CITY Fri, 26 Feb 2021 06:57:47 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) What's The [Data] Point? $5.3 Billion, Mayoral Candidates Discuss the City Fiscal Crisis whats the data point

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 102 -- $5.3 Billion, Mayoral Candidates Discuss the City Fiscal Crisis [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

cbc mayoral forum$5.3 billion is the current estimate of the budget gap the next Mayor will have to close in her/his first year. Ben Max and CBC President Andrew Rein introduce listeners to CBC's mayoral candidate forum "Managing NYC’s Fiscal Crisis" that featured 10-minute conversations with each of eight candidates: Maya Wiley, Kathryn Garcia, Andrew Yang, Dianne Morales, Eric Adams, Ray McGuire, Scott Stringer, and Shaun Donovan. Listen to a brief overview from Ben and Andrew, followed by the candidates' appearances.

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

What's The [DATA] Point? · Episode 102: $5.3 billion, CBC's Mayoral Forum

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Max) City Fri, 26 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Decision NYC: Maya Wiley Discusses Her Run for Mayor 2 mayaformayor 5

Maya Wiley at her campaign launch (photo: Wiley campaign)

Maya Wiley, a Democrat running for Mayor in the 2021 election, joined MNN's "Decision NYC with Ben Max" for an in-depth discussion of her candidacy for the city's top job. This interview is part of a series produced by Manhattan Neighborhood Network. Watch:

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Gotham Gazette) City Thu, 25 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Reshma Patel is Running for Comptroller reshma patel mash

Reshma Patel (photo: Patel campaign)

February 24, 2021 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Reshma Patel is Running for Comptroller

Reshma Patel, a Democratic candidate for New York City Comptroller, joined the show to discuss her campaign.

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 279: Reshma Patel Is Running For Comptroller

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Max) City Thu, 25 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Democratic Mayoral Candidates Offer Ideas for Solving City's Budget Crisis announces final exec

Mayor de Blasio at a budget presentation (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)

New York City is facing its worst fiscal crisis in decades, brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, with billions in lost tax revenue and large projected budget gaps in the years ahead. It’s a crisis that the next mayor, likely the winner of the Democratic primary this June, will inherit. At a mayoral forum on Wednesday, eight of the top contenders vying for the Democratic nomination offered their solutions to the city’s budget woes, pitching ideas to fix city government’s bottom line and also ensure a robust recovery from the pandemic.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $92.3 billion preliminary budget for the 2022 fiscal year, which begins July 1, is expected to close a $5.5 billion budget gap through various measures including $1 billion in unspecified labor savings and about $1.15 billion drawn from the city’s reserves. That outline -- which is the subject of negotiations with the City Council before a budget deal must be reached -- leaves little for the following fiscal years when budget gaps are expected to remain high: $4.3 billion in fiscal year 2023, nearly $4.2 billion in fiscal year 2024, and almost $4.3 billion in fiscal year 2025. Those gaps largely reflect tax receipts that are expected to continue to be deflated from pre-pandemic levels and the city’s increasing costs related to services and personnel, though there are a number of tools at the city’s disposal to close those projected deficits.

There is also the unknown of federal stimulus aid that the city is counting on, which is expected to arrive in the coming months and be significant, but could be lower than expected and there is always a risk that the state, with its own fiscal problems, shift hundreds of millions of dollars in costs to the city.

The next mayor will take office in January, halfway through the fiscal year and will quickly have to provide a plan to fill those gaps. At Wednesday’s forum, hosted by Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog group, and moderated by CBC President Andrew Rein, the candidates showed key differences in their approaches to the problem and visions for the city’s recovery.

Though they generally seemed to agree on some matters, such as limiting the size of the municipal workforce (which has grown significantly under Mayor de Blasio but recently reduced through attrition) and avoiding mass layoffs, their positions varied on raising revenue and cutting spending. Some offered specific proposals with price tags while others floated broad ideas with few concrete details or avoided the specific questions asked by Rein.

The candidates who appeared at the forum were former counsel to the mayor Maya Wiley, former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former Citigroup executive Ray Mcguire, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan.

‘Stimulate, stimulate, stimulate’
Wiley’s key proposal to get the city back on its feet is a New Deal-type plan to invest $10 billion annually, about $2 billion more than the city already does, in capital infrastructure projects to create 30,000 jobs directly and another 70,000 indirectly. Her plan would include targeted local hiring to help communities with higher unemployment rates and would earmark $2 billion for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

“[W]e have to find a way to invest in our people, put dollars in our pockets and make sure that we are stimulating the economy,” she said, insisting that her plan has been “stress tested” by experts and economists. “The first is stimulate, stimulate, stimulate. This is what we learned in the Obama administration after the Great Recession as well,” she said.

Wiley has also advanced a plan to invest in the “care economy,” which includes building Community Care Centers across the city and providing $5,000 grants to informal caregivers from 100,000 low-income families. She would pay for the plan through multiple strategies including by cutting headcount at the NYPD, she has said.

To cover the city’s budget gap, Wiley said she would institute a Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) mandating targeted cuts at city agencies. She floated a 3% cut, though she said it was a “moving target” that could change. For PEGs, mayors will often set a percentage target for agencies to offer possible cuts that the mayor and his team then evaluate as part of the budget process.

“We have to be more efficient, more effective, and also cut some costs in government,” Wiley said, citing as an example the $500 million-$1 billion lost in Medicaid reimbursements that she said the city should be receiving. “It's also the way I'm going to look at how we're making sure that when we are doing budget cuts, we're cutting fat and not bone,” she said. She said she would work with labor unions to find more savings, particularly in health care costs.

Wiley is among the candidates who have said they support the Invest in Our New York package of legislation, proposed by state lawmakers and backed by a slew of progressive advocacy groups, which would increase taxes on the ultrawealthy, corporations, inheritances and Wall Street, among other revenue raisers. When Rein pressed her on the percentage of tax increase she would like to see, Wiley said it would adjust based on federal aid and the state budget.

She insisted that wealthy New Yorkers who have spoken with her say they are “willing to pay more, but [they] want to see managerial leadership. [They] want to see partnership, and I think that's fair. I think that's a reasonable request, and I will do it.”

Wiley also said she would support a legal requirement that the city put away money in a rainy day fund when the economy is growing, a proposal that was gaining steam before the pandemic hit and put the city’s several billions of dollars in reserves at risk.

When asked, Wiley did not say whether she wants to see the municipal workforce increase or decrease, other than her proposed cuts to NYPD headcount, and would not commit to future pay raises for city workers, which are currently not included in the city budget but will have to be negotiated with unions.

‘There are certain agencies that could get much thinner’
Garcia’s plan for stabilizing the city’s finances includes refinancing debt, negotiating labor savings and reducing redundancies and inefficiencies in city government. She cited her own experience of having cut operating expenses by 10% at the city’s Department of Environmental Protection without making any layoffs. “I do believe that there are certain agencies that could get much thinner,” said Garcia, who was among the top DEP officials under Mayor Bloomberg before becoming the sanitation commissioner under de Blasio. Garcia went on to hold several other emergency roles while remaining head of Sanitation until she departed last year to run for mayor.

As Rein pointed out, Garcia has proposed several plans that would add to the city budget including a free childcare plan for families making less than $70,000 a year, mandatory organics pickup, and investments in affordable and supportive housing.

“We know that we have to do the thing we didn't do in the ‘70s, which is keep the city safe and clean,” she said in response, stressing that she would restore $100 million to the Sanitation budget and $84 million to the Parks budget that were cut during the height of the pandemic. “We can continue to reduce spending in other areas to ensure that we meet that,” she said.

Garcia was optimistic that the city’s fiscal picture will not be as bad as currently expected, particularly because of federal aid, which could be as much as $5 billion directly for city government, plus billions more in aid to New Yorkers. But she stressed the need to spend that money wisely. “I assume you as well as I will be pressuring this administration to make sure that they don't sort of light the cash on fire,” Garcia told Rein.

She said she would use the funds strategically to spur growth through, for instance, low-interest loans to restaurants and small businesses and new infrastructure. “We should be building things during this time because it will be cheaper,” she said.

