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Mark-Viverito: New York City is ‘Heading in the Right Direction’

MMV presser kids BdB

Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alatriste)

New York City is well on its way to correcting the policies of 20 years of Republican rule, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said during an interview last week. Discussing her time as Speaker, upcoming priorities, working with Mayor Bill de Blasio, and more, Mark-Viverito spoke with Gotham Gazette at length in the Speaker’s office at City Hall.

On a relatively quiet August Thursday, Mark-Viverito addressed a wide range of topics, from her approach to leading the Council through the legislative process to taking criticism from both the left and the right, an effort she’s spearheading to create a plan for closing Rikers Island jails, the importance of updating the city’s Fair Share law, and beyond.

Mark-Viverito said City Council members must be open to working with their communities to compassionately address the homelessness crisis in the city while the de Blasio administration’s policies chip away at the need, but that communities already home to a significant number of shelter beds, like her East Harlem district, should not be further overburdened.

While she acknowledged a lot more to do on homelessness and other challenges facing the city, Mark-Viverito said that the joint effort by her Council and the de Blasio administration to make a more equal city is “heading in the right direction.”

“We have to put things in perspective, right, we’re dealing with a city as large as New York - so, bureaucracy exists - and we’re dealing with, prior to this mayor coming in, of 20 years of Republican rule, in essence. Bloomberg wanted to play footsie and be in two parties and was a Democrat, became a Republican, independent, whatever it was - but in essence, it was Republican policies, and you don’t switch and turn that ship around overnight, and even two-and-a-half years in, it’s still a short window within a larger period of time, so I think that you are seeing some changes, and you’re trying to rectify and create greater balance where there was great imbalance; and certain communities felt it more than others,” Mark-Viverito said.

The speaker is a little more than two-and-a-half years into her four-year term - her third in the Council and only term as speaker. She said her focus is mainly on the work at hand, that she is not thinking too much yet about what she will do when she is term-limited out of office at the end of 2017. With speculation that she may be offered a position in a Hillary Clinton administration, she did indicate that she feels “very strongly” that she wants to finish her term, but that she is also open to a wide variety of possible next steps. She wanted to make clear that she is not traveling the country promoting Clinton’s presidential candidacy in order to land a job.

“I will challenge...the idea that the only reason I’m doing this is because I’m trying to leverage a position, which some people may have that point of thinking,” Mark-Viverito said. “That was never it. Again, if people know me and know who I am, I really support Hillary because I believe in her and I believe in what she will do for this country and what she can do for our city and what she can do for communities like the one I represent. And the issue of Puerto Rico is very, very much a priority for me personally, so I’m interested in having a President that is going to be a partner with the island and that is going to really make that a priority to figure out how do we help get Puerto Rico out of its situation.”

Most of the interview focused on what’s been happening in New York City, though, and the work that lies ahead. It was clear that Mark-Viverito is most proud of the municipal identification card program that she and the Council helped create, other immigrant-focused initiatives, and criminal justice reforms. It's clear that Mark-Viverito is thinking about what she will have helped put in place during her tenure - and that she wants credit for the work that she and the Council have done.

The speaker also maintained that she is not always in lockstep with de Blasio and that the Council is not slipping in its oversight role. She promised an upcoming hearing on the city’s controversial removal of deed restrictions on a Lower East Side nursing home, which the Council announced on Wednesday as set for September 29.

She said that there are private conversations happening all the time and that just because she is not a public bomb-thrower, it does not mean that she and her team are not assertively negotiating with the administration all the time. She declined to divulge the instances where she felt implored to contact de Blasio herself, even when offered a menu that included Uber, horse carriages, and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.

Saying that she is set on having an outline of ‘incremental’ steps ready for a “long-term” plan to close Rikers Island jails by her next State of the City address, in February, Mark-Viverito brought up her “legacy.” “I’m going to be gone at the end of 2017,” she said, “and there’s stuff that I want to leave in place, that I want to continue to have its impact, and that will have helped make this city more fair and just.”

She also acknowledged, with a hearty laugh, that her timeline for getting things done as Speaker will collide with the mayor’s 2017 re-election campaign.

By and large, there is a lot of synergy, of course. Mark-Viverito expressed pride about accomplishments during her tenure and gave an unequivocal “yes” when asked if de Blasio deserves to be re-elected.

“I believe the philosophy and the point of view - the perspective - that this administration holds, that which I subscribe to - we may have different approaches on how to get there, right, but in essence, if you’re talk about creating more equality and opportunity for communities that have been on the receiving end of these systemic injustices, then it’s going to take time,” she said. “But, with all these things being implemented, at some point it all starts gelling and you’ll start seeing the rewards of that down the line. I think that we’re on the right path. We can always analyze it and do hearings and look at the statistics and look at the numbers, but in some of these cases, we’ve already started to see some of the benefits in that.”

Interestingly, throughout the course of the interview, Mark-Viverito said that neither de Blasio nor the Council is getting enough credit for the change they are making. She said she and the mayor have largely been on the same page for years.

