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

August 22, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Race & Politics in Ten Years Since Obama's Nomination

christina greer mcsilverDr. Christina Greer of Fordham University joined the show to discuss how President Barack Obama did, or didn't, live up to expectations, and how his presidency fits into the larger dynamics of race and politics.

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: Race & Politics in Ten Years Since Obama's Nomination Wed, 22 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
How Obama Can Help New York Immigrants Before Leaving Office menchaca city hall press conf

City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, the author (photo: William Alatriste)

Barack Obama may have given his farewell address, but he still has work to do. In his speech, the president rightly celebrated America’s history of welcoming immigrants and their contributions to our country. But Mr. Obama’s legacy on immigration is mixed. He has both deported more people than any prior president and acted in America’s best traditions by letting the Dreamers - undocumented youth brought to the United States as children – emerge from the shadows. There is one final step that President Obama can, and should, take to cement his legacy on the side of history we know is in his heart.

Most immigrant families in the United States are mixed status, meaning most have children who are citizens and immigrant parents, including Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs). The incoming administration’s promise to deport 2-3 million people with legal infractions threatens to rip these American families apart, because the threshold for deporting legal permanent residents is so low. Experts argue that this 2-3 million number cannot be reached without deporting people for minor offenses, such as traffic tickets. This is why I recently joined 60 local elected officials from across the country in asking President Obama to grant a blanket pardon to legal immigrants who have minor infractions and pose no threat to the country. He can prevent the breakup of these American families.

Pardoning this group of immigrants fits with the president’s recent actions on criminal justice and immigration. His clemency initiative and Deferred Arrival for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program seek to fix the broken criminal justice and immigrant systems that harm American families.

Having already designated Legal Permanent Residents with minor convictions as low priorities for deportation, President Obama could protect these American families further with a presidential pardon.

Some will object, arguing that America is a country of law and order. We agree, and support the deportation of those posing a risk to our community. We also support the American belief that punishment should fit the crime. Someone who had a minor infraction such as shoplifting or excessive traffic violations as a teenager could be eligible for deportation 20 years later as a responsible adult with children who are citizens. These deportations make no sense, and hurt families and children without enhancing the wellbeing of the country.

The group making this request, Local Progress, is composed of local elected officials that know, work with, live in, represent, and are part immigrant communities. We know that deportations cripple families and harm neighborhoods and the economy. We also know that the American Dream lives in our communities and that the country benefits from these newcomers and their children. Pardoning this group would prevent the unnecessary breakup of our American families, and allow parents to stay where they belong, raising their children in the communities they have helped build.

Watching President Obama’s farewell speech, I could not help but think about the many families in my Brooklyn district that have lost a family member to deportation. The effects are harsh. When a father gets deported, the family loses income and can lose their apartment. The education of children can be disrupted, and those remaining long to be with their missing family member. For the children – citizens, immigrants, or both – it is a hurt that does not go away. It is a step the U.S. government should not take lightly, or for symbolic political reasons.

I stand with my fellow elected officials to ask President Obama to grant these pardons. I also call on my fellow New Yorkers to call the president’s office and tell him to grant clemency to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who stand to lose under President Trump. Before he leaves office, President Obama can help cement his legacy with such a pardon. He has the power, and should use it, as other presidents have done in the past. There is still time.

Carlos Menchaca is a New York City Council Member and Chair of the Council’s Immigration Committee. On Twitter @cmenchaca.

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How Obama Can Help New York Immigrants Before Leaving Office Mon, 16 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Successful Presidential Transitions Rely on Attitudes, Organization and Law trump obama from trump facebook

President-elect Trump & President Obama (photo: Trump on Facebook)

President-elect Donald Trump visited The White House Thursday to discuss transition planning with President Barack Obama. While the election was just decided and it was Trump’s first public move in shifting from the campaign toward governing, the transition process has been underway for months -- both in the Trump campaign and the Obama administration. The period from Election Day to Inauguration Day, January 20, is brief -- just 73 days this year -- and the next President must be able to move quickly during the transition period in order to smoothly take the reigns of the country’s vast government and military apparatuses.

Unlike the ideological and, to some extent, personnel continuity that a Hillary Clinton win may have afforded, the Obama to Trump transition will be drastic. But, there are protocols and practices in place, mandated by law and not, meant to make for a successful presidential transition. On both Wednesday and Thursday, President Obama sought to assure the country that his administration is doing everything it can to ensure a smooth transition of power, despite the differences between the president and his successor, whom Obama has called uniquely unfit for the position.

Speaking in the Rose Garden on Wednesday, the day after the election, Obama told the country, “I have instructed my team to…work as hard as possible to ensure that this is a successful transition for the president-elect.”

Obama reiterated the point on Thursday when he and Trump sat in the Oval Office, with the president saying that his team must do its best to make Trump successful, because if the president is successful, so is the country.

The task for Trump and his top advisors, including post-election transition chair and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, is immense -- many thousands of positions to fill, a daunting amount of information to absorb, and important policy and protocol decisions to make. President-elect Trump is under the microscope perhaps to a greater extent than others in his position might be because he heads to the presidency as the first in United States history with no prior government or military experience. Trump immediately set off alarm bells when his first two appointments included Steve Bannon, who has a history of anti-Semitic, white nationalist, and misogynistic behavior, as his top strategic advisor.

While all of Trump’s top cabinet posts will be deeply scrutinized, as they would with any president-elect, there is also the vast bureaucracy of both the White House and, to a larger degree, the federal government, that must be filled and managed. A sound presidential transition relies on the preparation and attitude of the outgoing administration, the organization and execution of the incoming administration, and the laws in place to aid in the effort.

Prior to September 11, 2001, a few laws were already in place to govern the transition process, and others have been added since. In 1963, recognizing the need for a formalized transition process in the face of a more technologically advanced and rapidly moving world, Congress enacted The Presidential Transitions Act of 1963, which set the precedent for transition funding, allocating $900,000 of federal funds per team. The 1988 Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act increased funding, capped outside contributions to transition teams, and required that major donations be disclosed. Similar legislation, passed in 1998 and 2000, shortened Senate confirmation periods and addressed the digitalization of government records, but other than that, the scale and schedule of a transition was up to the two administrations.

"The national interest requires that such transitions in the office of President be accomplished so as to assure continuity in the faithful execution of the laws and in the conduct of the affairs of the Federal Government, both domestic and foreign,” reads the Presidential Transition Act of 1963. “Any disruption occasioned by the transfer of the executive power could produce results detrimental to the safety and well-being of the United States and its people."

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the transition period was identified as one of national vulnerability. This led to the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. Comprehensive security briefings for incoming high-level personnel became mandated, as was extensive contingency planning, crisis management training, and background checks.

Under Obama, further attention was paid to transitions. In March of this year, he signed into law the 2015 Presidential Transitions Improvement Act, which requires the executive branch to establish two transition panels, one for the White House operation and one to oversee the process throughout federal agencies. The panels must be formed six months before the general election. Prior to that, the 2010 Pre-Election Presidential Act required the General Services Administration to provide each major party candidate’s transition team with office space, desks, computers, and phones within three business days of the candidate’s nomination for president.

With these laws in place, the Trump transition team has a lot of resources, but also a lot of work to do.

