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Stated Meeting: The Council's New Order


Photo (cc) Courtney Gross

The City Council played its own political game of musical chairs Thursday.

And when the music stopped, Councilmember Charles Barron had nowhere to sit.

On Thursday, the City Council voted 47 to 1 to appoint new leadership, committee chairs and committee members, which shuffled freshmen and seniors from influential posts to ceremonial ones and vice versa. Of the council's 13 new members, six will chair influential standing committees, and five received a leadership position on one of the council's subcommittees.

Third term council members Leroy Comrie of Queens and Domenic Recchia of Brooklyn landed the council's most prominent and influential chairmanships, land use and finance, respectively.

Controversially, Barron, who had chaired the council's Higher Education Committee since he joined the council in 2002, was stripped of his position. Barron attributed his demotion to the fact that he was the only member to challenge Christine Quinn this month for City Council speaker. Quinn was re-elected by a vote of 48 to 1, with Barron dissenting. Known for speaking up at council meetings, Barron compared Quinn to a "dictator," arguing he was being punished for his so-called independence.

"This to me is an abuse of power. It's very divisive," said Barron. "You want to remove me because I'm an ineffective chair. You can't do that," Barron added, saying he has held 80 hearings. During the meeting, Barron went over his allotted two-minute comment period, and council officials proceeded to turn off his microphone.

Late last year, during a press conference at the ground breaking of Fiterman Hall, a long-vacant CUNY building that was damaged in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Barron clashed with CUNY Trustee Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld. The incident could have been a factor in his demotion.

When asked about the decision, Quinn said, "I did not reappoint Councilmember Barron as chair of the Higher Education Committee because I believe it's very important to have committee chairs that are unifying forces."

Freshman Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez has taken Barron's place.

Committees as Political Power

Wrangling over committee chair positions has become a pastime for the council. Some argue the quarreling arises from members' pet issues, while others point to the hefty stipends, known as lulus, attached to every chair position. For instance, by chairing land use and serving as deputy majority leader, Comrie adds $20,000 to his $112,500 salary.

Many also say the chair positions are rewards for those who are loyal to the speaker -- a.k.a. not Barron.

Standing committee chairmanships earn council members an extra $10,000, while subcommittee chairmanships are worth $4,000. Quinn, who selects all of the new chairs, earns $28,500 for her position as the council leader.

As for the more influential positions, Councilmember James Vacca has taken over now-Comptroller John Liu's position on the Transportation Committee, Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley now heads up the Fire and Criminal Justice Committee, and Councilmember Letitia James has taken over the sanitation committee.

Freshman Councilmember Karen Koslowitz, who served in the council in the 1990s and was elected again this fall, took her previous position as chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee.

None of the council's five Republicans received a chairmanship. The only other veteran member who did not receive a standing committee chairmanship was Vincent Gentile of Brooklyn. He kept his position as chair of the libraries select committee.

"I am pleased to be able to continue to work with libraries, and I think libraries are of particular interest to Speaker Quinn," said Gentile, who cast several votes against the majority in the last term, including on congestion pricing and term limits.

Freshman Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens will head the committee that oversees the libraries subcommittee -- the Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations Committee.

Appointing chairs from certain boroughs can also be used to curry favor with county party bosses. This year, both Brooklyn and Queens received 11 standing committee chairmanships.

This week, Citizens Union, the sister organization to Gotham Gazette's publisher, released a report card calling for the end of the council stipend system, saying it only supports the "boss-driven system of government."

For a full list of who got what, see below.

Leadership

Speaker: Christine Quinn, $28,500
Majority Leader / Rules: Joel Rivera, $23,000
Deputy Majority Leader / Land Use: Leroy Comrie, $20,000
Assistant Majority Leader/ Standards and Ethics: Inez Dickens, $15,000
Assistant Majority Leader/ Youth Services: Lewis Fidler, $15,000
Majority Whip / Community Development: Al Vann, $11,000
Minority Leader: Jimmy Oddo, $18,000
Minority Whip: Eric Ulrich, $5,000

