman of color, especially someone who’s had a story like mine, which is a story of overcoming and triumph, to be able to hold this seat,” said Crespo, who was educated in New York City’s public schools and CUNY’s John Jay College and has lived in the city’s public housing system. “I’m a working class-Latina and a product of public institutions. I worked my way up out of nothing.”</p> <p>Along with possibly becoming the first trans person to become a New York City Council member, she’s also among those hoping to be the first woman in the Council’s LGBT Caucus since 2017 (all five current caucus members are men). “An entire community’s voice has never been heard,” Crespo said when asked about the significance of potentially becoming the city’s first trans Council member.</p> <p>Crespo’s two opponents in the race as of now are Oswald Feliz, a state committee member for the 78th Assembly District, and Community Board 7 district manager Ischia Bravo. According to July financial disclosures, Crespo has <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2321&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Crespo,%20Elisa&amp;office=CD%2015&amp;report=summ">raised</a> $16,707, while Bravo <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2317&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Bravo,%20Ischia&amp;office=CD%2015&amp;report=summ">raised</a> $17,546 and Feliz&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=619&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Tapia%2c+Yudelka&amp;office=CD+14&amp;report=summ">raised</a> $4,747.</p> <p><strong>Council Candidates Attract National Attention</strong><br />Last month, the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a national organization with the mission of growing LGBTQ representation in elected office, announced their first five endorsements for next year’s Council races, noting the importance of starting early in New York’s “tough” political landscape.&nbsp;</p> <p>Those endorsees are Marti Gould Allen-Cummings, Erik Bottcher, Wilfredo Florentino, Seth Rosen, and Lynn Schulman.</p> <p>Sean Meloy, the Victory Fund’s Senior Political Director, told Gotham Gazette, “we’re not done. These are the first five that have been in touch with us.” Victory Fund’s criteria for endorsements are that candidates must be openly LGBTQ and have a record of fighting for the community, support reproductive freedom, and show viability.</p> <p>Meloy said a Victory Fund endorsement is a “stamp of approval” that signals to donors and other stakeholders that particular LGBTQ candidates have been vetted and have a shot at winning. He calls the fund “the gay Emily’s List,” referring to the organization that does similar work with women candidates. The two groups share some cofounders.</p> <p>Meloy points to Torres’ recent success as an example of the Victory Fund’s work building a “pipeline” of LGBTQ candidates. The group backed Torres when he was first running for City Council in 2013 and then again early in his run for Congress. He says the group got the message out nationally that Torres was “the only viable progressive alternative to Ruben Diaz Sr.,” and worked to publicize more broadly Diaz Sr.’s <a href="https://victoryfund.org/news/coalition-of-progressive-groups-slam-ruben-diaz-sr-for-his-anti-abortion-anti-lgbtq-record/">record of homophobia and misogyny.</a></p> <p>“We need to elect over 22,544 more LGBTQ people to offices around the country to even have a baseline level of parity in government,” Meloy told Gotham Gazette, noting that there are currently about 843 LGTBQ elected officeholders nationwide. That number has <a href="https://abcnews.go.com/US/record-number-lgbtq-candidates-running-us-office-report/story?id=71841394">more than doubled</a> since June 2016.</p> <p><strong>Candidates of Color Chart Own Path</strong><br />“The LGBTQ movement was for a very long time led by a white face, but now it is a new moment,” said Nemir-Olivares, noting how recent Black Lives Matter protests coincided with Pride Month through demonstrations such as the Queer Liberation March against Police Brutality and Black Trans Lives Matter March. “We’re living at a critical moment at which identities and life experiences are coming into the forefront of political discussion.”</p> <p>“The LGBTQ community is not in a silo,” Nemir-Olivares continued. “We’ve always been part of the racial justice movement, which includes a lot of queer activists. Before, people wanted to see them as separate issues, but candidates like Jabari Brisport and myself really represent that connection.”</p> <p>Of the five current members of the Council’s LGBT Caucus, two are people of color, which is not reflective of the city’s LGBTQ population as a whole, which mirrors the demographic proportions of the general population (about three-fifths of New York City’s population is people of color).</p> <p>“When we talk about the LGBTQ community in New York City, we’re not talking about cisgender white men,” said Wilfredo Florentio, a gay Black candidate running in Brooklyn’s Council District 42.</p> <p>Florentino <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2291&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Florentino,%20Wilfredo&amp;office=CD%2042&amp;report=summ">has raised</a> $11,731 for his campaign, compared to $23,475 raised by his only opponent in the race, Nikki Lucas, <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=1612&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Lucas,%20Nikki&amp;office=CD%2042&amp;report=summ">according to the most recent financial disclosure reports</a>.</p> <p>Several LGBTQ candidates of color, including Florentino, are currently running across the city and, in June, six of them announced that they had formed “a coalition of Black and Brown progressive candidates this Pride Month that offers an historic choice to voters in next year’s elections,” according to a statement put out by the group. The list also includes Crespo, Crystal Hudson (CD 35), Chris Sosa (CD 5), Josue Pierre (CD 40), and Kristin Richardson Jordan (CD 9).</p> <p>Florentino told Gotham Gazette that “POC LGBTQ candidates are not being considered viable. There is an air of viability as it relates to non-POC candidates, but BIPOC candidates have to work even harder to prove we are qualified.”</p> <p>Nemir-Olivares agrees, noting that “the founders of the LGBTQ movement were a Black and a Latinx transgender women,” referring to activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.</p> <p>“Representation matters. If we don’t see ourselves in officials that represent us, how can we ever aspire to serve our community in that way?” Florentino said. “When all of the focus is on non-BIPOC LGBTQ candidates, we are doing a disservice to POC-led movements like Stonewall.”