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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 15

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This President's Day week will be somewhat quiet, with both the City Council and state Legislature on break, as they usually are to coincide wit schools being closed. The weekend was a busy one in Albany, though, where the Legislature's Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus held its annual caucus weekend of conferences and celebrations. Mayor Bill de Blasio and many other elected officials took part, in addition to caucus members.

De Blasio, city, and state officials were also dealing with the extreme cold temperatures of the weekend, of course. And, on Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in Harlem, where he "announced the launch of a Fair Housing Enforcement Program – a groundbreaking initiative to uncover discrimination in rental and home sale transactions. Additionally, the Governor has directed the Division of Human Rights and the Department of State to propose new regulations to strengthen the state's housing enforcement efforts on behalf of all New Yorkers," according to a press release from his office.

This week we're watching for continued discussion of how the governor's budget may affect city policy and budgeting - the governor's 30-day budget amendments have kept proposed cuts to funding for New York City in CUNY and Medicaid costs - which de Blasio says he will continue to work to see that Cuomo was sincere when he said these proposals are about finding efficiencies and won't actually cost the city anything.

De Blasio holds a town hall Tuesday night in Brooklyn - details below - and a public conversation on inequality with economist Paul Krugman on Thursday evening at the CUNY Graduate Center. De Blasio has no events on his public schedule for Monday. We're watching to see when the mayor may reschedule a press conference on his Brooklyn-Queens streetcar proposal that was cancelled when a crane collapsed recently, killing one person.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito continues to discuss her agenda after last week's State of the City address with at least a couple of public interviews, including one Thursday afternoon - details below.

Even with the two main legislatuve bodies on a break, there are several events to be aware of this week - 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?
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The run of the week in detail:

Schedule is clear for Monday, Presidents Day, as of now.

On Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, Mayor de Blasio will host a press conference on the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, his streetcar plan.

On Tuesday at noon, NYPD Inspector Generel Philip Eure will speak at Columbia Law School's Center for Public Integrity. He'll discuss "What led to the creation of the OIG-NYPD." "The Inspector General's role in addressing systemic issues at the NYPD." "OIG-NYPD's findings on police use of force, body-worn cameras, and the policy on chokeholds."

On Tuesday in New York City, Gov. Cuomo is set to co-host a lunchtime fundraiser for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Milano School and Center for New York City Affairs at The New School will host a discussion called “The New Wild West: Money and the 2016 US Presidential Election” at Arnhold Hall. Speakers will include moderator Jeff Smith, a professor at the New School; Fordham University political science professor Christina Greer; Jack Oliver, Jeb Bush’s campaign finance chair; Democratic National Committee fundraiser Zach Allen; Adam Smith of Every Voice; and others.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, City Council Member Gentile, State Senator Marty Golden, Assembly Member Pamela Harris, and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce join Mayor Bill de Blasio at Fort Hamilton High School for a town hall, where he is set to “addresses economic development and quality-of-life issues for businesses and residents.”

At 8 p.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the Marine Park Civic Association Monthly Meeting in Brooklyn.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, Jonathan F.P Rose (President of Jonathan Rose Companies) and Mitchell Silver (FAICP and New York City Parks Commissioner) will speak on Urban Landscape and Public Health, hosted by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Voter Assistance Advisory Committee, an initiative of the New York City Campaign Finance Board and NYC Votes, will hold a public meeting to encourage the improvement of voter participation and progress with Student Voter Registration Day efforts.

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, New York City Economic Development Corporation President Maria Torres-Springer will speak at breakfast presented by Civic Hall and NY Tech Meetup that the former is hosting.

On Thursday at 11:30 a.m., "Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will deliver his annual "State of the Borough" address, his seventh since taking office in 2009. During the speech, Borough President Diaz will discuss the successes of the previous year while also offering new proposals on a variety of topics, such as education, development, tourism and more." The event will take place at Cardinal Hayes High School.