Standing Committees

Finance: Domenic Recchia, $18,000
Aging: Jessica Lappin, $10,000
Civil Rights: Larry Seabrook, $10,000
Civil Service and Labor: James Sanders, $10,000
Consumer Affairs: Karen Koslowitz, $10,000
Contracts: Darlene Mealy, $10,000
Cultural Affairs, Libraries, & International Intergroup Relations: Jimmy Van Bramer, $10,000
Economic Development: Thomas White, $10,000
Education: Robert Jackson, $10,000
Environmental Protection: James Gennaro, $10,000
Fire and Criminal Justice Services: Elizabeth Crowley, $10,000
General Welfare: Annabel Palma, $10,000
Governmental Operations: Gale Brewer, $10,000
Health, Maria del Carmen Arroyo: $10,000
Higher Education: Ydanis Rodriguez, $10,000
Housing and Buildings: Erik Martin Dilan, $10,000
Immigration: Daniel Dromm, $10,000
Juvenile Justice: Sara Gonzalez, $10,000
Lower Manhattan Redevelopment: Margaret Chin, $10,000
Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse & Disability Services: Oliver Koppell, $10,000
Oversight and Investigations: Jumaane Williams, $10,000
Parks and Recreation: Melissa Mark-Viverito, $10,000
Public Housing: Rosie Mendez, $10,000
Public Safety: Peter Vallone Jr., $10,000
Sanitation and Solid Waste Management: Letitia James, $10,000
Small Business: Diana Reyna, $10,000
State and Federal Legislation: Helen Foster, $10,000
Transportation: James Vacca, $10,000
Technology: Dan Garodnick, who declined the $10,000 stipend
Veterans: Mathieu Eugene, $10,000
Waterfronts: Michael Nelson, $10,000
Women's Issues: Julissa Ferreras, $10,000

Subcommittees

Zoning and Franchises (Land Use): Mark Weprin, $4,000
Landmarks, Public Siting & Maritime Uses (Land Use): Brad Lander, $4,000
Planning, Dispositions and Concessions (Land Use): Steve Levin, $4,000
Drug Abuse (Mental Health): Fernando Cabrera, $4,000
Senior Centers (Aging): Deborah Rose, $4,000

Select Committee

Libraries: Vincent Gentile, $4,000

Bloomberg Delivers Muted State of the City


Photo Edward Reed

With far less fanfare and before a much smaller crowd than in years past, Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered his ninth State of the City address yesterday, promising to streamline the city's application process for restaurants and give struggling residents a chance to stay in their homes.

Set to the theme of "Recovery Ahead and the Strategy Behind It," Bloomberg laid out a plan for the first year of his third term in office, which he hopes will propel struggling New Yorkers out of the depths of the worst recession to hit the city since the 1930s. "Regular" New Yorkers, from small business owners to a former unemployed woman who recently found a job, sat alongside the mayor as he delivered his approximately 45 minute address. Each of the groups symbolized a certain part of his third term agenda.

"So let me make this commitment to you as we begin this new term: We will continue demanding and achieving progress in every area -- every single day," said the mayor, who entered and exited the Queens auditorium to a Spanish language version of "New York, New York." "We will continue going full tilt -- full time. And even as we face difficult budget choices, which will require painful cuts, we will continue insisting that government remain on the side of every hard-working New Yorker."

That agenda includes focusing on crime prevention programs targeting primarily black and Latino young men. It means testing a trial program to text message parents if their children are absent from school -- a proposal meant to tackle truancy -- and includes a pilot proposal to put GPS systems on school buses. And, Bloomberg said, the city will save cash by consolidating office space, departments and staff.

The address was a far cry from the mayor's speech a year earlier, which was punctuated with marching bands and a made-for-the-day documentary by Ric Burns. This year the mayor addressed a crowd of only 817 (in 2009 it was nearly 2,300) and the event's only celebrity sighting was a muted, brief introduction from Tony Bennett, who with his wife founded the Frank Sinatra School for the Arts in Astoria, which hosted the event.

Some attendees found the mayor's proposals as muted as the event. His goals, they said, seemed lackluster compared to those in his previous addresses.

"When you look at the big picture and what this city is facing, the employment issue, the financial crisis, the fact that people are really struggling in this city, and it calls for PlaNYC 2030 2.0," said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. "He didn't get to 2.0. We're still at 1.0, mayor 101."

Tackling the Financial Crisis

But it may come as no surprise to some that Bloomberg did not reveal any monumental policy shift or costly proposal.

Coming off of an unimpressive electoral victory, the mayor used the address to ensure the city could tackle the tough times ahead. The city faces an approximately $4 billion budget deficit this year. This week, Gov. David Paterson handed down his own budget proposal, which could slice away municipal aid for the city and its school system.

None of the mayor's proposals yesterday, at first glance, would cost taxpayer dollars, according to Comptroller John Liu.

Echoing the linchpin of his re-election campaign (helping New Yorkers through tough times), Bloomberg said Wednesday the city would use $10 million to set up a fund to provide loans to 1,000 struggling property owners, giving them a chance to save their homes from foreclosure. The loans, Bloomberg said, could help residents qualify for mortgage adjustments from their banks. Half the fund will be financed privately and the other half will come from the Battery Park City Authority.

