CITY Sat, 05 Dec 2020 12:40:18 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Breaking Down Final 2020 Vote Tallies Across New York City drive in rally

Joe Biden (photo: Adam Schultz/Biden for President)

New York City's long-awaited election results were finally certified Tuesday, four weeks after polls closed and just past the state's statutory deadline, making the five boroughs one of the last jurisdictions in the country to finalize the 2020 count.

The results show that, in a year with significantly more ballots cast and massive changes in party alignments, the Democratic Party made barely any gains in presidential turnout, while the smaller, more progressive Working Families Party made huge strides as it successfully fought to keep its ballot line in New York. Republican President Donald Trump, while deeply unpopular overall in his home city, actually increased his vote share from 2016, particularly from parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.

Overall in New York City, Biden received 2,321,759 votes, 76%, to Trump’s 691,682 votes, or 23%; a margin of 1,630,077. In 2016, Hillary Clinton 79% won of the vote to Trump’s 18%.

Biden won the state of New York by a 60%-38% margin; compared to Clinton’s 58.8%-37.5% win in 2016, meaning that while Biden did worse than Clinton in the five boroughs he outperformed her outside the city.

While a Biden-Harris sweep was a foregone conclusion in the heavily ‘blue’ city, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans eight to one, the final results sealed a number of consequential victories up and down the ballot, including in a few close races. There will be many new members of the State Legislature and House of Representatives, most of whom sailed in the general election after tough primary wins.

Some turnout trends reflect an electorate responding to the unique circumstances -- political and epidemiological, local and national -- surrounding the controversial 2020 election. And while the number of voters who cast ballots was way up from 2016 and several prior presidential elections, the turnout rate -- the percentage of registered voters who cast ballots -- did not move significantly.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak and major changes to traditional voting, including a universal absentee balloting option, turnout in New York City was the highest it has been in decades. A total of roughly 3.07 million ballots cast, over 300,000 more than in 2016, the greatest increase of any election cycle in the last 20 years and edging out the huge turnout leap between 2012 and 2016.

This year, 55% of registered voters cast ballots in New York City, one point lower than in 2016.

The final tallies reveal that despite the significant jump in voter participation, votes cast in New York City for president on the Democratic Party ballot line barely moved from four years ago: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris netted just 4,730 more votes than Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine in 2016, a .2% change.

The numbers indicate that the voter movement was split between additional votes for Trump-Pence and Biden-Harris on the Working Families Party (WFP) ballot line, which both saw increases of more than 100,000 votes in New York City.

Dozens of Democratic candidates, officials, and activists encouraged voters to choose Biden-Harris on the WFP line as the party, like others in the state, had to meet new statewide thresholds in order to keep its automatic ballot position. It was one of just two smaller parties, along with the Conservative Party, where Trump was the nominee, that survived.

The WFP handily broke the new and controversial vote threshold, mostly from city voters, as did the Conservative Party, mostly from upstate and Long Island. Both will retain their ballot lines over the next two years. The Green, Libertarian, Independence, and SAM parties -- some of which have been mainstays on the ballot for decades -- did not fare as well and will have to achieve new petition thresholds to put candidates on the ballot.

New York City also saw some historic down-ballot wins, including the election of City Council Member Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat, to Congress. Torres, who is Afro-Latino, and Mondaire Jones, another Democrat, who prevailed in Westchester County, will be the first Black openly gay members of Congress.

Democratic City Council Member Donovan Richards won the Queens borough presidency against an active Republican challenger, after securing the Democratic nomination in June, and was quickly sworn into office Wednesday given that Sharon Lee had been holding the post temporarily since Melinda Katz stepped down after being elected Queens District Attorney. Richards is the first Black man to become Queens Borough President.

Several members of the New York City Democratic Socialists of America chapter won their general elections for the State Legislature after prevailing in competitive primaries in Brooklyn and Queens, and will head to Albany to try to pull the Legislature further left. After unseating longtime Rep. Eliot Engel in the primary earlier this year, DSA-backed Jamaal Bowman finalized his ticket to Congress representing the Bronx and Westchester. And DSA standard-bearer Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a second term after facing well-funded primary and general election challengers in her Bronx and Queens district.

With all counties in New York State having finalized results as of Wednesday, the State Board of Canvassers is scheduled to meet Thursday to certify the statewide results, according to a spokesperson for the state BOE. The close race between Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi and his Republican challenger, Claudia Tenney, in Congressional District 22 in central New York will not be part of the certification due to ongoing litigation. New York State was the 42nd state to certify the election.

The deadline for state to select electors to the Electoral College is December 14, and the electors, including Governor Andrew Cuomo and many other prominent current and former officials, are currently scheduled to meet in Albany that day.

More on the Presidential Vote
President-elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the first female vice president-elect and the first of African or Indian descent, garnered 2.3 million votes, or about 76% of the total votes for president and vice president cast in New York City in 2020.

In New York City, the number of votes on the Democratic line were about the same as in 2016, but the number of Working Families Party votes for the cross-endorsed ticket increased 250% to 226,000. Statewide, 4.8 million people voted for Biden on the Democratic line and 386,000 on the WFP line.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence received close to 692,000 votes, or 23% of the total, in New York City this year, an increase of nearly 200,000 votes over their performance in 2016. The leap in Trump votes was almost entirely on the Republican line, while he received a roughly 10,000-vote boost on the Conservative Party line compared to 2016, a 25% increase. Statewide, Trump received 2.9 million votes on the Republican line and 296,000 on the Conservative line.

The totals placed the WFP and Conservative Party above the 130,000 voter or 2% (whichever is higher) cutoff set by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature earlier this year. That cutoff was ultimately roughly 173,000 votes, which was 2% of the total 8.6 million votes for president cast across the state.

The new thresholds were first set by a commission, which was selected by Cuomo and the two legislative majority leaders and included state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs, a close Cuomo ally, but were thrown out in court, and then enacted by the governor and Legislature earlier this year. They have been criticized as an attempt to kneecap minor parties, especially the WFP, which has been a thorn in Cuomo’s side, including by supporting Cynthia Nixon’s Democratic primary challenge to him in 2018, before Cuomo then appeared on the WFP ballot line for the general election for the third time.

Jacobs and others acknowledged that the effort was indeed meant to make “real” political parties prove themselves, given the old threshold was 50,000 votes in each gubernatorial election.

Other minor parties like the Greens and Libertarians, which historically have not cross-endorsed major-party tickets, did not break 12,000 votes this year, which was an especially bad year for minor party presidential candidates after 2016 was a particularly strong year for them across the country. The Green Party in particular was decimated this year, having lost about 25,000 votes from its presidential tally in New York City, roughly two-thirds of its 2016 showing in the city.

Turnout for the Libertarian Party in the city was relatively unchanged but the total number of votes the Libertarian presidential nominee, Jo Jorgensen, received on any party line was roughly halved from 2016; that year, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson won more than two-thirds of his New York City vote on the Independence Party line. The Independence Party, which unlike 2016 did not cross-endorse the Libertarian ticket in the general election, barely cracked 2,500 votes for Brock Pierce, a dramatic if relatively short fall from the 19,000 votes the party received citywide four years ago.

Despite the fact that since 2016 Democrats added 405,000 new registered voters to the party rolls in the five boroughs, the party only added the 4,730 votes to its 2016 city total won by Clinton. Many Democratic voters appeared to have voted for Biden on the WFP line. As of November 1, there were only 15,750 voters in New York City actually registered with the WFP, down about 1,000 over four years.

Meanwhile, Republican voter enrollment in the city increased by about 61,000 over the last four years, but Trump saw his vote total jump by about 100,000 overall, including by 187,000 on the GOP line alone.

Kanye West, the rapper, producer, and occasional ally of Donald Trump, received 927 write-in votes for president citywide, the most of any unaffiliated candidate.

At the borough level, Biden won in all but Staten Island, where turnout increased by about 36,000 votes, or roughly 20%. But on Staten Island, Trump received about 15,000 fewer votes than in 2016, indicating Biden’s relative popularity on the island compared to Clinton and Trump’s improved performance over 2016 in some parts of the other boroughs. The margin was still wide, though, with Trump winning 61.6% of the Staten Island vote to Biden’s 37.6%.

Biden won Manhattan by 84.5%-14.5%; the Bronx 82.5%-17%; Brooklyn 74%-25%; and Queens 69%-30%. While Biden improved on Clinton’s margin on Staten Island, Trump improved on his own margin from 2016 in all the other boroughs, particularly in the Bronx, where he had won only 9.6% in 2016; Brooklyn, where he won 17.9% in 2016, and Queens, where he won 22.1% in 2016.

Trump did especially well in areas of Brooklyn with large Orthodox Jewish populations and in other parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx with higher concentrations of white voters. He also appears to have picked up votes in some Hispanic-heavy areas of the city, mirroring a trend seen elsewhere in the country.

Down-Ballot Races
In Congressional District 11, which covers Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn, Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis beat incumbent Rep. Max Rose to flip the city's only Congressional swing district back to Republicans, who typically have held the seat. The final count was 155,586 votes for Malliotakis and 137,165 for Rose, or 53.15% to 46.85%. Rose ran ahead of Biden in the district and on Staten Island alone, likely indicating some share of Trump-Rose voters who split their ticket.

