CITY Wed, 08 Jul 2020 05:22:42 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) A Month After Historic Curfew, Many Unanswered Questions About How City Policed Protests, Looting De Blasio Shea policing NYC

Mayor de Blasio & NYPD Commissioner Shea (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

The first day of the most recent chapter of protests against police brutality and racism in New York City was Thursday, May 28, the same night 500 National Guard troops were being deployed to Minneapolis, where rioters had set fire to a police station in the quarter where George Floyd was killed three days earlier.

Over the next three nights, violence -- toward police and the burning of NYPD vehicles, by aggressive officers toward protesters, and in the form of rampant looting -- became a fixture of nighttime hours in pockets of New York City, leading to many questions about policing tactics and the leadership of Mayor Bill de Blasio. On Monday, June 1, Governor Andrew Cuomo and de Blasio, like their counterparts in other states, instituted a curfew in the city for the first time since World War II.

As the protests were unfolding the mayor and his police department seemed unable to stop what destruction was taking place around them. At the same time, there were frequent acts of brutal policing, which quickly became the subject of ongoing investigations by the New York Attorney General, New York City Department of Investigation along with the Corporation Counsel, and the city’s Civil Complaint Review Board.

Throughout those first nights and lasting for about a week into early June, de Blasio was asked repeatedly by members of the media for the city’s enforcement strategies around the large crowds and marches, looting, and the curfew, to which he responded with answers that were often vague or inconsistent with reality.

Weeks later, the de Blasio administration won't say what specific instructions, if any, were given to commands or officers on how to police the demonstrations, the looting, or the curfew. Despite repeated requests by Gotham Gazette, spokespeople for the mayor and NYPD did not provide information about the size and location of police deployments or details on crowd control and looting prevention and enforcement strategies.

Yet some limited pieces of this information formed key elements of the administration's narrative used to justify the historic, six-night curfew that many believed escalated tensions between protesters and police, and was the basis for numerous, seemingly indiscriminate arrests, often with major displays of force.

Curfew, Kettling and Chain of Command
"The curfew is to help us separate the peaceful protesters, which are the overwhelming majority, from people who are looking to exploit the moment by looting, et cetera," Cuomo said on CNN a few hours before the curfew went into effect on Monday, June 1.

Around the same time de Blasio was on NY1 saying, "the curfew is very clear that we will not tolerate any criminal activity, anybody breaking into stores, looting, smashing store windows. And that will give the officers, from 11 p.m. on, the ability to say to anyone on the street, 'You have to leave immediately.'"

What tactical decisions were made up to that point and why the NYPD -- a police force of 36,000 uniformed officers with a great deal of experience policing large crowds and violent crime -- needed the extra help remain unclear.

By the time the first looting took place on the fourth night of protest, viral images had already painted a complex picture of a heavy-handed NYPD response to marchers objecting to police violence and seeking a broad withdrawal of police, and of mayhem, including violence against cops and police vehicles.

There were several scenes, often captured on social and news media, of officers using rough tactics and displays of force apparently without enforcing laws. On Friday, May 29, someone in a quickly-moving NYPD car was caught on video opening the passenger-side door to hit a protester. That Saturday, a police helicopter hovered low above nonviolent marchers, whipping up dust and debris, the marchers shielding their eyes. There were reports of cops corralling and charging peaceful demonstrators with batons and pepper spray, sending protesters to the hospital, and intimidating journalists.

Reports of alleged police abuse from 80 incidents, from May 28 through May 30, were filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), an oversight agency charged with investigating police misconduct. In the weeks of protest, over 200 incidents have been reported to the board.

After the chaotic second night (Friday, May 29), both de Blasio and Cuomo said there would be “independent” investigations of how the protests were policed. Cuomo asked Attorney General Letitia James to conduct the state review. De Blasio appointed Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett and Jim Johnson, the administration's top lawyer as corporation counsel, to lead an investigation into conduct "by all players" and "to look at where accountability needs to be." The mayor also said the NYPD would conduct its usual internal reviews.

"It’s the NYPD’s obligation to find the best possible way to keep peace, to protect everyone, to avoid anything that allows further violence to occur,” de Blasio said at a May 30 press briefing, “but that means also recognizing that any aggressive act towards a peaceful protestor sends exactly the wrong message."

"At the same time, we saw acts of violence from protestors that have nothing to do with the tradition of peaceful, democratic protest," he added.

"This is New York City and we handle hundreds if not thousands of protests of all different sizes, shapes and forms," NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said in testimony to James weeks later, on June 22. "Some protests can take place with very minimal officers. Obviously the larger protests will require a different response in planning."

"I can tell you what we learned almost immediately from the Thursday night protest and continuing right into Friday and Saturday, that these protests were different," Shea said of March 28-30, the first three nights. "The main difference was, these were violent."

The NYPD says officers arrested over 2,500 people during the protests, "but the number is fluid and more details should be available at a later time," wrote NYPD spokesperson Detective Sophia Mason in an email. More than a fifth of those -- 631, according to preliminary NYPD figures -- were for burglaries, a vast majority of which occured on Sunday, May 31, and Monday, June 1, wrote Mason. According to information provided to Gotham Gazette by the city's five district attorney offices, about 1,090 people were arrested in the first week of the protests, which included the looting.

Throughout that first week of protests, before and after the initial June 1 curfew, de Blasio and Shea maintained that they wanted foremost to protect the rights of peaceful protesters. The two have insisted that the department's "restraint" and ability to "deescalate" was the overriding characteristic of its approach, though facts on the ground belied those statements.

"We've tried to be as flexible as possible in allowing people to demonstrate, respecting their first amendment rights...and also having respect for people's property and trying to maintain order," Shea said in the testimony to Attorney General James, who asked what directions were given to officers around enforcing the curfew. "So that was the instructions, it's not very unlike instructions that are given at any other protest." Shea provided no specifics.

The well-documented tactic of "kettling" -- where lines of police barricade and confine groups of protesters -- was common before and after the curfew was imposed. On many occasions, marchers were charged with batons and riot shields, but Shea indicated in his testimony to James that it is not a practice he’s been familiar with or ordered.

"I was never familiar with it until about two weeks ago and I’ve heard it more in two weeks than I’ve ever heard it,” Shea told James of “kettling.” “I believe I know what they’re referring to—it’s corralling, if you will, protesters. But it’s not something that to my knowledge exists in our policies.”

At least when the curfew was in effect decision-making was largely decentralized, according to NYPD leaders. "Discretion is given to all commanders on the scene. Decisions are not made from 1 Police Plaza,” said Chief of Department Terence Monahan, the NYPD's highest ranking uniformed officer, in an interview with Gothamist published June 11. “They're made from the commanders on the scene based on what they're seeing."

That discretion clearly played out in the streets, with different approaches to policing and different outcomes. In some cases peaceful protesters were dispersed and in many other instances their counterparts in other marchers were subject to kettling and rough arrests.

"If officers say now is the point we need you to go home, it's time to go home," de Blasio said to reporters at a June 4 press conference when describing broad parameters of how protests amid curfew were being policed. "I can say this in many places in the good old USA, a curfew at 8 p.m., that would be the whole, this the end of discussion right there,” he said later in the briefing. “It is the nature of New York City and the restraint shown by the NYPD that we're trying to give people extra space if they do it the right way, if they respect the instructions of the NYPD and do no violence, no harm, don't plan any violence."

Policing experts and former law enforcement officials disagree over what they believe was going on at the command level.

"Because of all of the looting and violence that was seen throughout the country, New York City and the Police Department put forth a 'full enforcement' type of response," said Dr. Alfred Titus, Jr., an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice with 23 years as an NYPD homicide and hostage detective based in Harlem and Washington Heights. "Which means that for any slight amount of violence the police were instructed to move in, apprehend people, stop the violence, protect property," he told Gotham Gazette, based on his observations.

"That was where a lot of the conflict came," Titus said.

Brian Higgins, the former Chief of Police in Bergen County, New Jersey, who also teaches at John Jay and consults with municipalities on crowd management, thought cops appeared to have their hands tied. "It's obvious there was a conscious decision to change tactics," he said of the NYPD's typical approach to crowd control. "It was most likely that the New York City Police Department was told to, for lack of a better term, stand down."

On the first night of looting, which led to the curfew, police allowed hundreds of peaceful marchers to cross Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn into Lower Manhattan, toward a site where, the night before several police cars were set on fire in the later hours. In moments like that, Higgins wondered why police didn't intervene in anticipation.

"It appears as if the normal protocols used by the New York City Police Department were not allowed to be used at night," he said. "And a crowd can be a very dangerous situation. It's almost like playing with fire."

In the first week of protest, from March 28 to June 4, 450 storefronts were damaged, according to the mayor's office, and everything from bridges to city buses were vandalized. Thirteen police cars were set ablaze and "were a total loss," according to an NYPD spokesperson. Another 269 were graffitied, had windows broken or tires slashed. The damages cost taxpayers an estimated $795,700 and 22 vehicles remain out of service, the spokesperson said in late June. (A spokesperson for de Blasio said June 29 that the mayor's office could not provide a cost estimate for the total damage, either to businesses or to city property, just before a new city budget was due.)

Thursday, May 28 through Saturday, May 30 - The First Three Nights
"I want to see a light touch because people are undeniably angry for a reason," de Blasio said of policing protests on WNYC radio on the morning of Friday, May 29, after the first night of protests. But "attacking a police officer is unacceptable," he said in response to a question about reported police injuries. A review of the police reports for May 28 say that violence against officers -- including a protester who allegedly threw a trash can into a crowd, knocking a cop unconscious -- occurred as they were taking part in "crowd control" or dispersal, at times while they were arresting other protesters.

On the morning of May 29, Shea said there would be a heavy police presence in response to the prior night: "The NYPD is out here in force tonight. We will have thousands of officers deployed throughout New York City."

That night saw the first serious clashes between protesters and police, with NYPD vehicles set ablaze and city buses graffitied, and dozens of arrests were made.

Protests in Manhattan were "overwhelmingly peaceful," Shea said the next morning. Only 11 arrests were made in the borough, according to the district attorney's office.

But in Brooklyn, where police estimated roughly 3,000 demonstrators had gathered in protest, cops beat and pepper-sprayed protesters, and protesters chased and burned police vehicles. There remain unanswered questions as to why NYPD officers on the scene moved to pen in and disperse protesters, and the extent to which objects were thrown at police officers, which NYPD leaders said instigated the crackdown.

