Gotham Gazette Mon, 19 Apr 2021 19:12:03 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Push Begins to Educate New Yorkers About Ranked-Choice Voting Ahead of 2021 Implementation eric adams wcbs

Eric Adams, Susan Lerner, and Alicka Ampry-Samuel, right (photo: @AlickaASamuel41)

A push is now underway to ensure voters are educated about the new ranked choice voting system New York City will be adopting for some elections starting in 2021, and it is being driven by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a top contender in the mayoral race where the new format will first be tested.

At a press conference Wednesday in front of New York City Board of Elections headquarters in Lower Manhattan, Adams, along with Brooklyn City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel and Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, urged the mayor and City Council to include $10 million in the next city budget toward public education ahead of the implementation of ranked-choice voting, which was approved by voters this past November. He said the allocation would be offset by the money saved in costly run-off elections, which tend to have extremely low turnout and are obsolete in a system using ranked-choice voting, and should be geared to engaging historically disenfranchised groups.

Ranked-choice voting will be a “major shift” in how elections are run and “it’s imperative that we get it right,” Adams said of the new voting method where voters can select up to five candidates in order of preference during special and primary elections (but not general elections) beginning in 2021, and votes are reapportioned as needed until a winner hits 50%. “That is why we’re asking the City Council, the Speaker, as well as the Mayor of the City of New York, to allocate the necessary funds so that we can have the proper education on the ground.”

In addition to the call for city funding, Adams announced he would be holding forums at Brooklyn Borough Hall and is encouraging his fellow borough presidents to do the same in their boroughs. The speakers at the press conference also called attention to the city Board of Election’s effort to use a new paperless touch-screen voting machine, which they say is less accurate and secure than the current hybrid system, which election experts consider a “gold standard.”

The push comes amid an unfolding fiasco in the Iowa Democratic caucuses, as a newly adopted and undertested app-based reporting mechanism has failed to report the full results of the state’s voting Monday. “The Iowa debacle should be a wake-up call for how we integrate new technologies into our election systems,” Adams said in a press release Wednesday.

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rate candidates in order of preference rather than having to cast a vote for just one, at least for New York City special and primary elections beginning in 2021. If no candidate wins a majority of votes on the first counting, the last place candidate is eliminated and their ballots are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on those voters’ second choices. The process of elimination and reapportionment continues until one candidate receives a majority of support.

Advocates say the system has a number of benefits in addition to eliminating the need for run-off elections, which currently occur after a primary election in the city when no candidate garners more than 40 percent of the vote. Ranked-choice voting reduces the risk of so-called “spoiler” candidates -- candidates who have no chance of winning but still take votes that could otherwise advantage a more viable candidate -- by not forcing voters to choose between their top choice and another alternative other than in ranking them. Supporters also say it forces candidates to adopt a broader message and appeal to voters outside their base, and that winners are ultimately indicative of more widespread support.

Ranked-choice was approved by voters last fall as part of a referendum to amend the City Charter. It came after a coalition of election reformers pushed the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, tasked with proposing amendments to voters based on public input and an analysis of the city’s primary governing document. Barring unforeseen special elections, which are called when an elected official steps down mid-term, the first races using ranked-choice voting in New York City will be the June 2021 primaries for mayor, other citywide and boroughwide positions, and the entire City Council. 

The implementation will come on the heels of a slew of election changes passed by state lawmakers in 2019, including early voting and electronic poll books, and primaries moved to June.

Adams and Ampry-Samuel, both Democrats, said the focus of educational outreach should be groups that have been politically marginalized in the past.

“We need to be proactive and invest now as a city in educating our most vulnerable communities and voters to avoid disastrous errors and potential disenfranchisement,” said Ampry-Samuel, who represents parts of Bed-Stuy, Brownsville, East Flatbush, and Crown Heights and will be up for reelection in 2021.

“Black voters have been loyal to the Democratic Party for decades. It is disrespectful and a failure to our communities when we neglect to prepare them for the changes. We are now introducing new technologies and systems that can also be confusing to our aging New Yorkers,” she said.

Asked whether she would be pushing legislation to support the effort to engage historically disenfranchised New Yorkers in conjunction with the push for funding, Ampry-Samuel said: “We are working with the Council now and our advocates to make sure that we have legislation in place to make sure that our voters are protected. But in addition to that, because right now we are in the budget season and we are negotiating that city funding, we are making sure we are putting enough funding -- $10 million -- in place to educate our voters.”

“This education must be on the ground,” and should occur through “door-to-door outreach, [at] train stops, in our school system,” and reaching “our new young people who are graduating from high school and will be voting for the first time,” Adams said.

Parallel to the funding push is Adams’ plan to hold forums about the RCV as part of an effort to boost civic engagement. “The details are still being determined but we look forward to rolling these forums out soon,” Jonah Allon, a spokesperson for Adams, told Gotham Gazette.

Adams is expected to be competing in the 2021 Democratic mayoral primary along with possible contenders such as Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, former city and federal official Shaun Donovan, former city veterans affairs commissioner Loree Sutton, and Dianne Morales, recently-departed CEO of Bronx social services nonprofit Phipps Neighborhoods.

Lerner and Adams also raised concerns on Wednesday about the city BOE’s push to get a new voting machine, the ExpressVote XL, certified for use by the New York State Board of Elections. They said the system, which uses an electronic touch-screen with no accompanying paper record, is less reliable and accurate than the current system, and has been almost universally criticized by election security experts.

The city currently uses a system in which voters mark a paper ballot that is then scanned by an electronic machine. Lerner said switching to a new system, when the current system is considered a good model, is a waste of taxpayer money.