The mayor also said the city would set up a public-private loan pool that struggling New Yorkers could use as long as they agreed to certain financial principles. The effort aims to give some New Yorkers a "fresh start." He said he would also set aside $750 million in the capital budget for a rescue fund for distressed apartment buildings.

To help small businesses, particularly restaurants, the city will streamline the application process so a new café in Astoria -- or elsewhere in the five boroughs -- will not have to go from the Department of Environmental Protection to buildings to the health department and on and on. The process will help restaurants, 4,000 of which open every year, begin serving meals 30 days sooner, according to Bloomberg.

Some attendees lauded the proposals.

"I know with the support of the mayor we're going to help businesses get open and stay open and put New Yorkers to work," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who had first suggested the restaurant application process last year.

While other officials praised some of the mayor's proposals, they also were skeptical.

"I hope that he's serious when he talks about helping small businesses survive and thrive in this city," said Liu. "For the past few years things have been made extraordinarily difficult for small business. I hope today marks a change in tone and a change in policy."

To help close the budget gap, the mayor also proposed consolidating offices, culling the city's car garages and repair shops as well as maintenance staff. Bloomberg hopes to reduce the city's office space by 10 percent in four years, which could save the city $36 million in lease expenses and $4 million in energy costs annually.

Already some in the outer boroughs are hesitant of the plan.

"There is a lot we need to do to stimulate the economy, pushing projects forward and creating new projects, and I didn't hear any of that," said Councilmember Leroy Comrie of Jamaica. "I am concerned… that everything is all of a sudden made Manhattan centric."

Beyond Finance

As part of his focus on juvenile justice issues, the mayor said the city would consolidate the Administration for Children's Services and the Department of Juvenile Justice. The merger, Bloomberg said, would put the city's youth detention and support service all under one roof.

Just hours after the address, the mayor's office announced the longtime head of the Department of Juvenile Justice, Neil Hernandez, had resigned. A spokesman for the department would not comment on whether the resignation was related to the consolidation of the departments, pointing only to the press release announcing Hernandez's departure.

Despite the muted style of the mayor's address, the event was not without humor. A brief reference by the mayor to the Jets victory on Sunday and their path to the championship prompted a rush of several teenagers on stage in head to toe Jets apparel. They immediately led the crowd in a "J - E - T -S" chant.

But of course, the light parts of the day never stick.

"I was with him on the Jets," said Councilmember Lewis Fidler. "I heard a lot of good stuff about at risk youth, but the devil is always in the details."

Living Wages by Councilmember


Councilmembers were asked by Gotham Gazette whether they would support (Intro 1105) legislation set to be re-introduced at the City Council, which would require certain recipients of city aid to pay a living wage.

Their responses are below.

Councilmember Living Wage Position
Margaret Chin Supports
Rosie Mendez Out of town
Christine C. Quinn Undecided
Daniel R. Garodnick Undecided
Jessica S. Lappin Undecided
Gale A. Brewer Supports
Robert Jackson Supports
Melissa Mark-Viverito Supports
Inez E. Dickens Undecided
Ydanis Rodriguez Supports
G. Oliver Koppell Supports
Larry B. Seabrook Did not return phone calls
James Vacca Undecided
Fernando Cabrera Supports
Joel Rivera Supports
Helen D. Foster Supports
Maria del Carmen Arroyo Supports
Annabel Palma Supports
Daniel J. Halloran Against
Peter Koo Did not return phone calls
Julissa Ferreras Supports
Peter F. Vallone, Jr. Against
Mark Weprin Undecided
James F. Gennaro Undecided
Daniel Dromm Supports
James Van Bramer Supports
Leroy G. Comrie, Jr. Undecided
Thomas White, Jr. Undecided
Karen Koslowitz Undecided
Elizabeth Crowley Supports
James Sanders, Jr. Undecided
Eric Ulrich Against
Stephen Levin Undecided
Diana Reyna Undecided
Letitia James Supports
Albert Vann Undecided
Erik Martin Dilan Undecided
Sara M. Gonzalez Supports
Bradford Lander Undecided
Mathieu Eugene Supports
Darlene Mealy Supports
Charles Barron Supports
Vincent J. Gentile Undecided
Jumaane Williams Supports
Lewis A. Fidler Undecided
Domenic M. Recchia, Jr. Undecided
Michael C. Nelson Against
Deborah Rose Did not return phone calls
James S. Oddo Against
Vincent Ignizio Against


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