The next morning, on Saturday May 30, de Blasio said the city would change its approach to the protests. "We are working as we speak today to make sure that the protests in the days to come will be as peaceful as humanly possible, that there will be different protocols and approaches to ensure the right to protest is honored and that everyone can do so in a peaceful manner," he told reporters about his dissatisfaction with some of the tactics used on nonviolent marchers.

"We practice de-escalation but it is very difficult to practice de-escalation when you’re having a brick thrown at you, at your head," Shea said Saturday morning, striking a somewhat different tone from the mayor. "We have countless, and that is accurate, countless officers -- at this point still tallying how many were injured from last night -- in the emergency room as we speak."

In his sworn testimony to the Attorney General a few weeks later, Shea said that nearly 400 officers were injured during protests, of which 65 percent (meaning 260 officers) required treatment at a hospital. According to a police spokesperson, 280 officers had to be treated at a hospital and six were admitted for injuries from the protests.

"The NYPD felt like they were under attack," said Dr. Ted Hamm, the chair of Journalism and New Media at St. Joseph's College, who has over a decade of experience covering protests in New York City, including at the 2004 Repubican National Convention, which featured somewhat similar mass arrests. "It seems like they took offense, they took this personally in very direct ways. And they decided, we're going to make lives difficult for these people who want to express an opinion that we don't like."

"A lot of what we saw was emotion-based,” Titus said of the overall atmosphere in the city and beyond. “The whole country was almost in outrage at one point."

On the third night of protest -- Saturday, March 30 -- in a hastily-scheduled late-night press conference outside the city’s Office of Emergency Management in Downtown Brooklyn, as protesters were igniting cop cars in Union Square, de Blasio told the public: "If you're out there to commit an act of violence, you're going to get arrested tonight." He urged people to go home -- "You have been heard," he said. Dozens of police vehicles were burned or damaged that night as New Yorkers who weren’t in the streets watched the scenes play out on social media and television. For almost two more full days, de Blasio and Shea maintained the NYPD was capable of policing the crowds without a curfew. 

De Blasio later said he spoke with Shea ”probably 50 times...literally" that Saturday, but what policing strategies they discussed is unknown.

Sunday, May 31 - Serious Looting
Looting began in downtown Manhattan the next night, Sunday May 31, after marchers crossed the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn and were splintered by police in Chinatown and funneled into the SoHo retail district. Arrest data provided by the Manhattan District Attorney's office shows a lot of the looting targeted expensive stores, though for some the dollar amount was not the point. That night WNYC reporter George Joseph tweeted a quote from a young man who had stolen bandaids from a pharmacy: "It’s the principle. It’s people higher than you, sitting in the chair watching + saying ‘wow look what they’re doing over one person’...We never had a voice, we’re gonna make one now."

The looting fed into a largely hollow narrative of "outside agitators," which had been spreading nationwide, echoed in statements made by politicians from the mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis to President Donald Trump.

"I have been on this evening a thread, a text thread with mayors all over the country. They're all experiencing exactly the same thing," de Blasio said that night of May 31 on NY1. "But they're not from communities of color. They're often not from – not only not from the neighborhoods they're protesting in, they're not even from the city in some cases."

The mayor and NYPD have not provided evidence of a significant element of outside agitators, though they repeatedly made those claims in the initial days of protest. In Manhattan that Sunday and Monday, where some of the worst looting took place, of the 114 "live arrests" made, 14 were of people from outside the five boroughs, of which nine were from Long Island or the Hudson Valley, according to arrest data provided by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. The remaining five were from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

As the evening wore on, officers reportedly stood by as looters entered smashed stores in Lower Manhattan, though a total of 169 arrests were made in Manhattan that night. "Sunday, Monday, for thousands -- yes, I mean thousands -- of people running through the streets, looting, hitting stores, but you were there. You were making arrests, and you did a fantastic, fantastic job," said Chief of Department Terence Monahan, the highest ranking NYPD uniformed officer, in a video addressing officers and posted to Twitter for the public to see on June 12.

Monday, June 1 - The First Night of Curfew
The next afternoon  -- Monday June 1 -- Cuomo and de Blasio announced the city would be piloting an 11 p.m. curfew that evening (the mayor would later shift the curfew to 8 p.m. from June 2 through Monday, June 8, though he ended it Sunday, June 7 instead). Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Raleigh all instituted curfews the same night and at least 13 other cities had in the days before, according to a Gotham Gazette review of news reports and government announcements.

Property damage would continue the next two nights, notably in the Bronx on June 1, where 86 people were arrested on burglary and vandalism charges, according to a spokesperson for the Bronx District Attorney.

Along with the curfew, de Blasio and Cuomo announced the NYPD would double the deployment and Cuomo later said there would be 8,000 uniformed officers on duty that Monday (June 1). "The additional officers will be deployed to areas where violence and property damage occurred during last night’s protests – specifically in lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn," read a joint press release announcing the curfew.

But the additional deployments failed to prevent the damage, and the mayor and police department were admonished by Cuomo the next day. "The police in New York City were not effective at doing their job last night. Period. They have to do a better job," the governor said on June 2, offering support from state police and 13,000 National Guard who were on stand-by. Cuomo later apologized to rank-and-file cops, saying he had been calling out NYPD leadership and the mayor.

"I believe, believed there was an issue of management, and deployment of the NYPD," he said the next day.

NYPD leaders said the sheer scale and tenacity of looters made vandalism and theft difficult to prevent. "They had a lot of people out here. We had a lot. They had more," Monahan said the night of June 2 on CNN, after the second night of looting had occurred June 1, this time under the 11 p.m. curfew.

"Someone would hit it," he said referring to storefronts being broken, "and then some would go in, or they'd circle back. It was cat and mouse all day. But we made 700 arrests. There were 2,000 out here."

No one from the mayor's office or NYPD has said why police weren't better able to prevent the wide-scale looting that took place in the Bronx and Manhattan and why, as Monahan reported, they were caught outnumbered by and struggled to keep up with looters.

Tuesday, June 2 through Sunday, June 7 - The Duration of the Curfew
Looting went on through the evening of Tuesday, June 2, when the curfew had been moved from 11 p.m. to 8 p.m. That night the city also banned traffic in Manhattan south of 96th Street, which Monahan said would help police maneuver more nibbly and keep up with looters.

"With the curfew at 8 o'clock, it gives us a reason, if we have a group that's starting to cause trouble that we can stop them all, and hopefully get them all off the street," Monahan said.

Tuesday, June 2, was the last night of widespread looting. Over the next several nights the police department selectively enforced the curfew, often kettling protesters before cracking down on them with batons and zip-tie cuffs or dispersing them.

Melees between police and peaceful marchers continued through Thursday, June 4 -- a week since the first night of protests. One of the largest and most severe mass arrests took place that evening in the Bronx, after peaceful marchers were kettled and then charged in Mott Haven around the 8 p.m. curfew. The Bronx District Attorney's office said there were 332 arrests that night, many for unlawful assembly. At the same time marches in Brooklyn were allowed to go on for hours after the curfew before facing kettling and some aggressive tactics, but with relatively milder outcomes compared to the Bronx. Shea defended the arrests, saying officers were acting on intelligence that suggested violence was being planned, and that enforcement was "executed nearly flawlessly,” but questions have been raised about the cited intelligence and preemptive tactics.

Police issued a total of 1,349 summonses for violating curfew, according to a statement issued by the NYPD after the curfew was lifted. About a third of them were issued to white people, while 42 percent were to individuals identified as “black or black Hispanic” by police.

The following Sunday, June 7, de Blasio repealed the curfew, one night ahead of schedule and after two nights where no protesters were arrested. Daily demonstrations throughout the city have continued relatively peacefully since, though there have been exceptions including clashes at the “Occupy City Hall” demonstration that developed in the lead-up to the budget deal reached by the mayor and City Council on June 30.

Many Unanswered Questions
Many unanswered questions remain about the tumultuous eight-night stretch, including to what extent the police department exacerbated and quelled tensions. What orders were given to officers and when are unknown, as is how many officers the NYPD deployed throughout the most damaging nights of looting and who or what can take credit for the peace that eventually settled.

"Cutting it back to 8 p.m., that helped a little but that wasn't the main thing that slowed down the violence," Dr. Titus, the former homicide detective, said of the curfew. "I believe it just kind of ran its course, more or less."

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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As Unemployment and Crime Spike, City Plan for Disconnected Young Adults Remains Years Behind Schedule Bill de Blasio speaking street group

The mayor is behind on a plan for disconnected youth (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

A city task force meant to address the needs of out-of-school, out-of-work youth in the city, who pre-pandemic numbered at over 118,000 in New York City, has not yet released its report, over two years after it was due. Now, with over 35% of young adults in the city unemployed and gun violence increasing, advocates like Marjorie Parker of JobsFirstNYC, an advocacy group that was a driving force behind the task force, say that Mayor Bill de Blasio has no real plan for the young people who need it most.

“The mayor has had no plan for this significant group of Black and brown kids,” Parker said in an interview. “For a progressive mayor who got such support from Black and brown groups and came into office with such high expectations, his response to this particular population has been disappointing.”

The Disconnected Youth Task Force was created by City Council legislation in 2017 and championed by Council Member Mathieu Eugene, a Brooklyn Democrat who was then chair of the Council’s Youth Services Committee. The task force was meant to bring together city agencies and outsider partners to “examine the obstacles to education and employment for disconnected youth and to make recommendations regarding measures to improve outcomes for disconnected youth.”

The Disconnected Youth Task Force was formed with 20 members, including 10 city officials, eight nonprofit leaders, a CUNY representative, and a youth representative. The city officials include representatives from the Departments of Education, Homeless Services, Youth and Community Development, and Health and Mental Hygiene, as well as the Administration for Child Services, and several mayoral offices. Besides JobsFirstNYC, other nonprofits represented on the task force include the Fortune Society and the Young Men’s Initiative.

Deputy Mayor Phillip Thompson, who hosted the task force’s first meeting in February 2019, said at the time, “The de Blasio administration is implementing a comprehensive strategy that involves working more closely with industries and companies to create relationships and partnerships that help move at-risk people into long-term careers.”