Garcia also supports a PEG of between 3-5% and rainy day fund deposits.

On municipal headcount, Garcia said, “There are places where I think we need to actually grow the headcount. I think it'd be cheaper. But there are also places where I know there are...redundancies that we could reduce.” She said she would be open to providing city workers with raises if labor unions can find productivity savings to pay for them.

‘Invest smart while cutting costs’
“The challenge is to try and get our recovery going faster, invest smart, while cutting costs simultaneously,” said Yang, who offered a series of ideas including new revenue raising measures. He said he would push property-tax exempt institutions like Madison Square Garden and Columbia University to pay a certain share for city services, potentially raising hundreds of millions – he said he would not get rid of the exemption entirely. Insisting that layoffs are “destructive,” he said he would rely on attrition to reduce bloat in the city workforce. He backed a pied-a-terre tax on vacant properties. And he pushed for “benefit rationalization” to reduce city expenses. “I think that in this day and age, people receiving health care benefits with no employee pay-in is just not excellent policy,” he said, referring to the fac that municipal employees do not pay into their health care premiums.

As Rein noted, the math on Yang’s ideas doesn’t add up to the full budget gap that the city will face. Yang, however, said the city could raise “tens of billions of dollars” by pursuing property tax reform, though that estimate seems far-fetched. “If you have intelligent reform, I believe we will actually make our economy much more dynamic,” he said, though he did concede that the revenue wouldn’t come in possibly until the end of the next mayor’s first term. He did say he was more optimistic about federal aid to help the city fill gaps.

Yang’s platform also includes proposals with significant costs including a $1 billion cash relief program for low-income New Yorkers, a version of a Green New Deal for NYCHA, expansion of Fair Fares discounted MetroCards, and municipal control of mass transit, which would need to be won from Albany.

He said he would fund the cash relief program, which would be in the form of a localized currency called “borough bucks,” with help from philanthropists. The city would pay for half of it, he said. “I think there'll be an appetite to help augment the resources we're giving in cash relief,” he said. But he also insisted that New Yorkers would receive “borough bucks” to spend at small businesses, which would in turn stimulate the economy.

Yang said he would also institute a PEG, though he said he would vary it across departments. “It would depend upon the agency for sure but you'd want it to be significant,” he said, “because you need managers to identify the fat, and then even start identifying which piece of flesh they can do without if it comes to that.”

He backed rainy day fund deposits if the economy returns to pre-covid levels and expressed certainty that the municipal headcount would decrease through attrition.

‘We need to reorient our priorities’
Morales has offered bold ideas for city spending but has provided few details about how she would achieve them. She has said her campaign is developing more detailed plans to outline the transformation she is envisioning.

Morales said the city’s focus should be on moving away from a “carceral economy” that hurts Black and brown New Yorkers towards a “care economy” that prioritizes human services and those who work in child care, elder care, long-term care, disability, and homecare. When “we talk about an austerity economy or when we start talking about issues with a budget, it's very often been just a signal to the poor that they need to prepare to shoulder even more of the burden than they have already disproportionately born,” she said.

She said she would invest in public infrastructure and public banking, among other things. “I think we need to reorient our priorities and really recognize that this is a moment for us to invest and grow,” she said.

She said one of her main proposals for filling the city’s budget gap is to cut $3 billion from the nearly $6 billion NYPD operating budget, though she has yet to explain how she would do that and she indicated that at least a significant portion of that money would be reinvested elsewhere in city government. Morales did not say how many NYPD personnel would have to be laid off in such a scenario, but said the city would see a net gain in jobs. “We're not talking about losing jobs. We're talking about creating different jobs,” she said, adding that investments in housing and mental health services from those funds would create new employment and boost the economy.

She also said she would look closer at the corrections budget, Administration for Children’s Services and District Attorney funding. “I would want a very deep audit of our city budget including all existing external consulting contracts,” she said.

Morales too has a guaranteed cash relief proposal, along with other ideas such as free buses and canceling rent that would increase the city budget. But she did not address their price tag. Rather, she criticized the city’s failure to do enough when the pandemic started, saying spending would have been much lower. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I'm a believer in that,” she said.

Morales also supports the Invest in Our New York Act and refuted the argument that it would drive wealthy residents out of state. “People want to be in New York and I just think that's a fear-mongering tactic that has served those folks too well for too long,” she said.

Morales also supported using a PEG, rainy day fund deposits, and decreasing the city workforce. On pay raises for city employees, she said, “I would work with labor in order to come to a conclusion or come to an agreement that was mutually agreeable.”

‘Just pouring money into our city is not going to solve the problem’
Adams’ mayoral pitch centers on the argument that city government is inefficient and creates structural inequalities that are at the root of most problems. “We continue to be dysfunctional in every other agency, we operate our city in silos, and due to that, we are inefficient...Just pouring money into our city is not going to solve the problem,” he said.

Adams offered a more detailed fiscal plan than other candidates. He would reduce labor costs by $1.5 billion through attrition of nonessential city workers, cut agency spending by 3-5% to save between $2-3 billion, push for a modest tax increase for about three years on New Yorkers making $5 million or more annually, and save about $500,000 in overtime costs by running the NYPD more efficiently.

He has also proposed an “efficiency czar” to examine city contracts and cut waste, and would redirect more city procurement to within the city.

Adams also does not believe wealthy New Yorkers will flee the city if their taxes increase. “I find our high income earners don't mind paying the taxes if they see the services, and we're not showing them that now.” he said. “And I'm going to show them how we can run the city. That they're not wasting their tax dollars.” (He has not supported the Invest in Our New York Act.)

Among his big spending items are a full-year school year, year-round youth employment programming, incentives for life sciences, an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Tax Free Tuesdays when sales tax is waived. But he did not attach costs to them, when asked.

He said his full-year school year could work with remote learning. “You could have one great teacher that's in one of our specialized high schools to teach three to four hundred students who are struggling in math with the skillful way that they're able to teach,” he said.

He also touted his push for a data tax on social media and streaming services to raise between $50-100 million, which must be approved by the state Legislature, where he’s working on it with State Senator Andrew Gounardes of Brooklyn, who has endorsed Adams’ campaign.

Adams said he would support rainy day fund deposits and would find ways to “right size” the municipal workforce.

‘We need to grow our way out of this’
On the campaign trail, McGuire has repeatedly touted his experience managing corporate budgets and billions of dollars on Wall Street. “We can neither tax nor cut our way out of the current financial situation,” he said. “We need to grow our way out of this.”

McGuire said he would create 500,000 jobs to revitalize the city’s economy. He has proposed a “comeback accelerator plan” to subsidize half of worker wages for 50,000 small businesses, at a cost of nearly $1 billion over two years. He would pay for it with existing federal and state funds for work programs and partly with federal relief funds, he said. His ideas also include allowing businesses to keep a share of sales tax for a year, waiving city license renewal fees for a year, among others. “We have to manage this as an issue for long haul rather than just respond to the immediate crisis,” he said.

He critiqued the $12 billion in increased annual city spending over the last four years, and said he would find savings through a PEG and between $1-2 billion through employee attrition. He also targeted another $100 million from ThriveNYC, the de Blasio administration’s signature mental health roadmap that spends about $250 million per year. “There are ways to go through and be more efficient, but I can't cut my way through the four plus four plus four billion dollar budget gap deficit that's been outlined,” he said, referring to the several years in a row of projectd $4 billion-plus budget gaps.

McGuire has said he would support some higher taxes on the rich but has so far been noncommittal about how much. He said high earners like himself are willing to make a tradeoff of paying high taxes, and even increased taxes during a crisis, but only as long as it is still worth living in New York City for all of the positives. “While I can go and have a conversation with the...high income and high tax payers, I gotta be really delicate about how I balance it,” he said. “So yes, we're all going to have to pay a little bit more. But I also have to make sure that the streets are safe, and that there’s quality of life.”

