Gotham Gazette

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Stated Meeting: Council Tries to Plug Some leaks

Photo (cc) petar_c

Need a plumber? Call the City Council.

The City Council plugged some leaks Wednesday by approving a package of legislation aimed at conserving the city's water supply.

The bills will require new commercial buildings to have water fountains with spouts that can accommodate a 10-inch water bottle, mandate property owners install alarms to detect leaks in roof water tanks and, for the first time, allow dual-flush toilets.

All of them, said Council Speaker Christine Quinn, could prevent billions of gallons of water from being wasted every year.

"Our legislation today has the potential, believe it or not, to save 1 billion gallons of water in the first year," said Quinn. "That's the size of the Central Park reservoir."

Drip, Drip, Drip

According to the City Council, New York City uses 1 billion gallons of water every day. The average New Yorker, according to the Urban Green Council, uses 78 gallons of water every day -- to drink, shower and flush the toilet.

Much of that water, council officials said, is wasted by faulty toilet valves or outdated cooling systems for air conditioners and ice machines.

The legislation approved Wednesday came out of a green code task force, established by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Quinn to make the city's building, plumbing and electrical codes more eco-friendly.

Better Fixtures

Most controversially, the council required new construction to install water fountains with a separate spout with 10 inches of space below to allow users to fill a water bottle. The bill (Intro 264-A) was approved by a vote of 44 to 4.

The council's Republican delegation saw the proposal as overregulation at its best.

"Once again," said Republican Councilmember Daniel Halloran, "we are in the business of regulating crap."

Several Republican members also voted against a bill to require new construction to install plumbing fixtures -- like showerheads, urinals and sink faucets -- that would use less water. The bill (Intro 271-a) also allows buildings to install dual-flush toilets, which have two separate water pressure levels, one for solid waste and one for liquid. Buildings are fined if they have two-flush toilets now, said Quinn.

Critics of the bill said it would force homeowners doing simple bathroom renovations to buy -- and pay for -- new fixtures.

"It seems with every turn, with every aspect of building, every aspect of breathing, and now in one of those glorious moments in one little room in your home, government is coming and knocking on the door and saying, 'We'd like to check out the throne,'" said Council Minority Leader James Oddo. "This has nothing to do with conservation."

Rate Raiser?

Other pieces of the legislation spurred far less controversy.

One bill (Intro 263-A), which was approved unanimously, would ban the use of drinking water for once-through cooling systems in equipment like water coolers, refrigerated walk-ins or icemakers. Currently, some of this equipment uses drinking water to keep cool, but only once before it spits it out into the waste stream.

The council also unanimously approved legislation (Intro 268-A) to require property owners install alarms on their roof water tanks to measure if they are not working properly. The bill would also require certain commercial facilities with high water use to monitor their consumption.

Despite the package's approval, several council members feared the measures would ultimately raise water rates for homeowners.

Over the past decade, New Yorkers' water bills have dramatically increased even though residents conserve more water now than ever before. The Water Board has testified at the council that the conservation has actually contributed to the higher rates. Water rates also are increasing because many homeowners have failed to pay their bills.

"A homeowner could be dying of dehydration and their water rates would go up," said Councilmember James Vacca of the Bronx.

Quinn, however, said these bills would not spur any increase in water rates.

Charter School Debate Brings Money, Attention to Harlem Race

p.s. 59
Democracy Prep
The rapid expansion of charter schools, such as Democracy Prep in Harlem, has fueled the race between incumbent State Sen. Bill Perkins and challenger Basil Smikle.

Jay Seales' son is only 4 years old, but Seales already worries about whether the boy will get into one of Harlem's popular charter schools. That, says Seales, is one reason he is out at the corner of 116th Street and Lenox Avenue early one recent morning handing out leaflets for State Senate candidate Basil Smikle, who stands, reaching out for hurried commuters' hands, only a few yards away.

Smikle, a political consultant, needs lots of voters like Seales if he is to confound the odds and defeat incumbent State Sen. Bill Perkins, a longtime mainstay of Harlem politics, in the Sept. 14 primary.

"I want a change in Harlem, and Bill Perkins has been in for a long time," Seales explains.

But Ronnie Holly, a longtime party activist leafleting for U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, sees it differently. Perkins, he said, "is going to win" and, so Holly said, is Rangel.

The Charter Election

While Perkins and Smikle represent contrasts on a variety of fronts, charter schools helped create this contest and have continued to dominate and to a great extent fund it. (The race is one of several this year where charter schools have become a major issue, generating money and debate.)