Another caveat is the potential conflicts of interest for New York City BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan, who is accused of receiving gifts from Election Systems & Software, the company that makes ExpressVote XL, and is pushing the state board to certify the technology. Lerner’s Common Cause New York last week asked the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board to investigate Ryan’s connection with ES&S, which they say includes being flown across the country to conferences and serving on an advisory board for the company (after reporting by NY1 he stepped down from the advisory board).

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Push Begins to Educate New Yorkers About Ranked-Choice Voting Ahead of 2021 Implementation Wed, 05 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
New Veterans Services Commissioner Lays Out Agenda at Council Oversight Hearing office mayor kierker

DVS Commissioner Hendon (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

At a City Council oversight hearing on Tuesday, the new commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS), James Hendon, outlined two main priorities for the next chapter of his department’s work and its efforts to help the city’s hundreds of thousands of military veterans.

Testifying before the Council’s Committee on Veterans, Hendon, who was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in October 2019, said he is focused on internal restructuring of DVS and outreach to the city’s veterans.

DVS was established in December 2015, becoming a stand-alone city department after having been a mayoral office, after a push by City Council members and veterans. That background and other key information was outlined in a report released by the Council’s Committee on Veterans before the hearing. According to the report, DVS provides four main services for veterans living in New York City, including engagement (such as educational resources), housing and career assistance, and the VetsThriveNYC health plan, which connects veterans with mental health resources in the city specifically for them. 

The goal of the oversight hearing was to “examine how DVS has changed since replacing the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs in 2015, the lessons it has learned, the new Commissioner’s plans for the future, and what goals the agency has to improve upon to ensure that all veterans in New York City are properly served,” according to the report. All five Council committee members were present, and Vincent Garcia, director of intergovernmental affairs and ombudsman, testified along with Hendon on behalf of DVS.

To begin, Hendon focused his prepared testimony on an internal restructuring that he’s leading at DVS.

“To be able to best assist the constituency we serve we must first be able to examine our  internal agency operations,” Hendon said. “As we began this phase shortly after my arrival, DVS is presently undergoing a reconfiguration into three teams: current operations, future operations, and administration.”

He drew a distinction is between the current and future operations teams. The current operations team will serve to maintain the commitments that have already begun, such as housing and engaging outside organizations, veteran service providers, and nonprofits, while the future operations team will develop strategic proposals, based on data, to introduce to expand DVS’ work.

Council Member Chaim Deutsch, a Brooklyn Democrat who chairs the Council’s veterans committee, pressed Hendon on how DVS will further reduce homelessness among the city’s veterans. Hendon said the key is to pre-empt homelessness before it happens, breaking down the problem by the teams created by the restructuring. The current operations team will tackle ongoing housing challenges that will be eased by the restructuring. Meanwhile, the future operations team will work to streamline relevant processes.

During Hendon’s initial testimony he discussed DVS’ outreach work, saying, “there is no substitute for boots on the ground or in-person connections. Veterans, and the subgroups we serve, including the elderly, students, family members, LGBTQ persons, women, those transitioning from service, and even those just entering the service requires a unique, diverse, and personal approach.”

Hendon said the major change in their approach to outreach is going from geographic to demographic. DVS is seeking to connect with veterans who are young professionals, students or elderly, versus those who live in a specific area. Hendon said this would allow DVS to meet veterans where they are, and a better way to begin to have a relationship with veterans. 

Deutsch pressed the new commissioner on this point, asking what DVS staff was doing, and if there could be a coordinated effort by the City Council, DVS, and advocates to spread the word and make sure everyone is aware of DVS and the services it provides.

Hendon hesitantly responded saying that it is a “delicate area” to ask employees to do this other work on top of their other responsibilities. Hendon agreed to ask DVS’ general counsel about an effort like Deutsch suggested.

Deutsch emphasized the need for a DVS presence at community board meetings, civic meetings, and community council meetings in all five boroughs, and Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, also a Brooklyn Democrat, cited the opportunity for outreach in the waiting rooms of federally-run VA hospitals. The need for greater outreach was reiterated by many of the advocates who also testified at the hearing -- they cited the need for awareness in order for veterans to receive the full benefits of government services they may access.

Hendon also mentioned that DVS has previously focused on the city’s most vulnerable veteran populations, but that DVS could also expand services to other groups, saying “young working professionals, middle class families and those looking to purchase a home, is an area of opportunity.” 

“Entering this next chapter we will focus our efforts on engaging the larger market share of veterans while maintaining our commitments to more vulnerable members of our community,” Hendon said.

When asked about suicide rates among the city’s veterans, Hendon said he could not provide numbers, but Garcia said DVS is actively working to “determine what those numbers look like, where that population is and how best to actually access that data” in an effort to know what we can do better as a society to address the prevalent issue of veteran suicide. Deutsch said he would like the numbers for the next hearing.

Jeremy Butler, the CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), said during his testimony that 43% of IAVA’s members expressed suicide ideation and that nationwide, there were 6,139 veteran suicides in 2017, according to a September 2019 report released from the VA.

Advocates testified to push for services from DVS. Butler also highlighted a gap his organization has identified in DVS’ work.

“A clear deficit we see within DVS is the lack of a comprehensive case management component and an over-reliance on third-party programs to make referrals and connections to resources,” Butler said.

To increase DVS’ ability to act quickly for veterans, such as those with suicidal ideation, IAVA is advocating for an in-house case manager and veteran officer who could streamline the process.

Kent Eiler, project director of the City Bar Association’s Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project, emphasized the need for outreach to service partners to avoid overlap in programming.

“It’s vital that DVS is engaged with the city’s veteran community. Its size and budget mean that to be effective, it must, prior to prescribing policy, consult with service providers and subject matter experts to learn what services are being provided to veterans, to avoid unnecessary duplication of existing services,” Eiler said.