“Bill and I were colleagues here in the Council, so our relationship goes back a long time, so the respect goes back very far as well,” Mark-Viverito said of the mayor. “So the partnership is strong because of that...I believe that what he’s proposing to do and what he’s been doing - which I think in some cases he doesn’t get enough credit for, maybe they haven’t done the best job of communicating it, right, whatever it is - but I really think that when you talk about, obviously going back to the pre-K, which is critical; when you talk about the muni-ID, which he joined us on; you talk about paid sick leave and creating those opportunities for people in the workplace; you talk about the changes he’s trying to make our educational system more fair and equitable.”

Listen to the audio of the full interview below or download on iTunes. Below the audio embed are more written highlights from the interview. See the full transcript of the Q&A here

August 25, 2016 at City Hall -- New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito talks with Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max -- Excerpts:

On a recent Twitter dust-up with the Department of Transportation:

Melissa Mark-Viverito (MMV): [W]hat we’ve been entrusted to do is to be able to facilitate and cut through the red tape of the bureaucracy, and that is our responsibility. It’s not like we’re asking for more and better attention than others, but that comes with the responsibility of being an elected official that passes the budget for the City of New York and that our responsibility is to interact on a daily basis with city agencies to facilitate projects on behalf of our consistents and our districts. So, if I’m directly, as the elected official, interacting with a city agency to say this is something that is a problem in my district - I’m not asking for a personal favor -...I’m saying, this is something that should be addressed, then I don’t expect a bureaucratic response, that’s the reality…

[I]t got a little bit heavier than it needed to, I think, but I’m glad that it got addressed, and I’m glad that the Department of Transportation paid attention to it and that it got resolved...I think anybody who knows me and knows the way that I’ve carried myself, and that I carry myself, the last thing from my mind was entitlement.

On her comments that a bill with a vast majority of Council sponsors doesn’t automatically get passed:

MMV: Many times a bill as originally heard has to go through amendments. Things may be taken out, things may be added in. That’s part of negotiation or of compromise. So it’s not just there’s a lot of analysis and thought that goes into a bill, this is now something that’s going to hang over our heads as a city. So it’s not just a matter of saying ‘the magic number is 36, get it passed,’ there’s still a lot of legwork that has to go with it...I mean we have to be very deliberative, we’re a legislative body, and we have to be really thoughtful about the things that we do and we have to take every opinion into account...And a lot of times, even I as a Council member, I would adjust based on information that I was getting that I hadn’t necessarily heard of. So it’s part of a process that sometimes with issues that may be a little bit more contentions or complicated, takes longer to get through and to sort through....I take my responsibility very seriously, and I think all of us as legislators do, so that’s part of the process into any sort of legislation.

On taking criticism:

MMV: Part of the job is also getting and taking the criticism. Understanding that not everybody has all the information and may be making a decision or judgement lacking the full context. And that’s part of it - you develop a thick skin, you’re able to move on, you do your work, you’ve got to govern, you can’t get too mired in that, and just figure out a way that we advance and make progress, which is at the end of the day what I feel I’m here to do. We want to move forward. Maybe for some people the pace may be slower than they would like, but my perspective, or my philosophy, is that if we’ve moved the gauge forward - 5, 10, 20, 50 percent - I feel we’ve made progress and I think that’s something I would be proud of.

On whether she’s become more moderate as Speaker than she was as a rank-and-file Council member:

MMV: I don’t think so. I believe I have to be more thoughtful and I have to be more balanced in being able to hear other perspectives and maybe take things a little bit more slowly or measured...But I believe that what we’ve done, the work we’ve done is extremely progressive as a Council. We’ve taken on some issues that we’ve gotten a lot of national attention on...when it comes to immigration reform, criminal justice reform. I don’t think we get enough credit for the actual changes that we’ve been able to implement and how we’ve been able to move the agenda forward. So I think that I’m really proud of that, and understanding that as the leader of this legislative body, there’s more that I have to factor than just my personal point of view, or my own district’s point of view - I’ve got a city to also look at, other districts that may be a little bit more conservative than mine, other factors that play into it; that also we have to lead and govern making sure all those voices in some ways are being heard.

On who isn’t giving the Council “enough credit”?

MMV: Well, I don’t think enough - that people when they talk about the criminal justice reform work that’s happened, they don’t really look at the breadth of what we’ve done - the bail reform work that we’ve done, the Criminal Justice Reform Act, and the way we look at summonses, and other things that we’ve taken into account or done that really is making a difference and will make a difference in people’s lives. And I’m really excited about that. I’m going to leave here with a record, I think, of real progress.

On criticism about the Right to Know Act compromise from family members of people who have been killed by NYPD officers:

MMV: Listen, these families have gone through a horrific reality. Something that nobody wishes on anybody. Obviously there’s pain that never goes away, and those voices, they have the right to express themselves, and in some cases justice needs to be served. So, you take that, you listen to it, you interact, more than happy to engage with the family members. But it’s part of the deliberative process, it’s part of getting that feedback on anything we do, we’re always going to get people that may not agree exactly with it, but I’ve been very clear and anybody that knows me, I’m probably one of the least political people that you’ll meet, in the sense that I really do something, especially something as sensitive as this, something that I’ve worked so hard on and something that I’ve been involved in as a Council member, something that impacts my district directly, and that we hear a lot of it as well - it’s something that I believe in my heart is that the way we’ve approached it is the right way for now.

