Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2324 Thu, 04 Mar 2021 21:21:06 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Council Jumps Into Police Reform Action Amid De Blasio Delay in Meeting Cuomo Mandate https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/10100-nypd-police-reform-de-blasio-cuomo-mandate https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/10100-nypd-police-reform-de-blasio-cuomo-mandate de Blasio NYPD officials briefing dais

Mayor de Blasio & NYPD officials (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


When Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order in June mandating that localities set blueprints for broad police reform or risk losing state funding, he tasked mayors and other municipal leaders to engage the public and local legislatures in a collaborative reform process. Now, in response to delays and limited communication from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the New York City Council has signaled that it will move ahead with its own police reform agenda to meet Cuomo’s April 1 deadline.

After seven months, eight public "listening sessions" held in October by the NYPD, and countless criticisms of how the mayor has led the police department, de Blasio has announced several notable policing-related changes but has not yet presented the full "police reform and reinvention" plan in line with the governor's order, blowing past the suggested timing in state guidelines, and raising questions about the mayor's ability to get the required City Council approval by April.

As the City Council is asserting itself with a newly-announced legislative package, representatives of the mayor say the administration will produce a plan in February, garner public feedback, and present a final version to the Council "on or before April 1," leaving little room for lawmakers to consider any proposal before approving it.

The reform plans are intended to "help rebuild that confidence and restore trust between police and the communities they serve" through a process "based on fact-finding and meaningful community input," Cuomo said when he signed the order on June 12, two weeks into nationwide demonstrations after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. The order requires localities to convene police leadership and other stakeholders to develop a plan to reform policing writ large -- vaguely enumerating everything from use of force and deployment policy to "restorative justice practices," with few specific requirements.

Once approved by local legislatures, the state Director of the Budget, Robert Mujica, will have the authority to confirm whether the adopted plans comply with the governor's order. If he deems they don't, Mujica can withhold state and federal funding to local police forces.

In New York City, where "defund the police" became a rallying call amongst demonstrators last spring and summer, that jeopardizes some or all of the $30.9 million in state funding for the NYPD in this year's preliminary city budget on top of federal money, according to the city's Independent Budget Office (IBO). It's unclear how much of that can legally be withheld, according to an IBO analyst, or how much of the $168.6 million in federal funds budgeted for the NYPD comes through the state and how much goes directly to New York City.

As the de Blasio administration has yet to present a full police reform plan, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and other Council members are accusing the mayor of blowing off the state's timetable and faltering on commitments made last summer to enact change within the ranks of the NYPD. 

"The Council will not pass anything that does not offer a concrete plan for reform that comes from a truly collaborative process," said Jennifer Fermino, communications director for Johnson, in a January 22 email to Gotham Gazette.

A week later, the Council moved ahead without de Blasio. On Friday, Johnson announced the planned introduction of 11 pieces of legislation for changes mayors have long resisted. The push includes removing NYPD school safety agents from schools by June 2022 and making the police commissioner a Council-confirmed position. It also has a resolution that calls on the state to change the law so that the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), not the police commissioner, will have final say on many officer disciplinary matters.

“This legislative package will be just one of the steps the City Council is taking toward reforming policing,” Johnson said in a statement Friday. “It is critical that we redefine public safety and reduce the NYPD’s footprint." Hearings on the legislation will occur in February, the announcement said.

The pressure from the Council and Cuomo's executive order, which requires the city to solicit public feedback on any proposed plan before submitting it for ratification, is adding to an already sizable list of promised police and racial justice reforms de Blasio has committed himself to in his final year in office. The mayor has repeatedly said many of those reforms are works-in-progress the city has been shaping for months or years.

"We're making systemic changes as we have throughout," de Blasio said last month on WNYC radio of the NYPD and his seven-year tenure. The statement came shortly after announcing the adoption of new police disciplinary standards, a policy induced by City Council legislation last year.

The mayor has said he and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea support recommendations made by the city Department of Investigation and Law Department following two separate City Hall-initiated investigations into the NYPD's handling of demonstrators last summer. A new lawsuit from Attorney General Letitia James against de Blasio and the NYPD is adding to the demands to change police-protester relations. In response, de Blasio frequently cites previous moves, like reducing the reliance on stop-and-frisk policing and expansion of neighborhood policing, as examples in an ongoing effort to improve police-community relations.

"To me, this has just been a continuum and it has to deepen. I expect a number of reforms this year in New York City," de Blasio said in an appearance on NY1 Monday evening.

But the delays and lack of transparency from de Blasio around meeting the state order did not bode well for reform directed from within his administration, according to representatives of the City Council.

"The NYPD is in charge of this reform effort,” said Fermino, Johnson's spokesperson, in the January 22 email. “But we’ve seen no real desire from department leadership to change. This is not a good sign."

"To say we're disappointed is an understatement," Fermino said, in a response that followed a January oversight hearing on the de Blasio administration effort to meet Cuomo’s order. "It's been seven months, and still we've seen nothing. We don't even know what issue areas they're focusing on. At the hearing, we heard again that the City has made no real attempt to collaborate with advocates and community groups."

Lagging Behind State's Timeline
After the NYPD listening sessions in October, de Blasio announced the second phase of community engagement under a team overseen by First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan, which would ultimately be responsible for coming up with the final plan. The team included senior officials from the NYPD and City Council, along with Jennifer Jones Austin of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Wes Moore of Robin Hood, and Arva Rice of the New York Urban League, who had joined the process two weeks earlier.

As part of his State of the City agenda released on Thursday, de Blasio said local police precinct councils would be able to give formal feedback to the police commissioner before the selection of precinct commanders -- a proposal that appears to have been inspired in part by the team's work last fall and a push by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain and de Blasio ally currently running for mayor.

The State of the City agenda for the months ahead also includes measures to strengthen the CCRB by giving the oversight body the authority to initiate investigations at its own discretion, as opposed to relying on a formal complaint, and consolidating other oversight entities, like Commission to Combat Police Corruption and the NYPD Office of the Inspector General, under the CCRB umbrella.

The city held over 45 meetings with a litany of community leaders, clergy, advocates, and police officers between November and January, according to Fuleihan's office. State guidance says that engagement work should have been completed by November. It is unclear what, if any, work on the executive order was done between its June signing and the October listening sessions.

Like de Blasio's own sweeping announcements for potentially transformational initiatives, Cuomo's deadline set a relatively narrow window to achieve such a lofty task. But the lack of progress and transparency offered by the Mayor's Office has rankled City Council leadership.

“The administration’s lag in deliverables to date demonstrates the fact that there are problems in meeting the Executive Order," said Queens City Council Member Adrienne Adams, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Public Safety, in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

"The only way to view the lack of information received thus far is that this mandate has not been taken seriously enough,” she wrote.

At the oversight hearing held January 11 by the public safety committee, representatives of the First Deputy Mayor's Office, the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, the Law Department, and the NYPD struggled under withering questioning to provide specifics about what would be in the final proposal.

"We believe that the collaborative so far, the plan we have in place for engagement, for engaging as many stakeholders as possible, accepting all recommendations, and publishing a plan in the coming weeks for public comment before bringing it to Council for ratification on or before April 1, reflects what we've read in the executive order and the guidance," said Chelsea Davis, chief strategy officer in the office of First Deputy Mayor.

A spokesperson for de Blasio confirmed to Gotham Gazette that a draft is due in February for public comment and would be ready on or before the April 1 deadline, which is also the date a new state budget is due.

But state guidance issued August 17 says the police reform plans should be drafted in November and December and released for public comment from January to March. The guidance calls for public education around the proposals and that "the public comment is addressed in a meaningful way in your final plan."

Pursuant to Cuomo's executive order, New York City must submit the final plan after City Council ratification to the state Division of the Budget by April 1, or jeopardize future state and federal funds at the discretion of State Budget Director Mujica, meaning the governor.

"Build in sufficient notice and time for this to occur before the April 1, 2021 deadline," the August guidance says.

Tall Order
It's unclear how well any plan developed in a half-year's time -- and near the end of a two-term mayoral tenure of regularly unfulfilled police reform promises -- will be able to meet the transformative demands of Black Lives Matter demonstrators, whose cause Cuomo, now in his third term, sought to further through his executive order.

The Cuomo order says the collaborative "shall consider evidence-based policing strategies, including but not limited to, use of force policies, procedural justice; any studies addressing systemic racial bias or racial justice in policing; implicit bias awareness training; de-escalation training and practices; law enforcement assisted diversion programs; restorative justice practices; community-based outreach and conflict resolution; problem-oriented policing; hot spots policing; focused deterrence; crime prevention through environmental design; violence prevention and reduction interventions..." It suggests modelling existing policies and standards created by the New York State Municipal Police Training Council and the state Law Enforcement Accreditation Program, both under the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Cuomo was clear he was pushing localities to bring stakeholders together to make their own plans collaboratively and that there was no one-size-fits-all plan for the entire state.

"The relationship is frayed," he said on August 17 when he released the guidance for municipalities, referring to police and community. "The relationship is based on trust and respect and the relationship is ruptured. But divorce is not an option here."