In the state Legislature, Democratic State Senator Andrew Gounardes, a Democrat representing a swing district in southern Brooklyn, won reelection in a relatively close race with Republican Vito Bruno by fewer than 4,000 votes. Gounardes received 51.8% of the total with just over 51,000 votes, but did increase his margin from his narrow 2018 victory over then-incumbent Senator Martin Golden.

Overall turnout in Brooklyn increased by close to 110,000 votes, or roughly 14%.

In the election for Queens Borough President, Council Member Richards, the Democratic nominee, defeated Republican Joann Ariola with 69.8% of the vote -- 519,000 to 206,000.

The boroughwide turnout increased by 103,000 in Queens or up about 15% from 2016.

In the Bronx, where turnout increased by about 30,000 votes (7%) from 2016 to 2020, Council Member Ritchie Torres, who won a crowded race for the Democratic nomination in June, beat Republican nominee Patrick Delices with 88.7% of the vote. The totals in that race were 170,000 for Torres and 21,000 for Delices.

In Manhattan, where there were no close races, turnout increased by 28,000 votes, only 4%, since 2016.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Note: this article has been updated to correct the vote totals in NY-11.

]]> (Ethan Geringer-Sameth & Ben Max) City Fri, 04 Dec 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Ray McGuire Launches Campaign for Mayor of New York City raymcguire launches campaign

Ray McGuire (photo: Ray McGuire for Mayor)

Ray McGuire, a top Wall Street executive who recently left his job to explore a run for Mayor of New York City, launched his 2021 campaign on Wednesday in a video released online and narrated by famed New York filmmaker Spike Lee. 

McGuire, 63, previously served as vice chair of Citigroup, the global banking giant, and was one of the highest-ranking Black executives in an industry dominated by white men. He left the position in mid-October to lay the groundwork for a campaign to replace Mayor Bill de Blasio, who cannot run for reelection because of term limits.

Running as more of a moderate than some further to the left in the crowded Democratic mayoral primary, which will take place in June and feature ranked-choice voting, McGuire is pitching his business, management, and leadership skills and experience, as well as his life story and ability to bridge gaps among New Yorkers and help lead a revival of the city’s economy.

“If we want to stop more and more jobs and small businesses from vanishing, we need a mayor who can think big, bring in every expert, call in every favor,” Lee says in the video. “The leader to pull this off is one who knows hundreds of small business owners and the people who invest in them. And for the fight for racial justice, we need someone who lives that fight every single day. We need a mayor who can bring us together. We need Ray Maguire.”

In the video and a subsequent interview on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, McGuire spoke of his life on “the other side of the tracks” in his native Dayton, Ohio, where he grew up in poverty raised by a single mother and his grandparents, living with his two brothers and countless foster siblings. “So that means I understand the fears and anxieties that many of us have, many New Yorkers have, from how I grew up,” he said Wednesday morning on WNYC.

He pitched himself as a self-made success who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, attended Harvard University, and then rose through the ranks of Wall Street. He said he wants to create opportunities for others that he had, and put his leadership skills to use for the city he loves.

“We're facing three existential crises at the same time: the pandemic, the economic challenges, and racial injustice,” he said on WNYC. “That's why I'm running for mayor. I've been able to have the lived experiences which is how I got here, got the management capabilities, relationships, proven leadership and I have a vision to lead the greatest the history of New York City.”

As he is expected to throughout the campaign, McGuire is initially leaning in hard on his business chops as he emphasized the need to bring jobs to the city, his support for major development deals that have fallen through in recent years, and the financial woes of small businesses that may never recover from the pandemic.

Some of McGuire’s initial framing and comments -- including a focus on education -- evoke the politics of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a candidate of the business community and a liberal on many social issues, as well as some of his competitors in the current race, particularly Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

McGuire said on WNYC that he does not favor raising taxes on millionaires, a proposal being pushed by many progressive Democrats in Albany. “We can't tax your way out of this,” he told Lehrer. “We need to grow our way out of this and all of us are gonna have to contribute.” McGuire, who his campaign says has quickly raised over $2.3 million from more than 1,800 individual donors, is not participating in the city’s public matching funds program, thereby allowing him to raise and spend more. His campaign told Gotham Gazette he is not taking public matching funds because he does not want to accept public money when the city is in such a financial crisis and he can raise all he needs privately either way. McGuire told Lehrer that he is not rejecting donations from the real estate or finance industries as some other candidates have done.

He said as mayor he would not let another Amazon or Industry City deal fall through, in reference to the defeated Queens ‘HQ2’ project and Brooklyn expansion proposal that were both pulled by the companies in the face of vocal opposition and minimal effort by de Blasio to see them through.

Those stances are among several that show he is running more of a moderate or centrist Democratc campaign, in a similar political lane to Adams as well as former city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former city Veterans Affairs Commissioner Loree Sutton, military veteran Zach Iscol, and Shaun Donovan, a former Obama cabinet secretary and top Bloomberg administration official who is attempting to straddle the progressive and moderate lanes.

McGuire’s work in the financial sector, in particular, could be attractive to voters looking for an economic savior and displeased with de Blasio’s relative antipathy toward business leaders and the well-off. But it could also be off-putting to left-leaning Democratic primary voters frustrated by the city’s rampant income inequality that de Blasio pledged to fix but made limited progress in addressing, even before the pandemic cost hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers their jobs. His record at Citigroup and the financial giant’s overall imprint on the city and country are likely to be heavily scrutinized in the weeks and months ahead.

McGuire has more than three decades of experience in business and finance, including, he stressed on WNYC, experience building and leading teams. He has advised CEOs on business growth, his campaign said. For the last 13 years, until he recently stepped down, McGuire was the head of global corporate and investment banking at Citigroup, and has “personally originated and executed deals valued at over $650 billion,” according to his campaign.

“So when people look at me, they should look at the totality of my record and my ability to lead and to manage,” McGuire said when asked by Lehrer about his Wall Street background. “And the fact that I know how New Yorkers feel, I know how it feels, those people who...are the most challenged, who are the most at-risk.”

He emphasized that he wanted to provide New Yorkers with the same opportunities that helped him succeed, particularly in education. He said his “cradle to career” plan for education would support children all the way from pre-kindergarten through graduation into the workforce. Pillars include additional efforts to get all students reading on grade level by 3rd grade, a goal de Blasio has set for the city to hit by 2026, and the creation of a tutoring corps. 

McGuire said he would “go big, go small” on the economy, saying he would create 500,000 jobs by not only investing in large infrastructure projects but also small businesses, arts, culture, and tourism.

Systemic racism in policing and the debate around defunding the NYPD is a central issue in the mayor’s race and McGuire said it is a personal issue for him. “When I take off my suit and put on a sweatshirt or tracksuit, I could be George Floyd, I could be Eric Garner. Our children could be Tamir Rice,” he said. But McGuire said he did not support the ‘defund’ movement and would rather implement a policing plan he termed “RAP – respectful, accountable, proportionate.”  

“I am not for ‘defund.’ I'm for restructuring, having better policing, not fewer police,” he said when Lehrer asked for his stance on the controversial activist call that has roiled city politics, taken center stage in the June city budget battle, and become a flashpoint in the 2021 election cycle. McGuire did echo some of the demands of the police reform movement, which he has participated in, saying he wants to divert some police funds to other types of services and move some responsibilities away from police officers with guns.

According to McGuire’s campaign, and again reminiscent of Bloomberg’s background, he has been active for decades in the city’s civic life, including efforts in support of De La Salle Academy, the New York Public Library, New-York-Presbyterian Hospital, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. McGuire has also mentored a rising generation of business leaders, his campaign noted.

“Politics as usual just won't cut it in City Hall,” McGuire said in his launch video, which stressed the damage done to New York by the coronavirus pandemic. “We have big problems. But if you're ready, together we can get New York City working again. This time, we'll make sure it's a city that works for everyone.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

Note: this article has been updated with additional information about McGuire's fundraising.

]]> (Samar Khurshid & Ben Max) City Wed, 02 Dec 2020 07:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 29, The Debate Over the Special Flushing Waterfront District whats the data point

Special Flushing Waterfront District development rendering

What's The [Data] Point? 29, The Debate Over the Special Flushing Waterfront District [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

The proposed Special Flushing Waterfront District has become the latest battle in the ongoing war over development in New York City. The proposal, which now sits with the City Council after being passed by the City Planning Commission, is for a large swath of Flushing and would house new condos, apartments for rent, hotels, shopping, and more, as well as new green space and other aspects. To discuss the project, we were joined on the show by Helen Lee of the team of developers who crafted it, and by John Choe, a local activist who is opposed to it.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

What's The [DATA] Point? · Episode 99: 29 acres, the Flushing Waterfront episode

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

]]> (Ben Max) City Wed, 02 Dec 2020 06:00:00 +0000
Covid Shifts Discussion on 'Future of Open Space' in New York City Prospect Park Brooklyn greenery

Prospect Park (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

In New York City, virtually every square foot of open space is highly contested, considered, or counted on. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, open spaces have become more important than ever. Yet while open space initiatives such as outdoor dining and car-less streets were widely praised during the summer months and into the fall, questions have persisted about how people will adapt during the winter and what the long-term plans are for the utilization of open space in New York.

Importantly, questions have also been raised around how successful the city’s limited open space programs have been in marginalized communities. These were some of the issues and questions tackled in a recent series of expert discussions held virtually by the Municipal Arts Society of New York (MAS), a nonprofit group. Each panel focused on a different issue related to “the future of open space,” including green space, the public realm, small businesses, and transit, with thoughts from scientists, politicians, advocacy group leaders, and others.