Since then, the task force has rarely met, according to Parker, and blown past its deadlines. The original Council legislation set a March 2018 deadline for its initial report. More than two years later, no report has been published. Both Parker and a spokesperson for the mayor's office say a draft is circulating.

In JobsFirstNYC’s testimony before the City Council’s Youth Services Committee, at a June 23 hearing focused on youth services nonprofit contracting during the pandemic, the organization expressed its displeasure with the Council’s “lack of leadership” on the issue. JobsFirstNYC has also criticized de Blasio for not including a working group specifically focused on young adults as part of his “infrastructure of recovery” advisory councils in wake of the coronavirus pandemic. De Blasio has appointed several advisory councils, including on both labor and workforce development and education and vocational training.

According to Parker, the Disconnected Youth Task Force began circulating a draft report among its members a few days after the committee hearing, but this meager progress still comes over two years after the report was due. “There has not been a plan at the city level around how to comprehensively address this group,” Parker told Gotham Gazette. “The mayor has not paid any attention to this particular group of young people.”

A nonprofit that focuses on what it terms a crisis of disengaged and disconnected teenagers and young adults in the city, JobsFirstNYC has completed research finding that this group is concentrated in 18 neighborhoods in the city, all but one of which is predominantly populated by people of color.

Now, young adults are one of the groups in the city’s workforce hit hardest by the pandemic’s economic fallout, with City Comptroller Scott Stringer estimating that the unemployment rate for young adults was 35% in June. Parker says this costs the city “immeasurably.” In one measure, her organization has found that the city’s economy “loses almost $400,000” for each out-of-school, out-of-work young adult, given that unemployed youth aren’t able to contribute tax revenue or to the city’s economic activity.

JobsFirstNYC has advocated that New York City adopt a "single system strategy" for addressing disconnected youth, as other cities such as Los Angeles have done, where “there is no wrong point of entry for a young person into the system” and “it’s built in a way that young people cannot get lost in the system. Wherever they show up they can get reconnected to the person who was their original point of entry into the system. It’s very comprehensive and responsive.”

The organization outlined what it would like to see in a policy paper offered to guide the task force. With such a strategy, city government and nonprofit partners would share data with each other, coordinate funding strategies, enable easier access for young people to enter the system, and be more responsive to individual needs such as housing, food, mental health care, and job training. Goals include ensuring that there is no “wrong” entry point for an out-of-school, out-of-work young person to start in the system and minimal opportunities for them to fall through the cracks through greater coordination between the city and its partners.

“I don’t think this mayor has a very good understanding about how all those systems connect,” Parker told Gotham Gazette. “The Mayor has never shown any particular interest in this group,” referring to out-of-school, out-of-work young adults, and that “this group has never been a priority for him.”

“We want the city to produce a plan and put resources behind it,” she said, while emphasizing the role of nonprofits, many of whom receive funding from the city that is imperiled due to budget cuts.

Parker also says the City Council can and should do more, saying it “needs to be pressing the mayor to invest in youth workforce development starting in the fall.” While Council Member Eugene and his colleagues pushed through the legislation to create the task force, there’s been virtually no urgency from Eugene or other Council members, including current youth services committee chair Council Member Deborah Rose, to get its work to conclusion.

Rose, a Staten Island Democrat, has made the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) a major focus, and helped lead the Council effort to resuscitate it in the adopted budget passed last after a deal with the mayor, who had cut the program when presenting his executive budget earlier this year. That will provide paid work opportunities for more than 100,000 young people this summer.

But Parker noted that the city has never had a plan for what to do with its young workers once summer ends, which risks many out-of-school, out-of-work youth falling through the cracks. Furthermore, Parker does not believe a more recent mayoral effort, CareerReadyNYC, properly attends to the needs of out-of-school, out-of-work young adults. CareerReadyNYC, with the goal of preparing young New Yorkers for stable careers, focuses on young people who are already in work or school, but who are “not on pathways to upward mobility.”

De Blasio’s office says the Disconnected Youth Task Force is finally nearing completion of its report. “The final report is being reviewed by Task Force members and is expected to be released in the coming months,” according to a spokesperson for the mayor, who did not provide a more specific estimate of the report’s release.

Meanwhile, at a press conference on Monday, de Blasio addressed the recent rise in gun violence, blaming the “many issues underlying this challenge” including that “the court system is not working, the economy's not working, [and] people have been pent up for months and months.”

“[W]e have to think about all of the tools we can bring to bear here, including how we deploy our police and the approaches they take, how we focus on young people and make sure we pull them away from the influences that are negative around them,” de Blasio said. “We have a lot to do.”

Advocates like Parker worry that young adults are currently in a desperately precarious position and at risk of being left behind.

“JobsFirstNYC remains concerned that because this effort is three years behind schedule, the city lacks the necessary resources and infrastructure to respond to the crisis situation young adults are faced with in the midst of a pandemic,” according to JobsFirstNYC spokesperson Kevin Stump.

“Any forthcoming report should include how much money the city will invest and should have a clear set of goals with timelines and who is accountable as well as a way to measure progress against those goals.”

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Andrew Millman) City Tue, 07 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Can Shaun Donovan Win the 2021 Mayor's Race? Campaign Pitch Charts Path donshaun3

Shaun Donovan (photo: Shaun Donovan for NYC)

As the 2021 mayoral election begins to heat up, with rumors of more candidates jumping into an incredibly consequential race, former Obama and Bloomberg aide Shaun Donovan’s campaign is making a confident pitch to potential supporters and donors that he has a viable path to victory.

While Donovan, a Brooklyn native with a long history as a public servant but never in elected office, has not officially declared his candidacy, he’s been taking many of the essential steps toward launching a run.

If he does run, one challenge will be introducing himself to voters. Donovan led the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg for five years, from 2004 to 2009. He then served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama between 2009 and 2014, before being elevated to director of the Office of Management and Budget, which he headed for three years till the end of Obama’s tenure in early 2017. 

Donovan’s campaign had been pitching his credentials in a 29-page slideshow obtained by Gotham Gazette that analyzes the state of the race, possible turnout and the areas of the city where Donovan is likely to receive votes, and the candidate’s key credentials.

Next year, Mayor Bill de Blasio will be term-limited out of office and there are several candidates besides Donovan who have either declared or are exploring a mayoral bid. Among the active candidates are City Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, and former commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services Loree Sutton. Maya Wiley, a civil rights lawyer and former counsel to Mayor de Blasio, is also now considering a run, according to Politico New York.

The Donovan campaign isn’t shy about playing up Donovan’s association with President Obama, whose name appears six times and whose picture appears twice in the document. The “electability deck,” as it was labeled by the Donovan campaign, opens with a quote from the former president from when he nominated Donovan to become OMB director, alongside a photo of the two seated next to each other at a news conference.

“Now here’s the problem. When you’re good at your job, people always want you to do even more,” Obama said at the time. (The document makes little mention of Donovan’s work with Bloomberg, who is unlikely to be a popular figure in the 2021 Democratic mayoral primary.)

The campaign touts Donovan as “The right candidate at the right moment” and identifies the six top issues that the next mayor must urgently address: inequality, the city’s housing crisis, the budget deficit caused by the pandemic, the relationship with the federal government, education and homelessness.

“New York City Needs a Leader,” the document declares in bold letters, along a list of reasons why, including, “To pull us together, address centuries long inequities, and make fairness real, not a slogan.” That line is no doubt a dig at de Blasio, who has repeatedly said he wants to make New York the “fairest big city in America,” but has struggled on a number of policy and political fronts. 

The campaign also points to other issues where city leadership is sorely lacking. Policing needs to be reformed substantively, it states. It warns that the city’s health systems “are stretched to the breaking point” while people are out of work and businesses are shut down. Evictions, foreclosure, and homelessness are rising. It does not point to any proposed solutions that Donovan may offer if he launches a campaign.

But the document delves into headlines of Donovan’s resume and his role in the federal government overseeing the response to several crises including the housing crash, the Ebola and Zika virus outbreaks, and Hurricane Sandy. 

“Shaun’s record of progressive accomplishments is second to none,” it states, listing various policy decisions and positions. He was the first cabinet secretary ever to endorse marriage equality, it highlights. He reversed a HUD policy that prohibited ex-offenders from moving in with family members in subsidized housing. He worked with 32BJ, the prominent property service workers union, to raise wages for workers in affordable housing. And so on. 

The document, labeled "path to victory," reiterates what most political experts and consultants agree on, that the 2021 race will be a change election with voters looking to candidates who can set themselves apart from de Blasio. “After 8 years of Bill de Blasio, New Yorkers are looking for something different. They want a Mayor with vision, experience, and the ability to get us out of the crises we face and make this a city that works for everyone,” the document reads. “Shaun Donovan is that candidate.”

The document -- which is the type of literature presented to community, labor, and political leaders, among others, as relationships are cultivated -- takes stock of the competition, particularly the perceived top tier of current candidates: Adams, Stringer, and Johnson, who are all term-limited next year, though they aren’t named. The campaign notes that the three previous comptrollers ran for mayor and lost and the three previous Council speakers ran citywide and lost; it wrongly states that no borough president has ever won the mayoralty, though David Dinkins and Robert Wagner pulled off that feat (no borough president since Dinkins and no Brooklyn borough president has become mayor). It even looks at mayoral races in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Atlanta to note that perceived frontrunners rarely win the election. For instance, Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot won the mayoral election last year with 73% of the vote in a runoff, even though she placed at 7th place with just 3% of the vote in early polling. De Blasio himself was initially written off by most people who watched the early 2013 race, and received only 7% of the vote in a poll that put him at 5th. He eventually won the all-important primary with 41% of the vote. 

Donovan’s campaign emphasizes that those candidates won because they demonstrated competence, presented bold ideas and a vision for the future, while communicating to a broad electorate in the finishing stretch and running lean campaigns to save their funds for when they will need them. They also garnered effective endorsements from community groups and newspaper editorial boards. 

Each of those campaigns also had the same team that is now working for Donovan, the document explains somewhat dramatically.

Both BIll Hyers and Rick Fromberg, who ran de Blasio’s campaigns in 2013 and 2017, respectively, are on Donovan’s team. Other operatives signed on in the early phases include Amelia Adams, who was political director for former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and worked on de Blasio’s reelection; and Mike Fishman, former president of 32BJ SEIU who is the campaign co-chair. The campaign is also relying on an “exhaustive network” of experts, fundraisers and policy wonks from the Obama and Bloomberg circles. 