‘No one in this race for mayor has had to do this kind of financial work’
As comptroller, Stringer has spent seven-plus years examining the budget and recommending fiscal practices to the mayor and City Council. On Wednesday, he took some credit for the mayor balancing his latest budget, which is required by state law. “The reason we have a balanced budget is because the mayor listened to a lot of the recommendations from the comptroller's office,” he said.

Stringer said he would have a plan already in place for the budget when he takes office and would find efficiencies at city agencies the same way he cut 5% of spending in the comptroller’s office. “I didn't have to lay off one person, I wouldn't do that. And I didn't reduce the work of the comptroller's office,” he said. But he spent more time discussing the city’s troubled economy and provided vague explanations for how he would achieve budget savings as mayor. He is a supporter of the Invest in Our New York package, but declined to say how much new tax revenue he thinks the city should seek from tax changes in Albany. “It really remains to be seen,” he said, while giving fairly muted support for the package.

“No one in this race for mayor has had to do this kind of financial work with [the city Office of Management and Budget] to get us to a balanced budget in the midst of a pandemic,” he said of his experience.

He also did not say how much some of his campaign promises would cost, such as a Green New Deal for NYCHA and free tuition at CUNY community colleges.

Stringer has for years been in support of finding more savings in the budget, though he did not say if he supports a PEG, but said “we should continue to have recurring savings.” He did say he would back rainy day fund deposits.

He also said the size of the municipal workforce seems appropriate where it currently stands. “I think we're at a good place where it is now,” he said, noting that it has come down about 10,000 employees recently as the city has sought to control costs amid the covid fiscal crisis. “I don't think the issue is trying to put more people on the unemployment line. I think we can find those consulting contracts and the egregious waste of spending in places like [Department of Education] administration and the like.”

‘We also need a longer-term strategy that reimagines and reinvents how city government functions’
Part of Donovan’s argument for mayor is that he has built the types of relationships in Washington that would be extremely beneficial to the city. He again touted those connections on Wednesday as he insisted that he could work with the Biden administration to secure federal aid for the city in several forms, not just through the stimulus package. “There is nobody better positioned to do that,” he said.

Donovan said federal funding would likely help fill most of the city’s budget gap and could be used over multiple years. The more “immediate steps” that he promised though included a hiring freeze, savings through attrition of nonessential workers, and new revenue sources such as value capture funds created by infrastructure investments. He also said he would be open to supporting a temporary surcharge on the richest New Yorkers. “But we also need a longer-term strategy that reimagines and reinvents how city government functions but also really gets to the fundamental inequities in our income and property tax systems, but also in our city more broadly,” he said.

Donovan made a point to criticize de Blasio for presenting a “false choice” between borrowing funds for the city’s operating budget or needing to implement mass layoffs. Indeed, neight has happened despite the mayor’s dire warnings months ago, and both are expected to be avoided given the likely infusion of billions more in federal aid.

Instead of tax increases, which he said would be a mistake, Donovan said he wants to reform the property tax system. And he insisted that the city needs to invest in quality of life. “We need to be looking for real savings in things like homelessness and criminal justice that could actually not just save money but also ensure the systems achieve greater equity in the long run,” he added.

Donovan’s campaign platform includes an “equity bonds” proposal to provide $1,000 and up to $2,000 annually to every child born in poverty, to help them eventually afford college. He estimates it would cost $3.2 billion in the first year and about $1.9 billion in the second.

Donovan said he would work with Congress to fund part of it, while the city would fund it for existing students who would account for a third of the amount. He said he would raise those funds through a 50-50 split between city funding and philanthropy.

He said he would institute a PEG between “between 3% and 10% and to have multiple tiers of them so that we have break-glass scenarios if we need them for agencies.” He also supported rainy day fund deposits and reducing the size of the workforce.

He said he would give raises to city workers if he could find other savings in contracts through “consolidation of benefit funds, reduced prescription drug costs,” among other ways.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Thu, 25 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Michelle Caruso-Cabrera is Running for Comptroller michelle caruso cabrera

Michelle Caruso-Cabrera (photo: Caruso-Cabrera campaign)

February 24, 2021 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Michelle Caruso-Cabrera is Running for Comptroller

Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, a Democratic candidate for New York City Comptroller, joined the show to discuss her campaign.

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 280 Michelle Caruso - Cabrera Is Running For Comptroller

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Max) City Thu, 25 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Zach Iscol is Running for Comptroller zach iscool comp

Zach Iscol (photo: Iscool campaign)

February 24, 2021 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Zach Iscol is Running for Comptroller

Zach Iscol, a Democrat running for New York City Comptroller, joined the show to discuss his campaign.

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 281: Zach Iscol Is Running For Comptroller

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Max) City Thu, 25 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Terri Liftin is Running for Comptroller terri liftin photo

Terri Liftin (photo: Liftin campaign)

February 24, 2021 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Terri Liftin is Running for Comptroller

Terri Liftin, a Democratic candidate for New York City Comptroller, joined the show to discuss her campaign.

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 282: Terri Liftin Is Running For Comptroller

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

]]> (Ben Max) City Thu, 25 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
City Council, De Blasio Administration Clash Over Comprehensive Planning Legislation daily life short

New York City (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)

City Council members and officials from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration clashed at a Tuesday hearing over proposed legislation to overhaul, consolidate, and in some ways expand the city’s planning processes into a singular ten-year procedure that would align budget, policy, and land use decisions.  

The proposal was released by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in December and seeks to replace what he calls redundant, antiquated, inequitable, and ineffective existing planning procedures by taking a more holistic approach to planning. It would create a centralized process for examining and budgeting for the city’s long-term infrastructure and community needs, with an eye towards correcting long-standing racial and socio-economic disparities while also equitably meeting the city’s transit, housing, open space, school seats, shelters, and other needs.

The Council’s Committees on Governmental Operations and Land Use and Subcommittee on Capital Budget convened on Tuesday to hear from the de Blasio administration about its concerns and objections to the idea, while also pressing mayoral officials to answer for the many failures of the current siloed planning processes that are spread across various city agencies.

[City Council Speaker Unveils Comprehensive Planning Legislation]

“For decades, the city has relied on a piecemeal and ad hoc approach, muddling through its planning exercises one neighborhood, topic, and project at a time,” said Johnson, a Democrat, in his opening remarks. “That planning has largely neglected people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, and low-income New Yorkers. That has also led to serious inefficiencies. Our budget documents often simply don't relate to our city's policy and land use priorities. And as we enter a period of fiscal stress, we have no rational system for prioritizing our community's most urgent budget needs to reduce disparities and combat climate change.”

Early on, Johnson sought to dispel “misinformation” about the bill, noting that it would not amend the city’s zoning laws, mandate any zoning requirements or specific zoning actions, or change the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). Rather, he emphasized that it “requires the city to provide community boards and the public with new resources, new data and new analyses to support proactive community-based plans.” It would encourage proactive rather than reactive approaches to development and encourage the city to pursue new growth away from neighborhoods at risk of sea-level rise and other forces of displacement including gentrification and real estate speculation. 

Council Member Fernando Cabrera, a Bronx Democrat who chairs governmental operations, pointed out that the current planning process is enshrined in more than a dozen Charter-mandated documents that do not currently involve sufficient coordination between and among city agencies. “There's a fundamental disconnect here that cannot be overstated,” he said. “How can we as a city plan for our future when we only have fragments of the full picture of the city's current needs and assets?”

Testifying on behalf of the administration, City Planning Commissioner Marisa Lago sought to dissuade the Council from advancing the bill, opposing it because of concerns about “its feasibility, its costs, and its ultimate impact.”

She estimated that the bill’s requirement of a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) for each community district would cost about $500 million over ten years. “We're concerned that the ultimate impact of that time and money would be counter to our shared goals,” she said. “That it would make it more difficult, not easier, to build affordable housing or to site essential city facilities.” 

Johnson had already countered that argument in his own statement. “That cost estimate is both inaccurate and absurd. It indicates that this administration is not engaging in this conversation with us seriously. There is nothing about this bill that will amount to that price tag,” he said, arguing that it could actually end up saving money for the city and for developers pursuing land use applications. 