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Council Jumps Into Police Reform Action Amid De Blasio Delay in Meeting Cuomo Mandate Mon, 01 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Why Didn't New York's Hardest Hit Communities Receive Covid Vaccine Priority? https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/10075-why-didnt-new-york-hardest-hit-communities-of-color-covid-vaccine-priority https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/10075-why-didnt-new-york-hardest-hit-communities-of-color-covid-vaccine-priority police academy a

The covid vaccine (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic devastated Black, Latino, and immigrant communities across New York City at disproportionate levels last spring and since. Some lawmakers are now asking why the same populations were not included in vaccine priority plans crafted by the state and city.

At a January 12 City Council oversight hearing on the de Blasio administration's roll-out of the first batches of the covid vaccine, members of the Council’s committees on hospitals and health asked the city's top health department officials why the city wasn't doing more to inoculate underserved and hardest hit Black, Latino and Asian communities.

"We know that communities of color experienced the highest death rate during the onset of COVID-19," said Council Member Adrienne Adams, a Queens Democrat, in her questioning of administration officials. "Why are they not prioritized? Why are we doomed to repeat the same number of deaths in communities of color with no access to the vaccine that may save their lives?"

Adams' district includes Richmond Hill, which contains zip codes with the highest covid positivity rates in the city. In that section of Queens, a predominantly Latino and South Asian neighborhood, the seven-day average positivity rate was 16.3% as of Wednesday, nearly double the citywide rate of 8.4%. Adams was talking about the availability of the vaccine to her constituents -- a question of state-designated eligibility as much as it is city-designed access -- and the dearth of data collected on inoculating members of communities of color, a fatal repetition of the carnage wrought in the spring and throughout the pandemic.

The groups most deeply impacted by the outbreak -- in terms of loss of life, infection, and the loss of livelihood due to the accompanying economic crisis -- live in the city's predominantly Black, Latino, and immigrant neighborhoods. Neighborhoods like Elmhurst, in Queens, and Mott Haven, in the Bronx, saw their hospitals reach capacity and on the verge of collapse last spring. Even before the first wave broke over New York City, epidemiologists worldwide were discussing the heightened risk to seniors and people with comorbidities, the latter group also disproportionately represented in the city's historically neglected neighborhoods.

Rather than slicing the population by the categories most likely to contract, spread, or die from the disease, the New York State Department of Health has followed a different arithmetic, one that factors in the preservation of what have come to be defined as essential workers and the services they provide.

The state's vaccine distribution plan -- created under the close control of Governor Andrew Cuomo based on federal guidance and in consultation with local health departments, including New York City's -- has been to prioritize potential recipients by their occupation in the health-care sector (with the exception of nursing home residents, who’ve also been prioritized by federal decree), beginning with hospital employees and paramedics with patient contact, and expanding to other types of doctors and medical staff. On Monday, after the urging of Mayor Bill de Blasio and other local leaders, Cuomo opened vaccination to people over 75 and other types of essential employees, like police, firefighters, transit workers and teachers.

"Here's where we are," said Dr. Torian Easterling, first deputy commissioner and chief equity officer at the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, at the City Council hearing Tuesday. "We do have to keep in mind that we're following the federal and state guidelines as it relates to eligibility criteria."

"Certainly equity and ethical principles being taken into consideration, thinking about the categories that have borne the brunt and we want to save lives, but also those categories where we want to continue to preserve functions," he said.

When asked for clarity or elaboration on this point by Gotham Gazette, a department spokesperson only reiterated that the state set the eligibility criteria, not the city.

With a trickling supply of the vaccine scheduled by the federal government, Cuomo has repeatedly expressed concern over hospital staffing levels as the number of cases and hospitalizations have risen in recent months, echoing some of the most dire alarms raised during the state's first brush with inundated ERs and ICUs last spring.

Even after bowing to pressure from de Blasio and others to widen vaccine eligibility last week, those alarms have only heightened with the presence of a new more contagious covid strain connected to the United Kingdom, and more strains likely to be detected before enough of the population is vaccinated.

"The biggest capacity element in the hospital system is we're losing staff," the governor said on a call with members of the press Tuesday, after opening vaccinations up to people 65 and older in accordance with new CDC guidance. "We're losing staff because the staff is getting sick from covid. That's why continued prioritization of the hospital staff is key and in the webinar we said hospitals must continue to prioritize hospital staff."

Physicians and nurses in New York are less racially diverse than the population of the state, according to research released in 2017 by the Center for Health Workforce Studies. A report published by City Comptroller Scott Stringer last March showed that 54% of frontline workers in the city's health-care sector were Black or Latino, compared with 62% working in public transit. (Across industries, white employees made up roughly between a fifth and a quarter of the frontline personnel, according to the report.) The emphasis on preserving doctors over bus drivers further exposes the gruesome calculus of expendability in a pandemic crisis, with the training of health-care workers equating them to least expendable, while the transit workers getting some of them to their shifts, typically equipped with less PPE, are more expendable.

“New York State has followed the priority categories as outlined by ACIP & CDC,” wrote a state Department of Health spokesperson in an email to Gotham Gazette, referring to the federal Centers for Disease Control's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

That guidance, which is national and not specifically tailored to New York, suggests that the right distribution of the vaccine within the broad category of health-care personnel (HPC) would mitigate inequities. "Vaccination of HCP across all occupations and work settings addresses the disproportionate representation of racial and ethnic minority groups in low-wage HCP," reads a supplement to the federal recommendations.

"Effort will need to be applied throughout the vaccination program to ensure equitable access," the document states.

It notes that health-care personnel in long-term care facilities, like nursing homes, are at risk of transmitting the virus to medically vulnerable patients, but does not cite any study or evidence related to hospital facilities or staff.

Fewer than 1 in every 300 confirmed COVID-19 deaths nationwide has been of a health-care professional, according to CDC data.

The vaccine roll-out has been plagued by infighting between Cuomo and de Blasio, often leaving the public in the dark about what may come next. Both have been reluctant to share data at various points since the state of emergency began last March, which now extends to vaccination rates by race and ethnicity.

City Council Member I. Daneek Miller and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who is running for mayor this year, plan to introduce a resolution to the City Council calling on the city and state to improve "coordination in distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccines, prioritizing vaccinations for essential workers - especially home health care, food delivery, supermarket, and transit workers – immigrants, and other high-risk populations in our hardest-hit communities of color," according to a statement from the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus, of which Miller and Adrienne Adams are co-chairs.

The resolution, which has not yet been introduced, will also call for a real-time vaccine tracking system with demographic data, according to the statement, which Council Member Adams presented at Tuesday's oversight hearing.

The statement reads: "One of the most painful lessons drawn from this crisis was that a failure to provide timely reporting of racial demographic data at the onset of the pandemic resulted in a disproportionate number of dead Black and Brown New Yorkers that otherwise could have resulted in more aggressive mitigation measures employed in these communities."

The mayor has been criticized for not having taken better advantage of the months before the vaccine arrived to prepare vaccination sites in lower income communities and communities of color. "Let me be clear, we have been building out sites constantly and we're building out the hours of sites," de Blasio told reporters Wednesday when asked why there were no city-run vaccination hubs in Inwood and Washington Heights, neighborhoods with some of the highest positivity rates in Manhattan. Figures like City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents the area, have called for more.

On Friday, Cuomo announced the state would be setting up five vaccination sites on NYCHA campuses for public housing residents, predominantly people of color. An official press release does not say when they will become operational.

The city, through de Blasio’s Racial Equity and Inclusion Task Force, has made efforts to "tailor our resources" using data to target testing and outreach, said Dr. Easterling, of the city Health Department, at the City Council oversight hearing, "and certainly we're thinking about this as the vaccine distribution plan rolls out."

"We know that Black and Latino communities bore the brunt of this COVID-19 pandemic and the data was very clear during wave one," Easterling said in response to the BLA Caucus statement and Adams' question. "And, as you laid out, we continue to see cases go up and we continue to see disproportionate impact even today."

"Now that we have more data, [we are] looking at not only COVID-19 data but also being able to really understand some of the inequity that really contributed to high exposure, thinking about overcrowding, overcrowding in housing, multi-generational homes. Also thinking about being a frontline worker, and really being able to map those neighborhoods," he said.

The city was limited by the plan outlined by Cuomo and state health officials, which takes into consideration the city's essential operations, highest among them the hospital and health-care systems. But the mayor made no public push for any changes to vaccine categorization and availability based on the most medically-vulnerable communities other than his call for the state to allow those over 75 to become eligible sooner.

A spokesperson for DOHMH said the health department doesn't track positivity or mortality rates by occupation or eligibility criteria, indicating it is not collected by the state nor a significant factor in the vaccine distribution scheme. A spokesperson for the state Department of Health did not say whether the officials are tracking infection and mortality rates within eligibility groups and did not provide data to justify the breakdown of eligibility categories, though it is consistent with CDC guidance.

On January 12, the state opened vaccination to people living and working in shelters and to grocery store employees. De Blasio has since called for eligibility to include delivery workers, and bodega and deli staff.

In an initial roll-out plan released in October, before the first vaccines received federal approval, the state was concerned with addressing the highest risk groups and most essential workforce, with an eye toward geographically targeting eligible recipients in the hardest hit areas.

