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City Council Raises Provoke Questions About Staff Pay


city council members budget announcement

Members of the City Council (photo: William Alatriste) 


As New York City Council members voted on a package of legislation that increased their salaries from $112,500 to $148,500, aides to two Council members stood silently in the balcony of the Council chambers, wearing white t-shirts that read, “Paycheck to Paycheck, Pay Raises for All.”

The $36,000 salary bump for Council members is about the same amount of money that many of their staff members make in a year. These are aides filling roles such as communications director, scheduler, and community liaison. Chiefs of staff usually make quite a bit more. At a hearing on the bills two days before the vote, several Council members spoke in support of also providing pay raises to their staff members. The silent demonstration by staffers from the offices of Council Members Inez Barron and Rosie Mendez was itself a coordinated effort done with the support of Barron and Mendez.

City Council members set the salaries of their staff members and decide how many aides to employ - the average staff size is about seven. The amount Council members choose to spend on salaries comes out of their office budgets, which are set by the Council Speaker’s office.

City Council members say that a push to increase member budgets was initiated when it became clear that Council members themselves would be getting raises. In early February, at about the same time the Council was voting through raises for all city elected officials, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito provided Council members with about $29,500 each in additional funding for their offices.

“In my tenure, I have increased the budgets of Council members, and I plan to do that again,” Mark-Viverito said at a Feb. 18 event organized by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

According to information obtained by Gotham Gazette through a Freedom of Information Act request, most Council members are now receiving a total of $409,000 to run their offices in the current fiscal year (FY 2016).

That $409,000 is used by Council members to pay the rent for their district offices, the salaries of their staff members, and OTPS, or other than personal services, which include supplies, equipment, contractual services, and other operating expenses. The recent $29,500 bump will allow Council members to give raises to their staffers, if they so choose.

Even with an increase to staff salaries, aides and Council members alike criticize current dynamics, which, they say, leave staff members significantly underpaid and overworked. Members argue that they are forced into a no-win decision whether to hire fewer staff members or pay more aides less and decry a situation where they lose staff to higher-paying government jobs at city agencies. They also say that current pay structures diminish the professionalism of Council staff and some call for more drastic increases to their office budgets.

“The mayor’s office and city agencies can easily poach employees from the City Council, draining it of institutional memory,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres, himself a former Council aide. “You have City Council staff who are performing professional functions on complex matters of budgeting, land use, and policy, without professional salaries. You have City Council staffers who do overtime without receiving overtime. And if you were to divide the salary of a dedicated Council staffer by the number of hours worked, the City Council may very well be guilty of wage slavery.”

Council Member Helen Rosenthal told Gotham Gazette that “as soon as the Mayor said he was calling for the quadrennial [compensation] commission and they started to meet…one of the things I started pressing for in the Council among ourselves as a body is if we’re going to be put in a situation where we’re giving ourselves raises, I’m not sure I can do that without giving my staff a raise.”

As mandated by law, Mayor de Blasio appointed an independent commission to review the salaries of elected officials last September, setting off a process that concluded on Feb. 19, when the mayor signed into law a package of legislation raising the salaries of all New York City elected officials. This includes the mayor, comptroller, public advocate, five borough presidents, five district attorneys, and 51 City Council members.

The City Council held a hearing on the legislation Feb. 3, and approved the package of raises and reforms on Feb. 5.

Rosenthal and other Council members expressed concern about the salaries of their aides to Mark-Viverito, and say that the speaker has responded to those concerns. “Members have been speaking on behalf of our staff,” said Council Member Jumaane Williams, “this is something that I’ve brought up before, and I’m very happy that the speaker is receptive.”

“The speaker is adding money - the same amount of money to each of our lump sums [office budgets],” Rosenthal said. “I will be allocating that for staff salaries, and I’m relieved and grateful for that.”

The budget increase, like Council members’ salary increase, is retroactive to Jan. 1, making it part of the current fiscal year 2016 budget. Council members and Mark-Viverito may look to include another increase during fiscal year 2017. The FY17 city budget is being negotiated and will go into effect July 1.