One major change in next year’s election will be the first-time implementation of ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, which will require candidates to make their case to a broader swathe of voters beyond their traditional bases. In a ranked-choice system, voters choose candidates by order of preference and a candidate must meet a certain threshold of first-preference votes to win. If no candidate meets that threshold in the first round, the one with the least first-preference votes is eliminated and those votes are redistributed to second-preference candidates and so on until a victor is declared.  

The Donovan campaign examined the 2013 mayoral election, the last time it was an open contest, and concluded that Donovan will have support in some key areas where turnout was high. Donovan has lived in Brownstone Brooklyn for years, and it accounted for 15% of the vote. He grew up on the east side of Manhattan, which contributed 9% of the vote. The Bronx is “wide open territory” with 12% of the vote, the campaign believes, and its where Donovan’s early career was in rebuilding housing. Other areas they will have to target include Southeast Queens (9.5% of the vote), South and East Brooklyn (9% of the vote) and Harlem (8% of the vote). 

In other communities such as the west side of Manhattan, Central Brooklyn and Flushing, Corona, Elmhurst, and western Queens, the campaign estimates that Donovan will be an appealing second or third choice for voters.

With the 2020 primaries now over (though votes are still being counted) and the next 2021 campaign finance filing deadline imminent, the mayoral race will soon pick up steam. There has been added scrutiny of the current mayor over the city’s response to multiple crises, including the coronavirus pandemic, responses to protests against racist policing, and a massive budget gap, with a new city budget passed this week, and several likely or declared candidates like Donovan have been staking out positions while plotting their next moves.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated to reflect that the campaign incorrectly stated that no borough president has been elected mayor when David Dinkins and Robert Wagner were both Manhattan Borough President and became mayor. 

Note - this article has been updated to correct the name of Chicago's Mayor. It is Lori Lightfoot, not Laurie Lightfoot. 

]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Thu, 02 Jul 2020 13:45:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Council Member Brad Lander on the New City Budget cm chairs

City Council Member Brad Lander (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)

July 1, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Council Member Brad Lander on the New City Budget

brad lander insetCity Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat and 2021 candidate for city Comptroller, joined the show to discuss the new city budget, which he had voted "no" on just hours before this discussion.

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 231: Council Member Brad Lander On The New City Budget

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Max) City Thu, 02 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Police Reformers Dissatisfied with NYPD Moves in City Budget de Blasio NYPD budget deal 2021

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

July 1, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Police Reformers Dissatisfied with NYPD Moves in City Budget

joo hyun kanginsetJoo-Hyun Kang of Communities United for Police Reform joined the show to discuss police reformers' dissatisfaction with the new city budget in terms of NYPD funding and related decisions.

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 232: A Consequential Month For The Police Reform Movement In New York

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Max) City Thu, 02 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [DATA] Point? $88.2 Billion, The Fiscal 2021 New York City Budget whats the data point

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 93 -- $88.2 billion, The Fiscal 2021 New York City Budget [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

$88.2 billion is the size of the new New York City budget adopted for Fiscal Year 2021 in a contentious, last-minute vote on June 30 into July 1. After years of economic expansion, this is the first budget Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson negotiated in a recession. CBC's Ana Champeny joined the podcast to discuss why this is just the first of many challenging fiscal decisions ahead.

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 93: $88.2 billion, with Ana Champeny

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

]]> (Ben Max) City Thu, 02 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio, City Council Agree on Contentious $88.2 Billion Crisis Budget with Focus on NYPD Shifts de blasio city

City budget announcement from 2019 (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

The New York City Council approved an $88.2 billion budget for the 2021 fiscal year shortly after midnight in one of the most divided votes for the legislative body in recent history. The new budget, which takes effect immediately for the July 1 start of the new fiscal year, is a sharp decline in expected city spending given cratering revenue brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and includes significant cuts to and funding shifts from the NYPD in response to recent mass protests against police brutality and over-policing. It passed with 32 "yes" votes and 17 "no" votes out of 50 (there is one vacant seat on the Council), with many Council members dissenting because they believed the cuts to the police department did not go far enough; yet others voted against the budget because they did not want to see any reduction in NYPD funding. 

With just hours to go before the midnight deadline, Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson had separately announced on Tuesday that they had reached an agreement on the budget. The NYPD funding issue was central to contentious negotiations between the de Blasio administration and the Council, with the final result touted by de Blasio but leaving frustrated Johnson and a number of Council members to both the speaker’s left and right. The compromise infuriated activists who criticized the budget choices and gimmicks used to get to what the mayor called a $1 billion cut that had been targeted by reformers but Johnson acknowledged had not been met in reality.

This year’s budget proved to be the toughest that de Blasio has had to navigate. After years of the city being flush with cash and the mayor and two City Council classes growing the budget by over $20 billion, the city faced a $9 billion revenue shortfall because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout. De Blasio had originally proposed a $95.3 billion spending plan in January and was forced to pare it down, while dipping $4 billion into reserves and finding about $2.7 billion from reductions to planned spending by city agencies and citywide savings.

Even as the bleak budget picture became starker and starker in March, April, and May, the city erupted into mass demonstrations after the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis. The NYPD responded with force, supported more often than not by the mayor, creating a critical mass movement to defund policing and reinvest resources in communities of color. Advocates demanded that the mayor cut the NYPD’s $5.9 billion operating budget by $1 billion, receiving support from the City Council Speaker and many members, who were already questioning in April why the mayor had left the police department untouched while slashing funds for the city’s social safety net and youth services.

De Blasio and Johnson chose to forego the traditional “budget handshake” that indicates the two sides have come to an agreement, holding separate news conferences on Tuesday to announce the deal.

Stuck in a tough spot, the mayor had hoped for federal stimulus funds that never arrived and had also sought fiscal borrowing authority from the state government, whose leaders were reluctant to grant it. Without either, he warned that the city would have to lay off as many as 22,000 employees beginning in October. He has said he will work with labor unions to find $1 billion in savings to avoid such dismissals, while continuing to seek both federal aid and state permission for borrowing, which has not been completely taken off the table.

“With all these challenges, we still found a way to get to a budget that, again, focuses on your health, your safety, putting food on your table, making sure you have a roof over your head. That's the focus,” the mayor said to New Yorkers on Tuesday from City Hall.

The changes in NYPD funding totaled about $1 billion according to de Blasio’s math – about $484 million in reduced spending (including a promised $296 million drop in overtime spending and from a reduction in NYPD headcount), and $354 million in shifts to other city agencies accompanied by $162 million in a shift of fringe benefits costs. The budget outlines an at least temporarily lowered NYPD headcount by 1,163 uniformed officers by canceling two of four cadet classes this year. There are currently about 36,000 uniformed officers. School safety and school crossing guards will be moved out from under the NYPD and restored to the Department of Education, while homeless outreach will shift to the Department of Homeless Services.

“This is a lot of redistribution, but it's still done in a way that is safe for this city,” de Blasio said, in response to reporters’ questions. “That is the balance that I said we had to strike, and we have struck this balance.”

One of de Blasio’s main priorities was to keep the officer headcount stable in order to ensure a similar level of neighborhood patrols as exist now, and he said he was pleased to report that would be the case.

Johnson, who had targeted a larger reduction in the police force, was visibly deflated when he detailed the Council’s many victories and concessions in his own news conference. “Heart-wrenching, impossible decisions needed to be made in this budget,” he said, “and this Council was determined that we would protect and preserve as many vital programs and services as we could for vulnerable New Yorkers.”

The speaker noted that the budget does not cut $1 billion in direct NYPD spending as he had wanted, but repeatedly emphasized that he had to balance the wants and needs of a diverse City Council as well as face a mayor who refused to budge very far. Many Council members had already pledged to vote against the budget if it did not achieve the $1 billion goal while others were critical of those cuts, citing an increase in crime over the last few months.

Some members, including Johnson’s budget leadership team of Council Members Danny Dromm, Vanessa Gibson, and Laurie Cumbo, defended the deal and the speaker, outlining the challenging circumstances and explaining that some members of color presented particularly nuanced views about police presence and reform.

Johnson repeatedly said that he had not struck a deal that went as far as he had wanted but took to heart that the agreed upon steps would lead to systemic reforms, particularly by transforming school safety from a punitive system to one that focuses on restorative justice. “These are real changes and I stand by what we were able to accomplish in those areas,” he said. “To everyone who is disappointed that we did not go farther, I want to be very honest and candid, I am disappointed as well.”

Both Johnson and de Blasio pointed to the importance of how school safety agents are transitioned into a changed command structure, citing the importance of new training and protocols, while activists called the move a sham that will continue to criminalize student behavior.

Johnson argued that there were many cuts in the mayor’s executive budget that should not have been proposed in the first place and cited Council victories in restoring funding for them, most notably the restoration of the program providing paid work to young people.

“These are programs that address injustice and inequity, these are programs that support the social safety net, and address systemic inequality,” he said.


As he pointed out,the Council was able to broker the restoration of funds for education and youth that the mayor had planned to cut. They include $100 million in fair student funding for schools as well as investments in school counselors, social workers, and school health programs. The budget also includes about $116 million to reinstate the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) and the COMPASS, Beacon, and Cornerstone summer camp programs, all of which were on the chopping block in the mayor’s budget proposal. SYEP had become the symbol of the mayor’s entrenchment with the police department at the expense of young people.

The mayor had also proposed eliminating the CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), which has proved particularly helpful to lower-income public college students, but the Council fought to maintain it at $34.3 million. Among the other programs were investments in food security, public libraries, culture and arts funding, small businesses, senior services, housing, criminal justice, and services for domestic violence survivors and immigrants.

During the nearly three-hour long budget vote, Council members fell into three camps – those who supported the budget despite conceding it was far from perfect, those who felt the budget did not do justice to the widespread demands to make substantial cuts to the NYPD, and those who opposed any cuts to the NYPD budget. 

Members such as Cumbo, Alicka Ampry-Samuel and Robert Cornegy, all Democrats voted for the budget, noted their disagreement with certain aspects of the "Defund the NYPD" movement, particularly the calls for a wholesale elimination of school safety agents, 80% of whom are Black women. The budget, they insisted, is a first step in a broader school safety reform conversation and includes funding for crucial services for communities of color.