And I’ve been very clear, that from a place where the NYPD indicated that these were ‘anti-cop’ bills to the point now that they are incorporating and putting forth elements of these bills, to the point where we’re going to be seeing it implemented on the ground - I want to see that play out, and legislation is not off the table, right, let’s see how it works out and let’s how it moves forward, and if we don’t feel progress enough has been made, then we can look at other alternatives. So, I’m very clear, I’m transparent about where I am, but I really believe that we have moved the ball forward in this case, and that we will see the results of that soon enough. They have time, they have to implement it, we can watch it, we can monitor it, we can have a hearing about it, see how it’s going, and then figure out the next steps after that.

On criticism from the right that city government is going too far:

MMV: In what ways, right? We’re two-and-a-half years in, things have been implemented and the city is not going to hell in a handbasket, right? Obviously, we’re not perfect, but, I think that with anything, what I tell people about legislation is: the same way you can implement it, the same way you can roll it back. You can put something in effect and being responsible, you monitor it, and if things are not going the way you want, you can always make adjustments to improve on legislation, or to figure out ways you maybe curtail it...[I]t’s validating and embracing people and communities that have been marginalized for so long; it’s trying to correct systemic injustices that have existed for too long...I’m very happy about what we’ve accomplished and what we’re accomplishing, what we have yet to do, and I think we’re proving the naysayers wrong.

On whether the Council is slipping in its oversight role because there is so much synergy with the de Blasio administration:

MMV: No, not at all. I think there’s been issues, clearly, where we’ve been at really strong odds. In the budget negotiations there have been things that were not originally a priority of the mayor that we have gotten him to reevaluate. Just because something is not a public fight doesn’t mean that we’re not doing our job, right. There’s hearings, and there’ve been some hearings that have been contentious on certain issues. There’s also a lot of negotiations and conversations that happen outside of even the hearing structure. There’s conversations we’re having every day with the administration on different issues that come up. We put in our point of view to get them to adjust - conversations that we have with the NYPD - so there’s a lot of work outside of just the oversight hearings themselves that has led to changes, and has led to looking at things in a different way. We have had very aggressive hearings on different issues - the housing hearings; we also talk about NYCHA oversight, there’s been a lot of aggressive work we’ve done on that front - and on other issues...Rivington, we’re going to have the deed restriction hearing coming up soon.

On fighting homelessness and the responsibility of Council members and communities:

MMV: Look, I believe the Fair Share reality needs to be really looked at. I think there needs to be more equity in the way that services are distributed. There are literally some districts that have no shelters in them. You look at one like mine, that we have probably over 2,000, 3,000 beds. So the issue of equity comes into the siting of services as well. And that’s a real challenge. When we’ve talked about the conversation about closing Rikers, of bringing services more locally to neighborhoods, because the people at Rikers are from our neighborhoods. There’s a resistance to that as well. But, that’s the challenge that we have to put forward, to every community - that we all have a responsibility, right, to each other, and to making this city thrive and more equitable....

On the issue of the siting of homeless shelters, we’ve actually had Democratic conferences with the commissioner of DHS at the time and we’ve talked about these things. We’ve brought the conversation locally to members and said, ‘you know we have a real crisis here and we have to really address this,’ and there may be some districts that push back against, but that we really should be welcoming of it. And some members that are having pushback in their neighborhoods but are willing to push forward - I think Danny Dromm is an example of one; I think Daneek Miller was saying he was navigating those waters and he was getting some pushback, but he understood the importance of it. Sometimes I’ve had that in my district, too - initially there may be some resistance, but if it’s the right thing to do you have to come and engage your constituents and explain why you believe this is the right thing to do even though they may be opposed to it. And I have found that when you really engage in that conversation and take the time to really explain the process of your thinking and why, even if people don’t agree with you they’ll respect that, and you can work with your constituents and navigate through that. But it’s been a challenge, and on the issue of homelessness we’ve had this conversation at the local level with members, and pushing them and saying, ‘look we’ve got to do something about this.’ Because there’s some conversation happening now where some members are really pushing back.

On what’s next:

MMV: [I]n terms of the experience I’ve gained as a Council member, now as Speaker, I definitely want to continue to be influential in city politics. Meaning policy changes, conversations to that end. And figure out what that is - what is the right mix, what would the right role be, maybe it’s creating a role for myself, I have to think about it. Going into the philanthropic sector; whatever it is - you don’t know what life has in store. So, I’m not there yet, but obviously the people that are really important to me, and that are my mentors, that have kept me grounded, and give me guidance - I start throwing ideas about, look I’ve gotta start thinking about this. What would be the ideal role for me or situation for me. So I’m thinking about it - not spending too much time yet, but I’m starting to think about it.

On if that means no return to Puerto Rico:

MMV: Well. You know, I don’t close doors. Again, three months from now you don’t know what opportunities may emerge...I do feel very strongly that I want to finish my term. I know people keep throwing out there different ideas for what may be in store for me.

There’s a lot more to the interview. Read the full transcript here; listen to the audio via the Soundcloud embed above or download on iTunes.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Justice Department Decision Boosts Push for Private Prison Divestment

GEO stock

A recent decision by the federal Department of Justice to scale back and eventually end the use of private prisons indirectly impacted New York City’s pension funds, reducing holding values by millions of dollars and leading to renewed calls from activists for the city to divest from the for-profit corporations that operate these prisons.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration took a major step against an industry that has long been criticized for its culture of violence, secrecy, and the devaluation of human life: private prisons. The administration announced that owing to a decrease in the federal prison population, it would begin to reduce its reliance on private prisons run by for-profit corporations.