Equalizing most members’ office budgets is a part of Mark-Viverito’s efforts to reform and democratize the City Council. In fiscal year 2015, about half of the City Council received $382,000 for their office budgets, while other members received $377,000. Council sources say this is another example of Mark-Viverito moving away from the practices of her predecessors, who used funding levels - both for office budgets and discretionary money to award nonprofits - to exercise control, reward allies, and punish those who were seen as out of step.

Under Mark-Viverito, five Council members have received more than others for their office budgets. For the current fiscal year, chair of the finance committee Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, chair of the land use committee David Greenfield, and Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer all receive about $70,000 more to run their offices, with an annual budget of $479,000. Each of these three is provided increased funding based on heightened levels of responsibility.

Council Member Donovan Richards, whose district includes the Rockaways and requires him to run two offices, receives $454,000 this year. Council Member Alan Maisel has the highest office budget of any Council member - $489,000 annually - $80,000 above the majority of Council members.

When asked why his office budget was so much higher than that of the average Council member, Maisel told Gotham Gazette, “I have no idea. I don’t know what the reason is - maybe something built in from a previous Council member? I don’t know.” Maisel seemed surprised to hear he receives a larger office budget than other Council members, and asked what others receive.

The speaker’s office was also unable to specify why Maisel receives a significantly higher office budget, saying only that the speaker retains the discretion to provide additional resources in limited circumstances - such a leadership positions, committee responsibilities, and hardship. Maisel succeeded Lew Fidler on the Council starting in 2014, the same year Mark-Viverito became speaker.

In a statement, Council Member Richards explained to Gotham Gazette that he receives more for his office budget because “In District 31, we cover a large diverse constituency that has vastly different needs, from Southeast Queens, all the way to the Rockaways. The geographical distance between the two areas requires two district offices to handle the constituent caseload and day-to-day services more efficiently, which also requires additional staff to meet the needs of residents throughout the district.”

Simply increasing Council members’ office budgets does not guarantee their staff members will receive a raise. Some Council members may choose to distribute the added $27,000-$32,000 in a way that gives each of their aides a pay raise, others may use the money to hire one additional staff member. Some Council members may not even use the added funds for salaries, but rather, to pay rent for a better office space or an additional office, or use it for OTPS.

The $409,000 most Council members currently receive to run their offices creates a certain sense of equity, but does not take into account differing needs. Office rent may be higher on the Upper East Side than on Staten Island, for example, while Council members serving poverty-stricken districts may have cause to provide more robust constituent services than others, requiring them to hire additional constituent liaisons. Some Council members may need to offer different language services to their constituents.

“My rent, I’m pretty sure, is twice as high as some of the members in the Bronx,” Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, said. “And certainly, my staff, who mainly live in the district, probably need a little bit higher salaries to be able to stay, as opposed to someone in the Bronx. It’s a reality that I find challenging.”

“Some of us have more demands on our staff than others, and there’s no recognition of that,” said Council Member Barron, who represents Brownsville and other parts of Brooklyn. Though office rent in poorer districts may be more affordable, Barron says, Council members representing “the Upper East Side, Upper West Side don’t have the same kinds of problems in terms of dealing with their constituents, agencies, and the problems that some of us in the more impoverished neighborhoods have. I think there should be some consideration of that.”

Council Member Williams, who represents Flatbush and other parts of Brooklyn, also points to differences in demands on district offices. “Some districts have a high, high volume of constituent services, some districts have a lower amount, there are some districts that focus more on legislation,” Williams explained. “The needs of every district’s very different, you may have a constituent liaison that sees one person every day, and another that sees one person every hour.”

Council members may hire as many staffers as they see fit, and the number of people they employ as well as the positions they name largely depend on the differing needs of their districts. Staff listings indicate Council members employ an average of seven aides, with some employing as many as nine or as few as four.

Council members must choose between hiring a smaller staff and paying each aide more, or hiring more and paying each less.

“It’s very unfortunate,” Council Member Antonio Reynoso, a former Council staffer himself, told Gotham Gazette. “Either we have three staff members and pay them a good amount for what they’re worth, or we have eight members and everyone’s taking a hit.”