At 3 p.m. Thursday at CUNY Journalism School, Errol Louis of NY1 and CUNY J-School will host a Q&A with New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, where she will discuss “the City Council's outreach to the community and ethnic media, her State of the City address, the Council’s legislative agenda, including the Criminal Justice Reform Act, numerous challenges immigrants are facing in the city, affordable housing, issues confronting small businesses and workers rights.”

At 5 p.m. Thursday in the Bronx, candidates competing for the vacant City Council District 17 seat in the Feb. 23 special election will participate in a forum. The Community Access Voter Awareness Forum will be moderated by the Bronx Chronicle’s Michael Benjamin and DNAinfo’s Eddie Small.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and economist Paul Krugman will participate in a discussion on the mayor’s efforts to combat social and economic inequality, as well as the larger picture on those issues. The event will be hosted by the CUNY Graduate Center, and will be moderated by Janet Gornick, professor of political science and sociology and director of the Luxembourg Income Study at the Graduate Center.

Friday and the weekend
On Friday in Albany, from 4-8 p.m., the New York State Assembly will hold a hearing to discuss cooperatively owned housing in New York City.

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

The Week That Was in New York Politics, Feb. 8-12

week in review bus readers

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

Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday February 12

PHOTOS OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio participates in the HOPE Count of homeless people living on the street, via Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office; Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito delivers her State of the City speech, via William Alatriste.

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mmv sotc

1. Housing Hearings: The City Council held two lengthy hearings this week examining critical components of Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, which aim to adjust the city’s zoning codes and were approved by the City Planning Commission. At the hearings, Council members grilled de Blasio administration officials and expressed support for the goals of the plan, but made it clear they want to see more affordable units reserved for lower-income residents, and increased protections for workers who will build the new housing. [Read: At Hearings, City Council to Examine Mayor's Zoning Proposals]

2. “More Justice”: City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito gave her second annual State of the City address on Thursday, titled “More Justice,” outlining a vast agenda centered on criminal justice reform, increasing civic engagement, empowering voters, and protecting immigrant communities, among others. Many proposals, including clearing old summons warrants and improving rehabilitation and reentry services, aim to minimize the number of people who end up in the city’s jail, in the hope that once the number of inmates on Rikers decreases, a plan for closing the notorious jail complex could be enacted. [Read: In State of the City, Mark-Viverito Outlines Civic Engagement, Voter Empowerment Plans & Mark-Viverito 'Doubles Down' on Criminal Justice Reform in State of the City]

3. Budget Analysis: Comptroller Scott Stringer released his analysis of Mayor de Blasio’s preliminary fiscal year 2017 budget on Wednesday, pointing out several areas of concern in an overall positive financial outlook for the city. Stringer said savings the Mayor has allocated are insufficient to prepare for an economic downturn and wants the city to implement a PEG requiring city agencies to identify a certain percentage of potential savings. [Read: Comptroller Raises Several Flags in Budget Analysis]

4. Renewed Homelessness Scrutiny: Following the fatal stabbing of a woman and two of her infant daughters Wednesday at a Ramada Inn on Staten Island, which was being used as a temporary homeless shelter, Mayor de Blasio announced plans to provide hotels used as temporary shelters with increased security. The incident comes less than two weeks after a mentally ill man slit another resident’s throat at a homeless shelter in Harlem, which also prompted promises of increased security at shelters. The State quickly responded to the Staten Island incident, instructing the City to increase security, which the City said it had already done.