Publicly funded, privately run charter schools have burst into upper Manhattan in the past five years, attracting lots of students and creating controversy in the process. As parents have clamored to put their children in charters, Perkins has relentlessly questioned the performance of many of the schools and the way they operate.

The concentration of charters in black and Latino neighborhood such as Harlem, he has said, has created an education system that is "separate and unequal." He has argued that many of the individuals and organizations that run the schools "have not been accountable in terms of the success they are achieving and in delivering services to all children."

Perkins held hearings on charters last spring that many proponents of the schools viewwed as hostile. And he initially opposed raising the cap on the number of charters in the state, changing his mind, he has said, only when provisions were added establishing more oversight of the schools.

bill perkins
Bill Perkins

Despite this, Perkins has said, he does not oppose charter schools. In fact, he served on the board of one.

Charter proponents take a different view. Early in 2010, a number of people considered challenging Perkins, at least partly on the charter school issue. Eventually they coalesced behind Smikle.

Since then, Smikle, who has raised about $160,000, has received contributions from many of those supporting the charter school movement. Perkins notes that many of these contirbutors work in highly paid jobs on Wall Street, which has become a center of support for charter schools, Democrats for Education Reform, a leading pro charter group, placed Smikle on its "hot List for fall 2010," of candidates throughout the country. "Basil is taking on Sen. Bill Perkins, who volunteered to become New York’s poster child for charter school opposition," the group said in a recent report. "A Smikle win sends a strong pro‐reform message at a crucial juncture in Albany."

The organization "connected him with people in the financial and real estate world who give to charters," WNYC reporterd recently.

Smikle also has received money from people in the real estate industry.

Perkins, who has been soliciting money for a longer time than Smikle has, has raised more: a total of about $260,000. He too has seen his stand on charters bring him contributions, most notably from the United Federation of Teachers and its allies. The union went to court in an effort to remove the $6,000 limit on the amount its political action committee could give Perkins. A federal judge rejected that demand. Other unions also have donated to Perkins' campaign.

Specifically, Smikle said he supports charter schools, but that efforts must be made to improve education for the vast majority of children who do not attend them. To do that, he would look to create partnerships and follow charter schools' example of making five to six adults responsible for every child. "What happens at home affects what happens in school," he said.

In explaining his stand on charters, Perkins also focused on the kids who do not attend them. Charters he said, launched "with the promise that they could teach us how to better teach children -- not just in charters but throughout the system," he said. But years later, he continued, "we haven’t seen that replication of success. What we have seen is a proliferation of charter schools."

He said his criticism of charter school has led to changes, including allowing the state comptroller to audit charter schools and a ban on for-profit companies creating charters. "It is contrary to our values that you have private companies running public schools," Perkins said.

Beyond charters, Perkins has long been a critic of mayoral control of schools because "our system of checks and balances is compromised."

basil smikle
Basil Smikle

For his part, Smikle praises Mayor Michael Bloomberg for bringing accountability to the city's school system and for getting private individuals and groups to donate money to the public schools.

Despite that, he said, the schools still need improvement. "There are a lot of young people who are not being trained appropriately to compete in the global marketplace," Smikle said.

Age and Attitude

As the campaign draws to a finish, both men say the issues go beyond charter schools to include the economy, development and what type of leader can best represent the people of this rapidly changing part of New York.

Perkins, 61, portrays himself as someone who grew up in the civil rights movement and has years of activism promoting progressive causes behind him.

He has served in the Senate for only one term -- he was elected to David Paterson's old seat, which Paterson gave up to become lieutenant governor -- but previously was in City Council and ran unsuccessfully for borough president. Even Smikle praises the work Perkins did as a City Council member to fight lead paint poisoning.

Smikle, 38, presents himself as representing change. He casts himself as part of a "new generation of political leadership that doesn't come from the clubhouse ... [and is] a little more results orient, a little more policy oriented."

This new generation, he said, needs to begin assuming office now. "Right now I can make a difference," Smikle said. "I'm not going to submit to the paradigm of 'wait your turn.'"

Smikle runs his own political consulting and public relations firm and has worked for politicians, including Hillary Clinton, Bloomberg and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman.

He says that these politicians -- most notably Clinton -- would shape the way he would operate as a senator. "I learned if you want to make an investment in the future, you have to bring everyone to the table," he said. "Hilary Clinton did that."

