Gotham Gazette

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De Blasio Critical of Controversial NYPD Arrest of Protestor; Shea's Stance Unclear

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Mayor de Blasio & Commissioner Shea (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio condemned the tactics and the timing of the police officers who dragged a protester alleged to have damaged several police cameras into an unmarked van on Tuesday. But the mayor did not say Thursday whether his police commissioner, Dermot Shea, felt the same way despite reporting having had two separate conversations on the subject.

In an incident that was caught on camera and quickly went viral Tuesday evening, plainclothes officers leapt out of a grey van before a crowd of peaceful demonstrators in the Kips Bay section of Manhattan, and arrested and drove off with Nikki Stone, a protester who police said they had been looking for in connection with multiple alleged incidents of vandalism. The arrest has drawn scrutiny for its apparent similarities to Portland, Oregon, where for several nights federal agents have detained protesters in unmarked vehicles as demonstrations continue in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in May.

De Blasio has said publicly that making the arrest at a peaceful demonstration was wrong and suggested similar strategies could have a chilling effect on free speech. The morning after the arrest, the mayor told reporters the place to make the arrest "was clearly not in the middle of an ongoing protest," and said the department would review the tactic.

"I'll talk to the Commissioner about this more today, but I think there is a better way to get that done," he said Wednesday morning, without indicating what Shea had said about the arrest other than why Stone was a suspect.

De Blasio said he didn't think it was "a matter of discipline" for the officers involved but that he wanted NYPD personnel to be more sensitive to the context of the arrest and make "better choices about how to deal with things in this moment of history."

At his Thursday morning press briefing, de Blasio was evasive when asked whether or not Shea agreed the arrest should have been handled differently.

"I spoke with Commissioner Shea about an hour after I think the video came out originally the other night, and then I spoke to him again yesterday," de Blasio said. "Look, I think it's clear, again, it was not the right time and place, and we have got to work to make sure people always know that the right to protest is protected in New York City."

"When they vandalize public property," the mayor continued, referring to the charges against Stone, "there will be a consequence, but it was not done the right way. I certainly expressed that to [Shea] and we're going to work on trying to find a better way going forward."

But the mayor didn't elaborate on what the "better way" could or should have been, what Shea actually said during their conversations, or whether there is an internal NYPD review of the incident underway.

Since June, de Blasio and Shea have repeatedly disagreed publicly over a host of recent policing and criminal justice reforms, including changes to controversial arrest tactics.

Stone received a desk appearance ticket for criminal mischief and graffiti charges stemming from five separate incidents in June and July, according to an NYPD spokesperson. In at least three of them, officials say a person identified as Stone obscured NYPD security cameras with paint in the area around the encampment of demonstrators at City Hall, which coalesced in late June after weeks of marches against police brutality.

In an interview Wednesday on WABC radio, Chief of Department Terence Monahan, the NYPD's highest-ranking uniformed officer, said the Warrant Squad officers assigned to make the arrest had acted above board and in line with departmental protocols. Monahan said the Warrant Squad arrived after being informed (it is unclear by whom) of Stone’s presence at the march, and the arrest was made after Stone identified the unmarked van as a police vehicle.

"At that point there was nothing else to be done, she approached them," he said.

Available footage of the incident is limited to what was captured by bystanders and posted to social media, making it difficult to confirm Monahan's account.

Asked if the officers should have acted differently, Monahan only said that he would like to see them maintain their cover for longer. "We would have liked her not to be able to identify them, she was able to pick them up as a cop car. It would have been better if they could have been a little less transparent while they were doing the observations on her."

During a Wednesday press conference call, Governor Andrew Cuomo weighed in on the incident unprompted by reporters, and called the Warrant Squad arrest "obnoxious." Like the mayor, Cuomo said its timing at a demonstration so close to the unrest in Portland sent the wrong message. “It was wholly insensitive to everything that’s going on. It was threatening,” he said.

That morning, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson also criticized the NYPD's handling of the arrest. "It is totally unacceptable that an arrest for minor property crimes was carried out in such an aggressive and disturbing manner," he wrote in a Twitter post.

Monahan wouldn't opine on critiques from New York's political class in the interview Wednesday. "I'm not going to get into the politics, I'm giving you the facts of what happened, you can judge by the facts," he said.