Council Member Torres, who represents parts of the Bronx, told Gotham Gazette he is currently experiencing some staff turnover, which he is “using to prioritize pay increases for existing staff. Even though there’s a real need for added capacity and more staffers.” Torres says he is choosing not to hire additional staff “because I cannot allow my staffers to earn what is an abysmal wage. It’s a death wage in some senses.”

Staffers often end up filling numerous roles, with aides in many offices serving as both legislative director and budget director, legislative liaison and scheduler, or director of communications and legislation. Council aides are often in their twenties, working long hours, and eyeing other, higher-paying positions in government.

Salaries for the same position can vary widely across offices, with Council members’ chiefs of staff - the highest paid staff position - receiving between $37,700 and $92,000 annually, according to 2015 payroll records compiled by The Empire Center. Most communications directors received between $28,700 and $50,000.

During the only hearing on the package of bills that raised the salaries of Council members by $36,000 and modified rules by which members earn additional money, Council members defended the raise by pointing out how hard they work, that their responsibilities have increased over the years, and that they work long hours. The workload of Council aides has increased as well.

“We work more than 60 hours a week,” Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez said during the Feb. 3 hearing. “For me, this is a big compromise that we’re doing…our salaries should be $175,000,” added Rodriguez, who in 2015 paid his seven staffers at least $15,038 and at most $56,231.

In December, Speaker Mark-Viverito submitted a letter to the quadrennial commission describing the Council’s workload and reasons why Council members deserve a raise. “Each Member represents on average about 160,000 New Yorkers,” Mark-Viverito wrote, and “the time commitment for Council Members is considerable and most describe their jobs as ‘24/7,’ requiring them to be available around-the-clock.”

“Council Members have already made 105% more bill and resolution drafting requests, introduced 41% more bills and enacted 32% more Local Laws than through the same time period in the immediately preceding session,” Mark-Viverito added.

Given Council members’ rationale that their workload has increased and they therefore deserve a raise, Joy Simmons, chief of staff for Council Member Barron, told Gotham Gazette she believes “staff members should also get raises, because the burden of that work falls on our shoulders…there’s many staff members living paycheck to paycheck."

“Many Council members work ’24/7,’ but their staffs do as well,” said Simmons, who was one of the staff members to stand in silent protest at the Feb. 5 vote - she also testified before the Council on Feb. 3. “We’re working way more than 40 hours and not getting overtime, and there’s no provision to make more, and if you don’t work those hours they’ll find someone else who will.”

“My staff definitely works more than 40 hours a week,” Reynoso said. “My staff works just as hard, if not harder, than me, they’re out there every day, in meetings, in the nighttime. They represent me, so when I can’t go somewhere, they’re out there.”

“There are staffers that are coming in the office at 9 a.m. and are done at their community board meetings at 9 p.m.,” Torres said, “and you’re receiving $25,000, $30,000, $35,000 a year? That’s absurd. That’s unlivable.”

Low wages aren’t only hurting staffers - they diminish the professionalism of the City Council itself, Council members argue, and lead to a high turnover rate. Torres, Williams, and Reynoso believe Council members are given too few resources to adequately compensate their aides, causing Council members’ offices to become “a training ground for other agencies or other companies, because they see the work that the staff does, and they come and get them and we just can’t compete because there’s not enough money,” in Williams’ words.

Reynoso says staffers often leave for similar positions in the mayor’s office that pay $60,000 a year - nearing the high end of what Council aides are paid. Other opportunities in city government abound. The Department of Education has six employees who do communications work - the highest paid among them (senior advisor to Chancellor Fariña for communications and external affairs) earned $177,235 in 2015. The DOE’s top press secretary earned $114,987, while the three deputy press secretaries made $69,065, $44,603, and $25,992, according to Empire Center payroll records. A DOE assistant press secretary made $54,685

“We’re like the minor leagues,” Reynoso said. “Many of our staff members get taken away from us to work in jobs that pay substantially more, we can’t compete. So we end up doing all the training, all the development, and then after a year, they’re gone…It takes away from the professionalism that we have at our office.”

Reynoso said that for certain types of work Council members do, such as land use, it would be ideal to hire a planner with a Master’s degree, yet because Council members are unable to offer them a competitive wage, they end up hiring someone who may not be a planner, but knows about planning, meaning the city ends up without “the top professionals to do these things that are an important part of our job.”

