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Max & Murphy Podcast: Terri Liftin is Running for Comptroller

terri liftin photo

Terri Liftin (photo: Liftin campaign)

February 24, 2021 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Terri Liftin is Running for Comptroller

Terri Liftin, a Democratic candidate for New York City Comptroller, joined the show to discuss her campaign.

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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City Council, De Blasio Administration Clash Over Comprehensive Planning Legislation

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New York City (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)

City Council members and officials from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration clashed at a Tuesday hearing over proposed legislation to overhaul, consolidate, and in some ways expand the city’s planning processes into a singular ten-year procedure that would align budget, policy, and land use decisions.  

The proposal was released by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in December and seeks to replace what he calls redundant, antiquated, inequitable, and ineffective existing planning procedures by taking a more holistic approach to planning. It would create a centralized process for examining and budgeting for the city’s long-term infrastructure and community needs, with an eye towards correcting long-standing racial and socio-economic disparities while also equitably meeting the city’s transit, housing, open space, school seats, shelters, and other needs.

The Council’s Committees on Governmental Operations and Land Use and Subcommittee on Capital Budget convened on Tuesday to hear from the de Blasio administration about its concerns and objections to the idea, while also pressing mayoral officials to answer for the many failures of the current siloed planning processes that are spread across various city agencies.

[City Council Speaker Unveils Comprehensive Planning Legislation]

“For decades, the city has relied on a piecemeal and ad hoc approach, muddling through its planning exercises one neighborhood, topic, and project at a time,” said Johnson, a Democrat, in his opening remarks. “That planning has largely neglected people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, and low-income New Yorkers. That has also led to serious inefficiencies. Our budget documents often simply don't relate to our city's policy and land use priorities. And as we enter a period of fiscal stress, we have no rational system for prioritizing our community's most urgent budget needs to reduce disparities and combat climate change.”

Early on, Johnson sought to dispel “misinformation” about the bill, noting that it would not amend the city’s zoning laws, mandate any zoning requirements or specific zoning actions, or change the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). Rather, he emphasized that it “requires the city to provide community boards and the public with new resources, new data and new analyses to support proactive community-based plans.” It would encourage proactive rather than reactive approaches to development and encourage the city to pursue new growth away from neighborhoods at risk of sea-level rise and other forces of displacement including gentrification and real estate speculation. 

Council Member Fernando Cabrera, a Bronx Democrat who chairs governmental operations, pointed out that the current planning process is enshrined in more than a dozen Charter-mandated documents that do not currently involve sufficient coordination between and among city agencies. “There's a fundamental disconnect here that cannot be overstated,” he said. “How can we as a city plan for our future when we only have fragments of the full picture of the city's current needs and assets?”

Testifying on behalf of the administration, City Planning Commissioner Marisa Lago sought to dissuade the Council from advancing the bill, opposing it because of concerns about “its feasibility, its costs, and its ultimate impact.”

She estimated that the bill’s requirement of a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) for each community district would cost about $500 million over ten years. “We're concerned that the ultimate impact of that time and money would be counter to our shared goals,” she said. “That it would make it more difficult, not easier, to build affordable housing or to site essential city facilities.” 

Johnson had already countered that argument in his own statement. “That cost estimate is both inaccurate and absurd. It indicates that this administration is not engaging in this conversation with us seriously. There is nothing about this bill that will amount to that price tag,” he said, arguing that it could actually end up saving money for the city and for developers pursuing land use applications. 

Lago and Johnson had a fundamental disagreement about the language of the bill. Lago said it would create a “heavily top-down” planning process and give City Council members even greater influence in changing land use applications near the conclusion of ULURP. Instead of streamlining planning, she said it would add an additional layer of bureaucracy to an already lengthy land use procedure.