When asked Thursday if the NYPD could clarify Commissioner Shea's position on the incident, a department spokesperson referred Gotham Gazette to Monahan’s WABC interview.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Two Plans Map Path Forward for Devastated New York City Economy

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Getting New York City back to work (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

With COVID-19 infection rates low and New York moving through phased ‘reopening,’ the attention of elected officials, business leaders, and others has turned toward the city’s economic recovery. This month, two groups, the Partnership for New York City, which represents many of the city’s largest businesses, and a new coalition, the New York Workforce Recovery Strategy Group, have released recovery plans with somewhat different focuses and conclusions about how the city should move forward.

New York City and State have suffered some of the worst economic consequences of the pandemic in the country thus far. New York City’s unemployment rate currently stands at 20.4%, up from up from just over 4% when the coronavirus outbreak hit here, according to the State Department of Labor.

Between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020, New York State shed 8.2% of its GDP, tied with Nevada, another state economy with a large tourism sector, for the largest decrease in the nation.

“This will be infinitely harder than the recovery after 9/11,” said Dan Doctoroff, who was New York City Deputy Mayor of Economic Development from 2002 to 2007, and is currently Sidewalk Labs CEO, during a recent digital forum held by the Center for an Urban Future. “If we don't change the trajectory, New York City is heading into a period of negative growth.” Doctoroff said that “reversing this trend will require a new model for inclusive growth that addresses long-standing inequities,” particularly citing housing affordability and insufficient public transportation as injustices that need to be addressed.

New York State anticipates losing 7% of its GDP in 2020 and up to 14% by the end of 2023, according to the state’s Division of the Budget. In comparison, the state suffered declines of 2% after 9/11 and 10% after the 2008 financial crisis and those dips were for a relatively shorter period of time than the multi-year downturn currently projected. Reduced household income will also mean that the city’s affordable housing shortage will grow from 650,000 to 760,000 units within the next year, according to consulting firm Oliver Wyman’s research for the Partnership for New York City.

Several economic indicators point to the city and state economies rebounding slightly in recent weeks as the city has moved through the state-designed reopening phases, but they are still far from their pre-pandemic levels. The New York Federal Reserve’s Empire State Manufacturing Survey, conducted in early July, indicates improving business conditions.

For example, revenue for Manhattan’s small businesses, which are heavily reliant on commuters, declined 70% from February to March, but has improved to 40% off pre-pandemic levels. Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island small business revenues declined 40-60% at the nadir of the pandemic, but have since rebounded to 10-25% less than pre-pandemic levels. The Bronx is the only borough where small business revenues are not below January 2020 levels.

Still, the city’s collections from taxable sales were down 47% in June from the same month in 2019. Residential real estate sales were down 55% and commercial real estate sales down 57% for April-June of this year compared to the same period last year.

The Partnership for New York City estimates in its report that as many as a third of the city’s 230,000 small businesses in neighborhood commercial corridors may go out of business due to the economic downturn and as many as 520,000 jobs were lost from the small business sector alone as consumer spending dipped by 44%.

Jonathan Bowles, the executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, noted that “much of the city's recent job growth has been high-wage industries.” This has had “huge benefits for New York City,” but “the challenge moving forward is to expand access in every way possible —apprenticeships, in-depth training, CUNY, innovative HS models, and more.”

Partnership for New York City Calls for Public-Private Collaboration
The Partnership asserts that with such massive job and revenue losses, the state and local governments will need to partner more with the private sector to rehabilitate the economy. Its report, entitled “A Call for Action and Collaboration,” compiled research from 14 consulting firms and interviews with industry experts.

They found that 70% of the New York City metro region’s office employees have safety concerns about returning to work in the near future. Industries able to operate remotely have experienced increased productivity and lowered costs, meaning that it is likely that many work-from-home policies will continue even after the pandemic. This could possibly permanently reduce the number of workers who commute into Manhattan each day and thus have a deleterious effect on businesses that cater to these commuters.

One of the report’s more relatively-positive findings is that there are currently some 200,000 job vacancies in the city. The Partnership says closing the skills gap through more workforce development programs would help fill these opportunities with the recently unemployed.