According to the president-elect’s transition website, the team is setting up Agency Review Teams for each federal agency, and has begun the vetting and hiring process for the approximately 4,100 presidential appointees. As reported by Politico in October, the Chris Christie-led pre-election transition team had compiled a list of 400 appointees to push through Senate confirmation after the election. Though few other details were made available by the Christie team, Politico also reported that the Trump operation was holding private explanatory meetings for big donors and financial services leaders. One such “look inside” charged $5,000 per person.

Shortly after winning the election, Trump announced that Vice President-elect Pence would replace Gov. Christie as the chair of the transition, and also named a larger transition committee. Top cabinet positions are expected to be filled soon, and other high-profile positions will also have to be determined. The policy focus, political orientation, government experience, and demographic diversity -- racial, gender, religious, and more -- of top-level appointments to key administration posts will give an indication of what type of presidency is being planned.

The team that will be overseeing this work, Trump’s Presidential Transition Executive Committee, has just been announced. Under Pence’s leadership, committee vice chairs are Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Dr. Ben Carson, Christie, Senator Jeff Sessions, and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn.

The committee will also include Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Rep. Chris Collins, Tom Marino, Lou Barletta, and Devin Nunes, Rebekah Mercer, Steven Mnuchin, Anthony Scaramucci, Peter Thiel, Trump’s children Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka, Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, who was RNC chair and has been named Trump’s White House chief of staff, and Bannon, who was the campaign CEO for the home stretch after having led Breitbart News.

Rumors have started to fly about possible appointments for different cabinet positions, including some of the names from the transition team.

Along with the Bannon hire, there are other red flags being raised about the Trump transition, including the effects of the shift from the Christie-led team to the Pence-led team. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that “President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition operation plunged into disarray,” citing the resignation of key transition figures from the Christie team who had been integral to the process and a hold-up around Pence signing essential transition paperwork.

History, 2008, and Today
Smart, proactive transitions are the first step toward an effective presidency and begin long before the formal transition process that takes place between Election Day and Inauguration Day. Prepared candidates will often begin transition planning before the conclusion of their primary race, will have transition staffs in the hundreds, and can be expected to provide lists of presidential appointees as soon as they can be called president-elect. In 2008, the Obama transition operation consisted of 679 staffers and volunteers, and began before Obama had defeated Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. 

Well-run transitions are important for several reasons. First, national security concerns necessitate a smooth handoff, a process that requires vetting and apprising new defense and high-level personnel well before they succeed their predecessors. The next-in-line officials must be brought up to speed on a wide variety of threats and operations. The President-elect is immediately briefed on the same information as the President.

Transitions are seen as a weak point in national security regardless of the quality of the transition, so it is expected that incoming and outgoing administrations will be as diligent and cooperative as possible. Ever since Harry Truman learned of the Manhattan Project a month into his presidency (which was not even by election, but by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death while in office), national security has been a foremost transition priority. Still, the events of September 11, 2001 dramatically increased the level of attention paid to national security generally and in transitioning. In the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, comprehensive security briefings for incoming high-level personnel were mandated, as well as extensive contingency planning.

Second, it is in the political interests of both incoming and outgoing administrations to oversee a smooth transition. From the outgoing perspective, it is politically expedient for a president’s reputation to include a well-executed departure from office. From the incoming perspective, a president’s early success hinges on his or her preparedness to take office.

“President Bush was very gracious to us during the transition,” President Obama’s former advisor David Axelrod recently told the New York Times, echoing a point Axelrod has stressed publicly in a variety of forums over the years.

Preparedness includes having appointees for all high-level positions ready for Senate confirmation, a working policy agenda ready to implement, and a set of priorities to follow. If appointees are not ready, then the confirmation process cannot commence, and agencies take longer to fully assemble. While the 2008-09 transition is heralded as the most successful in U.S. history, there were still hiccups, especially given the surrounding circumstances: a global financial crisis.

Because it was such a success, the Bush-Obama transition essentially serves as a template for the successful modern transition -- and it’s one that Obama has said his administration is working to repeat. Two hallmarks stand out when analyzing that transition: early and proactive planning from both sides; and dedication to conquering partisan concerns for the greater good of the country’s security.

In “The 2008-2009 Presidential Transitions Through the Voices of Its Participants,” Martha Joynt Kumar, a professor of political science at Towson University, provides a retelling of the transition based on interviews with several important players.

Recognizing the biggest obstacle to a fast and seamless transition to be the Senate confirmation process, the Bush administration set about reducing the length of FBI investigations into presidential appointees from 60 to 30 days. It also tasked the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) with performing investigations, so as to have more hands on deck. Though successful in making these reforms, the administration’s attempt to eliminate Senate confirmations for non-policymaking positions failed, Kumar explains. Regardless, it succeeded in streamlining the Senate confirmation process for the Obama administration.

Kumar outlines how the Bush Administration focused further still on personnel turnover, requiring that the transition teams from each federal agency collaborate to create a list of 150 crucial positions that needed to be filled as soon as possible. The list was then handed over to the Obama team after the election.

As mandated by the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, the Bush administration began holding one-on-one meetings with the incoming Obama team as early as Election Day, Kumar explains. Incoming cabinet officers and agency heads sat down with their predecessors to go over contingency planning for each sector of government. By December 4, 2008, the core national security teams from the president and the president-elect had met several times, discussed the administration’s operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and had handed over most contingency and crisis planning.

The Bush team, Kumar writes, also made it a priority to leave behind a record of their work and experience to help guide their successors. Led by Steve Hadley, the National Security Advisor, the Bush White House compiled a total of 40 memoranda, divided into two sets; one addressing national security and foreign policy, and the other domestic policy. The memoranda contained difficulties that the Bush administration had faced, advice for avoiding such issues, information about particular countries of interest, and an account of all the interactions that had taken place between the U.S. and countries of interest.

To ensure that “midnight regulations” --  legislation passed in the last months of a presidency and which, intentionally or not, often burdens the incoming administration with tougher regulations and policy changes they oppose -- did not waylay the new Obama administration, Joshua Bolten, the Bush Chief of Staff at the time, declared that proposed regulations had to be submitted no later than June 1, 2008, and that regulations could not be issued after November 1, 2008.

Obama’s team has placed a similar level of emphasis on transition planning, something that the president has cited in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s victory, and at the meeting the two had at the White House on Thursday, November 10.

Taking advantage of the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which states that presidential nominees may begin submitting names of personnel for national security clearance before election results have been determined, the Obama team, in the summer of 2008, began submitting names. Republican nominee Senator John McCain’s team submitted zero names, Kumar reports.

Around the same time, in August of 2008, Rahm Emanuel was informally appointed as Chief of Staff. Working with John Podesta, Obama’s transition director, Emanuel established several agency review teams to evaluate the state of each agency, gather information, and recommend appointees. Emanuel also cooperated with the Bush transition team on the personnel process to expedite the hiring process for the White House staff. Podesta, as the founder of the Center for American Progress, was able to draw from a wealth of experts for transition help and resources. They formed a core part of the transition policy team that identified executive orders that would be less complicated to prepare and sign, such as removing restrictions around abortion and stem cell research.

One of the pressing matters for Trump’s team is which Obama executive orders he wants to immediately undo, and which others of his own he may want to issue.