"In anticipation of limited numbers of vaccine initially available coupled with current knowledge of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality, public health concerns, and the need to maintain essential services, one of New York’s prioritization strategies for vaccine distribution is designed to ensure early vaccination of the most vulnerable New Yorkers as well as essential frontline workers, with distribution potentially directed to these populations who reside or work within communities with highest prevalence of COVID-19," reads the report, prepared by the New York State Department of Health.

Much of that seems to have been shelved as the state has adhered closely to CDC guidance.

As the vaccine roll-out has come closer to utilizing the supply -- and, as de Blasio and Cuomo warn, will soon exhaust it -- the number of new daily covid cases and hospitalizations has continued to rise. For the last few days new hospital admissions in New York City have come close to 300 per day, and new reported daily cases have topped 5,000. In the second week of January, close to 60 people in New York City have died from covid per day.

At the January 12 oversight hearing, city Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said the city was working to reach lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color through "trusted messengers," such as faith leaders and local representatives. As for the grief of loss, especially in New York's Black and Latino communities, "we have to ensure that we turn that into our motivation to better serve people today as well as going forward," he said.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Why Didn't New York's Hardest Hit Communities Receive Covid Vaccine Priority? Sat, 16 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Elected Officials Present Broad Proposals to 2019 Charter Revision Commission https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7990-elected-officials-present-broad-proposals-to-2019-charter-revision-commission https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7990-elected-officials-present-broad-proposals-to-2019-charter-revision-commission stringer charter testimony

Comptroller Stringer testifies at the 2019 Charter Revision Commission (photo: @NYCComptroller)


The charter revision commission created through New York City Council legislation concluded its first round of public hearings last month, receiving dozens of suggestions about improving the functions and structure of city government. Unlike the commission established by Mayor Bill de Blasio, which has three proposals on this November’s ballot, the Council-created commission is set to propose changes to the city’s central governing document via the 2019 election.

Among those who testified at the 2019 commission’s initial hearings were several elected officials who presented their own broad proposals that could significantly change how the city conducts its business and how those who hold power can wield it. They included City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, and several City Council members from the five boroughs.

Johnson -- who appointed the commission’s chair Gail Benjamin, the former head of the Council’s land use division, and three other members -- sees in the commission an opportunity to fix the balance of power in the city, which tilts toward the mayoralty and at times can diminish the oversight and accountability role played by the 51-member Council.

In testimony at the September 27 hearing held at City Hall, Johnson noted the Council’s limited ability to review mayoral appointees to head city agencies, and that the body cannot remove an agency head. He also suggested that the commission examine whether the budgets for certain offices “which are uncertain and subject to political considerations as opposed to substantive need, should be fixed or independently set.”

Johnson also recommended the commission look at the structure of the Law Department and the Corporation Counsel. “One lawyer attempting to serve two separate branches of government is an invitation for confusion and disruption and may not be in the best interests of the City,” his testimony reads, in reference to representation of both the executive and legislative branches of city government, an issue that has come to the fore as Council members have sought to join a lawsuit against the city’s property tax system.

Johnson is also pushing for changes to the city’s budget process to give the Council a greater voice and to tie budget allocations more closely to city programs, and also argued in favor of instant runoff voting, also known as ranked choice voting.

The most sweeping reforms that Johnson proposed, however, deal with the city’s land use process, which is almost always contentious and has been recently as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has moved to rezone several neighborhoods -- mostly low-income, communities of color -- to increase density and create more affordable housing. Johnson and other members of the Council’s Progressive Caucus have advocated for a citywide planning framework that gives communities greater say in land use decisions and balances equity with development. They have also called for an independent City Planning Commission, as opposed to the one currently composed largely of mayoral appointees. Council Members Diana Ayala, who co-chairs the caucus, Keith Powers, a vice co-chair, Brad Lander, and Adrienne Adams each testified on those proposals at separate borough hearings. “The status quo of ad hoc planning is just not working…We need a larger vision based on equity, a vision in which low-income communities do not have to slowly bear the brunt of the city’s every housing and infrastructure need,” Ayala said at a September 12 hearing in the Bronx.

Those goals are also in line with a report released in January by the Regional Planning Association, a prominent think tank, in partnership with community advocacy groups, academic experts and partners in city government. The RPA report, titled “Inclusive City”, was also presented to the charter commission and cited by elected officials, including Brewer, who also testified at the Sept. 27 hearing. Brewer, along with Public Advocate Letitia James, was the driver behind the legislation that created the commission and has expressed hope that it can bring a sea change the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the 1989 charter commission fundamentally altered the structure of city government, giving it its present form.

In her testimony, Brewer emphasized a more thoughtful process for land use decisions that includes early input from community boards and elected officials before applications are certified through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). “With pre-planning we can do more than merely react—we can shape a project,” she said.

She also pushed for more technical improvements to zoning and permitting procedures, in the context of a long-term citywide approach. “There needs to be a citywide comprehensive plan every ten years,” she said. “This planning process could distribute new development equitably across the city, rather than concentrate rezonings in communities of color.”

Similar to Johnson’s testimony, Brewer advocated for increased transparency in the city budget. She also said the Civilian Complaint Review Board should be strengthened and its budget tied to the NYPD’s, to ensure that the watchdog agency has sufficient resources to deal with a growing police body. Additionally, she noted her opposition to term limits for community boards, which have been proposed in a ballot question by the mayor’s commission. Borough presidents appoint most community board members.

Comptroller Stringer’s ideas, in number at least, outpaced other elected officials. In an exhaustive report presented at the City Hall hearing, Stringer recommended 65 revisions to the charter ranging from proposals on city budgeting and procurement to housing, cybersecurity, children’s services, campaign finance and voting reforms.

“Since the last major charter revision nearly thirty years ago, New York City has grown by 1.2 million people and the world has changed around it, yet its charter is not prepared to meet the needs of today’s challenges,” Stringer said in a statement. “The Charter Review Commission is an opportunity for us to build a better government that takes aim at our affordability crisis and builds a fairer city by giving a voice to New Yorkers.”

Chief among Stringer’s proposals was a push for a Chief Diversity Officer in the mayor’s office and in each city agency, to ensure diversity in hiring and in contracting. Stringer has advocated for increased investment in Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (M/WBEs) and he noted that though New York City spends nearly $20 billion on goods and services each year, less than 5 percent of the contracts are given to M/WBEs.

He also proposed a new Office of Inspection independent of the Department of Buildings and the Housing and Preservation Department, which he said play conflicting roles since they both approve new construction and development and are also charged with enforcing housing and construction codes. In line with his role as the city’s chief fiscal officer, Stringer also pushed for reforms to the capital budget, which funds infrastructure projects in the city. He said it should be transparent enough so the public can identify the cost of specific projects and be informed when those costs change.

Several other City Council members also weighed in on proposed charter revisions.

Council Member Ben Kallos, also co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, proposed 72 ideas in total, in updated testimony, including a citizen “Bill of Rights to free higher education, affordable health and mental health care, and, access to parks, libraries, public transit and affordable internet.” He stressed that any revisions to the charter brought about through a ballot referendum should go through further changes only after being presented to voters again. He pushed to give the Council and borough presidents the ability to make appointments to mayoral boards that have land use authority and said the charter should be amended to allow city residents to propose legislation and be heard before the Council. “Our City’s Charter is truly a living document,” he said in a statement, “but it is up to us to make sure it remains alive.”

Council Member Helen Rosenthal pushed for the charter to formally adopt the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women (CEDAW), and also advocated for reforms to the city's contracting process to ease burdensome requirements on non-profits that provide early childhood
education, homeless services, senior services, and mental healthcare.  

At the September 20 hearing in Queens, Council Members Adams and Francisco Moya, who is not a Progressive Caucus member, supported improvements to ULURP. “Displacement in our neighborhoods is no longer a possibility but a fact of life,” Moya said, according to written testimony. He called for the charter to mandate assessments of displacement brought about by proposed development. “We cannot view our city and its neighborhoods in a vacuum,” Moya said.

There were, of course, elected officials with more borough-specific agendas. At the September 24 hearing on Staten Island, testimony by Borough President James Oddo, and Council Members Steven Matteo and Joseph Borelli (all three Republicans, unlike all of the other aforementioned officials, who are Democrats), advocated for greater freedom for the borough from “bureaucrats in Manhattan,” as Oddo and Matteo put it.

Oddo and Matteo, in submitted testimony, said that city agencies should be restructured to give borough commissioners more power over local issues. “Agencies should be restructured in such a way that the chain of command within the agency is clear, and that one individual on the local level is not only responsible and accountable, but specifically empowered within the agency to act,” they wrote.

Borelli similarly pushed for more decentralization of power, expressing concern that the priorities of Staten Islanders are often ignored by city government and that new changes to the charter could adversely affect the borough. “We don’t want to be laboratories for the latest experiments in social engineering as too often seems the case on issues ranging from buses to composting,” he said. He largely argued for giving the borough president greater jurisdiction over local issues, similar to a county executive outside New York City.

He also criticized the city’s public matching funds program for campaign financing, calling on the commission to negate the potential expansion of the program that could happen through a ballot proposal put forward by the mayor’s commission. And, he advanced several other proposals -- mandating that the Independent Budget Office study the fiscal impact of every piece of City Council legislation; reducing duplicative roles played by different city agencies; making it harder to raise taxes in the city; improving the process for holding special elections; and curbing the power of the Board of Standards and Appeals.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to include testimony from Council Member Helen Rosenthal and updated testimony from Council Member Ben Kallos.  