Ampry-Samuel asked about DVS’ asks as the Council moves ahead in the city’s budget season. Hendon said he would get back to her with specific asks and budget implications. Hendon will likely testify at a Council budget hearing in the next couple of months.

Hendon said DVS is holding a partnership convening event on February 6, to meet with the communities and advocates the department works with to better determine the path forward under new leadership.

by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

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New Veterans Services Commissioner Lays Out Agenda at Council Oversight Hearing Wed, 22 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: A 'Mass Shooting' in Brownsville & the Community Response, with Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel cm alicka wbai 600

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)

July 31, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: A Mass Shooting in Brownsville & the Community Response

cm alicka wbaiCity Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel joined the show to discuss the "mass shooting" that occured in her district on Saturday night at the end of a traditional, celebratory community block party, how the community is responding, and what her constituents need so that gun violence is eliminated.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: A 'Mass Shooting' in Brownsville & the Community Response, with Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel Wed, 31 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Public Housing Chair Weighs in on HUD Deal, NYCHA’s Future Ampry-Samuel NYCHA

Alicka Ampry-Samuel (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)

As Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced his “NYCHA 2.0” plan to secure the future of the city’s public housing authority, an agreement with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that includes a new federal monitor of NYCHA, and a new interim chair to lead the authority, the City Council member charged with oversight of NYCHA has some questions.

Alicka Ampry-Samuel is the chair of the City Council’s public housing committee and represents parts of central Brooklyn, home to many NYCHA residences. During a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio, Ampry-Samuel explained some of her concerns about the latest NYCHA-related developments, said that de Blasio had not reached out to her ahead of announcing that Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia would be named interim NYCHA chair, and promised a public hearing on the city’s deal with HUD in the coming months.

Ampry-Samuel had measured praise for de Blasio’s NYCHA 2.0 plan, which includes fairly aggressive measures to bring in new revenue to address the housing authority’s $30 billion-plus in physical needs, but she joined the chorus of critics who have questioned the mayor’s deal with HUD that includes no new federal money for NYCHA.

“We are seeing better things, but tell that to the person who’s suffering right now,” Ampry-Samuels said of the general situation across NYCHA, particularly relative to last winter, when there were widespread heat and hot water outages. “It’s hard for them to receive that response because they’re thinking, ‘What about me?’ That’s not the case in my home.”

On January 31, de Blasio announced at a press conference with Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson a deal that includes the federal government taking more direct oversight of NYCHA in response to years of crisis, criticism, management turmoil, and federal law enforcement inquiry.

Opponents have criticized the deal as giving too much power to a federal government that has often been at odds with the de Blasio administration and not supportive enough of public housing. The deal includes no new federal funding but a federal monitor who will be tasked with tracking NYCHA’s actions.

“Who is this person?” Ampry-Samuel said of the impending monitor. “Do they care about public housing, or is just a business-minded person who’s coming in to change and reform management, coming in to change the operational structure? Or is this someone who’s going to come in and look at NYCHA 2.0 and raising revenue to deal with the $32 million capital repairs it needs.”

Ampry-Samuel took a measured, pragmatic approach throughout the discussion. “With there now being federal monitor, this is opportunity to have an independent voice and be able to sit down with residents and the City of New York and say, ‘These are the things you have in place’ and review it. Go line by line and say, ‘You have not been able to do what you needed to do in the past and this is a way forward.’”

In December, de Blasio announced NYCHA 2.0, a revamped comprehensive plan to reform NYCHA and bring in more than $20 billion in revenue to repair the crumbling and dangerous public housing home to more than 400,000 New Yorkers. Some of the measures de Blasio had either rejected in the past or supported in far more limited fashion, but he said that without large-scale federal help, the city had no other viable options.

According to a de Blasio press release, the plan will resolve $24 billion in repairs, including renovations for 175,000 residents. Some of that will depend on new development on underused NYCHA land, such as parking lots, where a mix of market-rate and affordable housing will be erected. Ampry-Samuel appeared to acknowledge the elements of the plan as necessities, despite the fact that many have expressed grave concerns about such “infill” housing. The development process must be community-led, she said, and the money from development must be reinvested in the particular NYCHA projects where the new housing is built.

“We have to figure out ways to bring money in, but we have to make sure that the residents who are already part of the fabric of that development benefit from all the deals,” she said. “And we have to make sure it doesn’t happen to them -- it happens with them.”

Just last week de Blasio announced his next choice for interim chair of NYCHA: Kathryn Garcia, commissioner of the city’s Department of Sanitation, whom de Blasio had also recently put in charge of lead remediation efforts, which came out of the NYCHA lead paint scandal. Garcia replaces outgoing interim chair Stanley Brezenoff who recently criticized the city’s deal with HUD.

“I can’t figure why [the next NYCHA chair] is someone who has no housing background, no one with experience to that level,” said Ampry-Samuel. “She’s a great woman, with a great career, she rose through the ranks at Sanitation, but we can’t play musical chairs with this type of situation.”

A permanent chair, perhaps Garcia, is expected to be named after the federal monitor is in place, given that the monitor will have a say in approving de Blasio’s choice to head the authority.

The City Council Committee on Public Housing plans to hold an oversight hearing with Garcia, the administration, and a HUD representative on the deal between HUD and the city and NYCHA in the next several weeks, Ampry-Samuel said. She called for the creation of a chief resident officer as an advisor to the chair of NYCHA. The position, she hopes, could spur a greater relationship between NYCHA and NYCHA residents, though there are also tenant councils.