Though Trump himself is unpredictable and there is little clarity about how he will approach the job, the country is in many ways in a more stable place today than it was eight years ago when Obama was succeeding George W. Bush. At the time, the U.S. was in the midst of two wars and a financial crisis -- coordination between the incoming and outgoing administrations was paramount. Obama is often commended for having met repeatedly with then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Henry Paulson, Bush’s secretary of the Treasury. On issues such as the auto bailout and The Recovery Act, policy teams from both administration were influential in shaping the resulting stimulus package of 2009.

In “Presidential Transition Voices,” Kumar asserts that Obama’s relative success early in his presidency is largely attributable to his “early attention…to the need for transition planning and his assignment of experienced and knowledgeable people to handle studies of White House staff structure, agency operations, policy development, and staff selection.”

Despite their opposing views and past hostilities, Obama and Trump must now lead their best imitation of the Bush-Obama transition, putting aside their differences and holding the country’s safety and prosperity in the highest regard. As Obama put it, “the presidency is bigger than all of us.”

The 2016-17 transition will provide interesting insight into the style of the Trump presidency and will foreshadow the approach the new administration will adopt over the next four years. In his first public remarks after the election results were in, President Obama addressed the 2016 transition, saying he reached out to Trump “at about 3:30 in the morning…I had a chance to invite him to come to the White talk about making sure there is a successful transition between our presidencies.”

Obama did not provide specifics, but he did reference the 2008 transition, saying he has instructed his team to emulate the “professional and gracious” approach taken by the Bush administration eight years ago.

by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

Successful Presidential Transitions Rely on Attitudes, Organization and Law Tue, 15 Nov 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Will the Democrats' Fresh Entitlements Lift Poor Families? de blasio upk

De Blasio on a school visit (photo: Ed Reed, Mayoral Photography Office)

Circle time at preschool teaches much about civility and unity, how best to contribute to a pint-size society.

So when little Lela whispered from the corner, "I'm ready to come back," teacher Katie Wassel in Washington Heights figured lesson learned, the 4-year-old rejoined a tight crescent of fidgeting peers seated on a colorful rug. You can't elbow your neighbor at circle time.

Hillary Clinton draws a wide and inclusive circle all her own, pitching fresh entitlements to ease the financial angst of families – parental leave, universal pre-kindergarten, tuition-free community college – and nudged leftward by young voters, many women, Senator Bernie Sanders, and diehards who continue to 'Feel the Bern.'

Fiscal conservatives warn of ballooning costs for existing social guarantees. But a thornier question confronts Democrats: Might they inadvertently worsen inequality, rather than close disparities between poor and well-heeled families?

Take Mayor Bill de Blasio – poster boy for novel entitlements – and his well-meaning spread of free pre-K for all families, no matter how rich or poor.

His original yarn was a tale of two disparate cities. "The best and the brightest are born in every neighborhood," he declared after winning election, seeking to narrow early gaps in children's learning. A half-century of research findings does show that quality preschool can lift impoverished children.

But Mr. de Blasio pushed for a universal benefit, crawling out on a thin policy limb, ignoring three national studies, including my own with Stanford economist Susanna Loeb, that discern just minuscule and fading effects of pre-K for children from better-off families.

Why? Because most middle-class parents – two-thirds of whom nationwide already enjoy access to pre-K – offer important nurturance at home as well. And if the mayor's pre-K proves to elevate all kids, how would this narrow gaps in children's early growth?

The mayor's fuzzy logic reveals a deeper dilemma for Mrs. Clinton and Democratic candidates: How to rekindle opportunity for the middle class, while delivering on their perennial promise to lift the poor.

White Americans have seen their earnings slip by 3 percent since the late 1990s, falling to $60,300 in mean wages last year. But total income ticked upward, thanks to middle-class tax cuts and rising aid for health care, says the Congressional Budget Office. In stark contrast, nearly 24 million children under age six live below or near the poverty line. Affordable pre-K remains out of reach for half these families.

More than 103,000 four-year-olds populate New York City and are eligible for preschool. Mr. de Blasio has added more than 38,000 full-day pre-K seats citywide, totaling more than 68,500, many in depressed parts of the city. But over 30,000 potential preschoolers remain outside any public program, two-fifths being raised in the city's poorest neighborhoods.

Entitlement hawks also teach us that one size can't fit all, especially when serving the nation's kaleidoscopic variety of families. At first Mr. de Blasio aimed to mainly enlarge the count of preschool seats in city schools, pleasing the teachers union but stirring protests from the city's 1,900 private, mostly nonprofit pre-K's, which have resisted cookie-cutter programs for over a century.

Take parents who prefer half-day pre-K, allowing quality time at home for parent and child, but who now lose their subsidy, given the mayor's insistence on full days inside classrooms. Jewish educators seek more instructional time to advance religious teaching. Charter schools last month appealed Albany's siding with the mayor that he, not charter authorizers, can regulate independent pre-K programs.

New York's experiment also reveals the risk of obsessing on what's new and shiny when regimented entitlements arrive. The mayor largely ignored existing supply, incenting middle-class parents to migrate into tuition-free preschools. This emptied up to 14,900 children from older programs, rather than widening access - what economists dub a substitution effect. "We lost two full classrooms of 4-year-olds," said Don Williams, manager of a Midtown pre-K.

President Obama and Republican governors, like Michigan's Rick Snyder, dodge the risks of unbridled entitlements, opting to expand pre-K access for poor youngsters, while easing middle-class costs via tax credits. A rising count of companies, from Netflix to Goldman Sachs, help shoulder the burden of essential human supports: from paid leave for parents nurturing a newborn to insuring security in old age.

Instead, untethered entitlements go awry when benefits tilt toward better-heeled players, say how price supports for farmers became welfare for the well-off, or when taxpayers underwrite pre-K or high-priced universities for parents who can afford to pay.

The campaign season may prompt serious debate over the future of entitlements, along with how to bolster working families. But as Mrs. Clinton and leading Democrats embrace new social guarantees, pursuing middle-class voters, they should be honest about who they aim to buoy and who they would leave behind.

Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at Berkeley, is author of Organizing Locally (University of Chicago Press).

Will the Democrats' Fresh Entitlements Lift Poor Families? Thu, 03 Mar 2016 17:03:42 +0000
The Wisdom of Primaries teachout fracktivists

Zephyr Teachout, in yellow, with "fractivists" (photo: @zephyrteachout)

In her zeal to attach herself to Barack Obama at the recent Democratic debate in Charleston, Hillary Clinton at one point issued a somewhat unexpected line of attack. In advance of the 2012 campaign, Clinton charged, Bernie Sanders had "publicly sought someone to run in a primary against President Obama." 

There's no disputing that Sanders did in fact express such a position, based on his concern that Obama was moving to the right during his first term. But during the debate on Twitter and later that evening on CNN, Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod echoed Clinton's disdain for Sanders' view that a primary might be good for the party.

Notably, neither Clinton nor Axelrod deemed it necessary to explain why in their view, such a challenge would have been a bad thing. Here in New York, meanwhile, we've seen quite clearly the positive benefits of making an incumbent answer to his party's base.

In 2014, Zephyr Teachout bucked the leadership of both the state Democratic Party and the Working Families Party by running a primary challenge against Andrew Cuomo. Though outspent by an astronomical sum, Teachout won the same number of counties as the sitting governor. Cuomo's healthy margin of victory (62-34%) came mainly because of the vote in New York City and Buffalo.