Guests joined from all over the country, including Baltimore and Los Angeles, providing important perspectives from outside the bubble of the five boroughs. Susan Chin, the principal of an independent design consultancy, Design Connects, moderated all four conversations.

MAS President Elizabeth Goldstein set the guidestar for the series, asking of the city’s initial covid-era open space programs: “With so much uncertainty still ahead, what are the long-term implications of these learning experiments, and how have the structural inequities predating COVID been exacerbated by this crisis?”

“The Future of Open Space for People” focused on the ways in which COVID-19 has shaped how we see the public realm, especially how we have reimagined open space to replace our indoor lives. What does open space mean for us during a pandemic? Participants in the discussion generally said they see this as an opportunity to correct historical wrongs in marginalized communities.

Panelists included Jennifer Goold, Executive Director of the Neighborhood Design Center in Baltimore; Wajenda Chabeshi, manager of the L.A. Great Streets initiative; and Janet Liff, the director of the Neighborhood Empowerment Initiative in New York City, an advocacy group part of the OpenPlans nonprofit organization.

Goold said that the pandemic allowed for us “to reconsider our relationship to the built environment,” especially after so many small businesses have been hurt. This is why Goold and her partners have been working through the Baltimore Development Corporation to invest grant funds in local retail business districts while creating infrastructure that works with social distancing.

Chabeshi agreed and explained how his initiative focused on designing streets that tailored to the community’s needs, which led to the development and reconstruction of 70-plus L.A. streets.

Liff applauded New York City’s open streets program, which she called a “radical approach addressing COVID times,” that helped small businesses thrive and gave residents seriously needed open space. Still, there have been questions about the extent of the program as implemented by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration.

While the panelists saw opportunity, they also noted some significant barriers. Liff stressed that money was scarce when it came to creating green infrastructure since that sort of construction required digging into the street and entirely redesigning it.

When asked what they thought about the claim that cities were ‘dead,’ the panelists shook their heads. Goold spoke about how open spaces allowed for the people of Baltimore to voice their concerns about social issues by protesting and demonstrating, while Liff cited outside dining and open streets as key forces that kept New York City alive amid the pandemic.

“The Future of Open Space for Small Business” discussion revolved around the long-term effects of COVID-19 on businesses in New York City. Panelists addressed questions about the long-term implications of outdoor dining and future plans for dealing with cold weather for businesses trying to offer more outdoors. A significant portion of the discussion centered on ensuring accessibility and equity in these new open spaces.

Panelists included Wellington Chen, executive director of Chinatown Partnerships; Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, Deputy Director of the Street Vendor Project; and City Council Member Keith Powers, a Manhattan Democrat who passed legislation in July to suspend the commercial rent tax in order to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.

Kaufman-Gutierrez stressed the notion that New York City street vendors have been wrongly excluded from COVID-19 relief efforts. She argued that vendors be allowed to participate in open street business opportunities like any brick and mortar store. Anything less than that, she argued, was simply unfair.

Powers mentioned that the City Council had recently voted to make outdoor dining permanent and that he was working on a plan for small businesses to secure affordable leases. “It’s about our neighborhoods, it’s about our businesses, it’s about our workforce, and it’s a way of making sure that we stay afloat here,” he said. Powers’ plan would use property tax abatements for landlords to incentivize more affordable leases for commercial tenants.

Kaufman-Gutierrez said that the city should extend the “fix it, don't fine it” approach to street vendors, not just brick and mortar businesses. “No one wants a fine, especially not after suffering months and months without relief,” she said. She also suggested that vendors set up in street fair models where they could easily attain temporary permits.

“The Future of Open Green Space” focused on the importance of accessibility to parks in cities. Panelists included Dr. Michelle Kondo, a research social scientist for the USDA forest service; Benita Hussain, Director of the 10 Minute Walk Campaign at The Trust for Public Land; and Terry Carta, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, which she marketed as “linear park meets transportation corridor.”

While greenways offer much needed open space for bikers and pedestrians, they aren’t all connected. Communities without green spaces report more problems relating to mental health. If greenways were connected so that every community could gain access, this could even curtail gun violence, according to Dr. Kondo.

Hussain mentioned that mayors across the country count the parks in their community as “integral to their growth plan” since they make neighborhoods livable and attractive to families. She also pointed out that the mental health benefits associated with parks and other open spaces are compelling.

“The Future of Open Space for Active Transit” focused on transportation initiatives in New York City, questioning how a newfound reliance on open space might offer important insights that could improve the current transportation system as well as equitable access to roadways, bike lanes, and parks.

Panelists included Sam Schwartz, former DOT Chief Engineer and current CEO of Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants; Anna Luten, former Bicycle Mayor of Amsterdam; Courtney Williams, founder of The Brown Bike Girl, a bicycle advocacy organization for communities of color in New York City; and Danny Harris, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives.

Luten spoke about the challenges of educating people about the importance of cycling in the city and the need for relentless advocacy. Williams argued there is little to no separation between racial lines and transit lines: “the problem is not that people don’t want to ride bikes, it’s about access,” she said. She also said bike lanes mainly exist in white, affluent neighborhoods, and that equity should be the leading consideration in prioritizing infrastructure and opportunity. Williams said the pandemic exposed structural inequities that predated COVID-19 and that the need for bike infrastructure has become far more apparent as New Yorkers seek safe, outdoor ways to get around.

Harris pushed back on a question about looking to other cities like Amsterdam for guidance: “It’s not innovative, these ideas have been working," he said of key pillars of expanding access and infrastructure for pedestrians and bike-riders. "We need the leadership to help build and scale these ideas.” Schwartz mentioned Barcelona as a model for design aimed at encouraging people to walk and bike more. He also said that in addition to new designs and ideas, a key to post-covid transit success is simple: better traffic enforcement.

The concept of teaching people from a young age about the importance of safe biking and the navigation of trailways was a common theme. Luten noted that in the Netherlands, bike education starts at a very young age. Indeed, she was required to attain a bike certificate in primary school. But, Williams said, unfortunately no matter how much you educate people in New York City, nothing can adequately protect them from the inadequate biking infrastructure, especially in poor neighborhoods. She did note that bike lane infrastructure is at times a more complicated endeavor in poorer neighborhoods because residents believe that they represent the first steps of gentrification.

by Elijah Newman for Gotham Gazette

]]> (Elijah Newman) City Wed, 02 Dec 2020 05:00:00 +0000
City's 'Open Storefronts' Program Critiqued as Too Late and Too Limited But with Room to Grow 1 nycsbs

SBS Commissioner Doris at a small business (photo: @NYC_SBS)

Frustrated City Council members and hopeful––yet weary––small business advocates took to a hearing Tuesday to express their concerns about the Open Storefronts program launched recently by Mayor de Blasio after outcry from the business community, particularly smaller retailers. Small businesses, many of which are struggling to hold on if they haven’t already closed due to the pandemic and a lack of government help, can enroll in the program that, as of now, will give them through December 31 to sell their merchandise right outside their establishments.

After months of city government action mostly focused on the restaurant industry, the city’s Business Improvement District Association wrote a letter in early October to the mayor and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson calling for such an initiative, proposed to mirror the success of the Open Restaurants program, increase foot traffic, and drive up sales for retailers. The BID Association pushed for the inception of the program for months before its launch on October 28, weeks after its open letter.

Tuesday’s City Council hearing was led by the Council Member Andrew Cohen, a Bronx Democrat who chairs the Council Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing, and Council Member Mark Gjonaj, also a Bronx Democrat, who chairs the Council Committee on Small Businesses.

Cohen began by acknowledging the effect online shopping has had on local communities, citing a lack of storefronts in “typical high-traffic areas.” He acknowledged the impact of COVID-19, calling the pandemic a “final nail in the coffin” for some small businesses and large retailers alike. He attributed the survival of small retailers to either resilience or “pure New York-style hustle,” but also pointed out that as of November, small business’ retail revenue was down 35% compared to January. Whether it’s due to the lack of the tourist market, the number of people working from home or avoiding shopping, or the capacity restrictions for stores, even small businesses that are weathering the storm are still suffering, he said.

Open Storefronts is intended to combat some of these trends, and help small businesses in the city survive.

“Today, the committees are eager to hear directly from retailers on their experience with the program,” Cohen said. “We are also grateful that the administration has made time to be here today, as we would like to hear the reasoning for some of the elements of the program. For instance, I’m curious as to why the program was not started earlier, perhaps in the summer when people could take advantage of the good weather. I’d also like to know why the program doesn’t fully extend the same permissions as the outdoor dining initiative…We’re also keen to hear how widespread the program is. Outdoor dining has been well-received so much so that we have passed legislation to make it permanent, but the success of outdoor retail is less clear.”

Gjonaj opened with a handful of daunting statistics regarding unemployment rates, revenue loss, and business closures. “According to a city comptroller report,” he said, “over 800 retail establishments have closed permanently between March 1 and July 10, causing a permanent loss of jobs and wages in the city, as well as tax base.” He acknowledged gratitude small business owners feel for the city Department of Small Business Services’ funding assistance programs and thanked SBS Commissioner Jonnell Doris for his work to get the initiatives up and running.