Lago and Johnson had a fundamental disagreement about the language of the bill. Lago said it would create a “heavily top-down” planning process and give City Council members even greater influence in changing land use applications near the conclusion of ULURP. Instead of streamlining planning, she said it would add an additional layer of bureaucracy to an already lengthy land use procedure.

“The bill also underestimates the importance of focused topic-specific planning efforts,” Lago said, “such as those for the waterfront, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, environmental justice, food policy or resiliency.” She pointed to the city’s OneNYC strategic plan created every four years as a “better model” than the Council’s proposal and said the city’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances is necessary for long-term planning. She cited the city’s ten-year food plan released on Monday, a pending coastal resiliency zoning plan, and the proposed SoHo-NoHo rezoning as examples of how the current processes are working towards goals of equitable growth. 

In particular, she said the comprehensive planning bill would increase rather than limit the ability of affluent communities to forestall projects that are in the city’s interest, which has been a wrench in some of Mayor de Blasio’s agenda, though he has often done little to counteract those forces.

Later during the hearing, Johnson took exception to Lago’s interpretation of the bill. “It's not top-down. We're empowering local communities to actually engage in planning, instead of being reactive to [City Planning Commission’s] certifying of private applications and public applications,” he said. He said he was ”flabbergasted” at Lago’s “complete and total misrepresentation” of the bill. 

Lago also worried that a new planning process could place a “chill on development.” “That would be so unfortunate, at a time where the pandemic has made crystal clear the need to provide more housing and, in particular, affordable housing, the need to kickstart the economic recovery,” she said. 

Council Member Brad Lander showed frustration with the administration for critiquing the Council’s proposal without offering any solutions of its own to fix the city’s broken land use process. “We are the frog in the proverbial pot. We are watching the water boil, the temperatures are rising and the seas are rising, our affordable housing crisis is growing, our infrastructure is aging,” he said. “And it is clear that our land use process has become toxic and broken and unable to deliver thoughtful conversation about the very future of our city.”

If Lago was going to oppose the Council bill, what is the de Blasio administration’s plan to improve how the city does planning and growth, he asked. 

Lago struggled to give a straight answer, and instead pointed to what she sees as another deficiency with the bill. “The speaker himself noted that this proposal would not require any rezonings,” she said. “And there may be many communities who would anticipate having no growth and this bill does nothing to change that.”

Lander responded with frustration. Later on, Council Member Keith Powers asked Lago to name areas of the city with good transit options that could be home to significant housing growth. Lago only pointed to the Soho-Noho and Gowanus rezonings, which are currently in process, and declined to name any other neighborhoods. This, despite the fact that the de Blasio administration has not achieved rezonings in the neighborhoods it targeted early in the mayor’s first term, thus far only rezoning a series of lower-income communities of color. Lago instead again said that the city looks to work with Council members who want to work with the city. The exchange was one of several where the two sides appeared to point to each other as broken or talk in circles.

Lago repeatedly noted the Council’s informal policy of member deference, which allows Council members to veto land use projects that need Council approval and rezonings in their district. Because of that, she said, often the only projects that succeed are those that have active support and participation from local members. 

“So member deference is the problem?” Council Member Antonio Reynoso asked her. 

“I think that that is a challenge,” she said. She added, “I think, were the Council to adopt a citywide lens rather than looking exclusively to Council member deference that that could be tremendously helpful in achieving our shared goal of more equitable land use,” she said. 

“That's exactly what this legislation is trying to do,” Reynoso responded.

Several advocates and experts also testified in support of the bill, though some suggested that it could be improved. They included Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Barika Williams, executive director of Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, which is part of the Thriving Communities coalition; Maulin Mehta, senior associate at Regional Plan Association; Spencer Williams, director of advocacy at the Municipal Arts Society; Adam Friedman, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, among others.

The Citizens Budget Commission, a fiscal watchdog group, raised some concern about the legislation though it has long supported overhauling the city’s capital planning process. In testimony submitted to the Council, CBC Senior Research Associate Sean Campion said tying capital plan reforms to land use reforms is not necessary, that changing the structure and timing of regularly issued capital budget reports would make them less useful, and that capital budgeting power should remain in the hands of the mayor. “[A] strategic plan is only as good as its implementation design,” his testimony reads. “Extreme care should be taken when adding new processes, requirements and organizations since they could slow or thwart progress towards those outcomes or unnecessarily increase costs.”

Similarly, testimony from the Municipal Arts Society noted that the current proposal leaves land use decisions under the purview of the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, which would be in charge of the ten-year comprehensive planning process. “MAS counters that a successful comprehensive plan for New York City must balance bottom-up and top-down planning through meaningful, ongoing community engagement strengthened by effective coordination and commitment from involved City agencies,” the testimony reads. “As written, Intro 2186 would reinforce the current structural imbalance in the City’s planning process.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Wed, 24 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Maya Wiley Rallies Black Women to Make Her the First to Become Mayor of New York 1 maya wiley rallies

Painting a Black Lives Matter mural (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

“Black women get it done,” Maya Wiley, the former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio and 2021 mayoral candidate, declared in a January 22 video that featured a coalition of prominent Black women who are supporting her campaign. It was the launch of her formal effort to woo a core constituency in the Democratic base who time and again have turned out in higher rates in elections and could be a crucial factor for Wiley to become the first Black woman ever elected Mayor of New York City. 

It’s become a common refrain that Black women are at the heart of the Democratic Party and will reliably cast a vote for a Democrat, regardless of the candidate, rather than a Republican, which is why they’re also often taken for granted. But Black women are not a monolith and the Democratic primary in New York City is a far more complicated undertaking for any contender, particularly with ranked-choice voting at play for the first time in a citywide race. Candidates will have to cobble together different blocs of voters as they find themselves competing in the most diverse mayoral field in city history.

Wiley, a civil rights activist and attorney, is one of several Black women in the mayoral race but is by far the most prominent and best funded, and she is among the top tier of candidates overall. Since serving under the current mayor, who was powered to victory in 2013 by Black voters and white progressives, Wiley has led the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a police oversight agency, and was a professor at the New School. She also built a national following as an MSNBC commentator, giving her a fair share of name recognition, especially among white liberals, when she launched her bid for mayor. Prior to working for de Blasio, Wiley had an extensive career as a civil rights attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, among others, and, briefly, as a prosecutor in the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

She has sought to present herself as one of the more progressive candidates in this year’s mayoral race, with a heavy emphasis on police reform and accountability, but has often taken a measured, unspecific approach to issues, though her campaign has begun releasing more detailed policy plans, including on job-creation and the “care economy,” which Wiley has stressed is heavily reliant on Black women. If she wins, she would be the first woman, and only the second Black person to become the city’s top executive.

“I am unapologetically a Black woman,” Wiley said in a recent appearance before the Association for a Better New York, where she unveiled the “care economy” plan, when she was asked about her experiences in the several positions she has held. “I am unapologetically an activist. I'm unapologetically a partner, because I don't believe activism is about rolling over. I believe activism is about calling together. And so listen, learn, lead in partnership.”

Since its launch in January, the “Black Women for Maya” coalition has grown to more than 800 members, according to Wiley’s campaign. It includes accomplished actors such as Tichina Arnold, Gabrielle Union, and Yvette Nicole Brown, several established academics including Deborah Archer, Brittney Cooper, and Melissa Harris-Perry, political commentators like Heather McGhee, organizers, activists and more. Over the last few weeks, the coalition has been holding weekly volunteer events to continue building support and raise funds for Wiley. Earlier this month, Wiley hosted a fireside chat to take questions from potential voters and coalition members. Her campaign is also built with Black women in charge including her campaign manager, Maya Rupert, and her digital director, Tericka Lambert.

black women for maya zoom"Black women for Maya" Zoom

“I am honored to have received the support of so many of my fellow strong, Black women,” Wiley said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “They see this campaign as one that can be transformative for this city and their lives, but one that also has the experience and understanding needed to lead us out of the crises we face, which also disproportionately hurt women, and women of color. As mayor, not only can I empathize with what our city’s women, and especially women of color are going through, I feel it too, because I’ve lived it.”