"The pandemic has underscored our vulnerabilities and weaknesses and put us in a position to either drive down a hill or off a cliff," said Ampry-Samuel. She pointed out that the budget will shift more than $500 million from NYPD capital funding to youth recreation centers and public housing, will fund SYEP, and return school safety to its "rightful place" under the DOE. "Driving off a cliff would've been laying off hard working New Yorkers, gutting SYEP, overpolicing stressed out communities while waiting for federal aid that may never come to save us. But we were able to save ourselves."

"This budget is not an end to our policy making as a council, it is not a final chapter," said Cornegy. "It's not the conclusion of the important discussions we're having around policing and caring for our shared committees."

Though other members, also Democrats, commended the Council's push back against the mayor's cuts, they felt strongly that the Council had failed to appropriately address the critical mass of voices calling for cuts to the NYPD. Among them were Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer, Carlina Rivera, Antonio Reynoso and Donovan Richards, who chairs the public safety committee. 

"Sadly the most historic part of this budget is how badly it manages to meet the moment," said Van Bramer. "The people have spoken through marches and rallies and by occupying City Hall. We must listen to the people we work for." 

Richards said his vote against the budget was not only about the $1 billion cuts and cost shifts but about the culture of policing in the city. "A $1 billion budget cut can't address systematic racism that runs rampant within the NYPD," he said. "Today, we must send a clear message that it's not okay to kettle peaceful protesters, that it's not okay to place Black and brown New Yorkers in a chokehold as they gasp for air. We must send a clear message that it's not okay to shoot unarmed black men like Sean Bell and Ramallah Graham. Tonight, we must send a clear message that no one is above the law, not even the NYPD."

The three Republicans on the Council and certain moderate Democrats such as Bob Holden and Ruben Diaz Sr. expressed their support for the NYPD as they voted against the budget. "Friends, you're witnessing a moment where we are democratically electing to make the city of New York less safe, and I won't be a passive participant as we undo three decades of good work by our predecessors," said Council Member Joe Borelli, a Staten Island Republican, citing a recent uptick in shootings. 

In explaining his vote, Council Member Holden, a Queens Democrat, said, "The political class of this city continues to disregard the people they serve. They continue to push policies that make the city and the constituents they are supposed to protect less safe."

Earlier in the day, dissatisfied with the developing compromise between the Council and the mayor, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams threatened at the last minute to use his charter authority “to prevent the budget from being executed during the final tax warrant process.” In a remote news conference on Tuesday morning, he pushed for a full hiring freeze at the police department and a solid commitment to a better school safety system.

Freddi Goldstein, a de Blasio spokesperson, said in response, “The NYPD budget is being cut by a historic $1 billion while maintaining safety on our streets. We’ve reached a fair deal that prioritizes our youth and communities most in need. That’s what New Yorkers need as they attempt to rebuild from a global pandemic that made our city the epicenter. The budget is effective as soon as Council passes it and is certified only by the mayor, comptroller, and city clerk.”

Williams may be able to hold up some tax revenue, but is likely to be challenged in court if he does attempt to do so.

In a statement after the budget passed, Williams expressed his disapproval. "In a moment when New Yorkers, with the entire nation, are demanding a reimagining of public safety, a reckoning with systemic injustices and inequities, the city falls far short with a budget that misses the moment of need," he said. The budget, he added, "perpetuates the idea that the NYPD is sacrosanct and the solution is always more police, and that we must accept this. This budget reiterates that message in a failure to commit on paper to a just transition for school safety. It is one that I cannot support and will not sign off on."

Comptroller Scott Stringer also criticized the mayor and City Council in a statement calling the supposed $1 billion cut a “bait and switch and a paper-thin excuse for reform.” “Meaningful change in this moment won’t come by shifting police from one agency to another, and budget tricks won’t bring an end to the status quo. The movement in the streets won’t be suppressed by manipulated math,” he said.

Andrew Rein, president of Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog, said in a statement, “New York City leaders may be breathing a sigh of relief for meeting the budget deadline after particularly arduous negotiations, but the fiscal crisis is far from over.” He said the budget is “precariously balanced” and does not address major budget gaps in the future. “New York City’s leaders did not make sufficient hard choices needed to put the City on a firmer fiscal foundation for the long term.”

The Council members who voted "yes" include Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Daniel Dromm, Vanessa Gibson, Adrienne Adams, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Diana Ayala, Justin Brannan, Fernando Cabrera, Andrew Cohen, Margaret Chin, Robert Cornegy, Mathieu Eugene, Barry Grodenchik, Andy King, Peter Koo, Karen Koslowitz, Rory Lancman, Stephen Levin, Mark Levine, Farah Louis, Alan Maisel, I. Daneek Miller, Francisco Moya, Bill Perkins, Keith Powers, Ydanis Rodriguez, Debi Rose, Rafael Salamanca Jr., Ritchie Torres, Mark Treyger and Peter Vallone.

The Council members who voted "no" include Inez Barron, Joe Borelli, Steven Matteo, Chaim Deutsch, Ruben Diaz Sr., Mark Gjonaj, Bob Holden, Ben Kallos, Brad Lander, Carlos Menchaca, Donovan Richards, Antonio Reynoso, Carlina Rivera, Helen Rosenthal, Eric Ulrich, Jimmy Van Bramer and Kalman Yeger.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated.

]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Wed, 01 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Police Commissioner Repeatedly Contradicts Mayor on NYPD Reform ceremonial for police

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea had strong words Tuesday about the City Council's recently-passed bill banning police chokeholds, which he said went much further than the state's new ban and ignored input from law enforcement.

Despite Mayor Bill de Blasio having expressed support for the bill, Shea called it "incredibly reckless" in a videoconference with interfaith leaders, hosted by the New York Board of Rabbis. The comments are the latest example of Shea and other NYPD leaders publicly breaking with their boss, the mayor, over major police reforms that have cascaded out of City Hall and Albany in the weeks since protests against police brutality and racism began.

The legislation passed the City Council on June 18, as part of a package of NYPD reforms pushed through in the wake of George Floyd's killing by Minneapolis police and the national unrest that followed. Just before the Council passed the bill de Blasio indicated he would sign it, saying he had consulted with Shea, and the mayor has scheduled a required public hearing on the bill for July 7.

"I've worked on this closely in the last few days and been in constant touch with our police commissioner and I'm now convinced this is the right legislation to move forward with and I will sign it," de Blasio told reporters hours before the Council voted through the bill.

But in the video conference Tuesday, Shea told religious leaders, "Now you have a law passed by this City Council that I think is incredibly reckless. And I'm speaking about -- again I'm going to have my opinion -- I'm speaking about the chokehold ban that was passed in the City Council."

The problem with the bill he said, is that, unlike the state chokehold prohibition, which Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law in mid-June, the Council's bill not only makes it a misdemeanor for a police officer to compress an individual's windpipe, it also outlaws "sitting, kneeling, or standing on the chest or back in a manner that compresses the diaphragm."

"The diaphragm opens up the front stomach area or above the stomach, the back of somebody," Shea said. The bill says, "during the arrest you should not sit -- I agree with that -- stand -- I agree with that -- or kneel -- and that's where we have a problem."

"When you look at the police officers now, and again I'm being honest," Shea continued, "they are going to make a mental calculation: ‘am I making the arrest here, what am I doing, do I engage here, am I going to be supported, and what if it goes wrong am I going to be arrested?’"

He said the breadth of the prohibition could make even small or accidental pressure on a person's stomach or back -- what he said is a frequent occurrence in "fluid" arrests -- a criminal offense.

Police chokeholds have particular resonance in New York City, where Eric Garner was killed in one by Daniel Pantaleo during a 2014 arrest, despite being banned in NYPD rules since the 1990s. While the state law makes police using a chokehold a criminal offense, a statement from the City Council said it did not go far enough because it only applied to cases that lead to serious injury or death. The Council legislation also expands the prohibition to include kneeling on a person, as Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department did to kill George Floyd. Both men, before dying, uttered the words "I can't breathe," a phrase that has helped give voice to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Today the Council does what the NYPD has failed to do: police the police by making it an actual crime for a cop to put someone in a chokehold or to sit, kneel, or stand on them so they can't breathe," wrote Council Member Rory Lancman, a Queens Democrat and the bill's sponsor, in a statement when it passed. Lancman introduced the bill shortly after Garner’s 2014 death.

The same day the city legislation passed, the Council also passed a resolution in support of related legislation in Congress called the “Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2019”, sponsored by Brooklyn and Queens Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, which would make police chokeholds a civil rights violation. That bill only deals with pressure to the throat.

Commissioner Shea said part of the problem was the bill-making process. On the state law, sponsored by State Senator Brian Benjamin, a Manhattan Democrat, NYPD representatives had consulted on the bill and were comfortable with the outcome, Shea said. But the police department was not as successful with the diaphragm provision in the Council bill, which he said was added in a later draft.

"We worked strenuously behind the scenes, and said we would support that law but just take out that piece of it and it fell on deaf ears," he told the religious leaders, who included Rev. Dr. A.R. Bernard of Christian Cultural Center, Rev. Dr. Que English of Bronx Christian Fellowship Church, and Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of the New York Board of Rabbis.

"There were requested changes, those changes were not taken, and we're proud of the bill that we’re voting on today," Council Speaker Corey Johnson told reporters before the bill passed.

The bill has been in the City Council for years but the body had not moved it and de Blasio had not previously supported it, citing concerns that it doesn't protect officers in life or death situations.

"Looking back, I now see that, honestly, the information I had at the time, I don't think was the whole truth," he told reporters the day after it passed. "I now believe, based on consultation with some additional lawyers, that there are those protections embodied in state law.

This is not the first time NYPD officials have publicly opposed one of the reforms recently embraced by the mayor.

Another piece of the police reform package passed by the Council in mid-June was the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, which would require the NYPD to publish information on the types of surveillance equipment it uses and the rules governing its uses. Proponents say more transparency is needed to ensure New Yorkers' civil liberties are protected. De Blasio has long opposed it because of counterterrorism, undercover, and public safety considerations. But in June, after almost three weeks of demonstrations for broad changes to policing, his tune changed.

"I am convinced that the wording of the act is appropriate, is balanced, so I'm comfortable supporting it," he said at a news conference the day before it passed.