The Albany Quagmire

Like seemingly every candidate this year -- no matter how entrenched in the establishment- Perkins and Smikle both see problems in Albany but think they can work to fix them.

While Perkins thought he knew how bad things were in Albany before he went there in 2007, he said it has been more dysfunctional than he expected, particularly with the 2009 Senate coup and the quick fall of the last two governors. "To be honest, I was a little bit dazed," Perkins said."

He thinks thing have improved recently, with a change in Senate leadership and the removal of State Sen. Hiram Monserrate. And he thinks things could improve further if Democrats pick up additional seats in November.

Among other measures, Perkins said he has been working with fellow Manhattan State Sen. Liz Krueger to come up with ways to change the budget process. For example, he said, the state could benefit from having an Independent Budget Office such as the city has.

He also thinks the state needs to reform the way it draws legislative districts. The key, he said, "is to assure the public we're not doing this in the closet."

But Smikle contends Perkins is part of the problem in the capital, not the solution. He said Perkins voted for State Sen. Pedro Espada as Senate majority leader and has sent out four mailings, paid for by the state, in six months.

"When you have people that are in office that aren't afraid of losing their seat but are up there to do things that are innovative," Smikle said, "I think you can make a difference."

Perhaps oddly for someone styling himself as an insurgent Smikle points to longtime politicians who have been able to legislate and get things done: Assemblymember and Manhattan Democratic party leader Keith Wright (whose Democratic cub endorsed Smikle) and Charles Rangel. He praises both as legislators -- something, he says, Perkins is not.

Garnering Support

Perkins certainly has the lead in endorsements, even picking up the backing from an organization of charter school parents. Another organization of charter parents weighed in for Smikle.

In addition to winning support from most -- though not all -- unions, Perkins has gotten thumbs up from some who profess skepticism of Albany's incumbents such as Citizens Union and the New York Times. The News backed Smikle.

Smikle, though, said endorsements tend to go to the incumbent. After a morning of shaking hands at the subway, he said thing are going well.

"We've changed the conversation in Harlem and Upper Manhattan, Smikle said in assessing his campaign. "We've really been able to show people you can run against an incumbent and be successful."

The question, facing Smikle is whether he can be successful enough.

Experience Shapes Race in Inwood

Photo (cc) Courtney Gross

Guillermo Linares, the former City Council member and city immigration commissioner, stood at the corner of Dyckman and Broadway in Inwood last week, glad-handing commuters climbing up from the A train below.

Clad in a crisp pinstriped shirt and red and blue tie, Linares explained why he was the best candidate to represent the 72nd district in the state Assembly -- a seat being vacated by his former rival, Adriano Espaillat.

"Experience does count," said Linares, holding up his left pointer finger. "New is appealing when you bring experience. I am new in Albany, but I bring experience."

Photo (cc) Guillermo Linares. Credit: Courtney Gross

Linares' Democratic competitors, former Assemblymember Nelson Denis, attorney Julissa Gomez, a staffer for Assemblymember Denny Farrell, Gabriela Rosa, and Miguel Estrella, all beg to differ.

They say Linares' record is exactly why he is the wrong person for the job.

The Competition

Denis' face -- a snapshot from his time representing East Harlem in the state Assembly -- is splattered alongside an open-air bus idling by the number 1 train. Denis -- one of Linares' strongest challengers -- simultaneously hands out flyers to passersby.

Moments earlier, Denis slammed Linares for his alliance with Espaillat, who is vacating the seat to run for State Senate. Linares and Espaillat butted heads for more than a decade, but endorsed each other in this year's Democratic primary.

Denis said this is a matter of "political expediency" -- a marriage along ethnic lines. Both Linares and Espaillat are Dominican. Denis is the only Puerto Rican in the race. The majority of the 72nd district is Dominican, candidates said.

"You go negative when there is negative to go on," said Denis. Denis has battered Linares' record from his alliance with Espaillat to his attempt to take over the petition signatures of former Councilmember Miguel Martinez last year. Martinez had been forced out of his council seat and sent to federal prison for conspiracy. Linares was eventually disqualified on a technicality.

Linares describes the newfound alliance with Espaillat differently. "It's important to have unity and unity between the two strongest symbols," said Linares. (Linares says he was the first Dominican elected to public office in the country. Espaillat, he said, was the second.)

Linares also said he was never an ally of Martinez.