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Elected Officials Present Broad Proposals to 2019 Charter Revision Commission Thu, 11 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Johnson Makes Series of City Council Changes, But Sidelines Formal Rules Reforms https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7726-johnson-makes-series-of-city-council-changes-but-sidelines-formal-rules-reforms https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7726-johnson-makes-series-of-city-council-changes-but-sidelines-formal-rules-reforms cojo cm team

Speaker Johnson, middle, and Council members (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


In December, several City Council members jostling to become the powerful next speaker of the 51-member legislative body signed on to a broad platform of reforms to the Council’s rules and procedures, which can have a significant impact on city law-making and funding for communities. Both returning and newly-elected Council members, 33 of them in total, backed the proposals, which would make legislative drafting procedures more transparent, bolster staffing for prominent divisions such as land use, and tweak the Council’s internal culture in significant ways, among other more minor adjustments.

But a deadline set in that platform for convening a public hearing on the proposals came and went as new Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who was among the signatories, has chosen instead to implement administrative changes in lieu of more formal reforms through the Council’s Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. Several Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette largely praised those measures but others expressed concern that important promises have been left unfulfilled.

In a process somewhat similar to four years prior when Council members proposed changes ahead of the election of a new speaker, the document signed by the Council members in December of last year laid out broad areas where the Council could improve its functions, including in bill drafting, the role and operations of the 40-plus issue committees, the body’s oversight and investigations capacity, its budget negotiation process, its land use powers, and the quality of working life for members and their staff.

“A hearing should be held in the Rules Committee on these reforms – as well as any others proposed by good government groups or members of the public – in the first quarter of 2018,” states the letter, signed by both Speaker Johnson and Council Member Karen Koslowitz, whom he appointed as chair of the rules committee. “The reforms should then be converted into a Rules Resolution, and adopted by the Council by March 2018, but no later than June 2018.”

By this time in 2014, then-Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito had ushered in transformative rules changes that made the body more democratic, diluting some of the traditional powers of the speaker and empowering individual members. The changes were spearheaded along with Council Member Brad Lander, who she appointed to chair the rules committee and was instrumental in drafting the reforms.

Discretionary funding -- also known as “member items” that are usually awarded by Council members to local nonprofits in their districts -- was equalized across Council districts, with additional resources allocated to poorer districts, and could no longer be a tool to punish members who might oppose the speaker, as Mark-Viverito’s predecessors had used it. A new bill drafting unit was created to aid Council members and speed up the legislative process, and other changes were made to how bills are introduced and heard in committees.

Johnson has taken a different tack, making significant administrative changes that cover large parts of the rules reform package and were key pledges he made as he ran for speaker.

The Council voted to significantly increase its own annual budget to $81.3 million, up from $64 million, with the new funds pegged for staffing increases in the land use, legislative, and finance divisions. A dedicated 15-member oversight and investigations unit was created to conduct systemic analyses of city agencies and their functioning. According to a Council spokesperson, the central staff has also internally overseen improvements in bill drafting, no longer allowing indefinite delays on bill introductions and impressing on members to move their bills or release them for others. Members can now also electronically access the status of their bills in real time and there is a timely process for staff to express legal concerns with bill language. Members are provided legal memos on their bills on request, which is apparently rare. All moves meant to address major areas of frustration for some members, though key pieces of proposed changes to bill-drafting have not been implemented.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Council also moved rapidly to change its rules to mandate anti-sexual harassment trainings.

“I am proud to have taken important steps on necessary reforms in my first months as speaker, including the creation of the new Oversight and Investigations Unit that will strengthen our capacity for monitoring city agencies as mandated by the charter,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “I will continue to discuss with members what reforms should be made in the future to help better serve the people of New York.”

photobyemilyWhen asked for comment, a spokesperson for Council Member Koslowitz (pictured), chair of the rules committee, initially said the Council member was unfamiliar with the rules reform package that she had signed. When presented with the full list of proposals, the spokesperson declined to comment.

By and large, Council members are appreciative of the steps Johnson has taken. Several members said their bills are moving faster and, without making any comparisons with Mark-Viverito, that Johnson is openly seeking member input on the budget and larger strategy.  

“The rules reform this time around, there were a lot of legitimate questions about whether or not these reforms needed to be put into the Council’s rules or they could just be effected,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, a member of the rules committee. “A lot of them had to do with resource allocation. So I don’t know if once Corey’s done with putting his administrative imprint on the body, how much of the rules reforms still need to get done. Maybe that’ll be something to assess once we get through the city budget.”

At the same time, some members declined to comment, taking a wait-and-see approach before they evaluate Johnson’s commitment to rules reform. Others only agreed to speak anonymously, fearing what they say is increased scrutiny of public comments by the speaker’s office.

Those members pointed out, for instance, that though there have been changes to bill drafting, the process still falls largely to the discretion of the speaker’s central staff. Under a long-standing process, Council members who made “first-in-time” legislative services requests -- Council speak for when a member asks for a bill to be drafted -- were given priority even if other members may have similar bill requests. Having a “first-in-time” request meant that members could sit on bills indefinitely, which the rules reforms would have amended with an official time-bound process.

A Council spokesperson said that practice has ended and that members have offered positive feedback for the changes that have been made. Members are no longer allowed to sit on bills, and lose them to other members, the spokesperson said, without providing the details of how the new protocols work.

Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government reform group, said that is perhaps the most significant item in the rules reform package. “There’s no known criteria by which they’re making that decision and that needs to change,” he said in a phone interview. “At the very least, the speaker’s office ought to declare the criteria by which they decide which bills are moved.”

Council members who spoke to Gotham Gazette seemed to be in the dark about whether rules reforms were even being discussed. The overarching platform hasn’t been discussed in hearings though some of the issues have been raised in the Democratic conference meetings, said one member who would only speak on the condition of anonymity.  

“The first-in-time issues have not been changed,” the member said. “They did update the database -- truthfully, this was mostly done last term -- you can find out more quickly whether you’re first-in-time or not, but the process itself is still exactly as it was. And the legal concerns issue,” about getting legal opinions on bills in a timely manner, “is still as it was...And some of the disability and accessibility investments [for Council hearings] still need to be advanced.”

Though the Council allocated more money for pay raises for staffers, it hasn’t implemented pay parity with other city agencies where benefits are better and salaries are higher, despite that being a priority outlined in the draft of reforms. “Yeah, I would add that to the list,” the Council member said. Nor is childcare provided to members or staffers, as called for in the reform proposal.

The Council spokesperson noted that audio induction loops for those with hearing impairments were added last year and that language accessibility can be requested. The spokesperson also said that pay parity has been discussed with members when the Council was deciding its own budget, and ultimately members get to decide how they will use the increased funds budgeted for their offices and staff. The spokesperson also acknowledged that the Council does not currently provide childcare options but insisted that the Council is always looking at ways to expand it for all New Yorkers.

Council Member Mark Levine, one of Johnson’s chief rivals for the speakership, said the Council has made major improvements. “[The Speaker] has made progress on a lot of fronts,” he said, pointing to the uptick in the budget, the staffing increases, and more transparency and faster timelines on bill introductions. “It helps tremendously in managing your LS [legislative service] requests to have real-time access to that information. They’ve also staffed up pretty dramatically in the bill-drafting unit,” he said. “And it’s more equitable now. Everybody gets to identify 10 priority LSs which we want staff to work on and that evens it out a little bit more.”

Echoing Lancman, Levine said a formal hearing wasn’t absolutely necessary. “These changes have been possible through a combination of changing internal procedure, through allocation of resources, and that really is a very big deal,” he said.  

Some members are waiting until after budget negotiations have concluded with the administration to see more changes go into effect, particularly with new funding at the Council’s disposal.

“To date, the specifics of the rules reform stuff that we signed on to hasn’t been evidenced,” said Council Member Robert Cornegy, another current rules committee member and speaker candidate of last year. “There has been some efforts, especially in bill drafting, to make sure that bills move faster. But we’re so deep in the budget and I’m on the budget negotiation team, I can’t really see anything. I almost don’t know what’s going on around me as it relates to the legislation or the rules reform because we’re so deep in the budget.”

Cornegy said he wants to see “a bit more latitude” for members in the drafting process so bills can move more quickly.

Council Member Adrienne Adams, also a rules committee member, said very briefly before a Council hearing, “We’re still waiting. It’s been a while. We’re still waiting. I really don’t have anything to add right now.”

Among other items that remain unfinished are changes to the functioning of the Council committees, which hear bills and hold oversight hearings.

Despite being included in the proposed agenda, there’s still no protocol for committee hearing scheduling; there isn’t a standard process for members who want to switch committees midway through the term; hearings are not automatically triggered for bills with popular support; and committee staff aren’t publishing recaps of hearings that summarize testimony, requests made by members and promises made by the administration (though the full testimony from hearings continues to be readily available online.)

It’s likely once the budget is decided, which could be as soon as the coming week, that the Council will ramp up some of the changes put in motion by Johnson and get to other delayed reforms. Yet, Council members and government reform groups say that needs to happen in a public, transparent way. “If the speaker and 32 members made a commitment to pass rules reforms,” said Camarda of Reinvent Albany, “they should honor that commitment and hold public hearings to solicit input and pass meaningful rules changes.”