“Black women know that in every crisis, we are always the cavalry,” she continued. “We are the essential workers of this economy, the backbone of the Democratic party, the care-takers of our communities, and the creators of our country’s arts and culture. While this campaign is for the betterment of all New Yorkers, our strength and power is rooted in the many Black women that lead it, shape it, and support it. Our campaign is a growing movement, and I am running to be the next Mayor of New York City because I want every last Black woman and girl in this city to see themselves in the seat of power.”

In the last competitive Democratic primary in 2013, out of the 645,902 Democrats who cast a vote, 181,483 or 28% were Black voters, according to an analysis by the CUNY Mapping Service. Bill de Blasio won the largest share of Black voters, about 32.8% in that primary. In the 2021 Democratic primary, Black voters are again expected to be between a quarter and a third of the electorate, meaning Black women voters could account for at least 13% of primary voters, likely more, as Black women are typically well more than half of the Black Democratic vote.

On Friday, Wiley was endorsed by 1199 SEIU, the city’s largest labor union, which represents hundreds of thousands of health-care workers, many of whom are women of color. The union was instrumental in helping de Blasio win the primary in 2013. “This is what we mean when we say support Black women,” Gabby Seay, 1199’s political director, told the New York Times.

“1199ers make history because this is a union made up of the people who always have but rarely got credit - Black women,” Wiley tweeted about the endorsement, responding to a supportive tweet by Seay. “And Latinas too!” The candidate has added the “#WinwithBlackWomen” hashtag to her Twitter profile.

“For Black women who are strategic voters, they're looking at the candidate who can best articulate a vision for issues that affect them in their communities and, quite honestly, New York as a whole,” said Dr. Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University.

This past week, Dr. Greer moderated a mayoral candidate forum hosted by Community Voices Heard Power that was focused on Black women. At the forum, Wiley and six other leading candidates -- including Dianne Morales, who identifies as Afro-Latina -- weighed in on issues of health care, vaccine access, housing, police reform, and the city’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. “Our communities are not a monolith. There is no one answer that is going to magically conjure the Black women vote,” said Afua Atta-Mensah, executive director of Community Voices Heard, at the start of the forum. 

In a phone interview on Wednesday, Atta-Mensah reiterated that the purpose of the forum was to change the narrative and urge candidates to take Black women’s voices more seriously.

“What Black women and our communities are looking for is that this renewal or revival of the city is not on our backs,” she told Gotham Gazette. “It's not this...performance of celebrating Black women in their leadership in word, but indeed wanting Black women to be the ones in communities of color that suffer the burden of how we come back…I think people are very keen to hear not just [candidates’] love for Black women and their belief in affordable housing but how that's going to happen, and how those policy priorities reflect the poetry.”

She also praised Wiley’s performance at the forum and said she was encouraged by her overt focus on Black women. “I think it's powerful,” Atta-Mensah said.

“Let me just start by saying I've been Black all my life,” Wiley said in her introductory remarks at the forum. “And that included when I was a little girl in a segregated, underfunded, overcrowded public school.” Wiley spoke of growing up as the child of civil rights activists and becoming an attorney to fight for those very rights. “I am running not just as a civil rights lawyer and a lifetime racial justice advocate. I am running because I believe that it is our dignity, and that means dignity in our communities,” she said.

Wiley is running with a focus on police reform and reconceiving public safety through community investment in a campaign that is unfolding in the wake of last year's resurgent Black Lives Matter movement, a response to the police killings of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people.

“The only thing I need to do besides stay Black and die,” Wiley said later during the forum, “is make sure that we do the hard work that needs getting done and not work at worrying about the politics of the usual but making sure it's a path for the people.”

In another virtual discussion on Thursday, hosted by Queens Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman for Black women running for office, Wiley refined her point. “One of the things we need right now, in a city in historic crisis, is to recognize that we aren't just the pack mules that carry the burden, but we're the precious cargo,” Wiley said. “And that means that it is our communities that deserve the attention, the support, the investment, and the recognition that we actually solve problems. We lead.”

But Wiley will still have to work hard to win Black women’s support broadly across the city and throughout the Democratic primary set to culminate in June and in all likelihood determinative of the next mayor in an overwhelmingly Democratic city. Wiley is trying to shrink campaign fundraising gaps with better-funded candidates including Comptroller Scott Stringer, who is white, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who is Black, both of whom have been raising money for years ahead of this run. Former Wall Street executive Ray McGuire, who is Black, quickly catapulted himself into the top tier of fundraisers in the race by bringing in well over $5 million as he seeks to make up name-recognition ground.

Like Wiley, Adams and Stringer are participating in the city’s public matching funds program, which matches the first $250 of every contribution from a city resident at an 8-to-1 ratio. Both Adams and Stringer have already qualified for public funds and have received millions of dollars, while Wiley narrowly missed the threshold and will have to wait another month before the next round of payments. She is likely to receive at least $2 million in matching funds in mid-March. McGuire is not a participant in the program, allowing him to raise more from large donors. Other candidates including entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Obama cabinet secretary Shaun Donovan, former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, and Morales, a former nonprofit executive, have said they will also soon hit the matching funds threshold, but they would not receive the influx of public funds until mid-April.

The SEIU endorsement was a needed shot in the arm for Wiley’s campaign. “Maya’s priorities are our priorities – from investing in and fairly compensating our caregivers to rebuilding our economy through job creation and training,” said George Gresham, the union’s president, in a statement. “We believe that Maya is uniquely positioned to join the ranks of Shirley Chisholm, Stacey Abrams, and so many other women who have continued to serve as the backbone of our communities, and of political fights nationwide.”

It’s unclear how voters will view Wiley and her competition at this stage in the race, and most voters may not even be paying attention yet. “As we've seen, Black women tend to vote thinking of the group, not necessarily individually,” said Dr. Greer. “If that's the case, Scott Stringer and Eric Adams have been public servants for much longer than anyone else in the race and they have a different set of connections and relationships with community groups and organizations that the other candidates just don't have.”

Morales, who has also centered police and public safety reform in her mayoral bid, has been campaigning furthest to the left in the race and is eclipsing Wiley’s progressive positions, but Wiley may be eyeing a broader swath of the Democratic electorate. McGuire, Morales, and Adams all appear to be making concerted attempts to connect in Black communities — McGuire recently received the endorsement of Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, the unarmed Black man killed by NYPD officers on a Staten Island street in 2014, while Adams has received endorsements from a long list of Black elected officials, clergy, and others. Stringer and Donovan have also made clear they are trying to appeal to Black voters and other voters of color, and Garcia held a digital event Sunday on “her agenda for Black women.” Garcia had been the only candidate of the eight mostly seen as in the top tier who did not participate in the “Follow Black Women” event hosted by Community Voices Heard Power. Multiple candidates have cited their ties to Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black woman elected to one of the nation's two highest offices.

“I am totally sure that the next mayor is going to be determined by Black women voters here in New York City,” Yang said at the Follow Black Women forum.

George Arzt, a veteran Democratic consultant, said Wiley can appeal to a broad audience and that she should be able to build a coalition of Black women and white progressives. “On paper, you would say, yes,” he said. But he agreed that Adams and McGuire are her main competition for Black voters and said he is interested to see how she does when she speaks at Black churches and makes other campaign appearances beyond the Zoom forums, where he said she has at times struggled to stand out.

“She has competition on all sides,” said Neal Kwatra, founder of Metropolitan Public Strategies, a consulting firm, about Wiley. “She’s got Andrew Yang and Scott Stringer, who she's going to have to compete with for white liberal votes presumably. She's got Ray McGuire and Eric Adams and Dianne Morales, who she's going to have to compete with for a lot of African-American and Latino voters.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Tue, 23 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Kathryn Garcia Continues Fleshing Out Mayoral Campaign Platform with Housing, Transit and Food Plans Kathryn Garcia briefing blue

Kathryn Garcia (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

In recent weeks and months, former New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia has further filled out her campaign platform as she runs for mayor, releasing plans for administering the COVID-19 vaccine and working with the federal government, building and maintaining housing, and improving the city’s transit and public spaces. Garcia, who has never run for elected office before but is a veteran of city government in several roles with major responsibilities, is running on her experience as a manager and her ideas for making city government work better for New Yorkers. 