Asked about a time frame for the hearing she promised, Ampry-Samuel was hesitant to provide specifics, given how unsettled things are and how fresh the deal with HUD was, but she said she looked forward to a public discussion of all the recent changes and those to come.

[Listen: Max & Murphy Podcast: The Future of NYCHA with City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel]

by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

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City Council Public Housing Chair Weighs in on HUD Deal, NYCHA’s Future Thu, 14 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: The Future of NYCHA with City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits

February 7, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel

alicka ampry samuel 150

City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel chairs the Council's public housing committee and represents a Brooklyn district with a large NYCHA presence. She joined the show to discuss NYCHA's future, including the recent agreement between Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the mayor's previously-announced plans to raise revenue to fund more than $30 billion in needed repairs and upgrades, as well as de Blasio's announcement of a new interim NYCHA chair.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: The Future of NYCHA with City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel Wed, 06 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
At Brooklyn Town Hall, Angry NYCHA Residents Told to Vote as a Bloc superstorm sandy aftermath

(photo via NYCHA)

The myriad issues plaguing the New York City Housing Authority came to the fore at a town hall on Wednesday night, with NYCHA residents excoriating public officials and officials scrambling to respond.

The town hall, hosted by BRIC TV at its downtown Brooklyn studio, featured an audience mainly consisting of NYCHA residents and a panel of City Council Members Alicka Ampry-Samuel and Ritchie Torres, NYCHA tenant leader Lisa Kenner, New York Daily News reporter Greg Smith, and NYCHA historian Nicholas Dagen Bloom, along with a short pre-recorded interview with city Comptroller Scott Stringer. The event was moderated by BRIC’s Brian Vines.

The issues affecting NYCHA, including but not limited to an alleged cover-up relating to lead paint in apartments, approximately $32 billion in unmet capital needs, and a lack of transparency in management have hung low over the de Blasio administration for the past year. The city, beginning in the Bloomberg Administration, was revealed to have falsified documents submitted to the federal government relating to lead paint inspections in apartments, setting off an additionally intensified period of controversy beyond what was already been a mountain of challenges and persistent struggles for the authority to provide adequate housing and find the revenue needed to upgrade its deteriorating housing stock, which includes roughly 180,000 units across the city, home to about 400,000 New Yorkers.

The Daily News reported in June that the de Blasio administration had used a blood-lead level benchmark significantly higher than the federal standard, resulting in only 19 children living in NYCHA being identified as having elevated lead levels; by the federal standards, 820 children in NYCHA had elevated levels, a number revised to over 1,100 in August. And last winter, hundreds of thousands of NYCHA residents were left without working heat and hot water because of defective boilers in critical need of repair.

A federal consent decree, which has yet to be formalized by a judge, would have New York City spend $2 billion on critical repairs and appoint a federal monitor to oversee the ailing Housing Authority. The judge has yet to name a monitor. In practice, the deadline has been extended twice by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, first from July 11 to September 12, and then from September 12 to whatever date the judge formalizes the consent decree.

When tenants testified in court about NYCHA conditions on September 26, the judge, William Pauley, expressed shock at their stories, and has been hesitant to approve the consent decree without changes.

Several speakers had been personally affected by the lead paint scandal, with their children facing the possibility of lifelong repercussions as a result of the lead-infested apartments they spent their formative years in.

“Y’all exposed them to lead dust and continue to disrespect me and violate me,” said Lynone Faison, a resident of the Ingersoll Houses in Fort Greene whose child was exposed to lead. Faison said she would prefer living on the street to living in her apartment, but was refraining from doing so because she was worried that ACS would take her children.

“I’m not going to let you just keep walking all over us. I look at you two,” she said, referring to Ampry-Samuel and Torres, the elected officials on the panel, “I’m telling you snakes, you all need to be fired. You all need to be fired. I’m sorry, but you need to be fired, you’re not helping me.”

Another woman, a former resident of the Al Smith Houses on the Lower East Side, detailed how her son had been exposed to lead during her pregnancy; she left NYCHA after giving birth, when the woman she and her husband had been caring for passed away and the city evicted them. She also referenced the stark inequality that has been spotlighted in the development’s vicinity.

“Our children are seeing these rapid changes happening in the world, and they are being told that they are not part of it,” she said. “So we want to ask questions, you know, we want to ask questions. When will our children be part of it? If these developments are happening -- within months, they’re renovating houses. I mean, what on earth, months it takes to renovate a house, but years and years of lead poisoning [in NYCHA]. I mean, this is a genocide here.”

Ampry-Samuel is the current chair of the Public Housing Committee, and Torres is a former chair of that committee and the current chair of the Oversight Committee, which has looked into NYCHA and helped reveal some of the recent issues that have come to light. Both grew up in NYCHA housing, Ampry-Samuel in Brownsville and Torres in Throggs Neck, and relayed their experiences in public housing frequently throughout the hearing.

“I don’t believe or have faith that anyone cares about us at all,” Ampry-Samuel told the woman from Al Smith Houses. “As an elected official, it’s difficult, but I can speak my truth and I can speak what I’ve seen because I’m not worried about my next election. I’m not worried about the next office that I’m gonna run for because I’m just worried about how I’m gonna, in a sense, protect the people, protect my people. And when I look at the mayor’s housing plan, and I look at all these infill deals, at no point at all do they take into consideration the NYCHA voice.”

Infill is the controversial process by which the city is allowing private development on NYCHA land to create new housing, some of it affordable, as well as new revenue for NYCHA.

Despite their ties to NYCHA and efforts to provide oversight, the politicians in the room were heavily criticized as detached from conditions on the ground, taking home a $150,000 salary, and being funded by real estate interests. Questioners repeatedly expressed derision at the panelists not answering their questions, even those on the panel who are not politicians. The frustration of the NYCHA residents characterized the mood of the event.