But Gjonaj also made clear his worries of whether or not it's enough to sustain struggling businesses. “I fear that small retail stores will soon be a relic of the past,” he said. “They need more than we’ve given them, and they need it today.”

According to Commissioner Doris, roughly 40,000 businesses across the city are eligible to participate in the Open Storefront program, but just 563 businesses are signed up so far — a rate Cohen called “modest.”

When asked, Doris did not have data for how many retailers do not qualify for the program due to issues like a lack of sidewalk depth (participating stores must have 8 feet clearance for foot traffic as well as space for merchandise).

The commissioner cited a couple of reasons for limited participation thus far. “One, we know that some of the stores are already participating in the program,” he said. “We also know that many of the stores put their wares out front [without applying], so we have to go around––which we have been doing––to just tell them to sign up for the program. That’s just that information gap there. The reality, the harsh reality, is that...we’ve heard from some of our BID partners, we’ve heard from businesses, as well, that the pandemic has caused somewhat of a slowdown, [with the] uptick in COVID transmission in hot zones, et cetera.”

In response to Cohen’s question on why the urgency to create this program wasn’t parallel to that of the urgency for Open Restaurants, Doris responded, “We do know that this is the time that our small businesses need it––particularly our storefront businesses. This is the time that they actually get 70% of their sales. We want to make sure that we highlight this time and give them the opportunity to do it during the holiday season. The last several months of the year [are] when they make the majority of their sales.”

While “no one is turned away” from the application according to Doris, there was a general acknowledgement at the hearing that there is a lack of awareness about the program. Council Member Karen Koslowitz, a Queens Democrat, said that while walking down Austin Street, the “5th Ave of Queens,” she noticed only one store had their merchandise displayed outside. The commissioner explained that outreach is “extensive,” noting they are partnered with 76 BIDs, have conducted 233 webinars and done trainings, have taken to the grounds to speak with businesses, connected with the chambers of commerce in the boroughs, utilized media, and sent out materials.

The hearing, however, demonstrated that there are multiple concerns––the narrow timeline being one of them. Responding to Gjonaj’s question on whether or not the program will be extended after the end of the year, Doris said he did not have an announcement to make but that the administration is open to, and reviewing, the idea. Gjonaj urged Doris and the administration to give small businesses a “fighting chance” and to make the decision sooner rather than later, adding, “They’ve got four more weeks, hopefully, to the end of the year. They’re second-guessing whether or not they should make any investment, and the creativity of how to market their products, enclosures, so on and so forth…There’s no reason to wait for the last moment.”

Gjonaj continued to bring up the $37 million Lower and Moderate Income Storefront Loan spearheaded by de Blasio and Doris, clarifying with the commissioner that $35 million of that investment is for loans, not grants. He raised the clause within participation in the loan program that requires storeowners to make personal guarantees, calling this requirement “odd” in light of New York’s recent ban on similar clauses presented to renters by landlords. He suggested that these types of clauses are potentially deterring small businesses from participating.

“We’re partnered with a lender…and those are regular loan procedures that occur when we have small business loans,” Doris said. “We certainly hear that as a concern. We don’t believe that that would be an issue based upon our research with the businesses that are potentially able to utilize this program. We will monitor it to see if it is, but don’t think it will be and we don't think it's something that is prohibited…It’s generally how business loans are operated now.”

There is a “backstop” to handle these challenges, he clarified, citing a loan loss reserve and noting the program is interest-free. He claimed confidence in the product, that it is a “targeted” fund to lower- and moderate-income communities who were not assisted by the federal government.

In response to Gjonaj asking if the commissioner believed $35 million in the loan program to be “enough,” Doris said no and called for another federal stimulus package, saying the only entity that can make a true difference is the federal government. To this, Gjonaj recalled the recent de Blasio proposal for a $900 million school bus program.

“The money that we’ve thrown into this so far is laughable…We’ve abused small businesses as the piggy banks in the well that we constantly go to to draw water from, and in their time of need, we weren’t there for them,” Gjonaj said. “The facts are in the dollar amount. I know, commissioner, that if you had it your way, if we had a magic wand, we’d be giving billions of dollars out in grants…To replace the word ‘targeted,’ I would use the word ‘discouraging.’” 

Issues regarding the physical execution of storefront operations like utilizing sidewalks while following guidelines, sharing space with restaurants, obtaining access to roadways, and dealing with competing street vendors were also detailed as problems during the hearing.

Council Member Peter Koo of Queens referred to downtown Flushing, in his district, asking how businesses are supposed to compete with large amounts of unlicensed vendors selling “everything under the sun” and taking up sidewalk space without any authoritative enforcement. He also mentioned security concerns with putting merchandise outside (they are required to be pulled back inside at the end of each day) and inquired about the possibility of a tax moratorium for small businesses during the holiday season. Doris said the Department of Small Business Services is not an enforcement agency and that he doesn’t have any information about a tax moratorium. He acknowledged the concerns and pledged to continue to work with downtown Flushing businesses and Koo.

Koslowitz, Gjonaj, and Cohen expressed similar concerns regarding street vendors, alleging that rules are not enforced by the city. Gjonaj said it’s a potentially dangerous race to see who can get on the sidewalk first. “We need to make a plan before we have to be reactive to a tragedy,” he said. Expressing frustration, Cohen said that there were no answers given on the matter during the hearing because there are no policy answers in general.

Mark Caserta, the executive director of the Park Slope 5th Avenue BID representing the BID Association, outlined reasons for hesitation to join the program and presented numerous suggested improvements. He noted that concerns include budget and staffing restrictions, lack of experience with outdoor setups, busyness and stress, and weariness to be “early adopters” of such a program. He recommended that the program be extended at least until capacity limitations inside stores are lifted, an education program for businesses who do not benefit from BID Associations, and a publication of data in a similar vein to that of the Open Restaurant program.

The president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, Lisa Sorin, agreed and addressed concerns similar to Caserta’s. She attributed the short timeline to use the program as well as the late notice of its existence, weather issues, worries about enforcement problems resembling what restaurants experienced, and oversaturation of sidewalks with merchandise, restaurants, and homeless individuals. She also brought up the storefront loan program, telling an anecdote about a minority-owned business facing eviction and in “desperate need” of the money, but unable to apply until after December 13 because they are in the second phase of the loan distribution. The store will only be eligible if there is money left in the loan program and if the store meets all criteria, she said.

Camelia Tepelus of the Morris Park BID in the Bronx continued the conversation on vendors, calling for more enforcement. She also said there is no visual distinction between vendors and small businesses once they’re operating outside and suggested some kind of demarcation for participating businesses. CEO and president of the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce Quenia Abreu called for more promotion, and more direct involvement of small businesses in decision-making roundtables, as well as the inclusion of the organizations that work closely with small businesses and assist with loans and grants.

In final remarks, Cohen acknowledged the work SBS has done facing a daunting task. Gjonaj closed saying, “Nothing is perfect, but as long as we keep trying and improving on what we have, we continue to make a difference.”

by Angelica Crisostomo, Gotham Gazette

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  ]]> (Angelica Crisostomo) City Wed, 02 Dec 2020 05:00:00 +0000
In Fits and Starts, De Blasio Moves Toward Internet Goal Set in 2014 media avail com

Mayor de Blasio's slow-moving internet promises (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

It took a global pandemic that brought the city to a grinding halt for Mayor Bill de Blasio to order that wi-fi be installed at every homeless shelter in the city housing children and to strike a deal to install high-speed broadband internet in every New York City Housing Authority public housing development.

More than six years after the mayor promised to create high-speed broadband networks across the city, nearly 20% of New Yorkers still lack access to the internet at home or by mobile device. While advocates have praised the mayor’s recent efforts, which includes a long-awaited Internet Master Plan for citywide “universal broadband” he announced in January, they wonder why it took so long to address this glaring problem in one of the richest cities in the richest country on earth.

In May 2014, just a few months into his tenure, de Blasio gave the keynote address at the opening of Internet Week New York and, as is his style, made lofty promises that were not followed through on.

“Our approach is going to be bold and it’s going to be decisive, because we simply haven’t done well enough in this city,” de Blasio said in the speech. “The goal is quite simple: We must have universal, affordable, high-speed internet access throughout this city. It’s as simple as that. And broadband’s essential for everything this community needs to do. It’s essential for everything we need to do to be a fair and just city. Because we can’t continue to have a digital divide that holds back so many of our citizens.”

“We really believe in an inclusive economy, in an effective education system, in a vibrant democracy, it all runs through broadband access,” the mayor said.

But the city has taken slow and faltering steps in achieving that goal. About 18% of New Yorkers, more than 1.5 million, do not have a broadband or a mobile internet connection, according to American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau. About 40% or 3.5 million people, only have one or the other. During the coronavirus pandemic, the lack of internet access for so many New Yorkers, especially poor people and people of color, including children living in shelters and public housing residents, has come into stark relief and been the source of controversy for the de Blasio administration.

On November 24, the mayor announced that the city had reached a settlement in a lawsuit with Verizon Fios which will require the company to provide high-speed broadband access to 500,000 more New Yorkers, including every resident of all NYCHA developments. “We've had a digital divide. We've had a huge disparity of who gets access to the internet and who doesn't, who gets reliable, fast broadband service, who doesn't, who can afford it, who can't,” he said, “But more and more, we understand that we have to create a society in which everyone has equal access...It has taken a lot of work and there's been some real struggle here and some real challenges, but we've gotten to a point where something real and tangible is going to happen for people, particularly working people and folks who have been left out.”