The decision was also based on a DOJ report that determined private prisons to be costly, unsafe, and inefficient in reducing recidivism.

The effects on the industry were immediate, with stocks of the two largest private prison corporations in the United States, the GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), plummeting by about 40 percent in a day. They briefly rebounded and then fell again on Monday when the Department of Homeland Security indicated that it would evaluate, and possibly eliminate, the use of private immigration detention facilities.

This news has some impact here in New York, both financially and symbolically. Although New York State does not have any private prison facilities, New York City’s five pension funds together had roughly $20 million invested in the GEO Group and CCA as of May (GEO does have an immigration detention facility in Queens and a re-entry location in the Bronx). Considering the drop so far in the value of those stocks, the investment has likely lost close to $8 million. Although the number itself is a pittance compared to the altogether $160 billion pension fund, it’s largely the principle behind the investment which has raised concerns. Activists say it’s both a diminishing avenue of investment and one that contradicts the proclaimed progressive bonafides of the majority of the city’s elected officials.

“It may be a small amount but morally it’s bankrupt and financially it’s bankrupt too,” said Randy Credico, a WBAI radio host, regular political candidate, comedian, and activist who has been advocating for the city to divest from private prisons for years. He created End Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) to push the issue with online petitions and has organized protests in prison garb outside Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office.

Credico stripes ErrolCredico (pictured, middle) said there is a national movement against mass incarceration, among both Democrats and Republicans, and that the only way private prison stocks could go up was if mass incarceration went up. “It’s only gonna get worse,” he said. “These stocks are going nowhere. They prey on human misery. They’re in the human cargo business.”

He called it a “dark mark” on New York’s history that the City is still invested in private prisons and said the city’s pension trustees need to follow the likes of Columbia University, General Electric, the United Methodist Church, Pershing Square Capital Management, and others that have all pulled out of private prison stocks.

Credico, as is evident by his protests, points namely to Stringer, who is the custodian and financial advisor to the five public pension funds in the city, for having failed to recognize a bad investment as well as not having stuck to his progressivism as an outspoken critic of mass incarceration. While Credico’s ire may be focused on Stringer, he is but one player in a larger investment game.

A spokesperson for the comptroller’s office spoke to Gotham Gazette about the process by which investments are made and said that the Comptroller, who is also on the Board of Trustees of four of the funds, does not have absolute authority over investments or even the choice of companies in which to invest. The Comptroller advises the five pension funds and the funds each approve of an asset allocation composed of a mixed bag of assets, including a significant amount invested in public equities. The majority of stocks owned by the funds are held in passive index funds, such as the S&P 500 or Russell 2000. The holdings in private prison companies were likely acquired through their ownership of these indices.

Stringer has sought to use his pension fund leverage on other issues, such as corporate board diversity.

The Obama administration’s announcement has not escaped the comptroller’s attention. “The Justice Department report made clear that the private prison industry’s claims of superior cost savings and effectiveness over government-run prisons do not stand up to close inspection,” Stringer said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The private prison industry’s continued failures in safety and security as well as the legal and reputational risks inherent in the enterprise, compel us as fiduciaries to carefully consider whether holding these types of assets is prudent and in the best interest of City workers and retirees.”

Stringer’s statement seems to echo what activists have been saying for a long time. “The concept of asking pension funds to divest is a historical phenomenon that’s very justified,” said Bill Samuels, founder of EffectiveNY, a government watchdog group. Samuels is a part of EPIC, Credico’s advocacy group. He cited the state’s history of divestment movements, going back as early as the 1980s to protest apartheid in South Africa and the more recent push to divest from gun manufacturers and fossil fuels. “These types of issues have been present for decades,” Samuels said.

In the wake of the federal decision on private prisons, Samuels said it would be a logical move for the City to divest and one that is in line with “the most progressive city” in the nation. “If the President of the United States can speak out on it, then every government pension from Cleveland to California to New York City should speak out on it,” he said. “The president made a major decision. I would expect states or cities that haven’t done so to follow suit immediately.” He was charitable about Stringer’s role in the process, conceding that he couldn’t make the decision alone to divest as his state counterpart Tom DiNapoli did in October of last year.

The city’s leadership has in the past been trendsetters on divesting from increasingly unpopular companies or industries. Following the San Bernardino mass shooting in December of last year, when President Obama made a case for gun safety measures and limits on ownership of high-calibre assault weapons, Mayor Bill de Blasio submitted a resolution to the New York City Police Pension Fund to examine divestment from gun manufacturers. The mayor’s message was clear: the city should not be investing in an industry and product involved in “countless tragedies” across the country, and that the president’s executive action was “a turning point in the effort to end senseless acts of violence against Americans.”

De Blasio has criticized the private prison industry for years. When he was Public Advocate, he was a vocal opponent of the GEO Group’s practices at its Queens facility.

Current Public Advocate Letitia James, who sits on the board of the New York City Employee Retirement System, one of the five pension funds, said in a July 3 radio interview with Samuels that the city should divest from private prisons and that she was considering presenting a resolution to the board to that effect. She had also been behind the resolution to divest from gun retailers that the NYCERS board voted to approve in July.