During her career in city government, which ended (or at least paused) when she decided to step down from the de Blasio administration last year to pursue a run for mayor, Garcia has served as chief operating officer for the Department of Environmental Protection, the interim chair of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), lead-paint-abatement czar, commissioner of the Department of Sanitation, and covid emergency food czar as mass unemployment and shuttered schools led to a severe need for free meals throughout the city. 

Garcia is offering herself to voters as a crisis manager and no-nonsense doer, a liberal who is more moderate than several candidates running campaigns further to the left, who is most focused on delivering basic city services, improving government efficiency, and tackling core challenges facing New Yorkers. Throughout her policy plans, Garcia underscores the importance of making public officials accountable for solving problems and executing plans, some of which already exist but need someone like her to implement them, while also offering other new ideas. The latest batch of plans builds on her initial climate and resiliency plan, as well as an overview of her thoughts on the future of trash pickup and recycling that she gave Gotham Gazette in a December interview.

“We can’t keep trying to smush more and more New Yorkers into the same number of units, it just doesn’t work,” Garcia says in her campaign video on her housing plan. Her housing platform, titled “Housing That Heals,” argues that housing is intrinsically related to health, and that New Yorkers with insecure or unsafe housing are less healthy than those who can obtain that housing, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Garcia plans to center affordable housing development for extremely low-income New Yorkers, building 50,000 units for those making less than 30% of area median income. According to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, 30% of AMI in New York City as of 2020 is $34,110 for a family of four.

Citing the fact that the city has grown by 500,000 people over the last decade but has only constructed 100,000 units of new housing, Garcia’s housing plan is staked on rapid development. She seeks to accomplish this by carrying out rezoning for more affordable housing citywide and accelerating approvals for developers by streamlining city processes such as environmental reviews and permit applications.

In a December interview with advocacy group Open New York, Garcia said she supports the current rezoning proposals in SoHo/NoHo and Gowanus, both aimed add adding housing, including affordable housing, and the ability “to create an enormous amount of units.”

The other prong of Garcia’s approach to providing affordable housing is expanding what can be housing in the city. She would permit duplexes and triplexes in more areas by moving away from single-family zoning, as well as legalize basement apartments, accessory dwelling units, and single-room occupancy apartments.

Touting her experience as the interim chair of NYCHA in 2019, Garcia tries to position herself as the best candidate for the public housing authority’s future, saying that residents “don’t need another plan. We need to make sure to execute on the plan we have.” Her administration’s focus would be on improving the day-to-day living conditions at NYCHA, such as by installing new boilers, fixing broken elevators, and eliminating mold.

Garcia intends to fund these repairs by money from Section 8 and “other federal programs,” and the several other pieces of the current NYCHA rescue plan. One such federal program is rental assistance demonstration (RAD), which she has expressed support for at several candidate forums and is an Obama-era federal housing program that allows private entities to operate public housing buildings while leveraging vouchers so that the cash-strapped NYCHA can retain the subsidies it receives for housing low-income tenants while opening opportunities for private investment in building repairs and upgrades.

On homeless people living on the street, Garcia has said on Twitter, “We’ve got to move away from a shelter strategy and to a housing strategy. We spend ~3B/yr on shelters that fail to adequately serve NYC families. Of that, $400M goes to rent hotel rooms that are temporary.”

Garcia says as mayor she would build 10,000 units of supportive housing, some of it converted from empty or underused private properties, to provide permanent shelter and support services for those who need the combination.

In shelters, Garcia would provide “wraparound services” for families, women, and children, such as education, health care, and job readiness. Garcia would open 10 drop-in centers in strategically-chosen neighborhoods in order to provide services for homeless New Yorkers as well as begin the process for them to enter shelter.

And Garcia would streamline the city’s reporting of city agencies for homeless services, economic development, and housing to one deputy mayor, so that they can “be accountable to treating housing issues with one comprehensive approach.” The city currently has a deputy mayor for housing and economic development while homeless services falls under the deputy mayor for health and human services.

Pubic Space and Transportation
“A safe, reliable and efficient transportation system is critical to our recovery,” Garcia says. She would target delivery companies to reduce congestion, improve safety and protect workers, specifically naming Amazon as a deliverer she would regulate. 

The Garcia administration would “ensure that our public spaces serve the public first” by prioritizing pedestrian and micro-mobility options over vehicles. Garcia would make permanent the de Blasio administration Open Streets program, which in her transportation campaign video she called an “incredible success,” and place what she calls Complete Streets, which support street use for all users, regardless of the mode of transportation, in all five boroughs. 

Using sidewalk and street space, Garcia would place public amenities into curbside space, integrate sustainable drainage systems such as bluebells and rain gardens, and “create new opportunity for small businesses.” To make sidewalks cleaner and more passable, Garcia would expand the Clean Curbs program, which launched in initial pilot form after a covid delay when Garcia was still sanitation commissioner, and in which business improvement districts and other private entities can apply to place an on-street container for trash and recycling storage. 

Garcia would also seek to add more community-based amenities to curbside space, such as bike parking, seating, and arts and culture uses. She says she would accelerate Department of Transportation streets and sidewalk construction by “ensuring that the agency has blanket [city planning] approvals for bread and butter projects.”

Garcia says bike-riders must be better protected, including the city’s many delivery workers and commuters, among others. Her administration would enact “robust enforcement of bike lane violations” and install safety barriers for protected bike lanes. Garcia pledges more cleaning and plowing of the city’s bike lanes and says she would “align the agencies that play a role in traffic enforcement” in order to centralize management and accountability in one department.

Garcia’s plan calls for the addition of 250 new miles of protected lanes. As of December 2020, New York City has 545 miles of protected bike lanes. And Garcia would “better integrate CitiBike into the existing transit network,” as well as subsidize its expansion into neighborhoods that are underserved by the current system.

Garcia pledges to fully fund the MTA’s Fast Forward program for capital upgrades, “press for real reform at the MTA,” and make steps towards “a fully accessible public transit system.” Fast Forward, released in 2018 by former MTA New York City Transit President Andy Byford, who left amid a dispute with Governor Andrew Cuomo, would upgrade subway system signals, increase accessibility to the system, and much more. Much of it has been incorporated into the MTA capital plan, which New York City government contributes to significantly, but that plan has been derailed by the covid crisis.

Garcia says she would explore “Citibike and NYC Ferry fare integration and OMNY fare integration,” as well as creating a one-swipe in-city transportation network with LIRR and MetroNorth service. The Garcia administration would reallocate the de Blasio administration’s infamous NYC Ferry subsidy towards the city’s Fair Fares program for low-income New Yorkers. 

To improve the speed and efficiency of the city’s notoriously slow bus system, the Garcia administration would give buses priority at intersections, grow the Express Bus network and Select Bus Service, increase off-board payment and all-door boarding, and create more dedicated busways and bus lanes. 

Garcia offers several steps for greening New York City’s transportation infrastructure, where the former sanitation commissioner, who was moving ahead on electric garbage trucks during her tenure, would triple the availability of public electric car chargers and electrify more than 10,000 buses so that the MTA bus system is fully electric by 2040. She also intends to execute the de Blasio administration’s Commercial Waste Zones plan that she helped design and negotiate “to realize the benefit of removing 18 million miles of Sanitation truck traffic from NYC streets every year” and to join the push for implementing congestion pricing. 

In order to “ditch diesel and switch to electric vehicles,” Garcia seeks to provide zero-interest loans to help small businesses purchase “small-scale, electric, pedestrian-friendly delivery vehicles to replace diesel vans.”

To achieve Vision Zero, the city’s goal to eliminate traffic fatalities, Garcia’s transportation platform emphasizes “making changes to the built environment to physically prevent accidents” over singularly focusing on driver behavior change. She would increase the usage of automated enforcement mechanisms such as speed-safety, red-light, and failure-to-yield cameras. 