“How do they get to go forward with RAD or infill when they’re under a federal investigation,” asked Karen Blondell, a resident of Red Hook Houses since 1982. RAD refers to Rental Assistance Demonstration, an Obama-era program that privatizes building management and changes ownership of the property to a public-private partnership, with funding coming from Section 8 vouchers rather than Section 9 public housing subsidies. One complex, the Ocean Bay Apartments in Rockaway, has undergone full RAD conversion. Initial results have appeared somewhat promising in the city, and elected officials have praised the use of the program, though many residents are worried that the program is de facto privatization of public housing.

Ampry-Samuel has been supportive of the RAD program in the past and has sided with the de Blasio administration on its expansion. However, she agreed with Blondell that critical repairs must be made the top priority of the authority.

“I don’t think NYCHA should move forward with anything right now,” Ampry-Samuel said of major new programs, “because there’s questionable management, there’s questionable dealings, and if there’s any kind of investigation happening right now, if Judge Pauley is reviewing the consent decree, I don’t think they should be moving forward. What they can be doing is just making sure that they’re fixing the heat and hot water systems right now that are happening as we’re going into the heating season, and they can make sure they’re going into the apartments doing what they’re supposed to be doing with the lead abatements.”

Blondell replied that her apartment underwent a long-awaited lead inspection last week, but the “industrial hygienist” who showed up for the inspection was armed only with a flashlight.

“Come on now, come on, I could do better testing by sending away for a kit to the EPA,” she said.

In response, Torres signaled his critiques of the consent decree.

“There’s no evidence that more monitoring is going to improve public housing,” Torres said. “We’ve had a monitor for mold for five years, and we’re no closer to remediating mold in public housing.” A vocal critic of the mayor and his housing policies in particular, Torres said at the town hall that affordable housing under the mayor’s plans are not actually affordable for the people they’re intended for -- some have called for incorporating NYCHA into the larger city affordable housing plan so that it gets more attention and is more clearly approached as part of a valuable stock of rent-regulated apartments, or for at least more closely aligning affordable housing and NYCHA plans.

There have been ample calls for prosecutions of NYCHA officials involved in the lead scandal. Though NYCHA is under federal investigation and its offices have been raided by authorities, prosecutors have not announced any charges.

“When we as residents had to deal with zero tolerance from the Clinton administration to present time, how is it okay for NYCHA to have falsified, fraudulently reported about lead, mold, and everything else, and no one’s being criminally charged,” Blondel asked. Smith noted in response that an active criminal investigation into NYCHA is currently taking place to look into fraudulent lead paint filings.

One woman, a former tenants association president at Washington Houses in East Harlem, referred to tenants association leaders as “crooks.”

“That tenant participation activity money that was meant to be spent for us in these developments to create programs and things for our families and so forth, that’s HUD money, we don’t even know what’s happening with it. We was promised there was gonna be a hearing, that ain’t happened yet,” she said.

Kenner, the tenant leader, spoke in defense of tenants associations.

“As president, you do not get paid, you know, it’s a thankless job,” Kenner said. “But you live where you live, and you want better for your people and yourself.”

The woman from Washington Houses vociferously criticized the city government and the Council members, and advocated for direct action against the city as a means of securing tenants’ rights.

“The only way we’re gonna get justice is by shutting 250 Broadway down,” she said in reference to where main NYCHA and City Council offices are located.

Smith made a similar call later in the program, saying that the hundreds of thousands of NYCHA residents should vote as a bloc.

“If NYCHA residents, there are 400,000 people who live in New York City housing. So if you have an organized effort to vote with one voice, you will have a voice that people will actually listen to,” Smith said. This message received a mixed response in the room, and Vines reiterated a point made earlier about how NYCHA residents did not have monolithic thoughts on all issues.

“NYCHA is not a monolith,” Vines said. “We’re not all of the same mind on everything. Is it going to take those 400,000-plus residents of NYCHA to become single-issue voters, regardless of what your politics may be, if your home comes first? Is that really a viable answer?”

To that question, Torres responded in the affirmative and endorsed Smith’s proposal.

“Of course,” Torres said. “What’s more important than your home? I mean, if the political leadership of the city has no regard for your basic living conditions, are refusing to provide you heat or hot water, or protect you from lead poisoning, or lying to you repeatedly, of course you should hold them accountable. And if I have a constituent who’s living in disrepair, I have an obligation to make sure they get their repairs. Of course I do. You should hold us accountable.”

Watch the full BRIC TV NYCHA town hall

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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At Brooklyn Town Hall, Angry NYCHA Residents Told to Vote as a Bloc Thu, 04 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
In Wide Open Lieutenant Governor Primary, Hochul Targets Votes in Williams’ Backyard hochul in brooklyn w lawmakers

Lt. Gov. Hochul, center, in Brooklyn (photo: @KathyHochul)

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, in campaign mode, has appeared in the Bronx and Brooklyn several times over the past few weeks. The Democratic lieutenant governor, facing a challenge from Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams as she seeks a second term, has been spending more time in New York City as primary day gets closer.

Hochul’s focus on the city, and its communities of color in particular, are indicative of the importance of voters from the five boroughs, especially voters of color, in statewide Democratic primaries, and of her potential vulnerability to Williams, who has been an elected official in Brooklyn since 2010 and is black. A Siena Research poll released Tuesday -- just over six weeks until the September 13 statewide primary vote -- shows Hochul with a 30-21 percent lead among likely Democratic primary voters, with nearly half undecided. In other words, a wide open race.