Camarda also pointed to a New York Post report from May that highlighted Johnson’s partial reversal on a promise to regularly publish his full public schedule and details of his contact with lobbyists. “We hope this isn’t the beginning of a trend that the speaker’s promises on good government issues go unfulfilled,” Camarda said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Inset Koslowitz photo by Emil Cohen

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Johnson Makes Series of City Council Changes, But Sidelines Formal Rules Reforms Fri, 08 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Brooklyn City Council Member Setting Early Foundation for Speaker Run https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7610-brooklyn-city-council-member-setting-early-foundation-for-speaker-run https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7610-brooklyn-city-council-member-setting-early-foundation-for-speaker-run justin brannan city council

Council Member Justin Brannan (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


City Council Member Justin Brannan is everywhere.

He’s at the governor’s mansion discussing the state’s efforts to empower women- and minority-owned businesses. He’s meeting with the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council about the city’s construction industry. He’s at the Chinese-American Planning Council’s 53rd anniversary celebration, posing for photos with Congressional Rep. Grace Meng, state Assembly members Peter Abbate Jr. and Yuh-line Niou, and fellow Council members. He’s talking police-community relations with NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. He’s speaking with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. He’s at union rallies, nonprofit galas, senior centers, PTA meetings and parades.

He’s being interviewed on television and photographed at City Hall, and he’s developing more and more of a social media presence, showcasing both his travels around the city but also his focus on constituent services in his district, praising his colleagues, chronicling his subway struggles, and sharing song lyrics. And, he’s campaigning for Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley, the Queens Democratic Party leader with outsized influence in other parts of government.

All that in the last two months, part of a frenetic start for a Council Member who has only been on the job since January, though he has been involved in city politics for much longer. And those activities haven’t gone unnoticed as Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat, is emerging very early on as a potential contender to be the next Speaker of the City Council.

The Council Speaker, arguably the second-most powerful elected official in the city, is chosen internally by members every four years, in a process that is less-public facing and more backroom-dealing. In 2021, the next city election year, 36 Council members will be term-limited, portending a sea change in the 51-member legislative body and giving incumbents, who usually sail to reelection, a leg up in the speaker race. Brannan seems to be following the playbook of current Speaker Corey Johnson, who started making moves for the speakership early in his first four-year term.

It is, of course, far too early to tell what the field of candidates will look like, which is why Council sources are reluctant to speak openly. But the buzz around the Council threw up the same names over and over. Besides Brannan, other potential contenders -- all of them Democrats -- include Bronx Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Queens Council Members Francisco Moya and Adrienne Adams, Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera, and Brooklyn Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel. The list, save for Brannan, who seems to be the most active, is the same as that reported by City & State earlier this year. Some seem to have better odds, given their prominence on the Council and their relationships with the powerful Queens and Bronx Democratic county committees.

Brannan represents District 43 in Brooklyn, covering Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach. He has a deep well of experience, as a former chief of staff to his predecessor, Council Member Vincent Gentile, and as intergovernmental affairs director at the Department of Education. He founded the Bay Ridge Democrats and served as its president. He’s also been a professional musician.

“You can see that he’s been out there, in other Council members’ districts and all over the city, so he might be taking a cue card from Corey Johnson’s playbook,” said a Council source who wished to remain unnamed. The source noted that though it will be an “open field” of candidates in 2021, the names that are popping up early are because of their relationships with county committees. “I think people are trying to get a sense of how to play the game...so it’s early to put money on a particular candidate.”

Another source with knowledge of Brannan’s moves noted that he has the advantage of being one of the few members who will be returning to the Council. “The fact that there’s only a handful of members coming back in four years sort of narrows the pool because...unless people would be OK with another two-term speaker, the next speaker is going to be one of the people that’s coming back,” the source said. Brannan, if reelected, would be serving his second and final term, as would the other contenders previously mentioned.

The source also noted that Brannan has made relationships over the last few years that will be beneficial down the line. “I think Justin’s always had, whether it was through the Bay Ridge Democrats or whether through campaign work he did, he’s always had those relationships,” the source said. “When he goes to the boroughs, it’s not like he’s introducing himself for the first time.”

Those relationships, including with Crowley and labor union leaders, will largely determine how the speaker race shakes out. The other members on the list of contenders have their own strengths and connections as well, and the speaker race often comes down to powerful stakeholders compromising in support of one candidate, taking into account a wide variety of factors.

Council Member Salamanca chairs the powerful land use committee and is a product of the Bronx Democratic County Committee. Salamanca’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Council Members Moya and Adams are closely aligned with the Queens Democratic County Committee and its powerful boss, Rep. Crowley, who played kingmaker in the election of Johnson as speaker, in partnership with others, especially state Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who heads the Bronx Democrats. Moya has the added bonus of having worked in the Assembly with Crespo.

“I’m sure this makes for great debate among all the political junkies out there, but the speakership is more than three years away,” Moya said in a statement. He insisted his focus is on his community, particularly on affordable housing, reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, and protections for workers in the building industry. “There will be a time and place to talk about the speakership but that’s a long ways away,” he said, not denying interest.

Stacey Yearwood, a spokesperson for Adams said the Council Member would not comment on being a speaker contender “as it is premature.”

None of the six potential candidates denied an interest in being the next speaker of the Council.

Council Members Rivera and Ampry-Samuel are viewed as rising stars in the Council and have have both been given prominent committees to lead -- hospitals and public housing, respectively. Rivera also received considerable support from Johnson in her election to the Council; they represent neighboring districts. Rivera declined to comment. Ampry-Samuels said in a statement, “My focus right now are the constituents of the 41st District and the residents of public housing.”

There’s no one predictable path to the speakership. “I think it’s hard because there’s been so few speakers that to go back and look historically how a speaker gets made, it’s different every time,” said the second Council source. “There’s the wisdom that Queens and the Bronx never make their own person the speaker, that would mean that Salamanca and Moya wouldn’t be the speaker. But who knows? There’s a lot of dynamics. There’s also the demographic dynamics. If we have a white mayor, chances are Justin’s not gonna be the speaker. If we have a black mayor, maybe there’s a chance there.”

In this last speaker’s election, there was vocal indignation that yet another white man was going be elected to a powerful seat in city government -- both Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Comptroller Scott Stringer are white men, Public Advocate Letitia James is a black woman. There were calls for electing a speaker of color, including from black and Latino Council members who were running for the seat themselves. All that could change, as the source noted, if the citywide seats aren’t occupied four years from now by mostly white men.

Brannan is coy about his plans, even if they seem transparent to others. “It’s April 2018!,” he said with a jovial laugh, when asked outside City Hall whether he was making an early move for the speakership. “It’s barely four months into my first term and I’m just laser-focused on being a good Council member for my district. Having succeeded a guy that was in office for a long time, I’ve got a lot to prove. So that’s my number one focus.”

He added, “It’s fun and flattering to be mentioned in that circle [of speaker potentials]. I think this new crop of my colleagues are all very talented and very smart. To be mentioned with this class is great.”

He conceded that maybe another white man may not be the way the Council will look to go and that diverse representation is sorely lacking in the legislative body. “Bottom line is that it’s gotta be someone that’s qualified for the job...I’ve already said in my Council seat, I would love nothing more than to be succeeded by a woman. So those things are important to me too. I’m certainly not blind to those dynamics but it’s just so far away.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Brooklyn City Council Member Setting Early Foundation for Speaker Run Thu, 12 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Anti-Harassment Bills Don’t Apply to the City Council https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7527-city-council-anti-harassment-bills-don-t-apply-to-the-city-council https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7527-city-council-anti-harassment-bills-don-t-apply-to-the-city-council Johnson City Council staff

Speaker Johnson and others (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


Last week, the City Council proposed a legislative package aimed at confronting sexual harassment in private and government work environments. It includes 11 bills, four of which would apply to city agencies should they become law. Council members sponsoring the bills, including Speaker Corey Johnson, touted the legislation as evidence of the Council taking significant action toward preventing and punishing the type of harassment that has become the focus of a national movement. But the bills do not apply to the City Council itself.

“All New Yorkers are entitled to a safe, respectful workplace – and this starts with sending a strong message to employers that there is no place for sexualharassment in New York City,” Johnson said in a press release. “With more and more sexual harassment cases being brought to light, it has never been more important for the government to play a role in the movement to end sexual harassment and assault.”

There was also some confusion among the bill-sponsoring Council members and in the speaker's office as to whether the bills applied to other non-mayoral government entities such as the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, or Borough Presidents. After this article was originally published, a Council spokesperson clarified that "The legislation as it is written will cover non-mayoral government entities, including the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, or Borough Presidents. The Council will be covered through a rule that will be drafted to ensure compliance."

Speaker Johnson, along with Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Mark Levine, and Adrienne Adams, are the primary sponsors of the bills that add requirements to city agencies’ anti-sexual harassment policies and procedures. Johnson’s bill would mandate twice-annual sexual harassment training; Adams’ bill would instruct the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and Commission on Human Rights to partner in determining risk factors “associated with sexual harassment” in city agencies; Levine’s would mandate that city agencies collect and then report sexual harassment cases; and Rosenthal’s would direct the Commission on Human Rights to administer surveys that test “general awareness and knowledge of workplace sexual harassment policies and prevention.”   