In order to “make on-street parking a privilege, not a right,” Garcia would issue residential parking permits for low-emissions vehicles, a major potential shift from New York City’s current largely free street parking. Garcia would support micro-mobility options for the first and last miles of trips to encourage the use of public transit.

Garcia’s plan would also “kickstart planning for new transit,” identifying opportunities such as new ferry terminals in East Harlem, Inwood, Hunts Point and northern Queens, as well as expanding the subway along Utica Avenue in Brooklyn and Second Avenue in Manhattan.

Food Insecurity
Drawing on her experience as de Blasio’s emergency food czar last year, Garcia’s plan to fight food insecurity heavily relies on expanding access to nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). She would make a major push to enroll all eligible New Yorkers in the program. As of 2019, the city’s SNAP program has seen decreased enrollment by non-citizens, which has been associated with fear of deportation under the Trump administration. Another group that has struggled with SNAP enrollment is students, many of whom have become newly-eligible following December’s federal COVID-19 relief package.

In her plan, Garcia would increase funding to food programs, highlighting older adults, families, undocumented New Yorkers, students, homeless people, and veterans as those in need of particular assistance. To further expand the reach of the SNAP program, Garcia would call on Congress to permanently expand SNAP by 15%, and to make prepared meals, delivery fees, and membership fees for bulk shopping programs eligible for use of SNAP benefits. New Yorkers ineligible for SNAP but still in need of food assistance would be supported with voucher programs such as Health Bucks, which Garcia vowed to expand. She also stresses the need for emergency food programs to provide culturally relevant food for New York City’s diverse populations.

To facilitate access to healthy food, Garcia would develop infrastructure to provide nutritious meals in underserved neighborhoods and subsidize healthy meals at community restaurants. “We can’t just send more food to the same pantries--we need more pantries in the right places,” she writes, adding that she would open more pantries and equip pantries with technology to make getting food “as easy as ordering it from Amazon.”

Garcia would seek to streamline and simplify applications for food benefit programs, writing, “Standing in line is not dignity. New Yorkers should be able to apply for benefits on a smartphone--or the process isn’t working.”

Garcia is also offering a series of proposals to support restaurants and restaurant workers, from capping third-party app commissions to supporting cash assistance funding programs for undocumented workers to making outdoor dining permanent. To make it easier for restaurants to operate, all licensing requirements and regulations governing restaurants and nightlife establishments would be streamlined, permit renewals would be automated, and in the face of the covid crisis, tax incentives for landlords would be provided to forgive restaurants’ back rent and renegotiate new leases.

In addition, Garcia says she would create grants for small businesses, expand off-premise alcohol sales, and “eliminate incentives that keep properties vacant.” While she has not specified what this would look like, Garcia said in a virtual mayoral forum held by the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club that she would call for a commercial vacancy tax, while her economic recovery plan pledges to “work with Albany to reduce commercial vacancies.” 

Before they became eligible in New York, Garcia also said she would prioritize vaccines for restaurant workers.

She also says that she would “explore rent stabilization for commercial spaces”, suspend fines where possible, and work with insurers to maximize business interruption claim pay-outs. During the COVID-19 epidemic, frustration has grown with many in the restaurant industry as insurance companies have denied claims for business interruptions, citing exceptions for viral outbreaks.

Garcia also plans to support the growth of urban agriculture, identifying "green infrastructure, green jobs, stewardship and education” as potential benefits. Making a connection with her plan for climate resiliency, Garcia would push to construct the GrowNYC Regional Food Hub, a project announced by the Cuomo administration in 2016 but never built. Targeted for Hunts Point, the hub would include a wholesale farmers market, a food-processing center and a cold storage facility. Originally anticipated to finish construction in spring of 2021, the food distribution center remains unbuilt.

Garcia would also support the adoption of the Good Food Purchasing (GFP) program. Following the lead of cities such as Los Angeles and Boston, a GFP framework would direct New York City to make food purchasing decisions on local economies, environmental sustainability, animal welfare, nutrition, and valued workforce, establishing metrics and standards similar to LEED certifications for buildings. Currently, the proposal is in the exploratory stage among New York City agencies like the Department of Education and Department for the Aging, Garcia’s plan notes. Garcia would provide funding to use the New York State Farm to School Purchasing incentive, a state-wide program that gives state money for school districts that increase the amount of locally-grown food used in their school menus.

On the administrative side, Garcia would re-establish a team of varied backgrounds to “institutionalize addressing food access and insecurity,” bringing together what she sees as “disparate and uncoordinated programs” in agencies under various deputy mayors.

To mitigate in the future the types of immense pressures New York City’s food supply chain faced during the worst early days of the COVID-19 crisis, Garcia would seek to continuously monitor the food supply chain and build a “robust” emergency feeding operations plan that could be activated quickly. Businesses would be provided with technical assistance so that they could develop continuity of operations plans, and capacity would be built within nonprofits to receive federal funding in food emergencies.

Garcia also pledged to fight food waste by encouraging donation of extra food close to its expiration date. “Consumer expectations create a lot of waste we can’t afford in the food business,” her plan says. “We will incentivize donating unsold food—and levy fines for non-compliant businesses.” New York State’s regulation mandating that entities that produce over 2 tons of food waste a week donate their excess food currently exempts New York City.

Vaccines and Federal Agenda
Garcia is among a small group of mayoral candidates to put forth their own specific ideas on how to better implement COVID-19 vaccinations in New York. While the Biden administration hopes to have the country almost fully-vaccinated by the time that a new mayor will assume office at the start of 2022, Garcia released a plan for how she would direct vaccine rollout in New York City, which she first outlined in an op-ed for The New York Daily News, offering ideas that could be used by the current administration.

“This is the kind of chaos that results from poor planning and poor management skills,” she wrote of the slow early rollout of the vaccine in the city, before the challenge became more about supply than execution.

Garcia criticized the city’s appointment system as a disorganized free-for-all, writing that it “more resembles getting tickets to a Prince concert than making a healthcare visit.” Rather than a first-come, first-served system based on priority, the Garcia plan would reserve 25% of appointments for direct referrals from community healthcare providers and simplify the priority schedule to more quickly roll out the vaccine. In addition, she would train school nurses to administer the vaccine, open vaccine sites at every Department of Education building, repurpose city-owned vehicles to create “a mobile vaccine fleet” for deployment at NYCHA sites and improve the vaccine appointment process to make it simpler and to track doses.

In advance of the January inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Garcia released her plans to work with the federal government. “With strong leadership in DC, we will finally have the chance to get the federal assistance New Yorkers need and the sweeping policy changes that will put our country back on the right track,” she wrote. Among her proposals, Garcia says she would work with the federal government to increase food availability for SNAP beneficiaries, increase funding for community centers, and “bring in green new deal and infrastructure dollars to pursue building upgrades for climate resiliency.” On education, Garcia’s federal agenda seeks the full federal funding of associate’s degrees and increased federal funding for public universities and colleges.

by Grace Getman for Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Grace Getman) City Tue, 23 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Video Brief: Education and the 2021 Election back 2 school

Mayor de Blasio & Chancellor Carranza visit a school (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

In our latest video brief on key issues at play in the 2021 New York City elections, with a focus on the race for mayor, hosts Jarrett Murphy and Ben Max discuss education. Key topics within the larger issue include who the next mayor will appoint as a schools chancellor, how the next mayor and chancellor will manage the sprawling education bureaucracy, how candidates are talking about hot-button issues including school desegregation, charter schools, and much more.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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City Releases First 10-Year Food Plan Under New Law de Blasio food plan

Mayor de Blasio at a food pantry, pre-pandemic (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

The New York City Mayor’s Office of Food Policy is announcing the city’s first-ever 10-year food plan, called Food Forward NYC, to better address food insecurity, improve a number of food- and nutrition-related processes, and meet the requirements of legislation passed by the City Council early last year.