Hochul seems to know it. The lieutenant governor spent Saturday July 28 at a “Brooklyn Women for Cuomo” event, July 22 in the Bronx with Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez and City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, July 18 giving remarks at the Bronx Democratic Party’s Annual Gala, and July 14 in Brooklyn with State Senator Roxanne Persaud, attending a block party and the opening of Public Advocate Letitia James’ attorney general campaign office in Prospect Heights.

These events, among others both campaign and governmental -- in her role as lieutenant governor, she made an announcement at the Brooklyn Public Library main branch on Tuesday afternoon and appeared at a June gun control rally in the Bronx, for example -- have had Hochul appearing with black and Latino elected officials and posting photos with them to her social media feeds, and highlighting state investments in the boroughs with the highest proportions of people of color.

“Beautiful Saturday with my sisters in #Brooklyn – thank you for coming out to support @AndrewCuomo and I as we run for re-election,” Hochul tweeted on Saturday, with two photos attached, one of herself with four African-American women including Senator Persaud and Assemblymember Latrice Walker.

At the same time, Hochul has begun to zero in on Williams, returning some of his criticism of her as little more than a booster of Governor Andrew Cuomo, unwilling to be independent or speak up about corruption in state government. Hochul, who is from Erie County, where she was county clerk and a one-term member of Congress, has a conservative record on gun control and immigration that Williams has criticized and she has since distanced herself from, expressing more liberal views.

Hochul’s counterattacks have homed in on Williams’ own more conservative stances on abortion and marriage equality, and she has also taken him to task around his late and faulty campaign finance disclosures and unwillingness to release his past tax returns.

Last Tuesday, Hochul released a statement chastising Williams for failing to release his tax returns despite having introduced a resolution in the City Council calling for presidential candidates do so. “It's time for Councilman Williams to live up to his calls for transparency,” Hochul tweeted recently. “Stop trying to deflect and delay. Release your tax returns to the people of New York.”

She has also criticized Williams for issues with filing his campaign finance disclosure and for having to return $50,000 in illegal corporate donations. He has fired back saying that she has talked more about his campaign finance disclosures than about corruption in the state economic development programs that are key to her portfolio as lieutenant governor and have centered in Buffalo, which she represented in Congress.

In some ways, Hochul has appeared to embrace the challenge from Williams -- she calls herself a fighter and has said that while she thinks Democratic infighting hurts the party’s chances to flip Republican seats in Congress and the state Senate, she is happy to defend her record and Cuomo’s -- she enthusiastically supports the governor and explains her role as helping to get administration programs over the finish line and then to promote them around the state. While Cuomo has declined thus far to debate Cynthia Nixon in the gubernatorial primary, Hochul recently took to a Westchester stage with Williams for a forum, with only a moderator between them.

Any Democrat running for statewide office will have to spend a significant amount of time in New York City, with 55 percent of registered Democrats statewide residing within the five boroughs according to an April report from the State Board of Elections. But Williams may pose a different challenge to Hochul than did Tim Wu, Hochul’s 2014 Democratic challenger who ran alongside Zephyr Teachout, who took on Cuomo that year, as he was seeking a second term (Robert Duffy was Cuomo’s first-term lieutenant governor).

People of color, and particularly African-Americans, in the city play an outsize role in statewide Democratic primaries, the “base” of the party that is the most strongly identifies as Democratic.

“We can look at the record, just across the entire United States of America: black women are strong voters and strong leaders in our communities,” Brooklyn City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel told Gotham Gazette on Monday. “Elected or not elected. And we usually are the ones that come out and help folks to get elected. Look at Alabama, right? And so, [Hochul] knows that, campaigns know that, and so it’s the same way you see Jumaane Williams now having conversations with women.”

In seeking to draw a wedge between the two candidates that will resonate with Democratic primary voters, Williams has pointed to Hochul’s votes in Congress for “concealed carry reciprocity,” allowing concealed carry gun permits to be valid in states without concealed carry (it did not pass the Senate), and for Hochul’s opposition to former Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

“The lieutenant governor has no real record to speak of in 25 years,” Williams told Gotham Gazette near City Hall on Tuesday, after receiving the endorsement of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus Alliance. “There’s a lot of conversation of what their hands have been in, but my record is rich, in the past nine years, whether it’s communities of more color, whether it’s the LGBT community, whether it’s reproductive rights.”

Hochul has distanced herself from her more conservative past, criticizing the Trump administration’s child separation policy and unsuccessfully campaigning with Cuomo to get the state Senate to pass a “red flag” gun bill, while trumpeting Cuomo’s prior gun control victories. She has also expressed regret about, when Erie County Clerk, threatening to turn in to law enforcement any undocumented immigrants who may seek a driver’s license from her office. And she’s repeatedly pointed to Williams’ conservative personal views on abortion and marriage equality, which he has modified in recent years while touting his legislative record on the subjects as separate from his personal beliefs.

Not everyone is convinced that Williams is a threat to Hochul. Political scientist and Democratic strategist Bruce Gyory, of Manatt, Phelps, and Phillips and SUNY Albany, believes that Williams may not have the political capital among African-Americans necessary to mount a statewide challenge against Hochul.

“Does Jumaane Williams start out with overwhelming black support?” Gyory said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “He didn’t back Bill Thompson [in the 2013 mayoral race], he backed de Blasio that time. He never endorsed Ken Thompson [for Brooklyn District Attorney] in the seminal reform race for black progressives in Brooklyn. He undercut black unity by not stepping out of the race for City Council [speaker] and backing [Robert] Cornegy, who had more support. And if you look at blacks in the Council, they were kinda begging him to do that, I’m sure they’re not thrilled that right after losing that race, he runs here for this.”