The Partnership for New York City supports five main actions to leverage the city’s major corporations and mobilize its members. One is to start a “Health Innovation Partnership,” which would set a universal standard for a “health passport,” build up a robust contact-tracing program, and finance investment in the life sciences sector. Another is to launch a restart clearinghouse to improve access to financial and technical resources for small- and minority-owned businesses.

A third is the “Education Innovation Partnership,” which would use the private sector to help the city’s public education system establish high-quality online learning and hybrid programs for both in-school and remote education.

Believing that state and municipal revenue shortfalls will mean less government funding for key programs, the Partnership is calling for an employer-led effort to expand job training, credentialing and hiring of city residents to fill the 200,000 job vacancies in the city.

The Partnership is currently active advocating for federal relief for city, state, and transit agency needs, liability protection for employers and institutions, and a less restrictive visa policy for students and workers. A new federal relief package is expected soon, though it’s unclear what it may include for helping to plug huge city, state, and MTA budget gaps.

As of July, according to the New York City Comptroller’s Office, subway ridership is still less than a fifth of and bus ridership is at just under half of pre-pandemic levels. MTA ridership appears to have plateaued in the most recent week, even with the city moving into “phase four” of its reopening. The fall-off in revenue for the MTA has left the transit agency in a dire fiscal position.

The Partnership also says it will hold “cross-sectoral problem-solving sessions” around the issues of transit, taxation, security, housing, and racial justice.

[LISTEN: Partnership for New York City CEO Kathryn Wylde discusses the Partnership's new report and more on the Max & Murphy podcast]

New Coalition wants a “Recovery for All”
Meanwhile, the New York Workforce Recovery Strategy Group, which is led by the NYC Employment & Training Coalition and includes over 80 business and human services leaders throughout the city, has its own plan, “Recovery for All: A Vision for New York City’s Equitable Economic Recovery,” which takes a slightly different approach. Where Partnership for New York City envisions the private sector stepping up in a major way, this coalition believes that an equitable recovery will be achieved through significant government action.

The report calls for an increase in public works projects and direct public employment, as well as relief programs for the most-affected individuals and communities. The coalition is also calling for an “education and training ecosystem” for the displaced workforce and marginalized communities, as well as recovery efforts for local small business and nonprofits, and support for new business development.

The “Recovery for All” report asserts that recent Black Lives Matter protests “have made it abundantly clear that New Yorkers want a stronger safety net and economy that proactively benefits the many, not the few.” Recent data indicates that New York’s residents of color have been harder hit by the pandemic’s economic consequences than their white neighbors, which has also been the case for the public health emergency. Black (27%), Hispanic (33%), and Asian (28%) New Yorkers have all seen higher levels of worker dislocation than white New Yorkers (23%).

The coalition wants to see the city build new revenue streams, primarily through taxes on high earners, and increased cuts to certain programs to redirect funding towards community investment so that the city’s post-recovery economy is a “sustainable” one. They caution against “austerity” budget measures that could even further harm marginalized communities.

According to the New York Workforce Recovery Strategy Group, the city has the opportunity to address two crises at once, the economic one wrought by the pandemic through mass unemployment and the ongoing climate crisis, by investing in upgraded infrastructure.

The coalition suggests ramping up short- and long-term infrastructure projects, and several potential projects the city should focus on. These include broadband installation, greening and repairs of NYCHA facilities, the “Cleaner and Greener New York” plan that would build up green infrastructure such as solar and wind power generation and coastal resiliency, and upgrades to public-health and child-care infrastructure.

The coalition is also calling for a “true universal basic income for all New Yorkers,” as well as expansion of current means-tested cash assistance. It wants direct cash assistance for individuals, families, and communities most affected by the pandemic, as well as increases to both the state’s earned income tax credit and child and dependent care tax credit.

The “Recovery for All” and Partnership for New York City reports both stress that an economic recovery for New York City relies on workforce development. However, the New York Workforce Recovery Strategy Group believes that the government, not private businesses, should take the lead on this through programs to help jumpstart businesses such as transitional employment, wage subsidy, work-based learning programs and apprenticeships. The coalition is also calling on the city to develop a citywide workforce development system, which non-profit service providers have long called for.

