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Max & Murphy Podcast: How the CCRB Prosecuted the Eric Garner Case

NYPD officer

(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

August 28, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: How the CCRB Prosecuted the Eric Garner Case

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Jonathan Darche, the executive director of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), and then Eugene O'Donnell, a John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor and former NYPD officer, joined the show to discuss the CCRB prosecution of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo and NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill's decision to fire Pantaleo, policing more generally, police reform and accountability under Mayor de Blasio, and more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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The City’s Pouring Money Into Trash Basket Pickup, and Complaints of Overflowing Bins are Dropping

single wire litter basket

(photos: Department of Sanitation)

In the public conversation surrounding quality of life in New York City, litter baskets -- the mostly green, metal-wire trash cans standing guard on street corners throughout the five boroughs -- have taken on a unique focus. They seem to exist at the nexus between public and private life, providing relief for the refuse-laden pedestrian, and serving as a symbol of the urban order embodied in mundane municipal service delivery.

Where baskets are placed, how often they are serviced, and how the city enforces the laws around their use all impact the cleanliness of streets and the perception that city government can, or can’t, handle the demands of the people it serves. In today's world, when litter baskets overflow and the dirty laundry is aired on social media, a sense of disorder and uncleanliness can spread, a feeling that local government is not effectively serving the density of residents, commuters, and tourists that fuel the city.

Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia famously said that trash collection is not a partisan issue; it’s a measure of basic government service that simply must be done, a reason to have city government and pay taxes. Like plowing snow, New Yorkers expect trash collection to be done effectively and failures have become the subject of renewed focus by the de Blasio administration and its critics.

In New York City, there are roughly 8.4 million residents, tens of thousands of street corners, and approximately 23,000 public litter baskets, according to DSNY. In 2018, 65 million tourists also visited the city.

“We take quality of life very seriously, particularly around cleaning issues, and we consistently put more resources into additional services, whether that is for highway sweeping or for additional litter basket collection,” the city’s Sanitation Commissioner, Katheryn Garcia, told Gotham Gazette in a recent interview.

“But it is always a partnership that we need to have with the public. We need to make sure people are following the rules. Otherwise, it becomes an insurmountable amount of trash and litter,” she added, referring to rules around corner litter baskets and issues with illegal dumping and other violations.

Street corner litter baskets are intended to be used by pedestrians for garbage on their person, like empty food wrappers or a crumpled newspaper, but they are frequently the sites of overflowing refuse that render them useless. In part, officials blame the improper dumping of bulk commercial or household waste, and say the persistent misuse puts a strain on the city’s sanitation infrastructure, leading bins to fill up and spill out into the streets.

In the last two years, the Department of Sanitation (DSNY), which oversees litter basket services, has undertaken a range of initiatives to help improve litter basket conditions in partnership with the City Council. The measures include increasing funding for basket services, enhanced enforcement tools, and establishing partnerships with other agencies and the private sector.

By at least one measure, these efforts appear to be working.

In 2015, complaints of overflowing litter baskets to the city’s non-emergency helpline, 311, reached their highest point in five years -- DSNY opened 1,563 such cases that year, according to data available on the city’s Open Data Portal.

Since then, litter basket complaints to 311 have declined each year, falling to 946 in 2018. In the first eight months of 2019, only 461 complaints have been made.

In Fiscal Year 2019, which ended June 30 of this year, the city allocated $3.5 million for supplemental basket services, according to DSNY, on top of its roughly $1.7 billion expense budget for the agency, which includes funding for a variety of services from trash to snow removal. The money was for additional pick-ups to try to combat the scourge of full and unusable street corner bins, according to City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management.

This year, the City Council secured an additional $5.1 million, bringing the total allocations for supplemental basket services in the new Fiscal 2020 budget that took effect July 1 to $8.6 million, according to DSNY. The department received the new allocations on August 12 and is currently devising a plan for how it will be spent -- whether it will fund more staffing or trucks, or better pick-up route design.

“We are currently evaluating our operation plan on supplemental litter basket service that will be provided by this new funding. We plan to unveil plan details soon,” DSNY spokesperson Dina Montes told Gotham Gazette in an email.

“By early fall,” she clarified in an interview, indicating that this is an estimate.