But the following day, in response to a Gotham Gazette inquiry, a police spokesperson wrote: "The NYPD cannot support a law that seems to be designed to help criminals and terrorists thwart efforts to stop them and endanger brave officers."

That afternoon the NYPD's Guardian Association President Felicia Richards and Hispanic Society President Larry Fuchs, wrote an op-ed in the Daily News saying the legislation should have a provision exempting technology used by undercover agents and informants if that disclosure would jeopardize their life. The NYPD promoted the piece on social media.

On Tuesday morning, Shea went against the administration's position on another matter, this time on the controversial subject of defunding the NYPD, which has taken center stage amid claims of over-policing in Black and Latino communities. On Monday, de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson reached a tentative agreement to cut the police department's budget by hundreds of millions of dollars. The deal includes reducing the NYPD headcount by about 1,160 officers, reductions to planned overtime spending, and shifts of personnel from the police department to the education department and other agencies. De Blasio also announced plans to shift hundreds of millions in capital funds from the NYPD to youth and public housing projects.

"I am excited to say that we have a plan that can achieve real reform, that can achieve real redistribution, and at the same time ensure that we keep our city safe," de Blasio said Monday.

The plan balances the call to reform while "mak[ing] sure that our officers are on patrol where we need them around this city," he said.

But on PIX 11 the next morning, shortly before his conversation with faith leaders, Shea said, "Cutting overtime, cutting head strength at a time of rising crime is going to be an extreme challenge for the men and women of this department." (Gun violence and burglaries have increased this month, according to police reports.)

"It's going to impact our patrol strength, it's going to impact our training, and the sad part is," he said, "it's probably going to impact people of color more than anybody else."

"It's well-documented where most of the violent crime occurs and where most of our resources are as we try to police this city," he added.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ethan Geringer-Sameth) City Wed, 01 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
As Council Negotiations Continue, De Blasio Promises $1 Billion Cut to NYPD Operating Budget, Plus $500 Million in Capital Shifts cojo del

The Mayor and Speaker at an NYPD press conference (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


As pressure mounted on the city to drastically reduce spending on policing in the budget that is due before Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council reached a tentative agreement on Monday to cut $1 billion from the NYPD and to reinvest funds in youth and social services. Nearly half the reduction, however, involves shfiting spending on school safety to the Department of Education rather than actual cuts. 

The agreement would reduce the NYPD's uniformed headcount by canceling an incoming class of 1,163 cadets. It also includes about $350 million in cuts to overtime spending and various other cuts to traffic enforcement, vehicle purchases, contracts, and more. All those cuts total about $512 million. Shifting school safety and school crossing guards out of the NYPD's purview together account for $483 million in the $1 billion deal.


On Monday morning, de Blasio announced that he proposed a plan to the City Council that would reduce the NYPD’s annual operating budget by $1 billion while also shifting another $500 million in capital spending from the police department to other agencies.

A document obtained by Gotham Gazette showed that reduction would mostly be achieved by moving school safety out of the NYPD’s purview and will not be accompanied by a significant reduction in the department’s headcount. As the mayor stressed Monday, all plans and details remain tentative given that de Blasio and the City Council continue to negotiate the full terms of the new city budget. Council Speaker Corey Johnson has not indicated that he and de Blasio are in agreement on what de Blasio announced, and the document obtained by Gotham Gazette shows the two sides’ different proposals for NYPD budget shifts.

The push to “Defund the NYPD” has emerged as the central point of tension in this year’s budget negotiations. It is being led by activists protesting both police brutality after the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd last month and the NYPD’s harsh crackdown against protesters in the wake of Floyd’s death, as well as the long history of racially disparate treatment by extremely well-resourced police departments.

Activists have called for cutting $1 billion from the police department’s $5.9 billion operating budget, a call that has been supported by the City Council and prominent elected officials including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Comptroller Scott Stringer proposed a four-year plan to reduce NYPD spending by $1.1 billion.

The Council proposed a $1 billion cut through various means – shifting responsibilities from the NYPD to other agencies, reducing the 36,000-officer headcount through attrition, and cutting overtime spending.

De Blasio, on Monday, said his administration presented a plan to the Council over the weekend that would “achieve a billion dollars in savings for the NYPD and shift resources to young people, to communities, in a way that would help address a lot of the underlying issues that we know are the cause of so many problems in our society.” 

“I am excited to say that we have a plan that can achieve real reform that can achieve real redistribution, and at the same time, ensure that we keep our city safe,” he said. He promised that an additional half-billion dollars would be taken out of the capital budget for the police and used to build youth recreation centers and to invest in public housing at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). 

In April the mayor proposed an $89.3 billion budget for the next fiscal year, which includes about $5.9 billion in direct operational funds for the NYPD. However, the city spends closer to $11.5 billion in police-related costs in a year. Fringe benefits and pension contributions add another $5 billion to spending. Hundreds of millions are also spent through the capital budget – on police infrastructure – and to pay down debt incurred from those projects, an annual expense attributed to debt service not the police department. There is just over $400 million in NYPD capital spending planned for next fiscal year and just over $200 million in debt service expense spending budgeted.

[‘Defund the NYPD’? What’s Really in the New York City Police Department Budget]

The Council had been pushing for cuts to the NYPD even before the recent protests, noting that when the mayor cut his initial proposed budget (which was $95.3 billion in January) because of the economic fallout from the pandemic, the police department was largely untouched.  

A spreadsheet obtained from a Council source shows a gulf between how the Council and mayor have intended on achieving the $1 billion reduction.

The Council proposed cutting $747 million from the department’s expense budget and another $329 million in accompanying fringe costs, for a total of $1.076 billion. In the Council proposal reviewed by Gotham Gazette, the capital budget was not addressed.

The operating shift proposed included moving school safety and school crossing guards out of the NYPD, which would cut $374 million in direct funds and $159 million in fringe spending, for a total of $533 million reduction from the NYPD. It’s not clear if these expenses would simply be made up for at the amount under other agencies.

Reducing the uniformed headcount and lowering the “budgeted peak headcount” under the Council plan would together save another $176 million in operational funds and $169 million in fringe benefits, totalling $345 million. Savings in overtime (cutting spending, capping uniformed overtime and savings cancelled events) would amount to $140 million. The Council also proposed canceling an incoming cadet class, and cutting spending on contracts, vehicles and other miscellaneous expenses. 

The mayor’s proposal falls short of those demands in certain areas while proposing other changes that the Council did not put forward. He proposed $533 million in expense cuts, saving $177 million in fringe costs for a total of $731 million. It’s unclear how the mayor’s proposal will reach the $1 billion mark he announced Monday. 

The mayor’s school safety and crossing guard cuts total $506 million -- and the document also does not indicate if these costs are simply recreated under other departments. As he’s made clear a number of times, de Blasio is less willing to cut the department’s headcount, only proposing a $55 million cut, which will save another $26 million in fringe benefits, for a total of $81 million. His proposal would not reduce the peak budgeted headcount. And he proposed $50 million in overtime cuts (overtime spending routinely outpaces what is budgeted; the NYPD has spent as much as $728 million on overtime in the 2019 fiscal year after budgeting $600 million) and $13 million in cuts to contracts and other expenses. 

He did propose $76 million in savings through other measures the Council did not consider, including $14 million in reducing school safety overtime, a $42 million reduction in traffic enforcement revenue, and $5 million each from a delay in purchasing vehicles, cuts to traffic enforcement, a hiring freeze for certain civilian positions, and from shifting homeless engagement to the Department of Homeless Services.

The mayor also proposed a $516 million shift in capital funds originally intended for a property clerk facility and the new 116th precinct in southeast Queens. 

Reactions have been predictably split. Several Council Members, including Republican Joe Borelli and conservative Democrats Bob Holden and Ruben Diaz Sr., have criticized the move to cut the NYPD’s budget, particularly noting that crime has been increasing in the last few months. 

Meanwhile, police reform advocates and some elected officials have largely been dissatisfied with what the mayor and Council have proposed so far as too little, warning that they are playing three-card monte with NYPD funds without addressing their core demands. 

“Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson are using funny math and budget tricks to try to mislead New Yorkers into thinking that they plan to meet the movement's demands for at least $1 billion in direct cuts to the NYPD's almost $6B FY21 expense budget and reinvestments of over $1 billion to communities,” said Anthonine Pierre, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, an advocacy coalition, in a statement on Monday. “This is a lie and the movement isn't falling for de Blasio and Johnson's budget tricks that are protecting and giving special treatment to the NYPD, refusing to even institute a full hiring freeze on NYPD uniformed officers - all while continuing to decimate the social safety net, threaten future layoffs that are not police, cutting non-police hate violence prevention initiatives, and refusing to take care of elders, youth, Black and other communities of color most devastated by the pandemic and ongoing police violence.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated. 

]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Tue, 30 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
4 Things to Watch as Mayor and City Council Finalize New Budget city budget negotiations council de blasio johnson

The Mayor and City Council discuss the budget (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

New York City’s next fiscal year begins Wednesday, July 1, and there is no clear picture of the city’s fiscal future. The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has been catastrophic for the city’s economy, gutting revenue streams and necessitating major cuts in planned city government spending, along with tapping into billions of dollars in reserves.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council are engaged in intense negotiations as they seek to fill a large budget gap and try to prevent significant cuts to services and avoid mass layoffs while coming to a budget agreement by Tuesday night.

In his Executive Budget plan released in April, de Blasio had cut proposed spending by $6 billion from his January, pre-pandemic Preliminary Budget, from $95.3 billion to $89.3 billion. This was done through $2.7 billion in savings, largely reductions in planned city agency spending, and drawing $4 billion from reserves to attempt to minimize the city’s budget gap. But as tax revenue has continued to plummet that gap has continued to grow and the administration still has to find another $1 billion to balance the budget.

Yet the City Council was not in agreement with de Blasio’s Executive Budget and the two sides have had different priorities heading into final budget negotiations, most notably the goal set by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and dozens of the Council’s 51 members to slash the police department’s $5.9 billion operating budget by $1 billion.

Meanwhile, hanging over the city budget picture have been two possible ways to close the immense gap that are out of the control of the mayor and Council: a federal “bailout,” which looks virtually impossible before the June 30 city deadline (thanks to Republicans in Washington), and permission from the state for the city to borrow billions of dollars to cover operating expenses, which appears unlikely to be granted in the next few days (thanks to Democrats in Albany).