Gyory also noted that Williams has not endorsed Tish James, a fellow Brooklynite who would become the first black woman to hold statewide office, for Attorney General. Williams has endorsed Cynthia Nixon for governor and the two are both backed by The Working Families Party. He has also campaigned with Teachout, who is now running for attorney general, and the two seem set up to endorse each other.

Cuomo remains highly popular among black voters, and he, Hochul, and James have all endorsed each other. It’s not immediately clear that support from Cuomo and James will help Hochul among black voters, but it is exceedingly unlikely to hurt. The race may hinge in part on money, and there Williams appears at a significant disadvantage -- not only has Hochul raised more, but she has Cuomo’s immense largesse behind her as well, while Williams has never been a prolific fund-raiser.

"The Lieutenant Governor is very happy with where she stands in this race and the support that she is receiving statewide,” reads a statement from the Hochul campaign. “The poll clearly shows that the people of New York are happy with the record of accomplishments the Governor and Lieutenant Governor have achieved over the past four years. The Lieutenant Governor always campaigns hard and will be spending the next six weeks all over the state talking about that record."

Williams was also optimistic about the poll.

“The biggest poll for me is on election day,” he told Gotham Gazette. “So, don’t get too high or low on the polls in general. We’ve seen polls be completely wrong, so it’s hard. But I will say, it’s encouraging.” He noted that the high numbers of undecided voters in the poll -- roughly 50 percent of respondents -- as a good sign for his campaign.

Hochul’s campaign acknowledged that New York is a difficult state to become well known in, but expressed confidence that it will have the resources to continue to build her name recognition.

Gyory said that the swingiest demographic in statewide Democratic primaries is upper middle class, educated Catholic white women from the suburban counties; he said that Williams’ past personal opposition to abortion rights and LGBT rights would hurt him among that demographic.

He believes that Hochul is being tactically wise to target city voters and voters of color, explaining the recent spate of appearances in the city. While there are just over 300,000 registered Democratic voters in Hochul’s home county of Erie, which includes the state’s second-largest city of Buffalo, there are more than 3.4 million registered Democrats in New York City, including 1,096,765 in Williams’ home borough of Brooklyn.

“It would be hard to argue that she’s not being smart, that it’s not a good use of her time, to make him work as hard as he can for those votes in New York City,” Gyory said. “Because if she pins him down there, it’s tough to see him doing what he needs to do outside of New York City. So I think that’s a smart approach.”

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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In Wide Open Lieutenant Governor Primary, Hochul Targets Votes in Williams’ Backyard Tue, 31 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
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 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.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Brooklyn City Council Member Setting Early Foundation for Speaker Run Thu, 12 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
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.

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.

City Council Members Outline Priorities for New Term Tue, 23 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
'Tears of Joy,' Hope for a District in Alicka Samuel's Win alicka samuel facebook crop

Alicka Ampry-Samuel (via Facebook)

It was late Tuesday afternoon, primary day, in Brooklyn, and amidst the rattle of the subway and wafting aroma of a not-far-off Popeyes fried chicken restaurant, Alicka Ampry-Samuel danced on the sidewalk with Corey Johnson, a current City Council member from Manhattan, to “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now.” Although the outcome of Samuel’s race -- she was a leading candidate in the crowded Democratic primary for the open City Council District 41 seat -- was uncertain, the atmosphere was quasi-celebratory, with family, friends, and supporters swaying to the beat blaring from speakers stationed nearby. It was a moment of levity during a day of grueling campaigning.

The competition for the seat was fierce. Ampry-Samuel was one of nine candidates on the primary ballot, in a district encompassing portions of Bed-Stuy, East Flatbush, Crown Heights, and Ocean Hill-Brownsville, where the Democratic primary winner would be assured the seat given no candidates from other parties are running.

Vying to replace Darlene Mealy, a long-time Council member widely considered ineffective, the candidates were seeking the opportunity to better represent one of the poorest and neediest districts in the city. For Ampry-Samuel, primary day meant exhaustive hustling across the district in a last-minute pursuit of votes. It meant dozens of handshakes and leaflets with her face and name on them, and visits from the likes of Johnson, a candidate to become the Council’s next speaker, from Mayor Bill de Blasio, himself seeking a primary election victory, and others.

It also meant support from many campaign volunteers and family members eager to see Ampry-Samuel charged with addressing community issues like affordable housing, including public housing, employment opportunities, school quality, parks, social services, and more.

Samuel, dressed in bright red, entered primary day with optimism and a resume packed with political experience. She was a former district leader, chief of staff for Assemblymember Latrice Walker, and most recently a senior advisor at NYCHA. However, she was realistic about her chances, acknowledging the crowded field, which included multiple candidates who also have strong resumes.

In an interview, Ampry-Samuel said “we know that a lot of folks don’t come out for the local elections.” And she was right, with just 10,557 votes cast in her primary. But, she received enough of them -- 3,320 votes, or 31% -- to prevail, besting the second-place finisher, Henry Butler, who received 2,318 votes, by 1,002, a margin less than the 1,197 votes received by third-place finisher Cory Provost and just a few more than the 915 votes good for fourth place.

Ampry-Samuel started Tuesday out on the street, greeting commuters near the subway entrance on Ralph Avenue and Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Stating that she “was clearly exhausted,” she said she was also “energized.” On what she termed her “third wind,” given the long months of campaigning, she approached the largely thankless task of handing out fliers with cheer and charm. After one man said his wife’s last name was Samuel, she replied, “So, you gotta vote for your cousin!”

Ampry-Samuel canvassed during rush-hour traffic along with prominent politicians in the community, including Congressional Rep. Yvette Clarke, the wizened former Rep. Edolphus Towns, and childhood friend Latrice Walker, still an Assembly member from nearby.