“The bill also underestimates the importance of focused topic-specific planning efforts,” Lago said, “such as those for the waterfront, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, environmental justice, food policy or resiliency.” She pointed to the city’s OneNYC strategic plan created every four years as a “better model” than the Council’s proposal and said the city’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances is necessary for long-term planning. She cited the city’s ten-year food plan released on Monday, a pending coastal resiliency zoning plan, and the proposed SoHo-NoHo rezoning as examples of how the current processes are working towards goals of equitable growth. 

In particular, she said the comprehensive planning bill would increase rather than limit the ability of affluent communities to forestall projects that are in the city’s interest, which has been a wrench in some of Mayor de Blasio’s agenda, though he has often done little to counteract those forces.

Later during the hearing, Johnson took exception to Lago’s interpretation of the bill. “It's not top-down. We're empowering local communities to actually engage in planning, instead of being reactive to [City Planning Commission’s] certifying of private applications and public applications,” he said. He said he was ”flabbergasted” at Lago’s “complete and total misrepresentation” of the bill. 

Lago also worried that a new planning process could place a “chill on development.” “That would be so unfortunate, at a time where the pandemic has made crystal clear the need to provide more housing and, in particular, affordable housing, the need to kickstart the economic recovery,” she said. 

Council Member Brad Lander showed frustration with the administration for critiquing the Council’s proposal without offering any solutions of its own to fix the city’s broken land use process. “We are the frog in the proverbial pot. We are watching the water boil, the temperatures are rising and the seas are rising, our affordable housing crisis is growing, our infrastructure is aging,” he said. “And it is clear that our land use process has become toxic and broken and unable to deliver thoughtful conversation about the very future of our city.”

If Lago was going to oppose the Council bill, what is the de Blasio administration’s plan to improve how the city does planning and growth, he asked. 

Lago struggled to give a straight answer, and instead pointed to what she sees as another deficiency with the bill. “The speaker himself noted that this proposal would not require any rezonings,” she said. “And there may be many communities who would anticipate having no growth and this bill does nothing to change that.”

Lander responded with frustration. Later on, Council Member Keith Powers asked Lago to name areas of the city with good transit options that could be home to significant housing growth. Lago only pointed to the Soho-Noho and Gowanus rezonings, which are currently in process, and declined to name any other neighborhoods. This, despite the fact that the de Blasio administration has not achieved rezonings in the neighborhoods it targeted early in the mayor’s first term, thus far only rezoning a series of lower-income communities of color. Lago instead again said that the city looks to work with Council members who want to work with the city. The exchange was one of several where the two sides appeared to point to each other as broken or talk in circles.

Lago repeatedly noted the Council’s informal policy of member deference, which allows Council members to veto land use projects that need Council approval and rezonings in their district. Because of that, she said, often the only projects that succeed are those that have active support and participation from local members. 

“So member deference is the problem?” Council Member Antonio Reynoso asked her. 

“I think that that is a challenge,” she said. She added, “I think, were the Council to adopt a citywide lens rather than looking exclusively to Council member deference that that could be tremendously helpful in achieving our shared goal of more equitable land use,” she said. 

“That's exactly what this legislation is trying to do,” Reynoso responded.

Several advocates and experts also testified in support of the bill, though some suggested that it could be improved. They included Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Barika Williams, executive director of Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, which is part of the Thriving Communities coalition; Maulin Mehta, senior associate at Regional Plan Association; Spencer Williams, director of advocacy at the Municipal Arts Society; Adam Friedman, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, among others.

The Citizens Budget Commission, a fiscal watchdog group, raised some concern about the legislation though it has long supported overhauling the city’s capital planning process. In testimony submitted to the Council, CBC Senior Research Associate Sean Campion said tying capital plan reforms to land use reforms is not necessary, that changing the structure and timing of regularly issued capital budget reports would make them less useful, and that capital budgeting power should remain in the hands of the mayor. “[A] strategic plan is only as good as its implementation design,” his testimony reads. “Extreme care should be taken when adding new processes, requirements and organizations since they could slow or thwart progress towards those outcomes or unnecessarily increase costs.”