Photo (cc) Nelson Denis

Above the rumble of the train, Denis argued he was transparent and independent while serving in the Assembly and would be so again. His competitors claim he doesn't have ties to the district. Denis, 55, said he lived in the 72nd for nearly all of his life -- except between 1991 and 2005 when he was in East Harlem. He is no stranger to campaigning either, having run for City Council in Harlem in 2005 and State Senate in 2004.

Denis said he would take his successes in Harlem -- such as bringing in federal funds via the community reinvestment act -- to Washington Heights and Inwood.

"I did it in East Harlem," said Denis. "These are dramatically successful programs in other parts of the country."

Both Linares and Denis may have experience, said the 35-year-old Gomez while sitting over a cup of cafĂ© con leche in Inwood, but it’s the wrong kind. Gomez said she decided to run for office in April -- unlike her challengers who had been planning their candidacies for several years -- after becoming fed up with the political options, or lack thereof, in Upper Manhattan.

"I never thought I'd be involved in politics, ever," said Gomez. She had just finished charming seniors at Dyckman Houses with her bright, wide smile. While there she distinguished her candidacy by saying she was "a woman, a tenant and an attorney."

"Why are we recycling old politicians?" Gomez asked. A newcomer, Gomez said she is the independent, no strings attached candidate.

But she isn't the only woman to vie for the job.

Photo (cc) Julissa Gomez

Rosa, who has worked for Denny Farrell, the former head of the Democratic Party in Manhattan, and was the former chief of staff for Martinez, is the other. Campaigning at the Albania Beauty Center in Inwood, Rosa spoke about her candidacy with women getting primped and styled.

"I am a women with experience in government," said Rosa. "I've been training over these 10 years."

Now, Rosa says, she is ready.

Miguel Estrella could not be reached for this story. The winner of the Democratic primary will face off against Daniel Russo, an Independent, in November.

Fixing Albany

Following a legislative session monopolized by stalemates and coups, candidates for the 72nd Assembly race are all trying to capitalize on the burgeoning anti-incumbent sentiment sweeping the state, arguing they would make change in Albany.

"Albany has become oblivious and disconnected," said Linares, while driving down Broadway in his Acura SUV. Linares has been endorsed by nearly all the incumbents in the area, including Rep. Charlie Rangel and State Sen. Eric Schneiderman.

Photo (cc) Gabriela Rosa

Farrell and Councilmember Robert Jackson have backed Rosa. Both Denis and Gomez have no major political endorsements.

Linares, Denis, Gomez and Rosa said they would support the disclosure of outside income for state legislators. They also all voiced some support for independent redistricting reform.

Denis said he would lobby the legislature to call for an independent commission to investigate corruption.

"I am the original canary in the coalmine," said Denis of his previous tenure in Albany. "I've been tried and live by my principles."

All of the candidates cited affordable housing and the economy as major issues in the district. Denis said he would urge the state to use pension funds to help finance affordable housing, and would ensure any development in the area had a community benefits agreement attached.

Linares said he would boost the district's economy by making decision makers in Albany aware of its problems and ensure small businesses had access to capital and loans. He declined to give specifics on how he would do that.

"I want the state government to understand the problems of this community," Linares said.

Linares said he would be "on the side of tenants," protect them from harassment, and would focus on safety and education.

Gomez said she would like to start an arbitration panel for small businesses under the threat of eviction. She wants to see the repeal of the Urstadt Law on rent regulation, rescind vacancy decontrol and hold real estate agents accountable so they don't rip off tenants. She also wants to see universal child care.

Rosa said she would hold job fairs and training sessions to educate the area's work force. She also said she would sit down and examine the state's affordable housing laws in an attempt to stop the displacement of residents of the district. She declined to say what programs in particular she would tackle.

"I don't like to say I am going to do something, A, B, C," said Rosa. "I don't like to do things on my own. I will sit down with experts in the community and they will give their input."

In response to the state's looming budget deficit, all of the candidates interviewed for this story said they support a progressive tax on the state's wealthiest residents. Rosa was the only candidate to pledge support for the failed soda tax. All the candidates said they would be open to taxing out of state hedge fund managers.

Linares, Denis, Gomez and Rosa all said they support same-sex marriage (Estrella reportedly doesn't) and increasing the number of charter schools in the district.

In the money race, the most recent filing for Linares reveals he has $22,018 on hand. According to the 11-day, pre-primary report, Denis leads with $30,739, Gomez has $12,470 and Rosa has $2,307.

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