Among earlier achievements the administration has boasted is the LinkNYC program, which converted old payphones into free public wi-fi kiosks around the city. As of November 30, the city had set up 1,809 active LinkNYC kiosks since the program was launched in February 2016; 13 more kiosks have been installed but do not have wi-fi yet. The program, however, has been criticized for less presence throughout poorer communities than in areas of high commuter and tourist foot traffic, particularly in Manhattan. The administration also prides itself on having provided free internet service to the NYCHA Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in the country with more than 6,000 residents, mostly Black and Hispanic families.

It was only in January of this year that the mayor released his Internet Master Plan, which aims to leverage city infrastructure and franchise agreements authorized by the city to provide affordable broadband access citywide. The plan would create competition where there currently barely exists any because of how private companies have been allowed to operate in the city so far. It entails creating an open-access fiber cable network across the five boroughs, prioritizing low-income communities, which can be used by multiple providers.

At a City Council hearing last month, the city’s Chief Technology Officer John Paul Farmer said the administration is getting ready to release its Universal Solicitation for Broadband, which will encourage competition and therefore create more affordable options. Real initial progress on the plan will only be seen in 2021, de Blasio’s final of his eight years as mayor.

[Read: De Blasio Administration Pledges to Finally Address City's Persistent 'Digital Divide' with Universal Internet Access]

The plan does promise boons for the city. In the best-case scenario, by 2045, it could create 165,000 jobs, increase personal income by $49 billion and create $142 billion in Gross City Product in that time, the plan predicts.

The need for equitable internet access has never been more dire. As the city closed its schools, thousands of children did not have the ability to access remote learning. Without the internet, families could not access health services which had transitioned online. The decennial Census was carried out mostly online this year for the first time. From public assistance application to rental benefits, government services are being provided through the internet en masse and those who required them most had the least access.

It’s the school system, however, which really seems to have brought the digital divide to the fore. Remote learning required internet-capable devices, and the city set out to purchase hundreds of thousands of tablets when schools were first closed. Since then, the Department of Education has handed out more than 300,000 internet-enabled iPads to students and another 175,000 devices to schools. But nine months into the pandemic outbreak in the city tens of thousands of students still do not have either a device or access to the internet.

In interviews and news conferences, de Blasio has been defensive when pressed on that glaring problem.

“I appreciate that there are professional critics in this society, but I really think there has to be recognition of the work that people did to close the digital divide,” he said in a November 19 news conference when presented with criticism from other elected officials and advocates, “to do something that had never been done before, back in April, as the pandemic was horrendous, to put these devices in the hands of kids. And I don't quite understand why the same question keeps being asked when in fact, the evidence is that immense work was done to provide devices, to address any problem with devices, to provide service if they need a different service. That work has literally been done now, family by family, for kids in shelters. Sometimes it's true that we don't have as many devices as we want to. But the bottom line is it's just been an endless effort to provide free technology to any family who needs it. And that's never stopped, and it's been consistent.”

What rankles advocates like those at the Legal Aid Society representing homeless families and elected officials like Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is that the city had ample time and resources to address the digital divide, particularly by providing broadband access at city-funded and -run facilities like homeless shelters and NYCHA buildings. But the administration only took expedited measures after the pandemic made them absolutely necessary.

“This administration is littered with lost opportunities to bridge the digital divide,” said City Council Member Ben Kallos in a phone interview last month. Kallos’ main gripe with the administration is that it hasn’t taken advantage of its power to approve franchise agreements with internet service providers. For instance, he pointed out, when the city and state approved the merger between Spectrum and Time Warner in 2016, he said the de Blasio administration should have insisted that the company provide free or low-cost internet to all public housing buildings in lieu of the nearly $150 million in franchise fees that the company pays every year. “At the time, we didn't need $150 million and I would still argue today that we still don't need that money. We can use that money in kind to get more low-income New Yorkers internet,” said Kallos, who chairs the Council’s contracts committee.

He also pointed out that the LinkNYC program, which held much promise, has been slow to realize its goals and the city has not held CityBridge, the consortium contracted to create the system, accountable for missing its target. By 2022, there were meant to be 7,500 kiosks across the five boroughs; there are less than 2,000 currently, and the system did not provide the revenue for the city that was projected.

“A revenue-first approach to the internet, whether through a franchise or a kiosk, is not the model we should have,” Kallos said. “We should have a model that prioritizes connectivity.” Kallos told Gotham Gazette that he is preparing a proposal that would use the city’s zoning regulations to help expand broadband akin to how the de Blasio administration has implemented the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy to build affordable housing. His idea, which could be termed Mandatory Inclusionary Internet, would take advantage of the expansion of 5G networks in the city, providing companies that provide affordable broadband access with incentives in the form of favorable placement of 5G cell towers and antennas.

The de Blasio administration’s Internet Master Plan deals with both short-term and long-term solutions for broadband access, and while providing universal broadband could be a years-long project, there are immediate steps the city could take. “I supported the plan then, I still support it now. I just don't know what the delay is,” said Gigi Sohn, distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Institute for Technology Law and Policy, who served as counselor to former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Tom Wheeler from 2013 to 2016.

“They need to start on the shorter-term, like yesterday,” she said, pointing to city-owned facilities that could easily be used to expand internet access. “You’ve got all these community anchor institutions. Those are universities, schools, libraries, hospitals, all over the city...So the connectivity is there. You've just got to harness it.”

Robert Seamans, associate professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, analyzed the digital divide when he served as senior economist on President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers between 2015 and 2016. In an interview, he expressed concerns about how the city’s digital divide could end up having longer term effects, particularly for low-income students without internet access who will fall behind their wealthier counterparts. “I worry a lot about education and the resulting disparities in education that we're going to see coming out of this one-to-two-year period where there's some households that won't be affected that much and others where their kids are just gonna basically be two years behind where they should be,” he said.

Seamans suggested several different means of tackling the problem, which address the causes behind it such as lack of consumer choice or the inability to afford access. “My belief is that there's not one single policy that we should believe would be a panacea of some sort,” he said.

Besides creating more competition among providers, which the mayor’s plan aims to do, he said the city could provide supply-side subsidies to companies to extend access to underserved areas and demand-side subsidies in payments to consumers so they can afford internet access.

But the best solution for both accessibility and affordability, on which there’s broad agreement, is a municipal broadband option that can undercut the pricier options provided by private firms with a profit motive.

As Seamans noted, unlike other states, New York does not prohibit localities from creating their own public internet option. And a public provider would be successful in a densely populated city like New York. “You would imagine that you'd be able to sign up a lot of customers. And we observe that these types of public providers have been operating, and in some cases, operating very successfully in a number of other cities and areas throughout the U.S. So it sort of stands to reason that you could have the same thing here in New York City,” he said.

Farmer, the city’s chief technology officer, has said that building out a citywide system will require buy-in from private firms.

“One of my biggest criticisms of this administration is, while there is a passion to do it, and seemingly bridge the digital divide, it hasn't done so in a comprehensive and a centralized manner,” said Noel Hidalgo, executive director of BetaNYC, a civic technology group. “It's had a number of different initiatives, all coming from different perspectives, but seemingly never really getting the complete attention of the mayor.”

Hidalgo said the mayor should appoint a deputy mayor who can continuously lead programs that chip away at the problem. Though the mayor’s former counsel, Maya Wiley, who is now running to succeed him, did make it a priority issue, the portfolio seems to have been largely ignored after she left the mayor’s office in 2016. “It isn't something that just happens,” Hidalgo said. “There needs to be incremental steps taken constantly to get us to building a concrete bridge over the digital divide.”

Hidalgo said the city needs to invest in fiber-network infrastructure for all public facilities, which some agencies like the NYPD have already done. But it should also be vigilant in sustaining that infrastructure, he said, pointing to the failure of NYCWiN, an internal wireless network that cost the city more than $900 million since 2009 and which the administration decided to scrap after it crashed in 2019. The system was too expensive to maintain, the mayor said last year, and the city would switch over to a commercial provider.

That was yet another missed opportunity to expand the reach of broadband, Kallos said. “We should have flipped the switch on NYCWiN,” he said, “and given it to the people.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Tue, 01 Dec 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Eric Adams Launches His Campaign for Mayor les e club

Eric Adams (photo: Erica Sherman/Brooklyn BP's Office)

November 24, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Eric Adams Launches His Campaign for Mayor

Eric Adams, now officially a candidate for mayor of New York City in the 2021 election, joined the show to discuss why he's running, what he brings to the race, and how he would govern.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

Max & Murphy · Episode 262 Eric Adams Launches His Campaign For Mayor

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Max) City Wed, 25 Nov 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Dianne Morales Officially Launches Campaign for Mayor of New York City Dianne Morales

Dianne Morales (photo via Morales campaign)

More than a year ago Dianne Morales left her job running a social services nonprofit in order to run for mayor of New York City. On Thursday evening, she officially launched her campaign seeking the Democratic nomination in the primary set for June of 2021.

A first-time candidate for office, Morales believes her combination of lived experience and executive experience and vision for rebuilding the city anew with greater social and economic justice will help her appeal to voters looking for a non-traditional type of candidate. Morales, an Afro-Latina single mother of two young-adult children, has attracted volunteers, turned a few heads with solid initial fundraising numbers, and campaigned assertively in the early going of the mayoral race that has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic and the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement.