Jamie Trinkle, campaign and research coordinator for Enlace, which coordinates a national private prison divestment campaign, said, “It’s pretty appalling when city governments invest the pensions of public employees into the future incarceration and detention of fellow residents and employees.” She pointed out that the DOJ announcement showed the fragility of these companies as far as the pension fund’s fiduciary priorities are concerned and that the time is ripe for them to divest their stake.

“The city should not be invested in the expansion of state and corporate control of communities of color, immigrants and the poor,” Trinkle said. “Instead they should be investing in community-based solutions that increase the wellbeing of these communities that have been most impacted by criminalization.”

In a letter sent on Monday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito urged the Department of Homeland Security to follow the DOJ’s example and stop contracting with private immigration detention facilities. When asked by Gotham Gazette if the speaker would support divestment from the same private prison firms that run these facilities, a spokesperson for the speaker said that her office hasn’t examined the issue closely but would be open to the idea.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Touted Bloomberg Anti-Poverty Incubator Sees New Life in De Blasio Era

Bloomberg city of innovation speech

Above: Mayor Bloomberg speaks (Ed Reed). Below: Gibbs & Doar on panel

Data-driven Center for Economic Opportunity paves way for workforce development vision in Career Pathways

On July 14, former Bloomberg Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs and Robert Doar, former commissioner of anti-poverty efforts, participated in a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., fielding questions about the poverty-fighting efforts they led through New York City’s Center for Economic Opportunity. It came just after their written series on the CEO and the Bloomberg approach to reducing poverty in New York, in which they argue for it as a national model.

Two-and-a-half years after Mayor Michael Bloomberg left office, the two former officials wrote in Washington Monthly of the Center for Economic Opportunity’s role in pioneering a disruptive, systemic, data-driven approach to reducing poverty and creating opportunity, claiming impressive results: the city, from 2000 to 2013, reported a declining poverty rate as comparable American cities saw a 36% spike and nationwide figures climbed from 11.3% to 14.8%, they wrote.

A representative for Gibbs reported that the New York City poverty rate dropped from 21.2% to 20.3% over Bloomberg’s full tenure. Though a modest decline, relative to the poverty-rate growth elsewhere, New York City was a positive outlier, and in their series, Gibbs and Doar aimed to encourage a national fight against poverty modeled after CEO efforts.

Bloomberg’s successor, current Mayor Bill de Blasio, came into office promising to address socioeconomic inequities, and appears to have seen the positives of CEO. De Blasio’s anti-poverty campaign employs many of the same tactics that CEO popularized. While CEO is no longer the same standalone program incubator it was, it is still part of the city’s anti-poverty efforts and de Blasio administration has adopted a data-centric workforce development vision that takes a similarly holistic approach to tackling the underlying sources of unemployment.

The most recent newsletter from CEO, published August 26, says the center has released two new evaluation reports detailing the progress of municipal identification program IDNYC and the New York Times-heralded career advancement program, WorkAdvance.

Originated in 2006 as a commission evaluating the root causes of poverty, the aptly-abbreviated CEO was institutionalized within the Mayor’s Office in 2007 to pilot programs to address the working poor, young adults aged 16-24, and families with children. Bloomberg - the billionaire entrepreneur mayor - tasked Gibbs, then Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services, to define the shape and scope of the anti-poverty incubator, with assistance from Doar, the Human Resources Administration (HRA) Commissioner.

The CEO team collaborated with agencies and advisors to implement, manage, and evaluate the efficacy of its programs, taking an experimental approach aimed at finally designing initiatives that really work.

Success was measured in the context of CEO's precedent-setting, citywide poverty data measures, which were developed in-house. These evaluations were designed to improve on a federal model that did not take into account changes in the economy, demographic trends, and public policies, and were made possible through collaboration with partners like nonprofit research organizations MDRC and the IT-training Per Scholas.

Keen on informed risk-taking, the center pioneered both divisive flameouts like the conditional cash transfer Family Rewards program and nationally-replicated breakthroughs like the Obama-cited CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) initiative, which provides a support network of counselors and peer engagement groups, along with stipends for supplementary funding for books, transportation, and tuition not covered by financial aid. Over eight years, CEO launched over 60 initiatives. In its infancy, the center found its footing in accomplishments like the Office of Financial Empowerment. Soon, the center created successful job training and education programs like WorkAdvance and Project Rise that would continue operating through Bloomberg’s tenure and into the current administration.

"Through these programs, we are providing evidence of what works, and we hope that through these investments we will find the key to break the pattern of poverty that still persists despite all the opportunity our city offers," Bloomberg said at a 2007 press conference celebrating a first year of program launches.

In their recent series reflecting on CEO, Gibbs and Doar write: “The story of New York’s success to date is one of repeated experimentation, a willingness to take risks and the occasional failure. Most significantly, New York’s experience confirms that solid evidence can trump the liberal-versus-conservative stalemate when the welfare of the country’s most vulnerable people is at stake.”

Today, Mayor de Blasio has based his entire administration on reducing inequality, creating opportunity for those who have not had it, and treating the ills of a New York that has worked for those at the top of the socioeconomic ladder, but not many others.