Similarly, testimony from the Municipal Arts Society noted that the current proposal leaves land use decisions under the purview of the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, which would be in charge of the ten-year comprehensive planning process. “MAS counters that a successful comprehensive plan for New York City must balance bottom-up and top-down planning through meaningful, ongoing community engagement strengthened by effective coordination and commitment from involved City agencies,” the testimony reads. “As written, Intro 2186 would reinforce the current structural imbalance in the City’s planning process.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Maya Wiley Rallies Black Women to Make Her the First to Become Mayor of New York

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Painting a Black Lives Matter mural (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

“Black women get it done,” Maya Wiley, the former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio and 2021 mayoral candidate, declared in a January 22 video that featured a coalition of prominent Black women who are supporting her campaign. It was the launch of her formal effort to woo a core constituency in the Democratic base who time and again have turned out in higher rates in elections and could be a crucial factor for Wiley to become the first Black woman ever elected Mayor of New York City. 

It’s become a common refrain that Black women are at the heart of the Democratic Party and will reliably cast a vote for a Democrat, regardless of the candidate, rather than a Republican, which is why they’re also often taken for granted. But Black women are not a monolith and the Democratic primary in New York City is a far more complicated undertaking for any contender, particularly with ranked-choice voting at play for the first time in a citywide race. Candidates will have to cobble together different blocs of voters as they find themselves competing in the most diverse mayoral field in city history.

Wiley, a civil rights activist and attorney, is one of several Black women in the mayoral race but is by far the most prominent and best funded, and she is among the top tier of candidates overall. Since serving under the current mayor, who was powered to victory in 2013 by Black voters and white progressives, Wiley has led the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a police oversight agency, and was a professor at the New School. She also built a national following as an MSNBC commentator, giving her a fair share of name recognition, especially among white liberals, when she launched her bid for mayor. Prior to working for de Blasio, Wiley had an extensive career as a civil rights attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, among others, and, briefly, as a prosecutor in the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

She has sought to present herself as one of the more progressive candidates in this year’s mayoral race, with a heavy emphasis on police reform and accountability, but has often taken a measured, unspecific approach to issues, though her campaign has begun releasing more detailed policy plans, including on job-creation and the “care economy,” which Wiley has stressed is heavily reliant on Black women. If she wins, she would be the first woman, and only the second Black person to become the city’s top executive.

“I am unapologetically a Black woman,” Wiley said in a recent appearance before the Association for a Better New York, where she unveiled the “care economy” plan, when she was asked about her experiences in the several positions she has held. “I am unapologetically an activist. I'm unapologetically a partner, because I don't believe activism is about rolling over. I believe activism is about calling together. And so listen, learn, lead in partnership.”

Since its launch in January, the “Black Women for Maya” coalition has grown to more than 800 members, according to Wiley’s campaign. It includes accomplished actors such as Tichina Arnold, Gabrielle Union, and Yvette Nicole Brown, several established academics including Deborah Archer, Brittney Cooper, and Melissa Harris-Perry, political commentators like Heather McGhee, organizers, activists and more. Over the last few weeks, the coalition has been holding weekly volunteer events to continue building support and raise funds for Wiley. Earlier this month, Wiley hosted a fireside chat to take questions from potential voters and coalition members. Her campaign is also built with Black women in charge including her campaign manager, Maya Rupert, and her digital director, Tericka Lambert.

black women for maya zoom"Black women for Maya" Zoom

“I am honored to have received the support of so many of my fellow strong, Black women,” Wiley said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “They see this campaign as one that can be transformative for this city and their lives, but one that also has the experience and understanding needed to lead us out of the crises we face, which also disproportionately hurt women, and women of color. As mayor, not only can I empathize with what our city’s women, and especially women of color are going through, I feel it too, because I’ve lived it.”