When originally asked about the omission of the Council and other non-mayoral entities in the legislation, a City Council spokesperson said that the Council is in the beginning stages of the legislative process, the bills may change, and that the Council will adhere to the laws they pass. There was no discussion of the Council’s own policies at the hourslong hearing on the bills held February 28 at City Hall.

A spokesperson for Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Women, told Gotham Gazette that the process is in its early stages, insisted the Council would comply with the practices in the new laws, and said that many of the provisions in the bevy of bills are already the Council’s policy, such as the provisions included in Johnson’s bill.  

A spokesperson for Adrienne Adams also said the Council was early in its process and “intended to comply” with the legislation.

A spokesperson for Mark Levine did not respond to requests for comment. Last year, Levine announced plans to introduce legislation that would designate Council staff complaints as the purview of the Council’s Standards and Ethics Committee, which currently only has oversight of elected Council members. The proposal has yet to make it into bill form.

For the several hundred employees of the City Council, the body’s own harassment policies and procedures are not public and Gotham Gazette is still awaiting the results of a Freedom of Information Law request for information regarding how harassment complaints are handled and how the Council’s equal employment committee (EEC) functions.

When it comes to handling complaints at the Council, sources indicate that there is a process for making and evaluating complaints through the EEC. Elected Council members themselves, are subject to the Committee on Standards and Ethics, made up of Council members, which evaluates complaints and can adjudicate punishment, as it recently did with Council Member Andy King, who was assigned additional training after a complaint of undue attention to a staff member was substantiated.

The bills will likely be changed before they are voted through committee and then the full Council, but to what extent remains unclear.

It was also unclear whether the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, and Borough Presidents were aware of their inclusion in the legislation. When asked about their exclusion, working from apparently incorrect initial responses from the Council, those offices sent the following replies.

A spokesperson for Comptroller Scott Stringer declined to comment regarding the Council leaving itself out of the legislation, but provided Gotham Gazette with the office’s policies and procedures on sexual misconduct.  

A spokesperson for Public Advocate Letitia James did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said, "We have a standing EEO policy and trainings are conducted annually in coordination with DCAS. Even though the agency is not required to do so, Brooklyn Borough Hall implements the same anti-sexual harassment training that is applied in mayoral agencies. I will continue to apply the highest City standard for combating sexual harassment in the workplace, and I appreciate the City Council taking up this important issue.”

A spokesperson for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. told Gotham Gazette, "Our office has a comprehensive sexual harassment policy that reflects the policies published by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services on the issue."

A spokesperson for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said they had to review the legislation before commenting and that the office has existing policies in place for sexual harassment.

A spokesperson for Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer declined to comment on the legislation.

A spokesperson for Staten Island Borough President James Oddo also declined to comment on the legislation, but told Gotham Gazette the Borough President’s office follows the procedures used by city agencies and has both a male and female Citywide Diversity and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) officer.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, told Gotham Gazette that the omission of the City Council is part of a “pervasive disease of legislators.” “They like to prescribe vaccinations for everybody else but themselves,” she continued. “I have no idea what the motive is.”

Note: this story has been updated in several places based on new information provided by the City Council after the story was originally published.

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City Council Anti-Harassment Bills Don’t Apply to the City Council Thu, 08 Mar 2018 05:00:00 +0000
City Landmarks Brooklyn Home Against Owner’s Wishes https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7503-city-landmarks-brooklyn-home-against-owner-s-wishes https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7503-city-landmarks-brooklyn-home-against-owner-s-wishes peter rosa huberty google earth

1019 Bushwick Avenue (via Google Maps)


In October, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to designate the Peter P. and Rosa M. Huberty House, at 1019 Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn, as a city landmark.

“The designation of the Huberty House honors both the historic character of Bushwick Avenue as it developed in the early 20th century, as well as the contributions of architect Ulrich Huberty to the borough of Brooklyn," LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said at the time. “Today's landmark designation will preserve this splendid Colonial Revival for future generations of New Yorkers to enjoy."

A little more than three months later, on February 6, the item passed the City Council’s Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses. It then passed the Council’s Land Use Committee on February 8, and finally the full City Council on February 15. The landmarking has the support of the LPC, Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents the district the house sits in, Reynoso’s predecessor, Diana Reyna, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the Historic Districts Council, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy, to name a few.

The problem: the owner of the house, Virginia Giovinco, is staunchly against it.

Giovinco testified at a January 23 meeting of the Council’s Landmarks Subcommittee, when the landmarking of the house was being considered.

“It’s a terrible burden on me,” she told the subcommittee. “I just cannot live with that idea. So I strongly oppose this designation for that moment that I don’t have control over my house.”

The home has been in Giovinco’s family since 1937, when it was purchased by her grandfather, Luciano Giovinco, a tailor who had immigrated from Italy at the beginning of the 1900s. The house, a 4,000 square foot colonial revival mansion, was originally built in 1900 by the architect Ulrich Huberty for his parents, Peter and Rosa. Huberty also designed buildings such as the landmarked Williamsburgh Savings Bank, Hotel Bossert, and the Prospect Park Boathouse.

Giovinco, now in her eighties, claimed at the hearing that the city has been attempting to landmark the house for at least 15 years. Her main worry appeared to be losing the autonomy of regular homeownership. She testified that, over the course of the Giovinco family’s 81-year ownership of the house, it had been kept in immaculate condition and any improvements had not deviated from the original colonial style of the home.

“The old-timers did not need an outside agency to tell them they should preserve the appearance of this house,” she said. “And I don’t need an outside agency either.”

Virginia Giovinco’s cousin Paul Giovinco also testified at the hearing, attesting that the house was not just within Virginia’s immediate family but rather a focal point for the entire extended family. Paul called out the city for not being supportive, saying that they had not received an offer from the city to cover a fixed portion of maintenance costs required by the landmarking.

“We’re not gonna go ahead and throw down some tar paper, and some shingles,” Paul said. “We’re gonna maintain it the same way. But I don’t see no compensation or help. So what is the landmark giving us?”

In response to testimony from the Giovincos, Council Members Daneek Miller and Mark Treyger discussed the need to strike a balance between the issues of homeowner autonomy and the need to preserve historic structures and communities through the landmarking process. Council Member Peter Koo recommended that the committee lay over the matter until further study.

At the February 15 meeting of the full City Council, Miller, Treyger, and Koo all voted to advance the landmarking.

Seven Council members voted against the designation: Joe Borelli, Ruben Diaz, Sr., Mark Gjonaj, Bob Holden, Steven Matteo, Eric Ulrich, and Kalman Yeger -- the Council’s three Republicans and several more conservative Democrats. Giovinco’s objections to the landmarking were on their mind.

“It is my understanding that the property owner was not in favor of the landmark designation,” Ulrich told Gotham Gazette. “Therefore I voted against it.”

Borelli went even further in his objections, suggesting that the landmarking is a violation of the owner’s personal liberties.

“No owner is treated fairly if their rights are taken away without compensation,” Borelli said in an email. “There is no other agency in government that has that power, only this commission that decides which buildings are more relevant than others.” Among the rights Borelli cited as being taken away by LPC include “everything from putting a new addition on; to painting it with purple polka dots; [t]o using aluminum siding; [t]o demolishing it, because the cost of maintaining it under LPC guidelines is costly.”

Borelli said the Landmarks Preservation Commission should be focusing more on landmarking buildings wherein preservation would be a public benefit, rather than simply picking “the prettiest house on the block.”

The Landmarks Preservation Commission describes itself as “the largest municipal preservation agency in the nation;” 36,000 buildings are landmarked properties in New York City. Most of those are located in larger historic districts, but there are 1,405 individually landmarked buildings, along with 120 “interior landmarks” and 10 “scenic landmarks,” which consist of city parks such as Central Park, Prospect Park, and Riverside Park. Its leadership is made up of 11 commissioners appointed by the mayor. When the LPC designates a city landmark, the designation must then be approved by the City Council’s Land Use Committee and then the full council.

Virginia Giovinco declined to comment for this story. She has been on record against the landmarking since at least 2013, when she testified at an LPC hearing with the same concerns as she has now: that landmarking the house would result in her losing autonomy over her property.

For its part, an LPC representative said that the commission has designated approximately 150 free-standing homes as landmarks, with another 2,000 being landmarked as part of a historic district. Zodet Negron, a spokesperson for the LPC, told Gotham Gazette that the LPC has designated eight single-family homes as landmarks in the past four years, receiving the support of six of the owners; in the end, the owner’s approval is not required for designation. Negron stated that the LPC had done “extensive outreach” with Giovinco and that it intended to work with her “to ensure a smooth regulatory process.”

“Our intent and approach is always to seek the cooperation of owners and establish a collaborative relationship that continues after designation,” Negron told Gotham Gazette. “Thousands of single-family homes are regulated by the Commission throughout the city, including both individual landmarks and within historic districts, and we work closely with homeowners to appropriately and expediently meet their needs.”

According the city’s administrative code, minor work on a landmarked property typically requires a permit from the LPC, unless another city agency deems an improvement necessary for safety. Major work such as demolitions or new construction requires more permissions from LPC, including a “certificate of no effect” on “protected architectural features,” a “certificate of appropriateness,” or are otherwise authorized to proceed with the work. The code also says that owners should keep properties in “good repair” and prevent decay and deterioration. Negron said “routine maintenance” of landmarked properties typically does not require review from LPC.