The extra pick-ups in 2018 and 2019 have been well-received by a number of Council members Gotham Gazette spoke to. “For the most part, I’ve seen an improvement with the extra pick-ups,” said Council Member Steve Matteo, who represents central Staten Island and has been a vocal advocate for better litter services to improve street cleanliness.

“There is nothing worse than seeing a garbage can that is overflowing, that has bags around it. It just brings more litter, so the extra pick-up has been great,” he added in an interview. Since the additional funding allocations in 2018, basket pick-ups increased from two to four times per week in Staten Island Community Board 1, and in Community Boards 2 and 3, weekly pick-ups increased to three, Matteo said.

DSNY says it has adopted similar increases throughout the city, especially in high traffic areas.

According to a May press release from the City Council citing DSNY budget testimony, street cleanliness increased from 95 to 96 percent in Fiscal Year 2019 based on measurements of street trash by field agents of the mayor’s office. Other studies are less favorable, like the Citizens Budget Commission's Resident Feedback Survey, which showed only 47.3 percent of respondents rated their neighborhood cleanliness as either “excellent” or “good.”

“You don’t need a litter basket collection multiple times a day if you’re out on Staten Island. Are you going to need it in the middle of Midtown? Yeah,” Garcia said.

“I’m very glad that the Department of Sanitation was able to receive additional funding from this year’s budget,” said Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents parts of Lower Manhattan, in a statement. “I hope to see more of these services targeted to underserved, high-need neighborhoods like SoHo, Chinatown and the Lower East Side, where illegal dumping and commercial trash -- especially with the unprecedented rise of Amazon deliveries -- continue to be issues that small businesses and residents struggle with."

Despite the positive reception, many feel there is still work to be done.

“I am glad the Department of Sanitation is exploring new tactics to make our streets cleaner – residents have even noticed a difference on 86th Street. Despite these efforts, however, I continue to hear from constituents across my district, particularly on the Upper East Side, regarding issues with trash,” said Council Member Keith Powers, representing a large swath of the east side of Manhattan, in a statement.

The drop in 311 complaints has also accompanied an effort by DSNY and the City Council to crack down on illegal dumping and drop-offs. Illegal dumping is when commercial or household waste is left by a vehicle, and drop-offs refer to bulk debris disposal that exceed the basket’s capacity for personal trash.

In 2018, Matteo was the main sponsor of a number of bills in a package that became law and allowed DSNY enforcement officials to use identifying information found in unlawfully dumped piles, such as an envelope or magazine with a name or address, to pursue offenders. Previously, DSNY agents had to witness an illegal dumping take place in order to issue a violation.

“We could tell that, obviously, a vehicle was used because there was a huge amount of garbage and there was no way somebody could carry it. We are talking about construction debris, sometimes it’s appliances, and then there is also bags of trash,” said Montes of DSNY.

Prior to the new legislation, which went into effect in the fall of 2018, “we couldn’t actually use any material that was found in the trash to actually investigate,” she said.

The city has also begun using surveillance cameras to monitor sites with frequent dumping and clamp down on the illegal activity. Earlier this year, DSNY partnered with Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon, the Parks Department, and a local business improvement district (BID) to investigate chronic illegal dumpers. (Business improvement districts are areas where local industry contribute to the management and funding of public space maintenance.)

“Our collective efforts to combat illegal dumping continue to yield positive results in holding bad actors accountable and improving quality of life on Staten Island,” McMahon said in a July press release. According to Montes, DSNY has issued five summonses to illegal dumpers that were caught on camera since 2018.

In 2018, the City Council also increased the penalties for dumping and littering in an effort to discourage the behavior, which are relatively lax compared to nearby jurisdictions, officials say. “You live in Suffolk County, the fines are like 10 times what the fines are in New York City,” Garcia told Gotham Gazette.

Last summer, new legislation imposed higher fines for littering small amounts of trash from vehicles -- going from $100 to $200 -- and for illegal dumping of garbage and debris from $1,500 to $4,000 (a 167 percent increase), according to Montes.

Since the new penalties went into effect last November, DSNY has issued 111 summonses for littering from a motor vehicle.

Despite the increased penalties and enforcement tools, DSNY still faces an uphill battle, especially in transportation hubs, locations with high food tourism and nightlife, and areas surrounding construction sites.

“In terms of general trash and litter problems, the downtown area is always one of the worst and requires the most oversight,” said Scott Sieber, a spokesperson for Queens Council Member Peter Koo, referring to the high-activity area of Downtown Flushing.