De Blasio has outlined a plan to lift 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty and near poverty by 2025; the course of action in his OneNYC plan hinges on the transformative potential of a $15 per hour minimum wage and a combination of equity-focused initiatives to expand prekindergarten enrollment, construct affordable housing, and improve access to 21st-century essentials like broadband, transportation, and childcare.

Much like in other areas, the de Blasio administration has a different anti-poverty approach than its predecessor. Under de Blasio, the Center for Economic Opportunity has indeed been deemphasized as a program creator. Instead, this administration has adopted a set of workforce development initiatives through “Career Pathways,” which is inspired by aspects of CEO, like attacking the root causes of poverty and unemployment and employing strict data accountability.

Today, CEO is primarily used for its quantitative capabilities, evaluating new initiatives and streamlining existing ones while expanding its role in data analytics. Both Gibbs and current CEO Executive Director Matthew Klein, hired in 2014, are enthusiastic about de Blasio’s efforts.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Klein explained the ways in which the center has evolved. “The mayor has a strong focus on broad, big-scale change,” Klein explained of his boss, de Blasio. This means adjusting to the mayor's priorities: the CEO is now working closely alongside the Department of Education to monitor the implementation of the universal pre-kindergarten program, which Klein described as an "all hands on deck effort across the administration." Klein also appeared at the American Enterprise Institute panel to detail CEO’s new direction.

The city’s new Career Pathways approach, one that has been adopted at federal, state, and local levels across the country, relies on a network of industry partnerships that unites public and private stakeholders to design and develop curricula and training programs that match workforce shortages. In short, Career Pathways provides the skill development and Industry Partnerships provides the jobs: Career Pathways the supply, Industry Partnerships the demand.

The Office Of Workforce Development, formerly the Office of Human Capital Development, has assumed a coordinating role to oversee the complex maze of agencies, providers, funders, and stakeholders that the plan requires to produce its anti-poverty and workforce development programs.

By shifting to Career Pathways, the administration abandoned an old model of rapidly pairing workers with available jobs (“rapid-attachment”), instead investing in the skill building and education that produce lasting employment. The de Blasio administration is making an informed decision: the Career Pathways model has received support from The US Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, as well as the US Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

At the beginning of de Blasio’s term, the CEO poverty rate was at 20.7%, with 45.2% of New Yorkers living in near poverty - a term identifying the population living below 150% of the CEO poverty line. The administration claims that new training, entrepreneurship, and “bridge programs” have already served over 18,000 residents as of December 2015. There were also significant increases in youth employment, with the Summer Youth Employment Program expanding to reach 54,000 participants.

The new de Blasio strategy hinges on a dramatic redirection of the Human Resources Administration, which has been under the direction of Steve Banks since de Blasio appointed him in 2014. Moving away from pre-existing job placement initiatives, the agency now instead prioritizes redirected HRA programs and new bridge programs that provide low-skill job seekers with education and remedial training to find career-track employment in needy job sectors.

Like those of CEO, these programs are held accountable by data collection. The de Blasio administration calls these evaluatory statistics "common metrics," outlined in its original OneNYC plan, designed to align data and definitions to create a shared data collection system across all workforce programs.

While the Career Pathways approach has a place for successful CEO programs like WorkAdvance and Project Rise, the only CEO program highlighted in the OneNYC workforce development vision is the star CUNY ASAP initiative. The de Blasio administration has decided to chart his own path, with its own programmatic approach, instead of relying on the experimental nature of CEO.

So far, the Career Pathways vision has proven to be unwieldy for the same reasons it is heralded. The large web of new and redesigned education and training programs are more intensive and expensive than the preceding placement programs. In addition, the common metrics that provide accountability are in place, but somewhat disorganized: over a year into the approach common metrics have not been fully coordinated and integrated. The CEO is collaborating with the current administration to coordinate this data collection.

If the budding Career Pathways strategy succeeds, the current administration will, in part, have Bloomberg’s groundbreaking CEO to thank.

Bloomberg’s Incubator
A brainchild of a 2006 poverty commission, the "laboratory for experimentation" known as the Center for Economic Opportunity took advantage of a $100 million budget to pilot over 60 unconventional anti-poverty programs, each subjected to statistical evaluations that would determine its longevity.

Under the initial direction of executive director Veronica M. White, the CEO’s center’s initial funding came from a public-private partnership comprised of a new investment of tax dollars and philanthropic partners; the philosophy was indicative of the larger Bloomberg approach to government: infuse private sector principles to the public sector.

Gibbs Doar panel 1Over time, CEO’s staunchly quantitative approach to anti-poverty reform fostered what Gibbs describes as "an accountability for outcomes and evaluation.” It’s data-centric design was a reaction to its environment, typical of the slow-to-change government that Bloomberg often railed against.

"People, particularly in the social services, fall behind many other sectors," former Deputy Mayor Gibbs told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. "We do things because we believe they are the right thing to do, we believe they are good and virtuous and helping people in need, but we don't always give ourselves the same level of accountability for whether or not our great idea will actually produce good."

The CEO's Darwinian approach reflected the entrepreneurial mind of its captain, a mayor more than willing to experiment with city government.

One of CEOs early successes was the Office of Financial Empowerment. Created within the Department of Consumer Affairs in 2006, OFE fought to "make work pay" through expansions of income supplements, public health insurance, and the earned income tax credit, among other programs.