City Council Member Adrienne Adams, the chair of the Landmarks Subcommittee, also told Gotham Gazette that she had met with Giovinco after the hearing.

Though Bushwick Avenue is lined with many historic properties, only one other home on the avenue has been landmarked: the Catherina Lipsius House at 670 Bushwick Ave. Other landmarks on the stretch include a church, a Brooklyn Public Library branch, a Masonic Lodge, and the Williamsburg Houses NYCHA development.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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City Landmarks Brooklyn Home Against Owner’s Wishes Thu, 01 Mar 2018 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Members Outline Priorities for New Term https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7436-city-council-members-outline-priorities-for-new-term https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7436-city-council-members-outline-priorities-for-new-term 38866913345 afd4b05a3e z

City Council members (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


The New York City Council is gearing up for a new agenda under Speaker Corey Johnson, with several newly created committees and fresh faces in the legislative body. As the Council begins to schedule its first committee hearings and readies for the reintroduction of legislation from the last session, there are a number of priorities that Council members are planning to pursue. Returning members say they want to pass bills that have been pending and build on their work from the last four years, while new members are eager to follow through on the policy platforms that got them elected.

New issue committee chairs appear ready to steer those committees in new directions, while Johnson has promised a robust agenda and is taking steps to beef up the Council’s oversight powers, expand its land use division, and increase its scrutiny of the mayor’s budget. Many of the committees, new and old, under his watch will take on greater responsibilities and are expected to tackle a slew of contentious policy issues, legislation, and oversight matters. Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette indicated a broad list of priorities, with some agenda items that will have citywide ramifications and others more parochial, district-level in their scope.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal, in her new role as chair of the women’s committee, said she will pursue legislative and public policy solutions to combat sexual harassment in the public and private sectors, to end the gender pay gap for municipal workers, and advance criminal justice reforms to protect sexual assault and domestic violence survivors.

“We are seeking to empower women at every level -- in the workplace, in the economic arena, in social interactions, and in politics,” Rosenthal said. In December, Rosenthal stood with Council Member Mark Levine to announce a request for drafting legislation that would require complaints by Council staffers to be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics, as is currently the case for complaints against elected Council members, and would also mandate that city agencies report on sexual harassment claims twice a year.  

Rosenthal also wants to see through the full implementation of her legislation, signed by the mayor in September last year, to create an Office of the Tenant Advocate within the Department of Buildings. Among her other priorities are protections for small businesses in her Upper West Side district, seniors’ needs, and the city’s social safety net. Formerly chair of the contracts committee, which will now be led by new Council Member Justin Brannan, Rosenthal said her guiding philosophy in approaching priority issues will still be “fiscal responsibility.”

Council Member Levine said he hopes to follow up on unfinished business from the last session, including the implementation of Right to Counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court, which was a bill he sponsored and waged a years-long campaign to win support from the mayor. Now chairing the health committee (he had parks last term), Levine will also focus on expanding healthcare coverage and addressing racial inequities in health outcomes across the city. One priority he has expressed support for is single-payer healthcare, an issue that Speaker Johnson has been vocal about pursuing.

After chairing the public safety committee last term, Council Member Vanessa Gibson is chairing the new Subcommittee on Capital Budgets, which will be tasked with analysing the city’s now $96 billion capital budget. The subcommittee will assess the procurement process at city agencies and how agencies spend their capital dollars. Gibson said she is “looking to create better capital spending oversight and ensure there is a consistent process for capital projects so that we can truly realize meaningful investment in New York’s aging infrastructure.”

Gibson also said she will continue to advocate for bail reform, an issue that Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to put his weight behind this year. Gibson will also have to navigate complicated land use issues as she tackles the proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning in her Bronx district. The project is moving forward quickly and will come through the land use committee now being chaired by Gibson’s Bronx colleague Council Member Rafael Salamanca.

Council Member Ritchie Torres, another Bronx Democrat, is overseeing the newly empowered Committee on Oversight and Investigations, which will comprise a dedicated investigative unit of former prosecutors, professional investigators, and former journalists. While the division is staffing up, Torres’ first public task will be a joint oversight hearing on February 6 with the Committee on Public Housing, which he chaired last term, concerning heat and hot water failures in NYCHA housing. The new chair of the public housing committee is newly-elected Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who formerly worked at the public housing authority, NYCHA.

[Related: New City Council Committee Chairs Have Plenty on Their Plates]

The new chair of the Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections, Council Member Karen Koslowitz, said last week she was still formulating her agenda for 2018. Her committee is expected to lead the way on a package of internal rules reforms that a majority of the Council, including Speaker Johnson, have endorsed.

Koslowitz, of Queens, also spoke of extending traffic safety laws to bicycle riders, saying that she would “like to see them be registered, licensed.”

Council Member Mark Treyger, a former teacher who has taken over as chair of the education committee, spoke at length about the issues plaguing public school infrastructure. “I come from a district that some of our schools were built with money from the New Deal, and haven't seen upgrades since the New Deal,” he said of his southern Brooklyn community, also emphasizing the need for additional school aid.

Treyger also wants to advance two bills he proposed in the last session: one requiring the city to station licensed social workers in all police precincts, and another to make it illegal for police officers to engage in sexual activity with a person in their custody. The second bill was prompted by a recent case in which an 18-year-old woman accused two officers of rape while she was in their custody. The officers claimed the act was consensual, leading to public outcry over the loophole in the law that does not automatically categorize it as custodial rape. Legal proceedings continue in the matter.  

Council Member Fernando Cabrera, the new chair of the governmental operations committee, said he will push campaign finance reforms over the next few years since his committee has oversight of the Campaign Finance Board, which administers the city’s public matching funds program to incentivize small-dollar donations in elections. “The whole idea of the campaign finance [program] was to equalize the playing field,” he said. “Whenever you have policies that don’t… [that] puts a candidate at a disadvantage, I have issues with that,” he added, without going into specifics.

In his role, Cabrera will also oversee the city Board of Elections, the Law Department, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, among other agencies. The BOE will administer at least three election days this year, in June, September, and November, with a fourth likely in some districts if Cuomo calls for special elections to fill several currently vacant state legislative seats.

Council Member Steven Matteo, the Republican minority leader, said he plans to prioritize property tax relief this year, something he has long advocated for. “Last year we had the veterans property tax that we passed here, my bill. I want to expand on that this year, too, do some real property tax relief for everyone else,” he said. Matteo, one of three Republicans in the Council, was appointed by Johnson to chair the Committee on Standards & Ethics, which, if new legislation on workplace sexual harassment is passed by the Council, will likely see its role expand this session. The committee is currently investigating an allegation of sexual harassment against Council Member Andy King.

Mayor de Blasio has promised to take up property tax reform this term, which Matteo intends to hold him to. The Council had announced plans for a property tax reform task force last term, but it never came to be.

Council Member Brannan also hopes to tackle property tax reform, he said, hoping that he will be able to sit on the proposed commission “to really take a deep dive into it.” As a former employee of the Department of Education, Brannan also said the Council has an opportunity to increase its oversight of DOE operations. “I think, it’s a couple areas where I think we can get a little more aggressive,” the contracts chair said. DOE contracts to outside vendors have been a point of contention for years, an area Brannan may be able to meld his prior experience and new responsibilities.

Council Member Carlina Rivera, also newly-elected, will have her hands full chairing the Committee on Hospitals, newly created to oversee the city’s municipal hospital system, which is in financial crisis. But she also has local concerns she wants to address, she told Gotham Gazette, including reforms to city rules that allow construction in the early mornings, evenings, and weekends, an issue leftover from her predecessor, former Council Member Rosie Mendez.

Some of Rivera’s other priorities concern land use and infrastructure projects, particularly the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, an integrated coastal protection initiative aimed at reducing flood risk due to coastal storms and sea level rise. She also intends to focus on NYCHA’s infrastructure woes, citing the numerous developments in her district and the issues of heat and hot water in NYCHA housing, and she must negotiate a major land use deal in her district related to a proposed Union Square tech hub that the de Blasio administration wants to build.

Council Member Diana Ayala, another rookie lawmaker, is chairing the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services. She said she expects some examination of safe injection sites coming to New York City, which advocates argue would reduce drug users’ risk of overdose, transmitting diseases, and death. Speaker Johnson has said he is in favor of exploring the possibility. "The safe injection sites I know are going to be a big issue," Ayala told Gotham Gazette. "There's been a lot of conversation around bringing those to New York."

Ayala also suggested that she will be looking into how New York City’s criminal justice system deals with the issue of domestic violence.  

When asked about her policy priorities, new Council Member Adrienne Adams emphasized immigrant protections and homelessness. Adams expressed deep concern about the policies coming out of  Washington, D.C. under the Republican-led Congress and President Donald Trump. Under former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council passed a number of immigrant-friendly laws and curbed the city’s cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities. “My district is extremely diverse and with the policies coming from Washington these days, they’re affecting my district and the entire city of New York tremendously,” said Adams, of southeast Queens.

Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr., of the Bronx, who joined the Council from the state Senate, is the first chair of the Council’s new Committee on For-Hire Vehicles. When asked about his priorities, Diaz Sr. simply said, “Taxis.”