5. Tax Plan: Assembly Democrats renewed support for their recently-unveiled plan to extend and expand a millionaire’s tax just one day after Governor Cuomo dismissed the plan, saying there was no “reason or appetite to take up taxes this year.” Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan reiterated his opposition to higher taxes on millionaires and said changes to the cap this year are unlikely, though Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has maintained his support for the plan. [Read: Heastie Takes to Twitter to Respond to Cuomo on Tax Plan]


  • $10,000 fine for failing to safeguard crawler crane equipment, up from $4,800, following the fatal crane collapse in downtown Manhattan last Friday, the Times reports.
  • 3,500 volunteers canvassed New York City on Monday for the city’s annual HOPE count, a one-night count of all the homeless people living on the streets, the Associated Press reports - results will not be known for a few weeks.
  • 200 people signed up to testify at the City Council’s hearing on MIH on Tuesday, WNYC reports.
  • 41 hotels are being used as temporary homeless shelters to house more than 2,600 homeless adults and children across New York City, Politico reports.
  • 1.1 million summons warrants for offenses like being in the park after dark or having an open container of alcohol contribute to the city’s backlog of open arrest warrants, Gotham Gazette reports.
  • 8% increase in state agency overtime pay, the Daily News reports.
  • 125 high schools will have student voter registration, up from 56, with increased funding from the City Council, Gotham Gazette reports.
  • 46% increase over two years in the amount of money spent by the city on homeless services, up to $1.7 billion across three agencies, Gotham Gazette reports.

It was a good week for LGBT New Yorkers, advocates and allies, as Governor Cuomo announced a series of regulations Saturday that will prohibit health care insurers from covering "conversion therapy" in New York and stop mental health facilities from using the method on minors.  

It was a bad week for the NYPD, with officers facing two trials this week for the deaths of unarmed black men in two separate incidents, and a joint investigation by ProPublica and the Daily News into the NYPD’s use of the nuisance abatement law alleging the NYPD often uses the law to force people out of their homes. On Thursday, officer Peter Liang was found guilty of manslaughter in the 2014 shooting death of Akai Gurley, and on Wednesday, a federal grand jury began hearing evidence in the case of Eric Garner, who died after a Staten Island police officer put Garner in a chokehold.

And, it was a bad week for Success Academy Charter Schools, after a video published by the New York Times shows a Success Academy teacher belittling a student for failing to answer a question correctly. The accompanying Times story shares similar stories from current and former employees, prompting renewed scrutiny for the charter school network.

Around this time 100 years ago, on February 11, 1916, Emma Goldman was arrested in New York City just before giving a lecture on family planning, which was considered illegal under the 1873 Comstock Act that banned “obscene” literature, including information about contraception.

Comptroller Raises Several Flags in Budget Analysis, by Ben Max

Everyone's Talking About Paid Family Leave, Only Compromise Will Yield a Deal, by David Howard King

In State of the City, Mark-Viverito Outlines Civic Engagement, Voter Empowerment Plans, by Samar Khurshid

Mark-Viverito 'Doubles Down' on Criminal Justice Reform in State of the City, by Meg O’Connor

Assembly Reform Group Nears Release of 49-Recommendation Report, by David Howard King

Heastie Takes to Twitter to Respond to Cuomo on Tax Plan, by David Howard King

In Albany, Bharara Challenges Lawmakers to Act, Not Enable, by David Howard King

Bharara Visits Capital He Upended, by David Howard King

After New Hampshire: Debates & Voting Dates Until New York, by Ben Max

Next Steps the State Must Make to Create and Maintain Affordable Housing, by Nicole Bramstedt (opinion)

Real Affordable Housing for Our Communities, by Susana Salas (opinion)

Time for NYCHA to Stop Wasting Our Money, by Brian Sampson (opinion)

Get the Facts Straight on NYCHA Attacks, by Michael Kelly (opinion)

The 10 Concerns Council Members Had About Mayor’s Inclusionary Housing Proposal, by Jarrett Murphy (City Limits)

Gotham Gazette’s executive editor Ben Max and City Limit’s executive editor Jarrett Murphy discuss key takeaways after two days of marathon City Council hearings on Mayor de Blasio’s citywide zoning proposals.

In a rare visit to Albany on Monday, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara spoke to the need for honest politicians and others in state government to call out corruption when they see it in an interview with WAMC co-sponsored by Citizens Union and other good government groups.