Here are four things to watch in the city budget:

How will the city balance the budget?
Mayor de Blasio said at a press briefing on Friday that the city could have to lay off as many as 22,000 employees by October 1 if it cannot fill the $1 billion gap that remains.

Along with persistently but unsuccessfully lobbying for federal funds, de Blasio has been pushing the state Legislature to allow the city to borrow funds to cover those operational costs, a move that was prohibited after the practice in part pushed the city to the brink when it faced insolvency in the 1970s and the state came to the rescue. The resulting legislation after that fiscal crisis created an oversight body, the state Financial Control Board (FCB), and required that the city only spend as much revenue as it has on hand. 

The mayor said his borrowing plan has been amended and instead of seeking authorization to borrow $7 billion, the city will ask for $5 billion over two years. “We hope to borrow none, if we actually got the kind of federal stimulus support we deserve,” he said. “Maybe that will come, but we need the fallback of borrowing.” He said the process would be closely monitored by the FCB.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature have been reluctant to approve any operational borrowing by the city but have yet to give definitive answers on the mayor’s latest proposal.

“Borrowing for operating expenses is a risky proposition, and it has to be done with caution, if at all,” Cuomo said at a press briefing on Thursday. “Because now you’re really rolling the dice on future revenues. We went through this situation in the ′70s, where New York City was basically bankrupt and the state had to step in.”

“If there is a plan, we will review it,” said Caitlin Girouard, a Cuomo spokesperson, in an email on Friday. “That said, the existing financial control board is in the best position to review any plans for New York City to issue long-term debt to pay for current operating costs.”

On Saturday, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrat, issued a statement indicating the Senate Democratic Conference is not there yet on supporting borrowing by the city.

“New York City is the economic engine for our nation and our state, and so it is a priority for the Senate that it remains economically strong and viable,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Prudence requires the development of a plan not rushed through before action is actually necessary, especially when the possibility of additional federal aid remains unresolved. Mayor de Blasio has made it clear we have several months before drastic measures like layoffs would occur and other city leaders have sent mixed signals about the wisdom and efficacy of the current request. The Senate will work with our partners in Government including the Mayor, the City Comptroller, the City Council, the Assembly, and the Governor to help New York City. We are open to approving limited loan authorization but more work needs to be done to develop a consensus around a sound approach.”

In response, mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “Waiting to see what will come from Washington has never been a viable option. It wasn't during the crisis, and it’s not in its aftermath. We need money to restart our city, keep New Yorkers working, and deliver the services they need most as they rebuild their lives. Now is the time to act. We’re disappointed the State Senate doesn’t see that.”

A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, said the Assembly will review any proposals.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson came out against the proposal to borrow $7 billion in May, instead pushing the administration to cut between 5 and 7% of city agency budgets. At the time, he said borrowing should be a “last resort” for the city. But at the Thursday briefing, Johnson said he wasn’t outright against it and that it may be required if federal stimulus funds aren’t delivered. “I am open to a responsible borrowing plan if we are at the same time focusing on meaningful cuts to city agencies without jeopardizing our social safety net,” he said. “We can’t just borrow to avoid looking hard at our budget and net agency spending. There are long-term implications to borrowing and if we do it, it must be done carefully and we can’t do it to supplement the entire city budget.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has supported a long-term borrowing plan, insisting that cuts to services and layoffs would affect the very communities that have already borne the disproportionate brunt of the pandemic.

Comptroller Scott Stringer has cautioned against the burden that borrowing could place on the city, estimating that a $7 billion debt would need $11 billion in repayments over 20 years or $12.5 billion over 30 years. “While it's too soon to rule out any specific budget action, New Yorkers should know that under the Mayor’s proposal our children could be paying over $500 million a year for the next 20 years. I urge extreme caution,” he said in at the start of the month.  

The four Democratic candidates running for Comptroller in 2021 have taken somewhat divergent views. Council Member Helen Rosenthal has called for borrowing. Council Member Brad Lander, State Senator Brian Benjamin and Assemblymember David Weprin, however, have warned against it.

[2021 Comptroller Candidates Offer Different Ideas for Addressing City's Fiscal Woes]

De Blasio is urging labor unions to help find enough savings in labor contracts to help the city avoid the layoffs. “The layoffs would not begin until October 1, so, there's time to find the resources,” he said Friday on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show. “But if I don't have borrowing and I don't have stimulus, I'm just out of options. We would still say to labor, help us find a different kind of savings, and we wouldn't do layoffs. But we need them to come to the table and work with us.”

Citizens Budget Commission, a fiscal watchdog group, has recommended several “hard choices with difficult consequences” that the city could undertake to find almost $1.7 billion for the next fiscal year and reduce gaps down the line without layoffs or borrowing. It recommends cutting spending by $1.6 billion through improved efficiencies, renegotiating labor contracts, and cutting 9,000 employees from the 340,000-strong full-time workforce through attrition. They also called for a two-year property tax increase of 2%, selling city assets and freeing up another $750 million from the $1 billion general reserve fund.

“If the City’s leaders are willing to make the right and reasonable hard choices, they can balance the budget without asking future generations to pay for today’s bills or resorting to layoffs,” said CBC President Andrew Rein, in a statement.

Cuts to the NYPD
One of the major sticking points between the Council and the mayor is the push to cut $1 billion from the NYPD’s nearly $6 billion budget (which doesn’t include billions in other annual NYPD-related expenses) and to fund youth and social services that otherwise face cuts under the mayor’s proposal. The Council has been pushing for that reallocation for weeks but pressure has only increased after the recent protests of police brutality and racism as activists have taken up a call to “Defund the NYPD” and have even camped out next to City Hall for days to press their demands.

The Council proposed cutting the $1 billion by taking certain responsibilities from the police department, including shifting school safety, which cost $327 million this year, to the Department of Education, cutting the department’s headcount through attrition and a hiring freeze, and limiting overtime costs.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a news conference on Thursday that the mayor’s executive budget proposal “is not a budget that the Council accepts, not a budget that would get the votes to pass,” citing cuts to education and the city’s social safety net while the NYPD emerged relatively unscathed. “This moment in our country and in our city calls for appropriately cutting funding for police and making sure that we are making structural changes to policing, re-envisioning what public safety looks like, and investing that money into communities of color and vulnerable communities. What was outlined in the executive budget doesn't do that.”

Though de Blasio has agreed to shift some funding away from the police department and said he is finding some agreement with the Council, he had said the $1 billion demand is too large. “We don't have a final dollar figure, but we're going to do something very, very substantial,” he said Friday on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “We'll know more in the next few days. Yes, money will come out of the NYPD. Yes, money will go to youth programs.”

The mayor has also pushed back and is reportedly considering cutting the Council’s discretionary funding, according to the New York Daily News.

But on Monday de Blasio announced that he had put forward a plan to shift $1 billion in NYPD operating budget funds away from the department and another $500 million in capital dollars. While a deal with the City Council has not been reached, the two sides appear closer to an agreement on "defunding" the NYPD by the $1 billion, though some advocates and elected officials say that too much of the cut is really just moving functions and employees from the police department to other city agencies, like school safety to the Department of Education. The details of the proposals put forth by the mayor and the Council show some overlap, but also some key distinctions, especially when it comes to NYPD headcount.

Comptroller Scott Stringer has pushed for a $1.1 billion reduction to the NYPD over four years, achieved through a reduced headcount by attrition, cutting overtime, and other miscellaneous costs. 

Summer Youth Employment and Other Programs
The City Council took particular issue with the mayor’s executive budget proposal, noting that it only reduced the NYPD budget by less than 1% while slashing the budget of the Department of Youth and Community Development by 32%. That cut meant that the city was zeroing out the $124-million Summer Youth Employment Program, which provides summer jobs to young people between the ages of 14 and 24. The city allocated funds for 75,000 jobs last year, many of which went to youth from low-income communities of color.

Though after major blowback de Blasio promised an alternative plan, details have yet to be released. De Blasio recently said the program will take shape soon, albeit late this year, and include a mix of outdoor and virtual opportunities.

[Amid Blowback Over Planned Suspension, De Blasio Administration Explores Alternative Summer Youth Employment Program]

Summer youth employment is one of many relatively smaller budget items, whether full or partial, that have been on the chopping block as de Blasio has sought to close the budget gap. But those very programs are often ones that Council members don't want to see cut, so the end result of how agency spending is trimmed will be full of details of great interest to many stakeholders inside and especially outside of government, including, for example, the many nonprofits that the city contracts with to perform vital services as well as CUNY, the city's public university system, and more.

Also in this larger category are city funding for individual schools, which supports not only teachers' salaries but guidance counselors, nurses, and more.

Capital Budget
The mayor’s executive budget also made major changes to the four-year, $67.2 billion capital plan, which funds long-term infrastructure investments around the city, from building and repairing schools to the city’s vehicle fleet and much more. Most capital projects were delayed to future years, when de Blasio will no longer be in office.

The capital budget is funded through long-term borrowing, but billions of dollars in debt service is paid each year through the city operating budget, so de Blasio’s plan is aimed at reducing some of those annual costs in the near-term.

Notably, the mayor cut significantly from planned upcoming investments in affordable housing, new schools, and the plan to build four new borough-based jail facilities to replace the Rikers Island jail complex which is slated for closure.

[Jails, Affordable Housing and Other Capital Projects Delayed as City Grapples with Cash Crunch]

Budget watchdogs have emphasized that the city should continue funding routine maintenance and repair work, which are essential to the city’s quality of life and its eventual recovery. Others like City Council Member Brad Lander have urged the mayor to invest more funds in capital projects as a means to not only ensure the long term prosperity of the city but to also put New Yorkers back to work at a time of record unemployment.

Citizens Budget Commission, however, recommends reducing the five-year capital plan by a total of $6.7 billion – $2.4 billion in planned school construction and $4.3 billion in other expansion projects.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated with news of de Blasio's Monday announcement about NYPD funding.

]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Mon, 29 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Board of Elections Misses Deadline for Planning Ranked-Choice Voting Implementation voting in new york city ballot RCV story

Ranked-choice voting is coming soon (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

The New York City Board of Elections missed a City Charter-mandated June 1 deadline to issue a report on how it will implement the new voter-approved ranked-choice voting system in 2021, advocates and elected officials said Friday.