Though the added funds to Council members’ office budgets may “help us get closer to fairness,” Reynoso says, “it’s still nothing that can help us get competitive with the mayor’s office. Outside of doubling our staff budgets, it’s not going to be competitive.”

Ultimately, it is up to the Council speaker to set the office budgets for members. Yet, some question why Council members don’t push more aggressively for a significant increase to their office budgets to be included in the city budget.

“These Council members have supported other workers out there looking for pay increases and looking for protections within their industries - you know, airport workers, retail workers,” Ndigo Washington, legislative director for Council Member Barron, told Gotham Gazette, expressing dismay at the fact that Council members will so readily push for higher wages for other workers, but leave their own staffers poorly compensated.

More could be done to address the wage situation beyond simply increasing Council members’ office budgets. There should be standards, some Council members argue, for a minimum salary for a chief of staff, legislative director, budget director, deputy chief of staff, and all typical staff positions.

“I think there’s an argument for a minimum,” Torres said, which he said would likely require a change to Council rules.

A minimum standard could help, Council members and staffers say, though setting a uniform pay rate for certain positions is something to “be wary of,” according to Williams, given the vastly different roles and responsibilities of staffers from office to office.

In the state Assembly, members’ office rents and utilities are paid through the central office. If the City Council were to alter the rules to allow rent to be paid centrally, it could free up money in Council members’ office budgets to be used to better compensate staffers, assuming significant deductions in those budgets would not be made.

“Maybe the rent could be paid centrally,” Torres said, “so that it has no impact on the individual budgets of members.”

Another issue raised by Washington and Simmons, both aides to Council Member Barron, is ensuring raises for staffers. “We’ve been told in the past that we might get a cost of living increase,” Washington said, “but we don’t know.” There is also the lack of job security or protection, as staffers are considered at-will employees. Council sources say they was a cost of living increase in 2015, one that applied to Council employees (working on the Council central staff and for members) with qualifying longevity.

“What you have is a tale of two cities at City Hall,” said Council Member Torres. “You have egregious pay disparities in pay between the Mayor’s Office and the City Council...A poorly resourced City Council with poorly paid staff cannot possibly live up to its charter-mandated roles as a co-equal branch of government.”

“It’s a professional position and we’re reducing it to the status of a glorified internship,” he added, of aide roles.

Simmons says that she and her colleagues hope that the mayor and the Council will “pass a budget that includes raises for members of Council staff, and even central staff.”

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 7


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Budget season heats up this week: the state budget is due by the end of the month, the legislature's one-house budgets are expected this week, as are further negotiations among Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate President John Flanagan, and New York City budget hearings continue. After holding its initial budget hearing and several issue-specific hearings last week, the City Council will continue to evaluate Mayor de Blasio's $82 billion preliminary budget. The state budget continues to loom over city proceedings, with significant worry about Gov. Cuomo's proposed cuts to city funding for Medicaid and CUNY and other measures that may hurt the city. [Read: Several Significant Questions About The Governor's Budget]

The governor has just started to meet with state legislative leaders on the budget, much less entertain talks with city officials about how to come to an agreement mitigating the costs of his proposals that the mayor and others are pushing back against.

This weekend, Cuomo made three Sunday stops on his "Drive for $15" tour, in Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. Cuomo received some welcome support when The New York Times editorial board wrote in support of his efforts to raise the minimum wage. The governor starts his week at a paid family leave rally - details below.

For his part, de Blasio spent the weekend marching in two St. Patrick's Day parades and making a few other public appearances. He begins his week with a Monday announcement on gender equity - see below for details.

There's more than just budget dealings happening this week, of course. For example, the de Blasio administration's proposal for rezoning East New York comes before the City Council zoning committee first thing Monday morning. Get up to speed on what's happening with the mayor's housing plans with the latest ten-minute update from our Ben Max and City Limits' Jarrett Murphy - listen here.

Also, look for events featuring public speeches by MTA chief Tom Prendergast and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie - see below for details. As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Monday in Albany.