Because litter baskets are for pedestrian use in high-traffic, often commercial, corridors, DSNY usually does not place them in areas that are primarily residential, Montes told Gotham Gazette. This has placed a strain on gentrifying neighborhoods that have seen a shift from residential to multi-purpose use.

“In my district in Bushwick, we were having severe litter problems, mostly because nightlife was picking-up in and around the neighborhood, and we haven’t necessarily built out the infrastructure for trash collection that was matching that,” Reynoso said.

One of the obstacles to litter basket collection is knowing where the litter baskets are. Litter baskets can be placed by the city, by BIDs, and by nonprofit and private entities after receiving permission from DSNY. Baskets are frequently moved due to damage or vandalism, nearby construction, or regular illegal use. DSNY uses field staff to track basket placement and gauge their effectiveness. “Our cleaning office will also add baskets to areas that have become more commercial,” said Montes.

DSNY has also identified the design of litter baskets, which haven’t changed since the 1930s, as a contributor to trash spilling into the streets. In August 2018, the de Blasio administration launched a competition to redesign street corner bins, soliciting participants from the private sector, with the goal of creating bins that are more accessible, easy-to-service, and better equipped to handle spillage. The city is testing prototypes from two finalists with plans to announce a winner in the fall.

trash baskets

As city neighborhoods continue to shift, packaging from online commerce proliferates, and concern for the environment becomes more urgent, elected officials are looking for ways to reduce -- not just collect -- the amount of trash the city produces.

“Although we have seen improvements in [litter basket pick-up], my ultimate goal is to continue to work on legislation that will ultimately reduce the city’s waste as a whole,” wrote Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera, in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

“What we’re hoping is to start lowering the amount of trash the city of New York is sending to landfills and we need to start moving away from needing litter baskets at every single corner,” Reynoso told Gotham Gazette. (Reynoso was a vocal proponent of the increased funding for litter baskets this year, and helped put pressure on de Blasio to include it in the enacted budget.)

“While we were putting out the litter baskets because we want to keep the streets clean, we as a city do need to start working on reduction and reuse,” he said. “More litter baskets reinforces the idea that you can continue to have contents on your person and get rid of them, eventually, in a corner.”

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Looking Back at Mayor David Dinkins, 30 Years After His Historic 1989 Win

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Former Mayor David Dinkins (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

 On the night of November 7, 1989, then-Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins made history. With election night returns coming in, it became clear that Dinkins had narrowly defeated then-U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani and would become the first black mayor of New York City. It was the culmination of an arduous election cycle for Dinkins, having beaten incumbent Mayor Ed Koch in the Democratic primary two months earlier.

Now, with the 30th anniversary of that momentous election, the Max & Murphy podcast decided to look back on Dinkins’ victory, tenure, and defeat by Giuliani in 1993. Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max and City Limits’ Jarrett Murphy spoke with Dinkins, now 92 years old, in his office at Columbia University to hear his thoughts on his career and life.

The show also featured legendary journalist Tom Robbins, who covered Dinkins’ elections and one term as mayor from his perches at the Village Voice and New York Daily News, with his reflections on Dinkins’ rise and fall, and how he should be remembered.

David Dinkins on His Mayoralty and Legacy
As with nearly any politician, David Dinkins is best remembered for the highest office he held: that of New York City mayor, from 1990 through 1993. But to hear Dinkins tell it, he never had his sights set on Gracie Mansion. Instead, becoming Manhattan Borough President, a seat he first won in 1985, was all he ever really wanted.

“From my perspective,” Dinkins said, “I had achieved what I wanted. I’m borough president of Manhattan, this is as good as it gets. I never ever said, gee, I want to be mayor of New York City. That didn’t cross my mind.”

Borough President was an office that Dinkins had worked hard to reach, only succeeding on his third attempt. He quipped, “People used to say to me, ‘What do you do?’ I said, ‘I run for borough president.’” But, although he liked his then-powerful job (the role of borough president has since been weakened significantly through changes to the city charter), he conceded that “We needed somebody to defeat the mayor, Ed Koch.”

At the time, Koch was serving his third term, which was beset with a slew of corruption scandals across several city agencies and ensnaring several allies of the mayor, though he himself was never accused of criminal wrongdoing. He had also become increasingly unpopular among black New Yorkers, paving the way for Dinkins’ victory.