Mayor de Blasio spoke with Errol Louis on NY1 and defended the new Police Department training course, “implicit bias” training, designed to combat officers’ prejudices, and also defended MIH and ZQA.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito appeared on NY1 to discuss her State of the City address.

Errol Louis discussed the 40th anniversary of City Limits magazine with Jarrett Murphy, executive editor and publisher of City Limits, and two contributors, Brooke Williams and Tom Robbins on NY1. 

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!

by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

Mark-Viverito 'Doubles Down' on Criminal Justice Reform in State of the City

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Mark-Viverito delivers her State of the City (photo: William Alatriste) 

During her second State of the City address, titled “More Justice,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced on Thursday a slew of new criminal justice reforms, including efforts to minimize the number of New Yorkers that end up in the city’s jail by clearing old arrest warrants for low-level, nonviolent offenses, and creating more programs to help reduce recidivism. She also said that as the number of inmates on Riker’s Island decreases, a plan for closing the notorious jail complexes could be enacted.

Addressing an issue at the center of criminal justice conversation over the past year, Mark-Viverito said those who have avoided getting into trouble with the law again for years should have old arrest warrants cleared. Clearing these warrants, some of them decades old, would greatly reduce the city’s backlog of over 1.1 million open summons warrants, which are the result of people failing to appear in court after receiving a summons for a low-level, nonviolent offense, such as having an open container of alcohol.

These open warrants can affect the warrant-holder’s immigration status, hurt their chances of getting a job, housing, or other services, and, of course, can result in jail time. A system where someone ends up in jail or with a permanent record for “being in a park after dark is simply not fair or proportionate,” Mark-Viverito said during her speech.

The new initiatives outlined by Mark-Viverito will build upon steps the City Council has already taken to bring “more justice” to the criminal justice system, including creating a citywide bail fund, passing legislation to increase transparency at Rikers Island, prohibiting prospective employers from inquiring about criminal history on job applications, and introducing legislation to change the way the city punishes low-level, nonviolent offenses, such as having an open container of alcohol in public or being in a park after dark.

On Jan. 25, after nearly a year of negotiations, a package of eight bills known as the Criminal Justice Reform Act was introduced in the City Council. The legislation encourages police officers to issue civil penalties, rather than using criminal summonses or arrests, for low-level, nonviolent offenses. Mark-Viverito highlights the package of bills, which appears to have the blessing of Mayor Bill de Blasio, on Thursday, and explained that the Council would be moving it forward and building upon it.

In a statement, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson expressed support for Mark-Viverito’s announcements, saying, “I commend Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for placing criminal justice reform at the top of her legislative agenda….I look forward to working with the Speaker and our partners in government to continue to address this important citywide issue.” Thompson has held several events to help people clear arrest warrants and summonses.

Warrant amnesty, combined with the Criminal Justice Reform Act’s move to steer cases away from the criminal system and direct them to a civil court run by the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings could go a long way toward the speaker’s goal of minimizing the number of New Yorkers who end up in the criminal justice system and on Riker’s Island.

But reducing that number must also involve efforts that “address the systemic issues that plague neighborhoods and start to actually fix them,” Mark-Viverito said, vowing the Council will do just that by passing legislation to ensure the city has a multi-agency plan to provide more social services that target problems like unemployment, high school dropout rates, and substance abuse in areas with high crime rates.

In a continued effort to bring increased transparency to the city’s jail system, this year the Council will pass legislation establishing an Inspector General for the Department of Correction, who will focus “on systemic issues in the city’s jail system, and will be modeled after the successful NYPD Inspector General established by the City Council in 2013,” Mark-Viverito said.

Speaking with members of the press after Mark-Viverito’s speech, Norman Seabrook, president of the city’s Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, said he “applaud[s] the Speaker for her genuine feelings of trying to make a difference, but in order to make a difference you have to sit down with everyone at the to the people that do this for a living as opposed to the ones that just push a pencil.”