Also like the Partnership’s, the “Recovery for All” report highlights the need for assistance for small businesses in particular. It advocates for reducing red tape and increasing free or low-cost technology and technical training for local businesses, among other steps.

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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City Council Staff Union Expects Recognition and Start to Contract Bargaining 'Soon'

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Council Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: Emil Cohen/New York City Council)

The union effort launched last year by City Council staff members could soon be recognized by the City Council as negotiations near conclusion, according to a Council spokesperson and a member of the union.

The Association for Legislative Employees, an unaffiliated union that represents hundreds of City Council aides working both for individual Council members and on the Council’s central staff, launched with a card campaign in November, and a majority of staff members signing a union authorization card.

In January, the union requested voluntary recognition from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s office, and negotiations began in earnest in February. But the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the process. “The pandemic hit and everything kind of got placed on hold,” said Wilfredo Lopez, a core committee member of the union and legislative director to City Council Member Ben Kallos.

Communication resumed in May with the Council’s general counsel, the city’s Office of Labor Relations (OLR) and Office of Collective Bargaining (OCB). The union has retained the law firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan as representation.

In its January letter, the union called for recognition of three distinct titles – councilmanic aides, legislative finance analysts, and senior legislative finance analysts. The union envisioned two bargaining units between the titles but is now expecting to move forward with one bargaining unit.

“Every indication we're getting is that we're likely to continue as one big unit which I think benefits everybody from a logistical standpoint,” Lopez said. “But that will be decided further along the line.”

Lopez was optimistic that there could soon be an agreement on recognition. “It's gonna happen soon. I can't really answer what soon is because that will depend on a lot of dominoes falling into place,” he said. “But every communication that we've received and every representation that has been made by OLR via the Council seems to indicate that there's going to be some sort of agreement reached soon. Could be days, weeks, hopefully not months.”

Speaker Johnson also indicated that the negotiations are heading in the direction of recognition. “I come from a union household and I am a big supporter of labor, and I look forward to continuing to work towards recognizing the Council staff union,” said the Manhattan Democrat in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

There may be piecemeal progress in the formation of the union as a spokesperson from the speaker’s office also noted that Johnson only has direct purview over Council central staff, which includes legislative finance analysts but not councilmanic aides.

“The Council is taking steps toward voluntary recognition for the job titles of the Council central staff for which union organizers collected cards,” said a Council spokesperson. “For district staff, Council members have some autonomy when it comes to their own staff, but Speaker Johnson supports voluntary recognition for his district staff. The process is ongoing.”

Even if only the central staff are recognized, it would mean that the union has received recognition. Then, Lopez said, they could begin to accrete other titles into the union by petitioning the Office of Labor Relations and Office of Collective Bargaining. There appears to be something of a legal grey area in terms of who will recognize the staff of Council members and how bargaining will unfold.

The union has, in the meantime, been drafting governing documents and is in the middle of a membership drive. “We're essentially just crossing our T's and dotting our I's and making sure that when that agreement is reached, we're ready to move into bargaining day one,” Lopez said. The union has also been advocating for safe working conditions as the City Council reopens its offices.

Though the negotiations seem to be amicable, the process has not been fast enough for some union members. Zara Nasir, a lead organizer of the union effort, has been regularly tweeting about the lack of recognition from the Council, recently noting that the time has surpassed 170 days since voluntary recognition was sought.

There had been rumblings about a Council staff union for years as aides -- who perform a wide variety of jobs from chief of staff and communications to constituent services and legislative work -- repeatedly raised concerns about low salaries and tough working conditions, including exceedingly long hours.

While the City Council voted to give its own members a large pay raise from $112,500 to $148,500 annually in 2016, staff pay has remained relatively flat, with big disparities between aides performing similar roles under different Council members. An analysis by Politico New York found that many staffers barely make over minimum wage.

The union was also spurred into action when the Council essentially gave Council Member Andy King a slap on the wrist in October after an internal investigation substantiated allegations of ethics violations against him, including for harassment of staff members. King has since faced another investigation by the Committee on Standards and Ethics and is also being sued by a former staffer for retaliating against her for cooperating in one of those investigations.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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