“After having worked so hard to become borough president,” he continued, “to run for mayor was not automatic in my mind. In a sense I was drafted. My supporters insisted that I run, I said OK, and as luck would have it we prevailed.”

Once he took office as mayor, Dinkins faced an immediate set of challenges, most prominently high crime rates, but also growing homelessness, budget deficits, and more. “You didn’t need to be a genius to see that this [crime] was an area that you had to attack,” Dinkins said. “And we did. Largely, by going to Albany and persuading the Legislature that they should give us the resources…To get the money, we had to go to Albany, hat-in-hand.”

Dinkins oversaw new programs such as “Safe Streets, Safe City,” which added thousands of new cops to the police force. He also created the current all-civilian structure of the Civilian Complaint Review Board – a quasi-independent city agency that monitors and investigates complaints of police officer misconduct – and significantly strengthened its powers to combat abuses of power by the police. Though his tenure saw New York City’s highest-ever murder rate in 1990, it fell every successive year of his term, and overall major crime dropped throughout Dinkins’ final three years.

“We had to do what we did, that was what was required, irrespective of what my own political fate was gonna be down the line,” Dinkins insisted. “I mean, the city needed it. We needed more police officers…People were dying. It was tough.”

When asked about his top priorities while in office, Dinkins centered children and families. “I’m a nut for kids,” he said. “Little ones, middle-sized ones, big ones, I’m very fond of children and young people. So that was very important to me that we be as responsive as was possible to the needs of young people.”

“Sometimes people ask me what I want to be remembered for,” he said later. “And I always say, I want to be remembered as somebody who cared about people, especially children.”

Dinkins’ tenure had its fair share of difficulties, perhaps most infamously the Crown Heights riots of 1991, but he credits his team with getting him and the city through those years.

“We had the deficits to face and all, but we left in far better shape than when we started. But the key is the people,” he reminisced. “It really is. And I don’t say this out of modesty or something, it really honest to God is the people. If you’ve got good folks, you can do almost anything. And we had good people. Women and men, young and old, and they were terrific. And we believed in each other. They had faith in me, and I had faith in them.”

In his office, Dinkins was surrounded by pictures and memories of those people he credits with lifting him up. Photos of strategist Bill Lynch, whom he and many others most credit for his 1989 victory; singer Harry Belafonte; Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton; Judge Fritz Alexander; labor leader Victor Gotbaum; tennis star Arthur Ashe; South African President Nelson Mandela, whom Dinkins famously hosted in New York City in 1990; and President Barack Obama all lined Dinkins’ walls.

Asked if he had any regrets, Dinkins simply said, “No.”

It’s now been more than 25 years since Dinkins last ran for office, but he continues to be active in the world of New York politics, lending his endorsement to Governor Andrew Cuomo and other New York political figures as recently as 2018. His legacy will also live on in the David N. Dinkins Municipal Building at 1 Centre Street, renamed for him in 2015 by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who worked for Dinkins at City Hall, and home to the offices of the Manhattan Borough President, the Public Advocate, the city Comptroller, and many others.

“Gosh, I’d have been happy with a lamppost!” he gushed. “But this is terrific, so I’m very pleased about that.”

For his successor in the mayor’s office, Dinkins did not mince words. “I was never very fond of him [Giuliani] anyway,” he said. “So from time to time, these days, things happen, and people complain about him, and I say, ‘See, I told you!’”

But Dinkins is far more pleased with de Blasio, who began his political career as a Dinkins campaign volunteer and later served as a staffer in his administration. “I have great pride in what he’s able to do,” Dinkins said when asked about de Blasio and whether he sees de Blasio’s mayoralty as something of an extension of his, “but I don’t say it’s because of our administration or anything like that.”

In 2013, de Blasio was the first person elected mayor of New York City as a Democrat since Dinkins.

Dinkins also had weighed in on the potential field of candidates for the approaching 2021 mayoral election, though he didn’t go into specifics. “I just hope that we have somebody who really cares about the same kinds of things that I care about,” he said. “I don’t know who the candidates are gonna be, but whoever it is, I hope they recognize what a magnificent city this is.”