Although weakened by a novice candidate, the legendarily vindictive Cuomo has actually sought to make amends with the constituencies that did not support him in the primary.

First he surprised many upstate activists by banning fracking. Over the past year, he has responded to the teachers unions and public school parents by withdrawing his support for the Common Core (an issue central to Rob Astorino's unsuccessful Republican bid in the general election). And Cuomo has patched up his ties with Working Families Party unions by pushing for a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave.

Ethics reformers—another Teachout constituency—are still holding their breath. Even as the cloud of suspicion cast over by Cuomo by Preet Bharara hovered, the governor paid only lip service to changing the rules in Albany. For example, despite his stated support for closing the LLC loophole, he continued to rake in donations from big real estate developers. Bharara's investigation thus can't be credited with forcing Cuomo to shift gears.

Nor does Cuomo's sandbox sparring with Mayor de Blasio sufficiently explain the governor's leftward lurch. After all, de Blasio campaigned for Cuomo in 2014, and the latter remains the more popular of the two figures in citywide polling.

In short, absent the primary contest that allowed voters across the state to express various disagreements, Cuomo most likely have would have remained on the centrist course of his first term.

Because there no was primary challenge to Obama in 2012, it would be pure speculation to say that a meaningful challenge from the left would have forced him to move in that direction. But in his second term, Obama hasn't offered up any significant new domestic policy initiatives, suggesting that he's not terribly worried about what the activist wing of the party thinks about his presidency.

Here in New York City, it's unclear whether any candidate will wage a primary contest against Mayor de Blasio next year. But those on the left unhappy with the mayor's caution on police reform and closing Rikers, or coziness with developers, might welcome it. So, too, might more centrist voters concerned about the mayor's management of the homeless problem or the budget implications of his deals with unions.

Regardless of whether a strong contender enters the ring, this much is clear: Always be wary of politicians or pundits who argue that more democracy is not a good thing.

Theodore Hamm is chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph's College in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. On Twitter @HammerDaily.

The Wisdom of Primaries Thu, 21 Jan 2016 01:57:13 +0000
New York's Education Policy in Historic Disarray cuomo parental choice BK May 2015

Gov. Cuomo in May, 2015 (photo: Office of the Governor - Kevin P. Coughlin)

The past several months have been one of the most tumultuous periods in New York State's educational history, culminating several years of false starts and disarray in education policy. It's not without precedent, though, and history has valuable lessons for New York today.

Disillusionment and disavowal of recent educational practices
In December, President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, replacing the 15-year old No Child Left Behind Act and sweeping away its emphasis on standardized tests and punitive approach to failing schools. The new law returns power to the states and dilutes the federal government's power to impose educational standards. That will loosen the hold of federal requirements on New York's educational policy.

Also in December, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced and endorsed the report of his "Common Core Task Force," which had been charged with evaluating the rollout of Common Core educational standards, which the federal government had supported. The task force recommended adopting new, locally-driven New York State standards and, as the governor noted, "greatly reducing testing and testing anxiety for our students. The Common Core was supposed to ensure all of our children had the education they needed to be college and career-ready – but it actually caused confusion and anxiety. That ends now."

At the same time, the Board of Regents approved a four-year moratorium on using student scores on state standardized tests as part of the teacher evaluation system, something teachers had protested (local tests will still be used, though). The Regents' suspension of the policy is in line with another recommendation of the governor's Common Core task force. The governor had also endorsed use of student test scores in teacher evaluation, a position he has also now abandoned.

The Regents adopted the Common Core some years ago and required its use in the schools without providing the necessary implementation materials or training for teachers, and mandated exams on material that had not been fully covered in the classroom. Teachers protested that the process was too rushed and opposed using the test scores in their own job evaluations. Thousands of parents joined an "opt out" movement by refusing to let their children take the exams. The embattled state commissioner of education, John King,  who oversaw the rushed rollout, left for a post in Washington, D.C. His successor, MaryEllen Elia, has promised a more thoughtful and responsive approach.

New York's per-pupil spending is among the highest in the nation but there are constant reports and press stories that our graduates are not adequately prepared for the workforce or college.

In the meantime, over the past several years New York has established a second network of publically-funded schools called charter schools, paralleling and often competing with its traditional public schools, with mixed results.

After years of disarray, we are (or should be) at a turning point. It is time for a fresh look at education policy in New York.  

Gov. Cuomo, in his State of the State address on Jan. 13, proposed changes, but relatively limited ones. Referring to criticism in his common core task force's report of "common core curriculum implementation mistakes and testing regimen," he said that "we urge the state education department to do it right this time." He supports increased school aid, expansion of charter schools, and more support for "failing" high-needs schools, including through the community schools program.

Those are significant, but they are modest; mostly more funding and a do-over of the common core rollout, well short of new departures.

Historic turning points in New York educational policy
This could be a time of opportunity for major changes to strengthen education in New York. But that would require bold, imaginative leadership.

Over the years, history suggests, New York periodically worries about, analyzes, and occasionally takes dramatic initiatives to strengthen its educational system or move off in substantially new directions.

A few examples:

*New York commits to public education. In 1812, after earlier plans to stimulate the establishment of public schools (or "common schools" as they were called then) had failed, the legislature passed the Common School Act of 1812. It created a state superintendent of public schools, outlined a process for creation and operation of local school districts, provided that the voters in each district would elect trustees to operate the schools, established a system of local revenue raised by towns and counties matched by state aid to support the schools.

The act established three precedents: public schools are a function of the state; they are to be locally administered with state oversight; and funding is a joint state-local responsibility. Article XI of the current state constitution reflects the state commitment established back in 1812: "The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free public schools, wherein all the children of the state may be educated."

*A governor initiates consolidation and streamlining of state educational policy. New York entered the 20th century with responsibility for educational policy scattered between the state Department of Public Instruction (successor to the Superintendent of Public Schools established in 1812) and the Board of Regents, established years earlier mainly to oversee higher education. Governor Theodore Roosevelt (1899-1901), a Republican, appointed a study commission which recommended consolidation of educational oversight in a new State Education Department under the Regents. "The plan proposed is simple, effective and wholly free from political or partisan considerations," Roosevelt said, optimistically, in a message to the legislature in 1900.

However, partisan bickering and procrastination stalled action until 1904 when, during the tenure of Roosevelt’s successor, Republican Governor Benjamin B. Odell, Republicans in the legislative majority drew up a bill to implement the recommendation.

But Democrats denounced the bill, in part because Republicans had proposed it. Democratic Assembly Minority Leader George Palmer called it "the most vicious...partisan legislation offered before this body in the last decade." The bill passed by a strictly party vote, except for one Democratic assemblymember who broke ranks to vote for it. But it launched New York onto a new educational path.

*A Commissioner of Education charts a new course for education. New York's first Commissioner of Education, Andrew S. Draper (1904-1913), took charge of educational policy. "The public school system has come to be the main hope of our nation," he wrote in his book, American Education, in 1909. "In this American system of schools the predominant characteristics of our future American citizenship are being, and must continue to be, developed." Schools should be expected "to give every child not only the means of informing himself and of expressing himself, but also a definite trade or vocation through which he may earn a living."