</p> <p>Richardson Jordan <a href="https://twitter.com/kristin4harlem/status/1282131216418955264?s=21">says</a> she is “a Black queer democratic socialist and abolitionist on a mission to disrupt local Harlem district 9 with radical love.” While most of the 2021 LGBTQ candidates consider themselves progressives, Richardson Jordan appears to be the only one as of now who is a member of the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. She notes that she was calling for police and prison abolition even before the recent resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests.</p> <p>This week, Richardson Jordan announced that she had <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2230&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Jordan%2c+Kristin+R&amp;office=CD+09&amp;report=summ">raised</a> $42,046, while incumbent Council Member Bill Perkins, who is not term-limited but may not be running for reelection, has not raised any funds towards a potential reelection campaign as of yet.</p> <p>In Queens' Council District 25, Alfonzo Quiroz, who is of Mexican descent, is running to replace the term-limited Dromm.</p> <p><strong>Speaker's Heir Apparent</strong><br />Erik Bottcher, currently Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s district chief of staff, is running to succeed his boss and be the district’s fourth consecutive openly gay Council member. Johnson <a href="https://www.thecity.nyc/2020/2/10/21210534/top-corey-johnson-aide-running-for-his-chelsea-council-seat">told The City</a> that he was fully backing Bottcher’s bid when his chief of staff announced in February and Bottcher is supportive of his current boss’ mayoral aspirations as Johnson eyes becoming the city’s first openly gay Mayor.</p> <p>Bottcher previously worked for Governor Andrew Cuomo, first as a liaison to the gay and transgender communities during Cuomo’s 2010 campaign and then in Cuomo’s gubernatorial administration during the passage of marriage equality in 2011.</p> <p>When asked how LGBTQ politics has changed in the decade since marriage equality was passed in New York, Bottcher told Gotham Gazette, “Ten years ago when I began in government, we were fighting for things like gays in the military, marriage equality, and visitation rights. We’ve made progress on those issues, but we have so much farther to go, particularly for transgender Americans.”</p> <p>“Addressing inequities and disparities faced by trans people of color must include funding of programs. Government needs to show the money,” Bottcher said when asked what issues are currently most important for the LGBTQ community. “A strong LGBTQ [City Council] Caucus is needed to advocate for this during the budget process.”</p> <p>“The next LGBTQ Caucus should have at least seven members, which is what we had until [the end of 2017] when Council Members Rosie Mendez and Jimmy Vacca termed out,” Bottcher said when asked what the ideal number of LGBTQ Council members would be.</p> <p>“Any time policy is being discussed, people involved in the conversation have to be representative of our city,” Bottcher said, adding “if the people at the table don’t represent New York, that creates an opening for policy that doesn’t serve the people well.”</p> <p>Bottcher currently has two opponents in the race for District 3, Marni Halasa and Phelan-Dante Fitzpatrick. Halasa is a lawyer and figure skating coach, as well as an activist for tenants’ rights and small businesses. Fizpatrick, who currently works at DSK Retail, is running to be the first gay Black person to represent the district.</p> <p>As of the July financial disclosures, Bottcher has <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2312&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Bottcher%2c+Erik&amp;office=CD+03&amp;report=summ">raised</a> $114,356, the most of any non-incumbent Council candidate running in 2021, compared to <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2141&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Halasa,%20Marni&amp;office=CD%2003&amp;report=summ">Halasa’s</a> $1,740 and <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2365&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Fitzpatrick,%20Phelan-Dante&amp;office=CD%2003&amp;report=summ">Fitzpatrick’s</a> $500.</p> <p><strong>COVID-19 &amp; Community Responses</strong><br />“As we look to recover from this pandemic, it’s going to be really important that we’re creating job and housing opportunity for the people who need them,” Crystal Hudson, the former First Deputy Public Advocate for Community Engagement under Jumaane Williams and a candidate in Brooklyn’s Council District 35, told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>According to her <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2267&amp;as_election_cycle=2021&amp;cand_name=Hudson%2c+Crystal&amp;office=CD+35&amp;report=summ">July financial disclosure</a>, Hudson has raised $66,328 in campaign funds thus far, which is over ten times as much as her nearest opponent in that race.</p> <p>“All issues are queer issues,” she said in an interview. “The queer community as a whole is in need of all the same things everybody else is in need of and, because we don’t always have access to the same resources, sometimes the need is far greater.”</p> <p>Hudson pointed to the <a href="https://www.hrc.org/blog/new-report-on-youth-homeless-affirms-that-lgbtq-youth-disproportionately-ex">high levels of homelessness</a> that LGBTQ youth experience as an example of how larger issues can have a particular impact on the LGBTQ community. “They experience homelessness as much as people who don’t fall into that category.”</p> <p>“Now is as great a time as any for us to show the importance of centering a voice like mine as a black queer woman,” said Hudson. “We lead from a different place. I’m centered on community and I want to follow the lead of my community.”</p> <p>During the pandemic, Hudson founded Greater Prospect Heights Mutual Aid, a volunteer network of neighbors supplying food and running errands, among other help, for people in need in Prospect Heights and the surrounding areas.</p> <p>“Running as a black queer woman is always challenging and difficult. I think that’s why there’s not many of us in these spaces,” said Hudson.</p> <p>“The Council has come a long way,” Hudson said, “but the fact that I have the potential to be the first or among the first two black queer women shows that we have so much further to go.”</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

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</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated with the addition of Alfonso Quiroz.</p>