“We are at a crossroads in the fight for the soul of the city,” Morales said in a pre-taped announcement that was accompanied with testimonial from activists of all stripes during Thursday’s digital campaign kickoff event, which was also a fundraiser. “And we stand here today as the ones who are unapologetic and uncompromising in confronting and overcoming the structural and systemic barriers of oppression and injustice that have been imposed on so many of our communities, keeping our families from thriving, our women from prospering and our children from succeeding.”

Morales, a Brooklyn native who now lives in the borough, has spent her career largely working in the nonprofit sector. She was most recently the CEO of Phipps Neighborhoods, a South Bronx-based nonprofit that develops and manages affordable housing and provides social services to low-income children, youth, and families. In that role, she sat on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Community School Advisory Board as well as the board of the Human Services Council. She was also a founding board member of Jumpstart, a national early education organization.

Morales has some experience working in city government. Between 2002 and 2004, she worked as chief of operations and implementation of the Office of Youth Development at the Department of Education under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Morales is running as a political outsider and taking aim at establishment politics in a primary race that includes three sitting elected officials, three former officials in the de Blasio administration, a former top official under Bloomberg and President Barack Obama, a military veteran, and a prominent Wall Street executive, among others. In her campaign pitch, with the slogan “Politics for All People,” Morales repeatedly cited the many problems that plague life in New York City and that have only worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. And, she sought to differentiate herself from some of her competitors.

“We will not allow ourselves to be managed back to normal,” she said, “back to the crises of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing, the healthcare and mental health system that are not accessible, a gender equity crisis, a homelessness crisis, a social justice crisis and environmental crisis, an education crisis. We understand that it is time to throw out the old playbook.”

If Morales were to emerge victorious in the primary, which will likely decide who becomes mayor because of the heavy Democratic voter imbalance, she would be the first woman and first Latino to hold the top job at City Hall. As she noted in her announcement, the city has had 109 mayors, only one of whom was Black and none of whom were women or Latino or indigneous or Asian.

“I know I'm not a traditional candidate,” she said. “I'm not a traditional candidate because I have not spent a lifetime jockeying for the job. My working class Puerto Rican family couldn't bankroll me, immerse me in the machine or indoctrinate me to politics. I haven't spent time publishing policy papers to examine our problems. I've built programs and services to address the problems and improve the lives of New Yorkers.”

As she noted, over the last few months, as the coronavirus made her and others limit campaign activities, she chose to pivot towards a role she’s familiar with and worked with Bed-Stuy Strong, a mutual aid network in her native Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, to feed and house struggling New Yorkers.

In her announcement, Morales highlighted several priorities including fixing the crumbling New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), desegregating city schools, promoting equitable and affordable mass transit, creating green jobs, building affordable and supportive housing, and reforming the police.

As she points out, she was the first mayoral candidate to call for “defunding the NYPD” and reallocating those resources to underserved communities of color. She has called for creating the Community First Responders Department composed of mental health and social service professionals. “Black and brown communities have been brutalized and terrorized by the police since their inception as slave patrols,” she said. “They've served as the foot soldiers for a mass incarceration movement of laws and attitudes designed to criminalize whole communities…This systemic problem of violence requires a structural solution.”

Morales said she wants to create a “new social contract” and advocated for what she called the “pre-distribution of wealth,” which would mean “investing in the front end in community members and communities, to expand the existence of worker-owned companies, consumer cooperatives, and participatory budgeting practices that enable community members to have a say in how their tax dollars are reinvested in their communities to address their challenges. Because we know that those who live closest to the challenge are often closest to the solutions.”

Activist Michael Partis said, “Dianne has experienced the barriers big and small to women and people of color. She has spent her career working to address poverty. Now she's ready to disrupt the root causes of poverty, oppression, and lead the city into an era where all New Yorkers can thrive.”

Though Morales cannot boast the same level of fundraising as some of the other better-known, more-connected candidates – she has just under $107,000 in her campaign account – she is counting on the city’s public matching funds program, which matches small dollar donations at an 8-to-1 ratio, to help her punch above her weight. The election will also be the first in the city to employ ranked-choice voting, which will require candidates to build broad coalitions beyond their traditional bases of support and vie to be listed second and even third on voters’ ballots.

“When you get hired to be the mayor, you're supposed to work for the people,” said Tenesha Grant, an education activist who appeared in Morales’ launch video. “Not for the establishment, not to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. And I think that Diane truly understands what that means.”

The other candidates who have registered to run in the Democratic primary, as referenced above, are Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, former city Department of Veterans Services Loree Sutton, former counsel to the mayor Maya Wiley, former city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former federal Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan, military veteran-turned-entrepreneur Zach Iscol, and former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Fri, 20 Nov 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Survey Shows Extent of Suffering, Challenges for Low-Income New Yorkers food line NYC

A line for emergency food (Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Low-income New Yorkers are doing worse financially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic than they were during the Great Recession, according to survey findings being released Friday by the Community Service Society (CSS), a non-profit focused on disadvantaged New Yorkers.

The Unheard Third is an annual survey conducted by CSS in partnership with Lake Research and named based on the third of voting-age New Yorkers who live in low-income households that are often overlooked by politicians. The latest survey also found that low-income New Yorkers and New Yorkers of color were less likely to receive government relief than their white counterparts. According to the survey, 56% of Latino and 55% of Black residents of the five boroughs did not receive unemployment insurance or federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance thus far during the pandemic, and the numbers for immigrant New Yorkers are just as stark: over half did not receive any form of unemployment benefits during the same period.

The survey of about 1,600 people living in low-income households found that 45% of low-income New Yorkers were unemployed because of the pandemic or lived with someone who had lost their job as a result of the pandemic. Overall in New York City, unemployment jumped from about 4% early this year to well over 20% at the height of the coronavirus outbreak this Spring. The rate has come down to about 16% in September.

According to the CSS survey, Queens and the Bronx are both facing record rates of joblessness, with Queens making a 20% jump from the rates recorded in 2009 during the Great Recession and about a third of Bronx residents reporting household job loss during the pandemic.

The sharp rise in unemployment as a result of the pandemic and related shutdowns has led to an increase in health care hardships, the survey found, in part because so many people rely on their jobs for their health insurance. Low-income New Yorkers who lost their income are twice as likely to have trouble affording necessary health care and prescriptions as those who did not lose income, the survey found.

The survey also illustrates the catastrophic effects the pandemic has had on low-income New Yorkers when it comes to food insufficiency and housing hardships. The number of New Yorkers facing food insufficiency is at the highest it’s been since the Great Depression -- according to the survey, “42 percent of low-income New Yorkers and 17 percent of those with moderate to higher incomes said that they used a food pantry, soup kitchen, or meal program since the start of the pandemic, triple the rates in 2009.”

Once federal and state eviction moratoriums end in the coming months, low-income New Yorkers may face worse financial challenges and other consequences, said Irene Lew, a policy analyst for the Community Service Society who oversaw the survey for CSS. Without a federal emergency relief package to support low-income New Yorkers, Lew said to expect to see a major increase in housing insecurity in particular.

“We are going to see more evictions, more housing insecurity, increased homelessness. So, that is kind of the worst case scenario,” Lew said. The study found that low-income New Yorkers who lost their income during the pandemic were twice as likely to face housing instability as those who did not lose income, and that’s with an eviction moratorium in place.

There is some help for low-income New Yorkers through state and city programs. During the pandemic, New York City and State expanded access to food assistance. The state rolled out a new emergency rental assistance program aimed at providing direct aid to low-income New Yorkers affected by the COVID-19 crisis through loss of income, but that program has been plagued by complications and has produced little success. Lew said that an expansion of programs aimed at assisting low-income New Yorkers could reduce the impact the pandemic has on them.

“I think at the local level, we have to continue to prioritize expansion of those programs that will help cushion the blow of the pandemic, even if we don't get any federal relief from another federal relief package anytime soon,” she said.

David Jones, President and CEO of the Community Service Society, warned of the potential impacts of mass evictions that could be coming, especially for low-income New Yorkers.

“There’s going to be this enormous foreclosure process where tenants get kicked out, and because of the housing situation of having no income, the homeless shelters of New York are going to bulge,” he said. “We know what that does to people--it undermines them, but it’s particularly devastating for their kids.”

“I don’t think people really get the sense of how destructive this has been and how long-term this has been,” Jones went on to say of the pandemic and its impacts. “I think it hasn’t hit home yet. People are working remotely, they’re thinking, ‘well, everything looks OK,’ but they don’t understand how deeply this is going to tear into the fabric of working people in places like New York.”

by Caroline Leddy, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Caroline Leddy) City Fri, 20 Nov 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Eric Adams Officially Launches Campaign for New York City Mayor 2 erc adams

Eric Adams (photo: Erica Sherman/Brooklyn BP's Office)

After years of laying the groundwork, Eric Adams, a Democrat serving his second and final term as Brooklyn Borough President, on Wednesday officially launched his campaign to run for mayor of New York City in the 2021 election.

Adams is the latest entrant in a crowded and growing Democratic primary but has a fundraising advantage, prominent allies, a solid political base, and a record of public service that make him an apparent frontrunner in the race.