Like most effective commissioners since then, he recommended policy actions to the Regents, worked for their approval, and then vigorously implemented them, rather than waiting for the Regents to tell him what to do.

Draper raised standards, adjusted the curriculum to ensure students received instruction that would make them job-ready and also effective citizens, clarified and strengthened the roles of local principals and superintendents, and pushed for school consolidation. He supported stronger teacher training and established a statewide teacher retirement system. Draper's initiatives strengthened and elevated  education.

*A governor dramatically increases state aid for education. State aid to schools was meager in the early 20th century. Governor Alfred E. Smith (1919-1921, 1923-1929), a Democrat, championed public education and pushed for more school funding. When the Republican-controlled legislature balked, Smith appointed a Commission on School Finance and Administration headed by a prominent civic leader and businessman, Michael Friedsam, president of  B. Altman & Company department store in New York City, which recommended a substantial increase in state funding in 1926.

The Friedsam report resulted in a good deal of public support for substantially increased aid to education. But the fiscally tight-fisted legislature refused to act on the report. Smith made education aid a priority in his successful 1926 re-election campaign, denouncing his political opponents' "cheap political tricks" and "underhanded propaganda." The 1927 legislature raised funding to $82,500,000, a significant increase. But in a political swipe at the governor, legislative leaders announced that this was $2 million less than Smith's request, an indication, they insisted, of the legislature's fiscal frugality.

*The Regents revamp education policy. By the early 1930s, educators were complaining that curricular requirements were outdated, employers asserted that public education was not adequately preparing students for jobs in business and industry, and many taxpayers thought that education had become too costly.

The Regents responded by launching a searching analysis, The Regents Inquiry into the Character and Cost of Public Education, in 1935-1938. When the legislature showed reluctance to fund the study, the Regents secured support for it from the Rockefeller Foundation. The study was headed by highly respected Regent Owen D. Young, who was also chief executive officer of General Electric. It was carried out by recognized experts in education and public policy. The inquiry issued a summary report and ten supplemental reports on specific topics.

Youths leaving high school "are not adequately educated...not prepared to play a helpful part in the life of this state," the report said. The school curriculum "has not been designed to fit them for the new and changing work opportunities which they must face in modern economic life." The report recommended more technical and vocational training to impart "immediately marketable skills" and "character education," training in civics and citizenship, and many other curricular changes.

The Education Department should relax its regulatory oversight over the schools, allow greater local school board autonomy, and concentrate on identifying and disseminating modern educational practices to the schools, it said.

The report also recommended stronger teacher training programs, higher salaries and expanded tenure protection to attract more and better teachers.

The report was a wellspring for substantial changes in education policy, practices, and curriculum over the next decade.

This could be another historic turning point for education in New York State
The past few years of education policy disarray, and the historical examples outlined above and others that might be cited, suggest five insights for shaping New York's future educational plans.

One, leadership is critical, and it can come from the Governor, Regents, Commissioner of Education, or key legislators.

Two, for many years New York's educational system was regarded as among the best in the nation. Regents exams and degrees were something approaching a gold standard in education. Those were years before substantial federal involvement in education, before externally-created standards such as common core, and before a continual barrage of proposed educational reforms from outside think tanks such as the Gates Foundation. New York leaders acted on New York reports on the state's needs and opportunities. This might argue for returning to a system of more reliance on New York's own educational experts and less on outsiders.

Three, a carefully-compiled, visionary, thoughtful analytical report, describing current conditions, setting forth a vision, and outlining a preferred course of action, can inform and streamline the process of reaching a consensus and taking action.

Four, sometimes a bold, innovative, mostly unprecedented new approach may be needed, e.g., a new way of preparing and evaluating teachers, more robust and imaginative integration of educational technology and social media in education, more sharing of resources between schools (for instance, courses taught over the web), different forms of evaluation, or a new way of funding public education.

Five, whatever is proposed and enacted will require years to be implemented, take root, and have a measurable impact.

Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne lives in Guilderland, New York. He is the author of The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History, published in 2015 by SUNY Press. 

New York's Education Policy in Historic Disarray Tue, 19 Jan 2016 23:48:10 +0000
Will New York Be Last to 'Raise the Age'? Cuomo inmates raise the age

Gov. Cuomo meets with young inmates (photo: Governor's Office)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is fond of calling New York a "progressive leader," declaring the state trailblazing on issues that matter, like marriage equality and gun control. It is a tenet of the governor's new push for an eventual $15-per-hour minimum wage.

However, New York lags so far behind other states on one criminal justice issue that it could soon be the only state in the nation to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults - a practice that advocates and criminal justice experts say does irreversible damage to youth who are merely charged with a crime, much less convicted.

In declaring October "National Youth Justice Awareness Month" earlier this week, President Barack Obama pointed to the fact that just two states prosecute all 16-year-olds as adults regardless of their crime, and said, "Involvement in the justice system -- even as a minor, and even if it does not result in a finding of guilt, delinquency, or conviction -- can significantly impede a person's ability to pursue a higher education, obtain a loan, find employment, or secure quality housing." A total of nine states prosecute all 17-year-olds as adults, the president wrote.

Raising the age of adult criminal responsibility has been something Gov. Cuomo has been pushing, but unless the governor can soon cut a deal with the state Legislature, especially Senate Republicans, he and his Democratic allies will find themselves watching North Carolina become the 49th state to move to at least 17 as the adult age of criminality. There appears to be bipartisan agreement among North Carolina legislators on a plan to stop the practice of trying 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in their state.

Bipartisan agreement on criminal justice issues has been particularly elusive in the New York state Legislature, despite Cuomo's attention on raising the age and other related matters.

After including funding for "Raise the Age" in his most recent budget, Cuomo was unable to reach a deal with the Legislature. Then, Cuomo made raising the age a major priority during the waning days of this year's legislative session, even visiting an upstate correctional facility to speak to young inmates about life behind bars. Yet, Senate Republicans balked at Cuomo's plan to redirect most 16- and 17-year old offenders to family courts, while some Democrats worried his plan wouldn't actually improve how teens are treated by the justice system. Cuomo's original push stemmed from reports about abuses at Rikers Island jails.

With session over, Cuomo announced he would take "executive action" to at least remove 16- and 17 year-olds from a situation he had described as "intolerable."

"We did not reach an agreement on something called "Raise the Age," which is a proposal that I had made in the State of the State. The executive will on its own raise the age of people in state prison," Cuomo said in June. "Right now 16- and 17-year olds are going to state prisons and that, I believe, is an intolerable situation. So by executive action we will take 16- and 17-year olds out of state prisons and put them in separate facilities which will be designed and managed by the Department of Corrections and OCFS."

Advocates were initially pleased by the move until it became clear the administration had no concrete plan on where to house the 16- and 17-year-olds it promised to remove from adult prisons. They were further disappointed when it became clear the administration would have no say over county jails and therefore the number of youths separated from adult populations would be relatively small - all taken from state-run facilities.

With the year coming to a close the administration appears to be admitting they have hit a wall.

"We are in the process of engaging with a few agencies, the relevant agencies, to determine how we can do that," Cuomo's counsel, Alphonso David, said during an interview on Capitol Tonight earlier this month when asked about the process of relocating 16- and 17-year-olds. "There are operational issues that you can anticipate that we have to address. We're hoping to do that in the near future."