“We out here in these streets, girl!” exclaimed Walker, dressed in bright pink and especially energetic.

Not only did Samuel accrue the endorsements of most relevant local politicians, she had managed to reel in the biggest fish in the pond, de Blasio. Having previously endorsed her candidacy and campaigned with her over the weekend, he arrived at Ralph Avenue and Fulton Street to support her, and his own campaign, accompanied by men whispering into their sleeves, a communications team, and additional police officers.

Although Ampry-Samuel said de Blasio’s “endorsement is a positive for the community,” his presence was somewhat divisive. While they were talking up voters, a driver in a pickup truck yelled, “Boo de Blasio! Anybody but de Blasio!” Earlier in the morning, Samuel had a tense conversation with a woman who pointedly asked, “Why do you support de Blasio?” And a young man named Anthony explained that although he supported Samuel, that “in a sense, yes” it bothered him that she and de Blasio were associated.

Samuel responded to this criticism, explaining that “we gotta get a seat at the table.” By accepting the mayor’s support, she is gaining a powerful ear in city government, attention that could be leveraged for the community’s benefit. As Dion Turner, her brother, said in an interview, “If you’re not at the table, you’re just a menu.”

Many were happy to see de Blasio, though.

Surviving the madhouse of the mayor’s awed admirers, Ampry-Samuel and her team took a quick breather before leaving the subway stop, setting off to engage residents in the many public housing developments of Brownsville, a neighborhood that has the highest concentration of public housing in the nation.

Having grown up in Brownsville public housing herself, Ampry-Samuel seemed at home embracing those she saw on the street. As she greeted friends, family, and voters, a campaign aide pointed out that she was “giving things a personal touch.”

Clutching a coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, Ampry-Samuel eventually strolled past two women near the Van Dyke Houses. They were wearing deep blue shirts printed with the name of opponent, Henry Butler.

“Definitely, her biggest competitor is Henry Butler,” explained Jamell Henderson, a former City Council candidate and current Ampry-Samuel supporter.

Placing second in the primary with 22% of the vote, Butler is a native of Bed-Stuy and District Manager for Community Board 3. Although he had stopped by the subway entrance earlier that morning and proclaimed that “we’re all good Democrats,” he had a contentious relationship with Ampry-Samuel and her campaign.

Dion said that there had been a lot of “negativity created by him” and alleged that his supporters were “tearing down posters.” He expressed frustration with Butler’s blue-shirted backers who he claimed disrupted Ampry-Samuel and de Blasio that morning by “putting posters behind de Blasio’s head.”

Anthony Green, Ampry-Samuel’s cousin, also expressed irritation, telling those same supporters, “Don’t be disrespectful!”

Despite any of that, Ampry-Samuel joked good-naturedly with the women wearing Butler t-shirts and went on to schmooze with residents near the Van Dyke Houses. Having chatted up friends and strangers, Ampry-Samuel entered the latter half of primary day and took a needed rest at her campaign headquarters.

“I’m just ready for nine o’clock to come and go,” she vented to her friends, referring to when polls closed.

Joining a small convoy led by a minivan plastered with campaign posters, Ampry-Samuel soon set up shop in the late afternoon in front of the subway entrance on Rockaway Avenue. Biggie Smalls blasted from speakers in her campaign vehicle. With the volume way up, Ampry-Samuel enjoyed the moment and connected with voters returning home.

“It sounds like she really cares about the community,” said Jonathan, a student studying journalism and media.

Community was a recurring theme in Ampry-Samuel’s campaign. Having grown up in the area, her extensive family was her campaign’s foundation. In fact, she said in reference to nearby supporters that “for the most part, most of the people that you see are family.” Throughout the day, her cousin, brother, aunt, and mother were all seen trekking through the streets to support her.

Her husband, a U.S. diplomat working in Washington D.C., even flew in to visit. “Even as we were traveling across different countries, she’s been focused on this community,” he explained, wiping sweat off his wife’s brow with a paper towel.

Community issued dominated the campaign and appeared to determine voters’ choices. Anthony, the same young man who said de Blasio’s support for Ampry-Samuel bothered him, criticized Butler, saying he represented the interests of Bed-Stuy, not those of Ocean Hill-Brownsville.

Conversely, Kenneth, a Butler supporter from Bed-Stuy, praised him. “He lives in the community I live in. He’s trying to work for the community,” he stated, canvassing near the Atlantic Towers.

Under the waning daylight, with campaign fliers littering the sidewalk, Samuel sat near the same Atlantic Towers, visibly fatigued. An hour before, she had voted with her son in tow and had spent the remaining time before polls closed near a popular voting site, flashing the same broad smile at residents she had early that morning.

“I feel exhausted, but emotional because it was such a long day, and emotional because there was just a lot of love out there in the entire district,” said Ampry-Samuel. Polls were set to close at 9 p.m., 15 hours after they opened.

Anxious, she and her family, friends, and supporters went to a nearby lounge to watch the election results. With music playing in the background and balloons hovering near the ceiling, the numbers came in earlier then expected.

At one point, “Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz & Benz” by Lost Boyz played over the lounge’s loudspeakers. Ampry-Samuel danced in celebration. Effectively Council Member-elect, Ampry-Samuel will be sworn in come January, part of a new class of 51 City Council Members. One early and big question for her is whether she will be more effective than her predecessor. At a recent candidate forum, Ampry-Samuel promised to bring th energy and attentiveness to the Council that she says she has brought to all her other public service roles.

Reached by phone the morning after the primary, Ampry-Samuel said, “There were tears of joy.”

by Ben Weiss, Gotham Gazette

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'Tears of Joy,' Hope for a District in Alicka Samuel's Win Sat, 16 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000