“People talk about the tale of two cities but we need to acknowledge that the dysfunctionality of government is the author of that book,” Adams said in a Zoom news conference at noon joined by fellow elected officials and dozens of supporters, referencing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2013 campaign slogan focused on inequality. “We need action and we need it now. The city is in serious trouble. We have already been through a lot and the future we face is full of monumental challenges. Now is the time to turn our pain into purpose together.”

Elected officials who endorsed Adams in the news conference included City Council Members Laurie Cumbo and I. Daneek Miller, Council Member-elect Darma Diaz, and former U.S. Rep. Ed Towns. Miller commended Adams’ “effective and unapologetic leadership” in the State Senate and as borough president. Cumbo praised him for his tireless efforts during the coronavirus pandemic, his record of advocating for police reform and for standing up for women’s issues.

“You have earned this position, earned this right,” Cumbo said directly to Adams during the digital event. “You have put in the work, you have put in the time, you have put in the love, the blood, sweat and tears...You have brought the city to new heights and you have done it with less than most.”

“Over my 40 years in government service, I have become acutely aware of the qualities needed to provide essential leadership...Eric has demonstrated that he has all the tools to do the job,” said Towns.

Adams, a former NYPD officer for 22 years who rose to the rank of captain, previously served in the State Senate for four terms, representing District 20, which includes his native Brownsville and Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Gowanus, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, South Slope, and Sunset Park.

In a phone interview prior to his announcement, the borough president laid out his vision for creating a more efficient city government that can ameliorate inequalities in health and education while restoring public safety and achieving police reform.

Adams said he is running to be the first “blue collar mayor” of New York City, citing the challenges of growing up as a Black man in Brooklyn and Queens, and the medical issues he has overcome as an adult that have made him an evangelist for healthy living. “Right now, our city is in a dark place, from homelessness to crime to COVID-19 to economic issues,” he said. “So it's really about having a mayor that has gone through a lot that would help people who are going through a lot right now.”

He is vying for the Democratic nomination against Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, former city Department of Veterans Services Loree Sutton, former counsel to the mayor Maya Wiley, former city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former federal Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan, former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, and military veteran-turned-entrepreneur Zach Iscol, among others who have registered to run in the June 2021 mayoral primary, which will feature ranked-choice voting for the first time.

Adams has a strong fundraising start in the race. With more than $2.2 million in campaign cash, he has raised more than any other candidate except Stringer, and will likely receive millions more in public matching funds from the Campaign Finance Board.

While Adams doesn’t fit into a neat ideological mold -- he said he will run a campaign that appeals not only to working New Yorkers but to those who employ them -- he is running as more of a moderate than some others in the field running further to the left. He argued that his appeal as a “pragmatic progressive” extends throughout the city’s many diverse communities and beyond Brooklyn, pointing to his broad base of donors as evidence. He said he’s received support from Carribean Americans, African Americans, Chinese Americans, the Sephardic and Hasidic Jewish communities, and more. “I’m the United Nations candidate,” he mused. He also said his supporters are economically diverse, including “cab drivers, teachers, law enforcement, correctional officers, developers” among them. “The diversity of my economics, my ethnicities, and my zip codes is extremely impressive,” he said.

Adams has eschewed any voluntary limits on his fundraising like declining donations from big real estate players, which has become something of a left-wing litmus test, saying he wants to be a mayor for everyone and that the city needs real estate interests at the table.

For Adams, his years in the NYPD, where he was part of a move toward more data-driven accountability, significantly influences his approach to governing. He has repeatedly spoken of bringing a “real-time mechanism” for managing city issues modelled on the NYPD’s CompStat system, which tracks crime data on a daily basis. “What I will be talking about throughout the campaign is that our city’s dysfunctional,” he said. “Inefficiencies are leading to inequalities that are causing the injustices that we are witnessing...My years of policing have revealed the destruction of how we're running our city and how we can turn it around.”

He said he would prioritize three major issues – public safety, economic recovery and, most importantly, education. “I want to be viewed as that mayor that has finally turned around our disjointed education system,” he said, insisting that education inequity “feeds the overwhelming number of crises” the city faces from homelessness to healthcare access to disproportionate criminal justice outcomes.

As a former police officer, Adams walks a fine line on an issue that is likely to be central to the mayor’s race. The protests earlier this year against systemic racism in policing after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement for police reform and addressing other systemic inequities and racism, and activists who pushed to “defund the NYPD” in the city budget this year have promised to continue their advocacy in 2021.

As someone who sought to confront police brutality and racism from within the department, Adams has been wary of embracing a narrative that could paint all police officers as villains. “Far too many people are attempting to address an important issue, which is public safety, through slogans and bumper stickers,” he said. “That is not how you deal with public safety.”

He did promise reforms such as changing the department’s demographics, increasing the number of officers who live in the city, streamlining policing through technology and committed to a “zero tolerance” policy for officer misconduct. “My goal as the mayor is to show how we can change the ecosystem of public safety. So it's not about ‘defund,’ it's about properly allocating the funds to be more proactive and not reactive as we currently are.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Democratic Mayoral Candidates Talk Public Safety at Brooklyn Forum Gotham Gazette:

l-r: (top) Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Carlos Menchaca, (bottom) Dianne Morales, Scott Stringer, Loree Sutton, Maya Wiley

Eight Democratic candidates for New York City mayor gathered Tuesday night for another candidate forum in the early phase of the campaign, which will culminate with a June primary and fall 2021 general election. The online forum, hosted by the Central Brooklyn Political Action Association, focused on “The Future of Public Safety” and was moderated by Dr. Christina Pardo and Greg Albro, co-chair of the New York Progressive Action Network.

The eight participating candidates were divvied up into two panels, each lasting about an hour. The first panel included former city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, Brooklyn City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Maya Wiley, the former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio. The second panel consisted of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former federal Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, and former city Veterans Services Commissioner Loree Sutton.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a Democrat running for reelection next year, was also on hand to deliver remarks, telling the audience of about 200 attendees, “the next mayor will inherit a lot” but that “there’s an opportunity for tremendous change.” He also added that, “June seems like a long way away but it really isn’t.” At the end of the night, Williams said “I was disappointed at how many people skirted around the issue of defunding the police, but I was really happy to hear most folks discussing the root causes of gun violence.”

Several of the candidates have some professional background in public safety issues. Adams served for 22 years in the NYPD; Wiley chaired the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), and Donovan participated in the Obama-era Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Morales has worked in social services for many years; Sutton is a military veteran; and Menchaca was among the City Council members pushing aggressively for reducing NYPD funding in the most recent city budget negotiations.

The first question put to both panels was about how candidates would address health disparities faced by marginalized communities, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We saw from the federal response how much the federal government is integral,” said Menchaca, but “the things that we can do is communicate to everyone.” It’s essential the city does a better job of translating information for immigrant communities, he said.

“We needed to close the schools faster,” Wiley said, criticizing the pandemic response of her former boss, de Blasio. “We’ve been gutting our public health department for years. It used to do much more programmatic work.”

“The bottom line is that this administration was not ready to meet the challenge of this pandemic,” said Stringer, who noted his office has been investigating City Hall’s response to the early months of the pandemic. “You can’t manage your way out of a crisis if you don’t have the structure in place to do it.”

“The systems did not work together to meet the needs of a massive crisis,” Garcia assessed. “Housing is a health issue. If you do not have stable housing, you will continue to struggle.”

“New York City and New York State took on a Trumpian response to the pandemic, downplaying it and not closing schools soon enough,” Morales said, in an apparent criticism of both de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

According to Sutton, “better planning, coordination, and communication” were needed in the early months of the pandemic, but she also said that “here in New York, we went from worst to first and I think Governor Cuomo deserves some praise for that.”

“When covid hit the city, I was leading from the front,” said Adams, who said he “was demonized for giving face masks to NYCHA residents.” He also asked, “Why did we have a drive-through testing center on Staten Island before Brooklyn? We treated Black and brown people differently.”

“Planning doesn’t start when the crisis hits. It has to be in place before a crisis.” Donovan said, reiterating his crisis management bona fides, which has become a central talking point in this nascent campaign with references to his Obama administration work on the economic recovery from the Great Recession and in response to Hurricane Sandy. He expressed optimism that he would be able to work with the federal government to secure additional relief funding.

The second question focused on relations between police and communities, particularly the merits of calls to “defund the police” and how candidates are thinking about the future of public safety.

Stringer, who cited his participation in protests against police brutality and his move to divest the municipal pension funds from private prisons, said, “New York City’s mayor has a chance to lead the country on police reform and what we saw on the streets of our city is something I haven’t seen at protests.” He criticized how the NYPD treated largely peaceful protestors and said “let’s reduce the NYPD’s role in mental health incidents and traffic violations” and “decriminalize low-level offenses.” He committed to “bring down the rate of incarceration.”

“We have to put the public back in public safety,” said Wiley, calling for the ouster of NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea and a “top-to-bottom restructuring” of the NYPD. Her vision of public safety includes “policing is about partnership and problem solving,” with the police focusing on violent crime and other agencies handling lower-level offenses.

“Keeping people safe in their communities is one of the first responsibilities of a mayor,” said Garcia, who said she opposes defunding the police. “We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” she said, citing “simple reforms” that the city can make, including raising the minimum age of officers to 25 (currently 21), a city residency requirement, and increased training across all levels of the chain of command. She wants an NYPD “focused on crime and not other issues.”