A Cuomo administration official acknowledged to Gotham Gazette that they are aware of the legislation advancing in North Carolina and that they hope to work on the challenges faced in finding alternative housing for the teens currently serving time while negotiating a broader bill with the Legislature. "We are hopeful that the Legislature will take another look at this," said the official.

Paige Pierce, executive director of Families Together New York, told Gotham Gazette that regardless of the fate of the governor's "executive action," the bigger issue remains how being processed as an adult can permanently damage the futures of thousands of young New Yorkers, whether they are found guilty or not.

"The larger issue is that every 16- or 17-year-old arrested is treated as an adult and therefore lacking access to support from family services, their parents don't have to be notified, and their records aren't sealed," Pierce told Gotham Gazette.

Members of the "Raise the Age-New York" campaign point out that youth in adult prisons face high rates of sexual assault and are much more likely to commit suicide than those in juvenile facilities. "New York has failed to recognize what research and science have confirmed: adolescents are children, and prosecuting and placing them in the adult criminal justice system doesn't work for them and doesn't work for public safety," the campaign emailed.

Advocates say that there was some hope at the end of last year as a few Senate Republicans were involved in discussions with Assembly Democrats on a compromise. That last-minute compromise may have died, but it gave indication that there may be room for negotiation when the clock is not ticking. It's unclear what kind of pressure moves by President Obama and North Carolina might exert on the governor and other New York lawmakers.

In his September 30 proclamation, Obama writes that trying 16- and 17-year-olds as adults "continues despite studies showing that youth prosecuted in adult courts are more likely to commit future crimes than similarly situated youth who are prosecuted for the same offenses in the juvenile system." He also points out that it is not cost effective to hold so many young people in state facilities.

Republican Sen. Patrick Gallivan, former sheriff of Erie County, told Gotham Gazette earlier this year that he is interested in discussing increasing alternative sentencing and other diversions for teen offenders. "We need to continue this discussion," he said. "Youth courts and other alternatives should be looked at as models."

How much influence Gallivan might have with his conference on the issue is unknown. However, both he and Cuomo have said that an agreement was in reach last session but was snuffed out by time constraints.

That isn't necessarily good news for the issue in the coming session. Advocates are quick to point out that 2016 is an election year and while the issue might be good for most Democrats, being seen as tough on crime is never bad for electeds, especially Senate Republicans who will be looking to defend and grow their majority.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Will New York Be Last to 'Raise the Age'? Thu, 01 Oct 2015 17:14:04 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, September 14-18 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York

Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday 

PHOTOS OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio delivers an education speech, via The Mayor's Office on flickr; NYPD Commissioner Bratton is briefed as the city prepares for the Pope's visit next week, via NYPD; the Mayor's administration faced off with the City Council in softball, via John Kenny

BdB edu speech

bratton briefing

bdb mmv softball


1. De Blasio Education Announcement: The mayor gave an "Equity and Excellence" education speech Wednesday, outlining a wide-ranging education policy plan that will commit about $186 million per year to enhance the performance and readiness of the city's students. Key elements include expanding computer science and advanced placement courses and adding reading specialists. The pieces will work in conjunction with previously announced de Blasio education initiatives including pre-kindergarten and community schools.

2. Cuomo Commits $ to Hudson Rail Tunnel: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sent a letter to President Obama offering to fund half of the Hudson River rail tunnel project if the federal government pledges to pay for the other half. The project could cost up to $20 billion and has been the source of tension between federal and local officials.

3. Crackdown on K2: On Wednesday, authorities announced that they had dismantled an international ring responsible for manufacturing and distributing synthetic marijuana, known as K2 or spice, which drug officials say has caused a public-health crisis. The mayor has designed a multi-agency strategy to combat the proliferation of K2 and several bills have been introduced into the City Council.

4. Papal Visit, UN General Assembly Create Security Challenge: Pope Francis' visit next week coincides with the annual U.N. General Assembly, which will bring 170 world leaders to the city, creating what Police Commissioner William Bratton called "the largest security challenge the department and this city have ever faced." Federal and city agencies are preparing for the security and transit logistics.

5. Bharara Investigates Cuomo's Buffalo Billion: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is reportedly investigating Gov. Cuomo's controversial Buffalo Billion revitalization project, according to The New York Post. The investigation focuses on the multimillion-dollar contracts awarded to build facilities for high-tech, drug-development, and clean-energy businesses.


  • $60 billion was spent on education in the 2013-14 school year in New York State, averaging $21,812 for each of the state’s 3 million students.
  • Up to $20 million in federal funds will be given to New York City as part of a pilot program to decrease traffic injuries. As many as 10,000 vehicles will be fitted with smart devices designed to reduce traffic injuries, congestion, and pollution by 2017, and traffic lights will also be set up to beam information.
  • 20.9% is New York City's poverty rate, according data released by the Census Bureau on Wednesday, meaning that the poverty rate has not lowered at all since last year.


  • It was a good week for Columbia Law School Professor Tim Wu, who joined Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office while he is on sabbatical. Wu, who coined the phrase "net neutrality," will serve as a senior lawyer and special adviser to Schneiderman focusing on technology and the law. Wu was a candidate for Lieutenant Governor in 2014.
  • It was a bad week for former Assemblymember Bill Scarborough, a Democrat, who was sentenced to 13 months in prison and two years of supervised release after he pleaded guilty to state and federal corruption charges.


  • Around this time 95 years ago, on September 16, 1920, Wall Street was hit by a bomb blast outside the headquarters of J.P. Morgan. The blast killed several dozen people and injured hundreds more. Authorities believed it was the work of anarchists, but the bombers were never found.
  • Around this time 23 years ago, on September 16, 1992, thousands of off-duty police officers stormed City Hall to protest Mayor David Dinkins' support for an all-civilian police complaint review board.
  • Around this time 4 years ago, on September 17, 2011, a demonstration calling itself "Occupy Wall Street" began in New York.


Cautious Optimism Ahead of Hearing on Citywide Ferry System, by Christian Zhang

Rumored Scheme Brings Scrutiny to Bronx Political Machine, by David Howard King

Did Bill De Blasio's Tirade Help Andrew Cuomo Get His Groove Back? by David Howard King

How To Become A New York City Council Member, by Catie Edmondson


  • Gotham Gazette's David King appeared on The Capitol Connection to discuss the latest with Governor Cuomo and more.
  • The Economist looks at how Mayor de Blasio is "doin'."
  • New Quinnipiace poll results show how New Yorkers are feeling about their elected officials and more.

NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max:

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

The Week That Was in New York Politics, September 14-18 Fri, 18 Sep 2015 16:25:20 +0000
Even Amid Albany Dysfunction, Advocates Forge Path to Paid Family Leave wfpct paid family leave

Advocates for paid family leave (photo: @CTWFP)

Upheaval in the capital due to another high-profile corruption scandal is not stopping advocates from heading to Albany to push for legislative action.

With just six weeks left in the legislative session set to expire mid-June, on Wednesday activists will rally at the Legislative Office Building and lobby lawmakers to pass paid family leave in New York State.

An 11:30 a.m. press conference will be led by Democratic State Senators, including bill sponsor Joseph Addabbo, calling for passage of the Paid Family Leave Insurance Act in the Republican-controlled Senate. The companion bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Cathy Nolan, passed in the Democrat-controlled Assembly in March. Addabbo’s bill failed a Senate vote two weeks later, just before a fiscal year 2016 budget deal was reached.