Riders Alliance members will travel to Albany Monday to speak to legislators about better funding for subway and bus service.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Governor Cuomo will deliver remarks at a rally for paid family leave at IBEW Local 25 Union Hall in Hauppauge.

At 10:15 Monday morning at the Chelsea Recreation Center, "Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will host a press conference to make an announcement on gender equity." At 4 p.m. Monday, de Blasio will appear on Power 105.1.

“New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli will discuss his annual estimate of the bonuses paid to New York City securities industry employees during a conference call with press on Monday, March 7 at 11:00 a.m. Information on the bonuses will be released earlier that morning.”

At the City Council on Monday:

  • 9:30 a.m. meeting of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises on the East New York rezoning.
  • 10 a.m. meeting of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services to discuss requiring the Department of Correction to report on security indicators in city jails and to make changes to jail data reporting on adolescents.
  • 11 a.m. meeting of the Committee on Housing and Buildings to discuss legal changes in relation to low energy intensity building requirements and green building standards for certain capital projects.
  • 1 p.m. the Committee on Civil Rights will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.


At 11:30 a.m. Monday The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will host Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for a “Chairman's Conversation in honor of International Women's Day." Gillibrand will speak with MCC Chair Ken Biberaj and take questions. “We will be covering a broad range of topics including family leave and hearing 2016 legislative updates.”

At 2 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at A Better Balance 10th Anniversary Conference at NYU.

At 5:30 p.m. Monday the City Council will host a celebration to honor Greek-Americans who have dedicated themselves to serving their communities. The event will feature honorees who have helped promote Hellenic and democratic values and have been great examples of civic engagement throughout the community. City Council Member Costa Constantinides and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will lead the celebration.

Tuesday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At 8 a.m Tuesday, City & State magazine, in partnership with CUNY and SUNY, will host a breakfast forum focusing on the challenges and opportunities for community colleges and the New York workforce.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation will host a business development seminar titled “Learn How to do Business with the MTA,” to provide an opportunity for certified minority, women-owned, disadvantaged or small business enterprises to learn about contracting and procurement opportunities available with the MTA.

At the City Council on Tuesday

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Standards and Ethics will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.
  • Noon, the Committee on Public Safety will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Education will meet for a preliminary budget hearing on the DOE capital plan (expense is later this month).
  • 2 p.m., the Committee on Civil Rights will meet to discuss amending the administrative code to defend human rights laws, specifically regarding sexual orientation discrimination.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and The Alliance for Quality Education  will hold a public hearing on issues facing public schools, including overcrowding and lack of resources.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host “Why New York? Our Segregated Schools Epidemic.” This discussion will be moderated by Nikole Hannah-Jones, investigative reporter for the New York Times Magazine, and include principals, teachers, and parents.

Wednesday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Association for a Better New York will host a breakfast featuring Thomas Prendergast, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Prendergast will discuss the MTA’s Capital Program and provide an update on MTA projects underway.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • 9:30 a.m., the Committee on Finance will meet on the Council’s operating budget and “Schedule detailing the lump sum OTPS Unit of Appropriation of the Operating Budget of the Council of the City of New York.”
  • Noon, the Council will hold the first of its two full-body Stated Meetings of March.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Urban Pathways is sponsoring a discussion at The Museum of the City of New York on solutions for combatting homelessness in New York City. Participants will include Jumaane Williams, Council Member, 45th District, and Chair, Committee on Housing and Buildings; Daniel Tietz, Chief Special Services Officer of New York City’s Human Resources Administration; Lynn Lewis, Executive Director, Picture the Homeless; DeBoRah Dickerson, Spokesperson for Picture the Homeless; herself formerly homeless; Carl Siciliano, Founder, Ali Forney Center; Alana Semuels (moderator), Staff Writer at The Atlantic.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday: at 10 a.m., the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.

At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, NYU Women's HerStory Month will host "Bleeding Freely: Menstrual Equity, Activism, and the "Tampon Tax" featuring City Council Member Julissa Ferreras, activist Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, activist Kiran Gandhi, and journalist Lisa De Bode.