“Black women know that in every crisis, we are always the cavalry,” she continued. “We are the essential workers of this economy, the backbone of the Democratic party, the care-takers of our communities, and the creators of our country’s arts and culture. While this campaign is for the betterment of all New Yorkers, our strength and power is rooted in the many Black women that lead it, shape it, and support it. Our campaign is a growing movement, and I am running to be the next Mayor of New York City because I want every last Black woman and girl in this city to see themselves in the seat of power.”

In the last competitive Democratic primary in 2013, out of the 645,902 Democrats who cast a vote, 181,483 or 28% were Black voters, according to an analysis by the CUNY Mapping Service. Bill de Blasio won the largest share of Black voters, about 32.8% in that primary. In the 2021 Democratic primary, Black voters are again expected to be between a quarter and a third of the electorate, meaning Black women voters could account for at least 13% of primary voters, likely more, as Black women are typically well more than half of the Black Democratic vote.

On Friday, Wiley was endorsed by 1199 SEIU, the city’s largest labor union, which represents hundreds of thousands of health-care workers, many of whom are women of color. The union was instrumental in helping de Blasio win the primary in 2013. “This is what we mean when we say support Black women,” Gabby Seay, 1199’s political director, told the New York Times.

“1199ers make history because this is a union made up of the people who always have but rarely got credit - Black women,” Wiley tweeted about the endorsement, responding to a supportive tweet by Seay. “And Latinas too!” The candidate has added the “#WinwithBlackWomen” hashtag to her Twitter profile.

“For Black women who are strategic voters, they're looking at the candidate who can best articulate a vision for issues that affect them in their communities and, quite honestly, New York as a whole,” said Dr. Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University.

This past week, Dr. Greer moderated a mayoral candidate forum hosted by Community Voices Heard Power that was focused on Black women. At the forum, Wiley and six other leading candidates -- including Dianne Morales, who identifies as Afro-Latina -- weighed in on issues of health care, vaccine access, housing, police reform, and the city’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. “Our communities are not a monolith. There is no one answer that is going to magically conjure the Black women vote,” said Afua Atta-Mensah, executive director of Community Voices Heard, at the start of the forum. 

In a phone interview on Wednesday, Atta-Mensah reiterated that the purpose of the forum was to change the narrative and urge candidates to take Black women’s voices more seriously.

“What Black women and our communities are looking for is that this renewal or revival of the city is not on our backs,” she told Gotham Gazette. “It's not this...performance of celebrating Black women in their leadership in word, but indeed wanting Black women to be the ones in communities of color that suffer the burden of how we come back…I think people are very keen to hear not just [candidates’] love for Black women and their belief in affordable housing but how that's going to happen, and how those policy priorities reflect the poetry.”

She also praised Wiley’s performance at the forum and said she was encouraged by her overt focus on Black women. “I think it's powerful,” Atta-Mensah said.

“Let me just start by saying I've been Black all my life,” Wiley said in her introductory remarks at the forum. “And that included when I was a little girl in a segregated, underfunded, overcrowded public school.” Wiley spoke of growing up as the child of civil rights activists and becoming an attorney to fight for those very rights. “I am running not just as a civil rights lawyer and a lifetime racial justice advocate. I am running because I believe that it is our dignity, and that means dignity in our communities,” she said.

Wiley is running with a focus on police reform and reconceiving public safety through community investment in a campaign that is unfolding in the wake of last year's resurgent Black Lives Matter movement, a response to the police killings of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people.

“The only thing I need to do besides stay Black and die,” Wiley said later during the forum, “is make sure that we do the hard work that needs getting done and not work at worrying about the politics of the usual but making sure it's a path for the people.”

In another virtual discussion on Thursday, hosted by Queens Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman for Black women running for office, Wiley refined her point. “One of the things we need right now, in a city in historic crisis, is to recognize that we aren't just the pack mules that carry the burden, but we're the precious cargo,” Wiley said. “And that means that it is our communities that deserve the attention, the support, the investment, and the recognition that we actually solve problems. We lead.”