According to Gibbs and Doar, an early evaluation showed $3 million in savings for 22,000 clients, and $22.5 million in total debt reduction. In July, Gotham Gazette reported that OFE has been incrementally expanded during Mayor de Blasio’s tenure, now headed by Executive Director Debra-Ellen Glickstein, who signed on in 2015.

Other CEO initiatives, like WorkAdvance, provided vulnerable New Yorkers with occupational skill training and industry-recognized certifications before coordinating placement in high-demand sectors. This humanistic approach included both pre-employment and job retention services to ensure effectiveness and instill confidence in job seekers. The program was hand-picked for national replication through a partnership with the Social Innovation Fund (SIF): a public-private partnership identifying evidence-based approaches to social challenges.

At the American Enterprise Institute panel with Gibbs and Doar, Gordon Berlin, president of MDRC, emphasized the significance of the grant, citing the "cross city partnership" it created. "The SIF really helped secure the CEO's future, role, and position in the national debate about federal poverty policy," Berlin said.

Tested in New York, Northeast Ohio, and Oklahoma, the expanded WorkAdvance program boasted two-year advantages at all sites (when compared to a control group) of 31% in training completion and 12-41% in sectoral employment, along with instances of earnings boosts up to 26%, according to an MDRC report.

The only CEO program highlighted in Mayor de Blasio’s OneNYC Career Pathways workforce development vision is the aforementioned CUNY ASAP, now available to 17,000 full-time students across 24 campuses. The CUNY program helps students earn associate degrees by providing supplemental financial and personal assistance with the goal of increasing credits earned and lowering cost per degree.

The effort rose to national fame when President Obama mentioned ASAP by name in a 2015 address regarding a proposal to offer free tuition for more community college students. Creating an educated, debt-free workforce could have significant anti-poverty ramifications: a 2015 ASAP study claims that by 2020, an estimated 35% of job openings will require a bachelor’s degree, and 30% more will require a college or associate’s degree. The country’s student debt crisis is well documented.

As of June, the program claims a 53% to 23% (control group) advantage in graduation rates. The current incarnation of CUNY ASAP, located at all six city community colleges, reported a Spring enrollment of over 8,000 students, and projects to double that total this Fall. CEO Deputy Executive Director Carson Hicks told Gotham Gazette that the program is on track to reach 25,000 students by the 2018-2019 academic year.

Expanded Vision
Mayor de Blasio hopes the Career Pathways approach, made possible by strategic industry partnerships, will build on the CEO legacy of impactful training and education programs held accountable by stringent data collection and evaluation.

Three new HRA programs include CareerAdvance, CareerCompass, and YouthPathways, which replaced programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

A Center for an Urban Future analysis of Career Pathways, released last month, commends the change, observing that old TANF initiatives were both low-paying and unaligned with the career goals of clients. There was also a lack of individualized assessment, made evident by the fact that the programs did not take into account the age of their clients.

De Blasio also cites Computer Science for All as an early success and part of long-term plans to create opportunity and reduce poverty. Launched in 2015, the program aims to deliver computer science education to public school students through elementary, middle, and high school. The administration says it will make the program available to all students by 2025 in order to accommodate a job market that increasingly rewards the technically proficient (CSFA references a 57% tech employment hike 2007-2014).

Computer Science for All is funded by a public-private partnership with the New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education and the Robin Hood Foundation, and is part of the mayor’s Equity and Excellence agenda, which includes AP for All: a program designed to provide students at all 400 city high schools with access to five AP courses by 2021. Both programs intend to address the troubling disparity between education opportunities for many black and Hispanic youth and their more privileged counterparts.

The administration has also overseen a new investment in bridge programs that provide remedial training for skill-deficient workers. The CEO was brought in to develop programs connecting participants with healthcare training opportunities, also collaborating with CUNY to launch the Building Bridges Professional Development course that gathered over 50 community-based organizations in summer of 2015. That same winter, The NYC Bridge Bank was established to provide program curricula, design manuals, and teacher guides for Career Pathways implementation.

Across workforce development, the de Blasio administration is operating with increased capital: according to the same Center for an Urban Future report, the city has increased its annual spending budget for workforce services from $500 million in fiscal year 2014 to just over $600 million in fiscal year 2016. Mayor de Blasio has committed to increasing occupational and training programs to $100 million and bridge programs to $60 million annually by 2020.

To coordinate these moving parts, the administration converted the once-perfunctory Office of Human Capital Development into the Office of Workforce Development to serve the essential role of guiding and coordinating with the three main agencies that together control almost all of the money that flows into workforce development: the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), the Department of Small Business Services (SBS), and the Human Resources Administration (HRA), according to Christian Gonzalez-Rivera, a senior researcher at the Center for an Urban Future.

Lazar Treschan, director of youth policy at Community Service Society, a nonprofit focused on poverty reduction, is supportive of the new Career Pathways direction. “The reforms have been terrific in terms of vision, planning, ideas,” Treschan told Gotham Gazette. “One thing that is missing is additional investment,” he added. “Ideas will only take you so far. At some point we do need the money.” Treschan noted that new money would come from the city, as current workforce money largely comes from the state and federal government.