The policy, previewed by Gotham Gazette before its public release on Monday, is intended to tackle hunger, food waste, malnutrition-related ailments, and food industry instability through five core goals, which all have underlying plans that require the cooperation of multiple city agencies and other entities. For example, the plan includes developing a “Food Community Hiring Initiative” to easily identify entry-level jobs in the food industry and creating a commercial kitchen for providers of the city’s Department for the Aging by partnering the program with Citymeals on Wheels.

“It should go without saying that in a truly great city, no one should ever go hungry,” writes Mayor Bill de Blasio, in part, in an opening letter of the Food Forward report. “But beyond tackling hunger, we are also committed to ensuring that all New Yorkers have the information, tools, and access to eat healthy food and learn about nutrition; to lift up food workers and reduce food waste; and to back local businesses and urban farming, among a host of other responsibilities.”

The five overarching goals of the plan are: “All New Yorkers have multiple ways to access healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food; New York City’s food economy drives economic opportunity and provides good jobs; The supply chains that feed New York City are modern, efficient, and resilient; New York City’s food is produced, distributed, and disposed of sustainably; Support the systems and knowledge to implement the 10-year food policy plan.”

According to the plan, 1.6 million New York City residents are food insecure — meaning that they do not have stable access to quality, nutritious food.

This number has only increased during the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen widespread loss of jobs and work, but there was a severe crisis even before the outbreak. Previously, 1.2 million New Yorkers were food insecure, according to data from Feeding America.

Malnutrition from a lack of nutritious food, which can be a result of food insecurity, leads to health issues such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, and therefore other challenges, shorter life expectancy, and more vulnerability to diseases like COVID-19.

“Communities of color in all five boroughs have less access to affordable, healthy food than white communities and they are disproportionately impacted by diet-related health diseases,” the food plan reads, in part. “While many food businesses are owned by people of color and workers in the sector are substantially people of color, low business margins and low wages often result in limited economic mobility. Furthermore, many distribution hubs and waste facilities are located in communities of color, therefore placing additional disproportionate environmental and health burdens on them. At the same time, many of the biggest innovations in food policy in New York City, from local farms to cooperative ownership models, have emerged from communities of color. NYC’s food policy can support these successes and turn the food system into a source of health, wealth, and sustainability.”

According to the plan, two out of every three food businesses in the city have fewer than ten workers and almost half of New York City’s food originates from locations outside the city before ending up in the boroughs’ grocery stores, restaurants and schools.

The food industry is a key part of the city’s economy and one whose workers have been hurt by the pandemic. Even before covid, restaurant and grocery store workers were already making yearly salaries far below the average New York yearly income, according to the new food plan, and while many food workers have been classified as “essential” during the pandemic, helping some to keep their jobs, they have been unable to work from home and therefore at significantly higher risk of covid. At the same time, many food businesses, like restaurants, have closed during the pandemic, costing many jobs.

“At this moment in 2021, the city is in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in extraordinary levels of food insecurity,” Director of the Mayor’s Office of Food Planning Kate Mackenzie writes, in part, in her opening letter of the new policy. “Yet, through these harrowing months, we have deepened our understanding of how essential our food workers are to our food system. From the farm workers who grow our food, to the drivers and store clerks who ensure our grocery stores and bodegas remain stocked, the delivery workers who bring food to our homes, the cafeteria workers who keep our students fed, the volunteers distributing food at pantries – we see you and we thank you.”

For goal one of Food Forward NYC, the plan is to “expand food benefits to reach more New Yorkers in more places,” “distribute food more equitably,” and “reconfigure how the city sources food,” each of which come with their own sub-initiatives.

The city plans to expand to more low-income neighborhoods the “Get the Good Stuff” program, which allows Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to earn an extra dollar in reward points for every dollar they spend on fruits and vegetables at participating grocery stores.

Food Forward NYC also plans to allow adult members of children’s families to permanently get free grab-and-go meals at public schools, during summer months even after the pandemic ends. Before COVID-19, only children were eligible for this program, and parents weren’t allowed to take food even when they came with their children. The program was expanded to adults accompanying children and then all New Yorkers at the height of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.

Other strategies to achieve the first goal are to work with the state and federal governments to get “Medicare/Medicaid coverage for medically tailored meals.” to make the city’s outdoor dining program permanent, and to improve access to cold storage in underserved areas, among other things.

“For all New Yorkers to get the food they need and want, they need multiple ways to access healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food that meets them where they are,” the plan explains. “The plan embraces that food intersects with New Yorkers’ health and the broader economy in multiple ways, and not simply with regard to hunger; that food is important as an expression of cultural identity and as a way to connect with family and friends; and that food can bring tremendous joy.”

The second Food Forward NYC goal focuses more on how the food industry relates to the economy.

Initiatives within it include enforcing already created fair-scheduling laws in the fast-food industry to make sure that workers have some control over their work schedules and get paid overtime when necessary, expanding and creating new childcare centers that have weekend and overnight hours to accommodate food service workers, pushing the state for a NYC Small Business Recovery Tax Credit for small businesses and restaurants, and developing customized workforce training programs in manufacturing and industry technologies. The city proposal for a tax credit would apply to “businesses with gross revenue below $1 million,” which would “be eligible for a tax credit equal to 6% of their calendar year 2021 rent, up to maximum credit of $10,000.”

The city will also “create financing and technical assistance plans to support worker-owned cooperatives,” by adjusting current programs to better suit the needs of food businesses and by working with community organizations and business improvement districts.

“The restaurant industry is also vital to the city as a major draw for residents, workers, and visitors, underpinning many other industries such as office employment in the central business districts and serving as a draw for tourists,” the plan says. “Indeed, the restaurant industry is key to making New York City the compelling place that it is. Its economic contribution is also large. In 2019, the industry made nearly $27 billion in taxable sales.”

Food Forward’s third main goal focuses on the way that food comes into New York City and where it originates — which more often than not is far from the five boroughs.

Initiatives in this category include modernizing the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center by implementing resiliency measures to protect the building from rising sea levels and flooding, increasing the amount of food the city buys from the New York region instead of outside sources, and removing barriers to urban farming that currently exist in the forms of laws and regulations, such as “reviewing regulations related to land use and exploring different nonprofit and for-profit operating models and mechanisms to distribute micro-grants more efficiently.”

Under the fourth goal of the plan, the emphasis is on making sure that food is distributed fairly throughout the city and that food waste is handled sustainably and resourcefully.

The city is aiming to collect 90% of organic waste by 2030 and to “mandate the source separation and recycling of organic waste within all city institutions and schools by the year 2025 and in all residential buildings by 2029”; to figure out how to make cold storage more efficient and sustainable at a lower cost; and to include local seafood and seaweed in the New York State Grown & Certified program, which “is a program that makes it easy for consumers to identify local, safely-handled, and environmentally responsible agricultural products.”

The final component of Food Forward NYC is about ensuring different stakeholders in the food and public policy worlds will work together effectively to make the ambitious new plan a reality.

“New York City’s food system is highly distributed and fragmented, made up of many small parts that interact with each other in complicated ways,” the plan reads. “In fact, the system is so complex that even people who  have spent years working in one sector of the food system often have little to no knowledge of how the rest of it works. It is not surprising that it can be extremely hard for anyone who plays a role, from policymakers to food workers to advocates to food consumers, to understand what levers to push for systemic change. This complexity also makes meaningful community engagement and decision making around food very challenging.”

Strategies to meet the goal of “strengthening community engagement and cross-sector coordination around the development and implementation of food policy” include partnering with the non-governmental sector to increase community participation in food policy decision-making, working with the private and civic sectors on food education campaigns about sustainability and nutrition, and establishing a Public Housing Food Leadership Innovation Lab to work on projects regarding food access, food production, food waste management, and community building in NYCHA. The plan indicates intention to finally begin recycling at public housing developments.

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Decision NYC: Guiddalia Emilien Discusses Her Run for Mayor guiddalia emilien free

Guiddalia Emilien (photo: Guiddalia for Mayor)

Guiddalia Emilien, a Democrat running for Mayor in the 2021 election, joined MNN's "Decision NYC with Ben Max" for an in-depth discussion of her candidacy for the city's top job. This interview is part of a series produced by Manhattan Neighborhood Network. Watch:

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