Though a new cloud hangs over the Legislature after federal corruption charges were brought against Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on Monday, it does not appear that substantive policy work in the capital will completely halt. There is reason to be skeptical that legislation will be approved by both houses to ensure New Yorkers are able to take paid leave to care for a sick family member or spend time with a new child, but the issue has captured the attention of many, and has gained new momentum at the city, state, and federal levels.

Negotiations over the paremeters of any paid family leave bill could be among the highest profile in Albany and legislative action on this issue could again make New York a national policy-making leader - perhaps garnering the type of positive attention the state could use given its growing reputation for corruption in its elected ranks. New York could become just the fourth state to pass a paid family leave law.

A representative of the Obama administration met recently with New York leaders on the subject as the president looks to pass legislation creating a fund to help states support family leave and a representative from Hillary Clinton’s campaign listed it as a priority for the presidential hopeful. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who is sponsoring federal paid family leave legislation, recently lamented that "The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world without any form of paid family and medical leave.” She promised “to continue the fight in Washington to pass the FAMILY Act to finally set a federal paid leave program." (The 1993 American Family and Medical Leave Act ensures 12 weeks of unpaid leave)

Gillibrand’s comments came during a video message that was played last Thursday at an event in New York City - and livecast to sister events in cities across the state - organized by the Paid Family Leave Insurance Campaign, which is at the heart of the Albany lobbying set for Wednesday. The campaign is made up of advocacy groups, unions, and elected officials; members include 1199 SEIU, 32BJ SEIU, Citizen Action of New York, Community Service Society, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York Paid Leave Coalition, and the NYS AFL-CIO. On Friday, Gillibrand expressed optimism about paid family leave, and said she is working both with leaders in New York state government and also pushing her bill on the federal level.

Representing the Obama administration, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez also recorded a message that was played to those in attendance last week. Perez and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett have been traveling the country promoting paid leave in what the administration is calling "Lead on Leave." It was Jarrett who previously met with New York officials.

At this point, however, movement on paid family is most likely to occur at the state level of government, at least between now and the summer. Looking to Albany, the New York City Council passed a resolution last week recommending that the state pass the Paid Family Leave Act. In her remarks at Thursday’s event, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said that her office’s report on the subject indicates that Albany is the best place for legislation to occur.

While there is support for the general principle of paid family leave in both houses of the Legislature and from Governor Andrew Cuomo, there is no clear path forward in terms of policy specifics. A key sticking point, of course, is where the funding will come from to pay for the employee leave involved.

At last Thursday’s rally, State Senator Addabbo said, “As the Senate sponsor of this legislation, I am delighted that the State Assembly has approved this bill, and I hope my legislative chamber will follow suit.”

“In the absence of action by Congress,” he added, “we need to state at a time – and New York should be next, following the lead of New Jersey, California and Rhode Island.”

If some version of paid family leave is to pass both houses of the New York State Legislature and head to Governor Cuomo’s desk, it is unlikely it will be the Addabbo-Nolan version. A different paid family leave proposal in the Senate, sponsored by Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, differs from the Addabbo-Nolan bill on the source of funding. Klein’s version was included in the Senate’s one-house budget, but no compromise was reached in order to include paid family leave in the final state budget deal at the end of March, pushing the issue into legislative session.

Klein has reiterated that paid family leave is a top priority for him this session. In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Klein said, “At the Senate's Paid Family Leave hearing [in March], we heard from advocates, the business community and organized labor – and we are actively weighing their concerns and working towards a plan that’s both fair and balanced. In the coming weeks and months, I will continue to collaborate with my Senate colleagues to pass Paid Family Leave in New York State and put our hard-working families first.”

Governor Cuomo has expressed support for the issue, but he seemed to be caught off guard by the momentum behind it after he had declared there to be little appetite for paid family leave while he worked to pass his ten-plank women’s equality agenda, which is now moving through the Legislature in pieces.

Cuomo’s office recently indicated that leaders of the majorities from each house do not seem close on a paid family leave deal. It was unclear if his administration is doing anything to facilitate compromise.

In summarizing last Thursday’s rally, a press release from the New York Paid Family Leave Insurance Campaign says that significant lobbying efforts are set to begin: “In each region, labor and community leaders identified local actions and events to mobilize citizens between now and the end of the legislative session.” Wednesday’s event in Albany will be a major part of these efforts, but it remains to be seen how much attention any issue can get with Albany in further disarray.

The conversation around paid family leave has gained traction nationally since President Obama mentioned it in his State of the Union address earlier this year. The President is attempting to pass the Healthy Families Act to create a $2 billion fund to help states implement paid family leave. Senator Gillibrand has introduced the federal Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which has 12 Democrat co-sponsors.

While federal aid could provide a significant push, New York does already have the mechanisms to implement paid family leave. But, reticence among business leaders about what they see as another possible regulation and potentially unfunded mandate is shared by Republicans (and some Democrats) who staunchly refuse to lay the burden for paid leave on employers.

The concerns about the law raised by the business community seem unsubstantiated when the experiences of other states with paid family leave are taken into account. Meanwhile, the Nolan-Addabbo version of paid leave actually bases it on employee contributions rather than state funding. The Klein version, which appears to at least have some support from Senate Republicans, calls for the state to pay at least $125 million in the first year of implementation with the following years supplemented by employee payroll fees.

The paid leave campaign backing the Addabbo-Nolan bill stresses that “the paid family leave insurance benefit is entirely employee-paid,” and that “the law does not create a new administrative requirement, but rather expands New York’s existing Temporary Disability Insurance program (TDI) through a small increase in premiums that would continue to be shared by employers and employees, as they are now.”

In California, a paid family leave (PFL) law was passed in 2002 and went into effect in July 2004. In the years since, the fears that businesses had about the effect of PFL on their productivity and the local economy turned out to be unfounded. According to a 2011 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), 89 percent of employers said that PFL had a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on productivity and 91 percent said the same about profitability and performance. (The report was based on a survey of 253 employers and 500 individuals conducted in 2009 and 2010).

“California serves as a model for other states and the national level,” said Greta Twombly, campaigns manager, American Sustainable Business Council. “It’s considered a success. Businesses were worried about it hurting their bottom line. Data year after year shows that’s not the case.”

Twombly insists that paid family leave helps businesses avoid the costs of hiring and training new employees and evens the playing field for businesses that already provide certain benefits to their employees.

In New York, she said, “There’s direct competition between companies that provide it and those that don’t. There are companies that want to provide it but can’t because there are no logistics for it or their competitors don’t so they can’t afford to either.”

In 2009, New Jersey became the second state to establish paid family leave through the state Family Leave Insurance (FLI) program. Again, most employers felt that the program didn’t affect profitability according to a report released by CEPR last year. CEPR surveyed 18 employers ranging from 26 to 36,000 employees and none of these businesses said it affected productivity or turnover. Only two employers said it had a negative effect on their bottom line. Even in New Jersey, Twombly said, “There have been no terrible, dramatic, scary effects that opponents touted. Quite the opposite.”

Rhode Island only created its paid leave program in 2013. It is funded through employee contributions and so has minimal impact on employers. “In Rhode Island, a lot of employers were already doing this in one way or another,” said Erik Rettig, North-East outreach manager, Small Business Majority. “People getting sick is not new.”