Reality Check
Despite the promising launch of initiatives like HireNYC, a targeted hiring program that connects job seekers to positions created by the city’s purchases and investments, there has not been enough permanent funding in the workforce system and investment in provider organizations to bring about the advanced system of referrals and partnerships that the nascent Career Pathways strategy requires, analysts say.

"The new system really shows a lot of promise to consolidate programs that once existed in silence," Rivera said. Published in July, Rivera conducted a comprehensive evaluation of Career Pathways, informed by interviews with over 30 workforce development experts. "The city for the first time is actually investing in bridge programs…it's really on the ground level right now. So a lot of investment has been made already. A lot of shift in culture has happened," Rivera said.

However, Rivera wonders about whether the de Blasio administration has overreached. "When you look at all levels, there is not enough money to serve all the people who need to be served with these higher touch expensive programs…the bridge programs are at least one-and-a-half or even two times more expensive as regular adult basic education programs. We're going to need more investment in order to make this happen."

In his report, Rivera uncovered why there isn't enough money flowing into Career Pathways initiatives. "The programs tend to be funded at least in part through private philanthropic dollars and to operate on a limited scale. Public investment is hampered at the federal level by restrictions and rules imposed by funding sources, and at the local level by a limited understanding on part of city agencies of the needs of community-based organizations in the cost structures of the programs they run."

Data Accountability
Another key shortcoming of the Career Pathways rollout involves the coordinating office, which is, as of April, headed by Executive Director Barbara Chang. In its current incarnation, the Office of Workforce Development (WKDEV) has limited power and influence to make programming and funding decisions, according to Rivera.

Unlike the CEO model where design, evaluation, and funding are all consolidated into one adaptable, independent body, WKDEV purely serves a guiding role. "CEO actually has money to pilot programs, the Office of Workforce Development just has enough to basically pay salaries," Rivera explained. "That's one of the problems: basically, it's a coordinating agency, it should be an agency that should have more control over program development, but it doesn't." Rivera’s critique, which relates to CEO, boils down to: "Work-dev [WKDEV] can advise, but in the end they are not accountable."

One of the Office of Workforce Development's chief responsibilities is to create a set of common metrics to measure performance of Career Pathways programs. However, Rivera reports that WKDEV is only now sitting down with the different agencies (HRA, SBS, DYDC) to catalog outcome measures, compare definitions, and determine relevant measures for integration into each program.

Rivera explained why this will be a difficult process. "Even a measure like number of people served can have a different definition from one agency to the next," he explained. "The other problem is that programs work with very different populations. You can’t expect an organization that serves community college students to have the same outcomes as one that serves high school dropouts who read at less than the sixth grade level."

The avoidable disorder of data systems begs the obvious question: why weren't common metrics squared away earlier? "That was actually a question I asked the director of the Mayor's Office of Workforce Development,” Rivera said. “Why start with programs instead of the common metrics?" His answer? The decision had less to do with accountability and more with self-preservation.

"These agencies depend on meeting certain outcomes to continue receiving money. So, HRA has to prove to the federal government that it did what the federal government wanted it to do in order to continue receiving money and not get penalties. And so any kind of outside evaluation that shows that maybe they are not doing their job as well as they said they are, or basically if you measure them with a different yardstick that says they're not doing as well, anything like that, can potentially be threatening. So it's very dicey. It's very political, for that reason."

There is the obvious comparison to the way the CEO closely monitored its initiatives. "These are (CEO) programs that still have an evaluation component, and they basically represent the gold standard for how these (Career Pathways) programs should be measured.”

"In fact," Rivera added, "that's part of the inspiration that work-dev took in order to start measuring common metrics."

Today’s Driver
Today, the Center for Economic Opportunity is less of an active player than it was under Bloomberg, assuming a supporting role in the current administration. The center still manages to conduct annual poverty measures and build on existing initiatives like the redesigned Young Adult Literacy Program, while spearheading others like an upcoming mental health service integration project made possible by a 2015 Social Impact Fund grant.

Mayor de Blasio is eager to capitalize on the CEO's analytical capabilities: Executive Director Klein reported at the American Enterprise Institute panel that there are 39 CEO evaluations either launched, underway, or completed within the last two years.

Klein also detailed CEO’s role in establishing common metrics among the dissimilar Career Pathways programs. When challenged on the rollout, Klein emphasized that the right plan was there from the beginning, even if execution faltered somewhat. “Common metrics was largely set in terms of the definitions of the metrics themselves by the time the (Career Pathways) report was issued," Klein said, before offering an addendum. "There may have been one or two areas that needed final refinement to align across agencies."

“It sounds very simple, but it’s a complex undertaking…you’re talking about a changed management approach across multiple agencies and dozens of funding streams with old legacy data systems,” Klein said. “I don’t feel that bad about the timeline that we’re on.”

By large, de Blasio's appreciation for the CEO approach is evident in the way he conducts his anti-poverty and workforce development reform. Even former Deputy Mayor Gibbs spoke with warmth when describing the current mayor's efforts.

"We very much hoped that the de Blasio administration would continue with the CEO as an institution, and a framework, and also hoped that we could share the lessons so that others could do it as well, so we were super excited when de Blasio did exactly that," Gibbs said. "He embraced it and continued it, and I think what's really great is that he made it his own as well.”

by Benjamin Jurney for Gotham Gazette

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