But Wiley will still have to work hard to win Black women’s support broadly across the city and throughout the Democratic primary set to culminate in June and in all likelihood determinative of the next mayor in an overwhelmingly Democratic city. Wiley is trying to shrink campaign fundraising gaps with better-funded candidates including Comptroller Scott Stringer, who is white, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who is Black, both of whom have been raising money for years ahead of this run. Former Wall Street executive Ray McGuire, who is Black, quickly catapulted himself into the top tier of fundraisers in the race by bringing in well over $5 million as he seeks to make up name-recognition ground.

Like Wiley, Adams and Stringer are participating in the city’s public matching funds program, which matches the first $250 of every contribution from a city resident at an 8-to-1 ratio. Both Adams and Stringer have already qualified for public funds and have received millions of dollars, while Wiley narrowly missed the threshold and will have to wait another month before the next round of payments. She is likely to receive at least $2 million in matching funds in mid-March. McGuire is not a participant in the program, allowing him to raise more from large donors. Other candidates including entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Obama cabinet secretary Shaun Donovan, former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, and Morales, a former nonprofit executive, have said they will also soon hit the matching funds threshold, but they would not receive the influx of public funds until mid-April.

The SEIU endorsement was a needed shot in the arm for Wiley’s campaign. “Maya’s priorities are our priorities – from investing in and fairly compensating our caregivers to rebuilding our economy through job creation and training,” said George Gresham, the union’s president, in a statement. “We believe that Maya is uniquely positioned to join the ranks of Shirley Chisholm, Stacey Abrams, and so many other women who have continued to serve as the backbone of our communities, and of political fights nationwide.”

It’s unclear how voters will view Wiley and her competition at this stage in the race, and most voters may not even be paying attention yet. “As we've seen, Black women tend to vote thinking of the group, not necessarily individually,” said Dr. Greer. “If that's the case, Scott Stringer and Eric Adams have been public servants for much longer than anyone else in the race and they have a different set of connections and relationships with community groups and organizations that the other candidates just don't have.”

Morales, who has also centered police and public safety reform in her mayoral bid, has been campaigning furthest to the left in the race and is eclipsing Wiley’s progressive positions, but Wiley may be eyeing a broader swath of the Democratic electorate. McGuire, Morales, and Adams all appear to be making concerted attempts to connect in Black communities — McGuire recently received the endorsement of Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, the unarmed Black man killed by NYPD officers on a Staten Island street in 2014, while Adams has received endorsements from a long list of Black elected officials, clergy, and others. Stringer and Donovan have also made clear they are trying to appeal to Black voters and other voters of color, and Garcia held a digital event Sunday on “her agenda for Black women.” Garcia had been the only candidate of the eight mostly seen as in the top tier who did not participate in the “Follow Black Women” event hosted by Community Voices Heard Power. Multiple candidates have cited their ties to Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black woman elected to one of the nation's two highest offices.

“I am totally sure that the next mayor is going to be determined by Black women voters here in New York City,” Yang said at the Follow Black Women forum.

George Arzt, a veteran Democratic consultant, said Wiley can appeal to a broad audience and that she should be able to build a coalition of Black women and white progressives. “On paper, you would say, yes,” he said. But he agreed that Adams and McGuire are her main competition for Black voters and said he is interested to see how she does when she speaks at Black churches and makes other campaign appearances beyond the Zoom forums, where he said she has at times struggled to stand out.

“She has competition on all sides,” said Neal Kwatra, founder of Metropolitan Public Strategies, a consulting firm, about Wiley. “She’s got Andrew Yang and Scott Stringer, who she's going to have to compete with for white liberal votes presumably. She's got Ray McGuire and Eric Adams and Dianne Morales, who she's going to have to compete with for a lot of African-American and Latino voters.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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