Menchaca took the opportunity to lobby Council Speaker Corey Johnson to make him the next chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee (a position being vacated by Donovan Richards when he assumes the Queens Borough Presidency at the beginning of the new year). “I think it’s time the City Council pass a budget that you designed and reflects the people’s needs,” Menchaca said. “That’s how we have a transformational shift.”

“Public safety and justice go together. We can’t have one without the other,” said Adams, who advocates reallocating funds within the NYPD budget and moving officers out of clerical roles into crime prevention. He also proposed promoting school safety officers to police officers after two years of service to increase the proportion of city residents in the force.

“We have a chance to reimagine what modern policing should be,” said Sutton. “Cops need communities as much as communities need cops. We need to rebuild those relationships that have really been shredded in recent months.”

“I was the first mayoral candidate to call for defunding police and I stand by those words and I’m not backing down,” Morales said. She continued: “Policing does not equal public safety. We need to transform public safety,” and advocated using community-based groups to substitute for police in certain circumstances.

“We need to dramatically reduce their role,” Donovan said of the police, speaking particularly about school safety and mental health crisis response. “We need to reimagine the way we respond to violence well beyond policing.” He said that a “dramatic response across the entire system is required” and that “this has to be a public health and all-of-government approach.”

Candidates were asked about economic issues facing New Yorkers and rising levels of income inequality during the pandemic, and how each would protect immigrant communities and other vulnerable populations.

“We have to make sure that we’re using our resources,” Wiley said, noting that thousands of NYCHA units are unoccupied because of uninhabitable conditions. She also said that she would “demand more from for-profit developers because they’re in a position to do more and this current administration hasn’t asked enough of them.”

Garcia recalled her role as “food czar” for the city during the early months of the pandemic, saying she learned that “Our emergency food system is incredibly fragile and not distributed equally across the city.” She also stressed increasing “pipelines to employment.”

“We need to think about how we’re going to build the next generation of low-income housing and we need to do it fast,” Stringer said, criticizing de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program for “building affordable housing that wasn’t affordable to people in those communities.” He also said that vacant land across the city “must go back to the people, with a subsidy” to develop affordable housing.

Menchaca criticized de Blasio for “failing to provide a lawyer for [all] undocumented immigrants who needed one during deportation proceedings.” He criticized NYPD cooperation with ICE and proposed that “the next police commissioner appointment should come from the City Council” to ensure a “civilian approach to leadership.”

Sutton said, “Our elected leaders in Congress should have been raising holy hell” to get more relief funds and “the next mayor has to understand the world we’re looking at now is different from the one even from eight or nine months ago.” She said the city “must partner with the private sector when it comes to housing” because it “can't leave tenants or landlords on the hook.”

“As someone who has worked side-by-side with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, I would work effectively with the federal government to make sure we have the support we need,” said Donovan, who added he would focus on English language learners in education to close achievement gaps and expand MetroPlus to ensure health coverage for all New Yorkers.

Morales said that “it is time for banks and developers to pay their fare share” and stressed the need for the state to help, saying “where New York City goes so does the state, so the governor has something to worry about. We need to push for the support from the state and federal level.” She also said “we need to think creatively about spaces available” when it comes to housing.

“We need to expand voting rights in municipal elections,” said Adams. “If you pass that, you start sending a clear and loud message that immigrants are welcome here.” Adams has supported a push to allow non-citizen permanent city residents to vote in municipal elections.

The final question centered on solutions to gun violence, with the moderators noting that it was the issue most put forward by audience members.

Garcia said “the police have to be on the ground in their communities and they have to have people trust them,” citing the Police Athletic League as an example of a program that built strong community relations.

“The way we’re going to stem the tide of gun violence is mentorship of our young people,” said Stringer, stressing the need to give young people “hope and opportunity, while also noting, “You can police, but that’s not solving the systemic issues. We have to invest in our kids.”

“Gun violence fundamentally is about disinvestment in communities,” Wiley said. “You need to go out and get the guns, but we need the dollars in our communities. That’s what solves gun violence.”

“How do you address gun violence? Fully fund our public schools and summer youth programs,” Menchaca said.

Donovan said “we need a mayor who’s going to lead a national coalition of mayors against the gun industry” and that “if we can cut the supply of guns, we can dramatically change this situation.”

“I’ve dedicated my life to the issue of gun violence,” Adams said, adding he “would reinstitute the [NYPD] crime prevention unit, which the specific shooters.” He also said “we need a tristate approach to stop the flow of guns to this city.”

“It’s through partnership that we can lead our country forward,” said Sutton, stressing the need to rebuild trust between communities and the NYPD.

Morales said “police are not the answer,” continuing: “the thing about those models that actually work is that they’re driven by members of those communities.” She stressed the importance of “addressing the root causes.”

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Education Chair Mark Treyger on What's Next for City Schools 3 cm joins

Council Member Mark Treyger, right (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

November 18, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Education Chair Mark Treyger on What's Next for City Schools

Brooklyn City Council Member Mark Treyger, chair of the Council's education committee and a former teacher, joined the show to discuss the closure of city school buildings and what's next, including a proposal he has for how to restructure in-person learning.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

Max & Murphy · Episode 260: City Council Education Chair Mark Treyger On What's Next For City Schools

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Bills Would Further Restrict Coordination Between City Candidates and Independent Expenditure Campaigns mark tch co

Council Member Ben Kallos, center (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

As the city heads into the 2021 municipal elections that are already drawing hundreds of candidates and will see many millions of dollars in campaign spending, a City Council member wants to preempt violations of the law on independent expenditures by increasing penalties. 

Council Member Ben Kallos, a Democrat from the Upper East Side who is running for Manhattan borough president in the 2021 election cycle where all of city government is on the ballot, will introduce two bills on Thursday to penalize candidates who coordinate with independent expenditure campaigns by reducing the candidates’ spending limits and by directly fining independent spenders who try to circumvent the rules.

Under Kallos’ proposals, there would be new, more closely defined forms of coordination between a candidate campaign and an independent spender, and fines for violations extended to agents of an independent expenditure campaign.

“We have an amazing new campaign finance system that is encouraging hundreds of candidates to eschew donations from pay-to-play moneyed interests, including the real estate industry, and as we saw in 2013, independent expenditures can have a huge impact,” Kallos said in a phone interview, with reference back to the last city election cycle ushering in so much turnover. 

In the 2013 election, most local, boroughwide, and citywide elected officials were term-limited out of office just as they will be next year. That cycle saw $15.9 million in spending by independent entities, including $8 million on the mayor’s race alone.

“Outside spending is not new to city elections, but the scope was astonishing,” the New York City Campaign Finance Board wrote in its 2013 post-election report, recommending that the City Council pass laws requiring greater disclosure of those independent expenditures, which by law are not allowed to coordinate with candidate campaigns but are also unlimited in their own spending on behalf of or against candidates, the result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling.

After the 2013 election, the CFB fined a campaign consulting firm, the Advance Group, and newly-elected Council Members Laurie Cumbo and Mark Levine, a total of $31,000 for coordinating spending between their campaigns and an outside group, NYClass, that was advocating for a ban on horse carriages in Central Park. (Levine is also running for Manhattan borough president in the 2021 Democratic primary.)

Since that election, the City Council has approved a variety of changes to the city’s campaign finance program, including new regulations on independent expenditures and, as Kallos noted, the system was also strengthened through a ballot referendum to lower individual campaign contribution limits and provide more public matching funds to candidates. “I want to make sure that if there's independent expenditures, which there likely will be, that they have to follow every single rule on the books and that candidates can't get away with cheating to get elected,” said Kallos, who has been the sponsor of several campaign finance reforms over the years.

The city only has so much control over independent expenditures, which have been considered a form of free speech under the Citizens United decision. The ruling opened the floodgates to large, anonymous spending in elections and has been a bane for election reformers since it removed any limits on outside spending. City law requires that any entity or individual that spends more than $1,000 to support or oppose a candidate or ballot proposal must disclose the amount and top sources of its funding. 

One of Kallos’ bills would set much stricter new criteria to redefine what constitutes an expenditure that is not independent, which would effectively attribute certain spending to a candidate campaign and reduce the amount of money a candidate can spend in the race at hand from campaign coffers. For instance, an expenditure would not be considered independent if a candidate and outside entity share a campaign consulting firm, office space or staff, or if someone in common with the candidate campaign raises funds for the outside entity. If a candidate and independent spender communicate through a third party, any expenditures by the independent entity would count towards candidate campaign spending. “The legislation is spelling out specific things which would be per se, strict liability with a rebuttable presumption,” Kallos said. 

“I want candidates to see this and know it's coming, and know that it's the law to begin with but we're tightening things down to make [coordination] harder to achieve,” he added.

Kallos’ other bill was born directly out of a recommendation by the CFB in its 2017 post-election report to extend liability provisions in the law to agents of independent spenders – currently fines of up to $10,000 can apply to entities themselves, campaigns and agents of candidates running for office. Kallos’ proposal would slap up to a $10,000 fine for every instance that one of those independent expenditure agents violates the rules. 

“I have no sympathy for a candidate who thought they were gonna cheat their way into elected office and won't be able to because of this law,” Kallos said. In order for the bills to become law they will have to pass City Council committee, where they would first be the subject of a public hearing, then the full Council, and be signed or allowed to age into law by the mayor.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Wed, 18 Nov 2020 05:00:00 +0000