“Our job is care, custody, and control,” Seabrook said of those officers who work at and for the city’s jails. “In order to rebuild the system, reform has to be on both sides,” he added, later explaining that one side is those pushing reform and the other is police and correction leaders, as well as district attorneys.

Bringing all stakeholders together to plan reform is exactly what newly-retired Chief Judge of the State of New York, Jonathan Lippman, intends to do as chair of an independent commission to examine Rikers Island and “explore a community-based justice model.” Mark-Viverito first announced the creation of the commission during her State of the City address.

“I very much intend to have a broadly represented committee, particularly of the criminal justice community, and that includes all of the players,” Lippman told reporters after the speech. “I think I have a background that allows me to bring the different sides of the equation to this table, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”

The commission will complement existing reform efforts by exploring ways to continue reducing pre-trial detention rates, move adolescents and the mentally ill off Rikers in the short term, and utilize more community courts and borough-based jail facilities.

Lippman’s firm, Latham and Watkins, which he joined after being forced to retire as chief judge due to age restrictions, will staff the commission and provide all the needed resources pro bono. The Center for Court Innovation, a criminal justice think tank, will also work with the commission, whose members will be selected by Lippman in consultation with Mark-Viverito and others.

“We are going to do the most careful, comprehensive look at Rikers that’s ever been done,” Lippman said, “and make very concrete, direct recommendations...What’s clear is that [Rikers] is central to the justice system here in our city, and it doesn’t work.” While the population at Rikers has already been shrinking, violence in the jails is a major problem, as is people being detained there for extended periods while they await trial for non-violent offenses.

Another important piece of minimizing the number of New Yorkers in the City’s jails is reducing the recidivism rate. “Every year,” Mark-Viverito said, “there are about 70,000 admissions to Rikers and other city jails - but only about 16 percent of those admitted are ultimately sentenced to prison.”

Yet even a brief stint in jail can have life-changing ramifications, she said. A few days in Rikers can cause someone to lose their job, and a record could prevent them from getting a new job or accessing other needed resources, causing them to fall into what Mark-Viverito calls an “endless cycle of recidivism.”

“Reducing recidivism must be a top priority,” Mark-Viverito said, and to that end she promised the Council will work with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to create a Municipal Division of Transition Services which will help make the reentry process for those exiting prison easier and more supportive by providing services like computer classes, resume building, drug treatment, and housing resources.

Another piece of the Council’s effort to reduce recidivism rates will be the development of a video visitation program for those who are incarcerated, as maintaining familial and social relationships has been proven to reduce recidivism. The program will allow families who cannot make the often day-long trip to Rikers Island to speak with their loved ones by visiting a local library or neighborhood center and using the video program.

The Council will also continue to call on the State to raise the age of criminal responsibility, so that 16- and 17-year-olds are no longer automatically tried as adults, Mark-Viverito said. New York is one of the two states in the country that still tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Governor Andrew Cuomo has pushed to raise the age, but has not been able to get legislation passed through the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Along with an intense focus on criminal justice reform, Mark-Viverito also reiterated her support for a $15 minimum wage, emphasized support for immigrants, including by increasing language access and translation services, announced plans to increase civic and youth engagement, outlined ways the city can improve the community planning process, and stressed greater investment in young women.

"The State of the City is strong, but its foundation must be strengthened. That foundation is New Yorkers themselves," Mark-Viverito said on Thursday. "It's the student eager to vote or the community fighting for more green space. It's the immigrant family starting a business or the single mother bringing her baby home for the first time. It's our city's seniors and their caregivers. It's the New Yorker struggling to find a home, or the young man languishing in Rikers. And it is every young woman looking up at the glass ceiling...It's New Yorkers who make New York great. And it's New Yorkers who need more justice."

by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette

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Note: this article has been updated.

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