At a press conference hosted by good government group Common Cause New York, Comptroller Scott Stringer and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said the report is essential to adequately prepare for the new voting format next year and called on the Board of Elections (BOE) to release it immediately.

Ranked-choice voting, which will only apply to party primary and special elections for city government positions, allows voters to select multiple names on the ballot in order of preference rather than voting for a single candidate. If no candidate initially receives more than 50% of the vote, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated and their ballots redistributed based on their voters’ second choices, and so on until one candidate has a majority.

Voters approved the measure in a referendum last November. It takes effect for elections beginning in 2021 and requires the BOE to submit a report to the Mayor and City Council Speaker "containing a plan for achieving timely implementation of ranked choice voting" by June 1 of this year.

Supporters of the reform say it will force candidates to try to appeal to a wider political base and eliminate the need for expensive run-off elections, which tend to have minimal turn out. But successful implementation will be challenging and significant voter education will be necessary, advocates and elected officials have repeatedly pointed out.

"The deadline is crucial in order to make sure that the Board can purchase the necessary upgrades to the existing voting machines for ranked-choice voting," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York.

New York City began using ballot-on-demand printers and electronic poll books on a large-scale as part of rolling out early voting last year. The technology purchased by city elections administrators is supposed to be compatible with a ranked-choice format but, along with optical ballot scanners, requires software upgrades that must be certified with the state elections board before 2021 elections.

That certification process usually takes around six months, Lerner said, and the first city elections of 2021 could be special elections early in the year, followed by the regularly-scheduled June primaries for dozens of seats across city government.

A spokesperson for the City Council confirmed it has not received a report. "The Council will not tolerate delayed implementation of ranked choice voting and we demand the BOE meet the deadlines every step of the way in this process," the spokesperson wrote in an email. The mayor's office did not respond to inquiries about the report.

Under the New York City Charter, if the board fails to submit the implementation report within 30 days of the deadline it will "create a rebuttable presumption that such board is declining to implement ranked choice voting as required by this section."

"Once again the barrier to democracy is our own board of elections because they dropped the ball again," said Stringer, who is running for mayor in 2021. "Someone should just get that report done now, so we don't have problems later on."

Next year will be the busiest city election cycle in at least eight years, with mayor, comptroller, four borough presidents, and dozens of City Council seats “open” due to term limits (meaning no incumbent is running). The public advocate, Queens borough president, and about 16 other Council seats are also up for election, though with incumbents likely running, and the city's Campaign Finance Board estimates roughly 500 candidates total will be seeking office in 2021.

There could be special elections called as early as March, depending on the outcome of ongoing 2020 races for Queens Borough President and Congressional District 15 in the Bronx, where current City Council members are frontrunners. A special election is called when an elected office is vacated mid-term.

Common Cause, along with Reinvent Albany, League of Women Voters of New York City, and Citizens Union, sent a letter Friday to BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan and his deputy, Dawn Sandow, urging them to release a report. "We acknowledge the additional burden of operating in this new environment, but as we've seen the NYC BOE adapt to the COVID crisis, we remain confident the Board is up to the task," the letter reads.

The BOE is frequently criticized for administrative blunders that lead to arduous experiences at the polls and in some cases disenfranchise voters. The risk increases when administrators are rolling out new and untried elements. An extreme example has been this month’s primaries, where pandemic-induced changes to the rules governing absentee voting meant an unprecedented number of voters sought the option. There have been widespread reports that many voters did not receive their ballots in the mail in time to cast them, as well as poll-site operation issues of the more perennial variety.

"There is no time to waste. We got to make sure that our candidates know the rules and that our voters are educated," Stringer said, noting that effort must begin with the implementation report.

"I know that we are in the middle of a cascade of crises," said Brewer, including the coronavirus pandemic, protests for racial justice, and a major economic downturn. "But equally important is voting and voting the way voters want to vote." The referendum establishing the new voting system was approved with nearly 75 percent of the vote but in an "off-year" election with relatively low turnout.

"I have to say to me it's frightening because what it says is, 'we are not ready,'" she said.

The BOE did not respond to requests for comment.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

]]> (Ethan Geringer-Sameth) City Sat, 27 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Teen Activists Pledge Protests If Mayor Doesn't Soon Announce Summer Youth Employment Program 3 activists pledge

Mayor de Blasio makes a summer youth employment announcement (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Teens Take Charge, a youth advocacy group, held a town hall Tuesday where its members demanded Mayor Bill de Blasio announce his decision regarding the Summer Youth Employment Program by Friday, June 26, or they will take to the streets to protest. 

“We’ve been screaming this message at the mayor for the past two-plus months,” said Kai-Lin Kwek-Rupp, one of the hosts of the town hall and leaders of Teens Take Charge, about the importance of SYEP and a clear plan from the mayor. “We need to make sure that we have constant pressure up until June 26, the last day of school, so that we really do get a commitment from him, and providers can start planning SYEP, and participants can start planning their summers.”

Amid the coronavirus shutdown and severe budget crunch, the mayor announced in April the cancellation of SYEP, which last summer offered 75,000 summer job placements at partner organizations for young adults across the city. City Department of Youth and Community Development Commissioner Bill Chong wrote a letter to nonprofits citing the uncertainty of COVID-19 as the main reason for the cancellation, while the mayor also cited the city’s cratering tax revenue based on mandated economic closures.

Since the mayor’s announcement, advocacy groups like Teens Take Charge and a variety of elected officials and others have criticized the decision and organized to reinstate SYEP for this summer. Teens Take Charge has held forums, including one with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, written op-eds, interviewed with various media outlets, and pushed their supporters on social media to demand funding for SYEP. Along with the public advocate, more than half the City Council and over 100 SYEP providers have supported their cause, according to Teens Take Charge’s online tracker.

The significant blowback de Blasio received plus the eventually improving public health crisis led the mayor to say he was reconsidering SYEP and that his administration was in discussions about how to have a version of it in the age of social distancing and with many offices still mostly using a work-from-home model. 

“This is a particularly important initiative to people all over the city. The City Council has raised important ideas, proposals, ways of addressing how we revitalize the Summer Youth Employment Program in the context of this pandemic,” said de Blasio during a June 11 press conference. “That is an ongoing conversation with the City Council. That will be part of our budget decision making with the City Council over the next two weeks or so.”

With many arguing that some version of SYEP could take place and de Blasio saying it might be possible, Teens Take Charge also developed a proposal with HERE to HERE, ExpandED Schools, and dozens of SYEP providers on how to conduct a remote youth employment program. Their initiative, which they named the Youth Empowerment Summer, or YES, would combine public and private funding to provide 40,000 digital internships, with stipends ranging from $700 to $1,000, according to the proposal. They are looking to raise a total of almost $2.9 million in private investments and secure a little less than $50 million from the city in SYEP funding. The city projected to save about $124 million from cancelling SYEP, according to the executive budget de Blasio released in April.

With the Black Lives Matter movement’s resurgence, members of the City Council and Public Advocate Williams have called to move $1 billion from the police department’s $6 billion annual budget to youth and social services in the new city budget. SYEP has positively impacted Black communities, advocates and elected officials point out -- last year, almost half of SYEP participants identified as Black, according to DYCD’s numbers, which means more than 30,000 Black youth received work, wages, and growth opportunities.

De Blasio promised in early June to work with the City Council to move some funds from the NYPD towards youth and social services, but did not provide a target amount or any other specifics, instead saying he would be negotiating with the Council in crafting the new city budget due by July 1. 

During Tuesday’s town hall, Teens Take Charge invited former SYEP participants and organizations to speak on the importance of the program for youth development and organization capacity. The teens cited financial independence, skill-building, and career exploration as some of the benefits of the program. Nonprofits such as City Growers and Faith in New York said they base their summer programs on the inclusion of youth employees, and without them the programs cannot operate the same way.

Brooklyn State Senator Julie Salazar and City Council Member Carlos Menchacha, both Democrats, as is de Blasio, also attended the town hall to show their support.

“Budgets are a reflection of our priorities, it’s already been said, and it’s so true,” said Salazar. “Mayor de Blasio, show us that you care about young people. Show us that you care about their education, their future, and investing in them by continuing to fully fund SYEP.”

The town hall hosts, teens Carmen Lopez Villamil and Kwek-Rupp, saved their demand for the mayor until the end of the event. Lopez Villamil said if de Blasio fails to make an SYEP decision by Friday, Teens Take Charge will plan a protest near Gracie Mansion. She said this protest would most likely happen on Monday, June 29.

As of now, de Blasio and Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson have released the Neighborhood Opportunity Network Summer, or NeON Summer, as a summer youth employment alternative. The program offers six-week, paid learning opportunities to young people in certain low-income neighborhoods, youth on probation, and those who reside in the hardest-hit COVID-19 communities. However, Teens Take Charge noted that NeON Summer only serves a fraction of  New York City youth, with just 2,700 total slots.

The City Council also held a hearing Tuesday that included leadership of the Council’s Committee on Youth Services advocating for the reinstatement of SYEP. During her opening remarks, Council Member Deborah Rose, a Staten Island Democrat who serves as the chair of the committee, stressed the importance of the employment program and that the Council would keep putting pressure on de Blasio for New York City youth. 

“We know SYEP and other employment programs uplift impoverished youth who historically struggle to access the labor market,” said Rose. “Tragically these are the very youth whose communities have been ravaged the most by COVID-19, and whose futures we as a city must be investing in more than ever.

by Melissa Lent, Gotham Gazette
@melmollyrose @GothamGazette

]]> (Melissa Lent) City Wed, 24 Jun 2020 16:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: One Year to the 2021 Mayoral Primary 1 oneyearto2021

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)

June 24, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: One Year to the 2021 Mayoral Primary

Political strategists Rebecca Katz of New Deal Strategies and Neal Kwatra of Metropolitan Strategies joined the show to discuss some of the initial results of 2020 primaries in New York and to look ahead to the 2021 mayoral primary, which is just one year away. Katz, fresh off helping to lead Jamaal Bowman to an upset win the New York's 16th Congressional District primary over Rep. Eliot Engel, broke down how the Bowman campaign did it, and Kwatra discussed broader themes including the role of organized labor in city politics. Then, the discussion moved to the field of candidates hoping to become the next Mayor of New York City.

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 230 One Year To The 2021 Mayoral Primary

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

]]> (Ben Max) City Thu, 25 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000