Friday and the weekend
At 8 a.m. Friday New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will discuss “His first full session as Assembly speaker” and “The state budget and his legislative priorities including minimum wage, paid family leave and ethics reform” at a Crain’s Business Breakfast Forum at the New York Athletic Club. The event will be moderated by Erik Engquist, Assistant Managing Editor of Crain's New York Business and Laura Nahmias, reporter for Politico New York.

At 8:30 a.m. Friday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will co-host the Brooklyn Alzheimer's Conference.

At the City Council on Friday

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.
  • 11 a.m., the Committee on Environmental Protection will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.


On Saturday at 2 p.m., City Council Member Andy King will host his third State of the 12th District Address to highlight the district’s finances, accomplishments over the past year, challenges facing the district, and future planning.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Leanna Carroll and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

The Week That Was in New York Politics, Feb. 29-March 4


week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday March 4, 2016

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio and City Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr. visit Bed-Stuy businesses, via William Alatriste;

bdb cornegy bed stuy

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:
1. Budget Talks Begin: On Tuesday, the City Council held the first of many preliminary budget hearings. Two issues that came up time and again were concerns about cuts to city funding in Gov. Cuomo’s budget proposal, and whether the city is adequately saving for an economic downturn. As hearings proceed this month, Council committees will hear from agency commissioners, leading to the Council’s official preliminary budget response, due by March 30. [Read: City Council to Begin Public Examination of Mayor's Budget & At First Council Budget Hearing, Concerns Over City Savings and State Cuts]

2. Summons Shift: On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Bratton, and Manhattan District Attorney Vance announced a policing shift under which NYPD in Manhattan will issue summonses to individuals who commit low-level offenses like public consumption of alcohol, public urination, and various subway offenses, instead of arresting them. City officials hope the change will free up resources to prosecute more serious crimes and reduce the backlog of cases in Criminal Court. De Blasio said he expects to expand the effort to all five boroughs while some wondered why the move was being taken while the City Council considers legislation in a similar vein.

3. Housing, Cuomo Criticism: During a City Council budget hearing on Thursday, city housing commissioner Vicki Been sharply criticized a proposal in Gov. Cuomo’s budget that would change how the state allocates housing bonds, calling it a “poison pill” for affordable housing. Been added that 1,200 below-market-rate units in the city were held up by Cuomo at the end of last year. Been, budget watchdogs, the real estate industry, and contractors have come out against Cuomo’s proposal, warning that it could drive away funding and create gridlock. [Listen: Max and Murphy on Housing]

4. More on Rikers: Discussions about the feasibility of closing the city’s notorious jail complex, Rikers Island, continued this week, with Comptroller Scott Stringer calling the 27 percent increase in the number of personal injury claims filed against the city for mistreatment in the city’s correctional facilities a “humanitarian crisis.” Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, meanwhile, hopes that her plan to reform the bail system in the city, which is in the process of being implemented, will make it possible to close Rikers. [Read: Key to Vision of Closing Rikers, City Council Bail Fund Moves Through State Process]

5. State Budget Woes: Several significant questions about the governor’s budget proposal remain less than a month before the plan is set to be finalized, including around how major capital projects will be paid for, how the state will fund the MTA, and whether Cuomo will keep his pledge that his plan to shift millions in costs for CUNY and Medicaid “won’t cost New York City a penny.” [Read: Several Significant Questions About The Governor's Budget]

THIS WEEK’S NUMBERS:

  • 9% of all households in New York City, or nearly 280,000 units, have more than one person per room, the latest Census Bureau data reveals, indicating that crowded living arrangements are increasingly common across the city.
  • $86 million spent on lobbying in New York City last year, a new record; with lobbying receipts from one firm led by one of Mayor de Blasio’s friends and fundraisers totalling nearly $13 million alone, the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • 92 New York City high schools will allow juniors to take the SAT free of charge during regular school hours, the first step in a plan to administer the test in all 438 high schools next year, the Times reports.
  • 40% of students in New York City recommended for special-education services may not be getting them, a report from the Department of Education finds.
  • 2,846 personal injury claims from city jails were filed during fiscal year 2015 - a 27% jump from the previous fiscal year, the Journal reports.
  • $13.1 million spent by the city to pay for settlements or judgments resulting from injury or deaths in city jails in fiscal year 2015 - a 66% increase from the previous fiscal year, Reuters reports.
  • 18% drop in the number of evictions in New York City from 2014 to 2015, down to 21,988, the lowest total since 2005, which the city attributes to more legal services and preventive efforts to keep New Yorkers from becoming homeless, the Times reports.
  • 180 instances of improper searches of people’s homes by the police based on an investigation conducted by the CCRB of 1,762 complaints over five years, according to a report released by the CCRB.
  • 17 affordable houses still vacant after a decade in a city-run affordable housing program, DNAinfo reports.
  • $4.8 billion over the next four years is how much Governor Cuomo's proposed budget would cost New York City, Gotham Gazette reports.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