[LISTEN to the full interview with former Mayor David Dinkins]

Tom Robbins on Dinkins
Robbins, a veteran New York political reporter who frequently covered Dinkins, offered his perspective on Dinkins’ 1989 win, years as mayor, and 1993 loss. For Robbins, Dinkins was a mayor who did many of the right things, but didn’t have the political instincts necessary for greater success in the job.

“I think [Bill Lynch] recognized in Dinkins somebody whose essential decency and non-threatening demeanor could play well into the time,” Robbins said. “In retrospect, what could have been, there were other people from that ilk that Dinkins represented who probably would have been much better at the job of mayor,” he said, pointing to Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton, former state Senator Basil Paterson (father of former Governor David Paterson and once a deputy mayor under Koch), and longtime U.S. Representative Charlie Rangel as three examples, all of whom were Dinkins allies.

“I think any one of those guys had a bigger understanding of politics,” he said. “They understood what it meant, and how to hold the reins of power. And Dinkins had trouble with that. We saw that almost as soon as he came into office.”

Before Dinkins could be elected, however, he first had to defeat the incumbent, Ed Koch. The previously unbeatable Koch was mired in a wide-ranging corruption scandal in his third term.

“Koch was just reeling,” as Robbins characterized it. “I mean, you could see him during the press conferences. He just was staggered by some of the things that were coming to light, that he clearly had had no idea about.”

“That segment of white voters were disenchanted because of the corruption issue,” he continued, “and there was widespread antipathy against him because of the racial unrest that he had seemed to have a tin ear to. So yeah, he was vulnerable, and David Dinkins decided he was gonna run against him.”

After Dinkins got past Koch in the primary and Giuliani in the general election, “he knew that he was gonna have to scramble, and that there were gonna be layoffs, and that he was gonna have difficulty doing new contracts with the unions,” Robbins said. “This guy had, I think, a lot of strikes against him that made it much harder, and he needed a political understanding of that.”

In spite of these criticisms, however, Robbins had praise for several aspects of Dinkins’ administration.

“Some of the people that he brought into city government in that first wave were some of the best civil servants that I think we’ve ever seen in this city,” Robbins said, echoing Dinkins’ effusive praise for his team.

Robbins also brought up Dinkins’ changes to the CCRB, his Safe Streets, Safe City program, and his targeting of squeegee men as examples of his successes. As Robbins noted, many of the gains the city made and since credited to Rudy Giuliani actually began under Dinkins. “He never really got credit for that,” Robbins argued about the reductions in crime and disorder. “A more savvy political operative, I think, would have figured out how to use that to your advantage.”

Robbins wrote many stories for the New York Daily News on Dinkins, including one he brought up during the interview on Max & Murphy: a lengthy piece on Dinkins’ daily schedule that was often cited as evidence that Dinkins was not the most attentive, hard-working mayor he could be.

“Dinkins was never as comfortable with the press,” Robbins said. “He never really was able to establish himself in a good relationship. There were lots of things to pick at. And I did some of the picking.”

“They had a perspective from the [Daily News editorial] desk, which was, this guy’s really not doing any heavy lifting here,” Robbins recalled. “Dinkins, for his sanity, needed to play tennis in the morning, so that’s what he did. And he did it in time to get to work at 9, the same time most people get to work. But so the story also showed that, about 5 o’clock everyday, he would put on the tux [for evening events]. And we would take these famous photographs that were unmistakable.”

Robbins said that this coverage led to a broader perception that Dinkins was too soft. “You want someone who’s gonna be a tiger, right? You want a mayor who’s so into the job that he can really be a [former Mayor Fiorello] La Guardia, rushing around to fires, that’s what New Yorkers want. And he wasn’t that.”

However, looking back on the administrations that came before and after Dinkins, Robbins was resolute: “David Dinkins remains my favorite mayor.”

“I think that’s shown through his policies,” he elaborated, “his attitude on the homeless, his attitude about creating low-income housing back then. Look, he didn’t just hire new cops. He decided he was going to keep high schools open every night so that kids could have someplace to go. He created Beacon Schools, which still exist. He created the Civilian Complaint Review Board...He created almost two dozen health clinics as a way to channel people away from the ERs in hospitals, another way to deal with practical medicine needs. I thought it was a great chapter in the city.”

“It was only four years and mistakes were made,” Robbins said, “but I think that during that time New York began to be the kind of city it could be.”

[LISTEN to the full conversations with David Dinkins and Tom Robbins]

by Joey Fox, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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