Samar Khurshid contributed to this article.

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by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated to better clarify Diana Ayala's comments on safe injection sites.

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City Council Members Outline Priorities for New Term Tue, 23 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Queens Council Candidates Attempt to Offer Stability to Burned District https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7165-queens-council-candidates-attempt-to-offer-stability-to-burned-district https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7165-queens-council-candidates-attempt-to-offer-stability-to-burned-district richard david district 28 queens 

Candidate Richard David (photo: David campaign)


The July corruption conviction and August sentencing of City Council Member Ruben Wills created a newly-open seat representing Council District 28 in southeast Queens. Because of the timing of the vacancy, the seat will be filled through the normal electoral calendar, with the determinative September 12 Democratic primary rapidly approaching.

The 28th Council District includes neighborhoods such as South Jamaica, Rochdale Village, Richmond Hill, and Ozone Park. Along with the predictable subjects of corruption and ethical governance, the campaign is centering on education, senior citizen care, and housing affordability.

Competing for the seat are Adrienne Adams, a long-time Community Board 12 member who entered the race shortly after Wills was convicted, and, given widespread establishment support, has emerged as the frontrunner; Richard David, a Community Board 9 member and employee at the city’s Administration for Children’s Services; and Hettie Powell, a lawyer and community activist. David and Powell had declared for the race while Wills was under indictment, but before he had been convicted. As soon as Adams jumped into the fold, she was quickly endorsed by many Democratic elected officials and organizations.

As of the mid-August campaign finance filing, Powell led the field in funds with $142,919 on-hand. David had a bit over $114,00 left to spend. Adams, whose campaign began just weeks ago, had $43,845 in the vault. A new filing is due this week.

But where Adams’ campaign lags behind in funds and miles accrued on the campaign trail, she makes up for in those endorsements and, likely, in name recognition given that she ran for state Senate in 2016, unsuccessfully challenging Senator James Sanders but making a name for herself, and has been involved in the community for years.

In recent weeks, Queens Congressional Reps. Gregory Meeks and Joe Crowley, along with the larger Queens Democratic Party that Crowley runs, and City Council Member Corey Johnson have endorsed Adams, along with 32BJ SEIU, the large building services workers union. On Tuesday, Adams was endorsed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The candidate attributes these endorsements to having worked closely with elected leaders during her time heading and being active in the community board.

“I feel that I am the most qualified candidate for this seat,” Adams said in an interview. “I have been a member of Community Board 12 since 2009. I was quickly appointed to education chair of the community board in 2010 and was elected in 2012 to chair the board. I was since elected to my third term last December, to continue to chair the board, happily,” said Adams. “I have also been sitting at the table with our elected officials and others since 2009.”

During an August 24 debate on NY1 featuring the three major candidates, Adams made a similar case for her candidacy, touching upon her time on the community board. “I am involved in decision-making and policy as the first line of governance to our local elected officials. I believe that I am the most qualified candidate on the ballot because of my 24-by-7 dedication to my community,” she said.

Powell, for her part, has the backing of several organized labor groups such as SEIU 1199, Teamsters Joint Council 16,  DC 37 Local 372, as well as housing advocacy group TenantsPac.  She feels her support is a testament to her years fighting for those in Queens in her time as a lawyer at Queens Law Associates. “I have been in this community for 35 years,” she said. “I have been working on behalf of all the residents in this community. I have been getting things done.”

In the NY1 debate, Powell again spoke about what she believes to be her strengths as a candidate as well as what she plans to do if elected. “We will work together to bring senior services, quality education for all our children, making sure that we have safe streets and our seniors get the service that they deserve,” said Powell. “I will continue to work for all the residents at all times, putting them first,” she said. “I am the best qualified, I have the years of service, dedicating my time for that job.”

“The strategy of the campaign is one of direct voter contact,” said Powell’s campaign manager, Peter Brown, when asked about the endorsements competition. “Having said that,” Brown continued, “it’s not surprising she’s getting support from significant unions because she’s a very viable, strong progressive candidate who offers results and honest leadership to the district.”

As for policy priorities, Powell aims to make her pitch to voters on improving police-community relations, education and housing affordability. “They want to be able to have the education they’re looking for without going outside of the district,” she said. “They're looking for better partnerships with the police making sure police are safe, that our residents are safe,” said Powell. “They are looking for affordable housing making sure that the people who live here, our hard-working residents who are working everyday and cannot afford to live -- they are looking for affordable housing in the district.”

“They are also looking for more senior center and senior programs, especially in Richmond Hills,” Powell added.

David, born in Guyana and now living in Ozone Park, has a hopeful message for a district that has been repeatedly burned by corrupt politicians. “We’re ready to move forward,” David said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “We need to unify the district and bring everyone together.”

“This is my first time running for public office,” said David during the NY1 debate. “I am running because we are a district emerging from corruption. We have a unique opportunity to elect the right person who is going to bring representation to our people, who have been neglected for a long time, on day one.”

David went on to detail his community engagement which he believes gives him an awareness of the district’s needs, along with a track record of selfless service. “In addition to being on the Community Board also for nine years what I did at night was tutor kids, helping over 300 young people in our district graduate from college,” he noted. “The people in District 28 are looking for new leadership. I think now is the right time to try something new,” he said.   

Though he lacks the lists of endorsements touted by others, David was endorsed by the Communications Workers of America and a few other groups, as well as City Council Member Eric Ulrich, a moderate Republican of a nearby Queens district. “I have a lot of respect for Hettie [Powell], but I do think I can do a better job as an elected official because I’ve actually worked in government,” he said when asked to compare himself to other candidates. “I’ve actually testified in the City Council on different legislation.”

In his campaign website biography, David’s campaign says his time at the New York City Economic Development Corporation helps give him the right background to represent District 28 in city government. It says that his work at EDC helped him learn both how government works and how to help improve neighborhoods.

Should he be elected, David said he’d tackle issues such as the disparity between high property taxes and a disproportionately low amount of funding being allocated into resources southeast Queens residents use. “We have one of the highest home ownership rates, whether it’s as cooperators or private homeowners,” he writes on his campaign website. “We also pay some of the highest property tax assessments,” he continues, “[y]et, hardly any of this funding seems to come back to our district. Homeowners are continuously being asked to pay more, and we get far less, from higher water rates, insurance, and fines. We must make owning a home in Southeast Queens more desirable and relieve some of the burdens the City has unfairly placed on homeowners.”

Along with these policy priorities, David aims to bring unity to an area divided by ethnic and geographic lines. Having lived on both sides of the Van Wyck, David believes he is uniquely fit for the task. The Van Wyck, in addition to serving as a popular thoroughfare connecting Queens and the Bronx, forms a geographical divider between ethnic enclaves. The north side, which includes Jamaica, is predominantly African-American, while the Ozone Park and Richmond Hill neighborhoods have large immigrant communities, including Caribbean-American, Central-American and Indian-American populations.

Adams, however, believes her background makes her the most qualified for the seat. She says the most important policy issues in the race are education, housing affordability, senior care, and “quality of life” issues such as homelessness.

Adams also aims to unify both sides of the Van Wyck Expressway, which, she says, intersects with education policies. “The Richmond Hill side of the Van Wyck has a significant South Asian population and a Caribbean population,” she said. “We see the pervasive theme in the community: education and the fact that the children have a language barrier. That significantly affects their quality of education,” she added. “So what people in the community are telling me is that we need to close that communication gap between the children and the education system.”

On the other side of the Van Wyck, Adams said, “we’re taking a look at significant sanitation issues. We also have education issues as well, which we know. And we only have one high school that is lacking significant resources and has been under threat for closure for a number of years. We also have schools that lack resources still to this day.”

More than any particular policy, Adams’ says he personal mission to to make sure everyone in her home borough has a high quality of life, like that which her family enjoys. “They’re beautiful people with families of their own and I believe that my children and my grandchildren deserve a great quality of life just like other communities enjoy a great quality of life,” she said. “So I am committed to becoming one of the leaders that makes sure that happens for my family, and for the families of others in southeast Queens.”

With Wills’ conviction looming over the race, corruption has become an important factor as the candidates make their final push ahead of the September 12 primary. In the NY1 debate, the three candidates each made their case that they will be ethical if elected. “I am an independent thinker and my track record speaks for itself. So as far as there being a cycle [of corruption], I will stand on the record I have as community board leader for so many years,” said Adams. Some, including her opponents, have questioned her ties to the Queens Democratic machine, led by Crowley, which had been supporting Wills as he sought reelection while under indictment.

“I’m an attorney, practicing for 25 years. We have a strict code of ethics to follow,” Powell said. Certain people, she contended, only seek office for personal benefit, bringing heightened need to examine the reputation of those seeking political office. “I have been in this community for 35 years. I have used my personal money to start programs to help young people, [such as] mentorship programs,” said Powell.

“We have an elected official in District 28 who had remained in office without financial powers...for over six years,” David said of Wills and his ability to allocate discretionary district funds being stripped by the Council. “Our community lost resources during that time,” David added. “At the point of an indictment,” he continued, “an elected official should be removed from office. It should not be at the point of conviction.”

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Queens Council Candidates Attempt to Offer Stability to Burned District Wed, 30 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000