It was a good week for Assembly Member Keith Wright, whose prospects of winning the race to replace retiring Rep. Charles Rangel got a boost after state Senator Bill Perkins dropped out of the race and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie decided to back Wright in his run for Congress.

It was a bad week for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has made the need to direct those who commit low-level, nonviolent offenses to a civil court system rather than jail a priority, yet was not included in a policy shift announced by the Mayor, the NYPD, and the Manhattan District Attorney that will reduce arrests for low-level offenses.

THE FLASH:
Around this time last year
, on March 4, 2015, Mayor de Blasio announced that New York City will add two Muslim holy days to the public school calendar, becoming the country's first major metropolitan city to close public schools in observance of the two most sacred Muslim holy days.

Around this time last year, on March 2, 2015, the Department of Education lifted a ban on cellphones in New York City schools.

Around this time two years ago, on March 4, 2014, news broke that the city was expected to file a settlement of stop-and-frisk lawsuits, not long after Mayor de Blasio had announced that the city would drop its appeal of a ruling that had found NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices unconstitutional, and would agree to have a court monitor oversee reforms. Just this week, Mayor de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Bratton, and Manhattan District Attorney Vance announced a new major policy shift in the way the NYPD in Manhattan will handle low-level offenses, building upon previous efforts to reduce the use of arrests for minor offenses.

Around this time 48 years ago, on March 1, 1968, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was created to oversee transportation operations in 12 counties.

Around this time 227 years ago, on March 4, 1789, after being established by the Constitution, Congress met for the first time at New York City’s Federal Hall.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:
Key to Vision of Closing Rikers, City Council Bail Fund Moves Through State Process, by David Howard King

City Council to Begin Public Examination of Mayor's Budget, by Meg O’Connor and Samar Khurshid

Several Significant Questions About The Governor's Budget, by David Howard King

At First Council Budget Hearing, Concerns Over City Savings and State Cuts, by Samar Khurshid and Meg O’Connor

Calls for More Transparency, Oversight in Department of Education Contracting, by Samar Khurshid

Housing Groups Defend Homelessness Report After Pushback from Cuomo Administration, by David Howard King

Supporters Launch Renewed Push to Pass Plastic Bag Bill by Earth Day, by Samar Khurshid

Ten Days in the Life of a Police Reform Advocate, by Bob Gangi (opinion)

A Budget for Immigrant New York, by Cristina Molina (opinion)

Will the Democrats' Fresh Entitlements Lift Poor Families? by Bruce Fuller (opinion)

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

Each week, Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Ben Max and City Limits Executive Editor Jarrett Murphy discuss the latest on housing policy and politics in New York. Listen to the latest developments in affordable housing here.

Mayor de Blasio appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah on Thursday, and spoke about the sharing economy, income inequality, the role of a mayor, and universal pre-k (extended interview).

Alyssa Katz from the Daily News and NY1 Political Director Bob Hardt join Alexis Grenell and Nick Powell to discuss the politics surrounding New York City’s homeless crisis on this week’s NY Slant Podcast.

Allison Sesso, executive director of the Human Services Council, Gordon Campbell from NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and Frederick Shack, executive director of Urban Pathways, appear on Inside City Hall to discuss the collapse of the social services agency FEGS and the lessons for nonprofit organizations.

Politico New York’s Sally Goldenberg takes an in-depth look at the city’s senior housing crisis.

Mayor de Blasio appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe to discuss the presidential primaries.

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NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

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by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max



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