Citing a poll conducted in 2013, Rettig said business owners are in favor of policies based in shared contributions or employee payroll deductions. But the challenge for New York is clarity in policy. “A lot of times these policies are piecemeal,” Rettig said. “They’re cobbled together. Businesses don’t look forward to that.” Although he conceded that it would be tough to expand temporary disability insurance to pay for paid family leave, a cost that would fall on employers, he argues “It makes business sense at the end of the day. There’s no evidence to support the fact that it isn’t working for businesses. There is evidence to the contrary. Business owners get this. They just want to make sure it happens in the right way,” Rettig said.

Senator Klein has been trying to champion his version of paid family leave through the Senate, albeit by separating it from TDI. "Including Paid Family Leave in the Senate’s one-house budget was a major step forward for New Yorkers,” Klein said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Where it goes now is unclear.

At the event Thursday, Public Advocate James said, “We are here for one simple reason: No one should have to choose between taking care of their family and losing their job.”

James added: “Paid family leave is a basic protection guaranteed to working families in 185 countries around the world, but our city, our state, and our country are lagging severely behind.”

by Samar Khurshid and Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid @tweetBenMax @GothamGazette

Even Amid Albany Dysfunction, Advocates Forge Path to Paid Family Leave Tue, 05 May 2015 05:00:00 +0000
Inaugural Student Voter Registration Day Kicks Off at 25 City Schools CM Rosenthal SVRD

CM Rosenthal addresses students (photo: Cici Chen)

NEW YORK - The 2013 New York City mayoral election’s record low 24 percent voter turnout rate is largely reflective of and dragged down by 11 percent youth voter participation. This especially paltry turnout among voters 18- to 29-years-old has spurred advocates and policy-makers to act. Friday saw the city’s first Student Voter Registration Day (SVRD), during which programming occurred in 25 schools across the five boroughs.

City Council members; representatives from NYC Votes, the voter engagement arm of the city’s Campaign Finance Board; and advocates led workshops at the schools during which they sought to connect students to local government and encourage them to register to vote.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who initiated SVRD, led the session at Frank McCourt High School in her Upper West Side district. Rosenthal half-jokingly told the students in attendance, “If I suck, I want you to vote me out of office, but you have to register and vote [to do so].”

Rosenthal said that the first SVRD day was received with unbelievable enthusiasm. “I'm getting tweets from other council members who were at [schools], and also those who really wanted to participate but couldn’t. When you're at the school you can really see that it is so important to the students to have their voices heard.”

Rosenthal and those with her at Frank McCourt, which is one school located in the Brandeis High School Campus building, spoke to about 40 juniors during one class period and then about 100 seniors in another. She also spoke with students from two of the other schools in the Brandeis complex.

When Rosenthal learned that 80,000 voter registration cards go out to high schools each year and very few get sent back, she says she started thinking about how more could be done to ensure that 18-year-olds know their rights and the value of voting.

Rosenthal said that the Department of Education (DOE) would be the entity to really make SVRD a successful annual event in all high schools, but she is happy to lead the initiative and implement the pilot program. For the first SVRD, participants utilized a curriculum created by NYC Votes, which already leads other civic engagement workshops in city schools. If SVRD is to expand from the initial 25 schools to all of the hundreds of city high schools, NYC Votes will likely be integrally involved along with the DOE.

It is not immediately clear how many registration forms were collected at Friday’s workshops, but Rosenthal said that she cannot wait to find out.

Kaylah Bilal, a junior at one of the schools in Brandeis, had naturally never heard of the new SVRD, and she did not see a banner or poster in her school. Her enthusiasm was limited when she learned about it. “I’m just not into politics, the whole system,” said Bilal, who lives in Bronx.

SVRD is aimed at helping students like Bilal connect their everyday lives to issues and to voting. During a 45-minute workshop, volunteer facilitators at each school gave presentations and asked questions following the standard curriculum specifically designed for SVRD. The brain behind the programming is Chyann Sapp of NYC Votes and the Campaign Finance Board. Her full-time job for the past four years has been increasing youth voter engagement and turnout in New York City, a post that exists in few other cities in the country.

Sapp says that lack of education probably ranks higher than apathy as the top reason young voters are particularly inactive voters. Statistics show that eligible voters who do not cast ballots are mostly not registered to vote at all, and that being registered makes potential voters much more likely to go to the polls.

There are, of course, other barriers people point to in explaining low voter turnout, and efforts are underway to improve access to absentee ballots, among other changes.

The seminar style of SVRD is especially effective to educate students in comparison to simply handing out fliers and forms because students ask real-life questions face-to-face, Sapp says. She added that students “need to know why” voting matters, not just be given a piece of paper that allows them to register.

Beth Newcomer from Rosenthal’s office assisted Murad Awawdeh and Betsy Plum from the New York Immigration Coalition in facilitating the two workshops with McCourt students. Awawdeh and Plum started by asking students to rate how much power they perceive having in their circles of family, friends, school, community, and government. Students largely explained that they perceived themselves to have much more power in their family and friends circles than in their government circle, in which some cited zero percent influence.

As the workshop progressed, questions became more concrete; “Do you know what a community board is?” and “Do you know which elected official oversees the MTA?” among them. Few students raised their hands to indicate they did; one student wondered out loud about the meaning of the word “controller” when facilitators said, “Do you know who your city controller is?” (The answer, of course, is Scott Stringer, one of just three popularly-elected city-wide elected officials along with the mayor and public advocate.)

Students responded with an overwhelming “no” when asked if they had studied the Constitution and its amendments at school, but when Plum asked what was going on around 1976, a few students said the Vietnam War. She then explained the context of 1976’s 26th Amendment, which granted 18-year-olds the right to vote. “Young people were drafted, and they thought, ‘well if I can go fight and maybe die for my country, shouldn’t I be able to vote for my country?’”

Almost none of the students had heard of DACA, President Barack Obama’s immigration program that gives students who came to the U.S. as children protection from deportation and permission to work, though not the right to vote. Promoting awareness of DACA was a secondary aspect of the SVRD initiative. “If you have friends who are immigrants please spread the word and let them know” about DACA and access to the right to work, Plum told the students.

Near the end of the presentation voter registration forms were passed out to students, along with stickers, bracelets, and candies. One student told her friend, “I’m a voter” after turning in her completed registration form.

Micah Dicker, Drilona Bajrami, and Chelsea Solis, all graduating seniors at Frank McCourt High School, were among the few students in the workshop who knew of Rosenthal, the local city council member. The three teens were involved with participatory budgeting in the council district; Dicker and Bajrami interned for Rosenthal.

Dicker and Solis mentioned that their families’ financial situations make them want to do more to change the political system. “I think a lot of people don’t vote because they just think of what happens now rather than what would happen in the future if you can’t pay for something or you can’t find a job,” said Solis.

All three registered to vote during Friday’s workshop. “It’s our future that we need to take into account,” said Bajrami, adding that for those that don’t vote, “we shouldn’t be complaining if something doesn’t go our way.”

by Cici Chen, Gotham Gazette

Inaugural Student Voter Registration Day Kicks Off at 25 City Schools Mon, 23 Mar 2015 04:23:32 +0000